Friday, November 20, 2009

The Yugoslavian Beach Ball

In unpacking my many boxes, some of which had been in storage for eight years, I came upon the Yugoslavian beach ball. I blew into it, and lo and behold, it still held air! I guess the Communists could do some things right, because this beach ball was obtained in the former Yugoslavia in the summer of 1988. Yes, this beach ball is twenty-one years old and still going strong. I kept it, of course, because it is an artifact of the days when Yugoslavia was still a country, still under Communist rule, and still a peaceful nation where many different peoples lived together. And the map on this ball, for it is a globe of the world at the time, shows Europe as it was then, with Yugoslavia clearly one country, as was the USSR. "SFRJ," or Socijalistička Federatvna Republika Jugoslavija, stood for Yugoslavia (see below). Note that all the spelling is in Serbo-Croatian.

How did we happen to be there that summer, our first in Europe? Well, I had had a foreign exchange student at Hall High School in Spring Valley, Illinois, not long before we moved overseas. His name was Mladen Latinovic, and he came from Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. He invited my family to come and stay at his family's vacation house on the beach in Yugoslavia, somewhere between Dubrovnik and Split. That summer, our first in Europe, we traveled almost continuously--Berlin, Austria, Yugoslavia, and Italy--driving everywhere in our 1985 VW Jetta. Shana was turning nine that summer and Alison four. Here we are (below) at the beach with the beach ball which was brand new (I seem to hogging it). I do remember the water being so warm in the Adriatic, especially that far south. Little did we know that we'd never have the chance again to visit Yugoslavia as such. Even Mladen and his family emigrated to different countries because they did not want to fight in the war that tore their country apart. It only exists in our memories and on the beach ball.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em

How I ever got through almost six decades of life without playing poker, I just don't know, but the occasion arose recently for me to learn and to play. I was invited to a Ladies Only Poker Night at a friend's house, and the invitation came early enough for me to gather my resources and learn something about the game so as not to be a total beginner. So I cornered my friend Elaine into learning with me and going to the party. Between the internet and Poker for Dummies, we managed to learn enough to at least not be totally in the dark at Poker Night.

We did not know what to expect, although we had been assured that anyone who did not know how to play would be taught. There was a $20 buy-in and ten people playing. The first and second place winners would split the pot, 70/30%.

First of all, playing with ten people is crazy. Secondly, it is significantly different from the sources we'd used. Third, it takes guts and luck to win. Amazingly, I won the very first hand, which, of course, was only practice and so I didn't get any winnings! Ha! So the game began in earnest. It turned out that one family of a mother and two daughters clearly dominated the game and knew a whole lot more about it than the rest of us put together. After hours, one by one, players began to drop out because they lost all their chips. I actually had pretty good luck most of the time and ended up being one of the last three in the game! Unfortunately, at one o'clock A.M., I went out before the other two and thus didn't win any money, but I had a lot of fun trying!

And really, I at least didn't make a fool of myself . . . except one time, and we won't relate that story. I'm happy for my friend Dianna, whose house was the location of the party, because she staged a fantastic comeback from NO chips and won! I hope we play again sometime soon.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thrashing the Blues in Atlanta

Hockey in Atlanta, y'all! I was thrilled to be invited to join my friends David and Ritchie and their friend Lisa at an Atlanta Thrashers (pro hockey) game last weekend! I had never been to a pro hockey game before. My only experience was an Olympic match between the USA and Slovakia a couple of years ago.

It was a first-time experience for me also to be inside Philips Arena, where the Hawks and the Dream also play pro basketball. It's a beautiful facility, and it sure didn't hurt to find ourselves seated in the Club Seat section with access to fancy restaurants, private bar, and extra-comfortable seats. Woo-hoo! No hot dogs for us, but instead I had fish tacos from the Atlanta Fish Market between periods two and three.

The match itself was also fun, as Atlanta took on the St. Louis Blues. Both teams had so-so records, so they were actually well-matched. The Blues took a two-point lead in the second period, but the Thrashers came back to tie it up in the third, throwing them into a five-minute overtime of four-on-four (plus goalie), which then led into a shootout, where the Thrashers WON!

Whenever the Thrashers scored, a giant Thrasher-head (bird) would come down from the ceiling and shoot out flames. It was quite impressive. The team mascot is "Thrash," who was hanging around just waiting to have his picture taken with us before the game! (Notice David covering up his St. Louis Blues shirt under his jacket.) Thrash is quite tall, and he sure can dance, too!

There just might be more hockey in my future, as the guys go to several games a season. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Native Americans Are Still Indians in Georgia

The reason I know that is because my daughter Shana and I went to the Stone Mountain Indian Festival on Sunday at Stone Mountain Park outside of Atlanta. And, sure enough, there were lots Indians, Native Americans, and wannabes there. It was a gorgeous sunny and warm day, and the festival was set up all around the Southern "plantation," which made an interesting contrast.

It was fun to wander through the vendors and the exhibits, listen to music, and see part of the huge dance competition that was being held that day. We got to see Native American/Indian pottery being fired, medicines and remedies, weapons, foods, hide-tanning, basket-weaving, birds of prey, and more, as well as hear drumming, chanting, and music of many types. I had the opportunity, but did not buy, the "weapons" of my childhood: handmade slingshots, pea shooters, and tomahawks. Kids got to shoot arrows with bows. Blow-gun shooting was demonstrated (see above.) With the bamboo I have growing outside my condo, I could make my own! We went in some of the teepees that were set up. The most unusual items were a "scalping knife"(bottom of page) and a one-of-a-kind arrow holder made from a bobcat that had been in this guy's chickenhouse (below).

When the dancing started, we got great seats to hear and see the Call to Dances, the Veterans Dance, the Flag Dance, and a tribal dance. Maybe it was a throwback to the cowboy and Indian movies of my childhood, but a shiver went through me when I saw all of those Native Americans/Indians with their feathers and all dancing at one time. To me, they were a little scary.

It was a festival well-worth the ten bucks each, though. Anyone interested in this part of our American heritage would enjoy it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Buford Highway Farmers Market

Everyone seems to know about the Dekalb Farmers Market, and I have been there several times myself to recycle cardboard and to shop. But who knows about an even cooler (by far) place on Buford Highway, the Buford Highway Farmers Market? I credit my daughter Shana for finding this one online, and for going with me last Saturday to check it out. There are lots of free food samples on Saturday, too, just like Costco.

Of course, like 99% of everything in Atlanta, it's in a strip mall, and, of course, it looks nondescript from the outside (see above). But inside--that is where everything changes! My friend David who went there on my recommendation a day later called to say, "I have only three words to describe this place: Oh . . . my . . . God!"

It is not really a "farmers market" at all, but rather a huge, gigantic international supermarket with foodstuffs from all over the world along with an unbelievable produce section, three bakeries, and a seafood section to die for. There were fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, spices, and grains I had never seen or heard of before. One whole island was just peppers of various sorts (above)! There were like six different types of bananas (from red to baby) and one fruit that Shana described as a cross between a lemon and an octopus, called Buddha's fingers (below).

Entire rows of this market were devoted to food products from different cultures. At least one-third of the store was Asian of all kinds. We were there for a couple of hours and didn't even venture into that section! Then there was Latino/Hispanic, Eastern European, Caribbean, African, Middle Eastern, European, and probably more I am forgetting. And this place is about the size of a Super Target. We had the best time just wandering around and checking it all out. We did, of course, buy some things. Shana found a Serbian package mix to add to ground beef to make pljeskavice, a favorite dish of ours from Germany days. So, we bought the other ingredients, including Bulgarian feta cheese to stuff it, and went home and made the best supper ever (see below). It was delicious!

If you live in or visit Atlanta, you've got to visit this incredible place. It is located, of course, on Buford Highway, just half a block north of 285, just OTP, as they say here (Outside the Perimeter). I know I'm planning to be there quite often! Prices are better than Dekalb's market, and you can find unusual items, too, like the frozen pig's head below.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Feminism Is Alive and Well

The great thing about living in a big city is that there is never a lack of something to do or see. The very day after Lenny Kravitz, I was watching and listening to Gloria Steinem, the founder of Ms. magazine and an icon in the world of feminism. Along with Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique, Gloria Steinem is considered to be the leader of the modern feminist movement that began in the 1960s. The photo above is how she is probably remembered by most people of my age. Besides founding the first and foremost feminist magazine, she also "went underground" as a Playboy bunny and exposed the exploitation of those women in an article that propelled her into fame and led to her own magazine. From there, Steinem became perhaps the most politically active woman in the world. She co-founded the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Choice USA, the National Women's Political Caucus, and the Women's Action Alliance. She has been immersed in every political campaign back to her support for Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and has spoken definitively on all issues of importance that affect women, especially politically, economically, and socially. Today, Gloria Steinem is seventy-five years old, although you would never know it from seeing or hearing her (see photo below).

So, the opportunity to hear this great feminist in person was much too good to pass up. Several hundred people filled the Grand Ballroom of the Georgia Tech Hotel in downtown Atlanta for the event, which was hosted by Charis Books and Charis Circle as part of the 35th anniversary of this feminist bookstore in Atlanta.

The evening was arranged as a "conversation" entitled "Founding the Future" with Gloria Steinem and Beverly Guy-Sheftall, a professor of Women's Studies at Spelman College. Despite the lousy sound system and a moderator with some very strange questions, it was still thrilling to hear Gloria Steinem. Every time she spoke, it was articulate, interesting, clear, and re-affirming. On topics ranging from demonizing same-sex relationships to helping tribal women build electric fences in Africa, she had encouraging things to say.

The ones that stuck most with me had to do with how all the "rights" movements are inter-related and the future of feminism. The civil rights movement helped women's rights and vice versa. Issues of race and gender and sexuality and handicapped access and immigration are all related. Limiting one group's rights or advancing them impacts all the others. While we have made much progress, "There is much work to do," as Dr. Guy-Sheftall stated several times. When asked how one lives today to advance feminism, Ms. Steinem said simply that you do it one day at a time, one situation at a time. When you have the right to say "yes" or "no" in order to stand up for the rights of women on any issue, in any theater, you must, she said. You cannot turn your head or keep your mouth closed. You must speak.

Young women take much for granted because of what Gloria Steinem and others have done in the past fifty years, but they must continue to examine what a woman is and what it means to be one, free and equal. It was not only a great opportunity to reaffirm my own past in "the movement," but it was heartening to see so many young women (and men) at this event.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Who doesn't love Lenny?

I was a little fearful that I would be the oldest person (and the only old one) at the Lenny Kravitz concert yesterday when I got comment on Facebook from a former student who must be all of twenty years old, "you like lenny kravitz? lol." However, my fears were laid aside when I saw the audience at The Tabernacle in downtown Atlanta. There were many fans there as old and much older than me! It was a really interesting crowd for a rock icon like Lenny: no teenagers, but everything from twenties to eighties, I swear. It was also a very mixed audience, with the majority being white, which was surprising because Lenny is black. However, when I stopped to think about the number of other black rockers I knew, I couldn't think of any (although there must be some). All the black musicians seem to be into other genres, primarily rap, R&B, and jazz. Even Lenny's backup band was mixed racially.

I don't go to concerts anymore, so this was a step outside my comfort zone. The last I attended was Simply Red in Sicily. Before that, I can't even remember, but it had to be pre-Germany days, which began in 1987.

Lenny and band performed for a solid TWO HOURS, with a wide variety of songs, including my personal favorite, "American Woman," as well as "Mama Said," "Fly Away." "Are You Gonna Go My Way," "Let Love Rule," "Believe," "Mister Cab Driver," and much more. He has been performing for twenty years, so this tour, called Let Love Rule, is named after that album of twenty years ago. He personally played several instruments during the concert, including three different guitars, keyboards, tambourine, and drums. He highlighted all of his band at various times, especially the horn section. The guy next to me, who was a musician himself, told me that Lenny Kravitz performed every instrument on every album he's made up until the last one, when he finally let someone else play the lead guitar. His lead guitarist used to play with the Black Crows of Atlanta fame. It was a very lively, loud, light-crazy show and Lenny was all over the place with his presence and his music. It was incredibly entertaining. At one point, he even left the stage and walked all across the floor in front of it making direct contact with his fans. His message throughout the night was one of peace, love, brotherhood, and "we're in this together, so make it work." Refreshing and recharging all around! The audience LOVED him.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Atlanta Pride 09

The Atlanta Pride celebration this past weekend was the 39th such occasion for the city but the first to be held in the fall instead of middle of summer. Piedmont Park was the location, and it was beautiful with the fall colors and cooler temps. The festival also coincided with Halloween, so many people were dressed for that, which is a popular gay diversion anyway.

Hundreds of sponsors and vendors and businesses lined the park streets hawking their wares and services--big names like Delta, Home Depot, State Farm, ComCast, etc., to every gay-affirming church group in Atlanta, law offices, banks, health providers, home improvement, teams and clubs and sports, and "rainbow-ware" of all kinds, from t-shirts to jewelry. It was quite impressive. Then there were lots of food vendors and musical venues, too. Sunday brought the big parade, with Dykes on Bikes, floats, gay support groups, and GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, BiSexual and Trangendered) police officers, firefighters, flight attendants, and much, much more.

I don't know how many people actually attended and/or participated in the events of the weekend, but it had to be in the tens of thousands. I watched most of it from behind the counter of a vendor's tent, the friend of a friend who needed help to sell her stuff. It turned out to be a great location--dry, interesting, and perfect for people-watching. I never so so many different-looking people nor so many happy-looking people in my life. GLBTs come in all ages, sizes, ethnicities, and personalities. And many attendees are supportive friends and family members.

Perhaps most suprising was the number of "seniors" at the events. I did not feel at all "old" in light of the number of folks there as old or older than I. Quite a few women asked if we had an "I love my Grannies" t-shirt for toddlers, as they had both become grandmothers. That should be added to the "I love my mommies/daddies" shirts for next season. In spites of the crowds and the presence of alcohol, everyone was exceedingly courteous, friendly, and respectful (and happy, as I said). The greeting of the event is "Happy Pride," and I heard it a hundred times if I heard it once!