Wabi Sabi - a way of looking at the world with a kind of quiet insight, to find beauty, even in imperfection.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Paradigm Shift at DFW

"The best thing one can do when it rains is to let it rain."
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It was my "Quote of the Day," emailed to me the morning of May 23, 2011. How prophetic.

True, it had been a day full of frustrations at Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport. After returning from Copenhagen where we disembarked from a spectacular Scandinavian cruise, we were ready to return home. I won't bore you with details of our misadventures at DFW, but will simply say after a day full of waiting for hours on an airplane, fighting crowds, delays, cancellations, gate changes, irritable agents and customers, we ended up spending another night in Dallas.

But amidst all the frustration, three things changed my persepective, little by little at first, then, WHAM! The way I viewed those "challenges" changed.

First, I'd heard about the tornado and its devastation in Joplin. As our flights were delayed, then cancelled, it was pretty easy to tell myself that my problems were minor compared to those of the victims of the tornado. However, I'll admit  that as the day progressed and tempers all around me flared, it became harder and harder to remind myself of the relative smallness of my "problems."
Toward the end of the day, as we waited to see if we might possibly be lucky enough to have our names called to board the third flight for which we'd been placed on standby (we were at #87 and #88 on that  standby list,) a young woman who reminded me of my daughter sat next to us.

She smiled. "Are you guys waiting to get on this flight?" she asked.

Stephen and I both chimed in, keen to tell her our woes of the day.

She continued to smile as she exhaled. "Wow. I just had to come over here and sit for awhile - to get away from all that negative energy over there."

That next little paradigm shift came as a whisper. "Ooh," I thought. "I wonder if we're emitting the very negative energy she's trying to escape?"

With the most sincere look in her eyes, she said, "You guys sure are handling it well for what you've been through."

It's hard to describe how her words - her demeanor - affected me. I knew inside that we'd done our share of complaining, but she took the time to find something positive, and it immediately made me want to be positive, too. But, it was as I thought more about her words over the next few hours, even as I went to sleep, that I realized the kind of power her kind of attitude had.

The next morning as we prepared to head to the airport for another day of attempting to get home, I asked Stephen, "I wonder how it would affect the customer service agents if we empathized with the kind of day they must be having, even thanked them for their help?"

Sure, I'll admit they could have done much to provide better customer service through the
delays and cancellations, but I put myself in their place, and imagined a customer saying a kind word.


That morning while we waited for the aiport shuttle from the hotel,  I watched news stories about people who'd lost loved ones in the storms in Joplin, saw video of the complete destruction, and the pettiness of the previous day's inconveniences was reinforced to me again - so minor inconveniences ompared to lives that have been changed forever in Joplin.

Though I believe dealt with the frustrations better than many, I, too, was affected by all the negativity around me by the end of the day.

The girl at the airport will probably never know how her kind, positive words changed my perpective and my own demeanor. I realized how a smile could be a positive influence on someone else.

Maybe sometimes all we can do is let it rain, but it sure is nice to see a little sunshine in the storm.

Friday, May 13, 2011

An Indian Meal in Copenhagen

Well, okay, the first thing I ate in Copenhagen, Denmark was a Danish -- a yummy, raspberry-filled, flaky pastry accompanied by a piping hot Cappuccino served by a barista with deep blue eyes and an accent as rich as the pastry.
But the next meal to tickle our culinary senses was Indian. Yes, after walking around with watering mouths, looking to discover a local favorite, we came upon Gateway to Bombay, a quaint-looking candlelit little restaurant. Since our hometown does not have an Indian restaurant, it was far too tempting to resist.

We walked in to a warm, humid room, thick with the aroma of curry and cardamom. I passed tables with dishes of family-style portions of a variety of entrees on our way to a table for two, crammed in between two other tiny tables. At least if our willpower didn't limit what we would eat, the size of the table would.

After perusing the extensive menu, we selected curry chicken (light on the "heat"), seekh (lamb) kabab, channa masala (chick peas and potatoes in curry), nan (flat bread) and rice. I chose a morsel of curried chicken first - simply heaven on a fork; perfectly seasoned with spices for my wimpy tongue. Next, the channa masala. I savored each little pea, trying to detect the seasonings used so that I might prepare it for Thanksgiving this year.

Ratings - 1-10, with 10 being BEST!

Atmosphere - 8
With soft lighting accenting original artwork and tables lit by candlelight, the atmosphere was warm and calming. My only complaint was that it was rather cramped.

Food - 10
Definitely the best Indian food I've had - even in India. Perfectly seasoned, as long as you let the waiter know how you like it.

Service - 7
The wait staff was extremely professional, but not as friendly as that of other establishments we've visited in Copenhagen. They spoke English well, however, I got the feeling it really was a "local" hangout, and they weren't accustomed to tourists.

1) I always think it's good when you see that the locals frequent the establishment, and especially think it's a good sign when Indians frequent an Indian restaurant, Japanese frequent a Japanese restaurant, Chinese a Chinese restaurant, etc., etc.

2) The repeated realization that we really do live in a "melting pot" small world always makes me smile. At Gateway to Bombay, the Indian wait staff spoke Danish and English, and a Chinese woman who sat next to us spoke Danish. On our walk this evening, we heard a Peruvian duet with guitar and flute playng Peruvian music and another duet with guitar and accordian playing "Besame Mucho" - certainly not Danish. :)

Tomorrow, we'll be taking a city tour of Copenhagen. Who knows what we'll find to eat - maybe Italian? Chinese? Perhaps another Danish.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Guatemala Ponderings

I never know what I will come away with after traveling to a new country, but always, I gain new insights and lessons.

As I waited for a flight in Houston during the Great Blizzard of 2011, I pondered the lessons of Guatemala.

We visited the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal and learned they existed from approximately 600 B.C. to 900 A.D. - 1500 years! Archeologists have mapped over 3000 structures over a 25 square mile jungle area, however most have yet to be excavated after being "taken back" over the centuries by nature. What is amazing is how these structures have withstood the ravages of time. It's hard to imagine any of our modern-day structures lasting even beyond a century or two. Compare the 1500-year Mayan civilization to the age of our own country - 235 years. Though we see ourselves as a superpower, even invincible, it is likely only temporary.

Sometimes, I think in our relatively wealthy and technologically-advanced  society, we have become spoiled, even soft. Seeing the hard work that is a part of day-to-day life for the people of Guatemala confirms my thinking.
I watched the toil of women and children, first with a bit of pity, then with awe. Children as young as five or six help their families with farming and selling goods. Throughout the cities of Antigua and Chichicastenango, they followed us, trying to sell their goods. I was amazed not only at their persistence, but also at their math skills. In negotiating, they were often quicker than I at calculating quantity discounts and dollar to quetzal conversions. Young children could be seen everywhere carrying their younger siblings on their backs, as their mothers carried stacks of wood on their backs, even on their heads.(Many of my thoughts on Guatemala were similar to those I had of India, posted in my entry,
Poverty and Nimiety.)


The landscape of terraced crops was beautiful. But even more incredible was the fact that most of the field work we saw taking place was done by hand. Hand tilling, hand picking. Entire families were working in these fields.

And if only we had vegetable markets like these!
Travel opens my eyes to other cultures. Though I always learn something about the culture of the country I am visiting, and I also get to know other travelers in our group who are often from different backgrounds. On this trip, we met new friends with Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese heritages. We also met a young man from Switzerland, and a couple from Israel. It's interesting to learn about other countries through their eyes, and to hear their perspectives on a variety of topics. It also gives us ideas of new places to visit.
Guatemala is actually a land of many cultures. About half of the population is a mix of Spanish-Amerindian heritage, or mestizo. The remaining population belongs to 23 indigenous Mayan groups, each having its own language. A traveler can see the differences in culture immediately, in the many styles of dress in various parts of the country. My favorite style was in Chichicastenango - so colorful.

Guatemala is a country with a culture as varied as the brilliant colors woven into its fabrics.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Iguazu Falls

Though we took hundreds of pictures, practically ravenous to capture the beauty of Iguazu Falls, they do not do justice. Of all the places I've visited in the world, I have to say the falls are in the top five of those that took my breath away. (The others? Machu Picchu, Great Wall, Venice, Santorini)

Iguazu Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located on the border of Brazil and Argentina. The Argentina side contains 2/3 of the 275 waterfalls and is considered to be the "intimate" side, allowing visitors a close look, even the ability to walk over the crest of some of the falls.

The most spectacular is The Devil's Throat, a U-shaped waterfall which is 490 ft. x 2300 ft. It was the first waterfall we visited, and I still remember the thrill and anticipation of seeing it as we approached on a long, wooden walkway and heard the water thundering in the distance.

Brazil is considered the "panoramic" side. Where the awe of the Argentina side came from the rumbling feeling and sound of so much water, the Brazilian side was spectacular because of the views.

Before we visited the Brazilian side, our guide told us of a legend surrounding Iguazu Falls. The serpent god, M'Boi fell in love with the Guarani Indian girl, Naipi. However, Naipi loved a great warrior, Taroba, and they were to be married. Together, they tried to escape from M'Boi in a canoe. This so infuriated M'Boi, he turned Naipi into a rock in the river on the Argentina side, and turned Taroba into a palm tree on the Brazilian side. He created the waterfalls to keep the two apart, cruelly assuring the lovers could see each other, but never touch. However, he couldn't keep Naipi and Taroba from expressing their love, and sometimes that love appears as a rainbow.

We were lucky the day we visited the Brazilian side. The sun shone brightly, and the waterfalls were filled with countless expressions of Naipi's and Taroba's love. Rainbows never looked so beautiful. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sacred Dissonance

Sao Bento Church and Monastery
The churches in Rio de Janeiro (as in other cities I've visited) are breathtakingly beautiful. But awe-inspiring as they are, they caused a dissonance as I sat and admired the gold trim, imported marble and hardwoods, sculptured statues, stained glass, and oil paintings.

The style and art of a church often depends on the level of prosperity in society at the time the church was being designed and built, as well as the relationship of the church to royalty at the time. Most of the churches we visited in Rio were built in the 17th and 18th centuries, a period of Portuguese royal rule.

Church of N.S. da Candelaria

But as I admired the splendor all around me, even felt calm and peaceful within the walls of the sanctuary, I also couldn't help but wonder: if a major role of the church is charity, how can such opulence be accepted?

All I know is, I didn't feel the presence of God any more so in the ornate churches than I do outside, surrounded by nature.

Trees outside Sao Bento Monastery

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"On the Road" Haikus

Mountain majesty
Reaching for the sun and stars,
Clouds, blue sky. Heaven.

White windmill flowers
Cartwheel in the breeze, calling
Catch me if you can!

The green fields giggle
As the wind blows soft ripples
Tickling through the grass.

Up, down, up, down, up
Giant grasshopper slaves cry
oh, my aching back.

Sage brush, green and gray
Stubble on the prairie face
Cologne of the West

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Five Things I Learned About The Czech Republic

1) I probably should have known this, but I’ll admit, at the point in history when “Czechoslovakia” became the Czech Republic, I was not yet a “news junkie.” I didn’t pay attention to the news of the world, probably because my life was too full of taking care of my two young children, going to school and working. Therefore, before we planned this trip to Prague, I didn’t realize Czechoslovakia no longer existed, and that it is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

2) I’d always heard the term “Bohemian,” and perhaps even strived to be such a person — artistic, free-spirited, unconventional. Before we traveled to the Czech Republic, I didn’t know that Bohemia is a REAL place, the largest region in the Czech Republic. It consists of a central basin surrounded by mountain ranges. We visited Prague, which is in Central Bohemia, and Cesky Krumlov, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, in South Bohemia.

3) In studying the history of the Czech Republic, I learned the meaning of two words I’d never heard before: defenestration and immolation.

Defenestration – the act of throwing a thing or person out of a window. The first “Prague Defenestration” occurred in 1419, when several Catholic councilors were thrown from the window of Prague’s New Town Hall during the reformation movement, which demanded the restraint of the church in state affairs. A second “Prague Defenestration” occurred in 1618, representatives of the non-Catholic Bohemian states threw two of Emperor Matthias’s emissaries out of a window at Prague Castle. It marked the beginning the The Thirty Years War, which lasted until 1648.

Immolation – the act of sacrifice, as if by fire. In 1969, twenty-year old Jan Palach burned himself to death to protest the invasion of Czechoslovakia by troops of the Warsaw Pact, by order of the Soviet Union. This invasion signaled the end of “Prague Spring,” and resulted in the return of orthodox Communists to power.

4) I learned the beloved Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” was based on Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia, (907-935). He is the Patron Saint of the Czech Republic.

5) If I had been born in Czechoslovakia, I would have been two years old when the “Prague Spring” began. This was a reform movement within the Communist party which had taken over the country after the Red Army liberated Prague from the Nazis during World War II. I would have been ten years old when in August, 1968, the “Prague Spring” ended and the Soviet Union and members of the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia to halt the period of political liberalization and return the country to orthodox Communism.

At the time of the Velvet Revolution, a non-violent uprising that began in November, 1989, I would have been thirty-one years old. By then, I had two children. One of our tour guides, who looked to be about the age of my children, told us that during the period from 1968 – 1989, parents told their children to “blend in. Don’t do anything to stand out.” I found this fascinating. I never thought of Communism in those terms – that it would change the whole way one might parent their children.

The young woman who was our tour guide (center in the picture below,) told us about the year she spent as an au pair in America. Though she was initially disappointed that the “American Dream” was not all she hoped it would be, she came away with a determination to speak her mind, to stand out, to be an individual.

This to me, was the most serendipitous lesson from my trip to the Czech Republic, because in learning about the history of this country, and in talking to people who had lived through Communism coming in and out of their country, I saw what we so often take for granted in America -- the freedom to stand out, and to be an individual --perhaps even Bohemian!