Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Tag: Cancun

Cancun, Sunday, April 10: First Full Day

Ava enjoys the pool at the Royal Sands in Cancun, Mexico, on April 10, 2011.

We’re here in Cancun, our first full day.

The pools and beaches are much less crowded than normal during “spring break” but this could be because “spring break” is over. Or, it could be that people are not traveling to Mexico, due to all the bad publicity. Or it could be because they’ve jacked the price(s) up on things like a massage (formerly $75, now, for three of us $297. (Yikes!). I got him to throw in a pass to the exercise/spa/hot tub room ($50 for the week) and one of our party is responsible for 1/3 of that amount. So, if you deduct the $50, I guess the expense (which is a birthday gift to daughter-in-law Jessica) is the same as last year’s amount, but everything seems more expensive.

Stacey and Scott poolside in Cancun at the Royal Sands on April 10, 2011.

We have two units in play: one is our “normal” 1st floor digs, with the 23-year-old daughter (Stacey) and her friend Emmie Futrell in residence in the second bedroom with its own bathroom. I love my 2-year-old granddaughters, but it is nice that the people in this unit actually sleep slightly later.

Two-year-old Elise Wilson enjoys the water in the baby pool at the Royal Sands.

Today was the “Welcome Party,” which means free drinks (rum and cokes). I am so over the hoopla of throwing water balloons at one another and refuse to take part, as I have done for the past 10 years or so. The daughter and her father gamely took part, but the winner…believe it or not…was Elise, age 2, who somehow ended up with the only intact water balloon and “won” a bag from the establishment, which is handy for taking things to the beach. I thought ahead and had the spouse pack the “Chicago” bag I bought at the airport last year on our way here. It makes a perfect beach bag, and he said it wasn’t too difficult to get in on the bottom of his luggage.

Just off the lobby, this is the view from the Royal Sands.

The trip here was uneventful. We even had an empty seat between us in the set of 3 on American Airlines, which is unusual. Is this, too, a sign of the economic times?

 

There was a woman sitting in my aisle seat when we first reached our row, and she seemed very put out to be asked to take her own seat, which turned out to be in the middle. She spent most of her time prior to take-off sulking and turned on her laptop computer and began watching some cartoon or movie that featured dogs barking loudly. Since she had not brought headphones, it appeared that I would have to listen to her dog cartoon for the entire trip, but I was intent on ignoring her obvious pique at being asked to sit in her own assigned seat.

Heaven, thy name is Cancun's beach.

At that point, she summoned the stewardess and began some long involved tale about her husband’s pulled hamstring muscle and how he HAD to be sitting on an aisle. This was odd, because he was never seated on the aisle. He was seated against the exterior of the plane and SHE was seated on the aisle, the seat that was mine, which she really did not want to give up.

April 10, 2011 in Cancun, Mexico (Royal Sands Resort).

The stewardess kindly offered them places behind us so that her husband could have an aisle seat…, which was obviously not the issue, despite the woman’s clever oh-so-sweet explanations to the stewardess.

After their first move, next thing I heard was that they were moving AGAIN.

The first part of the trip was extremely bumpy. Even the stewardesses were told not to get out of their seats. There were storm systems and they buffeted us until we cleared Memphis, which did not seem like that long a time. One small child on the right side of the plane (age approximately 3) knew and shouted only 1 word for the entire trip. “NO!” There was a baby approximately six months old in that aisle, as well. The baby cried upon take-off, but was pretty well behaved, overall.

We arrived at our “home away from home” fairly early (noon) and learned that the shuttle prices from the airport have escalated from $12 per person to $16 per person. You must walk through the airport and outside near the front entrance of the airport to book a shuttle at the information desk. You must not be led astray by the many Time Share sales people standing there ready to pull you aside and book you into a Time Share “pitch.” As owners of 2 time-shares since 1995 or so, with a history of visiting for 3 years before buying (Fiesta Americana Condessa for 2 years and 1 year renting at the Royal Mayan), we know the drill.

 

This year, our time-share, the Royal Sands, has improved many things. The stove and microwave in our kitchen are new. All villas have wireless. New 32” flat screens have been installed in 3 places inside the units (2 bedrooms and the living room area).

We visited the store within the resort immediately and bought the basics. The “basics” this year cost $300 U.S. dollars. This seemed high, but we were expecting all 10 other members of the family fest to arrive at our unit and expect snacks and drinks. It’s always nice to be warmly greeted with hospitality.  We will be here for 2 weeks, so we will definitely use the eggs, bread, margarine, pop, etc.

After the purchase of the groceries, the husband said, “If I have even one beer, I think I’ll fall asleep.” We had to get up at 5 a.m. in order to make our 8 a.m. flight.

As soon as the groceries (pushed to our first floor unit in borrowed grocery carts) were put away, my husband announced that he wanted to go sit outside by the pool. He had already unpacked his clothes. I had not, so I stayed in the room and unpacked my suitcase. At some point, I decided to just lie down for a few minutes.
An hour later when my daughter and her friend arrived from Nashville, I heard discussions about whether to wake me up. I immediately joined the group.

Soon, the 2 family groups with the young children arrived and now the party is in full swing. More on the rest of the week (today is Sunday), as it progresses.

One bit of good news: “Ricardo” (i.e., Richard), the one continuing presence in our close to 20 years of visiting Cancun, has returned to the Royal Resorts fold and we will see him for either lunch or breakfast on Thursday. Today was the Welcome Party. Tomorrow is the traditional Taco Party.

We spent the night watching “The Celebrity Apprentice” on TV from a Florida station. Gary Busey is obviously nuts. Very entertaining, but obviously a liability for the Men’s Team. Mark McGrath was very articulate and got kicked off. I think Donald Trump is doing all this “I’m running for President stuff” to get publicity for his show, among other pursuits.

 

Viva, Cancun!

Cancun Images: April 7, 2010

AvaAsleep2 The old saying is: “Let sleeping babies lie,” and we don’t mess with that when on vacation here in sunny Mexico. Ava Wilson…surely a dead ringer for the Gerber’s baby…is dead to the world, with finger strategically placed on left cheek. And that’s exactly the way we left her until she woke up, poolside.

Elise-Asleep Elise Wilson, (Ava’s 14-month old twin), has that clasped corpse-hand thing going on as she sleeps on her side of the double stroller. All that fresh air will do a girl in, especially if she’s as fair as Elise, who is the blonde to Ava’s dark-haired beauty. (Check out the “Dora the Explorer” hats!)

BunnyEarsGirl This blonde is a slightly older model, wearing bunny ears on Easter. I read somewhere that it was “all the rage” on Easter for cute girls like this one to post such pics on Facebook and elsewhere. This one’s just to say, “Come on in! The water’s fine!”

And Happy Easter!

Cancun, Easter, 2010: Ava & Elise Enjoy Cancun

beachdropoffThirteen of us descended on Cancun for the (annual) trip to the Royal Sands and Royal Islander properties.  Some went to Coba (pyramid site in the jungle) today, but I contented myself with falling down on my way into the pool and watching “American Idol” in Mexico, courtesy of a Michigan station. Here are some pictures of the trip. The first one shows the drop off to the water from the beach, caused by the resort’s putting in $40 million of new sand after the beach was severely damaged, both by weather events and by erosion. This was done after the Hurricane in 2005, but it has become necessary, again, and the drop-off to get to the water is about 5 feet.

AvaEnjoysBirdAva (in hat) is 14 months old and was completely fascinated by the parrot that was being “posed” with various tourists (here, another little girl). She could not quite figure out what was going on with that bird on that little Asian girl’s head. The men with the bird did not want anyone else to take a picture of their bird without paying pesos for the privilege, but we “papparazzi” have to get pictures of the small fry in our party when and where we can.

HannahAva Cousin Hannah Nelson takes Ava for a swim in her “floatie.” Ava’s twin, Elise did not take to the floating toy quite as readily, but Ava was up for birds or water or sand or whatever you threw at her.

Cancun2010006 Dad Scott holds Ava…who gives the camera a winning smile…at dinner at La Dolce Vita on Easter Sunday.

girlsinsand What’s a little sand among friends when you’re only 14 months old?

Elise laughs out loud, while Ava plays with her foot on the beach at the Royal Sands, Cancun, Mexico.

parrotcloseup Polly want a cracker….and $6 dollars US for a picture with the blue bird perched on one’s head or shoulder or other portions of one’s anatomy.

ParrotsMan Parrot Entrepreneur holds parrot preparatory to collecting cash for the purpose of posing with the blue bird.

sandonshuldershot Elise makes some adjustments to the sand on Ava’s shoulder, while they share the beach outside the Royal Sands on Easter break.

sleepingbabies When you’re outside all day and you have duties with parrots and sand and keeping your sister out of trouble, it takes it out of a kid. The girls are totally flaked out poolside in their stroller.

WendyMeinCancun

Sister-in-law Wendy (Wilson) from St. Louis and I share a smile as we

debark from the van, where Wendy was loaded in like luggage. (That’s

what happens when you are trying to transport 13 people at a time!)

Cancun, 2009, with the Babies in Tow

Babies in CancunWe’re here on the beach at the Royal Sands, and Ava and Elise seem to have taken to the native culture.

Our trip will be cut short by about 2 days as a result of my passport going missing at O’Hare on Saturday. (Never was found.) Fortunately, on Monday, we learned all you ever didn’t want to know about what you have to do if you have a passport that is lost or stolen. Thankfully, we were not abandoned in Canada (yes, Canada) with no jackets and only summer-weight clothes, which might have happened, has I not discovered the MIA passport just as we were to board to fly to Ottawa (Canada) from Chicago and then transfer to Air Canada to fly to Cancun. I can hear you saying, “Wh-a-a-a-a-t?” Such is the world of “free” air miles.

As a result of the loss of the passport, we spent 4 days in Chicago sorting everything out and ended up buying the more “direct” route, AND, since I shared the news of the mishap with the daughter (in NYC), she shared the information that she was on “spring break” right then, and I said, “Well, buy yourself a ticket and ‘Come on down!'” She said, “isn’t it too late?” My response: “I bought 2 tickets at 3 p.m. yesterday for Wednesday at 9 a.m., so I don’t think so!” She ended up flying through Philadelphia and the son and wife and twins (not quite 3 months old) and the daughter (just turned 21) are all here with us…through Saturday, anyway.

We’ve not done too many ‘daring’ things, although there was an attempt to rent jet skiis today, which was foiled by the high winds and treacherous waters. The weather, so far, has been perfect: balmy, a bit windy, but warm. Coolest it has gotten is 79.

Take a look at today’s activity for the little girls. First, it was the Obama Inauguration. Then, it was the Super Bowl. Now, it is watching the ocean while enjoying their favorite beverage.

Life doesn’t get any better than this.

World Forum on Latin America is Group Meeting in Cancun

     A correction to my WTO posting. The group meeting next door (and up and down the Hotel Zone) is actually one dedicated to the same purposes but focusing on Latin American problems.

    The information on the WTO provided in my previous post is still accurate and informative and more than I knew about the WTO before researching it for weeklywilson. Therefore, I shall leave it up for you, with the correction that this group is exclusively focusing on such matters in Latin America.

World Trade Organization Meets Again in Cancun, Mexico

                    World Trade Organization Meets in Cancun, Mexico

 

     The last time that the WTO (World Trade Organization) met in Cancun, in 2003, South Korean Farmers and Fisheries President Lee Kyung Hai ( Kun Hai Lee in some news accounts) stood outside the police lines, shouted “The WTO kills farmers” and, using a blade, slashed himself to death in protest on opening day, South Korea’s Day of the Dead. The suicide victim had previously conducted a hunger strike in Geneva outside the WTO Secretariat headquarters in Switzerland. Three other supporters had tried self-immolation in protest, two of them successfully, at various WTO meetings. Hai was protesting the price-distorting agricultural subsidies of the European Economic Union and the United States. 

     In a discussion of the European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) policies in “Why the U.S. Should Question Europe’s Orwellian Farm Reforms” (7/25/2003, Sara J. Fitzgerald and Dr. Nile Gardiner for the World Heritage Organization) the authors state,” The CAP is a huge welfare system for a relatively small group of large-scale elite European farmers who will continue to prosper. They then dump excess food on Third World countries and put them out of business.” The article continued, “The French succeeded in blocking any meaningful reform of the CAP.” The reason for this becomes clear as we learn more about the substantial subsidies that French farmers collect.

     The meeting in Cancun in 2003 continued after Lee Kyung Hai’s suicide, but not without further protests. According to Tom Hayden of www.AlterNet.com  (September 11, 2003), the Black Bloc, consisting of black-clad Mexican students, Europeans with black flags, some U.S. students, Koreans and members of Seattle’s Infernal Noise Brigade, held painted wooden rifles while trying to storm the wire barrier separating them from the Hotel Zone. They also played drums and chanted, which eventually yielded a rain storm in “the Snake Pit” (the translation of the name “Cancun” in English.) The barriers, set up at Kukulcaan Plaza and Bonampek Boulevards, was intended to keep the protesters at bay.

      This year in Cancun, there are men with machine guns searching cars, guards at the entrances to all hotels, and at least one large war ship and two smaller ships  moored offshore.

    We are here in Cancun, and whether we can move down the road towards the Hotel Zone  remains to be seen. An organization known as the OCA, or Organic Consumers Association, helped organize protests in Seattle against the WTO in 1991, culminating in what became known as the “Battle of Seattle” and no one knows—yet— if they will attempt to disrupt this meeting in a similar fashion. OCA National Director Ronnie Cummins described the efforts of the protesters as “presenting alternatives to corporate globalization.” (Among the concerns of the OCA are genetic engineering, water privatization, investment and social services privatization, and patenting of drugs and life forms.)

     To refresh the memories of those not that familiar with the WTO, it is an organization that was founded in 1947 ( Wikipedia.) The WTO seems to have been fairly quiescent during the following 50 years, settling only 300 disputes involving trade between nations in all that time. There was a Uruguay Round of meetings between 1986 and 1994 that caused a major revision of the 1947 GATT, or General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade rules. This became the basic rule book for the organization, forged, as it was, of 60 multilateral agreements to regulate trade. Among the issues the group dealt with were: goods, services, intellectual property, dispute settlement and trade policy review. There was a system in place that involved sending disputes between nations about trade to experts, who ruled, through consultation. Or, failing that, disputes could be sent through a stage-by-stage procedure with the possibility of appeal to an arbitration panel.

     If you’re beginning to think that the WTO sounds as powerless as the United Nations, you’re getting the picture. You gather representatives from hundreds of different countries together, all with different agendas, and you try to get them all to agree on economic policy. Sounds easy….not.

    The WTO was somewhat revived in a meeting held in Doha, Qatar, in 2001. After  that, it met again in 2003 in Cancun and in 2005 in Hong Kong, China. Now, it is meeting once again in Cancun on April 14, 15, 16 (2008), and the militia are out in force to keep the peace, aided by ships moored offshore. An American tourist who took his son to the Omni Hotel to play golf on their 3-hole course today (April 14th, 2008) was turned away by men armed with machine guns. Offputting, to say the least.

     Any agreement that comes out of a WTO meeting has to be ratified by the U.S. Congress to take effect in the United States. This also sounds difficult. There was a “fast track” process that President George W. Bush had in place during his two terms, but it expired June 30, 2007. Now that “W”, the lamest of lame ducks, is on the way out, the odds are stacked against any progress taking place this year…if anyone ever really thought that was possible, given the nature of the WTO beast.

     Before the last Cancun summit of the WTO, in September of 2003, according to a July 25, 2003 article entitled “Why the U.S, Should Question Europe’s Orwellian Farm Reforms” by Sara J. Fitzgerald, Trade Policy Analyst, and Nile Gardiner, PhD the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Center for International Trade and Economics at the Heritage Foundation, it was important that “the U.S. (should) not be fooled by European masquerades.”

     Ms. Fitzgerald and Dr. Gardiner said in 2003, “Developed countries should travel to Cancun with a strategic plan to lower subsidies and tariffs in order to finish the Doha (Qatar) round on time. Without real change, much of the developed world will continue to be frozen out of the western markets and be consigned to further decades of poverty.”

     The same article went on to state, “Global agricultural liberalization is at a standstill.” The experts felt that the U.S. must stand with “the Cairns group,” a group of 17 developed nations led by Australia, “in advocating greater liberalization in the Doha round and pushing the European Union to make substantial cuts in farm subsidies.”

     Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. The representatives of George W. Bush treated the Third World countries rudely (“thugs” was the term applied to Bush’s representatives by one writer) and, in addition to the dramatic suicide of the Korean farmer already mentioned, the Witherspoon Society Home Page described how the Kenyan Ambassador walked out, quickly followed by Am Bernal, the Jamaican Ambassador. One hundred and fifty other civil society folk from Venezuela, Nigeria, Kenya and Brazil followed those leaders and the meeting fell apart after three days. Simon Harris of an organization known as the OCA (Organic Consumers Association) wrote in 2003, “Cancun may very well mark the beginning of the end of the WTO.”

     On Saturday, Mexican Foreign Minster Luis Ernesto Derbez, its chairman, drafted a declaration that was rejected. The Indian Commerce Minister Arun Jaitley said of the Cairns Group members that they had “arbitrarily disregarded views and concerns expressed…”

     In addition to the suicide of the South Korean man in 2003 Cancun, there were thousands of  unionists, students, anarchists and others protesting and trying to scale the wire fence that separated them from the hotels where the meetings were being held.

     I ventured out tonight. Each hotel had at least five men wearing orange vests guarding the entrances to the various Hotel Zone hotels. My waiter told me that his car was searched by militia with dogs as he came to work at 6:00 a.m. and he added, “even the Big Bosses had their cars searched.” There is a large battleship and two smaller ships moored off-shore,  easily visible from my ninth-floor room. The cab driver tonight told us that it would get worse tomorrow, as more representatives arrive (last meeting in Cancun, there were 146 trade ministers in attendance.) The Omni, Hilton, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and various other high-end properties are all involved in the meeting(s).

     There is a rich versus poor, North versus South, developed nations versus developing nation fight taking place at the WTO meetings. If the Cairns group represents such nations as England, the European Economic Union, Australia and the United States, who speaks for the poor?

     “The weak are gradually acquiring a stronger, more skeptical voice. So much has been promised for globalization; so much not delivered.” Grieder went on to say, “The centerpiece of the document is farm trade liberalization.” Lately, the downtrodden poorer countries have been banding together in an attempt to stand up to what they view as the oppressive Super Powers and make that point. The counter-group to the Cairns Group  is a group  known as G20.

    This new trade bloc of developing nations has formed loosely around the People’s Republic of China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa. The group members fluctuate. Many of the poorest nations continue to have little or no influence over the WTO proposals, so the walk-out of 2003 is not surprising in the context of verbal abuse and “thug-like” behavior towards them. William Grieder of The Nation (9/22/2003) wrote, in an article entitled “Why the WTO Is Going Nowhere, “In Hong Kong, December 13-18 of 2005, at a WTO meeting, a deadline was set for eliminating subsidies of agricultural exports by 2013. The proposal:  developed nations would open their markets to goods from the world’s poorest nations 2013. In keeping with the protests of 2003 at the Cancun WTO meeting, there were 2000 protesters outside the Hong Kong Exhibition in 2000; 116 were injured, 56 of them policemen

     The Guardian newspaper, on 9/17/2003 wrote, in an article entitled “A Message of Callous Indifference” that, “Rather than tackling the problems of their high agricultural tariffs and lavish farm subsidies, which victimize farmers in poorer nations, a number of rich nations derailed the talks.” Among those rich nations derailing the talks: Japan, Korea and the Economic Union members. As the article in The Guardian went on to say, “Any hope that the U.S would take the moral high ground at Cancun (in 2003)…was dashed by the disgraceful manner in which the American negotiators rebuffed the rightful demands of west African nations that the United States commit itself to a clear phasing out of its harmful cotton subsidies.”

     It is not just cotton subsidies, which are preventing west African nations from mark- eting their crop, that is a sticking point in WTO talks. As Margaret Thatcher wrote in her book Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World (London: Harper Collins, 2002, p. 336), “The majority of the subsidies go to the wealthiest producers.  These subsidies benefit the rich while stealing opportunities from developing nations.” The recent (in 2003) U.S. Farm Bill increased subsidies to U.S. farmers by 70%.  The ten-year program would cost U.S. taxpayers $180 billion. Meanwhile, the chief beneficiary of subsidies from the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (or CAP), established in 1962, is France.  French farmers received $10 billion dollars a year in subsidies in 2003, 20% of the CAP budget. Seventy per cent of CAP funds go to 20% of Europe’s farms.

     Meanwhile, with the sudden rise of $4 a gallon gas in the United States and the push for bio-fuels worldwide, Brazil, for example, is rapidly destroying its rainforests to plant soy beans and sugar. This not only means less food grown, it has vaulted Brazil to fourth place in carbon emissions, mostly because of  deforestation.

     The Soy Bean King of the World who owns half a million acres in Mato Grosso, Brazil, is Blairo Maggai, also the Governor of the province. Maggai says the bio-fuel boom is making him rich, but adds, in an April, 2008, issue of Time (“The Clean Energy Scam” Michael Grunewald, pp. 40 – 45), “People see the forest as junk. If you want to save it, you better open your pocketbook….” It irks Maggai that Brazil is criticized by nations like the United States, which cleared its frontier 125 years ago but continues to provide subsidies to its farmers.  Says Maggai in the Time article, “You make us sound like bandits, but we want to achieve what you have achieved in America.  We have the same dreams for our families. Are you afraid of the competition?”

     Maggai does have a point..

     Commentators like Zha Quiwen of the China Daily (9/16/2005) said, “Only a breakthrough on agriculture can possibly help realize the Doha (Qatar) development

promise that vast developing countries deserve.” He decried American and French reluctance to face down the powerful agricultural lobbies in their countries.

    On the official WTO website (www.wto.org), in an article written on December 4th, the WTO seems to agree, saying, “…the first step we need is for WTO member governments to agree at the Ministerial level by the end of May on the framework for cutting

agricultural tariffs, agricultural subsidies and industrial tariffs.”

     This goal sounds very worthwhile, but Simon Harris of OCA (the Organic Consumers Association), which helped organize protests in Seattle, has said, “Cancun (of 2003) may very well mark the beginning of the end of the World Trade Organization.” With nations like Brazil declaring, “If you don’t want us to tear down the forest, you better pay us to leave it up!” (Governor of Mato Grosso Blairo Maggai, Time “The Clean Energy Scam,” April, 2008, p. 45.) Like all politicians, it seems, Maggai wants his country to share in the lucrative subsidies currently being hauled in by the French, the Americans and other European Economic Union nations.

     Against this backdrop of continued inequity, set against the turquoise blue waters of Cancun, the talks will begin in earnest tomorrow, April 15, 2008. How good do you think the WTO’s chances of success will be this time around?

 

Musings from Cancun

     Now that we have spent almost one full week in the beautiful, balmy weather of Cancun, Mexico, some of our party is beginning to wonder about how, exactly, they are going to get back, since American Airlines is/was the carrier of choice after our first choice (ATA) went bankrupt just days before our flight. Now, American Airlines has canceled numerous flights, and the question is, “How do  I get there from here?”

     The “there” in question is either Chicago or Atlanta, both of which sound like they are having less glorious weather than Cancun, Mexico! With the daughter in school in Nashville, Tennessee, the CNN weather reports of tornadoes in that area, plus the news that tornadoes touched down in Iowa (the home state) are distressing.

     Tried to call the youngest child on her cell phone in Nashville from the Lobster Dinner Cruise the other night, but she tells me (online) that she was at her boyfriend’s concert. His band was playing. She also tells me that she is (probably) going to become an Assistant Manager (of sorts) for a band called “Moon Taxi” that she is very “high” on. She is still interning with Rick Clark Productions and helping select music for at least 3 movies, plus receiving a Producer’s Credit for an XM/Sirius radio show for Mr. Clark. She’s even feeding the pet cat (“Keeks”) while Rick is in Santa Monica on business. Busy, busy, busy!

     The impressions of the United States from another country, while far away, are interesting. The violence towards a teacher in a Baltimore classroom, caught on cellphone video and posted to the internet, illustrates the disrespect towards teachers in the classroom and the need for reform in the nation’s schools. The President of the Teachers’ Union in Baltimore (MD) spoke, saying that the policy has Principals urged to cut down on suspensions, so unruly students sent to the Principal are just sent back to class. I remember this technique from 1985, so is there anything new about that? She went on to say that there needs to be an “alternative school” or a different facility where aggressive, disobedient, unruly students can be sent, to isolate them from the general population of students and teachers. This has been in effect in both the Davenport (Ia) and Rock Island and Moline (IL) schools for years, so I wonder why Baltimore has no such system? Of course, it was the alternative school in Moline, Illinois, that was the breeding ground for the youths who cold-bloodedly murdered a fellow student in the Sarah Kolb case, about 3 years ago. The schools are not getting the message that the 21st Century requires different sort(s) of schooling from those of the agrarian past. Better use of facilities. More computer usage and teaching. Greater emphasis on math and science. All have been indicated by national studies, but the old practice(s) of loading up classrooms with up to 35 students continue. As a long-time Sylvan Learning Center owner/operator, to me, it seems obvious that the number of students assigned to teachers needs to come down. Perhaps 3 to 1 (Sylvan’s ratio) is not realistic in a public school, but certainly 35 to 1 is even less realistic. If we had back the money being spent on the Iraq (and Afghanistan) Wars, just think what innovative change could take place in our schools, rather than this “fill in the bubble” testing emphasis that has added nothing, but, arguably, taken much away from real teaching and real learning. Most teachers I know personally (and I know a lot of them) are praying for the days when “No child left behind” becomes “A program left behind.”

    But I digress. Last night, we scoped out 3 relatively new eating places in the Cancun area, all built since the disastrous hurricane of a couple years back. First was Porto Madera, which we have eaten at previously. It is an Argentinian steakhouse, with high prices, but great ambience. I had the shish-ka-bob (which is called “brochettes” on the menu) and it was HUGE!

     Next, we wandered to a brand-new restaurant open only 3 months. Name: “Harry’s Bar and Grill,” a tribute to Ernest Hemingway’s famed Key West hang-out. This is an extremely romantic get-away, with a great view of the lagoon and a pricey menu. There is a fake waterfall, 3 fountains lighted in the lagoon itself that spout water, and….for your tableside snack while having a drink: crisp bacon. (Weird). A beautiful place.

    The last place (3 in a row, geographically) was entitled Grill 14 and was similarly romantic in tone, but the entire menu was printed ONLY in Spanish and there was an abundant presence of sushi on the menu. It was far less crowded than either of the first two mentioned, although the approach to the restaurant, itself, is very romantic. I would say a drink in this one might suffice, as the menu did not support the eating habits of two Midwesterners who don’t care for sushi and don’t read Spanish well-enough to know what they are ordering. Three very nice new additions to Cancun’s dining life, however, since our visit of one year ago.

Back from Vegas; Headed to Cancun!

cancunsunset-5.jpgcancunsunset2.jpg     The bright lights of Vegas were shining just as brightly as I sat out an hour-long wind delay to board my Chicago bound United flight. After all, the city had relieved me of my budgeted $500 in gambling money in record time.

     While there, I saw “Spamalot” at the Wynn Hotel, featuring John O’Hurley as King Arthur. (O’Hurley will be better-known to many as Elaine’s boss J. Peterman on “Seinfeld,” for which he won a SAG Award.)

     The entire play is based on the Monty Python troupe’s well-known brand of humor and featured book and lyrics by Eric Idle, with Music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle.  Outstanding amongst the cast was Erica Ash as the Lady of the Lake and the voice of John Cleese as God was a nice touch. The entire performance, especially viewed from the front-row, was entertaining and definitely worth the money.

     The next day, I attended a read-through of An American Hamlet by the local Cockroach Players. The play is written by the founder of the Chicago Screenwriters Group, Dan Decker, who is mounting the production now.

     Last, but not least, on the occasion of my 40th anniversary, I took my spouse to see Tom Jones, front-row, at the MGM Grand. We were also in the front row, and this allowed me to display the LIFE magazine (from 1968) that I had carried from Illinois to Nevada in the hopes of getting Tom Jones’ autograph. I was put off by security, and told that maybe he would sign it if he caught sight of me with it. Therefore, I enlisted the help of four young women seated directly behind us, who had left their husbands home in L.A. and come to Vegas determined to have some good cheesy fun! They had brought thongs to launch at the 67 (nearly 68) year old entertainer.

    I kept “dancing” my copy of Jane Fonda as “Barbarella” (the LIFE magazine cover) about, in the hopes of catching Tom’s eye and attention. The girls kept launching underwear, and I kept using the magazine as a tool to snake the skivvies back, handing them back to the quartet with the instructions: “Relaunch!” Which they did. Again and again. Finally, Tom noticed our side of the stage and picked up one thong and asked, “What is this? An eye-patch?”

     As the show neared its finale, the girls and I began dancing in the far-right aisle. I was still dancing “with” Jane (Fonda) in hand, and, as the curtain was going down on the performers, Mr. Jones looked directly at me and mouthed the words, “What is that?” I held up a pen. And he immediately disappeared. So much for being a loyal fan who has seen the man at least 6 times over the years.

    A good time was had by all.

    Upon arriving back in Chicago, I discovered a vagrant sleeping in the condo lobby. This was somewhat disturbing, as I was a woman, alone, at midnight on a Tuesday night.

     This morning, I awakened to the news that ATA has declared bankruptcy. My tickets to Cancun on Saturday are on ATA, which has fired all 2,200 employees and, no doubt, left some travelers  stranded at their destinations of choice. Frenzied searching has turned up tickets that are 3 times more expensive on American, but at least the trip is still “on.”

   I’ll try to post from the beach, but you never know.

Cancun: Here I Come!

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