Monday, July 31, 2006

Sunday Scribblings; Two Cents

I have been out of town all weekend and so haven't been able to read any of the new Sunday Scribblings responses. I DO see however, that the site was the Yahoo pick of the day yesterday. Yay, us!

I'm quite glum today and approaching a stretch of treacherous overwork that will cause me to seem to disappear from the universe, but I haven't missed a Sunday Scribble yet and don't plan to. So I'm going to sort of unhinge my forehead and see what spills out:

Two cents. I don't know where the expression comes from, but to me in my current state, two shiny pennies in a pocket in no way sums up the need to GIVE MY OPINION. It's more like a sulfur-spewing dragon perched on my shoulder, threatening to incinerate anyone who comes too close. Pennies? They seem so sweet and inoffensive, like something Laura Ingalls got in her Christmas stocking, along with a stick of candy and an orange. When the need to share my thoughts builds in me... it's like a Hindenburg waiting to happen. But I don't WANT to be that person, the explosive know-it-all -- who likes an explosive know-it-all? -- so I try to bite it back. I let the conversation play and replay in my head (or, as the case may be, in my email, carefully unaddressed so I don't hit "send" by accident!) and I'm always so much more clever in my head, with no one snapping back. Often these little theatrical dialogues in my mind are all I really need, an outlet to diminish the fury of righteousness that has built up in me. Then, having triumphed in this scene of my imagining, I can proceed in a much more charitable way to address whatever real issue exists. Dragon temporarily tamed.

Right now, as it happens, my dragon is suffering the indigestion of swallowing too much of its own sulphur, because you know, you can't always say what you want to say. Sometimes the pennies have to stay in your damn pocket. I recall how blithely I would "fire" customers when I worked retail as a teenager, giving my 2 cents as if it was my duty to point out to people how unsophisticated and simple they were. (Ah, bookstore clerks! How superior they think themselves!) Later, working for myself: a world of difference. Ah, how I could bite my tongue to not risk losing a sale when the money was bound for my own meager wallet! I guess that's part of growing up. Knowing that saying whatever is on your mind is not ALWAYS the best way of getting what you want. Diplomacy: you know, knowing how to behave in a situation, like when NOT to give the German chancellor a shoulder rub! HA!

[In unrelated but exciting news, two people have told me they've spotted Laini's Ladies in the Skymall Magazine on recent flights. How cool is that?]

Thursday, July 27, 2006


I have your dolly. She is being well treated and as long as you cooperate she will not be harmed. Just show up at the gym each morning at 6 am and in 2 weeks she can come home - if she still wants to. I think she might decide to stay here permanently. Look how good she looks with all those pillows! Also, we let her eat junk cereal, which she says she never gets at home. Signed, Your Kidnapper

It wasn't my idea! Alexandra wanted a little extra incentive to get her butt to the gym for our early morning workouts, so while Jim and I were over at her house she decided to give us something to hold hostage. In order to work it had to be something she loved, but everything I suggested seemed to be something she loved TOO much. It finally came down to a doll version of Sophie's choice. You see, this doll has a sister, one that Alexandra clearly loves better. Squeezing shut her eyes she thrust this doll into my arms and covered her ears so she couldn't hear its tragic cries. I leave it to you to judge her cruelty. In her defense, she has VISITED the doll several times at my house and whispered reassuring words in its ear. AND she has been showing up at the gym, so soon the doll sisters will be reunited. All is well.

The morning workouts have been good. 6 am is freakishly early, but knowing that someone else is straggling out of bed too makes it a little easier. Actually, a lot of someones are. The gym is full at 6 am! What a lot of lean and motivated people there are in the world! Building a new routine feels good too. Over the past several years Jim and I have been adjusting our routine to rise earlier and earlier, arriving at this all-time early of 5:30, just to squeeze more time out of the day. Like toothpaste from a nearly empty tube -- you have to keep rolling it up to get out every little squish. Well, if we keep on like this, rolling up our days like tubes of toothpaste, we'll be getting up at 2 am by the time we're 40! Oy!

It occurred to me the other day to wonder at the strangeness of needing sleep. And so MUCH sleep. What is it in our brains that needs to be shut down like that for so many hours at a time? Any brain experts out there with the answer?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I buy stripper shoes

Let me hasten to say, I am not a stripper. It doesn't fall into my skill set. But I buy shoes from a website that sells stripper shoes. 8" spike-heeled red leather thigh boots, etc. I don't buy those, of course, but the less strippery ones, like those above. I just placed an order for those three pairs (the first pair in black, the second in red, the last as shown). The third pair has a 6-1/4-inch heel, which will be my highest to date, surpassing the 5-1/2-inch cowboy boots Jim got me for Christmas. Do you think me mad? I am addicted to height. If height addiction is like drug addiction then 3-inch platforms were my gateway drug and I am well into the next phase. I can't quit. I really can't. You see, all my pants acquisitions have taken into account the phony extra inches, and if I were to suddenly start wearing flat shoes I would either have to a) learn to hem, or b) buy all new pants. Trousers, that is, for you English. (I once told an English boy he had a hole in his "pants," not realizing that meant undies. There was blushing.)

Alexandra dog-sat for us recently and tried to borrow some of my shoes and HA HA! Having crazy tall shoes is kind of like the shoe equivalent of driving a two-seater so you don't have to offer people rides. NO ONE wants to borrow my shoes! I am alone in my madness, it seems. Except for the strippers. No, I know I'm not alone, but it does irk me when I try to shop in regular non-stripper stores and there is nothing to suit me and my addiction. Yesterday I shopped, and I think I must begin to admit to myself I have a problem, because the three-inch platforms just aren't cutting it for me anymore.

My name is Laini and I'm a heightoholic.

Do you think that hitting rock bottom as a heightoholic will involve stilts?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

best things to steal

Weapons are the best things to steal. Steal them from the sweaty fingers of evil people and tie the gun barrels in knots cartoon-style, and collect all the knives and hurl them out of the atmosphere. Try not to hit the moon, because then astronauts will find them and pick knife fights with each other and poke holes in each other’s space suits and deflate. And then our rocket ships would just be parked on the moon with the keys in the ignition, waiting for aliens to find them and go joy-riding.

Steal bombs out of bunkers and replace them with pianos and tubas and model ship-in-bottle kits, so instead of bombing people the terrorists could have hobbies. Don’t forget to include sheet music and wood glue. And snacks, because new hobbies make you hungry.

Steal the black belts right off the waists of kung fu masters. If you can do this, you deserve them more than they do.

Steal animal traps from fields and forests. Set them up in the lobbies of places like Haliburton and GE and the White House. Bait them with money and no-bid contracts. Have a taxidermist standing by to stuff the severed hands as a warning to future generations.

Steal Gothic spires off cathedrals and use them as trellises in your garden. Grow tomato vines and green beans on them and then when you eat your veggies a little bit of holiness will make its way through your digestive tract and into the plumbing, and eventually, to the rivers and oceans, which are in some need of holiness.

Steal coins from wishing wells and see if you can tell, by holding each coin in your fist and concentrating really hard, what wish went with what coin. If you find you have a talent for this, become a fairy godmother.

Steal souls back from the devil. You’ll have to distract him with a Gameboy and then dig up the field in Texas where he keeps the souls buried in small black wedding ring boxes, caked with dust. The souls will be shrunk to the size of lentils or smaller. Take them and go on a pilgrimage -- whenever you find someone without a soul, slip one into his beer or back pocket. The rest will happen naturally.

This has been a Sunday Scribbling. For more tales of thievery, go here.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Ilustration vs Fine Art: a fight to the death

Okay, not to the death, maybe, but there's some tension between illustration and fine art. Recently another blogger asked me about illustration: what is it? How is it distinguished from "fine art"? This is a tricky question: do you know the difference? I'm going to attempt to say what it is, but I'm kind of making it up, so if you have an opinion, let me know what it is!

Illustration. I studied illustration in art school, and my goal was always to illustrate books, whereas I guess a fine artist's goal is to sell original work in gallery shows. For me, the essential difference between illustration and fine art lies not as much in style and medium as in intent: what is the purpose of the particular art work? Illustration is created to be reproduced, be that in a book, on a poster, advertisement, or whatever. I like to think of illustration as "singing for its supper." It has a job to do, whether it's telling a story, or conveying something about a product, and the artist will not be standing next to it to explain it. It must be fully self-sufficient.

Fine art, on the other hand, just is. It can be a bent wire on a wall, or a rumpled bed installation at a snooty gallery, or a geometric painting, or it can be a luminous landscape painting, a portrait, or... and this is where it can get weird, it can also depict a scene and tell a story, just like an illustration. Lots of fine art is illustrative; just as lots of illustration is fine art. But what makes the Sistine Chapel ceiling NOT an illustration, even though it tells a story? It was not done with the intention of being printed and distributed. Ideally fine art should be either beautiful or though-provoking or both, but there's not a heavy burden on it that it convey a clear message.

So why is it important to make a distinction? I don't know if it IS important, but the distinction is made -- when I was in art school at the California College of Art in San Francisco, the painting and illustration departments were wholly distinct from each other, and there was a certain amount of scorn on each side. I know the painters looked down on illustrators as commercial sell-outs, while the illustrators thought [sometimes] that the painters were arty-farty phonies of the type who WOULD hang a bent wire on the wall and have the gall to call it art. Being an illustrator, I am much more familiar with discrimination against fine art, because I am a perpetrator of it. I admit it! I don't "get" abstract art, or bent wires, or babies sculpted from raw meat. I'm not going to say it's not art, but... well, to me, it's not good or interesting art. But that's just me. We illustrators were sometimes known to say, walking through the school's galleries and studio space, "don't step on the art" because you could never be entirely certain if a pile of trash was really a pile of trash, or someone's senior "installation". Ha! There was once a senior photography show that consisted of close-up photos of subjects' face juxtaposed with close-ups of their anuses. That, my friends, is not illustration. It's fine art. I guess. I could go on about weird "art" around campus. Some of it I liked (the laundry line from which enormous clothes were hanging, for example. It made me smile!), some not (the piece of sod with a spike rising from it and a balloon tied to the spike). Whatever!

So meanwhile, what were the illustrators doing? We were learning to paint, but not in the painting department. At CCAC the painting classes weren't very technique-oriented, and illustrators DO need technique, perhaps more than fine artists. Our assignments were more structured. Album covers, art for snowboards or skateboards, magazine covers, book covers, editorial illustration (usually, to accompany a magazine article), things like that. The goal of illustrators is usually to establish a successful freelance career, getting interesting assignments from different art directors, doing book and magazine covers and interiors, ad campaigns, maybe getting into character design for video games or storyboarding for a movie studio. There are clients, and the work is tailored. Usually. My goal was always to write and illustrate my own books and to create what I wanted, and for several years I did that, selling prints of my illustrative paintings at an art fair, before getting into licensing. I've worked with a few art directors, and had very positive experiences with them, and I've only ever done work that was fun for me. Jim went a different route in illustation, doing comic books and role-playing game fantasy art for a few years, though now he is getting more into book illustration and product design & licensing.

I would like to hear more from fine artists -- and to be clear that I do not scorn fine art. There are many gallery painters whose work I love, whose skill I deeply admire (and even covet). It's just FUN to tell the stories of the anuses and meat babies, so I make the most of that silly side of fine art, just for "color." But there are plenty of artists who straddle the line between illustration and fine art and make strong careers on both sides. A few examples are James Jean, Natalie Ascensios, Kinuko Craft, Jon Foster and many more.

I've also recently become familiar with the Duirwaigh Gallery, which focuses on gorgeous fantasy art that crosses that line between illustration and fine art. Its founder has also started a blog which is a lot of fun!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Treadmill daydreams

Exciting exercise news: plans to be at the gym at 6 am every day for 2 weeks. Isn't that a thrill? I've made it 3 days so far, and there's something spectacular about having worked out, walked the dogs, eaten breakfast, and gotten in an hour of writing by 9:30 am! Also, I get great ideas on the treadmill. I'm a daydreamer, yes, and sometimes I let my daydreams drift aimlessly, and other times I focus them like a camera lens. "Focused daydreaming." My best places for this are on the treadmill and in the shower. In the past few workouts the plot of my novel-in-progress has come together like interlacing fingers, all thanks to the monotony of running on a band of rubber. So, I reason that instead of spending the first hour of my day blinking sleepily and drinking coffee, expecting my brain to work at 6 am, I will exercise first and warm up my brain in the process. A new routine! I also recommend focused daydreaming to other creative souls -- it sometimes takes a little training, to keep your mind on the task at hand, but it's just another way to squeeze some more time out of the day!

I met the amazing Anahata for lunch yesterday at the Blossoming Lotus Cafe. It was such a treat to see her in person again! We met three years ago at the National Stationery Show in New York, where she had a booth for her company Papaya, and I was walking around looking for potential licensees (this was when I met Bottman, the company that licenses my Laini's Ladies art). Ever since as I have seen Anahata's gorgeous greeting cards in more and more places, and seen them get more sophisticated and beautiful, I've been cheering her on. And then, recently, I got an email that she had started a blog! And I discovered she lived in Oregon now! So, after three years we actually got to have lunch together and see where our art/business paths have led us each. Different routes, but both good.

Writing room news: The new walls are done and the room is painted! I chose the Behr color "Lipstick" and I LOVE it. In some light it is a rich red-orange; other times it is more coral, sometimes the shade of the flush of red on a mango, sometimes the glowing ruby of a pomegranate seed. A few more steps before the furniture is ready to move in. Can't wait! Ooh, also: I got new glasses finally, my first in 10 years, and let me tell you, glasses frames have CHANGED in 10 years. They're all small and cool and beatnikky now, and they make me feel clever and sly (Isn't "sly" a good word?), like the girl sitting in the corner at the library thinking mysterious things.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Sunday Scribblings #16: "With Baggage"

(That poster has nothing to do with my post; I just like it!) This Sunday Scribble was inspired by something I wrote recently about travelers to the first alien planet opened to travelers. I wondered, what would they bring?

Darklis and Maximoff rarely argued anymore. Their colleagues said they had exhausted all possible topics of controversy when they were newlyweds and could be heard late into the night, night after night, at whatever wigwam, yurt, or igloo was their home for the season. Darklis had a contralto voice and Maximoff was a bass, so their passionate discussions had never been shrill, just a low background noise the other scientists grew accustomed to, like crickets or swamp frogs in the night. They had talked about everything. Djinn, mummies, Krakatoa, the Upanishads and the Shahnameh, the virtues of boomslang venom versus cone snails, the crushing force of an eagle owl’s talons, the death rites of Zoroastrians, and the proper pronunciation of the name of a banshee they had met in an Irish cemetery on their honeymoon.

They were the only couple anyone knew who had honeymooned in a cemetery.

Now, 35 years on, Darklis and Maximoff Kalderash had mapped the alleys of each others minds so well they had only to meet eyes, hers so dark they seemed pupilless, his pale pond green, to seem to have a whole discussion without words. Their children found it unnerving, as if, in some pyramid or chasm somewhere on their travels, their parents had discovered an instruction manual for telepathy and kept it to themselves.It was rather a relief to hear them arguing now.

“Firecrackers? Are you telling me firecrackers express something fundamental about humanity?” said Darklis.

“Absolutely," Maximoff replied. "What’s more human than the desire to blow things up?”

“I wish you were joking.”

“I wish I was, too, but look at the world. And as we can’t very well bring bombs to Andrash, we may as well bring fireworks.”

“NASA will never allow it, anyway, Max. Nothing combustible, remember? You can find some other way to teach the natives about war. Or,” Darklis smiled mischievously at her husband, “we can just edit that out.”

He laughed. “You want to teach human history to an alien race and edit out the bits about war? Have fun, darling. I’d like to see the history books after you’ve been through them with a censor’s marker.”

“There wouldn’t be much left, would there?”

Maximoff laughed. “A little art, some agriculture... couldn’t get near religion...”

They started to laugh and got the giggles, thinking of the slender volume of history they could present if they were to avoid any mention of the wars that had shaped their civilization. They kept trying to say, "It isn't funny," and then dissolving back into helpless laughter. “There’s nothing for it,” Darklis said finally. “They’ll soon see what a warmongering race they’ve welcomed to their planet.”

“So what can we bring to offset that image? That’s what we need to think about.”


The fleet was leaving for Andrash in one month, and the Kalderash family with it. Scouts had been negotiating this diplomatic mission through the stars for more than ten years, and the time was here at last. For most of those ten years Darklis and Maximoff had been keeping lists of what they would bring should they be approved for the mission, and now they were finalizing those lists and packing their steamer trunks.

The coffee was already packed, of course, and the chocolate. Trays of spices, sealed and labeled by continent. Bundled silks and brocades and bolts of synthetics like fleece made of recycled plastic. Gems. Gold. Antiobiotics. Carved jade. Eyeglasses. A telescope from the middle ages, and several new telescopes, state of the art. A bicycle and a sack of soccer balls. Books. The Arabian Nights, Harry Potter, and the planet’s religious texts in no particular order. Photo albums from 25 families and the complete set of National Geographic magazines. Hair clips, donated human braids in every conceivable color, butterfly wings, cases of colored feathers, the complete skeletons of eighty species of creatures. Bags of potato chips, snack size, and a case of Jell-o instant pudding mix -- just add water! There was water on Andrash, but as of yet, there was no pudding.

Comic books and candles, a violin, a guitar, and a saxaphone. A ventriloquist’s dummy and a soldier sculpture from a Chinese tomb. A lifesize replica of Michelangelo’s David, and a statue of Kali -- Darklis had argued the goddess’s many arms would confuse the Andrashians, but Maximoff won that argument.

And then there were the living things. Not pairs -- this was no Noah’s Arc. Single caged creatures: a horse, a Siberian Husky, a tabby cat and a snow-white chicken, a spider monkey, a gazelle, an iguana, a camel, a flamingo, a fruit bat, a kangaroo, and a tank of angel fish. They would be put to sleep for the voyage as the human passengers were, and would awaken in a strange landscape. Everyone on Earth had seen the photos: the hills red as blood, the alien vegetation, the tall cone houses and the strange beings that lived in them.

“What else?” Maximoff asked. “What are we missing?”

What would you take in your baggage to another planet, in an attempt to explain our world to aliens?

(P.S. All names in this story came from my recent research into Romany names. How cool are they? Darklis? Andrash? So cool.)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

thanky thanky thanky

Yay to my new banner (& thanks for your compliments) & thanks especially to the technical genius of Bohemian Girl, without whom this design would still be a sad little orphan on my desktop. Thanks, Denise!

And thanks also to Greenish Lady for sending me her exquisite poetry book, Shout If You Want Me To Sing. It's beautiful in content and presentation -- gorgeous cover, but especially, gorgeous poems! Thanks, Imelda!

And thanks also to Bonnie for her facts about peepal trees when she read my story "Spicy Little Curses Such As These" (I hope I didn't scare you with my babbling excited email about picking your brain with all sorts of geography and landscape and flora & fauna questions about Central Asia and the Himalayas. I wish I could go on a fact-finding mission of my own, but alas, it's a world away.)

I am deep in research for my second novel, and have been trying to nail down the exotic locations around Asia, to give it a real feeling of place, which is an ambitious thing to attempt with a place one has never been, but I'm going to try it anyway. I got very sidetracked in my reading about the Old Silk Road yesterday evening and ended up drooling over adventure vacations that follow said road to Samarkand and beyond... And though Central Asia isn't at the top of my travel to-do list, this site made me want to do something rash like book a trip to a place I had never even heard of before, like Lake Son-Kul on the "Kyrgyz Riviera". Who knew Kyrgystan had a riviera? And at 4000 meters elevation. It is, apparently, a paradise for shepherds. I resisted the impulse to book the trip.

Other current subjects of research: silk production, especially cottage industry; the teak trade; dragonflies; caravansarays; Romany names; the Hindu Kush, and more. It's amazing the way the world starts to unfold when you just pick a topic you don't know about and start poking around. How many worlds there are, essentially tucked into this one world. And how many pockets in time. It all just lights my mind on fire. I wish I could've taken more history classes in college. I wish I had time to now. In any case, thank god for books and the internet!

And lastly, thanks for all the well-wishing about Jim's health. Fingers crossed, for all of us, that the big C stays well out of our lives and the lives of everyone we know & love.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Good news & bad news

That's a picture of dinner last night. Yummm... I had just finished making vegetable soup and I looked at it and completely didn't feel like eating it. It wasn't even that hot, it just wasn't a "soupy" kind of night. It was a "fruity" night. Maybe because we'd had a heavy-ish lunch downtown earlier in the day -- it was a celebratory lunch. Yesterday was Jim's two-year-cancer-free-iversary. Yay! It was the biannual trip to the oncologist to get test results, which continue well, but to be honest, no trip to the oncologist is really a nice thing. No matter how good of news one gets, there are all those other people waiting in the waiting room, young and old, and it's a glimpse into a world we seldom see, if we're lucky. It's still surreal to me, walking through a door that says "oncology" on it. The first time, I almost had a panic attack. It would have been my first. I'm not a panicker, but I started to breathe weird and felt this hysteria welling up in me. Now... it's still freaky, and then after the good news, still sad for the other people.

I will also always remember when Jim came home after his surgery and we had rented some videos and set him up on the couch to relax and watch The Office -- the British version. Words of wisdom: do not rent comedy for people fresh out of abdominal surgery! Laughter is not always the best medicine! He had to keep trying to laugh without moving his abdominal muscles, and it was the funniest sounding thing! (We are still big Office fans, US version, too. Dwight Shrute is one of my favorite characters on TV. Love him!)

On a sad note, though, it looks like the coyotes have gotten another of my mother's cats, this time the baby, Zucca (Pumpkin) who just celebrated his first birthday, party and all. Because my parents live on the edge of the wilds of Forest Park, the cats are only allowed out very sparingly, in daylight, and closely watched. But Zucca is a mad little hunter and he busted through a screen and got out... and he hasn't come back. There is already an engraved stone at the edge of the garden for "Our Old Warrior," my mom's eighteen-year-old tomcat Pesca who got grabbed by something in broad daylight when they first moved to Oregon. My mom is beginning to hate her beautiful house and its invisibly circling gang of horrible coyotes, which she has never gotten so much of a glimpse of. I still have a teeny tiny hope that little Zucca might come back, but you know how it goes.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Furniture Frenzy!!

I have a new favorite furniture store -- which is not to say I have an old favorite furniture store -- we don't buy furniture. We're artists... we don't walk into stores and point at $1400 sofas and say "I'll take it." Noooo, among my people, sari fabric draped over parents' hand-me-down sofas is a "new sofa." Well, until now...

The new favorite furniture store is Cargo, in the Pearl District. It's a warehouse filled with antique chests and benches and puppet theaters from Java and Bali and China, with parasols and lanterns and dusty rugs, cabinet beds and trays and beads and old rusty gates and pieces of houses that we must imagine, have finally fallen over on some backstreet of Surabaya or Jombang. I went to Cargo by mistake a few weeks back when I was hunting for a glass shop to buy glass for my mosaic table, and I walked in and almost had a heart attack. I wanted to call Jim, but as usual my cell phone battery was dead (I just can't be bothered plugging that thing in) so I had to wander around gasping like a fish, like a furniture-loving fish. I have never really been into Asian style. Not for me, the fu dogs and shiny busy Chinese ceramics. But our trip to Turkey (mentioned in my last post) instilled in us a love for the gypsy caravan look of Turkish rugs and peeling chests of the Near East, and Turkey is as near as the east gets, of course. But now, my love has extended to Indonesian antiques.

Pictured above is our adored new "bench" from Bali (bench is such an inadequate term!) -- you see, Jim gasped like a furniture-fish too when I dragged him into Cargo a few days ago and agreed we needed to adopt it immediately into our loving family, and after wrangling this piece of solid teak massiveness into the back of the truck and barely BARELY squeezing it through the front door, it is presiding over the living room in quite a queenly fashion. As Alexandra has been known to do with her beloved leather armchair, we are still in the phase of sitting in the old sofa so we can LOOK at it, rathing than actually sitting ON it. And you can't really grasp the size of the thing in the photos, but when I sit on it, my toes do not reach the floor!!

I also went a little crazy and bought a cool old Indonesian porch pillar for the corner of my writing room (the work is progressing in there!) to hang lanterns off of or something, but now I need to revert to the old ways of not buying things, and try to forget this little mania that overcame me. Not buying things is a pretty easy habit to maintain, when you're a starving artist, but buying things can become a habit pretty easily too, when you become less starving. I think we're furnitured up for the next little while!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Sunday Scribblings #15: Hotel Stories

1. The year I was nine we lived in the Hotel Flamingo for more than a month: two parents, three kids, and one very large Alaskan Malamute who would become known in this Italian town as “cane lupo.” Dog wolf. We weren’t the only Americans in residence at the Flamingo, there were a number of other Navy families in our same situation: just arrived from the States, househunting. The school bus picked us up there, and the hotel kitchen made us bag lunches. We did our homework in the Mediterranean heat, poolside. There were skirmishes with Italian kids in the side alleys. We had assigned tables in the dining room, and regular waitors. Ours, Bruno, was a darling with curly hair and was surely one of my earliest crushes. We moved into an apartment nearby and didn’t return to the Flamingo, but many Americans did, spending summer days beside a very ordinary hotel pool when a gem of a beach was just a short walk away! The Flamingo was one of the centers of Americans-pretending-to-be-in-America; it was safe. But my family was different: my mom spoke fluent Italian and had lived in Rome for a year in the ‘60s, when she was a beautiful girl with green eyeshadow. In Gaeta she recruited Italian boys to coach our soccer teams, and became the only Navy wife whose best friend was Italian. But those weeks in the hotel were a treat for a nine year old, like a long vacation!

2. When I was eleven we all piled into our beat-up green Volkswagon bus and drove up through Italy to Nice, France, for Mardi Gras. We checked into our modest little pensione and went out to explore the city; while out and about, my father ran into a woman he knew, the woman who happened to be in charge of the city’s carnival parades. My father was at that time responsible for making the schedules of ports of call for every US Navy vessel in the Mediterranean, and I have a vague impression he knew her somehow through his work duties. In any case, she was busy and gave him the brush off. Fine. But when we returned to our little pensione later that day we were told men had come to take our luggage away! We pictured thugs, thieves! But in fact this woman, regretting her rudeness, had found out where we were staying and moved us to the official hotel of the Carnival: the Negresco.

The Negresco is a 5-star hotel. It remains the only 5-star hotel I have ever set foot in. When we pulled up to the valet in our ratty VW with gouge marks on both sides from getting wedged in an alley in Naples, we felt... out of our element. We pretended to belong there. I can just picture my brother and I in our ski parkas (it was the Riviera, yes, but February, and raining), noses snootily in the air as if we did this every day! Our room, compliments of, I suppose, the City of Nice, was an eleven-room suite overlooking the beach and the parade route. It was HEAVEN!! And the room-service breakfast cart, piled with delectable things... Like a dream. Paloma Picasso was a guest while we were there, and at one point a Saudi man in full sheik attire took a liking to my white-blonde five-year-old sister and told my mother he would buy Emily anything she wanted in the hotel gift gallery. To my mother’s mortification, he was pointing out diamonds, but my sister saved the day as only a five-year-old can, by desiring only chocolate, an acceptable gift from a strange rich sheik!

3. I have slept in a fairy chimney, and in a treehouse by the sea! Both, in Turkey. Jim and I went to Turkey six years ago, in between visiting Alexandra in Bulgaria and going on to Italy, where Jim proposed to me! And we LOVED Turkey. Go there, everyone! And if you go, go to Cappadoccia. It is the most otherworldly landscape I have ever explored, a sandcastle of a land, barren and bizarre and so outrageously beautiful. “Fairy chimneys” are the name for the dwellings hollowed out of the strange rock formations, and in Goreme, all the hotels are carved into the rock. They’re not fussy, but have rough-hewn windows and lots of Turkish carpets, and patios overlooking the most amazing cityscapes.

The treehouse was set in a lemon grove at Olympos, by the sea. A rickety bus carried us down into a forested ravine and back along a single road lined with clusters of treehouses. A short ramble through thick forest, past Byzantine ruins, leads to a secluded beach. And at night there are hikes up the mountain to see a naturally occuring eternal flame, flickering right out of the rock now for hundreds of years. If you go, bring marshmallows. We didn’t, but thought it would have been fun!

I love travel, and I love hotels and youth hostels in old strange buildings. In Spain I stayed in a former prison, in Vietnam in a room in the belly of a giant giraffe sculpture! I have never yet slept in a hammock slung in a beach shack in Mexico, but I would like to, someday! And as fun as that stay at the Negresco was when I was eleven, I would take the fairy chimney or the treehouse, or the modest little pensione by the cathedral in Amalfi, any day, and spend the difference buying puppets and blown-glass perfume bottles and sandals!

for more "hotel stories" go here.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

the fruit of my lacerations

I'm typing this with wounded fingers. I have finished my mosaic table and, as with my one previous mosaic experience, my fingers aren't pretty. I thought things were going pretty well, I got through the glass-cutting with but a few tiny glass splinters in my fingertips. I had sort of forgotten that it is the grouting process that is murder on fingers. Ouch. Because I used glass, very pointy, sharp glass, instead of mosaic craft tiles, it is very hard to smooth the grout on, and to wipe the surface clean as it dries, without lacerating one's fingers. But anyway, it's done! Here are some more pictures:

I used scrapbook letters to spell out the words, and sealed them down with matte medium, and then mosaiced with clear glass where I wanted them to show. Ditto with the polka dots on the top. So it's a combo collage/mosaic. Now, I will let my fingers heal for a few days before I go back to fix the grout, which in my haste, I wiped away too much of.

I hope my fellow Americans out there had a lovely 4th of July. We did. We don't ever go out on the 4th, which other dog owners will understand: my poor old Shiloh probably drooled half her body weight with her freakish panicked panting last night. Dogs do not love fireworks, and as Jim said last night, the first thing they will do when they take over the world, is abolish holidays that involve explosions. We had some friends over for BBQ and build-your-own banana splits:

(That's Camille showing me how she can put her toe in her mouth. I think I can probably do it, too, but I won't try.) And there is Maggie and Chary with the banana split fixins, and Jim with his masterpiece, shortly before devouring it.

We also took my niece Izzy hiking to Punchbowl Falls in the Columbia Gorge on Sunday:

I LOVE it there. The perfect place on a hot day. The falls go through a small ravine that widens out to a bank of sun-warmed rocks, and then to another waterfall, and there are places to wade in the deliciously cool shade, and then just a few steps away you can stretch out like a lizard in the sun if you want. You can jump off cliffs if you're insane, or swim out to the falls, but it's icy, so wading usually cures my desire to swim. Izzy did go swimming in her clothes though.

And lastly, after writing my last post, I DID call Lori in Amsterdam and we had a lovely chat, and Jim and I are scheming to maybe visit Holland in the fall, and try to time it to my old babysitter/soccer coach's wedding in Genoa, Italy, and do both. Hm. Might just be a fantasy. But often, things that start as fantasies become reality. Fingers crossed!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Sunday Scribblings #14 - "Two peas in a pod"

There is only really one person who comes to mind for me when I think "two peas in a pod:" Lori! My other half in high school, Lori Lee Fitzgerald. We met at a Model United Nations meeting at Fountain Valley High School, California, in the heart of Orange County in the worst of all hair decades: the dread '80s. 1987, to be precise. Lori was a native to this soil; I was a newcomer, fresh from 6 years in Europe, and I was discovering that most of my new classmates had no idea where "Belgium" was. Texas? Eastern Europe? Close... (Have you heard the horrifying tales of Americans' geography skills? They're true.) I had come from a school of 200 kids, to a monstrosity of 3000+, a zoo of weird bad hair choices a few miles from the beach. I had made some friends playing soccer over the summer, so I had some girls to eat lunch with, but it wasn't until I met Lori that I had a REAL friend, and instantly. An instant click. After that, we were inseparable. I can't hear Erasure songs without flashing back to her, and to the boy we both had a year-long unrequited crush on. For me, this agonizing crush ended abruptly when this boy corrected my grammar. It was like a switch had been flipped. I saw him later, we both went to college at Berkeley, and he looked... meager... as is the way with so many cute boys from high school when you get a peek at them in college. My other big crush went to Lori's college so I saw him too. He was the adored-by-all quarterback of the football team, with black hair and light light blue eyes, and he didn't look meager, just balding, which inspired a certain amount of schadenfreude.

But it wasn't all boys. I sort of cringe thinking of what the social world of that time and place was like, the stupid parties I never enjoyed, the big expensive proms and the football games. But I have very fond memories of driving the Coast Highway with Lori in my convertible beetle with the top down, singing at the top of our lungs. A lot of the other stuff is sort of vague now. I was NOT one of those people who lamented the end of high school. The DAY AFTER graduation I was on a plane back to Europe, and didn't come home, and missed my first semester of college.

Ironically, it is LORI who is now an EU citizen. She married a Dutchman and has lived in Amsterdam for some 12 years now. The picture above is when I visited her there ten years ago. Ten years! God, how time goes by! So we're two peas long ago shelled out of our pod, but I love her dearly. I think I'll call her...

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Robot Friends

As Jim has also just posted about, yesterday we went down to OMSI (the children's science museum) to see the Robot exhibit. As you see above, we had some meaningful conversation with new friends. I love OMSI, and every time my niece Izzy visits I take her there -- over spring break we went to the Animation exhibit and made our own stop-motion dance movie; previously it was the "Animal Grossology" exhibit -- all the grossest things about critters. Great stuff! Usually we also see an Omnimax movie on the huge dome screen (a crazy-gorgeous experience!), and buy stuff from the great gift shop. like freeze-dried icecream sandwiches! I think we should all remember, even if we don't have kids of our own, to either borrow them as an excuse to do kid-stuff, or just unashamedly do kid-stuff anyway!