Vacation Crises

grace

Blog went on a brief hiatus because I traveled to Stowe, Vermont, with Deb, Lou, Tony, Sharon, and Alex. Future entries will continue with what’s happening with the state of race relations in this country. In the meantime, here’s something that’s been on my mind for years. Maybe it was the time I chose to go on vacation or maybe it’s just chance, but nearly every time I take a vacation, major world events occur. These things veer from earth-shaking to mundane. This year capped them all.

  • The first I remember occurred when I took off after school. Elvis died. I was in a tiny, smoky club in Montreal listenng to Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, one of two performances I heard from this amazing duo. Buddy made the announcement by saying, “The king is dead.” Invited backstage afterward, I heard Junior call him out saying B.B. King was the real king; Buddy countered – no it was Albert King. The answer? I have no idea.
  • A few years later I was in Europe when Diana married Charles. Most of the people watching on the TV in the lobby (there were none in the rooms) came from Britain of course, though there were a number of French people. Mon dieu! Marianne would never permit such spectacle.
  • Some years later, during another summer break, Saddam invaded Kuwait. We all know how the aftermath of that turned out.
  • And of course I was away from home when Diana perished in the car crash. It was a return visit to Philadelphia. I remember watching the news on a tiny TV in a hotel with bad reception. This was long after most of this country had cable, but former mayor Frank Rizzo had stonewalled installation, except in his neighborhood.
  • The December 26, 2004, tsunami. I couldn’t wrap my head around it and had to switch off the news because it became too intense.

Those are the big ones. Here’s what happened over three days this year.

  • President Obama gave the speech of his lifetime (so far) and sang “Amazing Grace.”
  • A brave and determined woman climbed the flag pole in Columbia, S.C., and took down the battle  flag.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court gave same-sex couples the right to marry. Soooo happy for all!
  • One of the two escaped murderers was captured and killed; the other was caught.

There was a whole bunch of other stuff, too, but that’s enough for now.

Heartache and Anger

Secesh

I’m still battling conflicting emotions over the assassination of nine beautiful souls. I’ve filled pages of notes to help myself understand. Here’s the beginning. Unlike the family members who addressed that sick and twisted shooter, I’m not ready to forgive. So here’s Round One.

Just so we’re clear, South Carolina seceded from the union to preserve slavery. “The Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union” says in part:

 The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves,,,

A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.

Treason is violation of allegiance toward one’s sovereign country – that’s per The American Heritage. I suggest that we call it what it was. Maybe we should revive the term secesh to remind us all that South Carolina et al. broke up the country over slavery.

That flag

The first time I saw the battle flag it was flying from the back of a pickup truck. The passenger took a shot at our little group huddled on the side of the road waiting for a tire change. It happened in northern Virginia, and it’s the reason I don’t travel much below the Mason-Dixon line. In fairness, the second viewing happened many years later on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. My hostess (Jewish child of Holocaust survivors) pretended she didn’t see it flying at the condo next door. Until recently I saw it around town on a beat up old car, with a big black line drawn through it. Maybe that’s the solution. Keep it around, defaced.

I’m exhausted. This will continue.

Contemplating

Blog did not go up yesterday because I’m still trying to wrap my head  and heart around what happened in Charleston. I promise something of substance before the end of the week.

In the meantime, I’m happy that South Carolina and entities are beginning to expunge the battle flag. This must be a first step and not a gesture.

Tour de Force

crooked

This entry went up on December 30, 2008. It’s going up again because the book is now out in paperback. Everyone needs to buy it and read it.

Not long after I began reading Tina Brown’s powerful account in Crooked Road Straight: The Awakening of AIDS Activist Linda Jordan, I thought about my dear friend Vera Johnson, a retired funeral director from New Britain, Connecticut. She may have been the first African American woman in the state to hold a funeral director’s license. Vera was elderly, but she always looked perfectly dressed and coiffed. She wore white blouses with black skirts, sometimes a bright purple hat. And she loved the color red, red skirts, red suits.

My mind traveled to Vera as I read the story of Linda C. Jordan because Vera had stopped driving out of town when I met her about ten years ago, so I would take her on errands. Whenever we reached the highway, she would say, “May the Lord make the crooked way straight,” except she said, “Make the crooked-y way straight.” She repeated her prayer until we left the highway.

While Vera prayed for a straight road, Linda Jordan created one. Tina’s engrossing narrative will leave readers at once wrung out and inspired. Linda was abused as a child, exploited as a teenager, addicted as an adult, but she pulled her life together and became an advocate for African Americans, and black women in particular, in the HIV/AIDS community at a time when most people thought the disease afflicted only white gay men.

On the surface Linda and Vera had little in common. Vera was solidly middle class and a lady to the core; Linda was “street,” raised in poverty by alcoholics. But Linda and Vera shared one trait. They were survivors, given courage and hope by their faith in God. After her husband’s death, Vera sank into a deep depression. She nevertheless managed to hang on even as her neighborhood slid into disrepair. She maintained her oasis, installing a chain link fence, which she kept locked with a padlock. For personal protection, she bought and trained two big German shepherds. She continued to attend church and kept track of friends in her community.

Linda, living in far more dire circumstances a few miles away in Hartford, not only hung on, she flourished once she came to terms with what had happened in her life. Tina, my friend and former colleague from the Hartford Courant, weaves all the threads of Linda’s story into a tour de force. At times Crooked Road Straight is painful to read because of the harrowing details of the life of this young woman who never really had a childhood, became a mother far too young, and generally lacked the support of family to help her through the pitfalls of being young, poor, and black. But Tina focuses on the uplift as well, writing with compassion how Linda overcame her addictions and developed the courage to speak out on behalf of people who were ostracized and struggling with their own addictions and illnesses.

Tina writes in the “Prologue” that she wondered why she continued to live and work in Hartford, a city that seemed to offer her little. While she wondered,Tina was giving to the city, as she wrote many award-winning articles for the Courant and opened the eyes of folks in the suburbs to the pain of the city. She also contributed through her church, her sorority, and the Links. She received the answer to her question of “Why here?” when she approached Linda about writing the book and began to dig even deeper into the coping mechanisms of people who felt they had no means of escape from their prison. Tina found and served her purpose by telling Linda Jordan’s story. Tina, too, has done the Lord’s work by making Linda continue to live within the pages of this awe-inspiring book.

In the end, both Linda and Vera survived because their faith in God offered them solace. They both made their own crooked way straight. It is a sad irony that they passed away less than a year apart, Linda at the relatively young age of 53 and Vera at a venerable 88.

This review also appears on Amazon.

 

 

What I’m Watching Now

hawking

Another in an occasional series. And another that I watched some time ago. Director Stephen Finnigan makes effective use of fascinating video and still photos for Hawking. Unlike The Theory of Everything, this  documentary lets Stephen Hawking tell his own story. The filmmakers went to considerable effort and expense to re-create 1950s and 1960s England. They excelled. And they kept the geeky science stuff to a fascinating minimum.

In this case a slanted view is understandable. Like the Hendrix doc, though, Hawking glosses over how difficult this genius was, and not just because of his illness.

What I’m Reading Now

french

Another in an occasional series, which is becoming more frequent. And another that I have no memory of finding. As readers of this blog know, I love language. William Alexander’s Flirting With French feeds my addiction. Linguistics mixes with the adventures of learning a foreign language, which means also learning a culture. Throw in some history, cuisine (except for the meal of pigeon, rabbit, and foie gras) along with a big dose of humor, and this short (266 pages) work captivates.

After a brief scientific introduction, Alexander launches into an outrageous critique of Rosetta Stone, which he compares to a “first-person shooter video game”: “This initial vignette is utterly creepy. Are the Rosetta Stone developers unaware that they are closely mimicking a scene from every teenage slasher movie ever made?” Just two pages later Alexander describes a book about French history, “… which runs a whopping five hundred pages, although it feels not a page over a thousand.” Ouch!

Of course Alexander’s acquisition of language lacks both effort and ability. Once in France he and his wife brave gale-force winds and downpours as they bicycle through Normandy and Brittany. Their struggle careers from hilarious to pathetic because his utter lack of perception hinders easy navigation.

His adventures remind me of a dinner at which my companion asked the waiter to bring an ascenseur to the table. The waiter’s face was a mask until I giggled, which allowed him a brief conspiratorial smile, as I explained that my companion had just asked for an elevator, not an ashtray.

So far the most fascinating section traces how the French went from Celts to Franco-Romans to French as the language developed. I did not realize that for the Romans the Celts were Gauls. It’s just another example of Roman hegemony, though “Omnia Celtia divisa est…” does sound more than a bit weird. And though I knew about langues d’oc I had forgotten that the northern residents spoke langues d’oil. The latter won. French speakers say oui, not oc.

Allons!

Letter from Italy II

letter

Please read part one first.

The Film

The story of Dr. John Meneely keeps evolving. Two years ago it was Letter from Italy, 1944: A soldier’s story told in music in the form of an oratorio brilliantly performed by the Greater Middletown Chorale.

Now arrives the film Letter from Italy, 1944: A New American Oratorio,  Karyl Evans wrote, directed, and produced the hour-long documentary about the creation of the oratorio. She has added depth and breadth and new layers of meaning to the project.  Dr. Meneely’s daughters worked magic with their trove of resources. Poet Nancy Meneely distilled the letters and some poems into a work both lyrical and gut wrenching. If you go on the website that’s Nan the magician at work

Sister Sarah Meneely-Kyder set those poems to music. The result was a tour de force that explored the relationships of the sisters with their parents in the larger context of war and its aftermath.

The film, narrated by Meryl Streep, brings new energy and insight into the evolution from family archives, most especially the  letters Dr. Meneely wrote home as he struggled alongside his fellows in the 10th Mountain Division on Italy’s snow-covered terrain in the waning days of World War II.

Karyl gives Nancy’s poetry and Sarah’s music immediacy along with a contemporary connection using interviews with veterans. The  members of the 10th Mountain Division who served in WWII are the stars of these parts of the film. The men remain proud and strong and poised. One senses they are thinking, “I showed up and did my job. What’s so special about that?” But that struggle was special, and they deserve all of the honors they are receiving.

If possible, Karyl makes the performances of the stars John Anthony Pott and Patricia Schuman even more compelling as we see the evolution of young Dr. Meneely into a brooding and troubled man.

Things that make me especially proud: Veterans’ writing group member Jerry Augustine offers insights from a later era of service and represents someone who has survived the horrors of combat and comes out golden on the other side. And the Chorale, led by the tireless genius Joyce Kirkpatrick, has put the honor roll on line. Please honor the veterans in your life.

And please watch Letter from Italy, 1944: A New American Oratorio on CPTV on Thursday. If you can’t, order the DVD on the Chorale’s website.

Letter From Italy I

italy

Having missed posting last night from a confluence of circumstances, here are two entries. This one went up in  April 2013, but the great Blue wipeout swallowed it.

The second will be an account of the film based on the oratorio.

The Oratorio

Larry and I had the pleasure of spending Sunday afternoon entranced by the Greater Middletown Chorale’s premiere of Letter from Italy, 1944: A soldier’s story told in music. We’ve been following the buildup to the April 28 performance.

The result was more than worth the wait. Nancy Meneely’s lyrics and her sister Sarah Meneely-Kyder’s music paid glorious tribute to the life of their father who went into World War II as a doctor for the Tenth Mountain Division.

The enormous and enormously talented Chorale provided brilliant support for the principals: Jack Anthony Pott as John Meneely and Patricia Schuman as his wife Delia Marshall Meneely. Their voices formed a perfect blend in duet and soared to magical heights in their solos. My favorite was “Away,” which crystallizes John’s longing for Delia: “When I lie down around the curve night/and soldiers sleep, yours are the fingers of my dream/that splay like leaves at the base of my head.”

The visual effects, projected behind the singers, added to the passion and the horror: pictures of the young couple at their wedding and later with their daughters; a moving video of Pott as Meneely walking through woods to the piece “Size,” about his love of nature; war photos including dead bodies stiffened at odd angles in the snow, and a pair of bloody boots that come to haunt John Meneely’s life.

A couple of quibbles. The two-hour performance could have used a judicious trim. The dramatic arc needs to heighten the conflict between John and Delia. And the crucial information that John Meneely was Dr. Meneely before he joined the Army needs to be established before we see the red cross on his kit. Even though the program included a libretto it was too dark to follow along. Everyone I spoke to wished for an electronic libretto, maybe back of the seat à la opera since projection on the screen would have interfered with the visual effects.

Finally two brags: Staff Sergeant Larry Riley was one of the hundreds of veterans honored in the sixteen-page Honor Roll of Veterans. And among the Producer Circle donors ($5,000 – $9,000) was the Ann and George Petry Fund, along with the Arts Fund, administered by the Community Foundation. I know Mother and Daddy would be thrilled.

Friday Follies

east

It’s Friday. I had one of those weeks where everything got away from me. So here for your amusement is the headline that sent my former Courant colleagues and my veterans’ writing group into paroxysms. Thanks, Harvey, for being the first to point this out to me.

As one of the veterans observed, the AP reporter got it right. Why would the editor of a paper of roughly 7,000 think he knew better? Or maybe he (I’m betting the person laying out a sports story is a guy) was using one of those auto-fill functions which might render amber for ambitious. I’m trying to be charitable here. …

 

What I’m Watching Now

10q

Another in an occasional series. Another that I’ve already watched. In a search for films offering history and good content, I found 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama,  This captivating documentary shares the still photo/ video/ interview technique, with Hendrix June 4. The Chinese assault on the stunning, gentle, and ancient Tibet provides a painful background to one of the fundamental issues that frames 10 Questions, which is how to respond to war and assault with peace.

There’s a bit of suspense about whether director and writer Rick Ray will score an interview with His Holiness, but the film wouldn’t be a film without it, so…

The format helps to carry the narrative with grainy still photos and early videos offering Ken Burns-style historical context.

When it comes to the exchange, Ray interjects too much of himself. Given that his subject practices the art and science of egolessness, awareness of this problem should have guided the work. The questions should have been edited, either before or after filming.

10 Questions is nevertheless worth viewing for its visuals and for the teachings of the man who should be a model for us all.