Thursday, August 31, 2006

Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia

Here's a little about some of the countries that I visited.

President: Georgi Parvanov
Government type: parliamentary democracy
Capital: Sofia (1.2 million) [2,500 Jews]
Population: 7.5 million (Bulgarian 88%, Turk 8.5%, Roma (the hated Gypsy) 2.5%, and others 1%, [6,200 Jews] )
Official language: Bulgarian
Religions: Eastern Orthodox 85%, Muslim 12%, and others
Independence: 3 March 1878 (as an autonomous principality within the Ottoman Empire); 22 September 1908 (complete independence from the Ottoman Empire)
National holiday: Liberation Day, 3 March (1878)

Prime Minister: Calin Popescu-Tariceanu
Government type: republic
Capital: Bucharest
Population: 22 million (Romanian 88%) [9,000 - 15,000 Jews]
Official language: Romanian
Religions: Romanian Orthodox 70%, Protestant 8%, Greek Catholic 10%, Roman Catholic 5%, Muslim around 1% and others
Independence: 9 May 1877 (independence proclaimed from the Ottoman Empire; independence recognized 13 July 1878 by the Treaty of Berlin; kingdom proclaimed 26 March 1881); 30 December 1947 (republic proclaimed)
National holiday: Unification Day (of Romania and Transylvania), 1 December (1918)

Prime Minister: Ferenc Gyurcsany
President: Laszlo Solyom
Government type: parliamentary democracy
Capital: Budapest
Population 10 million (Hungarian 92.3%, Roma 1.9%, other or unknown 5.8%)
Languages: Hungarian 94%, others
Religions: Roman Catholic 51.9%, Calvinist 15.9%, Lutheran 3%, Greek Catholic 2.6%, other Christian 1%, other or unspecified 11.1%, unaffiliated 14.5%
Independence: 1001 (unification by King Stephen I)
National holiday: Saint Stephen's Day, 20 August

Prime Minister: Robert Fico
President: Ivan Gasparovic
Government type: parliamentary democracy
Capital: Bratislava
Population 5.4 million (Slovak 85.8%, Hungarian 9.7%, Roma 1.7%, Ruthenian/Ukrainian 1%, other and unspecified 1.8%)
Religions: Roman Catholic 69%, Protestant 11%, Greek Catholic 4%, other or unspecified 3%, none 13%
Official Language: Slovak
Independence: 1 January 1993 (Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia)
National holiday: Constitution Day, 1 September (1992)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Twenty Four

Old Man
Old man look at my life,
Twenty four
and there's so much more
Live alone in a paradise
That makes me think of two.

Love lost, such a cost,
Give me things
that don't get lost.
Like a coin that won't get tossed
Rolling home to you.

Old man take a look at my life
I'm a lot like you
I need someone to love me
the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes
and you can tell that's true.
-Neil Young
Room With A View
As a boy, she told me, 'Wait 'til your father to come home.'
I'm 24 still waiting for my father to come home.
And some parents only touch their children when the whips brought.
That's why bad kids do bad shit.
Just so they can get caught
and get touched.
This growing up shit's rough.
-Brother Ali

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bush And Hurricane Katrina

George Bush in Air Force One flying over hurricane-ravaged New Orleans on his way to his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

The insignificant dots George Bush outside of George Bush's window. They are the Americans that he refused to help.

Monday, August 28, 2006

How I Feel Better

These are things that help me get through times when the world saddens me:

Watch clips of idiots taking it on the chin on Youtube. These idiots include Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, David Horowitz, Sean Hannity, William Donohue, Rush Limbaugh, and many others.

I like listening to comedians who expose the ridiculousness of it all.

Playing lots of basketball.

Fondling myself.

Listening to Hip Hop. Right now, I'm into Braille, a Christian-theme emcee. But he is the good kind of Christian. He raps about Jesus' philosophies (helping the poor, women's rights, the tragedy of war) and doesn't just name-drop "the Lord" constantly. Also, I like to listen to Common, Talib Kweli, Cee-Lo, and Blackalicious during these moments.

Watching baseball, but the stupid MLB hardly shows any Nats games on tv. That fucking sucks!


Watching sit-coms from the 1980s and early 1990s because we only knew a fraction of Reagan's and Bush Sr.'s lies, due to lack of internet. Ignorance isn't bliss, but it's better than knowing a lot of depressing shit (in the short term anyway).

Doing my school work.

Pushing old people down the stairs and robbing the homeless.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


I must admit that a guilty pleasure of mine is watching bad things happen to bad people. I didn't always used to be like this, and I'm hoping it's just a phase, but for now...

So, I come back home to hear that Senator George Allen likes making fun of Indian-Americans by calling them monkeys and welcoming American citizens to America (and the real world of Virginia[?]).

There are many things to love about George Allen's little speech. The fact that he prefaces his racism with the claim that he advocates positive ideas and a positive campaign, unlike his opponent. Also, he thought he could get away with it by using a little-known slur. My favorite is the irony.

Future Virginia Senator Jim Webb sent an aid to video tape George Allen's speeches in case he made a gaff. George Allen in turn made a gaff directly because the aid was there video taping him in case he made a gaff! Mmmm, irony is delicious.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Back Home

Perhaps one day I will look back and decide that this trip changed my life in a very profound way. Or it will be lost in the immense landfill that are my forgotten memories.

All summer long I've had a low opinion of myself. This trip helped to intensify that feeling and, hopefully, flush it out. Perhaps this was apparent between the lines of my posts, I'm not sure.

For someone who is quite self-conscious about how little he knows and struggles with the paradox that the more I know, the more I realize I don't know, this trip was devastating. I encountered languages that I will never learn and thus people I will never know. I went to different countries and my mere presence demanded that they know my language.

I realized that almost all of the people I came across were better people than I. I'm reminded of the Syrian Muslim in Sofia, the Moldovan woman on the train to Bucharest, Mike's family, and Patricia's family. These people have touched me in a profound way with their kindness, in a way that I can never repay. And how did I repay them? With arrogance and ignorance.

My 3 most rewarding experiences:
In chronological order: Visiting the beautiful synagogue in Sofia and praying in the mosque there across the street with Sherkhan. We also visited an Eastern Orthodox church. Especially the synagogue and the mosque (because I wasn't with a Christian) gave me a warm feeling. It showed me the good that can come from understanding and acceptance.

In Vienna, striking up a conversation with some guys from Africa. In a few short hours they allowed me into their world while exploring mine. It was a situation that many idealists dream of. People from different walks of life sitting around and learning from each other's experiences.

Patricia's country house is near Mlawa, Poland. Mlawa (pronounced Mwa-va) is her hometown. We walked through the forest together talking. It was a blessing to be able to connect with someone so special. Unfortunately we had many miscommunications, which I blame myself, but that day was something that I will cherish always.

It will be liberating now for me to go back to talking about things other than myself.

For Americans, some of Eastern Europe's culture can be offensive. We saw many teens stick their tongues down each other throats in public. I'm all for making out with someone you love, let's just keep that between you and your loved one. Also, men pop their collars way too much. Also, where were my free refills, ridiculously sized meal portions, and 3.5 gallon flush toilets?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Visiting My Family's Past

It was four hours into an 18 hour bus ride from Warsaw to Munich. We pulled into a bus station and Meet the Fockers, dubbed in monotone Polish, disappered from the bus's tv screen. I looked outside and saw a sign that said "Koninski". I got up and walked out of the bus.

"Konin" "Konin" "Konin." It seemed to be on every sign. I ran over to a map and sure enough "KONIN" was in big capital letters in the center of the map. I was in Konin.

My grandfather grew up in Konin, Poland before the Holocaust. He was the only member of his family to survive. He never went back to Konin. But he kept a book written in Hebrew about the town with him until he died.

I ran back onto the bus and grabbed my disposable camera. I only had two pictures left. In my excitement\ anxiousness\ nervousness I took one of the ground. I composed myself and was able to snap a shot of a sign that said "Konin."

I put the camera back in my backpack and walked back outside. The faintest drizzle fell on me. I was surrounded by creepy looking people smoking in a bus station. I tried to draw meaning from the bizarre situation. A very attractive girl made eyes at me, but I ignored her, she wasn't my type anyway. Even if she would have been, I still would've ignored her.

I felt trapped. I couldn't wander far from the bus. I couldn't explore my family's past. Or, probably more accurately, I wasn't able to find out what Konin was like without us. I walked back onto the bus in frustration, still not knowing what to do. I grabbed the cd that Patricia gave me of Jewish music in Polish, Hebrew, and Yiddish. I listened to her favorite song first and then the rest of the album.

Soon the bus began moving again and Meet the Fockers came back on the tv.

Now I'm in Munich alone, trying to grapple with everything. It's a horrible feeling to be here. It seems so surreal. Surreal in a nightmarish way. Why do I have to deal with this? I don't want to right now. Give me a break.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Polish Countryside

Patricia took me to her country house yesterday, north of Warsaw. There, we met her dad, who is a very sweet guy. He's in to Buddhism and Taoism and meditation. And as you could have guessed, he's the chairman of a sugar company and was educated as an economist.

Walking through the forest was amazing and I even overcame my fear of dogs! Well, maybe just for the moment.

I am constantly astonished by the power of my words. I am surprised that people can get hurt by what I say. I don't even really believe that you're reading this right now to be honest. I think it is perhaps the process of becoming an "adult" but I don't view my words as having much value.

But there are times when my words do hurt people. Sometimes it is intentional. I want to shake someone's thinking. I want to get them out of their comfort zone. I am proud when I am able to accomplish this.

There are other times when I will make a stupid comment with the assumption that I cannot hurt someone with my words because my words are not powerful enough coming from my mouth or my fingers as the case might be. But they do hurt people. And it is my fault because of my own self-consciouness. And that's all I can say. Oh and maybe, I'm sorry.

Pretty soon I'm about to embark on an 18 hour bus ride, then I'll spend a few hours alone in Munich, and then it's a 9 hour flight home. Oh, and I can't sleep on planes or buses.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

In Warsaw, Poland

I've been in Warsaw for a couple days now and it's a nice city. It feels like America more than any other city I've been to on this trip. It's also been a different experience because I'm with my Polish friend Patricia all day.

Yesterday we walked into the former Jewish ghetto and she said, "We've been walking in the former ghetto for a little while now." I was taken aback at how matter-of-fact I perceived her statement. I didn't have time to prepare emotionally. But she didn't mean it to be matter-of-factly. She told me that it's just reality, it's there, so they are forced to deal with it, forced to come to terms with it. Her psychology classes are in one of the few buildings left in Warsaw from before the World War II and 1 of only 2 in the former ghetto that survived. It used to be where the Nazis tortured people. Patricia is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors.

I met her family last night. They were so unbelievably nice. Her mom would say an English word and her and her two daughters would giggle. Patricia's sister Joanna is 19 and speaks English fluently and is clearly quite intelligent. One minute the mother and her two daughters are screaming at the top of their lungs at each other and the next they're laughing with each other. It's a site to see when you don't speak the language and you don't know what the fuck is going on.

Later I met Patricia's cousin George, who is a model. He is also 19, only about a foot taller than me, and was very eager to practice his English with me. He got his ideas across with ease, but struggled to master sentence structure. I really admire the ability to speak more than one language. I feel confined by English although people really do speak it in most places around the world. The entire family speaks more than one language.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Unexpected Rewards

Visiting and praying in the synagogue and the mosque in Sofia was one of the two most rewarding experiences of this trip. The other occured Saturday night. I was sitting on a bench alone in Vienna. Sherkhan was already in Milan.

I had nothing to do and I was exhausted. An old man got up from the bech and soon after two guys sat down. Another soon joined, standing by the bench. They talked to each other for about 20 minutes as I just sat there until we finally struck up a conversation. Soon a 4th guy joined us. 2 were from Togo and 2 were from Nigeria. We talked for several hours.

We talked about how black people are treated in Vienna and Europe on the whole and we compared that situation to what we have heard about being black in America. Basically, in Vienna, no one sits with a black guy on the subway, and elsewhere, they are ignored, scoffed at, and are forced to confront racist graffiti all the time. One man said he was tackled and booked by 6 police officers because they mistook him for someone else.

Black people cannot get office jobs, but these were 4 (definitely 3, 1 guy didn"t talk so much) of the most intelligent people that I've encountered on the trip. We talked about the difference between welfare, unemployment, education, and housing in Europe and in America. These guys were about 5-7 years older than me, so they knew what was going on a hell of a lot more than I do.

One guy told me that he had never just sat and talked to a white man, only the occasional white woman. I was pretty shocked by that. Personally, I really dislike small talk, but I would've thought that someone would've struck up a conversation with 1 of the 4 at some point. They didn't tell me how long they had been in Vienna, but all 4 spoke fluent German and they just said "a while." When we parted, we exchanged emails, which is further testament to how desparate these guys were to talk to someone. 1 guy said, "I want to talk to other kinds of people, but they don't want to talk to me." They've tried, I saw that just sitting there.

Now I'm in Warsaw visiting a friend. It's a neat city, but my friend either yells at me or ignores me, so that's not so great. Listen, I'm a schmuck, deal with it!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Alone in Vienna

Sherkhan left this morning for Milan and then home to America, so I'm all alone.

After Sherkhan left, a girl stumbled into the room of our hostel. Later, we glanced at each other as a Slavic family made a lot of noise this morning. When they left, we began talking. She asked me where I was from and was shocked when I said America (she's not the first in Austria to be shocked either).

She was born in the Soviet Union and moved to Bavaria when she was a little girl after the Soviet Union crumbled. She told me that she had only met one other American in her life. His name was T.J. from California and "he was a black." It sounded like it was an international school function, where students were brought in from other countries or something. She was not impressed with him. She paused for a second and added that it had nothing to do with him being black, he was just too reserved. German's aren't as smooth at covering up their racism as we are.

Less than 5 minutes into the conversation she said that a guy in Munich printed a paper twice a year giving news that wasn't widely reported. She had read one issue, which was about the attacks on September 11th. These are her paraphrased words:

The Jews knew about the attacks before they happened. They got an email telling them not to go to work that day. But there are things in the paper that I don't belive like Osama bin Laden worked for the CIA.

I was stunned. I had heard about the Jews being emailed before 9-11 many times, but what do I say to her? I weighed my responsibilities. I was the first American that she really got a chance to talk to, do I listen to her and break down the stereotype that Americans don't care what the rest of the world thinks? Do I stand up for us Jews? What is my job as a future educator, correct and break her confidence, or reinforce wrong information?

All of this was going through my head. I told myself to make a decision that I wouldn't regret. So what did I do? The American side won out, I said nothing.

Or put another way, an 18 year old girl was in her underwear talking to me; that doesn't happen to me everyday (hardly ever!) so I didn't want to do anything to disrupt anything. Yes, I am a horrible person.

The girl left me with a message, "Tell the Americans greetings and I don't like all of them, except for you." Then she left. I still can't wrap my head around what happened. Let me just say that the Jews are not involved in any conspiracies. If you've ever met a Jew, you know that we are not agreeable people. It's worse when Jews get together. I've seen marriages go 50 years based on a shared enjoyment for bickering with one another.

While walking around, I saw a guy flirting with a poster of Claudia Schiffer. He stared at the poster and would continuously look down and blush and then look back up at the poster again. It was a special glimpse into my future.

Friday, August 18, 2006

In Vienna, Austria

This was my 3rd day in Vienna; I am leaving for Warsaw tomorrow. At first, the people were very nice, but now I have a bit of a different impression. Yesterday, I tried to buy my train ticket to Warsaw, so I asked the guy selling train tickets, "What trains go to Warsaw on the 19th?" He told me to go to information and shut his window. I could not believe it. His fucking job is to answer that question!

Afterward, I played basketball at an immigrant court. It was a very cool experience, although I did not get a great feel for how Austrians play ball.

Today, I found some of the Jewish sites in Vienna, with my yarmulke on my head. I asked a cop working Judenplatz, where was the medievel synagogue. He laughed, walked me to where it was, pointed, told me it was closed, and laughed again. I did not ask him anything else because he was a fucking asshole.

Sometimes I fall victim to the perception that Jewish history is overrepresented in America. White Flint mall has an exhibition on the DC Jewish community, and without looking at it, I cringed a bit. But it occured to me, that while the perception is there, most Americans know very little Jewish history. It seems most people do not care.

The Jewish museum in Vienna was fairly pathetic. They had one little room for Jewish artifacts that were not put in any context and then a huge exhibition on Lorenzo da Ponta, who wrote for Mozart. He was born Jewish, but converted at the age of 14 and became a Catholic priest. He apparently had very little ties to his Jewish heritage. A significant portion of the exbition was about Mozart anyway (whom they absolutely love here) with a feeble attempt to tie him back to anything Jew-related.

I guess that is how people need to learn about Jews. It has to be overtly relavant to them or it is ignored. In this case, it was at the expense of Jewish history. Mike´s picking Hungarian Jews was similar in that he made the Jew draftrelavant to him by making it a Hungarian draft of people that happen to be Jewish. That is still better than Sherkhan wandering away from me before I found the Jew street and doing his own thing.

It is a very nice city (awfully expensive), but it lacks a welcoming feeling. Blacks and Turks are glared at or just ignored by white Austrians. They really did not know what to do when an actual real live Jew walked by them. But Sherkhan noticed that I got the stink eye several times. And now I do not have room to talk about the fat kid I saw running, oh was that fat Austrian boy hilarious!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Bratislava, Slovakia to Vienna

Bratislava is a nice little city, but a lot of little annoying things happened.

I bought a Slovakian Hip Hop cd. The cashier (a young woman) walked over to her co-worker to take the plastic alarm off, pointed to the cd and then mocked me. Lovely.

While on the internet, a dude rushes in and, I assume, asks me if I speak whatever language he was speaking. I said "No." Then he kept right on speaking it until I turned around and continued typing. Then he asked if I spoke English. Evidently he wanted to use a computer and in a hurry because something was closing. Sherkhan offered his (he had been on-line a lot longer than me), but apparently only my computer was linked to the printed, which he needed. I told him that I was getting off soon. So I finished up the last post on this blog and that mother fucker kept rushing me, which made me go slower, because I couldn't concentrate. Finally I just yelled, "Gimme 2 minutes!" I paid for that shit, damn, stop rushing me asshole.

Sherkhan got into an argument with the waitress at dinner. Then he got upset because I found her rudeness attractive. Hey, I like Slovakian women's style.

The hostel (Orange Hostel) sucked. No toilet paper, the free internet is 1 computer for 100 people and it cost more than anywhere else we stayed. It's a bad sign when anything in Bucarest is better than something in yours.

Here in Vienna, this youth group accosted me. A teenaged boy and girl came up to me and started yelling at me in perky German. I thought to myself "Oh shit, I'm done for, they're gonna take me away." After I collected myself, I said, "I don't speak." And they apologized.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Spite is Dangerous

Sherkhan and I were in 1 of the 4 train stations in Budapest, trying to buy tickets to Bratislava. I really had to pee, so I went looking for a bathroom. I found one, but you had to pay 80 Hungarian feet (or Hungary Hungary hippos), which is maybe 30 cents, to use the bathroom. I was fucking infuriated. While I was peeing, I decided to fart in order to smell up the bathroom out of spite for having to pay to use the toilet. Trying to fart, I shit my pants.

"Fuck!" I screamed. There was no toilet paper in the stall. I pulled up only my jeans, allowing my underwear to hang low, and waddled towards the toilet paper. I got some, waddled back, and scrubbed, both my underwear and my ass. It was a shart, so not enough to throw out my underwear, but enough to make the long walk/tram ride/bus ride/and another long walk, quite unpleasant. So, I shit my pants out of spite, for having to pay 30 cents. They should put that on my tombstone, because that about sums it up right there.

Later that night we saw a group of awesome break dancers. One guy spun on his head for over a minute for sure. One break dancer was the Hungarian Zoe. Another was like that guy from Tekken 3, Steve knows what I'm talking about. Eddie or something? I don't know. But basically, they were awesome.

Heading back to Mike's cousin's uncle's apartment, we opened the gate and were hounded by an old lady and her gigantic dog. She was screaming at us in Hungarian and broken English. We tried to explain that we were guests of a tenet, but she didn't relent until her husband said something to her and then struggled to stop the dog from eating us whole. The situation would have been more quickly averted had we known the names of the people that we were staying with.

A couple of days ago, we saw a woman yelling "Hi" at us in the Budapest train station. She was a Japanese woman who had stayed with us in our room in the hostel in Sofia a couple of days before. Quite a coincidence.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Tying Up Loose Ends

On the train ride from Bucarest to Budapest, we sat with a German guy and his Danish girlfriend, as I mentioned. Sherkhan and I started talking about basketball and the German guy jumped into our conversation. He said that Dirk Nowitzki was a better team player than Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

I told him that I agreed with him on Kobe (I only half agree really, but I didn´t want to be too difficult), but that I totally disagreed with him about LeBron. He admitted that he didn´t really watch the games and the way he said it ˝The players that you like (who, Nate Robinson and Earl Boykins?), like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James,˝ led me to believe that his comment was implicitly racist. LeBron wasn´t a throw-in either, the guy argued for a while that LeBron was a selfish player. He said that Kobe and LeBron were not good team players, especially not as good as Dirk, because of his perception of black American athletes.

LeBron and Kobe could not be more different from each other. Kobe is a shooter and a scorer, LeBron is a creater. To call Dirk a better team player than LeBron is ludicrous and ignorant. Sure LeBron scores a lot, but he piles up the assists as well. I would even argue that Kobe is a better team player than Dirk because of his defensive prowess (though I believe Kobe is an overrated defender). Dirk is a better team player than McGrady, ok, but not better than LeBron for sure. But maybe that´s how black Americans are viewed by the outside world.

Last night, the woman that we´re staying with (she is about 6 degrees separated from Mike even) talked to us about the difference between socialism and capitalism in Hungary. She stopped short of saying that socialism was good, but she was really against the direction that Hungary is going. She lemented the new high-paced, stress-filled pace at which Hungarians now live their lives. She longed for the calmer winds of socialism.

She was upset that people all of the sudden have to pay for their medical care after so many years of taking it for granted. She was upset at the corruption that took place when everything was being privatized 15 years ago and is taking place in the government now. She believes that the prime minister has too much power. He is a billionare ˝socialist,˝ which sounds funny to the ears. She says that the left wing is now the right, the right is a weak version of the left and there are no good parties to vote for. It was interesting to hear some of the arguments about politics in Hungary

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Pissing In The Sink

On the train ride from Bucarest to Budapest, Sherkhan tricked me into to peeing in a sink that was in a separate room from the toilet. When he told me that I had peed in the sink and that the toilet was around the corner, I kind of just shrugged it off, I´ve done worse. Then the nice German guy, who was sitting with us, brushed his teeth in that room. The train kept rocking while I was peeing so that room was covered in my urine. I think it makes up for the Holocaust.

In Budapest, we were riding a bus and the door threw me backwards and I brushed an old lady. It was her fault for not getting out of my way. Then her old husband started talking shit to me in Hungarian. I screamed, ˝You tawkin to me?˝ at them. But other than that, Budapest is a nice city. The Z is where the Y should be on the keyboard though.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

In Bucarest, Romania

We hopped on a bus after getting of the train. We didn't buy a ticket (that would've costed 33 cents). Instead we had to pay 15 American dollars!!!! It was all Sherkhan's fault, son't listen to him if he tries to blame the bus fiasco on me!

Then we walked around what Skerkhan thought was the downtown area of Bucarest. I kept telling him that the woman who ran the hostel was telling us to make a left, but he insisted we go right on the main road every time. We just found downtown today, when we went left after a Norweigan girl told us to do so.

Many places that Sherkhan goes, they don't believe that he's American, which bothers him greatly. Here, the woman who took our bus money did the same thing. Sherkhan said that his parents are from Pakistan, and she said, "Yes, see India, I was right. I'm not a stupid girl." Then she asked me where I was from and I hesistantly said, "America." She said my last name in an accent (Ha-raz, doouke) and continued, "You are from Ukraina?" "Yeah, yeah, I'm from Ukraine." I'm more Polish, but whatever. The people here love saying my last name with that accent. They say it again and again.

Unfortunately, we won't get to go to Ukraine. It costs to much and we can only get a day train. So, we're going to Budapest straight from here most likely.

From Sofia to Bucarest

Sherkhan and I visited the only synagogue in Sofia. A man, who had been in the military for most of his life, was head of security at the synagogue. He said that despite the security around the synagogue, he didn't feel there was much of a threat. I asked because we had seen several swastikas spray painted around the outskirts of the city. He was very proud that Bulgarians saved all of their Jews during WWII. They only spent 1 to 3 months in a labor camp (only). While he was paternalistic about the Jews, I appreciated his enthusiasm.

The synagogue was magnificent. Bulgarian Jews are Sephardi, so the building was Spanish-style. The man said that there are 6,200 Jews left in Bulgaria and 2,500 in Sofia itself.

We met the Syrian guy again and prayed at the mosque again afterward. (Yes, we visited some churches too. It would've had more meaning if we were with a Christian though). The Syrian guy made a joke that a Bulgarian Muslim (who spoke English) was a student of bin Laden. The guy kind of brushed it off, perhaps because he didn't want to offend the older Syrian guy, or maybe because it's true. And, evidently, bin Laden in a distant uncle by marriage of the Syrian guy.

On the train to Bucarest, we sat with a very nice woman from Moldova. She made sandwhiches for us, but they were salami, and we can't eat pig, so we had to decline and felt guilty about it. But she was so nice. She made our beds and everything.

At the border, the Bulgarian guard gave me back my passport and said, "Here you are David Michael." Another guard walked by and sarcastically said, "Michael Jackson." I tried to stiffle a laugh. But it wasn't as funny as the dude in Sofia who was riding his bike and ran straight into a fucking tree!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

In Sofia, Bulgaria

My flight from DC to Paris went smoothly. Then I had a 5 hour layover in the worst aiport in the world, Charles De Gaull. They don't let you check in until 15 minutes before the flight leaves, there's nothing to do in the waiting area (besides the occasional beauty shop), and there are very few seats. My flight from DC was early and the fight to Sofia was late. I only slept 6 minutes all night.

I met Sherkhan in the airport, no problem. We took a bus to the hostel (Sherkhan arrived in Sofia 12 hours before me). When we got to the hostel, I decided not to sleep just yet. We walked around the city.

Sofia is a nice city. We ate McDonald's and walked around. We passed by a Gypsy street that reminded me of China because of the little stands selling goods surrounding both sides. Then we came to the mosque in the center of town.

A man started talking to us at the fountain behind the mosque. He was a driver and spoke a few languages. In broken English, he told us that he was upset that his grandchild in America (Pittsburgh) considered themselves as much American as they do Bulgarian. Then he showed us his left hand, which only had a finger and a thumb, and he showed us his badly wounded right leg. He explained that he was in a Bulgarian military force in Cambodia in 1970 when it happened. Then we shook right hands and left hands and he said, "See, still works." Then, "Bye bye Americans."

Sherkhan and I prayed in the mosque when a guy came over to us. He wanted Sherkhan to cover up his legs. After we prayed, he showed us his praying technique. Sherkhan had a long conversation with him in French. He hesitantly told the man that I am Jewish. I caught the French word for "Jewish" and saw the man's surprised reaction. But he looked like a good person, and I told Sherkhan (who since said I wasn't Jewish) to confirm that I was.

Evening prayers interrupted the conversation and we prayed together. Then the man (who works in the Syrian ambassador's office to Bulgaria) walked us to the train station, where we bought our ticket to Bucharest, Romainia for tonight. The man had short gray hair with a thick gray mustache. He was my height and said he was 58 years old with 5 kids and numerous grandchildren. Sherkhan explain that I completed the entire fast for Ramadan a few years ago and again, the man was suprised. He was convinced that I was Muslim. I've already done 2 of the 5 pillars of Islam, he said, that's more than most Mulsims.

I think he couldn't accept the fact that I am Jewish and yet fulfilling these tenets. Maybe it didn't sit with his perception of Jews, but I hope that slowly changes. The bottom line is that he's a very nice guy. We're going to see him an hour before we leave for Bucharest today. Luckily, this hostel has free internet, but who knows in the future. Until then...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

While I'm Gone

I'm leaving for Europe in a few hours. I'm flying to Bulgaria and then traveling through Eastern Europe. I'll be back on the 24th. I'm not sure how frequent I'll have internet access, but please check back for updates on the trip.

Here's a small list of just a few feasible things I want to see changed in America while I'm gone:
  • Bring the troops home.
  • Don't start another war.
  • Reverse Bush's tax cuts.
  • No more racial profiling in any capacity (police, aiurplane security, home ownership, bank loans, education, etc.).
  • Distribute reparations.
  • Pay women the same amount as men for the same work.
  • Keep the Taco Bell's open on Christmas Eve (I don't eat Christmas ham).

Monday, August 07, 2006

On McDonald's and War

I was in a McDonald's in the middle of nowhere in upstate Maryland on my way to Asa's and Lynn's wedding. I went to the bathroom and then stood in line behind a middle aged white couple. The couple had been standing in line for about ten minutes. Then, they peeked at me, whispered something to each other, and walked out of the McDonald's without ordering. I thought, 'Damn, they smelled the Jew on me."

This is where the transition should be.

What is needed in the Israel-Lebanon war is not just a cease fire, but a peace treaty. Israel should give Lebanon the land that it wants, including the Golan Heights. These two steps will help to put the Lebanese government and the majority of its people and the Israeli government and most of its people on the same side against Hezbollah in the near future. Hezbollah would be exposed for the Syrian/Iranian-influenced organization that it is. The only way to truly eradicate Hezbollah is to force it to lose public support.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Maryland vs Virginia

These are just some tendencies (driving and otherwise) that I've noticed as someone who lives in Maryland, but has to drive to Virginia fairly consistently. The difference is apparent almost immediately upon crossing the state lines.

Merging onto a highway:
Marylanders- Cut across the line into the next lane as soon as possible.
Virginians- Wait until the access lane runs out to move over.

Making an unprotected left:
Marylanders- Wait in the intersection.
Virginians- Wait behind the line of the intersection.

Sex with cousins:
Marylanders- Nope.
Virginians- Not in Northern Virginia anyway.

When traffic is stopped:
Marylanders- Block entrances to shopping centers. Also wait in the intersection, even if it means blocking traffic coming the other way.
Virginians- Leave an opening for the shopping center entrance. Wait behind the line and only go when they think they won't block the intersection.

Favorite political party:
Marylanders- Democrat.
Virginians- Confederate.

Presence of hicks:
Marylanders- Yes, but I try not to go near them.
Virginians- It's impossible not to go near them :(

Personalized license plates:
Marylanders- Occasionally.
Virginians- It must be required or something.

Giving the finger:
in Maryland- Is ok.
in Virginia- My driving instructor told our class that it's legal to have guns in your car in Virginia, so don't piss off any drivers from Virginia.

Marylanders- Don't do it.
Virginians- Even less.

Number of separate occasions President William McKinley was shot:
in Maryland- 1.
in Virginia- 0.

Hopefully, this post has made it abundantly clear that Maryland is a much better state than the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Immigrant's Guide Away From America

Say you're a person. You know you want to come to America, but you're not sure where in America you want to live. Well, I'm here to tell you where not to go. This is the list of the Top 10 worst states that I have been to. They are spaced according to the disparity of my sentiments towards the states.

Some states I have just driven through and gotten a really horrible feeling, while others I've stayed in longer. Keep in mind that the south might be over-represented because I haven't been to many states in the Midwest. Don't go there either. Basically, just come to the DC metro area.

Top 10 Worst States I've Been To:
1) Mississippi


3) Georgia

4) Texas

5) Arkansas

6) Kentucky

7) New Jersey

8) Ohio
9) West Virginia
10) Louisiana

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Prophecy of Nostradamus?

Evidently Nostradamus said:

The year 1999, seventh month,
A great king of terror will descend from the skies,
To resuscitate the great king of Angolmois,
Around this time Mars will reign for the good cause. (10.72)

(Robb, Stewart. Prophecies on World Events by Nostradamus, pg. 135)

Some meaningless shit, eh?

But, somehow, Mr. Robb claims that Nostradamus says there will be air warfare perpetrated by Arabs, led by the anti-Christ (the "great king of terror"), against America in 1999, which will create a British-American alliance (pgs. 135-139).

Essentially, Mr. Robb gives Nostradamus credit for predicting the invention of airplanes, the existence of America, hostilities between a non-existent America and Arabs, and other shit.

What Mr. Robb's book shows is that Nostradamus is a hack, but Stewart Robb is a fucking prophet. Mr. Robb wrote his book in 1961!!!!!! Basically, he was only 2 years off on predicting September 11th, Osama bin Laden, and the America and Britain Iraq war alliance, writing 40 years before it happened. That's some impressive shit!

I mean, the only safe predictions that I can make for 40 years from now is that in 2046:
1) I will be sarcastic
2) Something ending in "ism" will threaten America's way of life
3) People will be predicting that the apocalypse is near.

Stewart Robb is the Nostradamus of the 20th century.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Gibson Anti-Semitic Program

1) Get drunk and say some really crazy shit....

no, crazier than that....

there's the stuff!

2) Wait for Jews to disapprove of the horrible comments.

3) Have all the cable news networks condemn the Jews as defensive and for "piling on" a poor alcoholic and for not forgiving the awful remarks.

This works for numerous other groups as well.

My Response
fact #1) I know plenty of alcoholics that don't go on bigoted rants when they're drunk. They just go on regular rants.
fact #2) Forgiveness must be earned; it is not required. If you think the Jews should forgive Mel Gibson, first ask yourself if you forgive the people in your life who hate you.
fact #3) Jews are not anti-Catholic as some have suggested, we don't know the differences between you Christians.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

P.C. Police

The Beltway sniper John Allen Muhammad was a US army veteran of the first gulf war.


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Gibson is an Anti-Semite

1) Fox News anchor John Gibson is an anti-Semite. I always suspected, but... oh wait, Mel Gibson's the anti-Semite? I already knew that. Remember that movie that he made implying the Jews killed Christ among its other slander?

2) Mel Gibson's father is a Holocaust denier (or at least plays one on tv). Who would've thought that Mel Gibson of all people would also not like Jews?

3) Whenever I'm pulled over by the police, I go on an anti-Semite rant, I thought that was pretty standard. I usually whip out my dingdong, point, and scream: "They did this to me!"*

I'd put this above Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's crazy threats, but still below George Bush's Rapture-based foreign policy.

* - That's not true, I love the fact that my member has a face and a personality.