Travel Thursday Encore: Why African Governments Hate Me, Part 1

My last trip to Africa, so long ago no one had ever heard of that Obama guy. . .

London
Douglas Adams: “It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression ‘As pretty as an airport.’”
Magazine editors: I promise I will never subscribe to your magazine if I have to go through more than two pages of ads to get to the table of contents, and that includes you supposed Travel magazines. . .
I was waiting at Heathrow for the subway downtown when the terrorist news broke; phew, just in time! (near miss number 1.) But my flight to South Africa got cancelled, so I took the overnight ferry to Amsterdam, which is just as fun as London in its own way–even when that special “old friend” got married last year. . . but I digress.

Amsterdam
Schiphol Airport
Didn’t have time to get this done, just an ordinary massage, but this is what the brochure says: The Back to Life aqua massage gives you new energy and leaves you fully relaxed. This massage is a good alternative for a full body massage as the water jets cover the body from head to toe. The treatment feels as if your body is being massaged by thirty-six fingertips. A massage while lying in this machine is therefore a unique experience. . . you can leave your clothes on. (Huh?)
Hmmm, what’s that? You want to know what happened in Amsterdam? Sign up for the naughty blog, for only $30 a month, which really isn’t worth the price even if I write it myself. . .
Besides, knowing you guys, you won’t get past the second paragraph before you’re screaming “TOO MUCH INFORMATION!”

AFRICA
So, I haven’t done the photojournalism thing in over a decade. It’s the complete opposite of what I usually do, which is taking photos of preeety theeengs.
And that in-the-news politician from Chicago–what’s his name, Obama? {Remember, this is 2006!}–was shadowing me, so security was tight just about everywhere I went. Not nearly as bad as Bush in Copenhagen, and nowhere near as bad as Queen Elizabeth in Berlin (that should put ya in your place, Dubya) but still quite annoying. (near miss number 2.)
Weather was mostly fine, except for the humidity, but not used to the sun going down so soon; frickin’ Suthin’ Hemisphere. . .

South Africa
Can you believe they gave me a bodyguard in South Africa and Kenya? I usta BE a bodyguard! Well, I never actually did, but I trained for it. And these guys sucked. And since I wouldn’t put it past them to mistakenly think I was worth something and kidnap me for ransom, I basically lost them in the first five minutes and went my own way. Apparently sometimes it helps to look like a mean asshole, even when you’re happily walking along. . . (no near misses here. . .)
Had seen on the news that it’d been snowing in Jo’berg before I left, but was supposed to be in the 70s when I got there, so I didn’t take the heavy weather gear; I wasn’t going to climb frickin’ Kilamanjaro or Meru (which is a lot more fun than Kilamanjaro, and way cheaper). Besides, I went right to Cape Town, which is a lot safer, plus it’s their version of LA, as opposed to Jo’Berg, which is more like Noo Yawk.
This is what Robert Heinlein wrote about Cape Town more than 50 years ago: Table Mountain, sitting over Cape Town and Table Bay, is a pleasing sight, but it is an ordinary mesa or butte, made exceptional by being the only one of its sort in the neighborhood, instead of being scattered around in quantity, New Mexico style. It forms a splendid background for an unusually lovely city.
See what I mean about it being like LA? And that’s just about the only part that’s still true today.
Nothing much happened here. Had it been like most trips, I woulda been shooting models, and these sorta Dutch, sorta British, All-South African babes are some of the most beautiful in the world. Well, okay, you didn’t hear it from me, but I did sign up some extra-special tour guides for the places I was really supposed to be shooting. . .

Namibia
I got some extra cash to go to Namibia and do a story on the changes there since independence, since I by accident happened to be there in 1990 when it happened. Actually most of the changes have been for the worse; I shot places I had photos of back then for comparison, but since I haven’t finished the article yet. . . well, I’ll let you know when it comes out. Although it’ll be in German. The sand dunes look the same, though. . .
And spitting of German. . . remember what I said about Dutch/British babes in South Africa? (I know, a paragraph ago. It was for those of you with A.D.D.) Same here, except they’re perfect Deutchland representatives; if you can’t think about what that’s like, look at the gals in the Heidi braids on beer bottles next Oktoberfest. Or think Swedish. Yum. . .
I’ve been trying to come up with a way to explain how it feels–and sounds–laying against these really creepy sand dunes, but I couldn’t come up with anything better than the following, which is from Lonely Planet:
The Roaring Dunes
The lonely barchan dunes of the northern Skeleton Coast hold a unique distinction–they roar–and if you don’t believe it, sit down on a lee face, dig in your feet and slide slowly down. If you feel a jarring vibration and hear a roar akin to a four-engine cargo plane flying low, don’t bother looking up–it’s just the sand producing its marvelous acoustic effect. It’s thought that the roar is created when air pockets between electrically-charged particles are forced to the surface. The effect is especially pronounced in the warmth of late afternoon, when spaces between the sand particles are at their greatest.
Much creepier than any horror movie. . .

Botswana
Maun, the capital, has a lot of trees! I don’t remember that from last time. Forgotten they drive on the left too. It’s always dangerous that first time you step off the curb to jaywalk.
Even though I was only paid to take photos here, I managed to write an article about how expensive it is for tourists, and how the money doesn’t really trickle down to the workers.
80s during the day, freezing at night. As beautiful as this place is, with all the animals you’d want to see, avoid it unless you’re the type who can afford a different Mercedes for every day of the week, not counting holidays.

Zimbabwe/Zambia
Was in Zimbabwe when the whole money thing went down in the capital (third bullet dodged, though this one just barely), so had to change my plans again. This was easier, because I was in Victoria Falls at the time; simply crossing to the other side of the falls put me in Zambia. Not that Zambia’s much better, but at least the corrupt officials have to work at taking your money instead of just pulling a gun on you.
Non-government controlled local newspaper: Zimbabwean security forces this week stepped up their crackdown on ordinary people and innocent cross border traders, triggering fierce clashes with passengers who flatly refused to be searched. Heavily armed police were later deployed at the terminus, clobbering defiant passengers and seizing currency and merchandise. Gun-toting police officers mounted roadblocks to search long-distance buses and vehicles. The raid has so far netted more than 2500 impoverished city residents who have had billions of dollars taken by the State agents.
Who wants to bet all the government officials haven’t turned over any of the old money? What, no takers?

Victoria Falls
Sunny and 70s. You’d think this place would be humid, with the gigantic waterfall, but I guess it’s the spray that cools you, as long as you remember to keep your camera covered.
On the walk back to the hotel I came across an elephant heading in the opposite direction; he eyed me the whole time, even though I wasn’t going to argue about right-of-way. I didn’t offer him any peanuts, because of that attitude.
Advice: skip all offers to go to the town where Stanley said, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Not worth it.

 

Am I losing it? (wait for the specific reason before answering.) I’m staring at the computer, at the top of the document where you press a button to save or paste or so forth. The button depresses for a second, then comes back up, and I’d swear it looks like a curtsey. . .

Come back next week for the conclusion, which is frankly much better than this part you just read. . . and don’t you wish I’d told you that at the start?

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Written While Drunk

By T’ao Ch’ien, 365-427 China.
I have no idea about the context of the title, but it is intriguing. . . and funny.

I built my house near where others dwell,
And yet there is no clamor of carriages and horses.
You ask of me, “How can this be so?”
“When the heart is far the place of itself is distant.”
I pluck chrysanthemums under the eastern hedge,
And gaze afar towards the southern mountains.
The mountain air is fine at evening of the day
And flying birds return together homewards.
Within these things there is a hint of Truth,
But when I start to tell it, I cannot find the words.

;o)

Travel Thursday Encore: First Time in Amsterdam, Part 2

What was the first thing to do? Pretty obvious. Canal tour!
I don’t remember much about the tour, other than the photos I took. I remember things like the houseboats, wondering if people made waves while having sex. I remember the guide talking about the only place in Amsterdam where there were seven bridges in a row, and I got a good shot of that, even though you could only see four. I remember passing by a building that said “RøD HOED,” which I took to mean redhead, which of course peaked my interest. I remember a big old ship in the harbor, and finding out that the three Xs on the city shield meant flood, fire, and the plague. I even remember passing by a floating flea market, and figuring to come back. . . okay, maybe I did remember quite a bit of it after all. Then I got off the tour at the Rijksmuseum, one of the most famous art museums in the world. . .

Amsterdam, Holland, Netherlands, canals
Too bad. Not only were my eyes not into it, but I was basically museum’ed out; I’d been to so many on this trip. The most famous painting, Rembrant’s Nightwatch, did absolutely nothing for me. I didn’t perk up until I got to the basement and saw the erotic Indian sculptures–Indians from Bombay, not Native Americans; you never know who might read this. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, after the incredible night I’d experienced, that I would still be thinking about such things as I gazed at the remodeled bronze in front of me.
That reminded me there was a sex museum in town. Why not? I thought. I would never be in more of a mood to enjoy it, without worrying about getting excited. Nothing I saw there was likely to compete with Jess.
Whoa! Easy, boy. This was not–not likely–the woman I was going to spend the rest of my life with, so don’t get carried away. As good as last night was, as happy I would be if that was it, I wanted to be with her again that night, but still, don’t overdo it.
The Sex Museum was a major disappointment, especially compared to the one in Munich, although that one was called an “Erotic Arts” Museum. Wow, a seven-foot penis! I managed to somehow fight off offers to have my photo taken next to it. The best thing I could say about the experience was that there was a McDonald’s nearby. I still had plenty of time before meeting Jessica for dinner, and I guess I was feeling a little homesick anyway.
That reminded me of something that had happened last night, when Jess was asking me about El Lay. I guess she thought I was homesick, so she had gone to her CD collection and put on a song called “I Miss Home,” by Grover Washington Jr. It sounded great, so I let the sax music flow over me. I looked at some of her other CDs and saw a song by another sax man named Kirk Whalem called “LC’s Back.” My alter ego’s initials, I told Jessica. It must mean you’ll come back, she replied with that smile I’d quickly become used to, but wanted to see over and over again.
Anyway, I didn’t know what to do for the rest of the time until dinner, so I just wandered around. I wanted to see the Anne Frank museum, but I instinctively knew this was not the time. I didn’t want anything to break the mood I was in, and that would definitely be a mood breaker. I later realized how simple I had made that thought sound; of course nothing I was doing could compare with what that girl had been forced to go through, but it was a lot harder to think of such things when it wasn’t abstract, when it was YOU who was involved.
As promised, I ended up at the restaurant early. Luckily the waiter remembered me with a smirk and led me to the same table, which appeared to be Jessica’s private domain. For a second I wondered if her boyfriend would show up, but I didn’t let it bother me. I was still in a good mood and intended to stay there. When Jessica arrived she smiled–of course–and pulled the waiter aside. I was pretty sure I knew what she was asking him, and she quickly confirmed it when she kissed me, sat down, folded her jacket and said, “You’ve actually been here since 5:30?”
I simply nodded. There didn’t seem to be anything I could say that would improve on that, and I didn’t want to take a chance on screwing up what was now her good mood too. Apparently I was too groggy to notice what she’d been dressed in that morning, but now I made up for it by checking out how she looked in her jeans and tiny vest over a very blue blouse. When I mentioned how different she looked, she made a small grimace and called it her “secretary” outfit. I told her she looked even better this way. I wasn’t sure if she believed me, but she didn’t complain when I took her photo, just like I had when she was wearing the dress. I’m sure I ended up taking more shots of her than of any other sight in Amsterdam.
We went to the symphony. Don’t ask me what piece of music it was, because it really didn’t matter. I liked it well enough, and I always enjoyed watching the violinists. Jessica spent the entire time with her head on my shoulder, occasionally sighing. I tried to neither laugh nor feel disturbed by it. I just wish she would let me know once and for all that there was no doubt in her mind that I would be gone in two days and that would be it. Well, I certainly planned to write, maybe visit in some years, or she would visit El Ay, but the point being that this wasn’t going to be a lifelong thing.
We went to dinner, then back to her place, and, if anything, this night was better than the first. As good as it is to discover someone new, there was also something to be said about knowing what your partner liked and doing it without being asked. I thought her sounds were even more. . . emotional now. And she seemed to have a special gift for making a man feel like there was no one else in the universe, like she’d never felt remotely as good ever before in her life. At the end of one coupling she screamed “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” in harsh whispers, inflating my already elephantine ego to bursting proportions.
(Sorry. I thought I wasn’t going to talk about that. Silly me.)
The next morning was a carbon copy of the first, with a much more domestic feeling to it, since I now knew my lines. Even the breakfast tasted better. To break the chain, or the time loop, I went to different touristy places. This time I did go to the Anne Frank museum, because now I was sure I could do the matter justice while not falling into a deep despair.
I actually don’t remember much about that day. I remember I went to the diamond district, took a tour of a diamond cutter’s operation. Luckily I had no thoughts about getting one for Jessica. It would have been really easy to fall in love with her, real easy to do and say things that would have been incredibly stupid, considering I was leaving the next day and likely never going to see her again.
Near the diamond district was a large area of secondhand book stores, where I happily wasted a few hours. There was an antique map that I desperately wanted; I realized that if I hadn’t spent the money on a hotel room I would end up not using at all. . .
That night after dinner we went to a play performed in English, and to this day I can’t remember a thing about it. I remember more what we did afterward. She would not have argued if I’d suggested we go back to her place, but she seemed pleased when I suggested we walk around for a while. I’d seen plenty of the city, but nothing with her. I wanted to see what she liked about her city. Luckily we were close to the Jordaan, which was her favorite place to spend a relaxing evening. Not that it was a particularly beautiful place; there were a lot of cities in Europe that had places like this, with cafes and such. The difference was there were no tourists; no wonder it felt so quiet and peaceful. And it helped that it was a cool night, so we could snuggle as we walked and want hot chocolate.
Eventually we went back to her place, slowly, in absolutely no rush even though we knew it would be our last night together. For some reason this night seemed to go on longer than any other. What amazed me was that I was never tired, neither physically nor sexually. Oh, I might think I was done, but then she would stand in a particular pose, or move that magical tongue in a special way, and I was ready for another round. Even though the two previous nights I had caught a few hours of sleep, this night held none. I was aware of every minute until she told me she had to get dressed. She did say, however, that she had changed shifts at work so that she could be with me after her morning class and see me off at the train station. I let her know I was happy to hear that, but she shoved me back onto the bed, told me even Superman had to rest, and that we would meet for lunch and then maybe come back here to properly say goodbye. With a yawn, I figured I’d get going too, but not before we actually shared breakfast, which made a mundane routine into something amazingly romantic. I couldn’t help it when I dipped a strawberry in cream and then fed it to her. . . while making sure I got some cream on her nose and then licking it off “Kinky,” she commented with that twinkle in her eye. “That gives me some ideas for. . . your going-away party.” Then she looked down and gave me a slap, luckily landing on the thigh. “You make me think everything I had learned about American men was wrong,” she giggled. With a last kiss she was out the door.
I slogged out the door, finally feeling weary. Things to do: Check out of the hotel–which I never used, though in the end I didn’t mind–and take my stuff to the train station, so I wouldn’t have to carry it there at the last moment. That was common in Europe, the baggage check, even though they had to check the stuff now because of all the terrorism. It took a load off the mind as well as off the back and shoulders, though, so it was worth it. I also checked “The Meeting Place.” I hadn’t noticed when I arrived, but in the lobby right off the entrance to the train station was a huge panel of fluorescent lights depicting two hands shaking. I didn’t feel I had to look around anywhere else for the spot she meant.
Now what? There was approximately six hours before my train left, four hours before I was to meet Jess. I suddenly realized that, except for the sex museum and the McDonald’s, I hadn’t seen anything of the main tourist drag. Since it was just across the bridge from the train station, I started that way. That’s when I noticed the poster. In Europe, instead of tacking up posters on walls like in America, there were a lot of thick round poles for people to put stuff on. Unfortunately, because it had been covered by other stuff all I could make out was the word EGYPTE at the top and part of some kind of mask. So I went down the street searching for another poster, and found it on the next block. This time it was in a square pole, behind glass. Now I could see the bottom, which read ALLARD PIERSON MUSEUM AMSTERDAM. Below that was the address. Crossing back across to the bridge to the side where the train station was, I went to the tourism office. Great location for it, huh? They gave me a simple, touristy map which had just enough detail to show me where the museum was; the map made me think about the one I couldn’t afford, but I quickly got that out of my mind when I saw it wasn’t far. In fact, it was at the university! What could be better than that? I could spend hours at the place and be right there to meet Jess.
The museum was great. Right at the front was a computer that would print out your name in Egyptian hieroglyphs. Great for the kids, but I got one too, and even got one for Jessica, even though it suddenly came to me that I didn’t know her last name. Apparently I didn’t need to, as far as she was concerned, but it would make it hard to write to her without it. Oh well. . .
My camera was smokin’ throughout. I saw things I’d seen in archaeology books all my life, and things I’d never seen before, or even imagined. There were swans and laughing donkeys and even a replica of the Rosetta Stone. This was the most fun I had in all of Europe. . . out of bed, of course. Well, out of the bedroom, cuz it wasn’t just the bed. No, actually we did it in the living room and the shower too, and if things this morning were any indication, we were going to have our farewell in the kitchen.
Hmmm. If she was into archeology as well, she just might be the perfect woman. . .
Wouldn’t you know, just as I was coming out of the museum, I ran into Jessica! For some reason she seemed nervous to meet me, even though I waited until the friends she’d been walking with had gone off in another direction before I greeted her. For a fleeting moment I thought she was going to ask me if I’d been following her, but I brushed off the feeling and waited for her to bug me, in case she didn’t want anyone to see her.
After getting over her surprise, she greeted me the way I’d like to be greeted for the rest of my life. Apparently something had gotten her going even more today, for she called for a taxi, not wanting to waste any of the few minutes we had left. She even wondered if it would be worth it to stop at the market for some whipped cream. I told myself to make sure to knock off a few minutes early, for I would need quite a shower by the time she was through with me. . .
Somehow, before I knew it, I was at the train station, waiting with Jessica on my assigned seat for the conductor to tell all non-travelers to skedaddle, if that is indeed a word. After putting my bags away, everything was ready, and all that was left was the goodbye. This was going to be harder than I thought, I realized. She made it easy. . . from one point of view. She sighed, kissed me deeply with her arms around my neck, then held my hand and looked into my eyes.
“I never told you where I went in the afternoon, after school,” she said softly, fighting to hold her eyes on mine, though she kept forgetting and had to come back every few seconds. “I pay my way through college by being a prostitute. Every afternoon and sometimes in the evenings, men do anything they want with my body, as long as they pay me enough. I don’t know what you’re going to think of me now, Americans being so unpredictable, but I didn’t want to spoil the time we had together. I suppose I didn’t have to tell you about it now, but you seemed like such an honest guy that it didn’t seem right to keep it from you. Whatever you think, I hope you won’t hate me.”
Hmmm. She was looking even deeper into my eyes now, tears in them, and if it wasn’t for the fact my mind was blank, I’d be asking myself, What exactly does she expect me to say? As it was, I couldn’t say anything; I was too stunned. She saw this, obviously took it the wrong way, nodded sadly, squeezed my hand, kissed my cheek, and turned to walk away. She made her way to the end of the car, dropped off, and walked back so that she could see me through the window of the train. We stared at each other, she looking sad and me looking like an idiot, which I’m told I’m really good at.
I have no idea how long we stood in that position. I didn’t notice the people going around me and grumbling about it, didn’t notice when they saw Jessica out there and grinned as if they’d figured out some deep dark secret. I don’t remember another thing until the train gave its first jerk. That’s when, without any thought whatsoever, my hand went to my mouth and then threw a kiss out of her, followed by a wave. Later I would wonder if I did that in the wrong order. It almost made me cringe to see her react to that; she smiled and laughed, but also cried. For all I knew she was bawling for the whole station to hear, the way her body shook. I had a thought that some guy might come by and see her like that, look daggers at me–though the train was out of range now–and then try to pick her up. That made me angry; weird as it was, it was still a tender moment. Immediately I told myself that, after getting home and giving it a few days, I would write to her and tell her that I hadn’t meant anything by not answering; I was just too stunned to let her know how I felt. No, that wasn’t right. I was too stunned to REALIZE how I felt, let alone be able to formulate it in my head.
The train was going to take me to what they called the Hook of Holland, where I and all the other passengers, as well as other trains, would board the ferry for the coast of England. Tomorrow morning we would get on another train and head into London, where I would spend a few days before flying back home to El Ay. Luckily, it wasn’t my first time in London. In fact, I knew the city well enough that I wouldn’t feel like I wasted my time in not playing the tourist, what with all the heavy thinking I was doing. Another good thing about it was I had friends in town who would take my mind off things, what with all the introspection that would be going on every second I was alone.
It took me a while, but I finally realized that her being with me all night after being with so many men all day was something of a compliment, especially since there was no charge; she genuinely wanted to be with me. That kinda thing could go to a guy’s head. . .
But that still leaves the big question unanswered, doesn’t it? Have I been with a prostitute? Yes–Jessica was definitely that. No–I’ve never been with a woman who charged me for sex. So just how the hell do I answer it?
You tell me. . .

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Spring Night at Bamboo Pavilion

By Wang Wei, eight century China.

BTW, the full title is “Spring night at bamboo pavilion, presenting a poem to Subprefect Qian about his staying for good in Blue Field Mountains.”

Night is quiet. All creatures are resting.
Beyond the forest, occasionally a dog barks.
I remember living here in the mountains,
My only neighbors far west of the ravine.
One morning you came here. I envy you.
Back there we have carriages and official hats.
You prefer picking ferns in the unknown place.

;o)

Book Reviews: South America, More Dukes, and Unbelievable Stuff

South America Under the Skin of a Foreign Country
A widow from England spend a lot of time in South America, and writes about it.
It starts in Argentina, with tango. As basically the only dance I know, I found it amazing how the author’s views were pretty much opposite to mine. Not saying either is wrong, just incredibly different viewpoints. Something we do agree on is the great Chilean poet Neruda, so I was happy to see a section on him. I didn’t learn anything new, but I’m sure many readers had never heard of him.
Most of all, I enjoyed her insights. She’s very observant, and thankfully doesn’t go too far in extrapolating what they might mean. This style of storytelling reminds me of my blog, which is obviously very high praise. . . obviously. (Shut up.)
The one low note was the section on internet booking, which went on far too long and really brought everything to a halt.
In all, an enjoyable travelogue with a unique perspective.
3.5/5

Never Say Duke (12 Dukes of Christmas #4)
As always happens in these stories, two people who initially come off as incredibly wrong for each other end up in love and happily ever after. The fun part is the in-between.
Virginia is the kind of person who ignores your wishes when she gets it into her head that she knows better than you, but she gets away with it because she’s so charming and beautiful in her own wacky way. He, on the other hand, is quite the grump, with no enjoyment in his life other than ice cream. And that was before his injuries, which only made his disposition worse.
I’m a little miffed that the cat gets a point of view when Captain Pugboat didn’t. There’s a Mr. T, of course, because that’s how Ms. Ridley rolls. There’s also a Queen Turkey-tiara, but she’s not as important.
Considering how much of a cloudcuckoolander she is, it’s hard to imagine her so insecure. On the other hand, it makes it all the more special when she realizes he likes her the way she is.
So it wasn’t as good as the previous one, but that was one of the best historical romances I’ve ever read, so there’s no shame here.
4/5

Ripley’s Believe It or Not
A graphic novel about the famous brand.
It starts in Branson with one of the museums, where Ripley is a hologram giving the intro to the tour. Beauty and the Beast was real, in a story with too many Catherines.
From there it moves through a number of vignettes, each taken from one of the oddities in the museum.
Already knew the Phineas Gage story, though not the ultimate ending. That’s my fave part of these stories: not just explaining how they were true, but that some of these poor souls did have happily ever afters.
“Stableboys’ Sauna” is a term I wish I’d never heard. Then it turns much stranger, as we get a story about something that hasn’t happened, and might never.
Somehow one of the stories ended up in ancient Egypt, while another was a lot more expected, happening in one of my fave places, the Winchester House.
The funniest moment was the horse’s inner thought.
Because the stories are so short, they’re told in a very matter-of-fact style, just the bones. Some of them are entertaining despite that, but mostly they’re just sad, like the tale of the tallest man.
3/5

The Rose
Four British high society girls playing escort are in danger of being found out when a lot of their clients are invited to a birthday party. A statue of Aphrodite is involved, as well as an ancient goblet. The birthday girl can’t resist her Greek guest, who is really jonesing for the goblet, leading to some fantasy escapades as well as real ones.
The writing during the Greek visions is stunning. It’s hard to believe this is the same author that wrote the wonderful but completely opposite Picture Perfect Cowboy, but on the other hand it’s not. I particularly liked their patter. The heroine is a bit mannered, a touch spoiled, and prone to fits of stubbornness and posturing, but her sense of humor makes up for a lot. She’s also incredibly lucky; usually when an immortal plays with a mortal’s life, it doesn’t turn out nearly as well.
There’s a recurring gag about him having sex with a cloud, which makes me laugh every time, especially when he admits it might have only been a fog or a stiff breeze.
Some confusing turns at the end, but eventually neatly wrapped up.
4/5

From Resume To Work
As the title implies, this book aims to show you how to make a resume that will find you employment, written by someone with a lot of experience on the subject.
Thought this is a short tome filled with some duplication and a lot of references, there’s still a lot of good stuff here. It starts by explaining some of the things you might be doing wrong, why you’re being rejected, and how to correct them. From there it shows stuff you might not have known or thought about to spice up both the resume and the cover letter.
The important thing here is the author claims to know how employers think, and gives clues on that peculiar animal known as the employment psychologist. Some of their insights seem ridiculous—an accidental mistake of indentation shows the candidate has a mild form of schizophrenia?—but they’re seemingly important enough, or taken seriously enough, to be included here.
But other than that, there’s plenty enough tidbits to make it worthwhile.
4/5

;o)

Travel Thursday Encore: First Time in Amsterdam

I get asked this question so much I’m getting a psychological complex about it. . .
“Have you ever been with a prostitute?”
You tell me. . .

I got off the night train from Copenhagen without having slept much, which was the usual when traveling overnight in a train. I don’t know how I got to the hotel, because I musta sleepwalked the whole way. I don’t remember anything else until I woke up in the hotel bed at around four in the afternoon.
I didn’t realize it until later, that I should have been starving, but I wasn’t. Perhaps it had to do with finally being in a city I’d heard so much about. I’d had a Dutch friend in high school who always scoffed at the reputation Amsterdam had, that its most famous landmark was the red light district. She would lecture everyone about the canals and the great art museum and so on. Most didn’t listen.
I suddenly smiled. I didn’t want to do much on my first day, there being so little left of it anyway, so I figured that, even though I wasn’t going to actually GET a prostitute, I would never forgive myself if I didn’t at least go SEE the red light district, see if it was everything it was made out to be. Some said it was dangerous, with the drugs and the free–in one sense of the word–sex and all, but I didn’t buy it, because the city obviously generated a lot of money from tourists and the locals wouldn’t let the moneybags come to harm. Like I said, no prostitute for me, but I had heard there were live sex shows, and again, I figured I had to at least check it out, or I might regret it later, in my old age.
“The red light district will either repulse you or fulfill your every loathsome desire,” I’d been told. I didn’t repulse easily, and as for the rest, I figured I’d take it one loathsome desire at a time.
Okay, that idea was set. From the hotel balcony I could easily make out the area, delineated by such landmarks as the university and the big church with the no-longer fourteenth-century-vintage clock at the top. Even if it hadn’t been so close by, I’d already decided to go check it out, just to say I had.
As I walked in that direction, I found myself wavering. I’d never been a sex maniac, never been in such a frenzy that I HAD to have it. Sure, I love sex, and there had been times I’ve been horny, but I found out quickly that, if I DIDN’T get it, I wouldn’t spontaneously combust or wake up dead the next morning. Therefore, as I walked through the streets and over the canals, I told myself that no matter what might rise, I wouldn’t particularly do anything about it. On the other hand, I was notoriously weak when it came to redheads, and if I saw a huge-busted Barbie blonde that no man could say no to. . . well, I just had to leave the door open, if only a crack.
Um, wrong word.
Red neon marked the business houses, but what if they weren’t on in the daytime? Didn’t matter, as they gave new meaning to the term “window-shopping.” What was strange was all the women walking around. Obviously some were tourists, there for the same reason I was, but you would have thought the workers were all behind the windows. Not so, as I got propositioned more than once. This wasn’t going to be as easy as I’d thought–in more ways than one–but I told myself to persevere.
So now I’d hyped myself up for it. . . so of course what I saw was a huge disappointment. There were no big blondes, not even a single redhead. I don’t think there was one woman in the windows younger than 40, and not the least bit attractive anyway. What was going on here?
Hmm. It was still afternoon; perhaps the varsity didn’t come out until they knew there would be more customers, especially regulars. So that meant I’d probably come back later. Maybe give in to one of the many peddlers for the live sex show. I could hardly wait. . .
Okay, now a hunger of a different kind manifested itself, the one I hadn’t had earlier. Just a block outside the district I found a little Italian restaurant; ever since I got to Northern Europe, I’ve wanted spaghetti, don’t know why, and never failed to find one.
The place was small and filled up, and I couldn’t see a single table empty. Luckily, though, I saw someone waving at me at the far end of the room. I couldn’t see them very well because the light from the window behind was darkening the features, but as I moved forward I could see it was a young woman, maybe in her mid twenties, who was smiling at me and motioning to the empty chair across the table from her. I was hungry enough to take a seat from anyone, but this certainly helped. I couldn’t tell how tall she was–I like tall girls–but what I could see looked good. She had short light brown hair, usually not a style I liked, but it obviously worked for her. She had what used to be called a cameo face, and green eyes that twinkled almost too much; a guy couldn’t think of anything else while looking at them.
The first thing she said was, “You look like an American, and I always want to practice my English.”
“Why?” I grinned at her as I picked up the menu. “It sounds perfect.”
She smiled again, something I would realize she did a lot. . . later. Amazingly, when I look back, she’d actually smiled LESS during that dinner than she usually did. That would have seemed silly, considering I really couldn’t remember a time she WASN’T smiling during that first meeting.
It didn’t take long for me to order the spaghetti–extra butter, please–and then we got down to the getting-to-know-you stuff. It wasn’t a typical pick-up kinda talk, but more like a lot of travelers do, where you chat about so many things for hours before realizing you don’t even know the other person’s name. If you’ve ever see the movie Before Sunrise, you’ll know what I mean.
I noticed she kept glancing at the door. It didn’t take me long to ask, even though I probably shouldn’t have. Still, I wanted to be prepared in case an angry boyfriend showed up. I didn’t want the spaghetti dumped on my head, even if I had ordered it without sauce.
She sighed, and then I knew I shouldn’t have asked. Too late now. “My boyfriend was supposed to meet me after work,” she replied matter-of-factly. “We were supposed to have dinner and then go to the opera. I know he hates opera, and that he just goes because I ask him to, but he knows he can say no. Once he says yes, I expect him to be here.”
Visions of spaghetti dancing on my head danced in my head.
“He’s two hours late,” she muttered, looking out the window. “He’s done this before, so I probably won’t see him for about a week. But this time it might be the last straw. . .”
Damn! Things were starting to sound better, but that was going too far! She musta seen something in my face, for she laughed and told me not to worry. “He’s a jerk, but I always thought I could change him. Guess I was fooling myself You can’t change men. . . you can’t change people,” she corrected, not wanting to sound like a man-hater. She suddenly smiled again–big surprise. “You wouldn’t want me to try to change you, would you?”
I smiled back, figuring it couldn’t hurt to joke around. “I don’t need any changing.”
She laughed, so I knew it hadn’t done any damage, and then she glanced at her watch again. I looked out the window and saw that it was now dark. Wow! Tempus fugit, sure as hell did, when you were having fun.
I almost knew her next question before she asked it. “So, do you like opera?”
“Some operas,” I replied, which was true. “My favorites are Tosca and Flying Dutchman.”
Her eyes went wide. “That’s what’s on tonight!”
I later found out that posters for the event were plastered all over town, but she’d never suspected that I had just said that in order to go with her that night. Luckily she wasn’t the suspicious sort.
She called the waiter over, told her to put my meal on her tab, and then we left, just like that. Nice to see things done so efficiently, especially in a place not known for it.
I finally got to see her standing. She wasn’t particularly tall, but not short either. She was wearing a tight black dress that was certainly passable for the opera, but was not likely what she usually wore. It was certainly tight enough for me to see she had medium-sized, though pert, breasts and flaring hips that gave just a touch of voluptuousness to her otherwise slim frame. As I followed her toward the door, I noticed her ass was bubbly, which did her absolutely no harm. She had a body built for bed, though I had to admit sex was so much on my mind in the past few hours that I was far from being choosy at the moment. I certainly enjoyed looking over her body as we walked to the opera house, and if she noticed she didn’t seem to mind. I didn’t chance putting my arm around her shoulders, though.
Dutch being a lot like German, there was no need for a translation screen during the musical spectacle. I didn’t know German, but having seen it so many times I was familiar with the work, so I didn’t miss much. A few times Jessica–I finally found out her name!–leaned over and whispered a translation, but pretty soon she saw that it really wasn’t necessary. The next time she scooted over was so I could see she was giggling when she caught me humming along. One time she even kissed me on the cheek, which pretty much made me forget all about the second act.
We didn’t leave our seats during the intermission, just stayed and talked. When I told her I was from El Ay, she wanted to hear all about Hollywood, and was disappointed when I told her I hardly ever went there, that it was a small and not-all-that-great piece of the huge city. I countered by remarking that she wouldn’t like it if people thought of Amsterdam as nothing but a huge red light district, and she gave a slight smile and nod to show she understood the analogy.
Sometime in the fourth act her hand snaked across the seat divider and held mine. I struggled not to make too much of it, just gave it a playful squeeze and kept watching the ship as the captain steered it toward the one woman who might be in love with him. She seemed content by that–she being Jessica, not the captain’s babe–although there was a feeling in the air that there was more to come later.
After the opera we had a late dinner, then we argued about where to go next. Since she knew the way, she figured she’d walk me to my hotel and then head home; she argued that if I were to take her home, I’d be wandering all night trying to find my way back to my hotel, and there were no taxis in the area. I countered with the argument that I was a great navigator and never got lost, which was true, but more importantly, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if something happened to her on her way home alone. Before long I hit on the perfect solution: we would walk to my hotel, so I would know the route back, then walk her home. She seemed perfectly satisfied with the idea, and even mentioned that she would have liked to see my hotel room if the desk clerk didn’t take her for a prostitute. I told her she could come over to the hotel in the morning to wake me up and tell me what to see in the city. She said maybe. . .
It was a quiet walk to her place, though we were holding hands. When I wasn’t thinking about how beautiful the canals looked even at nighttime, I wondered if she was just a tease, because this was cruelty to animals if nothing else was going to happen.
She hardly said a word as she led me into the apartment and then into the bedroom. I doubt I could describe what happened next; I doubt I have the words to do it justice. And it wasn’t just sex, because we spent the entire night talking in between the gasping and moaning. Of course it wasn’t always easy to believe a woman’s words and noises during sex, but she definitely sounded sincere.
Anyway, the next morning I woke up much earlier than I usually did, because she was moving around the place at high speed, muttering like that rabbit in Alice in Wonderland about being late. When she saw I’d awakened, she came over to kiss me quickly and tell me she had to get going or she’d be late for class. She also said that she’d have to go to work after class, but that she would get tickets for the symphony tonight and meet me for dinner at six that night. She also gave me a list of things to see in town that I might not have thought of, and that she wanted to hear all about it that night. Another kiss and she was out the door.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about practically being ordered around, but it was her town and her life, and I didn’t want to feel like an intrusion into it. It also crossed my mind that she had told me to meet her for dinner, just like her supposed boyfriend was going to last night. I guess it was a sorta complement, although it did make me wonder if she was expecting me to stay, or worse, take her with me back to El Lay.
Then I realized to what extent she trusted me. Here I was in her apartment, alone, and she didn’t think I’d steal anything! That made me smile, and I told myself I would return the favor by being at least half an hour early for dinner.
As I got dressed, I could smell bacon–I’m incredibly sensitive to bacon–and made my way to the kitchen, where breakfast was waiting. That was probably why she was late, I thought with a small sense of guilt. Still, I didn’t ask her to do it, so I didn’t feel that bad. And no doubt she enjoyed doing it, so I would simply thank her for it–with a kiss right on the tip of the nose–and not tell her that famous inanity of “You shouldn’t have!” Hopefully it would make her feel good, or at least appreciated. Besides, where else was I gonna find a place that served such good bacon?
I made my way to the hotel, wondering if the desk clerk knew I hadn’t been in all night. By now I wasn’t interested in going back to sleep. Despite any physical exhaustion, I was too hyped from my night with what was turning out to be an amazing woman. Unless I got murdered, my trip to Amsterdam was already as worthwhile as it was going to get.
At least I forgot all about prostitutes or live sex shows. . .

Next week you’ll get the answer to the burning question at the top.

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: I’ve Plucked Every Bud

By Han-ch’ing Kuan, early 14th century.

I’ve plucked every bud hanging over the wall,
and picked every roadside branch of the willow.
The flowers I plucked had the softest red petals,
the willows I picked were the tenderest green.
A rogue and a lover, I’ll rely
on my picking and plucking dexterity
’til flowers are ruined and willows wrecked.
I’ve picked and plucked half the years of my life,
a generation entirely spent
lying with willows, sleeping with flowers.

;o)

Travel Thursday: Culver City

So this one day my landlady tells me they’re going to throw a party in the driveway in front of my room in the rear house, and the music would be blaring from the garage underneath me, so I should probably plan to be out that afternoon and night. She knocked $100 off the rent, so I figured I could find something to do. I idly wondered if there might be enough parties each month for me to live there rent free, but didn’t say anything as I searched for someplace to go. Unfortunately all of the UCLA sports teams were either away or playing the next day, and I didn’t feel like shelling out all of that rebate on a theater or concert ticket. There were no movies I wanted to see either, so it took a while to figure out what to do.
What I finally decided on was a visit to a part of Los Angeles I hadn’t been to in years, Culver City. A number of factors took me to this decision, not the least being a station on the Expo line stopping right there, but the most important was the fact that soon I would have a doctor’s appointment out there and wanted to scope out the place so I wouldn’t be late when it finally arrived.
But of course I had plenty of time to waste, so once I got downtown I sat down at my favorite place on Olvera Street, Juanita’s, for my usual bean and cheese burrito, followed by the requisite vanilla soft serve at Miss Kitty’s. But since it was the weekend the usual guys I know weren’t on duty, so in the end I didn’t spend much time there before heading back to Union Station to catch the subway and then transfer to the Expo line.
Other than having to play undercover amongst a sea of Trojan fans—already heading to the tailgates six hours before the game!—it was a boring long trip to Culver City, with my headphones full of an audiobook, something I’ve recently tried again and liked a lot more than previous attempts, when it would put me to sleep. Remembering that the last time I was on this line was the same day I’d hurt my elbow while shooting beach volleyball at Santa Monica, I forced myself to think of brighter things, but none came to mind as the train arrived and spat me out.
Heading out of the train station, there’s construction going on, so it’s hard to get a sense for the street geography, and indeed I took a wrong turn. In my defense, it’s a very strange crossing of three thoroughfares at weird angles, and when I finally got to check the map on my phone I saw that it didn’t matter all that much, at least as far as my first goal, the doctor’s office. And I actually enjoyed this walk, finding a future place to eat—amongst many—as well as some interesting buildings and places I’d vaguely heard of.
Once I turned onto the street in question and located the building I needed, I kept going onto Venice, where I headed back in the direction I came, having seen a couple of things on the map I wanted to check out. Most importantly was the In ‘N’ Out, but that was for later. The first target was The Ripped Bodice, but before I got there I came across a beautiful curly-haired brunette wearing a floral dress and knee-high black boots. That combination shouldn’t work—I’m a photographer, I’m supposed to know these things—but she rocked it. I even made her dimple when I mentioned boots never go out of style. This was definitely a case of my friend Cheryl’s lyric of “I fall in love at least four times a day.”
But finally I did get to the romance bookstore, which was just as idiosyncratic as the mystery and sci-fi stores of the past. There was some funky though expected décor, quirky merchandise that was only peripherally book-related, and less books than I expected, since the place was pretty small. I had the most fun in the erotica section, of course, though I did find something from one of my fave authors. . . who writes hard sci-fi! And the Millennium Falcon made an appearance too. . . unlike the men’s books.
Catherine Asaro, romance, sci-fi, hard sci-fi, science fiction, bookstore, romance bookstore

romance bookstore, phone stand, Millennium Falcon, Star  Wars

romance bookstore, men's fiction, empty bookspace

Made a brief stop at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, which was a low-key bucket list-type place, but didn’t get to do much because it was near closing time. Besides, they don’t allow photos. I’ll probably try again when I have that doctor’s appointment, and hopefully I’ll remember to take notes.
Next up, though I still wasn’t that hungry, was In ‘n’ Out. This was the smallest of the chain I’ve ever seen, particularly when you see the line for the drive-thru blocking cars trying to get out of their spaces in the parking lot, so I had to stand around looking awkward while holding up a wall until my special order finally showed up. As I exited I heard music coming from the park across the street, so I figured listening up close would be a fun way to spend the time eating, and boy was I right.
I ended up staying two hours there, listening to the band of congas—well, not so much a band as a weekly jam—before they called it quits, but long enough to catch a couple of videos.

Talked to some of the musicians after—Señor Yum Yum, seriously?—but soon enough it was time to move on. Figuring there was nothing left for me there, I headed for the train station, only to be joined in my walk by a beautiful redhead who engaged me in small talk. Since this kind of thing doesn’t happen to me, I knew she had some ulterior motive, but as long as it didn’t require me reaching for my wallet I figured I’d indulge her, and myself, of course. Have I ever mentioned how much I love redheads? (Check the title of this blog site. . .)
So, after a long enough time for me to fall in love yet again—see above, about the song lyric—she saw we were close to the train station and pointed across the street, informing me brightly that it was a strip club full of girls as beautiful as her. I told her I doubted that, which seemed to make her blush, then patted her on the shoulder and moved on without a goodbye. I hoped I didn’t daydream too obviously on the train. . .

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Madam to a Young Courtesan

Written about 300 years ago by Sarangapani in India, in an era where this seemed to be a common trope.

Grab whatever cash he has,
That Venugopala,
And think nothing of the rest.

As they say about lentils,
Don’t worry
About the chaff.

Does it matter
To which woman he goes
Or how late he stays there?

Just pass the days
Saying yes or no
Till the month is over

And grab the cash.

What is it to you
If he runs into debt
Or if he has an income?

Quietly, tactfully,
Lie in wait
Like a cat on a wall

And grab the cash.

What if he makes love
To her
And only then to you?

What’s there
To be jealous about?
When youth passes,
Nothing will go your way.

So grab the cash.

;o)