As life on the road goes, Week #70 was a pretty good one.
On Monday morning the Indian Embassy accepted my application for a 180 day Tourist Visa. It only took three visits to the embassy, which is said to be pretty good considering India’s love of all things bureaucratic. Based on the collective level of frustration that I sensed from the people milling about the waiting area, I think I got off lightly.
I saw one grown man break down and cry when told that he would have to go to a nearby bank to get exact change, in US currency, and that he’d be #119 in line if he grabbed a number before leaving. I didn’t exactly see it leave her hand but I was inches away from where it landed when a professional looking woman hurled a handbag across the room. She didn’t even bother to pick up an assortment of makeup that was strewn across the floor before storming out. I assume she had a problem with the staff, not me.
By opening a single service window, staffing it with a woman of about 103, and not permitting cell phones in the waiting area, it’s as if they’re warning you in advance: India is not the sort of place you should visit if you like predictable and orderly, or if you have an aversion to things red or tape-like. By all means, come on in if you’re craving chaos, government bureaucracy, massive crowds, long lines, or often no lines at all.
By Tuesday morning I was ready to tick a few items off my list of things to see and do in Istanbul. I’ve been here a little over a month and I still haven’t been inside the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace or the city’s famous cistern. I’ve seen and done quite a lot – just not the typical tourist spots beyond the Grand Bazaar. On Tuesday morning I had decided that it’s my final full week in Istanbul and it’s time to get things done!
There was only one complication. He was tall, dark, and handsome. And with limited English, no Turkish, and absolutely no experience navigating a foreign city, this Algerian needed a friend for the week. His name was Billal and he’s a pastry chef from Algiers.
Billal’s hobby, and apparently that of many of his friends back home, is taking selfies of himself trying on high-end clothing, shoes, watches and fashion accessories in stores like Gucci, Rolex, Prada, Cartier and Fendi. It doesn’t seem to matter that Fendi only carries a limited selection of men’s items because this dude has never seen a designer gym bag (or full length mirror) that he didn’t like. He even poses for security cameras.
To say that it was a fun week would be a understatement but it was just a week, and we both knew from the outset that it would come to an end all too soon. Well, it’s now over and I’m moving on. Literally. Next week I will fly to Delhi and start a whole new adventure.
On Saturday afternoon I was preparing a little something to wear to a Halloween party at the hostel when I noticed a tweet from a friend who was attending the Breeders Cup at Keeneland in Kentucky. She asked me how many zeros were on the amount I surely made on the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. I have to admit that I’m so far out of the horse racing loop that I didn’t even realize that it was Breeders Cup week-end. I had to check the results online to figure out what she was talking about.
If you’ve been to a racetrack at least once the odds are good that you made some money betting a horse on nothing more than its name. It may have been your first ever bet. You may or may not have become a regular at the track. But those who are regulars at the track will likely tell you that the only certainty that comes with betting significant money on ‘names’ is the likelihood that you’ll eventually file for bankruptcy.
Still, because I knew next to nothing about any of the horses in this year’s Breeders Cup, I would have put some money on at least one ‘name’ had I been playing through an online account. And for a guy who blogs about Saturdays and who lists Mongolia as his favourite of approximately 22 countries visited in the last year, there was one very obvious name to play.
Before I go further let me say that the same connections seem to win many of the big thoroughbred stakes races. If they’re not actually the same people, they certainly look like the same people in just about every winner’s circle photo. The owner is invariably white, over 50, sometimes over 70, and even when dressed in a Yankees cap, blazer and khakis, there’s generally something about him that smells of money – penny loafers, a watch worth more than any horse I’ve ever owned, or maybe a trophy wife on the arm. Many winning owners seem to have all of the above. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with any of these status symbols, but wouldn’t it be nice to see some diversity in a Breeders Cup winner’s circle?
Well, the 44,000 in attendance Saturday at Keeneland and the millions more who watched the broadcast certainly got a dose of ‘different’ when a horse named Mongolian Saturday held on to win the $1 million TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.
Although he was bred in Kentucky, Mongolian Saturday comes by his name honestly. He’s a son of Any Given Saturday and he’s owned by Ulaanbaatar-based Ganbaatar Dagvadorj who races under the name Mongolian Stable. In the 32-year history of the Breeders’ Cup, there has never been a Mongolian representative. The horse’s trainer, Mongolian-born Enebish Ganbat, had never started a horse in a race anywhere close to the stature of the Breeders’ Cup. I’m assuming that some of those in the winner’s circle have never sipped champagne from a Breeders’ Cup trophy either. I love it!
Now for the maddening part. The winner returned $33.80, $13.60, and $7.80. Yes, 15-1 on a horse named Mongolian Saturday. If it hadn’t been such a good week, I’d be despondent.