Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What Next?

Perplexing. Baffling. Those are a few of the less than effective words to describe my thoughts about the New World... the digital world.

I'm pretty good at it. I've been ahead of the curve on several occasions. I love that in the past, I had the same access to "publishing" (digitally) as did any major corporation. I know the answer is never to stick one's head in the sand, but to somehow find a way to work with the New World and not whine about it.

I've been watching the newspapers struggle and like everyone else, I have no idea what the answer is. Fine, newspapers are old-school. Advertising has always seemed lame to me anyway, something I've never quite grasped. I do grasp when things go viral and grassroots. I GET IT.

What I don't get is how these new models can generate any income if no one pays for anything anymore. Let's face it, "exposure" doesn't pay the mortgage. And is a blogger every bit as qualified to write about something as an educated expert?

Um, sometimes. I can't get behind the concept that every reporter is somehow above the rest of us. I've met some reporters who really are all that. I've also met a surprisingly large number of prancing boutique snots. Would a blogger (me?) have more insight into Kuwait City than a Middle East stringer, for example? Or into how to maneuver through Barcelona on a shoestring, moreso than a Spain-beat reporter? Damn straight. I have self-interest in both these areas.

But do I know more about local education than a local public radio reporter? Absolutely not. Do I know more about what books are coming out than a cultural critic? Nope. More science than a science expert who has been translating scientific terms for mass consumption for 40 years? No way. And who pays the salaries for these experts? Advertisers, who hope to influence the buying decisions of the audience of the expert.

My assumption is that things will be rocky but will eventually work out as a new model.

But what about books? The eReader and the Kindle have blazed new ground... what about when Apple produces something like the Kindle and it gets through to the masses? When digital book downloads become common? Pirated editions are already out there.

In short, we're next.

But you know, at my level, the income generated from book writing is so miniscule that giving away content for free is barely different...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The End of the Bolivia Section of Our Show

Finally! I'm done going through the Bolivia video footage from my hundred-dollar flash camcorder.

This last one is of something that is standard operating procedure for tourists to Potosi. First, you tour the silver mines and reward your mining hosts with gifts of cookies and dynamite.

Then you go explode your own dynamite. Like so.

Friday, March 27, 2009

More of That Stuff I Do All Day

Well, well, if it isn't my day job again.

No wonder I have to work all the time. Everyone else is busy being on TV!*

*That's a joke, in case you are one of my colleagues reading this.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

New York Morning

"Do you have a hundred-calorie bagel?"

Startled, I looked at the young, thin woman standing in line at the deli counter next to me. What the hell? Hundred-calorie bagel? Must figure out what that is later.

The deli guy looked confused too. But he knew more than I did.

"No. But we have Thomas' English Muffins." He showed her the calorie count on the packaging.

"I'll make it work. How about turkey bacon?"

"Yes, we have turkey bacon."

"Okay, give me turkey bacon and egg whites on the Thomas'.'"

This is probably a standard exchange for deli guys all around New York, but the funny thing is that this wasn't an upscale deli. It was just a rundown, dark, hole-in-the-wall deli. The kind of place that probably employs illegals under-the-table and racks up health department violations every month, leading me to think I should be drawing some kind of conclusions about... well, something. Maybe about turkey bacon, and egg whites, and hundred-calorie bagels. Maybe I should try that next time. With a side of fries.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dispatches from Aunt Karen

Aunt Karen—along with my two cousins and uncle—is in Iceland. (Holiday bargain alert!)

She sent a few photos and told me it was okay if I shared them. I'm particularly interested because, you know, girls and horses... I like the furry Icelandic ponies.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How to Get a Free Trip

The mere act of typing out "How to Get a Free Trip" will shoot up my rankings, bring me even more people than those who confuse the spelling of slang for a certain part of male anatomy with half the name of the African antelope called the "dik-dik."

Not a month goes by when I don't get an inquiry from a stranger who wants to know: How do I get sponsorship to travel around the world.

The answer is simple and straightforward.

You don't.

You pay to travel around the world. If you can't pay, you can't travel.

Is there such thing as free trips? Yes and no. Some travel writers get paid trips to some locations. They do not, however, dash off an e-mail to an editor with a link to their blog and in return get offered a travel scholarship. Does. Not. Happen. Editors have dozens of working writers that they'd be happy to assign a trip to and are not waiting for a grand concept offered to them by a stranger. "I know! Send me on a free trip and I'll blog about it! No one ever thought of that before!"

So how did *I* get to travel around the world and blog about it?

I paid for it. Same as everyone else.

As for sponsorships, I do have a list of those on my site. But these were usually discounts of about 20 percent. Sometimes a small section would be free. For example, of the 52 days I spent on ships in 2001, 17 of them were free. That leaves an huge bill for the other 35 days.

Which I paid for.

I am grateful for the few complimentary trips I did receive, but many of the discounted offers turned out to be more expensive than other local offers at full price.

So why am I ranting about this today? I'm sorry. I don't mean to annoy everyone. I am happy to answer nuts-and-bolts questions about specfic aspects of travel. But I do get tired of the inquiries that basically say "I can't be bothered to read through the FAQ or Links on your site--just tell me, how do I get some of that action?"

Simple enough. I didn't and you don't.

Monday, March 23, 2009


I made a "Wordle" of this blog. It's almost cool. But kinda not.

I couldn't make the Wordle use words from anything but the main page. Grump, grump, grump. I feel like I've had a cold forever. But of course it's only been about two weeks. Prior to that, I had the flu.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Real Estate Redux

Back when I sold my second condo, I whined a lot here on this blog about how if I didn't have a contract by Thanksgiving, the party would be over and I'd probably be stuck with my place as the market plunged.

I am not a financial analyst; just a person who can read and see when things are insanely out of control.

So fine, I sold and the party ended. It was a bit later than I expected it, but nevertheless, I sold about 4 months and $25,000 after I should have. That's okay. I'm just glad to have gotten out when I did, and glad that my good friend Yancey had a better, closer place that he owns outright, and it needed a tenant/house-sitter.

But I know that mortgage rates are down now and I know that at some point, I'll perceive that it's time to buy again. So I keep an eye on things. I read articles like this one and this one, which tell me that we are not near the bottom yet in this region.

But you know, reading these articles really pisses me off. Six million dollar apartments? Ten million dollar apartments? My sympathy knows no bounds.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Nazca Lines

I put together my Nazca Lines footage and photos into a little video.

Sorry to report that it is quite difficult to photograph the Nazca Lines. I saw them on a flight out of Ica, Peru, on December 28, and just made a long—VERY long—day out of a stopover in Lima.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Small Town Life

I open my eyes Saturday morning and thought:

What the hell am I doing with my life? What is my point in hanging around here? Why am I here in JC, when so few of my friends live in this part of the world and those that do are preoccupied with family? Isn't this the same thought process I go through after every trip, when I contrast my life away with the mundane daily routine here..?

Some mornings are like that. Not all of them, which is an improvement over how things were in mid-2008.

When I'm here, I get caught up in the daily drudge.

But sometimes, I have days where I remember why I chose JC, at least in opposition to Manhattan or Brooklyn.

The doorbell rang early in the morning. Could be the mailman, I thought, or could be Jehovah's Witnesses.

Either way, I wasn't going down to the front door in my polar bear pajamas, so I ignored it.

Later, I went downstairs to discover it had been the mailman. He'd left a package collection slip for me. I knew what it was—the new battery for my old GSM phone. I was sending both my old European-band GSM phones to Aunt Karen who was taking them to Iceland for the family to keep in touch on vacation. The mailman's slip said I could go on Monday to pick up my package at the post office.

But I wanted it today. I'd be at work in Manhattan on Monday, not at the JC post office.

I went out on the streets of JC, hunting the mailman. Near the commercial strip called Newark Avenue, I saw a junk shop. It wasn't enough to get a new battery. I was going to have to charge the new battery for 16 hours before Aunt Karen could use the old phone.

I went into the junk shop.

"I have a really old Siemens. I need to find a way to charge it here, to see if it works, but it's 230-volt. Do you have anything?"

The proprieter brought out a plastic bag labelled "Siemens." He dug around, then pulled out several incompatible chargers.

"Let me see the phone," he said.

I handed him the phone. He walked away for a while and rustled around in the back. I called after him.

"It's a 2002 phone from Australia. I think it's a long shot."

He came back and handed me a compatible charger, then charged me five bucks. I grinned. JC rules.

And then I walked outside and saw a postal truck. I chased down the mailman, who looked at my slip.

"That's Ruben's writing. Let me call him."

He called my mailman.

"He'll meet you at home in ten minutes."

I rushed back home and had barely put my feet on my stoop before I heard him.


Our mailman has kept tabs on me as I had moved from one end of Eighth Street to another. All my mail from my old address finds me here.

JC is so marvelous, because it is like a small town right next to one of North America's largest cities.

Monday, March 16, 2009

In Spring, A Girl's Thoughts Turn to...


I need new stupid Peep tricks. Who has some for me?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Not Adapting

Few things in life may be certain, but of this there can be no doubt:

Though I own multiple adapter plugs, enough to plug my laptop into any outlet in the world several times over, I will never take quite the one I need to the country I need it in.

Which is why I had to rush out to Boots when I was in London. Because otherwise, I'd have been dragging around an expensive paperweight called a MacBook.

I remembered to carry the European purpose-built Apple adapter. But why did I leave the one I'd need in Kuwait and London at home?

Just cuz.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Excavating My Own Mind

Straightening up my place on a Saturday morning, I come across a bookmark, stuck in between pages 100 and 101 of Paul Bowles' book A Sheltering Sky.

I read over the two pages. What had grabbed me? I wasn't sure. Maybe it was the description of Port Moresby as a man who was unable to break out of the cage into which he had shut himself, the cage he had built long ago to save himself from love.

Reading on, I think, "No, it must have been this passage."

"I think we're both afraid of the same thing. And for the same reason. We've never managed, either one of us, to get all the way into life. We're hanging on to the outside for all we're worth, convinced we're going to fall off at the next bump."

Perplexed, I stared at the two passages. I thought about the life skills I'd instinctively learned early on, as a white kid growing up between the Hole and the Burg, and about how I'd learned invisibility but it had been a faulty skill dependent on the goodwill and mood of the viewer. Were these skills somehow at play in my adult life, in my ability to seamlessly hover around cultures but never be truly in them, I wondered.

Or maybe I just put the bookmark in at random.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Getting Close to the End Now

Will I ever finish posting about the short trip I took to Bolivia and Peru in January?

Yes. But first I have to finish the videos. Only two more after this one...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Part of the Job

Product testing. It's part of the job.

I colored and cut out the paper dolls that Steve drew into the coloring book I'm editing.

The tabs on the outfits didn't really work so I sent them back to Steve for repair (due to annoying gravity).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yet Another Taxi Story

For those of you who miss the good old days of lewd taxi driver stories, from when I lived in Cairo:

In Kuwait, on the day of the theme park opening, everyone was busy.

Real busy.

Normally, someone—Mr. Fixit, the office driver, the art director—would stop by the Ibis and give me a lift to work. But today, everyone was busy. Mr. Fixit was in the park. The office driver was racing around town. And the art director? Well, he was under orders (from me, no less) to learn a song on his guitar.

No worries. I am a big girl. I am more than capable of taking a taxi. I even know where the office was, just over that big famous cemetery in downtown. I can even say my destination as if I'd been here for months. (I'm glad the office had moved out of the car wash district, which was far, far away.)

I had sorted out the fare beforehand. I walked out of the hotel and into a taxi.

"I'll give you two KD. I'm going to (blah blah blah)," I told the taxi driver. The real fare was a half a KD less, but I was factoring in my unofficial "white American taxi tax."

The driver nodded and I got in.

He hadn't driven more than half a mile before the chatter started. He eyeballed me in the rear view mirror.

"Where're you from?"

"New York."


I sighed. I knew this routine. Exasperated, I steeled myself to play my part.

"And you? Your country? No, wait... don't tell me... you are from Egypt."

His eyes grew wide.

"Yes! How did you know?"

I thought, "Because you look like a lecherous creep driving a taxi, and in Cairo about 40 percent of taxi drivers are lecherous creeps."

I said nothing. I only shrugged.

We went through a whole series of small-talk questions, about my age and his age, did I have kids, how long was I here, etc etc.

Which shoe was he going to throw at me first, I wondered. The fare or the sex one?

The latter, as it turned out.

"You have a husband?"

"No. Too much trouble."


I thought for a second.

"Yes," I announced.

He thought for a few beats.

"How many boyfriends?"

Oh gross. I looked at the side of the road. About 5 more minutes of being cooped up in here.


"Only one?"

Please drive faster.

"Twenty-five KD, okay?"

"HA! Riiiighhht."


"Twenty-five KD."

By now I was just ignoring him. After he persistently requested 25 KD (that's $86 for a $5 ride), I finally looked at him and said,

"No. That's ridiculous. You are being ridiculous."

I didn't bother saying two KD or whatever. He'd get what he got, after I'd opened the door and stepped outside of the taxi.

He pulled up in front of my office tower. I opened the door, stood outside the taxi, and reached back in with a crumpled up wad of bills. He'd have to uncrumple them before he counted them. I closed the door hastily and walked to the office building entrance.

"Madam! Madam!"

I looked back but did not hesitate. He motioned wildly to me. A part of my brain thought for a second: "Maybe he's trying to give me back the extra half a KD I overpaid... Nah. Keep walking."

I walked into the building as he continued to call after me.

Whenever I miss living in Cairo, it is for the friends I had there. It is for the sentimental time when the man I met there (then dated here) treated me as a human rather than as a fouled Kleenex. It is for the camaraderie of hanging with Yasir or Captain M, of the parties at J and K's, or the fun of running into a pal at Coffee Bean and yakking to her about utter nonsense involving cats and hair.

It's not for the exasperating taxi experiences.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Just Do This For Me

Maybe you've been reading a while. Maybe you've occasionally dropped me a line, or never said anything at all.

Maybe you read my Dik-Dik book. Maybe you know that I think travel is almost entirely safe.

EXCEPT for one thing. The number one cause of traveler's woes in unindustrialized countries is automobile accidents.

I was just reading an account of a lovely performer who is stuck in a hospital in India, gravely ill, and unable to pay for medical evacuation to the States. And I remember how early on in Alison Wright's book, how she was in a Thailand hospital and it was insanely expensive to airlift her back home.

Remember when the truck I was riding on in Ethiopia tipped over and I walked out of it? If I hadn't, a great big helicopter would have eventually taken me to the airport, and a big plane would have taken me to the US or Europe because I have always had medical evacuation insurance.

Forget trip cancellation insurance. That's almost entirely useless. I don't care if you take a phone, lose your passport, wear hot-pants to the Pyramids, or go sleeveless during Ramadan. But I care about this.

And you should too. Don't get on a damn airplane or ship without it. You can even buy an annual policy that only covers med-evac. If you can afford a ticket, you can afford a little bit of caution. This isn't like health or auto insurance in the US, which is a frustrating compulsory racket which forces us to pay repeatedly through the nose. This is actually cheap and useful.

Buy. Medical. Evacuation. Insurance. When you travel outside of the US and Europe. I buy mine here. I don't care where you buy yours so long as you buy it.

You'll never need it.

But if you do, boy, will you need it.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Award-Winning Can Go On My Site

I'm home again and my flu has finally gone away, leaving me instead with a sinus headache and a slight cough.

But I got a piece of news while I was gone that put me in a slightly better mood.

Remember that Antarctica story I wrote for PerceptiveTravel.com last year? Sure you do, because it's all lazy Marie managed to write last year.

It won silver in the cruise category in some travel writing awards. Strategic entry in a category that is surely underserved might have been a factor. Or maybe not.

Boy howdy.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A Gaudi Tour

Everyone knows I'm actually back home already, right? But I'm behind on the blog and exhausted. I caught a flu somewhere along the way. Maybe on the plane. Maybe on public transportation right after I got home. I'm too fried to blog properly. I have been doing a lot of sleeping.

But being sick and in bed doesn't stop me from posting more photos of Barcelona! Here are some Gaudi buildings.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Botero Balls

I was in Bogota last March and went into the Botero Museum.

I'm not exactly a person of Culture. I frequently find myself annoyed at certain types of high-falootinness. "Me, I'm cultured! You, you're a peasant! I may look mild but I am secretly a RAGING CULTURE VULTURE!"


(Which reminds me... what's the best way to get to Carnegie Hall? Rent it. Worked for Marvel in 1972.)

Anyway, feelings-of-personal-inadequacy rant aside, I loved the Botero Museum. And walked into one room and saw this cat.

"Hey, that's the Raval cat from Barcelona!"

I'd walked past it every day for 3 months in 2004, when I'd lived around the corner.

So I went out of my way to take a closer look over the weekend, and to my surprise, discovered that the Ravel Botero cat is clearly male.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

At Home in BCN

I've wanted to live on Argenteria, a street in Barcelona's El Born district, since my first trip there to buy ground coffee in autumn of 2004. It was not full of tourists like the nearby Gothic quarter, but it was still atmospheric and edgy.

There are a lot more tourists in Born these days, but I didn't mind. I am one of them.

Barcelona is struggling just like the rest of the world, so when I stumbled over a newly renovated 3-bedroom flat with internet at a great bargain last-minute price, I snapped it up.

Three bedrooms are overkill— though a UK-pal was flying in for a few days to catch up—but the 3-bedroom flat was the same price as the studio I usually rent from Rentalona.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

You Know You're in Barcelona When...

I flew out of Kuwait early the morning after Mr. Fixit's birthday celebration.

I could have gone straight home, but I can work from anywhere and had some things to do in Barcelona. Like see if the small designer shops I like had any cool clothes. And catch up with a pal.

And of course, hunt down the bestest, newest caganer.

The Obama model, to join my Castro and Tin Tin caganers at home.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Day After

I slept in, the sun coming in the hotel window finally driving me out of bed. I had an adrenalin hangover.

"I could live here," I thought, looking out the window at the Gulf.

We'd accomplished so much as a team, in such a short period of time. My presence had helped immensely. Normally I am in a different time zone, working different days.

And socially, I'd had a blast, I remembered this happening the last time I'd lived in Kuwait too. I'd started to enjoy myself, right at the end.

But I cannot move to Kuwait. I just can't.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Everything is Gonna Be All Right

"It can't work, Marie," said Nabeel. "We only have one mic. No one will hear us play."

"What if I hold the mic here and you guys are in a circle? Ambient noise."

He looked skeptical.

"It's going to sound awful."

I wasn't going to give up. Dammit, I wanted to hear the song that Nabeel had written last night. Alec (our art director) was on guitar, and Nabeel had roped in a friend to sing backup and play second guitar.

"Okay. Okay... we'll just play it quietly in the front for us and the boss."

"All right." He knew it wouldn't work but they'd all try anyway. They had tried hard to set this up, and more importantly, didn't want to disappoint me.

The guys carried their equipment to the stage and set up.

"Uh-oh." Nabeel was fishing around in his backpack.


"... the plug. I can't find the plug for my amp."

"Okay, slow down. Try everywhere."

He dug through each pocket. The Kuwait National Band took the stage around us.

No plug.

It was over.

Defeated, the guys took their guitars and amps and left the stage. Then the BBC caught up with them. And I got the boss, who brought his wife and kids over.

And Nabeel and Alec and Caesar played.

And it was a beautiful, perfect moment.

Even though a passing kid smacked Caesar on the head halfway through.