Should Rashida Tlaib Apologize To Mothers Everywhere?

In a comment thread on Facebook, a friend of mine explained it this way:

I hate the term she used though, really poor choice of bad words..isn’t it a term the #MeToo folks should boycott? I mean it implies a mother is willing to have sex with her own son, and that’s rape no matter how you see it. Terrible choice of words, why not asshole, jerk or idiot? I don’t care so much about using a bad word, but this term is unacceptable. Also, she probably has anger issues that she needs to learn to control to have meaningful discourse. AOC has been vocal without once resorting to such vulgar and terrible language. As a mother, I find it beyond distasteful, as a woman, I think it’s oppressive and stigmatizing, as citizen, made me so much less proud of her win.

I could not agree more. A few days later, while reading the NYT over a late Sunday breakfast, I saw a particularly cogent editorial by David Leonhardt, and made this post:

OK, putting aside for the moment whether using insulting, profane language when you are a legislator, in a public setting, is smart, look at this quote from an opinion piece in the NYT this morning:

“Consider the following descriptions of Trump: “terribly unfit;” “erratic;” “reckless;” “impetuous;” “unstable;” “a pathological liar;” “dangerous to a democracy;” a concern to “anyone who cares about our nation.” Every one of these descriptions comes from a Republican member of Congress or of Trump’s own administration.

They know. They know he is unfit for office. They do not need to be persuaded of the truth. They need to be persuaded to act on it.

Democrats won’t persuade them by impeaching Trump. Doing so would probably rally the president’s supporters. It would shift the focus from Trump’s behavior toward a group of Democratic leaders whom Republicans are never going to like. A smarter approach is a series of sober-minded hearings to highlight Trump’s misconduct. Democrats should focus on easily understandable issues most likely to bother Trump’s supporters, like corruption.”

This is the real reason why Rashida Tlaib was deeply mistaken. She was unprofessional and sunk to Trump’s level in her use of language, but ok, we all make mistakes, and she is new. But what was really stupid was that she subverted the strategy described above, which is the right way to go, by taking a position in a very public way that contradicts her party’s leadership, and undermines their approach. That will hurt her a lot more in the long run. I would wager a bet that she will be pretty marginalized in the House, privately if not publicly. We’ll see.

If you’d like to read the whole article, it’s here: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/05/opinion/sunday/trump-impeachment.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

That’s my opinion on the whole matter. We need effective, smart, strategic progressive leaders. Rashida Tlaib failed us.

Portugal – a Revelation

So, when I left my legion of followers last time, Eli and I were driving into Portugal. That first day, September 14th, we drove past the border, from Sevilla toward Faro, into the Algarve. It was cloudy and cool, and you could smell the salt in the air. My phone stopped working immediately, though the woman who sold me the data plan in the airport assured me that would absolutely not happen. I didn’t get a new plan until Lisbon. This caused a lot of challenging work-arounds to Google Map directions, which Eli didn’t mind but made me super-nervous, especially at night.

The first night (end of day #10) we stayed at an apartment that was part of a white-washed adobe complex of buildings. We missed it several times (no Google maps!) and couldn’t call the Airbnb owner, because no phone service. We got there eventually, though. It was quite rustic, very simple. We drove to the beach, had some fish at the restaurant at the edge, but I didn’t have a great time. It didn’t feel exactly right, somehow; I didn’t have the right equipment, like an umbrella and a beach towel. I was hot. I slept well that night, though, after a nice dinner in Tavira, and the next morning, with some directions from the very friendly and garrulous apartment owner, we headed west.

Day #11, there’s only one story. Our first full day exploring Portugal was fantastic, but the best part of all came when we arrived at our last-minute Airbnb booking. We had planned to wing it all the way to Lisbon in terms of accommodations, and boy did we luck out. We ended up way high in the hills above Lagos, almost to the very southwest tip of Portugal. This place was called Casa Joia, and rather than buildings (other than the //Dutch owners’ opulent home), it was made up of tents. But not just any tents – glamping tents, up on platforms, surrounded by almond and olive trees and flowering plants of all sorts. Placid, friendly dogs roamed the area, and the beds and sheets were worthy of the Ritz Carlton. A picnic table on the veranda was laid with a blue and white tablecloth, and dishes, silverware, a coffeemaker etc. were all supplied. The bathroom was a bit of a hike and I admit I was glad (a) that I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night to pee, for once, and (b) that I had brought a cover-up for the beach that doubled as a bathrobe. The owners had a salt-water pool that we were invited to use, and I did. It was all just so cool. The next morning we ate breakfast that we prepared from food we bought in Lagos, plus some fresh figs and honey that our host from the day before had given us as a gift. A feast, and a truly fantastic experience.

Day #12, we start heading north. We saw some beautiful coastline on this drive, but the best thing, really, about this day was lunch. We went to a town called Odeceixe, reached by driving down an incredibly steep, winding road lined with whitewashed houses painted with mainly pastel-colored strips around the doors. It went on and on, until I really thought we were going to plunge right into the sea. Instead, we finally came to the bottom and proceeded to eat one of the best lunches of the whole trip. Gazing out on the vista, we devoured sea bass, roasted padrone peppers, and squid. Satiated, we walked around a little, and then climbed back in the car and drove out of the town back to the main road in literally 3 minutes. I just cannot understand how this was possible. It took us 20 minutes to drive down there, or more, and then in practically a blink of the eye, we were back on the main highway. It is a complete mystery to me. I’ll always remember those peppers, though.

Day #13, September 17th, was one of the nicest days ever, for one reason – Praia do Pego, otherwise known as one of the best beaches I’ve ever been to. We had bought beach towels along the way, and suntan lotion – we were ready. We made our way down the very long, and in places alarmingly sideways-slanted boardwalk, to a quiet, secluded and absolutely gorgeous white sand beach with folding lounge chairs, umbrellas with hooks hanging off them, and a little table, and the bluest, clearest ocean imaginable. It’s been a long time since I enjoyed a beach, and possibly that may have been in fact the last time – if so, thank god. I was so relaxed it was incredible. I went in the water (though I did not swim like Eli did!), and didn’t even mind being in my wet, gritty swimsuit the rest of the day. We stopped in some tiny town, the name of which I do not remember, ate at a local place, and I drank what I thought was plain apple juice but turned out to be alcoholic. As we headed toward Lisbon, I was very happy.

We arrived in Lisbon and began exploring that very night (after a long and welcome hot shower). We were able to settle in nicely, since we would be staying in this apartment in the historic Belem district for a few days. My old friend Malcolm, Eli’s godfather, was due to arrive the next day.

So day #14 was my last full day with Eli. We spent a lot of it wandering around, but the highlight of the day was the tile museum, Museu Nacional do Azulejo. This was one of our favorite museums, not just for the beautiful tiles, but for the Moorish architecture, the courtyards and arches, and the lovely courtyard where we had lunch.  My story is not about the museum (though there’s a few photos below, because it was so pretty), but about the adventure we had picking Malcolm up at the airport.

We strolled out to our little rental car in plenty of time, got in, turned the key, and … nothing. Not even a crank. We just looked at each other – what to do? We knew that all the taxi drivers were about to go on strike the next morning, when Eli’s flight was scheduled very early (they stayed on strike the entire rest of the trip – refusing to drive in protest of Uber, which made little sense to me since it just pushed people to use Uber more, since they couldn’t get a taxi). Well, right then, the main thing was to get to the airport, so off we went in a taxi, had a lovely reunion. Eli and Malcolm finally met as adults. We tried to go to dinner at a highly recommended restaurant, but after looking everywhere, we finally realized – it was closed. Sigh … we just went somewhere else, where the food was nothing special, but it was so nice to spend time together.

Upon our return to the apartment, I embarked on an insane chain of phone calls (thank god I had gotten a new phone plan the day before) to the rental company, bouncing between Spain and Portugal, trying to arrange to have someone come. Finally I thought it was all arranged – someone would come at 6:00 am and give us a jump. At 5:00 am the phone rang and some guy in Spain was asking if the truck was there. I’m like – I don’t know! I’m in bed! He forgot about the time difference (Portugal is one hour later) which I found strange, considering his proximity and profession. At 6:00 am Eli and I both dragged ourselves downstairs, the truck did come, but … the battery needed way more than a jump. It was dead and needed to be replaced. We started freaking out at this point – taxis on strike, plane leaving, non-refundable fare, omg …

The truck driver promised that someone would come later that morning and replace the battery, which they did, and then gave Eli a ride to the airport. I mean – who does that? This was Portugal; at the airport, the Customs guy pulled Eli aside and said “Is this saffron you’ve got here?” Eli, thinking he was about to get in trouble, hesitated but then fessed up, yes, it was saffron he got in Spain. The Customs official then spent 10 minutes sharing recipes. What could have been a really difficult situation was resolved through the kindness of Portuguese strangers. As for me, I went back to sleep.

The culprit – a Fiat. Fix it again, Tomaso.

 

 

 

 

That day, #18, was spent exploring Lisbon with Malcolm. In the evening, for the first time, I was driving. Lisbon is pretty challenging for foreign drivers; lots of fast-moving traffic, honking and gesturing drivers, round-abouts, and very curvy, small and erratic streets. It was a bit of an adventure, but though there were a few dicey moments (more on that later, in another town – a truly scary experience!), I made it to Alfama, the oldest area of Lisbon and a hotbed of clubs and fado, a traditional Portuguese music that is often very emotional, plaintive and beautiful. Here’s a very nice example of a song I’ve loved for a long time, by Ana Moura: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mo5Ty8TJuOg. Give it a listen, you won’t regret it.

Anyway, I was determined to hear fado sung while in Lisbon, and Malcolm and I got reservations at famous place called “Club Luso.” We ate a huge dinner and listened to 5 different singers. The first guy was very handsome, he had a kind of light opera style. The second guy was short and also handsome, but in a very different way. Much more authentic in his style; I thought he was the best. Later came a much older woman who apparently was famous in her youth, but very much past her prime, sadly. Her voice was gone, but she still had a lot of style. The last singer was a young woman, excellent singer, but I thought she did not have the depth of spirit of the other performer I liked. Anyway it was quite the range and we really enjoyed it. Definitely a tourist spot, but no regrets. I don’t have any photos, but here’s a funny shot I took during the day to send to Eli on a topic he harassed me about non-stop the entire trip. That’s why I’m laughing.

Yes, Eli, I can read a map!

 

 

 

 

The next day (#19) Malcolm and I headed north, toward Porto. Our Airbnb host there recommended that we stop in Obidos on the way up, and we were quite glad we followed that recommendation! Obidos is a classic Portuguese fortified town, with a  medieval castle looming over narrow, cobblestone streets. We decided to have lunch at a small restaurant we discovered just outside the town walls and once we got inside, did not regret it – the streets and restaurants there were thronged with tourists. We walked up above the main streets for a while, explored a few shops, and we were on our way. I like traveling with Malcolm for this reason – we have about the same tolerance for crowds and tourism, which is to say, we don’t hate it for short periods, but we run out of patience at about the same time and easily agree to move on.

We continued up the coast to Tomar, where we spent the night and went to the most stunningly beautiful historic site I saw in all of Portugal, which is saying quite a bit. On this day #20, Malcolm and I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on a long walkstreet filled with restaurants, shops and people out strolling – so common all through Spain and Portugal, and such a jarring contrast to U.S. cities – and headed up to the Convento de Cristo, a World Heritage site, built as headquarters for the Pope’s secretive Knights Templar in 1160. We hadn’t necessarily aimed to to go there, it was just in the town and we had time before we headed north again for Porto.

So, I’ve got another story for this day, but I cannot resist at least sharing some photos from that visit. The place was not thronged, easy to stroll around and take in the abundant beauty and history. It was so big and complicated inside that we got lost inside a few times but eventually found our way out and headed for Coimbra, en route to Porto, for a late lunch. And here is the disastrous but ultimately triumphant driving story! But first, Tomar and the Convent of Christ:

The story with Coimbra, a large university town, is this. We wanted to go a particular place for lunch that was highly recommended, and we used Google Maps to get there. That was the big mistake. I don’t entirely blame Google, because those hilly, narrow streets are devilish, but what a disaster this was. First, we got lost more than a few times, and as seemed to be common in both Spain and Portugal, each time we had to travel several miles and negotiate at least two freeways and one huge turn-around to get back. Going around the block seems to be an impossibility in these places. Luckily Malcolm and I found this kind of amusing … Eli, not so much.

Finally, we ended up on what we thought was the right street. It was an extremely narrow, extremely steep uphill cobbled road that we followed dutifully, and when we got to the top, the restaurant was nowhere in sight. We were faced with two impossible choices. 1 – we could continue downhill on the road, going the wrong way on a one-way street, or 2 – we could back down the hill we just came up. Those were the only choices – turning around was simply not possible. I sat there frozen for a good 3 or 4 minutes, and then finally made a decision – down the one-way street. I knew I could never back down the road without demolishing both my car and most of the cars parked along the side.

As we slowly made our way down, people tromping up the hill kept gesturing that we were going the wrong way. Yeah, I know that, tell me something helpful. If I could just get to the bottom and back onto a normal street … but no. Remember those walking streets and plazas that I love so much? That’s what this road led into, with no way out. I just didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, and Malcolm wisely kept quiet. I mean, his English upper lip twitched a little, but he didn’t actually say anything. Well, he didn’t really have to. Again I took a deep breath and started driving through the crowds. It was kind of funny, actually – no one seemed all that concerned or upset about it. The seas just sort of parted. Way, way far away I could see what I thought was a main thoroughfare, and I headed toward it, praying every meter of the way that nothing terrible would happen. When a policeman came running toward me, I felt my prayers had not been answered. He began speaking in rapid Portuguese to me, and I answered in English, of course, giving my words all the expression I possibly could. “I know, I KNOW I should not be here, I am so SO SORRY, please, just tell me how to get out!” Something in my frantic tone must have gotten through to him, because no ticket, no yelling, just a resigned sigh and pointing toward the road. Guess my prayers were answered after all.

We hit the road, stubbornly traced our way back, parked on the street, and walked to the restaurant. Which was no longer serving much because it was so late in the day, but the waiter was very nice and we managed. It seemed like not eating there would negate all we went through. It was a long walk to/from the car, too. Of course as we walked we passed a huge parking lot right next to the restaurant.

Due to the trauma of this experience, not too many photos were taken in Coimbra, but here is just one that shows what a nice city is is, driving issues notwithstanding.

The hill directly across from the hill of my nightmares.

So, at the end of this very full day, we arrived in Porto. We stayed there, in a modern flat that was nothing special from an architectural point of view, but very spacious, comfortable and well-situated above the river and bridges the city is so famous for. We were there for 3 days before Malcolm headed home to England and I drove to Spain to return to Tbilisi from Madrid. These last days are a blur of tours and meals and enjoyment; I don’t think I can separate them out day-by-day, so for this last bit I will just focus on the two main stories of our Porto experience – never mind which day it was!

The first story – food. The whole 4 days we just ate and ate, so much delicious food and wine. Also we drank way too much coffee and ate many a pastal de nata. We found a favorite local restaurant and had dinner there twice, the only foreigners in the place, which was stuffed to overflowing with families and locals who clearly ate there all the time. I’m sad I didn’t take a photo of the epic food there – I’ll never forget our shared reaction to a seafood extravaganza that was easily enough to feed 6 people, served proudly to one very pleased woman, who shockingly pretty much ate the whole thing. With bread. Here’s a sample from a few other meals:

Next story – the river. Specifically, the Douro River, which begins in the Douro Valley as a wide, glistening snake winding its way through steep hills terraced with wine grapevines, all the way down to Porto, where it narrows as it empties into the sea. The Douro Valley is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world, and our day there was just sublime. In this case, pictures speak much louder than words. Feast your eyes:

The river dominated the city as well. We bought tourist bus tickets and didn’t regret it for a minute – spent a good part of one day driving from one end of the city to the other, lounging on the top deck and drinking in the views. Lots of restaurants and stores on both banks, museums, lots of port manufacturers and warehouses, and some spectacularly gold-encrusted cathedrals. But it was the river that really held our attention, for the old, beautiful houses and castles, the bridges – both old and new, one built by the architect Gustave Eiffel, of the Eiffel Tower – and the cleanness of the water. Young boys dove off the bridge a couple of times a day for money, and more than a few hours were idled away people-watching and drinking coffee along the banks.

Those two themes will always be my main memory of Porto, along with the friendliness and warmth of the people. Which could be said for Portugal as a whole. As I said – a revelation.

The next day, September 26th, Malcolm and I said a slightly tearful goodbye – each time we do, truthfully we don’t know when we will see each other again, if ever – and off I headed back to Madrid in my little car, about a 6-hour drive.When our driver to the Douro Valley heard this plan, he was just shocked. Literally, he was kind of speechless – he just couldn’t believe that an old lady such as myself would make a drive like that alone. I was laughing pretty hard – I told him, I’m from Los Angeles, we drive that far on a daily basis!

I was actually a bit nervous, as it is in fact a long drive – about 350 miles –  but only a little. I stopped for a final cafe con leche and pastal de nata in a little town right at the Portugal/Spain border, and from there headed to Segovia. I followed directions, got lost a few times as usual, but the highway was pretty well marked. Naturally my Portuguese phone plan quit the minute I passed the border, so no Google Maps – thank god for those signs. When I finally got off at the indicated exit, I drove for many miles through empty, dusty flatlands, and I was getting kind of worried when, suddenly, Segovia just rose up out of the horizon and stunned me with its beauty.

I actually had a number of adventures in Segovia, most of them involving getting lost, haha,  but the story of the day was my evening adventure. I checked into the rather deluxe hotel where I had booked a room for my very last night of the trip. It was actually a huge hassle to check in, to park, to manage the whole thing, and I was kind of unhappy by the time I finally got to my room. I decided to walk up the steep hill above me to see if I could find a little cafe, or restaurant, or even just a little store … but as I slowly made my way uphill, it was so quiet and deserted. Hardly anyone on the streets,

The streets of old Segovia at dusk

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe it was because I had been sitting in the car most of the day, or maybe I just needed to work off some of that negative energy, but for some reason, I just kept walking, heading uphill. I passed a beautiful stone cathedral with hardly anyone there.

 

 

 

 

 

I kept going, but was just about to turn back, resigned to eating in the hotel restaurant or just going to sleep early, when, suddenly, the little road led into a giant plaza that was buzzing with restaurants, people, shops, music … I had arrived at the famous Plaza Mayor. This photo is not mine, but it’s a lot better than any one I took, so with a bow to the unknown Chinese photographer:

Image result for segovia plaza

Beyond the plaza itself, there were – of course – several walk streets. As I walked around, I could hear music down toward the end, and the street became thronged with people out strolling for the evening. People of every age, dressed in bright colors, arm-in-arm, talking and smiling. I ached to think of the empty, sterile sidewalks of American cities where cars hurtle down 3 or 4 lane highways alongside* as I looked at the vibrant life around me, and missed the crazy sidewalks of Tbilisi at the same time, though the fact that everyone was considerate and didn’t walk four abreast so as to deliberately block the sidewalk was kinda nice. Ah, Tbilisi, I love you so much.

I sat down on a bench to rest and listen to a busker for a few minutes. There was an older man sitting there also, and he spoke to me in Spanish – I was so regretful I could not communicate with him. I asked him if he spoke any English, and he just gave a small regretful smile and shrugged. For some reason I think he was the father of the busker.

It turned out to be a lovely last evening. The next morning, I rose to this scene outside my hotel window:

 

 

 

 

As I drove toward the airport, the meadows surrounding the highway were filled with golden grass, waving in the wind. I felt they were waving goodbye to me, ridiculous as that sounds – and so unlike me! But what a trip it was. And for once, I didn’t get lost once, made it straight to the airport, returned the car without too much trouble – they did refuse to pay for the new battery, saying I had to resolve it with the Portuguese company (sent by them, of course). So, yeah, that wasn’t gonna happen and after a little fit was pitched, I was refunded. In cash. Then a tortuous process of finding out where my flight gate was, a long, long shuttle ride to the infamous Terminal 4 where Eli landed, a long walk to the gate, an aching back and then the long flight home, with a stop in Riga.

After my back surgery, I honestly thought my lifelong dream of visiting Spain and Portugal was dead. The fact that I turned out to be wrong is one of the best things that ever happened to me. I may never return – after all, it took me 64 years to get there the first time – but it will always live in my memory.

*And I regret to report that the 15-150 corridor, which I now drive every day from Durham to Chapel Hill for work, is exactly that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing catch-up, in Spanish

First, I will start by saying – I think maybe the adventure is finally drawing to an end. I’ve moved to North Carolina, I have a regular job now, and living in the U.S. is a far cry financially from living in Tbilisi, thereby restricting travel opportunities even further. In a lot of other ways, too, but that’s a different post. Suffice it to say it’s not an adventure – at least not in the sense that I meant when I named the blog.

That’s not to say I’ll never take another vacation, but spending a month away from home like I did in September – yeah, that’s not going to happen anymore. So this post should be read in that context. If you feel some sadness in the subtext, you are right. But that’s the decision I made, and now I will reap both the benefits and the losses. Such is life.

So – I am going to try and do the same thing I did for Vietnam, which is to tell one story per day for our trip. I will do the same for Portugal in another post. This is always hard, because a lot can happen in a day! But I always swore this blog would not be a boring travelogue, first we went here, then we went there, etc., and I intend to stick with that one to the bitter end.

So we’ll start with September 5th, day #1. I’m going to write about reuniting with my son, Eli, on that day. He’ll probably kill me if he reads this. But that is my overwhelming memory of the day. It was a long travel day, because of having to get to the Tbilisi airport at 3:00 am, as usual, and the Madrid airport is very, very big. Lots of walking, but found my way to the car rental place. I knew Eli was landing at another terminal (which I found out when I returned a month later and flew out of there – Terminal 4 – is nearly in Barcelona, it’s so far away). I sent WhatsApp messages and waited for him in the glass-walled rental office. And waited, and waited. Finally, just when I was starting to get a little concerned, I saw him walking up to the door. An inexplicable feeling came over me. I was just so glad to see him. It hadn’t been a terribly long time (9 months) – not like Vietnam, where we hadn’t seen each other for nearly two years. But for some reason, I felt a deeper happiness than ever before. He looked good, he was happy to see me, we hugged and kissed (about the only time we ever do that!) and I have a vivid memory of the bristles on his cheek. It’s a strange feeling I guess every parent of a certain age can identify with. Memories of your child as a soft-skinned baby are very strong, and at times can cause you to become overwhelmed at the sheet adult-ness of your offspring. This was one of those times.

 

 

 

 

 

Day #2, Sept. 6th, was spent in Madrid. We did a lot of things, but I think the thing that made the biggest impression was the Reina Sofia museum of Modern Art, for three reasons: 1. Richard Serra; 2. Guernica; 3. the building’s architecture. The art was just sublime. The Serra installation was particularly intense because of the setting, which was simple, even minimalist. The stark white walls and the strong sunlight made the metal pieces glow, somehow, not literally but … somehow. Guernica, a painting which of course I have been aware of, but never had particularly strong feelings about, made me weep. I literally cried as I stood there in the crowd, just looking from image to image. It’s not as huge as I had imagined, but much more powerful. The last thing, the architecture, mainly refers to the incredible ceiling that pulls together the museum, its library, and its outside courtyard. I especially loved the juxtaposition of old and new, which was presented without artifice. It cannot be adequately described in words, but I do have some photos. It’s extraordinarily good.

Day #3, September 7th – Toledo. This was our first foray out onto Spanish roads, and it was a bit intimidating, but we made it and spent time there, ending the day at a lovely Airbnb right by the river. My story for the day – I finally, at age 64, got stung by a bee. It may have been a wasp. But either way, that sucker hurt! We did a LOT of walking that day, and at one point, laboring up a long hill to a highly-recommended restaurant, I inadvertently lowered my arm on the beast, which promptly stung me. I was so shocked, I avoided it all these years, and now … ? Where is the justice? I can tell you for sure I am not allergic. It hurt for a while, then it itched, then it burned- but it didn’t stop me from walking through the old Jewish quarter, exploring ancient synagogues and cathedrals, and even trying venison for dinner. I mean, if I can survive a bee/wasp sting, hey, I can do anything!

Day #4, September 8th  – Cordoba. We spent a few days in Cordoba and saw/did quite a bit. It was an incredibly beautiful city. For this first day, though, the best thing was seeing my friend Lorenzo for dinner. I worked with Lorenzo on two grants while I was in Tbilisi, both for CHCA. I also saw him socially every time he and his colleagues came to town, usually with several other CHCA friends in tow. We got pretty drunk once at one of my favorite places, Ezo, and I also remember quite a raucous dinner with Dato at some obscure  Mengrilian restaurant where I was the only woman in the whole place. Out on the balcony, Dato quizzed me on my Georgian language skills related to numbers, and I acquitted myself fairly well, though 146,363 (or something like that) finally beat me down.

Anyway! We met Lorenzo for dinner at one of the open markets that seem to be a staple in most Spanish cities (we went to one in Madrid, too). Lots of little booths under a big tent give you a wide variety of foods to pick from, and of course there is a wine bar. We wandered about, picked an eclectic mix of stuff, and settled down at a long table for a night of good conversation, recommendations on where to go/what to do, reminiscences, etc. Overall a lovely evening. It’s always good to see a friend, and I hope Lorenzo and I meet again one of these days.

 

 

 

 

 

The next day (#5, September 9th) we explored the old Jewish quarter (there appears to be one of these in every Spanish city, we all know why), and a lot of historical sites. We had a hellacious experience trying to find parking – drove in a few places I know for sure we should not have been driving – but finally found a spot quite far away, but secure and safe, left the car there and took a taxi (who also got a bit confused if I remember correctly). We walked so much but there’s only one thing I can write about on this day, and that’s – flamenco!

Of course I always knew what flamenco was, had seen a few videos, read a few articles, but nothing prepared me for this. On Lorenzo’s recommendation, we bought tickets for a small place in the Jewish quarter. I was really quite worried that it was going to be a tourist extravaganza of some sort, not genuine, but to the contrary. The room was very small – there were only about 20 of us crowded in there. We sat at low tables on straw-backed chairs, the room like a cave around us. It wasn’t built to look old, but actually was ancient, always an experience for us Americans. The flamenco performance had four performers – two dancers, male and female, a singer, and a guitarist. It started slowly, with just music, the dancers clapping their hands and gradually ratcheting up their verbal calls, nodding their heads and getting more and more enthused. Eventually, they started dancing. The singer, in particular, was like nothing I’d heard before, with a high, undulating voice, sometimes approaching a shriek. The louder he got, the more excited the dancers got, stamping their feet so hard that the seats shook. It was pretty electrifying, and surprising to me. I had always thought flamenco was a dance, but it’s so much more than that. The singing, the accompaniment, the participation of the dancers when sitting through clapping, calling out words, pounding their feet and sometimes even slamming their chairs down … well, I had no idea, so it was an epiphany for me.

And saving the best for last, a very short video:

A small explanatory coda. We really wondered, was this what flamenco really was, or were the performers vamping it up for us tourists? So, when we were in Seville, we attended a performance at the Museo del Baile Flamenco, Seville’s premier performance venue. Suffice it to say that, if anything, those dancers were even more dramatic and wild than the ones we saw in Cordoba. I now see that authentic flamenco is one of the most uninhibited dance styles in the world. I really loved it, and bought a photo that I think exemplifies the spirit of flamenco to bring home and frame. It will always remind me of this surprisingly intense experience.

 

 

 

 

 

We also spent day #6, September 10th) in Cordoba, and there’s only one thing to say – COOKING CLASS! This was a such a fun experience. We met up with two young people, a girl named Marta and a guy named Jose, very  friendly and outgoing people. With Jose, I encountered my first (but not my last) anti-French sentiments. I don’t remember how it came up, but I do remember him making a dismissive sniff and saying, in a sneering tone, “the French, yes, they are so special!” It was pretty funny.

So, first we shopped at a market similar to the restaurant mercados we had been to, but this one was more of a farmers/fish market. We bought all the ingredients, fresh, Eli with Jose and I with Marta, and then we walked over to one of the most charming hotels I have ever seen, with a plant-filled courtyard, a lovely fountain, and a large, welcoming kitchen. There, our cooking tools and aprons were all laid out, and our lesson commenced. We learned to make salmorejo, a tomato/bread combination covered with minced ham and hardboiled egg, incredibly delicious and easy to make; Spanish tortilla, which is nothing at all like what I think of as a tortilla, but is instead an egg/onion/potato pancake sort of thing, also delicious; and, of course, paella, which was a lot easier than I had imagined it would be. We ate the fruits of our labors outside in a small garden, and discussed politics, world affairs, cultural differences and a lot of other topics. We had just a great time and for anyone who goes to Cordoba, I cannot recommend it too highly. https://www.instagram.com/foodieandtourscordoba/?hl=en, or at https://www.foodieandtours.com/cordoba. And to whet your appetite, here a few photos of our creations:

Day #7, September 11th, was mostly a travel day, driving to Sevilla, but in the morning we went to the Cordoba Botanical Garden and walked the whole thing. It was mostly green, given the time of year, but there were still some beautiful photos to be taken. Shockingly – and I’m not being sarcastic, it’s really shocking – I forgot my camera on this trip. In one way I was kind of relieved not to be carting around a big camera around my neck. It allowed me to be more present in the moment and not stand out as a tourist so much. But, of course, my photos are not at all as great as they could have been, since I used my phone for every single one. Given that, they turned out better than they deserved to:

In walking around the garden (and also the botanical garden in Madrid), I found myself getting interested not only in the close-ups I love to take, but also in patterns made by the plants. Below are a few photos, from both places, along those lines:

This is a new direction for me, and kind of interesting.

I love walking through these places with Eli, it’s an education – he knows so much about plants. I just appreciate the beauty, but he understands a lot more. There was one image, though, that we both could appreciate on purely aesthetic grounds:

 

 

 

 

 

I know I said one story per day, but I cannot resist mentioning our dinner that night at a restaurant recommended by our Airbnb host (a criminally good-looking Cuban guy), outside of the tourist area, called Restaurante Perro Viejo. If you are ever in Sevilla, I highly recommend it. Not necessarily pure Spanish cuisine, but every dish was just so delicious. Culminating in a near food-coma for Eli:

 

 

 

 

Well, just kidding … sort of.  And along the same lines, one of my favorite, unexpected surprises in Spain – Cafe Bombon! It reminded me of the Vietnamese coffees I loved so much in Hanoi, and I drank them everywhere we went.

 

 

 

 

Day #8, September 12th, was pottery day. We took a class on Spanish tile-making. It was held in a small studio, and there were folks from all over the world participating. Painting tile doesn’t seem like it would be so difficult, and as we watched the teacher show us how, I foresaw a beautiful result for my efforts. It was not to be, haha. Suffice it to say that it’s a lot harder than it looks! Nonetheless it was very interesting and a lot of fun.

Day #9, September 13th, was a thrilling one. We left Sevilla, and Spain, enjoying one last delicious breakfast,

 

 

 

 

And headed to Portugal.

Portugal was, in many ways, the revelation of the whole trip. I expected Spain to be fantastic, and it was. The people were friendly, the weather hot but beautiful, the food unbelievable, the history deep. I had a lot of preconceptions, most of which were pretty accurate, but for Portugal, not as much. I just hadn’t thought that much about it, perhaps. Yet it turned out to be even more amazing, in some ways, than Spain. I will start another post for Portugal, but for now, I will bid a fond adios to Spain, and take advantage of Black Friday (tomorrow) to purchase a really good blender so I can make myself some of that salmorejo for breakfast next week. 🙂

So Much to Say; So Little Time

The last two months or so have seen seismic changes in my life. You’d think at a certain point, things would settle down … but no. Unfortunately, time constraints just will not allow for longer blog posts right now. I will get back to it, absolutely, but not until November or even December, as I make some huge moves and adjustments.

By which I mean, as announced on Facebook a while ago, I am returning to the U.S.A. Chapel Hill, NC, to be specific, where I have accepted a job with Ipas, an organization dedicated to expanding access to safe abortion and contraceptive care on an international scale. I will be their  contract and grant manager, a newly-created position that will give me the opportunity to put my compulsive need to organize things to good use. Here’s the website if anyone would like to check it out:  https://www.ipas.org/. At the same time, I am literally heartbroken to be leaving Georgia. I knew it would come, someday, but I did not expect it this soon. I will miss Tbilisi, Gori, Georgia, and all my Georgian and ex-pat friends and family intensely. Especially:

I also really want to do a few blog posts the way I did for Vietnam – one story/day – for my very recent trip to Spain and Portugal, which was the fulfillment of a life-long dream. Given that I have to pack up my entire life and move in less than 2 weeks though, it’s not going to happen now. For the time being, I’m putting up some photos, in no particular order, which will have to suffice until I have time to stroll down memory lane. I’ll just say it was a truly epic, great trip, filled with good food, beautiful scenery, historical sites and beaches, friendly people, and time spent with my son and one of my oldest friends. What more could be asked? More to come later.

A Tale of Two Business Trips

Those of you who know me from my former life as VP for Programs of the California State Parks Foundation may remember how much I traveled for work. A normal month would always include between 3 and 5 flights to either San Francisco, Sacramento or occasionally elsewhere – New York, Pittsburgh, and Chicago were three great places I got to travel to for conferences. And then there were the many, many long drives – to San Diego, Anza Borrego and San Clemente, probably a thousand times, to Yosemite, to Santa Barbara, and to literally hundreds of State Parks all over California, often in a rented car picked up at the airport. A few really stand out in my memory – Candlestick, where I managed a major renovation, Jack London, with its burnt-down buildings surrounded by intense greenery, an unforgettable historical reenactment at La Purísima, and Fort Ross in Sonoma, where I fired off a cannon.

It was a lot of fun, generally, and I traveled in style – if not first-class, very comfortably. I always had nice hotel rooms, nice rental cars, and so many great meals in good restaurants (ok, a few bad ones, too – but I’ve forgotten those!). I had an assistant who set up all my flights and rentals and reservations, and gave me a sheet of paper with all the needed information before I left, along with filling in my calendar as a back-up. I belonged to the special, elite clubs for parking and flying – bypassed lines, shuttles, waits, due to my insane travel schedule. I was set. I never missed a flight or a meeting, with one memorable exception where through pure habit, I went to the Burbank Airport instead of LAX.

So, those were the days. Here in Georgia, as a PCV, I did trek to various conferences and meetings, and these were facilitated by the Peace Corps with buses, hotels, etc. Sometimes very nice ones (thank you, Rixos in Borjomi). But since I finished my service, business trips have not really been part of my life. I travel all over Tbilisi for meetings, and sometimes to Gori (where I go all the time anyway), but that’s it. Until last week, when I undertook my first out-of-town business meeting. Working on an EU grant project for CENN, I traveled to Batumi for a one-day meeting with all the parties involved to do some planning. Here’s what happened.

I had the rail tickets in an email. Here’s a screen shot:

 

 

 

So, that’s pretty clear, isn’t it? The first one is the return ticket, because it’s dated July 30th, right? And it says right on the face of it, Batumi to Tbilisi – not the other way around. But, gee, somehow all that escaped me. I showed up at the train station at 5:45 for a 5:55 train that had already left at 5:35, because I was looking at the wrong ticket. After sitting on the platform for just a little too long, reality started to intrude, and I went upstairs to the ticket window, where I discovered my mistake only after the laughing (and not in a very nice way) ticket agent pointed out my mistake.

I was stunned. What to do? I called my ever-patient CENN partner in Batumi and she suggested that I take the bus, which she saw on her computer left at 8 pm. OK, I’m saved. I’ve bought bus tickets for this run before, I knew how to do it, so I purchased a ticket on my phone and picked up a taxi outside the train station to go to Ortachala bus station, at the other end of town. I successfully arrived, found the office, got my ticket printed out, and was pitiful enough that the woman working there let me wait in the air-conditioned office, because it was over 100 F. outside.

The bus … filled with Russian and Ukrainian tourists, tall, slim, genuinely beautiful blond girls wearing shorts so short that they might as well be wearing their underpants, in every case with kind of squat, dark, ugly men. It’s a mystery to me. Comfortable enough, but not to sleep. Oh, no. Seats did not recline and the driver was very heavy on the brakes. We stopped in Zestaponi for bathrooms and some ice cream, and arrived in Batumi to a deserted bus station, far out of town, at 3:30 am. I called the hotel, which refused to send a taxi. Thankfully a Georgian girl had called a taxi using one of the Uber-ish applications they have here (I use Taxify,  but it does not work in Batumi) and offered to share. Not sure what I would have done otherwise!

At the hotel, I was assaulted by an aggressive moth in the room, and had to waste a good 20 minutes trying to kill that sucker. Finally got to sleep around 5 am, woke up at 8 am for the meeting. OMG. I am too old for this. On a happier note, hey, the hotel had a good shower. Could have been worse.

At the meeting, which took place in an unnamed government office, we got water. Not even coffee! When I think of all those meetings with bagels and cream cheese, fresh fruit, pastries, and coffee with cream … those were the days. You could get a lot done on that fuel. Here, well, one meeting participant just didn’t show up, two more were over an hour late, no one spoke English and though I had begged and pleaded for a translator, none was provided. My stalwart CENN pal tried her best, but since she was running the meeting, there was a limit to what she could do. For me, the meeting was largely a bust, mainly because no matter how many times specific questions were asked, wildly differing answers were given – often answers that were completely unrelated to the question were offered, at length. Sigh … ok, I made up a list of questions afterwards and sent it to everyone.

Back to the train station in a taxi with a young driver who was smoking and playing Russian rock music at vehicle-shaking levels (to be fair, when I asked him to turn it down, he did – then laughed and asked if I had a headache, to which I responded, “I do now”), which was filled with more foreigners than I’ve ever seen in one place outside of a Peace Corps gathering. Batumi is a popular spot in the summer season, especially with Russians and Israelis, and there were plenty of them. The girls were once again wearing extremely short shorts, which when they curled up on their seats to sleep offered some very, um, interesting views. Seriously – girls, you shouldn’t do that. Many children running up and down the aisles screaming. Sleep was not possible. My only stroke of luck was that as the only person on my car traveling alone, I kept the seat next to me empty the whole time, which allowed for a bit of stretching out.

Arrived in Tbilisi and proceeded out to the lined-up taxis, several of whom refused to take me on a 5 or 6 gel fare for less than 10 gel. I won’t do it! It’s not that I don’t have 10 gel, but it just offends me. I finally negotiated one guy down to 8 gel and gave up – ok. I need to get home, I really do. Arrived at about 12:30 am and fell directly into bed.

The next day I slept until 11 and staggered up to make a lunch with my friend Sara and her dad, who was visiting from Indiana. We ate Korean food and a good time was had by all, but I didn’t fully recover for another few days.

 

 

 

 

 

So, that’s a business trip in Georgia. Buses, naked butts (and worse), no sleep, no taxis, noisy trains, unintelligible meetings, belligerent moths, uncooperative hotel clerks, and a sense that once, in a distant past, it was … different.

“What’s Going to Happen” follow-up

So, I’ve posted a few articles since my original post. Here is a BBC special that is the most thorough examination of the whole “rave revolution” that I have seen. I personally know a number of people – including my friend who was referenced in my original post on this topic – who are not ravers and don’t frequent these clubs at all. They just care about freedom in their country.

Take a look: bbc.in/2OsKwDb

New, non-political blog coming soon, when I can eke out just a bit of time!