Sunday, November 22, 2009

Georgia: Sunrise, Wishes, and Supras

I ate raw pistachios as I watched the sunrise over Tbilisi, Georgia.  I was told that this building once housed Georgian refugees from the war in Abkhazia (during the 1990s) and wondered what they too thought of the view.  I am sure it was spectacular - even minus the bright light on the horizon - the Sameba (Trinity) Cathedral, which wasn't completed until 2004.

As I was sitting there, I realized something.  I may not know what I want to be when I grow up, but I am very clear on who I want to be. There was some satisfaction in that, since I think it is the more important of the two.

This was reinforced to me later in the day when we went to visit the 6th century Jvari Monastery that sits at a place where the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers meet.

There was a "wishing tree" in this place where the rivers both connect and diverge.  So it seemed that many people were here before me, tying ribbons, scraps of material, and pieces of paper - along with their prayers and dreams - to the branches blowing in the wind.  Did they ask for strength to take a path-less-traveled?, health for their families?, or merely give thanks for all they had already been given?  I contemplated both their dreams and mine as I stood at the rivers' edge.

How do Georgians give thanks?  One way is through a Supra - complete with a Tamada (toastmaster).  This celebration involves eating, eating, toasting, and eating some more (and then toasting some more).  There is an art to this process, which involves a particular order (which I have not yet figured out!) for toasting one's family, friends, health, country, peace...The table is full to start the meal and the plates of food pile up one-on-top-of-the-other as the eating continues - until the entire table is teetering and beyond overflowing.

Can you imagine that I experienced not one, but TWO Supras in one day??!!!!!  (Thus my need for a three-day Juice Fast!)  It should be noted that all the food was fresh, non-processed, and healthy - oh, the difference that it makes in the taste.  (I stuck to the vegetarian options - like eggplant topped with walnut paste - so delicious!)

Dinner ended with big plates of fruit.  (See the green fruit on the right. It looked like cucumber and tasted like a candy sourball.  Made me realize that the chemical flavors we have "invented" and introduced into our diets actually come from a source in nature.  Um, why not eat the original?)

A good day, a good week, and good lessons learned.  

Georgians, I toast to you - "To your families, to your health, to your country, to peace."  While I may not have the order right, I offer you my thanks and gratitude for all your kindness.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fresh, Organic, Vegan, Airport Food

He greeted me enthusiastically: HELLO, HOW ARE YOU???  Welcome to Philly.

Good.  How are you? Thank you, I replied (as I moved down the line to buy my veggie wrap at the airport counter.)

Him:  You are that famous actress, right?!!

Me:  Who? Me? (looking around). No, I am not famous.

Him:  Okay, maybe not FAMOUS, but you are on TV.  I watch you ALL THE TIME!

Me:  Really, no. It's not me. (At this point people in line are turning around to get a look at the "famous person" in their midst.)

His co-worker:  Leave her alone. She said she is not famous.

Him:  Well, she is not going to TELL us that she is famous.

Me:  Yes, yes, really I would, but unfortunately I am not.  I just want a veggie wrap. (But thank you for the compliment...I think).  I regret not asking him who he thought I was...Maybe I should have just given him an autograph and made his day! :)

My quest to find healthy airport food is usually not so exciting. Recently, however, I hit the jackpot.

Let me introduce you to French Meadow Bakery and Cafe at the Minneapolis International Airport in Minnesota, USA.  Not only did they carry organic salads and bottled juice drinks, but they had a variety of vegan treats.  

I tried the Vegan Peanut Butter Rice Crispy Bar (same price as regular Peanut Butter Bar) and have to say that it was FANTASTIC.

Other options included the Healthy Hemp Brownie, Vegan Carrot Cake, and Vegan Raspberry Chocolate Bar.

For dining in, or taking out.  

Of course, I had to eat mine on the go...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Velvet Revolution: Celebrating a Milestone

Today I am celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia - from Munich.  Through CNN, I am re-living the events that put an end to Communism at the heart of Europe.  On the plane on the way over the Atlantic, my German seatmate was surprised when I said how profoundly these events affected me and my life - as an American with no ties to the region and little knowledge of the countries (or even political awareness at that young age).  It has left me asking myself today - why?  Why did it matter so much to me 20 years ago?  And, why does it continue to matter (maybe even more so) to me today?  They are not easy questions to answer.

I think the revolutions of 1989 introduced me to my life.  They made me realize that every-day-people can accomplish things that might seem impossible - and sometimes even are.  They made me understand that things are not always as they appear and that people everywhere have something to teach me.  They also made me want to understand the people, politics, languages, and cultures that I was directly told I would never have an opportunity to know (see "The Wall is Gone"). They made me want to be a part of change - in both big and small ways.  

Maybe all idealistic notions from someone who is still trying to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up.  Yet for today, I celebrate.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Hello Bucharest, I'm so glad to be here!"

This is what Michael Jackson meant to say when he greeted the people of Romania several years ago.  Instead he said, "Hello Budapest" (in reference to Hungary).  The Romanians told us that this faux pas occurred on the balcony of the "People's Palace" (Palace of Parliament).  (The Lonely Planet guide said that this incident occurred at the National Stadium.)  Regardless, I like the intended message - and agree - "Hello Bucharest, I'm so glad to be here!"

The People's Palace

Unlike the other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, Romania did not experience a Peaceful Revolution in 1989.  While the Communist regimes of neighboring countries fell one-by-one, as part of a domino effect begun with the opening of the Berlin Wall, Romania's leadership clung to power.  This changed in December 1989 when dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were forcibly overthrown and executed.  

The People's Palace, which today houses the Constitutional Court, Chamber of Deputies, etc. was an example of Ceausescu's excesses.  It is the second largest building in the world in surface area (following the U.S. Pentagon) and is complete with multiple halls, a dizzying array of chandeliers, and marble at every turn.  See for example, custom-built "his" and "her" staircases for Nicolae and Elena, which were re-built 5 times to ensure proper proportions.

After hearing about bloody revolts, cults of personalities, and great hardships to the Romanian people, it was time to try something on the lighter side.

I liked this message in particular:

While I have to admit, this was not necessarily Romanian fare, I was not up to joining my colleagues for a lunch of  "bear" as I already had my ”Wild Game” experience.  Instead, I had the following (minus the cheese).

We also went to Bucharest's oldest beer hall. Well worth the visit.  There I tried to order a chicken and vegetable wrap - minus the chicken.  The answer was simply no.  No discussion, no alternative, just no.  It actually made me laugh.  "Just order what is on the menu."  Will do.  A House salad it is.  (I really wanted to visit Casa Satya in Bucharest. How many restaurants advertise themselves as "Alchemy for Body and Soul?" The menu even gives suggestions for ordering for your health.  Guess I will need to make another trip!)

Overall, a lovely time spent in Romania.  Still shaking my head about how 20 years have passed, how much has been accomplished, and how much more needs to be done.  Bucharest.  I thank you.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"The Wall is Gone"

Date: November 9, 1989. 

TV Image: U.S. news anchor Peter Jennings live in Berlin.  

Newspaper Headline:  "The Wall is Gone."

Me:  High school student.  (Returned from a trip to East Berlin in August 1989 where we were told "This Wall will never come down.")  Taped the headline above my bedroom window at my parents' house (where it still hangs today) and wrote myself a note:  "Remember this day.  It will change your life."  

It has - in every way.

Today - 20 years later - I celebrate the "peaceful revolutions" and the strength, courage, and perseverance that it took (and continues to take) to change a system and create something new for future generations.  It has been my great privilege to witness the changes over the past two decades and know that if the walls can come down, anything is possible.