The Story,The Forest, and The Trees

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From the wreckage, we rebuild. From the experience, we craft a narrative. And form the narrative, we tell the story.

Memories Flood My Morning

My eyes opened. I realized I was still alive. And then, the memories of a moment long gone started to hit me left and right, pinching at my forearm, and overwhelming me with the fractured images of an adventure long past—I woke up this morning at 08:07am and thought of Brazil Spring 2014. I don’t know why these memories of my study abroad imposed themselves on me upon waking; they just did.

I’m at a good bye party in Jardim Botanico, all of us there bound by the University of California Study Abroad Program; then, I’m on Leblon beach speaking broken Portuguese and ordering ice cold Brazilian beer, and suddenly, I’m hiking through an island jungle in brown Havaianas sandals, cheap swim trunks, and a blue cotton button up from Kohls, the canopy shading us from the unforgiving Atlantic summer sun.

Full memories never engulf my consciousness. It’s always snippets. Vignettes. Fractions of a fraction. Three second gifs on Facebook. Paragraphs in yellow highlighter from the middles of chapters I heavily annotated in a shorthand only I can understand. I don’t know why they come. They just do and I have to deal with them.

I’m a forest thinker, meaning I process information as whole pieces, not individual units. I always ask students—I’m a community college writing tutor now, by the way, if you’re someone from Brazil reading this; I became a writer down there, and I have not stopped since—“Imagine a forest. Do you see the entire forest or the individual trees?” Their answer is a rough estimate of how they process information—are they big picture thinkers (the forest) or are they heavy into details (the trees)?

No type of information processing is better than the other, but I use that question to tell the students that my focus is their entire paper, not individual paragraphs or sentences necessarily.

But for Brazil, I am lost in the trees. I am glued to paragraphs and chained to the same sentences I read over and over and over. I can see the sky from the ground floor because the forest has open patches. I know this wearied paperback has a beginning, middle, and end, but I can’t stop reading the dog eared page where I said goodbye to everyone at a party while drunk on cinnamon cured cachaça, the Rio de Janeiro night sky as my black box theater and my UC friends as my fellow actors and audience.

I know the forest has an exit and an entrance, but right now, I don’t know where I am or what time it is. This is how I feel when memories of Brazil start flooding my consciousness. The harder I try to get out of the forest, the deeper I get sucked in. The more anxious I get to read ahead, the more time I spend agonizing over the same paragraph in yellow highlighter. I’ve learned that the best solution is to enjoy the memories, embracing whatever they bring.

What we plan and what we expect isn’t always what happens. In Brazil, we learned that life doesn’t always happen the way you plan it. You go in wanting to write a great adventure novel, but you end up with draft twelve of an epic you just barely survived. Adventure is seductive with its promise of experience, but adventure—just life in a sexy disguise—never agrees to your terms. Adventure nods it head and tells you what you want to hear. It says, “You’re going to love it,” without ever defining what “it” is. I guess “it” would be the story you end up with once it’s all said and done. This is my story; it’s not the one I wanted, but I’m happy that I wrote it.

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Identity Abroad Part III – The Three Questions

(I wrote this originally on June 17, 2014)

Cheap cigarette smoke and Sky Vodka fumes fill the air. A Spaniard/Galatian mixes wine with Coke for the 20th time. “It’s Spain’s national drink you know,” he says. “Take any shit wine, a one or two Euro wine, combine it with Coke, and you got an awesome drink.” I take one later and agree. I’m more of a beer guy than a wine guy. I really have to struggle through every sip of that red nonsense that my tongue can’t simply understand.

I’ve just arrived at a goodbye party, one last hurrah of intimate friends and associates where booze-driven last words, tear filled testimonies, and emotional spectacles in the form of partying words and kisses on the forehead to friends will be exchanged. We call it a kickback in SoCal.

I wander through the party exchanging general pleasantries and greetings, gauging the make-up of the festivities participants. Party demographics: A lot of Frenchman and a lot of Moroccans, substantive amount of Brazilians from throughout the nation, two Mexicans from Mexico, three silent Americans who left the party early(“Americans always leave early,” say the French) one Franco-Brazilian, one German, one Franco-Dutch-German that speaks five languages (French, Dutch, German, English, and Portuguese), a Brazilian Randyian (he had a shirt that said “Who is John Galt”), a Spaniard/Galatian (He was a wonderful host, incredibly friendly, and hospitable, like most Galatians I’ve met at PUC-Rio), and one American from Southern California with El Salvadoran ancestry – me.

The party is divided into four sectors: kitchen, laundry area, living room area, and smoking cubby.

The kitchen is for more intimate conversations because it’s a tight and narrow space that only four people at max can occupy at one time. I see people connect by exchanging empty pleasantries (“How was your day?”), reconnect after some time of absence – the physical communication evidenced in a hug speaks Tolstoy-like words and phrases of the emotional intensity and intimacy between two people – and flirt (everyone flirts; it’s a French party in Brazil).

The laundry area is alien to me because it’s a bunch of foreign men burning down spliffs, talking about soccer, and bonding over what the rest of the world calls football. Soccer is a sport I know nothing about except that FIFA tries to feed some bullshit statistic to Americans that soccer is “The second most popular sport among youth in America.” Bullshit. I don’t have the license to enter the conversation, or the credentials to remain even if I did enter

The living  room area is filled with even more foreign men watching Japan vs. Ivory Coast. I give up before imagining staying there. The smoking cubby is next to the living room area. People are smoking and talking in French. It’s always weird being the one guy that does not smoke or speak the dominant language of the conversation.

I put my money on the kitchen and decide to chill there for a while. I begin to converse with a girl from Mexico:

“Hey! I’m Fernando.”

“I’m Julia!”

“Great…”

She interrupts me.

And then it begins:
“I’m from California.”
“I study Political Science and History.”
“…my parents are from El Salvador. That’s why I look the way I do.”

The Three Questions* have been asked:
1. Where are you from?
2. What do you study?
3.But what are you?
Question One: Where are you from?

The most basic question: it helps the person come up with a raw sketch of who you are based on where you’re from. It is also a logistical question because underneath this question is the sub-inquiry of what language are you fluent in, which will help determine what language will be the one of the conversation.

For the most part, Portuguese is the lingua franca of the exchange students when interacting in a large group of diverse nationalities. Fluency in Portuguese, however, is varied among students of all nationalities, so you may find yourself switching back and forth between English, Spanish, and Portuguese in a conversation between Americans, Spaniards/Galatians, Frenchman, Mexicans, and Brazilians, all in the effort to communicate clearly. Nobody speaks French except for the French and the Moroccans.

This question is also important because it will call into being question 3.

Question Two: What do you study?

This is a deeper question that serves as a zoom lens to question number one. “What do you study?,” could possibly mean “How do you view the world vis-à-vis the perspective of the academic paradigm from which you have been ingrained thus far?” It’s also a possible bonding point, for who knows, you and the random stranger you have just met might share the same major? Ah, yes, a possible friendship is at hand due to some larger shared struggle in a mutual academic field. Or it could be that you and the person have completely different majors that you either find curiously interesting or profoundly boring.

Question Three: But what are you?

Or it can also be phrased, “You’re physical appearance does not match my stereotype of what someone from your country looks like – Blond, blue eyes, and white (with a bronze tan because were in Rio). With that in mind, I know you’re American, but where does your ancestry lye?”

The most sensitive question because it calls into being questions surrounding identity. Nobody ever means it too, and I don’t know if this is an issue with people from other nations besides the United States. For a lot of international folk, Brazilians especially, Americans are still white, blond, and blue-eyed. But you have, especially at PUC-Rio, a good deal of non-white Americans, especially from the UC System. I would say that, in fact, at least half of the UC exchange students at PUC-Rio are Latino, Hispanic, or non-white. Admittedly, I have no raw data to support this statement and am simply going off of what I’ve observed first hand. But the idea remains the same: a substantive portion of UC students are non-white Americans.

Why we need to Three New Questions

People conflate national identity with ethnicity a lot. I’m guilty of it myself (I saw a black Frenchman at the party and assumed he was Brazilian; he was a bit shocked and offended, but it blew over as I explained to him what I did to him happens to me quite frequently).How you identify is a deeply profound and personal issue; moreover, it could be a sensitive topic to broach in such a badly designed question as “Where you from?” when you’re really asking “What is your nationality and what is your ethnicity?”

I don’t know if this is an issue with students from other nations, but for American college students of minority backgrounds, this is a sensitive and delicate relationship – what is the relationship between my ethnic background and nationality and how do those two interact to create an identity? Shit just got real, kid.

The Three New Questions
1. What’s your nationality
2. What’s your major and why?
3. What is your ancestry?

Question One: What’s your nationality?

This is a more direct and simple question that won’t lead to people conflating ethnicity/physical appearance with nationality. With the question, “Where are you from?” you may say you’re from California and America, but that response is not what the person was looking for. With this question, people will know that your nationality is separate from your ethnicity.

Question Two: What’s your major and why?

Albeit this is not that much different from “What do you study?” but at least this one has a motivational component. Why do you study what you study? People always want to know as much information about you as they can. Why not share a little bit of why it is that you study what you study? You may find that people may be more willing to open up to you when you open yourself up a little first.

Question Three: What is your ancestry?

A more direct and honest inquiry into a person’s historical and ethnic background based on what you think it might be because of the way they look like. In general, from my experience, most people are curious as to what your ethnic background is. Heck, I’m always interested and I can’t fully explain why.

Why These Questions?

I will be the first to admit some of these questions sound ridiculous because they are not phrased in an everyday vernacular that people use on the street, on the bus, and having some beers at a bar. They sound kind of random, esoteric, and academic, and like they belong more in a Pew Survey about whatever than a chit-chat between international students. But these questions carry a lot of weight and they can evoke certain powerful emotions regarding identity. Perhaps the awkward questions will make us think twice about conflating national identity with ethnicity? Or that identity is a much more complicated thing when you’re a minority?

The Fourth Question —How do you identify?

This might be the easiest question to ask. Instead of asking open ended questions that may give you some of the information you seek, this question gives you more than you even expected: a direct response and a singular definition as to what the person identifies as.
Why did I write this?

I’m a Salvadoran-American who identifies as such. However, from my interactions with my fellow UC cohorts I’ve learned that identity is a complicated issue when you’re a minority. My fellow UC peers may not agree with all my views, or any in fact, but I believe they can at least agree on this: identity is fluid, dynamic, and individual, and surface features cannot account for the totality of what it is you identify as.We have these simple questions that serve as a way of getting to know someone, but they end up having unexpected effects because people don’t get the answers they anticipate.

I believe in political correctness – not as a form to inhibit dialogue or place blame on people for whatever imagined slight, but as a way to promote larger and more in depth conversations that tackle head on questions about identity, instead of skirting them by and running away when the topic has been broached. In general, running away when awkwardness pops up does not make you more ready to deal with it when it happens again. Have that one awkward conversation and it will get easier every time (at least I hope).

Thanks for listening to me rant,

Fernando

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To all my international friends, Thanks for the memories.

 

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Happy Birthday, Stebbins (2016)

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Some of the old Stebbins gang, Summer 2014.

Oh Stebbins Hall, four score are thy walls, doors, and layers upon layers upon layers of paint, yellow, orange, and primer black, perfumed with old beer, Chardonnay, and the sweat of summer romance, the magic stuff of hippy love sagas that become Nicolas Sparks novels.

My time with you was short, but my memories will live on forever. In this heart of mine, with all it’s trepidation and fear and ambition, I feel none of those things when I think of you. For I was a fortunate vagabond to find a place to call home. Your kitchen was the greatest stage I ever performed in, and in my future life, I will rebuild it.

Thank you, Stebbins, for being a nexus of human connection, relationship, and understanding. Everyone’s hero is some one else’s villain, and to be a friend all you have to do is feed some one food you made with love, sit down with them, and eat it together.

Obrigado, Stebbins.

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Food: Why we live 

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The Manchester in Montevideo, Uruguay

Food. The one thing that makes our sentence on this spinning rock worth a damn. When I question my existence, I brew a pot of coffee and make some eggs. When all else fails – friends, family, that bullshit internship at a job that never intended to hire you – food is there, waiting, not judging, always ready to ease the burden of life. 

For the people who vacuum food, I pity you with the lament of a thousand Hamlets, Gatsbys, and 2015 Chicago Cubs – you don’t know what it is to eat. 

To eat is to live. And to live is to eat. 

And this before you -café com leite and waffle drizzled in dulce de leche – is why people perpetuate civilization: to make great food, eat it at scheduled intervals, and savor it one bite, morsel, and chew at a time. 

Yeah, sex is great. So is having a family. But in the end, these all seem subservient to eating – you whip up great dishes to conquer a mate; then, you procreate to cook even more food for all the children you will have who will certainly need to be fed. 

I love to cook, and I love to eat, and so should you. Eating is one of the great pleasures of this mysterious life. 

When in doubt, chop some onions, put them in a pan with hot oil, and crack two eggs over it. There, in that transformation, you will find hope and meaning – these eggs matter because they are the ones you are about to eat. Make them count. Eat them slowly. Eat them with purpose. Eat them as if the perpetuation of the human race depended on every bite. I know I do. 

Continuar lendo

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Appreciate the Present: Starbucks Fairy Godmother

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Our existential hero is paralyzed by choice and infinite thought. So he drinks coffee and bumps into people. Cafe Martinez, Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

Spring 2014, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Copacabana Starbucks – a sorrow hangs over me, so I find refuge in an embassy of American culture: Starbucks.

Unlike Brazilians, Americans, college students especially, love to sip coffee and chill at a coffee shop for a prolonged time, working on homework, reading books, or just thinking about life.

I sit on a couch, grande in a venti cup in hand, reading the Penguin History of Latin America. An old lady, a Brazilian grandmother, spies on me from a distance. I catch her and our eyes lock.

I’ve been in this situation before – on the metro at rush hour, walking to Lago de Machado square at midday, going to a French girl’s birthday party at a favela in Leme: I get stared at a lot.

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Our hero is of a vague yet comprehensible ethnic plaster. Therefore, Brazilians are intrigued to find out who and what he is. More emphasis on the “What.”

The Brave many (Brazilians are not timid) walk up directly and with little to zero small talk, ask me, “Where you from?” The other group, just as bold but not as quick, slowly creep up to within pouncing distance, and then at the right moment, with tongue in mouth ready to roll and spit, leap on me – eyes, teeth, and smile – to ask the same question.

This happens to me so much, at least one to two times a day, that I’ve made a game out of it. The question: “Where do you think I’m from?”

Their answers:

“Colombian.”
“Mexican.”
“Chilean.”
“Martian.”
“American Indian.”
“Martian American Indian.”

And my favorite, “Hawaiian.” I’ll actually get this one back home in fact, depending on how big I get, so I’m comfortable with it. I once convinced a dude that I was Hawaiian raised by Mexicans, and that’s why I spoke Spanish and knew about soccer.

The old lady inches closer and closer. She hops seats until she is directly across from me on a different couch. She points to the seat next to mine, and asks, “Can I sit there?”

“Sure,” I respond.

I wait for it. Like a samurai going for the kill blow, she plunges her question deep into me. I parry with my own question.

Eventually, I tell her I’m an American of mestizo descent to keep it simple and open up the discussion to other topics.

She tells me about her doctor son, his long time engagement that was not meant to be, and how she remains friends with her near daughter in-law. She’s nice.

Brazilians are not PC. These encounters can accelerate into racism against Brazilians of African descent, or they can delve into the infallible delusion Brazilians call “The Myth of Racial Democracy,” the idea that racism does not exist in Brazil, and that Brazilians of all shades, hues, and colors live in peace and harmony. I would love to believe this if my appearance was not such an instant conversation starter.

She keeps it personal. Politics will not color our conversation today.

Feeling comfortable and vulnerable and incredibly lonely, I tell her my story. I tell her about my encounter with saudade.

Saudade: (noun) A Brazilian concept akin to nostalgia but encapsulating a larger depth. It is a yearning for something that no longer exists or can never be again. Makes life melodramatic by adding an existential shroud to every single thing you do.

I begin my monologue: “I’m in love with this girl. But she does not feel the same way. And I don’t know what do. I feel overcome with saudade, or the dread that I will experience this feeling for the rest of my life.”

She scoffs at my lament, and my speech does not get me the Oscar.

“Your too young for that [saudade]! Go back to America and live your life! When love is meant to be, it will hit. Don’t worry about it! Life’s too short to live with saudade. Besides, you’re not even Brazilian. Don’t concern yourself with that mess. That’s our problem.”

Like some Brazilian fairy godmother, she sprinkled me with some fairy dust packed with wisdom. She wishes me luck and we part ways. I chew on her words for a bit before I bump into an American friend and chill with him for a bit.

She eviscerates my melodrama, and reminds me that I’m the one generating it.  Although Brazilians love their novellas, I don’t have enough emotional energy to live my life like one.

Looking back, she was right – life is too short to be basking in the twilight of a past you can never go back to or relive.

Own your past, but never let it prevent you from appreciating your present. Don’t waste this gift of life contemplating the glory of what could’ve been or the tragedy of what was. Fuck that. Live now, present, past, and forever.

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Galeria de Rock: São Paulo Rock Mall

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Galeria de Rock

It Begins

I’m about to attend my first Megadeth concert in South America. It is one of many firsts: first metal concert in over ten years, first rock-n-roll show in the fabled rock haven of South America, first solo outing at a mass music event, and first lone bus trip home through the serene and inexplicable grazing pasture that seperates industrial São Paulo from touristic Rio de Janeiro. It is an experience I have always wanted.

My metalness, never an open fact if you judge me by my looks, is due for some public celebration. Unlike your die hard metal fans who wear their BAND – the Iron Maiden fans clad in thier studded, acid washed denim vests and spiked bracelets comes to mind – I’ve never been one to advertise my die hard love for a band through fashion.

I’ve always felt that fan loyalty is visible in your actions, not in what clothes you wear. I buy the records. I learn the bass tabs. I read the self-serving autobiographies with glaring omissions about the rumored beef with an ex-band mate or the juicy confessions about Heroin addiction, recovery, redemption, and Born-again Christianity. I youtube bootleg concert footage of a 01:59 bass solo from an early 90s, MTV-Chile, tv show.

However, I put my rigid ideals aside for a second, and decide that it may be time to get some war paint to show the Megadeth tribe that I’m one of them. Hoooorah!

First of all, though, I need a shirt. Where the Hell am I going to get a Megadeth fan shirt in Rio de Janeiro?

Contrary to the popularity of the Rock in Rio festival, from my on-the-street observations, Rio de Janeiro is no rock-n-roll city. Although hosting some decent rock clubs, they usually cater to upper middle classes Cariocas or wandering expats looking for familiarity. Rock-n-Roll is a vassal. Samba is king in Rio, past, present, and always.

I know Buenos Aires is a rock-n-roll city ever since reading Dee Dee Ramone’s biography, Poison Heart, as a high school sophmore, an aspiring punk poet in an ocean of posers and hypocrites. And being in Buenas Aires for nearly two weeks only confirmed that fact more. But I’m not in Buenos Aires, so I’m just going to have to pray São Paulo has a solution to my problem.

Turns out it does.  São Paulo is a rock-n-roll city.

Galeria de Rock

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Megadeth in Sao Paulo was one of the best concerts I ever attended.

The Cafe Hostel clerk tries to jimmy open my jammed locker. Striking up a conversation, the purpose of my quest enters the discussion.

“Where can I buy a rock-n-roll t-shirt?” I ask the Cafe Hostel clerk

“The Galeria de Rock,” she casually responds.

“What’s that?” I ask, my boyish charm covering up for my undeniable rubeness.

“It’s a Rock mall where you can get whatever you want.” Her tone connotated a non-chalanteness that only comes with stating an obvious fact.

A Rock Mall. Who has ever heard of that? I’m from Orange County, CA – the closest I had to a rock mall growing up was the over priced, cool kids marked, Virgin Megastore at The Block of Orange (RIP).

I take a metro to São Paolo’s center and begin searching for it. A galley of nearly identical corridors and alleyways makes me pinpoint exact streets to trek through as I hunt for the Rock Mall. The Urban Center is packed. São Paulo is open for business on a mild Saturday.

I get on the street I need to be on. I cruise at the rate of traffic. People walk and window shop at the same time. Everybody is looking for something, and this is the place to get it. There is no over-arching theme to this commercial zone like Los Angeles’s Garment District or New York’s Wall St. It’s retail, restaurants, and random services. Stationary stores sit adjacent to clothing stores sharing real estate with beauty supplies shops. Kiosks hawk Ray Ban-ish sunglasses and Armani-like wallets. Food carts perfume the air with Brazilian street food.

And then, I see it: Galeria de Rock: six stories of Rock-n-Roll swap mall.

Organized by theme, I bask in the anticipation of climbing up and down escalators to scour, scavenge, research, and explore comic book stores, used music shops on par with Amoeba Records in Berkeley, screen printers, dozens of t-shirt stores selling variations of the same 36 shirts, tattoo parlors, wig shop and haberdashery double vacancies, Freddy Kruger and 80s horror specialty shops, beauty salons specializing in mohawks and mullets, shoe stores.

The fan boy OCD went into over drive as I decided what I needed to do first. Comics, of course – literature takes precedence over music.

Finding comics in Brazil is not as hard as I though it would be. In fact, quadrinhos seem quite popular. I stroll from one comic store to another, price checking, and scrutinizing for collection appeal; how will this make my collection back home better, cooler, or more interesting? But I need that Megadeth shirt!

There is a whole floor dedicated to buying band shirts, and the one on top of it is packed with screen printers who can make you a custom t-shirt for the right price. I begin the hunt. I exhaust every store looking for the picture Megadeth shirt. Eventually, I settle on simply acquiring a Megadeth shirt, whatever shirt, but I’m too big for whatever is in stock. Some stuff fits, and by “fits” I mean I kindly told the store clerk I was not interested in the shirt because I had stretched it out upon trying it on.  I walk away with nothing.

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The view from the 6th floor of the Rock Mall was exquisite.

Rock and Roll T-Shirts are okay

The Megadeth concert was two-non stop hours of Metal Communion. No new songs; just the hits, fan favorites, and live show stoppers (the live version of “Holy Wars” is a sonic Picasso). Megadeth are professional rock stars who respect and adore their fans, so they do their best to give the fan’s their money’s worth and a never-to-be-forgotten life experience. I can testify this.

To my Rock-n-Roll brethren, know this: São Paolo is your city. You can strut here knowing that there are others like you. Rock-n-Roll has no Rome. And it never will. But I would be okay if São Paolo wanted to start calling itself that.

Before the concert, I found it unnecessary to wear my favorite band’s t-shirt. The act seemed disingenuous because I felt that my faith did not need public evidence. I’m still not rocking band gear, but I have learned to respect it.  After the concert, I learned that wearing your band’s t-shirt is not about proving to the world you actually love a band. Wearing your band’s t-shirt is about signalling others in your tribe: “I’m one of you. Let’s rejoice our love for this band together.” I can dig that.

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I’ll be back, São Paolo Rock Mall

 

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The Book of Ron: Selected Passages

SELECTED PASSAGES FROM THE BOOK OF RON

CIRCA AUTUMN MMXIII, BERKELEY, CA, USA

Ron

Ron

Fernando’s Letter to Hoyt

Do not lie in the false trends and inflated popularity of popular opinion

The only truth that is real is the one that exists inside of you

Do not rebel simply to rebel because people will see right through you

Speak up or others will assume you have nothing to say or that you are ok with the status quo

We are men and that is it.

In matters of the heart, logic is lost and blind, like a sheep dog with no legs or eyes

Do not let people force their values on you, because where an opening is forced, only more will come, and each time it will smack more of self-righteousness than the previous action

Because he who does not stand up for himself cannot depend on others standing for him

I implore you to open your hearts to yourselves and stop looking for answers elsewhere

The demon of popularity is conformity and suppression of your conscious; be a cat and not a dog, the cat roams free and is lord and master over himself; the dog needs ceaseless attention and care and does not know what life without it may be

We are humans, and that is our lot; do not make it a bigger deal than what it is

Heaven is here, with the friends and the people you love. Hell is also here, with the people you have to deal with and listen to; our task is to maximize Heaven and minimize Hell.

You can make Hell for someone while being part of someone else’s Heaven. No one is immune.

Ron

Prophet or messiah or neither?

The Book of Ron 34:25-29

And, with friends in tow, he took the bacon and said, “Fry this in remembrance of me. This bacon symbolically represents all the things that I stand for: freedom of choice to live my life as I see fit, with no interference from the values or judgements of other men. I implore you to live this way, as it is the only way you can age sane-fully with-out ripping your mind to pieces for living your life for others and not yourself. For you can serve others best by best serving yourself.”

Fernando’s Epistle to Kingman

The greatest evils come from our fellow-men who tell you how to live your life; this is an alien evil because they are ignorant of their crime.

Do not confuse your brain for your heart

The people with the answers write the questions

He who controls the information controls the discussion

Corruption takes place when the leader realizes that there is no one to hold him accountable.

The smartest always think they have the answers to all of society’s problems.

The greatest evil can be fulfilled in the quest for the greatest good

He who knows the most speaks the least, and he who knows the least speaks the most. So what does that say about me?

And Ron left to work, and he said “I’ll see you for lunch if you’re here.”

You can’t be somewhere you are not, so live in the present before it becomes the past because the past is now

Some people will like you, some will not care for you, and some will never form an opinion about you. Your task is not too care and live your life. We cannot spend this time worrying about what other people think about us.

And Ron went to class and fell asleep, and when the professor woke him up, Ron left

Ron

And Ron looked at you and took your measure

Ron’s Sermon at the Pit (The Book of Ron 17:16-23)

After the local magistrates dictated that a fire would occur, the house went forth and gazed at the fire and conversed in merriment. During the course of the evening, libations were liberally consumed so at to loosen tongues and maybe morals, but the former must come before the latter. And Ron, with his friends gathered around him, declared that we should all be like Fernando, and be a “Slave to Love.” A slave to what love, we do not know. Being sloshed, he said: “Love is there to take, grow, and cultivate. It has no beginning or end. Where love ends, animosity is sown. So be seamstresses and not purchasers of clothes; were a stich is ripped, be ready to repair it. But if you don’t care throw the dress away.

Ron Wrestles with Elliot (The Book of Unfulfilled Prophecies and Imminent Dystopias 12:99-105)

At a party, after much merriment and libations, Ron wrestled Elliot. Elliot with the instinct of the cobra and the detachment of an experienced predator, fell on his right knee and shot at Ron’s left leg, driving his head into Ron’s rib cage and dropping Ron to the mattress in one single motion. Ron’s diaphragm had been pierced from the force of Eliot’s blow; he did not whimper, cough, or echo in agony like a baby fawn; he laid on his back, covered in pain, unable to speak. So he was turned on his back so that he could breathe again. He left the mystery room with respect for Elliot and pain in his rib cage. The next day he ate bacon and dates to fortify his constitution.

And Ron wept internally as his innards had been mashed and pierced like Shepard’s Pie. He could not keep food down, but he persisted in doing so. He could only eat bacon and dates because the bacon fat was nourishing to his scarred stomach lining and the dates were harmless. Upon many hours and days of anguish, he screamed for Eleni:

“Eleni! Eleni! Eleni!
I hurt and live in pain!
Eleni! Eleni! Eleni!
My ribs are torn and tattered
As if another person of per-sagely wisdom had warned me not wrestle drunk!”

And Eleni came and told him to shut up. So he did.

Ron

And Ron went about his day and assumed you did the same

This concludes these SELECTED PASSAGES FROM THE BOOK OF RON.

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Post Brazil Days: Carrot Cake, Frederick the Great, and Cafe Milano

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Spiritual Convalescence

A divot embanked in a vulnerable part of my soul: a gaping wound heals. It aches with pain born of regret and failure, all I have from my six month expedition in Brazil. For I was Icarus. Well, okay, not really. More like Othello with a dash of Hamlet and two teaspoons of Gatsby. My soul is intact. Damaged, depleted, devastated, and jaded – my ass has been handed to me by an experience I never imagined. Oh, a tiny violin for the tiniest sorrow. Hamlets’ best friend, where art thou? I convalesce in my Northern California palace, Stebbins Hall. My fellow Berkeley nobles heal me with their company. Things have changed, however: crowns have passed heads, kings have fallen, and my influence is no longer what it once was. A shadow from South America hangs over me wherever I go. I’m a no breed now – no longer American, not really Brazilian; I’m something else all together. As the melodrama of Brazil slowly chips away by force of my re-emerging American pragmatism, I go about my normal routine once again. Long days of reading history – more like Rollo May and his classic The Cry for Myth – and annotating, and reflecting on my annotations. Oh, my only solace is knowing that Frederick the Great had days like this.

In times of scheduled leisure while a history and political science scholar at UC Berkeley, I would indulge in Cafe Milano’s bohemian ambiance, its carrot cake paired with a large drip coffee (12oz, two sugars, lots of cream), and Gerhard Ritter’s classic biography- with a translation by Peter Paret – of that great Prussian Lord that took on the world and won, Frederick the Great. I wrote a book review on this during my first semester at Cal for my Early Modern Germany History Class (Hist 167A). Consequently, I fell in love with the man, the myth, and Professor Ritter’s writing. So, unsurprisingly, I would read random parts throughout my tenure at Berkeley for pleasure. Frederick the Great’s dilemmas always made mine feel so small and insignificant in comparison; never was my camp in the proximity of Austrian artillery, French troops, nor was I ever threatened with the possible encirclement of my empire by my enemies with the clear intent of dismembering my empire and humiliating my people to make me pay for my audacity through the revocation of my lineage’s right to rule. Oh, Frederick: only you could be you.

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12 ounces of Caffeinated delight

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Profile of the Carrot Cake

A little Spanish goes a long way. I greet the Mexican barista in Spanish, and a informal cordiality is established.

“What’s up, how it do?”

“You know, same old, same old?” He responds

“Oh yeah? Summer is a bit slow, huh?”

“Yeah, but it’s going to pick up in a few weeks or so.”

“Oh yeah. School starts soon. I totally forgot.”

“Yup. This is the calm before the storm.”

“I totally forgot. I just spent six months in Brazil.”

“What? Really? How was it?” And a micro convo ensues where I regale him with all sorts of random tidbits of my Brazilian expedition. From the random minutuae of every day life, to the more recent phenomena of the World Cup, he hangs on every word. He gives me a deal on the coffee and carrot cake.

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A good journal is always needed when reading an engaging a meaty history text

I sit down. I read. I reflect. I eat and I drink, and I think that tomorrow will be another day, and that every day will be different from the next, and that defeat also serves a function. Defeat is not a stop; it is a pause that forces you to take stock of the situation and what got you there. I eat my carrot cake and gulp down my coffee. I exit Cafe Milano spiritually nourished and caffeinated.

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A good read.

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What I’ve Learned: Ashley Nichole Cook – Brazil Edition

(Side note: I conducted this interview on 12 June 2014. Ashely was a delight to interview, so please enjoy!)

The Northern California native, feminist, and technophile dishes some truth on dating dynamics for American women in Rio, banking culture (America vs. Brazil), Brazilian architecture, staying true to your values, the phenomenon of being simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by the same person, and the epiphanies that come with study abroad in your senior year of college

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Ashley Nicole Cook is a recent graduate of the University of California, Davis, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History and International Relations with an emphasis in Latin America.

• Since coming to Brazil it’s definitely made me reevaluate my perspective on male-female dynamics. It’s a really weird kind of realization where, “Oh wow, nobody is actually interested in me as a person,” (In reference to Brazilian men hitting on her).

• This is the difference between American guys and Brazilian guys: American guys are really good at making you feel like they’re interested in you as a person, really good at that. And like, it’s not as a way to say like, “Oh man, they have ulterior motives always.” Maybe most of them are actually more interested in you as a person. Brazilian guys are more just like, “Hey, you’re really cute. You seem sweet. Are you DTF?” Basically, that’s how the interaction goes.

• In my life, back in California, I’m a very assertive, strong willed kind of person. When I first came here, I was not that way. I was really like… I was very vulnerable. I felt very unsure of myself. I had to try to like re-find my footing and re-find how to express myself and articulate my desires and who I am as a person.

• There is a huge thing in the Brazilian culture that a girl is supposed to say “No,” at first. She [the Brazilian woman] is supposed to say “No.” And that the guy just pushes and pushes and pushes and pushes and pushes until she finally says, “Yes.”

• Whereas in American culture, you say “No,” that means get the fuck out.

• Here, you’re supposed to say “No” first.”

• The first time I went to a bank, right, we had to go pay for that Federal Police thing. My dad works in a bank. My dad’s worked at a bank since I was like five years old. I’m very familiar with American Bank culture. I’m very familiar with like how all that shit works in the United States.

• I get here, and the banking system, first of all, is confusing as fuck. Why do I need a piece of paper with a password on it? Why do I have to like go up an elevator? Why do I have to like, you know, wait in a cue with a fucking monitor telling me when I can go talk to somebody? That’s weird, right?

• But the thing that scared me the most, was when I got off the elevator and the door opened and there is a guy standing right there with a giant rifle in his hands, and I’m like, “Whoa. Why is this guy heavily armed inside of a bank?”

• And then you know, just like when you’re walking down the street, and you see a police car passing by, and the guys just have their big-ole guns just like hanging out, resting on their laps. That makes me nervous.

• I really love Brazilian architecture. I love Brazilian visual arts. And I mean, I study Art History, so that’s important. I think Brazilian architecture is so much more dynamic than other architectures down in South America.

• There is Neimeyer, which is more modern stuff, but then when you look at it beforehand, Brazil had Portuguese influence, which is different than everywhere else in South America. So it’s a lot more complex.

• I love Brazilian street art. I love arte urbana. I think the idea of wanting to beautify the city is so incredible, and this is something that I noticed when I got here, and I’ve understood a little bit more, and this is what I think I will miss the most about Brazil, is how much it is integrated into Brazilian culture that people to love to enjoy beauty.

• Before Brazil, I had a really kind of crazy lifestyle. I was working about 30 hours a week, going to school full time. I commuted everywhere, barely getting four hours of sleep. It was a very intense kind of lifestyle.

• And coming here, I’m like “That’s not good for me. That’s really not good for my own emotional health. It’s not good for my physical, mental health. Why was I doing that?” And being able to ask myself, “What compelled me to feel like I needed to do that?”

• And it’s because I have huge issues with feeling inadequate. I never feel like I’m good enough for anybody. I never feel like I’m good enough for myself. And I don’t know where exactly that came from. But at this point it’s me trying to break down that feeling, and learning how to use it in my everyday life to move forward, instead of just worrying about it.

• I was really unsure about what I wanted exactly out of this experience. I think I wanted to learn more about myself. And I think that for someone who is coming into a study abroad experience, wanting to learn more about themselves, and who they are as a person, I would say figure out what your morals are, figure out what you’re okay with, and stick to that.

• So like for me, whenever I have a choice here about what to do, I think to myself, “Would I be okay with this decision in California? Would I be okay with making that kind of choice at home?” And if the answer is “No,” I’m not gonna do it.

• I want on a date with a Brazilian guy a few weeks ago, and he hit all of my triggers on one night, all my triggers that indicate to me that he is a terrible person. In one night! Shit, I don’t even like this guy as a person, really good looking guy though. So for me it was just like, “I’m really physically attracted to this person, but I don’t like him as a person. Should I have sex with him?”

• And I thought to myself, “If I were at home, would I ever have sex with someone I did not like as a person? No! I would not do that!” I would never knowingly have sex with some one I know that I don’t like as a person becausei that’s not going to be good for your self-esteem. It’s not going to make you feel good about yourself as a person.

• Learning how to trust your self is so important, and Brazil has given me the opportunity to do that.

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UCEAP Farewell Dinner – Likes and Dislikes

10 May 2014 – Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

A Brazilian steakhouse is a gauntlet of meats on a skewer. There is no doubt: the meat is the main star here. The salad bar is merely an insurance policy that you don’t become over sated with meat, and, God forbid, be visited later in the night by its hidden spouse, indigestion. Gastronomy aside, on this night, the 10th of May in the year of our Lord 2014, a band of students affiliated with the University of California, gathered together in one final feast of food and drink; to laugh and say good-bye; to reminisce and reflect; and to bask one more time in the scheduled opulence of our institutional patron (the University of California) delivered by our sensitive, pragmatic, and loving Brazilian matriarch, Ana Carolina Romero.

What follows are pictures and some quotes about what people liked and did not like about the Brazilian Experience via the kaleidoscope of Rio de Janeiro.

Likes and Dislikes of Rio de Janeiro: UCEAP Spring 2014

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(Ashley and Yaneth)

Ashley: I love the street art in Rio. It’s beautiful. It’s incredible. I wish it was all around the world. I don’t like public transportation here. That’s what I don’t like.

Yaneth: I love the beach. I live in the desert, so the beach is amazing to me. It’s like beautiful. One thing I don’t like? Food. Except for right now!

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(Iris and Ana Carolina)

Ana Carolina: I don’t like the service in Rio. I love the Nature in Rio and the people.

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(Victoria and Marie)

Marie: I love how happy people are. I feel like there’s a really laid back attitude in Rio. And that it’s easy to be happy living the simple life here. People seem to eat the same food every day, and do the same thing every day, and their still smiling, so that’s cool. What I don’t like is how unsafe I feel walking around at night. I don’t know. I just feel like everywhere I go, I’m always like having to be looking over my shoulder, making sure no is following me. I mean, it’s like that being a girl anywhere in the world, but especially Rio.

Victoria: I like that there’s an interweaving of beach, city, and jungle. And I don’t like the sidewalks. They bug me a lot, even though they shouldn’t. I just think it’s really inefficient, the way that they do it, one by one (referring to the tiles maybe?). But besides that, what I don’t like is? I don’t like that the highways are not made correctly for the flow of traffic. I like the fact that even though it’s not life really safe for people to ride bikes they still do it. It’s like yeah, “You’re not going to stop me from riding my bike. Not today, sir. No way!”

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(Jasmine and Louie)

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(Erica and Ernesto)

Ernesto: What I like about Rio is the nature of it, the people, the culture, you know about nature? It’s the same thing she said. It’s the jungle. It’s the beach area, and then you got the
city there, so I like that. What I don’t like? It’s the traffic. Definitely the traffic. Nobody likes the traffic. What else don’t I like? I don’t like the machismo that exists. Or the degradation of women, I don’t really like that. But I feel like, slowly, I don’t have that many things I’m disliking of it because I’ve been here longer.

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(Ernesto and Victoria)

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(Ana Carolina, Leslie, and Gardenia)

Gardenia: I like the people and the culture. And the thing I don’t like? I mean there’s nothing I don’t like. Everything is different. Everything is…yeah I don’t know?

Leslie – the Good of Rio: I like that things in Rio are accessible, that you have lots of options, so if you feel like going out to like something at night, you can do that. If you want to go to the beach or do something in nature, you can do that. And the people here, whatever they’re into, they’re sort of passionate about it. They’re not half-assed about it. Can I say ass? They’re not half-assed about it.

Leslie – the Bad of Rio:

Leslie: Something I don’t like about Rio? Well, okay, for example, today, Chelsea and I were walking home today from school, and we live in Jardim Botanico, so we were walking down this path that’s right along the side of the gates, I believe, of the park. Across the street, there was, we heard someone like make a noise, where they were like “Shee-Shee, Shee-Shee.” And we turn around, and right across the street, behind a gate, in abandoned house behind a window, is an old construction worker wearing his construction hat making like noises at me and Chelsea, and when we turned around, he just creepily smiles and waves at us. And I feel like that’s a reoccurring thing, not exactly like that, but I feel that like as a woman, I feel I have like less authority and power. Do you know what I mean?

Fernando: You get cat-called so much and you’re powerless to do anything about it?

Leslie: But it’s not cat calling like in a, “Oooh, that’s so flattering.” It’s like, “That’s disgusting. Why do you see me that way” kind of thing. Does that make sense? I don’t know?

Fernando: You feel you’re being just looked as someone to derive pleasure from?

Leslie: Were being objectified. Women, I feel are like more objectified here.

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(Gardenia, Fernando, and Meg)

Fernando: I like that everyone is very, very friendly, and that their all very nice. What I don’t like is that traffic is terrible and that it can take you an hour and half to go like five miles. And someone from Sothern California, or I have my car and I can drive everywhere and I can find alternate routes, it’s frustrating. That’s what I don’t like the most.

Meg (likes): I think Rio is fascinating because I study urban development, so it’s a really interesting city to be in, and there are a lot of really interesting processes happening right now, and they’re very evident; they’re everywhere; you can just watch them. I do like how rapidly the city is progressing. I think that you see, especially in relation to the last ten years, you’ve seen a lot of progress made with addressing social inequality. Even though it looks striking today, it’s improved since like ten, twenty years ago. And so I like that, and it’s clearly evidence that you have a physical middle class in Rio.

Meg (dislikes): But I think that, what really frustrates me, is how inefficient every project is: all this construction; all this traffic; everything is bureaucratic. I mean I feel like that Brazil could be so much more, and it has so much potential, but it’s kind of bogged down by bureaucracy, corruption, and it’s really disappointing to watch because it keeps happening again and again and again, so I guess that’s what frustrates me.

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(Meg, Lily, and Magali)

Magali: I really like the music. I really like the people. I think that sometimes some people from a particular class, people who are wealthier, can be a little standoffish. But people who are working class are really-really real and really cool. Taxi Drivers are awesome (most of the time). The food is not that great to be honest, and that’s only because I’m Mexican and I have a really high bar to meet, a standard.

Magali: I didn’t enjoy the bureaucracy and how everything has such a long process, but that’s also, like, coming from America where we appreciate efficiency a lot, but in America, there is also a lot of detachment that comes with efficiency. And in Brazil, I feel like they’re more close to each other. Like you can go up to a stranger and if they bump into you, they grab your arm and be like “Desculpa, Desculpa.”And if somebody touched me in the U.S., it would be so weird, you know what I mean? But it’s natural here, and it’s part of the culture to touch each other, and that’s fine.

The Last Dinner

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(The Tribe)

It was an awesome dinner, and the fact that I was able to learn so much about my fellow student’s respective experiences and lessons was the real delight. I hope they carry their insights and hard fought wisdom beyond their Rio study abroad experience.

And the night was punctuated with some wonderful words from our Brazilian legal gaurdian, matriarch, counselor, sounding board, regulator of egos, and dare I say mom-esque figure: “Good luck with everything. I hope Brazil is in your heart.”

Thanks you so much for those kind words and kind sentiments.

Till the next one mofos – Fernando

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