It was 1991. I spent a lovely week in Paris. Alone and loving it. I didn’t worry about the fact that Europe was exploding around me.
It wasn’t exploding in Paris. At least as far as I could see. Only in Eastern Europe, Russia and where I was heading. And that was okay with me because I didn’t read the papers. And I barely spoke the language. They could have dropped a bomb on Barcelona and I would’nt have known it. I was in my own little heaven. Like some kind of jerk.
But that’s a tourist, right? Oh man. I could go to Syria right now and be placidly drinking coffee and eating fattoush in Latakia while people shot shells across the street because I was ON VACATION! That ticket is NON-refundable and I’m going. Like a jerk. I’d be asking people
‘Pardon me? Do you speak english? Czy mówi Pan po angielsku…no? Not Polish either? Darn it.’ Then I would be sure to shout ‘Where’s the beach? THE BEACH…EL SWIMMING POOLIO…’
‘Oh…I’ll bet they just said that screaming it doesn’t help. That was TOTALLY my boyfriends look when I served the creamed corn spaghetti sauce.’ (HEY! It could have been good. I mixed it with cream cheese and…oh never mind…honestly.)
‘Patiotism is the virtue of the vicious.’ Oscar Wilde.
I am just going to say here that I don’t know what to think about Syria. I think, personally, that Assad should step down. Or be shoved off his perch. But this post is not about Syria. I’ll leave that to the people who know what is going on over there. If anyone over there or here does. Obama and his People seem to think they do. Sending over weapons? Is that good? Is peace at any cost good? Should everyone just let Assad…no no no..I will NOT start spouting opinions as if I know anything or as if I am Jim Nachtwey (have so much respect for him-also tiny crush)
Here is what is germane to this post.
In 1516, the Ottoman Empire invaded the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt, conquering Syria, and Damascus was made the major entrepot for Mecca, and as such it acquired a holy character to Muslims, because of the baraka (spiritual force or blessing) of the countless pilgrims who passed through on the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. Tourists.
Essentially, they were tourists. Syria is a place I’ve always wanted to go and now I might have to wait!
Did you know that Damascus is the oldest most continuously occupied city in the whole world? As in lived in, not ‘Occupied’. Although they had thier share of that, too. THEY had the first tourists! Poor Damascus…I can imagine them 10,000 years ago.
Some yahoo like me screaming “POOLIO!! EL POOLIO!’
‘Can you draw a PICTURE of me and my husband? Here’s a pen…”
‘Is this SPICY?! I have an ulcer…’
‘Was this fruit washed? WASHED?! DO you speak ARAMAIC!?’
…and there are people there who still do speak it…so there you have it. The literacy rate of Syrians aged 15 and older is 90.7% for males and 82.2% for females. That’s pretty damned good. As a potential tourist I am already ashamed of myself. So…where was I?
Oh yeah…my trip. God what a rube I was. But a rube with a naturally suspicious nature cultivated as a result of growing up in Hollywood
CA and realizing that men were pigs. Sorry men. It’s true. I made sweeping generalizations back then. Now…only some men are pigs. Like maybe 59.87% of them. Don’t give me some knee jerk reaction either. Just read Donofalltrades posts. Sorry Don. Love your blog.
However any European man trying to ‘make the eyes at me’, to quote Granny Mary, was in for a rough time. There would be NO making of eyes.
And then my mix tapes got stolen.
My mix tapes…I don’t have to tell you the magnitude of that theft, do I? This was before cell phones got small and there were cd’s. At least for the likes of me.
I spent months agonizing over songs, the order they played, the cover art. I made mix tapes for potential friends I would make, I made a special mix tape for me and my boyfriend, Leszek, whom I was going to meet up with in Gdansk. Yes…STOLEN!
By some Romany hunk with gorgeous eyes, green as glass, and eyelashes a mile long (I was thinking how like MY eyes they were and wondering if Granny Mary was correct about us being 100% Irish on her side) Yes I fell for the oldest damned trick in the book. As I pointed out the correct train platform (as IF I knew it!) I had my back to my suitcase, with my mixtapes case bungee corded on top, and Swoop! there they must have gone. I didn’t see it. He thanked me profusely and off he went.
While someone behind me stole my tapes. Boy was I mad. Hopping mad. Now I know what that means.
Fortunately, I had one tape in the Walkman and I had two more in my suitcase pocket. One of them was Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison etc…from that era. One of my ‘friend tapes’ to give away. The other was heavy metal, made at the request of Leszek, to give to someone he knew. So I had that. I hated metal. It was hard to make that tape because I had to ask around a lot and find people who had records I could tape off of. Naturally, that one didn’t get stolen. But the Talking Heads did. Van Morrison. Peter Gabriel. Chet Baker…all my JAZZ! Damn, it still makes me mad!
I was in EUROPE with no JAZZ! No music!
All because I didn’t listen to Granny Mary and I fell for the old ‘making the eyes’ trick.
Boy. I am a moron. Because Jazz may have started off in America, but the Europeans took off and RAN with it. There is some wicked good jazz over there. Good music period full stop. Even if they are singing in French. Or Spanish. German rock was…umm..hmmm…scary? They sounded like Rob Zombie, all of them. As if they needed a cough drop. Anyway the jazz was delicious in Germany. I listened to the radio everywhere I went after that and it was brilliant. I want to shake that handsome man’s hand and slap him with the other.
BUt that’s the way it goes. Tourists. I was a tourist and someone out there may have had their first exposure to excellent jazz because of me. And Big Band swing. They may have heard ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy’ for the first time or ‘One O’Clock Jump’ with Gene Krupa on drums and Harry James on trumpet. Or Count Basie or Duke Ellington. Maybe Dinah Washington or Billie Holiday. In return I got Edith Piaf, Djano Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli in France. Germany I heard about Eberhardt Weber. Spain I discovered The Gypsy Kings and Paco de Lucia.
Yes. From bad things come good things.
So having cancer and sitting here getting a blood transfusion as I write this, Ive been lying here since 8:30 am and it’s now 6:06 and I STILL have blood dripping into me because my white blood cell count is sooooo low, it is a good thing. I know it. I can feel it.
Everything happens so you can learn a lesson. My lesson then? Listen to the radio, stop swearing and watch out for the ‘making the eyes guys.’
My lesson today?
Patience. Soon this too shall pass.
And I STILL don’t have anything to complain about…all I have to do is imagine the day there is peace in the Levant and I can go there and scream
“DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH??”
It makes me smile.