Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tallahassee Time

Mom-to-be with her mom, her sister, friends and family,
at baby shower;  watching Leo play soccer   (he scored two goals!);
 in Andy's garden, flowers for our mom.. The spoon and fork
Kaaren is holding up were my brother Loren's.  .The middle photo
shows Jenn, Andy, and dear friends Cheryl and Linda.  

It was Tallahassee family week, and I was happy to be there with my sister Andy.  The weather was perfect, sunny and warm. The capitol of Florida glowed with flowers, greenery and color everywhere.  My sister’s garden and pots overflowed.  We celebrated the coming birth of a new child in our ever-growing, extended, and far-flung family.  My niece Kaaren is expecting her first child in July, a boy.  She came from Amsterdam, where she’s lived for some ten years, to celebrate with us.  Kaaren and her sister grew up in Tallahassee, went to college and graduate school in Florida.  Many of their friends were with us.  She and her sister are “Tallahassee Lassies, ” the southern part of our family. She is a radiant and beautiful mom-to-be.  Daddy Jeff stayed in Amsterdam, and celebrated Queen’s Day and the crowning of a new King, but his mother, aunt, brother and family joined us in Tallahassee, which was special. Andy hosted a barbeque dinner and Ali hosted a beautiful baby shower the next day, full of her creative touches.  Kaaren believes her uncle Loren is celebrating this coming birth with us.  “He’s my angel, and also nana and grandpa.,” she says.  Andy believes it. I want to believe it, too.

Spring and new birth: Nothing brings family and friends together like awaiting a new child.  It was a joyous week in Tallahassee, the place where springtime comes to America.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bliss: Blissfield Railroad Days with Philip

Riding the rails on the Adrian & Blissfield line,  with Elissa and Philip.
We passed old trains, vintage & colorful, shops, a park, a building
featuring Michelangelo's "hands touching." went over a bridge, enjoyed the
 scenery.  Then we had lunch, walked around town. One storefront features
a large Zebra that drew us in.  Elissa looks fashionable in large glasses 

and white hat, always adored by her favorite person in the whole world! 
Blissfield, Michigan, is just a few miles up the road from Sylvania, so on Sunday Elissa, Philip and I took a ride up through farmland to the annual Blissfield Railroad Days.  It was a cool but sunny day, fluffy clouds dancing in a blue sky that caught Philip's attention.  The farms looked wet (we've had lots of rain this spring) and slowly greening;  a few cows were grazing, a few horses; the old red barns looked pretty on the horizon, one graced by bright yellow daffodils.We live in the city, and we're city folks, but in 10 minutes we can be in the country, enjoying the far-flung flat farm fields and quiet beauty.

Blissfield is a neat little town, once a bustling railroad stop connecting Toledo, Elkhart, Indiana, and Chicago. There are so many towns like this in the Great Lakes Basin, as I now call it since that lecture at Lourdes about the National Great Lakes Museum.  Blissfield also has lots of intact historic buildings in and around its downtown, dating back to before the Civil War and into the 20th century.  The railroad still runs, both freight and passenger trains, although nowadays it's mostly known for its excursion and dinner trains.  Railroad Days brings in lots of people, to ride the trains, eat, explore, and shop. Antique malls entice visitors. We began at The Packrat. As friends have posted on facebook, the name "Packrat" has Elissa written all over it!  I think Philip might be following in his Gran E's footsteps, because he ooh'ed and ah'ed in every shop, and selected and bought three fabulous little toys.  We followed our energetic and enthusiastic shopper all over town.

Of course the best thing was taking a train ride on the old Blissfield and Adrian line, Philip's first but not his last, that's for sure.  We went a short distance between Blissfield's two train depots.  Local model train collectors opened their homes for visits, but we got engrossed in the antique shops and whatever model trains they had running, until it was time to head home.

"Blissfield's rich railroad history comes to life in this annual event,"  the event organizers proclaim. It did for Elissa, Philip and me. We'll go back next year, and take in more of those model train displays.    


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Detroit Institute of Art

One segment of  Diego Rivera's huge mural, "Detroit Workers," so representative
of the times. www.dia.org.

DIA exterior, at dia.org
A group of seniors from Lourdes University's Lifelong Learning program took a bus to Detroit last week to visit the Detroit Institute of Art. The   group was lively, curious and enthusiastic, which made the trip lots of fun, even though we had to go back to the museum on the way home. “Oh no, I forgot my coat,” we heard over the din. No problem.  We understood.  It could have happened to any of us. Heck, I had forgotten my camera, of all things.

Great Hall, dia.org
The Art Institute is a great institution in the heart of the city.  Wayne State University is a few blocks over; the Science Museum, a huge Medical complex, and City Hall nearby. Detroit’s  been hard hit by the ups and downs of the economy, unemployment, the recession, so we cheered any signs of resurgence, led by our bus driver Dennis, who it turned out is from Detroit and shared his love of his city with us. Restoration of historic downtown buildings and a re-design of the famed Cobo arena are a few examples.

The museum itself, started in 1895, is a beautiful Beaux Arts building that has added wings and had lots of upgrades over the years.  It's noted for its fantastic mural by Diego Rivera, done in the 1930s.  The mural room has been cleared of fountains, a large skylight added, and the mural cleaned.  It’s as compelling and strong as I remembered it when I first saw it, over 20 years ago, a tribute to Detroit workers, and to workers everywhere..
Famous Durer etching, "The Hands,"
 at www.albrechtdurer.org (not in
collection we saw, but representative.)

We also had a private peek at an Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) collection, led by an informed curator who told us about his life and art.  Durer was born in Nuremberg, traveled around Europe, and was quite an entreprenuerial businessman as well as a great artist. The engravings and woodcarvings portrayed both religious and secular themes; they looked just as they did when they were created in the early 1500s, some of the best works of  the Northern Renaissance. 

The other parts of the museum are fascinating, too: We wandered through many of the galleries, the African, Islamic, European and  Contemporary collections.  A docent-led tour after lunch gave more information about what we were seeing, especially of contemporary sculptures and paintings by African-American artists. We could only touch the surface of this great museum, which is known for its diversity and its multicultural and multinational collections.  

I am again reminded that cultural gems like the Detroit Institute of Art are everywhere, near and far, and close to home!  

Monday, April 22, 2013

Toledo Firefighters: History and Heroes

Caption:At Toledo Firefighters Museum with Elissa, Philip, Josh and Kyle. The museum is full of fabulous artifacts, memorabilia  and photos from 1837 to the present, a legacy to the courage of  firefighters here and all over the world.  Center left: all of us with Josh blowing an old brass horn, on a tour with retired Captain Nicely. Bottom row: Tribute to 9/11 firefighters named in American flag; photo of the 1920s brick firehouse that is now the Museum, showing horses pulling a fire wagon. Bottom right corner, iconic  photo of Mickey Mouse thanking a fireman.

Firetrucks used to be run by horses, very brave horses like "Tim," until the Model T took over in the early 1910s.  Large horns and fire bells sounded the alarms.  Getting water from nearby rivers or streams to fight fires was a major effort. Imagine the "bucket brigades"! Helmets evolved, from leather to aluminum, to a molded fiberglass, to sturdy plastic. So did hoses and ladders and other equipment. So did the uniforms and the different firetrucks themselves.  But one thing has remained the same: from the early days to today, firefighters are dedicated to putting out fires and saving lives.

The Toledo Firefighters Museums, 918 W. Sylvania Avenue, was started in 1976, America's bicentennial year, to honor the history and heroes of the Toledo Fire Division.  The old firehouse #18, brick and wood, with high ceilings, wood floors, and great beams, was turned into a museum that is chock full of  fire engines, ladders, helmets, plaques and badges, photos, vintage uniforms, antique fire toys, artwork and artifacts from the 1830s up to the present.   It also has a collection of  Daily Report Journals in its second floor library, formerly the firefighters' sleeping quarters, from every Toledo firehouse. Captain Nicely, a retired firefighter, took us on a wonderful tour of the museum, knowledgeable and fun, to the delight of grandsons Josh and Kyle and great-grandson Philip, with Gran E and me in tow.   It covers a 150 year history, from the volunteer "bucket brigades" to the modern well-trained and well-equipped firefighters of today

The kids loved the fire trucks, which included a horse-drawn steamer, a 1929 pumper truck, a 1936 Schacht  Service Ladder Truck, and a 1969 Willy's Fire Jeep. A dalmatian sat atop every one, the firefighters' ever-faithful dog. The equipment was fascinating, too. One truck held beautifully updated and polished ladders, a labor of love.  The kids also liked the "hands-on" experiences with horns, helmets, bells and alarms.  Elissa liked the antique memorabilia.  We were all amazed when Captain Nicely told us that firefighters can get into all their gear, which is substantial, from helmets to boots, in a minute or under!

The Toledo Firefighters Museum.  History and  heroes.  A great experience for kids of all ages, a tribute to the men and women who fight fires, go on life-threatening emergency runs, and risk their lives to save ours.

As we were leaving the Museum, I remembered the Toledo Firefighters' Pipes and Drums Corps, dressed in Scottish kilts, playing "Amazing Grace" at a  9/11 memorial service at Historic St. Patrick's Catholic Church. Haunting.  Evocative.  The memory and the Museum filled me with awe and gratitude. We join Mickey Mouse in thanking our firefighters.  .      

Another photo collage of our tour of the Toledo Firefights Museum
Saturday 20 April 2013

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A New National Museum on the Toledo Waterfromt: The National Museum of the Great Lakes

Christopher Gillcrist, far left,, and chatting with audience members;
 Lynda Hoffman, interim director, Lifelong Learning at Lourdes; some slides
featuring  themes of  the new  National Museum of the Great Lakes; friend
Teddy Wilson holding copy of  Inland Seas, the quarterly magazine of
the Great Lakes Historical Society, which is in charge of creating the national museum.. 
Did you know that "Rosie the Riveter" worked at the Port of Toledo at some point during World War II?  We know the  iconic image, which was featured in the government's campaign to encourage women to join the workforce while their men went to war. We know that lots of Toledo and Ohio women went to work in ports, plants and factories during the war, millions of them nationwide. So Rosie was here for a time? It's an American story, a great story.     

That was the main message of Christopher Gillcrist's April 19th lecture at Lourdes University's Livelong Learning program. "Great Lakes history is American History....It's a national story."  

Gillcrist, executive director of the Great Lakes Historical Society and the upcoming National Museum of the Great Lakes, drove the point home. Almost 100 people listened intently as Gillcrist shared the rationale, purpose, plans and themes of the evolving new NATIONAL museum. 

And, guess what? The museum will be housed right here in downtown Toledo on the Maumee river, in a great building next to the old Acme Power Plant. It's a creative reuse of an existing but empty building.  It has some 16,000 square feet of space--a super exhibit venue, expansive and open, and a beautiful location. Gillcrist hopes the Museum will open in the fall of 2013 or Spring 2014. It sounds like it will become a great tourist destination, like the Rock and Roll Museum in Cleveland.  


The Great Lakes compose 80% of the world's fresh water, Gillcrist told us, and comprise a major aspect of American maritime and industrial history, shipbuilding and transportation history, and the story of western migration.  "This is American history, and it hasn't gotten the attention it deserves."  The new Museum will make sure it does. 

Of course it is a national story comprised of lots of local stories that include the waterways, ports, cities and towns around the Great Lakes, including Toledo, Maumee, and Detroit.  In 1892, for example, 8 million people passed through the Port of Detroit, more than Chicago, Boston and New York together. Toledo was a major shipbuilding and transportation center through World War II, when  thousands of "Rosies" worked here. I imagined the strong image of Rosie the Riveter blown up to grand proportions, hovering over the museum!      
National Museum of the Great Lakes on the Maumee River,
downtown Toledo waterfront.  toledofreepress.com image. 

Gillcrist showed slides demonstrating some of the major themes to be featured in exhibits and programs at the museum, and talked about Shipbuilding, Shipwrecks (we all knew about the Edmund Fitzgerald), Passenger Transportation and the creation of vacation travel, Port Activities, and Ship Records.  He noted that Bowling Green State University's "Great Lakes Maritime Collection" is one of the best in the world and an important resource. The new museum will focus on permanent and temporary maritime exhibits, with the mission of "educating and entertaining."  It's something to which we can all look forward!   

For more information and updates: http://www.inlandseas.org/museum/

Thursday, April 18, 2013

THE ARCTIC: The New North Pole--It's not just about Santa Claus Anymore

North Pole with border countries, yahoo image. Portions of 8 countries
surround the Arctic circle, which is super rich in oil and gas resources.  
The Arctic, I am learning,  is a vast untapped resource, larger than the African continent, eyed hungrily by many nations.  A quick online search of what for me is a rather esoteric subject confirms this.  It's huge. Almost unfathomable.  Santa's North Pole is one of the most unexplored, undeveloped, resources-rich regions on planet Earth. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic has 90 billion barrels of oil and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.   It's all up for grabs.  (See Amy Crawford, Smithsonian magazine, April 2013).

Is the Arctic circle region--becoming more accessible as global warming melts the ice--an incredible opportunity for energy exploration and independence, or an environmental and geopolitical nightmare in the making?  I don't know.  But the home of Santa Claus and his toy factory has mind-boggling potential for becoming a battlefield of global proportions, not only over drilling for oil, but also over the Arctic’s true borders.  Who owns the land, the expanding ocean, the seafloor, the resources?

For doubters and naysayers about global warming, here is another fact: “We’ve never had a situation where an ocean has appeared overnight,” Crawford quotes professor  Rob Huebert, a political scientist at the University of Calgary who studies Arctic security issues.  "Arctic security issues"? Didn’t even know they existed.

Huebert continues:   “The ice kept everybody out, but now all of a sudden the ice is going to be gone.  So what happens?”

Will it be like the great 19th century exploration and exploitation battles between Russia and Britain over central Asia and India?  Will it be another version of a cold war, no pun intended, between Russia and the USA?

Russia is already claiming that much of the sea floor is an extension of Siberia’s continental shelf.  That would, the essay notes, “expand Russia’s borders to cover some five billion tons of oil and natural gas.”   

Then there’s China.  It isn’t on the border, not even geographically close, but it is the world’s largest energy consumer.  It’s not sitting idly by either, according to Crawford’s essay.  It sees the potential, and that’s why it’s investing billions in Canadian oil and gas projects.  Incredible news. Beijing has also expressed “a sudden desire” to join the once-obscure Arctic Council.  First time I’ve heard of it.   

There’s a fight brewing about the storied Northwest Passage as well, Crawford notes, a route along Arctic North America that became free of ice along the entire length for the first time in August 2007.   Good heavens.  Apparently this passage is much shorter than the usual sea route through the Panama Canal, and it could be a real boon to exporters like China.  Does the passageway belong to Canada, as it insists, or is it “an international waterway,” as the US and Europe contend? 

Will the Arctic's untapped natural resources become the world’s next huge battle in the ongoing war over oil and natural gas?

Not tomorrow, because engineers and scientists have yet to come up with the technology that can withstand the harshest polar environments. And the development expenses are enormous.  “Even as the ice melts, the Arctic will not give up its riches easily,” Crawford concludes.    

There seems to be little doubt, however, that the frigid and remote Arctic region will be hotly contested in the not-too-distant future. The fight's already begun.

It appears that the Obama administration is on it, through an Interior Department’s "high level working group" on Alaska oil and gas development and a U.S. Arctic Research Commission. There seems to be growing recognition for developing some kind of international plan for responsible development and, yes, protection.

What a daunting agenda. The future of the globe is at stake.  The Arctic is no longer just Santa's benign North Pole.

No wonder I'm having bad dreams.  And we haven't even talked about Antarctica, whose polar ice is melting at an alarming rate, causing oceans to rise. . 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dystopian visions

Last night I dreamt that super tsuanmis, one after the other, were covering the US in water, wiping out Florida and the East coast, then the Gulf states and threatening the West Coast.  A new westward movement was taking place, not in covered wagons but in cars and vans loaded to the gills with suitcases, mattresses, chairs and bikes atop of them or coming out of windows.   People were fleeing  to the mountains.  Then these messy caravans started coming from the west, bumper to bumper.  We were meeting in the middle of the country. As the coastal lands disappeared, people fled in mindless droves to higher peaks in Southwest Colorado and western states. Little Miss Sunshine from the movie was among them.  The Rockies were becoming so overcrowded that a violent mood set in.  Desperation mounted.  It would be survival of the fittest.   Where do we go next? Panic levels rose with the water. Mine did, too. I woke up with a start, full of anxiety:  America was disappearing like Atlantis.  We would be a nation under water, indivisible and invisible.

Good heavens. I’ve been reading too many stories about global warming, the polar ice caps melting in Anarctica and the Arctic. I lay in bed for a while, until other noir thoughts pushed me out, bombs exploding at the Boston Marathon, loss of life and limbs. Limbs?  I jumped out of bed to stop the thoughts.  It was 6:00 am, too early to be up, too scary not to be.   

So here I sit at the computer with my morning joe having thoughts of destruction and violence that won’t go away.  The morning news on Yahoo doesn’t help.  An 8-year-old is among the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.  The news is disturbing.  It’s 9/11, and Aurora, and Shady Grove all over again.   It’s raining like hell out.  Thunder sounds and lightening fills the dark windows of my bedroom.  My daughter Elissa, an early riser, messages me that she dreads going out and the windshield wipers on the Sebring make loud scrapping screeching noises.   

Storm und drung.  The rain will pass I tell her.  Hang in there.  But I’m wondering to myself if this is so. If these storms of destruction and death will stay with us a long time, until America disappears, and the world with it.  And the anger and the hate with it.

What’s the world coming to?  Nightmare scenarios dance in my head. . 


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Readings on the Crimean Tatars

Several friends have asked me where they can learn more about the Crimean Tatar's.  Here's my friend Barb Wieser's post offering a great list for starters.


A short bibliography

Sometimes people ask me where they can read more about the history of Crimean Tatars and their struggles. I always first point them to the website of the American diaspora organization, International Committee for Crimea (iccrimea.org) which is filled with informative, well researched articles—see Resources at the bottom of the home page for a list of available documents.

The International Committee for Crimea website

Unfortunately,  there are very few English language books about the Crimean Tatars, and with one exception, they are all academic books and not readily available or easily accessible for the average reader. However, if you do wish some in depth reading, here is a list of books that you can perhaps find in your library or order from the internet or your local bookstore.
The haunting cover of the French edition of Lily Hyde's Dream Land.

1.       Dream Land: One girl’s struggle to find her true home by Lily Hyde (Walker Children’s Paperbacks, 2008)
This young adult novel—the only work of fiction that I know of in English that tells the story of the Crimean Tatar’s return to Crimea—seems to be well researched and does a good job of  showing actual events through the eyes of a young Crimean Tatar girl. 

2.       The Crimean Tatars by Alan W. Fisher (Hoover Institution Press, 1978)
This is the only comprehensive history book about the Crimean Tatars and includes much information about the time of the Crimean Khanate (14th-18th centuries). It was published before the Crimean Tatars began to return to Crimea so their current history is not included in the book. However, the fact that The Crimean Tatarsremains in print and is also now available in a kindle edition, attests to the continuing value of this work.

3.       The Tatars of Crimea: Return to the Homeland, edited by Edward A. Allworth (Duke University Press, revised edition, 1998)
This is an update of Allworth’s original book published in 1988. It is a collection of essays by different  scholars of the region—almost half of whom are Crimean Tatar—that discusses Crimean Tatar identity, politics of Crimea, life in exile, and return to their homeland. It also has a great deal of information about Ismail Gasprinskiy and his importance in Crimean Tatar history.

4.       The Crimean Tatars: The Diaspora Experience and the Forging of a Nation by Brian Glynn Williams (Brill Academic Publishers, 2001)
Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to read this volume because the library does not own a copy, but I wanted to list it as one of the very few books concerning the Crimean Tatar experience.

5.       Beyond Memory: The Crimean Tatars’ Deportation and Return by Greta Lynn Fehling (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004)
Beyond Memory is the most recent of the academic books written about the Crimean Tatars and I found it the most interesting, especially Uehling’s exploration of what kept alive the desire to return through the years of exile. It is filled with interviews by the author with Crimean Tatars directly involved in the national movement to return and the often violent protests that marked the Tatars’ return to Crimea.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Teaching About Ukraine

Chernobyl upper left, flag and Jud's sunflower, me in Ukraine;
Ukraine in gold on map. in Laura's class, gift of a t-shirt
 "I love WSU" in Russian. 
It’s easy to focus on Chernobyl when talking about Ukraine.  It was the worst nuclear disaster in history, a reactor #4 melting down and exploding on 26 April 1986, 26 years ago, sending radioactive particles and plumes of hazardous materials into the atmosphere and onto the land.  The deadly fallout blanketed areas of Northern Ukraine, Belarus (which got the worst of it), and Russia, as well as northern Europe and most likely beyond. The planned Soviet industrial town of Pripyat, near the Nuclear Power Plant, and towns around it, were evacuated, over 250,000 people directly exposed, dispersed, displaced, relocated.  The environment suffered catastrophic contamination, above and below ground, in forests and rivers, on farms, in towns and cities. The clean-up crews, involving thousands of workers, faced horrible contamination. Health hazards, many forms of illness and cancers, continue to grow; long-term effects are still being studied.    

At the time of the disaster, Ukraine was officially a part of the Soviet Union, which was responsible for the Nuclear Power Plant.

Five years later, the Soviet Union broke up, an event almost as explosive as Chernobyl.  In 1991, Ukraine, along with Belarus and fourteen other Soviet republics, became independent nations.  The fallout from Chernobyl continued, a legacy of Soviet secrecy and ineptitude in safeguarding its nuclear plant.  

Chernobyl is just one tragic chapter in the history of Ukraine, a history that encompasses one disaster after another: foreign occupations; Stalin's enforced collectivization of farms and brutal famine of the 1930s (the Holodomir); the horrors of war and especially World War II, its ripple effects felt to this day; efforts to obliterate the culture; economic, political and social catastrophes.  Chernobyl is the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

The divide between the Eastern and Western parts of the country reflects this conflicted history. East of the Dnieper River, which runs through the country like our Mississippi, people speak Russian; in the west, Ukrainian.  In the East, people retain strong ties to Russia; in the West to Europe.  Nationalism flourishes in the West, which long and violently at times opposed Soviet rule.  Divided loyalties characterize eastern Ukraine.  

Still, in the East and the West, there is a growing awareness of a Ukrainian national identity built on shared cultural traditions.  This is the basis for hope. 

The Ukraine I experienced from 2009-2011 was in the throes of the transition to becoming a self-governing and united nation. That’s how I learned about the resilience of the people, their struggles for survival, their dreams for their children and the future of their country. Injustice, inequality, lack of jobs and opportunities, economic hardship, and a huge gap between the wealthy oligarchs and the rest of the people dominate life.  Rampant government corruption and lack of transparency, at all levels, bring despair, as well as grassroots efforts at reform.  It's a daily grind, but change is happening.  Trust is hard to gain; gloom and pessimism are never far from the surface; painful memories mar the present.  Yet hope springs eternal. 

In this spirit I said yes when Laura Kline, a professor of Russian language and literature at Wayne State University in Detroit and long-time friend of my daughter Elissa since their high school days, asked me to give a talk to her class about the Peace Corps and my experience in Ukraine

“The focus will be on Chernobyl,” Laura told me, commemorating the upcoming 26th anniversary. “You’ll come at the end, to give us a more positive view of Ukraine beyond Chernobyl, and to cheer us up.”    

Laura in her usual fashion organized a wonderful class attended by over 50 students and some visitors. First we heard from a native Ukrainian and teacher of the Ukrainian language, Natalia, who talked about the origins and development of Ukraine.  She took us back to Kievan Rus in the 10th century and up through the horrors of World War II.

Next came Steven Andre, a young man who had been on two trips to Chernobyl, now a tourism destination.  Yes, that's right: a tourism attraction and much-needed economic generator (google it for more information and to plan a visit).  We saw a video of the site, "The Exclusion Zone," and the ghost town of Pripyat, a haunting still-life of a 1960s Soviet town, with lots of photos, sad, hard to take.  The aftermath, the hardship, the personal stories are heart-wrenching.  

Jim Tucker, a professor of Biological Science at Wayne State, talked about the causes and effects of the Chernobyl explosions, fact and fiction. Chernobyl was not an accident.”  It was caused by human error, by the “flawed design of the reactor” operated by inadequately trained staff, and by an "experiment" to cut costs and find cheaper ways to operate the plant.  An experiment gone wrong.  It led to nuclear disaster, the full effects of which are not yet fully known; monitoring and scientific studies continue. He reminded us that the Soviet government kept the disaster a secret for two days, a horrifying 48 hours, and then was forced to tell about it after experts in Sweden detected unnaturally high levels of radiation in the atmosphere.  

These were tough acts to follow.  My main message was that while the Chernobyl tragedy has become synonymous with Ukraine, it is not the whole story. It does not reflect the complex history and nature of this rich land, once "the breadbasket of Europe,"
the stories and struggles of its people, their hopes and dreams.  

I talked about the Peace Corps first, its history and purpose, and then shared my experience as a volunteer in Ukraine who came to understand the culture, experience its art, music and folklife, love its churches and architecture, its parks and playgrounds with their ubiquitous larger-than-life statues of Lenin or Stalin and colorful Ferris wheels marking the landscape. I liked the statues of Taras Schevchenko, a beloved Ukrainian poet, that were popular in the East.  I grew to love the people, their warmth, hard work, kitchen gardens and food preparation, their hospitality and, in private, with family and friends, a great gusto for life.  

I learned as I went, I explained, one day at a time, developing relationships and integrating into my village of Starobelsk in far-eastern Ukraine.  I talked about the role that NGOs, non-governmental organizations, are playing in bringing change from the bottom up, and the projects I worked on: the English Club, getting English language books and computers for the Library, working with kids at a summer camp, and the "Know Your Rights" campaign.  

I spoke about the good people who came to accept the optimistic “Amerikanka” in their midst and make this stranger from America a part of their lives.  I stopped just short of jumping on a desk and shouting "Viva Ukraine!"  

“Perfect!” Laura said afterwards, with a big smile on her face. “Just what I wanted, to end on a positive, upbeat note!” Laura was happy, and I was glad. Teaching about Ukraine is a challenge, and Laura understands that; I appreciate her knowledge and insight.  Now I hope her students do, too.  

Below is a blog I wrote about Ukraine in transition, "in the process of becoming."  Being on the ground in Ukraine, witnesses to this transformation, afforded a unique look at a historical phenomenon from the ground up.  It was sometimes frustrating, sometimes humorous, always fascinating. 



Photo of Salvadore Dali's melting watches, "Persistence of Memory," by Joelk75 (Flickr photo)

When some of my fellow PCVs get frustrated at what looks like resistance to planning and change, the slow pace of getting things done, the low regard for schedules and time discipline, the poor quality of service even at train and bus stations, stores and hotels, I try to explain the difficult transition that Ukraine is now undergoing. I say that Ukraine is" in the process of becoming," a transition to a new model of democracy, caught between two worlds, the old and the new, the pre-industrial and the post-industrial. It's a matter of time, but the process itself is fascinating. It's a historical phenomenon.

"Historical phenomenon?" Yes, that's what it is, I reply. The little group of young PCVs chuckles .

"That's great, Fran. I'll remember that the next time I try to buy a train ticket and disturb the cashier."

"Yeah, me, too, the next time I'm alone in the office waiting for a meeting that never takes place!"

Well, remember it when you get back to America, I respond. You are witnesses to this transformation; you have a unique perspective. And if you are thinking of graduate school, you have all the material you need for a dissertation, just by having lived in post-Soviet Ukraine for two plus years.

"I''ll keep that in mind, Fran, but right now I have to get ready for a big meeting tomorrow. My counterpart just told me about it, and asked me to give a talk, in Russian."

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Learning about the Crimean Tatar

My friend Barbara Wieser has served as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in Crimea, Ukraine, for over four years. She's from Minnesota, owned a book store, is a book lover, dedicated environmentalist, and indefatiguable hiker.  She was part of our Ukraine Group 36, which trained, and bonded, in Chernigov. She, Jud and I were a trio, surrounded by lots of dear friends. We walked all over the town; visited the fabulous churches, museums, and historic sites; went for a beer or "debrief" after long sessions on Ukrainian culture; shopped at the markets; and Barb and I did a special literature project at the Chernigov Biblioteca, comparing an American and a Ukrainian author.  After almost 3 months of training, Peace Corps assigned us to our sites all over Ukraine.  I went East, far east; Jud and others went North; Suz and others West; Ilse and Carl South to Odessa and others to various towns and cities in between; and Barb to Crimea.  Most of us are home now, but Barb re-upped after her first two years of working with the Crimean Tatar community in Simferopol.  She's been a trooper, a warrior for peaceful relations.  She's now a citizen of the world.

She is also our teacher about Crimea, the land, geography, the towns, the beauty and culture, and especially the Crimean Tatars  Many of us have visited in her city and at her work site, the Ismail Gasprinsky Crimean Tatar Library, and enjoyed hikes and excursions around Crimea.  I had a memorable trip from Simferopol to Bachysaray,  Yevpretoria, and Yalta  on the Black Sea (famous site of the World War II conference between Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill). Breathtakingly beautiful, and so rich in history.  Barb has hiked the mountains and forests, and explored every nook and cranny.

She has become an important part of the Tatar community, developing strong friendships and relationships, helping computerize and modernize the library, increasing its outreach, learning the people's history and struggles, and supporting their contemporary role in rebuilding the community from which they were once forcibly exiled by Stalin. The Tatar people have returned to Crimea, their homeland, after more than 30 years.  It's a harrowing story, of a community brutally demolished, lives shattered, families separated.  It's also a story of courage, the persistence of traditions, and achievement against the odds. The struggle continues.

So many of us have learned about this story of forced exile and return through Barb, and about the Gasprinsky Library, where she has made enormous contributions. The Library's goal is to preserve the memorabilia, artifacts, newspapers, traditions and stories of the Crimean Tatar people, to keep the memories alive, to remember the past so as to shape the future.   Barb has wholeheartedly shared and advanced this goal.

Below is one of her many blogs about the Library, this one focused on its founder, Ismail Gasprinsky, a brilliant and thoughtful man ahead of his times, as Barb tells us.  He reminds me of the Islamic poet Rumi, a man of depth, a source of wisdom.  I was moved by his life and purpose when I visited the Library.  I hope you will be, too.



Ismail Gasprinskiy--a feminist

Ismail Gasprinskiy in his office in Bakchiseray.

Recently, as they do every year, the library celebrated the anniversary of the birth of Ismail Gasprinskiy (March 21, 1851). The day began with a ceremony of tributes at the Gasprinskiy monument located on the Salgir River in the center of Simferopol. A two-hour seminar on Gasprinskiy’s life and work was held at the Franco Library, and on the following day, a celebration was held in the nearby city of Bakchiseray, where Gasprinskiy lived for most of his life and where he is buried.

The festivities made me think once again about this remarkable man and how so little is known of him in the western world. And perhaps because I am currently showing the recent PBS special on the history of the American women’s movement to students at the Window on America Center in Simferopol, I also thought about Gasprinskiy’s views on women and how he truly is someone we would call a “feminist.” 

At a time when women were almost universally seen as inferior to men, particularly in the Muslim world, Gasprinskiy had the courage to speak out, demanding to be heard on the importance of changing the attitude towards and treatment of women. In the pages of his newspaper Terdjiman which he published from 1887 until his death in 1914, Gasprinskiy criticized the practice of polygamy and arranged marriages and divorce being a prerogative for men only. Edward Lazzerini, the foremost western scholar on Ismail Gasprinskiy, writes that “Gasprinskii insisted that ‘evolution in the marriage laws’ had become a necessity” and Gasprinskii felt that “what was needed…was a regularization of the laws so that men would no longer be able to repudiate their wives arbitrarily, and women would be permitted to divorce their husband for just cause.”

His own marriage to Bibi-Zuhre hanim Akchurina seemed to have been a partnership in the modern sense: “the union of two determined young people who valued the role education could play in the enlightenment of the Muslims of the Russian empire and who were ready to dedicate their energies to achieve this goal,” writes Azade-Ayse Rorlich, translator and editor of the only book of Gasprinskiy’s writings available in English.  Zuhre hanim played a vital role in the publication of Ismail Gasprinskiy’s renowned newspaper, Terdjiman, according to Rorlich:   “Even though her name did not appear in the paper… Terjuman would have neither become a reality, nor endured, had it not been for the material and moral support of his wife Zuhre, as well as for her very real contribution to running the paper.”

Perhaps what Gasprinskiy is most known for is his belief in the importance of the education of Muslim women. In his words: “Whoever loves his own people and wishes it a great future, must concern himself with the enlightenment and education for women, restore freedom and independence to them, and give wide scope to the development of their mind and capabilities.”

He was quick to publicize any evidence of attempts to improve education for Muslim women, such as the opening of schools especially for girls. In Bakchiseray, his sister opened the first school for girls of the new method schools (Gasprinskiy’s modernization of Muslim education which was widespread across the Russian empire). With his daughter Sefika, Gasprinskiy started the first magazine devoted to Muslim women. And in his fiction writings, he often created strong women characters that embodied his ideas of modern women, in the belief that his writings would “inspire the real-life Muslim woman to utilize fully her capabilities as a human being, and real-life Muslim society to permit her the opportunity to do so.” (Lazzerini)

It was in such writing that I came to see how well Gasprinskiy understood the role of society in keeping women oppressed. French and American Letters, the only collection of Gasprinskiy’s writings available in an English translation, are excerpts from a fictional travelogue that he serialized in Terdjiman. It follows the adventures of a Muslim man from Central Asia and his travels to France and Africa, and at least some of the writing is loosely based on Gasprinskiy’s own life.

But the last letters are pure fantasy and recount his and his travelling companions’ capture by a band of “Amazons” in Africa. In this Amazon society, gender roles are reversed—men are sexual slaves, women are rulers and warriors. There is much discussion among the men about this reversal of roles and titillating humor when one of the captured men is summoned into the “harem” of the Amazon sultana. In the end, the men escape but not before doing fierce battle with the Amazons. Gasprinskiy writes:
“The amazons flew toward our improvised fortification with extraordinary speed and courage…the Frenchmen…marveled at the spirit and courage of these desert riders.  The life and courage of these amazons… clearly proved that education and world views could endow women with much courage, strength, and fortitude…It became clear that in other countries women were fearful, weak, had a delicate nature, frail nerves and no will of their own, not because that is how it should be, but because their education, world view, and those life conditions which had shaped them over time, had made them what they were. “

Truly, Ismail Gasprinskiy was a man far ahead of his time. His radical view that women are equal to men and it is society that is holding them back would resonate today and earn him the label of “feminist.”

The information for this blog post came from these sources:
Gasprali, Ismail. French and African Letters, Annotated Translation and Introduction by Azade-Ayse Rorlich, Istanbul: The Isis Press. 2008
Lazzerini, Edward. “Ismail Bey Gasprinskii and Muslim Modernism in Russia, 1871-1914,” unpublished dissertation, University of Washington, 1973.
Fisher, Alan. "A Model Leader for Asia. Ismail Gaspirali."  In The Tatars of Crimea: Return to the Homeland, ed. Edward A. Allworth, Duke University Press, 1998.

Note: There are many different spellings of Gasprinskiy, based on the translation of the original language—T

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Off the beaten path in the Dentist chair

I browse through magazines when I’m at the dentist’s office, mostly to ease the anxiety that accompanies these visits.  My experience with dentists, from a young age, evokes nightmare visions of painful toothaches and shrill loud drills.  “I just want to keep what I have for the time I have left,” I tell the dentist.  He smiles, ruefully.  He’d love to put in several implants, to the tune of over $10,000, which would be nice, but I’d rather spend the money on travel and vacations. I’m not his best patient.

So it was that I read the latest issue of the Smithsonian magazine (April 2013) from cover to cover. The travel issue. Some great articles.     
Fireworks sculpture, opening ceremony, 2008 Beijing Olympics,
 www.caiquochang, and below photo by Jason Lee, Reuters. 

My favorite was "Burning Man," by Ron Rosenbaum, about the amazing artist Cai  (pronounced Tsai) Quo-Chang, born in China and now living in New York City, who designed the awesome “fireworks sculptures” that opened the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Remember them?

I never did know much about the artist, but I was one of more than 34 million people worldwide who watched the spectacular fireworks creations in awe, the most artistic I’ve ever seen, before or since.  Not just "bombs bursting in air," but beautiful creations in the sky.  Cai creates “ethereal art traced in flames and gunpowder,” explosive art, writes Rosenbaum.  He “wants to paint the heavens like Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling..."

Cai says simply, "I want to open a dialogue with the universe.” He certainly is doing that, on super-large canvases and through super-large installations, "sculptures," in nature.  He has a fascinating personal history, including memories of his father, a calligrapher and rare book-collector,  during the “cultural revolution,” when  Mao Zedong exiled and killed thousands of intellectuals and “cultural elites.”  Cai's father secretly burned his precious collections in fear of capture. Sad. Thousands upon thousands of professors, writers, and artists were lost, or toiled in fields and factories into oblivion.  These memories burned deep into Cai's psyche, from which he derives his artistic inspiration.  It's an inspiration embellished with a mixture of Taoist and Buddhist beliefs about our eternal connections to the invisible universe, a fascination with modern technology, pyrotechnics, and physics, fear and awe of nuclear power (he worked in Japan after the tsunami), and a sense that aliens or souls from other planets and places want to communicate with us.    Such an unusual artistic vision and such unique ways of expressing it! 
www.amazon. com. I think my family
       had this in its library. These kinds of  nature
books inspired my brother Loren. . 

The April issue of the Smithsonian also has a great article by Tony Perrottet, “Birthplace of the American Vacation,” about  the travel and nature writings of  19th-century Boston preacher William H.H. Murray.  Perrottet traces the idea of a "vacation" to Murray's obsession with the Adirondack Mountains in Upper New York State, their beauty and restorative powers.  Murray wrote as eloquently about the Adirondacks as Thoreau wrote about Walden, John Muir about the American wilderness, and photographer Ansel Adams about the Southwest and California. But  Murray didn't just glorify nature, he offered specific ways of being in the mountains and experiencing them.

Murray, it turns out, published, in 1869, "one of the first guidebooks to a wilderness area in America." The country had emerged from the horrors of Civil War and industrial capitalism was taking off. It’s hard to believe that his eulogies to hiking, hunting, fishing and camping in the Adirondacks were initially condemned as threats to civilized life!  But public opinion came around soon enough.  By 1875 the Adirondacks was becoming a booming tourist attraction. Gilded age tycoons like the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and Carnegies led the way, building hide-away retreats in the mountains, and ordinary American followed. The lakes, 3000 of them, the winding roads and rivers, the forests and backwoods beckoned, generation after generation.  

I know they called to my family, living as we did in Rochester, NY.  We went to the Adirondacks to visit friends and relatives and to vacation, and my brother Loren went to summer camp there, on Lake Saranac. It meant so much to him. A more recent trip took me to the Lake Placid area, where America hosted the winter Olympics in 1980, and I got to visit with cousins Leo and Kathy in Canton.  So many of my friends have similar Adirondack memories, and we enjoy sharing the songs, folklore and traditions from that special place.  They flourish still.

"Open-wide," a voice said gently out of the blue, just as I was sharing in author Tony Perrottet’s elation upon discovering an original 1869 version of Murray’s guidebook in the archives of the New York Public Library!  Oh,  how neat....oh, right, I'm at the dentist's!

I closed the magazine as the expert hygienist Helen went to work, but I focused on visions of the Adirondacks in all their glory, in all their seasons.  “Teeth look good,” I heard Helen say, as I took a dip in Sagamore Lake and  walked on the road to Great Camp Santanoni, and then saw a sculpted explosion of light around Beijing.    

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