Monday, May 25, 2009

I'll Give You 12 Camels for Your Wife

I'm reading Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad. I can see your heads going back and forth asking "is she crazy?" But let me tell ya, his descriptions of London, Paris, Italy, Morocco, Turkey etc, could still be used in guide books today. There is one section that had me laughing out loud. My husband came up to the library to see what I was laughing about. Mark Twain and his "group" had discerned that guides get "off" on making Americans oooh and aaahh. So, he and his buddies deliberately try not to show any enthusiasm. When the unsuspecting Genoan guide shows them something written by Christopher Columbus, they ask, "who is that?" And "why is he so important?" And, "is he still alive?" "No". Then, "how did he die?" "Measles?" "Are his parents still alive?" Keep in mind, The Innocents Abroad  was written in 1867. Columbus? 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue...They had the poor guide so flummoxed, he kept trying harder and harder to get them to squeal in ecstasy. And they called every guide, every guide no matter where they were, Ferguson. Maybe this is where the term "ugly American" began. I'm enjoying the book tremendously. He brings up many topics that I, as a traveler, have pondered. For example, all throughout Europe, Northern Africa and the British Isles one can see magnificent, towering cathedrals and castles and fortresses that are gilded with gold and silver with swords and crowns glittering with precious stones. But I, as did Twain, question how could the "powers that be" that had these churches etc built, gild the churches etc while their parishioners were living in abject poverty (and in many cases, still do)? And, they themselves living an elite life? Just something to ponder.  Read about my travels to Tahiti and Istanbul...

One of the main topics of The Innocents Abroad is that of cultural differences. At the point when it was written, very few Americans had been to Europe except for the wealthy (unless, of course, you were an immigrant). Today, with so many means of jetting or sailing around the world, you do see some melding of cultures. I guess the US gets hit hard with this one because we are constantly being accused of trying to send our horrible, corrupting culture abroad. Here's a tale of discovering something I had never heard of before...that of a mahu. A what? Captain Cook and Captain Bligh both discussed the mahus in their diaries. My husband and I had the good fortune to go on a cruise to French Polynesia. We decided to spend a night or two in Papeete (capital of Tahiti).  While staying at the Marriott, I began to notice something different. There seemed to be an abundance of transgenders and very effeminate males. As they said on Seinfeld "not that there's anything wrong with that". But there were enough that it made you ponder. I mean, French Polynesia is known for the beauty of its women not its transgenders. Ok, enough already. What's a mahu? The historians are not quite sure how the phenomenon started but each village or area has its own mahu, a boy(man) who leads a life as a woman. He/she is mainstreamed into the village and acts 100 percent female. Some believe that the villagers select a boy to be turned into a practicing woman, work, dress everything. They just don't have sex like women (duh). But (oh, gentle reader, I'm sorry for the pun), the back door is closed to them. What are they good for? The old BJ. If you think I'm trying to get a good one past you, read the diaries of Cook  and Bligh or more up to date, watch Anthony Bourdain's visit to Tahiti or read Tony Horowitz's "Blue Latitudes". It is something to ponder.

Well, Hairball, what's the reference above to 12 camels? I, unlike Twain, really do like Istanbul, Turkey. Twain found it full of rascals and cheats and was abhorred by the thousands of roving, hungry, diseased dogs. I didn't see the dogs in Istanbul but I sure got enough of them in Egypt. I digress. I don't know if Istanbul is different because half of it is in Europe and the other half in Asia or because it is secular. I don't know. I find the people to be very friendly, the food is great, wonderful sites to see and terrific hotels and unbelievable SHOPPING! It's not part of the EU, yet, so no euros! I guess it was 10-12 years ago when we made our first visit to Turkey. My hair was very short and very blonde and of course, I was 10-12 years younger and with a lot less extra baggage. My husband and I and some friends are walking by the Bosphorus looking for a seafood restaurant. My girlfriend and I are looking at a menu when I see a Turk walk up to my husband and begin a conversation. It didn't last but a few minutes. I was curious (satisfying my curiosity!) and asked what that was all about. My husband nonchalantly said the guy offered to buy me. With what, I queried? My husband got this sh*t eating grin on his face and said "camels". "Camels?!" "Oh yea, and what am I worth?" "According to him, 12". Again, with the sh*t eating grin, my husband said, "And I asked him if that was the going rate". My husband, the comedian. 

Here are two of my favorite quotes from Twain regarding the reading of his stories:
"Persons attempting to find motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot."

"Classic. A book which people praise and don't read."

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