Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Just put the bowl down and nobody gets hurt!!!

Right now I am carrying an enormous goldfish bowl around in my hands. It is a beautiful bowl - custom made - it doesn't have any fish in it anymore - it doesn't have anything in it except perhaps the odd drop of salt water when I am feeling sad. I carry it aound everywhere. I sit with it on the tram. I have it in class. Amazingly I even hold on to it as I practise yoga. When I do my cycling class I balance it on my knees. I never let go of it. I don't want to break it.
    I suppose I could put new fish in it or maybe some flowers or an ant farm or something. But none of those things would ever fit in this bowl ; this bowl was made for things that no longer exist.Or perhaps they do exist but not in a way I can comprehend.
It's so heavy though. And it stops my hands from holding anything else instead.
I need to find some place to put this bowl down. I don't want to smash it but I need to find a way to put it gently down and pick up something else.

Monday, 30 May 2011


Today one of my teaching colleagues told me my hair was looking a bit 'ratsy'. I didn't actually have a problem with this. It is quite long and the ends are a bit dry and straggly. Besides trying to feel good on the inside is more of a priority for me right now -  the outside can wait! Anyway then another colleague said in a much more serious tone.
'No. Really. You need a haircut!'
For some reason the way she said it sounded more like judgment than a bit of friendly advice.  It bothered me thoughout the class and I began thinking maybe I actually need to see a hairdresser again. Not to appease her. I still feel she was judgmental.  But  for the sake of my hair.
 The truth is I haven't seen a hairdresser for a number of years now. I happily trim my own hair whenever the whim takes me. It's cheap, it's easy, I know about my cowlick. Besides hairdressers are scary. They have scissors you know! And they often have very long finger nails which they dig into your scalp. They also extract personal information from you. They bouffant your hair . They can make you look like Rod Steward in a few swift seconds. And above all I truly do believe that it is their sworn mission to make you as ugly as  possible - kind of like  a Hippocratic oath for hairdressers.

So after all that I have decided to cut my own hair like I always do. I hope my colleague approves. Actually, I don't care.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

your true path

I recently read somewhere that Dutch scientists (gotta love the Dutch : home of Edam and clogs) at Maastricht University have decided that doing absolutely nothing for a couple of hours a day is excellent for building immunity. So, in the name of research, today I successfully lay in my bed for most of the day until I dragged myself out to go to my evening classes. I even skipped yoga in the name of immunity-building. Of course now I feel strong enough to battle down even the most recalcitrant case of hiccups and perhaps even survive a very nasty toe-stubbing.
     Anyway as I lay immunity - building in my garden bed (FYI: I  have a bed that looks like a garden) I started thinking about life paths. Not just because I was lying in a garden bed ( and hence might logically begin pondering garden paths) but because I had been discussing this very topic with one of my classes earlier in the week.
I mean what exactly is a life path?
I have decided ( in my infinite wisdom as an immunity-building garden bed-dweller) that there are three possible interpretations although I am of course open to many more.

First there is the actual life path: get born-grow up-get married-have kids -lose teeth/ mind- push daisies. Obviously I am very lost on this particular path!

Second there is the path you can take where you decide to remain true to whatever path you are already on. It could be a path very much like the first situation ot it could be different - like the path of a nun etc.  This path, whatever it is, is fairly well cut out for you.  If you look out the window you can see it unfolding nicely in front of you - maybe there is the odd dip in the road - but ultimately you know where the path is going and this is a relief to you. It may not bring true happiness to you or the others on your immediate path. It may not reflect who you really are; it may be born out of obligation and duty that you carry like stones upon your back but it is safe and predictable and in these days of uncertainty what the hell is wrong with that! I can understand this path completely.

Then there is the third path -your true path. A path you cannot see ahead of you but which magically appears each time you put your foot down in the direction your heart leads you. Of course sometimes you put your foot in completely the wrong direction and the path still apears but somehow gently it finds a way back to where your true path lies.  And what is your true path ? The path of least resistance ( although perhaps at first glance it may seem like the most); the path that brings you joy and purpose; the path that doesn't make you feel like you have chosen the wrong path! It doesn't mean that your true path is all sunflowers and rainbows - it could be very hard - but there is something in your soul, in your deepest being, that knows this path is right for you. It is the path I believe that brings you peace and peace to those around you who experience you at peace. I am not saying duty and obligation do not exist on this path but instead of feeling like burdens they feel like freedoms too. Of course there are some very appealing things about the idea of a true path especially since at face value it  lends itself rather conveniently to the idea that everything is fated and you have no control over your destiny. But this is wrong, naive and perhaps even lazy. I know that if I lie around in bed all day (albeit  immunity-building) my true path is not suddenly going to appear. I have to work at it. I have to believe it. I have to understand that sometimes it is going to hurt but right in the middle of it, right in its very nub is peace and happiness.

This is the path I want to take -although right now I am afraid.

Incidentally- this is a picture of me loving the Dutch at Euro 2008

Sunday, 22 May 2011

a Hafiz moment

“We have come into this exquisite world to experience ever and ever more deeply our divine courage, freedom and light!”



I try to remember this whenever I am anxious and uncertain; or I feel as if my dreams have taken flight and left me well behind.

I find it helps.

But then so does vino

  and cheezy posing!!!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

a bit of light reading

Right now I am reading:
'Damascus Nights' by Rafik Schami.
'The Patience Stone' by Atiq Rahim.
'The Devil Gets the Better of Love,' by Hande Altayli.
'The Painted Veil,' by W. Somerset Maugham
Of course I am not reading them at exactly the same time (even multi-tasking has its limits!) but I am moving between these stories depending on my mood.  I  am actually reading 'The Painted Veil' by way of  a Kindle. A birthday gift from D who gently and sweetly nudges me into the 21st century at any chance he gets. So far  despite initial resistance ( I am Taurean after all and afraid of anything that requires an on button) I am finding the Kindle quite easy to use and very practical to carry in my handbag which tends to be generally quite cluttered and limited in space. No dog-earing either! 
I will let you know how I feel by the end of the book although given this is such a tragically doomed tale perhaps I should try out a few more e-books first. I'm not sure how well the screen handles tears ( but then books certainly don't - this much I know.)

Friday, 13 May 2011

Cleaning up the mean streets of Basel

So I was up at Centralbahnplatz ( the main train station square) just after lunch time on Tuesday when I noticed a man running erratically through the crowd. A few seconds later I noticed a frail, old lady chasing after him. Being the daughter of a mathematician I very quickly deduced that things definitely did not add up. So I began to run which is quite a rare phenomenon for me. I mean occasionally I like to walk quite fast ( especially in pursuit of cats) and I have been known to jog but running is really quite exotic to me. ( I am excellent at downwards dogs though I would like to add -I am not a completely lazy gal.)
downward dog example!
Anyhow I remember thinking at the time - why is nobody stopping this man? There is clearly something afoot - but my supergirl senses were tingling so loudly I did not have time for such ponderings. Instead I ran towards the lady (who was still valiantly chasing) and asked her ' Was passiert?' (What happened?) She told me in German that the man had her bag.
Well, then some sort of Supergirl/ Forest Gump power kicked in and I started to run even faster and I just couldn't stop!  Not even Clive Owen dressed in a smart suit draped in persian cats could have distracted me from my task! I chased the man down an arcade, down some stairs, through another shady arcade, down a street, through some building works, across a busy intersection, past an Irish pub and a truck ( where the man briefly hid while trying to catch his breath) then down another road towards the Basel Theatre. I don't believe I have ever run so long or so hard in my life.  I felt as if my lungs would bleed. As I ran I shouted in German for help from passing men who were much bigger and stronger than me but not one of these men  bothered to stop or impede the thief ! So it was me and the man and the rest of the world! To be honest i don't even know what kept me running - perhaps after having felt so powerless for these past months I suddenly wanted to take power again - if not for myself at least for someone else!
So then the man dodged  into a dead-end alley known as a Sackgasse in German! ( You would think I would know better than following any man into a Sackgasse!! Still even the most intelligent woman can get tricked by such things when she is driven by her heart instead of her head.) So there I was in a dead-end alley searching for this man. I noticed a billiard room sign and thought he might be there and I went to the door but it was locked ( I know. I know - get out of there girl!). Then I turned around and noticed my target recovering against the opposite wall. There was another man near him dressed in a red shirt and suddenly I thought 'What if they are together.' 'What if this is where they come after they have mugged an innocent person?' 'What if there is a gang?' And yet still the Super Girl/ Forest Gump/ Rabid Dog in me would not stop and I yelled out 'halt' to this man in my best German accent ( Herr Flick would have been most impressed!) The man started running out of the Sackgasse and I hurled myself after him. Then just as we reached the end of the alley I saw another man coming down towards us so I yelled out to him 'Hilfen mich bitte!' And hilfen mich he did - within seconds he had the perp ( if I may borrow from CSI) face down on the ground with his arms behind his back. If I am honest I have to admit I was a little shocked by what I saw but the man who had helped me quickly revealed that he was actually a policeman dressed in plain clothes. He wasn't violent or unreasonable per se - just very efficient and persuasive.

The rest as they say is history. The perp was taken away in handcuffs; the old lady and I met at the police station where I had to give a statement in German about that had happened. The police gave me a look of disbelief when he had heard how far I had run in fact I suspect some of it was lost in translation because I don't think he could quite believe it. My thighs believe it though!!

Actually for the next few days I have been physically exhausted. I have also had a few nightmares where I imagine the perp is trying to break through the door of my flat. To be honest the whole experience has bothered me in some ways.
1. I don't think I would have ever run that hard for something of my own - ok maybe my Ark handbag.
2. I realise on reflection that it was not sensible for me to pursue a mugger into a Sackgasse on my own  but something at the time just drove me to keep fighting.
3. The sight of the man face down on the bitumen and then handcuffed in the wagon actually depressed me. It made me feel sad. Of course I was  happy to have helped the old lady (who incidentally had just been to the doctor for some pain injections just before she was mugged) but really the whole story is quite sad in the end. Sad for the lady and for the man as well. 

Obviously though the mean streets of Basel are safer at least for now!!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


  I have read on the BBC website today that tanks are reportedly heading towards Hama. Hama is a lovely, old town in Syria on the banks of the Orontes River which was all but destroyed back in the 1980s. All that remains of its ancient quarter now is a couple of beautiful streets with narrow lanes, a few little mosques and a wonderful artists enclave where I once bought the painting I now have hanging on my wall (see below.)         

my picture made from coffee
Sameer -the artist

Hama is famous for its wooden water wheels (known as norias) which once formed  part of an ancient irrigation system. Today in the summer when the air is hot and steeped in jasmin you can watch the water wheels slowly turning and listen to their songful groans - like dinosaurs chatting by a waterhole. In the summer young boys climb high up on the wheels and splash down to the water below. Families spend the evenings drinking tea, smoking nargileh and eating corncobs along the river bank.

Hama is a town I hold close to my heart. It is here I first found my Syrian feet and it is somewhere I like to think about when my heart hurts too much in the present. I remember how every morning I used to get a drink down at the corner juice bar. I would sit on one of the few stools with a huge glass of mixed fruit, listening to Arabic pop while the fruit man (whose name I have now sadly forgotten) used to smile at me and fan his arms, saying " choob chooc kteer " It's hot, very hot!

Hama is also the home of Abdullah ( after whom I named my elevator.) A was the most wonderful hotel host who slept on the couch in the living room and waited every night to see that  I ( and every other guest) came safely home. Once I was late home (I was out inncocently drinking mint lemonade with a waiter from a restaurant talking about Majnun, about Syria, about everything in the world) and he rang the restaurant to find out where I was. He called me the troublemaker from then on and whenever he had special Syrian delicacies in the living room he would shout' hey troublemaker come try my food!'.  I believe that A has only ever loved one woman and he left her in the end because he could not bear the pain that comes with feeling so much love.
Hama is also a place where I enjoyed beautiful desserts and sat at tables with families of women out for  ladies'nights. It is also the place where I accidentally  hosed myself down in the ladies toilet with the water pipe you use when using a squat toilet. Somehow I had nudged this pipe with my hip and a jet stream of water drenched me completely and the whole bathroom too. I ended up wearing a waiter's uniform for the rest of the night because all my clothes had been saturated and clung to my body rather too alluringly for a foreign lady in the Middle East.

Hama is also the place where I took my first public bath and all the women welcomed me in  as one of their own. They scrubbed me and my hair, kissed my forehead, held my hands. Then when they had finished they turned their buckets into drums and sang and danced to rhythmic songs all around the bathing room.  After, they shared their mujadara (a lentil stew) with me, and as the day closed into night I carried their cooking pot with them through the town.  
Hama is a place I go when I am feeling hurt. Now it is very likely that Hama is hurting too - and this makes me very sad.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Happy feet

So I heard that creativity is excellent for depression! Check out my newly decorated shoes - ladybird nirvana. I feel a little better already!

Friday, 6 May 2011


Damascene host family

Each passing day I lament more and more the rising death toll in Syria.  Such a beautiful country that has made me so welcome every time that I have visited. With some of kindest, most generous people I have ever met in the whole world. I hope that peace is soon found in the streets of its ancient towns.

local Damascene bakers -excellent chocolate doughnuts
midnight camel-riding hosts in Homs
Family I excursioned with near Tartus
Aleppo souk sellers/English teachers

Palmyran money exchange