Wednesday, January 31, 2007

First Look: Cairo

My first glimpse of Cairo looked like this:

That is, the car that the hotel driver brought to the airport ran out of oil halfway back to Cairo. I sat in the car, on a busy street, as other cars whizzed by. I got out after a while, thinking that if someone hit the car, I didn’t really want to be in it. The driver finally showed up in a taxi, bearing a plastic jug full of oil.

My flight had been late, and the driver had been later, because he’d been wandering around the airport looking for me.

“Taxi? I give you good price.”

“No, thank you. Someone is waiting for me.”

“But they are not here.”

“Yes, I can see that.”

He finally showed up and whisked me onto the parking lot shuttle bus. Madam, your oil-free chariot awaits!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

And She's Off

I guess I should admit it—it wasn't the wheelie bag's fault that I hated or broke it.

It was that I am carrying way too much crap for my two-month stay in Cairo. The external work hard drive, the Arabic language book, clothing suited for an office—it all barely fit in my new wheeled duffel. And lowering that down the five ancient flights of broken stairs in my Raval apartment building was painful, though its svelte(r) profile WAS easier to manage than a boxy suitcase.

I reckon I was clever about it. I packed and dragged the bag to the airport last night, stored it in a locker, and reclaimed it this morning along with my carry-on. This way I only had one bag to manage, and was able to do it when the trains were open.

This morning, at 4:30, I threw what was left in the carry-on and trekked up to the stop for the Night Bus. Should I walk through El Raval and Las Ramblas or take the long way around up the safe streets? The old city has its share of thieves and muggers at night, looking to prey on the drunk. And I was carrying two passports, a laptop, an iPod, several hundred dollars, a digital camera, and a copy of Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik. Maybe they wouldn't be so keen on the latter but the rest would make quite a haul.

I walked the long way.

Alitalia took me out of Barcelona, via Milan. Cairo awaits. Here's a dirty little secret I should not admit in public. (My apologies to those who love it.)

I don't even like Cairo. Its traffic, pollution, and touts are annoying. I've been grabbed and (attemped)hustled by men there more than anywhere in the world. And here I go, off to live there. Oh, joy.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Too Much Xocolata

Once, in 2004, my pal Lynne and I ducked into a cafe on Ramblas. We were tired and just looking to rest and have a hot drink. I got a coffee. She ordered a hot chocolate.

Uh... whoa. What the hell is that?

Turns out that xocolata is a specialty of Barcelona.

It's chilly here today in January of 2007, so I wanted a hot drink. I checked with Barcelona & xocolata aficionado Jeff for his favorite hot chocolate drinking place and headed over.

Here's what I got:

This stuff packs a wallop.In 2005, a UK newspaper writer described it as the "heart-attack inducing impact of the drinking chocolate."

The xocolata was delicious but I couldn't finish it. I couldn't even get halfway through it. Afterwards, I felt such a sugar-rush I had to make an emergency falafel stop to offset the sickening feeling of having consumed too much sugar on an empty stomach.

Here's one blogger's opinion on the best hot chocolate in Barcelona. Jeff agrees with most of these. I'm not sure I could work my way through the list to find out.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Trailer for Sale or Rent

It's Sunday, a big day for rotisserie chicken and chips here in Spain. I hoped to find some, but didn't have the energy to go down to the Mediterranean to HM's favorite cheapie. I paced the streets of the old quarter instead, hoping to find a good lunch spot.

But it's Sunday, and Spain is closed on Sunday, except for restaurants overflowing with families and friends out for a meal.

What a great idea, to set aside Sunday for family and rest.

Unless you're alone.

Looking in at all those friends and families, laughing and enjoying each other's company, I was reminded of an email I got from the Other Marie a few days ago.

"I can't help but be a little jealous. I always thought I'd be the one out there doing what you're doing. But I remember how lonely it is."

The Other Marie was born in Scotland, grew up in Italy, and spent a few years in Spain along the way. She administered study abroad programs for a major student-exchange organization for years and now does it at a university in upstate New York, where she lives with her husband and two kids.

It's so good to have someone just get it without even saying anything. That's one thing that is so great about the Other Marie. I didn't even complain and she knew.

Yes, it's lonely living this way. Being a transient has its good points, of course. Not everyone gets sent to Egypt to set up a comic book company, or runs off to Uganda to live in the jungle with a man they met in Sudan. Or has a flat they rent sometimes--in Spain.

But the problem with being a worker-nomad is that you aren't quite here, and aren't quite there. Your friends at home have lives, which continue on without you, to where you just aren't a part of them anymore. The transient friends you meet on the road are temps, mostly, and after a while you can't even be bothered to make new ones. Your best friend is rectangular and white and has backlighting.

When I was in Barcelona this past spring, I met my-then beau here. He was abruptly recalled by the factory a short time later, but we had a lovely visit before his warranty expired. And when I lived here in 2004, my pal Lynne was working just up the coast in Mataro, and HM visited for about three weeks total of the 90 days that I was here. And Fiona came to visit once, as did Nikki. When Nikki arrived, we rented a car and drove up and down the coast. Nothing lonely about that trip.

And this time, when I bought my ticket with a stopover in Barcelona, it didn't occur to me that I didn't know anyone here.


I'm not saying I'd rather I had a normal job and no passport. Just that for all the excitement of a life on the road, it has its downsides. Loneliness and alienation are par for the course, the price one pays for the ability to move freely without responsibilities at home.

Am I saying I dislike living this way? Not at all. It isn't really up to me any longer. Fate cornered me. I fought it for a while, but it gave me a headache. Resistance is futile. If I weren't here, I'd wish I were.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Scooters Galore

I'm always stunned by how many scooters there are in Barcelona. There are thousands of them buzzing around. Sometimes I like it, because it looks like a fun way to get around. Other times, the combined noise of a bazillion scooters is just plain annoying.

Gaudi & New Socks: Perfect Together

Being in the inspiring city of Barcelona does not, unfortunately, exempt me from performing uninspiring chores.

On Thursday, I trekked out to Carrefour to buy socks. Yesterday, I got a (lousy) haircut, bought a universal sink plug at the hardware store (my third, but the others are in NJ), got a .90 euro plug adapter for my work external hard drive (another one for the collection, though I’d remembered to bring along the UK-Egypt adapter), and this morning I had to cut my toenails (very exciting, but when the toe next to it gets bloody and gouged from the toenail, it’s time to act) and do laundry (then hang it out the 5th story window on the rolling clothesline).

But at least I get to do it in Barcelona, where the normal buildings are pretty nice and the nice buildings are right out of fairy tales.

Friday, January 26, 2007

What's that Word?

In 2004, I lived up in the chi-chi part of town for a month before fleeing doormen and upscale living to Raval, a place more my speed. Herr Marlboro came to visit then, and he became obsessed with this building, which he called “the egg.”

That’s not how I would describe this building. Was it a language difficulty? (H.M. spoke German as a first language.) No, everyone knows the English word for what this building should be nicknamed. But H.M. was bizarrely polite and old-fashioned in some ways.

Me, I was a little more interested in what was down the street from the building. A churros stand! Yummy. Those are like doughnuts, but instead of being round, they are long and straight, like “the egg.” In New York, guys sell churros from wheeled carts at Union Square subway station.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Not Flicka!

I wonder what this place sells.

Leaner, Meaner Wheelie

Here it is, my new wheelie bag!

My hope is that I will get along better with something more narrow and tall, rather than a square. I think it will be harder to destroy this one as in theory it should be more manageable on stairs. (Is my subconscious actually discussing men? What are the stairs a metaphor for?)

I really wanted the 195 euro Mandarina Duck one. It was a work of art (I am exaggerating but it's nice). But 3 out of 3 travel writers surveyed destroyed their first "real" suitcases, and one of those clobbered her second as well, so I thought perhaps this "Boomerang" (the house brand) wheeled duffel from El Corte Ingles would be a good test model.

Why? Because it was 39 euros. If I'm going to destroy another case, let's make it a cheap one.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Working Girl

crack. snap.

I shuddered. The woman who had just sat down at the next workstation habitually cracked her knuckles.

Would it be rude to ask her to cut that out? This is a library! You’re not supposed to make noise. How do you say “knuckles” in Spanish? Not a clue.

She’d sat next to me yesterday too. I guess she also has a lot of work.

Yes, I’m in Barcelona. But no, I’m not on holiday. I'm not roaming the streets of the Old City, stopping for shopping and coffee. I wake up in the mornings and commute a few blocks (on foot) to the library. My library card gets me through the door and onto the wi-fi. I then proceed to work all day.

Which, as you may already be aware, is no way to live. And it does not jive with my new plan to stop taking on more work than I can handle and refuse any work that is not either 1) my primary job or 2) somehow beneficial to me personally (not only financially, which is how I got into this overcommitted mess in the first place).

I still have to finish last year’s commitments. Which all take time. Lots and lots of time. It's cutting seriously into my real job, but I'm trying hard to sneak in bits of real-job along the way. I can upload while I write, but I can't upload while I research (I use a buggy virtual hard drive that can't walk and chew gum at the same time).

The library is not a bad place to work, if one must spend ten days in Barcelona chained to a desk. It’s warm here, the wi-fi is free, and there are public toilets within the complex. The only problem is that my card only admits me six times, so I cannot leave for lunch unless I want my card punched again. I starve instead, until sometime after six, when I am so hungry I can’t function. Then I race out of the library and eat the first unhealthy-but-hot thing I see.

I know what everyone would say. You're in Barcelona! Live a little. But it's not a vacation. It's my life. I have to work just like you. The only difference is the surroundings as I walk home from work to my little apartment.

I know working all the time isn't much of a life, whether it's in Barcelona, Jersey City, or Kuwait. Michael Kraiger told me he'd read an article about people who had changed their lives.

"You mean people who have done things like sell their homes, quit their jobs, and gone around the world for a year without airplanes, and then become authors?"

Point taken, I expect. Lifestyle changes do not equal Cinderella-esque results. My prince is not stuck in traffic. Money does not fall from the sky once you follow your dreams.

Give me another week. The end is not in sight but it's just around the bend.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Rubbish in the Land of Basura

Since there is no shop in Barcelona with Travelpro wheelie bag parts, my poorly executed attempt at being a professional princess is destined for the rubbish bin. But that is not why I am showing you this rubbish bin photo.

No, it’s because I think Barcelona’s rubbish bins are so darn sensible. Not the rubbish bins themselves, mind you, because they are inanimate objects. But the use of them.

In the US, garbage pickup burns huge amounts of fossil fuel as giant diesel trucks go around to each one of our homes. Then men gather up small bags of garbage from the curb and physically carry it to the truck in the street, and toss it into the back. The truck drives about five feet, then this process is repeated until an entire neighborhood’s garbage has been collected.

In Barcelona, we are all required to carry our rubbish to the bins at the end of the block. The bins serve 2-4 blocks each. One bin is for glass, one for plastic, one for cardboard, and one for wheelie bags/coffee grinds/egg shells and the like. Then the trucks only need to make one stop for each several-block area.

And as an added bonus, it makes dumpster-diving more efficient for those down on their luck, or in need of a broken suitcase.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Compounding Mistakes

I was jetlagged on arrival in my Raval flat, but I needed to go to stay up longer before collapsing into bed, in order to get myself onto the right time zone. Plus tomorrow was Sunday—not the best day for shopping in Europe—and I needed groceries.

I grabbed one of the two sets of "identical" keys to the flat (one for me and one for my invisible boyfriend) and headed out. Right, I remember now. This key locks the door, then I hit the light switch for enough light to run down the stairs before the timer cuts the lights off again.

As the outside door shut behind me, a little voice in the back of my head said: Why didn't you check to make sure the key worked before you let that door slam? Then the wishful part of my brain reprimanded the cautious part. Of course the key works. Don't be silly.

I bought some supplies at the little supermarket across the plaza, and what do you think happened when I got back and tried my keys in the outside door?

You're right. Nothing happened. The outside key didn't work. I panicked for a moment—would I have to call Maria again? Then I looked at the outside stairs.

A large metal set of stairs outside the front door led to the second story. Apparently the entryway was being renovated soon and we were supposed to use the external stairs when this happened.

Was there a door at the top of the stairs? From the ground, it just looked like an open window. I'd investigate.

It was an open window. I pushed my groceries inside, then climbed in behind them.

The others set of keys worked, which was a relief. I'd hate to have to climb in and out of the window all week.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Sad Saga of the Defunct Wheelie Bag

I awoke Sunday at 9 a.m. in the same bed I'd slept in for 60 days of 2004, in El Raval, a Pakistani/Arabic/artist neighborhood in Barcelona.

My mind was happy to be in Barcelona. My body, even after twelve hours of sleep, wasn't happy regardless of its location. It just hurt.

Friday and Saturday were a blur of planes and trains, of trying to sleep on a six-hour transatlantic flight while being constantly interrupted by flight attendants brightly hoping to further assist me with food and water, of dragging the wheelie over the broken pavement of JC as it passively resisted by trying to throw itself to the curb. Nice people helped me carry the wheelie down the stairs to the Grove Street PATH stop and from the World Trade Center A train station to the actual platform. Other than that, I weaved around stations, using handicapped-accessible elevators when available.

The JFK train-to-the-plane is especially wheelie-accessible. In the old days, I would have been most-unhappy going up the stairs, crossing the tracks, then going down the stairs to the bus. Today there are elevators.

I thought I'd overpacked, but no one charged me extra at the airport, so I guess I did all right. Funny how much less is required to go around the world for a year than to go do an office job for two months.

In Barcelona, the wheelie route to the train was good too, but when I got to Barcelona Sants--the main train station near the center--I ran into trouble.

My plan had been to easily transfer to the subway, which would zip me down to the meeting point near the flat I'd rented, so I could pick up the keys from Maria, the Rentalona agent. But there were lots of stairs in between me and the subway platform.

So what, I thought. That's what wheels are for. I merrily dragged the wheelie down the stairs and proceeded to walk down the platform.

The wheelie kicked me in the calf. Hey! Thats gonna bruise. What's your problem, stupid wheelie bag?

Oh. The handle had fallen off. I'll stuff it back in. Right after I catch this train.

Wheelie and I lurched onto the subway car, then I knelt to examine the damage.

No, I wouldn't be stuffing it back in. The handle had completely snapped off. Damn. Some people just aren't meant to own wheelies. I stuffed the handle into the suitcase, wincing as I felt it rip the lining.

At Parallel metro, a nice Pakistani woman helped me dragged the unwieldy handle-less beast up the stairs. I didn't see the meeting place, so I dragged the wheelie another block while hunting for a sign for Rincon del Artista, where Maria was waiting. Nothing. Dragged it another block. Damn unpleasant, this dragging. To use the wheels, I had to crouch over and walk near to the ground. Ouch.

I must have missed the meeting place. I called the Rentalona office a few times but got no answer. I headed towards the apartment. At the plaza in front of the supermarket, I stopped and fell into a heap on a bench next to two old men, who ignored me. I called Rentalona again. Still no answer. I fired up my laptop, searched for Maria's mobile number. Hey, that's nice! An unsecured wi-fi signal right here downstairs from my flat!

But there was no mobile number. I'd have to go find her.

"Perdone, " I addressed the two old men. "Mon ami est..." Argh, that's not Spanish. Try again.

"Mi amiga est..." The two old men stared expectantly.

"Donde esta Rincon del Artista?"

They stared at me blankly. I switched tactics. Pretended to lift the bag and looked pained. Very heavy.

"Ah! " They laughed.

I showed my outstretched hand, indicating five. "Cinco minutos! Je vais a..." Damn. That's not Spanish either. "Yo... " What, yo what? I couldn't remember how to say I go! I showed walking with my fingers and pointed. Then walked back and pointed to the suitcase.

They got it. I think they agreed to watch my heavy bag for five minutes.

I raced off to Parallel, still could not find the meeting point, when my phone rang. It was Dorata in the Rentalona office. She'd call Maria and tell her to meet me at the flat.

Minutes later, only one man was sitting at the bench, along with my wheelie bag. He was playing the harmonica. I managed to spit out "gracias" instead of "shukran, " "merci, " or "danke" and dragged the wheelie to the flat. Maria showed up seconds later.

"Marie, " chided Maria gently. "You should always travel with what you are comfortable with. " Point taken.

And then, I looked at the stairs. All five flights of them. Never mind, I was in Barcelona. I love Barcelona. I heaved the broken wheelie up ahead of me. Onward and upward.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Wheelie Didn't Care for Me Either

The wheelie bag is dead. Vive la wheelie.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Good, the Bad, and the Somewhat Unpleasant

My month back in the neighborhood I lived in from 1993-2001 is over, and I'm headed to Europe tonight out of JFK. Alphabet City had changed somewhat, but not entirely. I am not sure yet if I will go back to Home Area #1 (Jersey City) or Home Area #2 (Alphabet City) when I get back in April.

What was good and bad about living in the City?

-The convenience. In 10-20 minutes, I could be anywhere below 59th Street. I went out more, because there was no commute.
-Take-out. Restaurants are NOT cheap anymore in Alphabet City. But lunch specials rule! You can get an entire platter of Ethiopian, Italian, or Thai cuisine for less than $7 and have enough left for dinner. (The cheapskate in me adores eating well for $3.50 a meal.) My favorite was Le Gamin, the French place down the street which sadly did not have lunch specials, but it was good for a splurge.
-The quirky events. I was a lot more willing to check out something unknown when it was right down the street.

-There were these vents in the bathroom that opened into the bathroom next door. Eww. And I could hear people talking on the phone through the walls, and when we all had colds a few weeks ago, it was a disturbing cacophony of coughing from all sides.
-I know I was living in the old ragpicker's neighborhood, but the garbage sifters are just ridiculous in New York. What did they think they would find in my rubbish? Damp coffee grinds and used tampons? No, they were looking for anything of value or bottles and cans for the deposit. Course, I walk all my cans and bottles down to the litter bin on the corner so they can be seen and reached easily, so their efforts were wasted.
-The drunks. The locals Take-Back-the-Streets during the week, but on weekends, the drunk masses laugh their way down the block, screeching TAXI at 4 in the morning when the bars close. Even being on a 4th floor walkup does not block out the sounds of the marauding drunks.
-The stove burners had two settings—OFF and HIGH. No wonder there were so many take-out menus.

It was nice to live in the thick of things for a few weeks. But I don't know that I'd give up space and a Victorian for a tiny box in Manhattan. Still, I was eyeballing an apartment for sale a few blocks away, but the monthly maintenance costs are outragous. I emailed the agent and he said that the price was already lowered once (Real estate never goes down). I doubt it will be there in April. It's a much nicer place than others in the area, and the new price is not terribly obscene by New York standards.

I'm in the Newark Airport Hilton now, after a Peruvian dinner with Roberta and Michael Kraiger last night. I'm racing through my (hopefully) last-ever coloring assignment, so I can then drive to my garage and pack properly for Barcelona and Cairo. I guess I'll be changing the blog title tomorrow. For now, Marie in Alphabet City is a thing of the past.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Classic Alphabet City Evening

Kelly, who reviewed Dik-Dik on Written Road, sent me an e-mail a few weeks ago.

"Wanna check out an event on the 17th? I know it's a little close to when you're leaving. I'm not sure what to expect. It's at an independent bookstore on the Lower East Side, and it's travelers talking about where they've been."

Hmm. Seemed suspicious. And it wasn't close to when I was leaving, it was when I was leaving. But if I left really late at night or super-early the next morning, I could do it. And that's what living in the East Village is for—attending strange, unclear events. And I wanted to meet Kelly.

Off we went, down the street to a bookstore I'd never even noticed before. And it was marvelous—exactly the sort of thing you'd imagine happens in New York all the time. A bunch of book activists get together, open a volunteer-run independent bookstore, and host quirky events.

One speaker had gone around South Africa doing a clown show, another story was a kind of This American Life-esque epic tale of a travel disaster, and the highlight was five hipster nutters who had ridden handmade bicycles—taller than me tall-bikes—around the backroads of Thailand. They'd been attacked by monkeys and they were an instant sensation everywhere they went. As an added bonus, they'd had no idea what they were getting into when they cycled out of the airport and into that madness called traffic in Bangkok.

And the best part? There was an audience. On the Lower East Side on the first brutally cold night of this winter, there were more than 40 people laughing and clapping.

Kelly left for the bus, and when the event ended, I split too. I hunched over against the cold as I walked up Avenue A, passing a scooter club that had parked their scooters and gone into Two Boots for pizza.

Yeah, I thought as I walked, lots of people had added a whole lot of money to the East Village. But they haven't killed it. As long as there is rent-control and public housing, it will be diverse, and as long as places like this bookstore survive, all the $20 entrees and $150 teensy frock boutiques cannot totally wipe out its soul.

Doesn't mean I want to pay what it would take to move back. We'll see. JC is still pretty awesome. And in the rent vs. buy department, I realized yesterday that the interest on my condo proceeds would pay for me to live somewhere really cheap indefinitely—without working. I mean, really cheap. Like, say, Africa. Does even the odds a bit. Before I was leaning towards buying.

I cleaned all night and threw everything into the back of Henry the Ford, patiently waiting at his perfect parking spot. Slammed the trunk and looked around—no one watching aside from the two drivers that swooped in vulture-like to get my space, then moved on when I shook my head "No." I worked hard for this spot. I'll give it up when I'm ready. Once upon a time, I wouldn't dare to leave anything in an unattended vehicle. I guess gentrification isn't all bad.

Laura, who I was subletting from, was due in at JFK airport at 0605. I locked her apartment, pushed the housekey under the door, and walked over to 7A to eat their 24-hour breakfast while I listed what I have to do today, so that I can fly to Barcelona tomorrow.

1) Wait for sun to rise. 2) Bank. 3) Laundry. 4) Find passports in messy garage.

The Godzilla fire truck—a truck from the 14th Street station with Godzilla toys stuck all over the roof—zipped down Avenue A as I sipped coffee. An auspicious start to the day.

And so it begins.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Google Books

This is kind of freaky. It's my Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik book, or rather a limited preview of my book, on Google books. It's really weird to me how much of the book you can go and read online. I guess the idea is that if you read that much, you'll be sucked in and want to go and buy the book to read the rest.

Monday, January 15, 2007

You Are Here

This on-line map of the area I'm staying in is incredible. I found it when trying to figure out the name of a coffee shop, located where trinket shop Little Ricky's used to be, so I could tell my pal Joey where to meet me last week.

I live behind the Con Edison transmission station. Here is my old condo, on 13th and B. Selling it is what gave me the funds to go around the world in 2001, and then to slack off of decent-paying-work long enough to get Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik written and published.

Kind of wish I had all that money now. But then I wouldn't have the book. What's better, I wonder, a small press book with your name on the cover or a boatload of cash? Which would you take, given the choice?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Mary Mary Quite Contrary

I went over to the bookstore last night and picked up a copy of the magazine with Tim Leffel's article in it, the one that talked about expats working abroad and covered me working in Kuwait. (Yes, they are sending me a copy but much like my freelance checks, this will arrive long after I am out of reach of my PO Box and living in Egypt.)

My first thought when I looked at it was "I wish I had done more Photoshop work on that jpeg I sent them, and tried harder to erase those wrinkly lines on my neck."

My second thought was "Hey, why does the caption say that's my apartment in Kuwait? That's my office. Well, how would the person who wrote the caption (obviously not the author of the piece) know?"

It wasn't until I got home that I realized that the photo was of someone else's neck entirely. It's of Mary Javins, not my neck at all. Phew.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Not My Bag

I hate wheelie suitcases. My backpack (rucksack for those of you reading from the rest of the world) and a strong back have served me just fine in my travels on trains and buses. It's even been just fine for moves of 3-6 months to places like Australia, Barcelona, Uganda, and Kuwait.

My backpack weighs almost nothing empty, neatly squashes into the bottom of a drawer when not in use, and when I'm fit, makes climbing stairs (like the five flights of my past-and-future Barcelona flat) with 40 pounds of luggage almost easy. I have several small packing cubes which nestle in the backpack, keeping things organized and unwrinkled.

So why then, did I go down to Orchard Street and buy a $119 Travelpro Walkabout Lite wheelie suitcase, with matching squishy bag yesterday?

Peer pressure, I reckon.

Everyone tells me I will be very happy to own the wheelie. Everyone tells me it's so much easier to tug a handle than to lurch around town sweating and unstable.

And that it looks stupid for a 40-year-old woman in a borderline management position for a growing company to show up with a dirty backpack. (This worried me until I went shopping for "office" clothes yesterday and was so revolted I was shocked back into reality, and remembered that I yam what I yam and if someone wrinkles their nose at my clothing or luggage, it's really not my problem.)

I'm trying to keep an open mind. Amanda reminded me that a wheelie suitcase is a purpose-built tool, and doesn't dictate that I will use it on every trip for the rest of my life.

"It's good for international moves," she said.

I'm sure she's right. But I think with horror of myself dragging it up the tiny several-hundred-year-old stairs in my Barcelona flat next week. Or of the dread that I will experience after merrily rolling along through the Broadway Junction subway station en route to JFK and then arriving at... all... those... stairs.

Then, there's hiking in and old of the Old City in Barcelona at 5 a.m. to catch airplanes, and there's no way out but on foot, and I would arrive puffing and red at the airport bus stop, while the other tourists stared at me with concern from their perches atop their wheelie suitcases.

We'll see how it goes. I'll give the wheelie this chance to convince me of its usefulness, by taking me first to Barcelona and then to Cairo. If it doesn't work out, I can use it for winter clothes storage in my garage. If it does work out, I'll just have to schedule more international moves.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Sign of the Apocalypse

CBGB is no longer a venue or club.

It is now a branded boutique in an upscale shopping center on St. Mark's Place.

That's so punk rock. I bet Deborah Harry shops there.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Traveler or Tourist?

Someone referred to me the other day as a "traveler," not a "tourist."

Er, no. No, thank you.

This distinction has long been used to single out the hardier seasoned vets from the novices.*

Here's what it boils down to:

"I am a traveler. They are tourists.

Gimme a break. Does bargaining for a fare on a truck makes you a rarer breed than someone's grandma who signed up for a guided coach en masse trip to Italy? Think again. That grandma might be doing something totally daring and brave for her. She—the tourist—might be struggling to grasp the culture in her own way, much like the proudly independent traveler. Hold the disdain, please.

We're all tourists when we leisure travel. Or travelers. Same damn thing. One traveler is not better than another because they know the lingo of the road, or because they don't have a reason to go home anytime soon. Unless you are simply traveling for transportation, perhaps on a business trip or perhaps traveling to your new home where you will reside for reasons other than to tour it, don't give me this "I'm a traveler, not a tourist" nonsense. Please help me retire this elitist distinction, seemingly so insightful the first time you heard it in a hostel as an early twenty-something. It's tired. It's snobby. It's vain.

We're all tourists.

Except Matt. He actually moved to Zagreb.

*Since Paul Bowles wrote The Sheltering Sky.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Egypt Here I Come

I have my tickets to Cairo, my Egypt guidebook, my Arabic phrasebook, Cairo map, iPod, my international health insurance, my (working now) GSM phone, USB phone charger, and my Skype credit. I forget where I left my passports, but I think they're in my garage with my yellow fever card. I found a fitness center in Zamalek that costs less than one in Kuwait (faint praise, and yes, I really am going to go). Located some on-line apartment possibilities.

I do love an airfare challenge, and was tempted to buy the combo ticket that was $267 r/t from New York to Cologne on Continental (what a deal), then catch the discount flight to Cairo out of Frankfurt or Munich. But in the end, once taxes were added in, it was only $200 less than flying via Barcelona (ah... now we're talking!) and this way I don't have to take the train within Germany with all my luggage.

'Course, I have to drag it to the airport bus in Barcelona, but there are worse punishments.

Should I get a wheelie suitcase now that I'm all per-fessional and stuff? I have a big old dirty backpack.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Devil Mart

I'm still sick, but I needed supplies so I ran down to the supermarket on the corner. It's Key Food on Avenue A, pricier than the supermarkets on Avenue C, but it's around the corner and I feel like dirt so I didn't want to walk any farther.

I picked up a few things--some soup, cereal, yogurt, and the kind of milk I'm not allergic to. I went to the "10 Items or Less" line.

The cashier, a young woman, rang up my purchases as I placed them in my cloth bag (I try to avoid plastic bag collections, though it's kind-of impossible).

"That'll be..." (gasp)

I looked up from my bagging duties. What could be of concern?

"Si..." She couldn't finish. Her eyes did not meet mine. They looked down.


I laughed.

"The yogurt of the beast," I said.

She nervously looked the other way. Pity I hadn't purchased Devil Dogs or devil's food cake. I took my satanic groceries and left.

Maybe I should stick with Avenue C from now on.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Skip Day

Sadly, I am skipping Arabic class.

I woke up much earlier, found that I could not stay up without coughing like mad, and immediately went back to bed.

I couldn't lie prone forever, so eventually I got up again. Coughed some more. Sneezed some more. Sniffled a lot. Eyes watered. An interesting mixture of liquid textures, a little bit of sting from the salt.

No trips to Hudson County Community College today. No sitting still for three hours in a classroom with frequent fleeing to the water fountain.

I can't stand all this coughing, so I'm going to lie down again. Meanwhile, here's something more entertaining than this whiny tale of woe over a run-of-the-mill bad cold (surely I'll recover):

Tim Leffel should be hired on as my personal publicist.* He's got me all over the place this month! And I heard that in the print version of this story, there's even a photo of me. (I sent it to him, but I've forgotten which ones I sent.) Thanks again, Tim!

*This story was written before I learned I was moving to Cairo to work for a while.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Clean Clothing

I was really annoyed this morning that I had to go to the laundromat to wash my clothes. In my JC place, there was a shared washer and dryer right downstairs, and on Avenue B, I had a setup in my studio closet.

Then I remembered that in Uganda, I had to wash them in the bathtub, and that was luxury compared to the plastic tubs we used in the jungle. And how when I got to Namibia, I could have kissed the first laundromat I saw.

What a whiner I can be sometimes...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

"Dik-Dik" on Perceptive Travel

Tim Leffel* reviewed Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik on Perceptive Travel.

I didn't mean to make travel across Africa sound so uncomfortable! My goal is to encourage people to go, not to convince them to stay home.

*Disclosure: A writer pal.

Morning on the Lower East Side

Shannon left early this morning to go back to Portland, Oregon. I did some touristy things with him while he was here, because he was, after all, a tourist. He lived here for a month in 1996, when I was in Central America and he was housesitting for me, but that was ten years ago and NYC has changed a lot.

One thing we did was go to Katz's delicatessen yesterday. I resisted at first when he called.

"Katz's? Ew, big piles of meat for breakfast? And it's always closed."

(It's not always closed. I just had seldom seen it open because most of my trips to Ludlow and Houston have been in the middle of the night. It's half a block away from Mercury Lounge and also from Max Fish, which used to have good pinball machines.)

But Shannon was only here once in a while and he wanted to go, so I relented.

And it was what I'd expected--huge piles of meat. But I ordered eggs and toast anyway, while Shannon got a reuben. We had to take tickets at the front door, and get them stamped as we ordered. And when we sat down in the old-time dining room, amongst all kinds of NYC characters--the kind who walk up to the counter and say "Hey, boys, whaddaya got for me today?"--I realized I'd never sat down and eaten at Katz's before.

I'd been in, sure, and I vaguely remembered seeing the sign pointing out the famous "I'll have what she's having" scene from When Harry Met Sally, but I think I only got a bagel.

I don't like to eat big piles of meat, even the kind so nicely called Reuben.

From Wikipedia:
Each week, Katz's serves 5,000 pounds of corned beef, 2,000 pounds of salami and 12,000 hot dogs.

Eww. Anyway, it was an entertaining experience even though I felt like an idiot ordering eggs and toast at a place famous for pastrami. (Disclaimer: I'm not a vegetarian but there's meat and then there's MEAT.)

Afterwards, I said I had to go home and work, but Shannon talked me into escorting him down to the World Trade Center site. I was a little grumpy about it, because I've been there over 140 times (I commuted through the footprint twice a day when I worked at Scholastic.) On the plus side, I took him down Orchard Street and into Chinatown on East Broadway on the way, so it was a nice walk on a beautiful day. I couldn't help but think that I should do things like that more often, even though I have only a few weeks left here before I go live in Cairo for a while.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Public Art with Asia

I have this e-pal, a young Libyan-British cartoonist named Asia. She was a student of John McCrea's during a comic book art workshop he worked on in the UK.

Asia is quite talented and because she's an outspoken Muslim female cartoonist that chooses to wear hijab (cover her head), she sometimes finds herself targeted by the media, who want her to speak for all Muslim women or something similar. I think it's probably a little embarrassing, and she always points out that she speaks for herself and not an entire generation, nationality, or gender.

She was recently tapped to be one of eight artists to provide art for the London Underground as part of the 100 years of the Piccadilly Line celebration. I have a thing for public art, especially on subways. I'm still hoping someone finances Roberta's proposed piece. Asia's piece adorns walls at Piccadilly Circus station, which is a big deal in London.

Here is the London Tube's mention of Asia. Unfortunately, the art is reproduced so tiny on the site that you can't read it. I have a PDF if anyone wants to read it. (Just email me.) Or if you're in London, please go over to Piccadilly Circus and have a look!

If you're not in London, you might have to wait for Asia's graphic novel, which is coming out from Bloomsbury some time next year. It's about growing up partially in Libya and partially in the UK, but mostly about self-determination. No one tells Asia what to do. She wears hijab out of pride and choice.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Meat and Alcohol Don't Mix

Shannon took this photo of me in my little Alphabet City studio. That's about half the apartment. It has everything—bed, desk with cable modem and powered speakers, table for eating (wait, people eat at tables, not their desks?) small closet, tiny kitchen, bathroom strangely complete with bidet.

Shannon talked about New Year's Eve a little on his blog. I was disappointed he didn't go into more detail but his blog is more succinct than mine. Maybe some other time he'll talk more about his adventures in constipation. I could see what the problem was. The place he was staying had a bathroom with no door. It opened onto the kitchen which opened onto where someone else was staying. My studio may be small but at least the bathroom has a door.

Looking at the large place that Shannon is staying made me laugh. We both commented that my entire old Avenue B place--which was two-bedrooms and not small by East Village standards--would fit in part of the main room where he is staying. Then we recalled the time I found regurgitated meat in my sink before going to work.

It was the early 90s. Maybe 1993. Maybe '94 or '95. I forget. Shannon, Ashley, and another guy were up from Austin for the comic book convention. It was January, which is a stupid time to risk having a convention in New York, though maybe global warming has fixed that because the same sort of disaster hasn't really happened again.

The convention was totally snowed out. Almost no one showed. I can't remember if KISS made it or not; they must have been Marvel's guests, I think, since it was during our seriously goofy Marvel Music phase.

One night we all ended up going out for steak. I went home--after all, I had a job--and Shannon and Ashley went to Vazac's Horseshoe Bar (a/k/a 7B by people better with addresses than with names).

They drank a lot.

Then they drank some more. Bars close at 4 here.

On the way home, they got lost. Which is really bad, since my place was on Avenue B and 13th, and Vazac's is on Avenue B and 7th. It's extremely difficult to get lost here.

Then Ashley made snow-angels. Face down.

Then they came in.

And in the morning, I found regurgitated meat in my sink. I left it. Brushed my teeth in the shower. Called at 11 and woke the guys up.

Turns out that Ashley had been sick after all that alcohol. Shannon was jealous that Ashley was vomiting into the sink, because that meant that he "would not have a hangover." He pushed Ashley over so he could try to vomit himself. Ashley then continued what he'd been doing, but into the sink.

Ashley was really embarrassed. Shannon thought it was funny. I thought it was pretty funny too.

When I got home later, the bathroom was cleaner than it had ever been. Thanks, Ash!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Hippos in Elephantmen

Last night, at Garth & Ruth's new year's gathering (Shannon convinced me to go out and it was actually really fun), an illustrator named Rob told me that he's jealous that I got to be the #1 Comicraft Value Stamp in Elephantmen #5. He hopes to one day be a Comicraft Value Stamp too.

Richard & JG decide these things, not me, but Rob drew a pinup for me when I was wearing my Kuwaiti editor hat, so I'll put in a good word for him.

Elephantmen #5 is out now in comic book stores. I'm looking at a copy now. Here's a preview. It's just awesome. Buy two--one to keep and one to cut out the #1 Comicraft Value Stamp.