Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Yoga Bitch in $150 Yoga Pants

Suzanne's been getting a lot of press for her upcoming Seattle run of YOGA BITCH, which will be at Bumbershoot over Labor Day weekend, and then will run for a month at Re-Bar from September 19 through October 11.

I adore Suzanne and I adore this show: It's smart and silly and sexy and just a whole lot of fun. (Admittedly, I did direct it, so I may be a bit biased.) We've mounted it in New York, London, and Maui, and now I'm excited that my family and friends in Seattle will get a chance to see it.

Oh, and here's a great preview piece from the Seattle Weekly.

Pacific Northwest, I'll be there tomorrow. Get the rain out of your system now; my little sister's getting married on Sunday and she'd appreciate not having her up-do un-done!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Noorderzon Roundup

This was our second year in a row to this quirky arts festival in the northeast corner of the Netherlands. It has a very homegrown quality to it, and it's not just about theater and circus and dance and music--there's also a lot of beer drinking and eating going on.

This year we were able to connect with friends and colleagues from New York and see some other shows. The talented Amy Gordon was performing with a pair of remarkable performers from Germany in a fantastically funny show called THE BIG PROBLEM.

Then we got to hang with folks from The Nature Theater of Oklahoma. (Note: None of their members are from Oklahoma. But it's not as twee as it sounds. Their name comes from this great Kafka quote.) We saw their RAMBO SOLO on our final night, which was a fascinating study of one man's obsession with the novel "First Blood" and the movie it was adapted into.

But let's get down to the food, people.

From what I can tell, Holland is basically one big lush farm with a few dots of cities. This means that these people know how to do all things dairy: cheese and yogurt and cream and slag--that's an incredibly thick whipped cream that tastes good on everything. I can't even begin to imagine what a Dutch person would think of our American "creamer." And their bread is pillow soft, which means that we ate a lot of sandwiches (with Groninger mustard).

This is a poffertjes stand. The man is flipping incredibly tiny pancakes that are then splashed with amaretto liqueur and doused with powdered sugar. I don't have a close-up because I ate them too quickly.

But this is the best place to catch a meal--it's the staff dinner. Every day they served us huge plates of hot goodness. I cannot praise it enough.

The other thing they do really well is pack the house. God knows the best thing in the world is knowing that all we have to do is bring the show and that the audience will be there.

This strange little vehicle has two turntables from which records are played and broadcast through the old-fashioned megaphone at the top of the car. It is tended by a woman with long white gogo boots who has to turn herself into a pretzel to fit into the cab. This is a perfect example of the kind of delightful weirdness on display at Noorderzon.

As is this attempt at a sauna.

But an unscientific poll of my fellow visiting Americans showed that these urinals seemed to us the strangest feature of the festival. As evening advanced and the beer flowed, you would often see 4 men using these at once, an image that always made me think of bees returning to their hive.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

American Airlines, Pay Attention

I recently read a piece in the New York Times about the changes in airline food. We all know the story by now: It used to be good, now it sucks. One of the readers posted a comment in which he reminisced about being called the night before a long flight and asked if he would prefer lobster or steak for his meal. Can you imagine?

So I'm not saying that Turkish Air gave me lobster, but check out this meal they gave us on a flight that was only three and a half hours long (from Istanbul to Amsterdam):

That's fresh feta, cucumber, and tomatoes, a honey-soaked cake with real whipped cream, a salad with a dressing packet containing nothing but extra virgin olive oil and lemon (!), a warm roll, and roasted eggplant, zucchini, and carrots beside the kofte (sort of like flat meatballs) that were so good we could smell them long before we could see them.

We were ravenous, and every part of the meal was delicious. And just now, Michael and I were discussing which was our favorite meal in Turkey, and I nominated this one.

Tomorrow we fly home on Delta. How will their meal compare, I wonder?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

In De Goot

From the sidewalk outside our hotel. I'm guessing that "goot" means trash can? All I know is that Mike and I now really enjoy saying "in de goot" as an answer to any question. Where's the nearest grocery? In de goot. Why do German clowns smoke so much pot? In de goot. Where is my lost innocence? In de goot.

The Bear & His Technology

So, Mike has this new program on his iPhone that allows him to handwrite messages. This morning, he tried to wake me up, using the carrot of free hotel breakfast to lure me from under my covers. This hotel has a particularly good breakfast: flaky croissants, scrambled eggs, bacon, real juice, even a delightful cappuccino machine. But I really like the bed, and especially its attendant warmth, as I'm finding Groningen rather damp and chilly after my time in Turkey. I told him that the only thing I wanted was a bagel from our local bakery in Brooklyn, then pulled the duvet over my head.

Later, when I checked my email, I found this message from him:

Isn't he sweet? I think I'll keep him.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Goede dag!

We're now in the Netherlands, up in the northeast corner of the country, Groningen, getting ready for our tech rehearsal.

It's disorienting to have a 30-degree temperature drop--suddenly the scarf I used to cover my head in Istanbul's mosques is now wrapped around my throat to bar the cold.

Mike's performing in a speigeltent, pictured above. (Note: picture was actually taken last year, though I expect it will look very much the same.) It's a round, mirrored structure, with lots of velvet and colored panels. It feels very much like performing in a tented carousel, except there is a stage and audience instead of wooden horses.

More after we've survived our opening!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

We finally visited the Blue Mosque today, from which we've been staying across the street and hearing the call to prayer five times a day. I'm going to be posting something more in-depth about the experience of visiting a Muslim country later, but I wanted to quickly put up a link to Mike's site as he wrote another wonderful post (with great photos) about his time in Tajikistan.

Tonight is our last in Istanbul. Whirling dervishes are on the agenda, as is a Turkish bath. But first, a wee siesta.

Tomorrow we're off to the Netherlands. We're both looking forward to the change in weather, and I'm looking forward to hearing Mike spin a new monologue all about Tajikistan while I drink my favorite beer, Hoegaarden.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Extra! Extra!

Dearest Readers,

It's time for my favorite kind of post: a very special TRAVELMONKEYS FOOD edition!

I'm tempted to launch into an analysis of why it is that eating food overseas is so much more fascinating than eating food at home--but I can tell it's unnecessary. Judging by all the emails and comments I received about Mike's food forays in Tajikistan, you feel the same way.

Let's start with packaging:

These cookies were pretty good, but what makes them something to write home about is their packaging. Even a trip to the corner store is delightful when you're unfamiliar with the brands. Candies and cookies are especially colorful.

In a similar way, Turkish tea tastes pretty much like tea anywhere, except that it's served in these delightful little glasses with individually wrapped sugar cubes on the side:

And not just in restaurants, either. (This picture was taken on a public ferry, where a man walked around selling tea for the equivalent of 41 American cents.) Somehow, the dainty glass makes the tea taste incredibly delicious.

The same rule applies to eating hard-boiled eggs, which I enjoy well enough in America, but suddenly adore when overseas--and all because it comes in a little ceramic holder and I'm given a tiny spoon with which to excavate.

Above is my daily breakfast. Most Turkish hotels include breakfast in the cost of the room, and Mike and I have been very happy with our food here. The Turks love bread and provide copious baskets of it with every meal. Also, there are cucumbers and tomatoes present at every meal. The little green package contains a tapenade. Not pictured: olives, feta, meats, honey. Turkish honey is delicious.

This is me, haggling for a little simit. It's kind of like a sesame bagel, only chewier, and people sell them all over town. Some vendors even carry them on their head:

Which is, you know, impressive. Vendors also sell corn. 1 lira for boiled, 1.50 for boiled and roasted. (Pay extra, it's worth it.)

Fresh fruit is also sold by vendors. These figs were extraordinary and came wrapped in a simple cone of folded paper.

Here's a more classic sit-down meal:

These are kofte, translated as "meatballs," except that they aren't balls, they're more like logs. Tasty though, and served with grilled peppers and tomatoes. The red sauce is kind of a spicy tomato sauce good for dipping, and the drink is something called ayran. It's a yogurt drink that's kind of like a mango lassi, except that there's no mango and instead of sweet it's salty. It takes some getting used to after thirty years of drinking sweet yogurt drinks, but it's pretty good. And it's so popular even McDonald's serves it.

And here's my honey, who has just reminded me that if I don't finish up this entry we're going to have precious few options for eating tonight. Goodnight, Monkeys.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Shortly after moving to New York, I was walking in my new neighborhood and saw, on that big bank on the corner of Court and Atlantic, a plaque letting us know that this had been the camp of General George Washington during the Battle of Brooklyn in the War of Independence. Hailing from the west coast, where anything older than fifty years is regarded as historic, I was floored. 1776! This place is old.

There's nothing like spending a little time in Istanbul-not-Constantinople to make you realize that even 1776 was not that long ago. Yesterday I checked to see when what everyone calls the "New Mosque" had been built: 1663. That seems crazy until you consider that the structure that served as the inspiration for every magnificent domed building to follow, the Hagia Sophia, was finished in 537.

There she is, behind me. For almost a thousand years, this was the crown of the Byzantine empire. Then, in 1453, the Ottomans took Constantinople and turned her into a mosque--adding the minarets you see flanking her sides. Her interior was full of Christian imagery, and Islam has strict rules against iconography. Thankfully, the Ottomans chose to whitewash the mosaics rather than having them destroyed, so when Ataturk turned this into a museum in the 1930s, they were able to restore some of them, including this one:

The photograph doesn't do it justice. The individual pieces of mosaic are so fine, they catch the light and make the images appear three-dimensional. You can almost see how some church leaders became nervous that people might come to worship the images themselves rather than the ideas they represent.

Even if all the mosaics had been lost, the interior would still be breathtaking.

Those round discs with Arabic script is from when it was a mosque. They spell out the names of Allah, Muhammed, and a few other prophets. Keep in mind that Christianity and Islam share many of the same prophets, including Jesus.

To the right of the mosaic of Mary and baby Jesus, you can see Gabriel--the angel who came to Mohammed and told him, among other things, to tell the people to stop worshipping idols.

In the end, what moved me most were the simple things. Touching the unadorned walls, seeing the wear on the marble floors, and knowing that people like me have been coming to this place for over 1500 years. Just as she has impressed us, so have we too left our mark on her.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Oh, dear readers. I've done well.

Choosing a hotel room from afar is a tricky business. It used to be that I could rely on a trusted travel guide (my guide of choice: Rick Steves, whose seminal Europe through the Back Door was my bible on my first trek to Europe at 18 and who's been guiding me on my overseas exploits ever since). But now every hotel also has a web site, so you've got to go check them out and see if you still like them. And then, if the tacky decor, or--in the case of Turkish hotels--overwhelmingly cheesy Flash doesn't drive you away, you're still not done. Not in this day and age of Google and TripAdvisor and Yelp.

Which brings me to my current location: The Hotel Sultan Hill. Would you believe I almost decided against this place because I could find nothing negative online? Everyone was glowing, and the price was amazing, and the location extraordinary. So what was the trick? There had to be a trick! I finally decided that the price was cheaper because there was no television and went ahead and booked.

So far, the only trick I can find is that there is a television. And that the hotel staff is incredibly friendly and speak excellent English. And that since we're across the street from a mosque (and not just any mosque, but the world-renowned Blue Mosque) there are no nightclubs or bars or loud annoying anythings on our quiet cobbled street, even though we're right in the heart of the old town Sultanahmet district. The picture above is me on our rooftop deck. Mike and I sat there for a long time tonight, enjoying the breeze from the Marmara sea and watching the gulls fly lazy circles around the glowing minarets.

I've missed him these past two weeks, and to be able to reunite in a city like Istanbul is nothing short of amazing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Suzanne's Dream

My friend Suzanne emailed me about a dream she had:

Last night I had a dream that I was supposed to give a toast at your wedding and that I forgot until five minutes before I was supposed to go up, and I was writing it in my head when I realized that Mike was in Tajikistan, and then he burst through double doors with a whole entourage of Tajik dancers and everybody clapped and then you were scrambling to get your hair into a chignon, which you pronounced very Frenchily, because you said that you guys couldn't do the Big Dance if you didn't have a chignon. And then I said, "I know exactly what to say for my toast!" and then I woke up.

Suzanne's going to be re-mounting her fantastic show Yoga Bitch at Seattle's Re-Bar on Fridays and Saturdays from September 19 through October 11. Did I mention that it's directed by moi (she said, very Frenchily).

And now, I'm off to the airport to meet my honey in Istanbul! More posts from the road!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Be Careful What You YouTube

So, when Mike and I went to the Noorderzon Festival last year, Mike made a little film of me doing what I like to do when I'm happy: making up a silly song, in this case, about the sheep and horses and cows we were zooming by in our train as we made our way from Groningen to Amsterdam.

At some point he posted it to YouTube, which was like, Aw, cute, but really not interesting to anyone except family members, and even then, only the most indulgent of family members. But I keep hearing about it from folks and I'm realizing that it's not quite as underground as I'd thought. And then earlier this year, we were doing a weekend at a performing arts center in California, and they posted it to their website as an example of Mike's work!

And just now, I was emailing with the head publicist for Noorderzon (where we'll be returning in a little over a week), and at the end of an email he wrote, "by the way: I loved your song about cows that I recently watched on YouTube."

So I went to find it, and it turns out 697 people have viewed this bit of afternoon whimsy. I'm posting it here for any who might have missed the pastoral rhapsody of the 2007 Noorderzon Festival.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Opening Day

Michael and I have a thing for Opening Days. That is to say, the first day of a new production, whether it's a one-night stand or an eight-week run, the Opening Day is always slightly magical. In The Ugly American, Michael describes it thusly:

"For me, Opening Day is a secret holiday. It’s like a birthday, but it’s better than a birthday, because you earned it: you sweated for it, bled for it, suffered for it…"

So to Catherine and Mike and all the storytellers you've worked with out there in the town called Monday (that's what "Dushanbe" means in Tajik), I wish you all a very happy Opening Day.

In fact, I would like to give you this Ijshoorn, as a token of my affections.

Too big, you say? Too grand?

Not at all! I insist!

Break a leg tonight, friends.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tajik Wedding

So, Mike and Catherine (his partner on this project) had a day off today, Sunday being a day of rest, so they hired a driver to take them on a day trip to the remains of a Hissar Fortress (note: pic above of same was found on Flickr, not from M--click on photo to go to photographer's page).

Afterward, they drove through the surrounding villages (and around a mine field), and then came upon a wedding, a huge affair: dancing, singing, everything. They hung back, just watching for a bit, and then they were invited to join the celebration, so they did. Looking forward to those photos.

Mike captured some audio from the wedding, and you can hear it in all its jubilation by following this link.

At the very end of the recording I can hear someone saying "New York." Can you?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Stretch Your Leg Only As Far As Your Blanket

Today's New York Times features an article on the growing scourge of credit card debt in Turkey. This is a nation where borrowing money was exclusively a family affair up until the last two decades--many Turks did not even have a bank account when they signed up for their first credit card.

The article is interesting, but I'll admit I'm linking to it here mainly because I love this proverb about living beyond your means:

“We did not listen to our ancestors’ proverb,” Mr. Kaya said. “ ‘Stretch your leg only as far as your blanket.’ ”

The cover of the New York Times yesterday showed Russian troops rolling into northern Georgia, and I woke up this morning to find that fighting has begun and 1500 casualties have already been reported.

Georgia, of course, also borders Turkey, where Mike and I are supposed to be vacationing next week.

My heart goes out to the families of those who have already died, and I pray this conflict ends quickly and justly. Though I don't know how often the two go hand in hand.

Friday, August 8, 2008


Mike has posted more pictures at his website with a melancholic Soviet theme. Follow this link.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Powerbar Reprieve

Mike's new hotel is closer to the center of town and has less rabid dogs prowling the perimeter. There is also a grocery within walking distance, for which he is very grateful. And he also has a trickle of internet, for which I am grateful--otherwise there'd be no new batch of photos to show my precious TRAVELMONKEYS readers.

This is the entrance to the huge outdoor market.

Tajikistan may not be a haven for foodies, but their melons are out of this world--and twice as big as any you've ever laid eyes on, unless you were in Central Asia. He says the raisins are extraordinary, too: big and plump and wholly different than any he's tasted before.

This cream soda was recommended to him by a woman from the embassy. Mike is a connoisseur of cream soda, and he judges this one to be extraordinary. He suspects they use real vanilla and real sugar.

When Mike sends photos, they're often accompanied by text telling me what things he didn't take pictures of. In the previous batch, it was the many street urchins. In this batch, it was the piles of meat covered in thick layers of flies and the guy pulling the backbone of some creature out of an enormous carcass while blood splattered everywhere. Keep in mind this is an open market, 110 degrees out, no refrigeration. I'm guessing you always want to order your meat very well done.

These fish, on the other hand, were refrigerated. This picture was not taken at the open market but at the grocery near his hotel. The most amazing this is what happened right after he snapped this shot: He got recognized by someone who saw "How Theater Failed America" at the Public this spring. This guy was backpacking from Bangladesh to Istanbul and stopped in Dushanbe to get some supplies, and boy was he surprised to see Mike Daisey there, taking photos of fish heads. Almost as shocked as Mike was.

And this is a picture of Mike's loot. He itemized it for me: "3 liters of fizzy water, a palette of grapes, chocolate milk, an apple (green, firm), and some cookie/pastry things that look and smell delicious." Not pictured: a large bag of raisins.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Pictures From the Other Side of the Planet

Mike is now in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, and the armed compound--er, hotel--he's staying in has wifi, so we've been able to instant message yesterday and today.

As you might have guessed, the region is thick with stories, and even over IM, Mike is bursting to tell them and eager to gather more. I'll leave the full telling to him, but in a TRAVELMONKEYS exclusive, Mike has agreed to let me post some pictures he's taken of Dushanbe in his first 48 hours there:

The country has an annual GDP of just 990 million. (Some perspective: Microsoft made 60 billion last year.) They have cholera outbreaks every year, and it would take 10 million dollars to do the necessary work to make sure they have clean water and no cholera forever. The government has shown how necessary they think is by allocating zero dollars towards cholera prevention and 57 million dollars towards new furniture for a second presidential palace.

Here in "Friendship Square," Mike was stopped by a policeman with a submachine gun who asked to see his papers. After seeing that all was in order, the man guessed that Mike was from California. When Mike told him New York, the policeman smiled and said, "Scarface!" and gestured to his gun.

It's 114 degrees during the day. In these pictures the sky appears to be an overcast gray, but Mike says it's actually a thick and eerie yellow.

This is how the fence surrounding the government building for International Relations is decorated. It looks like a line of glowing dollar signs. Could this have anything to do with the massive subsidies the Tajik government receives from the U.S. as an ally on our War on Terror? (Dushanbe is 3 hours north of the Afghani border.)

This is where a feral dog attacked Mike. It's right outside his hotel and it happened the first time Mike tried to leave. The dog broke skin, but Mike beat him with his bag, and the dog ran off whimpering. Mike is glad he brought hydrogen peroxide and neosporin and hand sanitizer with him.

A (apartment?) building a block away from the presidential palace.

And finally, the bed where I hope Mike is sleeping right now. He went out with folks from the Embassy last night and they all expressed surprise that he wasn't sick yet. Everyone comes down with dysentery and a few years ago, a foreign guest died from it, so now the Embassy has a medical officer on staff. When I heard that, the wife in me kicked in, and I made him go to bed.