Monday, October 25, 2010

Oct. 23-24, 2010: New York and New Jersey

My two-day stopover in New York and New Jersey was too short, but very sweet. Arriving in JFK airport late Friday night, I followed my cousin's son Jason's directions and arrived easily at their new apartment in Long Island City, Queens. When Andre and I visited them during our honeymoon in August 2008, Jason and his wife Jessica were living in a smaller building across the street, and their 10-month-old son Marcelo wasn't even conceived yet. He is such a cutie and looks just like a Latino Jason. I'm also impressed with their parenting style because they're raising him just like I raised Maya: bilingually, taking him everywhere with them, feeding him a wide variety of healthy foods, giving him lots of freedom to explore, but explaining to him what's not okay to do. I'm jealous that he sleeps through the night.

The next day the four of us went to the rooftop of their building and enjoyed the postcard-perfect view of Manhattan and Queens. The owner of the building fixed up the rooftop, with bamboo fencing and lots of potted plants. Jessica hosted Jason's birthday party on the roof this year.

In the early afternoon I took the subway and train out to Plainsfield, NJ to visit our friends Hubert, his son Kenyon, and his Dominican wife Antonia. Maya and I met Antonia and her friend Nena in Santo Domingo in August 2006, on the same trip we met Andre. We invited the two policewomen to accompany us to a time share in Cabarete. There we met Hubert who fell in love with Antonia at first sight. Since he didn't speak much Spanish and she didn't know English yet, I acted as translator to get them together. Antonia's been in the US for over a year now.

While Antonia was at work, Hubert dropped Kenyon at a friend's house while we visited with Andre's half-sister in Irvington, NJ. We've spoken by phone many times, but this is the first time in person. I'm sorry Andre wasn't with me, but he's working and couldn't get the time off, even if we had the money for both of us to travel. Carline is so beautiful and friendly. I can't wait for her and Andre to meet.

On Sunday I traveled out to Brooklyn to visit Andre's Aunt Rosette, his cousin Louloun, and her daughter Yasmene. Andre and I met them together on our honeymoon and we've been close ever since. Louloun and Yasmene nearly came to Santa Cruz last year, but couldn't get the discounted flights they'd hoped for. And after the earthquake, Louloun was planning to meet up with us in Haiti, but the all-black medical team that she'd signed up with had financial problems and the mission fell apart at the last minute. Rosette wants to come visit us in California, but she's afraid of flying, so she says she'll come by train even though it takes three days each direction. The last time Rosette was on a plane was in 1996 to attend Andre's father's funeral in Haiti...twelve years before Andre even learned his father's name.

Rosette got up at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday to start preparing an incredible Haitian feast of shrimp and chicken stew, polenta, pureed black beans, and yellow yams. I took four helpings and she still complained that I didn't eat enough. Another special treat was meeting Rosette's brother Osner, age 75, the eldest of Andre's father's siblings. Together we called Carline and Andre so they could talk to Osner during our visit. He's in really good shape for his age.

Last night I took a red eye from JFK to London. I slept maybe a couple of hours. After a few hour layover I took a quick flight to Hamburg. My friend Petra was there waiting for me at the airport. It's weird not to have a cell phone. Making arrangements with friends is much more complicated like this. After a nice German dinner of dumplings and meat, Petra and her husband Bernhard helped me make train reservations for tomorrow, so my friend Tanja can pick me up and we can drive together to the village of Stemshorn where I lived in the summer of 1974.

Friday, October 8, 2010

a tentative itinerary for my European trip Oct. 22-Nov. 17

I don't know for sure, but this is my general plan as of now for my upcoming trip to Europe:

Oct 22 -- fly to NY and stay with my cousin's son Jason, his wife Jessica, and their new baby Marcelo. They live in Long Island City, Queens, which isn't too far from JFK airport and I will be getting in late.

Oct. 23 -- I will visit with Jason and Jessica and baby Marcelo for a few hours, then travel down to Plainfield, NJ to visit with my friend Hubert and his Dominican wife Antonia. I'm the one who introduced them in Cabarete, Dominican Republic in August 2006, on the same trip that I met Andre in Santo Domingo.

Oct 24, Sunday -- I will take the train to Brooklyn to visit Andre's aunt Rosette, cousin Louloun and her daughter Yasmeen. It's also the birthday of Andre's half-sister Carleen who he's never met. She lives in Irvington, NJ about three hours away from NYC. She's hoping she can meet me in Brooklyn and celebrate her birthday altogether.

That night I fly to London, arriving in the morning. I have a couple of hours layover.

Oct 25 -- I fly from London to Hamburg, Germany. I will arrive in the late afternoon and hopefully will stay with my friend Petra, her husband and son Henri. I met Petra in Santa Cruz in the 1990s. She rented a room at my house. Maya and I visited them in Hamburg in 2004.

Oct. 26 is my German "mother" Mutti's 82nd birthday. I will travel early by train from Hamburg to Stemshorn, the village I lived in during the summer of 1974 as part of a student exchange program. My friend Tanja, a Spanish student of mine when she was living in Santa Cruz around 1999, will meet me in Stemshorn for Mutti's birthday. That's the only day that Tanja has free to visit. She lives about an hour away. She already called Mutti and verified that it's okay to join us on her birthday.

Oct. 27-28 I will stay in Stemshorn with my German "family," visiting old friends and riding a bike around the countryside, maybe to Dummer See again which Maya enjoyed.

Oct. 29 I travel back to Hamburg, which is about an hour or two from Stemshorn. I will stay at Rebekka's house and visit with Rita and Alina, friends from Munich area who are coming up for Rebekka's 50th birthday. I first met Rita in 1989, recommended by Rebekka, before we were moms. Then Maya and I stayed with her and daughter Alina in 2005 on our way to the Sound of Music Tour in Salzburg, Austria.

Oct. 30 is Rebekka's huge 50th birthday party, which is the reason I decided to travel to Europe when it will be cold, gray and miserable. I'm not optimistic about the weather. Rebekka has invited 300 people. It should be crazy, with jugglers and musicians and all kinds of entertainment and activities.

Oct. 31 I will probably stay with Rebekka one more day. We might be cleaning up or she'll be hung over, or sleeping. I'm not sure, but I'm going a long way to see her so I will help her anyway I can to come down from such a high the day before. I will try not to think about Halloween and how much fun everyone is having in Santa Cruz on this day.

Nov. 1 and 2 (Days of the Dead in Mexico and many parts of California) I will be in Berlin, staying at Susanne's house, a friend I met in Santa Cruz in the early 1980s. Susanne and Beate came to Santa Cruz as part of their nursing studies and I befriended them at a feminism class at UCSC. Now they both are flight attendants for Lufthansa. Beate will meet us in Berlin to spend these days together, the three of us. Last time I was in Berlin it was 1989, just one month before the wall came down. I've seen photos of what's left of. It's been painted by artists as a monument to that crazy period of history when the city and the country were divided.

Nov. 3-Nov 17 I will travel to four new countries: Poland, Ukraine, Moldova (which I never heard of) and fly back from Romania. Some tips from my friend Steve who has made four trips to eastern Europe: Krakow, Poland and nearby Auschwitz nazi concentration camp...L'viv, Ukraine with its beautiful architecture and interesting cemetery. He spent 5 days there and could have stayed longer. He also recommends Odessa and Kiev, Ukraine but they're not directly on the route, so I may have to skip them this time. But I will see Brasov and Sighi Soara, where Dracula lived. Beautiful architecture again.

Steve also recommended a great restaurant that sounds like Pusatahata (but looks completely different when written with the Cyrillic alphabet) which is like a buffet where you pick out your food. It's all good and cheap and they have them in several cities in eastern Europe. Not knowing the language, it's hard to order off a menu and can take a few hours to order, get your food, eat and pay, says Steve. He likes the Tatrus Mountains in Slovakia, but it will be too cold in November. Steve also suggests I print up a copy of the Cyrillic alphabet (used for Russian and Ukrainian) so I can read the signs, menus, train schedules, etc. It's like reading code. The words may be the same as in English, but the alphabet is very different. He learned it and can read Russian slowly.

I asked Steve about Dracula's castle. He answered: "There's one called Bran, a day-trip from Brasov, although he might not have really lived there. However, it is an authentic old castle and worth seeing none the less." It's on the list.

November 17 I fly home from Romania. With the time differences in my favor, I will arrive on November 17 in San Francisco, three flights and many many hours later, exhausted, but happy, I hope.

So that's the plan as of today. I'm sure it will change.