Monday, December 29
I think I lost touch with being able to present things to people back home as anything other than painfully-wrenched descriptions of things that don't ever actually satisfy me or do justic to them. Time to let go of that, and thanks for bearing with me through the muckier ones. Maybe time to save this blog from becoming a bog.
A little kid came over with a cute, very very cute, little kitten in Fez. This kid couldn't have been one loose tooth over eight and a half, the kitten looked to have about five weeks of life experience, and no loose teeth as far as I could tell. It was a freaking cute one. Little boy is playing with her, putting her on his head, scooping her up, flipping her around, things normal little kids do with really cute kittens. On second though, the cat looked actually kind of sick in a cute way--goopy eyes, irregular fur tufts sticking out. I pulled out my camera, imagining how genius it would be, this rare documentation of Moroccan street kid and cute maybe-hepatitis-ridden kitten. I snap some. Kid wedges himself between me and Jess, puts little diseased kitten on my lap, smiles at me little kitten-playing Moroccan kid smile and eventually he wanders off and I go back to whatever I was doing before, which was soaking up the sun because I am in Morocco and it is very, very, gloriously, sunny.
I look over at our Moroccan friend Taha. He is soaking similarly. I think, hey what a genius picture it will be, my Moroccan friend so luxuriously soaking in the sun like me, with all that Moroccan stuff in the background, you know, mosques and really old falling-down city walls. I put my hand down to retrieve camera.
It is not there.
Camera is not there. It is not in my bag, it is not on the ground where I put it. I know where it is. It is in the hands of a guy who is going to sell it in a nice-looking little boutique, who got it from a guy who was selling it off a semi-legitimate main alley electronics rug, who got it from a guy who had it in a sketchy backalley cardboard box, who got it from a certain little kid we know in exchange for 5 dirham and a piece of crappy Moroccan candy. It has been about 11 minutes since the kid disappeared, but Taha confirms that this is probably where my camera is. He goes off to question some local kids who have been watching us, but they pretend cute little kid innocence and we know it is by now too late, and the camera has changed hands about 756 more times. Ah, well.
What really got me is this. A little while passes, and I notice a familiar-looking kitten, not far away, sitting under an old guy who's smoking a cigarette, looking very cute, still kind of diseased, and very confused. You'd think the kid could at least have the consideration to use the same cat over and over. A horrible thing to do to a poor little kitten. But then again maybe it was saved from a lifetime of crime, only to be a one-time offender. That is if you could even call it guilty, poor little cute sick thing.
Saturday, December 27
But Morocco hasn't been like this all along. It has been many things. We took the ferry from Algaceres, Spain to Tangier. Tangerines get their name from Tangier, and the tangerines here are the best I have ever tasted. So sweet. The ferry ride was kind of nightmarish. Not nearly the blue and white cruiseship that carried me from Ireland to France, this one was mostly a cold little lounge where people were either vomiting or nearly vomiting. Us too. The sea was unbelievably rough, and by the time we docked in Tangier all of us passengers looked at each other with the camaraderie of survivors, lined up weak and pale by the door like refugees, waiting to be admitted to sturdy land.
Jess and I went almost immediately to Tetuouan, a hour or two taxi ride south. It poured rain when we stepped out of the car, but we managed to find a hotel, hang up the wet things to dry, venture out. Delightful, the first Moroccan city at night! Medina is what they call the old walled-in part of a Moroccan town. Lovely tiles, arch walls, narrow passages, little shops selling thick Berber sweaters, natural soaps, dough-smelling little pastries, typical drugstore fare, fake Converse shoes, vegetables, souvenirs, nuts and dried fruits. And it was a happening place. People--mostly men in long robes with pointy hoods that looked vaguely like the Klan and also wizards or hobbits--swept along the streets and alleys buying, chatting, hanging out. It was a Saturday night, after all. We bought the most amazing sandwiches for less than a dollar a piece. Delicious french bread, warm, with tuna and an egg omelette thingy like a Spanish tortilla, lettuce, olives, carrots, and all topped with mayonnaise and chili sauce and french fries. This is a Moroccan sandwich, and we have been either eating it or talking about it ever since. It may be like going to the States and falling in love with a Publix sub, but we don't care.
On the topic of food, that night we also discovered that this country knows how to produce a damn good nutty cookie, as well as amazing street food. Jess bought something that looks kind of like a flat pie and is served in messy slices like pie but is gooey and salty and tastes like southern grits. Oh yes.
We loved Tetuouan with the kind of wonder you feel loving the first place in a new country, but we didn't stay past the next morning. We took a winding taxi ride to Chefchaouen (shef-SHA-wen), a town in the Rif Mountains. The medina there is painted all blue and white (it is really worth looking up some pictures of this place--I can't show any pictures for reasons that will be disclosed soon) and seems to have first grown organically from the mountainside and then continued growing from itself, sending out shoots of whitewashed archways, sandy steps leading up or curving down and around, twisting narrow alleys that fit one donkey and cart, blue-tiled water spouts tucked in corners. At night it really looks like a hobbit world, or a surreal waiting room to a kind of distorted dream-like slumber party, all the figures walked out of the little archways in their long robes, hoods and slippers. The strange thing about Chefchaouen was not that it was freezing at night, but that they didn't seem to have many facilities for getting warm. We searched the first night for a place, any place, with a warm fire, but really found nothing. The warmest place was a tiny internet cafe that was heated only incidentally by dint of having eight computers working hard in a very small space. We slept under three or four heavy blankets each night, ate soup with garbanzo beans in it, and finally discovered the hamam.
The hamam is a traditional Moroccan bathhouse. For our first time, we decided to forego the public hamam in favor of a private room with massage included. It was a very short old Moroccan woman who came into the room that was not nearly as hot as a sauna. She started dumping buckets of water on the floor and motioned to us to lie down there. She had this laughing old wrinkled face, a few teeth, big soft rolls all around her belly, and a curved but strong back. And she basically washed us like we were little babies, and I can't say that it wasn't really nice. She soaped our bodies, firm and experienced and thorough, and then took this kind of scrubby glove thing you put on your hand and scrubbed us hard so the dead skin came off in gray wormy rolls. We never exchanged a word with our little grandmother, only giggled when she inadvertently tickled us or made a motion for us to wash "down there" and looked at her in cute-inspired wonder, like when, getting dressed again in the upstairs room, she came over to Jess with a badly-fitting bra put awkardly over her t-shirt and turned around so Jess could fasten it in the back. A three-toothed smile, and that was it between us and our Moroccan bubby. I left feeling well-taken-care-of, pink and fresh.
We headed further south, to Fez, but I will have to do this update in a couple of passes. For the next installment: how a little kid stole my camera, more delicious foods, and general clumsy description of sundry things and sundry thoughts about things.
Wednesday, December 10
We walked down by the water, we watched the sun setting in it. It is quite strange the number of sunsets that happen in a life, and the number of sunsets watched. Jess talked about the forgotten beauty of hunting, which is to witness the waking up, the feeding, and the dusking of nature. A ritual like dinner. There is a man she met once who goes kayaking with his wife every evening to watch the sunset. I want to try now to stop each day and watch it too. I think if that is the only habit I pick up on these travels, it will be good enough.
We are leaving today for Lisbon. We have a couchsurfing host there who has been to about a million and a half places in the world. I read some of what the guidebook has to say about Lisbon last night in the bath. It was leveled by an earthquake in 1775, and rebuilt in a late eighteenth-century grid, which is lucky for us because I seem to be able to navigate cities successfully only at right angles.
From there, we are thinking of heading down south and into Morocco for a couple weeks. I really want to go to Morocco, and I think it is a good place to go with Jess since I probably wouldn´t want to travel there alone, but I feel impatience to be on my own again. I guess it feels too easy being with a friend all the time. I guess it´s why I have stopped writing.
Friday, December 5
I met up with Mae, my cousin. We ate a bunch of pastries and talked about going to Barcelona or Portugal next. We walked from her friend Kevin´s apartment to the Centre Pompidou to the Jewish neighborhood, where we ate homemade matzah and some kind of dry kosher sausage. We talked about family, which was a bit strange because, despite our being cousins, we had hardly ever had a conversations and it seemed, since these conversations were our first, that we couldn´t have anything as familiar and intimate as our families to talk about. Gossip about, I admit.
Paris was too big. Knowing I would be there only a few days, I didn´t commit to it, and have almost nothing to say about it. The food, of course, was spectacular. That is all.
Mae and I went to Barcelona for a week and a half. I have entered and left Spain since I last posted, I am sorry.
I am in Porto, Portugal.
Barcelona is a city so hip and full of surprises. My delight in it was something like the way you feel eating a pomegranate with your hands. With the bursting juicy bits still lingering in your mouth--lovely--your stained fingers absentmindly peel away a seemingly dead-end little spongy bit, and there, suddenly, is yet another magical little cluster of purple-red jewels. It´s astonishing, the number of times I turned a corner somewhere and found something--a museum, church, neighborhood, set of shops--worthy of days of investigation.
Hmm. I will post this now, so there is something. And write more tomorrow maybe. It´s no fun playing catch-up this way. Porto is lovely and relaxing. The roofs are red, the tiles are falling off, everything is
Saturday, November 15
I have been in and left France since the last post, I am sorry.
I arrived safely on the ferry, which was less like a barge (some people had this idea) and more like a small blue and white cruise ship, complete with lounges, cafes, airport-flamboyant carpeting, and a ¨sundeck.¨ Quotations explained by preceding posts about weather. I had bought the cheapest ticket, which was for a seat in a room of seats, rather than a cabin with a bed. This was okay because everyone put their sleeping bags on the floor and slept there anyway. It was actually very soothing to sleep with my body against the rocking of the boat on the gray blankety waves.
Julien picked me up in the sweet little battered red car that was sort of our home for the next week. We never actually slept in it, but it felt that familiar by the time I left it. It was full of his cigarettes and my chocolate bars. His bag full of different kinds of leather to make into different kinds of pouches, my bag full of all my various things, worn-out clothes and poems. And the one windshield wiper always got stuck on the other one.
Here is Julien and you can see little Nanette´s door to the right.
Before going to his town of Mayenne, which has a castle that looks like this
Julien took me to a tiny little town on the northern coast (in the region of La Manche, I believe) and we stayed with friends of his, artists, who inhabited in the fullest way this house. It contained elaborate puppets, hand-made tapestries, old canvas stretchers that were broken up for fire wood, cigarette butts, moules frites in a pot on the stove, and a gorgeous collection of books in french.
The next day we all took a walk along the beach, where I lost my phone and gained a sense of quiet stretches of space and air that Ireland didn´t have. The kids and dogs were beautiful running long-shadowed on the sand, and I found a perfect spiral shell I put in my pocket and have forgotten about until right now.
The beach was not far from where the American troops landed in Normandy. This is a monument to, I think, Canadian soldiers. I didn´t read it, but there was a building with a Canadian flag nearby.
Here is the town where we stayed the night. I had never seen a town like it, and it would be impossible to describe exactly what was so shocking about it. Everything white-stoned and empty on Sunday, even the old Church from some period I´ve probably never heard of.
We also spent a day and night in the city of Rennes, which is in Bretagne and is filled with streets that have the impression in my mind of being cobblestone, but might not actually be. They are lined with cafes, patisseries with the most incredibly delightful pastries and breads you can ever imagine, bars with people sitting at all hours of day, little shops that are lovely and curious without being touristy.
Being with Julien meant being constantly on the go, visiting his friends wherever he happened to have them, making new ones where he didn´t, always arriving there toting croissants, saucissons, and beer for all. There was no telling what would happen, and an unexpected dose of culture shock only made everything seem faster and more overwhelming. But it wasn´t bad, only strange, only a good challenge. I had to retain myself in each new situation, and did. I had the distinct feeling that every day I was living a different kind of life, and I was okay.
Monday, November 3
Things I did in Cork those days: walk around the center of town. Buy soda bread, apples, sausage sandwiches loaded with onions and peppers (yellow, green) in the English Market. Drink cappucinos in a cafe called Puccinos.
I met Natalie when she came to stay with the same couchsurfing host as me. She is french and nineteen. She loves food. We get along. She is traveling around Ireland, then living with her boyfriend, then taking a train across Russia, all on a gap year before starting university. She dominated the BAC and is waiting to hear back from Oxford and Cambridge, though I am trying my best to pitch Brown to her, because she reminds me so much of people freshman year at Brown. Before we all got jaded, haha. Oh dear.
And this is an old monastery, a fairly typical thing to find along any drive through the countryside. The colors are almost the same in real life.
Here we are in the ol' workshop, Jon and Len both looking uncharacteristically serious.
Tuesday, October 21
L --Who fancies a cupo?
K --Cupo tay!
Len is seventy, but you wouldn't guess a day over sixty. He loves all things seaman: ship, knots, boats. At fourteen he left school and home, went sailing around the world. He makes hundreds of different knots watching tv with us in the evenings. We watch three types of shows: shows about how to make stuff, history shows primarily about wars and weapons, and mystery series. And Mash sometimes. In the grocery store he charms a little girl--Hallo, blue eyes!--and gets shouts of ''Santa Claus!'' He does look remarkably like Santa. He's also British and speaks a lovely little Cockney, so picture that. He whistles and sings from a wide collection of hilarious and scandalizingly dirty shanties and can't abide things like this: vegetarianism, hippies, hunters of animals, religion in general and Jehovah's Witnesses specifically, faint-heartedness, his ex-wife.
J --Cupo? [something in Icelandic] Why, certainly.
K --I'll put the ke''le on!
L --Wait, first. Jon hand me those grips and hammer.
Jon is another Wwoofer here, from California. It's so nice to have a buddy. Though we are quite different, he is someone with a relatively familiar background, similar lexicon, identical American hiking shoes. Before this, he was wwoofing in Poland, and Iceland before that. He loves boats, and Len builds boats, so together they make wood into boats here in this little Iglish bowl of sunlight.
It is. It's refreshing to be around people who are having a good time and sharing it around. Len's favorite thing to say is that life's just a big joke and if you're not enjoying it then the joke's on you. He's lovely. Though I miss to some extent my own quietness, I feel sort of lifted up here. There is hardly time to think, with all the silly songs and hammering to be hammered and sung.
L --Jon, let little tiddler--
J --Haha, tiddlah!
L --- get past you so she can hold this--oh not like that, you grotty old sod, turn her around. Okay, good, now bugger off to the kitchen willya love and put that soup on simmer.
Len's partner is Pat. They've been together for twenty years, but they aren't married. She is British too. She is also seventy, and beautiful. I haven't said much about her because she only just came back from the hospital a couple of days ago. She had major back surgery and was still in there when I arrived. Len does all the cooking and cleaning, on top of building boats and making the sweetest little toys for local kids (really). He beats hell out of Pat for staying in bed all day, for drinking instant coffee, for not knowing how to ''boil water to heat her arse,'' and you can tell how much he bloody well loves her. He's like a fussy and colorful mother, worrying over our dinners and lunches, that we'll have enough to eat, that we'll like the way it tastes. He makes excellent food. He gives hugs and tells us his stories and teaches us how to tie a million different knots, what they're for and why. They have had over four hundred wwoofers in the past sixteen years, and I do believe he thinks of all of them (except the bloody obnoxious ones) as his kids. And I bet they all felt at home here too. Good old Lenahd. I told him in passing one day that I wanted to see the Atlantic Ocean before leaving Ireland, and today he drove me around the countryside showing me castles, old ruins, different kinds of boats docked in a little port town. We had a picnic of bread, onion cheese spread, orange fanta by the ocean.
J --Simma! [cracks up]
It is totally ridiculous, to hear us talk. We use any words we know for anything we want to say. We say it in broken or flawless Spanish, Latin, German, French, Icelandic, Russian, Irish, words we make up. We tell each other all the interested word origins we know about. We compare our words. We say our words like some gibberish that carries nearly no meaning. That's how we say them usually. Though sometimes Jon says things he knows, about palletization, and I find anagrams. Len gives us cockney rhyming slang. And we repeat everything over again in any accent we vaguely know--Scottish, Dubliner, old southern, carrot-cruncher. We are saying all the time and the things are color-changing skipping creatures that make us laugh if we pay them any attention. And usually we don't.
L --Oh bugga this bloody stupid thing. This stuff should be sticking like shite to a blanket...
Monday, October 13
Sunday, October 12
Look at the little nose under the door. That's Pippy. She likes to get in everyone's business.
Tuesday, October 7
Mike said I was being too sentimental about it, and this is probably true. For my first time out, though, I think I did okay. How could I help feeling just a bit stressed out when there was a donkey ripping his heart out over here, while the purest white and most unicornesque baby goat bleated pitifully for her mama over there, and an angry sow nearby was trying to hoof herself over the fence to gore me with her pigletless snout, and two gaggles of scared bonhams were bravely and loudly trying to battle pink against black in a dark room in the barn? I could not.
Friday, October 3
I couch-surfed with Brian Cavanagh in Santry, outside the center. His friend Nils was visiting from Germany. We took the DART out to Howthe where the sea is, where the hills and cliffs are. Nils said the delicate white streaks on the water were made by small winds. We decided not to walk all the way around. We decided it was better to look at only one or two things.
We drank Orange County wine from paper cups, eating cashews, Brian throwing rocks down into the deep, narrow cove. I looked at the colors. Nils talked about, I don't remember, jumping from cliffs maybe.
I guess I was never in Dublin except alone. Out in Santry, and in Marino with Barbara my second host, I knew more or less how to measure myself and things. But every time I was in Dublin proper, it was on my own. I guess that's why I don't know how to write about it. Dublin only existed in my mind, I only existed in Dublin's mind, something like that. I walked for very long times. I stood outside the gate at Trinity College, spent some hours in a bookstore, found a bagel place, they toasted my bagel for about two seconds. Took things way too seriously. Got rained on. Looked for Jews on Rosh Hashanah. Found none. Wondered what I'd write on my blog when it came time.
I loved Dublin the day I left. I succeeded at the laundromat, had a really nice tea and talk with Barbara, made it into town in one piece. Sun was shining. It's so nice to be sad to leave a place. Too often, I've been only too happy to go. I am trying not to do that anymore.
* * *
Right now I'm in a little town in County Tipperary called Templemore. The accent here is lovely. They pronounce ''barley'' like ''barely,'' as in ''always remember: oats for the goats, barely for the pigs.'' Solitude was actually quiet and gentle, even cinematic, on the train ride down. The land, the being moved along through it, listening to headphones, late afternoon light. Things golden, myself present and grateful. And when we pulled into Templemore Station there actually was, there on the horizon, the most vivid, most perfectly formed rainbow I'd ever seen. Not kidding.
Mike the farmer is lovely too. It's just him and Diane, his partner, at the farm. And the animals. Turns out turkeys are quite cool little guys. Ducks do not quack they way I think they should. And pigs are very cute and look just like Babe the pig, which makes sense.
I don't know what to make of it here yet. The countryside is so beautiful I can't stop taking pictures of it and they're never good enough. Things are quiet. I am trying to focus on each task and do the work for the work's sake only and be still and have gratitude. It is taking some adjusting. It is only day three, I miss friends, people my age, cafes. But the air is fresh and the animals lively enough company. I am painting a mural on the wall of the barn, pulling weeds when I need to warm up a bit. The best part, of course, is feeding the horses. They aren't broken so I can't ride them, but it's nice to be around them. I look at them and feel familiarity.
Sorry this post is all over the place. Internet cafes are stressful! Not sure when I'll be back for internet. Next week probably.
Sunday, September 21
Jess is in London! It is wonderful to see her again. We have seen each other here, across the ocean, probably as much as we did in the last year back home. She put together a little birthday picnic yesterday in Victoria park. After a relaxing morning, during which Owen and I nourished ourselves with his delicious homemade brownies, we headed to Broadway Market to get picnic provisions. Several free samples and hordes of Saturday hipsters later, we were armed with two kinds of beautiful fresh bread, some saucissons, assorted olives, and a bunch of cheese that was marketed as a 'Basket for 4 for a fiver.' Say that out loud. We asked them why it only had three cheeses in it, and they insisted that the three cheeses could feed four people and that's why it said four. We punished them by making them give us samples of everything.
Jess brought enough friends to feed three cheeses to. Rokas (pronounced like the word that means boisterous and disorderly) is her boy, a very tall blond Lithuanian she met on the beach in Finisterre. Looking at him, you can just picture him there, a kind of beach god. He brought two Lithuanian friends who are living with him here in London, Vitaly and Gedas. And Erin is a very cool Kiwi whom Jess also met on the Camino.
Did I mention it was a stunningly beautiful day? It was. And Warm. The warmest day I'd felt since coming here. Thanks for coming to our party, sun. You can have some cheese, too.
The picnic was exactly what we were supposed to be doing that day. We ate and drank copiously and very leisurely, scattered around enjoying the day. It was organic in a sort of crazy classical way, or maybe this is only retrospectively. We were transformed into (ourselves maybe?) these traveled creatures, living moment to moment, fauns with handfuls of late sunlight, tossing and golden. Rokas strummed the guitar, Gedas and Vitaly had their harmonicas, Erin her yoga mat, the grass a miraculous warmth, and Jess face paint. The face paint was the hit of the party, unless you count two giraffes of unkown origins named Achoo and Icki.
It's true, Giraffes love mousse.
A very lovely day. We stayed together, back at Jess and Rokas's, until everyone and the day were exhausted. Tomorrow will be another picnic.
Monday I rode a bus down to Brighton and stayed two days. It was supposed to be only one day, but I think a trend has started here. Things want to extend, I can only let them. Brighton is on the English Channel. Sounds like a series on British television. When I arrived, I walked down the Pier, which was like a small-scale version of the boardwalk at Ocean City--rides, greasy food--except a pier. And not as many Russians. Or people in general, really, but it's the off-season already. The beach in Brighton has no sand. It is made of stones and shells, small and smooth. I picked one up with a groove that fit my finger perfectly. I sat on the stones and it was a little like sitting on one of those things they always have in the nature and science store, a million metal pins that mold to your face or hand and feel really good. Remember those? I sat there for a long time. And maybe took a little nap there. Surprise.
I told Elliot I would be the one with the backpack. He said he is the one with the colorful van.
He drove me to the house where he lives with a bunch of other guys--I still don't know how many of them actually lived there. A guy named Virgile from Provence was also surfing there. He loves Django Reinhardt and plays guitar beautifully, especially this old classic french song Il n'y a pas d'Amour Heureux, there is no happy love. He was very funny, and his English was very funny. We made pasta and meatballs on night two. Elliot is also a really talented musician, with an insatiable taste for reggae beats. These two played together and it was so cool. They tried to get me to play accordion. I played the egg. Actually I didn't. But I drew a picture.
Another good thing that happened was we had a barbeque, though it was not as delicious as some other barbeques I know.
Here is Elliot with his pet snake:
Does he not look like cousin Brandt? I don't remember the name of the Snake. Maybe Martabelle or something. Or Brock. I slept in the room where the two snakes live. I did not carry any little mic in my pockets, and we got along famously.
Brighton supposedly has this wonderful pedestrian area called The Lanes, which I hear has very wonderful and singular shopping that isn't really shopping. I have no iea what this means, but this might be because I never went there. In fact, I didn't really go anywhere in Brighton after getting to Elliot's. We drank tea and watched movies on the couch all day. Purest couch surfing, I'd say.
Though I did go for a walk in the gloaming (a word that nearly knocked us dead when Virgile, who couldn't think of the word for couteau, pulled it out of nowhere) on the second day with Virgile and one of Elliot's flatmates. We walked up into the hills near the house to see if we could see the water, and find blackberries. The channel was hidden by another hill, though the view was still wonderful. The blackberries were hidden by not existing.
But we did find a horse to talk to.