So, after a pretty hectic work-filled week in Marrakech, I flew to Geneva to spend Easter weekend with my friend Jonathan (who was in NYC a few weeks ago you may remember) as his husband Michael is out of town visiting friends of his own. Yesterday we had a lovely dinner and hung out in Geneva, while today we crossed the border into nearby France to visit a very cute little town called Annecy, full of history and wine and cheese and lots of rain. Still, it was a super charming place to walk around, and we had a lovely time. Then this evening we were invited to a delicious home cooked meal by Jonathan’s friend Richard, and now we are back home where I am endeavoring to not feel like the fat pig I am for all I have eaten today. In case you want the rundown between lunch and dinner, there was escargot and tartiflette and jambon cru (salt cured ham) and vin blanc and vin rouge and gnocchi and steak and mousse au chocolat and some kind of lemon tart, and of course several coffees.
I landed at the airport in Lisbon yesterday, where I was greeting by Stijn and Xavier who had arrived from Amsterdam. We got checked into our AiBnB apartment, which…leaves a lot to be desired, especially for the price. They advertised it as “quirky”, but what I think they meant was “shitty”. I am looking into alternatives, but may just deal with it so I don’t have to move and attempt to get my money back.
Anyway, we hit the town running, leaving the apartment almost immediately to start walking around the city. We grabbed an early dinner and then made our way through the neighborhoods, from Alfama to Bairro Alto, drinking our way around the city, and stopping in for various pastries and coffees. I have to admit to feeling a little queasy by the time we got back to our apartment, but am much better this morning. Today we will wander around exploring what seems to be a super charming city. Stay tuned for photos.
Since Emre had to work again yesterday, Karpat and I went to Sultanahmet to hit the spice market and walk around a little. Since I spent about a month in Istanbul a couple of years ago, I don’t really feel pressure to see all the tourist stuff I did back then, and can now just sort of wander aimlessly in some of these areas and take pleasure in that. The markets were surprisingly empty on a Sunday morning, I remember before they were so packed it was difficult to walk through at all. We meandered a bit, picked up some spices, had lunch at a lokanta, crossed the bridge, ate some sweets, took the tunel and metro back to Emre’s place, then drove from Şişli over to the Asian side where Karpat lives. Emre met us over at Karpat’s, and they made me a lovely dinner (which included some yummy new things I had not tried before, like Pastirma). Today (weather permitting) we will take a small road trip somewhere, but even if we don’t, I am really enjoying just hanging out with my friends.
And just like that, you are in another country, on another continent (the airport is on the European side after all).
It has never been a huge hassle for me to get a visa for Turkey, but now it is even easier. You used to have to get it on arrival at the airport, necessitating a wait in a separate line from passport control before entering the country. Now you can just get it online and go straight to passport control.
After I go through passport control and baggage claim, I was greeted outside by my good friend Emre, who was a total sweetheart coming to pick me up. We headed into town and met up with his partner Karpat, then went for dinner and a walk around Istanbul, as I tried mostly in vain to fight off my jetlag. But even through the mental fog caused by that, it was striking (after the last few weeks) how much more even this place resembles the culture I grew up in than India does. I was really noticing how neatly laid out the buildings and sidewalks and roads were, how quiet it seemed in the absence of excessive honking, and how fresh the air felt.
It was so nice to see Emre and Karpat again, but by 9pm I was falling asleep standing up, so hit the hay early. This morning I feel much refreshed, and ready to attack (in a totally non-violent way, of course).
I have somewhat mixed feelings about Delhi. Is is a crazy large, chaotic city with some attendant wonderfulness that one finds in most such agglomerations. There is some great night life, amazing food, incredible history and fascinating sites to see. But there is also horrible traffic and the worst pollution in the world. The pollution somehow seems even worse than 8 years ago when I was here last, and I can see why the numbers for respiratory and other health problems are through the roof here. At many times, one can not see the sun on an otherwise sunny day.
But then there are the absolutely remarkable people I know here, who make every visit a total delight. Meeta, Digraj, and Aashni have really made this trip special. They are kind and generous hosts that I love spending time with, and they have been sharing the best of their city (especially the food) with an amazing warmth and playfulness. They make Delhi a fantastic place to visit, and make me want to come back again and again. I always have fun with them, and I will miss them.
Yesterday I bid a fond farewell to Ken, who alas has to return to NYC and his work schedule. I think it is safe to say that Ken was genuinely surprised (and at times quite unsettled) by the chaos of India, but after this trial by fire it is also true that he will not be so shocked again. The next time (if there is a next time) will be much easier to deal with. Ken says he would like to come back, but only time will tell. India is the kind of place that works on the mind not only while here but in reflection after the fact. Ken will need some time to become either further intrigued or suffer bouts of PTSD about his trip here, and those feelings will determine whether he decides to come back one day. As I have said before many times, I always discourage people from coming to India if they have less than a month to spend, because one needs an initial adjustment period before one can see the wonder and beauty and cultural interest behind the disorienting chaos. Of course it was a great safety to Ken that I was here and traveling with him, as it shielded him from some of the uncertainty. And I was really happy that Ken was here as well. Beyond the fact that we are friends and I think that Ken is a really great guy, showing him around (even as we saw things that were new to me) allowed me a unique perspective. Being able to see Ken’s reactions (as well as judging my own) gave me a nice bridge view into past and present, and an awareness of both that is not often able to be experienced simultaneously. Being a guide and negotiating the experiences and daily logistics of this trip allowed me to hone a few skills that are less used when one is alone.
For various reasons (including a chance to travel on Singapore Airlines suites class tomorrow), I decided to make a quick stopover in Singapore on my way to Mumbai tomorrow. My lovely friend Fauzi from KL came down with his partner Najeeb to come meet me and hang out, and we had an amazing time yesterday wandering the hot and very humid contours of Singapore. In particular, we made our way to a very impressive newly developed part of Singapore that includes walkways, bridges, housing, shopping (of course), casino, and public park. The park in particular (called Gardens by the Bay) was quite spectacular. Inside are a variety of spaces and gardens representing different cultures, and an incredible greenhouse called the Flower Dome that must have cost an insane amount of money. They brought together mature trees and plants from all over the world, and somehow manage to keep them all alive in a giant air-conditioned space.
My friend Marco suggested we go to this super trendy Melbourne restaurant called Chin Chin for dinner this evening. I had been hearing about it non-stop, and even tried unsuccessfully to go the other night (where the waiting list was an hour and a half). As I mentioned, Melbourne steadfastly refuses to do reservations, so everyone must wait, always. We planned on getting there pretty early, around 6:30, to avoid the worst of it, and I got there even earlier and put our name in. We were lucky that the wait was ONLY 35 minutes.
Once inside, we decided on the “feed me” option on the menu, where they basically pick everything and bring you stuff, with one stipulation. I noticed they had a beef rendang on the menu, and I had to have it. I have to have rendang wherever I see it, it is one of my favorite dishes. They agreed, and brought us plate after plate of fantastic food. Everything was super delicious, but the rendang was truly spectacular. Problem was, by this time I was one stuffed, fat cow (as the gays all seem to call each other here). As we still had another main plate coming, we asked them to please halt and just bring us the dessert. I took a few bites, it was pretty yum. But by this point I was just about to search for a bucket. Thankfully, that was when the bill came and we paid and walked for a bit before sharing a cab back to our neighborhood.
During the meal and walk back, Marco and I had a really nice talk about politics, acceptance, families and such. It has been really fun getting to know him and Luc and their friends while here, and I realized I will miss them when I leave.
I am in Amsterdam at the moment for a week’s vacation and having a fantastic time. Everyone is so friendly and warm, I always feel more welcome here than just about any other city I know. Yesterday, my friends Stijn and Alexa invited me for a a little tour of Amsterdam on their boat. I have taken a couple of official boats tours before, but they could really not compare to this. Stijn really knows the inns and outs of the canals having lived here for so long, and we had a lazy day of great conversation, snacks, drinks, sunshine and a little swimming. About halfway through we picked up Huw for lunch and then made our way back to the docks, where we said our goodbyes to Stijn and Alexa and took the tram to the center to check out the Drag Queen Olympics, which are part of the Gay Pride celebrations in Amsterdam this weekend.
In addition to going to the market and doing a lot of work, Olaf and I took a little walk around the Alster this morning and it really hit me that Autumn is here. The leaves are changing color and falling all around, the wind is blowing and there is a chill in the air. It is somewhat melancholy, but beautiful at the same time. It marks a change and makes me feel a little homesick, but not for any place in particular. And for some reason at the very same time, the weather makes me really happy to be spending some time with my dear friend Olaf. We can be quite silly together, reciting our favorite lines from various comedies and generally being catty, but with great affection. I have been in Hamburg enough times before that there is an easy familiarity here, and I always enjoy my visits.