Friday, March 16, 2018

Students in the Tradition of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas

Thousands of students sit in silence in DC and across the country
in memory of the students killed at Parkland, Florida's
 Marjorie Stoneman Douglas School. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998), the journalist, writer, women's suffragist, fighter for civil rights, and savior of the Florida Everglades, would be weeping for the tragedy that took place at the school named after her in Parkland, Florida.  She would also rejoice that the student survivors of the tragedy, brave and articulate, have found their voice and are using it.  They are speaking out forcefully and directly about an urgent social problem, as Douglas did in her time. They are motivating a new generation.

dogo image
I went to google to remind myself of Douglas' legacy. I first learned about her when I moved from DC to Florida and worked for the NEH Florida Humanities Council. I read everything I could about Florida. I read Douglas, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (The Yearling), Zora Neale Hurston (My Eyes were Watching God), mystery writers and nature writers. I traveled the state from Pensacola and the Panhandle to Jacksonville and Orlando, along the Gulf coast from Tampa, across the Tamiami Trail over the Everglades from Naples to Miami, all to absorb Florida's geography, history, folklore, and culture.

yahoo image
My thoughts returned to Florida when the gruesome story of another mass murder filled the media. Images of Sandy Hook and other shootings with military weapons rose up, along with rage. How long will we tolerate these senseless, unspeakable tragedies?  
The student survivors at Douglas School have some answers. They are arising out of the ashes of this tragedy like a bright Phoenix.  They are revitalizing the gun control movement. They are already making a difference, and giving us hope.

Douglas would be proud of them. She, too, was a fierce and outspoken defender of the causes she believed in. She is best known for the book The Everglades: River of Grass (1947), which redefined the popular conception of the Everglades as a "treasured river instead of a worthless swamp."  It's impact has been compared to that of Rachel Carsen's Silent Spring. From the age of 79 until her death at the grand old age of 108, Douglas was a relentless and fearless crusader for the preservation and restoration of the Everglades. (Wikipedia)

The students at Douglas school are carrying on her tradition of speaking out and standing firm in their beliefs.  A new generation is out to change America for the better. It's our hope for the 21st century and beyond.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Hubris is taking down the Trump Family

This photo is of Trump trying to cover up his bald spot, but it looks more
like the image of a man under siege, saying "I can't take it anymore,"
 and shutting himself off from reality (if he was ever there). Yahoo image. 
Hubris--false pride, unmitigated arrogance, "challenging the gods," as the ancient Greeks would put it--is bringing Trump and his crime family down. The USA will recover in time, but the Trump family, the business, the brand, NEVER.  The Trump name, in whatever guise it appears, is going down in infamy, forever.  

What a bizarre twist of fate.  Is it a Shakespearean tragedy? No. That requires a noble character with a tragic flaw that is his or her undoing.  

This story is more like a Greek tragedy about a flawed character without virtue, whose hubris is his nemesis. 

This story is about an impulsive, ignorant and emotionally unevolved man who decides to run for President of the United States even though he has not one iota of experience or knowledge, let alone a strong moral purpose, to fulfill the Constitutional duties of its highest office.  

It's a story about a man who doesn't know the U.S. Constitution, hasn't read the documents of the Founding Fathers, in fact doesn't read at all, and does not know the history of his own country.  He is a man who does not understand what it means to live under the Rule of Law and serve as it's strongest public advocate. 

Moreover, this character, put in office by a corrupt Electoral College not the majority of Americans, is not interested in learning or taking advise from experts or professional civil servants who know more than he does. His billionaire cabinet, confirmed by Senate Republicans also lacking in ethical purpose, is dismantling our agencies piece by piece. He doesn't care and is facilitating the damage.  He is a pathological liar with the attention span and mindset of a four-year-old, totally lacking in leadership ability and unable to manage a team. Never have so many resignations and lies emanated from the White House.

This character trying to act as a president is also alarmingly ignorant of public policy. He struts on the stage unable to defend or coherently make a case for any public policy position.  He has no substance. He thinks public policy has to do with signing Executive Orders and photo ops. He makes impulsive decisions without knowing the facts or considering the consequences. His rants on health care, immigration, tax cuts for the super rich, and tariffs on steel and aluminum are examples. He hopes America will one day have "A President for Life."

Hillary Clinton, who was supremely qualified to serve and won the election by over 3 million votes, said it best: "Trump's ideas are not just different, they are dangerously incoherent. They're not even really ideas, just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies.  He is not just unprepared, he is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility." 

His impulsive, uninformed decision to run for president, made for all the wrong reasons, lies at the heart of the tRump crime family's demise. Public exposure has shed a glaring light on their inadequacies and deficiencies, not to say their perverted values and rank corruption. A simmering underlying racism and misogyny combined with Russian interference may have helped get him elected, but the quid pro quos are criminal and impeachable.

The election of this Pretender merely set the stage for a full-blown Constitutional crisis.

As the White House unravels and the duplicity and complicity of a self-serving cabinet and Congressional Republicans continue, this theater of the absurd has a new hero.  He is the Special Prosecutor with an expert team of lawyers who is examining the flawed character's actions in every detail.  Robert Mueller's work is headed for the climax of the story and its denouement will result in one of the ugliest chapters in American history.

Trump and the House of Trump--a house of cards--will never recover from the wrong decision of a flawed man to run for an office he is unable to fulfill and an Oath of Office he is unable to uphold. The family will never recover from his narcissism, ignorance, and hubris. Trump and his family and his brand are going down in infamy.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Mummies take Center Stage at the Toledo Museum of Art

The Mummies exhibit at TMA. Teddy admires the 1906 guide to the fledgling collection. The colorful
 background of  this collage is an abstract art work on sale at the Museum Shop, along with the beautiful glass bowls.  
As someone who loves Egypt I was happy to join my friend Teddy to see the new Mummies exhibit at the Toledo Museum of Art.

The pieces in this exhibit were collected by the founders of the Museum, Edward Drummond Libbey and Florence Scott Libbey, on a trip they made to Egypt in 1906.  They bought 239 ancient Egyptian artifacts and art works, including Mummy of an Old Man and Mummy of a Young Priest, for the new museum they had founded five years earlier.  The exhibit guide notes that the Libbey's added two rooms to the original museum on Madison and 13th Street to show their collection, which proved very popular.  It's a piece of Toledo history, among many, that I never knew and am happily just learning.
An excellent guide to the exhibit, with
thoughtful & studied commentary on
the meaning of "cultural appropriation"
and "the ethics of exhibiting mummies."
The exhibit focuses on the popularization of everything Egyptian at the turn of the century and again with the discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1922. Egyptomania!

From the 19th century to the present day, imagery from ancient Egypt has been appropriated for architecture and design, advertisement, cosmetics, plays and novels and popular culture.  As the guide thoughtfully notes "Appropriation, or the borrowing and alteration of images and cultural heritage, changes the context of what you see and what it means.  It can cause us to lose sight of the real people and rich history of a culture/civilization in favor of stereotypes and misunderstandings."  This is a caution well worth considering. I greatly appreciate its inclusion in the guide.

The two mummies the Libbey's purchased from Egypt are on display. They are the focus of the exhibition, which considers mummies in the context of Egyptomania, while also examining their original role within ancient Egyptian religious beliefs. (All information about the exhibit from the Museum guide or panel notes and descriptions accompanying the art.)

It is fascinating to read about the modern techniques used to study and identify mummies. For instance the mummy of the young priest was first thought to be a woman until Xrays and genetic testing confirmed otherwise.  Radiocarbon dating determined that the mummy was a young man, about 20 years old when he died in about 800 BCE.  He was almost certainly a priest because his head and body were completely shaved for ritual purification. Art scholars also learned that the pose of the mummy--hands crossed across the chest--is a position known only for men.

The other mummy, the old man, dated to 50-150 CE when Egypt was part of the Roman Empire.  Xrays and other studies determined he was about 45-55 years old when he died, about the average life expectancy for his time. The details of his entombment revealed a life of heavy labor and signs of bone problems and arthritis.  Imagine being able to uncover such details.

I pondered the art of the dead and the science of life.  The ancient Egyptians believed that death began a journey to the afterlife, where all the necessities of their former lives, including their bodies, would be essential to eternal survival.  The grand story of the god Osiris and his resurrection, a belief common across religions as Joseph Campbell reminded us, was the source of the ancients belief that life continued in another sphere after death. My brother Loren believed this, and since his sudden death from a  heart attack in May 2010 I want to believe it too.

These beliefs of course are sacred. They need to be taken seriously, respected. Fittingly, the Museum, on the cutting edge of museum practice, addressed the issue head on in a large interpretive panel titled "The Ethics of Exhibiting Mummies."  The panel notes that when the Libbeys purchased the items for their Egyptian collection it was common to exhibit mummies as scientific and cultural curiosities. In recent decades, however, "there has been a world-wide dialogue about respect for national cultural patrimonies and reverent treatment of the remains of the dead, whether ancient mummies or more recent burials of indigenous peoples. In addition, the display of human remains in an art museum prompts its own questions of appropriateness."

Kudos to TMA for giving viewers a context for understanding this exhibit and enriching our museum experience.

I couldn't believe I was at the Great Pyramids of Egypt,
and that I saw the moon rise and the sun set on 2011
in the Valley of the Kings and Queens
in the desert outside the amazing city of Luxor on the Nile.
The exhibit took me back to my fabulous trip to Egypt at the close of 2010 with Peace Corps friend Jud. I didn't know it then, but we were following in the adventurous footsteps of the Libbeys! Not that we could purchase any art! But like the Libbey's we were engulfed in antiquity, immersed in the art, artifacts, beautifully designed and painted "cartonnage" (linen, glue and plaster with paint) in the Egyptian Museum of Art in Cairo and wherever we went along the Nile. The colors were still brilliant, as if they had been painted yesterday and not thousands of years ago. Egypt's culture and history filled me with awe. Perhaps it was seeing the art in its own cultural context, unfiltered through the interpretation of others, up close, in person. The Pyramids! I stood at the bottom of the stairway to these enormous tombs, and stopped, transfixed. I honestly couldn't believe I was in Egypt, actually seeing them first hand. The train trip from Cairo to Luxor also filled our senses; the landscape and views along the historic Nile River were riveting, the scenes of daily life fascinating, and the archeological splendor of Luxor beyond imagination.

Ah Egypt, we wish you the glories and beauty of your antiquity as you move into an uncertain future. Thanks to TMA for its sensitive portrayal of the Mummies and for keeping the stories and the memories alive. 
In Cairo, at the Egyptian Museum of Art, at the pyramids, at the Valley of the Queens and Kings, in exquisite beautiful Luxor. The trip of a lifetime in an ancient land going back some 5000 years.  How lucky to celebrate New Years Day 2011 in the Luxor desert, upper right.

Some Egypt Blogs at www.fran-ukrainian-adventure

Friday, February 23, 2018

Poems for Resisters: Wendell Berry takes us to Safe Places

An Indivisible Toledo friend, Cherie Spino, a dedicated and indefatiguable resister, posted a poem by Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things, on facebook. She needed a break, she said. There's so much sad news out there, so much to do to bring change and to save a democracy under siege.  "Take a deep breath, and read."

"When despair for the world grows in me...I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water...I come into the peace of wild things..." Oh, how that resonates! It's a place where my favorite contemporary poet Mary Oliver takes us, too. Yes, we do need to come into that place from time to time. We do need breaks from the politics of the day. It becomes unbearable to see how our democracy is being undermined, how kids are being killed with AR-15s and weapons of war, how our social safety nets are under attack, how oligarchy and tyranny, from the White House and Congress on down, have taken over our lives.   

I had not thought about Wendell Berry, the award-winning poet from Kentucky, in a long time. The last I recalled, with Cherie's prompting, is that he won a National Humanities Medal and gave the annual Jefferson Lecture a few years ago, both august public humanities events I have followed since I worked for the DC and Florida state programs of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The poem Cherie posted refreshed my memory and took me online to do a little research.  Wendell Berry was born in 1934 and lives on the farm in Henry County, Kentucky, that has been in his family for five generations. His writings evoke a strong sense of place, full of images of the Kentucky River and the hill farms of central Kentucky. He is an advocate for sustainable agriculture and small farming, locality and agrarian values, in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson and Henry David Thoreau.

I took myself away from the news du jour, away from writing, and spent an afternoon reading Berry's poetry.  I ordered a few books. Berry's poems will be there when I need a break from resisting, marching, making phone calls, protesting. Not that what I do compares to Cherie, who is on the front lines with Indivisible and other resisters, like Molly Reed, 24/7.  I swear, these two women keep me going.

I met Cherie at a workshop she was conducting to get signatures on a petition to put an anti-gerrymandering issue on the Ohio ballot in November.  She said we were just starting and needed 300,000 signatures. That was daunting! Her optimism moved me. I did what I could, which wasn't much, but Cherie has been at it for months and months. These devoted activists have almost reached their goal. Imagine the work. And it's only one of the many political action strategies that resisters like Cherie and Molly are involved in every single day.

Whatever helps these resisters carry on is a good thing.  If it's a poetry break, even better! "Take a breath, and read," Cherie says. It is wonderful advice. "Though I am dark, there is vision around me./Though I am heavy there is flight around me."

Two more poems by Wendell Berry
If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it...
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides...
The river will run
clear, as we will never know it...
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields...
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its reality.

Do Not be Ashamed 
You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
"I am not ashamed." A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.

This poem took me to Mary Oliver's Wild Geese, and in a poetry frame of mind, I can't resist putting it here. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The book Philip gave me: "Making Bombs for Hitler"

My 10-year-old great-grandson Philip, son of my first-born grandchild Julia and grandson of my daughter Elissa, handed me a book he had just read. "I think you'll like this, Nana," he said.

The book is Making Bombs for Hitler (Scholastic Inc., 2017), by popular Ukrainian-Canadian author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (pronounced Skrip-ich). The title captured me right away.

"You read this book about such a serious subject?" I ask. He nods, smiles. I give him a hug. He is so proud of himself, and I of him!

Philip is right. I liked this book. I'm a historian. I taught American history to students at various colleges over the years. I directed NEH state programs in DC and Florida to bring history to the public. I lived in the town of Starobelsk in eastern Ukraine for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. While living there (2009-11) I picked up bits and pieces of a World War II history that I never knew before, a shocking history uncovered only since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The badge worn by child slaves
 in German labor camps.
Making Bombs for Hitler encompasses this history.  The novel, written for kids Philip's age, but really for people of all ages, tells the sad and little-known story of the Ostarbeiters (literally "eastern workers").  The Ostarbeiters were mostly Ukrainian children, ages 7-14 on average, whom the Nazis kidnapped and forced into slavery in German labor camps to keep the Nazi war machine going.  It's estimated that more than 2.5 million children were sent to these camps. Many thousands died from starvation and overwork.

Skrypuch draws on real-life stories of survivors to tell the harrowing tale of Lida and her sister Larissa. She dedicates the book "to Anelia V, whose detailed recall of day-to-day life as a Nazi slave helped me create an accurate world for Lida."

The accuracy of Lida's world horrifies.

The story begins in the brutal reality that Yale historian Timothy Snyder documents in his best-selling book The Bloodlands: Eastern Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2012). The sisters' father is killed by the Russians and their mother is shot by the Nazis for harboring Jewish neighbors.  Lida, Larissa and her family, archetypal of their time and place, are literally viciously trapped between Hitler and Stalin.

Philip and Chase reading books at Costco while
GranElissa  shops. Love to see my grands reading.
Lida and Larissa, living with their grandmother after their parents' murders, scared, hoping they might be safe because they aren't Jewish, are kidnapped by the Nazis. Clinging to each other for dear life, a Nazi nurse separates them despite, or because of, their protests. Lida's pain and confusion are heart-wrenching. What's happening? Where are we going? What will happen to my sister? What will happen to me?

Lida, just ten years old but advised to pretend to be older, is herded onto an overcrowded cattle car and left floundering in shock with hundreds of other children, without food, air or water, a hole in the corner for a toilet, like the death trains that took Jewish prisoners to concentration camps and other Eastern European victims to Russian gulags. Fear and "the smell of misery" envelops her.

It never goes away. The labor camps are vicious. Underfed, hardly clothed, indiscriminately "disciplined" by sadistic guards, exposed to the arbitrary outbursts of the Gestapo or industrial plant guards, witnesses to and victims of inhuman brutality, many of the Ostarbeiters did not live to tell their story.

Can one's sense of humanity and decency survive under such conditions?  Lida's struggle to survive and find her sister Larissa brings more horror than hope. But somehow, Lida never gives up. She draws strength from deep within that she didn't know she had. She remembers her mother telling her "you can find beauty anywhere." She tries.  At a low point in the camp, she pleads with a despairing friend, both worked beyond endurance, to fight to stay alive. "If you don't live, who will tell your story after the war ends?"  

The rest of the story highlights how these brave young workers sabotage the bombs they are forced to make under the hateful eyes and constant death threats of their supervisors. They are also victims of increased Allied bombings that targeted Nazi munition factories near war's end. 

As the Nazis began fleeing the camps and destroying evidence of their existence, Lida learns from her friend Juli, who worked in the camp's hospital, a gruesome assignment, that Officer Schmidt, the sadistic head of the labor camp, had ordered the cook to poison the workers' soup. "All the Eastern workers who were in camp today died."

Lida's fury rises up. "The Nazis will pay for these murders," she whispers to her horrified friend, as they continue sabotaging bombs one after another. "They should think twice before asking slaves to make bombs."  Who knows how many bombs failed to explode because of the efforts of these children, but their courage is breathtaking.

Making Bombs for Hitler ends in the same Bloodlands reality as it began.  After the Nazi labor camps came the Russian Gulags. The Red Army, every bit as cruel as the Nazis, hunted and captured the terrorized survivors and sent them to their death in Siberia. "They called us traitors," the young boy Luka, who barely survives this fate, tells Lida.  "But you were a prisoner of the Nazis," she says. "It doesn't matter," he replies, clearly traumatized beyond measure by his near-death experiences. "We can never go home again."  A lucky few found new homes in western Europe or were adopted in Canada and other countries. Skrypuch suggests this ending for Lida and Larissa. 

I asked Philip what he thought of the book. "I think Lida was a very brave girl."  How would you have survived?  "I would do what Lida did, and for sure sabotage those bombs like she did." He did wonder if he could survive on the camp diet of  watery turnip soup. "Maybe I would have gotten very weak," he admitted, "too weak to work, maybe too weak to live."  He pondered that. So did I.
* * *
On the complicated history of Chernivtsi oblast in western Ukraine:

On the Ostarbeiters. Ukrainian references from my friend Natalia Dohadailo in Starobelsk. They can be translated.  Thanks also to Olga Koulich-mirochnychenko for sharing information.

About the author:

For World War II historical context: Timothy Snyder, BLOODLANDS: Europe between Hitler and Stalin (Basic Books, 2010).   The "Bloodlands" is the region that includes modern-day Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and the Baltic states.  Snyder's thesis is that this is where "the totalitarian regimes of Stalin and Hitler interacted to increase suffering and bloodshed many times worse than any seen in western history." Snyder painstakingly documents how Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union and Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany committed mass killings of more than 14 million unarmed non-combatants and civilians outside the death camps of the Holocaust during World War II and afterwards. These were Intentional policies of mass murder, including Stalin's Katyn Forest Massacre of Polish army officers and POWs, the Nazi's deliberate starvation of 3 million Soviet prisoners of war, and outright executions and death camps on both sides of the Nazi/Soviet line.
      The citizens of these countries were literally caught between two bloody regimes, with no exit.   I've been learning more about eastern Europe ever since I lived in Ukraine, a traumatized society to this day. After the Nazi atrocities came the Stalin atrocities, when Red Army soldiers hunted the scarred and scared survivors and treated them like traitors. They captured thousands upon thousands of Ostarbeiters as they wandered the countryside or ended up in Displaced Persons Camps and sent them to Russian gulags. From Nazi labor camps to Soviet Gulags. Imagine it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Through Native Eyes: Seeing New Jersey and Brooklyn in New Ways

There's no better way to see a place than with natives in heart and soul who have a strong sense of place and strong devotion to it. And so I saw New Jersey with Alice and Brooklyn with Jon.

Alice's New Jersey, Bergen County. The Palisades, its glorious waterfalls frozen; Don Zirilli reading and local poets (they were all wonderful); the Women's March, part of the nationwide resistance, with Alice, Toby & Anne Cassidy; at the New Bridge, with ever-photogenic Alice. 

My dear friend from Madison, Wisconsin, graduate student days, Alice Twombly the poet and master literature teacher, grew up in the Englewood, Teaneck, Leonia area of an ever-changing New Jersey just across from the Big City. She still lives there. It's home. Sure, you can see Manhattan from this place, but the towns-upon-towns that constitute suburban New Jersey outside of NYC seemed larger this time, more historic, vital, dynamic.  We toured the ancient Palisades, those dramatic cliffs along the lower Hudson River that provide a unique view of the NYC skyline, and are not far from where Hamilton and Burr dueled it out. Yes, lots of duels and lots of history along those Palisades. We went to a poetry reading featuring poet Don Zirilli, a new voice for me, reading from his soon-to-be-published book "Heaven's Not for You" (see poem below, a revisioning and modern-day retelling of a biblical Parable). This Poetry series, held at the Classic Quiche Cafe in Teaneck, was started by Alice and poet friend Zev Shanken many years ago and it's still going strong. We shared dinner together at an Indian restaurant before the readings. We also spent a lovely evening at a Shabbat service and dinner at the home of friends. It was there I learned that a lovely college Sophomore, who I saw shedding a tear during the service, was the girlfriend of the handsome young man who was killed along with his entire family in that Costa Rica plane crash just before Christmas. How small the world is, and how sad it often is.  I felt glad she was among such loving friends from her Synagogue.

We marched in Leonia for women's rights and against the current White House occupant, where I met some remarkable resisters, like Anne and Joe Cassidy, and the dedicated women who organized an outstanding program of meaningful talks and music.  We sang "This Land is Your Land," a heartfelt echo from the 1960s that is as relevant today as ever and still tells it like it is.

We wove in and around Dutch Colonial brick homes, so full of stories, down Main Streets and side streets. Alice introduced me to NJ American Colonial and  Revolutionary War history, with a stop at the Historic New Bridge Landing where George Washington retreated across the Hackensack River with his ragtag Continental army after a great loss at Fort Lee. It moved Patrick Henry to write those famous words: "These are the times that try men's souls.

And so I saw New Jersey through the eyes of a native daughter.

I saw Brooklyn in the same way, for the first time, through the eyes of Jon Kay, a son of  our very dearest best friends Mike and Bettye Ruth Kay, from our shared time at the University of Toledo. Jon wasn't born in Brooklyn but his Dad was, and Jon knows it intimately, honors it.

Brooklyn! The neighborhoods, brownstones, through downtown, the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, famous views from the Bridge, with Jon Kay, and a special dinner with Alice's son Jonathan, his wife Kaori & their two daughters, at the Hamilton restaurant. The restaurant, lower left corner, is named after the Fort Hamilton Parkway and Fort, another reminder of Brooklyn's Revolutionary War history. "Can't forget the Battle of Brooklyn," Alice reminds me.
How special it was to reconnect with Jon after so many years, to reminisce about his extraordinary parents, who left such a great legacy in Toledo, and to see the Brooklyn that Jon knows and loves.  Jon conducts tours of Brooklyn, among his many other activities, so I certainly got the authentic scoop on this most populous, ethnically diverse and dynamic of  NYC's five boroughs. Over 2.6 million people live here in dozens of distinct neighborhoods, each with its own demographics, architecture, heritage and culture.  Jon thinks it's among the most special places on planet Earth, and after seeing it through his eyes, I can see why!

Alice and I started with the Prospect Park neighborhood by the Botanic Gardens, the Zoo, and the grand Soldiers and Sailors Arch in the Grand Army Plaza, designed after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris to honor "The Defenders of the Union, 1861-1865."  We traversed the neighborhoods around it, admired the famous brownstones in all their architectural delights from over hundreds of years, and took in the sense of the place.

Then we met Jon, and got to see the inside of a Brooklyn brownstone, large, in fine shape, for sale. I could live there, I thought, although the price is astronomical.  With Alice at the wheel, we stopped briefly at a well-known Italian bakery shop, which took me back to my grandmothers' cookies and my mom's, who made them by the dozens every Christmas.  We moved on through the neighborhoods to the Brooklyn Bridge.  Iconic, astonishing, awesome.  Brooklyn in its glory, with the most beautiful views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline across the East River.
Jon made a special effort to take me to his very favorite view from the Bridge, and I momentarily shared his joy in it, his sense of its soul.  This was Jon's paradise on Earth, and in that moment, it became mine, too.

* * * * * 

Here's an interesting fact about the designers and builders of the Brooklyn Bridge, German immigrant John Augustus Roebling and, after his death, his son and wife Washington Roebling and Emily Warren Roebling, taken from Wikipedia.  
"As Chief Engineer, Washington Roebling [who took over following his father's death] supervised the entire project from his apartment with a view of the work, designing and redesigning caissons and other equipment. He was aided by his wife Emily Warren Roebling, who provided the critical written link between her husband and the engineers on site. Under her husband's guidance, Emily studied higher mathematics, the calculations of catenary curves, the strengths of materials, bridge specifications, and the intricacies of cable construction. She spent the next 11 years assisting Washington Roebling, helping to supervise the bridge's construction." (Wikipedia) 
The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge is detailed in the 1972 book The Great Bridge by David McCullough and Brooklyn Bridge (1981), the first PBS documentary film by Ken Burns. Burns drew heavily on McCullough's book for the film and used him as narrator.It is also described in Seven Wonders of the Industrial World, a BBC docudrama series with an accompanying book.

"Heaven is Not for You" 
       by Donald  Zirilli
If you've ever been angry at your brother,
you're a murderer.
If you've even insulted your brother,
you're a murderer.
If you remember what your brother did to you, 
Heaven's not for you.

If you look at anyone with lust,
you're an adulterer.
If you remarry, 
you're an adulterer.
Heaven's not for you.

If your right eye offends you, pluck it out.
If your right hand offends you, cut it off.

Don't swear by the earth,
earth is God's footstool.
Don't swear by your head,
you can't change one hair of it.
Don't swear by Heaven,
Heaven's not for you.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Amsterdam and Cologne with Granddaughter Alli

Alli loves Amsterdam, at Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh, around the Dam, the town center, walking the neighborhoods, having pancakes and great food, with Andy and with Kaaren, Jeff and Parks, our fabulous hosts, having the time of our lives. 

What a special trip this was!  Alli's first trip to Europe, beginning in the beautiful cities of Amsterdam and Cologne.  A college graduation gift, to open her eyes to the world. And she was ready! "The advance team for your next trip, and many trips thereafter," I said to her as she jumped with joy in front of the Rijksmuseum. "I'm ready to go back, Nana!" she exclaimed, after a few days in Amsterdam and a train trip to Cologne. She was already planning an itinerary.

The Concertgebouw, the famous concert hall, near the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh.
Our base was the beautiful urban home of my niece Kaaren and her partner Jeff, creative geniuses both of them, and their precious son Parks, right on Sephatipark. Up several flights of stairs, way up, like almost all Amsterdam homes, unless you live on a houseboat on a canal. It's a lovely part of town.

From there we walked or took a trolley wherever we wanted to go, seeing the sites and the highlights, experiencing the spirit of the Netherlands, absorbing the culture, avoiding bikers, the major mode of transportation in this bustling city. I love the canals, the Museumplein area, and the Dam, the center of town where the Royal Palace and the Nieuwe Kerk dominate. I went to a wonderful exhibit at the church, "We Have a Dream," featuring the lives and messages of Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr., so needed once again in our times. The exhibit seemed to come alive in the spiritual glow of the church, with its vaulted gothic ceilings and stained glass windows.

We also took a train to Cologne to spend a few days in Germany, a small but tantalizing taste of this diverse country. Getting off at Central Station, after an interesting ride through German countryside and small towns, we were immediately greeted by the enormous, glorious 13th-century gothic Cologne Cathedral with its intricately carved weathered facade and towering twin spires.  We went inside the next day to see its fabulous craftsmanship, art and architecture. It's the tallest Cathedral in Europe, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It inspires awe and hope.

We stayed in a small but nice hotel near Heumarket square. From there we strolled to a nearby square in search of adventure and dinner. That's how we happened upon the historic Malzmuhle Brewery and Restaurant, famous for brewing the Cologne beer known as Kolsch since the 1800s.  We enjoyed an authentic German dinner of wiener schnitzel and bratwurst, and many glasses of Kolsch. We were happy campers by the time we left the Inn to explore the square, sit at one of the many cafes around it, and people watch.  Alli liked the German beer, and even my sister Andy and I, not usually beer drinkers, joined her to salute Cologne, the largest city on the Rhine river. The next day we took one of those City Bus Tours, getting off and on to explore the sights, including the Chocolate Museum. Yum. We also took an enjoyable and relaxing boat tour on the Rhine, which starts in the Swiss Alps and ends in the North Sea in the Netherlands.  I have lovely visions of strolling the promenade along the river.
Bikes and Art near Kaaren's neighborhood.

Full harvest moon over Amsterdam
October 5, 2017
Then it was back to Amsterdam to explore more of the Netherland's capital city. Alli spent more time with Kaaren and Jeff, taking long walks along the canals and enjoying the special places around the town that is now their home. Andy and I went at a more leisurely pace, stopping often to have a drink, sit at a corner cafe, enjoy good coffee and sisterly talks.

On our last day, Alli and I went to the large Amsterdam Market to browse and shop and enjoy. We bought souvenirs, scarfs, hats, tee shirts, whatever caught our fancy. Alli was practical and wise in choosing gifts, while I went for the magnets, shot glasses, and trinkets. I could see she was thoughtful and open to learning new things, to having new experiences. Every once in a while she'd give me a big hug and a big smile. "I love it. So Awesome. I love it!"

It was thrilling to watch Alli on her first European tour, to see my granddaughter absorb the adventure of a lifetime, knowing in my heart that there will be many more to come.
Sister Andy, granddaughter Alli, and niece Kaaren

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