Sunday, September 28, 2014

New Sylvania Mural and Autumn's Blessings

New Sylvania Mural
On Maplewood near Main, next to Sylvania Heritage Museum
It's Saturday night, and there are lots of college football games on TV.   I click back and forth among them, focusing more on FSU and NC State because I can hear my sister Andy screaming "Go Noles!" from Tallahassee.

The gazebo hosts a wedding.  Can you find it
in the mural?  
I decide to break away and take a walk. The sun is setting.  The light is exquisite.  It's a simply beautiful fall night, crisp, clear, colorful, trees and bushes turning red and yellow, garnet and gold. I walk past a wedding taking place in the lovely gazebo and garden behind the Sylvania Heritage Museum. A nice surprise.  What a perfect night for an outdoor wedding. It feels nostalgic, the excitment, the idealism, young love.  I walk on, my mind filling with memories

Then I see the lovely mural.  So there it is, so close to home.  I read about it in the Sylvania Advantage, but had not seen it.  Didn't pay attention.  I walk closer and study it, admire it, take a few photos.

Murals are such a great a way to beautify cities. Toledo is graced with several, thanks to the work of Rachel Richardson of Art Corner Toledo (ART) and other downtown art activists. The urban murals are big, bright and bold, occupying lonely brick walls and the sides of old buildings in the city center. The newest is a grand representation of the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti by muralist Kenda with Yusef Lateef and David MacIntyre (see photo below). These dramatic murals inspire rebirth.

This first Sylvania mural seems just right for our town. It was designed by Dani Fuller of the River Center Foundation and painted by artist Carol Connelly Pletz, along with a big and enthusiastic team. (Sylvania Advantage, Sept. 2014)

The mural is called "The Roots of Sylvania." It includes the Lathrop House, the Harroun Barn, the bridge over the river, the House Museum gazebo, and some contemporary scenes.  It's filled with trees, symbolic of Sylvania.

I like the design, the historical themes and flowing scenes, the pastel colors, the blue lavender standing out as roots and springs.  

I walk back home under a sky turning pink and orange.  The moon is rising. We are lucky to be surrounded by such beauty, free of war and terror in our backyards, close to family and friends.  A walk in the neighborhood reminds me of that. Reminds me of our blessings.  Our new community mural embodies it.

Sylvania's first mural
Photo,Nefertiti mural, the most recent of several, Toledo Blade, Sept. 2014 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Our Sylvania Neighborhood

A contemporary poster of Main Street (upper left) offered by Tarta, our public bus system, juxtaposed with the historic Chandler building (upper right), once a hardware store, now a popular cafe, and other Main Street delights, including Harmony in Life and Brieschke's Bakery (lower right.) The ubiquitous painted benches invite guests to have a seat, slow down, and enjoy the neighbohood!
It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor, would you be mine, could you be mine?"  

It's the song Mr. (Fred) Rogers sang to my rapt children, who believed he spoke directly to them. "I like you just the way you are," he told them reassuringly.

Our neighborhood then was the Old West End, an oasis of grand Victorian and turn-of-the-20th-century homes near downtown,  all splendid, all different styles. An architectural feast, near the elegant Toledo Museum of Art. It was a community becoming in the 1960s and '70s: neglected homes restored, young people and families moving in to fix them up, an historic neighborhood reborn. All of us who ever lived there have a special place in our hearts for the Old West End.

Many years have passed since our Old West End days, many changes, many experiences and life lessons, lots of moving on, to new places, new jobs, new families, new horizons.

Our neighborhood today is Sylvania, Ohio, a suburban town north of Toledo, and it's my grandchildren's turn to revel in an intimate, familiar sense of place. It's that feeling that hugs us like a warm blanket; that means safety and security. It's a feeling we carry into adulthood and elderhood, no matter where we end up. A comfort zone.
Around my apartment house, which sits between Harmony in Life and Mitchell's Clock Shop,
and across from Haymarket Square, which includes Maumee Kitchens, Sodbusters, Shear Madness, the new Earth to Oven bakery. A few steps north is Keith's salon, Angela's Angels, and Frogtown Computers. A few steps south, past Reeb's Funeral Home and the Historic Museum and Village, you're at the ever-popular J&G's Pizza, the Sylvania Credit Union, Kevin Charles Salon.   
Today my whole family, my kids, my grandkids and my great-grandson, all call Sylvania home. It's the first time in over 30 years that we are all together in one place, just a few blocks from each other.  In walking distance. Four generations gathered together in one neighborhood!

The weather's been nice as we head into fall and I've taken lots of photos. I turn from the bad, horrible news of the day and take a walk.  A breath of fresh air. It's peaceful. The old and the new blend, the homes and the shops, the residential and the commerical.  My great-grandson Philip's school is nearby, and the library, a hospital, several churches, lots of shops, the town hall and the police station. The neighborhood has it share of parades, house tours, art exhibits, the Tuesday Farmers' Market,  historic sites and public events.  Always something going on.

Mr. Rogers would like this neighborhood, I think to myself, as I stuff books and DVDs from the library into my book bag and head toward Chandler's to meet a friend for coffee. My daughter waves to me from the Sylvania Advantage Office. "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood."

The old and the new adorn Main Street: Element 112 and Treo's; Reve salon, the Music shop, TK Lane's; the new office of Sylvania Advantage; SPACEBAR, a new computer store; the reliable Bel Main Upholstering, the veritable Hudson Art Gallery, and Haymarket Square.  

The historical parts of Sylvania: Historical Village and Heritage Musuem, with its graceful Gazebo and gardens; and the Francixan Center on the campus of Lourdes University, where I spend many happy hours listening to lectures and talks, meeting friends, and keeping my mind active and learning. The colorful bench welcomes one and all..  

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Road Not Taken After 9/11: Obama's New Path


From The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost
....I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

"It will take a global coalition to defeat ISIS." Secretary of State John Kerry CNN,  August 30, 2014 

"We will degrade and destroy ISIL through an international coalition and long-term counter-terrorism strategy." 
President Obama, September 10, 2011

There were two roads to take after 9/11.   One was strewn with justified outrage and fear, justified horror and, perhaps, other more unsavory motives.  They propelled America into a war against terrorism that got us into real wars in Iraq and then Afghanistan.  No good outcomes came of  America's intervention. The threat of world-wide terrorism remains, from Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Boko Haram, and is getting worse. ISIL's extreme inhumanity attests to that. Today there are more than 200 recognized terrorists organizations around the world.

The other road demanded a steady hand and a long-term strategy in the face of the unprecedented destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City.  It meant taking advantage of world shock and a shared world fear to create a comprehensive international coalition against terrorism that was global, inclusive, coordinated, strategic, sustained.   As many analysts have wondered, we perhaps missed an opportunity to capitalize on global outrage to forge a global coalition against unimaginable terrorism that threatens all nations.  On the other hand, this road is extremely hard to take.

I think President Obama recognizes the complexities, as demonstrated in his speech about dealing with the ISIL crisis.  He has responded thoughtfully and forcefully to their outrages, which are almost too sick to describe.  He is seeking another way. "I took the road less traveled by...and that has made all the difference," Robert Frost says in his poem.

Obama and Secetary of State John Kerry are doing all they can short of on-the-ground military intervention to reduce the hate, extremism and violence that is unraveling the world.  This is what the American people say they want.  No more wars. No more US involvement in the internal conflicts of other nations, be they in eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa.  No more lone ranger.  The lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan have sunk in. We lost billions upon billions of dollars and thousands of American lives, and many more maimed, with no good outcomes.  We armed and trained and fought, and for what?

If the American people and their elected officials are so adamant about non-involvement, "no boots on the ground," why keep attacking Obama? He's getting pummeled from the left and right, Democrats and Republicans, for being "too cautious."  I understand it, and part of me agrees because the violence is so gruesome, so against international humanitarian laws and sensibilities.  But I know in my heart it is not the right road. Even in Ukraine, which haunts me. War is seldom the right road.

So, why not work together on a new direction, still evolving, in American foreign policy, and explore the road less traveled?  Why not try to create that "global coalition" that the president is talking about?  It will take a global village to stop terrorism.

Yes, there are risks.  Will Arab countries step up? Sunnis and Shia? Who will be our "boots on the ground" partners? What about Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Turkey, and the Arab League nations, always reluctant, often in conflict? What about the EU nations, who usually hold back, let America carry their water for them, but who might now feel more directly affected?

It's possibly easier to go to war, to take the path of violence, than to develop an inclusive and effective global strategy against terrorism.  The road less traveled means forging a foreign policy based on Rule of Law, humanitarian values, a common global agenda and shared global concerns. It means uniting people of different faiths, beliefs, political views, economic ranking, social values. Maybe it's naive, idealistic.  Strong undercurrents push against it, chief among them the selling of arms, the powerful arms race that undermines every peace effort. But I believe it is the right path.  The one we did not take after 9/11.   The one we need to take today.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

David and Goliath: Some painful truths

It's the little guys vs. the big guys, an underdog against a superpower, David vs. Goliath.  It took a while to get here, to descend to this level of drama, and it's not pretty.  The above CNN graph tells the story.  It makes me weep.

It's time to say "invasion."  In some ways, the West has prolonged Putin's war aganst Ukraine because it has refused to call a spade a spade.

Russia invaded and claimed Crimea; trampled on Lugansk and Donetsk; massed troops on the border; trained and armed pro-Russian separatists who shot down MH-17 with a BUK missile and prevented investigation of the crime scene; used the subterfuge of a humanitarian convoy, among others, to reinforce the rebels with troops and arms; and started a new front in southeastern Donetsk, with a massive infusion of heavily armed Russian soldiers, some 3,000-4,000, and over 300 tanks, overtly marching toward the Sea of Azov.  They have taken Novoazovsk, have Mariupol and Berdyansk in their sights. Next it could be Odessa on the Black Sea, a strategic port city and transportation hub. Step by step, Putin has escalated his intervention in Ukraine.

"Whatever the West wants to call it,"  Michael Weiss of Politico magazine asserted, "this is a real war."  A dirty undeclared war.

But if the US and EU nations had called these "incursions" what they really are, "invasions" of a sovereign land, beginning in Crimea, they would have had an imperative to do something.  And doing something is not what the EU or the US has wanted. They imposed economic sanctions reluctantly, and  might be forced to impose a third round in the face of the recent overt aggression.  I don't think they will deliver a lot of military support, and surely not enough to make a difference. The American people do not want another war. No one in their right mind wants a war.  I so want to believe the world should help Ukraine defend its territorial integrity in keeping with international treaties and the Rule of Law.  But a war with Russia?  A third world war?  Untold murder and killing and death?

Weiss noted that the Ukrainian people themselves are paying for this war with their blood, sweat and tears.  It's a story not widely known.  Rather than rising up to join the rebel terrorists, they are raising money, sending food and weapons, sending humanitarian aid.  My friends in Starobelsk are doing their part. They work every day to send whatever supplies they can gather, harvest, cook, collect, beg, and borrow to Ukrainian troops, young boys in harm's way, they tell me, without adequate protection.  They tried to deliver food and gallons of water to Lugansk, just 40 miles away, but were turned back by the terrorist rebels, and this while Russia's white-painted "humanitarian" convoy sat on the border.  

No matter how earnest these valient efforts, they can never be enough. The CNN chart graphically illustrates the impossibility.  The Ukrainian army is no match for the huge Russian military. A $78 billion military budget vs. a $1.6 billion budget.  God, not even close.

Much as I hate to admit it, I don't think the West could provide enough fire power to Ukraine to make a dent, and doing so would surely escalate the war beyond measure.

Ukraine would still have the equvalent of a slingshot against Russia's military, including the nuclear weapons that Putin, a mad man, has intimated he would not be afraid to use.

Poroshenko knows this.  He fears it.  He knows a full-scale war with Russia would mean tens of thousands of deaths, both soldiers and civilians; towns, farms and communities destroyed; families displaced; more refugees, more desperation.

The people of Mariupol protest the Russian invasion, preparing to resist. The sign says "Putin get out."
It's a frightful prospect. Death and destruction. It's a prospect that leads to a once-unthinkable solution: Should Ukraine give up Lugansk and Donetsk, the Sea of Azov region, maybe more land, along with Crimea, in order to save lives and to safe the rest of Ukraine?

It pains me to say this.  I served with the Peace Corps for two years in eastern Ukraine.  I love its land and culture and people.  I can't stand the thought of my friends suffering, struggling to survive, living under Russian restrictions and propaganda, having to give up their dreams.

I tremble as I write this.  Can we take some solace, a very tiny bit,  in the belief that Russia will pay for its aggression, and sooner rather than later?   I don't know. Putin is a war criminal, and he should be arrested immediately and tried for crimes against humanity and his breaking of international agreements and treaties. I don't know if this is possible, how it would work.   But the economic sanctions are adding up, hardship is on the horizon, the truth of the war in terms of Russian lives lost is coming home to roost among the Russian people.  Intimidating journalists who are trying to tell this truth won't work.

Golaith might win the battle, but it cannot win the war in the long run . Putin has put Russia on a slippery slope to economic ruin, political chaos, and international isolation.  He will pay for it. He will be a pariah among nations.  Refusing to hold the World Cup in Russia in 2018 will add to the isolation. In time, the people of Ukraine will rise up and reclaim their land, the land that they cheish.  They will revolt against the tyrants and chose to return to Ukraine's governance. It's the only hope to which I can cling in an otherwise tragic and painful scenario.

Is this a bad dream?    

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