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2012 Brooklyn, Portland, Oregon, United States
Even I think that 2:45 is a ridiculous time to wake up. Not long ago I had a conversation with a friend who is also an early riser, and we agree that 2:45 is both too late and too early. But here I am, and I might as well be okay with it. I can write for a while and then go to sleep again. I have wonderful dreams around dawn.
Worldly goods
I cleaned up some shelves yesterday and discovered eight tubes of Gamblin oil paint, a palette knife, a pad of paper palettes, and a “Happy Painting” card. Gifts from David, more than a decade ago. I remember he gave me an easel, too, but it must have gotten away. Limited editions now, all of David’s gifts. Thank goodness there were so many of them.
Good words
I don’t know why I am thinking of some of the most profound words I have ever encountered, and the peculiar place where I encountered them, in the apartment of friends in Russia, on the door directly facing the toilet. I remember the words were in English: “The greatest source of unhappiness is confusing what we want at the moment with what we want the most.” I cannot seem find an attribution for this quotation, and unfortunately I lost track of those friends long ago. But I am lucky, I think, because for me it is never confusion between something good and something bad, but rather confusion between something good and something better.

2011 Phsar Dey Hoy, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Bet this didn’t happen to you today. It’s quiet here before dawn, and I was writing happily in that quiet, glancing every so often at a coy crescent moon reflected in my floor tiles as it rose over the big tree out back, when suddenly I was surrounded by the sounds of a tiny fusillade. It was as if something bigger and lighter than pebbles, but equally benign, had been thrown all over my apartment. On my way to check the window, where I sensed the sound began, I noticed small dark objects here and there against the white floor tiles. I turned on the light and discovered that a gorgeous woody seed I had been keeping on the windowsill had apparently exploded into dozens of pieces. One of those seed-pieces had ended up five meters away from the windowsill. It’s a great strategy for dispersing offspring, just not in this particular location.
I understand that privacy is cultural, but I was and I still am flabbergasted by a neighbor’s intrusion yesterday. I don’t think she even knocked on the door before she pushed the window screen aside and drew the curtain. I have no doubt she meant well – she isn’t the sort to mean anything but well – yet I am still shocked. And she wasn’t the only visitor, though at least the others knocked. I have a phone and I have email, and I give out my contact information to anyone who wants it. How can I let people know that I don’t want drop-in visitors when I’m hale and hearty, let alone when I’m barely over an illness? I suppose the bright side is that when the time comes, I will be ready to leave here.
Twenty countries in twenty years
I read about an amazing-sounding job at a school in a small city in Qatar. It would probably be more like tutoring than teaching, what with three-to-one student-to-teacher ratios. Lesson plans are done for teachers. And the salary is mouth-watering. Qatar is a very wealthy country. Such a job would be pretty much the opposite of these volunteer gigs I’ve had lately. Could I get used to it?

2010 Aurangabad, India
I think I know how the pill bug feels when you poke it with a twig
With boundless respect to the many people in this country for whom “kind” is much too modest a word, I am not doing so well with some of the other people in this country who seem to view me as some sort of opportunity to get a rise. Yesterday was the worst yet: urchins swinging out from banyan tree dangles, kicking and screaming within inches of my path, and adults not only photographing me without my permission but yelling at me to slow down so that they could do so more easily. Burkas are looking better and better to me.
Temporary cats
A temporary cat was hanging around under my chair at the nearby restaurant while I was eating chicken, but, unlike the time before, I didn’t take a photo. Maybe I will start doing that.
I wished I could take Daulatabad Fort along with me everywhere, but the only practical alternative was to photograph it extensively. I think Sanjery the driver – if I have his name right – was even a little peevish at how much time I spent there. But I was too blissed out with defensive architecture to be very concerned, and he seems to have got over it.
Ruins, langurs, even a macaque grooming a langur that I managed to capture for the photographic record. There were langurs all around me as I crossed the bridge over the moat, after losing my way to the top. It was one of those lucky accidents that I got lost; the langurs didn’t stay long on the bridge.
I was determined to find my way to the top of the fort, so I backtracked through the dark twisty tunnel whose drops into bottomless pits have probably been modified for tourists. But there were still plenty of bats, and in places the steps were in such bad repair that a person might have a serious fall, though I suspect it was even more treacherous in the old days.
I didn’t get all the way to the tippity-top, which would have meant stepping over a classroom’s worth of little ones, but I got close enough. Daulatabad Fort rivals Dubrovnik for location – sheer cliffs all around – as well as for architecture, though it’s much smaller, even cozy. Apparently it was bribery that gave the enemy the only way in an enemy ever gained.
Temporary homes
My hotel, Sai Residency – found by Sanjery the driver, who got me a discount on the last room available, probably because I’m such a curiosity – is a peculiar place indeed. Only the ground floor and the fourth floor – which has numbers in the 500s – are part of the hotel. I probably won’t get a lot of opportunity to enjoy the view from this room, but the enormous window looks out on a spectacular desert vista.
Locking the door from the inside of this room is difficult but possible, now that I have learned the procedure from the hotel staff who showed me the room and later brought me towels. I think that a fellow I rode in the lift with yesterday knew which room I’m in – perhaps the entire Rotary Club sharing the hotel with me knows which room I’m in – but, oddly, I don’t feel threatened. While many Indian men annoy me with their ideas about privacy, which differ so dramatically from my own, I don’t think that their ideas of privacy differ so dramatically from my own that they would consider doing more than walking quickly past my room on their way to someplace they are supposed to be. But there are exceptions, of course, which is why I am relieved that I didn’t have to rely on the flimsy sliding lock at the top of the door.

2000 Brooklyn, Portland, Oregon, United States

Greetings from Grozny (poem)
January 2000

A basement’s just as good as any place
to write this letter. After the war, perhaps
I’ll mail it. Maybe I’ll walk to the post office
and it will be spring, mist steaming off puddles
in sudden, blazing sunshine. I’ll hold
Lida’s hand so she won’t run off.
I don’t believe I could catch her anymore,
she’s grown so this last year. Malika says
she’s feeling better, though we all worry
about her asthma in this damp cold.
We have no news of Aslan for two weeks now.
He’s just twelve years old next month,
but he’s big for his age and they’re detaining
even boys of ten. Please pray for his safe return.
We have plenty of books and rice,
and the air raids have slowed down lately,
so there is reason to be grateful. My love
to you and all of yours. I miss you,
but I wouldn’t wish you here.

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