Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Monday, May 28, 2007
Along the way, Remi and I stopped in several small towns and villages throughout Germany, keeping off the main highway as much as possible.
She didn't like having the top all the way back, but insisted on the windows being partly down. Every now and then I'd adjust the rearview mirror to bring her into view, and I'd see her sitting in the middle of the back seat, eyes closed, faced toward the wind rushing in. Lovin' it.
Ahhh, a cigarette machine in the front yard. Beats dragging your ass down to the convenience store, esp. when you have to lug the oxygen with.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Destination: Amsterdam. Mini-reunion with some of my sisters.
So .. Remi's all microchipped (ugh!!).. in full compliance with EU law. And had her shots.
Had a good, solid roll in the dirt, and since she only got one side, went back for more to get the brown evened out on both sides. Now she's ready for my newly cleaned car. When I pat her, big clouds of dirt poof off.
We'll hit Linz first, and have lunch with some friends there, then on to Passau, Regensberg, and the evening in Nuernberg. The following day we'll amble along toward Amsterdam. We have a pet-friendly hotel reserved. But not car-friendly--it'll cost a minimum of 30 euros a day (that's about 48 dollars--the dollar is tanking), just for the privilege of parking it.
But I've got music, food, dog, map, cash, passports, book for reading on breaks, cell phone, sunglasses. And loads of conversations to have with myself. I'm sure I'll give myself a good talking to.
Said goodbye to JimandShari yesterday and got back to the business of working. It was a fun week. I miss 'em already!
The response to my Christian Science Monitor article was very touching. It got picked up in a lot of places, including a reference to it on Romenesko.
And my old "in the trenches" colleague, Charles Apple, gave it a nod, as did Wendy Hoke, which was very moving.
And what I found interesting is that I also got a lot of emails asking about how to get into journalism training--the kind I do in developing countries. I told those who wrote that there are hundreds of media training outlets, but the best place to start would be the International Center for Journalists, which not only runs the Knight International Press Fellowship, but several other training programs, as well. The benefit to starting there is that you have access to IJCNet, a clearinghouse newsletter about training events.
Another thing about this article is that I heard through the grapevine that someone I deeply respect, and who is a legend to me, apparently really liked it.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Jim and Shari (of the Big, Fat, Turkey Fame) arrived in Hainburg yesterday evening---they left Algeria about a month ago and have been hoofing it around Europe. So.... these vagabonds arrived at my doorstep at around 730 last night. They drove around town in search of a London taxi. Once they found the taxi, they asked around for the tall American who owned it. No signal on their Algerian phone, they said, they just drove around looking for me. Go figger.
Anyhow, we spent the day in Bratislava.
Tomorrow it's to the Belvedere.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
The Independent Journalism Center in Bucharest used to be housed at the Theatre and Film Academy, just down the street from Mimi's Cafe*.
There was a canteen there that was impossible to wade through, mostly because of the thick walls of cigarette smoke from the students.
On one of my return trips to the J Center, I was delighted to see that a cappucino vending machine had been set up in the hallway. Hey, now I don't have to swim through the smoke-filled canteen.
A weathered little man sat in a wooden chair next to the vending machine. Like a guard.
Turns out he had to police the machine because it was in a constant state of break-down. Inflation was running at about 1,000 percent a year at that time, so you had to put dozens of coins into the slot for one bitty cup of coffee, which would inevitably be too much for the machine.
Which is when the weathered little man would unlock the machine, make the correct change for you, and also fetch your coffee.
This was his full time job.
Ahh, the good ole days.
*We hung out at Mimi's Cafe --named for the owner's girlfriend--we once went there and the only thing they had on offer was bags of potato chips and warm Pepsi--no deliveries had been made so the restaurant was out of food.
Anyhow, I went back a few years later and it was, of course, doing much better. A full menu on offer.
But it had been renamed The Grand Cafe. Why? I asked the owner. "Because Mimi and I broke up."
I moved to Bratislava in early 2000 to work on a journalism development project and lived there for about a year before moving across the border into Hainburg when my contract was finished.
One sunny afternoon I went to Pat and Kathy's apartment in central Bratislava for a spring cookout. Pat was working as a lawyer for an NGO, and Kathy had quit her job in Philly to join him.
At this party there was a US Air Force guy there. I asked him what he could possibly be doing in Slovakia, since it basically had no air force to speak of (common situation for post-Soviet countries).
He said they were training the Slovak pilots, but it was an uphill battle, because the Slovak military had no money and no facilities.
"They have a couple of old planes," he said. "But no money for fuel so they just stay grounded."
Since then, Slovakia has joined the EU and NATO, Bratislava has transformed into an IT center, and the NY Times labeled the country the Tatra Tiger---although I think Central and Eastern Slovakia--with nearly 20 percent unemployment and continued abject poverty--would disagree.
Regardless, it seems there is now fuel for the planes, but no safe planes. The Slovak Foreign Minister announced that it is looking into buying some new carriers to replace it's ancient Soviet fleet.
Journalism has been hijacked.
The editor of Pasadena Now has outsourced his coverage of the city council to India.
The LA Times wrote about it last week.
Nothing like NOT being there. Nothing like swimming in a gulf of cultures, and nothing like thinking that someone in Mumbai knows how to interpret and contextualize what happens in local Pasadena politics.
If editor McPherson can't afford to run his website, he should shut it down, not sell it's soul.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
I'm going back to Vietnam in June, but the first time I was there was almost three years ago. I spent a month in Hanoi working with local journalists.
It was June then, too, I think, and Madame Bingh and Hop--my host and interpreter--took me out to eat several times, along with other colleagues who would join us.
Sometimes we'd go to these little stalls that sell a tasty noodle dish called Pho, and sometimes to more upscale places.
Ever since a Dim Sum incident in Washington, DC, wherein a chopstick catapulted from my table, pinged the dim sum tray and pitched itself about 6 feet from our table, I've been wary about using them. You never know, because they could become a weapon in the wrong hands.
But I had no choice here. Had to learn. My Vietnamese colleagues showed me several times, and several different techniques, to teach me. After a couple of days I got the hang of it, but it wasn't without a lot of fanfare and self-deprecating jokes. And every time we went to eat everyone sort of held their breath. They all actively ignored me, probably suppressing an urge to feed me themselves.
When I left Hanoi, I was showered with lots of gifts. A gorgeous purse from Hop, some jewelry from the journalists, a huge kimono-type robe from one of the editors, who I'm sure had it specially made--there was a good chance that, at 5'10" I was the tallest person in the country--so he probably gave specific instructions to "use all the available material you have."
On my last day, as I was stepping into the cab to go to the airport, the hotel receptionist waved me back into the lobby. I saw Madame Bingh rushing through a side door to get to me in time.
She had a final gift for me. A beautiful set of four handmade, teak chopsticks, inside a handsome case.
I've long since lost the robe, the jewelry hasn't been worn since and I couldn't say, exactly, where the purse is. But the chopsticks are well-displayed on a shelf in my home.
Friday, May 11, 2007
Thanks to my neighbor coming to my rescue, I now have wireless. Yeehee!
Remi benefits the most. She got really tired of me constantly being tethered to my desk (the glamorous writer's life, of course--that and fleabag hotels) and would crawl up into my lap and rest her head on my forearm, which is not such an easy way to type--with a dog's head weighing on your arm.
But I can now go into the living room, the bedroom, the kitchen, on the roof, sit in a tree, ...
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
My sister, Jo, is my "guest" blogger today. Here's what she wrote about the walk she organized in Cookham:
The night before, I strolled up to the Green, not only to 'plant' our arch which was to hold our one hundred pink balloons but also to see if the organisers of the festival picnic had a tent for me.
The ground was really hard, so Roger and I pummelled away at the hard ground to get this arch in. We also secured it with guide ropes because the wind was so gusty. The organisers assured me that my tent would be up at 8;30 and that the village hall would 'probably' also be open, in any case. Not giving the word 'probably' enough significance was my first mistake! But they said they even had two tents for me, which was a bonus, I thought, because I thought my registration tent would have to double up as the massage tent for later.
We spent the day before on our bikes marking the course, Roger, Ethan and I: Roger with a huge boogie board rucksack on his back containing our professionally made donated signs.
I had the smaller pack with smaller laminated signs in and various other essentials... heavy string, 'Upside Down Marking Paint', scissors, hole punch etc.
It took us the whole morning to do about 2/3rds of the walk on our bikes, stopping and spraying arrows or tying signs to trees.
FLAT TIRES AND LOCKED DOORS
Ethan was amazing. He cycled with us for miles. Thirsty and hungry, he soldiered on... At about the 6 mile mark, we stopped at a pub for lunch but when we got back on the bikes, we discovered mine had a flat. A very obvious flat. We cycled on over to the moor by the river, another mile or so-- me stopping every 100 yards to pump my tire back up!
Once we got to the Moor Car park, we realised we had also inadvertently locked ourselves out of the house after giving strict instructions to the teenagers to 'lock the doors if you're going out'--only for it to dawn on us that we had left the house without a house key ourselves.
Luckily Dorothy was at home and we were only about 1/2 mile away, so we cycled to her house, dumped the bikes (Ethan and I), borrowed her keys to our house and her car and drove ourselves home, leaving Roger on his own to finish signposting the last half of the course. I think we were probably holding him up anyway!
That's when I strolled up to the green to get assurances that my tents were in order etc.
We were all up early Monday morning. I had eight teenage girls sleeping on the floor downstairs who were to marshall for me on the day.
It was raining. The first rain for over 6 weeks.
THE TOILET MAN
I went up to the Green to make sure Jennie was okay to meet the 'toilet man' at 7:30am. Poor girl! She had to climb into the cab of this huge lorry with 'Colin', the loo man. Her big brown eyes peering at me over this mountain of loo roll. 'I'll be fine, Jo, Don't worry. There's no space for you in here in any case!" So they were off to settle the portoloos in stategic places.
Hmm. No sign of a tent yet.
IT'S RAINING ... AND WHERE'S MY TENT?
Went home to rouse the teens and get a bite to eat and to finish my coffee. When I returned at 8am to tie the balloon strings to the arch, there was still no tent. Roger and went about securing the balloons (which looked great, by the way) and watching the festival organisers try to get to grips with the tent poles.
It looked more like a modern art sculpture than a tent skeleton, but after they re-arranged it a few times, it looked a little more utilitarian.
The rain kept coming down.
Walkers started arriving by 8:30, just at the height of the most exquisite modern tentpole scupture. No problem, I thought. We'll use the village hall. .....Except there was no key and it was locked.
Suffice it to say that we had to register all our walkers on the tiny porch of the village hall - poor Julie! I just left her too it! I couldn't do the chaos thing! Of course, it became increasingly harder to register the walkers because no one wanted to leave the dry of the porch and more and more walkers were arriving!
It didn't look anything like what I had imagined!! We had 120 walkers signed on but on that morning, I think around 85 turned out.
Despite the rain and the dark clouds across MY face, they were all in good spirits and started gamely across the Green with Roger at the helm.
LEAKY TENTS AND SOAKED GOODIE BAGS
I jumped in Jennie's car (mine was too cluttered with stuff I couldn't unload because there was no tent and it was raining) with four teenagers racing just ahead of the walkers to deposit my first set of marshalls. Whizzzed back to the green to pick up the other four to drop them further down the walk. By the time I returned, VOILA.. the tent was up! Well, at least I could unload.. or could I? The tents leaked! Jennie and Julie and Jennie's mom, Joan, had already started unloading a pile of stuff so I started putting up the sign over the tent 'Cookham Spring Fun March' - We then realised that the other tent was far too small to put 5 massage beds and therapists in so we had to transfer everything over unhang the sign and re-hang the sign! Also, I had made about 130 newspaper paper bags so we needed to fill all these with the donated goodie bags for the arriving walkers. They were made of paper, though, weren't they? And the tent was leaking!
I managed though. Someone had left some black binliners in the tent so I covered all the bags with these and luckily they all stayed dry.
Other marshalls were arriving and the massage therapists also arrived. Five in all. They were fabulous and the walkers were really pleased to have them there. They made £200 pounds for us giving 20 minute massages for a tenner!
WALK IN HONOR OF YOUR SISTER, YOUR FRIEND, YOURSELF.
It really rained all morning and stopped just about the time the quickest walkers were due. We had a photographer on hand to photograph the walkers under our balloon arch and then they came to our table to be crossed off , receive their goody bag (of which Ethan did a superb job!) and their certificate. I made certificates of completion for the walkers with their name on and signed by the organisers.
I also had cut pink ribbon into strips and people could tie it to our archway with the name of a loved one on, or in honour of a private battle they may have fought.
Because the picnic and festivities were in swing by the time they arrived, (music, theatre, dancing) there was coffee and tea for them, or a massage or a beer tent and a tent selliing food so it was nice that the rain finally stopped so they could at least enjoy a rest and a Pimms!
The feedback has been great! They all thought the walk was beautiful and most of them were eager to sign up for 'next year'! Yea. Right.
There was one quite poignant moment that Tonie relayed back to me. She was walking with some women and one of them said she was really not enjoying this walk through the wind and the rain as they marched across the windswept moor by the river.
Then she said, "But you know, this discomfort for me is nothing compared to what my sister went through so I am just going to keep walking."
Her sister had died of breast cancer.
Monday, May 07, 2007
Growing up in suburban, 1960s tract housing has robbed me of vital knowledge.
I'm not a city kid--the ones raised on everything museum, literati, obscure music, and delis.
I'm not a country kid, naming flora and fauna as if they were my cousins.
No, I'm left with 7-Eleven, which is fine for Wacky Packs, but that's only gotten me so far.
Today, as I'm trying to cut back branches away from the house to make room for the housepainter, I feel garden retarded. Aside from the trees that have actually borne fruit and other edibles (prune and walnut), I have absolutely no idea what's growing in my yard.
I've only just learned the benefits of a compost pile over a garbage disposal.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Sundays in Hainburg are boring and lonely. Downright lonely. My friend heads for Upper Austria to visit his family, everyone else is tucked in with their families, and I never plan ahead enough to do anything with anyone in Vienna.
It's a good movie day, so I ditched the dog and went to the movies in Bratislava.
I used to live in Bratislava, and as I drove past the Dom Obrovda in my old neighborhood, I remembered a little-known international film festival that took place while I was there.
My film-enthusiast friend, Slavo, invited me to go with him to see his favorite of the whole festival, ensuring me that there would be headsets for English dubbing.
No such thing. We watched a Thai film, which was subtitled into Czech, which Slavo, a Slovak, translated into English into my left ear.
It was exhausting. I remember it fondly.
High voter turnout in the US is somewhere around a pathetic 40 percent of registered voters.
In Western Europe, it is considerably higher--even when voting on boring local referendums. Austria's average voter turnout rate is 75 percent.
The voter turnout in France to propel conservative nationalist Sarkozy into office (yikes, maybe they shouldn't vote after all... ) was a whopping 85 percent.
Like the results or not, democracy is alive and well in Europe. America, our voter turnout is shameful.
Posted by Patti McCracken at 9:05 PM
Saturday, May 05, 2007
One of the travel guides says this about the Austrians: "Austrians love animals, especially their dogs. Some would say that they love their dogs more than they love each other."
Seems they also love chimps. Activists have organized themselves to get two well-loved, young adult chimps the status of "person" in order to be able to continue their care (animal facility housing them went bankrupt) and protect them from being sold.
"Our main argument is that [the chimp] is a person and has basic legal rights," said Eberhart Theuer, a lawyer leading the challenge on behalf of the Association Against Animal Factories, a Vienna animal rights group.
"We mean the right to life, the right to not be tortured, the right to freedom under certain conditions," Theuer said. "We're not talking about the right to vote here."
Friday, May 04, 2007
Like so many of us, my sister, Jo, has lost some dear friends to cancer... the loss of her "second mother" in Germany to breast cancer hit her particularly hard.
She is actively involved in the final planning stages of a local breast cancer walk (MONDAY MAY 7!!!) ... oh wait, she can tell you about it... this is what she wrote in a recent email to me, describing everything:
Our walk was born of our volunteer Cookham Summer FM radio station last summer, really.
I had done the halfmarathon power walk in London called the moonwalk--which raises money for breast cancer awareness--with a friend and recorded on an MP3 our journey through London in the middle of the night with 15,000 people!
It was an amazing experience - people were cheering us on from their cars and from the tops of buses...clapping and cheering as we walked through London..taxi's honking their horns...I'll see if I can send you my tape..
When we did Cookham FM, my friend Jennie took the MP3 recording and created a live show around it. She had, as guests on a live show, survivors of breast cancer and a representative of the Windsor Parapet Breast Unit. And after that show, we launched our own breast cancer walk for our local people, which is called the Cookham Spring Fun March.
It is amazingly hard to get a place on the Moonwalk in London so we thought we would do our own!! yikes.
So.. we have!
For Cookham Spring Fun March, we have prizes donated for different walkers, portajohns donated, water stops, 27 marshalls to make sure people stay on the path (it's all through the Cookhams and alot of it is off road).
We have goody bags for the walkers after they are finished (I have made 120 bags out of newspaper!)
And 105 walkers.
Our walk coinicides with the last day of the Cookham Festival, where there will be entertainment, food, etc, on the Green as the walkers come in... we also have massage therapists for our tired walkers!
The only hiccuup is the weather!! we've had such good weather for a gazilllion days and it's supposed to piss with rain Sunday and Monday!!!
It's been alot of work and isn't finished yet. we still have to mark the course ...
Please keep your fingers crossed and pray it doesn't rain too hard!!
If people can't walk but still want to donate money or other resources, they should visit Cookham Spring Fun March.
We decided to raise the money for a local breast cancer unit--although Breast Cancer Research is an amazing thing, we really didn't think money would ever trickle down to our own facility.
Thanks for the support!
Me again... keep an eye out on this blog for continued updates..
Posted by Patti McCracken at 8:23 PM
Ahh, wireless. I went from having nothing, to having everything. My neighbor down the street installed a wireless router the other day... I'm writing this from my bed (tee hee), with a cup of coffee nearby, and a view of back yard. Nice.
Regardless, I've spent too many days couped up in the house working on this project or that---and have felt at the end of the day that nothing was accomplished. I can hear the wheels just spinning in place.
For a change of scenery, Remi and are going to the Cafe Sperl, among other places today. Always a pick-me-up. And maybe shopping on Mariahilfestrasse for my upcoming trip to Vietnam.
Posted by Patti McCracken at 9:24 AM
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
I've just finished reading Peter Kurth's harrowing account of his confinement in one of Britain's most notorious prisons--all over a mishap on a plane.
I remember reading about it--the mishap on the plane...
Anyhow, it's on Salon. He's a powerful writer. A couple of times... well, a couple of times I sort of reminded myself what he was actually in there for-- something like disorderly conduct on a plane. It's just hard to fathom.
Posted by Patti McCracken at 9:10 PM
When I was 16-years-old, the principal of my American high school strode into our journalism class and demanded that we reprint that month's issue because he did not approve of the content. He was furious.
In any case, we had no idea that anything we had done was objectionable.
Here's a rundown of what was on the front page of the, uh, Paw Print, and why he was so ticked:
The lead story was about an annual fundraising event called Slave Day, in which one student, or a group of students, could "buy" a classmate for the day and make them do things for them. It was all in good fun and the students would "buy" a friend and make them dress up in weird clothes, sing songs on command, that sort of thing.
The story below the fold was written by Keith Boykin, who reported on allegations of discrimination regarding after school activities and black participation. His angle was that there was no transportation available to kids who wanted to join, say, the Chess Club, but there was plenty of transportation for kids involved in sports (the same busses, but they left really late to accomodate the sports teams). Boykin suggested that blacks, many of whom had to be bussed anyway (as far as I can remember) were discouraged from participating in brainy clubs because they had no way to get to/from.
A legitimate issue.
But Mr. Williamson was angry, he said, because he didn't want it running on the same page as the Slave Day photo.
But let's face it, Williamson's real problem was with Boykin's little expose on the actual--intended or not-- discrimination that was going on at Countryside High School.
We had a choice, said Williamson. We could withdraw/reprint that month's paper, or we could take him to court. Actually, he didn't say we had a choice. In his mind, there was only one thing to do--reprint. But we KNEW we had a choice.
He stormed out, mainly because Robby King grabbed a dictionary to show Williamson a definition of something (censorship, perhaps?)--like the rest of us, Robby was rolling up his sleeves, readying for a fight.
Williamson fled, of course, but with all the power.
We deliberated for several days--we knew what our rights were, but we didn't know what the price was to maintain them. We worried about what would happen to Mr. MacNeil, our advisor, who stayed out of it. I remember him sitting on the edge of his desk, head down, feet swaying. This is your decision, he said. I can't help you make it.
Our decision, sure, but his fate.
In the end, we decided to reprint the paper. I think the compromise was to add a quote from Williamson into Keith's text--which, of course, proved to us that the problem wasn't Slave Day, but the contentious and reasonable argument Keith's article raised.
We didn't go to court because we didn't want Mr. MacNeil to lose his job. We loved him dearly, and HE would have paid OUR price. While we went on to college to pursue our journalism careers (at least half of that class ended up in professional journalism--a tribue to an inspirational teacher), MacNeil may have been fired... or sidelined, at best.
It wasn't worth it.
My friend Terry Nelson (always remember Irish pubs and Slovak trams, Terry!) is a journalism teacher in Indiana. She is an expert at fighting issues of free press--constantly poised to protect her students' Constitutional rights.
Nelson recently gathered forces with some of her fellow teachers in the Midwest to galvanize support for Amy Sorrell, a 30-year-old J teacher who is apparently in the hot seat for allowing one of her students to write and print a commentary supporting-- egads!--tolerance of gay students.
Tolerance, that beastly, pesky value!
Sorrell's superintendent wrote a scathing commentary personally attacking her questioning her values, motives, etc.
Sorrell has been reassigned to a different school. Her superintendent, meanwhile, stays in the top dog position, despite personally attacking Sorrell for... doing what? I can't remember... Oh, yes, allowing a commentary on tolerance to be printed.. right. Gotcha. I hope Sorrell has learned her lesson.