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Turned out that a weekend of mental health was not enough for me. I needed just one more day. I’m starting to suspect that this sudden need for R&R had a lot to do with the book I was reading, which I have mentioned once already: The Passage, by Justin Cronin. It’s definitely not for everyone, but for someone who loves post-apocalyptic fiction, a la Stephen King’s The Stand or McCormac’s The Road, this was pure dystopian heaven, deliciously horrifying and at the same time uplifting.

Plus it’s really long (800 pages, or so I’m told by those who don’t have a Kindle), which makes it even better. I’m a fast reader — Gabe says I don’t just read books, I inhale them — so good books tend to go by far too quickly. It’s rare that I find a book that can both hold my rapt attention and also withstand it for longer than a few days.

When I do find such a book, it’s almost like I’m having an affair. It disrupts all of my routines: sleep, gym, work. When I’m not reading the book, I’m thinking about it, and desperately want to finish whatever it is I’m doing so that I read some more. I leave social engagements early so that I can go home and read. I sneak in quick trysts on my lunch break, justifying them to myself by saying, “Oh, I’ll work more later.” Or tomorrow, or whenever I’m finally done with this book that is draining my life force just like one of the scary as hell vampires it so chillingly describes.

All week, I’ve been frantically trying to get my work and preparations for our visitors done so that I could carve out a chunk of time to read in the afternoon before Gabe gets home, or in the evening while he’s watching TV. I knew that if I didn’t finish it before our company starts arriving, I would be sneaking off while we were visiting castles in Sintra, catching a few lines here, a few lines there. And that would not do. There’s nothing I hate more than breaking up the end of a really good book. No, I would not adulterate my reading experience in that way. (Not to mention my family experience, of course…!)

Yesterday, I cleaned our flat in the morning, so I did accomplish something with the day. Afterward, as I was getting ready to go to the gym, I realized that I had no desire whatsoever to go lift weights. As usual, all I wanted to do was read my book, especially because  I knew I could finish it that afternoon and finally resume my normal life again.

Now, you have to understand: my workouts are sacrosanct. I hardly ever miss a gym day, if only because it gives me an excuse to get out of the house. Normally, this would have been a pretty big deal. But yesterday, without giving it a second thought, I happily curled back up in my chair and hit power on my Kindle. I was finally able to read through til the end, blissfully uninterrupted.

When I finished, I felt the inevitable sadness that comes when leaving a good book behind, but also an immense relief. Finally, this tome would relinquish its hold on me! Or so I thought. I went to meet Gabe for dinner and a movie, but I found myself thinking about the book and its characters throughout what turned out to be a terrible film experience. When I got home, I realized all over again that I was done, I had nothing waiting for me on my Kindle, and oh, I was sad. It was all I could do to keep myself from starting the book all over again.

I don’t think I’ve been like that with a book since I was a teenager, when I read and reread Anne McCaffrey’s dragon series over and over again. Or perhaps (yes I admit it) Diana Gabaldon’s epic works when I was in grad school. What can I say, I needed pure escapism then more than ever.

Throughout my life, I’ve always been happiest when I was lost in a book — sometimes to my socially inept chagrin. Ever since my mom read us the Lord of the Rings trilogy before I turned ten, books have been my favorite form of entertainment and escape. Whenever adolescence proved too much for me, I turned to McCaffrey’s world of dragons, which was always much more exciting and glamorous than my own. Later, in college and even in grad school, I continued to read as much as I could, including yes, Diana Gabaldon. Whenever I came home on vacation, I immediately ensconced myself on a couch with a book for the entire time allotted to me.

While I read, I heal. By looking away from that which has been weighing on me, I give my mind the space it needs to process. When I emerge at last, bleary-eyed and fuzzy, the real world always seems more manageable, if slightly more mundane.

So were my mental health days this week an excuse to read my book? Or was the book an excuse for me to take mental health days? Perhaps both. Lately I have really begun to feel the strain of a year’s travel, of ten months spent outside my comfort zone, of solitude and foreign language and strange food. I have enjoyed every minute of it, and have grown in ways I wouldn’t have imagined a year ago.

The truth is though, I am tired. I am ready to go home, where I don’t have to constantly reinforce my boundaries, where I know the unspoken patterns of society, where the rules and the people and the language all make sense because they are my own.

I am becoming increasingly aware of my travel weariness as we enter the homestretch: a little over five weeks til we leave Lisbon, and seven til home. Thirty-seven days left in our adopted city. That’s it! Luckily, I think my fictional retreat this week has now prepared me to better enjoy the real world for the time that remains to us abroad. Good thing, too, as I know that time is going to fly. I will turn the page, and boom — we’ll be on to the next chapter. Funny how that happens.


It’s raining again. Seriously?! So far the warmest weather we’ve had since November — the second month we were here — was in Israel. This is not what I signed up for.

But at least it makes me more comfortable with staying at home and reading all day, which is exactly what I did yesterday… minus a trip to the gym, where once again, I read while working out. It’s one of my favorite luxuries in life, to be able to curl up for hours on end and just read. Even better when I can do it as part of my job!

Invariably, I emerge from one of these days quiet and spacey, as if a part of my brain has been left behind in other worlds and imagined lives. It always takes a while for that part to catch up with me again, allowing me to rejoin the real world outside of my head.

Last night, Gabe arrived home later than usual to find me starting dinner in this calm, silent, detached state. Luckily I married someone whose extroversion is so contagious that it reaches me even at my most withdrawn, and last night was no exception. By the time we finished eating, I had shaken off the last fiction-induced cobwebs from my brain, and we were carrying on our normal cheerful conversation. Afterward, he even convinced me to walk up the hill to the mirador to watch the sunset (or at least the dramatic clouds covering it) and listen to the DJ they have there at the weekends.

I was glad that he did. We sat on a bench overlooking the city, sharing a massive glass of wine from the cafe there and watching the hipsters shiver as they toted around their cheap 40s of beer. There were many less out last night than there had been the week before, when it was much sunnier. Even so, there was some great people watching — the entire crowd all seemed to know each other, including the miniscule bleach blond DJ, whose two skinny legs together would have fit into one of mine. She had a good ear for the music though, and we all nodded our heads to the beat and pulled up our collars and wrapped our scarves a little tighter as the storm clouds flew overhead.

I am now constantly aware of how little time remains to us here, so I try to take in as much as possible, to saturate my memories with the look and feel of this place before we return. I did the same thing before we left home last summer (was it really nine months ago now?!), drinking in the sight of the ocean near our house, the light on our bedroom ceiling, the warmth of our families and friends, storing it all up to last me during the year ahead.

Now we are somehow already on the downhill side of that year, and despite my best efforts, I feel this city slipping through my fingers. Especially on a night like last night, with the vast panorama of densely packed red roofs and white walls spread out before us, the castle brooding on the hill, the river off to the right, the angry sky looming above impassive skyscrapers with foreign names. I despaired at my ability to cram it all into my head, to remember what that exact moment felt like, to take that place, that feeling with me when we leave. I know that all too soon, our evenings at the mirador drinking wine and listening to good music will seem like just another of the fictional worlds in my head. But what can I do, other than live my life and appreciate those moments as much as I can when they arrive?

That particular moment was soon interrupted by the harsh realities of an empty glass and an increasingly chilly night, so we made our way back down the cobbled streets to our flat. When it finally grew full dark, well after 9 PM, we were home and firmly ensconced on the couch — where I was, of course, reading once more.

Yesterday was May Day, and a national holiday here in Portugal. While I did not have either the occasion or ability to celebrate, many other people did, and all afternoon we could hear drums, music, and amplified voices drifting up from a parade making its way down the Avenida.

They were still marching when we went to the gym in the late afternoon, and on the way back, we wound our way between big groups of people holding signs and banners — presumably the labor unions. Some of them were dressed in traditional costumes and dancing, others were dressed normally. There was even a squad of men dressed in baby pink banging on humongous drums.

It was all very jolly, but as I’d just gone for a swim and a hot tub and was feeling pretty weak, we continued our way slowly up the hill to home. (Never has that short hill looked so long — this really is not a good city in which to have limited mobility!)

Traditionally though, May Day marked the beginning of summer, which began as a pagan celebration back in the day and was then appropriated under Christianity into the more secular celebration we see today. Of course neither is a big deal in the States, but I know it’s a bank holiday in Britain, and is clearly an occasion to celebrate here. Under the guise of International Worker’s Day, May 1 was also very important in Soviet Russia, and continues to be so in Cuba.

I’m not sure which of those many forms of May Day I celebrated yesterday, but I’m sure spending all day reading on the couch (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins) and feeling poorly counted as solidarity of one kind or another.

On a similar note… after yesterday’s post, a gentle reader pointed me to a blog post on solitude by the author Mary Morris. Morris says, “I wanted my solitude, but was not enjoying my loneliness… Solitude implies a choice. But loneliness is imposed. It’s a kind of stealth emotion.” That’s exactly what I was trying to say in my own much clumsier way yesterday.

I have always been a solitary person. There is no doubt about that. At home in Santa Cruz though, that is a choice: I have people to call, friends to see, family to visit. Here, my solitary state soon became synonymous with loneliness, because there was no choice. Even when I want to be around people, the possibilities are few and far between. So this week, when I returned to solitude after six weeks of companionship, the loneliness quickly overpowered my relief at being solitary once more.

I’m very relieved to be able to make this distinction. I still do relish my solitude, and would feel like I was losing an old friend if suddenly I were to stop valuing it as much. But loneliness — well, that is one acquaintance I can certainly do without.

Either way, the entire debate will be rendered moot in about three weeks, when we go to visit family in Sweden. After that, it’s pretty much nonstop travel, company, and moving until we get home in August, by which point solitude will once again seem like a sweet desert oasis shimmering on the horizon.

The grass is always greener, I suppose.

Yesterday my cold came back with a vengeance. It picked me up, crumpled me into a little ball, and discarded me, much like one of the used wads of Kleenex we’ve left scattered around the apartment during the past week.

I felt worse in the morning, but still made it through breakfast, writing, and shower as usual. I even went so far as to walk Gabe to the metro before venturing to the gym for a short workout and a sauna, which I thought might make me feel better. About five minutes into my very easy workout though, I realized… uh oh. All is not well. I could not for the life of me focus on the podcast I was listening to, and kept getting distracted by the silent TV screens, mesmerized by the dancing music videos. Not good.

I stopped early and headed for the sauna, but even there, I knew something was not right. It was like a giant feather duvet had been wrapped around my brain, and everything seemed padded somehow, fuzzy and far away. People in the locker room must have thought I was high.

I quickly showered off and headed back to the flat before I ran out of energy completely. Good thing I did, too, because I fell into bed as soon as I got back and pretty much didn’t move for the rest of the day, other than to shift from bed to office futon, and from there to the couch. Didn’t want to get too tired of any one horizontal resting space, you know. I consumed an entire novel in about eight hours (that’s the third book I’ve read this week!), and my most ambitious project was to do a load of laundry. Even then, it took all my energy to get it hung up on the drying rack before falling back into bed again.

I assume my fever must have come back, but as our overpriced Portuguese thermometer wouldn’t give a reading higher than 36.5 (normal is 37 degrees C), I have no idea how high it actually was. Oh well.

By the time Gabe got home at about 7:30, I was feeling well enough to actually carry on a conversation and sit upright long enough to eat dinner, but I still couldn’t focus on more than one thing at a time. Trying to do so produced strange lapses in my memory, such as when I was talking to Gabe while he was getting ready for bed. I was reading at the same time, and an hour later, I couldn’t remember having had a conversation with him at all. Hmm. That level of uni-tasking is usually his specialty, not mine.

Now, even after a good night’s sleep, I’m still feeling pretty exhausted, and may return to bed yet again. At least it’s still raining out, which makes a day in bed seem like not such a bad proposition. I realize that eventually there will be more to life than sick rainy days… but right now that feels like my whole world. I’m losing my mind here, people. And I’m going to keep on writing about it til you do too. Ha!

Another day. Another cough, another sneeze, another deep draw of air through aching throat and rheumy lungs. God, I love being sick. It’s just so much fun.

Especially when my spouse shares the same malady. Normally we take care of each other when the other person isn’t feeling well, but when you’re not well yourself, it’s difficult to muster the energy to care for another person. So we just sit next to each other and groan in mutual stuffiness. This is the third time we’ve been sick together, and all within the past eighteen months — after spending our first two and a half years together with no such occurrence. How is that possible?

One small entertainment in my currently much-abridged world comes from the cold medicine, as the word for congestion in Portuguese is constipaçao — literally, constipation, in this case of your head. The first time someone told Gabe she was constipated, he thought she was sharing way too much information. But no, she was simply trying to tell him that she was sick. Ha. An unfortunate false cognate.

What’s most frustrating for both of us are not the physical symptoms of a cold, but rather the mental constipaçao that accompanies them. We’re both used to thinking and acting very quickly, stretching our work day out over twelve or fourteen hours, and to being mentally agile for that entire period of time. When we’re sick, that productivity becomes severely limited.

This is especially frustrating for Gabe, because at least I can curl up with a book on the couch and pretend I’m being productive, staying on top of the industry or doing research… or some such. I’m learning here, I swear! (Ha! See?) But Gabe’s work doesn’t take sick days — it never gets any easier or less demanding. Of course he bullies his way through it anyway, but I sympathize with his frustration. As I’m reading my book. Ha.

Yesterday I took said book (Capote’s In Cold Blood, which I’m finding both repellent and addictive in equal parts) and escaped into the one clear hour of daylight that we had in the late afternoon. I walked slowly up the hill, leaning on our large umbrella, as between my lungs and my knee, I was going nowhere very fast.

I found a semi-dry bench on the miradouro, where I sat outside and read for about 45 minutes. It had turned into a beautiful afternoon, and after spending so long cooped up inside, I was thrilled by the piles of puffy clouds on the horizon and the reflection of the setting sun on the buildings opposite me. I laughed at the antics of first a short, squat sausage dog and then a big burly German shepherd, both equally energetic and enthusiastic in their own way. (Yes, this is a city full of dogs, as evidenced most often by their detritus on the sidewalk.)

It grew cold as the sun went down, so I slowly wandered home. As I did so, I was transfixed by the colors of our city in the late afternoon light: the orange Vespa standing in bright contrast to the pink building across the street; the green of a tiny florist shop exploding out the door onto the sidewalk; brightly rain-coated tourists snapping photos of the yellow tram as I turned to go down the hill. To my cold-addled eyes, this panorama I’ve seen so many times seemed newly saturated in color, and I drank it in gratefully, reluctant to go home yet knowing that I didn’t have the energy to continue further afield.

I consoled myself by diving straight back into my book when I got back to the flat. As I said, my French friend lent me her copy of In Cold Blood, which I’d never read before. It’s a fascinating book, not just for the story it tells, but mainly for the way in which he tells it and the story behind its research and creation. The whole thing is damn creepy, not least because of Capote’s clear fascination with Perry Smith, one of the criminals who committed the murders. However, as I am “inhaling” (Gabe’s word) this book just as I would a novel, doesn’t that leave me just as guilty of taking a macabre interest in tragedy?

For a break from the creepiness, I turned to my Kindle before bed, just so I could get to sleep. I continued reading the recent surprise bestseller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a scientific history of the first “immortal” cells to be reproduced for scientific study. (OK maybe it’s no less creepy, I admit it. But creepy in a different and less sleep-disturbing way.)

Again, I’m just as interested in the this book’s creation as I am in the story it tells. The author, Rebecca Skloot, spent most of her twenties researching the story of Henrietta Lacks, getting to know her family, earning their trust, and sharing the story of their mother’s cells with them as she discovered it. I empathize strongly with Skloot, as she is close to my age, and as a still-recovering academic, I can definitely understand the need to pursue a topic to those extremes.

It was a hugely brave thing to do, as those ten years could’ve been spent doing any number of other things. But her gamble has paid off — just this morning, she posted on Facebook that her book has now made it to #2 on the New York Times bestseller list. I get a little vicarious thrill whenever I hear more good news about this book and its success story.

When even Henrietta’s cells proved too exciting for me, I lulled myself to sleep with the lyrical prose of In Morocco, a 1920s travel guide by Edith Wharton. I’m totally charmed by her quaint and slightly condescending descriptions of the desert and its inhabitants… so charmed that I dropped right off to sleep, despite having taken a nap in the afternoon.

Books and sleep: that’s all I’ve written about this week. Guess I must be sick, eh? Promise life will get more exciting soon. For my sake, if not for yours!

In that spirit, check out a cartoon Gabe just sent me…

Well, suddenly both of us are sick. Again.

I’m relatively sure I picked it up from my tutor last week, as she was just getting over something when I returned from our week long hiatus. But really it could’ve been either of us, as there isn’t exactly a great awareness of germs here: yesterday I saw someone coughing directly over the display of baked goods at the grocery store while waiting in line at the register. Oh jeez.

Whoever it was that introduced this particular virus into our little ecosystem, Gabe was the first to get it, and sneezed his way explosively through Saturday. Sunday, his nose was running, and by yesterday, it had bloomed into a full blown head congestion.

Mine is slightly behind schedule, so yesterday I was sniffly, and this morning I feel pretty crappy. Luckily, I don’t think it’s going to be a bad one for either of us, and this is probably the best time for us to get sick — before guests and travel arrives. So all is well.

Especially because — drum roll please — it actually did not rain yesterday! OK well it did in the morning, and the clouds looked dark and threatening all day, but still. There was sunlight! For multiple hours! Amazing!

After hurrying through the inside work I had to do, I went up to one of our favorite parks, which I have stared at longingly from my office window during many a day of storm and rain. It was nearly 4 PM by the time I got up there, so any warmth the sun may have held earlier in the day was long gone, but I didn’t care. As long as it wasn’t actually raining, I was damn well going to sit outside.

So I sat, and I worked, I read, and of course, I nibbled. I even did a bit of Portuguese. I added layers as my body cooled down from the gym and the hike up the hill, but I didn’t mind — I was sitting outside! Fresh air! People! Sounds! Smells! I felt like one of the many dogs I saw running around me: Oh boy! Everything is so new and exciting! Woof!

From this perspective, both literally and mentally, it seemed like there was an ever-changing diorama of Portuguese life laid out just for my benefit. I could see the bright yellow trams making their way up and down the hill opposite, and the roofs of abandoned buildings yawned all around, many of them in the process of being gutted and rebuilt.

A stout bulldog bullied a young spaniel into raising his ruff and making a half-hearted puppy growl before the bulldog’s owners (and his leash) finally caught up with him. Another dog ran by on only three legs, wearing both a dapper coat and a bell around his neck. His elderly owner, equally well-appointed, trailed more sedately behind.

A trio of young Portuguese men laughed and talked loudly somewhere behind me, while a blond pimply tourist sat quietly on a bench and perused his guide to “Lissabon.” Bells chimed the hour, kid’s shrieks and laughter rose up from the school on the hillside below the park, and birds sang joyfully in the trees, giving voice to the massive contentment I felt.

Gabe came to find me there on his walk back from the university, and together we made our way home. On the way, I spotted a dark, bare cherry tree with a few pink petals lightly tracing its branches. Strange how such a simple thing can fill me with such joy and hope — it’s a primeval response, I suppose, proof that the world has once again made it through the winter.

As we rounded the second to last corner from home, I was struck by how many people I could see walking along this one little side street near our house. I remarked on it to Gabe, saying that this is one of the things I like best about living here: the streets are so much more active than in America. Gabe attributed it to the small apartments, while I thought it was due to the cost and hassle of owning a car in Europe. Regardless, there is a much stronger sense of community here, of a life lived outside of the home and the car, which I am coming to recognize and appreciate.

Back in our flat, I gladly dove back into the reading I had left behind earlier. This year is starting to feel like a second Master’s degree — I am learning once again how to read, how to think, and how to write. This time though, it’s on whatever topic strikes my fancy.

In one afternoon, I can download and read on my Kindle sample chapters from two or three nutrition books, a sci fi novel, and the latest book everyone’s talking about. I may even buy one of them. Or instead, I might move on to the medical history book I’ve been reading, or a delightful 1920s travelogue of Morocco, which I downloaded for free. Perhaps I’ll continue with the copy of In Cold Blood that my French friend lent me, as I’ve never read it before. Or maybe I will catch up on the many blogs I follow, and read about publishing, books, and all kinds of trivia therein. It all depends on which mood I’m in.

When I walk or am at the gym, I listen to This American Life or the BBC news, or I try to parse my way through the political lingo of Rachel Maddow’s show. My head practically swells with all the input and knowledge I’m absorbing — and there’s no tests, papers, or debt to pay off once I’m done. It’s fantastic.

Just like the cherry blossoms, I know this time can’t last forever. They are beautiful while they last, but eventually the cherry tree — and my life — will move on to other things. Even so, the knowledge that they are only temporary makes them all the more lovely while they are here. And so I will stare, and stare, and drink my fill of the spring time.

It’s raining again this morning , after a truly beautiful day yesterday. Alas. At least it’s not SNOWMAGEDDON, or snowpocalypse, or snowbliteration, like I’m hearing from my Facebook friends on the East Coast.

Since it was a beautiful day here yesterday, I went truly crazy and actually left the house. Twice. And for once, everything went smoothly, with not a foul change-eating stamp machine nor an evil train track to besmirch the beauty of this faux spring day. Hooray.

Excursion #1: gym and bookstore. Wherein I managed to complete my workout without falling off the machine or getting reprimanded for not complying with their obscure small print. Excellent.

I then decided to push my luck by continuing on to the bookstore. Going shopping post-work out and pre-meal is always an iffy prospect for this queen of low blood sugar, but the day was sunny and almost warm — if you walked briskly uphill in the full sun while wearing a sweater and jacket — and I couldn’t bear going back to the hobbit hole just yet. So I staved off my hunger with an apple and a much-hoarded Luna bar, and ventured into the wilds of the Chiado shopping center near our flat. Once there, I took the escalator into the depths of FNAC, a giant chain music/electronics/mobile phones/books/everything you could possibly want store, in search of an English guide book to Morocco.

Quick interjection here: I have spent much of the past few days immersed in everything Morocco. We are planning a week-long trip there in the end of March, and to tell you the truth, I am scared stiff a little nervous. I am easily over-stimulated and overwhelmed by crowds, and so far almost all the descriptions I’ve read of Morocco have included the words “overwhelming” and “sensory overload.” Great. How much Xanax do I have here again?!

So I have resorted to my favorite defense: learning. When I am nervous about something, I build up my defenses by reading and planning, thinking and sorting, as if by doing so I can more easily deal with reality when confronted by it. Usually this technique only meets with limited success, as words on a page are far different than boisterous, loud, all-consuming reality — which is the reason I resort to them in the first place. Ah, the Catch-22.

As a side effect though, this coping technique does teach me an awful lot, and sometimes my fear gets caught up in my curiosity to learn more. As I have read about Morocco in an attempt to prepare myself for our trip, I have found myself becoming fascinated by its history and people, and hungry to discover more about them. How can I resist the former pirate kingdom of Rabat, built on the river Bou Regreg? Or the pictures of the most unlikely modern objects being transported through the medina via donkey? Quite simply, I can’t.

While I’m still nervous, I am also looking forward to the challenges of this trip, to testing the limits of my newly-expanded comfort zone. If we had gone there before living in Lisbon, I think I would have been much less able to deal with such a trip. Hell, even what dirt and disorder there is here made me cry on the day we arrived! But after living with the mad and shambolic beauty of this place for nearly six months now, I have grown more comfortable with it, or at least better accustomed to feeling overwhelmed and out of control. True, I still have days where I need to hide in the hobbit hole — which is precisely why I am putting a lot of effort into finding a nice, calm, beautiful place for us to stay in Fez so that I will have a place of retreat when it gets to be too much for me. After about five minutes. Sigh.

To that end, I went to FNAC in search of a guidebook. All I found in English was a Rough Guide for 28 euros… nearly $40! No thanks. They can’t tell me that much that I can’t find out online. Undaunted, I tried the next weapon in my arsenal: the nearby independent bookstore, which I had secretly been wanting to support instead of the monster chain anyway.

This bookstore, which has been in existence since before our country was a country, is truly wonderful. From the looks of it, over the centuries they’ve expanded into one store after another, knocking the dividing walls down to create a long, skinny, multi-chambered store that runs along half a block in the upscale Chiado shopping district. Each room is dedicated to certain types of books, and you have to walk through at least four of them before getting to the tourism and foreign language section.

I gladly walked that gauntlet, taking in the smell of new books and old walls — even though I love my Kindle, I still miss the physicality of books, the possession of them, as my French friend would say. I soon honed in on the relevant section, where I found a pocket guide to Fez for only 10 euros. Perfect, in size, subject, and price.

I traipsed back up to the register with my prize, trying not to get sucked in by all the Portuguese translations of books I recognized. The nice clerk (such an oxymoron here!) rang me up and helpfully translated the price into English, since the guidebook I was buying was after all written in that language. I thanked her, and told her in my version of Portuguese that numbers were the hardest to learn.

I then built on my triumph by asking her if they would be getting any bigger guidebooks to Morocco any time soon. Even though I think half the sentence was in French, she still understood me, and replied that they would be getting more travel books in now that it’s spring, so I should check back in a month or so. That’s too late to help with planning our trip, but so what — I managed to ask a question and get a friendly, intelligible reply in Portuguese! Yessssss. I now heart independent bookstores even more than before.

Much satisfied with my progress, I walked home through the increasingly warm early afternoon, and proceeded to devour both my lunch and the small guidebook when I got home. I soon had to tear myself away from looking at the panoply of amazing riads and dars in the Fez medina so that I could go to my Portuguese lesson — which made for excursion #2 of the day.

To my intense relief, we quickly moved on from the imperative to discuss more important things, such as when the Lisboan gay pride parade happens (June 19!) and which type of prostitute frequents which area. The imperative, alas, still makes no sense to me whatsoever, so I guess I won’t be bossing anyone around any time soon — at least not using proper grammar.

Speaking of fabulous parades: on my way home, I stopped in a costume store that I’d spotted along the way. Since Carnaval is next week (or this week and next week, if you’re in Rio), the place was jam packed, looking a lot like the party goods stores at home during the last week of October. Madness! There was a line of about ten people, all buying elaborate costumes or just simple masks — couples, parents, kids, the whole lot. Even though I left empty-handed, I was vastly entertained by these frenetic and enthusiastic preparations for what is clearly a major holiday here. I have a feeling that whole new level of over-stimulation awaits me next Tuesday…!

So there you go: a day with two excursions, one purchase, and zero cultural or linguistic mishaps. Rapid progress indeed!

Better late than never, my husband and I made the trek up to the Redwood Glen on Tuesday night to catch a Shakespeare Santa Cruz play in its last week of production. Mainly because it was Community Night and tickets were cheaper, we decided to see All’s Well That Ends Well. Neither of us had seen this play before, nor were we familiar with the storyline.

Now, I always enjoy the SSC experience, especially because this year I took the time to do it right — packed a picnic dinner, brought a bottle of wine, etc. But this time, I have to admit that I wasn’t crazy about the play. Perhaps I was just too tired to follow the intricacies of the plot and dialog (sleep had still proved a fickle friend the night before), but it made even less sense to me than Shakespeare usually does. I was left saying “Huh?” at the end, not least because I apparently missed a crucial plot development early on in the play. Whoops.

Regardless of my comprehension level, what really left a bad taste in my mouth was this play’s portrayal of love. In all of his other romantic plays (that I’ve seen, which is admittedly a limited number), Shakespeare gives you a highly romanticized but exciting, passionate, thoroughly mad kind of love. Whether it involves people dying for love or just looking like a total idiot for it, even if they’re in love with the wrong people, there is always something deeply moving about his portrayals of love. Isn’t that why his plays have lasted for so long?

But the love I saw in All’s Well left a bad taste in my mouth. First of all, the heroine basically entraps the man she loves into marrying her. He refuses, is forced to marry her by the king, then runs off to war to escape his newfound ball and chain. I kept expecting the “hero” (if you can call him that) to come to his senses, fall madly in love with his wife and return to her side, only to find her in the arms of another man… but there was none of that. Instead, she re-entraps him into staying with her by fulfilling the spiteful and intentionally near-impossible conditions set forth in the note he left when he abandoned her. Up until that point, she had had my pity. But why the hell would she want someone who had treated her like that, especially if she had to deceive him into accepting their marriage?

Happily ever after? Not so much. More like mediocrity ever after. This play had no grand passionate love worth killing and dying for, no rending of clothes, no gnashing of teeth. There weren’t even any women disguised as men, or fairies, or donkeys. There was only selfish love, callous lust, and in the end, a miserable marriage. What’s comedic about that? I definitely wasn’t laughing.

Perhaps we should’ve seen Romeo and Juliet instead — at least there’s love worth dying for in that play.

For most of this year, my life has been almost entirely solitary. The people I do interact with on a regular basis can be counted on one, or maybe one and a half, hands. And anyone who’s been reading this blog for longer than oh, a day, will know that I like things that way just fine.

One of the biggest downsides to my perpetual solitude is that I find even the slightest violation of it more jarring than ever. Yesterday, I blissfully turned my back on the world and spent my entire afternoon curled up with a book, interrupted only by the strident call of the clothes dryer and the occasional trip to the laundry room to take care of its demands. I seem to have an increasing need to spend time this way, just to reset and live in someone else’s world for a while.

In the late afternoon, I emerged out of my finished book (they go so fast!) and looked around, blinking hazily into the dimness of my living room. Surprise surprise — I was restless. So I hopped on my bike and rode down to the gym, with the sole intention of using the hot tub and sauna there. A great way to end a thoroughly lazy day.

When I got there, I went directly for the sauna, because I saw a man lying by the side of the tub and didn’t much feel like being ogled. Sadly, I wasn’t quick enough to escape his notice. Within minutes, said man was — predictably — coming to join me in the tiny sauna room. So here I am, sweating profusely in my bikini, sitting not two feet to the right of this guy and doing my damnedest to mind my own business. Um, awkward! Personal space much?

To make matters worse, he started talking to me. Seriously — the nerve! Somehow a comment on the heat of the sauna turned into a recap of how much partying he had done this weekend, as if to prove that despite the ample expanse of leathery brown skin I was unwillingly privy to, he was in actuality — no really! — young at heart. Even at my most social, this is a conversation I would gladly have opted out of. But after spending an entire afternoon with my head thoroughly absorbed in fictional realities, characters, and conversations, the absolute last thing I wanted to do was hear about this man’s weekend exploits.

At first, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I responded by making a few polite noises, pretending like maybe he wasn’t in fact hitting on me while we were both sitting half-naked in a very small, very hot room. I mean c’mon dude, roughly one-third of what I’m wearing consists of a rather large diamond and a gold band. On my left ring finger. Is it really that foggy in here?

Apparently it was very foggy indeed, for despite my silence, his next line was just that: a line. And an old one at that. “So, did you just join the club here?” Read: I haven’t seen your hot young body around before. How could I have made that mistake?

I said, “No I’ve been coming here for a while.” Read: Please for the love of God stop talking to me! With that, I ended the conversation, made some excuse about the heat being up too high for my tastes, and escaped into the hot tub. Luckily I grabbed a magazine on my way in, because sure enough, about thirty seconds later, he followed me out. By this point, he had thankfully gotten the hint, and soon left me alone.

Needless to say, the whole experience set me on edge, and more or less ruined my nice relaxing heat therapy session. After I had biked all the way down there, too! As I said, on any day this would’ve pissed me off. But on my mental health day, my “me” day, in which dialogs both internal and fictional had predominated… that was just sacrilege.

Next time, I will wear a swimsuit that says, “Please — don’t talk to me.” Anti-social? Yes. But worth it? Oh, most definitely.

(My husband suggests something along the lines of what the girl is wearing in the third panel of this comic: )

Hubby and I have been trying to get out and see a movie for some time now, which has proven difficult due to our respective schedules and the inability of the theaters to actually play any movies at a normal hour, i.e. 8 PM. They’re all either too early (6 or 7) or too late (9 or 10). Why is it impossible to play a movie at a time that allows people to eat dinner before seeing the movie? Why?

Anyway, since he just gave his last night lecture for the quarter, we decided to celebrate our first free Thursday evening together by seeing a movie. Being a history geek, I felt it was necessary for me to see The Other Boleyn Girl. It’s not my period (as I’m so fond of saying by way of disclaimer when I’m totally ignorant about a certain aspect of history), and I hadn’t read the book, but I was interested in it nonetheless. I had read one of Philippa Gregory’s other books on our honeymoon, and was amazed at how sordidly bad yet hugely entertaining it was. I had high hopes that the movie would possess the same two traits, which are always required for a mindless evening of film.

Now, the last movie we saw was over a month ago, and that was Cloverfield. It made me so carsick that I almost walked out about 30 minutes before the ending, and really, I didn’t give a damn if those obnoxiously trendy and totally unsympathetic New York hipsters got eaten. Frankly, I cheered when they did. So there was some pressure on Boleyn Girl to bring our 2008 movie-going experience up to par, but really, it wasn’t that hard a task considering the existing track record.

Unfortunately, we had no such luck. While I was highly entertained by the sets and costumes, and the plot did indeed draw me in to its sordid twists and loops, the movie played a cruel, unnecessary trick on me: [SPOILER ALERT] about three quarters of the way through, there was a very graphic rape scene. From what I’ve read after the fact, there was no such scene in Gregory’s book. As such, it was completely gratuitous, and a perfect example of the unthinking way in which sexual violence is portrayed with far too much impunity in our media.

There are movies, such as Boys Don’t Cry, where the rape scene is a crucial part of the plot. So OK, I just close my eyes or fast-forward through it, no problem. But when rape is included for no real reason other than to make the main character seem like a sleazeball (which had already been very conclusively established by this point), well, that is just wrong.

In 2004, the University of Buffalo conducted a study of 1000 women between the ages of 18 and 30. Of those, 38% were victims of sexual violence, including 17% who had been raped. And that was just reported rapes, let alone those were too afraid or repressed to reveal their rapes to the researchers.

Imagine then that even half of those 383 women go to see this movie, because after all 18 to 30 is the ideal demographic for a movie like this one. Hell, that’s my own demographic! That means that in practically every showing, there will be at least one victim of sexual violence, someone who still has trouble sleeping at night, who has panic attacks and flashbacks on a regular basis. What does this kind of imagery do to that person? What makes it OK to portray these things up on a big screen like that?

I know, now I’m getting into the whole censorship drama, but all I’m saying is that there should be a specific warning on movies that contain sexual violence. I mean, it’s like asking a war veteran to go see a romantic comedy, and then all of a sudden — BOOM! — a bomb blows up on screen. What the…? Especially when your guard is down and you’re immersed in the movie, an unexpected trigger like that can be hugely destructive.

As for artistic license, well… it’s true you can’t shield everyone from reality. Shit happens, it’s terrible, and it’s all a valid subject to use in artistic expression. After all, what is art without the darker side of the human psyche? So no, not all movies should be about rainbows, butterflies, and happy endings. But like I said, when it’s just a cheap dramatic ploy to get the audience’s attention, I just think it’s unnecessary.

And the moral of this story is? Let my husband pick the movie next time. I for one am done choosing movies, because so far this year, they have either made me carsick, emotionally sick, or both.

“Treat history as a springboard, not as an anchor.”

- General John G. Medaris

When I Wrote It

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