Tuesday, April 17, 2007

schools are sanctuaries

This week in April already marked the 12th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing and the 8th anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO. More than enough nauseating memories (this week also marks Adolf Hitler's birthday) to haunt us for the rest of our lives, yet before we could even begin to memorialize these atrocities, Monday happened.

I spent the majority of Monday at Fremd, my former high school, working on a project. As news spread about the shooting massacre at Virginia Tech, more and more teachers in the English office sat at the row of computers and watched video newsreel footage on cnn.com. At first I wasn't quite sure what had happened...people were clearly shocked about something, but I wasn't in close enough proximity to eavesdrop.

When I finally got to check my e-mail later in the afternoon, there were three CNN Breaking News updates in my inbox.
"9:31 a.m....one person has been killed and one injured..."
"11:24 a.m....at least 20 people were fatally shot..."
"1:36 p.m....the death toll rises to 31, including the gunman..."

When I was in fourth grade, a sixth-grader named Asher brought a gun to school. I don't remember most of the details, except that my friend Melissa's sister was also a sixth-grader and claimed that he threatened her with the weapon. I think our parents were required to pick us up from school that day. And I'm pretty sure the police reported that Asher's gun hadn't even been loaded. Nevertheless, the event and subsequent arrest caused quite a stir among our normally undisrupted neighborhood. Kids even started inserting his name into Aerosmith's song "Janie's got a gun" (a song, until doing research today, i always thought belonged to Nirvana's repetoire).

The Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995 occurred when I was in sixth grade. By the second half of the school year (early '95), my teacher and I had grown more and more intolerant of each other. One particularly awful day she kicked me out of the classroom for doing nothing. I stomped into the hall carrying with me a Teen magazine. After collapsing to the floor, my jaw clenched in anger, I ripped open the magazine. A story about a girl who took a gunshot to her leg while attempting to protect her classmates from a school shooter stared back at me. I thought about Asher and how different that day could have turned out. And I thought to myself that if someone was to come to my class right then with a gun, I'd probably do the same as the girl in the article--both to protect my friends and to get the h-e-l-l out of sixth grade.

April 20, 1999. I was a sophomore in high school sitting in our auditorium for Writers Week when we collectively heard about the shootings at Columbine. Flashbacks of this abounded as the Virginia Tech shootings reached the eyes and ears of the American public. As Wikipedia states, the shootings at Columbine caused "a moral panic in American high schools." Fremd definitely fell into that category. I don't think there was anyone--student nor staff--who didn't immediately recognize Columbine as a comparable school to Fremd. In P.E. class we had to break into small groups to discuss our fears and feelings. They told us we couldn't judge someone just because they chose to wear all black.

This is what bothered me on Monday. The media immediately turned on Virginia Tech, making the school into a scapegoat. I don't see how this event is in any way the fault of the school. The fault lies within Cho and his mental instability. He snapped and murdered over 30 people. The police even stated that a "lone gunmen out to kill himself is the hardest kind of criminal to catch." I don't think it's fair that the media has been blaming anyone but Cho, himself.

Before Cho's name and personal background were released, the news said they had reason to believe that the gunman was someone here on a student visa from South Korea. But before the details became known the following day, I worried that the repercussions of him being here on a student visa would, in the coming months and years, affect our already ridiculous immigration laws...that it might even affect general international travel. I believe this turned out to be false, that although Cho was a native South Korean, he was also a permanent resident of the U.S. Ironically, a lot of his victims happened to be international relations majors, keen on making the world a better place.

This immigration idea hearkens back to a movie I just watched two weeks ago, Children of Men, where any "alien" caught entering London (in the year 2027) was shoved into a cage and eventually killed or thrown into a ghetto. After watching an hour of news reports Tuesday morning, I made myself turn off the TV and all I could do was close my eyes and go back to sleep. Remnants of that movie, current events and influences from the post-apocolyptic novel I'm reading, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (which, incidently, won the Pulitzer Prize last week) meshed together...and I had a dream that I was walking around brightly-colored Chicago, and there were bumper to bumper cars lining the streets. And every one of them had a person standing so they were half out of the sun roof. All of them holding different types of guns. I walked with my hands over my head, afraid that at any moment I'd be gunned down. Everyone was shooting at random. And laughing about it. One woman kept putting a pistol to different sides of her head and playing a game of Russian Roulette, except that she was the only player. And every time the gun didn't go off when she pulled the trigger, she'd laugh a haunting laugh.
My dreams the rest of the week proved to be vivid nightmares, one revolving around my family and I somehow surviving a fiery plane crash.

On Tuesday evening I drove Max to his orchestra concert in Hyde Park. Before going to the theater on U of Chicago's campus, I had to drop him off at the front door of his school--the Lab School, a K-12 private school linked with the university--to run inside and get the required sheet music from his locker. He returned 30 seconds later empty-handed.
"Where's the music?" I asked while scarfing down a Potbelly's sandwich.
Max, who gets frequently exasperated with incompetent authority figures (just as I did when I was 12), complained, "The stupid cop wouldn't let me get it because I didn't have my school ID!"
"Do you usually have a school ID?" I asked.
"No! That's why this is so stupid!"
I couldn't help wondering if this extra bit of security had anything to do with what happened the day before in Virginia, briefly recalling how NYU became super-strict about us showing our IDs [as i proof-read this posting i realized i had accidentallytyped "ideas" here, instead of IDs. i thought that was noteworthy. possible freudian slip?] to get in any building post-9/11.
I offered to go in there with him and see if a babysitter's presence could vouch for the kid's good-student status.
Max defiantly said, "No. I'll just go without it. Whatever. They'll have to bring me back if they want me to get it."
"Well alright," I said, pulling away from the curb.
"What does he think i'm going to do??" Max continued, getting more defensive by the second. "I'm twelve! I'm not gonna bomb the school or something if that's what he thinks!"

Before the 7th grade spring concert commenced, the conductor thanked everyone for coming. "Also," she said, her voice dropping to a solemn tone, "we'd like to dedicate this concert to those who lost their lives in Virginia."

As the orchestra played their final piece--"Dia de los Muertos" (Day of the dead)--I thought about what the President had said in his speech at VA Tech earlier that afternoon. How he referred to schools as "sanctuaries." I thought about how back in the day one of the only things that protected someone from being drafted into the war was being enrolled in a school. The school acting as a protective barrier from the barracks. Yet now we have to beware of those wars infiltrating our classrooms.

Friday, April 6, 2007

madrid--day 2

March 17, 2007
My dreams were intricate and realistic--being introduced repeatedly to someone with same name as our waitress at the flamenco restaurant--interrupted several times throughout the night by incredibly loud sirens four stories down on Gran Via.
In the morning, or what I thought was the morning but was actually afternoon, my mom woke my dad and I up, informing us that it was after 12:00. I sat up, startled. With no alarm clock and electric window shades that make it impossible to determine whether it's anything but the middle of the night, I assumed that we were still within the normal sleeping hours. Good ol' jet lag, it'll get you every time.

We didn't leave the hotel room until after 1:00. Our first stop, Zara, a popular Spanish clothing store that sells cheap designer trend knock-offs. Now, I am not a shopper, nor did I feel like I came all the way to Europe to shop, but at the same time, I haven't--in fashion-conscious people's terms--"updated my wardrobe" in quite awhile. I'm not naming years here because I honestly couldn't tell you how long it's been. . My sister huffed and puffed her way out of los probadores to send in my mom after I requested a second opinion. One shirt--zero votes. Other shirt--one (mom) vote. (Votes only received from mom and sister....dad waited outside, but when I later, in the hotel room tried them on for him, his response was as follows: "Well they're not my favorite clothes you own...")Regardless, I bought them both. Correction, my mom bought them both for me. She's been insisting I get new clothes for years, and was so excited that I found something, that she also insisted on paying for it.

Sheri met us at Zara, and from there we headed to her place, stopping first for lunch at a little side-street restaurant called La Tortilla de Mamá, which was true to its name. Ever since I lived with Maria Luisa, I've bragged about how her tortilla was the best in all of Madrid...and I had my fair share of tortilla, seeing as I avoided all things jámon or del mar. But this place was comparable--still not quite up to Maria's standards--but definitely a notch above anywhere else I tried the dish outside of Maria's kitchen. In fact, the whole menu consisted of different kinds of tortillas. My mom and I shared one with cheese and tomato sauce, while my dad and sister shared one with chorizo. My dad marveled at how expensive a miniature bottle of Coke cost. Over 2 Euros for about 30cL.

After my parents had a tour of Sheri's host family's apartment, we decided to go to the Reina Sofia art museum, which is free on Saturdays. When we got out of the Metro at the Atocha stop, we saw a huge crowd of people taking over a main intersection. It was some sort of peace demonstration. A bunch of people had "PAZ" signs rubberbanded to their foreheads. There was a stage set up, with speakers on either side blasting the sorrowful song, "Mad World" (in English). The stage itself had a handful of photographers taking pictures of the crowd. Seeing the signs posted at bus stops about ending the war in Iraq and posters on sticking poking out of garbage cans that read, "U$A GO HOME" made me consider becoming an ex-patriot.

I'm glad I got to go back to the Reina Sofia, even if we only had an hour and a half to explore before the establishment closed. That place was one of my three favorite art museums I visited while living in Europe--the other two being the Tate Modern in London and the Musée D'Orsay in Paris. The Reina Sofia is famous for housing Picasso's Guernica, a painting found in every Spanish textbook back in the States. My dad approached me as we milled around the masterpiece, "I'll ask you this, since you're the most artistic in the family...How does someone come up with something like this?" I regurgitated the little bit of history I could remember about the destruction of a town in northern Spain by the same name. "I understand that. But how does he [Picasso] decide to paint people looking like that?" I looked over at the balloon-headed, yelping people portrayed in the painting. The only person who could really answer that question is Picasso himself. "It's just how he sees them in his mind," was all I could muster up.
In the temporary exhibition, "First Generation: Art and the Moving Image, 1963-1986," each room had various T.V. installations by several different artists. One room had a bunch of T.V.'s atop pillars, with black & white videos of transportation scenes around New York City filmed in the early 1970's. The installation was called Manhattan As An Island (1974) by Ira Schneider. A few of the videos revolved around the World Trade Center (as viewed from a boat), which at the time, must have been a brand-new, revolutionary addition to the city. I stood and stared at them for a few minutes. I saw those fall, I thought. I am standing in a building right across the street from where Al Qaeda blew up in 2004 the trains at Atocha, while standing here watching 30-some-year-old footage of the towers the same terrorist group demolished in 2001. And I have such strong ties to both cities.
You can read more about the exhibit here.

[reina sofia elevator shaft]

Unfortunately, we only saw a very small portion of the museum before we got ushered out by the museum staff 15 minutes before closing time. I suggested getting dinner at Isla Del Tesoro, a vegetarian restaurant near where I used to live. The hostess told us that unless we had a reservation, we couldn't get a table. So we went next door to some Asian place, where I couldn't really find anything on the menu that I wanted...this being after I attempted to order the vegetable dumplings only to find out they didn't have anymore. I had some sort of mixed vegetable plate instead, but it was of appetizer proportions and not nearly enough to fill me up.
So being the stereotypical fat American, I requested we stop at McDonald's before retreating back to the hotel. All three of us (we parted ways with Sheri underground at the Bilboa station) got chococlate fudge sundaes, and on top of that I also ordered a large patatas deluxe (like potato wedges), something I used to munch on because they're surprisingly tasty and only cost a Euro. Despite being the fast food instigator, I still felt embarrassed as we walked the block back to the hotel holding a McD's bag chock full of junk. I scarfed both foods down and went to sleep not just acting like a fat American, but feeling like one too.

[all of our sundaes]

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

madrid--day 1

March 16, 2007

Ah, el aeropuerto Barajas. Basically my second home when I lived here three years ago. Customs (which only involved getting our passports stamped) took no time at all, retrieving our bags only about 10 minutes. Then we waited outside about 45 minutes for the Hotel Atlantico bus. I put on a blindfold and posed like the pedestrian-crossing sign to humor myself. My dad made friends with a different bus driver while we were waiting for ours to show up. The man apparently said he hates our president, and I recalled my trip to Interlaken--the most peaceful place on Earth--and even there someone had spraypainted "KILL BUSH" on the wall of a building. If there's anything to look forward to politically-speaking, it's that Bush can no longer be re-elected, which is a blessing, seeing as he wasn't even elected in the first place. What a joke.

The ride into the city wasn't familiar because the only time I didn't take the Metro to/from the airport was the first day I arrived. And I was so jet lagged and overwhelmed at the time, I didn't take visual note of my surroundings.
Once we got into the city limits, though, and drove past el Parque Retiro and the Cibeles fountain and then down Gran Via, I felt like I had never left. My dad turned to me and asked in a mocking tone, "Did you learn any Spanish while you were here?" after I temporarily couldn't remember how to say "good morning" (buenos dias). I immediately became defensive and declared it preposterous that he would even ask that. In fact, I feel like as soon as I was once again immersed in the language, everything came rushing back to me.
Our room needed 40 minutes, so the concierge took our bags and directed us to the first floors (all ground floors in Spain are "0" not "1") to use the teléfono. We took the elevator one flight one flight up to call Sheri but got distracted by the complimentary breakfast. Desayuno ----> this way. When my mom and sister visited me they stayed in this same hotel, and I met them here every morning to take advantage of the free food.

My first cup of café con leche on 3 years! Amazing. The yogurt is better here. Freshly-squeezed orange juice doesn't cost extra. God, I love Spain. We filled our bellies (once again) until our room was ready. #414, right across the street from the same cine as the last time. It's a charming little room. We each have our own twin-sized bed, mine is up a step and in an alcove-type area. Love it.
I took about a three-hour nap, dozing in and out of real sleep. I woke up when I heard my parents talking about leaving to go to the tourist office at Plaza Mayor. They left. I took a long shower, and what a powerful one! I was just about to leave to walk around for a little bit when there was a knock at the door--Sheri! She said she had to go back to her place to call the restaurant to confirm our dinner reservation, so I went with her.
We passed la Plaza de España, where I used to sit by myself and read and once wrote a poem about pigeons on the back of a postcard...

For no reason an army of pigeons landed on Plaza de España
In rows they faced the fickle sun in a sleeping position--
heads held back, bodies inflated
When a gust of February wind intruded upon their siesta
They rotated in unison, a quarter turn
Resumed resting
Then one by one,
As though voices called them home
They took flight over the fountain

...and a travel agency I swore I'd been in before. She lives cerca del Parque del Oeste, though, which I'm pretty sure I never saw in the four months I lived here. The setup of her building's lobby--c/ Urquijo, 43--was similar to what mine had been. An old-time cage-looking elevator and an old doorman, named Juan, to match.
I understood most of what he said to my sister in his native tongue, except I thought he said "luna" (moon), when he actually said "lunes" (Monday). I kind of wish I hadn't so confidently replied because it ruined how poetic I thought he'd been. I thought he said, "The weather is going to change with the change of the moon (cambia a la luna), but in actuality he said "cambia a lunes" (change on Monday)...so when I said , "más frío mañana," they both looked at me strangely--
Sheri: No, Monday.
Juan: No, el lunes.

The elevator buttons lit up neon in a circular ring around the floor numbers. I commented how that was way more advanced, if not futuristic, than Maria's elevator buttons. The "apartment" she lives in is HUGE! I mean I guess it makes sense--2 parents, 4 kids, 1 dog. I met the 21-year-old sister, Fatima, and the 23-year-old brother, Yago. I had a hard time understanding both of them but did notice they were "atractivos" (I may have made up that word). I wanted the older brother, Eugenio (29), to be there, as he's all I ever hear about. No such luck. But of course their small black dog, Capri, took an instant liking to me and my lap. I succumbed to checking my e-mail--so much for giving up cell phones and computers for 10 days. Well, at least my phone doesn't work here.
Sheri gathered her change of clothes and we walked back to the hotel. Ran into one of her friends from her internship (at Club de Madrid) and her boyfriend on the street. I don't remember her name, but she seemed like a very happy person. Back at the hotel Sheri and the parents reunited, and we had about 15 minutes to get ready for dinner. Sheri wore a new dress, a silky thing that was probably meant to be a shirt. And no underwear. Ok, a thong doesn't count. This comes into play later.

We met Jordi, Alex, and Vicki beside the statue in front of the Palacio Real and walked from there to the flamenco place--Corral de la Moreria. We sat at a table for 8 (for the 7 of us) perpendicularly touching the front of the stage. We shared a pitcher of Sangria--ah, it's good to be back in Spain--and treated ourselves to fat American amounts of food. This confused our waitress (who's name, by the way, was Alina. Dad: Alyse meet Alina, Alina, Alyse.") because she kept telling us we were ordering too much.

The food was delicious--my favorite parts: my goat cheese salad and Sheri's dessert, which consisted of honey ice cream with chocolate dribbled on top. The flamenco dancers and singers danced and sang with an intensity you can't find in most performances. They leave you wanting to know what caused the pain behind their eyes and stomp the ground like the wooden floorboards killed their children. I remembered my señora, Maria Luisa, telling me that I would look "preciosa" in a flamenco dress. A giant bobby pin landed on my sister's empty dinner plate. Must have flown off one of the female dancers' heads. Then there was the one male dancer. He sweat so much that when he spun in circles the perspiration spiraled across our entire table, landing both on our desserts and our faces. Yummy.

We left during an intermission, as we were all getting pretty sleepy, the clock approaching midnight. As soon as we stepped outside the wind blew up Sheri's shirt/dress, causing her to inadvertently flash the sleazy Spanish men lingering around the front of the restaurant. I flew at her, my coat held open, and threw it over her shoulders, hugging her to me. "Next time, wear underwear," I advised.

We said goodbye to our dinner buddies, laughing about how it took coming to Madrid to meet up with our neighbors from back home. My family got in a cab, first dropping Sheri off at her apartment and then to the Hotel Atlantico for me and my parents.
I took some photos in the hotel bathroom because my dress looked like it was supposed to be part of the decor. Then I got ready for bed.

"Dad, can I use your floss?"
"Why not?"
"Well cause it starts and ends with my vitamins. 100 of each."
"Alyse," mom interjected, "just use it without asking him."

I decided against flossing, despite how gross my teeth felt. Before I fell asleep I thought about how there was no phone to set an alarm on and no last-minute e-mails to check...I could get used to this, I thought.