Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Amityville Coffee Horror

Week Two is done and dusted. Fried food continues, but M is running out of inspiration - Wednesday sees plain florets of cauliflower deep-fried with a bit of salt sprinkled on them afterwards. Man they can soak up a lot of oil. Mmmmmmmm.

So anyway, I was lying on my bed the other day and in a Syrian version of the Amityville Horror my walls start running with disgusting brown goop. I drag my mattress as far from the wall as possible, chuck a wodge of tissues under the flow, and only then do I realise it is coffee. Was my room built on an ancient Syrian burial ground and the dead were narky? Had Zool come to wreak havoc on the village (I think his stomping ground is somewhere around here)? Dismissing both as very unlikely during siesta time, I go upstairs to try and find answers. Turns out a member of our team has mistaken my chimney for a drain and emptied his plunger down it. He's quite amused when I point it out. I am not. I go downstairs to clean it up before I get stabby. My room still smells like stale coffee, but there are certainly worse things around here it could smell of.

I have only one picture for you this week, but it's been photoshopped, so there's a lot of value.

For everyone who told me to "have a great holiday", here is a picture of my room:

Here are the most important elements:

1: Selection of fetching fashions. Includes men’s shirts, a big red dress to go between my room and the shower, and one shirt with no stains for trips into the big smoke.

2: Bedside table. Contains all important things: drugs (assorted), toilet paper (you can never be too rich, skinny or prepared), heel balm (highly recommended), mirror (not recommended), teas from home (will not rot teeth like local tea), red feathery thing for hair from Membij souk (not something I can wear at home), chewing gum (for freshness, something to do, and a handy fixative for broken pottery).

3: Hideous toy from home that was snuck into my luggage by the Fella. I shall have my revenge.

4: Nicely finished walls and ceiling. Little flakes fall on us in the night and we awake looking like lamingtons. But not chocolicious and definitely more grumpy. Dribble behind pillow is Amityville coffee.

5: Dawn French book. Hilarious and highly recommended. Introduces me to new word: “ladygarden”. Heh heh.

6: Liquids in assorted containers not exceeding 50ml each that I have not yet removed from regulation airline clear plastic bag.

7: Windcheater with spaghetti stain. Weather has been very cool in the evenings, and some days, so can’t risk putting it in to wash. At least the stain is not really red anymore.

Today is hump day. After tonight we're into the second half of the dig. Tonic crisis continues, but fortunately the conservators have some ethanol to calm us.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Quantum of Hommus

Have struck a small blogtastrophe in that blogs and social networking sites are not openly accessible here and require some back-door shenanigans that are best avoided (no, not that kind). However, thanks to the genius and generosity of the wonderful nerdonsafari, ataxophile will now be published out of Australia. I can't see the blog, but can still read your comments, so please keep them coming! I'll publish them when I'm back home.

So. It has been a very, very long week. Over ten days I have drawn 38 pages of horrible pots, had 19 breakfasts, 34 cups of tea, and 18 fried things, and have thought 143 uncharitable things about people. There's lots of time to think when you're hunched over a drawing table for nine hours a day.

Highlights as I recall them:

Tuesday: Arrive in the village and unpack stuff. Try not to breathe in too much rat poison. Discover a litter of kittens on top of one of our boxes. The villagers proclaim them "disgusting". They are not. They are adorable and have tiny little blue eyes. However, the box is covered in "birthing matter", and IS disgusting. We move it somewhere quiet and decide not to unpack it. Mum removes the kittens to safety later on.

Wednesday: A thick fog covers the village and me and my room-mate go for a walk before breakfast. Village is very pretty when there are no children around.

Now, there's not enough running water to test that whole "water going down drains in the wrong direction thing" in the northern hemisphere, but notice one oddity that I attribute to latitude: things get "blue-eye" rather than "red-eye" in photos. That, or this sheep is possessed. Wouldn't rule it out.

Today is the first proper day of work. Good grief. I hate drawing. Am cheered up when M produces deep-fried omelettes for lunch. Deep-fried I tells ya! Have an orange to counter-act the badness and deliciousness.

Thursday: More of the same, but replace deep-fried omelette with deep-fried battered eggplant. I'm sensing a theme developing. Hot water is connected today and have first shower. I'm not as tanned as I thought I was. Can also run fingers through hair now, and children seem less frightened. Tonight I dream there is a coordinated terrorist attack all around the world. The Australian target is Craigieburn. It is completely destroyed by some kind of sonar bomb that leaves no scorching. Craigieburn. Oh, the humanity.

Friday: We get to sleep in as this is supposed to be a day off. M goes to Aleppo, so we fend for ourselves in the kitchen and there is much rejoicing and eating of many things. Am soothed from bad dream by pancakes. They helped some, but what would really have helped would be more pancakes. M returns in the evening with chickens and there is more rejoicing. Some chicken is smuggled to the kittens' mum and she says thank you in Arabic. We can't understand her.

Saturday: The most boring of days.

Sunday: Deep-fried zucchini for lunch today. Thank God. Was desperate for oil. Discover that I really am crap at maths and everyone was right after all. Try to work out circumference of a pot with a 42mm radius. Come up with 1825cm. Feel that's not right. Then remember that I only need the diameter and I double the radius. Hard even for me to stuff that one up.

Monday: You know, the thing about Bloggery is that you can't always be as forthright and honest as you might be when talking to your friends down at the club. But I digress. Today everyone is really enjoying everyone else's company, and I'm amazed that there are NO TENSIONS WHATSOEVER. Extraordinary. There is a moment of excitement today when some strange men come and remove our compound door with no explanation. They return it several hours later with a shiny new lock on it. Nobody has a key.

Tuesday: There has been a crisis that has threatened to close the dig down: no tonic can be found in Aleppo, and there is much distress and shakiness. And inventiveness. Evenings see mixing gin and lemon squash (the favorite option), gin and cola (interesting), gin and fanta (bright and cheerful), and even one adventurous gin and Jagermeister (least popular). M goes into Aleppo to try and get tonic (oh, and to pick up two new team members). No luck. We get two new people, but the factory that makes tonic has closed down. Probably because we have been away for a year. Lemon squash runs out. It's getting frightening. I back out of the compound and lock myself in my room, leaving scattered people clutching knees, rocking and sobbing.

Wednesday: Wake from a dream that a government minister has died, and the House sings Amazing Grace in his honour. The Libs sing it the best because they have stacked their benches with opera singers. Also, a big red macaw comes to the window with a box of tissues for me. Today I notice clouds of rat poison coming off the bags of pottery I'm drawing. This might explain dreams. Try not to breathe and give thanks that I'm not a rat. Probably wouldn't have been invited if I was. Rats are crap illustrators.

Thursday: Today. Hurrah! Clean clothes and a falafel. What more does a girl need? Am looking forward to a night on the town. Maybe even another falafel this afternoon.......

I leave you with some words of wisdom from the intersection near the village.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Aleppo. The reasonably-sized apple. The city that never sleeps (except between midday and three, and then again at night-time). The city so nice they named it once. So many things to so many people.

Arrived this afternoon after an uneventful bus trip. Wait, that's a bit boring. OK, let's say we arrived after we were delayed on the road tending to a bear that seemed to be a bit disoriented and dehydrated. No. A giraffe. No. Piers Akerman - he was still cramped and cranky from flying over here in economy with the octuplets and their widely maligned mother, and he needed comforting with pasties.

So, after that adventure we arrived not knowing if we had accommodation. Easter is apparently a big weekend for the hotels here. Anyway, after much hand wringing and rolling eyes we found shelter in our usual digs (in the street where one goes to buy tyres and Russian ladies).

Aleppo has changed again this year. Streets have pay parking (50 Syrian Pounds an hour - VERY steep indeed), and I have seen three cars clamped. Nothing else noticed so far, but I've been too busy blowing my nose and thinking about falafel. Usual day really.

Off to the village tomorrow, so unless the sheep-pen attached to our work compound has been converted to an internet cafe, I shall be incommunicado until Thursday next week.

Enjoy the last of the Easter festival. Hope to give you an update with pictures (!) soon.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

adventures up the pointy end

There are a number of things a girl loves to hear someone say to her:

1: "I love you"
2: "I like your feet - they're not strange at all"
3: "Go ahead - the last samosa is all yours"

But perhaps sweetest of all is

4: "We're upgrading you to Business Class"

It was number four that has me forgetting my raging cold and dancing a dainty little jig at the check-in counter at Sydney airport yesterday.

Despite having a throat that feels like 240 grit sandpaper (for those of you unfamiliar with abrasive products, that's gritty) and a head that feels like it is full of pink batts (they're soft, but a bit itchy), I am looking forward to boarding the plane. My trip to the airport had me imagining the 14.5 hour trip squashed between Piers Akerman and that lady with the octuplets, but now I'm excited about the prospect of drinking from glass, spiffy toiletries, and most excitingly the prospect of horizontalness.

So, skipping ahead, I'm reclining in my capsule with a drink (in glass!), attracting looks of pure hate from the economy passengers filing past, and playing with the buttons on the massage seat. Drrrrrrrrrrrr (shoulders), drrrrrrrrrrrr (right buttock), drrrrrrrrr (left buttock), drrrrrrrr (both legs), drrrrrrrrr (left buttock again. Surprisingly).

I'm offered a drink, but there's a problem. I'm not supposed to drink alcohol while I'm taking cold and flu tablets. What's a girl to do? I take the advice of my Fella (who is not a doctor, but is very wise), and do not take my tablets. Two glasses of Californian pinot noir later and that seems like good advice.

Food is wonderful. I have the "grass-fed lamb shanks". I wonder idly what the economy class lambs were fed. Unfortunately am so full from the half-loaf of bread and dips that preceded the meal that I can't face dessert. Nor select anything else from the menu. It saddens me, because they have "many flavours of crisps and Doritos" and I can't fit them in.

So, I sleep for nine hours (nine!!), and then watch a movie. There's still an hour left. What should I do? Hmmmm.

Drrrrrrrrr (left buttock).

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

it begins

So. After resisting so hard for so many years, I have thrown myself into the blogosphere like a cat into a bucket of foie gras.

In two days I'm leaving on a jet plane. I know exactly when I'll be back again, but before that time I'll have spent almost six weeks in Syria, eating hommus and not showering. Yes, I could do that at home, but I'd be continually harrassed by possums and shunned by people on the street. My archaeologist friends wouldn't care.

Happy Easter to all, and I will report to you from beautiful Aleppo.

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