Someday, what we did will matter.

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Eric, Liz, Michaela, Spencer, Clara, Stephen and Ali: Some fine friends right there. In defense of my misdirected gaze, there was a crowd of parents taking pictures at the same time, and I got confused…

Someday,
what we did
will matter.

During one of Fairfield University’s Senior Week events, I was asked to write a six-word story to summarize my experience at Fairfield University. So I harnessed my budding poetic powers, which I acquired after taking a class with Professor Carol Ann Davis, and this was the result. I wonder what Hemingway would think of my story!

What I was thinking: "Wow. Did that just happen?"

What I was thinking: “Wow. Did that just happen?”

It’s been two days since Sunday, but I hope that the euphoria we all felt at our graduation never goes away. We deserve to be happy because we’ve overcome so many struggles, and our accomplishments at Fairfield will lead to bigger and better things.

I would be lying if I said I always had such a positive outlook on life. See, there were times when I wanted to give up. In freshman year, as a stressed student who received a C on her first journalism assignment, I thought about switching majors. I thought I could fulfill a childhood dream by becoming a medical examiner (but one: I know I would have never survived the classes, and two: yes, that’s a morbid dream and no wonder I can never write “happy” stories). I questioned why I would spend my Tuesdays and early Wednesdays in The Mirror office when I could focus more on my studies. I wondered why I chose Fairfield, when I could have gone to a less expensive school, saved my parents some money, and also cut back on the loans I’d have to pay after school. Remember those panicked moments? I’m sure people have gone through similar experiences.

Despite the struggles, I couldn’t give up, because I knew I would be risking a chance at happiness. There has to be something in the end, I thought. There has to be. (It turns out that I was right.) If I gave up, then I’d disappoint my mom, the woman who has risked everything to see her three children get the life they deserve. Now, my parents can say that they raised three college graduates and almost-adults!

So when I overcame my obstacles (by having a friend talk some sense into me, suddenly realizing how foolish I was acting, and blah blah), it seemed so easy to see how misplaced my worries were. It is clear to me, now, that everything we did at Fairfield was worth it.

To some, my words might seem idealistic, but I’ve gotten this far by being an idealist, so why should I stop?

I wouldn’t have gotten this far in life without help, so thanks to:

  • My family. Truth: I wouldn’t be here without you.
  • My friends. I’ve met many passionate students at Fairfield who believed in a cause and worked to fulfill their goals. I’m glad to call some of these people my close friends. Most of us have been friends since freshman year, and it’s amazing to see how much we’ve changed, changed without compromising the best parts of ourselves. A special shout-out to Ali (also because I want to see if she reads this 😉 – this is the girl who didn’t read The Mirror until this year!!!) who will be working for Fairfield University’s Study Abroad in Florence, because she’s awesome.
  • The Mirror (favorite people: Danica, Luigi, Leigh, Sal, Tom, Shauna, Enxhi, Robby, Jen, and last but not least, Dr. Tommy Xie)
The amazing Mirror staff. Credit: Dr. Tommy Xie.

The amazing Mirror staff at this year’s College Media Convention. Credit: Dr. Tommy Xie.

  • The English Department faculty have inspired me and made me believe in my career choice. I won’t mention specific names, because I feel indebted to many professors there, despite never taking some of their courses!
The wonderful Advanced Portfolio Workshop class, taught by Professor Carol Ann Davis. Photo contributed by Amina Seyal.

The wonderful Advanced Portfolio Workshop class, taught by Professor Carol Ann Davis. Photo contributed by Amina Seyal.

It is powerful to know that we all matter. All of us have something to say and do that will impact the world for our generation and the next.

What’s in store for me now? I’ll be working as an Editorial Assistant to the Publisher at Simon & Schuster’s Gallery imprint. I’m looking for places to live in New York (call me!). I’ll need to learn how to adult … soonish. I’ll continue writing fiction and hope to finish my novel within the next two years.

But now, while writing this post, I am completely at peace, and I reflect on my time at Fairfield with only gratitude.

 

The power to overcome

Photo contributed by Andrew Chapin.

Photo contributed by Andrew Chapin ’09, co-author of “From Tragedy to Triumph,” the life story of double-leg amputee John Tartaglio ’09.

His pain level was nine out of 10. Confined to his hospital bed, sweating and aching all over, he could hear his skin crackling, the result of gas gangrene inside his legs, caused by bacteria eating away at his muscle tissues.

Seventeen-year-old John Tartaglio was dying.

His diagnoses couldn’t keep up with his rapid decline. At first it was “just a virus,” then mononucleosis, then myositis — inflammation of the muscles — until the doctors discovered the flesh-eating bacteria. Doctors had to act quick, so Tartaglio underwent a surgery called debridement, which removed infected tissues. The doctors had to amputate both of his legs and cut a part of his left bicep.

Twenty-four hours after amputating his legs, Tartaglio woke up in his hyperbaric chamber, a vessel that provided his cells with oxygen. Doctors told him that he’d never walk again. Tartaglio, who graduated from Fairfield in 2009, almost believed his doctors — almost.

He recognized that adjusting to this change would take a while, but he felt that he owed it to his family, to his friends and to himself to make the most of his circumstances.

“I really felt like if I didn’t push myself and take ownership of getting myself strong again, no one else would,” Tartaglio wrote in his journal.

“I was lucky to be alive, and I reminded myself of that every day.”

True to his word, he showed his strength when he finished the 26.2-mile New York City Marathon five years later, becoming the first bilateral hip disarticulate to run it. These days, in addition to being an active triathlon and marathon participant, the Milford resident is a nationwide inspirational speaker, a business intern at Philips, a soon-to-be MBA graduate, a husband and a father.

Tartaglio, now 26, and fellow alum Andrew Chapin ‘09 chronicled his life story in a nonfiction book, “From Tragedy to Triumph.”

In November 2006, Chapin wrote an article for The Mirror about Tartaglio finishing the New York City Marathon’s handcycling division in 30th place out of 101 participants. They started hanging out, meeting through mutual friends.

Years later, Tartaglio reached out to Chapin about writing a nonfiction book; a fiction writer and a teacher at Thornton-Donovan School, Chapin saw the strength in Tartaglio’s story and couldn’t resist.

To help Tartaglio write the story and adopt his voice, Chapin shadowed him as he went on with his day-to-day life.

“He accomplishes the same thing that any other able-bodied person accomplishes, but just in a different way,” Chapin simply said.

In his motivational talks, Tartaglio usually sits in his wheelchair, contained, but his voice rings out. He tells people to pursue their goals no matter the circumstances.

“Anything is possible when it means enough to you,” he usually says. After his surgery, living as normal of a life as possible, despite what happened, had become his main goal.

Moving On

With hope as his “driving force,” Tartaglio entered physical therapy at Gaylord Rehabilitation Facility in Wallingford, Conn., and later at Rehabilitation Associates. He had to relearn how to balance himself again, with gravity working against him, and how to sit up by himself. He learned how to walk with prosthetic legs. He wanted to be strong once more. Sometimes his efforts ended in disappointments, but they didn’t matter as long as he eventually succeeded, Tartaglio said.

Proving medical professionals wrong, Tartaglio returned to school, walked across the stage and received his diploma from Joseph A. Foran High School in Milford.

His transition to Fairfield was like many other peers’ experience: hesitant.

“When [Tartaglio] and I were at Fairfield together, no one really [acted] in any way different towards him,” Chapin added.

And whenever he did get certain looks, like from curious children, Tartaglio would “smirk and wave and completely diffuse the situation,” Michael Lynch ‘09 said of his best friend.

In 2001, Lynch had met Tartaglio, whom he calls “John T” or “J.T.,” when they were on opposing football teams, Notre Dame High School in West Haven, Conn. and Foran High School, respectively. Lynch transferred to Foran his sophomore year and a friendship was made – and continues today.

Lynch and Tartaglio were roommates and best friends throughout all four years at Fairfield — from Regis, to Gonzaga, to Townhouse 135, and ending on the beach.

Tartaglio wanted to continue strengthening his body, but after finding the RecPlex inaccessible for his disability, he approached Mark Spellman, who was the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for athletes, and asked if he could use the Athletic Center. To Tartaglio’s surprise, Spellman offered to personally train him — promising that he’d be pushed to the limits like any other athlete with two legs. Some athletes might balk at the vigorous schedule Spellman had set, but this was a challenge that Tartaglio gladly took on.

“I wanted to prove to [Spellman] that regardless of my disability that I could push myself like the athletes he trained on a daily basis,” Tartaglio said. “Physical training was a big part of what he did, but the friendship we developed was just as great.”

Lynch would have a 9 a.m. class, but he remembered Tartaglio waking up to train at 6 a.m. “He tried to be quiet,” Lynch said, laughing.westchester20tri20sunrise

All the while, Tartaglio managed to balance his training, his courses and his blossoming inspirational speaking business.

Swinging into Challenges

At first triathlons — races with biking, swimming and running — were foreign to Tartaglio. He swam at the Madison Jaycees while his physical therapist Jim biked and another PT, Jackie, ran.

The next big step came in sophomore year when he agreed to handcycle the New York City Marathon. He finished after two hours, 12 minutes and 12 seconds.

The end of his nonfiction book led up to Nov. 1, 2009: his chance to run the NYC Marathon using a prosthetic. People walked patiently beside him, flashing their lights so that he could see the ground below. Hitting 22 miles at 7 p.m., he continued on a path while taxis drove by. A man encouraged him: “Good job, man. Keep going.”

At the last 100 feet, around 10 p.m., people cheered and clapped from the sidelines. Finally, finishing at 15 hours and 59 minutes, he arrived at the finish line — but didn’t cross. He let the ribbon fall to the ground. For him, the point wasn’t to cross that particular line; his accomplishments far surpassed that physical signifier.

“It really is a transcendent moment in his journey,” Chapin said.

FROM TRAGEDY TO TRIUMPH COVERThe Present and the Future

“While it is tough to grasp for some, I truly wouldn’t take back what happened to me,” Tartaglio said. “While what happened was devastating, clearly life-changing and put my family and friends through tough times, the positive experiences that resulted far surpassed the negatives.”

“He had a really good core around him who helped him overcome adversity,” Lynch said. So many people stood by him and believed in him, including his family, his closest friends, his physical therapists Erik, Jim and Dave, Spellman and training partners, Chris and Brett.

With an MBA waiting for him in May, Tartaglio plans to become an internal consultant and help organizations improve their overall performance. His inspirational speaking background will carry over into his next career.

Since the marathon, two events have surpassed his accomplishments: becoming a husband in 2012 and a father nine months later.

“[My daughter] is nine months, but she thinks I’m awesome,” he said.

Like Chapin and many others, Lynch is astonished by his best friend’s ability to juggle so much. Last time they got together was a month ago, but their social time usually depends on whether or not Tartaglio can get a sitter for his daughter.

For his and Chapin’s upcoming appearance at the bookstore, Tartaglio said: “The goal is to help people take away something that can have a positive effect on their lives. What the exact takeaway will maybe different from person to person, but people need to know that anything is possible when it means enough to you.”

Apollo Night performance sparks controversy

On Saturday night, more than 30 students stopped a university-sponsored talent show to let a classmate read her poem, which they believe the Office of Residence Life had tried to censor.

Apollo Night, co-sponsored by Fairfield United, Office of Residence Life and Office of Student Diversity, started four years ago at Fairfield. The concept was inspired by the Apollo Theater in Harlem, N.Y., which was known for giving a platform for talented minority artists during an oppressive time period.

Senior Crystal Rodriguez was scheduled to perform her poem, “Virgen Maria.” During the audition process, according to Kate Bouzan, an area coordinator who sat on the event committee, Rodriguez performed a different poem than what was performed at Saturday afternoon’s dress rehearsal. Rodriguez explained that her poem had evolved since the auditions. Bouzan heard about the piece at the Saturday rehearsal when a staff member raised concerns that one of the lines could be deemed inappropriate to the audience, which consisted of not only students and their families, but also children.

In one section of her poem, after describing the pressure ​that religion puts on ​Hispanic women, Rodriguez ​wrote, “I stuck the Virgen Maria statue so far up my c​–​ch, just to keep the demons in.”

The language led to ResLife’s decision to talk to Rodriguez. Ophelie Rowe-Allen and Meredith Smith, director and assistant director of ResLife, respectively, offered Rodriguez the option to rephrase the line or find another venue to perform the poem. “It was a civility issue; it was a matter of language. We didn’t want it to be offensive to others and we were mindful of that,” said Rowe-Allen.

However, the line in her poem was a personal expression, Rodriguez said. ​“I’ve always had this image of Virgin Mary, always wanting to be her,” Rodriguez said. “By placing Virgen Maria inside of me, I was protecting my virginity. I thought that she was completing me​.” ​

When she wrote “just to keep the demons in … I was afraid of who I was, the parts of me that needed to be released. But then I realized [by keeping the demons in] I was hurting myself,” she said.

“The content is very specific to me, the religious shame that I was brought up. The fact that [Rowe-Allen] said, ‘Well, can you just change the lines?’ I felt like if I compromise, I’m comprising my identity. I’m compromising my voice. I said to her, ‘You just used your power dynamic to silence me.’”

After talking with ResLife, Rodriguez decided she would do a student-sponsored event after Apollo Night, to “absolve [ResLife] of their responsibility,” she said. The announcement was made shortly, and Rowe-Allen and Smith added that it would have been a “great compromise.”

“But in terms of our audience [at Apollo Night], parents who were there, students and children who were there – connected to the community –  it just didn’t make sense to utilize that type of language,” said Smith.

Rodriguez didn’t expect to see her classmates stop the show. Before the last act of Apollo Night, members of Omega Phi Kappa, Remixx and Weeepa! sat on the edge of the Gonzaga stage and surrounded Rodriguez. In keeping with the “inclusive spirit” of Fairfield, fellow performer Maritza Morinvil ‘16 said to the audience that Rodriguez should have the opportunity to read her poem.

Rodriguez said: “They wanted to create a space for me within Apollo; they were embracing me, creating a wall around me … they created hallowed ground, and anything I said I’d be protected.”

While students say Rodriguez was being censored, Smith said, “It wasn’t our intention to censor, or disenfranchise or disempower her. We wanted her to speak her voice, but do it in a way that was appropriate for the audience on hand at that particular event.”

But Rodriguez said, “I don’t want to be silenced.” She feels that ResLife staff “twisted” her words, misunderstanding the intent of her line.

Smith acknowledged that ResLife should have known about Rodriguez’s poem sooner and not the night of the performance, so that they could discuss more. “We should have addressed [the language] sooner, but we addressed it once we found out about [it].”

“Just because we found out about it late, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be addressed,” she added, referencing the fact that Apollo Night was a university-sponsored event, so ResLife had the  decision-making authority.

“We made a judgement call,” Smith said. “And we stand by it.”

Even so, that Saturday night, Rodriguez, speaking on behalf of other performers, believes that the Office of Residence Life was “owning our talent, telling us how we can use our voice.”

“We have events here like Performing for Change, Poetry for Peace, Take Back the Night,” places for freedom of expression, Rodriguez said, and they are events attended by friends and family, too. Yet, said Rodriguez, they’re allowed more freedom of expression.

Rowe-Allen and Smith countered that performers must still keep their audience in mind. A performer and also an intern for ResLife, Hakim Hill said, “As a writer, this can be a learning experience to get the point across but not offend someone at the same time.”

Senior Shaquille Ricketts, who sat on stage during Rodriguez’s performance, noted that there were songs with sexual references and expletives in previous performances that could have offended audience members, but were not stopped. For this reason, he called ResLife’s explanation “invalid.”

“That was not rehearsed that way,” Bouzan explained, so when those performances before Rodriguez’s occurred, “there was not much we can do about that part,” said Rowe-Allen.

Students who stopped the show for Rodriguez also believe that the department had been “hypocritical.” Junior Janice Herbert raised the point that ResLife has Safe Space training and supports other programs that teach inclusivity, but that “flew over their heads,” on Saturday night, she said.

“Everything about [Apollo Night] is about expressing yourself and for them to cut that off, I don’t think they realize what problem they created and what lines were drawn,” Rodriguez said of ResLife. “They united us.”

Speaking from a minority standpoint, saying that there are already limited events for minority voices, students who supported Rodriguez said they feel “traumatized.”

Occupying the stage had been their reaction to ResLife. “We’re gonna make a difference, we’re going to let you know that you can’t bully us into the decisions that only you want to have. It’s not fair; we should have our voice that you claim we should have,” Morinvil said.

“I don’t think [ResLife] knew that we had it in us – to do what we did,” added Jessica Rodriguez ‘14.

While Meredith wished the audience was given a choice to stay or to go when students went on stage, she said members of ResLife “applaud the students for standing up for each other.”

“That’s awesome,” she added. “We need more of that on campus.”

Senior Jesús Núñez said: “All they do is talk about empowering people, and especially as an RA, I have been taught that. For them to shut down Crystal, one of the most powerful people on this campus, I was so angry about it. I’m just interested to seeing how [ResLife] acts after this.”

ResLife and Diversity Programs have met and Rowe-Allen said they’d want to reach out to people involved in Apollo Night and discuss the incident.

Herbert and others similarly said there should be an opportunity for conversation, for everyone who was there and who saw the YouTube video of Rodriguez’s performance – which, as of press time, had more than 280 views.

A literary semester

It’s my last semester at Fairfield, so I thought I should take all the classes that I’ve been wanting to take. Why not?

Advanced Portfolio Workshop

Led by former Crazyhorse editor, Carol Ann Davis, this class is a capstone course for creative writing majors. By the end of this course we are supposed to have a publishable creative project. I’m choosing to compose a collection of short stories, all dealing with family dynamics. I supposedly volunteered to have my work examined in the first workshop. Don’t ask me how that happened; it’s all a blur. I plan to submit a very dark piece about a man who fights but eventually succumbs to his demons. Vague? Good! I can’t reveal all the good stuff here. Based on my impressions, I anticipate that this class will be beneficial to my development as a writer. Everyone seems interested in their craft, and I look forward to our sessions.

Teaching and Learning Grammar

Ah, grammar. There are so many bad, horrific, terrifying, embarrassing (OK, I’ll stop) memories of my childhood encounters with grammar. I remember getting back essays with red pen marks all over the pages. I vaguely remember being enrolled in an ESL class, because my English was so horrible. I apparently couldn’t speak English because my parents only spoke to me in Vietnamese at home. I don’t recall much of that ESL class (I did learn Spanish?). Anyways, grammar is my weak point. Yet, in my future line of work, I need to know grammar, so I thought I should finally have a whole course dedicated to grammar. So far, it is really interesting. My professor wants to teach students not only the basics to grammar, but also the history of it.

Issues in Professional Writing: Multimedia Writing

I will have a lot of trouble concentrating in this class. Why? Dogs. That’s why – my professor has DOGS. They’re Huskies, and they are so well-behaved and adorable. But, the whole class seems interesting. I’ve always wanted to build my own website, and that’s apparently one of our larger projects. I think that if I want to go into journalism (right after graduation, down the line, etc.) I would need to know basic web design skills. I like that we’re using blogs, Twitter, and computers to learn. We’re actually applying what we learn in class and what we read from our books. I always enjoy courses with hands-on tasks. As with my other classes, I can’t wait to get started.

Introduction to Poetry

Well. It’s poetry, so I am terrified. But hopefully I’ll survive?

Honors Thesis/Independent Writing Project: Novel Writing

I AM WRITING A NOVEL. That’s all I can say, because, apparently, it’s bad to talk about your writing. It’s the same novel I’ve been working on for over a year, and I am hoping to make serious progress with the help of Dr. Michael White, who is the MFA director at Fairfield.

Internship: Folio Literary Management

Folio Literary Management is a literary agency in Manhattan, so I commute Wednesdays and Fridays to work in the office. I’m an editorial intern so I read, read, read, take out the trash, read, refill the water cooler, read, read and, yes, read. I love it so far.

Work: The Mirror

What can I say? Working at The Mirror has become second-nature to me. It’s a part of my life, and I wouldn’t want to change anything. Of course I am nervous about this semester and the next, when the new staff will have to take over. I’m extremely overprotective of my baby; I think I’ve taken good care of it, so I don’t want things to change. I’m also trying to convince people that working at The Mirror is a rewarding experience. It doesn’t have to be a chore, I say.

We have a lot of competitions that are open to submissions. The first deadline is Jan. 24 for the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Awards. I hope we win.

Wagner

Don’t ask me why the editor-in-brief, Leigh Tauss, had named it “Wagner.” I guess it’s random – just like the creation of this journal. Leigh has a vision for it – she’s still figuring it out – but I’m glad to be a part of it as the Spelling Witch! Boom. Greatest title ever. If you want to submit, please do.

Catharsis through creativity

Dr. Bogusia Skud. Photo by Loan Le/The Mirror

Dr. Bogusia Skudrzyk, associate professor of counselor education, in a small group discussing the steps in acknowledging grief. December 4, 2013. Photo by Loan Le/The Mirror

After 26 people died in a senseless shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, community members started placing teddy bears, flowers and small gifts near the site to honor the victims. Bob and Josie Schmidt, town residents for 31 years, recalled visiting the makeshift memorial on a rainy, cold day.

“Everywhere we went in town, we were reminded of what happened; it was beautiful and touching, but it still reminded us of the pain and the loss,” said Bob Schmidt, an adjunct professor teaching Fairfield graduate classes for counseling education.

Deeply affected by the sorrows that couldn’t seem to go away, he and his wife, Josie, a retired teacher who once substituted at Sandy Hook, composed a song to express their grief. Yesterday, they performed “Rain, Rain, Rain” during a workshop at the Fairfield University Bookstore and discussed how creative outlets like literature and songs can heal people after devastations.

The Schmidts led the first storytelling workshop last year. Today, Newtown continues to heal. “We are starting to see the town as the beautiful place we love,” Bob Schmidt said.

As a member of the Sandy Hook Crisis Response Team, he volunteered at a crisis center and said that seeing people come together “helped me get my balance again.”

According to Dr. Bogusia Skudrzyk, who also spoke yesterday, the healing process after tragedies doesn’t always have to be personal. “We must allow ourselves to be around people who care for us.”

To start the healing process, the cause of the pain and sorrow must be confronted. Some people might believe that grief must be overcome immediately. “There is so much pressure around us that makes us pretend that nothing [bad] happened,” the associate professor of counselor education said. But grieving has no timetable.

Skudrzyk also disagrees with the myth that showing sadness is a sign of weakness; she encourages people to be open, like children “who are strong enough to admit their feelings.”

Josie Schmidt believes that acknowledging grief and its causes leads to “an appreciation of the beauty of everyday life.”

Catharsis can happen with words on paper, a brush against a blank canvas or notes strummed on a guitar – creativity opens the path to healing and people can choose whatever route they feel comfortable with.

Eventually, attendees were asked to draw four trees, each representing a different season, and then break up into smaller groups to discuss their drawings. The attendees – some strangers, some classmates from Skudrzyk’s course on multicultural issues in counseling and education – started exchanging stories about parents, siblings and friends who have passed away.

Jeff Burgdorfer, a Fairfield graduate student studying clinical mental health counseling, associated the seasons with the beginning of a healing process.

He said autumn represents acceptance of the “inevitability of death … which gets you into the state of mind to appreciate what you have in the moment.” Winter provides a time for reflection while spring means hope.

“Josie and Bob created a beautiful healing atmosphere through their generosity of themselves and their music,” said Kristen Baxter, who takes classes at the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions.

Closing the workshop, Skudrzyk compared life to an ocean; a community helps others “go through the tides of an ocean that can take anyone off-balance.”

Attendees discovered they have gone through similar experiences and stages of grief. After the workshop ended, people stayed behind and continued their personal discussions. This, according to Skudrzyk, exemplifies how a community can overcome the clouds of grief and sorrow. And like the lyrics of the Schmidts’ song “Rain, Rain, Rain,” she too believes that “together we will chase away those clouds.”

Fairfield restaurant Baró comforts and delights

Photo by Loan Le

Photo by Loan Le

After entering Baró, an establishment tucked away on the Brickwalk Promenade, a colorful streetscape mural welcomes hungry eaters. It pays homage to the melting of Latin, Spanish, and Caribbean cultures evident in the food that is served at the nearly 3-month-old restaurant. The Saturday crowd appears plentiful but not overwhelming during lunch hour.

An eight-person communal table is ensconced behind a large gray-brown wooden wall. Dangling from the ceiling are lamps contained in cork glass bottles. The walls and floors are painted forest chic – earth colors like brown, faded yellow and muddled white, enough to comfort guests as they chat about mundane details of their lives.

The restaurant separates itself into three sections. The right side features smaller tables for more intimate gatherings. This also includes seats near the kitchen, with a window allowing customers to see the inner workings of Baró’s kitchen, enjoying the business that is usually behind doors and separated from the dining crowd. Baró then offers two tables for larger crowds. In Latin American cultures, any mealtime equates many smaller dishes for many people. The remaining portion of Baró can easily transform into a gathering place for lovers of wine and cocktails. During lunch hour, the sun’s rays bounce off multicolored bottles of alcohol. Such drinks offered include Flower of Nicaragua, a concoction of  Flor de Caña silver rum, sage, yellow chartreuse, soda and more, and soothsayer, bourbon, honey ginger syrup, pomegranate and lemon. This side also boasts long gray tables and stools fit for gatherings of smaller groups.

As mentioned before, the menu mostly focuses on smaller dishes, so that guests can order many to share.

The tartare is either raw meat or tuna that is finely chopped, tossed with a bit of lime and various vegetables. Baró’s tartare, or tartar, has grass-fed beef – which is usually lower in calories and has healthier fats than grain-fed beef – mixed with chili pepper flakes, served on top of gem lettuce, and tostada.  The presentation appears simple and minimalistic, nothing artificial, with natural colors standing out by themselves.   The dish has nothing visually wrong with it, though the same cannot be said for its conceptualization. Tostada typically refers to a deep-fried item, usually an element with crunch, but having the other components on top caused it to become soggy.

Pato borracho, from the taco section, the restaurant’s rising star, consists of duck confit – typically made from the duck’s leg – caramelized onions, saffron aioli and yuca. The aforementioned items sit atop one house-made tortilla, made from corn masa. Masa is used to also make arepas and tamales. Though a flavorful mix sure to delight the palate, the dish lacks more textures.

Baró also offers cubanitos, one of many picaderas, or appetizers, on menu. It is a smaller version of a sandwich dish on the menu. Layered between crunchy, in-house pressed bread are thin slices of roasted pork, ham, melted swiss, pickle and mustard, which tasted more like a spiced mayonnaise. Instead of regular pickles, Baró utilizes what seems to be the pickle’s skin. Without the mustard, this sandwich would be considerably dry.

This Latin-American style cantina elevates the palate but remains down-to-earth with its décor.

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m.

Price: Student-friendly

Website: http://www.baroct.com

Lubovitch illuminates human nature through dance

Dancers Katarzyna Skarpetowska and Brian McGinnis performing in "Crisis Variations." Photo by Paula Lobo.

Dancers Katarzyna Skarpetowska and Brian McGinnis performing in “Crisis Variations.” Photo by Paula Lobo.

Lar Lubovitch choreographs based on human quality. It is his aim, as he said in a post-show interview at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts, to evoke a sensation, not a story, out of his viewers.

But the audience, as humans, may construct stories to make sense of what they witness on stage – and what they saw was breathtaking.

A playful choreography opened the Oct. 4 show, featuring characters who attempted to find their path in life, only to be discouraged as the dance progressed. The following duets focused on relationships between a man and woman: one that is mutually strong, like a bull fighting a bull, while the other a game of cat and mouse in a curtains-lifted display of emotional and physical abuse. The concluding piece provided an amusing take on the word “crisis.”

The company opened the night with “Transparent Things,” set to Claude Debussy’s “String Quartet in G Minor, Opus 10.” According to the program, Lubovitch drew inspiration from Pablo Picasso’s “Family of Saltimbanques,” a painting that shows characters looking off into the distance, pensive, and living a “fragile existence.” Lubovitch compared these subjects to his dancers, who also choose to embrace unsure lives in the name of art.

In one segment of this dance, the tempo slowed and with it the dancers’ movement. Attila Joey Csiki, who opened the dance, sunk to the floor and went still, as if life had gone from him. The lights transitioned to emit a blue, ethereal background. Csiki’s friends witnessed him downtrodden and like a domino effect, his friends adopted the same sullen disposition.

They became more rooted to the ground as opposed to their springy, carefree leaps at the beginning of the dance. A quiet ambience settled among the dancers, and there, with the ending, a universal downside was exposed: dance as “an art that only exists when it is actually happening,” as the program said.

As impressive as the first dance was, the duets and concluding dances were far more compelling.

In “Vez,” a reimagined version of Lubovitch’s “Fandango” choreography from 1989 that is set to Randall Woolf’s “Vez,” there were moments when partners Nicole Corea and Clifton Brown would not touch, but the sensual and sexual chemistry between them could not be more evident. This is the power of dance: its ability to connect participants through how the body moves and not just through bodily contact.

But when Corea and Brown did touch, they often intertwined their bodies around each other, becoming one. “Vez” proved to be a sparring and combative conversation between two dancers – both sides determined to win.

“The Time Before The Time After,” choreographed in 1971, made its return as the second-to-last performance of the night. Seconds into the dance, with a spotlight fixed on partners Reed Luplau and Katarzyna Skarpetowska, the audience sensed tension just about to boil over. Luplau stood posed, a hand about to strike Skarpetowska. Then, Igor Stravinsky’s “Concertino for String Quartet” picked up and a dance was set in motion.

Skarpetowska initially maintained a strong presence, bounding away from her partner, only to be stopped by Luplau’s vice-like grip on her wrist or his hand pulling her back by the hair. At its core, this dance narrated a life of inescapable violent intimacy.

In a particular phase of the dance, the music tempo slowed down and Skarpetowska’s fighting will went with it. The audience knew that the dancer depended on her lover, but what also became clear was that Luplau was nothing without her. His ability to exert dominance depended on his prey; with sharp twists and pivots and unyielding extensions, Luplau gained his power by depleting Skarpetowska’s.

By the end, she gave in and slid down to the floor, back onto her knees, subservient, and Luplau gathered her into a possessive embrace, devoid of comfort. The experience came across as voyeuristic, with the audience witnessing a gripping occurrence, instigated by Skarpetowska and Luplau’s magnetic movement onstage.

The most disconcerting and high-energy choreography could be found in the closing piece, “Crisis Variations.” Once again, the company brought back all of its dancers. Lubovitch revealed in a post-show Q-and-A that the music, which usually inspires his choreography, took a backseat role. He only taught his dancers the moves and rhythm he expected, and then the dancers heard the commissioned music score a day before premiering in 2011.

The purpose of this last-minute change? He wanted to maintain a sense of chaos and confusion – and he certainly succeeded.

The dancers’ movements appeared halting and seemingly accidental, their bodies lurching back and forth, like cars stuck in spasmodic traffic.

Skarpetowska took on another principal role, oftentimes allowing herself to be a ragdoll, carried and dragged across the stage by dancer Brian McGinnis. While the storyline for this piece was unclear – done surely on purpose by Lubovitch – the audience could feel the sensation of chaos.

With Friday night’s performances, Lubovitch proves that he still has a vision, even into his 50th year of choreography, and that his dance company, now in its 45th year, remains determined to help him construct it. It is also not necessarily a bad thing that dance is a fleeting art, with an impact that can only be experienced live. It means that each choreographed performance can exalt itself as new and powerful. For now, Lubovitch and his dancers manage to extend the life of dance until the company’s next performance.

The company will continue to celebrate its 45th anniversary with performances at The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave. and 19th Street, from Oct. 8 to 13 and Oct. 15 to 20.

A sweet startup

Snickerdoodle cookies. Photo: Esther Kum/Estie Cakes

Snickerdoodle cookies. Photo: Esther Kum/Estie Cakes

When Esther Kum was younger, she often baked with her mother. It was nothing special; they used pre-made cake mixes from the box, but she thought it was all fun.

It wasn’t until the summer of 2012 that the junior, who’s studying mathematics and minoring in education, started baking from scratch out of pure curiosity.

“I’ve always been iffy about baking from scratch because I’ve heard from people that it can be tedious because baking is a science,” Kum said. “But I tried it out one time over the summer and it’s something that I’ve loved doing ever since.”

Now she makes mini moscato cupcakes, vanilla pudding chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon sugar-dusted French breakfast rolls – you know, the usual baked goods that college students make in their free time.

Kum’s love for the art of baking has morphed into a startup called Estie Cakes that runs out of her Mahan kitchen and occasionally out of her home in Huntington, N.Y. She calls it a “dream” and hopes to eventually own a “decent-sized” bakery business later in life.

Estie Cakes began in mid-February and Kum made an official Facebook page for it just two weeks ago. As of yesterday, she has received 104 likes.

She never expected to start such a thing in college, especially since baking is hobby for her.

“It was never about business for me, and it still isn’t,” Kum said.

Her baking decorations are often inspired by “Cupcake Wars,” a Food Network reality competition that challenges four bakers across the country to make their best cupcakes which are judged on taste, presentation and theme. The most recent episode afforded one lucky baker the chance to cater a party at the I Heart Radio Music Festival in Las Vegas.

Though Kum is passionate about baking and bakes three to four times a week, she maintains that school is her first priority. Kum aspires to be an elementary school teacher – possibly in special education. Once she gets settled, she hopes to juggle these two.

Right now, balancing Estie Cakes and her schoolwork is “easier than I thought,” Kum said. While students might relieve stress through writing, reading and/or exercising, Kum uses baking as an outlet. She bakes when she needs “to take a break from homework and studying.”

Kum hopes to learn more about business and management in the future and is considering taking classes if her schedule allows her it.

For some small start-ups, companies use guerilla tactics to get their name out there. But Kum doesn’t need an advertising team; she has her friends and family.

The whole idea of Estie Cakes actually started out as a way to share her baking with friends. She posted pictures on Instagram and Facebook.

In addition to using social media to show off her baked goods, she also uses Instagram and Facebook to represent a “baking journey” and her experiences of trial and error with recipes that she finds on the internet.

She is not sure how well this startup will be or in what direction it will go, but in the face of uncertain future, Kum remains optimistic about the task she is undertaking.

“Even if this [start-up] doesn’t take off in the future, at least it’s something that I can say that I tried to make happen, and it just happened to not work,” Kum said.

Article published on April 3, 2013 in The Mirror

Poetry for Peace: Young poets take the stage

Cartoon by Lisa Tkach/The Mirror

Cartoon by Lisa Tkach/The Mirror

The winners of the Poetry for Peace contest waited in line for their solos on the Regina A. Quick Center stage. Some took hesitant steps to the microphone stand when their names were called, dragging their gleaming red Mary Janes and black dress shoes across the wooden stage. Others approached the spotlight with some pep in their step, smiling and making faces to their family members out in the audience.

Though different in their heights and confidence, these children gathered in the Quick Center on Friday, Jan. 25, for one purpose: to share through poetry their ideas of peace.

Started in 2008, the Poetry for Peace contest allows students in grades kindergarten through eight from the Bridgeport and Fairfield Public Schools the chance to define peace through creative writing. The reading event used to be held in the Kelley Center, but because of growing popularity, the event had to be relocated to the Quick Center.

According to co-director of Poetry for Peace Dr. Jerelyn M. Johnson, associate professor of modern languages and literature, the judging panel received over 1,000 entries. They then split entries by grades, organizing them into four grade flights. From there on, a panel of Fairfield faculty and undergraduate and graduate students chose the winners, honorable mentions and the judges’ favorites.

The winning poems were published in a booklet, which was also distributed to the audience consisting of the Fairfield University community, parents and children.

Applause punctuated each pause before another poet went to the stage to read. Mothers juggled their children on their laps. Kids smiled to the camera as their parents beckoned from below in their seats. Confidence seemed to grow as the height of the poets increased.

The older children naturally took in the world events which disrupt peace, while most of the younger children compared peace to their own everyday activities.

Credit: Nick DiFazio

Credit: Nick DiFazio

Certain students shared a humorous perception of peace. In his poem “What peace is to me,” Christopher Cirelli, a Fairfield Woods Middle School sixth grader, wrote: “Peace is not getting haircuts.”

There were also poems that gave surprising insight into how aware children are of the present world.

Fifth grader Alec Nardone from Burr Elementary School wrote that in a world without peace, humanity is on the brink of self-destruction: “We’re all on fire – and we don’t even know it / Soon our humanity will be gone, / Burnt.”

Grace Hilton, a third grader from Timothy Dwight Elementary School in Fairfield, brought up origami cranes, the symbol of peace sprung up after the 9/11 attacks, in her poem. She saw peace in the olive branch that Noah had spotted when he arrived on land in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Nardone and Hilton’s poems showed that, like many of the writings in the booklet, what children know should not be taken for granted.

Not only did the poems serve to entertain and to enlighten, but they also brought into perspective the contrast between the poems and reality’s fragile events that threaten current peace.

Johnson recounted the time when she and the judges met to consider the final entries. Three days later, the Sandy Hook shooting spree occurred, during which 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School were killed, most of them children.

Johnson said to the poets in the audience: “I know I speak for many of us when I say that during that seriously sad and dark moment, your words, and knowing that you and your poems existed, gave us hope. Such is the power of poetry.”

Mariam Anwar, a second grader at Osborn Hill Elementary School, wrote a poem entitled “Peace” and won an honorable mention in the grade K-2 flight.

Her opening line states that “peace sounds like the dolphins jumping in the waves.”

Encouraged by her teacher to think about things she liked when describing peace, Anwar said, “I thought about the beach and that’s how I came up with the dolphins. And I like mangoes,” she added, which referred to her line, “Peace tastes like a mango from a tree.”

She said reciting her poem to an audience was “easy” because “I wasn’t looking at the people.”

In his closing remarks, Poetry for Peace co-director and associate English professor Dr. Peter Bayers said, “We would like to thank all of you, the poets who are here, for sharing your voices with us. I think we would all agree that we have learned from your insights, your beauty and your wisdom. Your poetry attests to the power and possibilities of language.

“Your poetry has changed all of us for the better tonight. And for that: thank you.”

Brenda Perry and Wendy Accomando, teachers at Osborn Hill Elementary School, have been involved with Poetry for Peace from the start and always encourage their students to submit to the contest.

Perry, a fourth grade teacher, described this event as “wonderful,” while second grade teacher Accomando said Friday night’s poetry reading was “inspiring.”

“It’s inspiring for us,” said Accomando. “Poetry is a great medium; [the students] can use words, they don’t have to worry about grammar … they are creative and they’re open to writing things.”

Associate professor of philosophy Dr. Kris Sealey, who coordinated the judging process, would agree with Accomando, believing that poetry is sometimes overlooked in education. “…A lot of time, modes of expression are squashed and lost in formal education,” she said. “We struggle as professors to bring it back – hold on to it and make it grow!”

Sealey also sees the benefits participants would gain from the writing process. She said, “In order for these children to be productive in life, they have to develop their own voice.”

Carol Ann Davis, published poet and assistant professor of English, is working on an “expansion” of Poetry for Peace. The program, called “Poet in the classroom,” seeks to combine the poetry teaching efforts of poets and interested school teachers.

This year, the Poetry for Peace Contest was sponsored by Fairfield University’s Office of Academic Engagement, the Department of English and the Program in Peace and Justice. Poetry for Peace was also a part of the MLK Holiday Observance Week.

Reporting on this event was contributed by Crystal Rodriguez.