Thursday, 30 December 2010

Here comes the sun

The sun has finally returned from its Christmas vacation and is shining with such joy I am thinking it must have got lucky with the moon or something while it was away. Of course the heat is making everywhere very steamy (which is rather fitting if the sun has indeed been trysting with the moon) but it’s nice to see some blue sky again.

***

Now I have never really been a bird person (apart from appreciating them as a snack for cats) but I have been quite amazed at the variety I see as I take my daily walk. This morning I saw kookaburras, cockatoos, rosellas, lorikeets, galahs, Ibis', two nesting curlews, magpies and a couple of noisy miners. There is also a family of tawny frogmouths nesting in the garden who manage to pull off the very tricky fluffy-but-solemnly-wise look quite convincingly. (I mean who has ever taken something fluffy seriously? Apart from Alf the cat that is!) I might have to invest in a pair of binoculars soon which I can then employ to good use back in Basel by watching the surgeons across the window - to ensure they properly scrub and don't use their surgical equipment to trim rogue hairs.

***

Yesterday in celebration of the sun I went with my parents to Coochimudlo Island where we energetically circumnavigated the whole island before rewarding ourselves with ice-creams. Both parents then decided to nap on the beach while I went and inspected the shore for crabs and dugongs. Plenty of crabs to be seen but no dugongs apart from the colorful mural of one on the toilet block wall.

It's now new year's eve and I am sweltering in the shade. I may need to bath in a pool of mojitos just to cool down.

bring back the trousered sheep

Each morning I have been going for a walk - or at least a wade - around the streets where I grew up. A lot has changed and I can't say much of it is for the better. Places which used to be fields filled with trouser-wearing sheep ( well one sheep in particular called Gilbert who liked to wear a pair of jeans as he grazed) have been replaced by nondescript houses and manicured lawns. Fortunately there are still some natural areas left such as the paddocks down the road and the hillside by the river. These wild patches haven't changed at all which makes them extra special amidst all the other 'progress'.
I miss the sight of trousered sheep though.
Perhaps next time insomnia strikes I will count them in my sleep.

Friday, 24 December 2010

losing time

I seem to be suffering from jetlag quite badly this trip. Admittedly it has been a few years since I last did the trip between Europe and Australia but this time I constantly feel like I have been hit about the head with a wet sack. I'm not sure why this is. It may be the fact that I was quite tired before I even boarded the plane in Zurich or maybe it is because I spent 15 hours sitting next to a man with such bad breath that every time he breathed (which unfortunately happened rather too regularly for my liking) my whole body was enveloped in a dark and deadly mist! Of course it could just be plain old time difference at work but that sounds rarver boring. Why let facts get in the way of a good excuse.

Fortunately my jetlagginess ( of course it's a words! I just wrote it, didn't I?) hasn't stopped me from getting on with the important tasks of seeing friends and eating donuts. Two days ago I spent a happy few hours with my old school pal ,M, and her two prolific painting girls. Honestly the number of masterpieces they were able to churn out over a course of two teas, one quiche and a chocolate biscuit would have shamed even the greatest of Masters. I was lucky enough to be given two finished pieces complete with magnets to take home for my fridge. Thanks be to little H and little S.

I have also spent time with J, the wise woman and world's greatest instructions repeater, which involved another close encounter of the artistic kind when her two twin boys decided to draw on themselves in the seclusion of their bedroom. Quite Pollock-esque really. I felt a little guilty scrubbing away all their work but being the excellent scrubber I am I just focused on the job at hand. I also got to impress her five year old daughter with tales about a hairy goblin who lives in the Black Forest and my vast array of super powers which include counting to ten in Italian and lifting my bag with one finger. I love talking to children. You can let the imagination go and they believe you too. Being an adult is sooooo over-rated.

Now I am back home - ready to nap again. It is raining outside and all I can hear is the sound of frogs greeting every raindrop.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

under the banana tree

Today I walked home in the rain. I actually got so wet all my toes started to squelch, my hair began pasting to my face and my dress got the best clean it has had in months. This is not nearly as dramatic as it sounds as I am no longer in Basel (where walking in minus 5 would probably prove less joyous) but I am actually back in Australia for a 3 week break.
I like walking in the rain despite the obvious wet factor. The grey sky makes all the trees look luminously green and all the birds come out to bathe which makes the whole experience quite beautiful. A couple of cockatoos sat on a branch and had a good laugh at me as I passed but they're just jealous because they could never look as dishevelled as me in their wildest dreams. ( The secret desire of every cockatoo I imagine after finding a fist full of seeds or hearing a really good joke about a galah.)

Of course my parents were horrified when I arrived home: You should have called! We would have picked you up! Fortunately they have never witnessed my socks'n'sandals ensemble which I like to wear when walking in the snow - and No my feet never get wet when I wear this combination. I have fiercely protective socks! I believe some of them even have teeth.

I am feel quite jet-lagged still to be honest. So I am just going to attach a few pictures of green-ness to fill in the spaces before I wake up.


The picture here is actually of the banana tree in my parent's backyard where I spent many an hour as a teenager writing really bad poetry about a Dutch boy - when my dad wasn't finding enormous pythons wrapped around its palms that was! Honestly I believe the snakes were less scary than my rhyming

zum beispiel

Under the tree
Woe is me
How can it be
That he don't love me

Ah happy days!



Sunday, 12 December 2010

Dream lands

The other night I visited the most beautiful place I have ever seen. I only saw it for a few minutes but I have a feeling I am going to return to it. I believe it has been created as a place for me to go. Of course in the cold light of day I can't find the words to describe what it was like but that won't stop me trying. I believe it was a mixture of various places: the Torres del Paine in Chile, Wadi Rum In Jordan, and some of the back roads near where I grew up. The landscape was stark and majestic like the Scottish Highlands with an enormous lake in one part which created the most incredible high, grey waves. There was also a valley surrounded by cliffs or mountains or trees (I am not sure which) that rose up into the sky before curving together like magnificent whale bones. It had a latticing effect across the sky which created the most extraordinary shades of light over the valley. At the time I referred to it as ' a natural cathedral' and I think I must have had Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in mind.

Whatever this place is I know it has a significance that perhaps I am yet to understand.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

beware the Brazilian dance

Last night I went to the birthday drinks of Izabella ( yoga goddess) at Cafe Des Arts in the centre of Basel. I really like the décor in this bar. It's a little crazy and there are lovely, velvet-red chairs on which to lounge elegantly and yet seductively ( at least in my head anyway.) I was the only non-Brazilian at the party (well maybe I am a little bit Brazilian but not a full Brazilian, you understand) so I had that tricky job of making sure everybody else felt comfortable speaking in their mother tongue around me. I feel guilty when people think they should revert to English when they are on a night out with friends. Fortunately V ( Alf's mum) kept on introducing me as her English teacher which made everyone petrified to speak English anyway. I told V she should call me her friend or at least Alf's half-mum but she liked calling me her English teacher and so who am I to rain on her parade? Anyhow I did my best to follow the conversations which wasn't that hard anyway since the topics tended to be either 1. football 2. how much nicer Buenos Aires would be without the Argentinians 3. the lack of sun and surf in Basel 4. plastic surgery 5. the embarassing popularity of Brazlian 'porno-creu' dancing (V's words not mine - see this video and you decide :-)

I enjoyed the drinks though. Sometimes yoga people can be a little precious but Izabella is very real. She loves a good drink, doesn't oppose botox ( which sounds v un-yoga to me) and can bend like a straw.

***

When I woke up this morning it was snowing heavily in the streets. I gave my Russian student, O, a private lesson then I bought lots of pretty tights, returned home and dug out all my painting equipment. I am still struggling to write at present ( I got another rejection for a short story this week. A nice rejection again with words like witty, clever, enjoyable ...but no! ) so I thought a bit of painting might lift my mood. I find nice smelling candles help too as does a little bit of dodgy creu dancing for toy pig.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Once I was a lady from Lagos

Last night I dreamt I had been transformed into a lady from Lagos as part of a two week social experiment. Somehow I had ended up in a small American town meeting all sorts of people who may or may not have ( I really couldn't tell) belonged to the local Rotary club. Anyway then I discovered that this two week experiment coincided with the football world cup and as I was a lady from Lagos I was expected to show no interest whatsoever in any of the matches being played on television. I then started wondering if this was the social experiment - denying me the world cup. Surely this dream is the dictionary definition of a nightmare!

***

I'd just like to thank Miss Belle and S le Tramp for their whiskey tips. I haven't gone near the bottle again but will definitely be following their advice - am particularly looking forward to the colonic irrigation. Actually it is probably the best use I could make of the stuff as I believe my grandmother used to drink whiskey for 'medicinal purposes' which is always the beginning of a very slippery slope!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

lucky dip

Yesterday I won the top prize in the lucky dip at the Basel Anglican Church Christmas bazaar. I had actually gone along to buy myself some Heinz spaghetti hoops (mmm spaghtti hoops) but came out with an enormous bottle of Bushmill's Irish single malt whiskey. It even has a sturdy green box that I can use as a cricket bat if required. There were a few envious glances, of course. Every congregation in England loves a wee nip of whiskey after Evensong. But I tried to pull my best 'how fabulous' face even though I think I would have been more thrilled to have won a cuddle from a cranky cat.

The trouble is I know nothing about whiskey at all !

What is single malt anyway?
Do you drink it with water, or is it ice, or is it lemon?
Can you have it on icecream?
Does it heal fungal infections?

Last night I tried a glass after dinner and I have to say that it is very unlikely that I will be polishing off the bottle any time soon - well certainly not on my own anyway! So I suppose the cuddle from a cat prize still stands but it's nice to win something for a change.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Freedom fighter?!?

Yesterday I spent money I don't have on things I don't need. Yes, for one wicked hour I was the poster child of inapproriate spending - sort of a human incarnation of the Republic of Ireland at this time. In my defence it happened completely by mistake. I was walking home from my morning class when I spied this grey, lacy dress in a shop window. It looked a bit like an animal in the zoo. Desperate to get out and see a bit of the world instead of just being endlessly pointed at. So I did the humanitarian thing - right! I freed it - along with some of its fellow cagees - which was actually the only legal thing I could do. In Switzerland it is considered abuse for any 'social species' not to have contact/cohabit with another of its kind. I defy anyone to say a dress is not a 'social species'. They speak volumes about their wearer and are often great conversation starters/ procreation tools. Anyway during the liberation I actually discovered I was a different dress size to the one I thought I was (in a good way) which seemed to excite the sales assistant more than me. ( I was concentrating too hard on these poor caged creatures - wondering if I would be able to wash them correctly. I am not a friend of the washing machine or the iron for that matter.) In fact it was almost as if the sales assistant had vicariously gone down a whole dress size in my honour- she was so thrilled.
Anyway now I have three new dresses - eager to see the world and taste whatever I decide to spill on them which will be pretty much everything.

***

On a more boo hoo note I also got a rejection letter this week from a publisher. It's never nice to receive a rejection letter but it feels better to receive one than to hear nothing at all. It somehow feels more respectful. Rejection hurts, it always does, but there are a lot more things that hurt worse than a publisher's no thank you note, this I am sure of.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

ten beautiful things

Today I went to my health insurance company to hand in a form and found it was closed for lunch time ( which, I find, is always the most sensible time for a public-service based organisation to close!) So I decided to sit in the park near the main train station and wait for it to open again. It was actually quite a grey, miserable day and most people were dashing across the park with their heads slung low. To pass the time I decided to think of 10 beautiful things to beat all the wet and grey.

1.
green grass 2. the wisdom of autumn trees because they know spring will come again 3. hope 4.a turtle I love 5. toy pig 6.chocolate eclairs 7. rossini cocktails8. football 9. my bed 10.A red squirrel I saw in the park as I sat.


I didn't even see the squirrel at first. He was sitting on the branch of a tree that was nothing but long, dark limbs. Perfectly still. However then I noticed that one of the tree's branches seemed to curl up like the scroll of a violin which was most uncharacteristic as all the other limbs were so straight and thin. Then I realised it was the tail of a red squirrel quietly observing the world from his tree top kingdom. I was kind of hoping he might invite me up to sit with him as surely the view of the world must be different from up there. Wisely, he did not, as I would probably have broken his kingdom so instead it was nice to watch him from below. In fact by the time I was ready to go my bottom was completely wet from sitting on a damp, cold seat. It didn't bother me though - that's why they invented warm tram seats after all!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

angels in my midst

So I have been back in Basel now for a week, Beirut seems another world away. I spent my last night in Lebanon enjoying a drink with a Belgian man who was staying at the same guest house. (Note to self: Never tell a Belgian that you drink their beer with lemonade. Ever!)
It almost feels as if I was never away except for the fact that I now have a new phone which I bought in Beirut Duty-Free at 3 in the morning. I actually had a lot of fun picking it out. I met a very nice sales clerk, clearly bored ( His dream is to work with Oracle databases) , who made it his personal mission to find me the right phone. He started by asking me a few questions and then said I was clearly a creative type who would probably not appreciate lots of technical complications. (Such insight made me fall in love with him immediately!) He then brought out lots of very different phones which he introduced to me personally and let me 'wear' around the shop. I even performed a few spontaneous telephone roleplays so he could determine if the phone and I were a true fit. Eventually we decided on a pretty pink ( but very smooth) phone. Even better I now have a new number which is great because I could never remember my last one even after I had just said it :-) It also has lots Arabic style ring tones which means I can stay true to my Lebanese sistas.

***

In the spirit of my lost phone ( and temporarily misplaced passport) I actually managed to lose my wallet this weekend. On the one hand it is good to know that I am capable of losing things at home not just when I am away but it is also a little worriesome. Clearly I am not at my best right now - then again tell me something I don't know. Anyway as soon as I realised it was missing I began turning my apartment upside down, which is actually quite difficult when it is already in an upside-down state. It's almost like reverse tidying. Of course I had no luck and started making a list of all the things which I would have to cancel when my door buzzer went. I looked down my intercom video and there was a man and his daughter at the front door. I didn't recognise them so I thought perhaps they had got the wrong buzzer. Then they rang again so I answered.
The man asked me if I was Joanna which a little bit exciting ( maybe I had just won the lottery or a publishing contract!) and a little bit alarming. He then told me his daughter had found my wallet and she wanted to return it. Bless bless bless.
It turns out I had dropped it earlier in the day over in Klein Basel when I was visiting a student for a private English lesson. Markus and Ella ( my personal angels) had taken the wallet home and tried to find me in the phonebook (which I am not registered in.) They had then tried Linked In which drew a blank and had finally decided to call a guesthouse in Murren that I had stayed at last July with my sister. Apparently the card to this hotel was the only one I had in my wallet other than my credit cards etc. Anyway the hotel confirmed my existence and gave him my street but not the number. So then he and his daughter had traipsed up and down my street looking on doorbells until they saw my name. Ella was so happy and proud to give it to me. The look of delight on her face made the whole experience even more wonderful than actually getting my wallet back. I told her she was my little angel and she beamed. I also gave her a reward because I truly believe that this kind of golden-hearted tenacity should be rewarded.

So now I am finishing my weekend with the reassurance that the universe is watching out for me even when I feel it isn't.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

My friend, the chocolate eclair

Today I ate the most beautiful chocolate éclair of my life. I am kind of hoping that the éclair is saying the exact same thing about me too. Not the eating part just the beautiful. Actually I sort of regretted eating him so quickly. I think we could have spent a magical day together (actually I suppose we still did and at least now that I have eaten him I know he will be mine forever.) Maybe the lady spiders are onto something – eating their mate and all. Excellent way to keep them close but not in your face.

***

I got home quite late last night – late for me anyway. I went to Gemmazzeh to visit one of the many bars that dot the quarter. It reminded me of London – full of sexy, young things, low-lighting, moody music…and the odd man with a machine gun patrolling through the revellers. Actually, I suppose the last bit is a bit un-London. I ended up chatting to two guys working in Dubai called Nabil and Yoop. Surely there is Pixar animation waiting to be made by the same name. They sounded like two guys on weekend prison leave – I don’t think Dubai was really the place they wanted to be We had a good laugh anyway and then I left them to stagger off into the night while I made way back through the quiet Beirut streets.

This morning I woke up early even though I felt very tired. Mercy was fluttering about the guest house – giggling as she worked. I looked at my very crumpled map of Lebanon ( I cannot fold maps correctly – never have, never will) and decided to visit the seaside town of Batroun. It is well on the way to Tripoli and it felt like it too. The minibus I caught took a very long time and I was quite grateful not to be in the BDGS today because the driver was a maniac and nearly crashed a number of times. Generally I don’t mind sitting on minibuses for long periods of time. I don’t know if this is a personality trait or the fact that I was born in Australia where everything is a long distance. Or may be I am just lazy because at least when I am on a bus there is nothing physically I can do but sit, think and occasionally brace!

Once again the minibus dropped me off by the side of the highway with some vague arm-waving in the direction of the sea. Fortunately an unlicenced 17 year old Saudi girl called Norma picked me up in a very smart, shiny black car and took me down to the old town. The fact that she was unlicenced didn't bother me as I don't think a licence really means much in these places any way. She also drove very well which I complimented her on. I told her I was visiting from Switzerland for a week to get some sun. She looked at me ( instead of the road) and said after a while: 'Yes, you are very white. You need sun. Not too much though you don't want to get too wrinkly.'

According to the guidebook Batroun is a lively, Maronite village. If comatose is a synonym for lively than perhaps this is true.

Comatose in a good way through. The streets were so quiet it was just me and the cats who were largely rotund and friendly.

I think the gentleman here ( pictures left) summed up the place perfectly. Just smoke your pipe and watch the boats.

After wandering the narrow lanes I I went down to the sea to inspect the remains of an old Phoenician sea wall which I found quite impressive.

See my rarver arty shot here of the Phoenician wall through a church window.

I even sat down beside it for a while to show it my respect.

I then visited the various churches around the town, one of which was preparing for a very glitzy wedding, before making my way back to the highway.

I am now the Queen of Beirut public transport as I managed to make it all the way home using local means instead of expensive taxis. I rock!!

Now once again I am home. I can't believe my time in Lebanon will draw to a close soon. I don't think I ever quite established my rhythm here but it is definitely a place I would like to return to. I didn't make it to see Khalil Gibran's birthplace but I think that is perhaps because this is not a journey I am supposed to make without my heart ( which as you may remember I left snuggling up to toy pig back in Basel.)

I think I will go out again now and wander the Beirut streets; perhaps eat some fattoush and drink some fine wine.


Friday, 5 November 2010

a near shopping experience

No water again today ( I write this as if it bothers me when it doesn't :-) You have to accept how things function in the place where you are. Like I know that in Switzerland if I recycle tin cans after 7 p.m. I may be deported.) This time however the the water man was late!! Mercy was unimpressed ( but beaming about the 20/20 cricket – I beamed with her, I am disloyal in that way.) We had a chat over breakfast. She was sad that I had got up too late for the good stuff and that there was only a baguette left whereas I was glad I had managed to stay in bed even if I had just lain there awake. She is going home to see her sons in Sri Lanka for Christmas but she told me it was on one condition. That she is going to return to Lebanon after one month. ‘I like it too much here,' she explained. 'I used to work to look after my sons now I work for me. What I going to do if I go back to Sri Lanka? Look after the grandkids. No thanks, I rather be here and relax.’ She said it with a cheeky smile but you could see that she was serious. I love Mercy. She is as tall as a bird and as chatty as one too.

After my lazy start I decided to spend my day enjoying the various architectural styles of Beirut while doing a little shopping. I even got stopped by a taxi at one stage while strolling the streets because he needed directions. I must be blending - chameleon that I am. I feel v proud.

I began by going down the street which runs across from my home. (See picture to the left.) I have walked down this street a few times now. It is a hot potch of ruins, renovations and lovely old style colonial buildings with lush green trees and bright, fragrant flowers. Today, though, one part of the street was lined with soldiers and policemen with shields. They were standing in combat lines outside a university building while the army patrolled either end and a few tanks sat around with various missile-shaped objects hanging out the side of them. I ended up walking through the middle of it – there were a lot of other students walking through the middle too clutching their books and their phones ( I wonder if one of them was mine :-)). This is the thing about Beirut. It changes every day and people just go with it. A street that is quiet one minute has barricades and guns the next. Of course most of the army looked about ten years old so it could have been an elaborate game of dress-up for all I know.

Now my plan had been to shop but it seems that as soon as I decide to throw caution to the wind and spend all the zeros that I have, there is nothing I see that I want to buy. Niente. Zip. Null. Actually I did see a dress ring with I love felafel written on it but I am holding out for one that says I love fattoush. I went back to the shoe shop in downtown Beirut and spent a very sparkly half an hour trying on shoes. The trouble is all of them have impossibly high heels and vertigo can be a problem for me. I also tend to wobble like an unstable lady or perhaps a bowl of jelly in heels. Very nerve-wracking for the wobblee and any innocent bystanders!! I eventually found a very rainbowy, glitzy pair that I liked and went to buy it with my visa card. Of course no one knew how to use the visa card machine so I went in search of a cash machine. Not a single one in the area would oblige me so sadly I had to walk away. I felt even sadder for the poor man who had nearly sold me the shoes. Maybe I will get back there tomorrow.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Choufing it

On the highway out to the Chouf Mountains this morning I saw the following banner:

There is no such thing as a lost opportunity,

it just means someone else seized it.

As I sat on my half-seat (the lady next to me had assumed a-seat-and-a-half or perhaps she was just taking an opportunity!) I began to imagine all these tiny opportunities floating in the air. Each one with is own little parachute coming into land – sort of like dandelion clocks, almost invisible. Popping against our skin - ping! I find it nice to think of them hovering amongst us all – did you seize one today?

I was actually going to write a gloomy blog today because I had a lousy day but instead I decided to start with the above thought which I suppose is an opportunity in itself. I had the same bad dream last night – it’s not so much a bad dream but a sad dream and it seems to haunt me each day which in turn is why I think today was not so great. Sometimes I wonder if Lebanon was such a good idea. My mind is so busy right now it really shouldn’t be holidaying in a country which requires its full attention. If you look to the left you can trip over barbed wire, if you look to the right you’ll get hit by a car. If you look the other way some man will be trying to touch you leg. Halas! But rather than write about everything that went wrong with today I am just going to pull out the good bits – how Pollyanna of me.

I decided to visit the town of Deir Al-Qamar in the Choud Mountains today for no particular reason. It sounded small and nice – I wanted an excursion but I didn’t really want a purpose e.g. palace, museum, ruin etc It took me a while to find the transport hub for minibuses going south. Lebanon is definitely more trying than Syria when it comes to locating public transport hubs. Probably to do with its instability and the fact that I think a lot more people have cars here than in Syria. Anyway after a few wrong turn I finally made it to the hub where I wandered aimlessly up and down the choking street for at least three quarters of an hour while being sent in all sorts of directions. I finally asked a very crowded bus if it was going my way and the bus driver answered (on behalf of the bus) – yes! So off I went with my fellow passengers for a lovely trip along the shore front before twisting and turning into the mountains.

The mountains were quite beautiful, full of cedar trees. Reminded me of southern Italy. Then suddenly my trip was over and I was told if I walked straight ahead I would find the town. I got off the bus and started walking up the hill. Up and up and up and up. About an hour later a young couple in their fancy little 4-wheeler pulled over and offered me a lift. They were so laid back their seats were almost horizontal and I swear I thought the driver might actually fall asleep. Fortunately his girlfriend was thoughtfully resting her fire-red fingernails on his crotch so he had a 99% chance of staying awake. I like to throw an improbable 1 % in just in case he was a latent gay. Anyway I got to the old town which was both small and lovely, ate some lunch, generally wandered about before making my way back down the hill. The rest of the day is where it got lousy so I’ll just leave it by saying I probably visited the dirtiest loo with the most beautiful view. See picture below which was taken while hovering above the throne.

Now I am home again trying to create a rainbow for my mood.

p.s. If anyone tries to call my mobile don't be surprised if you get an Arabic answer - sigh!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Today I decided to hunt out some old, hairy men who swear and whistle while they play backgammon because I fancied a challenge. No such luck on the backgammon front although I did encounter a few hairy types who would have made my friend V shudder. V says the only hairy man that should ever be allowed in a woman's life is her cat, Alf. She hates the sight of any hair at all although after further interrogation it seems that eyelashes, head hair and eyebrows (if properly controlled) are acceptable. She is one tough lady.

Anyway I started my morning with breakfast on the main balcony. I didn't sleep so well last night - a nightmare in the middle - so I was sort of glad to get up and face life instead. There were a number of Swedish gringos having breakfast too so we oohed and aahed about the delicious bread until Mercy, the very adorable Sri Lankan woman who works here, came to tell us that there was no water in the house but a man was coming now. I was most surprised to see that he actually was. Normally you expect the problem to go on for hours if not days. Mercy also told me on the quiet in her lovely sing song accent: 'I like too much the cricket you know.' I think she felt safe confessing her dirty secret to me because I am Australian and would therefore understand. Which, of course, I pretended I did.

After breakfast I walked down to the Charles Helou Bus Station which involved a few highway crossings and some chaotic footpath negotiations. (I even saw an army officer clutching at his chest as I made the daring run between the mad traffic.) Once at the station I was lucky enough to find a bus leaving in 'only 10 minutes' (ha ha) to beautiful Byblos. I decided to wait the '10 minutes' on a seat by the bus and make friends with the bus driver - Hairy #1. He was actually a very smart looking fellow ( not oily like some of them are) and wore a very crisp, ironed shirt. Of course he had relatives from all over Australia. As a result of our happy little chat I ended up in the BDGS (the Bus Driver’s Girlfriend’s Seat – a phrase that was first coined with some fellow travellers in Syria two summer ago. In a service taxi this means the seat at the front by the driver and in a bigger bus it is the seat directly behind him.) It is usually the most comfortable seat in the whole bus and means that sweets can regularly be passed to you by said driver without him taking his eyes off the road for too long. I was quite happy to be in the BDGS today because it gave me a great view out the front windows to the coastline. At Byblos he pulled over by the side of the autostrada and indicated it was my stop. (Not a full, proper boyfriend - he would take you to the door!! Of course I had no idea where to go after wards so I followed my gut which said go to the sea, Joanna, go to the sea since Byblos had once been a very important trading port and all.

Byblos today is definitely not a trading hub but is is a beautiful old town with medieval ramparts, a lovely harbour, little shops and a crusader castle to boot. It is also very small which makes it easy for the geographically challenged to find their way round. My first stop was at the Church of St John where I met toothless Michele (Hairy #2) A very old man clutching his rosary beads, who wanted his picture taken and a bit of a chat. I went through my Arabic knowledge and a bit of French which seemed to satisfy him and then he released me.

Byblos harbour really was very lovely. It was hot and sunny and the water was so clear I could see all the little fish sunning themselves between the boats. Here I met Hairy # 3 an Italian-Lebanese man called Mario who offered to take me out on his yacht for a cruise and a swim.

Oh I am sorry I don’t have my swimsuit I’m afraid.’

It matters not to me.’

I declined the offer although there was a part of me that thought if I were a man I could have probably taken such an offer and leapt in the sea a la natural. What freedom. Of course if I were a man Mario may not have wanted to take me swimming in the first place.

In the afternoon I visited the crusader castle which still has a nice bit of castle intact and an awful lots of ruins. I love a good crusader castle especially the ones in the Middle East where they let you run about with no regard for safety. I eventually found a date palm to sit under and happily gorged on all its fallen dates just like a real bush tucker woman. I then decided that as it was nearing sunset I would sip a glass of wine down by the port and say goodbye to another day. I chose the least assuming place of all – not ritzy as the others but with a lovely view and two delightful young boys ( not so hairy) from Syria.

Ooh and I also visited the souks where there were some lovely soaps which I inhaled with such gusto I began to sneeze. I met a very excitable Lebanese woman who told me how welcome I was in her country about five times before teetering up the cobbled path in her strappy golden heels. Once the sun was gone I thought I should probably think about heading back to the Beirut whereupon I realized I didn’t really know quite how to do that. I had been dropped off at the motorway but really I wan’t sure where to go to return. Eventually though I hacked my way up to another part of the autostrade where I found some sistas waiting for a service taxi to Beirut. We all hopped on and I stayed until the bitter end since I couldn’t recognise where I was. My driver Hairy #5 eventually took me to the ABC mall because obviously that should be the drop-off point for any lost ladyee in Lebanon.

Now I’m home. Not very hungry but tired which is good.

I find it interesting that when I am travelling on my own I have this faith, this unwavering faith,that I will always find my way home. There will always be a way even if I don’t know how it will come about. This, I find, is a very beautiful thing.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Retail therapy

New day, new home.

Today I moved to a lovely boutique guest house in Achrafieh one of the trendier areas of Beirut. Fortunately I have packed both socks and sandals (no room for slanket) so I should fit right in. The guesthouse is part of a beautiful old building with cute balconies and brown shuttered windows. Of course closer inspection suggests that the potential for home-related accidents is reasonably high but they have done such a lovely job of the rooms one is able to forgive the odd rogue electrical wire. I have the south room which has its own little balcony overlooking the square where I can observe my neighbours (or perhaps they can observe me.) When I look to the right there is a pretty French colonial style building; when I look to the left there is a modern apartment block; when I look to the middle there is a dilapidated old building that seems undecided as to whether it should stay up or come down.

The lady who greeted me here, it turns out, was actually born in Basel. She is not yet ready to return to Switzerland and has vowed she cannot live in Basel again. It’s not that she hates the town ( well actually she was a little bit vitriolic I thought) but it isn’t the place for her. She said if she had known I was coming from Basel she would have got me to bring her teddy bears over ( not because I look like a toy-smuggler but because she is expecting her first child.) I would have brought them too.Not all bears get to live such exotic lives.

After settling in I spent my time in downtown Beirut again discovering it a little more. There is a central area with restaurants and a very pleasing shoe shop ( everything in it dazzles and glitters and beckons my feet.) Every entrance to this area is guarded by young men in uniform. and the whole place feels quite sterile. No real heart. Beirut is not Damascus this is for sure. Damascus is medieval. Beirut is modern and yet scarred. They cannot be compared. The scars are what make this city as much as the old buildings. And it would be narrow of me not to appreciate this place just because there is ugliness. War is ugly but the city is not. It has such a rich fragrance: nargileh, spices, sea air, flowers.

In the afternoon I discovered the ABC shopping mall where all my Lebanese sistas like to hang! What a great mall it was too.Beautiful, sparkly and full of green trees. Armoured to the teeth of course but once you get over the guns it’s like shopping with your own personal body guard. As I wandered its floors I started adding up exactly how many dollars I have spare to spend. None came up a number of times but I am thinking of ignoring this calculation ( Math was never my strong point) and pretend I am married to a sheik at least for this week. Perhaps if I buy enough glitter I will glitter too. The guards at the shopping mall are very serious men who all look a little bit like Mussolini. I wonder if their seriousness is terrorist-based or credit-card spending based. They are very attentive too – they notice every single Lebanese bottom that wiggles past. Am sure they would be equally attentive of any terrorists that may wiggle past as well.

I had a lovely cappuccino in the mall before buying a bottle of Lebanese red wine to try on my balcony. I have actually spent the last hour struggling to open the bottle and found the latticed balcony very useful for resistance. Luckily it didn’t collapse under my great strength. ( It is official I have no upper body strength whatsoever.) Now I am sitting on my balcony listening to the cacophony of horns that make up the town's pulse. In the day all you hear is endless construction but at night it changes to engines and horns and Lebanese pop.

I think tomorrow I will go to Byblos. I need to get out of the town - to stop wandering and thinking. I need to see the real Lebanon. Let something touch me. I feel very disconnected right now.

Here is a picture of me on my balcony typing to you :-)

Align Centre

Monday, 1 November 2010

Akhmed ate my passport

Warning!! I seem to be having major font issues today so read at your own peril

So yesterday
I wrote that I had screwed my traveller’s head tightly on – not tightly enough it seems. First, I tried to board the wrong flight to Beirut and nearly missed my own. Then, as I sat on the plane halfway to Lebanon filling out my entry form, I rather calmly (I might add) discovered I seemed to have misplaced my passport. It wasn’t in Ahkmed (my Tunisian satchel bag), it wasn’t on the floor, it wasn’t under my neighbour’s bottom ( which was checked with permission.) It seemed to have disappeared entirely.

My neighbour, a very lovely chap from Portugal, who works for the UN in
Kosovo but was on a conference trip to Beirut to discuss sexual harassment (we got to know each other quite well during the find-the-passport dance) also started searching. He was very complimentary of my calmness although did note I seemed less enthused by my flight snack than most other people. I even forewent a mini bottle of Yakut red wine ( which I would have loved to have drunk more than anything in this world) so as to focus fully on the passport puzzle.

Anyway I still felt convinced I had been carrying my passport when I boarded the plane (which UN man and I more-or-less confirmed through a series of telepathic re-enactments) so we decided that it must have got caught up in the limbs of some of the other passengers as they had shoved past me to their seats. Of course I wanted to frisk everyone there and then (UN man even had police training so he would have been able to use appropriate handling techniques) but in the end I decided to inform the flight crew instead. UN man agreed it was a good idea but said it would probably alarm them because
a number of airlines are having problems with asylum seekers right now.(Apparently they like to dispose of their passports down the toilet during the flight - the asylum seekers that is not the airlines.)

I asked him if I looked a likely asylum seeker and he shook his head. I did ponder it for a minute though. I had heard the food was good in L
ebanon and the thought of Basel depresses me at the moment. Anyway I told a steward who tore up all the seats in my row much to the alarm of all the other passengers ( and looked as if he might like to tear me a new one too.). The fact that I was smiling in a sorry ‘only me’ kind of way hopefully allayed any fears of a bomb!

Finally the passport was indeed found.
Akhmed was the culprit. He had craftily swallowed it through a long, narrow tear in his skin so the passport had assumed the role of bag not identification document. Even UN man was impressed at how it had managed to disappear without a trace and begged me to find a leather man in the morning to glue the tear back up. In the end I arrived in Beirut safely and was deposited with my taxi driver by UN man before he left to the save the world one more Resolution at a time. Of course I lost the taxi man within a minute - not my fault - the guy just disappeared and then reappeared ten minutes later without telling me why. His name was Claude and we had an animated ride into downtown Beirut.
'So what your job?'
'I'm a teacher.'
'Teacher?'
''English teacher...hello, how are you...'
'Oh yes yes ..ABCDEF...123. I know I know.'
Silence.
Eyes narrow.
'So you strap the students when they are wrong!?'
I honestly couldn't tell if he was alarmed or excited by the idea.


***

Today I spent most of my time walking the streets. I believe I may have walked the entire length of Lebanon. Don't ask me where I went as I am a geographical embarrassment. But I have attached a few pictures as evidence of the fact that I am not just lying in my bed much as I would love to.

The first one is of downtown Beirut which really is a work in progress. There is a lot of reconstruction work going on there but every so often you see a lovely old building or the sad remains of one.

I also walked along the Corniche where I saw some men fishing in the the natural pools. You can swim in these too although probably best to avoid the hooks.

I also visited Pigeon Rock which is a famous Beirut landmark. Not sure why it is called Pigeon rock but it's nice for pigeons to get a rock. Normally they just get abuse. I had a picture of myself taken here but I look like I have been punched in both eyes - which is kinda how I feel. It seems the camera never lies. I shall save that picture for next Halloween.

Now I am back in my hotel lying in my lovely bed. It is quite early here but I think I am done with this day. Sometimes I make a good companion for myself but today I feel as if I have had enough.


Sunday, 31 October 2010

Beirut bound

Right now I am sitting in an Istanbul airport passing three long hours until my flight to Beirut leaves. I have my traveller’s head tightly screwed on ( as in I actually know where my passport is for once!) but I can’t say I have my traveller’s heart with me. In fact I don’t feel like I have any part of my heart with me at all.

Don’t think this renders me heartless though – I still have my heart; it’s just too tired and fragile for this adventure. Hopefully it is at home snuggling up to my toy pig and remembering to breathe.

The flight from Basel to Istanbul was actually delayed for about two hours this afternoon which gave me ample time to get cozy with my neighbours. So cozy in fact that when I left them at the transit lounge in Istanbul the woman kissed me on the cheeks and asked me to spend the week with her in Istanbul instead. She was an old woman –with a big black bun (streaked white) on her head and eye for the men. She only spoke Turkish but got the man sitting on the other side of me to translate everything she said – which he did from Turkish to German. Amazingly I seemed to understand it all – it’s like I had a Google translator in my head. Interestingly enough I also understood everything the man said including his compliment to me of ‘schon arse’ when I bent over to help the old woman with her seat belt. Anyway halfway through the trip the woman slapped me on the leg (quite hard) and pinched my flesh and said I made her happy. I think she was a bit lonely.

Now she is gone and I am sitting in the airport feeling quite small. At least there is a sea of duty free for me to drown myself in for a while.

Big birthday wishes for my sister. I’ll have a Turkish coffee for you while I’m here.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Guilty pleasures

Ok - so bear with me here. It's cold, it's grey, everyone is frowning extra hard in the street - I have been forced to rely on X-factor (UK version) on a Saturday night to get me through the weekend. Anyway last night was Guilty Pleasures week and I was delighted to discover that Matt Cardle took on one of my all time favourite when-you-are-on-you-own-or with-a-select group-of- friends-truly-wrong-yet truly-right sexy dancing songs. Ah 'Hit me baby one more time' unplugged acoustic version by my most adored ex-painter and decorator - listen and weep. It truly is a guilty pleasure!

Of course it has got me thinking about those other guilty pleasures in life.

** new boots
** doughnuts
** L'Occitane
** rogue hairs between bottom cheeks (did i really just say that!?!)

Perhaps there should be an official Guilty Pleasures Day - a proper public holiday and everything - with a parade (for those who find parades guilty pleasures etc.) I wonder who I should write to about this?

Saturday, 23 October 2010

time to visit a one eyebrow land again me thinks

Yesterday I went to visit a colleague from work who has just rescued a gorgeous dog called Sprocket from the pound. She lives in France so i got to take my first ever trip on the blue bus which runs from Schifflande all the way to la belle France ( taking all of a mighty 4 minutes.) As the bus passed through the border controls I suddenly realised that I had completely forgotten to bring my passport - fortunately all the police in France are currently trying to quell petrol protests so no one was even there waiting to catch me. Anyway my friend and Sprocket were at the bus stop waiting for me and we had a nice walk back to her house where a very pleasing afternoon was spent drinking coffee in front of her open fire, gassing about men and dogs, before graduating to Alsace cremant and pizza in the evening. I would even say I was a little bit tipsy by the time they brought me home but I'm really glad I dragged myself out for the afternoon.
Speaking of visiting different countries I suppose it is time I outed myself - I am off to Lebanon next weekend for a week. I have mixed feelings about this decision which was made at 2 am in the morning and can't help wondering sometimes if Florence might have been a more relaxing choice. Still Joanna J has never been known to make things easy for herself so I am trying to get myself excited at the prospect of returning to a land where the one eyebrow shall surely reign supreme.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Smashing... new boots and friendship

Today Ulla and I put on our raincoats and went to do some recycling and shopping. In Basel you have to put all your bottles into different recycling bins according to colour: white, green, brown. I quite enjoy throwing the bottles in the bins because they usually make a very satisfying smashing sound (like having your own little Greek restaurant experience minus the moussaka.) I didn't find it as satisfying this time though as I have been doing plenty of smashing at home. Yes it continues!! Last night I kicked a champagne glass spectacularly across the floor. It made a beautiful constellation just like The Milky Way. (Fortunately it was empty - so no wastage there!)
Anyway after recycling I did a bit of grocery shopping and bought lots of green vegetables - I am very attracted to the colour green right now. Then on the way home Ulla spied a very lovely pair of boots in a shoe shop and demanded that we go in so she could try them on. Unfortunately we couldn't get them over her wheels so I did what any good friend would do and bought them for myself. Luckily I bought all the vegetables before the boots as I probably won't be able to afford to eat for a while.

*******

I have been trying to think of something to write to all the friends I know I have not communicated with in months/ perhaps even years. It was not my intention to be this remiss but the fact is I have been. I have been neglectful and for this I am deeply sorry. I borrow from
Khalil Gibran's words on friendship


And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

I hope I can embrace this example and be a better friend to all I love. :-)

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Today's man of my dreams

Last night I dreamt I went to Beirut and stayed with a couple who kept feeding me sugary doughtnuts in the shape of turtles. I then flew to Lugano on a plane which somehow managed to fly under a bridge and land in an undercover carpark. I had come to watch my boyfriend ( Frank Lampard - oh no!!) play cricket for Germany. My dad was there as well, I think he might have been playing cricket. I wanted to introduce him to Frank but Frank had gone to take a shower with his mates.

????


All week we have had beautiful, sunny weather here in Basel but today it seems the October grey has finally come to rest. I Like this weather. It's slanket weather. It's snuggle-up weather - if only Frank were here with me now !!! Perhaps I shall take slanket for a walk this afternoon just to defy Glamour magazine.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

the call

This morning I woke up to the sound of church bells calling people to prayer. The sound of church bells is a very European/British thing for me and I love listening to them break the morning silence. I actually love the call to prayer (the adhān) in Muslim countries for the same reason even though theirs is somewhat earlier (and often rather more penetrating) than the lazy nine o'clock bells.
The most beautiful call to prayer I have ever heard was actually in Africa ( not Damascus as I am sure some folk might expect me to say.) I was in a tiny Dogon village in Mali where D and I had been travelling for a couple of days with a guide called Willi. Unfortunately I don't have any digital photographs from this area so I have found some here instead to give you an idea of the area. It was actually a lot drier when I was there. Just dirt and dust and stripped down boa boa trees. Yet it was still very mesmerising.
I remember wandering the markets and watching men wearing pointy hats and long, flowing cloaks pass by as if they were Gandalfs on a stroll through an African Middle Earth.
On the second night we stayed in Ende which was much like many of the other Dogon villages along the escarpment except that it was also the home to the spiritual leader ( the Hogon). Perhaps it is him who I heard sing so beautifully.
I remember lying on a mudroof in this village and waking to an expanse of sky and stars and the most sublime music you can possibly imagine. Like something out of a mystical fairytale which didn't punch its way into my sleep like the normal prayer wails do but tended to sail through the air and blend with my dreams. I cannot recall a single note of the song I just remember that gripping realisation in my heart that I might possibly have just heard the most beautiful sound I will ever hear in my entire life.
I believe to this day it still is.

Since I don't have any picture of the area to add to the blog I shall add one of my favourites taken earlier in the trip . The whole game actually stopped until the goats had made it safely through.

This picture was also taken from the same place which was along the coast in Ghana.


ps - safe travels to D who is on a journey of his own today.


Friday, 1 October 2010

Happy snap


I thought I would add a happy snap taken of me and my sister when she was over in the summer. Nothing like two sunshine smiles to brighten a glum day.
I have been krank this week with a festery nose/ throat/ chest combination. I continue to praise the person who decided to add balm to kleenex tissues. Can you imagine a time before that? Inconceivable!
Fortunately I am a proud owner of a snuggie (aka slanket - ) so I have been slanketing around my apartment feeling quite smug. Smug and sick :-)
Of course then you can imagine my dismay when I read the September issue of Glamour whereupon it dared to suggest that wearing a slanket was one of the top 14 things never to do. Thankfully I read on and discovered it actually meant never to do in public- Phew! Clearly personal slanket orgies in the confines of one's own home are still ok. Not that this would stop me wearing my slanket outside if needs required. I mean I am sure the same people who poo poo the slanket also poo poo
* wearing days-of-the-week socks with sandals
* wearing blouses inside out for the whole day with the label on clear display
* wearing hats that invite the question ' are you a Gypsy by any chance?'
all of which I have done with aplomb in the past two weeks alone.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Scherben bringen Glück

In German they have a saying 'Scherben bringen Glück ( broken crockery brings good luck).
I'm really hoping this is true because I seem to be smashing my way through a lot of crockery right now.
At least I know that this phase in my life will have to be finite since I don't even own a lot of crockery.

Unless I start smashing the bathroom porcelain of course which cannot be dismissed as entirely implausible. After a hard day at work I do tend to plonk myself down quite heavily.

One thing I know is that I tend to smash when I am distracted or unhappy. I don't know if I am actually unhappy right now especially since I have so much to be grateful for but I suppose I am. You can' t enjoy sunshine if you never have rain.

I am still reading Rumi and today I am going to borrow his words once again. I figure if I keep on borrowing I will run out of credit and then I will have to write again.

Gamble everything for Love
if you're a true human being.
If not, leave
this gathering.
Half-heartedness doesn't reach into majesty.

I find this very powerful. It means so many things to me. Love whole-heartedly, Teach whole-heartedly, write whole-heartedly, smash whole-heartedly...don't do anything by halves ( except perhaps drink flagons of cheap wine.)

Friday, 10 September 2010

two months later

Smell the spices while you can!

I have been instructed by someone very important to me that I must start to write again. It's like I dropped my pen down an empty well last spring and all the summer rain has finally brought it back up to the surface. It's up to me now to take it in my hand once again.
It's hard to start though. A bit like yoga when you are out of practice. Suddenly the words seem very far away a bit like your toes when they are stretched out in front.
But just like my toes, I know they still exist. I just have to be quiet enough to hear them once again.
I'm not really going to write a big blurb about my last two months though. I had my sister for four weeks and my parents ( a big surprise!) for three. We had a lovely time but I feel this is something that can remain just between us. Instead I am going to cheat a little and borrow the poem of another to start my week.

Drumsound rises in the air,
its throb, my heart.
A voice inside the beat says

"I know you are tired,

but come. This is the way."

Rumi