The Group of Four and The Phenomenon They Set in Motion Around the World

f-wannacrime-a-20170515-870x580What is that phenomenon called when you talk about something that you’ve never heard of or seen before or at least haven’t heard or seen in a long time and then within 24-hours, boom, it’s there, it’s everywhere? Apparently, it’s the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.

Well, just 2 weeks ago a new student joined the English class I have at a company.  She works in the IT security department.  Talking to her reminded me of one of my all-time favorite podcasts that I had already listened to twice.  The second time I remember stifling laughs with my mom on a tour bus as we shared my earphones; I had the left one and my mom had the right one, while on a day trip from Málaga back in January of last year.  The podcast is from PRI’s Radiolab and the episode is “Darkcode.”  It’s 40 minutes of some of the most entertaining storytelling I’ve ever heard.  The way the Russian American mother sing songs the account of her travails while her American born daughter interjects is a beautiful symphony of a horribly frustrating story.

And so I decided to use the podcast last Monday for a lesson on internet security and for the students to practice their listening skills.  Also, the IT student could comment on the story and give us her take on it.  We listened to what happens when ordinary people have their computers hacked and how the Russian American woman’s husband’s computer screen was frozen when a cross bones and skull appeared with a message demanding a ransom be paid in Bitcoins.

And what happened since last Monday’s class . . . around the world, computer systems came to a halt.  Germany’s national railway, like hundreds of thousands of companies like FedEx were held hostage by the ransomware Wannacry, and even the National Health System of Britain was affected.

So this week my students and I glanced around the room, noticing the camera at the front of the room and thinking that if there were other hidden cameras or microphones, maybe we should think carefully about what to talk about, just in case we had the power to set off another crazy phenomenon . . . again.  

The Master Plan

On Thursday, with my 14-year-old student, we spent her 45-minute class plotting how she would prank her mom and sister relentlessly on Saturday, April 1, April Fool’s Day.  As a side note April 1 is just a normal day here – the closes there is to April Fool’s Day is actually on December 28, El Día de los Inocentes (The Day of the Inocentes – or Santos Inocentes.  On that day the traditions vary but in the city of Barcelona most people I’ve asked haven’t even been certain of the date, wavering somewhere around the 28th, so it doesn’t seem to be too celebrated here.)

I wasn’t sure how she would go for this lesson; being a teenager you never know how she’s going to react. While making a face like she just sucked on a lemon, she often says, “I don’t like, I don’t like.”  If just once she remembered to include “it” I don’t think I’d be as bothered by those negative reactions.

Meanwhile her 12-year-old sister is a complete contrast, bubbling with excitement over any activity that I suggest. A couple of weeks ago we watched some videos of my nieces and nephews talking about their daily routines. In Isaac’s video he mentioned that his favorite dinners are pizza and mac & cheese.

Mac & cheese isn’t something that people eat in Spain but they do sell the Kraft delight at the small American specialty grocery store. So I picked up a box of it and last week the 12-year-old and I prepared it (she has her lesson first since she gets home a half hour earlier from school at 5:30 PM and her sister gets home at 6:00).

We started by making a list of the materials and the ingredients she would need and she drew pictures too, like a saucepan and a spoon. Once that neon yellow powdered goodness had smothered those elbow noodles just right, it was time to dig in. I tried to keep my expectations low since this is not something eat here, but the 12-year-old ecstatically gobbled it up as if she hadn’t eaten in days. We brought a small sample of it to her sister’s room. And I’m pretty sure before the first noodle touched her lips, she had already uttered “I don’t like, I don’t like.”

But back to yesterday and my overwhelming surprise and delight to not immediately hear those dreaded words from the teenager… but instead we shared devious smiles as we leaned in, lowered our voices and got to work on “The Master Plan” for April Fool’s Day.  I had pulled together a ton of ideas from multiple websites and I wrote down the ones she was most interested in doing to her mom and sister.

She learned new words and expressions like:

  • 2017 apr 1 IMG_0221“freeze” – Freeze the cup with the toothbrush in it with a little water at the bottom of the cup.  In the morning take it out of the freezer and put it back just before your sister tries to brush her teeth.
  • “switch” – Switch the bags of cereal to different cereal boxes and see how long it takes them to notice.
  • “frying pans” – Move things around in the kitchen.  Put the frying pans in the fridge and cups where the bowls normally go, etc.
  • “upside down” – Tu
    rn picture frames, figures, calendars, etc. in living room upside down.
  • “backwards” – Put your clothes on backwards and act completely normal.

And there was one that she just couldn’t wait to do – so she distracted her mom, got a hold of her iPhone, brought it back to the table and we switched the language to English.  Her mom speaks English pretty well so it wouldn’t be too big of a deal but I’m pretty sure my student was planning on trying to play it cool, and act as if she had no idea how it was changed from Spanish.

At the end of class we folded up the paper and she snuck it back to her room.  I told her to take pictures and videos of her mom and sister’s reactions.

I can’t wait for our next class. And I still can’t believe I get paid for this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sweetest

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In January, I started teaching the 5 year old younger sister of a current student.  Last week we were practicing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and playing memory with body parts when all of a sudden she slithered from her chair to mine, sat on my lap, kissed my forehead and crept back on over to her chair and continued to search for a match.

The excitement she exudes when she finds a match is only comparable to how I felt when the Cubs won the World Series.  She claps her hands together and pumps her arm as she says, in English, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!”  

Come Together, Right Now

#WomensMarchBCN #WomensMarch

Women’s March Barcelona – Saturday, January 21, 2017

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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