Feb 20, 2014

HOLD ON VENEZUELA!



For the last few days the streets in Venezuela have been taken over by an ever growing group of students. From Caracas to Merida, from Maracaibo to Valencia, all the major and minor cities are involved in a protest against the tyranny of the government.

I am talking about young women and men, some no older than seventeen years old, many even younger than that. Can you remember what you were doing when you were seventeen? How many of us were out in the street fighting against oppression, rampant delinquency, corruption, shortage of basic goods, inflation, fighting for life.

I was growing up in those same streets when I was seventeen. I walked them without fear, I walked them happily; I walked them at any hour of the day without fearing for my safety. It was beautiful time to be a seventeen year old in Caracas.

So far five students have lost their lives fighting because they are tired of the land they live in, they are tired of the fear, they are no longer afraid (The number of victims hasn’t been confirmed since the protest is still going). I see the videos that fill the net (Facebook and Twitter have become the only way for them to spread the news since the government controls all forms of media) I see them there standing defenseless, wearing a flag, singing and facing off against a line of fully decked guards and running away from tear gas (some are saying even nerve gas) and they come back, they don’t give up, they cough, they cry, they convulse and vomit and bleed and fall, and die and come back. They are so brave, I was never that brave. 

I see them singing the national anthem Gloria al Bravo Pueblo (Glory to the brave people), praying Hail Mary’s and Our Fathers, repeating “The people united will never be defeated” or “Viva Venezuela” holdings hands and helping each other and it rips my heart in two.

I saw a video, filmed on someone’s cellphone and uploaded to Youtube and one of those students (Bassil Alejandro Dacosta) is seen falling down after running away from the GNB (Bolivarian National Guard). He was peacefully protesting, he had no weapons on him and as he ran away he was shot, right there on the street in front of everyone. You can see him falling, probably dead before he hits the floor and is such a disturbing thing to see, life snuffed as if it was nothing. He was 24 years old.

The other students turned around, saw him on the floor and without any care for their own safety ran back for him and took his lifeless body with them. I see that video and I cannot wrap my mind around what is happening.

A 22 year old beauty queen got shot in the head and died yesterday. The picture of her being carried away to the hospital on a motorcycle gave me chill and haunted me all day. Her hair flew in the wind; her arms were limp, her head thrown back. The guy carrying her was holding onto her so strong. I wonder who he was, a family member? A friend? Boyfriend? Concerned stranger?

I am in bed with Zoey and Max next to me, my husband watching TV downstairs, all safely home and I feel this raging impotence, kind of like when I saw Blackfish, angry tears made my chest hurt, I feel so frustrated and angry and sad.

I wonder what I would be doing if I were there. Would I be outside fighting alongside them? Or would I hide in my house, away from the dangers. DH said to me that if he had to go through what Venezuelans are going through today he would be outside, marching, fighting. It makes sense why they risk their lives, their safety.

“All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come”. Victor Hugo knew what he was speaking of. The time has come for Venezuelans and I hope nothing will stop them.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/20/world/americas/venezuela-qa/index.html?iref=allsearch 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-26263274 

http://www.lapatilla.com/site/2014/02/20/seis-muertos-en-venezuela-tras-una-semana-de-protestas/


 



 


Jan 3, 2014

PRAGUE



There is only one word that will do Prague justice; Prague is magical. With its cobblestoned streets, medieval castles, astronomical clock towers and old as dirt bridges, Prague looks like a fairy tale town trapped in time.

We made it to town after Paris and it was a balm to our stressed out souls. You can still see signs of the Czech Republic’s not so distant Communist past when we were on our way from the airport to the old town. The buildings all look like each other, square and plain, sans adornments, zero frills. The bus (ridiculously cheap at $1.58 per ticket) took us from the airport to the underground and we made it to Stare Mesto (old town) without any problems. Our underground exit was literally a stone’s throw from the apartment we were staying in. Our host couldn’t receive us since our flight was delayed so many hours, but his girlfriend was a dear, super friendly and informative she gave us tips galore to take advantage of the little time we had in town. We took her at her word and went to a restaurant she recommended that had authentic Czech food and beer.

DH and I walked first to the Astronomical Tower in the Old Town Square and waited for the hour to chime, the clock has been there since its construction in 1410 and off it went telling us the time, the standing of the earth and the other planets…so flipping cool I couldn’t stand it.

From there we rushed, starved and thirsty to dinner to Lokal, the restaurant we were told to go to. We waited by a table for some space to clear and drank pretty damn good beer in the meantime. Prague has this weird sense of unpretentiousness and calm, there were a lot of people waiting for tables to clear and I am sure they were all hungry as we were, but the waiter kept on walking around with a seemingly never ending supply of beer, replacing empty jugs for full ones while we all merrily drank beer that was cheaper than water and patiently waited without complaint.

We had an interesting dinner of goulash (DH) and fish (me) with dumplings (a sort of steamed bread that tasted lot better than it sounds) and fried cheese (why doesn’t EVERYONE fry their cheese is a mystery to me) From there we went to the iconic Charles Bridge and walked around in the dark, surrounded by equally awed strangers, stepping on stone that had been laid since the late 1300s. The bridge seems like is guarded by 30 statues one creepier than the next, all looked to me in the dark like the Witch-King of Angmar and I couldn’t walk by them without getting a serious case of the hibbie jibbies.

The next day we woke up bright and early and the day couldn’t have been more gorgeous, crisp cold air, shinny sun and blue skies. God, Prague looks so gorgeous in autumn, the light just makes everything glitter and the ridiculously pretty architecture looks even more so under the sun.

Since we hadn’t climbed enough ancient stairs in London and Paris we climbed the clock tower and enjoyed the views of the Old Town and the Prague Castle with its St. Vitus Cathedral in the back.

St. Vitus Cathedral has been there if I remember correctly since 1060 but a church to the same saint has been in that place since 930. The building itself it’s enormous and I had to practically sit on the floor to be able to lean back and appreciate it all. It’s so gothic too, with the intricate details and the scary gargoyles, so incredibly romantic and with such a rich history.
We walked and walked around, taking it all in and imagining ourselves in that time and how different life was, how short and dangerous, how betrayal ran rampant, how power and a kingdom meant more than love or family to some. Life was so frail, yet people were powerful and willful enough to built palaces and churches and towns that still stand and remain breathtakingly beautiful.

The Czech Republic opened borders only 25 years ago. Before that it was part of Czechoslovakia and thanks to a “Velvet Revolution” it peacefully transitioned to what it is today.

I can’t think of that city without sighing and I am so glad we decided to include it in the trip, even if we did have to sacrifice Venice. I still remember how to say ‘thank you’, ‘beer’ and ‘castle’ in Czech, a very sonorous yet pleasing language.

We left Prague with a suitcase full of marionettes, soaps, chocolate, fridge magnets, books, notebooks and pretty Koruna coins. We were on our way to Rome and I did nothing but dream of Prague’s red rooftops all the way there.














Dec 11, 2013

PARIS




I was glad to the take the Chunnel train from London to Paris, even though I wasn’t too keen on the idea of a train traveling for several miles underwater (I really don’t know when I became such a pussy).

I was NOT glad to confirm what I read in some historical romance novels is true and when you are in the seat facing away from the movement instead of facing forward you get a little sick. We arrived in rainy and gloomy Paris and my stomach was not my friend. The smell of the Gare Du Nord station is THE worst smell of any train/subway I have ever smelled and I’ve been to New York in the summer. It was an odd combination of cat piss, food and sweat...Christ, just remembering makes me break out in cold sweats.

Luckily DH lived in Belgium eons ago and remembers some French and he figured out how to get to our AirBnB rented room (more on that later).

We went in and out of our room and ventured back out in the cold and rain to see Paris. My entire body was aching after 5 days of nonstop London, but off we went without complaint.  The subway in Paris made me sorely miss the underground in London; it was just so damned old! It was odd that you had to push a button or lift a lever to be able to open the doors because they didn’t open by themselves at each stop. I placed the blame on the language barrier, but that map was impossible to decipher and the difference between the metro and the RER line is still lost to me to this day. 

No matter what it was public transport and I love, love, love, being able to get around a city without a car and just going back to my days of using the metro makes me happy.  The Eiffel Tower looked stunning and iconic but I felt a weird disconnection from it. I don’t know what it is, I guess because the historic significance of it it’s quite minimal but I was not in awe as I was pretty much everywhere in London. It was too late to go up so we settled with walking around and taking pictures and ignoring the seemed like hundreds of (I assume illegal immigrants) trying to sell us something, anything. I felt a little for them, I know how it feels to live in the fringes…I was also a little bit afraid of them because it was really dark and they approached people without any thought of their personal space, unaware of their of how threatening they appeared…it doesn’t help that I am paranoid than a first time weed smoker.

We finally sat down to eat, at this point we couldn’t have cared less where we ate as long as we something, so we ended seating in some tourist trap with Italian food and had the best pasta I had so far (until Italy at least) and got sat next to a family of four from Minnesota...Go figure.

The next day it was off to the Louvre where DH and I took the required picture next to the Mona Lisa and walked around until I was ready to barf art. I couldn’t check (because the lines were impossible) but I can bet there must be priceless art hanging in the toilet stalls at the Louvre. There were paintings upon paintings, almost looked like wallpaper, not one inch of wall space was wasted and the result was overwhelming. DH and I enjoyed much more the sculpture section (especially me since I had to giggle when he was ogling the Sleeping Hermaphroditus’ ass until the walked around to the front and saw its penis)

If I had to choose my favorite Paris monuments I would have to say it was the Notre Dame Cathedral (can’t escape that Catholic upbringing) and the Arc de Triomphe…you gotta give that Napoleon some credit for sheer pizzazz.  I wanted to enjoy the Eiffel Tower but we stood in line for at least 2 hours in the freezing cold while all of us strangers huddled together to conserve heat. Then made more lines to take the elevators up (where there was always some bitch who wanted to cut in) and then we made it to the top, where I was shivering uncontrollably, the wind was pushing me and the razor sharp rain that was pelting us came horizontally. Fun! I had to laugh at the people that at the top shelled some good money for cold champagne and they banged their plastic glass against their teeth with their shaking.

The next day DH was sick as a dog because of the Eiffel Tower’s visit but we ventured out anyway, to Montmartre where he proceeded to get attacked by a pack of feral foreigners that were duping the tourist playing three-card Monte. Since DH had his handy GoPro out recording our climb up to Sacre Coeur, they assumed that he was recording them, playing that game with the tourist is illegal and the main Mafioso surrounded him with his posse and roughened him up and asked him to delete it. I turned around when I heard raised voices and for a moment felt like they had dropped me in a version of Taken and I screamed something at them and rushed to him and I guess they weren’t willing to shove this little lady around so I grabbed his hand and we walked away from there. The rest of the day I was anxious and feeling sick and was unable to eat anything at all.

Fucking A. Just remembering makes my blood boil. Moments like these are the reason why I vehemently believe in gun control, because if I had been armed I would’ve shot that motherfucker’s kneecap off right there in the middle of the street, in front of tons of horrified tourist, a few steps away from Sacre Coeur Basilica. The part that pissed me off the most (aside from the danger and the hit my poor DH took to the ribs) is the fact that people like them give all immigrants a bad rep. Which country, which people will be happy to have a flexible immigration policy when the people that arrive to their country behave like criminals, mobster and hoodlums?
DH was pissed for a while and then he was pretty cool and relaxed and I was like a startled cat for the rest of the day, hair standing on end and ready to hiss and scratch and maul whoever gave me the slightest provocation. I mean what the fuck? One isn’t even safe in Paris? It’s not like we are in some far off country where they target tourist for their kidneys or fulfill perverse fantasies like in The Hostel.  

It hadn’t helped that pretty much every stereotype of the French service to the tourist was confirmed in pretty much every restaurant we went. At one point some dude gave me attitude because he brought a bottle of water when I have specifically asked for tap (like I am going to spend 5 fucking Euros on bottled water) and he scoffed at me…I slapped that napkin on that table and got up so fast the chair almost fell back. I was fucking paying customer, they aren’t doing me a favor here by feeding me, so I took my money and my ass out of there told them to do something anatomically impossible and went to another restaurant where our waiter was pleasant and about 80 years old.

I mean the nerve! It’s not like I expect to be catered to like I am royalty, good manners are all I require really.  I can out-bitch any French at any time…I just choose not to, because I have manners. I don’t think anyone EVER in a South American country complained to a tourist that they needed to learn Spanish, or Portuguese...They are visiting your country asshole, be gracious!

Needless to say the visit left a bad taste in my mouth which is truly sad because the city was gorgeous, the history is so rich and interesting, the architecture is breathtaking and all the pastries are filled with Nutella, which alone would get my vote. But even though I was warned by everyone I know that had gone to Paris, I didn’t believe it could be like they described. I had thought they had been mistaken, I had thought the articles and forums I had read were just filled with the typical American who dislikes the French. I had thought when I read an article where the French Department of Tourism was offering classes and sending out brochures to restaurants, taxi drivers and hotels to have them polish their tourist etiquette that it was a gross exaggeration. It wasn’t…they truly need some polishing.

The other bright lights in our Paris trip were our wonderful host, who contradicted all French stereotypes. They went above and beyond the call of duty with Curt’s sickness and they had the most wonderful array of rescue pets (including a pet rat named DeeDee that was surprisingly soft to the touch).

A little weary we left the city of lights and were off on our way to Prague.



PS:  Ok. Who am I kidding? Was the service in Paris rude? Hell yes. Was the weather craptastic? My frozen ass agrees. Was the “Taken” experience a bit traumatic for my person who is used to the safe Florida suburbs? No doubt.

But Paris is undeniably like an elegant old lady, who is secure in her attractions, confident in the knowledge that she is magnificent. She is a little rough with us, she isn’t coy, and she doesn’t play around. We may complain but we will be back.