Thursday, November 29, 2007

Turkey as Sales Icon in the United States

Run and get in line because it is thanksgiving and sales begin!

Well, to tell you the truth I never heard anything like this on the radio or on TV. However, this seemed to be the message Houstonians had received before Friday November 24, since at 8 p.m. there people lined up in front of stores so they could be the first ones to enjoy the mega sales (some stores opened at midnight, while others opened at 5 a.m.).

In the United States, people annually celebrate Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of November. The festivity began in the XVII century when a group of American pilgrims organized a big meal to thank the natives for teaching them to harvest the items found in the New World, allowing them to survive through winter.

Since then, for Thanksgiving, Americans get together with their family members for a large meal with stuffed turkey with cranberry sauce, corn bread, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes casserole, and green beans, among other things, and apple pie, pumpkin pie and pecan pie for dessert (they have other pies too).

Thanksgiving is one of the most important festivities in the United States; it breaks though religious and cultural boundaries and all citizens enjoy the celebration with the same enthusiasm.

In 2007, the number of people who traveled to meet their family members broke a record: according to the Associated Press AAA Spokesman Troy Green said “Surveys indicated a record 38.7 million U.S. residents were likely to travel 50 miles or more for the holiday period of Wednesday through Sunday, up about 1.5 percent over last year.”

According to a survey done by Cowen & Co., this year “consumers who plan to shop that day expect to spend 42% of their budgets, compared with 36% last year.”

Even though Thanksgiving got started as an event to give thanks, and many Americans maintain this tradition, the date has also become an icon for sales, which undervalues the celebration and plays against family unity.

Nevertheless, I cannot deny that this year I enthusiastically joined the group of sale-hunting early risers.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Getting to know Washington DC: Natural, Historic, Cultural and Artistic

Washington DC , the capital of United States, resembles Europe more than other American cities; here, people go to The Mall for a walk, and not to buy, and people ride the metro or take a walk to get to work (something almost unthinkable in other cities in the United States).

In DC, consumerism does not take hold of The Mall because it is not a shopping mall, but rather a beautiful park that hosts the obelisk, the Lincoln Memorial, and other monuments that commemorate the Vietnam Way, Korean Way and World War II.

Throughout the week, visitors and Washingtonians have free access to culture thanks to the Smithsonian Institution, a research organization that owns 9 research centers and the world’s largest museum complex with 19 museums including National Museum of Natural History, National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The National Museum of Natural History is a recommended stop to learn about the living and inert beings that make up our ecosystem by taking a look at diverse embalmed specimens, fossils, dinosaurs’ bones and precious stones.

The National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum is also worth a visit to observe how painting developed in the United States, beginning with the typical portraits painted during the colonization period and finishing with the contemporary paintings of our time. At the same time, visitors can learn about American history by paying attention to the portraits of American presidents and participants of the abolition of slavery.

Finally, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is another place visitors cannot miss when visiting Washington DC. Upon entering the museum, each person receives a passport with the name of one of the Holocaust victims to help him/her relive the stories exposed throughout the museum from one of the victim’s point of view. The section that displays the stories from the children point of view is particularly shocking and hair-raising.

It is important to point this is simply a bite of all the things visitors can do in Washington DC like visit the White House, go up the obelisk, sneak through the Spy Museum, etc. However, I think these stops provide wholistic picture of the United States from different points of view: cultural, historic, artistic and natural.

How to get there:
Korean War Veterans Memorial

Independence Ave. at the Lincoln MemorialPhone: (202) 426-6841
Metro Stop: Foggy Bottom-GWU

Lincoln Memorial
Independence Ave. & 23rd St. NW
Phone: (202) 426-6841
Metro Stop: Foggy Bottom-GWU

National World War II Memorial
17th St. & Independence Ave. NW
Phone: (202) 619-7222
Metro Stop: Smithsonian

Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Constitution Ave. & Henry Bacon Dr. NW
Phone: (202) 634-1568
Metro Stop: Foggy Bottom-GWU

International Spy Museum
800 F St. NW
Phone: (202) 393-7798
Metro Stop: Gallery Pl-Chinatown

National Museum of Natural History
10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW
Phone: (202) 633-1000
Metro Stop: Federal Triangle

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl. SW
Phone: (202) 488-0400
Metro Stop: Smithsonian

National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum
8th & F Streets N.W
Phone: (202) 633-8300
Estación de Metro: Gallery Pl-Chinatown

Iom Kipur in Israel, one of the Holiest Days for Jewish

By Sabrina Lenoir (Argentina)

Imagine that a bomb drops… and all of a sudden all motor vehicles stop working…cars, buses, motorcycles….all of them remain parked and people start owning the streets, by foot or on bikes…the sound of horns, traffic is transformed into tons of people in the street, avenues and even highways…although stoplights continue to work ignoring that today is a special day, they no longer have any meaning. It does matter what way traffic is supposed to travel, no policeman is going to write a fine for walking on the wrong side of the street; no matter how old you are, everyone is free to walk around and enjoy the show… that was Iom Kipur for me.

Yet, it is clear that not everyone lives the celebration the same way….

Iom Kipur is one of the holiest days for the Jewish religion. It marks the times for penance that begins in Rosh Hashana and continues for ten days until the last day: Iom Kipur.

It is a day to ask for forgiveness and atonement from sins between humans and God, humans and humans. During Rosh Hashana human beings are judged for their acts, and the final verdict is given at Iom Kipur.

The most religious people abstain themselves from basic needs: they cannot eat, or drink, they cannot wash, cannot use leather shoes (that’s why people walk using shoes made of cloth), cannot have sexual relations, and people must remove themselves from their daily routine to have strength to get purified at the end of the day and receive atonement from the sins incurred throughout the year, so they can return to God.

My experience began the previous day, Thursday…

One of my friend’s sisters invited me to Jerusalem, where people go to the Wailing Wall between 11p.m. and 6 a.m. to pray and ask God for forgiveness…

Since traffic is chaotic, we decided to walk for about an hour to reach the Wailing Wall, where half of Israel awaited for us…people, people and more people crammed together as I had never seen before around this place… very intense and very interesting.

The next day, families get together for a big lunch before they begin to fast at around 6 p.m. and those less religious are lucky to be able to go out in the street, ride their bikes and go around the car-less city… fasting lasts until about 6 p.m. of the following day.

All the pictures I took of Iom Kipur were taken at night, consequently, it was hard to capture the atmosphere and avoid the flash. Enjoy!

Friday, November 09, 2007

I lived a Poem as Julio Bocca said Goodbye in Houston, Texas

Last night I lived a poem, a musical poem, a dancing poem:Bocca Tango”, stared by Julio Bocca and the Argentinean Ballet at Jones Hall, Houston, Texas, USA.

The dancers swung around the stage with the lightness of spores traveling with the wind as they exposed their tango-ballet fusion. Each movement was a work of art, a brushstroke of skill, harmony and perfection.

At the same time, the musical selection complemented the poem marvelously, helping transmit with word the essence of being Argentinean, and the profound nostalgia and longing felt by the person who leaves their motherland.

The message of the piece was intense and precise, and as an Argentinean away from home, I felt each movement and each word with heightened intensity.

Even though Argentineans tend to complain about their country’s bad economic and political situation continuously, when an Argentinean leaves their home they always leave behind part of their soul, since an Argentinean is not Argentinean without their family and friends, their caravan of memories, and after all Buenos Aires will always be their “Buenos Aires Querido”.

Songs of the Show:
Balada para un Loco – Astor Piazola
Naranjo en Flor – Virgilio Expósito
Mi Buenos Aires Querido – Carlos Gardel