Forty-three years ago today, my parents got married. As high school teachers, they had to wait until summer break before jetting off for the honeymoon, and some kind of way, they heard that it was better in the Bahamas. Well, that’s debatable, but my parents seemed to have enjoyed it (I’m not 43, by the way…or maybe I am and just look damn good for my age ;-)). Personal logistics aside, many of the world’s airlines sold fantasies of post-nuptial holidays to eager newlyweds back in 1970, and I unearthed a few of the contemporary travel posters used in trafficking exotic destinations to would-be travelers in bell-bottomed trousers.
BONUS: The #1 radio hit on April 29, 1970? That’s easy:
Sometimes, you just can’t flout rules, even with an eagle on your passport. As tourists or businessfolk, we star-spangled Americans are allowed to spend up to 90 days in any given six-month period in most of Europe without having to actually visit a country’s consulate and applying for a visa. And as a star-spangled American, I simply took for granted that I could come and go as I pleased, the consummate jetsetter, throwing diplomatic caution to the wind and never paying attention to the 90-day rule on any of my previous visits. Well, as of December 22, 2012, I had hit Day 90, having entered and left the European Union six times since July. I had only discovered this grievous transgression on December 21st.
Now, I, Fly Brother, should have known better. I’ve lived in four countries outside of the States and have snagged more than a few visas with little more than a Coke and a smile for the consular official, so I’m usually up on my visa game. But we’re talking about Europe, here; specifically, Germany. I mean, we spanked Germany in 1945. Badly. By rights, I should have the run of the place, nahmean?!
Well, I’m in the process of applying for a PhD program in Germany (fingers crossed), and the Germans are actually pretty good about letting foreigners (well, Americans, at least) apply for work and student visas while on German soil. Catch is, you have to register with the municipal government in the city you’re living in before your 90 days are up. In order to register, you have to provide a lease agreement or some other proof that you’re indeed living in Germany, and in my case, I was going to register as the roommate of a German friend I live with.
Well, when I went to register with the municipal government, I found out that said friend never registered with the municipal government. In fact, he’d moved from his hometown, two hours away from Berlin, ten years ago and never filled out the simple single-page document stating his new address in the German capital. So in order for me to register, we’d have to wait for the landlord to send a letter stating that said friend still resides in the same apartment. Two weeks later, no letter. Landlord’s office said they’d send another one, but it wouldn’t arrive before Christmas. That’s when I get the idea that maybe I should check to make sure I’m not spending a little too much time in Germany. This was December 21st, Day 89.
Well, I had to get the hell outta Dodge. Immejitly. Germany is known as being a stickler for rules and regulations (me, not so much), but I didn’t want to jeopardize any future chances of obtaining a work or student visa in Europe—remember, we’re talking almost the entire EU here, not just Germany—so I went online and found a 600-euro one-way ticket from Berlin home to Florida, including a transatlantic crossing on—ta-daa—the Singapore Airlines Airbus A380! For an airline geek like me, it can’t get much better than this: flying on the world’s largest passenger airplane operated by arguably the best airline in the world.
Well, my elation was short-lived, however, when I realized that a) I didn’t really have 600 euro earmarked for last-minute plane tickets, b) I had, oh, about 12 hours to pack for a trip with an undefined return date, c) I would conceivably have to remain out of Germany for another 90 days minimum, and d) all the plans that I’d made, including Christmas and New Year’s parties, work projects, German lessons, social activities, errthing, had to be postponed indefinitely or canceled. Yes, I’d get to spend Christmas with my family (always a good thing, even though I’d just seen them at Thanksgiving), and I could send off my PhD application and apply for the student visa from the States, but damn if this wasn’t an expensive way to take an unscheduled break from the limb-numbing central European winter.
Well, on Day 91, I embarked on my six-airport, five-leg, three-airline itinerary (the type you get when you snag a “cheap” last-minute deal): Berlin to Munich to Frankfurt on Lufthansa, Frankfurt to New York on Singapore (the route goes JFK>FRA>SIN and back), and New York to Washington to Jacksonville on US Airways.
The saving grace was that borderline-luxurious flight on Singapore, which included two full meals in economy, plus between-meal snacks, served up by an attentive, courteous flight crew. To top it off, I caught four great films I’d either been meaning to see for a while, or figured, “why the hell not?”: Frankenweenie (Tim Burton!), Oslo, August 31st (poignant and evocative), ParaNorman (EXCELLENT soundtrack), and Vertigo (one of the few Hitchcock opuses I hadn’t seen).
And though I’m still unsure when exactly I’ll be returning to Germany, I did make it home in time to catch the 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon on TBS. All is right with the world.
Merry Christmas, everybody!
Hello, my good people. I’m moving into another stage of growth and development with the site and I’d like to make sure that I’m moving in a direction that is of most use to you, my readers. Therefore, I’ve devised a very quick survey just to get an idea about how I can best encourage, inspire, and enlighten you to travel. So, please do me this quick solid and many, many thanks for reading!
Please be patient while I figgur this here thing out.
Back in 2009, I took a three-month round-the-world trip to a planned five continents, and with the help of Fly Mother and some Zip-Lock bags, I was able to squeeze an adequate amount of clean underwear and other necessities into two very light-weight carry-ons. Observe:
That would be: One dress shirt and a pair of khakis, some jeans, 6 pair of draws, four pair of socks, 3 white tees, swim trunks, gym shorts, four short-sleeve t-shirts, two long-sleeve tees, and a pair of size-13 loafers.
I’m participating in Vai Via’s 15 Day International Travel Challenge, but doubling-up, as I’m not a daily blog poster. So…
Day 06 – What does “home” mean to you?
Of course “home” will mean wherever my family is, but I consider my circle of good friends as family as well, so there’s no geographic limit to “home” for me anymore. There’s also the feeling of belonging to a place, of walking down the street and being claimed by that place. For the moment, that place is São Paulo.
Day 07 – Besides people, what did/do you miss from home?
Barbecues, driving through cities at dusk with the perfect music for each place, cheap domestic airfares, cheap everything.
Day 08 – A favorite food from another country/culture
Mangú (mashed plantains) from the Dominican Republic. Yum! And a nice, flavorful chai from India (though they sell that at Starbucks here).
Avenida São João – aka Saint Johns Ave, baby – in the ‘new’ half of ‘old’ downtown São Paulo. For a few decades, The Ave was the place to see and be seen, with the sidewalk cafés, movie houses, bijou apartment blocks (like mine – the Palacete Ibis, built in the 30s), and an efficient trolley whisking the aspiring elite and their maids and doormen to and fro. Now, there are crackheads, sex workers, retirees, Bolivians, Nigerians, bohemian artists, foreign pseudo-intellectuals, surprised out-of-towners staying at one of the many faded business-oriented hotels, all buzzing on the streets and in-and-out of bedraggled and salacious commercial businesses all hours of the day and night, anchored by the 35-floor, Empire State Building-inspired Banespão. Damn, I love this street!
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I’ve been in New York this week taking a much-needed vacation and finally decided to stop trying to force myself to sit still long enough to finish my assessments on the last two episodes of Black in Latin America. I fly to Portland, Oregon, tomorrow evening to attend the World Domination Summit and will have plenty of sitting-still time on the flight.
Meanwhile, if you’re in New York or Portland, drop me a line and let’s make a meet-up happen!
Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates’ PBS series Black in Latin America looks into the African element of Latin American societies and investigates both the accomplishments and disappointments of Afro-Latinos in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru. In the second instalment of the series, he visits the largest of the Greater Antilles, sitting just 90 miles south of Florida: Cuba.
I’ve been to the island three times – in 2001, 2002, and 2005 – each time falling under the spell of majestically-crumbling Havana. I’ve walked down arcaded streets, photographing buildings and old people and kids (known locally as ‘futuro’). I’ve snapped sea-sprayed lovers and sanguine sunsets along the Malecón, the waterfront promenade fronting the Florida Straits. I’ve danced to salsa and merengue and reggaeton and hip hop at a New Years’ Eve party in the shadow of drab, Communist-era housing blocks. I’ve been mistaken for an American spy. I’ve been blocked from entering my own hotel when the security guard thought I was Cuban. I’ve run out of money and bartered clothes and a camera for the fifty dollars I needed to change my flight. I’ve left clothes and books and money in exchange for food and conversation and memories. I’ve made friends and I’ve made love in Cuba. God, how I miss that place.
Enough poetic wax; regarding this episode, I enjoyed learning more about black Cuban heroes like António Maceo than the little bit I knew from the history books I’ve read about Cuba. I also loved the footage and photographs of Havana’s past and present, visually conveying the cosmopolitan energy of what’s arguably the most sophisticated city in the Caribbean, before, during, and even after the revolution. Watching the interviews – especially of the professor who went into the countryside as a girl to teach people how to read – the sense of excitement, of expectation, of infinite possibilities that the revolution promised, still seems palpable.
I was a bit annoyed that Gates pointed out the propensity of black Cubans for putting country before race, contrary to black Americans, without offering context: that a communist system inherently ascribes nationhood to each citizen under the trope of egalitarianism, whereas the United States has consistently denied full ‘nationhood’ to a number of citizens (the current president, for instance). In other words, black Cubans, at least since the revolution, have been taught that they are just as much a part of the national fabric as anyone else. Black Americans, at least in my opinion and experience, have rarely been extended that sort of mainstream societal inclusion in the 235 years that the US has existed as an independent nation; why wouldn’t we see ourselves as black first and Americans second? Gates did mention, however, that the Cuban intellectual establishment began embracing African cultural elements as integral to cubanidad in the 1940s (some even earlier), a time during which black Americans were still trying to earn respect from white America on far-flung battlefields and atolls.
I definitely appreciated Gates’ inclusion of the two-tier economy, a discrepancy that clearly works against darker-skinned Cubans as they have less access to tourist dollars/euros and less access to remittances from abroad, as it was mostly well-educated, well-placed white Cubans that had the means to escape Castro’s dictatorship (many of whom were conspicuously silent as Batista imposed US-style racial segregation in posh hotels and restaurants to appease white American visitors in the ’50s). While yes, most of the island’s population is racially mixed, this isn’t socioeconomically proportionate. And, as we see with the young rapper at the end of the episode, there’s a political price to pay for speaking that unpleasant truth.
Oh yeh, and though Castro’s homeboy says that no white person in Cuba will say their daughter can’t marry a black guy or vice versa, best believe there are plenty of Cubans in Miami that will – and do – say just that. I’ve heard it.
Overall, I liked this episode better than the first; I felt enlightened and entertained, the music was correctly identified, and Gates’ Spanish pronunciation was less ruinous than in the Dominican Republic. However, I strongly disagree with his last statement, that after speaking with Cuban intellectuals, he thinks racial discrimination will disappear. If it hasn’t after 500 years, why would it ever? Racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, classism, xenophobia will always be present in every society on some level: there will always be douchebags. That’s not to say that things won’t get better – they have and will probably continue to – but only when people confront these demons in all their manifestations (including ‘positive’ remarks about things like black sexual prowess) and realize that just because something hasn’t happened to them personally, that doesn’t mean the thing doesn’t exist.
Gates also didn’t venture into speculation, either on his own or with the people he interviewed, about the state of race relations in Cuba after Castro. I do not believe the opening of the economy to foreign investment and the mass return of exiles to be a wholly positive development. In many ways, Cuba has an incredibly inclusive society, in spite of historical and current inequalities. I wish I could be more hopeful for the future.
My grade: A-
I’ll review Episode 3 next week. Thoughts? (By the way…these are my personal opinions as an educator and editor living in Latin America. If you don’t like ‘pedantry,’ carry yo’ ass on over to a stupid person’s blog. A well-funded PBS documentary by a Harvard professor should be academically accurate and intellectually responsible).