The Clock is Ticking…

H  ow did the holidays get here so fast?

A  few weeks ago we were eating turkey

P  retty soon the stores were filled with Christmas

P  iles of gift catalogs throughout the house

Y  esterday we hung the lights outside

 

H  ow will we ever be ready in time for Christmas?

O  n December 17th we are leaving for Germany

L  ots of things to prepare for our trip

I   f only the next few days would slow down

D  estinations: Berlin, Dresden, Weimar

A  lot of miles to travel to see people we love

Y  es, it’s the trip of a lifetime

S  ee you in 2016!

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Teaching and Terrorism

Emotions and thoughts have been swirling through my mind since I heard about the acts of terrorism in Paris this past weekend. Paris is a city I love dearly, having lived there for over a year in the 70’s in my mid-twenties and returning many times to visit.

I first began reading about the banlieues (outskirts or suburbs) of Paris about a decade ago. This was not the Paris I first experienced. It had become a city of haves and have nots, with the native insiders living within the city and the outsiders/immigrants relegated to substandard lives on the outskirts of the city. These outsiders burned cars and trashed their neighborhoods as a way of expressing their frustration and anger.  Eventually things returned to the status quo and their frustration was forgotten.

This past year the news of the violence that took place at Charlie Hebdo, the French newspaper whose cartoons mocked the Muslim extremists, reminded us of that anger. The lives of several French cartoonists and journalists were taken in another outburst of hatred toward French culture. The world responded with sympathy (“I am Charlie Hebdo”) and a renewed vow to celebrate “free speech.”

But this past weekend’s events, in which local terrorists took the lives of over 100 Parisians, remind us again that this hatred is not dead. More extreme and widespread violence has just begun, and we are now wondering what to do next to contain or combat extremists throughout the world.

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This is where teaching comes into the discussion. I am so proud of my profession; moreso than ever. In the United States teachers are the ambassadors of plurality, seeking to find ways to assimilate and educate our newcomers as they arrive at our borders and in our airports.

This is not to say that all teachers welcome undocumented immigrants and their families; prejudice and scorn often rear their heads in faculty lunchrooms. But even those who do not appreciate our tolerance for immigrants understand that our nation was built on their efforts and continues to flourish in many ways because of them. They also understand that building a wall is not the best way to solve the immigrant dilemma.  Supporting the assimilation of immigrant children and their families into our culture is how our nation will continue to sustain its principles of freedom and equality.

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I have often questioned my own beliefs as a teacher of English to immigrant students over the past several decades. But I have always come to the conclusion that becoming more understanding of people from other cultures, while helping their children to become better educated and assimilated, is the only way to continue to build a foundation of trust and strength.

I am particularly proud of my fellow English as a Second Language teachers.  We are often not held in high regard in our own schools or communities because of the controversial work we do, but we are the best advocates in our educational system for making sure that all children have equal access to a good education. Education is terrorism’s worst enemy and the best weapon we have for preserving our values.

Multitasking Interferes with Blogging This Week!

(Salut au Monde, Walt Whitman University of Delaware Library)

Dear Friends…I know we are all in the same boat, paddling as fast as we can and trying not to keep the boat from sinking. Today I find myself bailing water as a result of too many commitments happening at once.

I know I promised a blog about the next stop on my journey through Greece….Mykonos…but I will have to put that off for the next two weeks to make room for a project almost a year in the works and is now finally happening. What follows is some of the copy from a flyer advertising the project in which I am currently immersed:

“The influx of immigrants to the United States over the past several decades has brought new attention to the question: Who is an insider and who is an outsider in our nation?” (Barbara Suter)

About the Project
“With so much debate taking place in our nation about the pros and cons of immigration, this presentation could not be more timely. During a week-long in-school workshop, an eleventh-grade English Regents class from Hicksville High School, which includes both English-speaking and English Language Learners, will be introduced to the poem Salut au Monde by Walt Whitman. The culmination of the workshop will include a tour of the Walt Whitman Birthplace. The day will conclude with a student performance of the verses the students have written, in the style of Whitman, expressing their own thoughts and feelings about being an outsider or insider in America.

Join us in this unique celebration of the poetry of Walt Whitman and of the students who will be sharing their interpretations of his poetry.”

Wish me luck!!!

(To be continued next week)

Going Greek: Athens Is a City Full of Surprises

Woe is me. Yesterday I wrote a lengthy post about my recent trip to Athens and the Greek islands with my daughter, but forgot to save it. So you are spared my verbosity, and will now instead get the shorter version, with photos and some light commentary. We’ll begin with our day and a half spent in Athens.

Most people I know who’ve been to Greece are not particularly fond of Athens, especially when it’s very hot, so my expectations were low. As it turned out, we had a lovely 36 hours there despite the dreadful unexpected heat wave, and I would have enjoyed at least another day or so soaking up the local vibe which is my favorite part of traveling.

We spent the evening of our first day (exhausted from our flight) taking a stroll through the winding medieval streets of La Plaka, lined with boutiques and restaurants and cafes, to our destination: A restaurant with a rooftop terrace overlooking the Acropolis.

Our walk was filled with small surprises, like an amazing church we found when we turned a corner which turned out to be “an 11th century gem planted right in the middle of a busy shopping district on Ermou Street. The stone, tile-domed church was built on the site of an ancient temple to Athena, incorporates Roman columns from the Forum, and escaped demoition twice as Athens began to burgeon in the middle of the 19th century.” (Frommer’s Athens and the Greek Islands 2017)

Turning another corner in this maze of streets out of the corner of my eye I spotted a long view of the Acropolis wedged between the commercial buildings of the street. Apparently there is magic everywhere in Athens, especially under the streets. If you were to poke a hole into the ground anywhere in Athens I’m sure you would find either ruins or some treasure.

We finally came upon the street where our restaurant was located and found ourselves climbing a narrow, uphill, winding staircase with cafe tables and chairs squeezed on both sides of the stairs. It was very picturesque and crowded.

Our waiter led us up a flimsy metal staircase to the rooftop terrace where…lo and behold…we were amazed to see the back portion of the Acropolis (the Erechtheion). I felt like I had died and gone to heaven!

We had a leisurely, tasty meal with a charming waiter who recommended the feta fried in phyllo dough and topped with honey as a starter. It was soooooo delicious. As we dined we gazed out at the Acropolis, and over the rest of Athens, as the sun slowly set. When the sun disappeared some lights appeared on the Acropolis to highlight the beautiful monuments, while lights began twinkling all across the Athenian cityscape. It was indeed magical.

Early to bed for a busy next day. We were given a 1/2 day tour of the city by bus which allowed us to see many of the sights we would not have time to see otherwise including the site of the original Olympic Stadium, refurbished in marble by a rich Athenian, and used once a year to greet the winner of the Marathon which still takes place annually in the streets of Athens.


We rolled past Hadrian’s Arch, his gift to the Athenians whom he greatly admired;

the Parliament Building guarded by two soldiers 24/7; the Pillars of Zeus which we caught only a glance of since they are ensconsced in the middle of a very green park, and other such treasures.

We arrived at the Acropolis Museum at around 10 am, which is a beautiful modern museum showcasing many of the original artifacts of the Acropolis and its surroundings. Replicas are being installed on the Acropolis in an effort to preserve what is left of the actual antiquities. As we entered the museum we walked over a glass walkway which revealed the ruins of the city beneath us which are under excavation.

The three story museum houses gorgeous artifacts of Greek life and the Classical Era of the Acropolis.

The top floor, encased entirely in glass walls, provides a splendid view of the Acropolis and all of Athens.

After spending over two hours in the museum we were ready for the Big Kahuna…the Acropolis. Athens was experiencing a mini heatwave, so we emerged from the museum to temperatures near 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I was skeptical about my ability to make the climb up to the Acropolis in the heat, but the realization that this was my one and only chance to do it gave me the impetus I needed. So my daughter and I trudged slowly up the gravelly path, stopping wherever we could find a spindly tree for shade, and finally reached the top.

There were tourists everywhere, even on this scorchingly hot day, swarming over the ruins like ants. And there were certainly as many people my age up there as there were younger and older tourists, all driven to have the experience of a lifetime.

The glory of the Parthenon was somewhat diminished by the reconstruction efforts that are ongoing. About a third of the Parthenon was covered with scaffolding and there was heavy machinery here and there on its outer edges.

Apparently the Greek government, despite its near bankruptcy in recent years, is making the best effort it can toward finally preserving what is left of its glorious past.

My daughter and I wandered around the Acropolis for about an hour stopping at each monument, until the heat became unbearable.

We slowly descended the path we had climbed as we spotted more temples, the Agora (marketplace), and the site of the ancient Theater of Dionysus which originally held 17,000 spectators, and is now reduced to 20 marble rows.

We had had a very full and fulfilling day, and were ready for a cool, leisurely dinner and an early bedtime to prepare for our departure from Athens early the next day. Dinner was at a lovely, somewhat modern restaurant along one of the busy streets near our hotel, but it had a/c and was very peaceful inside. I loved my grilled fish and various Greek appetizers and my daughter enjoyed her seafood pasta. Our complimentary offering this time was a lovely creamy, frothy milk concoction flavored with Mastic, a local liqueur.

We were sorry to leave Athens so soon, despite the heat. It is not a showy city like Paris or Barcelona; in fact, its postwar architecture is somewhat rundown and even sometimes shabby. But beneath that dilapidated veneer lies a city of vast treasures and living within are some of the friendliest people I have ever met.

Travel Is As Necessary To Me As Breathing

I’m back from a 12-day vacation in the Greek islands with my daughter, feeling quite fulfilled.

Right now my brain is full of amazing images: the steep, dusty, hot climb up to the Acropolis, the amazing vistas of the Aegean Sea from the island of Santorini and swimming in the Aegean, the amazing artifacts we saw from the 6000 BC Minoan culture on the island of Crete, relaxing days on the sunny island of Mykonos, and a visit to the birthplace of Apollo on the island of Delos.

There is so much to share I hardly know where to begin. My daughter and I were very impressed with the hospitality of the Greek people we met on all four islands and in Athens. They are a handsome people who live a challenging life due to their geography, and now their very troubled economy, but they are always greet you with a cheery kali mera or kali spera and are eager to exchange pleasantries.

As I reflect on my recent travels, I appreciate more and more how important it is to get to know other cultures firsthand so we can stretch our capacity for tolerance of differences. We met many, many other tourists from different nations who seem to make travel an important part of their lives. We also met many Greeks who cannot travel due to their economic constraints, but whose eyes light up when I mention I am from New York. Being able to visit New York is a dream for them and they are eager to talk about it to learn as much as they can.

For me, travel is always an immersion experience. I try to learn a few words in the local language. I think I picked up about ten or twelve words in Greek which is a challenging language to learn. People are always delighted to hear you make the effort to say anything in their language.

I try to sample as many of the local dishes as I possibly can. I read about the history of the place I am visiting in my guide books so I can better understand the context of the place I am visiting. Most importantly, in addition to visiting the tourist highlights of a place, I try to spend time in the neighborhoods, chatting with shop owners, pausing in a cafe for a drink or quick snack, engaging in conversation with the locals, and absorbing everything I can about their daily lives.

For me, these experiences are the most important feature of my travels; they stay with me forever and increase my understanding of the world. I firmly believe that my lifelong travel experiences helped me to become a more compassionate English as a New Language teacher because I knew what it was like to immerse myself in a completely alien culture, not being able to speak the language to express my feelings, and being overwhelmed by the sensory assault of new smells, sights, sounds and expectations.

At age 70, worldwide travel is become more daunting, but I think I have a few trips left in me and I look forward to them.

Next week: 24 hours in Athens!

Greece Is On My Mind

G oing to Greece next Monday

R eading all I can to prepare for the journey

E very day brings the dream a little closer

E xpecations are high…how could they not be?

C an this really be finally happening?

E ager to share my experiences with you, Slicers!

Athens:

Mykonos

Santorini

Crete

In one week I’ll be on my way to Greece with my daughter. We will land in Athens, then a day and a half later will proceed to Mykonos, Santorini and Crete. I’ve never been so Far East in Europe and am looking forward to what I hope will be some unfamiliar experiences and some gorgeous scenery. I am just now emerging from 10 days of 2 super antibiotics; wasn’t sure I could make it. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Taking the Day Off!

Yes, I’m taking the day off!

It’s probably because I am on some heavy-duty meds for an upper intestinal infection, that I realized a couple hours ago that I hadn’t written a post for this week. I hope to be back in the saddle by next week.
Hope everyone had a good Labor Day and will have a good first week back at school!

Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia…A Close Call

(Above photo from Citylife Barcelona)

Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (Catalan pronunciation: [ənˈtɔni ɣəwˈði]; 25 June 1852 – 10 June 1926) was an architect from Reus, Catalonia, Spain. He is the best known practitioner of Catalan Modernism. Gaudí’s works have a highly individualized and distinctive style. Most are located in Barcelona, including his magnum opus, the Sagrada Família. (Wikipedia)

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This will be my final post about my trip to Spain with my husband in May. If you read my recent posts, you’ve learned that I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I loved the three cities we visited: Madrid, Seville and Barcelona. I would love to go back to other places in Spain some day, but meanwhile a trip to Greece is just around the corner (mid-September) so it’s time to say farewell to Spain.

In my previous post I wrote about how sad I was to hear the news about the terrorist attack on La Rambla in Barcelona, Spain which left more than a dozen people dead and many more seriously injured. Having just visited Barcelona and strolled on La Rambla, I was shocked at what happened.
https://barbarasut.wordpress.com/2017/08/21/la-rambla-barcelona-before-it-lost-its-innocence/

A few days ago, while reading a followup news article about the incident on La Rambla, I learned that Spanish authorities, who were investigating the terrorist cell responsible for the attack, discovered a plot by the same group to bomb La Sagrada Familia.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/08/22/spanish-terror-attacks-four-men-appear-court-questioning-on/

To want to destroy one of the most amazing monuments dedicated to the grandeur of life, in the name of Islam, is reprehensible. My son experienced similar grief when he first heard of the destruction of Palmyra and Damascus, Syria having visited both just months prior to their destruction. There is clearly a pattern to these terrorist incidents. All the special places we treasure and therefore visit have become the targets of a group filled with hatred for us.

One of the main reasons we decided to go to Spain is because both our adult children raved about the Gaudi masterpieces they visited during their individual trips there. And they were right to rave; Gaudi is truly a creative genius. Whether it’s the thought he put into creating a unique door handle or a window casing for one of his apartments in Barcelona, or a whimsical chimney stack for one of his apartment buildings, or a cathedral that resembles a giant sandcastle, his style is one of a kind…and appeals to millions of visitors who swarm Barcelona during the tourist season just to see his work.

Our first Gaudi excursion was to the northern part of Barcelona to visit Parc Guell. This park and the residences he built there were designed for those less fortunate on the edge of the city, but the funding fell through before completion so it became a city park.

I was very excited because I had seen so many pictures of this park which truly unique features. After a three-hour tour of Barcelona on our first day in the city, we indulged in a cab ride to Parc Guell which is situated on a high promontory overlooking the city. My daughter had recommended the cab because she felt the climb to the park from the metro station would be too strenuous for me. She was absolutely right! As we stepped out of the cab I saw what looked like a very short line. What luck! But I was wrong.

As we stepped up to pay our admission fee, we were told we would have to wait three hours to gain entry, as the admissions to the park are now “timed” to regulate the flow of visitors. No one had ever mentioned this to us, and this is a relatively new development because there was no admission fee when my children visited in past years. And there certainly was no such thing as a three-hour wait. My heart sank. I knew we would not be coming back, since it was a bit of a journey just to get there by cab, and our days in Barcelona were limited. What was even more frustrating is that we could see the park and its attractions through the wrought-iron gate at the entrance which also offered a view of the dragon that overlooks the entry. I felt as though I could reach through the gate and almost touch the dragon.

I could also see people sitting above us on the wrap-around bench Gaudi created for people to sit on and enjoy the spectacle of the park.

So near, yet so far; it was agonizing. I felt like crying.

Since we had made the trip we decided to linger for a while and walk around the park that encircled the enclosed Gaudi attractions. It was a hot day so we slowly ambled up the circular road which led to a viewpoint from which you can see all of Barcelona and the sea beyond it. Along the way we encountered an interesting, organically-shaped, sandstone structure created by Gaudi as a kind of natural walkway with an overhang providing shade for strollers such as ourselves.

Beneath this structure were ensconced many tourists also seeking shade, and some musicians and craft vendors.

We paused for a while to hear the musicians, then walked a bit further up the hill and found a bench from which to enjoy the sights below us, including Parc Guell and the many tourists who were lucky enough to get in.

Determined not to experience another mishap, we took extra care on our visits the following days to two other Gaudi sites: Casa Mila and Casa Batllo. Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera, is most famous for its rooftop which is filled with chimneys fashioned into unusual, whimsical shapes.

The second home, Casa Batllo, is a designer’s dream.

Built with a nautical theme, this Jules Verne fantasy dwelling includes balcony fixtures of schools of fish, porthole windows…

stained glass windows…

amber-colored polished wood handrails and doors…

and a marvelous elevator shaft, with tiles of graduated blue, that allows light to flow throughout the building.

It is really impossible to describe Gaudi’s work. It must be experienced in person, using all one’s sensory awareness, since his creations were clearly designed to be enjoyed that way.

Our final Gaudi adventure was, of course, a visit to La Sagrada Familia which so recently escaped destruction.

So often when people rave about a particular spot, one may feel some disappointment on finally getting there. Not so with La Sagrada Familia.

When I stepped inside I felt like I was entering a truly sacred space. Unlike most other cathedrals where the light is often very dim, the Sagrada was filled with light that was undulating across the entire cavity of the cathedral.

Gaudi designed his stained-glass windows to create this effect of the light in constant movement, filling the entire space inside the cathedral. He designed the floor to ceiling pillars to look like trees reaching to the heavens.

In fact, all the details of the cathedral were a testament to the glory and grandeur of nature. We stood there for about ten minutes, transfixed by the light, then spent an hour just walking around inside the cathedral taking in all its unique features.

When I reflect on our time in Spain, I feel very grateful that we were able to enjoy so much art and beauty and local hospitality, culminating in our visit to this spectacular cathedral. Spain has designated 2026, the centennial of Gaudi’s death, as the date for completion of La Sagrada Familia. I am sure it will be one of the most spectacular celebrations of all time, anywhere in the world. I wish I could be there.

La Rambla, Barcelona…Before It Lost Its Innocence

(Photo is from You Tube)

La Rambla is exactly 1.2 kilometres long and nearly everyone who visits Barcelona walks along it. La Rambla was laid out in 1766, following the contours of the medieval city walls that had bounded this part of Barcelona since the 13th century. The locals took it to their hearts straightaway. In Barcelona, a city of narrow, winding streets, the Rambla was the only space where everyone could stroll and spend their leisure time. And we mean everyone. Because of its central location, the Rambla became a meeting place for all the social classes.
(http://www.barcelonaturisme.com/wv3/en/page/160/la-rambla.html)

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I have been saving Barcelona, the final stop on our three-city tour of Spain in May, for my last few posts about our journey. But that was before the terrorist incident this past week that happened on La Rambla, a favorite amble for tourists from around the world through the center of this lovely city, turned it into a killing field resulting in the death of 12 people and more than a hundred injured.

I have done some traveling in my lifetime, and I’ve noticed that there are places people like to congregate everywhere I go. It could be in front of the clock tower in Prague; under the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, in Times Square, New York on New Year’s Eve or the Piazza Navona in Rome. For some I’m sure it’s an excuse to say “Look at me…look at where I am!” and send some selfies to friends and family. For others it can be a pilgrimage to a place that’s been a lifelong dream vacation. But most people, I believe, just like to celebrate where they are with others doing the same. It kind of amplifies the good feelings by 10, unless of course it’s too crowded (as is happening in Venice).

La Rambla in Barcelona has become one of those beloved tourist destinations. It’s a wide pedestrian boulevard filled with shady trees and tons of people. The streets are lined with souvenir shops and sidewalk cafes. I’m sure that Europeans and the Spanish, in particular, have been enjoying this promenade for decades if not centuries, and finally the rest of the world caught on. Not taking a stroll on La Rambla when visiting Barcelona would be equivalent to not visiting Times Square for a first-time visitor to New York City.

Both my children had visited Barcelona in years past and both highly recommended that I make sure to put it on my list of places to see. They loved the art, the food, the party vibe, and the beauty and accessibility of the city. They especially loved visiting the world renowned architectural wonders created by Gaudi, perhaps Barcelona’s most beloved artist. My husband and I finally took their advice and went to Spain in May. We decided that Barcelona would be our final stop…saving the best for last.

Barcelona was as delightful as they had said it would be. We saw as many of Gaudi’s creations as we could fit into our three-day schedule; wandered the streets and barrios of Barcelona soaking up the vibe of each neighborhood (my favorite pasttime); and enjoyed a few of the thousands of cafes that are ubiquitous and offer tourists both respite, a chance to do some serious people watching and some great tapas if you’re lucky!

During our stay, Barcelona seemed to be enjoying its recent reputation as one of the best spots to visit in Europe. The city is clean, full of fascinating things to do, easy to navigate and very welcoming. Tourists are everywhere, but so are the locals who are clearly proud of their city and what it has to offer. They have reason to be proud; it’s a city with many facets, lots of history to explore, and a place to party all night if you wish to do so (we didn’t).

On our final day we did take a ten minute stroll down La Rambla from the Plaza de la Cataluna. Actually we were looking for Kabul, a notorious hostel where both our children had stayed during their visits. Kabul is legendary as a meeting place for young people in Barcelona, and we were eager to see what all the fuss was about.

There were a lot of people strolling on La Rambla that day, probably most of them tourists like us, enjoying a pleasant afternoon in late May. Although it was much less crowded than I hear it is during the height of the tourist season in summer, there were still too many people for our taste. We questioned a few locals about Kabul, and finally found someone who knew exactly where it was. This allowed us to turn a corner off Las Ramblas and almost immediately enter a magical square: Placa Reial. Suddenly we were standing right in front of the entrance to Kabul.

The appearance of the place completely belies its reputation. It looked very quiet and nondescriptfrom the outside. We peeked through the window but couldn’t see much except for a staircase leading up to what is probably the front desk. We decided to sit at a table nearby in the square so we could bask in our accomplishment of finding Kabul and such a quaint spot to people watch in the Placa Reial.

In a very short time, an elderly man, very trim and dressed like a dancer, began doing some very modified but elegant flamenco moves on the square. He then approached the tables chatting amiably with each person. His pan-handling approach was so laid back and charming that we quickly handed him some Euros. My children later told us that the plaza undergoes a complete transformation at night when the hustlers, drug dealers and ladies-of-the night suddenly appear from nowhere to market their wares. But that afternoon there were only tourists, locals strolling across the square and the warmth of the sun and the beauty of the palm trees encircling the square to keep us company. We enjoyed a delicious cold beer, a plate of pan tomate, and a bowl of olives.

This is what I will remember about La Rambla. That it is a place where people enjoy being with others, part of the international crowd that is making Barcelona a vacation hub. For me, there was nothing exceptional about La Rambla; it has its share of funky street vendors and sidewalk cafes with owners hustling tourists to their tables. Its greatest virtue are the many trees and cafes that line the pedestrian walk. Its charm lies in its acceptance of people from around the world coming together to just enjoy a stroll in one of the friendliest cities in the world.

Its innocence now violated, La Rambla is not only one of many beloved world tourist destinations, but is now also a living memorial to lives lost in an extreme, undeserved act of violence.

CNN.com