History Lost in History

Olga Bancic is the badass Resistance freedom fighter you need to know about

Olga Bancic was a force to be reckoned with. Her bravery and determination to always stand up for what was right should be an inspiration to us all. But who was she? Bancic was born in 1912 to a working-class Romanian Jewish family, and her life wasn’t easy. She began working in a mattress factory at the age of 12 in order to support her family. The conditions spurred her to join a workers’ union and participate in a strike. Despite her young age, she was beaten and arrested by strikebreakers, sparking her strong belief in workers’ rights. 

Bancic would later become a strong force in unionist and left-wing activism in Romania. She faced arrest and imprisonment multiple times, but never stopped fighting. 

As fascism started to spread throughout Europe, Bancic’s political activism ramped up. She joined the Spanish Republican cause, made up of liberal democrats, socialists, communists, and anarchists, to fight the fascist takeover of Spain during the Spanish Civil War. During that time, Bancic transported weapons and assisted soldiers at the front. She, unfortunately, had to flee in 1938 when it became apparent that fascist victory was in sight. She later moved to Paris where she met and married Alexandru Jar and gave birth to their daughter, Dolores.

Bancic was always a fighter, but it was during World War II that she truly became a hero. Since Bancic and her family were Jewish, they were in grave danger when Nazi Germans occupied Paris. She and her husband left their daughter with a sympathetic French family and took up arms in the French Resistance. They joined the FTP-MOI (Francs-Tireurs et Partisans de la Main d’Oeuvre Immigrée), a group of immigrants and refugees who fought against Nazi occupiers. She took part in dozens of acts of sabotage against the Nazis occupiers, working as a manufacturer and transporter of explosives as well as a messenger.

Unfortunately, authorities put an end to their Resistance activities in 1944, near the end of the war. As immigrants and political dissidents, they lacked the same kind of protection that other French Resistance members had. The Gestapo specifically targeted them, releasing propaganda posters denouncing them as foreign terrorists and calling for the arrest of the “Manouchian group,” so named after the group’s leader, Missak Manouchian. The French police worked with the Gestapo to arrest the fighters. Bancic and twenty of her comrades were arrested and tortured.

The courts handed down a death sentence to the entire group without a proper trial. As the only woman of the condemned group, she was executed separately from the other members. It was illegal to execute women on French grounds, so her captors cruelly executed her in Germany. Her husband and daughter survived the war and were able to keep her memory alive. 

Olga Bancic was a strong and tireless advocate for human rights. She sacrificed herself for a country that disowned her and refused to protect her. France was not willing to defend her rights as an immigrant and a Jewish woman, yet she gave her life to defend the citizens of France. She faced betrayal and hostility from her government, but she fought for those who couldn’t fight.

Bancic fought to secure a better future for her daughter and so many others like her. It’s hard not to tear up reading her last letter to her daughter. In the letter, she tells her not to cry because “I believe that your life and your future will be much happier and brighter than your mother’s.” Up until her last moment, she thought of the future she hoped to secure for her daughter. 

We can all learn from Olga Bancic who was willing to sacrifice everything to create a better future. She braved terrible factory conditions, antisemitism, police beatings, imprisonment, torture, warfare, and even death. She wanted to create a fair and peaceful world. 

We should honor her strength and conviction and know that she did not die in vain. Bancic’s story shows us that it is not only presidents and politicians who create history but ordinary people as well. This woman, a mother, a mattress-factory worker, a convict, and a hero, was braver than some of the most famous men of her time. The world would be better off with more Olga Bancic’s. It is up to us to give power to her memory.

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USA World News Tech The World

The 2020 cybersecurity attack that we’re still dealing with

Despite being one of the biggest political issues of the past year, there hasn’t been a lot of clarity or coverage on the 2020 cybersecurity attack. The what—? you say. Yes, the past year has been marked by a pandemic, US elections, climate disasters, and general chaos—but a major event still unfolding into 2021 is perhaps the most concerning cybersecurity breach in years. The most concerning? Why haven’t I heard much about this? 

It doesn’t help that even those at the center of these discussions are still trying to find out exactly what happened. Right now, the baseline looks something like this: Government agencies, think tanks, NGOs, and companies around the world have been breached in what may be the biggest espionage attack in years. 

And yet, news coverage and press outlets have resulted in an alphabet soup that looks something like this: cybersecurity, hacks, SolarWind, Russia, NSA, Microsoft, US, governments, pandemic, technology, etc. 

Let’s start from the beginning.

As early as March 2020, but possibly earlier, hackers breached computer agencies around the world. There are different ways to “hack” a system. In this case, malware—software that had been tampered with—was added to an update from SolarWinds, an IT management and monitoring company based in Austin, Texas. So when the clients of SolarWinds received a typical software update—on the back of that update was malware, piggybacking in. 

You might not be familiar with SolarWinds but a lot of really important people and organizations are, including government agencies. SolarWinds is a software company for IT and network management, and its products are widely used around the world. As a result, the hack has affected NGOs, think tanks, IT agencies, and at least six different US government departments. It even breached cybersecurity firm FireEye and tech companies like Microsoft

While the US is the target for 80 percent of the hacks, it is not the only country affected. In fact, seven other countries have also been identified as targets: Canada, Mexico, Belgium, Spain, United Kingdom, Israel, and the UAE. SolarWinds has since reported that approximately 18,000 of their clients—government agencies, companies, and individuals—had malware installed. 

This specific malware created a “backdoor” for additional software to be added, which then monitored emails and internal data of SolarWinds’ clients. This gathered the information and data from agencies, organizations, and companies. Plain and simple espionage.

Of course, the root of the problem is a little less simple. According to US officials and cybersecurity experts, Russia’s foreign intelligence service SVR is responsible for the hack. According to the Associated Press, the White House had prepared a statement identifying Russia as the responsible party but was told to stand down as President Donald Trump dismissed the concern and suggested that China was responsible instead, to everyone’s confusion. In turn, Russia’s SVR has denied responsibility.

The scope of this cybersecurity attack is still unfolding, but it is becoming more obvious that many of the threats governments face today are based online. These attacks may seem to only exist on the Internet, but they have serious consequences for data and information. Moreover, US President-elect Joe Biden has stated that in office, he will pursue “substantial costs on those responsible for such malicious attacks.”

As of now, it’s unclear what those costs will look like or how Biden will respond to these types of attacks when he is in office, but it forces us to seriously reconsider cybersecurity attacks as dangerous as physical, material attacks.  Another event like this will not just affect the online information and data, but may also reshape our political landscape.


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College 101 Dedicated Feature Life

This is why you should study abroad – I went to Madrid

I’ve always been a little hesitant and unsure of myself. When I started telling people that I planned on studying abroad for the Fall 2019 semester in Madrid, I could tell that they were worried. I mean, how was I going to survive alone? I wasn’t fluent in Spanish, I didn’t know anyone else that was in my program, and I don’t exactly have a plethora of common sense – I’m more book-smart. I think that part of it was that they didn’t want me to get my hopes up. Studying abroad could be a really great experience or a really terrible one, and there wasn’t room for anything in between. 

But, I was determined to prove them wrong. I always have been. Ever since I was little I’ve always felt that people saw my capabilities as one-sided. I could do this but never that. To me, it seemed like an expectation thing. No one expected me to be so independent and sturdy, especially when I appeared in front of them as fragile or sensitive.

The truth is that I had never been given the chance to prove myself in this capacity. The second that I took too long or wasn’t doing something precisely the way that someone else would, they took over. And, as a result, I became apprehensive, kind of shy, and extremely nervous. 

However, it turns out that I was right. I had been largely independent all along, and studying abroad was a great idea. I slowly realized that I could do anything I set my mind to, even this, all the while holding on tightly to my emotional tendencies. I learned a lot about myself while basking in the Mediterranean sun. 

During my time in Madrid, I met people and made connections in ways that are indescribable. I don’t know if it is because I finally found myself in a situation in which I was free from implicit restraints and boundaries or if I became a product of my surroundings. But, I am sure of at least one thing, that being that I was entering a moment in which I was young enough to still have the ignorant belief that nothing mattered, but also wise enough to know that everything mattered much more than it had ever before. There were so many things, and so many people, clawing at me and insisting for my attention, and I finally let go.

For the first time I acknowledged the positivism of this sweet, even blissful, point in my life—one that I may never get again. So, I gave in to the extremities. In doing so, the whole world opened up. I found security in empathy, I learned about ambition, self-awareness, and I felt genuine longing for the first time. I spent days dancing in streets that were once touched by Goya, Ernest Hemingway, and Velasquez. I read poems by Pablo Neruda on the metro and I ate TONS of churros con chocolate.

What I found to be the most pivotal about my experience in Madrid, though, would be living in a home-stay. This is where I spent the most time, had the most laughs, and learned the most about myself. The day after landing in Madrid I met my host family and moved into their home. While they didn’t speak any English at all, and whatever Spanish I did know I forgot the second I opened my mouth, we managed to work through it. 

I knew I wanted to build a relationship with them, but before I could do that, I had to conquer my own confidence battle. I had to remind myself that yes, they were strangers with whom I would be living with for months, but I was also a stranger to them. Frankly, we were all in the same boat. Eventually, I got used to their habits, learned their family traditions, and studied their culture until I felt like I belonged there. They made me feel like I was as much a Madrileño as they are.

At dinner, my host parents would always ask about my day, my classes, and if I was up to anything fun. On the weekends, they would recommend countless restaurants or art museums to my friends and I, and then ask me if I liked it the next day. They even comforted me when I felt overwhelmed or insecure. What I appreciated the most, however, is that they actually listened to my stories, which I am sure that I told in broken Spanish, and always seemed interested.

We really grew to love and care for one another. In those four short months I am sure that they watched me grow exponentially. I truly became myself and started to feel comfortable in my own skin. Plus, I came out being able to speak and communicate in Spanish light-years beyond my ability from when I first arrived in Madrid. 

My memories from this time in my life are whole, and they always will be whole. I’m finally able to show off my independence and I’m never turning back. This just goes to show that a little bit of introspection and determination could go a long way. Of course, I was scared to be alone and so far away but I knew that it was what I needed.  Once I convinced myself to just rip off the band-aid my possibilities for personal growth became endless.

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Editor's Picks History Forgotten History Historical Badasses

Meet María de Zayas, the first author to publish under her own name in Spain

Although often forgotten, María de Zayas was a famous 17th-century writer and the first Spanish woman to publish fiction novels under her own name.

If I asked you to name the oldest female author that you can think of, chances are that you will say Jane Austen, or perhaps the Brontë sisters. Unfortunately, this only shows the prevalence of the perception that women did not write before the 19th century. But they did, and they did so well. We have simply forgotten about them. Or chosen to.

I want to bring to light the figure of one of those women from previous times who decided to be a writer: María de Zayas. I admire Zayas not just because she is Spanish like me, and therefore has been a role model of mine for several years now, but also because, unlike most of the female writers of the Medieval and Early-Modern period, she published fiction books under her name, and made a profit from it.

Let me tell you about her.

María de Zayas y Sotomayor (1590-1661) was the most famous female writer of 17th century Spain. We know of her existence from her written work, as, sadly, there are few documents that tell us anything about her life.

She published fiction books under her name, and made a profit from it.

Zayas was born in the Spanish nobility and, as such, had the opportunity to receive an education (albeit limited, as she was a woman) and travel to different countries, where she discussed with scholars and academics of the time. She began her literary career in the contests organized by the literary academies of her time.

María de Zayas became famous for her collections of short novels, each comprised of 10 novels under a common narrative frame: Novelas amorosas y ejemplares (Amorous and Exemplary Novels) and Desengaños amorosos (The Disenchantments of Love). She also wrote poems, that she incorporated into the novels and a play.

Most of Zaya’s novels focused on the limitations that women suffered in the 16th and 17th centuries. They were short, fun, and witty, aimed for a mostly female audience.

Many have considered María de Zayas to be the first feminist writer of Spain. She filled her novels with female characters that were brave and questioned sexist concepts such as ‘honor’.

This writer shocked her readers when she stated that the human soul was neither male nor female. Moreover, she dared to insist that women were not less knowledgeable because of lack of capacity, but because of a lack of education.

Most of Zaya’s novels focused on the limitations that women suffered in the 16th and 17th centuries.

She stated that: “the reason why women are not learned is not a defect in intelligence but a lack of opportunity. When our parents bring us up if, instead of putting cambric on our sewing cushions and patterns in our embroidery frames, they gave us books and teachers, we would be as fit as men for any job or university professorship. We might even be sharper because we’re of colder humor and intelligence partakes of the damp humor’.

María de Zayas dared to do something that seems very simple right now: publish fiction under her name. At the time, and particularly in Spain, women who wanted to be writers became nuns, such as Santa Teresa del Jesús or Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. By being part of the Church, their access to (some) books and writing was acceptable, but their works were limited to religious themes, and therefore an appropriate interest for women to have.

Zayas did neither one nor the other. She wrote fiction, works that were entertaining, not moralistic. She signed them under her real name and made a profit out of their selling. She was a woman that earned a living as a writer. This is simple but was, at the time, almost unprecedented.

Zayas achieved incredible success during her lifetime. She was respected and admired by her colleagues. Writers that are now known by every student of Spanish literature such as Cervantes or Lope de Vega praised her work and recognized her as an equal.

Sadly, the passing of time worked against her. A hundred years after Zayas’ death, her work was still being printed, until it was censored by the Spanish Inquisition. They considered that it went against morality and banned its printing and publication. They thought that, by doing this, she would be forgotten.

She was. But only for a short time.

When I studied literature at school, I never learned about her. All the famous writers that appeared in my curriculum were male until we reached the 19th century. By the time I studied Spanish Literature at university, María de Zayas had obtained a paragraph in a chapter filled with pages and pages about her male colleagues.

Her writing was so controversial that it was quite literally censored by the forces in the Spanish Inquisition.

Surely but slowly, we are recovering the stories of those incredible women that history has asked us to forget. We are demanding them to be given the attention that they deserve. We are being inspired by their stories of courage and sacrifice. At least I know I am. I hope other people are too.

I hope we learn that the desire to write, to have a professional life, has always been inside women, throughout history. We have collectively chosen to forget. But now it is time to remember. 

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History Style History of Fashion Fashion Lookbook

A progression of the timeless silk scarf throughout history

Silk scarves became my wardrobe staple when I first started stealing them from mom’s closet in middle school. From weaving them through my belt loops to wrapping them around my ponytail, I usually can’t be found without my signature scarf. Recently, silk scarves and Y2K fashion have seen a rise in popularity, bringing back the 2000s fashion. On platforms such as TikTok, people have been sharing their favorite ways to style scarves. To better understand the stylistic influences that silk scarves have had in different civilizations and time periods, I took a look back at its historical and worldly origins.


Song Dynasty women inspecting a bolt of silk . 12th century CE. Painted on silk.
[Image description: Song Dynasty women inspecting a bolt of silk . 12th century CE. Painted on silk.] Via the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA (public domain).
The oldest discovered silk is dated around 3630 BCE. It was produced in the Chinese Neolithic era. Silk was produced in China from the filaments of the silkworm’s cocoon and grew to be a highly desired material throughout the ancient world, resulting in the expansion of the transcontinental trade network known as the Silk Road. Silk was produced for a variety of uses, including clothing, fans, decorations, and banners. The manufacturing of silk grew stronger in the Han Dynasty (202 BCE–220 CE) and more complex patterns and textures were created and sold. High-quality silk quickly became a symbol of wealth and status. However, silk scarves in China were traditionally used to show the rank of warriors of Emperor Chang’s army in 230 BCE.


a digitalized bust Queen Nefertiti and her elaborate headpiece.
[Image description: a digitalized bust Queen Nefertiti and her elaborate headpiece.] Via
Silk scarves are traced back to Ancient Egypt, specifically to Queen Nefertiti, who wove silk scarves into her elaborate headdresses in 1300 BCE. Egyptians also wore silk scarves to signify their high social status and wore them in several fashions – they would tie them around their waists and shoulders. King Tutankhamun also wore scarves in his hair and is actually buried with one in his tomb.


a bust of a roman senator adorned in silk.
[Image description: a bust of a Roman senator adorned in silk.] Via Mike Gorrell on Unsplash
Like the Chinese, the Romans would wear specifically styled silk scarves, known as the focale, to signify their military rank. Common soldiers would wear cotton scarves, while officers would wear silk ones. Romans would also use scarves to protect themselves from the harsh sun and to wipe sweat. Scarves in the empire grew more fashionable, and senators and emperors frequently worse them as sashes or around their necks. 


Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine of the 12th century and her ladies wearing headdresses with scarves.
[Image description: Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine of the 12th century and her ladies wearing headdresses with scarves.] Via
Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the wealthiest and most powerful women of the middle ages, would wear long scarves on top of her headdresses. This new trend inspired many women in the twelfth century to style their hair in a similar fashion. Poorer women would use cotton or linen scarves, while wealthier would use…you guessed it, silk scarves. 



A portrait of Emanuel De Geer sporting a Steinkirk cravat by Bartholomeus van der Helst.
A portrait of Emanuel De Geer sporting a Steinkirk cravat by Bartholomeus van der Helst.] Via the Nationalmuseum, Sweden

The cravat, wide neckbands that are usually worn by men, was created in 17th century France. Inspired by the knotted military scarves of Louis XIV’s Croatian army, the French took the standard linen cravat and developed the Steinkirk cravat, which was made of more luxurious fabrics such as silk. Cravats were popular among artists and architects. They added a dash of casual, yet creative elegance to formal dress, and were meant to replace stiff neck ruffles. 


women in Spain wearing the traditional mantilla.
[Image description: women in Spain wearing the traditional mantilla.] Via Quino Al on Unsplash
The mantilla, a silk or lace shawl that covers the head and shoulders, grew popular in Spain during the 17th century. Mantillas allowed for women to cover parts of their skin while still wearing fashionable and low-cut dresses. Mantillas developed into traditional Spanish religious garb and were also worn to keep warm.


A vintage Hermès advertisement from 1926.
[A vintage Hermès advertisement from 1926.] Via
The 19th century saw the rise of expensive fashion brands such as Hermès and Burberry. Hermès grew famous for its luxury and ornate silk scarves. Burberry’s plaid silk scarves became an immediate fashion staple. Both brands continue to produce high-end scarves even today.


a vintage fashion advertisement featuring three women. Image reads: Junior Bazaar -- be a smarty pants.
[Image description: a vintage fashion advertisement featuring three women. Image reads: Junior Bazaar — be a smarty pants.] Via
In the 1970s, scarves grew to be part of the countercultural movement. Boho scarves were a staple of the hippie outfit. People wore them as bandanas, headbands, around wrists, and bellbottom jeans.


a woman wears a silk scarf as a knotted top.
[Image description: a woman wears a silk scarf as a knotted top.] Via
Y2K fashion has been making a comeback, influencing the way scarves are worn. Silk scarves have seen increased popularity just this summer. Women are styling their scarves in multiple ways as tops, and silk scarves as hair bandanas, are making a fashionable comeback.

History has proven that silk scarves are one of the most versatile and timeless fashion items. Popular among all genders, scarves have become an everlasting staple within the fashion world. Next time you’re putting an outfit together and want a bit more pizzazz — think about adding a silk scarf to the mix.

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Editor's Picks World News Health News Coronavirus Science The World Policy

COVID-19 death counts have taught me that numbers are not reliable

As a Humanities student in a household full of Engineers, I have often had the Letters vs. Numbers debate. I always lost. Our whole society functions under a belief in Science and facts – things that can be proven. Someone’s word is never enough. In a certain way, numbers have become our new religion.

I believed in it too. I enjoyed the flexibility and subjectivity of my History and Literature essays but often envied the ‘simplicity’ of STEM subjects, where problems only had one right answer. However, the current pandemic has made me realize for the first time that numbers can be and are constantly manipulated, and we should not rely so blindly on them.

In a way, Science has becomed our new religion

Like many people, I am sure, I have been closely following COVID-19. It is pretty much the only topic being covered in newspapers at the moment. In particular, I have followed the famous curve that we so desperately need to flatten and checked its progress day by day, comparing different countries. The fact that I study in the UK but have my family in Spain allowed me to see how two different countries reacted to the pandemic and the numbers that they provided.

After being advised by my university to return to Madrid, I started receiving messages from many of my UK friends, worried about me and my family. ‘I hear that things are really bad over there’ they would say. ‘Well, aren’t they everywhere?’ I would think to myself. I would then turn on the news and hear the presenter state that  ‘Spain is the country that has suffered more COVID-19 deaths in relation to the size of their population’. And my question is: Are we?

“We don´t know where on the curve we are” said Francisco Moreno, head of internal medicine at Mexico City’s ABC Hospital.

I do not by any chance want to minimize the gravity of the situation that we are currently living. This is a horrible time and my country has been suffering incredibly. The fact that I find myself celebrating that yesterday there were ONLY 637 deaths is appalling. However, these statements and statistics are indeed relying on information that, when contrasted and researched, raises some questions.

For example, China’s mobile phone users have dropped by 21 million, making their COVID-19 casualty rates suspicious (3,331). Germany only counts COVID-19 as the cause of death if patients do not have other medical conditions, and France and Spain do not include patients that die outside the hospital nor make autopsies to certify the cause of death. Italy and South Korea have done enormous testing efforts, which have resulted in very high infection rates, particularly in comparison to countries that limit testing, such as Venezuela, who only tests people that have traveled internationally or have had contact with a confirmed infection. In fact, the rise of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Tokyo after the announcement of the delay of the Olympics has been considered suspicious by some media outlets. Nigeria identified in March over 200 people that were in contact with the first coronavirus patient in the country but only tested 33.

At the end of the day, calculations are made by people, and people make mistakes

Francisco Moreno, the head of internal medicine at Mexico City‘s ABC Hospital said that he feels like he is “walking blindly through the woods” because “the official number of cases isn’t real. We don’t know where on the curve we are.”

Most healthcare authorities across the globe are advising people that are symptomatic but do not have difficulty breathing to stay at home. This is a wise decision taken to keep hospitals from overflowing, but it directly affects the way that we put together infection statistics.

The infection rates and recovery statistics are the most affected by the advice to stay at home. The lack of testing and the fact that the virus acts affects people differently makes it likely that there are a lot more people infected that the numbers that we see on TV, but also that a lot more people are “cured” than those in official statistics. I know several people that had all the symptoms of the virus and were not tested because they did not need hospitalization. Healthcare systems are focusing on those people whose lives are at risk and that is important and necessary. However, it also means that the recoveries of people who stay at home while being sick are not included in statistics. The same goes for people that were asymptomatic and have no way of knowing if they have had the virus or not.

Numbers can be and are constantly manipulated, and we should not rely so blindly on them.

“Cases are bound to fall through the cracks,” stated David Flora, chief resident at a Caracas’ hospital. “And those cases that we skip create new cases that don’t meet the criteria either.”

We need to assume the flaws of the new myth that we have created: Science. Particularly Science as an all-knowing discipline. Just as we do with facts that we read and hear online, we need to contrast numbers. Because scientific knowledge can easily be manipulated, and statistics can very easily favor the person that created them. We need and should use Science, but without worshiping it.

At the end of the day, calculations are made by people, and there is no point in trusting numbers if you don’t trust the minds that obtain those results.

Music Pop Culture

Our vision on Eurovision: so much more than a song contest

Imagine 43 countries from all around the world competing to show off their musical talents. Yes, it’s real and it happens every year in a different country. It’s Eurovision. Every year, the winning nation becomes the host nation for the following edition, reinforcing the sense of multiculturalism and inclusivity that is the pillar of its founding philosophy. In 2019, the enormous Eurovision machine will go to Israel, home to this year’s winner Netta.

Her song “Toy” was one of the best received during and after the contest. Competition was tough, and Cyprus almost had the title with Eleni Foureira’s “Fuego”, but Netta’s upbeat energy, amazing voice and powerful presence took the audience’s hearts. The song might’ve clicked with the public because of its feminist overtones, and it was great to see a curvy woman being celebrated for herself, despite of where she comes from.

The Eurovision contest started in 1954 and it still continues to involve and excite thousands and thousands of people from outside the regional borders of Europe or the political ones of the EU: Australia is one of the contestants and Eurovision is very appreciated in China too. Yes. Believe it: maybe you haven’t ever heard of Eurovision until now, but it’s definitely a thing. A huge thing.

This year, I spent four days in Lisbon, Portugal to follow Eurovision from the inside working as press (I also did a takeover on The Tempest Instagram!) and it was a truly overwhelming experience. Eurovision has completely entered the popular stage in millennial culture thanks to social media, live reactions and memes. It brings thousands of people together for four nights a year, where we share laughs, tears, pride and indignation.

The contest pretty much helps understand the meaning of the European Union. You see people from all over Europe (and beyond) and can feel how important the contest is for not just the people in it, but the people there to support their own country and others too. 

Inside the working press area, the atmosphere was incredible: it was like stepping into another dimension. During the grand finale, there were 26 songs competing and every journalist obviously had their favorite. I was delighted to see that the Italian song, “Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente”, (translation: “you didn’t do anything to me”) by Ermal Meta and Fabrizio Moro, a song about all the bombings and the terrorist attacks that happened in these years all over the world, was widely appreciated. Even by people who did not understand most of the lyrics because of the language barrier, but who still got the general sense.

I saw a colleague from Spain getting emotional about the song and I suddenly got emotional too. I’m Italian, and I am in love with Spain (with Catalunya in particular, an amazing region with a strong cultural background that really inspires a strong sense of pride and love). I was also moved by Spain’s song when I heard it during the first dress rehearsal. I was unable to sit still during Israel’s song, I was screaming during the Hungarian one, I was dancing during the exhibitions of Sweden, Czech Republic, and Cyprus and I had tears watching the video for French. Petty country rivalries are somewhat both reinforced and teared down when it comes to voting for your favorite.

During those four days I had the chance to work next to colleagues from all over the world, spoke in all the languages I know, and I felt so lucky to be part of something so huge, so important, so real that brings us all together. Yes, we’re talking about music, we’re talking about songs and artists and costumes and choreography, but it’s something very deeply connected with national cultures, national pride and politics too.

For example, this year the Irish song was censored in China due to the LGBT contents of the lyrics and the choreography; Netta’s was boycotted (Lisbon was full of flyers asking to give Israel 0 votes because of the Palestinian conflict). Russia didn’t make the final cut and lot of people thought it was unfair because of the singer’s disability. Turkey has refused to take part in the contest or even associate with it ever since drag queen Conchita Wurst won in 2012.

Eurovision is so much more than a simple music contest: it reflects what is going on in the world and it helps us understand others. This is one of the worst political moments in recent European history, (especially for Italy) but I firmly believe that initiatives like Eurovision can make it better, through communication and the free sharing of ideas. We are so lucky to live in a reality where borders are just a memory and we are already struggling with the borders we aren’t capable to cancel, so how could you not fall in love with the message Eurovision is spreading since its very beginning?

We can come from all over the world, speak different languages and have different cultural backgrounds, but when it comes to pop culture, music and memes… we are all European people, even our cousins from Australia.

If you want to be a part of a more unified world, be sure to follow the 64thedition of Eurovision in May 2019! There’s a big family of fans waiting to welcome you into their warm embrace.

Love Life Stories

When I was living with a seizure disorder abroad, I had to learn how to find the beauty in everything

It was my second year in Spain, the year I was hunting for poetry in everything.

In August of 2014, I had a grand mal seizure on the floor of my parents’ living room while I was home visiting. My neurologist diagnosed me with temporal lobe epilepsy, and two weeks later I was back in Madrid where I had a job teaching English.

My first year abroad had been idyllic, but now I was returning on an anti-seizure medication with a laundry-list of possible side effects. They included irritability, drowsiness, depression, mood swings, poor coordination, muscle tremors, and short-term memory loss. I experienced all of them.

[bctt tweet=”It was my second year in Spain, the year I was hunting for poetry in everything.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Before moving to Madrid, I imagined myself as the protagonist of a coming-of-age film who “finds herself” in Europe. I hoped I’d have tumultuous love affairs. I hoped my life would resemble the movie Before Sunrise, or maybe a Henry James novel.

Instead, I found myself struggling to navigate a foreign medical system. 

I needed a Spanish neurologist to prescribe me medication with fewer side effects, but first I needed a referral for a specialist, an overnight EEG, and approval from my private insurance company for the procedure. This process took eight months.

In the meantime, my muscle tremor was so bad that I once dropped a full glass of orange juice in the break room of the school where I worked. The glass shattered on a table in front of all my coworkers. I stared at the shards, paralyzed with embarrassment. Before I could explain, my brain went from calm to hysterical. I ran to the bathroom to cry in private. I was aware that my emotional response was disproportionate to the event, but still unable to console myself.

It didn’t matter how much I exercised or meditated. I had three moods: irrationally angry, despondent, and giddily talkative. In a perverse way, I liked being able to pinpoint the cause of my problems. I’d always half wished for diagnosis more specific than “depression.” Now I had a tangible neurological condition, but the solution was completely out of my control.

At 23, I had never thought much about my health before. Now I had to be vigilant about taking care of myself. I had to get enough sleep every night. My doctor sternly instructed me not to have more than one glass of alcohol at a time, perhaps unaware of Madrid’s culture of staying out til 7:00 am every weekend. I tried to go out, but I never knew what to say when people asked me why I wasn’t drinking. I could either be purposefully cryptic, which led to more probing questions, or I could overshare my entire medical history. Now that someone told me I couldn’t do it, all I wanted was to get sloppy drunk and make reckless decisions.

[bctt tweet=”In a perverse way, I liked being able to pinpoint the cause of my problems” username=”wearethetempest”]

To cope, I told myself that I was having an “experience.” Each morning I took two metros and a bus to get to the tiny village where I worked. On my commute, I would see a piece of graffiti on a brick wall stating in black spray paint simply “HOW TO LOVE.” I heard the Ecuadorian buskers’ flutes in the metro warp into eerie coos the farther I walked down the platform in the afternoons. I watched the sun rise and set over fields of yellow flowers and herds of sheep. I thought over and over again about “HOW TO LOVE” and who had written it but could never find the words to explain why it felt so beautiful to me.

There is a rare side effect of temporal lobe epilepsy known as hypergraphia, or the intense desire to writeIn the months following my seizure, these phenomena kept reappearing in my life. I read about it first in my obsessive googling of everything related to temporal lobe epilepsy. Then I started seeing articles on my favorite publications about curious cases of people who never wrote poetry until after they had a seizure, who suddenly started keeping meticulous journals, or people who couldn’t stop writing the same word or phrase over and over again on sheets of paper. 

I filled up shelves worth of journals in Spain. I began and abandoned poems. I thought of lines everywhere, wrote them down, repeated them over and over again to myself. I don’t know if this was hypergraphia. I’ve been a compulsive journaler since 1998, but I liked the idea that a surfeit of electrical activity in my brain could endow me with a superpower.

With every irrational mood swing, I decided “this will be poetic one day.” I had no evidence that my compulsive journaling was anything other than circumstantially related to my condition, but I survived by telling myself there was a reason for all of it. 

[bctt tweet= “With every irrational mood swing, I decided ‘this will be poetic one day.'” username=”wearethetempest”]

In February, the insurance company finally approved me for the overnight EEG.

On Valentine’s Day, a nurse glued multi-colored electrodes to my head while No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” played on the radio. I wondered about the effect of a song I’d been obsessed with in middle school on my brainwaves. The nurse’s soft voice sounded through a microphone in another room. She instructed me to hyperventilate, close my eyes while bright lights flashed, read aloud, and do math problems. I was in a sci-fi movie and it was all taking place in my second language. I journaled in my hospital bed, wondering again whether my thoughts had an effect on the test.

[bctt tweet=”I was in a sci-fi movie and it was all taking place in my second language. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

It’s been almost three years since I’ve had a seizure. In the first year following my seizure I spent a lot of time staring out bus windows and thinking about ‘HOW TO LOVE.’ The second year, I made a lot reckless decisions as if to compensate for having taken such good care of myself before.

This past year has been spent readjusting to my own culture and finding out how to make my life interesting without the built-in poeticism of a city like Madrid. The inability to control my emotions disappeared as soon as I switched medications, but my desire to make things from my pain has remained.

Now, I think I finally figured out what ‘HOW TO LOVE’ means.

It means I figured out how to love my circumstances, even as I felt helpless, by finding beauty in someone’s ugly graffiti scrawled across a brick wall in the middle of nowhere.

Music Pop Culture

No, Justin Bieber, your made-up lyrics to “Despacito” didn’t make anyone laugh

Before Justin Bieber remixed “Despacito,” a song by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, it was already a hit in the Latin-speaking communities around the world. And after Justin remixed the song and was featured on the track; it became an international sensation.

Luis Fonsi said in an interview that Justin wanted to be a part of the song when he heard it at a club while he was touring Latin America. Apparently, Justin saw the crowd’s reaction to the song and immediately wanted to be a part of it. This shows that Justin recognized how good the song was and being featured on it would mean a gain for him; both monetary and in popularity among the Latin-speaking community.

Justin recorded his verses for “Despacito” for no other reason than personal gain.

Justin Bieber is a young white man who is notorious for his antics, not really caring about the consequences. And as a privileged white man, he has always gotten away with them, with little to no consequences. Thus it is no surprise that Justin confidently called Luis up and informed him of his wish to record his own verses for the song.

Justin used his position as an international superstar to his advantage. He knew his name being added to the song would bring “Despacito” into the mainstream limelight and what Latin artist could say no to that? Considering the last Spanish single to reach that kind of popularity was back in 1996 when Macarena by Los Del Rio was number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Justin evidently insisted on singing the chorus in Spanish as well as his verse in English. This was a genius move; winning him hearts of Latin speakers everywhere and possibly making his fan base even wider.

This is a clear case of cultural and language appropriation. Justin used the Spanish language where it served to benefit him. He knew that being featured on a hit song such as “Despacito” would mean that he would gain both monetarily and in terms of fame in the Latin community but that was as far as his interest in Spanish went. He could not be bothered with the language beyond where it benefited him.

Justin used the Spanish language where it served to benefit him. He knew that being featured on a hit song such as “Despacito” would mean that he would gain both monetarily and in terms of fame in the Latin community but that was as far as his interest in Spanish went. He could not be bothered with the language beyond where it benefited him.

The issue came later when Justin sang the song at a club. He apparently did not remember a single Spanish lyric to the song but sung it nonetheless. He substituted the Spanish chorus with words which he apparently thought sounded Spanish which included “Dorito,” “Burrito” and “Poquito.”

Luis himself defended Justin, saying the Spanish lyrics were incredibly tough and even native speakers of the language would face difficulties singing them. But that does not change the fact that what Justin did was not only disrespectful but incredibly hurtful to native Spanish speakers.

Justin trivialized the Spanish language; he sang nonsensical lyrics to a song he originally sang in Spanish. It is understandable that he would not remember the lyrics since he does not speak Spanish. However, this does not mean he can make up whatever nonsense lyrics he wants to the song, using words which he thinks sound Spanish.  Instead, he just used lyrics that are stereotypical ones people use in conjunction with the Latin culture. Justin might have thought he was being funny but he just came across as plain disrespectful.

Justin might have thought he was being funny, but he just came across as plain disrespectful.

Justin Bieber sang the Spanish chorus on “Despacito” of his own volition. Later, he made fun of the song by singing the Spanish lyrics wrong on purpose, which was not only insensitive but also disrespectful. How hard is it to just say you don’t know the lyrics?

It is no secret that white men are incredibly privileged, but white male celebrities are even more so. Letting them get away with casually appropriating cultures and languages need to stop. We need to call out artists when their actions are disrespectful or hurtful to a certain community.

There have been people defending Justin’s actions saying he was only having fun and meant no harm. However, his performance clearly ridiculed the Spanish language and hurt thousands of people. If it was indeed a joke, then Justin needs to publicly accept that his humor was tasteless and apologize.

While Justin has now refused to perform “Despacito” live, he has still not apologized for his actions at the club. Thousands of native Latin speakers have been hurt by Justin’s actions yet he still refuses to own up to it and apologize for his behavior.

Politics The World

A closer look at the 5 most iconic photos of all time

This weekend felt like a blast-to-the-past as famous World War II and Vietnam photographs made headlines once again. On Friday, the trending hashtag #napalmgirl almost broke Facebook after the company banned the iconic Vietnam War photograph “The Terror of War” because it included a naked child. Following internet arguments (and likely company policy discussions), Facebook decided to re-allow the photograph to be posted due to its cultural and historical significance. Just a day later, war photos took over the news once again when Greta Friedman of the iconic “The Kissing Sailor” VJ-Day photograph passed away.

As these two photographs reemerge decades after they first made headlines, they remind us of the never-ending power of memory. We decided to take a closer look at some of the most iconic war photos of all time.

1. The Kissing Sailor

Perhaps the most iconic war photograph in Western memory, “The Kissing Sailor” shows what appear to be two lovers locked in a celebratory kiss. What many viewers don’t know though is that the sailor and the woman he is kissing did not know each other at all. Greta Friedman, the woman in the photo, told CBS News in 2012 that, “I did not see him approaching, and before I know it I was in this vice grip.”

George Mendosa, the sailor, had been celebrating VJ-Day, victory in Japan, with his future wife in Times Square. Caught up in the excitement (or perhaps male entitlement to women’s bodies), he began kissing women in the street – including Friedman.

Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt had been shooting photographs of couples celebrating in the square and noticed Mendosa. Since Mendosa was dressed in a dark-colored uniform, Eisenstaedt photographed any time he kissed a woman in a light-colored dress.

2. The Terror of War

“The Terror of War,” depicts children, including the nude Phan Thị Kim Phúc or “Napalm Girl,” running from a Napalm attack during the Vietnam War. Kim Phúc, who was nine years old at the time of the photograph (taken June 8, 1972), had been living in Trang Bang when South Vietnamese planes bombed her city to attack North Vietnamese forces. The South Vietnamese had bombed her city with Napalm to hit the North Vietnamese, but when one of their Air Force pilots saw Kim Phúc, civilians, and some other South Vietnamese soldiers fleeing to safe ground, he mistook them for enemy soldiers.

Those napalm bombs killed two of Kim Phúc’s cousins, and severely burned her. Photographer Nick Ut helped Kim Phúc to the Barsky Hospital all the way in Saigon for treatment. However, when they arrived doctors said that Kim Phúc’s burns were so bad she’d likely die. Fourteen months and 17 surgeries later though, she returned home.

3. Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima

“Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” may be the most famous photograph of World War II. Photographed by Joe Rosenthal on February 23, 1945 during the Battle of Iwo Jima, it became the the only photo to win a Pulitzer Prize the same year it was published.

The photograph shows six marines raising an American flag at the end of the battle. Three of those marines were killed in action during the next days, while the three others were recognized for their service just this past June.

4. Tank Man

“Tank Man,” sometimes called “Unknown Protester” or “Unknown Rebel” stood before three tanks the morning after the Chinese military stopped student protests in Tiananmen Square during 1989.

The Tiananmen Square protests were student-led demonstrations for democracy which ended when the Chinese government declared martial law. During the protests, Chinese troops killed several hundred students in what became known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

To this day, no one can confirm the fate of the man who stood in front of the tanks. But, he’ll forever be remembered for blocking the tanks that stormed Tiananmen Square.

5. The Falling Soldier

“The Falling Soldier,” or “Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936,” shows a young soldier at the moment he has been fatally shot. Robert Capa, the photographer, described the photo as the death of an Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth soldier, but the man was later identified as an anarchist militiaman.

Though this photograph was once known as perhaps the greatest photo ever taken, many have questioned its authenticity. After photographs that were taken in the same location were discovered to have been staged,  “The Falling Soldier” began to lose its renown.

“The Kissing Sailor” and “The Terror of War” are far from the only war photographs that have shaped world memory. “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima,” the “Tank Man” Tiananmen Square photo, and “The Falling Soldier” of the Spanish Civil War–among so many more–changed how the world perceived conflict. In a world that is overrun with graphic imagery, these snapshots from the past remind us of a time when a handful of images shaped our memory.

Gender & Identity Life

The intensity of Spain’s religious celebrations surprised me

When I studied in Spain, my host mom warned me about Semana Santa, or the Holy Week celebrations before Easter. It’s one of the most religious periods of the year in this very Catholic country, which means that it’s a big deal. The devout organize elaborate, six hour long, sometimes lasting until 5 in the morning processions where they take the huge icons of Jesus and Mary out of the church and carry them through the town on the backs of a team of men. Nearly the entire church community, even the children, get involved in these processions, and the rest of the town turns out to watch.

Why would a celebration like this need a warning? It has to do with some of the traditional outfits for the processions. In particular it has to do with the capirote, the tall pointed hood that some of the faithful wear during the processions. In Spain it serves as a symbol of repentance, but to those of us who were raised in the US is eerily reminiscent of the outfits of the hate group, the Ku Klux Klan (or KKK).

“I just wanted to let you know that some of the students that I’ve hosted have had a negative reaction,” my host mom explained, “but you have to understand that for us it’s very religious, and totally the opposite of what it means to you.”

I live in the northern part of the United States, where the arson and lynchings and other horrible deeds done by the  KKK were not as common and sometimes feel far away both in distance and in time. Still I’ve studied enough history to be sensitive to this topic. So heading into my first procession I was unsure of what to expect. It was four in the afternoon, and my host mom was with me and a friend. She had taken us to a church, to see how the processions started because that, she said, was the best part. The icons were so tall that the men sometimes had to go through doorways on their knees so they wouldn’t hit the doorframe.

We got there early, and there was already a large crowd. The participants in the parade were milling around, preparing. Men in rich purple robes with gold embroidery headed toward the church. At one point, one stopped near us, to say hi to his sweetheart. People greeted each other. And as the start time came closer and I started to see the tall black hoods and wrestle with discomfort, this helped. When I knew that the people behind the hoods had girlfriends and were excited to see friends it made them more human, and less scary. I was also, quite frankly, glad that the first time I witnessed this was during the daytime.

It was weird to watch at first. Especially at night, the rows of silent, marching hooded figures were scary. But I just kept telling myself, “This means something different here. It’s not the same.”

Another moment that gave me a visceral, almost knee jerk reactions was seeing children wear the hood. When your first instinct is to think of acts of hatred it can make you think “Oh no, this is indoctrination.” And it is, but then you have to step back and remember that it’s for a religion, and not for something racist and bigoted. As a person of faith, knowing that it was for a religion helped me. And it was awe-inspiring to see that even children took this seriously and wanted to participate, despite the fact that these processions required serious effort.

By the end of four days of processions, seeing the hooded figures no longer made me think of the cultural associations in the United States. I was grateful to have the chance to see such an important part of Spain’s culture, and to have learned that sometimes even the worst symbols don’t have the same meaning all over the world.

Gender & Identity Life

Here’s what to do with your 24 hours in Córdoba, Spain

Rick Steves is not kind to Córdoba. “Frankly, Córdoba is less interesting than the other two big Andalusian cities, Sevilla and Granada,” he states. In another part he suggests spending a whole day and two nights in the city, but also offers the option to “focus on the Mezquita: taxi from the station, spend two hours there, explore the old town for an hour… and then scram.”

Full disclosure, I just spent an entire semester in Córdoba, a small city in central-southern Spain. And of course I’m biased, but I think there’s a lot more to do in Córdoba than Rick Steves thinks. There is, in fact, too much to do in a day, but if I had to confine myself to a day here’s what I suggest doing.

Start at the Puerta de Almodovar. Córdoba is divided into two sections, the old Jewish section, and the modern city. The “door” or gate of Almodovar, named after one of the famous philosophers of the city.  is one of the few gates through the 12th century wall. Pass through here, and you’ll find yourself in the charming but labyrinthine Jewish quarter. Wander around, do some shopping, and try to find the Mezquita.

All European cities have a cathedral, but Córdoba’s cathedral, the Mezquita, is unique because it was carved out of the city’s mosque, built in the time when Córdoba was the capital of the Muslim world. You can still see the ruins of an old Roman and Visigothic temple, and wander through the mosque-like part before coming across the lavishly decorated cathedral.

Just past the Mezquita is another group of Córdoba’s monuments: the monument to the city’s patron saint, San Rafael, the unfinished triumph arch, and the Roman Bridge. Cross the bridge for a stunning view of the Mezquita, then re-cross it, surveying the ruins of the mills on the little islets in the river.

Next I recommend walking along the river to the Plaza del Pozo, or the Square of the Colt. If it’s late enough, or your stomach allows, an ice cream in the chocolate dipped cones at Buonissimo is delicious. Just off the square on the right side you’ll find two small museums. One focuses on Córdoba’s local artists (though unlike the US, the art goes back centuries and centuries), and the other on Julio Romero de Torres, Córdoba’s most famous artist. I loved seeing how he painted his beloved city into his paintings, and his ties with flamenco.

Once you’re finished with the museums leave the square from the north side, following the signs for something called Plaza de la Corredera. This quaint, colorful square has restaurants all around where you can stop for a snack or a drink if you need it. It’s also quite easy to get to the ruins of the Roman Temple from there. From there, it’s easy to find Plaza de las Tendillas. This is the center of the modern city.

If it’s lunchtime (aka around 2:30) I recommend Tavenra Salinas near the Tendillas Square. They have fairly cheap and very authentic food. My favorite dish? Berenjenas con miel, or fried eggplants with honey.

After lunch head to the northern part of the city, to the Palacio de Viana or the Palace of Viana. I found the indoor tour to be boring, but loved the outdoor courtyards, so I would recommend buying a ticket for those. Every May Córdoba holds a fierce competition for which house can best decorate their courtyard with flowerpots, and the gorgeously decorated spaces in this mansion are representative of this tradition.

If you can find your way back to the gardens of Victoria, I recommend walking along those. It’s probably evening, and you’re probably exhausted (especially if it’s summer and hot!), but if you can find Calle Lope de Hoces across the street along the right side of the gardens and follow it down there’s a lovely Alice and Wonderland themed café called Omundo de Alicia where you can stop to grab a drink, a pastry, and a break.

That finished, I would head further down the gardens and find the Puerta de Almodovar again. Keep heading along the wall, this time instead of crossing into the Jewish quarter, and look for the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos (or Castle of the Christian Kings). The “castle” itself isn’t that spectacular, but it’s fun to climb the tower for a panoramic view of the gardens and the Mezquita. The gardens are the real showstopper, though.

For dinner (which usually starts at 8:30 or 9), I recommend going back along the Gardens of Victoria to the Mercado Victoria. They offer a cheap bar, traditional appetizers, along with food from all over the world. Not to mention that in typical Spanish fashion they stay open pretty late, so you can stay out as late as you want.