Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I can't wait for July!

I saw Harry Potter tonight and LOVED IT.  A lot.

There was a guy who was sitting a few seats down from me and anytime anything remotely exciting or dangerous or scary came on the screen he would say, "Oh, boy.  Oh no."  And start to fret and fidget.  It was hilarious.  Mostly because he was saying and acting exactly the way I was feeling inside.

Also, there was a women who was laughing to the point of wheezing at the preview for the Yogi Bear movie.  I have never felt so dejected about the human race than I did right then.  I took a long hard slug of my Icee and tried to face the world again.  Thanks to Harry Potter for bringing me out of that brief but deep funk.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hey Upland 1st Ward, I'm Back! And I'm at the Organ!!!!

One of the things I really missed while away was church.  We had church in Tunisia.  There were 6 adults and 4 kids.  We met at home.  It was lovely but it lacked all the fun bells and whistles of a ward.  So I went back today and dived right in.  Head first.  Without my floaties.

The organist wasn't there as of 5 minutes to the start of the meeting so Kyle asked if I would step in.  Gladly.  Now, it is well documented here that the hardest song in the hymnal, the one I have officially refused to play but still end up playing every blessed time I step in on the organ, is True to the Faith, so as I walked up to the organ Kyle says to me, "Thanks.  And at least you know it's not True to the Faith."  That was the first thing I checked before I agreed.  So you can imagine the look on mine and Kyle's faces when it is announced that our opening song is TRUE TO THE FAITH!!!!!!!!  It was, quite possibly, the funniest moment of my life.  And never before has an introduction been as botched as the one I played because I was trying to stop myself from hysterical laughter.  I massacred that intro.  You would not believe the carnage I left behind.  Half the people in the ward don't know me because the Sunday before I left our ward boundaries were realigned so there are new people everywhere.  Well, they probably know me now. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thankful for Pie and Other Things

1.)  My flight from NY to LA was the longest flight in the history of all flights.  We could have flown to Mars and back with a side trip to the moon in the time it took us to get to LA.  And I was sitting next to Sprawly McSprawlster.  Mr. I Refuse to Be Contained In This Seat So Feel My Elbow Up In Your Ribcage for 87 Hours.  Mr. Also I'm Not Turning My Cell Phone Off So If We End Up In Zanzibar Just Suck It Up.  Mr. And Another Thing, I'm Going To Scroll Through Some Facebook Pictures of Skanky Girls I Know.  Boy, did I miss Maureen and Al.

2.)  Katie and Camille picked me up at the airport and had giant signs.  There are few things I love more than a public spectacle in my honor.  Sadly, I missed it all as I took a different route to the baggage claim.  But apparently they had people cheering for me for an hour and a half, including none other than Ben Savage from that classic 90's sitcom Boy Meets World.

3.)  As promised, we stopped at In-N-Out on the way home from the airport.  It was 12:15am on Thanksgiving.  I was thankful for my cheeseburger.

4.)  I did not sleep well when I got home, even after being awake for about 2 straight days.  But last night I slept for 11 hours - which is a record for me.  When I woke up I could have wept from the joy of it all.

5.)  After we finished Thanksgiving dinner we got a surprise at the door:  The Blessed Nephews and their Parents!!!!!!!!!

Are you kidding me?!  Could you just die over this cuteness?

6.)  Hey, remember how I was supposed to have a drawing?  Well, I didn't forget.  I just have to travel around the world and eat pie and sleep the sleep of the dead.  So I'm pleased to announce the winner is...BOB!  His favorite Thanksgiving food is deep fried turkey slathered in gravy and to that I say Amen, Brother!  Have you had deep fried turkey?  Knights of Columbus!  It's the food of kings.  Email me, Bob, with your address and what B-List celebrity you would like on a bookmark.

7.)  Ye Olde Etsy Shoppe is back in business so if you'd like a bookmark or something else that is felty and funny head on over.  I'll get it to you before Christmas.  Pinky Promise.

8.)  I'm sitting at my desk and looking out at the blue sky and the mountains I've looked at my entire life that are covered in snow and sunshine and I can't even express how much it thrills me to be back home.  This adventure has been phenomenal but gosh, I've missed this place.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

America = Magic!

Hey there, America!  You're looking good.

I'm in New York waiting for my flight to LA and I'm just so excited to be around people who are speaking English that I don't even mind that in the last 38 hours I have gotten just 1 wee hour of sleep or that I still have a 2 hour wait and a 6 hour flight and a 1 hour drive to get to my bed.

When we landed I texted Katie with the exciting news that I was back in America and she called right away and I busted into a very soulful rendition of "America, the Beautiful."  Much to the delight of my fellow passengers.  Who were fantastic, by the way.  I somehow didn't have a seat assigned on my Rome to NY flight (which was a huge joke, but I'm over it) so I was essentially put onto the stand-by list and ended up on the last row of the plane with Maureen and Al, this 60-something couple from Long Island who just finished up a Mediterranean cruise.  They were hysterical.  They had the best accents and they told me all about their kids and their world travels and anytime I would say something to Maureen that was remotely funny she would wake Al up and tell him and they would both laugh and laugh.  I mentioned to them that I was going to have to declare bringing in dates to the country and Maureen suggested that I try to smuggle them in and just have Thanksgiving with them if I am detained over night.  Speaking of those dates, I did get them through because I convinced the agricultural inspector that they were picked 3 weeks ago and thus, not technically fresh, thus making them dried fruit, which is acceptable to bring in the country.  And he made a reference to Star Wars and I told him I went to the Tatooine set and suddenly we were best friends.  And I may have shimmied somewhere in there.  Because I was just so happy.  I suppose we'll never know what was the clincher.

There's a girl eating a Wendy's cheeseburger sitting next to me and my spell checker is no longer in Arabic and I just bought an US Weekly.  America = Magic!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I passed the reins down in Africa

In a few hours I'll be getting on a plane and sometime tomorrow night - hopefully sooner rather than later - I'll be back in California.  Eating an In-n-Out cheeseburger grilled onions no tomato if I don't get in too late.  And a neopolitan shake.  And French fries, that have salt on them.  Everything is under-salted here.  I digress.  So, I'll be home.  And I'm so grateful because I've missed home a lot.  I've missed my family a lot.  I've missed my friends a lot.  I've missed the World's Largest Felt Collection a lot.

But I've lived in Tunisia for the last 3 months and there are so many things I will miss about it.  The number one question I get asked by Tunisians when they find out how long I've been here is, "Do you like it?" (This is generally followed by, "Would you stay?" and "Would you consider marrying an Arab?")  And I'm happy to report that I do.  It's a great place.  It has its flaws (I'm looking at you, Drivers of Tunisia.  Those lane lines are there for a reason.) and I have seen it from a very different side than those who actually live here.  But as a visitor I have found it fascinating and beautiful and easy to get around and everyone has been helpful and nice and friendly.  Sometimes overly friendly (I'm looking at you Date Farmer.)  It has certainly been the coolest thing I have ever done.  And that's coming from someone who has seen Wayne Newton live at an Indian casino.

Things I will miss:

The high availaibility of Orangina
Warm, fresh almond and chocolate filled croissants
The different colors of the sea
The latice work outside my windows
Bougainvillea bushes everywhere
The call to prayer in the distance
Walks in the park
Throwing rocks with Henry
Making Sam smile
The doors in Sidi Bou Said
Getting lost in the medina
Surprise proposals from date farmers
The adventure of driving here
Reading on a bench overlooking the sea
Talking my way into the embassy
Girls night
Long talks with Bronwyn
International Charades
Sam grabbing my face
Roman ruins
Henry jumping on my bed
Endless things to blog about
All the amazing people I've met

And these good folks:

Bronwyn, Chris, Henry and Sam.  I love you guys.  I don't have the skills to express what this trip has meant.  Thanks for an unforgetable adventure.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pictures I never showed you

Two days!  That's how much longer I have in Tunisia!  And then I get on a plane and pray that I'm not stuck behind someone in the security line in New York who decides to get all uppity about his 4th Amendment rights.  I'm enlisting all of you to be on the prayer team that I make it on all of my flights (just 3 this time!) and am home with enough time to sleep before I feast on stuffing and pie.

Here's a smattering of random pictures from the trip that I never got around to writing about.

1.)  There's an American military cemetary down the street where guys who were killed in WWII fighting in North Africa are buried.  It's a very lovely and peaceful place and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside seeing the American flag waving.  I am not an overtly patriotic person but gosh I missed America.

 2.)  This is President Ben Ali.  He loves you.  How do you know?  Because his picture is everywhere with his hand over his heart just smiling at you.  His picture is all over the country.  In the grocery stores, in tchotchke shops, in the parks, on billboards and posters, on banners draped across the city streets.  Don't try to get away from him!  There is one picture of him wearing a robe that looks like he should be teaching at Hogwarts that I saw a lot of down south.

3.)  This picture slays me.  We went out for pizza one night and Sam could not stop eye-balling my bottle of Boga (like Sprite, but fruitier tasting).  I finished it and let him have his way with the bottle.  His goal seemed to be to fit the entire thing in his mouth.  Let's not talk about how much I'm going to miss this kid.  He loves it when I sing really dramatically to him.  He just laughs and laughs.  So this afternoon I was singing power ballads to him and for a second he stopped laughing and he grabbed my face and just smiled and sighed and then I died.  I am determined to fit him in my carry on.

4.)  At the museum in El Jem we saw some dice that had been unearthed from Days of Yore.  Which leads me to believe that the Romans, along with watching lions eat the faces off of slaves, enjoyed a rousing game of Yahtzee from time to time.

5.)  (This is primarily for my Dad and brothers and anyone else who is fascinated by how things are built).  They build houses here with brick, including the floors/ceilings.  Then they cover it with plaster and tile and paint it white.  This house is being built around the corner from us and Henry and I often sit on the curb and watch the men work because there's a tractor nearby and Henry thinks tractors are the greatest thing since cold milk in a sippy cup.  When I say men working I actually just mean two.  There are only ever two men on the site and they are usually just standing around talking. 

6.)  The great mosque in Kairouan is the 4th holiest sight in the Muslim world.  I went there on my Grand Saharan Adventure and discovered that there are over 300 columns...all pilfered from Roman ruins.  See how there are slabs of wood wedged in on top when the columns weren't tall enough?  Isn't that awesome?  Actually, the entire place was built from pilfered material.  Some of the stones had roman writing on them.  Unfortunately it was just after we went to this mosque that we got lunch at some local joint where I got food poisoning and later prayed for death.  Oh Kairouan, you charmer.

7.)  Tunis - and surrounding areas - is very modern.  But you can't tell that to the guy who drives the donkey cart through our neighborhood collecting trash.

Friday, November 19, 2010

An American Treasure

Thanks to the Armed Forces Nextwork we get all sorts of American shows here.  Usually airing just a day after they air in the States.  It is a miracle.  Plus, the commercials are a riot.  They don't show regular ads.  They show military spots about recognizing the signs of depression, how to avoid identity theft, what not to do when you're in a new country, how to talk to your kids about moving to a new country, what to do after your military service is up, and messages from generals and the Secretary of Defense (who certainly did not get to where he is by his ability to read a prompter.)  That all sounds kind of dull, right?  Wrong!  Because they don't use actors in these spots.  They use military personnel.  Oh, they're great.  They're stiff and awkward and they're always glancing at the camera and you just know that it was their dream to be an actor ever since they played Kinicki in their high school production of Grease.  I will miss them.

Thanks to the miracle of AFN we get America's Next Top Model.  Every Thursday night Bronwyn and our friend Aimee and I have a girls night and watch it along with Survivor (note:  I don't normally watch Survivor but we got hooked onto this season because it is TV Gold!  There are some serious characters on this season.)  But I've missed ANTM for the last 3 weeks because it was right in the midst of my Sahara/Rome laundry repacking whirlwind, then last week was some sort of Veteran's Day special and this week was bunco.  And we cannot miss bunco.  (And if I had missed bunco last night I would have missed the bacon wrapped dates.  Come on over, I'll make them for us.)  But another miracle is iTunes.  So I downloaded last nights episode because I need my Tyra fix.  And boy did I get it.  She made her directorial debut!  She directed the girls in a fashion video that is so very Tyra.  It's all crazy, crazy, and more crazy.  I love her.  She is an American Treasure.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Happy (Early) Thanksgiving

We celebrated the eid not by slaughtering a sheep (we could hear them bleating throughout the neighborhood yesterday morning...because they were probably having so much fun being beloved pets) but by having a proper American Thanksgiving (minus the turkey and football).  Since I won't be here for Thanksgiving (one week, folks) we decided to feast a little early.  We invited Kyle and Sun over and cooked all sorts of good food.  A few observations:

1.)  When I opened my window this morning it felt like Thanksgiving:  that is to say, 70 degress and sun, sun, sun. 

2.)  We had the best stuffing ever.  Ever!  America's Test Kitchen cornbread and sausage stuffing.  Knights of Columbus, was I ever thankful for it.

3.)  Bronwyn doesn't own a pie pan (We're not judging you, B.)  There are cake pans aplenty, but nothing to bake a pie in.  So I free-formed an apple pie and it turned out fantastic.  Even with the weird sugar they have here.  The granuals are so large that they don't completely desolve in baking. 

4.)  Kyle and Sun were introduced to the very Mormon tradition of Jello as part of the Thanksgiving feast.

5.)  Have you ever had a Thanksgiving feast that included fewer than 2 desserts?  Me neither.  And I think that's grand.  Yummy Pumpkin Stuff made an appearance.  You don't know YPS?  Sad.

Since I am so close to coming home to the World's Largest Felt Collection how about a give-away?  Leave a comment with your favorite Thanksgiving food and you'll be entered into a contest to win a bookmark with a character of your choice.  Either one that I've already done or one that you think will be funny.  Contest ends Sunday at noon (in Tunisia.  I'll let you do the math.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Couldn't they just get lamb chops instead?

Happy Eid al-Adha everyone!  You know how Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac and he was all ready to do it and how at the last minute he didn't have to and instead sacrificed a sheep?  Muslims commemorate that act of obedience by sacrificing a sheep.  Tomorrow.  So all of Tunisia (98% Muslim) is up to its eyeballs in sheep.  There are sheep tied up in yards and men haggling for them with local shepards.  Today on our walk we passed by Mr. Across the Street as he was getting out of his car, he had his truck popped open and what was inside?  A sheep.  I certainly respect this holiday, it's an excellent thing to remember and celebrate.  But in my mind I'm going to believe that all of these sheep I've seen lately are all pets.  Pets with warm beds and lots of hay to eat.  Pets who will be released back into some wide open field in a few days after their owners realize how unrealistic it is to keep a sheep in the house.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nerds of the World: You're Welcome

I got a request from Valerie saying that her husband James (nerd) wanted a post dedicated to my pictures of the Star Wars set I visited in the desert.  He believes it will help him enter the world of Star Wars, like some sort of mystic portal.  Well, fingers crossed, James.  


This is Bronwyn's sister and brother in law, Megan and Dima.  They were my traveling buddies.  Dima is Russian and so I heard a lot of Cold War era jokes on the trip.  Hilarious.

I really hope this one doesn't ruin the magic for you.


Tatooine and Me.  (Which is a potential name for my autobiography).

The set was in the middle of nowhere.  It is nothing but miles and miles and miles of vast open desert.  We had been off roading for about an hour before we got there.  Incidentally, off roading in the back seat of a 4x4 after you have spent the night vomitting your spleen is an adventure all on its own. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

I left my spleen in the Sahara

How about a few stories from my Grand Saharan Adventure.

1.)  I had food poisoning the first night.  I was throwing up so violently that I'm pretty sure my spleen came up along with everything I have ever eaten in my entire lifetime.  I laid shivering and sobbing on my bed, praying that I wouldn't die alone in a purported 4 star hotel (My eye!  I've been in Motel 6's in Nevada that were in better condition) in the desert.  It is safe to say that it was the worst night of my life.  And yet, the trip was so rad that I sometimes forget I even rested my head on the toilet seat and wept.

2.)  We had a guide, Niela, and a driver, Hamsa.  Both Tunisians.  And both awesome.  Hamsa didn't speak any English but you could tell right off the bat the guy was a comedian.  Everything he said was in Tunisian and yet he had us rolling the entire 3 days.  He instigated an impromptu party the second night that involved singing and dancing until 1 in the morning.

3.)  We went to a mountain oasis and hiked through the ruins of a village that was destroyed in a flash flood back in the 70s.  Our guide, Ali, asked me to tell all my American girl friends that he's available if you would like to move to Tunisia.

4.)  These signs are everywhere in the desert.  And we did, in fact, see many free range camels.

5.)  We went off-roading in a 4x4 and ended at the Star Wars set for Tatooine (Nerds of the World:  Envy me!)  There were several French folks there dressed in rebel attire.  I wanted to give them all hugs.  I opted instead to gawk and take pictures.

6.)  We drove across a dried salt lake, which wasn't dry because it had actually rained a few days before so there was about a half inch of water on top.  It rains about 3 times a year down there.  This picture does not do justice to how gorgeous and surreal it was.

7.)  Did you know that birds freak me out?  Anything that could potentially peck my eyes out or get entangled in my hair or poop on me is something to be avoided.  But we stopped at some shop at the edge of the desert at sunset on the second night and the shop owner had a trained falcon who was being passed around from arm to arm and I thought, oh why not.  His name is George.  He did not poop on me.  (I look like death in this picture.  No, death's ugly sister.  I lost my spleen, people!) 

8.  On day three we stopped at a traditional berber home that was dug into the side of a hill.  This woman made us tea and bread and showed us the sheep she is planning on slaughtering for the upcoming Islamic holiday.

9.  Our last stop was to a henna market.  This guy asked me what it would take for me to stay in town and marry him.  I said 300 camels.  He said it was a deal.  Not too shabby for someone who looks like she escaped from the Home for the Sad ,Tragic and Spleen-less. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gelato a Day

"Ciao, bella!"  This is how our gelato guy greated us every day when we came in for our fix.  He would follow it up by blowing us a kiss and then trying to convince me to go with the cup instead of the cone because he could put more in there for me.  Everyone should have gelato this way.  I wanted to ask him to adopt me.

This is a roundabout way of saying that Rome was awesome.

Some notes:

 - There are these drinking fountains all over town.  The water flows out of the bottom of the spigot but there is a hole at the top that if you plug the bottom with your finger the water shoots out.  I thought they were the cleverest thing.  (Random observation:  Is that sunlight or am I going bald in this picture?)

- We walked and walked and walked and then we walked some more. And then we napped.  And then we walked.  We had metro cards but sometimes it was just easier to walk to the next place instead of walking back to the metro stop.  Cynde had a pedometer and on two seperate days we walked 9+ miles.
- This more than justified my one-a-day gelato resolution (kept, by the way.)  And my nightly pasta and cheese consumption.  We called it carbo-loading.

- My favorite gelato combo:  pistachio and chocolate/hazenut (It's called The Italian Kiss.  Our other gelato guy winked at me when he said it.)

- I'm sorry to keep going on about the food but seriously, I had some of the best food I've ever eaten in my entire life.  Fresh gnocchi in gorgenzola sauce?  I'll take 5 plates please. 

 - We stayed in a really cute little apartment across the piazza from the Spanish Steps.  It's like the Beverly Hills of Rome.  We completely lucked into it.  We would go into other parts of the city where we had also looked for places and realized that we would have been murdered in our beds there.

- How sweet that they monogrammed the toilet paper for me.

- John Keats died of consumption in a pensione right next to the Spanish Steps.  We went to the museum there.  It was raining.  I sighed a lot and fought off the urge to write poetry.

- If you want to look Italian you wear the following:  dress shorts/short dress/long sweater/tunic with leggings/tights with boots (preferably over the knees) and a puffy coat even when it's 70 degrees outside.  All in black.  This is what 90% of the women were wearing.

- If you want to look like a tourist you wear the following:

- We climbed to the top of the St. Peter's.  320 steps after the elevator takes you high above the center of the cathedral.  It drops you off on a walkway inside the dome so you can look down.  There was a funeral going on in Latin.  There were lots of guys in robes and funny hats.  After you climb up a series of treacherous stairs in both spiral and switch-back form.  The view was worth it.

- We were almost run over by a yellow Ferrari being chased by the police.  How very Italiano!

- Also very Italiano:  Strike!  Strike!  Strike!  The firefighters of the city put on a protest march that we viewed from the top of the capitol building.  There was flag waving and whistle blowing and lots of singing and chanting.  How do you say si se puede in Italian?

- The next time you see me ask to see my postcard of the crypt decorated entirely in the bones of the friars who ran it.  It will creep you out for days.

-  I cried when I saw the Pieta.

- If I had not, just 4 days earlier, been in a bathroom in the middle of the Sahara that was literally a cement slab with a plastic grocery bag to pee in (which I did not.  I have standards...and a bladder of steel), I would have said the bathroom at the Coliseum was the nastiest one on earth.  But the graffiti was sure fun to read.

- The Mouth of Truth did not bite off my hand.  But I was nervous.

- We went to mass at the Santa Maria Maggiore.  It was in Italian and there were incense and I think several members of the mafia.  Which means it was everything I had hoped for and more.

- You should go to Rome with your best friend.  It's fun.  She will not judge you when the wind at the top of St. Peter's gives you Farrah Fawcet bangs.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Florence of Arabia

I just got back from the desert and I leave for Rome in 6 hours and somewhere in that 6 hours I have to finish my laundry, shower, pack and sleep.  So it breaks my heart to tell you that you're just going to have to wait for all the good stories of my Grand Sahara Adventure. 

Except for this one:

We went riding on camels through sand dunes this morning (As awesome as it sounds.  No, wait, even more awesome.) and about halfway through I noticed that my saddle was slipping further and further down the camel's hump (at this point it is important to note that riding a camel is no easy task.  There is a whole lot of jostling) so I turned back to our guide, Neila, who speaks moderate English and yelled, "My saddle is slipping.  Can you tell the guy my saddle is slipping?"  And she either didn't hear me or didn't understand because she just smiled and waved.  So then I screamed back, through the laughing, "Seriously, my saddle is really slipping."  And again, she just smiled and waved.  So then Megan, who was riding between us, got in on the act, "Neila, tell the guide that Rachel is about to fall off the camel and to stop!"  And again, Neila just smiled and waved.  Finally Megan remembered the Arabic word for back (which has escaped me) and shouted it out and pointed to me, now bouncing along on the camel's butt with his tail flying up and swatting my back and I'm holding on to the saddle for dear life and laughing like a loon, and both Neila and the guide figured out what is going on and stopped the train just as I'm tilting backwards.  It was hilarious, to say the least.

Later I'll tell you about my bout of food poisoning (I prayed for death), my trip to the Star Wars set, my stint as a falconer, and how I shrewdly upped my marriage price to 300 camels.

With Love,

Florence of Arabia