December 16, 2014

PORTLAND ONCE AGAIN

Back in Portland!  Back into my life!

I am sure I will one day post of my sweet mama, share some pictures, some thoughts.  For now, it is too fresh, and looking at pictures is both joyous and sad in a masochistic way.  It was a special family time.  Our children, the dear grandchildren, felt the words of remembering, appreciating and celebrating such a unique life. They bonded further with each other. There was joy and laughter.  We captured the spirit of our Anna in glorious ways and everyone felt good. I miss my sister.  There has been a gift in the working together during the passing of our parents. The gift of our deepening love and friendship.  Molly will retire to Dallas in a year, and it is very possible that I will not ever return to Corpus.  It is odd to think of that and of my Corpus, that beautiful little city on the bay, the setting of most of my memories of Mama and Daddy, the setting of my childhood and friends.  My 50th reunion last month, our mother dying this month.  The roots are uprooted.

I finally got to Powell's on Saturday.  I walked into their newly remodeled first floor, gathered up all the books I have been wanting to look at, grabbed a cup of Stumptown coffee in the cafe and joined Michael at a table where he had been parked for an hour after his big walk downtown.  There sat our man who has been there for years, making flowers out of the paper napkins at Powell's and using their cups for vases.  He now has an online presence selling them.




On the way to Powell's,  I passed the old old lady begging for money.  She now sits in a walker, very crippled, weak and hunched.  She also has been standing or sitting at that same corner for six or seven years at least.  She always says, "Can you spare any cash?"  We have seen a big black SUV drive up and she hands him wads and wads of "spare cash."  Somehow she makes me brittle with tension.

"This is just the greatest place," Michael said as we read.  "I like the way it smells even."  Drinking the world's greatest coffee, surrounded by readers, four floors of books staffed by readers talking books.  What could be better?

Later, I stood in line for a long time, knowing it was worth it, at the Egyptian food cart on 10th waiting for my falafel gyro.  I was mesmerized watching the man cooking and working and making his food presentations to the huge line of people patiently waiting.  The same homeless man with the huge dirty blanket hanging over his shoulders and dragging on the streets was making the rounds.

The diversity blows my mind, and I love it.  The small person Ethiopian walking out from the Ethiopian Grocery Store in his derby hat and smiling so big at me, the people of all walks of life on the busses, the accents and languages, dresses and complexions, hopes and fears, loves and joys, healthy and unhealthy, angry and sad making their way.  We are all one.

Thrifting has been slowly productive.  I have grown in having a more choosy taste, waiting for the good one, rather than buying in such exuberance I once did.

We are hooked on going to the Portland Story Theater, the idea that everyone has a story and that our stories connect us to each other and to the world.  It begins with the Art of Personal Narratives workshop and evolves into an evening of stories at the Alberta Abbey once a month.  We are adventuring out to comedy clubs - altogether new to us.  We joined an athletic club and love it.  The recumbent bike is way hard, harder than a regular stationary bike, and I love the rowing machine.  My knee is going to be fine, getting stronger each day and I can begin working on some yoga poses I had thought would never be mine again.  There is a 30 year old boy at the club who jumps and lands with two feet from the floor up on to a three foot high stool 20 times and then rows hard for 2 minutes over and over for what seems to be 20 minutes.  I just pedal away in amazement watching.  We are the oldest members by far.  Another lesson in diversity.

I sometimes say at this point, everything is good.  But my friend said similar words recently - words we all typically say in gratitude for our lives.  She said, "everything is perfect"  to another friend of ours, and that friend replied, "is it perfect that a young boy gets killed for playing with his toy gun?"  I have subscribed to the online Daily Good and it helps.  The news sickens me, and I don't read it anymore.

Enough already, Susan.

                               Cousins! And me pregnant with Buck.  Now that is joy!

Carrying on in hope and in gratitude,
Susana





Hiroshima, Mon Amour

After all these years, I finally caught Alain Resnais's Hiroshima, Mon Amour several days ago at my favorite theater, Cinema 21, over in Nob Hill. The film was first released in '59; this print is new, restored just a year ago, and it's beautiful--black-and-white, flows like a rockless river. It is one of the benchmarks of the French New Wave film movement--Resnais, Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, of whom only Godard is still around, making movies. I may have mentioned his newest--just this year--The End of Language, which I also saw recently, again at Cinema 21. Godard is in his eighties and the movie is 3D, and very innovative 3D. The dialogue is just ramble--the end of language, don't you see--and it moves, according to the wanderings of a stray dog. Weird! But the cinematography! Since James Cameron's Avatar, no one has known how to use 3D, till along comes the eighty-two year-old Jean-Luc Godard.

Anyway, Hiroshima, Mon Amour deserves its lofty place in film history. I'm not saying it's all that "enjoyable," not like, say, Birdman or Fury, real good movies that are fun to watch. Hiroshima is fun to watch, all right, but in a different sort of way, for a different kind of reason.

Set in "current" time ('59, give or take), it's a total anti-war movie, one that nonetheless went out of its way to avoid offending the United States. We were, after all, Europe's savior. That was clear, even to me, a guy who just goes sort of ga-ga in the picture show, not thinking about much of anything, just glued to the screen. But the US--and we dropped the bombs, remember--is treated with kid gloves. It's war Resnais is after, not us. It's made plain that he knows Hiroshima and WWII wasn't the first, won't be the last, and that worse things are surely in store than simple nuclear holocaust. (Resnais begins the film like a documentary, some actual news reel footage, some fake news reel footage. It's very hard to watch.)

But it is also a love story. A French actress is in Hiroshima to shoot a film and becomes involved with a Japanese architect, who somehow survived the war. She's leaving to return to Paris, he's trying to get her to stay, though he says he is "happily married," and her story, her real-life story--told, as is a lot of the film, in constant flash-back--is further condemnation of the act of war.

These young French cineastes--most of them were also critics and writers on film--blazed a new trail. Not only did they rebel against "Hollywood" and their own country's studio system, they moved entirely away from telling a linear story: here we are, this happens, so this happens, and this is the result. Nor were they interested in simple storytelling. No. They were political, holding vivid social and political--and personal--beliefs. They expressed their opinions through their work, rather than, say, taking a story based on a book and turning it into a movie. They were the first "auteurs," directors who built a body of work to tell "their" story, to push their politics, most of which was saturated with existentialist philosophies based on the idea of the absurdity of human existence.

Maybe--for some of us, truck drivers at heart--our greatest gratitude should be for their introductions of Anouk Aimee (remember A Man and A Woman?) Bardot, Deneuve, Belmondo, or so one might suppose, until one sees something like Hiroshima, Mon Amour, with actors one has never heard of, and comes away tickled to death at his surprise.

Or, to stay in context, comes away Breathless!

December 14, 2014

How Provincial We Are!

It was a long time ago that I went to Europe, my first and only trip--well, that's not entirely right. I've spent a night and day or two in Europe from time to time over the past several years, but have GONE TO EURPOE or EUROPE only once in my life. That was in 1972-3. I landed in Paris, stayed a couple nights with my cousin (she and her husband and two little boys lived there then; he was a lawyer for an international firm and is still there, so far as I know, but with a French or Swiss wife, I think; anyway, not my cousin), then got on a train and went to Amsterdam where I spent Christmas just fooling around, sitting in the museum there, that's just been rehabbed--famous museum, but I don't recall the name just now--then on to Athens and finally to Spain, the southern coast, the Costa del Sol, but did NOT sail the 40 miles or so to get to Morocco, if you can believe that, which I hope you can't. I STILL have not been to Morocco, even though I feel like I should be living there.

I can tell you this about that whole trip: it was COLD. I had broken my thumb, playing touch football at Harvard with a bunch of other morons--my right thumb--and spent just about the entire trip with my forearm and hand in a cast. In Spain, my old pal, the late great Charles Freeman "Chuck" Terry, hacked away at the cast and finally yanked it off. My thumb had healed--"healed"--crooked and still is crooked; it's been a problem since. (To elaborate: I'll never forget the arrogance of the young student doctor at Harvard who set and cast my thumb that Sunday in Cambridge. He was SO cool, don't you know, etc. But when I got back from my six weeks in Europe and the real doctor took off the cast, saw my thumb, looked at the X-rays, what was his diagnosis? "Shit!" is what he said, then told me my choices: I could have him re-break the thumb, etc., or I could just live with it. I've lived with it, and am still waiting to hear the cool sawbones tell me he was sorry.)

Chuck had been in Vietnam for a year or more, a Green Beret (that story has more of it left to tell, but I'm focused on ME right now)--toward the end of the war, or so we hoped. We had somehow made plans to meet on a certain day at the American Express office in Madrid. On that day, I walked into the office, figuring no Chuck, and a long wait, and there he was. He, too, had just walked in. I was on a fellowship at Harvard for a year, so I had some money. I rented a little car, and off we went, singing Kingston Trio songs like we'd done in college.

Anyway, that was a long time ago and I'm not sure why it's on my old mind right now. Oh, I remember. I just noticed a note I've jotted down, a memory from that time.

As I just said, I got off the train in a freezing Amsterdam at about midnight a day or two after Christmas, 1972. I was 30 years old (what does THAT tell you?), full of energy, and no telling what might have occurred had it not been for that cast on my good hand. It was--have I said this already?--COLD (an aside: I've spent a lot of my life now in very cold country, but the coldest I can remember being was one late night in February, later that same year, crossing Harvard Yard. I did not think I'd make it. I mean, freezing! Cambridge-Boston is wet, humid. On the other hand, August in Boston is about as hot as I've been, BTW. But there it was, LATE, I'm crossing the Yard, a solid breeze blowing. Brother, I am talking COLD!).

I got off that train in Amsterdam, hardly a thought in my head, freezing to death, and entirely unworried. Never occurred to me back then to worry about anything. No problem. It would be all right. And it pretty much always was and has been all right. I don't know when, or why, I started feeling like, uh, you know, something bad could happen. But I guess I have.

Everyone got off the train, and everyone seemed to have someone there, waiting, or some other means of letting me know they knew the drill and I didn't. I just stood there with my bag, hmmm, and a cab pulled up, I got in, said, "I need a little, cheap pension," and he took me straight to a little cheap pension. I had a room that was big enough for a bed, a bath down the hall. But I hadn't eaten in some time. I told the little old Dutch lady running the place I was hungry. She sort of said--and remember she's Dutch and can at least speak SOME English while I can't speak a word of Dutch, and that's one of our American Shames--down the street around the corner is a place. I walked down the street and around the corner and, sure enough, there was a little bar full of people. It was at least midnight, maybe later (or earlier, depending). I sat down at the bar. A short Dutch woman asked what I'd have, pointing out that beer and hot dogs was about what I could have at that time of night. I said, beer and hot dog--

And from the far end of the bar, a voice said, "Houston or Dallas?" The voice was the voice of the tall AMERICAN bartender. He'd been over there in THE WAR, married a Dutch woman--yes, the short woman who'd waited on me--and stayed. It was their bar.

It was that kind of trip, all the way. Open ourselves to experience, and see if good things don't come our way. Just a thought, one we occasionally forget to remember or follow. Let's get OUT THERE and see what we find. My money is on awesome memories.


December 9, 2014

What We Face in 2016

In my new New York Review of Books, the lead article, by Michael Tomasky, "What We Face in 2016," is, I would say, a tad less than encouraging--at least, for those of us who would like to see constructive give and take moving us forward in Washington. After a dissection of the most-recent election, and a look toward the future, Tomasky lists his picks for the four top items that should be on the president's agenda. He lists insistence on immigration reform, an ongoing and more rigorous effort to see that some of the "recovery" good fortune finds its way to the middle, something else that I might recall here in a minute, and at the top of the list is saving Obamacare, which, Tomasky writes, is in grave danger of being wiped out.

Say what? Yes. Wiped out. Not only did every Republican elected on Nov. 4 run vigorously against Obamacare, but more importantly, the Supreme Court has now voted to hear the case that, I'm sure you've noticed, is said to rest on four words that are included in the health insurance bill. Now, I don't remember those four words at the moment, but I've read that they didn't need to be in the bill and really aren't that important--except: the words opened the door for this suit the Supreme Court will hear.

Okay. Happens all the time--well, not really. The highest court does not regularly vote to go on and hear a case that lower courts have already decided, which is what has occurred here. It takes but four votes to have a case like that put on the docket. Tomasky writes that those four came from Kennedy, Alito, Thomas and Scalia, and, he adds, "What will John Roberts do?" You will recall that, a couple years ago, Roberts surprised us--and angered the conservative base--when he, a very conservative person, cast the deciding vote that upheld some one or other of the Care Act's provisions. At the time, after they had properly expressed their surprise and appreciation, the most observant of the court's followers--Linda Greenhouse at The New York Times, as an example--mentioned that it might well be that, because that issue was not the issue that really mattered, that because voting to kill it would not really derail the Affordable Care Act, Roberts (who, Greenhouse and others believe, hates the Act and wants it gone) let it pass. Why? He knew that he'd get another opportunity down the way to kill it and that, when that time came, he would be able to use his vote on the first issue--against the conservative majority--as proof that he was truly even-handed.

So, yes, that time has come, and now we'll see what John Roberts will he do? I can tell you. He will vote with the Four Miserable Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Now, that's what our Democrats get--and we can thank them--for allowing these "kinds" of judges to reach that pinnacle bench. They did not have to basically rubber-stamp Roberts, who was so clearly a wolf in sheep's clothing, nor Alito, who they also knew was lying through his teeth during the approval hearings (of course, Clarence Thomas was so unfit, such a low-life, that his being passed way back when was a thing so terrible we may not survive it--certainly not intact).

But all that aside, here's the thing, my point: Mitch McConnell has waged a constant attack on Obamacare (and on the president) from Day One. He's from Kentucky, and it was thought that he'd have a hard time being reelected, that a Tea Party primary opponent might derail his bid for an umpteenth term and the chance to be Senate Majority Leader. He won the primary, then TROUNCED his Democratic opponent, who refused to say in the campaign that she'd voted for Obama or for Obamacare--running away from the president, in fact (as did so many Democrats, and to their detriment, I think). Just look at Kentucky, and see we have only ourselves to blame, our stupidity.

In Kentucky, Obamacare includes some element that has made Obamacare extremely effective. I don't have the numbers right in front of me, but it's like 70% more Kentuckians who had no health care now do have health care, thanks to Obamacare. That element is called "Kyntec," I think, something like that. As Tomasky writes, Kyntec IS Obamacare in Kentucky. But, 70% of voters in a poll voted for Kyntec but at the polls (basically) against Obamacare, and for McConnell, who has vowed to kill the act altogether. Hmmm?

Voting against our own self-interests. It's the same thing we did back when the Tea Party was just really forming, going around to those "town meetings," being held to explain and promote the Health Care Act, screaming bloody murder to get government out of their insurance, out of their lives, and pretty much all of them had Medicare cards in their pockets. It's just stupidity. There can be no other word for it...

Uh, not so fast there, Mike. There IS, sadly, another word for it. That word is "racism." Tomasky just briefly touches on a recent poll that finds that something like 66% of voters are "uncomfortable" with a black man in the White House. Good word, that, "uncomfortable." Well, that black man will be gone soon enough, and so will the big favor he did and is still trying to do for us, making it possible for basically everyone to have health insurance. It's sad, just a crying shame.

But it's a fact. The recent Grand Jury verdicts in Ferguson and, where was it, Staten Island seem to me pretty strong indication that race is a question we will forevermore be having to ask, and forever more lying to ourselves about the answer.

December 2, 2014

Out and About

I had big plans. Well, not BIG, not really, just, you know, plans. Up in the morning, coffee and coffee, then off to the "club" for a good workout, back for writing, then downtown, or to Nob Hill, actually, our "old" hood, to catch Godard's (said to be last) film "The End of Language." My car, brand spanking new, more or less, was dead as a doornail; would not start. A shout-out here to Triple A! Man! The guy was here in 15 minutes, a guy who could hardly speak English, and I could care less. A Serb, maybe, or whatever, a big, nice guy, with a little computer in his hand. He not only started the car, but gave it a booster shot, and showed me the read-out on the little phone-sized thing in his hand, and that was it. Nothing to it. I've had AAA for I don't know how many years and I've used it three, maybe four times, no more than that. Every experience has been better than the last. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and you for sure can't beat 'em, so that's all there is to that.

The thing is, or was, I had errands to run--I'm leaving EARLY Thursday for Corpus Christi and my mother-in-law's funeral--and writing to do AND a trip to Northwest to my favorite theater, Cinema 21, to see the movie, which is in 3D, and that means I'm already on its side. It was so beautiful! It's true. Beautiful. Inventive. Visually. But the dialogue, as, so far as my limited knowledge allows me to say, Godard's dialogue usually is, was silly, just navel-gazing, out-of-cointext quotes from everyone from, I don't know, Lombardi to Faulkner. Please, Jean Luc, just put those amazing images up there, and keep the rest to yourself. After "Avatar," this is the best use of 3D I've seen, simply great. I will ask, though (and like all great reporters I don't ask unless I already know the answer), why movies show so much female nudity but very little male. Hmmm. In one word or less, what is your answer?

I had been worried that, because the movie started at 5:30 I'd not get out in time to make it back downtown to Powell's to catch Richard Ford. We'd seen him read there maybe three years ago when "Canada" came out (he said tonight, by the way, that he and someone else--didn't catch who--had written the screenplay, so we might see a film of that book, which was all right, but not one of the greats). Well, let me put it like this: I rushed out of the movie, checking bus times on my phone--10 minutes till the old 77 rolled in. Ten minutes? Off I charged. I could walk it in less than that, and I did, stopping for one slice of wonderful pizza for $3 at Whole Foods, then, knowing the place would already be packed, I was on the third or fourth floor of Powell's 20 minutes early, and sure enough, no seats. However, I'm a veteran. I went to the front row. Right in front of the lectern was an open spot. I said to the two women beside the ignored chair, "You saving that for me?" They laughed and said, "Yes." Turns out, yep, they are writers, too, struggling like me. We had a fine conversation, then Ford--three feet in front of me--came on. He was even better this time than the last. He's 70 now, and even looking a tad longer in the tooth than that. But he was very good, very good, better than you might think.

When he finished, the two women and I visited just a bit, then I was outta there, checking my phone, then across the street to find that the streetcar would be along in four, count 'em Four, minutes. I waited, got on, got off, and walked five minutes, and here I am, your faithful correspondent, here to tell you that what I am describing is merely a small part of this city's life. It may not be perfect, but it's pretty close enough. I could, and did, ride the bus all that while for $2, the movie (3D, remember) was $7 (regularly it would have been $5), the pizza $3, and Richard Ford was free. I'm a pretty cheap date.

I have a lot to write about, and I want to write about writing. I'm checking out, though, tonight, leaving you with this: Ford, like other accomplished writers I've read about, said that he ALWAYS reads his writing aloud to his wife. Many other writers I've read about say they read their writing aloud, but to themselves. Ford said it is excruciating, sitting across a desk from his wife (she has a Ph. D in something or other and is a pretty tough cookie, or so I gather), both with manuscripts in front of them, and there he goes, reading aloud with both of them, saying, "Nope! That is not working..." things like that. One of the two women I sat with said she used to--maybe she still does--read her work into a tape recorder (do they still make tape recorders?) then play it back. "Very difficult to listen to," she said. But, I am coming to believe, it's necessary. I have not tried it myself, but I swear that I will. Of course, I love the sound of my own voice, so what could be better than that? The neighbors will gather around. Soon, I will charge for admission, run for office...

Power to the good people! And let's all write. We can do it! We ARE doing it. One day, we'll see, not to mention hear, each other read at Powell's.


November 28, 2014

MAMA

Mama is passing.  We think she had a little stroke on Wednesday.  Most of the day, she was hallucinating, speaking in what sounded to Molly like Swedish.  She was jerking and flailing and gesturing to someone.  We did not think she knew Swedish, but her grandparents did not speak English and her parents spoke both, so who knows what goes on in our brains?   She seemed to be in communication with someone from somewhere, another place.  Both the Hospice nurse and the Memory Care nurse had never seen anything like it.  My cousin says it was "Prayer Song."  (I think that is what she called it.) She said it is when they are letting go of their will and are talking to God but don't know how to pray anymore.   I like thinking of Mama letting go and calming within.  She needed and deserves that.  She is peaceful now, on morphine, has been asleep since Wednesday and looks cozy covered up with the very soft white blanket I gave her which she so loves.  Her white hair matches her bed linens and the blanket. She has an oxygen tube in her nostrils just for comfort, not for life support.  Molly sends pictures and videos, and I have Face Timed to Mama so she hears my voice somehow.

The Swedish part is interesting, if that is what it was.  Both her brother and sister died this year.  Maybe all the Swedes were beckoning. I am sure full of thoughts of my grandparents and family and have a lingering longing for what once was, or is it simply my happy memories in childhood while surrounded by people who loved me?

I feel clean and at peace from afar.  I am hopping a plane home in the morning, and if I make it in time, that will be swell.  If not, I had profound moments with Mama last month when I was down there.  While we were both flopped on her bed, she asked about death and talked about death. I talked about love and patted her and loved on her and looked into her eyes. I rubbed the worry wrinkles from her brow, and I know she found comfort in my words and presence.  She twice looked beyond my shoulder in surprise at something.  She said there were angels standing there against the wall.

I am grateful that it was Thanksgiving and that Molly's children were with her and were in and out of their Nanny's room for two days.

My friend who is a doctor wrote that Alzheimer's is hell on earth.  I have seen it.  Peace to my little mama.

And so it goes...
And so I go...

November 27, 2014

STILL GOING BACK WITH PICTURES

I will move forward soon enough to sharing our Portland life. Perhaps our years in the mountains living in small towns has put us on high alert in noticing the new and different sights, activities, diversity in the city.  But before I begin, more pictures from the past.

                        Hiking with our Darlene in Tucson with those special Saguaros.

              Buck and Mike at Big Sur
                   
                                    And at the Redwoods

                                      Still nimble Mike

                    Amazing statistics of the trees

      Our little boy

                     My 50th high school reunion pals

My Cissy, friend since birth, in the middle, who has had eight craniotomies for this damnable brain tumor which became part of her being in the 8th grade.  She was born with it. They never can get it all.  Ependymoma it is called.  She is a walking miracle.  Wishing I would break through my fears and write the damn book.

All 230 of us out of 750 graduates, 105 have died.  We shared a nice tribute to the 5 of us who died in Vietnam right after graduating from HS.
And a beautiful video of thanksgiving worth watching even if for the second or third time  David Attenborough
Moving right along.
Susan