Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Cleanest Person in the World

That'd be me. After several hours at the Russian & Turkish Baths. You're thinking I'm terribly wicked, aren't you? Hanging out at bath houses in New York? Well, I picked up a sweet deal from Lifebooker offering a day pass for $12 for the 1892 East Village establishment. I added a mud scrub to make the deal even more interesting. What the heck? I'll try anything once.

Now, if you're looking for a modern day spa with mood lighting, New Age music softly wafting through the place, and pertly smocked therapists offering cold lemon water, forget it. This place is loud (lots of tile, lots of people) Old World masculine. No frills. The women's locker room is cramped. The towels (complimentary) are mud brown, which is practical for a place offering mud scrubs.

Being the pessimistic-optimist that I am, I never expect too much from stuff like this, which has gotten me through a lot of life experiences. That outlook worked in my favor for the banya experience. I knew I was going on a coed day (bathing suits required). I figured it would be crowded on a Saturday (right again). I suspected it wouldn't be a day at a toney spa. But what I was after was lots of time in a variety of saunas, steam rooms, and a cold plunge pool (brrrrrrrr), and the Russian & Turkish Baths delivered. I loved going from room to room to pool to room, alternately sweating and freezing. Such happy pores!

But the really unique experience was the mud scrub. This is not for the shy. The treatment room was tiny, dark, and only a curtain and thin metal walls separated me from the hub-bub of the cold pool area. A tiny woman named Rosa, who in her thick Russian accent told me she'd worked there for twenty years, slathered me with mud (supposedly from the Dead Sea, but probably from the Hudson River), covered me lightly with towels, and left me to absorb the brown stuff.

She returned about twenty minutes later to hose me down with warm water. After most of the mud was rinsed off, she used a loofah glove to scrub me with clean-smelling soap. Now, I haven't had someone gave me a bath since I was 2, so this was a real luxury, even amidst the noise and turn-of-the-century/Soviet-era ambiance. After the soap, a scrub-down with sea salt. Another warm water rinse. Oh, and she washed my hair. I've never had someone spend a good five minutes washing my hair. Heaven! Atmosphere be damned.

So, yes, the cleanest person on earth right now is little old me.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What (and how) are you reading?

I've always been a one-book-at-a-time reader. Even though I'm a great multitasker on many levels, juggling several ongoing sagas in my brain at one time only confused me. Until now. What has changed is how I'm accessing my books. Note the word "accessing" instead of "reading."

Currently I have three books rattling around in my head:

Hard copy (and yes, hard cover) next to my bed: The Seance by John Harwood. I cannot sleep at night without reading a real, hold-in-your-hands book before turning out the light. I love real books. I love the smell of them. I love the smell of bookstores, especially ones that aren't overpowered by the smell of coffee from the ubiquitous Starbucks placed center store. I like the feel of a book in my hands. I like the satisfaction of placing a book, enjoyed and completed, in my bookshelves. I like turning the pages and sticking a bookmark in to hold my place as my eyelids start to droop. It will be a sad old world if lovely hard cover volumes disappear.

Audiobook via iPod (thanks, New York Public Library for the free downloads): The Map that Changed the World by Simon Winchester, read by Simon Winchester. Audiobooks are the books of choice for my commute to and from work. My hands are free to hang on during a subway ride and keep the story going as I walk from the station to my destination. A big upside to audiobooks is that many public libraries allow free mp3 downloads.

What makes or breaks an audiobook is the narrator/reader. Author Simon Winchester, for example, is a wonderful narrator. An easy style, not stilted. And, of course, he knows the book, since he wrote it. Last year I listened to The Help, rather than reading it. The audiobook used three different readers for the three main characters, which made keeping the characters straight pretty easy. But a lousy narrator isn't even worth download time. That's the real caution of an audiobook.

Kindle (my new love): The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I know, I know. I completely rejected the idea of electronic readers when they first came out. My sensibilities were all a-snit. However, the more I travel, and the more stuff I have to cram into a bag that fits into the overhead compartment - well, the thing that usually has to be left at home on the bed is my book. And I can't sleep without reading before bedtime. And, no, a magazine won't do. Watching folks whip out the slim little Kindle reader in an airport, on the plane, in the subway, at a restaurant began to make me downright envious. Just think! I could carry lots and lots of books with me in this lightweight little package. I could download new books instantly! A word got you stumped? Just click, and it's defined. I had to have one of these little babies.

Thankfully, Daughter and Son-in-Law gave me a Kindle for my birthday. What a joyous thing it is! I love that it does one thing very, very well. It doesn't try to be a laptop or smartphone or tablet. Nope. It perfectly delivers the world of print to a format I can easily slip into my purse, hold in one hand, and instantly turn pages. Seamless reading. In the bright sun. Easy on the eyes. Perfect, I tell you. And while it won't replace my hard copy bedtime reading at home, it is now my on-the-go reading. I'm on the go a lot, by the way.

These new wonderments have opened a world of three-books-at-a-whack to me. Because the formats are different, they fall into different little slots in my brain, I guess, whereas juggling three hard-copy books mixed me up. My once overwhelming stack of TBR (To Be Read) hard copies is now kind of puny. But I have three books awaiting "Play" on my iPod and 12 on Kindle. Endless possibilities, many for free or for $0.99.

So what - and how - are you reading? And what on earth would Herr Gutenberg make of all this?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Left Behind

About every ten years or so, some silly fool makes enough ruckus to get himself noticed by declaring a specific date and time for the end of the world. Yeah, we were due, so a Mr. Harold Camping threw up some billboards and made enough noise to attract media attention for his predicted date for The Rapture: May 21, 2011. Mr. Camping is a Christian broadcaster who gives a bad name to both groups, which in this day and time is pretty hard to do.

Now, I think that The Rapture and The End of the World are technically - er, biblically - two different things, but let's give Mr. Camping the benefit of a doubt on this. And he did manage to push Mississippi floods, DSK/IMF/Sofitel NYC, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Osama Bin Laden out of the prime news spot for the past week.

The thing is, I never pay much attention to these predictions. First, Shorty PJs is secure in the knowledge of what will happen when she metaphorically crosses the River Jordan. Second, the entire thing is out of my control. I might give it a little more thought if, say, I were the President or Mark Zuckerberg, two guys who probably do have the power to bring about the End of Days. Alas, all Shorty will be able to do is sit back and enjoy the show.

Of course we have one more hump to get over next year. That pesky 2012 Mayan calendar thing. But for now, we can relax. My advice: Do be good. Don't be stupid. Those two rules will get you through everyday life and everyday Apocalypse.

Yours until the world ends,
Shorty PJs

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Gift of a Rainy Sunday

I woke up this morning to a steady, soaking rain hitting the fire escape outside my bedroom window. Raising the blinds, I took in the sight of the leaves on a row of very green trees dancing up and down to the beat of the downpour and gave up a silent "Thank you, Lord!"

A rainy Sunday cuts your options. Or. Increases your options. Depends on your outlook. A rainy Sunday gives you permission to slow down, stay inside. Read. Nap. Fold clothes. Call a friend. A rainy Sunday gives you permission to throw on a slicker and rubber boots and take a walk. Visit a museum. Take in a play. Get a new perspective on the street, a park, a river, in the pouring rain.

I love rain. Yes, it can be a pain on a Monday morning getting to work, or if you're going to a picnic or an outdoor wedding. But rain clears the air. It washes away the dust from the trees, the sidewalks, the window ledges. Green grass get greener. Black pavement gets blacker. Yellow/orange taxis get shiny-brighter orangier. I find a delightful peace in that.

So I give thanks for this rainy Sunday. It's a gift of time. A gift of color. A gift of renewal.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Eschew Fascinators

A lot has happened in the last few days, and there are a plethora of events and behaviors which might cause me to climb upon my moral high horse: Donald Trump, Charlie Sheen, Osama bin Laden, out-of-control tornadoes, the NFL draft. But no. None of those are worth pushing out of my easy chair and mounting the steed o' morality.

One thing alone has so offended me that I can no longer remain silent, and that's wearing silly hats or the headgear known as the "fascinator" to formal events, like, say, royal weddings.

Otherwise sane, fashionable women seem to go to extraordinary lengths to call attention to themselves in the most unflattering ways. The odd confections atop Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie have received much-deserved ridicule, so no need to pursue that subject. But they weren't the only ones who chose weird over lovely. The Abbey was chock-a-block with foolish chapeaux.

Now, I'm perfectly joyful at the outrageousness of the hats at Ascot or a good drag show or even a child's birthday party. And Carrie Bradshow is quirkily adorable when she sticks some fluffy confection on the top of her head in an episode of Sex And The City. But, really ladies - weddings? Are there no mirrors around your house? Not one good friend who'll tell you the truth: "Well, that's just ridiculous. What are you really going to wear?" Poor darlings.

I find the fascinator a particularly strange bit of pooh to affix to one's head. It's always worn at ludicrous angles and looks like something created by five-year-old girls at a craft table with plenty of feathers, glitter, markers, and pipe-cleaners on hand. Maybe one reason I don't like Donald Trump is that hair-shaped fascinator he wears.

So I'm calling on women, especially our British sisters, to eschew (because you know how I love the word "eschew") silly hats and fascinators in favor of simple elegance. Save it for Ascot. Or Donald Trump. Or your appearance in Sex And The City III.

Climbing off high horse. Settling back into easy chair. Yes, I feel better with that off my chest. Or head.