Monday, January 26, 2009

[I can't even think of a title. Useless.]

I am staring at this blank page. Which is no longer blank because I wrote this sentence.

It's still not encouraging.

This writer's block is killing me. For the past two months, I haven't been able to think of a single thing to write that might interest you. Probably because I've almost forgotten what interests me. I keep thinking, Do something fabulous! Quick! Go to a park and see something hilarious or quirky or drunk so you can write about it and stop boring people! But the good news is, I think I've hit the tail end of my end-of-year blargh, which basically consists of 2 parts frantic work schedule + 1 part sleeplessness x 5 parts not exercising / 8 parts bloating = 1 woman loafing on the couch — except for when she's at work — and not expanding her horizons. Hopefully now that things have normalized, my schedule has regulated, all weddings and babies of the moment are born and celebrated, that's a thing of the past and I can stop using pictures of Crocs superstores as blog-filler. But for now, I regale you with these tales of nothingness:

1. Last Wednesday, I walked 30 blocks, from a doctor appointment to work. This seemed like a very good idea, as I usually walk to work after doctor appointments because then I can pretend that I'm healthy and didn't just get weighed. (And I understand 30 blocks seems far, but you'd be surprised how frequently I do this. New York is very much a pedestrian’s city, and I can often walk that far without even noticing.) I was wearing my pedometer, so it was immensely satisfying to watch numbers go up, up, up. But here's the thing: It was 18 degrees outside. And windy. By the time I got to 25th Street, I couldn't feel my fingertips (wearing fingerless gloves, holding a very large, hot coffee), and by 32nd Street I couldn't feel my entire face. I ran into my office building and headed straight to the bathroom so I could look in the mirror to make sure I still had lips.

2. Not surprisingly, I watched and was thrilled by Barack Obama's inauguration. However, I was less thrilled by the fact that I discovered I’m kind of an idiot.

I don’t work on Tuesdays so I was supposed to be home alone during the ceremony, and the only scheduled blip in the day was a visit from the plumber to fix our radiators. I was kind of bummed, because I think the inauguration — this inauguration — is the kind of event you want to watch with people. (If I’d bothered to watch George Bush’s inauguration, I’m sure I would have done it alone in the dark, under my bed, weeping into ice cream.) As luck would have it, the plumber showed up at 11:30 a.m., so we watched the swearing-in together. He worked through most of the opening rigamarole and Aretha’s hat (as far as I’m concerned, she’s the Queen and she can wear a feral cat on her head if she wants to) while I took pictures of my TV and jumped around the living room. And then we watched the swearing-in together and talked, not so much about our own political beliefs — he was pretty clear about not wanting to go there — but more about the campaign that Obama ran and what we hope he’ll do, knowing he’s going to fuck up but also knowing that he’ll do a lot of good. It was great. Exactly how I wanted to experience this giant, giant moment.

Here’s the thing: My plumber is African-American. And as a black man who goes into dozens of homes every day, he probably has dozens of people who are not black looking at him while he works and wondering, What is this historical moment like for him? Inasmuch as when a Jewish person finally gets elected president (Mike Bloomberg? Carl Levin? Winona Ryder?) people will be looking at me and wondering what it’s like for a Jew. Or a woman, when that happens. But I confess: I wanted to know too. Because for me, the inauguration was one of the most moving, exciting, monumental things I’d ever seen, but I will never be able to truly, fully experience the cultural significance of the first African-American president the way an African-American person can. It’s not my experience or my history, and it would be wrong for me to attempt to adopt it simply because I’m American. So I kept thinking, Don’t ask him, don’t ask him, don’t ask him … Because he very obviously just wanted to be at my house to do his job, and then leave to do his job somewhere else because it was no degrees outside and everyone’s radiators were kaput and he was busy and had many, many appointments to keep. And just because he’s black didn’t mean he wanted to talk about what it was like to be black, and it certainly didn’t mean that being black automatically invites stupid questions, even though I understand that being Jewish certainly invites stupid comments from people. (How many times have I heard, “You’re Jewish? But your nose is small!” [True, but my heaving bosom is right off the shtetl.] And, “Why don’t you go to church on Christmas? It’s a national holiday!”) Really, it just seemed like he wanted to watch the swearing-in and then go about his day, doing his work that he’s very good at. He was all business. Ultimately, what was he going to say? “Eh, a black man is president? It’s OK.” ??? Come on.

But because I’m an idiot, I asked anyway.

“Did you ever think you would see this?”

He smiled. “I thought it would happen eventually, but not in my lifetime. Not yet.” He said he thought this changes everything in terms of country leadership, and he’s certain the next president, regardless of race or party affiliation, will be a woman. He humored me, then showed me how the radiators work (down to the distribution of steam and how it passes through the home and oh my gosh I do not understand these things), and went off to his next appointment.

I hope I didn’t ruin the moment for him by putting him on the spot. And I imagine that when Shmuel Ishkabibble or Zac Efron or whichever Jew is the first to be sworn into the presidency, karma will rear its head and someone will say to me, “So! The Jews control the media and the banks, and now the government! My, you Heebs are a resourceful peoples! How does this make you feel?!?” And I’ll have deserved that.

3. Yesterday, Josh and I had this conversation:

Josh: So, I’ve been thinking.
Me: Uh-oh.
Josh: You were supposed to say, “I smell wood burning.”
Me: I will not succumb to cliché!
Josh: But that's my thing!
Me: Cliché is your thing?
Josh: Yes.
Me: How did I marry you?
Josh: Say it.
Me: You can’t make me do it.

4. Also yesterday, I found this very ugly word in the dictionary that describes something (potentially) pretty:

fard: vt to paint the face with cosmetics

5. My cat Tallulah eats from her food bowl with her paw. She doesn't dive in with her face; she scoops it out with her fingertips. Very dainty. The other night, I had a dream that she was eating with a fork.

6. OK, I’m out of material. I’m taking suggestions. You want me to write about [insert topic here because I can’t think of a damn thing]? Let me know. My creative juices have clearly fermented.

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Trankilo.

This post took me 10 days to write. So while it wasn't supposed to be a New Year's post, screw it. Happy New Year, everyone. I've already broken, like, five resolutions. Sweet.

If you hate listening to rambling stories about people's vacations and you can't bear the thought of faking interest while they force their photos on you, please stop reading this now. I understand. Because this is that kind of post. Annoying ... but colorful!

Moving on.

This is how Josh and I ended up in Curaçao:

You may remember this rant. By June, I was pretty much going berserk. Stress stress blah blah blah stress money stress life blah. Josh and I were on the subway, I'm sure I was all cracky-wild-eyed, and I said, "I have to get out of here. I have to get out of this environment, I have to sit on a beach. I know you're not a beach guy. I'll go alone if I have to. I have to go. I have to leave the country."

"No," he said, "I'll go with you." Twist his arm.

You wouldn't believe how hard it was for us to justify this trip to ourselves. How dare we do something for ourselves with our hard-earned money and energy! Here's the thing: We're Jewish. It's written in the Torah that you pack two suitcases for every trip. One suitcase is filled with climate-appropriate clothing options, extra underwear should there be an emergency, and multiple bottles of sunscreen so you shouldn't get [whisper] The Cancer [/whisper]. The other suitcase — the much bigger one, the one with no weight restrictions — is filled with travel guilt, the voice that tells you you should be spending your time and money visiting your relatives and studying. (It doesn't matter if you don't have anything to study for; just study.)

We left that suitcase at home. Bad Jews.

The two most frequently asked questions we heard were: Why did you pick Curaçao? And where the hell is it? OK:

Curaçao seemed like an excellent beach destination for someone who isn't a beach person. Josh likes flying to faraway cities and going going going; that's a vacation to him. I love doing that too, but I just wanted to completely decompress and be as far out of my element as possible. I need shlub-on-the-sand vacations too. Curaçao has beaches and is tropical and is a whole Caribbean culture, but there are also tons of museums and historical points of interest, it has a city, and being part of the Netherlands Antilles, it has rich European flavor. Flav. The perfect compromise. I found a super-cheap five-night deal that included hotel and air, and we booked it way back in June before we even knew if we could go.

My only goal for this whole trip was to do everything different than how I usually go about my life. I wanted to eat different foods and meet different people, do different activities and feel totally different.

Here are the basics about Curaçao:

* It's the largest island of the five islands that make up the Netherlands Antilles. Its capital (and the capital of the group of islands as well) is Willemstad.
* It's located about 35 to 40 miles off the coast of Venezuela, near Aruba. We were all, "Let's go to Venezuela! We're so close!" Our travel agent reached across her desk and, in an impassioned tone I've never quite heard before, said, "I beg of you. Do not go to Venezuela. It's not even about Chavez. Just don't go." That put the kibosh on our dreams of South America. Tra la.
* In the 1600s, Peter Stuyvesant came over when the Dutch West Indies Company claimed the island from the Arawaks, and he became governor. He later left and headed to New Amsterdam and became governor of what later became New York City.
* The currency is the guilder, also called the florin, but everybody wants American dollars because the value is stronger. The exchange rate is fixed. We were so excited to use guilders and nobody would take them. Tra la.
* The national language is Papiamentu, which everybody who lives on the island speaks fluently in addition to English, Spanish and Dutch. I felt like a tool with my fancy "I speak English and basic high-school French. Ooh là là!"
* The island gets 22 inches of rain a year.

NoraBanks helped us do laundry while we were packing.



She was extremely efficient in her dryer-protection duties.

We stayed at the Kura Hulanda. This place is amazing. It was built by a Dutch gazillionaire named Jacob Gelt Dekker, who made his fortune from various entrepreneurial endeavors, including one-hour photo shops. He went to Curaçao to visit friends, fell in love with it, and bought a mansion in a section of Willemstad called Otrabanda. (Willemstad is divided in two by a harbor; the side where most of the historical sights and shopping are is called Punda, and Otrabanda is a bit more run-down but is slowly being refurbished.) He ended up buying an eight-block section of the neighborhood, restored the houses to highlight their original Dutch architecture, and turned it into a hotel that is now UNESCO-protected. I hate calling it a hotel because it was a neighborhood: There were stores and restaurants and a fabulous museum (more on that later), and the guest rooms are in these old homes. All the rooms had handcrafted mahogany and teak furniture and deep marble tubs. It was insane. The property had this lovely smell and motion-activated recordings of birds singing everywhere you went, although it somehow wasn't Disney-cheesy. I've never seen anything like it.

The Kura Hulanda has two properties. We stayed at the Spa and Casino location because it was in the heart of Willemstad, but there's also a more luxurious Lodge and Resort that's about a half hour away on a beach on the west coast of the island.

This is the building where the reception desk is.



There were pottery and artwork and statues everywhere.













Our room was in this building.













We arrived late our first night, so we ate dinner at an open-air restaurant within the hotel's grounds. I ate banana soup and spent an hour watching a giant snail scoot up the wall next to our table. Its progress? About half an inch.

Our first full day, we rented a car and drove out to the Lodge to go snorkeling.



Bon bini is Papiamentu for welcome.

We weren't sure what to expect in terms of the topography of the place. With only 22 inches of rain a year, we expected dry. Like, tumbleweed-dry. But there were lots of the region's evergreen trees, cacti dotting the hillsides, and aloe plants. We were there during the rainy season (which is all relative); it was cloudy and it would rain for five minutes at a pop, but mostly it was just humid. And it was an odd kind of humid: My hair didn't frizz. I went five days without using any curl-control product (a Jewish miracle!) and my skin was luminous and not rosacea-enflamed at all despite the sun. Curaçao is a magical place.

Also, we had to slow down while we were driving to let a rooster cross the road. As my sister Lauren says, "There's a joke in there somewhere."

The beach at the Lodge



One of many, many lizards we saw scooting around the island







We took a boat to the snorkel sites. Because Curaçao was underwater all those thousands of years ago, much of the land is coral.



The west coast of the island is dotted with all these little peaceful beaches, some with white sand, some with black. (Click on the photo if you want a better glimpse of the beach. Those thatch umbrellas kill me.)



We snorkeled in two sites. One was called the Blue Room: It's a cave with no light source but the sand on the sea floor is white, so when the sunlight from outside reflects on it, it filters into the cave and the entire space glows turquoise. The second site was a shipwreck. There weren't a lot of fish at either site, but the color of the water was unreal.



After snorkeling, we spent about an hour on the beach at the Lodge. It was ridiculous. I sprawled out on a lounge chair while Josh fed me Dutch chocolates and read maps while the sun was setting. You would have barfed. We only had an hour to spend on the beach, but I was so chilled out I don't feel like I lost anything.

The beach itself is part sand, part rock, and part coral. Walking along the shore, you think you're kicking small stones forward, but what you're seeing is tiny beach crabs darting in and out of the ground.











Everybody we talked to told us to go to a restaurant called Jaanchie's, which happened to be only a few blocks from the Lodge. It's the most popular restaurant on the island, apparently, so we expected to wait for a table, but when we walked in we were the only customers there. It was 5:30 p.m. Things happen early on Curaçao: Lunch is the big meal, the streets are empty by 7:30 or 8 p.m., and as far as nightlife, we heard it's thriving but you have to seek it out and you need a car to find it.

Empty shmempty: Jaanchie's was an experience. The structure has open walls that are surrounded by lush gardens. Bird-feeders hang from the trees



so all you hear while you're eating is sweet tweeting and you can watch birds alight from feeder to feeder. Service on Curaçao is super-slow — they're insulted if you're in a hurry, and I think they find it rude to just bring a check to your table because they want you to relax — but the second we sat down, the waitress brought us a can of bug spray. "For people with sweet blood like yours," she said. Not long after, the chef came to our table, pulled up a chair and told us what he made that day: "I make it perfect for you!" There are no menus at Jaanchie's; just the chef. Josh had grouper, I ordered wahoo (a fish that's meatier than grouper but not as steak-y as tuna), and we shared iguana stew. Iguana tastes a bit like chicken (tastes like frogs' legs!), and you eat it with your fingers. Small bones. Tomato-based sauce.

After dinner, the chef brought us over to another table, this one surrounded by rocking chairs. He brought over two Neapolitan ice cream sandwiches drizzled with raspberry sauce and invited us to take our time, rock for a while, and when we finally said goodnight, he gave me a toy bird as we left. "Tell your friends about us," he said. Voilà. Told.

The next morning we headed to the Hato Caves, which served as shelter for the Arawak Indians and later as a hiding place for slaves, as Curaçao was an active hub of the slave trade. They were spectacular, and as we walked through, we could see the occasional bat flying around. There were four other people on our tour, all from Holland, and our tour guide seamlessly switched between English and Dutch as if she were speaking one language. At one point, she made a kissing sound, and all the bats hanging from the ceiling fluttered at once, then went back to sleep.









Outside of the caves is a trail where you can see Indian paintings on the sides of rocks. It had just rained, and apparently the only thing I found were mosquitoes. Unexpected mosquitoes. Ravenous mosquitoes. My legs look awesome.

Driving back to the city, Josh and I passed some amazing-looking markets, and we realized we had not done the most important thing a person can do while on vacation in another country:

Explore the snack food.

So we went here.



They had an excellent variety of marshmallows.



We bought a bag of green apple–flavored ones in the shape of what was supposed to be apples but really looked like smooshed butts.



We bought them because the flavor appealed to us, naturally, but also for Mr. Mallow.









Rhymes.

This soda has no discernible flavor other than "martian."



Of course we had to buy it. We also bought Chubby soda in blueberry and cola flavors. It tasted exactly the way you think it would.





We headed to the Curaçao Seaquarium. Here's the thing: I never, never go to zoos and aquariums. They're depressing and unnatural and confining and wrong. I read all these things about how the Curaçao Seaquarium was fabulous because it's built on lagoons that house the fish and animals so their aquatic environment is more natural to them. That's all well and good, but I wasn't biting. And then I read that visitors can sign up to scuba-dive down into a tank that has a Plexiglas wall with a hole in it, through which one can hand-feed sharks. Frankly, I was all over that shit. When would I ever be able to do that again? So I signed up.

It turned out, they were cleaning the wall and the shark feed was closed for the week. They offered me the opportunity to swim with sea lions, so I took it.





A dolphin show was going on when we got there. Beautiful, but sad for all the reasons why I find trained animals sad.



As it turned out, I was the only one signed up for the sea lion swim. It turned into a private lesson of what sea lions are and how they look in their own (well, limited in this sense) environment. They had me sit on a bench and brought out a female, showing me how she uses her flippers and the distinctions between seals and sea lions (sea lions have hair and outer ears, they can "walk," and they propel themselves over ground and in water using different fins than seals do). Then they told me to put my left hand on my leg, ball my right hand into a fist, and put my feet up on the rung under my seat. The sea lion walked over to me and nuzzled my hand for a few minutes, rubbing her mouth and whiskers over my knuckle and breathing onto my fingers while she let me pet her. I was smitten.



Afterward, they took some pictures of her kissing my cheek. It really was lovely — she was so sweet — but she was trained, and I looked at her and just wanted to set her free and, like, dump a can of paint on myself or something. The sea lions are all adored there and well taken care of, and they responded affectionately to all the trainers, but it was uncomfortable. It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life, but also one of the most uncomfortable.

Then I put on my snorkel and got in the water with two other lions and a trainer named Jonathan. Oh my god. For all their awkwardness walking on land, sea lions are graceful and swift in the water. I pretty much just floated in one place because there was no point trying to catch up with them, they were so fast. They inevitably searched me out and swam around me — from a safe distance, there was no contact — so I just had to wait for them. Most of the times when the trainers told me where they were, they were gone already. But when I caught a glimpse, whoo boy. So pretty. At one point, they both crisscrossed each other directly below me, checking out the chick in their turf.

Feast your eyes on the only picture you'll ever see of me on this blog wearing a bathing suit. Also, a snorkel. Attractive.



Toward the end of my swim, I saw the main trainer whispering something to Josh and then calling out to Jonathan, who said, "Follow me," and swam over to the fence dividing the sea lion lagoon from the one next to it. We swam down a little deeper and I looked in front of me — at four our five large sharks just hanging out about two feet away from me. So I got my sharks. Ultimately, the whole experience was unsettling because to my idealistic mind, these animals should not be living in captivity and I never should have the opportunity to do such things, but it was unique and special and touching. I'm glad I did it.

On our drive back to Otrabanda, we got a bit lost, which is always awesome when you're on vacation. We got such a better feel for the island that way. And we landed on one of the main sights we wanted to catch before we left: Beit Chaim cemetery.

During the Spanish Inquisition, Jews fled Spain to Portugal and then Holland. They made their way to Curaçao to help cultivate the island with the Dutch. Beit Chaim cemetery is a result of that settlement and is now the oldest Jewish cemetery in the Western Hemisphere, dating back to the 1600s.

Sadly, one of the other major contributors to the growth of Curaçao, Shell Oil, built a refinery near the cemetery. It is no longer owned by Shell but it has grown so much that it now butts against the cemetery. The fumes have left the headstones unreadable, and it was impossible to ignore that without a readable name on their stones, the last form of these peoples' identity is gone. We met a tour guide a few days later who told us she has to warn her clients before going to the cemetery, to prepare them for how disturbing and sad it is.



In the Jewish tradition, it's customary for visitors to a person's grave to leave a rock or pebble on the headstone as a sign of respect, and to mark that the deceased was remembered. Despite this sign's instruction and good intention



we left a small one anyway. It seemed disrespectful not to, especially considering the condition of the plots. And apparently we weren't the only ones who felt that way.











The next morning we headed to the Hilton where Josh saw an iguana cross the driveway and we hopped a bus to catch a submarine.





We were driven to a marina about a mile or two away, where we boarded a boat that took us slightly out to sea. We all went down below, and the entire submerged section of the boat was walled with windows so you could see the coral and marine life under the surface. At one point, a scuba diver jumped into the water to feed the fish, which swarmed outside the boat. Touristy, but fabulous. I think the average age of passenger on that boat was 70.







Enjoy the porny music and my enthusiastic declaration of "I'm taping this whole thing!" that would have been true if my memory card hadn't filled up at that exact second and, um, I didn't get the whole thing.

video



We finally spent the afternoon exploring Willemstad.

Here's what we did not see:

* a bookstore
* a coffee shop

But we also did not see:

* a single Starbucks

Here's what we did see:

* a bar called Sopranos that uses the show's logo and cast posters to decorate the place
* a restaurant called GoodFellas

But we also saw:

* this bridge



Here's what's cool about the Queen Emma Bridge: It's kind of the perfect bridge because it can't sink, and that's excellent for people like my sister Stephanie who turn green every time they cross a bridge. See, it floats on pontoons, which act basically as boats. And it's a footbridge, so you sort of bob along as you walk across.



But even cooler is that this bridge is at the mouth of a harbor that sees hundreds of small boats and cruise ships pass every week, but it cannot rise like a drawbridge. So it detaches from the Punda side and swings out to rest flush against the Otrabanda bank, leaving the entire harbor open for business. In its place when it's parked on Otrabanda, two ferries transport pedestrians from side to side.

Here's what it looks like flush against Otrabanda:



Punda





The second we crossed the bridge to Punda, we headed straight for the Old Market. It's a partially open structure filled with picnic tables, and along one long wall there are stations of local foods, like the most bare-bones food court. It's where the office workers go to eat, a very "when in Rome" thing to do.

The chef at the station we picked was wearing an Obama T-shirt. A local guy standing in line behind us translated the Papiamentu menu for us. Another local recommended out-of-the-way places for us to visit. There weren't a lot of tourists at the Old Market, so all the residents were curious about us and so kind, recommending things we'd like and asking us questions. So nice.





To top it off, the food was outrageous. Probably the best meal we ate in Curaçao. We ate chicken stew, rice and beans, and mashed potatoes with spinach mixed in. MASSIVE portions. And drinks. For about $7 per person.

Next to the Old Market is the Floating Market. Every day, merchants from Venezuela sail over to Curaçao and sell fruit, vegetables, fish and spices right out of their boats, which float in the inlet right behind their displays. Ridiculously picturesque.





Does anybody know what this is? I'm at a loss.



I bought a banana. It was the biggest banana I'd ever seen. (Dirty!) I ate about a quarter of it before getting full.



This was my favorite display: dulce de leche, eyeglasses, and a drawing of Jesus and Mary. All spiritual avenues covered.



Ginormous avocado. Also: Ginormous Avocado is an awesome name for a band.





Cinnamon sticks













And then we explored the city. We saw multicolored lizards ...



... and this.



The shopping was decent if you were looking for a good deal on Dutch linens, Delft pottery, or fine jewelry, but as far as the clothes, the options veered toward hooch. And the mannequins had implants. Not that implants are necessarily hooch. Who am I to judge the size of someone else's boobs. You know what? You know what I mean.



The next day, we finally made it to the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue.



It's the oldest continuously running synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, dating back to the 1600s. And it's in Curaçao. So random! There is still an active Jewish community in Curaçao, and services are still held every week. Who knew?

It's a Sephardic shul, modeled after the temple in Portugal. (Sephardic Jews trace back to Spain and Portugal; Ashkenazic Jews are from Eastern Europe and Russia. I'm Ashkenazic.) I have a complicated relationship with religion, but one of the things I love about Judaism — which I assume is true of most religions — is that no matter where you go in the world, there are certain elements that are universal: the layouts of Sephardic vs. Ashkenazic synagogues, the food, the "oy vey!" Yiddishisms. The inside of the sanctuary looked pretty much like most Sephardic shuls I've seen, save for the floor: It's covered in sand. The congregation was founded by Jews who had endured religious persecution, many of them descended from refugees of the Spanish Inquisition or fled it themselves, and they covered the floor with sand to muffle the sounds of their footsteps and the sounds of assembling to pray.





Yarmulkes. Or, as Jon Stewart referred to them, Jew beanies.















In every synagogue that has an ark where the Torahs are held, there is an eternal light that hangs above it, a symbol of the neverending presence of and devotion to God.



Within the courtyard is a fabulous little Jewish museum. They had a Torah that was brought over to Curaçao during the Inquisition, believed to be from the 1300s. Back home, we're all, "Our synagogue was built in 1970!" Suck.

Truthfully, the synagogue moved me to tears. The last time that happened, I was in the Vatican, walking into St. Peter's Basilica. (I was so affected by St. Peter's that I was painfully aware of how much I swear when I took my first look at it and said, "Oh, SHIT," and immediately apologized to nobody because I felt it was sacrilegious. And I cried when I looked at Michelangelo's Pieta. And I'm not Catholic.) At one point, I sat in a pew at Mikve Israel by myself and became overwhelmed. A woman from London whose cruise ship had just docked in Curaçao that morning came over to me and we talked about Judaism in England and America. It was heartwarming, the connection in this unexpected place.

After visiting the synagogue, we went to the Kura Hulanda Museum, on the grounds of our hotel. I called it our Morning of Persecution. This was one of the most impressive museums I've ever been to. Jacob Gelt Dekker, in his travels, managed to accrue one of the most extensive private collections of artifacts from the slave trade, much of which passed through Curaçao, and he put them all together and created the museum. The items range from early writing implements used by the African people in 2,000 B.C. all the way to the fight for civil rights in the United States today. Walking through the museum, we saw shackles and torture devices, a recreated slave ship hold so we could get some kind of idea of how many people were crammed into such a small space, articles and letters and uniforms and original KKK robes. There were maps and pictures and statues and religious artifacts. It was absolutely incredible. There was an illustration of a slave trader licking the face of an African prisoner, believing he could taste disease on black people. It was extremely emotional and so, so, so informative. I was just blown away by what was there.

She was at the entrance. I love her. I want her to be my friend.



The museum was divided into historical eras, each in its own small building that was situated around a courtyard. The first thing you see when you walk into the courtyard is this:



And then you walk around it and see this:



Each side was a face. Beautiful.



After the museum, we ran back to Punda for lunch before meeting up with this really cool woman named Eveline Van Arkel who gives walking tours. We ate at the Waterfort, which was an old stone fort that was built in 1634 to protect Punda. Naturally, it is now a strip of bars and restaurants. Yay, progress. But this is what we looked at while we ate.





I'm from Detroit. For me, the holidays = cold. Snow. Real snow. So it always seems wrong to be in a warm climate surrounded by Christmas decorations. It's like going to Florida and seeing Christmas trees with cotton around the trunks.



Post-lunch Waterfort mint.





Before we met up with Eveline, we watched the Queen Emma Bridge swing open. Honestly, it's really something you can do all day long. Ridiculous. Oh! And we learned that when the bridge stationmaster raises a navy blue flag, it means the bridge is going to be open for a long while and you should head for the ferries; an orange flag means it's just swinging open briefly for a small boat and you'll be able to hop back onto the bridge in no time.

Blue flag



Tourists watching the bridge swing open and closed all day long



Eveline showed us a couple trees that had carved art in their branches and trunks.



She said it's widely assumed the artist is, uh, overcompensating for something. The penises keep getting bigger.

We then made our way to Fort Amsterdam, built in 1635. The governor's residence is there, as well as office buildings, former barracks for soldiers, and the United Protestant Church.



Embedded in the face of the church is a cannonball believed to have been fired by Captain Bligh's troops (from the Bounty, as in Mutiny on the Bounty) when the English attacked in 1804.



Walking to the center of town, Eveline stopped at the large yellow building on the busiest corner of Punda. She pointed to this:



Because the building materials had such a high salt content, such is the nature of the land of Curaçao, the walls were soft, and this corner often got nicked by carriages back in the day. So someone jammed the barrel of a gun in the most affected spot, using it to hold up the building.

There are little alleys everywhere you turn in Willemstad. A local artist, Nena Sanchez, bedazzled this one because, really, there is no reason why an alley should be ugly. Nena is old friends with Eveline, and they both kind of rule.







Every night, we came back to the room to find our bed turned down and Dutch chocolates on the sheets with a different one of these each time:



When we got home, I was shocked about how different I felt. Everything rolled off my shoulders. The magazine production schedule is always frantic around the holidays so I've been working constantly since I've been back, but I'm all, "Oh, it's not so bad! Cheer up, Charlie! Just be glad you're you!" This is both a) annoying, and b) indicative of the sure fact that I must have been a huge bitch before I left.

But even though I ran around that island like crazy, I was completely relaxed. I was totally open to sucking that place in because it could be another number of years before I get away for no discernible reason again, and I think that going to Curaçao was Josh and my reward for all the hard work we've put into living and working since we've been married. We couldn't have picked a better place. All we talked about the entire trip were things we had just done that we loved.

The only food that made me feel like crap was conch. Venezuelan TV is hilarious, all soap operas and talent shows and commercials for dolls that pee. Willemstad is teeming with tourists but the locals love them because they spend money, and every single person was so nice to us (except for the waiter who, when we told him we were in a hurry, gave us a look I've never received in any country). I swam every day — twice at night while stray dogs howled at the moon. I smooshed an entire chocolate ice cream cone against my shirt and just shrugged and said, "Oh, it'll come out." (It did. I don't care if Shout Gel is made from bunnies and orphans, that stuff is amazing.) I was given a massage by a woman who had been raped by her husband and was raising her granddaughter as her own daughter, and she talked about how she was tired but she knows she's a good mother. We got lost and put our feet in the water and sat and rested. It was everything a vacation needs to be. I feel recovered. Curaçao is magnificently beautiful, the people are welcoming and hospitable and incredibly friendly, I would recommend it for anybody because it's so diverse and there's so much to do. I expected it to be tremendous, and it was even better than that. A lovely, lovely island.

And now that I'm home, I'm here to say that the other day, Josh and I were driving to see his parents and were passed by a car that had a giant sticker saying "BYE, HATERS!" on its rear window. I just don't think that's giving anyone the benefit of the doubt, do you?

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