Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 in Review

I didn't visit a single new country in 2007. I'll never maintain my lead on Strip Passport at this rate.

But that's okay. In 2007, I lived and worked in Cairo for half a year. I stayed in Barcelona for several weeks. I started the year out with nowhere to live, in an East Village sublet for several weeks before leaving for Cairo. I ended the year on the same street I lived on before I sold my home, renting Yancey's comfortable home. I'm certainly happier as I say goodbye to 2007 than I was at the end of 2005 or 2006, though I'm still a little baffled at the What Now-edness of being over 40 with conflicting, confusing goals. A little off-my-game with the unfamiliar territory of staying home and keeping a normal schedule.

A look back at 2007:

  • I started the year out haranguing people who claim to be "travelers, not tourists." I contemplated my nomadic lifestyle and tried to accept that sometimes life has a way of evolving with or without your approval or cooperation.

  • The car that picked me up at the Cairo Airport broke down before it even got me to the hotel.

  • I had a ridiculous multi-part adventure finding an apartment in Zamalek. Then I gave it up in April, because I thought I was done with Cairo. By July, I was back—in a hotel and swimming through taxi farts— while wishing I'd kept the flat, which was owned by the Hot Landlord.

  • I discovered that Craig was in Cairo. We'd met in 2002 in New York. Running into Craig opened up an entire social scene for me, first in Cairo and later back home. Suddenly, I had a life and friends in Egypt, especially Craig and later Yasir.

  • While in Cairo, I went to Saqqara, Luxor, Dendara, Abydos, Dahshur (where I met Dr. Zahi Hawass), the Suez Canal, the Tentmaker's Bazaar, the Pyramids, Coptic Cairo, and Carrefour.

  • I got flashed in Cairo. A few days later, I was propositioned by a taxi driver.

  • On the writing front, I was interviewed on The Well, interviewed in a Lower East Side bookstore, interviewed for an ad agency DVD, contributed to a National Geographic book and a Rough Guides book.

  • On the employment front, I explained Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo to an Omani, commiserated with a jealous young Egyptian woman, then offended her with my (semi) dirty mouth, saved the office and risked jail, rescued the Muslim world from massive breasts, appeared in a work video and a TV piece, and explained cooties.

  • And finally, I had the pleasure of experiencing Ramadan in a Muslim country.

  • And what is on the menu for 2008? I only have goals for January so far. In January, I'm taking yoga and getting my book proposal finished and into the in-box of some agents. After that, it's anyone's guess.

    But 2008 is going to involve some new passport stamps, if I have to visit Caribbean countries on weekends just to maintain my Strip Passport lead over e. readicker-henderson, who added huge numbers of countries this past few years—and is off to Mongolia, Mali, and Namibia soon while I toil away in Herald Square—while I've been repeating myself.

    Sunday, December 30, 2007

    As If

    Someone clicked-through to my blog from Metacrawler. I went and checked it out. Ha! Look at #4.

    Friday, December 28, 2007

    Where There's Smoke, There's Fondue

    I found this 2003 photo on an external hard drive last night. It's Yancey and Michael Kraiger in my old apartment.

    It's a fine example of why Marie and cooking don't get along so well.

    Thursday, December 27, 2007

    Another Roadside Attraction

    Dinosaurland is a roadside attraction in White Post, Virginia, near Winchester. It features giant replicas of things like stegosaurus, triceratops, and a sixty-foot-long shark.

    I passed near Dinosaurland yesterday but didn't stop. In 2002, Turbo and I took a few photos in the parking lot. I went there once as a kid and loved it.

    In this first photo, I guess I was channeling the Jonathan Richman song "I'm a Little Dinosaur."

    Wednesday, December 26, 2007

    Country Roads

    Six hours to Mom's on Monday, six hours back today. Henry the 1990 Ford Taurus performed admirably, as we all expected him to. Though it iced on us in Pennsylvania. I doubt he was any happier about that than I was.

    Personal space is a wonderful thing, and at Mom's, I get to stay in the Fonzie apartment. That is, the mini-pad above the garage. The house wi-fi reaches the Fonzie apartment, so it's no problem for me to wake up early, make some coffee, and talk to Kuwait.

    Mom lives in the mountains of western Virginia, in a small resort town above the Shenandoah Valley. The surrounding area is populated by a mixture of nature lovers, rednecks, urban refugees, and rural gentry. The resort itself, called Bryce, has a golf course and a ski slope. It's a few hours away from Washington, DC.

    Driving down there triggers a lot of memories, both from when I was a kid and we'd visit places like Dinosaurland and Skyline Drive on family holidays, and from just a few years ago, when Turbo the Aussie and I took Henry through every back road we could find as we explored the region in 2002. Back then, we had Mom's cabin to ourselves as Mom and her husband Frank still lived in the DC suburbs at the time.

    This morning, I casually mentioned to Yasir that I was in the mountains. He demanded a photo. But I'm not the photographer of the family. Mom is. I snapped the shot above from my car, but if you want to see lovely photos of the area around Mom's house, better look at her blog instead of mine.

    Tuesday, December 25, 2007

    Christmas Hippo

    How could I have missed this?

    For longer than I have been alive, there has been a Christmas novelty song called "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas." No one told me! No Jon Babc0ck annual Christmas-mix CD ever featured it.

    I heard this song for the first time driving south yesterday on I-81 to my mother's house. Henry and I were both pretty tired by the time we got here—it's a six-hour drive—but there weren't any hiccups.

    Hoping for good-hippo-luck for the way home tomorrow too.

    Monday, December 24, 2007

    Urban Holiday

    Here's an ancient Christmas card of mine, one that I made when I lived on Avenue B.

    I've been meaning to update my cards with a shot of the Pulaski Skyway in snow ever since I moved back to JC, but I haven't found the right spot yet. I need a place within walking distance of home if it's snowing out. And without snow, there's nothing festive about the Pulaski Skyway.

    Saturday, December 22, 2007

    As Is

    I'm going out to Joe's Pub tonight, so I thought I'd dress in something nice.*

    After half an hour of changing clothes, I had to conclude that while it was a commendable goal, I don't actually own any nice clothes. Seven years of steady set changes across who-knows-how-many countries has resulted in one style: Frumpy modest.

    Those of you who have known me a long time are thinking "Nonsense! You have lots of clothes. What about that happening sperm-print dress you wore to your 30th birthday party on the Frying Pan?"

    Unfortunately, those stylish velvety dresses fit a younger woman, both in attitude and size. And whoa, are those skirts short! I bought my party dresses during the era of Ally McBeal. At 41, I am no longer so keen to bare my thighs in public.

    After surveying myself in long skirts, short skirts, boots, sweaters, and tights, I dejectedly changed into jeans. Sigh. If I were the sort of person to post an online personal, it would go something like this:

    AS-IS. SWF, 41, grumpy, smart-ass, silly, bizarrely out of touch with pop-culture items from large stretches of time between 2001-2008, smart but only vaguely interested in career or social status, offers a unique mix of fear-of-commitment laced with fear-of-abandonment. "What are YOU still doing here? WAIT, DON'T GO!" Past relationship achievements include coining the phrase "Who put the we in weekend."

    *Disclosure: A cute guy recently asked me if all I ever wore was jeans.

    Friday, December 21, 2007

    Rail Rules

    In summer, there's an unspoken rule of subway riding.

    If a train pulls in and a car is ghostly empty while all the others ones are bulging with people, don't get in. There's no air conditioning on that car.

    Other times of year, the only time a car is ghostly empty is when a homeless person has a terrible odor. But that's not too common.

    Tonight, I knew something was wrong with the Journal Square PATH pulled into Christopher Street station, and the car in front of me had empty seats. But it's not summer, so my instincts were slow. Or maybe it was holiday shopping that had dulled my reaction time. It registered slowly that all the passengers were piled into either end of the car in front of me, while the center was nearly empty.

    "Urm, that ain't right," I thought. I turned to run to the next car as the doors slid open.

    A pulsating mass of passengers poured out of the car at top speed. They raced to the next car. Damn! I'd never get on in time with that group. I'd miss the train!


    GHOST CAR. I jumped in, aiming myself towards the remaining huddle of passengers cowering at one end.

    So far, so good. But there's a catch. Huddle + empty seats can only equal one thing. I sniffed. P.U. Squinting to avoid the full effect, I peeked towards the car's center.

    Ah, drunk guy covered in yellow vomit.

    Nine minutes to home. I covered my nose with my coat and concentrated on nice things. Beagles. Mango and sticky rice. Ticklish feet. Yancey doing a happy dance when he sees or hears something he really likes.

    It worked this time. But I'll be more alert in the future.

    Thursday, December 20, 2007

    Six White Boomers Redux

    It's that time of year again! When Santa goes around the world in his sleigh, and swaps his reindeer for six large male kangaroos at the Australian border. You can hear the song on YouTube.

    The one Christmas I spent in Oz was ridiculously hot, but I think it's a stretch to imagine Santa happening upon flying kangaroos. Can you imagine a white flying kangaroo with a red nose? As if!

    Tuesday, December 18, 2007

    No Crib for a Bed

    Baby Jesus must have had some rotten luck last year to get duct taped in this time around. But I can't work out why he's covered in plastic. 'Tis the season indeed!

    Sunday, December 16, 2007

    Birthday Greetings

    Yesterday was my mother's birthday.

    And Michael Kraiger's too. Though twelve years separates their respective entries into this world. (Don't worry, Mom's young, Kraiger's not old.)

    Happy birthday, Mom! Happy birthday, Michael Kraiger!

    Saturday, December 15, 2007

    Still More Unpacking

    I thought I'd managed to get rid of most of my useless old stuff back in the spring when I moved into Yancey's apartment and unpacked.

    But then yesterday, I opened the green plastic bins that were on top of the wardrobe.

    Inside were so many things that I just don't know what to do with. Like the wooden Appalachian dancing man I've had since I was a kid. Incredible Hulk toilet paper. A stained glass kookaburra windchime that Turbo, the ex circa 2002-2003 had gotten custom-made for me. The Casio VL-Tone from 1981. And reel-to-reel tapes of the radio newscasts I worked on in college.

    I haven't ruled out retiring the kookaburra, but the rest is going back into the box. Except the reel-to-reel tapes. It's time for us to part ways.

    After I finish with the wardrobe and bins, I still have an entire garage to unpack. It never ends.

    Thursday, December 13, 2007

    Cute but Stinky

    I'm working on an Antarctica piece for Tim Leffel's Perceptive Travel website.

    And so far, it isn't doing what I want it to do. I'm still wrangling. Maybe tomorrow it will cooperate.

    But as I was bemoaning my situation, my pal Edward (last seen gloating that I hadn't been to South Georgia and he had) reminded me of a detail I'd forgotten.

    "Don't forget the stink of the penguins."

    Oh yeah. That's right. Penguins hang out together and poop on the rocks. When you have a big group of penguins, you have a big penguin poop smell.

    Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    Street Food

    "Marie, come to the food truck with me!"

    Roberta had me stumped last night. I'd thought she'd meant the lunch truck that sits outside the construction site during the day. But it was dinner time.

    "It's across the street. I'm not sure what it's about... come with me."

    I couldn't. I already had dinner plans. She went alone. Then, an e-mail.

    "I went to the cart. It's delicious."

    Roberta—who is borderline classy—liked food off a truck? This I had to check out. I went to the food truck after work tonight.

    Yum! This isn't the Scooby hot dog truck, or Mr. Softee. It's not even a taco truck. It's "accessible gourmet" from an upscale restaurant in Paulus Hook. The food is billed as organic and locally grown.

    And it's right across the street on Hamilton Park, from 6-8 Monday to Friday.

    I'm so spoiled by convenience. I may never cook again.

    Monday, December 10, 2007

    Winter Chill

    I go to great lengths to avoid winter. In the last decade, I've only been here in the northeastern US for three winters. I'm about to tough out a fourth.

    2007 - Cairo
    2006 - Kuwait
    2005 - JC
    2004 - JC
    2003 - Australia
    2002 - Australia
    2001 - Indonesia
    2000 - Bali, Java, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia
    1999 - NYC
    1998 - India, Nepal, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan

    Some people don't mind the cold. I'm not one of those people.

    The apartment I'm in right now is freezing most nights. It has electric baseboard heat in one room, and a big hotel-style blower in another room. That's it for the heat. Yancey, who owns the apartment, was good-natured about it and just piled on more sweaters when he lived there. Unlike him, I complain.

    My old condo had no insulation. None. They didn't have fiberglass when it was built, sometime in the early 1900s. Roberta, Al, Michael Kraiger, and I insulated it. We insulated Roberta's place at the same time. We rented a blower and bought bales of insulation from Lowe's. We started out trying to carve neat holes in the plaster with a hole saw, but that wore down the blade. In the end, Al developed a method called "beat the hell out of the plaster with a hammer." It was effective. After that, the old apartment was toasty. I hope the new owners appreciate it.

    Saturday, December 08, 2007

    Negative Scanning

    Back in the spring, I bought a new flatbed scanner. I wanted one that could scan my old negatives and slides as well as whatever scraps of paper I throw on it.

    I did some research. Seems that flatbed scanners are terrible for negative scanning. But there was one, the Epson Perfection 4990 Photo, that was borderline-all-right. If I really want good-quality negative scans, I needed to buy a dedicated film scanner, like the Minolta Dimage. But a dedicated film scanner doesn't scan scraps of paper, and I could only buy one.

    Today I used the negative holders and scanned some photos of Palmyra, Syria. Results were pretty "eh." I need to figure out how to get rid of dust and use the settings correctly. Maybe that will help.

    Next time, I'll try the slide holder.

    Friday, December 07, 2007

    The Rational a Rationale for Rationalizing

    I caught myself cheating today. At the gym, while the attendant was in the toilet.

    I was skipping recovery stations between machines.

    How stupid is that? Like I'm at the gym for the good of the woman behind the counter instead of myself.

    But in my defense, I was in a hurry. I had to get to the first showing of 'The Golden Compass" on opening day. I loved the books, which Joey Cavalieri recommended to me after Louise Simonson suggested them to him.

    I knew going in that there was no way the movie could visually capture Philip Pullman's prose the same way my imagination did. But it was a valiant, engaging attempt. Nothing like an armored bear battle to fill an afternoon of playing hooky from paperwork.

    Seems some are upset at the anti-organized-religion message of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, of which "The Golden Compass" is Part 1. Yeah, and Aslan is just a friendly lion. Get over it, people, and let yourself enjoy the escapism.

    Thursday, December 06, 2007

    Time Ain't Nothing

    Remember last spring when the facial woman said I had "premenopausal" skin?

    Now this: I have a wonderful hair colorist, a color student named Paula at a high-end Manhattan salon. Color with students is practically free in New York and I've been with her since her first lessons two years ago. She's about to graduate and I think this time I'll graduate too. I've been the guinea pig for four colorists at the same salon for the past five years. And now that I have an income and all, I'm sticking with Paula when she is licensed.

    Yesterday, Paula sweetly skewered my delight with the rich tones she'd just put into my roots.

    "The gray is more stubborn this time. Next time we'll have to use double-pigment."


    Tuesday, December 04, 2007


    Steve Buccellato and I are working on a sequential graphic story of one of my Cairo adventures. (That means comic book story, kids!)

    My own travel stories have been illustrated by Don, Kevin, and Jessica. These stories make me giddily happy, because they combine my travels, writing, and comics—all the things I spend most of my waking hours on.

    A long, long time ago—some time between dinosaurs and iPods—I self-published an anthology of comic book stories about growing up. I have several hundred copies of Scorched Birth in my garage. These aren't travel stories. It was my first foray into non-superhero comics. Reading my short story at the beginning of the book, which is kind of personal, I get a little embarrassed. I wonder if I'll feel that way about Curse of the Hippo in future years.

    Anyone who wants a copy of Scorched Birth--and who lives in the US--should drop me a line by Friday (Dec. 7) with your name and address. marie at mariejavins dotcom. I'll send you a copy right away, no charge. Just think of it as helping me clean out the garage.

    Sunday, December 02, 2007

    Day Job

    I'm filling out a questionnaire for a website about artists in day jobs.*

    Lots of artists and writers have day jobs. Some of them suck, while others aren't so bad. Ideally, you get health insurance. I'm wondering why I claim to be a writer with a comic book editor job on the side, instead of a comic book editor who dabbles in writing, when my job takes up ninety percent of my working time (the rest being taken up by procrastinating on the Internet). I guess I lie to myself sometimes.

    But I'm giggling gleefully as I fill it out, because how many people can say this?

    Day job: Editor in Chief for a comic book company headquartered in Kuwait with offices in Cairo and Manhattan.

    I'm struggling with the question of what three people I'd like to read my work. Oprah is the easy one, the 200 points just for spelling my name right. Who else would I want to read my books?

    *apologies to Otis Ball. He knows why.