Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Living Abroad: Not Always Fun and Games

Most of us have a healthy sense of self-preservation. When things are bad for us, we think about avoiding them. When we are hungry, we eat. When tired, we sleep. But I've always been a B-student, doing only the minimum on auto-pilot to insure no one notices that I'm not bothering. Always enough to get by, to stay below the radar of anyone who might notice and call me on it.

I've put on ten pounds since 2005. Which doesn't sound like much, until I realized that in the previous 20 years, I'd put on zero pounds. I accepted that it was a waste of money for me to join the gym here (since I wouldn't go), bought a mat, and brought along an exercise DVD that came with a salad I bought from McDonald's in JFK Airport last year. Admittedly this is a half-assed approach. But have I—the B student—used even these? Once. Last night. Ms. Virtual Reality McDonald's Fitness Trainer kicked my butt.

Living in a hotel, working long hours, and moving across oceans every three months is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. It makes me too tired to seek out healthy food, too resigned to write, too discouraged to bother interacting with people, and too alienated to know what to do with one when I end up across the table from one. I seek out the easy comfort of the digital world, where if people don't respond in a way I like or expect, I can just hit the Off button.

I am aware that all of this is kind-of pathetic. That's why I used the fitness mat last night. That's why I found Mango's new store in Mohandiseen and forced myself to buy three shirts yesterday. That's why I bought a box of imported Raisin Bran and a bowl instead of continuing to eat the free hotel breakfast of omelettes, potatoes, and bread. (Shipping across the world had turned my $6 box of Raisin Bran into Raisin Crumbs, but I am eating it anyway.)

I've purchased a single-burner hot plate so that I can stop eating takeaway food. And now I find my laziness is my worst enemy. I bought some rice, butter, a pot, and a sharp knife. And the trick is this: What can I cook that is so easy that I can do it on a single burner in the hotel bathroom, healthy, and so simple that even a lazy, tired, disinterested non-chef can make it without excuses?

Or maybe I should just eat hummous for the next two months. That might be all right too.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

You Can't Be Good at Everything You Try

Hypnotized by the lights and escalating murmurs of the crowd, I gazed up at the six levels of mall towering above me. I was sitting in the basement level of CityStars, the swanky shopping mall out on the border of Nasr City and Heliopolis. I'd grabbed a lift in a taxi with three guys from work, en route to their Maya 3D class. I gawked up at this mall, surely the equivalent of even the largest malls in Dubai.

I had come shopping to buy some clothes. I looked in dozens of stores and found nothing. What I did find—besides banks of escalators, what seemed to be thousands of Cairenes and visiting Saudis, the obligatory glass elevators, and the Fuddrucker's burger I was guiltily snacking on—was Guess, Aldo, Accessorize, Benetton, Mango, Levi's, Calvin Klein, and Esprit. Same crap, different country.

You'd think in a mall this big and excessive, I'm be able to find something worth buying.

Instead, I learned that Cairo Fuddrucker's is better than Kuwait Fuddrucker's, but not as good as the US parent. And that the Kuwait Starbucks franchise has expanded from their original City Center Cairo location into CityStars Cairo.

The fire alarm bell jolted me out of fast food critic mode. Startled, I looked around the food court. Would there be mass panic?

No. Cairenes did exactly what New Yorkers do when the fire alarm goes off.

Nothing. Just keep shopping.

I picked up two T-shirts on sale and skulked home, shamed again by my ineptitude as a clothing shopper.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Stinky Dirty Clothes

I admit it. Cairo is hot.

And I don't mean sexy.

I expected Cairo to be hot. Not exactly a surprise. The humidity surprised me though. It's nothing like the drenching humidity at home, but the moisture is still noticeable. The hot-air-dryer-quality of the wind blowing through taxi windows leaves me exhausted and unwilling to exert myself. I look at the exercise mat I have in my room. And then I look away.

A side effect of the heat is that my clothes need laundering frequently. Sweat happens.

In my old Cairo flat, I had a washing machine in my kitchen. But I'm living in Flamenco Hotel. I like living in the hotel because towels miraculously clean themselves. The bed, left messy when I leave, is neat and tucked in when I return. I don't have to worry about the electricity bill. I didn't have to pay a huge security deposit. If dust finds its way in--and it does in Cairo--someone cleans it up without me having to buy a Swiffer. The place is clean, has a desk, a fridge, a Nile balcony, and now that I have gone to the Alfa Market, it also has an electric kettle, a hot plate, and the fitness mat. But I hate not having a washing machine.

In Uganda, I'd wash clothes in the bathtub. I once scratched the tub surface with the buttons on HM's Levi's. Here in Cairo, I think I'm going to start doing this again. Not scratching the tub, I mean. Hand-washing.

There's no laundry-by-the-kilo or pound here. It's all by the piece. I've tried three laundry services here and all are completely over-the-top. My jeans are returned dry-cleaned and ironed (and shrunk). My T-shirts are returned on hangers. Even my underwear comes back ironed and wrapped in plastic.

Of the three—American, Ritz, and Modern Laundry—Ritz was the most professional and user-friendly. But it's not like at home, or like in Bangkok or many parts of the world, where you drop your dirty laundry on a scale and that's how they determine what you owe. It's all by the piece and laundering is an art. My clothes are mostly cheap, bought at Target, Marshall's, and Macy's on sale days. It costs me more to wash them than it did to buy the items new.

I appreciate the sentiment that all work worth doing is worth doing well. But I'm switching to the bathtub.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Ancient Papyrus Unearthed in Luxor

Wonder what Dr. Hawass makes of this artifact?*

*Artifact photo provided by author Peter Moore, who unearthed and photographed it (no flash, of course) during his epic Cape-to-Cairo expedition in 2000. I don't think his archeological discovery made his book.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sky Police

When Peter Moore rode his Vespa around Italy for his book "Vroom with a View," he was obsessed with the Kinder Surprise, a chocolate egg with a children's toy inside. These are illegal in the States, because of a law about not mixing up candy and toys. Some get through, perhaps through the highly secretive kiddie-toy black market, spoken of only in whispers.

Egypt has its own version, an locally produced knock-off. I spotted it at the Metro supermarket and though I knew the chocolate would taste awful, I bought it in honor of Peter.

It was partially unwrapped by the time I got it home, because the smirking checkout clerk couldn't make the UPC code scan without tugging at it.

Sure enough, the chocolate was disgusting.

Sadly, I could make no sense of the many pieces of the toy inside, "The Sky Police's Reconnaissance Plane." I wonder how Craig is with engineering puzzles. Or if I should take it to work and assign it to the marketing department, who told me they were "doing nothing." Is it unethical to force your Egyptian marketing department to assemble knock-off Kinder Surprise toys? I wonder.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Under Construction

I like how the glass windows and furniture are gone from this shop, but the mannequins were left behind.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

River Party

A balmy breeze blows across my hotel room balcony. It isn't a windy night in Cairo, but my room overlooks the Nile with its eternal caress.

It's lovely. There are usually a few kites being flown from across the river. I see houseboats and restaurant boats both below me and across the river.

Tonight, the Xena: Warrior Princess battle cry wafts across the road and up to my window. What is going on? Is the Ethiopian choir in town, or is this also an Egyptian thing? Then the drums kick in along with a snake charmer horn. And some singing, or is it chanting? Add to this the horns of taxis and squeal of brakes and it's an utter cacophony outside my window. All I need now is for the mosque across the river to go off.

I open the balcony door and look down. There's a crowd on one of the restaurant boats but I can't see clearly to figure out what is happening. Spotlights across the river remind me that the circus is in town. But at least I can't hear it.

Men in robes, 30-year-old taxis, and partygoers crowd the streets. Three mosques with their green-lit minarets catch my eye. I'm absently rubbing the spot where a total stranger grabbed my bare arm earlier on the elevator. Gross. I won't be getting much sleep tonight with the party going on down below me on the Nile.

But I'm lucky. So many people have to stay home for their jobs. Me, I get to go to all kinds of interesting places.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Abigail Sunday and her Shirts

"I brought over five suitcases," said one of my dinner companions last night.

I avoided mentioning my luggage--one soft bag with wheels and a duffel full of Muneer's Maya textbooks and some pork salami. The duffel has since been emptied and collapsed.

"My luggage is mostly my clothes," I heard as I nibbled on some bread dipped in hummous.

I hadn't bothered. My clothing--frumpy modest at best--isn't worth wearing at home, much less dragging halfway around the world. I knew I'd have trouble "buying on-site" but no more trouble than I have at home.

Today I went shopping in Zamalek. There are some small boutiques here with interesting clothes, but nothing quite right for the high prices they charge here in Embassy Central. I was dragging in the afternoon sun, but finally went in one last shop before heading back to the Flamenco.

The last store had a selection of Levi's, Tommy Hilfiger, and Gap clothes. And some T-shirts that didn't seem to belong there. I realize that some of the products are knock-offs, and others are made in Egypt so these are spares, seconds that were not up to snuff to be exported. But who thought it was a good idea to sell a dozen T-shirts for a Baptist Church in the US?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Swimming through Taxi Farts

The haze of Cairo doesn't weigh on the Nile. The Nile is somehow exempt, a breezy spot among the dense concrete and dust of the city. The bringer of life is not clean, but is self-renewing as it flows from the Ethiopian and Rwandan highlands, past hippo shit, religious and oil wars, and ancient temples on its way to the Mediterranean. Two years ago I lived on the Ugandan Nile. Now I live on the Egyptian Nile. Older, wiser, damaged. Mistrustful but functioning. Like the Nile, moving with purpose but without intent. Sometimes controlled by dams, other times flowing freely. Simply continuing.

This morning, the haze of the city was nearly tangible. I've been in Cairo not quite a week, but I'm already accustomed to the view from my balcony. The legendary air pollution gives the skyline the look of a city bathed in a steam bath. But it isn't humidity. It's fumes from industrial operations, and leaded auto emissions. Carbon dioxide. Unspecificed "particulate matter." Taxi farts.

It's Friday--the weekend here. I dropped off my laundry and then waded through the air to get an iced coffee. There's a slight breeze but not enough to lift the haze. I hurried back to my room. It's a good day to use the hotel's air conditioning.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Who's the Freak?

"You just dry cleaned the towels," said Craig over a Cafe Americano at Coffee Bean this morning.

Okay, I admit it. I did something goofy. I dropped off Craig's sheets and towels at the laundry. I thought it seemed a little expensive but I've dropped off very little laundry in Cairo, having had a washing machine in my last flat.

And then I felt like an idiot again later, though it wasn't my fault and had nothing to do with laundry, but everything to do with clothes.

My hotel is full of tourists from the Gulf. Most of them are friendly, but when I got on the elevator tonight, a couple and two small children were on board. The mother was covered from head to toe as well as veiled. The little girl's eyes got big and she stared at me.

I smiled and waved at her, but she just continued to stare.

Was it my six inches of calf peeking out from under my Target skirt? My short-sleeve shirt? My lack of a head covering? She looked at me with her mouth open.

I met her mother's eyes with a smile. Her mother just glared at me, apparently stoney faced.

Yow. She hates me. Not very tolerant today, are we? I felt a little guilty for invading her small elevator and being a bad influence on her daughter.

I glanced away quickly but as I turned around, I spotted a toy.

The mother was holding the kid's toy.

A huge plastic machine gun.

So much for my guilt over being a bad influence.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hotel with a View

Craig is coming home to Cairo tonight! Which is great, but I thought I'd get out of his flat. It has two bedrooms and two bathrooms and he was willing to put up with dirty looks from the doorman, but it's his last few weeks in his place so I thought I'd best give him some space.

So I moved to the hotel down the block.

It's officially a 4-star, but in Cairo everything but the most luxurious place is inflated. The rooms are a little weary, but they are fine. I have internet, free breakfast, fridge, hair dryer, and a/c.

And I finally have my Nile view.

Monday, July 16, 2007

For a Big City, It's a Small Town

I was going stir-crazy from the slow uploading of files over wi-fi at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Would they make me order something else? I'd been there for two hours on the credit of one Iced Blended.

Then, Ulp, Hot Landlord at eleven o'clock.

Wait. Look at him. The little cute hat, fashionable trousers, gold chain, expensive shoes, unbuttoned linen long-sleeve shirt surely from Europe. Obsessed with the right furniture. Talking of days lying by the pool working on his tan.

He is so gay.

Marc called it.

But the stories of him living in my little apartment with his girlfriend... the flirting... well, gay men sometimes flirt with women too. It's fun.

He certainly seems gay, if there is such a thing as seeming gay.

Well, it doesn't matter. I've always been more interested in hiding from him than in hitting on him. And he's still fun to talk to.

And yeah, Hot Landlord is still hot.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Home at Last

"You're back!" The shoeshine man outside the President Hotel was happy to see me.

I crossed the street to greet him.

"Where did you go?"

"New York."

"You are living back in this apartment?" He motioned up the block.

"No," I shook my head sadly. "I am staying at a friend's. I am only here to go to the cafe."


I walked up the block, to where Adel, my baowab (doorman) sat outside the hot landlord's flat.

Adel and I did our usual routine. We shook hands (remember to shake limply with a loose touch in Egypt), and then I babbled incomprehensibly to him in English while he babbled to me in Arabic. We both smiled, satisfied that we'd no idea what the other one was talking about. Would he call the hot landlord to say I was back?

The waiters in the cafe greeted me.

"Have you been trvvvvvvvvvllg?" asked Mohammed.

"Er, yes... I mean, what?"

"Have you been trvvvvvvllllg?"


"Yes, trvvvvvvllllg."

"Yes. I was in New York."

"Welcome home."

I smiled and got my usual salad and sandwich.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Same Old Same Old

It's like I never left.

The guys who work at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf didn't even go back to shortchanging me. They probably thought I'd been in just a few weeks ago instead of in April.

The Bodum travel coffee press at Alfa Market was right where it was in spring. Good thing too, since the glass one I've had since Spain 2004 was smashed to bits in my luggage.

My Egypt SIM card supposedly expires after three months. I must have gotten back just in time, and had enough funds left to text Muneer that I was here along with his Maya textbooks.

My office was empty and waiting for me. I taped up some notes to the white wall that is really a sticky film covering a mirror. I could still see the adhesive residue from my last notes.

The internet still went off in the morning, like it often does. I fought stupidly with it for a while before realizing that no amount of restarting was going to fix the phone lines. Like I always do.

Still, no one understands my inept Arabic.

And on the way home, the taxi driver asked if he could kiss me.

It's like I never left.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Off to Cairo

After clock-watching with increasing anxiety, I gave up on washing the sheets and threw them in the laundry basket, placing different (and clean) sheets on the bed instead. If Craig stays in my JC place when he gets back from Cairo in a few weeks, he can take the sheets to the laundromat the first time he does his own laundry. And I'm sure he won't care that the pillowcases don't match.

Budget Taxi sent a $25 airport Town Car to fetch me. I dragged my wheeled duffel down the stairs, then went back up to fetch the brick-filled black bag, which is actually full of Muneer's Maya textbooks. (He can't get these in Cairo.)

They are going to charge me for overweight luggage for sure, I thought.

The Town Car driver—an Arabic-looking fellow whose car was decked out in Christian symbols—asked where I was going.


His mouth dropped.

"Where are you from?"

"Eighth Street."

"No, I mean for real."

"Here. I'm not Egyptian. Well, maybe a little. I go to Egypt for my job."

"I am from Egypt!" He spent the rest of the ride to Newark going on about Helwan, the Cairo suburb where he grew up.

At the airport, I got as far as the check-in counter when the clerk raised an eyebrow at me.

"You need to go to the ticketing counter. I'm not sure why, but there is a code here... I'll hold onto your bags."

He took my extremely heavy bags and placed them by his feet. He didn't put them on the scale. Score.

At the ticketing counter, the Arabic-looking man behind the counter spelled my name wrong.

"I can't find you in the system. How do you spell your name again?"


"Oh J. I thought it was G."

I almost asked if he was Egyptian right then, because Egyptians say "guh" instead of "juh." But I kept my mouth shut until he started beaming.

"You are going to Egypt! I am from Egypt!"

"I work there. Are you from Jersey City?"

"No, Bayonne. You ask because all the Egyptians live in Jersey City, I know. But I am in Bayonne."

Suddenly, the middle seat I'd been trying to get turned into an aisle or window became a non-issue. He radioed someone.

"Please unlock 30C."

Done. I was out of the middle seat and onto an aisle.

Sometimes it helps to be a little bit Egyptian.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Packing Blog

Cleaning... packing... an hour until the $25 airport taxi shows up.

There's no way they'll let me get all this luggage onto the plane without making me pay extra. I have software books for Muneer, comic books for Kareem, a Wacom tablet for the production department, heaps of paperwork for myself.

And the JC post office decided to make my life miserable. For reasons unknown, they decided to start issuing address corrections and forwarding orders to a box that I used in 2005 when I was in Africa. Except that I didn't use it, because the JC post office couldn't see fit to follow my forwarding order. I paid for it, the box sat empty, Roberta and Yancey both checked it occasionally to find nothing, and my mail all went to my tenants, who threw it in a bag.

And I discovered this morning that my mailing address had inexplicably changed on all my credit cards, my AAA membership, and anything remotely official.

So I've spent all day on the phone, while also trying to pack and clean.

50 minutes to the taxi. I think I'll be okay. I'll spend it rearranging the luggage so that the bags are not obviously overweight.

Real Estate Lunacy

An article in the NY Times today mentioned single car parking garages going for $225,000 in Manhattan, and $50,000 in Long Island City. Things sure have changed from when I scraped together $5650 to put a down payment on my first $56,500 condo on Avenue B.

Henry the 1990 Ford is quite smug about all this, as his value is clearly more than the nine hundred and three dollars Turbo and I paid for him in Torrance on my birthday in 2002. Henry is sleeping in his cool garage, locked up and getting his summer rest while I go do my part in Egyptian Comic Books: the Sequel.

Speaking of which, I don't have the right clothes. I never do. Maybe I'll be able to buy something frumpy-modest in Frankfurt when I change planes tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Unpacking, Nearing the End

A few more relics from the 90s. I've tossed things I liked back into a box and shoved them under my bed. The rest of it went up on the blog and then into the trash.

Tomorrow I fly to Cairo. We're nearing the end of the unpacking project. Maybe tomorrow's blog will be about "Packing."

In the early 90s, I got a Greyhound Ameripass and went cross-country. I stopped in Memphis, Austin, and a few other places. In Memphis, I got off the bus on a Sunday morning, left my bag in a bus station locker, bribed a desk clerk to use a shower in a hotel room, then caught a taxi to Graceland. I don't remember how I got to Sun Studios from there. Maybe there was a bus. I caught the Greyhound out of town that same night.

Taking the bus across America sounds a lot more glamorous than it is. I remember a haze of fast food and weirdos. I also remember losing interest and flying back from L.A.

I don't remember why or when Marvel employees got nametags. It was for either a convention or what was called a "Marvel Mega-Tour." People would line up to get my autograph, because that's what people do at conventions. They probably got home and said "Who the hell is Marie Javins and why do I have her autographed trading card" before promptly throwing it away.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

You Call That a Hippo? This is a Hippo.

When I was in Africa hunting for the right wooden hippo to bring home to Richard Starkings (creator of Hip Flask), I came across one that was simply too large to carry home.

Pity. The little hippo got me a page in his Elephantmen comic book. One of these big hippos might have gotten me the back cover.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Unpacking, Part (I Forget)

I have a ticket outta this burg for Thursday night. Where will I live in Cairo? I don't have the nerve to face the Hot Landlord of Zamalek again.

In JC, I toss some things I was unpacking back into boxes and shove them under the bed. My goal has been to throw things away. I shredded seven years of financial records. I still didn't get around to digitizing my vinyl. It's in my garage, at the back, where the floods won't reach it.

I pick up a photo, then smile.

It's me, editor David Wohl and editor Kelly Corvese at Billy Bob's Texas. What year? I don't know. We were at a comic book convention nearby. Kelly's bag held up the plane at Newark. We got stuck in Houston the first night. Clive Barker took us to a nightclub the second night. David was considering moving to California to go work for Image. Clive's attitude was marvelous, telling him "Go to Image, David. You can always change your mind later."

Take a risk. I laugh now looking back at it. Seemed like such a major decision at the time, but life is intended to evolve, not sit in one place.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A Plan/Plan A

I'm leaving on Thursday night for 2-3 months in Cairo.

"Stay as long as it takes," says one boss.

"You need to be back in September for our US edition press check," says the other.

I'll aim for the latter, but am only buying a one-way ticket. It's cheaper to buy two one-way tickets rather than paying fees to change my return date late. I can get good last-minute fares through an aggregator that Ed Ward tipped me off to.

Here's a list of important things I'm taking to Cairo:
    -stupid hat
    -specific brand of toothpaste for a friend
    -books and training DVDs on Maya software for another friend
    -Cat Butt bubble gum
    -Lonely Planet Jordan
    -Lonely Planet Israel
    -my Pixelvision--rare children's video camera--to post to experimental director Thanos (he lives in Europe) when I change planes in Frankfurt.
    -bag of granola (breakfast cereal is insanely expensive in Cairo)
    -a pound of flavored coffee (ditto)
    -candy bacon
    -pork salami

Clearly, my priorities are in order.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Moving In while Moving Out

I fly out later this week, for 2-3 months in extremely sunny Egypt.

I'm in a bit of a panic, as I have not even finished unpacking from my last tour-of-duty in the comic book wilds of Dokki, and I'm suddenly having to pack, find a ticket, get my New York office in order, and find a place to live in Zamalek again.

Strangely, it's high season in Cairo. That seems crazy to me as it as hot as hell there now, but apparently it's not as hot as the Gulf. So lots of people from the Gulf fly to Cairo for the summer. And perhaps the more permissive, cosmopolitan atmosphere has something to do with it for people from certain countries. But what do I know?

I'm scrambling, trying to figure out what I need while unpacking, doing my job, finishing up bits of freelance, and wishing I had a smoothie.

I bought a sun hat. I look stupid in hats. But I don't want any more sun damage. So now I have a hat. We'll see if I put it on every day before I leave my hotel room or apartment.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Fun Over 40

The anesthesiologist was cheerfully asking me about camping in New Jersey when I interrupted him.

"Um, by the way..."

The doctor looked up from the computer.

"If you guys find something that looks like a rare tropical disease that doesn't exist in this country, it probably is a rare tropical disease that doesn't exist in this country."

I described being chucked out into the Nile while whitewater rafting. They seemed horrified, so I decided not to mention any other risky behavior, such as swimming in the Nile for three days in 1999.

Someone stuck a tube onto the needle in my arm.

"What's your favorite country of all the ones you've been to?" I knew this trick. They like to make you talk while they knock you out.

"I'm not falling for that one. I taste it. The anesthesia tastes gross. Any second now..."

Next thing I remember, someone was calling my name and feeding me orange crackers. "No evidence of cancer but we sent parts of you to a lab to check on that Nile thing."

Note to self: Never check "Yes" to any of the boxes on the form they give you at the doctor. And only admit to being 39 or younger.

When I'd described my two gut mega-illnesses to the doctor, he hadn't been impressed. One was in 1995 and the other was in 2005. I'd considered them both some kind of DIY temporary colitis, a food poisoning aggravated by extraordinary stress. But when he glanced at the form and saw that an aunt had died of some kind of gut cancer at age 42, he said "I need to have a look."

Wha--? But I'm not sick! Can't I just wait and see if I get sick? I am moving to Egypt immediately!

"For someone over 40 with your medical history and family background, it is recommended that you get screened."

I managed to get out of there without making an appointment.

"I'll call back. I don't know my schedule. I'm flying out next week."

Hmph. I'm not sick. Why does anyone want to test me?

Then I started googling. And it all turned up the same. If you're over 40 and have a family history of blah blah blah...

Fine. That's what my health insurance is for.

So while others were eating burgers and watching fireworks, I was barely able to swallow a nasty saline solution, and the only way I got it down was with the aid of lemon Jell-O, one of the delicious treats on my list of approved foods. Jell-O. Broth. Juice without pulp. Soda. We're having some fun now.

I wasn't sick before this procedure, but by the time I ate lemon Jell-O and white grape juice for 24 hours, you can bet I was sick.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Talk to Me

At the risk of sounding like a broken record—Record? What's a record?—I'd like to send you a Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik postcard if you don't already have one.

Drop me a line with your mailing address and I'll send you a postcard. marie -at symbol- mariejavins -dot-com. (I am not organized enough to keep all your addresses so you won't get any more junk mail from me.)

New people stumble over this blog every day. Some of them hang around. Most of them stumble off.

A blog is a strange way to talk to people. I do it for the discipline, so that I'm writing something every day. And also for the material--some of you may have noticed the blog items that sneaked off this blog and into the Dik-Dik story of being in Africa. But blogging also gives me a stilted e-life, where most people are reading what I have to say and I don't know what they have to say or who they are.

I like to think that I've interacted with most regular readers here, but I know there are a few who I haven't e-talked to. So if you don't want a postcard, but still read, please drop me a hello or salaam or shalom anyway.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Live Alone and Like It

Jonathan Babc0ck photocopied this book for me when I turned 30. And just yesterday, I finally acquired a hardcover copy of this 1936 classic, which was finally reissued a few years ago.

This book celebrates being a single women in New York during an era when such a thing was new. This book is not about searching for a man, though it does offer suggestions for how to have affairs. It's about living alone without apology.

"The chances are that at some time in your life, possibly only now and then, between husbands, you will find yourself settling down to a solitary existence - whether you like it or not."

"Everybody feels sorry for herself now and then. But anyone who pities herself for more than a month on end is a weak sister and likely to become a public nuisance besides."

I'll have to take some of its helpful advice, such as the section on hobbies. The writer suggests that when socializing with couples, the single woman can become awkward, so it's best to keep oneself interesting in order to keep being invited to events.

"Be a Communist, a stamp collector or a Ladies Aid worker, if you must, but for heaven's sake be something!"

Gotta go. My stamp collection needs me.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Grumpy Traveler

I am so cranky.

Such a jaded... not just traveler, but person?

Sometimes I wonder what is wrong with me, and other times I think "What's wrong with everyone else?"

When I went to Antarctica, I thought, "That's it?" Me and my 99 best friends traipsing around a penguin-covered rock for an hour.

I'm exaggerating. There were some wonderful moments when whales would buzz the dinghy I was on. But I realized quickly that being ushered around and pointed at things while my camera went click-click was too passive an organized "adventure" for me. And as I talked with staff and soaked up information from lectures, I learned that what I should have done was booked a trip that would have allowed me to go off with a bagged lunch and a kayak. Or camped overnight on the ice. Had a bit of personal interaction with where I was, rather than wondering how I'd fallen for the old "Spend-a-fortune-be-led-around-by-nose-get-bragging-rights" trick.

And then there's the "Pay $400 and go up in a hot air balloon over Masai Mara" excursion. Because when will you ever do it again?

Um, $70 over Luxor, winter, 2007.

Now there's this. The price of admission for mountain gorilla viewing has gone up to FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS in Rwanda, and supposedly Uganda and Congo are following suit. That's for an hour of crouching in the bushes next to a group of gorillas.

Whoa. That's a lot.

So many people I know had a life-changing, or at least life-affirming experience with the gorillas. So what the hell is the matter with me? I was horrified at spending $250 in 2001. I like gorillas, but I'd never fork over $500 for an hour of listening to gorilla farts.

Fortunately, lots of people disagree with me. The mountain gorilla population is up 12 percent in the last decade, and at least in Uganda, the UWA protects their gorillas with their lives. Conservation is big business there, and the Uganda Wildlife Authority does a good job of sensitizing everyone to the value of gorillas. I've personally seen UWA wardens arrest scrawny hungry people who so much as poach a fish. They have a zero tolerance approach, the Guiliani method of patrolling the forest. "It's Pascal time," yells the Murchison Falls game warden as he... well, but I digress.

Okay, so gorilla tourism helps gorillas by raising awareness locally, even though having people traipse around and stare at the gorillas is stressful to them. I can see the point, even though I missed out on the life-changing aspect when I visited the Mubare group in 2001. (I've been accused by one reviewer—who sometimes reads this blog—of going astray on the gorilla thing so let me state clearly that I never implied that a population growth of 12 percent was like saying the battle was over and we could all go home. Sheesh.)

I can see the value of $500 for a gorilla experience, because that money goes directly to gorilla conservation. Fine. Not so sold on the Antarctica cruise, which I suspect has no redeeming value, and in fact, may impact the very place we go to enjoy. I definitely don't see the value of a $400 balloon ride, but here's the real problem.

Guilt. Specifically, mine. What's up with me feeling pressure to say weakly, "Yes, Antarctica was cool" when someone glowingly says "I went and loved it," rather than "Maybe I wouldn't have been forced to sell my condo if I'd spent that $3,000 on a new roof instead."

So from now on, my plan is to laugh off my guilt, to ignore the disapproving expression that people have when I say I'm fed up with "once-in-a-lifetime" branding.

Embrace the crankiness.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Falafel and Pizza on the Hudson Tubes

The mayor spoke at yesterday's Egyptian Festival. He said that JC was the most ethnically diverse city in America, and that 50 languages were spoken here.

Probably true, but it's hard for me to take him seriously. He is currently appealing being found guilty on charges of obstruction of justice and resisting arrest down at the NJ shore last year. He has cited all kinds of extenuating circumstances, as he did when a kid with a camera phone was able to snap a shot of him passed out half-naked on his front porch during the election.

(JC has a long history of colorful politics, from Mayor Hague to the guy who wouldn't step down in the late eighties--even though he was in prison for federal tax evason. And during the free-for-all to replace the prison guy--who some believe was involved in releasing the naked mayor photo--two brothers were running against each other, and they had a fistfight. Oh, and the prison guy is now on the school board.)

The Egyptian Festival at first appeared to be only a children's romper bubble
thingy, a falafel stand, and some people selling Egyptian clothes. But then some dancers and singers took the stage. I watched for a while, but I was hungry. The falafel stand in the sun didn't look that appealing, so I went over to the place two doors down from the former Tube Bar to get a slice of pizza.

I hadn't been into the Tube Bar since the early 90s, when I was there with a few friends and Unrest singer Mark, who had released the Tube Bar prank call tapes commercially, when no one knew who had originally made them. (He quit once the guys who made the tapes went public and started selling them themselves.)

Even then, it was just a bar on a walk-street (officially Concourse Street) by the PATH train (a/k/a Hudson Tubes). The famous bartender from the Tube Bar tapes, Red (you'll know him as Moe on The Simpsons) was long gone, since 1980. And sometime between then and now, the Tube Bar had closed, the bar owners taking their liquor license and moving across Kennedy Boulevard, which makes the Journal Square Pub the direct descendant of the Tube Bar.

Two doors down from the ex-Tube Bar, I got my pizza from "3 Boys from Italy." Who didn't look the least bit Italian. But they still made a good slice.