I had the opportunity to summarize my Bible reading and ThumpMe blog at TEDx Lansing in May. In December, when I finished the Bible, I wrote a small conclusion. It was paltry but it’s impossible, even now, to effectively express what I learned during the six months of reading this monstrosity. The TEDx Lansing invitation forced me to reflect on the experience four months after the fact.

So, if you’re interested, here’s part of what I learned.

TEDxLansing-Ivy Hughes-The Bible Told Me So

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Dillon, Reykjavik, Iceland

7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.


Notable Matter:  Books crammed on a makeshift shelf between wall panels. This is common here. Most bars and cafes have loads of paperbacks.

Score for Iceland. Iceland is the first country since Argentina that I would actually live in if…it weren’t so goddamn cold. I hate the cold and it is freaking burr here. Less than 24 hours in and I already own a wool reindeer beanie. Because of the weather Argentina remains at the top of my ex-pat list but Reykjavik is a must visit.

When we arrived, I thought, “shit, why would anyone live in this hellhole and why am I here?” The area around Keflavik International Airport is brown and barren. It looks like Colorado’s Western slope, something Cormac McCarthy might imagine.

After a 45 minute bus trip we got to Reykjavik, which is an awesome city. Structurally German/Dutch, culturally Parisian. The landscape reminds me a bit of Vancouver – mountains, water, city, glaciers – but it’s not as modernistic or structurally intimidating as Vancouver, which I also love.

For those of you who are looking, Iceland is a great place to mate shop. It’s not like some cultures where the women are attractive and the men are small and wimpy looking. Both genders get high marks. Luckily for Icelanders, the Vikings only raped and pillaged the most attractive. Everyone speaks English which is a major plus since I don’t even understand the letters here.

We walk up the steps to Dillon. It’s on the second floor of a building. I love second floor bars, second floor anything. I like watching people without the risk of eye contact. Three attractive Icelanders stand outside, smoking. The woman follows us in, long blonde hair pulled back into a side pony tail. Icelandic pony tails hang low, directly down the back or to the side. Pony tails are a fashion piece. When women want their hair out of their face, they swirl it into a high sitting bun rather than throwing it on top of their heads in a sloppy pony tail like us lazy Americans.

The bartendress is very enthusiastic, eager to help. Most people here are. We sell our souls ($8 a beer) for pints of Viking. We sit, stare at the bookshelf jammed between two wall panels. It seems that everywhere we go we’re surrounded by books. It’s wonderful. Some of the bookshelves are organized by author, genre or color. Others, such as this one, are a complete mess. These books are arranged like British teeth, like someone closed their eyes, threw the books at the shelf and some magical gravitational force interfered, hooking them to it by spine, cover or flap.

Two tables of men gamble. One with cards one with die. Everyone wears wool sweaters. It’s May but cold as hell. The shops have darling clothes but I imagine women wear leggings even in the summer. Females with cankles shouldn’t live in Iceland as the only body part weather allows for exposure are the legs.

A foursome of men sits next to us. They too wear knitted wool sweaters. One looks like he stepped out of a 1980s ski bum movie. His name should be Soren or Sven or something like that but I don’t think those are Icelandic names and I have no interest in talking to him. Instead, my traveling buddy and I talk about attraction; how I may want a kid so I don’t have to worry about staying in shape for nine months; and how we disappoint ourselves by worrying about disappointing other people.

I go to the WC (water closet). I like the bathrooms here. They’re androgynous as all inanimate objects and locations should be. You can learn a lot about a country based on its bathroom culture. I like Iceland.

Ashes to Ashes

May 23, 2011

I’ve tried to keep up with my churches and bars while traveling but it’s been challenging to say the very least.

Yesterday, for example, I spent the time I allocated for God following news updates about the freaking volcanic ash threatening to derail my travel plans to Iceland. Since I’m hopefully headed into the beginning of the rapture, which was supposed to start Saturday, I may have to read the Book of Revelation in Iceland. We’ll see about that. I’m more excited about wearing a Keflavik International Airport issued mask and goggles than reading the end of the Good Book.

I recently spoke at TEDx Lansing. I spoke about the ThumpMe project, what I learned from the Bible (to have faith in myself), etc. To prepare, I read through all of my ThumpMe entries. It’s interesting to see how, even though only five months have passed since the last entry, my thoughts have changed. Evolution.

If you did not read the original ThumpMe entries – the ones following my reading and interpretation of the Bible – you might find these interesting.

If I get into Iceland and ash doesn’t ruin my cheap traveling Toshiba, I’ll have a dive bar post for you Wednesday. Enjoy!

WooHoo! Suck — Despair, Job and Me

I thought about Job all weekend. There is, I’ll admit, a bit of an attraction there. He’s sort of like the diseased, depressed, sackcloth wearing dead guy that got away.

Predictably, I’m drawn to his despair, a unifying isolator that can supersede centuries, nations and ideologies but not the individual. When desolation brings Job to his knees, he says:

“I have no strength left to save myself; there is nowhere I can turn for help.”

Had I been an oppressed B.C. concubine or prophet, Job could have turned to me. I carry other people’s burdens well and identify (monthly) with the absolute collapse of spirit. However, if I had been around would Job have asked me — his new girlfriend — for help? Probably not. His unwillingness to share his feelings may have ended our relationship, but raises a phenomenal question: Why the hell is it so difficult to ask for help?

Read the entire entry here.

Puff the Magic Prophet – Ezekiel Sucks the Cactus

Mescaline is: “An alkaloid drug, C11H17NO3, obtained from mescal buttons, which produces hallucinations. Also called peyote.” (Definition provided by Urban Dictionary contributor, Adict). (Gist of this is how does one become a prophet)

This hallucinogen is obtained from cacti and special beans. I don’t know if mescaline producing cacti grow in the Middle East, but I assure you beans belonging to the Fabacae family are a prevalent food source in Middle Eastern diets and, based on his extremely bizarre visions, I’m going to guess Prophet Ezekiel fancied this particular food group.

Ezekiel learns he’s a prophet after four creatures with human-ish forms appear before him. Each of these forms has four faces — a human face, lion face, bull face and eagle face — four wings, straight legs, hooves (like a bull) and four human hands under each wing. Wheels with eyes sit next to them and there’s additional detail about subsequent wheels and fire, but it’s too confusing for me to explain. Despite Ezekiel’s descriptive efforts, I cannot imagine how these things moved or what they looked like.

Read the entire entry here.

Fa La La La La, La La La La, Liquor ­­– Holiday with the Jews

Ah, holidays. What could be better?

Holidays were created to celebrate dysfunction. It’s OK. All families are dysfunctional even the “normal” ones — it’s called denial. Don’t stress out about, enjoy it. You’re in good company. Jesus’ family was screwy too.

In the New Testament, four men give a version of the gospel. You can glean anything you want from any of them. I think Matthew is dryMark is dark and Luke is wonderful. His writing is interesting and he details good old family pandemonium.

Read the entire entry here.

Found: An Un-Preachy Preacher – Meet Preacher Mike

To my knowledge, Preacher Mike is the first church authority — sorry Mike, couldn’t think of another descriptor — to pay attention to ThumpMe.

For political reasons, I pretend to read many blogs, but I actually read Preacher Mike’s because it’s interesting and un-preachy (new word).

Preacher Mike (Mike Cope) lives in Abilene, Texas and teaches at Abilene Christian University. He’s also the vice president of the non-profit educational organization Heartbeat. TheHeartbeat What Really Matters project facilitates discussion about the things that matter — friendship, decision-making, social injustice. Cope joined the project after his young daughter, Megan, died in 1994.

Read the entire entry here.

Revelation. – No Time for Endings

Six months ago I played a damaging, ingenious trick on myself. I decided to write fiction. No more articles. No more journalism. Fiction. But fiction isn’t a career. It’s a lifestyle with no immediate returns. It’s founded on failure and takes incredible dedication, which is precisely why my intestines immediately inverted, I stopped sleeping and my heart retreated.

When I started writing, really writing and stripped myself of measurable success, which is single-minded and safe, the identity I created for myself when I was a child — pushing to grow up, get to college, make money, excel at everything — treading a path I thought would lead me to life, but exhausted me into oblivion, I didn’t find anything. 29 and hollow.

I decided not to read Revelation because I no longer want to see what’s coming. I’ll catch it when it comes.

Read the entire entry here.

Can I Get an Amen?

May 17, 2011

10 a.m. t0 12:30 p.m.

Abyssinian Christian Church, Fort Collins, Colo.

Chosen because…ethnic diversity touted on website.

I grew up in what’s fondly referred to as Vanilla Village. White, middle class America. When I was a kid, if we saw a black person it was like encountering a rare bird. “Oh my God look, it’s a black person! Where do you suppose he lives? What’s he doing in Ft. Collins? Where do you think he works?”

Our fascination wasn’t malicious. We weren’t trying to find his workplace to torment him, we were just curious. Ft. Collins is more diverse than it used to be, but it’s still really, really white.

So imagine my surprise on Sunday morning when I walked into the Fort Collins Abyssinian Christian Church and found myself in the minority. It was fantastic.

Culture Shock

This church is in the middle of a neighborhood, which is how church should be — an extension of community. It’s very plain. Blonde brick. Basic A-frame. Old office chairs stand in as pews, each one with what appears to be a handmade pocket on the back. The pockets don’t hold Bibles as everyone brings their own and, when they pray, they hold them up to heaven. This is new.

A woman greets me at the entrance, hands me a handful of peppermints. Confusing. Later, during a pause in worship, a woman sitting near me offers me a peppermint from her stash. Is this some sort of new age icebreaker?

Several men stand to the side of the cramped aisles. They’re well dressed and big. They look like bodyguards and do not leave their posts during service. I’m intimidated. Not by them, but the situation.

I’m not the only white person in the congregation, but I stick out because I look like a bum and everyone else seems to adhere to old-fashioned church values of dress up. The dreadlocked hippie in the choir provides some comfort.

Get Your Shout Out

The choir and keyboardist are active and unbelievable, providing accompaniment I actually want to listen to. This is the first time I’ve heard a church choir sing. Usually they mumble, occasionally harmonizing words. This choir does its thing throughout the service, including when the preacher speaks.

The preacher greets us. “I hope you woke up with prayer.”

We all did. Even me. My prayer was, “Dear God, please shoot me.”

I can’t imagine anyone else in the congregation greeted the day this way because they’re moving about singing, talking, dancing, smiling — they’re thrilled to be in God’s house.  This is an anomaly. I’ve never ever seen such enthusiasm for God. Ever.

As per usual, the greet your neighbor bit sends me into a panic. A very large hatted woman to my left gives me a huge bear hug. I sit, terrified that the man jumping over a chair is headed toward me. He isn’t, kisses the kid in front of me instead.

The preacher encourages us to “get our shout out,” which means clap, yell, sing and dance the devil away. Terrified and amused, I sit, watching. Eventually a smile dents my crabby face. Though I’m not shouting, the shout out is working.

I’m fascinated by a woman in the front who looks like she’s leading a Jazzercise class. She disappears. She either had to suddenly tie her shoe or she’s fallen to the ground. When she pops back up, she sits in a chair fanning herself so I think she was probably writhing.

The preacher says religion is “not a spectator sport,” but I cannot will myself out of my chair. I don’t feel judged by anyone other than myself. Personal problem.

The preacher’s messages are simple. Be grateful for the day. Put your faith in the Lord. I like what he has to say because he speaks like a human – not a theologian – and says things like, “Can I get a witness?,” prompting the congregation to follow with“Amen” and “yes sir.” I freaking love it especially when the older woman behind me starts croaking out “that’s right.”

I don’t care about this church’s message. The congregants are so excited about God that it really doesn’t matter. Enthusiasm for anything is half the battle. Why is this the first time I’ve seen people get excited about church?

*Let us clarify. By death, we mean the marriage can be dissolved for any of the following reasons: Large arguments; small arguments included but not limited to those concerning the agricultural categorization of a tomato and the merits of golf as a leisure activity or a sport; mid-life crises; general boredom and dissatisfaction with life; dirty dishes; ugly children; the discovery of anything that’s bigger, better and more interesting than what you have; drug allergies; delayed bi-curiosities and outside influence.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, England

Various hours

Chosen because…missing it would be like going to Rome and not dropping by the ‘ol Vatican.

Sigh. Watch this. Bride loses it because her husband’s family apparently doesn’t have the mental capacity to effectively participate in wedding day activities which, oddly enough, include a rousing game of the board game Clue.

Would you marry this woman?: Latest Bridezilla Meltdown! 

St. Paul’s Cathedral is gorgeous. I’m thrilled to go in. Until I learn the cost of admission, which is something like the equivalent of $36 U.S. if you want to get a view from the top. I bolt for the door. My tour guide grabs my elbow and forces me through the Capitalist gates. (Photo is the view from the top of the Cathedral. Can’t take pics inside.)

I’ve said this 1,000 times but opulence and a complete disregard for Jesus’ teachings – poverty, good will, helping others – is one reason I hate church as a walled institution. It’s the same reason I’m fairly anti-marriage – people get too caught up in flowers, budgets, color schemes and board games to think about what they’re doing, what it means and if it’s for them.

This comes from a recently divorced woman, a divorcee, a social pock-mark but hey, I went for ceremony when I didn’t want it and though I don’t think it impacted my marriage, I certainly let the grand idea of a wedding as well as outside influences and second hand experiences occasionally sway dealings within my marriage.

I wish more people – myself included – would go beyond the pomp. Beyond churches as symbols, holidays as economic bustiers and weddings as events.

Perfect example: The Royal Wedding. My trip to St. Paul’s happens a few weeks before the wedding, but for the next few weeks, the cathedral haunts. It’s on every news channel and in every paper, commentators speculating on guest list dust ups, Kate Middleton’s relationship with the church and her ability to look like a royal by W-Day.

I hope the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a lovely life, I really do, but standing in St. Paul’s Cathedral, listening to reporters say things like, “Oh look at them, you can just tell they’re in love” is like nails on a chalkboard. How is marriage between  man, woman and, for believers, God, everyone but the bride, groom and God have an opinion?

I suppose the trip up St. Paul’s stairwells was worth $36 but I leave feeling the same way I do after exiting many wedding receptions. What is the point?

I must admit that I would have thoroughly enjoyed the royal wedding had I been invited, the Syrian ambassador to the U.K. hadn’t had his invitation renigged and the lovely princess sat me between him and her drug and booty loving uncle, Gary Goldsmith. That’s the kind of pomp and circumstance I look for.

Royal Pain in the Ass

April 29, 2011

Bladebone Inn, Bucklebury, England

8:30 a.m. through ENTIRE DAY

Notable Matter: Old woman dressed as the Queen of England; royalists; racing ducks; trotting sheep; old men dancing around, bells on ankles, hankies in hand.  

“The beer tent will open at 10 o’clock with the duck race,” says the Royal Wedding announcer who has been talking about beer since 8:30 a.m. with good reason. We’re – myself, a few residents of this tiny town and 30 media hacks – are waiting to pack into a tent sheltering a massive TV to watch two strangers get married. It’s disturbing.

I’m sitting across the street from the Bladebone Inn in Bucklebury, England, the hometown of queen-to-be/duchess/whatever Kate Middleton. From my vantage point under the tea tent, I see the following:

Morris Men, a group of crazy old men wearing colorful rag jackets and white tights for the purpose of dancing in a circle and waving hankies. I don’t get it.

Royalists. Equally as nutty as the Morris Men, this international crew obsesses over the royal family going so far as to plan vacations to destinations where they might get a glimpse of the family, places like Bucklebury on the day of the royal wedding. I had my first encounter with these people last night. Man and wife. Woman dressed in red, white and blue, easily mistaken for a fat, American housewife on the Fourth of July. Last night she placed her half-pint of Guinness between the legs of a stuffed, royal wedding teddy bear.

Animals and blimps, namely ducks that will spend the rest of the day racing one another.

Young men drinking from well thought out BYOB backpacks. I get them, would love a Foster’s, bitter, anything really.

Police. Is there really risk of a riot?

Bookies, for the duck and sheep races, naturally.

Announcement: “The duck race is starting. MSN and CBS from the U.S. have each sponsored a duck. We thank them for their sponsorship.”

The papers have been full of this whole royal wedding to-do for weeks, examining every possible wedding/relationship/royalty angle including the type of toilet the new couple will use in their honeymoon suite (it’s an original Crapper).

The Sun, a British tabloid, hired African rain dancers to prance about yesterday in hopes of avoiding this dark day and ominous clouds. I’m freezing my ass off. I don’t think the dance worked.

What do I think of this whole shebang? I think it’s stupid but no one cares about my opinion because I’m a yank and the U.S. doesn’t have a title laden social hierarchy so we therefore have no class. Or so I’m told.

These people are lunatics. I must get to the beer tent. I have to get to the bottom of this insanity.

?

Village of Needham, England

11:10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Chosen because…it’s a Church of England church and has really cool tombstones in the church yard. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the official church name and it never opened for service.

I have a tiny little pea brain and can’t remember much of what I’ve written or read for that matter, which makes writing about the Bible without text or consistent church services fairly difficult. However, I do remember some things. I remember that Jesus and maybe God, are supposed to be with me at all times. I think that’s crap not because I make dumb decisions and find myself wallowing in sorrow wondering what the hell happened but because during this 2011 quest to experience as many churches as possible, I’ve had the damndest time actually being admitted to service.

I try this nameless church, which is surrounded by “Night of the Living Dead”-like gravestones but it never opens for the 11:15 a.m. service. I try everything short of knocking. No answer. Instead, I walk the grounds searching for ghosts, reading church bulletins and watching the cop in the adjacent Needham Coronation Village Hall parking lot talk to a female speeder who is wearing exercise attire, a rare sighting in England, and a blonde bystander who clearly wants to test his authority on a more personal level.

The churches here look the same. Cold. Ominous. Hard. The church bulletin is worn, the pre-Photoshop era graphics faded, text bleached. Among other things it says:

“1 in 5 older people skips meals to save money for heating.”

And: “Surely I am with you. Always to the very end of the age.”

I wonder if either are true, know the second isn’t. Babies get raped, children die and I can’t get into service. God is either flat out cruel or he has a fantastic sense of humor.

I Want My American Red, White and Blue

I don’t know about everyone else, but I hit a cultural sensitivity breaking point when I’m away from home for more than a month. I never have them during critical periods in travel. I won’t breakdown if I miss a train, can’t understand someone or am bamboozled into eating disgusting cuisine such as pig ear. No. My inner child throws tantrums during the most civilized, insignificant points in my trips, proving that like God who would let me in a church if he was with me every minute, maturity and cultural sensitivity are sporadically with me.

Sometimes I just loose the plot which is a snobby British way of saying I freak out and act like a child. Take the f(*#&^% savory biscuit incident. I calmly handled throwing used toilet paper in open trash bins in Colombia, a practice that doesn’t sit well with a germaphobe, but finding graham crackers in England prompted a hissy fit.

I’m too tired and hungry to go to the grocery store after my failed church experience but I go anyway because I have to eat. I turn into a five-year-old when I’m hungry so this is a bad decision. Before I get in the store I start cursing the English, silently of course. What kind of a country makes people check out grocery carts? It’s only a stupid pence or pound or some other frustrating, misshaped currency but it’s the principle – the wasted act of actually getting change and renting the trolley – that sets me off. I also hate all of the change currency bursting the seams of my wallet; the stupid “hiya” greeting (are you welcoming me or about to karate chop my face?); looking the wrong way when I cross a road; and walking to the bar to order a drink. I also can’t stand English castles. They’re nothing to look at and neither is Buckingham Palace, which is a glorified government building.

This sweet employee tries to help me, asks if the graham cracker is a savory biscuit or a sweet one, brings another employee into the conversation. I try to be calm. They’re nice, trying to help but they’re slow and cannot comprehend this long, sweet, brown cracker that breaks into two halves perfect for smooshing melted chocolate and a heated mallow. I want to tell him to shove his savory biscuit up his British ass but that’s insensitive so I do the mature thing and take my anger out on my shopping mate, who spends the next 20 minutes hiding out in an aisle far, far away from me.

Always to the Very End of the Age

Somewhere in me lies a culturally sensitive person but where she is, I don’t know. Maybe she’ll reappear in a few weeks, after I refresh myself in the states and head back out on the road where other things will amuse me until they become familiar. Maybe I’ll find her the next time God stays with his believers and, as the bulletin suggests, lets me into a church.

I can’t believe that God is with believers at all times and I’m starting to believe I may lose interest in traveling, seeking new experiences, using toilets outside of America and adapting to not having everything exactly as I want the it second I want it.

If we’re not with ourselves all the time, how can we let anyone else, least of all a controversial, possibly fictious figure be with us 24/7?

El Porton, Bogotá, Colombia

3:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Notable Matter:  Foreign animal head (oxen?), canteen, horseshoe and bull fighting paraphernalia above bar.

Describing a dive bar to someone living outside of the U.S. is difficult. Not because class division doesn’t exist – it does – but because independent retailers and restaurants are the norm, not the exception. A dive bar in the U.S. is a neighborhood bar everywhere else. Like our dive bars, they tend to be dark, lack windows and fill with interesting characters but they’re not competing with chain restaurants and flashy facades so they don’t slide into the category of slightly sketchy.

It’s no secret that Americans fear Colombia. The only thing we know of it is drugs and violence. Thanks to U.S. intervention, again, in Colombian policy and the acceleration of Mexican cartels, Americans view Colombia more favorably than before but when compared to what we’re comfortable with – large, shiny, safe, new things – it remains a dive country.

I wasn’t afraid to travel to Colombia but I didn’t want to go to a dive bar alone. I could handle the unknown city, but feared the unknown bar. I thought I might get kidnapped, which is not only stupid but extremely egotistical as there’s nothing about me or my life that would be of any value to a kidnapper in Colombia or anywhere else.

I planned to travel to the south side of the city, an expansive mass exiled from all tourist maps, with some natives to check out some dives as described by me and interpreted by them, but those plans fell through. I almost used this, two attempted purse snatchings and a small run in with the police as an excuse to can the Colombian dive bar experience but then I would have lost to fear and we can’t have that.

Toe First

I walk past El Porton, a small white building with a large door blocking the crooked hole serving as an entrance, and grab a safe lunch special at an American looking French sounding restaurant. When I leave, I give myself a pep talk. I’m on a side street in the middle of the city. I’m tired of being on guard 24/7 and weighing my commitment to church and alcohol. Is it more important to follow through on the blog or remain sober for the three mile walk home?

El Porton is across the street from an old bull fighting stadium, one I wouldn’t have gotten into if I hadn’t poked my head through a crack in the door and grabbed the attention of a police officer. One I wouldn’t have had to myself if I’d snubbed my curiosity. I remind myself Bogota is a city, that as long as I respect it I’ll be OK. I walk into El Porton.

I fall into the bar because like the rest of the country, the steps are surprising and uneven. The tables are white, plastic, covered with red and white checked table cloths. The table numbers are written on the white wall in black marker or crayon. The room is long. A young woman comes from the back to take my order. I assume it’s a family business. Mom follows the girl and yells to dad when I ask if I can take pictures. For some reason I obtain manners in foreign countries that I don’t have at home.

The walls are sparse, signed bullfighting photographs with curled edges huddle near the door and behind the bar. The family doesn’t understand why I’m here but we don’t talk so it doesn’t matter anyway. I stare at a poster. Looks like a harmonica man is coming to town. I watch the military or the police or some other protective force patrol the street outside the bar. These protectors are everywhere, including the parks where drugs are sold. I wonder what, exactly, makes people feel safe.

Fear is necessary response, but a wasted emotion. I wish more people would challenge fear of the unknown. It would be great if we examined what we fear before moving onto what we know. It’s interesting to think what would happen if church goers and administrators had to talk to atheists, Buddhists, etc. before studying the Bible.

Iglesia Nuestra Senora de Lourdes, Bogota, Colombia

10:30 a.m. to 11:00ish a.m.

Chosen because…easier to find than the grocery store.

Bums. Old women. Volunteers. Pigeons, thousands of pigeons. Shoe shiners. Teenagers. Assholes. The Iglesia Nuestra Senora de Lourdes in Bogota, Colombia sits in the middle of the city and people and animals, including the rat fink pigeons, move around it. If religion is supposed to be a life fixture, this is exactly what it should look like – a quiet, stable entity a person walks through when she needs it and past when she doesn’t.

I was in Bogota and am now in London because I’m interested in Bogota. And London. Respectively. Bogota was there and so was I. This type of collision is endemic of my life. I’m also fascinated with Central and South America though Colombians don’t consider my favorite country – Argentina – part of South America. Apparently it’s too European. Do dogs releive themselves on sidewalks in Paris?

I wander to mass after two unsuccessful trips to the grocery store. It’s around the corner but I don’t undersand directions in any language so I walk around the neighborhood until I tire of right turns and venture left outside my door, find the grocery store (needed cash) and Lourdes square (pastry, chronic coffee, people watching). Traveling is wonderful if not exhausting and overwhelming.

Bogota is fairly easy to navigate once you accept the fact that one in four streets are marked. Though tired and annoyed, I don’t turn to the Big Guy for help. I eat a pastry instead, accidently elbow the waitress in the crotch. Though embarrassing, this dislodges my mental block and I start seeing Bogota. The toothless trashman; the rows of shoe shiners polishing wing tips, heels and workboots; the seemingly headless homeless man on a bench; the teenagers vacuuming eachother’s necks with their mouths; the man on an ice cream cart in the middle of the square dinging a bell he’ll tap for the next eight hours; the man using a fruit vendor’s macheette to trim his belt. These things. All marvelous and so much more appealing than the dirty streets and broken cobble stones I saw before, the grocery story I didn’t.

A man hands me a brochure. Shiny. The paper equivalent of the tacky shrines constructed in random places all over the city – bus stops, street corners, malls. I don’t understand a word he says, walk into the church. He follows, whistles at me, tries to jam a crucifix in my hand. I refuse, hope he’ll quiet since mass is occurring. He rips the paper out of my hand, yells at me and leaves.

I can’t focus on mass. I’m overstimulated, which is one of the most distracting, besutiful things about traveling. I could focus on the church but that’s not the way my mind works. I can’t pull my eyes from the woman in front of me. She dressed herself according to color completely disregarding texture, content to let corduroy, plaid and striped beiges crisscross her body.

Even though concentration is impossible, I feel everything. I stand. I repeat the Lord’s prayer, something I learned when I was a child. I watch faces, feel memories, loath the contact point between butt bone and pew.

When I leave the trashman is gone. The ice cream man remains. The pigeons crapping along the right side of the church are now on the left, ceding to the “Done sangre regale esperanza de vida” blood donation tent. I consider released my blood into a bag but I’ve had the foreign needle experience and decide against it. Besides, if religion is like the churches in which it’s preached, the opportunity will always be there. Right?

Silver Spur, San Francisco, Calif.

Since I can’t justify traveling all over the country specifically to run in and out of dive bars, I’ve had to pull in some reinforcements. Last week Amber Shinn took us to L Capitan in Holly, Mich. This week, an unnamed San Francisco-based lush (no offense Lady X) who recently called me from a Norwegian cocktail party, opens the door of San Fran’s Sliver Spur.

Thank you ladies — oops, I mean Amber and maybe a man — for shedding some light on some dank U.S. corners.

I’ll be in Columbia, several U.S. airports and England for three-to-four weeks so these from afar posts will continue through mid-April. And now, impressions from Lady X…

For some reason I felt compelled to research the “diviest bar” in San Francisco.  Not like I couldn’t find one on my own.  Having lived in small Colorado towns my whole life, my 20s have been defined by dive bars.  However, the Silver Spur received a four star review on Yelp as a San Fran dive bar, so I thought I’d head over.

Once I got there I realized I had been once before, of course.

A hand written sign out front bar read, “Hot Bartenders, Cold Beers.”  I almost have to compete with a woman?, man?, wo-man named Bonnie with a mustache for the front door handle.

Once in I notice a mirage of motorcycle images moving around behind the bar.  Is that a curtain leading to the back of the bar?  Nope, it’s the bartender’s Harley Davidson moo moo. She slowly moves in my direction. Several red snap barrettes hold her red hair in place.

I order a vodka soda with lots of lime. What a fool. I get a sneer at “lots of lime.”  Limes are precious. Do I think I live on a tropical island?

After she places the drink in front of me I realize my cardinal sin, I have $1 in cash.  I have to run down the block in work high heels to an ATM.  I ask her if she trusts me to come back, she says, “I don’t care, I can give the drink to someone else to drink if you don’t.”

I come back, pay my $3.50 and the bartend decides I’m okay.  She motions to her left to a plastic cake box.  “Help yourself to some tuna sandwiches if you want.”  If I hadn’t inhaled a burger and fries two hours previous I would have seriously loved a homemade tuna sandwich, even if it meant food poisoning. I think I might have fit in a bit more with a white bread delight in my hand.

I can’t help but ignore the blaring TV to my left.  A middle aged Asian gentleman is leaning against the end of the bar, feet propped up on a stool, empty whiskey coffee behind him, watching Westerns at full blast with his sunglasses on.  A second bartender, perhaps the manager or owner, walks out of from behind the bar with fresh bottles of cheap hard alcohol.  He sets them down on the counter and says to the Asian gentleman, “I knew you were here, I could smell your BENGAY.”

He slowly turns around, un-props his feet from the neighboring stool and smiles slowly.  I think he’s been here all afternoon.  “Hey Mr. Wang,” the manager says and walks away.

I turn my gaze to the left of Mr. Wang where there is an electrical box on the wall next to a bowling arcade game.  A handwritten sign on the bow states “300 N Multivolts, Experts Only. “ From this point on people either named themselves experts or were nominated as experts, as the sign now reads, “300 N Multivolts, Experts Only, + Mike + Ed, NO SUE.

I sit there sipping my drink, order another and watch the dog movie on the center television in the bar.  Probably a Disney flick. People have taken a group of dogs, made them talk, and put them into a birthday party scene where they are shooting silly string at each other.  No wonder Mr. Wang is at the end of the bar with his own personal TV.

The corner of the Spur holds a small shelf against the wall where about 25 ragged paperbacks sit.  Novel idea, a bar library.  Everything from Westerns — of course — to steamy romances to dictionaries lean on that narrow shelf.

Finally another gentleman joins us. In his Hispanic accent, he orders a Bud, greets Mr. Wang.  Another regular walks in, takes a seat and pulls out a crossword while the bartender pours his usual red wine from a jug of Gallo.

Mr. Wang becomes inpatient with the Western and flips through the channels from Westerns to Chinese TV to SPIKE TV for men to models learning how to pose on the beach.  He settles back on another Western.  This one has an amazing heavy metal soundtrack.  I think about how awesome it would be if the “Native Americans” jumped off their horses and started wailing solos on their handmade guitars, when the bartender comments on the music and starts quoting lines from the film.

I am finishing my second drink, but look up in time to see a Jesus statue and a Tiger Woods bobble head on a small shelf looking over, maybe blessing the bar.  Below is a sign inviting me to the St. Patty’s Day feast in a couple of weeks.  Free corned beef hash.  I think I’ll be back.

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