Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Relativity of History

Yesterday, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, there was a free showing of the film "Selma," for high school students in Akron. In this morning's paper, several students were interviewed to get their reactions to the film. Their response was that it was good to "learn history," I had two reactions to their responses: why didn't they already know about this, and their calling it "history."
There  have been, even recently, some excellent documentaries on the civil rights movements of the sixties, to say nothing of that superb "Eyes on the Prize" series. Are they not using these things in schools these days? They don't even have to read text books to learn about one of the major issues of the 20th   century.
Then I realized that this "history" was 50 years ago, and that the parents of these kids probably weren't even born when all this was going on, and had no idea of the events, the struggles, the dangers and the bravery of young Black students and their parents in the South at the time. When I was the age of the kids who saw "Selma," fifty years ago to me would have been the late 19th century -ancient times to a 15 year old.
Fifty years ago to me, however, does not seem that long ago at all. I vividly remember seeing on television Black people rallying for voting rights being knocked off their feet by fire hoses, being attacked by police dogs, being beaten by nightsticks by the local police. I was shocked that President Kennedy stayed silent, absolutely ignoring what was happening to American citizens. I sat down and wrote a scathing letter to him, but never mailed it, feeling helpless. This is the president whose picture graced many Black homes. In those days the Southern Democrats wielded most of the power in the Senate, and they weren't about to do anything either. I can't remember how long it took Kennedy to react, but his lack of outrage at the violence in Selma was a  lasting disappointment to me.
I think in the end it was the Selma March, and the participation if so many people from all over the
country, that turned the tide, but not until there was more violence and several deaths, and the hateful
Bull Connor, the "law man," who beat and bullied anyone who crossed his path.
Yesterday, there was an article in the Akron Beacon Journal about the Selma Sympathy March, fifty years ago. My friends, Shirley and Marty Baron and I were in that march, part of the crowd of 2500' white and Black citizens who felt the need to do something. I'll never forget how quiet the march was. This was before the murder of Viola Liuzzo, the woman in the Selma March in Alabama who was shot and killed, but I found myself wondering if someone in one of the buildings we walked by might decide to take some potshots at us, and what was I, a widow with four young children, doing by participating in this event? Even in the north, there were many angry people, upset that "they" were demanding equal rights.
It's hard to believe that was fifty years ago. It's also hard to believe that the struggle goes on, and that there is no Martin Luther King, Jr. to provide the kind of leadership we all need.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

After the Holiday

We had a terrific two weeks with Polly home  foe a longer visit than usual.as I wrote in a previous post, she did a fine job decorating the Christmas shrub. She and John cooked the Christmas dinner, and she continued to turn out tasty meals during her stay. I am not an enthusiastic meal preparer. The Joy of Cooking is not part of my makeup. I cook because one must eat. Polly, on the other hand, can put a meal together from nothing. Several times during her stay she would wander out to the kitchen, explore the refrigerator and the cupboard and surprise us with a delicious curry, roasted herbed vegetables, soup, or quiche, all while whistling a merry  tune or two. She's like one of those TV chefs who are challenged with making a feast with three ingredients. It was a lovely treat, and it was a treat to have her here, good food or not.
The award season is upon us. So far I have seen most of the promising films, all of them very good, but very grim and gloomy. I am trying to figure out why the Golden Globes people categorized "Birdman" as a comedy, unless they consider angst funny. Michael Keaton was superb, but comedy it was not. Another top film, "Foxcatcher" is unrelentingly grim, but Steve Carell is brilliant and either he or Keaton should win the Oscar. However, the Globe award went to Eddie Redmayne for doing Stephen  Hawking. This is what I call the "My Left Foot Sympathy" award. It goes back a long way, with Jane Wyman (better known as Ronald Reagan's first wife) winning by playing a deaf-mute rape victim requiring her more-or- lass to emulate silent film actors. Then there was Daniel Day Lewis, then Tom Hanks' dreadful Forrest Gump ( A real "What were they thinking?"  choice.)' and now Eddie, who did an excellent job of slumping in a wheel chair. Of course, I cannot deny that he also brought to life Hawking as a brilliant and human person. "The Imagination Game" was disappointing to me, mainly for that kind of overdone soundtrack that tells you how to feel. The crowning insult was when the hero cracks the code and there's this damn swelling chord ( only absent a choir) that makes it seem like the Second Coming. PBS did the same story years ago with Derek Jacobi that was quite good and much more moving without any soundtrack to underline every emotion. You can see it on YouTube.
I haven't seen "Big Eyes" or "Into the Woods" yet, and missed out on "Boyhood" completely. The most fun movie was Wes Anderson's "Budapest Hotel," which was the most clever of all and I'm glad that it won a Globe award as the best comedy, because it was a comedy and hilarious.
I was thinking of the general grimness of this year's crop compared to last year's  F-word laced but
funny top films. Why such downers this year? After seeing several, I found two movies on Netflix that were good antidotes for the depressing flicks of this year: " Moonstruck," and "Shall We Dance?" Cheered me up no end.

This is the view from my front window today. Winter is in full swing. It was one degree when
I got up this morning. However, the sun shines, the sky is blue, and so are people's noses.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Christmas Bits

It was a quiet Christmas here. John fixed breakfast- eggs, home fries and sausage. We opened presents. We called the German side of the family.
Dinner was roast duck, prepared  by John, with fixin's by Polly-mashed yams, Brussels sprouts with bacon and maple syrup. Polly also whipped up some tasty chutney to go with everything, and for dessert, mince pie. It was not our old traditional Christmas fare, but it was full of flavor and color and exceeding delicious.
We almost didn't have a tree. John and Polly went to a tree place, which was closed - this was on Christmas Eve. However, there were two trees for the taking, so they took one. It's more a shrub than a tree, but Polly got it going. We have enough ornaments for a seven footer, and this shrub is a little  over three feet tall.  Then she found a box of old trimmings, shiny things I'd forgotten I'd had, the sort of things you could get at K-Mart years ago, like garlands, baubles and bright shiny things. They found the little ceramic Christmas tree given to us by Miss Simms, in whose pool we used to swim. It's actually a bit of overkill, but enjoyable.I have no idea why I accumulated some of this stuff, since some of it looks brand new.
The Christmas shrub is on a table. The top is adorned with two of the tin stars a friend brought back from Mexico years ago. They added a large golden "thing" to the top, which glitters gaily.
The beauty part is, of course, that the "tree" was free, a gift from whoever owns the tree place.
On Saturday, it was back to Cleveland for the Boar 's Head Festival and dinner at Minh Ahn, both of which were splendid.

Monday, December 22, 2014

And a Merry Christmas to All

 I wish all those who visit this blog a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukkah, a Kaputal Kwanza, or a nice day off work.

Sunday, December 21, 2014


A week ago, Sally and I went up to Cleveland, to the "Messiah Sing" at Trinity Cathedral, the place where the Boar's Head  pageant takes place after Christmas. I went to listen, Sally went to sing. I've written about this magnificent cathedral in the past, a place over 100 years old, built when Cleveland's Euclid Avenue was part of Millionaire's Row, lined with elegant mansions. A few of these mansions are still around, some of them part of University Circle, parts of museums, or buildings used by Case-Western University. There are probably ghosts of these people regularly attending Trinity Cathedral
The place was packed for the "Sing," with each section designated for the voices in Handel's timeless work. By far the largest section was the altos, who filled almost half of the main nave. I have only participated in one of these things once, many years ago, when I spent a year in the Bach Chorus at Baldwin-Wallace. I still have my score, but there's no way I can navigate the range or the tricky bits. I hummed along with the parts I remembered, as did a number of us in the "listening" section.
There was a small, beautifully precise orchestra, and four young soloists. With the first words of the first chorus, "Glory to God," there was such a thrill, hearing that great space filled with hundreds of voices, I swear I levitated.  It went on like that for the next hour. The soloists, unmiked, projected their gorgeous voices throughout the vaulted nave. Maybe you had to be there, but it was stunning.
At the end everyone was beaming.
Sally was ecstatic.
It was glorious.
It is s a wonderful way to tell that story.
I think the listening to the beautiful music of the human voice is as close as one can get to grace.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Eating on Fleet Street

Fleet Sreet is the main thoroughfare of Slavic Village, which was a mainly Polish section of Cleveland. Not too far from the valley of steel mills just south of downtown, it was settled in the late 19 th and early 20 th century by immigrants from Central Europe, who flocked to this area  to work in the mills and factories that made Cleveland one of the largest, and most diverse cities in this region. Cleveland was a collection of ethnic villages, few of which remain, since white flight to the suburbs in the prosperous post-war years.
Slavic Village remains as a smaller version of its  slice of Europe in Northeastern Ohio. It's centerpiece is the magnificent St. Stanislaus Church. Most of these neighborhoods have, or had, beautiful churches, built by money from the working class immigrants to glorify the old religions of their homelands. Some are now empty and sad, but St. Stanislaus remains strong.
Slavic Village has suffered from being in the Rust Belt of dying steel mills, and the housing has fallen victim to the rash of predatory lending. The business district was affected by this, too, withe little grocery stores and bakeries unable to cope with the change in population.
However, there are still restaurants specializing in real, honest Polish cuisine, and not just pierogies. We have been to a couple of them, and scoped out a couple more which look promising. They are neighborhood centers, old, warm and friendly. The juke box leans toward music of the 40 s and 50s. The Red Chimney, the outside of which resembles a Swiss chalet, serves individual meals, while the Seven Roses has a luncheon buffet, with more food than I could ever eat. The proprietress, who looks like the cook on "Orange is the New Black," complete with the dyed red hair, and her friend were sitting in a corner, chatting in Polish. A young waitress, also Polish, directed us to the buffet. This is a very large place, set up for banquets and parties. They were in the process of getting a Christmas tree decorated  for the season of parties.
The food was delicious, and mainly spiced with dill. There were cabbage rolls, mashed potatoes, greens, latkes, and things I didn't recognize. The proprietress came over to ask how we liked it, and was pleased with our answer. She sent over some cookies-kolaki? She made money off us, because there was so much food we didn't 't even try to eat. I found out that the restaurant is a destination, with people coming in from the suburbs, especially those of Polish descent.
There's a resurgence in the Rust Belt. The mills are back. Young people are coming back to remake the cities in new ways. Downtown housing, walkable neighborhoods, high tech professionals, repurposed old buildings, specialty restaurants, brew pubs, artists and galleries, and creative types grabbing up cheap properties to make new neighborhoods - it's pretty exciting to see what's happening around here. Places like Slavic Village will benefit, and perhaps some of the other old ethnic neighborhoods will be revived.
I like having the benefits of living so close to a city, where we're only 45 minutes from the museums, theaters, concerts and discovering  these pockets of old Cleveland that have survived, complete with their delicious food.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Can There Be A Conversation?

I have not responded to the most outrageous manifestations of racism that have occurred over the past months. And that is what it is, I believe. It is also classism, for that is also part of the story. It is difficult  to discuss in a country where there is not supposed to be such a thing as "class," in spite of the fact that there is. It is also not easy to have honest dialogue about it or race.
Take the police, for instance. My only contacts with the police involved minor traffic incidents. It is extremely intimidating to hear a siren and see flashing lights in you rear view mirror. But I am white and an older woman, and the police have generally been polite but brusk. I've dared to argue a couple of times, but I was never been pulled out of my car and made to put my hands on the car roof. I am white. And when you think about it in this gun crazy country, a policeman stopping a car is generally more at risk than the occupant of the car.
I find myself wondering what kind of people want to be police? Is it a sincere desire to be of use in the community? Is it a family legacy? Is it a desire to protect the neighborhoods and the people? Is it a way to demonstrate one's willingness to take risks?
Is it a desire for power? Is it a way to carry a gun legitimately?  Is it the uniform?
Then I I wonder about the selection process. I know there are educational requirements.Are there  tests to weed out things like mental instability?  How subjective are the observations during training as to the suitability for this important profession? How do they deal with racial issues during and after trading? And why are so many of them built like steers?
Those kinds of questions need to be explored honestly, since the recent tragic deaths of unarmed Black men and a CHILD were caused by the people who are supposed to protect the people of communities they live and/ or work in.
Another, more difficult conversation is about the poor, Black communities, which are in chaos, with high rates of school violence,  kids dropping out before graduation, leaving young Black men with few or no skills to find jobs, young single mother teen-age girls trying to survive and trying to keep their children from being  killed, trapped with few job skills, inadequate child care, and all the ills of poverty. It's hard enough rearing a family alone, but if you have little hope, you are vulnerable to all sorts of personal and public dangers. There are people who survive bad beginnings, but there are too many who don't. Poverty debilitated the spirit as well as the body.
When my friend Susan and I did one of our storytelling workshops in Cincinnati a few years ago, two of our students were women who taught in kindergartens in the inner city. What they said about some of their students has stuck with me: children were showing up for kindergarten with minimal language skills. They were not talking about immigrants,  they were talking about American children who could not put a sentence together at the age of 5. How were these children going to able to tackle little black squiggles on white paper, when their oral language deficit was so great? (I am waiting for someone to do a doctoral dissertation on this issue, which might help to explain why so many inner city schools are dealing with so many kids just giving up.)
It's hard to talk about this sort of thing without sounding racist, even though it's evidence based from many studies, but it's the sort of thing that needs to be addressed to relieve the anomie that persists in poor Black communities. Can we talk about this ?
This is in noway to blame what has happened to those recently blatantly murdered by "law" officers. I wrote about this to demonstrate how hard it is to discuss race issues honestly.
George Bernard Shaw's  "Pygmalion" was about class, the rigid British system of his day. It was not a love story about Eliza and Henry, but  a demonstration of that rigidity and the upper class demand that everyone behave like "" us." It was Alfred Doolittle who took Henry Higgins down with his speech of  " middle class morality" that was seen as the ideal way of life. All people should not have to live the same way, and cultures are different even in the same communities. However, everyone wants a safe and healthy place to live and rear their children, everyone needs the food of hope. Everyone wants their sons to live.
I don't know the answers, but there must be some, right?