Sketches

a certain restlessness  — not quite pins and needles but a kind of trembling in my solar plexus that radiates in giddy streaks down to my toes.

The air, warm and moist, smooths the gentle rumble of the dying tide against my face — like an assiduous seamstress smooths out the wrinkled fabric. Those two guards can sit for hours in the shade of the palm tree, the one-branch bench digging into their femurs, as they gaze out into the Indian Ocean. I watch them, too, from the comfort of my bed, its mosquito net swaying in the breeze, and the door to my hotel room thrown brazenly open – step out, and you’ll find yourself on the edge of the grounds, once used now abandoned boats lying belly up beneath the vehement sun.

The sunrise, too, categorically above, as I wake up with my head pointing firmly east, claims my window, shifts the curtain to the side, just enough to light the still-asleep ocean on fire. Liquid gold as it pours from the sky to the shore, unravels its path between cutouts of trees and anemic blades of grass – and up my eyelash.

Meanwhile, my team leader mutters in frustration under his breath, the project charges rather clueless and defensive; my back has reached an almost point of no return (but for a German mage who wrung the grating stiffness out of it by sheer force of will, it seems); and maybe tonight, a freshly caught lobster served to a glass of crisp white wine. Yesterday, a walk through the seedy bars of Dar inhabited by beautiful and relentless butterflies, their thin calf-less legs teetering on cheap heels, and eyes aggressive and swooning over one or the other white gentlemen. It made me sad and uncomfortable.

On the way back, I put my hand out of the car, hot and sweaty, and felt the resisting air

Трусость, несомненно, самый страшный порок…

 

 

 

Advertisements

Crimean champagne

the sun is a flame-white disc

in silken mists

<…>

Who shall say I am not

the happy genius of my household?

 

I had to be quite frugal. My choice of shoes, and skirts, and poetry books had to be critically examined – the necessity of each assessed against a full month (save one weekend) in Africa — and against a hefty bottle of Crimean champagne, porcelain coffee filters and children’s books that I promised I’d smuggle over to Tanzania (in my ill-considered –now so seeming— generosity). ..The unexamined stuff is not worth taking!..

A new country, then. So full of promise. Of yet un-danced salsa nights, of flirty sundowners on the edge of the Indian ocean, of rampant dusty traffic, of looking up silly lists like ten things to do and five places to visit; of grilled seafood caught moments ago, of having to tuck up your mosquito net under the mattress, and maybe –just maybe—the feeling of pearly sand between the toes, and feeling so loose and limber, cutting through the turquoise waters. Who knows what these weeks might bring?

This week in Hamburg, though, stretched out improbably, had offered itself up to expected and unexpected pleasures… Catching up with old friends, the taste of wine–  oaky, with ruby red deep dulcet tones– wedded to the rich texture of meat; the echo of heels through the empty Old Masters Halls of the Kunsthalle smelling perpetually of paint and aging wood – all too familiar, and yet.

Bildergebnis für birdland hamburg facebook

But then — the sudden welcome of a nimble fingered sax in Birdland, people sat on the floor, on the stairs, the edge of the stage, whisky in hand, swaying to the music, and how articulate you seemed — the long walk home brought (not-so distant memories) of having had to walk – upon return from Singapore – the pelt of rain, the wetted tarmac, and feeling grateful for having brought an umbrella.

In the end, it doesn’t take quite so much.

 

Chernivtsi

This place has died a slow and mourn(less) death, Kandinsky’s reproductions strewn across the table, stretching under book weights, and outside the balcony is holding fort to what might seem, was once a stubborn sunset. The monstrous, hunch-back shapes of candles (halfway through burning time) give off warmth that’s almost too much.

It’s nice to be back (in Hamburg/in my apartment/in my own –autonomous—space). In an uncharacteristic fit of organization, I’ve even unpacked to sort out my closet in a decent manner, color coordinated, short sleeves to long sleeves and such.

One week. And then – for sure, off to the sweaty heat of Dar es Salaam – and if it’s anything like Zanzibar, or Singapore, it will be intense. The sheet of sweat that permanently coats your skin makes you think of perpetual detox and pore-cleansing, and takes a lot out of you, especially, if one wants – as I do – maintain any shred of recognizable dignity.

Bildergebnis für old chernivtsi

Dignity. Haha. I spent the last two weeks in Chernivtsi, a quaint town in the Western-most part of Ukraine, that’s seen the rise and fall of at least five empires over the last couple of hundred years, with pipes (of the water utility we are working with) built by the Austrians – a matter of great pride – under the web of broken cobblestone that’s sole purpose is to trip you up.

My Deputy Team Leader – because it’s our second project together — right from the time we were scouring landfills in Poltava – had his 47th birthday – remarkably young and fit for his age (would that be considered an ageist statement?) — smoldering black eyes, some Tatar blood there, no doubt, strong cheekbones and a willful forehead, framed by (unexpectedly) gray hair – spoke of dignity and nobility, and I was not quite sure, if he meant it – my seeming inability to wholeheartedly laugh at a vulgar joke.

The most remarkable of all, of course — as it’s my second time in Chernivtsi, snow-ridden as I remember it, the toll of bells across the tiny 19th century street, lampposts like something out of a Narnia novel, the softly falling snow, and the feeling of my icy fingers in your (barely warmer) hand – now that blue azure sky, unspoilt, cloud-less, save for one finger-painted cloud across the horizon, above the Central Square.

The train ride there – because I’d rather take a 4 hour train than take an extra flight – was something delicate, of things and circumstances unappreciatively coming together – the empty row of seats, the quietly falling dusk, the slowly descending buzz of fatigue – from travelling all day – blended with the steady unfailing rumble of the wheels…

Vienna approaching

It’s been a while since I posted. You’d think one would be waiting, waiting, waiting for the low red fruit of inspiration grow ripe and heavy, and fall down with a satisfying thud. Truth is, it fell down and rotted away, releasing “a dim purple kind of smell which Edmund said… was rot” (and yes, I dare you to recognize the reference).

Lots of exciting things coming up. Vienna, first of all, on Sunday already, after 8 years of being away. How would it feel, I wonder, roaming the same streets – and I especially chose the hotel in the neighborhood of Naschmarkt, within a walking distance to Belvedere, and close to Karlsplatz where this photo of youthful panache was once taken, so many years ago.

Haha, well, and then, off to Brazil, and I don’t even want to begin to think about how great it’s going to be, or the 8 hour flight over the Atlantic.

The travel month of May..

 

Oversharing

His good-natured face was screwed up in almost real pain – bafflement – trying to come to terms with the terrible fold in his universe. So much has been said, I can’t even — because really, I think my tongue has grown too inches thicker. He’d crouch behind his desk in the corner, voice dropping (half) an octave to beg us, implore us to be discrete.

Two days before it was Nairobi’s golden hour, with sun setting over the car park, temperature drop too rapid to feel comfortable, and excited chatter rising above the raging traffic that finally, the weekend has arrived. We’d ordered an appetizer and red wine – it wasn’t supposed to be a long outing – just a casual drink among colleagues, wrapping up the end of a strenuous work week, and the long-anticipated submission of the first report. We talked work, expat life, the upcoming election – all those pleasant non-committal topics that make the time pass by quickly and the wine empty on its own. The glass tipped and left no treacherous stain – tipping the conversation along with it – boldly venturing into personal realm. We stood up, and even though I wasn’t hungry – decided to go have dinner at the ‘best seafood place in town’.

It was a truly delicious meal – my very first lobster – you were endeared and surprised – and oh, the glory! – the fact that you used to like Dune too (but probably outgrew it). Our evening ended in a completely empty bar across – a bar that couldn’t quite decide if it’s a bar, a restaurant or a nightclub – the espresso martini was but a sweetened echo of what I’d had in Singapore – but you liked it. We probably overindulged and overshared, but it didn’t matter – because I really enjoyed myself.

Seas

We raced through the night, with music blasting out of the speakers – into the purple sky. You took my hand and raised it to your lips, smooth and practiced, but after Germans, I didn’t really mind. Two hours before, we’d sat on the terrace overlooking the sea, and the sound of waves crashing against the soft sand lent a keen delightful edge to the band tinkering in the background. I didn’t want to go, of course, because I am, despite appearances, a paranoid chicken, but who could resist – for longer than one course of an overcooked pavé de loup de mer – your deep dulcet French-Arabic tones? I’ve had my own sweet share of Arabic men, and you were one fine specimen: tall, broad-shouldered, and with those thick generous eyelashes around the eyes the colour of molten sugar… That you’d had your own brush ready against the canvas, and felt the breath of the abyss might have had something to do with it as well.

But – to the wind! – I dropped my water bottle on you in the plane, and now I climbed into your car (but let my friends know where and what I was doing, because, well, better safe than sorry after all), and off to the Tunisian capital to get a peek of its infamous nightlife.

We’d gone straight for the bright and the blaring, the recently opened Billionaire Gammarth lounge, because, I mean, who doesn’t like a bit of red carpet at the entrance, complete with its own step and repeat banner? I hope the name was meant to be funny, a self-ironic nod that, really, we don’t take ourselves that seriously here. Let’s walk in, and observe the stocky Tunisians, immaculately dressed, and girls as immaculately made-up, to the amount that I’d normally wear for a ballroom dancing competition. And I must admire the skill — and Arab faces can take a lot of makeup, with those kajal-lined expressive almond eyes, and strong-willed noses, and all that framed by lush, perfectly groomed hair. Dance-wise, though, especially after Africa, there were no skills to speak of. But nonetheless, it was great fun – people drank, but with obvious enjoyment, and even if someone did start showing signs of getting boisterous, it was contained to their tables. I saw a curious sight in one of the bathrooms – the cleaning lady, dressed in hijab, was helping a local girl into her skimpy night-out get-up – trying to zip up an open-back, lace catsuit (that was obviously one size too small). My companion shrugged – he said that these things do exist side by side here, and are not really the way one makes them out to be – frenetic crowds with pitchforks (if only! and as if!..) – over there on the other side of the sea…

The sea, now, deserves its own mention – nothing better than to dip into the smooth waters, and feel the pull of the currents, and the delicious emptiness between the toes, as you swim forward, with the brilliant sun in your face. And even if not (for the week did turn out to be somewhat rainy and cloudy throughout), sitting on the shore, with my dress billowing around my ankles, and that briny wild smell up my nostrils, by Gods, must be one of life’s quiet unassuming pleasures!..

Totems

So much to enjoy, and yet so little to relish.

I keep telling myself I should stop dreaming about the immediate future and enjoy – This – (ModPo Cycle 4, anyone?, Kelly Writer’s House) but I guess this is the disillusionment, fed-up stage setting in. Third and last week in Kampala – this time around – starting, and I just can’t wait to get back. Everything is annoying (so, I’ve decided, it’s going to be a whining post, bear with me) – the garlic smell of the fried fish wafting from the kitchen, the glacial pace of the waiters, the souring wine, the mosquito bites (however carefully I arrange the net above my bed), the shrill yodelling (no other word for it) of a local comedian over the radio. Ugh, how I hate the boda-bodas (how are you not hot in that bomber jacket, anyway?), pestering me when I just want to have a slow uninterrupted Sunday walk.

But then again, there was this Ugandan, blissfully stretched, to the full length of his long limbs, under a dried up giant leaf of a palm-tree that looked more like a totem, upright and polished. And that picture – of how absolutely at home he looked, and at peace – he could have easily been painted onto the landscape (one of those fake 3D drawings going around the internet, when the camera shifts, and voilà! exposing the pretence, the optical illusion that tricked your eye into thinking that there was something real there when in fact it was just flat) – a totem in its own right.

 

Slowly the water rat takes up its reed pen

and scribbles. Leisurely, the egret

on the mud tablet stamps its hieroglyph…