Tuesday, February 9, 2010

February 9, 2010

My language development is coming along, if only slowly. I am more readily able to communicate in real world situations outside restaurants and banks now. And strangely enough, a lot of these situations have to do with keys, for some reason. Last week I was able to communicate to our housekeeper Jacín that our front door key was no longer working but our housemate Guido’s was. (Sarah’s key has never worked, by the way.) After some physical/mechanical help from a third party (never got his name) and some rough conversation about the door jamb and knob, we all seemed to have resolved this issue for the time being. Then just last Friday, at La Inmaculada where we teach English, I was able to track down the key to a locked cabinet that contained the computer, remote controls and the CD/DVD player. Of course, I cannot take all the credit for these small victories. There were some very nice people who were willing to make an effort to help me.

With these efforts fresh in my mind, I’ve been reflecting on El Día de la Paz – the Day of Peace – recently held at La Inmaculada. This day is observed all over the world, from what I understand. All the students at the school, ages 2 through 18 gathered on the playground. When we were all settled, Principal Sister Asún read a poem and Father Javier read a short homily. Then we all, more or less, sang John Lennon’s “Imagine.” (The language level of the school as a whole is still not quite where it needs to be to understand the whole song. And Father Javier had a great sense of humor about this. They got the gist though.) Then about 100 white balloons were let go into the beautiful Spanish blue sky… half of which were quickly caught in three young and leafless trees just on the other side of the wall of the playground. We all just had to laugh. Shortly afterward, my fifth-graders asked me to read and explain the song’s lyrics, which I of course did.

Afterwards, I thought: what a great metaphor for peace efforts today.

Start with good-hearted and peace-based reflections that at least one person cannot fully understand on a basic language level (me) and still many more do not have a full understanding and appreciation of. Then move on to a song that even fewer people understand. (I know of people in the U.S. who scoff at this song and misunderstand it’s true meaning – that is, just for a minute stop thinking that you are absolutely right and have all the answers – and also have a problem with the man who wrote and sang it. Though I’m sure these same people would not have the same problems with a piece of music by Beethoven or a poem by Frost.) This is then followed by a symbol of peaceful intention that is then quickly snatched by prickly dormant things just on the other side of a wall.

Now I’ve had some people throw a reference from the Gospel in my face. Something like, “Do not supposed I came to bring peace but a sword.” And this is supposed to somehow justify their positions on violence and war. I find this both disturbing and poorly conceived. On the first Christmas the angels proclaimed “peace on Earth, good will to men,” not war and oh-well-they-had-it-coming-to-them. Pretty sure Jesus constantly spoke of turning the other cheek, blessed are the meek and the peace-makers, love your neighbor, bless your enemies… Should I keep going? All of these “crazy” attitudes, if practiced, were going to turn society on its head. People resisted these ideals and they infuriated others. They caused real social turmoil – I think that’s plain to see. So the guy who said this is advocating threats, invasion and occupation as retribution for Sept. 11th and trade deficits? It simply does not make sense. So my response to them (if they’d ever listen to my response) would be something like, “Do not suppose I brought an actual weapon that would cause death and displacement of families, but a metaphor for deep and uncomfortable personal and social change. There is no reference to Jesus performing any act of war.”

I was very disappointed when the Obama administration decided to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. It seemed out of character. And with all the talk of the deficit, why is there no talk of scaling back the tens of billions of dollars we’ve spent over there each month? For years? Maybe we could all try a little harder.

Some say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…

Sunday, January 10, 2010

January 10, 2010

We haven’t seen as many women crying in public in all our lives as we did in Italy. At the airport, at the Metro station, on the Metro, in restrooms, walking down the street with mascara streaming, sobbing in elevators and at historic sites. A woman who didn’t cry in public almost stood out more than one who didn’t carry a designer handbag in Rome. OK. That might be a stretch. But really, I don’t know what there is to cry about. Italy has an almost magical spell over it that takes you outside of yourself, and Sarah and I experienced more of it than we’d ever hoped.

Italy has a more refined way about it, on the whole, than Spain. The history there is a bit richer and has left a little deeper mark on our present day Western culture, what with the likes of Davinci, Dante, Michelangelo and the Roman Empire effecting nearly every corner of our lives. That’s a tall order to beat. And even more recently their filmmakers and designers hold sway over much of the world. Though Cervantes, El Greco and Almodavar have done well in Spain. For the most part, Spain is more enticing for the long-term. The Spanish are not quite as impressed with themselves as the Italians. The Spanish culture has a little more grit to it. The people are more helpful, they form lines in a more orderly fashion, and the public information is much easier to follow back in Madrid. Rome’s public transportation is rather mysterious and a lot dirtier.

In addition – and this is for all you single folks out there – Spaniards are overall a more attractive people than the Italians. (Compare Penelope Cruz with Al Pacino… Wait. Is that fair?) The Spanish are more daring in their fashion sense too. Though they sometimes fail, at least they fail grandly. (Right now I’m thinking of that lady dressed head-to-toe in purple.) I also find the Spanish language more appealing to listen to.

We believe, perhaps out of necessity, that we are happier living in Spain than we would be in Italy.

With all that said, Italy should definitely be on your list of things to see before you die. Some highlights:

The Coliseum: a monument to what humans are capable of – both the magnificent and the brutal

Leaning Tower of Pisa: truly surreal to look at a leaning, 900-year-old tower

Florence: all of it… everywhere you look is something worth stopping and staring at, but there’s especially something about the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and all is iconography and seeing Michelangelo’s David

Pompei: an ancient city frozen in time

Wandering through Naples: lines to get in to see old, old palaces and seaside fortresses – lines to get in to Gucci and Prada

The Sistine Chapel: you’ve seen it all before, but you still can’t believe what you’re looking at

Dante’s House: OK, this should have been covered in the “Florence – all of it” thing, but what a feeling to stand where the great poet actually spent his daily life

The Wine: so cheap, so good

The Food: "angry" spicy tomato penne pasta in Naples, the perfect pizza crust in Rome, quattro formaggi gnocchi in Florence, peanutbutter sandwiches on Christmas night

Pics are online at our Flickr site (www.flickr.com/photos/rothtravels). We hope you enjoy them.

Happy New Year everyone! Best wishes to all of you for a great 2010.