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Category Archives: Travel

My wife and I had a nice dinner at my parents. My brother, neice, uncle, and two aunts were there too. Somehow, overseas was brought up (it always is), and my father told the age old story of being in Hungry (during the Warsaw Pact era, 1970’s) and seeing jackets for sale for “Oklagoma” University. No, that’s not a typo on my part. They manufacturers got “Oklahoma” wrong. And that’s not the only thing. Back then, with no internet, Europeans have sold merchandise for baseball teams called the “Boston Yankees” and the “New York Red Sox.” The goal, of course, was to sell something that LOOKED American to people who didn’t know any better. Typical. Here’s a two other instances of misunderstanding….

–The guy at the Poznan, Poland train station, who was decked out head to toe in blue jeans — denim hat, denim shirt, denim jacket, and denim slacks. He tried to hustle my family into letting him carry our bags for tips in hard Dollars (the Zloty’s value had fallen into the toilet). I look I come from Bronx? Um. No. This was 1991/92. Jeans were a rare commodity, and a huge “American” item in Eastern Europe, and after the fall of the Iron Curtain, I was told Jeans were a status thing. That’s why we made a point to not wear them before we got on the train.

–My father used to travel to Saudi Arabia on business during the 1990’s. London Central was one of the few boarding schools in DODDS, and families serving in Saudi Arabia often chose to board their high school age teenagers, rather than subject them to a harsh host nation / Wahabi society (This is a place where bacon, on base had to be referred to as “Breakfast Meat” — as to not subject the Saudis to the thought that pork was being eaten in their country. Never mind that this was on base, very far from Saudi eyes.) Anyhow, one Saudi man, while trying to show his cultural understanding to my father, chose to sing Disney show tunes.

Expats, once they’ve returned home after a long time abroad, can have trouble adapting.  Their vision of their mother country is somewhat strange and out of day, colored by the reactions and beliefs of host nation locals.  There is a such thing as reverse culture shock, and routinely, overseas brats and third culture kids feel once they step arrive in the airport.  There are many different ways this can manifest itself, but speaking from my own personal experience, there’s one thing that has happened to me.  As noted elsewhere on this blog, I used to not like answering the question, “Where are you from?”  My reason for hating that question had another wrinkle to it for the longest time.  Some lesser informed people tend to react poorly when given the answer.  In my experience, some have reacted with, “Will you please stop bragging about your travel experience?”  The thing is: I’m NOT bragging.  It’s just the way I was brought up, moving from base to base.  That’s like saying to somebody, “Will you stop bragging” when they talk about growing up in small town North Carolina.  So, the result is thus:  you clam up.  It’s just one facet of the Third Culture experience.

I’m thinking about this because recently found an article that seeks to dispell some notions about living abroad. There’s a paragraph, though, about alienation that hits pretty close to home:

Adult TCKs also recall occasional feelings of painful isolation and adjustment, most frequently noted in the form of reverse culture shock upon re-entry into their home country. Not surprising, most of these memories were concentrated around the teenage years. “Most people in their early teen years don’t want to be different,” said Peters. “So feeling that you’re out of synch with other people your age can be really frustrating.”

I moved to America when I turned 18 and entered college.  The above aptly describes a good bit of my college experience.

One of the things I absolutely love about New Jersey is it’s proximity to New York City.  One of the thing that I hate about my annoying job/career situation is that I can never really afford to drive to MetroPark and take the train into the city as much as I would like.

I have a digital voice recorder, and I’ve always promised myself that I would do an exhaustive set of interviews with my parents. They’re filled with travel stories, many dating before my birth. For example, imagine growing up with this nearby:

Yes, I grew up thinking that it’s perfectly normal to have a statue of naked man holding up a decapitated head in your home. I don’t know which one is “Harry” and which one is “Larry.” My family just always called the thing, “Harry and Larry” — and yes, we’ve always used the thing as a hat rack. All I know, at this moment, is that “Harry and Larry” came from my family’s time at now closed Clark Air Force Base in The Philippines. So, one of the many questions I’d ask my parents would be, “What the fuck is up with Harry and Larry? Where does that thing come from?”

My family lived and traveled in Asia before I was born.  So, that’s a huge swath of the world I have yet to see.  Still, the beauty of the blogosphere is that you can always live vicariously through somebody else’s blog.  Like this one, which is all about Singapore.

I find webcams momentarily fascinating.  This is a regular street view in Utrecht, The Netherlands. There’s a live feed if you want to watch cars and people walk by.

 

War is often filled with atrocities on both sides, and quite often, the sins of the victorious are forgotten.   That’s pretty much what was on my mind when I visited Dresden in the early 1990’s, in the recently freed East Germany.   The Allies, most notably, American air planes, fire bombed the city.  Kurt Vonnegut was there, and he wrote about it his Slaughterhouse 5.  The cathedral was especially hit hard, and  around 35,000 people died in the raid.  The East Germans decided to leave the cathedral in ruins, as a reminder of the terrible cost of war.  Dresden, however, is not the only WW2 scar left in Europe.  If one looks closely, from the Czech Republic to the Benelux, there are plenty of reminders, both big and subtle.

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On a different note, notice the cars in front of the ruin.  Eastern European cars, the joke went, were hybrids:  that of an automobile and riding lawn mower.

Okay, so in an earlier post, I think I sounded a little too shrill about the irony of “White” in “Whitesboro,” especially when the town seal looks like this:

Gear of Zanzibar left a comment which reads:

The Whitesboro seal isn’t quite what it appears at first glance. Hugh White, the founder of Whitesboro and the mullet clad gentleman on the left of the seal, cemented his relationship with the natives of the area during a wrestling match. He was pretty sure he was going to lose, since his opponent had just beaten a string of challengers and Hugh hadn’t wrestled in years, but he got a lucky break, executed a throw, and then held on for dear life and pinned him. And so the peaceful co-existence of settler and native began…

There’s still a sub-text to be inferred if you’re so inclined, but the seal’s flaws are more a matter of poor artistic execution than racism. Then again, my mind boggles at the potential misunderstandings of *any* depiction of two men wrestling.

On his own blog, Gear also points to an instructive page pertaining to Whitesboro, its geography, and it’s history. So, I stand corrected, and Gear’s right about depictions of wrestling. Still, I’m not one to tell a town what they should do with the seal, but they might want to think of a new design. If not, then at least something where the edges are not peeling and curling. Just a thought.

An old friend of mine lives in the greater Utica area in upstate New York, and while I was there, he quipped, “You’re probably the only tourist Utica has seen in 15 years.” Still, he was a good sport and showed me around town, everywhere from their cemetary to the Saranac Brewing Company and much more. Of all things, the Whitesboro coat of arms caught my attention, because, more than anything, it strikes me as racist. There’s a stiffness to rampant political correctness; I get that, but still, for a town named WHITESboro, do they really need, as their official seal — the mark of the town that’s featured prominently on official letterhead and town signage — a white guy choking a Native American?

UPDATE:  Since this post has already been pushed way down the list of posts already, I reposted Gear’s comment, as well as the linkage he provided on his blog — Click here.

 

“Darling,” My father says, “You’re only half Italian.”

My mother squints her eyes, and sneers for a moment.  “Excuse me?”

Dad grins.  “You’ve been misleading everybody.”

“So, what the other half, smart guy?”

“You’re half Italian, and half Sicilian!”

My mom grins for a moment, and then walks away.  Her feelings arn’t hurt, partly because she knows, when it comes time for a zing and a snark, she’ll catch him off guard, and the devastation will be total.  She retreats a little to make my Dad, for a fleeting moment, think his victorious, before the revenge comes.

Anyhow, that joke, no matter how old, tells me something.  If my mom is Roman and Sicilian, that make me a quarter Roman and a quarter Sicilian.  Funny thing is, I look like anything but an Italian American.  Look at my About Page picture — my mother tells me that’s a German’s face, which means I probably got my genes from my paternal grandfather’s side of the family.  He was of two halves: German and Irish.

At anyrate, my mom, like so many other Italian Americans, is infinitely proud of her ethnicity, so as one could imagine, she was delighted to plan a trip to Sicily in the late 1990’s.  Above,  my Father is standing in front of a sign for the town of Vizzini.  That’s also my mother’s maiden name.  It’s a shame, though.  While she was in Sicily, marveling at the landscape her ancestors walked  through, a young hooligan snatched her purse.  Naturally, I could make a joke about crime and Italians here, but if I did, my mother would find me, yell at me, and chase me while swinging  a large wooden spoon.