Thursday, August 31, 2006

oh forgot

im as red as a lobster because guess who didnt constantly keep up with the sun tan lotion---this sun is a killer----my back a total hot painful disaster

red as a lobster and other side effects of tunisia

today i woke up a bit sad---i dont know why---i think i missed talking to my family--and as people join the group i know for better or worse this is my family for the month in a way---i hoped going to breakfast with the group would cheer me up---there were three folks there and the guide---but everyone has traveled to so many more countries than i have they are like professional traverlers---in fact as everyone talked and talked about png----you dont say papaue new guinea but abbreviate here in group speak---and this country and that country i almost felt like i had entered a group of hobbiest---like bird watchers and star wars collectible people---and you got points for seeing victoria falls and got points for mount killamajaro and if you have seen this native festival or that---its wasnt snotty talk or uppidity---but it really just felt like joining a group with a certain value system and base of knowledge---and i noticed no one had people stories---and from my trips to asia its my culture stories---my funeral stories my being chased in the bizare stories that mean so much to me---hell its all that connection stuff---lol
the group decided to go to the beach and we went on a little train---the petite gare--- the little train along the beach---i was thrilled that there was no room for me with the group---and had to sit in the next car---this is what i liked---the older muslim women would not even glance at me---the young tourists from italy---we tried as best we could between bad french and italian to say hello and where are you going---and one man wore a t shirt obviously a native man --it said in english---im with the bomb squad if you see me running join me---well thats an eye opener on the train---and two men and i played hide and peek---i could see peripherally one man staring at me--but when i looked at him he shifted his glance---so i would stare at him till he looked and of course i would shift---but it was not weird staring--it was more the staring you do when you are studying someone because they are interesting or different and dont want to be rude---
the beach was beautiful---la mer here is gorgeous---the water color the clarity--as i said i can see why the europeans come here --cheap and beautful with many resorts catering to tourists so you dont have to go into the city tunis at all and see the congestion---which i am sure many people prefer---i drifted into a woman from paris who was most interesting---a pharmacist originally from algeria--she is lives in a very affluent neighborhood in paris---one i went through and said wow as we walked through---her brothers are all doctors in paris---her name was jasmine and her mother joined her on the beach her name was lu lu  and this woman was hitting sixty---but she had her hair in a tight bun---and wore a leopard bikini even though---she was a large woman---it reminded me of those german men you see all in speedo and oblivious to the fact they are close to three hundred pounds---but lu lu had attitude--and being tres chubby and sixty was of no consequence
we messed up our train tickets and i went to settle the problem---i know the most french and find it strange that among these world travelers they are not bilingual---ohhh he was a  smooth tunisian man---what is the problem he says and holds my hand---well i say---my three amies and i got the wrong tickets etc---and he stops me short and says well i dont need three amies when one will do and squeezes my hand---internally i am laughing---shit i say to myself ---correcting this ticket is going to cost me--hand holding--- smiling and pretending i am very impressed with this man----so i play along--but some of my group come start walking over to rescue me---but by then he has agreed to let us back on the train without buying another ticket----so i just join the group and said nothing to worry about i fixed the ticket---and it just cost us hand holding and smiling---something that is all you need to do and he was nice you can feel the vulgar ones---like the one i passed in the cafe who licked his lips and wagged his tongue at me---i just wanted to turn around and say to him---youve got to be kidding----but no use---men who are insensitive to women rarely change--
well i have to go sit in the lobby now---and wait for my group to return---i bypassed dinner---i know i will have to tread carefully in the next coming weeks---i dont want to appear antisocial because these are extraordinary people and would like to make friends with them but i dont want to miss the people and culture of africa
oh here is what i have eaten----tunisian marmalade which is a paste of red chilis peppers---got it so hot when ive eaten it i swear hair will sprout on my chest---a brick---which looks like a mini brick filled with tuna and omlette and cheese---and then covered with a light fried pastry dough---very good---although putting those ingredients together never would have occcured to me---a sausage with hot red peppers----i forgot the name and tunisian coffee---lordy about two ounces of bitter coffee that you put two lumps of sugar in --strangely the bitter sweet combination grows on you---and turst me that is an artery tightening caffeine kick
i have asked to eat camel and goat in the desert and today i sampled a tiny brown fruit from a small endor on a street---they looked like chestnuts but tasted like tiny apples---when i brought it to the reception desk at the hotel --- i said what is this and they didnt know---which worried me---but i am not cramping or dead

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Market on the Tunisian Pennisula

tunisia pennisula

today i did a day long journey onto a pennisula outside of tunis---fran the fearless i met yesterday got a driver arranged---and off we went for the day---it was wonderful to get out of the city---and the pennisula was quiet and full of olive tree orchards---grapes vines---and small farmers----our driver stopped at a beach---and we hiked to it---the water looked absolutely out of brochure---azure and turqoiuse---and deep blue---soft sand---no rocks---we waded to our knees---and suddenly realized why all the europeans come to the resorts here---it is that entirely enticing----
my best story for the day was when we were strolling in a little town--we werent hassled and people were always kind to us----out of the corner of my eye i saw a silver throne---honestly a silver ornate throne---i walked into the shop and there was a matching chair and also a pair in gold---now we are talking  white satin seats and louis the fourtennth type of ornate gilding and design---and you know what they were--wedding chairs for the bride and groom in a muslim ceremony because on their special day they are treated like kings and queens---the young woman in the shop was excited we were in awe of these decorations--- she brought out a photo album and we got to look at the pictures of different weddings---the shop lady wanted me to try out the seat-- the gold one---and i did---but fran couldnt get my camera to work---and a man suddenly walked up to fran and grabbed my camera--my mouth started to go oooh because i wasnt sure if he was hijacking my camera---but he started taking pictures of me in the gold seat---turns out he was the towns wedding photographer---and just couldnt stand to see fran fumbling with the camera---so i was queen for the day in my throne with my own personal wedding photographer
tonight two more folks came in for the trip--we officially start friday---meredith from little rock---and also originally from long island---is there something in the water on that island that creates adventurous women?----and carol--a woman who has been to africa times---she has been to one hundred and fifteen countries----isnt thqt amazing---
i feel like a babe in the woods compared to my traveling companions so far---i am the least traveled---and i havent been exactly sitting at home--as you folks know--perhaps this is a different subgroup of people in the world---who really love adventure and would prefer a trip to africa a thousand times over any material possession they could otherwise own
ouch must tend to my sunburn---i got a farmer tan accidentally---hung my right qrm out the window and the tunisian sun ate it up----of course my other arm isnùt tan---will have to change seats with someone if we go a driving

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Tunisia...Postcard Perfect


oh god i am here----sweating dishelved but here---my stomach in knots about riding alone from the airport to hotel by myself in a taxi---got my luggage---even used the atm but walked outside and faced a horde of taxi drivers and got scared---every bad scenario going through my head---when back into the airport rechecked there were no shuttles and said okay its now or never---a man approached said he was metered and walked and walked to his cab which looked suspicious---broken mirror---torn seats---and i questioned where the meter was and he said here and pointed to something which looked more like a radio---got in and sort of held on to the door handle figured i could bolt if need be leaving my luggage behind--from the map i studied i knew he was going in the right direction--and sure enough landed at my hotel---paid him and thanked him sincerely---he gave me a look that was like---we are not all theives you know---i know that too but its hard sometimes to trust that instinct----hotel is interesting spotless clean but i think built in the sixties---a fqmily owns it and they are very fussy about cleanliness and trying to help---here they really do speak predominant french versus french-english like in paris where you say a few words and the parisian completes it in english---i will have to brush up more on a few words because its really necessary here----i tried to take a walk but agqin chicken-shitness hit me and i only got about half mile away where i found a nice store and bought water then turned around and tried to find my way home--the streets are rarely marked---and there are no cross walks you sort of walk out and sometimes hit the hood of the car which is trying to run you over---lol----i havent figured out if there is a pattern or not---unless no pattern is the pattern---i got back to the hotel and the phone rang---another woman from the trip arrived---fran is from long island--jericho---retired teacher---wow she has determination we went out walking and she marched me all the way out to the medina---i am impressed with her fearlessness---i felt like the little girl in the fairytale looking around---leaving a trail of bread crumbs to find my way back---we were in a cafe and then suddenly it got dark outside--honestly it just turned dark---and we rushed back but the landscape in the night looked different and not familiar --fortunately my good sense of direction kicked in---but it was getting a bit spooky---at night mostly men are outside sitting around---many that i asked if we were on the right street were very nice---and helped instantly---again giving me that queasy am i too easily assuming everyone is out to get an american feeling---but you know when you are in a different country your antenna just doesnt work right---you are not sure if some one who is approaching you is part of a scqm or legitimate the signs are all confused---  tunisia is obviously a mixed bag --veiled women holding hands in public---totally veiled woman---woman in western dress--- women half and half---there is obviously a high degree of tolerance---as we even past a shop with large sexy lingerie ads----tomorrow fran arranged a driver and a trip to carthage and a sea side art town---shes an action oriented woman and much less tentative than i am----i am a little haunted by some of the disabled people i saw begging---horrible birth defects---you just dont see this level of rawness in the us   it doesnt feel like africa yet---it feels like a middle eastern hong kong with all the street vendors and market activities----and god do these people have shoe stores---so many its un believeable selling spike heels with rhinestones and a whole array of fancy womens shoes---were do they wear these shoes to---lol---a mystery i hope to solve----

Monday, August 28, 2006


Paris Street Scene

my last evening in paris

there was more sitting in cafes tonight ---watching my favorite show--the people of the paris meet the people of the world----you could create a reality tv show just pointing the camera outwards----i text messaged my kids and will probably call them--i had my cell activated for france and it was wonderful---never very good qt text messaging--im now fairly adept and you can say a lot before you hit your limit----the shuttle comes to pick us up at four thirty am-----then i head for air france and hub heads for the flight back home---i am nervous---anxious---even a bit afraid---i hqve wondered who signed me up for this trip---but i think it was me---sometimes its hard to stretch---to stay open---i feel i have to weight my beliefs in a textured life and my beliefs in connections with the very real desire not to take risks and chances and play it safe---you play it safe and nothing bad necessarily happens and many good things can too---but i guess i dont have that wiring---and there qre times like now typing this--i wish i did---so its off to africa----with hope and fingers crossed----

morning in the louvre

this morning we went to the louvre and thank heavens for my hub insistence we go early---we did---even found the infamous back door where the wait is shorter---but as soon as the doors open it was a mad dash---everyone ran to see the mona lisa---we did too but more like a fqst stroll-- we were nearly knocked over a couple of times by some japonese tourists who were actually running---till the guards stopped them---so the mona lisa---she looks like all the pictures---and the venus de milo---prettier in person---very calm--the smooth white marble--gives her an almost zen like quality---we heqded off to lesser known places in the museum---and i stumbled upon some art i had never seen before and just hit home with me---their egyptian portraits placed on tombs---apparently after cleopatra died and the greeks and romans flooded the middle eqst their painted these portraits instead of doing all that gold king tut stuff---the portraits especially the eyes were so vivid---you could feel these people there---and they were looking at you across the centuries---imagine having a connection with someone who died in the second centurty---and there they were alive again to you and for you----i took some pics but hope to find some art books on these rather rare portraits---after that we hit the main hall and nearly fell over---my god there were thousands of people---the air was stuffy and a bit stinky---everyone was talking rather loudly in a strange tower of babel scenario---and no air con or big vents---it was too much ----we literally dashed for the exits

what a neighborhood part 2

we were just about to leave when a gaggle of young jewish men wearing hebrew letters around their necks arrived--no way would i leave now--these guys looked like international models---tight tight jeans---skin tight shirts---and each with a cell phone attached to their ears---i couldnt figure out what they were doing but they were such eye candy i hoped they would stay--but no suddenly a couple scooters pulled up and off they went---we were going to leave then when a woman purse next to me started moving---dang she was carrying a tiny toy dog zipped up in her purse---her english was broken but good and she mentioned her husband was american and from yep--chicago--so she had to bring him over to introduce him----god i just love all these connections--there are you in paris in a jewish neighborhood and you meet a guy who grew up in chicago---but he was a cubs fans so we didnt embrace---lol----finally we left and meandering saw a whole crowd of folks down a block---we went over and the place was hopping too---but then i noticed something---the bar names were grizzly bar--guy bar ----and bear bar---okay we obviously discovered the gay section---i said lets sit down but hub looked at all those bear gay men---looking him over and passed---what a fun fun evening---really folks you should all come down---and just sit in paris--its the best show on earth

oy veh what a neighborhood

after reaching the hotel i decided it was too dangerous to nap and convinced hub we should go out again after a eye opening coffee----we heqrd the jewish neighborhood was open--most places except museums are closed on sundays--and headed there--we got off the metro--and went whoa---as this was obviously the happening place in paris on a sunday--shops open--including the ones in the next neighborhood with the tres chic clothes--the armanis versaces etc----the cafes were spilling over and the streets were crowded with orthodox jews and parisians and the tres hip---not many overt tourists----the russian resturants we tried to find were closed because of street construction--so we stumbled literally into a middle eastern jewish restuarant---i could not read the menu at all knowing no hebrew and these french words were unfamiliar--but there were pics on the menu so i ordered by pic---hub got a rather strange vegetarian plate---he wasnt pleased---and i got fallafala but it was full --brimming with red raw cabbage---oy--it was all sort of funny--at least to me---outside there was a large square an intersection of the chic and jewish hoods--and a great bakery---the cheesecake slices were at least three inches high---so we took our seat---and watched the show which was a lively mix of folks and dress and culture--then three young lubavitch men set up a table with prayer boxes and yamakas---and started tooting a ram horn---then worked the crowd asking men are you a jew---in french and english---the reactions were amazing from annoyance to disbelief to everything in between---they didnt ask my hub though--who seemed miffed but he looks aryan german ---so i think he feel into the same categories as blacks and asians

last day in paris

its hard to believe this is my last day in paris--i head for africa in the morning--ive had a wonderful two days--sunday was so interesting---in the morning all the nieghborhoods were so quiet--a pretty peaceful calm-- we headed off to the d orsey museum---a former grand train station --it was gorgeous with its high ceilings and art work but large buildings arent well ventilated in paris and with a little shuffling--soon my body felt like  so sleepy and sluggish i found myself next to this adonis type statue that was reclining and wanted to give it a nudge so i could go to sleep next to it---at that point i asked hub for a return to the hotel and a nap---on the way to the hotel we stumbled upon the rodin musuem with many statues in a perfect landscqped gardens---and there was the thinker--sometimes you have seen these things so many times in art books you cant believe your eyes when you stumble upon it--in the garden too were many jet lagged tourists--you could look around and folks would be on a bench nodding--sometimes almost falling forward--i learned that at the beginning of the week never sit alone for more than a minute or else its siesta land

Saturday, August 26, 2006

lunch and show

after the museum we wandered down the champs elyesse---guady--disney stores--in gap--virgin cell phones---more like mall shopping--found an upscale neighborhood with fine restuarants---stopped at one recommended to us by a friend---took two hours to eat an incredible lunch---my god how do the french make their butter taste so good---along with everything else----it was like a show especially since we choose to sit on an elevated platform a little above street level---we watched it rain get sunny rain---a crazy englishman sat down and wanted to move to join friends---at the next table where no one was sitting---a young woman dined and dashed---two arab couples were obviously given extremely slow and inadequate service--remember paris burned a fez months ago---a family sat down with a little girl that could have served as rapheals cherub model--blonde curls --turquoise blue eyes---red cheeks---precious and precocious and barefoot---and of course when i looked to see why all the men were staring in a certain direction---a high class uh prostitute in a shocking pink dress so skin tight you didnt need to guess whqt was underneath---long chestnut hair---greqt shoes---and a playful smile---she suddenly disappeared--when the gendarmes strolled by--then reappeared with a chuckle---all this and wine and great food----how can you beat such a show

musee erotique

down the street from the montrmart district we stumbled upon the infamous red windmill of the moulin rouge which is still in operation but looks quite worn if not dated--down the street the erotic museum--seven stories which starts from early cultures like the greeks and the mayans---up to contemporary---well-done not cheesy or really pornographic--although my hub thinks my definitions are a bit liberal---the first thing you notice is men really misjudge the size of their members--tending towards gross exqggeration--or perhaps for a man at times art reflects what they think--i:e it feels like its four feet long even though it is not--by the time you arrive to the seventh floor you realize every culture every time has a particular notion of the erotic which suits the community---although many things were in french and not translated there were profound statements the curators hoped you would ponder---my reading french better than speech--i could translate---this passage caught my eye--
l exchange amoureax---the exchange of amour--and dialogue and l:act sexuel--the act sexual--is a fundamental instinct for man--which is why throughout history--despite war and grievances--humans refuse to give up their sexuality--l:erotisme est une sort de revolt contre la mort --eroticism is a revolt qgainst death--in favor of de cult a la vie--the cult of life--
the brotherl section centering on paris was interesting showing both sexuality and at times the bondage of the women who served the madames--i liked the business cards some had qbout fifty years ago--where they listed a name like marie or candice--then a speciality--you can figure this out--then a marketing feature--speaks german or english--hygienic --comfortable

The Neighborhoods on a Hill--Montremarte

montrmarte turned out to be wonderful when it woke up---it was a real place in the city---dogs out--children--strollers--older ladies with straw baskets---and just regular folks--there were some rough edges to the neighborhood--grafitti--some trash but it felt lived in versus some of the tourist spots--the stores were incredible--cheese shops--little groceries literally with fruit stalls spilling out into the street--and god you could smell the bakeries a block away--the smell was buttery --you couldnt help but to breath in and enjoy the scent--the food displays in the windows were stunning--plates heaping with pates--aspics--all types of roasted meats--prepared salads---i couldnt help but take pictures of the food in the windows---it was so interesting--such a vibrancy and energy and commanderie with neighbors--bonjour bonjour---how are you--and then the hung over artists types came out or probably finally woke up and added art work to the scene---tourist art work--but it did add an even more eclectic feel to life in this little neighborhood

Artist at Work Early Sunday Morning in Montremarte/Paris

Breakfast Porn in MontreMarte

today we left the hotel early so we could be in the montrmarte the hilly section of paris before the hordes of tourists we were there so early most of the neighborhood was still shuttered and it looked bleak especially since it was very overcast and damp feeling::: we found a cafe run by a rather large gruff frenchman and grabbed a table inside because of the weather: i did my best to order breakfast but really its not too hard to ask for cafe, omelet, croissant---he immediately softened since i tried to order in french and in english pronounced my efforts--good ---so breakfast arrives and im eating my omelette engaged in small talk with hub when suddenly you can hear wet smacky noises--the french couple about two feet to the left of me is engaged in post breakfast smoochies---now the kissing only gets more earnest and louder and what are you supposed to do--i did what you would do i presume--continue to eat my omelette while my peripheral vision watched lite porn--finally she stood up to lean over to kiss him and he groped for her breast---and at that point they decided to leave--for obvious reasons--all the while im there pretending to look like foreplay is something i see everyday with my breakfast --the handsome young man stood up and lets just say his pants were tight and he was extremely ready---to continue his adventure--god i love these folks----and found myself wide awake without even finishing my coffee

Window Shopping in Paris

Friday, August 25, 2006

Even Cars Are Small In Paris

It's the Small Things that Make You Love Paris

the metro is fun and easy i like that you can see blendings in the parisiens african vietnamese french and whatever other colonies had been conquered all our here in the faces often stunningly beautiful today i saw women that even made me pause

please note the eiffelt tower is not black or rust colored it is a gorgeous cocoa color that decorators in the south would totally approve of i had planned to dislike the tower because it is so touristy but find it rising out of the trees or scenes stunning and yes it is phallic a idea i noticed in many french postcard which i will not be able to send to you folks lest the postoffice arrests me

also tons of bookstores and stalls selling books leather books picture books and beautiful stationary and pens you feel this must be q very literate society and one prone to ideas and talking because that is what cqfes are perfect for no wonder so many writers from here it is not difficult to think lofty or want to argue philosophically after a craft of bordeaux and after a couple bottles of wine of course french kissing and more

more Paris 3

after the boat ride we strolled into the latin district where i had yet another perfect cup of coffee called cafe creme rich smooth frothy and served with large sugar cubes labeled daddy as in sugar daddy well perhaps everyone should get one if he takes you to paris lol to people watch is incredible and life could only be better if you were served a plate of fresh crepes in dark semisweet chocolate with chantilly whip cream which arrived and mqde me purrrrrrr especially in the sunshine even if you are sitting with your husband french men look at you actually stare which makes me think they are either opportunistic or a very hopeful lot lol the latin quarter near the sorbonne does look qnd feel like a postcard and is so cliche quaint with its flower boxes spilling over with red geraniums you sometimes are not sure of yourself exceptional old doors too with large brass knockers i took a zillion pics even though i could hear my hub sigh at stopping for another kodak moment

more paris 3

i believe i went sightseeing this morning but my body was obviously in another time zone i went through notre dame and the little chapel i felt like a cartoon chararacter as if i walked through some type of pop up postcard i only woke up when i found myself in dazzling sunshine on a boat in the sienne the sky was perfect azure blue it was perhqps seventy degrees and there were big fluffy clouds like the kind you would draw if you were a kid i tuned out the guide and watched the people on the river bank office types who had taken their shoes off and dangled them and men sun bathing without their shirts and one naked man appearing even from a distant very happy and of course lovers well french kissing intently really french kissing in paris it was so perfect i swear i felt like i was in euro disney and any second i would hear its a french world afterall its a french world afterall amazing

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Paris Looks Just Like A Postcard!

more paris 2

perfect weather and we are near the eiffel tower which is oh my god not black or rust colored but a pretty shade of cocoa intricate much more pleasing to the eye than pictures

the french women smallish often with bad hair but do they have killer shoes

the men often with bad teeth but they look and smile and wear jeans with wooly jackets which i believe looks very sexy for some reason

my french bad but i am trying and smile lots and everyone has been so nice correcting and encourgagin everyone speaks english it seems but i tell them to keep to the french and they seem pleased by my determination

went to the awesome african museum tonight a woman came up to me and started qsking me questions in french i was thrilled but told her i couldnt speqk that much and she actually looked surprised i was pleased to pass off as french it also happened this evening again lol mqybe i look like a french maven

this keyboard is very hard i feel bad i cant register ,more funny stories i ll have to scout for an english board tomorror hate to admit i had qn awesome simple dinner with great wine some cliches are true


I may have to keep this brief  i just lost my last entry
im in love already despite coming over in what appears to be a cattle car complete with honest to god howling babies three of them in the seat next to me
good news i sat next to a twenty four year old french student studying in texas and going home   handsome and sweet and winked at me by the third sentence  unfortunately i learned he winked at all females but still
paris beautiful in a postcard way   white old buildings flower boxes tree lined cafes

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Pre-Trip Musings

My Cat and I are Both Nervous about Seeing my Suitcases....

This is my cat. I believe I named her something cute when we adopted her a couple years ago....but like all our previous cats...her name evolves...or de-evolves back to Cat. As you can see from the picture, she's wasn't thrilled to see all those large black boxes with handles and wheels strewn about the bedroom today. This means her servants are departing....scatchies will not be available on demand and worse there will be no one to complain to about the freshness of the water or the near empty food bowl. Cat specializes in complaining so my leaving is a catastrophe.

I too was nervous when I saw our suitcases.....and still am. But something has settled in the last few hours.....some kind of resolve that will enable me to get up in the wee hours of the morning, shower, and place myself in a vehicle I don't like...I can only hope that I will have an interesting or handsome man sitting next to me so if I need to grab a knee during's at least a pleasurable squeeze. Of course, with all the flying I have to do tomorrow I'll be exhausted by the time I reach Paris....someone has to stay awake and keep the middle of the plane upright ...and for some reason... I always volunteer for that duty.

A couple of months ago someone asked me how could I be so brave and plan to travel so far? I told her truth....that I wasn't sure it had anything to do with bravery....and everything to do with forward look at the gather your stuff, you put one foot in front of the other....and you just go.

Finally....time to just go.

Monday, August 21, 2006


This is the conversation I just had.....

Husband: "You'll be in Africa next week."
Gina: "No, that's not right."
Husband: "Of course that's right, you'll be in Africa on the 29th."
Gina: "Yes, I'll be in Africa on the 29th. But that's not next week."
Husband: "Yes it is."
Gina: "No it's not.....It can't be."
Husband: (Mensa-certified brain now fully activated) "Check the calander. Check your tickets. When are you supposed to be in Africa?"
Gina: (Squirming) "How can I be in Africa next week?"
Husband: "Because you signed up for a tour and bought tickets that place you in Africa next week. "
Gina: "Oh."

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Le French Keyboard: Or Why You'll Always See My A's and W's Messed Up

Le French Keyboard.........or how to type silly without even trying.

Friday, August 18, 2006

A Maven's Dream

I was at meeting a couple of months ago, when someone turned to me and said, " You're really a maven." I wasn't sure whether to thank her or scowl at her. Maybe I looked puzzled, because she quickly added, "Like in the Tipping Point."

The next day at the bookstore, I sat down with a copy of the book. It turns out, I rather like the word and the description of the person who would carry such a title. A maven is basically someone who loves to collect and disseminate information and knowledge. I admit...I'm happy to collect and disburse....which is probably why I've enjoyed teaching gigs, lean towards non-fiction, and like working the info desk at the bookstore.

Preparing for this trip has been a maven's dream. In fact, it has overwhelmed my maven-hoodness many days. From Tuaregs to Tubus, from regs to ergs.....there are somedays I can't even absorb all things I would like to acquaint myself before going to North Africa.

I thought I would share two things I discovered this week. First of all, did you know there is a French keyboard? Really.....leave it to the French to move just enough keys to make any English speaking person type like a fool (or maybe that was the intention!) I'll post a pic in my next blog entry so you can gaze at the trap and find the oddly placed keys. I wanted to mention this.... so if my blogs ftom Pawis look qust a vit'll know its the board NOT the operator.

I've also been reading about fierce landscapes. One of the reasons I've always loved traveling through deserts and sublime landscapes is I've felt they were akin to car-washes for the soul. I feel after traveling in those areas that my soul has been scrubbed, buffed, air-dryed....and sent off shiny and clean into the world. Apparently, the deserts of Africa and Middle East are so soul-scrubbing intense....the experience feels more like being sand-blasted and made-over. I was reading about this phenomenon when I discovered a website for hermits. Honestly. A website for hermits....which is a peculiar thought. If hermits are recluses...why do they have a website? Isn't that being social? The website also contains....a blog by a hermit....a forum and message board...( hermits write long thoughtful messages about very esoteric topics and even slam each other intellectually...)...and all kinds of books and reviews about eremitism---the state of living in insolation...but if you're blogging and communicating....and surfing the world wide web....are you really living in an isolated state?

Just something to go off and think about.......
Oh ho.......

I just remembered my kids read my blog.

Hey was immaculate conception.

Really. No worries.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Museum of Erotic Art

Oooh La La!!!

I couldn't believe my eyes. Right there in Frommer's (otherwise known as The Bible for Safe Travels) ....the Musee de l'erotism. C'est Magnifique! C'est Formidable! C'est Gina must see this!! 7 floors of erotic art and....appliances.....covering everything from ancient religious art and artifacts to contemporary art. I read some reviews on line and most were positive. ( Negative reviews centered around the idea that the museum made nontraditional sex...look fun....imagine that.) The museum is open till 2am (for late night study) and like most museums has a museum shop (I'm smiling now.) Souvenir anyone?

Packing Your Life in Two Garbage Bags

Well, there it is....that's "my bag" for Africa. All the clothes, shoes and hats I will be taking for 5 weeks. I have another bag half that size for the "other" stuff....the sun screen, the gatorade packets, bottles of deet, a small cache of plastic bags (to keep the sand out) my minature toiletries...and a bunch of "medical stuff."

The medical stuff made me realize ....once a nurse always a nurse. I found myself not only packing for myself but for the group....these unknown people I will share my life with for 4 weeks. I brought a particular type of tweezer that has a magnifying glass on it...great for pulling out ubiquitous spiny burrs found in certain areas of the desert. I packed a couple dozen of steri-strips...small specialized bandages use to close deeper skin cuts. Peroxide. Extra packets of salt, sugar...and of course a couple of syringes. When traveling to Africa, it's best to carry your own needles since clinics and hospital syringes may not be sterilized. In some sense I also packed my knowledge....I've reviewed info on heat stroke, cpr, and oh god....snake bites and scorpion bites. There are venonmous snakes and scorpions in the desert. I know the trip sponsor will also have a medical bag...but once you've been trained as a medical person in a way you're always on call. I expect to step up to the bat if needed. I know I'm rusty in a lot of things but I still carry the "hands-on" skill....the voice, the hands that aren't afraid to touch and hold, the judgement to assess. It's scary to think there is no immediate medical attention in many places I will travel....but some of the world lives without the security blanket we are so accustomed to in industrialized countries. Oh geez....I just scared myself.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

My Secret Obsession: Trail-Sized Toiletries

It seems when you go on a trip there's this constant dribble of things you need to purchase.

Today I realized I had to get a small hairbrush. I pulled into Target and in a few minutes found exactly what I was looking for. I was about to leave the section when I felt the tug...the irresistable pull....towards... ...oh god travel toiletries!

I hate to admit this to y'all but....I'm addicted to the little devils. I stand there like a kid in a toy store....fingering little pink plastic packages of q-tips, smiling at cutesy bottles of hair spray, and almost squeaking with delight over a new found treasure (today I discovered that Visine makes tiny individual ampules of natural tears...6 to a box!) I feel nothing towards the utilitarian soap holders or empty bottles.....but ohhhhhhh those little sample sized wonders! I was almost gleeful when I realized that the dainty q-tips I bought last week....held only 20 q-tips. But I'll be gone for 40 days! another little package made it into the basket.

At home, when I added the q-tips to my personal travel pouch....I realized my pouch was all in minatures......toothpaste, q-tips, small bars of looked like a doll was going on a trip. And maybe that's why I like them so reminds me of being a little girl and giving tea parties with little cups and saucers...... instead of playing with dishware....I'm now playing with personal hygiene products.

Good thing I already bought a bottle of eyedrops for the desert.....otherwise I'd have to go back to Target and get those little bitty ampules.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Mother of All Trips is on the Way

This morning around 5am I woke up ...correction....bolted upright in bed and realized that I was leaving for Paris next week. With my hair mussed and my t-shirt wadded around me, I felt like a poster girl for a B horror movie--you know the type---where there is some intensely concerned woman sitting up in bed....trying to wake up her hard-sleeping husband saying...."Bob...Bob....I hear something"....and the audience sees what she can't see.....a 80 foot salivating monster above her roof. the point is...I woke up with a start realizing the mother of all trips was making scratchy sounds to get into my real life.

After my successful and creative packing for Paris, I thought packing for Africa would be a breeze. It took me 1.5 hours just to figure out what modest outfit I could wear on the airplane from Paris to Tunis. 1.5 hours and I wish I was exaggerating. Obviously, there was a problem here.....I was not going to wear basic black in the heat of Africa and I had no clue how to dress tan. Guys may not understand this nightmare....but girlfriends.... you know what I mean. Faced with a color you never deal with solo.... you just don't know what to do with it. I struggled and struggled and in desperation decided if tan and blue were good enough for Micheal Palin (he wore the same blue shirt and tan pants for his entire circumnavigation of the Sahara documentary...which was filmed over a couple of months) then Gina too can travel in tan and blue.....and that's the only color combo I have. Wait till you see my pictures.

As if clothing horrors weren't enough to horrors dominated the afternoon at Best Buy. I felt like I was sidewalk of those living sculptures....that performs on the street for money...... and today's theme would be: Growing Anger. With no sales person in the camera section (she had gone to lunch) and no one to cover her (a no no in retail) ..I deftly moved through many positions. See me pacing, See me standing with crossed arms over my chest, See me tapping my foot...add some snorting and viola...a work of art! Of course the sales people at Best Buy did not appreciate my performance....(or even notice I was giving it) so I stormed out without my batteries.

Next week Paris.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A Girl Needs the Right Shoes for Paris or How to Spray Paint your Shoes

I decided it was time to pack for Paris. Although I was born in Chicago and still consider myself to be a Midwesterner, I have now lived long enough in the south to be part hybrid...and one of the things I have gratefully learned from Southern women is how to dress for any cosmopolitian city in the world. No kidding the "little black dress" goes anywhere. So packing for Paris was a breeze. I have skirts ...I have jackets...I have pants...I even have a Chicos down the street in case of an emergency. (And yes, this Chicos does have the little hatchet outside the store window marked "For Emergency Use Only" so you can break the glass and grab the oversized belt and matching necklace after store hours. )

All I had left to do was pack my shoes. With a three shoe limit this was a no pack an absolutely cute unreasonable pair of high heels (I've already told my husband he will have to find great resturants within 30 feet of our hotel or plan on taking taxis to dinner). You bring along a pair of the obligatory altheltic shoes.......and of course an in-between pair of shoes.

When I went into my closet....a particular type of horror known only to women when they contemplate their shoes....hit me. I absolutely needed a new pair of functional dress-up shoes. I could not go to Paris in tired shoes. It was...unpatriotic. It was my duty to show Parisians even an American occasionally has "the right stuff" or more correctly "the right shoes."

Trouble's August. Summer shoes are long gone....and the fall shoes wouldn't match my summer outfits. Finally the clerk with downcast eyes brought me a pair of summer sandals....the last ones in the store my size....but they had... tan patches. Tan patches. What southern woman or even southern hybrid woman would wear a shoe with tan patches? to Paris? I was just about to walk away when I had an idea. A crazy idea....but still an idea.

I bought the shoes....and if you'll look at the picture. You'll see they're black....and you thought spray paint was only for old knic-naks.....

Friday, August 11, 2006


I'm not the best of flyers...turbulence can cause me to reflexly clutch the knee and thigh of the person I'm sitting next matter if I know that person or not....(trust me it's quite an ice breaker to have a death grip on a stranger's knee) ...and I often murmur to myself how unnatural it is to be up in a metal tube...30,000 feet above the ground. When my kids were little, I was so anxious about flying, I never boarded a plane for 8 years. My children probably think all those great train excursions and road trips were part of Mommy's adventurous spirit rather than a consequence of high anxiety.

6 years ago I was faced with a big dilemna. Under the influence of a couple of potent margaritas, I told a friend of mine that I would accompany her on a trip to Hong Kong. I didn't mention to her that I hadn't flown for years. I actually remember sitting at my computer desk the next day staring at the map of the world which I have mounted on the wall....trying to figure out if there was any way to drive my suburban to Hong Kong. Oh how I wished for the the glorious days of the Ice Age when the Bering Sea was frozen and passable! In the end, I did get on a plane and the Gods were nice to me. I sat next to a rock-steady handsome man who was part of an international skydiving team who didn't mind me clutching his knee over the Pacific.

Yesterday's security meltdown....put me in a mental fetal position.....not only because it affected international flying ...but also because it hit on one of the other tenets of mental security I have as a mother. I don't fly on the same plane as my husband. We take seperate flights. My hub and I planned to spend a few days together in Paris before I go to Africa...I will fly from Chicago....he will fly from Dallas....and we'll arrive within 45 minutes of each other. The chances before yesterday of even considering something could happen to mulitiple flights seemed impossible. Now my reality includes there is no safety net.

I wonder if airlines would consider intravenous tranquilizer drips for passengers which could be turned on and off by flight attendants when they check you seat belts. Goodnight passenger in 25B, have a pleasant drug induced sleep. I'll see you in the morning.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Big Decisions: Should I Go to Africa and How Much Toilet Paper Should I Bring?

Ah're probably thinking I'm talking about whether or not I'm going to go on my trip. Well, the trip leader did ask me to forward $300.00, a token fee, to cover the new airfare and new itinerary. At this point, two weeks away from departure, I'll probably shrug my shoulders and just go. This isn't the first time in my life I wanted to get from point A to point B and found fate had something else in store for me. So today I'm not pondering this decision but another major decision....what type of tissue should I bring along to use as toilet paper and how much.

I can only bring one bag to Africa per trip guidelines. It can't be bigger than 30 inches by 14 inches. You can go to Dillards and buy purses bigger than that. I also have to bring my own sleeping bag so you can imagine there's not much room left...especially if you're going to bring something silly along like an extra pair of shoes....or maybe a change of clothes. So this is a big deal. The experienced folks at the travel company suggesting bringing tissues...those little kleenex tissue packs you see for purse or car use neatly positioned as an impulse buy at the cash register. There are 15 little squares in each pack. If I had just blindly listened to them...I would only be stuck calculating how many packs to bring for 4 weeks...trying to figure many times a day I pee. And do I need one tissue or two? What happens if I'm drinking several liters a day to keep I pee more or less? And...if god forbid if I need to eliminate solid waste in the course of a many tissues does that require? And let's not forget the big unknowns....what if I get traveler's tummy and or I'm with a group of mean spirited people....(people who calculated their tissue needs more precisely than I did) who won't share their supply should I run out? (Remember there are no quickie marts in the middle of the desert)

And then came the next big complication.....I discovered in the bargain bin of Wal-Mart...something that would throw my little world into chaos....packs of tissues... shaped liked Dot candy boxes and holding 70 large erotically soft tissues.

I'm heading off to Starbucks to get fortified by a double expresso and then I'll come back and face the challenge.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Following your Soul's Instincts

Sunday when I was working at the bookstore, the store manager came up to me. "Are you still going on your trip?"..."Yes"... I answered instinctively without mentioning all the potential changes in plans. "Do you have any reservations about going?" ..."No." ..."That's real important, you know, to listen to what you feel inside." ... She walked away...I just stood there for a second or two. All this pondering...all this thinking thinking thinking...and when gut instincts still tell me to go.

In fact, a couple people I bumped into this week asked me again ...why are you going? They looked at me as if I had a hatchet or some other unnatural object stuck into my forehead and questioned why a sane-looking woman didn't rid herself of this obvious affliction. Since I've been signed up for this trip since December 21st ( Yes, I made a touchy-feely decision to send off my reservation on the winter solistice), I've had enough time to formulate a definitive answer....."I saw this trip and just knew I was supposed to go on it. " It's at that point most people walk away reassessing the "sane-looking" part of their thoughts.

Last night as I watched Joseph Campbell's DVD on The Hero's Voyage. I found myself nodding at many of the things he said...there are times in a person's life when you feel called or pushed to do something. I discovered a passage in one of his books just before I went to bed which I thought summarized what I was feeling.

"...When I think of how persistently I kept going straight ahead.... it seems as though I must have known there was something fine ahead....Thinking of it in those terms, it is like a determination to be born--or rather to be born again--in a spiritual sense. Perhaps some of us have to go through dark and devious ways before we can find the river of peace or the highroad to the soul's destination."

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Today's Geography Lesson: Northern Africa

North Africa. I don't know about you but a couple months ago...I don't think I really knew how the countries in Africa lined up. It's sort of like the East Coast of the United States where you know places like Long Island, New Jersey, Deleware exist and are probably happy coexisting.... but unless you live there or need to be there you are often blissfully unaware of their precise location. So here's Gina's helpful guide to Africa.

My original trip is in shocking pink....starting in Tunis moving through Libya, Niger, and then into the jungles of Benin and Togo...ending up in Lome. The trip I'm supposed to in black...where I start in Tunis and then fly to Morrocco ...and then leap frog over the friendly states of Algeria and Libya and land in Niger where we do some large fancy circles around the the Air Mountains and then head back down. You can see the nice hunk of the Sahara I will be missing....and yes...I'm still pondering.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Target Practice with a Semi-Automatic Rifle or "The Jug is about the Size of a Human Head."

Trip Update....

I talked to the wilderness travel folks running the trip today and basically they have decided Algeria is too dangerous to cross. Even though the majority of my group (wow.. who are these people?) voted in favor of going through the country, the company conferenced with other expeditions groups and the consensus was even with "an armed escort" ( I always find traveling with one useful on vacations ...don't you?) it was still to dicey. The French are still going through....and a few Brits...but apparently with Iraq and the war in the Middle East, Americans are at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of human value and at the top of the pole for prize targets. So the option is to get on a plane in Tunis and fly over Algeria/Libya and land in Niger and go from there...leapfrogging the upper part of the Sahara. It sounds logical but in a way..I feel very disheartened..losing that upper part of the Sahara is significant to me...irrreplacable culture and sights....and how am I going to write a book about going through the heart of the Sahara when I simply played around in its spleen? Perhaps there is a marketing niche for failed or almost made it adventure trips that I don't know about. I'm supposed to ponder the change over the weekend..... Interesting isn't it?....we think the war is over there or someone else's problem....but in small ways like my trip or in significant ways like the loss of a loved one....the effects ripple throughout the system that connects communities.

And Speaking of Wars.......

Do you know what really surprised me when I held that semi-automatic in my arms in yesterday's picture? How perfectly simple it was to use...(probably the point...). With less than a few minutes can see how the bullets fit in the case, you can see how the case fits one way onto the gun, you cock the gun , you push the safety down....and you're set to go. Even I could do this.....and you only have to shoot the gun once or twice to understand the beauty of and the desirability of an automatic weapon. A semi-automatic pauses....and it helps to aim....but if you have an automatic gun that fires continously.........tat...tat...tat...tat...tat..tat ..tat can pepper an area with bullets. Ideal protection ...Ideal killing power.

Dan did something interesting when I shot that Valmet. If you can believe this...he had lined up a few milk jugs and filled them with water. "Go ahead ...go ahead...see if you can hit it." And I did. My first shot hit the jug. It exploded and leaped up into the air. Dan was so excited for me. "Great! Great! Good shot! Do it again." But he wanted me to wait a minute so he could realign the jugs. He picked one up and put it on his shoulder. " Look the jug is just about the size of a head." He grinned and posed with the jug against his face...then put it down. My next shot blew the jug apart. You can imagine what I was thinking. "Is that what happens to a head?" I asked Dan....he's a forensic pathologist and thinks about these things for a living. "Not skull is stronger than plastic....but let's just can lose chunks of your head."


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Gina's Got a Gun....A Very Big Gun

Guns but no Roses....

I think we have a rifle/shotgun in the house maybe two. My husband was born in Idaho. At birth, families place a tiny rifle in the hands of their baby boys and replace them each year with bigger and bigger models. When your first pubic hair sees daylight, around age 12, a boy is given a shotgun. Chin hair is rewarded with a rifle...for deer hunting, squirrel hassling and bird mayhem. My husband doesn't hunt now but there's no use telling a man he should rid himself of his birth right so I know his old guns are around for "home protection" and I'm quite sure they will be quite effective as long as a burglar makes an appointment well in advance of his anticipated heist.

So my experience with guns is limited to a passing glance at old weaponry in my house which is why this weekend I asked a friend to show me how to shoot a gun--- specifically a semi-automatic. Guns are prevalent in Africa. Every travel book I've read from Theroux to Tayler to Salek mentions folks toting guns. Military folks, bandit folks, regular folks, friends of Hezbollah folks (An AK-47 graces the official Hezbollah flag) and anyone left not in those categories. I even read that some men in Africa are named Kalash in honor of Kalashnikov who created that famous gun. One day after I received a booster Polio shot (admittedly something that I have only a very small risk of acquiring in Africa) it occured to me...perhaps I should get a gun immunization....a little taste of gun safety and cover me in the event that I might have some contact with them or someone carrying one of them.

Dan is a great guy with lots of acreage and lots of guns. He finds them "fun." I watched him pick through his safe stacked with guns and rummage under his sink through his duffel bags of ammunition for his guns and pull out gray atheletic socks harboring guns....and believe me...that's exactly what I thought...oh boy ain't this fun.

He set me up with a 1917 Colt revolver and told me to take aim at a black chimney cap about 30 yards away. I squinted and took deep breaths and carefully pulled the trigger--wounding a fine oak tree. My second shot hit the everyone's surprise. Someone in the background (husband, friend, or one of his familiy members) mumbled something about "Annie Oakley" which I am ashamed to admit filled me with pride.

The weaponry kept coming and kept getting bigger in size....until he handed me the Valmet semi-automatic which I have cradled in my arms in the picture above. I'll save that part of the story for tomorrow because the wilderness travel company just called and they want to have a talk with everyone Friday. It doesn't sound like good news.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Troubled Dreams

Angels and Demons

I woke up early this morning...frightened.. my heart beating wildly. I lifted up my head to look at the clock--2:46 a.m. My heart beat even faster. Months ago my teenage son went to see the movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose and mentioned to me that one of the tenets of the film was that if the devil was going to pay you a visit he would do so at 3 a.m. Prime time visiting hours. Well of course I know that's silly....illogical...but every time I wake up from a nightmare...damn... it always seems to be around 3 a.m. and last night wasn't an exception. I touched my husband's leg to make sure he was okay and then mentally figured out where my children should be at this hour. I waited for the phone to ring...but it didn' I assumed all my loved ones were sleeping--and safe. I tried to reassure myself that everything was okay...but it wasn't...and it had something to do with my trip and travels. I had been shooting guns this weekend (more on that later) and figured this was the culprit...because when someone hands you a semi-automatic takes you only a couple minutes to realize it ain't for shooting deer..... and how many times in my normal daily routine do I actually touch and feel something designed specifically to kill someone? Finally, after much tossing and turning, I went back to sleep.

For some odd reason, I googled "3am devil" this morning and a reference did come up to the movie but further down the list another odd reference....this one from Pastor Art and Sister Sue from an evangelical church in Houston. Pastor Art contends that God comes a-visiting-folks between 3-6 a.m. Hmmm...All these late night visits are news to me and now I understand why I don't sleep so well some nights--too many angels and demons jostling around. But I couldn't help did they divide the night up....are demon visiting hours between 12-3a.m.? and angels 3-6 a.m.? and who exactly claims the coveted 3 a. m. spot? Do they have a lottery? Take turns? Or do they have a check-in and check-out system?

So how does this tie into my trip? Well, about a half hour ago I received an email from my trip leader. Libya has closed it's borders in the south and to U.S. citizens probably because of the war in the Middle East. Our group was to meet in Tunisia and cross Libya to get into Niger. Now that's it's a no go.... the trip leader has emailed us two options...cross Algeria (there's a travel advisory/warning for Americans going into Algeria) or fly to Niger and then continue on to Benin and Togo (with a hefty increase in the price tag and the lose of a significant part of the Sahara). Yikes....I'm not going to bale out....and yes I want to cross the Sahara....but I've known about travel alerts because of terror organizations operating in that area for a while now.

I guess we're going to resolve this question some time today or tomorrow. I wish I knew at 2:46 a.m. who was trying to visit me.....angels or demons....and with encouragement or warning.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

And So It Begins.....

23 Days to Go...

I decided to keep a blog... a diary....of the comings and goings of what I jokingly call..."Gina's Big Adventure." Those of you who remember Pee-Wee Herman...know I've stolen the name from his movie. Unlike Pee-Wee, I hope my adventure doesn't conclude with me being arrested for masturbating in public. No... I'm sort of hoping for something more grand than that...maybe a book...or two? or perhaps a few great essays or articles. But even if I didn't write a word about my upcoming journey...I'm at least hoping for transformation...and a bit more texture in my life. I like texture... and transformation always sounds hopeful.

Just so we're on the same page...I'm leaving in 23 days for Paris and then I'm going to cross the Sahara desert starting in Tunisia and ending up in Togo. For the record, before this trip, I'm not sure I knew Togo was a country (Do pogos come from Togo?) and quite frankly although I knew the Sahara was the mother of all deserts..wasn't it mostly sand? and somewhere south of Morrocco? Okay...I didn't realize I was so completely ignorant about Africa and there are some days I even admit to not knowing exactly what signing up for a 30 day camping trip across this rugged environment might entail ...but a life too sane and safe ends up ....just that and sane....and who wants those words to be inscribed as your epitaph on some urn? (For those of you going for a "green " burial...picture a discreet cream colored printed card pinned onto your canvas shroud.)

So that's the kernel of this big adventure....a week in Paris... a month in Africa...but to tell you the truth I think since the first day I've signed up for this trip the adventure that's what I'd like to talk about and share over the next couple months.