Travel Thursday: Vienna, Land of Wine and Flamenco, Part 2

One of the many things I liked about Terry was her not being a typical woman clotheswise; with most women who told me she’d be dressed and ready in ten minutes, I knew I could lounge for at least a half hour at a leisurely pace, but not her. If anything, she was ready before me. I didn’t travel with much clothes, but I knew Terry wouldn’t mind my wardrobe, since at heart she was a simple girl despite her minor pretenses with hair.
I looked at Terry‘s trenchcoat where it was belted around her very slim waist, looking very sensual, I thought. “Might as well use a bracelet there,” I murmured, making her flush with pride, which quite a few people in the lobby noticed, but assigned to the wrong reason. Getting into a seductive pose as we waited in line, she ran her hand through my hair and murmured into my ear, though from the distance to the door it could easily be taken for a nibble. I would not have thought she had it in her, but she was full of surprises tonight. I stayed silent, though with a foolish grin as she continued to tickle my ear with her breath until we got to the door to the hall. The girl who took us to our seat looked very much like a local blonde despite the orange and polka-dot flamenco dress, which inspired Terry to airily ask, “How do you think I would look in a dress like that, darling?”
Despite misgivings, I told the truth. “You know damned well you would look good in anything, you silly little hussy.”
“I am not little!” she complained, hurt, loudly enough so that a few men turned and couldn’t help but notice she was telling the truth as they looked UP to see her beautiful face. “Still, orange doesn’t seem like my color.”
“Green all the way, as long as it matches your eyes.”
“Somehow I knew, even before seeing that dress, that you were taking me to flamenco,” she continued as she sat in the chair I offered her and crossed her legs demurely. I had turned the chair out from the table so she could face the stage, and as a consequence I was now seated behind her, though of course that didn’t bother me for a moment. It was almost as if the back of her chair didn’t exist as I put my arms around her and brought her so close the front legs of the chair tipped up. She didn’t seem to notice the precarious position, positive that I would never let her come to any harm.
The music and dancing started, but I was aware that my beautiful companion was drawing attention away from the stage. Instinctively I tightened my grip on the lovely woman before me and took in the dancing ladies setting up on the stage, which instantly downed my mood. “Not good. I prefer flamenco when it’s done in a synchronized group, not solos.”
“I prefer solos. I’m sure it’s an ego thing, but I would want all eyes on me.”
“But you’re watching, not performing.”
“True, but this’ll make it easier for me to steal some moves.”
Laugh. “I can’t imagine what a mishmash your dances must be.”
Luckily the show kicked into gear. Unluckily, it was geared more toward her tastes, there being only five female dancers and one male, two guitarists, and a singer. I sighed, which only brought a laugh from her. Sensitive female my ass, I grumped.
As expected, after an intro with all six dancers, they settled down to solos and duets. The other ladies sat in the background, fanning themselves and clapping when appropriate. It was easy to see the first soloist was the prima dona of the group, dressed all in white and looking a little thicker than the others. If I hadn’t been watching with one of the most beautiful woman I’d ever shot, I would have been looking at the dancers for something other than their moving abilities. I especially liked to do that when flamenco was concerned, because the gals dressed up to look alike. Hair and makeup were all done the same, and the only difference was in the colors of the dress. My theory was that this was done so that if the viewer chose a favorite, it would be strictly on dancing ability, and the dresses would allow the viewer to say his favorite was “yellow dress” or “pink polka-dots.”
Whatever. Right now the older lady was doing more spinning than dancing, the beat speeding up, both music and clapping, turning her faster and faster. To the amazement of the crowd, the lady’s hem, long enough to qualify as a train at a wedding, slowly crept higher and higher, spinning alongside her as she continued gyrating on one foot with the other providing an occasional push off the floor.
“Cool!” Terry laughed. “Let’s see how shy she is!”
But there was no way to find out, since the dress was too tight up top to go much higher. Instead I pointed to the woman’s legs. “See that? Those aren’t calves, those are cattle!”
Since it was dark, I couldn’t quite time it right, but it was okay because we were at the front of the table and no one got doused by her spit take.
The singer and band were making a wonderful effort not to appear bored, but luckily no one was looking at them. One of the other dancers moved to the center of the stage to replace the diva, using the quick, darting motions associated with the dance. The other four were standing by their stools sideways, back arms raised over their heads in classic position. As if on cue–which I was sure there was, but I missed it–all the ladies reached down by their stools to pick up a basket of cut flowers. “Flower dance,” I stated the obvious, though I was surprised they would do it with just five dancers. I’d never seen it done with less than nine, but apparently these ladies thought they were good enough not to care about something as piddling as numbers. Obviously the small stage dictated the smaller group, but it prevented them from doing the more complicated passing of baskets and flowers that were the trademark of the dance.
“I can do that,” Terry sniffed.
“How, if you only dance solo?”
The music kicked up, preventing me from hearing her response, which was probably for the best. Now the three ladies who had yet to go solo moved stage front, their back hands still over their heads as they did the torso-twisting steps so familiar to this style of dance. I knew it was as easy as skipping one foot in front of the other without actually changing ground, but I had to admit they did make it look as if you had to be quite experienced to accomplish the move. Besides, I’d never tried it in heels and a long dress {and if I had, I would never admit it}. The three ladies twirled and danced their way to the foot-stomping crescendo, perfectly synchronized with the music and each other, causing the lights hanging from the ceiling to rattle in unison with the stamp of their heels and the clap of the audience.
The last stomp of the song came as I saw one of the young dancers right on the edge of the stage, no more than ten feet away from me and a foot above my head. I saw that her tap shoe was right on the precipice; if she had landed one inch farther, she would have fallen into my lap. . . or more likely Terry’s. I looked up to her face and saw her grinning, so I figured she’d calculated it that way, thinking she couldn’t lose even if she fell, since she would be caught by a–presumably–rich tourist. I smiled back at her, not only making the dancer grin all the more but also eliciting a laugh from the woman sitting in front of me.
The other two ladies sat down on their stools while my new girlfriend–as Terry was already referring to her–took out her fan–from her cleavage, of all things–to cool down quickly before starting her solo. She also began by clapping and stomping one foot, the other dancers backing her up but staying out of the spotlight. But no, she was just teasing. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the other two dancers reaching for water bottles; not very traditional, I thought. Once they had recuperated a bit, they came forward to replace the soloist, who then sat down and reached for her own water bottle. She must be lowest on the totem pole, or else she was so pretty compared to the others that they had all conspired against her. I happen to notice, through the camera, how dainty and regal she took sips from the bottle, as if she knew no other way. The other two had grabbed and swilled as if dying of thirst, but the way this lady acted, I would be surprised to learn she sweated.
The two ladies now dancing made a big production out of hiking their dresses and swinging the loose skirts as they danced, but I didn’t see it. Through the camera I saw my vision, and I could tell she was looking back, exaggerating her movements as she slowly drank. When I dropped the camera, our eyes met, and suddenly I felt like a cliché; all I needed was a cigarette, though that would of course screw everything up.
“Watch carefully,” I told Terry.
“Oh, I am, I am,” she assured me, still grinning.
“Watch her, I mean. She’s a born actress.”
She wasn’t sure how to take that, but said loudly that I would be shooting at least twenty rolls of her in the next few days. . .
Finally it was my girl’s turn to dance alone. Again she started with the fan, this time dancing with it over her head rather than using it to cool herself. I noticed that she had put a black mantilla over her head, making her previously shiny-black hair look light-brown in comparison. She was also wearing some purple piece of cloth on her front, wrapping around her neck and coming down to tuck itself in her belt before hanging down further. Strangely enough, the thing actually enhanced the look of her curves hidden by the dress, making other parts besides my eyes itchy for more.
She began spinning, holding the fan over her head and continuing to wave it back and forth as she turned. Having been an ice skater, I knew it was much more difficult, or at least required more strength, to spin with the arm up instead of against the body. Considering the speed at which she was twirling, I knew she had to have powerful muscles in her skinny-looking arms as well as everywhere else, yet that in no way detracted from her feminine beauty. She was so slim, yet curvy, that–damn, she was staring at me again! She must not have seen Terry very well in the subdued light, to look so confident. Her eyes seemed to focus on me every split second she was facing me during her spins, almost as if playing a game, and I couldn’t help but grin when I realized I was doing the exact same thing, trying to fix on the exact spot when her face would swing around to face me. . .
I didn’t notice when Terry stopped grinning. . .
Finally the girl stopped spinning and put away the fan, then put her hands on her hips to begin the rapid-fire stomping routine, as it trying to break through the wood floor (“Killing cockroaches,” I called it). With a sly grin shooting straight at me, she gently moved her elbows and shoulders forward to tighten her upper body, not so accidentally thrusting her breasts further into the small tunnel of vision that was meant for me. This time I couldn’t help laughing at just how blatant she could be when she was trying not to be blatant. She caught the laugh and gave him a sly wink.
Blatant was also the buzzword in Terry’s head as she fumed with jealousy. This girl is practically shoving her wares down his throat. . . and he’s playing along! She knew she’d helped that, but never imagined I’d take the bitch up on it. Right now she couldn’t remember one single good thought about why she wanted to take this trip. . .

And then I reached out my hand to join with hers.
The now-familiar shiver ran through her, easy to see, as well as her relaxation. Everything had been a product of her imagination; oh, I might be flirting with the gal, but she had no doubt where I would be spending the night, and there wouldn’t be three people in the hotel bed.
Not tonight, anyway. . .
Glad to have that out of the way, she settled down to watch the rest of the show, giving my hand a little squeeze before disengaging. Perhaps she’d even do a little flirting of her own, though she hadn’t seen enough of the male dancer to say whether he qualified to receive her charms, if only from a distance. She knew I wouldn’t get jealous, but right now her ego needed some major stroking. . .
Picking my camera up again, I zoomed in on my chosen one. She had moved to the right of the stage, and from my angle she was between the two guitarists, in front of some cardboard balcony backdrop where some maiden might have reclined while her Romeo or Don Juan serenaded her. She was heavy into her solo now, both her arms and hips swinging in seemingly every direction at once, yet never looking anything but flamenco. Instinctively my telephoto lens telescoped out to settle on her chest, where even from the front view it was easy to detect how much the dress was struggling to contain her impatient orbs, even though they moved very little with her gyrations. It was probably from her heaving breaths, though to the camera the reason didn’t matter.
A sudden inspiration hit me. “I’m pretending that’s you up there.”
Terry instantly became excited. “I’ll learn this so you can shoot me like that,” she promised.
Putting her hands on the front of her hips now, the dancer raised the level of her moves another notch, in both difficulty and energy, drawing gasps from the few in the crowd knowledgeable enough to know the difference. My camera work rose to match, now that I had the added inspiration of Terry’s face on that lovely gyrating body. At this point the singer, who hadn’t done much of anything so far–luckily–got up from his chair and joined her in the dance. She stopped and faced him, though sneaking one last glance at her target in the audience. That message got through loud and clear, even to Terry, who was able to enjoy it again, now that she knew I was watching her up there instead of the dancer.
Too bad for the dancer that she didn’t know it, Terry thought, but with little sympathy.
Her hands still on her hips, the dancer turned sideways, giving an amazing view of her curves as the guy placed his hand on the side of her face the crowd could see. Either it was a large hand or a small face, for it reached all the way across her cheek and from her neck to her ear and the flower of her hair. Her own right hand, the one not very visible to the onlookers, mirrored his, and they slowly caressed each other like lovers in private.
With a sudden flourish, she raised her hands straight above her head and turned around, her body completely thrusting out in just the right places. She danced in place while the guy sang and ran his hands up and down her body from behind; I could hear moans coming from the audience, and laughed at their weakness. Not that I was feeling any different, but I had the sense to hold it in. . . so to speak. Placing my chin on Terry’s shoulder, I saw even her eyes were glazing, but was also managing to keep quiet.
The audience could hardly fail to notice the guy’s hands and voice shaking, plus the fact the girl’s eyes were closed and her chest heaving again, even though she wasn’t moving all that much. I wondered if that grimace of pleasure was actually from the singer’s hands or her own fevered imagination; it seemed like the music wasn’t the only thing building to a climax.
The clapping and stomping did indeed grow to a crescendo, and right before everyone’s eyes, the guy drew his hands across her breasts, making both her eyes and her mouth fly open as her knees buckled. He caught her and slowly let her collapse to the floor, a death scene any prima donna playing Carmen would have been proud of, as he turned to bow to the audience, basking in the ovation he thought he was receiving for his masculine prowess when the crowd was actually applauding her fine acting and imagination.

The lights came down, plunging the stage into darkness for the intermission while the seating lights came on, too brightly of course. I blinked a few times over at Terry, noticing she was doing the same thing, and smiled, “Are you as sweaty as I am?”
“I could use another shower, yeah,” she sighed, chest heaving a bit. “You were right about dark alleys on the way here, though!”
“Yeah,” I laughed. “You wouldn’t get to see any of Vienna for your three days here!”
“I almost feel sorry for your dancer chick. . .”
“She’ll just have to make do with second best. . .”
Terry giggled as she motioned for the waiter to refill her wine glass.

The rest of the show proved to be anti-climatic, which could not be much of a surprise, all things considered. Finally the show itself was over, but then came the surprise. The male dancer, who appeared to be the only one who spoke English, announced that anyone who wanted to come up and give it a try was welcome to get a quick lesson. He said this staring at a girl on the side, big grin and all that, then blanched and moved toward the back when Terry slipped from my arms and announced that I’d better get my camera ready.
“You’re kidding.”
Giggling, she turned to face me, then placed a foot on the chair between my thighs, letting the flap of her skirt fall off to the side. “Check out these calves.”
I did, with my hand as well as my eyes, and had to admit they weren’t nearly as skinny as the last time I’d seen them. I wondered just how much of her had puffed up as I murmured, “Cattle. . .”
Her foot moved a little forward, very dangerously, as she coolly intoned, “They’re not THAT big, you mean thing. Now watch the rest of me, and tell me if it turns you on.”
My eyebrows went up. “You know you turn me on all the time, just letting me look at you. Nothing else is needed, you beautiful, lustful wench, you.”
She just grinned. “Then this will just drive you even harder into your continuous state of lust, you animal.”
“At least you’ve got the boots for it,” I laughed as I watched her leap onto the stage, thinking this would look better if she was in her jeans but not about to question my luck. From the first I’d been wanting to see those beautiful legs in action. . .


Poetry Tuesday: Longing

By Matthew Arnold

Come to me in my dreams, and then
By day I shall be well again!
For so the night will more than pay
The hopeless longing of the day.

Come, as thou cam’st a thousand times,
A messenger from radiant climes,
And smile on thy new world, and be
As kind to others as to me!

Or, as thou never cam’st in sooth,
Come now, and let me dream it truth,
And part my hair, and kiss my brow,
And say, My love why sufferest thou?

Come to me in my dreams, and then
By day I shall be well again!
For so the night will more than pay
The hopeless longing of the day.


Travel Thursday: Vienna, Land of Wine and Flamenco

Since I had nothing in particular to do this day, I was walking around Vienna, looking in at places I’d seen before but hardly remembered, as well as locating others I’d been told about, trying to decide where to take the lady who’d be arriving tomorrow.
I was pretty sure I’d never go back to places like the Elektropathological museum, or the two museums with wax replicas of body parts and diseases–the locals seemed to be obsessed by death–but this was the last thing I wanted to take a date.
The museum devoted entirely to funerals was no better, but at least the cemeteries, of which there were plenty in this town, were a good place for strolling, hanging out, any euphemism you’d like to use for mating. I guess it’s understandable, since the young ones can’t afford a place of their own, and if you’ve got a classical music buff, she’s likely to swoon at the famous musicians’ area, but somehow I was sure I’d have to come up with something more romantic.
Much to my surprise, my wanderings eventually left me in the Gurtel, in itself not a bad place to be, but it did get tiring saying no to all the hookers. They hastened to assure me that they were licensed and had regular checkups, and didn’t understand why I kept refusing them, even when I said I would never pay for it. They would frown and ask if I only looked like an American, or if I was in some kind of rigid religious order, or. . .
When I saw a redhead that made others things rigid, I decided it was time to clear out, quickly. I wanted to be fresh for what would no doubt be a very long day with a very energetic traveler. . .

The lady who sold roses at Vienna’s Flugplatz Aspern could not remember witnessing a more beautiful reunion, especially when it was punctuated by some of her wares. Terry was smiling at said lady as she placed her new rose behind her ear, which made me notice her hair. I’d often told her that the ponytail was her best do, making her face and especially her green eyes stand out more, but right now it was done up in some fancy style that would have cost her hundreds if I hadn’t known she’d done it herself in the plane’s laboratory.
Deciding to be extravagant, at least for us, we took a taxi; with the airport being basically over the river and through the woods, it would be silly to subject both her and her luggage–of which there was mercifully little–to public transportation. So once her things were in the trunk and we’d settled into the back seat, I leaned over to undo her hair. She looked startled for an instant, then remembered who she was with and blushed in her endearing way as she sat there and took it. Once it was loose all over I took the scrunchie that she always wore like a bracelet, then figured it would be much more effective to let her do it. Smirking at me for forgetting that, she took less than three seconds to ponytail. {Can that be used as a verb? Apparently.}
With that business concluded, she stared out the window with her usual sense of fascination. Even though we were heading for the center of the city, known of course in a German-speaking place as the Zentrum, I’d told the driver to take a more scenic route. We headed north until we hit Wagramer Strasse, then went approximately southwest along that wide street through the eastern suburbs until we came to the old Danube, the original channel of the river. It was nice to look at, and it got an “Ah!” of loveliness from her, but there was much better to come.
I had to grin when she suddenly exclaimed, “I want to see the Spanish riding school!”
I was just about to open my mouth to answer when her finger in front of it distracted me, and she was too quick when I tried to bite it. “I know there’s a long waiting list and you have to buy tickets long in advance, but I also know that you can do anything, so I don’t want to hear any excuses.”
Waiting until I was sure she was through, I finally tried, “It would be easy to call Jolanda and get some passes, even though she might get jealous–”
Her eyes narrowed. “Another of your conquests? I swear, I can’t let you out of my sight for a minute!”
I found it easy to ignore her as I added, “Had she and the rest of the riders been in town, of course. Since they’re away on tour, you can’t hold it against me, no matter how hard you try.”
She looked absolutely crushed for a few moments, but as we continued on through the island, she saw something interesting to her right and sat up in her seat again. “What’s that?” she asked with the excitement and wonder of a child.
I chuckled as we tootled along the major strasse right past it. “That’s where I used to work, United Nations City.”
She kept gawking at the unusual architecture as long as she could while the taxi continued on toward the Zentrum, crossing the New Danube, the long strip of land known as Donauinsel–Danube Island–and finally the main stream of the Danube river. It did get confusing without a map, all these Danubes, and we still had to cross the Danube canal. Begging for a walk along the river, and getting the promise from me, Terry giggled as she saw the little plaza to the right immediately after crossing. “Is this place actually called Mexikoplatz? Why?”
I could only shrug. “They must have run out of names.” That was easier than a long explanation that might not be true, involving Napoleon’s ill-fated attempt to take over Mexico by installing a puppet king from the local ruling family, which included the famous Cinco de Mayo battle, which she definitely would not want to hear.
After that it was an easy ride to the hotel, since the train station to the right didn’t interest her much. I knew she’d perk up when we passed the huge Ferris Wheel known as the Reisenrad at the Prater amusement park. Of course she said she wanted to ride it, but surprised me by saying she wouldn’t mind if I didn’t want to go on it, since she knew of my fear of heights. That saved me from having to mention that I’d already ridden it, for that would have brought up the subject of Jolanda again, plus it would allow me to earn some points by reluctantly agreeing to go up with her. . .
Now the driver took a circular route so she could see as much of the inner ring as possible as we made our way toward the hotel. I tried not to grin as we passed by the Hall where the Flamenco Festival was being held, hoping she didn’t see it or me; she did claim to love surprises. . .
Vienna teddys
Stopping at the hotel only long enough to unload her luggage–I knew she’d be too excited for jetlag–we found another taxi and kept going west toward the address Terry had of a wine garden in the famous, or infamous, Vienna Woods. I instinctively wrinkled my nose but didn’t say anything, preparing to be bored for a few more hours.
The instructions by the friend, who had obviously not driven there, turned out to be wrong, so the taxi had to go back to the nearest northbound road to get back on track to Grinning, which was quite a distance from where the original directions had said. I hoped this wouldn’t become a trend as we passed Turkenschanzpark and Terry commented that the scenery made the detour worthwhile. But then I knew that she was the world’s most eternal optimist, and she would start to cry and make me feel guilty if I said anything otherwise, so I wisely kept my mouth shut.
When we finally got to the area we needed, we were startled to see a large number of tourist buses, most of them discharging hordes of tired-looking visitors who seemed in need of a good drink. Getting yet another bad feeling, I listened to the driver enquire as to where our particular Heurigen–places devoted to sampling the young wines–was located, obviously not asking from the competition. Luckily it turned out to be well-hidden and too small to accept busloads, so we were welcomed graciously and led to a communal bench as a band played unknown songs while everyone drank their wine slowly.
The man who greeted us turned out to be the owner of the place, as well as the waiter, so when he brought our glasses he was much puzzled and almost insulted when I held up my hand, signifying I wanted nothing to do with the wine. “Then why are you here?” he asked in English, taking in our appearance at a glance.
I turned to Terry, who was already sipping. “She wanted to.”
“Ahh!” He nodded his head in understanding. “I see it now. Young love is fantastic to see.” He turned to Terry. “You have a good man here; don’t let him get away.” Then he moved on to the next table.
She turned to look at me, so I had to say, “Don’t you ever forget it.”
She laughed even more as she saw me examining the bread and crackers on the table, covered with something orange that I could only guess was cheese. The orange stuff was covered itself by paprika, cucumbers, anchovies, onions, and mustard. Everything I hate, seems like.
Turning to her, I very sternly voiced, “I have tickets for a special place tonight. You are going, and I am not going to tell you where, and there will be no argument.”
Remembering her own tone when she’d told me she wanted to see the Spanish Riding School, she didn’t protest, instead lowering her face, especially her eyes, demurely. Before we’d met, it was an instinctive reaction, but now she did it more because she knew–or thought–I loved it. Unable to help herself, she whispered, “Anything you say, my masterful. . . um, master.”
I turned away from her in mock disgust, making some of the people who’d been shamelessly eavesdropping laugh and then hide their faces behind napkins.

{To be continued. . . especially the flamenco bit}


Cello Shot

Zooming down Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica today, I happened to glace left as we passed 10th, to see the Dakota Lounge is now permanently closed. Looks like they never managed to recover from the fire that gutted the place a couple of years ago.
Before it was the Dakota Lounge, it was the Temple Bar, which basically consisted of a bunch of little Buddha-shaped candles all over. For me one of the highlights was they actually sold 7-Up rather than Sprite like everywhere else.
More importantly, it was a pretty cool music venue, where I particularly saw Raining Jane quite a few times. I also missed them on their CD release show because I had to attend a photography awards show–nominated for my Taj Mahal shot–but that’s another story that I already wrote about.
Anyhoo, after all that, my greatest memory of the place is one particular concert where the Janes experimented with lighting, resulting in this following photo which I call Cello Shot. . . I’m thinking cherry and lime. . .

you know it


Travel Thursday: Finland again

The only time I ever said “Boom goes the dynamite!” was at the Alfred Nobel museum in San Remo, Italy. . . and they kicked me out because of it.

Flag colors and designs are a lot more interesting than one might think at first blush. They were never chosen because the colors or motif were pretty; everything had a meaning, usually not as simple as the fifty stars representing fifty states. Canada, for instance: the white was obviously all the snow, and the leaf was simple enough, but why was the leaf red? Exactly, I didn’t think you knew either. Ask a Canadian kid, before they forget the third-grade lecture.
Scandinavia is particularly interesting. All five countries have the same design, an off-center cross that looked like a lying-down lower-case T, but they each have different colors. Why did Denmark and Norway choose red backgrounds, while Sweden and Iceland went with blue? Why did Norway and Iceland have the extra white piping around the cross and ruin the symmetry with the others?
Finland, on the other hand, was simpler. The white background, like Canada’s, stood for the long snowy winter, and the light blue represented the many lakes and streams, like the ones I saw out the window as the plane left Helsinki’s Vantaa airport. I’d seen the same view coming in about two hours ago, but somehow the different angle of daylight made the pale blue even paler, or bluer.

“Savonlinna was founded in the seventeenth century,” I suddenly heard, though I didn’t know if it was meant for me. I turned and saw the man sitting next to me was indeed looking my way, so I figured it was indeed spoken in my direction. I didn’t ask why I should care, since it was far too early in the flight to piss off your seatmate.
“It’s located on an island in Saimaa Lake, and is also the summer home of the President.”
See, that’s the kind of thing that might come in handy, though right now I couldn’t figure out how.
“The summers are warm rather than hot, like summers in England. Winters are cold, of course, but not as much snow as people think.”
Since I never planned to be here in the winter, I didn’t particularly care, but was once again too polite to say so. Besides, the guy still might say something that could turn out to be important, and it wasn’t like I had anything better to do while waiting to get there. I’d already been told the flight would only last an hour, which was better than the five or so hours by train or bus, so I figured I could put up with the chatter.
“Most tourists do not go further than St. Olaf’s Castle, which we call Olavinlinna. It is the best preserved in all of Suomi and is the host of the opera festival. . . but I am sure you knew that.”
A momentous moment: first time ever someone took me for an opera lover just by looking at me. Somebody take a picture. . .
Of course I have actually been to the opera festival before {see previous Finland blog}, and it wasn’t on right now, but that didn’t matter because I was going to meet the same beautiful blonde model that I took to see Tosca that time. She’d said something about hiking, which I could have done at home without the mosquitoes, but who knows, it might be fun after all, or after the hike. Since she picked me up at the airport and drove me to the hotel, I figured she had something planned, if she went to all this trouble. . .

A few minutes later we were out of the hotel lobby, holding hands as she led the way into the woods right across the street. Except for the few places the path narrowed to single file, that was how we continued, pretty much in silence until our legs warmed up and I was well past any possibility of jetlag.
Reaching into my backpack’s side pocket for the water bottle, she mentioned that she hadn’t been in these woods in a long time. “In fact, I barely remember this trail.”
“But you do remember it, at least. You might remember more as we go along. And since I’ve never been here, I’ll have to trust you.”
“And I know how hard that is for you,” she replied sourly, but then rubbed my arm to let me know she was just joshin’. “I know how hard it is for you to have to depend on a map.”
“I’m okay with maps, but I would prefer aerial photos.”
“I doubt you could find any of this place.”
Which was no doubt true, since who knew how few people ever walked around here, and those who did were going to their summer homes, so presumably they wouldn’t need a map, or aerial photos, for that.
But now that she’d gotten the bug–a much more fun one than the mosquitoes–she found a shady place to throw herself while taking out her laptop, muttering something about Estonia winning the most wired country prize only because they were so small. She mighta had a point, for even out here she had no trouble getting an internet signal.
To her surprise as much as mine, it didn’t take long for her to find aerial black and whites. I could even pinpoint our exact location, and saw there was a rather large house up ahead, definitely not someone’s summer home. . . unless he was the CEO of Nokia or something like that. Hey, it wasn’t the president’s palace, was it? Nah. . .
But she was more intent on the lake beyond it. “We can have our picnic there. I might even take a little skinny dip, even though there’s no sauna.”
“I am so glad I brought my camera.”
“So am I.” Giggle. “Hate to think this hike would be for naught.”
“Hey, you learned a new word.”
Sigh. “How does someone as cynical as you always look on the bright side?”
“I hope for the best while expecting the worst.”
“Ah. Does that mean the bottle is half empty or half full?”
I didn’t bother correcting that. “You mean, is the model half clothed or half naked?”
“Ha! Exactly! Never mind.” Standing back up, she took my arm and we started walking again, enjoying nature as best we could. Which was easy for her, with the outdoors being one of her favorite things, along with sunshine and animals, just to name the ones in the vicinity. And since she’d indulged in music, good food, and sex recently, she was a happy camper, or at least hiker.
“Did you know,” she told me brightly, as if suddenly remembering, “that the world Mobile Phone throwing championships are held here every year? Too bad you’re not here at the right time of year, you’d be a natural.”
“I like that the home of Nokia has enough of a sense of humor to do that.”
“Which category would you compete in?”
“There’s the traditional style, of course, but then there’s also freestyle, where you get points for choreography and such, as well as team and–”
“Leave it to the fucking marketers to screw up a good thing!” I moaned. “Throw it far, one winner. Why complicate things?”
“They added a new category: fancy dress.”
“You’d think, but they got the idea when people started dressing up as animals.”
“If that’s what passes for fancy dress here in reindeer land. . .”
“Hey! We were ranked the sixth happiest country in the world!”
“Now that truly shocks me!”
“And there goes your musical theory.”
Groan. “Damn, you’re right!”
{To get that joke, read the previous blog about her, mentioned above. You’re welcome.}
“So how was this survey done? Did scientists actually observe, or was it just a questionnaire? Because–”
“Don’t finish that. You’re just jealous that we’re better cheaters.”
“Yeah, that must be the reason. What about having the second highest suicide rate in the world?”
She smiled sweetly. “Some people can’t handle all the awesomeness.”
I stopped to take a photo, but didn’t tell her, so by the time she realized it, she was a good thirty yards ahead. Once I caught up, she gave me the stinkeye, but all I had to do was remind her about her supposedly superb powers of observation. . .
“Just for that, I wasn’t going to tell you that your very own Reader’s Digest ranked Finland the best country to live in, and there was no possibility of cheating in that one.”
I yawned. “It’s not my Reader’s Digest. Never read the damn thing.”
“Quality of life, education, drinking water, greenhouse gases. Who wouldn’t want to live here?”
“Gorgeous blondes. . .”
“How could I have missed that?” she laughed.
“Gorgeous brunettes. . .”
“You leave Riika out of this! Just think about me. . . and my sister. . . and my mom.”
I brightened. “Let’s talk about your sister, then. Does she look like you?”
“Even more classic Scandinavian, both face and body.”
“Meaning. . . body wise?”
Sigh. “She got all the boobs in the family.”
I grinned at the way her accent played with the word boobs. “Older?”
“Yes.” She seemed miffed that I hadn’t said something nice about her quite-fine-though-not-equally-attention-grabbing bosom.
“So maybe more mature than you, which wouldn’t be a surprise.”
She didn’t know how to take that. “Most of the time she’s very mature, but she gets into these moods when she leaves her job and does crazy things, especially sexual ones.”
“What would someone like you define as sexual crazy?”
I guess I deserved a tongue stick-out for that one.
When we got to the mansion, and that was indeed what it was, we stopped for a bit, pretending to drink some water as we gawked. “I dream of having a place like that,” she sighed as she started walking again, somehow able to braid her long blonde hair into pigtails as she walked the rocky trail, knowing how much I liked to photograph that innocent look.
“If you can dream, yet not make dreams your master. . .”
“That is well put.” Being such a Nationalist, she rarely read anything in English, so she didn’t bother asking for the author, which was fine with me, since I couldn’t remember.
A few minutes later we passed a log cabin, and behind it was a large corral full of reindeer, making me wonder if they were used for meat or just Christmas shows. As we walked past and were able to see the far side of the cabin, we caught sight of an old man splitting wood like a cliché; I was sure the old guy had waited till he heard us approach and then pretended to be working, for no other reason than testosterone ego. Yeah, they had a bunch of that in Finland, not all of it used up when tossing cell phones. Viking heritage or genetics, no doubt, and also explained a little bit about the high suicide rate.
Or maybe it was the language. I let her take the lead, of course, since Finnish isn’t something you can fake your way through–someone once said approximately seventy percent of words were compounds–and watched her do her magic.
She walked coolly and normally, appearing even more relaxed than usual, more offhand, absentminded, airhead. . . like a model, she’d never admit. It was her usual façade, to appear harmless. I might not know the language, but the body signals told plenty, especially when I saw the old guy’s eyes not being able to move off her. His body was twisted from a lifetime of hard work, and as she related later, his wife had died ten years ago, and now he was hanging out with a younger woman who nagged him, so any diversion in the long boring day was welcome.
The reindeer rubbed their antlers together and chuckled suggestively. . .
Less than ten minutes of further walking brought us to the lake, where we rested a while and she gleefully posed for photos, even nude in the water. Then came the quick and dull walk back, except for a look at the mansion from the other direction. Nothing else happened until we came across a solitary horse taking up most of the trail as he munched on some grass, or something equally vegetarian.
With the day quickly turning dark, possibly due more to an incoming storm than nightfall, it seemed strange to see the horsy all by himself out here. I remembered, and she confirmed, seeing nothing like a horse ranch on the maps or aerials, though of course that didn’t mean someone didn’t have a little stable in the back of their cabin, like the reindeer guy we’d just met.
Doing my usual horse mumbler routine, I asked the equine what he was doing out here without a chaperone; the horse rolled a walleye at me and took a step back, but I somehow, without making any kind of sudden move, managed to gather the reins of the wary-eyed buckskin, soothing, “Sure you want to come along with us, horsy. What would you do out here alone with that sun in the west sinking ever lower?”
Seeing things that way, the horse proved willing to be led by its reins, unlike the blonde, though I wisely didn’t say that out loud. Not right now, anyway.
It was a short walk back to town from there, and Giina got a wicked grin and said we should take the horse to the police station, because the cops would have no idea what to do with it. That seemed harsh on the horse, but I figured soon someone would call to see if the buckskin was in the lost and found box.
Which gave me an idea. “Why would the horse be out there all alone?”
“Escaped from home?”
“Most horses like home, that’s where they want to go back to. And he doesn’t look like he’s been beaten, or anything that would make him want to run away from home.”
“I see that.” She patted the animal, for the first time noticing the saddle. “Hey, someone must have been riding him. Maybe he’s a rental.”
“That’s what I was thinking. Maybe the person fell off and is lying injured out there.”
“So we should go to the police, get them to organize a search party!”
“Exactly. Also the city hall, or wherever they might round up some volunteers.”
“Okay! You take the horse to the police and tell them, I’ll go round up some troops.”
“Tell me where the police station is.”
“Right!” She came back from her twenty-yard aborted dash. “It’s about a ten minute walk along this street, you can’t miss it.”
Grinning, I stuck my foot into the stirrup and just missed her head as I swung aboard. “How long do you think it’ll take me this way?”
“Hell, you coulda dropped me off!” she screamed at the horse’s receding backside, something she seemed to have to do a lot, she cackled to herself as she started her dash again. . .

{but I will tell you the rider was rescued with only a broken leg. . . I say only, because. . . never mind.}


Poetry Tuesday: Yellow Rose of Emily

Today we’re testing the theory that you can sing any Emily Dickenson poem to the tune of the Yellow Rose of Texas. {I may have been watching too much MythBusters lately.}

If you were coming in the fall,
I’d brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.

If I could see you in a year,
I’d wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.

If only centuries delayed,
I’d count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen’s land.

If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I’d toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.

But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time’s uncertain wing,
It goads me, like the goblin bee,
That will not state its sting.

{Myth confirmed. . . }


Travel Thursday: Can’t find a pun for Palenque

After a month of travel, illness, and other misadventures, the blog is back with very little to no vengeance whatsoever.

The woman walked slowly toward me, silhouetted in the moonlight, mysterious in the fog. The clink of her stilettos on hard concrete sounded ominous in the quiet city night, like something invented by some feverish Foley artist stuck in the sound studio, needing to win an Oscar to avoid being killed. And his buddy in the recording studio next door was in the same boat, clichéing the soundtrack even more with a mournful yet soulful sax.
Walking into the streetlight, her details came into focus. The tight trench coat indicated a slim body underneath, but that had been obvious from the silhouette. Startlingly blonde hair pinned behind the left ear allowed viewing of a beautiful face highlighted by a bright green eye, but on the right side the hair had been curled into one big wave, with the curve coming to a stop exactly over the orb. Shame to not see that second delicious green marble, but. . .
Classic. Bogie would be so jealous.
And panting.
I knew she was dangerous, but not so much in a physical way, so I let her continue closer. Her skin might have been highlighted by the artificial lighting, but I somehow sensed she was untanned. But then, most femme fatales didn’t spend much time outdoors . . . thankfully.
When I wondered how she managed to walk without the ability to see anything right of center, especially in those high thin heels, the vision dissolved.

If only my camera could have captured it, I mused, wondering if my memory–the biological kind in my brain, not the silicon-type chip thing–would be able to remember the image and recreate it in the studio later.
I took the photo anyway, because even in dirty work clothes, the blonde was still beautiful. Wondering how she got so dusty when she wasn’t involved in the digging, I noticed the workers showing her every little rock they came up with, then realized they were doing it because every time she bent over, her cleavage was in view.
Grinning, I telephoto’ed in to get that shot, then brought the camera down. Perhaps the sun glanced off the black metal, or she saw the movement on her periphery–her hair being tied back in a ponytail instead of dreamy-wavy. Either way, she turned to glance in my direction, saw me resting in the shade of one of the smaller pyramids, and grinned, blowing me a kiss.
Life was good. . .
Or would have been, if it weren’t for the insects. In addition to the fantasy of the beautiful woman, my reverie had also involved a cooler and less humid clime, not conducive to most types of bloodsuckers.
Still staring at her, I realized she was walking in my direction, though not directly. Curiosity perked, I turned my gaze to the left and saw a coterie of suits heading in our direction. Sighing, groaning my way to standing, I tried to not lean against the pyramid, for I still had a vivid memory of doing such a thing at Chichen-Itza and ending up covered with huge jungle ants. The local workers had laughed and picked them off me one by one, then put them in their mouths, crunching hard, which just added to the nightmare and made me shudder as she approached me.
“You okay, stud?”
The vision of her trenchcoated beauty soothed me, and again I wondered at her accent. Sometimes it sounded British, but there was too much Boston in it too be sure. Though as usual when I’d first heard it I’d wondered what she sounded like in the throes of passion. . .
Too hot and humid to think of that right now, I smiled and did my most insincere “Better, now that you’re here” possible. She rolled her eyes, then poked me in the stomach, which only served as an excuse for me to poke her back. Though I woulda spanked her had the guys in the suits not been so close to us by now. Especially now that I could see the head suit was the guy in charge of the regional archaeology office, which made him a government flunky no matter how good he was with a trowel.
Nah, he looked like a fat cat who only gave orders, which meant the poor archaeologists had to play nice. One of my best friends from college now held the similar posting in Yucatan, speaking of Chichen-Itza, and no doubt they talked amongst each other. . .
Actually, only Alison had to play nice; that was the good thing about not being in charge. But I did tell myself not to make a joke about the guy wearing a suit in this kind of weather as the government posse finally made it over the slight rise.
“How do you manage to stay so slim, my dear?” he sighed, gawking at her as he mopped the sweat from his brow with a monogrammed hankie.
Before she could demurely reply, I said, “By not eating, what else?”
“Yes, of course.” The man tried to glare at me, but I merely smiled brightly, which made Alison cover a chuckle with a pretend cough. She knew damn well that had been as good as me putting my arm around her, without the macho crap, and she only hoped the fat cat got the message.
She didn’t need to be told that she was considered–actually presented with a joke certificate testifying to it–the most beautiful woman in archaeology, despite all the votes for Lara Croft, so she’d had to put up with plenty of such stuff. She’d managed to get a non-professor job when she’d finally achieved her doctorate, so she no longer had to deal with egotistical jocks, history nerds attempting to be charming, predatory department heads, and the rest of the hormonal crap you find in college. Of course that had earned her an ice queen reputation, but she was so happy with being left alone that from then on she actually cultivated it.
Realizing she hadn’t yet paid the man a formal visit, which was probably the reason he was here–besides hitting on her, of course–she quickly thanked him for allowing her to dig at the hallowed site of Palenque, adding, “I’m surprised that you’re so welcoming. I had written to you several times, and you seemed unenthusiastic about my coming here.”
e chuckled. “We wanted to make sure we had all our relics accounted for first.”
Luckily I was facing away now, so no one could see my reaction to that one. . . facially, anyway, though I thought I’d stifled my throat in time, too. I didn’t know if I was more amused or cringing as I waited for her reaction, but I supposed time would tell. . .
“WHAT? Those rumors are groundless, I assure you!”
Groundless? I chuckled inwardly, looking at the dig. I’d have to ask her later if she’d punned that on purpose. Not likely, though.
“The only relics I’ve ever taken are from sites I’ve uncovered myself, to prove they’re worth excavating, and–”
“Simply a joke, my dear.” Suit Man held up his hands in a placating gesture, or possibly to ward off any upcoming blows. “You certainly have a sore spot about it.”
“It’s not a joke to the archaeological community,” she muttered, glancing over at me while I was busy taking photos and pretending not to be listening. Coward!
“I apologize for bringing it up. I merely came to welcome you and invite you to dinner, a Welcome to Palenque dinner, as it were.” Suit Man beamed as he hoped she was impressed by his command of English colloquialisms.
Suppressing an involuntary sigh, she instead smiled and pointed down to her clothes, and exposed skin. “I would need at least a week’s notice to make myself presentable in the company of such an important man as yourself. Perhaps some time next week. . .?”
Stifling his own instinctive reaction, Suit Man smiled and bent to kiss her hand, then thought twice about it when he saw the dirty nails. “I will call you to let you know the best day.”
Unable to help myself now, I tried, “I’m looking forward to it. I hear your wife makes a mean steak.”
Alison’s face went through a series of contortions the envy of any gymnast in her attempt to keep a straight face. Inviting myself and letting everyone know that we knew the guy was married; what a stroke of genius!
She’d reward me for that. . .
For his part, Suit Man obviously had a lot of experience freezing his face, being a bureaucrat. “I’ll pass along the message, I’m sure my wife will be delighted.” He added a word in Spanish, under his breath and hardly audible, that seemed to start with C; I doubted it was compadre. No doubt he meant the old word for goat, not chiva–or even chupacabra–but rather the horned variety that was supposed to mean your wife was cheating on you, but nowadays was basically analogous to mutha-fucka.
Proving my Spanish slang was up to the task, I told Suit Guy how sorry everyone was that he was going away so soon in his butterfly suit. Alison, while knowing what a mariposa was in zoological terms, had no idea why there was fury in Suit Guy’s eyes, as well as muffled guffaws from the flunkies, but she wasn’t about to ask, merely reiterated how glad she was to be working here and then turning to lead me off before we got in deeper.
“That was fun,” I said brightly as we walked, forcing her to shove me in the back. “By the way, he never went to Penn or Vandy.” Chuckling, I showed her the long version of the permit Suit Guy had given her. “Look how he spelled ‘equipment.’”
She did as told, read “ekwiptment,” and let the laughter out this time, enjoying the slight shade she found herself in, though it didn’t cut the humidity. “Maybe he went to Harvard.”
I grinned, mostly because I agreed with the sentiment. “Considering you went to Harvard–”
“Just undergrad. I got out of there as soon as I could!”
“Not far enough. If you hadn’t just gone across town to Boston U., you might not have that accent.”
She’d been wondering if I was hip to her little game, but wouldn’t give in just yet. “You West Coasters are all alike.”
“Hmm, if you’re gonna get nasty and regionally territorial about it. . .”
“You do offended/shocked very good, darling.”
Before I could reply in an even more offended, or territorial, manner, a group of workers passed by, one of them swinging his shovel like a baseball bat.
“Strikes out on the curve ball!” I laughed, recognizing the guy.
“I could hit your fastball!” the guy sneered back, but because he was grinning, I didn’t take any more offense than he did.
“Of course you could. That’s why I played first base.”
“With a glove the size of a pyramid, maybe.”
“Hey, I was a great first baseman! The best never seen in the bigs. Hell, the best never to have played in the minors!”
“Ha ha. So why didn’t you play?”
“Because I was a better goalie.”
Alison had been following the conversation just fine until the last word, portero, but by the hoots that came back she figured I’d made my point and we could walk away now. Still a bit anxious about the encounter, and hopeful that the guy couldn’t cancel her dig permit for no reason, she automatically reached into her bag for her “mood enhancers.”
“I’ve never seen a cigarette-smoking vegetarian before,” he cooed.
Suddenly remembering my dislike for kissing “walking ashtrays,” as well as the smell of smoke on her body, she quickly put the pack of cigarettes away, then got all cheerleader cheery and asked, “Wanna get some early dinner?”
“I am hungriness personified!”
“I’ll take that as a yes,” she drawled, this time in an almost Suthin’ accent. If she broke out an Aussie twang next time, I’d know she was teasing me.

She said she was going to close things down for the day, but stuck around long enough to see what I was pulling out of my backpack, to check on something I’d remembered earlier. It was a modern edition of Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, by John Lloyd Stephens, who’s one of my heroes. She sniffed at the slick new version, and didn’t believe me when I told her I have a genuine 1830s first edition back home, and would never see it if she kept up that attitude; no doubt she didn’t think me rich enough to have such an antiquity. So anyway, I’d go over the Palenque chapter as I’d promised to do that morning, but as usual got sidetracked. . . at first staring at her, ahem, walk as she left, but mostly because, also as usual, loose pages fell out of the book and I had to check them out.
Immediately I again marveled at the Mayan calendar and how precise it had been, even better than the modern one in use all over the world, some said–and not the same guys who said the Mayans were really Martians. I still found it amazing, for example, that it was so easy to decipher the exact date Pakal became ruler: July 29th, 615A.D. Hmmm, perhaps to pass the time I’d translate my birthdate in Mayan, so that the next time someone asked I could give them the exact bars and circles, or even better, the actual Mayan words.
The next page held notes on another of my heroes who’d been through the area, Juan Galindo, supposedly around the same time as Stephens, working for the then county of the “United Provinces of Central America,” and even though Stephens quoted him in the book, I was researching whether they actually knew each other. Galindo was the first guy to say the figures on the ancient art carved into the Palenque pyramids, as well as others, looked just like the locals, where back then the popular sneering Caucasian theory was that the Ancient Egyptians, Polynesians, or even the Lost Tribes of Israel had been the builders of American pyramids; what, no Martians? I smirked. It was this same kind of patronizing superior-race bullshit that led to the rumor that Mr. Galindo was actually John Gallagher from Ireland, which was laughable now but musta pissed off poor proud Juanito no end back then.

I took a few more photos as she gathered her stuff back at the dig site, including one of her bent over and showing cleavage again, and the follow-up, with her middle finger pointed in my direction; she was much quicker to anger than her ice queen image would dictate.
Thinking back to my vision, I realized she was indeed tanned, and not just the face and other exposed parts. Come to think of it, I made a note to check her out all over next time I had a chance, and if she was indeed bronzed from head to toe, pay a visit to her rented house when she wasn’t expecting me.
It always surprised me to see her green eyes, for pale blue would have been a better color for her mock ice-princess routine. The fact that was her favorite color motif, as evidenced by the stripes on her white blouse, made most people think she did it to match her eyes, but then when a woman looked as good as she, most people didn’t bother checking eye color. And it really didn’t make much a difference, especially photographically; she’d still be all kinds of beautiful if her eyes were black.

Heading out through the main path, we came to the most famous part of the site. “So you claim to be afraid of heights, yet you still climbed the Temple, huh?”
That’s what I get for admitting my weaknesses. “It doesn’t look so high going up, and of course there’s no way to notice just how steep it is until you look down and realize there’s no other way to get off.”
Having climbed enough pyramids, she had to agree with that. “So you’ve only climbed it once?”
“I’ll climb it again if they let me go down to Pakal’s tomb.”
Despite Palenque having been scouted by a lot of travelers who wrote about it since the 1830s, it wasn’t till 1952 that a local archaeologist found the trap door–I always imagine the scene with the guy wearing an Indiana Jones hat–that led to the tomb. Before that no one had figured out why the Temple of the Inscriptions had been so much bigger than all the other pyramids at the site, but once they found the king’s sarcophagus and all the goodies surrounding it, the pieces fell into place.
Though of course that was never good enough for some people. The sarcophagus had a now-famous carving of Pakal ascending to the Mayan heavens while curled up in a fetal position, so of course some wise guy mentioned it was exactly the same pose astronauts took when being shot into space, and claimed this was evidence that extraterrestrials had visited the site. Some went as far as to say the Mayas disappeared as a race because they’d left this planet for something better, and there were other theories just as silly that made Alison’s teeth hurt, and did no good for her temper.
Unlike the archies, I didn’t sneer at the claims, but I did laugh. I love the far-out stuff without the burden of believing them.

The archaeologist in me couldn't resist. . .

The archaeologist in me couldn’t resist. . .




Passing the big pyramid that caused all the ruckus, I stopped and turned, having evolved this into an everyday ritual: a last look at my favorite building, the palace, and trying to imagine how it looked with thousands of Mayas swarming it fifteen hundred years ago. And also to relive the award-winning shot taken from the top of the pyramid {right here above} but I’d never admit that to anyone.
“Leave the tourist babes alone,” she grumbled, even though she knew what I was doing.
Not that many tourists made it out here, certainly not in the swarms that inundated the oft-mentioned Chichen-Itza and others in the Yucatan, especially those not far from Cancun. Palenque was a more beautiful site, despite it being much smaller than those archaeological Disneylands, like Tikal and Copan. Its crown jewel, not counting the aforementioned pyramid, was the Palace, which was actually a complex of several connected and adjacent buildings and courtyards, capped by the distinctive four-story tower that haunted me; my only archaeological reason for being here was to find out exactly why and how it had been designed a millennia and a half ago, though I was careful not to tell Alison that, lest she think it wasn’t all about her.
What was truly amazing was how little of the site had been excavated, though of course all the above-ground stuff had been cleaned up and made ready for tourist viewing, and tourist spending. But, to quote Alison, much of the history of the site awaited her trowel.
Diego de Landa’s travels lay forgotten in the Franciscan archives in Merida until 1864, by which time the ancient Maya had vanished into oblivion, their great ceremonial centers and temples covered by dense forests. Only the occasional priest or government official stumbled across “Curious stone houses” near remote colonial settlements. It was not until 1773 that an artillery officer, Captain Antonio del Rio traveled deep into the rain forest from what is now Guatemala City. He hacked his way through dense brush and trees to the Mayan city of Palenque, where the undergrowth was so thick people were invisible two meters away. Rio rounded up some local Maya and set them to work clearing brush from the ruins. Two weeks later, he stood in the midst of a complicated maze or rooms and courtyards. Nearby was what he called a palace, its walls covered with “uncouth” stucco decoration. He returned to base with a handful of artifacts and some drawings, and wrote a report that was forwarded to the royal archives in Spain. The document languished, until by chance a copy traveled to England and was published in 1822. . . to a deafening critical silence.

It didn’t take long to get to her car in its privileged parking space. Since she was an early riser and I wasn’t, I usually came in on the minibus whose route passed by the site, although occasionally I felt lazy and took a cab. Since I usually left the site earlier than her as well, I pretty much knew the minibus schedule by heart, so it was gonna feel bit strange to arrive back in town so quickly.
The town, as one might expect, was also called Palenque, though it had a typical “Santo Domingo del” in front of it. Of course my unstoppable curiosity wanted to know if the chicken town or the egg site had come first, but since it had taken me all of five minutes to find the town had sprung up after the site was developed, it was kind of a letdown.

She made a sound of disgust as she realized how dusty she was, and realizing it after she got into the car.
“You should have taken a dip in the Queen’s Bath.”
Her hoot preceded, “Not with your camera around, you swine! Though I should remember to bring my bikini next time. Will you play bodyguard?”
My frown was barely visible to her, but she certainly heard, “You mean I wouldn’t be in the pool with you?”
Still laughing, she watched as I closed my eyes and imagined us there–out loud–waist deep in the warm liquid, the waterfall doing more tinkling than churning behind them. The people excavating the ball court would probably see us, but knowing her, she wouldn’t care. No, that wasn’t right; she would care, because she’d get excited by the thought of being watched. . .
I sighed happily as she turned the ignition, a little harder than she’d wanted. . .

Possibly to be continued. . .