Spain Is Just Around the Corner

“Las camisas no son rojas.” Translation: The shirts are not red.

I am up to Level 4 in a Duolingo online Spanish language program. This is a very precisely programmed course of instruction which only allows me to proceed sequentially. I am still using present tense verbs and I am learning a lot of new vocabulary. Aside from the fact that in my past two attempts at using the program, the screen has suddenly disappeared and I can’t figure out why, I have been having fun learning Spanish.

But here’s the problem…
Knowing how to say “las cebollas no son animales” (onions are not animals) is not going to help me get around Spain which I will be visiting this Sunday for 11 days. I also think it will not make for very exciting casual bar talk over tapas and sangria.

I need to pick up some conversational tidbits such as “Where is restaurant such and such….? “Where do I find the bus stop to go to Parc Guell?” “How much is that bottle of wine?” “I’d like steak and potatoes, please.”

I love languages and learning them. For me, it’s fun…kinda’ like solving a puzzle, piece by piece. Being fairly fluent in French (I lived there for a year a long time ago) has enabled me to pick up other Romance languages with some ease. If I run into a problem with, say, Spanish…I’ve learned to just say the word in French with a Spanish accent and add an “e” or an “o,” or an “a” at the end of the word to make it sound more like Spanish. By doing so I can usually make myself understood to a savvy native speaker.

With the deadline for departure less than a week away, I know I’ll have to resort to Plan B, which is to just dive into the language and hope for the best. Doing so used to be easier when I was younger and less daunted by the need for perfection. Now, when I am in a situation where I feel language-challenged, I sometimes freeze up and can’t remember any word that sounds even close to what I want. I have seen this happen so often with my own students. Other times I just can’t remember the word…a sign of a brain that’s getting older, more saturated, and a lot less quick on recall.

What I need to remember is that most people (except in France, which I love dearly in spite of their language haughtiness) are very forgiving if you make a sincere attempt to speak in their native language. They will help you if they can. And sometimes being language challenged can lead to making new friends, or at least a good tip from a native on where to go to eat or drink.

So, dear friends, next week I’ll be spending a few days each in Madrid, Seville and Barcelona (in that order) where I hope to be improving my Castilian Spanish. In Barcelona, where Catalan is predominant, I know I will be at a distinct disadvantage.

Most of the Spanish I know I picked up from working as an English as a New Language teacher for 25 years with students mostly from Central and South America where Spanish is spoken quite differently. Nonetheless, I learned enough Spanish to converse in a limited way with my former students and their parents, when the need arose.

Baby steps….

Lost and Found

About a month or two ago, I wrote about two objects I love dearly, which I lost. One was a red knit hat which I always wore when out walking in the cold weather. It made me feel happy to put it on because it was such a colorful contrast to the grayness of winter.

I keep waiting for it to show up, but now I believe…the hat is gone for good 😦

The other object I lost was a beautiful handmade writing folio, given to me by one of my oldest and dearest friends about three decades ago. I cherished it because of the skill that went into making this binder, crafted by a young woman I once knew in California, and because it was such a special kind of gift to receive: A gift that said, “You are worthy of this special item.”

I searched for the portfolio diligently for several weeks, but then began to realize I would have to get used to the idea of having lost it, since it was nowhere to be found. I tried to tell myself to “detach,” in the Buddhist sense of the word. After all, things do come and go in our lives, so we can’t stay too attached to them. I have become better at embracing this philosophy, but this particular loss still deeply saddened me because of its connection to my now deceased friend who gave it to me.

You guessed it…the portfolio reappeared in my life just a few days ago. I was going through some boxes of papers in my bedroom and suddenly there it was at the bottom of a pile of mail, and notebooks, and other detritus. I could hardly believe my eyes. I lifted it from the box and immediately felt someone in the universe was taking care of me. I felt that my dear friend was sending me a message. It was a a very amazing, completely unexpected outcome.

There’s one more piece of good news in the Department of Lost and Found. After nearly six weeks of attending Weight Watcher’s meetings, watching myself gain and lose the same 2-3 pounds, I finally achieved the 5 pound mark (plus almost another half pound)!

This probably seems silly, but even though I lost only a few pounds, I found new confidence. It has been very difficult to start this weight-loss journey. I wasn’t sure if I had the strength to stick with it, but today I feel like I can keep going. One day at a time….

Oh, and one last discovery…an object I “found” on a walk today with my daughter. Another positive message from the universe…to Ed.

I hope Ed, whoever he is, found it, too!

Lost and found, lost and found…. The dance of life!

Hope Springs Eternal…for a Young Syrian in a Greek Refugee Camp

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man


Today many Christians are celebrating Easter, a holiday that honors the rebirth of Jesus Christ who was crucified on the cross two days earlier on Good Friday. Many other religions are also celebrating their annual Spring rites. Although I no longer espouse a particular religion (I was raised as a Lutheran), I did take a few moments this morning after brunch to reflect on the meaning of this holiday. To me, Spring rituals are all about hope.

The essay about the Refugee King of Greece in the New York Times Sunday Review section on April 16, 2017, reinforced for me how important it is to have hope, even when there doesn’t seem to be any. It is the story of a young Syrian refugee, Bassem Omar, who introduces himself to the Times reporter (Ashley Gilbertson) as the King of Ritsona. She goes on to say, “His Majesty, a 20-year-old refugee from Qamishli, Syria, offers a tour of his realm, and as we walk he’s greeted by friends of all ages.” As he moves amongst his “subjects” he reminds them that “I want to make Ritsona great again, and the people agreed.”

I am immediately struck by the ironic title he has given himself, and especially by his personal version of the now-famous Trump slogan, Make America Great Again, which Omar has now adapted to his own crusade to improve life for himself and his fellow refugees in the small village of Ritsona, 50 miles north of Athens. This is a young man who is well informed about global politics, and who has been able to give an ironic twist to his own circumstances using the words of the Leader of the Free World, Donald Trump. He is clearly a rebel with a cause and that is why I am so drawn to him.

After 13 attempts at escaping by using fake IDs and passports, only to be turned back by police at the airport and sent back to Ritsona, he has decided he can no longer make an effort to escape because if “I fail at this again, I will kill myself. I have to stop trying. So now I await the decision of relocation.” I read his words as meaning he no longer has hope he can escape, so he is readjusting his circumstances in order to continue to hold hope in his heart.

His story leads me to reflect on my own two grown children, now 33 and 35, for whom hope is also an essential part of their lives. My 35-year-old son was able to go to a wonderful college, travel abroad to Germany, and fashion himself a career in filmmaking over the past decade. He is filled with hope for his future endeavors; in the “indie” film business, hope is the staff of his life.

My daughter, about to turn 34, has had many setbacks in her life due to a series of five open-heart surgeries, but she remains hopeful that with a good deal of patience and perseverance, she, too, can have a fulfilling life. She is working hard toward that goal. Without hope, she would find it hard to go on. Even though their circumstances are challenging in different ways, both have had our support, financially, emotionally and intellectually, and the freedom to pursue their dreams. But what about those who don’t have any support?

As I turn my thoughts back to Bassem Oman, I am deeply touched by the poignancy of his young life and his ambitions.

As he surveys his kingdom of 700 refugees living within a barbed wire refugee camp, he remains satirically confident. He tells the reporter that in two days he will be celebrating his one-year anniversary in this camp. “‘We will host a royal party at Cafe Ritz to celebrate,” he says, referring to the distribution center. ‘You are welcome to come.'” These words represent the bravado of a young man who refuses to give up hope in the face of all odds.

I would like to put my arm around Bessem Omar’s shoulders, as I do with my own grown children, and tell him that I believe in him and his hope more than anything else I can think of. I will try to send a message of hope to him through the New York Times. If he cannot fulfill his dreams, what hope is there for humanity?

 

A Gathering of the Poets Laureate of Long Island

It’s April…poetry month. This is one of the few times I actually miss my former teaching job as an English teacher of young immigrant students. I loved teaching them to read and write poetry. They gravitated to the genre like bees to honey.

I was delighted to learn that my local poetry venue, the Walt Whitman Birthplace Site (shown above), was offering a special event this month: a gathering of the Poets Laureate of Nassau and Suffolk counties to celebrate and launch a collection of their poetry entitled Laurels: Poems by Long Island’s Poets Laureate (ed. James P. Wagner-@localgemspoetrypress.com).

I always feel as though I am on hallowed ground when I visit this site, as I have more recently since I retired two years ago. Apart from being lovingly restored in beautiful surroundings, the site has welcomed many famous and not-as-famous poets over the decades and continues to be a source of inspiration for students, writers, poets-in-residence, visiting poets, and all those who love poetry. I know I’ll be in good company whenever I visit this venerable place.

This event was no exception. The group of participants included the poets themselves and the usual assortment of Long Island poetry fans. This is not a place that goes in for a lot of fanfare, so it was at first impossible to distinguish the poets from the audience members amongst whom they mingled and sat. I especially enjoyed meeting each of the poets as I asked each of them to sign my copy of their book.

The event was introduced by the first designated LI Poet Laureate, George Wallace, who spoke about the history of the position which was approved by the Suffolk County Legislature in 2003. The position of Poet Laureate is held by the chosen poet for a two-year period. Mr. Wallace emphasized how supportive the Suffolk County Legislature has been and continues to be, particularly Vivian Viloria Fisher who was Suffolk County Legislator from 1999-2011 and who was present at this event.

James P. Wagner, who published Laurels spoke next about the creation of the book. He heads a small local publishing house, Local Gems Poetry Press, “dedicated to spreading poetry through performance and the written word. Local Gems believes that poetry is the voice of the people….” He gave a special nod to poet George Wallace for serving as editorial advisor on the anthology.

Then the real magic of the evening began. Most of the poets included in the collection were present and each read three or four poems from the collection. They refer to themselves as a “tribe” of poets on Long Island, a place richly endowed with poets and their works. As could be expected, their poetry covered a range of topics and styles; each poet spoke in his/her unique voice and each poem read reflected the author’s authentic experience and emotions.

Apart from the power of their individual voices, what impressed me was how most of the poets came from ordinary backgrounds. Thus, much of their poetry spoke to everyday lives, ordinary events, and universally shared emotions. When introduced, each poet spoke of how he/she felt honored to have been a Poet Laureate and to be celebrated in the anthology.

When the readings ended, I felt suffused with the imagery and emotions of their poems. I was reminded, once again, how important it is to make time for poetry in my life…in all our lives. And sadly, I was reminded of how much we could lose if funding for the arts in America is rescinded by the current Republican administration. This cannot be allowed to happen, and I’m sure the poets at this event and others throughout the nation will make sure their voices are heard in protest. The least we can do to support them is to join our own voices with theirs.

Viva la poesia!

A Matter of Life and Death

I am a two-year cancer survivor. I am grateful every day for the second chance at life I’ve been given. I’ve been too close to the alternative not to be grateful.

I have a friend who might not be so lucky. He is a family friend of several decades. Our sons were in the same class in school. His daughter is a good friend of my daughter. Our families have been very close at times.

But he is now in big trouble. Diagnosed more than a year ago with a rare form of advanced lung cancer, Sloan Kettering doctors put him in a clinical trial. My husband, who ran into him every week at the grocery store said he was doing well.

Then suddenly that changed. The doctors thought the reason for his blurry vision was cataracts. They were removed but his vision became more blurry. Then he stopped being able to chew his food and began to need a liquid diet to sustain him. A spinal tap was done and cancer was found in his spinal fluid. A course of radiation was prescribed next. Nothing changed.

Now he is barely able to speak comprehensibly. Upset by this twist of fate, my family and I visited his family yesterday. His wife told me he hasn’t wanted any visitors because he feels so embarrassed about his condition. But he agreed to see us.

We spent a low key, pleasant two hours with him and his family. He began to perk up as the time passed, and spoke quite a bit more than I had expected him to. He clearly enjoyed being part of the conversation which was mostly about funny shared memories of events that transpired when our kids were younger.

Toward the end of the visit he brought up the subject of his illness and told us what events were in store for him this coming week: an MRI of his brain, a visit with the oncologist to discuss the chemo he will soon be undergoing and a couple of other doctor visits. He will start chemo on Thursday. He has not given up hope and is anxious to start the course of chemo therapy.

It was a difficult thing to do: to face someone you care about deeply, who you suspect might not live much longer. I think our visit meant a lot to him; he thanked my son for coming out from Brooklyn to see him. We told him we would be rooting for him every day; he said he would let us know how things progress.

Going to visit him to cheer him up and cheer him on was not easy but it was the right thing to do. He is in a fight for his life and he needs all the love and support he can get.

Great Job Fellow Slicers! A Celebration Acrostic Poem

Here I sit on the night before the end of the March Challenge and I don’t know what to say. My daughter and I took a beautiful bird walk today, but I’ve already written about those walks. I’m not into writing about politics tonight…just not in the mood. And I’m no longer actively teaching, so no ideas about that.

So I’m resorting to a device that’s worked for me in the past…an acrostic poem.

G  ee, can it really be March 31st?
 emember how long ago March 1st was?
E  very day in March was a challenge
A  ll month I have wondered what to write next
T  hen an idea suddenly popped into my head

J    oin me in celebrating the friendships we’ve made
O  nline communities like this one are unique
 efore we part, I wanted to say best wishes to all

 ome of us have learned some valuable things
L  ess is more when you’re writing a slice
I  have never learned that lesson!
C  an you tell us what you’ve learned this March?
E  very post is a message from a Slicer’s heart
R  eflecting on this past month all I can say is…
 o many writers, so little time!

Great Job Fellow Slicers!

My Son, Matt, Is a Filmmaker: Watch ‘No Monsters in Berlin’ Online

About 17 years ago, the summer before he was about to start his freshman year at the School of Foreign Service in Georgetown, my son confided in me that he thought he wanted to go to film school instead. He is not an impulsive person so I knew he had given serious thought to what he said. I was sympathetic but I explained to him that it was too late to apply for film school for the fall semester. I advised him to go to the SFS and see how he felt during the year. If he still felt strongly about film school by midyear, he could then apply to film school.

As it turned out, one or two of his professors at the SFS discussed the issue with him and advised him not to leave Georgetown. One professor said that he would be getting a world class education at the SFS, and that graduates of film school were a “dime a dozen.” What you’ll gain by staying here, he told my son, is that you’ll have really good ideas for films you’ll want to make. Gradually he did become more invested in his studies at Georgetown and decided he would stay. He spent one summer during his college years at NYU film school, where he took his first official class in filmmaking since there weren’t any filmmaking classes at Georgetown.

Fast forward…during his senior year at Georgetown, he made a short film instead of writing a senior thesis.


His film, which he wrote, directed and filmed himself, won second place in the Georgetown Film Festival that year. It was his way of saying he still desired a career in filmmaking.

For the next decade he went from one job to another, developing skills that he felt would put him in a position to work on a film one day. First he did some freelance house painting. Then became an assistant to a carpenter. Next he spent a summer learning fine woodworking from a master of the craft. He eventually got a job with a NYC artist/entrepreneur who got him hired to help install some major art projects throughout NYC sponsored by a group called Creative Time. The venues included Governor’s Island, and the site of the soon-to-be High Line where he helped gut and prepare a former meat-packing plant, destined for demolition, for an art exhibition inside the plant.

He then moved from working on events, to installing equipment for a company that provides audio and visual programming for large-scale events in NYC such as the Museum of Natural History, and the Javits Center. During that time, he was continually developing his skills toward his goal of working on a film set.

He began to create his own short films, learning camera operator techniques on the job. A pivotal point in his development happened when he took a camera-operating class with a renowned Director of Photography.

There he began making contacts with people in the film business who gave him opportunities to work on films. Throughout this decade to support himself he was working all hours of the day and/or night, at venues throughout the five boroughs of NYC. He often had just a few hours notice to appear on a film set or a freelance job somewhere in NYC.

About a year and a half ago we took a family trip to Berlin. During that trip, he and his girlfriend cooked up a plan to make a short film about Syrian refugees who were seeking asylum in Berlin. They returned to Berlin six months later, and shot the film in a week! This short film, No Monsters in Berlin, was completed about six months ago and ever since then they have been working hard to get it accepted at various film festivals in the U.S. and Europe.

They succeeded in being accepted by the prestigious Newport Beach Film Festival in California, and the Manchester (England) Online Film Festival. He just emailed me to say that if enough people view his film online and vote for it, they have a chance of having the film shown live in NYC or Tokyo.

If you think you might be interested in supporting my son’s creative efforts in partnership with his girlfriend, who wrote the screenplay for the film, I urge you to visit the website below for the Manchester Online Festival, watch their 15-minute film and cast your vote. It will cost you $10 (sorry!), but obviously I think it’s worth it! And you will have done a very good deed since the film is about Syrian refugees finding their way in their new home, Berlin. Several of the actors and film crew are actual refugees.

The Manchester Festival URL is:

The website for the film itself is worth visiting:

http://www.nomonstersinberlin.com/

As you can tell, I’m a proud Mom, and of course I’d like to see his decade of hard work and discipline be affirmed by his peers, the community of filmmakers and critics. Thank you, Slicers, for your support!

(A photo of me with my son and daughter in our backyard.)