Monday, March 21, 2011


I live in a place where it is green in the winter and spring, and brown in the summer. Sounds weird to my East Coast friends whose lawns are brown or under snow. It has its benefits - we don't get rain in the summer. It has it's bad points - it's brown in summer. Today there's a break in the rain and it's especially green.
I went out to see what's blooming. 

Loropetalum Plum Delight, the Chinese Fringe Flower...
Summer snowflakes seem a bit confused about the season...
Daffodils of all sorts spangle the shade under the old oak...

The King Alfred all died out but these guys are happily multiplying.

A pair of crabapples cheer the kitchen window...

I can't grow most primroses (too hot and dry in summer) but I can grow bergenia,

and columbine,

Lemon scented daphne...

...and the sweetest Parma violets.

It's too pretty to stay inside. Ally and I are going for a walk.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Qaddafi pokes the hornet's nest

I am sick. Libyans, last week so full of hope, of the the joy of speaking freely are now being slaughtered. You can see the despair, the death of hope in their eyes. The raw fear. And it is in some measure our fault.

We encourage revolution. We say we support democracy. Then when the people go out and fight armed with their dreams and some captured weapons, we do nothing.

Qaddafi poked the hornet's nest. He waited to see what we would do. And when we did nothing he knew he could stomp on those people, on their women and children, on their dreams.We talk about UN Resolutions, a vote on Tuesday - so now Qaddafi knows he has to win by Tuesday. He stared us down and he won. We are weak; he is stronger.

I am amazed the Arab world doesn't hate us. They don't. I was there. They want what we have - the chance to make a better life, a life free from fear, from thugs who come in the night, take your children, torture your wife.

We promise great things and we leave them to bleed in the streets. We encourage them to take their fate into their own hands, and when they do we leave them to be slaughtered. What did we expect would happen?

We can't say we didn't see this one coming. The intoxication of finally being able to say what you think, of finally being able to disagree, to dissent - we take it for granted. In Libya it would get you killed. Just for a moment it was possible to speak your heart. Now if Qaddafi wins the killing will be horrific and no one will speak what is in their heart for a very long time. You will not trust your neighbor, or your cousin. You will live in terror. We say no more Kosovo, no more Rwanda, but we encouraged those brave naive souls and their deaths will be on our hands.

Not another Iraq, you say. Right. Libya gets 90% of its money from gas and oil. If we can embargo Iran we can embargo Libya. If a cel phone can't be used on take-off and landing you can't tell me we don't have some way to stop Qaddafi's planes with technology. We managed a no-fly zone over Iraq so don't tell me we could not do something here. We know where the money is. Freeze his assets, mess with his cel phone. Screw up their internal communications. Deny him hair dye.

Who do we expect will make the change?  Do we think the people will rise up again after this? After the horrific reprisals that are coming? We encouraged them and we are leaving them to be slaughtered. It makes me sick. We speak of lofty ideals, of self-determination and human rights and freedom and then we turn away, after we have encouraged them and we say"Not my problem." But it is our problem. Hemingway was right, no man is an island.

Libya is a tribal society. The tribal leaders have more courage than we do. They said Qaddafi must go. We wait to see who wins, then we will say "Oh yeah, we were for him all along." Makes me sick. I am ashamed.

Have you seen the supposed Qaddafi loyalists with their Somali and Yemeni passports? It's a tribal society - do these guys look anything like the other Libyans? They are mostly imported thugs. Have you seen the soldier in the hospital who lost his leg, a Libyan who was a supposed Qaddafi loyalist? He said he was told he was fighting American invaders. And if he'd said "No thanks, don't want to go out and shoot other Libyans" what do you think would have happened to his family?

The next time we urge people to take their destinies into their own hands what do you think they will say?

The guy is a whack job. Dr Lina Khatib thinks it may be the hair dye. Ben Ali, Mubarak, Qaddafi all use the same bad hair dye and she thinks it affects their brains.  Have you seen the way Qaddafi tosses his headscarf? He looks like a teen age girl...except for the snake eyes. He's learned we blink first. He's winning and we're not losing, the Libyans, the entire Arab world is losing.

There was a Libyan general who wrote a manifesto as the revolution started saying "I am on the side of the rebels and I urge all the military to join me." The reporter to whom he gave the letter refused to publish it until he knew the general's family was safe. They never got safe, the letter never got published. Guess which side the general is fighting on now? Guess where his heart is? 

Life in Libya was unbearable before. God only knows how awful it will be now, and it's partly our fault.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Travel Tips

There is a great article in today's NY Times about travel tipping - and bargaining - that makes so much sense. The cliff notes version:

If you bargain someone down, buy more so your total purchase equals his (or her) opening bid. So if they start at 100 whoopies for a thingybob, you'll probably end up with two or three thingiemabobs for 100 whoopies - the vendor makes a decent sale; you end up with more gifts to take home.

Buy local stuff - you will be supporting the local economy and will have unique relevant things to take home.

Buy more. Happier neighbors (more gifts), happier sellers (more sales). Healthier local economy.

It all makes so much sense, and takes the over/under guilt out of the equation.

I would add my own: Know a bit about the country before you go. Some countries have a tradition of alms to the needy; in some places (like Cambodia) if the kids are successful at begging they're kept out of school - the family needs the money. If you know a bit about the country you'll feel more comfortable about the unintended consequences of your donation or purchase. And if you learn a bit about the country's crafts you'll know you're buying local (good idea) not something else that's made in China.

We have so much, and such a little from us can make a huge difference in someone's life.

Food for thought.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Forts and Fish Markets

(a post that didn't get sent because of the slooooow internet)

The first night there was a woman with a cough. The second night three or four people were coughing. Today it is a full-fledged epidemic and I have a raw throat, a croaky voice and no energy. Jane is sick too. Wally goes off with the troops on a long bus ride to see yet another fort, yet another souk. I’m souked out, I sleep all day on the boat.

I’ve been reading about all the things there are to do here that we are not doing because we’re going to another fort, another fish market. Taking more pictures from more parking lots.
There is snorkeling, kayaking, deep sea fishing, birdwatching. Sailing, windsurfing. Caving. Zip lining into potholes. Wadi bashing in four-wheel drives. 
Camel riding, star gazing in the desert. Dinner in the desert in a Bedouin encampment. Traditional music and costumes, and the reasons behind. How to wrap your head dress.
Cooking lessons - how do they make that fabulous hummus? What are the typical spices? Dates! We rarely see a date - there must be a date market, a date ranch, a date farmer somewhere around here. How about it?
 There are UNESCO world heritage sites everywhere, existing or proposed. At this point we’re not picky. Just please no more forts or fish markets. The last one was quite smelly and off-putting. And since were not getting to eat the lovely lobster and shrimp please don’t tease us. 

Sleeping at the Duty Free Hotel

We spent the (short) night before our flight home at the Dubai International Hotel. So weird, makes so much get off your plane and instead of exiting the secure area there's a hotel just above the gates and the duty-free shopping. Some decent restaurants...

...this one with an ipad menu. First time I've seen that (not the last I'm sure).

Good wines... a case I wish I had on the back wall of my dining room. Check out the ladder.

The hotel was modern, comfortable, roomy and functional. And saved us at least two hours of taxis and waiting in lines.

And surprisingly quiet. We popped out of bed and headed to the gate right at boarding time. No security lines, no dragging your luggage around; it was checked through. This is an idea that's bound to catch on. Tho the views from your window are a bit strange...

Duty Free shopping and departure gates. Works for me.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Showers of Silver, or Who’s Eating the Sardines?

Ouch - my hips are so sore from sitting flat on the deck of the dhow. Wonder how the others in this assisted living facility are doing? 
“If you’re not going on the excursion what are you going to do today?”
“We thought we’d hijack the ship and keelhaul the bosun. You got a problem with that?”
“No, but I’m not the bosun.”
A day of working out, of privacy and solitude. Heaven. 
I step onto our balcony and there are sprinkling sounds on the water. There are huge schools of sardines, and someone must be feeding on them for they stitch the surface of the water, flashing silver wriggles out of the water then sprinkling back in. Their jumping attracts the gulls...To paraphrase Kermit, “It’s not easy being sardine.” 
As you can see there's a cloud of sardines under every boat. Must be seeking us.

I am surprised at how much moisture is in the air. It is sticky, there is a haze in the air. Sea mist, the guide calls it. We hear in summer it’s 120 and 90% humidity. The rock is totally bare, even the dry washes where creeks must run when (if) it rains hold just a few sere tufts. For such a dry part of the world the air is pretty damp. 
At noon today it was 30 - 86 fahrenheit. Glad we’re here in winter. Remind me not to complain about the heat at home. If you come, come in the winter. We can feel it getting hotter every day.


The less said the better. We seem to be moving to more conservative places, for in each stop we see more full black abayas and veils. There are signs everywhere: no alcohol. We must cover ankles to wrists and carry headscarfs. You could not pay me to live here.
Questionable morals among the appetizers...

and a very disturbing visage at breakfast. 

Fortunately the Watermelon Open Casket Breakfast has given way to cantaloupes carved like baskets and a cheery eggplant penguin.
Goats in the Graveyard
Khasab, Mussandam Peninsula, Oman

We are in The Sheltering Sky: bare crumbling grey mountains, no vegetation. Where the sea meets the rock it is starkly beautiful. 
Sad clusters of abandoned stone houses shimmer in the heat, and this is winter. The government is building everyone a new house. Right next door to the old one. Wonder what Grandma thinks?
Lots of goats, some in compromising positions. We realize when we visit a real village that the goats are the garbage collectors. And tree trimmers. 
The harbor is full of small open speedboats stacked with grey plastic-wrapped packages; we’re told they are cigarettes, electronics and fabrics going to Iran. And God only knows what else. Many of them leave late in the day, stay in international waters until dark, then run for shore in Iran. 
Joe tells a story about being stopped during a dive trip by an Iranian military boat. He was collecting underwater plant life and was afraid he was in big trouble.
First question: “Do you have any cold Coca-Cola?” As the smugglers streamed by, Joe asked the Iranian Military Captain “Aren’t you concerned about the smugglers?”
He smiled and said, “Not today. Once a month we arrest one, and we make sure the media is on hand. Now, do you have any more cold Coca-Cola?”
We are herded onto busses and given a few minutes at two forts, (fully rebuilt with the requisite pair of old cannon in front) then driven round in circles and fed coffee and sweets until it’s our turn to get on the Dhows. We feel like sheep. “Ten minutes here, ladies and gentlemen. Be sure to be back on the busses in Ten Minutes.” I will never take another bus. I will walk, swim, crawl. 

How Now Brown Dhow
So glad we did the dhows last, for the sun beats down. I feel sorry for the other group, they went on the dhows in the morning and are now sweltering in the forts.

We have a typical  Omani lunch on the dhow - it is the same food we’ve had at nearly every buffet (and you know how I feel about buffets!)
Rice, chicken thighs (apparently none of the chickens here have breasts) hummus (fabulous, you’ll never buy packaged again) salad (so far so good), pita bread. These guys also grill a fish - when I first got on the dhow I thought the boat was on fire, but it was only a Weber smoking away next to the tiller, and when we stop for lunch the fish is just done - it is moist and delicious, grilled in foil. 
Our Captain is a ringer for Michael Jackson, in Ray Ban shades and designer blue jeans.

The local guide hands around bottled water, saying “Omani white wine, anyone?”
The water is cool, and a dozen humpback dolphins come out to surf our bow wave. 

There is swimming, no rushing, no stinking busses. I see a four foot kingfish leap in a huge arc out of the water. The sun is low as we return, tired and happy.

Apparently most of the fish sold or eaten in Dubai comes from Oman. There is pride and competition between the cities here...just ask the local tour guide about the Emirate next door. Then stand back.
On the way back to the ship we meet a goat who took a shortcut. The guy who owns this car has to know this is what happens when you don’t leave enough room at the front of your car. 
And we think our parking lots are hazardous.

A full day, a good day.