American Thanksgiving and Black Friday

Maya's mom Kathy and the delicious outcome of our 2 day cooking spree

Maya’s mom Kathy and the delicious outcome of our 2 day cooking spree

Having spent alot of time in Canada growing up, I know all about the Thanksgiving holiday and traditions, and really the only difference between Canada and the USA is that they happen a month apart, and the Americans get alot more holiday days than Canada’s measly 1 day off.

This year, I spent it with my roommate Maya and her extended family in Oakland. We started cooking Wednesday, the day before thanksgiving, at around 4 pm, for five hours, prepping all the meats, veggies, potatoes and toppings, and cooking four (different) pies. The day of thanksgiving, we arrived at Maya’s mom’s house at 1 pm to peel more potatoes, brine the turkey, reheat everything, and cool down all the bottles of wine and appertif. The entire meal was home cooked, and totaled a feast large enough to feed about 4 families even though there were only 8 of us. It was absolutely amazingly delicious, and I was uncomfortably full for the entire experience, from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday night when I fell asleep, paralyzed from the goodness in my tummy.

The day after Thanksgiving, affectionately called Black Friday, is really the first official day of the Christmas season, and while everyone takes the day off to pick up their christmas tree and enjoy time with the family, this day is famous for being the biggest shopping day of the year. And not only is it big, its dangerous, and chaotic. One Wal-Mart security guard was trampled to death after the opening of the store’s door, probably because of the 50 inch TV that had been reduced by $600 or $700 to only $300. I braved the masses with my friend Mike, and he walked away with a 40-inch flat screen tv for a few hundred dollars, and I finally got myself a mini netbook that is much more travel friendly than my 10 lb, 1 hr of battery life, 5 year old, outdated, 15-inch laptop for only $180. Cheap products and consumerism really take on a whole new meaning in the American christmas shopping season, and I’m just glad I didn’t get injured benefiting from the sales.

A Weekend in Tampa, and a visit to the #1 Beach in the USA

Fort DeSoto Park BeachI spent this weekend in Tampa, Florida, traveling with my best friend Clio from Montreal. She flew out to San Francisco first, and after a few days touring around Berkeley Campus, visiting the Green Strings farm in Petaluma and winetasting the Sonoma Valley, we flew to Tampa to visit Kyle, my ex-next-door-neighbour from the MV Explorer (the cruise ship that was home to our Semester at Sea fall 2006 voyage).

When we arrived early Friday morning, we went straight to Clearwaters beach from the airport, and after some seafood, famous Skyline Chili and beer for breakfast, we transferred to lounging poolside at his downtown apartment. We spent the day going between the pool, hottub, and case of locally brewed Yuengling beer (self proclaimed as the oldest brewery in America). This was pretty typical of our everyday activities, plus we managed to sample a bit of the nightlife in Channelside and at ‘gussy’ Jackson’s (Kyle’s descriptive word for dressing up more than usual for the venue).

The beach we went to on Sunday is part of the Fort DeSoto State Park, and has been (2005 was the last time) rated the number one beach in all of the USA. It was certainly beautiful, under-commercialised, clean and peaceful, a rare sight to find anywhere near Miami or Orlando beaches where the multidues of people quickly infringe upon the serenity and natural feeling that this remote beach offered.

Driving around Tampa Bay was certainly a though-provoking sight; the entire state is basically at sea-level (except for the towering bridges over mile-long bodies of water), and with the growing concern of rising sea levels, more storms (hurricanes particularily) and the natural disasters recently hitting New Orleans and the Philippines fresh in our mind, I couldn’t help but worry about the city of Tampa and its surrounding natural paradises that could one day easily be completely under water.

Crossing the Peace Arch Border

2 friendly and tame racoons beg for food from passerby's at Stanley Park

2 friendly and tame raccoons beg for food from passerby's at Stanley Park

I was in Vancouver for the weekend, compromising between American & Canadian Thanksgiving, my grandmothers’ 80th birthday, and Rememberance Day as reasons to take one trip for all of the reasons above. I dragged along my roommate Maya, and Misha, my brother from another (russian) mother. It was a short 3 day visit, but the time there felt like forever and far away, but now that I’m home, it literally passed in the blink of an eye – as does all travel it seems. I also happened to be sick for all (and only) the 3 days I was there, which was unfortunate for me and everyone around me (people are way to paranoid about H1N1). I was in the airport and a hospital at one point, and everyone that hears you sniffle or cough looks very suspicously over their shoulder at you, and finds the nearest antibacterial pump machine to lather their hands (has anyone else noticed they are absolutely everywhere now?). My response? I point at my nose and say, “dont worry, its just allergies,” since I’ve definitely heard the horror storries of being caught up at a border or airport in quarantine when someone accuses you of having swine flu symptoms.

Fortunately – and suprisingly – it didn’t rain the entire time we were up north, but grey skies and cold rain sent us on our way back to Seattle-Tacoma airport. We flew in and out of SeaTac, which is only 150 miles south of Vancouver, because flights are about one third the cost than flying from the Bay to BC, and I have to admit how much I love taking that I-5 drive and stopping into any of the Washington State rest areas that are fully equipped with free hot drinks and tasty treats for anyone interested. However, to my dismay, I got held up at the border for an hour when they threated to revoke my American Study Visa because I showed them my Canadian passport (which allows free travel between the American/Canadian border) instead of my Icelandic one (which holds the actual student visa). After they asked if I had an Islamic passport (ummm, hello, Islam is not a country, a religion cannot issue passports… are you really qualified to be a border patrol officer?!?), I (laughed) and said, no, I had an Icelandic one. Without asking to see it, they brought me inside, where a pms-ing woman on an authority trip (more of a power struggle, since I did nothing wrong) tried unconvincgly to make me feel guilty or apologetic of ‘misleading’ border officials of my identity and purpose in the states. After threatening to confiscate my visa and doing nothing at her desk but comparing my stamps of entry in each passport for an hour, she told me they never wanted to see my Icelandic passport after my student permit was up, and that I cannot use whichever passport I feel like or is more advantegous anymore.

Too bad I got in trouble for not showing the Icelandic passport in the first place, and, having two valid passports is completely legal so I will continue to exploit my rights as a dual citizen. Argh.

American College Football

me hugging Oski, the California Bears Mascot

me hugging Oski, the California Bears Mascot

I attended my first college football game here at Cal (short for the University of California at Berkeley) where the California Golden Bears played the Oregon State Beavers in their second-to-lastlast home game. Unfortunately, it did not go so well, with their main quarterback suffering a serious fall (leading to a stretcher carry-out and a concussion)  and the final score being 31-14 for Oregon. Their last home game was a close call, but victory against Arizona came with a 24-16 final score. Next weekend they play their second-to-last last season game, against Stanford, a long standing rivalry of theirs. Even day-to-day on campus, all students express fierce competition with Stanford on every level (other varsity sports, academically, socially), and Stanford recently won a game against USC (the University of Southern California) by 55-21, one of the biggest margins ever.

Since the Cal Golden Bears are ranked 25th and Stanford is ranked 17th (BCS Standings as of Nov 15), there is a lot of pressure on Cal, and fans here are tough; during my first game, I was sitting in the stadium, and after the end of the third quarter, more than 25% of the fans had just left, knowing the game was already lost. Halfway through the last period, you could see on the televised versious of the game that the stadium was more than half empty, and the only section still full and cheering was the Oregon fanbase. It seems harsh for that many fans to turn their backs on you after a rough game, but, those people come to see them win, not lose.

It was still a really cool experience; the Cal stadium is up on the top of the slight hill that Berkeley campus sits on, with a view of San Francisco from the top of it. At night time, it is lit up with so many white lights that you can see it glowing from accross the bay. It is the largest football stadium in California according to its 72,000 seating capacity (which fills almost every sold-out game); being in a crowd that big for the most beloved sport of Americans was definitely an experience I couldnt miss out on, especially since I myself am now a ‘bear’ – an affectionate term for Berkeley Students.