Sunday, August 16, 2009

Would you accept a jello shot from these women? I did and liked it.

There comes a time when you just gotta cut loose and have some uninhibited, silly fun. If you don't want to attract a lot of attention while doing it, head to a Jimmy Buffett concert, like I did last night. Buffett fans (better known as Parrotheads) know how to have a good time, and most of the fun happens in the parking lot where the tailgate partying is over the top.

Whatever naughtiness you can think up will be completely overshadowed by the crazy costumes, drinking games and limbo contests going on. It's impossible not to be part of the action because everyone is so friendly. My two new friends here, who's names I never learned but who graciously agreed to appear on my blog, offered me and my girlfriends jello shots topped with whipped cream and festooned us with mardi gras beads. Wasn't that sweet?

Much sweeter than the downstate firemen who were only letting women who did beer bongs out of a plastic pink flamingo go up on top of their fire truck. That's insulting. There sure was a good view of the parking lot from up there though.

I'm not a huge fan of Buffett's music, and I can't see myself wearing a coconut bra or a big shark fin on my head. But the laid-back, rowdy carnival atmosphere of the parking lot party was one big spiked watermelon slice of summer fun.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

London Visit Opens my Eyes to the Burqa Issue

My family's few days in London were fascinating. The city is truly international. When my daughter's British soccer coach jokingly asked me how I "liked the English blokes" I had to pause. Other than a few taxi drivers and the Beefeater who gave the tour at the Tower of London, I didn't meet any. Like us, everyone we met seemed to be from somewhere else.

This was especially apparent at our hotel, the Mariott Marble Arch, located just off Edgware Road. The stretch of Edgware Road north of Marble Arch is the Arabic capital of London. The street is lined with colorful middle eastern cafes and shops, patrons smoking hookah pipes on the sidewalk, movies in Arabic playing at the Odeon. In addition to being the center of the large immigrant population, the area is a hub for visiting Muslim tourists. Many of the women at our hotel and on the street wore the hijab - headscarf and modest attire - which I have to admit, was a bit disconcerting. My head felt conspicuously bare.

As we settled into the neighborhood, it didn't take me long to realize that the practice of hijab is open to wide interpretation. Some women wore a simple headscarf over regular street clothes or jeans. Others wore the scarf with a full length tailored coat. Teenage girls pushed light gauzy scarves back on their heads to reveal glittery headbands. Other women wore full black robes, edged in gold trim. Many of the more covered women sported designer sunglasses and expensive bags. Their eyebrows were fabulous.

But a few women were completely covered by a burqa, and frankly, it made me uncomfortable. No, wait. It made me mad.

With their covered faces and shapeless limbs, the burqa-clad women seemed worlds apart from the rest of the London population, which I guess is the point, but it seems so cruel. The women had trouble walking down the street or opening their handbags - ultimately dependent on their companions for help to do the most basic things. And despite their helplessness, with no facial expressions to mitigate the severity of their heavy black veils, they looked sinister. I've since read that covered women suffer vitamin D deficiencies from not being exposed to sunlight. Could a woman possibly choose this attire for herself?

French President Nicolas Sarkozy doesn't think so. Recently, he announced that the burqa is not welcome in France. He claims the burqa, as well as the niquab which leaves the eyes uncovered, is "a sign of subservience and debasement" often forced upon Muslim women by their husbands and fathers. But it's not that simple.

Although hard to understand by Western standards, some Muslim women wear the burqa by choice, as a sign of religious devotion and commitment to their faith. These women claim that their robes, which do separate them from public society, bring them closer to God. Legislation against the burqa would violate these women's rights, no?

I don't know the answer, but I'll tell you this. It's a gorgeous summer day and I'm about to hit the beach. I'm going to display my hair, neck, arms, legs and even my flabby stomach for all the world to see. And while it may not bring me closer to God, it will certainly give me a chance to appreciate the beauty of nature, as well as dose of well-deserved vitamin D.