Friday, February 29, 2008

Busy Week

Today I went down to Princeton to see King Abdullah of Jordan speak.

And earlier this week, I saw Patrick Stewart perform in a wacky, innovative version of Macbeth at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Does everyone know what these two men have in common? Hint: I mean something unusual, not "they're both guys."

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Here's how you know a frequent traveler from a once-a-year-holiday traveler.

The latter looks forward to their trip with nervous glee, pores over books about their destination, stocks up on gear, perhaps makes a list. Shares tips they've read. The latter prepares with interest and enthusiasm.

The former waits until the night before, then remembers they forgot to check the weather and shape of electrical outlets at their destination. Rummages through drawers in search of a passport. Wonders if it will matter that they didn't get any vaccines. Bristles at the inconveniences of getting to the airport, which in New York can be as long a trip as the actual flight. They might even complain to envious friends. "Ugh, I have to go to Europe tomorrow, what a pain in the @ss."*

The frequent traveler dreads the actual process of travel. Because the packing part is annoying, the actual travel itself dehumanizing and uncomfortable, and there are bound to be bumps along the way, but not the funny kind that make good stories. More like the kind where you have to wait in a lot of lines or sit very still for an interminable amount of time.

Think of how you feel about traveling the night before Thanksgiving. That's it. That's the simmering dread that I get before a trip.

Once I am on the plane, strangely, I forget completely about the dread, resign myself to holding still, and that's when I begin to get excited about my destination.

*File under "Things you can't complain about." Like looking good for your age or having too many parties to attend.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Spam Years Are Like Dog Years

I spent a few hours this weekend moving the first of many files from the AOL servers to the FatCow servers.

I'd started uploading web material to my personal AOL space in the mid-90s, when it was a bargain that AOL gave you free server space as a perk of keeping an account with them. Years went by. Eventually everyone offered this perk, and then competition made server space cheaper and cheaper.

Nowadays, the only excuse I have for not consolidating all my websites into one place is laziness. It's a pain to sort through all the files, download them, clean them up, and upload them to a new spot. But when I went to my accountant last week, I realized that I was spending $179.40 a year on AOL just because I was lazy, and another $99 a year on .mac for the same reason. Time to act. Fatcow is only $88 a year.

I uploaded my Comic Book Cows, but then I made myself dizzy editing all of the e-mail address out of the guestbook. This took ages. In 1997, when I first made this site as a class exercise in using frames, people were still happy to type their e-mail addresses into a public forum. How the world has changed!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Collector Within

I'd sent myself home a package from Namibia in 2005. I don't remember what it was, but I was shedding possessions at the time as I had to carry everything out of my apartment, to Cape Town, then north to Uganda by train and bus. I threw away the box later, but kept the stamps.

When I sent my writing samples from Swakopmund to Amtrak to audition for a gig, it had gone plastered in the same type of wildlife stamps. I thought it would either get me the job, or they would take one look at the packet wrapped in hand-canceled stamps, and call the FBI.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ride It Where I Like

Here are a few photos from the 2000 bike trip that my friend Nikki and I took with Country Spokes. Afterwards, we drove through wine country. Just before, we'd driven up from Los Angeles, stopping by JG's house en route to discuss the website for a little upcoming project called

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

High-Speed Mountain Gorillas

"When you go to see the mountain gorillas in Uganda, take fast film," said my friend Paul before I went off to Africa the first time.

I thought I'd get 800 speed. "No, even faster," he said. So I packed 1600 speed film. I can't remember if I carried it all the way from Berlin or Cape Town, but it was with in the bottom of my pack for a long time.

Even that wasn't enough in the dim jungle, under the canopy. But flashes are a big no-no with the mountain gorillas. Anyway, they didn't turn around and say "Cheese." I'm lucky I got the few blurry shots I got.

Some people—like Paul—take amazing shots at just the right moment. I wasn't so lucky. But blurry gorillas are better than no gorillas at all.

Monday, February 18, 2008

I Need A Vacation

My e-pal Cyrus interviewed my boss for a piece for The World radio show.

India? Bangladesh? Sri Lanka? Theme park???

My job gets more complicated—and stranger—every day.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

No Wonder They Thought I Was Odd

There's a huge front page article in the Times today about Egypt. Specifically, about the complexities of social economics. Marriage equals independence and success. Without marriage, you can never be truly successful.

Young people need a certain amount of money to set up a household with a wife and kids. But fewer and fewer can afford the household, so they become frustrated. There's no way out. Hard work doesn't do it, and luck doesn't help. They turn to religion. It's a theme that is also evident in literature and movies, where frustrated Egyptians cannot find their way out of poverty. So they pray.

When you read the article, be sure to look at the excellent photo slideshow—some of the brides in the mass weddings look downright grim, so I guess it is not a lot of fun to get married that way—and of course, don't miss Craig's video.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Stark Place for a Bike Ride

I'm not much of an athlete.

There, I said it. Okay? Now we all know.

Yesterday in the course of a conversation, I had to admit that I don't know how to ski. Which never struck me as odd before. Lots of people don't know how to ski. But for whatever reason, as it left my lips, I felt horribly inadequate.

Because not only do I not know how to ski, I am a lousy motorcycle rider, suck at scuba diving, go to the world's wimpiest gym, take beginner's yoga (when I'm intermediate), and didn't learn to swim properly until I was in college. I'm mediocre at horseback-riding, don't jog, and I get altitude sickness when everyone else is drinking coca tea just for fun. My ex, Turbo—a remarkable athlete—made me play bocce once in an attempt to force me to be athletic.

All this produced—in addition to a lousy game of bocce—was simmering resentment. I think I also felt clumsy, but was too busy being furious to care so much about that end of things.

So how, you might wonder, do I get myself around the world through all these marvelous countries?

Easy. I excel at getting on the bus.

One thing I can do, though not especially well, is ride a bicycle.

My favorite bike trip in JC is to go over to Liberty State Park on a summer morning. I stop by the bagel shop on the way.

But my most favorite bike trip ever was a Death Valley weekend bike trip in March of 1999. I had some free plane tickets from being bumped (on the return leg of a courier journey, no less), so I spent one of them on a trip to Death Valley. I flew into and out of LA, so I got to have a Sunday night Aunt Kizzy's dinner with my friends—including Marc, David, Steve, and Don—and I got to bike in a cool desolate landscape.

The outfitter I went with was called Country Spokes. Jill of the team ran the bike-and-camping end of things, providing a support van, maps, tents, and bikes. Joe was the gourmet chef, producing excellent meals. They had reasonable prices, great food, nice equipment, and mega-Thermarests for the campsites. My pal Nikki and I went with them in the Redwoods the following year.

Sadly, they quit the bike business a few years later. I wish they were still in it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Today

I'm feeling sappy today.

And if you're not feeling quite as sappy, there's always Warren's take on it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

AUC, NYC, and Snoopy-Slag

It was a dark and snowy night.

Dark because it was, well, night. (Snoopy might ought to work on that bit.) Snowy, though, was different.

It was our first real snow of the season (though it's melted now). I finally got to wear my snow boots, which have been hanging around with the tag on them for a year and a half. But I didn't wear those to last night's American University in Cairo student documentary event at the Tribeca Grand Hotel. That required a vague semblance of glamor, which was traumatic as after trying on everything in my closet, I discovered that ten extra pounds make one's clothes not fit. Imagine that.

I'd missed the June screening in Cairo by an ocean and a few weeks, so a little snow and poorly fitted clothing was not going to stop me from seeing the presentation last night.

The pieces themselves were charming, each conveying the kind of inspired enthusiasm lacking from a life of routine-day-job. Read an account of last night's events here and a feature on the documentaries here.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Triple X Surfing


Funny, I thought my book cover was fairly innocuous and kind of cute.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sick but Worldly

Henry is one well-traveled 1990 Ford Taurus.

Originally from Torrance, California, Henry has been to Santa Monica, San Francisco, Yosemite, Death Valley, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Bryce, Arches National Park, Goblin Valley, Four Corners, Monument Valley, Moab, New Mexico, Austin, New Orleans, Skyline Drive, Harper's Ferry, and New York City. He's visited every campground in New Jersey and crept around the backroads of the Pine Barrens. He's visited remote campgrounds in Virginia. He's been with me since April 22, 2002. Fifty-thousand miles ago.

And after all this, he decided to crap out last night—in the rain—in central Jersey, in a mall parking lot.

"ARF!"* I said, leaning my head onto the steering wheel.

Henry started right up. Huh?

Then today, he got cranky again. Click click but no turning over.

"It's the starter," said the AAA guy, who showed up to watch Henry suddenly start on his own. "Just keep trying. Sometimes these starters keep working for months while they go bad."

I drove Henry straight home to his garage. I'll take him in to my mechanic on Friday. If he'll be kind enough to start.

*"Arf" is not exactly what I said, but it seems more G-rated.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Samburu Pride

I was impressed by this young Samburu woman in Kenya in 2001. She carried herself with 'tude.

And now I really am done organizing my negatives from 2001. The years-since images fit in way fewer boxes. Slipping them all into sleeves and binders should go a lot faster.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Bad Timing

Yesterday, I got an electric bill for $189 for the past month.

Today, at ten minutes of eight in the morning, the window guys showed up. Too late for the December and January electric bills, but in plenty of time for February's. I could have waited for a coupon--the window company regularly sends out discount offers--but who knew when the next coupon would arrive?

They started hammering the ancient windows out while I winced at the thought of any sleeping neighbors. They climbed out into the airshaft, four stories up, leaned against the brick building next door, and ripped out the old sashes.

I couldn't look. I'm afraid of heights, even when it's not me looking down. I just worked at my laptop and tried not to think about the risk two men were taking 40 feet away.

About an hour later, I had--or rather Yancey had as I'm only renting here--three brand new windows. Great! I paid the workers and calculated how much rent I'd owe next month with the window cost taken out.

Then, at about two in the afternoon, I got a coupon in the mail from the window company. "25% off already low prices! Order now!"


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Verbal Economy

I read in a magazine that Hemingway once wrote a six-word story.

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

What marvelous economy! So much said in spite of being unsaid. As I walked to the train this morning, I pondered how to tell a six-word tale. At work, I challenged Kraiger to come up with his own six-word story.

So far my attempts seem amateurish. I can imply a story, but struggle to complete one. I hope I can come up with one before Kraiger does. Who else wants to give it a try?

You're still here? Wait, don't go!

Heartbroken, she had only his fez.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday

I'm really starting to get into this "normal" life thing. First football and now voting. I was feeling super this morning because I went by the elementary school on Erie Street to cast my primary ballot for Super Tuesday. Such an unspectacular day, normally, but today there are primaries, a ticker-tape NY Giants parade, and my first class in my latest attempt at weekly yoga.

A local real estate agent—one who like so many sold her Hamilton Park place and moved up to the Victorian part of the Heights—was working the polls this morning.

"We'll probably have at least 200 Democrats today," she declared proudly. Then, an afterthought. "We've even had a few Republicans."

An audible gasp. Here?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Reading is Progress, Right?

I was supposed to take January to knock out the Hippo book proposal, once and for all.

Instead of writing books, I read books. It's partially Brett's fault, since his admission of having knocked only one book off his to-be-read pile spurred me to tackle my own pile of books. Which unfortunately gets a little bigger every Sunday, when I visit the one-dollar used book sale at the church down the street. So it's also my fault for not resisting the pull of the used book sale.

Here's what I've gotten through in 2008, when I was supposed to be working on my own book proposal

Eat, Pray, Love. This one was even cheaper than a dollar, since I got it out of Craig's free books pile when he left Egypt. I kept trying to give it back to him as it is autographed to him, but he refused to take it, having finished it over a year ago. My latest plan is to mail it (unmarked) to him at his new office in Princeton.

Battle of the Bands. Steve Buccellato's Tokyopop manga, in which bands have to fight for the right to perform, or rather fighting is part of the performance. I realize that sounds ridiculous, and seems even more so when you see the cover of the four female protagonists hanging out in a hot tub in their bikinis, but it's actually tongue-in-cheek.

Earthlight 1 and Earthlight 2. Stuart's Tokyopop series about kids who go to high school. On the moon.

Around the World in 80 Dates, by Jennifer Cox. Read as part of my research into what other women's "emotional growth through travel" books are out there.

Glory In A Camel's Eye, by Jeffrey Tayler. I like Jeffrey Tayler's books, but this one surprised me because when I finished it and turned it over, an old friend's name (from my creaky old indie rock days) stared at me from the design credits. The book is a great read and the cover design is exceptional. I liked it before I checked the credits.

On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan. I was flummoxed by the protagonist's actions. "Why doesn't he just apologize? What is his problem?" Could I have brought my own baggage along for the read? Er, uh, maybe.

Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It, by Geoff Dyer. He petulantly argues with touts and admits (gasp) to being jaded and bored. Not even a nod to what he surely knows is expected of him in a travel book. Who said any book classified as travel has to be whimsical, insightful, or about an internal voyage mirroredbythephysicalevoyagewithnoblesavages blah blah blah? I loved it. I bet he got brutalized on Amazon.

February. That's the month I'll finish my book proposal. No more reading until I have a proposal to show others.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Australian Secrets

In January, 2002, I moved to Australia. To Turbo's house. It was the end of MariesWorldTour. I'd sold my East Village condo before leaving town a year before and my possessions were all in storage. I was homeless and had an Australian boyfriend. So off I went.

And on Australia Day, Turbo made a big deal over something called ANZAC biscuits. I'd never heard of these coconut and golden syrup cookies, but oh-how-I-would. He didn't actually remember how to bake them initially. He called his mother and she walked him through it. But he remembered the key secret to a good batch, and showed me. I took over the ANZAC duties after that, using a recipe from the local paper and his key secret to eventually surpass him. My ANZACs were better than his. Ha.

Today, six winters later, I'm going to a Superbowl Party. I don't care about football and I'm certainly not interested in beer, so this is a hazardous undertaking at best. I *do* like Underdog (the hero) and underdogs (in this case, the New York Giants), and I'm told there won't be much actual football watching, so maybe I'll be only a bit alienated instead of baffled.

I just finished mixing the dough for the ANZAC biscuits. They will be my contribution to the party. They're kind of like Samoas without the chocolate or caramel. Except Samoas aren't always called Samoas. Sometimes they are called Caramel deLites, which just annoys me because of the stupid spelling.

I tried avoiding the key secret. I tried mixing my ANZAC dough with a wooden spoon, but my dough was crumbly and not cohesive. I sighed and resigned myself to Turbo's secret. I washed my hands and plunged them into the dough.

The key secret to ANZAC biscuits is to mix the dough with your hands.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Scraps of Cairo

It might seem a bit funny that Craig brought me a bar napkin, a coaster, and a matchbook from his recent trip to Cairo.

But the Flamenco Hotel was my home for three months. I expected to be back there already by now. I left some things under my desk in my Dokki office, since I'd need them when I got back.

I'm settled now, and when the big boss recently said "I heard you wanted to go back to Cairo," I told him that I did not.

So here I am. JC. Renting from Yancey. Seven minutes from Greenwich Village by train. The passport has gone into the fireproof lockbox, along with the deed to my garage and my car title. And instead of being in Cairo, I have a matchbook, a coaster, and a bar napkin. And a return ticket from Barcelona to Cairo for March.