Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Back from Tunis, and I'm about to nerd hardcore on some language stuff because I thought it was fascinating.

To wit: After my flight was delayed about two hours (or something, I have no idea, I was exhausted from having gone to bed at 6am the previous morning after a late night involving swimming in the inflatable pool of a sketch club along with my newfound Spanish friend Carlos). Anyway. I was paired with an 8-year-old Tunisian seat-mate who was adorable as shit and a Libyan man who was very eager to show us videos on his iPhone of the fountains in Dubai. Now seriously though, this girl had been plopped in between us by the flight attendant and the poor thing sat silently as she switched off looking over at the Libyan man's newspaper in Arabic and my book in Spanish. I wasn't really sure if she understood either one of them so I asked her tentatively in English where she was from (English, the international language, right?), and she proceeded to talk nonstop for the duration of the two hour flight to Tunis. I found out that she wants to be a veterinarian, that a girl at school told her she wasn't pretty, and that the leftover half sandwich that she'd tucked into her seatbelt was on reserve for the pet cat waiting for her at home. I was so impressed by the girl, her English was better than some of my high school students, she spoke fluent French and Arabic, and she was the only girl on her school's Tae Kwon Do team. Booyah.

When I finally got to the airport in Tunis I met my Couch Surfing host Fabien, an expat from
France, and we headed off to a concert in the Acropolium at Carthage. Carthage started out as a Phoenician trading town but was captured by the Romans in 146 BC and about 100 years later under Julius Caesar it rose to being one of the three great Mediterranean ports of the Roman Empire. History, history, history, the economy collapsed when the port fell out of use, and the Arabs captured the city in 698 AC, and now it's on the UNESCO World Heritage list and you can visit it yourself in just an easy tram ride from downtown Tunis! Carthage actually has a lot more interesting tidbits and whatnots but since this isn't a history lesson you can look it up for yourself.

Okay anyway, and then what happened. We didn't actually go into the concert that first night because we were about three or four hours late so instead we stood out in the parking lot. Socialized. Drank directly from the bottle of wine. You know how it is. Everyone I met spoke at least three languages - one spoke Spanish, which he'd picked up after traveling for a month in Mexico, the bitch. It was very impressive and very evident that multilingualism, when it is the norm for a society, makes language acquisition absurdly easy. I think Tunisians also have a huge advantage in that the two languages they know are French and Arabic. So unrelated that future languages become a pieca cake. Should say, though, that I was around a pretty privileged group of people - employed, etc. - and I don't know that the language abilities are the same throughout.

The next day one of Fabien's roommates received a call inviting us to someone's beach home in Hammamet. Mmm, hey look guys, it's Hammamet. This was just exactly what I needed because it meant I could sit on my butt and read for long periods of time and not feel like I was wasting my trip. Pre-trip errands included a trip to the beer place where Fabien very gently told me I must wait outside since it was not a place for women. Who you callin' a woman? Not Fabien's fault but I was a little bit annoyed by this and the next day made sure to bravely walk into the drinks place myself and buy my own can of Diet Coke. That I needed the male bartender to count my Arabic coins since I couldn't read them is irrelevant.

I had two reasons for wanting to go to Tunisia. First, when I went on the flight search engine and typed in "Any Destination," Tunis was the cheapest one to show up that I had not yet visited. Second, I was intrigued by the political revolutions going on in northern Africa, and I wanted to see what it was like for myself. According to the people I was with, the biggest difference now is that people can talk about the government. (???). Marian told me that in the past the culture had always been to - and then she made a sneaky looking around motion as if to check if anyone might be listening. No one voted because the elections were fixed anyway, and it sounds like there wasn't much in the way of holding a political opinion either, because what's the point?

Marian's pretty progressive - as in chain-smoking boozer (in a good way :). Her father's Tunisian and her mother's French, and she told me that when she was a kid the "extremists" tried to kill her dad, who worked for an anti-terrorist organization. He was getting into his car when two men came up and threw acid on his face, and for the next two weeks her family all thought that he was going to die. When I asked her whether the guys had ever been caught she told me they didn't matter, that they were probably just some people without much money, who had been asked to do something "for their country." The guy in charge of the operation, though, was caught.

"He was put in prison? For how long?"
"Well, I don't know, maybe he was disappeared."

She had this smirk on her face which was probably the most disturbing part of the story. I get that a murder attempt was made on her dad. I get that she probably doesn't think too highly of the extremists who had organized this plan, but... hello, who wrote the rules here? No wonder there are problems if each side just makes it up along the way. Don't get me wrong. I think Marian's a super cool woman with a really open-minded perspective on her country's politics, but the concept of a government disappearing someone is, I think, a little bit frightening.

Sunday night we drove back to Tunis just in time for Fabien and I to catch the tram to Carthage for day two of the concert. By tram I mean it reminded me of the tents in M*A*S*H* - green, you're not sure how it's standing up, and with equipment that looks ancient by today's standards. Even by Boston metro standards, and that's saying something. Fabien told me, however, that they'ed been renovated last year; the creaking fans hanging precariously from the ceiling were a new addition.

When we arrived to the Carthage stop Fabien told me we had about a ten minute walk up a.. a.. (his English not so hot).

"A mountain?" I asked, joking.

So we proceeded to climb this mountain which turned out not to be actually so mountainous, but better: half way through he started pointing out abandoned pillars and mosaic tiles and the like. We were sneaking up the back of the UNESCO World Heritage Carthage ruins. It was rough going, especially in my slippy sandles - I stepped on something pokey that I can't see, but still hurts and seems to have permanently embedded itself into the bottom of my foot. I also had to occasionally grab on to a wayward piece of precious world history and I continue to feel bad about the bits of ancient wall and whatnot that crumbled away beneath my fingers. The Carthage ruins, incidentally are not meant for late-night exploring, so when we finally made it to the top Fabien had to jump down a security wall that was probably about 10 feet tall. I was very wary of this but he insisted it would be fine, until he had actually made the drop. "Ooofff! It's farther than it looks. You're turn!" There was about a five second pause during which time I had my hands on the top of the ledge, arms extended, and body hanging down the length of the wall, but I picked up my nerve and Fabien caught me for the final few feet.

From there we just had to pick our way through the rosebushes for my final night in Tunisia. Here again, I ordered my own Diet Coke, thankyouverymuch.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

After ten months in Spain I have only one week until it's time to leave. Madrid is drawing to a close.

Part of the reason I like to travel and live in different countries is because I like to travel and live in different countries, but part of it is because I don't like to stick around in any one place too long. I get to know a place, and then I get to be restless in a place, and then I look for a new one. I've been fortunate enough to have had the opportunities to hop around as I wish, but I've always been a little bit envious of the idea that one could just plop down in a place and be content. It would make my travel budget so much more achievable.

Well, the thing is I am pretty happy with Madrid. It's felt like home since the moment I landed here - or maybe six hours later when I was finally rescued from the streets and allowed into my apartment. From that moment on, though, it's been pretty great. Not always perfect, no. There were moments when I wanted just to conveniently sleep (or wine) away the never-ending schedule, and hey, I mean, at some point I wrote a 60+ page thesis. But at least I wasn't back in London or something, right? And I met a lot of really good people and learned a lot throughout this past year.

One of the strange things I find when I live in different places, is that I really focus intently on wherever I am or whatever I'm currently doing. It's good, it's normal I think for anyone, but it means that when you leave a place it very quickly starts to feel not real. The differences between my life in Madrid are so distinct compared to Boston or Quito or London or New Brighton - and I'm sure they will be from Cozumel as well, that once you leave those places, it's difficult to imagine them existing in your current reality.

I love Madrid, but I wonder what I'll think of it six months or one year from now. I imagine that even though right now it's home and it it fits so well, before long I'll be asking myself, did that really happen? In my existential crisis it will be difficult to imagine that Madrid can exist in the same world as Cozumel (or Boston, or Quito, etc.).

Well anyway, I think I might like to come back to Europe next year, but like, pretend Europe. I really enjoyed being in Turkey and I realized that I've kind of been sticking myself in the Hispanic world and maybe it would be good to get out and stretch for a little bit. One of the reasons I disliked London was the language - English is boring. But compared to something like Turkish, for example, Spanish is sort of becoming that way too. I miss learning an unknown language, so maybe after Mexico I'll have to get that show back on the road.

Tomorrow I go to Tunisia. I'm staying with a guy from France who's been living in Tunis for the last few years. I promised him duty-free liquor and after telling him I was a vegetarian he promised me double chocolate ice cream chicken flavour or Nemo?? - I'm not too sure what he meant by that bit. We're going to go to some electro-Fest in Carthage, which means that damn it, I'm wearing shorts even if it is a conservative Muslim country. I can't be another glistening hot-mess like I was in Istanbul.

Moral of the story: do you realize that Sunday's forecast predicts 105 degrees in Madrid? And I will be several degrees latitude farther south in Africa.

Aman Tanrim.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Wheee! Last night I got back from Turkey and it was incredible, beautiful, cool.

I have a working list of my top ten places I want to visit, which I periodically revise and check off once I've made it to one of the destinations. Brittaney and I conceived of this list the summer before our semester in London when I was just but a travel infant. Anyway, Istanbul has been on that list since day one and I am happy to say it did not disappoint.

What did I do? Okay, so I got there on Friday after a four hour flight and was pleased to find that the glass bottles of beer I was touting had remained intact and in their original state.

While sitting in the Madrid airport I realized I had a couple of key issues that I'd overlooked, for example: 1.) What exactly do I want to see in Istanbul?, and 2.) What is the address of my Couch Surfing host's apartment?, also 3.) What do I do if my cell phone continues not to allow me to communicate with a Turkish phone as it is currently doing? I had to walk the entire length of the airport before I found the travel book I wanted (holla at Nicole, Top 10 Istanbul), and I ended up easily finding Sinan in the airport when I arrived, so all was well.

After stopping by the apartment Sinan and I spent Friday evening in an area called Taksim (I think). We started out at this one rooftop lounge where we had some amazing views of the old city skyline from across the water, and later wandered around for live music and more drinks. I really liked Taksim, it was full of people and noises and activity and proudly remained decorated with Christmas lights even though it was June. For many of the bars that we visited we had to climb something like five flights of rundown stairs or ride a rickety old elevator to the top, but then when we got there it was this perfect little surprise of great views, music, and hootch.

Saturday was sight-seeing day. Grand Bazaar, the Blu Mosque, Hagia Sophia. I've been in love with the Hagia Sophia since first semester freshmen Art History 111 and it was BEAUTIFUL to finally see it in person. You don't need me to describe it to you, google image search and your tongue will wag.

I also saw this boy to the left and learned that boys, before they are circumcised, are dressed up like little princes and paraded around to important sites in the city. Last ever photo opportunities before the chopping block. :-/

And then what happened. Some Turkish dinner bread and cheese thing.
Some Turkish dessert cheese and pistachio thing. I concluded that I really like Turkish food then it was back to Taksim for more drinks and then a visit to some club where I danced, drank several shots of something that was glow-in-the-dark blue, and sweated profusely in the Istanbul heat. It was magical.

Sunday I went to the Asia side via the ferry across the Bosphorus during which time I closed my eyes and tried not to be seasick. Walked around, took a couple of photos of mangy dogs, and then..

Wait a moment.

I need to build up the tension.

I didn't see it coming.

I had heard rumors, but I hadn't understood the words.

And then, my whole life changed around when I drank that Turkish coffee. I am not exaggerating at all when I say it was evident the gods had descended upon my tiny cup of drinkable Eden and birthed a new and more perfect world. It was peace in a baby ceramic bowl. It was liquid amor. It was happiness balanced prettily on a delicate little saucer. A reading of the leftover coffee grounds at the bottom of my cup intimated the arrival of an evil man in my life, which I'm fairly certain refers to the pilot who whisked me away from my coffee nirvana.


Yesterday was my last day. I learned how to play backgammon. I had another cup of joy. And I came home sadly to my pitiful container of Día brand instant.

Turkey, I will be back for more.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I'm kind of amazed at how quickly life changes. Big things happening in the next few weeks and I'm excited!

I think Chicago was good for me because I had been feeling a little bit sad about leaving Madrid at the end of June, but the trip made me remember how much I love meeting new people and being in new cities and just changing it up every once in awhile, yo. So since I've come back to Madrid I've loved it just as much as ever, but I'm also reenergized to go on exploring. Especially because that's really what it felt like being back in the United States for the first time in nine months - like being in a foreign country. The first things that stood out to me when I got off the plane were 1.) these people are really tall, and 2.) it smells like french fries.

I also found being around so many English speakers to feel rudely invasive. Not my family, of course, but random strangers passing the street. Like hello, I'm in my head here, can't you see that you're interrupting with all that conversation flying out of your mouth? I think since Spanish is my second language, I must tune it out more when I'm not directly involved with whoever's talking. Meaning that all of a sudden while riding the L or meandering down the Riverwalk, I was suddenly forced to be all up in everyone's business. Listen, I know your husband needs to remember to pick up hamburger buns from the grocery store, but I don't want to hear about it, okay?

And then when I came back to Madrid I discovered some very interesting tidbits of information. Like the fact that my last day teaching at Colegio is actually two weeks prior to what I initially thought. And that flights to Turkey are not that expensive. Nor are flights to Tunisia.

Ahhh!!!! I'm going to Turkey and Tunisia! I fly out Friday and spend three days in Istanbul, then the following Friday I fly for three days in Tunis. Istanbul has been on my list of places I've wanted to see since forever, but I'm really excited to learn about all the political stuff that's been going on down in Tunisia. Like this:
Or this:
And if I really play my cards write maybe even something along the lines of this:

Thursday, June 2, 2011

It's a Wedding in the USA

Such a great wonderful weekend that ended in the blink of an eye, a flash in the pan, bye bye family, it's back to Madrid.

It had been about eight months since I last saw any family whatsoever - when Nicole came and visited for about three days in October. Two months more for the rest of the immediate family and various bits and lengths of time for the rest of the cuzzies and aunts and uncles and assorted other whatnots. I was well overdue for some feel-good family fun and baby-brother Joe felt the full wrath of that immediately upon arrival.

Bachelorette party fun happened on Friday night, during which time we recreated Nicole's visit to Madrid with a return of the Cat in the Hat-style Guinness hats we'd been awarded at a nearby pub. Nicole had saved hers and brought it out at a crucial moment in the pre-game festivities. This would prove to play an important role later in the night, as
later I would lose the group and would rely on the combination of my hat and the necklace I had borrowed from Nicole as a beacon for the girls to come find me. One of my proudest moments was when I stood there alone in the crowded bar and was struck by a bolt of brilliance that reminded me of the switch on the necklace that would make it light up and sparkle in a seizure-inducing, epileptic fit of celebration. Next step is to take out the cell phone and press buttons in a random fashion so as to appear busy and not pathetic for standing alone in a social situation, but since I didn't have my U.S. phone with me I instead proceeded to clean my glasses on my shirt. Smooth.

Then what happened. The wedding itself was beautiful, as of course was my sister. The ceremony had to be moved indoors because the morning had dawned gray and soaked in torrential downpour, but the sun came out right at the end of the ceremony and just in time for some lovely outdoor photos. I saw several zebras and in between takes squatted gracefully so as to relieve the pain in my high-heeled feet. Good thing I'd borrowed a pair of Spanx so my nether-regions were safely cloaked behind the last-ten-months-wine-consumption-camouflage.

We laughed, we (Nicole) cried, we danced in an embarrassingly fun manner, and it was beautiful. I asked the wedding bartender for travel tips to his native country (Iraq), and was rewarded with an excellent martini. I had a great time meeting all of Nicole's new Chicago friends and am super excited to hang out with everyone again over the 4th of July. I was equally happy to spend time with her old high school friends. At one point I burst into spontaneous shouts of "This is my redemption! I'm dancing with the Seniors!" They had been in their final year of high school when I entered, fresh off a stint as Middle School class valedictorian. That should tell you something about my social skills back then.

It was a wonderful six days in the U.S.A. Don't judge me for it.