The one with all the monkeys

Gibraltar is an interesting little place. I’ve often heard people say that they’re going on vacation to “Spain and Gibraltar.” But until my friend Chris asked me if I wanted to go to Gibraltar with her, I had no idea what (or where) Gibraltar was. Presumably, near Spain.

Well, I was right about that. It is near Spain. In fact, it’s practically in Spain (in a purely spatial sense). It’s not part of Spain, though. It is its own little country. Sort of. It’s actually a “British overseas territory.” So it’s British. Mostly.

Confused yet?

They use the pound. They speak English. They love being British. They fly the Union Jack proudly. They love them some football. They serve fish and chips and jacket potatoes in pubs. They have a Marks & Spencer’s!

The border and the Rock of Gibraltar, by me

It’s an entire country in one city. The airport runway (yes, it has an airport!) can be walked or driven across. There are four bus lines. There are about 30,000 people. You can’t take a bus in from Spain. You have to get off outside of Gibraltar, walk over the border and show them your passport (sadly no stamp though!).

The airport runway, by me

And they have monkeys. The only monkeys in Europe! There are over 200 of them, and they live on top of the Rock of Gibraltar, mostly. They’re tagged, fed and kept by a vet and the government. Apparently they’re like the Tower of London ravens. The legend goes that if the monkeys ever disappear from Gibraltar, it will signal the end of British rule over the area. This greatly concerns the British, so much so that Winston Churchill had their stocks replenished after the Second World War.

Monkeys, by me

From the top of the Rock of Gibraltar you can see the Pillars of Hercules, also know as the Strait of Gibraltar. The smallest passage between Europe and Africa. You can see the south most point in Europe on one side and Morocco on the other.

The Strait of Gibraltar, by me

On one side of Gibraltar is the Atlantic. On the other is the Mediterranean.

The Mediterranean, by me

Because of this geography, Gibraltar was an important place historically. That’s why the British own it. That’s why they want to keep it. That’s why the Spanish want it back.

But it’s a beautiful place. It’s a friendly, multicultural city that draws it’s population from Spain, Britain, Africa and all of the world. It has a mosques, a temple, a synagogue, a cathedral and some churches. It’s pretty cool.

And if you’re like me and can’t speak any Spanish, Italian, Greek or Arabic… it’s a city on the Mediterranean where the principle language is English!

Also, they have monkeys.

Me with a monkey on my shoulder, by Christine Sweeton


I write more postcards than hooks,
I read more maps than books.
Feel like every chance to leave
is another chance I should have took.
Every minute is a mile.

I measure minutes in bus stops, train stations and flight times. Two hours early to wait around. Through blurry eyes I watch the miles fade into memory and blur into one another.

I add to my list: What countries have you been to? Spain. Gibraltar. I was in Amsterdam for two hours, Paris for three. I went to Devon for the first time and the rolling hills looked beautiful from behind the terminal glass. I mark the time with pieces of a Galaxy bar and sips of weak tea.

A template for writing postcards. Hello from  insert country here . Interesting fact goes here. Made me think of you. Wish you were here/miss you/see you soon. Love, Heather. As I write I imagine the fridges and bulletin boards the cards will grace, the homes and the people they will see before me.

It seems like everything I write now could be from a chapter titled “Trains, planes and automobiles.” A few lines in a travelling song. A few words in monologue about leaving and arriving and the spaces in between.

I’m crossing things off lists and counting flights on two hands worth of cold fingers. My passport is smeared with black ink and bending at the corners. I need new walking shoes.


Short videos I made, from my trips to Rome and Egypt.

Footage by myself and Chandra. Photos mostly by Chandra. So Many Miles by Sarah Slean. Many the Miles by Sara Bareilles. Videos by me!

It All Changed in an Instant

I have a lot of catching up to do in regards to posting about the books I’ve read in the last few months, but I’m not going to start from the beginning. Instead, I’m going to start with the latest one!

At least two people I know have attempted the 50 Books in a year since I did, most recently my former roommate and dearly-missed friend, Kristen, who just started a lovely blog called Living Literary. I was reading her newest post last night and thinking about how I had failed to post about my books recently, but also that I seem to fail to provide any criticism, most of the time, of what I read.

Well, that isn’t going to change in this post.

It All Changed in an Instant is the new six word memoir book from Smith Magazine. I read their earlier books, Not Quite What I Was Planning and Six Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak for last year’s 50 books in a year. I really love the format, just as I love websites like I got an email a while ago saying that one of the six word memoirs I had posted to the Smith Magazine website had been chosen as a finalist for the new book. I hadn’t heard anything since then, but I was still hopeful that maybe it would be in this book.

It wasn’t, but that’s okay. Because my six word memoir, which I wrote last year after reading Not Quite What I Was Planning, was “Happiest pretending to be someone else.” And while that was quite perfect for me at that point in my life, it’s not true anymore. And so, I posted some more over there and hold out hope for the next book.

I truly love the six word memoir books. The people at Smith Magazine set out to do something different - to challenge people to tell their story in only six words, the way Ernest Hemingway had (For sale: baby shoes, never worn.) and in the process proved that you really can tell a powerful story with only six words. Sometimes, I’d say, a great deal better than with 6,000 or 600,000.

I’ll be thinking in six word sentences for a couple of days now.

My favourites?

Writing is easy. Life is hard.
Nearing 60, still on rough draft.
Friendship test: willingness to be inconvenienced.
Only I define who I am.
Why walk when you can fly?
“Give up.” “Never.” “You’ll die.” “Maybe.”
A series of self fulfilling prophecies.
Last chapter hasn’t been written yet.
We’re both someone else’s problem now.
Off in my own little world.
Journalism? Hah! Just make stuff up.
I’m holding on with both hands.
One plane ride can change everything.

Comment in six words. I dare you.

The cats of Egypt

In Ancient Egypt, they worshiped a cat goddess, Bastet (also known as Bast or Baset). I have loved this fact since I was little, because I got tired of watching movies and cartoons where the cat was the bad guy. I was (and am) a cat lover, through and through.

Because of Bastet, cats were sacred to the Ancient Egyptians. The bodies of pet cats where mummified along with their owners, cat statues were carved and royal cats were even given elaborately jeweled collars and necklaces.

Alexandrian cat, by me

Cats are everywhere in Egypt, to this day. They are underfoot at monuments, in markets, on the streets. Some of them are ugly and vicious, wild things. Others are much more friendly and will come when you call them. The rough cats in the meat market in Cairo sat underneath the carcasses and licked the blood. An adorable orange tabby wound itself around my legs at the Cairo museum. We saw two cats tear chunks of fur off each other in Alexandria.

Cats! by me

There’s a very interesting custom that derives from Bastet, that our tour guide finally explained to us. When you walk down the street in Egypt, you often hear Egyptian men making an odd noise as you walk past. Bsbsbsbsbsbs, they hiss. I was confused.

Apparently, Egyptian men compare sexually attractive women to cats. And so they make that noise, bsbsbsbs, because it is the same noise they make to call a cat, after the name Bastet. Interestingly, cats actually to respond better when you make that noise. And maybe women too?

Djoser's Dog by me

There are some stray dogs around too, for you dog lovers.