Tag Archive: mishap

i’m on a train in north carolina, and i have been on it for eight hours.  it is an hour behind schedule, an hour off from my destination still, and we are stopped with locomotive trouble.  this seems like a good opportunity to look back over the last few much more enjoyable days, the review of which will hopefully subdue my urges to kill someone.

so, boston!  i stayed with my college friend mensch, her two lovely, culinarily spectacular roommates, and her wry, chunky cat, brussel (above).   upon landing, the city greeted me with a gorgeous sunset and several colorful characters, just to remind me of their gregarious ubiquity around town.  first was a rather vacant individual who sat next to me on the bus, lolling his head over toward me every couple of minutes to ask a few more slurred questions.  these ranged from queries on whether i had any children (and may lose me a bet i made with the pebbles about how many people would raise the subject on this trip – i, apparently optimistically, did not foresee this as a frequent topic of conversation with strangers), to whether there was much gang activity in new zealand.  i was divided on how to answer this line of questioning – was it an attempt to appraise my gang-savviness?  however tempted, i refrained from saying, ‘yes, and the most vicious is the colossal squid gang, of which i am king.’  then, on the walk from the t-station to mensch’s house, another garrulous person approached me, with a running environmental commentary that evolved into  ‘wow, that’s a lot of stuff you’re carrying!  pop pop!  you got a baby on there, too?  no?  oh, sorry’ as he walked past.

apart from the chatty strangers (of which there were several more, including a hotelier-gymnast from barcelona who tried to convince me to come to starbucks with him – no go for several reasons), the visit was a fantastic mix of visiting old stomping grounds (wellesley, neaq) and catching up with very good, far-too-seldom-seen friends.  there was an octopus encounter to rival the one that got me hooked on cephs, some 13 years ago, at the very same tank. the final morning was something of a strike-out, when i failed to check the garment district’s opening hours before going there, and then discovered that an old friend whom i had decided to try dropping in on unannounced had actually moved to chicago a few months earlier, but i did find a nice exhibit on arthropods at the harvard museum of natural history, and spent some time happily peering at claws, segments and various other jointed appendages in jars.  and some very cool ceph items in the gift shop.

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a quick swoop through dc was next, staying with koenigin and encompassing another quick series of location and old friend visits.  there was a delicious ethiopian dinner (now traditional for dc visits), and pilgrimages to the old neighborhood and to the bookstore that the pebbles remembers with great fondness, despite being the object of a failed pick-up attempt the last time he visited there.  (i considered, but ultimately decided against, buying him a book on gaydar.)  there was ice cream, a stammtisch with some other waldsee veterans, a visit to the baltimore aquarium, admiration of the copious new leaves and blossoms on trees, and a rather chilly reminder that april weather is fickle and often wet.  there were busy and important people in shiny shoes crammed into trains, pointedly ignoring each other in spite of very close quarters, and ambient discussions of the averted government shut-down, and descents down 126 non-functioning escalator steps into deeply subterranean metro stations.  in short, everything i remember about dc from previous life and visits.

and then, inevitably, we reach the point where this narrative catches up to the present moment.  it didn’t even have to travel terribly fast to catch up, since we are still sitting in the same train station.  the sun has set, the train is dark inside since the power is out, we have just been told it will be at least another 30 minutes, and a couple of small children in the back of the car are treating us to a rousing chorus of ‘bad romance’.  people are on cell phones all around me, expressing varying degrees of pragmatism and ire.  my parents have been informed that we will be arriving by bus, but no one on the train has been told this information; i am torn between waiting it out, and spreading the news.  either way, i think i will stash my laptop in preparation for an ever-more-imminent riot.

epilogue: an hour later, my parents picked me up, having driven from our destination in lexington.  thank cthulhu for cell phones.  i found someone to speak german with in the meantime, and was just generally thankful to have broken down close enough to be rescued, unlike many other poor sods who were waiting to go to charlotte but wouldn’t arrive until probably 1am or so.  we got home around 10, 3.5 hours later than i was supposed to arrive, but it could have been so, so much worse.


when i made that simple statement at the end of the previous post, ‘and then, at last, i was home,’ it wasn’t quite accurate.  because, while many aspects of this trip were wonderful and i loved seeing spain and scotland and all the good people we caught up with, let us not forget that it was also the Trip of Woe (see exhibits a, b, and c).  which is why it really shouldn’t surprise me that, just to round it all out, i’ve had to compose the following letter to the long-term parking company at the airport. (you may be surprised to learn that i can use capital letters when necessary.)
– – –

Dear Company [name to be updated perhaps, depending how they deal with this],

Recently we parked our car with you for thirteen days while travelling in Europe.  We have used your service many times in the past and always been pleased with it.  However, on this occasion there was a serious problem.

When I landed on Monday morning (October 5), my flight had been delayed and I was unable to call and let you know due to a dead cell phone battery and misinformation from the people in the airport (who didn’t realize there was an 0800 number, which I also did not have – my own fault).  When I arrived at your parking office, there was some confusion, and at first I was told the keys to my car had been misplaced, and then that my car itself was not parked where expected.  In all, it took about 25 minutes for my car to be retrieved from the time I arrived, which in itself is not a source of major complaint given the delayed flight, although it was inconvenient as the weather was rainy and extremely cold, and I had been travelling for 36 hours.

However, when your driver brought the car around, he turned sharply into the lot by your office, dropping the left front tire into a deep puddle at the edge of the sealed road.  There was an audible and rather terrible scraping sound as the undercarriage hit the edge of the asphalt.  I did remark on this to the driver at the time, but he made a noncommittal noise and I did not press the issue, at that moment only wanting to get home.

When I climbed into the driver’s seat, the oil light was on and the oil warning alarm sounded as I drove out of the lot.  (We had been aware of a very gradual oil leak, having found a few drops of oil occasionally, but not regularly, on the floor of the garage at home.  My husband had checked the oil a few weeks before leaving and had noted that it was getting low, but not urgently so, and the oil light had not come on before he left.)  I took the car straight to the Shell station near the airport to check the oil and top up if need be, and asked their associated mechanic to check that the car was all right before driving home.  He refilled the oil (3.5 litres were required) and checked under the car, where he observed, entirely unprompted, that there was a brand-new scrape under the oil pan that had caused a significant crack, from which oil was now dripping at a steady and alarming rate.  He explained that the damage had to be very recent (less than a day old), since the scraped aluminium had not oxidised at all and no dirt had accumulated over the scrapes.  He was concerned at the rate at which the oil was draining and advised me to drive straight to my home mechanic, possibly not even dropping my luggage off at home, in case I ran out of oil again.

The car was duly brought to our mechanic, who has now (after three days in the shop, including one day when the buses were on strike) fixed the leak to his satisfaction.  He confirmed that the rapid oil leak was due to very recent damage to the car’s undercarriage.  Both mechanics are willing to be contacted and will stand by this information.

We ask that you cover the cost of repairing the damage done to our car by your driver.  This includes the labour charge for the repair ($128) and the cost of the oil required to get the car home (4 litres, $97.02).  We will happily provide the receipts if necessary and the contact details of both mechanics if you wish to follow this up with them.

Please feel free to contact us if you require any further information.

– – –

and, update:  no word from parking company, but there is still a slow oil leak, plus – bonus! – i found a fresh puddle of coolant under the car yesterday morning.  awesome.

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stranger in the night

at the risk of channeling mr wickham (‘it was very good of him to entertain us so eloquently with stories about his misfortunes. with such narratives to hand, who would read novels?’), let me tell you a story.  it has a relatively uneventful ending, but once you hear the rest, you will realize that that’s the ideal kind of ending for this particular story.

last night, pome and i went to the open-air cinema in the scoop, and participated in a screening of mamma mia, with about 900 of our closest friends.  and yes, ‘participated’ is the appropriate verb.


afterward, we stopped off at a pub for a drink with a friend of pome’s who had also been there, and two very entertaining irish folks.  all in all, a fairly tame but enjoyable evening, which finished around 11 and was followed by a chat to the pebbles and a muse special on tv, putting us eventually in our various beds around 1am.

at 3:44, i thought i heard a knock on the flat’s front door, which is next to my room.  a few minutes later, there was definitely a slightly louder knock, and after the third time i figured no one else was going to get up and answer.  i knew pome to be a deep and oblivious sleeper, and hadn’t heard the other flatmates come in, so had foggy visions of them standing outside, keyless and forlorn.

instead, when i opened the door about six inches, a blond guy about my age stood on the other side, staring at me in an unfocused way.  repeated enquiries as to whether i could help him, and what/whom he was looking for, elicited no clear response at first (although he was not swaying, slurring or stumbling).  i didn’t think anyone was expected in the wee hours, and was extremely loath to let him in.  however, i was also aware that he could easily be a friend of the residents and i’d have no idea, and that in fact a friend of theirs had been recently staying with them.  after several minutes of staring at each other in probably equal confusion, and while i pondered whether to shut the door or wake pome, the guy rallied his powers of concentration and introduced himself as luca, and explained (sort of) that he was only here to pick up his sleeping bag.  this actually seemed somewhat plausible, and i was mollified by the fact that he was already inside the building (front door requires a key), and that he looked like the least harmless (albeit unknown) person i could imagine opening the door to in london at about 4am on a saturday.  so (and yes, in the light of day, all the voices of sanity in my head scream stupid! stupid! at this point in the narrative), i let him in.

well, he headed into my room, this slow, confused person.  although i explained to him that all the stuff that had been stored in there had been moved out, his eyes roved ponderously over the walls and stuff on the floor  (creeped out yet?  i am)  before ultimately coming back out to wander down the hall.  in the lounge, he stopped and seemed lost, and i was on the brink of pounding on pome’s door for backup, when the other two flatmates emerged from their room and rescued me.  repeated questioning eventually revealed that our visitor was looking for someone named jay and was quite obviously in the wrong flat, and once this idea penetrated his brain (wherever it was located, deep down in some alternate reality), he was peacefully ushered out.

and that really is the end of this bizarre tale, except that it took me a good long while to go back to sleep, as i imagined all the other possible endings – for example, headlines reading ‘stupid foreigner lets midnight stranger into flat; four bodies found in the morning.’  pome was untroubled by any such ideas, since he had in fact slept through the whole thing, and the others have been very good about it.  i plan to make a pie tomorrow by way of apology for compromising everyone’s lives; that should about cover it, right?  yeah.

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i mentioned before that i may have pissed off some grand cosmic power before departing on this trip.  this theory continues to gain plausibility.  before i launch into the latest installment, though, i’ve prepared a handy visual to put it into scale with the rest of the trip.  (the wollaton hall closure actually happened this morning but doesn’t really factor into the evening’s events – i was just visiting some family in nottingham, and hoped to look around the building, on the one day anyone local can remember it ever being closed.)

useful background information:

1. for the overnight trip to nottingham last night, i traveled light, taking only a backpack and leaving my 23-kg suitcase with the friends i’d been staying with in london.

2. the battery on my uk cell phone, in spite of being essentially brand new, lasts less than 24 hours after being fully charged.

3. it has been raining cats and dogs in london for a full day.



 i returned to london from notts by train this afternoon in time to meet up with our good friend pome, who was mc at our wedding, and with whom i’m staying this week while working at the museum.  my cell phone battery had begun gasping out its dying breaths last night already, so i turned it on only periodically to check messages, knowing i would need it for meeting up with pome this afternoon and for contacting my suitcase-sitting friends in chiswick.  while waiting to rendezvous with pome, i spotted a cell-phone-charging station inside a vodafone store, swallowed my ire at the £1 fee for ‘up to 30 minutes,’ dropped the coin in the slot and fiddled with four different charging plugs, all of the right configuration, none of which worked.  when pome appeared while i was still uselessly plugging and unplugging, i asked for my pound back and was offered the half-hearted story that the charging station didn’t really *belong* to the vodafone store, and so they couldn’t refund me, but my steely glare ultimately won out.  this becomes important later, since this £1 was the sum total of the cash i carried.

pome and i squelched home to his flat in the ongoing downpour, enjoyed a very civilized cup of tea and a quick chat, and then parted ways, he to an italian lesson and i to retrieve my suitcase from chiswick.  important plot developments: (1) pome realized on the walk to the tube station that he had forgotten his cell phone, and (2) i was the likelier to return to the flat first, so i took his sole set of house keys.

when i got onto the platform to begin leg 1 of the tube journey, the tail lights of an appropriate train were just disappearing down the tunnel.  the next train arrived no sooner than 25 minutes later, and a sorry, steamy, sardine-can of a train it was, too.  (although someone was traveling with an absolutely gorgeous young rhodesian ridgeback.)  so i arrived into the transfer station three stops later, already halfway through the time it was supposed to take me for the entire venture.  i hustled across the street to connect to the other train line (it’s a weird station) and made it to the platform, before an announcement was made that trains to the destination i needed weren’t running. 

well, i was flummoxed.  on one hand, i needed to let pome back into his own apartment shortly (and he had no phone to receive updates; nor did i have the battery to send them); on the other, my friends in chiswick were waiting and i would be appearing very wet and grubby at the museum in the morning if i didn’t manage to recover my suitcase.  £1 wasn’t exactly sufficient cab fare, i didn’t know the bus system, and in this weather, walking would probably have been faster, but carried the risk of drowning.  i decided to gamble with my solitary coin and called the friends in chiswick, who volunteered to throw my gear in their car and rescue me, estimating they would arrive in about ten minutes.  this seemed optimistic given the weather and traffic, but also seemed like the best option, and we barely had time to arrange a meeting place before the pay phone clicked off and left me penniless.

truly at the mercy of the cosmos, i stood hunched under an eave with my cheap h&m umbrella (the kind that turns inside out immediately when you open it; my rain jacket was safely stored in the absent suitcase) for forty minutes.  soaked down to, and up to, the knees, with plunging blood sugar, i imagined a sodden pome pounding on the front door of his own flat, and texted him a heartfelt apology on the off-chance he had been able to get in and retrieve his phone. three lanes of traffic inched forward along the street in front of me (intended for two); it took a police car with lights and sirens a full five minutes to get down the block of road in front of me.  for perspective, i reminded myself that six thousand africans die of AIDS-related illnesses every day and that the scale of my problems was rather miniscule, but i think ‘rapture’ is not too strong a word to describe the emotion that accompanied ultimately climbing into the passenger side of the car when my recuers arrived, lances high and banners (or at least windows) streaming.

and now the story (out of sheer necessity) takes a turn for the better.  we made it back to pome’s without incident, the pebbles called me and heard my tale of woe, making appropriate sympathetic noises in all the right places, and while we were talking, pome himself appeared (none the wiser or wetter for my prolonged absence).  i settled into my room for the next few days and scuttled off through the unchecked monsoon to buy a large bag of greasy fast food, which was deliciously disgusting, and now i have sufficient blood sugar, dry jeans and socks, and the world is a much brighter place.  tomorrow holds an enormous natural history museum with new exhibits, a giant squid, and toad-in-the-hole for tea, so all is ultimately well.


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never before has a trip started quite like this one.  i am safely in spain, amid a cheery throng of cephalopod enthusiasts, soaking up the sun, atmosphere and geeky presentations.  the architecture is admirable, the signs diverting (you are correct – photos to come), and the meals late and prolonged.  i am settled in a nice hotel three blocks from the conference venue and it seems to be safe to wander around town gawking at things and taking photos.  in summary: loving it.


the way here has not been exactly smooth.  my accommodation in particular seems cursed.  on the morning i left new zealand, i tried to confirm that the deposit i wired to england for a week-long flat sublet in london had come through.  the email bounced and the website on which i had previously accessed info on this flat had been removed ‘for legal reasons.’  with a sinking feeling in my stomach, i called the bank; in the meantime the pebbles discovered a warning posted online a few days earlier, by someone else who had been scammed by the same person.  so although i am still trying various avenues to recover my £308, i suspect it is gone.

thus unburdened, and after making a fraud statement at the bank, i ran around like a headless chicken for the remaining two hours at work, packing specimens, dissecting gear and other international travel necessities.  i spent the afternoon packing at home and stocking up on a month’s worth of kitty cuddles, then had a lovely dinner at our neighbourhood italian restaurant with bumbly and gizmo.

my four flights were long (12, 11, 2, 1 hours, for a total of 36 in transit) but uneventful, apart from being told on the last leg that taking photos out the window of the plane was prohibited.  (?!)   fortunately at that point i had already taken most of the ones i wanted – see previous post.

as we descended into vigo, the evening sun and 31-degree heat of madrid gave way to low-hanging and extremely productive rainclouds.  there was not much to be seen on the taxi ride into town, but plenty to see when we arrived around 9.30pm at my hotel (booked and paid several months in advance), in the form of a firmly shut roll-down door and signs that apparently said ‘closed for refurbishment.’  after a rather labored conversation with the driver, making good use of my spanish dictionary/phrasebook, i was taken to another hotel nearby, where another very slow conversation with a lot of fumbled page-turning, apologetic shrugging and confused head-shaking yielded me a key to my very own room.  although somewhat joyless, the place was clean and included a bathtub, which i made good use of.  the shower apparatus reminded me of france, the bed was hard enough to do sit-ups on, and there was no clock (a fixture of apparently lower priority than the included ashtray), but i had a door to lock and a place to lie flat.  i did both and slept hard.

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the french bath

in october of 2007 i spent a week in paris visiting museum collections.  while i did chronicle some of those experiences here, i had the best of intentions for others but never got around to them.

well, i re-read my travel journal the other day and feel the time has come to tell you about the place i stayed during that week.  here is what i recorded about my b&b in paris:

‘marble floors, carved wooden furniture with gilt accents, curly brass fixtures and candelabra, frou-frou knickknacks and figurines.  the whole nine yards.  my room has a very firm, but comfortable, double bed with a frilly white satin bedspread.

‘icing on the cake: the bathroom.  wow, the bathroom.  pink fixtures (tub, sink, toilet, and – i believe? – bidet, plus radiator, vanity and linens), ornate black tile walls, mirrors in elaborate brass frames (about four of them, including one over the tub), countless bottles of cosmetics and lotions.  scented pink toilet paper dispensed in small, individual squares.  interestingly, taps all pretty much require a wrench to turn off completely, as i discovered when i tried the cold tap on the ?bidet out of curiosity – just wanted to see what the water actually did in there!

‘shower is a true engineering marvel, packing maximum inconvenience into a small area.  shower head hangs on a prong at waist level.  endlessly perplexing – does one sit under it or hold it while in use?  shower-head weighs about 3kg, so holding is tiring; the balancing kneel/crouch option is also not ideal.  pressure is so high and holes so tiny that the shower-head is like a water-blaster – tolerable on thickly padded scalp, excruciating on, say, nipples.  tried to soften the spray during first shower by turning the taps way down – resulted in sinusoidal temperature fluctuation between pleasant and antarctic, about once a minute.  an additional problem of the high-pressure head: the shower curtain is quite flimsy, tending to blow inward and stick clammily to the bather, but also does not reach the edges of the tub, so keeping shower spray contained while in holding-the-head mode requires extreme concentration.  finally, a stream of searingly hot water dribbles constantly from the tub spigot exactly where one’s feet are normally positioned.  did get the general hang of this by the end of the week, but the first shower (after the 46-hour trip from nz, lest the importance of this shower be overlooked) was pretty much spent frantically hopping around, and required a large number of the helpfully abundant pink towels for post-shower mopping.’


few people are ambivalent about chicago o'hare international airport, and even fewer have positive feelings toward it.  i myself have mixed memories that include the inevitable missed connections due to mile-long inter-concourse dashes, balanced against happy meetings with local friends during college years.  on balance i would have said i fell into the ambivalent group until recently.

i connected through chicago last thursday on my way from omaha to vancouver, a flight path that made about as much sense as the trip last year from auckland to south africa via bangkok.  (and had, i might add, a similar conclusion.)  whatever else may be said for it, o'hare presents excellent people-watching opportunities.  no sooner had i landed than a leggy pre-teen girl wandered in front of me in miniscule white terry-cloth shorts that said 'hello sailor' in large letters across the butt.  a couple wandered by having a high-volume discussion, the only part of which i was treated to being a leering 'but that's not what we agreed to last night, baby.'  i wandered into a women's restroom, naturally choosing the stall without a luggage hook on the door, and watched in horrified fascination as a slow tidal wave of something crept under the wall from the adjacent stall and across the floor toward my bag.

one thing i do like about o'hare is the tunnel between the B and C concourses, and luck was with me, because i landed at B and had four hours before my scheduled departure from C. so i had ample time to enjoy this

even though my vision was more along these lines

having just left my mom in omaha and knowing i had another nine hours before reaching vancouver.

as it happened, i checked a departure screen when i arrived in C concourse and discovered that an earlier scheduled flight to vancouver had been delayed until an hour before my departure time and, long story short (we'll skip the traipse back to B concourse where the earlier flight was scheduled from and the subsequent gate change back to C… oops, sorry), i booked myself onto it, intending to arrive an hour earlier than planned.  when i changed my ticket, the clerk dutifully examined my baggage tags, printed me a new boarding pass and sent me on my way.  and i did fly out an hour ahead of my original flight, and had a four-hour sunset as i traveled west across north america.

but i'm sure you can tell where this is going.  if you guessed 'lost luggage,' you're right – no checked bags made it to vancouver.  serves me right for treating this journey as essentially a domestic one; all changes of clothes, contact lens stuff and prescriptions were safely stowed in my checked luggage, something i have learned to avoid on other international flights.  to make matters more interesting, i would be spending less than ten hours at the hotel in vancouver before departing for whistler the following morning.  oh, and the checked luggage included my wedding dress.  not that it was imminently needed, but still, you don't want that to go missing.

a quick inventory of my hand luggage revealed the following helpful items: many books, a copy of my thesis, some heavy glass candle-holders and about a kilo of pebbles from lake superior (wedding thing, don't ask), a travel scrabble game (never leave home without it!) and a cat brush.  very, very luckily, about a dozen pairs of underwear hadn't fit into my checked bags and i'd thrown those into my backpack, but all i can say is, it's a good thing we didn't crash-land in the desert and have to survive on my carry-ons.  although maybe i could have set fire to my thesis using the glass candle-holders.  let's not explore that subconscious desire too deeply.

well, the bags didn't turn up at the hotel in vancouver, and had not arrived in whistler by 4pm the following day either.  two phone calls to <insert nameless airline here UNITED> got me nowhere, although i did get treated to two separate sets of 15 minutes on hold, one of which ended in me being disconnected before reaching anyone.  the other was hardly more helpful; the baggage agent 'couldn't reach' the hotel OR the baggage delivery service and advised me to call back in two hours if i hadn't heard anything.  at this stage, having been in the same clothes for 30 hours (except clean underwear!  yeah!) in 95-degree heat, and having stupidly, stupidly, STUPIDLY not bought travel insurance this time around, i set out to buy a new shirt and try to forget about my table-flinging rage and frustration, because after all, that would only get me sweaty and i didn't have a swimsuit. 

the bags magically appeared in our room while we were out, in fact, about 24 hours after i had landed, so all ended well except that i wasted about an hour of my life trying to find a shirt that a) cost less than $15 (failed) and b) didn't say 'whistler' (managed).   and of course i will be sending a helpfully constructive email to <insert nameless airline here UNITED> about their policy of charging for and subsequently losing checked luggage. 

the end.

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the taste of sand

when i was little, i used to eat sand, and many other yummy, crunchy, outdoor mineral-based things.  (and it hasn't done me any lasting damage at all, twitch twitch).  i thought i was over the habit, having had no sand-cravings whatsoever in the intervening 20-odd years, and even joked about it a couple days ago with some friends.  little did i know.

yesterday some friends and i went to check out a horse trekking place about an hour south of auckland.  we were booked in for a three-hour ride, and were joined by a fourth rider plus the guide.  the first stages of the ride took us down through beautiful farmland and valleys to the beach, on the west coast of the manukau harbor's south head.  the cliffs were misty and green, and the sea was pounding blue and brown, making for a spectacular landscape.  ours were the only hoofprints on the beach.  the horses knew as soon as we got to the sand that the best part of the ride was coming up, so although we kept them at a walk partway up the beach and back, they were dancing at the bits and raring for a run.

my horse, a dun mare named kahlua,  turned out to be a speed demon.  as soon as i gave her her head, we were off up the beach like a shot, although to my surprise she preferred to run up in the driftwood line, and nearly unseated me jumping a log.  i guided her back down to the water's edge, where the real excitement started. we had a fantastic gallop for a few hundred meters, until kahlua aimed to overtake the horse in front of us, but instead of passing politely, headed right up her tail.  i guided her off to the left, but she immediately shied at a rock, this time tossing me out of the saddle for real.  i slid down her right side (lightly clunking my head on the way down, probably against saddle or hoof) and into the deep black sand… with my right foot still stuck in the stirrup.

well, if kahlua was spooked by a stationary rock, she really didn't know what to do with a flailing body trailing off her right side.  so she kept running.  i was dragged for probably a few dozen meters, in which time i flipped myself over from back to stomach a few times to try to free myself and to see if any other rocks were approaching that i might get dragged over.  in the end i opted for stomach – fewer pounding hooves in front of my face, and i probably didn't want to know about oncoming rocks anyway.  and did i mention eating sand?  yeah, lots of that. 

in seconds, or minutes, or years, i came free and came to rest on my side.  at this point i knew i was fine – not dead and pretty sure nothing was broken, so the next few minutes were probably the worst for the onlookers, as i lay in the sand unmoving.  shortly i was able to take stock of my limbs and found that although my left leg, which had been flapping around under the horse, was very sore, nothing else seemed painful, including the foot and knee that had been snagged in the stirrup.  i was too dizzy to sit or stand for a while, but was otherwise completely fine, to my own and everyone else's amazement.  i did catch a ride back up the hill in a truck instead of on horseback, but other than the developing bruises on my leg nothing seemed amiss.  i spent the rest of the day with a light headache, icing and elevating my leg, and sleeping, and today can confirm that i actually i did get off with only bruises.  they even cover the normal day-after discomfort of sore infrequently used muscles. 

the most lasting effect, in fact, seems to be the sand, which i expect will gradually dislodge itself from my ears and eyebrows over the course of some months.  maybe i'll even be sandless again by the time i next go riding.  :)

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the first 24 hours in tokyo

hoo boy, japan.  last stop on this trip and undoubtedly memorable already, for the combination of familiarity and strangeness, for being the first place i’m visiting where i don’t speak the language at all (and i mean at all – france was nothing compared to this), for the hole-in-the-floor toilets, which are something like recessed urinals.  without any kind of apparatus for steadying yourself – bar, prayer rope, athletic rings hanging from the ceiling, nothing – so you better have good balance.


it looks like uploading photos will be difficult while i’m here, so they will have to come in very small installments, and/or later.


the guy who’s hosting me at the museum, whom we shall call ika-san (japanese for ‘dr squid’), is someone i have met several times and is good fun.  although he did take me from the train station yesterday straight into work, walking literally past the front door of my hotel on the way to the museum, with all my luggage.  (‘what do you mean, you just flew across the planet and you want a shower?  there are IMPORTANT SQUID TO SEE!’)


and speaking of my hotel.  it’s mostly fine – cleanish (only one small cockroach so far), extremely conveniently located two minutes’ walk from the museum, corner room so i get cross-ventilation, which is excellent considering that the heating doesn’t turn off and it’s about 65 degrees outside during the day, western toilet (never to be undervalued again!), and with a decent shower, albeit in a ‘tub’ that is mid-thigh-deep but about the size of a normal shower stall.  and there is a tiny fridge for storing any small accumulations of groceries i might care to keep cool. 


which brings us to food.  i debated being vegetarian for this part of the trip because there are a lot of relatively staple japanese foods i don’t eat, like, oh, seafood.  so far the score between ‘this was an accident but tastes good’ and ‘i’m eating this to be polite’ is tied.  last night i went out to dinner with ika-san and had a tempura set, which was mostly very tasty, but did include shrimp (with a side of conscience pangs) and something i think, but try not to, might have been a moray eel fillet.  having had an airplane ‘breakfast’ and a bowl of ramen noodles for lunch, i was hungry enough to eat everything except most of the potential moray. 


there is also a convenience store across from my hotel where i’ve been doing most of my food shopping, with reasonable success so far because i can stand and scrutinize (inscrutable) labels for a while before purchasing.  so far i’ve managed to organize a decent breakfast (well, two danishes – i chickened out on the traditional japanse breakfast which, according to ika-san, involves rice, miso soup and some fish), yesterday’s ramen noodles, and another bowl of noodles for lunch today.  and i’ve just come back from my first dinner on my own, which was a partial success.  i had planned to have don-katsu (pork cutlet), because it has the huge double advantages of me being able to say it and enjoy eating it.  but i managed to find a place that was displaying it in the window but mysteriously didn’t serve it.  so i pointed at something else on the menu that looked like potatoes and dumplings, but proved in fact to be tempura mushrooms (score one for ‘accidental but tasty’).  i studied a few phrases while eating, so i was able to say ‘that was good’ in japanese by the end.  i think this surprised the waitress, after my caveman-like point-and-grunt ordering routine.  on the way home, after giggling quietly to myself for a few blocks after passing the ‘bee snop’ (unfortunate result of different-sized letters letters on the sign), i bought what turned out to be a delicious ice cream bar packed inside a waffle-wafer-type crispy coating with chocolate on the inside. 


and now i plan to sleep for another 11 hours.

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désolé, je suis idiot

one of the few things i don’t like about traveling is the knowledge that sometime (or many times) during the journey, i will look like a complete idiot.  it’s inevitable and i have to accept it, but man, i hate making an ass of myself.  this is why i try to stumble along in french rather than demanding immediately that everyone around me speak english – if they take pity on me and switch to anglais (whether because they really don’t understand me, or because they’re laughing too hard – i recommend reading david sedaris’ story ‘me talk pretty one day’), at least i tried.

i have been missing the pebbles in paris, for many reasons.  (primarily, of course, because i liiiiiiike him.)  it would be great to ooh and ahh at the impressive buildings together, to hold hands along the seine, to marvel at little strange things, like the woman in a business suit carrying her pet ferret in her handbag.  he has also been to paris before, so his local knowledge would be handy.  but the time i really miss him most is at meals.  eating alone is never particularly nice, although the true excellence of the food here helps.  but the whole eating process is probably the one regular daily event that causes me the most anxiety – will i inadvertently order snails?  (i tried to make sure before arriving that i could recognize the words for things i definitely didn’t want to eat, but it’s alarming how often completely unheralded ingredients turn up in what i order.)  will the waitstaff understand me and/or (please no) ask me complicated questions about what i ordered?  will i inadvertently perform some heinous breach of table etiquette?  i have taken to ordering take-away food and eating outside, partly because the weather is surprisingly nice and partly to minimize contact with the sometimes kindly, sometimes snidely onlooking staff and fellow customers.

one thing that eases the sting of mealtime idiocy is the knowledge that the encounters are brief (even when dining in), and that your faux pas will likely be forgotten shortly afterward.  unless you do something really memorable, and then you might get laughed about over someone else’s dinner table later.  but you never see them again, so it’s ok.

well, yesterday i packed a goodly amount of incompetence into one such brief encounter.  first i ordered from the blackboard menu, which presented its own challenge, since the sandwiches didn’t have names.  i tried le deuxieme sandwich traditional, s'il vous plaît (‘the second traditional sandwich, please’ since the heading was sandwich traditional), then began reading the ingredients off when the guy turned around to look at the menu.  he turned back, shook his head, said something and pointed to the other end of the bar, where a few deli sandwiches were left in the glass case.  so i headed that way and picked out one labelled mozzarella & tomato (discovering later that smoked chicken had also mysteriously been included), and headed back to the register with it.  the price on the label was listed as €5.90, so i had exact change ready and was even waiting to hear cinq euro, quatre-vingts-dix (and please don’t get me started on french numbers, because who thought ‘four twenties plus ten’ was an efficient way to say ‘ninety’?!?) but by this time the guy was speaking english to me, albeit quite softly in a noisy room.  so i didn’t quite catch what he said, but dutifully handed over my €5 note and about fifteen coins totalling €0.90, including a bunch of one and two-cent pieces.  he looked at me somewhat askance as he counted them meaningfully, one by one, into the register, so i smiled apologetically for handing over all my shrapnel. 

then he pulled out four twenty-cent pieces and gave them back to me, along with a receipt for €5.10.

i fled.

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