Saturday, February 26, 2011

Kick Him While He's Down

The idea of “Culture Shock” is one of my pet peeves. I’ll spare you the full rant, but I’ve always found the idea frustrating. Northeastern had a Study Abroad Orientation – that I had to go through TWICE – that focused on Culture Shock and coping with it (with very little about actually enjoying studying abroad!), but all I kept thinking was “But I KNOW I’m going to experience another culture. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t go. How is that in any way shocking?!” Of course the second time I was mostly thinking “Whose idea was to put this the morning after Halloween and WHY did I accept that last beer?!” But that’s neither here nor there. My point is, I want to experience different cultures when I travel, and the fact that they are different is not nearly enough to “shock” me.

Still the closest I’ve gotten to being culturally shocked was one of my first weekends in Scotland when I was there for the semester. I should note, for the sake of Scottish reputation, that this is probably not a reflection on the whole culture, and is most likely no different than in many, many other places. But anyway…

I was out with my two roommates, Aheli and Sarah, and we were just leaving a little pub to head back to the flat. Upon leaving, we noticed, across the street in an alley, a man face down in the gutter, groaning. So we went to investigate. He was clearly intoxicated and barely conscious, and most frighteningly, he was by himself. We scurried back to the bar to alert the bartender and see what could be done. The bartender grudgingly peeked out, handed us a glass of water to bring over, and said “Don’t worry, I’ll look out once in awhile to make sure he’s still alive.” Sarah, to whom I give credit for being WAY more responsible than I am, said this was not enough and so asked if she could call an ambulance. We went and stood near our passed out friend to make sure he didn’t die while waiting for help.

As we stood a group of intoxicated-but-still-conscious (barely) boys came by and asked why we were waiting. “We don’t want him to die?” “Well his friends left him so you shouldn’t be stuck with him. Come with us instead!” “No, we can’t leave him” “Maybe you should try kicking him…hey, yeah! KICK HIM!” We (Sarah) were appalled. “We can’t KICK him!” “…Flash him?” We returned a look of scorn. But hey, gotta give them credit for trying.

At least two more groups of boys ambled on by suggesting we kick him but, although that was getting more appealing by the minute, we did not. Finally a police woman came by and asked us what the problem was. We explained. She looked at him, bent slightly and looked a little closer…and then she kicked him. He stirred, and was soon sitting (relatively) upright. Our mouths dropped in (not so cultured) shock. Apparently the proper was response WAS to kick the drunks while they were down. Who knew?

I was thinking about this today having read a BBC article entitled “Mystery surrounds man's 15ft fall in Edinburgh”, full text here: and short enough to be copied below:

Mystery surrounds man's 15ft fall in Edinburgh

Police are probing how a man fell 15ft (4.5m) from steps onto an Edinburgh street below.

The 22-year-old called emergency services at 0415 GMT after he regained consciousness in a pool of blood at the bottom of Slater Steps in Holyrood.
Police officers are now making inquiries including checking CCTV footage in the area to discover if he was pushed or if he fell.

The man is being treated at Edinburgh Royal infirmary for a broken thigh.

The last thing the man can remember is being at a local nightclub.
A Lothian and Borders Police spokesman said: "There is no explanation as to how he came to be there."

I love this article, because to me, there is absolutely nothing mysterious about it (apologies in advance for my irreverence should this turn out to be legitimately serious). The place he fell is so near to the Cowgate, home of trashy clubs, student dorms, seedy hostels and the alley where we found the man passed out so many years ago. A tour guide once told us that Walter Scott was born off the Cowgate and grew up in squalor. Even today, squalor is actually one of the best ways to describe the area on a weekend night (and the morning after).

Anyway, I imagine the fall probably occurred after a night of drinking (Clue: “The last thing the man can remember is being at a local nightclub”) and he either tripped on the many cobblestones the city has to offer…or if he was “assisted” it was probably just that he started to pass out, and some helpful passerby kicked him…out of the goodness of his heart.

Maybe the most shocking thing, is that none of this shocks me.

Me with Aheli and Sarah in 07...

...and again in 09. Looking exactly the same.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Groovy Kind of Love

I’ve always loved Valentine’s Day. Call it commercialized, call it a fake holiday created by card companies, call it whatever you like really, but a day in which pink and red are encouraged and chocolate is central is ok by me.

My favourite Valentine’s Days, counterintuitively enough, have been the ones when I’ve been single. And no, that’s not me being bitter or being a lonely girl putting on a brave face. Don’t get me wrong, the ones with the ex were good, but even then I went for the unconventional. We did the whole B&B in Vermont thing one year. That was ok. But the year we were both too busy to make plans, and instead, in between meetings, he ran (almost literally) by my apartment to drop off flowers? That one was pretty good. And the one with the blizzard where he rescued my Ugg boot from 5 inches of slush in the middle of the street, where it had gotten stuck, while oncoming traffic approached, and I hopped around nearby? Awesome. Uggs and slush, just call it chivalry of the modern day. With the ex, I didn’t want the over extravagance of the day; it seemed to cheapen what was supposedly the essence of the holiday by playing it up too much.

But now that I’m single? Hell, bring it on!

The day, for me, has turned into an excuse to do whatever I want, to treat myself. A little narcissistic if you think about it, sure, but if I needed justification (which I rarely do, but always have on hand just in case), I’m not above letting people thing I’m some poor, long suffering, lonely single girl who needs to do a little something extra on this day to make up for the fact that she is all alone. Am I? Well no, hardly, but whatever works…

One of my best Valentine’s Days was in Cuba. I started the day by going to the Havana Book Fair aka every English Major’s dream. Across the water from Habana Vieja the Morro fort was filled with books, and every space not filled with books was filled with people looking at books.

Posters proclaiming “Leer es Creer” were everywhere. It was just short of overwhelming, but, as my roommate (another English Major) pointed out, really incredible how many people were excited for books!

So that’s where my day started: looking out over Havana from the fort, surrounded by books and booklovers…and with a Coppelia (famous Cuban ice cream) stand right there. Libros + Helado = Love.

But my day did not stop there.

When I told my parents I had decided to go Cuba for a semester (and once they had realized that this was not idle talk) my mom told me that I had to see the Cuban ballet. It was not said explicitly, but very much implied, that if I did not see the ballet before attempting to return home, I would not in fact have a home to return to. So in the semester leading up to my departure, my mom figured out Google and my inbox was inundated with youtube clips and articles for me about the Cuban ballet. My dancing career ended at the age of four, when after a stellar performance of the “Good Ship Lollipop” I hung up my tap shoes and my Shirley Temple hair curlers forever, but even with my limited experience, I could tell that the Cuban Ballet is very much deserving of its status of cultural phenomenon. Tellingly, in a country where machismo reigns, male dancers are not considered any less masculine for choosing to dance because the training is so rigorous, and their athleticism is renowned.

The ballet is under the direction of Alicia Alonso, a truly inspirational figure. Early in life she had vision problems and despite several operations and years of forced bed rest she became a world famous ballerina. She's in her 90s now, but is still in charge of the direction at the ballet as well as choreography.

So anyway, earlier in the week I had bought tickets for the showing of Giselle on Valentine’s Day.

It was especially exciting that they were performing Giselle, because Alicia Alonso danced the title role in New York in the 1940s. I later found out that she had learned the steps after one of her operations when she was on bed rest. Her husband taught her the steps using her hands in order to keep her busy since she couldn't stand not being allowed to practice. Anyway, she was declared The Ballerina to watch after her performance in Giselle so the fact that I was going to see a performance of the ballet that was actually choreographed by Alicia Alonso was pretty amazing.

I got all dressed up and found a cab to take me to the Gran Teatro near the Capitolio. My seat was in the SECOND ROW. Then before the performance started, all of a sudden there was a loud cheer and everyone turned and applauded as ALICIA ALONSO herself came into the theater and took her seat in the balcony. I'm pretty sure my mouth dropped open, and stayed that way the whole performance. It was spectacular. Since I was eye level with the stage, I was basically on stimulation overload; I could see the steps, I could see the actual facial expressions of the dancers, I could see the costumes up close. AMAZING. I didn't get home until almost 11:30 and the show felt like it could not have lasted more than an hour…at the most. It was that good.

So that was my best Valentine’s Day. Other tops include last year, when I was in London for Allie’s 21st birthday, and freshman year when my roommates and I went to see Northeastern play in the Beanpot hockey tournament.

Actually, this year I went to watch the Beanpot again, and followed it up with a David Garrett concert the next day combining both low key and classy in a two day celebration.

So, Valentine’s Day: commercialized and fake, maybe, but ooh the possibilities…