March 05, 2013
TEDActive 2013: Bubble Guns & Global Conversations on Lawns & Haystacks
As a long time TEDster, I had never been to its offshoot, an event that happens simultaneously every year called TedActive. It's essentially TED, but less expensive and less bells and whistles.
Since it is held a couple of hours from the main event, the speakers are obviously not on-site, however you do experience them through a satellite feed, which includes views of the audience, the main stage and the impact the speakers have on that audience in real time.
For years, TED has something called the 'simulcast' room, which is where you can view the talks in a separate room on a 'screen' not far from the main room.
Why some people love hanging out in the 'simulcast room' rather than the main room is that it allows them to quietly chat in the back, or type away on their keyboard if they have work to get done.
OR, if you're an A++ type who is simply too digitally connected to sit still with nothing but an old fashioned notebook among 1,000 of your "closest" friends, simulcast is the way to go.
All of TEDActive is a bit like that, except that the main room resembles TED's main simulcast room and TEDActive's additional simulcast rooms, which are even more casual, feel like a cross between a silent and creative experiment at a progressive university and an adult's playground.
In some of the rooms, there were tables with paper cut outs and magic markers if you wanted to jot down your ideas in "color" using "scraps". This year, they also had a 'banana' theme and while I still don't know what was behind it, it was oddly amusing to continuously bump into two guys who didn't know each other, yet both of their lives depended on bananas.
From bananas and spirited drinks to cut outs and designs, we moved to species and the Internet in a nano-second.
An idea was thrown out there by four respected illumaries in different fields: Diana Reiss, Peter Gabriel, Neil Gershefeld and Vint Cerf. The question was: could the internet also connect us with dolphins, apes, elephants and other highly intelligent species?
In a bold talk, the four of them came together to launch the idea of the interspecies Internet.
There was a 'creative' lab' where Andy Cavatorta set up an exhibit that combined technology, robotics and music.
In that same space, a few of us were inspired to get creative at two am, not long after a martini sipping session where we ate blueberries with M&M's and talked science fiction to young MIT types.
Did I mention that I'm a sucker for fur vests, colored lights and 3D science fiction glasses? And in case you're wondering, yes we were posing.
There was creative energy at the final pool party as well, which included wild hats, squirt guns, funky pants, and bananas of course, all set on a whole lotta grass against a beautiful mountainous desert in a place called LaQuinta you may never have heard of unless a TED Conference happened to be breezing through. Here we consumed some R&R, sunscreen and bubbly whatever.
Speaking of grass, we also had a little lawn time with TED 2013 Prize Winner Sugata Mitra. Known for his work in education research, Mitra won $1 million TED Prize to build his School in the Cloud.
He invited the world to embrace child-driven learning by setting up something he refers to as Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLEs) and asked the TED audience for help designing a learning lab in India, where children can “embark on intellectual adventures.”
While people were expanding their creative "juices" in whatever way they could, creative "things" were in place at the lab for people to play with and take in...
Below is a fabulous woman I met by the "so done right" coffee and tea bar set up in an area called the Quad, where we gathered on haystacks and picnic tables for lunch most days. She 'wore' her commitment to eco-living and seemed to have a different name each day. If I recall, she was Cool Carol the day we exchanged TEDities.
One of the things I loved about TedActive was its combination of youthful and international energy. Below, I'm with the curator of TEDx Bordeaux Emmanuelle Roques.
With 72 countries on-site, I had 'curious' conversations, all of which had global perspectives, with folks from India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Kenya, South Africa, Australia, England, Holland, Switzerland, Japan, Korea, China, Argentina, Brazil, Iran, Chile, Colombia, Canada, Malta, Lebanon, Palestine, UAE, Turkey, Germany, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, Ireland, Israel, Belgium and Uganda.
And, those are only the ones that immediately popped into my head without diving into my business cards or the TED mobile app.
If that's not your thing, then the Active experience is a more laid back way to experience TED where you can still stretch your brain, discover new ideas, be inspired, get your creative juices flowing, get off the grid for five days and have 'unique' conversations that make you think differently, then give it a shot.
Personally, there is always someone I know on the main TED stage every year, often more than one, and many more people I have known, worked, played and cried with for years attend the main event. The other thing you're more likely to get at the main TED event is an overdose of "intellectual high."
Comedian Julia Sweeney had the audience in stitches as she made references to her peeps, you know, the Nobel Prize Winners, Scientists, Authors & Inventors that were part (so not) of her everyday world from TED.
Accolades and titles aside, I've never been one for labels and titles: none of them -- celeb labels, CEO labels, soup labels, hair product labels or shoe labels.
Whether you're into them or not, labels and titles are in abundance at TED, all there to expand their mind, gather new ideas, and many later find a way to contribute to something they were exposed to at the event. I must admit, if I were only a little more "label, title and accolade savvy", it would certainly make the Oscars easier to understand.
While we're on the topic of labels and great design, I'd be remiss if I didn't include a shot of some of Yu Jordy Fu's fabulous design work. I found her fascinating.
Later, a random encounter led to an interview with Upstart Business Journal's Teresa Novellino, a TED virgin, over lunch. See her article here, which takes an entrepreneurship angle. I wouldn't call myself a groupie, but I am most certainly a fan of what TED represents: spreading great ideas, innovation, inspiration and helping the world become a better place through a collective effort.
I'm also a huge fan of the in the between stuff that happens before and after all the organized formalities that events "do," to throw people together. When there's space and time and the 'tossing' is cast aside, real magic happens. Incredible dialogues happen. Life changing observations form. Relationships emerge. New initiatives are created.
And, as a result, 'collective' conversations away from your 'collective' and 'individual' conversations in your daily worlds, make you think about the world differently.
In that moment, an idea sizzles, or more importantly, an old way of thinking gets shattered which brings me to an oldie but a goodie, one of my favorite Helen Keller quotes:
"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we don't see the one opening before us." -Helen Keller
Conversations like these remind you that there are always opportunities in front of us but so often, we're asleep and miss the silent intro.
I had another observation from hanging out with such a 'global 'tribe' over the course of five days. The early American "drive" seems to be getting replaced by more of a laissez faire attitude that no longer induces self ignition. See my write-up on Rescue America, a book released last year by Chris Salamone, that fixates on this shift.
Full of historical and philosophical references, he creates clear and specific connections between the loss of our founding values and the current challenges facing our nation. What is necessary, he suggests, is a fundamental shift back toward a national embodiment of the three primary leadership qualities that sustain all lasting human institutions: gratitude, personal responsibility, and sacrifice.
What I noticed at TedActive was how many people showed up from other parts of the world embracing all three.
The notion that the "west" knows how to lead is something Americans do incredibly well. Many are good at doing it and even more are really good at giving the perception that they're good at doing it. My grandparents and parents generations learned that there were less boundaries than the countries they left behind, and were taught that hard work and education pays off.
In other parts of the world, boundaries are overcome through great sacrifice and taking personal responsibility to change the status quo, which can come in the form of political oppression, rapes that are brushed under the table, or worse.
TED speakers and attendees from other parts of the world are great examples of where and how they embrace gratitude, personal responsibility and sacrifice in their daily lives.
Take a look at this year's Yu Jordy Fu, who is not afraid to push boundaries, incorporating "raw beauty" and "love" into her design, art and architecture.
OR, how violinist Ji-Hae Park uses her music to reach people’s hearts. "There are no boundaries,” says Ji-Hae Park on the TED2013 stage. While TED may be a lofty place to perform, she also plays at prisons, hospitals and restricted facilities. She talks about her time when she was depressed and how changing your perspective through music transformed how she viewed music but life itself.
OR, how Lakshmy Pratury with tears in her eyes, talked about the importance of keeping the Delhi rape alive, also reminding us that theres a new kind of revolution happening in India where the youth is breaking down the concept of a leader.
OR, how Hyeonseo Lee made sacrifices to get her family out of North Korea. As a woman who saw her first public execution at age 7, she endured a famine in the 1990s, one which killing an estimated million people. At the time, she didn’t have the frame of reference to understand the government repression going on around her but was later caught by the Chinese police.
Someone had accused her of being North Korean, and she was subjected to brutal tests of her ability to speak Chinese. Every year, countless North Koreans are caught in China, sent back, tortured, imprisoned, publicly executed, and now she is in Long Beach talking to thousands of people who can make a difference with their voices, blogs, connections, social media call outs and their wallets.
Then, there's the Ugandan artist & teacher Ruganzu Bruno Tusingwire, who I hung out with at TedActive. He became the first City 2.0 Award recipient of 2012 in Doha Qatar, at the TEDxSummit, which I attended last April.
Tusingwire's big idea is to use waste materials to create a movable amusement park for children living in slums of Kampala.
He is using his award to grow his community, grow an woman eco-artist loan program already supporting 15 women to develop their business ideas, and expand the amusement park from a single plane-shaped sculpture made of recycled plastic bottles into a permanent park. I loved his energy, not to mention his visible sense of sacrifice, personal responsibility and gratitude.
A few of my tweets from the week:
- Humans have made a huge hole in nature! We CAN bring back species we have killed &must repair the damage says Stewart Brand@longnow #TED2013
- .@rodneyabrooks shows off his latest #robot Baxter on the #TEDstage - http://ow.ly/i/1Ayqz #robotics #factories #China #education
- .@bonovox_ shares updates from his activist work & latest #HIVstats:Child mortality down w/7256 kids being saved each day#health #TED2013
- #Education is not about filling buckets, it's about lighting fires says Stuart Firestein! http://ow.ly/i/1ABun #TED2013 #TedActive
- Edith Widder shows #squid video: We've only explored 5% of our#oceans! http://ow.ly/i4Scx + http://ow.ly/i/1ABE1 #TED2013 #TedActive
- Brazilian @SalgadoSebasti shows his strongest B/W images at#TED2013 http://ow.ly/i/1ABSF #photography #rainforests #TedActive#eco
- Cities are living systems but #technology has always been part of "the city" asserts @SaskiaSassen at #TED2013 - #TedActive
- #Kenyan Richard Turere (13 yr old inventor) & LionLights 2save his familys cattle on TED2013 stage 2day http://bit.ly/KybBhL #TedActive
- Its not about making learning happen,its about letting it happen@sugatamitra who subscribes2 self organizing learning #educator#TED2013
- Creative ideas from @ideasandaction @mabuzeinab@justwardah @tedxyouthTbird in #PalmSprings this AM:http://ow.ly/i/1AW5L #TED2013
- Bowmaker @dongwooJANG uses bows 2explore his cultural heritage & create a metaphor for his perfect world #TED2013#TEDActive #design #Korea
- #Music is what restored my soul, changed my perspective & set me free says #violinist. Let music #heal your heart says Ji-Hai Park#TED2013
- Martin Villeneuve aka #MarsEtAvril designs the instruments inspired by a woman's body & the #photographer they both love. #TED2013
Another interesting international 'observation' was what was absent and what was wasn't. A latin band played on one of the nights and I was astonished that my partners on the dance floor were not Brazilian, Argentinian, Chilean or Peruvian, but German, French, Middle Eastern and Italian.
In fact, the Best Dancer Award for TEDActive from a 'partner perspective' goes to Mohammed Abu Zeinab from Qatar who is apparently half Palestinian and half Lebanese. Go figure...and he rocked it to Latin music of all things.
P.S. he even wore funky clothing the rest of the week.
TED reminds you that nothing in your world is really aligned the way you 'think it should be.'
It made me wonder what Wallace Stegner, Oscar Wilde, Tolstoy and Doris Lessing would make of TED talks. Would they be overwhelmed? Would they be able to make sense of the over digitized, over connected world we have created?
Someone who can make sense of it is AutoDesk's Jonathan Knowles who showed up for half of TedActive, wearing fabulous, fun and bright colored socks.
Having just migrated from PC to Mac, I was somewhat sad and somewhat ecstatic that our conversation would end up being largely tech support in nature. Two hours later, I was fully equipped with Mac tricks and tips, though I'm still far less efficient on a Mac than I was on my old trusty Lenovo.
I couldn't help but get a chuckle over one of his tweets shortly after he arrive in Palm Springs.
Lunch at #TED2013 versus Lunch at #TEDActive #maybeExaggerateAbit: pic.twitter.com/IV3PoVIG8J
Although excessive, I must admit, we did in fact have a lawn party with picnic baskets, sandwiches and cookies in 80 degree sunshine, the last time we'll likely do such a thing given that TED's new location is in Canadian Vancouver and Whistler next year.
Occasionally, you hang out with people you know and work with: below with Andrew Carton of HAPILABS.
And as always, they had a TED gift bag, which was a backpack made by Target this year. I went for the Explorer bag, which seemed appropriate given that one of my many hats is a travel editor. This of course included a stuffed elephant from World Wildlife Fund, which I named Gambia, and a gift card from Inventables (thx Zach), among umpteen other things. My pals over at TripIt also included a free year subscription and there was a GoToob Bottle from HumanGear I couldn't quite make sense of since the top didn't seem to stay on, which is a disaster for a traveler.
On the last night of TED, I headed back to Long Beach to have drinks and dinner with old friends and musician Amanda Palmer who performed this year, showed up and shared a few tunes with our intimate group, something which has become tradition for as long as I can remember. (the dinner part, not the Amanda part)
And at the end of the evening, there's always room for a little girl bonding or whatever it is we do that makes us feel feminine and human and connected and just fabulous being together. Below: former TEDPrize winner Jehane Noujaim, who is working on The Square, a film about the Egyptian Revolution, Amanda Palmer, Lakshmi Pratury, Renee Blodgett and Amy Robinson.
International flavors came out once again as Reggie Watts killed it on stage at the end of Ted Active with new sounds I hadn't heard before from him. I remain a fan!
Suddenly I found myself lifted up into the crowd and then over it, my body being passed from hands to hands....a remarkable experience especially when you realize that each set of hands are likely from a different continent.
How cool I thought as I looked beyond the crowds below me as people bumped together, swaying to the hypnotic music that extended beyond us into the lofty palms that give Palm Springs its name.
Behind me were the non-swayers sipping drinks and networking in their respective courtyard corners. In the foreground, I spotted Jill Sobule not far from the stage, and then there was Reggie performing in all his eclectic glory, surrounded by a fusion of pinks and hazy midnight hues and I wondered for a moment if it was all just a dream.
Also see some of my individual blog posts from TED 2013 this year, including:
- Four Ted Speakers Who Appeal To Our Sensory Selves
- TED2013 Prize Winner Sugata Mitra's Wish for Education: "School in the Cloud"
- Ugandan Ruganzu Bruno Tusingwire Empowers & Engages Children Through PLAY
- Jordy Fu, Creator & Artist: Create Love Through Design
- Brazilian Photographer Sebastiao Salgado Shares His Story at TED2013
- Rad Hip Gardener Ron Finley Wants to Greenify Inner City Neighborhoods
- Saskia Sassen on the Value of Imperfect & Incomplete Cities at TED2013
- Inspiration at TED2013: From Music & Healing to Endangered Species & Mobile Electric Vehicles
- Dan Pallotta: Think About a Charity's Deams, Not Their Overhead
Photo Credits: All visibly on-stage photos of speakers from the Ted Blog, the shot of Renee and Emmanuelle taken by Teresa Novellino, Yu Jordy Fu with her artwork shot from her site, all other shots by Renee Blodgett.
January 24, 2013
My Top 12 Picks for CES 2013: From Speakers & Robots to Accessories & Backpacks
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month was once again a flurry of new products and as always, I felt as if I was constantly surrounded by pitches of TV flat screens, new speaker designs, casing, docking stations, chargers, dancing robots, iPhone accessories, surround sound substitutes, and more. What stood out was the increasing number of vendors participating in the Digital Health pavilion this year.
Clearly, the marriage of technology and health is increasing at alarming speeds, with products and solutions aimed at helping consumers take charge of their health by collecting and analyzing their own personal data, something that wasn't available to us even ten years ago.
It was no surprise that Fitbit won a Best of CES award, a product which tracks your fitness and has been on the market for awhile now. It's inevitable that the health and wellness category is primed to explode in the coming year.
As for other categories? Sure, I'm a geek, but I'm a female geek who loves great design and rich colors. I'm always a sucker for products in luscious colors - the problem with so many of these products is that they're created and designed by men, so often our choices are limited to neon green, bright girly blues and pinks, or red, black and white.
If women designers were behind more products, I'd imagine we might actually see a high end stereo system in an eggplant purple, burgundy or an olive green, something that wouldn't clash with our sofas, curtains and painted walls. I spoke to four speaker companies about this conflict and guess what? Weaving a color design into a living room hadn't even occurred to them.
As a traveler and writer, most of my top picks were focused on products that would be useful for the mobile warrior, often lightweight, reasonably priced and compact.
Degauss Labs Earphones
The SPKRS Series is a line of earphones by Degauss Labs that is focused on top notch sound quality. They tout that the bass is amazing (I haven't received them yet but did see them purr on the show floor). In its price range, SPKRS are durable and comfortable.The all aluminum housing absorbs vibrations and preserves the sound quality. The housing is coated with a special technique making the housing as matte and clean looking as the rest of the earphone, rarely found on metal housed earphones. They feature an enhanced acoustic design that helps music sound smoother.
SPKRS comes in a variety of carefully selected AND fun colors. SPKRS is UNIVERSAL and works with Apple iPhone, and the latest version of Android phones from Samsung, HTC and Sony. Windows phone by Nokia is also supported.
Ranipak Backpacks & iPad Cases
I loved the slick design of Ranipak's new Y.U.M.C. Series. Great for travelers on the go, there are tons of pockets and great colors (particularly liked the eggplant).
All products are done in a great European design with a global appeal.
HyperJuice External Batteries
One of the funkiest designed products I accidentally came across were the HyperJuice external batteries for Apple MacBook, iPhone, iPad, iPod and USB products. Behind the products is Sanho Designs, which design, manufacture and market IT accessories with a focus on Apple accessories, portable power and storage.
Their product brands include: HyperJuice - External batteries for Apple MacBook, iPhone, iPad, iPod, USB products, HyperDrive - Portable digital data storage products for Apple devices, digital cameras, memory cards, HyperShield - Cases, stylus pens and other accessories for Apple devices, and HyperThin - World's thinnest most flexible HDMI cables.
For travelers, their products are a Godsend, particularly for those who carry more than one digital product with them like me. Let's just say I can't wait to test out the HyperJuice Mini, Micro and PLUG and I have a feeling, I'll be a prolific user. The company also is smart about design...and they offer a number of rich and fun colors.
SwitchEasy offers some stylin' products for the iPad and iPhone as well as great compact keyboards, ideal for the digital traveler. They offer iPad cases and iPod Touch cases in a number of designs and rich colors.
Their mission is to provide more reasons for PC users to "Switch" to a better digital lifestyle through our innovative little add-ons.
See below for the Safekey Keyboards Protection, which I plan to try out soon on the road. To the left of the keyboards is one of many beautifully styled iPad cases they offer.
Edifer offers a few speaker options that are perfect for those on-the-go.
Sound To Go PLUS is all about portability - they do an all-in-one micro speaker with re-chargeable Lithium battery. Encased in a brushed aluminum chassis, it features 2 channel stereo with 2 full range 1.25" drivers on each channel (magnetically shielded). It also features a built-in 'Class D' amplifier and a 3" x 1.25" oval passive radiator, which means someting to those in the audio world.
GeoPalz, creators of the first decorative pedometer for kids, introduced the ibitz PowerKey for children and ibitz Unity for parents to its suite of products. With ibitz, a family’s electronics are powered by physical activity. Each ibitz connects wirelessly to select Bluetooth 4.0 phones, tablets and laptops to track physical activity. For kids, the ibitz PowerKey converts physical activity into “keys” that unlock rewards, while the ibitz Unity for parents tracks the overall progress of family health goals.
The ibitz PowerKey for kids not only unlocks access to games and apps, but also allows each user to maintain the health of their own GeoBotz virtual pet character within their app.
Foldable Rubber Keyboards by Chin Fai
Chin Fai has a host of incredibly useful rubber roll up keyboards which are bluetooth enabled, a seriously must-have companion for any traveler.
They also have a host of brightly colorful rubber products which encase iPhones, iPads and other devices to help protect them against wear and tear - you can even drop your product encased by one of these and it protects the outer layer and edges of the device.
HAPIfork, the world's first connected fork that slows down how fast you eat received a substantial amount of attention, so much so that the booth was always full of broadcast cameras, producers, doctors, health afficiandos and people who have lost weight or were looking to...among other eager enthusiasts.
While (full disclosure), I am involved in the company, it is on my picks list because it is a product I was excited about even before their launch and a reason I decided to jump on board. There is no other product like it on the market and for someone like me, who travels incessantly and never seems to have time for a 'slow' meal, it makes for a perfect "throw-it-in-your-bag" utensil which not only will help me slow down how fast I eat on the road, but track it on my desktop and mobile phone as well.
HAPIfork received so much buzz, we had to turn away opportunities knocking on our doorstep because we were limited with only 3 prototypes on the show floor.
I think the "smart" HAPIfork struck a chord with people because it's such a device that can modify your behavior, prompting you to slow things down, thereby eating less, which is better for your overall health and well-being in the short and long term.
Action Camcorders by Astak
For under $300, you can get one of Astak's action camcorders, which comes with a 170 ultra-wide angle lens that supports 1080p HD video recording. You can shoot 8 megapixel photos hands-free and there's a built-in LCD screen, which includes real time display and video playback. The nice thing for adventure travelers, is that there's waterproof housing which goes down to 197 feet or 60 meters. I could have used this handy device when I was swimming with baluga whales this summer in northern Canada.
It also comes with a rechargeable lithium battery and has four recording modes: 1080p 30fps, 720P 60fps, 720P 30fps or WVGA 60fps. It connects via a USB 2.0 and has a built-in microphone. Additional sports accessories are also available. I haven't tested it yet but hope to do a more extensive review if and when I get product in hand.
House of Marley Headphones
I was running to get to an appointment and House of Marley's booth stopped me dead in my tracks. Creative, compelling, and loaded with well-designed noise-canceling headphones in fabulous colors with a deep, rich sound. Their headsets are the culmination of natural materials and technology coming together to make beautiful music.
Stainless steel, leather and high-quality recycled aluminum blend to create a striking, sophisticated look. And the performance meets that look. With battery powered noise-canceling headphones, it reproduces an intimate, authentic sound that lets you truly feel the music.
I can't wait to test these out!
Mizco's iPad, iPod, iPhone Accessories
From Mizco, I came across the iEssentials products. For around $30, they have a 2-in-1 Car and Wall Charger that lets you charge two devices simultaneously, whether you're on the road, in your office or at your home.
I also loved their Diamond Cases for iPhone 5. Their cases are form fitting, so they fit snugly around your phone and includes embedded rhinestones for additional style. Unlike so many products of this ilk, they come in richer non-pastel colors. What I loved most was how durable they felt in my hands.
Moneual Robot Cleaner
Another product I'd love to test out and use is the Robot Cleaner by Moneual, which I saw a demo of on the show floor. A high performance BLDC Motor outputs stronger suction, and is powered by the latest long lasting Lithium Iron Phosphate Battery.
Great for both hard floor and carpeted floor surfaces, the vacuum's mop attachment can be attached for hard floors, allowing for vacuuming and mopping to function at the same time. Twin side brushes allow for a wider, effective cleaning width to brush debris towards the main brush for collecting.
The vacuum can cover up to 1,200 square feet on one charge, depending on clutter, as maneuvering around clutter may impact cleaning time. Additional specialized cleaning modes include corner, shadow, and scheduled cleaning. It even has the ability to return to the charging dock after a cleaning session!
January 24, 2013 in America The Free, Client Announcements, Client Media Kudos, Conference Highlights, Events, On Health, On Innovation, On Mobile & Wireless, On Technology, Travel, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
December 06, 2012
Paris: Absorbing the Many Sides & Moods of Her
Paris has a funny way about her and yes, I'm sure she's a her. She's all the things a her can be: beautiful, moody, complex, dynamic, essential, turbulent, pensive, fashionable, delicious and vivacious.
I've been meandering through her alleys, eating her crepes and sipping her coffee every December for years now. I've never shied away from her nor have I ever rejected her....she has that way about her of pulling you in like gravity, the force of which is so powerful you find yourself agreeing with her even if she toys with your patience from time-to-time.
This year, as I thought about her brittle wet days and nights, as she is every December, I realized I was hesitant to go. She wasn't egging me on and part of me feared: Am I done with Paris? Is she done with me? I contemplated the thought but only briefly as I realized my dismissal of her was only because I was so preoccupied with the year 2012 and seeing it come to an end.
Far too many heady reflective messages this year....the ones that call you to challenge things you once believed were crystal clear only to discover they were muddier and murkier than a pond on Detroit's south side during a lightening storm.
It's not as if I needed a 'soulful' place to visit...not that Paris doesn't have its fair share of soul. More than a soulful city however, Paris is an invigorating one, one which re-ignites lost creativity and inspires the artist within. Who doesn't need a creative light and inspiration regardless of what stage in life they're in I thought? And yet, I reflected on one insightful early December night before I boarded the plane, I want silence, not noise, warm balmy nights, not icy windy ones, clear blue skies that hurt my eyes from their brightness, not gray cloudy ones, and warm brothy soups, not sizzling duck with a glass of Bordeaux.
But then I remembered all the drizzly rainy cold days and nights with Paris below my feet and how many of them I spent with her alone. Ahhh yes, Paris alone. Most people don't think about her that way - they head there when they want to propose to a loved one, take in a romantic weekend away, surprise someone with an anniversary present, or simply to experience the allure of her magnificence, the allure Hemingway and other greats have written novels about since anyone could.
Alone is when Paris really shines, I thought to myself and I've more often had her to myself than not, so why would this year be any different? She'll surprise me in a different way like she always does, I told myself. It will rain since she's rarely given me sunshine and I will hover under some broken umbrella on a corner somewhere savoring a piece of dark chocolate that was beautifully wrapped in 3 colored foil with a golden blue ribbon.
I knew the shop, the many shops I could go to for such a delight and marvel in its decadence the moment I stepped back out onto the wet pavement. I knew Paris would be good for that or for a plate of mussels near Saint Germain des Pres. Or for her lights. Her beauty. Her mystery. Her endless cafes where you could sit for hours over a dark roasted coffee in a cup the size of a thumb nail or one large enough to be a soup cup.
I wondered about the latest boot and shoe fashion and what St. Paul's window displays would bring me, or the beer I'd have with a journalist friend who always insists on meeting near the Republique and I always say yes even though I'd take grapes over hops any day. I considered a couple business colleagues who would roll their eyes when I pleaded for old world charm when they simply wanted to take in a modern brasserie or cafe. Then, there is my friend who has lived there for nearly thirty years, who remains as enthusiastic and endearing about life itself as he was when I first met him on that Eastern African island where we were stuck for weeks because there was no boat, rig or plane that could bring us back to the mainland.
I remembered one year where I had more time than most and walked ten miles of her wet cold streets every day for two weeks. At the end of each day after I had killed two or three of those $5 umbrellas because the wind blew them apart, I'd trek back to the apartment where I was staying, which had an unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower from its kitchen. Every night, the Tower was magnificent and looked like it was close enough to touch from my balcony, the vibrancy of its lights rightfully overpowering anything else near it. Waiting for me was either a graceful or complex Bordeaux (I never knew which one I'd get) and some dark chocolate.
On the way, I'd stop at a corner near La Motte Picquet Grenelle's metro station and order a crepe with ham and mushrooms and because I was there so often, I didn't have to explain daily why I didn't want cheese, something that confuses anyone who lives in Paris, French or not. I wondered if the same man was there, the same man who'd smile every time I ordered the same thing night after night.
"Poivre?" he asked the first time. "Beaucoup, beaucoup," I responded. As he was about to fold the crepe from the piping hot skillet and scoop into a paper plate, I stopped him and said, "plus de poivre s'il vous plait." He looked at me in disbelief as if to say that any more pepper atop his perfectly crafted crepe would destroy the flavors inside. Perhaps he thought, "damn yank, she doesn't have a clue," on that one cold December night, the first time I bought a crepe from him. Over time, the smiles increased and he even helped me navigate a very long walking route one day on my crumpled damp paper map and although he kept reinforcing that it was too far to walk and why wouldn't I take the metro, he gave me advice anyway. And, we never had to talk about "poivre" again for he sprinkled the perfect amount on my ham and mushroom crepe with no cheese every day until I left.
Why was I fighting her I thought? Reflection time aside, doesn't Paris always take me in whether I am in a state of chaos, glory, beauty or solitude? Doesn't she always give back even if there are some cuts and bruises along the way? You know, the side that many foreigners complain about. The French "attitude," they receive because they aren't sophisticated enough, cultured enough, educated enough, polished enough, fashionable enough, French enough or French at all.
We've all been there and yet, a variation of it exists in many cultures, albeit more common in cosmopolitan cities. Yet, with the exception of Buenos Aires and Tokyo, I've been to all the other major cities around the world and truth be told, Paris does have more attitude. It's France's New York, posing the same directness and attitude but with more charm unless of course if you happen to be British or American.
New Yorkers feel the same way about their city, as if there is no other city greater in the world and why would you go anywhere else, even for a weekend for crying out loud?
I was no longer worried about why I brushed Paris aside this year. Once my flight was booked, the hesitation went away and even after looking at the 70% rain weather report, I moved forward packing warm socks, waterproof boots, mittens, hats and scarves and one of those many mini $5 umbrellas I was due to destroy in the coming days ahead. I wondered as I thought about the cloudy gray skies that would meet my gaze when I landed at Charles De Gaulle, what she had in store for me at the end of this very long year.
October 05, 2012
LIFEPROOF iPad & iPhone Cases Lets You Swim With Your Devices Or Toss 'Em Around
I ran into a cool 'hardware' product at the DEMO Fall Conference this past week -- or rather series of products. LifeProof produces waterproof cases for your iPhone and iPad that allow you to take them with you from sea to land and back again.
When I first saw the cases, I had that initial reaction that I have with all early products - the case was in black, designed for men and while practical, not sexy and stylish enough for me to want to use.
While their iPad cases still only come in black, their director of communications Jonathan Wegner assures me that a case in white with a soft gray border is coming soon. What about purple, blue, peace or teal I was thinking? Send me anything other than black when they arrive please since the geekier "darth-vader" like versions of today are not going to cut it for my already stylin' iPad.
There are more options for the iPhones on the other hand -- they come in blue, red, turquois, purple and pink. YAY! she says as he pulls them out.
The idea is incredibly useful. Adorning your iPod with one of their cases allows you to take your mobile devices to places where they'd otherwise fear to tread - oceans, ponds, even the shower! It's not just waterproof but apparently dust-proof and shock-proof. Once you add the case onto your iPhone, you can throw it on the floor, toss it overboard or talk on it in the rain.
Unlike other iPhone and iPad cases, LifeProof offers a sleek low profile that barely increases the size of your device.The LifeProof iPhone and iPad cases are supported by an array of action mounts. Their pitch? take your device in the water, dirt or snow. They support iPhone 4 / 4S and have cases for Apple iPad 2, and the iPhone 5.
August 16, 2012
Over the Canadian Border: A Bug Jacket You Ask?
I drove across country when I moved to California and went the northern route, so took in Idaho, Oregon and Washington State on the way, yet it still feels like I barely know this part of the world.
When I lived in Boston, it seemed like my ex-husband and I took off nearly every weekend to explore some New England town we hadn't yet seen. Sometimes, we'd close our eyes while pointing to our car map and see where our fingers landed. "Cool," we'd say in unison, "we haven't been there, let's go," and he'd put the key in the ignition as I began to map out our route. (no iPad, no laptop, no cell phone - just a paper map in a 10 year old Chevy stationwagon I bought from my grandfather for $500).
On the screen in front of me, the digital plane moved further north and over the Washington state board. I had this curious moment as I realized I was heading to three places I had never seen in Canada within a two week period. Given how often I return to destinations I know well over and over again, visiting new cities and towns always bring me wow moments, something I never tire of.
Calgary is the first stop, a Canadian city I first heard of in the 9th grade. Although I grew up in upstate New York, my family spent time living in Arizona and my best friend at the time was from Calgary. When you're that young and meet a fabulous somebody, you immediately think the place they're from must be a fabulous somewhere.
I had a choice of how I could fly to Winnipeg, stop 2 on this jaunt, and Calgary was one of them. It just so happens that the layover was much shorter going through Calgary than Minneapolis, Chicago or anywhere else, but my first thought was, "Ahhh, finally I'm going to Dawne's childhood city," even though she hasn't lived there in umpteen years and is probably more Californian now than she is Canadian. It's 20+ years later and the memories of her stories flooded back as I watched the plane cross the Canadian border.
It was more than her childhood memories that went through my mind as I reflected....it wasn't just about Calgary. She was really my first introduction to "Canadians" as odd as that may sound. Dawne was one of the most down-to-earth and funny people I had ever met at the time and she still is. Wouldn't it be reasonable at 14 to assume every Canadian must be down-to-earth and funny?
I've met, known, dated (okay, never dated), and worked with dozens of Canadians since then and most of them are in fact...down-to-earth. As my grandfather used to say when I sat in front of the floor heaters on nearly every cold winter's night because it was the only place in the house where I could warm my bones, "there's something about growing up with snow and cold temperatures that makes you more durable and flexible than people who don't." No doubt, there's some truth to that.
Cold climate is a kind of endurement that builds strength, character and everything in between. Growing up on a fixed income in a working class neighborhood is another. Growing up with extreme discipline and having to work for everything you own is yet another. Our family subscribed to all three. I assumed ALL Canadians did too because her family's views seemed to align with my grandfather's views of the world when "that view" seemed so foreign to so many kids in my Mexican-border town high school.
And so, I grew up with the notion that all Canadians were cool and that people from Calgary were cooler than other parts of Canada thanks to Dawne, who will probably laugh histerically when she reads this.
One of the reasons I haven't spent more time in Canada given how 'cool' I think Canadians are is the weather. It's no secret that I'm a warm weather gal and despite that fact, its amazing how many places I visit which are not all that warm.
In the last few years, I've frozen my tail off in Dublin, Munich, Paris, London, Colorado, New York, Boston, Maine, Seattle, Montreal and Vancouver. But this year, I also soaked up the heat in Qatar, Hawaii and southern California and frankly, it's time to add a few more 'hot' destinations to the agenda.
That said, when I received an invitation to visit the center of Canada to hang out with polar bears, I thought, "wouldn't that be incredible? Who would NOT want to spend time going to see polar bears regardless of where they were?" Besides, its August and it must be warm in Canada in late summer, right?
I'm not at my final destination yet, so I can't confirm the temperatures. I also didn't have time to read the suggested things to pack list until 11 pm the night before my flight. It included things like long underwear, sweatshirts, fleece, wooley socks, ankle-high hiking boots, gloves (yes gloves) and a bug jacket. What on earth is a bug jacket I thought as I read this, not sure that I REALLY wanted to know despite my growing curiosity.
All I knew is that I didn't own one and certainly didn't want to spend the time searching for one or the money buying one. And so, I packed a windbreaker instead, a ridged turtleneck (the only one I now own) and wooley socks from childhood that haven't been worn in donkey's years. Why I wait until 11 pm the night before a flight to pack is beyond me and beyond my ex who could never understand this last minute thing either.
If he only realized just how stupid I thought the idea was too but just didn't have the discipline to change the pattern, maybe I could have gotten some 'packing training' which would have reduced pre-trip stress tremendously.
For people who don't travel frequently, they assume I never stress about a trip which is so not the case. The truth is that I worry about logistical things more than the place itself. I can pretty much assimilate in any culture, so I never worry about what it will look like, feel like or sound like. I don't worry about what the food will taste like or how I'll communicate with people. I worry about stupid shit like "what if I forget my adapter, my charger, my trusty super duper lens or I can't get connected." Yes, really. I was never this much of a geek until I moved to Silicon Valley but once a blogger, always a blogger and sharing in real time has never been more powerful.
My mind went back to the bug jacket as I searched my house for others things on the list I didn't have. I didn't worry all that much since I figured if I picked up some garlic at a farmers market in Winnipeg before I headed north to the Wilderness, then coated my skin it while sipping garlic tea, what bug would go near me? I may not make any human friends on this adventure either but at least the bugs will stay clear of me and I won't need to invest in a bug jacket. Something tells me I'll be wearing one regardless and it will all just be okay.
Bug jacket, fleece and wooley socks in August (or not), I'm excited about exploring new parts of Canada I've never set foot on and am thrilled to be doing it in summer when I don't also need ear muffs, scarves and furry boots in my luggage.
A new Canadian travel chapter for this travel addict is about to begin. And, I have a big smile on my face thinking about it.
Photo credit: IbackpackCanada website and CanadaBubble site.
April 29, 2012
TEDxSummit in Qatar's Doha Brings Together Nearly 100 Cultures to Accelerate Change & Meaning
I recently came back from Doha Qatar, where I attended a week-long event exclusively for TEDx organizers.
The first TEDxSummit was hosted by the Doha Film Institute at the Katara Cultural Center aka the Katara Valley of Cultures. The "village" is a bit like a sprawling outdoor convention center that houses an ampitheatre, tents and domes where you can see live concerts and events.
Katara was born out of a long held vision to position the State of Qatar as a cultural lighthouse of art if you will, highlighting the best of theatre, literature, music and visual art in the Middle East. It sits along the water, so you can watch boats sail by and a sunrise in the early evening off in the distance while you take in your event, whether it be performing arts or meetings, or in our case, a mishmash of both.
Before arriving, I wasn't sure what to expect, from the kinds of content they'd choose to why Qatar and what is Qatar? Refer to my numerous posts on Qatar including a write-up on the Arab Museum of Modern Art, images of the impressive Museum of Islamic Art, a display of work from renowned Chinese artist Cai Guo Qiang and the over-the-top Murakami Ego exhibit.
What is Qatar is probably the most mind blowing takeaway from the event as you'll see from my write-ups. At first, it didn't make sense why we were having an event in such a remote place, a country barely known to so many and yet, after returning from the Summit, the location makes perfect sense.
Given that the Summit attracted TEDsters from nearly a hundred countries around the world, it is in fact a fairly central location, though obviously a longer haul for those of us on the American west coast. And, given the diversity of the attendees, Qatar, which rather than having hundreds of years of history and cultural references, really only started to make its marks a few decades ago.
In other words, its a country in search of an identity as demonstrated by the volume of new immigrants pouring in to tap into Qatar's exploding economic growth...less a land of local Qataris and more a land of transplants from Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Lebanon, the list goes on.
And, let's not forget other stats: 75% of those living in Doha and surrounding area are expats/foreign nationals. Doha is preparing for its growing global interest; the city is about as modern as it gets with highrises going up faster than Las Vegas hotels in its prime.
The other reason Qatar makes sense as a location, is that so few of us in the west know "enough" about the Middle East, particularly the complexities of Islam and the culture that goes along with it. Understanding Qatar helps you understand the rest of the region.
Through greater understanding comes compassion, empathy, tolerance, gratitude and a willingness to not just expand your horizons and knowledge base, but reach out and help in whatever way makes sense. This, by the way, is integral to what TED at its core is about.
And so, we all embarked on soil that is new, yet old, to discuss ways we can help each other, sharing best practices, what works and what doesn't.
Some of the sessions included: How to Write About Your Speakers, Sponsorships, Keeping Your Event Sustainable, Social Media Strategies, Building Salons, Blogging, Making Change with Corporate Events, Capturing Great Photo Content, Planning, Stage & Production Tips, Branding, Livestreaming, Working with Tight Budgets and more.
Clearly it made sense for teams from specific regions to pow-wow with each other. Wwe had breakout sessions in large tents in the middle of the desert broken out by parts of the world, i.e., Eastern Europe, Australia, Central America and in the states, it was broken down even further (northern California, Midwest and so on).
Below are ketchnotes of one of the TEDxSummit sessions from C. Todd Lombardo, organizer of TEDxSomerville in the greater Boston area.
While meeting by region helps each group share resources, and even space for meetings, its amazing how much you can learn from organizers in parts of the world that have nothing in common with your own. This is separate of course from what you learned from locals who happened to be hanging out or 'working the event' -- in the middle of the desert.
For example, storytelling on stage is very different at a small event in West Africa, yet what is so natural in a village is often missing from a large TEDx stage that may resort to Powerpoint and a speaker's 20 years of experience and knowledge. The opposite applies too of course; there are clearly things from larger events that small towns can use to expand their presence and brand awareness. In other words: borrow from the formal for the informal and take the informal into the formal and make magic happen by blending the best of both together.
The other surprise for me was the whole concept of "you don't know what you don't know and you don't know who you don't know." I didn't even know all the organizers in my own region (greater Bay Area), nor did I know the depth of where TEDx events had spread.
For example, while the events are largely by geography, there are a few that are connected to brands/companies, universities and other institutions. Did you know that there's a TEDxHouses of Parliament? This isn't just fascinating data - this is revolutionary. Consider the kinds of conversations they have already had and will evolve as a result of this kind of "new" organization and collaboration.
Bringing everyone together to share, collaborate and execute on ideas around the world is brilliant. Let's not forget the 'healing' and compassion that comes as a result of greater understanding, which inevitably comes from bringing such a global audience together in one place.
Well done and hats off to Bruno Giussani, Chris Anderson, Lara Stein, and the NY & Doha teams for turning another great idea into a reality.
Some of the Speaker and Presentation Highlights include:
- 'The Human Arabesque' opening night video sourced inspiration from Doha's Museum of Islamic Art. The team researched traditional arabesque patterns in a quest to incorporate regional culture to create a moving, human sculpture representing the transformative power of x.
- Futurist Juan Enriquez has always been a long time favorite of mine. He contends that science and technology are leading us rapidly towards the next "human species." See excelvm.com.
- Vinay Venkatraman, who is a founding partner at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, has developed an alternative vision to creating a more inclusive world through a design concept he refers to as 'Frugal Digital.'
- TED Senior Fellow Cesar Harada demonstrated a bold new design for a sailing craft with a flexible rudder -- on both ends. Called 'Protei,' the robot is designed to sense and clean up oceans.
- I loved Shereen El Fedi's talk on how bad laws fuel and good laws fight HIV. Chart after chart, example after example, she demonstrated her point. Check out their work at HIV Law Commission.
- Amit Sood wowed the crowd with an incredibly impressive demo of the Google Art Project. They have collected and curated the world's greatest art, from museums and beyond, onto the web, making it as easy to access your favorite piece of work or view art you've never heard of or are likely never to see in person. You can even search by sub-category, by typing in for example, red and Picasso for everything that Picasso did in red. There are other filters as well that could keep you glued to this site for hours if not days.
- Rives, who many of us know as a renowned poet, has given awe-inspiring performances on the TED stage before. In Doha, he took us a journey of factoids using his poetic tongue. Bouncing from site to site, we learned about some of the most trivial and not so trivial knowledge on the web, ranging from culture and politics to insects and sex.
- With passion and energy, Indian artist Raghava KK argued why everyone should have a 200-year plan.
- Rare book scholar William Noel fascinated the audience with his research. Using a particle accelerator to read ancient works, he took us on a journey from start to finish. He's a huge believer in open-source and open-data and he and his team are making their work open to others (aka the web of ancient manuscripts).
- Comedian Maz Jobrani intertwined humor with local culture and events. You have depth as a comedian when you can stand on a stage in Qatar and have Americans, Lebanese, Saudi Arabians, Qataris, Scandinavians, Japanese and Aussies all laughing at the same time. He's known for his work on the 'Axis of Evil Comedy Tour,' which traveled around the world, including the Middle East.
- National Food Security Programme chairman Fahad Bin Mohammed Al-Attiya educated me most about where Qatar was a hundred years ago versus where it is today and where's its heading. They're working on a Master Plan, using Qatar, which only has two days of water supply, as a model for sustainable, environmentally friendly agriculture in arid regions.
- Yahay Alabdeli who curates TEDxBaghdad created a lot of teary eyed attendees with his story about how he traveled back to Iraq after 34 years to create an event that pulled not just locals but others who had left Iraq but returned specifically for his event. As you can imagine, it was much more than a reunion. He went through a number of obstacles to make it happen, so it seems perfect that his event theme was: "Making the Impossible Possible."
- One of my old time favorites Hans Rosling returned to the TED stage, bringing humor to sex, religion and data once again. What was even more fascinating was having his global trends in health and economics from every country in the world presented in a place where we had representation by nearly every region in the world. All of his talks exude one of his sweetest talents - his dry humor and quirkiness. Beyond the quirkiness he shows in his professional life, which adds to the power of his talks, let's not forget that the man swallows swords for kicks in his spare time. What's not to adore about Hans? (see a video interview with Hans at the Summit here - he uses legos, rocks and humor that reveals deep insight in typical Hans-style).
Because the event was an International Summit where best practices and learning beyond "talks" were a big part of the agenda, the highlights that will inevitably be glued to people's minds and hearts include the experiencial activities.
Below is a brainstorming session in a tent set up in the desert dunes, roughly an hour and a half south of Doha.
There was dune bashing, also in the south of the country.
And, kayacking among mangroves in the north, after which we were guests in the home of a local man, who fed us well and shared some of his photos and life experiences:
A visit to the Al-Zubara Fort:
A boat tour along the water:
The incredibly breathtaking Islam Museum of Art:
Education City has representation from some of the top schools, including Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University’s Weill Cornell Medical College, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Northwestern University, and others, with a goal to grow Qatar's knowledge base, making it an attractive place to visit and work in the future.
Below, Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar Weill Cornell.
Below is a shot taken at one of the cafes in the Souq Waqif one night (we ended up in the Souq several evenings). Despite the fact that the Souq doesn't serve alcohol, it was a great place to hang out, socialize, shop, drink coffee and eat fabulous local food.
Desert Day in the South. Of course, it wouldn't be desert day without an opportunity to catch a ride on a camel:
A casual shot of TEDx organizers in the desert...
Then there was the late afternoon drumming session, which frankly, I can never get 'enough of...'.
A music jam session in one of the main tents - small but intimate and full of great TEDx talent:
18-year old Jordanian pianist Sima Sirriyeh, who composes her own pieces played for us on the main stage.
Opening night, they danced and sang. And then, danced and sang some more.
We took in the best of the local culture and greater Doha through visits to Souq Faqif, the Arab Museum of Modern Art, and the Cai Guo Qiang and Murakami Ego exhibitions. Also check out Doha's Centre for Media Freedom.Late nights were spent in the hotel bars where we stayed: The W and Kempinski Hotels.
- Katara Village, Fort, Boat, Landscape City Shots, Brainstorm session, Hands, Anderson, Dunes, TedxStage Shot1: Javier Junes
- Yahay Alabdeli, Cesar Harada, Inside Museum of Islamic Art: Duncan Davidson
- Group shot in dunes: taken on my camera by a TEDx-er
- North site visit for lunch, middle of desert scene, Hans sword shot from a previous event, casual desert day shot, camel close up, Souq, Maz Jobrani, opening night, drumming circle, jam session in tent after hours, Sima Sirriyeh: Renee Blodgett
- Education City Weill Cornell University shot - website.
April 29, 2012 in Arts & Creative Stuff, Books, Events, On Africa, On Education, On Health, On India, On Innovation, On People & Life, On Robotics, On Science, On Technology, On the Future, Travel, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
January 01, 2012
New Years Greetings!!
January 1, 2012 in America The Free, Europe, Holidays, Magic Sauce Media, New England, New York, On Africa, On Australia, On China, On Costa Rica, On East Africa, On Fiji, On France, On Germany, On India, On Italy, On Japan, On South Africa, On Spain, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
December 25, 2011
Christmas in Every Language & Customs Around the World
Language is one of the most powerful things we have and when we can't communicate with someone because we don't know their language, we rely on hand gestures, hugs, expressions and the most universal ones: smiles when we're happy, tears when we're not.
I've spend the holidays in several countries over the years including India, Thailand, Australia, Mexico, South Africa, England, the Netherlands, Israel, France and a few places I'm sure I'm forgetting. Celebrations obviously differ even when you're celebrating within the same culture or religion. Jewish friends in New York buy a Hannukah bush, others don't honor it at all. If you've grown up in New England or northern Europe, snow often comes with Christmas and it becomes an association for you. If you live in Australia or Africa, chances are you've never had a white christmas.
Brazilians have a tradition of creating a nativity scene or Presepio, whose origins come from the Hebrew word "presepium" which means the bed of straw upon which Jesus first slept in Bethlehem. The Presepio is common in northeastern Brazil (Bahi, Sergipe, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraiba, Maranhao, Ceara, Pernambuco, Piaui and Alagoas).
In Denmark, a christmas feast was traditionally celebrated at midnight, where a special rice pudding is served. In the pudding, a single almond is hidden and whoever finds it will have good luck for the coming year. The bringer of gifts is known as Julemanden and arrives in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, a sack over his back. Sound famliar? He is asissted by Yuletide chores by elves called Juul Nisse, who are said to live in attics.
In Iraq, Christian families light candles, light a bonfire of thorn bushes and sing. If the thorns burn to ashes, good luck will be granted. When the fire dies, each person jumps over the ashes three times and make a wish.
Like in many Latin American countries, Nicaragua retains many of the customs of old Spain. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, people stroll the streets where there are many things to buy: candles, Nativity pictures, toys and foods. Children carry fragrant bouquets to the alter of the Virgin and sing carols. On Christmas Eve, church bells beckon the people to Midnight Mass.
In South America, Venezuelans attend a daily early morning church service between December 16th and 24th called Misa de Aguinaldo ("Early Morning Mass.") In Caracas, the capital city, it is customary to roller-skate to this service and many neighborhoods close the streets to cars until 8 a.m. Before bedtime children tie one end of a piece of string to their big toe and hang the other out the window. The next morning, rollerskaters give a tug to any string they see hanging.
In Japan, Christmas was apparently brought over by Christian missionaries but today, it has become very commercialized largely because gift giving is something that appeals to the culture. This is an interesting and funny story if its true, but in the scene of the Nativity when it first came to Japan, was so foreign for them because Japanese babies don't sleep in cradles. Like the states, they eat turkey on Christmas Day (ham is also common with many families) and in some places, there are community Christmas trees. Houses even have evergreens and mistletoe. They also have a god or priest known as Hoteiosho, who closely resembles Santa Claus, often depicted as an old man carrying a huge pack. He is thought to have eyes in the back of his head.
And, you've gotta love the Scots since they have so many quirky customs considering how close they live to the English. Celebration around the holidays is much bigger for New Years Eve than it is for Christmas, something they refer to as Hogmanay. This word may derive from a kind of oat cake that was traditionally given to children on New Year's Eve. The first person to set foot in a residence in a New Year is thought to profoundly affect the fortunes of the inhabitants. Generally strangers are thought to bring good luck. Depending on the area, it may be better to have a dark-haired or fair-haired stranger set foot in the house. This tradition is widely known as "first footing."
In the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia and before that known as Bohemia), they bring their traditions from the 10th century home of Good King Wenceslaus, the main character in the familiar English Christmas carol. It is said that English troops, fighting in Bohemia hundreds of years later, brought the song home with them. St. Nicholas is called Svaty Mikalas and is believed to climb to earth down from heaven on a golden rope with his companions, an angel and a whip-carrying devil.
An ancient tradition shared by the Czechs and in Poland involves cutting a branch from a cherry tree and putting it in water indoors to bloom. If the bloom opens in time for Christmas, it is considered good luck and also a sign that the winter may be short.
I'm amazed how many of these traditions involve some superficial physical ritual that somehow tells us whether good luck or bad luck will fall upon us, not unlike snapping a chicken wish bone in two I guess...or flipping a coin.
Below is a fabulous and fun list of Merry Christmas and Happy New Years in many languages from around the world. Obviously, we didn't capture them all but we did include a healthy list to get you started with practicing but you never know when you will come across someone from another culture around the holidays.
Alsatian: E güeti Wïnâchte un e gleckichs Nej Johr
Arabic: أجمل التهاني بمناسبة الميلاد و حلول السنة الجديدة (ajmil at-tihānī bimunāsabah al-mīlād wa ḥilūl as-sanah al-jadīdah)
Armenian: Շնորհաւոր Նոր Տարի եւ Սուրբ Ծնունդ: (Shnorhavor Nor Daree yev Soorp Dzuhnoont) Բարի կաղանդ և ամանոր (Paree gaghant yev amanor)
Bengali: শুভ বড়দিন (shubho bôṛodin)
Cherokee: ᏓᏂᏍᏔᏲᎯᎲ & ᎠᎵᎮᎵᏍᏗ ᎢᏤ ᎤᏕᏘᏴᎠᏌᏗᏒ - (Danistayohihv & Aliheli'sdi Itse Udetiyvasadisv)
Cheyenne: Hoesenestotse & Aa'eEmona'e
Cornish: Nadelik Lowen ha Blydhen Nowydh Da and Nadelik Looan ha Looan Blethen Noweth
Danish: Glædelig jul og godt nytår
English: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Estonian: Rõõmsaid Jõule ja Head Uut Aastat and Häid Jõule ja Head Uut Aastat
Fijian: Me Nomuni na marau ni siga ni sucu kei na tawase ni yabaki vou
Filipino: Maligayang pasko at manigong bagong taon!
Flemish: Zalig Kerstfeest en Gelukkig Nieuwjaar
French: Joyeux Noël et bonne année
German: Frohe/Fröhliche Weihnachten - und ein gutes neues Jahr / ein gutes Neues / und ein gesundes neues Jahr / und einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr
German (Swiss): Schöni Fäschttäg / Schöni Wienachte -- und e guets neus Jahr / en guete Rutsch is neue Johr -- Schöni Wiehnachte und es guets Neus -- Schöni Wiänachtä, äs guets Nöis
German (Bavarian): Froue Weihnåcht'n, und a guad's nei's Joah
Haitan Creole: Jwaye Nowèl e Bònn Ane
Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou
Hebrew: חג מולד שמח ושנה טובה - Chag Molad Sameach v'Shanah Tovah
Hungarian: Kellemes karácsonyt és boldog új évet
Indonesian: Selamat hari natal dan tahun baru
Irish: Nollaig shona duit/daoibh (Happy Christmas to you). Beannachtaí na Nollag (Christmas Greetings). Beannachtaí an tSéasúir (Season's Greetings) and Athbhliain faoi mhaise duit/daoibh (Prosperous New Year). Also, Bliain úr faoi shéan is faoi mhaise duit/daoibh (Happy New Year to you)
Italian: Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo
Japanese: メリークリスマス (merī kurisumasu) -- New Year greeting - 'Western' style
新年おめでとうございます (shinnen omedetō gozaimasu)
New Year greetings - Japanese style
明けましておめでとうございます (akemashite omedetō gozaimasu)
旧年中大変お世話になりました (kyūnenjū taihen osewa ni narimashita)
本年もよろしくお願いいたします (honnen mo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu)
Klingon: QISmaS DatIvjaj 'ej DIS chu' DatIvjaj (sg) and QISmaS botIvjaj 'ej DIS chu' botIvjaj (pl)
Korean: 즐거운 성탄절 보내시고 새해 복 많이 받으세요 and (jeulgeoun seongtanjeol bonaesigo saehae bok manhi bateusaeyo)
Kurdish: Kirîsmes u ser sala we pîroz be (and) Kirîsmes u salî nwêtan lê pîroz bê
Lithuanian: Linksmų Kalėdų ir laimingų Naujųjų Metų
Maltese: Il-Milied Ħieni u s-Sena t-Tajba - Awguri għas-sena l-ġdida
Maori: Meri Kirihimete me ngā mihi o te tau hou ki a koutou katoa
Mongolian: Танд зул сарын баярын болон шинэ жилийн мэндийг хүргэе and (Tand zul sariin bayriin bolon shine jiliin mendiig hurgey)
Navajo: Ya'at'eeh Keshmish
Nepali: क्रस्मसको शुभकामना तथा नयाँ वर्षको शुभकामना - (krismas ko subhakamana tatha nayabarsha ko subhakamana)
Norweigan: God jul og godt nytt år (Bokmål) and God jol og godt nyttår (Nynorsk)
Old English: Glæd Geol and Gesælig Niw Gear
Punjabi: ਮੈਰੀ ਕ੍ਰਿਸਮਸ। / میری کرِسمس (merī krismas - not used) and ਨਵਾਂ ਸਾਲ/ਵਰਾ ਮੁਬਾਰਕ। / نواں سال، ورہا مبارک (navā̃ sāl/varā mubārak)
Raotongan: Kia orana e kia manuia rava i teia Kiritimeti e te Mataiti Ou
Romanian: Crăciun fericit şi un An Nou Fericit
Samoan: Ia manuia le Kerisimasi ma le Tausaga Fou
Sardinian: Bonu nadale e prosperu annu nou
Slovak: Veselé vianoce a Štastný nový rok
Spanish: ¡Feliz Navidad y próspero año nuevo!
Swahili: Krismasi Njema / Heri ya krismas -- Heri ya mwaka mpya
Swedish: God jul och gott nytt år
Tahitian: Ia orana no te noere and Ia orana i te matahiti api
Thai: สุขสันต์วันคริสต์มาส และสวัสดีปีใหม่ - (sùk săn wan-krít-mâat láe sà-wàt-dee bpee mài)
Tibetan: ༄༅།།ལོ་གསར་ལ་བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས་ཞུ། - (Losar La Tashi Delek - Happy New Year)
Tongan: Kilisimasi fiefia mo ha ta'u fo'ou monū'ia
Ukranian: Веселого Різдва і з Новим Роком
(Veseloho Rizdva i z Novym Rokom)
Xhosa: Siniqwenelela Ikrisimesi Emnandi Nonyaka Omtsha Ozele Iintsikelelo
Yiddish: אַ פֿרײליכע ניטל און אַ גוטער נײַער יאָר - (A freylikhe nitl un a guter nayer yor)
The above list was a sample of a longer list from Omniglot, a site dedicated to languages from around the world. Visit their site for more languages including pronunciations. They also made the following note: Christmas is not universally celebrated and there are a number of different dates for Christmas and New Year depending on which calendar is used. Orthodox Christians who use the Julian calendar, for example in Russia and Serbia, celebrate Christmas on January 7. Another collection of phrases for the holidays can be found here. Also check out this link on Christmas Around the World.
December 25, 2011 in America The Free, Belize, Europe, Fiji, Holidays, Israel, New England, New York, On Africa, On Australia, On China, On Costa Rica, On East Africa, On Fiji, On France, On Germany, On Guatemala, On India, On Italy, On Japan, On People & Life, On South Africa, On Spain, Reflections, San Francisco, South America, Travel, United Kingdom, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
November 02, 2011
The Magic of Maine in the Fall: Where Lobster Meets a Perfect Sky
Maine is one of my favorite places on the planet and I'm counting over 74 countries at this point and have lived in eleven of those. Truth be told, I probably gravitate to its familiarity and small town American charm since I grew up in upstate New York and when renowned author Richard Russo writes about either one, I can't always tell the difference. (one of my favorite authors btw and hope I don't end my stint on this earth before meeting him, preferably over lunch).
While I used to drive up often when I lived in Boston, its been years since I ventured up Route 1 taking in every roadside stand, every lobster shack, every pottery stall, every antique store, every candle shop...unfortunately on my way up the coast, it was raining, but I didn't let it muck up all those previous memories camping somewhere you weren't supposed to be, slowly dozing off as you gazed into the fading fire with your last marshmallow on a stick.
There was one point in a turn north of Portland I recognized so well that I actually remembered not just the smell of twenty years ago but the color and texture of the trees on that wild group trip one July.
There were roughly 8 of us and we all decided to camp and cook, particularly since one of the friends on the trip was a French chef, married to a girlfriend from Colorado. We ended up roasting lobsters on the grill, carmelizing onions (Pierre always knew precisely when to grab them from the fire), and boiling corn. We had cheap French Bordeaux for drinking since we were all young with measly salaries, yet we felt as if we were eating and drinking like kings. And, we were.
We had Maine's midnight sky, the smell of pine, the taste of fresh lobster and good friends who loved to laugh a lot....and tell stories. We went up in a friend's open jeep (what I wouldn't do to relive that warm summer weekend where a carefree life with so few commitments was the order of the day).
I heard from that friend with the jeep recently although I wasn't able to see him this time round because of a family conflict. He now has gray hair, children and has one of those responsible jobs my Aunt Evelyn would approved of. I also didn't see my French chef friend and his wife; although they still live in the area, she was in Colorado visiting an aging and sick parent.
We all have schtuff going on and none of us are in our early twenties anymore and yet that drive sent a signal and a voice from my heart to my head that said in a not so quiet voice "you must and you will find a jeep and window where the weather is likely to be grand and drive up the coast of Maine, into its interior, bug spray and all. I'd wake up to a glorious New England sky, without my damn iPhone, without sending a Tweet or a Facebook update, without email beckoning me to do something not all that important.
Often, my ex-husband and I would jump into our beat up cream-colored Chevy stationwagon we called Daisy on a Friday afternoon, close our eyes, point to a place on the New England map with eyes still closed, open them and then drive towards whatever destination our fingers landed on. I paid my grandfather $350 for that car after I returned from a European trip not long after I graduated from college.
It was large enough to sleep in, which may not sound all that comfy, but we had my aunt and uncles mattress in the back from the 1950s (visual - old but very very soft), curtains that I made from some African materials I picked up in Kenya, a cooler, binoculars, sleeping bags and hiking boots. What else do you need in your early twenties? No cell phones. No laptops. Plenty of maps.
Somehow Maine turned up more often than New Hampshire or Vermont but regardless of where we went, one thing was constant: we'd wake up with the back window's light coming in just enough to remind us to jump up to see the early morning rise in the distance, a sight I never see today since I'm often up working (or writing) until 3 am. While New England not have Arizona or African sunrises, it delivers a beautiful sky morning and night and color-rich leaves every October that you can't find with such magnitude and scale anywhere.
The other thing that was constant was lobsters. While neither of us made much (I still find it shocking how much we did and the rich life we led with so little), lobster was cheap.
There were places we could find that for $9.95, you'd get a twin deal: essentially two one pound (to 1 and a quarter pound) lobsters. He often wanted to eat two so sometimes we splurged, but it tended to be the most we'd spend in a day. We ate them often and if we were on the coast, one thing was guaranteed, we returned to Boston late on a Sunday night with our hands and faces saturated with the smell of lobster.
On my way north, I didn't see one lobster shack opened even though I'd imagine October would be prime season for folks trying to make money off tourists. The weather was gray and many of the shops and stalls not only looked closed, but permanently so, I sadly wondered how hard things were hit with the economic downturn.
Things felt more run down and yet, they may not have been I reminded myself. It could very well be that living in Silicon Valley, a modern, fast paced environment where technology rules and money is plentiful, was enough of a lifestyle to make anywhere look recessed.
I had lobster in Camden at a restaurant but it wasn't cheap and it while it was good, I was more focused on the conversation of the group, aware of being present to their energy and input more than the food on my plate. You have to BE with lobster to really get lobster. I always found it amusing to watch how much time my ex would spend getting meat out of the legs -- his lobster and mine. It's a process. It's an experience. It's oh so so Maine.
On my south, it was on a Sunday, the weather was better, there was a blue sky and at the very least cafes and diners seemed to be open as I passed town after town. I ventured into antique stores and a few art galleries with price tags I'm sure only out-of-towners and those with second or third homes in Maine could afford.
It was a day I never wanted to end and yet, as I passed Warren and Wiscasset, I knew I had only about two hours left before those old familiar outer Boston suburb exits would be on my right, a sight that was part of every week of my life at one point in my life, a memory that now felt about as far away as early childhood.
If there were two words that came to mind as I reminisced of those precious days, they were fate and faith, two words I lived my life by. We both did. Fate loves the fearless and fearless we most definitely were in all aspects of our lives. Faith had so many meanings to me. Faith is looking at a sunset and knowing who to thank. Faith is having gratitude when things are not going your way and its been days since you felt a real smile. Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings while the dawn is still dark.
As I was in a place of faith and gratitude, I made my way over the bridge in Brunswick, and the sky got bluer, the clouds cleared out, the wind was dying down and there on the left was the lobster shack that wasn't open on my way up. Sprague's Lobster & Clambakes the sign read. Although a pick-up truck nearly healed me as I made my sudden turn left into the parking lot, I was there and lobster was calling my name.
You could get a lobster dinner with corn on the cob, cole slaw and a roll for $15.99. It was warm enough to sit at the picnic table and eat outside and so I ordered the largest size they had, which was only a one pound a quarter at the time I arrived, something they apologized for.
Sure, deep inside I was hoping for a pound and a half and two pounds seemed outrageously piggish although how often did I have a precious moment like this to take it all in and show up at one of those Boston suburb exits exuding lobster from every pore of my body? But knowing that a dinner at a friends was waiting for me in three hours, I ordered only one -- no extras, just a boiled lobster in all its glory.
The ticket was clipped up on a line, a bell was rung and off it went some 20 feet or so down to where Frank himself was boiling 'em up in a little shack. I meandered down for a chat and as I did so, his neighbor Robert Jones from Ridgeback Pottery came over to hang out as well.
Unlike most days in my life, I wasn't in a mad rush and I didn't care whether I had an Internet or phone signal and so there I was just like when I was ten, able to hang out and chat to two older men full of wisdom, rich stories and kind of humor that can't be found in its purest form on the west coast.
Both talked about their children, one of them lived in northern California, and Frank showed me photos of his dark-haired grandson who was bound to break many a woman's heart in about 15 years. After awhile, as I neared the end of my last claw, I was kicking myself for not ordering the twin lobster and Frank somehow knew this as he didn't give me much of a chance to fight him on cooking up another one before I left.
This time, he threw in a little pesto butter for the claws and while it was fabulous (definitely worth trying), I realized boiled lobster is best in its purest state, on its own, with a little lemon if you must.
While I love all seafood, lobster was what I was after. For those passing by however, Frank has many other options to try, including a crab or clam cake basket, crabmeat roll, fried or baked haddock, fresh chowder with lobster meat and lobster rolls.
You can also get a pound of steamers for $8.95 at the time of writing this. My pound and a quarter on its own with no frills was $10.95. Don't be an idiot like me and not order the twin - they're just too good to pass up and on top of it, you've got Frank's personal touch which is hard to find.
Robert's pottery had equal care and like a true artisan, he was proud as he showed me his work. Done using the Raku technique, the style mixed a little New England with Raku, which originates from the tea ceremonies of Japan.
The pieces are rapidly fired and taken from the kiln as soon as the glaze is melted. The rapid cooling causes the glaze to form cracks at which point, the pottery is placed into airtight reduction containers with pine needles, grasses, leaves or wood shavings.
This causes the cracks to absorb carbon and become black. The lack of oxygen also changes the color of the minerals in the glaze, and then the pieces are plunged into water to set the color.
How I wanted to buy some his pottery and a couple of the old oak chairs I saw in an antique store along the side of the road. If only I had a house down the road.
After devouring both lobsters with a huge smile on my face and the fabulous company of Frank and Robert, I made my way down the final stretch to the Massachusetts border to see old friends, a few I hadn't seen in several years.
Fate, faith and gratitude were the order of the day as my pores filled the car with the smell of lobster and my radio played old tunes from the 70s and 80s, a station that was pre-set and I didn't choose and yet it seemed to play every song I loved and was a magical part of my time in New England, part of one person's life history, stored in my mind's eye and memory only until now it is told in a story as I remembered it on that long drive this past October.
They were both the Maine I remembered, the Maine I still cherish and hopefully the Maine I will return to with a jeep on some future hot summer day.
For more reading about Maine and all things New England, have a meander through our Maine pages.
September 03, 2011
Eastern Europe Attitudes Shift as Tourism Leads & Corrupts the Way
Life was different and people were present more often than not, so lacking even in a 1980 and 1990-something America.
The wild west didn't have cell phones and we weren't glued to social networks, yet we still weren't as present and as engaged as Europeans were, at least that was my first experience of the place -- on the continent and the UK.
I've been back to Europe dozens of times since I moved back to the states, but more often than not, the goal was less about being committed to a life there and more about networking or sadly, even shopping. Or, a conference. Yawn.
In recent years, at meet-ups and conferences, everyone had their laptops open and cell phones handy so the "chat" was more to it than it was with each other. Yes, even in Europe, largely because the events were within a particular ecosystem, the one I live in inside the bowels of Silicon Valley -- technology.
I went on a walkabout to London (one of the places I lived btw) a few years back and decided to disengage from technology and re-engage with people and my trusty Canon 7D. One result aside from quality time with old South African and English friends in the burbs was a photo book entitled: Faces of London. I probably "shot" 10,000 photos during my time there across at least a dozen neighborhoods and had nothing short of a blast.
Even though I had "alone" time on my European "city" trips (Paris, Munich, Dublin, Rome, etc) in recent years, I didn't have the same kind of deja vu moments I had in Prague and Budapest over the past couple of weeks.
It started in Budapest where I met with a few start-ups and by chance, was lucky to be there for their annual "Independence Day" equivalent. I stayed along the river at a boutique 4 star hotel, one with a fabulous view of Parliament.
While I have done business with western and northern Europe, I haven't directly worked with Eastern Europe. In London, you can do a walkabout and get completely lost in the fabric of the city and no one will quite notice.
In Eastern Europe, even though physically I could blend in with the city's fabric, there are less tourists and the kind of tourists are likely different than what you'd find on the streets near Knightsbridge and the UK's own Parliament. The same applies to Paris.
What I forgot about the east was how structured things were despite the fact that in many ways, their bohemian past makes them rule-breakers rather than conformers. Like the rest of Europe, they seem to be obsessed with privacy so conversations about social media tend to get interesting.
AND, like southern Europe, things move at a snail's pace. If I send an email at 10 pm on a Friday night at home in California, chances are that email is answered by Saturday morning if I'm pinging someone in the states, east OR west coast. If you want to continue a discussion from a Friday meeting that went from 10 to 2 on a Friday, chances are you won't pick up that dialogue until Monday afternoon or Tuesday at the earliest. (not abnormal of course but in the land of technology start-ups, no response for 3 days feels like an eternity, at least to this overly connected baby).
I was hooked up with an iPhone on Tmobile which didn't work more than it did. That said, there were a number of free Internet cafes in both Budapest and Prague so if I really wanted to give the cities amiss, miss out on the history and culture and merely be connected, it wouldn't be too difficult to do so. Hotels still charge a fortune a day for connectivity and it's not always that fast.
Being connected and "staying" connected makes it pretty hard to truly be present with a destination's history, antiquity and human stories, all of which capture 700 year old castles, its walls and ceilings not to mention the nearby cathedral's altars and stained glass windows.
What was interesting about this trip was the polarity of things. On one hand, I was not as inspired to "shoot" as much as I normally am; somehow I anticipated I'd shoot 30,000 photos or more of romantic Prague, pegged the Paris of the east.
Yet, because of the commercialism I couldn't seem to escape from, I found it hard to be connected to my surroundings because in the foreground, there were countless groups of tourists with cameras and brightly colored sneakers and segway tours with loud-mouthed guides shouting at the dozen of so people in its wake.
Even in Paris, one of the most visited city in the world, I can still barter in a market, but in Budapest and Prague, they were less willing to barter and their prices were steep, i.e., $40 for a barrette sold by a street vendor, $70 for a plate of salad, pasta (no meat) and one glass of wine, $200 for pottery, and so on.
While entrepreneurism wasn't at the core of their attitudes, something had shifted and it was much worse in Prague than Budapest which is much less commercial.
In Prague, tour buses zipped in, leaving droves of people in groups who followed those in front of them like sheep not really listening to their tour guide who spent far too long telling the history of a brick statue than anyone should.
"Dribble, dribble, 14th century, dribble dribble," her voice echoed as about a quarter of the audience tried to follow along while others snapped shots of the statue they'll never remember the name of later. Then there were others who were merely starring off into the distance, still trying to recover from jetleg.
I ducked under and above the dribble and the wall of people who stood so close that it was hard for me to find my way to a free space. Alas, freedom. Blue sky. Clouds. Soft wind. Breeze. And then, more of them pile out, clinging to each other for safety and belonging, only later to be found at some Americanized or Anglicized pub where everyone speaks English and all the menus have prices listed in Euros as their primary currency.
In Prague, I found myself in angst by day four, ready to declare Prague the Eastern European Disneyland, a city who sadly sold its soul to the yanks, with its McDonalds and KFC scattered through its old town. Local artists have grown so accustomed to the tour buses and wealthy tourists that small photos were $30 and above on the Charles Bridge and a small regular coffee was about $4 a pop.
Grant you, I began to realize quite awhile ago now that the U.S. was on its way to being a third world country and its currency was going along with that title: Thank You George Bush. It was no more prominent in a place like Prague where prices felt more like Paris than East Europe, some of which was the result of the dollar being in the toilet. 20-something year olds even remarked how they remembered the dollar being at 40 when they were younger (5-8 years ago) and today it stands at about 15-16 to the Czech currency making most purchases a serious consideration more than an impulse buy.
Other aspects of disenchantment and disillusion had to do with the fact that Prague had become so commercialized that it was hard to break free from its Disney-like facade. The only way to avoid it was to jump on a metro or tram, choose a funky neighborhood ten or so stops out, get off and start walking. (away from town).
And, so I did. There was no other choice really. Not wanting to declare Prague a commercial write-off (it's beauty is far too magnificent and its musicians too awe-inspiring), I discovered side-streets and neighborhoods that locals told me.
I requested grit and grunge. I requested working class communities. I requested graffiti. I requested former bomb shelters. I requested local pubs and bars. I requested cafes with local prices and local service. I requested parks and steps, stairs and alleyways. I requested stone walls, weathered and torn. I requested places that didn't have places to serve me at all, but merely buildings, houses and terraces where people lived and life was exactly the same every day.
The discovery process began of course, but like every European city, you really need a few months (a year is better) to really get acquainted with its smell, culture, nuances and quirks. The more I meandered outside the inner walls, the longer I wanted to stay. The more I got stuck in old town and the tourist areas, which seem to spread for miles in Prague, the more I wanted to leave. (even Paris felt less saturated I thought).
I met 26 year old Marek, who told me his life story. I found him on a side street and intrigued by the fact that he was in old-fashioned overalls, I learned about his trips to various countries, all of which were escapes from commitment and a "real job," the primary reason he left Prague in the first place.
He would work for a month or so at high wages, so he'd have enough in his pocket for a few months of travel and then the cycle would repeat itself. (not uncommon for adventure-types in their early twenties, but I got the sense that Marek -- a high school drop-out -- would be doing this two decades from now.
He lived on "weed" and not much else. Connections with interesting people and diversity seemed to be important to him and after awhile (a long while), he admitted to the main thing missing in his life: a woman in his life, just one. Aren't we so much more alike than we are different, despite our demographics, despite our income levels, despite our goals?
Then there was the placid nature of my late twenty year massage therapist in Prague. She didn't seem to know the protocols of more formerly trained therapists yet she listened to what you needed and responded like a robot. I found it hard to find a male masseuse and wondered how much that had to do with protocols and culture than it did interests, norms and trends.
Everyone seemed to be afraid to break the rules, whether that was giving you a cup of tea 15 minutes after the breakfast dining room closed or sampling a taste of ice cream because there were 25 flavors to choose from. (on that front, the ice cream in both Budapest and Prague were so well presented, you thought for sure you must be in Italy not Eastern Europe -- and might I add, ten times more tasty than the U.S.)
My experience of Prague was about as close to my memory of it from the mid-eighties as Disneyland is from central Africa. Because of its intense overly processed structure, I had to move beyond my notion that Prague sold out to the yanks -- from its coffee to its tour buses to its castle tours and postcards to its outlandish prices.
The talent of the local musicians made most of this melt away, not to mention the incredible textures in the bridge walls and other antiquated buildings in the city. Then there was the outstanding art, conversations with local vendors and shop owners and overdoing it daily with chocolate, wine, duck, venison, lamb, foie gras and other such delicacies without feeling guilty for taking it all in.
Certainly a different experience than twenty years ago or even ten. The East has caught up with the west even if its governments have not. Go but go with more research and be sure to get out of the city centers into the neighborhoods and have conversations with people -- young and old -- and hear their stories. After all, isn't that what makes every trip memorable?