Sunday, February 22, 2009


Last year, it was an Academy Awards Party at the home of the Diva of all Oscar Soirees. This year, I got a pre-oscar backstage tour, Number 86 on my Bucket List. Just for fun, I will tell my experience by using the titles of the nominated films. Play along and see if you can spot them. (Answers at the bottom)

It was a dark night with skies that threatened tropic thunder, but that was not going to make me bolt from my adventure. I forged ahead and met up with my happy-go-lucky sister-in-law who has worked the Oscars for the past 15 years. She invited me to be the visitor and get a glimpse of the inner workings behind the Oscars. Believe me, it is a world unto itself. The televised portion of the show is only half the story. Once an actor has won, they're escorted to a room where there's wall to wall-e paparazzi. Humongous gold statuettes adorn a stage, and the winner just stands there to be photographed. Nothing is said, no questions are asked, no comments made. All talk is reserved for the press room, so the shutterbugs are as quiet as a frozen river. One can understand how stars become narcissistic; there are bleachers full of photographers from all over the world, and they are there JUST to snap YOU! How could one not gain conceit?

Let's say the winner is scraggly Mickey Rourke. (Have you ever thought of using an iron, man?) He looks like a cross between Benjamin Button and a slumdog millionaire. Anyway, on the way to the press room Mickey Rourke could, say, swing by and pick up a cocktail or even some milk before he's asked to explain why he forgot to thank Vicky, Cristina, Frost or Nixon in his acceptance speech.

When Viola Davis wins supporting actress (my prediction), her press interview will be carefully written down without a doubt by a team of court reporters. It will then be put on the internet within a five-minute span. That's where my sister-in-law comes in. She's in charge of that whole crew. Incredible!

There's catered food backstage, and the champagne is bubbling more than when I saw my friend Rachel getting married.

The Oscars is a huge production with extreme safety measures that include a rooftop sniper. Security is tighter than Hugh Jackman's abs.

So last year, I was watching the Oscars in front of a TV; this year I was backstage. It's been a revolutionary road I've traveled. I feel like such a changeling! But I guess that's better than being the wrestler, but not quite as good as being the duchess. Next time, Australia??!!

(Bolt, Dark Knight, Tropic Thunder, Happy-Go-Lucky, The Visitor, WALL-E, Frozen River, Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire, Vicky Cristine Barcelona, Frost/Nixon, Milk, Doubt, Rachel Getting Married, Revolutionary road, The Wrestler, The Duchess, Australia, Changeling)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Vatican

Without looking at the title of this post, what structure was built 68 years BEFORE the crucifixion of Jesus Christ?

You looked, didn't you?
No worries.

The Vatican is the answer, and it is Number 85 on my Bucket List. It started out as a monument built around the grave of St. Peter, who was buried in a pagan cemetery. What was that all about? Anyway, over that monument, a small chapel was built to house and protect his grave, then a bigger chapel was built over that. Then a wing was added, then another, and another and so on, and so on until it covered 44 acres and became its own Sovereign State with its own police department and ruling hierarchy! (The Pope)

It includes several museums and galleries famous for their tapestries, ceramics, sculptures and paintings. My husband Sarge really thought he was doing something when he created a mosaic of a palm tree in our back yard, but the Vatican takes mosaic-ism to a whole other level. (If that wasn't a word, it is now.) Their mosaics look more like paintings than tiny inlaid pieces of colored tile. Ahh, the magnificence of mosaic-osity. (See parenthetical above)

Of course, the Pople makes his home at the Vatican, but he was not in residence the day we stood in line an hour and a half to get inside. And don't forget about St. Peter's Basilica. Oh! and the Sistine Chapel is exceptionally sublime. (Click here for my post on the Sixteen Chapels, as Sarge likes to call it.)

A Vatican Mosaic

Sarge's Mosaic

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Nottoway Plantation is located on the Mississippi River just between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Family lore has it that my great-grandmother was born into slavery and worked a plantation somewhere in Louisiana. Maybe, just maybe it was a plantation just like this one.

So I thought it would be a great learning experience for my children if we stayed on an authentic sugar cane plantation, Number 81 on my Bucket List.

There still remains on Nottoway uninhabitable slave quarters. My husband Sarge said, "They'd better not put us in the slave quarters," when I told him what kind of vacation I was planning, but we stayed in what was once the Overseer's Cottage. It was two bedrooms with a balcony that overlooked the quarters, or should I say quarter, as it is only one shack remaining purely for effect, I'm sure. The shack had one opening for a window -- glass was a luxury reserved only for the Big House -- and one opening for a door.

We could have stayed in the mansion, but guests there are required to vacate the rooms for several hours a day, as tours of the historic home go on daily. We were the only African-American guests, but the elderly bell captain told us that several of his co-workers were direct descendants of slaves who had also worked at Nottoway. Somehow, there were two bottles of welcome champagne left in our room.

The Big House is decorated just like it was in the 19th century. It has three stately floors, 64 rooms, 29 closets, 365 doors and windows -- one for each day of the year -- all spread out over 69,000 square feet. It was built with a working toilet on each floor. Quite a luxury for 1849. There is a newly constructed restaurant on the premises today.

The original owners were the Randolph's. Mr. Randolph was a businessman first and a slave owner second -- all of this according to the black docent who gave us a private tour. He treated his slaves like the valuable chattel they were. He sent one of them to be trained as a nurse to care for the sick ones, including his family. This nurse had her own horse and buggy with permission to use it to fetch a doctor when necessary. Randolph had what today would be called a daycare center for his slaves' children, which doubled as a church on Sundays. All of this is documented in files at Louisiana State University.

I enjoyed the experience probably more than the rest of my family, but I like to think they got something out of it, too. With kids, you never know until years later whether something has made an impression, but they got a good idea of how slaves lived and how hard they worked in the sun, all for no pay, and no prospect of any future pay. Maybe they'll think about that on their next unpaid internship.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Lunch on the Seine

While the City of Paris has its own number on my Bucket List, certain things-to-do while-there deserve their own number, and that is the case with Lunch Cruise on the Seine, Number 68 on my Bucket List.

I have dragged Sarge to tons of romantic movies where we've seen a couple on board a boat dining while cruising down the Seine River in Paris, the most visited city in the world. That's what I wanted to do; Sarge humored me, and the Diva and the Doc came along with us. After all, they are our favorite couple to date. Not "to date" as in thus far, but "to date" as in go out with on a . . . well, you get the picture (see below).

On our very first trip to Paris -- the Diva and the Doc had been there before without us -- the four of us took the bus to the Eiffel Tower base and walked down to the pier. From there, we boarded the Bateaux Parisiens where the five-course meal was a memorable as the sights. We cruised past Notre Dame (the cathedral where the Hunchback lived), Pont de Invalides ( a suspension bridge MUCH smaller than our Golden Gate), Orsay Museum, Palais Bourbon (sadly, there was no bourbon there), Ile de la Cite ( an island smack dab in the middle of the city, an island that I will someday go back to), The Louvre Museum (where Sarge and I went on our second trip to Paris.)

I love, love, love Paris, and I shall return again and again. I wonder what Christmas is like in Paris. Hope Sarge wonders, too.