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Dignity and the Wet shave

June 17, 2024
The grass is always greener – somewhere else

My son just got back from his Fiance’s sister’s wedding in France. She married a Parisian. Before my son headed to Charles de Gaulle airport, he asked me if there was anything they could pick up for me at the duty free. I asked him to pick me up some MdC – any scent – if he found it.

He and his Fiancé came over for Father’s Day, accompanied by his cousin and his cousin’s wife. My nephew’s wife grew up in Madrid. Quite the international family! As we hung out on our deck, I reflected on my time overseas.

It was the late fall of 1982. I was walking down El Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona and out of nowhere, I had this moment of self-realization: I was 20 years old, walking down some beautiful street in a foreign country, and was actually thinking in a foreign language. I had left some Spanish colleagues at the university, and was about to meet some American friends for champagne cocktails in the barrio gótico and then go do a bit of shopping.

Up until that moment, I was many things, but most of them were anchored to a self-perception based on nationality, religion, income, and family. On that day, I realized that all those tribal identities were a subset of a much broader one. Though I grew up in the USA, I had spent a good bit of time in the Caribbean, the middle east, the Soviet Union, the central Pacific and now Western Europe. I simply did not see the world the way I did as a child. As an enthusiastic young adult, I was an internationalist. I had learned that the American way was just that – a way of seeing the world through a particular set of lenses. That perspective was just fine, but it was only one. Through my discussions with French ex-pats in Tahiti, ultra-orthodox Rabbi’s in Jerusalem, Arab nationalists in Egypt and the West Bank, a cute Komsomol girl in Odessa, and Russian govt. apparatchiks in Moscow, I came to appreciate that while we all had things in common, we all held materially unique interests and concerns. There was no one ‘right way’ of seeing the world, there were many – none of which were any more or less correct than any other. The concept of ‘a correct perception’ was subjective. The only reason one perspective was ‘better’ than another in any given locale was because tribal war winners from that area were able to define the lens through which their version of history got remembered.

Earlier that week, I had gone out for drinks with some of my Spanish friends from the Economics faculty. They were all right-wingers either from the conservative party or the fascist party (the Fuerza Nueva). We were sitting in a restaurant on the Ramblas de Catalunya when a Gypsy woman came to the table begging for money. We shood her away and the fascists started up. “Those Gypsies, all they know how to do is beg. Why can’t they get a job, like everyone else”. One of the less autocratic right wingers decided to expand the prejudicial slander: “It’s not just the Gypsies (most of whom came from Andalusia), but everyone from the south of Spain. They can’t speak Castellano properly and they are all lazy”. Not to be outdone, one of the Fascists went further. “It’s not just the Andalu that are an issue, but the Madrileños as well. They pride themselves on their art and culture, but it’s us Catalàn’s that keep the economy moving”. This went on for a bit. After a while, I decided to jump in. I put on my very best North American accent. Using the worst semi-coherent Castellano I could muster said: “As far as I’m concerned, you’re all a bunch of third world peasants”

Everyone went dead silent, and they looked at me. After an uncomfortably long micro-second, everyone bust out in laughter, and we poured another round.

When shopping with my American Friends later that week, I purchased this blown glass porron:


Whenever I take it out and use it, I think back to that Gypsy woman and the shattering of tribal barriers through the breaking of bread.

Though my boy could not find any MdC at the Paris duty free, he did bring a nice bottle of California Cabernet from his apartment, which we drank from the green Porron I purchased at the Corte Inglés 41 years ago.
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I shaved a fortune
I do wish all Americans had a chance to widen their horizons a bit and got to travel around the world. It doesn't make you a better person but it does help you realize, there are lots of ways to approach life.

I totally agree with you.... like many things in the human experience, there isn't one single "correct" way to a single goal. The paths differ, as does the final objective, if there ends up being one.
I do wish all Americans had a chance to widen their horizons a bit and got to travel around the world. It doesn't make you a better person but it does help you realize, there are lots of ways to approach life.

I totally agree with you.... like many things in the human experience, there isn't one single "correct" way to a single goal. The paths differ, as does the final objective, if there ends up being one.
It's important to have and seek to achieve goals, but not just for the sake if attaining them. Most of us spend way less time appreciating achieved goals than we do trying to achieve them. Accordingly - live in the moment, when you can. Or, as my beloved grandmother used to advise, "stop and smell the roses"
June 23, 2024
The Communist Party way and birthdays

Yesterday was my wife’s birthday – at least according to her birth certificate.

In reality, she was born on June 23rd at about 1am. But back in 1963, at 1am, it was early Sunday morning and the end of a long, 6-day work week at the hospital. People make mistakes.

In Communist Poland, workers were a step ahead of consumers in the pecking order of things. If you wanted to buy a product or a service, you typically had to wait in one or more lines, and more often than not, had to deal with a service provider that saw themselves as intrinsically better than you. Communist Party Rule number 2: The worker (not the customer) is always right.

What was rule number 1? The Communist Party is always right.

Imagine purchasing everything from shoes to apples in an environment like the department of motor vehicles. “Sir, we only have men’s size 40 work shoes. We don’t have any other size. Do you want size 40? No? Step aside so people that actually want shoes can buy them. You have a complaint? Please log it in the complaint book hanging from the string over there. The book is full you say? No problem. I’ll take it down, throw it out, and hang a new one for you to mark up. Does anyone review the book? No. Why would anyone review it? It’s there because the Communist Party requires it. There is no requirement for anyone to review it.”

As I’ve mentioned earlier, the consumption of alcohol was a big part of Polish culture in Communist times. When workers across the county punched out at the end of the day, it was common practice to have some vodka. As you’ll see from the story I’m about to tell, I’m pretty sure this applied to everyone, ranging from nurses to physician’s to bank presidents.

So, it’s early morning on Saturday, June 22nd, 1963. The water had just burst for the twenty-one-year-old woman that would become my mother-in-law some 29 year later. Her husband took her to the hospital and decided it was time to celebrate. He brought a bottle of clear vodka to the hospital (clear, filtered vodka was a bit of a luxury and he brought it out for this special occasion), and insisted that the nurses and doctors have a shot (or three) with him to celebrate the forthcoming birth. Of course they did not want to be rude, so they obliged. The labor lasted until early Sunday morning, the 23rd of June.

I imagine my anxious father in-law wondering when his son would be born. I can see him coming up to the nurses and doctors every few hours, bottle and shot glasses in hand, looking for an answer. Like a young child in a long car ride…”Are we there yet?”

“But sir, what if the child is a girl?”

“That will be fine too, but I’m sure it’ll be a boy”.

When my wife popped out, my father-in-law to be was a bit surprised at the fact that a girl had been born and started asking questions that took the attention of the tired (and likely partially drunk) doctor who was responsible for recording the happy event.

My wife’s birth was incorrectly recorded at 1am on June 22nd, 1963.

So, legally, her birthdate is the 22nd, but her real birthday is the 23rd. To celebrate the happy affair and pay homage to the Communist system that begat such errors, we celebrate my wife’s birth for three days, from June 21 through June 23. The 22nd, because that’s what the paper says, the 23rd, because that’s when it happened, and the 21st, because, well, just because. Even her brother is in on the joke – he sends her an e-card on June 21st.

Did I mention that drinking was a thing in Poland? Oh yeah, her brother had a similar story surrounding his birth.

Two years after my wife entered the world, a baby brother was baking in her mom’s belly. What should the happy couple name the child? There were lots of ideas, but they settled on Roman. Spin the clock forward a few months, and there my mother-in-law was again, in the delivery room. And there was my father-in-law, with the vodka and shot glasses. So as not to have a similar mistake surrounding the documentation process, my father-in-law decided to carefully supervise what was being documented.

While my mother-in-law was recovering, her husband was helping with the paperwork. Was the date of birth correct? Yes; yes it was. The doctor asked my somewhat sloshed father-in-law what the child should be named. “Jan” he said. “We’re naming him Jan Roman”.

I should note at this point that my wife’s parents had had many discussions about names, and there were a few that were in the final running. “Jan” was not among them.

When the paperwork came back some months later, my father-in-law neither reviewed the document nor remembered adding “Jan” to his son’s name. He put the birth certificate in the filing cabinet and proceeded to forget all about it. “Jan” went through life as “Roman” for the next 18 years without knowing his first name was actually Jan.

Spin the clock forward and Roman was at the university of Warsaw studying physical education. His father was coming to visit but did not know how to find him when he got to town. He went to the registrar’s office and asked what class his son Roman was in. The registrar started rummaging through files. “Dawiski, Dawiski. Ahh. Here. Wait, we have a Jan Dawiski, but no Roman. “That’s him”, my father-in-law exclaimed. What class is he in?” The clerk cast a puzzled looked but pointed the happy father in the right direction.

Later that evening, back at home, my father-in-law made the mistake of sharing the story with the rest of the family. “Jan?” my mother-in-law questioned. “Why did the university say his name was Jan?” Her husband did not remember the events surrounding the birth, so he went to his files, pulled out the birth certificate and there it was in black ink: “Jan Roman Dawiski”

So today, we are celebrating my wife’s birth and Polish heritage by enjoying a traditional Polish meal – sushi.
Just got back from the Sushi bar....Oysters, Oh Toro, sweet shrimp, Baby yellowtail, Jack, uni, different roes, two types of salmon, squid with shiso leaf, soft shell crab, maguro with truffle... Quite the feast! My wife was very happy, until they came by with fried green tea ice cream and sang happy birthday - She is NOT an attention hound!
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