Thursday, June 30, 2011

frog song

The night exhales a much appreciated coolness, as a dog barks in irritation or want on some dark, unseen street. Nepali and Tibetan voices struggle to rise above the frog song that pushes against the heavy sky. I feel a small sting on my leg and reach to itch it, then stop halfway, deciding it’s not worth it. A stranger bought me a slice of lemon meringue pie today—a traveller, another self-confessed nomad, except he has been to Buenos Aires and I have not. Our conversation floated from art to travel and back again, and a monkey hopped onto the balcony to nibble on a fuschia.

This day is over now. Over as quickly as it began— a blink, a passing thought. Growing new and older friendships. Sketching the Stupa in the rain. Eating thukpa with chili sauce.

the rain

It is as though time moves with a different pulse in Nepal. Though I have been gone for a year, if I close my eyes and breath in the burnt air, it could be last summer. The metalsmiths have hammered away millions of tinny taps since then, and younger crows are fed by the lady in the bluish house, but to me, as I sit here, they feel the same. The water’s metallic smell is a strange comfort. The threadbare prayer flags, which flutter like delicate butterfies in blue, white, red, yellow and green fill me with a familiar wonder and warmth.

Earlier, I walked around the stupa in the rain, my red flowered umbrella clashing with the old brick buildings in a most pleasing way. I took shelter in a dark passage next to a souvenir shop, and stared into the unblinking eyes of Buddha, painted on the Stupa’s golden tower. I felt something tidal within me, a pulling in my heart and gut. There are a few strands of white in my much longer hair now, more ink in my skin, and I feel... I feel...

I feel like a stranger and I feel I have come home. I feel unchanged and I feel profoundly changed.
I feel I am raining too.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

the return

I barely made my flight to Kathmandu. The flight out of Istanbul was so delayed that when I arrived in Qatar, I was left with twenty minutes to get to my connecting flight. Minutes evaporated in the sweaty heat as I boarded the inter-terminal bus and navigated my way through the crowd of bloodshot eyed passengers in the security check cue. The second I got my bags back from the x-ray machine, I ran. I ran like I haven’t ran in ages‑ thankfully it was a small terminal, and I managed to make it to my gate, red-faced and breathless, the last person admitted as the gate closed.

Four and a half hours were spent in a variety of contortions as I tried unsuccessfully to get some sleep. I was awakened by pink sunlight and pale clouds. As we moved closer to Kathmandu, I began to see somewhere in the distance, something sharp and dark, jutting out from the beneath cloud cover. Those familiar faces, those magical beings, the Himalaya.

My heart ached with a certain joy and longing as a bright tapestry of memories unfolded before me.
What will this adventure bring? Where will I go? What will I see? Who will I meet?
What will I discover?

We landed with a sway, and I with a smile.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

...and she's off!

Well I'm off to Kathmandu for the summer! I still have so many photos to share with you from my adventure in Brussels, so I'm hoping the airport in Doha still has free wireless. Blogging is a great way to kill time during layovers. My nerves are a little electric right now; I have scarcely had time to think. I have only had thirty-one hours between my trip to Belgium and my trip to Nepal. Goodness... I hope I can sleep on the plane...

See you in Kathmandu!

the beer

You cannot visit Belgium without experiencing the wonder of this country's marvellous beers. I am by no means an expert, but I do know when something tastes good, and oh goodness... You have beers in every shade— white beers, blonde beers, brune beers, dark beers. Chimay, Orval, Duvel, Papegaai. Cherry beers and the syrupy-sweet framboise— which was the only beer I was not fond of.

Any of Belgium's delicious beers is best served with conversation, laughter and budding friendships.

belly belgique

My belly has an odd, GPS-esque ability when it comes to finding food. One of the first things I wanted to do in Brussels was devour a paper cone of frites— more commonly and mistakenly known as the "French fry". What most people don't realise, is that the ubiquitous "French fry" is actually Belgian. Nowhere on earth will you find a fry that can compare to the frite. Top it with a dollop of eggy mayonnaise (please don't kill it with ketchup) and heaven feels more accessible. Ignore the calories, forget about cholesterol— life is worth living to the fullest. These humble, double-fried potatoes hold special place in my memory, so I was delighted to find myself in front of a frite stand within less than twenty minutes of walking through town. They were exactly how I remembered them— crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, eggy mayo.

After walking around for a bit, taking in the sights and digesting, I decided to seek out another childhood favourite: the gaufre. Surely you have heard of the Belgian waffle? Here's where the waffle as we know it in America becomes portable. Walk up to any stand and order up a sweet, buttery, doughy waffle, and you'll have a great little treat in your hands. The toppings of whipped cream, Nutella and strawberries are mostly for tourists— try it plain, with just the butter and sugar first, to get a real taste of the gaufre's goodness. I remember cold, dark winter days, wandering through the city streets with my mother, peeling off our gloves to avoid getting them sticky as we snacked on gaufres, little trails of steam rising from the golden dough.

Lucky me, I got to meet up with fellow Moleskine Exchange artist Anna Denise, who I previously had the pleasure of meeting back in San Francisco once upon a time. It's always a wonderful experience to meet up with someone in real life, who you've known for several years online and have built a friendship with. We've been exchanging art for about four or five years now, and I find her love of life and dedication to her artwork a source of inspiration.

Anna Denise, knowing how much I love to eat, decided to take me to a most delicious restaurant, famous for its traditional Belgian cuisine. Viva M'Boma is a cosy little place with a menu that's not for the faint of heart— sweetbreads, calf liver, kidneys, horse steak and a raw meat patty mysteriously called the "Americain" are pretty much all you'll find. Not being a big fan of organ meat, I decided to go with the stoemp— a potato and vegetable mash, that was served with two massive sausages and thick ribbons of bacon. It was absolutely divine— and very, very filling. I tried Anna Denise's calf liver and onions, which I must admit, was quite tasty and not so organy.

On Friday night I had a most delicious cuisse de lapin— a rabbit leg in a sauce that I want to say had some mustard in it, from a wonderful little restaurant in some tiny square. I really wish I had written the name down of this lovely little place, it was oh so good and the service was super friendly.

Viva M’Boma / Rue de Flandre 17, 1000 Bruxelles / 02/512 15 93

Monday, June 27, 2011

delightful details

ecrive-moi une lettre

I miss the letter. I miss crinkled paper with handwritten words scrawled in ink. I miss curves and points that twist with the emotions of the hand that holds the pen. I miss stamps; each a little work of art. I have decided to write letters again, which will hopefully bring surprise and a bit of joy to their recipients.

Brussels has some lovely letter slots.

la grand-place

Often hailed as the most beautiful square in Europe, La Grande-Place is 68 by 110 metres of utter gorgeousness. I have yet to visit all the squares in Europe, but I must say, this is a very special place. Figures frozen in stone stand on almost every building's façade, golden accents shine brightly in contrast with the grey of the stone and the sky— which is so frequently grey in Belgium. The magnificent Town Hall and its surrounding guild houses mostly date from the early 17th century and offer a glimpse into the city's cultural life at the time.

I remember walking the square with my grandad.
I wore a red shirt, he was in plaid.


I spent the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth and part of the fourteenth years of my life living in Belgium, and Thursday was the first time I had set foot on its cobblestoned streets in eighteen years. A teachers' training workshop was responsible for bringing me back to this old home. Once the train from the airport started rolling through town, colours and shapes and sky pulled some feeling from deep inside me, that I cannot quite describe. I was an awkward, knobby-kneed girl again, I was timid and curious— I was being carried back into adolescence, back into an old self. 

Memories of my first dip pen, of hopeless crushes on boys, of Claire and Nina, of learning to shave my legs— all blended with the landscape rushing past the window of my train. That odd pain of being between a child and a teenager, ached a little somewhere within me. I had loved living in Belgium.

in stone

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

beer, popcorn, beyoğlu

Cold beer, hot summer night.
The song of swallows diving into the fading light.
Conversations rise into the air and hang between buildings, losing colour as night arrives.

party girl

Monday, June 20, 2011

we are here

Upon discovering that my internet was out for some inexplicable reason, I began to feel a frustration and a sense of helplessness rising up inside me— I could not call the internet provider myself, as the situation called for more Turkish than I am capable of communicating in. Instead, I chose to stare at the spastic blinking lights on my modem, hoping foolishly that if I concentrated hard enough, the lights would shine a constant green, and I could go back to my normal, webby life. The stare-off was interrupted by the pitiful groaning sound of my doorbell. Muttering under my breath, I peeled myself off the floor and reluctantly tiptoed to the door.

Three distorted shadows curved through the peep-hole with an air of expectation in their postures. I wondered what on earth they wanted from me. I opened the door and was greeted by smiles— one of which belonged to the young man downstairs, and the other two were not yet familiar. Through mime, a flurry of Turkish and about seven English words, I learned that they were my downstairs neighbours in need of adjusting their satellite dish, which of course, happened to be located right off my balcony. I opened the door wider and in they marched, with a curiosity and wonder in their eyes. They peered into my living room, my workroom and my bedroom on their way to the balcony, mumbling things to each other as their heads turned this way and that. Going against my I-can-do-it-myself independent nature, I decided to ask for help, asking them in broken Turkish if they had a wireless connection I might use.

"Hehh... maalesef, yok. Ama komşu—" and with a finger pointed upward, "internet var." I learned from the sweet-faced young woman on my balcony that while she did not have internet, my upstairs neighbours did. I made the radical decision to leave my busy downstairs neighbours in my apartment as I climbed the stairs to ask my upstairs neighbours for access to their network. This was for me, a tremendous exercise in trust. The doorbell rang a bird call, and a friendly, familiar face opened the door. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by smiles, ushered into the entryway and asked to join the family for a little television. I respectfully declined their kind offer, and tried out my weak Turkish:

"Benim internet çalışmıyor— siz internet var mı?" Before I could ask for their password, I was handed a piece of paper with a series of letters on it and accompanied back to my apartment by the son, where he typed the letters into my computer. I clicked open the browser, et voilà! Access. I thanked him with my hand on my heart, and he explained that I could use his network whenever I needed. As he ran back upstairs, I decided to check on the status of the satellite fiddling on my balcony. Father and son continued to pull and twist the dish, while the daughter asked me about whether or not I get bored living alone, and where my family is. I decided to take this opportunity to show them some of my artwork, to give them an idea of who I am; that I am not some sketchy foreigner but rather, a nice foreigner who sketches.

"Ohhh! Çok güzel! Maşallah!" Hand gestures formed that demonstrated how much they liked what they saw. I was then invited to their home to watch television with the family. When asked if I had a television of my own, I replied, "televizyon istemiyorum"— I do not want a television, to baffled looks. Laughter ensued, and a brief conversation was struck between them and my upstairs neighbour who was now on her balcony watching our interaction.  

"O television istemiyor!" This elicited more "ohhhs." I tried to explain that if I watch TV, I wont draw— they nodded seriously, and seemed to understand. After a good while, I found myself alone again, in the doorway of my apartment. As I was about to close the door, a woman in a floral headscarf appeared in my entrance. I did not know her. She smiled, and started rapidly explaining something I could not understand under her heavy accent. I told her I did not understand, and with a look of great seriousness and sincerity, she said:

"Korkma. Biz burdayız!

Don't be afraid.
We are here!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

lovely day

A çay on the ferry to Asia.

A feast of cherry kebap, aubergine stew, lamb intestines stuffed with barley and a mysterious kebap with pomegranate sauce at Çiya.

Fishermen on the Galata bridge catch something unexpected.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

friday night

Who knew Istanbul had a happening Flamenco scene?
In a bar that took the term "dive bar" literally, with under-the-sea décor and vintage photos of divers hung with reverence upon the walls, a man named Manuel drummed a hypnotic beat with lightning feet. When he danced, we watched breathless, when he paused, we moved.