The Race is On

 

Have you heard? It’s election time in America.  A year of campaigning, grandstanding, hand-shaking, politicking, debating, mud-slinging and flag-pin wearing. A year filled with super-PACs, soapboxes, and the good ol’ red, white and blue.

Yes, once again we are voting for who will be our next president. It’s the right of all citizens to fill out a ballot and cast a vote. A right that is supposed to level the playing field, no matter what our path was to citizenship.

Of course, when it comes right down to it, not everyone votes. And that’s their right, I suppose.  Which is ironic, when you consider that there are countries where voting is not allowed, and where I’m pretty sure, many folks would give their eyeteeth for the right and privilege to cast a ballot.

As we have.

Perhaps some of us just don’t feel a strong desire to have a hand in picking the next president. Or senator, governor, or even, mayor. Maybe, we figure, others will do it for us, so that we can go about the business of living our lives and shopping at the mall.

Well, that’s never been the case in my family. From the time I first became aware that I was born in a country that has a president, I learned about our inalienable right to vote.

Back then, my mother wasn’t a citizen yet, but my father had already become one.  As a Latino, he was proud of his U.S. citizenship. For him, this was the land of opportunity, a place that gave him the chance to earn a college degree, and build a better life for his children. He always made sure he voted and, by his actions, he instilled in us the desire to be actively involved in the voting process.

It’s election time in America. What does Race 2012 mean to you?

I remember the political discussions my parents would have. They’d read the newspaper, and watch the news with Walter Cronkite, and then add their own two cents to the day’s issues. Sometimes, my father would yell at the TV, but I think that was mostly during the Watergate hearings.

When my mother became a citizen, she couldn’t wait for her chance to vote, too. The night before Election Day, she’d review the ballot measures, look at the pros and cons of each candidate, and create her “voting list” to take into the voting booth.

When I turned 16, I volunteered for my first presidential campaign. My friends and I were bussed from Long Island, across the state line to New Jersey, and deposited in a neighborhood, where we spent the day going door to door, asking people to get out and vote. Some listened politely; others didn’t give us the time of day.

And that was their right.

For my generation, 18 was a magical year. The year we became adults and were legally allowed to drink. But, when I turned 18, I remember just being excited about finally getting my chance to vote. And, I have voted in every election since. Nowadays, I don’t even go to the polls. I just mail in my ballot. But, I do miss getting the flag sticker that is given out at polling places, the one you can put on your lapel to show that you voted.

In most states, the deadline to register to vote is sometime in October. You can check here to find out the deadline for your state. If you haven’t yet done so, I hope you’ll take the time to register. After all, your vote counts as much as mine does. No matter where we come from, no matter what our race, religion or sex, our votes do matter.

Starting in October, I’m launching a blogging project to coincide with a new PBS documentary by the same name:  Race 2012. It’s about race and the election and what it means for each of us.  If you’re interested and would like to participate, sharing your personal story, photos, art, or editorial cartoons, then drop me a line at monicastangledweb@gmail.com, and I’ll send you information.  To those of you who have already signed on, thank you!

Yep, it’s about time for Race 2012, and together we can make a difference. Please feel free to tweet this and share with other bloggers. Then, I hope you’ll share below, your feelings and memories of voting.

 

Four Cities, Three Gals, Two Weeks

Four cities, 14 days. Three gals on a journey of a lifetime.

Did I have what it takes to make the most of it all? Was I ready for the time of my life? And, when all was said and done, did any of the cities we visited become my favorite?

If you ask me, Henry was on to me and my imminent departure. I think he had an allergy flareup as a way to get me to stay. The fiend!

Yes, yes. and heck, yes!

Being an honorary Girl Scout, I was ready. My ducks were all in a row. Indeed, having started planning this trip months in advance, I prepared and trained for this European vacation with the utmost precision, one befitting well, um, Captain Von Trapp, whistle and all. I kept countless lists of all I would need to do prior to departure. Passport? Copy of passport? Check and check!

I was determined that nothing would go wrong. I paid all my bills in advance. I arranged for a friend to water the plants in my patio. I even made a trip to my local Target store to purchase the necessary toiletries, making sure all were under three ounces.

Not wanting to leave any stone unturned, I asked a number of friends for advice on traveling abroad. (Thanks, Ashley, Trisha, Christine, Bella, Susan and Clare!)

I left a copy of my itinerary with my son (who never even looked at it!), along with thorough instructions on the care and keeping of Henry. I also contacted Henry’s vet to let his office know, that in the event of any unforeseen mishap, my son would have the authority to make all decisions on Henry’s behalf. I then gave them my credit card number, in case of emergency expenses.

My daughter (seen here at Park Güell) was climbing the walls, having already spent six weeks in Barcelona by the time I arrived. Just kidding. She loved it there!

I also made sure my trust was in order, and then proceeded to get all weepy as I told my son where I keep all the important documents, in the event of, well, anything. Of course, I reminded him of my desire to be cremated, in the event that my plane didn’t make it across the pond. After all, I found it unfathomable that a plane could make a ten-hour journey without stopping for gasoline! My son, the compassionate soul that he is, just stared blankly at me and shrugged.

Then, I did what every traveler does prior to departure. I packed, keeping in mind what my daughter, who was already in a Barcelona study abroad program, advised. Pack lightly! A daunting task, if you ask me, given I am fond of having all the comforts of home wherever I go.

To save space in my suitcase, my friend, Susan, said she’d heard that some people pack just two pairs of underwear and alternate. At first, I wondered, exactly how much space does underwear take, that I should only pack two? I assumed what she’d heard, but didn’t mention, was to pack two pairs and wear the other 12 on the plane. Not the most comfortable way to travel, mind you, but I was up for the challenge.

When the day came to board the plane, I was ready. Which is when Henry had an unexpected bout with allergies (clearly, he was allergic to my impending departure), and I had to make the decision whether to take him to the vet and hope they’d see him without an appointment (he’s Henry, after all!), which could have the potential of leaving me with barely enough time to go through security and board the plane. Or, I could leave it to my son to handle once he dropped me off at the airport. I chose the latter.

Six days later (well, actually, 24 hours later but it sure felt like six days!), I arrived at my first destination: the London Heathrow Airport, which was all abuzz with Olympic fever, and where I spent every minute of a two-hour layover maneuvering my way through the maze, the crowds, the security, etc, in order to get from one gate to the next.

The view from atop Park Güell, one of Gaudi’s finest achievements.

And, before you could say, “Bob’s your uncle,” I was headed to Barcelona–exhausted and damp with perspiration–to meet my daughter and a friend she had met through her study abroad program, who would be traveling with us.

Together, the three of us would leave Barcelona and traipse across Europe. And, by Europe, I mean Vienna, Salzburg and Prague, all cities rich with history and chocolate. Yes, the world was our oyster–and we had lots of ground to cover!

But first, there was the matter of ice.

Turns out, I love ice. Have a thing for it, really. But, ice could be the very thing that separates Americans from the Europeans. The line in the sand, if you will. And, the lack of it had the potential to cause an international incident.

For, like Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. And, by Kansas I mean, the USA. But, I’ll tell you about it in my next post.

Did all my planning guarantee nothing would go wrong? And, what was my favorite city?

Well, all will soon be revealed.
In the meantime, tell me. How do you prepare for a long trip?

Euro Traveller Extraordinaire

Guess who’s back?

It’s me!

Actually, I’m writing this as I make the last leg of my trip, and I’m heading home! After all, after weeks of traveling, home is where the heart is. Home is where I hang my hat.

This is a chocolate waffle concoction, served with gelato, from a little shop in Barcelona.

And, as it turns out, I’m a Euro Traveller! At least, that’s what British Airways called me as I  traveled within the European continent. By that, I assumed they meant that I carried lots of Euros with me. Which, technically, I did not!

Though, I did start out with plenty of euros at the beginning of my journey, but all those pretty postcards, and bookmarks did add up and I just had to have that adorable little mosaic-sculpted owl from Barcelona (so reminiscent of Gaudi, after all). That owl is sure to look perfect in my ever-growing owl collection.

A slice of Sacher Torte from the Sacher Hotel in Vienna, where the dessert was invented.

Then, there were the pair of Italian shoes, a genuine leather purse for my daughter, a couple of tote bags with the names of the cities we were visiting emblazoned on them, a picture book of the Palau de la Musica Catalana in Barcelona–the most visually stunning architectural achievement ever created, if you ask me. Not to mention all the meals–croissants, meats, seafood, bottles of “still” water, Sacher tortes—along with public transportation fees, water closet fees, and one delightfully bouncing wooden bumble bee on a spring coil, which I couldn’t resist, and refuse to discuss further.

And, of course there were the chocolates. Ah, chocolate!

As English comedienne Jo Brand once said, “Anything is good if it’s made of chocolate.”

And, she should know. She’s from the continent that specializes in all things chocolate. If you ask me, if there’s one thing Europeans know how to make, it’s chocolate. In America, we eat chocolate that can’t hold a candle to its European counterpart. Much of ours seems to be a blander version of their chocolate, and, frankly, I wonder if you can legally call what the big candy companies in the states sell here, chocolate, particularly when it has so many other ingredients, such as emulsifiers, artificial flavors and the like.

Even the European version of the popular American candy, Kit Kat, tastes better. Tres chocolatey, if you ask me. Those Europeans take their chocolate seriously and accept no substitutions in their ingredients.

Which is why our suitcases were stocked with chocolate to last us the coming year. Chocolate bars,

From a chocolate shop in Salzburg.

biscuits, fudge, truffles, cookies, bark, wafers, you name it. Dark, bitter, semisweet, milk, fondant, and even my least favorite, white. All the colors of the chocolate rainbow. And when it comes to chocolate with nuts, the nut of choice, hands down, is hazelnut.

Plus, chocolate makes great gifts for all my chocoholic friends. (There’s one with your name on it, Trisha!)

We procured so many chocolates while in Prague that it earned us two free passes to the Chocolate Museum, which was headed by a snappy Czech, looking rather Willy Wonkish in his big chef hat and white apron, and red ascot.

Which is why I don’t have any euros left, or, for that matter, korunas (which is the currency used in the Czech Republic), except for a few coins. I still have my American money, but, turns out, they’re useless in these parts, and not worth as much as the euro. I also have one pound, a leftover of my trip to London seven years ago, which I brought with me because I knew I’d have a stopover in London and perhaps have time to get a Summer Olympic souvenir.

In Prague, this Belgian waffle on a stick is served with either dark, milk or white chocolate.

So, British Airways may call me a Euro Traveller, but, as it turns out, all they really mean is that I’m traveling within the European continent, which I did twice. First, when I boarded a plane from London to Barcelona, and then another from Prague to London. Soon I’ll be boarding my flight back to the states. And, according to British Airways, that makes me a “World Traveller!”

I can’t wait to be officially back and regale you with stories of my adventures abroad, including my bizarro, Fawlty Towers experience, and my never-ending search for ice.

But let me unpack, and gather my bearings. Let’s hope jet lag doesn’t overtake me. Think of me as one of those astronauts who’s been away from the planet for an extended period and now must remain in a holding pattern before resuming life as I once knew it: Blogging away!

And while I’m busy, ahem, with these other matters, and sorting through the over 1,200 photos I took, I will resume reading your blogs and playing catch up wherever possible, and hoping you’ll forgive me if I miss a few.

All I need now is someone to pass me a shovel so I can unload all the chocolate from the suitcases. And, while I’m doing this, please take a moment to let me know what you’ve been up to, and please leave a link to any of your favorite posts that I may have missed while I was away.

Southern California’s Jewel

Just down the way from me, a few miles south, you’ll find La Jolla which means, jewel, and it truly is a gem of the region. Whenever I have out-of-town visitors, this is where I bring them. To take a stroll along this path and gaze upon this gorgeous view. Not to mention the seals.

Years ago, a short time after I moved here, harbor seals took over what is still, pretty much known as La Jolla’s Children’s Pool. This particular beach had once been designated as a beach for children, as requested by San Diego philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, and when I first moved to this area, I actually brought my kids to this beach a couple of times. However, a seal colony soon took it over and the rest is history.

I love seeing the seals in this natural setting, living and thriving right here, in our midst. But, since they’re arrival, 20 years ago, there’s been an ongoing battle between environmentalists who want to protect them and their right to be here, and those who want to reclaim this beach for children. But, the seals have been here so long now, (it’s become a tourist attraction, as tour buses bring visitors here daily), that I can’t imagine how they’d do if they were forced to leave and resettle elsewhere.

So, take a look at my photos of La Jolla, and tell me, isn’t this the most beautiful place for a stroll? I feel so lucky to live here!

If you’re going to live by the ocean, might as well enjoy the view, as this bicyclist is doing.

These Harbor seals claimed this cove as their home about about two decades ago, yet it’s still called Children’s Pool. Debate looms whether humans should be allowed into their habitat. For now, some, as pictured here, do impose themselves on the seals’ habitat.

This automobile screams, So Cal! The Beach Boys surely must be nearby.

Some folks will wear just about anything on the beach. Hope they remembered sunblock.

I just love the view from here!

If I wasn’t lucky enough to live here, I’d certainly want to vacation here, along the rugged coastline.

This house is directly across the street from the ocean. I could definitely see why anyone would want to live here, perhaps relax on this appealing bench and lose themselves for hours in the seaside view.

I can’t think of a better place for yoga, can you?

Another perfect bench for a respite. Care to join me?

Henry wasn’t the only dog enjoying a stroll along the La Jolla Shores.

A variety of gulls make their home here–Willet and Western gulls. Heermann’s Gulls, too. From a distance, I swear these gulls look like penguins.

There is so much beauty to feast upon along the jagged coast of La Jolla.

And One More…

Over the years, here, too, the trees have succumbed to the flow of the wind. Yet, they still thrive, and are works of art created by nature’s hand.

Remembering My Father

Today was my father’s birthday. He would have been 99 years old. In honor of the anniversary of his birth I’m thinking of pineapple upside down cake.  For that is the cake my mother would bake, year after year for his very low-key birthday celebration. It was his favorite kind of cake and it soon became mine, too.  How I looked forward to my father’s birthday, just to have a slice of that once-a-year cake, lovingly made for a one-of-a-kind dad.

Circa 1978. From left: My father, Regina, Rafael, my mother, Cesar and me.

And if I learned anything from my father, it’s just how important family is. He loved us with complete devotion and indulged us whenever he could. I’m pretty sure he would have given us the moon if he had figured out a way. And yet, as good as he was as a father, he could also be at times exasperating, frustrating, and impossible.

When he died, almost 17 years ago—and just five months after my mother’s passing—a cousin put it like this:

“Your poor mother. Your father only gave her five months of peace. Now he’s up there with her, surely giving her a hard time again.”

What’s done is done and it doesn’t matter now.  My father is gone and we are left with genuine appreciation for what he did for us, and the legacy he left behind. My brother, Cesar, has put his feelings to words, summing up a life worth living in a way that has humbled me, and given me pause. For me, it is a good reminder of what I once had and I find myself comforted by his remembrances. Cesar writes:

This is how I remember him.

He moved his family to the U.S. to take care of Jose Enrique (my father’s son from his first marriage), who needed hip surgery as a young boy. Because of my father, Jose Enrique got the best medical attention in the world.

He took a job in the States to be with his family.

He loved having us sing in the backseat of the car.  And he would take great pleasure taking us to the beach and then seeing us play on the trampolines, which we passed on the way home.

He attended and studied, and put himself through New York University—at the age of 52.

During that time, he studied the rules of baseball so he could volunteer as an umpire, just so Rafael (our brother) and I could play Little League Baseball.  I think we played Little League for four or five years with my father ump-ing the whole time.

He put four kids through college; three of them attending expensive, private universities.

I remember my father driving to Boston, to pick up Regina (our sister) from school, loading her stuff in the car and then driving back to Long Island in the same day.

I remember my father, at age 70, standing on a ladder on top of the inclined roof of the garage, painting the house.

I remember my father, at age 74, driving an hour and a half to my house in Westchester so that he and my mother could visit their granddaughter.

I sincerely hope there’s a heaven and that they got there ok.

Happy Birthday, Papá