Greetings my friends, family and new aquaintances ...its about 5 degrees where I'm now at, tapping away at the Daniel Boone Library in Columbia Missouri where I came to meet with my Rocheport pals (Julie, Joe, Navarre, and Dean) for a reunion (and some 13 degree "four mile mondays" jog), some hard work with my assistant and Frankies Pizza book editor/designer Kim Small and couchsurfed at no less than three homes where I constituted the first wave of couch surf travellers to roll into Columbia (it seems that way, most couch surf hosts here had never hosted a traveller, so it was new territory for me, for them for the couchsurfing project). Thanks to Cynthia, Trevor, Beth, Tyler, Alex, Callie and all their buddies for showing me great hospitality. Trevor interviewed me on KOPN (and click on either play or download of podcast where it says "Cesar Becerra WorldWalk") on my Diabetes Walk (continuing soon on Feb 26th from Clinton, MO to Topeka, KS....for those of you who thought I've dropped out) and the student couch surf hosts interviewed me for their newspaper.

I'm about to enter the tour season with my buddies and faithful employers (Mary, Patty, Monika, Taylor, Linnie and Diana at www.goeft.com ) at Educational Field Trips and by the time you get this I should be on a plane heading for New York City with Freedom High School as the first of nearly 13 trips this year until the season winds down in mid June. So if you don't hear from me in a while, you'll know I'm busy, but I should post the next big update after my 7 day section in the quasi late winter time (i.e. its gonna be cold, but no worries I'll be going from motel to motel or motel to couchsurf) for Feb 26th to March 7th. So without further adieu, here is my latest blog essay on my trip to Europe, it can also be seen at www.planetcesar.blogspot.com

Enjoy with love, Cesar

PS. Hey, i really would love to know how yu all are doing and maybe share some stories about your journeys, thoughts and reactions (to my missives, to life, to whatever) so please send me an e-mail at cesar@planetcesar.com)

REvisiting Europe allows me a REvisit to family bonds...
Modern Day Miami Griswalds visit Rome and Madrid

It was touch and go wether we even were going to make it. A massive 5 hour flight delay - three of which had us sitting on a stuffy plane - had us at Miami International Airport when we should have been getting ready to touch down on the Iberia Penninsula for our first flight to Spain. A connecting flight that was now extinct had further problems since the computer failed to print out an extra ticket for my father who shares my same name...only on this day the computer wanted only to print me a ticket.

I will spare you all the boring details but 23 hours later from the moment i left my parents home in Miami, we finally touched down in Rome, Italy and were reunited with my brother Carlos who had been travelling about 3 and a half weeks by that time.

A half hour later we were at the Starwood Hotel Michealangelo and after plopping our luggage down we went for a brief 10 minute walk that took us in the middle of St Peters Square - though the square is in fact round and bordered by massive columns the size of rocket ships....in short it was impressive and a dream come true for us all....particularly for my brother who upon watching the Pope speak last year on his annual midnight mass (la misa del gallo) uttered a challenge and a call to arms; ¨next year we should all be in Rome at this service and spend Christmas with the Pope!¨

And so it was that brother ¨Chuck¨(carlos is his real name but we all have nicknames for each other) awaited us with an impromtu but real live Christmas tree (branch sticking out of a hotel wastebasket) with small and colorful chocolates as the decorations.

Thus started our European vacation which really ended up being a lovefest of heartfelt realizations that no one knows you better, nor do you share more intimacies than that of with your family. And speaking of family and travel traditions, we love to take photos, so i've put nearly 300 of them here on my photo site

But before i get to all the ¨deep¨realizations and observations let me recap a bit about my impressions about Rome and Madrid. And before i do, let me add that i could go on ages about both these countries but i´m actually on overload and need to process it better by re entering the US and reacting to the contrast of how different life is there. I´m now so used to the following that the old life seems a bit of a dream;

I´ll start with Rome and Italy in general. First of all, no matter what my mom tells me that the languages are different, its pretty clear to me that maybe 60 percent of the words in italian are decipherable if you havea good command of spanish...which i have an alright command over.

So i did not feel that out of it. None the less this does not mean that communications were always clear... particularly at restaurants where at times massive amounts of food were brought out...for example when we ordered an appetizer and several paninni sandwiches for the family members and told the waiter "we´d share". On one ocassion it turned out that everybody got a personal portion as a meal and on another we each got a smorgasbord of pizza in ever concievable variety!

Normally this is not a problem but we ended up on a few ocassions cancelling some of our main courses cuz there was just too much food already on the table....plus and this is important....things are quite expensive in Rome.

This is of course an understatement. THINGS ARE VERY EXPENSIVE IN ROME!

Though i treated the family to a few meals the majority of the trip was a gift from my parents to us and i suspect to themselves since it really brought them great joy to see us all together. So we had to watch it. How expensive could a meal be...well lets start you off with the tale of ¨The Coca Light¨

A ¨Coca Light¨is basically like a diet coke....wait no...IT IS A DIET COKE, only the diet coke at most in the states is like what a buck, buck and change....but over here in Rome i made the mistake of ordering what amounted to be the MOST EXPENSIVE DIET COKE on the planet. Are you ready....how but 9 bucks! Six and a half Euros ends up basically being 9 bucks! For a diet coke!

Thats worse than the two dollar chips at Mount Vernon outside of Washington DC!

Another observation is that this place is not Hollywood or Disney World. What i'm referring to is that after a few blocks of the inner core of the historic district there generally is a creeping in of new buildings, more modern...hell even glass like office monstrosities. Not here.

For blocks upon blocks and mile upon mile in any one direction....Rome is Rome. Old as hell. Ancient. Authenticly ancient. Which is a blessing. A blessing that i was in awe over since everything i was looking at was at the very youngest 3 or 400 years old. Of course there were plenty of really ancient 1,500 nd 2000 year old structures to boot!

Amazing. I really kept thinking behind all of this was wooden 45 degree angle bracing holding up a false front like on a Hollywood Western movie set. But it was not to be. This place is for real.

Restaurants are notoriously old school, old fashion and helmed by old waiters, waitresses who really could care less about "flair" and the pomp and circumstance that goes along with a Chilis or Applebees-like experience. Also, one bathroom stall generally for the whole place. These are tiny mom and pops. There are very few big chain anythings in Rome or Madrid. Of course there is McDonalds but its not like Western styled restaurants have taken over. Nope. Just slow and methodic mom and pops....with.....

GREAT FOOD! Boy did we eat well. Amazing food. But remember the norm there is to order two plates....since at times they separate the meat from the potatoes or veggies. But carefull...these Euros add up. Even at McDonalds. One American Dollar is like 75 or 80 cent Euro there....not quite the buck....so yu loose out.

Cars are mega tiny. Mega tiny. And gas is somewhere in the vicinity of 11 Euro per liter. And cars park anywhere. On a sidewalk, half on a sidewalk, stuck in a nook or alley way. One car i stood next to looked more like the Clown Car yu see at a circus than a real car....but it was no joke. There is just no room for big SUV like monstrosities....though i saw more regular cars in Madrid than in Rome.

In Madrid, no one sleeps. Well most folks. Our hotel room might have well been right on the street surrounded by rice paper walls! I slept fine, but i'll sleep through anything. However in the morning my sister and mom and dad would recount how loud passerbys were and how one morning my sis was awoken at like 4:30 by party revelers. Of course i was confused; "huh? I didnt hear a thing!" So take ear plus if yu sleep lightly in Madrid.

And careful with Cherry Bomb finatics. We were there on New Years Eve in Madrid when every now and then they monstrous terrorist sounding bombs would explode (i said explode not "pop") near us. On one ocassion an M-80 (that is a highly illegal quarter stick of dynamite) was set off in an arched hall leading out of the Plaza Mayor....holy cow, i really thought a real bomb had gone off.

Speaking of bombs....Etta, the militant, quasi terrorist group wanting to ceceeed from Spain....set off a bomb in the Madrid airport 3 days before our departure back to the states. Nearly 3 floors of parking lot the sise of half a football field was deleted from existence as well as (just from the shock waves) 3 floors of glass more than 200 feet away were removed (i.e. shattered) from the front of the airport entryway at the very terminal we checked in at making our departure cold enough to stay layered up (gloves even) while checking in our bags in what used to be the "inside" of the airport.

By the way Madrid airport is perhaps the most beautiful airport in the world. Think large blanket like roofing billowing for nearly a mile. Except its all steel and glass and wood. So organic, yet its not....or is it....in nay case it was quite an optical illusion.

So okay, amidst all this architecture, culture, history and expensive food....what i really learned is that my family is a riot. And just when i thought i knew them...well....i get to know them even better....discovering things ironically thousands of miles away where i hadn't been able to on casual visits back home. Maybe its the dynamic of removing them from the norm....or maybe its European pixie dust but here is what i learned;

Mom; Olga Becerra, code name "Mami" or "Olguita" Mom, turns into a child when she travels. Doubly so if all her children are with her. It gives her balance and calm. I know this because during the fiasco with the airline hick-up, she and i went to see if we could fix the problem at the main counter. We briefly separated from my dad, sister and brother and after a cell phone call that they had moved gates and were about to board another flight, my mom began to unravel. Close to the point of tears, she nearly fell apart when a gate attendant explained we could not go back in because our tickets did not match the new gate our family was now at.

I calmed her down (funny role reversal of when i was a kid and when mom was the one to settle my pangs) calmly explained to the supervisor and were then let in. My mom touches my heart like few others do. Dad of course touches it to and on another ocassion;

Dad; Cesar Becerra Sr. ...AKA "Papi" or "Magni" (for the magnificent!) He was walking and talking to me about what his life would be like if he had never left Cuba. At that instant, his foot slipped off the curb....and in a dash to reclaim his footing his body inverted as he fell on his side. On the way down, for some reason i got a view of his head...hair white and grey and thinnning....it was a dad far removed from the young one i always saw him as. The jet black hair...lots of it. In the end, like mom, i was there to lift up his spirits (another roll reversal) as well as him. He was down. And though of course he could have very well gotten up himself...i helped him anyway....patted his back for 5 minutes as he stewed about how much this was gonna hurt tomorrow!

Speaking of patting.....here is what i learned from sis; Sister; Leslie Becerra....nic-name "La Princessa" or "Flaca" (thin) "Don't do that!"....."Don't pat me, i'm a big girl now!" She sure is and careful to have pitty on my sis.....she does not like that. Guess what? Sister has grown up. I mean i knew that but she is smarter than a whip and proved it on many an ocassion where deft crunching of numbers came in handy such as dollar to Euro conversions were concerned but on another silly level where my brother and i were calculating the cost of something and we generalized way off....to which Leslie provided the exact (to the decimal) amount...."thank you very much!"

Sis is an accountant, and a jet setting one too. When returning to the states she would be boarding yet another plane in less than 2 hours bound for Chicago to begin her work at Price Waterhouse Coopers, one of the top three accounting firms in the world!

Hell she is even a marathon runner that got me into my new passion "my four mile mondays"...see i accompanied sis on a practice run one Sunday in Rome and i was amazed i was not COMPLETELY out of breath. So the next week...on a monday in Madrid, i sealed the habit firm and stated...after the next 40 minute, 4 mile run (jog really); "i'm doing this no matter where i'm at...on mondays!

So sis is on her own and making it in the world, and speaking of making the world his....there is... Brother; Carlos Becerra....Alias...."Brother Chuck" or "Goyito" (a nic name my mother gave him as a kid, i think it just was a simplification of some baby babble he would say) Brother Chuck i found at a really good time at his life. I may be biased but at any moment yu find yur self in a major job or even career transition....you are guaranteed to stretch and grow just by the mere fact that something has come to an end (in this case his job as Chief of Staff of a prominent business leader who was a Dade County Public School Board Member) and something innevitably gets born, launched or even re-calibrated.

I think my brother is headed towards re-calibration. But i'm only guessing. I saw a brother who had been released from the grasp of a cruise-controlled life. Not that he was in a job that didnt afford him surprizes or challenges (it did) but i think it had become somewhat predictable....and some of us can only do predictable for only so long.

A hi-light for his search was in hearing him say he "might be looking at anothe city" outside Miami. Which i have to agree can be a wize move for growth and even opportunity but mainly perspective.

My late uncle once told me. "You won't be growing till yu leave Miami and enter and unknown." He was talking about New York, L.A. or anywhere else but the main point was, spread yur wings, fly and see the world, but don't be afraid to temporarily inhabit another reality.

Inhabiting another reality really is what this trip was about. And in doing so one learns of oneself, of their own family of other cultures. Rome and Madrid's memories are in the past but their current day lessons and insights are seared into my present; and i find....another layer...of a strong and sturdy foundation....has been poured.

Cesar Becerra, Chattanooga, TN