Nicaragua

My 300th Post

When I started this blog I wasn’t sure if I could come up with 10 posts, and now I am writing my 300! In honor of the big 3-0-0, I’m reposting three of my favorite post.

  1. My trip to Nicaragua. This post reminded me of how small the world is. I wrote about the volunteer project I did in a little town named Bajo De Los Ramirez (we were the first tourists to ever visit this remote town). Incredibly, someone left me a comment saying that she had been to the same town years later and they still talked about us. Sometimes when I blog it feels like I’m just throwing words out into the wind, but this serendipitous connection made it feel like I was blogging for a reason.
  2. Don’t hold on to old raisins. I was amazed at the amount of positive response I got from this post where I shared a belief that contradicted common advice.
  3. And of course, the post which started it all. After rereading my first post I can’t believe how much it still rings true for me. 300 posts later, I have a business up and running and it’s making me happy. Just more proof that when you know what you want it’s much easier to get it.

Breaking into the Forbidden City

The Forbidden City is not really forbidden. It was the home for 24 Emperors and it gets its name because commoners were forbidden from entering. It’s in the center of Beijing, and it is massive. We walked around for five hours and I quickly forgot that there was a whole other city surrounding us.

Can you guess how many rooms it has?

I’ll give you a hint: The kingdom of heaven has 10,000 rooms.

The Forbidden City has 9,999 and a half rooms, because the Emperor who built it was extremely humble. A room is considered to be the space inside four columns. You might be wondering what constitutes a half room. I’m guessing it only has two columns.

Mike and me at the first entrance for the Forbidden City

Mike and me at the first entrance for the Forbidden City

A giant picture of Chairman Mao was hanging at the entrance of the City. While on this trip I had to question what I learned about Mao in high school. I was told that Mao forced the Chinese people into slave labor and millions of people died of famine and disease. I considered him an evil dictator, but while in China I learned that he is celebrated for defeating the Japanese invaders and Imperialist forces. He also greatly increased literacy and life expectancy rates. It’s similar to my experience with Nicaragua. I had learned in school that the Sandinistas were terrible, but when I visited that country, so many of the Nicaraguans I met loved them because they fought for equality and ended the Somoza dictatorship. While they were in power literacy rates jumped from 45% to almost 90%, and their health care plans helped to eliminate polio and measles. Sure some of their practices were controversial, but I hate how skewed our education system is when it comes to any culture that does not accept capitalism as the end all and be all.

But like a lawnmower…I degrass!

The Forbidden city is protected by a moat and walls that are 26 feet high.

The first wall

The first wall

Next you enter the outer court where the Emperor would do his official duties.

Notice the stair case in the distance...I'll talk about that further.

Notice the staircase in the distance…I’ll talk about that further.

All the stairs have a ramp in between them. This is because the Emperor was always carried around on a bed, and the stairs were just for the servants who carried him on either side.

The Emperor was carried on a bed about all the carved, decorative ramps.

The Emperor was carried on a bed above all the carved, decorative ramps.

Then you cross the five bridges. Each one represents one of the five Confucian virtues that everyone should possess: humanity, sense of duty, wisdom, reliability and propriety. Only the Emperor was allowed to use the middle bridge (wisdom), but the empress got to cross it on one day in her life. Can you guess which day? Her wedding day, duh. I crossed the middle bridge because I guessed the right answer.

Sorry I didn't get a good picture of the bridges. This pic is from http://www.kinabaloo.com

Sorry I didn’t get a good picture of the bridges. This pic is from http://www.kinabaloo.com

And finally you enter the inner court where the Emperor actually lived. I have to admit by this point we stopped taking pictures because everything looked the same: Massive, red and yellow. Here’s one more panoramic pic to show you the scale:

Mike taking it all in

Mike taking it all in

I had to take a picture with this crazy guy, although now that I look at is again, I realize I’m dressed just as crazy as him. It was so cold there, and I did not pack accordingly.

Me with the Chinese Hippy.

Me with the Chinese Hippy. Check out his wooden platform shoes!

I’ll leave you with one last image:

2012-11-14 03.50.46

I wouldn’t want to ride in this taxi.

Top 10 Most Amazing Places on Earth #8: Nicaragua

Ok, I’m the first to admit it. I’ve been super spoiled. I’ve traveled everywhere and there’s not a day that I don’t reminisce and recognize how lucky I am. Here are some of the most amazing places I’ve visited:

Top 10 Most Amazing Places #8: Nicaragua

I first visited Nicaragua when I was 12 years old on an international volunteer trip with Bridges to Community. We went as a family, and before leaving, my mom made sure to tell us that we would have to use outhouses, we would eat rice and beans for every meal, and tarantulas and scorpions would be hiding in every dark corner. We cried and begged to go to Disneyland instead, but my parents thought it would be better to expose us to a lifestyle so different from Westchester, New York.

Some of the many cute kids in the villages.

Little did I know that that 8 day trip would change my life forever. I went back 9 more times (four of those times were trips I organized with my college) to help build schools, wells, orphanages and homes. It’s the reason why I went on to volunteer in Mozambique and Kenya.

Our first trip was to Bajo De Los Ramirez. You can only visit this town during the dry season because the “roads” were all dried up river beds. We were the first white people they had ever seen, and I remember the kids kept running up to touch my skin, and then would scream and run away laughing. When we arrived the whole town got together to greet us and sing and dance for us. I even got to use some of my 7th grade Spanish to introduce myself, “Me IIamo Tracy. Soy de Ustados Unidos. Muchos Gustos!”

Yummy!

We slept on the floor of a church and in the morning pigs would come in and wake us up by licking our faces. We bathed by getting a bucket from the well and taking it to a makeshift shower that was obviously made by men because the plastic wrap only went up to our belly buttons. It didn’t help that it was downhill and the only road was at the top of the hill. I’ll never forget when my sister was taking a shower and a bus full of men drove by and they all started cheering and hanging out the window to get a better look. She made their day!

We spent most of our time building a brick school house, and taking the first census the town had ever had. I think I was the only kid in my middle school who came back from Spring Break knowing how to lay brick!

Me and my beautiful brick wall. Unfortunately I was going through a chubby, awkward phase.

On our last day, the villagers roasted a giant pig for us. It was a startling experience for me because I had just started eating meat after being a vegetarian for 5 years, and now I was eating something that was oinking at me a few hours prior. However, the taste quickly overwhelmed my conscience.

If you go to Nicaragua, you must visit Lake Nicaragua. There is an island for every day of the year, and each island has something unique. One island we swam to was inhabited by wild monkeys. There was no way to get on the island so we just floated around in the water. The monkeys thought we looked funny so they hung from the tree branches and bobbed our heads like it was a game of whack-a-mole (and we were the moles). Eventually we had to leave once the moneys started throwing coconuts at us.

Beautiful Volcano Masaya.

Volcano Masaya is also a must see. There’s a constant haze of sulfuric gases coming out of the imploded crater. It is active, so you need to be carefull. If you climb to the top of the hill there’s an enormous cross because early settlers thought this was the mouth of hell. I saw a porcupine up there!

The cloud forest.

 

And if you have time, take a hike in the cloud forest. It’s so high up you walk through the clouds, and everything gets soaked because of the condensation. This moisture makes for some of the lushest greenery I’ve ever seen. The car ride to the trail is horrifying – they use left over Soviet Union hummers, and they can hardly handle the steep incline and the slippery mud. There’s nothing like watching the car in front of you sliding back towards you. But at least there’s a great view of the coffee fields to distract you from the many near-death moments.

The mural we painted!

And if you have extra time, you should definitely visit the Museum of Archaeology in Ticuantepe! There you can see the mural my classmates and I painted!

On one trip, when we went on a walk through the jungle, I was bitten by a poisonous ant and went into Anaphylactic shock. They gave me three Epi-pens but nothing was working. Through my convulsions I begged the team leader not to bring me to the emergency clinic because I was afraid if my parents found out they would never let me go back to Nicaragua. Yep, that’s how much I love the place.

Eventually my tongue swelled up to the point where I could hardly breath anymore, and they took me to the clinic. It’s a good thing because the doctor said the skin on my ears almost split open! If anyone’s ever seen Hitch, I was twice as swollen as Will Smith after he eats the shellfish. But I’d still do it all over again!

The Old Cathedral

Nicaragua’s one of the friendliest places I’ve ever visited, and it has all the natural beauty of Costa Rica except for half the cost! For some Spanish culture, you can visit Granada. Or for military history, visit the old, national prison where you can still see the blood stains on the walls. Or for some local flavor, visit one of the many market places, and hire one of the young boys to help you. It will only cost about a dollar, and he’ll be one of your best tour guides! No matter what you like to see when you travel, Nicaragua has a taste of everything.

This is One Curator to Keep an Eye On

Molly Morgan Weiss was one of those special people who stood out in college, and that’s quite a feat in art school. I first saw her hanging outside my dorm in pink, furry, knee-high boots [although, she claims they were black]! We first bonded while painting a mural on the front of the Museum of Archaeology in Nicaragua. We’ve had many crazy adventures together, including almost getting arrested by undercover cops in Poland!

I’ve always been a big fan of her paintings. In fact I own two! I’ve also been to almost all of the shows she curated. From Fantastical Interactical  in the Hamptons, to Burlesque Poetry in Brooklyn, to her most recent show at Gallery 151 in Chelsea, her shows are always  fun, hip, and artsy. She showcases artists with a new perspective and a hint of whimsy (my favorite part). Just recently she secured the position of curator at Gallery 151, a competitive and prestigious position in the art world. Molly took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions. Her path from sleeping in her car to becoming an art curator will  inspire you!

Can you tell us about some of your jobs since graduating from Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)?

The more bad jobs you have the more you realize what you don’t want to do. I was always fortunate enough to know it was art for me. I knew I needed to make it happen.  So, even when my job was (this is embarrassing and awful) billing cancer patients, I would go right home after work and immediately work on my next show, or a large painting or something that fed that art space in me. That job drove a fire in me to find friends who were exhibiting and just wanting to make art wherever whenever. We all worked really hard at it too.  

From writing the press releases to organizing the installations, we all formed a team. We were very close and created a bit of a movement out in our sleepy town (Sag Harbor, NY).  I had the honor to work for the Parrish Art Museum,where I met life long friends as well as continued to exhibit throughout the East End.

The [economic downturn] definitely hurt the art world.  I often feel like I’m on the front lines,  because at any given moment the arts funding can be cut. But that won’t stop me, at least not anytime soon. I was unemployed for a while, but my hard work in the art world eventually brought me to NYC.  I worked at Staples to pay for my art supplies – the coworkers were great, clients were awful.  For the last three years, I’ve been working at Gateway Schools on the Upper West Side.  Its a beautiful school with a great reputation and has allowed me to explore projects with children that I love. 

When did you know you wanted to become a curator?

This sounds cliche, but I think it just happened. People started calling me a curator, and then as I worked on my shows, I realized  that it made absolute sense. I had to work a lot for free, but I loved it so much I didn’t even mind.  

Can you describe the month leading up to landing a position as a curator?

I was accepted into Robert Wilson‘s Watermill Center for visual art and curating.  They were going to put me up for the summer for 6 weeks, all expenses paid, and introduce me to some of the best, talented, hard working artists in the industry today. I was so excited…It was everything I had ever worked for.  I thought I was about to embark on the best dream art summer ever.  

After a couple of nights there I was promptly kicked out because “the icon,” Mr. Wilson, decided he didn’t like me.  He never gave me a reason, I had to find out some things through a grape vine, that I didn’t fit in, he didn’t appreciate my sense of humor, I was “too casual”. I still don’t know if any of that is true but I have to swallow it and deal. The same night I was kicked out, the man I loved for the past three years told me he was leaving me for one of me “good friends”.  Talk about being hit while your already down. I had no apartment, and wound up living out of my car.  It was a rug swiftly pulled from under my feet.  I was devastated.

Then there was a Patti Smith concert, and god damn does Patti Smith feel good in times like these.  That’s where I saw Mike Namer (owner and founder of Gallery 151) and his son Matt, whom I’ve known for years.  They have always been friendly, warm, loving,  interesting people.  He’s the kind of man that is really working hard to give back to his community. With Patti Smith’s words pumping me up, I told Mike about the recent bad events. By the next day he had me over for coffee with him and his wife, and a month later was seriously talking about this job that opened up running his gallery in Chelsea.  Here I am today.  

I’m still in touch with a lot of artists from Watermill Center, and I bought a camera right before summer and religiously documented the whole experience which I plan to exhibit.  And yes, the “ex” boy admits now that he made a mistake. 

The month before this job was crazy, and had I not run into Michael Namer I don’t know what would have happened.  It proves that you need to have a little faith in the uncertainty every once in awhile. I’m usually so organized at plotting my career, so this was a real shake up and a strange time.

Your story is a perfect example of the saying, Luck is what happens when hard work meets opportunity. What advice can you give a young, creative person who’s just graduating from college?

The other day I told one of my interns, just keep going after college, no matter what, just keep at it. I feel strongly if you have a vision, and want to keep making art you must keep going and find other people that are also keeping at it.  When you get a good group of people all doing it the force is unstoppable and the work you want will find you.  You will be broke, but always keep that vision right there, and if you can, and are lucky enough to have supportive people around you, be good to them.  Be humble and eventually you’ll know why you’re doing it. 

What are some of your visions for the future of the gallery? 

I come from a real community orientated background, and luckily for me that is a huge part of the owners vision as well.  As I did out on Long Island, I’d like to collaborate with other artists, setting up exciting events that mix visual art, poetry slams,  crafts,and performance. One of my missions is to make art approachable and interactive.  In the world today, the arts are suffering badly, and its very hard to find serious investors for young emerging artists.  I like to get creative with this obstacle. We have to give them a reason why everyone, from a  young professional to an old wealthy banker, should support the arts. Art is a documentation of our society, so it’s important.  

Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming show? 

 This next exhibition is a very important one for Mike Namer.  It’s a retrospective for the artist ERO aka. Ever Rocking On (Dominique Philbert) who just recently passed away this summer at a far too young age, 44.  This is the first show of his work since his death, he had a friendship with Mike, and I’ve learnt a lot about the artist while hanging the show and talking to the family.  He was a true artist.  He was misunderstood by society, but was extraordinarily talented.  

He was good friends with Basquiat, and for art history nerds like us, it’s a dream to actually be hanging work from the the early 80’s graffiti art movement.  They played an extremely influential role in the NYC art scene and paved way for a lot of artists to follow. They were a couple of pioneering badasses, and I can only hope to do the same.  The opening is going to be great, and the work is incredible, speaks for itself, we are all really looking forward to it.

ERO: RIP “Ever Rocking On” is open from January 12th to February 1st. Gallery 151 is located at 132 West 18th st (near the corner of 6th Ave). I’ll be there for the opening on Thursday, January 19th, for the opening (6pm-9pm)! Come join us!!!

Work Ethic

I’m sorry for not posting for so long. I’m in Barcelona with my boyfriend, so you know, not hangin’ around the computer much. But I did feel guilty not posting. Since I’m unemployed, blogging kind of feels like a mini job. A job that I love doing (in fact, while on a bus ride between Salamanca and Segovia I was thinking about how much I wanted to blog. Strange? If only I could get paid to ramble.) So since I wasn’t doing my mini-job, it got me thinking about work ethic.

While in Madrid I was staying at the Cat Hostel (yes, I picked it for the name, and a part of me was hoping there would be a resident cat, but that part of me was disappointed) and I decided to extend my stay for an extra night. I went to the reception desk at 11:30 and asked the guy if I could extend my reservation. He looked at me and politely asked if I would mind coming back at12 to do that. I said sure, but asked him why. He said that he was changing shifts at 12 and he’d prefer not to do a reservation during his last half hour of work. Well that just shut me up. How can you argue with that logic? I had no idea that Bartleby, the Scrivener, could get a job in this modern day.

The next day I had a leisurly lunch outside the Museum Lazarious. When I got there there was a business lunch happening between a boss and three employees. From what I could understand (they were speaking in Spanish) they talked about art, politics, philosophy, their families, vacation plans, and everything else but work. Well that´s not true. After about an hour I heard the boss suggest that they work a half day on one of the many Saint´s days that they usually have off. The three employees agreed that that was out of line and they wouldn’t do it. At that point one of the employess laughed and said they would soon start working like Americans.

I am continually getting hit over the head by how much American´s work, and how we are the laughing stuck of the rest of the World. While I was at the Language school, Don Quijote, and I told them that most Americans only get 2 weeks of vacations, their jaws droped. When my Spanish teacher complained about how in Spain people only have 4 months of maternity leave, one person from Switzerland was outraged. They apparently get 2 years of maternity leave. Yes 2 years.

It seems like everywhere else personal time is considered sacred, and no boss, no schedule, no responsibilities get in the way of it. If you’re in a store at 1:30 in Spain and you are about to buy something it doesn’t matter, the clerk will kick you out so that she can take her two hour break. There doesn’t seem like there’s any hurry to get things done. No drive, no work ethic.

And here’s where I feel torn. I’m not sure if this extreme is a good thing. I like this attitude while on vacation, but I remember it driving me crazy while living in Mozambique. I remember waiting weeks before having a meeting with my boss. Everyday he would say “manana.” It would take months for a short fence to go up, because the workers were taking breaks every five minutes. Dinners at restaurants would take hours, not because you were enjoying the food, but because you were waiting for the waiter. I would hear every foreigner say, “Mozambican’s are just so damn lazy.” And these were usually European foreigners saying this.

I’ve done a lot of traveling through Southern and Eastern Europe, and I’m always amazed by how little people work. But in Europe, they’re not seen as lazy, it somehow seems like the people are defending their rights, like their refusal to work on small holidays is a political stance. “WE WILL NOT BECOME AMERICA!” Is this hypocrisy just a symptom of Post-colonialism?Will laziness in former Colonies always be viewed as a negative, but laziness in post-imperialist countries always be viewed as an inalienable right? 

Now how did America, a former colony, escape the stereotype, and even become know as a country who works too hard? Well that must come from our Puritan background. Puritans, who were mostly Lutherans and Calvinists, believed that a certain number of people were pre-selected to be saved by God. Since it was impossible to know if you were pre-selected it was thought that a strong work ethic was a consequence of being God’s chosen one and therefore, if you worked hard enough, you were probably going to Heaven. It’s true. Wikipedia said so!

So take that Puritan background, and mix it up with Capitalism, and you end up with a country that has 24 hour Drug stores on every corner and a waitress who’s 8.5 months pregnant serving you coffee at midnight so you can finish your work reports. We are so tied to the capitalist identity that we sent secret troops into Nicaragua, and sold weapons to Iran, just to get back at Russia, our sworn enemy. And why was Russia so bad? It was presenting an alternative lifestyle to capitalism. Pure evil I tell you!

Geez! It’s not often I get to make references to Melville, Weber, and the Iran Contra affair within one conversation. I should be telling you about Gaudi’s awesome architecture (amazing) and the beach (amazing) and the old Gothic quarter (amazing), but one of the reasons I came to Spain was for the HeSo project. I’m doing the things I love, and trying to see if I can make a job out of it. So of course, work is on my mind. I’ve learned something very important about my work ethic while in Spain. I’ve realized that while I love the relaxed attitude of the Mediterranean, I also need to feel a sense of energy and accomplishment. In other words, I don’t want to work like an American, European, or Mozambican. Mmm I guess I need to travel some more to find the ideal work ethic 😉