Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The power of the written word

Dear friend,

Today, like every week, I received your letter in the mail. I read it before I could get inside my door. Actually, it only takes about 20 steps to get to my door so I opened it on the way and then just stood outside reading through it all before I could punch in my code. I left it out on the counter so I could read it again before it was added to the impressive stack you’ve helped me accumulate.

I’m lucky to have a friend like you who keeps a steady flow of snail mail coming my way. They’re never for a birthday or a holiday; just to say hello. You’re very diligent - I might even go as far as to say OCD. You’re letters are always perfectly addressed on the same crisp plain stationary. Now that I think about it, I pretty sure you have a specific pen for the ritual as well. They always start with the same simple greeting and end with the same formal salutation. But the content thereafter is always unique.

They make me laugh; they make me think; they make me envious of your story telling ability. I know I’m not the only one you write to. We’re not the oldest or closest of friends. There is never any romance. Your letters give me a little insight into your day or into your complex mind. Your letters are a joy!

I, on the other hand, am horrible at replying - sending out a few per month if I’m lucky. I’m trying though, I swear. My stationary is never the same. My pen sometimes dries up mid-thought. I send two or three at a time when I’ve forgotten to go to the post office for weeks on end. But I think you still enjoy them.

In your last letter –post marked from The English Channel- at the height of your story you came to the end of the strict two page limit and said “ I guess you’ll just have to wait until next time to hear the rest of the story,” and I know I will because you’ve successfully avoided the virtual news feed. The slow steady flow of information between us is comfortable and rewarding and it's how I imagine people felt in simpler times.

Though this letter is virtual, and not actually intended for you, I have sent out two written letters today. One is a week old; the other two weeks – and they’ll take another ten days to get to you. Oh well, the news will be fresh to you non the less. Enjoy!


Your grateful friend

Friday, October 14, 2011

"You can dance if you want..."

On this particular night I found myself stranded in the bathroom, wearing my favorite royal purple, A-line party dress. It had seen me through countless celebrations without fail - until tonight. The side zipper busted wide open. There was absolutely NO chance of fixing it. My entire side, from armpit to waist, was exposed. I thanked my lucky orthodox saints that I wore a bra.

The culprit: a wedding, followed by extremely filling Georgian party food, more than a few run-ins with my favorite babua and his wine horn, a significantly expanded midsection and dance; lots and lots of dance.

I knew I couldn’t hide in the bathroom all night but it would have been nice. I was an out of town guest with nowhere to go and nothing to change into. I briefly considered going balls to the wall and showing my party fowl with pride except, I was exposing a little too much and the crowd of old men were a little too drunk. So, I opted to strategically wrap myself in a shawl. I also knew that despite polite refusal, turned to pleas of exhaustion, injury or illness, I would soon be back on the dance floor. After all, dance is the only way I know how to connect with a group of 50+ middle-aged Georgians and they’ve already seen that I’ve got the moves.

Save this one slightly uncomfortable situation, dance has always been a savior for me when living or traveling abroad. As a foreigner abroad, a constant battle is breaking down barriers between yourself and the locals and dance has been there for me every time. I try to find a social club or class everywhere I go. My preference is usually towards any local style of dance but when that’s not available, go Latin or ballroom (salsa, rumba, bachata, swing) – it’s everywhere, I promise!

No problem if you can’t speak the language since you rely mostly on physical demonstration. If you happen to have two left feet or just don’t care for dancing these same principle can apply for organized sports or learning a musical instrument but let’s get real – you won't have nearly as much fun at their after-parties. When you dance with people you can start to connect on a whole new level. At this point you are no long just a foreigner but peer.

Here is my list of top dance destinations. Some I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing and others are on my wish list.

Republic of Georgia (check)

It couldn’t go unmentioned. Most of you are probably looking it up on the map and questioning whether it’s part of Russia. It’s not.

Georgian’s are die-hard patriots and claim to be the first to do just about everything since. They even claim to be the birthplace of Adam and Eve. They have an extremely rich culture that is based heavily in music and dance. It’s not just for an elite few(though done superhumanly by famous dance company, Erisioni) but it’s for everyone! No celebratory dinner is complete without the men of the table busting into 4-part harmony and everyone else breaking into dance. While each region has their own style, the man is generally parading around chest high in the air making wild expressions with his face and the woman is gracefully tiptoeing around him.

Everyone else:

Mexico (check)

They’ve got a lot more to offer than ‘the Mexican Hat Dance’. If you’re in Durango or the North in general you’ll find the cowboys dancing a bouncy polka after a typical nights barbeque. Don’t let the name fool you. While on a road trip from Monterrey to Mazatlan my companions and I cut a rug with the locals just about every night. The polka is not joke. I’ve been polka-ed right off the dance floor.

Spain (half a check)

A country obviously known for Flamenco. Gorgeous flowing skirts you can whip around with attitude, little clappers or fans…not really sure. I totally missed that boat when in Barcelona last year. Still regret it but I kept busy making myself a regular at the salsa clubs, which were amazing, and also a little Brazilian underground club with leads me to my next wish list destination…

Brazil (wish list)

The dance that calls me there is not samba or bossa nova but a country dance from the northeast called forró. I fell in love with forró in Barcelona in a sweaty underground club that hosted the amazing group Forró Afiado every Thursday night. I’m convinced that every Brazilian living in Barcelona was in attendance because at any one time you could find at least five guys named Osvaldo. It’s a very simple, close-hold, low to the ground dance and just sways you into a half dream.

Sub-Saharan Africa (wish list)

Sorry to say that I am not nearly cultured enough to know the names for any African dance. There is just something about the stomping, shaking, and striding that I know I would absolutely love. Or maybe I’ve just seen Shakira’s Waka-waka video a few too many times.


CUBA!! (wish list)

My heart has belonged to salsa for quite some time now and this is where I imagine it is the most pure.

Ah, the list could actually go on forever. At the moment I live in South Korea so I’m obviously dancing… salsa! Yes, I told you it was everywhere. My first performance with my current team was last weekend. Our show was a mix of salsa, cha-cha, rumba, and K-pop. Our venue: a German Brewery with a Bulgarian cover band in Busan, South Korea. The power of dance breaking down barriers once again.

photo credit: Stephanie Santana

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Let’s first address the mighty elephant(or should I say cow) in the room – I haven’t posted here in 8 months. I know, I have never actually been a model of diligence. You’re probably laughing at my stats on the right. Yea, 6 posts in over a year. Most people update their facebook/twitter more than that in a day.

To be fair, following up the tales of village life in Georgia is a fairly daunting task. Things are just a little less exciting when you don’t have militant-style swat teams showing up in the middle of the night or an 80-year-old woman crawling into bed with you on a regular basis. (Swat team story to come at a later date.)

Add to that, I’m not a natural writer. Words don’t flow out of me but sort of timidly emerge a few times before they’re brave enough to come out. They’re then usually sent back in, rearranged, edited, and given a permanent inferiority complex. Yes, we are still talking about the words.

All of that aside, I’m giving this blog another go around. Mostly because I’ve been living abroad off-and-on(mostly on) for the past 5 years and I’ve got a lot of stories to tell and a lot of self-therapy to tend to. ;) Ah, it already feels good to be back. Premature gratification? Absolutely. But what can I say - I’m an optimist.