Thursday, October 27, 2011

Signs It's Time to Go

I was walking in the rain down King Street this morning and I spotted this plaque on the outside of the Hotel Monaco: “The Marshall House stood upon this site, and within the building on the early morning of May 26, 1861 James W. Jackson was killed by federal soldiers while defending his property and personal rights, as stated in the verdict of the coroners jury. He was the first martyr to the cause of Southern Independence. The Justice of History does not permit his Name to be Forgotten. Not in the excitement of battle, but coolly, and for a great principle, he laid down his life, an example to all, in defence of his home and the sacred soil of his native state Virginia. (erected by the sons and daughters of Confederate soldiers)”

I’m going to take this as a sign -- literal and figurative -- that this Yankee has been living in the Commonwealth for too long. We all know that the “property” Jackson was defending was his slaves and that the soil of Virginia is no more sacred than the soil of New York, Maryland, or even D.C.

When we fly out at the crack of dawn on Saturday, with our six suitcases, a cat in a carrier, two backup carriers (too complicated to explain now), our single-entry three-month visas (also too complicated), and a year’s worth of reading loaded up on our Kindles and iPad, we’ll have been living in hotels for exactly two months. And that is about 60 days too long. Virginia has been very welcoming to us, and I’ve grown quite attached to the statue of the southern soldier facing south at the intersection of Washington and Prince streets, but it’s time.

The Christmas decorations are starting to go up in the antiques stores in Old Town. The heels on my shoes are worn out from all the trekking I’ve done on the cobblestoned streets of this city. I’ve been to a funeral, a fiftieth-anniversary party, a wedding, and more events centered on eating than I can count. I have a favorite dryer in the hotel laundry room.

Meanwhile, Joanna is settled in Beijing and inviting her newfound friends over to our apartment. She’s promised them all latkes at Hannukah and probably turkey at Thanksgiving. I know I’ve promised home-made ravioli to some folks. I don’t see a way to squeeze in any more social events here. It’s time to go.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Rumors Are True

We found out this morning that we got our visas! Let's just say it's taken far more patience than I actually have, so no one should expect me to have a store of patience for, oh, the next year or so. I'm sure that'll be just fine for adjusting to life in Beijing.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Learning Experiences

Here’s what I’ve learned from my long days at the Marriott Residence Inn in Alexandria.

  1. The Book of Mormon sounds a lot like the Bible, only faker.
  2. There’s something called the “Christian Contractors Association.” I guess that makes sense, since Jesus was a carpenter.
  3. The elliptical is better on my knees than the treadmill or the exercise bike, and definitely easier than slippery cobblestones.
  4. Tourists are slow and wide (oh wait, I already knew that).
  5. Virginia drivers speed up when they see pedestrians trying to cross the street.
  6. There are more places to get a good hamburger in Alexandria than I’ve ever seen anywhere else.
  7. My pants are getting tight (see #6).
  8. The cheap booze at the daily happy hours in the lobby is not worth the calories (see #7).
  9. Every once in a while, the hotel will have a lone New York Times or even a Daily News to read at breakfast.
  10. I measure out my days in elevator rides, not coffee spoons.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

One Year

It's been a year since my father died, a year that brought a kind of growing and change. My mother used to tell me that you weren't fully an adult until you had children. There's some truth to that, but now I think you are not fully aware of life until you lose a parent. Losing a father or a mother means losing the best cheering squad you'll ever have, the only two people on this earth -- spouses and children included -- who will actually care about the tiniest details of your life. My father, for instance, fretted about my getting the a-level seating on Southwest airlines, as if that mattered. It mattered to him. (and for the record, this last time i got in the a seating and a front row seat-- success!)  He was the one who insisted I carry a flashlight when I walked the block and a half in the dark to my brother's house, and to carry a high-pitched device to keep dogs away on my runs in the countryside.  You lose those moments and you lose the feeling of having a safety net, no matter how many other loving and caring people surround you. Life is riskier, chances have deeper consequences, and the person who served as a steady and practical sounding board is quiet. Victories now have a hollowness to them -- the joy of calling dad to tell him of triumphs and achievements snatched away. Worries are more worrisome because that one person who could suggest solutions or express anger at injustices is silent.  He's still around us in memories, in the faces of his brothers, in the slanted lefty handwriting next to the computer, in the baseball caps on the hook in the basement, and in my mother's reaction to baseball games.  Today, after church in Athens ("Rock of Ages," "Jacob's Ladder,") we  visited his grave, where the grass over it was a lush green but empty, as we wait for a headstone.  And we tell ourselves that we were lucky to have him for 80 years. But dammit, we all could have used a little more time.

Monday, October 10, 2011

What I Do All Day

I've gotten a lot of questions in the last weeks about how I've been filling my time in this hotel in Alexandria (day 44, but who's counting?).

So I thought I'd take a stab at answering (better to take a stab at this than at some helpless tourist on the elevator WHO MOVES AS IF TIME WAS STANDING STILL).

Okay, I'm back.

So I wake up when Bob wakes up, because we are in just one room and the light from his BlackBerry, which he each morning checks in the hopes that our visas, like visions of sugarplums, will be there, wakes me up.

I exercise. I can choose between jogging on the brick sidewalks of Old Town down to the water, which is lovely this time of year if I don't kill myself on the uneven brick, or working out in the hotel gym. The hotel gym often has tattooed Air Force guys with buzz cuts and chiseled muscles taking over the weights and the benches, so I'll go for the elliptical or the treadmill, depending on which one gives me more room not to be next to Mr. Air Force.

Next is breakfast, which I often attend in my workout clothes because breakfast shuts down at 9, and I like the coffee downstairs better than the coffee in the room. I know the breakfast choices by heart. Grab a newspaper, grab a table, fill a coffee mug, and then see how gloppy the oatmeal looks today, or how long the eggs have been sitting there. After breakfast, grab some fruit and yogurt for lunch, if there are no lunch plans. (there usually are)

Shower. Remember to put the "recharging" sign on the door. (don't ask me why it has to be cute and not just say "do not disturb" like a normal hotel)

Feed cat, after coaxing her out from under bed. Scoop out litter box. Watch cat dash back under the bed when someone walks by in the hallway outside.

Check email, Facebook, Twitter. Respond to the multiple "what's new on the visa front" emails. Answer editors who would like me to file insightful stories about intellectual property rights, land use, or traditional Chinese medicine, explaining how hard it is to understand China from northern Virginia. Send chatty emails to friends who are far too busy to respond, and then feel hurt when they don't answer in five minutes.

Call mom. Deconstruct my day so far. Deconstruct her day so far.

Read the newspapers. Check Twitter again. Download iPad apps, including a talking translator app that leads me to believe I'll never need to learn Chinese. Or any language, for that matter. Download the latest issue of the New Yorker, which is now backing up in the same way that the magazines used to pile up in the basket of my wicker chair.

Go outside to shop for clothing, cat food, or other non-essentials. Peek into the Crate & Barrel outlet. Find Robert E Lee's boyhood home. See the place where George Washington's doctor is buried. Decide whether the statue honoring Confederate soldiers is despondent or just pensive. Look in Christ Church cemetery.

Meet friends for coffee. Meet friends for lunch. Meet friends for drinks. Meet friends for dinner. Repeat basic story, or non-story, about visas. Hope that someone else's life is more interesting than yours.

Avoid stepping on the scale. Check Twitter one more time. Update Facebook status. Watch TV. Read. Talk to the cat. Convince cat to sit on lap. Feel trapped. Pick a fight with Bob. Wonder why the hotel remote control barely works. Write silly posts to the blog.

It's a full life.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Being a Part of It

One of the silver linings of our visa delay presented itself in the opportunity to catch the last game of the American League playoffs for the Yankees. I'm embarrassed to say I had never been to Yankee Stadium, old or new.

We drove up on Thursday (sorry, New York pals, this was a quick baseball-intensive visit). The traffic gods were on our side -- which should have been an omen for the outcome of the game.  We got to Manhattan and walked around on a perfect sunny afternoon for a bit, and then took the subway up to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx for some authentic Italian food. Again, the fact that the food was delicious and the folks were welcoming and warm all around us should have given us pause that bad stuff was about to happen.

About an hour before game time we joined the throngs of jersey-wearing, boisterous, cheerful fans heading into the stadium. I managed to buy a Derek Jeter t shirt for five bucks just outside, a kind of garish, tacky shirt with three different views of Jeter which will probably fall apart in the first wash. I slipped it over the cardigan and t shirt I was already wearing, looking a bit overstuffed.

And walking around Yankee Stadium, the holiest of holies for my father, my husband and my son, was about as spiritual an experience as I’ll get. Pictures of Babe Ruth, DiMaggio, Jeter, Whitey Ford. I felt the history. The buoyancy of the crowd, the New York-ness of all of it, was enough to carry us to the nose-bleed seats behind home base.

What a game. What a heart-breaker.

Even so, I loved the chance to scream myself hoarse, to drink beer, to stomp and clap and trash-talk and scream at the umps, to laugh, to groan, and to chime in with this reaction from just about every one of the 50,000 or so fans who stayed until the wee hours: Fucking A-Rod.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Chatting Face to Face

I just ended a conversation with my dear friend Alka, who lives in Delhi. We had a face-to-face chat on Skype with my iPad, which I held up to my own mug as she sat in front of her computer in the wee hours of the morning in India.

It’s not that I don’t love keeping up with my friends via email, or instant-messaging on gmail and Facebook, or even by phone, but this was better. She asked me a question; I could just nod my answer. She’d tell me something funny, and I could smile. I thought she looked beautiful sitting there. What’s even more interesting is that our conversation was almost as good as one we might have during one of our official Girls’ Night Out excursions, albeit without the margaritas.

I even got to show her the three dresses I bought as potential outfits for Beth’s wedding this weekend. She voted for the brown one, especially when I showed her the pumps – incredibly sexy – that matched the dress perfectly.

And not long ago, Joanna and I had a “face time” chat on my iPad and her iPhone. She was in Thailand and I was visiting my mother in upstate New York. When she called, my brother and sister-in-law had stopped by the house, so we all got to stick our faces in and say hello.

Joanna looked tan and happy, and when we were all ready to sign off, I gave the iPad screen a little kiss. I’d like to think that it won’t be long before I can actually wrap my arms around my daughter in Beijing, but for now, this kind of technology is pretty wonderful, especially for a person who is getting ready to move halfway around the world. If my friends can feel this close and instantly available for some laughs and catching up, I’m happy.

At the same time, we had a visit this weekend from Billy and Elaine, college friends who live near Philadelphia and who decided to pop down for the weekend and take advantage of our limbo. Even with all the technology available to us, it’s good to be able to spend time with old friends, walking the streets of Alexandria in the rain, eating soup in a corner shop, and having the kind of conversation where nothing is forced and the laughs come easy.

I’m lucky that I have all kinds: friends who have no qualms about jumping in the car for a spontaneous visit, those who stifle their yawns as we chat late into the Indian night, and those who live right here in town and still want to see me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Day 35

We've been out of our house and living in hotels -- one in Foggy Bottom and one in Alexandria -- for more than a month now. Some days I feel a darkness that's hard to break even with the kind attentions of friends, who may be more than ready to have us gone. That's even as the possibility of one more rousing happy hour cheers the drinkers in the group.

I try to take comfort in the drop-dead gorgeousness of our fair city in the meantime. If you sit on the left-hand side of the Yellow or Blue line as it rounds the bend north to National Airport, you can catch a glimpse of the Capitol and the Washington Monument on the other side of the Potomac over the rounded roof of the airport, and you can't help but think again, what a beautiful city. And Alexandria gets prettier with each brick-lined block I wander down.

But I want to get on with my life. I know the breakfast buffet at the Marriott by heart, I'm sick to death of coin-operated laundries, and I'd like to live in an apartment with more than one room.