Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Outgoing Message and Playing Music

Several of us from school are taking the red-eye to Bangkok for a professional development conference on Wednesday. The plan after Bangkok is to catch an overnight train to Laos. The idea sound pretty exotic, Hopefully we'll snap some good shots along the way.

We are at the 3 month countdown until we head home. I have been feeling sentimental about playing music in a band and this has to be the longest time since 1982 of not being apart of a group. I’ve been strumming a bit on the guitar and even pulled out the recording equipment the other night and tracked a few songs.

I opened a couple of Isinglass recordings (the first band I played with in SD) and listing to the songs took me back. It took some convincing but San and Mandy finally let me play with them. Sam is an amazing song writer. Initially the band was a three piece that included Scott (the original Blink 182 drummer), I jammed with them and I didn’t make much of an impression as I wasn’t asked back until Mark took over on drums a year later. The good news was that we all became friends and Scott and I started to hang out by making weekend surf trips down to Mexico, food outings, and an occasional jam session. While going through the Isinglass songs I also found recordings of a couple songs Scott and I made with a 4 track. Listening to them made me crack up! I played guitars, some feedback, and manipulated sounds while he created a beat using a tin popcorn dispenser, some drums, and keyboards. The songs are meant to be listened to on headphones since we intentionally made the sounds pan both left and right as to create a wave in the shape of an infinity symbol. The repetition is to be chant like. At least that is what I hear. The songs are titled Track 01 and Track 02. You can download them by clicking on the links below.

Isinglass Halloween show 2004

Track 01

Track 02


A Scott Story circa 2004.

I looked at him across the table as he gave me a half-cocked smile while he shoved food into his mouth, I shook my head and went “what the f**k Scott!" He finished chewing, “it didn’t mean anything to me, I’m not sentimental about it.” While we were finishing our breakfast we talked about everything in the world, but I kept coming back to “what the f**k…why? How could you?” And in my mind the conversation was “when in the hell are we going to get the bill so we can go to the fricken thrift store to look for the platinum album you donated.”

It was bothersome how at peace he was with it and how I was the one freaking out and it wasn’t even my album. We paid our bill and drove over to the thrift store. On the way Scott thinking out loud said “I wonder if all my Bukowski books are still there or all the movies Georgia and I donated, I hope they still have my Star Wars videos, I kinda want those back.” I just looked to him with amazement “so you donated all your books and movies too?”

Once we were in the store I ran up to the cashier and told them that I accidentally donated a platinum album. They told me that it was long gone and went on about what a big stir it caused. Then one of the ladies asked, “how was it accidentally donated” that was when Scott stepped in “I donated it and it wasn’t by accident!” The ladies asked him how he came in possession of a platinum Blink 182 album. He told him he was in the band when he was a kid. The ladies finished by telling us how both of them sold…and I looked over at Scott and went “THERE WERE TWO???”


I just smiled. The Star Wars disc and the Bukowski books were gone too. We ended back at his place and he gave me an old drum set, a couple of surfboards, and a few other things. I guess my reaction to all of this is more about me than anything else. I always admire people who can divorce themselves of material items. It wasn’t my place to comment on what Scott did. At the end of the day, I didn’t care and I admired that he can let go of his past and move on. It is also like giving the big middle finger to his former band mates …sure he could have made bank on EBAY…but he didn’t and committed the most humble act by making the record available to anybody. That is cool. Thanks for the lesson Scott.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Egyptian Haircuts, Movies, and Death Metal

I guess it is worth jotting a few lines about my experiences with barbers in Alexandria now that I have a few sessions under my belt. The former IT/tech teacher Mark kept an extensive blog about his trials living here and I found his entries regarding full service haircut something worth investigating. I have to admit that my last outing to the barber shop was over the top, the grand finale, the "I don’t think I ever want a haircut again" kind of experience. Before I go any further, I should mention a few words about the runner up.

Butcher puppet with blood and axe

Second Place was my christening, my introduction to Egyptian barbers. The nondescript shop was tucked in the middle of a long street block, there was no sign just an empty chair in storefront. Since my afternoon was free and I had been holding out for two months, I figured why the hell not. When I saw the proprietor engrossed in his soap opera that should have been my cue to keep on walking.

Girl praying painting

Initially everything was going smoothly until the heavy drama on the TV set above my chair interrupted the flow of his scissors. There were long pauses between snips; commercials were a godsend. When he started talking back to the characters, I knew I was in for the long haul. Additionally there was no blow dryer or device to brush off the cut hairs that lingered on my face and neck; he resorted to removing them by using his stale tea breath to blow them off. Afterwards he shaved my face with a straight razor minus cream, the cuts eventually healed. I also learned that conditioner substitutes for hair gel.

Nice old lady puppet

...and the winner is: For my last haircut outing I was warned well in advanced by other teachers of what I was potentially getting myself into, I blame curiosity. The salon is located right down the block from school and the eager and friendly owner has a knack for prying on lone foreigners. On more than a dozen occasions he had asked me to come into his shop. The session was initially pleasant as he told me stories about living in Dubai and even asked me to bring him back some smocks from when I go there in April. Once finished he wanted to wash my hair which is standard for me. I followed him into the dark back room and he closed the curtains as I sat on a chair. Instead of leaning back into the sink I was asked to lean forward and that is when he started to massage my shoulders then his hands slowly moved down my back. He put one hand on my chest then with his other hand still on my back and stared doing something that I can only describe as a variation of the Heimlich maneuver. He got a couple of hearty grunts out of me as he explained it as something he learned at a hotel in Dubai. It wasn’t so much creepy as it was bizarre and for the life of me I had no idea what he was attempting to do. Thankfully a couple of customers walked in and that spooked him into pulling those curtains open and turning on the water to wash my hair. After overcharging me he said, “see you next time.” Now I just run past his shop when I have to walk down the street.

Rat riding horse with antler giraffes painting

Going to a movie theater in Alex is plagued by Chatty Cathies of all sorts. Cell phone offenders are the major culprit, most have no qualms answering their phones and having a conversation during a film. We like it when there’s unedited kissing scenes, teens typically shout an encouraging “yes” in Arabic. Ana and I had seen the 3D versions of both Avatar and Alice and let me tell you there is nothing more remarkable than a scarved or veiled girl wearing 3D glasses, in my book that’s worth the price of admission…way better than seeing a nun bowl.

Broken glasses puppet

It has been confirmed, there is live rock music in Alex, or I should say death metal in a symphony hall to be exact. They call them headbanger concerts and we went to go see one. There was moshing complete with black clothing and there were veiled girls rocking out; you can’t stop the rock. I was disappointed that one band had a drum machine and sound checked for thirty minutes only to play a twenty-minute set b/c they didn’t program enough songs. Que lastima! We left when the next band played the same tune three times in a row!

Hungry gator painting

You like the cultural puppets don’t you…better pictures next time.

Saudi Puppet

Monday, March 1, 2010


Thanks to another religious holiday we had an opportunity to take a long weekend trip to Siwa, an oasis in the Western Desert near the Libyan border. In an attempt to try something different, I decided to post photos and comments in place of a long winded rant. Enjoy.

It was only a matter of minutes after we arrived that we found ourselves walking 15 minutes from our hotel towards the town center. The photo was taken from the top of the salt/mud brick fortress of Shali.

Shali was built in the early 1200's and abandoned after the rains in 1926 when most of the structures were destroyed (mud+salt+rain=no bueno for the Shali dwellers). It is quite a contrast from the modern buildings in the previous photo. The 360 degree view from the top includes lakes, mountains, dunes, and of course palms.

Sunset from Fatnis Island...we were naive tourists thinking that we could reach the island by foot (which you can) but it was just a bit further than the map indicated so we flagged down something a little faster than a donkey cart, it was more like a motorcycle with a pick-up truck bed. Let it also be known that there are more donkeys and bicycles in Siwa than there are cars, in other words parking is hardly an issue. Fatnis is the happening spot to catch the sunset, you could say it was standing room only as all the seats were taken and the folks in the makeshift hut were bustling keeping the tea and coffee flowing in addition to sheesha pipes lit. That my friends is customer service. While on the subject of liquid, did you know much of Egypt's bottled water comes from Siwa? There are natural springs throughout the joint, but this begs the question as to why the water coming out of the faucets smell like rotten eggs?

Greco-Roman tombs in the Al Maraqi area. Apparently the Roman's fancied the idea of sealing up and hiding the dead in the sides of mountains. We saw several mountainside tombs, including the necropolis Gebel al- Mawta (Hill of the Dead), a stone's throw from our hotel. Ahmed told us about small armed self-professed excavators aka makeshift grave robbers that run around at night and trying to knock holes in mountains looking for the next great discovery, perhaps the tomb of Alexander the Great. But a word of warning, these guys shoot first and run later. Word is that dying in a gun battle with the authorities is better than the amenities and pleasures of an Egyptian prison.

This is what the oldest known hominid footprints look like, 1-3 Million years old so they say. This was our first stop outside the oasis. Our driver/guide Ahmed said that we would have seen more but robbers keep on breaking off the pieces and selling them to wealthy Europeans. Good thing I brought my pick axe, any takers?

Fossilized coral and sea shells. The sand storm was just kicking off and being pelted by flying debris was quite a sensation on bare skin. Ana and I were thinking about replacing our coffee table with this piece.

I had to show the BEFORE and AFTER photo. The first shot is about an hour into a sand storm, as you can see the background is sort of hazy. The adjacent image is 30 minutes later; 3 parts blowing sand and a jigger of rain. Ahmed said there hadn't been precipitation in Siwa in over two years. The lake is all saltwater and its taste uh, rather salty-more salty than the Dead Sea, claimed by one tourist. We met up with two other tour groups who also had the hopes of enjoying a picnic along the lake. One of their 4x4's had snapped the alternator belt, luckily they had a spare. And if a broken belt in the desert wasn't enough of a curse, their radiator blew out for good measure. Everyone involved had to push and tow the weak link in the wind and rain with all the landmarks and tracks covered or blurred out. It was a little unsettling for a short while, but things cleared just enough to find our way back towards town.

The third day was much better. We rented bikes and did a little tour. First on the list was the Oracle Temple of Amum where Alexander the Great was confirmed as the legitimate ruler of Egypt-according to the prophecy.

Remains of the Temple. We continued our ride down the road to the Temple of Umm Obeyda. There was only one wall left standing while the rest of it laid in broken chunks.

After some heavy duty research and a thesis I can claim that there is a Cleopatra's Pool in every Oasis. Are they as pretty and well kept as this one in Siwa...debatable. Did Cleopatra really bathe here...most likely not. If you like algae slime tickling your feet, this is your calling. The water was clear and warm as there were continuous bubbles from the bottom. We didn't bring our shorts and opted to sit in the shade and leisurely swat flies, pet a puppy, and drink smoothies.

Ana taking a ride past the pigeon condos. Renting a bike is a nice and comfortable way to see the town at your own pace.

The hot springs of Bir Wahed. Young single Egyptian college boys flock to this "hot" destination. There was a group of ladies hesitating to jump in, and Ana, Kupcake Kristal, and Tagalong Jen opted to sit on the sidelines while Darth Seth and I indulged in the green bubbly slime in the company of the young men who thought of us as the consolation prize. Sigh.

Kupcake Kristal's baptism Brother Seth at the cold water springs of Bir Wahed about 2 km from its' hot springs cousin.

20 km into the Great Sand Sea.


Ana is sad because the truck left her.

Sunset-Moonrise. Ahmed must have thought one of us smelled funky, notice the distance.