Thursday, August 17, 2006

Americans abroad

Against my instructions, our former Baghdad bureau chief has left the country for his usual gig: hanging out in whatever corner of the Middle East he considers deadliest.

Those instructions went something like this:
Me: I forbid you from going. You should take a vacation instead. If you just want to go hang out in Paris, I'll pay for your trip.

Him
: Ha. No.
I don't mean to make light, but still, on Monday morning I was checking my voicemail in a small-town airport and heard a week-old exhortation to meet up at the Queens beer garden, only to return home a few hours later and learn that the voice from the out-of-date message is currently speaking Arabic in Southern Lebanon.

Not only is he unafraid of toothpaste and/or snakes on planes, he's relatively unfazed by chilling in a warzone, and sends back dispatches like this:

I asked some of the people, as they cleaned up their houses (the ones that weren’t completely destroyed) what they would do next… they said they didn’t really know… “We’re still in shock” was a sort of common refrain… I was mindblown that some people had actually stayed for the duration of the fighting… rather than asking me if I had a flak jacket to spare, people were much more interested in using my satfone (no cell reception in most of the south) to call family and let them know they were alive… burned through the credit on the phone in short order…

One thing people did mention, despite the fact that their town had been sort of wiped off the map, was that they’d continue to sacrifice in support of Hizbollah and “the Sayyed” (Hassan Nasrallah)... I am finding this sentiment in both the city and the countryside… and, of course, Hizbollah was still clearly in control of the town…

On a less-harrowing note, an American-born ex-New Yorker friend of mine has been living in Amsterdam for two years. His site, too, is a far cry from a chronicle of wacky misunderstandings with foreigners, though he includes accounts like the following:
Went biking today outside of Amsterdam. Outside of Amsterdam, geologically speaking, is where the sea should be, but they filled it in long ago. Filling in the sea is a lot of work; there's only so much you can do. You can't, for example, make dry, hilly wine country. But you can make an unremmittingly flat and green expanse of good farmland. And when the sun rides high and bright, and clouds like fantastical airships drift at the edge of the sky, it's beautiful.

If you ride along the dyke that keeps the water out, you can see all of it as it goes on and on, and you can also see the villages, each one of them a café next to a church, surrounded by low brick and wood houses along narrow streets. And if you ride far enough you will come to Pants in Waterland. That's the name of one of the villages. Actually that's a translation, but it's accurate. I have no idea why they call it Pants in Waterland.
Pants in Waterland sounds like a Murakami novel.

And if there's anything we like on this site, it's a post that references pants.

Pants!

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