Travelblog - Central European Excursion = Budapest, Wien (Vienna) and Warsaw

During this past Spring Break in April,

I went on a trip around Central Europe to the countries of Hungary, Austria and Poland (cities Budapest, Vienna and Warsaw respectively). I initially thought about giving them each separate entries like I usually do. However, these cities blended together at points and I was in depression during this time so what I did in the cities didn't differ or see cultural aspects out of the norm either. Still I will breakdown my experience in each:


Hungary-Budapest

My time in Budapest was fun in its own weird way with significantly cheaper currency (no euros), Magyar language that I barely even understood and it was ok because everyone knew I wasn't Hungarian. It was a pretty easy city to traverse with buses, trains, and trolleys everywhere and an awesome airbnb host. The food was surprisingly wonderful from paprikas (chicken with paprika), goulash (soup), hurka (sausage), delicious Kürtőskalács (funnel cake), and the wine. I highly recommend all of it and getting lost in the old Jewish Quarter for the quirky ruin bars. These bars are made from the ruins of older buildings from the destruction of World War 2 in the past and yes that did hit hard. 

The other fun aspect of Hungary was the bathhouses based on Roman baths and everybody was out there - all ages but definitely not all ethnicities at the Széchenyi Thermal Bath.  I also had a nice and enjoyable free walking tour which was my main process in Central Europe. I definitely recommend this cheap and fairly entertaining beautiful city (open alcohol carry!) to visit as a change of pace from Western Europe.


Austria - Vienna (Wien)

I only went to Vienna for a day, but I tried to indulge in as much as I could for the six or seven hours I was there. The absolute best part was the central loop and all the Strasses (streets) and Platzs (squares) that a variety of perspectives. There were swanky and fashionable clothing pieces, phenomenal churches, an impressive library, and the wonderful Sacher Torte cake and cafe. This cafe is exceptionally gaudy and it works with the classiness of Vienna. I had a free walking tour to explore which was a blast to use and even had some fun figuring out Vienna's different red light system (they're outside of doors as you walk). In the end, the main highlight was meeting an Ethiopian lady who worked at a restaurant I was in who thought I too was Ethiopian. A surprise and welcoming face in a sea of whiteness - which is towed oddly in Austria since it is part Western Europe with euros v. Central European historical struggles.

Still, the city and country is a blast and an alternative to Germany. I really want to explore more of it someday as I felt there was still much more indulge in this city filled with Mozart, coin-operated bathrooms, and cafe on cafe on cafe. 


Poland-Warsaw

While I was only here for a stopover, I figured it would be imperative to explore the city center of Warsaw with a free tour. The tour had many of the usual European highlights of churches, some cafe where famous people visited and World War 2 statues and remnants. At the same time, Warsaw and Poland for that matter offered a little more than the usual due to the fortitude of the Polish and the more humble approach of non-colonizing white people. I didn't face racism there I was pretty much ignored and without much fanfare since that country had a hell of a history and my tour expressed how much Hitler razed to the ground when they tried to resist. Poland is also not known for having slaves or colonizing people so the people had an air of working class about them especially when I went to the milk bar*.

*Polish milk bars are a must. Since the head lady doesn't speak english you tell her what Polish delights you want (I highly recommend the perogi and borscht!), she writes down the number and you pay, then someone calls your food and you get it. It's cheap and simple and was a stable means of quick and common eats during the communist days. 

Beyond that, this is the home of the composer Chopin and his music and vodka can make good uses for all that extra zloty you'll have. 

Travelblog - Montreal in Review

This is probably the longest time in between traveling to a country and writing about the experience. However, my moods have shifted considerably since then which is another conversation. Anyways I had a simple time with Montreal with one more time with my muse, was very different than most of my travels since it was cold travel (European/Colonizer places always seem to be that) and it was Canada so no stamp even though I tried to get all the places I’d ever been in one passport.

 

The trip was much more subdued even though the apartment was quite nice with a good view from a high rise overlooking the cold exhausts of Montreal. Old Montreal was a nice little stomp around for the odd history of being colonized and fought over (French-Indian War) and debates around English versus French. Along with that there’s an odd mixture of vacant business buildings mixed with all types of food since it is a foodie town with rye whiskey, delicious smoked meats and fish, and the glory that is maple syrup. There’s also this strange revelation of homeless white guys everywhere; nice change of pace but it’s even colder up there.

 

Some other odds and ends were a cool speakeasy, high diversity (it’s like Chicago but French-Canadian), prostitution that is but isn’t legal, random guy yelling at us in French then English so I was confused as to what he was going for, seeing Black Panther in a foreign country (less racism in Canada so colonization is a bit different for them without all the slavery),  1976 Olympics, and a gay district. 

 

Overall, it’s a food and shopping town with a good trip Quebec City that I wish I partook in for some castle history as the Quebecois like their independence outside of Canada in a sense. A nice short getaway from the usual pressures of NYC.

Afrofuturistic Boy

Yes, I like many people saw Black Panther and I absolutely loved it. What I didn’t know was how much Black Panther would change me. It stirred up something of not only Black excellence but also Black Geek/Nerdom.

 

 Growing up in the suburbs, I gravitated to video games or made up games that were similar to acting out a dungeons and dragon story in which we went on adventures. Video games suited me because I could go on these interactive adventures myself and in essence I could be a hero with powers different from sports games or puzzle games. Thus, it makes sense why I was invested in JRPGs and adventure games. I enjoyed escaping the confines of the world where I didn’t have to make sense of certain things. Life wasn’t too hard but I’ve had anxiety and bouts of depression for awhile now so escapism falls in and out of my life. I realized that some subtle moments may have also been to deal with being biracial, but either way I embraced being a nerd and have only in the past year or so felt like I could be around Black people again.

 

Being Black in America or even the world is a huge challenge in of itself. When you add other stigmas it becomes difficult. Homosexuality, Transgender, Bisexuality are all difficult, but some are other moments like enjoying rock or punk music or video games or sci-fi literature. And it’s strange because we created so much of it and the culture but around the 80s/90s we became to shun to move steeply into a gangsta rap mindset which was definitely reactive the terrible Reagan era 80s. However, we weren’t all a stereotype and even those in it had layers. As such, I related more to white suburban kids growing up than Black kids because we often did meet as my parents were focused on success and my dad didn’t help diversify certain things even though he helped me be a Black man. He was a geek too but we didn’t always talk about it. We both geeked on Babylon 5, Star Trek, and some other moments but I left the cowboys fandom to him. Still I loved it but there were so many people in those worlds I couldn’t relate to unless I got lucky. Babylon 5’s doctor, Jordi LaForge, beating the World Cup with team Nigeria in an old Fifa game or reading the Afrofuturistic, Zimbabwe,  thriller novel The Ear, The Eye and the Arm.

 

All of those moments I felt whole, like myself, but I also felt like I made no sense to my peers. To anyone white, that couldn’t relate to the Blackness. To the few Black people I knew, they couldn’t relate to my geekiness. Other ethnic groups varied, some Chinese friends I had were cool and so were some of my Mexican soccer teammates, but that was maybe one or two the entire time. It didn’t get better in high school since I tried to be the stereotype and wind up with nothing or in college when Black people thought I was out of my mind for not being a stereotype. After college, I only found some peace with kinky Black folks as my time in TFA had almost no Black people. People at my work though were out of my age range so we didn’t relate that well about anything but I learned about old Southern Black ways.

Fast-forward to NYC and I have it more in moments here and there, but not entirely.

 

 

However, Black Panther revitalized that. I’m having so much trouble accepting I have to live in a world with colonizers. I’m trying to make sense of it without being so prejudiced to white people, but it is so hard because I felt so comfortable just being a Black/Pan-African geek/nerd. I’ve been researching African history for teaching but also for my own knowledge in learning how many ancient kingdoms we have that we never learned for some reason. I’ve also been learning how few films and tv there are that embrace Black excellence or nerdom. There are some good documentaries on us, but there’s only so much Black trauma I can take especially if I don’t see us winning.

 

So at the moment I’m really struggling because I feel wrong a bit for just wanting to live in a world of sci-fi with African pride and no white people. Is that so wrong? I don’t know but there will be a lot for therapy and just my raging mind right now.

The Black Panther in All of Us-An Essay or Two

If you’re Black or African or African-American or any iteration of African descent then you like most of us saw the greatness that is Black Panther this past week. Black Panther is a film based on the comic book character from the 60s and before the Black Panther Party, of the same name. Perhaps you were like me and saw it twice, perhaps more or perhaps you only saw it once. Either way if you haven’t seen it, regardless of what ethnicity you are, you should watch it for a variety reasons, but in simplest terms, it is a good film. If we go far deeper then we find that there are multiple layers to this film.

 

 

I.               Representation

 

Black Panther is one of the first films created in Hollywood that is pan-African. This isn’t a Nollywood film, this isn’t one of Tyler Perry’s overwrought dramas, this is a pan-African superhero film that celebrates our African heritage, American Blackness and more on a global scale. Most of the time superhero outfits had masks that had whitefaces before they started doing half masks.

 

This didn’t always bother people because as a Black person over 25 and they’ll tell you at least one white superhero or superheroine they were a big fan of. However, our children now have a whole slew of people that they don’t need to change their hair, skin or overall demeanor to be. A Black superhero, “villain”, and several powerful Black women are empowering to all the Black children in the world who have been waiting for a hero.

 

One of the most important representations throughout the film isn’t just Black Power, but also how we’re portrayed with a myriad of emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and skills. Wakanda is a beautiful and technologically advanced city, Shuri is a Blerd/Bleek, Okoye is a general, Nakia is basically a secret spy/assassin, and the city and rural landscapes are teeming with hardworking African Wakandas.

 

 

II.             Role of Women

 

Much has been said about the role of women in this film and not just women, but Black bald-headed women who are not their hair. Some complain that there isn’t enough in the film and yes Killmonger’s treatment of women isn’t the best. However, much of his mistreatment was intentional to represent Black revolutionaries disrespect and abuse of women to get to their cause as evidenced by the real Black Panthers themselves.  Furthermore, none of the Black women actually ruled Wakanda or could go into ritual combat (which I think Okoye would’ve won hands down).

 

Still, there are many positive representations of Black women, far more than most films or tv shows ever even attempt to have.  Does that mean we need to forgive this film? No, but having a dark-skinned Black lady as a general of the army/royal guard is empowering; as are the Dora Milajie. Nakia makes T’Challa change his ways if he is going to be with her instead of the other way around. Shuri is the most intelligent person in Marvel and she is a Black women. I also think not enough is said that Queen Ramonda isn’t in a large show of Black grief when T’Chaka or T’Challa “die.” As such, these are some of the most powerful Black women to have graced the screen, without them T’Challa wouldn’t have come back, been protected, had the powers to fight and a whole lot more.

 

One note that is important is that Dora Milajie, are often lovers with each other in the comics and that was a missed opportunity to have LGBT representation and in an ideal world every aspect of Black everything is front and center, but I’m so pleased to see young women and many women I know feel absolutely empowered by the badass Black women in this film.

 

 

III.           Anti-Colonialism

 

While this film can be viewed by anybody and appreciated by anybody, the film grows steadily in its stance against whiteness and colonialism. Watching this film in two different countries is telling as in the US many Black people loved the “colonizer” joke, Killmonger’s last statement on the Atlantic slave trade, and a many more jabs at whiteness and colonialism. However, in Canada white people (also a colony) enjoyed that joke just as much and I think that is due to their slightly improved acceptance of diversity than the US which is still fraught with many issues.  Still, this film is definitely for a pan-African unity as many concepts are against colonizers getting vibranium weapons, what if Africa was never colonized, and a general mistrust of colonizers or non-Africans.

 

Many people who are not African descent can understand this, but there are moments that are steeply rooted against whiteness and calling for pan-African unity. Whether you’re Caribbean, African, British, American and any other part of the African diaspora, it’s time to bridge that gap together against colonialism and all of its standards of power, beauty and disrespect that the original Black Panthers were so against.

 

I would also call upon Killmonger discussing the theft of many artifacts by colonizers from around the world and the kinetic energy powers of the suits. The former is straightforward and a great call to African art and education meanwhile the latter is the ability to take  the weight and anguish of colonizers then push it back onto them. 

 

IV.            Perspectives

 

One of my favorite aspects of this film is that there are many ways to discuss how to handle Blackness and the pan-African movement.  There are a variety of ideologies on celebrating our roots from the wonderful sets by Hannah Bleacher, costumes by Ruth E. Carter, and the varieties of languages used – Xhosa, Zulu and Ndibisi, which is only part of the puzzle. I will attempt discuss as many as I can and I apologize if I’ve forgotten any perspective or nuance as there are so many and I wrote about this later in the week because I learned something new every day.

 

T’Challa – T’Challa’s perspective changes throughout the film from the traditionalism (a perspective in itself)  of his father T’Chaka, to one of more globalism in accepting colonizers and other non-Wakandas to extent. This is primarily to help Black Americans but also to help people globally. This is a radical change from the isolationist themes of Wakanda from before. His literary rise and fall and resolution is the easiest to follow on the first film due to identity, but upon other viewings or thinking more you may disagree with him. That is mainly due to you feeling that he is not doing enough and is instead sympathizing when he is simply trying to be diplomatic.

 

Killmonger – Erik Killmonger is definitely similar to the actual Black Panther Party and in essence an amalgamation of some of the main leaders (no one Black literary, revolutionary or leader  is represented in these characters, there are many). He wants total destruction of colonizers including the children in order to create an empire similar to colonial ideas of imperialism; essentially become what you hate. Unlike T’Challa his past is a Black kid in the less safe areas of Oakland in which he has experienced a whole slew of issues brought on by colonizers and their racism. On a second viewing, one can follow his trajectory as it is reasonable except that he wants to get rid of any Wakanda  or person who stands against his ideas (note I still don’t think Nightshade is dead – the lady he shot).

*N’Jobu – N’Jobu has a similar idea as his son, but it is not an imperial sense. His main push is to arm Black people against oppressors and to have new leaders by stealing vibranium to power weapons. However, he doesn’t want an empire, he merely wants to fight back.

 

Nakia – Nakia holds little allegiance at first to Wakanda, but due to rituals, love for her tribe and the attempt to save her country, she offers a third route. Instead of isolation or conquering, she offers the idea of aide as from her first scene she is using her powers to help women who are used in trafficking by Boko Haram. As such, much of her motivation and ideals coming from using vibranium to assist the pan-African world outside of Wakanda. It is a positive way to influence, but there will be a cost with this. Still, it is her who changes T’Challa’s mind and once again shows how important African women are to the world of not only Wakanda but in reality itself.

 

Okoye – Okoye has a sense of duty and loyalty. It is most reflective of knighthood in that she serves whoever reigns regardless of how good they are as a king, this is of course until the end in which she realizes she has to sometimes bend the rules in order to improve the country she loves.  Another point, to bring up is how reliant she is on herself and without men, more than once she helps T’Challa and also follows duty over love for another man by the end of the film. It’s a really powerful moment at the end with W’Kabi in her not sacrificing her ideals for a man; an issue that plagues too many women. I really want to follow her and Nakia on the third viewing since they offer up ideas on how to navigate as Women in the world of Wakanda.

 

M’Baku – M’Baku is extreme traditionalism to the point of blindness. While many of his tribes methods are survivalist and work (ice, simply clothes for fighting, vegetarianism) for ensuring benefits without technology, he does miss the combination of the two in order to assist his people. However, he is also not wrong his rejection of the elitism of the other tribes as a call against pan-African elites who often forgot the street savviness of others when they have much more intelligence than one would think.

 

Shuri – Shuri is a technological genius, highly representative of the youth of today in which many are skilled with smartphones but have no tolerance or respect for the ways of the past. However, she has one of the most important lines in the film in suggesting that good can always be improved. This is important to show that while she is not traditional (though she understands the ancestral ways in saving T’Challa) she always wants us to improve as a whole. She uses technology and is much more a machinist but does so to improve broken white boys and her family out of pure fascination and belief in technology coming from an ancient resource.

 

Lastly, I could go into Klaue’s concept of Wakanda/Africa as savages but it is limited as he is cultural appropriation and for the money. Meanwhile, Ross simply wants to gather information to improve the CIA/America as a whole but not in respect to Wakanda a much more white liberal approach.

 

 

V.              Nuances of Blackness

 

 

This may be the most important part of the film but I ultimately will continue to add this section since there are loads and loads of nods to many different aspects of Black and African history.  Much of this film acknowledges concepts that one would not know unless they were Pan-African from the leaders and ideologies represented to all the easter eggs. To list all of them will be vast but I will say some of my favorites:

 

Much of the clothing, language, buildings and religion in Wakanda are based on a variety of both ancient and modern African ideologies. From the Xhosa language, clothing from Himba tribe, Suri tribe and Basotho blankets, to the buildings based on Timbuktu’s Djenne Mosque and Hausa tribes to the concept of a panther God and the opening sequence of an oral tradition.

 

There are several represented Pan-African leaders here from Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Malcolm X, and all the debates between them Booker T. Washington v.  W.E.B. DuBois v. Ida B. Wells for example.

 

Any references to the actual Black Panther Party – Huey Newton, Oakland sequences (birthplace of the Black Panther), and much of the revolutionary and hip-hop sentiments

 

Many of the non-verbal cues and nuanced discussions between the characters – dap, weave, slavery v. death brings freedom, white people not speaking, touching without permission and much more.

All the greatness of the ending credits. The character representation with each actor (Sterling Brown's ring falling through the hand and Angela Basset's "Neferiti pose" are my favorites), the metallic sand effects from the intro, and each of the sequences playing for the crew - production designer = Shuri's Lab, costume design = multiple African patterns, visual effects=the Korean car chase sequences.

 

If you have any nuances I missed feel free to let me know.

 

I really loved this film. Yes improvements needed to be made and some parts of the film weren’t as accurate as the comics it was based on –though much of it came from the World of Wakanda series with Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxanne Gay. However, I have to ask, how many other films have you ever seen in your life like this?

Wakanda Forever Black Panthers!

Do You Remember the Time? In Egypt

I know I've been meaning to post about my adventures in Egypt, but life happens and this will probably be a shorter write-up that doesn't express all the aspects of Egypt. As I get ready for another journey soon, I realize that I needed discuss the quirky but glorious times of Egypt with my muse. 

Cairo - In Cairo, I would have a wonderful tour guide who showed us the first pyramids of Djoser before moving on to the glorious Great Pyramids and Sphinx. I feel no words will convey their majesty and amazingness as it was so great to finally learn how they were built in steps then covered in limestone. We had hilarious hotel experiences with perfume, breakfast boxes and some great pigeon and mixed meat at the place of our tour guide. I also enjoyed shopping around for papyrus where the guy entertained with glow in the dark cats.....which are not very common in Egypt.

Speaking of which, there were a variety of myths about Egypt that were pretty dashed when here. Nobody has a "Walk Like an Egyptian" pose here, all the Egyptians are my skin tone or darker (and there's even some Nubians and Hittites who they traded and fought with on there), and there are so many different poses and representations of the gods and goddesses it's mind boggling. On the return, before seeing some of the Christian and Muslim region of Cairo-change of pace, we saw King Tut's wonders - the man had layers and layers of gold and was probably the original cribs with how much jewelry he had and he huge pierced ears. However, pretty soon I was Ancient Egypted out as I need a break from it to see other global aspects. We celebrated a birthday with our tour guide's other client and had a blast which makes for those really magical moments I enjoy in travel that are impromptu. 

Luxor - Luxor was a big shift and a far smaller, more religious but still touristy town. We had a shift in drivers and tour guides which wasn't great as the Luxor (and later Aswan) tour guide was bizarre and socially inept. It was good to note that I wouldn't be doing tours that much again and probably going back to my usual way of figuring it out. However, the treasures in Luxor are worth it. Luxor Temple is a pretty cool temple in the shape of Ramses II*, but the Karnak Temple with its huge pillars, the colorful Dendara Temple (go there!), Queen Hapshepsut's nicely designed place (only female Pharaoh!) and of course the Valley of the Kings which showcased preserved ancient tombs and their walls that depicted Egyptians as Black, not Arab nor white. It's empowering to know we built all of Ancient Egypt and you really can't know until you go and see those statutes, colors, styles, and figures for yourself. 

The other highlights were the strange food we went to for a tour that was overly classy Italian food (strange to have), shifting guides, Alabaster sales, hookahs (official) and lemon mint juice, with Muslims celebrating Merry Christmas at the hotel while taking pictures in Santa outfits - go figure. 

*Ramses II built most of the temples you will see in all of Egypt, he unified Upper and Lower Egypt and loved his power. After seeing his mummy, I realized he was a pretty big dude for the time and lived for about sixty years. He and to a lesser extent, his wife Nefertari, are all over the country and you will get used to that symbol. A true master of his domain. 

Aswan/Abu Simbel - Aswan had less on the temple side but the Philae Temple on an island and the magnificent Abu Simbel, are worth the journey (even if it took four crazy hours in a car). Abu Simbel is another three hours or so from Aswan - Sudan is visible from it - but it is arguably one of the best temples in the country, huge statutes, walls and dedication to the gods/goddesses and Ramses and his wife. It is timeless.

Still the main attraction in Aswan is its modernity mixed with tradition. Everyone will try to convince you to take a boat on the Nile River, the back alleys offer tea house, a hustler might know all four or five languages you ignore him in, people in my skin tone with curly hair are in hijabs or not, and a promoter might get you to follow him on facebook for the grand opening of his hipster dessert spot. Yes Aswan, is a bizarre combination of Luxor and Cairo or past and present and it's intriguing just to walk in its bizarreness. The only negative would be that one of the guys taking us to the airport tried to hustle us because of not tipping as much (they will want a tip everywhere) it was a bad practice and I can definitely only recommend Jakada Tours for Cairo and Alexandria. Find a driver and enjoy Luxor and Aswan otherwise. You should also definitely fly everywhere.

All in all, while some moments were silly, it was still an absolutely wonder to return to the Fatherland and see the glory of Ancient Egypt and all the Blackness that went into building it and the knowledge gleaned from it.