… and more (My Posts)

What am I? A traveler or a tourist?

We have all heard that there is a difference between a traveler and a tourist. And most of us would be preferred called the first, than the second. We think that a tourist is someone that sojourns to a destination just for a vacation. Tourists will visit places where they can see the sites that are “the main attractions”, take pictures, play sports, (golfing, swimming, and snorkeling come to mind), do shopping, eat food that is similar to the one they are use to eat and rush back home to tell their friends, coworkers or fellow students, all what they did.

On the other hand a traveler is so much superior, right? As Matt Gross (no relation), a former “Frugal Traveler” columnist for the New York Times says, “A traveler (is) smarter and sharper, more flexible and less tied to itineraries, more willing to go off the beaten path, less concerned with having the right experience and seeing the important sights, more excited about connections with locals that about acquiring souvenirs. For travelers, life (is) about travel. For tourists, travel (is) what you did on vacation.” [1]

Matt Gross, also mentions another category of voyager, the backpacker. Writing about them, while in Vietnam, he says: “They were… bearded guys in tank tops and tie-dyed pants, willowy girls in long skirts, all tanned, all musty, all with enormous high-tech, high capacity backpacks, towering over their skinny bodies. They drank the cheapest beers, slept in un-air-conditioned misery, and subsisted not on street food but on banana pancakes and French fries in the restaurants that catered to them. They would hang around seemingly forever, then vanish to the next low-budget destination, or maybe back to finance jobs in London or New York, leaving behind thumb-smudged bootleg copies of last year’s Lonely Planet.” [2]

There is another category of traveler, the visitor. A dry definition of the term that can be found in several sites online is: “A visitor is a traveler taking a trip to a main destination outside his/her usual environment, for less than a year, for any main purpose (business, leisure or other personal purpose) other than to be employed by a resident entity in the country or place visited.” For me the term also applies to somebody to goes to a place to “visit” his family and/or friends. For example when I go back to Argentina I go to visit my family and friends, who live there. I may do some tourism, while I’m there, but that is not the main purpose of my trip.

Maybe we could add another category: the excursionist. That is a person that takes a short journey (less than 24 hours) outside of his/her area of residence. If I go to the beach in Wrightsville, NC for the day and don’t stay over, I’m in an outing, an excursion.

So, going back to the question in the title of this essay, what am I, a traveler or a tourist? John Flinn on an article titled “Are you a Traveller or a Tourist” on The Travel Club.org site says: “…we’re all tourists (in the “unsophisticated traveler” sense of the world). We all spend a brief time in a foreign place and then leave. Some might work harder than others to get off the main tourism grid, and some put more effort into chatting up the locals. Riding on the chicken bus or sleeping with the pigs on the floor of a village headman’s house are memorable things to do, but if you think this gives you any significant insight into another culture you’re kidding yourself.”

And then he continues saying: “Sometimes when I travel abroad I do feel at home, and sometimes I feel (as “tourists” are accused of feeling) like a stranger in an extraordinarily strange land. I like that feeling much better. Sometimes I make my own way, and sometimes I’m happy to have my way made for me. Sometimes I’m transformed by my journeys, and sometimes, to be honest, I’m not.” I definitely share Mr. Flinn’s feelings.

I believe that I’m a tourist more than a real traveler. Although I don’t always act as a tourist (I like to immerse myself as much I can in the culture of the place I’m visiting), I know that in the short time I’ll be in that foreign place, I won’t be able to assimilate more than a small slice of the large pie that culture represents in this big world. But, I know that traveling to that foreign place, no matter as a traveler or as a tourist will enrich my life, as it has done for many years while following my wanderlust.

[1] Matt Gross, The Turk who Loved Apples, Da Capo Press, 2013, pg. 227

[2] Idem, pgs. 102-03

Herbert’s Rules for Travel

I recently read a book titled “Rudy’s Rules for Travel” by Mary K. Jensen, a memoir of Mrs. Jensen of her travels with her husband, Rudy (as far as I remember she doesn’t mention his last name), back in the late 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s. Can you imagine traveling without cell phones, Google Maps, GPS’s, on-line reservations, Uber, etc.? Some of us remember our travel experiences during those years and may be missing them. I have mixed feelings about them.

I really enjoyed the book and highly recommend it. However, this is not a review of it, but it’s about sharing the rules for traveling, laid out by this particular individual that took his wife around the globe, always with an open mind and  a sense of wonder. And perhaps, adding some rules of my own…

Here are Rudy’s rules:

  1. ADAPT
  2. RUN CROSS CURRENT.

Avoid groups. Schedule your own tour. Shower at night, keep drapes open, rise with first light. Be first at breakfast. At museums, start at the last exhibit and move forward.

  1. GO IN DISGUISE OR, MINIMALLY, KEEP A LOW PROFILE.

Accept that Americans are not always popular. Study natives’ clothing, haircuts, shoes; outfit yourself at a second-hand store. Speak any language but English, if you can; at least lower voices when dining and on public transit.

  1. NEVER LET LUGGAGE HOLD YOU BACK..

Use one small, child-sized case or backpack. Prepare to run unimpeded through airports and stations, up stairs, over cobblestones.

Which is closely related to this rule:

  1. NEVER SHOWER ALONE

Position the day’s dirty clothes under your feet, add soap, stomp, as in crushing grapes.

  1. RIDE WITH LOCALS, NOT TOURISTS.

A low-cost way to meet the people and their livestock: ride their buses, vans, ferries, colectivos, tuk-tucks.

  1. SAVE FOR THE NEXT TRIP

You don’t get what you pay for if you miss bargains. Exception: elephant rides.

  1. AVOID RECOMMENDED RESTAURANTS

They will be crowded, pricey, and the food likely mediocre. Choose cafés of the main square, with no tour bus or English menus in sight. Better yet, bring deli food to you room.

  1. YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN.

Never visit the same place twice: there are too many places. Returning risks spoiling first memories

  1. SELECT SOUVENIRS BY WEIGHT AND VOLUME

Recommended: earrings, miniature Christmas ornaments.

  1. RELAX. SOME KIND STRANGER WILL APPEAR.
  1. PUT THE BUCKET LIST IN ORDER.

Don’t count on tomorrow. You will likely never be healthier than you are today. You certainly will never be younger. Move physically challenging destinations to the top of your bucket list. (Think: climbing pyramids, squatting over toilets, mounting steep stairs without handrails.) Consider moving politically tenuous places higher there may be no better days ahead. Cruises can wait.

  1. NEVER COME HOME WITHOUT HAVING PLANNED THE NEXT TRIP.

That is what all those hours on the return plane are for.

 

Rudy’s Rules Modified by Herbert:

Things have changed over the last 30 years or so. We have more tools for traveling, so why not use them? We also have aged (at least I have) and I have also traveled extensively during my life, so the modified rules take in consideration those factors.

El Capitan
El Capitan, the little Capitan and the Capitana.

My rules would follow Rudy’s pretty close, but I would update some of them. Here my modifications:

  1. Agree
  2. Sometimes it’s not bad to schedule a tour with a group. You may learn more than just being on your own and you may run into nice people, with whom you can keep in touch when you get back home.
  3. Well, I don’t believe than nowadays, Americans are disliked abroad as they used to be. (Unless they are supporters of Donald Trump.) Then, in most countries in the World, people dress like Americans and are eager to practice their English, learned in High School. So, I think you can forget about this rule. Although, keeping your voices lower in public places is a good advice (aboard or at home.)
  4. Although, now days, I can’t picture anyone able to run unimpeded through airports, I believe a carry-on or a large backpack should be sufficient for a ten day, or so, long trip. You see, I don’t like to take long trips any more.
  5. If you have a companion of the opposite sex to shower this is a great rule. If you don’t, and want to stomp on your dirty laundry that’s OK too.
  6. Definitely, agree.
  7. This rule seems a sensible one too; unless you are buying souvenirs in China (whatever you get will be broken before you get home.)
  8. I mostly disagree with Rudy in this one. Trip Advisor is a great place to get recommendations. Of course, you have to balance the good reviews with the bad ones. However, if 80% of the reviewers agree that a place is a good one, I would check it out. As anything else in life, you may get to be disappointed, but Rudy’s places may also disappoint you. So here, I would say: follow your instincts.
  9. I mostly agree. However, there are some places that merit more than one visit.
  10. Agree. Although I’m not a fan of Christmas ornaments and I wouldn’t buy earrings for myself. I would look ridiculous with them…
  11. Agree, absolutely.
  12. I also agree with this rule. I should have followed it when I was younger and could have visited places like Machu Pichu, the Mayan pyramids or some beautiful hilly towns with wonderful vistas, which I can’t do any longer. Now, my days for cruises are closing in.
  13. Again, agree.

I have to mention that Mary, (Rudy’s wife and author of the referred book) had a different travel attitude than Rudy (If you read the book and what follows here you will notice that) and she has also some rules for travel. And here they are:

  1. REMAIN ALERT. ALWAYS.
  1. EXPECT THE WORST.

Pack door locks, emergency chargers, antibiotic wipes, insect repellent, large flashlights, mosquito netting, emergency phone numbers for doctors, bankers, the U.S. Embassy.

  1. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH, (AND) YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.

There is a reason that hotel has the best price and that café a seafood special.

  1. IN PARTICULAR, DO NOT SKIMP ON TRANSPORTATION.

There is no National Transportation Safety Board where you are going. Unobtrusively, inspect tires on buses, vans and rickshaws. If you find a casual way to bring this up, ask how the brakes are doing.

  1. PREPARE FOR MEDICAL EMERGENCIES.

Pack a case of prescriptions and over-the-counter remedies for any ailment you had in the last five years, as well as for any disease you know to be hereditary. Add megadose vitamins, antibiotics, rescue inhaler, GI-tract remedies for either extreme, bandages, knee and ankle braces. Purchase evacuation insurance.

  1. PREPARE FOR THEFT.

Carry a list of credit card numbers, leaving out segments of the numbers in case that list is stolen. Leave another copy with a family member at home, unless that member causes concern.

  1. KIND STRANGERS WILL APPEAR.

So, on your next trip take your pick of the rules to follow: Rudy’s, Herbert’s, Mary’s, or make your own. Also, you can always mix and match. But, overall enjoy your travels. Have fun!

An Amazing Generation

Yesterday I posted a letter in Facebook that my mother wrote to me a few years before she passed. There she shared (at my request) some memories about her childhood and youth. Surprisingly to me, many of the comments that some of my friends wrote, about that post, described my mother as “amazing”. I assume that the reason, which prompted the use of this adjective in describing my mother, were the hardships that she had to go through her younger years in Europe, during the First World War, in the farm where she was raised and during her first years as an immigrant in Argentina.

But, was my mother really amazing? Although I remember her as a kind, loving, honest, wise and hard working woman, among other positive attributes she possessed, I can’t think of her as amazing. She was part of a generation that, depending of where born, suffered the consequences of war, revolutions, famines, epidemics, economic depressions and, in its majority, had to make do with few resources and comforts. Think of it: in the first quarter of the 20th century, most people working the land had no tractors or other agricultural machinery, no fertilizers or powerful insecticides. In many places, if you had a cow or a horse and a cart you were considered wealthy. They lived without electricity or running water, and had to use an outhouse to relieve themselves.

If you had a job in a factory, you were expected to work 12 hours a day and at least 6 days a week. Nobody then dreamed about a vacation or sick leave.  You probably lived in a tenement house (or similar accommodations), which was all too often cramped, poorly lit, freezing cold in winter and steaming hot in summer, and lacked indoor plumbing and proper ventilation.

Life expectancy in the United States in 1900 was 47 years (and in many other countries it was much lower). The mortality rate of children then was about 1 in 5. Again, in many other countries that rate was even greater. As an example, my grandmother, in Poland, had 11 children and 3 died before they reached the age of 5.

Those in Europe that were able to survive war, famines, pogroms and poverty, and were lucky enough to emigrate to the Americas (North and South), faced in many occasions discrimination and prejudices, as well as new hardships. But, they toiled the land, worked in factories, learned new languages, send their kids to school and made a better lives for themselves. And those, who stayed in the Old Country, faced new upheavals (Nazism, Fascism and Communism), another World War, the Holocaust and so much more. But they too, if they survived these calamities, rebuild their lives.

Was it surprising then that people born in the first decades of the 20th century, developed a resilience that many today find amazing? Of course, they do. Now with all the comforts and privileges that we enjoy in these modern times, it is difficult to envision that less than a century ago, these advantages didn’t exist and people had to do all those “amazing” things. I’m sure that many millennials can’t imagine not living in an era without  airplanes, flat screen TVs, computers, mobile phones, internet, air conditioning, cars that soon may drive themselves, etc. My own generation, probably can not phantom not having electricity, running water, heat, movies, decent medical care, etc. (Sadly there are so many that still don’t have them), so we admire – and very rightly so – those who preceded us in life for their tenacity.

So, perhaps my mother was an “amazing” woman, but among many millions more. However, more than that, she was an admirable one. That’s for sure!

Does America Really Love its Immigrants?

The recent immigration ban issued by the new administration has brought an outpour of protests and outcries against it. And rightfully so… The prohibition to issue visas to people of predominantly Muslin countries is seen as discriminatory by, apparently, a vast sector of America’s population. However, we must not forget that, Mr. Trump’s ban follows its promise to do so during the election process. That promise enticed many voters to cast their votes for him.

Most Americans are proud of their immigration heritage. They will say “we are all daughters and sons of immigrants” and many will – as a proof that America has always welcomed people from far and near lands – recite the words from Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus” engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty, which says:

… Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

However, this poem and that altruistic attitude haven’t always been prevalent among the population and the government of the United States. As early of 1798 Congress passed several bills aimed mostly against foreigners (the Naturalization Act, the Alien Friends Act, the Sedition Act and the Alien Enemies Act). They were enacted under the excuse of strengthening “national security”. However, their real purpose was an attempt to suppress voters who disagreed with the Federalist Party, in power at that time. When Thomas Jefferson and its Democratic-Republican Party won the elections in 1800, the first three laws were allowed to expire. However, the Alien Enemies Act stayed in the books and was used as a basis for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. A modified version of the Act is still in force today.

By the middle of the 19th century, America saw a great influx of immigrants coming from Europe. Crop failures in Germany and famine in Ireland forced thousands to emigrate. America’s vast extension opened opportunities to farmers who had lost their own land in their countries. Others would become workers in the industrialized cities. And in the West, the call of recent discovered gold would be answered by thousands of immigrant Chinese. These were not always welcomed and not long after they started to arrive in California, they were forced by law to stop prospecting for gold.

About the same time, the first anti-immigration movement was born: the Know Nothing or American Party, whose membership was restricted to men of the Protestant faith. Their aim was to “purify” society and politics, as well as to increase restrictions on immigrants.  The members of the movement feared competition for jobs from immigrants. So, they used fear tactics, saying that the country was being overrun by German and Irish Catholics, who were controlled by the Pope and whose goal was to take over the United States, and place the country under the rule of the Papacy.

In some places, the Know Nothings accused Catholics of swamping the polls with non-citizens and there were many acts of violence against foreigners. However, the movement fizzled in the eve of the Civil War, although the anti-immigrant sentiment never really died.

Thanks to the rapid industrialization of the United States at the end of the 19th Century and beginning of the 20th, immigrants were welcomed, with the exception of Asians, who were barred from entering the US by the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 – only repealed in 1943 – and those who had arrived earlier were ineligible for citizenship and could not hold property. But for Europeans jobs were plentiful, especially because the new arrivals could be paid very low wages. By then the old Irish and German immigrants had been assimilated, and there were few arrivals from those countries. Thus, the new wave consisted of mostly Greeks, Italians and Eastern Europeans.

However, anxiety towards immigration and refuges never really abated. Accordingly, Presidents and Congress have acted upon those fears and sanctioned “punitive immigration quotas after the Bolshevik Revolution through the 1920 and ‘30s (a period of ‘America first’), and with refuges from the communist bloc in the early 1950s”, as John Meacham points out in an article in the last issue of Time Magazine,

And let’s not forget the undocumented aliens that have poured from the South in the last seventy years or so. It all started with an immigration program implemented during the WW II and designed to alleviate the agricultural labor crisis in the southwest. In 1942 the government created the Bracero Program, aimed at importing Mexican laborers and giving American farmers the opportunity to hire low paying aliens to do hard farm work under substandard living conditions.

Still, for the vast majority of Mexicans who came (many illegally), the possibility of work in the U.S. was seen as an opportunity to escape their economic deprivation at home, and many stayed after the program was ended. Thus, although opposed by most southwestern growers, – who were seeing their pool of cheap labor being emptied – the government implemented Operation Wetback,* an all-out campaign to close the American-Mexican border to illegal immigration 1954. That year the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) captured and deported more than one million illegal aliens. By 1957 the INS declared that, “the so-called wetback problem no longer exists. The border has been secured”.

The Mexican border did not stay secure for long. Social and economic conditions in Mexico in the 1960’s had worsened and from the 1970’s on the push North became almost unstoppable. In the last two decades of the 20th Century, again prejudice and bigotry were rampant and illegal aliens were accused of all sorts of evil. According to those complaints, “They stole jobs, lowered wages, steeped crime rates, smuggled drugs, imported diseases, and drained social services. They gobbled up food stamps, cashed in on unemployment insurance and welfare, crowded hospitals and schools.”

America, through its history, has not been always as open and welcoming as we would like to think, and Mr. Trump’s measures and plans have not been made in a total vacuum. However, the demonstrations and protests in support of immigrants and refugees that have been affected by the new administration measures should give us hope. As Mr. Meacham says, at the end of his article: “one of the great things about America is that redemption is always possible. At least thus far.”

 

 

 

Trump’s Tweets

I’m still in a writing funk for my blog, so I asked my good friend Dr. César Chelala if I could share with my readers an article that he published recently in Counter Punch, an online periodical, and he graciously agreed. Here it is:

January 12, 2017

Trump’s Favorite Tweets

by Cesar Chelala

Donald Trump has shown he has no rivals using Twitter, a technique that he has mastered and that serves him to attack enemies, deflect attention and settle personal scores. Trump takes Twitter seriously. He gets up early in the morning and starts tweeting. To his credit, some of his tweets are sometimes retweeted millions of times, making of this an extremely powerful weapon of war for him, one that reveals the intricacies of his complex mind.

“In 140 characters, he [Donald Trump] can change the direction of a Fortuna 100 company, he can notify world leaders and he can also notify government agencies that business as usual is over,” said Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager.

Not everybody takes lightly Trump’s tweets. Chinese state-run media criticized Trump’s “Twitter foreign policy” that it considers “child’s play,” and foreign governments follow his tweets with increasing attention and concern. Unfazed, Trump claims that many people congratulate him on being “the Ernest Hemingway of Twitter” a statement that probably wouldn’t amuse Hemingway if he were alive.

What follows are some personal interpretations of Trump’s Twitter talent.

Meryl Streep

Bad actress. Getting fat. Get a life.

Arnold Schwarzenegger 

Bad actor. Bad accent. Bad English. Loser.

Hillary Clinton

Try it again, Sam.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto

Be the first to be behind the wall, amigou!

Kellyanne Conway 

Nice (and cutest!) girl in town. Great job! Lav u!

Vladimir Putin

I looked at him in his eyes. I trust you, tovarich Putin!

Bruce Springstein

Sorry, kid, but the Boss is now I, I, I !!!

Alec Baldwin

You are not funny. You are pathetic! A clown! Go get a job! Sad.

New York Times Publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.

In my organization you would be working the mail room. Get real!

Mitt Romney

Let’s have dinner again next week. Much to talk about. 

César Chelala

Who the hell knows who you are? Immigrant! Get lost!

César Chelala, now a legal immigrant, is a New York writer. 


Dr. César Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

 

In Gold We Trust

Lately I haven’t been inspired to write on this blog, but when my friend Sue Berry read me her last poem, I thought maybe my readers would like to read it also. So here it is:

IN GOLD WE TRUST

After countless years of schooling –

Tests and lectures, hours of tooling

Homework, papers, hard assignments,

Grades, report cards, long confinements –

This we’ve learned from civic classes:

Men must fight to rule the masse.

And the reasons that we clash?

There is just one: We want the CASH!

 

Money’s not a gift of Nature,

So it buys a legislature,

Lobbies strongly for its projects,

Gets the world to buy its objects.

Keeps the power in its pocket.

Trashes those who dare to knock it,

Reaffirms our obligation:

Making profits… for the NATION!

 

If we buy things, we’ll be merry.

Freedom isn’t necessary.

Faith commands us: “Use those talents!”

No rewards for work/life balance.

Think we’re geared to be objective?

Think we hold a wise perspective?

Don’t be fooled. They’ve got us, honey.

‘Cause it’s all about the MONEY!

 

Sue Berry, December 2016

 

 

HAVE WE LOST OUR MINDS?

I know that the political pundits will (and many already have) come up with explanations to explain the inexplicable. How could an inexpert, insulting, misogynist, racist, ego-centric, liar, self-aggrandizer individual, like Donald Trump, become the 45th president of the United States?

Yes, white American men, mostly the uneducated, preferred him over an educated woman with 30 years of experience and service in government. But, why?

Yes, there are swats of the population that are living in dire economic terms and the promises of job grow resounded in their ears. But, can they really believe that Trump will bring back manufacturing jobs to the country, when goods can be made much cheaper in Asia and in Mexico? Do they really believe that a multimillionaire who has so many financial interests overseas, will act against the interests of powerful corporations that have moved their operations away from the USA in search of more profits?

Yes, the middle class may think (and may be right) that they are paying more than their fair share to pay for the country’s infrastructure, military, education, services, etc., and the promises of cuts in their taxes sound like music to their ears. But, can they really believe that instead of rising the taxes for the 1%, massive tax cuts for them will make the lives of the middle class better and reduce their burden? And, when tax cuts are implemented, have they asked themselves how will the infrastructure, military, education and services be maintained and even improved, like Trump assures that he will?

And yes, 42% of all women and 53% of white women did vote for him. How could they choose a three times married misogynist and sexual predator that boasted that he could have his way with any woman, because he was a star, over a woman that married her only husband more than 40 years ago and has stood by her man through very difficult times, and overall has been an exemplary mom, and now grandmother?

I could continue to state many incompressible facts about this election and ask many questions, for which I don’t have the answers. But, I just want to mention last summer’s TV show “Brain Dead”, which story line was about an invasion of alien bugs that were eating away the brains of members of Congress. Maybe the script writers had it wrong, maybe the aliens are eating away the brains of the ordinary people of this country instead and we are losing our collective minds…

Perhaps, the next four years will bring us an answer.

 

Fifteen Years Ago

I read somewhere that everybody has a vivid recollection where she or he was or was doing on the morning of September 11, 2001. This is my story…

I was working in my office in Tarrytown, in a suburb on New York City. As usually, I had started my working day early and while I was sitting at my desk, near the entrance door, people where still coming in on their way to their desks. One of my coworkers came in very agitated and passing by, told me “An airplane has hit one of the World Trade Center towers. I just heard it on my car radio” and continued her way. I thought, “It must be a small plane that somehow lost control and hit the tall structure”. I remembered that a bomber in 1945 had hit the Empire State Building, but that had happened in a morning when heavy fog had enveloped the city. But, that Tuesday the weather was perfectly clear and in my mind, just a mechanical failure on small aircraft could cause an accident of that nature.

Having worked in the WTC for more than a dozen years, I was stricken by the news and went to the cafeteria, where there was a TV screen on all the time, to see what they were saying in the news. The image I saw was the one that millions of people were seeing or would be seeing around the globe for so many times. Black billows of smoke coming out of the building, with the background of a gorgeous blue sky. It was still not clear of what had happened, and then while I and many of us were watching, we saw another plane coming from the right side of the screen and in a second crash into the other tower. I held my breath for a few seconds and let out a muted cry. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And then a thought came to my mind. Where was Marité at that moment?

In 1990 we were lucky enough to move into a rent controlled apartment in Tribeca, just 8 blocks away from the Twin Towers where, as I said, I worked at that time. We could see the towers from our kitchen window. And Marité had spent hours looking anxiously at them, when in February of 1993 a terrorist bombing had occurred in the basement of the tower where I worked in the 51st floor. I was stuck in my office for three hours, while the smoke from the basement invaded the premises, without really knowing what had happened. Finally, the firemen came up and told us it was safe to walk down the 50 plus flights of stairs and get out of the building. I walked the eight blocks north to my apartment, under a frigid weather, my face covered with soot, but happy to have come out alive from the incident. When I opened the door of my home, Marité run to me, we embraced and cried for a long while until we calmed down.

And now, the situation was somehow reversed. In 1997 I had changed jobs and was working in Westchester County. We had bought a small house in Ossining, 15 minutes away from my job, but kept our apartment in Tribeca, where Marité had her acupuncture office and where she would stay several nights during the week. I had taken her to the train station early that morning to go to our apartment in the city, where she would see her patients that day. I knew she would have to get off at a subway station very close to the towers and was worried about her whereabouts. I tried to call her in our apartment, but could not get through. I must have spent three hours trying to get in touch with her, without any luck. Between calls I would run to the cafeteria and watch the news, which were very contradictory and not calming at all. The TV cameras were showing how people were jumping from the burning inferno in the skyscraper. Also, not an hour had passed since the second tower was hit, that it collapsed, the news showing people running in the streets and a big cloud of smoke and ashes behind them. I was very anxious. Was Marité part of that running crowd? Where was she?

Finally, around noon, I got a call from my son Marcelo, who in turn had received a call from Marité saying that she was safe and was staying with a friend about twenty blocks away from the WTC. She had been trying to call me, but could not get through. Sometime late that afternoon we did get in touch, but she couldn’t come home to Ossining, because Grand Central station was closed and no trains were running. The next day, she was able to take a train to Westchester. I met her in the station and hugged her while tears filled our eyes. I looked around and noticed that dozens of couples were doing the same…

We couldn’t go back to our apartment in Tribeca for one week and then we would get a pass for only for a few moments to get out some essentials. A strange smell perverted the air and one could still see some columns of smoke coming out from “ground zero”. A month passed until we could finally come back to the apartment on a permanent basis. From where we lived one could see temporary construction sites and barriers surrounding the area, and the “smell” was still in air. During the day we could hear heavy machinery working on the site and at night we could see the bright lights used, so work could continue 24 hours a day. A temporary dock two blocks away from our place was busy day and night with trucks unloading rubble and debris from the ruins that once had stood tall, as a symbol of a proud city.

Even after I stopped working in the WTC, that area had continued to be a place where I spend a lot of time. Our bank branch was there, our drug store, restaurants and coffee shops, a book store, retail stores and a farmer’s market twice a week. I could imagine that some people that I knew on passing, where gone with the towers themselves. I could not bring myself to return to “ground zero” until six months later, and then I approached it with trepidation and with a heavy heart.

In 2013, while leaving already in NC, I returned to “Ground Zero”. The WTC memorial had opened a few months before, and I was eager to visit it. I found two big twin reflecting pools that sit within the footprints where the Twin Towers once stood. Water falls from each site of the pools and in the middle a black hole that appears to be bottomless, receives the water that falls continuously inside. The name of each of the almost 3,000 people that died that day, not only in the Twin Towers attack, but also in Shanksville, PA and in the Pentagon in Washington, DC as well at the six people that died in 1992, are inscribed on panels on the edges of the pools. Next to the names there are small openings where people can leave a flower (I saw many white roses) in remembrance of a victim. Again I relived the days where I went to work every day, the good times I had spent there, and then that terrible day when it all ended: the destruction, the devastation and the lost lives, and I couldn’t contain the tears the filled my eyes…

Reflecting Pool at the WTC Memorial
Reflecting Pool at the WTC Memorial

The Inevitability of Mortality

I recently participated in a book discussion, in the Chapel Hill Public Library, where the topic was a book written by an oncologist, Dr. Atul Gawande. Its title: Being Mortal. Dr. Gawande talks in his book about how medicine in modern times has conquered many diseases, fixed injuries and shortcomings of the body and the mind, and has prolonged the average life span of human beings. However, prolonging the life span is, many times, accomplished by means that go against the interest of the human spirit.

Nursing homes prioritize safety, thus they control every movement of their residents and keep them in bed or in wheel chairs. Many hospitals keep their dying patients hooked to apparatus that keep them barely alive, even if the care givers know that these patients will not leave the hospital alive.  And doctors, bound by the Hippocratic Oath, “to do no harm”, carry on applying procedures that only extend suffering and not quality of life. People have very little to say about how they want to be treated. Many feel that they are losing their independence, dignity and respect during the last years of their lives. But, they accept those losses, because they refuse to face their mortality.

Yes, a majority of people, young or old, are afraid of dying. So, why are we, human beings, so afraid of dying? Why, as seniors, are we not preparing ourselves for that moment? Why are so few older people planning how to spend the rest of their days in this planet? These are questions that I, as a senior, have pondered lately. Some may think they are morbid questions. However, I don’t believe they are. They are legitimate ones that we have to ask ourselves, no matter how healthy or active we are, because, literally, we are just a few steps (or years), away from death’s door.

There are, of course, many people that are not afraid of dying. They either believe in an afterlife, better that the life they have lived until now, so they are looking forward to the bliss that may come after death. Or, like myself, they feel that they have lived, and still may live, a fulfilling life and thus, the end just means that we have reached the last chapter in our life history, and the book must be closed soon. I believe this is a positive attitude.

In relation with the book discussion, I also watched a Frontline episode in YouTube also called Being Mortal, and based on the book of Dr. Gawande and his experiences. Here the focus is on terminal patients and their relationships with their doctors. The younger patients wanted to live a bit longer, no matter what. However, the elder ones, were much more philosophical and they concentrated their efforts in the quality of the time they have left, and not in extending their time by extraordinary means. They planned how to fill those last months, being close to their families and friends, and doing what they could do to enjoy themselves. Yes, having a “bucket list” is a good thing!

Does this mean that older people are getting wiser with age, and are less afraid of their eventual demise? Some studies seem to indicate that this is true. In an article published in The Huffington Post, on 10/16/2013, Karl A. Pillemer, Ph D, writes that the reason why humans are afraid to die is “that the awareness of our own inevitable death creates the potential for debilitating terror, against which we then find ways to psychologically defend ourselves.” However, further on he talks about interviewing old folks and their thoughts about the subject. He says:

“… the elders told me is that the intense, overpowering fear of dying is very much a young person’s game. I did not detect denial from these elders but rather a matter-of-fact approach to dying and a willingness to discuss it and what it means.”

So there you have it. If you are a youngster you most likely are afraid of dying, but if you are a senior, probably you are not…

As Woody Allen once said: “Dying is one of the few things that can be done as easily lying down.”

 

NOTE

In case you’re interested, the link to the Frontline documentary is:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/being-mortal/

Why I’m doing this?

Carrboro, NY

It’s been about a month since I started posting my travel experiences on this site, and I’m having fun writing about them and other things. However, in the last few days I have been asking myself: why I’m doing this? Is it an ego trip? Do people really care when I traveled, where did I go and what did I do? Are my travel experiences any different from the hundreds of thousands travelers that roam the planet every day?

As to the first question, the answer is that we, as humans, like to share with other people what we do. This has happened since the dawn of time, when men and women would sit around the communal fire and told stories about the day’s events and of things that had occurred some time ago.

I assume that the later stories were told by the elders. They had lived many years and had survived many dangerous situations. They experience was valuable for the new generations who learned from them and applied that knowledge to their own benefit. And then, some of the stories were just told and retold for entertainment purposes.

And so it continued through time with the invention of writing. Hence, when books got written, knowledge was passed to many more. And, when the printing press was invented in the 15th century, there was an explosion of knowledge passed to a vast segment of the population. And, as before, many stories written in books, also became a source of entertainment.

Newspapers were born at the beginning of the 17th century and by the middle of the 1600’s newspapers were edited in most of the European capitals. The next century brought about the publication of magazines of general interest. So, by the 20th century, information, could be handed down to anyone that could read, in many different media. But, those who wrote the books, newspapers and magazines, were a minority of professionals, and the rest of us were the passive receptors of what was given to us to read.

And, then by the end of the 20th century, as we all know, the Internet was invented and trough it the sharing of experiences, information and entertainment became the norm for modern society. Thus, everyone that wants to, can say something to everybody else. Someone like me can do what I’m doing now, rambling, about what comes into my mind, with the hope that someone, out there in cyberspace, will read my comments, and perhaps (a big perhaps) benefit from them.

So, now that I’m an elder, I want to share my experiences, around a virtual bonfire, with my friends and anyone that wants to come close to the fire. It may be an ego trip, but who cares? Some people will be interested in my travels and my thoughts and others will not. And that is fine, also. And if my experiences are not different from many others, they may be different to a few others. So, I’ll continue to write about them. It is my ego trip!