Friday, November 12, 2010

Que saudades de Londrina!

Podcast I just found that we made for NAP resource center at UEL in Londrina, Brazil - ah, my accent!:) hahaha

Talking about Earth Day and World Environment Day in Londrina, Brazil

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In Flanders Fields

Armistice Day is a day for remembering and celebrating peace after the Armistice signed in 1918 following WWI on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11:00am. I learned today that in the U.S. church bells used to ring for 2 minutes at 11:00am on 11/11 and there was a moment of silence across the country. What a nice tradition; I don't know why we don't do that anymore.

On this Armistice Day 2010, I am looking back on Lt. Colonel John McCrae's poem, "In Flanders Fields", which remains to this day one of the most memorable war poems ever written. Armistice Day is a time for reminisance and this poem makes us think of all those that are no longer with us. "In Flanders Fields" is a lasting legacy of the terrible battle in Ypres in the spring of 1915. McCrae was a surgeon in the war and his young friend, Lieut. Alexis Helmer of Ottawa, had been killed by a shell burst on 2 May 1915. The next day, sitting on the back of an ambulance parked near the dressing station McCrae vented his anguish by composing a poem.

This is my favorite poem, probably because of its poignance and heartfelt sadness, I'm not sure. But it gives me goosebumps every time I read it.

In Flanders Fields

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Snoopy and the gang visit Flanders Fields. Wonderful explanation and recitation of the poem by Linus;) "What have we learned, Charlie Brown?"


When McCrae wrote “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow…” only destiny knew the impact his words would have on the world. In giving a voice to the grief and suffering McCrae must have felt as he witnessed the horrors of war, "In Flanders Fields" also gave voice to the poppy - the humble, scarlet flower that grew to become Canada’s quintessential symbol of remembrance.

This was not the first time a link between the poppy and war had been made. A century earlier, a writer during the Napoleonic wars noted how the battlefields became covered with poppies once the fighting was over.

Now with the First World War, the battles that took place in Flanders infused the soil with lime that enabled the poppy to thrive in a landscape of destruction. Nature could not have selected a more fitting symbol to solemnize a soldier’s ultimate sacrifice. By 1918 the poem was well known throughout the allied world. Moina Michael, an American woman, wrote these lines in reply.

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies

She then adopted the custom of wearing a red poppy in memory of the sacrifices of war and also as a symbol of keeping the faith. A French women, Madam Guerin, visiting the United States, learned of the custom and took it one step further. When she returned to France she decided to hand make the red poppies and sell them to raise money for the benefit of the orphaned and destitute women and children in war torn areas of France. This tradition spread to Canada, The United States and Australia and is still followed today. The money collected from the sale of poppies goes to fund various veterans programs and is a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made by those before us.

Peace, my friends.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Yes we can, but....

...we need some coorperation from both sides who don't wish to simply veto everything just to made the other side look bad. What about getting something done in this country? We have lost so much momentum that many people didn't even vote at all in November's election! I find that so sad. How can you complain about politics if you don't voice your opinion in what is happening.

Below is a bit of a food for thought from the recent U.S. political elections - November 2010:

Let's hope we can accomplish something positive in these next two years instead of purely gridlock and resentment.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Elections in the Americas - Brazil's new president

Brazil had its Presidential election on Oct. 31st and elected their first woman president, Dilma Rousseff. Not everyone is in favor of her as she is following in the past president's footsteps, President Lula.

But she is their first woman president, which is exciting. She is from the governing Workers Party (PT), and took 56 percent of the vote, against 44 percent for José Serra of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). Brazilians clearly voted for the continuity of the policies of the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, especially the social policies, whose results were reflected in the reduction of inequality and the fact that more than 20 million people were pulled out of poverty during his eight years in office. Dilma has pledged to eliminate extreme poverty by the end of her four-year term, in 2014. An estimated eight percent of Brazil's 192 million people are still extremely poor. Wow, I would say that the U.S. could use a bit of the same help too!

Analysts say Rousseff's victory was the direct result of Lula's popularity, which stands at an unprecedented 83 percent, despite the corruption scandals that have affected his government. Can you imagine a U.S. President receiving an 83% popularity rating these days???

I think it's interesting, though, that Brazilian women gained a limited right to vote in 1932, which only applied to married women who had their husbands' permission, widows, and single women with incomes of their own. The vote was only extended to other women in 1946. Whether you agree with Rousseff's politics or not, her past is pretty amazing. She was arrested in 1970, tortured, and held as a political prisoner for 28 months in São Paulo. After her release she moved to Porto Alegre, farther to the south, where she finished her degree in economics, became municipal secretary of finance, and later state secretary of mines and energy.

The U.S. could take a few lessons from Brazilian elections, in my opinion. For one, elections there are held on a weekend. Gee, what a novel idea, a day that people may not be working! I know there was a reason we originally had elections on a Tuesday, but why are we so slow to change this?? Or, at the very least, Election Day should be a national holiday. Many people didn't even go to the polls in the U.S. November elections. In Brazil, voting is mandatory and the night before the election they stop serving alcohol in bars by midnight;) Of course, there are ways around this, but the idea of trying to keep people in a rational state of mind when they go to vote doesn't seem like half a bad idea.

May both Brazil and the U.S. witness more just and equal societies in years to come.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A little bit of Halloween

I love Halloween!! Is it because of the candy, costumes and parties?? Well, partly, but it has much more to do with the wonderful time of year Halloween falls - beautiful October - with it's smell of apples, pumpkins and colorful tress. And of course, I love Halloween because of my my Celtic heritage - who doesn't love the mystique and beauty of Celtic Ireland???? :)

Halloween is usually linked to the Pagan festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-an or sow-in)" This name is derived from Old Irish and means roughly "summer's end".
The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the "lighter half" of the year and beginning of the "darker half", and is sometimes regarded as the "Celtic New Year".
The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the Otherworld became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. The family's ancestors were honoured and invited home while harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off evil spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks. Bonfires also played a large part in the festivities. All other fires were doused and each home lit their hearth from the bonfire.

Once the Catholics came to Ireland in the 8th century, they brought with them the holiday of All Saint's Day and they tried to combine it with the already existing feast of Samhain. The name Halloween (originally spelled Hallowe'en) is a contraction of All Hallows Eve, meaning the day before All Hallows Day (better known as All Saints Day), observed since the early Middle Ages on November 1.

When the Irish came in droves to the U.S. in the 1840s during the potato famine, they brought some of these traditions with them. Today instead of bonfires we have pumpkins with candles, but it's still a night to scare away bad spirits.

In North America, trick-or-treating has been a customary Halloween tradition since at least the late 1950s. The tradition of going from door to door receiving food already existed in the Middle Ages in Britain and Ireland, called "souling". Children and poor people would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1) sing and say prayers for the dead in return for cakes or prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). Trick-or-treating in North America may also have come from the custom of "Guising" — children disguised in costumes going from door to door for food and coins. This was already traditional at Halloween by the 19th century in Scotland and Ireland.

Halloween traditions from North America have been exported all over the world, much to the chagrin of many nations. The culture of Halloween is not something that necessarily correlates to other countries' traditions, but yet it is almost a given that it will be celebrated at least in English language schools worldwide. Does this even make sense? In the school I was at in Sao Paulo they had pumpkin carving and costume competitions, but students had no ideas what they were celebrating or why. And do they need Halloween when they already have Carnaval just before Lent???

In France too it was just starting to become popular when I was there in the late 1990s, but certainly not with everyone. Halloween in France is definitely controversial, due to the perception of corporate and cultural influence, as well as the fact that it is not a typical French holiday and some people still don't understand what is being celebrated. Companies like France Télécom, McDonald's, Disney, and Coca Cola used pumpkins and other Halloween images and ideas in publicity campaigns. This simultaneously increased French people's knowledge about Halloween and made it seem like another imposition of American culture.

At least Halloween makes a little more sense for France than Brazil, for example. France also has Celtic origins in Bretagne (Brittany, the region in the Northwest corner of France). But because Halloween is seen as an American celebration, some French people refuse to enjoy it, having decided to include it in their anti-American boycott. It's too early to tell whether Halloween will develop into a long-term tradition; once the novelty wears off, it may turn out to be just a fad. And yet, interestingly, the French have been celebrating the ideas at the very heart of Halloween (respect for the dead) for centuries. 31 October to 2 November, collectively referred to as "La Toussaint", have traditionally been spent, especially by older generations, visiting cemeteries, honoring saints, and attending religious services.

Among Spanish-speaking nations, Halloween time is known as "El Dia de los Muertos." It is a joyous and happy holiday...a time to remember friends and family who have died. Officially commemorated on November 2 (All Souls' Day), the three-day celebration actually begins on the evening of October 31. Designed to honor the dead who are believed to return to their homes on Halloween, many families construct an altar in their home and decorate it with candy, flowers, photographs, fresh water and samples of the deceased's favorite foods and drinks. In Mexico during the Autumn, countless numbers of Monarch butterflies return to the shelter of Mexico's oyamel fir trees. It was the belief of the Aztecs that these butterflies bore the spirits of dead ancestors.

During these days, relatives also tidy the grave sites of deceased family members and the grave is then adorned with flowers, wreaths or paper streamers. On November 2, relatives gather at the grave site to picnic and reminisce. Some of these gatherings may even include tequila and a mariachi band, although American Halloween customs are gradually taking over this celebration. I love this idea!

But what about the North American traditions of Halloween? Are they doomed to take over all cultures around the world through corporate influence and advertising? I hope not. Many countries honor their deceased at this time of year, but they should do be able to do so within their own customs and to their own liking. I hate to see Halloween as we know it become completely commercial and lose all meaning behind it as it is already starting to do.

I guess I prefer to remember the less commercial time of Halloween from was when I was little...the caramel apples and delicious candy, the wonderful smells of Fall and of candles in pumpkins in front of houses, children in costume swashing through leaves on the sidewalk as they went trick-or-treating from house to house, and older children bobbing for apples with friends...Was it ever like this or is my nostalgia running away from me?;)

At any rate, I can't imagine celebrating Halloween anywhere apart from a cold Autumn initiating the sensation of Celtic bonfires and spirits in bygone days of Ireland...

Happy Halloween everyone!!