Posted by: facetothewind | July 30, 2014

Moving in

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I got moved into the apartment yesterday. Looks very pink, doesn’t it? Spent hours getting all the agreements signed, figuring out the systems and appliances. The building was just finished so literally was unwrapping the package, tearing plastic off and using the fridge for the first time.

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Shortly after moving in a terrific rainstorm washed the whole city and cleared up the skies! Yay. Am still dealing with the European cough.

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This is the view from my balcony. I suppose one could make a dive into the pool. Would be one helluva belly flop and probably the last thing you ever did.

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Desmond came over and we spent our evening sharing a piece of really bad carrot cake served on the one plate and one fork the landlord supplied me. I bought some really bad locally-made brandy because wine here is about $15 a bottle for the cheapest wines. The rain cooled the air and so we had the slider door open and enjoyed the cool tropical evening listening to music. Was a very sweet way to start a new life.

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And here’s a glimpse of the KLCC Park that is at the base of the Petronas Towers. Hasn’t really got anything to do with my new apartment.

Posted by: facetothewind | July 25, 2014

Signing on for Expatia

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There! I did it. I signed the lease. It’s only for 3 months, but it’s a big step toward becoming expatriated. And I can renew and sign on for a year’s lease and the price drops quite a bit.

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And this is the place. It’s a studio apartment on the 15th floor of a brand new high rise building in a rather nice part of town surrounded by embassies. Next door is a mall with a grocery store and jazz club wine bar, and it’s walking distance to a very renowned hospital, and an elevated train that takes you right into the heart of town in minutes.

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It’s going to cost me twice what I thought I’d pay to live in KL. But my thought is that living in a nice place will provide a little refuge from the grind of KL and will be worth the investment.

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Build the palace and my prince will come? We’ll see about that. (Maybe the next tragic book will come instead.) The apartment has a fantastic 50 meter pool, gym, yoga studio, and sauna. It’s likely to be full of expat diplomatic corps.

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Meanwhile, I’ve been dealing with the details of a new country like getting reliable Internet which is not that easy.

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KL has spotty Internet. When it’s good it’s good. Some place provide it and some don’t. My new place doesn’t and in the hotel it’s woefully slow when the guests get up and start Skyping. So I’m looking to get a broadband “dongle.”  And after hours of shopping the tech mall above, I got one and then came home and it caused my computer to crash repeatedly. So back to the drawing board…

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Also checked out the medical system here which is DEFINITELY a plus.

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It’s fast and efficient and affordable and most of the doctors are trained in England. Everyone speaks English. I went to the hospital to see an ENT specialist about the lump in my throat and my cough. Within 20 minutes I had a scope down my nose to find out that I just have a nasty post-nasal drip causing the problem. Total cost with some meds: $70. Then I had a complete dermatology exam for $40. Alas, I missed the chance to see Dr. Butt Chin…

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Des and I have been having some fun going out for food and just chillaxing when he isn’t work 12 hours a day…

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Here we’ve ordered a giant tiger prawn for $3 and some grilled okra, eggplant, and corn. They deep fry them and then grill them.

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We stopped by a Hindu temple to watch some sort of fire ritual to Ganesh. Was quite loud with the drums and Indian clarinets.

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I move into the new place on Wednesday next week. More to come…

Posted by: facetothewind | July 21, 2014

Pounding the Pavement in KL

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Here’s a little update since I left Venice. So the first good omen about moving to KL was that on the flight from Doha, I was bumped up to business class. This was my first time ever on anything more than the flying bus with screaming babies. So I really had no idea what those people behind the curtain were experiencing.

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Frittata with salmon, potatoes and greens. Delicious!

Not sure why they continue to call it Business Class – it was more like Indulgence Class. And it was class for me because I didn’t know the drill — I had to ask the flight attendant if I get to keep the pajamas. I was presented with a menu book of all these famous chefs’ fantastic creations and unlimited glasses of brut and caviar, an overnight kit full of goodies and noise cancellation earphones. Holy cow!

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Not one piece of plastic was laid out on the table. And all so nicely prepared. The best part was the reclining seat, oh and no waiting for the toilet. I arrived fresh and relaxed and ready to start my new life in KL.

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Breakfast of mixed fruit.

The second good omen was that upon arrival I hopped on the wonderfully efficient and fast train from the airport to Sentral, KL, and by pure happenstance sat next to a rather age divergent gay couple. One from Australia and the other Malaysian. I’m sure you can guess which one is which…

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They were sweet and kind and unafraid to admit they’re a couple. They’ve been together for years, they told me and met in KL. They divide their time between the 2 countries. I think this was a good sign for me that even upon entering a Muslim country, gay people are quite visible. And they’re not hanging from trees or being stoned to death.

Diving in…

First things first: shelter. This is the view from the apartment I rented for a week. It’s not a bad view if one could see through the smoke. No matter, I’ve been busy apartment hunting.

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I immediately met Desmond, someone I’ve been chatting on line with for many months. It was very sweet and a bit strange to finally be in the company of someone I’ve only seen on a small screen. But strangely also, I feel like I know him. So I wouldn’t say that virtual relationships aren’t real, just a different real. We did cover quite a bit of ground getting to know each other for months before meeting.

He was enormously helpful in the search for housing. It’s not an easy process apartment hunting anywhere, no less in a foreign country. Everyone I have met or even chatted with on line has been wonderfully helpful offering me connections to agents and friends with apartments to rent. I can’t imagine complete strangers in the States being so helpful. My new friend Gabriel has been great offering to rent me a room which I may take him up on. I’m still looking though, as ideally I would like to live alone and have space to entertain my own guests and visitors from overseas. A nice apartment is looking like it will cost me close to $1,000 a month…about twice as much as I had imagined. Almost all apartments come with a rooftop pool and gym which does make domestic life more palatable.

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Gabriel and me. Sorry for all the selfies.

I arrived with some lingering European lung thing…coughing my brains out. The stress and smokey air blowing in from Indonesia is not helping at all. But this salbutamol inhaler (below) that I bought over the counter is helping and reminds me one of the reasons I do like Asia — you can buy most medicines over the counter with just a pharmacist’s consult. In the US, I would have to book an appointment with a doc if they had any available appointments, or go to urgent care and pay $125 and then get a prescription and go fill it for another $15 (with insurance). The whole process would take half a day and a lot of money. Here in a shopping mall pharmacy, within minutes I was breathing freely for $7…

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Another thing that is, well, interesting, is the Muslim customs of Malaysia. I have arrived in the middle of Ramadan (that’s not an American budget motel) and so the Muslims are all fasting. They’re dehydrated and cranky all day and then at 7:30pm all throughout the city you hear the exotic drone of men singing from the mosques to end the fast. The masses come pouring into the restaurants to pig out. As Desmond said, “It’s just not realistic.” Well, it’s someone’s reality. Another thing: here on the train they have coaches for women only. But the trains are overcrowded and there are women in other parts of the train. I thought, “Hey go to your own coach, girls and free up some space.” But they don’t. So I jumped into the women’s coach because there was no room in the men’s. Why? Because women were in the men’s coaches.

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And this is the view of the “women’s coach:” a bunch of men. Hah! Des is right. It’s just not realistic to have women’s coaches when there’s insufficient space to do so. But none of us got arrested…it’s not the law, it’s just a courtesy thing provided by the private train company.

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In essence I think this is Malaysia: It’s Muslim light. It is predominantly Muslim here but it’s moderate. I find it quite gay-friendly but I wouldn’t make out with a man on the street, though the Bangladeshi men hold hands. They can do it because they’re not gay. But if I do it with a man, I would get hassled by the police or attacked. It’s just doesn’t make sense to me. But does America make sense — being taxed on your social security payment? Does the American medical or penal system make any sense?

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Above is Bunny (his nickname). He’s Muslim and a head nurse at a teaching hospital here and super charming and bright. He speaks perfect British English and is tender and kindhearted. He told me his parents recently found out he was gay by accident and they promptly disowned him. They won’t talk to him anymore. He misses his dad terribly which is perhaps his interest in me — a little aid and comfort from someone fatherly. Isn’t that pathetic? I told him about PFLAG. And it gave me an idea about where I might volunteer my services.

So that’s the sting of Islam here…more insidious than say, Iran. They may not be stoning people but it’s like going 40 years back in time for me. Strangely, I didn’t find people staring at Des and me and we clearly look like a couple of queens. I don’t feel particularly unsafe here though people warn me of purse snatching. Hell, that’s nuthin! I’ve been shot at on my bicycle in America so why should petty crime frighten me away?

What does frighten me away is the air quality. When I was here in January, the air was clear. No one seems to know quite how long to expect the smokey skies. All they have to do is light up a fire in the rice fields and KL is hazy. It changes throughout the day.

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So I’m beginning to get a sense of what life will be like here if I stay. Plenty of open air markets and steamy dining and people watching. Malls to cool off. Rooftop pools with views of the Petronas Towers. The usual urban Asian chaos and smells. The company of smart, charming, cute, educated, gay men who are eager to connect (I can’t keep up with all the requests to meet me from Scruff). But life in KL also means a lot of time spent indoors avoiding heat, humidity and pollution…not to mention the general traffic and construction noises. I’ll never be able to ride a bicycle here. Or I go back to Tucson where the air is clean and crisp and stay in my lovely house avoiding the outdoors because it’s too hot and dry. Add to that the abject loneliness of my life in America where I’m too old to be desirable. The scales at the moment seem tipped in favor of Malaysia. I guess I’d rather be stuck indoors with company. I figure I’ll give this a chance and a miracle might happen. I’ll get a great apartment in a lovely neighborhood with some greenery. The skies will clear up. And a special man or two will arrive in my life.

Perhaps one or two already have.

And now a few snapshots from the first week. Sorry, been too busy to be spending any time doing great photography. Most of this is from my iPhone…

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His wife seems fairly elegant. She obviously isn’t dressing HIM.

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Jalan Alor near where I’m staying. Great Chinese, Thai, and Malaysian food.

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Mini lobsters or giant prawns — not sure which. And then skinned frogs. Awww.

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Well, it’s Asia — they eat anything that moves.

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Steamy food stalls of Jalon Alor. This is indeed what I like about SE Asia.

Posted by: facetothewind | July 17, 2014

I made it to KL

Hey all – just before I went to bed last night the emails starting coming in about MH17. What a terrible disaster and another blow to Malaysia Airlines which seems to have a curse on it. I feel sick about it. Obviously I wasn’t on it. But just so you know, I always research my airlines in advance of booking a flight. It’s not to say things won’t unexpectedly happen in even the most well laid plans, but Malaysia Airlines has had a terrible crash record even before MH370. Even though they often have the cheapest flight on a route, I’ve avoided them. I chose to fly here on Qatar Air through Doha which was fantastic and was bumped up to business class so I arrived fresh and pampered. I couldn’t believe the food and service. But I don’t want to gloat about it at this moment.

Thanks for your concern, those of you who wrote. It’s sobering.

As far as life here – well, I just spent my first day apartment hunting and I have to say it was disheartening. No one wants to rent an apartment short term. If they do, they jack the prices up by 3 times. In addition it’s customary here to pay 3.5 times the rent for security + the first month’s rent. So to find a place that is suitable for me it would cost me $4,500 for move in costs.

So I’m having to scramble to find something possibly as a shared space, in addition to all the other issues of arrival in a new country: jetlag, cultural shock, disorientation in all things from why my phone service doesn’t seem to work downtown to sugar content in yogurt. It’s a complete start over of one’s life. I know I signed on for it and I’ll probably pull it together and just need some time to adjust. But I’m at the moment overwhelmed by the task.

For now I’ve been spared the fate of MH17 and for that I’m grateful.

Posted by: facetothewind | July 14, 2014

Parting Glances: Venice

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In the end, I’d say everyone should see Venice. I don’t know that I need to see it again, though. Venice is so over-the-top in its novel architecture that it really has become a Gritty Disneyland. It’s overrun with tourists and ridiculously expensive. But it does deliver the charm in spades. Two or three full days is enough. If I do ever come back, I’d like to come with a lover or a close friend. And I’d stay in the city. On this trip I was in the suburbs and so I never got to see Venice at night because I just needed some down time and couldn’t repair to my hotel…it was a 90-minute venture home.

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And if I do come back, I’d come in off-season. The locals here are just mobbed to the point of indolence. They’re not that interested in talking to you or helping you, if you can find a local! And I can’t blame them. How many times a day can you give someone directions before you just want to tell them to fongul off and read a map! So I hardly spoke to any Italians at all out of respect for their feelings of being overwhelmed. I cannot imagine having millions of tourists crawling all over my doorstep and blocking the bridges that they need to run their own errands. And I think their unwillingness to learn and speak the global tourist language (English) is probably their way of saying, to hell with you all. Give us your money, take your pictures and scram, I have some centuries old plaster to repair and you’re in my way. Or they leave for the summer which also might explain why it was hard to identify anyone as a local.

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I don’t think the cruise ship scene has gone over well with Venetians. I saw a lot of graffiti trashing the cruise ships. Apparently they dump tourists by the thousands on the little city and they don’t patronize the local restaurants and bars for obvious reason that food’s free back on the ship.

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But honestly, who can afford to live well in Venice but the truly wealthy, anyway? A small meal is about $30 per person without salad, beverages or dessert. A scone and a cup of tea is $22. I ate sandwiches for about $7 each and drank tap water. And it was the same sandwiches everywhere. Pizza was ubiquitous and actually cheaper than in the States. A whole pizza for one person was about $11. But it’s tourist pizza…not lovingly prepared with multiple punchdowns by Mama in the kitchen. The kitchen staff here is from somewhere else and I’m not sure where. Turkey maybe? This is Italy since joining the European Union. My experience with Italy was before the EU and then Italian cooking was tops in the world. But in Venice they don’t have the space or time to finesse a sauce to perfection and hand make their pasta. So you’ll find better cooking in land-based cities or in the countryside.

Wow orange hounds tooth with paisley, stripes AND dots. Now that's daring. And it works!

Wow orange hounds tooth with paisley, stripes, AND dots. Now that’s daring. And it works!

As far as fashion, I was impressed. In this town that pretty much gives tourists what they want: pizza and gondolas, the fashion seems to have a mind all its own. See my gallery below for pictures shot in retailer windows. Especially check out the one of a kind eyewear. But mostly I didn’t see anyone wearing those styles. On the streets it was t-shirts and shorts for the most part with the occasional Chinese wild card played with extraordinary boldness…

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Here are some of my photos. Not my best work, I know. I was busy trying to avoid people and not get lost.

Here’s the video companion of my trip…

 

And now for something completely different: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. My attempt at expatia begins on Wednesday. Wish me luck.

Posted by: facetothewind | July 13, 2014

Suspension of Reality: Venice at Last

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Have you ever met a celebrity? If you have you might know the feeling I had today in Venice. You’ve seen that famous person for years on TV or in movies and when you meet them you think to yourself, “Gee he has wrinkles and is shorter than I imagined.” It’s kind of a disillusionment. Like most Americans, I’ve seen Venice in movies and history encyclopedias since I was a child. Today at age 50 I cast my eyes upon it for the very first time and all I could think was, “Who are all these Chinese tourists doing animated posing in front of the basilica? And why is there a Dolce Gabbana store in Piazza San Marco? This is the home of Marco Polo and the birthplace of Vivaldi…Death in Venice, the plague, the Renaissance, and so on. If there is a place more iconic than Venice, I don’t know what it is. And here I am thinking, gee, St. Mark’s Square is smaller than I thought and I want to sit down and there’s no benches and I have to pee and there’s no toilet to use. (Yes, I indeed relieved myself in a canal…and I wasn’t the only one, either. If you hear the sound of a fountain in Venice, it’s probably a drunk German or an American with an enlarged prostate.) Who would have imagined that 45 years after the first time I opened dad’s Encyclopedia Britannica to “V” that I would be standing there, knees together, wondering why it costs nearly $2 to use the urinal?

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ANYWAY. My own michigas is not to say that Venice is not spectacular. It truly is one of the world’s greatest wonders — and it’s all built on petrified wood pilings — apparently 2 million of them — what was once the forests of the now Slovenia. Those were some industrious Venetians building it 500 hundred years ago. The place looks like something out of a fairy tale or a storybook. How could this possibly be real? I had to pinch myself on the vaporetto #1 as it slowly plied up the Grand Canal winding through the city. It’s a trip back in time. No trucks, no cars, no buses, no billboards, no KFC. Other than the sounds of water taxis, mostly the sound of Venice is water lapping at ancient brick, church bells that thump you in the heart (real ones — heavy metal hitting metal — not some recording on a loudspeaker like we get in America), footsteps, and an occasional outburst of song from a gondolier.

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That people lived like this (and 60,000 people still do) is just so beyond the beyond in the novelty department that all one can do is gawk and take pictures and sit on a bridge with your jaw hanging open in disbelief at the unreal cinematic quality of this place. It’s colorful, charming, playful, wildly impractical and just plain insane to build 5-story fanciful brick buildings on wood poles stuck into mud.

And a city so fanciful must have equally whimsical transportation, right? So somehow (and I’m not sure when, but I bet Lisa Simeone will know) Venice invented the gondola and the gondolier. But it’s not just a canoe with some oars or a rowboat which in more practical cultures it might have been. But there’s nothing practical about Venice, a town that is nothing if not dandy. So enter the modern gondola, a souped up canoe with a little Viking front. The whole of it looks like a floating casket complete with bud vase on the front, brocade velvet seats, and gold leafing applied all willy nilly. So you have these marvelously pretty boats and so who’s gonna push the tricked-out canoe around? Why, a pretty oarsman in a striped shirt of course…

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But the modern gondolier is not just an oarsman. He might even sing to you while you’re going for a $100 for a half-hour ride (now that really is being taken for a ride). Gondoliers have the kind of hyper masculine status that surfers in America do. Everyone thinks they’re sexy and sort of the symbol of romance so they take the liberty of shameless flirting with the girls and everyone just giggles — even their boyfriends. I found them quite amusing since they’ve also entered my brain decades ago in pop culture. They make me quiver and giggle, especially when one comes by with a load of Chinese tourists and an accordion player on board. Although I didn’t afford myself a ride on one, I certainly watched them sculling their way through tunnels, ducking, and putting their feet on buildings to keep them from scraping. And in a modern twist I saw them smoking and texting while driving. Tsk tsk, boys.

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So that for me was my first day in Venice: a vivid and lucid dream in 3 dimensions. I spent the whole day walking around trying to reconcile imagery I’ve accumulated on the place for 45 years with the reality of it. Can we call Venice reality? To me it seems like a big watery suspension of all that is real and practical in our modern lives.

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BTW – I saw more Americans today than on the whole month in Europe so far. The place is crawling with the very people who have perpetuated the myths of this place in cinema. I wonder if they’re all having that same experience of feeling like they’re in a movie? From the looks of the two above, I’d say that maybe I was alone in my awe.

It’s incomprehensible how this place was built and even more sobering to think about the half millennia of maintenance to keep it alfoat. But it’s still here centuries later, delighting people from my generation who are the very ones responsible for changing the climate enough to eventually sink it.

Sospiro.

 

Posted by: facetothewind | July 11, 2014

Parting Glances: Piran, Slovenia

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When you’re traveling by yourself in a foreign country with a foreign language, your experience can become a very solitary one. The whole week in Piran I didn’t hear English spoken once. Secondhand conversation was all just gibberish to me and somehow relieving of any burden to comment or connect. If someone said something about me or to me, I wouldn’t know. This was a chance for me to just relax and enjoy some alone time in a beautiful place. But chillaxing is a challenge for someone with a busy mind. But I dove into it anyway.

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I spent the week reading, writing, catching up on work, cooking, and playing the clarinet. In the afternoons I swam in the Adriatic alongside topless Slovenian women and toured around town with my camera. But without conversation, I found myself getting smaller and smaller and just retreating inside my head. It’s actually a fertile place to be, creatively. It’s when I do my best photography and writing. So I just let myself get lost inside. Mostly Piran was full of families with screaming babies (at this moment I can hear a child banging on pipes and having a tantrum in the room next to me), so I didn’t really make any effort to connect with anyone other than a cook, a waiter, and some street musicians.

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You can see my video of the week here:

 

And here are some photo highlights mostly of Piran at night when it takes on a whole new dimension of mysterious colors, the night sky forming odd shapes of dark blue in the spaces overhead.

It’s just a beautiful town and I’m glad I was here. But a week of solitude was enough and now I’m off to see Venice for the first time. It will be anything but quiet. And after that, Life gets really interesting as I head to my final destination on this trip: Malaysia!

Posted by: facetothewind | July 11, 2014

Croatia

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Going back just a bit in time…here’s some photos from the Croatia trip with Mari. We stayed at a biking hostel in Momjan in a 300 year old house with another Marjana and a Michael. Michael is an expat American. They were both fascinating people having worked in the war in Kosovo years ago to help reunite separated families. They took us for a ride in their 1967 Yugoslavian made Zastava car with suicide doors. Great fun!

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Then it was on south to Grosnjan (a hilltop medieval town) and Medulin (a newer beach resort town with tons of Germans). Here are some pix…

And here’s the video:

Posted by: facetothewind | July 9, 2014

Clouds in my eyes

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Coming from the desert, it’s a special treat to see clouds and today in Piran I was on cloud nine. Join me for a little walk in the clouds…

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Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge panorama.

Below you can see the Italian Alps covered in snow…

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In case you want to know what it looks like in color…

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But as we all know, my mind is black and white. And my head’s not always in the clouds. Sometimes I’m all at sea…

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Is that enough metaphor for a Wednesday?

Posted by: facetothewind | July 7, 2014

Into the maze

I’ve always been drawn to medieval cities. There’s something really human about them — completely walkable for obvious reasons of having been built centuries before the internal combustion monsters began plying the earth and dictating urban design. So when Marjana and I stopped by Piran for a quickie visit last week, I felt like a child not wanting to get out of the swimming pool when it was time to leave. But, but. So we changed our trip and I’m now here for 5 days. Wehoo!

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Click to enlarge panorama.

My favorite thing in the world (OK, 2nd favorite) is to grab my camera with a full battery and an empty 4 gig SD card and wander. I call it scouring. I go so slowly no one wants to be my companion. I can spend days doing this and sometimes a theme of imagery will arise as it did today. I climbed to the top of the clock tower to get the view you see above. Then I set forth to scour the whole city…to plunge into the brick and plaster jungle below. In the evening I sit with my glass of sparking Croatian rosé and edit pictures. I couldn’t be happier.

My goal this morning was to get lost and come home with some great imagery. So let’s go down now and have a look from inside the maze.

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The streets are too narrow for a car as they were originally walking paths that got paved with stones and then buildings erected on the footpath. So there’s no grid-like order to them as we in the States are used to.

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The light level is low if you’re on the ground floor. If you’re on the top, you have plenty of light and a rooftop terrace. Light reaches the street only at midday. So there’s a wonderful filtered light quality for photography. I arrived a bit past noon so you can see some direct light at street level.

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There’s something wonderful about wandering so close to human life. And laundry.

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Mom is in the kitchen clanking dishes. You can hear a baby’s cry and smell and hear onions in the frying pan as you walk past these little slot canyons of life.

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Because it’s Slovenia, even at the height of summer tourism, there’s hardly anyone here. It’s a wonderful opportunity to catch people in solitary moments.

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I was thinking of my hero Henri Cartier-Bresson as I stood in this archway waiting for someone to go by. I had my camera on and the focus locked just waiting. I would hear someone coming and had to snap quickly and then grrr…a bunch of tourists. Another shot grrrr some workmen. Then, voila! A woman and her little dog too. Perfect.

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I had to wait for this girl to separate from her family. But she did, finally.

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I dress up as dandy as possible in my blue hat and orange linen shirt with seersucker blue shorts. That way no one sees me as menacing. Just some tourist. Little do they know that I’m scrutinizing their every move. Maybe this guy wasn’t ideal, but it’s a slice of life shot.

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Stopped for a bite in a little cafe. Most tourists eat at the seaside. But I was enjoying the cool and darkness of the caverns.

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This was my lunch. Mussels with baked cheese and bread. Yummy yummy. 8 Euros = about $10.50 USD.

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And this was the chef. Cute as a BUG!!  He’s studying tourism in Piran and was eager to chat with me. I’ll go back tomorrow and say hello. I didn’t realize that the sign said service and was pointing to his feet.

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On the way out I stepped in dog doo. Yeah, you have to watch where you walk here. They don’t seem to have the same sanitation laws that we do. I actually stepped in poo twice…not this pile if you must know. Grrrr. Maybe it was that little dog. I’ll get you my, pretty.

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And then back into the light to wash my shoes.

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I’m coming down with a cold and there is a major thunderstorm headed this way. So I guess I’ll spend the next day or so in bed.

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