Thursday, November 24, 2016

Lisbon, My Love

My friend Kelley and I just savored Thanksgiving lamb chops and potatoes at a restaurant where a curly-haired waiter instructed us that whenever our glasses needed replenishment we should yell at him, “More wine, you incompetent Portuguese dwarf!” Per Kelley’s advice, I softened it to, “More wine, you competent Portuguese giant!” Before ordering, Kelley had asked if the potatoes were good and our funny waiter replied that they were the worst potatoes in the world. The process of preparing them, he said, consisted of mixing powder and water. He was joking, of course, and the food was amazing, but the crowning glory of Thanksgiving was the green wine. This, I learned tonight, is a Portuguese specialty. It’s made from grapes before ripeness sets in and the result is a fresh, crisp, and satisfying wine. Perfect for Thanksgiving dinner in Lisbon!

Lisbon has quickly earned a place in my heart as one of my favorite cities. I felt giddy and nervous upon arrival because I’ve wanted to visit for years. Finally making it here was like going on a highly anticipated first date. Now I have mellowed out, thanks to the Fado music and great wine, and I can easily imagine myself living here.

Kelley and I visited Jerónimos Monastery and saw where Vasco da Gama, the first European explorer to reach India, is entombed. We also roamed the beautiful courtyard in the monastery and visited the archaeological museum. For someone like Kelley who is passionate about history, Lisbon is a treasure trove. I’m also interested in history and all the stories this city contains. After going to the Lisboa Story Centre Museum and going on a fun interactive tour made up of audio, aromatic, visual, and tactile exhibitions, my knowledge of Portugal’s history is richer, especially the history of the Praça do Comércio, the humongous town square where the museum is located. So much has happened in that vast yard, I’m sure that statue of King José sitting atop his horse could tell some crazy stories.

The negatives have been very few and just require brief mention. Yesterday, Kelley and I rode up the Santa Justa elevator, a contraption whose only purpose is letting tourists go up high to take photos. Kelley doesn’t like heights and I’m claustrophobic enough to dislike elevators, so both of these vulnerabilities made the elevator a bad idea. But then to make it worse, the elevator operator lost his temper at some French women and screamed relentlessly at them in French for the entire ride down. I told him to chill out, but he was psychotic and psychotic people are incapable of chilling out. Then tonight we had a rude cab driver who made us get out before our destination and walk in the pouring rain up to our hotel. Earlier, I had learned a Spanish curse word from Kelley, and I used this word, which is the same in Portuguese. Kelley was a little embarrassed that I used this word but I thought the situation called for it.

More stories and photos to come! I am having a fabulous time. Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Weekend in Budapest

Next to St. Stephen’s Basilica is a wine bar called DiVino. After attending a Bach concert at the Basilica, I went to the bar to try some Hungarian wine. People who couldn’t find seats went outside and sat on the ledge of a fountain. If it hadn’t been so cold, the fountain would have been the ideal place to hang out and drink wine with friends. They were all laughing and having fun, so although the women in beautiful dresses were exposing their legs to the cold temperature, I remembered that at least for me, lively conversation is a good distraction from the bitter cold. I just stood in the middle of the room and drank my wine before heading out to walk along the Danube. I don’t usually get cold, but I found Budapest to be very very cold.

I went to Budapest alone this weekend, but I wasn’t completely alone. I did happen to meet some very nice Russian women on a boat tour. We kept in touch and I practiced what little Russian I could remember from the classes I took in high school and college.

The night after the boat tour, I met some Germans at the opera and had a beer with them afterward. The opera was mediocre, so I went out, hoping my evening would improve. When my new acquaintances started complaining about how “rude” Hungarians were, I told them that considering all that suffering that Germany had inflicted on Hungarian people during WWII, I didn’t think it was appropriate for Germans to come to Hungary and complain about Hungarian people’s perceived “rudeness.” They also complained that Americans never say what they really mean. That might hold some truth. Indirectness is a trait I believe we inherited from the British, and although it doesn’t really apply to me, I think I sent the message that, if need be, Americans are capable of being direct.

I only visited one museum: The House of Terror. This museum is a memorial to victims of the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Hungary. I went after the concierge at my hotel told me it was “touching.” Now I think we may have a different definition of touching. I find Steve Hartman videos on CBS Evening News touching. Seeing elderly people at the zoo with their grandchildren is touching. The House of Terror? Not so touching. It’s a worthwhile museum, but the exhibits left me emotionally exhausted. The slow uncomfortable elevator ride to the underground prison was made more uncomfortable by a video on a large obtrusive screen, in which former guards explained how they would torture and kill people. After seeing the torture rooms, prison cells, and gallows, I needed to return to my hotel for a long nap.

If I could spend more time in Budapest, I might try to visit more uplifting museums. I would also spend more time in the Alexandria Book Café, the fanciest bookstore/café I’ve ever seen. I would also visit more wine bars and sit at a restaurant with outdoor seating along the Danube. I would enjoy more traditional Hungarian food and live jazz at a restaurant called Ladó Café. This restaurant is an absolute must if you ever come to Budapest.

I hope to return to this beautiful city someday and stay longer than a couple days.

Monday, November 14, 2016


Living abroad with a xenophobic sexual predator as our president-elect poses two immediate challenges. As an American I have to deal with disgust from people who have even more reason now to retch at the thought of our country, The United States of White Male Privilege. Secondly, I have to tend to my own heartbreak and grieving process.

I responded to an e-mail from a Canadian acquaintance last night who felt the need to lecture Americans about our reaction to the election and tell us we were no better than children. This is the same astute guy who corrected my usage of feminist as an adjective, telling me the correct word is “feministic.” [Ah, I see. And all this time I’ve been incorrectly referring to the feminist movement and feminist literature. Silly me.]

Hate speech and harassment of minorities are on the rise because people with unenlightened minds are feeling emboldened by this creep who sets an ugly tone for our country. I don’t even want to say his name. People who write racial homophobic slurs on their receipts or who vandalize public restrooms may be emboldened, but they’re still cowards, and despite what anyone may think these days, there’s no pride in being mean. There’s no glory in having an obnoxious bigot as your white knight.

On Wednesday I was disconsolate. I wept openly in front of my students and they kept telling me I’m beautiful. I found out later this is a Turkish response to someone crying. I’m still heartbroken, but I’m not giving up. I know I need to get more involved the next time there is a critical election. In the meantime, I need to be positive and work on being an ally to some of my fellow Americans who are more vulnerable and heavily impacted by this catastrophe than I am.

If life were a musical, this moment in time would be “Little Shop of Horrors.” In that movie, we have a self-obsessed, malicious dentist with a passion for cruelty and abusing women. There’s just one masochist, played by Bill Murray, who enjoys going to this dentist. In real life, Bill Murray’s character represents nearly half of the population of America. But at least there is a satisfying ending, thanks to a giant, man-eating plant.

There has to be some kind of karmic upside to all this. Hatred, cruelty, and fear are not winning qualities. I’m holding out hope for my own version of a knight in shining armor. If it turns out to be a giant, man-eating plant, so be it. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

I'm brave

Remember that thrilling moment from Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark music video when he struts and shakes over to the edge of the stage in his tight jeans and then invites Courteney Cox up onstage to dance? Of course you remember. I mean, who could forget a scene like that? If you’re anything like me, you watched that video as a tween girl, and imagined the budding courtship between the boss and Courteney to be on par romantically with Prince Eric taking Ariel on a boat ride in a dreamy lagoon and being serenaded by a Jamaican lobster. (The Little Mermaid.) The only time I’ve ever been pulled up on stage was at a Gallagher show when I was a kid. Somewhere in my mom’s collection of family photos is one of eight-year-old me, wide-eyed and visibly shaken, covered in watermelon goo, with a glob of peanut butter stuck on my face like a leech.

The reason I bring up Bruce Springsteen is because today I met a man, a Washingtonian with a Maine accent, who looks like Bruce Springsteen. He was at my school, doing some work arranging for our students to take part in overseas community service field trips and so I talked to him on the bus ride home. He told me he needed to get to Galata Tower and I agreed to take him. Istanbul is chaotic and confusing and I needed an excuse to venture out of my mouse hole.

By accompanying Bruce Springsteen’s doppelganger on the ferry over to Eminonu and then to Karakoy, I realized I was breaking my own safety precautions. I had told myself to hide out in my apartment until either a.) I leave Turkey, or b.) Turkey suddenly stabilizes. These touristy places are more likely to get bombed, but at the same time, there is comfort in seeing more liberal people, at least judging by the way they dress. It’s comfort at the price of comfort, which is kind of messed up.

The boss and I had a good conversation about travel (he highly recommends Jordan), social progress and the craziness of the world.

When we parted ways, I walked up to Istiklal for old time’s sake, to enjoy a glass of wine and some people-watching. I needed ink for my drawings, so I stopped in a lovely calligraphy store and bought a fancy dip pen and some inkwells. The economy has been hit hard by the collapse of the tourism industry, so I felt good about supporting a lovely small business.

Before descending into the metro (another safety precaution I broke today), I browsed some used books for sale and stumbled upon a bilingual book of Eminem song lyrics. With Turkish on one side and English on the other, I can now sing, “Lose Yourself,” in Turkish. Video coming soon! Check my youtube channel! J

Actually, the book is a gift for my friend Kelley, who is in love with Eminem and wants to marry him. I honestly don’t know what she sees in him. Doesn’t Kelley know Bruce Springsteen is the better choice?   

Sunday, November 6, 2016


I sleepwalk through insecure times. That’s not a metaphor. I really do sleepwalk.

One night, a deep mysterious voice told me, “Take dictation. This is important. Go get some paper and a pen.” I first checked my bedside table, but there was nothing. I went to my art table, which more conventional people would keep as a dining room table. It’s a mess, but I always have a pile of printer paper next to my framed photo of Flannery O’Connor. She was a devout Catholic and I think she would have respected my dream as something spiritual. I took a sheet of paper and a pen and announced, “I’m ready.” 

Unfortunately, I woke myself up. I couldn’t believe that I had scared the voice away with my own voice, so I repeated, “I’m ready.” Nothing. The realization that this voice was just a fleeting whimsy was so disappointing. I’m the kind of person for whom opening a packet of Yogi Tea and reading the message on the teabag is an exciting event. I’m always seeking new wisdom. And having a voice speak to me in a dream would be like finding out Athena is my guardian angel. Anyway, just my luck to have a male Athena. Just like a man. “I’ll call you.” Then, nothing. “Take dictation.” And still, nothing. Next time, summon a GODDESS of wisdom, will you?!

My message accompanying my Yogi Hazelnut tea at the moment is, “Uplift everybody and uplift yourself.” That’s a pretty big request. I wonder how I’m supposed to do that. I’ve been very depressed, thinking about how Turkey is no longer a safe place to live. American families of Embassy workers have been evacuated. I called the embassy and the consulate to try and get more information and apparently there was no more information to give, other than the frequent security warnings I’ve been receiving. There have been attempted kidnappings of Americans. We’re supposed to avoid crowds. (In Istanbul, that’s just flat out impossible.) I no longer take the Marmaray, the metro that goes underneath the Bosporus. I no longer go out to Taksim, or Kadikoy, or Beyoglu.  I try to avoid going out all together. This is no way to live.

One security warning counseled Americans to avoid events attracting large crowds, because even if the gatherings are intended to be peaceful, they can turn confrontational. That’s how I feel about living in Turkey. I feel as if I came to a peaceful demonstration in August, 2015. Then . . . well, the mood isn’t exactly peaceful these days.

It’s time to spin the globe again and search for wisdom that can’t be attained from drinking Yogi tea and reading books in my lonely apartment, not that there aren’t benefits to that lifestyle. I recently read a letter from Mahatmi Gandhi to Adolph Hitler, in which Gandhi addressed Hitler as “Friend.” Throughout Gandhi’s life, the only time his philosophy of nonviolent resistance was shaken was when it came to defeating the Nazis. Sometimes the world forces us to break from our normal lives, cancel our plans, and question our beliefs. I’m nowhere near as evolved as I would like to be. I couldn’t call Hitler a friend, but Turkey is still a friend. Sometimes when our friends change, it’s hard to adapt to them.

Athena is willing me to go to the gym. Maybe if I exercise before bed, I won’t feel the need to sleepwalk tonight.