Immigration Is A Sensitive Issue

Lately it feels really uncomfortable when people talk to me about illegal immigration. I am an immigrant myself, yet legal. Whenever someone starts talking to me about illegal immigration they sound angry, as if all their problems are caused by the poor sods who clean their houses and workplaces, and pick up strawberries. I get defensive, as it feels like there’s a question lurking in the background “Are you legal? Let me see you green card” or something similar. I am a very opinionated person, and I am never short of arguments when there’s a political discussion, but in this case I feel like it’s personal. I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to be arguing about it, but I reluctantly do anyway.

In a couple of instances I have asked the other person: “Why are you talking to me about immigration? I am an immigrant myself, in case you haven’t noticed.” “Yes, but you are different” comes the reply. Yes, you know, I am different because I am legal, European, an educated engineer, who is professionally & legally employed. The other day a woman was telling me that her health insurance company called her to remind her that she was one month late in a payment, and she got angry and told them: “How do you dare calling me about it? All these illegals that come in and get healthcare for free, and I have to pay for them and you don’t do anything about it, and you’re calling me about being one month late?” Yes, the argument is weak, and it is a case of apples and oranges, but there is a deeper problem right there. It’s the notion that illegal immigration is the source of all our problems, and if we get rid of them we’ll be able to pay our bills on time and this country will turn into Eden.

I don’t exactly know the logistics, but I do know that if a human goes to a hospital, the doctors can not deny them care, and certainly not because of their immigration status. And I do know that even illegals pay taxes, because the system allows them somehow to get jobs and pay taxes, and all of a sudden the same system goes hysterical when the word illegal is uttered, as if they didn’t know. Maybe they should have checked that out before they gave these people Social Security Numbers and allowed them to work here.

There’s always a back story: “My great great grandfather came here from Poland/Italy/etc and they did everything right and they learned the language, got jobs and built a life. And these people, they come here and they don’t even speak the language and we have to translate everything to Spanish, that is ridiculous.” And when I tell them yes, it’d be better for them to know the language for their own good, but they don’t have to, since the US does not have an official language, they get all flustered: “What do you mean? English is our official language!!!” No, it’s not. I’m not saying whether this is a good or a bad thing, but this country has NO official language whether you like it or not. English is the language the majority speaks, and that’s it.

I want to say to these people portraying illegal immigrants as free riders: Open your eyes and look around, people take advantage of the system all the time, regardless of their immigration status. Look at some of the people who are on welfare and live in public housing. Just drive outside a public housing complex and look at some of the cars parked in the parking lot: Mercedes, BMWs. I am not making this up, I know because I have seen it with my own eyes in Boston and Cambridge. So how legitimate is it that someone cannot afford housing, yet they drive a BMW? Your outrage is selective, there are more than one groups of people exploiting the system. A deadbeat lowlife living in the ghetto of public housing is a bigger problem than the hard-working illegal immigrant who works 10 hours a day cleaning your shit and pays his taxes that pay for the lowlife’s housing. So open your eyes, see what’s really happening and judge for yourself. But don’t let the fear and anger mongering brainwash you.

This country thrives on diversity and this is what makes it great. I, an immigrant, found this country to be very welcoming, but now I don’t know anymore, this misdirected outrage and anger is wearing me out. Times like these when I have to deal with bigots, I’d like to show them that New Yorker cartoon that shows the Pilgrims on the Mayflower approaching America’s coast, where a couple of Native Americans stand and one says to the other: “Well, they look pretty undocumented to me.”


Two Sprains in Two Months?! What Does It Mean?!?

I am in my thirties and pretty healthy. I have good gross body coordination and I don’t take unreasonable risks. I have never had any kind of injury, no broken bones, no sprains.  Until last month, that is. I was climbing a 500-year old wall, when the stone I was holding on to got loose. I went airborne and landed on my behind. I wasn’t too high up, 5 or 6 feet maybe, but going down five feet in free fall is a lot. It all lasted a second, but I think when I landed I put my left arm down to minimize the impact of the fall, thus acquiring a nasty wrist sprain. My wrist got swollen and it hurt. A lot. The whole thing surprised me a bit. I used to go rock climbing for years and never had an accident or injury. And now all of a sudden I am on a mountain, I see an old wall and decide it’d be fun to climb, and I end up with the worst injury of my life. 

Then last Friday, almost one month later, I got another sprain. This time it was my ankle.  I went to the Royale to see the EELS. It was my first time in the renovated space, so I went up the balcony to see what it looks like. Well, there are lots of couches, mirrors and steps up there. Oh, yes, bloody steps. I was going up and down in the different areas, and in the underlit space I missed a step (or more like I thought there was going to be a step there but wasn’t) and I stepped down on my turned right foot. It hurt, and I’m sure I didn’t look too graceful either. My friend said good thing I didn’t fall, but I think that a fall would spread the impact on several parts of my body, whereas now my poor right ankle bore the brunt of the fall. Now it is swollen, it hurts and I walk around wearing an ankle brace and limping. Graceful, indeed. My right ankle keeps my left wrist company: the injury game is at least inclusive. 

As a person immune to injuries up to a month ago, I am not sure what this sudden burst of injuries means. It feels like the cosmic forces want me to experience every possible sprain, now that I am on a sprain roll. Life is what it is and sometimes it feels strange. The truth is my life is full of coincidences and double occurrence incidents like this. Like the double-rainbow guy, I want to shout “what does it MEAN?!?”

We try to find underlying meaning in the same thing occurring multiple times. Coincidence, synchronicity, words we like because they imply forces beyond and above us working in mysterious ways. What am I to make out of this slightly freaky occurrence? I want to be rational and it would be interesting to calculate the probability of the two sprains happening within one month of each other at this point of my life. But then again what would a number tell me? What would it mean for me? Is there any meaning to be understood anyway? I am afraid the answer is more pedestrian than existential. I think it all means that my body coordination is not as great as it used to be. It means I’m getting old. It means I should concentrate more on what I’m doing. It means I should be more careful. Plain and simple.

Spectacular Spectacle Island

This year Labor Day was a glorious early September day. Warm and sunny, a perfect day to enjoy the outdoors. It had been a couple of years since I last visited any of the Boston Harbor Islands (map), so I decided it was a good day to visit Spectacle Island for the day, an island I hadn’t been on before.

I checked the ferry schedule and it looked like I could also visit Georges Island on the same day. When you buy a ticket, you have to specify the return ferry too, so I had to make sure I had enough time to walk around Georges, then take the ferry to Spectacle and explore the island. A round-trip ticket costs $14. I took the ferry from Long Wharf and after a smooth 25-minute ferry ride we arrived at Georges Island. I had been on this island before, but I always find it pleasant to walk around Fort Warren (photos here & here), a pentagonal fort built in 1850. It was built to defend Boston and you can still see some of the cannons remnants of the black powder era. Walking inside the stone and granite structure I could feel immediate cooling. I wondered if  I was sensing the  presence of the Lady in Black, the fort ghost.  Perhaps. I also walked on top of the walls and enjoyed a pretty view of the harbor and the Boston skyline. After an hour or so I went down the pier again to wait for the small ferry (it’s more like a 70-passenger water taxi) that runs between Georges and Spectacle Island for free. I like how they have these Adirondack chairs at the pier, where you can just sit there and enjoy the view.

The ferry ride to Spectacle was about 30 minutes, but I wouldn’t complain if it was longer. It was a beautiful day to be on a boat, and quite nice to go by other harbor islands, like Moon Island and Long Island. Many people were out sailing that day; they couldn’t have asked for better weather.

Spectacle Island is closer to Boston than Georges and offers a more dramatic view of the Boston skyline. Approaching by the boat it looked very green and very… new. The marina is newly constructed, and the park and visitors’ center opened just about four years ago. There is also a life-guarded sandy beach and quite few people were enjoying it, although I didn’t see anybody swimming that day.  The “green” visitors center is powered by solar panels, and has composting, no flow toilets (pretty interesting experience for me, to say the least.) The center has plenty information about the history and present of the island. But the best way to get to know the island is to take the tours that DCR park rangers give. I took the tour, which took us along the trail around the south drumlin, and learnt a lot about the history and evolution of the island from a very enthusiastic park ranger.

Spectacle Island is comprised of the south and north drumlins, that is hills of glacial drift. The drumlins looks like spectacles, hence the name British settlers gave to the island. Archaeologists believe that Native Americans fishermen were using the island since 8,000 back. Spectacle Island used to be farmland and later a quarantine hospital was there. In the 1800s they used to bring the dead horses on the island and use their tail hair to make brushes and bows for string instruments, the horsehide leather and horsehooves to make glue (actually there was a glue factory on the island.) Later in the 1910s they started using it as a landfill, and one can only imagine the stench that would emanate from a landfill / dead horse disposal facility combination.

The landfill closed in the 1960s and the island was abandoned. The most spectacular thing that would happen for the next 30 years would be fires due to the high methane levels. Toxic material would leach into the harbor. During the 1990s when much effort was devoted to cleanup the Boston Harbor, it was decided that something had to be done about the island. And the answer was: transformation. The landfill was capped, meaning they built barriers around it, so that no toxic pollutants would leach into the sea. During the same time excavated dirt, gravel and clay from the Central Artery/Tunnel project (the Big Dig) was deposited above the capped landfill, at points 30 feet deep, in essence enlarging and reshaping the island. A two-foot deep clay cap was laid on top of that: this impervious layer keeps water from entering the landfill and carrying toxins in the sea. On top of that they placed topsoil containing biosolids compost 2 to 4 feet deep.

Finally they were able to plant trees with shallow root system, as well as shrubs and meadow grasses. During our tour around the south drumlin, the park ranger was pointing out different kinds of flowers and trees. It was interesting to see how amazing some of them smelled when you would rub them between your hands, that some of them are edible and that some of them you can use them to make a tea-like drink. DCR is also conducting monitoring of the different species and record the different changes in foliage, to see how global warming has impacted the plants’ cycle. They have also planted beach grass in the sand dunes. And then there’s interesting fauna. The ranger pointed out species of birds and we saw monarch butterflies. During the tour he would also point out other interesting facts, like the seawall that was built around the island to prevent erosion, the monitoring wells for the landfill, as well as the poles with a spinning hood top that are vents for the trapped methane gas in the landfill. I also noticed swayles and catch basins indicative of a stormwater management system, yet another eco-friendly approach.

When the one-hour guided walk was over, I felt excited with all the new-found knowledge. I had no idea that this island had such an interesting history and such an interesting transformation. Everything is very green and very peaceful. You are only 20 minutes away from Boston, yet you feel that you are further removed from the city. I walked around the north drumlin and reached the top, that is the highest point in the Boston Harbor. It offers spectacular panoramic views of the harbor and the Boston skyline. When I stood there at the top I thought how cool it was that I was standing on top of a capped landfill, 30 feet of Big Dig dirt and topsoil containing biosolids compost! (I should note that the biosolids come from a local source, courtesy of the Deer Island sewage treatment plant.)

In the case of Spectacle Island the state has done a pretty good job. They have incorporated many environmentally sustainable practices when they developed and built the park. They have also completed an amazing habitat restoration. The DCR-run park offers many educational opportunities and the enthusiasm of the staff is contagious. I was pretty happy I discovered this gem and plan on going back again.

You see some of the photos I took that day here.

The Night Was Hot

My Greek vacation is over. It was exactly as I wanted it to be and splendidly so. I got to rest, and for two weeks I was living a lazy life without having to worry about anything. It might sound lazy , but lazy was what I was aiming for. My routine was to wake up late in the morning, more like noon actually, have breakfast, read for a couple of hours, go to the beach to swim, sunbathe and read for 5 hours, then go back home, take a shower, eat a fantastic meal cooked with care and love by my mother, fall into food coma, come out of the coma, go out and drink, then go to bed and sleep a deep sleep for twelve hours. I would call this dream summer life.

One night I drove to the other side of the peninsula half an hour drive away to see a couple of friends. It was a hot night, the air still with no breeze, even at the beach bar we were at. I was talking with my very good friend and her husband, and then another friend came over. I hadn’t seen him in ten years, he very much looked the same. We were all sweating profusely in the intense heat, but he was the only one whose skin was completely dry. We immediately decided it was something wrong with him, though secretly wishing we suffered from the same condition, at least for that hot humid night. After some time a couple that my friend knew came to the bar and she introduced me as the girl who now lives permanently in Boston and have deserted her (we used to be very good friends before I left Greece for good.) Then the guy told me that he lived in Boston in the mid 90s and he went to Emerson. He lived on Marlborough Street in the Back Bay, and then he started asking me about the bars he used to hang out at, and unfortunately most of them are now closed (or most likely now operate under a different name.) That was interesting. Small world I thought, I am 4,000 miles away from Boston and I’m talking about it with somebody who knows the city well. I could sense some kind of nostalgia in his words (maybe it was because he was reminded of his carefree college years), together with a little bit of regret, as he never got to visit Boston again.

We were drinking our mojitos and  gin and tonics, and at some point the barmaid started pouring us shots of tequila. The truth is I am afraid of tequila. The worst drinking and hangover of my life happened because of tequila shots (after several hours of drinking other things, to be sure,) but I always associate tequila with a two-day recovery to sobriety. But I managed OK with that one shot. And then it was another. And then another. And then we were reminiscent of that summer of 1999 when our drink of choice was Sandeman port with… ice. I know, I know we were effectively destroying the port wine, but it tasted good like that. And it was sweet and we could drink a lot and only after hours would we realize how drunk we had got. So somebody ordered a round of port shots. Great. And I think it all ended with a round of Jack Daniels shots, but I wouldn’t know for sure.

It was great to chat and catch up with friends. I wondered what time it was. I looked at my watch, it was 2 am. Time to get going, I said, I had to drive back to my place. They suggested I would crash at their place “Are you sure you’re OK to go through the mountain?” “I’m fine,” I insisted and off I went. I was feeling good, a little bit too happy and smiling a lot, but pretty good overall. I took the left turn and started ascending the mountain. It was pitch dark. Two o’clock in the morning and no other cars were coming or going. The road was not wide enough for two proper lanes, so I constantly had to pay attention to see if anyone is coming the other direction to make sure I pulled all the way to the side.

It was just me, though, alone driving on the mountain. There was the moon in the sky, but it was muted, clouds covering most of its face. I opened the window to get some breeze going on. The car I was driving was a 15-year old Fiat, with manual transmission and no air-condition. I turned the radio off and I could hear the sweet sound of the engine. The car handled the hairpin turns well. I managed well, too, with the constant downshifting and upshifting, RPMs rising and falling. Since I was the only one on the road I decided to go faster. It felt good, the road all mine, I was the driving queen of the mountain. I had driven this road so many times, yet it was still exciting.

For a second I took my eyes off the road and slowed down a little bit. I looked to my left. Dark black mountain peaks were silhouetted against the dark sky. Tree tops, outcrops I could not really tell. As I was driving by, it looked like the terrain was undulating around me.  How long have these mountains been around, I wondered. They looked stoic, they looked wise, for a second there I wanted to go closer and explore. The headlights of the car were only shining straight ahead; at my sides there was heavy darkness and silence. Noticing the contrast between the headlights and the darkness, I felt like I was intruding, disrupting the nocturnal peace.  I kept looking out to my sides. It looked like the mountains were moving and growing. The silhouettes were gradually transforming into ancient beasts, mythical creatures with ten heads and twenty arms. My heart started beating faster. I almost felt threatened. I felt like I had to get out of the darkness as fast as possible. I put the window up. I didn’t look out to the sides for the rest of the way. At a moment that didn’t come fast enough, I saw the first house lights. My heartbeat got back to normal. I put the window down again. In five minutes I would be home, go to bed and resume my lazy routine.