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.

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

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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.





Christmas fun at airport security

10 12 2010

Have you ever wondered how much time is wasted in airport terminals? Passengers have to get there hours before take-off, and think of the lost productivity as folks just sit around in departure areas or stand in some line. Long gone are the days of an efficient, first class travel experience – unless of course you belong to the 0.01 percent of the population that has access to a private jet.

This little Citation would fit my needs if not my budget.

And honestly… there is really only so much people-watching you can do as you wait. The food in the lounges all seems to taste the same after a while, and getting a free spritz of overpriced perfume in the duty-free store is just about the highlight of any airport transit experience.

So where do you find entertainment while killing time in the terminal? Airport security of course! A never-ending source of amusement and irritation that defies any logic beyond randomly and indiscriminately imposing gratuitous hostility on the innocent. And all completely free of charge!

Though here in Europe we don’t have the TSA to command us around and sexually molest us during a pat-down, we do have the next best thing: Foul-tempered, disrespectful, German-speaking security officers progressively losing their nerves.

Take an incident in Nürnberg last Tuesday morning, 6am. Cranky, underpaid modern-day Nazis channel penned-in passengers through an obstacle course of electronic detection equipment like a herd of drugged cattle. An added bonus was the early morning breath of a flak-jacketed and armed tough-guy pseudo-cop dangerously invading my space.

After spotting something of interest on the X-ray, the junior security chick demanded I empty every corner of my carry-on, including a bag of dirty socks underwear, and then threatened to confiscate it (the carry-on, not the underwear) if I didn’t do exactly what she told me in the order in which she told it to me.

Apparently I look like someone who would smuggle C4 in used lingerie.

The offending item was a set of rare coins, carefully bubble-wrapped and worth roughly three times her monthly salary. I told her to keep her paws off it – as every wise, overprotective numismatist would. That’s when she called over Mr. Flakjacket to bark the directive a little louder, as if I didn’t hear the first time.

I slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y repacked my ransacked bag, as if I had all the time in the world, thus creating a bottleneck at the security checkpoint. That’s the part of this process I enjoy most – tossing a little sand into the machinery and watching the ensuing human and system meltdowns.

Where are YOU headed this Christmas?

So as we prepare for the annual Christmas ritual of wasting precious life time in endless airport security lines, it’s important to remember that every paying traveler has rights too. Just because some arrogant person in a silly uniform makes you undress in front of him/her (jacket, sweater, scarf, vest, belt, shoes, silver jewelry, hair clip, keys, coins, MP3 players, cell phones, Kindles, I-pads, laptops, toiletries) doesn’t mean s/he has a carte blanche to harrass you – and I firmly believe s/he needs to be told that rather directly.

Once you clear the body scanner and have settled in to the two square feet of airplane you will inhabit for the next one, two or 13 hours, there’s nothing left to do but toss back that first stiff drink.

And pity the poor suckers who missed the flight because some overzealous security-type mistook the fat guy in the red suit (with his pet reindeer and a bag of toys) for a terrorist.





The Neanderthal of Zurich

6 12 2010

A friend of mine is on the prowl for a new job. She is a little younger than me, childless, strong-minded and very well-educated. Her degrees are from ivy league schools and she has spent most of the last 15 years working her way through the corporate landscape on both sides of the Atlantic.

She had a job interview two weeks ago. The company is a service provider in an industry she knows a great deal about, and in which she has a very strong interest. She went into the interview from a position of strength – she is not wildly desperate to leave her current employer, but is kind of itching for a new challenge. The job ad she answered sounded like the perfect fit.

She tells me the interview went great till close to the end. The two (male) interviewers, the head of the Human Resources department and the head of the department in which she hoped to work, told her that the person who did the job previously had to leave the company because of illness. (“Not due to overwork, hahaha,” said the HR manager.) The other guy added, “Yes we haven’t had a lot of luck with incumbents in this job. They tend to leave after three years. And it really would be nice to have some continuity here. We had a lot of problems with pregnancies… and, well then there was that one adoption, but mainly we’ve had issues with pregnancies.”

Over in the corner, the HR dude squirmed uncomfortably.

My friend did what every late-thirties, job-seeking career woman with a brain and a pulse would do. She did not skip a beat and just continued to smile her sweet, insincere corporate smile, perfected by enduring years of bullying in the corporate trenches.Later she told me that she was so stunned at the words that had just come out of the Neanderthal’s mouth she couldn’t even formulate a sentence even if she had wanted to. She wondered if she really just heard what she just heard and it took all her willpower not to reach across the table and strangle the guy.

Though I’ve made it clear in earlier blog entries that I was not born to be a mother, I will violently and loudly defend every woman’s right to decide what she wants to do with her own body and her future – even if I don’t agree – and not be penalized for it. I think that is a basic human right (last time I looked it was, anyway).

So it never ceases to amaze me that in an allegedly advanced, intellectual, highly industrialized country in the middle of Western Europe, which, lest we forget, currently has a female president, two women leading the two houses of parliament and a female majority in its cabinet, such clearly discriminatory and misogynist attitudes seem common among men in positions of power. The fact that this person would even think something like that makes me furious, the fact that he said it to the face of a female candidate and potential subordinate is more than stupid.

They didn’t invite my friend to a second round of interviews. And she is curious to know if that was because she is a woman of child-bearing age, wielding a lethal weapon called a womb, or if she was just plain old overqualified. After all, men really hate being outshone or beat at their own game.

In my lifetime, please.