Friday, July 4, 2008

Welcome to Jamrock! Jamaica

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Welcome to Jamrock!
Come back to Jamaica…….I have not been to Jamaica in almost twenty-five years! Something happens when you are a child of immigrant parents: you either always go 'home' or you never go 'home'. Somehow I ended up running around the world before returning to my roots. The night before my departure I was speaking with my friend Jamel when I casually mentioned I would be flying on Air Jamaica. This is when the scary movie music should have piped in. 'What! Air Jamaica', 'LL you do NOT want to do this. Can you change your ticket?' He then went on to tell me in great detail about his Air Jamaica nightmare which included no luggage for his entire trip. I laughed, because it was too ridiculous. Surely, things must have changed.
Before I go any deeper with my experience let me just say for the record:
I love my people, BUT…..

You know when something just doesn't feel right and makes you go hmmmm? Well check this out. Due to my explicit warning the night before, I decided to check Air Jamaica's website to make sure the flight was not delayed. The website only stated 'The plane has not departed' hmmmm. I arrive in Newark airport and realize there are no ticket kiosks, which means I had to join the main check in line. Anyone who has ever had to fly anywhere in the developing world knows what that means. To put it mildly just think chaos, crowds, arguments, and lots and lots and lots of 'luggage'. Luggage is a relative term and used loosely in this context. Let me break it down for you:

Step 1: You buy an extraordinarily large suitcase (usually on 14th street), you stuff it with household goods, clothes for everybody you ever met in your entire life, electronic goods you plan to sell but are passing off as personal items, and lots of food wrapped in plastic bags and foil. Once you have done this repeat the process with several more suitcases.

Step 2: Bring as many relatives as possible with you to the airport. Do not have all their documents.

Step 3: Insist your bags are carry on size.

Step 4: Become irate when the counter person tells you you're luggage is overweight.

Step 5: Begin to unpack and rearrange your luggage at the counter in hopes of being underweight.

Step 6: Begin swearing.

Once I finally get to the ticket counter I realize I have entered the Twilight Zone.
I am immediately informed that my 1pm flight has been delayed to…….are you ready for this.......8:30 pm! Not only is the flight delayed (just a little), but I must not leave the airport because if they can fix the plane earlier they will go ahead and leave!? Twilight Zone music.
Do not attempt to use logic because it only gets worse.

Since I have a whole lot of time, I make my way over to the food court with my bogus food voucher. Once seated in the food court I meet what I will now refer to as the Hallelujah women, older Jamaican church women who have sworn allegiance to Air Jamaica. No matter what, they fly Air Jamaica and are part of the 7th Heaven Mileage Club. These women love Air Jamaica because they are ultra patriotic, love the food, and because Air Jamaica waits for late passengers! Ugggh. No matter how much you complain their response is 'but the food is good!'. During the luncheon I am informed by a young woman that Air Jamaica is notorious for the following: fist fights, being hours late, strikes, and forever lost luggage. She goes on to reminisce about seeing passengers with overweight bags begin to layer on clothing (i.e.: four hats on their head to create space in their bag!).

After many long phone calls and reading a book, I decide to go back to the ticket counter and check on the flight. Twilight Zone music. I walk and walk and walk. No Air Jamaica counter. Ok, I must be mixed up, so I walk in the other direction. hmmm. Logic time: Start on one end and walk all the way to the other end, right? I do this several times, and finally I start asking airport employees where the Air Jamaica ticket counter is. Everyone is confused, I'm confused. Newark Airport only has two floors. I've been to the ticket counter before. Has the ticket counter disappeared? Twilight Zone music. Yes!, the counter has disappeared….on purpose. The Air Jamaica employees have taken down the sign and put up a sign reading 'USA 2003'! They were hiding from their customers!

Do not attempt to use logic because it only gets worse. As the day became night I started to notice something peculiar….Twilight Zone music. The departure time on the flight board became later and later, yet I heard no announcements. hmmm. Soon other people began to notice the same thing, and then all hell broke loose. Think of all the bad Jamaican words you have ever heard, then make some up. It got ugly, real ugly, Jamaican ugly.

Finally at 10pm we boarded the plane! Hallelujah! The flight was sold out, they ran out of overhead space, and people were aggravated and hungry. Not good. I noticed two highly confused African-American women walking to their seats muttering 'I just don't, I don't, I don't understand!' The pilot then had the audacity to say 'We are sorry for the delay. You must understand that we had technical problems YESTERDAY and planes take a long time to fix.'
At that point a passenger yelled out 'Buy a new one! Mi want a refund!' The woman next to me was sitting with her legs completely wide open because she had an entire Radio Shack store shoved in her bag. She explained to me that last year she packed her electronics in her suitcase and everything was stolen. Not this year buddy, she's got her stuff somewhere safe….between her legs!

I soon began to notice another peculiar thing….It was hot on the plane. I soon remembered Jamaicans hate the cold, therefore there is very little A/C on the flight. I was burning up! Now get ready for this one, it really put me over the top (as if you have not read enough)…..As we were preparing to depart the plane (yes, we actually made it to Jamaica) an elderly married couple were standing in the row before me. The husband began looking around for something, when the wife asked him 'Pop, what you looking for, your teeth?' I swear I'm not making this up! By the grace of God at 2:30 am I finally escaped from the Twilight Zone and met my sleep deprived family in Montego Bay.

Waking up later that day I opened the window and realized I was in Jamaica!
Hot, sunny and lush. What is the first thing I did when I arrived in Jamaica?
I began to eat. Jamaica is without a doubt the culinary king of the Caribbean.
My trip was not only a homecoming but a food odyssey, so I dived right in.
Ackee and saltfish, calaloo, bananas and dumplings, jerk chicken, sorrel, rice and peas, red pea soup, pepper pot soup, spiced bun, Red Stripe beer, Guinness Stout, rundown mackerel, curried goat, rum pudding, black rum cake, roasted breadfruit, festival, conch, escovetiched fish, plantains, and oxtail. After stuffing myself I headed for the beach. The beautiful beach and warm water seemed to erase the previous day away. All I needed was a beach chair, umbrella, and some sun to make things irie.

After a couple of days my family and I jumped in the rental car and began a trans-island road trip. If you want to get a thrill of a lifetime, drive in Jamaica. Just understand Jamaicans drive in an improvisational spontaneous way, especially around blind curves on hills, and you must drive on the left side of the road. Other than that it's a breeze! In Ocho Rios I really got into the beach.Of course while laying out I met a Visa Boy. FYI: A Visa Boy is a beautiful man who thinks you are so beautiful, unique, and special, he would like to spend some time with you and later come live with you in your country (all expenses paid by you of course). hmm…Sorry babe no Stella stories here!

After the beach I ate some more. One of my favorite food finds is the Ocho Rios Jerk Center. Real Jerk and an amazingly spiced Conch fish, which I washed down with a cold Guinness. While in Ocho, we reunited with my cousin Judy who updated us on family business and warned us about the notorious Stone Crusher Gang. She told us Ocho Rios people don't put up with the Stone Crushers. 'They walk in live, but they leave dead. We just nicely put them away' Out in the streets they call it muurdah!

Back on the road we made our way over the mountains and through the bush.
I must say Portland is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. The mountains are amazingly high and the dense plant growth is stunning. Once in Port Antonio we are reunited with my Grandmother and Uncle, and began to eat again! Christmas morning I took the liberty of baptizing myself in the Caribbean Sea. A couple of days later we were back in the car heading for St. Thomas. I don't think St. Thomas parish has built a new road… in a while. Nevertheless, as you are driving through miles of sugar cane you don't seem to notice the bumpedy, bump, bump.

Some of my favorite things about Jamaica are the roadside food stands and local bars. Surprise, surprise! I love the hand painted signs, the impromptu DJ's and speaker systems, and the split open oil drums grilling spiced food. At this point I should say, I actually weigh less than 300 pounds, in case you were wondering. While in St. Thomas we stumbled upon the 'Chill Out Lounge' by the sea. Dominoes table, hand painted d├ęcor, a beautiful beach view and amazing food! Keeping with the One Love spirit I later spotted a taxi with a hand painted sign on the rear window which read 'Squeeze Her Breasts'.

The other thing I love about Jamaica is the news. Outrageous headlines read 'Thugs Target Dogs', 'Man Runs Up $7,000 Bar Tab, Waitress Chases Him to Next Town'. My personal favorite was a female street vendor being interviewed on TV regarding the relocation of vendors, 'Mi been selling since the time of Genesis. Mi nah go nowhere!' Only in Jamrock.

Unfortunately it was time for my vacation to come to an end. An even more unfortunate thought was that I would have to fly Air Jamaica again! Scary music. My flight was scheduled for 8 am. As I made my way to the ticket counter (scared yet?) I was informed the flight would be delayed three hours! My family and I were now due to depart within a half a hour of each other. At 11:30 I parted ways with my family and actually boarded the plane! I'm happy to report I made it home safe and sound. Around 9pm my parents called to say 'Guess where we are?' $^*&^@%!

The Grand Finale, New York

September 1st

I boarded Air India and flew home on the first of September. Of course one of my bags popped, and climbing the stairs to my apartment, my only remaining pair of shoes broke. So I hobbled up five flights of stairs with a 300 pound suitcase (5) and a broken carry on bag, half barefoot. My trip was officially OVER!

Coming home is a bittersweet affair. On the one hand I can truly say 'mission accomplished'.
I photographed, interviewed, and video taped every conceivable type of person possible. I traveled to nine countries in nine weeks without getting lost, killed, or ripped off. One thing I am definitely proud of is the fact that I completed this project using the original flag from the first book. My flag has become a piece of art in itself.

Before leaving I joked that I needed to complete this project while I have the energy for it. Well that didn't turn out to be a joke after all. I'm not sure I would be able to pull this project off in the same manner five years from now. It was and is physically exhausting. Since returning I am suffering from post-project pain. My legs are throbbing, my shoulders and arms are sore and I have no desire to get on any mode of transportation.

But even with all the aches, my journey became more than an adventure, it was a wild escapade which I will never forget, do not regret, and cannot duplicate.

As they say, 'No man is an island', so I would like to take this time to thank all the people involved in making this project happen. My family, Rail Europe, all of the people who participated in the project, my assistants: Yanara, Emily, Nadjib, Arnau, and Giladji. Friends: John Paul, Dwayne, Easton, Jamel.
Special shout out to Dara for INSITING I write this time consuming damn blog! Good idea.

If there is something in life you always wanted to do: Do It.
If people give you reasons not to do it: Do It.
If you don't know how you are going to get the money to do it: Do It.
If you're not sure who will understand it: Do It.
If people will think you're crazy: Definitely Do It.

Inshala,
Lauri Lyons

London: Jump n' Shout!

August 26 – September 1st

After my first experience in London I'm sure you're wondering what the hell would possess me to go back there. The Notting Hill Carnival of course!
This was indeed a time to celebrate. I completed my entire trip and found the best 'after party' ever. Let's just say I had a good time. Three days of dancing in the street, eating, and video taping. I checked out all the sound systems, marched down the parade route with a drumming squad, and posed with male carnival dancers wearing beaded thongs and feathers. I also got my hair done (thank God), bought some clothes, did my laundry, slept, slept, and slept some more. I was very comfortable because my friend John Paul finished all of his home renovations and his flat was beautiful. I have to say this because it's true and if I didn't, he would never let my ass stay there again!

A couple of days after the Carnival John Paul took me to an invitation only drag ball. This was a big deal because it was being judged by Pat McGrath the super star make up artist for Italian Vogue and Dior. I have always heard stories of drag balls back in the day in New York, but I had never been to one. John Paul's friends the 'House of Fierce Nest' were defending their title this year. Serious Business. The crowd waiting to get in was pure designer all-star material. This ball was the circus times ten. The competing 'houses' included 'House of Dubois', 'House of Egypt' and of course the 'House of Fierce Nest'. In one of the dressing rooms a 'lady' asked me which house I was with? (She thought I was a queen!) I immediately said 'Lyons!'. She thought out loud for a moment 'House of Lyons?'

I saw Banjee baby mammas (with a real baby!), 'Naomi' out of jail, a home coming queen, and so much more. These queens were creative and boy did they know how to put on a show. There were several celebrity judges seated at a table at the end of the runway. Dangerous territory. By the end of the event all of girls jumped in front of and on TOP of the table to get their pose on. Incredible! You had to see it to believe it. These girls wanted that trophy baaaaaaaaaad! Needless to say, the 'House of Fierce Nest' Vogued their hearts out and took the trophy home once again.

After all that excitement is was once again time to say goodbye.

Last stop: U.S. of A.

C'est La Vie, Paris

August 21-25

The overnight train provided me with a much needed deep sleep. I was so comfortable I really didn't want to get out of my bunk when the train was pulling into the station. I arrived at my hotel in the Latin Quarter and noticed the weather was overcast……

The first day in Paris I just chilled because I was truly exhausted from my previous great escape. The next day it began to drizzle……..and then rain……and then pour! I would soon find out from the hotel clerk that it has been raining in Paris most of the summer! ^$*@&! I then began to pray that it would not continue to rain while I was there. I've been to Paris before so I wasn't pre-occupied with sight seeing but I did want to shoot. Especially since I left Morocco to get there!

I decided the best thing to do since it was raining was to go to the Louvre.
I went. It was great. I got completely soaked on my way there and hurricane torrential rain soaked on the way back. It was an ugly, turn your umbrella inside out, windy rain. And it didn't help that I got ridiculously lost for three hours trying to find my way back to the hotel! Every time I saw a taxi (which was not often) I didn't take it because I just knew I was sooo close to my hotel (idiot)!
The weather for the week predicted rain for the next couple of days. At that point I decided I was getting the hell out of there.

That night I met a young Iraq War veteran from Seattle who decided to explore Europe for the summer. He told me about his 'tour in the desert', his health issues, and his life as a civilian. We both agreed the rain sucked and ran into each other the next morning with our bags packed for the train station.
Once I arrived at the Euro Star counter I changed my ticket for the next departing train.

Next stop: Jolly Old England

Madness, Magic, Morocco!

August 13-18

To get anywhere in Morocco takes time. Because I think I am Cleopatra Jones, I turned a 36 hour journey into a 24 hour journey. Not a good idea. It's a head trip. In one day I rode three trains and a five hour ferry, but I made it to Africa!

I arrived in Fes at three in the morning. It was pitch black country dark outside. The taxi couldn't drive to the hotel I knew of because the street was too narrow. Next thing you know a man walks out of the darkness and the taxi driver tells me to go with him. He will walk me to the hotel. Now I know this sounds strange, but because I have been to Africa before I knew this was quite common. Locals work as impromptu guides for a couple of coins. We get to the hotel and are told there are no rooms available. The guide tells me he knows another place I can stay. At this point I have no choice because everything is closed and it won't be light outside for a few hours. Man 2 walks out of the darkness and asks if I know man 1? He then tells me he is going to come with me to make sure Man 1 takes me somewhere safe. Hmmmmmm.

After walking through a maze of narrow streets (Fes has over 9,000 streets) we arrive at a big doorway. After a few knocks a young woman opens the door. Man2 tells me this is the home a good family, he knows them and walks me inside. To my amazement I walk into a large four story elaborately decorated Berber home. Kaleidoscope tiled floors and walls, hanging plants, gilded balconies, and oversized pillows and ottomans. The entire family is awake and watching Egyptian movies. They welcome me in and serve me fresh mint tea. Man 2 introduces himself as Giladji and explains that Berbers are the original people of the Moroccan desert.

From that point on Giladji became my Moroccan point man. Over the next few days I lived with a Berber family, and gained access to all the places tourists don't usually go. Berber pool parties with palm trees, DJ's, and young Moroccan women wearing super string bikinis with henna tattoos belly dancing to Sean Paul, tannery houses, weaving factories, excavation sites, homeopathy shops, Berber discos and a Koranic school. Together we wove in and out of Fes' archways and stone passages. Along these passages you will usually run into a donkey carrying loads of merchandise. Donkeys always have the right of way. If you don't think so, just stand in front of one trying to pass by…..

The mother of the house cooked three meals a day. Breakfast included the ever present mint tea which consists of freshly brewed mint leaves poured into a glass containing whole mint leaves and sugar. The tea was accompanied by fresh roti style bread, sweet rolls with sauce, eggs, and juice. Dinner was a huge communal platter of Couscous with almonds, raisins, steamed vegetables, meatballs, couscous, and broth. It was sooooooo gooooood.

Ladies First: On the first day of arrival I immediately covered myself from head to toe. Giladji asked 'Why are you wearing trousers?' 'Because I have to cover up!' 'No. Take those off'. To my pleasant surprise women in Fez are quite contemporary in their dress and attitudes. There is no conflict between the modern, traditional, or fundamental. I saw mothers in head wraps and kaftans walking with their mini skirt clad daughters. And believe me, even the covered women were giving fashion with their high heels, jewelry and eye make up. The head wraps are deceiving because underneath the women have elaborate hair styles. Women treat the head wraps like jackets: to go outdoors they put it on, but once indoors they take it off.

Ok, now the really good stuff………
The day before I left I went to the Hammam which is a local bath house. The hammam is basically a social institution for women to scrub, steam, bathe, and talk. I walked in and was asked if I wanted a massage. The mosaic tiled space contains several rooms of different water temperatures covered by a dome roof with shafts of light beaming through. Once I walked in I knew I was in for something special. The women present ranged from pre-school to grandmothers to pregnant women. All of the women strip down to their underwear, grab huge buckets of water and begin to steam and scrub. The hammam is very communal…… I saw daughters scrubbing their mother's backs, friends lifting up each others breast to clean underneath, and other stuff I can't write about on this blog!

Once I steamed up, Big Mama Massager came over with the buckets for my scrub. What happened next was unbelievable…….. Big Mamma Massager began by washing my hair and pouring huge buckets of hot water over my head to rinse out the shampoo. She then put on a loofa glove, grabbed some black soap and scrubbed me DOWN. Literally. She made me lie face down on the marble floor and scrubbed me from my neck down to my toes. Flipped me over and did the front side too. All of this was accompanied by more buckets of hot water being poured over me. After the scrub, she got her rub on. Big Mamma massaged me from head to toe, front to back. This was not a posh massage, she was serious! Just to make sure everything was clean she pulled open my panties and poured a huge bucket of hot water down there! I was clean. REAL CLEAN! I don't think I've been bathed like that since I was five! Did I mention all of this was done in front of sixty naked women? What on earth could possibly top that experience?

Right after the hammam I had an appointment to get hennah. I've always wanted to get my hands and feet decorated with hennah, and now was my chance. A few Berber women came to the house and proceeded to mix the hennah dye. The woman slowly began to apply an intricate design all over my fingers and both sides of my hands. As the dye was drying she began to decorate my legs for good luck. During this time the women were talking and eating dates with walnuts. Because the hennah was drying on my hands I could not eat. So what happened next? The women began to stuff the figs with walnuts and say 'open'. For the next hour I had women hand feeding me sweets while I was covered in hennah! Life is good! I know plenty of men who would pay gooood money to lie around in a bath house full of naked women and be hand feed sweets!

Finally, I had to leave Fes. Trying to get out of Morocco and the south of Spain was madness!
I'll make a really long story short. My bus was three hours late, the windows were sealed shut and the A/C didn't work during the SEVEN hour ride, I missed all my connecting trains and ferries. In Spain, I had to stay overnight in a scary hotel where the manager gave me a room with no door knob, (I stuffed the hole so he couldn't peep on me), and every time he saw me he said 'Ooooooooh-sah' (U.S.A) and winked.The next day I missed all my connecting trains and ferries AGAIN, because all the clocks in the train station were covered with tape for some bizarre reason, and I forgot there is a one hour time difference between Morocco and Spain %&@! Did I mention the trains only run once a day? &^$@%!
Finally, finally, finally I got out of there.

Next stop: Paris

Barcelona Especial

Barcelona Especial

Barcelona, August 6-12 As a little anecdote, I must tell you that on the train from Rome to Milan I sat next to a nun! The book I was reading was 'Conversations with God'. (I swear I'm not making this up!)Because life is full of contrasts, the connecting train from Milan to Barcelona was pure hell. First of all it was the most expensive train ticket I had to purchase. The 'sleeper' car was teeeeeeeny. Just think of a sardine can on wheels packed with four women (American, Russian, Dominican and Mexican) and all their bags. There were four pull out beds and literally no space for luggage. We had to stack the bags in the middle of the 'room' which covered the view and didn't allow the door to completely shut. Of course the train conductor made no stop announcements and we arrived in Barcelona almost two hours late. Upon arrival I departed the train and the handle to my suitcase immediately detached from the rest of the suitcase. I was literally standing on the platform with a handle in my hand! No suitcase, just a handle. After screaming *&%!

I managed to slowly drag suitcase number 4 to a taxi stand and head for my friend Arnau's house.Arnau's casa is truly an artist's home. He and his roommate live in a converted two story garage with three make shift bedrooms. All of the furnishings were either found on the street (literally) or hand made. Red velvet curtains, mannequins, view finder cameras, bird cages and a flamenco dance floor with a mirrored wall in the center of the house. If you have ever been to Barron Claiborne's studio it this house was incredibly similar. They even had a large model airplane with wings inscribed with the word 'Baron'. Six degrees of separation.....

After finally being able to take a bath and wash my clothes Arnau asks me to run an errand with him....on bicycle. I have not been on a bike in God only knows how long and I am wearing a micro-mini skirt and lace up sandals. Bike, skirt, sandals,traffic. I don't know how I pulled it off but I didn't flash anyone, crash my bike, or kill myself as I rode through Barcelona. We walked down 'La Rambla' which is the most incredible shopping street in Europe. I don't mean shopping as in designer goods. On La Rambla you will find turtles for sale, chickens for sale, flowers, magazines, and the most outrageous and creative street performers dressed in elaborate costumes.

For lunch we stopped at a food stand in the market and I had one of the most amazing fresh seafood platters I've ever had in my life. Giant prawns, octopus, calamari, mussels with lemon and olive oil. It was crazy.The following days Arnau begins assisting me. Everything goes well but I quickly realize that Barcelona is similar to NY in this way: everyone you meet is from somewhere else. Recent E.U. immigration has totally flooded the city. Which makes the city vibrant and interesting, but don't plan on meeting any Spaniards!.

Also I learn that in Barcelona people don't really speak Spanish or consider themselves to be Spaniards, they are and speak Catalan. Okaaaaay. After the first day of shooting Arnau becomes busy collecting TV's for an installation project, so I head out alone with a 'translation card' to hand to perspective models. It worked but it was slow going. I also realized that I was beginning to get grumpy, which is unusual. But all the traveling started to wear on me, even though I was fighting it. I became really irritated by things that I usually would not even notice. I had to admit to myself and my flat mates that I am actually human and needed to rest.

Once back up to speed I manuvered the metro system and shoot in the Gothic Quarter, Ravala, Barcelonita (beach), La Rambla and the surrounding neighborhoods. I go to a local market where they sell everything under the sun from flamenco dresses, wood furniture, electrical parts and SUITCASES, all laid out the ground. I buy SUITCASE NUMBER 5!

Sunday,August12th I booked a ticket to catch the overnight train heading for the south of Spain where I would board a ferry to Morocco. But something happened……On the way to the train station it began to get really, really dark. The wind picked up and started throwing debris in the air. All of a sudden there was a bolt of lightening and the sky completely opened up. It poured like I. don't. know. what. Everyone in the street began to run hysterically towards the train station. I was running sideways (if that's possible) to avoid getting hit in the head with flying garbage and because the rain felt like hail. I think I am the only person on earth who has ever been caught in a rainstorm on the way to the desert! Always in the thick of it…

Next stop: Fes, Morocco

The Flip Side of Adventure

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Okay, so far I have been describing all the glorious details of travel abroad. Now I am going to share the B-side of the adventure. First of all adventure is a lot of damn work. Like writing this blog for instance! For all you wanna be Indiana Jones here´s the real deal:
First of all you have to be half crazy and maintain a high energy level to complete a project on the road. Especially a project which requires a half a dozen languages and an unpopular flag. For this project I am doing the following in each city: Still photography, text interviews, audio interviews, and shooting video. Each person also has to sign model releases. Although I have had guides/translators, I have to explain to them my working process and how to engage people on the streets. They also have to learn how to caption text and model releases, shoot video, and watch my back. The learning curve is huge but I´ve been lucky they catch on quickly.

Now the physical aspect: Each day I am usually out shooting by 11am and ending at dusk (7 or 8pm). I figure out which part of the city I want to shoot in, take public transportation to the area and begin walking. When I say walking, I mean consistently all day. If you stop, you begin to feel the pain. The pain comes from the bags on the shoulders, cameras around your neck, your feet throbbing, speaking to people all day, and the weather. I have grown nails, broken nails, and regrown nails. In London once the rain finally stopped I shot 17 people in one day. My feet were on the verge of blistering the next day. Don´t even mention hair....... My assistants who are generally male and female and 10-15 years younger than me are worn out by the third day of shooting. The third day. I´ve been doing this for two months!

The equipment issues: I have replaced 3 suitcases since I left London. My sneakers have ripped, my jeans have ripped, my tripod broke, my Yashica camera mysteriously broke and I am now using my ´back up´ Mamiya.

The travel: I responsible for all my travel itineraries, hotels, laundry etc. Sitting on a train for hours is great and horrible. Depending on which train and which country. For instance Italian trains don´t make announcements at stops. So if you didn´t just happen to notice the sign for the upcoming city (which is going by at 100km) you´re screwed!

Now after all of this I still have to smile, laugh, continue to take great photos, have a good time and write this damn blog! And just think, I only have two more countries to go before the end of August!

Happy trails!

Ciao, Italia

Roma July 30-August 6 2007

I board Tren Italia and find a sleeping car. Pietro the conductor introduces himself and takes fancy to me. He sees me eating a crummy sandwich and brings me a bottle of water. He then tells me (as he makes himself comfortable in my room!) about his father living in NY, his former Rome to Paris route, and his current Napoli to Rome route. He takes Salsa lessons and gives me his Ipod to listen to his Salsa tracks. He later brings me chocolates and hooks me up with a private sleeping car. I like Italy.....

I arrive at Roma Tiburtini station and think I am in South America Port Authority. It is 4000 degrees outside and it´s 8:00 in the morning, and all the hustlers are in full force! The heat slaps you in the face and just keeps on slapping you. The taxi driver takes the National Geographic scenic route to my hotel. I can always tell when I´m getting ripped off, even in a foreign language.

I check in to Hotel Colors (great place) and realize it is Sunday morning. What most people don´t know about me is: I actually go to church almost every Sunday, even after the 4am Brooklyn dance parties! So I went to chuch....at the VATICAN!!!!!!!!!! My hotel is just a 10 minute walk away. It was AMAZING. I know the word awesome is thrown around a lot, but Rome is the definition of awesome. To get to St. Peter´s Bascilica you walk through these MASSIVE archways and into a semi-circle of 100´ columns with statues on top. My mouth literally dropped open. I have never seen anything like it in my life (and I´ve seen a lot!). Words cannot describe the sensation of grandeur. The ancient Romans were no joke. They understood ambition. The structures are magnificent, symbolic and grandiose over the top. I was awestruck. If you only go to one city in Europe, go to Rome. It is unbelievable.
Ok, the bascilica is great but it only got better.......

Once inside I noticed a small group of people trying to get into a small room to the right. I thought it was an additional small gallery, so of course I walk my nosey self over there and get in the line. Little did I know, it wasn´t a gallery at all.......It was a small room that seated 100 people for a PRIVATE MASS WITH A VATICAN PRIEST AND ALTAR BOYS! HOLLA!!!!!!! You know I was all up in there being Catholic n´stuff! I was even blesseed by a VATICAN PRIEST and fed the waifer of the body of Christ by a VATICAN PRIEST!!!!! Yo, I´m from the Bronx, so this was Craaaaaaaaazy!

Day 2: Toured the Colliseum, Forum, Piazza Navona and the Pantheon with my Australian assistant Emily. I speak no Italian and she speaks just a little bit more than me. Rome has great architecture but it has even better ice cream. I love ice cream, it´s my weakness, so I was an ice cream eating fool the entire time I was in Rome. I´ll do sit ups later....like next year!

Day 3: Began shooting and visited the Sistine Chapel and Vatican museum.

Day 4: Shooting, sweating, shooting, sweating, sweating, shooting while sweating. I have photographed Romanians, Lithuanians, Brasilians, you name it I got it. Vittorio a Rhumba dancing, Yoga practicing, Orisha praying Italian bought me dinner (thanks Vittorio). Anyone giving me anything free in Italy was great because, Italy is a beautiful money pit.

Day 4: I see a man in a beret, and ask to photograph him. He says yes, we begin to talk and I learn he is Jerry Ellis a Puliter Prize nominated author! You just never know who you are going to run into doing this type of work.

Day 5: Photograph Italian Jews who remember being liberated by the Americans during World War II.

Day 6: This was photographer day. Every elderly person we ran into used to be a photographer and started reminiscing about all sorts of cameras they used to own. It was unbelievable.

Day 7: The last day of shooting was pure HELL. HOT HELL! We thought we were going to drop dead from exhaustion in the middle of the street. It was gruesome, grimey and HOT AS HELL. Disgusting! (as my cousin Marilynn would say).

Day 8: VENICE I am the luckiest girl in the world! I took an overnight train and arrived in Venice at 5:30 am. I saw the sun rise in Venice! It was beautiful. Because it was so early there were only about 20 tourist there. Just us and the Venitian waking up. Cobble stone streets, Moorish window, interconnecting winding streets, deep burnt orange wall and sculptures and gondolas! That´s Venice. I was alone in St. Marks square!!!! Damn I'm good!!!! Got pictures to prove it too. Had 4 scoops of ice cream on one cone, took a Gondola ride with 4 Korean tourists, got lost, bought a great dress and souvernirs. Once the massive hysterical crowds came in I jetted! I had Venice all to myself and loooooved it!

Next stop, Barcelona.......

Berlin, Berlin

Berlin July 23-29 2007

Returning to Germany was a bit strange for me. I used to live there as a teenager and only returned once during college. I was meeting Yanara at Berlin HBF train station. She was going to be my guide and translator. Yanara is German Jewish-American and has not lived in Berlin for a couple of years, so we make an interesting team. We board a tram to Prenzlauerberg, East Berlin. Yanara´s friend Nina has been gracious enough to offer her huge four bedroom flat to us for free! Strolling around on the first day I realize Yanara´s sense of direction is even worse than mine (is this humanly possible?) and she has a fear of birds. I must say that my sense of direction has mysteriously and exponentially improved while in Europe.

Day 2: We head out to shoot and the weather is dodgy. Looks like rain. I photograph a Peruvian Inca man (living in Berlin!) and he writes about the the native people of America. I also shoot some drunks in a park and they write´Americans are arrogant, but I don´t understand why!´

Day 3: The Unbelievable. I see a really cool graffiti wall of murals. Hey Yanara, is that the Berlin Wall? ´Oh no, no no. We have a lot of walls in Berlin´ Hmmm Ok, I´m gonna shoot it anyway. A few minutes after shooting I see her talking with a German man........´Hey Lauri, it is the Berlin Wall!´ Oh my God it´s the Berlin Wall! Thank God I decided to shoot it anyway (intuition). There are not a lot of large sections of the wall intact, but this was one of the few. It was amazing. There was a section with a Statue of Liberty mural. I photographed Yanara in front of it and she became very emotional, after that I SIGNED THE BERLIN WALL! and had my photo taken in front of it.

After shooting the wall, we turned the corner and photographed a man at the ´Berlin Beach?!´ Let me explain this phenomena: Just behind the Berlin Wall is a man made beach with a Tiki Bar, reggae music, sand, and umbrellas! I asked the guy working ´isn´t it strange to be working next to the Wall on a fake beach?´No it´s just Berlin!´ Things have definitely changed.

Day 4: Photographed a 95year old woman who looked and sounded like she was 50. She told me she used to be a professor and wrote a play about Gorky. She told me why the East and West were really seperated. She passionately said ´If people have any level of intellect, you must stand up and do something when you know something is wrong´ She was the real deal. Later Yanara, Nina and I went out for Italian food. Nina suggested´Shall we get a pizza with horse meat?' We looked stunned! ´Really it´s delicious.´ Uh, no thanks. Let´s stick to Spinach!

Day 5: Brandenberg Gate: Once upon a time important and serious historical events took place at the Brandenberg Gate.......That was then....This is now! Now it is like a circus in slow motion- weird and nauseating. What do I mean? Men dressed as bears(German national animal), people dressed in a variety of uniforms posing with flags for money, a Kennedy´s bar, ´Tin Man´ painted in silver with top hat, horse drawn carriages, and last but not least.......a brass band playing themes to American tv shows and movies(Rocky and Hawaii 5-0). The place is exhausting, and you don´t know where to look first. We asked the carriage driver how he could stand the band everyday? ´This is the first time they are here´ Oh great, just for us!!!

Tier Garten- the Central Park of Berlin: First of all we spotted a serial flasher, people asking ´Where am I? and what time do I need to be at my next destination????´ but the grand finale was the Dandy I spotted. Top hat, blazer, long shorts, and socks. He was amazing because........he told me his whole personal history. He was a political prisioner in Berlin for two years, moved from the East to the West side sevend days before the building of the Berlin Wall, saw JFK give his ´I am a Berliner´ speech, saw Ronald Regan give his ´Tear down that wall Mr. Gorbechev´ speech. Just as I began to shoot him he burst out singing ´We Shall Overcome´ at the top of his lungs with the flag. Only in Berlin!

The Jewish Memorial: Basically to make a long story short: The Jewish Memorial has no signs indicating it is a memorial of any sort. It is designed like an abstract Leggo Land- staggered grey geometric blocks in the middle of a busy street. People walk, run, play tag, and pay homage in this space. I spotted a goth looking couple dressed in black and white. I started photographing them and next thing you know......Security! They took me through the whole permission interrogation and then politely told us to BEAT IT!

Day 6: I don´t remember a thing!

Day 7: Bought ANOTHER DAMN SUITCASE, packed and left.

Goodbye, Berlin!
Next stop: Rome

Ooooh France!

July 18-22nd 2007

I arrive in Roubaix (North of France) with my 'dead body' suitcase. My friend Jamel Shabazz has hooked me up with his boy Nadjib. Nadjib is supposed to be the man. I'm outside of the station waiting and I notice the obligatory drunk singing and dancing in front of the train station half dressed. He's swinging his dreads and the sun is baking his bare chest. He's wasted. Totally wasted. But because this is a French drunk, he's getting totally wasted with a bottle of champagne! Gotta have style!

Nadjib is a DJ/Producer living in Roubaix. He totally took care of me while I was in France. First of all he cooked dinner every night (Yes, French men like to cook), made a bed for me, introduced me to all his CRAZY friends, surprised me for my birthday, took me to Belgium, introduced me to his fabulous parents, and worked his butt off as my asistant and translator. Jamel was right, he's the man. Here's the Algerian scenerio: Nadjib is French Algerian. One day he tells me he wants to show me something........'This is a picture of my uncle. He was the person who started the Algerian revolution against the French. He later became the first president of Algeria. Malcom X, Angela Davis and all the Black Panthers came to Algeria. This is another picture of my uncle with his best friend....Sadam Hussein! At that point my eyes bulged out of my head!

Nadjib's friends are crazy French Algerians too! First of all I've NEVER seen people smoke so much in my life! It was unbelievable even for Europe. When I say smoke, I mean smoke a cigarette down to the filter and then roll one. They also really like their Scotch Whiskey, Ricard, Jazz and Hip-Hop. The first night I arrived it was just Nadjib and I for dinner. Each night the number grew and the nights got longer.

I had my first Algerian birthday party on the 19th. Of course I met someone with the same birthday! We started off in a infamous Algerian bar run by a man named Moushtek. Moushtek is a cross between Al Pacino and Joe Pesci but Algerian style. I was suprised with champagne and Algerian blues and disco music. One of the locals started discussing America and said 'America is too hot. Too hot. They need to cool down'. He then grabbed the flag and threw it into a refrigerator! Another man grabbed the flag and proceeded to make a muslim head wrap out of it. All on video. Gotta document!. We later made our way back to the apartment where Nadjib cooked and suprised me with a big pastry and some earrings. The food did not last long.

While in Roubaix I got some baaaad photos. Things I can't even believe. For instance I saw some men dressed in the holy muslim dress standing on a corner. I asked Nadjib to tell them about my project. He looked at me like I was CRAZY. 'You want ME to ask them to pose with the American Flag?!' He did, and belive it or not, one of the men let me photograph him. It was amazing! Another day, a man grabbed the flag, dropped his pants and..........You gotta see the book and video to find out!

One of my last nights in Roubaix was incredible. We were really tired from shooting all day, so Nadjib said 'Hey let's go to Belgium with a couple of friends and have a nice dinner and chill.' Dinner, Belgium, Chill....sounds good to me. Well about 10 of his friends show up and we pile into the cars and head for a quiet Belgian dinner.........

We arrive in Gent, Belgium and the place is packed with over 100,000 people. They are having a 10 day / 24 hour music festival. It's crazy. Stages floating on canals, DJ's all over the place, large screens, food, alcohol, graffitti murals and a bunch of drunk French and Belgians. Gent looks like a fairy tale town. Castles, Poseiden statues, beautiful boats sailing down the canals and cobble stone streets. Unbelievable. Let's just say we had a good time. Nice and quiet! What do you do after partying all night in Belgium? You drive back to France and then get up and drive back to Belgium in the morning to shoot! We're crazy like that.

The next day I met Nadjib's parents the Ben Bella's. His father is an amazing abstract painter with an incredible 'studio'. The 'studio' is three stories high and literally packed with paintings, african sculptures, and pottery. It is a stunning enviornment. His parents are so gracious, they even cooked me a wonderful Sunday lunch of lamb, tabouleh and pastries. Just thinking about it makes me hungry again.

So anyway, I finally left for the train station and realized I mixed up the departure time by three hours. So what did we do? We went over to another friend's house and she baked a quiche and we looked at African art books and drank wine. Then I left again. Au Revoir Roubaix!
Next stop Berlin......

Higher! in Holland

July 10-16 Okay! I'm on my way to the Hook of Holland via a ferry from England to the Netherlands.Why travel by ferry instead of fly? Because in my head I believe it will be more adventurous traveling on the high seas. Shooting the waves and rocking on the boat. Once in a lifetime. HA! First of all I had to take two trains to get to the ferry. In London I had to dump my backpack (yes I said backpack: containing three months of supplies) because it was so damn heavy. I felt like a donkey. I bought a suitcase on wheels. It weighed a ton.I drag it to the station and the ferry porter drops it and immediately breaks the wheels (thanks for the help)! I then drag the 300 pound suitcase onto the boat. Now let me get back to my romantic adventure on the high seas: The 'ferry' is actually the size of the Love Boat...scary massive. Really big boats and really small planes freak me out.The boat is like a condo on waves...no character. The cabin is really small. I can't see a thing because it's dark outside. In the morning I realize I there is no deck, which means I can't shoot outside on the high seas damn it! Whatever.I'm going to Rotterdam to see my friend Easton who is living and exhibiting his paintings in Rotterdam. He told me to stop by and he would hook me up with tickets to the NorthSea Jazz festival and introduce me to some gallery directors. I haven't seen or talked to Easton in seven years, so it's a reunion.

I arrive, we catch up and immediately head to the festival. When I say immediately I mean within a few minutes of arrival. It was just the beginning..........The festival is insane. Thousands of people and 40 concerts a day for three days. I literally did not sleep. I danced on the rooftop of the building and watched people do the Electric Slide! On the rooftop a guy asked 'Hey don't you live in Harlem!'In concert I saw Inida Arie, Steely Dan, Ornette Coleman, Maceo Parker, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Snoop Dogg and SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE!!!!!!.

All the musicians stay in the Hilton hotel where it is tradition for them to play jam sessions in the lounge until the early mornings. You know I made my way into the jam sessions! One night /morning I saw Wynton Marsalis play 10 feet in front of me! He was walking around like he was in his kitchen. Trumpeter Roy Hargrove saw me trying to keep my eyes open at 7:00 am and said 'Girl, you a sleep!' He later closed the set playing Michael Jackson's 'I Wanna Rock with You' at 7:30 am with the sun in full effect. Crazy.Hypnotic Brass Ensemble killed the crowd with the southern marching band moves.Europeans don't know about that stuff. One woman later said ' They are very good. Very Elastic!' But the REAL SHOW everyone wanted to see was SLY. I was so desperate to get inside for the show, I called my old Harlem friend who gave me the number for his personal ticket scalper, who I told to hold a ticket for me!. I managed to get a hook up with an access bracelet. I was in, with my HD video camera. Gotta document!

Sly has not played a show in over 20 years and people didn't know if he would show. The crowd was crazy with anticipation. I was front and center, you know me! The band was killer. No Sly. The band is playing song number 3. No Sly. Finally Sly's sister who is singing backup yells ' Where is my brother? Somebody go get my brother' and she meant it! The day before Sly was due to perform in Belgium and was holed up in his hotel with 3 prostitutes (who later cheered him on in the wings)! Sly finally came out (when he was good and ready). It was awe inspiring just to actually see him. He doesn't look the same, but he's still got the voice and he's still SLY STONE. I was later told he came down to the jam session at 5am, jammed and got drunk with some people who didn't even know who he was!

One thing I realized is: Musicians are craziest artists of all. Why do I say such a thing?? Check this scenerio out.: At another music festival during the same period a brother named Kool Keith was due to perform his hip hop set. The tent is packed. Kool Keith hands the technician a DVD. 'Oh great. You have a DVD to project!' Kool Keith starts the show and the tech man pops in the DVD. What starts playing on the 200 feet video screens? A home made porno movie! Guess what? They project the DVD throughout the entire show! Needless to say all the women in the tent immediately bolted for the exits!

Anyway, three days of the North Sea Festival had me whipped. Happily whipped. Believe it or not I actually managed to shoot while I was there! I later decided that I needed to make my way to Amsterdam. Back on the train...... Arrive in Amsterdam and check into hotel La Boheme. I immediately crash because the previous days and nights have finally caught up with me. After finally coming to I head for an internet cafe/ 'coffee shop'.Well what can I say....I walk in and immediately get slapped with the scent of herb. Strong herb. Very strong herb. Of course their playing Bob Marley music, what else!

Later I get some Surinameese food and witnessed a bloody (literal)fight in the street. Always in the thick of it..... Ran into Femi a Jamaican/ Nigerian musician who I previously met at the festival. Hooked up with Rico a Jamaican photographer who told me stories of hanging out with Miles Davis, Chacka Khan, and touring with Bob Marley. He later gave me a tour of the Red Light district and tells me a story of when he and Bonnie Raitt checked out a live sex show and the male performer was dressed up as Batman! Gotta love Amsterdam. It's like a mix of New Orleans and San Francisco on a canal. Oh yeah, I actually photographed in Amsterdam too! Good stuff. Next stop North of France

London Calling

July 1-10th 2007 London is a trip. First of all it rained 6 out of the 10 days I was there!When I say rain let me clarify the situation: Each day I went out to shoot (like a fool) my clothes, socks, shoes, and equipment bag were completly soaked through. I literally had to put everything in a dryer each evening! And this was while carrying an umbrella. England received severe flooding (people died) and even had a day of snow in the northern region! This was the first week of bloody July!

During my stay in London I crashed at my friend John Paul's house in Notting Hill. His flat is around the corner from the Portobello market, a great location. One thing I must mention is his house was under constant repair. Let me clarify the situation: The light fuse popped, the hot water wasn't working, the dryer was replaced, the window washer showed up, the guest room (my room) was being painted, a new wardrobe was delivered, a new bed was delivered, the electrician was coming, and the bathroom door always locked everyone inside! Other than that it was perfect! (thanks JP). Oh yeah, his Russian stylist friend was moving out and his Italian boyfriend was moving in. One last thing: JP has been asking me to visit for years. I told him the dates I was coming and he was soooooo excited. I get there and he has to go to Rome for 5 of the 10 days!

As I said before I went out to shoot everyday. What did I get in London besides wet?Rappers, twins living in the PJ's, a little girl with her baby doll in a stroller, Irqui women in the park (4th of July!), three muslim girls with designer head scarves, metal head family in chinatown, and 2 Greek gynecologists and their mid-wife girlfriend (I swear I'm not making this up!) While shooting near Brick Lane (a Bangladesh area) a young loudmouth and his two side kicks grabbed my flag and started screaming 'F*** you! F*** your flag, don't involve my people.' Of course I asked him to do all that on tape!Needless to say he didn't because he's just a loudmouth.

I also went out to a small lounge and of course it was 'Broooklyn in Britian' night.Great live band with a guest musician from Brooklyn. Can never get away from it......I also photographed a brother who turns out new at least 15 of my friends in New York(hi Eric).London was good, but as the British say 'Gotta love it and leave it'. Next stop Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Discovering Dublin

Monday, July 02, 2007
DUBLIN, IRELAND

June 25 My backpack (I have one bag for 3 months) is too damn heavy and I need to find wheels for it. I know they speak English in Ireland, but I can't understand a word they're saying! The accent is DEEP! Meeting my Brasilian friend Valerius at Trinity College in the city center. He is amazine. We immediately clicked. It has been six years since we first met in London. It was for the opening exhibition for my Flag book. We (John Paul, myself, Walda, and Loic) got dressed up in tuxedos and Givenchy couture dresses and stormed into the show triumphantly. It was my european debut and it was great. Now Valerius and I are back together again. He's Brasilian, funny and kind. We went for Thai food and it was so good! It was'Gorgeous' as he likes to say. Great food, a bottle of wine, and liquers. He turned me on to liquers, now it's my new thing. I'm hooked for life. Mmmmm orange peel and ginger flavor and the other tasted like melted chocolate. We stuffed ourselves silly, laughed like kids, talked about love, adventure, money and everything else. Delightful. We walked along St. Stephen's Green park. Made another stop for two rounds of caparinhas, and discovered we shared the same orisha (African spirit). We got drunk because we were in Ireland! It was a beautiful night with a beautiful friend. It was a brilliant kickoff for my european trip. Life is good and Valerius is good too.

June 26 Finally slept late-until noon. It felt soo good. Checked the video equipment, and digital camera. Rode the bus to the Institute of Art and Design. I feel a bit lonely but that's the U.K. It's the overcast weather that killls me. It changes my mood, but the Ipod helps. I want to talk to my NY friends, but I need to adjust to the road. As soon as I start shooting I'll feel better. Oh by the way, I have to wear two shirts, a denim jacket and scarf. It's cold like that in June! But I must say Ireland is beautiful, green and lush. I have never seen so many redheads in my life or raven hair with blue eyes. They have a great look. Very different from the English-heavier, more muscular bodies.

June 27 I attended the Photography and Globalisation conference. I didn't realize people actually READ their papers to the audience!???? How boring and weird is that! Who wants to listen to someone read to them? I don't. Pablo Neruda love poems, yes. Academic papers? Hell no! The next weird thing: Presenters are speaking about images but not showing images???? Huh? This is a new one on me. I jetted after a few hours-that was enough for me. Met Valerius for Brasilian food. He arranged for the chef to make a special dish of Moqueca (seafood coconut stew). Gorgeous! More good food, wine, and caparinhas.

June 28 I presented my lecture about the Flag book. I did not READ to the audience, and I showed 26 images. The audience really appreciated this, because they had a chance to wake up! Met Vassilis, a Greek photographer based in London. Interesting, says a lot.

June 29 Began shooting Flag Int'l. It felt great. Just getting started came naturally. Everyone I approached said yes. I love the Irish because they are very straight forward, unpretentious, and funny as hell. I got some really good shots and video interviews: A woman clipping her hedges and shooting her in her garden, German rockers, drunk British soccer players, etc. Shooting was basically a stick and move operation, but it worked well for the short amount of time I had. In the U.K. you have to work around the constant rain and dark skies. If the weather pauses you have to work quickly. One thing I realize is I have to go to bed earlier. I can't afford to miss prime light hours or lose focus. Dinner with Valerius again at Mona Lisa. Fantastic prawns, lamb with wine sauce, potatoes, tiramisu, and South African wine. It was Gorgeous!

June 30 Mad busy and hectic. Not really a good day. Dublin finally became hot and sunny, but I was stuck in horrendous traffic on a City Tour bus. We were going so slow I started to fall asleep! Found a roll cart for my bag, quickly said goodbye to Valerius, and rushed to the airport.
The taxi driver showed me the hood and kept referring to it as 'as bad as the f******g Bronx!' He later went on to tell me that George Bush is too honest, that's what gets him in trouble.
He's keeping the world safe and Kennedy was the best president America ever had.' Of course the day I chose to fly to London there are two terrorist car bomb attacks at the airport and Buckingham palace. Timing is everything! Always in the thick of it. My flight is now delayed. So now what is there to do but drink a 'goodbye' Ireland Guiness at the airport bar.

In the Beginning

In The Beginning

Thanks Debbie for the journal. I'm already putting it to good use. This entire trip has already been a TRIP and I haven't even left yet. Let me break it down as best I can:In The Beginning.....

1. Dwayne Rogers called me late one night to tell me he had an idea for me. 'You should shoot a follow up to your Flag book. The political climate is so fertile' Hmmm.'I'll think about it. maybe...'. The next day I called him back with 'I'm gonna do it internationally. I have a list of cities'. Well let's just say the list grew, and grew, and grew. It changed, it got edited, got abandoned, and came back again. I have been obsessing over this project for a year and a half. Now I'm finally leaving.

2. Sponsorship aka: How to beg, beg, and keep on begging. When you're done begging- wish, write lists, pray, and beg some more. After you've done all that- cry, scrap your idea, feel like a failure, and then beg some more. Call and write letters and emails to companies until they get sick of you and give you what you want or at least something for free.

3. Money / Panic attacks: These two things go together and it usually helps to be a little bit delusional ie: 'Yeah I can make this work' or ' I know how to do it for cheap'.Well you do things for cheap, and then cheaper, and cheeeeaaap after the moment you realize your broke. After you realize your broke, you have a panic attack and then you cheer yourself up by being delusional again. And then miraculously it all works out, just like you knew it would, because you always have a plan. The plan is called resourcefulness / pride.

4. Friends: I have great friends. Not only are they beautiful and talented, but they're smart too. I previously had an itinerary which required I fly to distant locations. Nice idea, no money. I was freaking out about raising money or conjuring a miracle to pay for all the flights. Enter wisdom: Jamel Shabazz. Jamel convinced me to scrap my planned itinerary and focus on Europe as a start and take the rail train to cut costs.Brilliant. Basically plan Flag International the same way I planned the original book.Clarity in a time of need! All I now had to do was, totally rearrange my trip, quickly do research for 10 new locations and find local guides, translators, and lodging! Oh and by the way this all needed to be done within a month. Nothing like switching gears on a deadline. That's life!Bon Voyage PartyLast night I saw my friends for my Bon Voyage party at Smooch in Brooklyn.I got a free Ice cream cake (long story). All my bestest friends showed up. It was a beautiful time with a beautiful crowd. Maitland taught me the 'Lion Claw' handshake. Very simple, very real, very positive. I was exhausted-literally.

My house is a MESS, I panicked over money, I haven't finished my work deadlines, and I have to learn how to use my new video camera, ipod shuffle, and new digital camera. I may have to return some purchases because I've spent too much. I bought way too much stuff or I didn't realize how much it would all add up to...half my budget! I know now and it has scared the hell out of me. How did I manage to spend so much so quickly? I only bought what I need. I will get by, but I have to really count my pennies. No nice hotels, maybe I will be blessed with free places to stay (Please God!). My father called me the next day and offered to UPGRADE my hotels!

June 24 (Departure day),O.K. I'm finally leaving! I'm sitting on Aer Lingus which is very green and very Irish. I love it! Shamrocks all the way! I spoke to about ten of my good friends and my parents of course. Richard Rose dropped me off at JFK. Vy is moving into my place tonight. It all sounds good now, but up until a couple of hours ago I was a crazy woman. Yesterday morning I cried, my apartment was a ******* mess, my work deadline was not completed, and I was completely in a panic for money. I'm not sure if I was ever this hectic before a trip or I just don't remember. But either way this send off was hell! Not glamourous at all. But life moves on and I'm moving with it. God is good. For real.

Everything got done as it always does. I feel like this trip is a new beginning and a confirmation of who I am, and why I'm here. We all have a purpose. Sounds corny but I think it's true. Dublin is going to be great. The whole trip is going to be great. I'm going to have a great time (Positive thinking). Aer Lingus flight 108 to Dublin (5hours). Oh oh. It's raining thunderstorms in Dublin for the next 5 days. Oh well, I guess I have time to sleep and prep for the rest of the trip. Sometimes things work out afterall....I need time to sleep, prep, check my equipment, and read my guide books. It's all about perception. Either way things are all good to me. Yesterday I had a strong feeling I was not completely prepared. Now I will have time to get 'right'. I'm sleepy as hell! Richard said 'You got what you wanted' and he was right. I wanted this this a lot, very badly. Honestly If I didn't do this I would feel like a failure and always wondering 'what if?' It would haunt me for the rest of my life. Now that my major panic attack is over, I can enjoy the ride. My new adventure. On the way to JFK there were two huge american flag banners on the highway. A good sign. I think I'm going to sleep now.