Thursday, November 26, 2009

October 2009

October 13 was a lucky day for me. I had my uterus and four pounds of fibroids taken out. I stayed one night at the fabulous Sutter Hospital in Santa Cruz. I call it the Hilton of Hospitals because I had a huge suite to myself, with guest bed for Andre if he'd chosen to stay, a TV with all the channels and a choice of movie videos, the food was as good as any hotel room service, the staff is so nice and helpful....but best of all, no loud speakers paging doctors and nurses all night, so I slept really well.

In the evening we practically had a party in my hospital room with Andre, of course, plus Moy and his wife Lety and their children Erik and Janette, and our Oaxacan neighbors Ana and Antonio and their children Vianny and Xhunaxhi. By the next morning I was off the IV, off painkillers, and ready to go home. My recovery has been incredibly fast and easy. I can't believe the difference between today's hysterectomies and the old days when they cut open your whole belly.

Here I am modeling my friend Linda Sage's handmade stone jewelry. If you'd like to see more samples you can email her at Andre continues to study flute, Spanish and English at Cabrillo College.

The neighbor girls, plus our friends Shasta and foster daughter Mariah, enjoyed making masks at the local community center.

On October 30 we accompanied our friend Lynn to the airport to pick up her fiance Mohamed. They met in Guinea when she was studying West African dance. Lynn wanted our company, but also everything went easier since Andre and Mohamed are able to communicate in French. Mohamed speaks two African languages, but only completed 2nd grade, so his French is limited. He seems really smart and eager to learn English, so I think he'll have a good life here in Santa Cruz. He's already started teaching some dance classes.

Poor Mohamed was so tired after two days of traveling, and starving because the airlines don't feed you anymore, so we stopped for Thai food on the way home. Andre wore his rasta cap to welcome Mohamed who has real dredlocks.

Andre still has four doves, but would like to find a new home for them. With his busy American lifestyle he doesn't have time to enjoy them like he did back in Haiti.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Halloween 2009

I made a little video of Halloween on Pacific Avenue for my YouTube channel: chelseamaya.

Halloween was pretty mellow. Andre worked from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. as a security guard on Pacific Avenue, so I borrowed his rasta cap with dreds and sunglasses to walk around and check out the scene. Santa Cruz had braced itself in advance for the onslaught of local and out-of-town revelers who parade up and down the avenue each Halloween. Plastic wrap protected the trees and plants, portable chain-link fences prevented cars from entering the avenue, cops and private security guards from surrounding areas joined the local forces, and the cost of being drunk-in-public tripled. To top it off, a helicopter circled the downtown all night long, keeping a lot of neighbors awake till past midnight.

Compared to other years, this was a quiet one with an estimated crowd of 20,000 and no violence, much to Andre's relief. I popped down in the afternoon and after dark to photograph and video tape and to say hi to Andre. Mostly I stayed at home and waited for the scarce trick-or-treaters.

Andre and a co-worker for 1st Alarm. A future police officer also patrolled the streets.

A tribute in pink to the Umbrella Man of Santa Cruz. A Day of the Dead couple.

My favorites were this little pirate and a creative portrayal of Frida Kahlo.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Happy Day of the Dead

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, dates back to pre-Colombian days of ancient Mexico. On Nov. 1 and 2, many Mexicans honor their ancestors who have died by bringing food and flowers to the cemeteries, building altars in their houses, eating special bread called "Pan de Muertos" and decorating their houses with skeletons and skulls.

Last Friday I went to Watsonville, a Mexican community just 15 miles south of Santa Cruz. First stop, the Pajaro Valley Arts Council gallery to admire the various altars. I've included several photos below. I also bought a sugar skull, or "Calaverita," in memory of Maya (above) and traditional marigold flowers for my Day of the Dead altar at home.

Here's Marta Gonzalez (831-707-7811) who sells sugar skulls at the Watsonville Farmer's Market at this time of year.

This is an altar to dead police officer who liked donuts:

This altar had cool plasma skull lights.

This one looked very Asian to me:

A close-up of a paper mache skull

This altar was in memory of all the things their dog had destroyed.

A more serious altar:

I like the butterfly, the Virgin of Guadalupe and other traditional symbols:

This playful one features dancing skeletons a la Jose Guadalupe Posada.

That same evening, I was fortunate to see the documentary "Bracero Stories" (check out the video excerpt from the movie), sponsored by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. After the film, many family members of braceros, or guest farm workers, stood up and shared their stories. I showed some enlargements of Daniel's dad when he was picking watermelons in Bowie, Arizona through the Bracero Program in 1958.

A big treat was when a gentleman in the back row spoke about his own experiences. He's 78 years old and entered the US in 1948 at the age of 17, so he had to lie about his age to qualify for the program. He and most of the other braceros thought they were being drafted to fight in WWII. His girlfriend, who later became his wife and is seated beside him in this photo, was afraid she would never see him again. But instead he worked the fields all over the U.S. The 10% that was taken out of his paychecks and sent to a Mexican bank for retirement disappeared. The Mexican government has promised to give $3500 to anyone who can prove they were a bracero, but so far I haven't heard of anyone who has succeeded in getting compensated this pittance of what they're owed.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My Dad's 79th Birthday by Train

On Sept. 6, my dad turned 79 years old. I rode the Amtrak bus/train to San Diego to celebrate with him and his wife Judith. They've been married 25 years now.

The entire trip, beginning with a bus from Santa Cruz to San Jose, then another bus to Santa Barbara, and finally a train down to San Diego takes about 13 hours, and is scheduled to arrive at 7:50 p.m. Unfortunately, someone ran in front of the train just north of Santa Barbara, which set us back two hours as they waited for the coroner. I asked the conductor if it would be on the evening news, but apparently suicide by train isn't unusual.

Since we were arriving later than planned, I called my niece Corrie to see if she could pick me up at the station instead of my folks. She and I stayed up late watching the news and some other mindless TV programs -- a novelty for me since I don't have TV -- until the wee hours. Since my folks like to sleep in late, Corrie and I had time to hang out in the morning too.

My dad and his wife still live in the house that I grew up in. It's 8 miles north of the Mexican border in a suburb called Chula Vista. I learned a lot of my Spanish from reading the map of San Diego County: Chula Vista (pretty view), Bonita Vista (beautiful view), Monte Vista (mountain view), Mar Vista (ocean view), Buena Vista (good view), Rio Vista (river view), Linda Vista (pretty view again) and of course, Vista, California (just plain view).

San Diego County is mostly Republican, but I was happy to see some Obama supporters in Chula Vista. When we were down at Christmas time, this family had the Barack painting up already. Now they've added a trampoline with Michelle's portrait.

I was only down for the weekend, so I couldn't visit many other friends or relatives. I did get to see a friend's daughter Sarah and her two kids, plus my nephew's wife Shaya and their three kids. In fact, Sarah gave me a ride over to Shaya's and all five kids got to run around and play together while we women took a tour of Shaya's new home and chatted.

The rest of these photos are scenes from the trip back north by train on Labor Day. As I admired the "vistas del mar" (ocean views), it seemed like everyone was enjoying their last moments of summer vacation.

I love train stations. Their high ceilings and archways remind me of cathedrals.

The tile work in the San Diego Union Station has a Moorish influence.

Del Mar


San Clemente

Santa Ana train station

Pismo Beach

Santa Barbara

The bus goes inland at San Luis Obispo.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Bronstein Family Reunion

I am proud to be a Bronstein. My great grandfather Michael Bronstein (not his birth name) immigrated from Russia around the turn of the last century. He married Celia Rabinowich, also a Russian Jewish immigrant living in New York City. They had six children, two boys and four girls. Their first born son Morris died before reaching adulthood, which was a huge tragedy, especially for Celia and my grandma Leslie who was very close to him. Other than Morris, everyone else lived into their 80s and 90s.

Michael and Celia invited their kids and grandkids for Thanksgiving every year, but other than that, they didn't get together very often. You know, family politics. We do have one photo of a Bronstein reunion in 1945 when my mom was 15 years old. She's the tallest girl sitting on the ground.

Over the years, the Bronsteins have gotten together, at wedding and bar mitzvahs, at my aunt and uncle's 40th reunion, and at my great aunt Florence's farewell party in Florida in 1995. I liked Florence's attitude. Once she knew she had terminal breast cancer she threw herself a party and invited her siblings and their children. I was one of two from my generation because I accompanied my grandma Leslie.

That's Leslie seated on the right and my aunt Joan behind her (my mom died in 1983). Next to my grandma is her baby sister Florence saying farewell to everyone, with her son Eric behind her. Next to Eric are his cousins David and Bill. You'll notice an empty chair in front of them to represent their mother Ruth who had already passed away. My grandma's sister Evelyn is next with her daughter Hilde and husband Lee behind her. Their daughter Sydney was born disabled and spent most of her life at boarding facilities. Leslie's brother Burke is seated on the left with his daughters and wife behind him. Seven of the cousins pictured above are still living, but only three were able to attend our reunion this year.

My mom's cousins Hilde and Phyllis (in the Bronstein reunion t-shirt) and my Aunt Joan on the right. Hopefully next year more of my mother's cousins will be able to attend.

I've been dying to have a family reunion for years and I'm happy to say we finally succeeded. It was small this time -- only 14 Bronsteins + 6 significant others -- but we had a fabulous time and are looking forward to a bigger one next year, possibly in Florida.

Above is everyone who attended the reunion. Below are the "true" Bronsteins.
Back row: my cousins Steffi and Julie, then me. Next to me is David's daughter Susie who hosted the event in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Then come Elise and Geoff whose mother Phyllis (seated 2nd from the left) read a Jewish prayer at my daughter Maya's memorial. Julie's son Jason (the one who got married in Puerto Rico in August 2006) is standing on the right.
Front row: my Aunt Joan (mother of Steffi and Julie), Burke's daughter Phyllis, Evelyn's daughter Hilde, Steffi's daughter Alex, and Julie's youngest Martin.

No one except for Susie lives in Wisconsin, but we held it there because she offered to host it and she's a great organizer. Not to brag, but Susie isn't the only Bronstein with a PhD. We also have several master's degrees. I'm a slacker compared to the other Bronsteins with a lowly BA.

Partners in crime: Susie and I did most of the legwork for the reunion. I also designed the "Proud to be a Bronstein" t-shirts, featuring a photo of Michael and Celia and all their kids except baby Florence who wasn't born yet. Everyone pitched in with photos, home movies, and family history and legends.

Susie booked the hotel rooms, got us a conference room, made reservations for dinner and breakfast, gave us instructions on how to arrive from the St. Paul/Minneapolis airport and a list of interesting activities in the area. Unfortunately, most of the relatives flew in Friday evening and left Sunday after breakfast. Many of them went on a canoeing expedition together, but I stayed in the hotel lobby and worked on a slide show and video presentation. Here's the conference room where we ate breakfast and watched the slide show and videos:

Our family talks a lot about the Bronstein Women, since my grandmother and her three sisters were all very strong and dynamic. Their daughters and granddaughters have followed in their footsteps. I will be the first to admit, a Bronstein Woman is not always the easiest person to live with. But at least we keep life interesting. If you want to know what a Bronstein Woman looks like, here are my 1st cousin Steffi and our 2nd cousin Elise (Phyllis' daughter). The resemblance is remarkable. You'd think they were sisters, but in fact Steffi's grandma and Elise's grandfather were siblings.

See what I mean about Bronstein Women? We're a special breed and lots of fun. We also found out that another Bronstein is on the way. Jason and Jessica announced that they're expecting their first child early next year...later confirmed to be a boy.

Here are a few highlights from the slide show:

The story begins when Michael Bronstein met Celia Rabinowich around the turn of the last century in New York City. They were both Russian Jewish immigrants, starting a new life in America:

Michael, charismatic and handsome, became a successful butter and egg man, eventually opening a grocery store. His business grew and grew until he owned a chain of supermarkets called Fairmart.

Michael and Celia had six children: Morris, my grandma Leslie (standing next to her father), Ruth, Burke, Evelyn and baby Florence. Morris was sickly and died of rheumatic fever as a teenager.

When Burke took over the family business, Michael and Celia retired to Florida.

My grandma Leslie wanted to marry her high school sweetheart -- a starving lawyer, as they said in those days -- but her father refused because he wanted someone more successful. She married my grandpa Jacob Alexander Ronder and had three children, Joan, Zachary and my mother Elisabeth. Zachary only lived a week or so. Joan later named her firstborn child after him.

That's my mom with the thick, curly hair that I didn't inherit. During the 1960s when long, straight hair parted in the middle was in style, I was happy not to have the curls.

I have my dad's straight hair, but my face is definitely Beth's, as she was called. Is that me, or is that me with the devilish smile? Actually, it's my mom as a little girl.

The picture below is me at about the same age. Same smile, same eyes that "wrap around the block," as my grandma Leslie liked to say. I've been asked twice if I were from Afghanistan, which isn't that far from the Ukraine of my mother's ancestors. One was an Afghan woman who taught ESL at Adult School with me. She claimed I look like the famous refugee on the cover of Life Magazine with the piercing green eyes (I wish!) and the other was a Pakistani immigrant at a gas station. He asked me where I was from, but didn't buy my answer: Santa Cruz. Before that? he asked: San Diego. Before that? New Jersey. I asked him why he wanted to know where I was from. He said, "You look like Afghan woman to me." I think it's the eyes, and maybe my olive complexion.

Here are my grandparents Jack and Leslie Ronder with their daughters Joan and Beth at the 1945 Bronstein Family reunion:

Joan married Arthur Domike in 1950 (below). They're celebrating their 60th anniversary next year, but haven't decided where. Maybe New Zealand where their son Zack and his Chilean wife live.

(left to right) Jack Ronder, his wife Leslie Bronstein Ronder, their daughter Joan and her husband Arthur Domike, and on the right, my mother Elisabeth "Beth." She married my dad John George three years later at the age of 23.

Joan and Art are 83 years old and still together. They are politically active, play tennis, travel, and attended our Bronstein Reunion.

Their children Zack, Steffi and Julie grew up in South America when Art was working for the U.N. I got to know them when I was a teenager. They're my only cousins and I feel as close to them, as if I had siblings. Here's a picture of my "hippie" cousins (alias John Lennon, Meryl Streep and Joan Baez), about the time they moved back to the U.S.

Standing L-R: Arthur, Joan and Zack Domike.
Seated L-R: Julie and Steffi Domike, circa 1971.