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March 2009

March 25, 2009

Gogol Bordello: The New Gogol on Google?

Russian Life The March/April issue of Russian Life, a bimonthly magazine based in Montpelier, includes a package of stories commemorating the 200th birthday of 19th-century Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. So why did the magazine's editors decide to write about the contemporary "gypsy punk" band Gogol Bordello?

(In case you didn't know that the only magazine about Russia for Western readers is based in Vermont, see Kirk Kardashian's April 2008 Seven Days story, "The Russo-Files.")

Regarding the Gogol matter: Two quick IDs:

1. Nikolai Gogol is famous for writing the novel Dead Souls, a play called "The Inspector General," and a pair of famous short stories, "The Overcoat" and "The Nose." Gogol's witty, absurdist style has influenced such writers as Dostoevsky, Kafka and Nabokov, and it makes me fall over laughing. Last May, a sculpture monument to Gogol's "Nose" was unveiled in St. Petersburg. The next month, a Vermont theater company put on a "Nose" adaptation at the FlynnSpace.

2. Gogol Bordello is a high-energy New York City-based outfit whose founding members met 11 years ago at a Russian wedding in Vermont. The band's thirtysomething frontman, Eugene Hutz, relocated to Burlington from the Ukraine as a teenager. (The New York Times has noted that Hutz "looks less like a rock star than a crafty street performer or a belligerent intellectual from some revolutionary period of history.") In October 2007, Gogol Bordello staged a concert in Montpelier. The following year, the band performed in Moscow.

Now for details on the apparent Gogol snafu:

According to a short piece in the current Russian Life, Google searches for "Gogol" are turning up as many hits for "Gogol Bordello" as they do for the eponymous 19th-century author. Indeed, when I Googled "Gogol" this afternoon, the absurdist satirist and the gypsy punk band alternated the first six hits. The seventh hit was a book about Gogol. The eighth was Gogol, a site that aims to put a Gogolian twist on the Google search itself: Instead of "I'm feeling lucky," a search button reads, "I'm feeling unlucky with Gogol!"

"Gogol doesn't take ANY care of what you are looking for, but instead will redirect you to a more or less randomly chosen document," the website notes of itself. "If Gogol ever redirected you to a web page related to what you really were searching for, this would be a pure coincidence."

Talking to Lauren Weedman

EmptySpace-Bust(LaurenWeedman) 029 copy This week in our "State of the Arts" column, I previewed Lauren Weedman's upcoming Vermont tour of her one-woman show, "Bust" ("Lauren Weedman Brings Her 'Bust' to Vermont"). I did not have the space to mention what happened when I called to interview her, but I thought it was pretty funny, and the exchange confirmed that her comedy — like a lot of comedy, I suppose — comes from a hilariously fruitful insecurity.
    It started with a mix-up. Promoter Jay Craven had "introduced" us via email, and Lauren and I agreed that I would call her at 1 p.m. last Wednesday. So I did. No answer — except Lauren's voicemail imploring me to leave a message. I did. Less than five minutes later she called back.
    "Monica?" I recognized her voice.
    "Uh, this is Pamela," I said.
    "Oh, god, I'm so sorry! What is wrong with me?" Two seconds in and she's  beating up on herself.  Knowing her rep for this, I decided to tease her.
    "That was going to be my first question, actually," I said. "What IS wrong with you?"
    "I get that a lot," she replied without missing a beat. We both laughed.
    Then we simultaneously realized the problem:  I am on the East Coast, she's on the West. It had not occurred to either of us to adjust for time zones. For her, it was 10 a.m.
    "I'll call you at 4, my time, then," I said. Lauren went to a rehearsal for her show in L.A. that night.
    When I called at 4, she picked up immediately and was instantly like my best friend, and not even long-lost, as if we'd just spoken moments before about some embarrassing high school incident. No, as if we were, right that very minute, clinking Cosmos or getting pedicures together and bitching about our cellulite. "I tend to assume an intimacy with people that doesn't exist," she told me later. But, real or not, I rather liked it.
    She told me about her family in Indiana — unflappable midwestern parents who are proud of her career, or at least grateful she's gainfully employed, but who are largely unimpressed with the tendrils of fame growing around their daughter. "I'm lucky they don't pay much attention to it," said Lauren, who has "done" her mother in her shows.
    I asked what they thought of her book, A Woman Trapped in a Woman's Body. She laughed. "When I asked them that on the phone, there was this huge pause," she recalls, "and then they said, 'Well, you told us not to read it, Lauren.'"
    In fact, she dedicated the book to her parents, and asked them right there on the page not to read it. Apparently they believed her. "'I was kidding!' she told them on the phone, whereupon her dad mumbled something about being kind of busy.
    Lauren's mom is actually from Nebraska, and so am I. In fact, that's where I'll be the entire time she's touring Vermont next week. I'm really bummed to miss her, so I hope lots of you will go and tell me all about it later.
    Me, I'll be reading A Woman Trapped in a Woman's Body and laughing my ass off in the plane.


Montpelier's Other Stinker

So, did anyone else notice that rank odor emanating from Vermont's capital district? The BBC News sure did today, and it's got nothing to do with Gov. Jim Douglas' announcement this afternoon that he plans to veto the gay marriage bill once it lands on his desk.

No, this foul news emanated from 7-year-old Joshua Boothe, this year's champion of the Odor Eaters Rotten Sneaker Contest. Boothe took home the mold, er, the gold, and a $2500 check for winning the 34th annual event and earned himself a permanent place in the Odor Eater Hall of Fumes. Stink on, bro!

Gov. Douglas Says He'll Veto Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Listen to him say so here, courtesy of VPR. And here's video from WPTZ.

UPDATE: Here's a statement from House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate Pro Tem Peter Shumlin.

Today, Governor Douglas announced his intention to veto S.115, which has not completed the legislative process.

“The governor’s announcement today undermines the legislative process is disrespectful to Vermonters who come to the people’s house to weigh in on the important matters of our time,” said Speaker Shap Smith. “History will judge Jim Douglas on the wrong side of this issue.”

“Today is a sad day for Vermont,” said Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin. “The governor may choose to veto a bill, but he cannot veto love and commitment.”

March 24, 2009

James Neiley, Superstar

James Neiley, a 17-year-old Outright Vermont youth and Board Representative, testified in front of the Vermont Senate on Friday. He spoke eloquently in favor of the same-sex marriage bill.

This video of his testimony is popping up all over the web. Someone just sent me a link to it on Andrew Sullivan's blog. Nice work, James. 

The House is holding hearings on the bill this week, and will take public testimony on Thursday. WPTZ will be streaming the hearings on its website. Shay Totten will be Twittering the House public hearing on Thursday. More details as it approaches.

Best Bites: Rozzi's Lakeshore Tavern

Rozzi's Lakeshore Tavern

1022 West Lakeshore Drive, Colchester 863-2342

When I travel to a large city, I always try to hit the most pretentious, avant-garde restaurant around. "Air" served as part of a tasting menu? Count me in.

But I also appreciate creativity in more ordinary foods, which is why I like Rozzi's and its menu of 26 different hamburgers.  When I first saw a sign advertising this phenomenon, I assumed it would include “burger with lettuce,” “burger with lettuce and tomato,” and so on. Instead I found a menu loaded with the kinds of unusual patties that appear on menus throughout the country, but which I've never seen in Vermont. Ever hear of a Guber Burger? Invented at the Wheel-Inn in Sedalia, MO, this Midwest specialty features melted gooey, peanut butter atop the meat. Rozzi’s also has a Breakfast Burger, Red Hot Cheeseburger and most believe it or not, an Escargot Burger.

But I craved an Elvis Burger ($7.99). The half-pound of beef came cooked exactly medium — what the French call “a point.” Slathered in peanut butter and topped with three banana halves, I worried that the usual lettuce and tomato would interfere with the experience. Au contraire. The bananas and fruity tomato paired brilliantly.

Another revelation was the plate of Chicken Sliders ($6.99). The tiny, southern-fried sandwiches accurately mimicked the long-since-discontinued favorite of my childhood, KFC’s Chicken Littles. No other chicken slider matched them until now.

Next time, I might spring for brunch, which is always available, and inlcudes Tie-Dyed Pancakes (with M&Ms), biscuits and gravy and Kahlua French Toast. But what really looms is “The Dozer.” It's composed of two, one-pound patties, and you win a T-shirt if you eat the whole thing. I want that shirt.

March 23, 2009

Marriage Vote: The Right Side of History

At the end of the day, there was a visible, if not collective, sigh of relief from many Vermont senators after backing a same-sex marriage bill by a 26-4 vote.

"It's your bill now," said a happy Sen. Richard Sears (D-Bennington), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to his House counterpart Rep. Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg). Sears was surrounded by fellow senators and supporters of the measure, all congratulating the Bennington County Democrat for shepherding the bill through the Senate.

The outcome of the hourlong debate was never really in question, only the margin of victory. And, in the end only four senators didn't vote to support the measure: Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin), Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans), Sen. Hull Maynard (R-Rutland) and Sen. Robert Starr (D-Essex/Orleans).

These four were expected to vote against the measure, however several other colleagues were question-marks going into the vote, including freshman Matt Choate (D-Caledonia/Orange), veteran Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Chittenden/Grand Isle), Sen. Bill Doyle (R-Washington) and Sen. Phil Scott (R-Washington). In the end, they voted in favor.

Mazza said after the vote that, as a Catholic, he spent several days weighing whether to support same-sex marriage. In the end, as he did nine years ago during the civil unions debate, he found himself on the winning side of history. He even sought counsel from the same priest.

Being on "the right side of history" was a phrase repeated often in the halls of the statehouse today from Democrats and Republicans alike. From the Burlington Free Press' editorial reversing course and supporting same-sex marriage (they opposed civil unions as former editorial page writer Stephen Kiernan notes here) to the lack of anger and public frustration, it was a different stage, a different setting than the civil unions debate of nine years ago.

Senators will take one final procedural vote tomorrow to officially send the bill to the House. The House Judiciary Committee expects to immediately start taking testimony. Floor debate is likely to take place April 2 and 3.

While the 26-4 margin in the Senate is enough to override a gubernatorial veto, in the House such a margin is not expected. The House would need at least 100 votes in support of the bill, a number that even proponents see as unlikely. Democrats in Franklin and Rutland counties as well as parts of the Northeast Kingdom are feeling pressure from constituents and are unlikely to support it.

However, a number of Republicans have come out in support of the measure, including Rep. Patti Komline (R-Dorset), who is the GOP minority leader.

"The bipartisan nature of today's vote means that we can move away from this issue being a Republican versus Democrat debate," said Beth Robinson, of Vermont Freedom to Marry. Robinson commended Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland) for his support of the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee. That panel sent the bill to the Senate floor with a 5-0 vote of support.

Mullin did try to amend the bill and send the entire measure out to a statewide referendum. That failed by a 19-11 margin.

About 50 onlookers, mostly supporters, crowded into the Senate chamber, listening quietly as many senators stood to urge their colleague to support the bill.

Sens. Brock and Maynard were the only two who stood up and vocally opposed the measure. Brock said he, like Pres. Barack Obama, Vice Pres. Joe Biden, and Gov. Jim Douglas believed marriage was between a "man and a woman" and that civil unions afforded gays and lesbians equal treatment under the law. 

Sen. Maynard said he was voting against the bill for all of those who believed the issue had not yet had a full public airing and debate.

Sen. John Campbell (D-Windsor), the key sponsor of the Senate version, tossed aside eight pages of notes to "speak from the heart" in an effort to urge his colleagues to support the bill.

Campbell said marriage needed to be inclusive, and into its fold brought people who were committed to upholding the rights and responsibilities of marriage, as well as the love it takes to make it work.

He took offense at some opponents labeling gays and lesbians "those people."

"You know who those they people are? They are our policemen. They are our firefighters. They're teachers; they're garbagemen; they're the guy who plows the street," said Campbell. "They are our children, our sisters, our brothers. That's what they are. They are human beings and as such and as it's said in this bill they should be treated equally."

While that brought plenty of nods and smiles from supporters, the speech that brought several onlookers to tears, however, was President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windham). After reminding colleagues that civil unions was created in response to vocal outrage to same-sex marriage bill nine years ago, he said he found it hard to look his gay and lesbian neighbors in the eye as they dropped off their kids together at school.

"I was basically saying that my marriage had more value than their relationship," said Shumlin.

As to the argument that the bill was being rushed, Shumlin took on opponents directly, noting that when
the majority confers rights to the minority, it's easy to say that it's being rushed or that more testimony is needed.

"It's never speedy to confer rights to those who simply want to say 'I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you,'" said Shumlin.

That simple summation of the bill's essence brought tears to the eyes of several onlookers in the upper gallery (where I was stationed), and some audible sobs.

Moments later the Senate took its vote. And, the rest as they say, is history.

Vermont Senate Passes Same-Sex Marriage, 26-4

The Vermont Senate passed the same-sex marriage bill this afternoon by a margin of 26-4 (3 Republicans and 1 Democrat voted nay). Shay Totten tweeted the debate on his iPhone, God bless him.

Click here to read his updates.

He'll have a blog post later tonight or tomorrow.

Shay reports that House Speaker Shap Smith says the House could take up the issue as early as next week.

Same-Sex Marriage Debate today in VT Senate

The same-sex marriage bill — called the marriage equality bill — will be debated in the Vermont Senate this afternoon starting around 3 PM.

I'll be Twittering the debate in real-time (or as close to it as possible) and then blogging about it later tonight. Follow me on Twitter here. I'll be providing coverage similar to last week's presidential health care forum in Burlington, with one difference — my Tweets will not feed into my Facebook page.

Seven Days provided live blog coverage of last week's joint public hearing in Montpelier before the House and Senate Judiciary committees, including this great video taken by our Online Editor Cathy Resmer.

March 21, 2009

What I Did For Money

300-moneycrazy-alt Contest alert! We had so much fun sifting through the entries in the Best of the Beasts pet photo contest that we decided to do a contest for our "Money Issue" on April 1. So, here you go...

What's the craziest thing you've done for money? Did you work an odd job? Betray a confidence? Eat something gross on a bet?

C'mon, we know you've got a story, and we want to hear it.

Tell us your tale for our "What I Did For Money" contest, and you'd get a chance to win a package of restaurant gift certificates worth $100.

We'll print the best anecdotes in our Money Issue on April 1. Then we'll invite readers to vote on which story is best.

The deadline for submissions is Monday, March 30, at noon.

Click here to submit your story.

We've already gotten some good ones...

Stuck in VT (VIDEOS)

Solid State (Music)

Mistress Maeve (Sex)

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