Thursday, June 28, 2018

Sam's Last Day of 4th Grade!

Anthony Bourdain 1956 - 2018

Elise had a photo shoot the afternoon of June 8. She was gone that afternoon, at the Citadel downtown with a family. The kids were playing quietly in the den. It was a Friday afternoon, early evening. I casually picked up my iPhone as I do too often when I saw the news. 

Kate Spade had ended her own life only two weeks before. I admit to not feeling much when she passed. I know it sounds callous to say, but when a celebrity passes I usually don't feel much. I mean, I didn't know them personally. It seems to me a lot of people make a big deal when someone famous passes. When I was working in Washington, a woman from my office was devastated...hysterical...when Prince died. I know a lot of people were also very upset when Robin Williams and Carrie Fisher died. I liked Star Wars just as much as the next person, but I don't remember ever feeling particularly close to Carrie Fischer because of it. I know that sounds terrible to say, but I didn't really know these people other than watching them on TV, seeing them at the movies, or listening to them on the radio. 

When Elise told me about Kate Spade, even though I could tell it affected her, I couldn't relate at all, and I remember wondering if there was a famous person whose passing would affect me. 

Now, I know. 

Elise and I used to experience what we called, "Anthony Bourdain moments". Fleeting moments in time when we were completely unanchored from anything familiar, when we had completely and utterly let go of all preconceived notions and immersed ourselves into whatever foreign land we were in. I remember sitting at Libanus in Brasilia, a table on the crowded patio of the botequin, a giant bottle of Antartica sweating into a bucket of ice between Elsie and I, feasting on kibe, a traditionally Lebanese dish that is also now traditionally Brazilian in the same way tacos are Mexican and pizza is Italian and both are now traditionally American. Brazilians surrounded us, yet were completely oblivious to our presence, they talked and yelled and shouted and danced, the TVs perpetually tinted bright green from the enduring chlorophyll glow of a freshly-shorn soccer pitch. 

In Mumbai, Elise and I wondered a short distance from our hotel. We stopped at a kebab stall completely mobbed by locals who were crawling over each other like ants trying to get into the mound. Cars pulled up in the street, under the dull orange glow of 100 year-old street lights, dust congealed on the inside surface of the giant bulb, and eager busboys would spread out newspapers on the hood, then deliver kebabs wrapped in foil. The drivers, all by no accident male in tight white -t-shirts and slicked-back ebony hair, would eat right off the hoods of their cars. We didn't have a car, so I elbowed my way to the front just long enough to order a couple of kebabs we would take back to our hotel room and eat on our bed. 

Anthony Bourdain did a lot of things, but one thing he hardly ever did was apologize. That's because he was always, always authentic. He was the original diplomat, a man who understood that the ultimate act of diplomacy requires recognizing our shared humanity. A friend described him as, "real and human and broken and complicated and he still believed in finding the best in us all. Anthony Bourdain turned war zones back into neighborhoods."

 "If I'm an advocate for anything, it's to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else's shoes or at least eat their food. It's a plus for everybody."  

 "Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown."

"As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life -- and travel -- leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks -- on your body or on your heart -- are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt."

"When dealing with complex transportation issues, the best thing to do is pull up with a cold beer and let somebody else figure it out."

"Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don't have."

"I don't have to agree with you to like you or respect you." -- all Anthony Bourdain

Cyprus, Part Six - Coral Bay

On our last day in Cyprus, it was unanimous...we had to hit the beach one last time!

Pete's ready to go even though he is still in his pajamas. 

Peter requested a sandy beach, but none of us had the appetite for the four hour round trip drive back to Ayia Napa. Fortunately, after a little research, we learned there was a sandy beach just west of Paphos, about 45 minutes away, Coral Bay.

Even though there was a lot of seaweed in the surf, Coral Bay ended up being my favorite beach and my favorite day at the beach.

The stretch of surf directly in front of our beach chairs was especially crowded with a long line of seaweed, but we discovered if we walked a few yards to the right, the seaweed cleared up. The wind had kicked up that day. The weather forecast rain, but fortunately the forecast did not hold. The wind churned up the sea, and we saw the biggest waves of our five days in Cyprus; perfect for body-surfing.

I indoctrinated Peter to body-surfing by first sacrificing my own body to act as his surfboard. He grasped my shoulders and rode on my back as we caught small waves and rode them to shore. Then, I did the same for Clementine.

All three of them were fearless in the surf, as my brothers and I were in Florida at their age. I think the greatest joy of the whole trip was just watching them play together in the ocean. The following morning when I woke, knowing we would have to board the plane and fly back to Amman, leaving the beach for the time being, I was sad to leave. Not because I didn't want to go back to Jordan and not because I was particularly sad to leave Cyprus, but I wanted to keep watching them play, perhaps freeze them, in a way, at the age, on that beach, in that blue water. As in the photo above, completely carefree and full of joy.

We also stopped at one winery -- though we wished we had seen more -- and explored the small village of Omodos. We also took in a few of the early rounds of the World Cup, cheering on our home team, Brazil.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Cyprus, Part Five - Caledonia Falls

On our fourth day in Cyprus, we decided to head inland. This would end up being my absolute favorite day in Cyprus. I loved going to the beach. Mostly, because I loved watching the kids play in the sand and the surf; it was as though I could see the synapses connecting forming memories.

But for me, after a year in sparsely vegetated Jordan, I was missing trees, hills, and mountains. Though we didn't go super-often, I was missing the days we would drive out to Shenandoah for long hikes on the trail, the quiet, the clean air, the whisper of the wind in the trees or the babble of water in a brook. I hadn't experienced this in over a year, and the fact that we were able to go on a hike in Cyprus was an added, unexpected bonus.

We drove about an hour and a half inland toward Troodos and Mt. Olympus, the highest peak in Cyprus, where there is even snow and skiing in the winter (a fact I didn't know about Cyprus).


The plan was to do a short 1 km hike to Caledonia Falls, followed by lunch at a trout farm at the base of the trail. If I recall correctly, Peter was disgruntled upon our arrival because he was cold. (You can see him shivering in the photo below as we start the hike, then in the photo below that, he has on Elise's t-shirt for added warmth.) 

After not too long, we made it to the base of the falls. 

After reaching the falls, we decided to keep going to the top of the falls and beyond. 

Fortunately, we didn't have to take the escape route. Though Sam and I did journey down it a short ways, so he could take a poo in the woods. 

We hiked for about another hour or so. For some reason, Peter got it into his head the trail would take us out of the canyon. It seem to appear as though the canyon walls -- beyond the curtain of pine trees -- were getting lower, but we had no idea how much further we would have to go to reach the end of the trail or even if the trail had an end.

I could understand how his mind was working; many of the trails we hiked in Shenandoah reached a destination, a mountain peak, or as in the case of the hike to Caledonia Falls, a cascade. But when we decided to keep going past the destination, as we did that day, we opened a Pandora's box of possibilities in his mind, i.e. there must be another destination, or there must be some reasons beyond hiking for the sake of the hike, we must keep going. Or, again, at what point do you decide to turn around and go back? Don't you always wonder or want to know what's just around the next bend? If we only go a little bit further?

This is something I've dealt with on many occasions, often when I am running. When do you decide to turn around? Because you're, in essence, turning your back on possibilities. Wouldn't you always wonder what you missed. I think this is what was so hard for Peter to grasp. But we did have to turn around at some point. If we didn't turn around at all, we could've been hiking until nightfall. But it was past noon, and we were all starting to get hungry for lunch.

Peter was, needless to say, extremely disappointed, despite my calls for reason, and started crying. In the end, I think he was just as hungry as the rest of us, but his sense of adventure wouldn't let him admit it.

I was especially eager to make it back to the trailhead, because after our morning hike, we had a lunch of fresh grilled trout waiting for us!

I'm serious. You can't make up days like this! Maybe in heaven...

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Cyprus, Part Four - Artemis' Birthplace

On the way back from the zoo, we decided to stop at Petra tou Romiou, also known as the birthplace of the Greek deity Artemis, goddess of the hunt.

We spread out a picnic bought at a local grocery store in Paphos on a towel on the stones and cracked open two cans of cold Keo I bought from a drug store across the highway.

I'm don't exactly remember why Sam is so disgruntled in this photo, but it may have to do a chaffing issue he was having. 'Nuf said. 

Elise in the Mediterranean. 

Cyprus, Part Three - The Day Our Rental Car Broke Down or Paphos Bird Park and Zoo

After two long days at the beach, Elise and I thought it might be time to take a little break from the sun.

Thanks to a giant billboard directly outside the airport and a conveniently-located pamphlet at the Hertz Rental Car counter, the kids had been begging us to go to the zoo in Paphos since the moment we got off the airplane.

In all fairness, we hadn't been to a zoo since leaving D.C. and it was unlikely we were going to go to a zoo for the foreseeable future. I like the zoo. So, we decided to give it a try.

We loaded up the car and set off...and made it about 2 km down the road. The car wouldn't accelerate. I had noticed the 'check engine' light the day before driving back from Ayia Napa, but took it as more of an advisement than actual warning. After consulting the Opel owner's manual however, it quickly became evident there was a genuine problem with the engine that would require real checking.

We started up the steep hill from Pissouri Bay to the A6 highway, but it felt as though the car was stuck in low; it kept revving and revving, but would not pick up speed. There was no way we we're going to get up the hill at this rate, much less be able to merge into highway traffic, so we turned around and called the rental car company. A few hours later, we were in a new 7-seater Peugeot and on our way to the zoo...

...on the hottest day of our stay in Cyprus.

We arrived around noon to the Paphos Bird Park and Zoo. In retrospect, I think the zoo part was a late addition. This was heavy on the bird park. They had all the birds covered, eagles, owls, peacocks, flamingos, storks, parrots, even a North American cardinal (in a cage, no less). There were elephants, giraffes, zebras, lions, and tigers, a pretty impressive array of wildlife when they weren't napping in the shade.

While Elise and I were melting into the sidewalk, the kids ran from exhibit to exhibit. We finally made our way to the reptile house, after a what ended up being a pretty depressing visit to the penguin house.

On such a hot day, we were really looking forward to the visiting the penguin house, because we expected it to be cold. I mean, last time I checked, penguins do live in the Arctic. This was, however, the first penguin house I ever visited that was hot. I mean, actually stifling.

In every other penguin house I have ever been in there are dozens of penguins jumping into the water, diving, swimming back and forth like black and white torpedoes darting through the water, or waddling back and forth across the fake, plastic ice floes. But in this penguin house, there were only four penguins, standing perfectly still in a straight line, facing us, as though in a line-up of criminal suspects. All that was missing was the chart showing their heights. They stared at us. We stared back at them. No one moved. The water was cloudy and brown and the entire house reeked of dying fish. We didn't last long.

The kids skipped up to the door of the reptile. Peter had his back to the door as Sam opened it. Not a foot from the front door of the reptile house, was a stack of glass aquariums. In each, was a giant, hairy tarantula. Pete backed toward them, and -- so as not to startle him -- Elise said, "Watch out behind you, Peter. There are spiders."

To which Peter absolutely. freaked. the. eff. out.

He jumped out of his skin, crying hysterically, and ran from the reptile house directly into his mother's arms.

It took him awhile to come back down. Peter had a similar episode during one of our leaves in Seattle. We were at the flagship Starbucks Roastery in Capitol Hill, having a late cup of coffee when Peter told us he was seeing spiders under the bar. Elise and I were understandably concerned and chalked it up to stress.

Peter has always been the most sensitive of our three children. As a baby, Elise couldn't run the blender or the vacuum without him bursting into a full-blown panic. I think the trip to Seattle was a case of one movement too many: we had traveled from India to visit Elise's parents in Spokane, then traveled from Spokane to visit Elise's brother in Everett, then traveled from Everett to visit Starbucks in Seattle, then...anyway, you get the picture. He was three "once-removed"s from his happy place.

The trip to Cyprus in all its sun-and-surf-filled wonder, may have been one "once-removed" too many, as well. We can hardly get on a plane anymore without one of the kids wondering if we're just going on vacation or if we're moving.

Peter did eventually calm down. We found some fluffy yellow baby chicks roaming freely through the bird park and that seemed to do the trick. The bright-red bloated ass of an African baboon also might have helped.

Needless to say, after an hour or two of the zoo, we were ready to leave. We stopped at a Cypriot supermarket on the way back to Pissouri, much to Elise's delight. She seems to have inherited her father's desire to visit the grocery store in the foreign lands we travel to. The trip was worth it if only for the swordfish head we found on ice in the fishmonger's display case. We stocked up on breads and cheeses and headed down the highway to our next stop, Artemis' Birthplace.  

Monday, June 25, 2018

Cyprus, Part Two - Ayia Napa

Our first day in Cyprus also happened to be Elise's birthday. No, this was not a coincidence. Neither Elise or I had much time to plan or research our trip. I had a vague notion of what there was to see or do, but in all honesty, if all we did was go to the beach everyday I think everyone would have called it a successful vacation.

I did, however, make one reservation, dinner for Elise's birthday at the Hillside Restaurant in the small village of Pissouri, up the hill from the harbor and the beachside villas.

On our way through the windy, cobblestone streets in search of the restaurant on the hill, we came across the following scene:

Two men, their Mercedes blocking the road, were up to the shoulders in the boot, digging around for something in earnest. We waited patiently for a few minutes, until the man on the left, in the blue shirt, came toward our car at a light job carrying something. I rolled down the driver's side window and he reached his hands into the car and gave me a handful of fresh apricots. He was receiving a delivery to his restaurant.


I thanked him profusely. The kids were already starving (our dinner reservation was at 6:30, an hour before which they would have usually had three dinners), and ripped into the ripe and juicy apricots with relish. Clementine, unfortunately, missed the entire ordeal, having passed out in the backseat from the long day in the sea and the sun. 

We arrived at the restaurant about a half hour early in hopes of perhaps sneaking in before our reservation. I couldn't recall why I had made the reservation at 6:30 and assumed it must have been because I thought 6:00 sounded too early for dinner and 7:00 sounded too late for dinner. In reality, it was because the restaurant didn't open until 6:30, so we waited as patiently as three starving kids could outside the restaurant under the crepe myrtles as the sun set over the olive tree and vineyard-speckled hills. 

I had specifically asked for a table with a view which we were happy to get -- without having to reveal it was Elise's birthday. The food was astounding and the wine -- from a local Cypriot vineyard, Zambartas -- was crisp and clean and delightful on a tongue that was still partially shriveled from the salty beach air. It was a REALLY good dinner, the first one we'd had in a awhile. 

The view from the Hillside Restaurant. 

The next day we went in search of white, sandy beaches. I had been told Ayia Napa, about a two hour drive to the east, was not to be missed. 

We got as early a start as was reasonable, considering we were on vacation, and did stop in Limassol on the way for Starbucks. On a recommendation, we decided to check out Makronissos Beach.

If the photos look as though they should appear on postcards, you mostly have Elise to thank for that. Plus, the scenery makes it pretty easy to take beautiful photos.

The previous day, Peter got his first glimpse at a topless sunbather. This was my first time to a European beach, and was wondering if the rumors I'd heard were true.

They are.

Obviously, neither Elise or I made a point of mentioning to any of the kids that it was perfectly within cultural norms for women to go to the beaches without tops, and no one said anything about it at the time. But it only took a day, for Clementine to blend in. When in Rome...

We were originally going to spend the day beach hopping, but Clementine -- who is quasi OCD about wearing sandals that are either a) filled with sand or b) wet -- put a squash on that plan. It was work enough to get three kids back up from the beach one time; Elise and I weren't about to take part in the multi-step ritual required to get Clementine into a clean and acceptable pair of sandals more than once.

So, instead of exploring Ayia Napa further, we decided to head back to Pissouri in time for a quick plunge in the pool, costume change, and run into a local pizza place on the one-block strip in town.

Halas (Arabic for "that's it" or "finished"). Day two was in the books.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Cyprus, Part One - Pissouri

After a long Ramadan month, everyone was ready for a little break from Jordan. When planning a vacation or trip, I always check with Elise before making any major moves, but when I saw the price of the tickets from Amman to Paphos, Cyprus on Ryanair, I literally bought them before asking Elise if she wanted to go to the beaches of Cyprus; I kind of figured I already knew the answer.

I was able to fly all five of us to Cyprus for the week for $300, the cost of one airline ticket to either Cairo or Beirut! We rented a villa in the southern beachside village of Pissouri, about halfway between Paphos and Limassol on Cyprus' southern coast.

The airlines in Jordan always tell you to arrive three hours before your flight, especially if it is an international flight, to give you enough time to get through customs and security. The airport in Amman isn't Heathrow or O'Hare. We usually make it through both customs and security in about fifteen minutes, much less than the suggested three hours. But the time, I hit up currency exchange for a few euros and Starbucks for late afternoon few, we may have burned a half hour.

We learned this lesson the hard way at first. The kids will always remember their father as making sure we have plenty of time to get to our plane on time. We will never miss a flight. But three hours seemed excessive, even to me. We've whittled that down to leaving the house about two hours before our flight (to include the 45 minutes drive out to Queen Alia International Airport, literally out in the middle of nowhere in the desert).

We've moved and traveled a lot. The kids are no strangers to airports. Elise told me once about the concept of a "third place", a place is a social setting separate and apart from the two usual spaces in ones life, work and home. Social psychologists stress third places as the spaces in which an individual's social infrastructure and communities are formed and they can be churches, coffee shops, parks, and, yes, even pubs and bars. When I was cycling, I think the peloton acted as a moving third space for me, 50 cyclists careening down A-1-A at 30 mph within a few inches of one another, bonds were formed quickly because the structural integrity of the bones in your arms, legs, and face depended on it.

In our many moves and travels, one space has been the same: airport waiting lounges. In a sense, if not a third space, then airports are one of the few physical spaces that has remained constant over the years. Starbucks are another. The stained carpets and plastic furniture are as familiar as the living room set in your own home and more constant. In airport waiting lounges, we feel comfortable and safe in their familiarity. The stressors of making sure you are going to get to the airport and through security on time have been removed and all there is left to do is wait. There are few other distractions there.

When boarding began one hour before our scheduled flight time to Paphos, I was glad we were early. But soon discovered we were to be herded into a holding pen for the next hour. The flight hadn't even arrived yet, and it soon became evident to me, the airline had no intent to even clean the cabin. We waited with forty others on the jetway, the hot sun soon turning the small space into a greenhouse of sorts. We made ourselves as comfortable as we could, camping out on the floor with our fellow passengers, sprawled out on carry-ons and backpacks. This was our first experience on a real discount airline. At this point, I was just hoping they were going to stay on the ground long enough to fuel the plane.

When we boarded the plane, the stewardess encouraged us to quickly find our seats and buckle ourselves in. As I sat down, she pointed to the seat next to mine and told me that seat was not available. Crusted with an off-white crust, it looked as though a baby on the previous flight had spit up its bottle all over the seat. The floor, too, was littered with M&M's or Spree chewy tarts candy. The air over Amman was rough. Very rough. But we were soon sailing over the Mediterranean. When Cyprus could be seen out the cabin window, Peter shouted, "Land HO!" as though he were in the crow's nest of a whaling vessel.

Upon landing, we were soon in our rental car and on our way to the villa, making sure to drive on the left side of the road (!!). It was starting to get late, so we dropped our bags at the villa and immediately headed into the small beachside village of Pissouri for dinner.

We parked the down and walked to the sea.

We found a table at aptly-named Captain's, directly beside the beach and immediately ordered beer, wine, and fried calamari. 

First thing the next morning, we headed back to the beach in Pissouri and spent the morning in the sun and the waves. The beach was covered with smooth, oval pebbles, perfect for skipping across the waves. The water was cold, but after a few hours in the hot Mediterranean sun, refreshing. It was the first time any of us swam in the Mediterranean, only the kids did it several decades before Elise or I. 

Peter spent most of the first morning begging us to rent a jet-ski, as improbable as that sounds. He really wanted us to rent a paddle boat with a plastic slide on it (pictured above). At fifty euro an hour, I didn't see that happening either. He sulked and brooded most of the morning, but we ignored him long enough to work himself out of his funk and finally find it within himself to appreciate his surroundings and just have fun.