Sunday, June 27, 2010

Stealing books again, or not

I had time to read while on my long sojourn, but the pickings were slim. Hotels often have a little library in an out-of-the-way spot, consisting of all the books previous guests have read and discarded. It stands to reason that for the most part, these books were the ones not worth bringing home.

Jonathan Kellerman's horrid psychological thrillers, Ruth Rendell's dark and nauseating mysteries, Patricia Cornwall's forensic tomes that are stuffed full of fulminating dead and bloated bodies covered in maggots. *shudder* What choices! Yet one does come across the odd treasure.

The pool cabana at the hotel in Bali had its own weary and water-stained collection, but this was a bit more varied than the usual fare. Mainly because half the books were Dutch translations of best-sellers, a third were Chinese, and the rest a smattering of German, French, and Japanese books. In the end, there were only four books in English, so I worked my way through three of them. The fourth, an Anita Shreve novel, I couldn't force myself to pick up.

Patricia Cornwall's Trace was hideous, and I vowed on my sadly-only-imaginary Chinese-translation Bible to never read another of hers. Sophie Kinsella's Twenties Girl was amusing and entertaining -- perfect beach reading. But the last one, My Invented Country, by Isabelle Allende, was the best.

I'd tried to read Allende's fiction before, but apparently one magical realism book per lifetime is my personal quota. (Perhaps because I overdid it and read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude either two or three times.) Yet Allende's autobiographical book, about her experiences as a writer, a Chilean, and an expat, was compelling and fascinating. The sensation of feeling oneself "different" or "other" -- and of finding everything in the world quite curious and strange -- she describes it beautifully.

So beautifully and so truthfully that I desperately wanted to steal that book.

Yet once again, I resisted the temptation, because how cruel would it be to reduce the Bali pool cabana's English catalogue by 25%? Really not on. Even I could not bring myself to be so unkind to future reading guests.

Thought of it later: I should have left my copy of Eat, Pray, Love there! But that would have been equally mean. And I'm just not that kind of girl.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Lost my bloggin' mojo somewhere in China

I know, I know. I left you there, hanging on tenterhooks, in India of all places. When I fell off the Blogger/Facebook grid, some worried that I'd taken the bestseller Eat, Pray, Love too seriously and had run off on a real spiritual quest, to an ashram or something.

Hardly. First, the quality of the bedsheets at ashrams is -- and I'm just guessing here -- abysmal. And second, there's the risk that you'd run into someone just as exhausting and as self-absorbed as author Elizabeth Gilbert whilst there, and voilà, holiday ruined.

With traveling companions, better the devil you know...

Pays all the bills
Lots of energy
Funny (ha ha) much of the time
Extremely picky about customer service at hotels
Always has to be holding the map or he gets cranky

than the devil you don't...

Wealthy, famous and published author

Seems like kind of a diva
Prettier than me
Younger than me
More famous than me

Anyway, perhaps I didn't "get" the book enough, but all I could think while reading it was, "I'm glad I wasn't her BFF, listening to all that blubbing". I know. Terrible friend, you can say it.

But I'm upset with China as a country, because I found THIS in the hotel room in Shanghai...

and I didn't even get to blog about it, or post it on Facebook, because guess what? No Facebook or Blogger in China! It was a blow, to be sure. I had a zillion things to say, and I was going to catch up on my blogging once I arrived in Shanghai, and NO DICE! It was especially odd because I was under the mistaken impression that Bibles were illegal in China, but apparently my info is years out of date, because there they were, in every hotel room.

Sadly, I did not steal THIS Bible either, because I was having some serious baggage heft issues, and the zip on my rolling duffel was already terribly strained. I will make Mr D bring one home next time he's in Shanghai. Why? I don't know. It has become a rather strange compulsion, I admit.

[And the world record holder for largest collection of stolen dual-translation Bibles is... expateek!]

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Many people come to India on spiritual quests. I've come along simply as company for my hardworking husband. Yet I sense a slight progress in my spiritual development, even though I certainly didn't come here seeking it.

Could it be because I'm reading the mega-best-seller, Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert? Possibly. It's certainly an appropriate book for this trip, as one third of the book details her search for spiritual enlightenment in India. She was at an ashram, I'm at Le Royal Meridien (with less opportunity for sacrifice and self-denial, obviously).

And yet... Look what appeared before my eyes when I opened the drawer in my room.

Yes, indeed. Temptation in the form of two books. And one, a Gideon Bible! In the past I've had a little bit of a problem with liberating these babies from hotel rooms.

Yet, this time? Not so much. Is it because I am becoming a more honest and virtuous person? Probably not.

Is it because the Bible was not translated into Hindi? Perhaps.

Is it because I have still four weeks of travel ahead of me, and already my suitcase is bulging? Yes, absolutely yes.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The scent of sandalwood, the sound of bells

Next stop on the Mumbai city tour was the Jain Temple, situated in an old building on Ridge Road ascending Malabar Hill. We crossed the road, dodging traffic, and entered this sacred place.

When we came in, we slipped off our shoes on the porch and put them on shelves to the right. Many simply step out of their sandals and leave them lying right there on the floor.

Worshippers and pilgrims come from all over, and go about anointing the colorful statues with sandalwood paste, ringing the bells, and circumnavigating the premises in a clockwise fashion. The atmosphere is reverent and serene, yet sings with energy.

Every sense is a delight. Monks crush sandalwood into a paste on a small balcony that looks out over the sea. The scent is divine. Visitors carry little pots of this paste around the temple in small trays also filled with flowers, and using the middle finger of the right hand, dab the paste on designated spots on various icons. As they move from room to room, worshippers reach up and give hanging bells a sharp pull. The chimes and gongs reverberate continually through the ornate marble rooms.

And every surface is painted or carved or engraved or inlaid. Polychromatic marble inlay on the floors, brilliant colorful paintings on the walls and ceilings. Even the blackboard schedule of events is exquisitely written.

Here's our guide, Freni, showing us the view of the sea from the upper balcony.

She pointed out that one thing that is special about the place is how many young worshippers are there, just stopping in. Because there is no organized worship service, people are there "just because they want to be"... Families, small children, older folks, white-robed monks and sisters -- the place is buzzing.

In this photo, you can see small low red tables placed about the floor. Visitors pour out a tiny cupful of rice on the surface, and trace symbols into the rice grains, as a kind of prayerful meditation. It's really lovely.

Years ago, when I was about 10 years old, I spent hours poring over The World Book encyclopaedia, choosing my religion. I figured that since my parents weren't churchgoers at the time, I was pretty much free to choose my own faith based on my personal beliefs. Oddly, I remember that at that time the religion that stood out was Jainism. The vegetarian diet would be a trial to my mother, certainly, but the rest of the principles made perfect sense to a pacifistic kid who was into enlightenment, and right knowledge, right faith, and right conduct.

Strangely, when I presented my findings to my mother, she was unconvinced.

"I don't think you'll find many Jains around here. It might be kind of lonely for you."

A few weeks later, we were off to the Unitarian Fellowship. Oddly enough, lessons from Sunday school concentrated much more on eastern religions than on Unitarianism's Judeo-Christian heritage, so by high school I found myself profoundly ignorant of expressions like "pearls before swine" and "the prodigal son" but satisfyingly up-to-speed on Native American smudge sticks and Hinduism's karmic fulfillment.

You have to take what you can get when your mom's still driving you places.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Wait, Gandhi? Again?

I was telling you yesterday that it's such a huge, huge world. But other days it doesn't seem so big after all. That's how I felt during the first stop of our city tour in Mumbai, where we visited Mani Bhavan, the house associated with Gandhi.

Here, he learned to card and spin, he developed much of his philosophy of social activism, non-violence, and self-sacrifice, and he initiated many effective and insightful political moves that changed India forever. The place is now a museum, research institute, library, and memorial to Gandhi's life and work.

Interestingly, we'd already encountered various exhibitions on Gandhi's life and work during our time in South Africa, as he spent 21 years in exile there, working to overcome racism directed at Indians and "coloureds". Yet, as usual, after encountering this giant on two different continents, my knowledge and understanding of his work is still miniscule.

Guides and teachers must wonder what on earth is going on inside their students' heads as we listeners "listen" but don't absorb nearly enough information. [Homework, six weeks from now: read a biography of Gandhi.] For now, I'll also give you a little hint -- Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi were not related... just so you don't fall into the error of my ways. How could I have gotten to my advanced age and not learned that?

This also serves to remind how egocentric and unintentionally parochial we all are. I remember whilst living in England, an American friend was aghast that English school children had no idea who Paul Revere was. But why should they? An American folk hero, yes, but hardly world renowned. And yet American schoolkids bumble along with hardly an inkling about India, or its past and present leaders. Though it's halfway round the world, India is destined to become so much more important in the global economy and in all of our lives as a result.

Time to hit the books and learn something, y'all!

Meanwhile, I'm going to hit the chaise longue out by the pool for a bit. It was already 86F as of 8am (the paper said it "feels like 99F"), and the weather services predict temperatures of 104F by this afternoon. Wonder what that will feel like? Melty, I bet.

I'm off to the markets and bazaar in the late afternoon when it cools off, and shall let you know what bargains I come up with. Perhaps a peacock feather fan would be advisable. I turned one down on the street on Sunday. Now I'm regretting that move, fo' sho'.

India -- so much to see and learn!

When I travel, two things are revealed to me again and again.

The first thing is, there's so much I don't know. It boggles my mind. I (sometimes) think I have a reasonably good handle on technology, world politics, current events, and so on. But all I had to do was show up on a blazingly hot and humid morning in Mumbai for a city tour to realize that I've only made the very feeblest of starts at understanding the geography, religions, history, and politics of southern Asia. In fact, it was immediately clear to me that I'd slept through the entire Social Studies unit on India in 7th grade. And, it being the American educational system, that was both the first and the last 6-week unit on India in twelve years of schooling. (No need for you to point out that things have changed in the four decades since. I got that part.)

The second thing that always knocks me for a loop is just how blinking huge the world is. What an astonishingly populous and endlessly varied place! And honestly, if you think you're overwhelmed by the number of people in O'Hare, or by flying through London Heathrow, then you might as well go on and land in Mumbai. It will put you over the top.

At half-past midnight on Sunday morning, we stepped out of the warm airport terminal into the even more hot and humid night. Masses and masses of people were standing lined up along the railings separating new arrivals (us) from greeters and drivers (them). Hundreds of placards everywhere, for hotels, for groups, for individuals. We made the circuit twice, each of us, before finding our name on a card and thus our taxi. Good thing Mr D could still remember his own moniker at that point. We were pretty tired after 22 hours of traveling; I wasn't any help at all. Then again, it isn't my name, really. If it had said "expateek" I'd have found it in a heartbeat.

After stopping at an ATM for cash (a quest in its own right), we arrived at the hotel in one piece. Sweaty, tired, and already alarmed by the driving in India. Fortunately we only had to cope with about 15 minutes of roadway at that point. Any more would have been seriously harrowing for the nerves.

Oh, you think I exaggerate, but the roads are everything you've heard about, and more. What you and I would consider a normal taxi is the largest thing on the road, excepting lorries. Everything else is smaller, and probably slower. Motorbikes, tuk-tuks, animal-drawn carts. You name it, it's on the road and probably in your way.

Honking and swerving are de rigeur. Yet after a second day in a driven car, it begins to make sense, and one has the feeling of being flotsam carried along in a river of motorcars, as the stream of traffic burbles and madly hurtles along, lanes sliding this way and that, cars slipping past inches away yet not touching.

Of course it was Sunday.

So there was actually "no" traffic, according to Freni, our guide.


Friday, May 7, 2010

I'm off!

We're at O'Hare, in the American Airlines Admiral's Lounge, having a scotch neat to calm the nerves and watching the planes come and go. All the last minute things got done -- I paid the bills, I played my last tennis for a while, I packed, and I furiously uploaded software to enable blogging and picture taking from afar.

First stop, London Heathrow, and then on to Mumbai. If you want to see what I'm going to do in my first few days in India, check out Mumbai Magic for some gorgeous photographs and great tours.

I'll keep you posted. xxx

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

On the road again...

I'm off to the far reaches of the planet on Friday.

To London Heathrow first. That's not so far.

Then on to Mumbai, Delhi, and Agra and then back through Heathrow after eleven days. I'm really hoping that dratted Icelandic volcano behaves itself.

What a pathetic show off. Puleeze.

Some volcanoes just don't know when to cool it.


For me, it's onward, after, to Shanghai and Beijing, and I'll finally end up in Bali, for a fortnight's R&R.

It should be lots of fun. Even if Mr D snores and I don't have a hope of a good night's rest for weeks and weeks and weeks. Worth it, really.

Right now, with a day and a half to go before departure, I'm trying to sort out my electronics, I'm finishing prophylactic immunizations and meds, I'm paying my bills, and I'm saying my prayers. Also writing belated thank you notes and telling those I love how much I love them.

Because you can never say "I love you" often enough.

Unfortunately, my prophylactic house-cleaning regime doesn't enter into the mix, so I've made a set-in-stone agreement with my friend Kim -- if anything happens to me, she's coming over to burn my house down. Believe me, it'll be easier on everyone.

Of course, it won't come to "that" -- with "that" being a shoddy Chinese aeroplane diving into a desolate mountainous hillside, or my fevered body shuddering and expiring of malaria in a rural Indian hospital, or Ebola or Avian flu, or a fried chicken foot stuck in my throat or a scorpion stuck in my foot or...

What's your worst travel nightmare?

It won't be that. I promise.

Blogging continues... I swear!

Yet I'm planning to do some experimental eating, so....

Unusual street food, originally uploaded by slack13.

Silk Worm Larvae on a skewer, originally uploaded by diggydog.

who in the heck knows??


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sunday afternoon at the Tattoo and Ink festival -- because Tiger Woods and I are soooooo over, Masters or not

The money I took out of the ATM in Albuquerque during my little weekend away didn't entirely get spent at the New Mexico "Immersed in Ink" Tattoo Festival. Can you believe it? Me neither. That dough was burning a hole in my pocket, fo' sho'.

I did drop a lot of dosh in restaurants in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, even though I've been diligently trying to lose weight for the last four months. Yet after eating out non-stop for five days and having some of the best Mexican I've enjoyed in ages, I weighed in even another pound lighter. Big surprise. Maybe all those refried beans and beers had some kind of catalytic effect? Kind of like red wine plus anything.

I'm so pleased, though, because I can finally fit into my trousers from two summers ago; last year I couldn't even pull them up one leg! Pretty embarrassing. This dieting has allowed me to enjoy a 200-fold increase in my wardrobe, as I drag out things that haven't seen the light of day for ages. Of course, there are also two hundred folds in all those squirreled-away trousers because they haven't been ironed for two years either.


Looks like Mr D has some housework to do when he gets home!

One of the things I miss about South Africa is Oscar. He was a master ironer. He ironed shirts, he ironed sheets, he ironed blouses with pleats and cargo pants with all their little ties and bunches. He even ironed my underwear, which was strange, because thongs generally don't get very wrinkly. I used to laugh about how unnecessary it is to iron sheets, but I stopped because Mr D always gets wistful and makes a little sad face, which makes me feel kind of guilty. And who wants a wife to feel bad and guilty? Of course he knows I have other good qualities, and would never dream of requiring me to do the ironing. I have blog posts to write! Midget wrestling expos to attend! Tennis matches to play!

And yes, indeed, my sister and I did attend the Tattoo Festival on Sunday. We saw the sign

IMG_9960, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

and we had to go. I forced my posse to pull over so I could steal this sign; I plan to plant it in my garden for my next outdoor barbeque. Who knows what hi-jinks will ensue when people see they're given permission to wrestle on my lawn??

And yes, of course you're invited! Did you even think you needed to ask?

Tragically, we missed the midget wrestling, which was just about the whole reason for going, but I did get this great shirt and a new pair of knickers.

IMG_0128, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

The knickers are a bit mystifying, as they're cut the same front and back, and I can't decide which way the motto is meant to sit. They fit equally badly either way, so perhaps I'll refashion them into some kind of goth hat.

At the show I also got even more propositions than I usually do. I figured that I might be tapped as a tattoo model...

IMG_0132, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

but, no. Apparently you need to have some tattoos to qualify. Feh! Details, details! No, all the handsome young tattoo artists were just interested in drumming up business. People were being tattooed at every booth, and the line of the day was, "Hey, ready to get inked?"

I think they sensed my vast expanses of virgin skin, and each one wanted to be the very first. Typical males, really.

I vacillated for a moment...

IMG_9970, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

IMG_9971, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

but then opted to wait. Sitting on a fresh tattoo on that long plane ride home?

No thanks.

Yet the Ink Expo raised more questions than it answered. For example:
  • what's the difference between hard-core midget wrestling and plain old vanilla midget wrestling?
  • are you even allowed to say midget anymore?
  • and where the heck were the midgets, anyway? Obviously we missed 'em, but then friends pointed out that maybe we weren't looking low enough, and that we should have also checked behind and under things. Duh. Lesson learned.
  • and what in the Sam Hill was this?

IMG_9962, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

(One minute to answer.... tick tock, tick tock .... *Jeopardy music playing in background*)

When I tell you, you'll slap your forehead. "It was so obvious! What was I thinking?!?"

For a moment, even I was confused. Was it to separate the midgets when they went too hard-core, by yanking one up into the air? Was it for training midget aerialists, or for suspending people so artists could tattoo those "hard-to-reach" areas?

Close, but then again, no.

No, people who get tattoos probably enjoy pain, or at least they don't mind it too much. So when you've gotten every square centimeter of your skin tattooed, what's left but to be suspended by hooks through your skin?

Obviously, a different aesthetic.

Yet I enjoyed the jewelry,

IMG_9965, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

and the scenery.

IMG_9966, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

Pretty tasty. But very un-inked, now that I look more closely. Personally, I prefer naked musculature, as in this specimen. Too much doodling takes away from the overall picture, don't you agree?


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Mexico -- is it REALLY part of the USA?

You know, as an ex-expat, one can become pretty jaded.

Been there, done that. Seen it, saw it, did it, done it, and what else could possibly be new?

I'm here to tell you that traveling in the US of A can be just as exciting as pottering about in the tombs of Egypt's Valley of the Kings, or struggling along with my execrable (non-existent) Polish in forest towns rather too near the border of Belarus.

Because, yes! Albuquerque NM offers new and thrilling thrills for those who seek such things.

On a weekend jaunt away, intent on spending quality time with my lovely sister, I came across some amazing sights.

The first came about on Sunday morning.

Albuquerque, home of the magnificent balloon fiesta every October, also offers tourists the opportunity at any time to experience the thrill of floating up up up and away, into the ether, in a hot-air balloon.

IMG_9931, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

Here's a balloon, floating away past us, off to the southwest.

Sunday, about 7am, I was sitting enjoying a cup of joe in M's living room, when I heard outside the deep and resonant whoooooooooaaaashhhhhhh of a nearby balloon. These silken beauties rise up into the clear cold sky from the desert floor, powered only by flaming heaters. The gondolier fires up the heater, and the bursts of propane explode in fiery blasts, heating the air and keeping the balloon aloft.

Yet if the temperature is not quite right, or the winds go wrong, it can all go awry.

My sister and I had discussed this on Saturday.

"Oh yeah," she said. "Sometimes there's an accident. They hit power lines, and the balloon catches fire and dissolves in flames, and the gondola breaks off and tips over. People fall off, and out."

"OMG, no!"

"Oh sure," she continued. "Sometimes people are taking pictures on their cell phones -- people plunging to their deaths, or whatever. Broken bones, you know. Broken necks. It happens. All over the internet the next day."

I sighed. God, the horror.

Whoooooooooaaaashhhhhhh. It was so close now! Impossibly loud, like a dragon sitting right above on the roof, belching out sulphurous, fiery breaths.

I went outside to see.

The balloon that had earlier flown past, high above,

IMG_9931, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

was now coming in for a landing.

IMG_9941, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

I looked up and saw the horrified faces of the gondola passengers as they floated barely 15 feet above the roof next door,

IMG_9943, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

as their gondola was dragged through the center of a young tree at the edge of the property,

IMG_9944, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

as they frantically pushed branches away

IMG_9946, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

and as the balloon descended too rapidly toward the street behind M's garden wall.

Lord, was I going to be the one taking the photos of the last living moments of these poor souls?

No, thank God. They landed without incident, and as they were Texans they seemed to take it all in stride.

"Yawwww, that wuz excitin'! Betcha y'all see this kinda thang all th' time."

"Actually, no," said M, in her quietest librarian-type voice. And we went inside for another cup of coffee.

IMG_9947, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.


Friday, March 5, 2010

When everything finally shifts, just a little bit...

Many of you will be surprised when I tell you that I have not always been the glamorous, fashionable and worldly sophisticate you see before you today. No, far from it. Instead, I was the whipping girl of the 7th and 8th grade at Madison West Junior High. Mocked, laughed at, and reviled.

I had the misfortune of having two popular but rather witless friends in junior high school, named Heidi and Cyndy. They began to torment me early in 7th grade, by befriending me, and then turning on me the next instant. In my misguided attempt to be liked, I gullibly took their suggestions and followed their orders, only to be ridiculed for doing so. Cyndy would suggest I go to Gimbel's department store, to buy the latest frock; I would badger my mother into letting me go, spending the last pennies of my allowance on said dress, and would then show up at school in it, only to be hooted out of the room. "Look, she bought that? Gaw!!!! I took Heidi's advice, getting my long and beautiful hair cut very short, and was met with, "It looked better before. I shouldn't have said to cut it!"

This went on for months. I tried to find other friends, I tried to ignore them. Then one of the two would make some peaceful kind of overture, and I would think, "There! It's all over! They've gotten it out of their systems!" And I would be sucked in once more, only to be washed up on the shores of despair again a few weeks later.

I finally hardened myself to their tricks, but they upped their game.

In general science class, midway through 8th grade, I received a folded up piece of paper, passed to me. I'd heard rustling and giggles all through the science hour, and thought it was kids laughing about the "drug education" we were supposed to be getting. It being Madison, I think most of the kids could have taught the class, but there you are.

I unfolded the paper, and saw written, in Heidi's dreadfully hideous schoolgirly handwriting, a long letter detailing all my flaws. I was ugly. I wore stupid and dorky clothes. My skin was disgusting. My purse was out of fashion. My hair was terrible, poorly cut and greasy (not true, I promise you!). I was too smart. I was a suck-up. I was good in Home Ec (!), nobody liked me. My few friends were queer and nincompoopy, just like me.

And then, as I turned over the paper to read page two of this amazing opus, I realized, "It's a flippin' petition!" It was signed by most of the people in my science class! One girl signed her name, and then wrote "sort of" after, which either meant that she "sort of" agreed, or that she was only "sort of" herself. I think she was high most of the time by 7th period science, so maybe the latter.

Heidi and Cyndy were besides themselves with giggles, and I was shocked to death.

I'd vowed not to care about what they thought of me anymore, but this was very hard to take....

Fast forward.... I spent the next 33 years worrying, even obsessing about what people thought of me. Was I rude? Polite? Fashionable? Geeky? Nice? Mean? Friendly? Cold? Everything was an exercise in self-analysis. Who are all those people and what do they think of me? It was tiring and pointless and a waste of time, really. As a friend said to me today, "You can't control what other people think, or how they react to you. You're just responsible for your own thoughts and feelings." EXACTLY.

And then there was the truly freeing moment, when everything shifted, just over four years ago. (If you want to, you can read about it here.) I had the refreshing and life-changing experience of having a heavy black handgun held, just touching my chest, just where my heart was hammering wildly inside. And then again, a few moments later, the gun was touching me again, at the back of my head, just behind my left ear, where all my conflicting thoughts were battling each other inside ("run! stay calm! talk! don't! listen carefully! listen! shut up and do what you're told!")

I lived. Yeah, I lived!!! Just luck really. They could've just as easily shot us all that Monday morning.

And since then, I've been pretty happy about living for today, and mostly not sweating the small stuff. Because after all, what's worse than lying face down with your skull in fragments and your brains splattered all over the walls? Not much, probably.

I got a bloody reprieve.

Every day's a gift, and I'm so glad of it. Life is awesome. And happy birthday to me, all over again! Some days one feels truly reborn.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Oh, your cleaning lady knows EVERYTHING....

I was going to start by saying that most bad behavior occurs at the weekend, but maybe that's only me. Certainly this weekend it's going to be true for all of us, since those of you who watch the Aussie Open and snack whilst doing so will get into big trouble if you're still trying to stick to your New Year's resolutions. Me, I probably won't have much time to watch any television at all, because Mr D returns home late tonight after two weeks away and he rules the remote control with an iron fist. Still, I have a feeling that TV won't be first thing on his agenda. Guess I'll have to put on my running shoes if I want to stay out of his clutches.

And yet.... This girl does love a good cardio workout at home.

And that, my friends -- the idea of running shoes in the bedroom -- reminds me of a saucy tale.

In England, at the Royal Berkshire Health and Racquets club, I played lots of tennis on various teams. The Americans amongst us were noted for being better trained in general, and for coming into the net and being ... yes... rather aggressive. What, me? Well, the English roses, proper and polite as they were, sighed and raised their eyebrows when we Americans were lauded by the tennis pros for our assertiveness.

There was one American (we'll call her Karen) who was roundly despised for being over-the-top in the aggressiveness department. She was a fairly quick player, about my height and weight, and she had the most terrifying overhead smash you've ever seen. She'd race in to the net, and any high ball was furiously slammed down the opposing team's throats. That was bad enough, the bald-faced glee with which she traumatised her victims, but she also had an awful tendency to sometimes let out a kind of Sioux Indian war-whoop at her moment of impact. It was pretty off-putting and frightfully not English. Not done, really.

Too, she was a tiny bit butch, so tongues wagged and people made entirely inappropriate comments when they'd been pasted by yet another Karen overhead and were feeling mightily affronted.

As it happened, all of us expats tended to share household help, trading tips on good repairmen, butchers, and cleaning ladies. Even I, slattern that I am, sprang for a cleaning lady every other week. Three teenagers at home meant I really couldn't keep up. It was expensive, but there were extra benefits that I only realised after some time.

Terri, my cleaning lady, was really the talker. She was very fair, very blond and very plump, and once she got to work her cheeks went bright pink with effort. Yet the house looked sparkling after four hours; I could never believe what a hard worker she was. You know you're paying a lot of money for the service when your cleaning lady has her own horses. She told me that in her younger days, she'd ridden side-saddle professionally, and even been in a lot of BBC (Masterpiece Theatre) dramas as a stunt horsewoman, as side-riding is a fairly uncommon skill. So she was full of interesting tidbits. You couldn't help but learn more than you ever intended to, about whatever she was on about that day.

One day she came in, and fixed her light blue eyes on me, and breathed, "Ellie!"

I looked up.

"Ellie. You won't believe whot I seen!"

"Ummm. G'morning, Terri! How've you been?"

"Oooooo, Ellie. Not so good. Not so good at all. I'll ask ye now, is that Karen a good friend o' yers?"

"Mmm, not really. I hardly know her."

"Ah, Ellie, that's a very good thing. I've just started over at hers, and you'll never imagine whot's in her master bedroom."

"Ummm... gosh, what?"

"Ellie, it's a portrait of her! She had it done fer her husband, and he paid for it! He must ha' liked it, I guess, then."

"Well, that sounds okay. I might like a portrait painted of myself, I suppose..."

"But Ellie, not like this 'un. She's in the nude!!"

"Ooo. Well... there's a whole long tradition of nude portraits, I suppose...." I frowned, thinking back over Ingres, Picasso, and Renoir, Lucien Freud, and Jenny Saville.

"Naw, but Ellie! She's all nude but she's holdin' her tennis racquet and wearin' her socks and tennis shoes. It's ... it's... it's not right!"

Yes, I could see that Terri was entirely correct. As an art connoisseur and historian, I too realised it was clearly not right.

"And you know what else, Ellie? Chocolate body paint! In the dresser drawer. Cor, I never!"

Moral of this story?

If you're going to invest in bad art... (here's a similar example):

then either DON'T have a cleaning lady, or don't wear your tennis shoes for the portrait sitting.

Some things just don't fly.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

RIP David Evans

If you've been following this blog for a long time, you might remember this post, from early days in South Africa, July 2005. David and Tuppy Evans walked us through much of our acclimatization to South Africa, helping us negotiate household staffing and a plethora of security issues, smoothing corporate workplace transitions, and making us feel at home early on.

It was with such sadness that we learned today that David was killed in a road accident on September 1st, whilst returning to Johannesburg. He was hit head-on by a truck. South African roadways are so bloody dangerous. It's carnage all the time and it seems damned unfair that such a wonderful, great guy should meet this end.

Rest in Peace, David. I hope the golf is really good upstairs.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Rebranding needed, or When good art supplies go bad

Mr D, slave-driver that he is, made me open a few more packing boxes in my office this weekend. He's doing me a favor, really, because we have to make room for even more boxes to be delivered this Wednesday.

Yes, it's true. The moving company somehow misplaced a portion of our stored goods. Seven long years, these 20 tonnes of items were stored, and in May, upon our return to the states, they were delivered back to our house. (Along with the 18 tonnes of stuff we'd dragged all over the globe with us.) When one of the large crates (6' x 6' x 8') turned up empty, the moving guys shrugged and said, "Awww, it was probably just an administrative error. Ya got all yer stuff, right?"

And we looked around our house and figured, "Yup, we sure did." Because there wasn't another free inch to shoehorn even one more thing into the house at that point.

A month or so later, I remembered we'd had two filing cabinets. And another bookcase or two. And a little table. And ... gosh, what else? I called the movers, and the admin guy said, "Fill out a claim, but really, if the label fell off the crate, we have no way of locating it."

Mentally, I kissed it all goodbye.

And then two days before Christmas, Steve the Admin guy rang saying, "I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is, we found your crate. The bad news is, I don't think you have any room left in your house."

Ho ho ho, Steve. How right you are. Merry Christmas.

Anyhow, in the mad rush to finish unpacking the first and second shipments to make way for the third, I unpacked a box of art supplies and old art projects.

"Mom, what are you doing?" shrieked Tarquin Jr, as he looked at the kit strewn about the place.

"Uh... speedballing?"

Artists. So decadent.