Archive for January, 2008

What on earth happened?!

January 29, 2008

The US National Figure Skating Championships were held this past week. For those of you who haven’t yet figured it out from my European Championships post, figure skating is the sport I follow most closely.

You may imagine my surprise when the top four finishers in this year’s competition turned out to be ladies who had never before medalled at Nationals. Last year’s medalists (Meissner, Hughes, Czisny and Liang) finished 7th, withdrew, finished 12th and finished 5th, respectively. Granted, the fact that Alissa Czisny finished out of the medals is not surprising — she is notorious for having a mental block when it comes to jumps. I like her skating a lot, especially her spins and spiral sequences, but I must admit that it was more of a surprise to see her medal last year than to see her out of the medals this year. Kimmie Meissner finishing 7th, though… that was a surprise. Sure, she missed two jumps in one of her Grand Prix programs this season. But she’s the 2006 World Champion. She can pull it together for Nationals, right? Apparently not this year. To her credit, though, she still threw everything she had into her program, even after missing her first two jumps, and she was very gracious afterward. That speaks volumes about her character.

Check out Mirai Nagasu and Caroline Zhang, though… Zhang is the 2007 World Junior Champion and she placed 4th at Nationals this year, and Mirai Nagasu is the 2007 World Junior Championship silver medalist and the 2007 US Junior Champion and she won Nationals this year. Here is her history-making short program (the best US short program ever under the new scoring system):

To give you a little perspective, her overall score for the night was 190.41 — that’s 15 points higher than Michelle Kwan’s personal best under the new scoring system (the 2005 World Championships), and just 8 points under Irina Slutskaya’s personal best (2005 Cup of Russia).

Neither Zhang nor Nagasu will be going to Senior Worlds this year because they’re too young… the US World team will be Ashley Wagner, Bebe Liang and Kimmie Meissner. Next year’s World Championships, though… that will be a very interesting competition, indeed.

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Score!

January 28, 2008

I spent Saturday afternoon and this afternoon scouring the January sales for suits and blouses. I’m notoriously hard to fit — I’m 6’1″ (185.4cm), my legs are disproportionately long compared to my torso, which means I need really long pants (“talls” on me are often still too short) and jackets that are cut a little shorter than a traditional jacket (not only due to having a comparatively short torso but also because my hips are 13″ bigger around than my waist) but with really long sleeves (I don’t know anyone with longer arms than me).

I managed to find two pairs of pants that fit in the States over Christmas, but no jackets. All the jackets were either cut too long, had too low of a stance, had only one button, or had no definition in the waist, thereby making me look like an enormous rectangle. Oh yeah, and every single one had sleeves that were too short. So short, in fact, that they would still be too short even if a tailor let them out all the way.

Given my shopping woes in the States, I was not optimistic about finding a suit in time for my job hunt (which starts in April). I was, however, determined to find some pretty blouses — the majority of mine are blue, and I would like to branch out a little color-wise.

So I started by going to H&M after my German class on Saturday. I found a pretty lavendar shell and bought it, along with a deeper purple V-neck top and a wool sweater that was 50% off. Plus I had 15 francs worth of coupons, so I fared pretty well in that outing. I was pressed for time, though (the ladies’ long program at the European Figure Skating Championships was about to be shown on TV), so I decided to wait and hit Promod and the larger H&M at the train station today.

My trip to Promod was pretty disappointing. They have so many gorgeous items in for their new spring collection, but I had to limit myself to the sale rack because of the prices. I found plenty of beautiful blouses… but Promod’s sizes run small, and this year there was just nothing that fit. Hopefully I’ll have lost everything I gained last year by next year (were you able to follow that?) so I’ll be able to shop there again!

I kept my chin up, though, and went to the H&M by the train station to see what kind of a selection they had. Sizes there run closer to American sizes, so I felt pretty hopeful. A thorough search of the lower floor only gave me one potential blouse, so I was starting to get a little discouraged. But then I saw the 50% off rack with a really cute pair of pants… no way were they going to be long enough, but I decided to try them on anyway to see if they could be let out by a tailor.

They fit beautifully. Not only did the hem hit the floor, but there was also a 1 1/2-inch cuff at the bottom! (Not to mention the fact that they show off my rear end rather nicely.) So I went out and grabbed all the cute pants they had in my size and tried them on… and found a black pair, a grey pair and a brown pair that fit. Not bad.

Then, just for the heck of it, I decided to try on some jackets even though I knew the sleeves would never be long enough. Sure enough, the same old problems kept cropping up… Too long. Stance too low. Only one button. No waist. I was so frustrated.

Until I came to the last two jackets… a solid black one and a solid grey one.

They fit. Perfectly.

I bought two suit jackets and three pairs of suit pants for a grand total of 230 francs (about $210).

Beat that.

Remember the Alamo!

January 25, 2008

I imagine that most people in the States have heard of the Alamo, even if only in passing. What drives me nuts is when somebody asks what fun things there are to do in San Antonio and I say “The Alamo,” and then somebody else invariably says, “Well… if you must.” The story of the Alamo is central to Texas history, plus I find it very moving and inspiring. So of course I had to take my friend on a visit there while she was staying with me last week. Here’s the story:

As I explained in my post about the missions, the Alamo was one of the five missions established by the Spanish along the San Antonio River. Unlike the other missions, the church at the Alamo remained unfinished (a roof was never put on), and the Spaniards abandoned it in the late 1700s along with the other four missions.

At the close of the Mexican War of Independance in 1821, Texas became part of Mexico. A constitution had been drawn up that gave Mexico a federal system of government (based on that of the United States), with each state retaining certain powers (Texas was part of the state Coahuila y Tejas). The new government set up programs to sell land inexpensively in order to attract settlers from the United States. Stephen F. Austin was one of the men in charge of attracting settlers to Texas. Settlers had to agree to give up their US citizenship and become citizens of Mexico, and in return they were able to buy land for much less money than in the US.

In 1835, however, General Santa Anna took control of Mexico and scrapped the constitution. His goal was to strip the Mexican states of their rights and centralize the government’s power in Mexico City. The majority of the citizens of Texas — the recent immigrants from the United States and the Tejanos — were against Santa Anna, and the Texas Revolution began in October 1835.

The Battle of Gonzales was the first battle in the Texas Revolution. In October 1835, the Mexican government sent word to the town of Gonzales that the Mexican army was going to come retrieve the cannon that it had lent them for protection against the Indians some years before. The residents of Gonzales decided to fight, and 18 men blocked the Mexican army from crossing the river into the town. The Mexican army retreated, but a few days later they tried to take the cannon once more. This time, the residents of Gonzales rolled the cannon out to the Mexicans. They rose a white flag with a black cannon in the middle and the words “Come and Take It” across the top, and then they fired into the gathering of Mexican soldiers. (Incidentally, I wanted to buy the shirt, but decided against it as the good people of Switzerland would be unfamiliar with the story and might misinterpret the meaning of the slogan…) The soldiers retreated again, and the Texan forces quickly overtook the Mexican army outposts at La Bahia and San Antonio. Incidentally, the army outpost in San Antonio was the Alamo complex.

William Travis was the commander of the 200 or so Texan forces stationed at the Alamo in February and March 1836. Also present were Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett (who reportedly said to a fellow Congressman who pleaded with him not to leave Tennessee: “You may go to Hell, but I will go to Texas”), as well as men from all over the United States and even a few from Europe. There were also a freedman named John, who fought for the Texans, a few slaves, and 15 women and children who were family members of some of the soldiers.

The Mexican army began a siege at the Alamo at the end of February 1836. They flew a red flag, meaning “no quarter”, from the top of San Fernando Cathedral (which, sadly, we didn’t get to visit because Main Street was completely blocked off for construction). When the forces at the Alamo saw the flag, they responded with a cannon shot. Travis sent messengers out with letters pleading for reinforcements, one of which was famously signed, “Victory or Death!” Legend has it that Travis also drew a line in the sand within the mission walls and asked all the men who wanted to stay and fight to cross it. Supposedly, all but one man did. The siege lasted for thirteen days, ending on the morning of March 6th, when the Battle of the Alamo was fought.

Nearly all of the Alamo defenders died in the battle, and those who didn’t were executed (you don’t want to know how — I truly wish I had not read the description in the museum explaining what happened) and their bodies were burned on a funeral pyre by the river. The women and children and a few slaves survived and were sent out by the Mexican army to spread the story of the defeat at the Alamo to the citizens of Texas. The battle became a rallying force for the Texans, inspiring hundreds of men to join the Texan army.

Meanwhile, Texas had declared independance from Mexico, although the Texas army was still suffering defeats at the hands of the Mexicans. But at the Battle of San Jacinto, the Texans’ luck changed. Santa Anna himself was leading the Mexican army, and the Texans (led by Sam Houston) managed to surprise his forces early on the morning of April 21st. (Legend has it that the Texan forces were able to surprise him because at the time, he was sleeping with a whore called the Yellow Rose of Texas. Which is why, when I used to play such women in the shows at my local theatre, I would wear a yellow rose at my bosom.) The battle cry, of course, was “Remember the Alamo!” The Texans managed to take Santa Anna’s army prisoner, and Santa Anna himself was captured the next day. This brought the Texas Revolution to a close.

Now, since you’ve stayed with me through the story, I’ll treat you to some pictures.

First we have the Alamo itself (whose distinctive roofline actually is not original to the church — it was created later on by the US Army when they put the first roof over the building) :

Then we have a detail from the monument outside the Alamo, featuring the names and likenesses of the better-known participants in the battle:

And finally, the Six Flags Over Texas (US, Texas, Confederate Stars and Bars, Mexico, France, and Spain) :

Remember the Alamo!

The San Antonio missions

January 23, 2008

Yes, that’s “missions” with a lowercase “m”. If you were hoping to find a post about the baseball team… well, you’re on the wrong blog.

I decided that I should take my friend on a sort of historical tour of San Antonio while she was visiting me. We were supposed to visit the Alamo on the first day of her visit, but due to a misunderstanding of the driving directions… well, we ended up at the missions instead. On a cold, rainy day with one jacket and one umbrella between us. But we still had a good time.

There are five missions in the San Antonio area, all of them built by the Spanish along the banks of the river. We visited the two best-preserved missions — San José and Concepcion. Here is their story:

Spain claimed Texas as part of its territories from the early 1500s until 1821. However, they didn’t pay much attention to colonizing the area until the late 1600s, when France began encroaching on New Spain’s territory. In 1690, Spain sent missionaries to East Texas to build missions where they would convert the natives to Catholicism and a Spanish way of life while staking Spain’s claim to the region.

In order to help send supplies to the missions in the East, the Spaniards built a new mission alongside the San Antonio River to serve as a waystation. They named it San Antonio de Valero — now known as the Alamo. The importance of the Alamo in Texas history is going to be explained in the next post.

The next mission to be established was San José. It was founded in 1720 by a Dominican friar who wanted to convert the local natives (the Coahuiltecans) to Christianity and confer Spanish citizenship upon them. Then the missions in East Texas began to fail, and the Concepcion, San Juan, and Espada missions were moved to strategic locations on the San Antonio River. Nowadays they’re in the San Antonio city limits, but back then none of them were (although the town was visible from the Alamo).

The Coahuiltecans were a peaceful hunter-gatherer people, but they had a big problem: the Apache and Comanche tribes, who often attacked them. They were also starting to fall victim to European diseases. These two reasons, plus the prospect of a steady supply of food, help explain why they let themselves be converted and brought to live at the missions.

At the missions, each extended family (20 or so people) was given a two-room space to live along the mission walls. Some crops were grown within the mission, and there were stone, igloo-shaped ovens at each of the four corners of the walls. Each mission had an elaborate irrigation system known as an acequia (and they’re still there today).

The missions flourished until the end of the 1700s, when disease and increasing attacks by the Apache and Comanche caused their decline. One by one, they were abandoned. Now they’ve been partially restored, and they’re part of the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. Recently they’ve started restoring the intricate paintings on the exterior and interior of the mission churches. They were done mostly in red and yellow (Spain’s colors) and blue (the Fransiscans’ color).

Pictures to come tomorrow…

Not happy

January 21, 2008

I thought I had all my bills taken care of before I left.

Nope. I got a bill for taxes and a bill for my credit card that were both due earlier this month. I used my credit card while I was on vacation — they billed me that day and gave me only two weeks to pay it. Over the Christmas holidays. That fries my cheese.

It’s going to be fun finding out how much I have in late fees. Really fun.

Leavin’ on a jet plane

January 20, 2008

I made it back to Switzerland today, safe and sound. Back to the land of normal-sized toilets and full-sheet paper towels and no election primary frenzy, thank goodness. I have my one and only exam this semester tomorrow morning — nice to get it out of the way right off the bat.

I was really surprised to see a 5-year-old girl flying by herself. She was seated in the middle of the plane, with strangers on either side of her. I don’t mean to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong, but I question her parents’ judgement…

Going to unpack now.

The best commercial music ever

January 17, 2008

She’s never heard an Aggie joke…

January 16, 2008

I have a friend visiting from up North. It’s her first time to visit Texas, so I’ve been showing her around. Today’s mini culture lesson included a section on Texas humor — namely, Aggie jokes. Here goes (all of these courtesy of my father, who told and retold them throughout my childhood):

An Aggie is standing in line behind another customer, waiting to talk to the salesman. The customer in front of him says, “I want seven pairs of underwear.” “Why?” asks the salesman. “One for Monday, one for Tuesday, one for Wednesday, one for Thursday, one for Friday, one for Saturday, and one for Sunday.”

Then it’s the Aggie’s turn. He goes up to the salesman and says, “I’d like twelve pairs of underwear.” “Why?” asks the salesman. “One for January, one for February, one for March…”

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An Aggie living in Houston heard on TV that mandatory evacuations were being ordered because a hurricane was coming in. So he got on Loop 610.

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An Aggie was stranded on a desert island with two other men. One day, they found an old bottle and rubbed it just to see what would happen. Poof! Out came a genie. “I’ll grant you each one wish,” he said. The first stranded man said, “I’d love to be on a sunny beach surrounded by beautiful girls.” Poof! He was gone, sent away to the beach of his dreams. The second stranded man said, “I miss my family. I’d like to be back home, eating a spaghetti dinner with my wife and kids.” Poof! He was back in his kitchen, eating with his family. Then it was the Aggie’s turn. “You know, it’s kind of lonely around here with my buddies gone. I wish that they were back!”

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An Aggie and his friend both needed a job. One company gave them a test to see how well-suited they’d be to working there. The Aggie copied all of his friend’s answers, but they both failed.

Once the hiring manager reviewed their test answers, he announced that despite the fact that they both had the same score, he was going to hire the Aggie’s friend. “How come?” demanded the Aggie. “Because you copied off him,” said the manager. “How’d you know that?” the Aggie asked. “Because on question 7, your friend wrote, “I don’t know” and you wrote, “Me, neither.”

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An Aggie was hired to do quality control at the M&M factory. The foreman was really impressed with him — he was weeding out far more defective M&Ms than the other workers. “What’s wrong with all these M&Ms you’re finding?” asked the foreman. “They all have Ws printed on them!” replied the Aggie.

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An Aggie and his two friends decide to go to the desert. They each bring one thing on the trip. The first guy brings water so they don’t dehydrate. The second guy brings food so they don’t starve to death. The Aggie says, “I brought a car door so if it gets too hot, we can roll down the window!”

Uggggh!

January 14, 2008

I wound up spending several hours in the hospital last night. After 2+ days of a migraine-like headache, dizzyness and vomiting if I so much as propped my head up on a pillow, I couldn’t take it anymore.

First my mom took me to the nearest med clinic, which was closed. So then we had to drive to the hospital.

Did I mention that a severe case of carsickness kicked all this off on Saturday morning?

The two car trips to find medical assistance were just too much for my head. I opened the door, assumed a Senator Craig stance, and vomited in the middle of the parking lot.

Apparently my Senator Craig stance isn’t quite wide enough. My (brand-new!) shoes are now bright orange and stinky.

At least I feel better now.

A slip of the tongue

January 12, 2008