Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Big Law School Advice Post

I still haven't really gotten used to the fact that I'm not a student anymore. Even for the two years in between college and law school, I felt more like a student taking a break from school than someone who was finished with school. Maybe I'm still a student taking a break from school, but I haven't come up with any good ideas yet for more school (acting school could be fun, except I don't want to be an actor... then again I went to law school and don't want to be a lawyer, so maybe that would make perfect sense...). I liked being able to say "I'm a law student" better than I like having to say "I just graduated from law school." And soon I can't even say "I just graduated from law school" and have to come up with something new to say. I'm really stretching if I'm pretending this is a problem, I know. But there's something nice about having your identity tied up in your status as a student. There's no pressure if you say you're a student. No one expects anything more from you. No one thinks you're wasting your time, or on the wrong path, or anything like that.

So this is the first fall in a while that I'm not going back to school, and the first time I really feel like the whole "being a student in a degree-bearing program" thing (as opposed to the improv comedy classes I'm taking, or the general idea that we're all always students and always learning things and whatever else people like to say about that) is done for me. I got an e-mail from a 1L starting law school this week. She said (and I'm paraphrasing), "Now that you're done with law school, what's your advice to someone first starting out? Is it different than the advice you'd have given before you graduated?" This gives me an excuse to write a really long post giving advice to law students. So I think I'll do that, and see what happens.

For some reason, I feel like it makes some sense to work backwards -- to address things, that if you're first starting out now, that you'll one day soon have to think about, and then explain why you don't need to worry about them yet, or, if you do have to worry about them, what you should do. So here we go:

1. The Bar Exam, and how it relates to course selection. Please don't worry about the Bar Exam yet. You'll take it and you'll probably pass, and the classes you take in school have no bearing on that. The stuff you learn in Contracts isn't the same as the stuff you'll need to know for the Bar Exam anyway. You'll learn all the Bar Exam stuff from bar exam study materials. Don't take classes just because they're on the bar exam. Don't save your notes, don't start taking practice tests, don't think about it at all for about 2 years and 8 months. You're really fortunate to be in a place -- no matter where you're in school -- that presumably has a whole bunch of classes that will be utterly useless to your life as a lawyer or your life as whatever it is you end up being, but that just sound interesting. Take those. Or even better, take the classes taught by the people you want to learn from. 1L year I remember a guy with a beard coming into our Criminal Law class in the spring and introducing the course selection process to us, and telling us that some people choose classes based on the subject, some people choose based on the professor, some people choose in order to create their own "major" composed of classes centered around a certain area of the law, and those are all legitimate ways to choose. I disagree. The best classes I took were the classes with the best professors, no matter what the subject matter was, and a bad professor killed a class, even if it should have been interesting and even if the subject matter sounded neat. The official course evaluations may be helpful, but they're probably garbage. But people know. People at your school know who the good professors are and who the bad ones are. Find out the good ones. Take their classes. Even if they sound boring. Bankruptcy was the best class I took in law school, and I know it sounds dreadful, but because the professor was awesome, it was an awesome class. I swear that's the best way to do it. At least that's the best advice I can give.

2. Finding a job. I had no idea when I started law school that the job hunt would begin so quickly. But a month in, and suddenly we were having resume workshops, session on how to act at a law firm, and on how to dress for an interview. But that's what happens, and really quickly you need to start making decisions that you're probably not equipped to make. I thought people go to law school and become all sorts of things. It turns out most people go to law school and either go work for a firm or go clerk for a judge. And if you're not on one of those two tracks, there's not always a lot of obvious options set forth by the law schools. Law firms get people to try them out because they make it easy. They come to campus to interview, they offer a summer that promises to be fun and exciting and tasty and they suck you in. That's not entirely fair. A lot of people want to work at law firms, and for good reasons. But my advice is to think about it, before you start down a path you don't want to be heading down. Think about what you want to get out of law school. Think about where you want to end up, what kind of career you want to have, and how law school can help you get there. Make active decisions about what you want to do instead of just following the herd. I know that a lot of people decide to go to a law firm for a little while and then leave. Which can work. But make sure you're doing it for a reason, that's all.

3. Law Review. I wasn't on law review, although I did pick up the competition packet. It was heavy. I feel like the reasons to do law review depend a lot on what you want to end up doing for a career, and on what school you go to. It would be dumb for me to say that law review is a bad idea, because in most cases it probably isn't. It's a lot of hours, but people tell me you learn lots of useful skills, get to work with professors, get to work with smart classmates, and it gives you a great line on your resume. If I wanted to do law stuff, I'd have tried out for law review, and been bummed if I didn't make it. Some of my favorite people in law school were on law review. Some of my favorite people were not. I'm pretty useless in this paragraph, sorry.

4. Exams. Take practice exams. That is, get past exams your professor has given, and take those. 1L year I outlined. 2L and 3L year I sort of outlined but mostly just got outlines from friends. There's no one magic bullet. Different things for different exams. I was in a study group for about three hours. Other people find they work better than I experienced. At least try and find a friend who you think is smart and go over exams together. That can be pretty helpful. Supplemental study guides are sometimes useful but usually not as much as outlines from people who've taken your class with your professor. Every professor focuses on different things. So the more generic the material, the less useful I found it.

5. Go to class. And don't play solitaire when you're there, because it's distracting to those around you. Seriously, I really don't understand the people who don't go to class. Especially if you've picked classes right and have good professors. Go. It's what you're paying for. And you'll be better prepared for the exam. I honestly wish they wouldn't have had wireless Internet in the classrooms, and banned laptops completely. I ended up not bringing my laptop to most of my classes 2L and 3L year, and I liked it better that way. You pay better attention. Otherwise I'd end up web surfing. Try it. It'll help on the exams anyway.

6. Honestly, I think a lot of people -- not everyone, but a lot of people -- who are unhappy at law school are unhappy either because take it more seriously than they need to... I mean, you're good at school, or you wouldn't be in law school. Trust yourself... or they don't do anything else besides go to class and study. The reason I enjoyed law school -- most of the reason, at least -- is because I got involved in stuff I wanted to get involved in, like the newspaper and the Parody show and the a cappella group. So I was able to craft a life that I liked living, meet people who liked doing the kinds of things I liked doing, and really have a full schedule that classes were only a part of. Every school has lots of things going on. Take advantage of them. You'll be happier. You'll meet more people. You won't just be stuck in the library. But one thing I didn't do very well, and wish I had, was take advantage of the city I was in. Boston is probably a cool city. I didn't explore it enough. I did a lot of things on the law school campus, but not that much outside of it. It's easy to get caught up in the life of a student and never leave. But if your school is in a city, there's probably all sorts of things to do that have nothing to do with law school. And if it's not in a fun city, go hiking or something. I wish I did more outdoor stuff. Boston's not the greatest place for that, since the winter is 13 months long, but there's still more I could have done. Even though you're in law school, you can still have a life. Really. I promise.

7. Other things I wanted to link to but they don't really fit anywhere above. :) Journals. Legal research. And a law school purity test I thought was fun when I wrote it.

I hope some of this is useful. In any case, good luck. I miss law school already, really. You get to hang out with smart people and go to relatively interesting classes and do whatever you want with the rest of your time without having to feel too guilty about it, since you know in the end, no matter what else happens, you get a degree. What more could you ask for? :)
I wrote a piece for De Novo about the Bar Exam, and they haven't posted it yet, so I'm posting it here, before I forget about it, and because I'm lacking in content recently. Enjoy. :)

If You Failed...

There’s two ways this piece can go, and I won’t know until November which way is actually the right one. I can write a piece about how there’s no reason to get all worked up about the Bar Exam, because it’s just a test, and we’re all good at tests, and you only have to beat the bottom 20% or 30% or 40% or however many % it is in your state, and if you do a little bit of studying and don’t lose your cool on the test, you can do it, and so you don’t need to stop all semblance of a life for the three months before the test and subsist on Powerbars and Red Bull because there’s no time to eat anything, and do three thousand practice multiple choice questions and write out four hundred essays and go to every optional lecture every organization with an acronym can come up with a booklet and a small fee for.

But maybe I failed. And then the argument is don’t be like me. Don’t think that just because you’re smart and good at tests that you don’t really need to take this that seriously, because the Bar Exam isn’t an intelligence test, and you can’t divine the elements of battery from the ether even if you’re brilliant, and you can’t guess how long the statute of limitations is for contesting a will and have any real expectation you’ll be right.

The truth surely lies somewhere between the two extremes. I’m in no-man’s-land, as far as my test goes. I got somewhere between a passing score and a failing score, and I don’t really have any way of knowing which. I don’t know how bad an essay can be to still get enough points, and how many of my guesses on the multiple choice were right, and whether that was enough.

But here’s what I do know: I’ll be fine if I failed, and so will you. Even if you’re taking the path-more-traveled and going to work for a law firm, the rumors I hear are that you get another shot. Of course you don’t really want to be the guy who failed the bar, but at least it’s an identity, and a way for everyone to know your name. And standing out – for something – is half the battle at some of these places, isn’t it? You don’t just want to be another random face in the hall; you can be the girl who failed in the Bar Exam.

And maybe for a week it’s embarrassing, and maybe you don’t want to spend another two months studying, and maybe you don’t want to have to tell your parents you’re not as smart as 62.4% of the other people who took the Bar Exam, but think of it this way: if you fail the Bar Exam, you’ve set the bar low enough that you’re almost guaranteed to exceed it, no matter what you do. If you fail the Bar Exam and then become a partner at the firm ten years down the road, you’re a brilliant success story, an inspiration to thousands, a human interest article in the corporate newsletter, and a great guest at law school campuses everywhere (but not Bar/Bri lectures). Or if you decide to leave the law and do something else, you have a great excuse. “It was a sign from God.” People need to justify decisions, people need reasons to take a leap. This is a reason. You can use it.

And think of the motivational use of failing the bar. You fail, and you’ll surely be driven to show everyone it was just a fluke. You’ll kick into overdrive. You’ll do the best work of your life. It’ll be a blessing in disguise. It’ll change your life.

I mean, you didn’t fail. I’m sure you didn’t fail. You took Bar/Bri, you did the practice tests, you didn’t sleep for twelve days prior, you got addicted to amphetamines, your wife left you, your plants died… you covered all the bases, and I’m sure you didn’t fail. I may have failed, since the only studying I did was on the subway, but you didn’t. I’m sure you didn’t. But maybe you did. But if you did, you probably came pretty close to passing. And if you came pretty close, then next time it’ll be a breeze. A little more studying will be sure to put you over the hump.

Of course, you could always take South Dakota next time. Pass rate 95%, at least according to a website I found, although South Dakotans tell me otherwise. But let’s assume it’s still 95%, or there’s a state out there that is. You can move there and take the bar and use it as an excuse to start a new life as a country lawyer. You can be Gerry Spence. Can you dream of anything more idyllic?

Maybe you can. And maybe it’s the job you’ve got. The job that you’ll be set for, as long as you passed the exam. Maybe that’s your dream, and maybe that’s what you’re scared of losing if you failed. Maybe you’re worried that this is the one thing you’re meant to do in this world, and if you failed the bar exam, it’s all going to fall out of your grasp.

It’s probably not, because you’ll probably get another chance. But at least then there’s a reason to worry. If this is what you want to spend your life doing, then, yeah, you need to pass the bar exam. If not now, then soon. But if this isn’t what you want to be doing. If it’s just what you’re doing because you can’t think of anything better to do, or because all your friends are doing it, or because it’s the easy and sensible choice, and there’s something else burning in your soul, some other passion you long to pursue, something else out there that you wished you had the courage to go after…. Then I hope you failed, and you should probably hope so too. And even if you passed, maybe you should pretend you failed and see what happens. But of course you didn’t fail. You passed. If you’re reading this, you passed. You took it seriously, you focused, you ate Powerbars, you drank Red Bull, you memorized some acronyms, you passed.

Or I’ll see you in South Dakota in February. on the best show you're not watching. Entourage is really good. I like The Comeback too, which is on right afterwards on HBO Sunday nights. Good stuff.

Monday, August 29, 2005

I'm reading a New York Times article about Congressman Anthony Weiner, who's running for mayor. Weiner is my parents' local Congressman, and growing up I remember seeing him at all sorts of events, as Sen. Schumer's aide back when Schumer was my local Congressman, and then as Congressman himself. The article does him no favors with this bit:

But Mr. Weiner never excelled at studies, and at times makes light of his academic record, making joking references in conversation to his time at Oxford, which he did not attend, and not mentioning the college he did attend - the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh - in the biographies on his campaign and Congressional Web sites.

He said he failed the admission test for Stuyvesant High School, widely considered the best in the city system, by just one point, and attended Brooklyn Technical High School instead.

At Plattsburgh, he aimed at first to become a television weatherman. But when the meteorology courses proved too difficult, he said, he gravitated toward politics...

This bit isn't thrilling either:

As a bachelor politician, Mr. Weiner and his dating exploits frequently show up in gossip items. A 2001 Vanity Fair story on Capitol Hill interns reported that he wooed a couple of young women a few days after the Sept. 11 attacks, using the alias "Anthony, an auto parts salesman."
OK, I need some help.

I'm in a fantasy football league and the draft is tonight, and I'm woefully unprepared, to the point of not even being entirely sure how to spell T.J. Houshmandzadeh's last name. The piece I wrote for Fantasy Football Spiral here, which I thought was funny so I'm linking to it unnecessarily, makes me sound even more prepared than I actually am. So, before 10PM tonight, anyone with any sleepers, or tips and tricks for winning this thing, is encouraged to e-mail me. I'll share whatever's sent my way.

UPDATE: Here's the team I ended up with, in order of when I picked them.

Edgerrin James, RB
Deuce McAllister, RB
Alex Smith, QB
Joe Horn, WR
Jason Witten, TE
Carnell Williams, RB
Eric Moulds, WR
New England, D
Aaron Brooks, QB
Deion Branch, WR
Mike Vanderjagt, K
Buffalo, D
Charles Rogers, WR
Keenan McCardell, WR
Ronnie Brown, RB
Justin McCareins, WR

Ten-team league. If anyone has any idea whether I did good or not, feel free to let me know. :)
I just got back from the Prospect Park Zoo. I was going to go get some lunch and think about where the plot of my book was going and I ended up walking around, through Prospect Park, and ended up at the zoo. It's a pretty small zoo. The real attraction are the baboons. Baboons are cool. One baboon was playing with a tire, and then kept yawning, and then he threw the tire, watched it roll, and curled up on a rock and went to sleep. Then another baboon went over and curled up right next to him (her?) and starting licking him (her). Two other baboons were playing in a tree.

Then I bought a bag of puffed cheez doodles. I like the way they don't even bother to spell out the word cheese like there's really cheese in them. I haven't had cheez doodles in a long time, but for some reason going to the zoo made me want them. Then to compensate, I ate some raspberries. I mean razzberries, an artificial imitation fruit. Uh, maybe.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

James Taylor's son, Ben, has an album out soon that's streaming for free at I think I like it. It's good e-mail writing music. Ha.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Twenty-two minutes worth your time

I found this 1965 profile of Peter Jennings that originally aired on CBC (Canadian) Television. The profile presents a day in the life of Peter Jennings six months after he was first hired by ABC and moved from Canada to the US, and gives an interesting behind-the-scenes at network news in 1965, and, I don't know, I found it pretty riveting and definitely worth the 22 minutes it takes to watch it.

I don't know exactly why I've found myself marginally obsessed with reading about Jennings since he died. I think it's the suddenness of what happened to him. He found out he had lung cancer in April, and four months later he was gone. And he surely had every resource at his disposal, I'm sure everything that could have been done was done, and still it wasn't enough.

I feel like, honestly, I'm a lot less interested in the world than a lot of my peers. On any given day, there are lots of stories in the newspaper that I'm not particularly motivated to read. Even the war in Iraq -- and it's so wrong to say this, I know, and I genuinely feel stupid for not being more engaged in what's going on than I am. I mean, I know there's scary stuff happening, and I should care about it, and I should at least know enough for intelligent cocktail party conversation, but I don't really. I know enough to fake it, but not to really talk intelligently about what's going on.

Yet the Peter Jennings thing grabs me and I'll spend two hours reading literally everything I can find. Columbine did the same thing, back in 1999. I found it fascinating. I read the 940-page report, or however long it was, with the schematic diagrams and the timeline of how everything happened, and went to the websites of the victims, and just found that really hit me in the part of the brain that makes me want to know everything about it. I had a pretty positive high school experience. I did well, I had a bunch of friends, I don't think I know anyone who wanted to blow up the school, or anything close. But that we live in a world where these things can happen, I don't know. It was really scary but grabbed me in such a way that I wanted to know more.

I don't know where this post was supposed to go. I just wanted to flag the video clip. There's so much stuff out there. I don't know what people did before the Internet.

Friday, August 26, 2005

I just saw the Fringe Festival show, In Search of Stanley Hammer. It's a 90-minute play about a boy who wants to grow up to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but things end up turning out quite differently. It's a little bizarre, but a lot of it's very funny, and I definitely enjoyed it. Good acting, too, especially the guy playing the lead (who was in my improv comedy class, and is awfully good at this stuff, and a nice guy too). They've got one more performance, tomorrow (Saturday) at 7PM.

But don't touch anything.

See, it's playing at the Theater at the Center for Architecture at NYU, which is normally a gallery space, and in the lobby, as we waited to buy tickets, the security guard was a little, uh, overeager in telling people to stop brushing up against things. This was funny at the time, but it's not translating well to this post. Oh well.

Also, the Fringe Festival tickets warn, on the back, not to expose them to extreme temperatures. They're paper tickets. I'm really not sure what the issue is.

Anyway, funny show. Good acting. A talking baseball bat dressed up like a girl.

And it's not even really about baseball, so don't let that scare you.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Okay, I hate this set of Bar/Bri New York Bar Exam books on my floor. It's a complete set. They're two years old, but I don't think much (if anything) has changed. A few of them have some highlighting, but most of them are pretty much unopened. One book has a few pages torn out of it, but, really, there are a dozen books, so it's not a big deal. I'll throw in all of the lecture notes I have -- a complete set from someone who took it two years ago, and most of the notes from this past year, plus a couple of random outlines. You pay shipping (they're heavy, so this isn't negligible, but I can't imagine it's all that much) plus $20 for the effort for me to bring them to a place that ships plus a promise to buy my Anonymous Lawyer book when it comes out, or, if you want to come get them from me, you pay me $5 (and the book-buying promise) so I can at least say I didn't give them away. This is the entire Bar/Bri class for virtually no money.

First dibs to anyone who wants to come get them, but, barring anyone who does, first one to e-mail that they want 'em gets 'em, unless someone has an idea for why I should keep them that I haven't come up with ("You might fail the exam" doesn't count -- if I failed, and if I choose to take it again, I'm blaming the books and trying something that isn't Bar/Bri).

Alternatively, if someone wants to pay me money to post photographs of the Bar/Bri books destroyed, I'll consider that option too. I can take suggestions for methods of destruction -- rolled over by a car, burned, etc -- and take pictures, and post the pictures online. That sounds like it would be fun, but a fair bit of work. On the other hand, if anyone thinks that really sounds like fun, and wants my books for the purpose of creatively destroying them, taking pictures, and then letting me post the pictures on my site, you can have the books for that, for free.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

From a reader:

Okay, MY favorite part of "The Aristocrats" review at is that they list this:

"A joke is made about seeing two priests and not knowing whether to send them a bottle of wine or a cub scout."

under the ALCOHOL AND DRUG section. Because clearly what is offensive about that joke is the bottle of wine part.


And here is an interesting piece on review blurbs from Gelf Magazine, including some talk about The Aristocrats.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

I've linked to this site once before, but Screen It has Christian-themed reviews of movies, where it itemizes all of the potentially objectionable behavior in a film. But it does so to such a detailed extent that it's really quite amusing.

There's not much for "March of the Penguins," but the listing for "The Aristocrats," which is a movie where a bunch of comedians all tell a dirty joke, is kind of funny. See here.

And they really itemize everything. Which may be unnecessary, because if this doesn't bother you, as a parent:

George Carlin does a particularly graphic bit about describing the nature of his watery excrement going into the narrator's wife's mouth and that he ate corn and nuts to provide some bulky objects. He then adds that a polyp threw off his aim, but most went in and that the wife gargled with and then swallowed the excrement.
Then are you really going to be bothered by:

We see Fred Willard with an unlit pipe.
I saw "March of the Penguins" today. Reviews have been amazing. Normally it's not the kind of thing I'd necessarily be drawn to, but the reviews were so good that I wanted to see it. And it was neat. It's amazing what close access to the penguins the filmmakers were able to get. And it's amazing how person-like the penguins were acting. Although I imagine to some extent it's a lot like reality TV, where if you get enough footage, you can find enough human-like activity that will resonate with the audience that if you put it all together you can end up with an image of penguins being a lot closer to humans than they really are.

Some lies about the movie:

*I heard one of the penguins was nominated for a People's Choice Award.

*One of the penguins is starring with Jose Canseco, Justin Guarini, Rachel Hunter, and Pee-Wee Herman in the next season of The Surreal Life.

*They're turning the movie into a sitcom on the WB next season.

*One of the penguins only agreed to be filmed because he's an aspiring musician and thought it would be good exposure for his career.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

One thing I forgot in my trip posts. I think I passed former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey in the Dublin airport. He's the President of the New School in NYC now, but I'm reasonably certain he was in the Dublin airport. I mean, it's sort of bizarre and sad that I think I could recognize Bob Kerrey, but I think it was him. And when I looked his way, the look he gave back seemed like the kind of look people give when they expect there might be people who recognize them, as opposed to the sort of look that's wondering why someone is looking at you. If that makes any sense. Anyway, my possible brush with marginal fame.

I read a book today, "License to Deal" by Jerry Crasnick. It's basically the story of Matt Sosnick and Paul Cobbe, partners in a small agency that represents baseball players like Dontrelle Willis of the Marlins. Really good book. It talks about how it's hard to break in, and get players to choose you and then stick with you instead of defecting to the bigger guys once they start making money, and what a long road it is to travel for guys like Sosnick and Cobbe. Crasnick's day job is as an columnist. He does a good job in the book of painting interesting character sketches. I felt like I got to know Sosnick and Cobbe and Willis pretty well, positives and negatives, and really, once I got started, I couldn't put the book down. Good stuff if you're a baseball fan at all.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Mets were winning 8-0. It's now 8-8 in the 10th.

The Royals have lost 19 games in a row and are now beating the A's 2-1 in the 5th.

Scott Kazmir, the prospect the Mets traded for something not so thrilling last year, beat the Rangers today, striking out 10 in 6 innings.

I like baseball.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Thoughts about some books

We were on airplanes a whole bunch, and yesterday and Wednesday I was in the airport a lot, and ended up going through a lot more books than I thought I would. Here's a quick roundup.

Planet Simpson by Chris Turner. This is a brilliant 440-page riff about The Simpsons and how it relates to the world of the past fifteen years, basically. It's hard to describe. It's not so much about The Simpsons itself as it is about global trends and the rise of the Internet and the growth of satire and the generation gap and modern society... all explained with reference to the Simpsons characters and episodes, and drawing on The Simpsons not so much to explain the world, but as illustrations of what's going on in the world. I like The Simpsons, but I probably haven't seen as many episodes as I should have, and it never really become something I'd make sure to watch every week. Reading this book makes me want to go buy the DVD sets and watch everything. Reading this book makes me feel silly for not being obsessed with The Simpsons. The author clearly is, and he's able to make it all seem effortless -- detailed footnotes about the inconsistent age of Mr. Burns, or the assortment of names Bart has used when crank calling Moe's. If you're obsessed with The Simpsons, you'll love this book -- but even if you're not, I think you'll really like it too. I found it hard to put down, honestly. I mean, it's one big long rant, basically. It's this guy's explanation of the world and it's not terribly concise or organized or mapped out... but it's an awfully engaging, good read.

Little Children by Tom Perrotta. Tom Perrotta wrote the book that became the Matthew Broderick / Reese Witherspoon movie "Election." He's written a bunch of other stuff too. I think he was a professor at Yale too, and that I know someone who knows him. So the name jumped off the shelf when I was looking for a book in a Dublin bookstore. And I'm glad I picked it up. It's fiction but it reads much better than that. I can't get through real fiction. This is really good though. It's a satire about life in the suburbs. Some characters, they have kids, they do suburban stuff, some things happen... the plot isn't important. The characters are important. Perrotta has a lot to say about the suburban lifestyle and the emptiness of aspects of it, and he does it really well. If I can do half this well with what I'm working on, I'll be happy. I didn't know if I'd like this, but I really did.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Bird by Bird is a writing advice book. Lamott is a writer who also teaches writing, and this is her inspirational guide to writing. Like Stephen King's "On Writing," which I took out of the library but haven't gotten to yet. I've never read any of Lamott's other work before, but this makes me want to, because she's really good. It's inspiring and motivating and really a nice book. I read it once on the flight to Dublin and again on the flight back. I ran out of things to read. And it deserved a second pass before I took it back to the library.

Complications by Atul Gawande. I read the first 50 pages before the Bar Exam and mentioned it. I read the rest on the flight to Dublin. It's terrific. Terrific medical stuff. You learn what surgeons do. He's a great writer.

Air Babylon by Imogen Edwards-Jones. Okay, that was four in a row that I liked a lot. It couldn't last. I decided to write about the good ones first, and then get to the rest. This book goes behind the scenes of the airline industry and basically says that flight attendants are all on drugs and like to have sex with passengers in the airport lounges. I felt dirty reading it. Had I realized there's a companion piece about hotels, same author and same style, I wouldn't have picked this one up. It's manufactured. It doesn't feel real, even if it is. It feels icky. It's engaging, and I read the whole thing, and I learned that (gasp) airline food is cheap and bad. And also that if you're rude to a flight attendant, she'll put laxatives in your meal. Great. This is designed to make some money for the publisher and adds no great value to the world. It's trash. You'll read it if you buy it, but there's no reason to buy it.

Chapter and Verse by Colin Bateman. Got this one yesterday, when I realized I had nothing left for the flight. Colin Bateman is apparently a novelist who's written something like a dozen novels. This one caught my eye because it's about a writer, dumped by his publisher, and needing to find a way to get his book published. Anyone who's written a dozen published novels can write, no question. The problem with this book is that all of the plot developments are completely and utterly implausible, and there's nothing deeper than the surface here. This is a romance novel for writers, effectively. I didn't come away with anything lasting. It's a decent enough read, but I was hoping there'd be something interesting here, something about the publishing world, something about writing, something about the human experience. But, no, there's just some decent characters who do implausible things and contrived plot action happens for 330 pages and then it ends. You could do worse, but, I don't know, this illustrates my problem with most fiction. It has no reason for existing. This book adds very little to the world. It doesn't enlighten anyone about anything. It's okay company for a few hours, but it's not lasting, it's not memorable. It's a good novel. But it's just a novel. Sorry.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon. One of my friends passed this off to me when he finished. It's about an autistic kid who gets accused of killing a dog and writes about it. It's okay. I got into it enough to read it and not put it down. It's short, it's quick, the author captures autism really quite well. But read Paul Collins' "Not Even Wrong" if you want to be moved, if you want to really understand autism and feel something. This is made up stuff without any great purpose. I liked it a little, but it was only a time-killer. You can do worse, for sure. But, again, it's not changing the world. Maybe I expect too much.

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. This was me getting desperate in the airport without anything to read. I loved the movie. No one else did, it seems. The movie bears little resemblance to the book. If you don't have a good understanding of British soccer -- football -- and know the teams and feel invested in this world, you're not going to be able to read this book. I could not do it. I got a hundred pages in, and that was a chore, and then I picked up Bird by Bird and read it again instead. I know the rules of soccer, but I don't know these teams and players and you need to care more about this world to like this book. It's unfortunate. If it was about baseball, I'm sure it would have been decent, but it wasn't about baseball, and I didn't enjoy it much at all. Unfortunately.
UPDATE: I've gone ahead and backfilled posts for every day of my vacation, as I attempt to be the poor-man's Bill Bryson. So there's stuff from the 6th until yesterday, all brand new. Tonight or tomorrow I'll have a post about the books I read while away, and maybe some other new stuff too. I also might have a post about the bar exam up at De Novo later on today, but it's not there yet. They've been doing a symposium about the Bar Exam that's pretty interesting.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Dublin Airport

These two days were boring.

Woke up at 7 AM for my 11 AM flight out of Berlin to Dublin, to get a 5:20 PM flight from Dublin to JFK. It was cheaper to book the Dublin roundtrip and then do the Berlin-Dublin flight than to book out of Berlin directly back.

Got to Dublin, knowing I had 5 hours to kill before the flight. So I went to the bathroom, leaving me 4 hours and 55 minutes to kill before the flight. So I bought a couple of books. And the cashier needed my boarding pass so she wouldn't charge tax (yeah, I'd never seen that before either), and she told me I was at the wrong end of the terminal, and I told her I had 5 hours, and she told me the airport is boring and there are lots of restaurants around and I should go to one of those, since I'd have to go through security again anyway at the other side of the terminal. So I decided she was probably right, and I walked outside. And then I realized this is an airport. Airports don't have restaurants right outside. They have parking lots and highways. So I walked to the right. And got to nowhere. A dead end and a highway. So I walked to the left. And walked. Past the parking lots. Past a gas station. Past a highway entrance. I'm making it sound longer than it was. I walked for 18 minutes. And all I saw in the distance was the Holiday Inn Dublin Airport. So I went in. They had a restaurant. It looked okay. I walked to it. The woman looked at me. I said "1." She said, "You want the bar. Make a left." I said, "No, the restaurant." It wasn't too crowded. There were a couple of elderly people. "No, the restaurant is for full meals. You just want a snack, at the bar." I think my t-shirt and shorts and sneakers may have made her not want me eating in her restaurant or something. I don't know. So I left. And kept walking. And found the Southern Hotel, or something like that, but there was no way in without crossing a highway, and no way to get anywhere else. So I went back to the Holiday Inn and went to the bar and got a sandwich. I got the one that sounded interesting. "Rashers of crispy bacon bap." It turned out it was a Canadian Bacon sandwich. A "bap" is apparently a white roll. And I got a sparkling water. The label on the sparkling water read:

"No volcanic rocks. No foggy mists of time. No myths. No legends. No leprechauns. Just pure, clean water. You wear."

I get most of this. They're trying to cut against the usual bottled water stuff. But the last line. "You wear." What? I'm missing something.

Also, if you think they're going against the corporate machinery... the water was Deep River Rock... manufactured by Coca-Cola. Oh well.

So I returned to the airport, read a book, and then at 5:00 they announced the flight was delayed until 8:00.

And at 8:00 they announced it was delayed until 8:30.

And then they gave out a food voucher for dinner. For 5 euros. Not accepted anywhere in the airport except the sandwich place right next to the gate.

And then they cancelled the flight.

Everyone formed a line and we were put in taxis or on a bus to a hotel 35 minutes away that apparently no one was staying in, because they could accommodate all 300 passengers on no notice. Popular place, the City West Golf Resort.

And in the morning we got a huge free breakfast buffet. See "Irish breakfast" on August 7. This was the same, except with the addition of "black pudding," which I ate and still haven't googled to see what it was. I'm sure it was an animal product of some sort. (Okay, I just looked it up. Gosh. It's black because of pig blood. I shouldn't have looked that up. Oh well, it was tasty.)

And they got us back to the airport at 9 AM. And we waited to check in. And we boarded at 1:00. And we sat at the gate until 3:00. And then we left and then the plane landed and then I was home.

The story we heard was that the plane's door seal was broken. So it's good we didn't fly I guess. And they ended up having to charter a plane from Air Pullmantur to take us, which even my friend who knows everything about airlines and collects the safety cards from the planes hadn't heard of. The flight attendants spoke Spanish mostly. The food was Spanish, but not very good. Pollo Kalio Bebek. Which means chicken chunks in a tasteless yellow mystery sauce next to some rice. And a bizarre potato, tuna, mayonnaise, and green pepper salad that I couldn't eat more than a bite of. Later, some cheese and bread.

I had the whole row of three seats to myself though. Next to me, during boarding, sat a woman and her husband. She whispered, loudly, to her husband, "Why aren't we in first class? Get me in first class." He sort of shrugged and didn't respond. They'd had this conversation before. She wouldn't make eye contact with me at all for some reason, I don't know why. I'd been doing well at making friends for most of the day, talking to a lovely high school English teacher on the bus to the airport, and an Irish high school teacher on the check-in line, and a girl going to visit her boyfriend who's working as a summer camp counselor, in the taxi to the hotel the night before. But this woman just kept badgering her husband. "Ask the flight attendant. Now. Are there seats? There are seats up there. Do something!"

Finally, he asked a flight attendant. Apparently he worked for Aer Lingus. He showed them some sort of card. The flight attendant said, "We were going to move up some of the people in wheelchairs who'd been waiting all this time, but I'll check." And he came back, and moved them up. And the husband looks at me as they get up, and said "Looks like we'll be giving you some extra room." And we exchanged some sort of knowing look about his wife. He seemed really nice. Too bad his wife was the devil.

And that's my trip. I had fun. It's usually fun to go places. And it was cool to hang out with these friends, because they'll be in different cities and so we won't have the chance. So it was fun and worth it and I got to see some places I hadn't seen before.

If anyone's going to any of these cities and wants some more specific recommendations or anti-recommendations, let me know.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Berlin, Day Two

The other thing my readers told me in great numbers, besides the Vasa Museum, was to eat a Doner Kebab in Berlin. So we did. Good, but we probably could have searched out a better place. Or maybe I just wasn't that hungry.

Then we did a 5-hour walking tour of the city. Our guide was Barnaby. I share that only because people e-mailed me recommending Terry (who now only does Potsdam tours) and Kristian. We didn't really make an active decision, but Barnaby was the guy who picked up at our hostel, and he was with Terry's company, so we went with him. It was a good tour. We saw all of the big Berlin sites, like the wall, and the Reichstag, and Checkpoint Charlie, and the site of Hitler's bunker, and some palaces and monuments. There's a piece of the Berlin Wall by a nightclub. The wall is guarded by some very perfunctory fence you can easily hop over. One of my friends said it was hard to get over the fence. Well, not as hard as getting over the wall. Barnaby was good about giving us the history and background so all made sense.

He told us about a graffiti guy -- Berlin is covered in graffiti -- who draws the number 6 on lots of surfaces around town, but only temporary ones. Because 6 sounds like "sex" and he supports free love. Or something like that.

Other highlights:

1. Germans count their trees. There are 412,000 in Berlin.

2. We saw where skater Katarina Witt's apartment was.

3. There are 17 shades of brown in German, good for describing East German architecture.

For dinner, we ate in a Mexican restaurant. Maybe not the best choice in Berlin, but it wasn't bad. The waiter, who looked Mexican but didn't know Spanish, called the quesadilla a quesallada, repeatedly.

Then we hung out at another hostel, which had Trivia Night in the bar, and we won. I mean, it would have been shameful if we hadn't, I suppose. Even though a third of the questions were about German history.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Berlin, Day One

We took a flight from Stockholm to Berlin in the morning. I got a juice in the airport. It was a small bottle of juice, and only 20% real juice, but the label said it contained: orange, apple, grape, pineapple, passionfruit, apricot, banana, mango, peach, guava, pear, and lemon. That may be overkill for 25 centiliters of liquid. But it was good.

The guidebook for Berlin mentioned a restaurant entirely staffed by the blind and visually impaired, where you eat as if you're blind. No lights I guess. This seems kind of unnecessarily silly. I'm all for bizarre tourist experiences, but, um, does this make any sense? That wouldn't have stopped me from going, but, really, I'm not sure I understand how this idea would come to be.

There's a big E around various places in Berlin. At first I asked if there were an H, I, T, L, and R too, but it turns out there's some Einstein celebration stuff going on and it's all about his accomplishments.

We went to the Guggenheim museum, which had an abstract exhibit about artist self-portraits that wasn't really all that thrilling.

Then we went to the Daniel Libeskind-designed Jewish Museum. Libeskind is the guy doing the World Trade Center memorial in New York. The Jewish Museum in Berlin is extraordinary. First, it's enormous. If you read everything in a museum (I wish I did but I don't), you could easily spend 6 or 7 hours there. The three centerpieces are the Garden of Exile, which is 49 stone columns with willow trees growing from them, arranged in a square with a ground that's lopsided and angled and makes you feel very much trapped and disoriented and dizzy and it's very powerful stuff. It's very powerful and moving just to walk through it and experience it. Then there's Holocaust Tower, a narrow cell that's almost completely dark and you feel trapped and claustrophic and, again, very powerful architecture that really draws out an emotional response. It's worth visiting. And there's a piece with lots of metal faces on the ground which is also powerful. The rest of the museum is exhibits tracing the history of Jews and the history of Jews in Berlin, and it's all interesting and well-designed and a solid museum experience. But if you're going, you're going for Libeskind's architecture, really.

You can check this all out here.

For dinner we ate at a Vietnamese place called Vuong recommended in the guidebook for its Glass Noodles. It was good. I had a banana shake to drink, and banana pudding for dessert. Just coincidence, no real agenda with the bananas. The glass noodles were the highlight though.

I also bought orange tic-tacs. This normally wouldn't be of note, except while here orange tic-tacs are orange, in Germany orange tic-tacs are white, in an orange tinted container. They're white, but taste like orange. It's amazing, actually. Mind-blowing.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Stockholm, Day Three

Today was Vasa Museum day. Everyone who e-mailed me about Stockholm said to see the Vasa Museum. It's in Djurgarden, which is a short ferry ride away. Or a short walk back, as we discovered later. There's an amusement park there too, but we skipped it. Before heading to Vasa, we ate in a pizza place, where I had a pizza with herring, banana, pineapple, scallion, curry, cheese, and tomato sauce. It was better than it sounds. I wanted the most interesting thing I could find on the menu. Ham and sausage wasn't going to do it for me. I'm glad I took the risk.

Then we went on the ferry, which was filled with little kids going to the amusement park. Before we found Vasa, we found this free wooden boat museum, and we poked around there for a bit. There were Pine Clankers and Gigs and Pleasure Craft and War Craft and Pettersson Boats (according to the placard, you can never be sure if a Pettersson boat is a real Pettersson). There was a boat called the Bris with a red accent on the tip.

The Vasa Museum is huge. Vasa was a boat from the 1600s that sank, and then in the 1900s they found it and restored it and made a museum. There was a film, and a slideshow, and exhibits about life in 1620s Sweden.... The slideshow was a bit funny. The narrator said, about the ship's captain and builder and passengers: "We have no idea what these people looked like." A few moments later, the slideshow tries to reconstruct the trial after the ship sank. "The captain spoke first. Perhaps he looked like this." And then a picture of a funny looking man with a handlebar moustache comes up on the slide. Wait a second. You just said you have no idea what they looked like. So you're just guessing. So why not put up a picture of a monkey or something.

After Vasa, we had Korv for dinner. I had Chorizo. I don't know if that's Swedish or not. ;)

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Stockholm, Day Two

We took a ferry out to Gallno, an island in the archipelago that's relatively untouched by modernity, with 30 permanent residents, a small store, a hostel, some hiking trails, and some rowboats.

The ferry ride was about 2 hours long, and we passed some odd statue of a guy spitting water from his mouth along the way. We got there and walked to a store to get some bread. We'd brought along some peanut butter and jelly (lingonberry jelly -- quite tasty, actually). I got a yogurt too, which was actually a rice pudding I thought was a yogurt when I bought it. It was okay. I should have read the package more carefully though.

We walked around the island for a few hours, passing lots of colorful wild mushrooms and wild berries. Blueberries, and some red and orange ones. I wish I would have brought a little tiny realistic looking action figure man to put next to the mushroom and take a picture making it look like a giant man-eating mushroom. Why I have thoughts like these, I'm not quite sure.

[At this point in my notes, I've written down "Google Earth" to remind me that one of my friends said it was cool and I should go download it. ... ... ... ... I just wasted an hour playing around with Google Earth. It's a map. A really big map. Wow.]

Anyway, on the island we picked up a map of the other islands, and it turns out Sweden uses a handicapped wheelchair icon much more active than ours. Ours is sort of stationary man; theirs implies some sort of fast forward motion. There's an island in the archipelago designed just for the handicapped to visit. Speaking of this, why do we use a wheelchair icon to denote all handicaps? Do people with other handicaps feel disenfranchised by it? Should there be a mentally handicapped icon too? And if so, what should it look like? A man with a question mark above his head?

We also picked up a tour brochure to Kabul.

Kabul is a place to visit in Barcelona.

Yeah, I was thinking the same thing.

We got in a little rowboat on the island and explored another neighboring island, and then went back to our island. We had brought bathing trunks and were going to go swimming. I kinda chickened out because the water was freezing and I wasn't really into leaping off a cliff into water, but it was fun anyway.

Then we took the ferry back. Fun day. Nice to get out of the city. Most people -- and I mean "me" -- plan vacations centered around cities, but sometimes the highlights aren't the cities as much as the non-city parts. Or at least it's nice to have a mix of city stuff and more outdoorsy non-city stuff.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Stockholm, Day One

We boarded an early-morning train. We were seated in the animal car. I was hoping that would mean stuff like seals and elephants. Instead there was just a dog and cat. But it was a big dog. With a crazy owner. She kept kissing her dog on the mouth. Also, the cat and dog were seated next to each other. Which is sort of interesting.

I noticed a Kia with a vanity license plate that reads Prius. Prius is that hybrid Toyota. Must mean something else in Swedish.

We walked around Stockholm a bunch, as we've been doing everywhere else. Stockholm is made up of a couple thousand islands, with a few big ones in the center that comprise center city, and then the rest reachable by ferry and mostly for summer homes and cottages and hiking and fishing and boating. The Old City is the main area of Stockholm, with a palace and some museums and lots of Korv vendors. Korv is sausage in Swedish.

I stopped at a street vendor and had Skaning, which was some sort of salt fish, breaded, with dill and onions and mustard on a piece of brown bread. I enjoyed it very much. I wanted something local to eat, and it hit the spot. Later we ate in an Irish pub and had Swedish meatballs with lingonberries. Also good.

We walked up to a scenic road perched on a cliff overlooking the sea and the main island. There were some people making out and some girl wearing a very short skirt with a guy taking pictures of her bending over. I think they may have been whatever the equivalent of headshots are if you want to be in a porn movie. Maybe not.

There's a building in the center of the city called the Red Bull Energy Station with lots of Red Bull being sold and a Red Bull bar and lots of advertising. I don't get the appeal generally, but especially not in a place as laid back as Sweden.

Our hostel was next to a boat, called the AF Chapman. We had a room just for the 4 of us, so that was good. Better than the 12-person Dublin hostel rooms. There was a guestbook in the lobby of the hostel. I flipped through the pages. One guy thanked the hostel for a nice time and said it was the best 9-person gangbang he'd ever been a part of. I hope that wasn't in our room.

Stockholm is more touristy than Malmo, which makes good sense. Some old-style Viking boats in the water that look seriously touristy. Plastic Viking hats. We passed a store called "Gray's American Store" that sold "American" products like Shop Rite brand Cranberry Sauce, Kraft Mac & Cheese ($3/box), Snapple, and Doritos. Really, most of these things have an equivalent in Sweden. You need to be really uncreative to need Snapple in Sweden, I think.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Malmo, Day Two + Lund

We slept in, after a long night, and I was one of the first awake and so I went with my friend's mother to the grocery store to help her carry the stuff she wanted to buy for breakfast and for dinner. I was more than happy to go, because it saved me from having to convince my friends it would be fun to walk through a grocery store. Which it is. Foreign grocery stores are neat, because you get to see all the different and strange stuff they have. Or at least I find it neat. Like a living museum. Okay, that may be pushing it.

Notes on Swedish supermarkets:

1. For the most part, any American could go into a Swedish supermarket and not be terribly shocked. The similarities are much greater than the differences -- much greater than what I recall in Prague or even Paris, for instance. There's not much they have that we don't.

2. What they do have that we don't are tube foods. Like toothpaste tubes, but filled with spreads. Bacon in a tube, mushroom paste in a tube, shrimp paste in a tube. We don't use the tube for much besides toothpaste and Krazy Glue, and maybe that means it ends up feeling unappetizing, but they had lots of things in tubes. Caviar in a tube. Mayonnaise in a tube.

3. Crispbread. Lots of varieties. Rye, Wheat, Whole Grain, "Sport" (not sure what that meant).

4. Frozen spices. Basil in the freezer aisle, in a package like spinach.

5. Flavored butters. Maybe we have them, but I've never seen them.

6. Their pork section was enormous. The number of sausages and salamis -- the varieties -- cooked, uncooked, spiced, sliced, etc -- was much, much bigger than we have. And the fish section was bigger too, and all looked very fresh. As fresh as any fish I've seen.

7. The produce section offered nothing unusual, which surprised me, since I figured there'd be something different, but I guess not.

We spent some time during breakfast listening to a Swedish language tape. It told us how to ask for directions, count to ten, and other relatively useless things like that. What's the difference if I can ask for directions in Swedish if I can't understand a word of the answer? Language books should give the translations for common signs and menu items. Beyond that, the only thing I need to do is hope someone speaks English. And most people do. Honestly, I'm okay with being confused. I'm okay not understanding the language. I don't expect people to be able to talk to me if I don't know their language, and I figure it's stupid for me to pretend I can speak theirs. I'll guess and point in a store or at a restaurant. If I end up with something I didn't want, I'll deal. It might be a fun surprise. It's okay. The only place I don't really want to be confused is the airport or train station, but most places are pretty good with signage and it's no big deal. Obviously if I was spending any significant time somewhere it would be polite and useful and more fun to learn the language. But for three days, I can be confused, it's okay.

So we went to Lund, which is a college town. There's a beautiful campus with lots of Ivy-covered buildings. One building had a spiral staircase made out of one big tree trunk. It was neat. There was some sort of convention under a tent that I stole a muffin and a cup of coffee from. No one seemed to notice. There was a sign on a bulletin board in one of the buildings posing a question, "Does Anyone Need An Education This Good?" Apparently Lund is one of Sweden's best schools. I thought the question was interesting. We tend to want education for education's sake. But maybe too much education is unnecessary? I don't really think so, but maybe there's a topic for thought in there somewhere, and someone else wants to think about it and send me some ideas to post and maybe reflect on. Or not. It's fine either way. I just thought the question was provoking.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Malmo, Day One

So we took the train and arrived in Malmo, which a friendly guy at the phone card store in Copenhagen told us was a nice place, and cheaper than Copenhagen, which is nice, since Copenhagen was really expensive, at least when it came to food.

We spent our first day in Malmo walking from the place we were staying, a couple of miles from the city center, into the city. We walked by the water, and followed the coast up toward the city, passing the Turning Torso building designed by Sergio Calatrava, which is a very attractive and interesting piece. Check out the site. It's cool.

We stopped at a coffee shop that looked a lot like a Starbucks, except it was called the Espresso House. Like everything else in Sweden, and IKEA furniture, it was very clean and functional and nice.

We went to the design museum in Lilla Torg, which means Little Square, and looked in some stores. In Malmo -- and Copenhagen and Stockholm and, uh, Boston, actually -- the cities are basically built around open squares. Each square has some stores and restaurants and bars, and then there are main arteries connecting the squares. So we wandered around the squares in Malmo, and the weather was nice (a slight bit chilly, as compared with what it's been like in the US, but that was much much better than the alternatives -- too hot or too wet), and we ate in a restaurant and went out to a bar afterwards and hung out for a while.

Some interesting things about Sweden:

1. They really like licorice in Sweden. It's one of the main things in all of the corner stores, and there are also street vendors who sell different flavors of it.

2. They call thousand island dressing, "Rhode Island dressing."

3. They're really into Pear Cider. It's like apple cider, but lighter I guess. I liked it, actually. I'm not much of a drinker at all, but I could make do with the pear cider reasonably contentedly, even though I guess it's not the most masculine of drinks. Oh well. Although once it sat for a while and lost the carbonation it started to get kind of cloyingly sweet.

4. There are lots of dogs in Sweden, and they're all really well-behaved. They also somehow all look really smart. Well-groomed, looking like pure breeds, I don't know. They somehow exude intelligence more than most American dogs do. I'm not sure how to explain it.

5. We went to the train station to buy tickets for our train to Stockholm. So they asked us each how old we were. I'm 26, and my friends were 24, 25, and 27. The people under 26 get a discount. So two of us didn't qualify. But they never checked. So we should have lied I guess. Had we known. But what's interesting is that throughout the trip we all kept noticing points where in America, there'd probably be another check on the system to keep people from cheating, but in Europe, no one seemed too concerned. On subways, the tickets aren't really checked. It's just assumed you have a ticket. Museum entrances and exits are poorly policed, and if you wanted to sneak in without a ticket, you probably could. One hostel said we could pay at checkout, and wasn't really much concerned about it. Stores don't have security guards stationed at the doors, for the most part, at least not that I noticed. Ferries didn't make you pay until you were already on the boat and there wouldn't be much recourse for them if you didn't. I didn't notice any complicated alarm systems anywhere. It's an interesting difference in culture, I guess.

6. We noticed that whenever we talked to anyone who was Swedish, they would be very reluctant to acknowledge their country is pretty neat. Someone in Malmo asked us why in the world we were visiting Malmo. "It's okay here," she said. "It's cold." The weather was a big topic. It wasn't that cold. Then again, it was August. So I can imagine December is no fun. But people in Sweden seemed genuinely self-deprecating about their country. We ended up hanging out for a while with a very lovely lawyer we happened to stop on the street and ask for directions to get somewhere. She shared a theory that everything in Sweden is just average. The valleys aren't very low, but that means the peaks aren't that high. Whereas in America we have the very rich and the very poor, the very smart and the very dumb, in Sweden, everything is just okay. Everyone's needs are taken care of to some extent by the government -- health care, education, retirement -- and so there's less need to strive to be better, and there's more ability to just relax and enjoy life, but it ends up that without the lows, the highs are harder to find. I may be making too much of an offhand comment, but it was interesting and got me thinking.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Copenhagen, Day One (and only)

We woke up at 4:30 in the morning for our 7 AM flight from Dublin to Copenhagen. When I left my hostel room, barefoot, I stepped in something very wet on the carpet. I really hope it was water. I really really hope it was water.

There's a note I took that just says "Alternative Men's Toilets." This may have been in the Dublin Airport, or it may have been in Copenhagen. I can't tell. In any case, I thought, at the time, that the mere existence of something called Alternative Men's Toilets, and what men were supposed to use them, was worth jotting down. So there you go.

The safety instructions on the flight were given in Danish. There is no Danish phrase, apparently, for "fasten seatbelts," since those words were definitely not Danish.

Q: What would the New York Post headline be if something crooked happened in Scandanavia?
A: "Scanda-lous"


The Copenhagen Airport is the cleanest airport I've ever seen, without much competition (making the European Airport of the Year Awards pretty unsurprising). Beautiful dark wood floors without a speck of dirt or trash. Comfortable seating. Good lighting. There's a poster which instructs that shouting in the airport isn't allowed. These people are civilized.

Perhaps too civilized. We went into a post office for one of my friends to get a phone card. There were no other customers. He went to the window. They wouldn't serve him. They told him to take a number from the machine. He took a number. Three second pause. They rang a bell announcing that his number was up. He went to the window. They served him.

You take numbers for everything in Copenhagen.

They also have really wide bike lanes built into all of the roads. They like bikes here.

They also like Hans Christian Anderson. There are plaques throughout the city explaining how wherever you are standing relates to something Hans Christian Anderson did. And you can also call a phone number (I am not kidding) to hear Hans Christian Anderson talking about whatever it is the plaque is about. I'm guessing it's some actor reading words Anderson wrote, but who knows. In a less civilized country, this would just be some really filthy Hans Christian Anderson phone sex line, or something like that.

There was a nice park we walked through, with trees and a man-made lake.

Then we went to Rosenborg Palace, which had a museum with the crown jewels of Denmark, and another building where you could tour the old living quarters. Palaces are big. I have nothing much to say about this except that it was a cool museum, and a nice complex of buildings, but didn't stand out especially.

The city itself is gorgeous. Lots of ships and old yellow buildings and nice flowers and it was fun to walk around and see things. We were told the "famous mermaid" was underwhelming, so we skipped it. We also skipped Tivoli, the amusement park, because we were time-limited.

There was a foreign couple perplexed about the difference between "entrance fee" and "entrance free" on whatever map they were looking at. I'd never realized that there's just one letter different, and it must indeed be confusing for people trying to decode the language.

In the evening, we took a train across the sea, about 35 minutes, to Malmo, Sweden's 3rd largest city. We met up in Copenhagen with another friend from law school whose parents live in Malmo, and so we decided to spend a couple of days in Malmo, even though I suppose it isn't the typical tourist destination. But it actually ended up being the coolest place we saw, I think.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Dublin, Day 3

The patron saint of Dublin is a man named Arthur Guinness, who not only invented a beer, but also brought a strong social conscience to the city, saved the lives of widows and orphans, and "never forgot the city that had been so good to him."

The Guinness Museum is a must-see if you're in Dublin, not only because of the fantastic view of the city from its roof-deck in the pint-glass-shaped building, but because it's a true marvel of marketing. Executives at every consumer product in the world should be forced to walk through the Guinness Museum as an illustration of how you can turn the details of your manufacturing process and the loads of outdated machine parts you have laying around into a tourist attraction that can effectively create a cult of enthusiasm around your product, whatever it happens to be.

You walk in, and you are led through a piecemeal exploration of the Guinness production process. Touch the barley, walk under a waterfall of fresh, clean, mountain water, see the hand-stirred hops and the special blend of malt, water, and love. Watch a video of how they used to make barrels back before machines could do it, and touch a barrel yourself. See cases of tools and implements from the history of Guinness. Walk through the 19-step process, complete with sound effects -- even if malting, roasting, milling, and mashing all sound like peeing, it's still mesmerizing.

"Arthur Guinness found the secret ingredient to turn lead into gold."

I didn't realize there was lead in the beer.

At one point, you get to a video, which basically explains how Arthur Guinness was the greatest man in the history of the universe, and was the first to offer health care to his employees, and give widows pensions, and pay above-market salaries. All of which may be true, but it was said so reverently that I couldn't keep a straight face. The video also explained, basically, how Arthur Guinness stole water from the city of Dublin, but since stealing is a bad thing, they had to shade it differently. The city officials came to block Guinness from taking the water he was rightfully entitled to, because it was creating a shortage in the rest of the city. But Guinness wouldn't stand down, and defended his water with weapons until the sheriff retreated, and right was restored as Guinness was able to continue making the porter that would save the city. So basically he was a vigilante. But at least he helped the widows and orphans.

My friends didn't find this as amusing as I did, but the display I found most over the top was about the shipment of the beer to various places around the world, triumphantly declaring, "The story of transporting Guinness Stout is the story of transportation itself." Um, what?

You can watch every Guinness TV commercial from the past 50 years. You can read about ways that Guinness-licensed Irish pubs thrive in cities across the globe. You can watch the digital beer counter rise, as thousands upon thousands of Guinness pints are drunk every day around the world. You can drink the freshest beer you'll ever taste, on the roof deck, overlooking the city.

You can buy everything you might ever imagine Guinness can put its name on, in the gift shop.

This is a triumph of marketing and branding, and should not be missed. Seriously. Amazing.

After the Guinness Museum, we went to the Chester Beatty Museum. Chester Beatty was a very very rich American who collected lots and lots and lots of stuff and moved to Ireland and donated it all to a museum, which put it in cases. He liked rare books. Rare, old books. Illuminated books, which means people hand-painted the title pages and the big letters. Hand-bound books. Wood carvings. Old Korans. Lots of old Korans. It was a very impressive collection, well organized and nicely displayed, with videos about how to do a woodcut, and the difference between metal engraving and wood engraving, and how to make paper. The nice thing about museums in Ireland were that the displays were all in English, too. :)

I wrote down of the placards next to a display that I found particularly bizarre and worth sharing:

"Brushes might be made from the hair of squirrels, goats, or the inside of a calf's ear, but the very finest were made from hair cut from the throat of a white kitten, two months old. Painters frequently bred their own cats to ensure the highest quality hair."


There was also a display of Universal Qibla Finders. I have no idea what a Universal Qibla Finder is.

The Beatty Museum, it was proudly advertised, won the Europe Museum of the Year award in 2002. That's actually one of my favorite awards shows on TV, and I'm sorry I missed it this year. Apparently it beat out the favorite, which was London's Museum of Crisps.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Dublin, Day 2

We woke up and had breakfast at the hostel. It's a "Full Irish Breakfast," which consists of everything we should avoid eating, plus some things that are okay to eat, adding up to a meal that's really big and probably bears little resemblance to what anyone who isn't a tourist actually eats. Eggs, ham, sausage, hash browns, baked beans, roasted tomatoes, cereal (rice krispies and weetabix, which are basically big shredded wheat), granola, yogurt, scones and jam, toast, cake, danishes, muffins, coffee, tea, and an entire headless fish. I'm kidding about the fish. But everything else was there.

We went by train about 15 minutes to a peninsula town called Howth. Think beach suburb. Walked around the harbor, through a farmer's market (they sell the same jelly with free samples in Ireland farmers markets as in New York ones...), to King George's footprints when he landed in Ireland, took a ferry out to an island that's also a bird sanctuary and did lots of walking up to the summit and down and through lots of bird crap and watched lots of birds flying around us. It was really neat. I had good ice cream. We then did a cliff walk, basically a short hike up a trail and then back down. Fun stuff, really felt like we were exploring Ireland rather than just seeing the city.

On the train there was an ad for Burger King's Sweet Chilli Chicken Baguette. Guessing that'd be a tough seller at Burger King in the states, although maybe not. Price point is kind of high, from the ad -- you can get a real sandwich somewhere for the same 3 euros. Sometimes. Actually, the price on the subway was advertised as 3 euros, but downtown Dublin's Burger King had it for 3.75. Price discrimination. Adding to the history of discrimination in Ireland.

We wandered around the Temple Bar and Grafton Street areas some more. People in a bar were really excited about the football (soccer) game. Lots of people wear jerseys on the street.

We also passed a movie theater with titles I didn't recognize, so maybe the Irish do make movies. Maybe. :)

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Dublin, Day One

I arrived in Dublin after an overnight flight on which I didn't really sleep (I have no trouble sleeping in cars, or on buses and trains, but I find it really hard to fall asleep on a plane), and met up with my friends at our designated airport meeting spot. In a sitcom, of course, we wouldn't have found each other, or someone's plane would have been late, or the map of the airport would have been wrong, or an elevator would have gotten stuck with a pregnant woman inside, but actually it worked out fine and I found them without a problem and we proceeded to take a taxi to our hostel and explore Dublin. Here's what I learned on my first day in Dublin:

1. Apple-flavored soda is not that good. Cidona sparkling apple drink (slogan "It has bite"), to be specific. This will become a running theme -- I find foreign convenient stores relatively fascinating, and have trouble resisting the urge to try something I've never seen before, even if I have no reason to believe it's any good. So the apple soda. Not so good.

2. The Dublin Natural History Museum is free for a reason.

3. It's so nice to be somewhere where it's not 95 degrees outside.

4. Little children speaking in Irish accents sound much more civilized than American children. But grown men and women cursing at each other on the street in Irish accents don't.

5. Irish butter seems to be the same as butter.

We basically spent the day wandering around the whole city. Our first stop was the Dublin Writers Museum, which sounded like it could have been interesting but looked really underwhelming, and cost actual money, so we skipped it. As we were walking, an old man with a cane accidentally or purposely hit a younger woman on the street with it, to the effect of:

WOMAN: "Watch it, you old man."
OLD MAN: "Shut up, you filthy slut."

I really can't remember the actual words though. They sounded funny with the Irish accents.

We saw Trinity College, which is old. They sort the library books there, the tour guide said, by the size of the book. This seems strange. We saw the Book of Kells there, which is an old manuscript with fancy writing. There was a whole room with busts of famous people (Plato, etc) and old books. It was neat. The Trinity College tour was cool. Worth the 10 euros.

Lots of restaurants advertised things like Pizza + Mineral, which made me think Mineral = Mineral Water, but then I saw one for Pizza + Mineral + Water, so I'm not so sure. I still think it must be water, or else that's a lousy idea for a lunch special.

The Natural History Museum, which was free, compared unfavorably to any natural history museum that cost money. It was basically just lots of cases of stuffed animals. I mean dead animals that are stuffed, not Teddy Ruxpin. Lots of birds. The whole thing looked like a relic from the 1920s or so, before they knew that unicorns and phoenixes weren't real. They didn't really have any unicorns or phoenixes. But they could have. They would have fit.

Our hostel was dorm-style rooms with 12 beds (6 pairs of bunk beds) and a shower and toilet in each room. Given that, it wasn't terrible. The only weirdness was that the lights were automatic -- they stayed on until 11PM and then went off. We ate an early dinner and I tried to get to sleep before 11, but spent 10 minutes feeling like an idiot because I couldn't figure out how to turn the lights off (no one else was in the room at the time), until I gave up and went to sleep anyway, with the lights on. It was okay.

Other random thoughts:

"Left Luggage" means a place you can leave your luggage, not a place to find the luggage other people neglected.

Dublin has a bunch of electronic signs we passed yesterday saying how many parking spots are free in various areas of the city. Never saw that before. Cool idea.

One store had on its awning: "Probably the best coffee in Dublin." It needs some more self-confidence.

Fanta greenz, advertised on all the buses, looked to be the next sparkling beverage I should try. Apple, melon, and lime.

Movie theaters here are playing Fantastic Four, Wedding Crashers, and Herbie Fully Loaded. I was hoping maybe the Irish had some cool local cinema, but still looking.

The Temple Bar and Grafton Street areas were cool. Consensus, though, was that Guinness tastes the same here as back in the US. Oh well.

"Flanagan's Pizza" does not inspire confidence.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Foreign Postcard Giveaway

Send me your address and I'll send you a postcard from somewhere I'll be in the next 11 days. This includes friends whose addresses I should know, since I don't really have a place I write addresses down, so I don't know any. So, basically, if you're reading this and (1) you know me and want a postcard or (2) you don't know me but want a postcard, e-mail me your address and it will give my trip purpose and I will be more than delighted to pick out a postcard I think you will like and send it to you. There may even be random material written on the postcard that I will deem not interesting enough to include in my blog posts. Bonus content. Yay.
Advice from readers about things to see/do/eat in Dublin, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Berlin

This is a mega-post, and none of it's mine. I leave Friday evening. My trip posts should begin Saturday, or whenever it is I find Internet and/or do something interesting enough to write about. Hopefully I'll get a chance to use some of the advice here that I've been given. But even if not, I want to post it so other people can use it.


Here are some of my favorite places in Dublin -

Grafton Street/St. Stephen's Green area - a nice place to hang out and people watch, shop etc.

Trinity College - it's beautiful and the Book of Kells and the old library are worth seeing

Kilmainham Jail - a really interesting place to learn about Irish nationalism

The Irish Jewish Museum - small but fascinating

The Winding Stair bookshop, on Liffey Street near the Ha'penny Bridge - a great place to just hang out and browse

But my all time favorite has to be the New Grange historic site, which is actually in the Boyne Valley. You can book a bus tour at the Dublin visitors' center. It's a trip that will take most of your day but is well worth it, through amazingly beautiful countryside until you get to a historic passage tomb that's 1000 years older than Stonehenge. Not to be missed!



Get tourist pass for all-day mass transit. Go see the Vasa. It's a big ship that the king of Sweden spent way too much money on around 1620, that on it's maiden voyage sailed about half a kilometer and promptly sank. But it sank into the peat at the bottom of the Stockholm harbor, and as a result was well preserved. In the 1950s they hauled it up and cleaned it off, and now it's in a museum. DEFINITELY worth seeing. Near the Vasa is this historical park, whose name and particulars I can't remember - I never actually got there myself - but is supposed to be good. I think it's a living history type place. Walk through the old town. Maybe take the big ferry (Silja or Viking line) to and from Helsinki (or Turkuu). This might be expensive, although not so much if you have a Eurail pass. You could take the night boat one way and the day one back, if you wanted. (Helsinki's nice to see too.)


Stockholm is a wonderful city (albeit expensive, but you presumably know that). I used to enjoy just wandering around the old town (Gamla Stan? My memory is not what is used to be). Skip the royal palace -- yawn. Bill Bryson in Neither Here nor There had it right about how ridiculous the Swedish army looks stansign guard there. The Wasa (an old warship brought up from the bottom of the sea many years ago) is a neat museum. Djurgarden, a large outdoor park, is a great way to waste a day. Not sure how much time you'll have. I'd see about a water tour, maybe one that includes some of the not-too-far-away islands. Eat lingonberries with everything.


You may want to time your visits to coincide with a free museum day (the Time Out guides will list them). But if memory serves, the National Museum and the Modern Art Museum in Stockholm are both free anyway. The standard tourist attractions there, though, are the Vasa Museum and Skansen (an openair park with historical Swedish houses and farmsteads).

I didn't get a chance to do an archipelago cruise in Stockholm, which people think is a must-do. You'll be there during the right season anyway.


In Stockholm, walk around the old town (the Gamla Stan -- this is a
huge tourist attraction so it's hard NOT to do it -- but I think it's
lovely and worth it). Then there's a royal palace out in the
archipelago -- Drottningholm Palace -- and you can catch a boat to it,
which was a lovely trip. I actually had a friend with a boat when I
went there, and he was actually in charge of security at
Drottningholm... so *maybe* my experience was colored by the private
and awesome boat ride/tour we got... but I remember it being lovely.
The boat ride makes it feel exotic, like you're traveling farther away
than you actually are.




You can do a boat ride through the harbor. Maybe you can do this in Stockholm too? It leaves from the old port, which is worth taking a peek at. See Tivoli (the amusement park Walt Disney based Disneyland on).


If you can find them, aebleskivers are wonderful spherical pancakes. I
think they are a traditionally reserved for holidays food, but you might find them on a dessert menu somewhere or in a total tourist spot. Otherwise, Danish pancakes. Yum. Tivoli Gardens is fun.


In Copenhagen, in terms of art museums, there's the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, but it's under renovation, and so you get reduced admission.

The Lousiana Art Museum looks interesting. I didn't get to visit. But perhaps even better -- if you're into castles, you can potentially visit Frederiksborg and Kronborg on the same day (I went to the former, but not the latter, supposedly the setting for "Hamlet," so it could appeal to those with English lit. leanings).


I thought Helsingor, Denmark, was also cool -- also touristy, but enjoyable -- the Kronborg Castle there is supposed to be Shakespeare's inspiration for Elsinore (get it, Helsingor, Elsinore?) in "Hamlet." It was a cloudy day when I toured it, and suddenly rain was pouring down, and the big stone rooms got very gloomy, and I felt very much like I was walking around in "Hamlet"... fortunately, I left before I started feeling tragically indecisive... The night before, I had stayed in Helsingborg, Sweden, a small Swedish city a short ferry ride across the channel (because I had family there), and it was pretty, but probably not worth a trip out of your way. After Helsingor, I traveled on overland into Copenhagen -- don't remember exactly how far, maybe an hour or two? The point is, if you are looking for a day trip out of Copenhagen, Helsingor is nice.

Helsingor Tourist Website (in English):

My favorite thing in Copenhagen was going to Tivoli Gardens at dusk. The flowers were gorgeous in the twilight, and then thousands of little colored lights appeared overhead... it was lovely...



See the Berlin Wall museum (you can't see much of the wall itself, however.) It's near Checkpoint Charlie, although I don't know if that's still there. In what used to be West Berlin, see the church with the broken spire. They left it like that rather than tear it down or rebuild it, to remind them of what they had done. See the TV tower. (In what was East Berlin.) See what's left of the synagogue. It's really just a facade, with a museum constructed behind it in what used to be East Berlin. This may have been fixed by now, but there used to be shrapnel scars on the buildings in East Berlin that the East Germans never got around to repairing.


I'm from Germany and I live in Potsdam (that means very close to Berlin). I thought I could give you some suggestions what to do in Berlin.

You should try the kind of fast food we eat (beside McDonalds)
a.. Döner (very popular in Germany;
b.. Currywurst (Bratwurst with a lot of curry-flavored ketchup,, in Berlin you will find the best Currywurst in Germany)
c.. Bratwurst (try to get a "Thüringer Bratwurst", they are the best)
d.. go into a bakery and buy what you think looks good. I recommend "Apfeltasche" (Leo says: filo dough filled with apple purée; it is not like the one you buy at McDonalds!) or "Streuselschnecke" (the best one is cut in two halfs and in the middle is vanilla pudding)
e. drink a German beer: I recommend a "Schwarzbier" (dark beer, sweeter than other beer; or drink "Pils" (you should know it, if you know Beck's; then try another Pils). You may also want to try a Hefeweizen (; I don't like it at ally
f. drink: "Berliner Weiße mit Schuss" (it's a kind of beer, but there is sirup [woodruff or raspberry] in it and it's just a nice trink when it's warm outside) (

Sights in Berlin: these things are close together, you can walk from one to the other and are a must-see in my opinion:
a. Reichstag: (building of the German parliament, you can go into the glass dome and have a great view over Berlin)
b. Potsdamer Platz:
c. Brandenburger Tor:
d. Holocaust Mahnmal:

Other things that are recommended:
a. Jewish Museum (
b. Museumsinsel ( there is i.e. the Pergamon Museum (
c. go to S-Bahn station "Zoologischer Garten": there is the Ku'damm
( & Gedächtniskirche
(, there is also some
places for shopping
d. And if you like modern art: Hamburger Bahnhof
e. have a look at the wall that separated Berlin and Germany:
f. museum at Checkpoint Charly
( documents the
separation of East Germany and West Germany and how people tried to escape
from East to West
g. Berliner Dom: (great view
over Berlin)
h. Fernsehturm: (great view over

Or just walk through some boroughs that are popular right now:

a. Prenzlauer Berg (
b. Mitte (
c. Kreuzberg (

You should also go to Potsdam ( It's a city close to Berlin, you can use public transportation to get to it (i.e. S-Bahn). There you should visit:

a. Sanssouci (a palace with a big garden): (entrance to the garden is for free, you only have to pay if you want into the palace)
b. the inner city with cafés and stuff, there's also the Holländisches Viertel (Dutch Quarter,


In Berlin, don't eat German food. It's terrible. Eat it once. We ate it once and ate Italian the rest of the time I think. Do go to the Reichstag. It's amazing. Also there is a wonderful bombed out church in the middle of the city that's been turned into a very moving memorial. Just about any guidebook ought to have the name of it.


Go see the Hackesche Hoeffe in the former East; it is a great area with culture, bars, small shops. Friedrichstrasse and Kudamm have several things worth seeing (Check Point Charlie is by the former, the bombed Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächnis Kirche at the latter) but a little too shopping oriented for my preference.

For food, we always go to Loretta's at the Wannsee, which is a nice Biergarten. There are so many lakes and parks, so if the weather is nice you should try to have a picnic on any of the million parks that will probably be littered with Berliners doing the same. The thing I miss the most from Berlin is the baked goods-- there are tons of bakeries, and the best thing is a Laugenbrötchen or Laugenstange, and they make good picnic items.

Finally, while you're in Berlin, definitely get a Döner Kebab (I recommend Effe's in Zehlendorf, but there are vendors and little restaurants basically on every street). Berlin has the second largest Turkish population (Istanbul is still number 1), so Döner here are basically the world's best, and probably the cheapest food in Berlin.


There is a walking tour of the city that I can't recommend enough - I forget the name, but it leaves from outside of the Starbucks by Brandenburg Tor pretty regularly and is heavy on the advertising - you can't miss it. You get to see all the major sights and a lot of the history behind them, plus sights that you would never know existed and have no major monuments to distinguish them - Hitler's bunker, the last remaining Nazi building, and a few others. The best part? Its a FREE walking tour - no charge. I would advise trying to make the tour that leaves in and around 1pm - you'll get a guy named Kristian, and he's fantastic with real passion for the history of it city.


I'm sorry if it's going to sound vague, but this is the best I can remember right now.... There's a guy named Terry (an American ex-GI) who gives the absolute best walking tour of Berlin. He goes through both the Eastern and Western parts of the city, and knows just about everything (he was stationed in Berlin, I believe). Anyway, it's a walking tour, and he does it most days. What he does is pick up people at a couple of hostels in the morning, and then you spend the day walking around - seeing everything. You're exhausted at the end, but it's definitely worth it. I don't know where you'll be staying, and I can't remember which hostels he picks up at, but you could probably ask someone and they'd know (he may even be in the Let's Go guide). Unfortunately, everything I have is in boxes right now, otherwise I'd attempt to find out more to tell you. Hopefully you'll find him - i'm sure someone else has recommended him, and can actually remember exactly how to find Terry. I hope he hasn't retired.