Happy 2012 to Everyone!

The beginning of 2011 made me extremely unhappy because I was trying to do what everyone else my age was doing: moving closer to family, buying a house, and setting down roots.  I was also away from my husband for the most terrible five months of my entire life. While I value family and closeness extremely highly (like most immigrants), I realized through everything that happened this year that I am not a person who will be content to do what everyone else is doing.  In fact, it made me miserable.  I don’t know if it came across in my posts, but I couldn’t bring myself to write anything genuinely funny for a long time.

2011 was the year of the rabbit, and it was supposedly a calm year, a year to catch your breath.  For me, the year of the rabbit brought different characteristics: being frightened of everything that comes along, being indecisive, and trembling at anything that moves.  By July, I was questioning everything: our house, my career, and my life choices in general.

However, bit by bit, by myself and with the help of Mr. B, I clambered out of the rabbit hole, so to speak, and realized what I needed to get back on track.  I switched graduate programs for an MBA, I switched jobs for one that’s really exciting and that I love right now, and I made traveling and being with friends and meeting new, interesting people that challenge my world views a priority.

Happiness is such a Western term and so relative and so stupid, because as soon as we realize we’re happy, we need something else to be happy. But, as we speak, I am still on a Scotland high, all of my family is healthy (knock on wood), AND I get to wake up next to someone who understands me completely and STILL somehow loves me. Fortuna’s wheel is on the upswing.

I am especially excited since 2012 is a dragon year. A dragon is an animal who’s not afraid of life, who charges and roars at problems, and in Chinese culture, is wise and benevolent.   That’s what I hope my dragon year will be, and that’s what I wish for you as well this year: aside from good health for you and your loved ones, I wish for you happiness and no doubts in your personal life.  If you are unhappy or uncertain of something, the dragon year is the year to take charge and change whatever you are in control of changing, even if it’s just your outlook.  I wish you happiness and success, love and hope, hope that if something is wrong in your life, that it will turn around, with a little bit of elbow grease.

Thanks so much for reading my blog and for enriching my life. Stick around. 2012 is going to be great.  Except for the following picture.

 

Scotland the Brave (and also rainy): Edinburgh

I didn’t find Scotland so much as it found me, but only after I left it.

We were on the morning train from London and I was steeped in the afterglow of that city, a city as formidable and grand and historic and proper as the empire it founded, when I saw the North Sea come up on the right-hand side, out of nowhere, and I gasped, inwardly.  Only later, looking back at this photo, I realized that this is what Scotland is.

Soon after, we passed Berwick-upon-Tweed, which I took a picture of the sign because it’s the most English place name I’ve ever seen in my life.

Later, I would find out that it’s one of the bloodiest towns in English-Scottish history.  Now it just stands at the border, silent and mundane like the rest of the 21st century.

Before we left, I had no idea that England and Scotland were so different. In fact, I often confused the two, because I am a product of the American educational system and we never learned anything about the Scottish struggle for independence, mainly because we were busy covering the Civil War for most of fourth through seventh grade.  Because Mr. B was embarrassed for me, he made me watch Braveheart.  Most of the movie did nothing for me, especially after I Wikipedia’ed it and found out it was grossly historically inaccurate. Also Mel Gibson is an asshole. But the one scene where he runs up the mountain (maybe Ben Nevis?) and you can see the Highlands of Scotland, that touched me, and that stayed with me throughout our trip.

When we got to Edinburgh, it was raining, or as the Scottish say, dreich.  It really tells you something about a country there is a specific word for this kind of weather.  On first glance, Edinburgh is amazingly beautiful and historic.


On second glance, it is dreich, and was dreich every day of our time in Scotland.

But that castle, that castle.  It captured my imagination. Because I believe that every city should have a great castle, and every city should have thousands of years of history around the castle.  Unfortunately, I live in America where the oldest thing we have is my crusty retainer from sixth grade that I’ve kept for nostalgia’s sake.  But in Europe, I get my fix.

After wandering around the city trying to find the place where we were staying and almost getting run over by at least three cars, as well as almost breaking our suitcase over cobblestones and looking like American Idiots, we made it out of the dreich and into the warmth of our awesome apartment. (by the way, if you haven’t tried AirBnB yet, you should.  Better than staying at a hotel, and you get local flavor. Or flavouuuuur. Depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on.)

We settled in for about 5 minutes and then, like Russian tourists, we were out again, because when you’re in Europe, you have to Do All The Things and See All The Things. No downtime, no mercy.  This is known in Russian as “Gallopi po Evrope,” or “Gallops around Europe,” only much catchier.  There is the sense that if you are not seeing something or touring something or learning something, you are wasting precious time.  I’ve known people to do 14 countries in 2 days as a result of adherence to this principle.

We headed over to The Dogs, because we wanted to try Real Scottish Food, damnit.  Except for haggis.  No one was going to try haggis, because we wanted to return alive.  So I had a fish pie and Mr. B had ox liver.  Also, scotch. Obvs.

Why does Mr. B look glum?  Because, as we discovered, scotch tastes like gasoline, and, actually, so does Scottish food.  No. I take that back.  Scottish food tastes exactly like Russian food: very heavy, meant to chase away the cold and put meat on the bones, a sustaining life force.  But sustaining life force food means that it usually is very bland and reminds you of your aunt screaming at you to EAT SOME MORE HOLODETS SO YOU GROW BIG AND STRONG.  So, after our Scottish food adventure, we were done and back to real British food: curry. But, if you are ever in the market for Scottish food, I highly recommend The Dogs. Very cool establishment, good location, good mood, good service. Unfortunately, Scottish food.

After that, we were off again on our gallops.  Since the sky was getting as dark as our digestive tracts, we didn’t have much time for anything.

Except for view the view of Edinburgh from the castle at night.

Also, time to visit Mr. Adam Smith, who I never knew was Scottish.  All the chicks love him. He was such a baller. Mr. Smith is conveniently located next to St. Giles, which is beautiful and brooding and historic in the pre-Christmas dark.  What I love about the statue is that it was privately paid for, as in capitalistically.

Oh, right. And Occupy Edinburgh.  Apparently the Occupy movement is everywhere.  We saw it in London and Glasgow as well.  Fortunately, though, we didn’t see it in the Highlands.

But also, Edinburgh is really pretty for Christmastime:
There are tonds of Christmas markets and a ferris wheel and all of the museums in the middle of the park that separates the New and Old Town are open and there are people walking around with hot chocolate and roasted nuts. Peanuts.  Walking around really puts you into the Christmas spirit, even if you understand that Scottish people probably murdered tons of your ancestors right and left.
We were completely wiped after that and stopped by the pharmacy, or chemist,  for some Tylenol, only to find that Europe has no Tylenol, only paracemtamamatol.  I have to admit, I was really scared to buy it at first because I thought it could tranquilize a horse. With a name like paracetamol, I was bracing for the worst.
However, all was well and we were ready for our tour of the various Lochs in Scotland, as well as the first night of Hanukah in Goyland.
When you’re in Edinburgh and Glasgow, you can kind of get an idea of what Scotland is, but I think you can’t really understand unless you go into the Highlands, so that was our goal for the next couple days: deeper into Scotland, deeper into history.
One more thing before we set off for the Highlands in the next post, there are special Scottish cows.  They make special Scottish milk:

Travel is my religion (so is really terrible amateur photography)

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

Wow.  Where do I start about our vacation to the England and Scotland last week?

I love to travel, and I live to travel.  Planning travel is a pain in the ass and makes me really stressed out, but the moment when I see the US disappearing below me is when I am at my happiest.  Being on an airplane, on a train, and in a car in a foreign country is the closest I’ve ever felt to being an optimist.

London.

So far, Mr. B and I have been to Prague, Israel, and a bunch of places in the US together.  Since we’ve been crazy with changing jobs and houses and everything, we haven’t been able to have a decent vacation aside from the few days we spent in Las Vegas and Boston this year.  But a real vacation for me means leaving North America, and that’s exactly what we did when we went to England and Scotland last week.

Initially, I wanted to go to Argentina, because it’s warm in the winter.  But Argentina was $$$$$$.  So then I thought maybe Iceland, because it’s close by and really cheap in the winter. No dice, because Iceland has only 4 hours of daylight when we wanted to go.  Add a Russian to that equation, and you go suicidal.  The next logical location was the UK, because it’s relatively close from North America (6 hour flight from Philadelphia), and this time around, since we’d only leave for 6 days, I didn’t feel like dealing with logistics of travel in non-English (or Russian or Hebrew or Italian)-speaking countries.  For our next trip, I’m hoping we have 2 weeks for Japan (or maybe, India).

We spent 2 days in London, then took the train to Edinburgh, did a Scottish Lowlands tour, then took the train to Glasgow, did a Scottish Highlands tour, and then took an overnight sleeper train back to London.  After all of this, I have to say that, as much as I hate some things about Europe, including organizing travel in Europe,  I am completely besotted with both England and Scotland.  The Scottish Highlands and the history of Scotland as a nation especially left a very deep impression on me, and I’m hoping to write about it in a more coherent fashion after I organize my thoughts and figure out the best way to split them up into blog posts.

In the meantime, here are some of my favorite snaps. Also, don’t make fun of my hat.  It was REALLY cold the whole time.  As always, clicky to enlarge.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

Queen Me Street, London

Sunset over the Thames, London Eye, and Parliament

We were lucky enough to get to Big Ben at sunset, when the best pictures happen.

Christmastime Edinburgh at night. But more like Edinburrrrrrrrgh, amirite?

Losing my head over my favorite crush, Adam Smith, in his native Scotland (Edinburgh). Please dear God don’t say anything about my boots.

The bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond and Ben Lomond in the background.

Glasgow, the day before Christmas

Highland dude in Edinburgh with the Edinburgh Castle in the background.

Tower of London. What I love about medieval places is that I’m never too short, but always the right height never to watch my head in doorways.

Lots more later.

Things I hate about Europe

We are currently on vacation in The UK (or in queue, as they say here) and will be back soon. I am sure you will be subject to at least two weeks of blog posts about it, but in the meantime, a list!

-European bathrooms
-European socialism
-the fact that everyone has normal chip-based credit cards here and I look like a moron with my American dinosaur
-the metric system
-24 hour time
-Celsius
-the fact that Monday is the first day of the week here
– day day/ month month/year year year year
( the last four are the reason for the American revolution by the way)
-castles are even colder than my parents house
-Asian tourists. Everywhere. Taking pictures in every possible combination. Taking pictures in Sacred Churches, on top of coffins, in reliquaries, with relics, with famous dead white men. With the FLASH on. I am only slightly exaggerating.
-I can never go to the bathroom here because It is ridiculous asking where the “toilet” is. If the bathroom is the toilet, then what is the actual toilet here????
-After a week of various British accents, I am ashamed of my ugly American accent and have resorted to sign language in cafes.
– when you are done eating, they don’t bring the check ( or chequeueue) right away, but wait until you are as anxious as you can possibly be, then ask you with surprise if you want the bill
– Dominique Strauss-Khan

Jewish Carols

I actually wrote this post two years ago but haven’t been brave enough to publish it until now.

It’s about a secret love of mine: Christmas carols. Technically, as  a (nonobservant) Jew, I know I shouldn’t enjoy them or sing them, a knowledge that was imparted on me by my mom who, when I was learning Silent Night in third grade, acted as if she was personally experiencing the Inquisition when it gets to the part about yon Virgin and Child. I was also afraid to say the word ‘Jesus’ until I was in high school.  I was always embarrassed to sing them at home and when I did, it was always in the shower.

From youth onward, singing Christmas carols became a stigma for me and an involuntary jolt of shame and fear came upon me every time we had to sing a song in class that had anything to do with Jesus or Holy Nights or Yon Virgins.  I would panic and try to swallow the words as much as I could while burning in shame that I couldn’t just sing them like my classmates could.

Theoretically, this is good.  Jewish (or Muslim or Bahai or areligious)  kids shouldn’t be singing Christmas carols about a God they’re not supposed to believe in.   And, schools need to recognize this and not have any religious content in their holiday programs (many of which I’ve had to suffer through both as a clarinet player all through high school and middle school and a member of our school chorus.)  Not balanced content (i.e. one Hanukkah song, one Christmas song, etc.)  Just no religious content at all. And don’t label it as the War on Christmas. Just label it as a separation of church and state.

At the same time, Jewish parents shouldn’t overreact and stigmatize kids against everything related to Christmas, which is more and more becoming a secular holiday in the United States.  Particularly when one of the kid’s other parents might be Christian.  Granted, my dad is a pretty stoic Christian.   He never took me to Russian Orthodox Christmas services (probably out of concern for my sanity, seeing as to how the whole service is held standing up). He never explained Easter, or much any Russian religious to me in the same way that my mom explained Judaism. But he did take me to a monastery when we were in Russia, which was awesome and one of the experiences I remember most about that trip. There, my aunt asked me to drink some water that had been blessed by the priests of the monastery, which I shied away from very uncomfortably.  But why?  Why couldn’t I have been raised in dichotomy?  I’m not saying we should have celebrated Chrismukkah, because that’s  just lame.

But,  I’m  sad about the fact that I don’t know of any Orthodox Christian tradtitions to pass on (not even egg dyeing.  I got nothin’).  Because it is still part of my identity. And while I don’t identify with the sense of joy and celebration that are tied into Christmas carols because I’m not Christian, I am  still going to be rocking out to the following song, which has three of my favorites (Europeans, tuxedos, and cathedrals). Just in secret, still.  Because the fear never leaves you.