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 PaĆ­s 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

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Rome: Where Stereotypes Turn out to Have Some Validity...

Well, honestly, I should be sitting here studying for classes. Apparently our teachers have decided that we should do some work because suddenly I have assignments and midterms which is really not ideal. Who do they think they are giving me work? Seriously, someone should talk to them. But of course, instead of being productive I am finding many other things to occupy my time with before actually beginning to study. Obviously this became an important priority. Lucky for you!

Now let me begin by saying I didn't really have any expectations of Rome itself. Yes, it's an old city. I figured there would be some ruins. Maybe some cool buildings and art. Nothing could have prepared me for what I found. Which was, pretty much, one of the best weekends ever. Can I explain it? Probably. Would it fit in a blog post that anyone with a slight amount of sanity and value for their time would want to read? Most certainly not. Ah well, I guess you'll have to get the abbreviated version.

Heather and I arrived on a very rainy Thursday morning after fighting through a flock of pigeons, missing our bus, and nearly having ulcers over the closeness of our arrival to the airport and our supposed take-off time. Our flight was, needless to say, delayed. Highlights of our trip included the National Roman Museum (lots of sculptures, stuff written in cuneiform, ancient Egyptian artifacts, etc.), the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, Palatine Hill (including the Titus Arch), the Vatican, and every other important building in Rome. We managed to walk pretty much the entire city in our four day trip. Our feet may hate us, we may be poor, and we may have consumed several thousand more calories than necessary in glorious pasta/pizza/gelatto, but boy did we have a good time.

Our first night there we went to see 12 Angry Men at an Italian theatre, which just so happens to be one of my favorite plays of all time. Now perhaps seeing a 3 hour play that starts at 9 PM after getting approximately 3 hours of sleep over the past 24 hours isn't a great idea. But despite my accidental (and really only momentary!) falling asleep, I adored the show. Granted, it was in Italian so I didn't entirely know what was going on, but I've seen the play enough times to have it nearly memorized so it really wasn't a big problem. The special effects were kind of ridiculous any if you're into theatre ask me more about it because I've never seen a play like this or even heard of something like this being attempted. It was awesome but crazy.

So that was fun. Also, we managed to eat Ice Cream (and I capitalize it to underline it's amazingness) every single day. Also pizza and pasta at least once a day. Did I mention that the food in Rome is AMAZING? Because it is. AMAZING. Just in case you didn't get that from the first several capitalized pointers. AMAZING. Okay, I think I've made my point.

Saturday night we wandered over to the Spanish steps where we met several nice Italian boys. I attempted to impress them with my large Italian vocabulary. Apparently, however, I know less than I thought.
"Yeah, I know a few words. Bonjurno, bruschetta, pizza, pasta"
"What was THAT?"
"No, the next one."
"What's that? It's not Italian." (confused whispering in Italian between the two boys)
"Sure it is, it's in all of the menus" pause. pause.... pause.... REALLY LONG awkward pause.....
"Oh!!! Brus-ket-ta. Hahahahahahaha. Brus-KET-TA." More laughter. Apparently I've been saying it wrong.
So much for impressing the natives. Well, at least now I know how to pronounce it, lovely American accent and all. And don't worry, Heather and I managed to leave without incident or injury (i.e I don't want any worried calls about my safety around Italian men).

Two more important points to cover.
1. Going to Rome while reading "Angels and Demons" and then attempting to go to all the places mentioned in the book? Brilliant travel plan. I didn't get to ALL of them, but I managed to drag Heather to at least half of the locations including the coffee shop Tazza de Oro located next to the Pantheon. Which really is as good as Dan Brown claims it to be in the novel

2. Italian men (not to generalize or anything) really ARE like the ones in the movies. Or at least all of the ones we met. Seriously. In Piazza Navone we saw a group of waiters who looked so much like the images you see in films I actually thought they were wax figures until one of them winked at me. Where do these men come from? I have no idea. But they are HILARIOUS.

Okay, I can't possibly write any more about the gloriousness of Rome without making you jealous enough to fly out yourself (which you should do, as long as you bring me with). I will add, however, that you get what you pay for when it comes to Hostels. And we didn't pay a lot, so there is a chance we may not have showered while in Rome.....

Anyhow, hope you enjoyed this little edition of who wants to be Renana Fox.
Coming soon to a web page near you: When Purim, Renana, and Barcelona Collide.
Hasta Pronto!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Shortie (No, this is not in reference to my height)

I have much to write about and I promise I will write far more than any of you care to read. But not right now. Because in less than 4 hours I will be leaving my apartment map in hand to go to Rome. So as you can imagine I am busy procrastinating the whole packing thing but will have to cave in eventually.

Still, I needed to write because of an amusing story that just can't wait. Today I went to a Teaching English as a Second Language workshop which was taught by a Brazilian-German named Matan. My friend Linda came with me and when Matan said his name we just turned to each other and laughed.

Then he told us he wanted to start the workshop with a story. Go figure he would choose an old Jewish story (possibly from the Talmud but don't quote me on that). The story, which I've heard several times before, is about an old man who has the same dream (about a buried bag of gold under a bridge in a city far away) every night for weeks. Finally he decides to go to the city to see if the bridge exists. In fact it does, but there is a guard standing watch over the bridge. So the old man tells the guard about his dream and asks if he can dig for the gold. The guard laughs and says he himself has been having a dream about buried gold under a man's kitchen tiles in a small town far away (incidentally the man in his dream looks like this old man) but the guard isn't crazy enough to go in search of that man's house. The old man realizes this dream is about him, he returns home, digs for gold in his own kitchen, and finds it buried there. Moral of the story: sometimes you have to go on a long journey to find the treasure that you have always had with you.

So Linda and I were quite amused at the randomness of this encounter, but I actually found the teacher and his story to be surprisingly deep and insightful. I think his story holds true for my trip to Barcelona because in a lot of ways I'm traveling abroad to find out more about who I am. But I also have to admit that his story telling and clear Jewish cultural heritage made me think of my mother, a woman who dedicated much of her life to telling Jewish folktales.

Rome was the last place she and my father went before she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer (two words that I can't help but capitalize). The pictures of my parents together in Italy are the last images I have of my mother as she was, as I want to remember her. In some ways I think I want to go to Rome to find her. And I know she is no more in Rome than in Barcelona, New York or Chicago, but following in her footsteps somehow makes me feel closer to her.

If I believed in Divine messages perhaps I would say this was God's way of telling me that my traveling is only helping me to find the pieces and memories of my mother I have always had. Well, I'm not sure if I believe that, but it's a nice thought to carry me off on what will surely be a wonderful trip regardless.

I promise to post pictures on my return and talk about my dad's visit in Barcelona, but until then, Ciao!