Some New Year’s Anti-Resolutions

31 12 2010

Ok, so it’s New Year’s resolution time…you know the promises you make to yourself in a rush of champagne-inspired euphoria in the middle of the night that you then break when the hangover sets in and January just seems too damn long.

Since I don’t smoke and I already go work out at my gym regularly, those two resolutions are automatically moot. And aren’t those two the standard New Year’s resolutions for a large majority of the population? “Quit smoking”, “Get fit”?

Therefore, this year I have a twist on the theme: The anti-resolution. I have decided to make resolutions about things I will NOT do in 2011. A lot of thought went into these and if you think this is easy – to NOT do something as opposed to doing something – then you are dead wrong. It will take a lot of willpower to change certain behavior patterns that I have spent the past year (and more) practicing.

But those who know me also know that willpower is something I do have a fair bit of.

So here they are:

  • I will not invest in relationships with other humans that are a waste of time, not good for me, and do not give me something back.
  • I will not adhere to routine, custom, tradition, “how it’s always been” if there is a better way that’s outside of my comfort zone.
  • I will not be engaged in the same mind-numbing work at the end of 2011 as at the beginning.
  • I will not lie to anyone except my boss and my soon-to-be-ex-sister-in-law.
  • I will not hate anyone more than my boss and my soon-to-be-ex-sister-in-law.
  • I will not take the yummy-looking bait, when offered it.


Happy New Year, folks. Hoping 2011 will smile upon you too.

The art of skating on Hollywood Beach

28 12 2010

If you have never been to Hollywood, Florida, I highly encourage you to go. Not to be confused with that… other Hollywood over on the… wrong coast… Hollywood, Florida is a great beach town (an “All-America City” Award winner in 2007) nestled between flashy Fort Lauderdale in the north and metropolitan Miami in the south, between the Everglades in the west and the Atlantic Ocean.

The French Canadians have already discovered this little corner of paradise and judging by the number of Quebec license plates on the streets, it seems that the entire province migrates down here when it gets cold up there, turning it into Chicoutimi-sur-Mer, USA for six months of the year.

The beach promenade, or “Broadwalk,” has got everything you’d want on an ocean boardwalk – including free wireless access! – even if its not actually, you know, made of boards. (Webcam here.) There are cool little restaurants, an old-fashioned band shell, and shops selling all sorts of cheesy, loud beach stuff that looks fashionably out-of-place anywhere but the beach. All that’s missing is a Starbucks franchise.

You can even answer emails on your laptop, if you must.

The promenade has two clearly marked lanes: one for pedestrians and the other for cyclists, wheelchair athletes, skateboarders, and my kind of folks – inline skaters. Altogether, the path is about 25 feet (8 meters) wide and stretches the length of Hollywood Beach – about three miles (5 kilometers).

So true to my nature, I had to take a spin. Happily, I laced up my skates for the first time since singing in the Berlin rain at the end of September. Having survived THAT two-hour taste of hell, it was time to remind myself of what attracted me to this sport in the first place.

Of course I hadn’t calculated on the 30 mph winds coming straight at me from a storm system in the south (didn’t hurricane season end a month ago?) that was sending dark clouds over the coast. Fighting weather is one of the most thankless tasks on earth, let me tell you.

But hey, back in Zurich it was snowing, so I guess I was ahead of the game.

Discounting weather, a second occupational hazard for the skater-in-pseudo-training along the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk is simple human stupidity. As in: individuals oblivious to their surroundings who enter the visibly marked bike path with their brains quite obviously in neutral, if not completely absent and/or non-functional.

Okay – kids on bikes, say, and old people on walkers don’t count. To be fair, they have no idea what they are doing anyway so it is up to the entity moving faster than a snail’s pace to watch out for them.

But it’s the seemingly sensible adults whose erratic and unpredictable behavior is the biggest danger to wheeled athletes just minding their business and quietly doing their laps along the beach. Like human bowling pins, these dense living beings meander into and then stand perfectly still in the middle of a roadway that is not theirs, as if waiting to be picked off for points. These are indeed prime candidates for the Darwin awards.

Free space for free skaters.

Of course, no one would argue that the world would be a much better place if it had a few less French Canadians in it. On the other hand, the last thing I really need is another eight screws in my arm.

So from now on, primarily for my own health and sanity, when on skates, I will hit the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk no later than 7am – early enough to enjoy a glorious sunrise over the Atlantic, and secure in the knowledge that the snowbirds are still snoring away in their overpriced hotel beds, sleeping off their overpriced hangovers and digesting last night’s overpriced poutine.

Scrooge, the Grinch and me

23 12 2010

It’s Christmas and I’m not really inspired to write anything witty or, well, inspirational. Sorry. If anything, the spirit of this season-that-will-not-end has made me more cynical and bitter the longer it lasts.

I have been assaulted by Christmas decorations in stores since two weeks before Halloween. Every day I am subjected to multiple renditions of “Come, they told me, parumpapumpum …” and stupid advertising for giving the gift of liposucton or car insurance or 60-inch flat-screen televisions, sung by artificially jolly voices to the tune of “Deck the Halls” or “Let it Snow”. That is waterboarding for the soul and should be declared inhumane. Where are the activists from Amnesty International when you really need them?

This is Florida, people, THERE IS NO SNOW! THIS HELL WILL NOT FREEZE OVER! E-V-E-R! Even if all you Floridians have to get out your fleece gloves and wool caps when the temperature drops to below 65 degrees F (+18 degrees C).

So I’m the Grinch this year. Teaming up with Scrooge… and all the other literary figures that plot to steal/destroy/pillage Christmas. Fine – take it away… make it disappear.

And yes, dear happy parents, if I would have kids, it might be different – even if just for their sake. But remember, kids are often most underestimated by the adults closest to them. Your children will also figure out pretty quickly what is real and what is play-acting. And I’m not just talking about Santa Claus here.

During this festive season of communal commercial cheer (ka-ching!), it takes a lot to actually admit you are miserable. So I’m laying it out here for all to read. I can’t stand Christmas. And this year, I’m particularly sad, frustrated and upset. For myself and for those close to me who have to fight battles no one should be placed in the position to fight, especially not at Christmas. I’m angry at the injustice of it all.

If you also feel this way, its okay, you’re allowed to be grumpy this time of year, even if the rest of the world tells you you’re not. Please don’t be a pressure cooker and keep it all inside.

Just, if you do plan, against better judgment, to spend the holidays hanging around people you’re related to but barely know, it would probably be helpful if you concentrate on fileting the turkey and not each other – by avoiding emotionally loaded topics like politics, religion, unfulfilled expectations, lifestyle choices or hair color.

For me, I’m just hoping the next couple of days will pass quickly so that we can get back to normal and go on living our lives. 2011 seems like a happy number to me – those two 1’s at the end signify to me the best of the best. Number One followed by…Number One!

Somewhere between now and then I promise to climb out of this bottomless pit of grief, self-pity and sadness, and I shall return to inspire you.

Wishing you a peaceful weekend, in whatever form it may take. I will be at an Orlando theme park, escaping reality.

“So where is Bulgaria again?”

20 12 2010

Every time I come stateside it amazes me how little Americans know or care about what goes on in the rest of the world. For many, geography beyond the next state line is quite simply non-existent. The U.S. is the planet’s 800-pound (political, diplomatic, economic and military) gorilla, and regular folks seem comfortable in their ignorance.

My earliest confrontation with this was when I was a kid and had just returned to New Jersey from Asia with my family. A new school friend asked me where I had moved from. “Singapore,” I said. She asked back: “Is that somewhere in Pennsylvania?” Uh, no, it’s not.

New perspectives on the world

Over the years, following 9/11 and all those wars that Americans fought overseas, I would have thought the concern with people, places and issues abroad might have increased. In the past decade, millions of American military families have had to tolerate their loved ones’ long deployments in dangerous places up to 12 time zones away.

But sadly, even though the world has shrunk to the size of a laptop, geography still seems far from many Americans’ priority lists. And even though their ancestors pretty much all came from somewhere else – creating the social fabric that is today’s United States of America. 

One of the security guards at our condo building is Alex from Bulgaria. He is one of the nicest people I have ever met and somehow I just can’t imagine him ever pulling a gun if he had to defend the building from armed thieves. Admittedly, my own knowledge of Bulgaria is limited, but at least I can identify it on a map and tell you the name of its capital. (Sofia.)

The other day, I overheard Alex speaking to one of our neighbors.

“So where is Bulgaria again?” she asked Alex.

“Well, it’s in Europe,” he answered patiently.

“Yeah, but where in Europe?”

“Ummm, kind of in the middle… East of Serbia, North of Greece, South of Romania.”

I’m not sure these quite accurate geographic coordinates helped her much. The puzzled look on her face when she wished Alex a good night seemed more complex than before.

The next morning at the bank I picked this up at the window next to me. A middle-aged customer said to the teller: “I’ve never had a passport, you know. I used to be able to go to the islands without one but now you need one. That’s ridiculous! Isn’t that ridiculous? I’ve never needed a passport! I think it’s a nuisance. I don’t even know where I could get one.”

Lady, a whole lot of people want one of these. Too bad you are not one of them.

Speaking as someone who has owned a passport since she was five, I’m just wondering what it’s going to take to make Americans realize that they are not living at the center of the universe.

Pre-dawn Magic

13 12 2010

Early morning has a kind of mystery about it. It’s my favorite time of day: The slow awakening and the lumbering way life begins anew every 24 hours.

Zurich’s airport also stirs gently from its nocturnal slumber, with little commotion. Passenger airliners of all sizes shift and move across the apron like featured pieces on a well-ordered chess board. Red beacons blink, runway lights sparkle, jet engines thunder, planes depart to and arrive from destinations unknown to the momentary observer.

Good morning, planet earth.

In the pre-dawn darkness, the airport has something magical, yet utterly rational and orderly. The long-distance mega-jets landing in from continents away disgorge their ragged passengers into the black, not-yet morning. For most of them this is just a short respite to stretch legs, grab a coffee and freshen up in functional terminal restrooms. Their final destinations are still hundreds if not thousands of miles from here – places they won’t reach until the European day is well underway.

A few can while away transfer time on the designer leather sofas of airline lounges, taking in the morning’s Financial Times and a Latte Macchiato. The exclusivity of privilege divides the traveling population into clearly demarcated groups of “haves” and “wish-they-hads”.

Meanwhile, the floodlit complex outside is dominated by “heavies” – Airbuses and Boeings of all shapes and sizes, with a couple of Embraer and British Aerospace jets thrown in for a good mix. Neatly arranged in rows and in various phases of ground operations, they await their next deployment. A queue of patient aircraft forms at the de-icing pad on the opposite side of the active runway.

You will hardly ever find private pilots cultivating their hobby before dawn, unless impending weather conditions demand an oh-too-early departure – a luxury the airliners, married to slot times and daily flight schedules, do not have.

Periwinkle-blue taxiway lights shimmer in the open space. I always thought these signals were a most peculiar, intense and unusual color – almost like an intruder among the white, amber, red and green that one would expect to find in a place where traffic meets. A disembodied voice from air traffic control directs the graceful giants of the sky through a labyrinth illuminated by these violet cones of light. Careful choreography guides aircraft to their assigned runway before they are once again released from gravity to do their job.

A few snowflakes meander through the air as the night fades to grey, and then quickly turns indigo. It’s the blue hour. Later, an orange stripe appears like a crown over the distant snow-covered Alps. And moments after that, the scene explodes into the bright yellow of morning.

Dawn has arrived and the day begins. The magic is broken. And the hectic daily grind of an international aviation hub commences.