Friday, September 17, 2010

Travelogue: The Suburbs

Hi All! Welcome to our travel-weblog!

It took us a little while to get this started because WiFi is really tricky to find out here - it's almost always password protected and there are very few Starbucks.  We finally found a "library" though which has all kinds of computers you can borrow and WiFi available and these really cool "reading" rooms.

But so anyways we arrived here on the weekend and it's been a whirlwind so far! I don't even know where to begin...

Originally we were supposed to go with a bunch of friends to Italy for the summer but then Daddy said something about the trip not being appropriate because of the "Bear Market".  Which is weird because I thought they had those in Russia, not Italy.  And either way I'd kind of love to see one.  I love bears!  Especially baby ones.

At first we were really bummed, but then he said that he'd made arrangements for us to go to The Suburbs to stay with his cousin and "au pair" for their two kids.  I know: I didn't know what an au pair was either. But he told me it's like being a camp counselor except instead of being stuck in the wilderness you get to experience a completely different culture!  The pay isn't great (zero), but they have cable and we mostly have our nights to ourselves.

PLUS: there is so much to see and do out here!  Soccer fields are everywhere (chew on that Italy!), there are loads of swimming pools, and you can see any movie anytime you like.  I saw some kids listening to hip hop in the park yesterday too.  They might have had a few pops too (wink, wink).

This is going to be the best summer ever.

We promise to keep the updates coming, tomorrow we're supposed to go to "Super Market" which I'm sure will be, well super!  Maybe we'll even do one post in the local language (Urdu) once we get the hang of it!


Oh!  I almost forgot.  They've totally solved poverty here. There are absolutely NO homeless people!  It's amazing!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Book Review: Diary of a Very Bad Year

Diary of a Very Bad Year: Confessions of an Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager

Confession of a semi-anonymous stock trader: I don't read much in the way of non-fiction and especially not finance non-fiction.

But this small book came to my attention from the good, smart people at n+1, a literary magazine that I've been subscribing to for some years (and sometimes even reading!).

They published a few interviews with an anonymous hedge fund manager (HFM) in the magazine and on their website as the financial crisis was just unfolding and it was pretty interesting, if as much for the context as the content.  The HFM was charming, accessible, and really quite inciteful.  Also, it was kind of fun to watch Keith Gessen try and figure out what HFM was talking about.

Well I guess the response must have been good because Gessen kept going back and eventually gather enough interview content to compile them into a fairly sturdy book.

It was fun to read partly because, on purpose, I haven't read much about the crisis, and it turns out I'd forgotten a lot of the more ridiculous things that happened.  More importantly, I'd forgotten how scared we all were.

But beyond the actual story, which is familiar enough to anyone who reads the papers over the last 3 years, what was interesting about the book was just how articulate, and how clear-thinking HFM was in spoken-word interviews.  His ability to explain reasonably complex issues in really simple, interesting terms was amazing.

I can't quite recommend the book to everyone because ultimately it's still pretty esoteric in topic - a bond manager talking about the bond & private loan market during the most dangerous time to be a bond manager in the last century. But to anyone who has an interest in the mind of a man who is extremely well paid to think faster and further than his competitors, this is probably a good way to spend 10 subway rides.

Book Review: Chronic City - Jonathan Lethem

Chronic City (Vintage Contemporaries)

I've been a pretty big fan of Lethem's since Fortress of Solitude, which is still considered his best if not his most popular. He is able to balance the smirky ironic cynicism of this age's writing with a much finer, old-world emotional gravity that makes his current, topical story feel much more timeless.

Essentially buddy story, Chronic City is at it's core about hipsters.  What do the arbiters of culture and taste, both low and high, do in their downtime?  It tells the story of a willfully bland ex-child actor and general layabout (the amazingly named Chase Insteadman) and how he falls in-friend with a hermetic, pot-smoking, burger chomping suit wearing counter-cultural journalist named Perkus Tooth.  They spend many pages wiling away time in Perkus's cramped apartment cooking up paranoid theories over percolated coffee and brand-named joints.

Which, somewhat plot-less as a pot-book might be, and believe me there are some people who really didn't care for the aimless drug-talk, it's a great ride if you're willing to take it with them.

I was.  

But beyond the upper-east-side hijinks,  the fantastic details, and some seriously great set-pieces, it's Lethem's writing that got me excited.

His ability to glide so smoothly from the realistic to the fantastic, from the trite to the emotionally charged is just amazing - all the more so because it seems so effortless. 

In one particular scene near the end of the novel, Chase is concerned with mounting an intervention for Perkus and it occurs to him that he needs to enlist the help of one character sooner rather than later since the character is "about to descend into the joyful solipsism of young parenthood", which, as those who know me can imagine, rang so true to me I had to put my glass down.  

Indeed, I'm the last person most of my friends would call to help them stage an intervention.  But then, maybe I always was.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Are You Up For A While?

“Hi there Mr. Cyril, it’s Reza Dibadj, nice to see you again!”

Reza had learned some years ago that these people appreciated a quick little reminder when saying hello for the first time in a while. It was, after all, a cottage community so there was often a long time between seeings. Also, everyone seemed to be pretty old. And drunk.

“Of course, Raisin! Nice to see you too! And how is Francis?”

“Francis is doing great, still attending classes overseas of course. I’m married to Isabel. We’re expecting.”

“Yes! Good!”

Cyril had whacked his shin against the side of his boat while disembarking that morning, and though blood still seeped from the cut the sappy trickle had not yet reached his sock.

“Up for a little while?” he asked hopefully, his smile stretching around some odd coloured dental work.

“No,” Reza sighed, “just the weekend.”

Cyril’s shook his head and tapped his tongue against the roof of his mouth, “Teh, teh”

“We’ll be up for a little stretch at the end of the month though,” Reza added hopefully.

“Ah. Well. Good!”

Everything was, of course, always good there. It really was. Days were a steady succession of discussions about just how good it was, the only exception being that it was not as good when you had to leave.

Reza had learned that despite the community’s reputation for being inaccessible, it was actually fairly easy to make friends if you simply heeded this simple protocol ­—

Affirmation: This is just such a special and wonderful place.

Confirmation: Yes, it’s totally unique and amazing. We are very fortunate.

The bit about being fortunate was a little flourish he had added. He was humble by nature, but also, even notwithstanding his name, the absurdly hairy legs he had stuffed into tennis shorts made it clear that he had married into the community.

“Yes, we’re really looking forward to it. Two weeks! It’s just so much better when you can really settle in for a while here. More relaxing!”

“Yes, yes it is. Wonderful!” Cyril had started shuffling off toward the iced tea-stand, which also sold homemade brownies that Reza frequently sought out.

Watching the young girl get up from her chair to greet her teetering customer, he wondered if his child would one day work at that stand for a summer job.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


A few tables away the flash of a camera caught his eye.

I wonder if they were taking my picture, he thought with the slightest raising of an eyebrow. Probably. I bet they think I’m some movie star.

It would be really embarrassing if they come over to ask me to pose or sign an autograph. I’ll do it, though. 

They deserve it, a brush with fame. That’s the kind of thing that makes someone’s night.

Probably they think I’m Ashton Kutcher, except my arms are bigger than his. Which, let’s be fair, you couldn't know that he has skinny arms from his films, but I have it on pretty good authority that mine are bigger and possibly better defined.

The girl in the gym seemed to really know her stuff, when it came to celebrities. But she said I look more like Jason Bateman. Which is weird because I totally don’t. Though I think we probably have the same speech cadence. It makes people laugh almost no matter what we say. Just the way I say it.

When I listen to myself on tape, like on voicemail and such, I’m always surprised at how little it sounds like me; because I actually have a much deeper voice than it picks up.

Maybe I should send some drinks over to the picture-snapping table. That would be sporting of me. Then they’d have a story to tell their friends! “Bradley Cooper bought us a round of drinks!” I bet they would be talking about it for weeks.

Imagine I’d worn my glasses? That would have really freaked them out. I wonder who they’d think I was then. Some kind of bookish celebrity, that’s what. The Harry Potter guy or something. Except taller in person.

And not gay.

Though sometimes when people aren’t sure they think it’s a bit hot too. Is he or isn’t he? They don’t know! Mystery booksmart. I can see when people are puzzled by it, when they can’t quite figure out if my jeans are tight because I bought them that way or if it’s because my legs are totally ripped. Puzzling enigma.

“Hold on Ray, are you even listening?” she asked.

“What? Sure I am.”

“Well what did I just say?”

He glanced over to the table where the camera had been but he couldn’t see them anymore. Probably they’ve gone back to the nowhere from which they came, he thought.

He looked at her vaguely, sniffed, and said, “You don’t understand me at all.”

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Wrangling a bear cub can't be easy, but it must be easier than this.

It has never been lost on me that my daughter's name is a near-homonym of violence; Violet commits violence to the air-sickness bag that was tucked (probably for years) in the seat-back pouch in front of us.

After the routine rundown of safety procedures, the lead steward also informs us that our plane, and its carrier, are saddened but proud to have one of our fallen soldiers on board. He explains, in our two official languages, that the Colonel aboard had "given her life" for our Country and, presumably, the principals she seeks to uphold in Afghanistan.

Violet eats a bruised banana and I remember my grandfather. "Soldiers don't give their lives, they have them taken from them," he told me many times.

"Elle est tombée en service," is what the steward says during the French half of the address. That's it, I think, a tomber: you know that you might fall, but you sure don't want to.

As the plane taxis away from the gate, I have to press the baby to my chest in preparation for take-off, essentially assuming our crash position, just in case.

Out the window I see that the grounds crews have halted their peculiar vehicles, standing at attention beside them as the plane passes them. A baggage-lift driver is holding a flag over his head, snapping stupidly in the jet wash and barely visible.

"Agua," says Violet, looking at the lake as we ascend. In the hour-long flight, she doesn't lose any fingers and I sweat through my shirt.

When we land, the sober steward announces that in honour of our fallen soldier, it is requested that we passengers remain seated until the coffin is unloaded. Though he doesn't specifically mention that we should be silent, we do. Even Violet.

We all hear the hydraulics of the cargo bay and a great deal of clunking that probably isn't the coffin but sure makes us think about it. What it must be like, a military coffin? Hard and likely aluminium. Probably sturdy. Surely not actually draped in a flag in transit? I wonder if her parents are at the airport.

Strangely, I hope that she's OK down there. Which, how could she be.

Violet has cheese in her hair and I kiss her between her eyes.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dead On Arrival

  1. Nothing good. Again. There hadn’t been anything good posted on Mike’s wall in some considerable time. No one had even tagged or commented on his photos. He didn’t even bother checking his email.

  1. So this is what the bottom of a tequila bottle looks like in the daylight, thought Rex. It was gluey and smelled of confusion.

  1. Unlike other ocean creatures, Winston had strong feelings when it comes to matters of the heart, especially when family is concerned.

  1. Ryan’s beard was poorly groomed because it turned out that even though it would seem at the outset to be easier, taking care of it was more work than he had anticipated and more complicated, involving equipment that he didn’t even own. But even so, he tried his best. In any event, as soon as the phone rang, he knew he had been wrong, a wrong he felt right to the very roots of that unkempt beard.

  1. It would be foolhardy to mistake Janet’s encyclopaedic knowledge of vegetable gardening with any kind competence or otherwise common sense. She knew three different organic and safe ways to ward off garden slugs (crushed eggshells, for one) but for the life of her couldn’t figure out how to get gasoline into her station wagon.

  1. Raymond wandered about his ballroom in faintly choreographed steps, as if his socks knew how to dance but his shoes wouldn’t let them.

  1. There was no good way to tell Our Glorious Leader about the cheese situation. He was going to be furious and everyone knew it.

  1. For the one, striking moment Ray felt alive. But after he had driven the nail through his hand, he was immediately overtaken with the deflating realization that he would have to deal with the messy consequences of his existential experiment.