jueves, agosto 20, 2009

the best date...

Once upon a time in a mystical land, far far away, which some call Boston, I was set up on a blind date. It was with the co-worker of a good friend of mine. He had seen me and kept bugging her until she agreed to set us up.

His name was Thor, or Bacchus or Aries or some god I can't quite remember. (Or at the very least I'm not admitting to it here).

He knew from the beginning, it was a one night only offer. I was moving to another country a few days later. He showed up at the doorstep wearing a white button down shirt and suspenders with grey trousers that fell elegantly from the fitted waist. He looked like all of the men I fall in love with in period films. We matched well, I in my 1930s style little black dress, cloche hat and mary jane heels. His arms were filled with flowers, I blushed, and searched for something to put them in while he stood just inside the door. I adore flowers. How did he know that gerber daisies were my favourite? He said they reminded him of me as soon as he saw them- far more than the roses.

We took the metro into town and he had a pocketful of ideas for places to go depending upon my tastes. The first stop was a tiny little cocktail bar hidden in the basement of a building, behind many plants. It was dark and everything was 1960s, including the lounge music. It felt a little like a lounge inside of Genie's bottle. I was delighted. I ordered a cosmo- not because I'm a cosmo drinker but because it fit the music and lighting somehow.

He was as smooth and cool as a Tarantino film. I've never again been so swept off my feet as I was that night. After the second drink, he casually played with the tips of my fingers from across the table, looking as pleased as if I had allowed him great liberties. The conversation was like dancing with your perfect partner. Never an awkward lapse, but the occasional warm appreciative silence to take in the mood and the night and the music. Lounge music, a good live jazz band, a cozy dinner...all in the unlikeliest of places, which proved to be the best I had ever experienced in Boston.

When we finally said goodnight at my door, he could have kissed me, but instead he bowed and kissed my hand. As he stood, he gazed into my eyes and smiled, "Thank you." He held my hand in his, as we relived the night in each other's eyes with warmth and joy upon both of our faces.

"I'm leaving...I'm sorry..." I stumbled, wishing that I had just a little more time...

"Shhhh..." he put one finger to my lips, then drew me close with the other hand- still holding mine. "I know, but we have this. Thank you." He pulled me to him and kissed my forehead, murmering "You deserve all of this and more. Have a wonderful life."

My breath caught in my throat, my eyes shining, I looked up at him. "This was the most beautiful night I've had in Boston, thank you." He held me close for another minute or two or half an eternity, then kissed my forehead once more, smiled a dapper smile and waved goodnight.He strolled down the street, hands in his pockets, a bounce in his step, whistling a merry tune. Beneath the street light at the end of the block, he paused and looked back and smiled before disappearing into the night.

jueves, abril 23, 2009


"I have been one acquainted with the night..." - Robert Frost

The city is another world at night...workers ending long days, lovers walking home, old men staggering out of bars, lights brighter as last call is announced...
A small child runs laughing and skipping past in a game of tag with her parents trailing behind. Chinese men stand at attention at every street corner, a box with sandwiches, beer and gum in front of them ready for the late night wanderers- truly, they provide a service to the city. Where would the late night drunks be without a little cheap food when no one but the kebab places remain open? There are more prostitutes than before the crisis hit. They huddle together in the lonely night, while watching for customers, wearing their stilettos and eyeliner like a uniform. Tonight many of them wear wigs- at least one is a cross dresser, perhaps more.

The hum of the street cleaners and the smell of water and bleach assault my nose as I watch men pull down the garage-like security doors over their bars and pizza places. They take the rubbish out- the rubbish collectors are on their way. Sol has more public works going on, and there is a wall around the plaza, blocking it from view. Then I hear it...soft, clean, beautiful. A lone female guitarist is flawlessly playing a surprisingly lovely amplified acoustic guitar. She begins to sing- modern folk with perhaps a Celtic twist. Her voice is nothing special, she misses notes- but it has its charm. I sit on the cement ledge of a kiosk. There is a woman beside me, she looks at me and smiles. Our eyes meet and I return the smile with a warmth that surprises me. Together we watch the remaining world walk by as we listen to the concert.

Perhaps it is the emptiness of the night which draws me- the bareness of it all, as if the underside of our lives was exposed and is still. It's quiet. Everything is clearer at night, perhaps because there is less confusion. The characters at night seem stronger as well, as if they were all caricatures of those we see by day.

We clap as she finishes a song. She looks up and gives us a half smile. A few passers by give money, but not enough. It is nearly 2 in the morning on a Wednesday night. Thoughts of being entertained have long been drowned by those still out.
She plays for herself, there is a kind of moodiness to her, then she loses herself once again in the guitar.

I suddenly remember what I'd forgotten, a simple thought that makes it all worth while: How lovely life is...even when it seems that all is ugly, beauty in its purest form may be found.

Here, midst the day's rubbish, street cleaners, drunks, prostitutes and homeless sleeping in their cardboard dens, I found rapture, if only for a moment.

viernes, agosto 29, 2008

the escape from russia

Hastily packed bags balanced precariously between my legs in rush hour as the train races across town...

One hour and fifty-two minutes have passed since I told the director of the school that I would not be accepting the position. She responded with, "Of course, I respect your decision. Now you must go to the school and pay for the flat."


"I was never told anything about paying for the flat, not one word."
"Irina didn't say?"
"No, never one single word."
"Well then, that's her fault and she will have to pay if you don't. Goodbye."
The phone clicked.

My eyes wide with fury, Lera took my hand, still hanging with the phone in the air, "You're trembling." It was true, I looked at my violently trembling hand as if it belonged to someone else. I quickly updated her on the situation. "Call Irina!" she demanded.

I dialed.

"Irina, Antonina says that I have to pay for the flat. No word has ever been mentioned about this." A very small and flat-voiced Irina responded, "That is between you and her."
"Irina, did she or did she not tell you that I would have to pay if I didn't stay?" My voice was calm yet strong and did not betray the true pity I felt for this poor woman.
"Please, this is between you and her. I have nothing to do with these things, but if you mention my name I will be blamed."
"Irina, she's blaming you now. She just blamed you on the phone to me, that's why I'm calling. Did she or did she not tell you that I would have to pay if I didn't stay?"
"No, she..." her voice trailed off into silence. I waited.
"Remember a couple of weeks ago, I said in an email, 'this apartment will be yours for free if you accept..."
"Yes, I do, you however mentioned nothing about me paying if I didn't. It's unethical to demand AFTER the fact that I pay, and further, there has still been no mention of how much."
"That is between you and her, only she can say how much. I know nothing of these things."
"Ok, thank you, Irina."

Lera was waiting quietly through this interview, sipping tea. "I've got to go, now." We grabbed the bill and said our goodbyes- she had a date and I had other things on my mind.


I pulled out my emergency contact list. All of my friends had been concerned about my going to Russia and had supplied me with lists of people they knew in Moscow just in case. Three calls later, a Spanish student of Russian, Sebastian, agreed to help.

With urgency in my voice, I rapidly explained the situation and the whereabouts of all of the players involved. "I've got to get to my place to get my stuff before they do. They're outside of Moscow right now, but it will be close."
"I'm not far. I'll meet you at Strogino metro in half an hour," he said and hung up.

The race was on. I got a text message from Irina, "Antonina says that you need to pay 550 euros plus 30 euros for the visa." I responded, "Ok, thank you," and snorted as I thought, "Humph, not going to happen!" She was outside the city as well, but on her way. It would be close- very close.

I met Sebastian at Strogino. It's not hard to recognize a Spaniard in Russia though his sallowed olive skin spoke of cold and lack of sun. "We've got less than twenty minutes," I said. "We'll take a taxi, it won't be more than 50 rubles," he countered.
I agreed and we hastily set off. He flagged down a car driven by a Korean. I could hear the accent even through his Russian. "A random car?" my uncertainty played strongly across my features. Sebastian took one look, and held the door open for me, "Get in. This is what I meant when I said taxi. This is Russia, not Spain." I got in the front and directed the driver to my flat. Once inside, I threw things into my two small bags and handed Sebastian my toiletry bag, "Put my bathroom stuff in here!"

Five minutes sped by, "Hurry, we've got to go!" he yelled across the tiny, dilapidated flat. "The kitchen..." I began.
"Forget the kitchen! We've got to go!"
"In the kitchen," I continued, "in the fridge there are two beers! Grab the beers! They are important!"
He laughed quizzically and dutifully grabbed the beers and shoved them into my waiting pack. "Ok, let's go!"

We flew out the door. "The keys!" I bit my lip, unsure of what to do. Mailbox? Mat! Sebastian called the lift as I shoved them under the mat. We took off through back ways near the river to lessen our chances of accidentally being spotted. Finally, on a main road again, we hitched a ride to another metro station. Two trains later and I'm here, out of breath and precariously balancing y bags between my legs as rivulets of sweat trail down my back despite the cold day as the train races across Moscow.


Across town, his flat is small but cozy, the type of one room flat that's typical of the communist era, now renovated for comfort. "I didn't expect company and my girlfriend is out of town." He shrugs as I look around. There is a sofa bed in the middle of the room, a desk to the left, a wardrobe and an entertainment centre. It's perfect to live but difficult to have unexpected guests.
"It's a palace and a safe haven," I declare as I easy my pack off of my now aching back and into a corner.

I send a text to Irina, "Thanks for everything. The key is under the mat. I changed my flight. My plane leaves shortly." I wonder if she will even get it. Half of the text messages that I'd sent in Russia got lost and people ended up calling me wondering why I'd not messaged them.

A pang of regret for poor Irina touches my heart but is met by a steely force that will NOT bow to emotional blackmail. Antonina knew that I was not the kind of person to let someone else hurt because of me, so that was the only way to hurt me.

I send off another text to say goodbye to Lera, "Thanks for everything. Tell Irina, 'No contracts, not legal. Do NOT allow Antonina to deduct money from her pay!' xxx"
I know that Irina has a good heart and is often taken advantage of. In all of the years of her teaching, she's never been paid for taking kids on trips - even month long ones. I sincerely hope that she will finally buck up, or that Antonina decides to let this go. It was an emotional response of anger on her part, and not a rational one. I understand.

Sebastian shows me the bath and says that I can use anything there (he left my shampoo and soap in the abandoned flat).

I grab one of the Hoegaardens which I sip, contemplating my toes as the hot bath eases the tension in my shoulders. I hear Sebastian on the phone in the kitchen and briefly wonder if he will explain to his girlfriend about my being there.

Refreshed, I join him for a welcome meal of leftovers. He's apologetic at not having more or better offerings, but for me it's a feast and a relief to be chatting in Spanish again. "Sorry, I would have gotten a better wine, but those are for special occasions and I always help fugitives on Wednesdays, so normal day, normal wine. Thursdays are more exciting, that's when I help the Peruanos escape."
I laugh, "I apologise for being such a mundane escapee. I'll do better next time, I promise." We continue to joke as he pours more wine.

After dinner he puts me on the computer while he watches television and then irons some work shirts. He calls a taxi for the morning. It will be 1200 rubles (roughly 33 euros). We talk photography for awhile, then he makes up the bed. He is a perfect gentleman and I even have my own duvet which separates my side of the bed. (If his girlfriend happens to be reading this: we NEVER so much as touched, beyond the customary greetings. He was very kind and I'm very thankful.)


Morning, I'm in the airport and my plane leaves shortly. I'm pleased that I can now read menus in Russian (at least enough to get a drink- beer, tea, coffee or water)

Sebastian said goodbye a mere 13 hours after we met, wishing me luck as he put me into the taxi. The driver drove like a bat out of hell, and although it generally takes two hours to get to the airport, through sheer force of speeding and aggression, we made it inside of 40 minutes. My mantra in the taxi was, "There's not a single dent on his car. There's not a single dent on his car..."

Wandering through the airport to my gate, I wondered briefly if I wanted anything to remember Russia by. In a shop while idly browsing to pass the time, I spied a red newsboy type cap. I tried it on. It was perfect. It was twice as much as it was worth, and I bought it anyway. I liked the way it sits. It's as if it could tell the story of my journey through this formerly red land and of how I got out- suddenly and through the back door.

And now, my tea and my tale are nearly at an end. They're announcing my gate.

It's been a good summer- no, the BEST of summers. and I've two more countries to go before I see home.

*Note on the most expensive city in the world's airport:
I spent 20 euros on 1/2 a pita sandwich, a small beer and a cup of tea.

jueves, agosto 14, 2008

the "pick a year" game

I just realised that I've been blogging for 6 years. I began in New Zealand, after leaving Spain the first time. Today, I am sitting barefoot on the floor of a hostel in Zagreb (Croatia) in olive coloured thai pants and a light blue singlet. The thai pants were given to me in Roma Easter week this year by an old friend. The singlet was given to me by an old Brasilian flatmate in Barcelona three years ago. The toe ring today is a silver swirl I picked up randomly in Madrid for a couple of euros. My earrings are typical from the region of Dalmatia that I just left. My glasses should have their lenses updated at some point- they're the same ones that I got 3 years ago in Malaysia. I'm listening to Portuguese Fado, contemplating visiting friends in Porto at the end of my very long summer. Next to me is my train ticket to Russia that leaves in the morning.

I'm 32. I often feel like a patchwork of my life or indeed, many lives. I'm not particularly ambitious except to see and experience the world and its many flavours. I love, that is all. Everywhere I go, I fall in love with the people, their ways and their rhythms and flavours. I don't own much, nor do I particularly want to. I don't think that I understand the concept of "ownership" ...or perhaps I understand it too well? I don't believe you can really "own" anything. We're all just passing through. Granted, it amuses me to feel that I own a laptop or a camera and perhaps one day a house...but it's all an illusion.

I love my life. It is everything I ever dreamed and everything that I never dreamed.
I'm blessed. I'm rich beyond riches, for everything that I own is within.

The "pick a year game"
I never know what to say when people ask me where I'm from. "I live in Madrid." or should I tell them about the village where I was born but left 20 years ago and that has since been bulldozed to make way for outlet malls? "Pick a year and I'll tell you where I was." With the wonders of blogger, I can do this too. I was just reading December entries from each of the last several years- Germany, Japan, Spain*, Boston, Maldives*, Malaysia, Singapore, Borneo, Gibraltar and who knows where this year?

I love so many people that I haven't spoken to in years. You're still in my thoughts, in my dreams I still wander with you to our old haunts. We laugh and sing and eat and drink and everything that went before. The past lives within me like a world of its own. I have no sense of time. You are always welcome in my life. It is a wonderful thing when someone that you love from your past resurfaces and you can know them again.


Every so often, I get rather nostalgic (note, listening to Fado will do that to you too) and I found this entry from a December in the Maldives.


It's nearly three in the morning. I'm alone in my office which will soon be my classroom. My infamous world-traveled red silk kerchief on my head, my favorite jeans, a singlet and a hooded sweatshirt, naked feet except for my butterfly toe ring that reminds me of a day in Barcelona with Racquel...

I'm listening to songs that remind me of all of the places I've been like wisps of fog near the shore stretching into the vast expanse of ocean . I wonder about the people in those memories. Is Sebastian still wandering the deserts of Humahuaca happily cooking a meal in the day while wild burros watch on? Does Katherine still go for sushi when she's feeling blue and swimming on Sundays? Is sexy red-headed Jeannine dancing wildly at a disco somewhere in Germany? Has Junsuke finally found his way to Australia? Are all of my dance partners still dancing? What happened to the old Grinder's gang?

I wonder who checks my webpage and wish that all of my friends had webpages for me to check to see how they are doing.

The water here is enchanting. Alone on a kayak, alternately racing through the water or sitting still tasting, breathing, feeling the infinite...I remember so many people. How beautiful life is!

I dream of buying a house in Argentina. Some little place to plant a garden. I would make it into a hostel for young people who like to travel but have little money. Perhaps I would also do English classes out of one of the rooms. Maybe have a community room. It would be the sort of place that one would want to raise children in. They would be bi-lingual from the start.

I see my dreams swimming past my eyes like dragonflies filling the afternoon with magic.

officially going to russia

...I'm heading to Moscow via a two day train trip beginning tomorrow. I will be in a three bed cabin, which if it is like the one I was in last night, it rather fantastic in that it is the size of a tiny Barcelona single room (or a small American walk in closet) with a three tier bunk bed and a fold away sink.

I'll be bringing my own food and plenty of drink. If my stupid paperweight of a new laptop is actually FUNCTIONING, then I'll probably watch movies on that as well as learn some Russian on the way. I haven't decided which is more useful: *"Learn basic Russian in flight" or a proper phrase book. These are the two best ones in my budget range that I've managed to locate in a book store near me.

*Note, YES, I realise that either one is extremely limited, but I figure it would be useful to have at least basic phrases down before going, given the unexpected nature of my going, rather than a planned and looked forward to trip.