I have to remind myself to wait until The Day After...
a) I was offered some delicious rugalach - mmm!
b) I got an email with a great proverb attached. I love it so much, I might post it somewhere else on my blog as well:
‘Tension is who you think you should be; relaxation is who you are.’ -Chinese Proverb
I have to remind myself to wait until The Day After...
1. Started the day early.
2. Kept the day going strong.
3. Ended the day late!
This week I found myself thinking about ‘the new collection’. I don’t know many people who use this term; I picked it up travelling (I overheard it in each city I visited). It has officially entered my consciousness.
Perhaps I'll re-position my outlook to include seasons, collections, trends and directions. It's not too frivolous. I don't have to be a fashionista to respect the famous sweater speech Meryl Streep delivered in The Devil Wears Prada.
1. Cool water dripped from the leaky tap onto my toes as I rested my foot on the ledge of a hot, steamy bath.
2. My sibs and I explored the East side of Toronto. Beaches, bluffs, houseboats... I've always liked discovering the other half. Now I beg the east-enders, come visit the West!
3. I drank red wine and held a wardrobe critique with the help of an extra set of eyes, thereby properly spring cleaning out my closet.
1. Hope: I believe my dad and I came to a better understanding of each other after an extended conversation.
2. Darlings: It's not every day I get to chat with my young nephews. What little oogly googly, silly willies of joy!
3. Tough: To help lift my spirits, I rented a difficult movie. This worked (it usually does). It even included a joke:
‘What do you call cheese that's not yours?’
2. care of
1. Two good friends listen to me crying and blubbering my sorrows.
2. Izzy comes by. We all go buy groceries. We return home to team-cook linner (lunch+dinner).
3. My first-ever ‘homemade’ (i.e., Duncan Hines) M&M brownies. Diet starts tomorrow.
How could I forget? My time in the Arab world enriched my vocabulary, if only a little.
HABIBI. You hear it everywhere, particularly in song lyrics. It means ‘my love’, but can also be casually, such as between guys, like ‘hey, habibi!’ It seems to be quite versatile.
I'm sure it will come in handy when I'm missing just the right word... But above all, I will dedicate its use to my nephews, my little habibis .
3. I reunited with old camp friends at a pub night.
2. Sometimes a girl just wants a little extra boob. Thanks to Swimsuit Essentials, I got just the right chicken cutlets for that added *oomph*.
1. I woke up to a creepy but charming message on the kitchen table this morning:
‘I had a dream... We were both in an animal shelter, you went there to look at a dog you want to adopt, the lady (a CEO's wife whose name was Rosemary) said she had a dog for me, it looked like a panda... The place was full of sad animals and cat shit. What does all this mean?’
I have finished blogging my trip! February 20 to March 12 below. It was nice to re-live it again.
1. I successfully left the house on my first try (yesterday it took three attempts).
2. Meal with a Korean family, eating the world's greatest homemade Kimchi.
3. A saleswoman tracked me down outside the department store, after I had left, to tell me she located the bathing suit I liked in my exact size.
1. 11am - Woke up (slept in, that is).
2. 245pm - Met up with my brother.
3. 1230am - Fixed myself a delicious tuna sandwich. Not the Syrian kind (see February 28 post).
Further, I bumped into a friend's boyfriend at the bakery, Jung called to talk and a perfect stranger smiled at me as she boarded the subway (no idea why, maybe she reads my blog?).
Oh yes, and Happy First Day of Spring!
Today was the most ordinary of days.
1. The first Skor (‘buttery toffee enrobed in milk chocolate’).
2. Back to the vending machine for a second Skor.
3. A small bag of dill pickle potato chips.
These were extraordinary, I assure you – and they were very good, indeed!
I have a friend who likes to go into the movie theatre with (i) something salty, (ii) something sweet and (iii) something sour. Next time I have a craving like I did today, I'll round out my snacks in accordance with her system. It's all about balance.
1. My room doesn't look like a crime scene anymore.
2. My kitchen doesn't look like a crime scene anymore.
3. My hair doesn't look like a crime scene anymore!
Heard and loved today:
1. ‘In the three years, seven months and approximately two weeks that I've been in the bag, that's the most extraordinary stuff I've ever tasted. It's shattering!’
2. ‘Television is chewing gum for the eyes.’
3. ‘It's not worth buying an entire pig, just to get a little sausage.’
1. Big brunch at home, newspapers spread out.
2. Rediscovering my buried treasures in the closets.
3. Couch potato self-infliction: DVD indulgence!
1. My dignity intact, shock and awe among the deals: lined up since 5am, women and their elbows fight over makeup on a farm fairground. I, Voyeur, though grateful for the sale, vow never to return. Trippy trip!
2. I had a lovely conversation with an old friend.
3. I made progress in cleaning up my vacation photos.
1. χαίρετε? Phone call from my friend in Greece.
2. I purchased my first-ever make-up box, finally.
3. Pan-Asian? Fusion? Confusion. Lunch at Ginger.
Kudos to Sean at Holt's for the make-up box advice.
Charlie made my day and I made his. He is the elderly gentleman in the wheelchair who is my neighbour. He and his wife knew my grandparents; he helped my ill grandfather. Today I said hi. His face lit up! He told me that I might laugh, but that our five minutes were like an injection of medicine. How the four walls at home hate him so much and don't want him to get up or out. How it's lonely. How talking to someone else, even for a minute, makes all the difference. Nothing I was busy doing mattered as much. Five minutes.
1. After the Rain: it's not laundry, it's bliss!
2. After the trip: the boss went easy on me today.
3. After the LOL: a new spot in the business district called H.I.T. claims you'll get a workout in four minutes. This I have to see.
ATLANTIC, somewhere over the
1. My seat mate from Milan to Toronto was a jolly elderly dude. He showed me his doctor's certificate: ‘this man has a steel heart.’ Four and a half years!
2. My parents picked me up at the airport and invited me over for a home-cooked meal.
3. Yee made my bed for me, fresh! See how dreamy she is?
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates
1. Even the airport is a shopping mall. At 5am, I had a make-up consultation. Then I found lots of great magazines in the bookshops.
2. Held up at the airport, a rush of excitement every time new passengers arrived. Naps curled up sideways on benches. Being at the eye level of a three-year-old, children approached me freely. I will always remember the affectionate little Syrian girl in the big, furry banana-yellow cape and the little Indian boy who spoke to me very matter-of-factly in Hindi and made lots of scrunched-up pig faces with me, snorting more than was really necessary.
3. Heard, over and over again, at the Souk: ‘For you, everything for nothing!’ After a final run for Arabic scarves, off to Oum A's to say goodbye. Then adieu on top of the mount overlooking the city. Despite the late-night fatigue, I was offered a 2am ride to the airport. Thanks! ‘No thanks for duty.’
I'd never have thought to visit were it not for my lovely friend Audra, my exquisite hostess! I'm so glad I did; it's an overlooked destination. Syria is so rich in history – Damascus is the world's oldest inhabited city – and it badly needs an image update.
Syria was safe. Everyone spoke English (or French). People were very friendly. I was never, ever ripped off. I drank mind-blowing smoothies. I ate mouth-watering food.
I had a happy heiny!
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates
1. Quality downtime with new friends in the apartment.
2. Overhead at Dubai Marine Beach Club: ‘If I had another penis colada, I'd suck it down the same way.’
3. Hot Thai Herbal Massage. What a pro! I asked her if she was using stones. She was using her elbows.
After a family brunch in ABU DHABI:
1. Babes on the bus! En route back to Dubai, we meet three Etihad Airways flight attendants on their way to some kind of nautical bash. The chatter begins: hellos, where-are-you-froms, stories, tears, advice, talk of men, women, film (specifically, Water) and travel. ‘Dump him!’ ‘He doesn't love you!’ ‘You must visit Goa...’ We also learn that the streetlamp designs change once you leave Abu Dhabi and enter Dubai. Locals give you the neatest information.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates
2. Three-way date at Madinat Jumeirah, a new complex, part of which is built in the style of an old souk (market). Steak dinner and ice cream desserts are followed by tea on the steps, where ideas are brainstormed and Project Caviar is born.
3. VIP hook-ups to one of the hottest clubs in town, courtesy of a friend's roommate. Trilogy's rooftop boasts a fabulous view of Burj Al Arab. For reasons unknown, people there call it ‘Triology’ – huh?
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates
1. Delicious breakfast, including labneh, a Lebanese type of yogourt-turned-cream-cheese.
2. Off to the Hiltonia Beach Club for the day: beach, pools, waterslides. Photos include poses like ‘lost’, ‘confused’ and ‘digging a tunnel to China’.
3. Slumber party! Up to 2:30am with a 12-yr-old little lady, watching She’s the Man.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates
1. Strict standards and happy discoveries! I play fashion consultant to my friend at Burjuman. I won't knock it; Dubai has great shopping malls.
2. Great timing, as we join two other passengers and split a taxi ride all the way to Abu Dhabi.
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates
3. I – a guest of a guest of a guest – am kindly welcomed into a Lebanese family's home. To my relief, the daughters love the Canada t-shirts my uncle sent with me, and put them on immediately. We eat a fabulous dinner and proceed to the Hilton for drinks. In addition to my tea (I have now caught a cold), the waiter brings me every little extra I ask for: ginger, lemon, honey and more hot water.
The deal with the toilets here is that nothing gets thrown into them. Nothing. Everywhere you go, you will find a waste receptacle. There is always a hose in or near the toilet, or a bidet, or both. So fresh and so clean-clean! Like washing the dishes before drying them.
1. Two businessmen assure two vivacious Eastern European / North American women that they will name the best table in their new restaurant after them. We’ll see about that.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates
2. Passport control line-ups are long, but a new queue opens up and two tired Eastern European / North American women travellers are invited to join the front.
3. A multi-cultural party of young adults heads to the Irish Village for drinks and stories. See what I mean about the Irish? Nothing says welcome like a Guinness.
1. Sunny picnic lunch in the ancient Roman amphitheatre. Google this place, it's amazing. And it's one of the country's smaller sites. Great day trip! Syria is an archaeologist’s heaven.
2. Nutella salad. What is this? Well, I was expecting something healthy-ish with a dash of Nutella. Silly, silly me! This was the heaviest, creamiest banana split sundae I have ever laid eyes on. Not only that, I actually ate it.
3. I was lucky enough to be invited to a very classy party (officials, diplomats, etc.) in a lovely residence of sorts. I'd love to add descriptive details, but will have to keep it discreet. What I will say is never mind the dinner – the real party was in the ladies' room. Smoking in the toilet, drinking wine in pretty chairs, chatting up everyone coming through, and conducting photo shoots (‘give me angry!’ ‘give me sexy!’) - so fun.
DAMASCUS and Outside Damascus, Syria
This Sunday morning (it's a workday here) started off with another obstinate taxi driver. ‘Take us to the Meridien.’ ‘Look, there is the Four Seasons!’ Like, what the EF?
1. Riding to the university (I tagged along to a friend's workplace about an hour away), a grown man flirted with me from another bus window. ‘Flirted’ is not really the right word... contorted himself? Sure, I'm getting attention here, but people are pretty low-key, so behaviour like this sticks out. This was discontinued when the men on my bus had to disembark in order to collectively lift a stalled pickup truck off the road. Sights for sore eyes!
2. I taught part of a class. Threw in some proverbs for discussion. It was a great time with the students. Later, on a break, I wandered into the campus mosque for some silence and warmth (the desert is cooler than I expected it would be).
3. After a ride back (a good thing in itself, but even better with eyes closed), dinner at the best Indian restaurant in town.
Quick! ‘The road to hell is paved with __________.’ [what?]
1. After a deliberately slow and careful morning of oatmeal, and an afternoon walking about, we successfully located an Emirates office and purchased cheap tickets to Dubai. This was no thanks to the driver, who had no idea where to go. ‘Take us to the Emirates office.’ ‘Look, there is the university!’
2. We got dolled up for a big night out on the town, doing as the locals do. Cafés were full of smoothies and narghile water-pipe smoking. These are places to see and be seen. Along the way, we had the great pleasure of meeting Laila, a lovely Syrian woman from New York City.
3. We were in stitches – nearly in tears – as we got dragged into an absurd debate over whether Fergie died of a drug overdose four months ago. One of our companions was absolutely, positively, 100% sure this had happened and was willing to bet large sums. Could I take a man for his money like that? I should have.
I fell ill today. We couldn’t figure out why, but clearly my body was adjusting to something. At least it only lasted one day – and it was Friday, Jummah, their holy day, when nothing was really happening. So, what did a day in bed mean for me?
1. My wonderful friend took amazing care of me!!!
2. Carole, her friend, brought over pharmaceuticals.
3. Idling time generated an idea: let's visit Dubai!
1. Audra's treat: her masseuse came over and fixed both our backs.
2. Oum A prepared an incredible dinner for us. Terrific tabouli!
3. Night out with a lovely set of intellectuals and artists at what is surely the most bohemian hangout in town: Kassabji 32.
Bonus: Driving back from Marmar (a club in the Old Town). Listening to Coldplay full tilt as we wind through the streets on our way home.
It was a long day full of first impressions.
Before the Sleep:
1. Nice employee at the airport offers me his mobile for a call.
2. Audra and Omar pick me up at 3am - shukran!
3. As we stay up chatting into the wee hours of the morning, I hear my first ever call to prayer, the chanting blaring over the loudspeakers throughout the city.
After the Sleep:
1. Mutabal and fresh grapefruit juice: dinner with Audra and Meredith in the Old Town. Mmmmm!
2. Hospitality: Omar's mom serves us tea in her home. Then we (the 'kids') go for smoothies. I drink them all the time and can confidently tell you that Syria is home to the world's best. There are smoothie stands everywhere; they have perfected the art. There is also no fast food, unless you count falafel. It is impossible not to eat well here!
3. Body-building: Driving out to the villa that night, stories aplenty from a guest who used to train with Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's not everyday you get to learn everything you ever wanted to know about building muscle.
1. Creative driving: over the white lines, tailgating and lanechanging like players in a bad video game. Road markers mean squat. Organized chaos? There is everything but cattle in the streets, and that wouldn't surprise me either.
2. W-a-i-t-i-n-g: The concept of time is different here. When the businessmen come home, the women move to a different room. And wait. When Omar has to fix his hair? We wait. And when the men just disappear 'to get a tuna sandwich', leaving two blondes in a villa pool to be mistaken for Russian prostitutes, we wait! Five minutes in Syria is never five minutes. We were waiting for Godot. We were waiting for peace in the Middle East.
3. Feel me: Hip hop music is really, really popular here. Wanna' go cruisin' for a bruisin'?
My incredible hostess and friend interrupted her sleep at 1am to open the door for me - in addition to feeding, providing for and enlightening me all weekend to this very cool city.
1. Alejandro's taxi arrived perfectly on time for the airport.
2. I met the same nice flight attendant returning to Italy.
3. Another chance at playing The Big Turd and catching some zzz's. I don't care how many hot businessmen were on that flight.
1. No major damage in terms of shopping until today. Thankfully, the girl at Coccinelle reminded me to fill out a tax refund form.
2. Sonya, her sister, her boyfriend and I all met for tea at Duomo. It was so nice to see familiar faces in a strange city again.
3. Bruno Magli shoes on sale at the airport, right outside my gate to Damascus. A mere fraction of what I'd pay on this side of the pond. Destiny.
Let's call it minor damage: three pairs of shoes and a handbag. How was I to know I'd be in Europe during sale season?
1. Amidst violin and accordion music on the subway car, little girls giggling hysterically - and contagiously.
2. A crystal clear afternoon in Retiro (Madrid's version of Central Park). My charming, new 80-something novio, Luis, chats me up for half an hour. He compliments me like crazy and says we make a great couple. He tells me I look 22. He even tries to cop a feel. The confidence! This varies in sharp contrast to the really hot young guy I see afterwards, with whom I (sadly) play musical benches (we are both too cool to start a conversation).
3. Brilliant evening out with Greta and Raul to see Little Children. Lots to ponder (excellent film). Little did I imagine I'd end my visit speaking Spanish, albeit poorly, over dinner. Just the same, it was confidence-building.
1. Afternoon? Morning? Same difference. Greta is text messaging while birds are singing. Rat-a-tat-tat. Tat-tat-tat...
2. With Italian gelato to go, walking through the Castle District, sun on our backs. Stunningly beautiful, sunny day.
3. Collaborative communication: we two gals successfully patched together an extensive Spanish phone conversation with a non-English speaker.
There is a death metal band from Florida called Cannibal Corpse in town tonight. It felt like everyone around us was going. It was a sea of black! Rather un-sunny, but a happy-go-lucky crowd if I ever saw one.
Before the day trip, a bonus. For the second time in two days, Starbucks gave me two bags of tea in my cup (they also sell smoothies, which I've been hard-pressed to find). They don't do this in Canada, which I'll have to look into.
1. Following coffee and a tour of the Old Town, an incredible three-hour, multi-course lunch at a charming country restaurant with 10 wonderful, warm, welcoming people!
2. With the same intelligent, engaging friends of friends, quality time spent walking up to the Castle and Cathedral districts and back down again.
3. Back in town for a late night out, a never-ending stream of hotspots, cashmere-endowed foreigners (hello, Ethan Hawke and Christina Ricci), more friendly Irish, some genetic hotness, some futbol haircuts, aluminum Heineken bottles, thick smoke, hiccups, and hair salons (their doors, anyway) wide open at 6am into which tipsy gals could inadvertently wander and walk out of holding hair products (obviously not thinking clearly enough to be holding hair straighteners instead).
If you're in Chueca, you might need The Map!
After the blinds are thrown open this morning in proper Eastern European fashion, and the best shower I've had all week:
1. Real Jardín Botánico: Resting on a bench at Museo del Prado, I look out a small window onto the Royal Botanical Gardens.
2. Madrileña: 'What, me? Stress? About who is going to take my garbage out? And do my laundry?' Joy!
3. Free tapas with drinks and Lego paintings on the walls: all that is right with Madrid on a hopping night out on the town.
What is excellent about this city? The metro. The museums. The shopping. The food. The people. And, of course, the men.
1. Sore thumb: I discovered a local pizza joint full of workers on lunch, where no one spoke any language but Italian. I stuck out, but dutifully finished all my pizza like any hungry worker would.
2. Nice couple: The family-run hotel agreed to hold my second piece of luggage while I go visit Madrid.
3. Wandering: After a sunny, café-filled afternoon, I found a beautiful old building hosting a free Australian aboriginal art exhibit, part of a clever tourism initiative.
All the children in Milan are in costume today. It's like Halloween in February. I asked the mothers in the park. It's Jeudi Gras (they celebrate Mardi Gras all week long). This may or may not explain the prevalence of confetti on the landscape.
1. I scored three seats again and a nap on my flight.
2. Alejandro and Greta patiently found me at the airport.
3. Greta and I hit the streets for a late-night celebration. Everywhere was packed, so we went to an Irish pub. You can always count on the Irish!
The highlight was Sonya et al (see Bonus below). Nothing can beat that. Here are the others:
1. A really nice guy from Texas at the train station gave me his 48hr metro pass to use up the next day (he is an English teacher in France, in case you happen to know him).
2. I walked through a colourful, confetti-covered park, where the guard at the planetarium let me in the building to warm up and check it out, even though it was reserved for school children.
3. Full of horse meat from my panino breakfast, I, for the second time in under three months, was saved by H&M with an affordable, hip jacket (I have a habit of being woefully unprepared for the weather).
You gotta' respect a city that wears good shoes.
1. I got a lift to the airport and saved $20 on a cab.
2. The girl at Tim Hortons agreed to fill my lentil soup cup with hot water, so I was able to eat something healthy before boarding the plane.
3. The flight was near empty, so I settled in to sleep on my three seats.
I have this system: I sit in the middle seat, fasten my fully loosened seat belt, lie down/curl up sideways, and open my large brown cashmere scarf into a blanket. It is thin, warm and blocks all light. Basically, I look like a big lump of turd. If you have seen such a turd in your travels, it was probably me.
March 12 - TORONTO, Canada
I'm not sure how exactly to catch up, but expect I'll post in chronological order. My paperback blog is still in use. It's easy to find the good (or the bad) on holiday; the trick will be to give the three best things proper consideration. Bear with me as I work through it.
This was a very successful trip. I can't wait to share it with you!