Archive for wandering
Dushanbe. Do, Shanbe! Douche-on-Bay.
That’s the one that sticks — the city’s name like a news headline, one in some buried middle England sports section: some asshole is out yachting.
Douche-on-Bay. That’s the legend, in my mind, and now the whole town is named for it. The day when the patriarchal douche took to the lee side of a crescent harbor, not for sport but for better beer access. For chicks.
Every summer, there is a festival in Douche-on-Bay. We remember our heritage, of lazy questing and selfish relaxation, and we take to overcalm waters.
What I mean is: today, I am a lazy explorer. Body tired (too much to learn the ways of the marshrutka skittering about the flat city), my mind wanders around the capital I don’t know.
I know its name, though. That’s all I have. Dushanbe. It means “Monday” in Tajik. The country’s largest city by fourfold, and it’s christened for everyone’s least favorite part of the week. What a downer.
Local cognac and shisha. No hands but for sipping. Rooftop in the Dushanbe “twin towers” — a new pastel centerpiece already scarred with electrical burn marks. “If there’s an earthquake, run,” said one UN guy. “It’s coming down.”
A salad in the menu: “Salmon of weakly salted.” That’s about how I feel — a fish just about as far from an ocean as it can be, still on earth. Weakly salted. Maybe they are only salted weekly. Today is not this city’s day, but one day — I’m looking out at the world’s tallest flagpole — I think it may be worth its salt.
I’ve been scolded for taking a picture. Not allowed. You can see the whole city here, and it’s all off limits. Forget about the close up — after the Soviet Union left, and the sound came up on the young republics — our Tajik Norma isn’t ready even for the wide shot.
It’s Thursday evening now — as far as I can get from the city’s namesake. I won’t know it now. Instead, I’ll quest lazily and selfish, a reckless wanderer through total nonsense. I like spending time that way — tethered by just a few real letters. I’m at sea, but I’m sheltered somehow by the faintest hints of something true. What a way to travel.
Hell, it beats most Mondays.
The Levant: Part 3
A young man on a Vespa drove towards me with the slumped and bloody carcass of a dolphin slung over the floorboard, its nose and tail nearly dragging on the rough pavement. It was probably just a big fish, but the children playing outside the few shops on the seaside street stopped to tag along excitedly behind the motorbike. I followed in my rearview mirror as the group turned off the street to make their next move.
* * *
This was the rural road that ran parallel to the North-South highway; not far behind were the ruins of Byblos, in the near distance was the broad, flat profile of urban Tripoli. Many Lebanese would give the impression with their tone that it was all still a ways away: “Yes, far: twenty kilometers maybe.” In a small country where lifestyles and landscapes change at every few mile-markers, far is never so far. Russians and Australians, I imagine, would give very different answers to those sorts of questions — “It’s easy, just six timezones west. After the bridge.”
But minutes after leaving Tripoli, I was driving through the dark clouds above the Wadi Qadisha seeking shelter in the only places I knew to look. Aramaic for “Holy Valley,” the area and its many caves have for millennia been a site of Christian hermitage; painted signs for deir dot the side of the road, sometimes appearing not to point to anything in particular. These are the modern markers of ancient monasteries, still inhabited and many still offering friendly lodging to retreaters. But to find even the largest complex, you may need to believe (in the side-roads); the signs on the main route are about all you can get for advertisement. As loud as Tripoli is with blasting car horns and old engines grumbling, the crest of the valley is silent. Read the rest of this entry »