World Culture


A few weeks ago, I made an odd request to one of my good friends. This individual jetted off to Israel and various locations in the Middle East and I made one request, bring me back sand from the desert. 

Now I know this sounds terribly strange to ask someone to get you sand, but the truth is that I always wanted to have a piece of another place in my collections from my personal travels and from those of my family and friends. I own pins, coins, postcards and other assorted knickknacks from places I have never been, but wish to visit in the future. I have never seen a desert with my own eyes, not even in the United States.

So I asked for sand.

Israel, the country roughly the size of New Jersey (CIA Factbook) is approximately 5,550 miles away from my home in Rhode Island. I speak not one word of Hebrew and my skin is awful in the sun, turning red with the hot burning situation. The rich cultural fabric of Jewish, Islāmic and Christian culture blends as one, even if the groups hardly ever see eye to eye.

I think Israel has always fascinated me because it seems so far away from my own cozy world in suburbia, sandy deserts in place of green parks and white picket fences. I have only read and heard about the Middle East and its exotic treasures in books, magazines, on television, in films. Now I have a part of that land in my room, sitting upon my desk. 

It came wrapped in two bags from thousands of miles away in the heart of Jerusalem. Intertwined in pink and purple plastic came the sand I requested, just the right amount of desert for my bedroom in suburbia, on a cul-de-sac far away from war zones and car bombs. I will end up buying a glass jar for it, to remind me of places far beyond my reach that maybe someday I will be lucky enough to visit.


Here is my attempt at a book review of one of the most magical books I have come across lately and I hope it does not disappoint. To know me, you must know that I love to read and the summertime always affords me that luxury. I read books that make me open my mind and soul to new places and stories that I would not otherwise experience in my life.

I picked up Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert one day while visiting my aunt, who had bought the book but not read it as of yet. I began to read and immediately identified with the author on her search to find meaning in her own life by travelling across the globe.

This book is the memoir of the freelance writer Elizabeth Gilbert, a thirty something New York City woman who has just recent been divorced and broken up with her boyfriend. She travels to three countries, Italy, India and Indonesia to find out what is missing in her life.

I identified with Liz as a writer and a traveller, but more specifically because I also lived in Rome, Italy for four months and could identify with the kinds of people and places that she experienced. In Italy, Liz wants to find pleasure specifically in the art of eating Italian food. Then she moves on to India, where she lives in an Ashram (a type of meditation retreat temple) where she learns how to pray. Finally she travels to Indonesia, to the island country of Bali to learn balance in her life. Her book is divided into the three countries she visits, and then further subdivided into stories that she tells of her travels.

I love this book and have not yet even finished the entire thing, but wanted to recommend it to all of my readers. As Americans, we sometimes never realize how different the world is outside our borders and how beautiful interactions with other cultures may be. Bali is next on my wish list of dream vacations!

There is also a film version to be released on August 13, 2010 in the United States and stars Julia Roberts.

Travel across the world is amazing, especially when you have the actual time and resources to experience it. I lived in Italy almost two years ago now, and still miss the little things everyday. But my one regret of my Italian study abroad trip is that I never came close to visiting the island of Sicily, the proverbial soccer ball that the boot of Italy kicks.

Sicily is one of those places that I have been enthralled with every since I started my strange fascination with the Sicilian mob around age 16. First, a bit of history of the mythical island.

Sicily has had its share of invaders and cultural influences, in fact its strain of Italian dialect is a combination of many languages and cultures that ruled the island. It has been ruled by the Romans, Greeks, Byzantines, the Ottomans and the Normans. It became part of the unified country of Italy in 1860.

Sicily is characterized by its rocky landscape and Mediterranean mild climate, which makes it a perfect environment to grow oranges and lemons, one of its main exports. The island is only about 10,000 square miles, with the capital city of Palermo in the northwest. It is home to about 5 million people, but in the summer it becomes a popular tourist destination.

Sicily has a unique spell over the world, whether it be its control by the Mafia or the scent of its fragrant oranges. I have always wanted to see the sights and sounds of the island which has experienced so much tumult over its long history.

My ideal life would be one where I could travel for months at a time to far away places and experience new things.

Today I read a story in the New York Times about the small town of Jackson, NY and their effort to make English the official language of the town. English versus Spanish and immigration and border debates have been hot topics in the last few months.

Many people in the United States do not realize that the country has no official language. The 2000 US Census reported that 300 languages are spoken in households throughout the country. English is spoke at home by 82% of the population but is not the official language, only the most commonly spoken. The second most common language spoken is Spanish, at 12% of the population. The third most common languages spoken are the forms of Chinese languages, which make up about 2 million speakers.

Twenty nine states have English as the official langauge of business and government. However, this most does not have an impact on the U.S. official language.

I believe that America is a country that purposely has no official language because it was built by immigrants who did not necessarily all speak the same language or originate from the same culture.

However, I will leave it up to my readers to decide what they believe.

What do you think?

What would it be like to live in a country that denies free speech? In the United States of America free speech has been a fundamental right since the ratification of the Constitution in 1788. In China this week, the online giant Google has decided that free speech is a right of all of its global users, and has removed earlier sensors but in place by the Chinese government. The People’s Republic of China has been under Communist rule since 1949, and free speech especially on the Internet has been limited.

My new role as a blogger forces me to think about free speech and how blogging would not be possible without that right. Limitation of information, especially in the digital age is extremely harmful to all governments. Free speech gives people the right to challenge the ideas of others and foster the unique creative process. I could not imagine a world where I could not criticize in fear of imprisonment or death.

So today I ask everyone to remember that each one of you have the right to free speech in America, in any humane society. Cherish that right and remember to exercise it.

USA Today Article: Google to stop censoring search results in China

How much does appearance truly matter? Arranged marriage has been a custom for centuries in many cultures, and still exists up until the present day. You know the story. Boy meets girl’s parents and bargains for her marriage price. Boy marries girl without meeting her. Boy and girl live happily ever after…or not. A story came out of Dubai this week that involved a nasty court battle over an arranged marriage in the United Arab Emirates . Apparently, the groom did not meet the bride before his wedding, but had been reassured with photos by the family. When he lifted the niqab (veil) after the wedding, he was in for the shock of his lifetime. His new bride sported a full beard and appeared cross-eyed. Every man surely dreams that his wife will have a nice soft beard…okay perhaps not.

So, the man went to the courts and sued for divorce and all his wedding gifts back. However, he did not receive any settlement from the case other than a divorce, and the wife was proved hormonally female. Doesn’t it seem cruel to divorce someone just because he or she is not perfect in his or her appearance? Usually the flaw is less extreme than a beard, such as some extra weight, or a gap tooth, maybe even a clubfoot. Arranged marriage is a contract I would never enter into under my own free will. As a young adult, I find the dating game hard, but not so hard that I would have to resort to my parents buying and selling me to the most eligible bachelor. What if he was cruel and beat the woman instead of divorcing her? Mail-order brides are another issue related to the arranged marriages. Flying across the world to marry a man that you have never met just to escape poverty? Does it ever work out? Maybe, I will never know.


Each year, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil holds one of the most famous street festivals in the world, Carnival. Carnival, if you do not know, is the festival held 40 days before Easter in the Catholic Church. It is the last time Catholics can eat red meat and essentially party until Easter Sunday. In Rio, there are large parades and festivals to mark the event. At the head of the parade is a woman who does the samba in elaborate costume.

This year, massive controversy surrounded the samba queen, because the woman chosen happened to be a seven-year-old Brazilian girl Julia Lira. However, Lira could not ultimately take the pressure of the crowd and starting crying 10 minutes into the routine. Controversy over her inclusion in the parade has been fought in child advocate courts for the past few weeks, critics saying that the parade’s sexual nature and risqué costumes are too much for a seven-year-old.

Personally, I think her costume was dazzling with the purple sequins and her expert dance moves. Who knew that a seven-year-old could dance like that? More power to you Julia Lira, even if you did throw a temper tantrum in front of the entire world.