29 August 2011

Summer summary

It’s been a strange summer. Weather-wise, it’s been crappy. Any Norwegian will tell you so. Then again, any Norwegian would tell you that any summer, pretty much, and for the most part we are right. We do have a lot of weather in this country, and most of it isn’t of the nice kind. But even if we’d had a warm, sunny summer (not that we did, mind you), we wouldn’t call it a nice summer. We forget easily, in this country. And one rainy day easily translates to “three weeks straight”. If the weather is one of your main conversation topics (and in Norway, it definitely is), it is, after all, much more interesting to speak of bad weather than sunshine.

But I’m not here to talk about the weather.

The summer has been especially strange for me, I guess. I went from a busy life in Tokyo to the slow-as-ever sleepy small town life in Norway. I went from an exciting, interesting and challenging job where I felt I made a difference, to unemployment and application writing. From feeling useful to completely useless. From being a social butterfly to spending most my time on Facebook (which is not the same thing, no matter how you try to justify it for yourself). I went from having too many plans to handle, to having none at all. As of now, I have vacation for the rest of my life – in theory, at least.

But I’m not here to talk about my unemployment.

Norway in general had a strange summer. On July 22nd the unthinkable happened. Terrorism. In Norway. 77 people brutally slaughtered down, by one man and his hate. A hate that took us all by surprise, and that we’ve been struggling to understand ever since. Maybe we’re not supposed to understand; maybe we don’t even want to. The debate that surfaced after this ranged from “we need to analyze his manifest to make sure others like him cannot go unnoticed” to “we need to give his ideas less attention to avoid copycats”. Principles of freedom of speech have been discussed. We all agree we need to protect this right, now more than ever, but there are different opinions and interpretations what this right should entail. How much can we allow? How far should anonymous online debates be allowed to go before the danger signals flare?

What made the strongest impression on me in the middle of this, however, wasn’t the stories of the horrors at Utøya. Not the controversy about whether someone like this culprit (whose name I don’t like mentioning, despite Harry Potteresque wisdom of not letting him become another “You-Know-Who”) could have been stopped, and what measures would be an appropriate punishment (nothing, clearly. Nothing is appropriate. So we have to stick to the options already provided in our laws).

No, none of that. What made the strongest impression was how people came together after this. How it suddenly didn’t matter where you were from, what you did, how much money you made. We were all one. We stood by one another and acted a little nicer, spread a little love. The rose sea, spreading across the country. In Oslo there are still roses everywhere, a sad and yet encouraging reminder of what happened. Terrorism and hate was met with democracy and love.

But I’m definitely not here to talk about terrorism.

In current events it’s been a summer mercifully free of cucumbers. (An old expression in Norway – “cucumber news” was when the newspapers during the summer did not have anything real to report on, so they wrote about the cucumber prices.) I suppose there were some cucumbers with the e.coli breakout in Europe early this summer. But apart from that we’ve had nice, proper news. Prime ministers have left their jobs (the Japanese, for instance. Today, in fact, after months of anticipation. In Norway we’re happy because the new guy’s name creates possibilities for puns just as the old one’s did. From “Yes, we Kan” [but he couldn’t] to “Hva nå da, Noda?” [that last one doesn’t make sense in English. Sorry, guys. But knowing Japan, I’m sure there’ll be a new guy with a punnier name within a year]).

In addition the Strauss-Kahn (he couldn’t either) case made nice headlines all summer, Libya and Syria (oh, who am I kidding – the Middle East in general) still ensure that trees are being chopped down to produce paper, and most recently, of course, a little lady called Irene got loads of attention (all jokes aside, hope you’re all safe).

But I’m not here to talk about current events either (and still not the weather).

What am I here to talk about, then?

Frankly, I’m not too sure. I meant to say something meaningful about blogging. Blogging on this blog, specifically. If you think it’s been kind of quiet here lately, you’re absolutely right. If you think that’s caused by irreconcilable differences within the group, you’re absolutely wrong. If you think it’s caused by a slight tendency of burn-out and summer business, you’re closer to the target.

We’ve been blogging approximately five days a week for a little over a year now (we even missed our own bloggiversary, that’s how preoccupied we’ve been!). We’re eight individuals, trying to coordinate across despite living in different countries, time zones, continents. We have different schedules, backgrounds, different ideas about blogging. In a way, I think our diversity is what makes the mix interesting. But it also makes it challenging.

Thus no one complained when a summer vacation was suggested. A vacation that allowed us to take a much-needed break from blogging. In order to not leave the blog hanging over the summer, however (no telling what crazy shenanigans it might have gotten into then), we decided to post once a week. Thus, this summer have seen fewer posts at the BB&B blog, but I think the posts that my dear colleagues put up were more than top quality wise.

Maybe that is why I had such reservations about my own post… What in the world could I write about that would be equally interesting as the previous posts? Trust me, the sleepy small town life doesn’t provide interesting blog fodder…

My solution was to post about our blog schedule. To explain why we took a break, and when we will return to normalcy. But (you thought I was gonna write “I am not here to talk about…” didn’t you?) even if I wanted to be here to talk about that, it is easier said than done.

You see, we haven’t made up our mind! Every now and then, we make some (smallish) changes here on the blog. Like setting up alternative schedules when we tire of our old topics. This is a golden opportunity for doing just that. So, the debate is going in the Burrow. What will we do now?

But I’m not here to reveal any secrets…  

22 August 2011

Just Keep Climbing

So I've been thinking a little about movies... and books... and a writing career... And I've noticed something... Done right, the plot of all of these has the same pattern... But this catches a lot of writers off guard, I think, so I am going to lay it out for you...

So you know how in... say a Thriller... best-selling genre... always dominates the top of the Best Sellers list... there is something you can count on...

The MC starts out with their mission... and they doubt they can do it, and then they begin collecting resources, and think they have it figured out and fight the good fight... they think they are there... the tension eases for thirty seconds... and then the stakes are increased... And then he keeps going, because heck, he's committed... and he faces obstacles and works hard and he thinks he's almost there, and then the stakes go up again... usually this time to put deathly consequences on failure for him or someone he loves... and then he feels he MUST, and he pulls out all stops to figure it out... and gets a brief break but realizes there is no turning back now... and FINALLY, there is a HUGE push!

So Let's Tell This Tale

In second person present, because there are only so many opportunities to use second person, eh?

Very Steep Hill Source
You are living your life. You dabble in writing and have very vague dreams to some day write novels. But it doesn't seem possible. A little poetry, sure, but you are an unassuming sort, and you really just don't think you have what it takes.

But one day an idea takes hold. It sinks its teeth in and refuses to NOT be written. You are embarrassed to say anything to anyone, and hide in a closet and write a first chapter. It's not bad. In fact, you think... maybe it's good... you have a friend who writes and so you timidly approach her and share your idea. She says 'You should write it!' (it crosses your mind she might be cruel, but it is, after all, what you wanted to hear). You write a little more and you show her... she encourages you, and you emotionally COMMIT... You have been called to action.

Your writer friend, as lovely mentor says things to you like 'write every day. If you show up regularly, your muse will too.' or 'you know, if you write just one page a day, in a year you've written a book.' You can't quite believe these things are true... except you want to, so you try to... and what do you know. You make progress.

You make GOOD progress! You're the little engine that could!

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can... And... there it is... the summit... you are almost there... YOU'VE WRITTEN A FREAKING BOOK!

But wait... NOW, lying, misleading mentor the traitor says you need to CELEBRATE (okay, well that part's okay). And commit to LEARNING HOW TO WRITE A BOOK. Say what? You just WROTE a freaking book!

“No,” she says. “You need to learn the technicalities—what a real book needs. Form. Structure. Rules. You need to read books and blogs... you have to suck people in the first page. You need to have a theme. You need to have a coherent HOOK."


Now you are sure your mentor must be really anal and clearly you don't need that much. Well, sure, you need to EDIT... you go through carefully correcting typos. There are some parts that aren't really necessary, but they're so GOOD... you know... just great writing... so they need to be there. You hear adverbs are unpopular and active verbs are best, so you go through and change all your dialog tags to screamed, chastised, sniped, oozed... Surely this is what's meant...

Your mentor suggests maybe it is time to find some peer readers—that feedback is good. But you don't know any writers, so you ask your mom and sister to read. They love it. You are validated.

You begin to search for agents. The ones who blog look good. You query Janet Reid and Kristin Nelson.

Form Refusals.

You meet another writer you really respect who reads a chapter and suggests a couple blogs with some really good advice.

Just 'said'? You're kidding. What about all those strong talking verbs?
Each scene has to move the story ahead? Really?
Can't start with a dream? Back story in tiny doses?


And so you coast half way back down and start the slow climb again... the rewrite...

And you work your tail off... this is hard... not as hard as WRITING the book, but much harder than what your idea of editing had been before your epiphany... but lo and behold... this time you get some nibbles... this time there is some evidence you might have reached...


Whitebird Battlefield, Idaho
GADS, why is this so hard!? But finally you get some specific advice from a real publishing professional... and you make THOSE changes... and you crest another rise.... The next rise you get an agent... and you feel like you've crested the biggest hill... but it's NOT the biggest... not by a long shot... it was just big enough you couldn't see the next one past it...

Now... with agent advice and help you go on to submission... Getting an editor to like your book is HUGE, but it is only the first of a double hurdle... Then there is the board... then the editor changes, and THEN... the release and marketing...

The point is, each rise has another after it, and each builds the stakes and... this is the hard piece... each rise is followed by another...

Best seller
Another book
Name bigger than the title

There is always something else to strive for.

I think we have a careful trick to both appreciate each rise we crest and not to let that be enough. We need to celebrate, then take the next step. Again and again.

15 August 2011

Recession and Debt

The Bamboo-zle

Act I: Savings

Priscilla the Panda lived on the edge of a very long, low hill. This kept her and the other pandas safe from nocturnal predators, but in order to get food, Priscilla had to make a long and difficult climb down the hill, every single day, just so she could reach the bamboo forest on the opposite side of the ravine.

A full day of climbing and foraging yielded twenty pounds of bamboo, just enough to keep Priscilla alive. But Priscilla was ambitious. She realized that if she set out at the break of dawn, risked a few predators, and worked very hard, she could gather twenty-five pounds of bamboo a day. And so she did. For four months, Priscilla worked her little black and white butt off, setting aside the accumulated surplus.

"I now have 600 pounds of bamboo!" thought Priscilla. "That is very nice, because I could relax and take a month-long vacation. But working at this rate, I shall die of exhaustion before I can retire. If only the daily climb were not so difficult!"

So she sat and thought very hard: "Babmoo is good to eat, but it is also sturdy. I think I will build a ladder." And so she did. Priscilla was not really very good at building things, so it took her three weeks to build a ladder. But it was a good ladder, and used only 180 pounds of Priscilla's surplus bamboo. So she was rather surprised to find that all of her savings were gone when she had finished.

"But silly me! I have eaten the other 420 pounds, of course. I have been on the hill building my ladder, instead of gathering food. Well, let's see what it got me."

Priscilla had guessed correctly. The ladder saved so much time that she could now gather twenty-eight pounds of bamboo each day, with no more effort than was previously required to gather twenty. And so each day she ate 20 pounds of bamboo; she set aside 5 pounds to live on when she was old and could not forage; and she put aside 3 pounds each day for replacing parts of the ladder (and to give her something to eat on days when she did repair work).

Act II: Credit

After another three months, Priscilla's neighbor Freddie came over to look at her ladder. "That looks very useful. Could I climb down your ladder, too?"

"I don't think that would be a good idea," said Priscilla. "The ladder would wear out twice as fast, and we would both end out in the same part of the bamboo forest. There would not be enough food! I think you should build your own ladder."

"Oh!" said Freddie. "But I have eaten all of my bamboo. Will you give me yours?"

Priscilla did not like this idea, because she had worked hard, and done some very hard thinking, in order get 450 pounds saved up. But she did not want to be mean. Fortunately, her other neighbor, Oswald, happend to come upon the conversation at that point.

"Shame on you, Freddie!" scolded Oswald. He was older, and very wise. "That is Priscilla's bamboo, and not yours to take. Besides, you have big, clumsy paws. I think it would take you a month to make a ladder, and Priscilla does not have enough saved for that."

"I guess so," said Freddie. Nonetheless, he eyed Priscilla's stash with more than a hint of greed.

"I have another idea," said Oswald. "I am very good with my paws. I could build a ladder in two weeks, using only 460 pounds of bamboo (counting what I eat). If Priscilla will loan me that much, I will pay her back 480 pounds over the next three months out of my surplus."

"You would give me back more than I loaned you?" said Priscilla, quite pleased at the idea. "That is very nice!"

"It is nice for me!" said Oswald. "I will have that much extra because of the ladder, and I will never have to work extra-hard like you did."

They were both very happy. But Freddie was not. "What about me?" he cried. "Can't you save some more, and loan me 740 pounds, if I pay you back a bit more?"

"Um..." said Priscilla, "I think Oswald should go first because he's faster."

"Yes," said Oswald. "And when I am done, I will make another ladder for Freddie, if he pays me 550 pounds of bamboo out of his surplus."

"Okay!" said Freddie. "It would have cost me a lot more to make my own. That is very nice!"

"It is nice for me!" said Oswald. "It will only cost me 480 pounds to make. But you will have to wait until Priscilla has saved up more bamboo. I cannot make a ladder out of wishes."

Act III: Fiat

After a year or so, eight of the twelve pandas on the hill were working with ladders.

The eight pandas with ladders gathered 28 pounds per day each, less what they had to spend on maintenance (3 pounds/day/ladder) for a net total of 200 pounds per day.

Two more pandas were still working the old-fashioned way, gathering 20 pounds per day, and another panda was working extra-hard like Priscilla did, gathering 25 per day without a ladder, so she could be first to buy the next ladder.

Oswald spent most of his time making ladders (he was very good at it). So the eleven foraging pandas gathered an aggregate of 265 pounds of bamboo, and the twelve total pandas had to eat 240 pounds. Because of all the ladder-making, they'd only saved up-- at that point-- 400 pounds. But that was just enough for Oswald to start on the next ladder, thanks to the fact that the surplus-producing pandas had pooled their extra bamboo into a kind of "bank" so they could all earn interest like Priscilla.

But on that day, a stranger arrived in the forest. He looked like a skinny, mostly hairless panda, and called himself a "Maynard". He talked really, really smart, and was very good at math, and promised the pandas that they could be a whole lot better off if they'd stimulate their economy with central banking.

"You have the right idea," said Maynard. "You're investing in ladders. But you should invest a lot more!"

"Okay," said the pandas eagerly. "How do we do that?"

"Your investment funds are artificially restricted by the supply of bamboo," said Maynard loftily. "So the first thing you need to do is agree to stop using bamboo for making loans. You have to put all of that surplus bamboo into a central bank, and then let me hand out paper counters that we'll call 'shoots'. That will be your money."

The pandas were very confused, but Maynard seemed so very nice and smart. So they promised to use Shoots for money. Priscilla had 100 pounds of bamboo saved, which she was about to loan to Oswald. But she dutifully deposited this in exchange for 100 slips of paper Shoots. It all seemed very much the same to her. How would Maynard make them all rich?

"Your interest rates are ridiculously high," explained Maynard. "I calculate over 4% per quarter-- no wonder you have so little investment! Henceforth, then, I will issue loans of Shoots for a 6% annual interest rate. If you borrow 200 Shoots, your monthly interest will be only one Shoot."

Priscilla, who had been earning good interest making ladder loans, wasn't sure exactly what that meant. She thought about it all night long, and then went to see Mayanard in the morning. "Mr. Maynard?" she asked, "what do I do with these Shoots now? Does my bamboo earn interest?"

"Oh no, my dear," said Maynard effusively. "We don't want capital funds sitting idle! Those Shoots are your money now-- you need to invest those."

"And we have just the thing!" said Willy and Billy, arriving on the scene. They were two of the last pandas without ladders. "Maynard has taught us to think big. Take those ladders, for instance-- they're nice, but they'll never be worth more than an extra five pounds per day."

"But we've figured out that we can build a network of bridges," said Billy excitedly. "Just one bridge can allow four pandas to cross the ravine, because it's so quick you can split up when you get to the other side. With the added speed, and the fact that it's easier to carry stuff back, an average panda can forage thirty pounds of bamboo each day!"

"With minimal maintenance," added Willy. "We're going to compress the bamboo as we build, to give it more strength. Then when everything's in place, we'll coat it in oil to prevent decay."

"Wow," said Priscilla. "How long will that take?"

"Not too long," said Billy quickly. "Maybe three months."

"And, er... 6000 pounds of bamboo," added Willy. "So 10600 pounds altogether, with what we'll have to eat while working. But in the long run, it's worth it."

In the long run...

Their new central bank could loan them all the Shoots they needed, but Maynard seemed to think it important that Billy and Willy had a least a token 'private investment'. So, with his encouragement, Priscilla gave her Shoots to the bridge-builders in exchange for a share of the eventual profits.

Work began immediately, and so did the problems.

Oswald wanted to build another ladder, but all he had was paper Shoots and no bamboo. Maynard told him to buy the bamboo 'on the market.' After all, there were still eight pandas each producing 5 pounds surplus every day. But Billy and Willy had to buy every last pound to feed themselves and construct their bridge, and so-- armed with Shoots issued by Maynard-- they bid up the price of bamboo. By the end of the first day, one pound of bamboo cost two Shoots.

Oswald refused to take out a loan, and went back to foraging the hard way.

Meanwhile, Maynard promised to gradually "sell down" the central bank's bamboo reserves to ease inflation.

After one week, the central bank had "sold down" 100 pounds of bamboo, which represented the entirety of bridge construction. The aggregate surplus from ladder-using pandas was just enough to feed Billy and Willy.

"Invest!" encouraged Maynard. During the second week, the ladder-using pandas stopped setting aside bamboo for maintenance. After all, the ladders would be obsolete before long. This freed another 168 pounds of bamboo for construction, which added 250 pounds during that second week (with another "sell down").

"Opportunity!" screamed Maynard. During the third week, all of the foraging pandas (ladder or not) kicked into high gear, adding another 50 pounds total each day through sheer effort, just as Priscilla had long ago done to build her initial ladder. It was difficult, but it seemed like a smart move. On the one hand, their ladders would not last long, so the bridge had to be a priority. Furthermore, the money was just too good to pass up-- Billy and Willy had raised the price of bamboo to 3 Shoots per pound. A record 518 pounds of bridge were added.

In the fourth week of construction, Priscilla's ladder-- the oldest of the bunch-- broke from lack of maintenance. Oswald-- the oldest of the pandas-- fell back to sustenance level, having exhausted his physical reserves. With a small sell down, 450 pounds of bridge were added.

As the second month began, the price of bamboo soared to 4 Shoots per pound. Two of the pandas who were still producing surplus stopped selling and began hoarding, invoking threats of legal action from Maynard. Then another ladder broke, dropping the weekly surplus to 245 pounds.

By the end of the second month, a mere three pandas were selling bamboo to supply the bridge, and only one of these had a ladder. The central bank's reserves were exhausted and the bridge was less than half complete. Billy and Willy were forced to abandon the project, unable to purchase enough bamboo to feed themselves.

The bridge material, smashed down for construction, was unsuitable for consumption or ladder-making. Nor could the project be resumed at a later date, because the oils had never been applied.

Oswald died a week later; he was already too old to forage every single day, and had hoped to survive by spending half his time reparing ladders. The pandas had lost their best ladder-maker, and the likes of Billy and Willy did not learn the trade because they were busy building a bridge.

"Stupid bears," said Maynard, as he drifted away from the forest. "Serves 'em right for not consuming enough."

What happened, in a nutshell

The pandas interest rates were not "too high". They reflected the market reality, namely, the shortage of surplus bamboo which could be dedicated to future projects. By creating fiat money, Maynard induced misallocation of those scarce resources, which caused crippling damage to the panda economy.

What we're more likely to see in our world is something like this: The Federal Reserve lowers interests rates, which creates a dramatic rise in housing prices. The margins double, and consequently, so does the number of realtors. So Mr. Jack Stone, a clever entrepreneur, starts a business which creates virtual home tours with high-tech software. He operates at a loss for several years, which can be perfectly acceptable even in a stable monetary climate, but the long-term projection says he'll make a profit once his business expands, streamlines, and enjoys better economy of scale.

But of course, that never happens. The housing bubble bursts and Jack Stone's little tech startup goes bankrupt. Think about the nature of what is "invested" in this sort of scenario: Organization, legal fees, startup costs, advertising, marketing, specialized software, video of selected houses, more advertising, and more marketing. These "investments" are pure dead weight. If the company's product is not of value, then it's all gone to waste. It cannot be transferred to a more productive industry, nor can it be realistically "picked up" where it left off several years down the road. A bamboo bridge seems sane by comparison.

And there's your recession. Savings accounts are indirectly plundered; retirement pensions are devalued; maintenance of second-order goods (like the ladder) is neglected; bad investments suck up resources; physical stocks and real savings are depleted; and workers are mis-trained, mis-educated, and sucked into dead-end industries.[1]

Anticipating one final question: If this is all true about the effects of fiat money, wouldn't investors, stockbrokers, and big corporations figure it out and avoid the downfalls?

Some of them certainly would, if they could. But in the real world, we don't have bamboo. You must use federal dollars because it's the law. Holding and spending gold as money is difficult and generally illegal, precisely to make sure the Fed can plunder your savings through inflation. If you try to be frugal and hold onto cash while avoiding debt, then you're the sucker who gets plundered, and the boom will just go on longer thanks to your unpaid contribution. And, above all, the Fed is not a predictable force of nature. If the market doesn't jump like it wants it too, the Fed can lower interest rates even further, and when it shall raise them again, nobody knows.

[1] Time published this list of good jobs in a recession. There are lots of government jobs, naturally (why should they suffer?). But the actual marketable skills include auto repair, general maintenance and repair, and-- above all-- human repair (medical).

Even more telling is this article on the higher education bubble.

08 August 2011

Summer Reading - so oppressive an idea!

Every time I open a magazine or newspaper in the summer it is chock full of so-called 'summer reading' ideas. What is with people? I read all the time. All the time. Even when I'm driving - don't worry, when I'm driving I read by listening to audio books. It isn't exactly the same but it is reading.
I don't read lighter or heavier books in the summer or any other season. I'm sort of like a cow when it comes to reading - I just mow down the books in front of my soft squishy cow nose. Sometimes a farmer comes out and gives me a book to read, sometimes I take my cow library card into the wonderfully full field of books at the library, sometimes I buy old hay, I mean books. OK - enough with this analogy - it wasn't that good to begin with.
The other day I bought a NEW book. One that hasn't even been out that long. It is Ann Patchett's new book World of Wonder. And it is. I mowed through that book at a ferocious pace because it was completely thrilling to me. Have you read her novel, Bel Canto? No? Well go get it and read it NOW. Then read this new one. Oh my but she is a swell writer.
I finished it the other morning - Sunday. I read my allotted bit (until my morning coffee was half-drunk) then I meditated and then I got back into bed and finished it! Sometimes when I read a fabulous book, I get a feeling of deep despair - in my writerly heart. But I didn't when I finished World of Wonder. I cried for awhile because it was so good and I was so sad to finish it but then I had a feeling of goodness. Like if I wanted to be an architect and I went and saw a building that Douglas Cardinal designed. Cardinal is a well-known Canadian architect, born of Métis and Blackfoot heritage. When you see his beautiful buildings, you just feel good. And it was like that. It is in the realm of possibility for me to write a book that someone will cry when they put it down after finishing it. 

Ron is reading Rebecca West's great work, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941), a 1,181-page classic of travel literature, giving an account of Balkan history and ethnography, and the significance of Nazism, structured about her trip to Yugoslavia in 1937. I adored this book - it took me over two years to read it. And I'm a speed reader. Why? It is so dense and rich that you simply can't mow through it. Or I couldn't. Ron keeps reading me bits of it, which is the number one reason to have a partner, in my opinion. 
My point is that no one would consider this book 'light summer reading'. Nor would World of Wonder be considered 'light' by anyone I'm friends with. But they are good any time of the year.

After seeing the latest Harry Potter I have a slight desire to read all of them again. But it might pass. There is so much to read...so little time.

What do you read in the summer?

06 August 2011

Who Am I? - Mamita

I remember being nine years old and staying the weekend with Mamita (a term of endearment in Spanish meaning "little mommy"), my grandmother on my father's side, along with my little sister, Tamika.  That Friday, my father took us on the crowded "D" train to 125th Street and then jumped on the "C" train to 96th Street.  Mamita was waiting on the other side of the turnstile so my dad didn't have to pay for a return fare.  Mamita is an interesting looking woman.  She sometimes wears multi-colored rollers in her hair with a floral scarf.  Her outfits are just as vibrant often in the hot pinks and bright yellows.

Mamita greeted us with a big smile and a kiss, smearing her bright red lipstick on our cheeks.  She bear hugged us with a force so great that we would see stars.  As we walked along Central Park West towards her building, the sounds of the city engulfed me.  I loved Manhattan which I found to be synonymous with Mamita.  She would take us on these long walks to visit family members, collect money from people that borrowed from her and always to the sand park in Central Park.

Her apartment was small but airy.  It was a two bedroom with a tiny kitchen and large living room.  When you walk in, there is a quaint, little dining area with a heavily worn table with three chairs and a vase filled with fake flowers.  Off the dining area is the living room with a gallery of photos on the walls and side tables.  There is a picture of me, age three, smiling and sitting on her lap.  There is also a picture of my Uncle Robert who died in the Vietnam War.  He is dressed in his army uniform, looking young, fresh and serious.  I never knew him as he passed away shortly after I was born.  Other photos are of my great grandmother, grand aunts and cousins.

The second bedroom is simply adorned with a full size bed and a dresser topped with a statue of the Virgin Mary, a candle and a weird looking flower inside of a bowl with pennies in it.  If anyone is familiar with Catholicism and Latinos, these are typical fixtures found in our homes.  They can be bought at a Botanica, which is something like a cross between an apothecary and witchdoctor (Santeria).  It kind of scared me as a kid but eventually I got used to these items and no longer got the heeby jeebies.

Back to my weekend with Mamita, I digress.  She took my sister and I to a galleria, live poultry market.  I never really knew where chicken came from until she bought one.  Mamita also took us a really cool restaurant called "Under the Stairs."  We ate outside cafe-style on the sidewalk.  I remember being scared that a pigeon would swoop down and eat my steak.  I had a plan to ram my fork in one should this occur. It is a shame that this restaurant is no longer in existence.  I had really fond memories of it.

To end the weekend, Mamita would take us to church on Sundays.  The gothic style cathedral was beautiful and although I should have been focusing on God, I found myself preoccupied with the architecture, the stain glassed windows and ornate alter.  I remember getting several nudges, pokes and slaps to the head for my inattentiveness.  I really miss these moments with her.

To me Mamita represents the fast pace of the people, the blaring taxi cabs, and the overwhelming vibrant energy of the city.   And even though I haven't seen you in quite some time, understand that I have always and will always love you Mamita!

All images taken from Wikimedia Commons.