Monthly Archives: October 2010

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Britain’s Virgin Atlantic Airways has always led the pack when it comes to stylish, effective advertising that infuse modern air travel with remixed glamor and wit.

When I say effective, I mean the ads and promotional products make me want to fly Virgin to London, today, even though the closest they get to my neck of the woods is Miami and the Caribbean.  In fact, Virgin helped inspire this very website with their “Jetrosexual” campaign, launched back in 2005.  The airline produced a slick promotional mag with that salacious portmanteau as title, defining the category of traveler who “left terra firma behind to move business and culture forward,” and devised a captivating website reviving the Golden Age of jet travel with themed flights across the pond to London (“The Diplomat” from DC, “The Trance-Atlantic” from Miami) complete with mini-movies narrated in a husky British accent and scored by the master musicians at Red Cola.

Now, Virgin’s hit another high with its new James Bond-inspired commercial, starring a multi-hued cast of high-flying hotties in glitter, glam, and gold.  My only problem is with the music: not, not, NOT feeling the whiny Muse version of “Feeling Good.”  Mute the sound on YouTube and play the commercial simultaneously with my own adopted Fly Brother theme song, “Adore” by I:Cube.  The images run surprisingly in-synch with the song if you start the vids as close together as possible.

Either way, Virgin Atlantic, please start flying to São Paulo soon!

Shouts to Rasheed and Troy, a couple of my jetro brethren probably heading through airport security at this very moment.

In October, the air in Warsaw is cold.  Broad concrete sidewalks and large, drab Soviet-era constructions refract that chill, always present in spite of waning autumn sunshine.  But there is color that warms the streets in bursts: the golden, meaty glow of 24-hour Turkish doner kebab stands; the fluorescent charge of rooftop corporate logos that read Marriott, Orange, and Marks & Spencer; the multi-hued hum of nightclub signs hawking boobs and booze.  This weekend, with nighttime temperatures in the lower 40s, I was tempted to drop by one of these clubs for a little post-Cold War action and see how the Poles party.  With the Polish economy on fire and a future as bright as the Coca-Cola sign overlooking downtown, Warsaw is already overcoming its woeful history with vigor and style.

Warsaw’s story is a tragic one, full of conquest and destruction: after rounding up the Jews into Europe’s largest ghetto, the goddamned Nazis razed 80% of the city in quashing an uprising of the oppressed Poles, with over two million killed under Hitler’s grand plan for the virtual eradication of Poland and its people.  Once solidly under Soviet influence, the Russians imposed on the city Europe’s then-tallest building, the 757-foot-high Palace of Culture and Science, an ornate but foreboding skyscraper that reigned in solitude over the Polish capital for three decades. But sleek, modern towers in blue-tinted glass and corporate marquis now vie for air supremacy and a colorful, completely rebuilt Old City vibrantly outshines the functional but dour residential and office blocks built during the Cold War.  Almost no flat surface is spared from advertising pasteboard, not even the Palace of Culture and Science itself, as Warsaw proudly asserts her devotion to capitalism.

A brief weekend in the city certainly isn’t enough time to get to know the people, but I found the Poles to be polite (my presence elicited a few looks of interest, but hardly any stares in an overwhelmingly white—pale—city) and quiet, but helpful when asked and generally very fluent in English, which was good since I didn’t understand a word of Polish.  Not a word. A trip to a party or two gave a glimpse of Polish rhythm (they kept up pretty good with Rihanna) and the women are attractive and stylish (read: hot), high-heeled boots being the ladies’ footwear of choice.  Clothes, I found to be inexpensive.  Food, not so much.  I did, however, snag a 50-euro-a-night rate at the four-star Mercure Warszawa Grand via only two nights before the trip (no, they did not pay me to say that).

As Poland marches toward further integration with the European Union—they still use the złoty, not the Euro—prices will go up, but so too will the number of visitors, who come to experience this accessible bit of the former Communist Bloc (or, literally, Warsaw Pact), or to take in a bit of history about Nazi occupation and Polish resistance or research composer and favorite son Fryderyk Chopin at the city’s inexpensive but excellent museums.  Warsaw will also lose a bit of its Wild West feel, that air of anything-goes recklessness and conspicuous consumption that accompanies the first throes of unbridled capitalism in a society that hasn’t had it for very long; now is the time to go, before Starbucks, KFC, and Subway complete their conquest.

Meanwhile, even the city’s youngins are staking their claim on the de facto anthem of worldwide youth culture, hip hop (I mean, we don’t really break dance no mo’, but we applaud the effort).

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Why don't you just get a t-shirt that reads "Dumbass"?

“Gringo.”  I can’t stand that damn word.   And it’s all over Latin America, from restaurants with names like Gringo’s Pizza to movies with titles like “Gringo Wedding.”  The meaning of the word varies from country to country, but I’ve not found one place yet where it’s actually a positive moniker, despite many travelers who seem to relish the term.

In Brazil, I’ve come to learn that the word refers almost always to foreign visitors from Europe, the US, Canada, and Australia, attaching itself to other Latin Americans in the rarest of cases, and almost never used for visitors from Asia or Africa (save white South Africans).   The word isn’t applied exclusively to whites, as black Americans or Caribbean people or even US citizens of Brazilian descent get dinged with the word.  Still, in my experiences here, I’ve never really heard it spoken other than in a neutral, informative fashion (“Is your friend Brazilian?” “No, he’s ‘gringo;’ he’s American.”).

Brazil’s usage also fits better with the academically-accepted etymology of the word, a corruption of grego/griego (literally “Greek,” used in the same way to denote something foreign as the English phrase, “It’s Greek to me”).  Other places subscribe to the myth that the word was introduced during the Mexican-American War, with Mexican patriots shouting “green, go!”  Um, that’d be all well and good if the uniforms hadn’t been blue and white.  In fact, it was the Mexicans who wore green!

In Colombia, the g-word is loaded with unattractive meanings that true “gringos” often fail to perceive: supposedly the word is limited to US citizens, but until one is identified as a Canadian or Belgian or New Zealander, the label sticks to almost any white foreign visitor (and only to non-whites when they’re identified as US citizens).  It’s also a code word for someone easily tricked, who speaks Spanish horribly, who has an unlimited bank account, and who can’t dance.  I’ve had to deal with more than enough dropped jaws after proving my salsa skills on the dance floor (I’m decent) or trilling my r’s in words like ferrocarril.  Still, the leading newspaper of the country often refers to the US Embassy as la embajada gringa, and for most of my four years in Colombia, I cringed whenever I heard the word.

In fact, I had to coach several friends of mine to not use “gringo” around me, especially since there are three other words in Spanish for US citizen: estadounidense, norte-americano (itself a misnomer), and the controversial americano.  I called one of my workout partners simio (ape) until he realized that the speaker doesn’t get to say whether or not something should be offensive.  Of course, I couldn’t police everyone who used the term, but at least I got it out of the mouths of my closest friends.  Once, a fellow professor from Ohio asked me if I thought she was gringa.   I told her no, because I felt like she made a concerted effort to learn about the history and culture of the country, engage with people in Spanish with properly-conjugated verbs, and refused to get swindled by taxi drivers.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her she couldn’t dance, though.

“Gringo” did, however, end up seeping into my own lexicon.  I now use it whenever I or someone else behaves in a particularly anal way about something (e.g. speaking to someone’s manager about crappy service; demanding posted office hours be heeded; demanding anything), or when I need to play dumb (like at airport customs).  Sometimes, you gotta go “gringo” on their asses.