Day of Reflection

In Spain, the day before an election is known as “The Day of Reflection.” There are no political ads or campaigning on that day and it was put in place to give voters time to think about their vote.

Time is one thing that Americans voters do not lack, as the election process seems to go on for an eternity. What does seem to be missing is reflection. I wish more people would take the time to reflect on the country that they want to live in and the country that they want for future generations. But the consequences go far beyond America’s borders. I can’t go a day without someone here in Barcelona talking to me about the election. People from around the world are worried about what the outcome will be. They have told me that they consider the President of the United States to be their president too, to be the President of the World. An Australian friend told me how nervous she was and many Spanish friends, when referring to Trump, ask what the heck is going on in the U.S. and how he’s gone so far. A friend from Uzbekistan sent me an optimistic message this morning saying, “Two more days til happiness.” God I hope she’s right.

The messages that Obama lauded of “hope” and possibility, “yes, we can,” seem to have dissipated among all the gridlock up the hill. I have been so disgusted by the hateful messages that Trump has spewed. But less than a week ago I had a burst of optimism at the moment the Cubs won the World Series. It made me hope; it made me think that anything is possible, that good can prevail, that happy endings do exist. I don’t want that feeling to end, but I’m too nervous about the outcome of this election. I just can’t help wondering, if the Cubs could bring more than five million fans together to celebrate, why can’t that brotherly love carry over to the polling places? Why can’t we see what we have in common even when we aren’t all dressed in Cubbie blue?

During this week’s Saturday Night Live intro, Trump (played brilliantly by Alec Baldwin) was surprised to find that his Twitter account was not actually private and that in spite of that he was still somehow in the race. Trump supporters praise him for speaking his mind and telling it like it is but I can’t imagine that if any “regular” person expressed the same views publicly, via Twitter, or to a fellow douchebag on a bus, they wouldn’t be fired from their job and have a hard time getting another.

Time and time again we hear of another group that Trump has called out and offended. His supporters defend him. It breaks my heart and makes me sick to my stomach when I hear his and his supporters’ hateful rhetoric. It feels like no one’s ever heard of “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.” We share each other’s struggles. So many of our families came to America fleeing persecution elsewhere. Everyone is just trying to make it in the world and do the best they can. They want to provide a better life for their kids. Why do we lose sight of that? I just saw someone on a friend’s Facebook page refer to “god damn refugees.”  I don’t even know how to process that.  I’ve heard stories of people who have been rude to and sometimes even violent towards others because they weren’t speaking in English. People seem so far removed from reality – like the fact that their families were almost certainly not originally from America. So what did their relatives speak when they first arrived here? And in a country where people hold “freedom of speech” so dear, does that only mean if the “speech” is in English?

Trump wants to “make America great again.” I honestly can’t figure out when he’s referring to. The slogan was originally Reagan’s and referred specifically to the economy. Trump’s seems use the slogan with quite different implications. While I am well aware of the rights that I am privileged to have as a U.S. citizen, I can’t help but wonder, when exactly was America great? Before you can talk about making America great “again,” you must also acknowledge the skeletons in the closet – the slaughtering of Native Americans, slavery, Japanese internment, and throughout time unequal treatment of and violence towards citizens based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, disability. And not accepting Syrian refugees because of completely unfounded fears that they might be terrorists harks back to when Jewish refugees were turned away for fear that they were Nazi spies. It was anti-Semitism then and it’s Islamophobia now. “If history is forgotten it is doomed to repeat itself.” Was that only a quote that we were taught in school or, by avoiding all the uncomfortable parts of history are we seeing the doom happening again before our eyes right now? “Make America Great” is a worthy slogan, but “Make America Great Again,” – I don’t buy it.

And so tomorrow, finally, is the day we find out what kind of country Americans want to live in – as Kate McKinnon put it so well at the end of this week’s SNL intro. While McKinnon portrayed Hillary Clinton she asked if the whole world had gone crazy. While it’s not the whole world – even though it seems like it with Brexit having passed and a president having been elected in the Philippines who encourages citizens to kill drug dealers – it seems like half of the U.S. has either lost their moral bearings or has decided that they will vote in spite of them. Even the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, was seemingly so disturbed by his own vote that would toe the party line that he couldn’t use Trump’s name when he said he had voted for “our nominee.”

I am not a religious person. But in the slight chance that there is a god out there, I pray that Wednesday morning I wake to a world in which Americans have chosen for love to trump hate.

The New Reality 

img_2482I had never been so happy to have felt as crappy as I did last Thursday. I was dragging my tired body around to my classes. Doing my best to stifle the incessant yawns.  I felt like I had a bowling ball for a head, my eyes were stinging, my throat hurt and I was a little nauseous. But I was walking on air all day, and actually still am, with “Go Cubs Go” playing in my head all day … I’ve got Cubs Fever.

After staying awake and waking in the middle of the night in Barcelona to watch the Chicago Cubs play their hearts out for the past month of the postseason, I couldn’t wait for a good night’s sleep. But even though the games have ended, I still haven’t gotten to bed early; too many awesome stories to read and videos to watch that make me buzz with happiness. 

This buzzing all day is all about baseball and not about baseball at all. It’s the feeling that anything is possible. If the Chicago Cubs can win a World Series then what else is possible?

After being skeptical and cynical and guarded year after year this opens up a whole new world of possibilities. 

I can’t believe my nieces and nephews and children all over Chicago are going to grow up rooting for the World Champion Chicago Cubs, thinking that that’s normal.   Apparently it’s the new-normal.  Our stories of being disappointed and let down year after year will hopefully become folklore like those stories our parents and grandparents told us about walking miles to school through the snow. 

The Dream

cubs-rachel1I have to remember this year, 2016, this ride, this emotion, this excitement, because who knows if and when it will happen again – that’s the fate of a Cubs fan, as my fellow fans know all too well.  I mean the Cubs are known as “The Lovable Losers.” But we’ve never gotten this far before, well in our lifetimes, anyway. My dad was just two years old in 1945 so he doesn’t remember the last time the Cubs were in the World Series.  So here we go, letting our hopes rise . . . cautiously.

We’re just 40 minutes from GAME 7 OF THE WORLD SERIES, 2016, WITH THE CHICAGO CUBS AT CLEVELAND TAKING ON THE INDIANS!!!!

I already have on my blue v-neck Cubs shirt and will don my Cubs hat as well; after all, we’ve won the last two games with me wearing those.

The game has started. Let’s hope Dad and I can make it through the next 6 innings with us trying to watch in-sync as he pauses his TV and gets in-sync with me watching on a webpage and listening to The Score on 670 am radio via my iPhone as I sit and watch the game at 1:38 in the morning in Barcelona. Dad’s iPhone is low on juice as we Facetime, he’s searching for the iPad, oh god let us all get through this game unscathed.

The last time I went to a Cubs game I attempted the impossible – it was just two years ago and I was home from Spain and wanted to capture “The Cubs Experience” to bring back and share with my students.  Every summer at camp I try to do the same, while I wear my Cubs tshirt and hat, I show my students one of the greatest movies ever, 1993’s “Rookie of the Year.”

But the full Cubs experience is made up of intangibles . . . The smells hot dogs, of cotton candy, of spilled beer all over the place and then the feeling of your shoes sticking for the next week. It’s the trudging up the ramps until you finally reach your level. It’s catching your breath as you look out at the streets and taking in the sites of the souvenir vendors, the bars, the rooftops, the fans milling about. I went with Dad and recorded everything I could. Standing at Clark and Addison, taking a picture with the marquee behind us. Going through the turnstiles and handing our tickets to the workers in their pristine and shiny blue and red Cubs jackets. Passing the older guy hawking the programs with those tiny little pencils.

The atmosphere.  That almost impossible to describe feeling – the moment when you walk up the tunnel, passing the old-timey signs that warn you to be aware of foul balls, and then you see it, that perfectly gorgeously groomed green field, the ivy clinging to the brick walls in the outfield and the manually controlled giant green scoreboard.

I remember when Arnie was 11 years old he got to be bat boy for a day. That was 1984! I was eight years old and so jealous. He got to go in the clubhouse and meet Ryno, Rick Sutcliffe, Jody Davis and Ron Cey. Unbelievable! I remember the whole family and extended family sitting together on a sunny, perfect day at Wrigley.

When I was in 8th grade we had to write letters to ourselves that our English teacher, Mrs. Soffer, would mail to us a couple of years later. In that letter I wrote that I wanted to be the first woman to play professional baseball. At some point I realized that dream wasn’t going to happen, but on my 21st birthday I got to pretend for a little while that I was taking the mound for the Chicago Cubs. On August 1, 1997 with my first legal hangover, I walked towards the pitching rubber, looked up and saw my name on the scoreboard and turned to wave to the crowd. I try not to remember the devastating part where the ball bounced in front of home plate (I had neglected in practice to account for the rise of the mound). After the catcher scooped up the ball, I bent down and grabbed some of the dirt from the mound and stuck it in my jeans shorts pocket. I kept that dirt labeled in a ziplock bag for years.

cubs-rachel

When I was around eighteen years old, I remember going to a game with my dad and my two younger cousins, Bradley and Lee when they were about 8 years old.  I wanted them to feel the excitement, to understand how magical the Cubs were. But Lee just sat and played on his calculator (it was around 1994), which apparently was quite telling and paid off as just this month he got his PhD in math.

I remember freezing opening days while I played hookey from school (when I was a teacher).   I had to be a part of the eternal optimism looming in Wrigley every April.

And countless Cubs memories with Dad.

cubs-wrigley-rachel-dad

I remember going to a Cubs game with Dad and sitting a few rows behind home plate to see the rookie Kerry Wood get 20 strikeouts in one game.  I’ve looked it up and see that that was May 6, 1998. Not sure how I could have been home from college to go to that game, so I start to think that some of my memories might be blending from one to another or deceiving me altogether.  What did I experience first hand and what do I wish I had experienced? . . . This happens again as I swear (or maybe not)  that at the game when I threw out the first pitch, August 2, 1997, Ryne Sandberg hit three homeruns – but again, I can’t find that documented anywhere.

I took Dad to watch a game from a rooftop – another experience I had to have at least once. Always one to invest wisely (although maybe not in the conventional sense of the word), in 2000 I used my credit card points to get seats for Dad and me in a suite.  I don’t remember a thing about the game that day but I sure remember the dessert cart they wheeled around. Dad and I also attended a talk at Wrigley and then we got a tour of the field – press box and new clubhouse included.  And I know we’ve benefitted from the Benjamins offering us their seats at least a couple of times.

And 2003.  That magical season.  My friends and I would gather at each other’s houses to watch the games.  They were new teachers to school just the year before and the Cubs helped us quickly bond. A friend and I spent hundreds of dollars to go to one of the games against the Florida Marlins in the National League Championship Series. We sat near home plate, next to the Marlins’ players’ wives. I held up a sign in Spanish that my students had made.  And then, I remember watching the final game of the series from Sports Corner, the bar across the street from Wrigley at Sheffield and Addison.  I was on the phone with my dad just after we saw that year’s hopes go up in smoke.  I saw a grown man fall to his knees on the bar room floor, head in hands, crying. And that’s when Dad explained to me that that’s what it feels like to be a Cubs fan.

What will happen tonight? Please, make this the night that Cubs fans rip off the Lovable Losers tag and become the Eternally Optimistic!

The 1%

I’m in France for the next couple of days and I couldn’t be more excited to get to spend time with Faye, David, Isaac and Sonia who flew into Nice from Chicago. 
I’ve been preparing for the trip with some French classes. Although, truth be told, all that really came of it was a much cleaner apartment. And to be honest, that was the real motive for taking classes from a private teacher who came to my home – I had to clean before she came. 

People say (and I’m not a fan of those people at all) that if you know Catalan then learning French is easy … Pretty sure these are the same people who had said that Spanish was easy. And the same who said that Catalan is so easy if you know Spanish …

I know I haven’t given it long, but it just doesn’t seem like French will be a great success story for me – especially considering that after almost two months of lessons I still couldn’t bring myself to say my teacher’s name, sure that she’d never recognize it as her own. 

In addition to private lessons I also used the language learning app Duolingo. It seemed way too easy and pointless at times as you have to choose the correct translation of vocabulary words and yet a picture accompanies each option. My struggle with Duolingo centered on my pronunciation – a normal sequence went like this:


And so, after Duolingo pronounced me 1% fluent in French, I knew that there was only one thing to do – travel across the border and impress the pantalons off the French.

Lifehacking a Professional Tennis Tournament

  • Buy the cheapest ticket available for the central court.
  • Attend one of the early days when there are still plenty of matches going on on the outer courts.
  • Find a seat at an outside court.
  • During each changeover move your way up until you make it to the front row.
  • Enjoy that close-up of the tennis greats’ bulging muscles and even a few glimpses at how they are also mere mortals, sporting pimples and pockmarks like the riff-raff in the stands.

https://www.facebook.com/barcelonaopenbancsabadell/?fref=ts

Photos taken with my iPhone 5

At 12:00 I started the day at Court 2, where unfortunately my cheering didn’t help Rajeev Ram, the only American in the singles draw, as he lost in straight sets.

Cheering on Evgeny Donskoy (Russia) from the first row at Court 1 - he lost. I should probably stop cheering.

Cheering on Evgeny Donskoy (Russia) from the first row at Court 1 – he lost. I should probably stop cheering.

 

Finally, a win for the team I was cheering for - the Spanish duo of Feliciano López and Marc López (not related)

Finally, a win for the team I was cheering for – the Spanish duo of Feliciano López and Marc López (not related).

Hard Knock Life

“Early” class at 10, now spending the day at the professional tennis tourney here (Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell).  Later on, two classes in the evening . . . tough life, I know.

Hardly a day goes by here that I don’t think about how incredibly privileged I am.

One of Those Days

alba

One of those little girls running towards me gave me this note at our last class. It says, “I like being your student. I’ve learned a lot of things from you!! I like to be with you and I love you a lot. Happy Easter! Happy!!!”

I love days when life feels like a dream you hope never ends.

Biking and walking around Barcelona today, the weather couldn’t be more perfect, letting me sit outside for lunch.  Went to the gym and my workout clothes didn’t feel quite as tight as they have been.

And the best part was later on as I was approaching my student’s building, she was standing outside with her mom and sister chatting with a school friend of hers (who I also teach) along with that girl’s mother and brother. Once they spotted me, my two 8-year old students came running towards me, arms wide open for me to swoop them up in hugs.

What a greeting!

What a day!

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving came and went like any other unremarkable Thursday in Barcelona. But no day is unremarkable; I am reminded regularly how remarkable my fortune is. Four and a half years after moving to Barcelona, I still can’t get over how lucky I am. The thought crosses my mind almost daily. And anytime I slide and take my situation for granted, it doesn’t take long for Life to slap me back to reality.

The last time I flew home from Barcelona was almost a year ago and it was quite the journey. To save a couple hundred euros, I began by flying three hours in the wrong direction to Istanbul, Turkey, only to double back and continue on to Chicago for an 11 hour and 40 minute flight.

I still remember walking all the way to the back of the plane in Turkey and the hissy fit going on inside my head when I reached the last row. I was in the last row where my seat would horrifyingly only recline a millimeter before being met by the back wall. My seat was right next to a bathroom where less than rosy smells would waft my way on and off for 11+ hours only to be quelled by the hordes waiting their turns in the narrow aisle between the door and my arm rest.

When l was already worked up, I saw the woman who dared to sit in my seat – in my aisle seat. I quickly informed her that she was in my seat and the flight attendant let her know that hers was one seat over. As the flight took off, I felt the woman’s elbow creep over the armrest and brush my body. I tried to play it cool, as if I was involuntarily pushing against that elbow – but I was working hard to defend my turf.

And then Life showed up, as it often does, at just the right moment to shove my A-hole behavior right back in my face. This was the woman’s third flight in her entire life – the previous two being earlier in the day. She began her day in Iraq, flew to Jordan and then on to Istanbul to board this plane to Chicago where she would then continue on to Texas. Wendy was headed to the U.S. as an Iraqi refugee.

She was given the nickname Wendy when she worked at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq – fearing that using her real name could put her at risk. She was so proud that she had worked to help the Americans but, at the same time, had lived in constant fear. While she kept her head covered in public, Wendy felt so free within the American Embassy that she could go without her scarf. She said she was so grateful to the Americans for being in her country to help the Iraqi people.

Five years before I met Wendy she had applied for refugee status. Two weeks before our flight she found out that she had been approved. She had no time to sell her house and asked her brother-in-law to help her. She went to the bank and transferred the equivalent of thousands of dollars that she had saved to give to her nephews. She had cared for them for years and they were only 18 and 19 years old when she left. She was hoping they could move to Turkey to be safe and be with some of her brothers who live there. She also has a brother who lives with his family in Australia. She was moving to the U.S. all alone. She is in her late 40s and looked forward to reuniting with friends who had left Iraq so long ago that she was afraid she wouldn’t even recognize them when they met.

I asked Wendy what she was most looking forward to in the U.S. and she said being able to go for a walk. In Iraq, she explained, people were always being watched.

I asked Wendy what food she was looking forward to eating in the U.S. and she reminisced about how she and the other Iraqi workers ate for free while at the U.S. Embassy and could even take leftovers home, which she often did to share with her nephews. She said that she loves fruits and vegetables and asked if they are affordable in the U.S. She asked if you always have to buy what you want by the kilo or if you could buy any amount you want. She was excited to learn that if you only want one single apple, you can buy that one apple and don’t have to buy an entire kilo of apples.

When she asked me if my whole family lives in Chicago, I said yes. I just wanted to keep it simple and not go on to say that my brother and his family live in Florida. We left it at that – there was no way I could possibly go on to say that I would be spending an entire week with my whole family in Puerto Rico.

Early on in the flight, right around the time that elbow brushed against me, I noticed that across the aisle there was a man talking a girl’s ear off. Right then I thought how lucky I was that the person next to me wasn’t engaging me in conversation. In the end I was so grateful that Wendy was seated next to me.

On Thanksgiving I naturally think about what I am thankful for but I become truly overwhelmed thinking of how amazingly remarkable my fortune is and the extremely privileged life I lead.

A Dog Walks into a Bar

When I moved to Barcelona just over four years ago I didn’t speak a word of Catalan. My friend Danielle tried to help me out by giving me a list of handy expressions but Catalan is not like Castellano (Spanish as most people know it) – in that you can’t just look at a word and know how it’s pronounced. And so I left the U.S. without even being able to figure out how to pronounce “adieu” (goodbye – pronounced “ah-DAY-ooh”).
Four years later I am taking Catalan class two mornings a week and gave a short presentation the other day. The presentation was just telling a short story to my class of 17 students. And so I shared the story of my first or second summer at camp and how while it’s outside of Catalunya there is a Catalan employee who is always happy to help me practice speaking Catalan. 

And so during a break one day, I went to the bar to order an orange juice. I didn’t have time to wait for the fresh squeezed kind so I wanted to order a bottle of orange juice, and since I wanted to take it to go, I would add that I didn’t need a glass. And so, I drew in my breath and expelled my much rehearsed question:

Vull una ampolla de suc de taronja i no necessito un gos. 

Well, my Catalan friend Luis, the bartender at the time, gave me a half smile, chuckled for a second and corrected me “un goT”?

Right, GOS vs GOT – I had inadvertently let Luis know that I wouldn’t be needing a DOG with my bottle of oj. Normal. 

And that is my best advice for language learners looking to memorize vocabulary – not that I go out of my way to do so, but an embarrassing experience is one way to ensure you’ll never forget how to say something. 

Beginner’s Luck

2014 9 20 padel tourney torneoTwo years ago I began playing paddle tennis. 17 months later I got up the nerve to enter my first paddle tournament. My partner and I won. Today I played in my first beach paddle tournament. My partner and I won. If I want to end on a high note, I’m thinking it might be time to retire.

2 15 14 torneo padel

 

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