Monday, April 30, 2007

A Short Reading

On Friday, I am being interviewed for a short author web documentary. It's essentially a digital interview that would in theory be a part of a larger package advertising my books.

I say in theory because it isn't really part of a larger package. I'm the sample author, the demonstration salad spinner shown at the Tupperware party. The floor model, banged up but still functional, available without bells and whistles. A producer from a web ad agency that serves publishing houses (among others) is considering adding author interviews to their publisher packages. So they need to show these publishers what exactly they have in mind. Lucky me, I get to be the guinea pig.

That's great for me in a lot of ways. I get more experience at being interviewed, and in the end a small web movie of me will be shown to publishers. The idea is to demonstrate the product, not me, but it can only help me to get my name out there. Maybe one of the publishing houses has a thing for dik-diks. You never know.

As part of the interview, I am required to read a short passage from my book. I am too close to this product... I am sick of all of it. Who has a suggestion for me on what to read? Do you remember what part of the book stood out to you?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Fun with Unpacking

Last night, I came across this sign while unpacking a box that I packed in 2000. It was one of a few boxes that I put in my basement when I bought my last place in JC, and then never got around to unpacking. (Actually, I was hunting for my toaster when I came across this.)

The Professor made this sign for the house that the Other Marie, Otis, and I shared on Mercer Street, JC, in the early 90s. The Professor is now a university administrator in UAE, but you may remember him as the man who treated me to half a pig's worth of bacon in Bahrain when I lived in Kuwait.

These loteria cards are supposed to represent the Other Marie, Otis, and me. Otis—the musician—was obviously El Musico. But The Professor—being a chortling troublemaker under his academic demeanor—deliberately did not specify which Marie was the Dama and which was the Diablito. I have my own theory, since I frequently teased The Professor (then a student and extremely minor Austin film cameo bit player) to where he would theaten to box my ears.

Maybe I should have packed a little better. Fortunately, the Professor almost never checks this blog so he won't know that I threw his sign in a box without padding.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Everyone Loves A Bargain

To be an artist in JC, you can't be too full of yourself. Artists who are vain cannot stomach admitting that they live NEXT to New York City, instead of IN it, so in JC you usually find artists who are down to earth, perhaps a bit realistic, and in some cases humble.*

And sometimes, they all get together and show that the JC art scene also has a fine sense of humor.

Last night, I went over to Victory Hall to see 99¢, an exhibit of works inspired by 99¢ stores. I had other things to do, but I'm a big fan of 99¢ stores. I've bought a lot of tools at these places, and always stop in for cheap garbage bags. And with Turbo, I visited 98¢ and 97¢ stores across the country when we camped our way across the USA in 2002.

Most of the artists had fun with the theme. Paul from ProArts created a sculpture from 99¢ store crackers. A guy named Norm had holiday lights illuminating ice trays. One artist made a dress out of maxi-pads. Another had painted three lovely images of the impressions of 99¢ store neon signs as one whizzes by them while driving.

On the way home, I walked by the real thing. I saw some people down on their luck in the 99¢ stores. Not people slumming and making art, but people who look at bargains as a necessity in their less-than-rich lives. I wondered briefly if it was proper to be using one man's economic necessity as another's humorous art. But it's okay. I am sure these artists are as dedicated to the 99¢ stores as I am, and it's humor with appreciation for the subject, not mockery. But I still didn't go in. I'd bought my trash bags at ShopRite a few days ago.

*There are exceptions. I could name a few myself.

Friday, April 27, 2007

More Rain

If April showers bring May flowers, next month is going to be stunning in downtown JC.

Rain again. On my day off, when I'm trying to run errands. I went to close my storage unit by Liberty State Park. The morning rain had flooded the roads. Henry and I drove very slowly as his underside was given a rinse. I didn't want to end up stuck in the middle of a giant puddle.

Downtown JC after a storm reminds me of Kampala. The roads suck and the drainage is horrible. The only difference is that in Kampala, the floods run orange like in the top photo. Here we just get gray floods.

The bottom photo is a tow truck in Kampala right after an afternoon storm.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Art and Antique

You might remember that last autumn I installed an air admittance valve in my old condo's PVC pipes, and also replaced the bathroom vanity, sink, and faucets. But in truth, these are activities that are more fun with a friend. Sometimes it sucks to be alone.

Moving is another one of those times.

I've been roping Michael Kraiger into helping me with heavy objects or anything involving power tools. But he's sick this week. So when it came time to reassemble my drawing table, he wasn't here to explain to me how he'd taken it apart in December.

Jon Babc0ck emailed over photos of his own drawing table and I was able to wrestle the beast to a stalemate, though in return it covered my legs in bruises. More importantly, Babc0ck said "Why do you still have a drawing table?"

Nostalgia, I guess. I should really throw the damn thing away.

Once—years before MariesWorldTour and close calls with dik-diks took over my life—drawing tables were a major tool in my trade. I colored comics. Before Photoshop, I'd color using watercolors. Colorists were initially limited to a set palette. I was creating painted guides for where the colors went in a comic book, and then had to go through and mark each color with its value. Y2R2B3 means blue-gray. YR means fire engine red.

I spent years hunched over drawing tables, tilted at precarious angles. And in the early years, I was also pasting word balloons onto art on my drawing table. I'd use an X-acto knife and a cutting board to cut out the balloon, then would glue it to the page with rubber cement. A little burnishing, and voila, a finished page.

Comic book lettering is now done in Illustrator. The compositing process happens in InDesign.

I really don't need a drawing table.

But it's hard to let go...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Found Objects

I sure am exhausted. All of this moving house and rearranging my garage has worn me out. My legs and feet hurt. I'm so tired I can't even be bothered to make ANZAC biscuits for ANZAC Day (which is today, at least in Australia).

I found this "paw wax" in the back of one of Yancey's cabinets. I'm going to put it on my feet and see if it helps me out on my way to work.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Big Move

Since yesterday I posted a photo of my leg, today I am posting my feet (during last Friday's weird gel pedicure). I have monkey feet. I can do tricks with them.

Why am I posting my feet? Because I am too beat to think of anything else. I worked (at home) from noon to five, but earlier in the day, the movers brought my furniture up.

I am wary of moving companies, because two times I had to pay M0ishe's Movers nearly twice what they estimated (yes, I know--once should have been enough). They nickel and dimed me with materials ("You need this expensive box for that TV") and once took HOURS to drive from JC to Avenue B. "It was traffic," they said, even as the Other Marie and I sat there stunned by their cheekiness, having done the same drive in 20 minutes.

I had to use movers this time as I couldn't very well expect Michael Kraiger to carry my books and comics up four flights of stairs. But who to call?

This time, I dug around with Google and came across 43 positive reviews for Morrissey's Movers. The three men met me at my storage unit, dropped things off at my garage, then carried the rest up the four stories. And then they put the furniture together. All in two-and-a-half hours. $237. You can bet I overtipped on that one.

Now I am dirty and surrounded by boxes. But at leasts my toenails are properly groomed.

Monday, April 23, 2007

An Unappealing Leg Shot

Look, Jeff Stark put up some of my photos on his blog.

I shouldn't be surprised that he left the horrible bruised leg photo off. It was a shot of my leg after the Ethiopian truck accident. I took the photo in a full length mirror in a Khartoum hotel room.

I made the photo really small here so that you won't be as disgusted as Kelly was when she saw it at full size at "Where Have You Been" last Wednesday night.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Real Life Do-Good Tips for Normal People

I'm 41 today, and I'm entitled to some serious wallow for that reason.

But I have too many things to do so I'm not going to get any time to wallow pointlesslessly or wonder how in the hell this happened. Single. 41. A day job. A new life. Again.

It's not just my birthday, it's also Earth Day. So here are a few tips for you on how to be more green without having to exert yourself.

-You know those great lightbulbs that last longer and save the world? Well, they have mercury in them. Poisoning the environment seems a foolish way to avoid global warming, so don't throw them in the trash. You've got to dispose of them at the local recycling center. Or just throw them in the bin labelled "Fluorescent Bulbs" at the recycling area in IKEA. It's usually past the registers, near the exit. Don't break them. Baaaad idea.

-Switch your power provider. In NJ, we are able to pay just a little more in exchange for getting all our power from renewable sources such as wind, hydro, and solar. But it isn't very helpful if it's just me. Everyone should do it! Check here to see if green power is available in your state.

-Cut back on cows. In the UK, everyone is yammering on about the damage that aircraft are doing to the environment. Well, fine, I've been advocating local transport for a long time. But the cow industry creates 18 percent of C02 emissions, more than cars and planes combined. Don't just take the train the next time you have to cross Europe--rethink that fast food "just this once." Cut back on the red meat and dairy. Your green karma will be good enough to use a few normal lightbulbs and fly across the Atlantic.

-Patronize the farmer's market for your veggies. Okay, easy for me to say. Once a week, there's one in the park in front of my new apartment.

-Take your own cloth bags to the supermarket. Does this sound mad to you? Then buy the supermarket cloth bag so you don't look like a bag lady. I have a Shop-Rite one that I use over and over and over. Holds more than plastic and saves me the uncontrollable plastic bag collection problem.

Happy Earth Day.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Birthday Ponderings

Yesterday I got a fancy-schmancy manicure and pedicure in the Big City, using a gift certificate that a friend gave me for my 40th birthday (strangely, I ended up with plastic wrap on my toes for several hours).

This can only mean one thing: The gift certificate (good for a year) expired yesterday and I was forced to act, and that must mean I get to have--oh joy--my 41st birthday real soon. Whoopee.

It's tomorrow. Sunday. At least I don't have to go to the office.

I don't have any plans. But I've been working on a piece for Rough Guides UK about Ethiopian food. I really like Ethiopian food, so I might use birthday-guilt leverage to bargain a few friends into going for Ethiopian food with me.

I first learned of Ethiopian cuisine in the early 80s, when a man named Tesfaye opened a restaurant at 704 King Street in my hometown of Alexandria, Virginia. It was next to the Roy Rogers fast food restaurant where I worked the salad bar.

Rumors of crazy food experiences started to reach me. Diners sat on stools. You got to eat the plate and utensils as well as the spicy puddles of lentils and chickpeas. "Unlike anything I've ever experienced."

Then Tesfaye opened the 704 Club upstairs. My sister got a job there and next thing you know, I was spending long nights watching local bands as soon as I got off work. (No, I wasn't old enough to go there. Let's not get into that.) This evolved into an obsession with obscure indie rock that lasted well into my twenties. (File under Previous Incarnations.) The Other Marie came along sometimes. We must have smelled of onions and cheeseburgers from spending all day making fast food.

The 704 Club and the entire upper part of King Street--and in fact, Del Ray, the neighborhood I grew up in--fell prey to gentrification and urban renewal. It's a common theme in my life. Poor families give way to bistros. Money brings safety and services. Uniformity replaces diversity. You'd think by now I'd have answers and be comfortable with that. No. Some questions have no answers.

It took me fifteen years to go from eating Ethiopian food to actually going to Ethiopia. But today, I might be too lazy to go so far as 47th Street on a Sunday night. I wonder if the Cuban place in JC serves chocolate cake.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Urban Example

According to USA Today, Jersey City rules.

Once written off by the rest of the nation as another Rust Belt failure, Jersey City is now seen as instructional. --excerpt, USA Today

The article says that JC is an example of how a city can develop without sprawling into an unattractive parking lot filled with big-box stores. And that's a good point. JC is dense--the second-densest urban area in the US after neighboring Manhattan--so we don't have room for too much sprawl. We have a combination of new buildings going up, up, up and old buildings being rehabbed.

I live on Hamilton Park. It's a walkable, small-townish area. I don't even need a car here, though I am grateful to Henry the Ford Taurus for his assistance during my house-moving time. I sure need a car for that bit.

A lot of the article, like most articles touting the redevelopment of JC, reads as new development propaganda. My personal belief is that much as we pretend real estate never goes down, JC and NYC do not exist in a vaccuum. Housing downturns and mortgage instability take time to play out and the 8-10,000 new units going up will lead to an oversupply.

And that is fine by me. I don't need to live in Hipsterville. I'm happy with my small town by the big city. I'd be even happier if my local developers invested in green building and solar power.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Accidental Substance

My biggest worry at being interviewed by Jeff Stark at Where Have You Been was that I'd have a massive coughing fit in the middle of it. My second biggest worry was that I would laugh nervously at my own jokes and say the word "like" too much, and generally look like an idiot.

So I had bought some house-brand cold medicine at Duane Reade (the pharmacy). And it fixed both worries. Not only did I stop coughing, but I felt oddly calm and alert.

I went on second, after a woman who helps Palestinian kids to produce their own digital media. She was working hard to do good things and then I came on and talked about robots driving camels and rats-on-a-stick.

About 30 people were there, including Kelly and six friends I have known for over 15 years each. Jeff kept me on track, steering me back to the Ethiopian truck accident or being chased by a hippo when I started to waffle on excessive detail. People laughed. I gave out as many Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik postcards as I could.

"You were great," whispered Al to me after I left the microphone.

"I'm on drugs," I whispered back.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tonight at Bluestockings

I'm being interviewed tonight at Where Have You Been? at Bluestockings bookstore on the Lower East Side! And Kelly kindly mentioned it on

Jeff Stark, the host, is talking to me for an hour about the whole shebang:, Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik, my comic book editing adventures in New York, Kuwait, and Cairo, living in Uganda, Barcelona, Namibia, and maybe even Jersey City.

The whole thing starts at 7. I go on second. Suggested donation (hat passes around) is $5. Bluestockings is an independent, activist bookstore at 172 Allen Street between Stanton and Rivington.

It would be helpful if someone showed up.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Day at the Camel Races

I finally managed to get over my procrastinating and finished my 350-word assignment on Kuwait camel races. It's easier to be productive when you have absolutely no time, because you can't do it later or tomorrow due to having this annoying thing called a day job.

Those of you who were reading a year ago may remember the day I went to the Kuwait Camel Racing Club. For those who missed it, Gulf countries used to have small boys ride camels in camel races. Some say that the louder the children cried and screamed with fright, the faster the camels ran. I didn't see this (thank goodness) because these days the camel jockeys are robots! They look like strapped-on boxes with antenna-like riding crops and sock monkey heads.

Monday, April 16, 2007


I knew it was raining, but didn't realize it was more than wet and yucky until I went to Shop-Rite and found it empty save my former neighbor, the one who lived in my old condo fifty years ago.

Then I got home and people started emailing "Are you okay?" "Well, I have a little cough. Should I not be okay?"

Anyway, yes, it REALLY rained. How much did it rain?

I might be paying for parking today. I can't get Henry into his garage.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

One Job I Don't Want

Today, Hamilton Park in front of Yancey's apartment is a muddy pit. Henry the Ford Taurus (whose birthday is coming up in a week) sits cleaned and rain-bathed in front of the door. But yesterday, the weather turned spring-like—as it should, since it's spring.

I've set up my desk by the window so that I can watch what happens in the park. Yancey tells me this won't be as much fun once the leaves grow in, but yesterday I saw a badminton game, a game of catch, two cricket games, and my friend Denise taking her kid to buy components for "goo." (Apparently Borax is a key ingredient.)

The weather inspired me to go and fetch several more loads of my junk from my garage. (Well, that and my interest in further procrastinating the 350 words I have due at Rough Guides UK on Kuwait camel racing.)

"Why did I grab this?" I wondered as I lugged my iron and mini-ironing board up the four flights of stairs. Not the most essential item for someone who isn't even so good at using it.

Then my mind went back to something Craig had said in Cairo.

"There were people in Cairo who used to iron with their feet. There's only one left as far as I know."

Foot-ironing for a living! I thought I had it bad when I had to turn on the electric hand iron once every 18 months. Some people actually CHOOSE to iron using their feet. Apparently the results last longer. I, of course, would not know the difference, but discerning clothes-wearers come from all over Cairo to the old quarter to have their laundry foot-ironed.

An article in Cairo's Daily Star stated that the foot-iron "has to be heated on a gas stove for half an hour and then maintains its heat for an additional 30 minutes."

Here's what the foot-iron man, said about foot-ironing in the article:

“They come from all parts of Cairo, from as far as Giza, Maadi, Dar Al-Salam just to iron their clothes. They know what true laundering is about,” says Hanafi wistfully. But what makes your tool different, Hanafi?

“It’s big, heavy and flat,” he explains. “It’s enough to press one side of the garment to get it smoothed; you don’t have to turn the piece several times on each and every side. It’s also worth its value, for when you do it with a foot-iron, the garment can remain in good shape for two months,” informs Hanafi, as he mocks his children for the laundry that gets sent back to them.

“They send it to a workshop adjacent to our house in Maadi. I look at it and laugh. Today’s workers have no idea about laundering. The foot-iron belongs to the age of royals, pashas and palaces. It is the original,” he enthused.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Souvenir Shelf

After six or so trips up and down the stairs, Michael Kraiger and I agreed that I should hire movers to carry up my big furniture. I have Fridays off work, so I'll try to schedule this for the 20th. Meanwhile, I've unpacked some of the smaller things, like these souvenirs.

When I look at this built-in shelf in Yancey's Victorian apartment, I see Papua New Guinea, Uganda, Ethiopia, Leningrad, New South Wales, Vietnam, Copper Canyon, Catalonia, Kenya, Java, Argentina, Jordan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, China, Komodo, Uzbekistan, and Ecuador. And then I turn around and find out that I am in New Jersey.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Starring Me

On Wednesday--this coming Wednesday--April 18th, I am one of the three guests at Where Have You Been? It's an evening of live interviews, and takes place in Bluestockings bookstore on the Lower East Side.

I need some help here. I am completely distracted by moving, work, and an untimely cold that has felled me post-flying, or maybe post-itbeingcoldhere, and I don't know what to talk about.

Obviously, I'd like to discuss Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik. But what else? Do I want to talk about being hassled in Cairo? Making comic books in Kuwait? How-to for people who think it's expensive to travel? Trucks tipping over and hippos chasing me, and the conductor asking me for sex on the Trans-Siberian Railway? Being shaken down by police in Uzbekistan?

Or is it about humor, not the scary moments? I can't remember the funny moments. I am tired and my brain doesn't want to work on the Rough Guides piece about camel racing that I promised the nice UK editor this week. Nor do I want to move furniture, or proofread comic books. I'd prefer to crawl back onto my Aerobed here on Yancey's Hamilton Park condo and go to sleep.

Um, help?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Daily Workout

"You said you needed a butt-lift," e-snickered Edward, not helpfully.

Yes, I had. But I need a lot of things here in Yancey's fourth-story walk-up apartment, where I sit sick, jet-lagged, and creeping closer to 41 by the minute.

I need more energy, so that trudging up and down the stairs with armfuls of wooden masks from Papua New Guinea and inlaid backgammon sets from Syria doesn't hurt so bad. I need more hours in the day, to finish my freelance assignments as well as my day job. I need a tall, strong person in my life, so that I don't have to hassle Michael Kraiger every time a box of guidebooks needs moving. I need to be stronger and more active myself, so that I can tell both Person X and Kraiger that I can carry my own boxes. I need to get off my butt more often. I need to figure out something somewhat interesting to do on my birthday, the 22nd. I need to think of something to talk about when I'm interviewed at Bluestockings bookstore a week from yesterday.

Mostly, I think I need to find a good website for inexpensive-yet-tasteful furniture, so that I can just throw away everything in my storage unit, and get all new furniture delivered.

Up with two boxes. Down empty-handed. Up with a lamp, two file boxes, and a lampshade on my head. Lampshade falls off, leading to a half-trip a minute later. Down empty-handed. Up with a printer and a scanner. Down empty-handed.

I woke up this morning with a sore throat, which evolved into a hack (tasting of blood) later in the day. Is it traveling, perhaps exacerbated by chilly, rainy April? Maybe. I am going to have to stop moving boxes and get some rest, and catch up on work. The boxes will wait. They won't mind.

The butt-lift can wait too. At least until I crave the next pumpkin-flavored coffee from BASIC, the cafe at the end of the block.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

You Know You're In New Jersey When...

Here's one of the placemats at La Conguita, my favorite JC Cuban restaurant. Michael Kraiger and I went there for lunch specials today after carrying about eight armloads each from my garage to Yancey's apartment on the fourth floor.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

New Home, Same Old

Crash! My favorite coffee mug—one I'd bought in Guatemala in 1999—rolled out of a dish towel and broke into a dozen pieces on the concrete floor of my Jersey City garage.

That's going to be your car if you don't go to Yancey's right now. Quit messing around and GO TO SLEEP, I admonished myself. The mug was a warning that I was no longer capable of good judgment. How had I even managed to get this far in my jet-lagged state?

Henry the 1990 Ford Taurus started up with a tiny surprised gurgle, a murmer of annoyance that he'd suffered through yet another cold winter while I'd enjoyed the warmth of Cairo. I gave up on trying to find my Thermarest and sleeping bag, threw the electric blanket Turbo had given me in 2003 and some pillows into Henry's trunk, and headed over to my new home on my old street, 8th Street.

I'd been in transit since 7 a.m. in Barcelona and it was now eighteen hours, two lame plane movies, and one extended subway ride—the long way 'round from JFK to avoid stairs—later. Roberta had fetched me from the Grove Street PATH, where a stranger had carried my bag up the steps.

Yancey's condo was on the fourth story (ugh) of a brownstone on Hamilton Park. It isn't really Yancey's place now. It's my place. Yancey is in San Francisco where his wife has a job. I am renting his late 1800s Victorian apartment from him while I am in my personal limbo, in my extended moment of indecision. Where will I live? What will I do? Who cares? I need a nap.

Yancey's place is nearly identical to my old place, but without the Turbo touch. Without renovations. Also without furniture. I climbed the stairs, chose a spot in the front room for my pillows, plugged in the blanket (it's freezing here), and fell asleep on the ancient pine floor. Maybe the answers would come to me tomorrow. Yeah, right.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Well

My two-week-long interview on The Well is finally over. It was fun answering questions all day and waxing on about travel theory.

Ha, as if there is such thing as travel-answers. It's all common sense, of course, though it does make me feel important, as if I have some secret information garnered through elite experiences. But the point of many answers is to build up the confidence of the asker, to let them know that they too can run around the world without fear. Because that was my whole point in Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik. I am just normal and lazy, certainly not the least bit athletic. And if I can make it around the world with a backpack (for a year), so can anyone.

Well, it was one of the points. The other point is that there's nothing to be afraid of, that people around the world have the same hopes and dreams for happiness and success for their families. The unknown is nothing to be afraid of, whether they have a mud hut or a McMansion, they are essentially the same as you or me.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Pollo de Chocolate

Barcelona is home to hundreds of chocolate chickens over the Easter season.

Do these exist in other places? I'm not sure. I don't normally go to chocolate shops. But there are so many delicious chocolate shops in Barcelona that I can't help but check them out. I almost never buy anything (though I always try the free samples), but this time I bought two chocolate chickens—one for Michael Kraiger and one for his kid.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

What A Difference A Week Makes

I was in the thick of the crowd before I realized there was even a crowd, before I had time to avoid the teeming masses. I instinctively put my left hand over my wallet, which I’d slipped into the left pocket of my expensive new Barcelona coat.

And then I was stuck. I pushed on, with no way back and no clear way forward.

What was going on? Was the Easter Bunny about to make an appearance? Or was I going to see Barcelona’s Easter Parade, perhaps a uniquely Catalan take on bonnets?

No. It was a religious procession. Something for Good Friday, perhaps, as it was the Friday before Easter and the shops were closed. That's Good Friday, right?

I know very little about Catholicism, but I assume this was a Catholic procession. First came men in black robes with black pointy hats. Then some drummers. And finally, a life-size replica of Jesus dragging a cross down the street. I took a few photos and pressed on, passing what looked like an especially gory statue of a dying Jesus being held by… Mary? Mary Magdalene? Every single person reading this outside of Kuwait—heck, probably even in Kuwait—knows more about what I was watching than I do.

Uncomfortably, I snapped a few photos and left the area as quickly as I could. A week ago, I was in a part of the world where paintings of holy people don’t even have faces. And here there were especially graphic images. What a difference a plane ride can make.

Mobile Office

My friend Lynne came down from the UK and met me in Barcelona. She was preparing for a job interview and I keep regular office hours even here, so we both spent a lot of time in the library.

During the off hours, we managed to drink hot xocolata, and eat at the Cuban restaurant and at Milk, a bistro down the street from my studio.

Somehow, I ended up buying some new clothes too, which is seriously messing with my frumpy-modest self-image. I bought a 145 euro coat. Have I lost my work-at-home mind? What's next, brushing my hair and shaving my legs? How very un-freelancery of me! Must be the idea of reporting to a normal office next week.

Here is Lynne in the library.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Studio With A View

A few days ago, Marc asked me what kind of view I have from my Barcelona studio.

It's a lovely view. You may not think there's much atmosphere in someone's laundry, but just having a view of old buildings in Barcelona is enough for me.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

New Adventures in Wi-Fi

Rain drizzled down on me in Barcelona's Pi square. It's where I piggyback on someone's open wi-fi when all else fails.

"That's not good," I thought. I packed up and went to Starbucks. I bought a cup of bitter, expensive coffee and sat down in a cozy chair to do some office work. No signal.

"Is the internet broken?"

"Yes, sorry."

Damn. And me with their sucky coffee.

I chucked their coffee into the trash and wandered out in the rain. Yesterday morning I'd gotten a mysterious signal in my studio, but it had cut off abruptly. There were a half-dozen password-protected signals. I'd run my packet-catching password-crack software for a bit but had gotten bored with that and gone to the library to work using legal internet access.

But now the library was shut, Starbucks was not working right, and it was raining outside. And I had freelancers to deal with, work to do, and of course a blog to update!

I wandered the alleys of the Gothic Quarter in the rain... maybe it was time for the old standby, the internet cafe.

Then, a bright light in the drizzle. A laundromat. A warm, bright spot. I wonder...

I went into the laundromat, sat down, and took out my iBook. A strong signal! My new office had a great view of swirling clothes.

A new low in my career as a wi-fi swiper, perhaps. But it worked.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Back to Barcelona

"Don't these people know how to form a line? What's the matter with them? And why does it involve a ten-minute wait to buy a bottle of water anyway? Don't they have shops here?"

Was I still in Cairo? No--Italy! Specifically, Milan Malprensa airport, during a long layover between Cairo and Barcelona. My Egyptian friends do struggle with the concept of the queue, especially in the Cairo Metro, but you can by a bottle of water just about everywhere.

Why had I left? I was kicking myself. I hated Cairo at first, sure, and actually, hadn't been real fond of it in the middle either. But I'd scraped together a life there. What was waiting for me at home? Routine. Moving furniture up four flights of stairs. A lot of expenses. A birthday, in which I'd turn... 41.

Okay, the birthday is going to happen no matter where I am. Even if I just stayed in the Milan airport and refused to move, time would still pass.

I finally boarded a flight to Barcelona, and there discovered that the rain in Spain doesn't fall just on the plains, but also on the planes. And the airport, and the highway, and the entire city state of Catalonia.

I put my giant wheelie bag into a luggage locker at the Barcelona airport. See? I can learn. I took the small bag with just enough clothes for a week, and headed down to the old city through the drizzle. I'd taken a studio this time, same as a year ago. I went to an all-you-can-eat place, ate enough salad to qualify as an honorary rabbit, and then returned to my studio and fell fast asleep.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Other View

Two tourists clumsily staggered up to the taxi as the driver was dropping me off at Terminal 2 in Cairo.

"Pounds Towmanel 1?" The older tourist couldn't speak Arabic and scarely knew English. He seemed to be Japanese, wearing beach clothing, and was ready for a fight with the driver. The driver stared for a minute, trying to work out what he was being asked.

"Where are you going?" I intervened.


"No, I mean now. Where? Terminal 1? Airport? Aeropuerto?"

"Yes. Towmanel 1."

I held up one finger and he nodded with satisfaction. I turned to the driver.

"20 pounds."

Ha! That's outragous. It should be 2 pounds, but I'd allow 5 for airport prices. But for a moment, I could see through the taxi driver's eyes. Here was this ridiculous tourist in beach clothing in Cairo, one who probably was paying a thousand dollars to get to Bali from... somewhere. I couldn't imagine why he had been routed through Egypt.

I could have gotten further involved. But instead I grinned, handed the driver 50 pounds for my ride from town--an excellent tip but he had to wrangle the wheelie bag and I had no further use for Egyptian pounds--and wheeled my bag into the departure lounge.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Tail Between My Legs

Had I left Cairo on Thursday instead of Sunday, I'd have left triumphantly. I'd come to this city reluctantly, apprehensively--Cairo! It was low—very low—on my list of places I wished to live.

But I'd made a semi-life here quickly. Meeting Dana (friend of a childhood friend's brother) for coffee on Saturdays, going to parties and poker with Craig (I met him in New York at a party in 2002), and roaming the streets of Zamalek or seeing movies with my 30-year-old colleague (longtime readers will know him as the 29-year-old Omani designer I would tease every day last year in Kuwait). The office had worked out so far, and the apartment really did turn out to be on one of the best blocks it could have been on.

I wanted to stay. But I had a ticket home and an apartment waiting for me.

I saved the last night for my young colleague, who then proceeded to vanish. He'd done that last year too, when I'd left Kuwait. But he'd surprised me later that night by showing up with a good-bye gift.

But this time, he didn't even return my calls or texts. I thought over the last few days. What I'd said, how I'd said it. Had I gone overboard in teasing him? Had I said something untoward, been a creepy older woman? Was I going to get my company sued for sexual harassment? And what would I do with the chocolate Easter bunny I'd bought him? (I doubted anyone had ever bought him a chocolate Easter bunny before, Easter not being a big deal in Kuwait or Oman.)

And so I sat wondering, checking my phone for answers (there were none), my face slightly red that Hot Landlord sat right outside the coffee shop, smoking, and aware that I was supposed to be meeting someone. Maybe Hot Landlord would be gone when I next looked up. Or maybe he'd be less hot somehow, or less my age, or maybe he'd forget how to speak English, and I'd be less embarrassed.

Finally, I skulked by the landlord, sheepishly collected my bags from the doorman, and saw myself off to the airport. Leaving Cairo as anonymously as I'd entered it. In with a whimper, out with the same.

My phone buzzed on the way to the airport. "I'm so sorry! I overslept after those two days of working on that 3-D project!"

I bit the head off the chocolate bunny. I'd see Oman's Brightest next time. Who knows where we'll be sent to in 2008? But for now, next stop: Barcelona.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Pillowcase Emergency

"Neek!*" I swore quietly. "Why is the pillowcase bazaar in an Arabic country closed on Sunday?"

Here is was Saturday night, with me in need of some pillowcases, and the damn souk didn't even have the courtesy of keeping opening hours on my last day in the country.

Or at least the few travel sites that mentioned the souk claimed it's closed on Sunday. Maybe it isn't. But why risk it when desperately in need of pillowcases?

I know, I know. I've had two months to buy pillowcases. But the truth is, I forgot these special pillowcases existed, even though my mother has two from my 1999 touring visit to Egypt. Then, over our good-bye dinner, Craig reminded me of them when I said I was unwisely considering lugging home inlaid backgammon sets to give as gifts.

"Get applique pillowcases instead. They're in the tentmaker's bazaar. There's not a lot of tent business these days, so they make embroided textiles that take up no space in your luggage."

Good idea. I'd go Saturday. It was in old Cairo, next to the historic city gates called Bab Zuweila, below Khan El Khalili bazaar. It would take a fair amount of patience and effort. Getting there would be annoying enough, as the tentmakers had rudely encamped clear across downtown, nowhere near Zamalek, and not too close to a metro station. But I'd also have to wade through the melee of the ancient teensy alleys, no doubt packed with merchants and shoppers, and probably busloads of tourists as well.

Then Saturday came. I lazily idled away the afternoon over coffee with Dana, my photographer friend. Then, just when I had to go to see a man about a tent and Dana had to go to a shoot, the wind kicked up something fierce.


Well, that was the end of that. Dana still had to go work, but I wasn't going to go shopping in dirt.

I chafed as I sat in my apartment, waiting for the wind to slow. It didn't until after dinner, and then I thought it was too late. Who knew what time the tent/pillowcase guys shut their shops? I'd go in the morning.

But then I googled it. "Hours: Mon-Sat 10-10." Could that be right? No! I want my pillowcases! I raced out of the house and into a taxi. The driver was a smooth operator, immediately announced an outrageous price, then had to stop and ask another taxi driver for directions. I argued a while with his price, then acquiesced in defeat. He drove me deep into old Cairo, to the part of town where donkeys, horses, scooters, taxis, carts, pedestrians, and private cars all vie for the same twenty square feet of paved road.

I turned the wrong way immediately, and ended up walking down a street that sold clothes, pots, pans, household goods, and had no tourists at all. No one looked at me funny, but I felt out of place on a Saturday night in the local section of old Cairo. I squeezed through the cars and carts along with everyone else. A cart tire scraped my leg, leaving a tread mark on my nice jeans. But I'd spilled schwarma juice on it earlier anyway. I'd just have to take it to the laundromat with my sheets in the morning. My apartment had a washer but no dryer and there would be no time for air-drying.

"Afowan," I asked a shopkeeper. "Khayamiyya?" Actually, the "kh" is a sounds us Americans can't even make, like in the name "Khaled." I tried to gurgle it out from deep in my throat. I probably sounded like an idiot, but the shopkeeper knew what I was talking about and pointed me back in the direction I'd come from.

I returned and walked through Bab Zweila, and there on the other side... alley of the pillowcases!

I went to the first shop where the shopkeepers didn't try to lure me in, and picked out four nice pillowcases at twenty-five pounds each. Then, back into the madness of the packed streets. A donkey walked by, cutting off my escape route.

"Which way... Ataba metro?" I turned back and asked the shopkeeper.

"TAXI," he yelled. A taxi stopped in front of the shop and he opened the door. "Pay him two pounds," he said, then instructed the driver to take me to the metro.

The driver got caught in the whirlpool of people, cars, donkeys, and carts. He inched forward slowly. I felt guilty about giving him two pounds after 10 minutes of trying to get me out of the bowels of the souk. So instead, I gave him 15 pounds to drive me and my new pillowcases all the way home.

*Translated to Arabic to preserve the PG-rating of this blog.