Monthly Archives: May, 2012

Jewish World Round up

Greece’s Golden Dawn is a matter of great concern for European Jews. This political party is known for Holocaust denial, among other things. Holocaust denial is illegal in Germany and Poland, but not Greece.

Nikolaos Michaloliakos, leader of Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi), disavows any links to neo-Nazism, but put a further nail in his party’s image last week when he engaged in a spot of Holocaust denial. Ekathimerini reported Michaloliakos stated on Greek television “There were no ovens — it’s a lie. I believe it’s a lie. There were no gas chambers either.”

Maurice Sendak, who recently died at 83, may see from above his Jewish legacy live on in “Wild Things.”

Odessa still has vibrant Jewish life.

The Ultra-Orthodox rally and discuss how the Internet is dangerous.

For the attendees, many of whom said they came at the instructions of their rabbis, it was a chance to hear about a moral topic considered gravely important in their community: the potential problems that can stem from access to pornography and other explicit content on the uncensored, often incendiary Web.

As you might well know–I know an Orthodox Jew who has seen more than his fair share of these carnal dangers of the World Wide Web.

To round it all up, go to NYC to hear old Jews tell jokes.

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Power of Social Media

Would you like to demonstrate how positive social media can be–and hopefully how it can ultimately help catch this woman who was shown in a youtube video beating her baby?

Please click here to help spread the word. I did some superficial digging and infer that the username of the person who uploaded the video is wokas0. Most of his (or her) other videos are centered around the Polish community in Dublin…and this person has a great interest in TopGear.

I don’t know if those are helpful hints but if you know anyone in this community, please target them.

Thank you.

Update on Serbia

Serbia and Greece seem to be changing places, according to Tim Judah:

In a few years’ time, it may be conventional wisdom to say that the demise of the euro, or whatever else now lies ahead of Europe, was again sparked by some damned foolish thing in the Balkans. Only this time, war is unlikely and Serbia won’t be the culprit. That honor would go to mendacious Greek leaders, their statisticians and an election in which Greek voters put their country’s position in Europe at risk.

The Serbian Progressive Party, led by Tomislav Nikolic, became the largest in parliament, although the party alleges that electoral fraud has taken place. Nikolic was once a leader of the Serbian Radical Party, whose founder is on trial for war crimes in The Hague. But Nikolic split away in 2008, and now says he stands for European values and joining the EU.

It is no big surprise, then, that incumbent Tadic wants to make sure that his country really goes down the path towards his desired goal: the EU. Meanwhile, Nikolic says that if he wins, Serbia will finally learn “the truth” about “election fraud.” It seems quite typically political, to say the the least, that both Tadic and Nikolic are basically accusing each other of the same thing: rigging the elections at the most, or lack of transparency, to say the least.

Milosevic’s former wartime spokesman, Ivica Dacic also “signed up to a pro-EU path” which goes to show–that sometimes, its hard to discern what these policians’ true feelings are, or if they are opportunistically bending to what they think the people want.

Jovan Deretic, an “expert” according to Voice of Russia, described Ivica Dacic as a “very bad man” who “played a very bad role in [this] election” who with Tadic “supervised the stolen election.” Deretic, according to this article, is a member of the “Free Serbia” movement. In trying to identify what this movement was, the first results on Google were the Serbian Renewal Movement and New Serbia. Despite the low outcomes in the polls–Deretic still has hope. He said, defiantly, ” And people think of us very good now here in Serbia because there is nobody else to trust. But we are not yet in the power to change the situation. We will be strong enough to make a change.”

At least there is hope–not just in Deretic but for Serbia after all. In six days, we will know for sure.

Happy Mother’s Day

Motherhood is an institution, or a thing that is always changing my attitudes. It is always challenging my world views, and yet also confirming age-old suspicions.

For some–it comes naturally, or it seems to. It is like a reliable one-size-for-all dress that just fits some people especially well. My friend C, for example, always wanted to be a mother and she is a wonderful excellent mother. She always had a natural nurturing side to her and yet it brings about a vulnerable human side to her as well–I would sometimes help her when we would go out by holding her one-year-old daughter while she would fold up the stroller, pay for her bus fare, and console her daughter all at the same time. And yet she is doing it all over again with another one on the way due quite soon. Her daughter is a delight to be around–and I don’t say this often about many children. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree–she is sweet, kind, and has a similar joie de vivre that her mother does–which is one of many reasons why we are friends. I look forward to seeing the daughter this summer–it is always wonderful to see how children grow, especially when you’re not the one changing their diapers afterwards. Another friend of mine, A once said that he delights in his many nieces and nephews because at the end of the day, they go back to their respective homes.

For others–motherhood comes as more of a challenge as is evidenced by the latest Modern Love piece.  The mother has a health scare and it is facing the possibility of mortality and how it would affect her son that “scares” her to face the absolute truth: the scariness yet beauty of motherhood.

I am not a mother. I don’t know whether I will be “blessed” as they say with this “gift” or phase or however you call it in this lifetime or in the next (if you believe in reincarnation). But I find myself making mental notes increasingly more often in the last couple of years about what I would or would not do. My father once told me that his style of raising me and my brother was inspired by the way his father raised him–corrective retroactive parenting if you could call it that. Trying to improve parenting by the generation. But at the same time–history repeats itself.

I lounged at a friend’s house this afternoon, a welcome break from researching for my thesis intensively every day and he told me how he once boarded an airplane by himself and got off the plane and found where he was supposed to go–at five years old. Five. Years. Old.

I thought to myself–okay well he probably had the required Unaccompanied Minor wrist-bracelet for when he was on the airplane–but even so, he was not accompanied to the gate or to baggage claim–he had to fend for himself at such a young age. Whereas my mother basically had to arrange to have me treated as an Unaccompanied Minor at 15 years old, and worried herself into a panic when I went to Santa Barbara for a weekend convention when I was seventeen and I wasn’t even by myself–I was with a group and even had to share my hotel room–so was virtually never alone.

There are many cultural reasons why my friend and I had mothers with vastly different parental styles. One, mine was Jewish, his was not. They say that WASPs and “Gentiles” are more easygoing as parents–there’s more laissez faire in the “WASP” or “Gentile” way of doing things.

I remember I had to promise my father that I would hold my brother’s hand every step of the way when I took him out for a brother-sister outing. And we were merely just crossing the street to go to Starbucks and have hot chocolate–and if we were one minute over our 60 minute time limit–my mobile phone would be ringing nonstop as if it were a hidden tracking device for a criminal who had crossed/violated the boundary line.

My father anxiety-driven nightmares on his children, his “kinderlach” as he diminutively and Yiddishly or uber-Jewishly called us, growing up. Empty nest syndrome before the nest was even empty.

He had a dream once that he lost us at a party, and opened the front door to find us but ten years older. His dream is a twisted benign version of what could happen in real life–that we are “taken” and no longer really recognizable. A severely warped version of the Jaycee Dugard story.

And yet we eventually do grow up. Maybe not into the exact types our parents wished for us. Goodness knows what my late mother would have to say about my daydreams of lets say, driving to the far East, and I don’t know, maybe slicing into the northern part of Afghanistan, while simultaneously making a mockumentary of the whole experience that is partially Top Gear meets The Amazing Race meets an inversion of Borat.

A friend of mine enjoys cross-dressing and we imagined what good footage or material it would be if we had this friend encounter the border guards in lets say, Turkmenistan or Tajikistan. Of course, for practical and safety reasons–we wouldn’t “mockumentarily” make this happen but one of our favorite pastimes to do is just imagine these “lets venture into the completely ridiculous and absurd” scenarios. I enjoy people like that who can, well, use their imagination, are curious or crazy enough to even consider some of my more, what might one diplomatically call “quirky” ideas, and still think I’m remotely sane.

Many people consider me…quirky. Or too complicated to understand or handle. Or just call it a better word: weird. At first, I would fight these definitions and put more effort into trying to prove myself or these people wrong. But you know, the more  you try hard at something–the more you just ultimately do the opposite. Why do I need to work hard at impressing more people when I already am privileged and fortunate to have my wonderful friends already?

Part of growing up or maturity is about self-acceptance. And just learning how to deal with it, live with it, if you will. Thinking, “Okay, so I’m different from everyone else, so what? What now?”

One of the things I slowly am still getting over , and this is taking so far at least five years (I am quite slow at somethings) is this underlying sense of guilt. That my mother was not quite finished with her job in raising me and she felt bad about that. She was always apologizing for leaving me too soon. She felt horrible about her father (my grandfather) having to lose his daughter too soon. That was a great source of torment for her.

Friends in the past complained about their mothers. About a lack of mutual understanding. How their mothers “didn’t get them.” Well, at least their mothers were still around so there was still hope for some resolution or reconciliation in the future. They had the luxury of time in their hands. These friends would get angry with me my lack of sympathy, or lack of participation in “lets bash our mothers” campaign. I couldn’t, because I didn’t have one then anymore to bash.

I was angry; envious even when Mothers Day came around every year. Commercials of smiling mothers and her giggly jubilant children appeared on the television. Or when you were in a cafe and saw a moment that was too cute or adorable for words, that you wished you had your camera for. Mothers hugging daughters on campus, on the street. A middle-aged mother just walking with her teenaged son with ice cream cones in hand. A couple tickling their shrieking and laughing toddler children. The mother more into finishing her latte while her partner or husband was more “hands-on.” As that cheesy song goes, “you don’t know what you have/had until its gone.”

Time has passed and sometimes I have to go to Youtube to remind myself what my mother even sounded like.  I laugh to myself sometimes about what an earful I would expect to hear from my mother if she knew I were “crazy” enough to live in Poland of all places. Or that I had been to Kosovo–well she would give that earful to other family members for not preventing me from going there in the first place.

Some of my family members and I are spiritual and spirituality has gained more meaning and significance to me lately. My grandfather once told me we were descended from some Jewish mystical “Litvuks” or Lithuanian cabalistic types who would hold seances and make tables float in mid-air. I don’t know whether he was merely pulling my leg…

Going Native

There are three kinds of expatriates: those who only associate with their “own kind” or other English speakers, those who shun their own kind, learn the local language even better than native speakers and mingle only with them; and those who find a happy medium between the two former groups, who have both native and expat friends, in other words, people more like you and me–we make up the greater part of the bell curve.

I try to push myself into going “native.” I think the “cool” borderline hipster expat is the type who enjoys going to the ironic commie-style bar on Sw. Tomasza, participates actively in the local Couchsurfing community in communal potluck cook-offs to annual CS festivals here in Krakow. These are the people who attend the weekly CS meetings on Wednesdays, act as tour guides to wide-eyed visitors, carefree hostelers, bighearted hosts, and cheerful weekend friends. They introduce pierogi to you in a new kind of light: not just “Babcia’s” cooking but also as the perfect 24 hour/day available hangover cure. Once you have lived in Krakow for a certain amount of time–you begin to take it for granted that you recognize 1/3 of the people you pass by every day. You’re connected to half the town, it seems, through someone who  knows somebody. Krakow isn’t really a city–its more of a town, which feels even smaller when you’re part of a small minority group: the expats.

I recently read a book called “The Expats.” Having recently returned from a week in Switzerland–I was humbled to learn that life in Krakow is not as glamorous as it originally seemed it was: I gained something you might call, perspective. An entree and a small beer cost around 30 francs, that is 25 euros or 34 dollars. It is a fraction of that price for the same deal here in Krakow. In The Expats–the protagonist is a former CIA spy whose husband works for a mysterious financial securities firm that affords their family a glamorous carefree “lets jet off to Munich at a minute’s notice” kind of lifestyle. I downloaded the book on my Kindle because I thought it might somewhat be similar to the lifestyle I imagine members of the International Women’s Association of Krakow might lead. But I was wrong. My fellow IWAK members tend to have husbands who are management executive types which afford these ladies a rather lax lifestyle–but not the kind where they can drop the phone, and pack their Louis Vuitton bag to Hong Kong at the last minute. These women are rather the types who go out 1-2x a  month, shop at high-end Italian delicatessens, and take advantage of budget airlines such as Ryanair to travel almost every weekend.

I saw “Knight and Day” with my grandfather and he has a keen eye for what  makes a movie success and what does not. It is a world-wide locale spy/thriller film that is your typical Hollywood blockbuster. It is not a high-quality film but was worth the two hours we spent on the couch last summer watching it. It’s fun entertaining. For an American–you can “see” parts of the world without a three-figure (or four figure) plane ticket. And thats what made it a success.  Locales that your average person would probably not get to see in a lifetime.

So while the lifestyle I lead is nothing comparable to “The Expats” or “Knight and Day”, there are always stories to tell. I recently pre-recorded a segment about the storytelling event(s) I organize here that will air tomorrow on Radio Alfi (102.4 FM). Links will be posted soon. Before I met the radio show host Pablo, I listened to the latest Moth podcast for inspiration. “The 25 cent spa” told by Lizz Winstead  was about her attempt at going “native” and having a culturally authentic experience with her two friends in Morocco at a “spa” called a “hamam.” This reminded me of the time I went to a similar hamam (just a few notches more “western” than the one in Winstead’s story) with my aunt two years ago in Berlin.

My aunt was willing to try almost anything and I heard how great the hamams were–from my friends who went there on women’s only-days. I tend to mix things up because as a friend and pilates teacher tells me, I am just “wacky.” So I mixed up the women’s only-day to the co-ed day and it was quite the…cultural experience.

My aunt opted for a massage while I wanted something more…interesting. I chose the body sugar/scrub or whatever it was and I was told I should strip…down. I was assured by one of the receptionists that the man who would do the scrub-a-dub would be “professional” as he was “trained.” I had a rag tied around my chest and just the bottom half of my bikini for my well…bum. It was fine when I was lying on my stomach but when I had to turn over and lie on my back–lets just say it felt a bit more…uncomfortable and this is just the beginning. The man poured olive oil (the cheap kind) and mixed it with real sugar. So I now knew why it was called “body sugar.”

He proceeded to scrub me down but also breathed a bit heavily. He noticed I flinched a few times and that is around the time the lady came in to reassure me that he was “professional.” I thought to myself, “professional…stripper?”

After one of the longest five minutes of my life passed–he told me to go into the steam room (he said this in German, little English was spoken) to let the sugar and oil “soak in.”

It was a co-ed day which I thought meant that men were just allowed to be in “their” part of the spa. Boy, was I wrong. Everything was common. And everyone was…naked. I was a prude and perhaps still am and walked in to the big steam room, tightening my rag-of-a-spa-bra and tried not to look at the naked men on my right. They were socializing and chatting together and fell silent as I passed them. I walked to the other side of the room, sat down, crossed my legs, and focused on staring at the tiled floor. I even tried to count backwards from 100 in German to maintain composure. One of the men crossed the room, sat directly across from me, and made no effort whatsoever to cross his legs. No. Instead, he was practically doing the splits. He sat there, legs spread apart, rested his elbows on his knees, and tried to make conversation.

I looked up briefly at his face, and could not help to observe that he was definitely Turkish and Muslim because he was well…cut. I looked down, said “Enschuldigung” and gathered what was left of my dignity and sped out of there as fast as my shower shoes could carry me.

After I was hosed down by the Turkish body-scrubber guy,   I asked for where the “peace” room was and made my way there. The man who attempted to make conversation with me earlier, was now, thankfully, fully clothed and smiled at me. He was sitting in the love seat in the corner. I was sitting across the room from him and I just nodded to acknowledge his presence. He had a right to be there as did I. He then started speaking to me, more quickly in German. I shrugged to indicate that “Ich kein verstehe.” He did not verstehe me. Instead of slyly raised his eyebrows, and patted the space next to him, suggestively saying I should “komm” over there by him. I said “nein danke” and left. Like Pepe le peu, he assumed this was my “invitation” for him to chase me. He then followed me around from one room to the next. I guess in his culture–if exposure wasn’t enough–he would have to resort to more drastic measures to “express” his “interest.”

Thankfully, my aunt got out of her massage and I was relieved as much as she was for her massage to be over. Her massage was “boring” while my going “native” experience was too…interesting than I bargained for.

Bottom Line? Sometimes you just have to be doubly sure you’re going to the spa on the right day-or to the right spa in the first place.

The Caucasian Challenge

Two of my friends and I are prospectively planning to participate in next year’s Caucasian Challenge.

What is this, you might ask? On Facebook, someone asked whether it was open to non-white people. One of my friends commented that it sounds like something the KKK would organize. It is neither. It is, rather, an open to the public rally that one could enter in the competition in a team limited from 1-4 people, or in the touring category in which there are less restrictions. The “race” begins in Budapest and ends in Yerevan, Armenia and along the way, you are supposed to cross through several checkpoints in such countries as Albania, Kosovo, Georgia, Nagorno Karabakh and Greece. There is also a new rally similar to the “Caucasian Challenge” that begins in two weeks known as Central Asia Rally. It starts also in Budapest, crosses through Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan and concludes in Tajikstan.  I believe you also have to go through parts of Afghanistan. It is an 18 day race that covers 5000 miles. It seems a bit more challenging than the Caucasian Challenge.

If I were to enter the Caucasian Challenge it would not be until August 2013. That means my teammates and I have potentially 15 months to plan for this: to get funding, sharpen our driving skills, get the right car and save up money for this international adventure.

I have always wanted to do this since I first found out about it a few years ago in 2009. Not only had eI found Robert Kaplan’s books on traveling in both regions fascinating and compelling, but I have had dreams of these places since I first learned how to read.

I also would plan to create an indie-style mockumentary of the project. I have the tools necessary for the film and am open to accept a 4th team member, new ideas and suggestions.

Watching the ubermenschen

I really think the Middle-North European types really are just more athletic than the rest of us…who don’t classify to be the “ubermenschen.” In Switzerland, I had to “hike” in the non-athletic sense of the word, a hill every day just to get to the university. And it seemed to be an effort for me at first while everybody else could probably climb a mountain–backwards with only one hand. I felt that I not was only in a different country but a different world as well.

It is hard to find anything in common with the Norwegians, Germans, Dutch, Swedes, Danes and other Nordic types besides perhaps mutual appreciation of European literature and high culture. Besides that, “they” seem to all enjoy anything physical or mountain related: skiing, sky-diving, para-gliding, snowboarding, mountain climbing, hiking, trekking, skating, sailing, rowing and so on and so forth. Of all those activities–I do love the water but that is about it. I was too short to really join any rowing teams here in Krakow. It was no big surprise that the only two teams were predominantly Polish or Norwegian: both tall, athletic and sturdy high-endurance tolerating peoples.

I’m not extremely short but I am borderline “petite” and what seemed like “hiking” for me was merely a stroll in the hills for the Dutch, Germans, and Poles that made up the writing group I was in last week. A Dutch guy commented on my lack of speed, tactfully preventing himself from calling me a tortoise and himself a hare or something along those lines. The truth was I like to walk more slowly uphill to enjoy the view.

I used to get angry at myself for not being “good enough” or “fast enough” but now, I have adopted a more “zen-like” attitude by just accepting myself and others for however we are and am content with my low-key bi-weekly pilates regimen. I’m not gearing up to compete in the Olympics anytime soon, nor will I find myself throwing myself down any mountains. I have crafted a litany of excuses for not ice-skating and skiing. Respectively they are, “I skate like a drunken duck” and “I don’t want to join Cher’s Sonny.”

For now, I am an out and proud member of the “untermenschen” community or the rest of us who are not flamboyantly and proudly athletic and proud.

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