Friday, March 31, 2006

Ordering In

The Kuwait days are getting a little longer, the sun a bit more glaring, and I can't seem to keep the sand out of my shoes. Yesterday I walked around with a grain of sand under my toenail for about 40 minutes.

We don’t have Daylight Savings Time here in the Gulf, but the grayness of "winter," along with the occasional slightly damp day, is far behind us. Long sleeves are no longer necessary to keep the chill out, and have become a polite inconvenience that I don to take the bus or walk around Bneid Al-Gar. Soon they'll just be an annoyance as the days heat up.

My office's Lebanese editor and Bosnian marketer wear whatever they want, and don't worry about the length of their sleeves. But then, they don't take the bus. They have their own cars. Neither wears skirts that rise above their ankles, though. There are limits.

The editor and marketer recently decided to go halves on a mail forwarding account, and to order some clothes from the US.

"What's some good clothing sites, Marie?"

I'm no expert on this. I buy a lot of stuff off the internet, but my (lack of) financial status means I don't buy a lot of clothes. Period. Anyway, I like try things on before buying.

"Try And I hear had some stuff."

They nodded. The marketer intently studied

I'm not sure if they managed to get around the requirement that many US-online sites have to have the billing address be confirmed, or if anyone cares that the billing addresses are in Kuwait. But if they did, there's one thing I'm a little worried about.

"Marie, what's is size 36 in American sizes?"

I'd found them an online size converter. But later I'd remembered that clothing sizes vary drastically from manufacturer to manufacturer in the US. I wear anywhere from a size 8 to a size 12 at home—and sometimes go as small as XS in shirts, though I'm an L in Spain—and I'm convinced that sizes have gotten larger to accommodate an expanding America, which would explain why I'm suddenly an 8.

I'm kind of glad I'll be gone by the time the American clothes arrive. It could be heart-breaking to watch them unpack all their new clothes.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Bye Now

Today we had my good-bye lunch at Mais Alghanim. Except we didn't.

It was a nice idea, until this week's book ran late. The plan was to leave the office at noon, but at one, we were still waiting on the dummy book to show up from the printer. And it wasn't the printer's fault… we'd first barely gotten the files in on time from Big Fancy Superhero Company in NYC, then barely gotten them to the printer ten minutes before we started demanding a dummy book. We were running a man down already, having stressed out our long-suffering EIC to the point where he was in the hospital having his heart checked.

One by one, people started to leave.

"I'm sorry, Marie, I cannot wait all day."

"I have a dentist's appointment at 2."

"The guys are teasing me, telling me Marie will never forgive me if I skip her good-bye lunch. Marie, is this true? I have to go home to my family."

"Fine, fine." I'd wave them on. The truth is that I can't stand huge group meals where you cannot hear anyone at the other end of the table.

I occupied myself by using my Skype phone to butcher the Spanish language while trying to make restaurant reservations for Barcelona.

"Habla Ingles? ... No? ... Damn ... uh here let me read this to you ... necesito una mesa para el siete de abril. Ocho. Si, si. Hah-veens, Mary. Gracias."

I may have booked a table. Or maybe I ordered a warm goat, as my pal Bobbie did once when trying to get a hairdryer in her room in France.

Finally, it got to the point where it would only have been Sven, Mr. Fixit, me, and Junior Art Guy from Oman.

"Okay, let's reschedule."

So instead of a big lunch on the Gulf Road, I had a turkey sandwich at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf before heading home for the "weekend" (Friday) to my internet-less apartment.

We'll try again in a few days. I'm not leaving Kuwait without eating some good Arabic food first.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

More Camels

For a different account of the camel races, check out Sven's blog.

Snack Down Memory Lane

I was looking through some of my old sites yesterday while uploading files (from the coffee shop, because I still don't have internet access at home).

And I found this photo that I took in Laos in 2000.

If you put any food on a stick, it becomes funny. But fried rat-on-a-stick is the weirdest food I've ever seen. I asked around when in Laos and was told that it was popular with some of the older or poorer people, but modern, young Laotians were not so fond of it.

What's your favorite strange food you've encountered while traveling? More importantly, can you put it on a stick?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Wine Whine

I've never been drunk. I've barely ever even had much alcohol to drink. I can probably count the number of beers I've had in my life on two hands, and I've only finished about two of them (more out of boredom than any desire to do so).

Herr Marlboro did teach me an appreciation for Spanish Rioja, and Turbo gave it his best shot by mixing me girlie drinks that had juice or Malibu in them. But alcohol never interested me much, probably because it was never really verboten when I was a kid. My older sister was not the best-behaved teenager, and because she could have gotten me pretty much any illicit substance, there was no attraction to it. Plus, she was such a behavior-nightmare that I turned out squeaky clean just to make life less hard on my long-suffering mother. Then when I got to college and watched everyone go crazy once they were out from under their parents' thumbs—well, I just rolled my eyes and went about my business. Which seems to have been seeing as many bands as possible and playing records on the community radio station, rather than studying, so it's not like I actually came out ahead due to my disinterest in alcoholic substances. But I digress.

So why is it that I cannot wait for British Airways to offer me wine in nine days?

Kuwait is a "dry" country. You can't get alcohol here through legal channels (except at embassies). You can't get bacon either, even though you can in some other Muslim countries, simply by going to the non-Muslim section of the supermarket.

Like most people, the way to make me want something is to tell me that I cannot have it.

So yeah, wine. For the first time in my life, when offered wine on an airplane, I'm going to say yes. And I'm going to enjoy drinking it.

I wonder if they'll serve ham sandwiches for lunch.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Run Camel Run

Twelve days left in Kuwait. That means it's time to get things done that I've been meaning to do since I got here.

My list of things I've been meaning to do here is short. I already found the post office, kicked personal distress, earned some money, and figured out the bus system. Aside from book-writing, that only leaves: Camel racing.

The appointed day came. Mr. Fixit was the designated driver, not that designated drivers are required in alcohol-free Kuwait. The morning was dusty, and we probably would have delayed it had not VIP Consultant been over from the States.

VIP Consultant, when he's not assisting Kuwait comic book companies or helping launch important magazines the define generations or some such thing, has some horses. I think he's a breeder. Anyway, he wanted to check out the camel races and he's leaving for home in a few days.

Information was scarce on camel racing, and no matter how many times our young marketing guy kindly tried to call the racing club (he speaks Arabic, I don't), he never got more out of the operator than "1:30."

The camel racing club isn't even on my Kuwait map, but the Lonely Planet Arabian Peninsula guidebook offered these directions: Drive out 6th Ring Road until you see the signs.

That would have worked fine if we hadn't been in the left lane when the Kuwait Camel Racing Club sign suddenly appeared on the right side of the highway. We sped by as VIP Consultant teased Mr. Fixit.

Unfortunately, there were no U-turns for about the next 20 minutes. We ended up somewhere near Iraq, out in the godforsaken desert where there weren't even oilfields. There was only flat desolate sand, with a few tents, some goats, and a chair dotting the landscape.

Okay, we weren't really in Iraq. None of us knew where the hell we were, but that's not surprising since three of the four of us were North Americans, with the fourth being Chinese.

Mr. Fixit had been counting exits (he's very resourceful) and he eventually got us out of the desert and back on the right road. We found the turn-off and went driving into the desert again. Just when I was convinced that we must have missed a vital turn, VIP Consultant said, "There it is."

We parked and went inside. Sven applied sunscreen, only to find that the grandstands were enclosed. (It's Kuwait; of course watching camels race would be enclosed and air-conditioned.)

A nice man in dish-dasha was in charge of a group of westerners. He took us under his wing. He was especially helpful once he saw VIP Consultant's horse breeder identification card and discovered that his name was Larry.

"We have a long history with men named Lawrence here in Arabia," quipped the nice man.

"That's El-Awrance," I muttered, but no one heard. Or cared.

The nice man led us and 30 other westerners out to the track, where we got to watch the camels up close. They were young, muscular camels, just two years old. They came loping down the track. Each camel had a small round robot jockey on his back. The robots seemed to mostly be small whipping machines, as they flicked the crops around on the instructions of men who raced along inside the track in cars. There were also men on camels trailing behind, but they were some kind of referees or owners and were not actually in the race.

"C'mon," said Nice Man. "Let's go see the robots."

He took us past a corrugated steel fence to where one man held a camel while the other unstrapped the "jockey."

It didn't look like much. Kind of like a cylinder with a sock monkey head.

We left after a few races. It was interesting and I'm glad we did it, but we were all covered in dust after just a few minutes out in the desert.

A Day at the Races

The Kuwait Camel Racing Club is out in the middle of the desert. Robots drive the camels.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Offline Again

The good news is that I didn't break the Internet by downloading and uploading too many megabytes.

The bad news is that there's actually something wrong with the physical Internet connection in my apartment.

Last night a nice man from building maintenance came into my place and tried very hard to fix my connection. I told him that my iBook worked fine, and that if he looked at the hub that he would see that only the green power light was on and none of the others, that the connection was obviously broken, not my laptop. I showed him how it didn't work when I circumvented the hub and plugged right into the wall.

He asked me how to run DOS on my laptop. After a few minutes of trying very hard to explain to him that there was no DOS on a Mac, I gave up and let him look at it. He loaded up IE since it made him more comfortable than did watching me hit "Reload" in Safari or Firefox. It was all really pointless and a waste of time but I know that everyone will always look for the obvious answers first, namely "Did the user screw something up?"

After he started to believe that maybe I wasn't the total idiot he had at first assumed, we went downstairs to the office PC. I plugged the ethernet cord from the office PC into my iBook, and of course got right on-line. He looked surprised. Also annoyed. We spent some time in other apartments, plugging in and unplugging until finally he was convinced that my laptop worked just fine, even though he still couldn't find DOS.

He took apart the ethernet connector thingy back in my place and it all looked fine. Now he thinks I need a new faceplate, or that maybe there's a problem up on the roof.

Sadly, there's no WiFi anywhere nearby.

I assume all this means I won't have Internet access at my apartment anymore since I'm leaving in a week and a half. Maybe I'll get more work done. But it is going to mean I'm a lot less available than I have been and probably means some wasted time commuting to coffee shops with WiFi on Fridays. I guess if anyone really needs to find me, they can use this cool thing called a telephone.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Residency Limbo

Sven cannot legally drive in Kuwait. Neither can our staff writer. In fact, one of our mandoubs, whose job responsibilities include driving, cannot drive in Kuwait.

But I can drive in Kuwait.

It's about residency. I'm not trying to be a resident. I'm just a temp, floating through Kuwait as I do through life, not trying to put down roots or fit in. My status here is questionable—not an official employee, not a resident, but certainly not a tourist. I'm a "Visitor." So I'm allowed to use my US driver's license.

The others are all stuck in the red tape of applying for residency.

I haven't tried to learn the rules about residency, because after being here for two-and-a-half months, I'm leaving in 14 days. Until you achieve residency in Kuwait, you just hang around stuck in limbo. Near as I can figure, applying for residency involves staying in the country for a certain number of weeks (an area that Sven keeps blowing it on since he has so many business trips to Europe and New York, poor thing), then being subjected to a battery of medical tests and a huge amount of form filing, which involves getting all the right stamps from all the right people, and filing eight passport-sized photos. Our staff writer has gone on two form-filing expeditions over the last week, only to be thwarted by some sort of elusive stamp both times.

I don't drive here, of course. The maniacal speeding and bad traffic did put me off a bit, but the truth is that I don't drive because it would have cost me $340 to rent a car for a month (KD 100). I'm supposed to be here to earn money, not to increase my grocery-shopping convenience. Plus, I don't mind taking the public bus, though most people do have a weird bus-phobia here. "It's just not done," I've been told. Funny, the hundreds of people I see on the buses don't seem to know that.

The public bus took me to work in the mornings when our offices were near Dasman Palace. Now that we are out in the car wash district, I go to and from work in a mini-van rented by the company. It goes first to Salmiya, picks up Junior Art Guy, Sven, Office Helper, Receptionist (sister of Office Helper), then comes past Bneid Al-Gar to fetch American-Whatever-the-Hell-I-Do AKA me. We swing by CanIndian Staff Writer's in Sharq (where Sven spotted a man walking a pigeon last week), and then head to Al Rai. It takes forever and has a distinctly Groundhog Day feel to it. "Oh, you guys again. Didn't we do this yesterday?" Yes. And the day before that. And the day before that. Sometimes I tease the boys, but I never succeed in making them cry. Other days, they try to goad me into teasing them but I'm too bored to bother, and I just stare out the window while Sven handles any necessary teasing.

Last night, I had the mini-van driver drop me off in Salmiya. The Internet in my building is still broken, so I wanted to use the WiFi at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I took the bus home from there.

And the police stopped the bus.

The policeman berated the bus driver, then started moving down the aisle asking passengers for something. The sweet Indian woman next to me whispered "I.D."

I pulled out my New Jersey driver's license. Slowly. Maybe if I made it inconvenient, he'd get tired of waiting and move on.

The policeman waited. He looked at my license.

"Kuwait identification?"

"No," I said firmly. "Tourist."

He nodded and moved on. I immediately thought how stupid I'd been. There aren't any tourists in Kuwait. And if there were, what the hell would they be doing on the bus going to Bneid Al-Gar?

The policeman checked everyone else's identification and left the bus. As soon as the bus doors closed and we pulled away, my seatmate looked and me and broke into a huge smile.

"Tourist?" She laughed and laughed.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Googling Oneself

Okay, it makes sense that if you type "Marie Javins" into Google, you find me.

And it makes sense that if you google "No Hurry In Africa," you find me.

I can see why the following searches will lead you here:

city bus Kuwait



But these searches also bring you to me, and I think they are kind of a stretch:

the illnesses of malealea

sexy pvc jpegs

yellow greasy fluid leaking from Volvo

The last one is completely bizarre. I have certainly never written anything about yellow greasy fluid leaking from anyone's Volvo.

But my favorite? Go to Google Images and type in (without quotes):

gorilla butt

You get to I'm so proud.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Broken Internet... Again

Is It Me?

Since I've been in Kuwait, I've suffered from multiple Internet connection failures. There was the fire at the main ISP hub, the too-effective firewalls at the office, and then there's what seems to be me.

For the third time in my apartment (besides the week of fire-related failure), I awoke to find "You are not connected to the Internet" messages in my browser.

All three times have been right after I've downloaded files from friends. Coincidence, I wonder, or is it me? I know that in Kuwait bandwidth matters, whereas at home access is unlimited so long as you pay your monthly flat fee.

But whenever I upload or download comic book files, it doesn't seem to affect anything. And last night I was careful to only download a few mp3s, promising the friend that I'd get the rest the next time I'm on wi-fi at a coffee shop. Surely a few 600 dpi color comic book pages takes no less bandwidth than a few mp3s. Okay, they do, but not THAT much less.

Having no Internet access is not the end of the world. I learned to enjoy it when I lived in the Ugandan bush (if anyone actually needed me, I had a cell). Plus, I'll be at work in a few hours, and that connection is finally working. Maybe I'll get some work done at home for a change.

No one has yelled at me yet for breaking the Internet. But if the problem IS that I'm exceeding bandwidth capacity, it's only a matter of time until I'm sent into the corner to think it over.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Strip Passport

Another travel writer told me about a game he'd invented for a novel, a game called "Strip Passport."

"What's that?" I asked, suspecting it was what it sounds like.

It is... one person opens their passport and shows a visa. Whoever cannot match it has to drop an article of clothing.

Country-counters could play gleefully. I counted countries on the walk to Starbucks last week (terribly bored, I admit). I lost track somewhere in the sixties, but then someone at Sean's work in Sydney asked him for my list, so I typed them all out into an e-mail. It was 71.

I don't count things where I was only in the airport. I don't count Alaska or Scotland or Hong Kong as separate countries. Airport stopovers are okay if you actually leave the airport and go into the nearby city, but just going to the airport hotel does not count by my rules. I once spent the night at the airport hotel in Taiwan. That doesn't count, though lots of people are happy to bend the rules in their favor. Vatican doesn't count by Marie-rules either. It is helpful if you intend to visit a country to actually visit it, not to just get a passport stamp and get back on the plane.

A few years ago, several people on the ship to Antarctica asked "How many countries have you been to?" I didn't know and they got annoyed. "C'mon, you know. Everyone knows." I sneered... it isn't about counting. Then someone else pointed out to me that NOT counting was almost as elitist as counting. You can't win! It's another one of those damned-if-you-do/don't conundrums. (I counted Antarctica as a country but actually, it isn't, so maybe I'm only at 70.)

Anyway, I am ready for this game of strip passport. Bring it on. Fake countries don't count--I don't want to see any visa stamps for Galapagos or Ushuaia.

Multiple and expired passports are acceptable. "Bring the whole stack," says the travel writer. I don't have the whole stack with me in Kuwait. But I think I could make a pretty good showing with just the two I have in my pocket.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Dire Effects of Salt Pan Syndrome

Today I'm home working on the book. I'm writing the chapter about the Dragoman truck I was on in 2001 getting bogged in clay in the desert of northern Kenya.

In short, we drove along. Half the truck seem to fall off the earth. We stopped.

A quick inspection revealed that the left side of the truck had fallen through the road's salt pan crust and was bogged in the clay below. Our driver, Marky (most recently seen in Jinja when I was rafting the Nile in November, for those of you who've been reading a while), was kicking himself for not taking the other route over the volcanic rock. But then, that route would have destroyed our tires. And it hadn't rained in months, so there should have been no risk. But the clay retains water in the desert. Oops.

It was pretty hot out and there was no shade. I hid under a table during most of the truck rescue operation.

It took 10 hours and a tractor to get out of the bog. We counted ourselves lucky. When my friend Nikki got bogged in Malawi a few years before, it took her six days to get out, and she and her passengers had to rebuild the road during non-stop downpours.

I didn't have the best luck with trucks in 2001. It was only a few weeks after this that the Isuzu I'd hitched a ride on tipped over en route to Lalibela--at four in the morning.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

It's Like A Whole New iBook

I'm so excited about my new iBook keyboard.

I'd lost the ability to type N and Q in the UAE. To get them working, I repositioned the keyboard in a sketchy way--so it didn't sit quite right but had N and Q--and was typing on borrowed time. I've lost keys and the little scissor mechanisms that keep them in place in the past, and it isn't cheap to replace them one at a time (although a friend sent me a few when he got a new keyboard). I once lost the option key in the middle of a big Photoshop job.

Plus my keyboard was filthy—years of dust from renovating my place, mixed with the sweat from Ugandan and Aussie summers, not to mention Jon Babcock's dead cat's hair, sat just under the keys where I couldn't get to it. Plus, I'd lost the actual letters on lots of keys. The N was completely gone. The E, D, F, and C keys were on their way out.

It was time for a new keyboard.

I got one off eBay for $49. My mother forwarded it to me via Aramex, the way Kuwaiti shoppers get around the "will ship to US addresses only" requirement. I just ordered three Wacom tablets for the office this same way.

I brought my Swiss army knife to work and did the surgery under the watchful eye of the webmaster.

"Patience," he reminded me as I nervously took out the Airport card and started trying to force the screws out below. I slowed down.

"Patience," he said again. I slowed down more.

It wasn't totally easy but it was pretty straightforward. The only weird part was when it turned out that the old ribbon cable was glued to the housing. I pried it off slowly because I didn't know if I'd have to put it back in if the new one didn't work.

It's working great! The old one is so disgusting. I didn't realize how gross it was until Mr. Fixit said "Why is it so shiny?"

"That would be four years of fingertip oil, I reckon."

He put it down real fast.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Deed Is Done

I've just purchased a ticket from London to Barcelona for April 4-10.

I'm pretty happy about it. It's warm there and I won't have to waste time figuring out my way around. And I won't be lost without a map or guidebook. And I can stumble around with some vague comprehension of what is happening around me due to my expertise-of-a-6-year-old mastery/butchery of the Spanish language. Which only helps a little in Catalunya, but that matters little when you're trying to order off a menu.

I didn't book a flat or hotel yet though. Flying into Barcelona means I can stay in either the city itself or on Costa Brava or Costa Dorada. And there's some amazing deals up north on Costa Brava. Anyway, I have the ticket, and that's the thing that gets scarce. Beach hotel rooms in April are not hard to come by.

I have a lot of book to panic over, but I hope I get time to go up to Girona to check out the latest in caganers, those little statues that go in the Christmas nativity scenes in Cataluyna. Last time I bought the Fidel Castro model. I shit you not.*

*Sorry, bad joke.

Devil and DJ Trailer Online


The Devil and Daniel Johnston trailer is up now. I just got led to it through, which was cool.

And hey, I have at least one shot in it! There might be a few more--it's kind of hard to tell as they flash by quickly. Near the middle, when you hear a woman (Kathy McCarty) say that there was no denying that there was something dreadfully wrong with him, and he gets up close to the camera--that's one I shot on a regular old consumer video camera in West Virginia in the early 90s.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Growing Pains

"No, the spine is not white. Are you listening to me? It is NOT WHITE."

Mr. Fixit, the company finance guy, was on his cell phone, pacing the office and yelling at the printer. He alternated yelling with asking questions of people around him.

"Marie, the digest we sent to the printer today. What color is the spine? Is it white?"

"No, he thinks it's white because the dummy book was taped together with white tape."

"Then what color is it?"

"How do I know? I do new material; no one shows me the reprints. Blue, wasn't it? Where's the original book?"

It's a reprint, not brain surgery. We weren't making the color up ourselves. But it was only the third book to be published in the history of the company. Of course mistakes would be made.

Mr. Fixit went racing around the office.

"Who has it? Who's got the digest?

No one knew.

"I think the spine was blue," said the Senior Art Guy.

Several people dug around, opening cabinets and shuffling through piles of comics until the smiling young office assistant located it in the editor-in-chief's files.

"Blue! It's blue."

Mr. Fixit was on the phone again.

"Make it blue. Bright blue."

I took the phone from him. "Make it about 60 cyan, 10, no 20 magenta, and a little yellow…"

"I have the file," said Senior Art Guy. "Let's go sample the color."

"We'll call you back."

Great, I thought. Problem solved. I went back to my original material.

A second later, Mr. Fixit was yelling at the printer again.

"Blue, no, it is NOT white. Why are you not listening to me?"

By now, I was starting to think that something was wrong. Why wouldn't the printer shut up about white? Although we have a lot of language problems as everyone at the office and at the printer was from different countries, and we all have a hard time understanding our many accents.

"Mr. Fixit," I whispered, "Maybe we're wrong. Let me see the file. Don't yell at him any more. The problem could be on our end."

"I'll call you back."

I followed him over to the giant color LCD monitors in the Art Department. The front cover was on the screen.

"What are you looking for? What are you calling it?" The webmaster was now checking out the cover and asking Mr. Fixit what was up.

"Swine. We need to see the swine."


"Isn't that illegal in Kuwait?"

"No... I mean... spine. We are looking for the spine."

I was giggling too hard by now to say it clearly, but I got it out.

"Mr. Fixit, there is no swine on that cover."


"Look. That's the front cover. Where is the swine?"

"Isn't that a swine?"

Now the Junior Art Guy jumped in.

"No, that's a bleed. A white bleed."

Mr. Fixit dialed the printer.

"I am very, very sorry. Can you please send someone over to get a new file? I am really sorry. The mistake was mine."

Junior Art Guy made our swine, while I berated people to always be sure they were right before yelling at anyone.

Just another day in publishing in the Kuwait City car wash district.

Big Spike

This is what happens to your blog when Warren Ellis recommends it.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

There Are Worse Problems

I'm giving myself a headache trying to figure out where to stay from April 4–10.

When I planned a stopover in Europe on my way home from Kuwait, I expected to have the book completed and turned in. That, of course, would have been a pipe dream even if my editor hadn't given me an extension to mid-April.

The idea was to celebrate by going somewhere in Europe that I'd never been before. To decompress from the day job and book writing by seeing somewhere new. Like Prague. Or Lisbon. Warsaw. Dubrovnik. Or I could go visit my Finnish host sister, Heidi, who I have not seen since the early 90s. Or I could do the tour of UK babies, or see the elusive eSwede in person.

The plan has changed.

The new plan is to pick somewhere either familiar or dull, where I don't have to spend my time figuring out transit or where to buy coffee. I cannot stay in someone's house with them, because I will be in the work crunch to end all work crunches, frantically writing and rewriting at the last minute. I cannot play tourist or visit with friends. Okay, I could maybe have dinner or coffee a few times with someone, but that's it.

(The old excuse of "you only live once" or "when will you get a chance to do XYZ again" no longer works with me. You get the chance the next time you decide to take it.)

Oh, and it has to be cheap to get there on Ryanair or Easyjet. And it has to be cheap to stay there once I arrive.

The other caveat? I don't want to go somewhere where I will be freezing and won't be able to leave the apartment because everything I have with me is for Kuwait weather.

That cuts out most of Europe, including Berlin, which shocked me anyway once I started seriously looking at it. It's cheap to rent for a month. But there's no deals when you rent for a week. Pity, I was going to meet Ed Ward for the two dinners in which I'd be allowed out of the house.

What's left? Spain. Portugal. The Balkans. Greece. Italy. South of France. I could probably swing Paris if I bought a sweater.

Is Brussels cold in April? Here's a site with some decent-looking and flats on it, and the airfare from London is cheap.

What I'd like to do is just go to Barcelona and stay in my old flat for a week. But–gasp–a stranger is renting my apartment during that time. I've seen this other one before and it's available, although nowhere near as nice as the Sant Pau place, but the flights are not playing well from Barcelona. I need to be at London Gatwick before 10:30 a.m. on Monday. And I don't need to spend $200 on the BCN-LGW flight to do this. I might as well spend that $200 to change my ticket and just go home a few days later instead.

Other possibilities:

210 euros for 6 nights on Spain's Costa Brava. 180 for Costa Blanca.

195 euros for a Croatian resort.

78 euros for a studio resort apartment near supermarket in Portugal.

68 euros for a week in Tunisia. Hard to beat that.

And so on.

I don't like resorts, and I actually don't like the beach either (it's hot and sandy and boring), but if I'm just typing in my room, maybe the best bet is to get one of these hotel deals with half- or full-board. At least then it's someone else's responsibility to feed me.

Basically, I'm baffled by the amount of choices, and the low prices. I'm not sure what to book. But I better book something soon or all the cheap flights will be gone. If someone were to tell me what to do and could back it up with a good reason, I'd probably just follow their instructions at this point. Advice, anyone?

Dik-Dik Stalking

I've just finished a coloring marathon and now I can get back to book-writing.

The book—for those of you who just tuned in via Warren-telegraph—is called Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik. It's me going from Cape Town to Cairo in 2001, over 4 months. I sneak in bits from Africa, 2005, when I can, and actually start it with Curse of the Hippo.

What is a dik-dik? It's an animal, a chihuahua-sized antelope. And I didn't stalk it so much as it stalked me.

Here is what a dik-dik looks like:


Friday, March 10, 2006

He Speaks, They Listen

I haven't even had coffee yet. I got up at five to finish some coloring before work (we work on Saturdays and Sundays in Kuwait). Just thought I'd skim the blog stats, as I usually do each morning.

Whoa. What happened in the last 6 hours? The usuals are there... and 100 others. And the numbers are climbing.

Even Marie-Without-Caffeine knows to say "WTF?"

A little digging, then...

Warren. Blame this guy. (Warren, it had to be more than 10 years. I "left" Marvel (the first time) in June of 1995.)

Now where's my desalinated Kuwait coffee?

Mumbo Jumbo

Incredibly, my time in Kuwait ends in three weeks and three days. It's zoomed by, for the most part, although I now barely recognize the numb person who arrived in Newark from Africa in late November, then went back to Newark to board a plane to Kuwait a month later. Remember that person, yes—bad things from your past don't go away, they just become a part of you and you learn to live with them. But recognize, no. I have my sense of humor back, in part due to the passage of time and in part due to the loyalty of some funny, intelligent, and charming e-mail correspondents. (Figure out which one you are.)

Three months is plenty of time to spend in some cultures, but not enough for me to claim to be any kind of expert on Kuwait. It's not a transparent culture to begin with, but even if it was, I didn't have the time to get to know it. When I'm not in the office, I'm frantically working on my book or squeezing in comic book coloring when I can. I would have taken time off of the coloring, but every freelancer will understand why I did not do that. If you back out of a job, you are guaranteed to never get another one from that company as your employer will inevitably learn to trust whoever they "temporarily" replace you with. Or they'll just forget about you.

Sven's joke is that I don't sleep. I do, of course, but I wish I were one of those people who can get by on 5-6 hours a night indefinitely. That would help me get a lot more done.

Will I miss Kuwait? Of course not. It was intended only as a way station for me, a place to hang my hat while book-writing, as well as making some money at something I'm good at. It's a treading-water situation, dipping back into my comic book past temporarily, in spite of having tried to walk away from it for four years now. And sometimes I get frustrated with some cultural differences in the workplace here. And the broken Internet and the crazy driving and the fact that people think I am insane for taking the bus.

But there are two things about Kuwait that I value quite a bit and will be sorry to leave.

One is the multi-culturalism. I work with more than 10 people and interact with workers in shops and my apartment building every day. And yet I have met only one Kuwaiti the entire time I've been here. Everyone else is from Lebanon, India, Philippines, Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, Jordan, Sri Lanka, America, even Hong Kong.

The second is the sincerity in the workplace. Sure, we squabble and gossip here, like anywhere. But in Kuwait, you never have to sit through a discussion about synergy. You'll never hear someone over-inflate their important by dimensionalizing when they could just measure. People don't utilize in Kuwait, they simply use. You don't have to conceptualize here when you can just think. It's okay to be creative instead of thinking outside the box in Kuwait. I've never heard the words leverage, paradigm, or symbiotic in a meeting here. I think this is related to part one, in which we are people from all over the world working together, and there's no room for pompous self-indulgence when communication is frequently difficult due to language. And, actually, one of my pet peeves is when people try to inflate their importance by puffing up, aggressively pushing others around, and by using meaningless boardroom speak. Really, who the hell cares that Nonsense-Speaker has memorized more corporate jargon than the Tea Boy? He still makes better tea, is kinder to others, and is not afraid to take the bus.

So yeah, there's some things about Kuwait that I'm going to miss when I leave, even though I have not even cracked the country's surface.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Family Values

Speaking of Daniel Johnston, here's a little example of his art.

At least I assume it's an example. Here's what I see when I look at that page:

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Songs of Pain

My day job's webmaster sweetly mocked my iPod a few weeks ago.

"You know they are in color now. This is an antique." He said it with a smile, not maliciously, and anyway, it's true.

I weakly told him he should have seen my old iPod. 5 GB and made for Mac only, in January of 2002.

I stayed home from the day job today, to color some comic books for my other job (but not my book-writing job—I have too many jobs). So I plugged in my antique and put on Calexico, a kind of "spaghetti western music," as Sean described it when he first put one of their songs on a compilation CD he sent from Sydney.

It rolled on through the other C artists and into D. Daniel Johnston started his caterwauling.

I was floored the first time I heard Daniel Johnston's homemade cassettes in 1986. A friend of mine was studying in Austin, and I'd gone down there to do an internship at the Austin Chronicle. Or I went down there on a whim and ended up at the Chronicle, more accurately. My friend played me a few songs and I went over to Record Exchange (or was it Sound Exchange then? I forget) and bought Yip/Jump Music and Hi, How Are You.

Daniel noticed me at McDonald's a few days after that—and I sure noticed him as all I knew was that a rather strange man kept staring at me and smiling broadly, like he was waiting to talk to me. I got the hell out of there.

That same night, the publisher and editor of the Chronicle were getting into my car when the publisher said "Hey, there's Daniel. Want a ride, Daniel?"

Sure enough, it was the same man from McDonald's. When I got out of my VW Rabbit to let him into the back seat, he was floored.

"You're the girl who was in McDonald's today."

"Yes, get in."

He did, but was totally silent as we drove him down the Drag and left him but Dobie Mall. He lived behind it in a single room with shared bath.

After that, Daniel showed up every day at my office.

Long story short: I went back to my college in Ohio to play his music on my middle of the night radio show. It was so raw and painful to listen to, but so melodic and masterful. This was a man who studied the Beatles relentlessly and never let you forget it.

As the years went by, he went off the deep end. He was brought home to live with his parents in West Virginia, a few hours from where I lived in a little town called Yellow Springs. I'd go see him. I always took a school video camera with me, and I always kept it on. When the camera was on, he was too busy performing to hit on me. And Daniel liked to hit on girls.

Eventually, the family moved to Texas. I saw him a few more times and even took him up to Marvel Comics once when he was playing the Knitting Factory in New York, which made him really happy as the only thing he likes more than the Beatles is Jack Kirby. Or maybe I have that backwards. He had gained a lot of weight and wore a dirty shirt that day, but my co-workers didn't seem to mind.

I don't see Daniel a lot anymore. It's a tough situation. I can never make sense of where the exploitation ends and the support begins. Was I supporting a flawed genius? Was I enabling a crazy man to behave even more crazier? I never made sense of the situation morally and it made me uncomfortable to think I was part of the problem. I never made the video I always said I'd make.

But someone else did make an entire movie of it, and about three minutes of my footage is in the movie. The Devil and Daniel Johnston has not been released yet, but it's in the works.

It's been years since I could listen to Daniel's music aside from the live shows. It's too painful, too raw, after all the madness that came after. It's amazing, though, although it's not for everyone. My friend Yancey thinks I'm crazy for liking it, and Turbo the Aussie found it very questionable. Herr Marlboro was delighted to support me by attending the NY premiere at MOMA with me, but he forced me to go home and listen to some "real" music after that, some Bavarian folksy thing that made me laugh out loud. My pal Jonathan Babc0ck, who lives for live music, never lets me go to a Daniel event alone, to the point where Daniel always sneers and asks if I could leave my "boyfriend" at home next time.

Tonight, when the iPod rolled right through to D, I at first went to hit the skip button. But I got distracted, and the entire Songs of Pain played through, and then it went on to Yip/Jump Music and Hi, How Are You.

By the time it hit Worried Shoes, I remembered. Yeah, this stuff is amazing. And how 'bout that artwork? Captain America never had it so good when he worked with the Avengers. Daniel gives him an armed force of ducks.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Damn Dirty Apes

I'm writing a chapter for my book (Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik, from Seal Press, about me going overland from Cape Town to Cairo in 2001, for anyone who just tuned in.)

Actually, no. I'm staring at a Word document written in 9/2001 and moving things around in it. The chaper is about being in Dar Es Salaam from roughly 9/12 to 9/14, having left Zanzibar after 9/11 because it seemed foolish to spend a lot of money on a hotel just to sit in the lobby and stare at CNN.

One thing I really want to do--because in my brain, it seems somehow relevant--is include a quote from Planet of the Apes in this chapter.

"It's a mad house, a mad house," is, of course, relevant. But that could be from anything, not just from Planet of the Apes.

Who has a relevant Planet of the Apes quote for me? One about a world gone mad, in which there are far more apes than chimpanzees, in which George Taylor has good cause to say: "You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!"

How do you translate a metal that does not exist?

Today's funny translation moments:

"Marie, what does the word adamantium mean when Wolverine says: I'll have to trust my adamantium skeleton."

My response:

"That means that Wolverine's bones are fused to a rare indestructible metal found in Wakanda in deepest Africa where the Black Panther rules."

(blank stares from all sides)

Then there's:

"What does it mean: If I'd known you were coming, I'd have cleaned out the janitor's closet?"


Friday, March 03, 2006


Back in December, I got an e-mail that said something like this.

Dear Marie,
You don't know me, but I know plenty about you due to your rather bizarre habit of posting your innermost thoughts on a public forum. Sorry that you have to dog-sit Murphy this weekend. I understand that you are heading to Kuwait soon. I was there not too long ago and here are some tips for you.
/eSwede, Stockholm

Okay, he didn't use eSwede. He used his real name. But you get the point.

A couple of months went by, and we exchanged plenty more e-mails. After a while, we quit signing our names.

Then, a few days ago, I got a note from Travel Writer P. Seems Travel Writer P—an Australian living in London—had just gotten a note from Travel Writer D, an American who lives in Stockholm. Travel Writer D had signed his e-mail like this:
/Travel Writer D

"What's that, D? Why do you use the slash?"

Travel Writer D, I imagine, said something like "it's what Swedes do. Isn't it cool?"

So Travel Writer P—knowing of the eSwede due to some obscure music thing they have in common—asked me "Does the eSwede do this?"

I wasn't sure. I'd been in a self-absorbed state of wallowing when he'd first e-mailed me and had barely noticed that a single 38-year-old Swedish man was e-mailing me, much less that he used a slash when signing his name. But I went back and had a look and yep, he signed it /eSwede.

I e-mailed the eSwede immediately.

"What's going on? Is this a Swedish thing?"

His response:

It's certainly the way
to end your messages here, and it does carry a number of advantages.

1. It's short. But still signifies an end - as in
2. It's language neutral - always a good thing.
3. It's kind of cool, in a being busy, sending telegram kind of way.

It is kind of cool. I like it. Travel Writers P and D are campaigning to introduce it to their correspondents. I am going to do this too.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Let Them Have iPods

I was explaining to Blondie—a new hire, a New Yorker like me but one that brings to mind a lot of entertaining stereotypes—that if the webmaster wants documents in RTF, she should just do it and quit arguing with him. Then I walked her through how to turn off "Track Changes" as well as "Save As" in Word.

Then the internet cut off. Which it does a lot here. So she could not send the RTF to him.

"Do you guys have a server?"

"No. It's an ongoing source of frustration."

Her eyes lit up.

"I know, we could all get iPods to transfer files."

(Ashamed to admit I laughed out loud right before handing her my USB stick.)

CMYK Kinda Day

Today I get to visit a Kuwait printing plant, and then later give a coloring class at my job.

Coloring class has been tough going because some people didn't know much about Photoshop, but we've finally advanced past setting up the scan and are moving into flatting.

As for the printer, I hope it is a little more interesting than the time I went to Ohio for a press check, but it probably won't be. At least in Ohio, there were people whose job it was to feed me and get me to the hotel. And in Ohio, I was with Joe Kubert for a press check on his comic series Tor. The printer made Joe and I get up at about 4 in the morning. Joe took it in good humor, but I was kind of bitchy about it.

Update: It was a lot like going to see the printer in Ohio. And the coloring class got postponed until Saturday.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Do dogs say "arf" in Arabic?

Mr. Fixit—my company's finance and whatever-needs-doing guy—wants a puppy.

I was with him when he bought three goldfish from a man on a street corner. I'd always wondered why people sell goldfish and turtles in Chinatown at certain times of year. It turns out that on Chinese New Year, it's considered good luck to bring a live thing into your home. Mr. Fixit is originally from Hong Kong, so he wanted to follow the tradition and get himself some luck.

Sven laughed at him and said: "Those fish will be dead within a week."

They were. Even Mrs. Fixit's loving care could not save them from a watery toilet-y grave.

But the seed had been planted. Mr. and Mrs. Fixit like having pets. And now he wants a dog.

In Kuwait, getting a dog is a little tricky. Dogs are unpopular in Islamic culture. Some people believe that dogs are dirty or forbidden. Dogs are uncommon here. If you want a dog, you don't just pop down to the mall and check out the pet store, or stop by the animal shelter on the way home from work. You have to find someone who sells dogs—an outrageously expensive proposition here—or you have to import one. I've been following the adventures of Geo, a handsome puppy brought in from Europe by one of Kuwait's top bloggers. When Geo is walked, people always ask if the dog is for sale. Ew. Weird.

Mr. Fixit certainly doesn't want to be reduced to asking people if they are selling their dogs. Fortunately, the CanIndian Staff Writer had heard of an animal shelter that just opened in July.

I spent ages yesterday looking at the shelter's dog gallery. Mr. Fixit likes the fluffy white thing. I prefer Zorro, Bradlee, Poppy, Brownie or Bear. And Rolo is cute too.

Which dog do you think Mr. Fixit should get? The Fixits live in an apartment. Mrs. Fixit works part-time so she'll be home a lot.