Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Paris, je t'aime?

Today I came closer to using my epi-pen than I ever have before.

I expected to be in Michigan by now, but I'm still in Paris, because I was careless enough to eat a sandwich whose bread included walnuts.

On the one hand, why are there ground up walnuts in sandwich bread?!?!?! Really, why?

Dear international healthful food movement,
Please stop putting nuts everywhere just because you can. Baked goods, yes. Granola, yes. Sandwich bread, please can we not?
Itchily yours,

On the other hand, what food-allergic person reads just the placard and not the sticker on the sandwich, eh? I grabbed a sandwich and a salad from a lovely fresh bakery after having read the placards detailing the contents, but I didn't notice that the sandwich's placard didn't say anything about the bread or that the sticker holding the wrapper closed listed WALNUTS, just like that, all caps in English even. How could I be so inattentive? I should know better.

Boarding was just getting started when I realized that I couldn't get on the plane. My ears hurt, the front of my neck felt thick, and my chest was tight. I could still breathe and talk, but I wasn't confident that would continue.

First aid came, took my vitals, and tried to convince me to just get on the plane because the symptoms would have gotten more serious faster if they were going to. Except, that's not always the case with anaphylaxis, and Paris to Detroit is a really long flight.

When first aid called for a consult, the airport doctor counseled coming in to the med center, and I went despite the first responder's skepticism. Vitals, examination, a dose of prednisone, a dose of Zyrtec, and observation time later, I had, as predicted, missed my plane, the last direct flight for the day. The good news is that, although my face and chest felt awful, I was still breathing effectively as evidenced by my stellar pulse oximeter and blood pressure cuff readings.

Air France's customer service was amazing, though. Someone met me at the clinic to walk me through the process of rebooking the flight, picking up a prescription, and finding a place to spend the night. I have a boarding pass for a flight tomorrow, a room at the Citizen M, and more doses of steroids and antihistamines.

I also have a renewed awareness of my own vulnerability.

Monday, April 27, 2015


A brief drive along the coast to the west of the city of Algiers took us to Tipasa and Cherchelle, the sites of Roman ruins. 

I have to say that I was not enthused when Stuart told me about these plans, but I was willing to go along for the adventure.

Photo courtesy of Taylor Walters Denyer.

I had forgotten how powerful it is to walk the paths trod by people two millennia ago... think about how those people used these spaces... marvel at how much the ancient city's structure is still apparent... ponder the lives of the artisans who created this beauty.

This city was built right up to the edge of the Mediterranean, and I was ecstatic to be able to dip my fingers in the water. 

Photo courtesy of Taylor Walters Denyer.
These women were also visiting the ruins, and they requested that Taylor and I pose for pictures with them. Unlike many people who have seen us out and about, they didn't ask our names or where we were from. They didn't use us for English practice or even try to speak to us in French. They just touched us gently and mimed their request.
Photo courtesy of Taylor Walters Denyer.
The young man with them took many more iterations of this photo with different combinations of them and us. It's a bit odd to be cast in the role of Exotic Foreigner, but I was happy to oblige.

In hindsight, I am so glad that we went.


So far my posts from Algiers have been about the places and the things, but this trip was really about the people.

On the day of Adam's funeral, his friends gathered at my house. There was a moment in which they looked at each other and said, 'We're so glad to be together again. We shouldn't have waited this long, and it shouldn't have taken a funeral to bring us together again.' In the aftermath of that day, I thought long and hard about the friendships I value enough to put energy into, and I have resolved not to let it be a funeral that brings me together with those people.

There are few people in the world whom I could contact and say, 'I would like to buy an expensive plane ticket and spend a week in your house,' and whom I could trust to say, 'Yes, we will do the complicated paperwork required for you to come. Can you really only stay a week?'

Taylor, Stuart, and I have known each other since college. Taylor and I got through stats together freshman year. The three of us were founding members of Fellowship of Sound, a student music group which continues to this day. Stuart played the organ at my wedding.

Maintaining a friendship over time despite great distances is hard work, and Taylor and I haven't been constantly close. Our mutual effort to make time for one another and to spend energy on our friendship has been fruitful, though. When we do have the opportunity to be together we have rambling conversations about hopes and dreams and disappointments and challenges. 

It's hard to believe that we met eighteen years ago.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


Algeria is not the safest of travel destinations. In fact, for my friend who is a foreign service officer, this is a danger post, and the security section is involved in many of the decisions of daily life. We are allowed to move through the capitol city freely for the most part, but traveling outside the city, and especially outside the wilaya requires a police escort.

Over the last couple of days' adventuring we've been somewhat uncomfortable with this situation. The police don't simply drive along with us just in case, they station a vehicle before ours and a vehicle after ours, and they use their authority and their sirens to make way for this trio.

This road was built to be one lane in each direction, and our escort pushed traffic to the shoulders to create a third lane down the middle just for us.

Although it was nice to bypass the traffic, we were aware that we were making the evening commute longer and more challenging for the other cars around us. In this moment, three middle-class Americans were shocked to recognize that we were the VIPs in the motorcade.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


Today's adventures took us outside the city of Algiers and up a twisty mountain road in the Atlas Range to a national park at 5,000 feet.  It was a long ride, especially for my poor, prone-to-carsickness tummy, but it was totally worth it. 

There's always something amazing about climbing higher than the clouds. 

I love the wrinkly ridges snuggled up close to one another.

The exposed rock faces reminded me of those visible in the Appalachians in Pennsylvania, although there was greater evidence of regular rock falls than I've ever seen there.

It's the height of spring in Algiers, and these lovelies grow everywhere along roadsides.

On the way back, we stopped at a scenic overlook that included monkeys. They just wander down the hill and wait for the travelers to share food.

This snap is washed out, but I wanted to show you this mother and her baby hanging underneath. It was the baby's job to stay attached as the mother moved around the rock face and gathered the croissant and cacao nibs on offer.

The image of Atlas, the defeated Titan, holding the weight of the world on his shoulders kept spinning through my mind as we rode through his mountains today. With it came Ayn Rand's image of Atlas shrugging, thereby shifting the foundations of life as we know it. 

Our hearts broke at the news of the earthquake in Nepal earlier today. With so many buildings shattered and lives destroyed, it would be easy to lose hope, but today we had driven on roads congested because of the work of rebuilding after earthquakes in this region, and yesterday we had seen scaffolding supporting earthquake-damaged buildings in the casbah. Resilience wins and life continues even when Atlas shrugs.

Friday, April 24, 2015

further in and further up

I've been thinking a lot about perspective since I arrived. Algiers is one of those cities in which private life happens behind layers of walls: rooms inside apartments inside buidings inside courtyards. From the street, the city looks plain, forbidding even.

the street from my friends' apartment

entering the casbah, or the old city

Upkeep on the casbah's buildings is a constant need.

a mosque in the casbah

The courtyards offer beautiful tile-work and gardens as well as the privacy in which to enjoy them. We had a lovely lunch here yesterday while the birds punctuated the calls to prayer from the neighborhood mosques.

The greatest creativity appears in the interior, private spaces. Today we walked through a historic palace in the casbah which now houses art exhibits, and we joked that one could enjoy the visit even if only looking at the floors and ceilings. 

inside a palace in the casbah

a wooden door inset in a marble doorway

fountain inside the palace in the casbah
My friends' apartment is, of course, not as ornate as this palace, but it shares the openness of design with high ceilings and large doors as well as marble floors, which are pleasantly cool underfoot.

While in the casbah, we also climbed to the top of a house, which offered another shift in perspective. the confusing warren of streets have a sort of beauty from above.
the casbah from one of its rooftops

the port and admiralty

a mosque complex near the port

the most inland sweep of the bay

The day's sights were punctuated with surprises, too.

Pack donkeys collect the trash in the casbah.

A mama cares for seven (we think) kittens. 

A glance down a side street reveals a mosque.
Further anon.

a glimpse of blustery

I did some hiking in Michigan recently. 

It was a beautifully blustery day. 

The kind of day where the clouds roll around and the dry grass sussurates.

It was a day between winter and spring.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

a glimpse of beginning

and there was morning


 and there was evening


 on the first day