Monday, June 28, 2010

Getting There

Hiking is not a metaphor for life. If it were, only death would be waiting there at the top of the mountain. Hiking, though, is a metaphor. No, not for “the journey” (sooooo eighties). I hope we’ve all come to the realization that the goal is definitely more important than the journey. You can wander in the wilderness if you want, but I gotta have a goal.

Don’t let anyone kid you about this. Getting there is everything. The top, the pinnacle, the peak, the meatball on top of Old Smoky!

As I’m hiking up a mountain I’m ever-mindful of the goal. The journey is toning my legs and shaping my rear—both very nice things for the journey to do—but my mind is focused on achieving something in measured, determined steps.

This weekend Bruno the Asian/Austrian Fusion Chef and I hiked up the Wallberg near Tegernsee about forty-five minutes away from my home in Munich. It’s a hike we’ve done many times before, but we wanted to get back home in time to watch Germany beat the Marmite out of England.

Bruno the Asian/Austrain Fusion Chef was a bit out of shape, so we stopped after about thirty minutes for a short break on a bench overlooking the lake. We were sharing a grapefruit and catching our breath when an elderly couple came up the path.

“Would you like to take a break?” I asked them in German. “We can get up.” There was only one bench.

“Already?” the woman said and laughed. “We don’t need a break yet.”

Hiking is also a metaphor for competition. See, this harmless-looking elderly lady just took a jab at us. I came back with the explanation that Bruno the Asian/Austrian Fusion Chef had recently put on so much weight that he was in danger of having a heart attack. I, on the other hand, could run up the damned mountain in five seconds flat.

The hike up the Wallberg should take the person of average condition two hours and thirty minutes. We made it in one hour and forty-five minutes. Ha. We won. See, it’s all about competition. Walking better, faster, cuter than the other hikers. Sweating more profusely. Spitting occasionally to demonstrate one’s manhood. Taking pictures of pretty little flowers to demonstrate one’s softer side.

As I’m hiking up my metaphorical mountains this year, I’m going to keep my mind on the goal and walk faster than the others. The journey is so overrated.

I must be off,

Monday, June 21, 2010

Don't Smell Me Wrong

Name two things that should never have contact with each other, besides Keanu Reeves and the screen. If you chose sweaty feet and carpet, you win today’s prize (to be announced).

Join me on a journey down your olfactory passages. I'd like to take you to Istanbul, the home of great food, breath-taking scenery, wonderful people . . . and the stinkiest mosque I’ve ever been in.

OK, it’s the first and only mosque I’ve ever been in.

With thousands of bare- or sock-foot tourists padding through it, The Blue Mosque is the main tourist attraction in Istanbul. We were pleasantly surprised by how quickly and efficiently the queue proceeded. A few meters before the entrance, visitors are required to take off their shoes and place them in a plastic bag, which they carry with them through the mosque. I was impressed. I can remember at the end of a tour of a Buddhist temple in Bangkok digging through the stinky pile of shoes at the entrance to find my own. I liked the plastic bag idea . . . at first.

Have you ever been to a Greek Orthodox mass? Imagine not one priest but 200 swinging incense, and then replace the incense they're swinging with their own stinky shoes in little plastic bags. The tourists at The Blue Mosque don't make the situation any better, of course. Do you know how the British (and we’ll come back to them later) put you on a moving sidewalk when you view the Crown Jewels? It’s their way of getting the tourists in and out.

The keepers of The Blue Mosque have their own “moving sidewalk” to keep the tourists headed toward the EXIT: the vile stench produced by the tourists' feet and the zillions upon zillions of bacteria seeping into the plush carpet underneath them.

And this brings us to the question of the day. Why carpet? If only Muslim men who wash before entering the mosque were allowed to walk on this carpet in their socks, the world would be whole again, and a bit fresher. That said, even washed feet have bacteria on them. I know this is getting yucky, but I think it’s important—at least more important and interesting than the World Cup.

Don’t smell me wrong, I’m grateful for the opportunity of entering any place of prayer. I respect the place, but don’t understand the carpet/bare foot combination. My schnoz is easily offended, so I followed it to the EXIT.

The Blue Mosque is not the only place where carpet is simply wrong. My fitness center in London—a massive, new complex on three levels with the most modern machines—has carpet in the locker rooms. The smell is so bad that I usually wrap a t-shirt around my face until I’m in the work-out area—which is also carpeted, but members have to wear shoes there. Am I the only one who sees the vital importance of keeping bare (tourist) feet off carpet and Keanu Reeves off the screen?

I’d still recommend a visit to The Blue Mosque in Istanbul. It’s part of history. By the way, so is the Hagia Sofia, which stands a few hundred meters across from The Blue Mosque.Once the oldest Christian cathedral in the world, it’s now a museum. You have to pay to enter, but you can leave your shoes on (please).

I must be off,

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Teşekkürler is a Word that Comes to Mind

I was apprehensive when my traveling partner, Sven the Swedish Monk-slash-plumber-slash-baboon trainer, suggested we enjoy a long weekend in Istanbul with his mother. We’d been to Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt, and I’d never really enjoyed how tourists are treated in these countries. In the end, however, I gave in. He was paying. He’d had a good year baboon plumbing.

Most travel guides for Istanbul mention how uninformed the taxi drivers are, so it should have come as no surprise that our driver didn’t know where our hotel was, despite the fact that our hotel, The Crown Plaza, was on a main street just five stops away from The Blue Mosque, the main tourist attraction in Istanbul (pictured at the end of this post).

How many times do you think a taxi driver should have to ask for directions? Would you lose your patience at three times? Four times? Twelve? Our driver asked how to get to our hotel twenty-three times. At one point Sven the Swedish Monk-slash-plumber-slash-baboon trainer turned to him and asked, “You are a taxi driver, right?”

The weekend was getting off to an excellent start.

The first evening, Sven the Swedish Monk-slash-plumber-slash baboon trainer decided we needed to do something touristy, so we put on our party hats and boarded a harbor cruise complete with open bar, dinner and bellydancing.

On the way to the boat, we met a German/Turkish woman and her mother. We exchanged niceties in German. The daughter liked me; I could tell.

Fast-forward to tispy Christopher: By the time the bellydancer took the stage, I was toasted and putting on quite a show of my own. I’m known for upstaging bellydancers, and this one paled in the shadow of my swagger-slash-wiggle. I was distracting so much from her performance that she invited me to dance with her (keep your enemies close, I reckon). Of course I made a show of resisting at first; but before she could give up on me, I accepted her invitation with grace and wiggle. The crowd went wild.

Before I knew it, I had breasts and my belly was showing. Authentic is a word that comes to mind. Plastered is another.

Once I had my man clothes back on, a young woman asked me to dance. It was the German/Turkish woman from the bus earlier. Turkish pop music is incredible. We danced and danced and danced. I tried to do the Whirling Dervish thing, but by that point the whole boat was whirling. Difficult is a word that comes to mind. Woozy is another.

The night on the boat ended (I’m told) and we headed to our tourist buses. I found myself sitting across from the German/Turkish woman’s mother.

“So, where’s your daughter?” I asked.

“My daughter? She’s my girlfriend. I didn’t know I looked so old.”

How does one squirm out of such a faux pas?

“Oh,” I said (which I think was a pretty good start). “It’s not that you look old; it’s just that she looks so young.”


That was the best I could do. I think I fell asleep shortly thereafter . . . thankfully (is a word that comes to mind). I need to start a list of top ten foot-in-mouth moments.

Stay with me for our second day in Instanbul . . . the day I learned my first Turkish words, entered a mosque for the first time and saw the oldest Christian cathedral. But for now . . .

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Infomercial Time Again. Woot.

All last week I was visualizing my victory in The Smoking Poet's Third Annual Short Story Contest, but all my imagination could muster was a self-deprecating "I'm number two! I'm number two!" I love to make fun of myself, as I'm sure you've noticed . . . a few times. (The art over there is by Chihuly)

I won! I won! And--get this--I got the email as I was reading one of the stories at The Smoking Poet. That's what I call überspooky.

Pop by and read my story (if you love me). Everyone loves a winner, right?

Anyhooo, a big hug to Zinta Aistars and all the people at The Smoking Poet.

I must be off,

Monday, June 7, 2010

Two Types of People in this World

A very Wise Sky
Another installment in the series Lessons from a Wise Sky

Yes, we’ve all heard it. There are two types of people in the world: those who believe there are two types of people in the world and those who don’t. It’s so true. But seriously, there are indeed two types of people in the world: window people and aisle people. Nobody in his right mind wants to sit in the middle on an airplane.

On a recent trip to Istanbul, I took a few hours to observe the behavior of these winged animals in their natural, brutal habitat: easyJet. On the world’s orangest airline, passengers are not given assigned seats. This brings out the beast in everyone, including myself.

I am an aisle person. A bit about my type:

1. We need to pee quite often, and we don’t enjoy talking to other people or waking them up when we need to pee.
2. We don’t like to be hemmed in. Some of us suffer from agoraphobia, which is unfortunate on a plane.
3. We are more savvy, experienced travelers than window people. We’ve seen all there is to see down there on earth or even up there in the clouds.
4. We like to be the first one to get up and out of the plane (perhaps associated with our agoraphobia).
5. We are, excluding my cute little adorable self, taller than most and see no problem with stretching our legs into the aisle. We own the aisle.

Window people are an entirely different species. Although it does indeed take one to know one, I’ll do my best to present a realistic description of these beasts:

1. They have incredibly elastic bladders.
2. They need their peace and quiet (and are usually traveling alone, which is sad).
3. They have longer necks than aisle people. Trust me. They manage to sleep comfortably against the side of the plane. Every time I’ve tried it, that stupid wall is at least two inches too far away. And on top of this, I think window people have some sort of Spiderman quality about them—or perhaps just sticky heads—that keeps their head from scooting down the side of the plane. I’ve tried a pillow. It scoots too. Maybe aisle people’s heads are heavier than window people’s?
4. They are happy to sit in their seat long after the plane has come to a complete stop at the terminal. These people are so calm it’s scary.
5. They tend to nest, with pillows and purses and stuffed animals and blankets and food brought from home. The window is their castle.

When these two species are allowed to choose their seat a few days—or months in my case—in advance, all is well with the world; but easyJet chooses to set the scene for a stampede of Biblical proportions. You see, window and aisle people have one thing in common: none of them wants to sit in the middle.

I’ll explain why by asking a few simple mathematical questions (get your thinking caps on):

1. How many seats are there in a row for three people?
2. How many arm rests in total would those three seats have?
3. How many arms would those three people have?

If you’ve done your math right, you’ll find that two arms invariably don’t get to rest. Whose arms these will be depends very much on the determination and girth of the passenger. Granted, the window person and the aisle person each gets at least one arm rest. It’s the two in the middle that have been the theater for more than a few territorial conflicts.

Take this morning, for example. I arrived at the London City Airport a bit later than usual, so the queue at the Lufthansa check-in kiosks was much longer. When I was finally prompted to choose my seat, there were only middle seats left. I kicked the kiosk.

The window person ended up being a small British man who read his magazine the entire time. He rarely took more than half the arm rest at any given time and never asked to get up. The aisle person—I’m so ashamed for my species—claimed both arm rests . . . and more. His untanned, unfit arm hung at least two inches over into my territory. I would bet he was a window person who was forced to sit on the aisle.

Middle people are saints. It goes without saying that they deserve to occupy both arm rests for their sacrifice, for they are really aisle or window people who got hung up in traffic, or weren’t able to check in online, or just had that one extra cup of coffee before leaving for the airport. They are one of our own.

How about you? Window or aisle?

I must be off,