Wednesday, January 28, 2015

History and Movies at the Ohio Theatre

The old Ohio Theatre, built in 1921, looked stark against a fading sun.   It's red brick facade and inlaid Greek columns were hidden behind scaffolding.  But inside and out, signs of its former glory stood out.  The marquee, a huge stage, the Art Deco decorations, an elegant pipe organ, ghosts of movies past.

I hadn't been to the Ohio Theatre on Lagrange Street since leaving Toledo in 1985.   I remember it as being in the once-vibrant Polish neighborhood of the city, a great gathering place.  The theater is now being restored under the able management of United North, a nonprofit organization.  It seems to have great partners and devoted volunteers.  I was at the theater with my friend Teddy to take in Toledo's first International Film Festival.

I learned that the city and county are helping restore the historic theater, that they have been awarded grants. that local officials and long-time community leaders are working to preserve the building and revitalize the community around it. I learned about the Welcome Toledo-Lucas County Initiative (through a young Americorps volunteer) to build a diverse community that welcomes immigrants and migrants, old-timers and newcomers.  I said hello to Peter Uvagi and his associates. He and Tom Glazer informed the audience of about 100 fans that a new grant would support upgrading the equipment and screen.  I talked to Jan Dzernik, the young man who is the theater manager, the only staff person and an enthusiastic promoter, also supported by a grant.

The films were great! What a positive way to get people into the theater and to promote the cause.  I love International Film Festivals, went to as many as possible in DC, San Miguel, Tampa, wherever I live, wherever I travel.  I've learned so much about cultural diversity, rich and varied cultural traditions, folkways, and different points of view through watching films from around the world. They open a whole new universe, like the Voyager spacecrafts exploring the boundaries of our solar system.  How great that Toledo through the Ohio Theatre are joining in these cultural adventures!

Teddy and I saw two poignant movies: Amreeka and Sin Nombre, both good films if rather sad.

Amreeka, written and directed by Cherien Dabis, a Palestinian-American, tells the story of  Manu, a courageous and determined Palestinian woman (wonderfully played by Nisreen Faour), and her teenage son Fadi (Melkar Muallem), who come to America to escape the harsh living in the West Bank.  It's a story of immigration and adaptation, of struggle and small triumphs. They are welcomed by Manu's sister, who lives with her doctor husband and children in the suburbs of Chicago. They have done well, but now they are facing post-9/11 stereotyping, hostility, and discrimination.  The stress and fear spill over to the new immigrants, and to all Muslims living in America. The film debuted at the Sundance International Film Festival in 2009. It was well received there and at many other film festivals worldwide.

Sin Nombre explores the fateful and deadly crossing of two life journeys: that of a young Chiapas, Mexico, gang member named Willy (El Casper in the gang), whose life is violent and gruesome, and a young Honduran women, Sayra, who seeks to come to America with her father and uncle to join relatives in New Jersey.  Willy's brutal life, in the name of gang loyalty, becomes all the more haunting when the innocent young boy he recruits into the gang becomes a vicious killer. The journey of Sayra and her family is almost as hazardous, including the difficult ride on top of trains, in all kinds of weather and harsh conditions, that cross the border to the US.  The dangers and tragedies of this yearning to get to America, this desparate search for new opportunities, made me think of our current immigration situation and of the people who survive the journey. The human dimension of the stories makes the politics seem cruel. Only Sayra makes it across the border.  The juxtaposition of the immigrant story and the gangster story makes this a powerful film. It too premiered at Sundance in 2009.

The Ohio Theatre pulsed with excitment and appreciation.  I thought it might be great to have some film and discussion programs after the movies.  I look forward to seeing the rest of the films this year, and to welcoming the next International Film Festival.

For more information:
3114 Lagrange St, Toledo, 43608


Monday, January 26, 2015

Auschwitz-Birkenau: Beyond Twisted

FRIDAY, JUNE 11, 2010

Auschwitz-Birkenau: Beyond Twisted

"Time has no power to erase these memories."  Filmmaker at liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau , January 27. 1945

A large encased exhibit is filled with human hair, 700 tons of it discovered after the camp was liberated in 1945. The hair of thousands of victims, mostly women, mostly infested with Zyklon B and other lethal poisons. The hair of stunned prisoners brought like cattle to Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp outside of Krakow, Poland.

Another exhibit houses thousands of pairs of eye glasses, ordinary glasses that belonged to human beings blinded by evil,then murdered. Glasses piled up like the victims of the gas chambers here, 400 to 500 to 1000 or more at a time.

Another large window exhibit contains a mountain of suitcases, the last remnants of the precious possessions of Jewish victims who couldn't begin to imagine the horrors awaiting them. The suitcases bear the names of their owners. I feel compelled to say the  names to myself, like a prayer list, but the tour Jud and I are on moves ahead and I have to push on; I cannot get them all. I feel guilty. One suitcase is marked simply "M. Frank." Did this suitcase, perhaps, belong to a relative of the young Anne Frank? Did the suitcase of "I. Meyer" belong to a father and mother separated from their young children, sent to the right or to the left, never to be seen again?

Room 6 in Block 6 contains the sad and forlorn remains of these traumatized children: an exhibit of their shoes, so small and worn out; of their clothes, little cotton dresses and hand-knit caps and sweaters; a few books, some toys, a once-lovely doll whose head is severed from its body, its face smashed in. Or is that a real child?

We walk through the gas chambers. We see the extant evidence of mass murder. We see, but we do not comprehend. An exhibit contains thousands of empty Zyklon B containers, testimony to its extensive use and effectiveness in killing hundreds and thousands of innocent and captured people at a time. Terrified people in the throes of evil, stripped naked, packed like sardines in a small room, the door closed firmly, the gas turned on, hundreds dead within 15-20 minutes. The makers of the gas made a killing, too. Better than guns. So cost-effective. So profitable.  I feel sick to my stomach.

Then there are the crematoria at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which worked round the clock, scattering human ashes like snow over the ground of the camp and beyond, into Krakow itself.   Oscar Schindler, in one scene in the Stephen Spielberg movie, filmed mostly in Krakow, wipes ashes off a car in disbelief and a growing moral outrage that was in short-supply at the time, anywhere.

The tour seems endless. Just when you think you have seen it all, our knowledgeable guide leads us to other horrors. Here is the killing wall where victims were set up like props and shot outright, there the portable gallows where people were hung in front of an audience of family, friends, and emasciated prisoners in various stages of traumatic shock. The daily life of Jews subject to random shootings, starvation, torture, and one inhuman act after another.

We walk on in a daze. Here, our guide says, pointing to blocks 14 and 15, are the medical buildings, places that prisoners tried to avoid at all costs, where medical experimentation took place on human subjects, where women were steralized, where the sick, diseased, and over-worked were sent to die by lethal injection.

And that small square by a kitchen? That's where the Jewish orchestra played marches to muster prisoners to the yard so that they could be counted accurately by the SS, then sent to back-breaking work to die. The musicians played their instruments, but had no voice; they were used to play death marches for their fellow prisoners. I cannot grasp this reality, this torment. It seems so demonic, pitting victims against victims struggling to survive this nightmare in any way they could.

"The devouring of human life," the brochure says. But language seems inadequate. First Poles, some 728 "political prisoners," when Auschwitz was established in 1940, then Jews, along with gypsies and others, who met a fate unimaginable, on a scale beyond belief. Over 1.5 million murdered. Hitler's "Final Solution to the Jewish Question." The pre-meditated, meticulously planned annihilation of human beings.

Primo Levi, an Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor, calls it "the gray zone," a realm beyond good and evil, beyond morality, beyond any language we know. How anyone survived is a miracle.

"The Holocaust left us with a basic vacuum in terms of human meaning," says a priest-scholar, "which, if it remains unfilled, can open the door to other ideologies equally destructive of human life at all levels."

The physical remains and documentation of the horrors of the Holocaust hit you in the pit of your stomach. Photo after haunting photo of victims, in striped prison garb, peer at us through sunken eyes filled with fear, disbelief, dread, deadness. Condemned to extinction. "You are witnesses," they say. "You are witnesses to this gigantic factory of death. Do not forget us. We are real. What happened to us is real. Do not forget us." Time cannot erase these memories. Nor explain them. Beyond language. Beyond twisted.

yahoo image, haunting

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Two birds of a feather

It's a blue day, it's snowing, and the temperature is falling.  I don't have much to do, except babysit Chase later this afternoon, so I'm content to stay inside and keep warm.    I should be writing up a story for a Marcy project, but I keep putting it off.

"Fran are you there?  I have an emergency."  It's my friend Judi, who lives downstairs from me.   She usually emails her messages on the Apple computer she has learned to use like a youthful expert, signing off  "Judi down under" or "Judi below," or something similar.
"Good lord, yes," I yell down the stairs, where she's yelling up to me. "What's the problem?"

"I've run out of wine."

"Well so have I,"  I yell down.  "Real emergency, Judi!" We laugh.

We are birds of a feather, with many similar interests and tastes, including wine.  Our feathers are mostly white too. Oh, we have our differences, but they are a treat!

Okay, I tell her. I'm going out this afternoon.  I'll make a wine run for you.  She emails me ten minutes later.  "Nevermind. I'm going out.  I have to go to the library,  Judi down under." Judi reads tons of books and borrows TV series and movies, too.  She's a librarian's best buddy.  She also knits and does jigsaw puzzles, complicated and beautiful.

Judi and I are about the same age, although she'll hit 80 a few years sooner than me.   My hair is going as white as her's. We're two old ladies who like to have fun.  We share meals, blogs, shopping, information, stories, and political rants from time to time.  We both enjoy a glass of wine with our dinner or in the early evening. We are on the same page. Mostly it's wonderful to share this old house on Main Street, Sylvania, with a wise woman who has become a dear friend.  It feels safe and secure and warm, just knowing she is there.

Warning, a poem by Jenny Joseph
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

There's a book by this title, "When I am an Old Woman, " by Sandra Martz, a collection of poetry, fiction, photos. It was given to me many years ago by my cousin Kathy Curro, who also led me to Mary Oliver's poems. I had just turned 50 and was living in Washington, DC.  Now, one of my daughters is about to turn 50, which doesn't make me feel any younger!

From Mary Oliver:
“When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. 

When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument. 

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.” 
― Mary Oliver

Friday, January 9, 2015

Soul Friend/Anam Cara

Devine Light by deinha1974
Loren's path.
The following poem, written by singer and songwriter Carrie Newcomer, is in the celtic spiritual tradition of Anam Cara, meaning soul friends.  I write about that alot, but not using that name.  My daughter Elissa brought this poem to my attention.  Good thing, too, because I need a break from the horrible news on the political front and on the world stage that is making my blood boil. 
I love the flow of  Newcomer's poem, the images, the life lessons it affirms. It's how I feel when I read Mary Oliver's poetry.  Newcomer's song reminds me of my brother Loren. She puts into words how I felt whenever I saw him: "You always arrive bringing light,/carried in chipped pitchers,/and dented buckets."    Those old worn vessels that Loren brought with him wherever he went, carried on every journey, his car full of them, his arms loaded with them, full of light.  

Newcomer's poem also evokes the 13th-century Persian mystic poet Rumi, who taught that "the wound is the place where the light enters you." We knew each other's wounds, Loren and I, and we talked about them, honored them.  Did I bring you as much light as you brought me, Loren?  Will our paths cross?  Rumi thought so:  "in that field beyound rightdoing and wrongdoing, we will meet again one day."

Cups Full of Light 
   by Carrie Newcomer
You always arrive bringing light,
Carried in chipped pitchers, 
And dented buckets,
That you slosh it out like soapy water
Washing down the mud and debris
Of my most weary and worried days.
Yes, there are some,
Some who will come bringing 
boxes of shadows, 
Tossed unceremoniously 
Into my oblivious arms,
Which can be with time,
And hindsight,
A different kind of gift 
I suppose.
But you (my friend)
You always,
Arrive bringing dawn.
You open the windows,
Repair the screen door,
Without fanfare,
Or agenda,
Pour out and share 
Cups full of light,
You let me drink it all down,
Wiping my thirsty soul,
With the back of a grateful hand.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Connecting Community Gardens and Food Pantries

The world is full of sad news, bad news, horrifying news.  Violence and evil dominate it seems.  Ugly, disheartening violence.  But there's some good news out there, too. Today, day 1 of 2015, is a good time to remember that.

Many brave people are fighting for peace and justice all over the world. The worldwide struggle for civil society continues, from the efforts of Nobel prize winners down to the grassroots dedication of ordinary people.  Most change for the better comes, I think, from the bottom up.

It's so here in Toledo, Ohio, and the NW Ohio area.  Lots of local organizations are doing good work housing, clothing and feeding the homeless, the wounded, the needy. Our Ukrainian friends visited many of them during their Open World international exchange program in November.  They were impressed. Our visitors are doing the same kind of work in the towns and villages where they live, even under the most trying of circumstances, and were able to take lots of new ideas home with them.

These voices from the bottom up are often muted, stories buried under thundering headlines of society's ills.  I look for them wherever I can find them, anecdotes to the news that fills us with gloom and doom.

I recently read of a great effort originating in a bountiful garden in New Jersey.   An enthusiastic gardener, Gary Oppenheimer, was growing more food than he needed and didn't want his produce to go to waste. He decided to connect with a local pantry that provides food to victims of domestic violence.  "If there's food you can't use...get it to someone who needs it."

So he created Ample Harvest.  Oppenheimer has signed up more than 7,000 food pantries across the country.  They are now providing fresh fruits and vegetables to those who need it. Healthy food, good for the body and soul, a nice addition to all those canned goods many of us donate!

Most of these exchanges are seasonal, but I have an idea more will come out of this, including freshly preserved fruits and vegetables that can be sold as well as given to food pantries.  In fact, the food pantries might be able to come up with some entrepreneurial ventures of their own.
A community garden,
Toledo Blade

Reading about this project made me think of the community gardens here in the Toledo area. Some of these gardens have honeybee hives, which produce yummy fresh honey that is gathered, packaged, and sold as well as shared.  The Franciscan Sisters' garden has a polyhouse, a plastic greenhouse, that allows them to grow food year round.  New gardens are starting up near Scott high school and other city locations. These gardens, now over 160 of them, are members of "Toledo Grows," an outreach program of the Toledo Botanical Gardens.

Marcy Kaptur, our U.S. Congressional Representative  (Ohio District 9), is a huge supporter of these community gardens, along with efforts to protect and preserve our Maumee river environment, the Lake Erie watershed, and yes, honeybees.

I think she would like the idea of Ample Harvest.  We can all give any surplus from our own gardens to agencies that feed the poor.  And we can easily connect our community gardens and our food pantries in lots of different and beneficial ways. Such a project won't take a lot of money, but for sure it will have lots of benefits, a "harvest of caring."

Article on Ample Harvest:

My Sylvania Christmases,2011, 2012, 2103, 2014, and a few special things

xmas card 2014
2014 Xmas Eve, Casa de Mama, & a few memories

2014 xmas letter
Dear loved ones,
     2014 was a good year at home, disappointing on the national scene with the gridlock of hateful politics, and heartbreaking abroad, in the Middle East and for me especially in Ukraine.  So many friends in harm’s way.  There were times when I became so upset that I needed those gentle reminders from some of you to stop watching the news!  It got me through the senseless wars and violence that dominate our world. 
   I don’t expect much better for the new year.  Low expectations for peace, or justice.   I’ve turned Niebuhrian, as in Reinhold Niebuhr’s  teaching that there is evil in the world; we have to  fight it; but it will always be with us.  My friends from Peace Corps days in Ukraine  confirmed that sentiment during their visit here for an Open World program. But how incredible to have them here, after 3years of persistent effort..okay, a royal pain in the neck!  “One individual can make a difference” a friend kindly put it.
      On the home front, it’s great having the whole clan in Sylvania. We are a few blocks from each other, a blessing on so many levels.  I’m where I’m supposed to be, surrounded by Elissa, Michelle and their loving children. Joy and Gratitude!
       The year brought a trip to San Miguel with Elissa (fantastic), to St. Pete, Tally (sister’s hip replacement), and Miami (South Beach), to Barcelona and the French & Italian Riviera (beautiful), the latter throughGo-Ahead Tours. Also had some nice visits from friends here, including Sandie Schwende  and Andy.   I blog for myself, mostly to keep writing and putting thoughts on a page;  do special projects  for my Rep. Marcy Kaptur, like the  honeybee book  (still going) and a memoir of a Polish survivor of World War II and the Russian gulags. I’ll continue with international exchange projects as I can, working with others to create people-to-people exchanges, the foundation for peace.  I’m working with SUN (www.SaveUkraineNow) to send humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine, where the refugee crisis overwhelms.
Kyle, Philip, Chase 2014
       The year flew by almost at the speed of light.  It’s truly amazing.  The older I get, the faster time goes.  I wish you good health, safety (from gun violence as well as accidents), and happiness in 2015. Little things mean a lot! Keep in touch, with love, Fran
Getting and putting up Shel's tree, Dec. 2014

Jan 1, 2014 ,Winter storm, the first of many.  A long, hard winter in toledo.
Feb 2014, with Elissa in San Miguel Fantastic!
Thanksgiving 2014 at Michelle's!  I bought the turkey,
she cooked.  Yummy!
2013 Christmas at Casa de Mama
Cards made by Jud, watercolors
2013 Xmas letter. My holiday cards this year are original watercolors by my Peace Corps friend Jud Dolphin.  He started painting in Ukraine and has kept at it. I started writing a blog and have kept at it. Exploration. Persistence. Keeping young at heart. My themes for 2013.
It’s hard to believe another year has gone by, and faster than ever.  Add a year to your life, and time shrinks!  Last year at the end of December, grandson Josh and I were in San Miguel.  Josh is a great traveler and we had a fabulous time.  In 2014 Elissa and I are going to San Miguel, so she’ll get to experience one of my favorite places.  We’re excited.  Exploration! 
Christmas Cactus 2013 reminds me of my mom
Some threads in the fabric of my time in Sylvania will carry into 2014.  Italian lessons, practicing Spanish with Elissa, the Historical Society, support for urban missions for the homeless, travel, and a new research and writing project on honeybees & NW Ohio environment with our US Congressional  rep. Marcy Kaptur.  Marcy by the way, a loyal Obama Democrat, hates what’s happened to the House under this speaker also from Ohio.  I can’t imagine being a House member now; but  she hangs in there, doing her best for the 9th congressional district of our state.  Persistence. 
I also continue to grow with my kids, Elissa and Michelle, and my grandkids:  Alli (at BG and doing great); Josh, Kyle and 2-year-old Chase; Tony and Julia, mom of Philip, who is now 6.  “Life takes you to different places.  Love brings you home.”  It brought me back to the Toledo area, and it’s been precious. It keeps me busy, and young at heart.  Wishing you the joy’s of exploration, persistence and a youthful spirit in 2014, and good health, with love. 

grandkids 2013. added Tony cause he couldn't be with us. 
Elissa's collage for me,dec 2013. Love it!

2013 Christmas Eve at Casa de Mama 

2013 decorations. On to a nice little fake tree!

2013 Grandkids: Alli, Kyle, Philip, baby Chase,
Julia and Tony,who couldn't be with us.

2012 Christmas, Sylvana 
E happy with Tony 

Xmas eve at my place; alli in her Senior year, HS,
heading to BGSU in 2013! 

Remembering Loren: Nov 12, 2012 My brother is 65 years old today, not here on this earth, but someplace else where his soul resides.  I am keeping his spirit alive, just remembering him and missing him so much, but frankly, I long for his presence more than anything in the world.  I’m also wondering about this other place.  A surgeon recently had a near-death experience and declared there is a heaven. He had lovely images of butterflies floating in an ethereal garden, a floating world.  I’m not there. I think the vision the good doctor had has more to do with neurones and synapses, and chemicals dancing around in the brain, than anything else.  Not that I don’t want to believe.  I do.  I really do.  Especially so if it might mean I would get to see Loren again, and my parents, and all those I loved and knew and lost.  I think we will never know, not while we are in this time and space.  Some friends think death is a kind of freedom from these restraints.  I don’t know.  Happy birthday dearest brother wherever you are.  I hope we meet again. Life is not the same since you’ve been gone.  And I have few people to rant with; just our sis, really! 
With Shel and kids in Nantucket, July 2012, first time back in years. It was lovely.  

2011 First Christmas in Sylvania, after Peace Corps, at Casa de Mama, on Main Street

2011 Wreath, my first christmas
in Sylvania Main St.

2011 xmas tree, a real one

2011 Xmas at Casa de Mama, Sylvania

Christmas 2010: Wishes for my grandkids 
Who knows what the future will bring for my grandchildren.  The world holds challenges and opportunities.  They have lots of choices.  
I hope they chose wisely.  I hope their wishes come true.  That they stay safe and healthy.  That the god/goddess who watches over children is always with them.  That angels like my brother Loren sit on their shoulders at all times and protect them, encourage them, give them confidence.  That they stay positive about life, choose a good path to their future, take life’s inevitable ups and downs with strength, remain resilient.  I hope they remember that the content of their character and strong values are more important than things, that their inner spirit is more important than their outer looks.  I  hope they remember they live in a global village, that some people are less fortunate than they are, that they can contribute to making the world and their environment a better place.  
These are some of my new year’s wishes for my grandchildren. I pray that they grow in wisdom, follow their dreams.  And who knows, but some of them might even become Peace Corps Volunteers one day! 

Christmas eve 2009,Taxim Square, Istanbul,
with PCVs Jason, and also Jud. Beautiful service at Pope John XXIII's
old church, down about a mile from the square.

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