Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Back Home and on the Road

If you knew my mother at all you know that she loved her job. And you also probably know that where she worked was a pretty long drive from our house. From the time I was 7 to the time I was 13 I drove to school with my mother taking the same basic route every day. It was a formative time in my life and since there was plenty of traffic I got to know those roads pretty well.

Studying abroad I was constantly confronted with new sights and smells and tastes. They opened up a whole world of flavors and aromas I never knew existed, but they also distracted me from recognizing what I was leaving behind. I've been home now for just over a week and I can honestly say that I haven't had any serious reverse culture shock. What I have experienced is a strange shock of the senses. What a memory couldn't bring back for me, a familiar smell or sight can. Cleaning a drawer in my room last week stirred up a smell that I associate directly with my first summer at Camp Ramah almost 10 years ago. Passing something in the basement hit me with a smell I always associated with Fridays in grammar school when our Polish cleaning lady came. And driving to a friend's house who lives past school's Lake Cook exit on the I-90 suddenly brought me back to the years of driving to and from school with my mother.

As the misty rain fogged up my window I remembered arguing with my mom about when to turn the windshield wipers from slow to medium. I've always been a little OCD about that and I hated when she would leave them going full speed after the rain had tapered down to a mist. I remembered driving past the furniture store next to the exit when it was still under construction and I remembered the time we drove as far as our exit in the heavy snow only to pull off and find out school had been canceled. I remembered the smell of the stale M & M's and Diet Coke my mom bought after particularly difficult days at work and the books on tape she listened to after I graduated to fill the quietness of the car. I remembered Eric and Kathy in the Morning on 101.9 FM and the horrible 7 AM traffic and the nail polish smell from the times she tried to paint her nails in the car while driving because she didn't have time at home.

Barcelona was amazing and I am grateful for every moment I had. I am so glad I had the opportunity to study abroad and see a world so different from my own, but coming home is not easy. Being away allowed me to forget so much, it allowed me to hide in a new and exciting future without reminding me too much of my past. But I'm home now and ignoring the memories nagging at me is that much harder. I know it's going to be a long summer, but I think I'm finally ready to face it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A little update

Hello to all my avid readers. I have been remiss in my writing but I promise to end on a nice long high note. So just hold on to your pants until then.

For now I'm just going to tell you that I have had some of the most amazing experiences of my life, met some of the most incredible people, eaten by far the best food of my life, and overall just felt that I have been blessed with far more than I deserve. I have come to realize that life is not easy for anyone, that pain and sorrow fill so many peoples' lives. And while I have certainly not had the easiest of years, I have a loving family, a wonderful community, a strong education, and so much more than so many people in this world can dream of having. Traveling has at once made me want to hug everyone I know and thank them for what they have given me, and at the same time made me want to cry in despair at the pain and hatred that can be found no matter how far I roam. I have learned so much about myself, and I have only begun to learn about the world I call home. Basically what I am saying is that you should prepare yourselves for a really long blog post. Or two.

I will be home ever so soon and I hope to see as many of you as possible before heading off on my next adventure.
Much love,

Me checking out the view from the gardens in the Alhambra Palace in Granada.

The absolutely adorable daughter of one of the Moroccan villagers we had lunch with on my four day immersion program.

Me, John, Linda, and Lanie on the roof of the Alhambra

The streets of Chefchouen, Morocco.

The beautiful henna designs our host-sister drew for us in Morocco

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Beginning of the End

I must apologize for not writing in such a ridiculously long time, I know you're probably all just dying to know how I have been occupying my time. So fear no longer, I will update you to the best of my ability.

This evening I just returned from my second trip to Italy, this time stopping in Pisa and Florence. I flew out with Linda on Ryanair (actually without incident which was a surprise given their track record among my friends) and after a brief stop at the leaning tower (it really is pretty fabulous!) we hopped on a train to Florence where we met up with our friend Lanie who is studying there. We spent the next two days checking out a ridiculous number of churches, restaurants, gelaterias, mercados, and the amazing synagogue of Florence. I've really never seen a synagogue like it. It's huge and beautiful and full of designs clearly influenced by the duomo of Florence and the middle eastern style of mosques. If you're ever in Florence it is a must see, or at least I think it is. And if you're reading this clearly you think my opinion counts for something.

Of course we also saw the original David made my Michaelangelo when we was 26 years old. Ridiculous. Amazing. Rather intimidating to think that he was only five years older than me when he made a masterpiece. I guess I better pick up a talent in the next few years to leave behind for millions to adore, or is it too late for that...? Before rushing back to the airport I managed to squeeze in a five minute pizza lunch with my friend Nick who is also studying in Florence (he's the redhead in the picture). After lunch Linda and I took the train back to the airport nearly missing our flight but luckily we made it just in time. Seriously, that could have been really bad. But now I am safe and sound back here in my Barcelona apartment.

The last two weeks have been filled with lots of exciting things but of course that is tinged with the bittersweet knowledge that I will soon be back in Chicago. I do love you all and there are some things about the U.S. that I certainly miss (the dollar, for example, my kitchen, people who actually wait in lines instead of forcing their way in front of whoever is in their way) but I have come to see Barcelona as my second home and the idea of leaving it brings tears to my eyes. There is so much that I have learned here, so much I have seen and experienced. And I keep being surprised by the firsts that I am still discovering. Last Wednesday night, for instance, I went to my first Barca game. If you have ever lived in Europe you are probably shocked it took me this long to get to a football game since that seems to be the center of their very existence. It was expensive but completely worth it being the largest field in the world (it holds 100,000 people and it was full the night I went). Of course we won against FC Sevilla and much confetti was thrown by the die-hard fans sitting behind me.

In the past weeks I also went to several of the bars I'd been hoping to see, saw Casa Batlló (it blew my mind and I am officially amazing by Gaudí forever), spent a lot of time on the beach including several dives into the Mediterranean, a bike tour of the city, my first Pub Quiz, a night of live Cuban Jazz, and of course, a celebration of Sant Jordí.

Before I leave you tonight I have to explain the wonders of Sant Jordí day here in Barcelona. Much like our Hallmark holiday of Valentine's Day, Sant Jordí is a day of gift giving among lovers. It is the national holiday of Catalonia of which Barcelona is the capital. It commemorates Sant Jordí who killed a dragon to save the beautiful princess and from the dragon's blood grew a rose which he gave to the princess. Romantic, I know. I certainly always find roses covered in dragon blood to be sexy. In honor of this boys give their girlfriends roses on Sant Jordí. It also happens to be the birthday of both Shakespeare and Cervantes so women give their boyfriends a book in return for the rose. For one day a year the city overflows with booksellers and becomes a giant florist shop with roses being sold on literally every corner. Famous authors come to the city to read excerpts of their books and do signings (last year Dan Brown author of "The Da Vinci Code" came) and hundreds of people flock to Las Ramblas to purchase used and new books in Catalan and Spanish. Better than Valentine's Day it is a source of pride for the people of Catalonia and I felt a sense of love I can't quite explain for this city that has been so good to me. Besides, any holiday based around book giving is worthwhile in my mind.

Tomorrow I'm moving out of my apartment and starting the end of my journey. I'll be heading down to Morocco for four days with Lanie, Linda, and several other friends on an exchange program with Moroccan students. Then we'll spend a few days in Granada before I head off to Israel for two weeks. You'll have to forgive me if I don't update for a while but I'm out having an adventure worth writing home about and I promise to show pictures. Unless of course I get bought up for a bride price of more than 20 camels. I mean, how can I say no to an offer like that?

That's all for now but I send much love, roses, and hugs to you all.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

London and all things Jewish

Okay, I know this is two updates in quick succession but lots of things have been happening. I'll try and make this one mostly pictures. Basically I went to London with the purpose of falling in love with the city and was completely successful. I enjoyed as many markets and museums as I could fit into four days and managed to hang out with some family and friends along the way.

For any of you concerned about me finding Jewish life-fear not. My sister set me up with some of her friends from her semester at Oxford several years ago and they were fabulous. Not only did they let me stay in their house in Golders Green (a SUPER Jewish neighborhood in London) but they organized all my meals for Shabbat and Chag. The company was entertaining if a bit conservative (I tried unsuccessfully to convince them that Obama is not a Muslim nor does he want to exile all the Jews from America. Also had to prove that not all Americans are stupid, Vegetarianism does not mean I am a heretic, and women can in fact be Rabbis).

For seders I could not have asked for a better time. I spent the first night with the sister of an old teacher of mine from middle school. She has three young boys and her sister-in-law also had two young boys so it was very kid-friendly with lots of singing and prize-giving. The second night I went to the family of another teacher from high school which was equally nice. Their tradition is to sing every tune they know to every song in the haggadah so we didn't finish until around 3 AM but it was really nice and generally relaxed with lots of food.

Now I'm back in Barcelona where I spent the day with my wonderful friend from Pitt, Emily Pojman. She's studying in France and came to BCN for the day with her family so I had fun showing them lots of Gaudi and walking around in the rain. I brought back a box of matzoh and kosher for passover jam which has to last me until Thursday supplemented with fruits and vegetables and perhaps a chabbad meal or two. This has convinced my roommate that I'm crazy, but really I'm surprised it's taken her this long.

Anyway, wishing you all much love and a happy holiday whatever it is that you're celebrating (Lost a tooth? Got a new job? Bought a new pair of shoes? Really there's always something to celebrate...)

Enjoy the pictures and please send me emails letting me know what YOU'VE all been up to!
Por ahorra,

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Something Controversial

I'm going to start with a possibly controversial statement which may be upsetting to some of you so consider yourself warned: I don't think Wicked is a very good show. There, I said it.

I know there are a lot of you out there who can't resist the colors and costumes and giant scene changes of this adored show and I don't blame you. There's a reason it blows your mind- it's desingned to use every trick in the book that could possibly wow you. The problem is that it leaves no space to digest, no room to appreciate its true value. It's like having a chocolate cake stuffed down your throat. A piece slowly savored is enjoyable, but when it's coming out of your ears and slowly choking you it loses its appeal.

I'm saying all this as a preface for what was possibly my favorite birthday gift ever: second row center seats to Spring Awakening on West End. At first I was disappointed to be seeing an American show while here in London. I really wanted to have a totally British experience while here and so far it's been great. Just to name the highlights: stayiing with some British friends in Golders Green, British Museum, Hyde Park, Harry Potter Walking Tour of London, Changing of the Guards, Tate Modern, The Globe, Camden Market, V and A Museum, Covent Garden Market. Tea. So I really wanted to see something British like Billy Elliot the Musical or Les Miserables (longest running show in West End/in the world, something like 20 or 30 years).

That said, I am beyond happy with my decision to see Spring Awakening instead. I got half-price tickets which even with the pound exchange rate were cheaper than tickets on Broadway. I got the theatre early and marveled at my amazing seats. And here's where the theatre major in me comes out...this musical was EXACTLY what a musical shoud be. It doesn't overwhelm you, the songs are beautiful on there own but work perfectly for the show. There aren't massive costume changes or distracting dance numbers that serve no purpose beyond simple entertainment. The actors were all young and had incredibly pure voices that didn't try to impress me with range- just skill. Most importantly for me as an actress- they could act. I cannot begin to explain the frustration I feel when I go to see a musical where the actors sing-speak lines between songs because they've never taken a real acting class in their life. All of these actors had such amazing purity, their faces bringing you in to their deepest emotional pangs. I felt myself holding my breath and leaning forward, smiling, crying, laughing, and cringing in turn.

The actors didn't wear makeup at all and they stayed onstage the whole time never once breaking character. When the set moved or fancy lights came down, it was only to enhance the emotional build of the scene and trust me- it did. After the show I did what I NEVER do (partly because of mere embarassment) and I stood with the group of 20 something other girls by the backstage door waiting for autographs. The other beautiful thing about this show is that having almsot entirely children actors none of them were haughty or conceited. They were thrilled that anyone WANTED their autographs and happily signed and chatted with everyone there. For all of you Harry Potter fans, I got Sian Thomas' autograph who played Amelia Bones in the fourth movie.

So obviously I enjoyed the show and highly recommend it to anyone who can see it. Besides the show I had a great birthday but if anyone wants to celebrate in the more traditional fashion please let me know and I will happily go out when I return (just over a month!!)

That's all for now, but I hope you have a lovely lovely passover and I'll try to write a less theatre-focused entry next time.

Hasta luego amigos!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On Death and Rebuilding

I cannot claim to have seen either the best or the worst the world has to offer, but this year I have certainly seen my fair share of both. Watching the nightly news it seems as if our fragile world is falling apart around us politically, socially, economically, and even pysically. If I want to bring it a little closer to home all I have to do is look down the street and watch the continued student protests and the physically violent police retaliation which indescriminately knocks down children, the elderly, and pregnant women who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I can look on my street where just yesterday I saw three girls mugged in the exact same place my roommate and I stood helpless just eight days earlier. I can look further at the injustice of losing my mother so quickly and at such a young age. And now to all that I can add the loss of my grandmother, a woman of such wisdom and strength that her very presence seemed to defy death. I last saw her just before leaving for Spain. Disease had made her weak, sagging her skin and showing the strain that a lifetime of pain and joy weighs down on one´s shoulders.

If I had to suffer all this pain alone, I do not know that I could manage. But I am one of the lucky people, despite my seemingly endless stream of bad luck. I look around the cities I have called home and find myself both cursed and blessed. I feel that God has both overlooked me and enveloped me in a supportive embrace; taken away my foundation and provided a net. I have such a wonderful community full of so many people who at the mere sight of a forming tear rush over with kleenex, hugs, and chocolate. I am living in a beautiful city, I have plenty to eat (often far more than enough), I have friends and family and my own health.

That is not to say that I am not angry at the unfairness of my personal situation, the frustration of death too soon and pain too persistant. But I wonder how anyone goes on without the kind of community I have been blessed with. And I wonder how I can contribute something meaningful to the world in any comparable way to the contributions of my mother and grandmother. Two women with such strength, women who lived through so much change and gave so much of themselves to everyone they met. Women who loved and learned and gave more than they took. Women who leave behind them such legacies as I can only dream of one day following.

Looking around me I see that our world is not in good shape, our future is not as bright as it once was, and the roads are not paved in gold--sometimes they´re not paved at all. But we must continue, the instinct to survive will not allow us to stand still amid the falling ruins of our world.

I cannot fly home for my grandmother´s funeral this week, so instead I am asking anyone who reads this to do something kind for someone else this week in her memory. Give a homeless person a granola bar, call your grandmother to say hi, make a donation to your favorite charity. It is more than something kind in honor of her memory. It is something kind to rebuild the roads we are losing. It is a reason to continue and it is a way to help ourselves and those we love.

Death is not easy, but life doesn´t have to be so hard.
Besos y abrazos

Monday, March 16, 2009

In which our Heroine learns about burns, muggings, and other fun activities

To calm all of you down, who are doubtless bracing yourself for the worst, I was not mugged- but someone else was... Now that I've prefaced with that let me travel back in time to the start of the weekend...dododododod. That was time travel music for all of you who didn't quite pick up on it. ANYWAY...

Not having class and desiring to attempt to enjoy the lovely weather my roommate and I wandered over to the beach to do some journaling. Glorious fun until it started to get windy and cold which convinced us it would be worth it to return to the warmth of our apartment. After a quick change we met up with our program to go see some Flamenco at a great live music club called Jazzsi. I discovered after two hours of Flamenco that while the dancing and guitar are great, I can do without the dying-cat sounds emitted from Flamenco singers. Seriously, I don't understand how it's considered a talent to wail in that manner. The guitarist was great though...

Afterwards Heather and I stopped for some falafel at the best place in town: Maoz Falafel. It's all vegetarian and has some of the best salatim (salad toppings) at its open salad bar. I always leave fully contented. Not to mention it was Heather's first ever falafel.

We slept in the next morning, got on our bathing suits, and walked to the beautiful playa (beach) to soak up some sun. It was way nicer out and after about four hours we realized how dumb it was not to wear sunscreen just because it's March. Totally burned our faces and chests and one side of our legs. Also I have a slight sunglasses tan. Really cool I know. So we went home, showered, read for a while, and eventually headed over to a friend's apartment to go out. Did I mention it was Heather's birthday? Well it was. And we drank some great Cava, chatted for a while, and decided to go out and celebrate together. Celebrating in Barcelona, you must understand, cannot commence until about 2 AM since that's when clubs OPEN. I know, crazy. So by 4:40 we were ready to head home, a short 7 or 8 blocks from the club. We started the walk, one we've done many times before, and were laughing about one thing or another. Suddenly three HUGE guys run up behind my roommate, grab her, and drag her down the street. Of course I was screaming and stupidly wacking them with my purse. They ran off with Heather's purse and immediately several other natives ran up to help us and walk us home. Of course we were terrified, but we've learned a valuable lesson: getting robbed sucks. It's really not fun or exciting or even worth the story. So if you're planning on getting mugged/robbed or beaten up I highly discourage it.

We've spent the last few days trying to fix things, but there have certainly been some surprises and most of them haven't been nice. This includes a bit of blaming the victim on our host mom's part, but we're working on that. Also working on not burning to a crisp, but the beach is just so attractive after classes....

But on the bright side, we're both safe and uninjured. I know someone else who was mugged twice in one week, so really, it could always be worse. But for the most part I really do feel safe in this city and think it's a great and beautiful place.

This weekend we're off to País Vasco in the North of Spain and then in two weeks I'm taking a nice long spring break in London Town so get ready for some fun posts!
And as always I send you

besos y abrazos