Travel Thursday Encore: Around the World 2004 {+ Olympics}

This time on Travel Thursday, we start classical–Rome and Athens–then go mysterious, with India and assorted sundries. . .
I think this is the last trip I took that lasted more than 4 weeks. . .

Whenever I start a trip to Europe, or start a trip IN Europe, I usually go to London first {note from present: this has changed, with all the terrorist scares; my new first home is Amsterdam}. But this time, for whatever reason–oh yeah, models–I ended up flying straight to Rome. Granted I’ve been to London more times than Rome, but I never get tired of exploring London, maybe because I’m not afraid of crossing the street there, despite the cars going the wrong way. Old saying: men in Italy drive with their flies open!
Anywayside, I did finally get to check out the Temple of Mithras this armchair archaeologist always wanted to gawk at, though I have to admit it was a little disappointing. As always when in Rome—do as the Romanians do!—I visited that little pyramid that appears to be part of the wall, then Tivoli—not as fun as the Danish one, though I wonder which one was named first?—and of course the Castel San’t Angelo, where I always ask the tour guide when we’re on the battlements, “Is this where Tosca threw herself to her death?” One guide actually screamed at me “That was fiction!” which only made me all the more excited to screw with the next guide. And no, I’m not usually that mean. . . I swear!
Shut up. . .

Anyone else find it ironic that Athens—Greek flavor—pushed so hard to get the 1996 centennial Olympics, which instead went to Atlanta, where some of the events were held in Athens. . . Georgia? No, just me? Screw you.
As some of you who know me have found out, mostly to your detriment, I’m exceedingly, disgustingly honest. However, it is extremely hard to keep such a high moral compass 24/7, 365, so some days you have to take yourself out of the lineup, rest up those ethical muscles. Not that I would deliberately hurt anyone, of course, but a few minutes or hours of being selfish never killed anyone. . . well, it probably has, but stick with me, okay?
As usual for big events like the Olympics, hotel rooms are sold out months if not years in advance, and if there happens to be a room left over, or a cancellation, the price skyrockets like it was art from a painter who just died. In fact, there were people in Athens renting out crappy rooms for the price of a luxury suite in DC. My bosses in Germany, not wanting to deal with all this—the company usually makes my flight and hotel arrangements—decided they would simply give me a $700 per diem and let me sort it out for myself. I made the required stink about this, and they promised to reward me for it next trip. Of course this was all done by e-mail, so they could not see me grinning. . . hmmm, why was I smiling? Because I had already arranged to stay with an old friend at his place in almost-downtown Athens. For free, though I did buy the family dinner every night; his wife would not thank me for the weight gain. So, $700 a day, for 3 weeks. . . hey, they’re a huge corporation, they can afford it. Nobody got hurt. . .
And we’re back to my usual personality. . .
Do you remember how there was this huge hubbub because Athens wasn’t finishing up the stadiums in time? I don’t know how many of you got to see this during the opening ceremonies on TV, but right before it started, this workman came out to center stage, bent down, and pounded a nail to finish off the job. Then the festivities began. Gotta love a people who can laugh at themselves. . .
Two weeks of shooting sports tends to blur together. In world cups you at least get some days off between games, and the only time I work for even three days in a row is the Long Beach Grand Prix. I couldn’t even tell ya what I shot, since as soon as I finished with the rolls I hand them off to a developer in the press area, who e-mails them—not the rolls, the photos—to Germany. On the other hand, I can’t remember ever thinking “I hope I got that one, it’s gonna be an awesome photo!” so I don’t care that much.
Being completely bored of shooting sports a week in, and not seeing much of my UCLA friends who were competing, I told my bosses in Germany that I’d gotten a tip on the Venus de Milo’s arms and wanted to go dig for them. . . on Milos, obviously. The German words they said basically translated to a big fat Teutonic “Whatever!” so I took off for the island and two days of doing nothing, which I’m really good at.
Refreshed, I came back to Athens and ran into another photographer who works for the same German syndicate, except he does men’s sports. He was bored too and wanted to get out of town, so I offered to give him my assignment to shoot the women’s soccer semi that Germany was playing in another town, not Athens. He jumped for it, so I got to stay and watch one of my best friends have an Olympic gold placed around her neck after the softball final. Excuse me, have to wipe away the tears. . . {want to know which one? Remember an earlier game with an amazing diving catch in center field, then she gets up and doubles the runner at first? That’s her. . .}
Speaking of tears, how many of you remember the little girl at the closing ceremonies? Here’s some tissue if you do; if you don’t, go get the tissue and then YouTube it.

This shows just how stupid I am. Who goes to the Taj Mahal, probably the most photographed building on the planet, and finds a new angle to shoot it? Not that I knew what a fuckup it would be at the time, but there was this dilapidated building and a weird tree and the Taj in the distance, thought I could make a social comment out of this. Well. . . nah, I’ll put it in the epilogue.
I do find it ironic that most women who visit this place think “How romantic!” when they hear the rich bastard built the Taj Mahal for his wife; um, wait for the part about how he built it as her tomb AFTER she died. . .
Anyhoo, from there it was on to Udaipur, which was heaven for this James Bond geek, especially staying at the floating palace. Then on to Khajuraho, where I’m told I took over 100 rolls of film, making sure I got every angle of every erotic sculpture carved into those temples. {note from the present: nowadays that’s, what, a 4G memory card?} And this time I did not take my usual trip to Varanasi, which I will always think of as Benares, simply because there’s nothing left for me to photo there.

Sri Lanka
Can I geek out for a moment here? I got to meet Arthur C. Clarke! He let me use his computer to check my e-mails! How amazing is that? The king of hard science fiction lets me use the machine he’d probably thought up in the 50s but never imagined would be in every household. I didn’t even ask for his autograph or have a picture taken; this was more than enough for me. . .

No Seychelles!
Got the idea at the last moment, so I asked around, and was told there was a flight from New Delhi to the islands, with one change of plane. In Mumbai? No. Singapore, maybe? Uh-uh. PARIS! They wanted me to fly from India to France and then the Seychelles! WTF? So instead I tootled off to Singapore for yet another visit to Raffles and the Night Zoo before getting back on schedule in Oz.

I spent most of the time in Australia recovering from the past parts of the trip. Other than reconfirming my thought that Perth is reminiscent of San Diego—and of course shooting some models—I just took it easy. Visited friends in Sydney and Auckland, spent a day in Hawaii, and back home.

Epilogue–nothing ever goes as planned. . .
Four months later, in El Lay. . .
There’s a small awards ceremony every January, where the best photos of the year are honored. I am always required to attend—at least they pay for the rented tux—but I always manage to sneak out after a while, and usually end up going somewhere else for the rest of the night. . . in the tuxedo. Like the time I went to a UCLA women’s basketball game, scarfing popcorn and getting butter. . . on the tuxedo, you guessed it. So, this year I actually get nominated for that Taj Mahal shot, and not just in the journalism category, but the BIG prize, at the end of the night. So I had to be there till the end, no sneaking out. Ordinarily not a big deal, except that for months I’d been planning to go to the Temple Bar in Santa Monica because my favorite band, Raining Jane, was having their CD release party that night!
And then I didn’t even win. . .


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.


Poetry Tuesday: A Courtesan to her Lover

By Ksetrayya, originally written in the Telugu language (India) in the seventeenth century.
(From what I could make out doing research, “Muvva Gopala” is a name for the god Krishna, so make of that what you will.)

Who was that woman sleeping
in the space between you and me?
Muvva Gopala, you sly one:
I heard her bangles jingle.

As I would kiss you now and then,
I took her lips into mine,
the lips of that woman fragrant as camphor.
You must have kissed her long.

But when I tasted them,
they were insipid
as the chewed-out fiber
of sugarcane.

Who was that woman?

Thinking it was you, I reached out for a hug.
Those big breasts collided with mine.
That seemed a little strange,
but I didn’t make a fuss
lest I hurt you, lord,
and I turned aside.

Who was that woman?

You made love to me first,
and then was it her turn?
Does she come here every day?
Muvva Gopala,
you who fathered the god of desire,
you can’t be trusted.
I know your tricks now
and the truth of your heart.

Who was that woman?


Poetry Tuesday: Next Morning

Someone who probably didn’t want to remain anonymous wrote this in seventh-century India.

Next morning
When a damnfool parrot–
right before her parents–
starts to mimic
last night’s cries of love,
the girl leaps up,
clasps her hands to
start the children dancing–
jangle of her bracelets
drowning out
the parrot’s calls.


Travel Tuesday: On Makeshift Bedding

By Vidya, somewhere between 500 and 1000 AD in India.

On makeshift
bedding in the cucumber
garden, the hilltribe
girl clings to
her exhausted lover.
Limbs still chaffing
with pleasure, dissolving
against him she
now and again with
one bare foot
jostles a shell necklace
that hangs from a
vine on the fence–
rattling it
through the night,
scaring the jackals off.