Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review of "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac

On the Road (Penguin 20th Century Classics)On the Road by Jack Kerouac
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I remember very clearly reading this book while living in South Carolina, dreaming of a different life. I was 22, working as a bartender, and already pushing the limits of what was acceptable at the time. I sat in some crappy Hardees or Lizard's Thicket eating by myself obsessed with the prose. The zooming enthusiastic embrace of the everyday and the possibility that you don't know what the next day will bring. Through the lens of the book, I saw my crappy surroundings as an adventure.

I'm afraid to re-read it. It's a book for the young and the confused. It's a book to inspire you to find beauty in a place like Hardees. In 2005, when I was 38, I went to the famous La Cucaracha in Mexico with a woman I met at my guest house there. She loved Jack Kerouac. We talked to 18 year old punk american kids fleeing the law, toothless drunk guitar players with heroin problems, and horny Mexican waiters trying to pick up gringas. I didn't enjoy it. I wanted to go someplace nicer with better service and more sophisticated people. I had grown too old for Jack Kerouac.

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Review of "A Moveable Feast"

A Moveable FeastA Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What a gossip Ernest Hemingway was - his character assassination of F Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein were amusing but so petty. But the idea of traveling through Europe so cheaply and writing and drinking and knowing fantastic people still inspires. Oh to live on $5 a day and travel from France to Spain.

I'm staying in the ghostly remains of Hemingway's Paris - I am living in a friend of a friend's apartment four houses up from where George Orwell lived in "Down and Out in Paris", I've walked past Hemingway's apartment on 74 rue du Cardinal Lemoine yesterday for a glass of wine, I felt like I saw a pale wan Fitzgerald drive past yesterday... but oh how its changed - touristy restaurants, rowdy british football showing bars, expensive fromageries... but still the allure and the romance remains.

I still feel that Hemingway's descriptions hold up and like American aspiring writers - I too long to live in Paris, write the great American novel, and drink wine and hold forth with likeminded individuals... vive Paris!

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Summer in Europe

I"m back in Europe after six months! I have missed it dreadfully... and I hae the wonderful opportunity to stay in a woman's flat here in Paris! How divine! I was joking with a friend that I might go all Mr. Ripley and steal her identity. She has an adorable place, fantastic books all over the shelves and a balcony where you can sit at a little table, drink a cool glass of white wine and get on facebook! It's all I ever dreamed of while sweating away the summers in South Carolina (sans facebook - I suppose back then I would have written in my journal out here... and I still will!)

Today I did my favorite thing in the world, I met a friend for coffee, went to the market to buy fresh plums, nectarines, apricots, cherries, and strawberries, stopped off at the bakery to pick up a baguette, and then popped in the wine shop to flirt with the cute young french proprietor and get recommendations for a nice white to drink on the balcony.... he offered to join me! Ah Paris!

While I really enjoy living in Asia right now - I was always drawn to Europe as a girl (my longlost homeland - I moved from Belgium as a girl). While sitting on a Thai island, drinking gin and tonics overlooking the Mekong in Laos, and riding elephants in India thrills me - they are always destinations - not home. I long for the every day markets and chatter of European cities. I wish my French were better. I need to force myself to speak it.

Perhaps I'll do a year in Haiti for the next job and then return to France where I can perfect my french and just enjoy the wine, cheese, and bread! Ah! Until later....

Friday, August 05, 2011

Alarm! Red Flag! Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!

Well - I have had a rough week... actually probably a rough six weeks. I went to Nepal for two weeks to set up a donor monitoring mission which was not so bad - the Nepalis are such lovely people and Kathmandu is an interesting and charming and chaotic city - filled with (as some Indian man i met in the airport limo told me) "Hindu Characters". I enjoy being in Nepal - greeting people by saying Namaste, casually passing shrines and stupas, and ancient beautiful buildings - flying on planes called Buddha Air or Yeti Airlines.

But then I went to Afghanistan. At first it was fun - I have a potential blog post in here to compare and contrast my law breaking NGO ways with the UN discipline I"m supposed to maintain. I was sleeping in a shipping container, seeing old friends, commuting in armored cars, training (which I love). But it wore me down eventually - the relentlessness of work, the dreariness of the place (despite some beautiful touches like the rose garden and honeysuckle in front of my little apartment), and the never ending watchfulness you develop. I flew from Kabul to Delhi to Bangkok - had a 12 hour layover where I literally changed out the contents of my suitcase from Salwar Kameezes to sundresses and headed back to the airport to Frankfurt and Oslo. I had a brief romantic interlude in Copenhagen with this man that I adore but who is extremely elusive and then back to Bangkok. In the meantime, suicide bombers blew up the hotel I had been working in while I was in Kabul.

When I got back, I was tired. so very very very tired. Like sleeping all day on a Saturday and Sunday in a hot rather fevered state with a deep lack of energy I've never experienced. I didn't feel depressed, I literally felt like I was a completely de-charged battery. My brain was still working but my body wasn't. It was worrisome. Now of course, me being me, I immediately thought - maybe I'm depressed! Burned out! I had just been in Scandinavia and watched two Finnish and Swedish films (One of which railed on and on about the youth today who can't hold down a job without becoming burned out within six weeks). My American Capitalist work ethic kicked in and said - HEY! Because you were out sick last summer, you can't hack it anymore! You are weak! So I joined a gym, got a personal trainer and started working out. It worked! I had lifts in my energy but I still felt not right. So I went and found a therapist. Done. Probably stress! And working on sexual violence is tiring. And I had some friends going through some things that was mildly stressful. My nerves felt stretched though - I was on a phone call one day and it was all I could do not to scream and throw the phone out of the window into the pool. And nothing that bad was going on. Time for a vacation??? Then the horrible Norwegian terrorist blew up the Government building next to where I had been interviewing in Oslo. Hmm - extreme terrorist attacks following my every move.

Finally, someone pointed out to me that it might be physical... which made sense... I had struggled with an upper respiratory infection when I got here, then got some nasty intestinal thing that came to plague me in Laos and Pakistan, and I had been sick for almost a year when I moved to Europe. New continent - new antibodies needed. Plus traveling in Pakistan and Afghanistan is tiring. I heard a miraculous story of a man I know who was run down and very snappish and angry. He went to a doc, found out he had a parasite, they gave him a pill and he literally could fell it making him better. I wanted that pill. I was tired, snappish, easy to offend, and slumping into not caring about anything.

So the fantastic admin assistant at the office made me an appointment for the next day at the Bumrungrad hospital. I went in and got all the exams - stool, urine, and blood (hey - I'm a humanitarian aid worker - I like to talk about stool, urine and blood!). I couldn't give more samples though because I was leaving the next day for a training in Pakistan. I only had a 2 day window of opportunity for any treatments because then I was off to Nepal and then off to Europe for holiday. In Pakistan I felt a bit better. At least my energy and time was taken up by the demanding training participants. But my patience was thin and I was in love with my comfy Marriott bed and never wanted to leave it.

I flew home on the "red-eye" and went immediately into the hospital to get my test results. I felt haggard. I just wanted to know what parasite I had so I could get that magical pill. The lovely doctor gave me the good news first - blood tests were fine - no anemia, no cancer, no bad thyroid, no bad liver. Stool tests fine - no parasites (disappointment!) but the urine test showed I had an infection. Now my co-worker in Afghanistan had a UTI which was making her feverish so I know that they can have weird results on the body. Aha! I thought - that's it. But then the doc sent me to the Ultrasound room. I got an ultrasound - in an aside, I mentioned that I used to have kidney stones. Back when I was 24 - in both kidneys - but I gave up coca cola and now I was fine! Well guess what. I'm not fine.

The doctor sent me immediately to the urologist. They discovered an almost 2 inch kidney stone in my ureter of my right kidney that was blocking my kidney, sending urine back up into it and infecting it. How had I not felt it? Dunno. So, I thought... lithotripsy! I've had this before. No problem! Nope. The doctor said it was too big not to operate on and he wanted to do it right then and there. Cut a big incision over my hip and go in and fish out the stone. I was terrified. My closest friends in Bangkok were mostly out of town. The doctor was confident but I have never had surgery before. I texted my friends. They were shocked. I went into surgery. Right before the nurses came to get me, I was really sad and felt very alone. Then I thought of my mom. In the 60s, she was living in Taiwan with my father and had me. This was before men were in the delivery room. I channeled her energy- she was a fighter - and I thought - well if she could do it 40 years ago, I can do it now. So I just sucked it up.

So now... where am I? After surgery in a foreign land and five days in the hospital recuperating and two days in my apartment coming to terms with the fact I have a 10 inch scar on my hip, a tube in my bladder and kidney, and a postponed return to Europe... I am feeling a bit better. Unable to sleep really... and feeling vulnerable but the exhaustion is gone and hopefully my energy will return.

I don't have any lessons to share. I just feel sick and vulnerable and a bit more mortal. It's not going to be the suicide bombers of Kabul that will get me! It will be something ridiculous and human like a kidney stone.