Saturday, February 21, 2015

Lourdes Lectures Span Spectrum from History to Hot Topics: The Edmund Fitzgerald and Understanding Islam

Lecture on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
"She was a good ship and she had a good life." 
The lecture topics at Lourdes University's Lifelong Learning program yesterday couldn't have been more different.  One explored the sinking of the Great Lakes cargo ship the Edmund FItzgerald, and the other, understanding Islam. We went from history to hot topics! Both lectures, however, provided food for thought. 


I never knew there were so many theories about why the Edmund Fitzgerald went down in a violent storm on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975.  Carrie Sowden of the Great Lakes Historical Society covered most of them.  "She had a good life," Sowden said of the "Fitz," but it ended tragically. Yes. Haven't we all heard Gordon Lightfoot's ballad about the wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald? It's a great song, honest, factual, beautifully told, and the spirit of the ballad lives on.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called 'Gitche Gumee'
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy

With the song floating in the background, over 100 people listened with rapt attention as Sowden presented a fascinating look at the Fitz's history and how it sank. Was it the ship's structure, the steel, the hatches, the hull? The nature of the storm, the weather and the waves? Did it hit some reef that caused damage and flooding? Was it the heavy load she carried,miscommunications, "pilot error? The arguments rage to this day. 

"We're holding our own."  These were the last words of Captain Ernest M. McSorley, a seasoned seafarer with great experience plying the Great Lakes from Duluth, Minnesota, and Wisconsin over to Detroit, Toledo, and other ports, He sent the message to the Arthur Anderson, which was travelling on a parallel route.

Then the Fitz went down, near the entrance to Whitefish Bay. taking all 29 crew members with her. Their bodies were never recovered, but artifacts and pieces of wreckage have been found, including the ship's bronze bell.They are displayed in various museums, such as the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, the Dossin Museum and the Mariners' Church in Detroit, and the Great Lakes Historical Society. 
They might have split up or they might have capsized;
They might have broke deep and took water.
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

The Q & A session revealed a very well-informed and informative audience. We heard personal stories (very moving), comments from welders and people knowledgeable about cargo ships, comments from builders and Great Lakes experts. This session greatly enhanced the talk.

Iman Whaheed.
Majid Al-Islam Mosque
With our heads full of information about a historical subject, my friend Teddy and I moved across the hall of the Lourde's Franciscan Center to learn more about the "hot topic" of the day: Islam. We switched intellectual hats, as it were, and let curiosity guide us. Iman Whaheed, religious leader of Toledo Majid Al-Islam Mosque, provided an overview of the long history and major tenets of Islam.  He talked about "the five pillars" and noted the similarities of beliefs across different religions. "We're all in the same company, just in different departments," he remarked with some humor. He focused on the universal and transcendent, the true meaning of the Koran and the prophet Muhammed. He led us away from equating Islam with extremism, with ISIS, with terrorists. We needed to hear this; we need to understand Islam. The discussion was also fascinating. 

History and "hot topics."  The past and the present.  Intellectual arguments about a historical tragedy, and emotional points of view about a major world religion.  "Keeps your brain going," my daughter remarked when I gave a brief account of my day.  I can't argue with that! 

GORDON LIGHTFOOT

Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald Lyrics
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called 'Gitche Gumee'
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy

With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty.
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early.

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned

Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ship's bell rang
Could it be the north wind they'd been feelin'?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too,
T'was the witch of November come stealin'.

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the Gales of November came slashin'.
When afternoon came it was freezin' rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind.

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin'.
Fellas, it's too rough to feed ya.
At Seven P.M. a main hatchway caved in, he said (2010 lyric
change by Gordon Lightfoot: At Seven P.M., it grew dark, it was
then he said,)
Fellas, it's been good t'know ya

The captain wired in he had water comin' in
And the good ship and crew was in peril.
And later that night when his lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does any one know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
If they'd put fifteen more miles behind her.

They might have split up or they might have capsized;
They May have broke deep and took water.
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion.
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams;
The islands and bays are for sportsmen.

And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her,
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the Gales of November remembered.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
In the Maritime Sailors' Cathedral.
The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call 'Gitche Gumee'.
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early!

Lyrics found <a href="http://www.elyrics.net/read/g/gordon-lightfoot-lyrics/wreck-of-the-edmund-fitzgerald-lyrics.html" rel="nofollow">here</a>

Monday, February 16, 2015

Remembering Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov

Map showing Mariupol and Berdyansk (yahoo image) 

Luba, Irina,Luda on a night stroll.
This columned gazebo is iconic.


On the beach at Berdyansk
I have such a special place in my heart for Berdyansk, Ukraine, on the Sea of Azov. It's about 40 miles down the coast from Mariupol.  My host mom Luba and 8 to 10 of her women friends invited me to join them on a vacation.  It was about a seven-hour bus ride from Starobelsk.  I was a new Peace Corps Volunteer.  I was just getting acclimated; just recovering from a bad case of the flu; didn't understand the language; didn't know the geography or the terrain; didn't know what I was doing in eastern Ukraine, but I said sure.  I told my Peace Corps manager it would be a form of "cultural immersion," and he agreed. And it was.

Yahoo photo, overview of Berdyansk.

We stayed in a bed and breakfast, about 4 beds to a room.  Luba and her friends brought tons of food, along with wine and vodka.  We had wonderful meals around a large table outside the house, in a pretty garden.  In retrospect, I think I should have contributed more.  We were a boisterous and joyful group.   We walked to the beach every day through a neat little neighborhood, found a spot among hundreds of other vacationers, spread out our blankets, and enjoyed the sun, surf and compansionship of close friends. I had brought my MP-3 player to listen to music, which I shared with the other women; they had fun with the selections (from classics to Rolling Stones).   There was a place to buy ice cream and treats, as well as a kind of arts and crafts market, where I found wonderul souvenirs and Ukrainian trinkets.

Places where vendors set up and sold their wares.
Such fun to see the lights at night..
I used my dictionary, but it was mostly pantomime and, yes, lots of frustration.  I said Я не понимаю a lot.  I couldn't join in all the jokes and banter, couldn't respond or participate in the lively conversations, but I kept up as best I could.  I called us the Women's Club of Starobelsk.  Женского Клуба Старобельске. The women hugged me and laughed.  At night we walked along the beach into the center of activities, bright lights, ferris wheel and games, restaurants and cafes.  The women were careful about spending money, and very resourceful. But we stopped for a beer and just laughed and laughed into the night.

Such a pretty place.  Such wonderful women.  How kindly they treated a stranger and a novice. What incredible memories.

***********

This is a blog I wrote about preparing to go to Berdyansk with Luba.

SUNDAY, JULY 19, 2009

My Peace Corps Bikini

I have been invited to join Luba and her friends for a holiday in Berdiansk, a resort on the Sea of Azov, about 7 hours south of Starobelsk. Great excitment. We're taking a bus, leaving on Wednesday, 22 July. Luba asks me about a bathing suit. When I show her my old faithful one-piece suit, she crinkles her nose and shakes her head vigorously from side to side. In any language, that means "no way." OK, well I'll look for a new one.

So here I am at the Sunday bazaar, on a sweltering hot day, looking for a new one-piece bathing suit. They are nowhere to be found. Only bikinis. It's what everyone wears. Everyone. At last I find a stall that has a one-pecce suit. One. Large size. I ask the proprietor, a serious woman probably in her 60s, to show it to me. You want THIS, her look seems to say. Yep, that's the one for me. Well, ok. She hauls it down from way at the top of her displays with her hooked handle. I try it on, behind a skimpy curtain that doesn't provide much privacy. No matter. She looks at me, crinkles her nose and shakes her head vigorously from side to side. The same signal in the same universal language.

She takes down another and hands it to me. A black and yellow bikini. I don't think so. Just try it she urges, and sure enough she gets me into it. A bra and a little bottom. She nods approvingly. THIS is for you. I point to my middle. No problem, she says. "Normal'no." Which means the same thing in Russian and English. OK, I'll take it. Now I know I am in a Peace Corps frame-of-mind: open to anything!

Off I go with my package. The more I think about it, the more I like it. When I get home, Luba, who is in her next-to-nothing bikini, asks what I bought. You want to see? Off I go to my bedroom to try on my sexy black and yellow bikini. Beautiful, she nods with enthusiasm. You're all set for Berdiansk. I point to my stomach. She smiles and says, "normal'no!


Sunday, February 15, 2015

A NEW PLAN FOR UKRAINE

Dear President Obama,
     The "glimmer of hope" to stop the fighting in Ukraine is gone.  How could it work, when the only answer is Putin's withdrawing his troops and weapons?

Putin's proxies won't stop; they are afterall well armed, and beyond the law. They aim not only to gain more territory, but to keep Ukraine destabilized. There is no way to win militarily, no sense in sending arms to Kiev. Keep raising the cost to Russia with sanctions, but no weapons when weapons won't work.

The situation requires a new approach, a paradigm shift.  Here, respectfully, is another way: Whatever the proxies destroy with their Russian weapons, in areas they are now entrenched, they get to keep.  Not autonomy, but independence. These special places are not just "occupied," they are decimated. It would take billions to rebuild them, billions which Ukraine doesn't have.  

Jud's sunflower,
 weeping.
I know this part of Ukraine pretty well, having served there as a Peace Corps Volunteer for two years. I know the people, places, culture. I travelled from Starobelsk by car, bus, train, plane (no longer possible). Crimea was a favorite. I loved Mariupol and Berdyansk, swam in the Sea of Azov, spent lots of time in Lugansk, visited PCVs in towns and villages now destroyed.  Most of my Ukrainian friends have fled, especially those at universities, NGOs, libraries, local government and cultural institutions. A huge brain drain. Their families are torn asunder, people who housed, fed me, shared traditions, made a stranger feel at home.

Should the rest of Ukraine have to pay for the total destruction Russian proxies have inflicted? Not possible. Should they support occupied Lugansk and Donetsk oblasts when Ukraine will have no control over how they are governed?  

Let Russia and their proxies (who know only how to fight, nothing about governance) have them. Yes, Ukraine will be smaller but hopefully one day, like Georgia, more prosperous. Will Poroshenko consider this, hard as it is (it pains me at this distance), focus on Ukraine's economy, and seek the help of the rest of the world in a new plan?

If  Ukraine pulls out of current war zones, granting not autonomy but independence, then there is no need to rewrite its Constitution on orders from Putin (galling); no need for fake elections; no need to spend billions on what are now wastelands. I've been told most Ukrainians do NOT want their taxes or their nation's resources, under such economic stress, to go to terrorists who are outside of the law. Sad, but true.

The only thing to "negotiate," then, is securing Ukraine's new borders.  Not offensive weapons (they will only prolong the violence and killing), but defensive support and international monitors.  A new way: the ruins to Russia, defense of the new borders, continued economic support.

Thank you. Respectully yours.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The World is Full of (Paper) Possibilities

At the Toledo Museum of Art's new Werner Pfeiffer exhibit, "Drawn, Cut & Layered,"
 with Michelle and the boys. We love lunch at the cafe.  The background painting is "Scottish Highlands" by French landscape painter Gustave Dore (1832-1883).
The Werner Pfeiffer exhibition at the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) is interesting and thought provoking.  You can do so much with paper.  Pfeiffer has explored all the possibilities. The art is fun and accessible, and the boys, ages 3, 12 and 17, liked it as much as their mom and me.
TMA brochure (different from
the creative exhibit brochure)

The hard part was keeping Chase from touching the art. "Don't touch," a nice guard scolded gently, taking him by surprise.  We repeated the request a few more times as we moved along from one interesting piece to another. Pfeiffer loves puzzles and contradictions, metaphors and wordplay, his bio says. They inspire his art.  So tempting to see and not touch. Chase would reach out his hand, pull it back, then fight back tears in frustration.  I didn't blame him. I wanted to touch too.  We decided we had to go to the art table and have some hands-on activity.

The "drawn, cut and layered" brochure at the entrance to the exhibition is itself a puzzle--folded in a unique and complicated way. The docents enjoyed showing us how to open and close it. It was a bit tricky.  Kyle got it, and helped me open mine.

Pfeiffer, who is for me a new artist (always a pleasure to meet). grew up in World War II Germany (born 1937 in Stuttgart).  It left an indelible mark on his 50-year career. "There was no paper; there were no books," he says. "I grew up with a real respect for paper and it affected me all my life" (ArtMatters, January-April 2015).   Pfeiffer's way with paper includes 200 one-of-a-kind and limited edition books, dimensional prints, collages and sculptures.  I liked the three-dimensional, multi-layered works, the mobiles and the art that pops.  As Pfeiffer himself hoped, we came away from his exhibition asking the question: "How is this possible with paper?"





.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Donetsk Destroyed

"Until the end of May, all of us believed the situation in Luhansk and Donetsk was absurd and temporary. but in reality, it was the beginning of the end." 
  Prof. Igor Zagorodnyuk , U.of Luhansk, who fled death threats. (Science magazine, 2 Jan.2015)..

Dear Prof. Zagorodnyuk: There's no end in site, even as another round of peace talks is taking place.The prognosis looks grim.  Putin has gone over the top, hears nothing, learns nothing, listens only to the voices in his head. The Ghosts from Wars Past are telling him to rewrite history and show the world who's boss.  Donetsk destroyed, divided, denigrated, demolished, like Lugansk, like Crimea, will be his legacy.  
Donetsk airport destroyed, in total ruins.
(above and below, yahoo images). 
Donetsk city was a major steel and mining center with great cultural resources. 
You can think of it as "the Pittsburgh of Ukraine." 
Donetsk hospital, destroyed

Donetsk cathedral and downtown,
destroyed, mutilated &/or abandoned. 
Russian-armed soldiers, Russian soldiers, mercenaries and proxies with heavy weapons have invaded and occupied eastern Ukraine. They've created new divisions and loyalties where none or few existed before, or in any case where the differences were not matters of life and death.

They have with brute force occupied and dismantled airports and train stations, roads and transportation systems, universities and schools, hospitals and government buildings. They have captured, seized and tortured professors, NGO leaders, military personnel, and those who disagree with them.  One professor was taken from his classroom at gunpoint, interrogated, gassed, beaten. Ukrainian soldiers and prisoners have been mocked and paraded through the streets, spit on, humiliated.  The mercenaries and thugs have, without mercy, trampled over fields of wheat and sunflowers, like those where MH-17 was shot down by a BUK missile.  Crimea is gone, and the Tatars and anyone who supports them are suffering another form of holocaust.

These Russian-armed proxies know how to do only one thing: fight and destroy. Governance? Means nothing.  The whole situation still seems surreal and absurd. Almost a year later, and what do we have:  a large swath of destruction, brutal and excessive; 5,300 plus lives lost, untold wounded, mutilated; a refugee crisis; property damage in the billions of dollars.  Ukraine torn asunder.
Donetsk Football Stadium, once a shining light, destroyed, shut down
Donetsk National Medical School and other
parts of the university, destroyed, shut down,
or faculties moved outside of Donetsk.
The refugee crisis, depopulation, and a huge brain drain augment the total destruction. As a Kyiv blogger noted, most professionals, teachers, doctors, scientists, business people, civic and NGO leaders, entrepreneurs and people with ideas and dreams have left occupied Donetsk, and also Lugansk. Science Magazine (2 January 2015), reporting on the dissolution of Ukraine's scientific infrastructure, noted that "Kyiv authorities have moved 11 universities out of rebel-held territory in Donetsk and Lugansk. Science assets there and in Crimea are beyond their grasp."

Those who choose to remain or have no choice but to remain, my Kyiv friend says, are submerged daily in overwrought Russian propaganda that blames "Kyiv fascists" and their US allies for the war.  Some, nostalgic for Soviet times, believe they will be better off under Russian control.

The destruction is so great, the damage so excessive, that it will take billions to repair and replace.  And the costs keep going up.  Debaltseve, a transportation hub, is under relentless bombardment. Mariupol is threatened, as is Berdyansk (which has a huge refugee population).  Further north, Russian soldiers dared to attack Kramatorsk, the provisional headquarters of Donetsk oblast, a blatant disregard of Ukraine's sovereignty. Poroshenko, almost in shock, called it "a crime against humanity." Sudden bombings occur in major cities every day, including Khargiv, Kyiv, and Odessa. Terrorists bombings.

The Ice Hockey Arena, destroyed, burned.

Everyone knows that Ukraine does not have the army to defeat Russia's mighty military. US Congress member Marcy Kaptur (D, Ohio) says that "Ukraine is a sitting duck against the Russian bear."

Nor does Ukraine have the resources to rebuild the wastelands of Lugansk and Donetsk.The Ukrainian economy is on the verge of collapse. My blogger friend thinks Ukraine has little choice but to accept the de facto borders recognized at the first Minsk agreements in September 2014, agree to some buffer against further land grabs, and let Russia rule the ruins.  The Ukrainian people can't take this on, she argues, and most taxpayers don't want to pay for it. They are resigned to a Ukraine with new borders.  "Yes," says a dear friend in Starobelsk, so far safe from Russian aggression but ever in fear,  "let's have peace and let Russia rule the ruins."

Can some peace plan be achieved?  Will Putin withdraw his soldiers and weapons?  Can the US provide more economic development support and defensive military support (not offensive weapons aimed at Russia)? Will Ukraine be able to move forward and focus on its economy without a war on its back?   Don't know.    
At train station after shelling, fall 2014

Donetsk train station before the ruins. 


At the train station.  People cannot go by train to
or from Donetsk.  Same is true in Lugansk. 

President Poroshenko has said over and over that this is not a civil war, although Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts have been divided and destablized as never before. This war is rooted in an invasion of a sovereign territory by a foreign power that has run roughshod over its territorial integrity.  Withdraw, and the war will end.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Dreams of Akiri Kurowasi


Theatre poster, Warner Brothers.
We should all have such stunning dreams! That was my thought as the last movie of the Ohio Theatre's International Film Festival ended. An appreciative crowd gathered to enjoy food from KotoBuki and interesting conversation at the closing reception.

Scenes from Dreams,  the film by Japanese writer and director Akiri Kurowasi (1990), floated through the atmosphere of the theater like the spirits of flowering peach trees.  Pink petals filled the air. Crows flew dramatically from golden wheat fields painted by  van Gogh.

A "magic realism," as Kurowasi's film has been called, filled the house with the stunning cinematography that took our breaths away.

Peter Ujvagi, former Toledo Council member and Lucas County Administrator, and community leader extraordinaire, agreed.  "The cinematography was beautiful," he said. the textures and colors like Edo wood prints.  Peter Ujvagi has been in the forefront of supporting Toledo's international cultural traditions, preserving its history and buildings, and celebrating diversity. His colleagues who support the Ohio Theatre restoration have, too, among them board member Tom Jesionowski of United North, and Jim Hill, professor emeritus of Theatre Design and Technology at the Univerity of Toledo and now board chair. They were present to welcome movie goers and talk about plans for the future.

My friend Teddy said she liked the dream where a curious man, obviously the filmmaker,  runs through Vincent van Gogh's paintings, super saturated with color and texture.  Chasing van Gogh! The artist is played by Martin Scorsese, to interesting effect.  A western-art inspired dream, the only one, that ends fittingly with a Chopin prelude.

Kim, a graduating Senior at UT, noted the juxtaposition of tragic and happy dreams. She mentioned the dream featuring dead soldiers, their faces in ghostly blue paint, haunting their guilt-ridden commander who survived "the tunnel" of death, guarded by a mad fox armed with explosives.  A sad and frightful scene. Is it the same fox that pushed the young boy-turned-filmmaker to seek meaning and forgiveness under the rainbow?  Then Kim talked about the flower-filled "Watermills" dream at the end of the film, featurng a peaceful village in harmony with nature.

I thought about the dream where mountaineers struggle for survival in a brutal blizzard, and death beckons in the vision of a woman with a shimmering soft blanket of golden threads. The dream floated.  Another dream draws upon the fear of nuclear holocaust, a dramatic rendering of the meltdown and explosions of a nuclear power plant that turn Mount Fuji red, bleeding red, this dream followed by another, the Weeping Demon, showing the haunting effects of the disaster.

The pace is slow, very slow, like a Japanese tai chi dance, but the images are striking. In this age of action movies, computers and fast internet access, the faster the better, Kurowasi's film seems like a movie in slow motion.  The camera focuses on every detail for a long time, lingering, lingering.  I found myself distracted by the pace at first, then took a deep breath and slowed myself down. In a more meditative state, I fully enjoyed the rest of "Dreams" without distraction.

A woman with whom I chatted briefly summed it up: "No matter how we view the films, all of these films give you something to think about."

That's for sure.  And more food for thought is forthcoming at the Ohio Theatre. Check their website for updates: www.ohiotheatretoledo.org.  .




Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Toledo International Film Festival: "The Visitor" and "English Vinglish"

Movie poster, yahoo, shows Walter drumming 
at a NYC subway station, and photos of Tarek,
his girlfriend, his mother Mouna.
The International Film Festival had a great third Saturday night at the Ohio Theatre with two interestng films, The Visitor (writtenand directed by Thomas McCarthy) and English Vinglish (written and directed by Gauri Shinda).

They are very different movies, one featuring a bored, emotionally stuck professor who crosses paths with an unexpected visitor from Syria, and the other a vibrant Indian homemaker who wants to learn English, and does.

As different as these movies are in sound, setting and cinematography, they are also similar.

Both movies wrap around issues of immigration and identity. Both explore the unexpected curves life throws us, the twists and turns, and illuminate how ordinary people respond to them. Both affirm the triumph of the human spirit against the odds, although one ends without resolution and the other with a happy ending.

In The Visitor, a bored economics professor, Walter Vale (played by Richard Jenkins with remarkable restraint and depth), has lost his wife, a classical pianist, his sense of purpose, his motivation to do anything worthwhile. He has taught the same course for 20 years (changing nothing but the date on his syllabus), demeans his students, cannot finish his 4th book, wallows in a self-absorbed life without meaning. "I do nothing," he says.  

On a trip to his New York City apartment (he's in the city for a conference he did not want to attend), Walter encounters a young immigrant couple, Tarak from Syria and his girlfriend Zainat from Senegal. They are in America illegally, which complicates their lives.

The encounter changes the trajectory of Walter's life, as does an unexpected visitor, Tarek's mother Mouna.   Mouna is a talented and elegant woman, also in America illegally (she didn't file the correct refugee status forms), and is cautiously living in Michigan.  "Cautiously" because the lives of immigrants, especially illegal immigrants without proper papers, is precarious at best.  This is the heart of the story.  Mouna's life is a series of emotional setbacks, death (her journalist husband was killed in Syria), and waiting. Waiting for life to come to her. Waiting for something to happen.

The actress Hiam Abbass, from Palestine, plays Mouna with quiet beauty, dignity, and deep emotion.  Mouna's natural joi de vivre, long suppressed, emerges when Walter takes her to see The Phantom of the Opera.  It is lovely to see her joy, because we understand it is so fleeting.

It is the same with Walter, who brightens a little bit as he interacts with Mouna, or when he plays the drum, which her son taught him.  I love the scenes where Walter joins Tarek, so bright and hopeful, and other drummers in Central Park, and really gets into it. Tiny sparks in an otherwise bland life.  Upbeat moments, some inner release, in the depressed lives of the marginalized.  The transforming power of art and music.

Nothing explodes outwardly in this movie. The inner explosions are another matter. We feel them.

Walter's life inevitably becomes more entwined with Mouna's as they share a common purpose: saving Tarek, who is falsely arrested and taken to a god-forsaken detention center in Queens.  The faded nondescript rectangular building and the unfeeling bureaucrats who run the place signal nothing but despair. Under the circumstances, a matter of life and death, I can't imagine interacting with such unfeeling bureaucrats without exploding in rage.

But Walter doesn't explode.  He grinds in agony within. Tarek faces imminent deportation, the biggest fear of refugees fleeing Middle East war zones. Walter shares Mouna's sense of desperation and helplessness. But he doesn't give up.

There's no preaching in this movie.  It just tells the story. Neither Walter nor Tarek's mother, nor a worthless lawyer, can save Tarek.  He is summarily deported, without due process, without warning.  Mouna decides to return to Syria to look for her son, the future unknown, anxiety-ridden. The heartfelt moments between Walter and Mouna, a love that unfolds softly, come to an end.

Walter expresses his rage and sadness in the only way he knows how, the way Tarek taught him: playing the drums.  Drumming has become the outlet for Walter's inner turmoil. And for the first time we do see it explode.  We watch Walter walk with determination, his drum over his shoulder, to a New York metro station.  We see him set up his drum.  He starts drumming, alone on the subway platform. Drumming furiously.  It was something Tarek had said he wanted to do some day, but fear, caution, held him back.   Now Walter plays with abandon, full of sound and fury, signifying loss, heartbreak. He becomes the voice of Tarek and Mouna.

Will Walter be able to pick himself up and go on? Will he be able to take the new path that rose up from the humdrum of his former life?  Has he found a new purpose? Will Mouna and her son survive in Syria? We don't know.

Movie poster yahoo
English Vinglis is a colorful contrast to the noir aspects of The Visitor.  It's a delightful take on the role of  an Indian homemaker, Shashi Godbale, played by the beautiful Sridevi.  She embodies the lives of middle-class married women in India, with a successful husband, Satish, and their two lively children.

Shashi is known for her laddoos, a delicious Indian dessert, which she lovingly makes and sells from her home.  She is proud of her cooking ability and her home business, but she is taken for granted. Her role is not valued.  She is just doing women's work.  To add insult to injury, her husband and teen daughter tease her about her poor English.  Any of us who have a hard time learning foreign languages can empathize with her frustation.

It looks like Shashi is stuck in the role of unappreciated housewife and mother with no way out.  Only when she goes to America to help her sister plan her daughter's wedding does Shashi's life turn around.  An unexpected twist.  Her initial reluctance to leave her family and go to a strange place alone is the beginning of a journey of self-discovery.

While adapting to her new environment in New York, such a different slice of life from that in The Visitor, she surreptiously joins an English class (using profits from her laddoo business). She learns to navigate the big city, despite difficult encounters, despite her fears.  She makes friends and is regarded as a talented woman, indeed an envied "entrepreneur," among her classmates, who are a colorful cast of characters including a French chef who falls in love with her. All Shashi's new experiences help her gain in self-confidence.

This movie has an upbeat international flavor.  It's the opposite of bland, which overlays The Visitor.   Shashi's beautiful saris alone add color and spice. The Indian family and the American fiance; the English-language class of adult students from around the world who want to better their lives (all played beautifully);  the cafes and street life of the city; they all portray the mosaic of cultures, the cultural stew, that is America at its finest.  It's an America that embraces differences, uncomplicated and unafraid. Shashi is the messanger.

The movie culminates in what can be only be called "A Big Fat Indian Wedding," when Shashi's niece marries her American fiance. Although Shashi has to choose between her laddoo-making for the wedding and her final test for her English class, it turns out she can do both.  She answers to the pull of tradition and rises up to meet the need for self-expression and personal growth.

Optimism prevails.  The wedding scenes are full of the colors, sounds and traditions of India, everyone participating, including Shashi's English class.  The costumes are great in these scenes. Shashi's toast, presented in English, sums up the meaning of  her experience in America, and in the process she earns her English diploma with distinction.

This is a Bollywood hit with an upbeat message for women in an international context.  Shashi achieves the respect she wants from her family, and returns to India a more self-assured woman.  The appreciative audience gets a happy ending.

I look forward to the last movie in the Toledo International Film Festival next Saturday, February 7, at the Ohio Theatre at 5:00 pm.  It will feature  the movie "Dreams," by writer and director Akira Kurosawa.  The previews promise another eye-opening experience.

INFORMATION:
Ohio Theatre
www.ohiotheatretoledo.org
419/720-8952 or 419/255-8406, ext 305
3106 Legrange Street, Toledo

Thanks to the Ohio Theaetre, Welcome Toledo-Lucas County, and United North, the sponsors of the first Toledo International Film Festival. Thanks also to Deepam India restaurant for the wonderful Indian food at the showing of these movies!