Saturday, April 29, 2006

Day 5: The Jordan River

Good morning! For breakfast we had black sesame breadsticks with cream cheese in the almost empty jar. Seeing a theme yet?

Today we are going to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. Today I will be the championship photographer, as soon as I get the dust off my lens. Note to Self: force Raj to take me to a camera store, as soon as he hauls his ass out of bed. Of us three Raj is the biggest time nazi, and of us three Raj likes to sleep in the most. Go figure.

Mister Sister finally gets out of bed, screaming at us the whole time even though we're fully dressed, ready and waiting. We're used to the fact that Raj just likes to scream. He's like a toy poodle that way, needs to bark to hear his own voice. So with a "Let's go let's go already people! We're on a schedule you know!", we march out the door, down the stairs and into the car.

First stop, falafel. James and I have whined for falafel from the minute the plane landed. In short, we cannot believe how many hours we have been in this part of the world without having a falafel. What's that all about? Raj drives like mad to a falafel place in the center of town, insulting us and our choices the whole way. We have a full day planned and just don't have TIME for falafel, people! Lucky for me the best way to shut Raj up is blackmail, so I threaten with one or two damning scenarios from our school days. Before I know it, he and James are - quietly - in the falafel place ordering our breakfast.

I'm on car duty. He almost got a ticket the night before, see, so my job is to sit in the passenger seat and honk like mad if police person comes at the windshield with a pad and pencil. It's a gorgeous day, the sun is out, the sky is blue, and young, hot busboy from the restaurant has just brought me some complimentary tea and stuffed falafel balls to snack on while I wait. Ah, young & good looking servile male bringing me tasties. I love it here.

We have to forego the camera store because we are running late. Damn. We also have to eat in the car because we are running late. In fact, we have to eat in the moving car because we are running late. If you're having problems picturing what I'm about to describe, just try this: take the most reckless, hissy-fit driver you know and clock them at 100kph in a very swervy part of town while you have a falafel in your left hand and a full cup of hot tea in your right, arm hanging out the window in case of spillage. It was pretty hard at first and I did some toy poodle barking of my own, but I managed better after dumping half my tea in the street.

Next stop, Jordan River. This is where Jesus was baptised. Again, I am not seriously into Christian heritage sites, but when in the area, what the hey? The scenery is gorgeous and if anything, it's nostalgic. Under one condition, though: if at any time we were subject to candle-bearing religious heretics singing "Kumbaya," vamos.

We parked the car, then got on a bus with a dozen or so other tourists, several of them Italian. The bus rolls along while the tour guide gives a very important, factually significant ditty (I'd repeat some of it but we weren't paying attention), and the load of us were dropped off onto a sidewalk in a field where the walking tour began. They don't exactly tell you that this sidewalk just happens to be in the middle of a minefield, but they do tell you that you are very, very close to the Israeli border and that these important landmarks have been "protected" by all means necessary. Or as James put it, "If you stray off the sidewalk honey, do us all a favour and keep running."

The sidewalk leads to a forested area, then a bridge, then another bridge, then the river, etc. etc., you get the point. Our trio was the tail end of the group, and I was the last. And this was it! I could feel it in my bones. The time was right for my own personal tour-de-force. I whipped out my camera - dust be damned! - and prepared myself to start shooting like mad. Just one more thing, and this I'd been waiting for a long, long time.

Hairclip had to come off. Now. Curls have been up far too long and what better place to make a fresh start? Hell, Jesus did it. With my thumb and forefinger I undid it my clip in one fluid motion and shook my hair loose a la Charlie's Angels style, singing "Born Free!" in my head, intending to savour the moment forever.

Then, at that precise moment, the damndest thing happened. My right sandal snapped. Off. As in broken. As in, You've just started a 1.5 hour walking tour in a minefield in some godforsaken desert, and will have to do most of it now without your right shoe.

What the hell? What was this? Were the planetary alignments against me or something? Bullshit! I swore several times (rather loudly) so that James and Raj came running back to see what'd happened. And thus I was reduced to the remainder of the walk with a step 'n slide. Forget photography, just getting through this stupid tour on one foot was priority now.

James was an angel. He carried my camera, took pictures for me, caught me every single time I almost fell, waited with me and missed most of the tour watching me drag along like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Best of all he told stupid jokes that at times had me laughing so hard I was reduced to a crawl. How ironic. Crawling in the Holy Land.

Raj was a miscreant. He did not wait, he did not help, he just rushed ahead repeatedly snapping, "Come, James!", seriously annoyed that his lover was missing even one second of this precious, sacred information. Best of all, he felt the tremendous need to inform me every few minutes or so of fatefulness of this whole situation. He would click his tongue and everything. "This is a sign, kookoo."

No shit, it was a sign to buy better shoes. "A sign of what?"

"You're being punished, kookoo."

"For wearing Skechers?"

"You're being punished for all your sins."

Oh, that was rich. "Are you fucking mental?"

"Do you think it's a coincidence that your sandal broke? Here? It means you will have a very hard path through life! You have to repent now!"

"Said the gay muslim whose parents still think he's straight!"

"You have to repent, kookoo!

James: "Actually, I think it's a sign that you should walk barefoot while I dance behind you singing 'Everything's gonna be alright.'"

Back to laughing, back to the crawl. As for Raj, he is very lucky I was one footed. He is even luckier we were in a minefield. Nikes in a regular field, and I would've wrung his neck.

But then sometimes Raj can be very useful. He knows a handful of languages and when he started chatting up the Italians, James and I just assumed he'd left us because he was embarrassed by our uncouth behaviour and couldn't understand out jokes. He never understands our jokes. Shockingly, while mingling with the fashionable - Raj thinks all Italians are fashionable - he managed to find a way to help.

Raj comes running over to me, pointing to a smiling (and very good looking) man in a striped shirt and says, "You're in luck, this man here is going to try and fix your shoe. He says he's part of the Italian military, and has been trained for all kinds of rough, wilderness situations. He can survive in the desert on practically nothing."

"Does that mean I can have his sandals while he walks barefoot?"

He clicked his tongue again and gave me the 'I can't believe these people want to help you and you're still making jokes you're such a shithead' look, stuck out his hand and I put my sandal in it. Five minutes later it came back, mended with red twine (who the hell carries twine on the Jordan River tour, MacGyver?). Not perfect, but doable. I was so happy to be able to partially walk again I gave Signore a big hug and kiss and at least a dozen Grazie's. And for posterity, he let me take his picture holding my reborn sandal.

We finally came to the site where Jesus was baptised. It was a patch of cracked dirt. It was obvious there had once been a river there, but now there was just a big moisture spot. On the cracked up dirt. Alrighty, then. Ten dinars entry for a dull tour, broken sandals, a minefield and cracked dirt? I don't think so. The tour guide saw we were getting antsy and took us to the "new" baptism site, even if just to see running water.

The Jordan River was actually a river! That's more like it. Sure, it was small, brown, and patrolled by some pinch-faced armed guards a stone's throw away on the Israeli border, but it was a river. The Italians all took turns getting their hands wet and taking pictures, when Raj pulled out his camera and gestured at me.

"I'll take a picture while you cleanse yourself, kookoo. This is your chance to repent."

Cleanse myself? Repent? He was still on that? "Nope. That water's filthy. No repenting today."

Raj tightened his lips and puffed out his cheeks. Then he stomped his foot. Tantrum time. "I've had it! H-A-D it! I bring you here and you don't care about ANYTHING your fucking shoe BREAKS all you do is JOKE and LAUGH you MISS the tour this is a ONCE IN A LIFETIME opportunity and if you don't CLEANSE YOUR SINS in the Jordan River RIGHT NOW I'm going to SCREAM!"

If you like your eardrums the way they are, you don't mess around with Raj when he threatens to scream. Fine, then. Cleansing time. I took off my shoes and walked over to the rocks. There was only a small space where you had the freedom to stick body parts in the water, and it was steep. James came over to help and took my left hand. I still wasn't too sure about this. "It's dirty!"


Bossy-pants. I stuck my tongue out at him, right before sticking my big toe in the Jordan River and feeling something murky that I didn't like ONE BIT!

This is Raj's picture: James is holding my hand while my other arm is out. My pants are rolled up, I very carefully have my right toe in the river; my hair is loose and wild. I am looking into the sky, completely disgusted, shrieking for all I'm worth.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Day 4: Amman

James and I were in the middle of a black sesame breadsticks with cream cheese from the jar breakfast when Raj announced that we were not to eat too much, as we'd been invited to his sister's for lunch. Fabulous! We love Arabic food, and the breadsticks were put away with a quickness. The stretch from breakfast to lunch might be a few hours and then some for most people, but when you're on the receiving end of Arabic hospitality, the emptier your stomach, the better.

Pit stop to Mummy's and Papi's first for some cardamom Turkish coffee when Papi, a gourmet at heart, wanted to know if we would enjoy a trip to the honey farm. I try to never deny myself out-of-the-everyday experiences, especially when they're pushed underneath my nose like that, so we piled into the family Toyota for a trip to a nearby village where Papi swore was the "best honey in the world."

Have you ever been to a honey farm? I have. Sadly I saw no actual farm, not even any hives, but I did see scores of trees in full bloom with bees busy at work. James and I were ushered onto a patio with eight or so large vats in the center, complete with mini spouts and thousands of sampling cups for tasting. And taste we did; thick, lightly golden syrupy honey that after the sweetness, left the lingering aftertaste of orange blossom. Absolutely marvelous.

I was thick in the trenches of honey Valhalla when I noticed a crop of teenage girls staring and pointing at me. Four of them, mid teens, not completely veiled but their hair was covered. Village in the Middle East, remember. But I couldn't figure out why they were staring at me. Was it my hair? My clothes? My boisterous and obnoxious laugh?

I needed a second opinion. "Hey James, check out those girls. They've been staring at me for awhile now."

"Yeah, I noticed that."

"Maybe it's because I'm so tall in platform sandals?"

James snorted. He's just so fucking good at sarcastic snorting. "Idiot. We're in a village. Look at your top."

I look down. Of course. I'm not exactly showing cleavage, but it's a bright blue, low-button dealie that shows just a hint of chest skin. These girls were fundamentalist Islam, etc. etc. I'm not sure how often they saw foreigners, but I'm pretty sure they almost never saw boob. Scandalous! These people are good enough to give me floral sheets, hummus and honey, and here I am corrupting their youth. I was sincerely and thoroughly abashed.

But then on the other hand, at home I'd practically have to be Pamela Anderson for my chest to get a double take. Do you know what this means? Eureka! 30 years old and my breasts have finally caused a sensation! I rode that high horse all the way back to the car.

On the way home Papi stopped to pick up a bunch of fresh chick peas from a street vendor. He was absolutely appalled that James and I had never tried whole chickpeas in any other form but canned. "Try! You take! I promise you like! You tell me what you think!"

Have you ever eaten fresh chick peas? I can now say I've done that, too. It was amazing, a huge bunch of tall branches full of what looked like small, plump pea pods about half the size of my thumb. They were green inside and moist out of their pods, tasting slightly like peanuts and even somewhat minty. More marvelous.

Our stomachs not quite empty we arrived at Raj's sister's place for lunch, a.k.a. the largest and most important meal of the day. You know you're in for serious eating when both dining table extender leaves have been locked in place.

True Arabic hospitality is providing your guests with far more delicacies than they can manage. I always find it amazing that Arabs and Europeans still find so much conflict with one another when they have so much in common, in this case, showing love, welcome and acceptance through food. Lots of food. And as a guest, true courtesy is never saying no. But since my stomach can only house so many servings, true courtesy is at least trying a bit of everything there.

Raj's older sister is all of five feet tall, yet she managed to fill a 10-foot long table with Indian inspired Arabic dishes. There was Biryani, a roast leg of lamb, barbeque chicken with various herbs and spices, fish, some eggplant dish, three salads, minted yogurt, babaganouj, everests of pita and oceans of hummus. There were fresh almonds in their fuzzy green shells, sour until dipped in salt, and a dish of pastries made from the Arab holy trinity of ingredients: phyllo, pistachios and honey.

It was delicious. It was magnificent. It caused blindness and memory loss. Ridiculous amounts of food do that to me. I consider myself very, very lucky to have James, and luckier still to always be seated next to him. He can put away a lot more than I can. Whenever I was sure no one was watching, I'd slip my leftovers onto his plate.

We made the trek to downtown Amman shortly after, not because we desperately needed to see the city right then, but to give our stomachs a rest. Raj's family lives in the suburbs, and going downtown is just what it is: down. Amman is limestone houses and low-rise apartments built one on top of the other, spiralling into the valleys and hills that the city is built on. Lookwise, think Athens. The houses and style are all really similar. Geographically, think Rome. Both cities are built on hills.

We wanted to go to the amphitheatre chuck in the middle of Hashemite square; it was closed. I stuck my digi through the grate and took a picture. A juice vendor accosted us repeatedly up and down the stairs and in every which direction (Raj knows his city as well as an elephant knows the rainforest - it doesn't) until we stumbled onto the Iraqi corner.

After 9/11 and the war, Jordan was flooded with Iraqi refugees. Over a million of them. And while I was told that many of them were wealthy enough to be just slightly disturbed by their change of life and location, there is no such thing as a war without living casualties, and many are dirt poor. These Iraqis that we saw were in the tourist district all day, every day, sitting in front of their blankets and selling their wares. Mostly Iraqi currency (complete with Saddam's mug) now void by the government, old jewellery, knick knacks, and what they claimed were ancient Persian artifacts stolen from museums.

Their situation is a sad one, but at least amazing in storytelling value. And, no such thing as a fixed price, so Raj bargained for us while James and I gawked at the GORGEOUS men we kept seeing. Just my style too, tall but not too tall, lean, dark hair, dark & light eyes aplenty, olive skinned (insert growling noises here). I'm definitely North Americanized but darlings, if I had to live in the East, let me assure you it wouldn't be too tragic!

The day was winding down, and so were we. Back in the car and back to the apartment where we had a small dinner of haloumi cheese sandwiches and, big surprise, black sesame breadsticks with cream cheese from the jar. "Legally Blonde" was on for background noise, and I played Scrabble with Raj. He drove me so fucking bonkers and took so much time to do anything, I gave him half my tiles and let him spell whatever he wanted. He won and gloated for two hours. "Kookoo (that's what he calls me) you're a JOURNALIST. You're a WRITER. English was your first language and I BEAT YOU. Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"

Beeyatch. Not ashamed enough to pinch his nipple and make him scream. Raj screams like a girl.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Day 3 1/2: Hello, Jordan

Sometime around noon I wake up to three noises: James shuffling around the apartment in search of breakfast, the noon prayer broadcasted on loudspeaker from a nearby mosque, and a beep from my cell phone with a text message from Marco: WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD! SEE YOU ON THURSDAY NIGHT XOXO

Very early Monday afternoon versus later Thursday evening, do the math and we have three and a half days, three and a half days, three and a half days. So fabulous to finally be able to shake off my Airport Neurosis, only to make way for the Waiting Game. How on earth will I wait for three and a half days? With my heart in my stomach, naturally, but until then it's time to get dressed and meet Raj's parents.

I have been hearing about these people since I was 19 years old, and from what Raj has been saying, they've been hearing about me for just as long. No sooner do I walk through their door then I can see exactly why Raj is my sister soulmate: while they look nothing like my parents, they talk, gesture and feed us with atrocious amounts of food exactly as my parents would. I therefore christen them Mom and Dad Jr., or as I called them later on in the trip, Mummy and Papi.

Mummy and Papi seem to like both me and James enough, and most importantly, do not seem to realize that Raj and James are 1) gay, and 2) together. In fact, they're too impressed with James' basic Arabic to even pay attention to Raj's little pinches and constant glossing over his lover.


Raj: Mom, Dad, I would like to show James the apartment. Come, James (takes him by the hand and tries to pull him out of his seat).

James: (laughs nervously and takes his hand back) Maybe later?

Me: (standing up and taking Raj's hand, squeezing so hard a blood vessel pops) Now sweetie, wouldn't you like to show me the apartment too?

Raj: No, you're a big girl, you can look around yourself. (tosses my hand back and takes James' again) Come, James! (Off they go)

Me: (smiling at the parents, showing a lot of teeth) You know, James is really bad with directions.

Mummy and Papi: (nod)

Absolutely, unbelievably, totally fucking beyond me. So from this point on, I will stop asking questions.

Back to the meal. Mummy and Papi make us right at home by stuffing us to the gills with various Arabic delicacies (including HUMMUS, my cravings sang hallelujah), and cap off lunch with cardamom infused Turkish coffee. Thick as mud. At this point I attempt to amaze all with my firsthand, extremely corny knowledge of reading fortunes in coffee cups, but all I manage to see are images of dogs. Even more corny, I really miss Bluetooth.

The evening is young, so Raj drives us to Mount Nebo. This is apparently where Moses died, and it's not long before we are awash with bible thumpers galore. Even better, we are also awash with some seriously good looking security guards. Good looking enough that James and I had to force our eyes back in our skulls with Raj shrieking, "You two are so stupid!"

I am not seriously into Christian heritage sites, but I am seriously into fantastic views for the sake of photography, and I happily pull out my Nikon to the drumroll in my head. Super picture girl is back! Pick subject, assume position, look through view finder, manually focus and see... ... a seriously bad case of dust. Dust? What the hell? I cleaned everything out before I left. I take it apart, clean all with my funky little camera cloth, put it back together, repeat steps one thru four and see... a seriously badder case of dust.

No no no no no. I can't have dust in my lens. It just won't do. I take it apart again, clean everything out again, and ignore Mr. James know-it-all telling me that I'm probably making it worse. Yeah, yeah. He thinks he knows everything. I know he hates me. He's getting back at me for not letting him have the window seat on the plane, that's what he's doing.

But no matter what, I can't get that fucking dust out. Not on the mountain, not outside the church, inside the church, in the bathroom (which smelled bad), and back in the car or on our drive through the town, where I stop to get my mother some holy water. I may not be into Christian heritage sites, but she is. I'm tempted to bless my camera for the sake of better pictures and no dust, but hold my breath all the way back to the apartment where we finish our first Middle Eastern evening to Jurassic Park III on the tube, and a snack of black sesame breadsticks with cream cheese from a jar. And plenty of camera dust.

Day 3: Hello, Jordan

Very, VERY early Monday morning, our plane landed in Amman, Jordan. Even though I hadn't slept in close to 40 hours I was still bouncing off my seat from excitement, and couldn't wait to get my first taste of the East.

And here it was: waiting in a miserable lineup for entry visas while elaborately dressed sheikhs and royals bypassed economy right through "Crown Class." Crown Class, I tell you. I toyed with the idea of informing the airport officials that I'd given myself a crown a long time ago, but they looked stern and carried machine guns. Never piss off a stern airport official with a machine gun. It can't lead to anything good.

Thanks to North American media brainwashing of the Arab world I was tempted to think this was going to be a tightass couple of weeks, until one of my bags got checked. Normally this consists of a Security Guard pulling on latex gloves and rifling through my suitcase behind a metal screen 15 feet away and shutting me up with, "I don't remember asking your opinion, ma'am."

Well here was my bag check in Amman airport: friendly little non-uniformed, unarmed chap says to me, "Would it be possible if I could check this bag, Miss?," and points to my carry on. Gotta love when security people ask if they "can" look at your stuff; say no and you're stuck in jail for the night on suspicion of drugs. Sure, take the damn bag. Not like I have anything to say about it. Four smiling men appear out of nowhere to put my bag up on an inspection table - relax boys, it's not that heavy - and they let me unzip.

Non-uniformed boy points to the innards of my bag and says, "You have technology?" (Wasn't that a line in Six Million Dollar Man?) Yes I say, my camera is in here, and started to unwrap my zoom lens from the poncho I'd housed it in. "No no no!" he says with a big smile on his face, shocking the hell out of me and taking my hands to put them aside. And then he zipped my bag up and sent me away with, "We are sorry to have disturbed you! Welcome to Jordan! Enjoy your stay!"

Well, that was easy. Weren't they supposed to probe me or something? James and I make our way out into the terminal where I, still stunned from that super happy experience, walk right by King Abdullah of Jordan without noticing, because I am too busy noticing his hot attendant, the Arab Orlando Bloom.

Hello Raj! We haven't seen each other in three weeks, which is one thing for me and Raj, and totally another thing for James & Raj, who molest each other in the car the entire way back to the apartment. Lucky, lucky me. I absorbed myself in Jordanian architecture on the drive back to the apartment, which Raj's family has been good enough to lend us during our stay. It's his uncle's "summer home," currently not in use.

It's gorgeous and most importantly, it's huge. James gets the King suite, and I am ushered into the Queen room. See, told you I gave myself a crown a long time ago. It's sparse, it's simple, and has the sweetest girl furniture on earth, a wrought-iron white bed covered in pink floral bedsheets and scented with geranium water, courtesy of Raj's mother.

Let's make one thing very clear: I hate pink. I loathe pink. My furniture, paint, sheets at home all play with shades of the most amazing contemporary colours ever made: brown, white, blue and black. Pink flowers is something I would never, ever do for myself, but when someone else does it for you, especially your best friend's mom, it has to be the sweetest thing in the world. I wrap myself up in my pink cupcake pajamas - a parting gift from my mom! - and flop into my good smelling bed for some welcome, blessed sleep... very quickly interrupted by squeaking bedsprings and Raj murmuring, "Ohhhh booboo!"

Ah yes, our rooms share a wall. In full anticipation of my darlings' horniness, I pop in my orange earplugs and they are muffled to a nil. I'm such a smart girl.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Day 2: Amsterdam

Snob day. How often do you get to say, "Oh, I spent Sunday in Amsterdam. Pish pish."

Well never, of course, and we intended on using that 11 hour stopover to its fullest. So after the niftiest plane breakfast ever (served in a box!) and landing in the Benelux, James and I zipped off to the hotel our travel agency had graciously provided, with every intention of dumping off our luggage and a quick shower before heading into the city.

I'm still in the throes of Airport Neurosis, remember, so it didn't help one bit that a corny Asian woman shoved ahead of us in line to flirt with the concierge. (Batting eyelashes and twirling hair) "So KLM doesn't allow meat on the plane? How about cheese?" (smile) "I just don't understand why they don't let me bring dairy products on the plane. Are you sure about that?" (wink) "Okay then, what about smoked meat? Jerky?" (positioning fingers suggestively)

By this point I am giving her the most evil eye I can come up with and ready to mow her down with my carry on. Meat and cheese? If you're going to be a flirtatious bimbo, for fuck's sakes do it properly and show some cleavage.

After Miss Asia orgasmed from her check-in sex with the concierge, James and I finally got our rooms, dumped off our luggage and showered. I insulted him thoroughly for not cleaning up quick enough (yes I know, Airport Neurosis), then piled into Mario Andretti's cab and barreled towards Amsterdam, city of fashion, sin and bacterial culture at no less than 160kph. Have you ever repeatedly body slammed an extra-large homosexual in a foreign cabbie's backseat? Yeah, I can check that off my list now.

Amsterdam was sleeping when we got to the Leidsestraat, a narrow street lined with shops and filled with trams. It was Sunday morning, and if you've ever been to a major European city on a Sunday morning, you know it's not happening. Everyone's just too busy sleeping in from the madness of the night before. We did our best with the few things that were open, mainly souvenir stands, a few eateries and a small grocery store called the Big Bananas Nightshop (gotta love Amsterdam).

James and I hit up a French cafe for some sandwiches, where he gets miffed because the waitress slipped him a cold wiener. In his baguette, that is. And to make up for it, James goes on a tasting spree with the passion of a five-star food critic. James is a chef, you see, and very much the foodie. Pre-travel, he likes to research local fare of his destination city and sample it all. Another sandwich, fries and mayo, cheese, chocolate, spice shopping and one salad later, James gets lost in a restaurant bathroom for long enough that the proprietor feels the need to ask me if my husband will be needing any help?

Umm, husband? No no no no no. Do you see a ring? Do you see rampant heterosexuality past my hairclip? Do you really think I want to search your toiletten for my opaque, vertically gifted friend whose stomach is probably doing the chicken dance as we speak?

And in saying all that, what better to prompt me towards space cake? I dragged James to the Dampkring Cannabis Cafe, where I'd had some PG-21 rated fun a couple years back... but at the last minute my Airport Neurosis wouldn't let me get torched. Sad, so sad, I know. But we sat there for awhile anyway, determined to fly off secondhand buzz.

Stores finally opened, and after much parting with Euros on the latest styles for Oli, James forced me away weeping from the Lomo camera I've been dying to own so we could make Mario Andretti's cab on time. We had our rocket blast to the airport, boarded without much incident, and if memory serves me correctly, I spent my second consecutive midnight in the air pulling James' head out of the aisle so he wouldn't get hit by the food cart.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Day 1: Exodus

Every time I wake up on the day I travel, I'm sick. Inevitable, thanks to many, many past trips with Oli and everything going wrong due to her lack of the punctuality gene. So when I fly, everything has to be EXACTLY where, how, and the way I want it. I call this little quirk of mine Airport Neurosis.

Thus, after re-packing my suitcases three times and suffocating Bluetooth with extra goodbye hugs, I call James and repeatedly berate his shitty timing. I then call Oli, our ride to the airport, and berate her even more. Normally she would berate me right back, but she knows it's her fault I'm like this.

Passport, check. Ticket, check. Money, suitcases, tags, check check check. Sanity, ha! No check there. Change into my funky travel clothes, a white corduroy blouse and low slung pants with PUNK ROYAL written across the butt. 'Tude for Amsterdam, darlings. Moms sends us off with a dinner of pizza, cheesecake and raspberry ice cream, we stuff our luggage in the trunk, I molest Bluetooth one last time, and kiss my parents goodbye.

Check-in at the airport, no emergency row seating for James, which totally stinks since he's 6'4 and will now be a confined hamster to its wheel for the entire flight. Upon boarding, the KLM crew decides to seat everyone "needing assistance" first, when lo and behold, at least 60 people all of a sudden become cripple and need wheelchairs. Fakers. James points to me and yells, "This one has bunions!" but that doesn't seem to work. I guess my elbowing his crotch totally invalidated the story.

We board, I stuff James into his seat (no easy task), takeoff is nice and smooth. Wish I could say the same for dinner, since it fell into the category of tragic plane food, but the fact that KLM serves free liquor with meals made it ALL better! Hello, mini-bar sized red wine. Goodbye nerves, panic, and my winning Travel Scrabble score, since red wine makes me stoo-pid. The stewardess tried to help me by spelling out James' letters in the air while he wasn't looking, but by that point I'd decided to find the phrase "cabin pressure" absolutely freakin' hilarious, and he wiped the board with my face. Shits and giggles.

Lights off, time for bed. Such a shame I can't sleep on planes. I pull out my copy of "Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus" and read a page before stuffing it back in my purse. Didn't feel like educating myself right that minute. I look over at James, snoozing like the peacefully monstrous lamb that he is, and climb over his legs to get to the bathroom. I admire my sexy plane hair and make faces in the mirror right before getting my finger caught on the garbage chute. Sure hope no one heard me yelping.

I came, I saw, I conquered. Not quite.

I saw, I experienced, I felt. That's better.


I'm back I'm back I'm back from my trip and darlings, it was a heavenly adventure. The kind of thing that's exactly what you need, but don't fully realize until it's all over.

I did things I've never done before. I ate chick peas off the branch. I climbed the rocks of Petra. I drank tea with bedouins. I rode a camel named Zuzu.

The things I saw, the times I had over the past two weeks make my heart explode with gladness and gratitude every time I think about them, that I was so tremendously blessed to have seen and done the things that I did. Incredible. Miraculous.

And now I'll shut up because you've been in the dark far too long. Welcome to my day-by-day review. Please make sure your seatbelts are fastened, tray tables and seats in the upright position, and for heaven's sake, don't get up until the plane has come to a complete stop. One stupid old man did that on one of my domestic flights awhile back, and big surprise, he fell and sprained something.

It would totally suck if any of you fell and sprained something. So sit still, shut up and read.

Friday, April 07, 2006

P.S. Alas, my faithful, while I mindlessly and passionately cherish you every one and want to vacuum pack you into my pockets to share in this tremendous journey, I have a two suitcase limit and in all likelihood, little to no internet access for a couple of weeks.

My computer stays at home, but my workbook and funky German pen are making the trip. Carpal tunnel forbids me from writing it ALL down, but write I shall. So you may not get me for 14 days, but you do get 14 entries the next time you visit!

My Jackie O sunglasses are on and my gloved hand bids you adieu... until we meet again, darlings!
I went to the tanning salon today. My skin is just the right shade to accomodate my nice new haircut & colour (chocolate truffle), my toes have been pedicured (turquoise), the shopping has been done. All bills have been taken care of, Bluetooth had his annual checkup a few weeks early (just in case), my intinerary has been written out, copies of important documents have been made, my new passport is in my travelling clutch, money has been converted to the currencies I'll be needing. My bags are packed and locked. I'm ready.

I'm a well seasoned traveller. If you were to look at my life from the outside in, I'm as prepared as they come.

In other ways I'm not so ready, meaning that I don't have a cute l'il bikini body to flaunt around the beach with. Not even close.

I had pictures in my mind for this trip. Gorgeous me traipsing through the desert, almost black curls flying out behind me and impressing all with my fabulously new and much smaller wardrobe. I was going to take pictures again, I was going to write again, I was going to have the air of confidence that made people double take when they saw me with a, "Hey, sexy lady!"

It was going to be the start of a whole new life for me.

The funny thing is, I'm not disappointed. Not at all. If this was a few years ago I would beat myself up into a crying fit and be down on myself the whole while. I don't want to do that anymore. And while my bikini body has yet to make an appearance, my sources tell me I'm several pounds lighter, and a whole size smaller.

How will I go to Jordan, then? I will traipse through the desert sans hair clip, and my almost black curls will fly out behind me. I don't know if I'll be impressing anyone with my wardrobe since none of it is new, but then it does happen to be the next best thing: a good pile of fabulous fashions that sat in a pile for years, neglected, because I couldn't button up any of it. I will take pictures again, I will write again, and I will have the air of confidence that will make people turn their heads when I walk by, even if just to think, "Who's that girl?"

It's not that this was supposed to be the start of a whole new life for me, it's that this IS the start of a whole new life for me. I'm not going the way I wanted to, but there is change in me. I can feel it working, and I know it shows.

I am very, very happy with that.

The picture I had in my mind three months ago does not match the picture of me now, but I'm more ready than I've been in years. Let the adventure begin.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Men and the Boys: Marco

It would be easy and appropriately fictional to tell you that I've wallowed over him for years. The passion that never was. My long lost love. The one that got away.

I haven't. I didn't let myself. Besides, if this was a great, true love, wouldn't at least one of us have tried that much harder to go over those obstacles? Wouldn't one of us have tried to make it possible? Put fear aside? That never happened.

In one way, it's sad. In another way, it's my solace.

Marco has had girlfriends over the years, and he almost always tells me about them. I have had boyfriends over the years, and I almost always tell him about them. It was hard in the beginning for all of five minutes, until I forced practicality back in and reminded myself that this is the way I made it, and this is the way it's supposed to be. But one thing that hasn't changed, that I hope will never change, is Marco and I are still the closest of friends. Be it on the phone or the internet, usually the internet, our cards and conversations travel the great distance that is the spine of our relationship.

His heart leaked through once. Shortly after he'd arrived back home, I received a forward from him that probably every person on the planet has seen, the one asking ten questions like, name your favourite song, three of your closest friends, yadda yadda, and you're supposed to jot down the first things that come to mind. When you're done answering, a quick scroll down reveals what your answers mean.

The first question of this forward is to name a person of the opposite sex. Without a second's thought, I typed in Marco. Scroll down, and sure enough the interpretation was, "This is the name of the person you love."

He called me a day or two after that e-mail and I avoided the subject at all costs. Unfortunately for me Marco's memory is a steel trap, and he didn't let it slide. "That forward I sent you, whose name did you put down for the first question?"

Think fast. "Raj," I said.

Pause. Long, horrible pause where my fingers were crossed and I mouthed an I'm sorry into the phone, an apology he would never hear. "Okay," was all he said. Translated, I put down your name, too.

I'm a bitch. It goes without question. A cruel, insenstive bitch-girl who's barricaded her heart with dobermans and an electric fence. A bitch who thinks of no one and nothing but herself. Well no, scratch that last part, because as much sense as it doesn't make, I did what I did for him, too.

A few days after my blowout with Jess, Marco called wanting to know if I would still be going to Jordan. I said that I was, and he wondered if I wouldn't mind a visit? Besides wanting to see me after an impossibly long absence, the doctor needs some suits tailored. Apparently, Jordan is known for this. And when I yelled, "Are you kidding?! Yes!" into the phone, I could feel him smile. Be it for a few days only, we can at least watch a soccer match and tell stupid jokes again.

Situations too, have changed. He is currently without significant other, and while Jess is still very much my heart, I am freshly single. How can I not think that after all this time, after maybe learning my lesson once, with both of us in our current circumstances, that something just might happen?

It's possible, of course. I won't deny that. There will never again be the campus house party and that one defining moment, but then, there will never again be the two students with pressure coming from every which direction, and more questions than any human being could ever answer. We are older now. Wiser in the ways of experience and years lived, and different in where the past decade has taken us.

I thought about that as I was packing my suitcase last night. This boy I made my friend is now a man with his own practice, and his own life. What will happen when we see each other, will I shriek in euphoria, or will my heart stop? Will I be thinking, This is my chance and I can finally take it, or, It goes without question that I did the right thing? How will I arm myself?

With chopsticks, of course. We both collect them. I go expecting nothing, and I leave the rest to chance.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Today's text from Raj:

Today I did something that I have never before done in my entire life. In my 30 years and a few months on this earth, I did something so shocking and so horrific, I had to look into the mirror to make sure I was still myself.

I woke up early and went to the gym.

That's right, I actually a) woke up early on my day off, 2) ignored the shitty weather, 3) packed my gym bag and hauled ass to 4) the gym where I 5) worked out like a maniac and 6) sweat my yitz off. Whatever a yitz is, I'm sure I sweat it right off.

But the worst, most perverse and disturbing thing of all, 7) I actually liked it.

If change is good, today I am its poster girl.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Men and the Boys: Marco

Another night, another party. Again, my house.

It wasn't a kegger or a massive social gathering, just a casual little soiree, 20 or 30 people. Marco was with me, as were many of our friends, and the time passed pleasantly enough.

As the night wore down and the alcohol set in, as it got later and the music got slower, it became a different setting altogether. I wasn't a makeout party afficianado in high school (strict parents, remember), but I'd been to a couple and knew what they were all about. I also knew that when you were in University, when there were no parents and/or guardians around and you had your own room a few steps away, it could go to a whole new level.

The room was hazy, couples were drunk and all over each other. Everyone had a necking partner, except me and Marco. The sexual charge in the air was overpowering, and everyone was in heat. Including me and Marco.

We sat on couches directly across from each other, and I knew his eyes were fixed on me. I was too busy trying not to notice, concentrating on my drink, ignoring the insanity building inside of me, anything to not look back. I knew I would have to eventually though, and so I looked up. Right at him.

That was the first time in my life when I knew exactly what a man was thinking. And it was the first time in my life that I knew we wanted the exact same thing.

But I was young and inexperienced with men. I didn't or couldn't understand the concepts of casual sex, seize the day, live for the moment. I honestly thought it was better to walk away and never have the experience, never know what you were missing, instead of having those minutes and suffering the loss when they would inevitably be gone. In the long run he could never be mine, and I could never be his. We both knew that. Why bother?

I was scared. Not of what could possibly take place next, but of losing him. I knew I was going to lose him soon and I'd made my peace with that, but losing him that way I just couldn't bear.

So this is what I did. Ridiculous, level-headed, practical me took a deep breath, put my drink down and stood up. I looked him in the face and said, "Goodnight, Marco."

He looked back at me, and it was all I could do to keep my knees from giving out. He was hurt, but I knew he understood. I never needed to explain myself to Marco. He stood up and took me into his arms for a tight hug. "Goodnight sweetie," he said quietly and I noticed, held on for longer than usual.

I must have been beet red. As normally as I could, I went up the stairs and to my room, where I promptly sat down at my desk and started the first assignment on top of my "To Do" pile for the paper. A commentary about the ineffectiveness of campus police, if I recall. I wrote it in record time with headphones on, blaring whatever the fuck the radio was playing so I wouldn't hear my second guessing.

We were still friends. It was as if nothing had changed. We talked, we joked, we met for lunch and went to pubs together. This is for the best, I told myself over and over, until it was burned into my mind. This was for the best, I did the right thing, and we're both better people for it.

By the time I'd regretted my decision, Marco's time at our school was up. He was already home.

I am almost ready for my trip. I have all my products, almost all my clothes, my ticket is on my desk and insurance has been purchased.

Now to face the demons of my past in a resplendent, epic, Return to Me: I haul out my dusty Nikon, and admire the quality of my choice. The F90X is the camera of cameras. It's durable, takes great pictures, and while not part of the professional Nikon F series, is the camera of choice for most National Geographic photographers. On mine I have attached a Sigma telephoto zoom lens that will not only allow me to spy on my neighbours, but have a look see on the Eiffel Tower every now and then. It's that powerful.

That powerful and that expensive, but it didn't dent my pocket too much thanks to the infamous Tax Refund of 2000. Thinking I'd be the next Jodi Cobb, I put myself in the market for a picture colossus, and lined my path to the F90X with drool.

We've had fabulous adventures together. Grecian villages, the Rockies, Bohemia, the Magnificent Mile. It's heavy as hell but was always at my side, until my life spiralled out of control. Among other things, the Nikon was shelved. A few years ago I was shooting like a pro, and now I don't even know what half these buttons mean.

But we're both ready for another adventure now. A few quick internet lessons and some messing with it should get me back up to speed. Now all I have to ask myself is, what on earth am I going to do with all this film? Professional film is crazy expensive, and here I am with 15 rolls of prime quality, past its prime film that I found tucked away in my old camera bag.

I don't know much about film, but I do know that every roll comes with an expiry date. I also know that I'm going to be completely reckless on this one and take a chance by using it all. It's time I gave life to the shreds of my past.