Archive | July, 2011

And Now A Word From “El Padre”

30 Jul

Greetings gang! I’ve been a bit MIA this past month as I’ve been completing an intensive French course that has left me intensively Frenchy-fried. But alas, the class is done, and I can resume my post as blog poster.  I’ve got plenty of stories to tell of my adventures in France this past month. However, until then, I cede the keyboard to my very first guest blogger, my father, hereby known on this blog as “El Padre.”

In an attempt to share points of view and slices of life from all around the world, I asked El Padre to share a little something about a topic he is very passionate about…Puerto Rico. A few days ago, El Padre called me to chat, and in that chat El Padre mentioned that on that day, Puerto Rico celebrated the life of a one of its illustrious patriots, Dr. Jose Celso Barbosa. With El Padre’s desire  to always teach his daughter something new, he shared with me some information regarding this important figure in Puerto Rican history. Touched by El Padre’s passion for this subject and happy to have learned something new about my culture, I asked El Padre to write something to share on my blog.  And he did.  Enjoy!

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Illustrious Medical Doctor Commemorated

Dr. Jose Celso Barbosa

On July 27, the people of Puerto Rico commemorated the birth date of one of its most illustrious sons, Dr. Jose Celso Barbosa (1857-1921). He distinguished himself in many areas during the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Among other distinctions, he was the first Puerto Rican to obtain a medical degree from an American university; in fact, he graduated at the top of his class at The University of Michigan Medical School in 1880.

He was born to a humble family of artisans and remained humble throughout his very productive and notorious life. He was born “mestizo” with European, African, and Amerindian ancestry. He felt that people of mixed raced like he had little chance at advancement in the island (Puerto Rico) due to colonial prejudice which favored European descendants. This belief paved the way for him to move temporarily to the United States to learn English and pursue his ambition of becoming a medical doctor.

This belief also paved the way for his pro-statehood political stance. In 1899, one year after the US invasion of Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American war, he founded the pro-statehood Puerto Rican Republican Party. However, even though he favored statehood, he zealously guarded Puerto Rican identity and strongly believed that Puerto Rico should retain its Spanish language and culture.

When the United States Navy bombarded what today is known as “The Old San Juan”, and blockaded the entrance to the San Juan Bay in 1898, Dr. Celso Barbosa, with the company of other doctors, crossed the Bay from the town of Catano in a ferry boat to aid the wounded Puerto Ricans and Spanish soldiers, coming close to been hit by cannon fire. For this bravery, the Spanish government recommended that Dr. Celso Barbosa and his fellow doctors be awarded The Naval Cross of the Order of Merit, the highest honor of its kind.

After Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States in 1898, the President of the United States, William McKinley, in recognition of Dr. Celso Barbosa’s accomplishments and stature, selected him along with four other distinguished Puerto Ricans to form part of the President’s Executive Cabinet, where he served from 1900 to 1917. During that year he became a member of the Puerto Rico Senate until he died in 1921 at the age of 64, 90 years ago.

Even those opposed to Dr. Jose Celso Barbosa’s political philosophy recognize this man’s integrity, humanity, and unwavering defense of the people of Puerto Rico’s best interests.

Painting of Dr. Jose Celso Barbosa

Footnote: The author of this review, Frank Vieras Alejandro, M.D. assumes responsibility for the historical accuracy of its content.

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Things I’ve Learned in France, Part I

21 Jul

In honor of last week’s Bastille Day celebrations, I figured I’d take a moment to share with you a few of the cultural lessons I’ve learned thus far during my time in France. What better way to celebrate a country, than to celebrate its cultural nuances.

1.  Give us this day, our daily bread

Take this bread and eat from it...

Ah, bread. The French love it. It’s everywhere, at every meal, in a million different forms. It’s as if the French took the teachings of Jesus Christ to heart adopting the “let us break bread” concept as their national pastime.  The French motto should actually read…Liberté, égalité, fraternité et pain.  What is really amusing to me is the treatment of bread at the dinner table. For as important as it is and for all the proper etiquette the French reserve for their dining experiences, the bread seems to get the shaft. There is no special bread plate onto which one can place the bread nor is it placed on the dinner plate next to the rest of the fare . It just gets plopped straight on the dinner table, crumbs and all. Apparently for the French, the prayer actually reads  “give us this day, our daily bread …and plop it on the table next to your wine.”

2.  Bros before hoes

The Dogg and Hoe show

The French love to take American words or sayings and integrate them into their daily language.  Words like “cool, top and super” end up in all sorts of phrases normally used to describe things as being, well, cool, top, or super. I especially like it when they  make a whole new word up with the borrowed word, like top. The movie poster for Kung Fu Panda 2 describes the movie as being “toppissime!” (Translation: Awesome!) However, it is even more interesting to me when they take true slag and make it their own. Something about it is just ever so slightly off. Like when I was on the metro last week, and I heard a young guy having a conversation on his cell phone, and he muttered the phrase “bros before hoes.” (Mind you, this was said with quite the thick, French accent so you can imagine that some of the hardcore-ness of the phrase was actually water-downed with the ever-romantic French diction.) Of all the things he could have appropriated from the American culture, this is what he chose to take.  This is clearly the cultural exchange at its finest.  Perhaps the next lesson could be on the intricacies of the bitch slap?  PS…Snoop Dogg called. He wants his hoes back.

3.  Going once, going twice, soldes!

I'm Soldes!

Twice a year everything in France goes on sale…literally! Every January and every July, all the stores get rid of their passé inventory by putting it on sale for 6 full weeks.  All items from clothing to home décor to building supplies are slashed down up to 80% off. Talk about the sales event of the year. Better yet, the two sales events of the year! It’s an absolute shopping frenzy. It’s also the secret behind the Parisian’s impeccable  fashionable and style.  (I’m on to you, Frenchies!) No need to spend a million euros to look like a million euros.  This is quite the brilliant concept. Vive les soldes!

4.  Cave envy 

Enter the cave

It is a unspoken rule that every self-respecting French man have an wine cave of which to be self-respecting. Regardless of where you live, what you do, or where you come from, if you are a French man, you must have a wine cave. They vary in size and style and in the contents they contain, but every man has one or a version of one. And they will proudly show it off and its contents whenever you visit their home. (I’m sure that if men could do this with their private parts, they totally would.)  My favorite part of the cave show-and-tell is when we get to taste their goods because every cave tour ends with an open bottle of wine.  Now, that’s my kind of show-and-tell.  Go ahead boys, whip it out! My cup runeth empty, and it could use a good ’92 Chateau Margaux!

5.  Sardines a la française 

Les Sardines

This is not a type of sardine. This is what I lovingly call the Parisian metro system. Why? Because that’s exactly what we are come rush hour time on the metro. Regardless of how packed the metro may be (and when I say packed, I mean “my face is squished up against the glass door as in a make-shift facelift kind of way” packed), there will always be someone…or some many…that will think that one more person can fit. It’s as if everyone loses their notion of humanity… and personal space… when it comes to trying to get home during peak hours. It never fails. Just as the door is about the close, someone will cram themselves into the slightest nook available in a desperate attempt at winning that final point of the human Tetris game we play during our daily commute. Yesterday, I actually saw a woman stage dive into the stuffed train just as the door was about to close. Seriously. Of course, my favorite moment of any train ride is when we pick up passengers at the train stations. No matter what the train situation may be (and most of the time, it’s packed), there will always be the courteous passenger that will be sure to squeeze themselves into the train carrying their fifteen pieces of luggage,  their ten loud kids and their enormous, slobbering dog. Sit back and enjoy your ride.

More lessons to come…:)

Postcard from … Walsall!

9 Jul

a little bit of love from The New Art Gallery in Walsall

After a long week of mind-bending French classes, I came home yesterday to find this beautiful postcard in my mailbox (along with a birthday care package!) Instantly, I was happy.  The whole week of headache-inducing verb conjugations and definitive article identification was now an impressionistic blur as I sat on my couch, in utter TGIF mode, and read the thoughtful note from my fabulous friend. (Knowing that I love art and postcards, she is always sure to send me the most beautiful, unique, artful cards she can find. )

As usual, her card shares of all the places she’s recently been…Hawaii, UK, and now NY… and the adventures she’s found along that journey (I imagine she has frequent flyer miles with every airline company possible.)  She also took a moment to share the sad news of her father’s passing. I was both saddened by the news (imaging what she must be feeling) but also extremely touched by the fact that despite all she is going through, she still took the time to stay connected … and send me a bday gift.

That’s the power of the postcard. Just takes a few words to stay in touch with the people you love.

(I write this little note in honor and support of my dear friend, Miss Mentor Extraordinaire.  Her love is felt no matter where she is on this vast planet.  This is my postcard to her.)