Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly
Friday, February 29, 2008
Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes..
...Also seems to result in changes in hairstyles.
This is a beach vacation. I packed books, flip flops, sarongs, swimsuits, shorts, snorkel equipment, and T-shirts. I packed a few nice outfits to wear out to dinner.
I did NOT pack: a hairdryer, or ANY hair products. I brought mascara, one eyeliner, some shadow, and two lipsticks. I did, however, bring a ton of after sun skin moisturizer.
For some reason, my usually short, really thick, hair has gone all curly on me. I had my hair cut a week before I left, but just letting it dry with my fingers run through it down here, has resulted in a mass of soft, coppery curls. The salt water makes it extra curly. My hair has never been naturally this curly. Hope I can keep it going when I get back - but I doubt it, unless I can up the relative humidity, wind, dry it in the sun, and start taking salt water showers.
Sorry for the no posting, but I've been alternately busy having fun and doing absolutely nothing at all.
Wednesday may have been one of the best days of my life - seriously. We chartered a catamaran Wednesday which sailed us along the coast and dropped us off at every interesting looking reef to goggle endless colors of fish and coral. We snorkeled a couple of shipwrecks too - including the WWII German freighter the Antilla which is one of the largest wrecks in the Caribbean. Wonderful chef prepared us a gourmet lunch and there was open bar on board. The local drink call "Drunken Sailor" is true to its name. We came back, cleaned up, and took ourselves out to a nice dinner and to catch the sunset from the beach - again.
This has been one of the nicest, most relaxing vacations in years. I haven't been this happy or relaxed since I can't remember when. No job worries, no deadlines, no responsibilities, ...just three good friends and endless sunshine, nice restaurants, good wine, gorgeous beaches and great snorkeling.
I was tempted to take a picture of my Blackberry which has not rung once all week, and has proudly proclaimed "no new messages", and "no upcoming appointments" on its screen.
Yesterday we drove around the island and stopped at some deserted beaches to snorkel and packed a lunch of sandwiches and fresh fruit with a bottle of local rum and some diet cokes.
I haven't been this tan in years - although I'm still whiter than 90% of the people here. Aside from a case of "snorkelers butt" caused by too much sunshine on your bum as it bobs in the water while you stare at the fishies, I have avoided any serious sunburn.
The best part of the day may be when you get back to the condo around 5:30, take a cool shower to rinse off the salt and sand, and fix the first blender of cocktails in anticipation of another beach front restaurant to catch the sunset and have some wine.
Last night, we went to a local Arubancunucu house with a fabulous garden setting for some local dishes. The place was over 150 years old, and absolutely gorgeous. Papiemento Restaurant. If you ever come to Aruba, I can highly recommend it.
Life is good.
Today is our last full day of lying on the beach and reading books. Tomorrow, we have to pack up and head home late in the day. Hopefully, you all have warmed up a little bit back North, now that we're headed into March.
So yesterday, I took my new Canadian friend to the airport for her trip back to the Great White North, and thought I would explore Oranjestad and have a nice lunch somewhere. Not so fast. No cruise ships come into Aruba on Sundays - at least not until the evening, so all the shops were closed.
Oh well. I decided to explore a snorkeling beach on the south side of the island, and they had a wonderful beach grill where I had a fabulous creole grouper with hot peppers, and some fried plantains with pinda sauce (peanut sauce). I was going to stop at the market on the way home and pick up something to grill for dinner and to use up some left over groceries, and get some snacks for the Oscars, but all the markets close at 1:00 on Sundays, and I didn't know that.
So, I had to take myself out to dinner. Found a little pier side place overlooking the water with just 11 tables and the chef was grilling things to order. Sat at the bar and struck up a conversation with the couple next to me who were from San Francisco. Turns out he is a wine distributor, so instead of having a glass of the house wine, he kept pulling bottle after bottle of really good stuff he had brought with him from Napa outta his beach bag. Score! He even gave me a bottle to take home. I had the most amazing beef tenderloin skewer. Perfectly cooked, with a sauce of dark rum, blue cheese, and hot island peppers. It was mind blowingly good.
Today, I have to pack up, check out, get to the party store to get things to decorate the room for the birthday girl, check in to the condo, decorate the room, and get to the airport to collect my friends....
The next five days should be a lot of fun, but these last five were awfully relaxing....
It appears that I left the connection cord which allows me to download photos to the computer from the camera - at home. So for now, I will spare you the photo I took of the exquisite sunset dipping into the ocean perched next to last night's cocktail at the little beach restaurant located about 1/4 mile down the beach from me. We fed our basket of bread to all the fish gathered under our table at the edge of the dock. The water is absolutely clear - you could see the bottom clearly at ten feet, and the fish are everywhere. I had conch ceviche and fresh barracuda for dinner.
I spent yesterday with a new friend from Winnipeg, CA, exploring the island. Being just 20 miles long and 6 miles wide, and largely uninhabited along the windward side of the island, it doesn't take long. Historic lighthouse, little chapel, rock formations, and then we ran across a local flea market where some locals had set up a BBQ, so we grabbed some napkins and tucked in - YUM. Got some good local shots of goats, chickens, dogs and donkeys, and the rest of the island is pretty much cacti and divi divi trees bent over at 90 degrees from the winds.
There's a cultural oddity here. The Chinese. They own and operate every single grocery enterprise on the island, including Tio Pepe's - the Spanish bodega in my neighborhood. And there is a plethora of little Chinese restaurants dotting the island from top to bottom. I asked my hostess Inecke about it. "Ya", she says, "they are from Venezuela and Suriname". At some point in the past, a large influx from the Chinese mainland - notably Hong Kong and Taiwan, settled in Venezuela and made their way to Aruba. The reasons for their monopoly in the grocery business are still a little hazy.
Speaking of grocery stores....this is a Dutch enclave. So I might have actually squealed like a little girl when I realized I can get all my Dutch food favorites here like Vla, Kwark, Stroopwafel, Conimex sauces, bierworstjses, and good Dutch cheese. I found that the geckos hanging on the wall of my bungalow like to eat Dutch cheese. They keep the mosquitos at bay, so I'm getting used to them hanging around. I am less used to the ginormous cockroach I found perched in my wine glass, half soused from a good cabernet. Luckily - he was on the little table on the veranda, and not in the bungalow.
Today, I am going to drop my Canadian friend off at the airport because her 2.5 week diving vacation in Aruba, Bon Aire, and Curacao has come to an end, and then I'm going to explore the main city of Oranjestaad before heading back here for a late afternoon snorkel. With my Teutonic curse of blue eyes, white skin and freckles which are now blooming like bad weeds into a mottled tan, I need to stay out of the sun, or cover up, for the hours between 10-3, and the sun is really intense here.
Sounds like I got out just in time. While snow and ice are wreaking havoc with your commute, I spent my morning trying to count all the different colors of the lizards that scamper across the courtyard.
I am here by myself for five days before a couple of friends fly down on Monday to round out the rest of next week. Since we'll be staying at one of the luxury resorts when they arrive, I wanted a real get- away- from- it- all experience with as much peace and quiet as I could find before they got here. And I think I found it. I have ensconced myself in a little beach bungalow - one of 6 owned by a Dutch couple in the sleepy little village of Pos Chiquito on the southern end of the island far, far away from the main city of Oranjestaad where all the cruise ships disembark, or the high rise resort areas in the north. I have a beach front bungalow with it's own little veranda and hammock, a small kitchenette, and an astonishing selection of wonderful books lining an entire wall - too bad they are in Dutch!! I do not have hot water, but cool showers feel really good in this climate, and I use the outdoor shower most of the time anyway. This is not the high rise resort area - exactly the opposite. Chickens and dogs in the street, the occasional rusted out car along the road, and very modest cement block homes in various stages of construction or repair. There is a little spanish bodega across the street for groceries and wine - oh and the local Balashi beer. The water is 20 yards from my door with a gorgeous reef teeming with fish, fishermen's huts down the beach where I can buy the catch of the day and throw it on the little BBQ out back, and it is as close to heaven as one can get.
It's a theme - work with me. Unlike the China Chronicles, there won't be a whole lot to blog about on a daily basis other than: pool, beach, snorkel, lunch, beach, snorkel, pool, shower, dinner, bed. Lather, rinse repeat.
After getting up at 3:00 AM yesterday to catch a 6:00 AM flight out of Dulles, I got up at 6:00 AM my time (7:00 AM local) to make a 7:30 AM dive class. This, after I stayed up completing my on line PADI course which required 75% or better to pass, and it was hard! Actually, it was easy if I had left enough time to do it properly. It required a lot more effort than I gave it credit for (I entirely underestimated learning to read the dive tables and calculate multiple interval dives and depths), and I didn't get to bed till almost 11:00 PM. So I was draggin when the alarm went off.
I stood in the very spacious cold water only shower, and instead of turning on the water, I sprayed myself head to toe with SPF 30, waited about 5 minutes, and then donned a swim suit, flip flops, and sarong. The only outfit I plan to wear this week.
I'll post separately about where I'm currently staying (which is great BTW, although a little 2nd world). But, as a result, I had to drive halfway across the island to get to the resort and dive class, and in the village I'm staying in now, that means dodging dogs and chickens at every turn (provided you can find the road - there is a paucity of road signs on the island) before you get to the tourist area.
Anyway, I get to the Hyatt Regency - quel posh! - and because I have mild hypertension and take meds to control it, I had to have the dive doctor check me out and approve me first. I failed. Not because of the HT, although that was close thanks to flights and lack of sleep, it was because as soon as he put a stethoscope on my chest, he looked at me and said - "What have you been gargling in there? Do you smoke?"
No, I said, but I did have the flu over the weekend.
"Well, you're not done with it yet. Your chest sounds 'really squishy'" (I'm sure this is a medical term).
"Yeah, well, I am still hacking up chunks of lung, but I feel MUCH better. Can I go later in the week? "
He said there was no way he would recommend sending my spongy lungs to 65+ ft. and forcing them to drink 3 atmospheric bars of compressed air. If I thought the flu was bad, he said......
His "prescription" was at least one week of vacation. At the end of which, both my BP and lung function should be just fine and I can learn to dive some other time. Snorkeling however, was prescribed liberally, and I always follow doctors orders. As a consolation prize, the dive master felt bad for me and gave me a day pass to the Hyatt Regency Resort, which let me live among the rich and famous and take advantage of the pool, palapas, towels and drinks on demand, and lounge chairs. Too bad it felt like the vacation set for the Sopranos. EVERYONE was from NJ. It freaked me out. The accents, the bling, the noise.... Turns out all the NJ schools have winter break this week, and it's "family week" for the nouveau riche in Aruba. Ick.
Tomorrow: sleep in late, snorkel at the local beach (I've heard the fish there are amazing), hang around here all day and follow doctors orders to the letter....nap, rollover, repeat.
I survived. Thanks for putting up with my whining.
It's actually pretty amazing how worrying about getting better so you can go on a great vacation is so much more restorative than worrying about going back to work.....
I survived, but I lost 4 days in a pile of kleenex, coffee mugs, dirty dishes, and lots of sick laundry along the way, and now I'm really behind.
You see, I signed up to finally get my open water PADI dive certification on this trip, and in order to start the lessons on Thursday morning (at 7:30!! - this is supposed to be vacation!) I have to complete a 10 hour online training course which I am about to start as soon as I post this. And to be honest, I'm not sure my sinuses are quite up to a 6 hour flight followed immediately by a 60 foot dive in the same 48 hour period just yet. My head will splode.
But - a bad day on vacation is still better than a good day at work - right? Remember when you were a kid, walking home from the last day of school with the entire summer stretched out before you like some endless possibility with utterly no responsibilities? It may only be 10 days - but yeah - it's like that, only grownups have a LOT more fun ;-)
I have the most wonderful neighbors in the world. First, the day after I got sick, one neighbor brought over extra cat food because I had run out and was far too ill to get to a store.
Just now, I get a call from my neighbor across the street (who had heard from neighbor #1 that I had the flu) and look out to see that there is a brown paper bag on my garden wall. Scared to get too close me, she had just placed it on the wall - with good reason.
Inside the bag is a container of homemade chicken noodle soup and a loaf of fresh homemade bread still warm from the oven.
I'm sure this is psychosomatic, but ever since I was in college, my immune system completely breaks down and abandons me after any period of intense stress. I was sick at Xmas break for 4 years straight because once term finals were over, I'd get a severe case of the flu or bronchitis like clockwork.
So guess what? Two weeks of intense job interviews, travel, juggling a lot of other balls in the air, and about 2 hours after I returned from my salon, bookstore, sushi Valentine's gift to oneself, I got sick.
No, not sick - a train has hit me head on. Sudden onset chills, headache, body ache, and a throat so raw it feels like I swallowed razor blades. I laid on the couch under blankets and two cats and slept for 2.5 hours. I'm not the least bit hungry and I want my Mommy.
And while there are no cards or flowers in my life at the present, I decided it is a day to love oneself, so I took oneself to the salon today and treated her to a pedicure, and a swishy new haircut with a boost to the coppery auburn color tossed in for good measure.
Then, knowing what oneself likes better than anyone else, I promptly walked upstairs to my favorite book store and scored about 6 books to take to the beach with oneself next week.
AND, because oneself likes to treat oneself to good sushi every now and then, and it's been more than a few months since oneself has had really good sushi, as opposed to the takeout crap you find in most grocery stores, I headed next door to the new Sushi Hana in Mt. Washington and indulged in some Toro, Unagi, and a Tango Roll for lunch. Sushi Hana rocks. Beautiful decor and absolutely amazingly fresh sushi. Go there.
I'd say oneself has had a perfectly lovely Valentine's Day.
Voting. It seems like such a simple act of civil participation doesn't it? Oh, but it's SOOOO much more than that, and after today it seems like the most precious freedom in the world.
Because today, I took two women from China with me to vote. They are both physicians studying Public Health at Hopkins for a year as part of the prestigious Humphrey Fellowship program.
They were so interested in EVERYTHING, and they took pictures of EVERYTHING. Me standing at the voting machine, my ballot, the line of machines, the people working at the polling place, etc... The polling volunteers were so amused, they all stood to take turns having their photos taken with them, and with me, and so on. My friends were just amazed that you could walk into a church or school and cast a vote that would be COUNTED and have a say in who gets elected to run the country. They both had very strong opinions on this matter and are amazingly well informed on both the candidates and the issues. Better than most Americans I would bet. Afterwards, I took them out to lunch and tried to explain the more complicated issue of the electoral college and the upcoming delegates conventions to them.
For a country with no political freedoms, oppression at every turn, and no voice at all in the selection of the leaders of their country, let alone the laws that those leaders enact, the mere act of accompanying me while I cast my vote made them feel enormously empowered - as if the vote had been theirs.
I hope you voted today - it's a truly precious gift that should never be taken for granted.
Sorry for the recent absence folks. It's been a busy week in Broadsheet land. I took another long road trip weekend up through New England to attend a concert in New London, CT on Thursday evening with five girlfriends.
Our seats were third row orchestra, with plenty of room in the aisle for dancing. The concert opened with Beau Soleil - perhaps the BEST Cajun band in the US. The fiddling was amazing (sis - you really missed out on this one!). The headliner was worth waiting for though - the one, the only - The Subdudes. I've been a fan a long time, but the last time I heard them live was at the New Orleans Jazz Fest in 2005 - just a few months before Katrina. They are on tour promoting their new album, and there were more than a few Katrina themed songs. The concert was in the old, very ornate, Garde Arts Theater in New London, which has recently been renovated with an old Moorish, Moroccan theme. Odd, but ornately well done.
It didn't take long for people to start dancing in aisles, and at one point, the whole band came down into the audience and stood right next to us and sang a wonderful song completely acapella - THAT'S talent.
The rest of the weekend was spent lurking in antique and book shops in Providence and Newport, having dinner with friends, a walk along the beach in Naragansett Bay, and general hanging out.
I know that the Great Wall of China is a remarkable feat of human engineering, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but seriously, if you added up all the stone walls running through the countryside in Connecticut and Rhode Island, I'll bet you could circle the earth a time or five over. It's estimated that between 1750 and 1850, more than 240,000 miles of stacked stone walls were in use throughout New England. The Great Wall of China is only 4,000 miles long.
I didn't take my camera this trip - and the weather wasn't very good most of the weekend, but one of the US's great roadside advertisements is on I-95 South coming out of Providence, RI. The Big Blue Bug.
The trip home yesterday was fraught with high winds so strong I thought I would be blown from any bridge or overpass, and a white out snow squall on the George Washington Bridge in NYC was something that I'd rather not have to drive through ever again. White knuckle time.
Another interview today and meetings all afternoon.... Back to work!
Did you SEE Tina Turner on the Grammy's last night? That was an historic performance. Tina was in a silver lame' catsuit and looked amazing. The woman is sixty eight years old y'all. Damn. Now THAT'S the definition of diva. She worked the stage!
So, I have this big interview on Monday. Do or die kind of gig, and I get a call on Friday morning telling me that I am expected to give a luncheon presentation to the Sr. Exec. team as part of the interview process. Power Point slides, the works. No pressure. YIKES.
Then, my five year old cat decides to get sick yesterday with some sort of bladder infection and is peeing blood all over the place. The vet kept him overnight, but couldn't get any clear test results, and since stress is a major factor in these conditions, and the poor thing was just terrified at the vet, she recommended I bring him home for the weekend and keep an eye on him. He's got meds and he's eating and drinking just fine, but he's still straining and not producing a whole lot. Poor thing. His brother was frantic this morning looking for him - going from room to room crying for his little buddy.
Oh, and my sister arrives any minute for a weekend visit and to hear Mark O'Connor play at the BSO tomorrow. Normally, that's a very good thing, but with the other two things going on, I'm a little distracted at the moment....
1. The cat is MUCH better. He's urinating regularly and cuddling and snorgling like his old self. Getting him to take his pills is much more difficult.
2. The interview presentation is DONE. And pretty darn good if I do say so myself. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles with animation and graphs that I might like to put in given more time, but it's a damn good overview and outline, and that's what I need to get across.
3. My sister and I had a great time cooking a nice meal last night with a movie and some wine, going to the gym, going to a GREAT concert this afternoon at the Meyerhoff, and out to a very nice dinner at Lemongrass - the hot new Thai restaurant in Little Italy.
4. The stress of the interviews tomorrow still looms, but at least I'm prepared.....