Street Warrior

I have been a New York City bicycle rider for years. I have lost gallons of sweat on 5th avenue, right before passing the Public Library where I usually have to pass several express buses, have managed to avoid bike versus pedestrian collisions, frozen my fingers off in January and caught a sinus infection in the process, had some of my greatest insights while barreling through a Manhattan canyon and - yes - landed flat on my backside at the intersection of 34th and 2nd. (It was HIS fault, by the way, but that's beside the point, when you're riding a bike in New York City). I AM A STREET WARRIOR. To borrow a phrase from our president: Make No Mistake! Riding your bike in Manhattan IS WAR. I have won many battles and lost a few, and who knows about the eventual outcome, but so far so good. When riding a bike on the Great Avenues of this splendid city I tend to adhere to the infinite wisdom of Yoda, who gave Luke a very useful piece of advice in the marshes of the Dagobar system during the crucial "raising of the ship"-sequence. "Don't try. DO!" You either ride a bike, or you don't. There is no room for dawdling or dabbling. If you want to dawdle, go ride with the hordes in Central Park.

My bike is a sturdy beast that can sustain a dip into a pothole or the very unpleasant trip up the freshly stripped 1st Avenue, and my marbles are protected by a fire-red helmet. But I do know that it's dangerous. I have seen the white-painted bikes marking the sites of deadly accidents, and I have had my share of close calls. But I have also learned to assume that a) nobody sees me b) everybody around me is insane and c) will do unexpected and irrational things. Shifting my attitude that way has, strangely, also helped me get a handle on life in general. So, life lessons learned here are:
1) Don't try - DOOOOOO!!!!!
2) Everybody around me is insane!
3) And WILL do unexpected and irrational things!

And now I'll grab my black, duct-taped, aging bike and helmet, weather the late June heat and ride into the sunset on Park Avenue (ok, no sunset, but definitely Park! - it's sooooo wide!!!)

The screaming baby, the tennis star and the incident with the reserved seat

What is it with airports at stupid o'clock in the morning? Sometimes it's purgatory, sometimes it's heaven, but these early hours are always accompanied by a sense of weightlessness and a stupor it's hard to shake, even with the help of a $5 cup of wimpy cappuccino. (I'm looking at you, Charles de Gaulle airport!). After four hours of relentless baby screech due to a double threat of very little travelers not at all happy to be carted around the globe at 2am (yes yes, I do feel for the poor one-year olds who cannot grasp the concept of air travel, let alone cabin pressure change, but a girl needs her sleep!) I arrived to a glorious sunrise at Charles de Gaulle airport, which, I must shamefully admit, is the only part of Paris I know. It was 5am. No coffee to be had, nothing but to endure the carting around on a crowded bus from one terminal to the next to get my New York Connection. After whizzing through security (again), locating and making it to my deserted GATE 37 (insert choir of angels singing a glorious "AAAAAAHHHHH") I discovered that there were seats with electric plugs (watch a movie on your laptop while you wait!) which I promptly steered towards, only to be admonished by a lone figure behind a little "Air France" lectern, that these seats were in fact "RESERVEES!" I must shamefully admit that since my nerves had been laid blank from four hours of the aforementioned I did utter an unflattering expletive but caved and proceeded to occupy a plug-less seat. After immersing myself in the movie du jour for a fitful 30 minutes I saw a lady with a PAPER CUP of what surely must be - gasp - COFFEE! Ten minutes and some awkwardly mumbled French phrases later I was perched on a chair next to a little table, coffee and pain-au-chocolat within reach, resuming my movie watching, when I saw Tennis Star walk towards the freshly baked goods! I did gawk just a little to make sure it was really her - the lady has legs up to her neck and is kind of hard to miss - only to resume my pretend blase-ness in the face of worldly fellow travelers. For some reason, knowing that she would be on my flight, albeit in First Class as opposed to the Cattle Section, made me happy. Bring on the babies, the nuked omelets and the tiny pillows! I can deal! Oh, and for the record - I do not need a seat with a plug, because MY laptop is in fact CHARGED.

Beyrouth 2

Spent yesterday afternoon with Waleed Akar, the owner of Mojo's Jazz Club here in Beyrouth, and his journalist friend. They took me to the sea for lunch - an opulent meal of fried fish, fresh hummus, taboule, stuffed grape leaves and the thinnest pita bread I have ever seen. AND, very incongruously, French Fries. I saw a guy fishing on the beach and asked the journalist, if it was ok to fish so close to the coast. He told me that you can't really eat that fish, if there is any, because the sea is still polluted from the 2006 war with Israel, when several oil tankers were destroyed. The Lebanese get their fish from Turkey. That made me incredibly sad.
Politics are a huge topic here, especially what is going on in the Gaza strip right now. Protests on the square in front of the international office building downtown have lasted three days, but apparently the protesters have been asked by the government to cease their sit-ins, that they have made their point. The border to Israel is only about 50 miles from here, so the whole drama feels slightly more imminent than when I read about it in New York.
The population here is generally tri-lingual, due to the various occupations over the last couple of centuries (most notably the French and the British), with everybody here speaking Arabic, French and English. So far I have managed to learn one word in Arabic - shoukran, which means "Thank you". (the spelling might be completely off, since this is more or less phonetic). So communicating with the audience during my shows has been fairly easy. Tonight we'll have one more show, and then I will finally have a drink!
My flight back to New York leaves on Sunday morning at 2am. Red eye, here I come! But first, one more show, and, hopefully, a trip to downtown Beyrouth.

Beyrouth 1

On Tuesday I landed in Beyrouth/Lebanon for my first venture into the Middle East. I am performing at Mojo Jazz Club for three nights, and last night was my first night on the gig. It is always slightly nerve-racking to go into a situation, where I have to perform with a band consisting entirely of people I don't know, especially when there is only very little rehearsal time involved. Granted, my music isn't terribly complicated, but, to quote myself, it's "A little bit tricky" (but not that hard).
Strangely, upon arriving at my hotel on Tuesday and taking my first walk in the streets of Beyrouth, it felt a bit like New York. People are loud, energetic and have a gruff exterior, only to reveal a minute later that they are your best buddies (well, ok, not quite like New York) AND they drive like maniacs!!! I was warned twice on my way here NOT to attempt to drive in Beyrouth, unless I had lived here for a few years. OK, point taken.
In any case, back to the show. So far so good, I would say, and I think the band agrees, that we found each other during the second set of the first night. All of a sudden there it was - common ground. Not that the first set was bad, but THE CONNECTION opened up during the second set. Funny thing happened during the first one though. Georges K., the pianist, dropped the last page of his chart during his solo, and, while I was perusing my shakers, I went over to him and put it back on the music stand. On my way back I noticed that the piano had gone eerily silent during the solo (he was using a keyboard, btw)!!! Looking down on the ground I noticed that a cable was unplugged, and Georges was grinning at me helplessly. Turns out while helping him get his charts back together I also robbed him of his sound by inadvertently stumbling over and unplugging his power chord! oh, the joy of live performing! Next time I'll bring a solid roll of duct tape and tape all lose ends to the floor.
Off to explore new corners of this great old city! I might blog again on this one, if the wifi holds up (sitting on the floor in the doorway of my hotel room, which is the only place where I can get an occasional connection). Until next time...