My Muse: Maine


Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, Mount Desert Island

It sees the ocean to its bosum clasp
The rocks and sea-sand with the kiss of peace:
It sees the wild winds lift it in their grasp,
And hold it up, and shake it like a fleece.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Lighthouse 

Maine has been the backdrop — the setting — for some of the most important chapters of my life. It’s been the oft-unnoticed character, looming in the background, prepared to cushion my many falls with a thin layer of snow and pine needles.

The world was 6 years into the 21st century; I was half way through my 19th year when my path merged with Maine’s — unexpectedly — and for all the wrong reasons. The first role the great state took on was that of the antagonist. Its endless silence, population deficiencies, and overabundance of  pine trees (of white people) was daunting. It was so unlike the cruel, harsh home I knew so well before, and its sensibilities felt wrong.

Maine remained patient however — calmly and quietly waited for me — while I resisted its persistent charms.

Somehow, slowly and without my knowing so, a love affair developed. The cold coastal sea air  filled my lungs with an intimacy I had not known before. The previously unsettling stillness that followed the countless snow storms became beautiful, peaceful. Even the muckiest of mud seasons gained a certain charm. I could no longer hold off. I soon fell for the old, small towns and cities like I had never for a man.

But like any unnoticed character in a story,  I never stopped to acknowledge its worth — until a goodbye was in the offing.

For some time, I knew the love was there, I could feel it pooling in my heart. But only today, six years later, can I comment on just how crucial a role this place has played. Many-a-time, my life veered off course but like the many paths I’ve found through its woods, Maine carefully guided me back to where I needed to be. It threw the most memorable sights, sounds, and people my way and reminded me all the while why I am so very fond of life.

But sadly, now, it’s time to put distance between myself and my great love.  The faintly lit cobble stone streets still call to me lustily. The tree topped mountains still pull me in. The muddy hills beg me to stay. But while my heart longs to remain, tethered to the rocky shoreline, my feet have already cut their ties so I must follow them — for a while, anyway.

It is not a forever farewell and someday when I find my way home (probably captive to a loveless marriage) the state shall resume its role as the loyalest of lovers.

My heart stays in Maine. New york is ok. Boston comes close. But when I leave this world spread my ashes across the Maine Midcoast. Don’t take for granted just how deep you can breath in. Don’t take for granted just how far you can see here. Take a stroll with me down to the Old Port. Take a drive with me to the sea, my dear. We are already here. We are already here. East end to West End. Park Street to Forest. Park side to Congress. Monument Square, Monument Square, Monument Square.
Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, Maine Song

Bathing in Istanbul


Istanbul, Turkey

The air was nearly too thick and water-laden to enter my lungs. Inhaling was difficult, but an indescribable pleasure.

Giant droplets clung to my dirty, sun-stained skin. Once the moisture of the room collided with my own sweat, the beads would roll down my ribs, eventually pooling under my stomach on the cool marble table on which I lay. Spatters of water shaken off of the hair of a woman next to me collected in the small of my back.

An hour earlier, I stood staring — horrified — at what fell out of a small, sealed plastic packet. In the recesses of my mind, I prayed that if I stared long enough, they’d grow large enough to hide in. They did not. So there I stood, clinging to the thin towel that wrapped around my body thrice with tears in my eyes. My feet held their ground on the ceramic tiled floor, seemingly to refuse any efforts I might make to pull the black bikini undies on.

But one by one, my toes gave way…

I shuffled into the next room, my legs still putting up some resistance. But the second the intricately detailed wooden door slammed shut, the steam encapsulated me like a drug. Whirling clouds of mist wrapped around every strand of my hair, blanketed over my eyes, squeezed through my nostrils and into my brain.

My grip on the towel loosened gently.

I was surrounded by stone, a heavy layer of fog, and brown skinned women — all fitted in the same slinky Hamam uniform. My now curious feet lead me toward an empty cove where a small faucet jutted out of a wall that was erected hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Below it, a large metal bowl. I kneeled down and eased my legs under the water, occasionally filling the bowl to pour over my arms. It all felt so surreal: the perfect temperature of the water, the hazy atmosphere, the some how sensual antiquity of the place.

And just beyond that open little den I claimed as my own, dozens of women lounged around. A giant, round marble table filled the center of the room. Women fanned out across it, their thin towels beneath their heads, soaking up the sweat from their foreheads or the back of their necks. My ears strained for the sound of their voices but the different languages melted together and into the sound of the rushing water.

I made my way toward them, somewhat seduced by the steam.

I sat down on the edge of that stone circle and cautiously eyed the ladies all around me for the first time since I had walked into the Hamam. My eyes had seen nothing but walls, mist, and fuzzy shapes. The room’s moisture, along with my own nerves and insecurities, blurred my vision. But now, it was coming into focus. Out of the fog came the most beautiful group of women I had ever seen.  Clad in nothing but matching black bikini bottoms, we seemed to be stripped of any worries that could make us ugly. And after coming to terms with the near-naked strangers surrounding me, my qualms began to dissolve as though they were soluble in the vaporous air.

I laid back and looked up at the incredible domed ceiling. Giant holes were poked in a circular pattern, letting rays of metallic light through. My towel soon dissolved from my body and for the first time in my short life, my skin — and that golden light — was the most comfortable thing I had ever worn.

With my eyes were shut, moisture forced its way in and out of my lungs. The only sounds in the room were the indiscernible voices, the hiss of steam, and the splashing of water. It all blended into something bizarrely rhythmic. The mixture of the elements was enchanting, hypnotic almost. And I soon forgot about the world beyond the marble walls.

My body had no intention of moving. I was paralyzed with contentment. Then an older woman, with wonderfully wrinkled skin and aging breasts came to me, pulled me by the hand and sat me upright. Before I could ask for her name or even smile politely, she was shampooing my long, curly hair. I was bewildered by her brashness but was comforted by the scent of the shampoo. Rather than inquire as to what was going on, I reveled in it as her hands moved the soap from the top of my head down to my shoulders and eventually my arms. She ran her deceptively strong hands down over the muscles in my legs and back before massaging them into my neck. To get a better grasp of my body, she placed my head to her chest. She smelled clean, but natural — tinged with both sweat and wet stone.

She took a rough cloth to my skin and rubbed off everything that had accumulated on my skin over the past three months I had spent traveling. Without the dead skin and dirt, I was lighter. Effortlessly, she pulled me to my feet and led me toward a small room in the back. She waved her sudsy, muscular arm, directing me in to a small, bubbling pool of water where three or four women already sat. I waded into the warmth. And then, my bather moved on, emptied her bowl of my filth, and cleaned another beautiful naked woman.

There, I half floated, half danced on the tips of my toes. A light under the surface of the water lit me from behind and I could see myself moving — slowly, dramatically. My feet let go, my arms floated above my head, and the water circled above me; it entered my nose, gently brushed up against my eye lids, and sealed my senses against the world up above.

Soon, as if to remind me of my need for air, the marble table and mist called me back and I returned to my steam induced daze.

Before long, the beads of sweat once again came rolling down my ribs, where they pooled under my stomach on the cool marble table on which I lay. I closed my eyes and thought about the crazy experience I was in the midst of … because soon enough, with saturated skin, I’d have to return to the clothed reality on the streets of Istanbul.

Lunch in a Cave


Thousands of years ago, the hands and feet of the Nabateans roamed over the ancient rocks that make up the city of Petra. They scaled mountains hundreds of meters high and carved majestic buildings, tombs and caves into them. Today, it is the feet of tourists that frequent it most.

The Treasury Building in Petra

However, Petra is home to many secret inhabitants. There is a whole community of Bedouins that live and function within the old desert city. They live in the caves, selling random items to tourists and offering “naturally air-conditioned” donkey rides to far away destinations within the city.

My friends, Kait and Aaron, and I entered Petra for the second time in two days with the intention to take a different hike to the center of the city. Typically, visitors enter Petra by way of the “Siq,” a narrow, mile long gorge cut through the massive rose-colored mountains that lead up to the city. After having done this route on our first day in Petra, we wanted a new experience. I found a different trail on the map, the Muthlim trail, and with a few bats of my eye lashes, I convinced the police offers that turn tourists away from the trail to allow the three of us to attempt it.

I took off my sandals, and traversed the rocks barefoot, hoping to place my feet where many before me had. The path started off by taking us through a tunnel and on the other side, cavernous rocks and gorges pointed us in the right direction. It was a trying hike. There were many steep drops and inconvenient blocks to the path. But after walking for a few hours, we made it to the end of the closed in path. It opened up to show us the back side of the city of Petra. There were caves and tombs spotting the desert landscape and it was completely devoid of any other life, or so we thought.

The Muthlim Path

Entrance to the Muthlim Path

 

The Muthlim Path

It was unbearably hot walking in the afternoon desert sun. So, we shambled up toward one of the caves in hopes of finding refuge from the sun. As we neared our desired cave, we realized that there were people there already. Aaron, who had gone up first, noticed them and not wanting to disturb them, he urged us to get away unseen. It was to avail. They saw us and immediately ushered us into their humble (very humble) abode to share some Bedouin tea.

The Cave

Inside the cave, which smelled faintly of urine and moist sand, the little family sat on an old, thick blanket. There were three adults in the cave, two women and one man, and an adorable little boy with the darkest skin and lightest hair I had ever seen. The mother of the little boy hobbled over to the corner of the cave and set fire to some desert brush she had brought in. She built a small make-shift stove out of rocks and placed a pot of tea on top of it. After the tea had boiled, she poured each of us small glasses.

Bedouin family

In return for their hospitality, we offered to share the little bit of lunch we had with us. We brought out the six pieces of pita bread we had, along with a small bag of Doritos, a wheel of cheese and a can of hummus. They sliced up a tomato they had stored and we all feasted for a good hour. The little boy scooped up handfulls of cheese and hummus and shoveled it into his dirty little mouth.

The only one who spoke any english at all was the father of the little boy. It was broken and he only knew a select number of words (words he had obviously picked up from haggling with tourists over many years of living in Petra). Consequently, much of the time we spent in the cave was spent in silence.

Regardless of the fact that we had no way to communicate, there was an unspoken bond between us. It did not matter to them where we were from. It didn’t matter to us where they lived. In that moment, our nationalities, boundaries and all other limitations were stripped away. We were just people, sharing a modest meal, enjoying one another’s company. I could have easily walked away that day with nothing more than a pleasant memory. Instead, it taught me that beneath all of the politics, the religions, the nationalistic hullabaloo, there are people; people who need and want the same things.

Eventually, we finished our meal, we sat in the cave sipping our tea contentedly for a little longer — trying to force ourselves to believe that it was really happening. The sun was going down and it was time to continue on our trek. We thanked the family and headed out of the cave.

Epic.

Cats and Cairo


I’ve been in Egypt for about three weeks now.

I fell in love with this country almost instantaneously. However, I haven’t been able to actually decipher exactly what it is I find so mesmerizing about this country, and Cairo in particular. Obviously the hospitality of the people, the genuine cultural character, and the overwhelming antiquity of this place has contributed to the fondness I have for Egypt. You can’t deny the power of any of those things. But there is something else, something… unspoken and almost tragic that I find so captivating. It has taken me this long to get these feelings off the tip of my tongue. Unfortunately, it came at the cost of two cats…

It wasn’t until late last night– when I saw two dirty, malnourished cats tearing one another limb from limb on a dark street in Cairo– that I figured it out.

First of all, for those of you that don’t know Cairo, ferile cats are everywhere. They pretty much run the underside of the city. It’s not altogether uncommon to see a bundle of dead cats by the side of the road, most likely beaten to death by some angry store owner or resident tired of their incessant meowing.

Anyway, these two cats were standing facing one another on the side walk, beside a pile of garbage. The cat on the left was a larger, grey and white cat. His opponent was a frail looking black cat with a swath of white fur on his front left paw. They were both incredibly thin and their ribs were visible through the patches of fur missing from their bodies. They stood there just squealing and hissing. The black cat appeared to know that he was the lesser of the two, and stood in a more defensive position. However, he didn’t appear to be backing down. Instead, as I walked by them, staring at them in horror, they leapt at one another. They were clawing and making noises I’ve only heard in movies (like Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the peasants are heard beating cats in the background).  It was after 2 am so, per usual for Cairo, there were a number of people walking the streets.  They heard the squealing and saw the two cats locked in a death grip but they kept right on walking down the sidewalk; they were completely numb to the life or death battle taking place right in front of them! Maybe it’s because people really are numb; with all those cats wandering around Cairo, cat fights can’t be all that rare. But I think it’s more than that…

Life in Cairo is a constant struggle for everyone, not just the cats. And that is what I love about it…  This country, this city is a reminder that I’m alive. Furthermore, it’s a brutal reminder of what life is really like. Life is suffering. If it’s not, you’re probably doing something wrong.

I’ve always been fairly conscious of the fact that my precious little life is a giant farce.  I parade myself around, feigning meaningful experiences out of fairly ridiculous things. I have actually convinced myself that shoe shopping and reality television has actually improved the quality of my life, when really, it’s done nothing but deaden the senses of both my mind and my poor feet. I can tell you one thing, the kids living on the roof tops of building in Cairo have never needed a pair of stilettos to give their lives meaning and they couldn’t care less about who Bret Michaels picks to be his Rock of Love. They’re too busy selling small packs of tissues to foreigners so they can help feed their families. And yet, somehow, we gluttonous westerners are the miserable ones.

For example, in recent years, Egypt’s economy has stratified the people drastically. There is a small, very wealthy upper class; a massive, very poor lower class; and a rapidly disappearing middle class. The differences in wealth are shamefully apparent all over Cairo. Walking down the streets of Cairo, within a few moments, you’ll be passed by someone driving a BMW followed immediately by someone riding a donkey.

It may seem as though I am complaining about the way Cairo is. In reality, all of this is what I like about it. Life is not easy here. Every morning you wake up in 109 degree weather, sweat-soaked and more exhausted than when you closed your eyes, you remember that you’re alive. Every time you turn away a begging child on the streets of Cairo, you remember that you’re alive. Every time you walk away from an epic cat battle on the streets, you remember that you’re alive.

My greatest fear is that I’ll leave Cairo, return to my monotonous life, and forget how unbelievable it feels to feel…