Tuesday, August 28, 2012

More on Capetown and Namibia

I left you at the World of Birds in Capetown. After an hour of looking at the feathered friends--including the bizarre looking secretary birds, cuckoos, storks, ducks, etc.--I continued my city tour. I decided to book a tour for whale watching the next day in Hermanus, a pretty little town further down the coast of South Africa, as there would probably be good weather. It had rained off and on since I had arrived. We had dinner a restaurant called Mama Africa and I had crocodile and kudu.

The next morning I got up early for the whale tour. We saw only four whales and some seals, but it was bracing being on the water in a little boat which was batted about quite a bit by the huge waves.On the drive to the seaside town of Hermanus, we saw several townships with illegal electrical hookups--cables dangling from power poles, looking like carousels. Also of interest was another tour company which advertised on its tour bus Marriage Counseling and Shark Diving. I pictured a quarreling couple in a cage underwater working out their differences with the shark holding a pad of paper and smoking a pipe.

The following day was our last in South Africa. I went to Table Mountain because it was the first clear day and they close it when there are too many clouds. I was accompanied by two Australian guys and learned that the Australian prime minister is a woman, an atheist and not married to the man she lives with. Can you imagine such a person being elected to the top office in the US. On top of the mountain, there were two rock climbers selling a repelling adventure down the side of this high natural wonder. I considered it, but since this was not the Amazing Race, I decided against it.

That afternoon Jerry wanted to visit a record store before we went to the airport and our cab driver found one. He was a South African native who became head of Kentucky Fried Chicken in Namibia, but the company did not renew his work permit and he had to return home. He took us to the waterfront shopping center, led us to the store and waited while we looked, then took us back to the hotel. Can you imagine a NY taxi driver doing that?

We stayed in the capital city of Windhoek Namibia that Sunday. Some streets are named after great musicians like Mozart Strasse and Beethoven Strasse, a holdover from when the country was a German colony and called South West Africa. Other streets are named for foreign leaders such as Robert Mugabe, Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela. The city was not especially exciting, it was the desert and the wildlife outside of it we had come to see.

While in Namibia, we took tours of the Namib Desert and Etosha National Park (giraffe above is from that huge game perserve). More on those next blog.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Dipstach from Namibia

Giant sand dune in Namibia.
I woke up this morning and asked Jerry "Where are we?" We're now in Windhoek, Namibia, waiitng to be picked up for our desert tour. It's Sunday and not much is happening here in the captial city. We arrived last night from Capetown at the tiny airport and chilled at the guest house.

Since the last dispatch, I've done a lot in Capetown. Wednesday I took a city bus tour which included a leg along the penisula. One of the stops was at a aviary called World of Birds. It sounded interesting so I got off and it immeditaely started to rain. The birds were very beautiful and exotic.

Oops our ride is here. Time to go to the desert dunes. See you soon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dispatch from South Africa

CAPETOWN, SOUTH AFRICA--A joke around here is you can have four seasons in one day. That was certainly the case today. This morning it was bright with some clouds, then about 2 PM it was raining like hell and stayed overcast for the rest of the day. The inclement weather precluded much outdoor activity. We have been in South Africa for only two days now and I've only done a little sightseeing. I have been here before, the last trip was in 2008, by coincidence, there was another Republican VP announcement then too. We were staying in a cozy little bed and breakfast when Sarah Palin first blazed across the world stage. Now Paul Ryan's mug is plastered over the CNN screens (no Fox or MSNBC here).

On the drive to the airport, our cabbie actually brought up presidential politics. It wasn't us. This guy was a talkative sort and on the long ride, he discussed travel, his trip to Florida, the food at the airport, and eventually he asked whether we were fans of Obama or Romney. While not mentioning Ryan, the driver said our country was in a lot of trouble, that he didn't trust government at all, that we should get rid of Obama because he'd done a lousy job so far and let's just see what the next guy does. My partner asked if he liked Social Security because it'll be gone under Mittens and I offered that the Prez did kill Osama bin Liden.The cabbie replied he just didn't like Obama and we needed somebody new. We didn't press it and let the subject drop. I'm afraid that is the attitude of many voters--Obama hasn't fixed the economy and we need candidate X (doesn't matter who as long as it isn't Obama). For our driver and a lot of Americans, Mittens is non-Obama and therefore the better choice.

On the loooong flight (15 hours) to Johannesburg where we would transfer for a short flight (2 hours) to Capetown, they had those cute little movie screens in the back of the seats. I love when they have a wide selection of movies instead of forcing you to watch Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler's latest pieces of crap. I watched Singin' in the Rain and about half of the Avengers (I don't care what they say, Captain America's shield would NOT stop Thor's hammer.) On planes, it's difficult to concentrate on big spectacles, so I only saw this movie up until the first appearance of The Hulk. I can watch the rest of it on the way back and give you a full review. (Did you notice that in this film two Oscar winning actresses--Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman--are reduced to girlfriend status in brief cameos as Pepper Pot and Jane Foster.)

When we arrived in Johannesburg, all the passport agents started singing and cheering and leaving their posts. The South African Olympic team was returning from London. In Capetown, we had a lovely dinner at a Moroccan restaurant where I shimmied with a belly dancer.

I slept off the time change and the next day (today) I hung out at the waterfront area. I was going to take a double-decker bus tour of the city but it started raining so I went to the aquarium. Hopefully, the weather will break and I can take a whale watching boat trip before we leave here for Namibia.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ryan's Hope

Vice Presidential pick Paul Ryan with a typical American voter who makes
under $100,000 a year 
I'll say this for Paul Ryan, Mittens' pick for Veep, he's not boring, but he is a big risk and will plunge the ticket to the bottom. Conventional wisdom had it that Tim Pawlenty or that Portman person from Ohio would be the choice because they were safe. But in the past week, Romney has been effectively put on the defensive by the Obama team's brilliant swift-boating tactics of defining their opponent in swing states. Mittens wanted to change the subject from his tax returns and whether or not he was responsible for the death of that construction worker's wife who lost her healthcare. There were some hand-wringing among lily-livered Dems and media types about how the Obama team had descended to the gutter level of the Republicans ("Oh what a scurrilous, libelous ad!!! I am shocked and appalled!!") His spokesperson Andrea Saul ruined any potential backlash by stating that Romneycare would have helped these poor people if only they had the brains to live in Massachusetts. This caused the heads of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh to explode because Saul dared to mentioned her boss's signature legislation which inspired the hated Obamacare.

Mittens even whined to Chuck Todd begging the opposition not to bring up his business record at Bain and his taxes because that was "personal" and saying he didn't have to reveal his taxes because he is not a business. I thought corporations were people, my friend.

Anyway, the conversation has been changed but IMHO not in a good way for our friend Thurston Mittens the Third. The focus will now be on Ryan's Budget--a slash-and-burn manifesto right out of Atlas Shrugged. Medicare, Social Security, Planned Parenthood--all are eviscerated or defunded altogether--while rich people continued to enjoy those lovely tax breaks and loopholes. All the Dems have to do is say to senior citizens, or future senior citizens like me, "Vouchers are in your future" and it's a guaranteed win for Obama. The pick also demonstrates that Mittens is in the pocket of the ultra-right wing of the party and that he takes his marching orders from the Wall Street Journal. Can you imagine what kind of a president he'd be? And they accuse Obama of being weak. Ironically, some Tea Party types say that Ryan is not right-wing enough, if you can believe that. The Ryan pick will sure up the knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing base of the GOP but moderates and independents will be turned off.

It will still be a close race because Ryan is no Sarah Palin. He's intelligent, eloquent, and doesn't come across  as a plastic flip-flopping phony like the guy at the top of the ticket. He might even outshine Romney who made the Freudian slip of introducing Ryan this morning as the "next president of the United States." I don't think so. Not even vice.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Project Runway Season 10: Episode 4: They're Dropping Like Flies

What did Andrea and Kooan think they were getting into when they signed on as contestants on Project Runway? Both quit the show before being eliminated. In the last episode, after being thrown under the bus by her teammate Christopher, Andrea got up in the middle of the night and vanished from the series. She didn't even go to Tim Gunn and state "This just isn't for me." At least Kooan, the cute little Pikuchu designer, did that the next day in episode 4, and he left to be quickly replaced by the last eliminated contestant Raul. Which leaves the question why wasn't another eliminated contestant brought back to take Andrea's place? Perhaps they called Raul in order for him to take Andrea's place and then Kooan went and quit too so they didn't have time to call Lantie, the bib woman who was the previously aufed designer.

The previous challenge of working in teams evidently took a toll, both Andrea and Kooan seemed to lose all their energy and get all withdrawn, Andrea took a lackadaisical, jokey attitude and Kooan become lethargic, totally unlike his usual ebullient self--like a toy poodle with a cold. It may be that Andrea at age 58 did not feel like competing with young, hungry people and Kooan felt his individuality crushed by having to collaborate or conform to the demands of each week's assignment.

After the designers got back from Michael Kors' store and Mood for their shopping, it seemed as if everything was turning into Project Group Therapy with Kooan making his announcement and Nathan bursting into tears. Raul was brought back in and Ven starting sharpening his claws on him ("I don't know why they brought him back.") Christopher offered unsolicited advice to Buffi and Fabio cut his skirt way too short. I like Christopher a lot, but he's very insecure and wilts at the least criticism or the possibility that someone might not like him. He needs to toughen up.

When we got to the runway, Christopher, Sonjie, and Dmitri were on the top and Buffi, Fabio, and Raul were on the bottom. Ven was in the middle for making basically the same dress he did for the last two challenges--he is technically proficient, but I think he lacks versatility--and Elena made her usual yard-wide linebacker outfit. None of the top dresses were really inspiring--though I like Christopher's a lot. Sonjie won and Buffi, one of my favorites, was eliminated. I sent several tweets saying I wish she could get own show. She's kooky, funny, and fabulous.

The previews for episode five have the remaining designers splitting into two teams to create a collection for Nina and Elena, who has a history of not playing well with others, blows her Ukrainian top.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Reflections on Recent Deaths

Judith Crist
Perhaps it's because I'm in my 50s, but it seems a lot of people from my childhood and young adulthood are dying. Actors and famous personalities who were prominent in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s are disappearing. Sherman Hemsley and Chad Everett, popular TV stars on CBS passed away on the same day. I can recall watching The Jeffersons and Medical Center. Just today Marvin Hamlisch and Judith Crist passed away. Hamlisch was a big deal when I was a kid, winning three Oscars in 1973 for The Sting and The Way We Were. Judith Crist was probably the most famous film critic of her day, sort of the common man's Pauline Kael. She wrote for TV Guide which was the most widely circulated magazine of the 60s and 70s. When I was in high school, my English teacher and two other students from our newspaper, the Campus Lantern took a trip to NYC to attend a conference at Columbia University for student journalism. It was so exciting. Crist was one of the speakers and I watched with awe as she spoke about interviewing Marilyn Monroe and writing her opinions about movies and getting paid for it. I actually wrote movie reviews in our schools paper and I talked with her afterwards. I remember Shelley Winters' performance in a movie called Next Stop Greenwich Village came up.Here she was, the most famous movie critic in America and she was talking to me about Shelley Winters. (That weekend, we stayed in a hotel and saw Pacific Overtures at the Winter Garden. It was stunning.)

Celeste Holm is another recent passing. My friend Diane and I met her in New Orleans in the Maison du Bourbon. We were there to embark on a cruise the next day. She was sitting next to us with a much younger man. I had heard her husband was much younger and I said to Diane, "That's Celeste Holm." Diane didn't believe me, but the husband introduced Holm to the band as an actress who had worked with Louis Armstrong (she was in High Society with Satchmo). I leaned over and told her I remembered her as the Fairy Godmother in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella.She smiled and chirped thank you. Her voice had gone and she could hardly speak, just like my grandmother. A few months later there was a huge article in the NY Times about her battle with her sons over money and how she might have to sell her Oscar for Gentlemen's Agreement.

The world where one movie critic could reach millions of people through the Today Show--as Crist did--is vanishing. I can't think of one journalist as influential as she was or Rex Reed or Pauline Kael. The net has made everyone a critic and as Andy Warhol said, each will be as famous as Brad Pitt or Alexander Woolcott or Dorothy Parker for 15 minutes.

The co-author of Hairspray, the costume designer of Anything Goes, the lady who played Lucy's near-sighted neighbor, the guy who did the voice for Aquaman and the one who did the voice for the robot in Lost in Space. They've all gone and I want to note their passing. They were a part of our lives and deserve notice. Attention must be paid.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Project Runway 10: Episode 3: Stupid Red Carpet!

They say team challenges and tipping wait staff will reveal your true personality. This week's Project Runway brought out the dark underside of many of the designers and also led to a shocking tease for the next episode. Elena was evidently raised by Ukrainian wolves, Buffi just wants to eat something, Raul and Alicia HATE evening wear, Andrea has reached the age where she's not going to lose her shit over a dress, and Christopher is so desperate for a win he might lose out to his evil twin Gunnar. . Plus the dresses made everyone look fat!

The shameless product placement began with the designers teaming up and choosing their colors based on the tones of seven Lexuses. Then faceless drivers took them to meet their clients--former Project Runway contestants, each a somewhat quirky, opinionated one--ranging from the delightful Laura who I saw on the NYC subway once to crazy Kenley who alienated all her fellow designers on Season Five to geometric-shapes woman Mila. The challenge was to create a red-carpet gown to be worn to the Emmys. My first thought was they're all going to the Emmys? No only the winner and the wearer of the winning dress.

Everyone had problems working together particularly Elena and Buffi. Elena is such a control freak and Buffi is so relaxed, they immediately ran into trouble, particularly since they chose to make the Dress with 5000 Pleats. (Cue the tense violins as Elena storms out in a Ukrainian huff and explains to the Confession Camera the history of hard times in her native land and how that applies to fashion design--"Where I came from you have hustle just to feed yourself, so I won't let Buffi eat until she irons every last pleat.")

Christopher stressed out as Andrea took a "whatevs" attitude.This goes to her initial interview in which she said at 58 she can say "I don't give a fuck." This can be beneficial in that you don't freak out easily, but Christopher saw it as lackadaisical and asked "Well then if you're not passionate about this, why are you here?"

Ven won again but the structure echoed the rock-candy dress of last week. I think he may be proficient but not versatile.

The tease for next week looks like one of the most drama-filled episodes ever. Andrea steals away in the middle of the night and everyone's morale collapses. I can't wait, but then I'm out of the country for three weeks. How will I bear it?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Project Runway 10: Episode 2: Sweet and Tweet

Buffi's messy but fun creation
I've discovered you can't live tweet and blog about a TV show at the same time. I experimented with live tweeting this week's unconventional challenge episode of Project Runway and am having a hard time writing this blog since all my energy went into the tweeting. I had to watch the damn thing twice. I did get something out of the tweets because Buffi favorited several of my comments and even replied to some of my thoughts. In gratitude, I voted for her as fan favorite--I would have done it anyway, but she was so nice. And she's in fourth or fifth place, so get with it, Buffi fans.

The episode itself was not particularly exciting. The challenge was to use unusual materials--candy--a choice they've done before. Several seasons back they went to the Hershey Store in Times Square. This time the cite was Dylan's Candy Bar, run by the daughter of Ralph Lauren. Ven crushed rock candy into a stained-glass window-inspired creation and Sonja made a beautiful blue dress studded with gummy sharks and other gumdrops. The hateful Gunnar did a nice job and Andrea had a nervous moment when Tim Gunn disparaged her paper-pill apron, but she stood by her design and survived.

Buffi made an intricate top of that sugary rainbow stuff but her cute hat melted and made a gooey mess (she and Kooan learned cotton candy is not a wise choice) Though it was messy, her piece did have interest and a sense of fun and character. Lanti's outfit was not exciting or imaginative, and she was aufed. The only real drama was Elena getting a glue gun burn and crying as the paramedics were called.

Next week (tomorrow really, I've been busy) past designers are the clients for dresses to the Emmys. Are they all going to the Emmys or only the one with the winning dress? That bitch Kenley is one of the clients so this should be good.