Monday, December 31, 2007

Cairo the Rapacious

This city is kicking my ass. I'm starting to develop an atitude that would put New Yorkers to shame.

The truth is, I was more anxious than I let on in visiting. Breathing the air, they said, was the equivalent of smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. The merchants are so cunning they once fleeced the King of Mali of twenty camels laden with gold. The traffic is so insane that the guidebook recommends hiring a taxi to cross the street. 21 million people are squeezed between the barren desert, with an increasingly deadly police state above and the Muslim Brotherhood on the streets below.

I arrived at the hotel, crawled into the bed, and debated staying there until my flight to Aswan.

Seriously. I only act tough. I'm like the kid who climbs to the highest rock to dive off it, and he only did that because he read about it in a book, and then remembers too late that he's scared of heights.

Books are bad.

Thirty minutes after lying in bed my stomach overruled my timid brain & demanded that it go out and find food. And so I ventured out for my first taste of this city of 21 million.

I'm staying on Zamalek, an island in the Nile. It's slightly more upscale than the surrounding madness on either bank of the Nile. It has it's crazy high-speed no-rules roads, but it also has quiet sidestreets where guards sleep standing up in the shadows, and embassies are hid behind high walls and private gardens.

Within the hour I'd eaten my first meal in Egypt - pigeon on a stick. It was stuffed with wheat, then roasted on an open fire. The chef snapped the head off before serving me, for which he has earned my eternal thanks. An hour after that I'd shaken off my first hustler. He hit me up while I was taking photos of the Nile. It was ... muddy. Not photogenic at all. I suppose I was expecting the Seine, all golden lights and stunning vistas. As for the hustler? He was an amateur, to be sure, but still - it gave me confidence to handle him so easily.

Same routine this morning. I debated hiding under the sheets for the day. I wondered if I shouldn't cave and join a tour group. Or spend the day locked in the museum.

Instead, I hailed a taxi and rode into the heart of the madness - Fatimid Cairo, the original Islamic quarter. This was the quarter that has caught my imagination, even more than the pyramids and the tombs and all the other pharaonic monuments. You can blame books again - I'd read too much Naguib Mahfouz, and too much of the history of the area - Mohammed's conquest, the rise of the Fatimid dynasty, it's take over by Salahadin, Crusaders camping at the gates, the slave-wife who hid her husband's death long enough to take charge herself and establish a dynasty of former slaves who later enslaved the caliph's family after Genghis Khan destroyed Baghdad ... I had to walk these streets myself.

First I had to survive the taxi ride. I was warned a Cairo taxi was an adventure in itself. I wasn't prepared for the driver to approach a crowd of pedestrians and then hit the gas. We went plowing through the crowd, slaloming between the poor innocents, and somehow came out the other end without hitting a soul. There was no time to breathe before we approached a merge at speed where three lanes closed into one.

Thirty minutes of this, and we turned a corner into another millennium. I had asked to be dropped off at Bab Zuweyla, the southern gate of Fatimid Cairo. I expected - what? Not this. Not a dusty dirt road in the middle of this metropolis, flanked by thousand-year old stone walls, with covered alleys leading away into mysterious directions.

And all without another tourist to be seen. I was shaking when I got out of the cab. I climbed the minaret for a good view of Cairo, and sorry that you'll all have to wait for the photos. Spent the rest of the day wandering the streets and alleys of the old city.

And like the poor King of Mali, I was royally fleeced.

First the good: just being here was an adventure in itself. The keeper of the Bab Zuweyla gate gave me a great tour. In Arabic, but he kept it simple. The restored Ottoman House of Beit Suheimy was fabulous, and was like stepping right into the pages of Palace Walk. The view of the Cities of the Dead were haunting. And the mosque of Sultan Hussein had beautiful marble work that provided perfect acoustics for an Iman singing prayers in the mausoleum behind the prayer room.

The mediocre? Nowhere to piss. I had to hide behind a ruined monument. You would pay a guard 20 EGP (2 dollars) to open a locked door - but there was no guarantee that there'd be something interesting behind it. The hustlers were supposed to be bad, but I found them to be a minor, almost charming, annoyance.

The bad? Lunch. I ate at a local dingy hole in the wall. The proprietor started piling food in front of me. There was so much chaos and noise all around, and such a mass of shouting people at the cafe, that I couldn't manage to say no, stop, this is enough.

And so I ate eggplants and an egg soufflé and falafel and hummus and a tomato salad, and finally had to order him to stop. I was going to burst, and it was turning into an awkward situation.

Then he brought desert out. No. I begged. I wish I knew how to say "I'm full." Instead, it was la la la shokran no please no thank you for the love of god no. I held his hands and looked into his eyes and tried to get my message across.

No luck. He force fed me. No shit, and no exaggeration - he took the spoon and forced it in my mouth.

I was laughing. It was all a bit surreal, being force-fed by a mad chef in a medieval city. Then he gave me the bill.

By American standards, it was slightly over-priced. By Egyptian standards? Ten to twenty times what the cost should have been.

So no more laughing. They got me. Me and the King of Mali. I paid, left the shop, put on my shades, and hit the streets with a new attitude.

One upshot of all this was, I wasn't scared of the traffic anymore. Once outside the quarter I was walking across the street with the best of them.

I'm determined to get the better of this City. It feels like a competition.

Tomorrow - I've hired a driver to take me to the pyramid fields at Dahshur and the Necropolis at Saqqara. "These are not tourist," he told me. "You like Giza better, yes?"

But I'm sticking with Plan A.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Munchen on a Sunday Morning

I landed in Munich last night, completely but expectedly disoriented. The flights went well, and I was doing alright until a few brief hellacious hours at London´s third-world Heathrow Airport. It knocked the winds out of my sails, and the final leg from London to Munich was a bit of a daze. My original hotel had some water damage, so instead of checking me in they arranged for a room at a higher-class hotel down the road, and handed me enough cash to make up the difference in cost.

That was totally unexpected - especially from a budget hotel sandwiched between Man´s World and Tiffany´s Lap Dance Palace - and kind of puts Waikiki hotel´s to shame. We have so much to learn.

I left my house at 5am Friday morning, and arrived at 5pm Saturday night. Thirty six hours by the clock, though my body only went through 24 hours - and I´m applying this to a new theory on how to beat jet lag, my own little special theory of traveler´s relativity. I won´t think: oh, I´m x hours ahead of home and how will I ever adjust? Instead I´ll tell myself that there is no time difference, and that I merely traveled forward through time at a faster rate than the kids back home. I did one and a half hours for every hour they did, and that´s that.

It might have worked. I was sick and beat when I arrived, but a nap, shower, wander through town, and sauna was all it took. By midnight I was feeling fine - demonstrated by a sudden and ravenous craving from bratwurst. It might have been the statues of pigs all over that triggered it. I first thought it might be a Christmas thing - a Yule hog to go along with the tannenbaum and lights; now I´m thinking it must be some deeper pan-seasonal symbol of Bavaria.

The town itself is beautiful. I arrived with a google map and a rough idea of where the train station, hotel, and sauna were. I planned on winging the rest. I wandered in a good-seeming direction, and stumbled on the Marienplatz. It was bounded by a huge gothic cathedral with a huge Christmas tree out front, and it looked like some child´s fantasy of what the holiday should look like.

I tried to use the castle´s spires as a landmark to navigate home, but I didn´t realize that it was just one of who knows how many castles and cathedrals in a small area. I didn´t get lost, amazingly, but did take a bit of a detour trying to find the route back to my bed.

This morning I´m immobile again, but for a different reason - German breakfasts. The hotel spread was stunning - fourteen kinds of meats and sausage (I counted), fourteen kinds of cheese (ditto), a dozen kinds of bread, two kinds of smoked salmon, a yogurt bar, a muesli bar, strong bitter coffee, espresso, fresh squeezed juice, an assortment of pickles, eggs, potatoes .... frakkin´heaven on a cold rainy morning. Next time someone tries to pass off a croissant and nescafe as a ´Continental Breakfast' they´ll be getting an earful from me. I could´ve spent all day there, but after trying to sample all the meats and cheeses I hit a wall, and would´ve had to purge to continue on.

Twenty more minutes and I leave for the airport to fly to Cairo; then the real adventure begins.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ghosts of Christmas

I was doing such a good job of avoiding the combined ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. I went to most of the parties, sure - there are friends I only see this time of year, and I hibernated most of November to prepare. And if I was religious I would've gone to mass. Beyond that, I was skipping it. I was sick of it. Or, more specifically, sick of the shopping orgy that accompanies the holiday.

The local news run non-stop accounts of how merchants are doing, and what stores are open when, and gee I hope they sell more stuff than last year. They tag on a few milliseconds about 'of course it's not about the shopping it's about Christ' - and then it's back Live from the Mall. Jay tells me that his kid came back from kindergarten with a bag full of toys - some of the mothers went shopping for every kid in the class. Friends are sending their nephews and nieces cash, because the kids already have everything they could want. It's giftcards for Amazon, Starbucks, or Macy's for the adults.

And I just cannot find the meaning in any of this. There's no thought and little love in any of this. It's gone overboard. I was opting out.

My record was almost flawless. The men in my office managed to kibbosh gift-giving this year (and oddly enough, it was our Chinese Buddhist clerk who was most upset by this). I only went to the mall once, and that was for Ron's birthday. I didn't do cards (though I'm feeling a bit guilty at the ones I've received, and haven't opened them yet). No tree. No lights. No party. No nothing beyond dinners with good friends.

I'll make up for some of this, sure. I'll buy presents while I'm in Egypt for friends and family. I'll do a party this summer - it was too rainy to open my yard this winter anyways. And I kind of liked making cookies, though I did cook a big meal for the surf house and I'll probably cook for the Swamp Pigs this February.

Mid week went to Rudy and John's for cocktails. Saturday Cliff had a party, and it was all the usual gang. Spent a pleasant night with Peter after one of his shows. Went to David and Roger's at their awesome new house in Kalihi Christmas eve. It was all so nice. So non-commercial. So much more in the spirit of the season. Tomorrow is Fred and Boyd's dinner at Grand Cafe, which should be an awesome way to wrap up the holidays.

I dodged the commercialism, and I dodged every ghost of Christmas past.

And I could have made it straight through unscathed. I guess I did ... but other friends weren't so lucky.

I called D_ mid Christmas morning. His boyfriend is on the mainland, and we'd made plans to drink the day away. We've done it before. We're good at it.

His brother had just died a few hours before.

D_ had just moved back from California, vowing to stay put this time & never return. His family is still there. His brother, 43, married, and with two kids, had had some chest pains that morning. He went in to the hospital for a check-up, and collapsed in the hall. They couldn't revive him.

D_ and I spent the rest of the day and a lot of the night together. Sometimes talking, sometimes just drinking bloody Mary's and watching silly movies on tv (South Park Christmas, Kathy Griffin's special, The Simpson's Movie, and the new Hairspray). A friend of his, Jose, joined us later and we went out for dinner at Senor Frog's and one final nightcap at Tapa's.

He's doing alright, though I suppose it wasn't real yet for him. He should have arrived back in Cali a few hours ago, which means it all should have hit him by now. He's one of my closest friends, and I did my best even though there's not much anyone can do, and it was a pleasant day ... but one with the ghost of death lurking in the background. There was the very real one in his family, of course, but there was also that awful awareness that, for all of us, the future will hold many more days like this.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Jason de Caires Taylor

What if we made our artificial reefs into works of art also?

From the work of Jason de Caires Taylor:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Living His Life Faster

Jonathan Keller took a photo of himself every day for the past eight years, less 239 days in 1999/2000 when he was in Antarctica.

These are the photos as of October 1, 2006.

Living My Life Faster - 8 years of JK's Daily Photo Project from c71123 on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


OK, I've got everything confirmed except for a place to stay in Munich and Abu Simbel, a flight to Abu Simbel, and the ride from Dahab to el Milga.

The Beginning
16 hours in coach. Or, hell.

  • Fri Dec 28: Airborn - United 934 HNL-LAX (07:00-14:22); United 934 LAX-Heathrow (16:49-11:25)
  • Sat Dec 29: Munich - BMI 3275 / Lufthansa 4755 LHR-Munich (13:25-16:00)

Cairo the Victorious
Mayfair Hotel, Zamalek

  • Sun Dec 30: Air Egypt MS 788 Munich to Cairo (14:10-19:00)
  • Mon Dec 31: Egyptian Museum, Coptic Cairo
  • Tue Jan 1: Pyramids at Dahshur, Saqqara Necropolis
  • Wed Jan 2: Alexandria
  • Thu Jan 3: Islamic Cairo

Hathor or Horus Hotel, Aswan
Abu Simbel Tourist Village (Hotel Abbas), Abu Simbel

r Egypt
Marsam Hotel (Sheikh Aly Hotel), Qurna (West Bank)

The Sinai

Bishibishi Garden Village, Dahab
El Milga Bedouin Camp, el Milga

  • Thu Jan 10: Air Egypt MS 162 Luxor to Sharm el Sheik (7:10-8:00). Bus to Dahab.
  • Fri Jan 11: Hike to Ra's abu Galum
  • Sat Jan 12: Midnight convoy to el Milga. Climb Mount Sinai; Monastery of St. Katherine; Hike Wadi Arbein.

The Journey Home

  • Sun Jan 13: Bus to Cairo (6:00-14:00). Shopping Day. al Azhar Park, Khan el Khalili.
  • Mon Jan 14: Air Egypt MS787 Cairo to Munich (09:50-13:10)
  • Tues Jan 15: Airborn - Lufthansa 380 Munich-Denver (09:15-12:05); United 77 Denver-SFO (13:23-15:03); United 77 SFO-HNL (16:05-19:46)
  • Wed Jan 16: Back to work

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Schizo Days

I've never been much for sticking with one group or subculture. In college I jumped back and forth between Theta Chi (IFC: Theta Chi is a threat not only to the campus community, but also to its own members; OTR: Individual Theta Chis are fine to chill with, a little east coast attitude is manageable, but get them all together and it's Brooklynaggedon. Approach with caution); wild underground punk parties (left, the Misfits play at the Union Ballroom); Boy's Night Out at the Nectarine Ballroom; and volunteering at Ozone House, the collectively-run counter-culture inspired runaway shelter.

These worlds would cross rarely, if at all.

I'm still jumping between worlds, though they're more socially acceptable ones these days.

This past Saturday Roz organized a huaka`i for the paddling group at He`eia Fishpond (left). It was cold wet and windy - not a typical Hawai`i day at all. We were told the history of the pond by two of the caretakers, and then taken out to the rim collect some invasive algae (Gracilaria salicornia, aka gorilla ogo).

This part was fun - the water was murky, so you had to feel for the algae with your feet. Once you felt a patch you'd dive down and blindly grab what you could. We filled a couple baskets, which the Association will then clean and sell for poke.

Of course, we only made a dent in the ogo. It's extremely invasive, and has been smothering reefs and crowding out native limu island-wide.

Mehana at the mākāhā.

Keli`i on the history of the pond.

Most of the group stayed to fish for moi; I had to run, do a quick change, and meet some of the guys at Mariposa for Ron C's birthday brunch. What a change that was - from down to earth people involved in protecting the land to ladies who lunch (left). It took me awhile to make the transition. I was shocked at the prices, especially given how absolutely average the food was. It was all pretension, no flavor. exempli gratia: : I ordered a side of "porcini fries with truffle aioli." Sounds good, eh? Turns out they were regular fries "dusted" with porcini powder. It still might have been good if you could have tasted the porcini. As for the truffle aioli ... it wasn't an aioli, it was a vinegary mayonnaise that tasted more of mustard seed.

It took me awhile to switch gears.

But it was about the company, and that was more than fine. I haven't hung out with Ron much at all this past year, so it was nice to reconnect. Sumner treated (yeay!), and Scott continues to impress with a lifestyle that puts the rest of us to shame. While we ate his latest houseboy was home cleaning and decorating the tree. I have no idea how he does it.

I think I'm stuck being a homeboy though ... I'll never quite fit into the porcini dust world (give me the whole damn mushroom or leave it off), and I'm still more likley to take a date to the St. Louis Drive-In around the corner from me (left). I like their fries better, and those plus two burgers and a drink costs all of $4.09. It's a style I can live with.

Adam and Ewald

Iranian-born photographer Soorah Hera had two pieces pulled from a planned Spring show in a Dutch museum. The curator denies he pulled the work out of fear. The artist is in hiding. Artnet has the story.

I don't know what the first piece is. In the second, the men are wearing masks of Mohammed and his son-in-law Ali. Trigger death threats.

I never believed that al Qa'eda was a serious threat to democracy, or modern values. Suicide bombers threaten our security, our families, our lives, but not our freedoms. Bush/Rumsfeld/Cheney have done more damage to our democracy than any Islamic fascist could ever hope to.

These, to me, are the real dangers from Islamic fascism - anonymous calls in the night, shadowy threats against anyone who violates a medieval and outdated code, a climate of fear that stifles dialogue and forces artists into a corner where art is safe, pretty, and non-threatening.

Bush can drop chemical bombs on all the Fallujah's in the Middle East, and it won't address any of this. It's not a conflict between us and them, and there is no clash of civilizations. Those who see this as just the latest inevitable collision between the West and Islam are ignorant of history.

The more I read, the more I realize that the history I grew up with - Egypt led to Greece led to Rome led to Europe, and over on the other side there was something to do with Mesopotamia and Babylon and Persia & occasionally we fight with them - was wrong. There was no linear progression, and the center of culture and learning passed numerous times between the Greek Islands and Cairo and Baghdad and Rome and Byzantium. There is no us and them - we have the same history.

If I see any on-going conflict here it's one between the Enlightenment and the Dark Ages.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Flying the Ama

I stumbled on this teaser-trailer from Soul Fabric Films.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cutting the Line

R. moves back to Los Angeles a week from today. Hawai`i never worked out for him, though he did his share to stack the odds against him.

So I'm sad to see him go. Maybe LA will be better. He's got family. But maybe LA means death, a giving up. I don't think he knows what he'll do there - it's just not here, and there aren't many bridges left to burn here.

At some point this weekend we'll get together for one last round of drinking. At some point he needs to come over and go through the last of his things. He'll leave a lot behind, but I'm not sure what I'll be doing with it. What do I need or want with the Christmas ornaments that he originally bought with his ex? Or all the books on Japan?

So I'll be doing some house cleaning too soon after, and cutting more threads that connect me to the past. It'll be hard, if only because it seems we do this far too often & that life moves on with such relentlessness these days that our links to yesterday sometimes threaten to disappear altogether.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Morning After

Technically, it's a couple mornings after. I knew I was looking rough when I said hello to our clerk and she just started laughing to herself. There wasn't even an acknowledgment; my good morning was met with tee hee huh huh hee hee.

Not that she's be talking to me much this month anyways. The men in our office have almost succeeded in banning Christmas. No gift exchanges, no lunch, no streamers, no crass commercialism whatsoever.

If only this would catch on. I like the season otherwise, even though I tried to duck out of it this year. I pretty much hibernated most of October and November. I couldn't quite figure out why at first ... I didn't feel that depressed, but on any given weekend I was much happier at home watching tv than going to the bars.

Now I think I was saving up energy, 'cause December is rock star month. Ken rented the bungalow at Pupukea, so spent the weekend up there with the surf gang and a few odd hangers on. It was the typical half cool half strange weekend. I never achieved the level of highness and/or drunkenness and/or medicated bliss that some of my comrades achieved ... there were times when I think we had five or six unique states of consciousness present in one room.

Only one was a real irritant - the idiot stuck his hand down my pants, or tried to, my first hour in the house. I've crossed paths with him on and off over the past 14 years, so he took that to mean we were "old friend who go way back." Which: no. We weren't. We knew people in common - two pill-popping southern preachers - and I later cut all contact with those people when I realized how shallow, exploitative, and downright creepy they were.

I was very clear with the idiot that he was not to fuck with me. His meds kicked in an hour later & he passed out, so I'm not sure if he remembered my warning. As Jake put it, there are very few medications that are complemented by alcohol and pot.

But it was nice living on the beach, and it was nice being surrounded by friends for three days. Kurt was back in town, Tom came back for a month, Steve was up, Keoni, Ken of course, with his latest ethnobotanist. Ken II and Kevin came up briefly, and Jimmy spent the first night. I like communal living, even though I guard my privacy.

Monday was Haulani's party. I made the eggnog. Ran into another blast from the past - C, who was one of the preacher's boyfriends shortly before I cut contact. I haven't seen him in years either. He got too drunk to drive, so I sent him to bed. I suppose I was expected to go down and join him ... but I stayed at the party. I was having a fun time, & it's not like he was going anywhere.

Six more parties to go; I need to work 9.5 hour days the next two weeks so that I can comp part of my vacation; somehow the dishes are piling up again; and I still want to find time to tan and buff up before I head to Cairo.

Thursday, December 06, 2007



We believe that every single human being is a child of God – we are all part of the human family. The conviction of the inherent and inalienable worth of every life is still the most revolutionary political proposition ever advanced. John Adams put it that we are ‘thrown into the world all equal and alike.

And yet his campaign is based on denying rights to fags, dykes, the transgendered, and immigrants.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

We Lose Another One

One of our officers called this morning for us to check on some shore-side development he saw from his patrol boat.

We tracked down the parcel ... and it's the same story we hear all the time here.

There's a small bay in South Kohala that the tourists haven't found yet. You turn off the highway, then take another turn down a partially paved road, then turn makai at telephone no. xx onto a rough dirt track. When the track ends you can hike through the kiawe to a small enclosed bay, lined with rocks and trees and a small black sand beach.

There might be eight or nine sunbathers and swimmers there on a busy day. Local guys throw-net fish from the rocks. The currents are rough, but it's nice swimming for those who understand the ocean.

Some traitor must have shown a developer the bay. He liked it - it's private and secluded and pristine - and Paradise could be his for 3.8 million. We traced the records online; it's now owned by a group out of California. Or, as the officer put it, "more asshole Californians."

So they bought the land along it for development. We can notify Aquatics and Forestry and Historic Preservation that they need to keep an eye on this development, but it's not our kuleana and we don't have the authority to stop it. It's County land, zoned "hotel"," and the County never met a permit they didn't like.

So one more private place will be lost. Money will buy what was once only earned through friendship, family, and time. The rest of us will have beach access, of course; but a beach isn't quite the same when it's ringed by condos. Rich investors will come and vacation here and have an authentic Hawaiian experience behind their gates and walls - marred only, perhaps, by the bad attitude of the locals they encounter when they venture out.