Cappuccino in the Orphanage

The four-year-old boy in the orphanage in the West Bank wanted only one thing. Cappuccino. He begged my friend who had promised each child a gift. She could not resist.

This is not a story about caffeine or what children “should” imbibe. This is a story of a child’s need to be loved.

You see, the children in the orphanage watch television a lot and there is an ad or a sitcom where a family drinks cappuccino together. He wants to be in that family, and in his mind they have adopted him, or he has adopted them.

When my friend returned a few days later, the boy ran across the large room to embrace her and ask if she had brought him cappuccino. She had, a month’s worth and the means to make it, and chocolate powder to sprinkle on top.

“You must share,” she said. “No, this is mine,” he said, and clutched the package to his chest.

She showed him how to make cappuccino and sprinkle the power. He sat cross-legged on the floor and drank it, slowly, contemplatively, putting it down quietly with both hands in between sips, as though he were listening to other members of his family talk.

Then he would pick it up again and sip until it was all gone.

After that day, he would do the ritual with the family on the television at their allotted time together. He made himself part of the family.

We are social animals and, yes, he knew the other orphans were called his “family,” but he needed his own.

After the month my friend replenished his supply. It is my belief he will drink cappuccino, and the other intense coffee variants for his life. He is Palestinian after all.

My friend told me the story in a luxury apartment overlooking NYC. We had just returned from lunch in a fine restaurant, followed by cappuccino. For me, decaf, which I prefer with almond milk.

It was a superb cup, but did not give me a family. It was a moment with my friend who has changed the lives of thousands of Palestinians.

Children make do with what they can. We all need embracing, we all need connection, but children need it most.

 

My Grandson’s Hand in Mine

It seems such a small thing that I have resisted writing about it for a week, and it was such a small thing, my grandson’s hand slipping into mine like a piece of cool silk when we cross the street. Not any little street, but NYC streets. Without resistance, especially across Broadway.

We all have some memory of being touched gently, serenely, with not a single barrier, whether by a lover or someone we wished to be a lover. At least I hope we all have, but surely I overstated. It isn’t the makeup of the world that we all have been loved.

Actually I remember the touch, as an adolescent, of a monkey reaching through a cage, quick as a viper, grabbing my hair at its roots and pulling my head against the screen as I screamed. I feel it now, but that is not the kind of touch I mean.

In retrospect, I remember other violent touches, the first time my husband hit me, but this is not about that.

This is about a ten-year-old boy who slips his hand in mine like silk. It is about holding my hand out when he is a step behind and having his hand touch mine without my even seeing him, knowing he is there and his knowing I am there, and we will cross Broadway safely.

It is about agreement of who we are together. And agreement of going forward, of crossing the landscape, of moving through time and space in our bodies. Our bodies that hold our minds, and thoughts, and emotions. It is about trust. It is about love as ordinary as water.

I have never felt that level of trust with my arm through that of a partner. I have never felt that safe crossing busy streets.

That amazingly fine hand with long delicate fingers, not clutching, simply entwined, and continuing so after we cross the street.

Yes, he may jump and whirl and yell and laugh and roll on the rug with delight when he beats me in chess. Triumph, unabashedly competitive.

Yes, he is alert and attentive to my elderly foibles, leaving my key in the door of the apartment. He is already tending and accepting.

But when he puts his hand in mine, our palms against each other the world is somehow right. We are comrades and for that moment I am still the elder, the guard, the protector. There is no resistance, nor is there surrender.

The touch says it all, and that is not a small thing at all.

 

He Would Have Been Tested For Rabies

The President of the United States violates every principle of honesty and exploits every crevice of divisiveness he can find. He trades in fear, bigotry, deception, and alternative worlds. He is a carrier of a malignant virus. If he were an animal in the Iowa of my childhood, he would have been tested for rabies.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, I was 13 and in civics class, second to last in the row of desks closest to the hallway door, a farmer’s daughter who had been taught your word was your bond and that we depended upon each other to bring in the harvest.

In that seat, I had an “aha” moment that Iowa was quintessentially the safest and most American state, or at least the Midwest was the most American area, and because Iowa had corn we had the edge even there. I also found it boring, which made me secretly a little ashamed of myself. How could I reject such luck to be born in Iowa?

We were at the heart of the light of freedom for the world. Each generation would have it better than the last. There was only one direction to go and that was up.

Central to this belief was the touchstone of honesty. Even our soil was honest, it showed you exactly what it was. Cows, pigs, chickens, they showed you if they were healthy or not, liked you or not. The sky was clear and endless. The wind and rains and snow were honest, taking their turns to show us exactly what they were and what their power could do and how we needed them.

And Christianity for the most part was honest in its values, though it wasn’t tested except inside one’s self. When farms were lost, some farmers shot themselves in their cellars by putting the shotgun in their mouths and pulling the trigger with their big toe. That was how I first learned women are usually better at managing crises than men. I’m not sure how much of that had to do with a woman’s Christianity or her tenacity.

I secretly found Bible stories to be fairytales but I knew the feel of good hearts and solid folks. They were my neighbors, whom I did not find boring. I found them quirky and strangely diverse, but pulled together by bonds of mutual respect and interdependence.

Christianity, however, did not discuss social issues and my civics class did not discuss minorities. There were no minorities in Iowa, so we set up our divides between Protestants and Catholics, and town folks and farm folks.

The desire to believe you are the people who are right, better, finer, closest to your sect’s chosen god is a pernicious virus.

So let’s come to the sorrowful point of now:

The President of the United States violates every principle of honesty and exploits every crevice of divisiveness that he can find. He trades in fear, bigotry, deception, and alternative worlds. He is a carrier of a malignant virus. If he were an animal in the Iowa of my youth, he would be tested for rabies.

He would have been isolated. No farmer would have worked with him because he was not to be trusted. He would not respect the farmers who rented instead of owned. He would not have paid his bills and that would be the end of that for him.

He would have been ostracized across counties. The word would have gone out among the people when the children were not listening. He would have been a fraud in a place where your word was your bond, where honesty was in the land.

They would have compared his hair with straw, but not in front of the children; they would have laughed behind the barn about his small hands.

Now, it turns out, these people voted mainly for him. Our farm was 18 miles from Mason City, the River City of “The Music Man.” The town folks were huckstered in the musical, but that at least was about trombones.

Times have changed, but that Iowa dirt is still in my heart. It demands truth, and it is not alone. It feels like one handful of loam in a field, a plain, of people rising across the United States reclaiming the heartland of who we are:

O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood (and sisterhood) from sea to shining sea!

 

 

The Narcissistic Personality: trouble in River City

This blog is not about what to do now. The answers to that are organize, unite, protect each other, and use every aspect of our judicial system to fight against incorporating hatred into the laws of our government and the mores of our social structures. This blog is about understanding the nature of Donald Trump’s mind and not being naïve. He is a dangerous man who does not know what is happening in the real world because he experiences only the world he has created for himself as a classic narcissist living in a world where hate is legitimate, lies are normal conversations, and he is entitled to delude people from the golden chairs in his tower and spew petty twitter rants from his bed. 

Operating principles of a narcissist:

1) Narcissists don’t care about you because you don’t exist to them as a real human.

2) The world they construct in their heads is the only world they perceive.

3) They experience themselves at the center of this artificial world.

4) They are often charismatic because their belief in themselves at the center of their world has a spillover effect on others, i.e. they believe they are great, and this can be seductive.

5) This spillover effect reinforces their sense of superiority and entitlement to whatever they wish. This is manifest often in a sense of ownership of people of the opposite sex.

6) Because their world is small and of their making, they are freed of any obligations towards integrity, honesty, consistency, compassion, or keeping of contracts and promises. Truth is irrelevant in this world where they are, essentially, the only inhabitant. Pathological lying is their language because they can change the contents of their private world from one moment to the next, eliminate this, add that. They don’t fully compute that real people in an “outside” world keep track of their inconsistencies and don’t like obfuscation, denials, and trickery.

7) Rage, duplicity, aggression, and divisiveness are their most common tools against people who confront them. They willingly send their minions after such people.

8) To mock, expose, or criticize them provokes an immediate response because, at all costs, they dare not give up their image of themselves as a superior being in a fantasy world. The spillage that could come from examining themselves in the mirror could be horrific to them—and most have lost the ability to enter the scouring world of truth, in any case. They cannot conceive that their thin-skinned responses are petty, absurd, and reek of being a third-grade spoilsport on the playground.

9) Narcissism is one of the most difficult of the delusional psychological diseases to treat because narcissism has for the most part served them well. Narcissists are successful in our contemporary world, which tells you something about our contemporary world.

Commentary on narcissists:

My experience with narcissistic humans could take up pages, but this is not about an ex-husband or former employee, or screaming in the shower for so long that my dog went outside to get sleep. It is about narcissists and what to expect of them.

That is, do not expect Donald Trump to become a rational human being. He will make his decisions based on his belief of that moment of what he thinks is best for him as ruler of his fiefdom. He does not have a rational, reality-based capacity for thought or decision.

Our President-Elect is a dangerous man who knew how to con and use nearly 50% of the people who voted in this election. He played on their fears, insecurities, prejudices, assumptions, lack of truthful and complete information, the financial inequities that affect their daily lives, and their feeling they are looked down upon by coastal “elites” and pushed aside in favor of minorities and people who are “other” than them.

He lied over and over and over and over—and a gullible (and, in some cases, biased) media gave him free press and allowed his lies to go out unchecked and unchallenged. He was perceived as a clownish bully rather than an unstable threat who could become our president. The media has a lot to answer for.

His spewings encouraged and justified violence in the minds of people who are now committing hate crimes across the U.S. This is not an illusion, it is happening, and it is happening not only to minorities but to white women I know.

And the people who voted for him for financial reasons will discover soon enough that he was never for them. They will be left further behind if his plans to lower taxes for the wealthy, limit social security and the Affordable Care Act, and deregulate the banks go into effect.

This is not even touching on the massive issues of climate change and global terrorism, or our relationship with Putin who is an even better con artist than Trump, or the setbacks and prejudices against women and their rights, or foreign relationships, or the global economy.

There it is, and it is not pretty, and it is not safe.

Still, I believe in America because I believe in Americans. I believe we will survive and we can rise. With intent and actions, we can unite across the divides to strengthen the middle of the bell curve, to reclaim the heart of who we are. We will protect each other and work together.

If our President and the Republican congress cannot serve us well, then we will have to create the Renaissance ourselves. We can do this by calling on our civil sector, our entrepreneurs, our artists, our visionaries, our lawyers for justice, our local governments and businesses, our diverse and wondrous citizens, and each other. We will not abandon the principles of this nation to a man who thinks we are his gullible throngs.

I believe this is possible with every cell in my body IF we remember at all moments that our President-Elect is incapable of self-control, rational decisions, or altruistic motives. This government must be under our watch, not his. We live in the real world and we are responsible for its care, our care, and the care of each other.

 

MIA: my tears

Crying is the other side of the wall. We paint our walls, put murals on them, fresco them, wallpaper them, pretend they are solid and that we are safe on the pretty side.

I no longer cry. It is not a blessing. It is, I believe, a kind of malady of my psyche. Instead of crying at yet another body blow–the slaughter of friends and lovers celebrating in a bar in Orlando, the drowning of families and children in the Mediterranean Sea, or the smug entrenched immorality of Congresspeople voting against gun control, or any other routine daily cataclysm–I stand and absorb, let it hit the soft organs beneath my ribs, my heart, lungs, and stomach.

The cows from my Iowa childhood did that. They stood in cold pelting rain, heads down, absorbing the blows, even of sleet and hail. They gathered in a circle, heads in the center, and waited it out.

I am the elephant mother that lost her baby. I am not the baby that lost her mother. That is panic, confusion, bafflement, devastation. I am the mother who knows she may have another baby, who knows what dying is, who knows the cycle of birth, being, dying, and who knows the importance of continuing even through grief.

It worries me that I cannot cry. Rationally, I know crying is natural and a relief, a cleansing of priorities, a showing to yourself of what matters to you if you did not already know.

Because I do not cry does not mean I don’t feel. It means that if I begin, I do not know when the sobbing will end. Grief could knock the feet out from underneath me, deplete me, break my heart. It could take weeks to recover.

I am not alone in this. Perhaps you and I are the same. I believe many of us are the same, feeling pain but losing faith in the value of crying yet again, or afraid to start. Crying is the other side of the wall. We paint our walls, put murals on them, fresco them, wallpaper them, pretend they are solid and that we are safe on the pretty side.

Perhaps like you, I fear crying could leave me vulnerable. Blurry-eyed and exposed, could I protect myself or others from continuing harm? Am I not counted on to rise to the occasion? Get the others out? Be a pillar during chaos? Signal a colleague I’m with them when they are frightened or when they are brave. Be the sanctuary?

Why doesn’t President Obama have these fears? He stands there, truly exposed. A mensch with tears on his cheeks. I stare at him and my definition of bravery changes right then and there. I understand I have a weakness, not that of crying but that of not crying.

Yet, I cannot.

That is not completely true. Tears stung my eyes three times in the last year, each when I thought of women I know, or do not know, who are truly suffering and I can do nothing to help. A Syrian friend made three attempts to cross the Mediterranean to Greece before she made it and then she walked most of the rest of the way to Amsterdam to make a future for her teenage daughters who will follow. A mother in Orlando spoke of her beloved son among the dead. A Palestinian student (on video) was shot until dead in Israel because she had a knife and was as dangerous as a butterfly.

Yes, it is for the women my eyes sting. I don’t know all the reasons why but it contains the element that I know how to help these women, how to hold them, how to stand up to their oppressors, how to listen to them and sometimes give them words for their pain. This is not hubris, it is the knowing of how I work in crises and of my experience of more than a decade with women around the world. I could help them if I were there, but I am not. I cannot hold them, I cannot make the world change enough for them soon enough.

I did help earlier with women in Palestine, Afghanistan, Burundi, Turkey, Argentina, Bosnia, Israel, and more. I let them cry and reveal horrors and find their way back to plans and hope. I absorbed their body blows and did not cry then because they needed me not to cry. They needed me as a witness.

Now I need to witness flowers, and friends, and poetry, and fortitude, kindness, and joy. I need my grandchildren’s laughter, jokes, and questions. I need to know good people come together and nudge each other to act upon their goodness. I need us. I NEED US. I need to cry at beauty if I cannot at hate and violence.

I need to cry in gratefulness that you exist, and I write all of this for you so we become more aware of if we cry or not, and how that affects us, our actions, perceptions, attitudes, and happiness.

I may cry now. Or next week. Or perhaps the next.

CUBA: Art & Soul

The beating pulse of artistic creativity permeates everything in Cuba. I am not talking about souvenir art like papier-mâché 1950’s cars in chartreuse, red, and royal blue to be used as desktop ornaments, or Cuban flags or Che t-shirts. I am talking of art that transcends the bounds of the ordinary to reveal the extraordinary, art that draws back the veil.

A US citizen can still only enter Cuba from the US with a US-vetted educational group. My group was mainly Jungian analysts. I am not a Jungian analyst though I have my visions, and was as excited as the Jungians about the symbolism and archetypes of Cuban Christianity that overlay the African religions.

Sightings of Jamaya (Ee-mai-YA; also spelled Jamalla), the Cuban personification of the archetype of the Black Madonna, goddess of land and sea, led to ripples of excitement in our group. Her flowing robes, her golden aura, her white baby.

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It rained every day except one, but even on the rainy days we went singly, in duos, threes and fours, or as a group to museums, galleries, churches, restaurants, and concerts, or strolled through old Havana, Cienfuegos, or Trinidad. We struggled to grasp the dichotomy to our Western minds—Jungian or not—between the vibrancy of the art, colors, tastes, and sounds with the dilapidated buildings, meager goods, and government repression.

I became obsessed with the question: Is creativity expressed most radiantly by indomitable people under duress? Perhaps because it is the carrier of life itself?

Even the most “transcending” art I saw, including of Jamaya, was infused with humanity, with human emotions, gestures, and instincts—humans merging with animals, Jesus sitting on a chair after the Crucifixion looking very worried.christ for blog
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Sometime a wry sense of humor, or not, speaks to the current political situation. In the center courtyard of the magnificent National Museum of Fine Art in Havana is a sculpture that is a masterpiece of ambiguity. A rusted iron smoke stack rises as a steeple out of a small Monopoly-style church. Sitting at the top is Christ on a cloud, seemingly all of smoke. As my Jungian analyst friend Jean Shinoda Bolen said, “Holy smoke!”Jesus on smoke stack.

Yet, is it a write-off of religion as nothing but smoke? Or an embracing of the Christ spirit as generated by believers? Or something else?

Christianity has come back in force in Cuba, but remains vaguely frowned upon by some. Is this sculpture debunking religion or showing the tenacity of belief in something beyond the tangible, perhaps even manifesting something beyond the tangible? We went to a church service. The place was rocking.

We were told that Cubans have freedom of speech (and, thus, of artistic expression) but they don’t have freedom after speech. That is, for the most part you can say what you feel and think, though it might need to be somewhat camouflaged, but you cannot ask others to join you in a movement and you cannot do active protest. This demarcation holds social protest in place, supported by years of masterful maneuvering by Fidel that makes most Cubans feel grateful to him and the on-going government for what they receive, including full free health care, an excellent free education up through doctoral degrees, and government institutions that support advanced art education in painting, sculpture, dance, and music.

The poverty line has been lifted way above where it was before the revolution and the people seem happy, though income discrepancies are rampant. Hotel workers, through tips, earn more than medical doctors. (Cuban joke: A man tells a stranger he is a bellboy. His wife clarifies, “He has delusions of grandeur. He’s really a doctor.”)

To continue: housing is, by and large, very decrepit, and luxury goods are not available. There are no large grocery stores, or, it seems, large stores of any kind.
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There are many car repair service stations, but you have the feeling every Cuban male has learned how to repair cars with tin cans and wire. The cars themselves are works of art.

Our hotel had a grand marble lobby and wonderful restaurants. Still, the light fell out of the ceiling of my bathroom and crashed in the sink, my coffeemaker didn’t work, and my curtains were missing a third of their hooks, and the apartment elevators were so slow I used the stairs from the fifth floor. We rejoiced with the general manager—a woman—the day the embargo on parts from the US was lifted so the elevators, and hopefully many other things, could be properly repaired. That said, the hotel spaces were filled with the best art—beautiful, creative, whimsical, celebratory, exquisitely painted—I have ever seen in a hotel anywhere.

Perhaps this containment of artists in a stratum of life where they can express themselves fully only through their art is like a greenhouse. The art is required to burst fully open, ignoring deprivations, expressing the world of beauty and so much more precisely because it does not have access to what is beyond the greenhouse. Then again, it could just be that Cuba is warm and sunny.

Surely it is the “warm and sunny” that has fueled the exuberant music that has supported Cubans throughout their history, but what blew me away was the choir Cantores De Cienfuegos directed by Honey Moreira. choir for blog, bestWe had a private concert with this a cappella chorus of angels!

They have won international contests, which seems beside the point when you are lifted in their embrace. (You can hear them on YouTube to get an approximation of this extraordinary experience of musicianship.) 

The last day we ate at a privately-owned restaurant that had three large prominently displayed paintings of Fidel Castro. On first look, even second look, they seemed simply to be photo-realistic paintings. Yet something was “off.”

Fidel tongue copyLooking closer at the profile view, I saw behind the straggly moustache that Fidel’s tongue appeared to be sticking out like that of a silly yapper. Perhaps it was that he has a strange lower lip. Perhaps the artist was leaving the question open?hands for blog fidel to crowd.

 

 

 

 

 

In the study of his hands, I realized his left hand is in his sleeve as though he has a trick up there and the thumb of his left hand has traces of red, like blood, on it. But then again, his right fingers have the same red. What to make of that? Nothing or something?

In the final painting the viewer sees Castro’s back with his arms raised before a crowd. His left hand points further to the left. He is exhorting his audience, which the viewer sees as faceless blobs as, the artist seems to be saying, Fidel saw them also.

Is this an artist “speaking” his truth?

Our group is gravely concerned about what will happen when the international hotels and luxury stores arrive, when Americans arrive by the tens of thousands, when ceiling lights no longer crash into the sink, curtains hang right, and new cars arrive.

I’m not sure the Cubans will know what hit them. How will their exuberant humanity hold against the onslaught? What will save Cuba from becoming Miami?

Perhaps there will be help from Yamaya who protects land and sea or Jesus who rises out of the ashes, but I suspect it will be up to the Cubans to save themselves and protect their humanity through their warmth, ingenuity, and creativity. For this, they do have one more god to help them, Elegua the Trickster, a direct import from Africa.

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Elegua is a child, either male or female. Here she is in the all-white dress of the Santeria sect of Christianity, sitting in the entry room of a small temple to Jamalla nestled between shops in Trinidad de Cuba.

Elegua should not be confused with childishness. She is powerful and uses wiles to make things right. I place my bets on her ingenuity. I place my bets on Cubans. I place my bets on art. It matters. Cuba is a triumph of creativity and humanity over circumstances. We have much to learn from her.

Paris, after being with Syrians and Palestinians

I sit by the Seine on a chilly day with a blue sky and languid clouds overhead. I love my new coat, a motley blue and black fuzzy thing, wrapped around me. The river runs grey.

If I do not write today, it feels I may never again. It has been months since I have written as I have sunk deeper and deeper into a vast well of being without expressing that I feared and resisted, even as I knew I, somehow, chose it. I was – wasn’t I? – meant to achieve something with my life, to be not only a contender but at least in the semi-finals.

Instead, I am coming to terms with . . . being. Only that. Not achieving, not defining. It is a state not subject to interpretations, comparisons, or judgements. Out of it something discernible is starting slowly to bloom. It has no relationship to what I expected of myself or how I defined myself. Whether it is a result of a lessening of faculties or a gaining of new ones I have no idea, and I hardly care.

It is a sensuous state that is not actually sexual. Sex? What is sex? Will it ever return to my life? Do I wish its disturbances?

The issue that slightly rankles is not being anyone’s #1. That is different in nature than lying in bed with someone, being held, having dinners together, deciding together which movie to watch. It is having some one person who knows, more or less, where you are and what you are thinking, though I don’t believe anyone knows what someone else is thinking fully, which may be a good thing. Thinking is over-rated.

I lied to you. I am not by the Seine, not yet anyway. I am in an apartment a couple blocks from the Seine with intents to go to the Seine. I described the sky accurately though, and I do love my new coat. See, you believed I was by the Seine even though I wasn’t.

My little deception is nothing like the terrors (damn that word, so sick of it) happening to the women from Syria I was with the last week of August. We were in Turkey. I was one of a team of people giving leadership training and trauma healing to Syrian women in Gazientep, which has hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in it and seems to be the site of the Syrian government in exile. We presented more than 20 male leaders, including the Prime Minister of the government in exile and the President of the National Coalition, with a statement and plan on protection of civilians and we told them they needed the help of women. We brought all these male leaders together in one room for the first time. Everyone needs the help of women to get things done, including other women.

Those women have more to deal with than small lies and the picayune problems afflicting a woman with a new coat and a warm apartment a couple blocks from the Seine. These women had family members murdered because of the work they did and they choose to continue. These women have lost husbands, brothers, fathers, and cousins if not to barrel bombs, snipers, bombs, gas, and drones, then to the irreconcilable differences of being on different sides of the multi-faceted divides.

I wonder if the pharmacy is open Mondays. I need to replace my LeClerc compact (color: Ivoire) that I got a year ago.

I have a new Facebook friend who chastises herself for feeling great pain over her losses when so many people in the world are suffering such larger losses. I don’t know her but I like her and assured her, pulling up remnants of wisdom from that which remains and seems so far away as to be up from my big toes, that a loss is a loss and the Syrian women know this, too. They equated the death of one team member’s brother as a teenager to a car accident to their own losses. They cried together.

I’m reading “My Promised Land” by Ari Shavit. It was recommended to me over and over when it came out a couple years ago. Now I’m reading it, safely ensconced in the 6th arrondisement, after having spent last week in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It takes a Jew to tell Jews that Jews have and do perpetrate terrors (damn that word). They did it deliberately and calculatingly in the claiming of Israel and they do it today in Palestine. Mass slaughter then and picking people off daily now, one by one, in the West Bank. Gaza is excluded from the ping here and ping there death. Gazans are, instead, cyclically slaughtered in mass.

Right! I have to remember to call my grand-daughter who, due to a decision by her mother when she was 12, is Jewish. Today is her 7th birthday. 

I had my first up close and personal experience with tear gas 10 days ago – my god, was it just over a week ago? – in Beit Jala alongside Bethlehem. Israeli soldiers were on all the rooftops waiting for our quiet walking protest of 150 or so people to approach their police tape. Not touch it, just get within 10 feet of it. No conversations, no give and take, no telling the marchers to back off. We were instantly bombarded with tear gas, front, back, center, and sides. The intent wasn’t to disperse, it was to punish us for holding any thought that civility and rationality would have any influence on where they build the wall, that nonviolence had a chance against an establishment determined to divide Beit Jala and to appropriate parts of it. Land grabbing is as routine as chewing gum. Take over Palestinian villages that existed for hundreds of years through generation after generation? Did it in 1948, doing it now.

The inside skinny on tear gas is that it is worst than you imagine. Well, worse than I imagined. There was the moment when I thought my lungs would implode and I would die. Then there was the moment when I realized my lungs were not going to implode, nor would I have permanent eye damage and the skin on my face probably would not peel off – all while running uphill for two blocks with a younger male colleague pulling me along, and the fuck moment when I realized the canister in front of me and rolling towards me was going to explode at my feet just as I reached it.

It’s unfortunate the Picasso exhibit at the Grand Palais doesn’t open until the 22nd. I know some more cerebral art critics pay little attention, but, give me a break, the man was a god. An annoying human maybe, but a god. Gods tend to be annoying. 

So Germany is leading the welcoming of Syrian refugees to their country. Isn’t that amazing? Has the middle of the human populace attitudinal bell curve in Europe shifted enough so people in some nations can gather together and act as humanitarians? Our hearts thump louder at the possibility even as I am among those getting pissed as hell at the wealthy Arab states who allow in zero Syrian refugees even as Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon stretch and stretch and care.

And the US? When did such a large portion of our populace, and our representatives, become stingy? What, we’re afraid people who are better educated and more resourceful will come in and help our economy and standard of living?

I need more protein. Not eating four legged creatures and finding fowl less and less appealing . . . the health food store at Place de Furstenberg should have tofu, or a protein powder. Ah, there’s Yen and that incredible thing they do with tofu where they make it taste like . . . well, nothing else I know, but so delicious.

I have the right to mourn my losses. Friends have died, few close relatives remain, my ex-husbands are forgettable, my beauty requires good sleep and good hair days, my body weakens, the avalanche of words is sometimes a dry bed creek. I am no one’s #1. It is the bane of almost every incredible woman I know over 65. Not all of us, but most of us. If we have not already come to terms with living alone and dying without having rocked the world, we need to do it now. Otherwise, all realization of existing beauty now and in the future is lost – not only our own beauty, but that of being here in what, on the best days and even most of the worst, is an incomprehensible miracle despite the killing and slaughter and madness and, yes, terrors.

The grey Seine

Today’s grey Seine

 I need to go out.

Will I think of the Syrian women and weep by the Seine? Has this writing released the damned flood? What will become of us all?

Paris has survived terrors.

I wonder if that place that gives Thai massages is still open on rue Christine.

Beggar with a Point to Make

Last night, walking home in the cold, I was stopped by a man I had seen moments before under a pink blanket on the corner of 66th and Broadway, around the corner from Lincoln Center. The man ran after me, “I saw you hesitate just for a second. Can I make a point with you?”

My first reaction was anger: “What? Homeless people run after you now?”

My second reaction, a split second later, was: “A point? He has a point to make with me? He’s an intellectual?”

My third reaction, even as I shook my head “no,” was guilt.

Then I walked into the grocery store.

“It’s too hard to get money out of my purse with gloves on. Do I even have any small bills? If I give him something, it reinforces begging. If we give every street person something, it reinforces begging. What was his point? What would Jesus do? Should I buy him food?”

I bought my groceries – maple syrup for yogurt, sushi, vegetable dumplings, and orange marmalade.

He was not waiting when I left the store. I crossed the street to my apartment.

Last night he slept on the street. I slept in a king-size Ralph Lauren bed. He slept under a pink blanket. I slept under a down comforter.

Whatever the point he wished to make, the point I received is that I am one more person with a warm home who does not know what to do about people who have no homes at all. I am not guilty because I have a home. I am guilty because I walked away. I was afraid. I like things smooth, I don’t like awkwardness. I would have felt caught. I didn’t want him latching onto me. I . . .  I . . .  Why is it all about me? That right there is the problem.

 

On Beauty: Chihuly in the Garden

ALERT: Be prepared to slow down. Glass, greenery, and mind-alteration ahead.

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Last week I was at the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Miami where the 83 acres of barely tamed palms, cycads, and flowering trees were embedded with the blown glass art of Dale Chihuly. It was glorious, and forced me to rethink my beliefs about beauty.

Beauty is not absolute. We may cluster around Monet’s waterlilies, Venus de Milo, and Vermeer’s woman with a pearl earring and gasp in awe, but beauty is not absolute.

My heart may skip a beat over any painting by Odilon Redon or Wassily Kandinsky. Yet, beauty is not absolute.

We may feel a visceral snap, zap, ping that seems to have come across 40,000 years to reach us when we look at cave wall drawings of bison, horses, and deer. Still, beauty is not absolute.

To keep it simple let’s focus only on the visual arts even though the principle that beauty is relative applies to our perception of beauty in music, poetry, dance, film, and humans.

The functioning principle is: Beauty is relative because humans decide individually what they believe is beautiful and what they believe is not. The work of art is not saying to itself “I am beautiful.” We do that, and we have different opinions.

Humans assign beauty and other values to art based on filters inside ourselves that we do not even realize exist. Everything we see passes through these filters and is judged – tainted or enhanced – by them. We feel that we are discovering beauty or ugliness when, in fact, we are assigning beauty, ugliness, and all sorts of other qualities to art – and so much more.

The filters are determined by where we live, when we live, our experience, our education, and our wildly-varied personal quirks. It is all personal. There is no other explanation for Elvis on black velvet.

FullSizeRender 6This is not to say visual arts are inert, flat, dead. They have internal resonance determined by their color combinations and spacial relationships. Paintings and sculpture have “chords” just like music. Their colors, scale, and depth can be analyzed and charted. They may be “harmonic” or discordant.

The majority of people prefer “harmonic” – that is, mathematically balanced – resonance where the light spectrum of different colors feel “connected” with each other and the spacial relationships feel cohesiveness, i.e. most people don’t like things to “clash.” Most of us like art we perceive to resonate harmonically inside itself that, by extension, then resonates inside us.

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Until last week I never resonated with the blown glass works of Dale Chihuly. I found them stunning but soulless. Analytical, intellectual, a little too like a painting by Salvador Dali. Slick. Lacking the mess of human emotions.

But the idea of walking through the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden to see Chihuly’s glass works in sito was intriguing. Besides, my host was charming, and it was a sunny day with blue skies over Miami.

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My friend and I were enchanted, and I saw Chihuly’s art as for the first time.

Suddenly the works were not shallow, but sensuous, brilliant, outrageous, and organic. Yes, organic. They created an Alice in Wonderland world where everything was alive, and slightly dangerous. They rose from the earth among vines and flowers. They “bloomed” and thrived on the sun like the carbon-based life around them.

The works resonated with the plants. Newts crawled on them, dragonflies rested on them, and birds walked among them. The plants, animals, insects, and glass were at home with each other.

IMG_2936This 180 degree turn in perception reminded me of a book I read years ago. The author explored our ability to change instantly what we think is ugly to what we think is beautiful, our ability to re-perceive.

She used the example of palm trees, how she considered them ugly until one day she saw them as beautiful. Reading that, I suddenly no longer saw palms as ugly but as beautiful.

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Hold on. We’re going to take this to its extreme.

Years ago, within seconds of starting to meditate on a beach in California, I watched the setting sun become the center of a universe of love that held – in fact, was – a beating heart. Lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub, through the sky, the ocean, the sands.

FullSizeRender 12My mouth was slightly open. A fly came to hover in front of it like a hummingbird. I saw my mouth through the fly’s perspective – a damp reddish cave. How inviting!

The fly came closer, but did not enter. As the fly, I reconsidered. As a person, I felt no abhorrence.

In the suspension of a world divided into beautiful and ugly, what would normally be felt as grotesque was felt as exquisite. I understand this is shocking when viewed from the constraints of normal perception and judgement, but it was a lesson I have never forgotten. It was a world alive in beauty without filters. It touched me so deeply that I could not speak of it for months and then only in tears of wonder.

As humans we assign not only designations of what is beautiful and what is ugly but of what is alive and what is not. We say a tree is alive, but glass is not.

FullSizeRender 10We are as wrong in assigning life as we are in assigning beauty and ugliness. Everything is alive, everything is made of energy.

Sometimes we know this – an hour on the beach looking at the sun over the ocean. Sometimes we don’t know this.

Glass, to me, is now organic, both as the substance of glass and as the expression of an artist.

Most days the filters have less and less power. Most days, there is more and more beauty.

Thank you, my friend, for taking me to the garden. Thank you, Chihuly, for creating new forms of life.

The show continues through May 31. More on Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden and its programs at www.fairchildgarden.org. 

 

Air France Made Me Cry

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Reader Notice: Any lament about being stuck in Paris is, by definition, ridiculous. I know that.This is about being stuck away from people you love.

 

 

Air France made me cry. Not sob, not bawl my eyes out, but real tears, real “I can’t cope” tears. Since I long ago learned that “I can’t cope” tears have no traction in my world – maybe in others, but not in mine, never have – the tears stopped at the point where I said aloud, “Well, that’s really going to help, Patricia.”

Insomnia is no respecter of borders and sleeping only between 5:00 am and 9:00 am probably had something to do with my fragility, as did a desire to get home and hug my grandchildren, to dedicate my life to them as the most viable thing I’ve got going.

Yes, this is a somewhat hollow lament – I am in Paris, after all! – but loneliness is not ever hollow. I have a psychiatrist friend who was in the teams that “treated” Vietnamese boat people decades ago. She said they wanted to talk about the same things everyone else wants to talk about. Not the war, not loss of home, but the intricacies of love and caring and insecurities. Why should I be immune?

So when the email notice came from Air France canceling my flight 24 hours before scheduled takeoff, I was already flirting with self-pity. It was complex and went on and on about booking options and financial transactions, and it was in French without an English “click” button.

Now, I had known for two weeks that the Air France pilots were on a “soft” strike with some flights cancelled, which is why I kept checking to see that my flight was still on schedule. It was, up to that moment. I had packed.

Action time! Call the telephone number, get a real operator, tell her or him everything, get a new booking, and arrange a straight financial exchange. The first two tries didn’t get through at all and the third time I got the “Thank you for your patience, we will be with you shortly” recording – for 30 minutes, which is when I hung up at $1 per minute.

But had I been sitting around, helpless and waiting? No! I had been online in the race with phantom leagues of people who were also rebooking as fast as they could.

Stick with Air France rather than try in foreign languages to manage the finances. The strike is scheduled to be over in two days. Five seats left on the Wednesday flight, work fast, get that information in, choose a seat, click to confirm. Now!

. . . oh, oh . . . an air message. There is a technical difficulty and my reservation cannot be confirmed. Of course, there’s a technical difficulty! There are 500 plus people from my plane alone who are rebooking. No way those five seats will be left next time I try.

This is when being alone, being sleep deprived, and wanting your grandchildren to run to you with their arms open come together in a special way that creates a stinging sensation in your tear ducts.

It’s not about reservations and flights. It’s about being connected to others. It’s about being in the human family. It’s about being loved and giving love, being embraced and embracing, celebrating each other, and having someone bring you coffee while you’re trying to get home.

I made my own coffee and went back to try online again. My speakerphone was still saying “Thank you for your patience, we will be with you shortly.” But this time when I pulled up my reservation to change it, it said I was confirmed on a flight in two days. My earlier attempt had gone through.

I shut off my cell phone, dressed in black like Johnny Cash, told myself I was one tough cookie, and I went out to lunch – a poached egg over thin-sliced gently steamed peppers and corn for the first course and wild mushroom risotto for the second course.

I can cope for two more days.