Category Archives: ideas

America is not the greatest country in the world

I’m first generation American, a position that gives me, I think, an interesting perspective on this country. I was bilingual until kindergarten when I came home from my half day of school and informed my mother that “this is America and we speak English here.” After that, I no longer was willing to speak German, a genuine loss when I visit my family in the Black Forest where most of them still reside.

Speaking a second language was not considered an asset in this country which arrogantly calls itself “America,” despite the fact that that is the name of two entire continents of which we are only one single country. In contrast, my mother spoke 3 languages while living in Europe, learning her fourth, English, upon arriving here in the mid-60s.

Growing up, we were encouraged to work hard in school because my mother saw education as the only means available to create a life better than the one into which we were born. My brother is a doctor and I hold an advanced degree. We own homes, have retirement accounts, travel, and generally have comfortable lives. In spite of childhoods consisting of a single parent home, Medicaid, and the shame of food stamps and free lunch, we made it.

Through hard work and social programs, my brother and I achieved what in many regards is considered the American Dream. So, why aren’t I more of a believer in the claim that America is the greatest country in the world? Well, it seems like there are quite a few reasons.

The income gap in the United States is outrageous. I don’t know about you, but I will never be convinced that a CEO is entitled to receive a salary that is on average 361 times the salary of the average worker. I’m not suggesting that the rest of the world is perfect, but America really excels in compensating executives at a more outrageous level than any where else in the world.

Do you have any idea how much our country spends on the military? How does the number $649 BILLION sound to you? It’s an amount comparable to the spending of the next eight countries – combined. Granted, this amount is less than what is budgeted for K-12 education,  but it remains an incredibly large number.

Speaking of education, when I was in Greece last month, I spoke with a couple from Scotland and asked them how college “worked” in their country. How much does it cost? Who pays for it? Their response – tuition is free and students are only responsible for related expenses such as room, board and books. The cost of those items can be met with loans, which essentially have an interest rate close to zero with repayment of the loans not beginning until the borrower reaches a certain level of income. Doesn’t that sound a lot more fair and reasonable than our government, which is the largest lender to students, earning interest off citizens trying to improve their lives?

During my travels I’ve been struck by the price of groceries (low) and the quality of public transportation (high) in the European countries which I’ve visited. Access to health care, while not perfect, does not seem to bankrupt families in the way I’ve observed it occurring in this country.

Solar and wind energy seem much more common in Europe and vehicles are more compact and fuel efficient than those found in America. Homes are smaller, not requiring the same resources to maintain, heat and cool. Vacation time is more generous, as are family leave policies when it comes to child rearing, with tax incentives available to soften the blow of losing an income while a parent stays home to raise a child.

America has been good to my family, but it is not the greatest country in the world and we need to recognize that. While it once may have been a true beacon of freedom and opportunity for all, that time has passed. A country which separates families seeking asylum, fails to provide preventative healthcare to the poor and the underemployed and has different justice and education systems for people depending upon the color of their skin really doesn’t sound all that great to me.

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Filed under Education, Europe, ideas, musings, Observations, politics, Rant, travel

Eternal life and other things I brought back from Greece

My relationship with souvenirs is complicated. I find it easy to buy things for friends when I’m traveling, but have grown into a person who doesn’t want to bring another thing into my home unless it serves a practical purpose. With a couple of exceptions, that is.

Here’s what I brought home from my most recent trip:

A miniature Parthenon for our family collection.

A bag of oregano to add to Greek salads and anything else as the mood strikes.

A couple of key chains and a bracelet for my son because I love the power of the evil eye symbol.

A jar of orange marmalade for my morning toast.

Some pretty stones and small pieces of marble I picked up while walking. They were warm from the sun and I thought I might give them to friends who might appreciate their beauty and need evidence that one never knows where they might end up. I mean, those rocks probably never imagined they’d make it to upstate New York one day!

Refrigerator magnets as gifts.

Vivid memories and hundreds of pictures.

And, about that whole eternal life thing…On our final night in Athens, G and I walked the Plaka and I noticed a copper necklace with a medallion bearing an intricate design. As I admired it, the vendor shared that it was a symbol for eternal life. My son told her I was buying it, even without the added origin story. He was right.

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Filed under Europe, favorites, Greece, ideas, Observations, Summer, travel

Catching up – CivMix & Silvia

I’m really enjoying being a part of CivMix! The site is still being developed, but I think you will find there to be some cool features, both in terms of content and interface, once the website is fully fleshed out.

Here are my most recent posts over there. Why not give a read and some feedback – here or there!

Dispatch from Greece

What makes a meal memorable?

I want to get away – Part I

…and Part II

 

 

 

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Filed under Albany, drinking, Eating, Europe, favorites, Food, Greece, ideas, Local, Observations, Recommendations, travel, vacation, Wine

It’s hot In the Heights

Image: Troy Record

Hope you’re making it through this spell of humidity and heat. Greece was really hot, but there always seemed to be a breeze and the heat was dry, which made it different. Instead of my hair springing into curls and frizz, my skin screamed for moisturizer and sunscreen in massive amounts. It’s summer, what can you do?

Well, I’m glad you asked because I have an idea for you – get yourself to Albany’s beautiful Washington Park Lakehouse and check out In the Heights. We went the other night and it was absolutely a joy to watch. The performances were inspired, the voices soared above the excellent orchestra and the dancing was mesmerizing. I loved it.

Take my opinion, of course, with a grain of salt because I am no theatrical critic. What I can say with confidence is this – I believe this production is the best one I’ve ever seen at the Lakehouse. Granted, I haven’t been to them all, especially in recent years, but I’ve hit quite a number of them over the years and this cast and crew is exceptional. When I contrast this show with one I saw last year at a local theater, Into the Heights easily blows it out of the water.

I’ve never seen Hamilton and was unfamiliar with the story told in this early Lin-Manuel Miranda musical. The message, however, remains timely especially When You’re Home which made my eyes fill with tears. You’ve got to see this show!

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Filed under Albany, art, Events, favorites, Greece, ideas, Local, Music, Observations, Recommendations, Summer, upstate New York

DelSo & CivMix

I’ve been doing this DelSo thing for what will be a full decade come December 9th. Wow. I don’t know how that happened, but, I’m also unclear how it is even possible that I will retire in less than 6 years. Boom. Just like that. Incredible!

Over the years, I’ve written about lots of different topics and there have been times that I’ve offended people. I’m aware. What does sometimes take me by surprise, though, is when someone references something I wrote and it’s a person I never imagined reading my words. Wild and gratifying in a way parenthood is most definitely not.

Relationship angst and posts about food and travel are usually the most popular subjects and find the largest readership. Everybody loves a little indulgence and drama, right?

I’ve removed only one post ever, upon request from someone I’ve known a long time. I regret deleting it and would be hard pressed to do that ever again.

There was one post which I significantly modified to add anonymity to the identity of a friend who had died after years of struggles with various substances. Editing the post didn’t change the fact that he was gone.

Often, the posts that vex me the most when I am writing them, are the most audibly received. I get comments or shares, which is particularly welcome when I’ve hit the Publish button even though I wasn’t 100% satisfied with the final product.

I know I make people uncomfortable at times with my positions, or the degree to which I share my personal shit, but what I put out belongs to me – my impressions, my thoughts, my trying to understand the only life I’ll ever have. My truth.

In the past 8 years or so, I’ve been gratified by the opportunity to write for other platforms – both print and digital. All over Albany totally provided my first exposure through their weekly “What’s Up In the Neighborhood” feature and I’ll forever appreciate Mary and Greg for the support they provided to me. I wrote for two Hearst Times Union hosted blogs and have also contributed photos to their website.

It’s been fun to write for other “projects,” but I’ve always maintained my distance and refrained from aligning myself exclusively with an alternate web interface. I’m DelSo Silvia.

A number of months ago, I was approached and invited to write for a new website sort of envisioned as a second generation All Over Albany/Metroland love child. Interested, I agreed. Here’s what I’ve published over there most recently, at CivMix. Maybe you want to check it out? Post a comment? Give a follow?

One thing, remember that the website is still in beta. The site will grow in options and performance and, hopefully, interest to you, DelSo readers.

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Filed under aging, Albany, DelSo, favorites, ideas, Local, love, musings, Observations, Recommendations, relationships, Restaurants, secrets, SEEN, travel, writing

Eating Athens

In Athens our only organized activity  was a 3.5 hours food tour we booked through Airbnb Experiences. (Remember I did another one of these in Galway earlier this year?) if you’re traveling I recommend taking a look at Airbnb’s site and checking out what might be available at your destination. These excursions, classes and activities seem to be much smaller scale tours than some of the more commercial ones. For instance, our tour was 6 + our guide, Marina, and her assistant, Maria, which made navigating Athens’ busy streets easier than it might have been with a larger, more cumbersome group.

We met at Monastiraki station near the Plaka and once introductions were made, we went directly to a spot, Creme Royale, for traditional pies, with both savory and sweet on our menu. If you immediately think round pies, you’re wrong, because these were rectangular for the most part and served in a slice rather than a wedge. As Marina gave the staff notice that we had arrived, we remained outside a large window captivated by the grace and skill in which the baker manipulated the dough, stretching it to a remarkable thinness which required a rolling pin, but also a couple of vigorous tosses in the air akin to the actions of a pizza maker. When the dough was to his satisfaction in terms of both thinness and layers, he cut it into a wide swathe, topped it with filling, folded it unto itself and sealed it closed.

We were able to taste five – one of savory cheese, a spanikopita style with spinach and feta, a pork and beef, and one that was filled with a sweetened custard, my favorite. Additionally, we were provided with a different styled which was round and filled with meat and a sauce which was reminiscent of American bar-b-q. Remains were packaged to either be divided amongst the tour goers or given to the homeless along our way, the unanimously agreed upon perfect solution.

Next up was a walk through the old fish and meat market. This was absolutely remarkable. The fish was so marvelously fresh that even on a very hot day (90+ F), there was minimal fish smell. The vendors were friendly and humorously aggressive about selling their products and the stalls were clean and surprisingly lacking in cats because cats are everywhere. How they keep them out of the open air, but covered, market is a mystery. After touring the central area of the market, we did a broader loop and covered the part of the old market where the meat vendors ply their wares. In this area of the market vendors were provided with butcher blocks on which to chop and the cleavers were put to good use as customers requested particular cuts of beef, lamb, chicken and pork. Also available were some more exotic meats such as rabbit and water buffalo. Again, there was surprisingly little aroma, which was a bit of a relief to me.

Naturally, our next stop was for cheese, cold cuts and yogurt at a small place called Zarkadian. Beyond the deli display cases there was seating and we were made quite comfortable with water, red and white wine, ouzo and a Greek style of grappa. Anise is not my thing and I was a little afraid of the grappa, so I stuck with wine as I enjoyed the bountiful Greek salad, array of cheeses and sliced meats including both water buffalo and camel. Yes, camel and no, I’m not sure if it was one or two hump camel. It was dried, and the texture was between a prosciutto and a jerky with a flavor I can only describe as different. The fruit topped yogurt was the perfect aperitif after indulging in a taste of almost everything so generously presented.

Feeling temporarily satiated from our consumption, we made our way to Mokka for coffee. Here I had my first Greek style coffee. Served in a long handled copper pot which is poured tableside into your cup, my coffee was bracing, yet smooth. It turns out the Greeks have their own obsession with coffee and there were many varieties from which to choose. With caffeine now coursing through our veins, we leisurely walked to our lunch destination Tis Theatrou to steki for “tapas style food.” Or maybe better read as “an incredible spread of numerous small dishes made with a variety of ingredients.”

We arrived and were seated at a large table outdoors with a view of a crumbling, yet still distinguished building. As Marina explained, countless buildings were torn down as Athens expanded and lifestyles changed in modern times. It wasn’t until the latter half of the last century when buildings were retained rather than destroyed for the sake of new construction. Now it seems the buildings are left to deteriorate or, on rare occasion, be rehabilitated. Our luncheon was extravagant in variety but simple in flavors – olive oil, oregano and basil played starring roles, as did tomatoes, beans, eggplant and yogurt. It was divine.

The remains of our feast.

There was still one final stop, Serbetia tou Psyrri, for desserts. In my world, there’s always a little room left for something sweet and we were at the right spot. This family operated bakery had a display of fantastic looking cakes and baked goods and we were lucky enough to taste 3, along with a sampling of ice cream. I was pretty much in a food coma at that point, but the delicacy of the pastry and the limited amount of sweetener, be it sugar or honey, helped me to thoroughly enjoy each bite.

I can’t recommend Marina’s Taste of Athens tour enough. It was an excellent value at approximately $65 per person and it is a great way to discover the cuisine of Greece with a guide who is knowledgeable, personable and enthusiastically proud of her home.

Also – I took most of my photos with my Nikon and they won’t be available until I’m home. I imagine I’ll do a number of posts that are just photo-centric at that point, so come back to DelSo again if you’re interested!

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Filed under Coffee, drinking, Eating, Events, favorites, Food, Greece, ideas, Local, Recommendations, travel, vacation

Lock her up – four books about young women who have lost their freedom

I’ve been known to seek out books and movies set in locales which I have plans to visit, but beyond that I don’t often read thematically. That probably makes it all the more remarkable that the four most recent books I’ve read all deal with young women contending with the loss of liberty. Three of the titles were from the historical fiction genre while the third, disturbingly, is currently classified as science fiction. After reading it,though, I’m inclined to believe that that title will eventually be reshelved in realistic fiction. Not a good thing.

What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper is a powerful book set in Europe during WWII. The novel opens with the main character, Gerta, being liberated from Bergen-Belsen by British soldiers at the end of the war. I’ve read many Holocaust stories over the years, yet there’s always something new for me to consider and in this novel it was what happened to the survivors once they were nursed back to health and could leave the camp or medical facility? What must that have been like for a teenager who has essentially been orphaned? Another scene in the opening chapter depicting soldiers forcing residents from the nearby community to tour the concentration camp and witness the atrocities which they allowed to occur by their apathy, is another aspect of this tragic time in history that I had never thought of before. What knowledge did citizens have of the victimization of Jews, gays, gypsies and the disabled? How were they able to avert their eyes from what was occurring? This book answers some questions while posing others.

Set in the same era, White Rose by Kip Wilson tells the story of a resistance group which made the ultimate sacrifice during a war that fractured families and devastated Europe. The novel, told in verse, provided insight into the conflict of Germans during WWII and the actions taken by young citizens in an attempt to thwart the Nazis. The selfless bravery of Sophie Scholl and other members of the White Rose organization, provides inspiration during a time when our own country is teetering on the edge of nationalism and xenophobia. A quote that stopped me dead:

People who
​refuse
to open their eyes
are more than ambivalent –
they are guilty.

Monica Hesse’s The War Outside brings the conflict to our own American shores in the form of the internment of Japanese-Americans and German-Americans during WWII. This historical novel describes what life was like for American citizens who were considered threats to national security despite having lived in America for generations. As the daughter of a German immigrant, I can attest to biases that I personally experienced 25 years after the war – being told to not speak German in public as a child, for instance. The camp, an actual place in Texas known as Crystal City, was depicted as a “family camp” with amenities such as a pool and community garden designed to distract residents from the reality that they were not considered equal citizens in the eyes of our government. I am certain that my family, had they been present during this dark time, would have been subjected to similar treatment.

Now, the Sci-Fi book I mentioned? Internment by Samira Ahmed is a bone chilling read because it seems all too possible in our current political climate. This was the one that made me the most uncomfortable because it relates the story of a Muslim American family who, after responding to a query regarding religion and ethnicity on the national census, find their civil rights being systematically eliminated by the government. No longer able to study, work or live in their communities, Muslim families are shipped to camps where they are separated by ethnicity and suffer limits upon their access to information, technology and loved ones who do not share their same cultural heritage. It is all the more horrifying because it is completely possible under the Trump regime. And – at a time when the federal government is attempting to insert citizenship questions into the upcoming national census that’s not an exaggeration.

What have you been reading? Do you have recommendations to share?

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Filed under Books, ideas, Observations, Recommendations