Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Final Countdown

It's true, I go back to work in 2 days. Five months literally did just fly by. Sigh. I always used to think I was the type of person who had to work - that if I were to take time off I would be bored after a few weeks, just chomping at the bit to return to the labor force! Not true I have come to realize. I may be the type of person who needs to be doing something, but there are plenty of things that fall into the category of "something" that are not work related! Plenty. Those five weeks I had in San Francisco between Africa and Burning Man were so wonderful, I spent my days splitting time between the climbing gym and the ceramics studio (more heavily on the climbing side), with the once weekly foray into the land of personal training. Those were the days!

Portugal was really quite beautiful, and although I never got the hang of the language (at all) I was able to communicate relatively well with the folks there, most of whom don't speak any English. I don't think I ever even pronounced yes or no correctly. I think they appreciated my effort though. Were the dollar not plummeting to new all-time record lows every day I was there, Portugal would actually have been pretty cheap! Definitely far cheaper than Spain and Italy. People like to ask about the highlight of a trip - and while I couldn't come up with one from Africa, the highlight of this trip was definitely renting a car for my last two days and driving around Northern Portugal. I love a challenge!

One of the issues with traveling alone is only have two eyes, which (at least for me) move in the same direction at the same time. So reading a map while driving - especially a tiny detailed road map - is virtually impossible. I would never have been able to drive around Lisbon on my own unless I was just driving without an actual destination. So I decided to rent a car at the Porto airport, and drive into a less populated area of the country. My Lonely Plant guide had a map of Guimaraes, and it looked exactly like the kind of place I could navigate around on my own - there were approximately 4 streets on this map. So off I head to Guimaraes, only to realize when the highway plopped me off into a large city, that the map in Lonely planet was just a small artists rendition of the old historic area, which was who-knows-where in relation to the rest of the rather large city I found myself in with no map. Asking for directions in Portugal? *Not* easy. It reverted to pointing fingers, which is only good for the first street of the directions. Then which way? I was in a complete panic. Each rotary had at least 4 roads coming off of it, and the signage was not useful when I couldn't tell if the sign was directional, or the name of a street... Plus, where do you pull over? The streets are barely wide enough for the two directions of traffic! So oftentimes I had to drive blocks and blocks further than I wanted to before I could find a space to pull over. I miraculously found the hotel I was looking for - the building that said Hotel Toural was huge - but I couldn't find the door. I am not kidding, I ran around a giant block for over 15 minutes trying to figure out how to get in. I asked more people about the entrance to the hotel than I did how to get there in the first place. Finally I found it - there was another building not adjacent to that one which had the entrance. Phew. After that I got an actual map for the city, and it was (not surpisingly) very helpful.

Far more exciting for me than looking at castles, churches or palaces is driving. Driving in a new country where every road is a new road I've never been on before just makes me very, very happy. So off I went the next day on some road trip adventure, across the Northern part of Portugal, and it was so beautiful, a storm was coming in which made the landscapes even more dramatic. The water is a gorgeous dark sapphire blue, they have a number of very cool dams you can just drive across the top of, and many large windmills atop mountains as well. At one point of a particularly scenic part of the adventure Boy George's Karma Chameleon came on, followed closely by Brian Adams' Summer of 69. I was happy as a clam. Are clams happy? Who came up with that saying? I bet Wikipedia could tell us.

So now my adventures are over for the time being, I have transferred all of this blog over to my other one (which no one knew existed) http://cheeksmo.blogspot.com/ and I will try to write every now and again about the mundane experiences of life in San Francisco. I also did manage to get my photos up from Portugal which I am happy about http://www.flickr.com/gp/60211938@N00/2697k2

Thanks for reading along and all of the wonderful comments and encouragement!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Smokey Joe

(Sintra, Portugal: September 19, 2007)

What a day! The plan was to walk up a mountain to see two castles, and then come back down to town and go to the Toy Museum. After a bit of trying to guilt myself into going to see the castles, I decided to go to the toy museum first, and then see what I felt like doing afterward - knowing it would unlikely be climbing a mountain.

Sintra is a very small town so the whole Toy Museum was a bit of a crap shoot. Sure, the guide book said it was good, but it also gave a walking tour for 3 sections of Lisbon which was absolutely incomprehensible. I walk in and first thing I see? A giant dollhouse. I was in heaven! I wished it were higher off the ground, because my knees are old and creaky, but oh well. Only later did I realize everything was so low because children are their main clientele. Ha! The size of this dollhouse actually reminded me of the dollhouse I made when I was younger - in 7th grade - which coincided with the year I took wood shop! Ah, two good side stories.

So 7th grade was very exciting for me because I was out of that rinky dink elementary school and for the first time ever, I had choices! I was in charge of my educational destiny. I could choose 1. if I wanted to continue with band - or not. (I did). 2. if I wanted to speak a language. Yes, French please - which I still to this day think was the wrong choice. Spanish, people. Spanish! and 3. either Wood Shop or Home Ec. As if that's a choice! I can't imagine why in the world I would have wanted to take a class on cooking and sewing. I already knew how to do both well enough to get by, and hello - wood shop! I could use powertools and make things! So I, along with one other female Rebecca someone, took wood shop along with every guy in our grade - roughly 100. I took wood shop because I wanted to make things from wood. She took wood shop to flirt with every guy in the class. A pretty smart plan for someone I didn't consider to be all too bright. Then, at the end of the year when the whole school was in the auditorium getting end of year academic awards they announced the winner of the wood shop award: Sara Chieco. I nearly fell out of my seat. It's true at that age I paid a bit more attention to detail than my male counterparts (sanding is a time consuming task), and did better on the measurement tests, but a girl winning the award? Unheard of. I look back proudly on that moment today, but at the time I was completely and utterly mortified, and I'm sure was teased endlessly about being a lesbian.

Story #2 back to the dollhouse. Not much of a story, actually. I built myself a dollhouse, and it was GIANT. Not quite so giant as the one in the front of the museum, but I was no famous dollhouse maker, and it was absurdly huge. I hadn't planned it to be, it just turned out that way. Sure, I glued each wooden roof shingle on by hand, but this dollhouse in the museum has real red clay roof tiles! I did also put wallpaper on and had a staircase, but this one had an elevator. Mine was definitely the red-neck version. It never quite fit together perfectly, and I'm not sure it ever made it out of the basement. You know when you're just out of college, living in the real world and it seems like your mother makes up excuses to call you every week? I remember one such phone call: Hey, can we throw out that dollhouse yet? The cats have been using it to dispose of their unwanted dead prey bits. Yes mom, you can throw it out. Did I mention this dollhouse in the museum had a dollhouse inside of it?!? More like a diorama, but still. Oh, and the crowning touch: a full-on religious procession outside of the cobbled courtyard replete with strange religious figure on a pole.

Then next to it was an Eiffel tower taller than me built from an erector set. If I wasn't quite in heaven yet, I was now. This guy who I imagine I am supposed to know since he name was all over the place built it when he was 15, and they have re-erected it now, 65 years later. Unreal. I had an erector set! I loved messing around with screwdrivers when I was young. Have I told you the screwdriver story yet? When I was about 4 years old I took ballet classes. One time I went into class with a screwdriver in my pocket probably from playing with my erector set. The teacher found it (how did she find it?) and kicked me out of class! I had to go home as punishment. Go figure.

Other museum highlights include their visual history of Lego's. I wasn't around for the super fancy sets or anything (after my time), but they had ones with wheels, and transparent windshield-like pieces when I was little, and oh how I loved them. The museum had Japanese robots from the 50's. Joy, you would have freaked out. There were these really fancy old tricycles and mini cars and a mini Range Rover (?) and then next to them what looked like a few branches put together - titled 'Bicycle made by children in Tanzania'. Enough to make you cry, really. Sure there were some old dolls that were super creepy because all but a few tufts of their hair had fallen out in a terrible pattern, but overall the museum was truly amazing. I may not be a fan of trains or small military figures (sorry fellas), but there was plenty for me to enjoy. Something to check out if you haven't seen them already are Kokeshi dolls from Japan. Stunning.

Oh, and how could I forget Smokey Joe? A mean lean pressed tin fire fighting machine.

Monday, September 17, 2007


(Lisbon, Portugal: September 17, 2007)

So I am reading a book on this trip called Eat, Pray, Love. It's come highly recommended from a few friends, and Isabel was kind enough to give it to me on tape! Of course I left it at home though and wound up buying the book at the airport.

The author is talking about her life and her travels after a large change in her life and she decided to stay in Rome for the first 4 months of her travels to experience pleasure. She talks about the trouble she has truly letting go and enjoying herself fully. One reason for this is the American inability to relax. That Americans don't know how to do nothing. This is exactly one of the major issues I was trying to address in my time off. I don't know how to do nothing. I hardly even know how to do one thing at a time! My desire for efficiency has taught me to multi-task perpetually - mind you not to the point of sacrificing quality, but it does teeter on the edge, especially as I get older and my brain feels a little less capable. I essentially had 2 goals for these 5 months off. One was to learn how to relax and be okay with doing nothing, even if it was just for a few hours. The second was to figure out what I wanted to do about my current living situation.

I wasn't sure if I was any closer to learning how to relax, but I think I have gotten a bit better, although it's only been apparent (to me) secondarily through slight behavioral differences. I seem to be less organized now. For most people that would not be such a good thing, but for me it's progress! I came to Portugal with only a place to stay in the first city, and (gasp) I didn't have a packing list for the trip. This is probably the first trip I have gone on *ever* in my adult life where I didn't have a packing list. Guess what? I didn't forget anything! At least nothing I am missing or remember. I also started packing for Burning Man 6 days ahead of time. Typically I start 6-7 weeks ahead of time. The difference though is in my response to that. Normally I would get into a bit of a panic and go into overdrive in a mad flurry of packing and organizational activity. This time, I didn't care. I mean theoretically I did, and I would say to myself that I'd better get my act together. But emotionally I didn't care at all - if I had I would have moved faster. Right? Right. I do feel like I need another month off though. I had so little time between travels and it was so packed that I wasn't able to really do the relaxing thing. I know, cry you a river. Although I was able to spend a solid 4 weeks going to the climbing gym every day and that for me was most enjoyable. That may very well be my definition of relaxing. I also went back to the ceramics studio and started working again really for the first time in a year and a half. That was really hard - I have no idea why but my being did not want to be there working again, so I had to start working on completely different forms than I was previously working on and that seemed to go over well with myself.

The trouble with this kind of travel is that I have never seen any of these places before, so I feel compelled to cram in every single item in the book I can possibly fit in. Relaxation is not an option. I cut myself some slack at night and don't force myself to go out, but daytime is chock full of tourist activities. I feel like in order to really let myself enjoy a place I would need to live there for a minimum of 3 months (if I were unemployed). Which brings me to the resolution of my second issue - what to do about my living situation. As some of you know, I was wanting to move to NY, and this 5 month break was my response to that - to try to figure out if I really wanted to move or not. I figured travel would give me a different perspective on that. It has! So far as I can tell, I don't want to move to NY, or anywhere else in the US for that matter. I do want to move to Europe though. Not so strongly that I will go about doing it as soon as I return, but it will be in the back of my mind and instruct future decisions that relate to my whereabouts. I don't see myself as a career ex-pat, but I would love to spend several years over here. I think the culture would be very nurturing for an over-worker like myself and hey, free health care!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Luggageless no more

(Lisbon, Portugal: September 16, 2007)

Let me just say I don't think I knew the definition of humid before coming to Lisbon! Bikram Yoga eat your heart out.

Yet I have completely and utterly fallen in love with this city! I just came from what could possibly be the best museum I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum - it was called the hidden treasure of Europe and they were not kidding. Have you ever seen Persian ceramics from the 13th century? Please do.

So in the vein of my favorite trash magazine, USWeekly, here's the 'Portuguese - they're just like us!' (instead of 'Stars - they're just like us!')
1. There is a collective grumbling when the person at the head of the grocery checkout line starts to make a fuss over who knows what.
2. Men yell unintelligible comments at you from their cars.
3. They make out like teenagers in the back of their cars - or more specifically, teenagers make out like teenagers in the back of their cars.
4. They make no sense. So I checked into the residential in Porto, sans luggage of course, already frazzled, and I go to my room which has had no less than 17 packs of cigarettes smoked in it during the past 24 hours. I call downstairs to say that I had asked for a non-smoking room. The woman responds that all rooms are non-smoking, but some people smoke anyway. I ask her why then do they have 2 ashtrays in the room? It's a non-smoking hotel she replies. Um, okay - gee, I wonder why people would think smoking was okay? Hey - no drinking allowed here so I'm going to put 3 bottles of good alcohol next to you. ?!?
5. They try to screw you over. At this same hotel I notice on the door it has 2 prices listed - one for single occupancy and one for double. 25 Euros difference! I find it strange since I know I was quoted the double occupancy rate. So when I'm checking out I point out that since I am ONE person I should get the single occupancy rate for the room. Oh no, she says, you asked for a double. I told you I was one person though, and it's the same room! It's not as if requesting a double gets you a better room. Plus, the common nomenclature for my situation here seems to be double room - single occupancy. Well, she informs me a single guy paid for a double room because he requested it just yesterday. As if I care what that fool did! What a sucker! So finally she calls the boss and he offers me a rate 30 Euros lower. Go figure.

Definitely some big differences though. Let me preface this by saying that I have walked a LOT in the past 5 days. I can't even begin to count the mileage, let alone number of stairs ascended.
* Number of people I have seen panhandling/begging on the street: 1. Yes, that's right, one. I hadn't even realized I hadn't seen any until today when I saw the first which seemed so out of place. Coming from San Francisco that's a pretty big difference.
* Poo - lots of it, mostly though not exclusively from dogs. I have come to realize that the old song "Shoo fly, don't bother me" started out as "Poo-fly don't bother me" and got misinterpreted somewhere along the way. That's really the problem with all of the dog poo here. I mean who wants a fly sitting on a pile of crap and then on your bare skin?? That and the fact that you have to look down all of the time, and wind up missing some pretty cool things not directly on the street in front of you.
* Apparently you can walk through certain sections of a park in broad daylight and be openly propositioned. I accidentally just walked through one such area. One man even hissed at me like a snake! Yeah buddy, that's likely to happen. Yuck. At least in San Francisco that only happens after dark.

So I was sitting at a port wine house in Porto, and a man was talking to a couple from New York next to me - he was from Canada and New Jersey, but first generation from Portugal. His whole family still lives here. He was truly in awe of all of the ecclesiastical architecture. He asked them their religion - and said how so long as you weren't an atheist you would be so inspired by the amount of work that these selfless people put into the creation of the churches. Awe-inspiring in a way that American architecture isn't. Granted, I think he was a little off base by assuming one needs to be religious to appreciate religious architecture, but his sentiment really struck me because that's how I feel about Burning Man. That's what I'm always reminded of by newcomers, as I just take it for granted now. How incredibly inspiring it is to see people put a large amount of their time and energy into something coming entirely from a place of love rather than money or obligation. He did use the word selfless though, the definition of which is part of a debate I've had with myself for quite some time now. To me, selfless means to do something for others, rather than yourself. Whereas selfish would be to act in your own best interest doing something for yourself. I know that creating art at Burning Man for me was both for others and myself - you give a great gift to other people but their reaction and appreciation is so fulfilling it seems to me almost a selfish act. You're creating for others but rewarded handily in turn by them. I wonder if selflessness has become money related - if you are doing something and not getting paid for it, or not getting paid well for it (teachers, for example) then you are acting in a selfless manner. If you create something for a large sum of money, even if you are doing it to affect other people's well being it seems like that could not be considered selfless? Just something I have thought a lot about. I have a feeling if the happiness of others could be quantified monetarily than all of the people giving at Burning Man would be considered selfish.

Ah, and one final selfish plug: I just found out I have a gallery show June 11-23rd. Please come! 8 )

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Back on the blog

(Porto, Portugal: September 12, 2007)

Here I am again, feels like I never left this generic smoky Internet cafe!

So I decided this time to treat myself and fly business class to Spain (followed by super low budget to Portugal). They give you a whole toiletries bag! (Note: this is foreshadowing) How excited was I? Like a young schoolgirl with a new backpack going through every pocket, I devoured the gift bag. Ooohh, a shoe bag! What in the world do I need a shoe bag for? To protect my very dirty running shoes from the slightly cleaner airplane floor? Who cares, it's free. A shoehorn! I started to sense a foot theme - and I for one could use some help squeezing my feet back into my shoes after a long flight anyway. A pair of small brown socks! OOOooohhh a combo comb and brush! Like a jackknife it unfolds - and I am sure could in a dark dangerous situation be used as a weapon prop as well! Sweet. Of course there was the obligatory eau de toilette bottle. I'm pretty sure the woman next to me would have thrown me out of the seat-pod if I had sprayed it to see how it smelled? The only disconcerting object was the very, very tiny toothpaste tube. You know how when you were little making model cars there would be some tiny tube of hard-core glue which would require you to puncture the metal top before the toxic fumes could come out? Well, this toothpaste had a metal top that required puncturing. sketchy. I came up with the following improvement: include those compression socks that prevent your feet and ankles from swelling, and do away with the shoe horn and brown socks entirely!

So from the jovial tone of the first paragraph you are probably thinking my time is going swimmingly. It was! Until my bag never arrived in Madrid from the states. I have come to find out that Iberia is notorious here for lost bags. Apparently the 2 hour connection time I had in Chicago O'Hare was not enough to get my bag from K16 to K19 - a total of 300ft. But they can't confirm that my bag is in Chicago. Off I flew to Porto with no luggage - and I mean NO LUGGAGE. Luckily I had thought to wear my pajamas/lounge wear on the flight out - so I had a pair of hot pink velour pants on, and a black wool short sleeved shirt. It's hot in Portugal. Really hot. Did I mention the black wool shirt somehow turned out to be see through as well? I thought man, I really need a happy pill right now. Good thing they're in my luggage! As well as my allergy medication. As well as EVERYTHING except a camera, 2 lenses, 3 books and knitting.

So luckily they gave me a number to call to check on my bag - it's nice to know it's as difficult to deal with airlines here as at home - and in a language I don't speak nonetheless. Imagine the maze of menu options in Portuguese. Well, didn't matter much, they never answered the phone after being on hold for 30 minutes (sixty dollars later). I will supposedly have my bag delivered to Portugal tomorrow after it comes on the next flight from Chicago. Betting pool anyone?

I´m happy to report I'm sitting here in a bright orange tank top, and beige embroidered skirt with bow at the top... let's just say I was desperate. For a while before I found the skirt I was wearing the bright orange tank top with the hot pink velour track pants! Now that was a look and a half.

Anyway, I'm in remarkably good spirits all things considered, I could write about it after all, which would have been impossible this morning. At least I have my camera! Some underwear would be nice though. Well, tomorrow's another day - and let me just say that so far, Porto is gorgeous. See how the toiletries bag took on a much greater importance by the end? Too bad there's no soap in it.