Wide Awake in Wonderland

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

Special special needs December 4, 2008

handicappedI was musing to myself that it would be nice to have a little income stream during this intermediary period. Rest assured, I have some (I think) good ideas in me noggin, and I’m getting some irons in the fire, so things should start to shape up and some cash rolling in by spring. However, seeing as I left my job rather than wait to be laid off (which I now very much wonder if I might have been. I don’t know how much demand there would’ve been for our boutique banking consulting services), I’m not eligible for unemployment.


Then it occurred me to me: I’ve been paying into the system for a good, long time. Maybe a little disability wouldn’t be too much to ask for? Admittedly (and happily), I’m healthy and (I think) mentally stable, but I do have a few unique flaws that I believe should be taken into consideration by the fine folks at the disability claims area:

Stove Dyslexia – This is the kind of thing that destroys families. I cannot turn on the burner I intended to turn on, and it is not my fault. This disorder has caused me considerable pain and trauma: Meals have been late, caffeine fixes unnecessarily delayed, several dish towels have burn marks on them, and I have even suffered the unspeakable – yes, I have lost arm hair. The smell torments my dreams to this day.


Irritable Howl Syndrome (IHS) – my dog has innovated this horrific banshee scream cum wolf howl noise that he’s very proud of. He will go out onto the back porch and let out this blood curdling sound until I go and drag him inside by the the collar. Nine times out of ten, he runs downstairs, goes out his dog door, and resumes again within two minutes. It drives me crazy, and if crazy isn’t grounds for disability payments, I don’t know what is.


Verification Word Blindness – For some reason Yahoo thinks I’m a spammer, and it constantly makes me type in the secret word it generates to confirm I’m a real human being. And I can never get the word right. Never. I have been known to try and fail five, six, seven times…until I finally have to call someone else in to help me. This is as embarrassing as it is emotionally crippling, and leads me to fear I may be a robot or android and no one has let me in on this yet.


Obsessive Compulsive Spellcheck Disorder (OCSD) – Yes, I am the obnoxious friend who notices you wrote ‘too’ when you meant ‘to’ or that you used the wrong their/they’re/there or that you’re a bit, shall we say, apostrophe ‘s’ happy. Also, the rumors are true: The dish is broken, not broke and irregardless is illogical, and thus not actually a word.


Curlyhairophobia – I have naturally curly hair, but I am not a fan. At all. And I have invested hundreds if not thousands of dollars into lotions and potions and straighteners and other accoutrement to fight my Irish genes. Possibly also related (to the genes more than the hair), I’ve also been known to go a little berserk if I get caught in the rain in my recently straightened hair. Okay, not a little beserk. A lot beserk. This no doubt speaks to some kind of rage disorder worthy of a little income.


Chronic Fashionista Syndrome – I’m obsessed with clothes. I’m driven to read each and every page of Elle, Lucky, In Style, Latina, Essence, or whatever you’ve got in search of tips, tricks, and the latest styles. This in turn manifests as an insatiable need for new stuff, adorable stuff, sexy stuff, any stuff…so long as it’s more stuff. This disorder speaks to my inner sadness and unquenchable emptiness, as well as a desire to look cute.


Cash deficit disorder (CDD) – See Above.

Syphilis – I’m just kidding. I don’t have syphilis. And I hope not to. So if you have it, stop looking at me and stay on your side of the bar. That is unless it’s grounds for a monthly stipend. Then I might consider actually allowing my bare ass to touch the rim of a gas station toilet seat and seeing what Mother Nature has up her sleeve.


I’m certain by now you agree. I am more than deserving of a cash influx…stat.

 

Cause célèbre November 22, 2008

Me and Dozer over the weekend

Me and Dozer over the weekend

It’s official.

My dog, Dozer, is a celebrity, a sensation, and a canine rock star. I doubt Bono would’ve caused a bigger fuss than the Big Doh elicited today. Quite frankly, speaking as a regular non-famous and non-famous looking human being, I’ve never seen anything like this. Ever.

A million years ago I knew Weird Al Yankovic and we once went to get some ice cream before one of his shows. A few people came up and asked for his autograph, but (and no offense, Al), it was nothing like the response to my dog.

You walk him down busy city streets and people stop in their tracks, drop to their knees, and start kissing him. Actually, I find this extremely brave considering the number one rule of strange dogs (particularly huge strange dogs) is don’t invade their space unless you know it’s safe. Luckily for the crazed dog lovers stroking him, embracing him, and even sticking their lips millimeters from his mouth on every block, it’s safe.

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Last night, a group of Japanese tourists ran out into traffic, their eyes shining as they frantically dug out their cameras. This is a testament to his northern beauty, a furry siren song, as these folks were risking death or at a least a head-on collision with a bus in order to meet Dozer and have their pictures taken with him. I’m starting to think if this writing career idea doesn’t pan out, maybe I’ll just set up on the corners of popular tourist attractions like Times Square, Las Vegas Boulevard, or the Embarcadero and charge $1.00 per hug? $3.00 for photos.

Either that or take him to Hollywood and get this pretty boy an agent. I foresee a bright future selling Eukanuba or Kibbles and Bits and Bits (with more Bits!).
It worked for Benji, and he wasn’t even all that cute.

The look on his face in this picture makes me laugh

The look on his face in this picture makes me laugh

 

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.

 

Love – and a little well-timed hate – will keep us together October 22, 2008

This is one goat who knows how to mug for a camera

This is one goat who knows how to mug for a camera

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of money on dog school. A LOT of money. My German Shepherd went to every class offered through the local trainer: Puppy school, intermediate classes, advanced theory and logic, you name it. We spent Saturday mornings at ‘Agility’, Tuesday nights at ‘Paw and Order’, and who can forget “Choose to Heel”? This was a class in which my disobedient mutt was allegedly going to learn to CHOOSE to heel by my side – with or without a leash. This would be achieved partly through dog-training magic and largely because I lured her on with a fistful of roast beef.

Putting a closed fist of roast beef in front of a German Shepherd (mix breed or not) is like sticking your hand into a piranha tank: STUPID. I renamed that class “Choose to Eat,” and I would drive home each time bleeding all over the steering wheel. They no longer offered ‘Choose to Heel’ by the time Dozer came around, and Pixie, God bless her, never heeled a day in her life.

And Pix was my SMART dog. A veritable genius next to the Malamute, who for all his heart and beauty is several bones short of a skeleton (a la ‘several sandwiches short of a picnic’ but more dog-esque). So despite dozens of hours, hundreds of dollars, and vast amounts of energy contributed toward training their hairy behinds, I was a little bummed to discover that mine are not as remotely well-trained as the average European hound.

Case in point: While walking down a busy Vienna street, I passed a large supermarket. Outside sat several dogs – large dogs, like Labradors and Golden Retrievers, and not tied to anything or physically restrained in any way – urgently awaiting their owner’s return. They sat there anxiously peering in every time the sliding doors would open, hoping to catch just a glimpse of their beloved human. If MY dogs were left unleashed outside a large urban grocery store? They’d be hailing the first cab, trying to make it to the county line before I got out of the produce section. Their only passing thought would be, “Holy crap, we’re free to do as we please! Let’s GO!!!!!!”

This is probably why I find the unwavering obedience of the dogs of Europe so amazing. What kind of spells are these people putting on these dogs!? What kind of Cesar Milan dog whispering mojo does everyone possess!? And it’s not just the dogs. The goats of Greece seem uniquely self-possessed. They all stay within a few yards of their appointed yogurt and honey shack or gyro shed, sans collar or rope or fence. It’s positively spell-binding in its own simple way.

Maybe it has something to do with the baffling love/hate spectacle I witnessed today?

This afternoon, I ran across what may be the ugliest cat in the whole country. If you are familiar with cat breeds, I’d describe him as a “Scottish Fold gone wrong.” I was trying to get a few photos of the spectacle, when an older woman came out with a giant pile of cat food and meat – like enough meat to make a couple decent schwarmas. She placed the plate on the floor in front of the cat, and then proceeded to beat him with a newspaper while screaming at him.

A face only a mother could love...

A face only a mother could love...

I found this pretty damn confusing, personally. Anyway, she left, and the ugly cat went and took a few nibbles off the heaping mound of food. Then he went back to where I’d first spotted him, and resumed his sour expression.

Not two minutes later, the woman came back out, yelled what I can only presume are Greek expletives at him, and yet again swatted at him with a newspaper. She seemed to be swatting him toward the food, but who really knows what the hell was happening here??? She carried on like this for a minute, then started down the street, threw the newspaper in a trash bin, and turned a corner.

The cat turned and made eye contact with me, and I could almost swear he shrugged his shoulders. “She hates me,” his look seemed to say, ‘but I’m ugly as sin, and still I find myself the best-fed cat in Greece.” It is indeed a crazy world.

In other news, I can officially confirm that the mosquitos of Kos, Greece do NOT carry malaria. Because if they did, I’d be in the local hospital. I’ve been on Kos three nights, and it’s pretty much been a bloodletting around here. I’ve got no less than 20 bites per limb, a giant bite on my cheek, and a full-blown ‘mosquito sound’ neurosis well underway. Thank god I spent so much time in the Egyptian section of the Athenian archaeological museum. I applied several of the mummification techniques in order to wrap myself in my bed sheet last night in vain hope of keeping the whining mosquitoes at bay. I even wrapped my head, which is not a particularly comfortable way to sleep.

Communing with goats

Communing with goats

But I think in the end it was worth it. I’m not sure how to prove it, but I’m fairly confident that I’m at least one quart of blood richer for my efforts, and that can only be a good thing as I draw ever closer to the big race on Sunday. More blood = less chance of dropping dead during a Turkish half-marathon. Right??????

 

Tourist killed by angry mob of peacocks. October 21, 2008

Trying to look nonchalent despite the growing crowd behind me

Trying to look nonchalent despite the growing crowd behind me

This is the headline I envisioned as no less than 50 of them inched closer and closer and closer to me at the ‘Hidden Forest’ in Plaka here on Kos island. For such a pretty bird, they have mean faces. Menacing. And did that one just give me the evil eye? Lest you think a bird is a bird is a bird, follow me in this logic: Parakeets, and finches have cute faces. Owls look smart. And vultures? Enough said.

Anyway, on paper it sounded really cool, if not a wee bit complicated. Go about 30 kilometers out of town, just past the airport and shortly after the road bends to the left, take a right by the small blue and white church (they’re ALL small blue and white churches, but that’s just details), follow the road, cross the bridge and you’re there. A magical forest in the middle of the island.

At first, I sat on an empty bench near a couple with a German Shepherd puppy. A happy, exuberant little four-month old puppy that kept tearing after the peacocks like they were littermates, sending the birds – terrified – up into the trees. Then she would run over to me, and jump up waiting to be praised while her owners called for her by a name she was too young to recognize as her own. I wasn’t able to explain in Greek that I LOVED the attention from their dog and she was no bother whatsoever, so soon they put her on a leash, and walked away.

The cats know who's in charge at the Secret Forest

The cats know who's in charge at the Secret Forest

Shortly thereafter a female peacock (peahen? Is that right?) arrived to fill the lonely space left by the puppy. And then another and another and another, until there was no loneliness, but a fair amount of anxiety. Why are they getting so CLOSE? Is this normal?

A picnic table opened up, and I moved over there…and all the birds came. And it started to seem like a scene from an M. Night Shamalyan movie. And those so rarely end well.

It was at this point that a car full of Australians pulled up, and for a good long while they had to settle for pictures of the birds with me in the midst. One of the guy commented that it was “very Jurassic park”. Another series of movies that don’t always end so well.

I guess I felt nervous because I don’t really know anything about peacocks. I don’t know how to read their body language, and I don’t know if they’re dangerous or placid or bite or peck or get an inch from your ear and let out a shrill call just to see if you’ll drop dead. And I suppose all these ideas got in my head when it became clear that the three resident cats were afraid of the peacocks. This didn’t require anthropomorphizing on my part: The cats would try to slink by the peacocks, the peacocks would notice, get pissed, and start lunging, and the cats would run 15 up a tree to get away from them.

Your own private beach oasis in Ag. Stefanos

Your own private beach oasis on Ag. Stefanos

If you’d asked me yesterday: Peacock versus island cat, my money would have been on the cat. No questions asked. Thus, watching a lone female peacock threaten a cat…and the cat back down was a little intimidating to me. Vanessa versus peacock? I say put your money on me. Vanessa versus 50 peacocks plus however many are still in the trees waiting to swoop down and peck out my eyes? Well, let’s just say it might end up being a closed-coffin funeral. To paraphrase Julius Caesar: I came, I saw, I cowered.  And when a big one jumped up onto the picnic bench next to me, I left!

In other news, it’s only been about 48 hours, but my stomach is revolting against the buffets. I don’t know if it’s the quality or the repetition, but either way, I’ve spent some time on the gastrointestinal equivalent of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. At the same time, not only does the buffet menu repeat regularly, so does the music. Every day it’s the exact same rotation of 20 songs. Its kind of like the movie Groundhog Day. Hey, wasn’t I eating greasy pork and listening to Endless Love last night? WAS that last night? What day is this!? Wasn’t Tom Jones Delilah playing the last time I had oily chocolate cake with clove-flavored ‘Coca Cold’? However, I will admit that I enjoy that part of “Let’s Dance” where she transitions from a slow ballad about “last chance for romance” into the thumping disco groove. Almost makes you want to get up, dance to the keg, and pour yourself another glass of carbonated red wine. Opa!

Ag. Stefanos beach on Kos, Greece

Ag. Stefanos beach on Kos, Greece

 

Behold the inadvertent Pied Piper of Naxos October 16, 2008

Somewhere over Naxos tonight, there is a “bat light” summoning the island’s cats to Sunday Studios in Agia Anna.

I don’t know how they found me out, but they recognize a sympathetic cat loving soul when they smell one. I got home from a VERY long journey to and from town today (7km each way, as it turns out), and was changing out of my ridiculously warm pants when a cat opened the door and sauntered inside. Oh yes. These are no ordinary cats. The Naxos cats can open your door and/or bleed out your jugular before the word ‘go.’

As for my calico visitor, moments later, she was followed by five others, one only three or four months old. And they all proceeded to love upon my feet and calves in a manner that can only be described as obscene.

I didn’t have much by way of food, so I resisted feeding them. And that’s when they brought out the big guns, the deadly weapons – the kittens. Kittens so young their eyes are still blue. I’m not even sure how they made it up the stairs. Probably one of the other cats carried them? I had some milk, and cow milk isn’t actually good for cats…but they like it, so why not? You only live once. And apparently, in the case of the cats of Naxos, you not only live once, you probably don’t live long.

Wherever I go on the island cats come up by the handful meowing and rubbing on my legs, and it doesn’t take much to notice that they all have upper respiratory infections. Some of them have it quite badly, a terrible weeping from their eyes and nose. At one point in my life I had nine cats (simultaneously) and they all got sick like this. In their case, they were all given medicine (which makes it sound so simple. One of them, a calico named Wingnut BIT THROUGH MY THUMB NAIL when I gave here her medicine, but that’s another story for another time) and they all recovered. However, Alexandra, the owner of the place I’m staying, tells me that every winter for the last three years, the cats have died a terrible death.

As it gets colder, their eyes get worse and worse. And then, within a week’s time, they lose all their weight and cannot move. And they lay around on the driveways and sidewalks and streets of Naxos mewing and dying, so weak they cannot get up. “They suffer,” she said, “You can tell that they suffer.” She said that if they have 20 cats in the fall, by the next year there are only two or three.

We were watching this funny little baby kitten stalk one of the older cats when she informed me that the tiny ones are sure to die. After I calculated the odds of getting a cat out of Greece, into Turkey, and through customs in the United States – ZERO – plus the fact that even the babies claw the crap out of you if you pick them up, I decided to make a more rational contribution. This is I bought them the largest bag of cat food at the store today – probably brought in at the start of the season waiting for just the right sucker to arrive.

As for this pandemic, Alexandra tells me she’s talked to vets and they say nothing can be done – there’s no medicine. And in a twisted way, I suppose it’s nature’s horrible way of controlling the population. I guess the only upside is that I didn’t come so late in the year to witness the cat plague in full form. For now, they’re cheerful and friendly and I’ve done what I can to make their last month one big binge. Bon Appetit, kids!

Meanwhile, and totally unrelated, can anyone explain the curtain-less shower to me? How is this supposed to work? How is everyone else managing not to get soap and shampoo and water everywhere? Once I’m done, it looks like someone took a hose to the room. As a solution I’ve taken to sitting in the little tiny basin on the floor, crouched up against the corner, and only turning on the flow when absolutely necessary. And let me tell you, this sucks.

The first time I encountered the configuration was at my place in Croatia, and I thought it was a mistake – like they forgot to install the curtain or had the glass encasement on back order or maybe just figured they’d get around to it next season. This situation was particularly tense because they didn’t provide any towels or floor mats, and I’ve got one travel towel and no consistent means to do laundry, so I’m not about to mop up somebody’s filthy floor with the same thing I use on my hair. Thus, I had to leave all the water all over the place and remember to walk carefully when going in there at night.

Now I know there are worse things out there, but that’s why I don’t put myself in the $6.00 a night Portuguese hostel where the shower and the toilet are the same thing (meaning hole in the ground, and the shower spigot is directly above.) I believe they call this a ‘Turkish toilet’ and I hope to hell I never have to use one, at least for showering. Imagine if you SLIPPED!?!? (***cringe***) And I’m not saying the lack of shower curtain situation is uncivilized…just wet. And baffling. And probably unnecessary. I mean, give me $5 and access to a Dollar Store, and I’m confident I could rig up something pretty efficient.

Meanwhile, I am using Alexandra’s laptop to write this, and she and her father are having a very heated ‘discussion’ (screaming fight???) behind me. It brings to mind the two guys on the train from Ljubljana to Vienna, and I’m wondering if typical run-of-the-mill Greek conversation comes across like verbal warfare or if they just fight a lot or ??? Regardless, I’m feeling a little awkward here in their living room, so I will cut this off and catch up with you all tomorrow!

 

We’re not cooking with gas October 15, 2008

Greetings from Naxos, Greece, the largest island in the Cyclades. There are dozens of Greek Islands, but the Cyclades chain is probably the most famous due to its proximity to Athens (six to ten hours by ferry), and the fact that it’s the chain that includes the two islands with the highest name recognition – Santorini and Mykonos.

As for Naxos, the ancient Greeks believed that Dionysus (aka Bacchus) – the god of wine and revelry – came from here, and there are still some ancient Greek ruins scattered along the coastline, including a pretty amazing arch right by where the ferry comes in. The middle of the island is filled with olive trees and vineyards, and I booked a little room with an ocean view which ended up being a rather large two-bedroom, four bed suite with no chance of seeing the ocean whatsoever. I hate to be judgmental, but the claims of an ocean view have been irrevocably exposed as a balls-out lie. Nonetheless, it’s spacious, so if any of you are in the neighborhood, come on by!. Although the view is blocked by the hotel in front of it, the room is just 50 meters from the beach…and a mere 5 kilometers from civilization.

Unlike Santorini, which is very tourist-focused and has several decent-sized ‘towns’ spread quite a bit apart, Naxos consists of many independent, tiny villages a few kilometers from one another. In Santorini, you are very isolated from the rest of island (25 minutes by car, an hour by 4-wheeler) and the routes are quite mountainous and not walkable. However, when you’re in your little town (Perissa, in my case) the area is heavily laden with grocery stores, restaurants, souvenir shops, and bars, Granted, 75% of them are closed in October, but there’s still a fair offering. Every building that isn’t a hotel is set up to sell something to the people staying in them, and whatever you need (within reason) can be found.

I think one of the things that perhaps made me a little overconfident about what I might find in Naxos is that Perissa (on Santorini), had not one, but two 24-hour bakeries. I don’t know how the local baker got swindled into this deal, but it seems unfair. They’re already making their product, do they really need to available at any time to sell it?

Meanwhile, on my birthday I took a late night walk in the moonlight. I decided to go by the bakery I came to prefer for its lower prices and friendly owner and see if he really was open and if he had any spanikopita. He had been there the last two times I’d gone by, so I was surprised – if not a little dismayed – to see him dozing in a chair at 11:30pm. Remember those “Time to make the donuts” ads for (Dunkin Donuts? Well, on Santorini it’s ALWAYS time to make the donuts.

In contrast, when i got to Ag Anna here in Naxos, I was informed that there are no longer any restaurants open this time of year…and the one mini-market would be closing in ten minutes (at 7pm). I rushed over there, and was immediately flummoxed. It was extremely small. And the cabbie who had charged me an arm and a leg for the ride to my studio was running the cash register. At first I thought I was hallucinating or maybe he was a twin or something, but after I stared at him for about five seconds in disbelief, he threw up his hands and gave me a sheepish smile as if to say, “Busted!”

It was like a scene from an Adam Sandler movie: You’re on a small island and everywhere you go, the same guy is working there, waiting to overcharge you. The same guy played (poorly) by Rob Schneider. Unrelated, there was a Rob Schneider doppleganger working at the hotel in Santorini. i considered pointing the uncanny resemblance out to him, but didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

As for the market, I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised by anything anymore, but this place hit a new low. Among the limited offerings and vast empty shelf space, one could find potatoes with very healthy looking 3′ sprouts (at 1 euro a pound, a virtual steal!), oranges from 1981, a variety of cheeses that expired in August, and a package of hotdogs with no expiration date, but an usual white hue along one side. In the mini-market’s defense, they did have piles and piles of canned dolmathakia (dolmas) – rice wrapped in grape leaves (as well as a variation in cabbage leaves), but unfortunately for me, I don’t like those.

As with the markets in Santorini, the place was desperately in need of restocking. The freezer had two gigantic restaurant supply-sized bags of peas and an entire octopus. You probably think I’m exaggerating, but this was no squid. The arms alone were the size of specimens more commonly seen at an aquarium. However, between the dog food and the dish soap I did find a package of linguine and a jar of Barilla spaghetti sauce. In need of protein, I threw caution to the wind ad bought a tin of meatballs. I know, I know. Normally I would be having the same reaction, but I’d already stared down an entire octopus, so I was feeling unusually bold.

Besides, I didn’t really eat much of anything today (mistakenly thinking I could get a nice dinner once I got here), and I’m hoping that they taste like Chef Boyardee ravioli or something in that ballpark. I don’t know that I’ve ever in my life WISHED for food to taste like Chef Boyardee, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

I hauled my wares back to my studio, and surveyed the scene. Somehow I hadn’t registered that one of the two kitchen hotplates was no bigger than the palm of my hand. If I had, I might not have gone with a meal plan that involved boiling water, because as it turns out, that was the only burner that worked. They’re electric and the light to tell you they’re on isn’t working, but I cranked them both up to to “3” (the max) and waited. After about five minutes, I came back and threw a little water on each of them. The larger burner didn’t react. The mini burner sizzled a little. Emphasis on the word ‘little.’

Long story short, I couldn’t really get anything warmer than tepid water out of the tap (something I will be discussing with the owner, as my shower was the same temperature), but I put a pot on the tiny burner, put a lid on it, and waited. And waited. And waited. And when the water finally got to a ‘pre-simmer’ (the most it appeared it would ever be able to achieve), I put the noodles in and waited, and waited, and waited.

In the end, they were crunchier than I might normally prefer, but they softened enough to be edible. In the same vein, the meatballs were bearable, and the tomato sauce they were in was better than the Barilla. The balls themselves were fairly standard, except for the unexpected yet unmistakable flavor of mint. It was an aftertaste, but mint is one of those things that’s so strong that even a little bit can be overwhelming. The effect was like a meatball with a smear of toothpaste on it.

Thankfully, the water here is not nearly so funky as Santorini, because one of the many things not offered by the Ag Anna mini-market was bottled water. For your drinking enjoyment, they carry a wide array of hard liquor, wines, and some orange Fanta. If you’re not in the market for booze, hopefully you’re looking for a sugar high and some orange dye.

Anyway, I realized I was thirsty about 10 minutes after I got back to my room…and 15 minutes after the market had closed. After making my linguine, I found a little tiny pot (probably meant for heating milk) and the same size as the little burner and boiled up some water. Well, I didn’t BOIL it, that’s not possible under the circumstances, but you get the idea. It’s my personal theory that if you’re going to drink something bad, may as well drink it through a veil of Earl Gray tea. Thankfully the tea tasted more or less normal, and a later sampling of the unadulterated tap water found it drinkable.

Food acquisition troubles aside, the Greek islands are incredibly beautiful – chalky white buildings along jagged coastlines, delicate olive trees, and endless blue water. I took the most gorgeous ‘sunset on the water’ photo today as the ferry was arriving in Naxos. Moreover, if you’re the kind that tends to wander on foot (like me) you will come upon hidden little spots with natural panoramas that are jaw-dropping perfection. Like something out of a calendar.

Otherwise, and to be honest, I am way out in the sticks. I thought I was in the sticks in Croatia, but I think I’ve topped myself here. For example, I have never actually seen a horse give birth, but if I had to wager a guess on the noise coming from outside my room right now, that would be my first guess. Seriously though, it’s kind of alarming, something akin to a child bawling mixed with a donkey noise, although it does help distract from the half-dozen roosters braying.

It probably goes without saying, but if you find yourself on Naxos and decide to drop by and crash on one of my unused beds, follow the sound of the distressed mule. I’m right next door. And if I’m already asleep, feel free to help yourself to some of the leftover peppermint meatballs in the fridge.

(And just so you aren’t feeliing too terribly sad for me, I will add that I ended up walking to Naxos Town this morning – which took over two hours. I didn’t mind. I could walk all day so long as it’s warmish and the sun is shining. Plus, I think it would have taken more like an hour if I hadn’t stopped on this one beach and also taken a bunch of picures on the way. And played with some cats. By the way: DO NOT PICK UP GREEK CATS NO MATTER HOW FRIENDLY THEY SEEM!!! They go from friendly feline to whirling dervish of claws, fur, and maybe even a couple switchblades in 0.3 seconds.

Anyway, I am currently savoring a lovely lunch rich with local feta and heavenly tzatziki and calamari and Greek salad AND it turns out they have free wifi, so I can post the blog! All’s well that ends well…)

 

Excuse me while I do a little dry heaving… October 12, 2008

Admittedly, I’ve never been to Egypt or India, but if there’s ever a ‘world’s worst tap water’ contest, I’d like to nominate Santorini, Greece. It is AWFUL. Actually, that’s not a strong enough word: HEINOUS. HARROWING. HORRIFIC. BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD.

I thought maybe if I boiled it…??? I succeeded in ruining a perfectly good tea bag. Earl Gray, no less.

I don’t really know what is occurring, but I’d say the closest description is the ‘water cure’ at the Turkish baths in Budapest. I took a single mouthful of the salty sulfur water at the baths (out of the spigot intended for drinking), and it was warm and creepy, but bearable. The Santorini tap water is in the same genre, but not as curative. Just plain old gross.

As a coincidence (or is it???), I caught a small bit of ‘Erin Brokovich’ on the TV while using the wifi in the reception area earlier today. Just enough to remind me that the lawsuit was about poisonous water caused by PG&E. Just enough to feel a little tiny bit uncomfortable about all that I have consumed while on this trip.

In the same vein, I had my first glass of Greek wine today. A white wine apparently made in the traditional style. I had a sip, and I didn’t like it. The flavor was strange. Like herbs maybe. I couldn’t quit put my finger on it, but it was familiar.

I took another sip.

Oregano?

No.

Basil?

No.

Thyme?
No.

Mold?

Without a doubt.

Probably it came from a bottle that was corked, but I’m not sure. I know there’s a whole world of wine flavors. Is mildew a legitimate flavor profile?

Meanwhile, the hotel I’m staying at sells a glass of local white wine out of a box (less chance of corkage!) for 3 euro. However, if moldy is just the way it tastes, I really don’t want to waste the money. Thus, for now, I’ll just stick with my bottled water. On the other hand, tomorrow is my birthday (how weird is that???), so maybe I’ll live large and order up a glass of the box wine then? And I’m definitely getting some calamari.

Meanwhile, I had a strange night. After a solid week or more in hostels (and listening to people snore in all forms and fashion), I was so looking forward to peace and quiet. However, the universe had other plans. First, there was the wind. It got up to 45mph, and the sound of that is something else. At the very least, it’s not something I’m accustomed to, and some primitive instinct inside me finds it a little bit alarming. Especially when I’m on an island.

Next, there was my room. Not to pick on it, but the construction quality is little bit shoddy. The window has two panels – one glass and another wood – and they fit together and are held in place by a metal hinge that reminds me of a bobby pin. One strong breeze and they both come flying open.

Furthermore, the door to the room is jimmied into place, and a solid inch of daylight peers through when it’s shut. However, they have thoughtfully provided a sheet on a curtain rod, which I suppose is to try to block out the light or the breeze or ??? With respect to the door, the only thing that keeps it from flying open is a deadbolt which fits loosely in its slot. It’s a very casual arrangement from a security perspective, and if I knew I wouldn’t have to pay for the damage, I’d kind of be curious to see if I could body slam the door open using just my weight. I suspect I could.

Thus, due to the questionable craftsmanship and the intense winds, the door and windows spent the night slamming open and closed and creaking and straining and rattling against the deadbolt. It was incredibly noisy, and I probably woke up six or seven times. Then I would just lay in the darkness and listen to the wind and marvel at the fact that I’m lying in a bed in Santorni, Greece and my stomach is turning a little too much and does that water just taste bad or does the bad taste serve as a warning, like the stink applied to natural gas?

(Now you know why that little snippet of Erin Brokovich was particularly alarming…)

If the wind and the slamming and the creaking weren’t enough, there was the crying. At first, while still asleep, I thought it was a child. Then I realized it was a dog. In my sleepy confusion, I thought maybe it was in the courtyard of the hotel. I got up to look for it and maybe give it something to eat (I don’t have much in the room, but I do have some milk, some eggs, and an unlimited supply of hideous water). There was no one there but the wind.

I went back to bed, fell asleep, and heard it again. At this point, I realized it was coming from above my head, on the other side of the hotel. It cried and cried and cried, and I could occasionally hear it shake and the sound of a chain around its neck. I figured it must be afraid of all the wind or cold (or both), and it made me incredibly sad.

Today, I went looking and discovered a dog tied up behind a house near the hotel. I talked to the people here and they agreed that it was probably the same one I heard crying, that it’s always tied up, and that it “isn’t very nice.” I hate these kinds of situations. As much as I’m reminded of the magic in the world, it’s also hard to deny that people can be thoughtless idiots, if not worse.

If I were at home, I would go and talk to the owners and maybe even see if they would give me the dog or let me buy it from them. Anything to give it a better life. Here, and in these circumstances (with three weeks of backpacking left to do), I feel so helpless. I had to give myself firm talk about the insanity of trying to rescue a Greek dog. Or take it with me. Although if I can figure out where, I may go and buy it some meat or at least a bone. A birthday present to us both.

Speaking of birthdays, I was looking for a quote for tomorrow’s blog, and I ran across one so simple and yet profound, that it kind of made me tear up. As an added point of significance, it was said by Jonathan Swift, the writer that ‘invented’ my name (Vanessa) as a nickname for a student of his.

Moreover, it is a sentiment that has come to exemplify how I intend to live my life: by following my instincts, my heart, my emotions, and my gut. By noticing coincidences and doing what feels right. By being flexible and open and real. And by not being afraid and trusting the universe to throw out a safety net when I need it. And those ideals – as simple, as elusive, as liberating and as complicated as they are – can be summarized a little bit like this:

May you live all the days of your life.

 

Leaving on the midnight train to Sighisoara October 5, 2008

Well, the 23:25 train, but same difference. I’ve checked around, and the route has a bad reputation in general. Now by ‘bad reputation’, I don’t mean to say I’ll be abducted and sold into white slavery, just an above-average chance of petty theft, day or night.

On the other hand, the advice I keep getting is to never take my eyes off my bag. Thus, in a strange way, I may be better off on a night train in that I can sleep with my bag (the hostel owner pantomimed what I would call spooning my bag through the night). I’m not thrilled about this, but I figure I’ll do what I can do to minimize the risk, and not worry about it further.

Actually, I would say that philosophy encapsulates a small epiphany I had recently: So much time is spent worrying about and fretting over and developing complex strategies to control things that never come to pass or cannot be controlled. Yesterday, after spending so much time “planning my actions” (a.k.a. worrying) about this night train, I decided to throw in the towel. I’ll still hide ‘the good stuff’ in the bottom of my day pack and lock it and – depending upon the vibe I get – bike lock it to me, and I’ll still planning to try to befriend the train conductor (by telling him/her straight up that I’ve heard bad things and am concerned and can they help me), and that’s all I can do. Onward and upward.

In other news, I had my first true bought of homesickness today. I had some moments early in the trip that I thought were homesickness, but I now realize were just garden variety fear. However, today I saw the first Malamute of the trip in a park in Budapest. From a 100 yards away, I could see it peeing on everything in its path and taking five minutes to sniff every three feet. A Mal if ever there were. But at that pace, I was able to catch up to the owner. I asked if he spoke English, and he said no. So I persisted. I identified the dog as a Malamute, and he agreed, and I tried to explain that I had one too. He scowled at me. I tried charades. He looked away.

I walked ahead of them and sat on a bench, considering turning on my computer to pull up a picture of my dog so that he would understand what I was trying to say, and maybe let me pet his Mal. At that moment, they started to approach, and the dog stopped to sniff a tree three feet to my left and a bush one foot from my knee, and never acknowledged me in the slightest. And in a stupid way, the realization that the dog WASN’T my dog – or anything like him (If Dozer loves anything, it’s a human being he’s never met before), was quite sad.

It was the sense that something that looked so incredibly familiar could be so foreign. Like seeing the mirror image of a loved one, and having them walk right by like you don’t exist.

So to stave off some ‘lost at sea’ feelings and kill some time before the late train, I decided to go to the movies. I’ve been wanting to go to the movies for weeks now, and having done everything I set out to do in Budapest, the time was right. Hungary just got the ‘new release’ of the Dark Knight (Batman) movie, and it was still in the original English (with subtitles). I got my ticket, but the concessions looked off, so I didn’t indulge in one of my passions – movie theater popcorn. Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure that a country that only sells Cheetos in ‘hotdog’ and ‘ketchup’ flavors is going to find a creative way to screw up popcorn. Like maybe covering it in prune juice or something.

Anyway, it was a good movie, and good escapism, and it was almost laughable how the sight and sound of Morgan Freeman could feel so comforting. And I guess that’s why, walking out in the Budapest night, I suddenly felt crushingly sad and lonely and…homesick.

But it was a pretty long walk back to the hostel in Pest, and on the way I had a chance to work through my feelings. And what I realized is that in its own way, homesicknesses is a blessing. It’s the other side of the coin of adventure and independence and solitude. And it’s a reminder that you belong somewhere and have a place to go back to…and that you want to go back to.

So the key really, in those ‘weak’ moments is to draw from them, and realize what’s good about feeling bad. Because feeling like a stranger in a strange land means you’ve undertaken a big adventure and pushed yourself far beyond what you thought you were capable of. And longing for your home? That means you’re fortunate enough to have a home and people that love you and a whole country where people talk and you can understand what they’re saying without getting a headache. And feeling sad, well, that just means your heart still works.

So here’s to the fear and the sadness and loneliness. Without it, it’s much harder to define who we are, and who aren’t, and who’s important, and what really matters. And with that information as a compass, we’re able to get on a night train to Romania feeling calm and knowing it will all work out in its own strange way.

 

Brought to my knees by the Bank of America September 28, 2008

So yesterday was a toughie.

I could kind of see it coming by the time I posted my blog, but when something is REALLY bothering me, I tend to keep it to myself. I think maybe I prefer to resolve it, and THEN tell you about it. However, I may be in the midst of a pretty big problem I can’t fix. Or at least that I have yet to see a clear solution to. So maybe you can help?

Here’s the deal: Five days ago, my ATM card quit working. I wrote you a long, highly detailed account of how I figured that out and what I’ve been through thus far to fix it, but it was boring so I deleted it. You’re smart people. You can fill in the blanks.

The card won’t work, and I can’t get any cash. NOT GOOD.

Some of you know that due to an incident in May, I already hate Bank of America and was closing all my accounts. To them I will say, Yes, it’s true, and I am so dumping them when I get home (unless they’re the only bank that hasn’t gone under, and then I guess not), but all my direct deposits payments were set up to go there, and I couldn’t get that changed.

Anyway, yesterday morning, I explained this little problem to Fabri, the strange guy who ran the B&B I stayed at in Trieste. Actually, I wouldn’t call it a B&B so much as a B&b. The little room I had was fine enough. Pretty basic, but whatever. Fabri had some bizarre decorating taste and a serious incense habit. I like incense as much as the next guy, but not when there’s so much smoke that you wonder if maybe a really fragrant forest is burning down next door. But it was for one night, so whatever.

The evening before, Fabri made a big deal about “what time would I like breakfast,” and was very specific about setting a date. Thus, when I pulled into the kitchen at the appointed hour, you can imagine that i was a little bit surprised to find a cappuccino cup, a very small juice box (30% real juice!) with a cartoon hippo on it, and a what looked like a single “Little Debbie” snack treat, still in the original cellophane wrapping (but on a plate). Hmmmm… Where’s the full Irish breakfast? Where’s the muesli and yogurt and cheese? Where’s the beef, Fabri?

Fabri in his eclectic and incense-thick glory padded out and poured me the requisite 1.5 ounces of super strong strangely thick cappuccino, and sat back to savor his hospitality as I struggled to open my Little Debbie wrapper.

Thus, all hyped up on sugar and caffeine, I decided to endeavor a conversation to determine if Bank of America was screwing with me, or if I was somehow dialing wrong. Bank of America kept sending me 888 and 877 numbers, but they wouldn’t work in the pay phones (even when I put money in.) Then they (the phone receiver) always rattled something off in Italian. Fabri thought about this, left for a while, and then came back and offered to try dialing from the phone in his room. He returned, and told me that the recording was saying that 888 and 877 aren’t proper extensions in Italy. And here some kid (via e-mail) SWORE that number would work. Idiots. No wonder the banks are all going under.

Anyway, Fabri had the idea to look on the web site (and laughed rather extensively when he learned that my problems were stemming from an institution called Bank of America), and found a number for the credit card department that would receive collect calls from Europe. Incredibly relieved, I called them that afternoon, but they’re only open 8am to 5pm (of course). When I got to Croatia yesterday evening, I called again. Actually, I called ELEVEN TIMES – all collect, and anywhere from ten to thirty minutes per call. I spent two hours and thirty seven minutes calling. And each and every time I was transferred to the wrong department or the wrong area, and eventually ended up in one of two of Dante’s layers of call center hell:

  1. A queue in which there is some very chipper music that reminds me of The Sims, but which starts to make you feel homicidal after about thirty minutes. I could totally sing you the tune if you were here. Anyway, it is regularly interrupted by a male voice that says, “Your expected wait time is at least five minutes.” Then it starts saying, “Your expected wait time is approximately two minutes” and you start to feel hopeful…for ten minutes. And then back to the five minutes, no wait two minutes, five minutes, two minutes…until finally there is a silence and a sound of fumbling, and you’re hung up on. That exact scenario happened three times.

  1. You have to interact with this CRM system where you must speak to it. Again, it’s a male voice and he sounds pleasant enough. This is to mask the fact that he is actually the devil.

Please tell me a little about why you’re calling today.”

“My debit card is not working.”

Okay, did you say you’d like to hear about a loan?”

“NO.”

Okay. Please tell me a little about why you’re calling today.”

“ My DEBIT CARD will not WORK in the ATM.”

Okay, did you say you’re looking for an ATM location?”

“NO.”

Okay. Please tell me a little about why you’re calling today.”

“I CAN’T GET ANY MONEY OUT OF THE F**KING ATM.”

I didn’t quite get that, could you repeat it?”

“CUSTOMER SERVICE. CUSTOMER SERVICE!!!

I didn’t quite get that, could you repeat it?”

“IF YOU DON’T CONNECT ME TO A HUMAN BEING IN THE NEXT THIRTY SECONDS, I AM GOING TO FLY TO THE UNITED STATES AND BURN DOWN ONE OF YOUR BRANCHES.”

“Okay, let me connect you…”

Silence. Sound of Croatian dial tone.

After the seventh such interaction with that guy, I cried a little. Not a lot. But maybe four or five hot, fat tears. And I felt kind of defeated. And I’m a pretty optimistic person overall, but I really am not sure how to get beyond the 300 departments at Bank of America and talk to someone that can help me. And I didn’t have it in me to call back for a twelfth time, and I’m staying so far out in the boonies that there are no pay phones, and I couldn’t call back last night.

The only thing that brings me even a little comfort is the hope that all those collect call charges amount to at least $500, if not more.

However, rest assured that today has three exciting things on the agenda:

  1. Figure out the train schedule for tomorrow

  2. Find an internet cafe to post this

  3. Call the f-ing Bank of America back and hopefully restore access to my money

Meanwhile, I took the bus from Trieste to Pula yesterday. All was looking good for a quiet journey until an Australian family pulled in at the last second. The man looked almost exactly like my chiropractor (and was equally enthusiastic), and he and his wife had a sulky teenage boy and very bizarre 13-ish girl in tow. I used to have a boss who always referred to her oldest daughter as “special needs.” I never knew what was ‘wrong’ with her, per se, she was a pretty girl and looked normal enough, but she was a bit strange – standing too close, asking weird questions, telling you really off the wall stuff, etc. I’m pretty sure that whatever was ailing my boss’ daughter also had its teeth in this girl.

They came to the rear of the bus where I was, and all took their own row. The girl then proceeded to slam the tray on the back of the seat up and down for about fifteen minutes. The whole bus turned around to look at this at one point or another, but the parents didn’t seem to notice. If anything, they were really hard on the 15 or 16 year old boy, that he was “starting trouble.” No wonder he was so moody. He’s growing up in backwards universe, where the kid with obvious issues is the good one.

Back to the girl, after she tired of the tray, she very suddenly flailed all around violently, as though she were being attacked by bees. This caused me to jump and suddenly go on the alert. If there’s a bee attack about to go down, I like to be prepared, but apparently she was just frustrated because she couldn’t get her foot rest ‘just right.’ This caused her to change seats about 1,693 times.

The enthusiastic dad would call her attention to every last thing out the window on my side. And since she eventually settled in the empty row next to me (it probably was a lot easier to stare bug eyed at me from that spot), she would do things like rush up until she bumped me or throw out an arm out across the aisle until she nearly poked me in my bad eye.

Oh, that’s right. I also failed to mention my bad eye. That’s mostly because I didn’t want to worry you, and also because I didn’t want to further worry me.

So on Friday I put my contacts in, and during the train ride from Venice to Trieste, they started bugging me. It was incredibly hot in the car, and I swear it smelled like cigarette smoke from time to time. I also have these eye drops that I am now very suspicious of. At home I use these “Tears” drops that my ophthalmologist recommended. My eyes are really sensitive, and I react to all kinds of preservatives used in regular products. A refill was in my box that is now on my desk at home.

Anyway, I think there was some accidental leakage, because by the time I hit Spain, I was completely out. I went into the pharmacy and brought the empty bottle. Not one, but three people in white coats consulted about this, and I tried to explain the specifics as I understood them and referenced the ingredients to a degree that was probably insulting. Eventually, one of the guys reached under the counter and came out with a bottle that looked almost exactly like mine.

There are a lot of variations in eye drop bottle shapes, and the Spanish doppleganger gave me hope that this was the right stuff.

Now I’m not so sure. In fact, now I wonder if those people were promoted up from the “Everything for a euro” shop next door and matched my bottle to a lookalike, contents unknown. Sufficed to say, I put a bunch of that stuff into my eyes during the hot,, smoky train trip. At the time, I would have described the effects as “net zero” – didn’t really seem to help, didn’t hurt.

When I got to the B&B, I took out my contacts. My left eye was still pretty pissed off, but I figured it was from the High Holy Mass going on in Fabri’s room. That’s why I was pretty surprised to wake up yesterday morning to find that my eye hurt. Like really, really HURT. Closing it BURNED and made me wince and felt like there was glass in it.

I don’t know about you, but that’s scary. I could be bleeding out from a big gash on my arm and would figure, “That’ll clot. I’ll be fine.” But when it hurts like fire to close your own eyes…!?!? Well, it’s hard not to acknowledge a little low-grade panic setting in.

It’s probably fair to say that if you’re worried about some aspect of your health, the LAST thing you should do is get on WebMD. So that’s exactly what I did. Actually, minus the overuse of some words like “scarring” and “blindness” it was fairly innocuous and just said to flush with water and if the pain continued, go to a doctor. That’s easier said than done, buddy. I’m on my way to frigging Croatia. Know any good ophthalmologists there?

I was spooked enough that I got out my travelers health insurance information, wrote down the policy number, and used the online service to lookup some English-speaking doctors here in Pula. They don’t list eye doctors, but there’s a hospital, so I figured if worse came to worst, I’d start there.

However, as of this morning, it looks and feels fine. I’ll probably forgo my contacts for several days just to be sure (and I looked up doctors all the way to Vienna, just in case) but with any luck I am now just penniless, not blind and penniless (although the latter is a better combination for street-side begging).

Lastly, happy birthday to my dog, Dozer, who I miss very much, and who is three years old today. I’m sure he reads the blog daily, and is probably peeved that I don’t ever mention him, but it’s my general policy to keep this about me and not drag other innocent parties (or at least those I plan to see again) into it. Plus, I know it would be hard for him to reject any statements or make comments in his own defense, as his paws are too large to type effectively. Anyway, attached is a picture of him from last month (sent to me, obviously). He looks beautiful, as always, but he also looks a little down in the dumps. I’m sure he’ll cheer up when I get home in about a month and throw him a big, belated party.

(Also, buddy, if you do figure out how to use those big paws online, maybe consider wiring your beloved master some cash to the Vienna Western Union. Okay? Good boy. Go get yourself bone.)

He ain't no Lassie, but maybe he can figure out how to navigate the BofA automated phone system for me?

He is no Lassie, but maybe he can trot down to my local BofA branch and tear someone's pant leg off as a sign of protest?