Thursday, October 18, 2018

Holding onto my Vacation Joy in the Real World

Alonissos, Home, Reality, Kindness, Happiness
S.R. Karfelt/The Glitter Globe


That should read Home Sweet Chaos. You know what it's like to leave your real life to travel a few months out of the year? It's like you're now hopelessly behind in everything. 

You will never catch up. Not unless reincarnation is a thing. Accept that you need to downsize your life in order to travel. Take a deep breath. Dig up some patience that connecting flights and the TSA hasn't already stolen from you. There you go. Now start going through everything and getting rid of all the stuff you don't need and while you're at it clean off and organize your computers too.

Have some nice family gatherings and take the time to cook real food at least once a year. Also, order a magic wand off Amazon. Check reviews because you're gonna need a real one this time.


Highlights. A monk seal on the public beach. Why is seeing a wild animal up close and personal out in the world so amazing? Maybe it's because their eyes are not sad and they look right into yours. A night swim under the dark moon. The Aegean was so cold I froze. The locals ran into the sea and immediately back out. It was perfection just the same. Nights I sat on my balcony and wrote by candlelight. My nose nearly touched the page I leaned so close to see my scribbled words. But I loved sitting there in the warm night breeze and listening to the sounds in the port.

Even low-lights were highlights. While taking a meandering walk in Skiathos I wound up at the edge of an airport runway when a jet was taking off. I learned all about jet blasts. I'm happy to report I didn't die. I'm sure it will be useful in a novel someday. AGAIN getting tagged by the TSA as a person of interest. Now I know what it feels like to be profiled, AGAIN. Searched. Slowed-down. Felt-up. It's annoying, but once more it's good novel fodder. Let's pretend I mean that last bit. 


Sofitel Hotel Restaurants make their own freshly baked gluten-free bread. In a month of traveling I only stayed at one. I easily ate my month's allotment of bread there. It was so good.

Eating gluten-free is a pain. It turns you into a difficult customer as soon as you walk into a restaurant. 

I'm pretty sure I've heard the wait-staff's eyes rolling when I say I have to eat gluten-free. I sympathize. But since they're not the ones who have to pee blood if I get gluten, I'm wildly and annoyingly cautious.

Eating out isn't appealing to me anymore. In Greece I cooked my own meals as much as possible. I even skipped my free breakfasts most of the time. Mostly I ate salad without dressing, yogurt, fresh fruit, or vegetables and grilled fish. Also gelato, because balance. 

If you contact airlines ahead of time they offer gluten-free meals via their websites. Trying to find a simple banana between planes became a quest. Rome's Fiumicino Airport is one of those airports crossed with a high-end mega-mall. Who the hell decided to splice the stress of airport travel with the labyrinth torment of a galleria? Ugh.

I never did find any fresh fruit but I only had FOUR HOURS to look. They definitely didn't have any in the Gucci, Prada, or Billionaire stores. Nor in the gluten-packed pasta shops. Can you hear the creak of my eyeballs rolling? To be fair I did purchase an excellent Leonardo da Vinci Vitruvian Man notebook there and a seven euro bottle of what I think was water. It tasted a lot like it, so there's that. 


Am writing, books to read, karfelt

At the last minute I had to toss my hardcover copy of The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu out of my suitcase. I should have also tossed out my laptop because not only did I not use it in Greece, but it almost cost me all of my toes as I dragged two roller-bags onto a wildly rocking ferry. 

books, books to read, writing, reviews, recommendations
Instead I read The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Thanks to a kind stranger I even had all my toes intact while I did it. At the advice of my editor I'd put it on my kindle app, and I read it in stolen moments here and there. Mostly while eating breakfast yogurt and drinking Greek Mountain Tea. It's about female spies in WWI and WWII, but it's also about not fitting in and being yourself. I'd rate it four stars and recommend it. It's a good read. 

Books to read, Books, Reviews, Blog

A friend on Alonissos loaned me a copy of Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and I finally at long last became a Gaiman fan. It's about a man revisiting his family home while on his way to a funeral and discovering long-forgotten secrets and well-hidden memories. For me this book held the kind of magic I found years ago in Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and Many Waters. I loved it. If you've ever enjoyed any Fantasy book, read it.
book reviews, the glitter globe, reading, writing
On my flight home I couldn't settle on a single movie and shelled out for in-flight WiFi, but even that didn't do it. So I looked through my Kindle App books and ignoring all my high-brow selections like Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy I went with a little Urban Fantasy book called Protecting His Witch by Zoe Forward. I can be a real snoot about editing and was in a persnickety and tired traveler mood and nearly shut it down early on, but then the story grabbed me. It's about a veterinarian dimension-hopping witch who turns out to be one of the seven Pleiades and her hot druid-sentry born to tend to her needs. I kinda need one of those myself. If he knows Excel and can also sort my Outlook email mess that is. I liked it.


Back to reality. I'm writing my vampire book and talking to a story
editor. I'm also in need of a Personal Assistant a few hours a week and think I may have found someone. The help would be welcome. Writing is my dream job, but it is a lot of work, especially with research and traveling.

My attic is mostly cleaned up. The mice who have secretly been living there have been evicted. I've sorted through decades of stuff and sworn off buying things. It was a tough job for me. Giving away so many books felt like saying goodbye to old friends. Cleaning out stuff from when my kids were little or papers I wrote ages ago hurt. But I did it. I lost at least a dump-truck sized pile of excess. I feel lighter already. Hanging onto your happiness takes real work, have you noticed that? It's so worth it. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Greece to Egypt and Back—Traveling Safely and Staying Alive in this Great Big Beautiful World

Karfelt, Egypt, Greece, Alonissos, Writer's life, safe, travel-safety
S.R. Karfelt/The Glitter Globe

"I'd like to visit America," said my driver, the guy the restaurant employs to run customers—free of charge—from the popular port area of Skiathos, up to the restaurant with a stunning view of the sea (Olive Thea), "but it's too dangerous."

"No, it's not," I said.

"Yes," he said, "it is."

My European friends in the backseat are cracking up. 

It's not the first time I've heard this. In fact it's the most common refrain I've gotten from people when they realize I'm American.

"America's not safe," said the young Englishman with alcohol-glazed eyes, so intoxicated he can barely stand. So intoxicated he's stumbled out of a pub near the London Eye to join the crowd of evacuated hotel guests at 3:00 a.m. The fire alarm had gone off because someone lit a cigarette in an adjoining hotel. "I'd go there, but I don't want to get shot."

"We love Americans," said a souvenir vendor at the pyramids in Egypt. "Tell your friends to come here. It's safe here, no one shoots you like in America."

"Tell me," said a Greek taxi driver, "Does America want to take over the world? Do they want to shoot everyone?"

It's ironic, isn't it? Because the first thing people in America say to me when they hear about my travels is, "Is it safe?"

While I was in Egypt this past March I read Rick Steve's book Travel as a Political Act. It's a fascinating and informative read. I loved the statistics, the cold hard facts about travel. How twelve million people a year go to Europe. How we're twice as likely to be killed by a toddler playing with a gun than by a terrorist when traveling.

It shocked me that a 747's worth of people die on American highways each WEEK. 33,000 die on our roads each year. Reducing highway speed by 20 MPH would save thousands of lives, but are we willing to do that? You know we aren't. We take our chances.

Then why are so many of us who wish to visit places we've dreamed of not doing it?

It's because we're afraid. The question is are our fears legitimate? I don't think they are.

What has happened to us? Are we mixing up movies with reality? Do we hear the same horrifying news story again and again, embellishing it with each retelling? Do we stop and think how each and every horrid story we hear hashed and rehashed over and over on the news really only happened once. 

Terrible things happen everywhere. Do you really want to hunker down and live safe and sound and terrified all of your days?

Egypt is the first place I've visited that's very different than where I come from. I loved it. I loved the people. I loved the slower pace. I loved the pyramids and tombs and food. But was I afraid?

Admittedly there were times I was nervous. The first week I had culture shock. The traffic, especially in Cairo, scared the hell out of me. (But so did Boston when I lived there.) 

I'd never been in a predominantly Muslim country before. There I was in cargo trousers and my Agatha Christie linen shirt with all my blond hair riding a camel. Several times a day Adhan sounded the Muslim call to prayer. Do you know how many people harassed me for not being Muslim? None. Nobody cared. I can't wait to go back!

A friend I hung around with during some of my time in Egypt likes to announce she's Jewish. She travels often and likes to see how people react. The majority of her family died in the holocaust. Even though she's a secular person she makes a point of sharing her heritage. In order, she says, to defy stereotypes. 

Not a single person cared who was Christian or Jew. 

In Egypt there's a greater police presence than I'm used to. I was often with a group of Egyptologists, some of who've been traveling there for well over thirty years. It's always like this, they told me. It's safe, they insisted. This is how they employ so many young men. 

After a few days I noticed the friendly smiles of those police and of people greeting me on the streets. I felt the Adhan deep in my bones. It reminds me of the chants I've heard in so many monasteries. Kids and adults hurried to greet me in English. "Hello, beautiful." "Welcome to Egypt." "Welcome, this is your home now." 

But was I afraid? No. Sometimes I was nervous. 

What woman doesn't know that feeling? It's been years since I've been approached by young men on the street. Especially men young enough to be my son. "You look worried," said one who would not go. "Don't be worried."

"Where I come from," I said, "Strange men don't approach women they don't know on the street for any good reason."

"Where I come from," he said, "Women don't walk alone on the street. I'm offering to be your escort so you don't have to walk alone."

The reply startled me, but of course it's the truth. Although I saw plenty of young women walking alone. Most had their hair covered. That's simply how women dress there. Some wore the exact same types of clothes young women wear in the west. Some wore burkas. 

But the fact is I was the stranger who didn't know or follow the rules. I still felt as safe, if not safer, than I feel when traipsing the streets of large cities in America. Maybe it's due to the police presence or maybe it's due to the always polite populace, but I didn't worry about being robbed or pick-pocketed as much. 

In Greece I'm more comfortable traveling solo than I am in the United States.

Not that I'm afraid here, just smartly cautious especially in cities. Greece feels like home to me. Especially in the smaller islands where everyone seems to know everyone else. 

That driver who told me of the dangers of America also teased me for not being Greek, while kindly helping me with my limited and sad attempts at speaking his language. 

"Do not take this wrong," he said, "I do not mean to be rude, but I can tell by the way you sit in that seat that you are a closed and cold-hearted person. You are dead inside."

By now my European friends in the backseat are really enjoying this.

"We Greeks," he said, "We do not talk just with the words. We speak with our hands, with our bodies, with all of us! You come here, every year, and you go to that little boring island where nothing ever happens. Why you go there?"

"Well. It's the perfect place to go when you're dead inside," I said.

"Oh! OH! You cut me! You cut me!" He's using his hands and entire body to show me just how deeply. But we're both laughing and this is the kind of communication I strive for when I travel. I will remind him next year that I'm the cold-hearted writer again. 

S.R. Karfelt
Maybe by then my Greek will be good enough to tell him I've written an entire series of books about heart, or maybe, just maybe I'll keep it all at the bitch witch level. I mean that book did come straight from my cold heart too.

When I travel I find it's important to carry my inner Kahtar warrior, my open-hearted Covenant Keeper, and always, always, Sarah Archer—that witch genetically predisposed to manipulate dark matter in her favor. Above all, I take my pragmatic writer self and remember every day is a story and life isn't about being safe. Life is about living, or did I miss another memo?