How to Spend Your Birthday in Your Birthday Suit – Part 2

Any awkward situation can be made worse if you’re naked. Eat too many beans and get stuck in an elevator with that guy you’ve been flirting with? Worse if you’re naked. See your girlfriend bent over in the kitchen and grab her butt, only to find out it’s her mom on a surprise visit? Yup. Have poor vision and do not know your way around a Dutch sauna complex? Well, come with me…

I was standing – naked – in the sauna’s entry hall, dripping wet towel in hand, trying to figure out which way to go. Naked people walked around, penises bouncing, boobs bobbing, and yet it felt like everyone was staring at me – if they were it’s because I was standing in that hall a little too long, trying to find my way without actually looking in any particular direction so to avoid looking at the naked Dutchies. I finally put on my rented bathrobe, which I figured was acceptable since the thing was verplicht (mandatory), and decided to head in the only reasonable direction I could fathom: a glass door across the hall. I took off at a New Yorker’s pace and saw, around the corner from a shower stall on my left, a wooden door. It was a Finnish sauna. Something familiar! In I went but I had the urge to immediately turn on my heels again. Naked folks were lying around like walruses in the sun. It was like being at a pubic hair convention. Summing up courage, I laid down my soaking wet towel, lied on it, and closed my eyes. When in Rome…

But I soon got used to the place. The upside of having poor vision is that I can’t see details unless I intentionally look at something rather closely so it wasn’t hard to eventually ignore all the genitalia (besides, just about everyone there was 30 years my senior). What was hard was fighting my OCD tendencies in order to get into the beautiful pool, which was surrounded by fabulously tacky Romanesque decorations. I normally will only take a bath after thoroughly scrubbing the tub with disinfectant soap and even then I can only get in in my bikini or underwear. But the day called for fearlessness so I shed my robe and walked down the steps into the blue pool feeling like Minerva and praying to God there was enough chlorine in that water to kill Ebola.

The water was delightful! Splash, splash, splash. Splash, splash – wait, that dude’s staring at me. I made my way to the jacuzzi in the corner and sat among half a dozen happy retirees, closing my eyes as the water bubbled all around. Then I felt someone staring at me and opened my eyes. The dude from the pool was sitting right next to me and glancing my way a bit too much. He cannot possibly be Dutch, I thought, but in any case it’s a good idea to keep your enemies close so I struck up conversation with the creep, which didn’t cause him to avert his eyes as I had hoped. Turned out he was an English government worker and that he had decided to explore the sauna with me.

Ladies, if you find it uncomfortable when a creep stares at your boobs during conversation, please re-read the introductory paragraph to this story. Were I at a bar I’d have told him I wasn’t interested and to fuck off, but I wasn’t really sure about the protocol for shaking off dweebs when you’re naked among strangers. Well, turns out putting your enjoyable day on hold and sitting outside in your bathrobe does the job. Buitenlanders… I thought, or, Pft, foreigners...

Some five hours after arriving at the sauna I was still not ready to leave but it was time to go watch the sunset at the beach. Between my many showers I had passed some bowls full of colorful powder that I learned were scrubbing salts. Scrub, scrub. How to scrub one’s feet without bending over. Scrub, scrub. A group of retirees scrubbing themselves near me were speaking in hushed tones. “Ask her,” a woman said. “Do you think she’ll mind?” another replied. “I don’t think so, just ask,” said a man. The second woman turned to me, showing me her palms freshly coated in yellow salts: “Would you like me to scrub your back?” she kindly asked. Hells yeah! I turned around and this older lady scrubbed my whole back. Awesome! Her group walked away as another man approached so I offered to scrub his back to pass on the kindness. Everyone naked! Yet no second intentions on any(Dutch)one’s part.

In the locker room I didn’t care who was naked or dressed. I was too happy to care. On so many birthdays I’d worried about what to wear and yet I’d just spent half of my birthday in the most comfortable and hottest attire God and my parents could have given me: my own skin.

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How to Spend Your Birthday in Your Birthday Suit – Part 1

It was that time of year again, when everyone over 21 goes, “Oh my gosh! I’m getting so old!” Or maybe that was just me on my birthday. “I’m so old!” I’d whine and a minute later, when I still hadn’t dropped dead of old age, I’d shut up and move on with my life.

On my last birthday I decided to celebrate by taking a freelancer’s day off and doing whatever I felt like, but with a Dutch twist. “Circle party?!” you might ask in panic if you’ve lived in the Netherlands. No, the other Dutch way: by getting things for free! Taking to the internet, I found out that you can get lots of things for free on your birthday all around the Netherlands, just not in Amsterdam (darn!) but I came across a gem: a sauna in a city not too far away that lets you in for free on your birthday. Oh, yeah! I made a verplicht (mandatory) reservation and showed up right on time with my verplicht towel and flip flops.

I’d heard that although one must be naked in a Dutch sauna it’s ok to wear a bikini bottom if you really want to but as I got ready to head out of the dressing room in my tiny attire a woman said to me that she didn’t think I could go in like that. Lo and behold, the guy at reception informed me that, yes, naked is indeed verplicht, even if you’re wearing a Brazilian bikini. As I re-entered the dressing room I came upon two middle-aged men, buck naked. I was mortified. The trouble is you can’t help but look, I mean, it’s there. Anyway, turned out the dressing room was mixed so I had to just get down to my birthday suit before heading off into the sauna, which was, of course, mixed, too.

Passing a beautiful stone lounge furnished with leather couches and dark wood tables, where people quietly relaxed in plush bathrobes with drinks in hand, I opened The Door. Naked people were everywhere. I thought about running out but no, I could not turn back. In my desperation I managed to hang up my bathrobe and wrap myself in my towel all at once, feeling like all eyes were on me and keeping my head down. Had I properly shaved my legs? Was I, you know, proper for public display? Was there something growing out of my back that I couldn’t see? The place wasn’t like the American sauna’s I’m used to, it wasn’t just a sauna room, it was a complex that I couldn’t yet take in because I couldn’t look at all the naked people at once.

I rushed to the closest possible door and as I opened it my glasses completely fogged up. I was in the steam room. The man at reception had told me that sitting on your towel is verplicht at all times so I put my towel down and lounged in the fog until I could barely breathe. As you might imagine my towel was completely soaked by the time I walked out. Two elderly women sitting in a shallow pool next to the steam room were curiously looking at me so I turned to them with my mediocre Dutch and asked for instructions because, clearly, I needed them. “Well, you’re not supposed to put your towel down in the steam room,” one of them said, “it’s wet in there.”

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Merry Christmas and Belated Happy Sinterklaas!

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It’s been an interesting year. Not much travel after Brazil and the US, just some time in Paris and Annecy, France. Some translation work, better Dutch skills. More stories to come.

In light of the holiday season, I wanted to share a story by my favorite author, David Sedaris, titled “Six to Eight Black Men.” Read by David Sedaris in Carnegie Hall, the story is about the Dutch Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas in Dutch, on whom Santa Claus is actually based. Christmas as most of us know it, with Santa Claus in his red costume etc., comes from the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas. Enjoy the audio and Merry Christmas!

http://grooveshark.com/s/David+Sedaris+Live+At+Carnegie+Hall+6/2Ik576?src=5

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Sweeping through the American Northeast

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I’d found a 3-leg ticket for the price of an Amsterdam-Sao Paulo round-trip through BootsnAll (FYI, their customer service is useless in case you really need help). So after sweating my butt off in Brazil and gaining weight thanks to the junk food that comprises modern Brazilian cuisine, I took off to the US of A, where record low temperatures were driving friends to jump in joy when temps hit 23F. I wondered if facing the Polar Vortex was a good idea after all.

But New York City is so worth it as are my friends! On my first day I wasn’t feeling too well (asked for a doctor during my flight – turns out I’m iron-deficient) so I spent the beautiful sunny Sunday at home, save for a trip to my favorite grocery store, Trader Joe’s. New York’s still the same in that it changes constantly, the poor are constantly being pushed out by rising rents, and crazy and/or weird people are always around to keep things in the City real.

I attended some classes and workshops to fine tune my English, good linguist that I am. Working on my English also involved visiting one of my favorite museums, The American Museum of Natural History, private events and all thanks to dear friends! Then it was off to Connecticut for more studying and a road trip through the Northeast. Boston was nice, especially as I was traveling with a dear friend who had lived there during college. But Vermont… Oh, wow, superb! What a great vibe up there, though not so much in Montpelier, the capital city, where people seemed a bit stuck up.

How to ensure your pants don't fit you anymore

How to ensure your pants don’t fit you anymore

In Montpelier my friend and I went to Morse Farms for some maple syrup tasting. Yummy! We were going to go snow shoeing, too, but my toes threatened to fall off my feet if I put them through any more walking through snow – we had earlier gone for a walk in the park, which was covered in more than a foot of snow. Unfortunately we couldn’t find anyone to help us with the community skis that were hanging behind the 5-foot high snow mound, but how cool is that: community skis! Vermont is all about community. How lovely!

Once back at my friend’s place, where I had my own beautiful room and easy access to the living room’s fireplace, I attended anthropology classes as well as a theoretical massage class. Then I ingested lots of American junk food. LOTS of it: donuts (2nd dozen free!), crap cereal galore, chocolate, Peeps, bagels and cream cheese, Nutella pizza, beer, potato chips, muffins. My stretch jeans turned into stretched out jeans.

Back in NYC it was on to burgers and wings at Jackson Hole, which would more aptly be called Jackson Shithole because they screwed up the burgers and wings big time. Like, no, guys. Really, stay away. But nothing a box of instant Mac n’ Cheese can’t fix. And a frozen burrito. And I would have topped it all with some Haagen Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s if they weren’t bloody expensive now! I used to get them 2-for-$5 but now it’s 1 for $6. Screw that, I took comfort in Trader Joe’s imported-from-Holland stroopwafels.

And so, ignoring any talk of cholesterol problems, I boarded the United seats-for-midgets Airlines flight back to Amsterdam, where the friend I’m living with had, per my high-maintenance request, trimmed the effing rose bush that stands right next to our house’s entryway. I hope it dies.

6-foot high snow mound in Central Park

6-foot high snow mound in Central Park

Burgers, wings and American ale

Burgers, wings and American ale

Cafe/bookstore in Connecticut. Delicious milk shakes + 3 free books with your meal. Heaven!

Cafe/bookstore in Connecticut. Delicious milk shakes + 3 free books with your meal. Heaven!

Vermont farm brew

Vermont farm brew

Nutella pizza

Nutella pizza

Mr. T Rex at the New York Museum of Natural History

Mr. T Rex at the New York Museum of Natural History

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Hello from Brazil!

It’s been a while and I hope you are all doing fantastically well. I am writing from among Brazilian coffee plantations as the evening blesses us with some cool air, f.i.n.a.l.l.y; it just so happens that the hottest summer in Brazilian history was in full swing till a few days ago. For weeks temperatures were stuck in the upper 30’s (upper 90’s for my American friends) without a sign of the refreshing tropical storms that normally turn blue skies charcoal gray in late afternoons, before thunder unzips the clouds and BAM! Deluge!

But the weather lady warned of a cold front that would lower temperatures significantly, all the way down to the low 30’s (upper 80’s). Now I only take one or two showers  per day instead of three or four. I even had to wear pants last night!

Brazil continues to be Brazil, just way more expensive than before – prices have gone up by 100%, 500%, 1000% since I was here three years ago and they’re constantly rising. It’s ri-freaking-diculous! Politicians are having a field day pocketing millions and millions of reais (Brazil’s currency) from the money allocated for World Cup preparations, as well as using the World Cup as an excuse for driving the poor out of their homes in Rio de Janeiro’s shantytowns, many of which are in prime real estate locations. Problems abound but I won’t go on about it.

On a brighter note, the family’s doing fine. Aunt T’s fine after her heart surgery and she must take Viagra, among other pills, every day for the rest of her life. Her Viagra stock is certainly fine. My mom’s fine. She’s now partner in a love hotel and her customers’ vocal cords are all fine, thank you very much – in fact they seem to have improved after the installation of some erotic chairs. Must be ergonomic.

I’m fine, too. I’m back to translation and I’m working on my Portuguese so I can begin writing in that language, too. And being an auntie is great! My niece and nephew (my siblings’ children for my Dutch friends) are adorable! Really!

That’s it for now. Off to shower #2 and more mosquito repellent before I need a blood transfusion. Be well!

An island near Rio de Janeiro

An island near Rio de Janeiro

Avocados are as big as pineapples! Nobody would believe me!

Avocados are almost as big as pineapples! Darn gringoes wouldn’t believe me!

A translator's office for the day

A translator’s office for the day

Hungry monkeys!

Hungry monkeys!

Coffee plantations

Coffee plantations, Minas Gerais

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Amsterdam, Mijn Liefde

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Amsterdam, finally. It’s been great being back home and receiving such a warm welcome from friends without whom Amsterdam wouldn’t feel like home in the first place. Back on my rusty pink bike, back to beach volleyball, back to hanging out in lovely parks. But being back also feels like being in twilight zone: all is familiar and all feels like home except I no longer have my apartment and I no longer have my job. I’m starting over all over again.

This takes energy and at the moment my reserves are pretty low; I just went through one of the toughest years of my life, topped with one of the most disappointing results in my life. For this reason I will not be dedicating much (any?) time, at least not for the next several months, to my dear Traveling Dirt Bunny blog. If anyone wants to get in touch feel free to leave a comment on any page – I moderate so if you don’t want your comment to show up just mention it. Thank you all for your support and flattery, highly appreciated! If I have made any of you smile then I’ve made the world a better place, and I hope I’ve gotten the message across that following dreams is hard and scary but it’s worth it because we don’t know when we’ll see the sun for the last time.

Right now I’m tired and scared – more reasons to stop blogging! – so I’d like to wave you bye with a smile and tell you about my favorite things about the places where I’ve lived so far:

1. Brazil

Copacabana

Copacabana, Brazil

Brazil was crafted by the hands of God, though it is slowly being torn apart by the hands of man. Incredibly beautiful nature! Everyone in Brazil smiles and laughs, no matter how poor. To a Brazilian being alive is reason enough to celebrate with song and dance. A Brazilian’s attitude is summed up in one of my favorite samba songs: “Life could be better but isn’t it beautiful already!

2. The USA

California sunset

California sunset (that’s a surfer, not a whale. Seriously…).

Americans’ can-do attitude and generosity, and their ability to identify opportunities in obstacles. Optimism and California sunsets! New York City and its amazing energy, a city where anything can happen, a place where rich and poor can mingle in a dive bar, a city where an immigrant kid can charm a famous millionaire in the street. Beach volleyball in Central Park!

3. France

Sun setting behind the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre

Sun setting behind the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre

Parisian croissants and baguettes. A picnic on the Pont des Arts in Paris, from where you can watch the sun set behind the Eiffel Tower. A summer night’s walk along the Seine, with Paris all to yourself. The way a Frenchman’s flirtations and flattery can make a cold, rainy winter day feel like a sunny, warm Spring day, and make a woman feel like a giggly teenager again.

4. Italy

Italian aperitivo!

Italian aperitivo!

The food! The wine! The gestures that can only be learned by living among Italians. Fabulous Milan fashion, gelato near Lake Como, real bolognese sauce in Bologna, the blue waters of Capri and the fact that in Ostia Antica carriages weren’t allowed in town so to avoid noise pollution. The way ancient and brand new co-exist in Rome.

5. Portugal

Sunset in Portugal

Sunset in Portugal

Beautiful landscapes from top to bottom, vinho verde and fresh fish. Someone asking me if I was feeling well in the metro on a particularly stressful day. Generous food portions, awe-inspiring sunsets, with magnificent shades of blues and reds, and Lisbon covered in a magnificent golden light at sunset. Tram 28!

6. The Netherlands

Dutchies hanging out on their couch on the sidewalk. Love it!

Dutchies hanging out on their couch on the sidewalk. Love it!

Amsterdam, mijn liefde. My dear Amsterdam. What a romantic city. I love riding around the canals after the cars disappear at night and all you hear is the occasional bicycle passing by. Dutch sense and some of their logic, including legalized prostitution and drugs. Big windows, great bike lanes and gorgeous (however frustrating) Dutch men. The Dutch language, sunsets in Zandvoort and haring!

I once had a party in which I put couches on my front porch and people found it a bit weird so when I saw the Dutchies on their couch (picture above), I realized that nobody’s strange, we just need to find a place where we fit in. For me that place’s Amsterdam and as much as I find the Dutch quirky (and I’m still a bit annoyed at the whole deportation thing), turns out I’ve always been a little Dutch myself. But when someone asked me if I’ll stay in Amsterdam forever, I couldn’t say yes. Right now I’m happy here but I don’t know and I can’t be bothered to worry about what tomorrow brings. I’m learning not to stress out and I really don’t mind just waiting for the winds to change.

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Good Bye, Lisbon

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My bags are almost all packed. Here we go again, moving countries, though not to a new one this time. Despite the enormous amount of stress and headaches that I’ve been dealing with in Lisbon (f***ing bureaucracy!), I’ve been trying to enjoy as much of the city as possible. I’ve been ready to leave since the day I arrived but there are things that I will miss of course.

Things I won’t miss at all

Bureaucracy. There is no austerity that can cure a country rotting with bureaucracy. People waste ridiculous amounts of time on stupid shit instead of getting things done. It’s a bloody nightmare for those having to use the system and it shows how pathetic a country can be.

Pollution. I feel like every 10 minutes that I spend walking around get me a little closer to lung cancer, as everyone and their dog’s got a car here so the air is disgusting.

The holier-than-thou attitude. Everyone is more important than the next person and nobody takes responsibility for anything so forget about getting an “I’m sorry” if someone, oh, erases your USB stick for example. When you point out what they’ve done – right in front of you – not only do they simply say that they didn’t do it, they also get angry at you. If you speak with a Brazilian accent then things get even more fun!

The Latin hierarchical bullshit. I thought I was next in line at the IT department at school but a professor walked in and the IT lady dropped everything and rushed to the professor, sucking up to the guy big time. I needed to speak to the director at school once but the secretary said he was busy. When I told her what it was about she stood at his doorway telling him what I was saying and telling me what he was saying.

Lack of smiles. 

Things I will miss

Fish! I love to eat fish and here it’s not only fresh but also cheap. Broiled salmon with lemon and olive oil, grilled sardines with baked potatoes, other fish I don’t even remember now. And the bacalhau! Oh, how delicious.

Inexpensive lifestyle. From food to rent, it’s affordable and as a student I’m so very glad about that. Going out for a cup of coffee or a beer, buying an unlimited transportation pass, occasionally eating out.

Food. It didn’t take much for a friend to convince me to take the last pastel de nata today. He just arrived and I leave tomorrow so I’m eating as many of these yummy things as I can stuff my face with before I leave. The bread’s pretty good too and the fresh fruit and vegetables will be missed too.

Sunshine. Goes well with beach volleyball and the ocean. Also, Lisbon, as does the whole coast of Portugal, has a beautiful late afternoon light that slowly turns into a warm golden light as the sun moves lower and lower in the sky. No wonder most tourists I see around are couples, things can get pretty romantic around here.

Tram 28. I’ll miss the 28 almost as much as the sunshine. My little special tram, going up and down the narrow streets of Alfama with its polite little bell asking people to please move out of the way, carrying tourists with smiles spread across their faces.

Our lives are books and we begin and end chapters with certain decisions we make. Looking at my clock I see that tomorrow has already turned into today, as it’s 0:00 on June 21st, so today I close my Lisbon chapter. It was a bit of a tough one to get through and though I have no idea what happens in the upcoming chapter, I can only hope to make it worth a metaphorical read. I hope you’re writing a good story for yourself, dear reader. We don’t get editors.

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