Sunday, March 30, 2008

Did you know that adults runs Cross Country? I bet you thought it was just for ridiculously in shape high schoolers, didn't you? As my friend Laura put it, awww how cute; I didn't know grown ups did that.

Which is kind of how it was. IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Held in our own backyard, of all places. They chose a short route through Holyrood Park and through some rugged (by European standards, NOT by Rocky Mountain standards) Arthurian mountainage. So of course we had to make an appearance.

Congrats, of course, to all those from Ethiopia and Kenya who royally schooled the competition in long distance mountain running. Because really, they totally dominated. In the top 10 for the women's race, there was only one non-East African (insofar as Ethiopia is East Africa, which I know is up for some debate about semantics and human geography and nationalism and all that). I don't know the exact specs for the men's race, but I am fairly sure that the results were similar. Something about growing up with no shoes makes non-whities better runners. (OK, I'm uber sorry for the off color comment, but that's for certain people I went to high school who may remember certain comments about how Europeans and Americans spend so much money on fancy trainers and the best running shoes available, and who wins races? Oh yeah, the guy who's never had a pair of shoes in his life.)

Speaking of no shoes, this was fun to see: because Scotland is perpetually rainy and miserable, the ground was saturated. It wasn't such a problem for the women's race, which went first, but by the time the men began their pointless circling of Arthur's Seat, it was a cesspool of mud and grass and swan poop. Makes you want to run, doesn't it? Anyway, so by the time the men ran it was so awful that people kept losing shoes in the muck. The first couple, announced ceremoniously over the loud speaker with amusement, stopped and put their shoes back on. Eventually, though, people just dropped it and ran without shoes. Mostly Africans and Moroccans, as all the woosy Europeans couldn't possibly run without shoes. In that kind of mess, though, I bet better traction could be had with toes than with running shoes, even fancy cross country ones.

Another interesting point: the only woman wearing full covering was a single girl from Egypt. Another Muslim woman from Ethiopia has on a small head covering, but the girl from Egypt was clothed in a tight spandex running uniform (which I have issues with anyway, because such things may cover up all your skin, but there is NOTHING modest about skin-hugging spandex). I've just spent so much time over the last few weeks talking about feminism in the Muslim context and human rights and such, that I was surprised to not see more women dresses as such. I also found it odd that all the women seemed totally unable to run in anything other than what amounted to a bikini, while the men seemed to manage just fine in running shorts and loose tank tops. This was especially true for the European women who can't seem to stop showing off their entire bodies even for 30 minutes to run a serious race. I mean, I'm all for women being able to dress however they want, but is it really necessary to wear only spankies and a bra in public? The East Africans seemed to manage just fine in their "traditional" running outfits. Hmmmmmm....

At any rate, all I can really say is that this cross country race, with countries from all over the world being represented, was way more fun than it should have been.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

To celebrate today’s beautiful (ahem) Scottish weather, we busted out winter coats and umbrellas and went for a walk. We wanted to head to the docks again, but this time cut about 5 miles from the Water of Leith walk we had taken weeks ago, and head straight to Leith. Leith Walk, as the street from New Town to Leith is called, used to be a decrepit, ghetto-ish (insofar as the Scottish can be “ghetto”) part of town, run down and poor. A few years ago, the city decided to revive it, and today it is a lively, very international strip, currently dominated by (what else) unsightly and obnoxious construction. It was a part of town we had never been to, despite its close proximity.

To our discovery, the Docks are rather close to where we live now. And by rather close, I mean about two miles. How much walking do you have to do in order for two miles to be an easy walking commute? Because that’s sure what it felt like. An easy walk. There’s a bar on a boat up that way that has a Latin night, and if I had known it was so close, I would have gone there sooner. Also, on our walk, I fell in love. Seriously. I fell in love with a Chinese Market. I’ve wanted to live in a Chinatown ever since I saw a few episodes of Kung Fu when I was a kid. Then my friend Libby lived in Chinatown in London when she studied there in college, and I burned with jealousy as she described the debauchery that occurred there. OK, so there isn’t a Chinatown here, per say, but Leith Walk certainly had its fair share of China Buffets and Forbidden Cities, and I had been looking for this particular desert for months. When I was in China, I discovered these balls of rice dough wrapped around sweet red bean paste and often covered in sesame seeds. They are only THE BEST THINGS EVER. I call them affectionately “sesame balls,” and the only place I have ever seen them served in the States was at this China Buffet in Athens, Ohio. I’ve been utterly disappointed here in the sesame ball department, and I spent an hour online one day trying to find the address for a Chinese market. So imagine my glee when, while taking a glance up from the constant Edinburgh drizzle, I see a big red sign declaring this exact spot to be the location of such a shop.

So we walk in, and I just love the feel. People are hanging out, speaking brisk Chinese to one another, discussing vegetables and the rain and I’m sure how much Americans suck or something useful. There were rows upon rows of strange things in packaging I couldn’t read. Shelves of dried roots and marinated jellyfish. An entire wall of tea. A fresh vegetable isle piled high with spiky, exotic lychees. And finally, around a corner in the back, a shelf of, you guessed it, sesame balls! They came in all shapes and flavors, some done up in sesame seeds and some without, as I had them in Korea. Giddy as a schoolboy, I practically skipped to the cash register and skipped down the road into the rain. I love sesame balls.

And I’m stoked that this place is so close. I have a feeling me and my new Chinese market friend will become very close in these last few months.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Water Update...

Nope, still no water. That's the update.

The way these traditional tenements work, as far as we can tell, is that the building itself is managed by the city, and you either own or rent just your own flat. If something is wrong with the flat, you go to your letting agency or your own fix-it guys. If there's something wrong with the building, you find someone to fix it or you call the city.

Well, we tried calling the city, but they said that on the weekends on on holidays, as long as there's no flooding involved, it's not considered and emergency and there's nothing they can do until normal business hours. Though they did seem sympathetic to our non-bathing plight. Perhaps, in retrospect, we should have splashed some water under the door and told City Council that flat 5 was flooding, oh and do hurry up, I'd have for anything to be damaged. But alas, ethics won out, so we instead headed to the train station for showers.

I know what you're thinking: Ewwwwww plublic showers? Trust me, visions of grungy truck stop showers full of beefy truck drivers entered my mind, too. But they turned out rather nice. Big rooms with a sink and mirror and lots of storage room. Clean, if old. Better water pressure than we have here at the flat, anyway. So for 2 pounds, if you're a backpacker in for a stopover or a camper, or someone else not looking to spend the money on a hotel, you can stand under hot water for either 20 minutes or as long as you like, depending on who's around. They'll also lend you a clean towel for 1 more pound. Those ain't no US campground prices, but when you're 3 days dirty, it's worth it.

We also bought large 5-liter jigs of water and actually managed to make coffee (gasp!) and flush our toilet, twice! (I know, right!). I know I went with only about 1 shower a week when I lived in Morocco, but at least there I had running water, a washcloth and soap, so I could at least bath in cold water, if not fully shower. Plus, going to hammam was always relaxing and a blast... they really need to think about putting in Turkish baths in this city. I'm sure it would be a hit with the tourists...

Oh, and I have my mother's permission to strangle the guy downstairs when he finally returns.

Nuns from 10,000 BC

To escape from our waterless hell here at our flat, we managed to get out yesterday to see a movie. Luckily, everybody else seems to have running water, so we took complete advantage of every clean public restroom we could find. Water is a luxury, man. We went to go see 10,000 BC; my original plan was to drag the boy to The Other Boleyn Girl, but I was in no mood for drama and sadness. Thank goodness, 10,000 BC was totally mindless and loud. Pretty sure it got so much hype (here, anyway, what about in the US?) because the movie studio didn't realize it was going to be so bad until it was too late, so they compensated by showing an entire series of very dramatic teaser trailers to get us all riled up. Well, at least it got all of us anthropologists riled up with the promise of a plethora of anthropological blasphemies.

In that respect, it was not disappointing. The story takes place in what we will call Kalaharistan, located in the sub-Saharan African desert, you know, the one between Egypt and Kazakhstan. Yeah, that one. Oh, and also, for those of you who may think otherwise, the Egyptian pyramids were built by the Persians and their Indian entourage in 10,000 BC. Take that, Egyptologists! Sorry Jews, you guys apparently had no stake in the pyramids. Ah yes, and horses wee totally domesticated in 10,000 BC. So there! And of course, it makes sense for a tribe that in all respects SHOULD be nomadic to build a permanent village on top of a mountain with no shelter. And for Africans to be growing corn.

What really topped the night off, after that fine cinematographic piece of art, was that as we sat and had a post-adventure beer, toasting the success of the cavemen in finding love and agriculture, we noticed that the entire mall was packed with nuns. Gaggles of giggling nuns. Gaggles of giggling nuns with booze. I mean, I know Catholics are all pro-the blood of Christ and all that, but could the Scottish really be so odd as to celebrate Easter Sunday by dressing as nuns and getting drunk? We thought at first they may be REAL nuns, until we saw a group stroll by arm-in-arm with a couple of Nazi-dressed characters, well, girls in uber short skirts and red bands around their arms (minus the swastika). We figured that was very un-nunlike, so we ask our bartender, who also thinks maybe the Scots are funny about the resurrection. Finally the manager saves the day, and explains that there's a performance of the Sound of Music (cringe) sing-a-long (DOUBLE cringe) next-door. The audience is encouraged to interact and dress up, and "nun" is the most popular costume. Followed by Halloween-sleazy Nazis. Of course. This was their post-fleeing boozage. (As a fun side note, I recently read a book called "Women Without Men" in which the Sound of Music is described as a movie about Julie Andrews who has this man's 7 children, and so when she is pregnant with his 8th, she decides that it would the decent thing to get married, oh and yeah, the Nazis were somewhere in there, too, and then there is a lot of running around. The End. I found that immensely amusing.)

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Day 3 without water. There's an asshole down floors directly below us has decided to gut his new flat, and in the process of installing a bathroom sink, disconnected the water main for the flats above him. At least, that'w what our emergency Easter Day plumber declared.

No drinking water I can deal with, but I would love to take a shower and flush my toilet. I mean really. The plumber went on a rampage about why stupid people shouldn't do plumbing work on their own flats, and said that we'd probably need to have the watermain replaced. I'm completely ticked at this guy, because not only does he do work on his flat 8am-9pm EVERYDAY (including weekends, though of course not this one), but then he goes and leaves us without water while he imbibes in this morbidly festive occasion. What a jerk.

OK OK I know what you're thinking: he probably didn't realize. Well, tough. If he didn't realize that when you're living in a tenement building you can't just do construction at all hours without asking first or turn off people's water. And if he did realize it, he's just as asshole.

I'm super-ticked, and we're off to go get some foodages, as we have no clean dishes, and perhaps hit up the public showers at the train station.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Weird British #3

Strange thing about the British #3:

They eat french fries slathered in mayonnaise and with a knife and fork.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

It's that time again. Temperatures are rising, flowers are blooming, you can almost smell the beer and hotdogs... baseball season is here! Well, Spring Training, anyway. Opening Day is around the corner, but small games are played everyday. Jonmikel subscribed to, so we keep on top of all the latest developments. The best one being the games played recently by the San Diego Padres and the LA Dodgers in Beijing. Well, the game was OK, but the announcers were hilarious. First of all, they didn't realize until half of the way through the game that they were being broadcast not only in San Diego but across the internet. So for most of the game, they made off-color but ultimately very funny remarks about the Chinese and their lack of understanding of baseball and how to film games and about cheerleaders and such. They were having a grand old time, and my guess is that they got a call from someone up above telling them to knock it off because people all over the world were listening to the broadcast, because they toned it down a notch and made a remark about people listening to them over the internet. It was all in good fun. And they had good points about the Chinese: the whole time, the camera was all over the place and never on the action, and never even on the right people in the dugout. It was a pretty bad video, but hilarious none-the-less. Like watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 for baseball.

Also, we actually saw a group of people playing a game of baseball out in Holyrood Park the other day. A bunch of 20-somethings, some with real baseball pants and gloves, some looking utterly confused at the mere concept of baseball. They were, as Laura put it, so cute. But there's something about people playing baseball, even poorly, on a sunny day in Spring that just makes me cheerful. They actually have a little mini-League in Edinburgh, something like 5 teams that play in Spring, and even have a real diamond somewhere in town. I can't imagine that it's popular with the locals, but jeez it's GOTTA be more fun to watch than cricket. As Raphael says in TMNT: You gotta understand waht a crumpet is before you understand cricket. And I have nothing to say about crumpets.

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Patty's Day, Scottish Style

At first, we had thought to head over to Dublin for St. Patrick's Day for a real taste of Irish celebrations. I've always been in favor of making March 17 an official US holiday, and I love a people who celebrate a man who got rid of snakes...

Good think we decided against going, though, because I'm pretty sure all of Ireland was in Edinburgh for the night. In a showing much larger and more boisterous than that on Halloween, the Irish poured out of the woodwork for a chance to parade around in green beer goggles and silly leprachaun costumes. Irish accents abound (some of them awfully suspect), Jonmikel and I headed off into Old Town to one of our local hangouts, the Grassmarket Bar, for some sustenance and our first beer of the night. A Guinness for me, of course! We watched idly as a group of rowdy but harmless leprechauns pranced in, ordered a bunch of Miller Geniune Drafts (I know, right!), and proceeded to surround a table and look at presumably unappetizing photos on their cell phones. One of them, in an effort to keep the room from spinning, I'm sure, took an odd interest in us as we watched them. He then proceeded to take a part his phone in order to switch the sim card, never a good idea while drunk as he soon found out. It's fun to watch drunk people try to operate normally. :-)

We then headed out to make our way slowly back to home, stopping at various bars along the way. We stopped at one amazingly over-priced and packed-to-the-gills bar, complete with festively-dressed skeletons on the walls. We also managed to stop at Bar Salsa, a tiny hole-in-the-wall place always packed full because of its astoundingly low (for the UK) booze prices, including 1.75 drinks before 9:30 pm and 2 pound mixed-drinks afterwards. Its also attracts a fairly young, local and regular crowd. They always seem to know the bartenders and each other, and are more than friendly to newcombers. Last time we were approached by a girl who wanted her picture taken with "The Dude," and this time we were approached by a very drunk Scot wearing large, Elton-John-ish star glasses and speaking with a very slurred and impossible to understand accent. He was delighted to hang out with us for a few minutes, and from what I could gather, was going to get married in 4 weeks and really didn't want to. A couple of wonderfully emo 20-somethings arrived, wearing their pants way down past their butts in a lame attempt to be like black American bad-asses. I couldn't help clandestinely taking thier picture because it just looked so bad, and I wasn't the only one getting a kick out of their decidely silly, counter-culture outfits. They all wore eye-liner and had edgy hair, too, just for further illustration. The best part about this particular crowded bar, aside from the cheap drinks, was that they actually play British music, as opposed to the American stuff every other bar seems to play. So we got to hear some new tunes, including some very Key West-ish electronica.

The night was pretty mellow and fabulous, with plenty of revelers of all ages out and about until all hours. I have to admit, I didn't know Edinburgh could hold so many Irishmen, though I suppose it's a testament to the fact that no Scottish people actually attend the University of Edinburgh.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Weird British #2

Strange thing about the British #2:

The word "cheers" can me just about anything: hello, goodbye, thank you, you're welcome, please, yes, I'm sorry, could you?, no I don't mind, let's drink, excuse me, good job, can I lick your shirt?, yes I'll trade my first-born child for a pint...

Sunday, March 9, 2008

I always thought weather in Cincinnati was slightly unhinged, what with the foot of snow one day and the shorts weather the next. Scotland may not have the temperature schizophrenia, but the sunshine can turn to wind and rain in the time it takes to go to the loo.

We wake up today to sunshine and sea air, as it were. The wind was low, which is a miracle around these parts anymore, and sky was clear and blue. Immediately, we think: Zoo. We had been trying to hit up the zoo sometime when it was sunny so that photos would come out a bit better. Somebody up there, however, must have something against the place (which I can understand, considering some of the rather hostile politicking going on concerning the zoo and its use of resources; for once, I am on the side of the government... ask me about it if you're interested), because as soon as the suggestion made itself known in apartment 3F1, clouds rolled dutifully in and it began to rain. Sigh.

I did have to get to a library to pick up Water for Elephants for my bookclub, and because the library system is so accommodating and efficient, I had to travel all the way to the other side of town to find it (ask me sometime, too, about how much I hate the Edinburgh libraries). Luckily, Morningside turned out to be rather charming, and Jonmikel and I spent the morning and early afternoon putzing around and exploring unknown lands. our adventures took us almost to the base of the Pentland Hills, which we vowed to conquer on our next outing to the south, and then on to the Blind Poet, one of our usual haunts back in the Uni area, to catch what would turn out to be our first full rugby game: England vs. Scotland in the 6 Nations thingy. The Blind Poet is a small place with a younger crowd, and rarely crowded, so it seemed the perfect place to try and figure out the rules. As far as I can tell, the rules are: kill whoever has the ball, and if you have the ball, run. Whoever has called American football homoerotic has never watched a game of rugby. Men in short shorts and tight shirts piling up on top of each other to grab a hold of someone's ball, with lots of tugging and pushing... I even saw a guy almost pull another man's shorts clear off in a scramble to stand up.

And it all moves so fast. Scots, and those who enjoy rugby, often criticize American football for being so slow, what with the whole "moving 2 yards down the field and then stopping to talk about it some, moving another yard and stopping again, and then actually moving backward and stopping to wonder what went wrong" thing. But it is interesting that Scottish people may be more fanatic about their sports, but watching a sporting event, at least for us pub goers, is only 2 hours out of a day. In the States, watching sports, baseball and football specifically, isn't just a 2-hour spot set aside to drink and be merry. It's an entire day's worth of activity. A football game can last 4 hours, and that doesn't include pregaming and postgaming. For Americans, sports is an experience: you get the cheap beer and the hot dogs and pizza and the foam fingers and the peanuts and the half-naked guys painted with various logos and the ice cream in little batters' hats and chest bumping. And cheerleaders! Where are the cheerleaders in Scottish sports??? There is a whole set of sights and smells and tastes and emotions that surround American sports. It's watching the pre-game show and going out to dinner at Skyline afterwards (a blatant Cincinnati reference for those of you from elsewhere) and then heading to the bar to watch all the recaps and fight about who is the better player. In Scotland, its beer and people getting so drunk they don't know when to clap, and when that hour-and-a-half or two hours is over, everybody goes back to their lives as per usual. Though I must admit that aside from certain Bengals-Steelers-Browns rivalries, in the States you would never see people standing outside a bar in pouring rain peeking through the windows to watch a game because every other bar was packed to the sidewalks. In that, the Scottish are wildly more dedicated.

But Scotland beat England, which I think surprised everyone to no end and which meant free beers for everyone in every bar in Scotland. The game was brutal (one guy actually laying unconscious on the field for a number of minutes) and muddy (it was either sunny or torrential downpour the whole game, and the field and players reflected this), but in all quite fun and bloody, as any good sport should be. The beer was good, too, which confused my poor, "used to Budweiser on game days" mind immensely.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Dubai, Interrupted, or Weird British #1

Strange things about the British, #1:

They seem to obsess about organic food, locally-grown produce, and nasty-shit-free foods, and yet they all smoke and it is utterly impossible to find a frying pan without cheap teflon in it.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Americans vs. the Scots

I'm a dart genius.

I always knew I'd be good at something, and apparently that something is darts. After only a few games, I've already become an equal for Jonmikel, who has been playing for something like 100 years.

So we were hanging out at our new favorite pub, the Blind Poet, playing some well-deserved darts and drinking some well-deserved beers (we've bee going light, for our livers' and girths' sakes). An older gentleman, wine in hand and brogue in voice, comes over to observe our game. He's friendly, and teases us continuously, and we have no real idea what he's saying. Between the Scottish and booze accents, it's understandably difficult for us Yanks. He picked out our American accents rights away and eventually cajoled his buddies into joining us. As we wound down our game, he decided that it was time to settle the score. Americans vs. Scots. As never before seen on TV.

And so we begin.

There's not much to tell except that we killed them the first game, they killed us the second game, and we should have killed them the tie-breaking third game but managed to only pull off a meager win. The more the first man drank, the better he seemed to get. He could barely stand and had to be told each time what to go for by his more somber and sober buddy, but somehow still managed to hit the bulls-eye on a regular basis. I can only imagine how good he is sober. There was plenty of friendly trash talking going on, and I was bluntly informed that as a woman I should stand by my sex and vote for Hillary Clinton and that I should also brush my hair more. Rounds of drinks were had by all (paid for by our new friends, who were kind enough to refuse our attempts at purchasing the next rounds). From what I could understand in their thick brogues, we were the neatest thing they had seen in years. Americans playing darts, who would have thought? Surely, we didn't learn to play darts in the States; they don't play darts in America, right? Quite the oddity.

After the 3rd game, it was well past all our bedtimes (9 maybe?), so we shook hands, hugged, introduced ourselves by name to Everett, our original companion, and headed out.