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Monday, November 24th, 2008

After learning that I scared some people away with my (admittedly) incessant bitching and moaning during the final stages of my former job, I have blocked those posts to prevent future visitors from giving up on my whiney @ss. Let’s just call those the dark days. I see the light now, and there’s really not much good in exhuming the bones.

However, if you insist, the password to all of them is: whiner

Consider yourself warned…

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Building the Obamas the perfect mutt

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

 

Obama has been quoted as saying that the new puppy promised to his young girls will be a “mutt like me.” Now I realize that there’s probably a team of experts now combing every humane society, pound, and rescue group in the country in search of the perfect ‘mutt like me’, but as a seasoned dog owner, I thought I’d weigh in with some insight that may prove valuable in their search.

Unfortunately, right out of gate we hit a serious roadblock. It seems 10-year-old Malia has allergies, so they’ll probably be looking to one of the ‘low dander’ or hairless breeds. That immediately rules out the Alaskan Malamute. If you enjoy eating, breathing, and pooping dog hair and removing it from your clothes every 2.2 seconds, then a Mal is your breed! Otherwise? Not so much.

Anyway, with respect to this allergy issue, what fits the bill is pretty damn exotic – American Hairless Terrier, Chinese Crested, Peruvian Inca Orchid (yes, that’s a dog), and the  Xoloitzcuintli (Mexican Hairless). Moreover, seeing as they want it to come from a pound, the odds that they’re going to end up with a ‘world’s ugliest dog’ contestant have just shot through the roof.

So at this point, I’d like to pause and make a suggestion that may be a little controversial: I think we need to get some top notch scientists on the case. Generally speaking, I am not one for gene splicing, but the man is about to be President of the United States. We can’t have an animal like this running around the White House. Imagine a whole generation of children growing up with this ugly mug staring at them from the front page and splashed across CNN!? We don’t have enough child psychologists to go around!

That’s why I think some top notch scientific minds need to get their @sses into a lab pronto. We’ve got enough heartburn medications already. Put down the beaker, and let’s get some smart folks focused on developing a hypoallergenic Golden Retriever.

Better yet, in keeping with the spirit of our President-elect, let’s mix up a diverse cultural brew. Maybe a little something from Asia? Chows can be snippy, and Akitas are a little scary sometimes too. Maybe part Shih Tzu or Japanese Spitz? They’re cute and cuddly.

Then maybe a little something out of Africa? An Afghan was good enough for Barbie, and I think that’s an argument that would work with Michelle. Again, the Basenjis and Rhodesian Ridgebacks wouldn’t be my first choice for young kids, but the lab can probably whip up a personality fix or partial lobotomy for that?

Europe? Don’t mind if I do! I’m kind of digging the idea of a Bernese Mountain Dog or a Saint Bernard. Set him up with a little wooden barrel and maybe fill it with Tang for the kids?

Now let’s stir in a little American ingeniuty and sprinkle in an addition from the ‘painfully cute yet descriptive name’ category. That’s right, the high-priced American mutt: Perhaps some Labradoodle or Puggle? Maybe a little Cockinese, Malchi, or a Beabull? Hell, let’s just go crazy and add some Bichpoo.

This would be a dog America could get behind. The Satyr or Centaur for the 21st century. In fact, that gives me an even better idea: Why not throw a little cat in there just to keep it interesting? No one needs to know.

How long does it take to gestate a dog anyway? 54-72 days (according to answerbag.com)???

PERFECT.

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Forget running. I think we should consider building an Ark.

Sunday, October 26th, 2008
Before the race with my running partner. You can see that I am already DRENCHED.

Before the race with my running partner. We hadn't even started, and you can see that I am already DRENCHED.

I didn’t sleep very well last night. It sounded like someone had turned a hose – a fire hose – on the hostel room window. I kept having, “Look! It’s the sun!” dreams to counteract it, but every time I woke up, the torrential rains seemed worse. It was practically Biblical in proportion. If it starts raining locusts or blood tomorrow, I won’t be terribly surprised.

Thus, sleep deprived and somewhat dreading what was no doubt going to be an outrageously wet morning, I got up at 6:30 a.m. and suited up – as best I could – for the run. It is safe to say that I was tragically unprepared. In order to face a long run in 12C/58F degree weather, I had:

  • Running Shorts

  • Short-sleeve t-shirt

  • Jog bra

  • Baseball cap

  • Socks

  • Running shoes

That’s it. That was the complete and total assembled wardrobe and I was drenched to the BONE within minutes. I think we can all consider ourselves lucky that this post isn’t coming to you from a Turkish hospital where I am being treated for hypothermia.

God bless ‘em, but Turkey is wildly disorganized. At least they seem to know it. We were required to board the buses by 7:30 a.m, and they arrived at starting point of the race within ten minutes. Thus, we pulled onto the side of the road and sat there for over an hour – nothing like giving yourself a nice wide berth for unplanned mistakes and unintended consequences. As someone who attracts chaos and confusion wherever I go, I can appreciate this.

Faux race simulation for your benefit. I didnt want to risk ruining the camera by bringing it with me in the torrential rains.

Faux race simulation for your benefit. I didn't want to risk ruining the camera by bringing it with me in the torrential rains.

As we sat on the bus, I surveyed the Noah-esque scene outside. For a brief period, there was a glimmer of sun in the distance, and I felt a rising confidence that my dream had been a premonition. Sadly, my hopes were dashed when the clouds closed and the rains beat down even more furiously than before. For a while, there was even lightening.

Despite it all, the race began at 9:00 a.m. with zero fan fare. I heard a car backfire a few miles away (or perhaps that was the sound of a water-soaked starter pistol?) and the traditional ‘slow trot’ that marks every race on earth began. Istanbul is on both Asia and Europe, and the marathon’s ‘claim to fame’ (which is a bit of a stretch) is that you can run from one continent to the other. Specifically, that entails starting on Asia side, crossing three bridges, and ending by the Blue Mosque on the European side of the city.

Meanwhile, I’m not a super-seasoned competitive runner, but I have done a half-dozen or so in the States. There, crowds show, bands play, people cheer, and there’s an energy and a vibe that gets you fired up and keeps you moving. In comparison, the Istanbul Marathon was like a trip to the morgue. At one point, I ran in total silence for half an hour. I got so lost in thought that I almost crashed into some pedestrians who were wandering across the barricaded street in no particular hurry to get out of my or my fellow runners’ ways. The Turkish are like the wild turkeys we have at home – in the street and not really interested in your opinion of that.

As for the marathon itself, it could be the rain, but I doubt it. To be frank, there is no vibe, no energy, and no scene. No one showed up. No bands. No music. No giving a sh*t. At the most, people looked on confused or even annoyed at these two thousand or so individuals running in the pouring, driving, freezing rain. I thought we deserved a “Boorah” or maybe an appreciative whistle or something just for being insane enough to persist in this weather…but nothing. Even the WINNERS got nothing. As the triumphant Kenyan crossed the finish line in what was probably Arctic weather to his African sensibilities, a couple people yelled “Bravo!” From that point on, I screamed like mad for all the people in the final chute of the complete marathon.

With respect to the ridiculously relentless rain, I can count on one hand the times in my life I have been so cold. It was unreal. Just when you thought the wind and the water had to back off, it would get even worse. At one point a rain drop went directly into my ear canal and hurt for like an hour. The hair on my arms stood on end the entire time. Sometimes, the only sound I could hear was the “squish” of people’s shoes as we worked our way through the ankle-deep water backed up in the streets. Happily, my friend and I were wonderfully matched runners, and comfortably stayed together the entire time, occasionally moaning about how this had to be the single wettest run of our entire lives.

Otherwise, and to my own complete and total shock, I ran really well. I kept a good pace and was never tired. Only in the last couple kilometers did the cold get to my muscles, and I honestly felt like I could’ve gone at least 5KM further, maybe more. It kind of has me fired up to train for and do a full marathon. As for how I managed to muster this athletic prowess with virtually no preparation and my sporadic running schedule, it has to be carrying that damn backpack for three months. I can think of no other reason I was so strong.

And oddly enough, in many ways, the race was a fitting metaphor for this trip. As I was running up a hill near the end, I started giving myself the pep talk I’ve given so many times before, “You can do this. Just hang in there. You’re doing great. You’re tough. You’re all over this. You rock.” I realized I was pulling on many of the same physical and mental reserves I’ve used the whole time: Pushing yourself when you’re miserable, enjoying the moment and the wonderment of finding yourself in such a foreign and magical place even if it’s not quite going according to plan, stretching your physical and mental limits, and all the while discovering strength you never knew you had. Boorah!

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The weirdest bath you’ll ever take

Saturday, October 25th, 2008
Fresh pomagranate juice is sold on all the streets of Istanbul

Fresh pomagranate juice is sold on all the streets of Istanbul

I’m uncomfortable with people handling my dirty laundry. This is a new neurosis, but as of this trip, I feel awkward about sticking someone with my stinky clothes and making it their problem to clean them. But in that case, at least the ‘dirty work’ occurs when I’m not there. In light of this strange hangup, you can only imagine how I feel about someone vigorously cleaning the resource that makes that laundry dirty – my body.

That’s what made my first true Turkish Turkish bath a bit off-putting. In Budapest, I went to the Rudas Baths in Pest. Once inside, an overly flirty Hungarian man pointed me toward a cubicle and explained I was to change into my bathing suit and take the key to the door with me (so that my belongings were secured while I was soaking). Then he offered to come in and help me change. He also set me up with a cubicle where the door wouldn’t stay closed, AND carried on in a manner overly reminiscent of ‘Wayne’s World’ about, “You are too good for me!” when I came out in my suit. Nothing like keeping it subtle.

After effectively evading the cubicle assistant, it’s off to the showers, and then the baths. At Rudas, there are five pools of varying temperatures – 23, 27, 32, 37, and 42, as well as a small cold dunk, a dry sauna, and a steam room.. At first I did the ‘gradually increase the temperature’ soaking series, but I eventually got hooked on going from the 42 degree tub and the cold dunk, or for even more of a thrill, between the 55 degree steam room and the cold dunk. The steam room was so hot that I couldn’t see, and it burned my eyes. I was glad I hadn’t worn my contacts (until I tripped and almost fell in the dry sauna) because I started to think they might have melted onto my eyeballs. Anyway, it was quite enjoyable, and I stayed there for several hours.

The Istanbul street dogs are very handsome, but their predicament makes me sad.

The Istanbul street dogs are very handsome, but their predicament makes me sad.

Last night, I was taken to a bath in Bodrum…but there was no soaking to be had. Rather, I was given a menu of options (soap, scrub and soap, or scrub, soap, and massage – kind of like a human car wash) and I decided to go for the whole enchilada. At the baths in Turkey, the men and the women are completely separate, and you’re expected to strip down naked. Then they give you what can only be described as a table cloth, and send you to the showers. I wandered around and saw some large women lying on a huge marble slab. It was a little mortuary-esque. Otherwise, there wasn’t much to see. Where were the baths? Unsure what to do with myself, I went and sat in the stinky sauna for a while. It wasn’t very hot, and it smelled like mildew, but what are you gonna do?

After a while in there, I went back out to the main room and studied the small sinks lining the walls, and then tried a couple doors that turned out to be locked. FINALLY a woman came in and said, “Lay down, Lady.” She was a larger girl in a bikini, and she pointed to the giant marble slab. She rinsed it off with water several times, and I laid down. The wrong way. I guess it just didn’t occur to me to put myself face down on a totally unforgiving surface. I attempted to arrange myself comfortably, and she put some kind of mitt on and began vigorously scrubbing me all over. A RIDICULOUS amount of skin was scrubbed off of me. A couple minutes into this disgusting spectacle I realized there is not enough money in the world to entice me to work as a scrubber. I resolved to leave her a very large tip.

Then I turned over, and she repeated the process on my front, my arms, and even my face. Then I was instructed to, “Get up, Lady” and she threw several bowls of water on me and the slab to clean it. Then I laid back down again, and she poured bowl after bowl of soapy water all over me and lathered me up. Every time she’d touch me, I’d slide about two feet on the slick marbl, and the whole thing seemed kind of ridiculous. I tried to maintain what I hoped was a pleasant, yet friendly look on my face, in lieu of the combination of self-conscious and slightly hysterical that I was feeling on the inside.

All clean now, I was sent back to the showers to wash my hair. The girl who did my scrubbing got into the stall next to me and cleaned up too. This might have been a nice gesture BEFORE my scrub, and I considered gesturing toward my armpits as if to say, “You might want to apply some special attention there?” My tablecloth was getting pretty wet by now, and another woman came and led me into a small room where all the female employees were watching a Turkish crime drama. I watched along with them, and tried to follow along despite not understanding a single word.

Finally, the commercials came on, and one of the girls said, “Come, Lady.” She led me up to a room with a proper massage table and oiled me within an inch of my life. It was a short, but extremely vigorous rub down, which made me realize I have been living in denial about the toll that bag takes on my body. It occurs to me to add that if you are uncomfortable with full nudity or have a strong streak of modesty, the Turkish Baths are NOT for you. I grew up swimming and naked in front of strangers in the locker room on a daily basis, but even I felt a little self-conscious. Particularly during the part where she was massaging my stomach while standing above my head, and more or less smothered me with her bikini-clad boobs. Too bad I’m not a lesbian. As it stood, it was all I could do not to laugh out loud.

Meanwhile, I was awoken by the incredibly loud Adhan (Islamic call to prayers, which is broadcast everywhere over speakers five times a day) at 6:30 a.m. Dawn, my ass. The sun isn’t coming up around these parts until at least 7:30 a.m. After listening to a bunch of people rustling around for a while, I finally fell back asleep.

Later today I fly to Istanbul, and tomorrow morning is the race! My friend tells me she thinks I’m better prepared and in better shape for it than she is. If so, we’re in trouble. Maybe we can treat it like a relay race and take shifts? On the other hand, she did run a full marathon last year, so she at least has proof her body can survive it! As for me? Well, wish me luck! In light of the levels of attention I’ve been attracting here in Turkey, I half-expect to be fending off pick-up lines and invites to go for coffee the whole time!!! Maybe I could talk someone into carrying me for a portion? Does that count?

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Bear with me. This rant has a point. I think.

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

So when I get home it will be November, and I’ve decided – in addition to the blog and the book I’ve been working on (slowly) during this trip – to do NaNoWriMo (http://www.nanowrimo.org) – National Novel Writing Month (and just a few letters more than the overly rich BC coconut dessert bar thingies). This is something of a community support site to write a novel in one month. It may not be realistic to try to do all these things at the same time, but if you want to change to a career as a writer, I figure it’s best to write. A lot. And maybe the ‘God helps those who help themselves’ effect will kick in? Or I’ll eventually write something someone wants to pay for!?

Meanwhile, I have a Kindle (Amazon’s electronic book device) with me (I love it. I keep meeting people who say they heard they don’t work, but mine has been flawless and a life-saver. It’s so small. Like the size of a DVD case. And the battery holds a charge – allegedly, I’ve never tried – for 14 hours. I can attest to at least ten hours of battery life. The Kindle was worthy every penny if you read a lot and travel a lot), and as a rule I’m aways reading three or four books at once.

Along with The Book Thief, ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, and The Art of Racing in the Rain (all sad books, really), I’ve been reading this book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Actually, I’ve been reading it in small doses. It is arguably the saddest book of them all, and I find it incredibly upsetting. I really enjoyed Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, about the intertwined evolution of four plants (potatoes, tulips, and apples, and marijuana) in conjunction with humanity. All told, it was very interesting and thoughtful, but in no way distressing.

I guess that’s why I was unprepared for the Ominivore’s Dilemma. If you read Fast Food Nation, that was for children. Seriously. The situation Pollan paints is so dire that in some ways it seems unfathomable. And sitting on the Blue Star Ferry from Naxos to Pireaus (Athens) right by the “Goody’s”, I watched as dozens of overweight people bought themelves and their chunky kids what are no doubt corn-syrup and corn-derivative based “chicken nuggets” and “Goody Burgers” and “Star chickens.” and you start to wonder where it all ends? What happens when we literally deplete every fossil fuel on the planet and cannot develop antibiotics smarter than the bugs, but we’ve mutated our cows and our salmon and god knows what else to eat corn, and eat other cows (which is where mad cow comes from. Apparently a similar disorder occurs in human cannibals as eating the flesh of one’s own species carries a special risk for infection.) What happens when all we’ve eaten for several generations is garbage that has more or less been made in a lab and super fueled with antibiotics?

And admitting I have not very well explained the book, but drilled down to the worst of it. And even if Michael Pollan’s research is inaccurate or one-sided or prone to hyperbole (and I don’t know that it is, I’m just playing devil’s advocate), it occurred to me that the end game of this dilemma would make a damn good story. And although science fiction is not something I know anything about, I figure as long as my science is solid, the rest is fiction. So there you go.

And as what I’m taking as a ‘thumbs up’ sign from universe (BTW, is there anywhere that’s rude? I read not to slap a fist into an open palm or make the ‘victory’ sign in Turkey – but I don’t do these things anyway. I DO, however, throw around thumbs like I’m The Fonz. Ehhhhhhhhhh! Essentially, now that the head nodding and shaking is out, it’s how I try to convey to non-English speakers that I’m okay, or my backpack is on now and you can let go and stop whimpering, or I understand that the large white boat is the ferry or whatever. No one has ever looked offended, but I’m not always the best judge of subtleties. Let me know if thumbs up = something bad and where).

So I totally interrupted myself there. Let me try that again: As what I’m taking as a ‘thumbs up’ sign from universe, within ten minutes of coming up with this idea, I stumbled across a quote that strikes me as a compass for the storyline. It comes, quite auspiciously, from the brilliant science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently developed technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

So now I guess we know (to some extent) what we’ll be talking about come November…

Meanwhile, the Italians have NOTHING on the Greeks in terms of aggressive male behavior. The Greeks are in a league of their own (which is not necessarily a good thing). On the upside, I have had three men tell me they love me today. On the downside, I don’t know any of their names. More on that tomorrow…

p.s.

As I’ve worked on this tonight, I can hear an Australian guy on the phone in the hall lamenting to person after person how someone picked his pocket on the subway today. I would like to take a moment and offer up some heartfelt gratitude.

TO THE POWERS THAT BE: THANK YOU SO MUCH that NOTHING of any kind (minus a cold, which was truly no big deal) has befallen me the last three months! Just let me know what form of alms you would prefer. Having been to the Archeaological Museum today, I’m up on Egyptian, Classical Greek, Estrucian, etc. etc. etc. Or if just reminding myself and anyone else who cares to notice how infrequently we stop to be grateful is good enough, then so be it. I’ve noticed…and muchas gracias!!!

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