Friday, January 27, 2017

Living It Up In Thessaloniki


Matt and Lucy by Nicholas Moore. Mixed Media on Linocut. On display at the Contemporary Art Center of Thessaloniki. 
A friend of mine, who is a foreigner like me, said she feels embarrassed talking about her upcoming holidays because it implies financial comfort that others may not have. Since then, the word “embarrassed” has been whirling around in my thoughts. I’m familiar with the kind of embarrassment that comes with not having money, of having to tell friends that I can’t “do brunch” with them, although I have always refused to eat brunch on principle, not just for lack of funds. I have recently been elevated to the middle class, but my feelings on brunch will always stay the same. It’s a hoity-toity mealtime for snobby rich people. Brunch is dumb. End of story.

Embarrassment is still an emotion I associate with being poor, although I need to stop that. I’ve recited throughout my teens and twenties the Benjamin Franklin quote, “Having been poor is no shame, but being ashamed of it, is.” Thanks, Ben, but that’s a little easier said than done. There is still some sensitivity when it comes to class, even though I can now buy perfume and jewelry for myself and generous gifts for other people. I felt embarrassed on an airplane recently when I bumped into a woman whose kids I used to babysit. When I said, “Hello, I used to babysit your kids,” she replied, “You must have really saved your pennies for this trip!” I wonder if she thought babysitting was my career, and not just something I did in high school so I could go buy more Tom Waits albums.

I’m in Thessaloniki, one of my favorite cities. I came here to read, write, walk around, drink coffee, and feel safe. This city is like Neverland, where most people don’t seem to have aged past 25. I love walking along the water and seeing all the packed restaurants and bars full of happy people having a good time. I made a new friend named Libni who lives in the Ivory Coast. I went to a nail salon for a mani-pedi and socialized with nice women who sang along to songs on the radio. I went to a spa for a relaxing facial massage. I shopped at my favorite jewelry store and bought exquisite rings and earrings from a man who looks like Tim Robbins. He also gave me a sparkly pink ring as a present. I’ll cherish it and I’ll always think of him and his wonderful store when I wear it. The opulence doesn’t end there. I also bought dresses at my favorite clothing store in Thessaloniki, a store called Philly. I dined at my favorite restaurants, Mom’s Cooking and Koi Sushi. The waiter at Koi Sushi thinks I keep returning because I’m enamored of him, but really, I just can’t get enough good sushi. 

I’m a creature of habit. When I love a place, I keep coming back. When I was at the nail salon, I told the women that I want to live in Thessaloniki. They said that wasn’t a good idea because life is hard in Greece right now and salaries are low. It’s these kinds of humbling heart-to-hearts with people that help me understand what my friend was talking about. I won’t feel embarrassed about living luxuriously from time to time, but I will feel extremely lucky. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Shrill by Lindy West

At bookstores, I scan every shelf like someone beachcombing for buried treasure. At Goodwill, the price tags allow me to be indiscriminate. I toss a couple dozen paperbacks in my basket and head to the checkout counter, maybe picking up a weird lamp along the way, because if I’m not reading books on a Kindle, I need a lamp, right? Logic. I am one of those people who believe it’s never possible to own too many books, although it’s starting to dawn on me that owning too many lamps might be a sign of lunacy. Anyway, last summer at the Elliott Bay Bookstore in Seattle, I had to be a bit more selective. (The books are new and pricey.) I chose Shrill, a book by Seattle comedian and enchantress, Lindy West. I had never heard of her before, but it seemed fitting to buy a book by a Seattle author while visiting Seattle.

That was one of the smartest book purchases I ever made. Shrill is a collection of essays about Lindy West's life experiences. I really admire her bravery, first for challenging the status quo and standing up to people on issues she cares about, and then for writing all those stories down to make this book. She is an inspiration and she is funny as hell. 

I now consider myself a Lindy West fan and I will forever associate Lindy West with the great city of Seattle. She is now tied with the opera for the top reason why Seattle is cool, followed by a fountain that plays Beethoven and the fact that Seattle is the most well-read city in America.

Shrill is such an important and hilarious book. I’ve read reviews that state it’s an important book for women, but it’s actually an important book for everyone. It’s important for anyone who loves comedy, anyone who feels sad about the world right now and needs something uplifting to read. It’s important for the high school students I teach. It’s important for reaffirming the belief that we actually shape culture and that we don’t have to accept rape jokes and fat shaming and sexism because that’s just what people find funny and that’s the way the world is. And for people who think that’s just the way the world is, then this book is important for combatting their despondent attitudes and perhaps giving them some ideas on how we can make the world a more hospitable, less discriminatory place for everyone.

Yay Lindy West! 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Get a hijab!

The consulate is advising Americans to shelter in place. Friends are advising me to get a hijab, one of them even singing her advice in the style of the old Silhouettes doo wop song, “Get a Job.” Yip yip yip yip mum mum mum mum, Get a hijab!

I liked living in Turkey much more when the only thing I had to worry about was sexual assault from strangers. Oh, the good old days. These days, sexual assault is what we call presidential diplomacy and the risk of getting blown up or shot to death is increasing day by day.

I’m feeling estranged from this city, like a parent of a school shooter who had no idea that their child was capable of so much evil.

I’m holed up in my apartment where I’m savoring the last spoonfuls of the extra crunchy Skippy peanut butter I brought from home. I have enough creative projects to keep my hands busy and my mind active. I’m working on illustrations for a children’s book and a diary comic about my travels.

Last night, I dreamed I was a playwright like Oscar Wilde and I bowed to a full audience of appreciative theatergoers who rose to their feet to applaud me. It was a wonderful dream, and I think maybe because I mentally transported myself back to Portugal before I fell asleep, I was able to have such a happy dream. Although my travels are limited for the time being, I can go anywhere I choose with my imagination.  I should choose to think about Portugal, laid-back people, good food and wine, rather than jihadists and Isis calling Turkey the protector of the cross and vowing more bloodshed. Whoops, there I go again. 

Okay, positive thoughts: Lisbon, wine, fado music, cool art, urban sketching, delicious food, going outside, not being told to shelter in place.