Sara and I were in DC for the 4th in 2011. There was a human in the White House and the fireworks looked good. Scroll on down to the last pics for the fireworks.
My fortunate grandchildren have first-rate parents and just the right mix of grandparents. The one with the pool, the one with the lake, the one who made all of the special party decorations and the one who especially encouraged sports and studies. And then there’s me. Trying desperately to infect them with the dreaded ‘travel bug.’
This is my first big trip with Sara, 12-year-old honor roll cheerleader tumbler tweenie. The trip began with a meeting in Boston and a few hours to get a bit of a feel for one of the places where it all STARTED—the United States of America that is—on to NYC for a day and a half of where it all IS and finally here in DC for a Capitol Fourth—just Sara and me and half the rest of the world celebrating who we imagine ourselves to be.
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How to love New Mexico again…with the passion I felt for this place the first years I lived here. Sometimes it’s easy. Yesterday morning for example. Steven and I walked from the river crossing above Rio Bravo south to Rio Bravo and back. Five and one-half miles. Started just before 6 am and winding up at Modelos for a burrito and pineapple Fanta breakfast. Perfect. The bike path going down, right along the river returning. I loved New Mexico and my river and trees and kid and burrito and life.
I looked for some poems about the Rio Grande. Here’s a nice one.
el rio grande
The Rio grande flows from the continental divide like a golden thread, taking the loneliness out of the Colorado mountains. The eyes of dead apache warriors express their sorrow with silent renegade war cries, as the Rio grande meanders through New Mexico.
Tooh-ba-aadi is an ancient Navajo word for a south flowing river. It flows through Tejas like a carancahua red cloth, it cuts through chihuahuas, coahuila, Nuevo Leon and tamaulipas like an Anasazi arrowhead.
The Rio grande is an ancient river that was flowing before all things were given names and the universe had a song in it’s heart. The Rio grande was here before a box of holy relics was bestowed upon an heir by three wise kings. The Rio grande was here before cathedrals, monasteries and chapels were built to cage the gods of man. The Rio grande was here before man enslaved man, a freely flowing river emptying it’s burden into an ocean claimed by no one.
The Rio grande is 1800 miles of blood, sweat, fear, hate, greed, envy, avarice, mercy and grace. The Rio grande is the bridge to the heart of my people and expresses it’s beauty everyday with its brown muddy waters.
And I remember you rio grande, when your strong undercurrent pulled me into your embrace. I remember you rio grande when my cousin drowned at your shore. I remember you rio grande and all the people who call you freedom, and I will remember you every time I close my eyes, clench my fist and raise it high into the air as I pray and mourn for my people.
My friend Bob and I were going to be at the Other Bob’s concert last night. Damn virus. Since we’re all playing ‘Shelter From the Storm’ these days as a wishful-thinking exercise…here it is.
Shelter From the Storm
Steven’s the younger brother, the baby of our family. He just had a birthday, one of the many that are turning him into an aging baby…still the youngest though, and you know how they are…the babies/little brothers/littlest kids…really cute but spoiled, right? And sometimes you wonder if they’ll ever grow out of a certain amount of coyness…
Steve, I didn’t want to bring this up on your birthday but… about that toilet training issue….. You always approached it rather oddly and now seems like the time to share your unusual approach to life with the world.
And finally, as your mother I want you to know I appreciate your somewhat dubious form of playfulness.
Happy seriously belated birthday…youse is a good kid…and I’m very proud of you…in spite of all those idiosyncrasies mentioned above.
I’ve been baking bread lately and thought you would enjoy some photos of my fragrant golden loaves. A poem about bread was needed to accompany them. It turns out the bread poem I liked best is about Beirut, Lebanon by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Which led to me being sidetracked in this no-travel year, going back to a post I wrote some years ago about visiting Beirut.
This post then is part new poem and part the re-telling of a travel story with my new bread pictures thrown in for good measure.
Bread by Mahmoud Darwish
From early dusk the day was inscrutable
The sun shows up, lazy as usual
A mineral ash, eastward, blocks the horizon. . .
In the veins of clouds
In household pipes
The water was hard. . .
A desperate autumn in the life of Beirut
Death spread from the palace
to the radio to the salesman of sex
To the vegetable market
What is it wakes you now?
Exactly five o’clock
And thirty people killed
Go back to sleep
It is a time of death and a time of fire
Ibrahim was a painter
He painted water
He was a deck for lilies to grow on
And terrible if woken up at dawn
But his children were spun of lilac and sunlight
They wanted milk and a loaf of bread
Inscrutable day. My face
A telegram made of wheat in a field of bullets
What is it wakes you now
Exactly five o’clock
And thirty people killed
Bread never had this taste before
This blood this whispering texture this grand apprehension complete essence this voice this time this colour this art this human energy this secret this magic this unique movement from the cavern of origin to
the gang war to the tragedy of Beirut
At exactly five o’clock
Who was dying?
Into his hands Ibrahim took the last color
Color of the secrets in the elements
A painter and a rebel he painted
A land teeming with people, oak trees, and war
Ocean waves, working people, street vendors, countryside
And he paints
In the miracle of bread
My Story. Beirut 2009
I am sitting on a curb in Beirut in the working class neighborhood at the very start of the Green Line, that famous division the Christians and Muslims of this city used for so many years as their bloody ‘line in the sand.’ I am a wanna be history nerd and curious traveler, spending my last day in this city exploring. Walking through the maze of streets, semi-lost for the last couple of hours, I finally ask someone with a bit of English for directions, he says “Yes, yes…Green Line,” nodding vigorously and pointing. But first a falafel shop entices me to pause in front of a window display of those wonderful crusty brown balls of chickpea delight and the men assembling the falafel sandwiches beckon me inside. I’m too hungry to resist and with sandwich in hand I move across the street for curbside dining just in front of a typical Beirut building—shot up and abandoned!
There are only men out and about here. This is usual, even in relatively liberal Beirut, once you get away from the city center and into a Muslim sector. It feels lopsided. The men treat me with great respect and share pleasantries because I’m too old to threaten their standards of womanly propriety, but still I feel denigrated on behalf of my hidden sisters.
It is hot, but bearably so, nice here on the curb in this quiet street, with tahini running through my fingers, feeling grungier with each messy bite. But a falafel sandwich tastes very fine after an entire day walking the streets of this strangely pleasant, accommodating, bullet-riddled city. I’m tired and hungry and very happy exactly where I am at the moment.
I’ve always been fascinated by Beirut and its civil war. I guess it’s the surreal quality of a bunch of Christian and Muslim militias, resembling LA street gangs more than anything else, destroying “the Paris of the East” for the hell of it. Seeing with your own eyes something you’ve read about but couldn’t quite fathom, feeling righteously tired from serious street tramping and assuaging your hunger with the middle eastern version of a good burger—it is a perfect travel moment.
The guys going in and out of the falafel shop stare at me briefly before deciding I’m a harmless eccentric and moving on. Otherwise it is so peaceful here. I try to picture what it must have been like back then. I’ve seen hundreds of thousands of bullet holes today, most notably at the multi-story shell left after the 1976 “battle of the Holiday Inn” and at the Place des Martyrs where the bronze statue of the martyrs could better be described as the bronze lacework of the gunmen. I sit here thinking of what I’ve seen today. All those bullet holes from all those men shooting, shooting, shooting in the names of God and Allah, but really for power and money, or because they are too damn dumb or terrified to stay out of the game.
On a street not far from here, men and bulldozers are busy rebuilding a section that resembles Rodeo Drive in LA in terms of exclusivity; obviously expectations of peace and prosperity are high. I think about the toys of our little boys; in the sand boxes of the world they tear down and build up and crash and dig. I know I am stereotyping and I know I am not saying anything new, but there does seem to be something true about boys not really growing up—but rather trading up—for more dangerous toys and powerful playthings as they age. Beirut is a world-class example of what happens then. Sorry. I’m mad. You can’t NOT be mad at men in Beirut.
Silly me. Philosophizing on the curb when I still have to walk the Green Line before catching a plane to the normalcy of Uganda!
Covid-19, in addition to sickening and killing us, could be classified as a bipolar disorder, couldn’t it? The highs and lows, ups and downs…. Day before yesterday, I was strong and positive, saying to my friends ‘here’s how we come out of this, better than we went in.’ Today I’m sick (not Covid-sick, just regular sick) and doubting.
When my powerful-persona has the upper hand, I do things like put up notes that say, ‘must do everyday—something that always makes us happy.’ It always makes me happy to write so here I am, 5am Sunday morning, writing. With nothing worthwhile to say—being sickish and ‘low.’
What about a poem? My friend Bob and a Coursera poetry class aroused a latent interest in poetry a few years ago which means there’s something to turn to when words and other books fail. So I went to the lithub website and The 32 Most Iconic Poems in the English Language to make it easy to capture something of this morning’s mood.
Being determined to prevent the evil virus from stealing too many hours of my last vital years (and a little fearful of just that many mornings) I thought to once again share Dylan Thomas’ Do not go gentle into that good night.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light
DEAR EVERYONE. HOW ARE YOU? I AM FINE. Well actually, I am nervous and sad. Oh yeah…and I’m dealing with an enormous theft—a year or two stolen from the few years I can remain fully engaged in the world. Other than that…
And you? What I know of what you’re doing—from email, facebook, zoom, messenger, text, phone and even an occasional card—you, my family and friends, are generally okay.
But we’re all so done with this aren’t we? The coronavirus and the cop-violence. Being ashamed of our country. Wearing a mask. What about jobs and travel and rain…will there ever ever ever be another rainy day.
I always feel like I should acknowledge how much better off I am, we are, than so many around the world. I should. And do. `
It’s just that the mental health toll of all of this uncertainty and anxiety is present…and not pleasant. So in spite perhaps being perceived as whiny…I’ll whine a moment. And since we all know that misery loves company maybe you’re experiencing some of these symptoms also?
For example, a typical day begins when I wake up, usually way too early—between 3 and 5am—feeling sad, even hopeless, and usually nauseated…the latter inexplicable. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that, by the time I’m up a short time and drinking of the magic potion known as coffee, I am almost always fine…feeling healthy, optimistic, energetic. Honestly it is amazing.
But then the day goes on. Small disappointments, awkward masked meetings, annoying zooms, more bad news, the sun glares, DT is still alive and my optimism fades…but only rarely does it disappear altogether.
So, we scheme about how to keep the thief from stealing chunks of our time and possibilities. My last vigorous years, my granddaughters’ next birthdays (C-19 already stole the 21st and 30th celebrations), our jobs, our trips…and of course, especially, our lives.
How to lock the door against thievery more securely. Therapy? Denial? Drugs? One foot ahead of the other—yeah, that’s the one.
Where one pours out their secret longings and wishes and passions. Shares their secrets. Worries their worries. Plots the destruction of their enemies. Conjures up princes to the rescue, bright futures….
I’ve kept diaries but, as mentioned in other posts, they’re always deadly boring…except for the one paragraph out of 500 you don’t want your mom, your lover, your boss, your children, your friends to read. So the whole little red or black book must be destroyed.
Blog diaries are different. Others do, or at least can, read every entry. So while I do not have to wax eloquent for each or any posts, I really do not want to shame family or friends with entries that are seriously dumb. Pretty pictures are always good…and perhaps a poem or two. Then at the end of the year when the blog-book is published I really can feel okay about printing extra copies for my children that, when they read them long after I’m dead, will cause them to remember me fondly.
ESCAPE: It is Sunday, June 6, 2020. Day 84 of my pandemic life. I’m escaping. Please know that I am fully aware of what small percentage of the world’s population can escape either virus and/or violence for even a few hours. Those of us who have the privilege of a day-away acknowledge our luck
Today’s escape includes no conversations however short; keeping the blinds drawn except on the window that looks out on my bamboo thicket—which hides the desert sun from view; a tropical rainstorm ap beaming me to Hilo, Hawaii, and doing nothing useful for actual work or task-work around the apartment.
Most escapist of all however is making plans for the 2021 almost two-month trip to Africa. My friend Celia and I, the mildly-delusional instigators of this gigantic journey, agree that this is the biggest travel adventure we may ever take—so barring unforeseen circumstances like pandemic year 2 or the US pissing off every other country in the world so thoroughly no one will let us in—we will make the most of it. There are small annoyances to deal with such as whether we have jobs (issues of time off and money) and manage to maintain our usual good-ish health but I’m sure we can work through them.
The big red circles on the map are where we may/will/hope to go. (Celia hasn’t approved Asmara yet…I may have to strike that).
I occasionally take breaks from the hard work of looking up things to do in Lilongwe and choices for the Garden Tour (no it’s not around some neighborhood with pretty gardens in some well-off suburb in some generally boring city) out of Cape Town or how far Glen Afric is out of Joburg. During breaktime I watch another episode of “Wild at Heart,” a completely enchanting British family drama shot in a game park in South Africa featuring mostly South African humans and animals. Celia’s watching it too; it has replaced our journey for this summer.
It’s nearly noon. My goal is to avoid the usual dark and dreary anger and sadness that are in the forefront or background of nearly every waking hour of every day…just for a few hours. I shouldn’t imply that all of my days are downers…they aren’t. I’m busy and healthy…etc. But it’s hard to keep the edginess of uncertainty at bay.
Yesterday I said my mom loved god, my dad loved the woods, and my school told me to love America. Sorry mom…couldn’t go the god route, and certainly nothing in my history as an American has convinced me that this country deserves unqualified love. While I treasure the geography of my land, I find it much harder to feel love for a number of my fellow Americans: the racists, the greedy, the purposely stupid, the violent and angry. As I watched the autopsy report on George Floyd being presented a few minutes ago my suspicions that we’re not an honorable nation were again confirmed. It’s sad not to be proud of one’s home I think you’ll agree. And I’m not. And I’m sad.
Fortunately I did inherit my dad’s love of the woods. Son Steven and I walked a restorative early morning five miles in the bosque, enjoying unqualified and prideful love of trees and the river and the early morning cool and calm.
While it’s important to be a skeptic of belief systems demanding worship; and essential to be angry, enraged in fact, over America’s inability to end its addiction to ‘isms’ … it is so fine to be among the trees for awhile…to find beauty and calm and unalloyed good down along our very own stretch of the Rio Grande.
Another day of sadness…except for my son and the cottonwoods and the slow blue water.
I was raised by a mother who thought god was great and a father who thought the forest was great. I was educated in a system that sought to teach me America was great. I’m now an elder and have long been disabused of the notion of god’s or america’s greatness—dad was right, walking in the woods is as close as any of us will ever get to what’s true and valuable and worthy of being called great.
And about this American-greatness bullshit. Is there any normal rational human being among us that isn’t sickened, saddened, and utterly demoralized by this society and its leadership at this moment in time?
But here’s the thing—it has always been thus…with rare flashes of hope…just enough to keep us in line. America was founded on racism and remains a hideously racist society. Columbus was a racist of the first order and those freedom-seeking Jamestown settlers were after their own freedom, not anyone else’s. And the founding fathers…high percentage of them slaveholders were they not?
Many intelligent articulate people are writing about this and I cannot truly know so let me share a few of their words. Roxane Gay and Trevor Noah say it loud and clear. If only we really listened.
In this morning’s (Sunday, May 31, 2020) NYT, Roxane Gay offers Remember, No One’s Coming to Save Us. She ends the article with the same lack of hope I feel all of the time: “Eventually, doctors will find a coronavirus vaccine, but black people will continue to wait, despite the futility of hope, for a cure for racism. We will live with the knowledge that a hashtag is not a vaccine for white supremacy. We live with the knowledge that, still, no one is coming to save us. The rest of the word yearns to get back to normal. For black people, normal is the very thing from which we yearn to be free.”
Last Friday night Trevor Noah used his Daily Show platform to share his thoughts. Google it/You tube..it will be the most valuable eighteen or so minutes of your week/month/longtime. Here are some of his words from Daily Beast:
To those who are telling protesters, “You do not loot and you do not burn. This is not how our society is built,” Noah said that if “society is a contract” then that contract is “only as strong as the people who are abiding by it.” He asked “what vested interest” black people have in maintaining that social contract when police aren’t holding up their end of the deal.
To those who ask of looting, “What good does it do?” Noah asked in return, “What good doesn’t it do?” He said, “The only reason you didn’t loot Target before is because you were upholding society’s contract. There is no contract if law and people in power don’t uphold their end of it.”
“There is no right way to protest because that’s what protest is,” Noah said. “What a lot of people don’t realize is the same way that you might have experienced more anger and more visceral disdain watching those people loot that Target—think about that unease you felt watching that Target being looted. Try to imagine how it must feel for black Americans when they watch themselves being looted every single day.”
“Because that’s fundamentally what’s happening in America,” he continued. “Police in America are looting black bodies.” While some might think that’s an “extreme phrase,” Noah assured them that it’s not.
When you hear the phrase, ‘make America great again’ ask yourself which ‘great’ year or decade you want to emulate. The years of slavery and genocide. The years of reconstruction, lynchings, depressions, destroying Vietnam, the Gilded Age with the 1% at their most powerful (until now)…just which ‘great years’ do we have in mind?