Preparing for the puppy

This Saturday, I’ll be taking home my new puppy. After submitting a general adoption application to the Lawrence Humane Society and visiting the shelter last weekend, we picked out a 6-month-old puggle (pug/beagle mix) female. We’re ditching her shelter name and calling her Lily.

I’ve spent the past four or five days researching puppy behavior, training and crating. Seriously, at times I’ve thought, “This has got to be what it’s like having a baby.”

We’re making a trip to Petsmart to pick out her crate, toys, food, water dish, an ID tag, collar and other incidentals. My mother and I are spending Saturday, Sunday and Monday training her and getting her used to the house and the crate.

I’m glad I did research before getting her home. I want to give Lily plenty of structure and discipline, and we’re going to try to simulate pack behavior. She needs to learn how to walk properly (beside or behind us, never in front), when to eat (only when we give her food), where to potty (only in the yard), when to enter the house or a room (only after we do) and when she can get on our laps or the couch (only when we give her permission). The hardest part will be treating her like a dog, not a human.

My father’s kind of under the impression that this is draconian and will lead to an unhappy puppy, but I’m trying to convince him that a happy puppy is a calm puppy and one who knows her place in the “pack” (our family). I’m more worried about him slipping (sneaking her “people” food, letting her on his lap without permission) than I’m worried about her misbehaving. I’m also trying to convince him that a yipping, hopping, excited dog is an anxious and insecure dog, and that the “excitement” doesn’t mean the same thing it does in the human sense. I told him that Lily should signal happiness by acting calm, submissive and quiet, and he made some quip about her being “a stick in the mud.” Oh he’ll learn.

A lot of this will be down to trial and error, and I’m sure my patience will be tested. I’m just excited to get my sweet little girl home and have her get adapted to her new home.

Oscars like it’s 1997

It’s my favorite time of year: Oscar season.

It’s already hard not to think of 1997 when examining the slate of 2009 Oscar contenders, mostly because James Cameron is back on the radar with Avatar. (Full disclosure: If you haven’t seen Avatar yet, go see it. Now. That means you, Mother.)

But when I saw that The Hurt Locker had won the National Society of Films Critics prize for Best Picture, I realized that each of the “big five” films this year has an uncanny pairing of sorts to a 1997 Best Picture nominee. While there are 10 slots this year for Best Picture, five really stand out: Up in the Air, Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Precious and Inglourious Basterds.

1. Up in the Air = As Good As It Gets

Up in the Air and As Good As It Gets are both fairly intimate character studies and actors’ films. There’s no CGI spectacle in either of them, and both received recognition mostly for their acting. George Clooney looks very likely to win Best Actor, similar to how Jack Nicholson won for As Good As It Gets. While Up in the Air has no lead actress (Helen Hunt won for As Good As It Gets), Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga will likely receive supporting nominations. The Best Actress prize is likely to be replaced with an Adapted Screenplay prize for Up in the Air.

2. Precious = Good Will Hunting

Precious, like Good Will Hunting, is a rise-above-adversity story, detailing the life of a struggling young person who receives support and guidance from mentors and works to improve her lot in life. Similar to how Good Will Hunting received a Best Supporting Actor prize for Robin Williams, Precious’ marquee award will likely be Best Supporting Actress for Mo’Nique. It’s unlikely to win the Adapted Screenplay award, though (Good Will Hunting had a second win for Original Screenplay).

3. Inglourious Basterds = The Full Monty

Inglourious Basterds is fabulous, beautifully done and brilliant. It’s also bawdy, bent and perverse, which makes it a good soul mate for The Full Monty, another blackish comedy that was beloved but doomed to play as an also-ran. The Full Monty took home an Oscar for Best Score, and Inglourious Basterds looks likely to win Best Supporting Actor for Christoph Waltz and possibly Original Screenplay for Quentin Tarantino.

4. The Hurt Locker = L.A. Confidential

L.A. Confidential was probably the best film of 1997, just like The Hurt Locker was probably the best film of 2009. Both received numerous critics’ prizes, and both had comparatively low grosses at the box office. L.A. Confidential had only about $30 million going into Oscar season (it grossed about double that during the winter/spring awards season) and The Hurt Locker grossed only about $12 million during its theatrical run (Summit might re-release it in a few cities in late January or February for Oscar-campaigning purposes). Yet despite its critical success, L.A. Confidential managed to win only two Oscars: Best Supporting Actress for Kim Basinger and Best Adapted Screenplay. The Hurt Locker seems likely to take home Best Editing and possibly even Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow (making her the first woman to win the prize). But its weak theatrical run looks likely to hamstring it when it comes to the big win.

5. Avatar = Titanic

This isn’t just because both are James Cameron films. Avatar, like Titanic, is getting too big to be ignored. It also has been mostly passed over for early critics’ prizes and looks likely to win the lion’s share of technical awards. Titanic won Best Picture (and Best Director) without winning an acting award (it was nominated for two) or even being nominated for Original Screenplay. Avatar is likely to face the same hurdles (no Best Picture winner has ever taken the prize with no acting or screenplay nominations). Most of the major awards (acting, screenplays, possibly editing and director) will go to other films, just like in 1997. But it’s still the biggest thing out there now, like Titanic was, and it’s not slowing down.

Spooky, isn’t it?

Paris on my mind

In exactly 256 days (give or take a day, depending on when we book our flight), I’ll be on my way back to London, which, I maintain, is the greatest city in the world.

Yet for the past week or so, its cousin across the Channel has been relentlessly popping up everywhere. Yes, it’s that “other” city: Paris.

Arc de Triomph in Paris

All told, I spent about a week in France, five days of which were in Paris. My first night there was pretty miserable — it was dark, cold, rainy, and what little French I knew escaped me. I remember finding my way around the train station with my friends by reading the signs in German.

Now though, that first frustrating night is kind of an inside joke, and my Parisian memories are more pleasant. Chocolat au pain for breakfast, and crepes in the afternoon. Seeing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and work by Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, Cezanne and Toulouse-Lautrec at the Orsay. Perfume shopping, lunch in the Tuileries and going to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

That was in March 2007. I haven’t been back to Paris since then, but I’ve often thought about it, even though Britain has gotten most of my attention.

My mother has always loved Paris and I hope to take her there some day. I called her from Paris on her birthday that year, and told her about it. She’s decorated our living room — it’s more like a parlor — in kind of an eclectic European style. We have posters with French text, English and French decorating books, a little wooden lorrie, a dish with coins from all over the world and my postcards in a display on the wall.

For Christmas this year, I ordered black and white prints of three of my Paris photos and made them into a triptych for my mother. Looking through all my photos made me realize how much I’d enjoyed Paris and how much I wanted to go back.

The Sacre Coeur

When I read that the Eurostar line (which runs from Waterloo Station in London and has connections in Paris and Brussels) had closed indefinitely, I wondered if I’d have to fly into Charles de Gaulle instead of take the train to Gare du Nord. It was then that I knew that going back was a serious consideration.

New Year’s Eve brought two separate references to Paris, and I wondered if they might be omens.

I watched Revolutionary Road with my parents and saw Frank and Alice Wheeler’s giddy excitement as they planned to dump Long Island’s mundane suburbia for a life in Paris.

After midnight, I watched the series finale of Sex & the City on TBS. The two-parter shows Carrie moving to Paris with her Russian boyfriend. Seeing Carrie trip over her French and wander around aimlessly looking at museums and bookstores reminded me of myself — sans Mikhail Barishnikov. Of course Carrie got her happy ending in Paris when Mr. Big came to get her.

London, obviously

London, obviously

Finally, during It’s Complicated, which I saw today, Meryl Streep described living and studying in Paris to Steve Martin while she made him some incredibly yummy-looking chocolate croissants.

It seems like there have been a large number of Paris-themed developments these past few days. I’m not sure if there really has been such an increase, or if I’m just noticing it more, or if it’s a coincidence. I do know that it all just makes me want to go back to Paris … for the crepes, of course. And the coffee. The cheese. And those delicious smoked-salmon quiche thingies they sell in cafes.

My French class starts in about two weeks. I already know how to say hello, good-bye, thank you, numbers and a few other random phrases. Paris is the last city I want to ever be in where I don’t have a good grasp on the language, so I’m going to make a lot of effort. I hope soon I’m 3-for-3 when it comes to major languages of the EU.

London will always be my first and biggest transatlantic love, but I think I’ll dance with Paris at least one more time.