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A Tale of 3 Cities

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Spring break is a time to get away, literally. Bogged down by homework, exams and studying, the students deserve the weeklong exodus of responsibility that takes them out into the world, or onto the couch.

Three Crow’s Nest writers traveled to different parts of the world and brought back the story of their travels.

Tim, a lifelong writer, sought out real culture and real people. Escaping from the standard tourist experience, he went to Mexico City.

Whitney had been considering a career as a screenwriter ever since she was a child, and her recent visit to Los Angeles cemented that dream. She visited Warner Brothers Studios and the set of some of her favorite shows.

Corey takes a once-a-year trip to Ocala, Florida to practice yoga in the woods. Read about her transcendental experience and journey into mindfulness. 


By Tim Fanning
tfanning@mail.usf.edu

Gringo. There are so many of us in North America that it’s hard not to be aware that I’m surrounded by people who look like me. In the same respect, when someone of color walks into a room, people notice.

But when my girlfriend, Isabelle, and I went to Mexico City over spring break, the roles were reversed. For once in my life, I couldn’t blend into a crowd, or ask for directions to the bathroom.

With the exception of Israel, I’ve never been to a country where I could be so easily identified as an outsider.

Most of the Mexicans Isabelle and I passed on the street or interacted with were friendly, offering a polite smile when we made eye contact or patiently listened as we stumbled through broken Spanish.

Despite this, I felt like I was being watched. Entering into restaurants or cafes, all eyes seemed to be on me. I’m sure Mexico City has plenty of tourists from America, but there certainly weren’t many gringos in the places we visited in Coyoacán.

Isabelle also felt like an outsider. Before going to bed one night, she told me:

“I’ve learned what it means to be Mexican from my family as a second-generation Mexican in the U.S., but actually being in Mexico City shows me how disconnected I am from my ancestry, from the place where my mom was born. I’m a Mexican-American tourist in Mexico.”

Street Music: One of the many street musicians Fanning met during his Mexico City excursion. [TIM FANNING | THE CROW’S NEST]
But that didn’t stop us from seeing what we wanted to see.

After a breakfast of fresh pears from Mercado de Coyoacán on the second day, Isabelle and I walked to Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s house. By 10:30 a.m., the line to enter the museum was almost the entire length of the block. It took about an hour to just get into the museum!

After Casa Azul, we hoped to take the subway out to Xochimilco, a series of floating islands in southern Mexico City. However, after asking for directions and searching for the Metro for about an hour, we quickly realized that it would be impossible to make it to our destination before rush hour.

Final Slumber: A sad ending to such a beautiful life, Kahlo’s death mask lays on her bed in Casa Azul.
[TIM FANNING | THE CROW’S NEST]
We returned to Downtown Coyoacán to spend the rest of the evening. Surrounded by textile shops, pharmacies, convenience stores, restaurants and street vendors, this part of town was a beehive of activity by the time we got there.

Gathered mostly in Plaza Hidalgo, Isabelle was struck by a number of people doing so many different things. At the Vinoy Park in St. Pete, everyone is there to either exercise or fish. No one really uses the park the way they do there.

At Plaza Hidalgo, they gathered, ate ice cream, crossed the square to get to the other side, met significant others and friends, sold bundles of balloons or people watched. There is no common purpose like in America; it’s just a common ground.

Squares like this one were for couples. No matter where we went, lips and faces were glued together in sloppy makeout sessions. Isabelle thought that the public display of smooching was due to the fact that at home, there probably was no privacy. Mom watching like a vulture. Brothers making fart noises. Tattletale sisters watching for the slightest sign of physical interaction.

Frida’s Garden: Tim Fanning and his girlfriend, Isabelle Cavazos, pose for a photo in the backyard of Frida Kahlo’s famous home, Casa Azul. [TIM FANNING | THE CROW’S NEST]
When the rain came, we were eating churros and drinking coffee on a bench in Plaza Hidalgo. The rain shuffled the people in the plaza like a deck of cards. Everyone but those with umbrellas moved and were displaced as they scattered from their park benches, looking for shelter — all except the children of course, who were content with spinning around in circles for as long as it took to fall down.

A man with an arm bursting with a myriad of bead necklaces brought his wife and baby to sit next to us on the windowsill of the courthouse, where everyone else sought cover from the rain. She breastfed as they exchanged a few words in Spanish that I didn’t understand.

I knew enough to understand that he needed to sell as many of those beads as possible to afford dinner tonight. As soon as the rain broke, he disappeared into the square.

By the end of the day, I realized that travel writers seldom speak about the ugly inconveniences of travel. They show all of the glimmers, but none of the grime. No long lines, no mention of being lost and how to cope with a drastic change in itinerary and no mention of intense headaches that only go away with stuffing your head underneath the pillow and wrapping yourself in a blanket.


By Whitney Elfstrom
welfstrom@mail.usf.edu


Children often grow up dreaming of their perfect career. Some aspire to be doctors, teachers or dentists. There are those who long to become actors, models or singers. 

I, for one, have known from a very young age that my career would be a writer and not just any writer, but a screenwriter.

The children who dream of becoming doctors or teachers can visit their future places of employment from a very young age. As an aspiring screenwriter, visiting the job I one day hope to have is a little more difficult. In fact, it requires plane tickets across the country.

I saved every penny, nickel and dime until I finally had enough to venture off to Los Angeles for spring break.

Adrenaline raced through my veins as I stepped out into the warm California air. Rays of sunshine lit up the town as they pointed me in the direction of Warner Brothers Studios.

Finally, after all of these years, I was in the City of Angels.

The moment I stepped onto the lot I knew I was home. It was here that Amy Sherman-Palladino crafted “Gilmore Girls,” a show about the mother-daughter duo Lorelai and Rory Gilmore.

Central Perk: While touring the Warner Brothers lot, Elfstrom caught a glimpse of the infamous orange couch from the set of “Friends.”
[WHITNEY ELFSTROM | THE CROW’S NEST]

It was through “Gilmore Girls” that I found my sense of humor, my love of pop culture and my inspiration to become a writer.

After checking in at the front desk, my travel companion Lauren and I were ushered into a waiting room. Fellow movie lovers from around the world wandered around the waiting room lined with movie memorabilia from over the years.

Shortly after taking our seats we were informed that it was time to meet our tour guide. A young twenty-something male walked to the front of the room and introduced himself as Gabe. As it turns out Gabe was an aspiring screenwriter.

“I want to become a screenwriter as well!” I told Gabe, in hopes that he would shed a little knowledge on how Hollywood runs.

“Yeah, well we all do.” He lazily replied, leading me to realize that Hollywood truly is a dog eat dog world.
Gabe escorted my tour group out to a row of oversized golf carts. We piled into the rows, anxious to make our way to the WB back lot.

We drove into the Midwest Business and Residential Street set, also known as Stars Hollow the main town in “Gilmore Girls”, and my heart began to soar. The group hopped off of the golf cart and take off into the town.

For someone who cares a little more (or a lot more — who’s keeping track?) than most people about TV production, being in the heart of where the magic happens was a dream come true.

As we walked through the town, Gabe explained the ins and outs of how Midwest Street transforms into Stars Hollow, Rosewood and, at one point, Rydell High.

In the way of TV magic, Gabe informed the group that the front of Sookie St. James’ home turned into the back of Lorelai Gilmore’s home. He also told us that the Gilmore house doubled as Spencer Hastings’ house from “Pretty Little Liars.”

Above all else, the best-kept secret of the WB lot is how tiny the backlot truly is. In “Gilmore Girls,” Stars Hollow is a tiny town in Connecticut. Lorelai and Rory often walk through town in one long continuous shot. After seeing Midwest Street I now understand why this direction was used so frequently.

As the tour group left the Gilmore house a man stopped our tour guide to ask a question, but the group was unaware that it was in the midst of a star.

“Do you know how to get to Central Perk?” The man asked.

“Yeah, it’s right around that corner,” responded Gabe before adding, “by the way I’m a big fan.”

On Set: Elfstrom’s experience cemented her wish of becoming a screenwriter in Hollywood, a dream she’s had since she was a child.
[WHITNEY ELFSTROM | THE CROW’S NEST]
After a quick Google search, Lauren found out the man was actually Juan Pablo Di Pace who portrays Fernando on “Fuller House,” but by this time Pace was far away in the land of “Friends.”

Located one street over from Midwest Street is French Street. This is where the famous line, “We’ll always have Paris” was uttered by Humphrey Bogart in the 1942 movie “Casablanca.” In the 21st century, French Street is more commonly recognized as the cafe set from “La La Land.”

Tourists took turns posing in front of the Oscar-winning set for a photo, but Lauren and I broke away from the tour group hoping to sneak a peek at Miss Patty’s School of Ballet, another set from “Gilmore Girls.”

Next stop on the tour was none other than the “Harry Potter & Fantastic Beasts” exhibit. Here we wandered halls lined with everything from Harry Potter’s wand to Arthur and Molly Weasley’s costumes. By far, the highlight of the exhibit was the live action sorting hat—though it placed me in the wrong house.

The tour came to a close with an interactive “Warner Brothers over the years” exhibit.

By this point, my day was already made, but it was about to get even better than I originally thought possible.

The final room we roamed into was Central Perk in all of its glory. The only thing missing was Gunther working behind the bar. Lauren and I waited for what seemed like an eternity to take our picture on the famous orange couch that hosted so many storylines over the 10-year period that “Friends” aired.

When it was finally time to head home for the day, Lauren and I stepped off of the WB lot into the California sunshine as it beat down upon our skin.

A little voice in my head told me that despite the long journey that accompanies my future career goal, one day I would be back at Warner Brother Studios, not as a wide-eyed tourist but as a successful screenwriter.


By Corey Mapp
cmapp@mail.usf.edu


Life is so often lived on fast forward, at some point we have to realize that it’s flying by and the minutes feel like seconds.  


Take a moment to look around, examine your surroundings and inspect the details of everything.

We live through a series of motions: wake up, go to school, work, home, cook, clean and sleep. Occasionally, moments of fun sneak in – drinks with friends, outdoor activities and holidays.

What if we embraced every day as a special occasion by waking up grateful for being awake. Dedicating the smallest portion of our day to maintain our physical and mental health?

My annual spring break visit to Amrit Yoga Institute in the Ocala National Forest reminded me of the many reasons why we should live as slowly as possible.

Out in the middle of the forest, it is easy to understand how the people who live here are so invested in it. There is hardly any cell reception, no major grocery stores or shopping malls for nearly 30 miles.

The forest has about five natural springs running throughout it. Lake George is connected to many of the springs, making it freshwater. The springs themselves maintain a cool 72 degrees year round.

While my visit was a little cooler than expected (an average high of only 60 degrees) the water was actually warmer than the air.

Tranquility and Peace: During Mapp’s vacation, she woke at 6 a.m. to begin practicing yoga along with the other residents of the retreat.
[COREY MAPP | THE CROW’S NEST]
Each day at the yoga institute is relatively similar; they stick to a pretty tight schedule. Wake up call is at 6 a.m. for a yoga class that lasts about 90 minutes. Breakfast, lunch and dinner (all vegetarian) are served at the same time each day.

I’m always struck by their idea of a celebration. Last year they served a batch of kombucha they’d been working on for a couple months. Although it was just fermented tea, the excitement they shared over it was as if the world had just discovered another life form. True gratitude, or dhanyavad in Sanskrit, is the only way to explain their reactions.

Soothing Sunset: Mapp’s yoga retreat to Ocala National Forest came with stunning views like this one.
[COREY MAPP | THE CROW’S NEST]
This year the special occasion of the week was watching a movie together, I skipped the event, as I tend to doze off in movies.  

There is a resident guru who they refer to as Gurudev, or a type of enlightened, beloved teacher. Gurudev Amrit Desai lives there, among many others who follow his teachings.

Some of the residents are on staff while others are there doing seva, or selfless service. Many of the seva students are young adults who work on the property for free and in return receive room and board as well as the opportunity to learn from Gurudev.

The facilities are situated on a beautiful lake and remain open year round for a series of programs and training. If you’re ever looking for a place to disconnect, to be reminded that life is moving quickly and is worth embracing, this is the place to go.

I bow to the light within you, or in the words of Gurudev and his students, Jai Bhagwan!

 

Comment(1)

  1. Tim just read your story and expected to see a 6foot seven guy with blonde hair . Instead I see someone who looks just like many people who I see everyday living in Mexico . I just took a walk in coyocan and saw about 6 guys who could have been you . I think you may have imagined yourself being watched ! Perhaps after you spoke , but surly not from appearance . Mexico City is diverse you make it sound like Tokyo . Also growing up in NY there were plenty of people of color in my schools , house and parties I attended . The US is very dirverse , especially in NY . Overall a positive story , but thought you a bit paranoid .

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