Monday, August 29, 2011

High of the season...

This is the high of the hurricane season. There is no mistaking this: it is so stormy in Miami. Dark clouds, heavy with rain, downpours, thunder and lightning, winds. You can see it from my balcony, downtown is cover in mist and rain is falling. Cannot see the port of Miami, much less Miami Beach. The waters of the bay are gray and sprinkled with white caps. Nothing and nobody is out there, who would want to! It's eerie, it gives you chills. Miami Summer weather at it's best.....or should I say worst?? who knows.

Irene came and went along the East coast, with much less force than expected...more rain too! There was no mass destruction, buildings collapsing, weathermen been blown away by gusts of wind...some people actually think this was a bad thing. It should have been everything they told us it was going to be. Really? who are these people? and will they heed the message next time? Never the less, there are more than 4 million people without power, flooding is extensive from North Carolina to Vermont. Billions of dollars will be needed to put things right. Where are we getting that money? Natural disasters do not help the economy!

Miami had a mostly nice weekend, have time for a few hours of sunbathing by the pool. Today, a different story: unpredictable. Do not want to be here when moving and getting out of the way of a storm would prove impossible. Let's move somewhere safe, soon!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Irene and other nuisances

It's still August, I should have known. A few days ago, a system formed off the coast of West Africa. It started moving towards the Caribbean across the Atlantic at a regular pace. Meteorologists started following it with growing interest. Not long after that, it became Tropical Storm Irene. It entered the Caribbean with high winds and big in size, it hit Puerto Rico and moved on the the Northern coast of Hispañola. Haiti was spared and that was a great news. Torrential rains and winds left people without power and caused flooding. The warm waters gave it strength and it became a hurricane. Shades of Andrew....

In Miami, we held our collective breath and started preparing for the worst. It seemed South Florida was in Irene's path...the cone of uncertainty as it is called. Wonderful, I thought, this is just what we need. Projections said it might come on the early hours of Thursday. Someone was watching out for South Florida, or it's someone else's turn, or we are just lucky one more time. Slowly, the monster storm bared right away from the coast.

It is a Category 3 storm (Category 5 is the highest) at the moment and is over the Bahamas. First time since 1866 that all the islands on the chain will be hit. Cannot even fathom what that means, but this storm is not finished. Far from it, it's pointing to the Mid-Atlantic coast from North Carolina to New England. The Northeast has not seen something like this in decades. More than 55 million people will be affected. What? It's mind-boggling.

After the earthquake everyone was shaken. Did I mentioned that? well, there was one on Tuesday. At around 2 p.m. an earthquake measuring 5.8 and centered in Virginia hit the East Coast from Georgia to Canada. Buildings were evacuated, schools closed, national monuments were damaged. Now they have to content with Irene. My grandmother used to say that things come in threes What's next?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The end of Summer, time for another holiday

It is a couple of weeks to Labor Day, that so American Holiday that marks the end of Summer. In Miami, it has been a long season, dragging along in heat and humidity. The weatherman tells us that it has broken a record set in 1952: 38 days of 90º plus and no relief in sight. Getting out has become an ordeal of sorts. Thunderstorms every afternoon, but thankfully, we have seen no hurricanes in the Atlantic this far. We are already in the letter "H".

When one moves to Miami, this is not what one expects. Beaches, nightlife, celebrities, mild Winters and great shopping are things one expects. This is, after all, a transit place, more touristy than permanent. There are advantages to that, I am sure.

Summer is always a time when I wish I was somewhere else. In recent years, I have been traveling to Panama a lot. Some of those trips are in the Summer, not that is better there. Still, I love the fact that I can get out of any storm that might come this way! August is usually the worst month for hurricanes: Camille, David, Hugo, Andrew, name a few. They have all come in August and left deep scars everywhere. So, yes, I am more than grateful than we have had none so far.

Soon school will start in this part of the country. Children will go back to routines and parents will go back to traffic jams. Everyone will start talking about the end of Summer, as if this is a fact. No, it will still be hot and humid and hurricane season continues until December first. It will not cool off for a while. In my book, that just means the unofficial Summer will be with us.
Definitely need another holiday!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Britain on Edge....

My daughter Camille lives in London and I have always loved the city. For reasons unknown to anyone, including me, I have this affinity with anything British. Go figure! So the situation there is very important to me. How could this happened? why did this turned so violent and spread so fast? I am flabbergasted, but still cannot find any answers.

Since Saturday night, London and other cities in Britain have been racked by riots, looting and utter chaos. Regardless of the reasons that caused this, this is not the way to go. There is no excuse in my book that would justify these behaviors...NONE. There have been so many that have tried to explain: it has to be the cuts in social services, the frustration of the young people, the lack of education, high unemployment and other things. Sorry, still NO excuse. There is nothing to be said about young people that can go around doing these kinds of things: "because we want to show the police and the rich we can do what we want, when we want", as two young girls told a BBC reporter. All the valid reasons that might justify a protest, are nullified by this behavior.

Sunday night things started to get really bad. Police, in insufficient numbers patrol the streets and were no match for the mobs. It was an unpredictable and scary thing. These young people just appeared in a neighborhood, looted, set buildings on fire and chased the police away with bats, rocks and pieces of broken glass. Anyone trying to calm them got beaten up and the vocabulary.....just horrific. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see these scenes on television. Never mind all that, I was scared for Camille. The unpredictability of the situation was utmost on my mind. All I could do was to tell her to stay indoors and away from places that could be targeted...but who knew when and where?

Monday dawned in a city showing signs of devastation, but the worst was yet to come. Monday night, as soon as people were coming out of work, mobs of young people rampaged through several neighborhoods, looting and burning and yelling and drinking and totally out of control. I stayed in contact with Camille via Skype, as I watched in horror what was going on. Some places, I recognized, I had been there just last month. Other were vaguely familiar, all looked scary by the light of buildings on fire. People asking for the police, where were they? who was in charge? who was going to protect the citizens? Questions without answers....the night was long and frightening.

It was then that politicians, who had been on holiday, started to come back. Showing up in devastated neighborhoods, they were received with heckles. Now, this was to be expected. Everyone needs a vacation and everyone is entitled to have a rest, but at the first signs of unrest everyone should have been back...EVERYONE! The fact that they weren't, was not looked upon favorably. Measures were taken, meetings were conducted, everyone made a public appearance and a public statement. About 16,000 police officers were to be deployed the next day. Still, all is not well, things have just calmed down a bit...there is so much going on.

Since then, disturbances have spread across the country. Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham have all suffered riots, looting and destruction. Still, I have not found what can justify this , still I have to see something that excuses this behavior. This is just absolutely and purely a chance to loot, to release steam, to show "we can" and it has to be dealt with. Later, when things cool down, solutions should be found, people need to sit down and see that behavior like this only hurts them and their own communities. I do hope this can be done because if not, this will happen again...SOON!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Learning Dutch.....finally!

Twenty years in Curacao never inspired me to learned this language. When I first arrived, the children went to the International School and the need to learn was minimal. After all, I could help with homework in English, the expat community that sent their children there was English speaking, I was too busy, I spoke Papiamentu: you pick. I had all the excuses!

As time passed, I was able to understand most everything. Try playing bridge with a group of Dutch speaking ladies for 20 years! Very little escaped me, but actually talking to them in Dutch was not attempted. Why? Fear of not getting it right? maybe embarrassment about been made fun off? who knows now. Opportunities missed, for sure. No point in trying to fix that now!

When I moved to Miami, back to English all the time and no plans to move to Curaçao or Holland...Dutch was not needed and was put out of my mind. Well, times change, we change. I carry a Dutch passport as I have said before. Every time I need to renew it, the application handed to me is in Dutch. I answer in English and I think at the Consulate they mind to a point. After all, in Holland you need to prove that you are proficient in the language before they issue you a passport. So, I decided, one day....I have to learn Dutch.

Rosetta Stone, Transparent language posts on my Facebook page, friends that offer suggestions all help me. I am grateful for everything. It is not easy: pronunciation, grammar, de and het, verbs, vocabulary. Never mind: Ik wil Nederlands leren!!!!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Pros and Cons of living in Europe

I know I have said time and again that living in Europe is out of the question. First of all: the climate is not to my liking, most of the time. Then there is the small problem of speaking another if we were to move to Holland! Then there is the indisputable fact that foreigners are not as welcome in Europe as they used to be: sad but undeniable. So, why am I talking about here?...Well, my recent trip opened my eyes to some very positive things.

While in London, I had a really bad allergy attack. Reminded me of the asthma attacks I have been having in Panama when I visit lately. Shortness of breath, palpitations, tiredness, circles under my eyes, the works. Had nothing strong enough, so Camille made an appointment to see a NHS doctor close to her house. Listen to this: got in quickly, no long waits. The receptionist only wanted to know where was I staying and for how long, my nationality. The doctor saw me fifteen minutes later. She was young and efficient, thorough, sympathetic and friendly. Asked questions about treatment I had received earlier for these symptoms. Prescribed some medications and told me to be careful, London has a lot of pollution, it had been hot and everything was in bloom.

Felt reassured, went out to ask how much was the consultation: nothing! Well, that lifted my spirits right there! On to the chemist (drugstore) to fill prescriptions. Got all I needed, at NO charge. This time my age (which we are not even going to mention!!!!) was enough to get everything for FREE..yes, you read right....FREE. These medications were for two months and I am still on them. How is that for health care? In the States this could have cost a good amount in deductibles and co-payments. Never mind the wait at the doctor's office and the hassle at the drugstore! On the downside, people would debate the fact that there is a long wait for surgery, to see a specialist or to get treatment for different illnesses, still I loved the service and the FREE medications. Something to keep in mind....

Then there was Holland. Thelma lives in Soest, a beautiful area in the middle of Holland with easy and reliable transportation to the rest of the country. The bus stop is about fifty meters from her building! There are lovely paths for bicycles and for walking, a supermarket across the road. There is a large international community around Hilversum, which is the center of the Dutch television and film industry. This small city has restaurants, good shops, drugstores and supermarkets, a large train station, an international school...everything! It was my first visit to this area and really liked it.

Health care there is amazing because it is good and works. Waiting for treatment or doctors visits is not an issue and I heard only satisfied comments. One complaint, though, was cost. Because the Dutch system is basically private, with government parameters to control cost and to ensure everyone is covered, private patients can pay a good amount for health insurance. On the other hand, everyone is covered and the poor get all their care for free. Something to keep in mind as well....

When are we going to retire? who knows, where are we going to retire? even more of an enigma. Only sure thing: we cannot disregard anything at this point in time. The States is not a shinning example of financial haven or health care paradise right now. Panamá is politically stable at the moment, but things are always changing in Latin America. In both cases, something to keep in mind....

P.D. With the Debt Ceiling mess here in the US, the thread of cuts to Social Security and Medicare, something has come to mind. Taxes are very high in Europe, but the benefits are better than here....something to keep in mind too!