Sun, fun and law enforcement in Florida

27 02 2014

So last weekend I went to Florida to escape this unbelievable winter here in the Northeast. The endless weeks of cold and the series of snow dumps has certainly toughened me up, but my, it does get tedious after a while.

9836_10152155992572698_1410575740_n

Boston.

The first half of our flight to Florida was uneventful, my mother was happily watching CNN on the seat-back television while I closed my eyes to get some rest. It was a late flight, and I’d had a long week.

About an hour and a half from Boston, the two young adults in the row behind me (siblings, it seems) were getting louder as the flight wore on. Their voices carried far naturally, both wore earbuds and talked and laughed over the volume. This grated on me so I turned around to ask them to please tone it down. The girl just looked at me, clueless and pretty liquored up. For the next 15 minutes or so, she and her brother discussed whether or not they were being too loud (in their typically loud voices). During this conversation, expletives began to fly in my direction in, I will assume, an attempt to provoke me. I pretended not to hear. I generally am not easily provoked by immature strangers.

Numerous alcoholic beverages later (that they seemed not to have to pay for) and shortly before landing, they turned aggressive. During the tirade, once again directed at me, “stupid f***ing blond b**ch” was the nicest thing I heard. The flight attendants repeatedly told them to simmer down. When the chick reached over the seat back and slapped me in the head, the party was definitely over. Other passengers called over the head flight attendant, who told them that the were now in very serious trouble.

Mom, just turning off the TV, was like, “Huh? Whats going on? What’s all this about?”

And the girl still wouldn’t stop. She repeatedly pushed the seat-back, and began threatening me (“I’m gonna  get you, you f***ing c**t”), while her only slightly less inebriated brother repeatedly told her to put a lid on it. After landing, her parting shot: “I know what you look like. I’ve got you out on the street. Just wait till we get out on the street. I’ve got you, you dumb b**ch.” This is when the flight attendants finally took them to the back of the plane for a time out.

Still on the taxiway, the captain told the passengers to remain in their seats once we arrived at the gate. There was “a situation on board that needs to be sorted out.” Mom & I were told separately that law enforcement officials were coming, that we would be the first to disembark and that police wanted a statement from me.

When the door opened in FLL, three of the biggest and scariest-looking Sheriff’s department dudes I have ever seen headed straight to where the flight attendants had corralled the foul-mouthed little ones. Mom and I grabbed our bags and headed out of row 21, while a planeload of still-seated passengers stared at us, most of whom wondering what on earth was going on.

Officer Jackson, though scary-looking, turned out to be a very nice guy. Well, to us at least. Mom and I were still reeling from the experience, and the airline’s station manager came to apologize profusely. I have no idea what happened to the girl but I did see her sitting in handcuffs as we left the building.

Ah yes. Florida, LIVE! As we know and love the place.

That plus the 84 degrees F (29 degrees C) and the sunshine is why we keep going back.

Florida.

Florida.

Advertisements




Seeing “home” through a different lens

5 07 2012

It was Independence Day this week, the day when all red-blooded ‘Mericans – at home and abroad – celebrate with fireworks and barbecues and the red-white-and-blue. On July 4th 236 years ago a bunch of smart guys in wigs and knickerbockers told the Brits to go stuff it, and founded their own country.

Recycled t-shirt.

I am also one of those who celebrated with a slab of seared beef and a fine bottle of California Cabernet Sauvignon. But I live overseas. No fireworks show on TV or outside my window, not even a sparkler within reach. But that makes me no less American. The U.S. is my home, Europe is where I am currently living.

Why? It just kind of happened that way. I finished my Master’s degree in 1992, just as the first George Bush was wreaking havoc on the economy. I couldn’t find a job at home so I took off and found a career elsewhere. But I have every intention of returning someday.

So for the past 20 years I have observed life in America from across the pond, sometimes with amusement and sometimes with disillusionment. Sometimes with envy and sometimes with sadness. Often, I wonder just how much it has changed in these years I have lived abroad, and if I will ever feel at home there again.

An squabble on Facebook overnight prompted me to think about this once again, intensely. A FB friend of mine, surely blinded by the sudden rediscovered patriotism that hits every American squarely in the gut as s/he watches fireworks over the Washington Mall and hears emotional renditions of the Star Spangled Banner, posted this comment:

Watching the DC July 4 show on TV. Every year it overwhelms me. I am honored and proud to be an American. Can someone explain to me why we are now trying to become Europe? We have fought long and hard for the freedoms and privileges of this beautiful, free country!

A wise woman friend of hers responded a short time later:

I don’t think I follow you. I think we’re just trying to secure an equal opportunity for a happy and healthy future for ALL our citizens, not just the wealthy ones.

It was July 5th by the time I saw these and added my own two cents:

Not quite following either… Last time I looked, Europe was also beautiful and free… Wouldn’t be living here if it wasn’t!

Upon which I got this slap in the face from the original poster:

The economics don’t work. And the resulting entitlement is disastrous. My immigrant grandparents would be disappointed.

And I’m thinking … “Lady, have you ever even been to Europe? Do you even know what the hell you are talking about? Could you locate Europe on a map? And your immigrant grandparents – they probably had really good reasons for leaving Europe during the Second World War… sooooo… what’s your point, exactly?”

This same FB friend already reproached me last week for celebrating the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, writing something to the effect of: “Those of us who have to pay aren’t happy about this at all.”

Of course, this could just be a single slanted opinion from a single self-centered person. But I get the sneaky feeling that there are a whole bunch of folks in the U.S. who think this way.

So I am asking myself today – what happened to the solidarity and the kindness and the helpful, open, optimistic and accepting attitude I always remember Americans by? What happened to the mutual support, the looking out for one another, the spontaneous neighborliness and the caring for strangers that I remember from growing up in a small community in the Northeast? What happened to them? Where did they go?

Maybe I just need to de-friend this person on FB. But when I finally do find a way to live and exist in the United States again, with some kind of financial security, when I find a job I can live off of, with guaranteed health insurance and a pension that I will work hard for, that will still be there when I retire, whenever and wherever that may be: is this the kind of selfishness and ignorance I’m going to have to deal with? Is everyone like this? Will I even recognize this place anymore? This place I’ve always called “home”?





I Amsterdam

13 01 2012

So my big brother, S., and I decided to give ourselves (or each other) a Christmas gift: We went to Amsterdam for a long weekend.

It has been more than 15 years since I was last in the city, but it made an impression enough to make it on my “Top 10” list. (Along with, in no particular order:  San Francisco, Berlin, Helsinki, Sydney, Philadelphia Vancouver, Singapore, Toronto and Boston.)

In the meantime, the city has given itself a very catchy advertising slogan: “I amsterdam”.

Nice.

And here I thought “Be Berlin” was pretty cool.

S. is on the meatmarket again, after a failed 10-year relationship-that-turned-into-marriage, which is in its final throes. (The entire Starr family will throw a three-day celebration when all THAT is done and dusted. Stay tuned.)

And what better place to test your self-marketing skills than Amsterdam.

He has been a few times, and on his last visit he discovered a special, secret, by-invitation-and-with-reservation-only bar. It was the highlight of his trip, at which he took the opportunity to tweak his flirting skills. So of course the experience had to be repeated, with his kid sister. (Even though the mere presence of something that looked like a “date” – me – would be insurance enough against scoring any action at all.)

The club is located in an inconspicuous row house on a non-descript street, tucked between a sex shop and kebab kiosk. I walked by it twice without realizing anything was there – to his amusement. The windows are blacked out, and all that distinguishes it from any other abandoned storefront is a single tiny doorbell.

We arrived fashionably late for our 930pm reservation. The staff remembered my big bro and greeted him very warmly, like he was a regular, or an old friend. The two bartenders, already hard at work, stopped to chat with us and offered a round of bourbon on the house. And the Singapore Slings were truly the best I have had in a very long time.

I think this was what was left of the second sling. But it could have been the third.

I have rediscovered evenings out ever since Europe went smoke-free. Thankfully, I no longer come home from a restaurant or a bar smelling like I washed my hair in cigarette ash. So my still-smoker-brother had to occasionally abandon me step outside to get his nicotine fix.

During one of these absences, a man sidled up to a beautiful tall Dutch woman standing at the bar next to me and I overheard his feeble pickup line: “I noticed you since the moment you walked in the door.”

Obviously, a raw beginner. Or someone trying to get back on his dating feet after a looooooooooonnng time. Kind of like my brother. Too bad he wasn’t around to witness the poor fellow crash and burn.

Her eyes opened wide and she said something to the effect of, “Uh, gee, I think I have to go now,” high-tailing it back to her date, a balding banker-type in a monogrammed shirt sucking down his fourth cocktail.

I categorized the performance in the column: “Most spectacular strikeout”.

When my brother returned and I told him the story, he didn’t understand what the big deal was.

Damn…. I’m just hoping his pickup lines are way better than that.





Polo at its Argentine best

16 12 2011

Once every couple of years, I travel to South America to visit my relatives – my father’s family – and last week it was time to drop in on them again. My aunt died suddenly just before Christmas last year, and I don’t know how long my 71-year-old uncle is going to be around.  I just wanted to see them, spend time with them and enjoy their company. It helps that they live in a pretty cool place: Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It is summer in Buenos Aires this time of year; the days get longer and the temperatures climb into tropical regions. And the annual Argentine Open Polo competition gets underway.

For those of you unfamiliar with polo the sport (as opposed to Polo the brand), it is, in a word, elitist. You have to be super-rich to be a part of it, and fearless and athletic to play. Each team consists of four human members, and anywhere between 32 and 64 equine ones, called “ponies”. You may recall, the Princes Charles, William and Harry play polo.

It is hockey on horseback, if you will. Equine golf at full gallop.  Soccer at superspeed… with a mallet… from six feet off the ground.

Geronimo!!!!!!!

The Argentine Open is to international polo what the World Series is to international baseball. In essence, it is the world championship because there is no question whatsoever as to which nation dominates the sport. And within polo, only a handful of families control the business.

Polo enthusiasts from around the world flock to the national polo grounds in Palermo, in the center of Buenos Aires, from late November, to watch their idols make magic. This year was the 118th in which the tournament has taken place.

Attending an Argentine Open polo match has been on my bucket list for a long, long time. So as soon as my travel dates to BA were set, I contacted a friend here who got me tickets to this year’s final, where the best of the very best duke it out in eight chukkas. (Actually learning how to play polo remains close to the top of that said list.)

The finalists were the same teams that have ruled the tournament, the sport, and the industry since 2007: Ellerstina and La Dolfina – neither of which meant squat to me before I set foot on the holy Palermo pitch. (But ladies, each one of those eight boys on horseback makes George Clooney look like a serious has-been. Trust me.)

The ponies are something else altogether, and most have pedigree parentage across several generations who have already played in Palermo finals.

Polo fans are a strange set for your average major sporting event… civilized, white, beautiful people, many showing off a whole bunch of bling and botox. They are respectful and unbelievably concentrated during the action on the field. Polo is the only sport in the world, my ticket-acquiring friend said, where the players make more noise than the spectators. There were moments in the grandstands where you could hear a pin drop. On grass.

Ellerstina making a "Hail Mary" play.

I was spellbound, despite slowly melting in the 32 degree C (100 degree F) heat. It was one of the most fascinating sporting events I have ever witnessed and I was very aware of what a high honor it was to actually be there to watch the final LIVE. However, according to one expert’s post-match analysis, it was a messy game. The teams were nervous and made a bunch of stupid mistakes that led to too many penalties, he added. A number of goals ensued from these penalty situations – not a very crowd-friendly way to entertain 16,000 paying fans.

In the end La Dolfina whipped Ellerstina 16 to 10, and polo’s posterboy, Adolfo Cambiaso, Dolfina’s number one player and owner, added another diamond to his already very full crown as the true king of international polo.

See how fast I have become a polo expert?  Took me a whole eight chukkas in the cheap seats under the hot sun.

The final score of this year's Argentine Open Final.





Of paint, outlets and doorknobs

7 12 2011

So for the last two weeks or so I disappeared into renovation-land. As some of you may know I still own my father’s condo in South Florida. He died about four years ago, and we decided to keep it as a (very expensive) vacation place. Some would call it a “money pit”.

Two years ago, when R. was unemployed for a few months, we decided to start upgrading the place that seemed to have not been upgraded since it was built in 1973. The kitchen’s dome lighting was vintage, and the appliances were slowly taking leave of their functionality, one by one.

The pink bathroom was classic, too.

Gorgeous. Just Gorgeous.

So thanks to my unbelievably resourceful and flexibly unemployed husband, we managed to redo the kitchen and the two bathrooms within about four months. He flew from Europe to Miami five times within that span of time to supervise the construction.

For the past two years we have thoroughly enjoyed our half-new vacation place. But every visit we said to each other that the place kind of needed a new paint job. And every time we came, we also said – “Okay…. next time.”

This past September we attacked the project head on. R. is no longer unemployed, but he now has a job where he can literally take every fifth week off. (PS.: I want one like that too…) So he flew over to Miami and started the long and arduous task of covering every ceiling and vertical flat surface within the four walls of our condo with a fresh coat of white paint. It took him eight full days.

But once the walls and the ceilings were white again, we noticed that the closet doors, room doors and door frames were a kind of seedy beige-y color that depressed us. And the doorknobs, fashionable in the 1970’s, I’m sure, just had to go.

A second working vacation was planned.

We arrived a week and a half ago, and in those ten days the place has turned from dowdy to rowdy.  For the trim and every other surface that needed something fresh, we chose an airy, light turquoise that carries the name “ionic sky”. I kept calling it “iconic sky”. It looks unbelievably Florida-y, South-Beach-y even. Oh-so-cool.

But renovating comes with its pitfalls, too. For example, I never knew painting was so hard, that one can make so many mistakes, and that it is possible to get a cramp in one’s hand from holding a paintbrush for 8 hours every day. I thought that kind of thing only happened when you were writing exams at school.

During our renovation extravaganza, no day was complete without a visit to one of our two local Home Depots. We always seemed to need some tool / widget / screw / nail / cable / switch / outlet / paintbrush / cover / glue that we did not have at home at that particular moment.

On the bright side, I discovered a new, marketable skill I never knew I had: replacing doorknobs. My apparent expertise earned me the endearing title “Miss Doorknob”. My dear, sweet husband, whose native language is not English, was previously unaware of the colloquial connotation of calling someone a “Doorknob.”

Of course, he meant well, and I love him for it.

And hey, if I don’t get a job in my field by the end of January, maybe I can make replacing doorknobs my new career choice!

My handiwork. All mine.





Thanksgiving on the wrong side of the pond

23 11 2011

It’s Thanksgiving week and I am, once again, for yet another Thanksgiving, stuck in Europe. I came here after finishing my Master’s degree expecting to be away from the U.S. for one or two Thanksgivings. I have been away for nineteen, and counting.

Here in Europe, there is no such thing as Thanksgiving, and I must say it is the one day of the year I am physically sick with longing and blind with homesickness. And my European friends, all lovely people for whom I am eternally thankful, just don’t understand.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of all time because there are no expectations attached to it. There is no gift-giving and therefore no disappointment and no fake joy. The joy is (usually) real, and it’s all about just having a great meal together. Food that reminds me of where I come from and who I am. Food that reminds me of my good fortune in this life, so far. Comfort food.

When my father was still alive, he would come visit me at the end of the year. Every September we would have the same phone conversation – should he come at Thanksgiving? Or four weeks later, for Christmas? We always decided on Christmas because then he could hang around for New Year’s Eve too. And he loved being part of a traditional European Christmas over here… it reminded him of his childhood in Germany, a long time ago.

We would turn our Christmas dinner into an “end-of-year” dinner, so that we could celebrate all the holidays we had missed and the ones that were to come in the first part of the new year as well. The centerpiece of our culinary extravaganza was his Thanksgiving turkey. He had been the Master Of The Bird at home since as far back as I can remember, and was always eager to commandeer my mini-kitchen for a whole day, along with all of its tools and appliances.

I would pre-order the turkey from a local supermarket and he would directly import the stuffing and the cranberries in his suitcase.

The Bird, 2002 edition.

Since the amount of food on the table was usually far greater than the two of us could possibly consume in any useful period of time, and the standard European freezer is the size of a shoebox, I invited friends and colleagues over to partake in the gluttonous, succulent feast. Our rallying cry was always: “EAT MORE!” One year we had guests from six different countries, including Palestine, the U.K. and Germany, to name just a few. It was a real United Nations around the table in my little Berlin apartment.

Those were good times with my father, and old and new friends. Those evenings are past and long gone, now, but no one can take the memories away from us.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  Be thankful, and eat well.





Countdown to Berlin 2011

17 09 2011

It’s that time of year again.

The mornings dawn foggy and grey, and dusk arrives much earlier than it did a month ago.

The leaves are turning.

Nature is preparing itself for the darkest season.

And it’s just one more week till the Berlin Marathon.

Loyal readers will know that Berlin is the highlight of my season, the day I hope to be in top form after a long summer of blood, sweat and tears. Time to concentrate on staying healthy, and getting psyched. Time to switch out the ball bearings and rotate the wheels – to make sure all my equipment is also in top form. And hope that the stars are aligned for two hours on next Saturday afternoon.

Get out of the wayyyyyyyyy....!

Last year’s Marathon in Berlin was a washout, the weather more appropriate for waterskiing than skate racing. (I will spare you the photos… it was ugly…) The city’s streets were covered with at least two inches of floodwater, of which my skates soaked up several liters each over the course of 42 kilometers (26 miles). I limped across the finish line after more than two hours on skates in a downpour, with not a personal best but rather a personal worst, blood streaming from my left elbow – a result of the asphalt jumping up to bite me. Twice.

Within hours, every single one of my 16 expensive newfangled ceramic-cased ball bearings was rusted solid.

The year before, in 2009, I had to forfeit completely due to a training accident a month before the race that left me with three broken bones and a titanium plate in my arm. It was heartbreaking.

The year before that was the last time I did anything noteworthy in Berlin.

So in 2011 I hope to redeem myself for the past two years of slip-ups with a new record time, in front of a new fan club – my big brother.

This past Spring I got an early start on my training, due to the fact that I was in Florida and not in still-wintry Switzerland. And after my otherworldly, herculean efforts at the legendary Gigathlon earlier this summer, I feel stronger than ever that I am in a much better shape than in previous years. I even dropped a few kilos along the way.

Next weekend I will line up for my seventh Berlin marathon over the course of the past 12 years, and probably my 35th race overall. The weather forecast so far is for a sunny autumn day.

It’s always a thrill to shut the city down for a while. To take back the streets from motorized traffic, pretend you (and your 8,000 other co-skate-racers) own them, even if it’s just for a day or a couple of hours. And Berlin – whose inofficial motto is “poor, but sexy” – really does know how to throw a grand party on marathon weekend.

Can’t wait to hear the crowd roar.

Evelynn prepares to hit the blue line in 2008.