Sunday, July 29, 2007

Delaware...more than just a tax haven

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

What to read when you're done with Harry Potter...

After the Hirshorn, after the late-night diner, a bevy of cute wizard-caped kids (and adults) ran across our path.

Let's shout out, "Harry dies! Harry dies!" *

Nah, that's mean. They'll cry.

Of course, we meant the adults; kids are notoriously resilient.

I don't know know why I never got into Harry Potter books. (linked because they need more publicity) Kudos to J.K. Rowling for entrancing millions and making a killing.

But I have run across a sundry array of good grown-up books lately:

- China Men, Maxine Hong Kingston - Complex take on the immigrant experience.
- Fashion Babylon, Anonymous - Cheeky take on the gossip and risky-as-hell business model behind the fashion industry.
- Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee - South African professor boffs student, gets fired, ends up on the farm.
- The Grass Is Singing, Doris Lessing - South African Mary Tyler Moore type listens to gossip, gets married, ends up on the farm.
- Hank and Chloe, Jo-Ann Mapson - Opposites attract and bring out the best in each other. Hilarity and sex (lots of sex) ensue.
- Mating, Norman Rush - A meeting of the minds and battle of the sexes in an experimental tribal village.

* Note: I have not read the book and have no clue if Harry Potter actually does pass along in this grand finale, or if he and Hermionne finally hook up.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bulgaria, the Underrated Eastern European Republic

Hungary has its goulash. Romania has its girl gymnasts and Croatia has that hot Dr. Goran Unpronounceable-last-name on ER. Whither, then, the humble neighbor to the south and east, Bulgaria?

"I'd like to exchange these Bulgarian leva for dollars."

The two currency exchange clerks met my request with blank stares, like they were expecting me to yank a goat out of my wallet or something. It was then that I realized the misperceptions - or a lack of perception altogether - that exist in the U.S. about this country of 7 million.

What many people don't realize (and I wouldn't either, if I didn't have family living there whom I just visited) - Bulgaria combines the best of the regions it unites.

- Mediterranean food and climate: Shopska salad, cheese, mushrooms, olives as big as nectarines...

- European cafe culture: Any time of day or night, where there's a table, chairs and a bottle of wine, people are gathered talking, laughing, playing chess.

- Old-world history: And this is really old-world, as in churches in the middle of Sofia that date back to 800 A.D. and neighbors including Turkey and the former stomping grounds of Alexander the Great (ironically just popped up on Netflix - not one of Oliver Stone's finest moments). Not to mention the Eastern Orthodox art and mystique. Something about wafting incense and gold-leaf halos draws in even a heathen like me.

- Post-communist character: Vodka, chain-smoking, imposing Cyrillic signage and the undercurrent of organized crime - just enough of this remains to give the place flair, yet not so much as to creep out the sheltered Western capitalist.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

In Vegas, I Did Nine Fine Irishmen...

...and still had enough energy left over to win $7.50 on the slots! How was the trip?

The bookie speaks...

- 2:1 Odds of staying in a hotel with a magician performing
- 3:1 Odds of seeing "Elvis" singing next to the pit boss
- 4:1 Odds of seeing a bride with a smoke, a cocktail and a tattoo
- 5:1 Odds of hearing an escaped yuppie shout "You are so money!"
- 6:1 Odds of having a girlie flyer thrown at your sweaty legs while
walking between casinos in the 115-degree heat
- 7:1 Odds of seeing sequins at 7 a.m.

- Too low...Odds of having a barrage of quarters fall into your plastic bucket
(They use paper receipts now)

- Too high....Odds of getting shot at New York New York

- Way too high...Odds of seeing this!

Pretty Bellagio photos to cleanse the palate

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Manassas, VA - What a difference 146 years makes...

During the Civil War, a quaint house not unlike this one was home to an 85-year-old widow. She refused to leave her land. The soldiers lobbed artillery shells through her window anyway.

On a more cheerful note...Yesterday, cannons. Today, Bed Bath and Beyond, just a few exits down the highway. Sherman and Lee would be proud.

According to the interpretive signs, 7 of 8 soldiers died of dysentery, not bullet wounds. How do the reinactors pull that off - pick up some ExLax at the 7-11 on the drive over?

Looking for more reinactor goodness?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Someone went nuts with the flowers in Friendship Heights...

...and the results are quite nice.