Monday, November 30, 2009

My Nigerian Problem

IMG_9113 more acropolis, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

Well. You've been waiting to hear about my lovely holiday with Mr D in Athens, Greece, I know it. But it wouldn't be a story from me without that necessary frisson of danger, that oh shit, we're screwed here feeling. Because I can't just "go out to lunch in Athens," can I?

No, not really, and not ever. You know it.

Mr D and I took in the Parthenon,

IMG_9121 parthenon, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

and the agora, and the amphitheatre,

IMG_9094 amphitheatre, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

and the whatsis and the whatnot,

IMG_9111 caryatids, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

with a couple of museums thrown in there for good measure. As usual, with Mr D running ops at 110%, all the resultant climbing and scaling of steep Greek acropolises meant that by 2 in the aft we were bushed and ready to have lunch and a long sit-down, with a glass or three of wine. At the very least I can assert that my glutes were well worked out. We don't need any bloody fitness room at a hotel, ever.

Cut to a quiet pedestrian shopping avenue, where we sat down under shady umbrellas for ages while the waiters decided whether or not to bring us menus. As we waited, we watched the street scene. Here was a drama of Sisyphean proportions (how Greek!) unfolding before us.

IMG_9273 street repairer, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

A curb repairer was trying to restore some concrete at two in the afternoon. Cars whizzed by, honking, pedestrians dodged past him or over him, his supply truck obstructed traffic, yet he gamely toiled on.

IMG_9271 repairer's tough job, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

A few minutes after he completed his work, a motorcycle ran directly over the finished repair. And he stolidly began all over again, re-repairing the botched job.

As I photo-ed this lonely concrete layer, (along with a rather handsome bunch of Greek men apparently hooking up for some later action),

IMG_9280 greek guys, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

there was a sudden commotion. A group of 5 or 6 black guys, all carrying huge sacks, came careening, bounding, leaping over the paver, running past our restaurant's tables.

IMG_9277 street sellers, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

They stopped a little way past, up the pedestrian avenue. I quietly took a couple of photos, and then returned to studying my menu, which had finally arrived.

Then we had the motorcyclist running over the wet concrete, ruining it.

IMG_9274_mask, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

Another photo or two.

At that precise moment, there was a frantic outburst of yelling, and as I casually glanced up from my camera's viewfinder, I realised that the gang was shouting, pointing, and all coming straight for me.

The guy on the far left was suddenly in my face, screaming, "Why, why? Why take pictures? Why?"

Aghast, I started to shut down, just like three years ago.

"Look," I laughed. "Look, here, I'm just taking pictures. It's nothing. Here, want to see?" and I showed him the photo on the camera's tiny screen. "Look, nothing! See?"

"Why? Why take pictures? WHY?" His face was inches from mine. I could only see his lips moving right in front of my eyes. His eyes were fierce and my world was slowing down.

"WHY? WHY? WHY?" He spat the words at me.

A screek of metal as Mr D pushed back his chair and started to stand up from his seat. "Hey! Hey! Hey! We're only tourists! She's just taking pictures. Leave us alone."

I glanced over at him and silently willed him to calm down or shut up. Be quiet, Mr D! Don't make it worse.

"It's fine," I said. "Fine. Here, look!" I laughed easily, carelessly, again. And I thought to myself, "what the bloody hell am I doing, holding my camera out here for him to grab, or hit me with, or... bloody what? Am I able to erase a photo if he demands it, under this kind of pressure? Jesus save me, this is going an entirely wrong direction."

I have no idea what all the other café diners were doing or thinking. No one moved a muscle.

IMG_9268 street cafe, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

And then suddenly, nothing happened, and the leader finally pulled back away from my face, glared at me for another impossibly long moment, and then all of them loped away into the crowd.

Sigh.... Just when you think you're over it.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dear Mishiwaka....

Class, please open your notebooks and get out your pens. Today we're going to discuss Longfellow's poems. I'll begin by reading aloud.

IX. Hiawatha and the Pearl-Feather

On the shores of Gitche Gumee,
Of the shining Mishiwaka,
Stood Nokomis, the old woman,
Pointing with her finger westward,
O'er the water pointing westward,
To the purple clouds of sunset.
Fiercely the red sun descending
Burned his way along the heavens,

Sorry, yes, MLS? What is it? Could you please not interrupt? Just please wait until I've finished reading the poem.

Set the sky on fire behind him,
As war-parties, when retreating,
Burn the prairies on their war-trail;
And the moon, the Night-sun, eastward,...

What on earth is your problem, MrLondonStreet? Just because you went to Oxford doesn't mean you know everything. Oh really? You do? Well, show me then.

Oh. Ahem, I see. A typo in the poem. Hmm, I hate to admit it, but you're right. Well, class, I guess MrLondonStreet* has shown us that it's important to double-check our sources, even those on the internet. It's not Mishiwaka that Longfellow was writing about, it's Big-Sea-Water. Whatever and wherever that is.

Yet, of Mishiwaka, I do know. Or rather, I do and I don't. Honestly, I take that back. I have no idea. Yet strangely, I have concocted a small story about you, my dear long-time follower from Mishiwaka....

Mishiwaka. It's a small town in Indiana. A town near Warsaw, Indiana. Who knew? Who knew there was a Warsaw, Indiana? I'd guess it's a place where emigrating Poles resettled themselves years ago.

What's it like now, Warsaw and Mishiwaka, Indiana? You know, I google-mapped you. Not YOU, per se. But your town, Mishiwaka. I think you found me because you googled "Warsaw" and strangely, my blog came up. I was still living in Warsaw, Poland at the time and I wrote in English on my blog... so you clicked on me. Then you subscribed, and God bless you, you still read what I write. But I'm sooooo curious. Who are you?

I'm consumed with curiosity! Are my guesses right?

* with sincere apologies to my excellent and intelligent friend MrLondonStreet, who is another constant reader, a great encourager, and an outstanding blog-pal. And actually, if you want to know the truth, he probably does know it all.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Suzy's Cave

You can tell a story one way.

Or you can tell it another way.

One way, the central character shows herself to be a pest, a nudge, an 11 year old girl who can't see false advertising for what it is, a girl who forces her family to walk far longer than they'd planned, to see a sight not worth seeing.

Another way, it's an 11 year old girl who gets her family to accompany her on a long and adventurous walk in cold quiet pine forests along the shores of a chilly northern lake. Needles crunch underfoot and fragrant soft beds of pine sink slightly under each footfall, the still air refreshes, the path winds forward and the cave awaits, as yet undiscovered.

Ah yes, Suzy's Cave.

I've always had a thorn in my heart over this one.

We went on holiday to Lake Superior for a week. We stayed at a lodge, with its deer racks over the fireplaces, hot oatmeal with butter and maple syrup for breakfast, and the whole long day stretching ahead of us each morning -- only the dark and limitless pine forests out beyond, waiting to be explored. My family didn't believe in Caribbean holidays, with hot sun and coconut sunblock and raffia hats. No, not at all. We went for the more austere kind of trip. The kind where you dipped your toe in the crystal clear lake water, the water that was so deep and so green and so transparent and so fucking cold, that you said to yourself: "Heck, I'll maybe swim... tomorrow." And tomorrow it was, every single day.

So not much swimming on that holiday. Instead, we spent time reading the local ghost stories and pioneer tales, the ones where husband and wife get snowed in late October, and in April only the wife shows up at the boat launch -- her clothes ragged, her hair uncombed and gray. She, gaunt and frail, and a healing axed gash on her forearm. But no husband. No, no husband.

Yeah, that was the kind of mysterious fun our family went for. Creepy. Quiet. Introspective, I suppose.

One morning, perhaps four or five mornings in, we decided to go hiking. And when I say "we decided" I mean something entirely different. I mean, I badgered them, endlessly, constantly, continually to go see Suzy's Cave. It was only 3 or 4, or perhaps 5 miles. Whatever it said on the signpost. It was on the lodge's map. A notable venue. And not so far.

And when we got there? I'd imagined a huge, vast cavern. We'd walk in, our voices muffled at first. Then, our voices would suddenly begin to echo and bounce, and the sounds in the place would stop us in our tracks. As we then delved further into the depths of the cave, the walls would stretch away, and we'd shine our flashlights ahead and see... sparkling rock crystals, and slagtites dripping from the high arches of the roof above, with still pools of ageless water standing before us, and transluscent watered rocks surrounding us.

I had a plan. A long hike to a transcendant place, where we'd all be transfixed, stilled, and utterly flummoxed by nature's incredible, wordless wonder.

So we started out. We were not hikers. We walked. We walked. We walked. It was endless. We came to a signpost: "Suzy's Cave 4.5 miles." We walked on, the path twisting, turning. Up, down. On and on. My mother, "Jesus, Suzy's Cave had better be good!" The path continued. Up a seemingly sheer rock cliff. Grabbing onto scrub pines to pull ourselves up. On a new, higher elevation. Sweat, scratchy clothes. No one had brought water. "Suzy's Cave 2.8 miles."

Holy Lord, how far was this cave, anyway? Every signpost seemed to make it both nearer and farther. Nearer, because the distance was decreasing, but farther, because where the hell was this damned cave, anyway?"

"Suzy's Cave 2.1 miles." My heart was sinking, breaking. My sister was tired, my father was steaming forward, but my mother was bitching. "Where the hell is this thing anyway? What a great idea! I wonder what kind of idiot did the mileage on this map? Goddamn!" And then, "I hope you're happy, Ellen! I can't wait to see this damned cave!"

There's nothing really like trudging the last 2.1 miles with your mother's resentment at your back. It makes it all quite out-of-body, really.

You're hoping that this damned cave will shut her up forever, that its beauty will silence her, that she will be speechless with wonder, and that all this hot travail will be rewarded.

"Suzy's Cave .3 miles"

And then finally, here you are. A clearing, with pines all around, flat bare ground exposed in cold pale sunshine.

"Suzy's Cave," with a feeble arrow pointing toward... a narrow rift in the rock.

Everyone looks dubious.

We creep into the narrow cleft in the rock face. We walk forward perhaps 6 or 8 feet, without flashlights, into... nothing.

That's it.

That's the cave.

That's what we've walked 5.1 miles to see. A big dark indentation in a rock face.

"Well! I'm so glad I got here!" My mom's sarcasm pierces me through.

My father and sister look at me, willing me not to respond. And I don't.

This has been "a story" for our family, for all these years. All you have to say is, "Suzy's Cave," and the old feelings come flooding back. Hot scratchy clothes. Tired legs. No reward at the end of the trek. Not one good thing. Not one. Just shame and uselessness.

I was talking with my sister this evening, and she said, "You know, this could have been framed in an entirely different way. Not as a story where you made us walk for nothing. Not that you were a pest and a nudge and a brat. No, it could have been a story about a girl who wanted an adventure, who got her family to take a long walk in a pristine wilderness, a girl who wanted to explore, who persevered, who reached a goal. A girl who wanted to take a long walk, out in the soft and deep pine forests in northern Michigan, to see what was around the next bend in the path."

I'm going to hold onto that idea.


Monday, November 9, 2009

*yawns* ... *rubs eyes* ...

Good lord, where in the world have I been? Yes, yes, I can hear you asking. People are begging, simply begging for a new post. I should have named the last post "National Poetry Month" so as to get a bit more mileage out of it.

But mileage, my friends, is something I do know something about, seeing as how I logged in about a trillion airmiles over the last couple of weeks. I feel more at home in an airport than anywhere else these days. That in-transit feeling is so delicious, and the coffee shops and bookstores are so convenient and tantalizing. Not to mention the wine bars and the tasting of single-malt whiskeys in duty-free. And the trying on of perfumes. I usually smell like a French whore by the time I get to the boarding gate.

Mr D and I had planned an exciting synchronized swimming of the air, where he flew round the world westward, via Bangkok, Hong Kong, Malmö and Copenhagen, and I flew eastward through... well, a lot of places actually... and we met in Athens. How romantic!

And yet. My flights were done via frequent flyer miles, friends, so you know what THAT means.

Yep. More legs on this trip than on a centipede.

O'Hare to Toronto to London Heathrow.

London Gatwick to Split, Croatia.

[Water ferry to Supetar, Croatia.]

[Fast catamaran back, from Milna to Split.]

Split to Zagreb to Frankfurt to Leipzig by air.

Leipzig to Dusseldorf to Frankfurt to Athens.

Athens to Istanbul to O'Hare. It's kind of in a straight line, right?

Of course it was all very romantic after we'd slept off all the jet lag and had loads of ouzo and baklava (not at the same time, natch!) We saw the Parthenon and the squid and fish market and the oracle of Delphi and the mask of Agamemnon and you know, all those Greek things. I'll tell you about that another time.

Because you don't want to hear about that, do you? No, you want to hear about my brief stay in a TURKISH prison! Because what would travel with me be, without some frisson of excitement for you? So you can shiver and quake in your boots, and think, "Thank God it wasn't me! Thank my lucky stars it was expateek instead!"

So. I even have pictures.

If you're in the airport in Istanbul, after you have some baklava and try all the flavors of Turkish delight in the Olde Bazaar, you should take a little walk past Burberry, Chopard, Longchamps, Boss and Fendi. Go past the duty-free, testing perfume samples as you wander through, and making sure that you spray each perfume on a different part of your wrists or the backs of your hands. Concentrate deeply to remember which perfume you sprayed where, and stare intently at the bottle of the one you like the most. You will remember the name of this perfume for maybe 2 minutes. Maybe less.

Go through the food court, and take the escalator up. Turn left, and walk through the upstairs cafe, toward the far back left corner of the room. Up three steps, and voilà, you are in the very last smoking lounge remaining in a European airport!

The Turkish government just recently outlawed smoking in many public places, and of course, Turkish restauranteurs, with their hookahs and fiendishly enthusiastic smoking Turkish clientele, were up in arms. Apparently, sales of outdoor patio heaters and cafe umbrellas are now through the roof. And yet, strangely, the government have kindly provided Turkish airport visitors the option of smoking al fresco on airport property. It's like a trip back in time!

And see how appealing it is?

Very prison-like, yes? Reminded me a bit too much of the Woking jail, in terms of confined spaces. Yet I must admit that the Woking jail's air was much cleaner, a clear benefit resulting from the United Kingdom's forward-thinking health concerns for incarcerated criminals like myself.

I just thought you'd want to know, in case you have some time to kill next time you're in Istanbul. Not that anybody smokes anymore. For pete's sake. What kind of girl do you think I am?