Lessons from summers past

Growing up, I would spend every summer from the age of 13 or 14 going to enrichment courses, summer programs, and or a language camp. The differences between the social groups I associated with and met not only really expanded my world and opened my mind but also challenged the way I thought things should be or were. This also applied to a couple of political leadership programs in which most of the participants came from one would call “Middle America” which to me, as a Californian was an exotic locale. Probably more exotic to me, at the time than the faraway Russian steppes I read about in my coveted dark Russian novels. In one such political leadership “academy” I was the only person besides one other girl who was not a Christian. Our colleagues would diligently rise at dawn, and covene in the common room to have bible study at 5am. My worship of sleep paralleled their worship of Jesus.
The contrasts between each annual program I found myself were quite striking. 2004 I spent a month or so in semi-rural Minnesota in an intensive “Russian camp” that is quite prestigious and nationally known. Let’s just say my Russian literature professor went there herself when she was a teenager. I met adopted teenagers from Russia, Russian-Americans, and other non-Russian but intellectually curious kids as well. I still keep in touch with quite a few nearly ten years later. 2005 I did a scholastic leadership program in a small town in southern Virginia. There, I met future students at Sewanee University, proud descendants of plantation owners and the KKK who despite their backgrounds got along and befriended the few black students (1-2). I met southern belles and past debutantes, Texans, believers of “the south will rise again,” and had a belle as a roommate who in her Louisiana drawl would proudly exclaim how she couldn’t wait to shed her virginity before college as if it were an unwanted tampon. The girls on my floor in this pre-college program were a sharp contrast to those I met a year later in the political leadership program. In 2005, these girls would engage in much coveted girl talk and share intimate details of their personal lives. Hair dying sessions were followed by metaphorical hair braiding sessions late into the nights. I bonded with a southern preacher’s daughter who was one of the older youth. She was still in her teenage rebel phase with tattoos, piercings, and skipping class in favor of sharing long afternoons with a tall blond kid named Bryce who resembled a man off a dime store romance novel. Another afternoon, I had to pick my jaw off the floor to a comment made by a self-proclaimed southern gentleman from Arkansas who self-righteously said he would punch a girlfriend in the stomach if she ever had an abortion. While my “track” in this program was “American government” I believe I was really getting an education in “American culture.”
My mother had this fantasy of me going to one of these Virginian small town private liberal arts colleges. She was really into how solid and non-politicized these programs were. While these colleges are highly respected and ranked, I didn’t necessarily want to be in such a lily-white and thinly-veiled racist society where my classmates would be just one drink or one breath away of calling each other the “__ word” in gest.
A year later, in 2006 I spent 5-6 weeks in a political leadership academy of sorts where my colleagues took part in their aforementioned daily bible study. Some of these colleagues hailed from colleges and universities that had designated walking paths for each gender, hand-holding was not looked upon too kindly, and/or visiting hours were regulated and curfews enforced. Other colleges they came from also had some of the best classics programs in the country which at some point I even considered applying to. Before this program, I had never even met a Mormon before much less anyone so devout. I sometimes think the culture shock was a two-way street because while I had conservative and libertarian beliefs at the time, I won a “RINO” award which I accepted as gracefully as I could, in my Indian inspired hippie skirt and other southern California garb. I was schooled on the basics of decorum (wardrobe, wear a cross to go with an outfit, wardrobe) and “business casual” which I still believe to this day is a nonsensical phrase. My roommate, a daughter of a former priest shared these life-changing principles with me. God bless her for that.
I don’t regret any of the above experiences. I learned more in these summers than I ever could have in all 3 years of my high school experience. I’ve built up a tolerance, appreciation, and understanding for all kinds of people hopefully. The secret, I suppose, as my mother would say is not to take oneself or anyone too seriously, and most importantly, have a sense of humor about it all.

Around Armenia 2

 

 

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This monastery is of Noravank Monastery that we stopped at on the way to Tatev Monastery.

 

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This is Noravank Monastery.

 

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It was a lovely sunny day. Despite the harsh land and arid climate, there was beauty to be found in the sand dune like mountains and rolling hills.

 

Around Armenia

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Open Letter to guys of my generation

I observe that low self worth/self esteem, insecurity, and a general sense of helplessness or cluelessness plagues my generation.

 

I am here to save many people hours and money consulting a life coach. My knowledge/advice is some parts observation, experience, and consumption of soapy dating shows such as Millionaire Matchmaker.

 

I’ve been there from harboring schoolgirl crushes on men thousands of kilometers away to abruptly ending long-distance relationships due to feelings of restlessness.

 

It’s safer to bat your eyelashes at a distance than to consider the likes of someone in the next cubicle or desk. It feels safer, and easier to withdraw into phantasy-land when deep down, you know the presence of a mortgage to pay and three dream-children are nestled nicely in your daydreams and not in reality. In real life, you are plagued by fear. Risk. Chance of being rejected. Unrequited Love. Doom. Despair. And, most of all, hurt.

 

Fear of all of the above.

 

So you become self-aware but then what? Does being aware of your limits or fear motivate you to take the next step? No, it does not. It can just as easily depress you. Then comes another familiar friend, Resistance.

 

There is that pretty blonde girl who danced tantalizingly the other night to 1990’s rock. You haven’t seen her for five years and look at her in a different light. She was always the “hot chick” and is a couple years older than you. She snowboards,skis and travels the world. You feel unworthy of her. But why?

 

Are you really that hard on yourself? 

 

Breaking news. In case you forgot this, but you matter.

 

You have worth.

 

If you don’t think you have something to offer, than cultivate and nurture yourself. At the end of the day, even in the future with a wife and five kids and mortgage to pay, you will always be your own best friend. 

 

Take up a hobby, learn a new skill, enroll in a new class. Here, you can meet more likeminded people and have a setting and an excuse to, as you would say “trap someone into liking you”, or more positively, find romance through common love of live role play games, or competitive table tennis. 

 

Whatever makes your heart sing—go for it.

 

It is up to YOU to overcome your resistance, face your fears, and build up your own self-worth, brick by brick, step by step. 

 

Heat Wave

 

To celebrate the first day of summer, here’s a little clip of Ethel Water singing “Heat Wave.”

It must be at least 90 degrees F or 35 C here in Krakow.

And there seems to be a rarity of cafes and restaurants with air conditioning. Air. Conditioning. AC. Blue, fresh, and cool.

Heat overwhelms you to the point where you melt. You cannot escape it no matter how many layers you shed to the point of nudity. But the cold you can escape. You can wear blankets, coats, layers, drink hot drinks to your heart’s content. You can stay inside. Everywhere there is reliable and strong central heating. Temperature is more controllable.

 

But not in the summer.

Writing this on the longest day of the year from a cafe well known here in Krakow. And yet there is no AC. Just a soft breeze from the open door and window. If I could only locate an ice bath and have someone push me in…or if  could just order a glass of ice water, and like Alice, drink a tonic that shrinks me small enough to bathe in that glass of water for the rest of the day….that’d be the life.

And soon the Caucasus

Dear Readers,

 

I will be in the Caucasus, mostly based in Tbilisi, Georgia from 20 July-27 August. I also  will be in Armenia for 3 days in late August. Cities I will visit with my friend Tina are Batumi on the Black Sea, the enigmatic Svaneti region, the wine country in the mountains, monasteries and castles in Kutaisi (the second biggest city), and the Stalin museum in Gori.

Pictures will be posted in the near future thanks to my father kindly bringing me a camera next week for my old one died after a short but useful life of six years.  Call me naive, but I expect cameras to last forever!

While I will mostly be staying at my friend’s or cooling off in the mountains (Tbilisi literally means heat for a reason!) and finishing my M.A thesis, I will also try to write and sell a few articles on the side based on ideas and experiences (and maybe misadventures!) I will share with my friend.

Some of these topics of consideration will cover collective memory, conflict and memory, political and social trends in the region, and travelogueish sort of stuff.

 

Thank you all for reading and I promise I will post more often!

 

Cheers,

M

First day of Spring in Krakow

11 April 2013

 

Spring in Poland has finally come after a miserably long winter of six months. Buildings have had their colors returned to them. I can see that the building that hosts Alchemia is a faded daffodil yellow and the neighboring one is a lovely burgundy brick red. Winter was a grey slumbering fugue. Krakow has returned to life.

 

The flea market at New Place today was rather daunting. One stall sold anti-Semitic cartoons, art, and caricatures from the early 20th century while the neighboring one sold a mish-mash of Jewish memorabilia and dusty swastikas and various Third Reich artifacts. I wondered to myself whether Jewish tourists would be willing to buy questionably antique Judaica from the same person who is selling an authentic photograph of somebody hanging from the gallows in Auchwitz, one of the more shocking objects I saw for sale here.

 

I was not surprised at seeing swastika and “Jude” armbands available for just anyone to buy as I would have been two years ago. Living in Eastern Europe is not only an educational but a jading experience. 

 

Out of curiosity, I asked how much these objects were. These two caricatures together cost 150PLN or 50 dollars. 

 

The caricatures depicted a happy Rabbi carting home a keg of beer in the first panel, followed by an unhappy Rabbi in frum garb, looking down wistfully on the street at a broken beer bottle. 

 

 I asked the vendor what this all meant and he said, referring to the Jew in the caricature, that he “had many problems.”  I wasn’t quite sure if he was referring to this particular Jew, or rather, the entire group. 

 

I asked him where he acquired all of these objects and like many other vendors, he replied vaguely that he got them from “people”, in particular, “older people.” I felt that while I may have appeared tactless, and often am chided by my friends for asking too many “probing questions,” I wasn’t accusing this man of grave-robbing. I merely wanted to know.

    

   

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Christmas in Sarajevo

Christmas in Sarajevo

 

My two friends Erik and D’juan and I arrived in Sarajevo, 6am on Christmas Eve to gift Bosnia with our loud American presence.

 

Christmas in Sarajevo is more of a secular multicultural event than my friends and I had ever seen before. Midnight mass was the opposite of a “silent night.” Instead, it was observed as a lower scale version of New Year’s with firecrackers being set off to the background of clanging church bells.

 

We chat with two local girls Amina and Sara. Amina is Muslim and Sara is Catholic but both celebrate each other’s holidays from watching people set off firecrackers and releasing balloons to exchanging traditional holiday cookies. Muslims, Amina said, had a different kind of holiday cookie than Catholics or Christians. She and her friends were excited about their pending exchange this year. But the firecrackers being set off is not a tradition–it is rather just a local habit that occurs from time to time, depending on how festive some people are.

 

Instead of there being your typical run-of-the-mill Christmas market like in other European cities, Sarajevo had a more modest “Holiday Market” that sold plastic toys to fake holiday ferns. After midnight, my friends and I heard the upbeat melodies of local ex-Yugoslav pop-folk. A huge white tent was packed to capacity and security guards were only letting in the same number of people who exited. While we waited for our turn and my friends were introduced to such classics by Halid Beslic, Ekaterina Velika, and other household names that may trigger yugo-nostalgia, they remarked that Sarajevo, and Bosnia was incomparable to any other European city or country they had ever been to. Figuring out how to enter this dome of a tent presented a challenge. We did not know where the entrance began and thought of climbing over some gates and sneaking ourselves in. One of the security guards looked at us inquisitively for a second and in a serious tone, warned us, “There”, pointing to the bushes we stepped over, “are mines.” We took him for his word at first but then he flashed a grin and started laughing. We had just encountered our first example of dark Bosnian humor.

 

 

Earlier that day, we began our day walking around in search of burek and cevapcici. For dinner, we went to a steakhouse and while D’juan ate steak, Erik and I nursed some of the local slivovitz or plum brandy. I believe our server was also the owner as she was very attentive and hinted to us that the restaurant had a trip-advisor page. This had happened during lunch at a “sausage restaurant” or “cevabnidza” when the owner took a picture of us and said we could find our pictures on the Facebook page, dependent on whether we “liked” his establishment or not. I’ve never before seen such a coincidental but clever use of social media before.

We followed this with souvenier shopping. We felt like we had potentially gotten ourselves into something akin to that Tarantino scene from Pulp Fiction when Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames’s characters enter a gun store for safety only to come across two twisted neo-nazis, when we saw several prominently displayed swastikas. There was also a commemorative wine bottle with Hitler on it. The owner said that Hitler was a “good man” who tried to make the “world calm” and also a very good businessman. We exchanged glances and I tried to whisper the word “Tarantino” but was not heard. When D’juan entered the shop, unaware of what had just been said, there was a pregnant pause for we did not know whether to politely leave or stay to look at the treasure trove of old Yugoslav currency that attracted D’juan. It was a hard call as it was hard to discern whether to take this owner seriously or not, especially when he said, “Mamma Mia!” and “Heil Hitler!”

There was a wine bottle with a wine label of Hitler’s picture and text “Fuhrerwein Schwarertaffel.” Erik surmised that this bottle may be a gag, or “maybe Nazis were just that cheesy.”

We will find out soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda

My grandfather writes:

Dear Maia:

In sadness I must report that poor Linda of late just got worse and worse.
She would lie down but then could not get up.  she whined in pain very
frequently despite all the meds.  she could no longer navigate the doggy-door
so I was carrying her down and up the stairs  usually at 11PM,  Midnight, and then
1AM and 3 AM … but in between she could no longer control herself so she was
shitting on herself and her bed and it was a sad  mess.
Her two Vets : Dr Michele Fuller and Dr. Zoe Ramagnano   had both
 been suggesting that despite all we tried for Linda they could no longer restore her to health and she
was in decline. and ” it was time ” Near 17 years is a long time for a little doggy.
Sadly , and with many tears and pains I took her in at 6PM last night to The Village Vet
and had her put down. Dr. Fuller handled it and there was no pain  for Linda… I’m starting to cry
now as I think about it. I kept putting this off, but finally …  She was so much part of my  life,
 I shall miss her terribly. she kept developing new habits. Towards the end she’d come up to
me and put her nose under my knee — asking to be petted.  She never did that  before.
Decided to have her cremated by an outfit Dr. Fuller  recommended:  www.veryimportantpet
mortuary.com … Tracy Victor.   They are giving us a nice little chest with her ashes plus
a plaque with her two front paw prints and words mentioning Cathy and you and myself. — and
Linda’s name, of course. should have all this come early January.
Dr. Fuller was so kind and gentle and did all this for no  charge.  She is the best Vet we
ever had, my opinion. She asked me to drop in from  time to time and say hello. Maybe
I can do this …
Sorry for this sad message, but TIME  has her ways , does she not ?
Richard Merrill bought me a book PROOF OF HEAVEN in which a Doctor who it seems died
and then came back did mention that he saw Dogs in Heaven … Let’s hope … Maybe Linda
will put in a good word for me ?
Linda was named after this song that played on the radio when my late mother had just picked up the two month old shaggy black and white terrier mix from the shelter. We knew she was special from the beginning. She was one of two puppies in her litter to survive a major dog-killer: distemper. She would drink leftover coffee if left unattended and go crazy over cigarette bums she encountered on her twice-daily walks.
  My mother taught me the value of life. When I saw the movie A Walk to Remember and cynically commented on why the protagonist, dying of leukemia needed so many hats, my mother chastised me. It wasn’t about whether or not she was going to die: it was all about enjoying those hats when you were still alive.
  Linda was also inspired by my fascination with the Wizard of Oz and how I liked the Glinda the good witch. So combining Glinda and Linda’s new namesake,  Linda joined our family.
   Being a terrier with the natural instinct to dig holes, Linda found things to bury in my collection of stuffed animals and barbies.
Out of all the stuffed animals that she enjoyed to play with, she took a special liking to that of stuffed possum. This one she kept intact. It became her security blanket. Whenever she experienced separation anxiety or wondered where we were, she would drag it around the house and wherever she was, her possum friend would follow her. Though it missed an eye from 20+ years of wear and tear (it was given to me when I was merely a newborn) it was her “teddy bear” so to speak.
Linda was only 11 when my mother passed on and months of confusion followed. She would sit by “the pain chair” or the leather reclining chair my mother would spend a great amount of her last days in and occasionally let out a mournful howl. Other times she would stare into space. My grandfather remarked hopefully that this could signify my mother was still with us in spirit and being an animal and sensitive to things that humans cannot always perceive, Linda was just “hanging out” with my mother’s spirit. My family is very creative and spiritual, so we welcomed this possibility.
Months turned into several and several turned into years and in her old age, our family dog developed strange new habits and behaviors which my grandfather would record in his emails with amusement and mild annoyance. She always was used to eating leftovers and my grandfather on his healthy diet of steamed vegetables, started giving the dog half of his dinner to her. Linda adapted to this and when he “forgot” to feed her half of his dinner (even though she had her gourmet hypoallergenic dinner still not 100% eaten) she would stare in dismay and even start growling. If Linda were a human, my mother liked to say, she would be a high-strung skinny 60-something chronic smoker with a penchant for bananas, walks to Starbucks, and constant companionship. But she was loved not just by our family but by the entire neighborhood.
She scored an “extras” scene in the late 90′s Madonna film “The Next Best Thing” After two hours of 20-something outtakes, and six months of eager waiting, our 15+ dollar trip to the multiplex resulted in my mother being horrified half-way through the film when the silver screen was dominated for 2 milliseconds by her behind. And an innocent unaware black and white dog trailing gingerly ahead. I think, if I recall correctly, my mother said something like, “Did they have to make my ass look that big?!”
Linda became a regular at Silverlake Wine where women would just crouch down and kiss her on her fluffy forehead after immediately recognizing her. Through walking Linda, my grandfather got to know the neighbors as did our downstairs neighbors. Through Linda, we became acquainted with beloved dogs passed, Bucky, Jake, all now greeting her in an infinite green landscape in how we like to imagine Doggy Heaven. Maybe my mother is waiting up there for her, asking her, “What took you so long?” and clucking her tongue at how much my grandfather pampered her and loved her. But she was loved. And we were loved in return.
I wish I had one more walk with her. Or just another morning of greeting her in the morning and getting her excited over something so simple: a can of wild salmon.
In Linda’s memory and in my mother’s memory, I beg each of you, this holiday season to open your heart to bringing home a mixed-breed dog from your animal shelter, or fostering, volunteering, donating, and just spreading the word that your run-of-the-mill shaggy terrier mix can make one extraordinary heartbreaking pet. She will fill your life with joy and love. A dog’s life, no matter how long or short is a blessing. And we were blessed.
My flatmate insightfully said that one death brings up all previous losses. In grief and in death, we celebrate life. In the Kaddish, there is not one word or direct mention of death: it is only about life.
To doubly honor Linda, I ask you all to celebrate life and hold those most dear to your hearts and remember those you may have lost.
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