Monthly Archives: July 2011

Join Me on a Virtual Field Trip to Paris!

Let’s visit Paris, the City of Lights, which has been the cultural capital of Western civilization for centuries and is the capital of the French Republic. For this trip, however, you don’t need a passport or to learn French (although that won’t hurt ya!) and I’ll be your guide. We all know the Eiffel Tower…so let me share with you some of the other sites that made an impact on me. I hope you enjoy our little trip! Bon voyage!

One of the first things to strike you when you first arrive in the City of Lights is its incredible age and rich history. Our country is only 235 years old and many of our oldest historic sites aren’t much older than 400 years. The city of Paris has been inhabited for more than 2,000 years! The city itself is named after the Parisii, a tribe of Celtic people, first living on the spot along the river Seine.

Now that you have deboarded the 777 jet that took you from the US to the Charles de Gaulle Airport and you have all your luggage and have smoothly passed through French Customs, lets visit some of my favorite sites! Hope you get goosebumps! I’ll include the pronunciations so you can imagine me saying the words with a French accent! Bon Appétit!

La Défense  (lah day-FONTS)

La Défense is the most modern, architecturally new section just on the margin of Paris. It’s rapidly expanding because it provides space for new developments and large buildings and sky-scrapers that cannot fit within the historically preserved center of town. It is home to many corporations and serves as an important center of business for the city. Stunning at night, this modern section of town still preserves the vibrant energy of Paris.

Musée du Louvre (mew-ZAY doo LOOV-reh)

Not many Americans have ever visited a real-life Palace. No, I don’t mean just a beautiful home, but the actual residence of a King and Queen! While, a fortress for the king has been on the site since the 1100’s, the Louvre as it appears today (minus the pyramid, of course) was completed in the 16th century and is a gorgeous example of French Renaissance architecture. It is now the most famous–and one of the largest–art museums on the planet.  You will be struck first by how massive of a complex the Louvre is. As our bus was taking us to the Louvre, we recognized the famous facade and the rows of Renaissance windows seemed endless, then we turned a corner, and it continued! Just when you thought the Palace must be an entire city itself (I swear my hometown could fit inside of it!) We entered the complex through a real-life portcullis (those scary spiky gates that come down from above like on a castle!) and reached the central courtyard that you see above. The glass pyramid was added in 1989 and was the pet project of then President François Mittérand. The contrast between the modern pyramid (despite it’s ancient shape) and the Renaissance palace behind it remains controversial to this day. In fact, this is how French people torture American tourists: they will ask “Do you like our pyramid?” If you reply that you do, they will act disgusted and tell you that Americans have no taste. If you say you don’t like it, they will act disgusted and offended that you dare insult their national monuments! It’s a Catch-22!

The Louvre houses some of humanity’s greatest artistic treasures. Despite the sheer size of the collection alone–if you spent one minute admiring each artifact 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it would still take you six months to see it all!–the artworks are so valuable that they are considered to be exalted beyond all price. Security is tight, they will search and X-ray your belongings before you are permitted to enter the galleries–and thats after walking down the longest hallway of your life, with continuous Greek columns on both sides. If you ever want to be so overwhelmed and utterly impressed to the point of breathlessness, visit the Louvre Palace.

Here are some of the artworks you CANNOT miss during our visit:

Leonardo daVinci's masterpiece, "The Mona Lisa" (called La Jaconde in French) is the most visited work in the Louvre Antonio Canova's sculpture, "Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss"The Venus de MiloAfter you have marveled at these masterpieces, it is time to exit the museum and on your way, we will pass a small little taste of home--The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York operates a gift shop right there in the Louvre! Thanks for visiting with me! On to our next stop... Le Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris (leh cat-ay-DRALL deh NO-treh DOM-eh deh Pare-EE The Cathedral of Notre Dame (Our Lady)

You’ve seen Disney’s Hunchback, right? Here is the legendary cathedral where the Victor Hugo novel took place. What’s especially breathtaking about this church is, not only its exquisite detail, but its age. The cathedral was finished in the 1300’s after roughly 200 years of construction. That means that generations and generations of laborers worked on building this structure knowing that they, and even their children, would never live to see it finished.
As we enter the cathedral through the ornate door called “The Portal of the Virgin” you will notice the detailed scupture above the portal of the Virgin Mary, “Our Lady,” to whom the church is dedicated. Once inside, you are expected to remain silent. Men must remove their hats, and women must have their shoulders covered.

Interior of Notre Dame

Respect and reverance is a must because of how special this church is. It was here that Napoleon crowned himself Emperor and the actual Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus during the crucifixion is held in the reliquary.
Before we depart, feel free to leave a donation and light a candle. I paid ten francs and lit a candle for my grandmother who had cancer at the time.
Now, on to our last stop…
L’Opéra Garnier (low-PARE-ah gar-NYAY)

Le Palais Garnier, the home of the National Opera of Paris

 We CANNOT leave Paris without visiting my favorite—The Garnier Opera House. Moving from the Hunchback of Notre Dame to the Phantom of the Opera; this opera house is the home of the legendary phantom! This structure is inscribed with the words “Academie Nationale de Musique et Danse” (National Academy of Music and Dance). Can you guess why it’s my favorite on the tour? The facade also includes likenesses of the goddesses of lyric poetry and choreography. I think our recitals will be held at the Opéra from now on!

Thank you for joining me on our tour! I wish we had time to see the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, the Conciergerie, the Musée d’Orsay, and the National Library. I also wish that I could treat you all to a crepe or croissant! Next time!

Merci et au revoir!

Paris and the River Seine at Night



Youth, the Arts, and Self-Actualization

I’m often accused of favoring the arts, especially dance, over sports. Some have even accused me of being anti-athletics. This view, however, is a misunderstanding of my actual and carefully constructed opinion that I’ve decided to attempt (please note this is an attempt!) to articulate here. Please bear with me!

My views are deeply influenced by the work of Abraham Maslow, who in 1943 began to lay out his ideas regarding human needs. Let me try to sum it up for you: Imagine a pyramid of human needs. Each level needs to be satisfied in order to be able to move up the pyramid. At the bottom are the physiological needs: food, water, air, the most basic stuff you need to stay alive. Only then, when these are satisfied can you worry about the next level: safety and security. This is the level concerned with having shelter, being safe from harm from nature and from other humans. This frees you up to worry about the third level of needs: love and affection. This can be accomplished by close relationships with family and friends—basically feeling loved and supported by others. Then, the fourth and final of the “deficiency needs”—the needs that have to be met or else you feel the deficiency and are less healthy—is that of esteem. This is the level where you feel confident, proud of yourself, and have a definite sense of self-worth. In essence, your self-esteem. Most people never get beyond these first four needs and many never even make it to the fourth.

But we’re not done yet! Those are the deficiency needs. These all must be accomplished merely to have a healthy individual—someone who is able to function and get things done. But simply being free from deficiencies is not living up to your full potential! There are two additional needs on this pyramid: the “growth needs.” These are the needs that take you beyond the basics of being physically and mentally healthy. The first is comprised of intellectual growth. This doesn’t mean formal education, but rather being curious about the world around you, simply wanting to know things, to be investigative and interested in learning. Then, once all these previous levels have been accomplished, one can hope to achieve the highest growth need—the aesthetic. At this level, you are able to see, appreciate, and passionately consume the beauty in the world around you. And not only that, but you also can see yourself within that beauty—you truly, genuinely, value your own contribution to the beauty in the world. Only then can you fully actualize your full potential as a human being. This is what Maslow called “self-actualization.”

I believe that one can find that beauty in a number of ways, but I believe the arts are best suited to that particular experience. When you watch a student work on an artistic piece for months and months perfecting their technique, developing their artistic stage persona, pushing themselves beyond the limits of what they thought they could accomplish and then, finally, it’s showtime and they are backstage, nervous, doubting whether they can do it in front of an audience.

Then, she goes out there, she does her dance all out, finding within herself the courage and passion and the emotion to express herself, in a way that never seems to happen during rehearsal. Instead, she is fueled by the adrenaline from performing in front of a live audience. But, she is not dancing to ENTERTAIN—the audience is not the boss here; she is. She is there to satisfy herself. She is there, performing on stage to prove something to herself. She is, in fact, transformed by the very act of performance. And when it is over, when she leaves the stage, she knows she nailed it. She accomplished something more beautiful, intense, and emotional than she ever thought she could have.

That is that moment of self-actualization. The moment of transcendence, when you stop being yourself and you are merely a part of the astonishing mosaic of beauty that is the wondrous world around us.

The difference between dance and sports is that dance is an art. I mean no disrespect and I certainly don’t wish to demean sports at all, but I do believe that the arts are in a unique position to satisfy those two additional growth needs on the way to self-actualization, mainly because artistic pieces emerge from within the artist. When you are onstage, daring yourself to go farther than you thought you could to express the feelings that you carry with you, you lose yourself within yourself before an audience. It is not about being better than someone else or playing a game better than someone else and “winning.” In dance, all of us win…

My Independence Day Blog

An act of Congress declared that, contrary to all rules regarding the use of the American flag, it shall fly above the grave of Jennie Wade, night or day, rain or shine, with no illumination, and it shall never be lowered to half-staff. She was the only civilian killed at Gettysburg, as she was making bread for the Union soldiers.

I’ve come to appreciate our American freedoms so much recently when I was under fire for controversial comments that I made and the lawyers said very businesslike, “This is protected under the First.” And I had a moment right then…for the first time, I really sat and realized that this Constitution, written more than two centuries ago is still valid, even on Facebook, and that I needn’t worry at all because what I say is PROTECTED. And I realized for the very first time, as an adult, how radical, how special, how valuable this is.

It’s one thing to learn in a school book that freedom of speech is good, but when you experience a time in your life when you realize how REAL that promise is, and how radical for the time it was, you begin to realize, wow, this country has been GOOD to me, even when I didn’t know any better, even when I didn’t appreciate it like I should have. And wow….that’s something spectacular…I’m very proud to be a citizen of the country that was FIRST to value the importance of freedoms of speech and press and religion. Consider how lucky we are! It is this brilliance and this genius that makes me so proud to be an American.

…I think hamburgers are gross, I don’t even know how to play baseball, I view the pledge of allegiance as an example of forced indoctrination of young people against their consent, I think singing the National Anthem at sporting events is in terribly bad taste, and I wish the song “God Bless America” had never been written because it’s just stupid…

…But I’m no dummy, and I realize the genius and radical awesomeness that this country has offered me. And because of that and the true freedoms that I know are mine forever, I shall be a proud and lifelong patriot.

And I thank all those brave individuals who had to fight so hard to make those values something that I COULD have taken for granted in my youth. But I never will again. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for making so many deep sacrifices, just so that I wouldn’t have to make any. THAT is what makes this country great.

My Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. . .


The graves of those killed at Gettysburg in July, 1863

Because my sister relocated to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania just two weeks ago to start a fantastic new job, my mom and I came down to visit her this weekend, which, incidentally, happened to fall on the 148th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, which took place July 1-3, 1863. Spending July 1-3, 2011 here in this historic place helped me to make an important realization: that I am utterly in love with Gettysburg and have been since I was a child.

I recall that the first time I ever heard of this town was when I was in third grade and my cousin, who was in 8th grade at the time, was selected to recite Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address at our little town’s Memorial Day ceremony. I was fascinated watching her recite the entire address and that same day, my Grandma Katen gave me her copy of the 1992 World Almanac because the massive volume contained a reprinting of Lincoln’s address. I spent the rest of the day memorizing this speech. Then, when I was in eighth grade myself, I felt I should continue the family tradition, so I auditioned and was chosen to recite the address. Then, three years later, when no other student was interested, the Veterans of Foreign Wars asked me to recite it again as a high school junior and I was happy to have another chance. Then, coincidentally, my first year of college, I took an honors seminar entitled “American Eloquence.” It was a course that examined famous American speeches and each of us were asked to choose one class meeting during which we would be responsible for teaching the class and leading class discussion. I was thrilled to be able to teach class the day we’d be discussing the Gettysburg Address. It seems that this beautiful, elegant, and timelessly powerful speech has haunted me my entire life.

Needless to say, one of the most moving things I love to do when in Gettysburg (I have visited numerous times for day trips on family vacations) is to visit the site where Lincoln gave his now-legendary oration. The purpose of his speech was to dedicate the National Cemetery, where the bodies of soldiers—both blue and gray—would be interred. This time, on Friday—the anniversary of the start of the battle—I stood at the Gettysburg Address Monument inside the National Cemetery and recited the speech from memory. It was really a surreal experience. I know I’m something of a nerd, but to be there, at that site, at the precise location where those words were first spoken—by Abraham Lincoln, no less!—and to reflect back on when I first learned that speech before I had ever even known the significance of Gettysburg or the battle that was fought there, was beyond overwhelming.

The location at the National Cemetery where Lincoln delivered the Address

Reflecting on this particular moment pushed me to think about history and its educational importance to us. We’ve all heard George Santayana’s sentiment that, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is true, it is our ability to look at our present and draw parallels to our past that can keep us from ever making the same mistakes. In this sense, the history of us ALL is remarkably similar to the history of each one of us. In our personal lives, all of us only have our own past from which to draw wisdom and insight and the same applies to us all collectively. Just as we move forward as individuals armed with knowledge that revealed itself to us in our personal pasts, we also move forward as a community, as a nation, as an entire civilization, armed with the knowledge that comes from remembering where we have been. This is perhaps one of the most priceless treasures possessed by humanity—our collective past.

So, as an advocate of education, especially for young people, I can’t help but then ask the next question that impulsively materializes in my mind: How do we safeguard our past and convey it to future generations?

The monument dedicated to Lincoln's Address, where I stood and recited it on Friday, July 1.

I’ll be the first to say that I do NOT believe that the teaching of history or its importance can happen through poor excuses of educational methods such as worksheets, vocabulary flash cards, or multiple choice exams. Nor do I approve of this idea of “assignments” for students. I memorized the Gettysburg Address because I WANTED to, because it mattered to me, and because it was rewarding to me. Because of my own personal history with this text, I will always carry warm and affectionate feelings toward it. However, had I been forced to memorize it by a teacher, I probably would always associate it with coercion, chore-like learning, and many of the other unpleasant things one associates with school. Why do we do this to our children?

This inspires me to write yet another blog entry, but for now, I’d like to leave you with this: I wish that all things could be learned by all children with the same voracity, love, and reverence that came naturally to me when I decided to study this text of Lincoln’s. And, as an adult, years later, I appreciate it in ways I never could have imagined as an elementary student. Shouldn’t education look like this?



Welcome to My World!

Hi there!

Thanks for checking out my new blog. There are a couple reasons that I decided to start this blog and to seriously commit to maintaining it.

First of all, I want to encourage awareness and discussion of topics that seem too often neglected in contemporary society, yet that I see as crucially important. I’m talking about the arts, culture, history, the humanities, and basically just the things that offer you a glimpse of the “sublime.” I’m going to borrow a line that South Africa used for its tourism advertising that I found ten years ago and have never forgotten: “It is when you feel most insignificant that you feel most alive.” These moments of “sublimity” happen when you find yourself standing in the midst of something SO much bigger than yourself. And in the exhilaration of that moment, you find yourself inspired, renewed, energized, and changed in a fundamental way. That’s what I hope we all can share here in this safe and friendly environment.

Second, I want to write about these moments as I experience them so that, first, they are archived. I’ll look at this as something of a journal that I want to share with whoever might be interested. But more importantly, I want to force myself to slow down for a minute and think, reflect, and remember. I want these inspiring and sublime moments to last me forever. I want to always remember the lessons I learned and the visions I’ve gained. By forcing myself to write about them here, they will not be lost.

I hope that “J Culture” as I hope to call this blog, will allow for all these things. Welcome and please share your opinions and views. As long as you’re respectful and thoughtful, I entirely welcome those who disagree with me and will offer me arguments, should they occur to you. I want to learn and grow from this exercise as well.

Thanks for coming! And enjoy yourself here!


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