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Post-Sea Sickness

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About half a dozen people, when I mentioned that I was going on a cruise, asked me if I had ever read "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" by David Foster Wallace (who, like me, is a graduate of the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Arizona but who, unlike me, is fabulously wealthy and famous), an essay talking about how cruises aren't really that great after all. I have not read that essay, though I'll track it down now, but I have to say that I had a FABULOUS time on my cruise to Alaska and would do it again in a heartbeat.

This is not to say that every aspect of the trip was ideal: for one thing, I got tired of being expected to pose for photographs, with guys in polar bear or eagle suits, and to then pay $7.95 for said photos. The coffee was generally lousy. The DJ in the nightclub was annoying and played crappy music. (More on that later.) The hot tubs were closed for cleaning half the trip, because a case of stomach flu was going around and the staff was anxious to contain it (more on that later too)--this is also why they wouldn't leave salt and pepper shakers on the table. But those are small things, and I had to sit here and think for a moment in order to come up with that list of disappointments.

I could list a lot of great things about the trip, and I will, eventually. But right now I'm kind of focused on the fact that while I was lucky enough not to get sick on the boat, I started puking my toe nails up around 10 p.m. last night. As I couldn't even keep water down, I had a crappy night. However, several hours have passed since I last vomited my guts out and I just moved up to Gatorade, which I fear may have been a mistake....

I really did have a great trip, and I really would like to do it again, gastro-intestinal distress notwithstanding. But this stomach thing is a bummer, you know, because I was planning to hang out with Jim today, but for obvious reasons we would all prefer that I not pass this bug on to his toddler. That means I'm stuck imposing on my friends H&K some more. They are very gracious and accommodating hosts, but who wants a sick person running from the bathroom to the guest room?

Anyway. I'm going to lie down again.... But expect more about the trip soon.

Bon Voyage

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I'm in Seattle right now--have been since Thursday. I've been staying with H&K, H being one of the few friends from my undergraduate days I'm still in touch with and K being his wife. We actually fell out of contact for, like, a decade, but a couple of years ago I decided to google H, found a phone number that worked, and this is the second time I've stayed in their guest room since then. They're a lot of fun.

Yesterday K & I were at Pike Place Market and I heard someone say, "Oh, look, there's Holly!" I thought, "Huh, so there's someone else named Holly around," and then this woman came up and hugged me and I realized it was my sister.

"How did you recognize me?" I asked. She looked at me for a moment as if she didn't recognize me, then said, "Well, you look exactly like you did at Christmas."

"So do you," I said. "It's just, I don't know; I didn't expect to see you here."

But it's not really all that weird that my sister would be here, because to tell the truth she's here for the same reason I am.

Where I've Been


Very nearly everyone is sharing their own version of these maps, which let you highlight all the countries, states, provinces etc you've been to. Here's my world map:

create your own visited country map

Well, I guess I've been a few places, haven't I, though there's a real problem with the southern half of the globe--I've never been south of the equator. I think managing that has just become a goal. I've always wanted to go to Kenya, and I'm pretty hot to get to Australia as well--I love beautiful deserts, and Kenya and Australia have those. So I'd best find a way to get there.

As for the northern half of the globe--the map above makes it look like I've been all over North America, when in fact I haven't. All of Canada is blocked in, but I've only been to Toronto. That will change this summer, however, when I go on a cruise to Alaska with my family and we stop in British Columbia (which I have long wanted to see).

There's also that itty bitty white space known as Switzerland fouling up the middle of my map of Europe--I really should go there, considering that one of my aunts is Swiss and one of my cousins was born there. Soon....

Here's a map of the states I've been to:

create your own personalized map of the USA

That's right, I've never really been to Nevada even though I grew up in a state bordering it, because I'm not counting states where I've never ventured beyond the airport. I once spent a hellish night in the Las Vegas airport thanks to America West Airlines, but I don't think that counts. Same goes for Michigan: I've flown in and out of Detroit dozens of times, but I've never left the terminal.

You can also see I haven't been to the far northeast reaches of the US. I was born on the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, and I like history, so I've always been keen to get to Boston, but somehow I haven't done it.

What really bugs me about this map is that North Dakota is unmarked. I took a little trip with a friend a decade ago or so, and we went to Devil's Tower and Mount Rushmore and such and we could have driven into North Dakota and I could have added it to my map, but my friend was driving her car and she had already been there and didn't want to go again, so we didn't. Chances are good I may never make it back there--who just ups and goes to North Dakota? Sure as hell not me.

Baby, It's Cold Outside


It's been cold lately where I live. Saturday afternoon I had to run some errands and it was 15 degrees F (-9 C) when I left my house. As I flexed my chilly fingers inside my gloves so they'd retain the ability to move and checked the temperature gauge of my car every few seconds to see if the engine was warm enough that I could turn the heat on, I thought to myself, "OK, I remember now: this is what it feels like when it's butt-bustingly cold!"

I've learned this about cold climes: if it's near freezing, you can still have an OK time if you must go outside: you can bundle up for a long walk, or shovel your driveway sans hat, or amble across the street without gloves to ask your neighbor if he'll babysit your cat, and it can actually be pleasant in a bracing, wouldn't-want-to-do-it-everyday-but-this-once-was-fine sort of way. But once it drops to about 25 degrees (-3 C), going outside for anything but a nano-second will suck. And when it gets below zero (-18 C), well, then it REALLY sucks. No matter how many clothes you wear, you're still going to be cold. You might not freeze to death, but you won't feel like stopping to chat with a neighbor. You also won't want to take off your gloves to root around in your pocket for your keys, so make sure you know where they are before you walk out the door. Try to pee before you go out as well, because it's disconcerting to drop your pants and discover that even though it's been covered by underwear, thermal underwear, jeans and a long coat, your ass has become downright icy.

I lived through a few spectacularly dreadful winters in Iowa. In January 1994, it was so cold that all the universities in the state--with the exception of the one I studied at--canceled class: the actual high temperature was near -20 F (-29 C); the wind chill factor made it feel like it -55 F (-48 C). To paraphrase a report I heard on the radio, when it's that cold, "You shouldn't go outside if you can possibly help it, and if you must go outside, be sure to cover every inch of you, because at these temperatures, exposed skin can freeze within 30 seconds."

Home Again

As you'll no doubt have surmised if you read my entry about what happened when I picked up my mail, I'm home. I left my sister's house in Mesa well before dawn on Tuesday and got back to my house in northwestern Pennsylvania well after dark. I can't say my trip home was anything approaching an ordeal: the only problems were that 1) the airport was PACKED and getting through security took about as long and involved as much standing around and responding to the commands of officials in silly uniforms as a college football game, because the Fiesta Bowl had been the day before and seemingly every last person who went to the damn game had a flight out of Phoenix the same time as mine; and 2) my flight was delayed about 30 minutes because we couldn't leave without our flight attendants, who got stuck in traffic on the freeway. But once they showed up, everything was fine: I made my connection on time; my suitcase rolled onto the conveyor belt early and intact; the weather here in PA was OK (rain rather than snow); I didn't have to call a cab because there was already one waiting, blah blah blah.

Back at my house, I was greeted by Dinah, my cat, who was yowling and needy and distressed with me for leaving her, albeit healthy and well-fed thanks to my extremely reliable neighbors. My plants were all alive and aside from the cats toys scattered all over the living room floor, the place was pretty tidy (I always straighten up before I leave, because I hate coming home to a messy house), and I was really glad to be home, blah blah blah.

I AM glad to be home, really and truly. But I never enjoy the first day or two after I get home from a long journey, because there's just so freakin' much to do, and most of it isn't that fun (i.e., spending three hours sorting through a gigantic stack of mail). I generally find the outbound part of a journey much more pleasant and pleasing than the return. Outbound, my suitcase is filled with clean clothes and gifts I'm excited to give someone; I feel virtuous and entitled to fun because I've arranged for business to go on without me for a week or two; most of all, I'm looking forward to spending time with people I haven't seen in a good long while. But on the trip home, I've got a suitcase full of dirty laundry and souvenirs I'm not sure I should have bought; I'm a bit apprehensive about how long it will take me to catch up on the work I've been ignoring; I am well aware that it might be a very long time before I again see the people I've just said good-bye to.

But oh well. A far worse option than dealing with all that would be never going anywhere in the first place.

At this point I've pretty much put my life back in order. I've restocked my refrigerator and cupboards; I've done four loads of laundry; I've gone in to campus and turned in my syllabi to be copied, because classes start Monday. (That's right, Monday, January 9th. Most other universities start January 17th, after Martin Luther King Day. Not my institution, unfortunately, because I could really use another week to get ready for what will be a very busy semester.) And now I think I'm ready to stay home for a while--I have no trips planned until May. Because although I would hate it if I never traveled again, a few months of sleeping every night in my own extremely comfortable bed (the thing I've liked best about being home has been waking up each morning in MY BED, not a bed vacated by one of my nieces so I wouldn't have to sleep on the couch) seems pretty damn appealing.

Curbside Delivery

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I'll soon be flying back to Arizona so I can hang out with my family for Christmas. I'm excited about it, for several reasons: 1) I have all these really cute nieces and nephews that I haven't seen since last Christmas; 2) I'll get to see Wayne, who will also be visiting his family in Arizona; 3) the highs in Tucson are supposed to be around 75 degrees (that's 24 Celsius, for those of you lucky enough to live someplace that doesn't use Fahrenheit, the stupidest of all non-metric measurements), which is a hell of a lot better than 25 F (-4 C).

What I'm not so excited about is the getting there part. I'm not the least bit afraid of being 31,000 feet above the earth in a big metal tube, but I don't like sitting around at the gate, waiting to get on and off that metal tube. I don't like being cramped for several hours in a seat next to a person who as often as not hogs the armrest. I don't like entrusting a suitcase full of my stuff to people I don't know. I don't getting to and from the airport.

I had a hell of a time finding a decent flight this trip--actually, I FAILED to find a decent flight this trip. My plane leaves at 6 a.m., which means I need to be to the airport around 5 a.m. The shuttle service I used to use is in the process of going out of business, and only delivers you to the airport if you want to get there during "convenient" times. 5 a.m. ain't convenient.

So I begged a ride from my friend Tom, who not only said he'd do me this favor, but didn't even seem to think I was being unreasonable in asking it in the first place.

Last night I was thinking about how great it is that he's willing to do this for me, and how I should do something to make it up to him. But that reminded me of an incident long about 1994, when someone I'll call Arianna asked me to give her a ride to and from the airport in Iowa, promising me that in return she'd find some truly fabulous gift to bestow upon me in recognition of my generosity.

Welcome Home


Monday I got up at six a.m. so I could leave for the Brussels train station at 7 a.m. to catch my 7:52 a.m. train to the Paris Airport. It was a train de grand vitesse (a really fast train) and it traveled the distance between Brussels and CDG (about 270 kilometers, or 170 miles) in under an hour and twenty minutes.

So at about 9:15 I descended from the train, then ascended the escalator into the airport and what a nasty shock that was, about like having someone's laptop fall on your face when you open the overhead compartment at the end of a flight and all the items stowed during the trip have shifted. I've been to quite a few airports in my life, and usually there's some kind of prominent signage telling you what terminal various airlines use. Not so in Roissy-Charle de Gaulle! You need to arrive at the airport already familiar with its layout, especially since the few "Information" desks randomly dotting the terminals tend to be closed.

Someplace High in Paris


A week ago Monday morning Matt and I visited a Parisian landmark I neglected to see on my first visit to Paris 21 years ago. I don't know why I didn't go before; I just didn't. But it was very cool to see the Eiffel Tower up close, and to gaze down on Paris from a height of over 300 meters.

Here I am:


Here's Matt:


Hosts and Guests


Sunday was my last full day in Brussels. I was sitting at Matt's computer doing my email when he walked in to say good morning. We began discussing what we'd do on my last day, and I felt compelled to ask him if I'd been an OK guest.

He frowned for a moment, then nodded. "You've been an OK guest," he said, emphasizing the "OK" while looking away. Then he looked right at me. "You're not the easiest person to live with."

I frowned and nodded myself. I already knew this. At this point in my life I generally find other people hard to live with, and I figure it must work both ways. I'm very habituated to living alone, to managing my money, my space, my stuff and my time as I see fit. I first did it when I was 23, after my mission (which involved as little privacy as possible--you're allowed to use the bathroom on your own, but the rest of your time is supposed to be spent in the presence of an assigned partner, so you have fewer opportunities to break the rules). The parents of one of my friends in Tucson had a studio apartment they offered to rent me, and it seemed like a good place to live while I finished my bachelor's degree. I was surprised at how much I liked living alone. Yes, I was often lonely, but there are many, many worse things in life than loneliness, and one of them is sharing a kitchen with someone who never does the dishes, either properly or at all.

Il neige

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Brussels has been hit by a freak snowstorm.

According to a Francophone newspaper I'm not going to link to because so few of my readers read French, the storm this weekend was one of the three most severe of the previous 100 years--for this time of year, anyway. Brusssels doesn't normally get 10 to 15 centimeters of snow in late November. (Actually, it rarely gets 10 to 15 centimeters of snow, but it's more likely in January or so than in November.) We woke this morning to--that's right, you guessed it--a winter wonderland, and I convinced Matt to take photos of the view from his balcony.

Here's a view from the guestroom balcony, which faces east:


I find the chimneys and snow-covered pitched roofs quite charming.

To the east of Matt's apartment is this lovely park. In mid-morning it was full of children sledding and building snow people.


Here's the street to the northwest:


Below is the view to the northeast--the dome at the right is the Palais de Justice.



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