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Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

Middle Child leaves for Europe this week. It’s the same kind of trip that Oldest Child took two years ago, a few days in France, a few days in Spain, but Middle Child will be going to different cities than his brother did. The same teacher is heading up the group and it’s a good, responsible, group of kids, so I’m not worried about logistics or crazy behavior. Of course, I am very jealous because I am a ridiculous Europhile, but I am genuinely glad that he’s getting this opportunity, the same as his brother did.

I had my first out-of-the-country experience when I was sixteen. Of course, I’d been to Canada several times before that, but as it is for any Detroiter, going to Canada was so not a big deal. No, I had the opportunity to go to Australia and Hawaii with the Michigan Lions All-State Band and it was a fabulous time. I’ve written about it before, so I won’t go on about it too much, but that trip was a pivotal time in my life. It was on that trip that he realization sunk in that the U.S. was not the only place in the world, that there were other realities for other people, and that the places where they lived were just as important to them as mine was to me. Granted, Australia isn’t shockingly different from the U.S., and Hawaii, while culturally different, is a state, but it was just enough to give me a hunger to see what else is out there, not just in my own backyard. This isn’t discounting anything that is here in the U.S., there are some pretty amazing places in my own country, but I think for people to have a balanced view of the world, they should see more of it with an open mind, not with the expectation that everyone should be like us.

That is what I hope Middle Child takes away from his experience. His first trip overseas will be different than mine, however, because it will be to two countries where English isn’t the first language, and he’s in for a real eye-opener. Even if you take the time beforehand to study the language, using the words around native speakers for the first time is a scary thing. Of course, in the big cities, many people do speak English because there are so many tourists, but I found out that even a little effort to try the native language is appreciated by most people. Middle Child hasn’t done a lot of studying, so he may be in for some surprises.

I said that I wasn’t worried, and I’m not, but there is that part of me that is nervous about letting my baby go for an extended period of time over the ocean without me. It has nothing to do with the threat of terrorism, that’s a risk that we take anywhere we are today, unfortunately, but more of the I’ve-taught-you-everything-I-can-now-you’re-on-your-own kind of thing. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a smart kid and he’s going to be just fine, but I think every mother would feel the same, at the least the first time. When Oldest Child went back to Europe this last summer for work study, I wasn’t concerned at all because he did so well when he went to France and Spain.

All in all, it’s another sign that my kids are growing up. They are moving on to make their own wonderful memories, and that’s a very, very, good thing. Middle Child leaves in just a few days and it’s taking a lot for me not to jump on that plane with him. Maybe sometime in the future, one of them will let me tag along.

 

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I watch the Today Show in the morning while getting ready for work. Sometimes it’s background noise, sometimes they have stories that I really listen to. I tune out a lot of the political stuff because I’m sick of hearing about Donald Trump and all of his insanity. The cooking segments are okay and I listen to the headlines, but my favorite things to watch are the human interest stories, stories about real people in different situations and how they handle them, in good ways or bad. The human psyche fascinates me. I am endlessly curious about the motivations people have, what circumstances in their lives led them to act the way that they do.

I was watching on Tuesday when a story came on that caught my attention. Apparently, Old Navy had put out an advertisement that portrayed an interracial family: an African-American mother, a Caucasian father, and their little boy. It’s a really cute picture, as many advertisements are, with everyone smiling and happy. When I looked at it, I  thought that it was a cool thing for Old Navy to show an interracial family, a reflection of our modern society. As I found out, though, the reason that that advertisement was being shown on the Today Show was because many people didn’t feel the same way.

I went on Twitter to read the comments. (I know, I know, the comments are scary, but if you’re going to take something on, you should know your enemy.) I’m not going to put even a fraction of them on here, they were that horrible, but they range from “disgusting” to some extremely vile things. I was really (unpleasantly) surprised that so many comments had something to do with “white genocide” Huh? Genocide? Um, no. Genocide= what Adolph Hitler did to the Jews. Genocide= what is happening to certain groups of people in the Middle East right now. Genocide= what happened to the Tutsi in Rwanda, 1994. Genocide≠ people of different races marrying and having families. The ignorance is staggering and more importantly, frightening. Here is an article from the New York Times, if you’re so inclined: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/05/us/upbeat-interracial-ad-for-old-navy-leads-to-backlash-twice.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0 You can also see the controversy on Twitter and most news sites.

I don’t understand the mentality of people who have been posting those inane responses. Some of them are so evil that I’m surprised they’re walking among us, but most of them vowed to never shop at Old Navy again. Really? You’re not going to shop at Old Navy any more because they used an ad of an interracial family? Stupidity and ignorance at its finest. If you are threatening to harm people because of their racial background, you should not be out on the street. Period.

What really floors me (and makes me smile to myself) is that many of the people who are so opposed to racial mixing are possibly of mixed race themselves and don’t even know it. During the period of legal slavery in the United States and its territories, thousands of children, often the result of rape from white masters. were born to slave women. Some interracial (and illegal) couples also lived together consensually and had  children. If those children, or their children, could “pass” for white, they often did in order to have a better life. Many times, their white families didn’t know and still don’t! A good example of this is Bliss Broyard’s fascinating read, One Drop. The title comes from the premise that if a person had only one drop of African blood. he or she was classified as black and was treated as such during the time of slavery and many years thereafter. Her father, Anatole Broyard, an acclaimed New York Times columnist, had come from a racially mixed family but decided to pass for white when he was a young man. It wasn’t until he was literally on his death bed that the truth came out and his children were introduced to a whole new branch of the family. It’s a fascinating story.

The TLC show, Who Do You Think You Are?, and PBS’s Finding Your Roots have both surprised a few celebrities with DNA test results showing that they have an unexpected racial connection. Ty Burrell, who stars on Modern Family, was surprised to find that the family whisperings of having a black ancestor were true. Several African-American celebrities uncovered white ancestors. Some were surprised, some were not. The truth is, we all have quite the mixture of races in us already, there is no such thing as a “pure” race. People who perpetuate the myth that there is a pure white race need to check their facts, and possibly their DNA.

My own roots are pleasantly jumbled. My father’s side of the family is pretty straightforward English/Scottish/Irish with some Swiss and German thrown in for good measure. My mother’s side, however, is a bit of a mixed bag. My maternal grandfather, Grandpa Nick, was born in Sicily. Poor Sicily, while now part of Italy, has been conquered many times by other empires: Arab, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Northern African. It is difficult to say what our racial background actually is based on Sicily’s history. His son, my uncle, took a DNA test several years back. It showed that we have northern African cousins, in Algeria and Sudan I believe, but it didn’t say how far back in time we were related. It could be 200 years ago or 1000 years ago. Like I said, it was an older test, but my sons and I thought it was cool that we were part African. You wouldn’t know it by looking at me, I’m a sickly pale about ten months out of the year, but I have some African roots.

The point I’m trying to get across is that the idea of race as a kind of a club is stupid. Sure, I love looking up my family history and learning where my ancestors came from (especially the English, for the simple fact that they kept amazing records in their parish churches), but equally intriguing for me is finding the different cultures that dwell inside. How exciting!

I taught 5th graders for several years and that is when they begin learning about slavery in United States history. Many of my students would self-identify as their religion, so we always had to have the talk about the difference between race and religion. One can be born and raised into a certain religion, but that is a choice. One’s racial background is not a choice, it’s just how you are born. You can’t choose it before you are born, you can’t change it, it’s something that is a part of you forever. We talked about being proud of whatever background we had, but also how it was important to respect the identities of others and how different cultures contribute so much to the world. We also talked about how it was not okay to disparage somebody because of their race. You see, children are taught racism, it’s not something that they’re born with. Something to think about…

The term “race” has been used by bigots as a way to separate people, to create divisions and animosity, instead of simply being used for historical or scientific purposes. That never made sense to me, seeing as how science and religion agree that human beings both started in northeastern Africa, even if their ideas of how we began are different. Differences developed in response to our environments. A translucent-skinned person like me would burn to a crisp on the African continent today, my lack of melanin meant to soak up Vitamin D from the sun in northern climates. My northern European genes have won out in that respect. My Grandpa Nick, however, had what one would call a “swarthy” complexion, necessary in sun-drenched Sicily to protect him. I look more like my father’s side of the family, but I have just as much DNA from my mother’s side as I do his. What you look like doesn’t necessarily have a bearing on what your roots are. Remember, with every generation back, your number of grandparents doubles: two grandparents, four great-grandparents, eight great-great grandparents, and so on. Unless you are a careful genealogist, you really don’t know all of your racial background. Maybe that’s worth taking a look into. You might find out some really cool things!

Open your mind and think. You’ll be surprised at actually makes sense.

A presto.

 

 

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I’ve been on a bit of a holiday from things: work, home, and, yes, writing. (Actually, I have a summer job, but that’s my fun one and I don’t really consider it work. I enjoy it too much!) I did actually plan to try and write a bit when I was in Italy, but there was just no time, so now I’m jumping back in. I do want to try and finish the novel that I’m working on, at least the unrevised bit of it, this summer, if possible, but first, a blog post. I won’t bore you with all of the details of my trip, but just a few highlights.

I was in bella Italia, beautiful Italy. The flight was long, cramped, and boring, so I’ll spare you the details. We were fortunate enough to immediately get our tour group’s bus from the airport to our hotel in Rome, driven by the talented Carlo, our driver for the week. An Italian motorway gave way to increasingly smaller city streets, passing through buildings covered in graffiti. I thought the graffiti would go away once we got into Rome proper, but that was not so. In fact, it seems the only way to not have graffiti on your building in Rome is to build a locked gate around it, but then the gate will have graffiti. I found it extremely surprising that a city with a heavy tourist population would have so much vandalism. A lot of it is political, but still, graffiti is ugly no matter where you go.

If you don’t look at the graffiti, Rome is beautiful, in a chaotic way. There are no traffic rules. Absolutely none. Seriously, if there are rules, no one is following them. I don’t even know why there are lines on the road. Tiny cars veer in and out from between large trucks and busses while scooters rule any in-between spaces and even sidewalks. Crossing the street almost gave my mother heart attacks, but we followed the advice of our local guide, Elena: “Shoulders back, chest out, don’t look at the drivers, close your eyes, and GO!” She was right. Roman drivers can sense even a small inkling of hesitation and will keep going if you pause before crossing. It’s kind of like being a teacher. Still, everyone seems to take it in stride; it’s the way things are done. And in the midst of all of this chaos, beautiful ruins, thousands of years old, are scattered through the entire city. Public water fountains flow with water from the ancient aqueducts and the Coliseum seems impassive to the tourist busses that rumble by.

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View of Rome

Rome is extremely walkable, as were all of the cities, if one holds their purse close, closed, and zipped. Gypsies, or Romani, are everywhere, selling cheap crap or trying to scam naïve tourists into taking pictures for 5 euro or taking a rose, after which they get very close to you and say, “Give me money.” If one avoids the heavy tourist areas, or just flat out ignores them, it’s not a problem, just annoying. In the areas by our hotels, we walked around quite comfortably and safely, even at night.

Vatican City was amazing. Although Oldest Child had immediately given me his copy of The DaVinci Code as soon as I decided to go to Italy (as an inspiration to sneak into the private collections), the amount of historical treasures that were actually on display was dumbfounding. Paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and priceless works of art are all on display, no need to go hunting behind the scenes. The Sistine Chapel was overwhelming and brought me to tears with the sheer passion of the work painted not only on the ceiling, but the walls. Silence is enforced there and prayers are said. Michelangelo’s most famous Pieta (he carved several) is on display in St. Peter’s Basillica, more beautiful than I had ever dreamed. I got to be inside of St. Peter’s Square, a place that we watch on Christmas Eve and Easter every year, jammed to the gills with people. It was nowhere near as full as it is for those holidays, but it is an immense area. I’m not Catholic, but I could have spent days in the Vatican.

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St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City

We took a day trip from Rome to Pompeii, the town that was buried by ash when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. The amount of work that has been done and how much of the original town has been uncovered is astounding. Private homes, shops, wells, and, yes, brothels, are all still there, some looking as if their owners could come back at any moment. Our guide, Enrico, took us everywhere that he could, throwing in as much humorous information as possible and making sure our group saw all of the important things. There is actually a lot more of Pompeii that remains buried, but Enrico seemed confident that it would stay covered. The expense would be just too great and the important buildings had already been excavated. Still, walking the same streets that were once a real place, not a tourist attraction, was humbling and eerie. There were three casts of victims on display: a baby, a man and a dog. Even though they were only the molds of those unfortunates, the bodies have long since decayed, it was emotional to see the horrified expressions still evident after all this time. If I had to choose one word to describe Pompeii, it would be “haunting”.

After three days, we bid a fond “arrivederci” to Rome and moved on to Florence for a change of pace, but once we got there, our pathway to the leather factory we were to tour was blocked by a medieval football game. Apparently, it’s a really big deal there and gets quite rough. One of the most famous squares, or piazzi, was completely blocked off and there was a huge police presence, which our tour director sweet-talked us through. To make a long story short, we did get past the (fun) craziness and got to our wine-tasting, pizza dinner and leather tour on time.

We had a lot of free time to explore in Florence but also got to take a day trip to see the towns of San Gimignano and Siena, both nestled high in the beautiful hills of Tuscany. Both have kept most of their medieval buildings and are, rightfully, very proud of them. We quite happily wound our way through the ancient streets, admiring both buildings and landscapes alike. Both of those towns are places where I would gladly go back and spend a lot more time exploring more of what they have to offer.

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City wall of San Gimignano

Venice was next, after a quick stop in Verona to see “Juliet’s balcony”. (FYI, Juliet was a fictional character. The play, by William Shakespeare, was based on warring political families in Verona at the time, but it remains a work of fiction.) Venice was stunning at first glance and remained so throughout the time we spent there. During the daytime hours, there were throngs of tourists to elbow through, and some particularly despicable Gypsies, but there were no scooters threatening to kill us, no busses to dodge, just water taxis and gondolas gliding up and down the narrow canals between homes and churches. In the evening, after the day-trippers leave, Venice is peaceful and breathtaking. Our hotel was across a large canal from Piazza San Marco, so we had to take a water taxi back and forth, an experience in itself. When it came time to go to the airport, we went by water taxi. It was fabulous!.

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Venice

The best part of Venice, however, was that I got to meet my friend, Sabrina, for the first time. We had started communicating almost a year ago online and she was able to meet my mom and me there. We had a wonderful afternoon, just walking around, talking, and getting to know each other. Hopefully, we’ll get to meet up again in a couple of years, perhaps in London. The sooner, the better!

I was given a great gift in this trip, and I have my mother to thank for that. My world was expanded, my appreciation and respect for another culture increased, and I found that while I’m not even close to being fluent in speaking Italian, I am a fairly functional tourist. My next trip isn’t quite in the works yet, we are sending Oldest Child to college next month, after all, but I’m looking forward to what ever adventure comes my way

Ciao!

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A dear friend of mine from my teenage/young adult years shared that he is going to be a grandfather later this year. It’s a wonderful thing, of course, but the thought of grandchildren provokes a sense of disbelief. Eeks! A grandfather??? Already? Then I began to think. Both my grandmother and mother were only two years older than I am now when they became grandmothers. (My mother still hasn’t forgiven me for that.)

I can’t imagine it, though, being a grandparent right now. In my mind, I’m still some awkward youngster who has her whole life ahead of her, but the years say otherwise. Forty is the new thirty, true, but time is gradually slipping away. There is only a matter of time before some cute little thing is calling me Nonna. (Not Grandma, not Granny, Nonna. I’m going all-Italian on this one.)

In the meantime, this passage of time makes me aware of things in my life that I want to accomplish but haven’t yet, otherwise known as a “Bucket List”. I don’t know if the movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman came up with the name or if it had previously existed, but I first became aware of it when the movie came out in 2007. The movie is about two terminally ill men who set out to do everything they want before, well, kicking the bucket. The idea of a bucket list took flight and now it’s a fairly common term. I’ve thought about it a lot, but haven’t really ever sat down to write one out. Part of the hesitation is that I don’t really want to think about dying just yet, but really, we don’t know how much time we have left. I could be lucky enough to live well into my nineties, or God forbid, I could meet with an accident tomorrow. However it turns out, I have been very fortunate to have done many things in my life that were incredible and that I’m so glad I got to experience: marrying the love of my life and becoming a mother tops the list. Traveling to other countries, graduating from college, performing on stage, and being a published author are all on that “Done” list, but there are many more things I want to do before I’m finished here.

1. Live in London at some point before I’m too old to enjoy it. I fell in love with that city even before I actually visited three yeas ago. Ancient Roman ruins, rich history, never having to drive, it lived up to and exceeded my expectations and I want to experience it more and more.

2. Learn to play the violin well. I have a violin, my brother gave it to me and during each summer, I make an effort to learn to play on my own, but life just keeps getting in the way. Baseball, running kids places, not wanting to subject my family to the squawkings of a beginner, these are all stumbling blocks. I adore the violin, though, and someday I’ll actually make it a priority.

3. Become a full-time writer. It’s no secret that writing is my passion and I would love to be able to do it for a living. This is one item that I am actively working on, with a children’s novel written and a historical fiction novel halfway complete. Now, all I need is an agent to take a chance on me. Getting there…

4. Travel to places that I’ve never been. I’ve been very lucky in my life. I’ve been to Australia, Hawaii, Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales, with Italy to be joining the list in couple more months. Canada doesn’t count, since I can be in Windsor in about 15-20 minutes and they don’t stamp my passport. When my children are grown, I hope to be able to travel even more, specifically Europe, to do more family research and to soak in history. Learning the stories and seeing the artifacts and legacies that people in the past have left behind is something that thrills me beyond belief.

5. Learn more languages. I am working very hard on Italian right now, with the help of a dear friend in Italy, and I can decipher some French and Spanish, but I would like to be fluent in some other languages, preferably by immersion, which leads to travel… I’m sensing a theme in my list.

6. Make a good change in the world. I don’t care if my name is remembered for anything in particular or not, but this world is so messed up in a lot of places that if I can just do something to make it better for others, than I will be happy.

This isn’t a complete list, by any means, but these six things remain constants in my mind. Will I complete them all? I don’t know. It would be satisfying, of course, but as those items are checked off, I have the feeling that more would take their place and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Staying active and curious is a great thing in life. I see people who take the attitude that life just sucks and there’s nothing they can do to fix it. They stay in a job that they hate and don’t try for something better. They don’t go anywhere, they don’t have hobbies that challenge them, and seem content to be miserable and let everyone else know that they are miserable. I don’t want to be that person. I think a Bucket List gives me something to strive for, something to challenge me in every way, something that will keep me contributing to society for a long time.

Now, it’s your turn. What’s something on your Bucket List and why is it there? Challenge yourself, set a goal, and try your best to get there. I’ll let you know how mine turns out.

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