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,
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 email@example.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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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