The period I lived in Moscow was the most stressful of my life. Seriously. Having cancer is nothing compared with Life in the Big Onion, at least during the time I was there, doing the job I did.
Almost every day, driving between work and my apartment on Bolshaya Ordynka, I listened to Denis Leary’s “No Cure for Cancer” routine on my car’s cassette player (yes, it was that long ago). And I still believe, to this day, that Denis kept me from going postal. (Thanks, Denis!)
Part of the routine involved his plans to open a meat restaurant, delivered in his enraged, foaming-at-the-mouth style:
I’m gonna open up my own place. Open my own restaurant and get away from you people. I’m gonna open up a restaurant with two smoking sections; Ultra and Regular, ok? And we’re not gonna have any tables or any chairs or any napkins. None of that [stuff]. Just a big wide open black space. And all we’re gonna serve is raw meat, right on the bone! And only men are going to eat there, naked men, sitting around a big giant camp fire, and no men’s room either. You have to [urinate], you mark your territory like a wolf! And if some guy has a heart attack from eating too much meat, [screw] him, we throw him in the fire! More meat for the other meat-eaters! Yeah!
At the very end of the bit, breathless, the last of his energy spent, he mutters “because you gotta have goals.” I’ve been thinking about that bit a lot the past few weeks.
Because, well, one of the most popular questions posed to us winter-overs has been “So, what are your goals for winter?”
(Note: it was mostly people leaving who asked, though a few fellow winter-overs have also inquired.)
Well, I do have a few goals.
For starters, I want to see the Southern Lights for real. Yeah, I saw them weakly flickering over the sky during WinFly, but I want a jaw-dropping, gob-smacking display that takes my breath away and makes me forget the wondrous experience of seeing the Northern Lights from a plane flying over the North Atlantic, enroute to Iceland, a few years ago.
I want to experience Con1 (Condition One, the most dangerous weather rating). I’ve seen Con2 a few times, but I want to witness the mother of all Antarctic storms. Preferably from the comfort of the heated building where I live and work… today it was minus 33 Fahrenheit with wind chill, and I got frostnip (harmless but painful) taking out the recycling.
I want to do the Polar Plunge – a Midwinter’s Eve event when our crazy Kiwi neighbors drill a hole in the ice and people put on a harness, jump into the water and then (hopefully) get hauled out. They don’t do it every year, as weather and bureaucratic nitpickiness sometimes prevent it (you can imagine the paperwork involved if someone’s harness gets unhooked and they’re lost under the ice in the Ross Sea…). But if they’re drillin’, I’m jumpin.’
I want to save money. Not hard to do here, when the only thing to buy is booze (meh) and online books and music from Amazon.
I want to win McMurdo’s Biggest Loser. All of us doing it paid in $50, and will have to pay an additional $1 for every pound we gain during the competition. Last year, the woman who won didn’t lose any weight. She was the only one who didn’t gain weight. Yeah. Disconcerting. I watched Terminator 2 to get inspiration from Linda Hamilton, but so far the bulk of my training has been trading my morning scone for a Spirulina smoothie and resuming my morning Pilates routine.
I want to edit my novel, The Guardian, and get it into readable shape. It’s a sequel to a novel I wrote a few years ago, The War’s End, which, quite frankly, is the thing I am most proud of in my life. I’d like to be at least half as proud of The Guardian. I’ve got work to do.
I have other plans… I want really badly, inexplicably, to learn to knit. I want to learn either Arabic or Farsi, though so far my attempts to find a decent course online or downloadable to my ubercool Kindle (gift of an awesome friend… thanks, Tina!) have come up empty. Dang it!
Of course, even though it’s months away, I’m already thinking about Life After Ice. Not in a “get me out of here way,” though. I am thrilled to be wintering. I love my boss, and my boss’ boss. My new job is challenging, but in a good way, and I feel I’m improving my skills and learning new things. I like the people around me. I love having my own room. I have no commute, no fuel costs, free room and board, a 24-hour gym and library and semi-reliable free WiFi (for reasons neither I nor the IT guy can determine, my room is the only dead spot in the building… grrrrrr…).
So yeah, I have no regrets about choosing to hunker down with 150 other souls on the edge of the harshest continent in the world for the harshest of its seasons. But, well, October is not that far away.
If I could do anything after the Ice, quite frankly, I would volunteer to teach Afghan girls English. Seeing Afghanistan has been a dream of mine since I was eight years old, as inexplicable as my sudden obsession with learning to knit, but much deeper. I have always felt a strange sense of familiarity with Afghanistan, and would love not only to visit the place, but help the people who live there.
I’ve looked into it already and, alas, there’s not exactly a lot of options. Maybe that will change, but, for now, here’s my Top Ten List of Life After Ice activities (note: the rather fanciful nature of this list is due, in large part, to an option we have to convert our return ticket back to the States into cash to be used towards the purchase of a Round-The-World ticket):
10. I’m not sure why I put it at #10, because it’s the one thing I’m definitely doing… spending a couple weeks in New Zealand, beginning with a soak and a facial at Hanmer Springs, a shopping spree at Lush in Christchurch (helping the post-quake economy, you understand), a hike up Mt. Owen (nixed due to my car Bill breaking down last year) and, most of all, another swim in Lake Wakatipu. I even brought my wetsuit just for that (wearing it for the Polar Plunge would be cheating and, after all, it’s in storage in Christchurch with all my camping gear).
9. Trekking through Tasmania. Another childhood dream. I guess I was an odd child. When most girls my age were dreaming of getting married or having ponies or being princesses, I was yearning to see all the garden spots of our planet… In particular, I have been a little obsessed with Tasmanian devils since, well, about the time I got a little fixated on Afghanistan. I’ve been looking into volunteer opportunities at devil sanctuaries and conservation projects, and would love to have a hand in helping the little guys somehow, especially since a freakish contagious cancer has decimated their numbers.
8. Sprawl motionless on a South Pacific Beach and snorkel when I feel like moving. Not sure which island yet… I am smitten with Lord Howe Island, off the coast of Australia, while other fellow winter-overs have recommended Tonga and Fiji. Tahiti, Rarotonga and Niue are also in the running. Stay tuned.
7. Get cheap plastic surgery in Thailand. I am fascinated by the cottage industry that has sprung up in Thailand, with luxury hotels serving as outpatient clinics and procedures performed by Western-certified doctors for about 25 percent of what you’d pay in the States. And between the bags under my eyes and the junk in my trunk that won’t budge, Biggest Loser or no, I’ve got material for them to work with. Jus’ sayin’.
6. Trek Nepal. They’ve recently upgraded and joined existing trails to create The Great Himalaya Trail, and while I don’t have the time to do it all, the higher trail standard and transport infrastructure makes it appealing. Plus, it’s Nepal. Sort of a “must do” for trekkers. And I like lentils. A lot. But… well, I’ll be honest. Nepal is on The List for me, but it’s not a place I have a gnawing hunger, a feverish need to see. Like, say:
5. Mongolia. Along with Iran and Afghanistain, the long-time must-see top of The List. I’m just not sure I’d have enough time to see it all before winter set in.
4. The Lofoten Islands. Like visiting Mongolia, the time of year is not the best, especially if I make stops in New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere first. But just look at these babies and you’ll know why the place has been calling my name for more than 20 years. Also… just off the coast is the Moskstraumen, or Maelstrom. Yes, the Maelstrom, the vortex-like collision of tides that inspired tales from the likes of Edgar Allen Poe and Jules Verne.
3. Learning Arabic in Morocco. If the Arabic language course will not come to me, perhaps I will have to go to it. Though I’d rather learn Farsi.
2. Tajikistan and the Wakhan Corridor. I have also been a little obsessed with seeing all the ‘stans. I’ve got three under my belt, and still consider Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan among the most fascinating places I have ever experienced. Tajikistan is calling… especially since there is a burgeoning tourist industry just over the border in the Wakhan Corridor of… Afghanistan. *heartrace* I even looked into learning Dari online but, shockingly, resources for doing so are few.
1. South Africa. Why? Many reasons. Hiking in the Drakensberg (just say the name aloud and you’ll understand the appeal, at least to me… the mountains look like their name sounds… forbidding, mysterious. Kick-ass). Viewing the locals at Kruger National Park. Advancing another step in my (also inexplicable) goal of seeing every penguin species in the wild. Oh, and by the way, the best chance in the world to swim with Great White Sharks and live to tell the tale… that is a long-time obsession that is not inexplicable. My grampa took me to see Jaws when I was way too young. I was terrified. And fascinated. And so it began.
So that’s my working list, so far. October isn’t far off, but it’s far enough that I’m sure I’ll have a hundred other ideas before I have to make up my mind.
For those of you worried about the recurring theme of peril, no worries. As a surfer I met once noted, “if you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”