Vacation Dreaming

I want a vacation. No, strike that, I NEED a vacation. Badly. I can taste it in the back of my throat like a coat of dust.

Problem: my bank account has a distressing lack of funds.

Solution: Hmm. I’ll get back to you on that. But for now, let’s talk about where we are going.

So, where are we going? Right now I have Sarajevo on the brain. Since meeting Damir, I have been learning a lot about the former Yugoslavia and the culture of the Balkan states and I am truly fascinated.

I just finished a really good book called Pretty Birds by Scott Simon:

Pretty Birds is the fictional story of a muslim teenager, Irena, during the Siege of Sarajevo that lasted from 1992-96. The story chronicles how this teenager goes from carefree high school basketball star to ruthless sniper high up in the rafters of Sarajevo’s bombed out buildings. It’s really unimaginable… yet based on real events.

This weekend Damir and I rented a fascinating film called No Man’s Land which won the Academy Award for best foreign language film in 2002. This fantastic movie is about two “soldiers” (really, just two guys stuck on opposite sides of a war) who get caught in a trench between the Serbian and Bosnian front lines. The banter back and forth between Ciki and Nino is at times very very funny, but the movie is also very troubling. It depicts very accurately how Bosnia and Herzegovina was “helped” by the media and the UN, which is to say not helped at all.

If you are the type of person who doesn’t mind subtitles, I definitely recommend this film, however having at least a broad understanding of the conflict between Serbia and Bosnia/Herzegovina is helpful.

So, I was saying I am thinking about Sarajevo. After looking at the horrible images easily found all over the web you might think it a strange choice. For a very brutal and graphic testament to the war, this NY Times piece is very powerful. A more poignant example might be the Sarajevo Library, which was destroyed in August 1992 (right around the time I was starting college I guess) after being targeted by Serb Nationalist Forces.

Library before and after:

I know this isn’t your typical destination. But I’ve done pretty. I’ve done resorts. I’ve done ruins and art museums. I’ve done fruity cocktails… and yes, I love a good fruity cocktail on a sunny beach, but my brain is looking for something a little more substantial. The story of this remarkable city is unlike any other. I want to check it out for myself.

Red Balloons and Rain Hats

When We lived in Amsterdam, we got used to the rain and clouds. There was no other choice. I remember during the first winter in Amsterdam we kept track on our calendars the number of rainy days in a row…and it turned out to be over three-week’s worth.

Then the sun would suddenly appear and the entire city would come out of hiding to bask in the fresh light. Offices shut down, canal side cafe`s filled up. It was like a perfect magic trick.

Yesterday evening as I stepped off the T at Copley Square I was reminded of that feeling as I stepped into sunlight for the first time in over a week. I stopped dead in my tracks and turned my face to the sun and took my rain hat off. Others around me did the same.


Do you remember movies or film strips you watched in elementary school? Who remembers the 1956 film The Red Balloon (Le Ballon Rouge)?

I think I saw that in the third grade and remember weeping afterwards. When the bullies pop the balloon… it’s so sad! OK, I am a sap. Always have been apparently.

There was another film I remember, but not quite as distinctly. The story took place on another planet, one where it rained all the time. Only one day of the year was sunny and all the people rejoiced and celebrated this day. The story focused on a group of schoolchildren who were cutting out flowers and suns in preparation for the big day; they were all so excited and happy since the sun was soon to come out. Then a group of bullies thought it would be funny to lock away one of the other children while they were just playing around. They forgot about her as the sun came out and ran out to play in the flowers and light.

When they returned and realized they caused her to miss the one big happy day of the year, they all felt terrible and one by one the students gave their freshly cut flowers to the little girl, who just stood there with tears streaking down her face.

God. It was SO sad. It still breaks my heart, the few images I can remember from this film. Funny that when we don’t see the sun for a while, I always think about that movie I saw probably 25 years ago.

Njena kosa izgleda kao da su macke sisale

Translation: Her hair looks like a cat has been sucking on it. That’s my new favorite Serbian phrase. OK, really, it’s my only favorite Serbian phrase.

So, where were we? Oh, right, I went to Long Island last weekend to see dear Stephanie! She kills me. We had so much fun catching up, reminiscing about college days (where is that Brian Reimer now?), and just being girls.

Of course, Stephanie being the great wing-woman that she is, finds some nice guys for us to chat with at a local bar. Two guys who live in the area, but are originally from the former Yugoslavia. It’s just like Steph to find the two cutest guys at the bar who come with gorgeously sweet accents, a funny combination of long-island and slavic intonations. Something like, The Unbearable Lightness of Being meets The Sopranos.

I think it is Steph’s personal mission to see me happily in love as dear Steph is constantly trying to match me up with various gentlemen that she encounters in her business and her travels. She just walked right on up to these boys an opened up a conversation…knowing very well that it’s not really my style to do such a thing myself. Well, it worked.

So, to make a long story short, and to semi-quote the movie Good Will Hunting: I am returning to NY this weekend to see about a boy. This boy:

It’s a little crazy, a little spontaneous, and very un-interravision-like. But maybe it’s just what the doctor ordered. If I have to feel any sense of regret, I’d rather regret DOING something rather than NOT DOING something. You know what I mean?

So, for now, I bid you dovidjenja. Wish me luck.

Christmas La Dee Dee Wheee!

Ah, Christmas Morning!

Normally I wouldn’t be sitting here, watching A Christmas Story and blogging on Christmas morning. As you’ve guessed by now, I didn’t make it home. But so far it isn’t so bad. Last night Carrrrrmen and I went to see the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus and out for drinks in the only bar open in town afterwards (pictures to come later today). For some reason she had a burning desire to play Scrabble, so naturally we brought the game with us into the bar. And we played, O! It was so very intense. Thus we attracted some strange attention. Here is a snippet of conversation from a guy who sat down next to me for a spell:

Guy: What are you drinking? (gesturing to my nearly empty beer glass)
Me: It was a Guinness.
Guy: You like that stuff?
Me: Umm, looks like it.

It was actually really fun, except for the horrible music. Have you heard Cartman’s rendition of Come Sail Away?

Christmas mornings were truly magical when I was a child, especially before my parents split. I don’t remember actually finding out the truth about Santa, do you? My brother, sister, and I would stand in the kitchen (painted olive green, gotta love the ’70s), standing at the doorway that led down to the family room, where Santa had left us presents. We would giggle and take turns trying to peek through the keyhole to catch a glimpse of our goodies. When Mom and Dad said it was time, we rushed the door, down the stairwell and to our respective stockings.

We opened presents always on Christmas morning, I can’t imagine following the tradition that does them on Christmas Eve. That just can’t be the same. We were allowed to open one present before bed on Christmas Eve. An appetizer of sorts. A teaser.

We would open presents one at a time, early Chrstmas Morn, watching each other. It wasn’t a mad dash for the finish line, so we’d be at it quite a while. One Christmas my parents audio taped us opening presents. I wish I knew where that tape was! It was precious. I remember hearing my brother, who was 9 years old or so at the time, open up the double album set of Gold Rush ’79 and exclaiming with excitement, “Wow! Mom! It’s got Shake Your Groove Thing!”. Awesome.

I admit that I always felt a pang of regret once everything was ripped open and admired. I hated the idea that the next Christmas was now so very far away. I guess I sort of feel that way right now too.

On Photography, Part 1

There is something about holding the weight of a camera in my hand that soothes me, whether it be digital, print or disposable. I often feel as though I am watching life through a view finder, and feel naked if I don’t have a camera tucked somewhere on me, even if I am just going to by eggs at the corner store. It’s Murphy’s Law– if I am not packing a camera, I am liable to see something cool like circus folk juggling elephants down McGrath Highway. Really.

More than anything else, I love to photograph people. Preferably when they are not aware, or simply don’t care, that I am shooting. Thankfully most of my friends are used to the camera being constantly focused on them, so they make excellent subjects. As for strangers, that can be a bit more complicated since I also want to be respectful of privacy and personal space. Many cultures believe that letting someone take your picture is the equivalent of letting someone steal your soul so I am often careful to ask permission first before taking a stranger’s picture especially if I am traveling in a foreign country. The problem is, naturally, once permission is given their awareness of the camera almost always ruins the shot.

But I guess sometimes I don’t always ask. I just take my chances and get the shots I want.

I just got a scanner, which came along with the new computer. Exciting! Now I can start to share with you the many fun print photos I have been taking over the years. What to start with?

Given the nature of this post, I wanted to share some of my favorite “soul stealing” shots I took last summer here in Boston. These were taken by the fountain towards the read of the Christian Science Center on a very hot and sunny afternoon…


Today has been a day of reflection. I went to a 9/11 remeberance service and spent some time at Boston’s 9/11 memorial in the Public Garden. I talked to a lot of people, strangers. But I was moved on more than one occasion by the stories and thoughts people shared with me today.

Wage Peace
by Judyth HillWage peace with your breath.

Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.

Breathe in confusion
and breathe out maple trees.

Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.

Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.

Play music, memorize the words for thank you in three languages.

Learn to knit, and make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish.

Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious:

Have a cup of tea and rejoice.

Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.

Just have to share

I wasn’t planning on posting my feelings/thoughts about the situation down South in the aftermath of Katrina ( most of all anger, frustration and helplessness), but I have to share this email I just received from a colleague. He and his wife are friends with a guy who has just been through an amazing ordeal–

Warning: it might make you a bit emotional.

Hi ya’ll,

Sorry I’m writing a group email but this is the first time I’ve had access since the storm and I am dead-tired , but safe. Please pardon my less than stellar writing style for the same reasons.   I rode it out and it was quite something. I made a calculated gamble that the storm wouldn’t blow my house down, and it didn’t, but roof tiles came off and the bathroom window was ripped away.

I thought all was well and went to retrieve my car at headquarters (For those of you that do not know, I am now a full-fledged GIS professional working for Orleans Parish 9-1-1). I brought the car back home and parked it on higher ground up the street. Problem was, next morning my car was partially submerged. I waded thru chest-deep water to get to it and found it in about a foot of water. I was able to fire it up and back it up onto the bridge over Bayou St John. But this little sliver [his neighborhood] was now an island and my escape routes cut off.

I had prepared substantially for the possibility of staying by freezing multiple gallons of water, filling other containers, getting canned food, batteries, candles. I also had a bbq pit and fuel for that. My next door neighbor, an Englishman, and across the street neighbors, an elderly woman and her young nephew were all on the upper floors of our respective buildings. We weren’t going anywhere for a while but figured the water would go down in a couple of days. Didn’t work out that way…

I ate very well and shared food with the next door guy via a rope sytem since we were both trying to avoid going into that foul four feet of water. By having my car nearby I was able to make forays to it, start it up and charge my cell phone. However communication was for days impossible. I also had food and water to share with people wading by below who had nothing.

I lost electricity the morning of the storm but had water and gas thru Tuesday. Wed. morning I had neither. With the water not going down appreciably and via listening to the radio and hearing how bad things were getting around town, I decided it would soon be time to leave. It still is hard for me to conceive that this was only a span of a few days ’cause, lemme tell ya, time slowed to an imperceptible crawl.

Thursday night I decided it was time to go. I had several options. There was a sliver of ground two blocks away that was, from the sound of it, a helicopter rescue point. When I finally saw it in action on Thurs, there were 200 people wating to get picked up. That didn’t look good. By Thurs i was able to make some cell phone contact with my brother Daniel and friend Lee in Fla. Thru that network I received a message from my 9-1-1 boss saying I could come down to city hall where our emergency HQ was set up. Daniel and Lee quickly dissuaded me from what would have been a literally suicidal choice given the violence in that part of town. In my part of town, by the way, there was no such mayhem and everyone we encountered was kind and helpful to varying degrees.

So, I decided I would make a try for the helicopter spot. I had my roommate’s cat with me for company but knew I could not take him on the chopper. I had already spent days thinking of every possible way I could take him with me. I even built a raft and was planning to walk him thru deep water two miles or more to a place I heard was connected to dry streets.It turned out this way was too deep so I was told by a passerby in canoe. Also kitty kept getting out of his flimsy mesh cat carrier on test runs on the porch.

This thing was so confining that when i finally secured him in it there was no way to get food and water in without him leaping out. And, when he was in there he was so frantic he almost killed himself trying to get out. So, with great sadness, I set him up with all my remaining water, some four gallons in various containers, a huge bag of food, full clean litter box and a means to be both inside the protected stairwell and out on the balcony where he could leap into a nearby tree and climb down if necessary.

I packed a rucksuck with the bare necessities and set out at dawn on Friday for the landing zone. Before getting there I was able to get to my car, charge up the phone and make contact with people whose numbers my neighbors had given me. I shouted the news back down the block to them and bid farewell. To my dismay, the landing zone was empty except for 2 suspicious characters scavenging thru the debris. Fearful of being robbed, I turned to see three guys of less suspicious nature bringing a flatboat. 2 were pulling a third elderly man in the boat. I asked them if we could proceed together and, upon arriving at the spot, looked up to see a helicopter coming in for a landing. We only waited 1 minute! The two guys put the old man on the copter but didn’t get on themselves, much to my surprise. We lifted off and cirlced low over the city picking up others from various sections of elevated highway in the vicinity. What I saw looking down was shocking. I took a couple of pictures and will send them if the come out.

We then proceed to the airport. Upon landing, i decided I would take this eldely man uder my wing and we became travelling companions for the next grueling part of the journey. We had to stand for 8 hours in line at the airport with hundreds of others but finally were loaded onto a large military transport and flown to San Antonio. We had no choice of destination.

Serendipitously, my savior Lee Burgess with whom I had been in sporadic phone contact, had said that if I could get to Houston or SanAntonio he would have a plane ticket waiting to fly me down to Miami. After many grueling hours of more waiting at various points in San Antonio we were finally deposited at a shelter with a growing number of hapless others who came in thru the wee hours.

This morning Lee got me a flight and I took the old man, an artist and 86 yr oldWWII vet named John Sowley to theairport with me, got him in contact with a friend of his in Tampa and got him on a plane that left just minutes after our arrival. I am now in Lakeworth just north of Miami where Lee has graciously offerd to put me up for as long as necessary. He may be able to set me up with some part-time carpentry too.

As for the future I don’t know. I still have my 9-1-1 job but the future of that is uncertain given the circumstances. I’m not worrying about it now and will cross bridges as they come.

Friends, i have to stop now as I have been going on only a couple of hours of sleep a night for the last week. I’ll write again in a few days time. Hope you enjoyed the yarn…

Love, John

Sunday! It’s the new Saturday!

OK, normally Mondays definitely do NOT rock. But in August they DO! Why? I have taken a month of Mondays off from work. 4 weeks of 4-day weeks! Sweet! Sunday…it’s the new Saturday!

What do I plan to do:

hang with my sister
hang with superette (when they get back)
go to the beach
ride my bike
visit Steph in NY (Hi Steph, you don’t know this yet, but I am coming for a visit in August!)
Hit the MFA
Go to a matinee
read by the river
Stay up late on Sunday nights

What I will not be doing:

Calling the office
checking my email
blogging (well….maybe)
watching Oprah
cleaning the house (it’s my vacation for goodness sake!)
keeping an eye on Mus

only about 2 more weeks of vacation that I have to spend before Dec 31 (I get a whopping 37 days this year). Any suggestions?

Shocking Statistics!

You won’t believe these statistics! I mean… who would ever even THINK about engaging in these kinds of activities???


• Non-work related Internet surfing results in up to a 40% loss in productivity each year at American businesses.- Gartner Group (Umm, compared to what? Compared to productivity pre-internet? Come on, no way).

• 85.6% of employees use office email for personal reasons.- NFO Worldwide (who are the the other 14.4%? I feel sorry for them. They must be orphans)

• 70% of all web traffic to Internet pornography sites occurs during the work hours of 9am-5pm.- Sex Tracker (well, it’s always “work hours” in at least one time zone at any given moment)

• 92% of online stock trading occurs from the workplace during work hours. (that sounds like work to me)

• 64% of employees have received politically incorrect or offensive emails at work.- Business Week (I meant to talk to you about that Ashbloem. Please stop it.)

• 30% of American workers watch sports online while at work. (Is it MY fault that Wimbledon takes place during the day?? Those tennis players should play at more convenient times)

• 24% of American workers admit to shopping online while at work. (I swear I only buy shoes at during my lunch break!)

• 30 to 40% of Internet use in the workplace is not related to business.- IDC Research (Define “business”. Having pretty shoes definitely is related to business in my book)

• 37% of workers say they surf the Web constantly at work.- (Really? Are you sure it isn’t more than that? Go check again)

• 77.7% of major U.S. companies keep tabs on employees by checking their e-mail, Internet, phone calls, computer files, or by videotaping them at work.- American Management Association (uh-oh.)

• 63% of companies monitor workers’ Internet connections and 47% store and review employee e-mail.- American Management Association (The AMA clearly can’t make up their mind. See previous statistic)

Kees van Dongen

While at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg I bought 2 prints I am going to have framed by Kees van Dongen. I can’t wait to have them hanging in my living room– they’re going to look fantastic hanging over my reddish-orangish couch.

Red dancer

Woman With Black hat

More later…. I am pressed for time this morning.