Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

Into the Woods November 27, 2008

Filed under: Adventure,food,humor,Life,Travel — wideawakeinwonderland @ 11:30 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

(Do you remember this musical? I never actually saw it, but I had the soundtrack so I kind of feel like I saw it. Although I didn’t. And now the song is in my head.)

Canoeing across the lake

Canoeing across the lake

Anywho, some friends have an annual Thanksgiving party up at a lakeside resort. They rent a huge cabin and anywhere from 20 to 30 people come and hang and stand around by the bonfire and eat way too much. I’m headed there in a few hours for tonight’s breaking in period. It’s almost like a fast to prepare for the binging ahead, as tonight’s meal is soup (although no one may be able to keep me out of the appetizers I prepared. I’m ready to feast!) Our Thanksgiving meal is a day late, so at least I’ll still be able to button my pants until some time tomorrow afternoon.

I’m looking forward to playing some games, eating some good food, and hopefully catching up on some reading and writing. With any luck, I may even make a few bucks. Last year I was offered $200 to strip nude and jump into the lake. I didn’t do it.

The bonfire (a.k.a. The Man Fire)

The bonfire (a.k.a. The Man Fire)

This year, I’m unemployed, and headed on a two week trip to the east coast next week. I’m thinking if I can get a pool going and get the pot up to $300 or more, they may just have a deal. Presuming I can find a wifi or internet connection of some kind, I’ll keep you posted as to my fund raising efforts.

Otherwise, I hate to cut this short, but with the burden of a todo list as long as my arm to address before I can hit the road, I must bid you adieu. In the meantime, you can enjoy some pictures from last year’s events. Happy Thanksgiving (or Happy Thursday depending upon where you live and what holidays you observe)! Bon appetit!

Cheers!

Cheers!

 

Catastrophe in real time: Canine road trip November 21, 2008

Sleeping in the car

Sleeping in the car

So after three weeks at home, it was time to get back out there and do some traveling. However, poor Dozer (my soft hearted Alaskan Malamute) suffers from residual mental duress caused by losing his sister and then me in a week’s time back in July. Whenever he’s given a bone or a toy since Pixie passed, he roams around with it crying and crying and crying. It distresses the hell out of me. So effectively both of us suffer.
Anyway, when an opportunity to go on a little journey arose, it didn’t seem right to leave Doh behind. So I decided to drive and take him with me. On paper (or screen), this might actually sound like a good idea.


However, truth be told, Dozer has led a pretty sheltered life, and it doesn’t take much to move his cheese. In fact, throw a coat over the back of a chair, and he’s liable to be spooked for half the day.


Moreover, and in light of some previous trips that ended with unexpected and unfortunate violent explosions out of both ends, I decided to see what gems the internet had to offer. I found a couple sites offering up road trip tips, and below you can find the condensed highlights:

A Month Before

Ummmm? What? A MONTH before? Oops.

  • Create the expectation. Even if your animal is accustomed to riding in a car to the vet or groomer, take her on some short trips to other destinations. Walk her around some new places, and let her sniff and explore at her leisure. New smells and new places are highlights in a critter’s life — almost as good as treats! These little warm-up road trips can create the expectation in your pet’s mind that a car trip will be fun — not just a ride with a rabies shot at the end.

  • Ask and ye shall receive (another picture of the beautiful boy)

    Ask and ye shall receive (another picture of the beautiful boy)

Hopefully he’s picked up some of my optimistic attitude and presumed a car trip would be fun, because there was no expectation setting beforehand. Oops #2

  • Get a first aid kit for your dog. It comes in very handy if you need to remove any ticks. The kits are usually available at a pet store, a veterinary office or on the Internet.

Oops #3. Hopefully we don’t need one these cause we don’t have one!

  • If you do not already have a dog harness for riding the car, consider purchasing one for your dog’s safety. They are usually sold at pet stores or on the Internet.

Ditto. Oops #4.

Several Days Before (hopefully morning of’ is good enough)

  • Make sure you have enough dog food for the duration of the trip. CHECK

  • If your dog is on any medication, remember to bring it along. CHECK

Road Trip Day

  • Remember to pack all of your dog’s necessities: food, water, dog dishes, leash, snacks and goodies, several favorite toys, brush, towels for dirty paws, plastic bags for cleaning up after your dog, doggie first aid kit, possibly dog booties if you are venturing to an especially cold or hot region, and bring any medicine your dog might be taking. CHECK

  • Before you head out, put on that doggie seat belt harness. Hard to do when you don’t own one. Oops #5.

  • Bring a current color photograph of your pet. If something happens you can easily show other people what your errant buddy looks like. If need be, you can easily make copies of the photo to assist in the search process. Hmmmm… Under the law of attraction this seems like a bad idea. I could get my hands on a picture if I had to. But I won’t have to.

  • Some hotels are so pet-friendly that they have treats waiting when you check in. We recommend that you not give these treats to your critters, having found from experience that it is much better for them to eat as consistent a diet as possible when they are on the road.

And in conclusion, oops #6. I’ve let him eat everything offered by friendly humans. Hopefully this does result in an explosive outcome that I have to clean!

Although I managed to mess up most of the tips, we made it here in one piece, and without much ado. By and large, I listened to motivational Tony Robbins CDs loaned to me by a friend, and Dozer slept with his face smashed up against the back window.

Meanwhile, we’re learning some new things about each other. Like that I can’t sleep through the sound of a dog whining. And that there is pretty much nothing more gross than walking around carrying a steaming bag of poop. And that he has some separation anxiety if left alone in strange places, that manifests as loud crying and howling and a concerted effort to beat down the door until I return. In hindsight, I wish I had some doggie downers or a tranquilizer gun, but I’ll make a note of that tip for next time.

Caspar the Friendly Ghost

Casper the Friendly Ghost

On the other hand, the more things change the more they stay the same: Doh remains consistent in his easily spooked and high strung ways. Walking down the street we passed a Washington Mutual branch with a large stuffed toy horse visible through the window (presumably some kind of a Christmas decoration and nice to see the government bailout funds are going to such good  use) and he went into complete and total shock and alarm. “It’s stuffed,” I told him. “It’s not real,” I continued, not at all concerned that talking aloud to a dog might be perceived as sad or even crazy by those passing by. Alas, it was for naught and he remained riveted on the vision of this giant white faux fur creature attempting to determine whether it was friend or foe and sizing up how to get inside the branch to fight it.

***sigh*** Reasoning with Dozer is like talking to a dog.

 

If you call and Charo answers…it’s just me November 14, 2008

The one and only Maria del Rosario Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza Rasten (a.k.a. Charo)

The one and only María del Rosario Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza Rasten (a.k.a. Charo)

First watch this (and, yes, you must endure a 30-second ad for Tide first).

Call in a second party to verify that there’s no way this is for real…and yet why is Diane Sawyer involved?

Then let’s talk.

http://cosmos.bcst.yahoo.com/up/player/popup/?rn=3906861&cl=10658663&ch=4226723&src=news

.

(and if somehow this doesn’t come through, Google “Yahoo foreign accent syndrome video”)

.

WHAT THE HELL!?!?

She doesn’t just have an accent, she’s not even speaking English correctly any more: “It’s the voice I have for 49 year.”

Is this something new I need to worry about!? I’m going to wake up some day speaking like a remedial ESL student? Maybe with an Asian accent (the single most far-fetched accent for a blond white woman. Except maybe for Jamaican.) I love flied lice!

What I really don’t like is the alleged fluency in languages she doesn’t know (she claimed), and never studied (ditto). So is she like possessed by a host of dead foreign people!? Channeling? How the heck is this possible!?!? It’s obviously not some form of savant-ism or super intellect, because she never studied those languages. I don’t know about you, but that spooks me out.

Another question: I can do a pretty good fake Scottish, British, and Irish accents. Couldn’t these women just do a fake American accent? Just asking…

On the other hand, put through this filter, perhaps Madonna isn’t faking a British accent. Perhaps she’s just having a series of minor strokes?

p.s.

After Liviu’s comment (on ‘Leaving on a Midnight Train to Sighisoara’ and worth a read – the comment that is!), I am feeling REALLY grateful to still have an intact brain at all.  And kidneys. And my own liver. Seriously. All throughout Romania people kept looking horrified that I was alone and saying things like, “You must have very big courage,” but I just thought they were being friendly or referring to my oversized backpack. Jinkies! I almost lived the movie ‘Hostel’!

I enjoy the crazy travel stories as much as (or more than?) the next guy, but not ones that start with, “Let me tell you about why I’m attached to this here dialysis machine…”

 

A happy ending was had by all November 6, 2008

The only large animal I feel safe communing with.

The only large animal I feel safe communing with.

It’s never a popular thing when tigers are running around loose. Remember that whole mess at the SF Zoo last year? Not good.

Although it’s never occurred to me to taunt the zoo animals, I also thought I could be fairly confident in my assumption that they couldn’t get out and make actual physical contact. I once had something going on at the Vancouver Aquarium where a large male sea lion got really heated up every time I came near the glass. He was ramming it like something out of “Jaws 3-D,” and I was glad there was no way he could get to me…right? I have through the years made the same false assumptions with land animals, and in my folly I sometimes give them dirty looks or maybe just a stern glare just to remind them who’s boss.

However, it seems like the odds of confronting a tiger in unexpected locales – like in  a quiet neighborhood or even in your house – is increasing.

3 tigers escape circus truck in western Mexico

The local newspaper Cambio de Michoacan says the escaped felines holed up in house in the western city of Zitacuaro. When the tigers started breaking down the home’s fence, police lobbed them chickens to eat until a dogcatcher and the animals’ trainer arrived.

The big cats were recaptured Wednesday and taken to a local police station where they were held until their owner agreed to pay for the chickens and damage to the fence.

Now, if you’ve ever been in Mexico and seen the circus truck roll through town this is not entirely shocking. If there’s ever been a situation screaming “OSHA violation” or “Bad Idea on Wheels” the Mexican circus truck parade is it. Wild animals come rolling down small cobblestone streets in cages barely fit to restrain a hamster.  Sometimes they even let the ‘tame’ ones (like camels) walk alongside. I would have to imagine the mix of smells and chaos and temptation is overwhelming for your average white Bengal tiger. Like throwing chum to great white sharks.

This reminds me of a vacation I took in Belize about four years ago. We were on the island of Ambergris, where there are no cars, only bicycles and golf carts. However, as I recall, we didn’t have either when we came upon a large crowd gathered around a sand bar. After a few inquiries, what we learned was that an (alleged) 13-foot crocodile lived out in the surrounding waters. Three Einsteins had tied ropes around raw chickens and were casting them out into the water to tempt the croc onto the land.

“Are you guys from Jackass?” I asked one of them, and he gave me a dirty look. I actually could see the beast out in the water, and that’s when I started to do the math: Crocodiles can run. On a good day, I could outrun one, but what about a day when I’d had a questionable number of Belikin beers and was simultaneously terrified? Everyone else had a bicycle or a golf cart. If I were a crocodile, I’d go for the stupid (albeit skinny) lady on foot. Beats raw chickens any day.

 

However, just like the Mexican home invasion, my story has a happy ending…which is to say nothing really happened. Down in Belize, the crocodile stayed in the water and we wandered on. And it seems, in Mexico, the fence and chickens having been reimbursed, the tigers returned to their illustrious circus careers, planning their escape for another day.

 

Final nail in the banking coffin November 2, 2008

Back in the civilized world of straightening irons and martinis!

Back in the civilized world of straightening irons, nail polish, warm turtlenecks, and martinis!

I was, as you probably recall, in Santorini on my birthday. That night I was in my room when my Skype ‘rang,’ and a good friend of mine was on the other end. I had to hang out of the window of the room to get a consistent wifi signal, but we still managed to have a fairly lengthy conversation.

Anyway, at some point I remember her saying to me that my talents were elsewhere, and if I tried to go back to banking and my old ways/old career, I would have to answer to her. I love that idea, largely because deep inside I know I am destined to do something else, but I worry that the lure of money and security and even to some degree predictability could serve as a siren song.

That is why I decided to make a little physical change.
In 1992, I went off to college at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) intent on pursuing a marine biology career. Marine Biology, it turns out, does NOT consist of riding around in exotic waters with Jacques Cousteau, so I was quickly disenchanted. UCSC has a wonderful Marine Bio program, but otherwise it’s a big hippie commune filled with all sorts of young people with varying levels of emotional disturbance (present company included).

Thus, and perhaps not surprisingly, all my roommates were getting tattoos – usually very large ones across their back or stomach (which I, in all my practicality yet failure to self-edit, mused aloud as to how bad that would look if the recently tattooed young woman ever got pregnant or just fat.) This was the very early days of what is now the omnipresent ‘young people with tattoos’ trend, although Santa Cruz was probably a little ahead of its time in that regard.

I’m a chicken, and I didn’t feel strongly enough about any animal, vegetable, mineral, or word to get it permanently inked onto my person. However, there was also branding and piercing to choose from, so I took the most reversible course of action and had my nose pierced. I wore a small ring in my nose until my mid-20s when a mix of things (mostly work making me take it out, partly the widespread appearance of similar rings all of the sudden, etc.) caused me to take it out for good.

A few months ago, I realized I finally had a word that meant enough to me to tattoo it (discretely – in white ink and where I can cover it with a watch) onto myself. I suppose this is why I tuned into the number of tattoo/piercing parlors lining Istiklal Street in Istanbul the first day I arrived.

However, to my surprise, I found I still didn’t feel it was time to do the tattoo but rather I felt compelled to have my nose pierced again. This is partially because I always liked it and thought it suited me, partly because it can always be ‘undone’ if you change your mind for some reason, and mostly because bankers and banking consultants don’t have shiny things in their right nostril. It was – and now it is – a line in the sand between that world and me. The final nail in the banking consultant coffin.

Granted, I could have gone really extreme and had puzzle pieces tattooed onto my face, but scaring children isn’t really my bag, and I don’t want to drive nails into EVERY career out there. I mean, what’s left when you turn yourself into the guy from Hell Raiser? Circus Freak? Total digression: Do you remember that ad for some kind of phone service where people think that now that they have the service, phone conversations will go differently? And some guy tattooed with big stripes head to toe is calling an Asian man who says, “Sorry Roger. You tiger now.” Every time I saw that, it cracked me up.

Anyway, a Turkish man who spent time in Australia (so his English was very good, but the accent nearly unfathomable) did the piercing for me on Tuesday night. It’s subtle, but if you enlarge today’s picture, you can see it. It has been healing well, despite the questionable mix of products used to clean it.

Yesterday I learned that the clear fluid I am to use several times a day to wipe it down is sold in the U.S. as nasal spray. The pharmacist told me I could boil water and put a little salt in it, and it’s the same thing. Nice.

In their defense, I also have Betadine – the orange stuff they put on skin before doing surgery. If you’ve ever had a pet spayed (or any other major surgery), their whole belly comes home covered in the stuff. That at least actually qualifies as medicine of some sort.

Anyway, as I mentioned, from day one it’s healed remarkably, and that’s probably why I didn’t think it through when I got a facial yesterday. The weirdest part about that, is that I woke up ‘practicing’ explaining that the pierce was new to someone who didn’t speak very good English. When I realized what I was doing, I caught myself thinking, “That’s crazy. You’re back in America. You don’t have to go through all that any more.”

But I spoke too soon. Irina, the lovely woman who did my facial, is Russian and so-so on the English. Although she seemed to understand me, she managed to pull the thing out of my poor nose THREE times during the initial face wash. Holy crap!

It got worse from there. This is really gross, and not a feature of facials that I enjoy (and may come as a horrifying shock to the men out there), but part of a facial is that they clear your blackheads. Manually. Like in a manner that they tell you NOT to do when you’re a teenager. And it hurts. And it REALLY hurts when someone spies one 2mm from your brand new piercing and goes to town contorting your nose in 300 excruciatingly painful directions.

Tears rolling down my face, I finally had to tell her rather ferociously that we were DONE over there. No more touching the right side of my nose for ANY REASON. If it bursts into flames – don’t touch it. If a small alien pops out of the nostril – don’t touch it. If the voice of God booms into the room and commands you to touch it – DO NOT TOUCH IT.

The facial proceeded without further incident. I went home, and was a little freaked out, but I cleaned up with the nasal spray and Betadine and all is once again well. And although there may be banks – or at least a liberal credit union or two – that would still have me despite the pierce, in my own mind it serves as a further commitment to changing my life and finding a way to make a living at something creative. Plus – I think – it’s cute.

 

Happy Halloween!! October 31, 2008

Although I'm a tiny bit embarassed to share this, here is your blogger as Catwoman.

Although I'm a tiny bit embarrassed to share this with you, I said I would so...here you go!

Halloween is an iconic American tradition, and I’m happy I decided to come home in time to participate. I have a Cat Woman costume that borders on obscene (and yes, those of you who appreciate me for more than my mind, I promise to post a picture) and a whole lot of enthusiasm to be back in a land where I can eavesdrop and actually understand what’s being said.

I also got home in time to vote. I won’t get into my politics – although it might make for a more popular blog in the short run – as I largely agree with anyone who suggests that it’s pretty much six of one, half-dozen of the other (meaning all candidates are largely interchangeable in the big picture). At the same time, I can’t say I’ll miss George W. If anything, my association with the man (association being that I happen to hail from the country he governs) has been the source of much antagonism and ill-will throughout Europe.

I believe in method acting.

I believe in method acting.

In particular, I recall a Greek cabbie who – without any discussion of my views whatsoever – launched into a fairly intense diatribe upon learning that I was American. The point repeated over and over was that, “After the towers fell, everyone was for America. Everyone. We were all for America. But then George Bush ruined that. He ruined America.”

I’m not suggesting that’s a coherent or well-phrased argument, but I will say that it summarizes the feelings of EVERYONE who dared to share an opinion the last three months. It’s sad to me that we have lost the respect of the greater world, and it seems a crying shame.

But enough about that. It’s Halloween, and I’m home. And tomorrow is a brand new day. And come Tuesday it’s a brand new presidency. And in the middle of all this opportunity is my brand new life. And anything is possible.

I’m off to squeeze into a poorly made shiny plastic outfit and find some good old fashioned fun. Whether or not you celebrate Halloween, I wish you a wonderful Saturday night! Take stock of what’s going RIGHT in your life, and make a toast to happiness: “May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you are going, and the insight to know when you have gone too far.”

 

Goodbye with a smile

Right after I cleared customs at JFK. Looking surprisingly lively for having been up 26 consecutive hours (with more to go!)

Right after I cleared customs at JFK. Looking surprisingly lively for having been up 26 consecutive hours (with more to go!) As an aside, the customs process we've set up for visitors (with the fingerprint and the photo and all that) is the living, breathing definition of clusterf-ck.

It’s nice to be back among people who flush their toilet paper. In Turkey – if there is any – they want you to throw it into a community trash bin or just on the floor in the general vicinity. Either way. this practice ensures a perpetual state of horror for the Western user. It’s also a fairly solid guarantee that the entire room always smells like a construction site Port-a-potty that’s been baking in the sun for a month.

Having lived with this TP scenario for the last three weeks, I thought I’d seen it all. That was until the water stopped running at the hostel last night, and things turned a little bit “Midnight Express.” After defiling the three bathrooms (which wasn’t much of a stretch), the natives grew restless. My friend and I were up late into the night, and at one point I heard water running. “It’s back on!” I told her happily, and she listened for a moment and informed me that what we were actually listening to was the sound of men urinating in the shower next to our room. ***cringe***

But, as you know, that is behind us now. I’m on an Air France flight from Paris to New York, and she is on a train to Macedonia. Although I’m in economy class, the trip seems positively luxurious. There’s a little TV in the back of the seat in front of me with dozens of movies (I just watched “Baby Mama” and “Sex and the City” and have moved on to “Hancock”), they served me a decent hot dinner that wasn’t a greasy schwarma sandwich, and no one has gratuitously hit on me in thirteen hours. Don’t get me wrong. I loved Turkey, but the men really need to get a grip.

We never actually got into the Blue Mosque the first time around, so we went back yesterday. Our timing was once again off, as prayer was in full swing, so my friend went to the bathroom, and I waited outside by the entrance while some guy shot a video of me. That ought to be some fascinating footage – me minding my own business, then realizing what was happening and transitioning from self-conscious to annoyed. It occurred to me that this must be a small taste of what it’s like to be a celebrity – you can’t get five feet down the street without people hassling you. Admittedly, in that case there are a few more perks (millions of dollars, mansions, fancy dinners, creative work, etc.), but it would still be a drag to put up with that day after day after day.

Anyway, imagine my surprise when I saw my friend approaching and chatting with a man in a suit. They shook hands, and as they drew closer I recognized him: The Blue Mosque Man from two days before!!! The jerk that treated her like crap! Could it be?? Was he apologizing for his behavior?

They came up, and I looked at her wide-eyed. He turned, put out a hand, and introduced himself as if we had never met.. Wha….???? I said to her, “Isn’t that the….???” and she said, “Yes.”

“What did you just say to her?” he snapped.

In hindsight, what I SHOULD have said is “That I recognize you. You met us two days ago, and you’re a total dick. Go away,” but instead I felt intimidated by the way he was looking at me, and went into an inadvertent Helen Keller impersonation – deaf, dumb, and blind. I completely ignored him and grabbed her. He followed us for a little while, and – true to form – took his leave with a rude comment. And he wasn’t the only guy to turn hostile when rebuffed yesterday. Un-freaking-believable. They should make these guys wear a sign.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of Turkey, and I would recommend visiting EVEN IF you have blue eyes and blond hair. Honestly. I would like to go back and see the areas I didn’t get to visit and spend some more time on the coast.

Güle güle (pronounced goolay goolay and probably not too bad sung to the tune of “Wooly Bully”) is one of the key phrases of my (pitifully limited) Turkish vocabulary. It means ‘goodbye with a smile’, and despite the annoyances and troubles and the concern that I might be forced to open a can of American whoop @ss on some unsuspecting guy, I am leaving there with a smile.

Otherwise, I’m kind of a weird mix of emotions right now. I’m ready to take a break from the traveling for a while, but I don’t know what happens next. I don’t have my career or even a job to return to, and I know deep inside I don’t want to go back down that road if I can possibly help it. I feel a little scared, but the plan is to channel that fear into writing and see what the universe offers up in the upcoming weeks and months. Put into perspective, my level of fear pales in comparison to how i felt when I left just three months ago for Iceland.

Traveling is all-encompassing. It takes you out of your head and away from your day to day concerns. It gives you a chance to just ‘be’, and reconnect with yourself, and spend your time as you wish, and see what that feels like. So now that I have this knowledge and this knowing, it’s time to apply it. One of my friends told me today, “You will be refreshed once you get back. Take some time to reflect on your trip and decompress. Then everything will begin to become clear for you.”

Amen to that.

 

Time to Move On October 29, 2008

Waiting outside the Blue Mosque for the hour they let us infidels in.

Waiting outside the Blue Mosque for the hour they let us infidels in.

In preparation for one of the longer travel days of my life, I have some serious packing to do. I have a ton of things to tell you about, but I hope you forgive me as I think I’ll pend them until tomorrow (when I have extensive sitting on my butt plane time and a five-hour layover at Charles de Gaulle to find an internet hot spot.)

The Blue Mosque with perfect lighting (just after sunset)

The Blue Mosque with perfect lighting (just after sunset)

In exchange for your indulgence, I’ll post some pictures from the last couple days, and hopefully the captions will satisfy any Turkey cravings. Be careful the triptophan chaser. It’s a doozy.

As for me, the hostel no longer offers running water, and a strange man walked into the room T and I share while I was changing (she was downstairs at the time). It’s time to go.

I thought this shot was National Geographic-worthy. YET ANOTHER possible career opportunity!?

I thought this shot was National Geographic-worthy. YET ANOTHER possible career opportunity!?

It’s been a long, short, strange, complicated, exhilarating, exhausting, frustrating, and wonderful three months. In a way, I’m sorry to see it end. On the other hand, if there is one thing you know about me by now, it’s that I like to move on. And I’m ready. Admittedly, the locale isn’t quite so exotic, but I’m certain the story will continue to be compelling. And if it isn’t, I’ll just start making sh*t up.

Inside a mosque, flashing the blue eyes that get us into so much trouble...

Inside a mosque, flashing the blue eyes that get us into so much trouble...

So I leave you tonight with the (immortal?) words of Mr. Tom Petty,

Time to move on. Time to get going,

What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing

Under my feet, babe, the grass is growing

Time to move on. Time to get going.

 

When bon appetit goes bad October 28, 2008

Years ago I went on two-week trip to Thailand. Overall, it was a great experience except for one little tiny glitch – I loathed Thai food. Just the smell of it on the streets would make my stomach turn. I got by on a mishmash of Power Bars, McDonalds, and poorly executed versions of Western classics. You never know what will get lost in translation: breakfast sausage and canned cocktail wieners were considered interchangeable.

Nonetheless, all was well until the day we found ourselves in a small village near the Burmese (Myanmar) border, and there was nothing but Thai food. Absolutely nothing. For three days. Never much of one for food strikes, I put on a brave face and ate most of the rice and as much as I could tolerate otherwise. They say no good deed goes unpunished, and within twelve hours, I was brought to my knees by a ferocious bout of food poisoning. I honestly thought I might die. Somewhere out there are pictures of me lying on a hammock, looking up to the heavens, and praying for a swift death.

This little tale is made extra ironic by the fact that for somehow I was convinced to try Thai food again…and now I really like it.

Anyway, and in contrast, this trip has been a breeze. Minus the very occasional and comparatively mild digestive disturbance, I’ve eaten the local, the freaky, and even the scary (from a hygiene perspective, anyway) without trouble. In fact, street food has been a good friend along the way. I’ve found I like being able to pick up a corn on the cob for my walk across the Bosphorous, and I rarely say no to a roasted chestnut.

However, I must confess that I have hit a food wall. By and large, I can’t do it any more. I’m done. The mere sight of the giant meat log from which the schwarma/kepab/kebab/gyro is cut now turns my stomach like the Thai food of yore. The thought of drinking any more salty yogurt, eating another piece of goat-derived cheese, or laying down good money for some cold eggplant makes me ill. The food isn’t making me sick – I’m just sick of it.

Now I imagine this next suggestion may hurt some feelings. I mean no harm, but I really do think that the Greeks and the Turks must have sat down and drawn up their national cuisines together. You could blindfold me and present me with a ‘best of’ plate from each country, and I swear it’s pretty much the same exact thing. The only clear differences are the names:

  • pastry with either spinach, cheese or ham inside

  • yogurt in varied and sundry forms

  • olives, olives, olives

  • salty crumbly cheese made from goat milk

  • a clear alcohol that tastes like licorice and turns cloudy if you add water

  • meat on a stick

  • fourteen different oily salads made of cold eggplant

And I’m not saying any of this is BAD, I’m just saying I’ve been eating it for almost a month. And I’m starting to hate it. And I think I’m ready to go home. To a large degree, I look forward to the cornucopia that is our lack of food identity. Sure, we have too many choices. Sure, overall we’re way too fat and dying faster than anyone else. But I swear, if there’s anything better than being able to eat from the menu of any country, nationality, or creed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner…I don’t know what it is.

I’m sure the day will come that I crave a Greek salad rather than shudder at the thought one, or find myself trying to make a chicken gyro and tzatziki in my own kitchen. It could happen. It probably will. But for now, having discovered an actual jar of peanut butter in the local grocery store, it’s PB&J and Pilav (rice pilaf) until I am back on my own turf. And I couldn’t be happier. Bon Appetit!

 

It’s always good to have a backup plan October 27, 2008

In case you were starting to worry about my job prospects based on my faith based plan to transition to a writing career, you may be relieved to hear I’ve gotten some alternative offers. Saturday I received my first marriage proposal of the trip. Should things not work out for me back at home, I have been invited to live out my days running a cheap hotel in Bodrum, Turkey. This arrangement was suggested during the ride to the airport, along with pleas not to leave or to return immediately after the marathon. At first I was offered the role of business partner, and then my impending departure encouraged him to put all the cards on the table. When my young suitor sensed I wasn’t going to go for it, the ante was upped with promises of regular picnics, fishing trips, and all-night clubbing with the hotel guests in the summers. I’ve hit an age where all-night sleeping is WAY more appealing than all-night clubbing, but I guess this is one of those differences that keeps things spicy?

If you think it sounds aggressive – if not preposterous – to propose to a hotel guest you’ve known for less than 24 hours, then you clearly haven’t spent much time in Turkey.

I had heard the men were pushy in their zeal to sell carpets, trinkets, and fish dinners – and they are – but I seem to be attracting an additional level of attention. For those of you that aren’t naturally aggressive and would like to try these moves on the next interesting female you see, I offer this step-by-step outline:

  1. Make eye contact and stare into her eyes as if you are trying to bore into her very soul. Think about pictures you’ve seen of Charlie Manson or Saddam Hussein and try to emulate that semi-insane and super intense ferocity

  2. Continue stare for as long as humanly possible while simultaneously mustering courage for step three

  3. Break the ice with a cheap and easy pick up line. “Where are you from?” is exceedingly popular, but innocuous. You won’t be original, but you probably won’t send her into a high speed run in the other direction. This is also best-directed at someone you’re pretty sure doesn’t live next door. If you want to mix it up, some other options include:

      • Are you from Heaven?
      • I would like to make your holiday better.

      • Do you know this word, “Gorgeous?”

      • My friend and I have a bet. Are you from <<<insert country here>>> (helps if you have a friend)

      • Buy her a mussel from a street vendor (I fell for this one, and that is how I met Octopus Man)

Octopus Man was no doubt the worst of them, although Carpet Man and Blue Mosque Man were contenders. And, in the hopes you will find it entertaining and perhaps educational, I will share the moves and highlight the fumbles.

Carpet Man: 21 or 22 years old – Stopped my friend and I on the street outside a carpet shop in Sultanahmet. We cannot remember if the pickup line had to do with where we were from (my recollection) or “Can you tell me the most famous thing about Turkey?” The latter line was used at some point, and I guessed carpets and then kebap, but the correct answer was “hospitality!” We were then invited in for apple tea (they all try to get you with the apple tea). However on this occasion, my friend seemed open to it (probably the cold and rain as much as anything) so I went along with her.

I sat on the far end of the couch, and left her with the middle, next to him. Other young men emerged from elsewhere in the store or on the street, and wanted to discuss American politics, the U.S. banking system, and how long Slovenia has been on the euro. Carpet Man seemed disgruntled and moved to the other end of the store to look at a newspaper. At some point, the discussion turned to hammams (the Turkish baths), and where we should go.

A voice that sounded like a robot announced, “I give good massage. I give good massage.” Carpet Man was back in the action. “You do not waste your money on hammam. I massage you best.” We declined, and he waved me over, “Come here. I give you massage. You no like, you leave.” Then he tried to get me to go upstairs because “he had something to show me.” Yikes. What am I? 15 years old?

At this point, I was glad I hadn’t drank the tea (which tasted like hot apple cider). I’m such a paranoiac that after one sip I realized that if he’d slipped something in it, I wouldn’t be able to taste it. Then I noticed that my friend had drained hers dry – one of us needed to be sober enough to get us out of there!

The massage offers were endless, and he eventually placed himself on the arm of the couch just inches away from me. “I’ll massage your legs!” he cried out. Now, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m really horribly sore in my thighs…but there’s no amount of sore that would cause me to go for that. We got up, and as we were walking out, he commented that I had very nice legs, grabbed both my calves, and pleaded for us to come back tomorrow.

Critical blunder: Excessive aggressiveness

Blue Mosque Man: early to mid-30s – Approached us as my friend was taking a picture of me in front of the Aya Sofia. “I will make picture for you!” was the ice breaker. He worked through the usual rigmarole (where from, how long here, what have you seen), to which I kept replying that we were in a hurry and thank you very much, but no thank you. Then I went back to trying to pose for the photo.

At this point, Blue Mosque Man (still standing next to my friend) starts saying, “She is very pretty. Don’t you think she is very beautiful?” Uncomfortable photo completed, I tried to get us out of there by mentioning that we were rushing off to the Blue Mosque. He said that we needed to hurry, because it was closing soon.

My friend had been in Istanbul a couple weeks ago and went into the mosque at 7pm, so she vaguely implied that she thought he might be mistaken. From there, he demanded to know why she thought he was lying. As we approached the mosque, I stopped to take a photo. At this point, I was pretty sure I heard him ask, “Where are you from? Are you from Mars?” I took a couple pictures as they walked away together. As I just about caught up to her, he turned around and walked toward me. “Oh great,” I thought…and then he walked right past me without a word. When I caught up to her, he had apparently been incredibly obnoxious and even mean to her! This, I think, only works with women who are into being abused.

Critical blunder: Unfounded rudeness

Octopus Man: 25 (he showed us his ID, born in 1983) – You can buy a wide variety of foods from the Istanbul street vendors – corn on the cob, cashews, rice and garbanzo beans, sesame bagels, and mussels. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t feel compelled to try them all. I stopped to ask if the mussels were raw, and the vendor cut one open and presented it to me. “Is it raw? Is it raw!?” I kept asking, but he didn’t speak enough English to answer. He’d already cut it open, so I felt compelled to take it. It was, by the way, totally disgusting. It had all this bumpy stuff – like eggs or something. I like mussels, but this was sick. Are they all that way raw!?!?

Anyway, a guy in a suit showed up and ate a few mussels. When I tried to figure out if I needed to pay the vendor, it was clear that the suit guy (later to be re-dubbed Octopus Man) had taken care of it. I thanked him, and we walked away.

Seconds later, he came up alongside us with the typical questions. His English was abysmal, so we slipped into silence and continued walking. He trailed along all the way. Then he started reaching out via pantomime. “Do you dance?” he asked me. (and if I’d had the words, “Not well” would be the accurate answer. I try to avoid dancing because I have no natural sense of rhythm and am quite a pitiful sight.) We tried to explain about the marathon the next morning and were not partying and needed our sleep, but it wasn’t getting through.

He spent a lot of time on his phone, and eventually communicated that he had friends that spoke good English. He wanted me to come with him to meet them. Obviously this was not going to happen.

I had a list of Turkish words translated into English given to me by Orhan, and I pulled it out to see if it would help. In response to my sorry attempts to communicate, he put his arm around me and squeezed in a “You’re so cute” kind of way. But then the arm didn’t leave. And then he kept trying to kiss my cheek. I kept looking at my friend – now laughing uncontrollably – and mouthing the words HELP ME. I would slip out of his grip, and he would come back twice as strong. I remember reading that if you SCUBA with giant squid they will wrap themselves all around you. The same can be said for young Turkish men who buy you a disgusting raw street mussel.

Anyway, as we walked down the street, my friend got stuck in the role of translator, even though she doesn’t speak Turkish. At one point, he pulled out his wallet, which she understood to mean he wanted to know how old I was. “I’m old,” I told him, “OLD. Too old or you,” but he didn’t understand, and kept looking at me deliriously.

Having been through this the night before with Orhan who had seen my passport and still didn’t believe me, I really didn’t want to go through this again. Octopus Man was telling us that he was 25, and started guessing my age. “21?” he guessed. No. “22?” On it went. When we got to 27, he pulled out his wallet again, apparently thinking we didn’t understand what he was asking.

“Just agree,” I told her. “Tell him anything. I do NOT want to get into this with this guy.”

The numbers started over. Eventually, she nodded to him, “Yes. 26. She’s 26.” He hugged me again in sheer bliss. By now we were to the hostel, and said goodbye. After thwarting yet another attempted kiss, he touched me on the cheek, “Baby face,” he said, smiling down at me, “Baby face…”

No kidding, baby face. You have no idea, my friend. NO IDEA.

 

 
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