July 27, 2007

Timeline of a vacation

(or "How not to plan a trip")

I've been back for a few days after a short trip to Europe, which a friend kindly organized. But I must admit that I'm still feeling pretty comatose from the whole affair. Case in point, here are the instructions on how to plan a completely exhausting trip:

Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Go to work, as per usual. Leave by 5:30pm to catch the metro and then the bus to Dulles International Airport. The trip takes about 1:15 minutes. Wait for 3 hours for the plane to take off. Stay up for 24 hours while traveling. Do not sleep on plane.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Arrive in Geneva. Rent a car, and travel for a couple hours to Montreux. Attend the Van Morrison show at the Jazz festival. Drink a lot of water, smile, and pretend not to mind the slowly dissolving part of your brain that demands sleep. Go to bed by 1 am.

Thursday, July 19, 2007
Drive to Turin, Italy for 4 hours--make sure to transit through France and stop in Argentière for a nice view of the Mont Blanc. Try to take pictures of the formidable mountain from a moving car, and half asleep. Look for restaurants as suggested by the "Slow foods" guide for hours. Give up: Turin is a labyrinth. Gorge yourself on heavy Italian food (delicious) suggested by the hotel staff instead. Go to bed by 11 pm.

Friday, July 20, 2007
Wake up with extreme difficulty and jam toothpicks between your eyelids to keep your eyes from closing. Spend hours in the hot Museum of Film and drag your feet until you've seen every exhibit on the 4 floors. Drive an hour to Pinerolo, arrive in the hotel, shower and change in 20 minutes and join friends for dinner. Smile at the wedding party while desperately trying to stay awake. Excuse yourself to go to bed by eleven pm.

Saturday, July 21, 2007
Spend the morning trying to get "said" friend's suit pressed. Try to stay calm, composed, and awake. Realize you have just 2 hours until the wedding and that you want to cram the sight of a medieval forteress located one hour away from the church. Spending 20 minutes there, grab a 2-minute lunch. Attend a nice wedding, smile and congratulate all-around. Have a 12-course meal, gratiously served by the wedding party. Go home at midnight.

Sunday, July 22, 2007
Wake up at 5 am. Shower, and pack. Drive 5 hours back to Geneva. Return car. Depart in plane. Arrive in Gatwick airport in London. Decide to spend a couple hours eating sickingly sweet chutney and brie sandwich in a loud park in London--while dragging your suitcases around. Arrive in Heathrow airport--at this point, you've probably spent 9 hours in the U.K. Wait for your plane to depart. Whatever you do, do not attempt to sleep. Try, if you can, to get a cold from the recycled air of the cabin. Arrive in Washington, DC and get to bed by 2 am.

Monday, July 23, 2007
Arrive bright and early, and certainly fresh-looking at your office staff meeting at 9 am. Spend the rest of the work-week fighting your cold, as evidenced by very itchy throat, teary nose and reddened nose.

Voila! It's simple really. And it only costs US$ 2,000.

July 09, 2007

Best Euphemism Ever

I have to laugh at American euphemisms. I mean, what's with all this political correctness?

In Senegal, if things are too expensive, the shopkeeper is called a "voleur" (thief) and in Congo, when someone is showing signs of contagious sickness, people say that person is "très malade" (very sick). In the United States, you would hear of the competitive advantage of quality over price and a person with a potential infectious, suspected case of Tuberculosis instead.

But by far, the best euphemism I have come across is one for really hot days. As you know (or may still question if you are very science-phobic), global warming is a reality today. Again, even the words "global warming" are euphemistic. Africa would perhaps call it "la grillade de la planète" (grilling of the planet).

Our office building is desperately trying to save money on electricity during summer months, which is excruciatingly difficult given that:

1-there are 18 floors and hundreds of offices in the building;
2-most people work with unlimited budgets and don't bat an eyelash about leaving every single light and computer equipment on during the weekend;
3-office buildings in the U.S. are very badly designed. There are no openable windows, trees shadings or air shaft and thus A/C becomes a necessity at 70 degree weather;
4-the A/C is set for those people (men) who wear heavy suits in all types of weather. The receptionists in open cubicles use their heaters when the A/C is blasting (and it's 98 degrees outside) . I swear I have not kidding.

Anyways, our office has instituted special days when people have to be extra vigilant about using the electricity. These days tend to be hot, humid days, when the A/C is on full blast. The days have been dubbed Gold days. Gold day???? That's like calling bloody wounds "ruby openings" or forest fires "Cheery outbursts"!



PEPCO has declared today, July 9, 2007, a "Gold" day, meaning the humidity and temperature will have a significant impact on energy consumption. Building occupants can do their part between the hours of 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm to reduce the energy demand by closing blinds, shutting down non-essential equipment, lights and fans and ensuring that the energy functions of their computers, printers and monitors are operational.

Lowering consumption on "Gold" days and practicing conservation on a daily basis will help reduce energy usage and cost. Thank you for doing your part to conserve energy.
Building Management Branch

July 08, 2007

Killer Sunstroke!

I have the unfortunate experience of having one parent of France origin (mom) and one of South African origin (dad). Any reasonable person would assume my mom to be the lighter skinned one, but oh no. You see the French, though they will not admit it, have some Northern African influence in their gene and tend to develop a nice, olivey skin when exposed to the sun.

My father on the other hand, was born and raised in South Africa. His parents are both English and have traveled extensively (his mom for one was born in India, his dad was in the army and moved around I suppose). Which means that -when his hair is not gray- he is red-headed with tons of freckles. His skin looks tan, but upon closer look, his freckles have only blended with each other, making it look like a solid, orangy color.

I studied genetics in undergrad and I understand that assortment of the genes for skin color is incredibly complex. So, by some genetic freakiness, I have developed skin that is much whiter and more sensitive than my mom and even my dad's.

This is quite unfortunate for a family that enjoys being on the beach. My parents caught on quickly that, as a baby, it was safer and wiser to place me in the shade, with a hat, long sleeves, a thick layer of sunscreen and plenty of water to drink. Yes, I was that freaky kid that couldn't make sand castles with others and went in the water with full clothing.

I went to the beach as a baby with my cousins once, and to this day, my uncle says I owe him hundreds of dollars in sun cream.

I can't remember how many times I was so sunburnt that it hurt to lie on the sheets. A good dermatologist will tell you that if you have been strongly burnt more than 3 times, you are very likely to develop skin cancer. Try being severly burnt at least 40 times.

I remember taking antibiotics once and going shopping in the strong French sun. The sun was weirdly intense and every ray that fell on my face and arms felt like little needles digging under my skin. When home, I developed a painful headache, and my hands swelled up with hundreds of itchy pimples. The next day, I went to see a pharmacist who flinched when she saw me and quickly reached behind her counter. She came up with two products: 1) Biafine cream which is given to burn victims and chemotherapy patients to cool their skin, and 2) SPF 100 that she routinely gives to albino people. I swear this is completely true.

To this day, I still have people that say to me "I don't believe you can be so white. All you need is to expose yourself progressively to the sun". Not many things annoy me in life, but I CAN'T STAND IT when people say that. Trust me buddy, I've tried it for the last 25 years and it just ain't working for me.

Needless to say that at 29, I know exactly when I have had too much sun. My body temperature hits a certainly level and I know it's time to go home, despite my darting in and out of the shade all day and drinking like a camel. It's just time, that's it.

Yesterday, enthralled by the Folklife Festival organized by the Smithsonian on the Washington D.C. Mall, I spend 4 hours in 92 degree, humid weather. When I hit my peak of sun, I decided to go home but was swayed by the various cultures represented in the festival. I stayed one hour too late and:

1-Instantly developed a throbbing headache behind my eyes and in the back of my head
2-I noticed that I barely sweat in the whole 5 hours there
3-Felt weak and had a hard time holding onto my bike while taking the bus home (some dude made fun of me for not biking home--asswipe!)
4-I couldn't get enough air into my lungs and sighed a lot
5-Took a cold bath and went to bed
6-In bed, the headache worsened and I constantly changed position for comfort
7-I tried to drink but water was making me nauseous (this is a telltale sign of sunstroke for me)
8-Threw up violently three times
9-Finally slept like a log for 10 hours

I feel so much better today! And this morning, I still can't believe how stupid I am for overstaying my welcome in the sun. After 29 years, you would think that I would have learned my lesson. But no, I obviously haven't.

OK time to get ready to go to the last day of Festival!

Pfew, the Show went well

So the photo expo I had two weeks ago went very well. In my estimate, close to 80 or 90 people showed up to support me, with the obligatory unknown, old people in tow (who came for the company and for a free meal of wine and cheese--I swear, they were at the cheese table just munching as fast as they could).

Thank you so much to all who came to visit!

A few people came to congratulate me on the pictures, one came to ask me about the Congo as she was going to move there incessantly, and an old friend from high school came to reconnect with me after 10-years!

The only minor mishap was that a picture had fallen to the ground before the show and the frame had fractures. The glass cover was thankfully intact so I came with some superglue, only to find that a large paperclip kept it together nicely. The music was 80% NOT Congolese but blended nicely in the background and no one faulted me for this.

The evening was very relaxing (something I did not expect) but it's blessedly over.

For a montage of the 20 pictures I exposed, see below! They are still on display until the September 10, 2007.

July 07, 2007

Montage 5: Sisters Vote, Old Russian Truck, Rickety Ol' Bridge, Our Hostess

Montage 4: a Patient, l'Agronome a Vendre, Mountain Potatoes and Cassava Leaves

Montage 3: 2 Faces, Mellow Yellow, Green on Green, Palm Tree Grubs

Montage 2: the Show, the Midwife, 2 Antelopes on a Bicycle, a Posse and a Possum

Montage 1: The Screen, Lady in Red, Two Boys and a Fish, the Ferry