saudi1.jpgStuffed with dates, bloated with tea, and in the midst of a pitched battle about Israel’s right to exist, I blurted: "Look, I can’t have the discussion about the Canaanites, again!" (To wit: who was stomping around the Holy Land first, 3,500 years ago!) "Tell me the name of the great fish restaurant around here, Al, something you mentioned it earlier?"

It was New Year’s Eve – the Western one. Saudi Arabia uses the Hijra calendar, which is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian, in case you want to book ahead for next year. I had come to research a Hilary Mantel novel I’m adapting for a film. I was in Jeddah, on the Red Sea. There are two Saudi Arabias. The liberal progressive folks in Jeddah, and cities along the coast, known as the The Hijaz, who summer in Europe and Beruit, read the New York Times on line, whose kids go to schools abroad, decry the religious conservatives, and those in Riyadh, the capital, in the middle of the country and the Eastern Provinces. Blue states, red states.

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hondurascookingGoogle Maps will tell you that "we could not understand" the location of Las Aradas, Honduras. advises to check your spelling. My trip coordinator suggested looking up the "nearest town over" which was a two and half hour drive away.  Packing for a trip like this was a bit of a moving target. Las Aradas is a mountain village, six hours out of San Pedro Sula. For those of you who haven't been browsing the State Department's travel warnings lately--Honduras is not a stable country. The PeaceCorps pulled their volunteers out last year.

Was I scared? Yes. Sometimes. We joked about it a lot. Honduras is the murder capital of the world. Like, actually. Reference the state department website.  San Pedro Sula, where I flew in and out of and stayed two nights has more homicides than any other city in. the. world. However, the people that I was traveling with were INCREDIBLE. They make me want to change my life. They make me realize what is possible to do in life. 

Anyway, back to Las Aradas. Remote. Good tortillas. Minimal gun shots.  (You have to celebrate St. Patty's day or a soccer win somehow.) They have running water, but no electricity. The roosters start crowing at 3:00 a.m. That sort of thing.

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vermont.jpg Most people go to Vermont to watch the leaves change colors in the fall but I like it in the spring when the leaves on the trees are green, 67 colors of green, so that the bonnets of the trees look like a jigsaw puzzle and the tulips are in bloom and the geraniums and the cherry blossom trees – there’s nothing fancy about Vermont, it’s all straight up plain flowers plainly blooming everywhere, as if the earth is starting fresh again after winter and toward the end of May it hits an optimum equilibrium even if it does rain every other day which if you’re only there for a day and a half isn’t very good odds, at least not of skipping the rain.  But people in Vermont don’t mind, they just take out their umbrellas and keep on truckin’….   

“And why are we going to Vermont in May, Mom?  I don’t get it.  Why are we going to Vermont, at all???”

“You’ll see, Anna.”

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cafe-rougeMy mother, Shannon, and I scurried down Little Clarendon Street, Oxford at around 10:15 at night.  We were starving and eager to sit down and talk.  My mom had steered us down this road because there are a number of good restaurants to choose from: French, Italian, Tapas, Indian.  I peered into each window and chose the least crowded of the bunch – the French one.  If left to me, I will always choose the emptiest because I find that the din of busy restaurants these days overwhelms any chance of having a decent conversation.  We hadn’t traveled all this way to explore new cuisine.  We had come to see my mom.

My birthmother just graduated from The Continuing Education Department at Oxford University, with a focus on regional history.  I couldn’t be more proud than to celebrate her continuing achievements, so Shannon and I flew to Oxford to watch her graduation ceremony that evening.

We pushed open the big red door of Café Rouge and walked through the bar into the dining room of the brasserie.  The room was big with dark oak floors and tables, burgundy velvet banquettes, and antiqued mirrors which hung from every wall.   We waited for a few minutes and then were shown to our table by a disinterested, lanky blonde waiter.  He carelessly danced around, making faces at another lanky blonde waiter working the other side of the room.  Menus were tossed onto our table, orders taken and we started to catch up. 

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sketchfest.jpgThis past weekend I was in San Francisco for The 8th Annual Sketchfest. This was a two week long Comedy Festival with comic performers ranging from Stand-up, One Person Shows, Improv Groups, Sketch Companies and then there were shows that sort of defied description. Some of those were the ones I took part in. 

I was lucky enough to see a few shows besides our own.  I saw The Lampshades; the best fake lounge act I’ve seen in a long time.  The physical work they do is sublime and hilarious. I took a peek at 2-Headed Dog, but they were doing a sketch that had three men running around in their underpants and little else. They were dancing in a manner that had their peculiar distributions of body fat jiggle in a way that caused me to run out of the theatre.  I’m not saying I’m the Venus DeMilo, but I don’t choose to subject anyone to the sight of my sorry flesh sac.

The Theme Park Improv Show had Scott Adsit from 30 Rock and Oscar Nunez from The Office. They were outstanding, but what was really impressive was two of the performers in the troupe were the event promoters. You just never figure people that talented would have it together enough to pull something like this off. They did some of the best improv I’ve seen in a long time.

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