Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Doha: Done

I’d cap Frosty’s ass. My sons know this, as I have encouraged them with words like “Cap Frosty’s ass!” It’s not that I have anything against Frosty, in particular, or his ass. I’m sure he’s a fine guy, what with his corncob pipe and carrot nose. What I don’t like is commercialized cuteness. Especially the ones that require generators, like the inflatable Frosties, Santas, Easter Bunnies, or Great Pumpkins. Even if I drove by an inflatable Bambi, I’d instruct my boys to shoot to kill. Even Thumper – the inflatable one – would be advised to wear a vest. So when my sons and I are out driving during the Holiday season, I've given them this wise holiday advice.

Even worse, if that is possible, are the posters of Eagles soaring on the wing, with the caption reading "Unless you soar with the Eagles you’ll sit with the Turkeys." I’m not sure whether I’ll agree or disagree with this, as right now I am sitting with the (Wild) Turkey. Who seems quite friendly, and we have been having quite the revealing conversation (you won’t BELIEVE what he has done, the rake). Ben Franklin certainly liked turkeys, and for a guy who was early to bed and early to rise, and spoke French, and had badder mullet than MacGyver (compare their pictures below!), and still discovered electricity and petticoats, and said things like “We shall all hang together, or we shall all hang separately” he seemed to do OK. Well. I’m on his side, in general. As for the Eagles…well Don Henley Must Die. That’s not my opinion, that’s a song.

At any rate, I've spend too much time on the setup for this post and, I fear, that time was wasted. But what else am I going to do at 2 a.m.? So let me get to the main point: I don't like cutesy inspiration comments. But I did like these signs which ring Education City, where Georgetown is located, in Doha. What might just be maudlin in my cynic's head might just be inspiring elsewhere and to others. I hope so.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 34: Lessons Learned, Forgotten, and Ignored

My father, or Abraham Lincoln, or the Pope, or someone like that once told me: "If you expect life to be like a gum machine into which you put money and out of which you get candy, you will be greatly disappointed." I think whoever said it was more eloquent, but I got the metaphorical point, and it made sense. As I understand it, the message was "Don't expect your good works to be recognized or rewarded. If you do, you're setting yourself up for failure."

I get that. But the fact remains that when I put my hard-earned money into a vending machine, and it doesn't deliver the goods, I feel screwed. So I begin with some soft whispers ("Oh, come on machine, give it up") which quickly elevate to swearing ("Give it to me, *****mn it"), pleading ("I'll do anything you want") and ultimately shaking, kicking and yes disappointment. It's not quite a Kubler Ross stages of grief tour. Maybe my Dad was right, and not just in a metaphorical way.

That's not the only lesson I've learned, or not learned, from a vending machine. When I was 18 I played lots of tennis, had a right arm like Popeye, and a left arm like Olive Oyl. At one court there was the old kind of Coke vending machine which would drop a paper cup down and then fill it with part soda and part syrup. (Remember those? Cripes you're old.) We didn't have any money, as usual, and we didn't have drinks to take to the court, but we knew that my left arm was skinny enough so that if I got on my knees and wiggled my arm up into the machine's guts, I could grab some of the paper cups and pull them out. This is much same process used for delivering a breech calf, according to the dime store westerns. We could then fill the cups with water and take them to the court.

Get the picture? I'm on my knees, with my hand crammed up inside the Coke machine, when the security guard arrives. Sort of a compromising position (a phrase that I have come to know well), wouldn't you agree?

Guard: What are you doing?

Me, in my mind: Stealing cups, officer! What kind of moron are you? (Sins 1 and 2: theft and pettiness.)

Me, for real: Um, I put my money in the machine, and the cup didn't drop, so I'm just trying to get it! (Sin 3: falsehoods)

Guard: Did you try the change return?

Me: Um, no! (Sin 4: This isn't really a sin, as I'm telling the truth, but it serves to support my earlier lie, so it should fall into the damnable category).

Guard, pushing the change return button: Oh, here's your change. It must have just gotten stuck.

Me: Right! Thanks! (Sin 5: False gratitude).

Me, putting change into the machine, and now getting a totally free, totally crisp, totally refreshing Coke: Ahhhh.....(Sin 6: Gluttony. Lust.)

I learned the valuable lesson that getting caught stealing, and lying your way out of it, can actually get you good stuff!

Sons: Please disregard this story. It's just a story. I was caught, sentenced, and severely punished, and you will be too.

Not that I usually try talking my way out of bad situations, as I'm not very good at it. I'm much better at talking my way into bad situations, anyway.

Recently a couple students and I took a spur-of-the-moment driving tour of Education City. When we got to the construction site of the new Georgetown building, no doubt there were signs that said: Caution! Warning! Construction Workers Only! Keep Out! Dangerous! Do Not Enter!

I interpreted these signs to say "Come on in" and so we did. Wow. Each student apparently will have a lab, a library (see above), and a petting zoo. Faculty members will each have their own named wing, with a choice of ski jump or golf course. Yeah, it's big. The most amazing thing, to me, was that as we arrived during the lunch hour the building was deathly quiet....and many side rooms looked like morgues. Body after body, in straight lines, silent, still. Everyone, and I do mean everyone was sound asleep. Company policy? Section 103.C.a:b2 "All workers are required to take naps between noon and one" Or exhaustion.

When I told some colleagues about the tour, they replied "You can't do that," which didn't seem like very useful information.

Sometimes I do ask first. Earlier this month, I inquired what would happen if a driver used a well-known international driving sign to indicate displeasure at the way he (me, in truth) was treated while on the roads.

The students said that the driver would likely be deported. This was helpful information, which I heeded.

Maybe we should make this US policy to solve our "immigration problem": anyone flipping the bird while driving would be deported. Relax: this policy would not be retroactive. It seemed a good option, until I thought that, well, some drivers really deserve to be flipped off. Maybe we'd be deporting the wrong people...maybe we should deport the flippee, not the flipper (again, not retroactively!) Thought question: Would the US be better if we deported those without papers, or assholes? One benefit of the latter is that it wouldn't require profiling, as it's obvious who the assholes are.

Next lesson: It has now been five weeks that I've been without what economists would neutrally call certain "goods and services". And yet: the sun rises, BP leaks, Ann Coulter moults, Albert Haynesworth sucks. Not much is different.

Final lesson for the day. Clarifications almost never clarify. You know what I mean, don't you? If someone asks you "what did you mean by that?" and you try to explain, you usually make things worse. Maybe you don't, so I should clarify by saying that you means me which, I know, is an unconventional use.

It's easy for me (meaning, "not you") to ignore that rule. So let me clarify what I meant in writing about marriage the other day. I said something like "do you want to spend the rest of your life thinking about Taye Diggs, etc., while I'm pondering the deep meaning of folding laundry while doing so? I didn't think so."

What I meant to say was "If you're watching me fold laundry without thinking of Taye (not Taye in particular, but the figurative Taye, who could be Leonardo, or Sting, or Steven Strasburg, or whomever), then I'd be worried about your sanity, your imagination, your health, or all the above." So I'd think we weren't a good match. And would you want to marry someone who thinks that we're not a good match?

See? Isn't everything clear now?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Day 30: Footprints

Man once walked here. Or some other Vibram™ soled creature. It does make me wonder if there are Vibram™ souled individuals among us: you know, the kind of person who will walk all over you, and have the footwear to leave a lasting imprint.

I found this "fossil" in the terrace by the pool. Should I get married again, I think I'll bring this picture with me as the example of "something old, something new". The old being the fossil, the new being the fact that the fossil is of modern shoe technology, of course. But saying this reminds me why it is very unlikely that I will remarry, or that anyone would have much interest in doing so with me, really, when you think about it, because how would you explain it to your family (or yourself) that your husband gave you a picture of a fossilized Vibram™ footprint on your wedding day. What is quirky charming can become simply quirky odd quite quickly, you know, and surely there are more wedding appropriate and clever and romantic examples of old and new. Sting would have them, naturally, and so would George Clooney, or Taye Diggs. And do you want to spend the rest of your life thinking about Taye, or George, or Sting, or the guy who refinanced your mortgage or looked good at the reunion while I'm across the room, folding the laundry, and thinking about the deeper meaning of doing so? I didn't think so.

The fossil is really only "creation science" old, anyway.

I left similar traces one time. Dressed in my best suit, and hurrying to an important meeting, I didn't see the construction workers smoothing out the fresh cement on a sidewalk, and I walked right into it, sinking up to my ankles. So far as I know, this was the first instance of a person voluntarily trying on concrete shoes.

Most of the time, the footprints I leave are much more ephemeral, like footprints in the water. Sure, molecules are displaced, and heat is transferred, and now that I think about it germs are deposited, and maybe some toe jam too, and small waves are made....but when I lift my foot out of the pool, no visible traces remain. Only memories.

Sometimes the ephemeral acts do form lasting memories. In 1975, I wrote a brief, flippant note in a classmate's year book. About a decade or so later I ran into her and she told me that she was actually quite hurt by my note. I had to be reminded what I wrote, given the comment's pithy flippancy, and also that I'm sure I was just trying to be clever. Once she explained, it all made sense: I hadn't really considered how my comments would be heard or remembered. The lesson, now a quarter of a century old? Don't be a jerk, if you can help it, and even if you don't mean to be. Show others respect: they will remember, even if you don't. (Oh: I know I owe many many other apologies for jerkiness.)

Speaking of fossils, and memories, and limbs, how about this zipper on my elbow? I had surgery on it (and pins inserted) when Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy still roamed the earth. It is common knowledge, I think, maybe, that all the cells in our body are replaced every week (or year, or 15 minutes, I can't remember exactly, but the point remains the same, that it is some short period of time, so there is no need to correct me here, although I'll try to look it up later). So why does that scar persist for over 40 years? Like most of the fossil record, I don't pay it much attention it. Only sometimes.

I'm quite fond of my knees. Unlike ankles, elbows, and shoulders they have not faced the surgeon's scalpel. They do have lots of mileage, as each has bent and moved forward approximately 100,000,000 times. One hundred million! Seriously. I did the math. Damn, that's a lot of steps. Go, knees!

I'm not showing a picture of my hip because I'm pissed at it. Stop whining to me, you big sissy.

My wrists are good for lots of things, most especially a) providing a place for my watch to rest; b) keeping my hands attached to my body. They should be thanked more often.

Props to the little guys! The sweat glands, pores, hair follicles (well, you know which ones can stay, which should go, and which have already left the building), nostrils, ear canals, taste buds, and what not. Especially the sweat glands. I'd hate to cool off by evaporating just through my tongue.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day 29: Criminal Under My Own Hat

I am not a crook.

Not usually, anyways. But something about hotel buffet breakfasts makes me want to pocket the petite jars of jam. I guess I'm just a petite thief. So, yes, at the Treasure Box I slipped two of these luscious, tart/sweet, cute jars into my pocket. Wait, that's not thievery, right? I paid for the breakfast, and I'm just extending the breakfast until I return to Doha.

It's not a good idea to be a criminal in Oman, which is an "Islamic Absolute Monarchy". I can almost see Ann Coulter's neck veins throbbing at the very sound of that statement and, given the choice of enduring Ann or IAM, I'd go for the IAM every time because it is less vicious and more sensible. To get both ideas out of my mind, I'll imagine the advertising campaign for Absolut Monarchy.

If you are going to be a criminal, it doesn't make sense to do it on the cheap. A Saudi man arrested for stealing a cell phone in Qatar was held for three years before being released. As it turns out, after three years someone decided to check whether the serial number on the phone in the Saudi's possession matched the number of the phone that was stolen. It wasn't, and he was released. "My bad," I assume Qatar said.

That's the problem with criminal justice systems, everywhere. It's tough to design them so that the bad guys are put away, and the good guys are released. The more we protect the innocent, the more we allow criminals to evade punishment. And vice versa. That's why the US is on to a pretty helpful concept: innocent until proven guilty. Too bad that sometimes it's just a concept, Justice Scalia.

The great Jam Heist was only my first crime of the day. After breakfast I left for a self-guided tour of Muscat, which is not so much a single city as a string of smaller towns along the coast. A full day tour cost about $150, and the tours didn't run on Friday, so I paid myself that amount (with a very generous tip, even though my English was probably not as good as the guide's) and tried to find all the spots mentioned in the brochure, meaning that me and my "YARis" put in some good kilos. One viewing spot, on the Indian Ocean, was close to the Grand Hyatt (not to be confused with the Grand Mosque) Resort.

I figured I should scope it out. At the gate on the beach, the sign says: "Hyatt Resort limited to Members and Guests".

Oh, temptress! More like "Oh, go ahead and dangle chum in front of this shark!" I can't resist disregarding signs like this. Ok, I can but I don't. Not disregard , I suppose, as I think to myself: "Mark, you are the kind of guest the Hyatt would want. You are classy. You put the toilet seat down, even if you are staying at the hotel by yourself. You tip well (note my generosity to the tour guide, above). You know how to walk around a place like you own it, not in a Michaele Salahi kind of way -- hey, I just tried to friend her on Facebook! -- which, by all accounts, or my account, which is the only account that counts, is too creepy and narcissistic, even for me, so I just withdrew my Facebook request. No one at this Resort is going to ask me if I belong, as I have that "yeah, I'm wearing khaki shorts, and a t-shirt, and a baseball cap, but because all American men dress like crap at these resorts, for all you know I'm wealthy and important" stroll going.

So I hang by the pool for awhile.
This resort is boring, so I go out for a walk.

Getting a latte at the local Joe Shop, I try not to read the lettering on the woman's underwear, which is clearly visible under her dress, in large print, as if she was reaching out to the nearsighted demographic.

At the local booksellery, I buy three: the "work" book (Risk, by Dan Gardner), the "serious" novel (American Rust, Philip Meyer) and the "fun" one (Juliette, Naked, Nick Hornby). The serious one remains unread; I'll get to it later. The main theme of Risk is "Feelings trump numbers. Gut trumps intellect." My head thinks this must be wrong, but my instincts tell me the author is right.

Today I've already filched jam, forgotten to tell you about the tea bags I also pinched, and I snuck into a resort. As T-Bone Burnett sings:

He's capable of anything
Of any vicious act
This criminal is dangerous
The criminal under my own hat

My tour continued. Next photo stop? The Al Alam Palace, the formal home of the hereditary sultan, Qaboos bin Said Al Said. It's helpful to remember this name, not only in case you happen to be asked at a cocktail party "Who's the hereditary sultan of Oman, again?" but also because the main highway is named after him, the main sports complex, the main shopping district, etc.

Imagine a Washington DC where Tyson's Corner has been renamed Obama's Corner; Fedex Field is now Obama Field; and Pennsylvania Avenue is Obama Avenue.

Wow, that was FUN! watching Coulter's head explode!

Oh. Former Member of Congress Bob Barr sort of tried to do this for Ronald Reagan. Hence the Reagan Building in Washington, DC (the biggest federal building in the city is named after the President who thought the government was the problem! oh, the delicious irony) and Reagan National Airport. Barr wanted all public buildings named after Reagan, and he was only 68 percent successful.

The Palace looks like...what? You tell me. Versailles? Buckingham? GuGong? The Kremlin? I don't think so. Help me out: What does this palace look like?

This picture from the palace exemplifies Oman to me. The peanut brittle mountains. The historic forts (center, background). The destruction of older buildings (left) and the construction of the new (right).

Or maybe this picture exemplifies. Huh?

By this time I was not traveling alone. In a deserted historic area I came across a young German man carrying a backpack, complete with tent and sleeping bag. It was very hot and humid, and he was soaked. We were both touring aimlessly, so I figured he would enjoy my air conditioned YAR!is. So we spent the rest of the afternoon just poking through neighborhoods, circling roundabouts, walking up stairways, and talking about the middle east. He is working for the German Chamber of Commerce in Dubai and rode the overnight bus here. Where are you staying? I asked. I'll find a place in some park, he replied. I've done that myself many, many times....many, many years ago.

I dropped him off at the Grand Mosque at the end of the afternoon. He'll probably camp illegally in the park outside. At least I hope so.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Day 28: Treasure Box

Oman looks like Los Angeles, if LA looked more like Abilene. Or Kyoto. It's tempting to compare a new thing to an old thing, but the comparisons inevitably suffer. Venice on the Creek (outside Denver) is not, well, Venice, no matter what the developers say.

Oman did have a LA-Abilene-Kyoto feel though. Like LA, it is shoved up to an (Indian) ocean by a mountain range, although the mountains here are sharper and steeper, like a brick of peanut brittle that has been shattered by a cleaver. The air was both humid and dusty, and I did see goats roaming some neighborhoods although, unlike Abilene I didn't see any real goat ropers. There were scenes of fragile, elegant grace, almost like Shinto temples photographed through the cherry blossoms.

A quick geography lesson may be in order because, well, you don't have the slightest idea where Oman is, do you. Stop lying. I didn't either. If you had any initiative at all, you'd google the map, but you don't, because you expect this blog to spoon feed you. (Editor to Mark: readers typically don't like to be insulted. This one in particular. So apologize.)

You can see Muscat (or Musqat, or other spellings, as Arabic is translated into English with apparently random spellings) on the lower right of the map. If I was looking out at the Indian Ocean, which I did, right before I snuck into the Hyatt Resort (more on that later), I would see (from left to right) Iran, Pakistan, and India. Behind me is Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Over my left shoulder is the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Gotcha question: Which middle eastern countries have US military bases?

Answer: Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, at least, although most of the other countries have at least some "military presence" After all, the US military is in something like 160 countries around the globe.

Easy question: Which countries would we allow to put military bases in OUR country (so as, for example, to ensure safety and security in Texas, Florida, Mississippi and other "hot spots"...)

Answer: We would never allow such a gross infringement on our national sovereignty.

Riding the shuttle bus to the main terminal of the airport, I stood next to this fellow. I'm pretty sure his watch cost more than mine. Then again, we were riding the same shuttle. One time I sat next to Mike Dukakis, the man who might have been president, riding a shuttle: he was wet from the rain, tired from the day, and carrying his own suitcase. As far as I could tell, I was the only one on the bus who even recognized him.

Once in my rental car, I sped to my hotel like Danica Patrick on Crack, if she were older whiter maler balder, driving a Toyota Yaris (this car name really only works on Talk Like a Pirate Day), and drinking a Red Bull. Unlike Bahrain, which had no useable maps, Oman provides great maps, with every street numbered or named. Three feet by three feet, at times my map blocked the entire windshield.

In front of me, eventually, peering over the top of my map, was the Treasure Box Hotel. It was the coolest looking hotel that I could access and afford. Very cool. I was one of about three guests. Does word get out that I'm coming, so the other guests bail? No one was at my hotel last week, either.

Cultural differences: the mini-bar had no liquor.
Cultural similarities: a can of Coke cost $6.

Mark's strategy: Walk 50 feet to the convenience store (I think it must have been photoshopped out of the picture) and buy a Coke (and a smile!) for about 50 cents.

Mark's strategy, II: I finished revising a scholarly (!!!) article for publication today. One of my reviewers noted that I had an alarming and annoying tendency to put extraneous stuff in parentheticals (Can you imagine? Me? Extraneous Stuff? Parentheticals?) I took them all out (mostly) and so I had a surplus, and now I plan to use them all (here).

The Treasure Box was close to the Grand Mosque. My first visit came that night. I marveled at the building in its grace, beauty, and solemnity. It became my favorite place to reflect.

Sample reflection: Doesn't it seem odd that anyone who claims that God has a chosen people is, quite conveniently, one of them?

Such thoughts kept me awake, until they didn't.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Day, oh, maybe 23: Seeing Clearly

Hello, Students!

That's right: you. The students in my Ethics class. I see you. I know you're reading this. Well, I don't really know that, but I'm guessing you are. Or were. Or will be. Or should be.

The cat pretty much leaped out of the bag (I'm hoping the phrase "leaping the bag" will become as popular, and as opaque, as the phrase "jumping the shark". Already, it's not that far behind, as Google gives 506,000 hits for shark and 449,000 for bag) when Hassan walks into class today, in previously noted black t-shirt, and says "Looks like its casual day for Muslims".


I mean, it's not like I was trying to hide my blog. Truth be told, and I plan to tell it, I think everyone in the universe should be reading it because of its wit and wisdom. And because I would become filthy rich if everyone read it. I would buy Google, and make my name the most popular search term. I would hire writers even wiser and wittier and more grammatically correct than me to write it, and I would pay them a pittance, and they would be grateful.

But, anyway, I didn't actually expect my students to find it or read it. Although it does make me think about posting the class readings here, so you read my blog and your assignments at the same time.

I just don't think I was seeing very clearly, in a sand got in my eye kind of way. In fact it was sandy today, or dusty, or particulaty. I'm blaming BP.

After my blushing stopped -- and, man was I redder than a bleeding Razorback dipped in cherry juice on Valentine's Day -- I had that Uh Oh moment: What had I written that would embarrass me or embarrass the class? After class I went back and reread everything (like I hadn't done that before). Hassan had no worries about my description of him -- perhaps he should hire me as his agent -- although I did worry a bit about the "casual day for Muslims" thing. Saying I lusted after the woman in the tight jeans was a bit dicey and, dammit, why did I bring that up again? A couple other lapses in good taste could be mentioned, if I were tasteless enough to mention them. Overall I think I'm in good shape, mainly because I didn't pick on anyone but myself.

That's a good thing. I don't like hypocrisy and malicious gossip, although I've no doubt done both. When I do, I do feel slimy. There are other feelings I'd much rather have. I'm only down with a couple of the seven deadly sins -- yeah, you can guess which ones (hint: anger ain't on the list) and I think those are downright virtuous compared to hypocrisy and gossip.

Speaking of anger: wow, when I read the comments on American political blogs, it's clear there is a lot of anger out there. Hey, you: If you're angry listen to this. Chill guaranteed.

Still, we all see things differently, some more clearly, some less. I do have proof of this. Check out the cool frames below, found at the Villagio Mall. I'm thinking of getting the white frames with the lavender lenses. I'd sure look different and, if I didn't see more clearly, I would more colorfully.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Day 20: Sweeping Generalizations of High Significance

Rashid al Khalifa, perhaps the most influential artist in Bahrain, creates mesmerizing works by painting on convex canvasses. Thank you, arts patrons, and art museums.

In Islamic architecture, buildings are simple and symmetrical on the exterior and richly adorned inside, symbolizing their spirituality. Modern American homes favor ostentatious exteriors and massive, ill-conceived interior spaces, reflecting ours.

The rich have the good shit. The main public beach in Bahrain is unsightly and trashy. Yet the sea is (mainly) the same for rich and poor alike here: crystalline bathwater. I am thankful that the rich in American don't own all the good beach property, just most of it.

Women wear full black robes and veils on the beach, and even in the water. I doubt this can be comfortable, but is it less comfortable (physically and spiritually) than butt floss and pasties?

No one else on the beach had a pink belly, but maybe no one noticed.

The best meal I’ve had in the Mideast was the 50 cent shawarma from street vendors: fresh, tasty, and cheap. The shawarma, not the vendors.

Doha is a jewel box; Manama is a junk drawer. Jewel boxes are to be admired and junk drawers are to be explored.

The towns south of Manama along the coast remind me of my mind: cluttered, with lots of projects half completed and then abandoned due to lack of interest.

A veil that entirely covers a woman’s face seems like overkill to me. Any man who advocates it for reasons of modestly should have to wear one also. On the other hand, next to the woman in the full veil was one in tight black jeans, long silken locks, and smoldering black eyes, and I totally lusted after her.

The airport security guard didn’t bother to look at my bag going through the x-ray machine, so my can of diet coke was successfully smuggled. Qatar Air provides you a free snack and a drink, even on a 30 minute flight, and it doesn’t care if you leave your iPod on during the landing. The rule stating that you must remain buckled until you reach the gate is widely ignored.

It's good to explore, and it's good to be back home.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Day 19: I Wonder as I Wander....

Wandering aimlessly has its advantages: you never know what you'll see, and sometimes you don't know what it is when you see it. Last year, when I left Doha and spent a night in London, I simply grabbed the first double decker bus I found, assuming it would do a loop through various charming British neighborhoods (what what!) and return me to my place of origin. But it didn't, and dropped me off at the end of the line. So I caught the next bus, and so forth. Eventually, it all worked out, as it usually seems to.

Today when I arrived in Bahrain I hopped into my rental Corolla and headed off in what I thought was the direction of my hotel, the Riveria Palace. Given its distinctive look, I was sure I could find it, or find someone who knew where it was. Wrong, scout. A first warning sign was that no other local hotelier seemed even to know about it, and when I found one who did he gave me detailed the wrong place. I was looking for "HoJo's" and he sent me to "HoJoe's".

I followed my bread crumbs back to the airport and started over. The main problem with my map is that no roads were labeled -- a rather curious omission, don't you think? -- nor were directions, or much else in the way of things that one might consider essential on a map. I did find the hotel's phone number (oh, right, go ahead and say I was foolish for not having it with me in the first place. Go ahead. I'm sorry. You're right.) and asked for help. I found her directions inscrutable. Her: "Look for the Awadhi on your left." Me: "What's an Awadhi? Just point me to some landmark..." I suggested, and eventually she gave me something to look for.

[Damn: I finished my best post ever and the internet ate it, so I abandoned my room and went to the restaurant downstairs and had a huge honking sheesha (hookah). Because my body is a temple, I smoked apple-flavored tobacco...that must be healthy, right? A reconstruction of the post follows.....]

Soon, I was there, viewing this lovely mosque from the parking lot. Then, it started singing to me. Loudly. A call to worship, I assume. Then another mosque, just across the way, also started broadcasting a plaintive chant. It was a Battle of the Bands (of Brothers). What were they chanting? Were the chants part of a sectarian competition of differing theological principles (Hates great! v. Less killing!)?

[I seem to remember that the Daily Show had something similar recently; I hope I'm not plagiarizing, which I guess I'm not, as I'm giving the Show credit, but only if it deserves it.]

The chants did pack the DQ parking lot. Yes, the international landmark was the Dairy Queen. You can get a sheik (I mean a shake!) before or after the service.

I'll confess, but not in a confessional, that I have seen a similar sign outside of a Baptist church: "Grill with Satan or Chill with the Saints. The Choice is Yours!"

A hotel clerk met me at the DQ and guided me the rest of the way to the Versailles of the Desert, which felt more like the Palace after the Republicans (no, no, not our Republicans, but the ones who executed Louis XVI during the French Revolution). It was pretty much surrounded by a wasteland except for the neon lights across from my window. Almost no guests are here. The elevator didn't work, but the clerk did ask if I minded walking up four flights to my room. It was part classy (the wrapper on my toilet noted that it was "Cleaned Specially..."), part trashy ("4 U") as if it were txting a Britney.

My kind of place. And the sheesha was really, really good.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Day 18: Rubble

Yes, Barney Rubble. When I finally got a remote, and finally turned on the TV, Mr. Rubble was the first thing (person?) I saw.

There must be a larger message about globalization, ethnic intermingling, cultural imperialism, or something. Maybe people just like Barney. You do, don't you? Admit it. Now, Fred, he's a clown. Barney's a mensch.

That's right, I've been living in a TV-free zone for almost three weeks. Not as some part of a bigger journey of self-discovery or anything, as I was just lazy, and TV makes me lazier. I wasn't going to do anything about it (it being the lack of a remote) until Omar said: Here's your remote. We found it. Once I had it, I used it.

I'm amazed at how quickly I can get used to going without things, without missing them very much. When Sir Thomas More's family visited him, imprisoned in the Tower of London, and his wife said "Oh, what terrible and dismal place!" he replied, simply, "It's pretty much like any other place." (From the wonderful movie "A Man for All Seasons." More (!!!) on this later, if I have enough energy to write about it. I found More both inspiring and frightening. Stay tuned.)

Sir Thomas did miss his family terribly, and the most wrenching part of the movie is when they visit him in prison and beg him to acquiesce to King Henry VIII's demands so that More would be released from prison. He does not, and bids them flee.

I live in a palace, not a prison, but the best thing that has happened to me this week is to look into the eyes of loved ones on Skype. (Chris and Kitt: you made my day. Chris, I'm not at all surprised that you clicked on the link that I said was quite offensive in a previous post. It cracked me up when you said "You tricked me! The link just referred me to Amazon!" This was news to me, as the link I posted was really, really quite profane. Now I see that link starts to come up...and then goes to Amazon. Damn. I do see that Amazon recommends that you get me a Kindle for Father's Day. Just sayin'.)

Did you just get that Normal Rockwell warm glow?

The flip side -- or maybe some other side, as life surely has more than two sides -- of my not missing things is my not asking for them. I think a childhood lesson for me was "Don't whine. Be thankful for what you have."

I'm not sure this is always helpful. Since I've been here my apartment has had almost no water pressure. I thought "Eh, that's the way it is..." until a workman told me "you should complain about your water pressure."

I didn't complain; I made discreet and subtle inquiries. Now, my shower actually showers; it no longer just drools.

Now, back to Barney. Really, I don't plan these things, they just happen. Before I saw Barney, I was already thinking of Rubble. I find all the visual contrasts here fascinating: piles of rubble everywhere next to sparkling buildings. All the new with the little ancient. Technology next to mud. I wish I had a better camera to capture what I see. Boys, are you listening?

The typical architecture: sleek, crisp, clean. The typical rubble pile: rubbly.
If you look closely, there are a half dozen construction cranes in the distance. Thank you, Professor Jim Lambeth, for teaching the course "Architecture Lecture" (a 2 credit fine arts course, part of my liberal education at the University of Arkansas) 34 years ago. You opened my eyes.