nature and sh*t.

Yeah yeah yeah, I’ve been lax on posting lately. That’s because I had a long lunch with a friend yesterday and spent a few hours outside. I actually got pigment on my arms and face. It’s remarkable. Also, I ate panna cotta for the first time yesterday and all I can say is “what took me so long?” because it was goooood.

One of the advantages of the train ride was checking out all the scenery along the way. Of course I thought my pictures were amazing when I was taking them, but upon review, um, not so much.

I have about a million pictures of this bridge. Just in case.

I wish I could've truly captured the glowing green of this swampy marsh water.

Yeah, I thought I was pretty artsy.

The urban jungle. This is one of the first sights when pulling into New Orleans. Truly gorgeous.

deep cover.

Thanks to this morning’s news, my secret is out. I’m not a freelance writer living in downtown Madison. Nope. I am an undercover agent for the Russian government.

We’re everywhere, you see. Gathering intelligence at farmers’ markets, fastidiously dvr’ing city council meetings and taking copious notes, and scanning local Yelp sites for left-leaning sympathizers. You see, it’s 2010, and there’s a lot of sensitive information to be found amongst the school hallways and backyards of America. A lot of heavy sh*t man, and the Russians need it.

I spend hours watching cable news, meticulously detailing each and every state secret Wolf Blitzer spouts. Sometimes I even go on the internet and download locations of embassies, factories and vulnerable U.S. holdings. I know where every major U.S. government building is located, and thanks to Google I can actually see the buildings from the street. Sometimes I even troll Washington D.C. blogs to see if I can get the inside scoop on the political scene. This is all stuff I can only find on American soil, and it’s honestly going to give Russia so much dirt on this country – who knows what will happen?

Wait – I know how this will end!!! The eff-you will be an international time suck wherein Russia spends millions on training spies to live in suburbia and gather intel from the internet and at the same time the FBI spends millions observing, tracking and hauling in people it cannot arrest because they spent their time tracking intel off the internet.
Also, we’ll all spend the day reading about these stupid spy rings and forget about the millions of gallons of crude oil invading our shores every minute. Sounds like a win-win for everyone!

Sometimes real life is made into movies. And sometimes the news just feels like a bad movie come to life.

poverty.

A The heartbreaking, sobering aspect of our train ride from Chicago to New Orleans was witnessing the poverty in Mississippi and Louisiana. We saw houses, buildings and communities that were literally on the wrong side of the tracks. It gave me great pause to think about how our country has left these people behind.

You’ll have to forgive the blurriness of these photos – they were snapped from a moving train.

This one hits me the hardest. It's pretty much a metaphor for miles and miles of life along the train tracks.

gopher.

Phew! It’s good to be back. I have to admit, it was sort of nice to take a blog break for a bit. While we’ve been back from New Orleans for a few days now, we still really weren’t out of vacation mode. Jason was around for a couple of days, we went to the movies, I still have a pile of sh*t to unpack…basically it’s been lazy and I’ve not been very motivated.

This weekend helped turn the ship around. I hit the Farmers’ Market and loaded up on fresh produce (while the food in New Orleans was incredible, it wasn’t exactly, um, nutritious) and sunshine. Yesterday I started in on my to-do list and felt as if I was really making progress. And today I’ve already worked out, had a healthful breakfast (yes, kale in my eggs!) and am nearly done with work for the day. And it’s not even 10 am.

So, the promised recap of our NOLA trip. It was wonderful in so many ways…and the characters we encountered along the way were half the fun. We decided to take the Van Galder to Chicago so we wouldn’t have to deal with packing. This delightful lady rocked it out in the seat in front of us for much of the trip.

It's hard to tell from this still image, but her moves were identical to those of the Caddyshack gopher. It was enchanting. Also, we learned this woman is terrified of going to the bathroom while a bus is in motion. The high-pitched screams said it all.

Seriously, she moved just like this little guy.

countdown.

So, we’re headed to New Orleans tomorrow. NOLA. The Big Easy. The Crescent City. Saint City. Nawlins. I wish I had so many nicknames.

Anyway, we’re taking the train (City of New Orleans) from Chicago and will arrive Saturday afternoon. We’re staying in the French Quarter, which will hopefully give us a nice base camp for walking around the city. Local weather predicts heat that feels like 105 degrees and sporadic, heavy rain showers. YES!

Truthfully, I don’t think the weather will matter all that much. I’m looking forward to eating, drinking and dancing my way through one of the world’s most fascinating cultural meccas. It’s hot and humid here, it’ll be hot and humid there. At least there I can eat a beignet 24 hours a day.

Don’t worry, I’ll post pictures and fill you in on our train overnighters. And as long as I’m promising things, I’ll try to do a summer book list next week, since you asked so nicely.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Our NOLA hotel. Yes, I think I will go for a carriage ride, thank you.

satc 2 sndtrk.

Yes we can! That’s my rallying cry,  dear readers. For ever since I began this humble blog with my riveting expose of Amelia Earhart, it’s been my goal to get the attention of corporate America, to have someone with deep coffers see my worth, acknowledge my contribution – and ask me to do more. And now it’s happened.

The powers-that-be at One2One Network have sent me-gratis-my very own copy of the Sex and the City 2 Soundtrack. Beyond that, they have ASKED FOR MY OPINION! Oh,how fervently have I awaited this day!

Sadly, when I listened to the CD and sad down to write my review, I felt a bit like Rory Gilmore at the ballet. I wanted so much to like the music so I could write a review full of joy and glee and appreciation for my new-found favorite summer soundtrack. Instead, I feel a little gypped. Because honestly, it pretty much blows.

The music stumbles from the start. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE covers, but Alicia Keys’ version of Rapture is thin and completely unnecessary – the producers would have been much better served with Debbie Harry’s original. Then there’s some random Dido number, reminiscent of 1999. Throwaway.

Fortunately the next two tracks, by Cee Lo and Erykah Badu are both modern and fresh and enjoyable – and they certainly shifted my mood. I thought there might be some life left in the disc, and I began to feel hopeful. Then the snakecharming, stereotypical Middle-Eastern fingerbells of the next two numbers sort of ran together and pissed me off – honestly, I didn’t make it all the way through either song. I remember thinking something about the Casio synthesizer I had in 8th grade, then blacking out.

When I came to, it was Liza Minnelli’s cover of Beyoncé’s Single Ladies anthem. God help us. Did you ever hear Pat Boone covering Ozzy Osbourne? It’s cute and all, but the novelty wears off pretty quick. And the over-enunciation couldn’t be more grating. So yeah, that’s where I stand on Liza’s first contribution to the disc.

Finally, after what has been mostly suffering, we are given a gift. Alicia Keys redeems herself with her own sequel: Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down. This is Keys at her best, her strong vocals soar and the song is invigorating and pulsating and finally breathes some life into what thus far has been a mangled mishmash of music that supposedly represents four of the strongest, most sophisticated women in the country, not to mention symbolizes one of the world’s most vibrant cities.  At this point, I think we’re turning a corner, and I’m elated.

So yeah, we turned a corner alright. What I failed to realize was that corner take us down an alley to a Whitney Houston song graveyard from 1986. Jennifer Hudson had a beautiful voice, as does Leona Lewis…but if I wanted to listen to two grown women modulate and coo throatily about love being a color, well, I guess I would never want that, would I? WHO WOULD? After the joy that was Alicia Keys, this song was just insulting, a letdown and ultimately, irritating. I started to hate the cd case, the cover art and myself for the self-inflicted torture.

Now everything was going downhill, and fast. There are two songs no one ever needs to hear again. One is I Will Survive, and the other is I am Woman. Why anyone felt the need to have the four stars of Sex and the City belt out Helen Reddy’s tired old song is beyond me. What’s worse, the women sound as if they’re auditioning for a community theater production. It’s painful. It’s then I realize the soundtrack’s producers are just fucking with us – because they follow this earsore with three standards sung by the Sex and the City Men’s Choir. And I will not say any more on that subject, because my thoughts are so vicious I can’t bear to type them.

And really, there’s not much else to say about this disappointment. Liza Minnelli does a decent version of Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye and Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors is included for some random reason. I think there might be a couple of other songs, but let’s just let them fade into the wind, as this soundtrack is sure to do.

While I was a fan of the show and enjoyed the first movie, I haven’t felt compelled to see the sequel. Many reviewers have faulted the film for being out of touch with the modern economy - failing to account for the shift in style and tastes that has accompanied the economic downturn of the past two years. If anything, my thoughts on the soundtrack echo those criticisms – the songs are bloated and indulgent of a limited taste level with little thought to how times and style have changed.

So yeah, download the Alicia Keys song. Then move on.

If you ever get inspired to sing "I am Woman," please don't. Just don't.