Wednesday, December 30, 2009

No Talking Tuesday # 118

The List:

1 for where the wild things
are please

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

No Talking Tuesday Year End Wrap Up
End of Year Two

Click here for summery and origins.

I finished my second year of no talking a few weeks back.
And thought to summarize my impressions as I did the year previous.

Impressions of year two

As expected the second year was less fraught with challenge, triumphs, and surprises than the first, but what it lacked in revelations, it made up for with deeper more subtle nuances. As I had become more sensitive and finely calibrated to notice what I hadn't before. The first year I was conscious and militant about not re-scheduling or altering my life on Tuesdays and to treat it the same as any other day of the week. This was to make sure I didn't shy away from doing things like going to the bank, or doctor etc. where I might feel embarrassed or uncomfortable not talking in a more professional or clinical environment. I've noticed the second year however that I've begun treating my Tuesdays differently in this respect. The value of my not talking on Tuesdays has enlarged to become the one day a week where I'm free from the numerous and ever present obligations both big and small, which weigh upon me (as they do everyone). This started when I became aware of how much I came to enjoy hanging out with my friends, or in social situations in general, on Tuesdays precisely because no one expected me to speak. Very often I'm the M.C. in get togethers, and am half expected to reside over conversation, to supply ample and regular interjections of whit and whimsy, playfully antagonistic jeers etc. And though I enjoy the roll, and have defined it as much for myself, still, it is nice to hang out with a group of friends and simply participate through quite absorption. That hasn't really become possible until this last year, as everyone close to me has finally had enough time to acclimate to the inherently unnerving and distracting impression, of hanging out with someone who can talk but doesn't. Likewise this pleasure of quite absorption has become the prevailing theme of Tuesdays for me in a more general sense, and I've begun to shy away from taxing, organizational or tedious chores on Tuesdays, such as paying bills/sorting/writing emails or any of the other things that allow themselves to be put off for a day without real consequence.

From the very beginning of the experiment, I've noticed my inclination to write my thoughts to others on Tuesdays, continually lesson. I now even enjoy miming my meaning to others, and finding the refinement of that ability rewarding and a natural filter to determine which of my ideas I wish to communicate, are worth the bother. And if someone isn't understanding the meaning I'm gesturing, I tend now to simply give up trying to express it, with a shrug of my shoulders in place of writing it. To this point, I've noticed that in general where the other days of the week are concerned, I'm much more inclined to keep to myself, the thoughts, I would otherwise feel compelled to express. This ability to be okay with others not knowing and therefore not having a chance to admire and validate the merits of my contribution, is one of the main insights and advantages the no talking experiment has furnished me. It's startling how much credit people began to give me with respect to what they perceived to be my intelligence, creativity, perception, reasoning etc. simply because they came to understand that I don't always rush to communicate what's on my mind, and that when I do, it's without haste, and consistently valuable and pertinent to the moment. Reinforcing this practice through a weekly reminder of what fuels this regard is justification enough for me to continue the experiment indefinitely.

Other people adopting the experiment for themselves

Another change this last year has been some people have decided not speak to me on Tuesdays but only communicate through gesture and writing. This is often easy enough to do, and gives others a taste of what it's like to not speak, at least with one person, who they know will understand and support the choice. A few have taken it further and decided to try no talking Tuesdays for themselves on a trial basis with varying levels of success. They always fudge the rules somewhat and make mistakes and admit to me after that it's a lot harder than I make it appear. Success with the experiment is like success with any change to habit or beliefs, namely that you have to understand the change as additive and not subtractive. For example people who define their diet by what they don't eat by saying they don't eat meat, or animal products, or whatever, don't succeed in their dietary goals as often as those who define their diets by what they do eat. For example by saying that they prefer a diet of mostly green vegetables, or fresh local organic produce etc. Likewise, though I call it 'no talking Tuesday' , really the day is less about not talking, and more about listening, observing, reflection and a myriad of other things that make the experience additive not subtractive. Without these additive aspects as motivation, a day of simply not talking is not very rewarding and proves needlessly difficult.

No talking Tuesday on the world stage

This last year has also found me taking no talking Tuesdays international. First to France, and then later across the US via a road trip. Another trip to Montana, then to Germany, and finally to Greece and the various places in between. I of course was around people during all of these trips, many of them travelers themselves, and so directly or indirectly, have infected awareness of the experiment to people the world over.

This being said, I am far from being a no talking pundit, obnoxiously expounding on the merits of the experiment everywhere I go. Actually sometime during the first year I created a soft rule for myself that I'm not allowed to explain/talk about/warn/ anyone about no talking Tuesday who didn't already know about it. I began having fun with this, and cryptically talking around it when it threatened to come up in the natural course of conversation, creating all sorts of confusing questions for the other person. Questions I artfully dodge , only to look on with satisfaction as they figure out sometime later, through time spent with me on Tuesday, or from talking to someone who knows the missing pieces of the puzzle.

Bad dreams

All these things have allowed me to settle into a comfort with Tuesdays and the role it plays in my life. But for whatever reason this last year I've been having an increasing number of bad dreams wherein I accidently talk on Tuesdays. These dreams almost always happen the night before, and it's gotten to the point where rarely does a Tuesday come round where I don't wake to it from such a dream. Many of these dreams are very realistic and overlap in great measure with the goings on of my everyday life. Leaving me upon wake up, confused and unsettled. Often this unease lingers all day and should I happen in the course of a Tuesday to take a nap, I am likewise almost guaranteed to be plagued with the same sort of dreams.

Rule Revisions:

The main rule revision I made for the second year, was to no longer make it mandatory to extend no talking time past midnight, until I wake up Wednesday morning. For reasons I explained during the last wrap up. Though it's no longer a proper rule, I have in practice continued as before, with very few exceptions, to continue not talking until I wake up Wednesday morning. The difference being of course that now it's voluntary, and I've defined it as such, but more importantly I now have a clear understanding of when I choose to extend the no talking time and when I do not. Namely, whenever I am with people after midnight whom I was also with before midnight, I continue the no talking until I wake Wednesday. If on the other hand I'm meeting up with someone after midnight or someone calls me after midnight and I'm alone, then I feel free to begin talking again. The reason for this is that it proved much too disorienting and uncomfortable for me to suddenly start talking with someone (or a group of people) who I had until that moment been mute with. (I made a few exceptions in observance of certain romantic situations and one time recently where I was called upon to express my ideas about the symbolism used in the film Searching for Bobby Fischer...)

Also for the record I've been consistent with another set of rules that I must always post the current no talking Tuesday entry before the following Tuesday passes, and to never censor my no talking writing list except for when I'm contractually obligated to do so in respect to non disclosure agreements for work related communications. Speaking of which this year ushered in my 100th no talking Tuesday, for which I celebrated by choosing to not write as well as not to speak. (Not a very dramatic gesture as this often passes anyway by chance.)

I have in this last year begun to falter on the stipulation that my no talking days be signaled through a visual queue in my dress. Sometime during the first year this had simply settled into me dressing in all black, which due to a myriad of different incidents ranging from laundry misshapes, to unpredictable travel scenarios, and a lack of prioritizing, lead to a handful of Tuesdays with no visual cue. This rule has never really fit into the main thrust of the experiment but rather as an auxiliary support I'm fine with downgrading to one of the soft rules for the third year, though it's likely I will continue to dress in all black on Tuesdays as consistently as I have been.

No Talking Tuesday # 117

Back in Santa Barbara for the holidays. Mutely hanging out with the same friends I stole loquats and blackberries with, from the neighboring houses, walking home from elementary school.

No List
No Talking Tuesday # 116

No list, nothing special to report.

Monday, December 21, 2009


I've decided to break from the normal structure of my travel memoirs, and allow this one to be decidedly more indulgent and neurotic than the rest. Which come to think of it, is a disclaimer I've been using to preface much of my actions lately. In any case, if you'd prefer to bypass all this jibber jabber and get right to the action.

Click image to see rest of photos:

I thought it best to introduce the trip through a journal entry of sorts I made a few days after arriving, that I feel goes a long way in representing the six weeks I spent in Greece:

Greetings From Greece

After 40+ hours of traveling via car, subway, planes, shuttle, ferry, buses and walking, I finally arrived in Oia, a small cliff-side town on the island of Santorini in Greece. I'm staying at a bookstore owned by friends of friends, and in exchange for my boarding and food stipend, I help run the store with a few others who come and go between travels. I'll be here for the next six weeks, and so far my days have consisted of being molested by the bookstore cat and kitten, eating delicious Greek food, talking to travelers and exploring the island. The bookstore itself is incredible, built like some ten year old's tree fort-esque fantasy. Case in point, I sleep in a loft bed hidden behind a pair of hinged bookshelves.

Yesterday I felt I finally settled into my new island life, when I took the day to hike out to a beach. I had gotten the inside scoop about a great spot known mostly to locals that promised to be incredible. Having grown up in a beach town myself I'm always looking to discover prime examples during my travels abroad.

I set out on foot for a five mile hike along rocky sea side cliffs and through beautiful mountain ensconced countrysides. I really wasn't prepared for how beautiful the landscape was, a was lost in a whirlwind of aesthetic impressions and hypnotizing vistas.

After a couple hours I finally arrived at the beach, there was no one else but me and the smashing waves and dark earth. I undressed and walked into the warm water. The waves thrashed violently from the stiff winds, sending towers of spray shooting up against black rocks. I swam past the shore break and floated among the muted calm of the swelling ocean. Of course I couldn't leave until I appeased ten year old Ali and body surfed a few of the larger waves.

The walk back was soaked in the light of a beautiful sky swallowing sunset, appreciated over a bowl of fish soup from a restful outdoor cafe. I think it might be curious to point out that throughout the entire day of walking and swimming I had the Grizzly Bear song Knife stuck in my head.

Grizzly Bear - Knife

Walking down the black pebbled beach and across the grassy country roads singing it out loud to myself.

The walks, beach, and cafe were all similarly deserted of people other than the squat smiling old woman who served my soup. The only other company I had during my outing was the occasional barking dog.

On the way back a group of stray dogs on the road rushed towards me barking and snarling. The day of walking and swimming had left me far too peaceful and aesthetically overwhelmed to feel anything close to fear or anger, and I met their blood thirsty charge with a loud shout in an excited playful tone "Pouch! Come here!" while bending down and slapping my thighs. Immediately their snarling faces turned to confused stares and after an obligatory sniff or two, were on their way.

Further on I was struck by how the setting sun played off the architecture of a small house along the road. I began setting up a shot with my camera and noticed behind me, far up a driveway, a German Sheppard eying me with interest. My sight then fell across a sign on the front gate in Greek showing a dog, and under it fierce looking red letters foretelling danger. I thought him far enough away that I had time to react should he start barking and running towards me, and continued setting up my shot. When I came away from the viewfinder to pull the dark slide, I saw with muted surprise that the dog was lying by my feet. I took the shot and nervously put my camera back in my bag. I was about to leave when I noticed the calm endearing manner with which he was laying, watching me, and I felt a rare urge to pet him. Having always had bad luck with dogs however I didn't want to risk moving my hand towards his face only to find him suddenly burst out into snarls and sharp teeth. So I poured some water from my bottle into my hand for him to drink. He didn't understand so I drank it myself and poured another. He figured it out and came over to lap the water from my cupped palm. He drank with such relish I poured another. When he finished he continued licking all over my hand, I considered giving him more and found myself thinking how this small bottle of water is all I had to stay hydrated for a ten mile walk and ocean swim and found myself begrudging him anymore. I immediately felt ashamed of my selfishness and gave him the rest. I sat down to put my socks and shoes on my now dry feet. Having already won over his affections with the water, my new friend was delighted to have me sitting down on his level and started wrestling me with kisses and hugs. My previous dog prejudice melted under his enthusiastic delight and I pet him as the occasional car passed, with drivers smiling over seeing a young man sitting on the grass, petting a dog, alongside an abandoned country road.

When I finally got up to leave a panic seized him and he desperately jumped up pawing me, and lightly biting on my bag and hands to keep me longer. I was annoyed by the bites and repeated "No" and walked away faster. When it was clear I wasn't going to stay, he turned back and I watched with enormous sympathy as he slinked back home by himself. I suddenly had a revelation. The dog was me, reflected back with startling symbolic clarity. Leaping and biting to hold on, out of frustration and loneliness, not wanting to let go a connection waited for so long. Like that dog I need to learn how to let go gracefully. Besides who knows if I might someday happen down that same road, maybe then I'll have something more than a handful of water and five minutes of affection to spare. But even during this sentimental reverie my inner cynic (realist?) answered with those well known words:

Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I guess we all have a beach or a bed to get to, biting on in the mean time to transient pleasures. It's sad when you have to give up what you've longed for so long. But what's the alternative? To suffer through desire, closing your eyes to life, praying to not feel or want? No, I have to take pleasure where I can find it, and then when it's time, let it pass.

The Bookshop

In case it's confusing how I managed a six week Greek island vacation, working at a bookshop of all places, let me explain.

One of my bay area friends is part owner of co-op bookshop in Santorini called Atlantis Books, which is run by an ever changing cast of friends and travelers. The bookshop has all the amenities to keep a scraggly band of travelers working and content such as beds, shower, kitchen etc. This all requires at least one person working at any given time. So when more people are staying at the shop, it affords us all the increased flexibility of taking shifts behind the till for time spent at the beach or hiking etc.

I had always held the assumption that business was essentially a Darwinian struggle to best competition, while fending off would be predators, in order to vie for the business of customers. The bookshop however operates on an entirely different paradigm. Most notably for me is the complete lack of adversaries it inspires. The island locals are proud and grateful for the store, especially since they can find books in Greek. The tourists are delighted at the unexpected opportunity to refresh their travel reading, or take home a colorful coffee table book. The surrounding business are happy the bookshop does its part to attract people to the area, while not directly competing with them. The people working the store like myself are grateful for the opportunity to stay in such a beautiful location with inspiring company. And of course the owners are happy the store is performing all the above functions, as well as being profitable for them. In short the bookstore improves the lives of everyone it touches.

Travel Time-share Economic Model

Working at the bookstore was my first introduction to this economic model, and has since completely redefined my understanding of work, and how one goes about making their livelihood. Rather than working in an unpleasant company cubicle, earning money which you then use to pay bills and exchange for leisure and freedom in the form of material possessions, travel, food, entertainment etc. You can instead cut out the monetary middleman, and the make the exchange more direct and efficient, by getting all those things through the job itself. Working at the bookshop is a prime example. While I didn't make money, I had a place to live, and all the exotic meals and entertainment and adventure I can ask for as part of the circumstances of my work. And while all this may sound well and good for this one specific bookshop in Greece, I found among the many travelers I met, that this system is in use everywhere, under any number of pretexts. In fact no matter what your interests or expertise, there is already likely a loosely connected network of business, institutions, people, or organizations which provide a similar timeshare employment structure. I met people who work in this manner traveling between farms, working as bartenders in hotels, teaching English in foreign universities, photography/photo journalism freelance, helping run art workshops etc. It seems like no matter what your focus, someone somewhere can benefit from it, and in exchange for your time and efforts, you get to make use of their hospitality, in what's often an exotic and beautiful location and culture. Much like my experience in the bookshop, everyone wins.

This kind of lifestyle may not make much sense for someone middle aged with a mortgage and family, but for young people free of such responsibilities, especially at a time when the economy isn't supplying young people with enough of traditional nine to five office jobs, this travel/exchange model seems like a great alternative. Some of the people I met found these opportunities through hours of google searches and internet probing, but most discovered as I had, exposure to these work opportunities increases in direct proportion to how much you travel. Which makes sense, since many of the people you meet travelling are travelers themselves, and are more likely to be keyed into such opportunities. I need go no further than my own experience to demonstrate this point, as it was my impulsive and arguably brash decision to go to Paris in spring that I learned about the Greece bookshop opportunity. And it's from my time in Greece, that I now have open invitations from those I befriended, to stay at any number of places the world over. And many of these people exposed me to various work opportunities in various countries similar to the one of the bookshop. In short, traveling and adventure begets more of the same, and in many cases is kick started by fearlessly plunging into something with an open mind and a willingness to get in over your head.

Settling in at the Bookshop

I had planned for my time in Greece to be mostly a passive, tranquil backdrop, allowing me the opportunity to complete a number of personal writing and art projects, I had been procrastinating far too long. What I hadn't counted on however, was how satisfying and exciting the social aspect of the trip would be. For the first couple weeks the only person running the shop with me was James, who also turned out to be the only other male in an increasing and ever changing roster of ladies, who joined us over the subsequent weeks. James is a teacher and musician, based out of Colorado, and working in New Orleans, before he began his travels. Within the first hour of my arrival we bonded over our respective female drama back home, and maintained an alarmingly tacit understanding of each other throughout my stay. Later we were joined by a steady stream of women, coming from Colorado, New York, and London. Also various customers were upgraded to honorary members of our posse, such that every week found the bookstore roster growing and changing.


The ever changing and strengthening bookshop group found a sort of social anchor most nights in the backroom of the shop, or else up on the terrace, passing a bottle of wine and a steel string guitar, which for my part was often accompanied (arguably distastefully) by bongos and juice or tea. When we weren't making music ourselves, there was a sort of survival of the fittest struggle over who got to play their music in the bookshop. Eventually each person's music preferences became cemented to their personality with astounding accuracy. I for my part played mostly annoying hipster dance music, until I became completely obsessed with Hall and Oates (much to the chagrin of everyone else Link to Hall and Oates post). James played mostly "sad bastard music", which is a term I use to describe mostly male acoustic guitar, plodding, soulful songs of love and loss. Debbie played what I dubbed old wheezy honky tonk, as in music you might expect to accompany an old silent film. And Ellie played sex charged hip hop/funk, and Dez played mostly emo rock. I think it also worth noting one song in particular in James's sad bastard repertoire. I don't really pay attention to lyrics in music, but I gathered through repeated plays that the singer in this song was saying the word “China”... a lot. I eventually dubbed the song "Fifty Times China" and it’s how the song has been known since.


We all seemed to meet at the musical crossroads that was Paul Simon's Graceland. James innocently played the album one morning which then caused me to have "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" stuck in my head, and singing it out loud while floating on my back in the Aegean sea, starring up at the calm summer sky. I began playing it with increasing regularity afterwards, and eventually Ellie settled on the song to be our unofficial wake up call each morning when it was time for us to open the shop. I can probably speak for the group when I say the album has since become irrevocably associated with our memories of Greece.

Paul Simon - Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes


Another major theme of the trip not surprisingly was food. We all received a food stipend that just about covered our grocery expenses. And a large part of each day was devoted by one or all in preparing what became increasingly elaborate and delicious meals. It had turned into a sort of competition by the end, and we all began plotting our culinary feats days in advance. The available produce was of fantastic quality if but limited in variety, and of course the Greek staples of yogurt, olives, cheese, oil etc. were all as delicious and inexpensive as you could expect or hope.

Figuring out how to take these mostly unwavering stock ingredients and fashion them into fresh new combinations became increasingly challenging, and yet oddly satisfying. One night I was hit with a sting of inspiration, and suddenly proclaimed I had just come up with an idea for an incredibly fancy drink... People looked over to me unsure what I meant. Instead of explaining myself I just kept repeating with increasing severity and enthusiasm that the drink was to be unbelievably fancy. When asked what was going to be in it I just kept assuring them of its fanciness. James observed with some worry that at no time did I promise it would taste good, just that it would be fancy. I continued to advertise the fanciness for another twenty minutes before finally heading into the kitchen. First I brought some apple juice to a simmer with crushed cardamom and cinnamon. Then poured the left over syrup from a carton of Greek baklava into the bottom of each person's cup, and finally poured in the steaming juice infusion. Everyone received the drink with distrust, dubious it could possibly live up to my fancy toting, but after a sip were forced to admit, that it was in fact the fanciest drink they had ever had. Its value was in part that the drink could only be made once for every carton of baklava we went through, making it an infrequent and satisfying indulgence. It became thereafter known as fancy drink, and to speak of the ingredients to someone, before they tasted it, and had a chance to guess for themselves, became strictly prohibited.

As a rule I only eat red meat and pork when I travel overseas. The reasons are many and range from political, environmental, and health concerns I won't go into here. That being said, I do love the taste of meat, and the versatility of its function within a meal. One reward of my abstinence is that when I finally do get to bite into a thick steak, it's always in an exotic local, whereby imbuing the meal with positive associations of travel, and adding a wonderful bonus to my stays overseas. Case in point, on this trip I had an especially charged meat moment instigated while perusing the take out menu of a local Greek/Polish restaurant we habitually ordered from. Earlier that day Debb and Ellie returned from lunch with arms full of glass bottle cola, they had received as a gift from a restaurant getting ready to close for the season. The soda languished in the refrigerator, as the bookshop was too full of people with enough good sense to not make a habit of drinking soda. I for my part hadn't had a soda in I think close to a decade, and thought of this when I read the word "Cheeseburger" on the menu before me. I hadn't had a cheeseburger since high school when I worked at In-N-Out Burger in Santa Barbara, and suddenly the prospect of having a burger and cola struck me as equal parts terrifying and appealing. Thirty minutes later found me intoxicated by this intense time travelling adventure, submerged in the thick savory flavors and textures recalling my youth. I was lost in an intensely American experience of burger/fries/soda, juxtaposed against the dimly lit homey atmosphere of a bookshop in Greece. The experience jarred awake something inside me, and for the rest of the trip I fiercely indulged in the most intense meat experiences I could manage, from beef liver to roasted lamb and the like.


One of the owners of the bookshop is a devout chess player, and over time the locals came to regard the bookshop as a sort of chess hub. Besides the requisite boards and clocks, locals know they can usually find someone ready and willing to play inside, and would often stop by for a quick game. I for my part have been keen on the game for many years, but as I've always been the only person I know who plays, I've long resigned myself to privately nursing my chess habit, playing against myself or against surly Russian guys online. So suddenly finding myself in a chess charged environment, with people who play out of sincere desire, instead of charity to my craving, was a revelation, and allowed me to dive into the game with full abandon. I played between two and twenty games a day, with people from the shop, locals, and online. It eventually become comical, as almost every outing found at least two of us huddled over a little magnet travel set. So much so I considered doing a photo series wherein stunning Greek vistas surround two people at a chess board too focused on the pieces to notice.

Similar to the music/personality correlation, James had noticed each of the guys chess play styles, especially their openings, mirrored their strategy for courting the opposite sex. Of mine, he pointed out that in my openings I move systematically, adhering to purist guiding principles, which tends to push my pieces out into the center in an almost overwhelmingly upfront way. And if the opponent can handle it, and not be put off by the seemingly impassible wall I create in doing so, then the game will naturally open up into many dynamic possibilities, which due to my strictly observed principles, ensures tactical opportunities will naturally evolve, which I'll likely benefit from. Other guy’s styles ranged from uncalculated swash buckling, to luring in slowly through guided temptation etc. On a similar note, the women staying at the bookstore became understandably and increasingly annoyed by the constant chess playing, which often delayed outings and meals, or otherwise rendered at least two people largely mute and socially unproductive. Though by the end, even they began to warm to the game, and playing themselves to my skeptical delight.


Santorini has a charming (and yes at times annoying) prevalence of cats and dogs. Many without proper owners, yet not exactly what we would call strays. Rather, ownership is shared by the community, and the animals are free to come and go as they please, having plenty of food and water set out for them by any number of shop keepers and families around town. The result is that with their basic needs met, they are free to spend thier days in idle diversion. Namely choosing a random passerby as a makeshift pack leader, and helping escort them during the rest of their journey. It's not uncommon therefore when setting out on a hike, or walk to the beach, or even to the ATM for that matter, to suddenly find yourself commanding a brigade of dogs who's usefulness (though not their earnestness) is up for question.

During one of our early morning club excursions, we had amassed a pack of over fifteen dogs, all walking in pace with us, through the town and neighboring roads and cliffs. An arresting sight to the passersby, innocently walking back from the bakery, seeing a small tired group of travelers leading an army of dogs through their town.


If you graphed my whimsicality over the years, you would notice a steady linear increase starting around high school. You would also see a sudden spike that seemed so extreme you would have to call the experiment lead over to check the print outs, and make sure the whimsical meter was still properly calibrated. But no, the machine works fine. That spike is my whimsically saturated time in Greece. Santorini with its clean air, expansive vistas, and abundant supply of adventure seeking companions, led me into an unprecedented fit of whimsical jubilance. Eventually I took to creating "clubs" for my new whimsical resolutions. The first was "Early Morning Club", wherein club members agree to wake up early most morning to take full advantage of the day, and watch the amazing sunrises Santorini is habitually blessed with. Another club was "Water Club", created to help combat the extra dryness of the island, and too keep us hydrated on our various outings. Club members were required to say "water club" before downing every glass of water, of which they were encouraged to do often, and as a show of solidarity any reference to water drinking was simply replaced with "water club". For example pointing to a glass one might say "Hey can you pass my water club?", or "Make sure to pack a bottle of water club for the hike." etc. The practice became so pervasive, I would often overhear someone alone in another room faintly mutter "water club" before drinking. Likewise I still continuously find myself reflexively saying it since my return.

Like so many of the projects I take on, I began to feel overwhelmed by all the whimsical obligations I was putting myself under, and decided to take best advantage of the time left by creating a "whimsical to do list" and posting it on the wall. Which besides acting as a daily reminder of adventures yet to be had, also doubled as the most potent tool to rope in unsuspecting women travelers into our marry band. To explain this point more fully I'll have to again point out the uncanny understanding James and I developed with each other. Maybe it was the communal living environment, or the countless daily chess games that got us so into each others heads, but whatever the reason, eventually James and I developed among our mutual understandings, one which dealt with romantic quart ship. Both being vaguely tethered emotionally to "something complicated" back in the states, neither of us really was as panting-ly motivated as we may have been otherwise to garner new affections. This being said, we seldom let a beautiful young female customer leave without drawing her into our whimsical netting. James being the undisputed master of small talk, would help them acclimate to the bookstore and our presence, with questions about where they were from, talk about their travels, local restaurants, the history of the bookstore etc. All the while I sat silent and disinterested, as I always am with small talk. Most of the times my mute disinterest to these initiation proceeding caused the girl to assume I only spoke Greek, and that James and I were a sort of American/Greek episode of perfect strangers. That is until they wrapped up their genteel conversation with James and turned to leave. At this point I would set my spoon into my bowl of cereal, straighten up in my chair, snap out of my detached languor, and say in a sharp deliberate tone "Hey." This never failed to stop them in their tracks, and they would turn towards me in surprise, and not without a small amount of apprehension, both because it suddenly became clear I spoke English, and as such had completely understood their conversation yet had chosen to not participate, and that after commanding their attention with "Hey."I proceeded to simply sit there starring at them without a follow up, marinating in this silence far longer than polite conversation would deem appropriate. I would take advantage of the shock and gaping silence, to explain in a strangely grave tone, all about the whimsical to do list, and the specifics of whatever adventure was currently in the works, and whether the next adventure was slotted for after closing that night, or else during early morning club the next day, and invite them to join. No phone numbers exchanged, no commitments urged, simply that if they wanted to come along, they knew where to find us, and if they showed up in time, we would take them along. After each such invitation, James and I would assume nothing would come of it. Yet every time without exception the girl (or girls) would show up at the designated time, without fail. Often they would continue to join us on subsequent adventures until their travels took them beyond the island, and in a few cases they extended their stay for the express purpose of not missing out on future outings. Such dedication earned them honorary membership into the prestige's and exclusive water and early morning clubs. This system James and I perfected, where he draws them in and lulls them into comfort and receptivity with magnificently orchestrated small talk, after which I swoop in with an intense surgical strike of whimsy, much like my chess play, opened us up for many tactical advantages later, that always kept things interesting. Even on no talking Tuesday, our tag team approach continued unabated, my roll often simplified to nodding my head over to the whimsical to do list at the appropriate moment during James's small talk acclimation.

Speaking of which I have to say James more than anyone else I've yet met, had a really uncanny ability to understand me on no talking Tuesday. Often he could decode in an instant, a complex and often abstract piece of communication, from the simple flux in my facial expression, or subtle gesture. He was so good at being able to figure out my intended meaning, that when other people were around, and poised with the same task, would often react with disbelief at how suspiciously well James and I could communicate on this non verbal level.

As profane and shameless as this female cavorting may sound, in all honestly, rarely did things go anywhere disreputable, due to our respective back home complications. Instead we let our perfect strangers themed pick up strategy exist to insure a steady stream of whimsy prone adventurers to cause mischief with. In our darkest hour this took the form of leading a group of seventeen year old girls (we found this out later) to break into an abandoned old building, for which we got vehemently berated by an old Greek woman, who even went as far as to throttle me as we tried to make our escape. That notwithstanding, most of our adventures took the form of late night sneaking into hotel pools, sampling chocolate desserts from a much talked about restaurant, creating elaborate pot luck dinners to be enjoyed by candle and moonlight atop our terrace, and of course running a "Beatnik Night", complete with black garb, angsty free form poetry, finger snaps and bongos.

It was during such scenes, among the company of these amazing people, passing a guitar, drinking water club, or fancy drink, that it became easy to be overwhelmed by all the amazing and surprisingly deep connections we were forging with one another. James and I spoke of this one night which I often return to in my thoughts. James had been in Europe already a few months by the time I came out, and had developed a few travel weary thoughts on the topic. He reflected with a note of sadness that while all the new connections made with highly alive people in such inspirational and whimsically charged circumstances, does promote deeper more quickly developed connections, it also makes it all the more disturbing when time and again your travels quickly separate you, as easily as you were brought together. Goodbye follows too soon after hello, and living off the fumes of these intense rapid fire connections starts to become emotionally draining. A longing for something more permanent and untainted by expiration forces you to erect walls between you and others, to protect yourself from the impact of ricocheting off each other, making it harder to fully lose yourself in that momentary explosion of intimacy or friendship. After our conversation, I began to notice this psychology at work with many of the people I met thereafter, and it always struck me with beautiful sadness and stirred my sympathies.

Seasons Change

At the start of November, as the ocean became too cold for comfort, and the floods of tourists from cruise ships and tour buses dried up, the Island underwent a profound change. Customers suddenly stopped coming down the front steps into the bookshop, and the surrounding shops began locking their shutters for winter. Thick dark clouds rumbling across the sky became common place, and intense winds threatened to blow over whatever wasn't strongly fastened. Almost literally overnight the town in which I was staying, went from being sunny and full to the gills with sashaying tourists, to an empty, desolate, windswept ghost town, boarded up and eerily quite except for the deeply ominous howl of the wind. Walking around felt strangely improper, as if I had missed an evacuation warning, and was risking my life to an incoming storm.

I'm reminded of one such night in particular. Debb, Ellie and I had snuck into the dilapidated ruins of a group of old houses to catch up on some sketching, when we noticed an approaching storm creep towards us from over the water. Perched atop seaside cliffs admit ruinous surroundings, we watched this large black churning mass of clouds grow out from the horizon, draping muted sheets of rain, stippling the calm silver water below. In time the storm crept in towards us, easing in between the arms of land extending from either side of our crescent shaped island. Thin slivers of lightning flashed in various recesses of the storm, seen but as yet unheard. We put our pens down as the setting sun gave way to a steely hushed twilight, accelerated to darkness by the gathering storm. As if the storm wasn't entertainment enough, behind us suddenly shrieks and sizzling sounded as hot pinwheels of color exploded and shivered down the sky. It was a seemingly pointless fireworks show which attempted to outflank our retreat from the approaching storm. The fireworks soon ended as pointlessly as they begun, and by the time we returned to the bookshop, the darkness was complete, and the guttural rumblings of the storm could now be heard mounting in the distance. Once inside I went about my neurotic tea preparations, and as such was lost to the world for twenty minutes. When I came back into the room to join the others, I found the storm had by this time made its way over the sea and was thrashing in full force above us. Thick braids of water came pouring down the stairs behind the front windows, which periodically burst into blinding flashes, leaving fuzzy squares of light echoing through my vision. The skies shy mutterings had by this time grown to a bassy roar which threatened to drown out any expression of awe we may have otherwise shared, causing us instead to sit in silent contemplation of the storm. It was about this time that the lights went out. Prepared for this eventuality, we quickly had the entire bookshop aglow with the delicate flicker of candle light, imparting a surreal calmness to the terrific commotion thrashing over us. A group of customers had been in the bookshop when the storm broke, and had become trapped with us. It being past closing however, I felt they forfeited any deference normally reserved for them as customers, and it was with this resolve, and at the suggestion of Ellie, that I stripped to my underwear, in preparation for what came to be the most epic of our whimsical excursions. Clad in our underwear, the girls and I climbed the gushing stairs to the rooftop terrace, soaked in an instant by the thick swaying sheets of rain pouring down our awed faces, as rushing wind and apocalyptic thunder filled our ears. For our part we burst into fits of glee and terror each time a bolt of lightning flashed overhead. Soaked in the warm rain of night, lighting sparking all around , amidst the bassy groans of the darkened sky, in my underwear, with scantily clad women, on a rooftop terrace, perched atop rocky cliffs, overlooking the Aegean sea, is a moment indelibly burned into my mind. The experience left us shivering with giggle fits as we huddled together under a much needed hot shower after.

Lessons learned

All in all, this trip stood out from my others by how defined it was by human connection. I had expected my time in Greece to do little else but supply me with a pretty backdrop as I caught up on some personal art and writing. But in the end, I got hardly any work done, and instead found myself submerged from the first day, in an ever increasing plethora of new friendships, and tentative romances, which I had never anticipated, but were none the less startlingly intense and rewarding. These new connections brought to light dissatisfaction I've had with certain relationships back home, maintained largely out of comfort or fear of loss. My time in Greece taught me that I shouldn't try to control where, when and with whom I connect with. Rather, I should just be ready to embrace with courage and faith, new connections with those who inspire me, and when it's time, to let go just as gracefully.

In the end it's movement that breeds variety and growth. Whether it's a rain forest eco-system, the economy of a state, or the relationships in one artsy Persian mans life. Fear and comfort inspire stillness, at least for me, and whenever I worry that a whimsical impulse might get me in too deep over my head, I remember a simple truth about my life which I continually refer to:

I've never regretted a risk I've taken.
Even when it failed in its intention.

My only regrets are the risks I didn't take.


So as not to end on a sincere, thoughtful note, I’ll close with quotes taken from conversations during my trip. Whenever something was said that struck me as exceptional, I made a point of quickly jotting it in my pocket notebook, to save for posterity:

I’m not actually a fundamentalist Christian… The irony was lost in my muteness.

All we need is a soft avocado, and we can trigger an orgy.

I would let Raccoons have sex all over me.

Hey! I have our next whimsical activity!...We’ll make kites! I’m even thinking I’m going to swim in the ocean while flying it.

London is the city of last bites.

Suckle that bit!

I have all sorts of rubbing rules cued up, ready to be unleashed on the group.

You are a vampire pervert.

“We’d all be naked together and it would be fine.”

Talk puritan to me baby.

Sounds like a quick date...(Ellie)
Not really. It takes a while to get hammered enough to have casual sex without regret.

I like this guy’s particular bubble.

If you want to scuttle me from the back, then don’t complain about doing the dishes.

There was this girl that was so hot… That she wasn’t hot anymore.

I’m getting tigred. (Instead of tired)

I don’t want to get hepatitis B and C from other people’s Legos.

That would be the perfect image to explain me. Me boiling Legos.
It perfectly combines the one half of me that’s OCD
with the other that’s whimsically nostalgic.

I tend not to get along with people who are too literal.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Seventeen Year Old Ali
And His Photos

As the year comes to a close I find myself scrambling to finish out the last of my artistic new year's resolutions. One such resolution was to revisit my first few rolls of film, taken when I was seventeen. I decided to take the best photos from those rolls, and scan/color grade them with my current work flow, sensibilities, equipment, know how etc.

I received my first 35mm camera as a high school graduation present when I was seventeen. It took at least a couple years for me to accumulate the experience and failed experiments necessary to teach me the process, from what film suited my tastes, shooting methods, lenses, digitizing/scanning prints or negatives, color grading, output etc.

So my last trip to southern California found me rummaging through old photo binders and shoeboxes, marveling at how abominable my photos were from that time. Of course there was the obligatory nostalgia , and sweet wistful sadness that always touches such activities. I found to my relief that the task proved easier than I anticipated, since almost all the photos I remember as being strong, and worth re-scanning/color grading, were not good enough at all. However a few did make the cut and I set them aside to process under my current standards.

It was during this same trip I hung out with my friend Kate, whom I hadn't seen since high school, and eventually the conversation came round to my photo hunt, and we both remembered that she had taken photos of me, with one of my paintings, for her film class, right about the same time. Predictably after high school we lost touch and I had never seen the photos from the shoot. So we went through her old boxes of photos together (hers were much better organized than mine), and just when we were about to give up, she found them.

I couldn't pull myself away from the large format slides of seventeen year old Ali. Who was this kid with the Lyle Lovett inspired hair, popped collar, and affected brooding scowl, that advertised to the world he took himself far too seriously? That kid was me. God bless the little whipper snapper.

So here is seventeen year old Ali to introduce the photos he took that year, along with twenty six year old Ali's revised scan/color grading underneath.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

No Talking Tuesday # 115

This Tuesday found me doing two equally unlikely things.
The first was participating in a snowball fight in Oakland,
and the second was watching a screening of a film
I worked on for over two years,
which had been in production for at least a year before that.

The film had gone through something like six directors and five producers,
countless different scripts, and more trouble and drama than you can shake a stick at.

The film is about Mayan culture and history,
and was the reason I traveled to the Yucatan two years ago
to help do 3D scans of ruins and paint mood/lighting boards.
At the films end I was credited as lead texture artist and concept art.

We eventually passed the film to another production company
which worked on it in its final months.
The film opened in Mexico and the Science center in Oakland
before it's licensed to play in various full dome theaters around the world.
So we drove up into the Oakland hills, as a field trip of sorts,
full of apprehension and excitement at how the film came out.
And in the spirit of diplomacy,
I'll simply say that the final film is much better than I thought it was going to be...
and just leave it at that.

We were all mulling over our impressions of the film
when we continually noticed with astonishment how bizarre it was
that there was so much snow in the hills,
definitely a freak weather occurrence.
My art director in his infinite wisdom
solved the problem of how to give vent to our impressions of the film
as well as the absurdity of the weather
by pulling over for an impromptu snowball fight.

What does it look like when a van full of nerds
come out from behind their computers to frolic in the snow?
Well the answer is the extremely awkward footage below,
captured on Ingmar's godless i-phone black magic.
(For those viewers easily agitated,
please note I am in fact wearing a furry Russian hat thing,
and not being mauled by a fat raccoon)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Food Update

I made a new extention to my website for my food photography:

I found a forgotten roll of E100 slide film in my desk at work the other day,
and wouldn't you know it had a bunch of food photos on it
that I took in parallel with instant film at the time.

Below are the updated photos as well as a couple new ones,
and links to their corresponding posts:

Shredded Carrot Coconut Milk Variations
Warm Kale and Squash salad
Pumpkin Ravioli
Lazy Veggies # 2
Bargain Produce! Dear God...

Lazy Veggies # 2

A totally predictable "Ali-meal",
complete with my obligatory and slutty use of crushed nuts.

Roasted eggplant, potatoes, and carrots, seasoned with salt/pepper and oil.

A sauce made of almond butter, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, honey and chill sauce.

And a hefty dollop of yogurt.

Topped with crushed hazelnuts.

Warm Kale and Squash salad

Kale and mushrooms, each sautéed in gee,
with cubed apples, roasted summer squash, and tomatoes.

With a thin Vinaigrette made of coconut milk, honey, chillie sauce, olive oil, and salt/pepper.

Sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

No Talking Tuesday # 114

No list. Nothing special to report.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

No Talking Tuesday # 113

No list, nothing special to report.

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