Monday, February 18th, 2008

Daily Archive

Woman’s Group Meeting
Woman’s Group Meeting, Kinshasa.

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laugh a lot at him and he’d sort put the pieces together that I was in Congo by choice and walking with a black boy in the night. I don’t know, I just slept all day and now I’m awake until morning. In any case, I’m back, and missing my friends.

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Cap Est: Grounds as seen from the Lobby

Roses strewn across the bed– they mean business in Cap Est and they have a flock of robed attendants waiting to seat you in the cool, open lobby and serve you a glass of sweet iced-tea. The mint leaf kept getting stuck in my mouth and I gave up trying to surreptitiously get it back in the glass with my tongue, swallowing it instead. This is not the kind of place where you pick at your teeth. This is the kind of place where they carry your bags to your room and serve you iced-tea. We had been led around the grounds by a young man who spoke English but who seemed slightly embarrassed either at his communication abilities or his station. There was a door leading to the spa where massages, soaks and steams took place. There was an open bar quietly being stocked. There was a koi pond, then a restaurant where breakfast would be served in the morning, dinner at night. Along the infinity pool, ringed with deck chairs upon which the most elite of Europe’s elite must lounge in their unwholesome swim-wear must sit, across a grand expanse of grass and under a line of palm trees. The Atlantic shimmers off into the horizon, the water glacial blue like something you’d paint in elementary school with water-colors. There was a detached building off to one side, the lesser restaurant for lighter fare. We were led around the a series of bungalows that sat above the pool, then through a tunnel made of hanging vines and stopped at the edge of a small pier. Another entry to the Atlantic, with a couple floating decks drifting about bearing more lounge chairs. We were led back towards the lobby, past the small fleet of cleaning carts where each worker nodded respectfully or dutifully as we passed. A customer had been locked out of his suite and one of the women would take care of him, take his hand and open his door again. We were led to our own. The tour continued, taking in the front room which led out to the private deck, next to the private plunge pool. There was a couch, a mini-bar, a table and upholstered chairs. The next room had a plasma screen TV with DVD player and, of course, the big gay honeymoon suite bed. With roses all over it. The remainder of the tour, the bath and outdoor shower, remained a blur. We had unpacked, or at least rifled through our bags wondering if we should bother using the drawers available and examined the quarters. Luxurious was a word that sprang readily to mind, and this caused some minor confusion. What do you do with luxury? We changed into swim trunks and tried not be be embarrassed. Aaron sat in the plunge pool and tried to convince me it wasn’t cold. I stood on the steps leading down and shivered but he claimed once immersion was complete it wasn’t cold at all. I plunged and realized he was lying– my chest hurt it was so cold. But we sat in the plunge pool for a spell until the luxury ran out, then changed into more appropriate clothes and wandered back to the lobby, said bonjour to all the girls in their flowing robes which elicited a uniform choral response, then into the attached library. There was a selection of DVDs to borrow, rows of books in French, and a computer. Aaron discovered wi-fi and took his laptop out into the lobby. It seemed like a lot of trouble to download the new episode of “Lost”.

World Traveler
World Traveler

A consistent theme, tho. The day before Aaron was to fly down from Seattle in the morning, hang out with his parents for several hours, then they would pick me up and we would return to SFO for our flight to LAX. My answering machine had a message, however, relaying that his flight had been delayed and was now being re-routed to Oakland. Not an auspicious start to our vacation, but according to the internet only arriving flights were being delayed because of a low ceiling (fog), unless you were flying out to Chicago. Hours later he was in California, and hours afterwards his parents drove over to pick me up. We checked in at the automatic kiosk which was originally under the impression that my name was 210 Texas, then was concerned that I was using a passport to check in. An attendant came over to verify that I was me, then we shuffled off to security where I was resoundingly guilted for attempting to smuggle hummus onto an airplane. Actually I was ridiculed for trying to smuggle the hummus and then guilted by security because I would take the hummus out into the unsecure portion of the airport to give it away. “We’re going to have to throw it away,” he said to me. “You can have it,” I suggested, but he again insisted I was starving the Africans and Chinese by not unburdening the offending food on hapless strangers. Eventually I walked away from the situation and we made out way to the Admiral’s Club which, despite the name, is a cramped collection of cut-rate motel furniture crammed into a stifling airport room that has its own bar, free snacks and wi-fi. Aaron turned the thermostat down and began to download “Lost” and I began to practice my “je vous drais” a million times. He would laugh periodically. When they began paging people to the Admiral’s Club desk our curiosity to piqued and since our flight was showing delayed Aaron went to investigate. Through my valium dosage I watched while he kept excitedly turning around to regard me while conversing with the staff, then watched as he hurried back. “We have to go now” and we were grabbing our bags and heading out the door. The flight we were on would land too late to catch our connection so we were being put on the previously delayed flight that was finishing boarding; the people working in the Admiral’s Club were pissed that the boarding gate hadn’t paged us. We were the last ones on, walking through the seated masses, and found whatever was available. Upon take-off I realized that perhaps I should have taken two valium.

Lost in San Juan

Lost in San Juan

After landing in LAX we followed a group of Kiwis off the plane, then turned the corner and walked right into the next gate that had just begun boarding. Since we were flying first class we had every right to step on the pregnant mothers, children and elderly they were trying to squeeze in the door. The passengers collected in the terminal watched with utter disgust as we kicked the needy to the curb and were treated with utter veneration by the flight staff. Back up in the air I ordered a scotch (I’d had one on the previous flight but it had cost me so I was making up for it) and received something that looked and smelled suspiciously like vodka. The stewardess who was serving me insisted that despite the clarity of the liquor and the ice I had specifically asked not to be included it was my drink. “She made a double” she encouraged, and so I drank a double vodka on the rocks. Then I had a beer. Dinner was served in courses and the flight coasted towards Miami. I might have taken another valium, then a tylenol as I realized that when someone had mentioned “air-pressure” and “fillings” I should have paid attention.

Passenger Collapses
Passenger Collapses En Route

The flight was marred by an ugly incident: a woman sitting near the front in coach had gotten up to go to the bathroom and collapsed in the aisle. I suddenly found it very difficult to get more scotch and turned to realize what was going on. Calls for a doctor were made (I don’t actually remember that part but Aaron says so) and one of the stewardesses did get the oxygen tank down at one point. A group of people stood clustered over the woman for quite some time as Aaron and I debated whether this would translate into an emergency landing in Texas. The rest of first class less involved in their self-interest, not even bothering to look up from their magazines. Eventually the woman was coaxed back from the brink of death and seated; Aaron and I drank ourselves into a light slumber for an hour or so, then awoke as we neared Miami. We located the Admiral’s Club and Aaron began to download more “Lost” while I socialized with a cruise-bound group of blue-hairs and experimented with the two automatic espresso machines and the breakfast snack buffet before taking another valium for the next leg of the journey. Although it was a short flight we were served breakfast before landing in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We checked in at the Admiral’s Club there and were informed that while we didn’t qualify for free entry (there is no first or business class when flying to Martinique) she would allow us to stay because we’d been flying for so long. This was exceptionally sweet because it allowed us to hide our bags for

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a while and leave the airport, right into a sweltering mid-morning sun. Good thing I had this cool new hat. After a very brief discussion about cabbing into town for food we wandered the grounds of the airport and then returned to the Admiral’s Club to download “Lost” and engage the free snacks. As the last flight loomed I tried out the private bar which, it turns out, is as expensive as the bar available to everyone in the rest of the airport, and took my last valium of the day. Despite the cost it was a wise move– they didn’t serve alcohol on the flight to Martinique. Still, the hour and a half wasn’t time enough to clear my head before trying to clear customs. I sat on the flight trying to focus my eyes on the page specifically designed to get through customs without a cavity search and kept mumbling the same two phrases over and over again. Walking up to the immigration gate I could barely carry everything because I was clutching the book so tightly. Bonjour! I screamed at the guard. He didn’t look at me, just my passport, which he stamped and returned without a word. Bienvenue!

Martinique Airport

Martinique International

A ride had been arranged by the luxurious Cap Est Resort and I had been terrified of being greeted at the gate by a white-gloved house-negro bearing a name placard. The fact that this didn’t happen would have been an immediate relief had someone been there, but it was just a small airport lobby with all the signs in the wrong language. We wandered up and down wondering how exactly we should proceed and I tried to extort money from an ATM which spit a receipt at me without any money. Ah, yes. We stepped outside into even more sweltering sun and looked around. Aaron went back to the gate to see if we had someone how missed the driver. I stood outside with our bags trying my best to look like a tourist. Theory one proved to be true and I was introduced to the cab driver who most certainly would never be seen in white gloves pandering to anyone. He had, in fact, spent ten years in the military. He tossed out bags in the back of the minivan serving as our cab and we took off. Aaron told me that the sign had read: “Mr. and Mrs. Tuller”. Where are you from? San Francisco. The countryside between the airport, which sits towards the center of the island, and Cap Est grew from rolling hills into fairly mountainous terrain. After clearing the populated regions we sped through copses of sugar cane and past old plantations. The houses dotting the hillsides, every building in fact, looked like they had co-starred in any expose on Colombian drug-wars. Everything looked lush, aged and burdened with heat. Meanwhile the cab driver is asking about the Democratic primaries (which were just about to hit California at the time) and I tried to figure out how to explain why I wouldn’t vote for either front-runner were I to vote for any Democrat. In the end I let the conversation drop by staring out the window and young banana groves, the fruit bundled in blue plastic. “To protect the bananas” he said, alluding to the recent hurricane. And then we were pulling through a gate and up into the roundabout, met at the curb by beautiful smiling island people.

Daily Leaves for College

I walked back through the lobby, bonjour’d the girls again, and stood out front in the roundabout to smoke a cigarette. Down the driveway the shuttered gate began to trembled, then open. Monsieur Daily forced his way through the portal, cab behind him. Somehow it just made sense, all of a sudden, standing on the expansive grounds of a resort on a tropical island in the middle of the Caribbean; it was really just a trip to see Daily who walked up with his bike messenger bag slung over a shoulder. We walked into the lobby and collected Aaron, taking Daily to the bungalow to unload his shit. Then we cruised around the grounds showing off all the things we had just learned, hanging out on the small pier beyond the hanging vines as the sun sank from the skies. After the charm of dusk had faded we cruised down through the lobby, bonsoir!, and to the bar where a couple sat secluded in quiet conversation. I insisted, in my sleep-deprived and heavily medicated state, on handling the first order of the evening and strode unsteadily to the counter where my French was immediately repelled by a barrage of English. Alright, I conceded, ordering three ti-punch, but next time this is happening in French. He smiled and agreed, but refused to let me stand there waiting for the drinks to me made. We found a table and waited, surprised when the bartender walked up bearing a plate of pate’ on bread and a glass full of battered cod. Shortly thereafter the three glasses of ti-punch arrived, the drink of Martinique. It turned out to be much less refreshing than a mojito: Ti-punch is a splash of cane-syrup, a measure of white rum and a lime. It burns the throat and spins your head around and sits smoldering in your stomach daring you to argue. We polished off the snacks and chatted as another couple of patrons arrived, including a couple with a toddler in a carriage. It seems a funny place to bring the kids, but then again the three of us must have seemed quite odd to everyone else. At some point, immediately following one of the random heavy downpours that float overhead and disappear within minutes, I went back to the room and discovered a cat keening outside the sliding door. I let the animal inside, wondering if it was a lost pet, and since it was quite accustomed to people I picked it up on my way out and walked to the lobby. The beautiful girl working behind the counter (I insist that she looks like Thandie Newton in “Flirting”) who had the tendency to giggle whenever I attempted French watched as the cat immediately savaged my arm, then began to giggle as I asked the best I could if the cat was okay to be here. The girl didn’t seem at all perturbed by the little bastard’s presence so I let it gently down and it scampered off– I bid au revoir to the both of them and returned to the bar.

Cap Est Bar
Courtesy of Cap Est

The next round was ordered in French but it consisted of two Biere Lorraine and some sort of champagne cocktail Aaron thought sounded good. I’m not sure if the bartender could actually understand what I was saying but the transaction was completed, as was my paying with my card which, thankfully, worked. After the incident with the airport ATM I had my doubts I would have any access to money at all. By now the restaurant down along the water had opened for dinner and we walked across the lawn to inspect. While this may have been the lesser of the two on-site restaurants you would never know by the service or the fare. Aaron and Daily split an entree of Tuna Tartar and a campari a piece, then lamb over roasted vegetables and seared tuna steak over roasted peppers, respectively. I enjoyed a multiple-cheese panini over frites and another Biere Lorraine, feeling a little under-class for all the finery. By the end of the meal they were asking for the dessert menu and I was wondering where the top of my head had gone. I can remember getting the key for the bungalow but not getting back to it, nor do I remember passing out on the couch. After 36 hours awake, four flights over twenty hours, four valium and the contents of your mom’s liquor cabinet was suddenly awakened after Daily had been forced to crawl through some bushes and come through the sliding door leading to the deck. Their knocking could not wake me. If you just want to see embarrassing pictures we pooled them on flickr. They’re unfortunately not in great order (each chunk is by one of us) but almost all of them have clever little descriptions so we expect you to look at each one. Otherwise, please carry on: (more…)

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