Wide Awake in Wonderland

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

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

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

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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…”

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Slipping into the Twilight Zone August 26, 2008

Cascais, Portugal

Cascais, Portugal

It’s been a long couple days, but in a good way. I went to the beach (Cascais), and got back later than anticipated. Then I took a shower and got roped into a lengthy conversation while drying my hair (it is such a weird experience to be doing things like that – blow drying your hair – in public). As it was my last night in Lisbon, I was begged, pleaded with, and cajoled until I gave in and went out with some of the fellow hostelers. Going out seems to entail not even leaving until about 11pm.

The cutest guy on the beach in Cascais

The cutest guy on the beach in Cascais

Regardless, two particularly friendly North African guys (just finishing up architecture master’s degrees in France) were staying in the same room, and after hearing ‘last night in Lisbon’ forty-five times, I finally gave in. In my opinion, every other night is my last night somewhere, but there’s something to be said for going with the flow.

That stated, I can accurately report to you that bars in Lisbon Portugal are every bit as boring as the ones in the United States – particularly if you have a headache from all the cigarette smoke and no desire to get drunk in a complicated city full of unfriendly and steep cobblestone streets. Despite being a wildly international group (1 Australian, 1 Algerian, 1 Moroccan, 2 Swedes, 1 Korean, 1 Tunisian, 1 Romanian, and me, the American), conversations seem to center around tales of previous episodes of extreme drinking, including a harrowing story from a Swedish guy about some kind of 99% alcohol intended for medical use. He seemed to find it a funny memory, but it struck me as more of a brush with death warning that should be used in a ‘Scared Straight’ film. Not that I’m any abolitionist, but It is a little alarming to me how much alcohol seems to be a focus of everyone’s life, and this seems to extend across all borders. Almost every person I’ve met in a hostel has mentioned that their travel budget is roughly 50% for alcohol. Good thing I didn’t have to factor that in, or I’d be headed home in the next couple weeks.

Me with all of Lisbon at my feet

Me with all of Lisbon at my feet

Meanwhile, to any of you out there with young children, in addition to keeping an eye out for any growing fascination with booze, please consider raising them bi-lingual, even if it’s a Neanderthal language of grunts and groans that you make up yourself. In fact, all the better. If you and your family are fluent in Cavemanch, then you, too, can go out in public and talk about people who are standing right there because they won’t understand you. That’s right all you fluent Chinese, Arabic, Polish, Russian, etc. etc. speakers. The Aussies and I are onto you. When you look at us and talk at a feverish low tone and then erupt into laughter, we know something is going on and we may be the punchline.

Moreover, it truly is kind of embarrassing to only speak English fluently. Last night someone said something to the effect of English being ‘the international language’ and so ‘everyone has to learn it.’ All I could think was, “THANK GOD,” because it’s hard enough having to start every single solitary conversation with “English?” or “Do you speak English?” Particularly being in a country where the only word you know is ‘thank you’. By the way, it’s obrogado/a, and I say it with flourish every chance I get!

In the same vein, last night I got roped into conjuring up my high school French. Needless to say, I provided quite a few guffaws at my own expense. Especially because all I could remember were weird textbook sentences like “the pencil is on the table” and “they are friends.” Also, because high school was a really long time ago. Really long. But no one believes me on that one.

I suspect it’s due to the hard partying life most of the youth of the world seem to be living and that I somehow never partook in along the way. If all you do from the time you’re 15 or 16 is smoke, drink and stay up all night, I’m thinking the key to my eternal youth lies in my general abstinence (minus the alcohol under different circumstances. Here – partially because of budget, but mostly because I’m on my own – I’m crazy conservative) from all three.

Other people may have their multilingual flag to wave. They may be able to carry on conversations in four or five languages on as many continents…but I look damn young. I can infiltrate your youthful scene and you are none the wiser. In fact, you start looking out for me in my apparent youth. This is my super power. Forget out running locomotives and leaping tall buildings in a single bound? Who needs all that, when you could re-enroll in high school?

Seriously though, it’s absolutely bizarre to me. Last night someone suggested that I was 25 and another man said, “No! I would have thought…”

I readied myself, “Here it comes…busted!”

Until he followed it up with, “I would have thought younger than that. More like 21.” Wha…????

On the other hand, the few times I have stated my true age, no one believes me. I honestly think I’d have an easier time telling people I’m a vampire, I never age, and I’m 412 years old. It would not surprise me if that were accepted as fact more readily than the truth of my advancing years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m flattered for sure – just a little baffled.

The red tile roofs of Lisbon

The red tile roofs of Lisbon

Meanwhile, Lisbon is a really interesting city of contrasts. It’s got a lot of old architecture and charm, and then two blocks away looks like a bomb just went off. The weather has been superb, and it’s a mere 25 minute train ride from the beach…and the world’s coldest ocean. Seriously, it was FREEZING. It wasn’t the coldest ever, I think the ocean off Washington state in the spring is about the same, but considering how warm it is, and it’s August, I was totally shocked. Anyway, minus having very little (no) grasp on the language, I like it here just fine. In fact, in a mere two days I’ve become an expert at getting around on the subways and throughout the Alfama (as long as you’re not in a rush, it’s easy to get out of there, just head downhill). The Alfama is the old “Moorish district” which has these insane and super-steep switchback streets. Apparently they were built that way in case anyone attacked the city: The soldiers would get lost in the street and were easy to fight back from the castle at the top.

In the Alfama district

In the Alfama district

At the moment, I’m sitting here in the hostel kitchen, and someone just handed me a shrimp with the head and arms and legs and wings and horns and beak still attached. Ick. I love shrimp, but if I had to look at them like this all the time, I’m pretty sure I’d eat them a lot less frequently! I ended up munching down a pretty good portion of shell, but I’m pretty sure it added to the flavor (it really was damn flavorful) and I probably got some extra calcium out of it or something.

Lastly, I’m going to make a real effort to get a bunch of pictures up on Flickr in the next few days. Space is allotted by month, so i intend to use everything I’ve got before August ends. Meanwhile, I can’t seem to figure out how to get the link to work from WordPress. They say to paste in the RSS feed from Flickr…but (obviously, if you look to the lower left) it isn’t working. My Flickr account shares the same name as this blog, and if anyone can figure out the exact url I should plug in to get the link going please send me an e-mail or post a comment. Otherwise, boa noite, and tomorrow it will be be buenos dias from Madrid!

 

Bill Murray as Irish colloquialism August 21, 2008

That’s right. I’ve busted out an SAT word on your there. I strive to educate as well as to entertain. If you’re wondering, it basically means ‘slang.’ Anyway, the Irish show jumping horse was disqualified from the Olympics today as he tested positive for capsaicin (sp? derivative of cayenne pepper). The “teaser” line on the Irish CNN channel was, “Groundhogs day for Ireland at the Olympics!” as apparently the same thing happened in Athens four years ago.

Hilarious. I’ve never heard anyone reference that movie (Groundhogs Day) with respect to the same thing happening twice, but it’s genius.

Meanwhile they were really beating up on the hapless coach (I assume coach, they kept calling him ‘Chef de Keep’ and then ‘boss.’). The poor guy needs a PR rep tout de suite. He got positively hostile with the news reporter. He just needed a little guidance about how to gracefully answer the awkward, but predictable, questions about, “Are you surprised?” or “How do you think the people of Ireland will feel?”

In response to these, he said, “I’m not going to answer your questions! I came here to make a statement, and I made it: The horse will not be running tonight. That should be enough. I’m in Hong Kong. Beijing is four hours away.” His phone started ringing (a little Irish ditty) and he barked at the reporter, “My phone is ringing for the thousandth time today. I’ve gots to answer me phone!”

You couldn’t help but feel for the poor dude. Where are the Irish PR firms when you need one!? This flustered guy just needed a little speech writing about “disappointment” and “confusion” and “misunderstanding” and “getting to the bottom of this.” Something to smooth rumpled feathers and ill feelings. Apparently they are flowing. The news anchors were inconsolably angry that ‘the integrity of the Irish has been besmirched.” I’m going to start saying besmirched a whole lot more. Or at all.

Tonight I am in top notch digs: a B&B in Schull (but don’t say ‘Shool’ like I’ve been doing for three days. Everyone will stare at you like you’re not speaking the same language as them, which happens way more than you would think. Anyway, it’s pronounced “Skull.” Oh, and by the way, we’re saying Celtic all wrong too. It’s not Seltic. It’s Keltic. Boston Celtics, we need to think about some rebranding…). Anyway, the place is like heaven and Christmas rolled into one. And it’s so CLEAN. I want to roll around on the floors it’s so clean. And I haven’t even partaken in either of the ‘B’s yet. I have so much to look forward to…

Meanwhile, there is a TV show on wherein a (British it sounds like?) guy is tracking his genealogy. They hook him up with experts in the varying German towns his ancestors called home, and at the moment he’s stuck as his great-great-great-grandmother was (apparently) a bastard who lied about her name. He’s in the town where she came from following some flimsy clues.

I like it! if someone decides to make this show in the US, I’ll volunteer. On my dad’s side, we’re Romanovs for all we know. A Greek cab driver on the Vegas strip did once declare that I had a look of aristocracy. Obviously it’s true. Or maybe he was just hoping for a big tip?

Anyway, My great-grandmother (Stephanie – no clue if that was her given name. Kind of doubt it.) was apparently ‘from money” over in Russia. Her husband, my Lithuanian great-grandfather, can be tracked to Ellis Island, but prior to that, the trail turns cold. I’ll be in Lithuania in about three weeks, but I won’t be conducting much of a genealogy study as I don’t really know where to start and the BBC probably won’t be around to hook me up with an expert.

As for the guy on the show, it turns out his great-great-great grandmother was the illegitimate daughter of a prince, and ultimately he’s eight generations down from Henry II. Maybe that’s why they’re even airing this? If it turned out her dad was an impoverished wheat farmer with three other wives and twenty-seven other children, it may not have been that interesting to the masses. We all like a happy ending.

Speaking of which, I had a moment of peaceful hostel camaraderie last night which reminded me why in some respects I like to stay in them. Seven of us gathered around the TV in the common room to watch the movie The Descent: an Italian guy, an Irish woman, two American brothers, a Spanish father and his teen daughter, and me. The movie was total crap, but it was strangely fun to sit in the dark with people you just met and make wisecracks as we watched it. The other day I watched Old School with a bunch of young French guys and was totally amazed that they got every joke. One point in favor of hostel living: meeting and hanging out with cool people.

On the other hand, come this morning, I woke and noticed that our room (there were only three of us) had a distinct funk. I will decline to identify his nationality on the grounds of prejudice or stereotype, but sufficed to say upon physical inspection it was clear that our male roommate needed a shower and a shampoo REAL BAD. DESPERATELY. So much so that, if I’d had to stay there another night and share the same room, I might have done it for him myself. And I am NOT into shampooing strangers. Only in an emergency super stench situation would the idea even come up…

Which brings me to my final thought for the day: You get enough unclean people (or even one unwashed dude) in a small room, and it’s like a freaky people barn. It ain’t right.

If you haven’t smelled this and for some sick and twisted reason you would like to, buy a ticket to Cork, Ireland, go to the Aaron House hostel, and ask to be put in the three-bed room with the (nationality omitted) guy who’s living there. That, or stick your head in a gym bag with clothes and shoes that have been left to ferment for a few weeks. That’s what I’m talking about. One big strike AGAINST hostel living…

 

A free bit of pre-marital counseling for you August 13, 2008

V by church outside Bath, England (apologies to the owner of the tombstone I had to use to prop up my camera)

V by church outside Bath, England (apologies to the owner of the tombstone I had to use to prop up my camera)

Bath, England street scene - a rare sunny moment

Bath, England street scene - a rare sunny moment

If you are considering proposing to or otherwise permanently committing to another person, take a trip to England, rent a car without a navigation system, print out some spotty Google maps directions, and navigate your merry way to Swindon, Bath, Stonehenge, and Avebury Circle. Feel free to grab a map at the rental office, not that it will help.

Then, assuring neither of you is left-handed or originally from Great Britain, take turns driving and navigating (unless you enjoy migraine headaches and near-death experiences, do not try to do both). Then, sit back and take turns raging, criticizing, and generally freaking out on one another. Enjoy!

If you can make these journeys WITHOUT that happening:

  1. You are saints

  2. You are not human

  3. You should definitely get married

  4. Hell, write a book on how to be more like you while you’re at it.

Fortunately for me (and anyone close to me), I am on this voyage on my own, so I had only myself to blame. Further fortunately for myself, I am pretty supportive of my own efforts much of the time, and try to self-soothe with such banter as,

  • “You’re doing great.”
  • “Lots of people drive around with the emergency brake on.”
  • “Hey, you’re American. It’s a wonder you haven’t injured anyone. What more do they want?”
  • “So you had your high beams on the whole team. Nobody died.”
  • “Way to work that roundabout – and in third gear, no less!”
  • “You’re fine. Ignore them.”

Otherwise, I might still be pulled over on some English country road shaking and crying and considering slashing the tires so that someone will come and get me and drive me back to Heathrow. Let me just say, I regard it as a minor miracle that i somehow managed to get back from (truly) the middle of nowhere (if no street anywhere is identified with a name of any kind and it’s all just country roads, stone houses, and lush landscapes, you’re nowhere in my book), return my car, navigate the train and the Tube and be writing you now from London. Whew!

BTW, London (at least where I am – West End) is so much like Manhattan it isn’t even funny. Next door to the Gap is the H&M and Urban Outfitters. Don’t forget the Black Angus and Pizza Hut across the street.

Anyway, before I get any further into London, let me finish up my Bath misadventure story by noting that it’s truly a gorgeous city. Amazingly, stunningly so, I would know because I drove every square inch of it – twice – and got myself cornered in every dead end in town. At the same time, Bath also has THE LOUDEST pigeons on earth – Insane, rowdy, ridiculous, raucous pigeons. It sounded like a pigeon orgy out there: They were screaming, moaning, shrieking, cooing, and caterwauling all night long. I don’t know whether pigeons can have orgasms, but based on the noises I heard, I’m going to go with “yes.”

Of course, all this was only augmenting the ambient sound of people coughing and a guy that would work up to a snore so loud and annoying I thought I might have to climb out of my top bunk and kill him, and then he’d spontaneously fall silent for a few minutes.

This brings us to the subject of hostels. Six, eight, ten people in one room. Zero privacy. Group bed times. The weird freaking noises people make. The AWFUL beds – basically chicken wire with a few cotton balls on it. Yes, they’re damn cheap…and they should be.

Having had to quit my job to make this trip, I’m on a serious budget. The young version of me – the one that slept on trains every night so as to avoid spending any money – still lives and breathes. On the other hand, I’ve learned a thing or two. And if you don’t give the universe a chance to provide for you, how can it?

Thus, I’ve realized, to get all chummy with strangers and expose yourself like that when you’re young is one thing. I, however, am really not all that young. Which is why I’ve determined that there will be no further hosteling unless it’s a town that I’m passing through for just one night and if it’s f-ing close to the train station (this shit on my back is heavy). On the other hand, why am I making myself run around like this to a town a day? If there is anything worse than hauling your every belonging on your back like a gypsy and vagabonding to a new country every day, I don’t want to know what it is. Thus, the one-night stays will also be reduced if not outright eliminated.

A new era of sanity has begun! Amen.