Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Anchored

The other day as I was going through my suitcases, I found two notes: one from my mother when I was leaving Ohio last December and it said "Drive safely, we love you- see you in the Bahamas". And one from Dara that said "Have a great voyage, see you in May. I'll miss you".

Well, my loves....Summer has arrived, it's Memorial Day. I've now been back in New York for 18 days....except, it's quite surreal. It feels like I've already *had* my summer and it feels like it should be autumn now. Did I *really* sail around the entire world in 4 months? Did I skip the winter? Isn't it September tomorrow? Wasn't I just getting off the ship into Spain yesterday?

The rocking motion I had been feeling on land has started to become a blur. Falling asleep to the mystic moon reflecting on the black water is a distant memory. Waking up to the sun dancing on the ocean right outside my window seems to have been ages ago. The storms that played havoc on my stomach have turned into clear blue skies. The eastern horizon is behind me. The many metaphors of the sea are waning their way out of my vocabulary.

And admittedly, I've fallen a bit melancholy. The sea depth is a million feet, because I've been drowning in tears. I'm unsettled. I am still living out of two suitcases (which is how I found the notes aforementioned.) I am still not in my new apartment yet. I am still missing my shipboard friends like crazy. I see their faces on every stranger passing by. I call out their names. And the harried strangers give me a peculiar look and keep walking by me, through the mean, unforgiving streets of Manhattan.

But alas, there is some good news. The ship will be docked in Boston before it leaves on the Summer Voyage, so I will see approximately TEN of my closest Semester @ Sea Friends on June 12 in Boston for an alumnae reception. I will kiss them and hug them and squeeze them and maybe even bring a few of them back home with me, so I don't have to keep freaking out the strangers on the subways who look just like them, that I keep seeing every day. I take the subway these days, and I stare into space, daydreaming of the sea.

Finally this weekend I'll have my belongings loaded onto a moving truck from where it has been "wintering" in Ohio, back into the city, into my new Hellsgate apartment, which may be more permanent than I thought...... My boss Joe went with me last week to check out the neighborhood of the Brooklyn co-op at 11:30 AM on a Tuesday and we had some doubts. I'm not sure what it was, but I think maybe the dodgy looking drug dealers on the corner turned me off a little.....I'll write more about that later. Everything is up in the air in regards to that life-changing purchase. But at least I've got a place to go on June 1. (And I am forever grateful to Holly and especially to Dara who have generously been allowing me to sleep in their homes.)

The week before Memorial Day is always "Fleet Week" in New York City and the sailors take over Manhattan. I had been traveling on this holiday for the past two years (Alaska last year, Montreal the year before that) and I had to miss seeing these handsome sailors embracing the city that I love so much. This year I stayed local. And it was fantastic to be in the city that I call home on this holiday weekend. Memorial Day has new meaning to me, after sailing around the world and after learning more about the armed forces who have sacrificed so much to protect our country. After visiting Vietnam and the War Remnants Museum. After asking my Dad about his experience as a veteran and hearing his stories. Fleet Week itself has new meaning to me, after being on a ship myself for a small fraction of the time to which these generous sailors have devoted their lives.
Okay, that photo above is actually not from Fleet Week, but from Semester at Sea. This is Kostas, the First Officer on the ship, who was so sweet and handsome.

And I am happy again. My weekend went like this:

Friday- caught up with Fatima and had possibly the most proud moment in the history of parallel parking. I wedged her little red Dodge into a spot on 18th Street with less than an inch in front and an inch behind. (I let Fatima maneuver it out of there, later on. Thought it wouldn't be a good idea for me to try after a few beers.....)

Saturday- had brunch with Dara and my friend Chris. Worked a promotional gig for a really cool event called "Improv Everywhere" on Roosevelt Island (which by the way is beautiful.....New York's little hidden secret, an island tucked between Queens and Manhattan, floating in the east river, accessible by tram, which connects Manhattan to Roosevelt Island, like in the Spiderman movie.)
After the gig, I took the tram back to Manhattan, went to Chris's apartment, and there we watched the Mets game on his gigantic TV, and drank Blue Moons with a slice of orange. There is just something about Beer and baseball.......


Sunday- absolutely nothing, which suited me just fine!

Monday (today)- went to Elizabeth's house in Queens. She grilled out on her balcony. Then Holly swung by, picked us up and we went to Rockaway Beach (yes, like the one in the Ramone's song!) We got there after 7:00 PM and by that time the Memorial Day crowds cleared out. We dug our toes into the sand. I think that Rockaway Beach is another hidden gem of New York City. It was much cleaner than the beaches in Brooklyn and it was very surreal. You look one way and see the blue ocean that I've grown so accustomed to these past four months. And then you turn around and see the Manhattan Skyline.

Here are my friends Elizabeth and Holly on Rockaway Beach:


I love the ocean. I love the water. I love the sound of seagulls. I love looking out to sea. I love the smell of salt water. I love the way the squishy sand feels against my feet. I love seeing the silhouettes of ships sailing along the horizon.

And I love that I'll be back on the Explorer on June 12.

It just never gets old....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hellsgate

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
-Dante

I've hit the ground running since I landed in New York again. I've started back to work again. Bills are being paid. Friends are being caught up with. The apartment search is done.....basically.....but there's a twist to the story and it goes like this:

When my Mom picked me up at the final port in Fort Lauderdale she brought all of my mail from the past four months along with her. We drove to Miami and spent the night at the same hotel where I started my voyage. The day after I got back I was feeling pretty weepy and I spent most of the day under an umbrella on the beach, hiding behind big black sunglasses crying. I missed my friends. I didn't even get to say goodbye to some of them when we disembarked. I felt like I should be going right back to the ship that night, swiping in at the gangway, and sailing on my merry way to the next port, wherever that may be. They told us that we might experience something called "re-entry" (i.e. reverse culture shock and such) which I somehow thought I might be exempt from. Au contraire. I felt kinda lost for a few days. A sailor lost at sea. I am still feeling a little off.

So because of these feelings, I couldn't sleep that first night in Miami. So at 2:00 AM I sat in my bed at the Eden Roc Miami Beach, and went through all of my mail for the last four months. I almost discarded an envelope from an unfamiliar address, but after opening it I realized that I had won a housing lottery I entered last fall. Nyc.gov sponsors several lotteries for middle-income housing. Basically you have to make under a certain amount to qualify, so that folks can buy affordable housing in the city. I was so excited, because I could never afford to buy a co-op on my own in the city! So I woke my mom up to tell her and I think she was slightly confused, but also excited.

And it just so happened that my co-op interview was scheduled the day before I had to return back to work! (Which was yesterday). I had to bring all but my first born: bank statements, paycheck stubs, 401K statements, tax returns for the past three years, etc. Not an easy feat to drum all of this up after having been gone for four months! But I did it.

The co-op is in Bed-Sty in Brooklyn. A neighborhood with a rough history, but still has potential, just like all of the other up & coming neighborhoods in the city. And it is a brand new development, not even finished being built yet. And the best part is that I can sell it at market value, which is more than double what I will be paying for it!

So now I wait. A bank has to review my paperwork, check my credit, check my background, etc. And I'll know in about two weeks if I get to purchase. And then I make a decision if I want to live in Bed-Sty. The place is still under construction, so I can't visit the actual building yet.

In the meantime, I signed a lease for a place to live on the border of Upper East Side and Spanish Harlem. It's a roomy one-bedroom and I am excited to not be in Inwood anymore (please see blog archives about the nightmare of a neighborhood where I came from.) So this new neighborhood is on a blurry border of two other neighborhoods, but I noticed the post office around the way is called "Hellsgate Station". Hellsgate is also the name of a bridge nearby. So I decided just to start calling my neighborhood Hellsgate. It's catchy, no? In fact, when I lived in the north part of Chelsea, I started calling it NoChe (NOrth CHElsea.) Noche means "night" in Spanish. I thought it was cute. It never stuck though......maybe this one will.

Lease starts June 1 and soon I will go home to the place where angels dare to tread: Hellsgate.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Full Circle

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” - Jack Kerouac

Okay, so we had a Staff Social, and I just drank a bunch of margaritas and now I am sitting in Logistical and "Cultural" pre-port for Fort Lauderdale. It is a spoof on all the other pre-ports we've had. The "Duty Dean" is my dad, apparently.... and the Field office is at the beach. (I was really hoping to get on the Walking Tour of the Fort Lauderdale Airport, but it looks like I'll have to instead do a tour of an airport further away in Miami, where the national language is Spanish.) Things to be worried about in the United States of America are: Traveler's Diarrhea, Hypochondria, and Swine Flu. The exchange rate is really crappy. In fact, at this point, most restaurants prefer Canadian dollars. Bartering is not widely practiced in this country.

I just learned that I have to drop off my luggage tomorrow at noon, and I haven't even started to pack yet. And at this point, I wonder how that feat is going to be accomplished after all the margaritas......And I have to fill out the customs form. So if you ever want to complain about filling out the form you get on the plane, I don't have much sympathy. Try doing a customs form for 13 different countries visited. And if I spent over $800 on souveniers I have to pay some sort of fee.

We have come full-circle, my friends. Than you so much for following my journey. In closing, here are some photos from the Ambassador's Ball last night with my colleagues and with some of my students, as well as some other photos around the ship and from the Panama Canal crossing. In fact- my "son" Will from my "Extended Family" on the ship told me the other night that his "real" mom found my blog! So for her, I am posting a photo with Will and Walsh, two of the sweetest students I've met ever met!
Janetta and Me. I have a feeling we're going to cross paths again.....
Grace and me. Grace lives on my "sea" and is a very sweet student:

Linus, Laz, and Dougie. (Those are their nicknames):
One of my "daughters", Jess and me:

Jonathan Katz, Issaiah and me. Jonathan is HiLaRiOuS....mark my word, he will be famous one day:
Another "son", Bobby and me:
One of my favorite peeps, Biscuit and me:
Another one of my favorite peeps, Jason from the "home office":

'Bama and me. She bleeds "roll tide" blood and praises Bear Bryant:
All the students catching tan, as we traversed the Panama Canal:
We saw ourselves crossing the Panama Canal on the computer!
See!?
Zella loves me.
Et moi!

Dress: Custom tailored in Vietnam $75
Earrings: Chinatown, New York, New York USA $1
Shoes: Chennai, India $10
Bracelet: A gift from Mexico
Understanding of the world: Global, Priceless

"The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be the beginning." –Ivy Baker Priest

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Man, A Plan, A Canal.....Panama

A Man, A Plan, A Canal.....Panama

Spell that whole phrase backwards and what do you get?  

So on May 3 (tomorrow) we will be traveling through the Panama Canal and you can watch it happen via live webcam:

Cool, right?  It should take us about 9 hours to get through the whole canal and I think we'll enter around 9:15 AM or so.  

The rest of Guatemala was lovely.  What a beautiful country.  I love Central America and I would love to go back and spend more time there.  Three days just wasn't enough time.  There were active volcanoes and beautiful flor and fauna everywhere.  We pulled over to the side of the road to take this photo of the erupting volcano: 


Three days ago I went to the black sand beach and two days ago I went to Antigua for a Mayan calendar workshop.  Antigua was absolutely charming.  Cobblestone streets, old buildings and churches, a fantastic park with fountains in the town square and of course coffee.  

After the calendar workshop, we had a couple hours of free time before heading back to the ship.  Janetta happened to be in Antigua too with another Semester @ Sea trip.  She was calling my name as I was walking through this beautiful little courtyard, and it was so wonderful to find my friend in a foreign town.  So we sat down and had a rich, wonderful cup of coffee and rich, wonderful conversation. 

We have truly come full circle.  In late January, Biscuit Zella and I were jumping on the beach in Spain (Tarifa).  And the other day we were jumping on the beach in Guatemala (Monterico).  There were a lot of parallels.  Same three friends.  Same jumping with our arms up. Same language spoken in both countries.  Same beach setting.  


I felt a peaceful sort of zen yesterday in Antigua.  It was nice and cool there, which was refreshing after being in the scalding sand on the hot, hot beach.  I learned about my birthday in the Mayan world.  They use a 260 day calendar.   They believe that everything was created from corn.  They blend this belief with Roman Catholicism to create an incredibly interesting and unique religion.  So if you wonder if the world is ending in 2012, based on the Mayan calendar, you're not alone.  Those Mayans were smart and they predicted many things.  The world ending in 2012 has been discussed for centuries.  The instructor believes that 2012 will mark the end of the Corn Era.  

The beach was extremely hot and I had blisters on my feet from the sand.  It was like running through hot charcoals.  The waves were ten feet.  There was a very dangerous undertow.   But Biscuit and I were pretty happy to be spending one of our last days on this journey in this spot:

May not be the end of the Corn Era for me, but it's almost the end of the Semester at Sea Era. Four more days until I start my next journey......and the saga continues.....