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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

In Which We See a Film

Last night I finally saw a movie for the first time since my departure for the wild world of Abroad. Not just any movie - an ACADEMY AWARD WINNER. The other day I introduced Rylee* to the wonders of the expat second hand shop and its plethora of aged electronics, multi-lingual books, chachi crapola and hit-or-miss clothing selection. As we loaded our purchases onto the counter (a zippy muumuu, pair of high boots and a practical-though-unfun lady bag for me, and a binocular box/purse, shrug, and pile of books for Rylee), we saw a poster for a showing of Slumdog Millionaire, part of a local bar's free Monday movie night. Free movie? Most likely in English with Greek subtitles? Oh, we were so, SO in.

The day before I scouted out the place - Chania is not the easiest city to navigate (roads bend and curve and their names change every block), so I've generally found a scouting mission to be invaluable for such things. I felt like a genius when I found the cafe on my first try, and then immediately was unsure if my elation was warranted when it became clear the place was in a strange location, not very big, and without much to recommend it from the exterior. At least, however, I knew where it was.

Monday evening rolled around, and off we went! John (a bit hobbly with a bad back), myself, Rylee and her friend Yannis (one of the prolific Yannis' we have met here) all made the journey to this solitary spot. I hadn't gone in when I had found it before - I wasn't really sure what to expect. I remained unsure even as we opened the door to go inside that this was the right place/night for the movie. The first thing I noticed as I stepped inside was the hazy air of stale and stagnant cigarette smoke. "Ah," I thought, "Of course. This is to be expected. Time to buck up and be a man about it. A MARLBORO man." The second thing I noticed was the projector screen, which at the moment was showing Billy Madison subtitled in arabic, thanks to the power of a small laptop hooked up to the projection system. Third thing - lots and lots of English being spoken all around me, most in a non-American accent. At that point I realized - we had found an EXPAT BAR.

It wasn't huge - there was room for about 5 tables, two couches and the bar itself. There were about 20 people milling about, seemingly between the ages of 40-60, some with young kids running in and out. Many spoke with loud, bawdy Australian-ish accents. We bought cheap beers and cheap wine and asked the bartender if the movie had Greek subtitles. He cheerily apologized for the lack of them (our pal Yannis was then forced to utilize his burgeoning English skills for the film) and then we staked out a couch. I picked up the Learn to Draw book and taught myself to draw a minotaur and house elf (turns out I'm great at drawing). The movie was a bit late starting - there was a brief interlude in which the lights were dimmed and the entire bar broke out in a round of Happy Birthday as a cake alit with candles was brought out from the back. Everyone got a slice. It was delicious.

The movie began. It became apparent it was not, exactly, an entirely LEGAL copy (though why I ever thought a free showing of a movie not yet out of the theaters would ever be acquired legally is beyond me), but still an excellent time nonetheless. As Jamal and Salim and Latika entwined their destinies I was treated to the catcalls of the bar mistress to the screen as she kept up her pack-a-movie habit, the screams of the children outside on the porch and my own endearing clumsiness as I bumped into some sort of pole and sent it crashing to the floor.

The credits rolled. I had laughed, I had cried (or maybe that was just the smoke irritating my eyes?). I went up to the bar and asked what was on NEXT week. The friendly guy at the bar gave me not only THAT information, but signed me up for their newsletter so I could get the full weekly schedule of events in my inbox (rugby games! football games! trivia night!!!). They also happened to have a full bookshelf of English language novels - a SWAP shelf, which meant I could give 'em and take 'em at whim. I'll never go without again! I left that night slightly weirded out and oddly comforted.

And oh, next week they're showing Twilight. I just might be there.

* Rylee, by the way, is the newest addition to our little Team Chania troupe. She was a fellow traveler here in Hotel Nostos who Farmer John hired after a week of friendly dinners and adventures with us (along with her friend Elise, who is now back to her life in Iowa). We met up with her in Venice and brought her back with us. FUN!!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

In Which We Make Our Return

Last night I slept on a shot mattress that should have retired years ago but is too stubborn to give up the working world. I washed my face in a sink that takes forever to drain and listened to the sounds of a storm swirl close above my head as I tried to sleep in a room that wasn't QUITE warm enough. I woke up periodically through the night to utilize the roll of toilet paper I'd placed on my bedside table for this silly headcold I'm sporting, and finally got out of bed this morning with a sore butt from the mattress and a dry throat from the heating unit.

In other words, I'm home. Hello again, Crete. It's good to see you.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

In Which a Random Assortment of Carnevale Pictures are Posted

In no particular order, some photos from carnevale thus far...

Lesley, John and I show off our shiny puffy shirts. We all got an XL. We each are wearing about 5 layers underneath our sheeny outerwear so as to not mar them by wearing a coat atop.

John, a bit unmasked, looking decidedly coy.

These were our favorite guys. They hugged us and danced with us and felt like rubber. Suspicious...

That's me, Lesley and Elise looking in awe at the twirling girl above us.

Oh, the COLORS of Carnevale...

And, a touch less blurry, one of the many beautifully garbed masqueraders.

This morning I ventured out and spotted this puppeteer in the square.

His puppet was in love with a flower.

A bit further on, a Russian group performed classical music via the medium of glassware.

And one of the many beautiful masks for sale here...

In Which We Encounter a Watery City


John lost about 20 years and 20 pounds as soon as we alit upon its watery surface. Buildings and their beauty have a great effect on the man - so many cities he hates because of their modern, slick, Ahrimanic surfaces. He loves old, romantic, slightly decrepit Luciferic things, and Venice is a paradise for him. We walked for hours last night, adorned in festive regalia, and around every corner John virtually squealed in delight and is now convinced THIS is where he wants to stay for the rest of our time in Europe (well, not actually - we live where the treadmill desk lives, and THAT is still in Chania).

And it IS gorgeous here - upon viewing the meandering canals, the slightly crumbly architecture, the gondolas, and the narrow alleys that hint at stolen moments of amore, one cannot help but be lost in the romantic cliche. Add to THAT the heightened energies of carnevale and the beautiful men and women wandering about in full Renaissance regalia... needless to say, it was hopeless from the beginning. We're all in love with this city, despite any cynical walls we had put up before our arrival.

Our hotel is located a quick walk from St. Marks square (where the carnevale is concentrated). It describes itself as "Art Deco" - in fact that's the name of the hotel - and if I had any idea what the style of Art Deco meant I could judge whether or not this was accurate. For those of you that are smart about those things, here's their website: Venice Locando Art Deco.

We were met by the affable Fernando who showed us our room for three (we know it's a good one thanks to the bidet in the bathroom). I give the hotel great reviews thus far, the one exception being the lobby that smells slightly of stewed cabbage (in fact, that's where I find myself currently sitting as I wait for my traveling companions to wake up already, and the smell does not disappear).

We had a great time getting dressed up in our Amsterdam-purchased regalia last night, matching puffy shirts and all. Before departure into the Carnevale streets, we met up with Rylee and Elise, our hotel friends from Chania - the reason we're here in the first place was due to their description of Venice Carnevale... they did such a good job making it sound like the perfect thing we changed our itinerary to include it the day before we left for our February adventures. And then, we took off for St. Mark's Square... the costumes! The entertainment! The dancing in the streets! 'Twas all a sight to behold. I'd describe it further, but as they say, pictures (and video) speak a thousand words, and I fully plan on uploading what I took last night (in fact, I was planning on doing it this morning, but I forgot to take my camera with me out into the lobby and effectively locked myself out of our room and am now stuck WITHOUT access to my most recent camera endeavors).

Until then, dear readers, the adventure continues.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

In Which I Visit Some Dutchy Museums

Today I was a touristy tourist in Amsterdam.

I woke up nice and early (to beat the lines), partook of our hotel continental breakfast, and headed out the door with two maps, my camera, and two practiced expressions: the first an ogling, spaced out tourist-in-wonder look that often gets one run over or pickpocketed, and the other a suspicious glare to be directed at anyone and everyone who gets too close to my purse, clutched in a death grip close to my chest.

The first touristy thing I did was to refuse to give a homeless man money (New York has trained me too well, perhaps) but I was impressed at his approach - very pleasant, very apologetic, very it-seems-like-I'm-going-to-ask-for-directions-but-really-I'm-asking-for-money. I then almost missed my first destination as I pondered what it means to be homeless in a country like the Netherlands that is often described as a Welfare State - in fact, I just did a quick googling of the topic, and Google has informed me that most of the homeless found here in Amsterdam are either mentally ill or have substance abuse problems (shock), and that generally speaking it's easier in the Netherlands than in other countries to NOT be homeless. (As you can see, I am going to some lengths to assuage my "I could've given him that 50 cents" guilt.)

As I pondered one's obligations to society and its residents and how next time I should just give him the damn change if only so I won't obsess about it afterwards I almost completely bypassed the Anne Frank Museum, Tourist Stop #1 (quite the appropriate museum for such things as where one's social and moral obligations lie, I would think). I paid my entrance fee and stepped inside, winding my way through the former warehouse, the former offices, and then up through the concealed back staircase to the secret annex. True to Otto Frank's wishes, the rooms in the annex remained bare, left as they were after the Nazis discovered the hiding place and stripped it of its people and furniture. Some movie posters and newspaper pictures in Anne's room remained glued to the wall, and it was hard to really fathom their history - why they had been glued there in the first place and what had happened in that room since.

And then in a jump from history to present, I left the last of the annex through a glassed-in bridge from the Frank house to the modernized, more museum-like display in the building next door. It jumped to displays of artifacts, movie clips, and the story of the diary being published after the war. Out of the entire exhibition, it wasn't the annex itself or any of the preserved artifacts that got me the most - it was hearing about Otto surviving the war and finding out his entire family was gone, his discovery of the diary, and the looping video of a 1960s Otto talking about the daughter he had lived with and the daughter he had discovered through the pages she had written. Dang.

And as was to inevitably occur, I then thrust myself out into the light of day and made my way to the Canal Bus, a boat transport I was fully planning on taking down to the Van Gogh museum. I inquired about tickets and route at their kiosk stop and the young guy behind the counter couldn't stop laughing and I couldn't tell if he was stoned or just pleasantly odd - our conversation went something like "Is this the right place to get the canal Bus down to the Van Gogh museum?"
"Yes ha ha ha! Follow this green route you can see on this map ha ha ha! And then when you are done you can get right back on with the same ticket ha ha ha! No need to buy a new ticket ha ha ha! My brother works down at that kiosk ha ha ha! And my OTHER brother works at a different station ha ha ha!"
"Wow! Do ALL your siblings work for the canal bus?"
"No ha ha ha! My sister works in a hospital ha ha ha! She is a doctor ha ha ha!"
"How fantastic! And, with that information, I'd like to purchase a ticket."
"Oh just one thing ha ha ha! You should know that the next bus isn't coming for 45 MINUTES ha ha ha! It would be faster to walk ha ha ha!"
And so I took my two legs and powered myself to Van Gogh on foot.

My ticket also got me entry to their special exhibition - Van Gogh and the Colours of the Night - starring (ha ha ha), as you might be suspecting, that ever-popular dorm wall poster Starry Night. I felt pretty cultured as I had already SEEN Starry Night in person once before thanks to a certain Chicago friend and a certain Chicago exhibition. I'd say more about it but really, it was a bunch of paintings. I mean, really GOOD paintings, but I'm not entirely sure what I could say that would actually be interesting.

Moving on!

I was meeting up with my little touring group for lunch at 1:30, so off I gallivanted to the area around the Waag to find the small cafe we had agreed upon. I nabbed a free ride on a trolley (I didn't expect it to be free but I couldn't figure out how to pay for it) and then meandered through the red light district and Amsterdam's China Town before happening upon it. Here's a picture!! That's Lesley on the far left, our Amsterdam friend Robin sitting to the right and IN MOTION, and obviously there's John (feeling a bit sickly) sitting in the back.

The food was great, the service was great, and then off we went as a group to do some SHOPPING. The most entertaining part of THAT expedition was our hunt for appropriate Venice Carnevale attire - my most favorite part of our eventual costumery are the puffy shirts we all bought in a rainbow of colors. In fact, I like mine so much I've been wearing it for the entirety of the composition of this blog post and feeling like a matador. Ba da BING!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

In Which We Take a Minute to Catch Our Breath

So we're in Forest Row, England!! Lesley and I are sitting at a dimly lit pub table at Chequers Inn, catching up on email and figuring out what has been going on in the world since the last time we had the opportunity to find some sort of internet signal and a minute or two to utilize it. This morning we went to a Christian Community Church service. The entire chapel was purple (the walls, the chairs, the accents, the vestments) and it created a very soothing atmosphere. The purple mixed with the calming cadence of a priestly British accent mixed with the meditative quality of the service resulted in a soporific effect and I was very, very glad to have had those three cups of coffee before we set off (I have become an expert again at self-caffeination).

Last night we had dinner with some members of the Christian Community (in brief, this particular church is specifically anthroposophical, hence why my Jewy little self was spending so much time in religious circles). The dinner was held in a beautiful old house, the best part being the converted glassed-in porch off to the side of the living room - it was no longer a sitting area, but rather its tables and couches were strewn with a thick layer of hay and was now a hangout for the five sheep living on the property. When we opened the door to get a better look, the most adventurous one, Florence, poked her nose in to try and join the party. We were all so floopy and tired at that point it felt vaguely surreal and totally hilarious (and I completely forgot to get a picture of it). A sheep room is now on the ever growing list of Things to Have on John's Farm.

And! As yesterday was Valentine's Day we gathered together for lunch here at this inn and John invited his most favorite 98 year old lady friend to come join us (we bought her flowers). Also in our large Valentine's Day party was the Christian Community priest and his wife (also a priest) and their friend Galimir, a masseuse who was in town for rhythmic massage training and had a pretty fascinating life story taking him from a destitute Bulgaria to a more prosperous Czech Republic (it turned out his wife was also a Scorpio named Hannah - well, to be perfectly correct, she spells it "Hana", but still). He had such a good time he ran out and made a particular Bulgarian delicacy he had been telling us about and Nicholas (the priest) gave it to us today after the service as Galimir was on a flight back to the Czech Republic. Needless to say, with feta, philo dough and eggs being the main ingredient, it was pretty delicious.

Tomorrow we're off for some London sightseeing and general touristy carousing, then to Amsterdam, then to Venice, and then back to Crete. Whew!! Once I have a minute I fully plan on filling out these past few weeks because, frankly, they have been AWESOME. I feel lucky every day.

Monday, February 09, 2009

In Which We're On the Tour

I should probably be asleep right now, but instead I write a quick little entry saying I think I might spend the rest of my life touring farms. They are so much fun to VISIT!!! Also, I was glad to discover Limousin cows are still my favorite. They are so beautiful and tasty looking.

This last week has been fairly amazing, to say the least. The conference was wonderful and the farm touring has been just as good as I remembered, except this time we have a 9 seater van in which almost every seat is taken as we jaunt around Europe. Tomorrow we're off to Dottenfelderhof, yet another beautiful spot full of farmy beauty and vision.

I fully plan out flushing out this tour thus far a bit later. But dear lord, we're up and out again tomorrow for yet another action-packed day. Time to prepare.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

In Which I Encounter the Goetheanum

We did it! We made it to Dornach, Switzerland, home of the Goetheanum. It is the craziest building I have ever seen. Rarely do I have visceral reactions to architecture, but THIS building... oh dang. I don't even know if it's a POSITIVE reaction... I'm a little scared of it. It seems like it's going to maybe come ALIVE, and I don't know if it would work for the forces of good or evil. Luckily, we got here a day early so I've been able to creep around it a bit today, sniff it out and make sure we've reached a truce before things get going tomorrow morning. This is what it looks like:

I'm kind of a little bit excited about everything, by the way. So far everyone has been ridiculously interesting. I mean, there's plenty of time for that to change, but dang, so far SO GOOD. Whoooooo!!