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Archive for the month “August, 2016”

Selfies from San Diego by Dinda and Her Grandson

Sitting at Petco in San Diego, watching the Cubs versus the Padres, in the wrong seats. Suddenly a gaggle of young women appear to take rightful ownership and we move on, deciding to stay where we are, but several rows further back. But my eyes are on the girls, one in particular, who is flinging her hair this way and that, posing with a beer, or mugging for her shot. I am fascinated by her demeanour, a black lacy bra barely covered by a loose grey topper and her continual pony tail clips removed or repositioned as she rearranges her blond- black carefully composed hair. She does not raise her eyes to the game. She has only eyes for herself. We’re watching Anthony Rizzo. I’m teasing my grandson that Rizzo’s specialty is rice, as in Anthony Risotto. So I suggest he should be a chef, not heating up the home plate, but one at a fancy restaurant. 

But back to selfies.I recall selfie sticks have been banned in Disneyland, yet I’m quite sure that we observed a few people using selfie sticks, obviously ignoring the ban. Perhaps the officials at Disney worried that someone might chase Goofy or hit Mickey on the head with one. 

This preoccupation with selfies puzzles me. Once in an art gallery viewing the Van Gogh Irises, young people gather – not to look but to pose in front of the million/ billion dollar picture. Again I’m not sure why. Are they thinking: Intelligent Me with famous picture! 🤓Sporty Me at baseball game⚾? Excited me with the presidential hopeful😀? Are these pictures posted elsewhere to show what a wonderful life the selfie taker leads? But truthfully, there is no real interaction between the person and the location.The background is merely landscape for a “kinda portrait: a portrait for posting that forgets the reason for the pose.  

Why not then just stay home and take a picture in one’s home? At least a person lives in their house and dresses and eats and sleeps there so they can be camera ready, having interacted within the actual space with which they are familiar. 

In terms of the Irises. The selfie- takers blocked the way of the real art lovers who wanted to think about and truly look at the picture. When asked to- at least- move off to the side of the painting, they stood firm,attempting to find the right focal point that included both themselves and the famous work of art. 

I ask my grandson, “Why do people do this?” He tells me that if there was an app, then we could substitute different locations without having to visit a particular place and take a selfie there. Then there could be backdrops of the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, baseball games or even skiing in the Alps⛷.He continues, “Why buy a selfie stick, if you could just ask a passerby to take a picture of you or just extend your own arm to take a shot?” 

Maybe our digital life is better than a real one? Again my grandson, aged 7, suggests that if your life in photos is better than actual life that maybe selfies will enhance and make your life better. However, increasing your digital life might actually cause your real life to be worse because you do not talk, look or enjoy what you are doing.Therefore, these shots really make your life worse, depending if you spend all your time taking these selfies. My grandson allows that if you are an occasional selfie taker, this does not apply to you.  

Fortunately when we visited the USS Midway, he actually met a pilot who had flown one of the planes on board that gigantic ship. He interviewed the man and enjoyed an illuminating conversation. Had he been busy only asking the man to merely pose, the interchange would have been lost. Not an anonymous picture of an old guy in an uniform, but now my grandson has a memory locked in his head to treasure in his mind’s eye forever :a real moment, not a digital stamp that has lost its value as soon as the camera or cell phone stopped its snap . Sometimes you forget about pictures you take and the selfie retains no value at all, lost among so many others. 

My grandson reminds me that at the zoo he overhears people cooing, “ Interesting, interesting, ME at the zoo.”But are they watching the giraffes reaching towards the fresh food? Are they noticing that the furry balls of koalas are snoring?Did they see the restless polar bears waiting for a cool room so they could escape the warm weather? I don’t think so.  

Even at dinner tonight, we see more selfies. Someone using Snapchat, adorning their heads with flowers. The caption beneath the shot might say “Hungry me at restaurant.”😱They were not enjoying their food, only fixated on the funny gestures they were making. 

Which brings me back to Anthony Rizzo. Instead of taking selfies, those girls should have been shouting, Bring me some risotto. 

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The Olympics Conundrum

Everyone this year must have wondered about Rio as an appropriate site for the games. Admittedly, not a great sports fan, I still always am fascinated by the prowess of the athletes, always amazed by the skill and sleekness of their bodies. Last night the choreographed duos plunging into the pool left me in awe : the best reminded me of the tightly wound gears of clocks. 

Even the opening ceremonies that traced the history of the country fascinated. The hot pinks and greens of people dressed as arrows along the parade of athletes tickled my imagination. The skeletons of boats rocking with explorers a la cirque de Soleil, the slaves with huge blocks attached to their feet, the rising tenements that featured a backdrop for the diversity of silver dancers were all wonderful, artfully and historically conceived. The serious admission and projection of the shrinking land and resources of our world dramatically set against each athlete planting a seedling: small and big, individual and colossal. And yet, as in Beijing where the poor were relocated for the building of stadiums such asThe Birdsnest (which now stands empty ) ,60,000 residents in working class favelas in Rio were also moved out for the building of the Olympic Park. Gary Mason in his column,” The spectacle you don’t see on TV”( The Globe and Mail, August 12, 2016) describes families in dire circumstances, begging for food and sorting through garbage cans, babies in arms. He states,” The dichotomy between the money drenched world of the IOC…and the horribly disadvantaged people…in Rio is blunt and depressing.”

With the terrible issues in the favelas and the poisonous prick of the Zika, not to mention the fluctuating political presidents, Rio appears cursed. My own hairdresser confided her family has been beset by gangs in local grocery stores and no doubt, most have heard about the Spanish sailing team’s mugging at pistol point. In the midst of such burning poverty, how can there not be unrest? 

Yet I carry sweet poignant memories with me when eight years ago, I celebrated New Year’s Eve on Copacabana Beach with four million others in a quietly festive, family based party. Every one respectfully dressed in white, carrying gladiolus, silently approaching the edge of the water, bending to offer the flowers to the goddess. Small groups of extended relations preparing dinners on portable stoves, tasty, spicy smells, children dancing on tiptoes on the sand: the atmosphere calm, friendly, spiritual. 

And at exactly midnight after fireworks, belongings and small babes packed up in arms, the partygoers turned back to fill the streets and head silently home by foot or bus. We were sitting in a bar restaurant called Mabe’s beach- front where we poured champagne for anyone who came by. Told not to display jewellery or wallets as tourists, we had begun our Rio trip fearful, but encountered no problems. In fact, our memories of Rio still give us pause today :awe of a night that was far from violent or threatening – and lives in our minds as one of those moments that twinkles and endures when so many  other travel memories have vanished. 

The story yesterday, August 8, of Raefaela Silva, is like that, a story that persists. Winning Brazil’s first gold medal in women’s judo division, she is  David battling Goliath,poorest of girls triumphing. On the podium, biting her lips to hold back tears as she waited for the medal to be placed around her neck, Raefaela conveyed( to me) that she was unlike the other athletes. Whether it was a toughness, a rawness, a particular look, a demeanour,a raggedness, she somehow marked a difference from the sleek and poised, say, of the women swimmers or divers such as our Penny Oleksiak or Rosie Filion. Siva is quoted as saying, “I was always climbing up walls, over walls to get a kite that might have fallen out of the sky…I had a dream” , a mantra both literal and figural for a child reaching beyond a bad neighbourhood towards a better future. She adds,”I had to fight in the midst of that, in order to overcome and not be defeated as a child” ( The Star, Bruce Arthur, The girl wins gold for City of God”). 

As humans and story readers,we approve this story, beaming with pleasure that there are avenues to vanquish our enemies, whether they be human or societal. We burst our buttons that the human spirit has prevailed and for one shining moment, the dragon has been felled. But in truth, there are few Raefaelas able to exit their circumstances. Even her sister at 15 found herself pregnant. The conditions that confine all the other children and propel them into crime, not sports, drama , professions must haunt society. Without opportunity, the quiet one in the corner, the bully, the kid kept at home to mind his baby brother, few can escape the cycle of poverty that robs all of us :to move  from challenging circumstances and go forward. What made the difference for Raefaela? Did she have a latent gene from her ancestors to persevere and somehow continue her trek? Was it her parents, who in spite of moving a small mile away from their former favela, hand her the torch? Was it her coach who in the midst of crushing racism in London, and  Siva being disqualified in London four years ago and persuaded her to dig in her heels, scof and steadfastly believe in  her dream? Was there one guardian angel knowing what words or signs were neededto keep her on the right track? In deed, what makes one swing one leg in front of the other when everything within screams, “Giveup, lie down; it’s enough all ready.”

Cynically I ponder if she will return to her former life and hang her medal on her wall, or will she be used by the government as motivation that even if you live in slums, you can triumph.Will she be air brushed by the government into a lovely model for drinking coke and selling sanitary pads? 

It is a lovely notion that we cling to: that one downtrodden person can rise up in the midst of adversity. Rather than fighting the odds, governments must ensure that all  our Raefaelas find outlets for their talents, and even ” ordinary” children be allowed to rise to fulfill their potential, not scour for scraps in garbage bins. Wasn’t that the idea behind the 1979  Year of the Child promoted by the Unesco and the  UN?Not snipped in the bud by the Zika virus.

Travel piece : close encounters in China

Yesterday an attempt to fit narrowly through the passages in a parking lot that descended into a tunnel reminded me of a perilous adventure in China. 
We had been travelling several weeks, touring The Great Wall,the Stone Forest, Tiananmen Square, X’ian Warriors, Temple at Dali. Met by sparkling intelligent guides with names like Minnie or Linda, they were accompanied by somber drivers who would seamlessly weave in and out of traffic in vans that were air conditioned. We would smile and bow a little to these polite men, rarely exchanging more than a smile. Usually we thought little of these encounters mainly because the drivers served as a convenience to follow the guides’ instructions and ensure we arrived safely and in good time to whatever location our itinerary had described.
But on extended trips, one person will stand out. In our case, it was in Kuonming.The town was lovely and at night by the water there was a park near our hotel with the feeling of a festive fair: water boats, coloured lanterns, pavilions,carousels. We were greeted by a young man who began our rounds, only quickly to disappear every twenty minutes, leaving us to wait by a fountain or a rock. His sudden departures made it clear that his bathroom needs were exceeding our own, and when in the confined space of the travel car, he began to cough, and appear sleepy, we suggested that perhaps he need rest, that it was no fault of his own, that people do get sick, and of course, we would not complain he was not fulfilling his duties… He continued to deny he was ill although the sudden interchanges with the driver and the abrupt stops quickly raised my paranoia. Yet the young man vehemently refused to admit he was sick. 
Fearing a virus that would cut short our trip- or worse, I admonished my husband to request a new guide. So we met Evan, a lithe and cool guide whose perfect English, gleaned from overdosing on movies from Hollywood,was the former’s counter foil. He was knowledgeable and fun and when he explained that it would take him 10 hours to return home if he accompanied us to the next location, we agreed to allow the driver to deposit Evan at the bus stop.
Quickly we realized that this driver had not a word of English. As he deftly approached a road that was demarcated with signs posted that announced ( we assumed) no thoroughfare, the driver jumped from the van to peer more closely at the illegible words. Shaking his head and consulting a map, he paced the ground. Even without language, we ascertained that the road was closed, but without a guide to negotiate or explain, we were unable to discuss the next step.The driver, ignoring our flapping hand and convulsed faces, was determined to use this route. Several times he manoeuvred the van towards a space that we deemed impenetrable, set on crossing onto a dusty road where not a single machine or house could be observed. Finally,as successful as a camel passing through a needle hole, he turned to us and smiled broadly. With approximately three inches on either side of our vehicle he had crossed into forbidden road.
Besieging my husband with looks of terror, I communicated that this must be the way to the spot where we would be kidnapped and ransomed, a finger or toe identifying us as North American travellers. Over hills, down into valleys we soared, the driver oblivious to the torment I was experiencing, quite certain that this was the only route where a clandestine exchange could be made, this road essential to the plan for us, hapless travellers, who had willingly abandoned by their guide. I had read of such events in South America and Africa and feared the worst, castigating myself for releasing Evan- or perhaps, worse yet! Evan had been part of this plot. Frequent bathroom stops for the former guide seemed a lesser price to have paid for our safety.
In the end, after almost three interminable hours and twelve minutes later , we arrived at our destination- with all body parts in tact. The driver, wanting to take a short cut he had skillfully managed many times before, stood quietly at the side of the van, expecting a huge tip to reward his ingenuity.
Yet as we descended the twisted tunnel towards the parking lot in downtown Toronto, I re- experienced the fear I had felt at the squeeze of the car through those impassable barriers.

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