28 September, 2011

Do you have a permit for that speech?

Quite simply the answer is no.

I am writing today to occupy a space with my words. As I am incapable of occupying a physical space in the protests currently happening in New York City, I must utilize my resources to lend support to a cause. And what might this cause be, you ask? As I see it currently, it is a battle for fundamental freedoms.

Most commonly when we as Americans refer to fundamental freedoms we refer to the Bill of Rights, among others. As it happens, the freedom of which I am speaking tops the list.

The First Amendment reads:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."1
In my educated opinion this amendment protects citizens' rights to worship as they please and speak as they will. I also find, through this amendment, a source of empowerment for the general public to hold their Government accountable. As such, I have a couple things to say about certain trends presently playing out in the U.S. Government.

When citizens descended upon Wall Street to address their concern that Big Business and the U.S. Government still haven't ended their decades-long, turbulent love affair, they were greeted with barricades and police tape. Thanks to New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg and New York's Finest, NYPD, protesters were forced to take their message to nearby Liberty Plaza. I would argue that this is the first assault on freedom.

The point in protesting on Wall Street is to make an example of the injustice the protestors feel. When dealing with abstract thoughts like Freedom, it serves the outspoken best to connect the abstract thoughts to a physical symbol. In this regard, Wall Street is the symbol of political corruption and back room dealings that benefit, at best, 1% of the population leaving the remaining 99% a little worse for wear. Conversely, what if protestors at 1989 Tiananmen Square, China or 2011 Tahrir Square, Egypt had chosen a different location to express their grievance against oppression. Protestors chose these locations deliberately to strengthen the impact of their statements.

By prohibiting the Occupy Wall Street protestors from peacefully occupying Wall Street as the movement intended, New York City (specifically Michael Bloomberg) unethically denies access to the first amendment rights we as citizens enjoy. This compounds the issue for these protestors as they demand for an equitable, not profitable government. For this reason, I have taken up a small portion of my morning to practice, without fear of arrest, detention, or persecution, my first amendment rights.

What I have to share now, is that we are severely mistaken if we do not seek to maintain the same level of progress those before us fought for. Our forefathers fought for the freedoms outlined in the U.S. Constitution. Suffragettes fought for a legal voice to share in the direction of this country. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for freedom for our brothers and sisters to share in the direction of this country without fear of persecution based on the color of their skin. I fight for a fair and just society that does not believe value is exclusive to monetary terms. If we believe and become content with the idea that we have it made, then we easily accept demise. In complacency, we accept stagnancy.

Thomas Edison said it best, actually:
"We shall have no better conditions in the future if we are satisfied with all those which we have at present."
So there it is folks; Life is a moving target, so start moving.

[Image provided by https://occupywallst.org/]

P.S. Here are some interesting articles to keep an eye on:
Super Congress Campaign Finance Transparency
National Clamor for Peace: Oct 6, 2011

02 September, 2011

Why are you here?

After recently relocating to the Tampa Bay area, I've come face to face with a question that lines the lips of everyone I meet - "Why are you here?" This question, of course, is the paraphrase of many inquiries broadly related to the topic of Life Direction. So, what is my life direction? Well I've never been particularly thrilled by the idea of being restricted to a single course of action. Its like driving in Tampa, actually. Whenever I cruise up onto the highway, I would much rather enjoy the option of 4 different lanes than being confined to one lane of a bumper-to-bumper idiotfest. Yes, Florida drivers are some of the worst I've ever seen, but who doesn't think that every other state's drivers are worse than their own.

In an attempt to answer these questions for potential employers, acquaintances, and bartenders, I've naturally spent too much time over-complicating the matter. I throw out answers like "I want more sunshine in my life" and "I like the idea of being a short drive from the beach." Well, these answers aren't wrong; sunshine and beaches are among the perks of living here. But a more substantial answer can be provided in two simple words - "Why not?"

Of course, this answer really isn't the ticket for family members and employers. When asked "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" the interrogator might expect any variation of the stock response of "Home-owner, Spouse, 2.5 Children, Job Security, etc." There's nothing wrong with this response. It allows you to live comfortably; this is true. But perhaps you answer the question by saying, "I don't know." For so long people have understood this as a lack of purpose or passion; not considering the future is not being motivated. I say false. Rarely will someone answer the question by saying:
"In 5 years I hope to be unemployed, poor, hungry, and homeless."
Yes, most people strive to live a comfortable life, but that is not predicated on big box ideas of success, like you must make $X/year in order to be successful.

This brings me back to a conversation I had recently with a good friend of mine. Generally we were speaking on the purpose of higher education. I mentioned that as a college graduate I feel I exist in this dichotomy between going to school to find a job and going to school to learn. Let me preface this by saying there is nothing wrong with either of these. I maintain that college taught me how to learn. Now this sounds strange because, of course, I'd already learned quite a bit before entering college. This K-12 is all just the foundation, though; information that is largely built on memorization of facts and figures, you know - multiplication tables. I created the superstructure of my education, however, with my college experience. No I didn't pursue a business degree, nor a teaching degree. I got one of those "useless" degrees in social sciences, liberal arts and all that crap.

Well as I mentioned earlier, neither purpose is better - what makes the difference is what you do with that degree. Receiving a business degree offers a pretty clear cut direction forward - working in business. Receiving a learning degree offers an infinitely complex series of directions forward. Just because I didn't formally accept 4 years of "How to Run a Business" doesn't mean I'm not capable of running a business. In fact, aside from the jargon, I'd say I'm just as competent running a business (if not more) than some of the Frat-Man-Children in my peer group at the College of Business.

So, as it stands I'm young, I know how to learn, I am ambitious, I have many passions, and I live in a world where success is socially defined by monetary wealth. I think my answer to your question "What do you want out of life?" is quite simply, "For you not to think of me as one of them, but one on my own." I went to college to learn; now I'm learning in a different way. I am testing waters and taking risks. If I knew where this would lead I would already be there, but I'm more interested in the getting there part. Yes, I'll make mistakes. Yes, I will get hurt. But what is life without that Old College Try?

No, "Learning" was not a metaphor for a drunk wasted experience. Though, I still enjoy some whiskey every now and then. Haha

Peace and Love, y'all.

10 March, 2011

Chicago, Illinois: 21 41 53 N, 87 38 W

I haven't done much traveling lately, so I haven't felt compelled to update a blog. Very recently however, I traveled to the capital of the Midwest, the Windy City - Chicago. Many people asked me my reason for visiting, but with each question I found it increasingly more difficult to answer. "Why not?" I would say to their inquisitive expressions. I had no real purpose for going; I just wanted to go. So after a much complicated booking process I found myself on my first transcontinental train ride.

The train was enjoyable. I was seated in the front of the car, however, so inspecting the passing landscapes proved difficult. This changed when the dining car opened; of course I had to partake of a cup of train car coffee and dry, jagged toast. The view was not worth the impending stomach ache - Industrial Midwest and Smalltown, USA.

Upon arriving in the Windy City, I struck out for my hotel so that I could check bags and explore the city burden-free. I booked a room at the Sheraton, whose lobby and general appearance boded well for an overall luxury weekend. My personal quarters featured a spectacular southern exposure of the Chicago River, Lake Michigan and a confusing cross-section of Chicago's tiered highways/parking structures. The minibar was not refrigerated (irrelevant, though, as an 8 dollar beer did not sound appetizing). The beds were spectacularly comfortable - probably the best nights sleep in a while, and the bath was mediocre.

And now it was time to explore. To say that I had no objectives would be false, but these objectives were more guidelines in case the spirit of the city failed to move me. Luckily for me Chicago's winds will move you just about anywhere, and I was soon blown into shops and restaurants that met my objectives and more. Without further ado, here is a list of the gems that I discovered on my journey.

Neighborhoods: Wicker Park, Boystown, Lincoln Park
Bookstores: Quimby's, Myopic, Unabridged
Restaurants: 1492, The Chicago Diner, Blue Line Lounge and Grill
Coffee Shops: The Wormhole

Quimby's - Great selection of fringe literature (fiction and non-fiction). Particularly favor graphic novels and local magazine/zines.
Myopic - Fabulous used bookstore with a wonderful selection of poetry, fiction and various non-fiction subjects.
Unabridged - Large selection of books, though Gay and Lesbian literature is their strong suit.

1492 - A Delicious tapas bar with a reasonable price. The atmosphere is calm and seductive, inviting you to taste true Spanish cuisine. Overall a great experience, though I was slightly disappointed by the tortilla. This tortilla was finely layered unlike most that I've had, which incorporates thick potato chunks and chopped onions into a skillet shaped omelet. The tortilla at 1492 felt more like a potato lasagna; though, for presentation this dish still scores high.

The Chicago Diner - Hands down the most interesting diner experience of my life. Fired cheese cubes at the Bowling Green Corner Grill cannot compete with dishes like sweet potato quesadilla, pumpkin ravioli, and endless sandwich combinations all limited to vegetarian and vegan products. This diner has been meat free since 1983, and boy does it work. They have the most diverse array of unexpected dishes with rich flavor and filling portions. The only downside I see to this great dining experience is the size of the restaurant itself. Growing in popularity while not in size means longer waits for a seat inside. Patience truly is a virtue at this Boystown locale so bring a book or do a little light shopping around the neighborhood while you wait for a piece of that vegetarian pie.

Blue Line Lounge and Grill
- Who knew mac n' cheese could be so good? I've had many mac n' cheese variations before, but this one takes the cake. Chock full of hearty vegetables and savory cheeses this is the mac daddy of them all...ha ha. They also have pretty great drink specials, and a 3 dollar glass of wine is actually quite tasty. So if you find yourself on the Blue line, hop off at Damen and hit the grill for a martini and mac!

Wormhole - I only got black coffee here, but the atmosphere is grand! Lots of movie posters and artwork, and great company make this coffee shop a pretty happening place!

All in all I would say this trip was a success and I gathered some pretty valuable information which I will dispense now:

1. The journey is not about the arrival but the constant motion throughout. So when someone asks you why, reply with a resounding why not?
2. Do a little research before you go, it will make backtracking on the metro a lot less frequent.
3. Smile and always tip your cab driver.
4. Write letters often.

17 June, 2009

Día 20 | 21:50 | 17.06.2009

It's hard to believe that 20 days have already passed since I arrived in España. It's even harder to believe that in 10 more days, I'll be trans-atlantic, on my way home. People were right when they said it would fly by. I just didn't want to believe them. Oh well, I plan on taking full advantage of these last ten days in Salamanca...

But I digress...

As promised I've finally taken pictures of my favorite place in Salamanca - El parque de las Jesuitas. They, however, will not be posted until next time. For now, I have something a little more interesting to discuss.

Since I've been here, I've noticed a great deal of graffiti. Now when the graffiti is good I'm a fan. This is not the case in most painted acts of vandalism in the United States. There is, however, something especially different and interesting about the graffiti here in Salamanca (and other cities of Spain.) The graffiti here, I feel, possesses a much larger meaning than in the United States.

For example, my friend Jisoo and I left a bar one night to find our way home. On the way we passed some walls constructed of sheet metal, hiding what - I wasn't sure. One of these walls bore a particularly striking work of graffiti. As depicted in the photograph to the left, this graffiti read "Al-Qaeda = E.E.U.U..." For those of you who aren't familiar with Spanish: Al-Qaeda is the same, and E.E.U.U. is The United States of America.

Of course I don't really have much to say when I see something like this. I simply let out a little chuckle (not out of arrogance, but more so out of admiration) and go on my way.

The politics don't stop here! More graffiti, all over the city with blatant expressions of political/moral/social positions. Some graffiti that reads "destruye el facismo" (Destroy facism.) Other graffiti reading "Basta T.V. - Corrosiva para la mente" (Enough tv, it's corrisive to the mind.)

But still my favorite act of vandalism to date is painted on a wall just outside of El parque de las Jesuitas. Of course I took a photo:

"Condones para África y SIDA para la iglesia." - (Condoms for Africa and AIDS for the Church.)

Of course, I've not really travelled to many large United States cities, and as such I cannot accurately comment on the graffiti of these places. But it would seem that the graffiti in Spain carries a much greater meaning than the painted pissings of masculinized gang hounds. Instead of being abused to mark territory, this artform is used to express the political or social opinions of the citizens all over the city.

Just something that I've noticed since being here.

Now I'm off to the Plaza.

14 June, 2009

Día 17 | 17:41 | 14.06.09

Oh, Valencia!

So I just got back from another weekend getaway. This time, I traveled west to Valencia! Unfortunately, I was much to lazy to lug my camera around, so you'll have to take my word that it was beautiful!

After a night train to Madrid, a nights stay at the International Hostel Posada de las Huertas, and a cross-country train to Valencia the next day, I was sitting on the Mediterranean! The beaches were amazing and the water was perfect! Naturally this is were I spent most of my stay in Valencia.

Some hours later I returned to my hostel to shower and get ready for the night. All I have to say: interesting.

The next day, I packed up my stuff, dropped my duffel bag off at the front desk until I was ready to leave, and hit the streets to explore a little. Also an incredibly enlightening experience. Valencia has some beautiful parks.

Finally came the time for me to depart, so I picked up my belongings from the hostel and headed to the train station. 3 hours and some odd minutes later (and after sitting through an entire viewing of the Spanish version of "Nights in Rodanthe") I was in Madrid once again. This visit was less comfortable as I only had 30 some minutes to get from one train station to the other in order to make it back to Salamanca that night. Luckily the 15 subway stops and 6 flights of stairs did not impede me. I arrived at Madrid Charmartín Station and purchased my ticket at 21:05 with only minutes to spare - the train left at 21:13.

So that was my trip to Valencia. My apologies for being so vague, but after the incredibly personal experience this was, I find it hard to comment much on everything that had occured.

Back in Salamanca, a pleasant summer drizzle lulled me to sleep. I slept late in the morning, defying the sunlight that peaked through the window and danced upon my face.

10 June, 2009

Día 10 | 22:58 | 07.06.2009

In the immortal words of Chelsea Handler: What…a whirlwind.

This passed week has been extraordinarily busy. Between studying for classes, meeting friends, trying to establish a fitness regimen, and traveling there hasn’t been much time for writing all of it down.

Well, yes classes have started. I’m taking grammar class, a Spanish cinema class, and a conversation class. All the professors are amazingly nice, and my cine professor is maybe just a little bit loca!

I’ve found a really nice park that will suit me perfectly for running. It’s called El Parque de las Jesuitas. Of course there will be pictures later for all to see. Otherwise I’ve just been meeting new people and traveling a little, which brings me to the bulk of this entry: Portugal.

This weekend our group went together to Portugal. And let me say first that I absolutely loved it! In all we visited 3 different cities: Aveiro, Coimbra, y Oporto. Each city provided us with its respective insights to the Portuguese culture. Most of the time, however, was spent in Aveiro. Our hotel sat conveniently between 2 parks and the canal. Aveiro is a beautiful city.

Our first night we had an excellent Portuguese dinner complete with sopa verde, Bacalhau (cod in English,) Flan, and café. One thing that I have come to understand about the Spanish and Portuguese - They know how to eat. (I assume the same can be said for many other European nations as well.) After dinner, some friends and I meandered through the streets to a couple of pubs, but all in all a mild evening.

Upon waking the next day, I ate a tastey breakfast which consisted of a croissant, an apple, and a glass of orange juice. From there we were off to visit Coimbra. We ran into a little bit of bad weather, but all in all the trip was successful. We saw the university (one of Europe's most prestigious,) and a couple cathedrals.

At one of the cathedrals in Coimbra, I saw an old bird, sick and struggling, on the steps. It was a little to much to witness, so upon entering the cathedral I took a moment to ponder this bird and its life. When we left the cathedral the bird lay lifeless on the cold stone. Still that bird is in my mind.

But moving forward, as always, we left Coimbra early that afternoon and returned to Aveiro to spend some time on the beach. My second time ever seeing the Atlantic Ocean, and it was twice as impressive as the first.

The final and most triumphant story I have to share from my excursion to Portugal takes place in a small pub on a crowed street of Aveiro. This particular Saturday, a birthday was in need of being celebrated, and luckily our group stumbled into the perfect place. One of the friends I have made since being here turned 21 admist the sounds of 12 or more Portuguese men, a band of brothers who call themselves the Tuna, singing and celebrating nothing in particular, rather life itself. We drank. We danced. We learned. I drank some more. And we finally we returned, smiling, to our hotel. I slept well that night, glowing with my new understanding that these people exist in this world.

The next morning I awoke abruptly to an unfortunate realization. But that, perhaps, is a more personal story to be shared over a cold beer or a warm cup of tea.

All in all, Portugal - Success.

Day 2 | 20:09 | 30.05.2009

Lesson of the day: Never drink 1.5 liters of water before a 2-hour bus ride.

I woke up this morning around 7 o’clock. I slept incredibly well, and hopefully my body is used to Spain time for the most part. After showering and drying off with the shirt I’d worn the previous day, I grabbed a small breakfast and hit the road. I was a little sad to say bye to Ben, he was a pretty cool guy.

3 metro trains later, I was standing in Barajas Airport again. I met up with my group and then went to check to see if my luggage had arrived this morning. Unfortunately it did not, but the good news is that they did locate it – still in Newark.

I returned to the group and met the rest of the students. They all seem nice, but I think I’m the only person who hasn’t been here before, Europe anyway. We boarded the bus (I with 1.5 liters of water in my bladder) and headed towards Salamanca. I couldn’t enjoy the trip as much because of the excruciating pain striking through my abdomen. The moment we arrived I ran off the bus, straight to the closest w.c. Now that I had relieved myself, I could meet my host mother. María is so nice! She has two children, a son and a daughter that were there as well – also friendly people!

We came back to her place and she prepared me an amazing lunch. It’s going to be difficult to remain being a vegetarian here. She will cook foods with meat, and I will eat them. How can I not? She’s going through the trouble of preparing them!

After lunch, I took a siesta, which was amazing! My bed is super comfortable! I slept a little longer than I wanted to, but I needed it. When I woke up Jizoo (another student living with María) and I went into la Plaza Mayor. She showed me several places to hang out, go shopping, and party! Good news: no cover charges at bars or discotheques in Salamanca!!!

Once I had the low-down, Jizoo left to charge her phone and I needed to stop at a market and get some things (i.e. a toothbrush). I wandered home, getting a little lost on the way, but luckily I saw María in the street and she helped me out! She calls me Dani, just like my mother used to. I find that strangely comforting.

I really think this month is going to be good for me. Physically - a lot of walking. Mentally - Español. Español. Español. So here's to the rest of the month!