Monday, November 19, 2012

This blog is about being naked- but you have to read the entire thing- that part is at the end.

Writing this blog is bringing back a wave of nostalgia.  When I was on Semester at Sea in 2009, I would return to the ship, ready to sail away to the next exotic port, after exploring some other brilliant foreign country and my head would be exploding with ideas.  My brain was a cacophony of thoughts, songs, phrases, stories, and anecdotes, begging to be translated into words.  I felt that feeling again after my trip to Turkey this past week.  Some of you may remember back in January of 2009, Istanbul was indeed on my itinerary.  But Italy, Turkey and Egypt were omitted and replaced with Morocco, Namibia, South Africa, and Mauritius.  There were pirates attacking the waters below the Suez Canal at that time, so they deemed it unsafe, and rerouted us to trek around Africa in the opposite direction.  Since then I promised myself that I would visit the three countries that were omitted from the original journey.  Sidenote: I have only been to Italy briefly- there is a stamp on my passport, but it was just to go through a tunnel that briefly traversed part of Italy to get us from one part of France to another part of France.  Since this is a large part of my heritage, it is a little ridiculous that I've never been there yet.  I mean who, pray-tell has been to India, but never been to Italy?  A lot of folks, I suppose.  But for me, it seems absurd.

After referring to past blogs, I struggled to come up with a title for this blog.  My blog from Marrakesh was called "Bazaar Things", which would have been appropriate for this blog as well.  But I can't just recycle old blogs.  Fresh, exciting, new and vibrant is key for writers.  At this point I haven't come up with a title, so I am hoping it will come to me before the end of this weblog is complete.

At any rate, let's get back to the topic at hand: Turkey. Yes, Turkey.  Istanbul.  Byzantium. Constantinople.  (My girlfriends and I prefer to call it the latter.  It sounds much more exotic and historic that way. I pondered whether this might be offensive to some people, as the Ottoman Turks overthrew the Empire in 1453.  But then I suppose, it's no more offensive than simply referring to New York as New Amsterdam. I highly doubt the Dutch are offended if someone happens to call it New Amsterdam. But who does that, really?  Maybe I shall start.  I digress....)  I traveled to Constantinople with two other very well-traveled flight attendants, Amber and Sinthya.  We boarded a Boeing 767 and were well on our way.  Since I have not taken advantage of my generous international travel benefits to the extent that I could, I was very much looking forward to doing so on this trip. So here we are left to right, Sinthya, Amber, Laurie, taking full advantage of our travel bennies:
 
The flight was very modest- we were seated in economy cabin, but we each had an entire row to ourselves.  And the Flight Attendants couldn't have been kinder and more accommodating.  We were hoping for Business First, but we didn't get the upgrade (this time).  The hotel on the other hand, was a luxury in every single way, shape, and form.  We opted to stay at the Ritz Carlton.  I will be forever spoiled by that hotel, and my standards for comfort and luxury have risen in a ridiculous way- which is unfortunate, since I spend about 1/3 of every month living in hotels. (Don't get me wrong- my airline provides nice, clean, comfortable, safe  Hiltons, Hyatts, Westons, Marriots, etc. on layovers. But they do not provide the amenities of the Istanbul Ritz Carlton.) It sat upon a hill, overlooking the Bosphorus.  Our room was on the Club Level and each day we were treated with a buffet of Turkish Delights, apple tea, cherry juice, wines, liquors, and everything else under the sun.  We had our own personal concierge, Gokahn.  We kept forgetting his name, so we just renamed him "Tim".  On Tim's day off, there was another professional, friendly concierge available for us, so we named him Tim2, then realized it was more fun to call him TumBuk2 instead.

Some mornings it was simply impossible to get out of bed.  The beds were adorned with million thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets and the mattresses may as well have been crafted for someone as noble as Constantine himself.  Those beds were like magnets, seducing us with their comfort.  Paralyzing us.  Holding us hostage.  But there is something you must understand- the Flight Attendant lifestyle requires a lot of sleep.  One goes through many time zones.  Many foreign lands.  Many uncomfortable beds.  So when one finds a good one, one must take advantage.  We did just that.

Once we did get out of bed, there were many sights, sounds foods, culture to be admired.  I will break them down:

CISTERNS: Now THIS was right up my alley (Or perhaps down below my alley.)  These haunting caverns were built down below the streets.  Justinian built this marvelous water storage system during the Byzantine Empire.  It feels like you're wandering through Dante's inferno, what with the smell of damp caves and the gentle echo of the water that enters from above. There are these ghostly fish that sashay through the waters. Although there were many tourists there, I felt somewhat captivated by the eerie and dark surroundings and at complete peace.  It reminded me a little bit of Indiana Jones.  I wish I could have stayed there forever.
 

CALL TO PRAYER: You can hear the call to prayer several times a day. It's intoxicating, but it means nothing to me because I am not Muslim. All I know is that it sounds haunting, remorseful. It echoes through the all the streets of Constantinople and is really quite beautiful and magical.  The sound is beguiling.  It is difficult not to stop what you're doing and just listen.  I don't know if this is blasphemy or not, but here are Amber and I doing our best to blend with the local culture and religion:


GRAND BAZAAR AND SPICE MARKET: I'll just post a picture, which will suffice more than words.  Basically: a bunch of vendors crammed into an open arena, selling their overpriced wares, rugs, Turkish delights, saphron, jewelry, everything begging to be negotiated.  "Pretty Angel.  I give you good price."  Good price, my ass. I think you buy these hands of Fatima for .10 US dollars and upsell them tenfold. 

 
While my friend Amber was negotiating the price of rugs, the Call to Prayer happened.  She asked the salesman, "Don't you have to go pray?"

"Nah", he replied, "Good people pray.  Bad people sell carpets."  


WHIRLING DERVISHES: This is a very unique phenomenon.  It features a spiritual ascent, which essentially means men spinning around in a circle in this trance-like mode.  Frankly, it kind of freaked me out.  They were wearing these heavy robes and some of them had their eyes rolled back in their heads.  They never stopped spinning for like a solid hour.  I probably would have puked.  The highlight was our friend Sinthya opening a gum wrapper, which caused people to turn around and glare at her.  I don't think she caused them to break their trances, though. 

THE AIR:   Instead of pollution, I smell incense. It's almost tactile, the smell; its spicy aroma soaks into the architecture, the cement, and every structure.  The city inhales and exhales incense.  And every once in awhile you get a whiff of chestnuts roasting.  Or of the doner, which is this tasty shish-kebob with lamb and tomato and cucumber.  Or of salty sea air.  Or of sweaty Turks......


SMOKING:  Everyone smokes in Constantinople.  Turkish cigarettes are strong.  The package looks like this.  This packaging captures either: death or a spa treatment or a woman who lost her hijab and was in serious distress. 


THE FOOD: Turkish Delights. Baklava. Cucumber. Olives. Tomato.  Olive oil.  Lamb.  Greek yogurt.  More baklava.  In case you didn't know, Turkish delights are these mushy gelled candies that taste like Pistachio or Hazelnut, or Rose.  Sometimes they have a pistachio in the middle of them. 
 
I don't know what else to say.  I can't even say more if I want to, because I'm too hungry.  So hungry that I am about to go into my own kitchen and pour olive oil all over myself.......

THE HAMAM-THIS IS THE NAKED PART: So the hamam is this ancient Turkish Bath.  We went to the Ayasophia bath house, which was built in 1556.  There are men's quarters and women's quarters.  We accidentally went into the Men's quarters at first, because it was not very well marked.  Turks are somewhat modest when it comes to clothing, so the Reception guy rushed us out of there right away.  No fun.  But women are persona non grata.  And likewise for men on the women's side. 

So the Basilica Hamam looked like a beautiful temple.  White marble columns and golden faucets.  Domed ceilings.  Arch buttress. 

So what you do is take off all of your clothes.  There are naked women everywhere.  The room is very warm and steamy like a sauna. (Wait- I always get confused.  Is the sauna dry heat or is that the one that is like a steam room? Either way, this room is steamy.  There is fog rolling off the walls and off the floors.) This old Turkish lady comes to get you.  The Turkish lady looks not dissimilar from the Greek women at this Greek Orthodox church from my childhood,  where there used to be a Greek Festival and the old ladies of the church made the baklava.  But these women were Turkish, not Greek.  And I'm fairly certain it wouldn't make them happy to compare one to the other.  So the Turkish women- they come to get you.  And they had the equivalent of a small towel wrapped around their bodies.  So your personal lady escorts your naked body.  She sits you down at one of the sinks and pours bowls full of warm water all over you.  Then she takes you by the hand, and ushers your naked body to this marble slab in the middle of the room (pictured above).  She instructs you to lie down and she puts a towel beneath your head. She then scrubs you down with this salt and olive oil concoction.  It feels really nice.  She makes sure to get every crevice covered.  I wasn't certain whether to feel violated or relaxed.  Fortunately I had some wine before my treatment, so I opted for the "relaxed" mode.  There were some crevices that I was uncertain about- can salt and olive oil *really* be good in every opening of your body????

I'll admit, I was a little nervous at first.  Unless it's someone that I'm dating and that I'm really comfortable with and all the lights are off, I'm not too comfortable being naked in front of others.  I wonder if everything is firm enough.  If everything is in place.  If everything is shaved perfectly.  If I am sitting in a way as not to expose my rolls of flab.  (This is getting personal.) 

So there are naked women all around getting the same treatments done.  It is hard not to stare. After you are scrubbed, the towel-adorned Turkish woman escorts you to Phase Two: the Mask.   Your personal Turk rinses the salt scrub off at the sink, again pouring water over your body, and then takes this green gunk, which smells like olive oil and she rubs it all over your body and instructs you to sit still.  It is really quite relaxing.  The walls and your seat are heated and there is still a bunch of steam surrounding you.  The mask begins to harden.  It is very much like the Cat Woman- all the other women in skin-tight masks sitting against the heated walls, waiting for Phase 3. 

Phase 3 is the rinsing and the suds.  You stand up and your personal Turk rinses your body.  There is Green gunk everywhere, seeping into the gutters.  You are fully exposed.  Naked.  Surrounded by other women at their own personal sinks.  Then the suds portion starts.  You are adorned with bubbly bliss.  Soap bubbles oozing down your entire body.  It is like a champagne bubble bath.  Bubbles on your body.  Bubbles in the air.  Bubbles on the Turkish ladies.  The air is so thick with bubbles, you can't even see the naked woman next to you anymore.  This part is the most exciting for me.  It is like your childhood bubble bath on steroids.   And you know what else?  The Turkish women sing as they do this.  It sounds not dissimilar from the Call to Prayer, as described above. 

And you know what?  I bet Turkish Muslim women love this.  They are often covered in their conservative hijabs and so UNexposed, that this must be completely liberating and wonderful to them.  Because it was wonderful to me.  And I am not even really that much of a conservative dresser.  I mean, I am not a NON-conservative, or risque' dresser either.  But I just dress normal.  And it was pretty fun to be completely naked.

So Phase 4 is the rinsing of the bubbles and wrapping you up in a towel.  They then give you Cherry Juice and escort you to this lounge chair.  You then wait for your massage.  They forgot about me for about 45 minutes, so I just lied down in the steamy room and relaxed, wrapped in my towel.  Eventually I asked if they had forgotten me.  They had indeed.  A different Turkish woman took me to a private room and took off my towel and massaged me for like 10 minutes.  I must say- I've had better massages.  She left the room and I was uncertain whether she was coming back or not.   Fortunately, I heard the voices of Amber and Sinthya outside the door.  "Get dressed. You're done." Amber instructed me. "The massage is short."

So I got dressed.  And we walked into the moonlit Istanbul night and boarded the subway back to our hotel.  It was a bewitching experience, and by far one of the highlights of this trip.

You know what else?  I forgot to write about the Blue Mosque. Oh well- it was closed when we got there. Not that important. Here's a picture instead. 

And we didn't even go to Aya Sofya. But I'm sure you guys don't care- you just skipped to the naked part of this blog.  I hope it was enjoyable.  And I hope you will continue to follow my journey. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Aller et retour

A few of you have been on my case lately, noting that I haven't written a blog in about six months.  And now it's October (Wait.  November?  Did that happen already?) and I've had plenty to write about, but just haven't done it.  In the past six months I've traveled leisurely to Quebec, Colonial Williamsburg/Busch Gardens, the mountains of North Carolina, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and not to mention New York and Raleigh countless times.  And of course a bunch of long layovers for work.  They've been sending me to Vegas a lot, which I love.  I reconnected with my friend Jenn and my gosh, I don't think we stopped laughing the entire time I was there.  Next week I am going to Istanbul with two other flight attendants (although we decided to call it Constantinople.....again.  Because that just sounds more fun.)

My friend Jeff, in particular, has been encouraging me to write again.  We are accountability partners.  I encourage him to write his screenplay, which is absolutely brilliant.  I hope it gets noticed, because his witty and clever rhetoric is beyond amazing.  His ideas are golden.  I think we can help each other.  He and his wife and new baby and stepdaughter live in suburban Philadelphia.  We spent a few days together in August drumming up ideas and getting our writing on track. 

In addition to the travel, I've been thoroughly enjoying Ohio.  I've spent many days off with my sister-in-law and my nephew, as well as the rest of my family.  My nephew Sergio speaks fluent sign language and he shakes the "L" sign for Aunt Laurie.  He also verbally says my name which sounds like"Ah Ya Ya".  I've enjoyed laughing with both of my grandmas and my mother has cooked my favorite meal for me a couple times over the summer: ham, fresh green beans, and potatoes.  I've enjoyed huge, ripe, juciy tomatoes from her garden all summer.  I spent days off at the pool at my apartment.  I got to see Journey in concert and sat in the 6th row and sang every word to every song.  I flew to Raleigh on days off and spent significant time with close friends. We took bike rides, we ate out, grilled out, and laughed and drank.   I flew to New York on other days off and ate at Il Mulino, Jean Georges, Gramercy Tavern, and a bunch of other spots.  Over Memorial Day weekend I was in Quebec City and enjoyed its picturesque old-world European-like charm.  And poutine- this amazing french fry concoction, smothered in gravy and cheese curds.  The summer was remarkable. 

Then autumn set in, and I have been spending significant time in North Carolina. I went to the Smoky Mountains with someone I love spending time with, and we stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast nestled right in the mountains, in a town called Banner Elk.  There was a jacuzzi and a fireplace. The leaves were spectacular- vibrant colors I've never seen before on trees.  We explored antique shops and ate at greasy spoons.  We drank whiskey and talked and laughed on rocking chairs on the porch all evening.  I spent Halloween with my best friend, Angie and her beautiful baby girl, Sophie.  I reconnected with a friend from high school and met a new close friend.  I went to the Big Easy with two of my girlfriends from New York.  We ate our way through Bourbon Street and visited a cemetery and explored historic parts of that unique city. I reconnected with Alpha Gam at my collegiate chapter, and have decided to become an Adviser.  Although I haven't really done anything yet with this, I am looking forward to reconnecting with a lot more old sorority sisters. These friendships are timeless, where I can jump back in and not have feel like I've missed a single beat.

As I read through this, a lot of my adventures have involved eating!  But I've managed to drop a few more pounds and I am about 28 pounds lighter than I was a year ago at this time.

So in the grand scheme of things, all is good.  Not everything is perfect, but at least status quo.  I still enjoy the flying, but I yearn for a regular schedule. A schedule where I know what I'm doing and where I'm flying a month in advance.  A schedule where I can have more flexibility with my days off and where I choose to fly.   This is called "holding a line".   If I transfer to our base in Chicago or Washington Dulles or Los Angeles, I can hold a line.  This has been on my mind for awhile and I'm not sure if I'm ready to take the plunge.  I would have to commute to work until my lease is up, and I'm uncertain if I'm ready for that.  Chicago has been calling my name for awhile now, though.  I sometimes miss my career in higher education and have dreams of going back into that field.  Right now, I just don't know though.  New York calls my name quite loudly, as well.  I so miss my old home and my wonderful life there.  I miss a lot of things about North Carolina too.  There are many lonely nights, when I sit in my dark, empty hotel room on my layovers and wonder if I'll ever feel peace of mind.  I often tell people that my number one priority is to meet a life-partner.  It is a difficult feat, because I'm afraid that you can't "work hard" to accomplish such a goal.  In fact, just the opposite.  You have to stop trying so hard and just let it happen.  I don't know how to do this.  I've always put career first and that involves "working hard" to accomplish a specific, tangible goal. 

But this blog is not intended to be a downer.  I love love love my friends and family.  I feel overjoyed at the encouraging, fun, hilarious, and uplifting people in my life.  And grateful for the opportunities and many many possibilities that are provided to me in this universe.  As I type this, I am texting with my friend from Manchester, England who just took a position in Miami.  He is so positive and uplifting, it is such perfect timing for his words of encouragement as I type this blog.  I don't even know if he reads this, but if so- THANK YOU.  I am so lucky to have such people who care.  I don't know if you guys remember, but I used to do a daily gratitude list.  That has recently dwindled, just like my blog, and I am trying to wax that back into my daily life, as well. 

Ok, I think I have shared enough personal information for now.  In a few days I will be departing for Turkey and I can promise you there will be a blog after that.

Please in the meantime feel free to comment or to email me.  I have missed you all deeply.  I will be back soon, with an on-time departure and arrival to a place I have stayed away from for far too long. 


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Like Riding a Bike

There are some things you never forget.  And some things that you never forget how to do.   Sometimes you return to things.   And sometimes they return to you. 

My blogs have been so darn heavy lately, that I have been trying to make a deliberate effort to think only halcyon thoughts.  The other day I was thinking about what "peace of mind" feels like.  I closed my eyes and thought of my Semester at Sea voyage.  One of the stops was Vietnam.  I signed up to be a Trip Leader on an excursion through the Mekong Delta.  We took these tiny boats called sampans to a small island in the middle of the Mekong.  There was a very old man named Mr. Dragon who had a fruit farm there and he also made moonshine.  There were boa constrictors and there were rice fields that seemed to go on for miles.  My students and I were presented with rice hats to block out the sun, and we were given bicycles with a big baskets in the front. 

"Go!"  the Vietnamese people told me.  

I went.

And I found my breath.  

The other day I posed the question on facebook to my friends:  "How do you find peace/zen?"  And I received a variety of answers.  Everything from driving down a desert highway at sunset, top down, wind in hair on a summer's night to meditation by candlelight to massages to lying on the couch with a sweet puppy.   I think the most peaceful I've ever felt was that day in Vietnam on a bike.  I had no idea where I was.  No idea where I was going.  All I knew is that the breeze against my face and the freedom of being in a strange place where I didn't know the language was so freeing and liberating.  It was hot that day.  I had on long sleeves and pants to block the mosquitoes.  But I didn't feel unpleasantly hot anymore on that bike.  At first I was uncertain I'd remember how to balance, how to peddle, how to avoid falling over, but it all came back to me like.....well......riding a bike.

Last week I had a long layover in Portland.  So for the first time since that day in 2009 in Vietnam I decided it would be a great city to explore by bicycle.  And my hunch was right: there are trails everywhere along the Willamette River and it is such a beautiful city and there were bicyclists at every turn.  I did notice that I was one of the few bikers without a helmet (nor a rice hat, for that matter.)  But you know what?  When I was a child, I never remember having a helmet.  And we went on bike rides a LOT.  So as much as I am an advocate for avoiding brain injury, I went helmet-less.  Sometimes you gotta throw caution to the wind, right?  Unless you're on a motorcycle.  My brother is an Emergency Room Nurse and is reluctant to share the stories about motorcycle accidents sans helmet.  I digress.....

In addition to peace of mind, I've been also trying to remember happy memories from my childhood.  How do I tie this in to everything else I'm talking about?  Well for one, I remember the day the training wheels came off.  It was such a scary move.  But my dad was right behind me the entire time, holding onto the back of my pink seat.  And then he said "Go!"  Released me into the wind.  And I went! And I remember feeling weak in the knees, shaky, nervousness in the pit of my stomach.  But before I knew it, I was doing it myself.  I was peddling.  I was balancing.  I wasn't falling. Before I knew it, I was poppin' wheelies! 

I guess right now, I kinda feel like my training wheels have come off.  I am still trying to adjust to new surroundings, a new home-base, and  a fairly new career (it's been almost 7 months, but in contrast to my old career which lasted over ten years, it's still relatively new to me.)

So how is Cleveland you ask?  I'm content.  I was able to spend the day with my 16 month nephew the other day. It felt good to hold him on my lap and feed him (and myself) french fries.  He is learning to talk and he is also learning sign language. (Aunt Laurie is trying to pick up some words, too.)  I love having my purring kitty in my lap when I get home from trips.  I love having my own apartment again.  I love the cute restaurants that I can walk to from my apartment. I love the new friends I've made at work.  And again in keeping with the theme of happy childhood memories, I have been trying to embrace things I used to enjoy.  So the other night I went to a Cleveland Indians game.  The ballpark was nearly empty.  I barely recognized any of the players.  And it poured down rain somewhere in the middle of the 5th inning.  But as soon as I bit into the hot dog with Stadium Mustard (a Cleveland tradition- it's this fabulous brown mustard that they only make at Jacob's Field), I was taken back to 1986 when players like Tom Candiotti pitched and Cory Snyder slugged.  And then to 1997 when Albert Bell and Jim Thome and Sandy Alomar and Manny Ramirez helped Cleveland secure the American League pennant.  And it made me smile.   

The other day I was in Chicago on a long layover.  I wandered the streets on a beautiful summer-like day.  I noticed a "Paul Harvey Avenue".  It made me so happy.  My grandad and I used to listen to Paul Harvey at lunchtime and I think I've written a blog before about what a happy memory that was- his soothing voice and his fabulous story-telling skills.  My grandad used to have the radio on the kitchen table, right next to the folded up napkin where he put his coffee mug.  Oh I felt so happy, being reminded of my grandad!  Chicago is a wonderful place.  It felt peaceful and nostalgic being there.  When I was in grad school in Illinois, I visited Chicago frequently.  I almost took a job there after I finished my masters degree, but then moved to New York instead.  Chicago felt warm and comfortable to me.  The city felt clean and friendly.  The city embraced me as if to say "Welcome back, old friend.  I've missed you.  And don't you worry, because I haven't changed a thing."  I had all day, so I went to the Lincoln Park Zoo and ate ice cream and listened to music on my ipod and took pictures of the sklyline.  Pure bliss. 

Since this blog is one of peace, I won't write about how much I miss my old home.  But I will still continue going to New York on my days off.   And I have lunch with friends that I love.  And give strangers directions when they ask me on the street.  I love when that happens, because I know the city as well as I know my own bed.  It's comfortable and familiar.  Will I move back there?  It's in my cards, I think, although I'm uncertain when.  

As for North Carolina, I am slowly phasing it out.  Except I do still have some warm, wonderful friendships there and I will continue to visit.  My friend Angie is adopting a baby from Ethiopia.  And I get to be Aunt Laurie.  To another child.  And I can't wait.  

As for now, I am really trying hard to embrace my surroundings.  And learning how to be happy again.  And how to smile instead of cry every day. And you know what?  It is starting to come back to me.  Just like the people in Vietnam and just like my dad, the Universe said to me one day, "Go!" I think I remember how.  It's like riding a bike.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Single Displacement

I hated chemistry. I never understood the different types of chemical reactions, but I do recall one in particular, because it reminds me of me. It is called "single displacement". It's when an element shifts places and all sorts of weird chemical reactions occur. "Weird chemical reactions" is about as technical as I get when it comes to chemistry. Bear with me here. I am single and I have recently been displaced. And all kinds of weird things have been going on. So this category of chemical reaction sounds about right to me.

Everyone has been telling me lately and leaving these comments on my facebook "You look so happy!" I'm glad I had been faking it so well, because in the month of February and most of March, I had never felt so down and out in my entire life. Actually, "faking it" is a bit of a misnomer. The fact is- I have been happy about some things: getting assigned trips to work to London and Glasgow and Miami and all of these great places; a quick vacation to Wales with Dara; a trip to St. Augustine with my Aunt, etc. But I have simply not shared the things on facebook that have been shaking me up. So "faking it" is a little misleading. And for the record, I don't make it a habit to fake anything in my life.

But you guys, oh, you guys are in for a treat! Because I'm about to bare it all to you. Feel free to stop reading if you don't want to hear about all of my sorrows. Here's your way out. Your chance to exit stage left. Your mulligan. Your graceful bow out. Your secret backstage door. Your 86. You get the drift......

Okaaaaaay, you're still here? All riiiiight. If you insist. Here goes.

My life has been spread out in several different worlds. Belongings stored in Raleigh. My mail goes there too. Me in New York. Avoiding going back to New Jersey. Waiting to cross the 59th Street bridge from Queens and banging my head against the steering wheel in a fit of tears, staring at the hazy lights of the city, wishing I had never left in the first place. And the very temporary crash pad in Newark, which never felt like home. I stayed there as few nights as possible and prayed to the heavens above for long layovers just so I could rest my head in a plush hotel bed instead.

Sometimes I still do wonder "what if". What if I hadn't left New York? The city was magical to me. I love the energy of business men and women running off to work, briefcases and black coffee in tow. I love the smell of hot dogs on the streets. I love the sounds. Even when I slept. The sirens were my lullaby. The jackhammers were my prayer. It was completely acceptable to be 35 and single and even a little misguided there. The city opens its arms to single professionals and if you want to eat bacon and drink beer and lick an ice cream cone, all in one gulp at 3 in the morning the city shrugs, winks, and says "By all means, Go ahead! Carry on, you darling child."

And I wonder "what if". What if I hadn't left North Carolina? My summer was extraordinary. A very sweet romance. June nights made for kissing under the stars while he smokes cigars on the patio and while I sip gin and tonics with a twist of lime. September weekend road trips to Savannah and Charleston and coastal cities that shout out an invitation "Let's laugh and kiss and gaze into each other's eyes and get tipsy and silly while sipping cocktails by night. And let's explore every nook & cranny, antique store, hidden cemetery that holds years of secrets, and mom & pop shrimp and grits joint by day. Then let's kiss some more and whisper inside jokes and laugh and kiss again."

And now both of my lovely worlds have given way to something else. Don't get me wrong- I love love love my job, but after taking a paycut to do the new job, I can't live the lifestyle I enjoyed for many years in New York. And as for North Carolina- that whimsical, steamy summer ended with the change of season. And I have already spent far too many days crying over both of these things. New York might happen again later one day, but not for several years when I start getting incremental raises. North Carolina- possible, but that romance has died. He has moved on and met one or two other new women to laugh and kiss and travel with to Spanish-moss-covered coastal southern cities. I realized I wasn't being myself towards the end. I was trying to talk him into being in my life. Trying to convince him to come spend time in New York with me and for us to try all of the restaurants that we had dreamed about all summer and hoping that might reignite the magical spark that we once had. But alas, twisting someone's arm and begging? Well, that is just not like me. I don't try to convince people of things (which is probably why I have never worked in sales.) But I found myself doing it, and I was pushing him away further and further by doing so. So I finally cashed in my chips and called it a loss. That "we can still be friends" garbage never really works. At least not at first. Maybe after some time has passed, but I'm sorry to burst my own bubble, but not right now, Sweetcheeks. (Did I really just address myself as "sweetcheeks"?)

Dara had become exhausted of my phone calls filled with monsoon-sized waves of depression and fits of tears. And sometimes I can even hear her eyes rolling when I call. But she has been generous and I'm grateful. I hit rock bottom one day when I was threatened to have my car impounded for an expired registration. All within the same day that my storage unit had a problem with my credit card number and had plans to saw off my lock and auction my belongings. Pretty much set me over the edge. Since NC requires an inspection before renewing your registration, and since I didn't have a local NY/NJ address, I had to drive that car down there in the middle of the night after getting in from working a 9 hour duty day on the plane. Dara came with me, but poor thing was sick as a dog. I flew her back to New York the next day and I began the arduous quest of driving myself back up. I have been visiting RDU frequently since I started this job (flying there though, not driving) and this was the first visit in which I didn't see my deflated summer romance, so that also added another difficult element. I don't think I've ever cried so much or smoked so many cigarettes in entire my life on that drive back. (Disclaimer: I am not a smoker, so please do not lecture me with the dangers of smoking. I needed something to calm my nerves that day and to get me through an 8.5 hour drive.) I also had a bright !exclamation point! light go on, on my dashboard. I had no idea what it meant. I had to consult my owner's manual. "Tire pressure". Which more accurately meant "Laurie Pressure." No idea how to put air in my tires. And here come those god-forsaken tears again. I really just wanted a handsome love of my life to take care of it for me. Yeah. No dice. I dried my tears and did it myself. (It wasn't really that hard.) So the pressure was taken off of me and displaced into my tires and I was on my merry way again.

Do things ever get more cheerful you ask? Oh, why yes they do. By the end of February I had done plenty of soul searching and creating plans A, B, and C. (What the hell else do you do on long drives?)
Here they are:
A) Stay in the crowded and dirty crashpad in Newark and being miserable, sharing my space with ten other flight attendants, and traveling on my days off to other places, while paying very minimal rent and trying to sleep there as few nights as possible. Also driving into the city whenever I possibly could and walking through my old stomping grounds with tears in my eyes and "woe is me" because I don't live here anymore and all of that other crying and junk that I described above. Great idea.
B) Quit job that I really do love, and move back to Raleigh-Durham. For what? For a relationship that doesn't exist. And for a state that at least matches my vehicle registration. And to be jobless while I go through the grueling process of sending resumes again. Fantastic plan.
C) Transfer to our flight attendant base in Cleveland. Start all over again in a "new" city. Although, northeast Ohio is not entirely "new" per-se. I did grow up there- but haven't lived there since the late 90s. This choice means giving up the international flying opportunities out of Newark. But a cheap cost of living. And I can live alone and get my Kitty back. And be close to my baby nephew. And my 90 year old grandmas. Hmmm.

So I went with Option C. As of March 30, I am no longer based in EWR. Today I found an apartment in Lakewood, a cute suburb that I always had my eye on when I used to live in OH. The apartment building has a pool. It is a fifteen minute drive from the airport. There are coffee shops and cute pubs and cheerful little cafe's within walking distance. Tomorrow I am going to Raleigh to get my belongings out of storage. Wednesday I am driving them up to Lakewood. Thursday I am unpacking. And Friday will be my first trip out of the Cleveland base. I feel at peace with my decision. And excited to live alone again. And to have all of my belongings back. And my Kitty. And to be so close to Lake Erie. And to meet new friends. And reconnect with old friends who stayed in the area.

Will this be forever? I am not sure. I am hoping this is the last time I'll be displaced, at least for quite some time. And I hope to meet the love of my life. And that the two of us move back to New York together. Because, just so you know, there is another type of chemical reaction that I remember from high school chemistry. And is called "Double Displacement."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Cliche'

He played guitar in a band..... I played second fiddle.

He was a dark horse..... I had already lost the bet.

He pitched me some lines..... I was out in left field.

We kissed on the Brooklyn bridge.....Our relationship became the water under it.

He gave me bouquets of flowers, but never told his friends about "us".....Mum's the word.

He had a lucrative career in Manhattan.... In a New York minute, I left the city.

My friend commented on a photo I posted on facebook the other day and told me it's beautiful, and she also said that beauty is not only about looks, but about how big your heart is. It's been heavy lately, I told her. My sense of self-worth has been in the gutter.

As much as I believe the tired and worn-old cliche' that "everything happens for a reason", I still wonder if I missed some opportunities, messed some things up, or made some wrong decisions somewhere along the way. Lately (in case you haven't noticed) I haven't been the epitome of happiness and joy. Stressful life changes have been weighing heavy on my mind, although light on my body. As a result of stress, I am down 25 pounds at this point (hey- I never said stress was *all* bad). I am on a long layover in Dallas right now and the weather is as peaceful, calm and mild as a butterfly flouncing through the fields on a benevolent and breezy spring day. And this genial day has given me the opportunity to think. Which tends to happen when I have time to walk, explore, and roam. As my feet wander unfamiliar streets, my mind goes right along with them, keeping step and not missing a beat. (Note: this blog is being continued in Tampa, the last overnight of my 4-day trip.)

And today I tried to think of relationships and events that happened in my past that still make me smile right now. And also- most of these quips are not about dating at all (some are though)- they are just memories that make me feel happy. So here are a few:

1) When I first moved to New York I had a colleague who could sing. He had a beautiful voice, but was shy about his talent. We lived and worked downtown in the Financial District. Since we were on-call for our jobs, we had to be on campus to respond to student emergencies. Staff members were given beautiful apartments as part of our compensation. Shortly after September 11, 2001 the Financial District was like a ghost town. We had nice apartments, but it was quiet downtown at that time. Dark, shadowy and vacant. Businesses vacated and found new office space across the Hudson. Buildings loomed over us and cast dark shadows at night, and strangers brushed by our side. But there was a Thai restaurant called the Lemongrass Grill that was a short distance away. A tried and true beacon in that dark, shadowy part of town. It was a restaurant, but they offered Karaoke too. Not many people took advantage of this offering. Just us. Everyone else was just there to eat. So my colleague would sing and I would listen. Since so few people took advantage of the karaoke that was offered, the wait staff was just either really nice or really annoyed that we chose to do so. So they would finally just relinquish to us the song book, the sound controls, and the mike. My friend was so shy that he would lie down in the booth, across my lap when he was singing so that no one could see him. Everyone would be looking around to hear where this fantastic voice was coming from, but they couldn't see him. I remember one night on the way out a man told me, "Lady, I don't know how you do it- but your lap has some talent."

2) My friend Mary and I had some "spots" that we claimed as our own in the city. One of them was "Blue Moon" (which is now closed). It was a hole-in-the-wall in Chelsea. Even though it was on a well-traveled part of 8th avenue, it was never crowded, which I never understood. (Sure there are some other spots that do this in the city, but they are often packed and require reservations and are much stingier with their pours.) Blue Moon offered a delicious brunch for $12 which included unlimited mimosas or bloody marys. So Mary and I would sleep in and then go at 1:00 every Sunday afternoon and stay until 4:00 when they stopped serving brunch. Some restaurants offer endless refills of coffee. Blue Moon provided endless refills of mimosas. Sometimes I think they filled our glasses so fast and were so attentive to our needs, as to not leave an empty glass in sight that they simply left out the orange juice and poured pure champagne. It was infinity of mimosas! All I know is that at 4:00 we would be giggly, blissful and content. I don't even remember what we laughed about, but we would stay there and be content for 3 hours, and those were some of the happiest days I knew. When we left, we would walk by a nearby church and everyone else would be leaving mass, but Mary and I would be leaving Blue Moon. Blue Moon was about as close to a religious experience as I would get those days.

3) Several of my old jobs would have staff/faculty/and even student events on boats that circled around Manhattan. I always loved this. It was such a nice treat and it was always so fun to come eye-to-eye with Lady Liberty on a sunny afternoon instead of being in the office. Usually there was an open bar and dancing and music and merriment. At one particular event there was a colleague there, but he worked in a different department. However, he spent a lot of time talking to our department. One of my colleagues thought he was cute and was planning to ask him out. He got up his nerve, rehearsed his speech, and practiced on me. I told my colleague he did perfect- If I were a gay guy I would go out with him in a heartbeat. So he took a deep breath and asked me if I would go with him because he was so nervous to ask this other guy. I agreed and together we approached him outside on the upper deck, my friend poised to complete the daunting task of asking him on a date. And the guy from the other department turned around, smiled, said hello to both of us, and before my friend could get a word in edge-wise, asked "Laurie, I've been trying to get up the nerve and I almost asked someone in your department to help me....but I was....uh....I was wondering if you wanted to have dinner sometime?"

(Footnote: My friend was actually very glad that this happened- his Gadar was off that day and this unfortunate event had actually saved him some embarrassment. And for the record- I did go out with him. It didn't work out. I used to call his dog up onto his sofa to sit between us, because I didn't want to sit so close to him.)

4) My grandma, my aunt, and my Mom used to come to visit me in New York regularly. One summer day we were walking through a park on the Upper West Side and it was my mom's first visit there. There was a homeless man covered in boxes and newspapers. My mom couldn't stop looking and gasping. "Is there a PERSON in there?!" And her jaw dropped. "Mommy, close your mouth." She also accidentally picked up the wrong suitcase at LaGuardia one time, so the airline had to come to my apartment and exchange it, which was a large fiasco. We found the number of the boyfriend of the woman to whom it belonged. We called him and he was pretty nonchalant about it. We found all of these bizarre things inside the suitcase and we made up a story to go along with it. I don't even remember the story anymore, but I remember laughing for hours with my mom, my grandma, and my aunt. The best part of their visits had to be when we went to Ellis Island and the immigration museum to learn about how my Great Grandma Valentino had come to this country. There were trunks displayed everywhere and my great grandma had lost hers at one time. In her thick accent, we used to remember her saying "whosa trunk?" which quickly became our favorite thing to say repeatedly..... And to tease my mom about until the airline returned her (correct) suitcase.

5) On Memorial day weekend one of my friends had a picnic on her back deck. We drank beer, ate steaks on the grill and laughed all evening. One of my friends was there with her boyfriend, whom I hadn't met until that night. He told me he was going to set me up with is friend. I rolled my eyes a bit, because I was planning on leaving North Carolina and not looking to find a relationship there, but I agreed. They had some people over to their apartment two days later and he was there. Low and behold, we hit it off. Our first date was a few days after that. We flirted and kissed all night at a cigar bar, that was not dissimilar from an old-fashioned speak-easy. The venue reminded me of New York in the 1920s, even though it was in Durham, NC in 2011. Tin pressed ceilings and a beautiful bar, built of sturdy cherry. A bartender with a pencil-thin mustache and a bow tie. It was a sultry and warm evening in early June, crickets chirping and moon shining. We drank scotch and laughed together well into the night. The cigar lounge brought back memories of my childhood. I didn't frequent cigar lounges as a child, but on warm summer nights the neighbors used to come over to our house and the children would play in the streets and the parents would play cards and socialize. One of the neighbors, Larry, would smoke cigars. The smell of cigar coupled with the smell of fresh-cut grass triggers such happiness and a sense of summertime. This date was the start to a wonderful summer.

6) My friends introduced me to a very sweet guy when I used to live in Chelsea. Our first date was a Mets Game. It was Mike Piazza's last game as a Met. We drove to Shea Stadium and he had brought me a jersey to wear, which was sweet and thoughtful. We drank beer and sat in great seats and cheered and kissed when runs were scored. Afterwards we went to the park by my apartment and fed the squirrels. It was so sweet and innocent. He told me I smelled like a cupcake. Which was great news, because I thought I smelled like a sweaty summer day. He was so shy and he also had asthma and all sorts of health issues. One time I had him and the friends who had introduced us over for chili, which I had made in my crockpot. I later found out that he was allergic to beans, but he ate the chili anyhow because he didn't want to hurt my feelings.

7) When I was in college in Ohio, one of my friends introduced me to one of his friends. He was dashingly handsome. Dark hair, slight dimples, and big dark bedroom eyes surrounded by fluttering lashes. We used to go dancing at a place called "Boot Scootin' Saloon" on Wednesday nights. Country line dancing. Our first date was a concert there. The band that opened for the band we were going to see played a cover of a Brooks and Dunn song called "Neon Moon". He held me close and we danced cheek to cheek. He smelled wonderful and his skin was soft against mine. I melted into his arms. That moment has stayed with me for over 15 years.

8) The day that I went with my friend John to Rao's. This might have been the most magical moment of my life: (please see "Part II- The most Coveted table in the city and maybe the entire world")
http://therimeofthemodernmariner.blogspot.com/2010_06_01_archive.html

There are so many things in my life and memories for which to be grateful. And I had to cut about half of the stories I wanted to share, because it just simply made this blog too long. One day I will share all of them though. Please see the archives of this blog and read my stories from Semester at Sea. Magic and poetry every single day. I feel happy now after reminiscing. I think the cliche' is right- everything falls into place. All of these things happened for a reason (although the reason is perhaps just to make me smile during dark times.) And maybe, just maybe I will have another chance at happiness and at love. That's not so much to ask. (Is it?) Whether it is attainable or not, I will wait it out with patience and try to continue creating happy stories like those above until that happens.

He will love me and travel with me and kiss me in Italy one day..... after all, Rome wasn't built in a day.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The things I draw come true.


Crew Scheduling has not been using me much these past few days, so I have reignited my love affair with an old flame: New York. I have a torrid and steamy affair with this city, especially in the summer when it's so sultry that I am sweating and panting the moment I walk out the door. But even in the winter My Lover feels warm and inviting. As comfortable and as enticing as sharing a bottle of Prosecco with your best friend.

Until this week I have had a busy January. I went on a short vacation to Disney World with JoAnn. She and I were there 20 years ago together. 20 years! It was in 1992 and I was 15. Here we are:


In addition to my vacation, I've also been busy with other things this past month. I've had a few dates. I've been to Raleigh a couple times. I had lunch with some old friends in the city- some of my favorite people in the world, including Joe, my former boss (Joe- I hope you're reading this!) I've made some new friends. I lost 20 pounds. (Although I can't claim that this happened all in one month- it has been happening since October). I've been logging a lot of hours at work: Cancun, Las Vegas, Houston, Denver, Dallas, Cleveland and multiple cities in California- more times than I can count.

This photo is from the balcony at my layover hotel in Cancun:


Of all of these things keeping me busy, I think Disney World really made me really think the most. I really was never crazy about the crowds or all the screaming children, but in January there were neither one of these two things and I am glad that we decided to come here again as adults. To me Disney World represents three things: 1) Happiness 2) Imagination and 3) Creating the future. The themes there are so in-your-face, so obvious, so apparent, and so bold, but I never paid much attention before. These themes are just begging for me to make the correlation and find the relevance in my personal life, as I face such a cross-road and shift in scenery.


Since that trip I've done some soul-searching and some thinking a lot about all three of these themes. I've had some thought-provoking conversations with smart friends. I've started to create a new "vision board" with new goals. If you don't know what this is, I'll explain: It is essentially a collage of sorts with photos, words, phrases, and such related to what you want to accomplish in your life. Life by design instead of life by default. I have done vision boards with magazines, poster board and glue. And I have done them as Power Point presentations with photos that I copy/pasted from different websites. And so I reviewed my old vision boards the other day, and I realized they were all travel-themed with a little teeny bit of focus on health, love, career, and home. Well this is great, because all of the things on my board came true.

Did you ever watch a cartoon called "Simon" as a child? This cartoon was featured on Captain Kangaroo. Don't you know my name is Simon? And the things I draw come true. Won't you take me, take me, take me over the ladder with you?


That was the theme song. Simon would create a chalk drawing and then climb over the ladder into the chalk world that he created. Well a vision board is kinda like that. Heavy focus on the travel coming true and a little tiny bit of focus on all else coming true for me. For example: I created one board before I took my Semester at Sea voyage in 2009- created the board before I even knew the program existed. And about 90% of the countries that I copy/pasted onto my vision board were countries that were on my itinerary. Amazing, right? Sooooo, since that worked out so well for me, this new vision board is heavily focused on love and home. I think those two things are a package deal- synonymous in my book - at least in this phase of my life. I am putting all of my attention on a healthy relationship in New York City. Photos of happy men and women kissing and snuggling and laughing and eating and drinking and just doing happy things together in the city and in beautiful Manhattan apartments.

And I am trying to step into my dream. Instead of flying into Raleigh on my days off and spending time trying to keep a worn-out relationship alive, I am driving into Manhattan. (Although until I phase out my PO Box and get my belongings out of storage, I still do have to go there a couple times a month.) Disclaimer: my "relationship" or whatever you want to call it from this past summer/fall was not something bad. It was actually something very good. It just ran its course. As sad as I was (am) that the momentum is gone and that it didn't develop into a serious commitment, I am still happy it happened. We had a great several months, and we will continue to be cordial, but he is done with me. And in essence, I am done with him, even though allowing myself to believe that is taking some time. After all, I am the one who chose to move away for my career.

A close friend said to me earlier this month "The opposite of love is not hate- it's indifference." And I got lost in my head for a few days trying to determine what the opposite of hate is. I think the answer is acceptance. Instead of hating your life, hating what happens, hating your situation- instead of all that, you just accept. Acceptance doesn't mean you have to love it. It just means you are at peace with it and zen about it and that you allow it instead of fighting it.

So I am accepting. All the things that I mentioned two blogs ago: The confusing work schedule. Not having a home. Not being able to renew my car registration. The relationship that is over. Making less money. Missing my Kitty. All of that- I accept it. It is just temporary. Everything will be fixed over time.

And I am enjoying the things that I do have and trying to re-focus my energy on being grateful. Like the long oceanfront layovers in Cancun. And all of this extra time I get to spend with my friends in the city. Tonight I am going to a Vaudeville/Burlesque show at the Highline Ballroom with my friend Emmalyn. I really can't wait. And on Sunday I have a date with someone new. And next month I am going to Copenhagen with Dara. And to Ohio to see my family.

Nothing really sucks that much. I promise to keep you posted on my progress. In the meantime, I'm treating myself to a Donut. (Which has nothing to do with anything in this blog. I just really want a donut.)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tús Úrnua

Thank god for January. Even though this month is bitingly cold, frigid, and bitter, I feel happier. The promise of a new start takes away the sting of December and refreshes me. The cold air manages to numb my soul as much as it numbs my nose and I don't feel as hopeless as I did when I wrote that last post.

Right now I'm in Baltimore. Long 32 hour layover near the wharf or the harbor or the waterfront, whatever they call it here. I lose track in all of these cities. I'm on a four-day trip. We spent the first night of this trip in Denver, which was a surprisingly mild 60 degrees. We got in to Baltimore last night at 11:30 PM from Houston and we have two nights here. An interesting crew on this trip indeed. There is a married couple in their 60s. We'll call them Bonnie and Clyde. Clyde is working in the back galley and Bonnie is working First Class galley. I am the Load, which means I am in the aisle during boarding, and then work in the First Class aisle, and I'm not done yet, because THEN I move to the back to pick up trash. (Told ya this job was glamorous). The Lead is this very chill surfer guy who travels to places like Fiji and Australia on his days off. He is essentially the one who is in charge. Makes the announcements, communicates with the gate agents, etc. We'll call him Jake. Jake and I share the two jumpseats up front. Jake smells great. I like sitting next to him.

So Bonnie and Clyde are weird. During take-off and landing, the cabin lights are adjusted to the level of outside, so if there is (God-forbid) an evacuation, your eyes are adjusted to the appropriate lighting. At night it is very dark in the galleys. Bonnie and Clyde sit in the jumpseats in the back galley. Jake goes back after we have cleared 10,000 feet to get ready for our service, and discovers that they are making out. So he turns the lights on bright. Clyde also keeps making these weird noises with his nose. Jake and I laugh about all of the quirks and go about our business.

So when we arrived late last night we decided that a cocktail was much needed. Unlike the mild and unseasonable weather in Denver, the weather in Baltimore is absolutely biting. I don't know if it's the wind or just the air itself, but the cold cut right through you like a knife. Everything was closed except for this divey bar about 6 blocks away. So there we went. It was a bizarre mix of college students, old drunken Irish men, and us. The beer was served in plastic cups. Somehow I think that dehances (not a word, but I'm keeping it) the flavor. Whatever. It's been a long couple of days. A long week. A long month. And January deserves to be celebrated.

So we closed down the bar after four beers in plastic cups. We returned to the hotel, ears, fingers, and noses numb. Maybe we needed some whiskey instead of beer.

My room is next door to Jake's and across the hall from Bonnie's and Clyde's. When I got into my room I heard all of these doors slamming and opening. And voices down the hall. I opened my door to see what was going on, and Jake was standing with his door opened, a puzzled look on his face.
"Bonnie and Clyde are lost," he told me. "They are trying to open my door."
"Are they nuts?" Jake asked.
"My god, YES." I answered.
"Are you still frozen?"
"My god, YES."
"Do you want to snuggle?"
"My god, YES."

Baltimore got a little bit warmer.

And the promise of 2012 got a little bit brighter.

2011 wasn't bleak- it was actually quite happy, but I am ready to unravel some tangled webs and cleanse myself of some things that are not going to be compromised. I feel happy, well-rested and at-peace (......at least until the airport van picks us up at 5:30 AM tomorrow morning.)

Happy New Year, Everyone. Thank you for reading my weblog.