Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Horsey Wedding


What is more romantic than a horse-drawn carriage ride or two lovers riding a horse into the sunset for a fairytale photo shoot? Well, just about everything, but a horse scenario I’d prefer to either of those is a gang of horses invading a pre-wedding party on the beach. That is exactly what happened last weekend when my brother got married in Maryland. All the guests were enjoying the festivities when the horses swaggered in, ate the chips, marshmallows, and chicken, and then made a puddle of piss at the food and drink station. They didn’t move on until a park ranger came and kicked sand at them. When asked how she held such power over the wild horses, the park ranger said the horses recognized her uniform. Perhaps if we had wanted to be left alone, we should have all dressed up like park rangers.

The horses left and came back, more confident this time, knowing that the most we would do was stand back and take videos on our cell phones. Some guests followed the park ranger’s example and kicked sand at the horses, to absolutely no effect. My new sister-in-law’s father, who is hard of hearing, confronted the horses, armed with a foldable chair and a sausage on a skewer. Despite some people calling for him to stop and let the horses pillage and plunder, Katie’s dad continued to try to be the hero. I’ve never been so afraid for someone’s safety, yet so amused at the same time.

At the beginning of the party, my only concern had been lightning and bugs, not lightning bugs, but actually being struck by lightning and being mobbed by bugs. My hair, as well as other guests’ hair, was sticking straight up, a bad sign that we were susceptible to being struck by lightning. Then my cousin Tammie, who I hadn’t seen for over thirty years, showed up and I had such a good time talking with her that I disregarded my previous concern of getting hit by lightning. Then the horses invaded and I stared dumbstruck, forgetting all about lightning and bugs. Fortunately, the bugs weren’t too bad and we all left the party with a great story to tell.

For the wedding ceremony I was a bridesmaid, an honor I’d never experienced before. Katie looked gorgeous and my brother looked like a handsome 1950s milkman in his all-white suit. For the photos, we donned horse masks, which along with the wind, messed up my perfectly coiffured bridesmaid’s do. Although the wind messed up my hair and whipped my dress around, it created a nice wind-swept goddess look for the bride. The waves crashing in the background also looked spectacular and I am looking forward to seeing how the professional photos turned out.

This was the best, most entertaining, most meaningful wedding I’ve ever attended/taken part in. I had a great time and it was well worth the thirty hours of flying and six hours of driving it took to travel from Kuwait to Maryland and back. I have since returned and am still recovering from jet lag, not to mention exhaustion from all the horsing around.



Thursday, August 23, 2018

Lviv


My two full days spent in Lviv were idyllic, and although two days were just enough to see everything I wanted to see, I would have been happy to stay longer. This beautiful little town on the eastern edge of Ukraine sits right next to Poland. It’s a five-hour train ride from Kiev and another five-hour train ride to Krakow. Eighteen years ago, I visited Krakow for just one day, so it was tempting, especially being so close to Krakow, to try to squeeze in one more day, but alas, I didn’t have enough time. I will just have to save Krakow for another adventure. Maybe, depending on who I am traveling with and what our plans are, we can visit both Lviv and Krakow.

I had a wonderful time and I enjoy traveling alone, but Lviv is full of great restaurants and coffee shops, frequented by groups of friends and close companions. When my Airbnb hosts asked if I was traveling solo and I answered yes, they each made a sad face. I understood their sympathy when, walking around the city center, I saw friends and lovers walking hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm, and joyful people sharing lively conversations over dinner and pints of beer.

Traveling with friends could also have its drawbacks, like feeling pressured to move too quickly through art museums. I am the type who must read and ponder the signs next to practically every painting. At the Pototski Palace, I swooned over the beautiful paintings by Italian and Dutch painters, but I was even more fascinated by the collection of sculptures, jewelry, figurines, and weapons, which had belonged to the last emperor of China, Pu Yi. I had recently watched the film, The Last Emperor, about his fascinating life, and this exhibition brought me a bit closer to this strange and fascinating figure. I read on the placard that one of the items in the collection was a stamp custom made for Pu Yi, which featured leopards chasing each other with golf clubs. (I’m not sure if the leopards were actually holding the golf clubs, or if the English translation was just weird.) The golf clubs were a tribute to his teacher, played by Peter O’Toole in the movie, who introduced the emperor to the sport. I went back and forth through the exhibit, determined to find this stamp, a search that would have exhausted even my most patient friends, but I couldn’t find it. How this collection came to be in this Ukrainian Palace has something to do with Stalin, and the false promise that Stalin would protect the desperate emperor from the Chinese communists, but the details of the Soviet acquisition of his stuff were unclear to me.

While walking around Lviv, I messaged my friend Kat in Seattle to let her know where I was. She told me she’d wanted to visit Lviv, ever since having a roommate in college who was from there. That made me feel a bit selfish, as if I were hogging a large, delicious meal to myself. Speaking of delicious meals, the coffee culture and restaurant culture in Lviv are superb. For breakfast one morning, I went to Lviv Coffee Manufacturer, which doubles as a coffee museum. I liked the brick warehouse atmosphere and if it weren’t for the Brazilian jazz playing, I might have felt like I had traveled back in time. My most exquisite meals were at the restaurants Mons Pius and Amadeus, both of which I highly recommend. At Amadeus, the pretty blonde server brought me a glass of champagne, simply saying, “Gift,” with no other explanation. I was delighted to receive a free glass of champagne, but I wondered if, like my Airbnb hosts, she felt a bit sorry for me for dining alone.

On my travels, I like to buy paintings and drawings of recognizable streets and landmarks, art that captures the essence of a city. After visiting St. George’s Cathedral, I hoped I could find a painting that could do this gorgeous cathedral justice. The camera on my phone certainly wasn’t doing the trick. Sitting in the pews, I listened to the Ukrainian service, which included singing and put me in a peaceful trance. In the gift shop, I looked for art commemorating the cathedral, but just like my search for the emperor’s stamp, I came up empty handed. It wasn’t until later that day when I stumbled into a fancy jewelry store that I saw a collection of paintings and prints. There, I found exactly what I was looking for. I bought a large beautiful print for a bargain price of about $20. I hope this ink drawing will help preserve my memory of visiting that cathedral and feeling so completely at peace.

When I checked into my Airbnb, my lovely host had a Fado music CD playing. That and the Brazilian jazz playing at Lviv Coffee Manufacturers were the only instances of me hearing music to my liking in Lviv. I am a bit persnickety about music and I can’t tune out noise that displeases me, so bad music, like what sounds like Soviet children’s songs or flute renditions of George Michael hits, grate on my ears. That is my one and only complaint.

Ukrainian people are warm and friendly and the ones I have spoken to express their fondness for Americans. They also expressed their dislike of Russians. I laughed when a man told me, “Russia is a fantastically bad country.” That’s a delightful paradox and one I think I’ll use. I’m currently writing this in a train car, which I am sharing with three Ukrainians. All of them have offered me food. Two women offered me half of their sandwiches and a man offered me some of his chips. My delightful Airbnb host was rightfully proud of her city and wanted me to read a coffee table book about Lviv, which she happily pointed out was written in English. Ukrainian people are thoughtful like that. While reading the book, I couldn’t help but laugh at the descriptions. I think I’ll call the writing “fantastically bad.” To give you an idea, here’s one of the sentences, which I had to write down for memory’s sake: “When you feast your eyes on the stone dolphins framing the ground floor windows of Bandinelli Palace, you seem to enter into invisible elements of success, as these enigmatic beings have symbolized great achievements in ancient times.” Yes, entering invisible elements of success. Couldn’t have put it better myself. But try as I might to weave some fancy words together to accurately describe the allure and beauty of Lviv, I’m going to simply say it’s magnificent and requires a stay of at least two days.

 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Ukraine's Fight is Our Fight

The word “maidan” means town square in Turkish and Persian and was adopted into Ukrainian. It’s how residents of Kiev refer to their Independence Square, where over one hundred Ukrainians were murdered or went missing, presumably kidnapped, during the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution. When I visited this week, the mood in Maidan was somber, with people milling about, taking photos, and paying their respects to the victims who died so that their country would have a brighter future. A statue of an angel holding a rose branch high over her head rests atop a column, overlooking the city. She represents independence and was built in 2001 to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union and Ukraine finally breaking free. The presence of this statue serves as a painful reminder of the high price of freedom and the promise to never again kneel to a hostile power.


The woman who served as a model for the statue was the sculptor’s daughter, an American, but the connection between Ukraine and America doesn’t stop there. We must look at the situation in Ukraine as a lesson, and maybe borrow a few tips from the brave citizens who gathered and demanded that their corrupt president step down. Our sleazy politicians and finger puppets of Vladimir Putin are no better than Ukraine’s disgraced president, Viktor Yanukovych. People like that care only about themselves and are willing to sell out their country for their own ego and financial gain. Scumbags like Paul Manafort have blood on their hands from helping to orchestrate the massacre of innocent Ukrainians in 2014. Perhaps when the walls are closing in around our fake president, he will flee like a desperate rat, seeking asylum with his moral equivalent, Yanukovych, in Moscow.

With American support for Russia on the rise, a search for our soul is imperative. We can’t just look at Ukraine’s tragedy and ongoing fight as something that only pertains to them. This is our fight too. The 2014 Ukrainian Revolution and Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea could be precursors to a much more dangerous and far-reaching aggression, all plotted and schemed by the grand puppet master and dominatrix to our gimp of a president, Vladimir Putin. In Pulp Fiction, this is the scene when Bruce Willis is about to flee his captors’ den but stops and experiences a moral dilemma. Should he save himself or go deliver some samurai-style vengeance? I vote for the latter. 







Saturday, August 18, 2018

First Day in Kiev

I spent day one in Kiev torturing my legs and feet and feeling breathless, also known as exercise, on hilly cobblestones and bell tower steps. My friend, Tania, wore sandals and did not seem fazed by the hilliness or the duration of our walking. I suppose there is a direct link between living in a physically demanding city like Kiev, one with lots of steep hills, and being in good shape. I realize I need to walk more. I’m sitting up in my hotel bed right now, feeling muscles I’d forgotten I had. Did I just hike up the Carpathian Mountains? No, I went for a simple stroll in a beautiful old city with a beautiful old friend. So why am I grumbling about my debilitated body? Because I’m out of shape, that’s why. Who knew movement could be so hard? I discovered ballet flats are not viable shoes for conquering this kind of rugged cobblestone environment. I will wear my running shoes today. And I will try to adapt to the hills and cobblestones and not complain so much.

I think I also need to improve my knowledge of history and read more to satisfy my curiosity. The old Soviet occupation of Ukraine has me curious about the psyche of Ukrainian people, their emotional memory, and how history has influenced present day tensions. I talked to Tania about the annexation of Crimea, but try as I might, I cannot fathom what it must be like to have an aggressive nation swoop in and steal a piece of my country, and then worry that they’re going to try to take even more. It would be like Canada occupying Buffalo and staking maple leaf flags in the ground everywhere. Like I said, completely unfathomable.

The highlight of the day was visiting Saint Sophia’s Cathedral, an 11th century church. The architectural plan is similar to the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. I wasn’t allowed to take photos, so you will just have to imagine the Hagia Sofia in all its Byzantine glory, only a bit smaller, and instead of Greek inscriptions, imagine Cyrillic ones. The painting of the brown and white feathered seraph angel in the Hagia Sophia can also be found in Saint Sophia’s Cathedral in Kiev. In Saint Sophia’s, there are three seraphs in a row, reminding me of the lullaby league in The Wizard of Oz. While walking around with Tania and her little boy, Misha, I wondered what the difference is between a mosaic and a fresco. (I noticed that when my friend Tania and I were referring to the same religious art, she used the term fresco while I called it a mosaic.) At the risk of being wrong I’ll continue calling them mosaics until I google the answer later. I wonder if mosaic artists in the olden days followed patterns, like, I dunno, mosaic by numbers? Looking at any number of haloed saints, I can’t help but think I’ve seen its exact replica somewhere else. I find myself staring at ancient fragmented faces, asking, “Have we met before? I think you have a twin in Istanbul.”

One more question I am pondering is if I have any need in my life or room in my luggage for a Ukrainian power stick, also known as a bulawa. Walking down Andrivskaya Street with my friend Tania, we saw these items for sale and I was tempted to buy one. Tania was telling me that it’s a symbol of power that many high-ranking men depicted in statues and paintings are shown holding. I don’t know what purpose this object would serve, other than giving me a heightened sense of importance and being a great conversation starter. I think I just answered my question. A power stick is a must-have souvenir from the Ukraine. Until next time.










Saturday, July 28, 2018

Remembering Dan


The fear of missed opportunities has finally dawned on me. I have been dedicating myself to my writing, a summer job helping children learn to read, and slowly getting back into running. Last night I discovered from Facebook that an old friend of mine passed away. How he died I do not know. About a month ago I learned that a boy, who grew up on the same block as me, died of cancer. Both these guys were my age. It’s unsettling to know both are gone. But Dan, whose death I learned about last night, played a more significant role in my life. He was my first boyfriend.

My mom/summer roommate told me she recently checked a list of people from her high school graduating class who have died, and the list went on and on. I can see how sobering scrolling down that list would be, but my mom is almost 71. I just turned 35. Perhaps this sounds na├»ve, but people my age shouldn’t be dying.

Last night, while picking up my race number at the Hawaiian Festival in Vancouver, Washington, I was so touched by the feeling of ohana (family). Islanders show so much love and support for each other, to both newcomers like me and old pals. I walked around, looked at jewelry for sale, ate shave ice with banana, cherry, and coconut flavoring, watched women dance hula onstage, and talked to warm, friendly people. A big fan of the “It takes a village” mentality, I realized it’s this kind of warmth and community I have been deprived of lately. I think because I am not the most socially proactive person (at least not right now), it would serve me well to be adopted into an inviting community. Then maybe I can shed some Haole (non-Hawaiian) cultural traits, like the selfishness and the divisive hate that is rampant in this country.

Anyway, I decided last night to reach out to some people. I messaged a few folks on Facebook and searched for Dan. I had not seen Dan for about nine years, but some memories of him had been flitting through my mind lately. Then I saw “Remembering” above his name.

I couldn’t sleep after that. I read Dan’s obituary, which told me everything I already knew. He was curious, kind, intelligent, all traits that were apparent when first meeting him. I tried to recall some details about him, like someone desperately trying to hold a hand that was slipping from my grasp. I lay awake all night thinking about him.
A page from my scrapbook from 15 years ago. The decorations are random.
I met Dan at a Dave Eggers reading at the First Unitarian Church in Portland when we were both 19. I showed up thirty minutes before the reading, taking my place right next to Dan in line. I asked a woman what the M on her necklace stood for and she said “Michelle.” I said, “I’m Meriwether. I should get an M necklace too, because, have you ever noticed, the coolest people all have M names?” That’s when Dan stuck his hand out for me to shake. “And I’m Mark.” I laughed and then laughed again when he admitted, “Actually, I’m Dan. I just didn’t want to feel left out.” He told Michelle and me that he had been in line for six hours because he wanted to be first. I thought this was strange and hilarious because Michelle and I stood behind him in line and we had only arrived thirty minutes before the doors were opened. Most people came 5 or 10 minutes before the reading. When I asked him what he had been doing for six hours, he said, “Reading,” and held up his book. I admired his dedication to literary culture and his ability to focus on a book for six hours, both rare qualities. We sat next to each other during the reading and talked about books afterward. Then he asked, “Can I call you sometime?”

He called and said he wanted to “do something arbitrary, like coffee.” I had never heard arbitrary used in reference to coffee. I was impressed by his vocabulary. He suggested we meet at Coffee Time, a restaurant in Northwest Portland that I had never been to.

I didn’t realize this, but Coffee Time had several adjoining rooms. I arrived on time, sat in the front, and read my book. Dan arrived early, sat in one of the back rooms, and read his book. We both sat there reading our books, oblivious to the other’s presence in the next room, each thinking the other had stood us up. Two hours later, when I looked up from my book, I noticed Dan standing there, just looking at me. I yelled at him, “Late!” to which he calmly responded, “No, actually I was early. I’ve been in the back.” He sat down across from me, looking very sad. I was irritated with him for not finding me earlier, for just assuming I had stood him up when we had made plans to meet just a few hours earlier on the phone. (I think this was before cell phones.) I didn’t think I wanted to see him again, but then we started talking about books and I changed my mind. I discovered that Dan liked the same authors as me. In particular, Jonathan Lethem and Jose Saramago.

Dan was one of the most well-read people I ever met. He introduced me to Yukio Mishima, Haruki Murakami, Victor Pelevin, and Mikhail Bulgakov. Our taste in literature was similar, but we often disagreed about films. I loved "Ghost Dog," which he said was horrible because “rappers can’t act,” a statement I found offensive. My favorite film at the time was “When Harry Met Sally,” which he kindly agreed to watch with me on New Year’s Eve, 2002, even though he didn’t glean as much pleasure from that film as I did.

At 19, I had no idea what to make of “Secretary,” a movie about a woman who willingly chooses to be subjugated and beaten for pleasure by her boss. My feminist identity hadn’t been fully developed. Still, I wasn’t wild about the film. Dan loved it.

We saw “Punch Drunk Love” and during the scene when the characters get into a car accident and Emily Watson’s character is injured, Dan grabbed my hand and held it for the rest of the film. I took that to mean he had been imagining me as the Emily Watson character and didn’t want any harm to come to me. I felt that he loved me long before he ever said it. I could see a twinkle in his eyes and a tenderness that could only be interpreted as love.

For years I’ve looked for that same twinkle in other men’s eyes. The last two men who said they loved me had cold, unemotional eyes, so I took them for green card hunters and told them I didn’t believe them. With Dan there was no doubt that he loved me. Dan had a huge capacity for love. He would people-watch and empathize with the pain and unhappiness he imagined complete strangers were going through. He told me about a lesbian couple he knew and how he found it sad that they were afraid to show affection in public.

I was an aspiring novelist and told Dan that my reward for finishing my novel would be a red leather jacket. He took that to mean he should buy me a red leather jacket, a gift that took me by total surprise. The idea had been that I would by it for myself to celebrate my greatest accomplishment, but it was such a beautiful jacket. It was a dark red and it fit me perfectly, so I didn’t say anything about his gift infringing on my independence.

He could be moody, competitive, and classist. I remember one time he inquired about my family, “What do you people eat, canned food?” I don’t think he was trying to insult me or my family. He was just oblivious as to how class-conscious I was, and the class shame felt by those who didn’t come from backgrounds as privileged as his. I’m sure I made unintentionally hurtful comments as well, but I can’t remember what they were.

Dan grew distant. Instead of talking about books, a subject we saw eye-to-eye on, he talked a lot about court cases and computers. He decided I wasn’t knowledgeable enough in these areas and broke up with me for that reason. It was heartbreaking. His love for me dwindled as my love for him grew.

For a long time I missed his cologne (I wish I could remember what line it was) We went out one more time years later and discovered we had the same favorite beer, Black Butte Porter, but the connection we had before couldn’t be restored.

The most brilliant film I’ve seen in ages is “First Reformed,” starring Ethan Hawke. It’s an important film about a priest who wants to be spiritual, but he is too wrapped up in the world and all its problems. The struggle of the characters reminded me of Dan and how sometimes the world was too much for him. When Dan talked about the Holocaust, he appeared to be enduring real pain. He said he didn’t care for the film, “The Pianist,” because Roman Polanski did not make the Holocaust look as terrifying as it really was. I told him that’s how I felt about “Life is Beautiful,” but honestly, I found “The Pianist” to be adequately terrifying and heartbreaking. I suppose Dan’s imagination for the scope of terror was broader than mine. I wish Dan could see “First Reformed.” I don’t know if he would have liked it, since we disagreed about a lot of films, but I have a feeling we’d agree on this one.

This morning I ran my 5k race in Vancouver. A Hawaiian pastor called on all the runners to hold hands. He led us in prayer and afterward, the man next to me told me, “Your hand felt nice and warm. Thank you.” In any other situation, I might have been creeped out, but I guess I’m not called upon very often to hold hands with strangers. I cried a little while I ran, even though I was listening to fun songs like “Whip it” and “Take on Me.” I just kept thinking about Dan. I thought about how Dan bore a slight resemblance to the lead singer of A-ha, and an even stronger resemblance to Joseph Gordon Levitt. 

I hope Dan felt at peace when he passed away.

After the race, I bought flowers. I chose a bouquet with sunflowers. I’m not sure what kind Dan would have liked. Although I don’t have a grave to put them on, I thought I would put them in a vase and enjoy them for as long as I can.