travelogue – the Middle East

Aging Disgracefully

Sept 1995

This is a laugh riot I penned (after returning from the Middle East) for a friendship newsletter put together by Ron Shewchuck and Kate Zimmerman.

red-eye_logo

rick_mugHere comes the end of the World.

This is no “Howling Down the Middle East” but rather “Howling Down Middle-age”. The Lifebeat Man should deny aging as he denies death, winter, and the dangers of aspartame.

But, in the fall of ‘94 I started to feel old. I don’t know why. The receding hairline? The steady decline of body functions? Or the fact that I really am old? After all, we’ve been running this fu¢k!ng planet for a long time; the novelty is starting to wear off.

When I reminisce of youth, I think of Mason — that great jumper-off-cliffs. Did he die at 19? Or did we all live forever like I thought at the time? Where has youth gone?

I left Calgary in 1990. Now it is ‘95 and I live in icy Saskatoon, where all forms of sexual deprivation are practiced. What have I done for the past 5 years?

Well, I have become a student of LIFE — which may be preferable to actually having a life. In preparation for this missive I read Maugham and Hesse. I watched The Shawshank Redemption and Groundhog Day. I re-watched The Big Chill and re-read Time Enough for Love. What better sources of life wisdom are there?

Unfortunately, I’m not sure that I’ve gotten any closer in my pursuit of life wisdom. I’ve had a good time trying, though.

And I’ve done a few things right. I traveled to visit with friends who had seemed to disperse in some weird Brownian motion. I’ve traipsed some damn fine golf courses. After all, no one on their death bed wishes they had spent more time in the office.

I’ve had the best possible mentor in Keith Russell who taught me to pay a little closer attention to detail, along with everything else.

And I’ve traveled the World. If you’re going to tread water, you might as well do it in the Nile.

step pyramids

I liked the Middle East; the spectacular desert landscapes, peerless architectural sites, the haunting call to prayer, and the fantastic starry, starry desert night.

The people are wonderful, especially the proud Bedu. Camel-herding desert nomads, the Bedouin are a cultural, not an ethnic, group. Their poverty and hospitality is legendary. In the land of baksheesh, they refuse money with contempt. They are untaxed, ungovernable, and free.

Our perception of the region and religions is laughably wrong. “Islamic fundamentalists” are the most honest, charitable, and least hypocritical people in the world. Jordan and Syria vie for the friendliest people in the guidebook awards every year! (Mohammed did muck-up when he included, in the Koran, that straight-to-Heaven Holy Jihad clause.)

Indeed, the evil Syria is probably the last best tourist destination left in the world. Jordan was even better until King Hussein opened the flood gates to Israel in ‘94. It is already too crowded with neo-crusader, white trash tourists.

I’d recommend travel in the Arab countries to anyone who has a stoic tolerance of raw sewage and intense cigarette smoke.

My main complaint is the plight of women in Islam. It is still 1100 AD for Muslim ladies there. I now realize that the single greatest advance of man is the emancipation of woman.

The study of Egyptology is the study of death preparation. The Pyramids were ancient when the Biblical Abraham got there. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn any secrets in the tombs nor from the Egyptian “Book of the Dead”.

Another Western seeker entreated a monk at Mount Sinai, Is there anything I can send you?

The monk replied, with a smile, What I want, you can’t send.

So, is it game over? No fountain of youth? No loopholes? No back door to Heaven?

Well, …I’ve checked out Hinduism and Buddhism and plan to report back. Perhaps there’s something in this reincarnation business.

In the meantime, did you notice that old age is mellowing the Lifebeat Man? That this is a kinder, gentler Lifebeat column? Devoid of personal attacks. No exposé by way of exaggeration and selective grotesquery. No libel.

Nah, I ain’t mellowing. It’s simply fear of the looming Day of Atonement. I don’t want to have to answer for additional sins to a vengeful Western God. That’s all.

May your moisture not be fled.
Ma sha Allah!

Apologies to Rob Glaser, Keith Russell, Ramses II, some monk, Mohammed, & Konwicki.

mcsphinx

masterful Photoshop work by Ron Shewchuk 🙂

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Saskatchewhat?

Sept. 1990

rick_mugWhen I wrote this I had just moved from Calgary to Saskatoon, the summer of 1990 — expecting to stay 1 year.

I was a tourist in Saskatchewan.

I drive home alone from Saskatoon to Calgary, in September, in the late afternoon. I take the smaller, stair-casing highways, speeding with impunity. There seems to be no R.C.M.P. left in Saskatchewan.

I drive through towns with great names like Bounty, Wartime and Conquest. Who got to name these places?

The prairies are a never ending stream of checkerboard fields, barns, churches, cows, dust-devils, road kill and ponderous, overloaded farm trucks. The heat rises off the roadway and seems to evaporate the mirage pools of water before I can enjoy splashing through them. The smells are … well, unique to the Prairies. And I never knew there were so many hawks in all of the world.

Grand daddy grasshoppers wing by as big as birds. Slower, less experienced insects splatter my windshield. The freshly oiled gravel roads splatters my car as well, but I don’t care.

I stop at Outlook, Saskatchewan and sit out in the middle of a sandbar in the middle of the Old Man River. The air is calm, the sun is smoking and the song in my head is called …

I never believed that I’d grow old.

The sandbar is the highlight of the drive. Glorious. The last day of the longest summer of my life. I wish it would never end.

If I could make a wish,
I think I’d pass …

Like everyone else in Saskatchewan, I listen to CBC AM radio constantly. The weather is updated every 15 minutes. They report that the canola is too dry to reap. It will shatter if harvested. But the wheat is still too moist to take off the field. Saskatchewan is one big Catch-22.

Driving West into the setting sun, I find myself alone with my thoughts. I dream a grand scheme.

As night falls, I approach Drumheller and the badlands. The warmth from my big mug of tea is comforting.

It’s harvest here. Dusty farmers take dinner on the tractor this evening and plan to work all night. I see the bright lights of combines bobbing along in the dark in every field.

I drive home alone from Saskatoon to Calgary in September.

San Francisco … XLNT !

I dissed San Francisco on my last trip there, summer 2006.

But really enjoyed the tourist trap this time, mid-February, on a jet-lagged stopover from Australia.

The crowds were gone during the off-season, but the weather still good.

I started to change my mind about Frisco after noticing how little traffic the tourist must suffer. Then I discovered the Embarcadero, a most cool urbanscape.

I finally became a fan boy after renting a mountain bike and exploring Golden Gate Park and surrounds.

Golden-Gate-Rick.jpg

more San Francisco photos – flickr

The Palace of Fine Arts is particularly stunning!

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more Palace photos – flickr

Next travelogue on this trip >> United Airlines stinks (sort-of)