Adonis Diaries

Archive for the ‘Travel/Excursions/Night out’ Category

Experience on the Orient Queen cruise to Turkey (Alanya): Not a Queen wa la ballout

I read an ad for 2 cruises to Cyprus on the last week of September. Since I have never been to any sea cruise, I decided to try one, and experience a “5 star hotel on the sea” and check if I get seasick.

It turned out you need paperwork to submit to a visa that cost $60 for a 7-hour landing. It was Not my cup of tea, since I have already visited Cyprus before and I didn’t like it that much.

Fortunately, the Orient Queen was also going to Turkey (Alanya city) for a 3-day cruise and No visa required, and that clenched the deal.

Sure, as I am single on that cruise I had to caught up $100 more for a room (a total of $450). And I was allocated a room on deck 6, instead of the underground deck 4, where many felt seasick. And with a western-side window that looks on just the vast sea.

The climbing on the cruise was facilitated by the security services and it was quick (should I be suspicious of any wrong-doing?)

Well, the cruise aligned half a dozen girls in Brazilian attire. I can’t remember that I saw them again or if they danced in an event that I failed to attend. In any case, here they were lined up with the Captain for the farewell.

The food service was done by Egyptian males (sofraji). The front desk was catered by Egyptian males. The casino was handled by a Russian girl and 2 Ukrainian girls. The bars were attended by Indonesians. My section for room service was allocated to a Ukrainian girl and an Indonesian male.

Our passports were hoarded, and when I read in my room that the passport will Not be returned until our room service was paid at the end of the cruise, I got furious. I recalled all these facts and stories of foreign workers in the Gulf and Saudi Kingdom, and house maid in Lebanon for keeping passport.

And then someone offered me a convincing reason: it is all about Schengen procedure so that no customer will jump ship once landing in Turkey and getting lost. Though this reason is very convincing, my gut feeling is that the higher echelons in management have a mean spirited streak of humiliating their clients, by anyway they possess. Apparently, a routine they “nailed down” since 2005.

And this gut feeling was supported by the many successive indignities we suffered throughout the experience, this feeling of trying to “milk the ant” for any profit margin that the management was ordered to cash in.

My first decision was to tour the facilities of the ship.

I located a miniature, a hole of (5 by 3 meter) swimming pool. I discarded this fact, wishing to find another larger swimming pool. That’s was it, and had to deal with, and all my expectations went downhill since then, and nothing elevated my spirit, no matter how I tried for positive attitudes.

There were 2 sizable Jacuzzi at the other end (tribor, babor, babour…), each welcoming 4 persons and pretty good.

At lunch, I was allocated a table for 5 persons, older people and none with wives on board, and for the entire duration. These persons spent their time in the casino, nothing else for them to waste time on. One of them who patronized this cruise 5 years ago claimed the food was much better. These guys can sense the onset of seasickness and take the appropriate pill.

I told them that I was allocated a cabin with a window on deck 6 because I was found funny. One of them tersely replied: “all cabins on deck 6 have windows”.

I cannot recollect having looked out the window more than twice for a few seconds, but the cabin was flooded with natural light in the afternoon, a great setting for leisurely reading in a cool place, though I was denied that luxury the last day, since we were ordered to vacate the cabin at 3 pm.

Once, as I made friends and they invited me to join them at their table, the server said: “Please, please“. Kind of not willing to serve an additional client.

Nevertheless, the Egyptians are fine waiters and quick funny. One of the elder on the table was dozing off, waiting for his desert, and the waiter said: “bjeblak battaniyeh?”

I realized that the liquor servers (serving anything liquid), allocated to particular set of tables, were meek and worried that any clients might get totally frustrated and brutal with them for “selling water“. Worst, tiny slices of breads were “counted” for each table: no way to demand more bread.

I distributed tips for these liquor servers without ordering anything, just to send them the message: “I feel with your predicament“. Actually, I learned to give tips before receiving the service: it works and performance follows.

In the afternoon, the nasty sound of the emergency alarm lasted for a long time. I told myself: “hopefully, they are Not going to make it a habit to test our readiness.” And then I heard persistent banging on my door. I was to get out and bring my life-jacket with me and join everybody in the restaurant of deck 6.

On the couch, a saw a scared beautiful young girl, her head all wrapped tight with several layers of veils, and looking at me as if I were a cruise pro. She asked me: “What is going on?”. I replied: “Probably, they are going to throw us overboard to test which safety jackets are still functional”. Her face turned grey and I resumed: “Maybe not now. They’ll go through the routine of describing the safety measures to take when the alarm sounds next time”. She was Not convinced.

Her roommate girl was pale and in a phased out attitude. She did bring her safety jacket but didn’t wear it. I said to her: “As for you, you failed the test. You didn’t wear the jacket. Probably, they’ll select you to throw overboard for punishment”. It turned out she was already feeling seasick.

Then followed a description of the various tours when we land on Alanya as taken from the photo on my mobile:

  1. Shopping tour, 4.5 hrs, at $15
  2.  Jeep Safari 4 hrs, at $35
  3. Shuttle to Cleopatra Beach, at $20
  4. paragliding experience 3 hrs at $90
  5. Diving experience 3 hrs at $70
  6. Turkish bath 3 hrs at $50
  7. Dolphin show 3 hrs at $40

Most of these activities I had in Sherm al Sheikh and the dolphin show I watched in Disney Land in Orlando. And I set my mind to subscribe to Cleopatra beach.

I asked the front desk for Internet connection on the ship. We had to pay $25 for our mere two days, another harsh let down from how this ship is run. It then that I met the seasick girl at front desk and she told me: “moush merta7a“.

The clerk brought her a piece of bread on a platter and said: “Since you vomited, you stomach is empty. eating this bread will improve your state”. I was doubtful because I surmised that eating is the nastiest activity for seasick people. I said: “On checking deck 8, I discovered a door marked “Hospital” and I may show her the way”. The clerk didn’t appreciate my joke.

I put to practice the navy gait, legs spread wide. I wondered “why they promote alcoholic drinks if people are unable to walk straight?”

In the evening I decided to do the best of what’s available and got dizzy swimming dozen of times, back and forth, the “lengths” of this miniature pool. People looked at me saying: “That’s a wonderful kid, enjoying himself by any means”

Once, I was smoking with a heavy smoker acquaintance on the deck of the pool and he said: “this is a nasty smell”. I said “you mean the smell of cigarette?” He replied: “No the burned smell of oil from the turbine exhaust of the ship”. It is then that I smelt it and from then on I spent my time on the other side of the ship, where everybody gathered when we were arriving to the port of Beirut.

Actually, it is on this side of the ship on the last hour that attempted small chats with the gathered people and how they felt about this experience.

People pass-time was to set up arghili (hookah) around this swimming pool for $14.

The Orient Queen arranged for 5 buses to take the customers to various sites in Alanya, one of them to the “famous” Cleopatra beach where it is claimed that Cleopatra did swim long time ago. I have been told this beech stretches for a mile and the sand were imported from South Africa.

I thought of signing up for this trip, but the weather condition changed to rainy day, and I was happy I didn’t sign up (I would have lost my money, since there would be no refund).

I was also lucky Not to sign up on time for a meeting with the Captain on deck 7. One of my table companion told me that they take a group photo for $20 for the cruise promotion.

I was the last person to step out of the ship and had the lunch room all for myself. An experienced woman attendant in front desk filled me with details: most of these sites can be reached cheaply by public transport, and most of them are actually at walking distance.

At 2 pm, I descended the ship and boarded a City Tour “train”, kind of a car remorking two children trains at 10 TL or less than $2. This tour lasted 45 minutes and we passed the Cleopatra beech, the bazaar, the teliferic , and many adjacent main roads. Nothing to it. New acquaintances told me they borrowed bicycles and electric motto to tour the city.

Apparently, none of the groups were happy with their guides or the tours: they ended up taking taxis to return to the ship. And it poured cats and dogs for hours until 10 pm, and they arrived totally drenched.

Not only the “tourists” were drenched but the ship was “drenched and leaking” from everywhere. The employees were exhausted collecting the leaks and disposing dozens of buckets. A few cabins were leaking too.

I had arrived at 4:30 and it was drizzling: I was tired of walking to the bazaar and buying unnecessary clothes to the female members of my clan: we have so many unworn cloths that are taking so much spaces in our closets and cannot get rid of them. Suffice to say that I bought an “Alanya sherwal“, just because the lady was dynamic and wouldn’t desist from showing me what her shop hold. And I laughing my heart out for her activities, she even shortened one of the 3abaya for mother.

That rainy day and night might have hurt the profit margin of the cruise, since no one could venture outside on the upper deck to “enjoy” an arghili or have a drink… Maybe this is one reason management forced on the customers an additional $10 for room service?

There were no outside exits to have a smoke, but I discovered an exit under a tiny shelter facing the pool. A good looking woman wearing one of the headgear, promoted by “Princess” Moza of Qatar, wanted to displace the huge sound buffer from under the heavy rain, and the employees were afraid of being electrocuted if they touch the cable, but the cable was long enough to move the buffer under the shelter..

In hindsight, I observed 3 ladies wearing this kind of headgear, in white or black, and I conjectured that maybe a minority “Muslim” sect is using it overseas. Actually, one lady was very “classy” in her behavior, her attire and the soft way she eats and talk on her table. I conjectured that she might be a foreigner. And she turned out to be from Damascus and refused to talk but in “Arabic”, though she understood English and appreciated my compliment.

The day of our arrival to Beirut, we were ordered to vacate our cabins at 3 pm in order to prepare the room for the next trip on the same night. Thus, we were left outside for 5 hours and we were denied swimming towels.

I met people at one of the Jacuzzi and they said it is “fresh water” (thus no need for me to take a shower afterward) and they told me to ask the front desk for towels. Not only the front desk does Not deliver anything, they don’t even carry small changes for tips.

But I hoarded a Jacuzzi all for myself for an hour and watched people sweating and totally bored.

I waited for the lines in front desk to dwindle, paying for their room service before getting their passport back. The main sticky point was why charging $30 instead of $20 as stipulated in writing? One of the lady claimed that she has already paid upfront $30 for room service and she had to wait until this problem is resolved (the clerk said they had no direct commutation with headquarter in Beirut, and I assume the Captain is in charge of all decisions on board?)

I did my best in these long line to dissipate the accumulating anger and was trying to be calm and funny with Ibrahim. I even suggested to him whether I can bring him a sandwich for the long haul (as if this cruise has bread for sandwiches).

I met with my table companions around a table around 5 pm: the casino was closed and they had no idea what to do next. I ordered a large water bottle and a non-alcoholic beer. The barman said that I ordered the last beer and (may be the single such beer he received for his reserves). Actually, not a single bar on the ship ever admitted having beer sh3eer.

I will always be grateful for this barman for showing me the closest of WC, otherwise I would have been in big trouble, for the countless times I used it within 2 hours.

Before leaving ship, I passed by the Free Market room to buy a few bottles. And it was closed: al jomrok came and closed it. Why we were Not warned of these khouza3balaat?

It was a mere 2 nights on the cruise and most of the “tourists” I talked to said they cannot count on them for a repeat.

I wonder how the “tourists” handled 7 days on this cruise, touring the Greek islands. I conjecture that a few committed suicide at landing, out of total disgust: they quit Lebanon for an “honorable” vacation and they received the same kind of crap of indignities and humiliation as the Lebanese State extended to them in the last 3 decades.

Note 1: My note to Pamela in my first reaction to how I felt in this cruise:

Hola Pamela. I miss your smile. I wish you stayed in the cruise to observe and feel the indignities, frustration and humiliation of the clients and the service personnel.

I waited till the end of your last cruise to Cyprus to avoid you further exacerbation and headache from overseeing the last cruise.

I write reports of my experiences and impressions and post them on my blog If you care, I might send you a link, in due time.

Ya 3ammi, add upfront what it takes for standard room service charge (supposedly to repay the employees?), all you can drink water and eat bread, and swimming towels.

Ya 3ammi, add extra for non-alcoholic beverages, including non-alcoholic beer sha3eer and save the clients and the service personnel the hassle, the rebuke and humiliation in long waiting lines. And attach the appropriate bracelet around the wrist of clients.

What is the purpose of kicking us out of our cabin at 3 pm when the arrival time is estimated at 8 pm? And denying us swimming towels too? We pay for vacation and Not to submit to more frustration.

I will consider your explanations for my article, specifically what kinds of procedures you intend of “reforming” since 2005.

Note 2: My reply to the note of Hana Abu Mer3i, operating manager

Hi Hana: just quick few replies since I’ll be writing an exhaustive article on my experience on this cruise.

In the print it was said $20 service charge per person and not $30. A family of 4 had to caught up $40 additional charges.
I was practically kicked out of my cabin and was Not allowed to retake my swimming towel in order to spend a few hours waiting for arrival
The liquor service people meekly approach our tables at lunch and dinner, sort of worried that someone will pick up a tantrum for selling them water
I doubt that you ever reconsidered your procedures and  rules since 2005.
I was under the impression that there was an underlining mean spirited pleasure to humiliate these “ratesh” paying clients who do Not deserve an honorable and comfortable vacation
It was plainly a succession of various indignities and frustration that added up to a feeling of brutal behavior by the organizers.
In any case, the customer speaks louder: the dozen of clients I talked to were adamant that they will Not be repeat client to Abumer3i cruise.
At least the cabin was decent and plenty of hot water for showers

My bus tour experience in Turkey: 7 days in different hotels

I liked this bus tour and already missed this enduring vacation. I am looking forward to another bus tour to different regions in Turkey.

Note 1: I say it upfront that the worst parts in this tour is to “incarcerate” us in modern malls for 3 hours in each major city. These 5 unnerving visits highly upset me. Maybe many would like to visit a mall once or twice, but many of us would rather be in a zoo (if available) or a park with monster roller coasters., and would have settled for a place with babyfoot (fuzzball) , ping pong and dart throwing…..

We didn’t even visit any old souks where we could buy some items that peple back home wanted, like cotton abayaat and other exotic gifts.

My purpose of taking this “exhausting” trip was to test my endurance, hopefully for climbing the Himalayas (and I could take more physical traumas), but the repeated Malls visits took the wind out of my morale.

Note 2: There is no way to pay in other currencies but in Turkish Lira (TL) or credit cards. If you fail to exchange currencies you die of hunger since no shop would accept dollars or Euros: I think government restrictions are followed, except in touristic sites for buying gift. One person told me that he is using his credit cards for everything. Thus, once all my TL were spent, I bought a cologne bottle by credit for less than $3. And I kept using the card for eating.

Note 3: Truth is, none of the guides (Lebanese and Turkish) attempted to introduce us at the first meeting. I could have made this tour without knowing anybody if I didn’t force myself to introduce myself.

The introduction could be: “It is standard procedure to introduce ourselves at our first meeting, at least with our first name. If you feel uneasy, then say “pass” 

Actually, it was on the last day that I haphazardly knew that 2 groups were from my district and neighboring towns. Truth is that I felt alone most of the tour, like when I arrive early for breakfast /dinner, no one would join my table. And had to mingle without invitation.

Going out does barely change the habits of Not introducing ourselves: this habit of “tarkeez al tarboush”.

We landed in Izmir (Smyrna) on Monday morning around 11:30 am and had a “panoramic” tour around this big city of 3.5 million, stretched around an inlet of the sea. Izmir is an industrial city and the sea was badly polluted from former tanning factories and  is being cleaned up.

Smyrna was a destination to Athens philosophers’ (Protagoras and Anaxagoras) who were banned from the city, mostly  when condemned as heretics, and its close region of Milet by a river. It was a main province during the Farisi empire until Alexander defeated this empire. All the Greek city-states had trade contoires in this city in the antiquity,

We slept at the 5 stars Wyndham hotel and I enjoyed its indoor comprehensive spa.

It was the Adha Eid (the sacrifice in Muslim religion) and Turkish had vacation for 3 days and most businesses and pharmacies were closed. Many Lebanese take advantage to buy very urgent inexpensive drugs,  in large bundle, compared to Lebanon.

Once I entered a pharmacy with the group. I didn’t want to by anything. I inquired what kind of drug I should buy 3 years down the drain. I ended up settling for a B-complex vitamin bottle

We resumed to Ephesus and walked the vestiges of this vast ancient city. Apparently, the Austrian archaeologists barely excavated 10% in the last 100 years. When Austria will run out of funds, the German are in the list to continue the work.

The Turkish government reap the entrance fees without spending any money on the archaeology sites. It was hot and the sloping marble street was slippery and the tour was done quickly at my displeasure. Our Turkish guide for the tour was carrying a Turkish flag on a stick to follow. him I ended up following 3 different groups with guides holding the same flag.

One of the 7th most famous wonders in antiquity, the “Temple of Artemis”, is reduced to a single colon and badly repaired. Apparently, the Christians dismantled this “atheist” temple, as the Muslims later will dismantle Christian sites.

We resumed our drive to Meryemena on a hill, supposedly where Virgin Mary died, based on a dream from a bed-ridden German crippled woman. I strongly doubt this myth, since it was Not possible that Mary, who died at age 56, could reach this remote destination. The most plausible location is in actual Syria and on the seashore.

The next day we drove to Pamukkele and the Hieropark hotel. I enjoyed the open-air iron mud-like pool, watching as in the balcony the night entertainment of music and belly dancing. I then swam in the open-air pool and could Not share the belly dancer in my swimming trunk. I liked this supposed 4 stars hotel more than in the other hotels.

We visited the Roman ancient city of Hieropolis with chalk areas and spring pools and slippery low-level pools. A great visit. I think I experience a sudden kind of diarrhea and barely reached the far away WC. Excellent day to spend in that quaint town.

We resumed our trip to Konia, a 5 hours trip.  At one point I told the guide that there is urgency to stop at the first gas station and Not wait for the “programmed break”. I had to come forward twice for the guide to take my request seriously. Many stepped out of the bus and thanked me for my straightforward move.

The “program” made us visit the Mevlana Museum, a place where Imam Jalal El Din taught his students of dervishes. At night, a bunch of the group spent money to watch an hour of Whirling Dervishes. I had watched them in a TV documentary, which I had cut short. I didn’t like this Hilton hotel with its long corridors that reminded me of old hotel style.

The “program” wanted us to visit the Uchicar castle where disciple John was “buried’. I refused to visit this castle because it was apparent that its crumbling outside walls, haphazardly filled with little stones, were “renovated” with  plain sculpted stones. And it was hot and I was tired for these “archaeological” meandering.

The temple of Baalbak in Lebanon is far more majestic and far more ancient than any temple that exists or ever existed.

We proceeded to Cappadocia where over 150 flying hot balloons is performed about 250 mornings per year . The hot balloon morning was cancelled by the authority for climate  causes and reported for the next morning.

I also refused to share in that experience. 18 of our tour group were crammed in a single “nacel” but they experienced a wonderful event from up there. Our guide refused me to join the group, just to watch the frenetic preparation and procedure for the flight, a decision that has no reasonable foundation at all.

It seems that a ticket for a seat in a balloon is $50 if purchased in Turkey, instead of the $175. It was reported to me by one of the group when walking the main street in Cappadokya (as written in Turkey) , and being more curious than the rest of us. Obviously, if seats are “available”.

It is in this Goreme town that I got lost. The Turkish guide said that we will meet at a Chinese restaurant. I visited the first Chinese place and no one was there. I was told there were 8 other Chinese restaurants. One of them is across the main street, and it was closed. And I ended wandered around and checking on the other “closed” Chinese restaurants (probably they take siesta time?).

I got lost off the main street. Hard to find a Turkish speaking English or French or Arabic… I met a guy wearing a large back pack and speaks English  and he said he is a trekking person. He used his GPS but was of no help. After 30 minutes of walking I re-located the main street.

I was exhausted and it was hot and walked straight to the bus. It was locked. On my way back, I met 3 of our group and were urgently trying to locate a public WC. I told them there are none where they are searching. They ignored me.

I resumed my walk and sat in the first “restaurant” and ordered hot tea (chi) and used their WC.  One funny female member said: “So for ordering a hot tea you are waiting for another hour to go back to the bus?”

We visited several sites of these caves dug in the hills, like the Nevsehir valley, the Goreme Open Air Museum and the Red “canyon”. Our Turkish guide Levant flew his tiny drone to film the valley. I thought he was preparing a documentary on this area that he is most fond of. Apparently, Levant is a “professional” photographer and had exhibited some of his pictures in London.

We also visited this Kaymakliunderground city” of 4 levels, dug in a chain and series of caves and holes. Apparently, there are 8 more underground cities, one of them is of 13 floors deep. Most of them were excavated during the Hittite empire, 2000 years BC. Many claim that Christians at some periods inhabited these cities. I believe that these habitation were reserved for slaves and prisoners.

On Saturday we drove to Adana and were parked in a Ramada hotel, in the downtown, with no facilities, save a tiny gym.

A group were whisked to the Optimum Mall. Later, with nothing to do, I opted to walk 1.5 km to there and returned in the same bus at 8 pm.

A group paid $45 for dinner and for watching Turkish traditional dancing, an event that I opted to ignore: I prefer to participate in the dancing and Not sit and watch.

The group reported that they were invited to the dancing floor and many Spanish and Italians danced: a piece of news that I was not filled with, otherwise I would have shared in that event, instead of spending a much boring night. Actually, I planned to work on my laptop, but I could Not recharge it and the connection failed on me that night.

A video, shared to our Izmir group, showed one of our female members joining the belly dancer. In fact, she ignored the dancer and performed her our “choreography” and the official dancer had to step aside. Our group belly dancer added a section in her dance performance, bowed , bent over (mtayyazi) for a while.

I finished reading a book and then remembered that Maria, a young girl sitting behind me in the bus with her mother, initiated me to YouTube this day on the bus. I listened to 2 hours on these old musics of the 70’s.

On the bus that day, Maria connected me to the Rolling Stones at my request. I was so enthralled with the music that when the guide Natasha sounded on the micro: “I have something to say. Are you listening?” I removed one earplug and replied: “Only with one ear”

The next day we paid a visit to the marina in Mersin and I had bass fish with a large Efes beer.

Actually, two days ago, as we were roaming the streets of the town of Seljuk, in the Ephesus province, for a “free lunch”, meaning with our own money and I spent most of my TL on eating “for fee”, I patronized a small eating place and asked for a local Turkish beer. He suggested a very large bottle of Efes, claiming it was made in Seljuk. Later, the Turkish guide rectified: This beer is made in Istanbul.

We returned to Adana in order to fly from its tiny airport. But before that, we were parked in a mall to wait for 3 hours for the airport departure. That was a grueling ending for a good trip.

Our plane our delayed 2 hours because another plane was hired to pick us and the returning hajjis (pilgrims) from Mecca were hoarding all the available planes back to Lebanon.

My taxi driver had to take a nap in his car and I waited outside, hoping that he didn’t lose patience, but he showed after 15 min of worrisome wait.

(I learned later that mobile phones should be closed when boarding a plane to another country, otherwise, when we land we will not be able to receive contact on our mobile)

Note 4: This sentence “It is Not in the program” is what ire me most. In the last night of our tour, I suggested that all the group go to a club, a karioki club for example, and apply our talents in singing, dancing… The idea was good, but the guide replied: “This event is Not in the program”. We had a night off, even an afternoon off. What then? Extra expenses in gas bus? Extra expenses to the driver? Do you think anyone would Not have chipped in for the additional expenses? An event that would have gathered the group and had a great time to meet.

Note 5: Couples mostly remember to take a taxi to visit an old souk. But single people barely can come up with this ingenious idea. It is the guide responsibility to remind everyone of this possibility to schedule their “free time”.

Note 6: Asian tourists preceded us on every bus stop (break), every touristic sites, every hotel. They were from mainland China, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, and even from Kazakhstan (I spotted two goddesses of them and had to investigate their origin). Canadian Asians were there and who were transferred by their companies to Japan, Singapore… and they insisted 3 times that they are Canadians. All of these emerging countries with large middle-classes who are on the move

Note 7: We drove miles in rich fields, trees of all kinds, and fruit trees that have been harvested. A vast country of plenty in the valley between the Taurus mountain chains. And even the dry vast plateau of Konya, where barely a tree could be seen, the fields of cereals were harvested.

Maybe because of the Adha Eid or the fields were already harvested, I didn’t spot a farmer or an agricultural equipment working the land.  Turkey manufacture most of the kitchen industrial products and export them to the EU, products that Europe desisted from resuming production because of expensive workforce. Turkey has many carries, mostly for white marble and extensive construction works for new towns and new building. The guide told us that Turkish “construction companies” were exported to many countries, especially in Libya, Qatar and Asia neighboring countries such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan…

Note 8: This is an ongoing updated article. I asked members to add comments so that I make a comprehensive article, but no one contributed or responded. One member wrote that this was her worst vacation and she felt a total stranger among our group. Maybe her feeling is founded.

Royal Grand in Sharm el Sheikh: A mini paradise, sufficient for me and willing to substitute it to the fictional one. Part 1

Sept, 22, 2018

The Royal Grand is a mini-paradise: all you can eat, all you can drink, beautiful tourists ambulating in front of you, self-contained will all the facilities: 3 beaches, 3 swimming pools, massage parlors, Turkish bath.
Wonderful Egyptians servers, ready to share a laugh: they love Lebanese and they accept Lebanese currencies more readily than dollars, hard working guys 12 hrs a day with half an hour break, almost cheap. But they stay for the tips.
This idea of me taking a group tour made its way after mother got a prosthetic hip implant. I had to care for her for an entire month. None of my close relatives were in Lebanon at the time and the burden was all on me. I took this opportunity to clean up 40 years of accumulated junk inside the house and outside.
And I developed a hernia. I waited for my sister to come back to undergo the surgery. Another 2 weeks of misery.
My first choice was a cruise from Stockholm to Estonia and St. Peterborough. The Shen-gen visa required a month of waiting and the season would be over. I had to fall back on another alternative.
The airfare to Turkey in August and September was expensive and I had to wait for October and November for a better deal. Thus, Sharm el Sheikh was the option since a group of young relatives had spent a week there in June and were very satisfied with the stay in Royal Grand.
In the meantime, I applied for a regular credit card that is handy overseas and purchased a mobile for the first time in my life. My nephew Cedric initiated me to all the intricacies of handling a mobile and how to pay online.
I’ll insist next time I travel with Nakhal Not to pay the 2% tax on the credit card since it is the company that is responsible for that extra expense and Not taken from the customers’ pockets: I call that decision part of civil disobedience Not to encourage further spoiling behaviors (fassaad)
The five sections of the buffets are varied with free drinks all day long till 2 am. You are be served fish (bouri), grilled and fried. Omelettes in the morning and boiled eggs. chicken, fried and grilled. vegetables of all kinds and and a variety of cheese. Croissants and a dozen kinds of sweets. All kinds of bread. Juices , coffee, milk, cereals, soup, and a wide variety of cooked meals, humus, foul, spaghetti…
Still, a few Lebanese make sure to give the cooks hell with special room orders for shish kabob.
When you arrive, the reception attaches a navy blue ribbon around your wrist, which open up everything for free, assuming you paid the room, all inclusive, which is worth the price, a  low added cost for all the facilities.
The lobby is connected and is a relatively a cooler place to be around (well, kinds of cooler since there is no way to cool any place down here): I kept sweating in the lobby.
It never rains, and water in the room are Not meant for drinking since water are desalinated in 3 facilities.
Connecting otherwise is also cheap, but I rather be outside the room. Didn’t plan for any excursion yet, since I’m still discovering the facilities of this vast complex. Surely I will take a sea tour for an entire day which include scuba-diving…
I arrived from Lebanon to the hotel at 9 pm and I managed to have a quick dinner. Had to wait 2 hours for the flight in Lebanon after passing 3 checkpoints. The flight is 1:30 min and I think it is better to take an early flight to enjoy an extra day. There is an hour zone difference.
I had miscalculated my return day, though it is mentioned in the ticket. Had to rectify the day with my Taxi. Glad someone is waiting at airport.
The Egyptian try hard to eek a living, and the massage parlor dispatch people around the pools to get reservation for manicure, pedicure, Turkish bath, massage, sauna… I met a Lebanese guy who told me wonder about the massage done by George. I got a free massage and reserved for a 2-hr complete experience for $45 or 700 LE (Egyptian pound worth 17.6 for the $).
A young Lebanese tourist (a member of internal forces, Darak) in the hotel got me connected with the massage facility personnel. and insisted that I select Georges as masseur.
The night of my arrival, he invited me to sit down with him and share with him a shisha (arghileh). The night before returning home, he asked me to join him for a stroll on Ne3mat Street, a one-mile street of shops, theaters, restaurants… and closed to traffic.
He needed someone to share the fare of the taxi since he has already exhausted his cash money on lavish tips.  It’s a 10 km trip that barely cost $3, but he insisted on negotiating hard. It never occurred to me to buy anything as gifts, but ended up purchasing 3 gifts and 2 items for myself that I made good use of there.
I postponed the schedule for my full massage package from 3:30 to 5 :30 pm because I didn’t feel getting wet again with all the swimming and showering.
I was introduced to the sauna for 15 min, and I started pounding on the door to let me out: All I had to do is just push the door out.
The next step in the sauna was to dip in a very cold basin that I couldn’t do with all my willpower. The guy allowed me to try the warmer basin first and then back to the cold one. It took me 15 min to get in, cooling my behind first.
Then come the phase of the Turkish bath, lying on a hot marble table and being rubbed like crazy with a rough glove. Then pouring foam on my entire body with instruction to close my eyes shut. Then I was moved to another room and rubbed with coconut debris and then totally wrapped in plastic and towel as a mommy.
Then Georges took over and gave me a thorough massage for every joint and part of my body, and abundantly using lotion.
My Lebanese acquaintance had spoiled them with plenty of tips and the guys roamed around expecting generous tips, kind of making sure that I’m Not dizzy. I saw the promoter the next day and he told me it is a shame there are Not many Lebanese guests to make his task easier.
I went on boating and did the scuba-diving and got the videos of pictures inside water and on the boat.
The start was a total chaos: They even transferred me from Caesar boat to Samira without informing me. If I didn’t check on the status of my waiting I might have missed the sea trip. The bus driver or the one representing the travel agency asked me to go and fetch the safety jacket and snorkeling mask from a lending shack.
After a long time waiting, I discovered that I don’t need these stuff since I have my goggles for deep water swimming.
We spent much time on instructions of how to dive. The dive was mainly to taking videos underwater and instructing me what kind of gesticulation I should exhibit.and I was Not allowed to swim on my own.
The video under water was of $20 and the one on the boat for $15 with hard bargaining. I guess the entire crew share part of the earning of the designated photographers.
No more extracurricular activities outside the hotel: Not worth the exacerbation. Total relaxation this Tuesday: walking on the beach, swimming in the swimming pool, swimming in deep water and drinking with new friends.
It would have been great to extend the stay another day, now that daily routines are  programmed and nailed down. Tried yesterday to pay on-line for the mobile and I failed. Will wait till I’m back.
Only acting as insane draw the laughter and people don’t mean it bad: they want to act insane but are pretty shy with this drastic change in behavior. When I act insane, dozens of people feel good and positive, especially when I apply my clown-nose.
The night before departure, I received a certificate of Mister Royal hotel in Sharm el Sheikh by acting totally uninhibited in the show.
5 contestants volunteered for the show, 4 Ukrainians and I. The Italians had returned home. In one part, they installed a young lady on a chair in the middle of the stage and we had to strip-tease in front of her. One contestant refused on the ground that he is married. Another contestant faked to be obfuscated and vacated the stage.
I emulated Michael Jackson as I was told by the promoter, and I ambulated with my hat over my crotch (Not according to instructions).  I gathered a mound of shoes, sandals… and half a dozen bras, each one accounted for 100 points, and a new lovely girl offered me to keep her bras. I wore the bras for 30 minutes and used it to stow my cigarette box and my money in each bra.
My new Ukrainian girl-friends wanted to have a night out after asking me to order a shisha that they barely used since we had to hurriedly cram a bus with the promoter and his staff, and off to a beach party outside the hotel for $20.
My friends kept asking me if I feel okay, given that I was sweating profusely because of the heat and my relentless dancing and hopping.
There was a so-called Lebanese from the south who insisted on exhibiting a medal on his chest, claiming that he is “on call from the US special forces”. He is tall, svelte, dark-skinned and liked to walk bare chested.  He tried hard to befriend me and to carry me on his shoulders for a selfie. I refused his advances: in my mind, I suspected that he might be a son of families that fled from south Lebanon to Israel in 2000, as Israel hurriedly vacated our land without negotiation,
He was married but focused on a girl to get in her pants  (the one who gave me her bras as gift). We returned at 4 am and I was to be at the reception my noon to hand over my keys. The girl (Masha, nickname for Maria) claimed to be too tired and went back to her room with her girlfriend.
I made friends with 2 Irish sisters (May and Francis) who had been patronizing the hotel for the last 10 years and had a room in their name and plenty of special privileges. They came to bid me farewell the next day by the bus that was taking us to the airport.
I also befriended an elder couple from Denmark who have been patronizing the hotel in the last 5 years: They have a small olive tree planted in their name. I was searching for an empty seat at lunch and they invited me to join their table. The husband spoke fluent English and we hit-it off and laughed and then met again the next morning by the pool.
I still managed to get up at 8:30 am, had a breakfast, walked on the beach sand, got a swim in the pool, got a shower, packed, and had lunch too.
The hardest day in the vacation is the day before departure, when you get used to a certain life-style of facilities.
The bus to the airport was at 1:30 pm. And we visited 6 hotels to the airport to pick up guests returnees.
The Egyptian controlled 3 times our departure: twice by demanding we empty all our pockets belonging and our shoes.
I decided to empty all my pockets in a bag and keep it in my backpack when we land in Beirut. Luckily, we were Not searched and we directly advanced to pick up our suitcases and off to the arrival outlet. Kind of the Lebanese counterpart had full confidence in the Egyptian thorough search and control
Note: Ayman El Mohammadi, General Manager of Royal Grand sent me a mail for evaluation of my stay in the hotel.
I replied: “I’ll be posting a good review on my blog on your hotel facilities and great smiling, dedicated, hard working and good humored staff.
It would be a great idea to study opening a few pool lanes for dedicated swimmers. Otherwise, it is a piece of paradise to be revisited. Does my certificate of Mister Royal Hotel give me a deduction for next year?
It came to my attention that the staff are overworked, kind of 12 hours a day for just 30 minutes break? Are they being paid overtime after 8 hours work? Send my regards to the dedicated Irish guests, the sisters Francis and May

Note 2: I received this reply from the hotel manager.

Let us thank you for choosing our hotel for your recent holiday in Sharm-el-Sheikh and for your kind message.

We are very happy that our team managed to live up to your expectations and you enjoyed your vacation at Royal Grand Sharm.

Thank you for sharing with us your idea, it’ll be seriously considered by the Management.

It’ll be our great pleasure to welcome you back next year. No deduction, sorry.  However, you’ll have a wide range of special privileges, such as free of charge fresh juices during breakfast, unlimited number of visits to a la carte restaurant, additional restaurant Li Manda for lunch and dinner, invitation to the welcome cocktail reception and 1-hour of paid internet usage for free.  The more times you come to us, the more privileges we offer.

Please be assured that our Management provide the favorable working conditions and do its best to create a nice and friendly atmosphere with all our staff here at the Royal Grand Sharm to ensure that every member of the team enjoys their work and this shows in the service they offer. Will surely send your best regards to Ms. May and Ms. Frances!

Note 3: My reply

Yes, you may forward my email address to Francis and May, as well as anyone who want to be in contact with me: as well as my blog on

I filled the evaluation list and discovered that there are many facilities that were unknown to me: if you are relying on the guests to read the brochure for “pieces of intelligence” many facilities will remain unchecked. Like the hotel organizing activities in open sea: I thought that I need to contact my travel agency for extracurricular activities
Need to appoint a “maitre d’hotel” for the outside of the main restaurant, facing the sea where birds share our bread. Someone must take the sole responsibility to observe who finished his meal and order the clean up of tables.
I was never been able to finish my meal before the table was cleaned up. Sort of as soon as I enter to fetch another dish My table was removed to allow other guests to take seats. This was a frequent occurrence as if I was targeted for harassment. It was too late for me to get the message and eat inside the restaurant.
Need a couple of professional swimming lanes for serious swimmers
I like to walk on the beach. The attended of the next resort (Sunrise?) didn’t allow me to enter and use their beach. Someone told me this is illegal since all beaches are public domain?
Nothing like a DJ to encourage people to dance in the evening. I discovered that the girls working with the show invite people of their “own kinds”. Thus have girls from many nationalities to do the job properly


First time that I searched for my luggage

Numb at the Magnitude of the Unknown. Part 2  June 19, 2016

It was the first time that I searched for my luggage

As I landed in Oklahoma City in 1975.

By the time I learned where to fetch my luggage

I realized that my suitcase was made of carton:

All beat up, twisted, torn, tattered,

And barely holding what it was carrying.


It was a burden suitcase and a sore to the eyes.

It was a burden to my depleted spirit.

It was after one o’clock in the morning, and the airport was empty and quiet.


I must have been sitting there for a while:

A black airport agent smiled to me and softly addressed me.

It was apparent that I was a lost person.

No, I do not expect anyone to meet me.

No, I have no idea where I am and where to go.


The compassionate black man suggested:

“Son, the best is to have a good night sleeps at a nearby hotel, most probably the Holiday Inn”.

It was my first night at a hotel and it cost me seventeen dollars, a fortune.


Next, I experienced an Oklahoma summer morning, humid and hot.

Next, I experienced the wilderness and empty spaces.

For ten dollars, a taxi dropped me at a dorm for students,

In the university town of Norman, thirty miles south of the Capital.

I was to pay more than double that amount, ten years later,

For my second trip to Oklahoma, and at exactly the same conditions of loneliness,

Save that I should have been ten years wiser.


Another six dollars per night at the students’ dorm.

I rented a room at a lady’s house near the University of Oklahoma.

She was in her fifties, tall, slim and tough of character.


Hussein, my English classmate from Jordan shared another room.

Hussein was to move to San Antonio, in Texas, for graduate studies in Economics.

He agreed to welcome me at Christmas time,

For a couple of days at his university dorm.


It was to be my first experience with the Amtrak train, the slowest transportation ever:

The trip lasted seventeen hours and rattled me to Houston,

Through a convoluted schedule, before backtracking a little west to San Antonio.


It would be my last train experience, so far.

A Syrian student was the third leg in the house at the middle-aged lady.

He had blue and piercing eyes and was majoring in Chemistry.

I was told that he was a rigid devote Muslim:

He used to kneel in class, at exam time, and pray turning toward Mecca.

He married the old lady shortly after.

The one time I saw the lady, a year later, she was wearing the veil.

Numb at the Magnitude of the Unknown (Part 1, June, 2004)

It was May of 1975.  I had just graduated in Physics from the Lebanese university.

I secured a student visa to the United States of America. I was to study English for the summer at a university in Oklahoma.

I did not know then that there was more than one university in Oklahoma. The trip was not that urgent, but the civil war in Lebanon started to look serious.

My inborn stubbornness clenched the deal and off I left. It was my first trip away from family and home. I learned later that my mother played the fundamental role of convincing my father that it is time that I learn to be on my own.

My mother told me that the night I flew away my father cried his eyes out in his bed.

My father offered me $5,000. Two Lebanese pounds at the time was worth one dollar (Now, a single dollar is worth 1,500 LP)

I stayed in Paris for a couple of weeks visiting a student relative of mine. At the airport, no one searched me or welcomed me.

Before I exited the airport, an agent asked to search my luggage. Why me? No, it was Not a random search. I had to rearrange everything in my beaten suitcase.

Even then, France pinpointed specific passengers to be searched.

My cousin Nassif happened to be vacationing in England with a girlfriend. I met my friends Ghassan and Moussa who helped me rent a room where they stayed at a university complex for foreign students.

I toured Paris alone in metro and mostly on foot. Paris was gorgeous.

Breakfasts were delicious at the university low-ceiling breakfast restaurant .

There was another restaurant for lunch and dinner

Breakfast was the time to see all the various international students. The smell of fresh coffee, milk, bacon, eggs and fresh bread was appetizing.

The buffet was scattered with many varieties of fruits and drinks.

( I still dream of waking up to such a breakfast environment)

I landed first at New York at Laguardia airport. We were flying over the Oklahoma Territory, 22 hours after leaving Paris. We still had one hour to land.

It was pitched dark outside and I might have been feeling cold in the plane. One stewardess might have realized my haggard quietness.

An angel, no more than twenty years old, blonde, blue eyed, beautiful with a refreshing smile, and compassion transparent in her welcoming face.

She brought me a blanket without any request on my part and suggested to bring me some orange juice.

I felt then that it is okay to live in America and to know Americans. I wished I told her that I was scared, terrified, and numb at the magnitude of the unknown waiting for me.

I wished I told her that I needed to throw myself at her mercy and be helped.

I was lacking conversational skills and lacking practice in English.

I was not basically a social guy, though I enjoyed being among crowds.

Friends suffered me on account of my quietness:

I painfully resigned myself to the aura of bookish knowledge.

 How the State of Maryland is Amazing?

I lived in the State of  Maryland for over 6 years, in the late 1990’s, mostly close to Washington DC, Bethesda, Kensington., Gettysburg… I ventured to Baltimore, Annapolis, Frederick and once spent a couple of days by a lake high on the mountain.

I knew these regions very close: I dabbed in Real Estates in Montgomery County. I walked plenty and distributed leaflets in each street for listed houses “For sale“…

I did visit Philadelphia visiting a high school class mate of mine in Lebanon Charles Helou, who was teaching math at a university.  Dr. Helou was #1 in the French mathemen exam in Lebanon in 1969.  We visited Helou family along with my sister and brother-in-law Victor. On our way back we stumbled on a gay parade. We never saw Charles again.

I visited New York City and New York State for 3 days with the family of Nicholas Choukeir. And I once and went boating in Maryland.

Though I don’t recall drinking local beer or hearing of any local brewery.

BS in Bmore posted this March 25, 2014

15 Reasons Why Maryland is Amazing

I may not have chosen to grow up in Maryland, but I did decide to continue to live here (and trust me, I have thought about moving away, California always sounds nice).

There is just something about Maryland that keeps me here and keeps me happy.

On this day, 380 years ago, the first European settlers landed on what is now known as the great state of Maryland. In honor of Maryland day, I bring you 15 reasons why Maryland is amazing:

1. We have all 4 seasons. While snow at the end of March is not ideal, it is going to be in the 60s later this week. Maryland, you crazy. I like you, but you’re crazy.


2. Getting crabs in Maryland is not a bad thing. Blue crabs that is.


3. We have it all. Beaches, mountains, cities, farmland. You can hike, bike, swim or boat, whatever your little heart desires.


4. The National Aquarium is in Maryland. No, not the Baltimore Aquarium, not the Maryland Aquarium, the National Aquarium. We don’t mess around when it comes to our fishies. We’re serious.


5. Two words: Old Bay. I grew up putting this on everything… popcorn, pizza, crabs, french fries, chicken, macaroni and cheese, corn on the cob, potato chips… heck, I’ve even tried Old Bay ice cream.

I now work at McCormick & Company where I get to talk about Old Bay everyday AND it’s encouraged. Can you say dream job?


6. Maryland is really funny shaped, which makes for great jewelry. A square with a heart in it just wouldn’t be the same (no offense Colorado, you’re still awesome).

maryland heart

7. We have this crazy, yet beautiful flag. It’s yellow. It’s red. It’s in your face. Who came up with this pattern? I like it. Plus it makes for some great clothing and accessories. Thank you Route One Apparel(Photo credit: @linnylou_who, Twitter, posted on Route One Apparel’s Facebook Page)


8. Maryland is home to many historic towns. Annapolis, Baltimore, Frederick, Old Ellicott City and so much more.

Some of my favorite times are spent wandering historic main streets exploring the shops and restaurants. (and apparently I like to take photos of couples holding hands in these places)


9. We’re not quite “Northern”, we’re not quite “Southern,” which means when we head north or south, we don’t quite fit in, but the silver lining is that no one really dislikes us.

10. Maryland makes some damn fine beer.

Flying Dog, Heavy Seas, Union Brewery, DuClaw, Brewer’s Alley and so many other craft brewers. It’s easier to “buy local” when your local beer is top notch.


11. Location, location, location.

While Maryland is great, variety is the spice of life. We are within close proximity to many other top US cities. Wherever you might be in Maryland, you could wake up one morning and take a day trip to DC, Philadelphia, NYC and more. No big deal.


12. You can only find Berger cookies here. They are rich and decadent.

Sure, the FDA’s proposed ban on trans fat could put them out of business, but you know it is worth it.


13. I have not met many other people in the US that have quite as much county pride as Maryland residents.

I’ve actually met people from other states that have no idea what county they are in. Nonetheless, we rep the counties we grew up or live in like no other (hocofoshoyo, now with bmore street cred).

14. It might not be cheap to reside here, but it sure is cheaper than DC

15. This is birdland. Through thick and through thin, we support our Baltimore Orioles and Ravens.


Back Riding Adventure on a motorcycle from Beirut to Kuneitra in Cornet Chehwan  November 2, 2013

My nephew Cedric bought 10 tickets to listen to opera singer Mona Hallab (a relative of the famous sweet makers Hallab of Tripoli) , in the auditorium of the Russian cultural center in Verdun, Beirut. The event was deep underground, kind of 4 floors under.

I got a lift with Victor and Raymonde.

Cedric understands and translate Italian fluently, but when it comes to opera, he could only translate the finale of one of the lyrics that says “Who gives a fuck

After the recital  of 10 stanza from various Verdi composition, Cedric wanted for his parents to pay a visit to his office in Hamra. Hanane had led us to the center and left us to use Cedric office for a project.

I decided to ride behind Cedric on his new Italian motorbike, two close wheels in the front and one in the back.

Cedric regulated the suspensions for two riders and I donned an oversized helmet. Tightening the helmet was of no use: It plainly floated on my head, bouncing freely down and up, and side to side…

Cedric suggested that I don’t turn my heads sideways or try to be too curious about the scenery and crowd, on account that the turning of my head will spin the bike off balance at turning bends

Sort I have to fix my eyes to a point far away, as if meditating looking at the flame of a candle…

The ride to Hamra was short, but it left as this lingering feeling that the longer ride to Kunetra (about 15 miles away ) is not going to be fun at all.

However, I was curious how it feels for the longer rides: William had back rode for over two hours to Tannourine, and Victor did it once from Beirut.

I figured that if Victor could sustain this Calvary, I should be able to experience it without undue long-term physical problems.

The short ride to Hamra uncovered the 3 main troubles that I will be subjugated to:

1. Neck pain from the oversized helmet: I had this sense that the helmet will not protect my head if we had an accident or fall from the bike. Most probably the helmet will detach before I reach the ground, or this helmet will decapitate me instead of protecting my head.

2. Lower back pain from the multiple bumpers (motabaat) and the bad road of many holes and ditches…  In Lebanon, the 0.3% of the richest who horde 50% of the wealth, think its prestige to have many bumpers in front of their residences. If everyone of these bastards have over two dozen residences, just imagine the numbers of bumpers the motorbike has to surmount, and my body frame to suffer from.  Actually, it is again the helmet that exacerbated the back problems…

3. Constantly holding tightly on the side guards was tantamount of numbing my arm and shoulder muscles: You think that you are holding on something, but in reality it is a faked sensation.  The other problem was the leg muscles…

Cedric said that William had it hard because he rode without a backrest. Cedric had since invested on an additional space for an extra helmet which played the role of a back rest.  I don’t recall having rested my back at any moment: Otherwise I would have fallen down at the bends as Cedric was flying at 80 km per hour

It turned out that the worst of problems is the nasty wind, flowing at high speed from under the helmet shield. This is no shield whatsoever: It is a dangerous semi-shield that exacerbate the flow of the wind and burn your face skin, instead of massaging the muscles of your face.

I had to keep my mouth shut most of the time, tightening my mandibles on the ground that air will still seep through the crevices of my teeth… I figured that the air will reach my lungs on account of this fast wind cooled my ass.

I was apprehensive that we might navigate a dirty stretch with plenty of pebbles and ending up looking like I had suffered from smallpox in my childhood… Actually I did have small pox but no residue remained. This time around, a poked face could turn more enduring…

I was wearing a formal jacket for the concert and just a shirt. I didn’t pay much attention of freezing all over, but I felt the cold spreading all over my body as we reached destination.

Basta, no more back riding on motorbikes for over 2 miles distance.

Note: Monà Hallab soprano in concert “Tribute to Verdi”,  accompanied by pianist Olga Bolun.  Mona was born in Tripoli Lebanon and is currently living in Umbria Italy.  She is studying for her masters in opera from “Istituto Superiore di Studi Musicali G. Briccialdi”

She sang from texts of Wolfgang Goethe, Jacopo Vittorelli, Carlo Angiolini, La Traviata, Tommaso Bianchi, Luigi Balestra, Il Trovatore, and Andrea Maffei.
Badeeh Abla's photo.

Unfuck Texas? Fuck Dallas though July 5, 2013

I think that the first time I visited Dallas was around 1976: I went down with a couple of friends to watch the football game between the Sooners and the team in Dallas.

The game was located close to the block where Kennedy was assassinated, and that’s where the drunk masses strolled after the game.

Who won? I never cared. I don’t recall I went in the stadium: Maybe I didn’t have a ticket, or I just needed to see Dallas.

The after game celebration was as boring and loud as everywhere else in the USA, with maybe more “Fuck Sooners” than anywhere else, and drunk youth walking back and forth along the same long street.

The Viet Nam US engagement was put to rest, except for all those handicapped and mentally shocked soldiers. Forgotten and locked from the sight of public media.

And then in 1977, another excitement got hold of the universities with strong Iranian students. The University of Oklahoma had one of the most active Iranian students, and every couple of days there were demonstrations and marches shouting “Down the Shah”

The next time I visited Dallas was in 1985 at Xmas time. I wanted to be away as the university was almost vacant and insisted with my highschool friend from Lebanon to visit with him.

Actually, we shared the same table for about 3 years, and I don’t recall we spoke. When we met in Dallas, I noticed that he hardly recognized me or cared for me all these years sitting side by side.

Probably I boarded the Greyhound bus because I wouldn’t suffer another Amtrak train trip.

For an entire week, I stayed with  Hobeich who was married. They got married while in college because his rich German wife got pregnant. They told me that it was love/lust from the first night they met. His daughter was Not natural because probably his wife tried to abort but failed to carry it successfully.

I felt my friend or his wife suffered me for that week. They took me once on Sunday to an auction, behaving as well-to-do couple who bought a new big house.

My “friend” was ashamed to make me visit his quarter at work, a kind of a high post with an oil company owned by his father-in-law.

I realized that Dallas had no beginning and no end, until I you find yourself smack in the dust bowl.

Note: In a condolence event in Lebanon, I met someone with the same family of Hobeich and asked him whether he knows my friend. He said that he didn’t know him personally but is convinced he passed away from heart attack.

Dallas is a sprawling city, flat and flat to infinity. It seems that the same Real Estate developer was monopolizing the aggrandizement of Dallas, or a mafia of developers agreed on a couple of blue prints for mass production.

Dallas should be the ideal digital city for addresses: No landmarks or monuments to direct you, except Downtown.  I was under the impression that no public transportation were available, not even buses.

The State government never wanted to know that there are poor people in Texas who could not subsidize GM, Ford, Exxon, Chevron….

I passed through Austin once. Maybe on the way to Baylor?

Fuck it all: I should have stayed longer in Austin, but I was sick and tired of university towns…

And what the article of “A Rich, Full Life In Spite of It” has to add on Texas and Austin? And posted on July 3, 2013.

Given the recent disdain expressed for the Lone Star State on ACOF, I was surprised when Le Clown asked me to contribute a post about Austin to his travel segment.

But if any city can soften such a resounding, “Fuck you,” to Texas, it’s Austin, and after Wendy Davis and Ashley A. paved the way back into his left leaning heart, I agreed.

I’ve lived in Texas most of my life, minus three semesters of college in New Mexico.

I grew up in rural Texas, and attended junior high and high school in a dairy town where football was king. I lived in Dallas for a few months after leaving New Mexico, and then finally settled in Austin.

I’m well aware of the stereotypes about Texas and its residents, and I won’t deny that we deserve some of that reputation, but Austin is unique.

My dad used to call it little San Francisco, and he did not mean this as a compliment. He wasn’t very happy when I moved here in 1998; he probably thought I’d catch a bad case of bleeding heart liberal—I prefer to label my views as moderate, but he had a point.

It is a tree-hugging, laid back city–a splash of blue in a predominantly red state.

And I love it here.

It’s a common practice in the South to begin every conversation with strangers by talking about the weather, but it’s not very interesting. Unless you visit during our winter months, January and February, you should dress for swamp ass and be prepared to lose ten pounds of water weight over the duration of your visit. The forecast—fucking hot.

I almost jogged around Town Lake after I took this, but I was wearing flip-flops, so I ate a donut instead.

I almost jogged around Town Lake after I took this, but I was wearing flip-flops, so I ate a donut instead.

Austin is known as the live music capital of the world, but for me the beauty of this city isn’t in the bands you can see, the memorial to Stevie Ray Vaughan, the bars you can go to, or the restaurants I could tell you about.

It’s the vibe of the city that brought me here, and it’s the heart of the city that has kept me here for fifteen years.

Austin is the college town no one ever wants to leave.

Austin is the view from Mt. Bonnell, or watching the sunset from a cliff overlooking the 360 bridge. If you’re lucky enough to have friends with boats, it’s spending summer days at the lake with a cold beer in your hand.

Austin is the naked people at Hippy Hollow, hanging out free and uninhibited and not giving a shit what anyone else thinks about it.

Austin is the view from Mozart’s, a coffee shop right on Lake Austin where your dogs are welcome, and you can sit on the deck looking out at the water, sipping something other than Starbucks, and writing for as long as you want.

Austin is First Thursdays on South Congress, where the hipsters come out in droves, pay too much for homemade clothes, and drink PBR in a can at $6 a piece.

Austin is the Pecan Street Festival, where 6th Street is transformed from a wannabe Bourbon Street, to a haven for crafters and artists to display and sell their work complete with food trucks, and a variety of fried things on a stick.

Austin is a city that holds a festival at Pease Park every year in honor of Eeyore’s birthday. The smell of a freshly fired joint is just as likely to mix in the air with a waft of patchouli as it is to hit a wall of Axe body spray.

People dressed in cargo shorts and Polo shirts will be standing next to people who’ve left clothes behind in favor of head to toe body paint for the day, and they’re all swaying to the same drum circle rhythms. Everyone passes it happily left, sings Kumbaya, and life seems a little less bleak and a little more harmonious if only for a moment.

It’s a short drive to some of the most beautiful rivers and lakes in Texas, including my family’s ranch, where the Llano runs peacefully through it, and the land has been in our family for close to 100 years.  The pace of life is a little slower out there, but it’s a place where the word redneck doesn’t mean ignorant, it means a person who works hard doing manual labor, and has the mark of the Texas sun on the back of their neck to prove it.

My dad is behind the camera here.

My dad is behind the camera here.

Austin is place where you’ll find people raised in these smaller towns with more conservative values living peacefully among the liberals, exercising our right to protest when we disagree, supporting local artists, and a good majority of us still hanging on to our guns.

That’s not even necessarily out of fear or ignorance although of course it can be. I don’t own any guns at all, and don’t care for them personally, but when my dad and I disagreed about that issue, it was easier for me to see his point of view knowing that he grew up with rattlesnakes like this one to defend himself against. And if I came face to face to one of these on foot, I’d want a gun with me too.

Austin is my home, and I’d appreciate it if you’d un-fuck it. At the very least, come visit before you judge the entire state as a bunch of ignorant assholes.

Forget destination and enjoy the trip? What if neither are satisfying?  August 14, 2012

Fifty years later, I am under the impression that none of my destinations were researched, Not at all.

I knew almost nothing of my destinations.

I was always heading to the unknown: No one waiting for me, not a single acquaintance to meet with, no one to guide me, to host me

On my first trip overseas, at the age of 25 in the summer of 1975, I was not even accepted at the university, and had no idea of Oklahoma, location, universities and State.

After a 25-hour air trip, landing and departing from airports, lugging along my broken cheap carton suitcase,  it was after midnight and I was in a total blank.  A nice black worker at the airport suggested the nearest Holiday Inn to spend the night…

Is it possible that you head to a metropolis and you don’t make the effort to figure out what to expect?

Is it possible to close your account, give away what you cannot carry with you, exit a town, a city, a familiar environment and go west, east…to the unknown? Not a job waiting for you, a friend to shelter you…?

How can you enjoy the trip in these conditions?

A slow bus, a slower train, travelling for days and nights on the road, not a dime in your pocket, and having to stop in every tiny village, to stretch your legs and supposedly to get a bite on the quick

A slow Greyhound bus, a slower rickety train going south to Texas, taking 17 hours doing detours, going deep south before turning and heading back toward San Antonio… And for what?

There were no communication facilities, no laptops, no internet, no iPhone… Just your seat and the night and the blazing sun and lonely stopovers, see one see all…

Enjoying which trip? And what if you are not a socializing type?

Riding in a car, the driver anxious to reach destination and feeling that you have to keep company, constantly chat, lest the driver falls asleep… And you were not trained to chat and converse?

Driving 18 straight hours, and the driver refusing to make a small detours to enjoy the scenery, for days, and you have to stay awake, for polite and safety sake… Enjoying what trip?

Joining cruises and tourist vacations suit me fine: They are paid to plan, schedule and ride me around.

As long as I am entitled to a good night sleep and a lavish breakfast, I am a clam.

I don’t recall sitting for breakfast, and I love sumptuous breakfast. Actually, if left alone, I don’t try to get my breakfast: it gives me the urge to go back for a snooze at my age.

I discovered that any kind of breakfast leaves me hungry all day long. Sort of the sight of any bakery makes me feel like screaming: “Stop. I feel ravenous…”

Come to think of it, the living sucks: You skip one inkling and you are caught off guard by another emergency urge. “Stop right now. I have got to piss...”

Travelling, the trip, the destination… to do what again? For what purpose?

Just running away from your shadow, the further the better, and being disrupted at the turn of your flight…

To newer situations , stranger in a town, newer set of discrimination, newer re-learning of your environment, waking up and wondering “where am I? Why I am here…?” for many morning, before your apathy sets in and you get familiar with your newer conditions, never improving, never-changing for the better…

All that really changed were superficial first impressions of how people judge you: I grow long hair and shave it, grow mustaches and shave them, grow goatee and shave it, rarely would I change my corrective eyeglasses (could never afford this luxury)

All the while, I never grew an inch taller

All the while, my nose never shrank

As if you change location, you might stumble on an ethnic community who will find you an Adonis, with the characteristics of a perfect ideal male in the eyes of the female gender…

Forget destination and enjoy the trip?

My only wish in life is to enjoy a destination and the trip too.  While I’m in good physical shape… And feeling hot.

Part 2. San Francisco: Soothing recollections  March 13, 2012

I saw pictures of San Francisco on Freshly Pressed and decided to reminisce my 3-year stint in that lovely and green City. I will attach these pictures at the end of my post.

I attended a convention of Human Factors Society in the summer of 1991 after I finished my PhD degree. After the convention was over, I was on the verge of joining the file of the homeless. I stayed at the studio of a referral that I got in Norman for one night in Ashbury Heights.

I had later many occasions to walk this famous street during the period when the hippies selected it as headquarter for their movement. The next morning I was feeling sick because of too much nervous tension. I called my cousin Nassif in Vancouver and all that I got was a reprimand “Adonis, you are always in trouble”.

I know that I slept one night at an Algerian student who was the manager of the restaurant “Marrakech” that served Moroccan dishes; it was one of the longest nights and the most nerve wracking wait for this Algerian student to show up and pick me up.  It was a cold night and I waited for over three hours sitting on my suitcase wondering if he is ever going to show up. I had nowhere to go and no money for any decent lodging facility.

The next day I slept at a hostel for foreign student visitors for two nights in Downtown San Francisco. The Algerian student referred me to two Spanish students living in a foggy neighborhood; the fog enveloped this quarter 20 hours a day. I had shelter for a week at the foreign students from Spain and they were very nice.

I managed to be hired in a full-service retirement hotel, for room and board in exchange of 4 hours work a day. The Spanish students could not believe that I landed a job that quickly. I accepted all the overtime I could get in all the departments, until I was offered the job of assistant to the manager three weeks later.  I was fooled by the offer of $1,200 a month which turned out to be less than $900 after all kinds of deductions but I fulfilled my “word” to stay a whole year in that position.

I enjoyed my stay in this lovely city of San Francisco and visited frequently all its parks and waterfronts and beaches, carrying a book with me.  I had also located a nearby covered swimming pool that I patronized three times a week.

I had the opportunity to tour the neighboring towns around San Francisco with co-workers and a French older woman called Michelle that I helped secure a part-time position at the Hotel.

The red headed Michelle carried all her belonging in the trunk of her small beat up car and she invited me on her many excursions out of town.

A couple of time I joined five other employees in a van and we toured the towns and sceneries outside San Francisco, like the Red Forest, Nappa Valley, and passed the flat Capital of Sacramento, flatter than Oklahoma City.

I saw many famous locations because I was responsible for arranging tours to the elder residents and I was to be part of the trip for supervision purposes.  The City offered a van with a driver and we toured San Francisco once a week and I took pictures and described the tour in the monthly promotional brochure along with the monthly events in the Hotel.

I was caring for elder persons, mostly ladies, but in my state of confusion for my future and frustration in not finding within my spirit of what I loved to do for a job didn’t leave much space in my soul for sincere compassion.  Practically, I cared better than most of the managerial staff because I was new to this environment of human spiritual misery and I was highly respected by the “clients”.

The retirees knew of my higher education but never asked me “why are you working in such an institution with your degree?”; it is as people in the US are accustomed to seeing all kinds of individuals working temporary jobs that turned out to be more permanent than proclaimed.  One elder man of over 80 of age, tall and of powerful constitution, committed suicide a week after his “incarceration” by falling in a stairwell from the eighth floor.

Many of the elder ladies whom I cared for passed away during my job but I was not shaken emotionally, or that what I thought at the time.

I think that I read most of the famous authors who lived in and around San Francisco. I had a Mexican girlfriend. (You may read my post in the addendum to my introspection “Chica Lupita”)

I have toured Marin County, the forest of the highest Red trees, ventured to Monterrey, Big Sur, Little Sur, Carmel, and all the environs.  There was old Jake who was a gambling addict; he used to receive invitations from the casinos for free rooms in Reno.  I joined him twice because he needed company.  I played little and ate a lot; food and drinks were cheap and in abundance, and enjoyed looking at pretty servers too.

We traveled on two occasions as a group in a van belonging to an employee and spent glorious days up north and tasted wine in wine counties and farmhouses.

I recall that I had an interview for a job in statistical analysis and had to board several ferries to reach destination. Luckily, I didn’t get the job but it was a good exposure for various transport facilities.

All in all, my stay in San Francisco was the loveliest and most enriching experience in the US.

During my stay in San Francisco I took the bus Greyhound to Boulder because my adviser sent me a letter that he was to deliver part of my dissertation to the convention of Human Factors Society and I wanted to attend it. It was a long trip of two days and we passed through Salt Lake City and I visited the temple of the Mormons.

There was snow and the University of Boulder was lovely. During the second day of the convention my advisor failed to show up and I had no copy of my dissertation and I felt frustrated for not being prepared to deliver anything even though I was invited by the chair person of the session to do it.  I had the opportunity to tour Denver by night and boarded the spacious and large bus that crosses Main Street.

A week later I was to battle a discrimination case.  There was this girl who claimed that I harassed her sexually and the case was dropped after weeks of hassles; she had no one to testify on her behalf.  The girl was pissed off that I got the position of assistant to the manager. I had no hints of the power struggle that went on before I arrived to this hotel.  I wanted to resign but the manager convinced me that when I finish the whole year then I would be eligible for unemployment benefits of around $450 a month.

I finished the year and started to look for a steady job commensurate to my education.  I thus patronized an office on Van Ness Road that was funded by the City and aided with unemployment cases, such as writing CVs and how to tailor make your resume, and checking on the latest openings for work.  In one of my posts titled “Are you searching for a job?” I wrote:

“I recall that in 1991 the US was in serious recession during the Bush Sr. Administration and jobs were frighteningly scarce.  I had graduated with a PhD degree in Industrial/Human Factors engineering and missed better periods for hiring academicians. I was working as assistant to manager at a retirement community in Downtown San Francisco and visited an employment center on Van ness Road. It was a center meant to help you out re-write your CV for the nth time anytime you wanted to apply for the scarce job announcements posted in the center.

People swarmed this center just to feel busy and serious about searching for a job but not that hot for finding one.  I guess the center was one of the hundreds of facilities with the sole purpose to blaming the citizens for failure to doing their due diligence and compete since no one is about to beg you to work for them.  If you failed to re-write your CV and spent more money on useless stamps per day then you are not making good use of this “valuable” help facility.

This was the period when ridiculous denials were the custom of the land. For example, this custodian at NASA who claims that he is contributing to sending astronauts to the moon; or redefining their jobs as sanitation “engineering”.  I recall that I was forced to accept a job cleaning and vacuuming the main library while working on my dissertation. I fooled my spirit into believing that as long as I am doing my job perfectly and with excitement then I am learning the value of a job well done, sort as a training period for toughening my character.  A state of denial is not a bad reaction; it is successive states of denials that can be deleterious to your development”.

I was very curious and enjoyed being among crowds.  I attended the public events such as Shakespeare in the park, the free open concerts, joined the homosexual yearly celebrations, and the Latinos Days of Independence.  Unfortunately, I was mugged on a wonderful evening 50 feet from my hotel and I was hospitalized.  I never believed that I might be a statistics. Nobody in the hotel heard anything or even noticed what happened when I returned from the hospital.  I refrained from going out for three weeks.  Walking in San Francisco even during the day was no pleasure anymore: there were too many beggars along the streets and they were not a peaceful lot.

I was glad to move to Washington DC for a change but no city compares to San Fran in variety, beauty, and recreational facilities.  I never walked as much as my two years stay in San Fran.  This was a wonderful period when I devoured all kinds of books on a daily basis; I had the pleasure to be acquainted with most of the famous Bay Areas authors from Henry Miller, to John Steinbeck, to Jack London, and the Bitnics movement.

What follows are the pictures displyed on Freshly Pressed of “My trip to San Francisco”,February 24, 2012, and that I recall seeing them vividly:

Muir Woods

Wine country…my favorite part of the trip!

Palace of Fine Arts

Fisherman’s Wharf

Pier 39




January 2023

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