Monday, March 30, 2009

Tatu Tattoo

I happened to be killing time in New York City yesterday (aforementioned flight delays), so I decided to get a manicure. Whilst soaking my digits, I noticed the girl sitting next to me had a small tattoo written in Hebrew letters on her foot. My Hebrew reading skills are pretty decent, but I was having a little trouble making it out.

It seemed like perhaps a letter was missing from the end. For all you Hebrew readers out there, the tattoo read "Chaf, Lamed, Het, Yud Yud." In my mind, she was either trying to say "every life" and forgot a Mem Sofit OR she randomly added a Yud. Either way, I figured it merited a question.

Casually, I asked her what her tattoo meant and she confirmed her intention was for it to read "all life," or "every life." No clue what profound intention was bundled up in her foible, but I decided not to press the matter further. Instead, I decided to turn her incredibly stupid decision and apparent failure in Hebrew school into a blog post because that is more fun for everybody! (Except her and a buddy from college who also had a botched Hebrew verb on his neck a la Britney Spears.)

My Google search on "misspelled tattoos" revealed that this is hardly uncharted blogger territory. One guy had a whole photo gallery of evidence that it doesn't take a PhD in English to become a tattoo artist. And though confirmed that the urban legend of Andy Sakai who emblazoned wannabe college students with Japanese symbols for "small penis" instead of "warrior," was truly a myth, my mani-pedi-mate can hardly be the only idiot.

UCLA's Language Department devoted an article to the items that get lost in translation on someone's body. From Kanji symbols for "English" instead of tranquility and Chinese characters spelling "supermarket" instead of a loved one's name, the possibilities for fuck ups are endless.

And the frustration/humiliation over misspelled tattoos is foreign languages is apparently not limited to the eye of the beholder. Artists also despise them as demonstrated in this pretty hilarous post, and they figure the human canvas is responsible for the research and verification of authenticity. Determining poseur status remains on a case-by-case basis.

To all my readers with foreign words and characters permanently inked onto their bodies, I would really love your feedback on the whole issue. How did you verify your tattoo? Do you speak the language? If not, how did you know it was "kosher?" Why a foreign language and not English?

To everyone else, please feel free to share your needle-and-ink-driven tales!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hooray for Blog Carnivals

Check out the latest Haveil Havalim here - thanks Jack for putting it together!

Sincere apologies for the lack of scintillating posts of late. Luckily, I still have a job and it's keeping me rather busy. I had planned for a good post tonight after some family time, but due to aggravation from severe flight delays that are keeping my brother in DC for an extra 4 hours, my creativity has waned.

Hopefully, tomorrow will bring some fabulous ideas that I can finagle for your reading pleasure.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Importance of Being Endearing

One of my earliest memories is of going with my parents to the Alisan Chinese Restaurant in Anaheim, California. I exclusively ordered the cashew chicken (or moon nuts in my three-year-old vocabulary) and it's where I learned to eat with chopsticks.

My family left Southern California in the mid-1980s along with so many others in the aerospace industry and we moved to McDonnell Douglas's new headquarters in Mesa, Arizona. I recall my mother's horror at the local grocery store's posters proclaiming the Grand Canyon State's liberal gun carrying policies and her frustration at the culinary wasteland, which was seemingly devoid of good Chinese food.

After futile attempts at Sampan and Autumn Moon, my father happened upon China Palace. Tucked into a strip mall like so many dining establishments in the Valley of the Sun, China Palace was located close to his office and not too far from our house. It wasn't long before we became regulars and Sunday dinners could only mean one stereotypical option - Chinese take out.

As frequent patrons, we began to befriend the owners, Dick and Katie, and soon found ourselves invited to private celebrations on Chinese New Year and Christmas (natch). They'd serve authentic Chinese food to their families and special invitees, including my family. It was the first time I'd seen head-on prawns and I recall my brother gaining significant entertainment from the eyes. We'd scored fans and fancy calendars decorated with scenic vistas and birds and somewhere along the way I learned the importance of being endearing to proprietors.

Here in my new suburban New Jersey town, I've made the acquaintance of a few bartenders, shopkeepers and business owners, but I'm really only at full endearment status with one. Raul of Raul's Empanada Town and I were instant amigos. I bring legions of new or soon to be loyalists to his place and he helps me with my Spanish. The zenith of my quest to be utterly considered a "regular" came when Raul willinging gave me a free t-shirt. Now I strut the streets proudly advertising like so many Armani Exchange shoppers.

But it's not limited to me. One friend has a long-standing relationship with his local Indian restaurant that's included gifts of tapestries featuring an amorous Indian couple. My co-worker can work miracles at the local deli, though I've never seen her score any swag.

I wonder, what is it about some people that particularly endears them to a certain restaurant owner? Is it mere frequence of appearances or does enthusiasm in recruiting others play a role? Can one "double dip" and be adored by two establishments? At the same time? In the same city?

Personally, I think creating a wide network of proprietors who brighten at the sight of my face (or my AmEx card) is a worthwhile endeavor in this age of big box stores and impersonal business interactions. Maybe if we all reach out and cultivate relationships with one or two mom and pop stores then the world could be a better place. Or maybe we'd all just eat better.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Keep on Trying Til I Reach the Higher Ground

Admittedly, it's been 28 hours and I'm still in deep recovery mode from my trip to New Orleans. I won't even attempt to recount all my adventures, insights and Abita-fueled escapades in this forum. If you want juicy details about the bouncer who willingly plied me with shots of Patron or tales of extreme bar hopping, you know where to find me. For the purposes of Shtetl Fabulous-ness, I wanted to focus on some of my perceptions and impressions of the Crescent City.

If you have never been to New Orleans, go. Go now. Just as the media reported, the French Quarter and Central Business Districts escaped the storm's major wrath and you will see very little evidence of Katrina in the downtown areas. I highly recommend the Doubletree Hotel on Canal Street between Peters and Tchopitoulas (hope I spelled it right!). Great location, reasonable price and close to both the streetcar and Harrah's Casino.

What sets New Orleans apart from any other American city and what makes it so incredibly compelling is the culture. Nowhere else in the US can you experience a fully-developed local cuisine. While most of the Creole and Cajun specialities fell outside the bounds of kashrut, the essential flavors and spices carry through even without the pork sausage or shrimp. And if you do eat those things, then NOLA is a foodie's paradise on par with New York and other cities five times its size. And those beignets from Cafe duMonde do live up to the hype. Just skip the always long sit-down line and jump into the shorter queue in the back. You may even be able to flag down a tip-hungry waiter who will bring you your order to go.

Luckily music has fewer boundaries and the traditions of jazz and zydeco flow out of nearly every club and permeate your eardrums with their soulfulness. On one afternoon, my cousin and I strolled down Bourbon Street and heard the fascinating sound of a guy playing a washboard. The instrument covered his entire torso like a shield and he put his entire body into playing. A few days later, I heard classical jazz from an astoundingly fast trumpeter and a perfect rendition of the blues come from an wizened man on the harmonica. And where else in America can you walk down the street and randomly bump into an eight college-age guys in a jazz band?

Of course, all of these wonderful sounds, smells and tastes exist against the backdrop of the costliest natural disaster in our nation's history. After Hurricane Katrina hit, 80 percent of the city was under water and 120,000 residents still have not returned. On our tour of the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernards Parish, we saw abandoned shopping centers, dilapidated houses still tattooed with spray painted Xs and water lines.

Our guides told us that every green patch dotted with slabs of cement was once a home. I couldn't help but think of what would happen if the areas around the levees were allowed to revert to marshy swampland. How would the environment change? Would it be for the better? Would these newly rebuilt levees and houses be protected from the next storm?

As we drove through the Holy Cross section of the Lower Ninth, we saw kids playing on the porches of rebuilt homes. Again, I wondered what it must be like for them to grow up as tourist attractions? We clearly were not the first bus to roll through their streets and I hope we are not the last because I think it's really important for all of us to understand what happened in NOLA and to work to keep it from happening again.

Time and time again during my trip, people asked what we could do to help. Our entire group of 550 young adults spent a day volunteering at a former high school that spent two months under 12 feet of water after the storm. It was such a big deal we made it on the local news.

I don't want my experience to exist in a vacuum, so I hope hearing my stories will inspire you to take action. Here are some sites you can check out to learn more, give of your time or money and to make a difference.

United Way of St Bernard's Parish - a forgotten area deeply impacted by the storm
Make it Right Foundation - the closest any of us will likely get to Brad Pitt
Common Ground - great local group, plus my friend works there
Musicians Village - provides affordable housing for musicians to keep the music in NOLA

This is a really small sampling of all the amazing groups working hard (for very little money) to make New Orleans great again. If you know of other organizations, please post them in the comments section. Now, get packing!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler

Literally, "let the good times roll," this phrase has become the de facto battle cry for the City of New Orleans. Sure, people use it more often around Mardi Gras, which is already three weeks ago. But I'm gonna let Jewish Standard Time rule in this case.

Yes folks, it's time once again to turn Shtetl Fabulous into a road show or travelougue of sorts. Tomorrow I'm heading down to NOLA for the first time and the timing could not be better. The national young leadership contingent of the organization where I work is sponsoring a 4-day conference in the Crescent City. Just imagine 550 Jews, age 25-45, descending on a city with a reputation for unabashed partying and armed with liberal (and consumerist guilt). The blog post fodder is incredible!

Aside from sampling the best Abita Brewery, Cafe duMonde and Creole cuisine has to offer (within the confines of kashrut), I am also looking forward to exploring this mythologized city. From the mansions of the Garden District to the devastation of the Ninth Ward, I fully expect this trip will change me in some way.

To make the process a little easier, the organizers are taking us on a bus tour to some of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina. In grad school, I took a semester-long course about the myriad failures at every level of government and the environmental miasma that went into creating the costliest natural disaster in American history. From a policy perspective (that's what my master's was in), it's easy to sit on the sidelines and make recommendations and distribute blame. I think my opinions could be a little different after I see things first-hand and have a tangible, human face to the tragedy.

We are also taking out some time from the conference to volunteer at a former school. Since I don't have too many vacation days from work, I've never really had a chance to do "ecotourism" so this should be a great opportunity from that perspective as well.

And finally, there's more than 500 people going through the whole experience with me. For an relentless social butterfly like me, what could be a better way to spend a long weekend?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Time of Our Joy

Really, I had wanted to do a very funny, witty post in honor of Purim. After all, it's the time of our collective joy and we celebrate the godless holiday with costumes, cookies and public drunkenness. It's a lot of fun.

Local synagogues go to bizarre but great lengths to stage plays, enact pranks and engender merriment. It's also the perfect time for bloggers like me to go whole hog on some parody (no pun intended).

Alas, I've had a lot on my mind (figuring out the radio presets on my new car) and going on in my life (seeing friends and an upcoming trip to New Orleans) that have kept me from investing a whole afternoon in creating a great Purim spoof. Something to the general effect of ghetto mundane which I imagine would include how to make reservations at your local TGI Friday's and my adventures as a completely graceful personal shopper.

Instead, I'm just going to offer a Purim blessing. May this truly be a time of joy for all of us. Whether it's the simple joy of getting a primo parking spot or the nostalgic joy of hearing from an old friend or the collective joy of your alma mater winning March Madness - may we all experience happiness in the coming days and weeks (and years too damnit!).

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Where Have All the Models Gone?

Happened to be perusing the "women's interest" magazine section at my local Barnes and Noble recently and noticed something strange. None of the covers feature models. Rather, they are graced by highly airbrushed and impeccably coiffed celebrities, hocking everything from makeup to fitness routines to sex tips.

Wherefore art thou Cindy, Naomi, Linda and Kate? Remember the 90s when supermodels dominated the national psyche and the covers of Cosmo, Allure and Glamour? Nowadays, you're far more likely to see Reese Witherspoon, Lindsay Lohan or Katie Holmes.

And in the magazines that toe the edge between women's interest and that widely-shared obsession with politics, Michelle Obama's finely-toned arms have become the stuff of blog speculation and gym ambition.

Even the women of comedy are expected to have cover-worthy bodies and faces. As Tina Fey's star has shot into the stratosphere, her modeling gig has shifted from indie rags like Bust to the ultimate in chic, Vanity Fair. And what is up with this month's cover of Shape, featuring Julia Louis Dreyfus? This is the same woman whose character fought over chocolate babka, debated the merits of H&H Bagels, got kicked out by the Soup Nazi and ate Mr. Peterman's antique wedding cake!

Truly, it would be nicer to see more realistic women gracing the covers of magazines than being force fed images of unattainable ideals. Contrary to what advertisers might think, I am far more motivated to buy a magazine that features a woman whose body I could realistically attain or whose clothing I could afford without selling a kidney. But maybe that's just me.