More from over here

I stayed up much too late watching the international coverage of the horror in Virginia. I can’t even begin to understand this.

And I feel sort of weird feeling chipper and talking about something else, like my experience here. The shootings were the topic of every conversation last night. While I was working out in the hotel gym, Poles kept staring at the TV screen to catch the latest and walking away shaking their heads.

Maybe by working harder to connect with each other, we can stop the madness.

From Warsaw, With Love

I made it to Poland! And I am having a blast – this is an AMAZING city and country.

Mostly, I have only good news to tell you. But there is one piece of bad news: the Internet connection at my hotel costs $1/minute. Yep. So I’m going to keep this short: the highlights of the last two days.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic After a long and crowded flight and getting lost in the maze they call Heathrow airport, I was very happy to see this sign.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic A brilliant British idea.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic This is Old Town, the part of the Warsaw that dates backs hundreds of years. The Nazis flattened it, but the Poles rebuilt it to look like it did before WWII. New Polish word: lody I ate hazlenut lody (ice cream) in Old Town then wandered around soaking in the city.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Polish is an imposing language.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic These are trash cans. I think.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic After breakfast this morning, I went to the ruins of a castle at Czersk. Not a bad way to start the day.

More later in the week. Tomorrow I get to start working with the kids at the American School!

So it goes

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

A literary giant, disguised as a bushy-haired man with big eyes, has moved on to other worlds. Kurt Vonnegut is dead. If you haven’t read his books, then do yourself a favor and get one today. The man could write, really, really write. He is one of my favorites. (photo credit Jill Krementz)

The weather is suitably funereal – slashing ice pellets against the windows, the wind howling off the lake. Good weather for being somewhat blue and restless, which is certainly where I am today.

It is Packing Day because tomorrow I fly to Poland, via Chicago and London. The kind people at the American School of Warsaw invited me to come and talk to their students about books and writing.

The last time I headed on my own, to a country where I didn’t speak the language, I was a 16-year-old exchange student boarding a plane for Denmark. That experience worked out well. I know this one will, too. In fact, I am totally stoked. I can’t wait to see the country, hear Polish, meet the people, and see what kinds of kids are at the school. I imagine they have a million bazillion stories of their own.

I’ve been reading up on Poland’s history (which is astounding) and trying to get my mouth around some of the sounds of the language. I am sure I will ask the taxi driver about the color of his underwear instead of the cost of a trip to the airport. Oh, well. To travel, one must be willing to make mistakes. Przepraszam means “I’m sorry.”

I’ll arrive there, probably jet-lagged, around lunchtime on Saturday. I plan to spent the weekend wandering Warsaw and embarrassing myself to taxi drivers. Monday – Friday I’ll be speaking at the school. The kids have Wednesday afternoons off and one of the administrators has kindly offered to show me some of the sights of the city.

I wish I could take some extra days after my time at the school to bum around and visit the countryside or Krakow, but this spring is jam-packed with work for me and I have to get home.

Because of British restrictions (a reaction to terrorists), I can only take one, one, carry-on bag with me on the plane. Obviously, I have to take my laptop, because it holds my computer which I need for my presentations. Today I have to figure out exactly how much stuff my laptop bag will hold. I have to bring Rising ’44: The Battle for Warsaw, too, because that’s what I’ll be reading on the plane.

I hope I will be able to blog from Warsaw, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to navigate the Internet. I promise I will take loads of pictures and share them when I get home. If I don’t get a chance to talk to you, have a great week, read some Vonnegut, and above all: be kind.

My heroes: Rutger’s Women’s Basketball team

I am so angry I hardly know where to start. Don Imus’ racist, pig-headed, degrading, insulting comments about the players of the Rutger’s Women’s Basketball Team make me sick. Physically sick, close to vomiting.

I would love to see him fired, but I don’t think that is going to happen. That is a shame.

I need to vent: America is a racist country. I love this place – I am incredibly proud to be an American and I embrace my country, my flag, and our history, warts and all, because despite everything, I think this is the most amazing country in the history of the world. But we are stupid when it comes to racism.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that we do not understand, nor do we properly study, the history of slavery in America. Why not? Because if we did, it would make white people feel bad. The truth of the matter is that this country was built on the backs and in the blood of millions of enslaved people. (Read Complicity; How The North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery.) And that is an uncomfortable truth to ponder.

We need to learn about slavery to understand how we got here. We need to admit that many people are ignorant of cultures other than their own. We all need to talk to each other, and offer respect instead of assumptions. And speaking as a white woman to all my friends and readers out there who are white: we have to stop allowing comments like Imus’ to pass without loud and immediate outrage and consequence.

What about free speech? you ask. Isn’t the man allowed to say what he feels?

Yes, that is another beauty of America – freedom of speech and thought. He can say whatever he wants. So can I. And I can choose to boycott his radio station and his television station and all of the sponsors of his show, and I will. I will also find it hard to vote or support any politician who goes on Imus show after this, unless and until the man shows real growth and change.

And don’t even think about getting in my face and saying that the language Imus used is acceptable because it can be found in the lyrics of black hip-hop singers. Since when have we used the language and attitudes and behavior that is found and praised in popular music as our benchmark for what is acceptable? There is a vigorous debate in the African-American community about hip-hop lyrics and how language can/should be used. (You might also want to read The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t and Why by Jabari Asim.) I don’t see a place for my voice in that discussion. But I can sure as hell call out a white guy on the carpet for bringing down my country and harming a group of talented young women.

::pauses for breath::

Maybe, just maybe, we can turn his ugly language and attitudes into a teachable moment. If this happens, it will be because Coach C. Vivian Stringer is an amazing American woman, and her team is a class act. The team held a press conference today to respond to Imus’ hateful comments. (Learn more about the individual players from Sports Illustrated.)
Coach Stringer could write volumes about rising above pain and oppression.

Remember that phrase “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me”? That’s a lie. Words hurt. Words hurt deeply.