For three years now, after living abroad in Northern Ireland and studying their slow, sputtering peace process, I have been convinced that a fresh turnover in leadership on both sides is what is needed for success. As it stands today, the people who were blowing up the place 20 years ago are the same ones trying to hack out the finer details of the devolution deal, reached in 2007, that shifts power from Britain into the hands of Stormont, the Northern Ireland Parliament. Consequently, every couple of weeks or so, old grudges resurface and tempers flare in the form of immature commentary.
One can only assume that with the recession still at large, weâÄôre going to experience a notable spike in the popular holiday pastime of âÄúregifting.âÄù In fact, most major newspapers and fashion magazines are already making this prediction âÄî if not encouraging it âÄî with chintzy idiotâÄôs guides to regifting that highlight its hallowed codes of etiquette.
I am obsessed with deleting my text messages so much that it is beginning to interfere with my social life. My friends will send me a message on where to meet for drinks, and I will immediately delete it. Then, five minutes later, when I am running around the city trying to remember the name of that stupid bar, I have no way of referencing it. But I have to play it safe. âÄúDidnâÄôt you get my text?âÄù my friend asks when I finally call for directions. âÄúYes, but I deleted it,âÄù I explain.
I am talking to University of Minnesota agronomy and plant genetics professor Paul Porter in much the same manner that I imagine he spoke to his AGRO 5999 class during his epic bike tour across Africa last year. Our phone connection (via Skype) is patchy at best, but I remain transfixed. We might be on separate continents, but our wavelengths are practically the same. Like me, he is a classroom escape artist, but in teacher form.
Watching the newspaper industry attempt to reinvent itself before its final hour is kind of like watching my grandmother dress herself 40 years younger in time for her cardiology appointment. âÄúDonâÄôt you think these pantyhose make my legs look slimmer?âÄù she requests. I am reminded of the 100 Star Tribune jobs that were slashed this month in the wake of their exit from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Yes, the Strib is now âÄúslimmer,âÄù but there is no promise in how long their pantyhose are going to hold, especially with the kind of financial deficiencies lurking underneath.
âÄúEuskal Presoak, Euskal Herrira!âÄù These words scream out at me from T-shirts, balconies, spray-painted walls and banderas all across the Basque Country of Spain. It is the black-lettered plea of the Basque people. They are asking the Spanish government to put an end their traditional dispersion policy and to return Basque political prisoners to their home country. As it is, approximately 730 prisoners are scattered in jails across France and Spain âÄî a strategy that Spain says keeps them from organizing and perpetuating violence. Yet it comes at a great cost to Basque families.
If the upcoming holiday season is causing you to lament your âÄúloverlessness,âÄù donâÄôt sweat. You still have plenty of time to snag someone to drag to all those awkward family festivities. Even more promising, it is highly likely that you and your future love interest will speak the same language. Yes, thatâÄôs right, the same language, as in English. Smitten souls donâÄôt actually realize that fluency is their finest weapon until itâÄôs gone.
I am surrounded by the sea of Euskal Herria, but I am not at one of the many popular Basque Country beaches. I am in the middle of Plaza Moyua, downtown Bilbao, only a few feet away from the heavily guarded Spanish Embassy, and once again, I am feeling nostalgic. The energized but incoherent voices that splash out from the center of the crowd remind me of the common Saturday afternoon caravan of drunken students on their way to a football game, garbed out in Gopher pride.
While wandering around the Basque city of Bilbao, I must check my eyes in a mirror or storefront window at least five times a day. I ask myself, quite seriously: Am I high? Did Vascili, my lovable, but drug-addled Greek roommate, put âÄòshrooms in the Spanish omelet again? And then I will turn to the women next to me: âÄúDid you see that? Was that really a giant puppy made of flowers sitting along the waterfront âÄî like some kind of technicolor Godzilla: are we under attack?!âÄù
I am three weeks into my life in the Basque Country of Spain. Though moving to another country all by oneself may seem like the most independent endeavor one could undertake, it is âÄî in fact âÄî exactly the opposite. I am dependent on everyone more than I ever have been before. My Spanish is advanced, but this does not help you open a bank account; a task requiring the use of particular and complex terminology.