Today I rode a borrowed bike about 25 km (around 16 miles) to benefit the Bill Brown Scholarship fund through CMU-Q. The desert here is incredible. Slow rises and slow falls of ground, barely perceptible, most obvious by looking at the contour of street lights. After the ride, I came home, took a bath, and slept for about 6 hours. Surprisingly, only my hands (I was riding a man’s bike, so the handlebars were too widely set for my hands to be comfortable) and my butt are sore. We’ll see the true damage tomorrow morning.
I rode with a classmate the entire way; we traded off singing folk and pop songs to each other to keep our breathing even. We both knew the same Hungarian folk song (she from growing up in Hungary, me from choir in high school), and I sang “Thunder Road”, “That Good Old Mountain Dew”, “Long Black Veil”, “Mary Hamilton” and “Carey” by Joni Mitchell. More than any other song right now, I think the opening of Carey describes the desert. Reading through the official lyrics, I realize I’ve been singing this wrong since my Mom got me my first Joni Mitchell CD at about 13. Here is what I sang:
The wind is in from Africa,
And last night I couldn’t sleep
Oh, you know it sure is hard to leave you, Carey,
But it’s really not my home.
My fingernails are filthy, I got beach tar on my feet,
And I’ll miss my clean white living and
my fancy French cologne
To me, “Carey” has always been about choosing a place over a man, to be dirty and salty rather than clean and boxed. Speaking of salt (and wind), on the ride back there was a fierce wind from Doha, and my hair and skin got covered in a fine coating of salt. Singing into the wind, over traffic, across the desert was one of the most open experiences I’ve had here. Like nowhere else in Qatar, in the open desert plain I felt I could sing as loud as I wanted–and I did.
“When I go biking, I repeat a mantra of the day’s sensations: bright sun, blue sky, warm breeze, blue jay’s call, ice melting and so on. This helps me transcend the traffic, ignore the clamorings of work, leave all the mind theaters behind and focus on nature instead. I still must abide by the rules of the road, of biking, of gravity. But I am mentally far away from civilization. The world is breaking someone else’s heart.”–Diane Ackerman