Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How to Procrastinate Without Really Trying

So while I am trying to write the hardest paper of my college career, I might as well procrastinate my brains out! Why else would Facebook, Stumbleupon and Addictive Games have been invented?

Anyways, I figure now is the best time to share how to snag free stuff at markets and vendor places stalls things.

So as I mentioned in my last post, I just recently came back from Punta Cana. (Send me back! Its suppose to blizzard on Friday!) Where, as my friends and I took a 45 min stroll down the beach, we found a little shanty shop place! Yay! One of my favorite souvenirs to collect  is locally made jewelry or paintings if I can find them. So therefore when I see local markets I get really excited to score some cheap stuff.

To score free stuff:

1. Walk up to vendor with guy friend.
2. Start looking at bracelets and necklaces for said guy's girlfriend.
3. Engage in conversation with local.
4. While discussing with local shopkeeper that 'no you will not go home with him and why thank you I know I'm very pretty' ("don't kidnap me please!") have guy friend mention girlfriend.
5. As shopkeeper asks if you are this girlfriend play along, it will work to your advantage.
6. Hopefully, in response to the GF question, your guy will respond with "I'm looking for a necklace for my first GF, this one already got something."
7. If all goes well, shopkeeper will high five the guy for being such an awesome player and give you a free necklace for fully accepting polygamy.

There you go, free stuff! With only slightly compromising your morals and playing along with the locals :D. If this doesn't work, I find batting you eye lashing and telling people that you forgot your money at home usually leads to free things.

Good Luck!

Roll with it

I feel like I've been fairly serious and introspective lately. So now for something random and irreverent! But first, a disclaimer:

I’m not a mean person, I swear.

That’s important to make clear right from the start;  I could understand how there might be some confusion about that after reading this. Because ‘this’ is all about falling, or rather the best falls I have witnessed. Don’t judge, it’s common knowledge that as long as the person is ok, falling is funny. My family lives by this rule and often after one of us has done something ridiculous that lands them on the ground, you can see a crowd of concerned passersby crowded around, while the rest of the family is doubled over in hysterics. This is usually cause for glares of disgust from the passersby, and encouragement for the person on the ground to milk it for all it’s worth, making the rest of us look like horrible people. But the universe tends to balance out. None of us are particularly coordinated (except my brother who is a gymnast, but that just means he can fall in even more spectacular ways). So we get our laughs in while we can, knowing full well that next time it could be any one of us getting laughed at.

But for self preservation’s sake, this will not be about the falls occurring in my family (although there are some awesome ones). They read the blog and it would be remembered. But that’s not a problem, we have been witness to some pretty spectacular falls. And while I reiterate that I’m not a mean horrible person, I also can’t claim to be the concerned passerby. Family or not, as long as the person is ok? Totally fair game. I’m the one trying not to laugh until I’m an acceptable distance away. And I’m ok with that.

Oddly enough, both of my Top Two Witnessed Falls occurred in Miami (by which I mean Coral Gables, but Miami is shorter to type).

So here they are for your pleasure:

2. The Shorty Roll

Shorty’s is my favourite BBQ place. It’s in an odd spot, and not somewhere I’d necessarily choose to go had I not been told about it, but it is incredible, and if I only had one night to eat out while in Miami, it would be there. The food is good and the portions are large. I won’t ever NOT finish what’s on my plate…but I also won’t be able to do anything that involves any sort of movement afterwards. The Shorty Burger, which is everything a burger should be, was my first meal when I got home from Cuba, the pulled pork is Heaven on a plate, and my entrée of choice, and the fries and corn on the cob complement everything. They also make their own BBQ sauce. Absolute happiness. 

Inside the restaurant it’s family style seating at picnic tables. This is important. So this actually occurred at the epic first meal back after returning from Cuba. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Cuban food – to the point where my family is still not unconvinced that I chose Cuba merely as an excuse to eat rice and beans for three months (I won’t say that didn’t occur to me, but I maintain I had other motivations as well), but anyway, after three months there, I wanted my first night back to be something super American, and a Shorty’s burger fit the bill. So my brother and I were sat there, indulging ourselves, when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye.

At a picnic table perpendicular to us, a man who was, well, ok he was rather large, the kind of person who looks like bbq is more than just an occasional treat, had started rolling. Yes, rolling. His legs trapped under the table, he couldn’t move or catch his balance, and he rolled backwards off the bench! Due to his impressive waistline, it truly was a roll and not a fall, and it actually happened in slow motion, almost graceful (a la the Fantasia hippos...). The general noise and chatter stopped and people looked stunned, with thoughts of heart attacks, I’d imagine, racing through everyone’s mind. But it wasn’t a heart attack, and he wasn’t even unconscious or anything. In fact, he lay on the floor, still holding his corn on the cob, looking just as stunned as everyone else that he was now on his back with his legs in the air. I’m pretty sure he had just leaned too far back and then the momentum caught hold and there was no stopping after that. Kevin and I quickly turned and took a huge bite of burger to avoid laughing out loud. The man rolled himself upright, and maneuvered back onto the bench. Embarrassing? Yes, but not enough to walk away from a full plate at Shorty’s.

1. Walk of Shame Wipeout

The other epic Miami fall occurred during breakfast at Einstein Bros Bagels, another staple during my Miami visits. I should also mention that we are not morning people in my family, so breakfast is more accurately brunch, meaning that we arrived, at the very earliest, at 10am. But that’s being optimistic. As we stood waiting for our bagels, two girls walked in, and oh my goodness they were quite the picture. They were so very clearly wearing clothes from the night before: ripped stockings, 4 inch (at least) stilettos, hot pants, tiny ‘going out’ tops, hair that at one point looked as though it had been styled within an inch of its life, but was now all over the place, breaking free of that extra hold, and of course, smeared raccoon eyes. My parents, brother, and I exchanged looks. We didn't know what was going to happen, but we were ready to watch whatever it was. What can I say? We love a good show with breakfast.

The girls ("This is such a walk of shame isn't it?" "Mom how do you know that phrase?") toddled around in their sky high heels, making their way to the front of the line and then over to wait for their bagels, right by us. We went from exchanging looks to avoiding ALL eye contact, because we are not subtle and would absolutely start laughing upon confirmation that everyone else was also thinking the same thing. Our bagels arrived. Kev and I started walking to the door while my dad waited for the other tray. And then: Disaster! With a loud WHAM, one of the girls WIPED. OUT. We’re talking legs sprawled, top askew (although thankfully still covering everything!), hair even more mussed, and raccoon eyes wide in shock, and then closed in embarrassment. The other girl, who may still have been drunk, wobbled around anxiously, while my poor father who was somehow right in the middle of this, tried to figure out how to react. Kev and I had to leave (sorry Dad) and stand outside while we burst out laughing.

We gathered ourselves slightly and found a table and parked ourselves. My dad came out and laughter resumed. Then the girls emerged. There were empty tables, but they went straight to their car. And ate inside of it. Where we could all still see them. Then they drove off.

SO many questions flew around our table. They had a car. Why, then, did they not go home to change first? Or why didn’t they go through a drive through? And if they were too embarrassed to eat at the tables, why not drive away before eating in their car only drawing more attention to themselves? And clearly they were dressed to go out, so had to have known that if they drove, they would have to stay somewhere over night. Why didn’t they throw an extra t-shirt or pair of sandals into the car for next morning? Or why didn’t they steal a t-shirt from whoever they spent the night with? …then my mom gave us the MOM look and told us to stop being inappropriate so Kev and I resumed eating. But seriously.

So there you are, my Top Two Witnessed Falls, that are still talked about every time we return to the scene(s) of the incident(s). I also have my Top Two Witnessed Collisions, but those will have to be saved for another day. My karma is probably already on shaky ground. And it's only Wednesday...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dos años

I feel like I've been talking about Cuba a lot recently, but it was such an awesome (as in the real, filling one with legitimate awe, sense) experience, and so unlike anything else I've ever done, that it's impossible to not think about. As I've mentioned, this is especially true in the months mirroring those that I was there, which leads to many "can you believe that two years ago I was..." moments. Today is especially bittersweet, because two years ago the semester was over and I was leaving Cuba. It's obviously always sad to leave a place you have been for a long time, and have truly come to love, but this departure was harder because we were experiencing the ultimate luxury unavailable to the people there: leaving freely. Additionally, we were leaving not knowing if or when we could go back, and what would have happened to the country in the interim. The possibilities are too numerous.

As part of the study abroad program at NU, it is required that you keep a journal to be submitted to the department upon your return. Cynically, I suspect this is to track the stages of "culture shock" as fodder for future orientations, but I have to admit that even though that suspicion is glaringly obvious through many of my entries, I'm glad I kept the record of my time there. I'm not sure I would have had I not been forced, as part of my resentment of the assignment came from having to waste time talking about my experiences, instead of being out experiencing more.

But anyway, in remembrance of the two year anniversary of my return, here's my original entry, written upon arrival back to the states:

March 29, 2009: Last Week...

So the last week was a blur. I spent it trying to fit in everything I hadn't done yet and buying all the souvenirs I needed and just soaking in the last little bit of Cuba before going back home.

I went to the Market in Old Havana a couple of days, ate my last Happy Place (Fabio)and had the best Mojito ever at the Hotel Nacional. I saw Hemingway's house and then went on an adventure to find Parque Lennon....and yes that is Lennon as in John Lennon of the Beatles. Castro felt that he was a fellow Revolutionary Spirit and so there is a little park that has a bronze statue of him sitting on a bench. Meg, Courtney and I went and posed with the statue ad were enchanted by a little boy, approximately 2, who could say John Lennon when asked who the statue was.

For one of our final (!) Music classes a group of rappers came in and they were so incredible and fierce. I went with Emma to Idalia's house and then we went to the Casa goodbye party. I went with Emma to the Havana Yacht Club out in Miramar and it was truly another playground for the rich and famous non-Cubans, a throwback to the days of Batista. I had to hand in my passport to even get though the main gates. I went to the beach one last time, had the most depressing goodbye party at the residencia, packed my things, got on a bus where we all sat sobbing, played my last game of Jose Marti, got on a little prop plane and here I am back in Miami.

Where did the last 3 months go?

I can't believe it's over. Cuba will definitely always be one of the best experiences of my life. To visit a country that no one else can go to, and speak a language I really couldn't speak before I got here has been amazing. I didn't know what to expect in Cuba and truly it defies expectations. Often I'm reminded of the Red Hot Chili Peppers song "Snow". The part that goes "The more I see the less I know, the more I have to let it go." Every time I thought I'd figured something out, I saw something else to completely throw off that conclusion. And the worst part is I don't want to let it go. I want to figure it out, but as we were so often told by Cubans, unless we were born there, and grew up there, we can't understand it. Even the people who did don't understand it.

So while I may not understand it I certainly won't forget it. I'll think more about the food I eat, the things I can buy, and I'll watch eagerly to see what Obama does and whether or not he opens up the borders. Which he should. I feel like I learned so much that I can't even begin to put it down here. Suffice to say that anyone who gets the change to have a similar experience should take it. It isn't easy. It's heartbreaking every day, but also uplifting and fascinating.

One of my favorite lessons? It doesn't matter what you wear. Wear anything. Wear stripes with polka dots. Wear plaids with flower print. Mix patters, mix colors, bedazzle it all and rock it. As long as you do it with confidence you can do anything. That lesson comes from the fabulous and fierce Cuban women who may not have a lot, but who can take on the world with what they've got.

Monday, March 28, 2011

I'm Back People!

Ok so basically this is another way of avoiding the dreaded Capping project every Marist senior has to do. Read:80 pages of torture by way of analyzing a company on everything they have basically ever done. Oh yeah, this is FUN people.

So I figure what better time to avoid doing homework crucial to my shmaduation (ie graduation, but this word is illegal in my house)?

For those who are not in the know, and I'll admit its usually me, I just got back from an absolutly fantastic week in Punta Cana. Think pink sand, aqua water and 85* weather. Yeah thats right be jealous :D

Lovely isn't it? Yeah I though so too, that was until I was shown my room.

I booked this trip with about 130 people from my college. Yes that is 130. So I realized going into spring break that our hotel my not be the 5 star gorgeousness that I'm use to seeing on the travel channel. I was not disappointed.

Barcelo Punta Cana was lovely from the out side, and from what I heard had a very nice renovated wing. My room on the other hand was rank. Think hairballs on the floor, scummy shower, and the lovely order of mold and mildew. Oh and I had to share it with my 3 other housemates, usually not a problem but with two rock head beds we were in for a few sleepless nights.

Now the room I really don't care about. Ok so it was gross, but I've stayed in hostels so I can tough it out. The one thing I refuse to compromise on is my food. If you can't tell, Steph and I like to eat, like to eat a lot, and like good food. The food at Barcelo, not so great. I mean its was edible for the most part, but a girl can only like on bread rolls and pasta for so long. Were on an ISLAND wheres the seafood and fresh fruit? My vision of sitting on the beach with a plate full of pineapple were sadly unfulfilled.

Other than the lack of nutrition and edible substances, Spring Break was awesome! The beach was sunny, the drink were strong (don't judge me mom!) and the boys were cute ;). Would I do it again? Yes. At Barcelo Punts Cana? Nope, lesson learned.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The TSA and Me

I think I might be the person who cares the least about the new airport full body scanners. Well, ok I thought that until I read Samantha Brown’s blog yesterday ( about how, not only is she not complaining about them, but she wants to try them, even asking to be put through it…after already walking through the standard x-ray machine Her view is that these controversial machines are the bane of every traveler’s existence and so how can she live up to her reputation as supreme travel guru while not having had this outrage inducing experience? That’s the very basic gist of it anyway. I only skimmed the first paragraph; I’ll go back and read it more fully later, but since I was already writing this I didn’t want to be accidentally influenced and come across as being a Samantha Brown groupie who thinks exactly like she does or something. I mean, I’d love to be her/have her life…but that’s not the point here.

So yes, I have not been through the full body scanner, which I think is a bit of a waste for the TSA because I just don’t care. And I could never care enough to go through the opt out pat down – I’d rather have people looking at my scans, then actually touching me. I guess listening to the reasons people give, I should care, but I just don’t. Sure it shows the outline your body, but it’s not like it’s a photograph (details: and - actually it kind of just looks like a melting Barbie doll…). And anyway, I’m a lifeguard with an unfortunate history of wardrobe malfunctions. I’ve lived through worse.

Additionally, I feel like with glimpses of 80s fashion making a comeback (oh the horror) people wear enough spandex that we’re not exactly hiding anything anyway. Spandex does not suck your ‘wobbly bits’ in, it just makes it so that everyone can see exactly where they are. And judging by some of the things I’ve seen people wearing, TSA cannot exactly be enjoying this slightly more explicit view. I’m more than happy to just make life as painless as possible for the both of us, with the promise of an exotic location (hopefully) at the other end of my flight.

Of course every time I’ve flown through a full body scan airport, I’ve been moved to a regular x-ray line. Sometimes I’ll start out in the body scan line (I just go for whichever line is the shortest and in general I’m too short to see what’s at the end of it) and twice now I’ve gotten to be the third person in line before an agent runs over and moves me to an x-ray machine. I wonder if it’s because I look so young and they’re worried about people kicking up a fuss about young, pretty (I suggest modestly…) girls being put through the scanner? Or maybe I look like I’ll throw a fit? I hope not. I wouldn’t. But either way, I am currently in the awesome company of Samantha Brown: I have not been through a body scanner…and I’m intrigued.

I guess I’m lucky. Not to jinx anything here, but I’ve had really good experiences with the TSA and have gotten to have some really fun encounters, however brief, with agents over the years (I should also extend this to include whatever is the British equivalent of the TSA). These encounters usually involve them commenting on the ridiculous pieces of clothing I chose to think are appropriate to travel in. It makes my time in line more fun, and I’m hoping it keeps them amused amidst all the cranky people, for at least a few seconds.

There was the time I wore bright pink , palm tree covered socks on the way to spring break. “You just wore those because you knew you were going to have to take your shoes off didn’t you?” asked the agent. “Added bonus,” I replied “I don’t need an excuse to wear THESE socks!”

Another time I was wearing my gold glitter wellies (not to be confused with the time I did an all out sprint through the Heathrow wearing said wellies). “Your wellies! They sparkle!” said the man in bewildered excitement, which was only enhanced when he saw Aheli’s red wellies following close behind on the belt. “Party boots,” I explained “I don’t want to leave Edinburgh so I needed to wear something cheerful.”

And most recently, embracing my inner geeky 12 year old boy, I wore my tshirt proclaiming me “Life of the party since 1985” with a picture of the green mushroom from super mario bros ( . “That is an AWESOME shirt” said the agent, happily as he waved me throw the x-ray machine. Instant bond.

The only slightly awful experience was when after traveling/being stuck in the Charlotte airport for 30 hours, my friends and I got selected for further bag checks after getting through the initial security. But it was really more awful for the agents who made the mistake of selecting us. One opened my bag and had to duck aside as my deodorant launched right at his head, and the other asked my friend to take her belt off, whereupon her pants promptly fell down, leaving the agent standing awkward and uncomfortable. He needed her to put her arms up, but with her arms up she couldn’t hold her pants up, and he didn’t know how to handle that. What, they don’t go over that in training?

I feel like traveling is an inherently weird and potentially awkward situation. You’re shuffled through gates and hallways like gerbils, forced to remove articles of clothing and open personal belongings with strangers packed in around you, and fall asleep in odd locations and positions. I’d argue that I’d feel way more vulnerable with that last one than with full body scans. Sure, look all you want at my distorted digital outline, but please avert your eyes, or give me a quick nudge if I start to sleep talk!

In the end, I’m ok with the full body scans (and public sleeping) because I know they are steps in a process that will get me out and about in the world, and to me that’s worth it. So I put on my funny socks, strategically pack my deodorant, and accept that, if nothing else, I’ll never be short of ridiculous stories.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Three Times Lucky

The start of 2011 has been pretty unique, in that it is the third place I’ve spent the months of January-March in three years; this year I’m in and around Boston, in 2010 I was in Edinburgh, and in 2009 I was in Havana, Cuba. While very cool to think about on a day to day basis, holidays in particular tend to present themselves as occasions to compare the three very different experiences I’ve had in recent years. This past week was St. Patrick’s Day week (yes, week) and it was impossible not to spend some time thinking about the different ways I’ve celebrated since 2009.

St Patrick’s Day has recently become one of my favourite holidays. I’m not sure when this happened exactly, but all of a sudden this year I found myself counting down to what would become, as I mentioned above, St. Patrick’s Day Week (SPDW). Not to say that the holiday isn’t worthy of being classed as a favourite of course! But I suppose it could be seen as a bit odd that I love St. Patrick’s Day and am indifferent about Thanksgiving. Never one to be normal…

Except here in Boston the love of this holiday is normal. Boston starts scheduling St. Patrick’s Day events early in the month so as to be able to fit in that much more celebrating. My SPDW started on March 12th with the 3rd Annual Irish Pub Challenge (9 hours, 9 pubs and lots of free stuff: ).

South Boston, a hub for the New England Irish population goes all out with The Southie Parade, which is often described as something you have to do ONCE…and then spend the year recovering from before realizing once is not enough. The week of St. Patrick’s Day, here, is a green wearing, bead collecting, Guinness drinking, city-wide event.

In Edinburgh, too, the holiday is celebrated in epic fashion with Irish bars Malones, Dropkick Murphey’s Biddy Mulligan’s, Finnegan’s Wake, and (part of) the Three Sisters being spaced just evenly enough that you never have to be without a festive pint on your wanderings throughout the city.

Hats and balloons are given out, cover bands (2U anyone?) abound, and the city joyously celebrates its nieghbour to the west.

Which brings me to Cuba.

According to a Havana Journal article from 2005 ( ), an Irish population and culture in Cuba is actually fairly prevalent. I did walk past the O’Reilly’s pub in old Havana (mentioned in the comments) a few times, although it was sadly never open when I was around. Having just read this, I wonder what, if anything, was done for St. Patrick’s Day…because I can tell you for sure that mine was anything but traditional, predictable, or normal.

Despite the fact that Cuba and the US do not have diplomatic relations, there is a US Interests Section (baically an embassy except in name) in a prime location on the Malecon. The building is intimidating. It’s huge, well maintained, and has a scrolling message board on which it relays world news headlines to the people of Cuba.
Not to be outdone, the Cuban government has installed a set of black flags at just the right height to obscure the view of this board. So there you have it, a little piece of America: perched on the edge of the impressive sea wall, often with waves crashing over into the streets, in a large building with a flock of black flags whipping around in the wind in front of it. I should also mention that you are not allowed to walk on the same side of the street as the building, but are asked to cross by one of the many guards stationed around it, visibly tensing and standing to attention as they see people approaching. Ominous and foreboding on all counts.

But my fellow students and I were not so easily deterred. We were US citizens, and we wanted in! So with the help of a professor, we arranged a time to cross the street and meet with someone inside. Inside, by the way, which was not so impressive as the outside would indicate: sterile corporate America at its best.

The meeting was telling and frustrating all at once. So a few fun facts: Because of the whole lack of diplomatic relations thing, the US Interests Section is actually a part of the Swiss Embassy. Its purpose in Cuba is to assist with Cuban visas to the US, help US citizens who might be in trouble in Cuba (and supposedly they won’t turn you over to the government even if you are there illegally. I’m not entirely sure I believe that.), and try to gather information and liaise with the Cuban government with the goal of accurate policy making in the US. There are a few problems with this, the first being that in general the Cuban government doesn’t want to liaise with us. Nothing personal, they don’t really share too much information with anyone, although the US gets significantly less, forcing the employees of the USIS to gather most of their information second hand from other embassies. This was a little concerning because it sounds like a grown up game of telephone where we’re basing policy off of information that was not given directly to us, and therefore may have had some things lost in translation.

And that’s basically how the meeting went. They told us things that at first seemed to be encouraging, like the US trying to get information to improve relations, but upon closer look were less exciting than they first appeared, like having to get that information second hand. Also, the USIS runs Internet rooms for Cubans to access the Internet unhindered by Cuban restrictions. However, if you are seen entering one of the rooms it could negatively affect your career in Cuba. Worth it? Who can say. Finally one of the women told us that to do our part we should leave behind fashion magazines when we leave to let Cuban women see what they are missing and spread information. Personally I wouldn’t want Cuban women to be anywhere near trashy US Fashion Magazines. They don’t give a picture of intellectual America, but only commercial articles about clothes Cuban women don’t have access to and unhealthy body images that Cuban women aren’t bothered by. The Cuban women I saw and met are fabulous and have the most positive body image I have seen in my travels (wear what you want, and even if it is sequined bedazzled skin tight spandex…with stilettos, if you rock it, you look fabulous) and so that seemed an odd request on the part of the USIS woman. Also, when we asked how the USIS employees' lives were here, meaning day to day, she said “It’s very safe.” Well yes, after 2.5 months we weren’t really concerned otherwise. Disterbingly, USIS employees are not allowed to leave Havana (and yet are supposed to understand Cuba) and because they have to hire Cubans though the government, they have to be very careful what they say (even around their nannies) in case its classified. So basically after hearing all about the USIS, we weren’t entirely sure we understood much more than before. It’s not just the black flags that obscure the information coming from the building…

On our way out, we stood in front of the dark glass box to which we had submitted our passports upon entry. Out came our passports. And out came a flier. To a St. Patrick’s Day Party. At the Marine house. What? There are Marines stationed in Cuba? Apparently. The flier boasted of green beer and jello shots and looked like a frat party flier…but was taped up to a door in this pseudo Embassy. As with so much, we were intrigued and said of course we would be there. “Great,” said the woman showing us out (we still couldn’t see who was actually IN the darkened glass box), “It’s in Miarmar [muy rico] on [whatever] street. You can’t miss it. High walls and barbed wire. Very safe.” Shockingly, we were not comforted. As I observed to one of the other girls, “Is the barbed wire to keep Marines safe from the Cubans? Or the Cubans safe from the Marines?” Either way, much like the Interests Section itself: ominous.

Later that evening we arrived at the high walled, barbed wire, fortress in the fancy suburbs of Havana. How does one enter a fortress? Knock? We tried it. Knocking, apparently, works. The party on the Marine compound had started as a family cookout and was transitioning to more of a non-family party. So a little about the Marines in Cuba. There were nine of them stationed there and their basic duties include being bused to the USIS where they check passports and hand out visitor passes (and apparently party fliers) and being bused back to the compound in the evening. They are athletically trained by a former Mr. Cuba but beyond that they are not allowed to interact with Cubans. They do not go out. They do not leave the city. In the midst of this rich cultural environment, they had resorted to having a moustache growing competition for entertainment because they were bored. Despite the restrictions, they are expected to have some opinion about the country in order to report back. We did not get the impression that they particularly liked it there. “We have to be here,” one explained to me, “you know, because it’s such a threat. We also have people stationed in Russia, because you know, they talk about us.” Oh. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t it the former Soviet Union that had strong ties with Cuba? And doesn’t the word FORMER imply it is no longer? And wasn’t it this breaking up of the Soviet Union that led to the devastated economy of Cuba? When we let them get a word in amidst our rapid firing of such questions, they asked what our lives were like there and were shocked to find out that we had traveled the country, both through the school and on our own, and didn’t have any security, and morever seemed unconcerned by the issues they found to be most crucial.

It was an incredible matchup of opinions. On the one hand we were hearing the standard line that Red Cuba is dangerous and threatening, and on the other was my group, singing the praises of the resilience and strength of a friendly population who make do with the hand they’re dealt. And over the years, from the time long before Batista, and through the present, they’ve been dealt a lot. Despite the free flowing green beer, it was a sobering conversation.

But that’s not to end this on a bad note. That was the beauty (and tragedy) of Cuba and my time there: the constant juxtaposition of ideas and encounters. We celebrated St. Patrick’s Day enclosed in the barbed wire compound of the Marines in a country in which I had never felt unsafe. My biggest concern in Cuba was that my Spanish was basic so if I were to get lost, my only hope would be creative gesturing. But I always knew that whichever unfortunate passerby saw me frantically gesturing first, would stop, struggle through it, and point me in the right direction. Piropos optional.

At the Southie Parade this year, apartment doors were flung open and people wandered freely. A friend of mine and I, looking for another group of our friends, made a lap of the completely wrong apartment without being stopped, before realizing we were on the wrong floor. I think maybe this is part of the reason why I love St. Patrick’s Day (week). From Cuba to Edinburgh to Boston, it ends up being a holiday that has conventions and traditions, but leaves enough room for constant new reinterpretations, often influenced by chance encounters with random people. My Marine day couldn’t have been more different than standing in the courtyard of the Three Sisters watching 2U, but both were pretty epic. And any holiday, in which the only consistent elements are epic adventures and lots of green, seems pretty worthy of ‘favourite’ status to me.