Tag Archives: Jarrod

The Cree Triumph

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At Rupert’s, Montreal, I came in contact with a North American First Nation’s person for the first time. It was a wonderful experience. The night had started rather normally. Fellow exchange student Louise Bicknese (The Netherlands) and I were enjoying our first poutine, a typical French Canadian dish consisting of French fries, cheese, gravy and shaved meat. It is the kind of food you avoid if your dieting. Big time. One bowl of that deliciously deadly consistency and you could knock 6 months off your life. Easy. It was Friday night, however, and I was not dieting, so poutine it was.

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It all started when the lady next to us inquired about our accents. After some chit chat, we had asked where she was from. “My name is Patrica George and I’m Cree” she said. The first thought that came to mind at that point was me as a young boy encountering the concept of American Indians for the first time in the 1990 film Dancing With Wolves, you know the one with Kevin Costner? Since that time, I had always wanted to meet a First Nations person.

As Patricia kindly proceeded to tell us the story of her life, I listened intently with a burning curiosity to learn more about what it is like for a First Nations Person in the 21st century. The images that first developed in my mind as she spoke were that of a bucolic paradise. She spoke of the human interaction and connection that Cree people have on a day to day basis. They hunt, cook, share and live together by the atmospheric wonder that is the Great Whale River in far northern Quebec. It sounded like a real community lifestyle. As she continued to share, however, I stared deep into her hazelnut eyes and a saw a flicker of the emotional abuse she and her fellow tribesmen had experienced for generations. In a nut shell: the Majority has tried to crush the Minority, but the minority has not been crushed because it refuses to surrender.

Something really special that Patricia shared with us has remained with me. She told us how in 1990 the Quebec Government announced the construction of the Great Whale Hydroelectric project which was to divert eight large rivers and affect an ecosystem the size of France. Patricia’s people felt that enough was enough. So, the James Bay Cree in the far north of Quebec joined with the Inuit Indians in the area to build a special canoe. In the spring of that same year a mixed team of both Cree and Inuit Indians paddled their ‘odeyake’ canoe from Whapmagoostui, Quebec, all the way to New York City. It was a momentous task: 2000km in just 5 weeks. By dogsled over frozen lakes, by dusty abandoned road, by rapid river. These brave descendants of some of the earliest North American people’s came united: to protest the proposed Great Whale Hydroelectric project. And you wouldn’t believe it. The project was cancelled. The $12.6 billion Great Whale project was ripped to shreds in front of the greedy eyes of Wall Street stock brokers. I bet Bernie Sanders cheered that day. The mammoth Odeyak canoe journey had not been in vain. The Cree and Inuit triumph sent a message of hope for all minority indigenous groups-not just the First Nation People in North America-but right throughout the globe.  Were the Cree to have resisted singing their song and sharing their own special identity, an enormously ugly dam would have flooded ancient camping grounds with eons of history.

These are the kind of things that should be taught more in our schools. The triumph of the minority over the majority deserves a more prominent place on history’s page.

So I’d like to say thanks to Patricia for taking the time to share her personal story with us! I hope that this blog entry encourages others to research more into this incredible modern-day David vs. Goliath story.

In 1990 Cree and Inuit from Northern Quebec travelled more than 2000 km over five weeks, by dogsled on the frozen bay, by road and by river, all the way to downtown Manhattan in a campaign against the proposed damming of the Great Whale River.

 

The location of Great Whale River, the Cree community Patricia comes from.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Image attained from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/northern-quebec-cree-community-celebrates-25th-anniversary-of-odeyak-voyage-1.3044078, accessed April 11, 2016.)

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See you in Montreal

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I’m standing in a now deserted Montreal metro station, captivated. It is a woman’s voice I hear, echoing confidently through the labyrinth. The words are meaningless for she sings in Québécois, the unique French spoken in the Canadian province Quebec. Somehow the voice’s tone imparts its own message, of life, of love, of the endurance of the human spirit. I follow the voice. In my mind I have conjured up an image of the owner of the voice. I do not know what French Canadian people look like, as I have just arrived here. Yet, I am certain that, just as her voice is high, strong and empowering, so must she be tall, confident and beautiful. I am certain of that. I walk with curiosity; to see if my assumption is correct. I turn the corner of the metro, and there she stands. Yes she is as empowering as her song. Tall and elegant like a princess. But something is not quite right. I watch for a while and listen. It is not her voice that is the problem. As my mind takes a while to register what it is seeing, with that it is hearing, it suddenly computes: our singer is completely blind. 

Standing next to her is a man. Well, now he is crouching. No, he is crawling. His hands are outstretched in front of him, waving the empty air. I know what he is looking for. It is his jacket that lays outstretched before him. It all makes sense now. She is a busker, and he is her attendant. He is looking for the jacket to see if they have collected cash to eat. Finally he reaches the jacket and, instead of money, he finds an open hand.

“Hi…”, I say, rather unsure of how he will take my intrusion.

“Hello” he responds, turning his head to look in the direction of my voice. He looks to where the metro departs. He is looking in the wrong direction. I am right above him. Then, it hits me and I can’t believe it: he is also blind.

“Mae nem ez Denis  Harting”, he speaks, with his exquisite Québécois accent. “…end thiz”, he gestures  towards the singing siren, ” iz mae daughtur Lauviah”. I can’t believe it. Denis is not the attendant, he is the father! Lauviah stops singing, aware that there is somebody interrupting the show. She comes over and we meet. Then, for the next five minutes these two blind, wandering minstrels share with me the exceptional story of their lives. Born 2 months premature, Denis had been placed into an incubator. Somehow, the oxygen level was too high in that incubator and it burst both his optic nerves. Lauviah’s story was just as tragic, born with a rare eye disorder, completely unrelated to Denis’ condition. Together they try to make a living by singing in Montreal’s metro stations. Denis could sing too, as he later demonstrated after we stopped chatting. It was clear to me where Lauviah got her majestic voice from.

Then it was time depart. I thanked them for making my day. And up I went up the escalator, with the distinctive sound of Lauviah’s voice wooing me back to learn more.

As I exited the metro I saw in my peripheral’s a woman walking rather strangely, with a large white stick pointed out. Tap. Tap. Tap. She attempted to enter the metro entrance, once, twice. Finally she made it on the fifth. It was all too coincidental for me… I couldn’t resist…

“Excuse me…”. The tapping was momentarily paused.

“Do you…do you know those two wonderful singers down there…?”

Before I could finish, she let out a laugh, smiled and then turned her weary head to where she thought I was standing:

“Mae Lauvy and Dennie are gud, no?”

                            

Lauviah Harting, Peggy Roux and Denis Harting (daughter, mum and dad).

This excellent photo-video about this exceptional Montreal family was made by SesamePreet’s channel, if you have time, check it out!

Cuba 202

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Cuba is an immensely intriguing state. It exists as a living anachronism from the Cold War era, controversial, captivating, complex. Beyond the façade of the idyllic island paradise described in Cuba 101 is a whole new world. If you were to be so bold as to take a different way back to your hotel in Havana, for example, you would be quite startled. Dilapidated palace-like buildings. Hungry people. People with no or little pesos in their pockets to satisfy that very same hunger. The amount of times I was stopped and randomly asked for money was embarrassing. Almost embarrassing enough for someone to write a letter to el commandante Fidel.

                              Dear Fidel,

                               Many of your people are hungry and frustrated.

                               Thought I’d let you know,

                                  Yours sincerely,

                                                                   Hope.

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Whilst 90 miles away fresh water comes at the effortless turn of a tap, here it must be sourced, boiled, chlorine added, filtered and finally poured into a mouth thirsty for change. What would I know about change in Cuba? I was only there for 15 days. True. However, in those 15 days I made an effort to speak to as many locals as I could. My method was simple. After I had been small talking to the person for a while, I would raise the controversial subject, if it was appropriate to do so. I would say, Obama? I would then clench my fist keeping only my thumb extended and then raise it firstly up, and then down. I was giving them the universal signage of two options, si o no, just as the Roman emperor’s once did to spare or end a weary gladiator’s life. They understood the gesture. I never got a downward pointing thumb. This is big stuff. Just think, for the past 56 years the US has imposed a trade embargo on the island state of Cuba as a result of Cuba becoming a communist state. Cuba fiercely opposed the US henceforth, allowing the Soviet Union to place ballistic missiles and military personnel on its shores. Now, in 2016, thumbs up here and there and everywhere.

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Although it is difficult to know exactly what a thumbs up means, I do not believe they were necessarily saying yes to Obama and no to Castro. They were not saying yes to so called “liberal democratic capitalism” and no to Castro’s communism. You see Castro did manage to create a society with incredible healthcare.

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I believe that when I said Obama and the thumbs went up, it was a silent but clear expression for change. The people of Cuba want change. It doesn’t have to be huge change. Just some change. They want to be able to travel freely throughout the world. They want free, unrestricted internet. They want to have the opportunity to be able to discuss politics on the streets without being afraid of being heard. Imagine if you peered into a class of third grader’s at a primary school and instead of finding small pre-adolescent bodies, adults ready to face the world were sitting awkwardly in those silly school seats, crowded and overgrown, yet restricted from leaving the classroom or progressing to the next grade. That’s how I perceive Cubans to feel. Many feel frustrated. They are ready now, Castro. Communism was a good school master in some ways. It has taught the people patience. They know how to queue for food, for rations, for buses, for supplies. They even now know how to queue for life. But now the queue is getting edgy. Frisky as a tom cat. Cuba has been caught in a time warp for too long. As Obama said, it is time to bury this relic of the Cold War.

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In the year 1446 BC a certain man climbed steps of stubbornness to plead with Pharaoh Ramesses II regarding the future of the Children of Israel. In 2016, the same plea can still be heard: Castro, won’t you let your people go?

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The Sunshine of Our Day

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             Universities are like clocks: they don’t budge an inch unless the smallest of cogs is in perfect place. Behind the scenes at the George Washington University there exists an army of hardworking individuals that help keep the ‘show on the road’. Often, the stories of these people go untold:

Since I have been studying in the basement of Gelman I have come to notice that at regular intervals a trash trolley will pass me by. The lady who pushes the trolley is kind looking. Calm and consistent, day after day, goes the trolley. Apart from the whirl of the trolley wheels as it passes by, you would never know she was there. Gloria is her name. Gloria is just one of several housekeepers responsible for ensuring that students have a healthy, happy and clean environment that will nurture aspiration and academic potential.DSC00893

Gloria, not wanting to promote herself, introduced me to Veronica Franklin, a bubbly, motherly lady  who is the head housekeeper of Gelman Library. Veronica very kindly shared her story with me and I discovered that working in a silent environment, such as a library, can have its challenges. Often students, in their pursuit of obtaining academic excellence, pass housekeepers by without acknowledging them. So…

“…so, you know, I like to break it up a little. Every holiday, and they will tell you, ‘Veronica is going to come in here dressed as something representing the holiday’. Two weeks before Christmas I have stuff on every day and…” she pauses for effect, grinning like a Cheshire cat, “for the finale… they are just waiting, not sure what I’m going to come in as!” Once, for Halloween, Veronica came to work dressed as a cat. Whiskers and all.”Im told quite often by the people that work here: you are The Sunshine of our Day“.

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Whether it be the carpet, spills, trash, the bathrooms, picking up year-lost books, housekeepers are kept busy from dawn till dusk.

And I’ll tell you another thing, Veronica asserts, “just because somebody is a housekeeper doesn’t mean they’re not smart. I could work in an office at a computer as a secretary but it would drive me crazy. I’ve got to be able to move around. I love what I do. And I love the people that I do it for. I dont care that sometimes we don’t get acknowledged at a higher level as we should…

And then our conversation turned to a topic that I had not expected to discuss.

 Under President Obama’s administration I have seen a lot of change. I’ve seen people being able to…”, she breaks to gesture to the two of us, sitting together in the basement of Gelman,”…this, you know what I’m talking about? This exchange, it changed under Obama. The dynamics of it changed, and for the better. I think it’s wonderful.” 

Then I brought up the hottest topic of all: TRUMP.

“Oh! I am so frightened of the mere thought of that happening. How can we go from Obama to Trump? How can we do that? That is unspeakable.” The Sunshine of our Day pauses again, this time contemplating life under an arrogant billionaire. “Chaos. That’s what it would be like. There is absolutely, positively nothing good that could come of that. I feel like I’d like to go to another country. It’s that bad.” 

Veronica may not stay on as a housekeeper forever. She has already been here for twelve years. Others, like Gloria, have been housekeepers at GW for more than twenty years. Veronica concludes,”I’d love to do social work. Anything where I’m helping people. That’s what I do…I love to help people“.

Outside the Library, the Japanese cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom. Few are aware that one of nature’s little miracles is transpiring in Kogan Square. Life is like that. If we look closely, flowers are always blooming in the background. It’s about knowing the right places to look. Back in the basement, silence is broken. It is the whirl of wheels. And the flower passes on by.

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Engine Company 23

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In the dead of the night the siren wails. A tricolor of pulsing flashes filter through the blinds. Somehow, somewhere in D.C. a smoldering fire has erupted in bright brilliant flames. The siren is answering the call of a concerned grandpa or a watchful mother. Among the fire trucks tearing down the highway is Engine Company 23. It joins weary eyed ambulance and policemen and women; the trinity of emergency services is complete. These service providers are the backbone of any community. There is no hierarchy, each needs the other to function fully.

Every day for the past two months I have sauntered past a historic fire station in Foggy Bottom. The very architecture of the building breathes history. The first week of term I was aware of the fire stations presence on campus. The second week I began to see familiar faces around the station, washing the ‘mother of the station’, firetruck 23. After eight weeks of walking past its walls, I felt I had to dig deeper.

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Today I entered the station.

“Can I help you?” a friendly voice asked. He would later introduce himself as Fireman Shaun Weiner. Fireman Weiner, perhaps in his mid 30s, with piercing blue eyes, kindly offered to show me around the station. I was fascinated by what he shared with me.

“Engine Company 23 was established in 1910. This was the original fire station from then until now. Come over here…” Weiner beckons.

Do you see that blue paint?

Yeah…

Look closely, what do you see?

I see grooves, like marks.fireman

“What you’re looking at is the kicks of horses hooves from a hundred years ago.

And in my ignorance- “what were horses doing in a fire station?”

Horses used to pull the steam pumper, a cart with a boiler attached to it. By feeding wood into the boiler, steam would be produced and this would  create pressure that would pump the water.

Well, I thought, mum and dad were right when they used to say that the old days were tough – back then they used fire to fight fire!

“A lot of stations have spiral staircases… do you know why?”

No Sir I don’t…

Well, in the days when they had horses if you didn’t have spiral staircases then the horses would run right up them!

In my mind I envisaged cheeky chestnut Clydesdales nibbling on carrots after a hard night out.

Weimer introduced me to Lieutenant Lancaster, the head of the fire station. He invited me into his office and shared some moments from his career.

 

My great grand daddy took the fireman exam three times. They never let him in. Afterwards it was a tradition in my family to join, and I had several relations who did”.  

Lieutenant Lancaster wants to retire in good health. After thirty years dedicated to keeping DC safe 24/7 it is a well deserved dream.

Engine Company 23 has been part of several historic fire fights, including participating in the efforts to contain the fire caused by the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on 9/11.

Concluding my tour with Fireman Weiner I asked one final question in regards to the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

Those piercing blue eyes veered off into the distance in deep reflection and then looked back to the inquisitive Australian standing before him.

This job makes and takes friends

And that’s all he had to say about that.

We shared a little more about our two respective cultures, shook hands and bid each other good day.

As I walk out of the fire station’s gates I turn around. I have gained a deeper respect for the gallant men and at one time, horses, who have inhabited the walls of Engine Company 23 for the past one hundred and six years. They have made a difference every day. Today has been a personal meeting with every day heroes. My eyes are caste high above to the watchtower. At some point some able fireman had the task of climbing the five stories of stairs to chart the quickest route to reach engulfing flames. Beneath the watchtower on the Italianate limestone frontispiece I see Old Glory flutter nobly in the wind. I hear the neighing of the countless teams of horses that served to save. I think about Fireman Weiner’s parting words. For firemen and women their job is more then an occupation, it is family. It is a duty. Suddenly the spectacle is broken: somewhere in the distance a siren begins to wail.

 

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The 2016 D.C. Travel and Adventure Show

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Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. “

                                                                                                                                               -Mark Twain

Last weekend the National Convention center in D.C. housed the Travel and Adventure show. This enormous roll out of literally hundreds of little stores promotes everything from world cruises to how best to hit up individual cities. As an amateur traveler with a passion for going to off the beat ‘n track destinations, I felt like the time bugs bunny got abandoned on Carrot Island. I went nuts. Armenia, Jamaica, Bolivia, Grand Cayman. Grand Cayman? Is that on Mars or Jupiter? I don’t know, but why not. Are you interested in going to Iran, Sir? You bet. In goes another pile of pamphlets. There were live performances of exotic cultural dances that enlivened the senses and awoke curiosity from its slumber. The burritos were muy delicioso.What I enjoyed most was the fact that not one travel store pressured you to sign up to its offers. What’s more, to enter the convention you only had to pay the miserly fee of $11.00. However, small as it is, the payment is necessary for it restricts the exhibitors from being overly zealous in pressuring you to go north to Alaska, or wherever.

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I met the author of “1,000 Places to Visit Before You Die”, Patricia Schultz. Schultz’ book is one of the best selling travel books of all time, probably due to the highly  persuasive style she adopts. I bet you can’t read a single chapter of her book without contemplating, even momentarily, to drop everything and make your way to the nearest airport. She makes us ordinary folk aware that there are so many exotic tourist destinations just waiting to be explored. A meet and greet moment with Schultz was a highlight of my time at the Travel and Adventure Show. She is a heroine of 21st century travel and gives her patrons a warm fuzzy feeling inside; she makes you feel completely at ease. Whether it be books, calendars, audio or giving live presentations, Schultz’s mark is very stylish and recognizable. Thanks for the opportunity, Patricia.

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As I made my way through the labyrinth of travel stores I stumbled across a man standing between a BMW GS motorbike and a van. It sparked my curiosity instantly. “Hi, I’m Alan Karl” he said confidently. I’d never heard of him. He told me some of his story and I was hooked. Alan travelled the world for 3 years on his BMW, visiting 65 countries. He collected recipes, stories and took marvelous pictures along the way. Upon his return he wrote a best seller Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection. Three Years. Five Continents. One Motorcycle. It is one of those books you reach for when a big storm is coming, the lights go out and your snuggled down in bed listening to the crackle of a wood fire. His story transports you onto the road with him. To the crystal clear salt flats of beautiful Bolivia. To the torrid swamps of Africa. I was not leaving the Convention Centre without a copy of Forks. Where I’m going to store it in my luggage when I hit the road though is another thing… 666444

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New York, New York

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The emboldening Statue of Liberty, the majestic Empire State Building and some lucky lady delighting in the age old tradition of eating strawberry cheese cake amidst a sea of yellow cabs: this is what so many of us perceive New York to be. This past weekend I set off with two of my friends from Bolivia, Carla and Alison Saavedra, to discover if this were true.

We fulfilled a large amount of the items on our bucket list. Here is a sample of some of them:

See a broad way show: TICK (We saw the Phantom of the Opera, it was spectacular! Tip: look on line if you want to get the best deals. We got fairly good seats for like US$47.00! Normally they are $120.00).

Selfie in times square: TICK (Tip: watch for pickpockets as your eyes are distracted by the flashy  lights).

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Cucumber sandwiches with Donald Trump in Trump Tower: AVOIDED  (Can you blame us? Besides, the old geezer was out of town anyway).

A photo with the Statue of Liberty: TICK (Well, kind of. You see if you take the Staten Island ferry its free, but the downside is that the ferry passes by Liberty Island from quite a distance).

 

 

A photo with the ‘Wall Street Bull’ by sculptor Arturo Di Modica: TICK. (This very realistic sculpture is said to represent the testosterone of the American economists and stock brokers. Considering the American economy is 19 trillion dollars in debt I wonder whether a large “I O U” sculpture would be more appropriate?)

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Try a New York street vendor’s hot dog: TICK. (Tried it?! After 2 paracetamol, a litre of water and a 30 minute rest in the nearby MET museum, its probably more appropriate to say that I survived the experience… I think the sausage wasn’t cooked properly? Frank Sinatra sang in his famous song New York, New York that, “If you can make it there you can make it anywhere”. I wonder if the same applies in a culinary sense?)

Hit up some of New York’s famous art/museums: TICK, TICK and TICK again. ( We visited the Guggenheim Art Gallery; housing the legendary Thannhauser Collection, the Museum of Natural History; where the movie ‘Night at the Museum’ was set, and the Metropolitan Museum. The Guggenheim art gallery prides itself in displaying art with meaning so hidden that even Alan Turing and the experts who decoded the enigma machine during WWII would fail to decipher even the simplest abstract work exhibited. The New York Metropolitan Museum, otherwise known as the MET, was my favorite by far. In one afternoon we were able to peer upon the mystical face of an Egyptian Pharaoh’s death mask and then admire the works of the classical artists Renoir, van Gogh and Monet, among others. All this, just for a small donation!)vangough

 

Have afternoon tea with Big Bird: FAIL. (We couldn’t find it! But can you tell me how? Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street? Actually, come to think of it, I did see a big bird, hanging upside down in a front window down New York’s famous Canal Street, Chinatown).

 

 

 

 

 

OK. So, I managed to accomplish the majority of the things on the to do list. But does that mean that I have really experienced the city? No. Not at all. Taking a photo with the Statue of Liberty or eating cheese cake in Time’s Square doesn’t make one anymore acquainted with New York than does thinking you know the intricacies of a 1000 page book’s plot by scanning its back blurb. To know a city one has to live there. One has to interact with the people. After all, it is the people that are the soul of a city and not the empty edifices of its surrounds. The highlights of my time in New York were none of the above. The real highlights were the brief and momentary interactions I shared with everyday, metro riding New Yorker’s. A glance. A smirk. A G’day. A simple time of small talk with a hotel clerk about the poor weather. Sharing a joke with a homeless man who was singing desperately outside the Guggenheim, as the fluffy white snow drifted carelessly down his neck, a neck that probably hadn’t laid on a soft pillow since Ronald Reagan was President. Having the hairs of my neck stand on end upon hearing how Justin our hostel attendant’s father just happened not to make it to his office the morning of 9/11.

freedomShouted lunch by a kind family of Bolivian first generation Americans in an Ecuadorian restaurant in Queens whilst listening to how the father, Lucho, slowly made his way to the top. Attending a non-denominational church service  in central Brooklyn with a room full of strangers that felt like long lost family. This was New York for me.

 

I’ll have to go back another time to read the other 900 pages…nyce