April 11, 2005
Dearest Friends, Family, and Rotarians,
As I turn my calendar to April 2005, I realize that it is a great time as ever to write to you about my March adventures.
In summation of this time, I visited Rome, saw friends from San Antonio, Texas, had 10 guests at my place, partied in Valencia for their largest street festival called ‘Las Fallas’, and spent my spring break in southern France visiting friends and vineyards. On the more constructive side, I am continuously organizing the Americans for Informed Democracy conference and Martinez Foundation Fundraising Dinner both being held in June in Barcelona.
For more details and photos, continue below, and check out my website at:
The Full Update:
The first weekend of March I visited Rome for the first time in my life! I had kept in touch with a Rotary scholar, Elizabeth, I met in Berlin at the Americans for Informed Democracy conference. She is an opera singer in Rome and we decided to do a BCN/Rome swap on back to back weekends. At the same time, an old San Antonio friend, Brent, was running around Europe for the first time and with other Texan friends. Brent and I managed to set a meeting time and place at a Roman airport. They arrived from London 4 hours late the same day I arrived from Barcelona, but I waited because I had no way to reach them. At the same airport, no joke, I ran into another person that I met at the same conference in Berlin going through customs arriving at the same airport.
Regardless of the delay, we ran around Rome that weekend with Elizabeth as our guide and with no problems. We had a guided tour of the Coliseum and St. Peter’s Basicilia, we ran through the Vatican’s museum and saw the Sistine Chapel, and ate traditional Italian pizza, pasta, ice cream, and drank their coffee and wine. We were there at the same time an Italian intelligence officer was being buried after being shot by American troops in Iraq. Now, Italy is planning the removal of their troops from Iraq. It was an awkward day to be an American even though no one said anything to me about it.
The day I returned from Rome, I had a Rotary dinner where Dr. Martinez (www.martinezfoudnation.org) was to present about her Foundation that I am helping gain publicity and funds. Luckily, I wasn’t too tired and was able to pull on a suit and be there. I am organizing a Fundraising Dinner on June 9th in town. I am promoting the Foundation and the dinner through my Rotary club presentations and publications.
The next day, March 8th, I had a Rotary Scholar from Louisiana that I met in Austin in Jan 2004 visit me with a friend. They were running through Spain and trained down from Toulouse, France. I showed them a good time at night after they ran around by day. We met up with them again 2 weeks later in Toulouse, France.
On the 9th, I found out I was waitlisted to Duke Law, ranked 11th in the US. That day was a catalyst for my ‘Get Ruby into Duke Campaign’ that took me a few more weeks to complete the initial phase. As, Burak is matriculated to Duke’s Fuqua, we are moving to Durham in August. Going to Duke Law while he is at Fuqua would be a dream come true.
Basically, I have asked 40 people to either write a letter of recommendation or put in a good word for me with the Admissions office. I have contacted the head of the Public Interest and Pro Bono program that I am interested, waitlisted, and will be an energetic leader. I have sent postcards to the law and business school. I have Fuqua and Duke Law alumni, lawyers in DC and TX, a District Judge in TX, a Rotary governor, a Former Deputy Director of the CIA, US Senator’s staff members, family of patients of the Martinez Foundation, and former teachers at The Princeton Review all writing letters or calling for me. I was really happy when spring break came around that I could take a break from the flurry of asking people for their time and constantly emailing. I am praying about it everyday and have decided to just have faith and not let it ruin my lovely remaining 3-4 months here.
On the 10th, I welcomed two American exchange students living in Belgium, vacationing in Barcelona for the weekend. They had never traveled on their own before but their club let them because I was a former exchange student and a current scholar here. It was fun comparing our notes from living in Belgium and how we see the differences between Belgium, Spain, and the US.
On the 11th, Elizabeth, living in Rome came through for the weekend. Luckily, I had enough room to host all three girls at the same time and they traveled together when I couldn’t go show them around.
I run a complete hostel honestly with Internet, guidebooks, and maps all over the walls with suggestions on walks and how to plan your day. After having my 5th person for the week come, I almost had my ‘this is my kitchen, this is how the microwave works and doesn’t work, this is the toilet, this the shower, don’t leave the heater on, this is how to turn the electricity on when it goes out, this is how to use the key,’ speech all memorized. After a month of this, I realized I always kept forgetting one important thing to tell my guests. For example, ‘don’t jump into the shower until you know there is warm water running,’ or ‘this is how to use the key, lets go have you try it now.’ (some guests were sitting outside the door for hours because they didn’t know how to open the door).
And on the 11th, my dear Texan friends were literally running through Barcelona for 6 hours because due to a French transportation workers’ strike, their previous day’s flight out of Paris had been cancelled. On the only rainy day of the week, my poor Texans had just a few hours to run up the Sagrada Familia and take a bus tour to ‘see’ my city. Luckily, all my guests gathered for a tapas dinner and had a nice laugh out of the wet outdoors before they had to fly to their third country of the day.
On the 17th, I had the chance to meet with a trustee of the Martinez Foundation who happens to be a UT Law alum and lives in Houston. We brainstormed ways to get more funds for the Foundation and I told him about my projects while I am in Barcelona. He told me he admired my vision and organizational skills and said that is what is needed more on the board of trustees to gain funds.
Friday the 18th, Luis, an old AIESEC Austin friend who we had stayed at his house in Paris in February, came to our place for the weekend. Luckily he speaks Spanish, is very outgoing, and had been to Barcelona before because we left him the very next morning for one day in Valencia. Of course we left early on the 19th after my Scholar friend who lives in Seville had arrived at my place to crash for a bit and travel with Burak and I for our crazy adventure to Valencia.
We bused from BCN to Valencia for the last day of their wild street festival where they blow up fireworks in the middle of the day and burn works of art, las fallas, at the end of the last night that had been built all year long. Of course it doesn’t seem to make sense, but I think that is what makes it so exciting!
More on Las Fallas: http://www.donquijote.org/culture/spain/fiestas/lasfallas.asp
We played with firecrackers, walked around all day, hung out with locals in their neighborhoods watching little kids set off firecrackers, ate churros con chocolate, and slid down slides in the park. At night we watched the fallas being burnt with firemen by their side just to prevent any city fires.
We had no place to stay, so slept until 9am in the cold and finally in the warmer waiting room. Once we returned to Barcelona, we crashed for as long as we could in a comfortable warm bed.
With only about one day to recover, we took off to Toulouse by regional train from Barcelona. It was an 8-hour ride with a 1-hour stop at the Spanish-French border. I quickly had to pull out my French hidden deep within my brain just to be able to order lunch and buy tickets. The trip took us right through the Pyrenees and we had great scenery as we took turns sleeping and catching up on our reading. It is amazing what you miss out from flying everywhere all the time.
Once we arrived in Toulouse, we stayed with a French friend we met in Austin in 2000, Jeff, who happens to have an apartment there. He showed us around, shared his culture, and we had the best time that week. Luis, stayed at our place the weekend before, flew in that Thursday because he too was a friend of Jeff’s. Also that weekend, Emily, a Parisian exchange student who lived with Burak’s same host family in El Paso, Texas, came to stay at the same apartment with us. So we had a whole bunch of Francophiles who had lived in Texas reuniting a few years later.
On the 24th, after my speech to the Rotary Club of Toulouse Ouest, we all took a day trip to Carcassonne. It is a beautiful, enclosed, intact medieval town that you have only see in movies and fairy tales. It has a moat, castle, small cobble stone streets, and everything!
On Friday, we took a road-trip just an hour from Toulouse on the way to Cordes, another medieval town on a hill. On the way, we stopped at three wineries for tasting. We found that people were either super nice or really rude. The places where we were invited to come in we almost all bought a bottle, had a great conversation with our host, and left with several pictures of them and their place. It wasn’t as commercialized as our trip through Napa Valley a year ago, but it was great having the close contact with the owners once we found a nice château to visit.
On Saturday, we went to Bordeaux for the day. Burak and I hopped on an organized wine tour once we arrived and that occupied most of our afternoon. We visited 2 wineries, one of which Thomas Jefferson had passed through a couple hundred years before. We prefer dry red, but tasted a sweet white that is produced in an area that has a unique microclimate where fungus grows on the grapes because the vineyards are located between two rivers. They call the fungus Noble Rot. Anyway, we also learned that France created an artificial forest to break the strong winds from the ocean before hitting the vineyards and it extends all the way south to the border with Spain.
Once we returned to the city, we met up with Tracy, another person I met at the Berlin AID conference. When we sat down for a Middle Eastern dinner, we stumbled upon a Turkish restaurant owner who knows Burak’s grandfather! When we found out, we took a picture together and also called Burak’s grandpa on the cell phone so that the old friend could say ‘Hi!’ So, my continued theme for this month and maybe the entire year is, It is a Small World After all (excuse the cliché).
On Sunday April 27th, Easter, we went to a Catholic mass (even though we are Protestant) in the famous St. Sernin church in Toulouse. We enjoyed examining the insides while listening to the French sermon.
We returned one week later to Barcelona on Monday, the 28th, to rest, clean clothes, and prepare for work/school the next day.
On the 30th, Pierre, my host brother from my second family in Belgium when I lived there in 1999-2000, and his girlfriend arrived for their week-long visit. We had fun showing them around and I had good practice of speaking English to Burak, Spanish to roommates, and French to our Belgian guests.
Can’t believe March is over. I am finishing this finally on April 11th, when April is 1/3rd over. Ah! Where does the time go?
Thoughts in summary:
1. None of all my meeting up with people in Europe like we live in the same American state would be possible without email and mobile phones. Luckily, my phone works all over Europe so I constantly have phone coverage (minus subways/metros). Also, in 1999-2000, when I was an exchange student to Belgium, cell phones were gaining in popularity and so was internet. Europe didn’t have all the budget airlines developed all over to make traveling to a major city for a weekend feasible.
2. This world is really small. Let me list examples from this month alone! We met a friend of Burak’s grandfather in Toulouse, accidentally. Burak’s tutoring student at the international school knew my aunt Anita who worked at an international school in Venezuela. We invited a Duke business student over recently to our place in BCN, and before he left, we realized we had seen him a year ago at his school the night he organized the entertainment for the students weekly social gathering. He was also a friend of our Brazilian friend that hosted us in Durham. I also saw a person I met at the Berlin conference in the customs line in the Roman airport as I was actually waiting for my Texans that were supposed to be on the same flight.
3. The difference in how Spaniards vs. Americans (US) view work. I have noticed that Spaniards (even though I live in Catalonia –forgive me Catalans) drop work on the weekends. They can not be bothered to work on the weekends (if their job doesn’t require it). They also work less hours than the typical US citizen. They also get most of August off for vacation plus an extra few weeks plus various local and national days off. Now, as I told a Rotary club a week ago (hopefully they didn’t misunderstand me), the Americans need to learn from the Spaniards to take more breaks. There is research out there that says Americans are working so hard their productivity is decreasing. I believe that. The only way I was able to manage to have a wedding and a honeymoon, etc. was because I changed jobs within one and a half years. In Spain, you get time off from work (and it doesn’t count as your vacation time) for a wedding and a honeymoon. Also when American company cultures have no problem with workers eating their lunches in front of the computer, this is ludicrous! My Catalan friend couldn’t believe me when I told her that. We are working ourselves to death in the US. And for what? Americans need to learn from Southern Europeans how to enjoy life, stop work when the clock turns 6pm, and not check our Blackberries for the latest emails. Learn to live a little!
4. To balance the above argument, Spaniards need to cut the bureaucracy and be more efficient. They need to think out of the box and quit thinking in the Franco times when the more employees employed the better, even if they really have very ridiculous jobs. Spanish companies, if not influenced by other countries like Germany or the US, are usually very lax on their customer service and are not very modernized (like using email and the internet). If the Spaniards could learn something or two on organization and efficiency, they could cut some jobs, save some money and headache for customers, and compete against other international companies. I swear (not literally), if a company or university wanted to hire me as an efficiency/organizational consultant, I could revolutionize their place.
5. I added an article to my blog today about how the Mediterranean diet, filled with fresh vegetables and fruits, wheat breads, red wine, and little meat, is great for fighting cancer, living longer, and overall better health. Now, this isn’t a new discovery or anything, but I have a few thoughts on it as I live in the Mediterranean region where that diet is prevalent.
In the US, we have all our food pre-package, super fried, ready to stay on the shelf forever, and our freezers stocked for the entire year. Now over here, I have to go to the grocery store everyday. This isn’t just because I have no room to put my food and no car/truck to bring on the groceries home with, but because we eat the freshest stuff that doesn’t have a shelf life. I figure I can be bothered for this trade off if I have less trans fats, dyes, and preservatives in my food. I am so happy that the American Food and Drug Association is requiring food makers to list the trans fat content in foods by 2006. We will all soon think twice about those Oreos that have been on the shelf for a month.
6. During Franco’s dictatorship in Spain, Rotary was outlawed. Franco didn’t want money being sent out of the country and also he didn’t like groups organizing themselves. Franco associated Rotary in the same group as Masons. From 1939-1975, Rotary (founded in the US one hundred years ago this February) was not allowed to meet in Spain and do their community service work.
After talking to a future Rotary club president and experiencing Rotary in Spain for the last 8 months, I have noticed how this 36 year ‘break’ has really kept Rotary in Spain from being where it could be today without Franco. Also, the Rotarian told me that he doesn’t believe Spaniards have the same organizational culture like Americans do because of Franco. I agree as I also saw this being the aftermath resulting from Portugal’s dictator on the Portuguese culture. A Portuguese friend on my visit to Lisbon last fall told me that people have been scarred from gathering ever since the dictatorship and to this day just return home from work to watch TV and hang out with the family. This, he says, hurts him as a theatre director and actor in Portugal, because the citizens are not accustomed to going to theatres where there are a lot of people. Ultimately, dictators’ effects on culture and society extend for many years in various ways.
7. Franco also outlawed divorce during his reign. I heard someone told me that some people had divorced before Franco’s time. Some of the previously divorced people had even remarried by Franco’s time, but then they were told that they really weren’t divorced in the first place. I need to look more into this one. I listed a long explanation of Spanish culture on my blog for an in-depth look at the effect on marriage, women’s rights, and family.
Ok, I will spare you for the next 20 days when I have my April update out….
April’s events will include:
- Rotary speeches to Rotary Club (RC) BCN Europa and RC BCN ‘92
- Speaking to Burak’s school regarding International Relations careers
- Visiting Granada
- La Feria in Seville with my Rotary club and other scholars
- Burak’s going to Rome for his work
- Hosting 8 guests from USA, Hungary, and Belgium
- Walking the Camino de Santiago from April 25th to May 2nd
Hope all is well, take care of yourself, and keep in touch.
Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar 2004-2005
Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain