Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why I Support Occupy Wall Street

I took these photos at Occupy Wall Street a few weeks ago.  As I've tried to articulate why I support OWS, my slow brain hasn't been able to keep pace with the changes in events.  Like a lot of people (see Paul Krugman, for example) I wonder if Bloomberg's heavy-handed raid may have been a blessing in disguise, keeping the occupation from fading away as winter approached, and galvanizing many of us to greater enthusiasm for the movement.  Counter to my usual thinking, I believe the lack of specific demands was a strength of the occupation, but wonder if now we've reached the next stage in the process, and will begin working on particular goals.  
It probably doesn't surprise anyone who knows me that I support OWS, and the vast majority of my friends and family probably agree with me.  But I know some of my friends don't agree, and are rather disgusted with me for my support.  It's you I hope to reach with this post.  Let me explain my view of things. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Have You Ever Seen Something Amazing?

That line above comes from a TV commercial running presently.  I couldn't tell you what the product is, I want to say a car, but I can't remember.  That will no doubt disappoint the writer of said commercial.  (Actually, I may not even be remembering the wording correctly; it's really not an effective ad.)

Normally a question like that would make me roll my eyes.  How much more banal can you get?  It's right up there with 'have you ever eaten something tasty?  Heard something beautiful?  Felt excited?  Do you like fun?'  The first time I heard it though, instead of snorting derisively, I found myself vividly recalling one such amazing sight. 

I was ten years old, sitting in the back seat of a car my family had rented in Ireland.  We were driving along the west coast, in view of the ocean.  It might come as a surprise to know it was raining.  As a kid I loved being in the car during big downpours.  I loved watching the raindrops stream up along the windows, the sound of water on the roof, tires on the wet road. Watching storms from a house window was fun too, but it was so much better doing it inside a car, a moving 360 degree view, especially if the landscape was stunning and spacious by itself.  I have many fond memories of rainy car trips in Ireland and the UK.  Only recently did it occur to me how nerve-wracking those experiences must have been for my parents.  Driving an unfamiliar car, on unfamiliar, narrow, poorly maintained country roads, frequently around blind mountain passes, on the left, during a torrential downpour?  And let's not forget having to keep alert for flocks of sheep.  I doubt my parents were having much fun.  It says a lot that they didn't prevent me from enjoying it. 

This particular day we came around a hill to the sight of great sheets of rain marching in from the Atlantic, coming up onto shore and across some cliffs.  And 'march' is the only way to describe it.  The rain looked like it had been carefully arranged in rows, evenly spaced, all moving at a brisk yet controlled pace.  At that distance, the storm seemed planned, at least organized.  Whether I thought it consciously or not, I suspect I was also awed by the scale.  This storm was probably several miles long, at least a few miles tall, but from where we were it was a single entity, one enormous, awe-inspiring battalion. I may not have had the good sense to be frightened, but I was definitely awed by the size and power of it.  .   

I'm not sure why the commercial copy triggered this particular memory, but I'm grateful that it did.  It has me wanting to compile a list of personal experiences that I would consider amazing.  Rough categories are already forming in my head; there are all the ones involving weather and landscapes, ones involving animals, and the ones involving works of art or performance, just for starters.  Not really sure what will be gained by recording these memories, but I plan on finding out. 

How about you?  Does this question trigger a specific memory for you, or does it just make you roll your eyes?  What is the most awe-inspiring thing you've seen or experienced?  Care to share?  Feel free to do it in the comments section, or share a link if you do it on your own blog. 

Monday, August 01, 2011

Happy Bloomsday!

(For various reasons this didn't get published on the actual day, so here it is two months later.)
Tain Mural, Dublin
 No, I haven't read Ulysses. But when I spent a semester studying in Dublin in the Fall of 1986, I lived with a lovely family a block from James Joyce's Tower, in Sandycove, County Dublin. So I figured today was as good an excuse as any for me to revisit my photos from last year's trip, specifically the Dublin portion.  That's as much of a connection I'll be making to Joyce, however.  So if you're here hoping for an illustrated tour of Bloomsday, my apologies, and good luck with your google search. 
Saint Stephen's Green

It probably won't surprise anyone that when you have a country as small and as saturated with writers as Ireland, you're going to come across literary landmarks quite often.  I was tickled a few years ago, when I was reading At Swim Two Boys, to discover that much of the action is set at the Gentlemen's Bathing Area, which is situated not far from Joyce's Tower.  I never went swimming there; as much as I love cold water, the Irish Sea in Autumn is too frigid even for me.  Word was the area was still 'men only, bathing suits optional' at certain hours of the day, though. 
Saint Stephen's Green
The country is small; I think the population is hovering around five million now, and in 1986 it was closer to four million.  I was to discover that this meant Dublin was both a cosmopolitan city (complete with international celebrities) and a small village (everyone knew each other, including the famous people).  The founder/registrar of the school I attended was an old chum of Paddy Maloney, the founder and leader of the Chieftains.  Because of their friendship, the group gave a concert in the lounge of our school, for about thirty of us.  This was something they did each year, apparently, and even relished, since it was one of the few opportunities they still had to play without amplification. 
Memorial to Constance, Countess Markevicz, Saint Stephen's Green
Seamus Heaney gave a reading for us in that same room.  David Norris, who I came to learn was credited with starting the LGBT movement in Ireland, was on the faculty (teaching Joyce, by the way, oh look there's another connection).  My host mother was an old school chum of U2's manager.  Had I been staying in town one day longer, I might have been able to see their hometown concert.  For FREE.  Sigh. 
Saint Stephen's Green
Given all this, it didn't surprise Mary and me to discover that we'd be spending the flight to Shannon sitting next to Malachi McCourt.  He was every bit as charming in person as he had always seemed on TV.  Like us, he was travelling in part to honor a brother who had died recently, in his case his brother Frank.  A school in Limerick was endowing a chair in Frank's honor the following day. 
Ha'Penny Bridge, Dublin
Thanks to the volcano in Iceland, we were looping to the north, which added at least two hours to the flight, but with a gifted storyteller as company, the time flew by. 
River Liffey, Dublin
 He asked us what we planned on seeing, and we mentioned one of our first stops would be at Kenny's Bookshop, in Galway. 
"Oh, I'm afraid it's closed," he said.  We were crushed.  Kenny's has been around for decades, and has supported many great writers.  Dad came across it sometime in the sixties, I believe, and it's been a regular pilgrimage stop for all of us ever since. 

The Foggy Dew, Dublin
 Of course bookstores are dying out all over the world, thanks in large part to the internet, and with Ireland's economic troubles, it didn't surprise us at all that Kenny's might have succumbed.  Once we arrived in Galway though we were delighted to discover that shop hadn't closed, it had simply moved.  In fact the move had been due to a needed expansion of the bookstore, art framing department, and art gallery.  It was a bit of a walk to the new location (we had elected not to rent a car), but we found the shop spacious and well-stocked.  Browsing was still encouraged, even to the point of the store providing free tea and coffee and comfy couches.  Mary and I spent two happy hours there. 
Dublin near the Center of Town. 
When we went up to make our purchases, we told Rosemary, the lovely woman working the cash register, how glad we were to find the place, especially after we'd had our scare courtesy of Mr. McCourt. 

"Malachi said that?" she exclaimed.  She shook her head, tsked a bit.  "We have to call him!"  It was like she was talking about a rascally-yet-beloved uncle.  Off she went to inform the owner of the store of the situation.  I have no doubt that he immediately called Mr. McCourt, and teasingly scolded him for spreading false information. The Irish are big ones for teasing.  Sorry if we got you in trouble, Mr. McCourt!  I'm sure you're as delighted as we were to find the place thriving. 

Near the River

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lo Siento, No Hablo.

On the day of the royal wedding, I went to my local laundromat.  There are two TVs in the place; the one closest to the desk is sometimes tuned to an Asian language channel (for the owners), but the other is always tuned to a Spanish language station.  I was a bit surprised to hear the words "el palacio de Buckingham" as I walked in, but apparently this obsession was more international than I realized.  That's cool, I guess.  Kate and Wills, they seem like nice kids.  I like a big show as much as the next guy, but  this one hadn't really captured me for some reason.  I didn't get too worked up about it, one way or the other. 

Others in the room, however, had much stronger opinions.  The older woman seated next to me was watching the coverage intently.  Suddenly she piped up, "why is this important?" 

I replied without thinking, "Yeah, it does seem a bit silly, doesn't it?"

This would all be fine, if it weren't for the fact that we had this interchange--short simple words, short simple concepts, present tense only--in Spanish. 

Yes, I took Spanish in school.  Hell, I got straight As in Spanish, in my midwestern schools, studying for six years under fellow midwesterners with names like Hollingsworth, McKnight, Schneider and Terkoski.  My last class was in the Winter of 1985, but I've retained some vocabulary.  Many folks in my neighborhood here, including the cashiers at my grocery store, don't speak a lot of English, so I've gotten in the habit of exchanging short, almost reflexive phrases of a very practical nature with them.  None of this should  be construed as indicating that I speak Spanish, however.  Unfortunately I had, of course, just given this nice lady that impression.  And having provided the opening she was looking for, she was off on a long, passionate, very fast diatribe of disapproval of this whole event.  At least I think she disapproved; her tone and expression did not indicate sentimentality or celebration, but that was all I was going on.  Because she spoke so quickly, and with such energy, I felt like the moment when I could have admitted my inadequacies had come and gone before I knew what was happening.  So, I tried to ride it out.  Because, you know, that seemed like the best solution. 

I stared intently at her, trying desperately to catch something, anything of what she was saying, but in addition to my poor language skills we now added an internal monologue that went something like this:

"Okay, I think she just said hambre, she's probably talking about starving people.  Are you smiling at her?  You are, aren't you.  Stop it, that's weird, she'll think you're not taking her seriously.  Hey, that phrase, was that 'lots of money'?   I think so but damn, it's gone now, let it go, bye-bye, stay with her.  Are you smiling again?  Quit it.  Nodding your head is probably a bad idea too.  It gives the impression you understand her.  Wow she is especially worked up now, go with a frowny face, furrow your brow, that's probably safe.  Trabajos, jobs, pretty sure she's working an economic argument here, I respect that, QUIT NODDING, YOU MORON, was that regina?  I think so, for god's sake stop smiling!"

I can only assume expressions came and went on my face like a wheat field on a windy day.  By sheer force of will I did NOT tilt my head like a confused dog.  I started to relax when I heard her conclusion coming.  She came to a rousing finish, and looked at me. 

Oh.  Right.  Damn.  Not out of the woods yet.   

" Did she just ask a question?  It didn't sound like a question.  I didn't hear an uplift on any of her sentences, certainly not that last one.  Is she expecting a response?  Hell."  

Of course I could have, should have admitted my ignorance at this point.  But my embarrassment was so complete by now, I figured, in for a penny, in for a pound.  So I nodded one last time, grimaced sympathetically and shrugged my shoulders in a general gesture of summing up.  This seemed to satisfy her.  The gods of laundry smiled on me at that point, ringing the bell that told  me to move my clothes to the dryer. She never tried to engage me in conversation again.  Maybe she figured out the problem.  Maybe she just had nothing more to say.  I haven't a clue.  

Her English is probably excellent. 

I may have to change laundromats.   

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kiss Me, I'm Irish

On top Knocknarea, Ben Bulben in the background.
In honor of the day, here's a story from my travels in Ireland with Mary last May.  

Strangers tend to take a shine to my sister quickly.  You'd think I would have remembered this fact, having seen it in action several times in the course of a weekend the previous November in Philly, but somehow it had slipped my mind.  Add in the fact that many Irish, especially in the west, are very quick to chat up a stranger, and you have a recipe for some interesting encounters.  People of all shapes and sizes are drawn to her, but probably the greatest percentage are men who give the impression they would propose if given the slightest encouragement.  There were at least three such encounters during this trip.  My presence occasionally inspired a certain wariness, but rarely any actual deterrence, and finding out that I was her brother rather than her husband usually brought the twinkle back to their eyes.  As it so happens, in two cases the men mentioned early in the conversation that they were themselves (happily) married; the flirting, if that is what it was, was just play, though I wouldn't say that meant it was insincere.  They were by turns cheerful, teasing (the Irish are big teasers) and charming but never offensive. 

On the Burren

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sunset in Midtown, March 12th

These images may benefit from enlarging (and viewing separately) more than most.  Just click on each image, as usual. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reading the Signs

Another gull story: 

During my first year living in Seattle I was walking one day through the main quad of the University of Washington.  A huge flock of gulls and pigeons were on the ground and circling in the air, squabbling, squawking, making a lot of racket.  Believe it or not, I didn't see gulls that often, especially not that far inland.  Seattle is on Puget Sound, which is salt water that flows directly into the Pacific, but people were very firm with me that didn't mean it was the same thing as the ocean, and consequently Seattle was not on the coast. 

Don't ask me, I still don't get it. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Gulls in Riverside Park

 I love gulls. 

It's not that surprising that I would have found them exotic at one point.  My first memory of them is from a trip we took to Ireland and the UK when I was seven; the sight and sound of them is tied up with some  exciting places.  Not just the ocean, which would have been good enough, but castles and weird foods and funny accents and all sorts of fairy tale wonderment. 
Riverside Park, same day.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Christmas Visit

Christmas was a wonderful retreat for me this year, as it usually is.  Bill came along for the whole time, allowing himself to be dropped in the deep end of the Laceyland pool for almost two weeks.  He seemed to handle it okay, claims he even enjoyed himself.  He says I only drove him crazy in 'good ways'.  That works.  I think crazy is a unavoidable part of life with me; one might as well enjoy it. 

This holiday also gave me a sense that the Year of Firsts, IE the first year after James' death, was truly over.  It's not that we didn't miss him, a lot, but speaking just for myself, I felt like there weren't as many emotional ambushes this time.  His appearances were rarely surprising; the heartache still hit, but didn't hit unexpectedly.  And yes, there is some comfort in that.  I think I'm starting to know what the new normal looks and feels like. 

 For the first time in maybe thirty years I made an Advent calendar, using photos instead of drawings for the windows, and consciously included several pictures of James, looking cheerful and festive.  They helped me, I hope they didn't pain anyone else.  We also made Christmas cookies this year.  That had been a ritual for the siblings in the past, but last year Mary and I just didn't have it in us.  This year we felt up to it though, and had a good time.  Bill's involvement was also a nice addition.   

This is not to say that James didn't put in any surprise appearances.  If you've been following his story, you know about his habit of  adding to Mary's (hotly denied) cork collection.  It started out simply with him handing her the cork of every bottle of wine they shared ("this is for thy collection"), progressed to hiding corks throughout her home (I found one in the bottle of ibuprofen the day of his memorial) and reached full expression in elaborate cork sculptures (including entire villages of people welcoming her back from a semester abroad) left prominently displayed in her home any time he cat-sat.  Tony got into the act soon after he and Mary started dating; when they still lived separately they hid corks in each other's homes. 

It was reasonable to assume that all corks had, by this point, been found.  But not so fast.  For Christmas dinner, which this year was at held at Hazelthorne, I was sitting in my usual seat at the dining table, when I noticed something above window lintel.  See below. 

See it?  No, probably not.  From this angle I can't really see it either.  That is part of the genius.    From most angles, sitting or standing, it's usually hidden by a shadow, the curtain rod, or both.  This is even more true if you're 5'10" or taller, as both Mary and Tony are.  Here, let me get a bit closer. 

 There we go.  See that?  Below the curtain rod, on top the lintel, left of the support bar?  This is the angle from my seat at the table.  When I pointed it out, Mary and Tony looked at each other. 
"Did you do that?" 
"No, did you?" 

We're pretty sure it was James.  And it's just been sitting there, maybe for years, waiting for someone to notice it.  It really is a clever place to put one.  The closer one is to the window, the less likely it is one will see it.  Mary had put up that ornament and string of stars just a few days before, but standing at the window, the cork is virtually invisible.  Anyone sitting on that side of the table is facing the wrong way.  From Mary's seat the curtain rod blocks it completely.  It's pretty much hidden if one is sitting at either end of the table too.  My seat is really the easiest place to see it, and that chair only gets used if there are five or more people at the meal.  During daylight hours, if one isn't just blinded by the light from the window, one is probably watching the birds and squirrels in the back yard, or watching the cat watch them.  At night that part of the wall is usually in shadow.  I'd sat at this seat at least twice before during this visit alone, and never saw the damn cork.   

No, I think it was James. Putting in an appearance at Christmas dinner. 

Okay, yes, maybe a friend of Mary's or Tony's started playing the game, and put it there recently.  The story of James and corks is well-known by this point among our circle.  But even if that proves to be true*, I don't really care.  Whether it was him or not, it still brought James into the holiday meal in a funny, loving, which is to say characteristic, way.  In response, Mary told me a story I'd never heard before, about picking up pennies.  According to one superstition, pennies found at random are gifts sent to us by deceased loved ones.  This is where the phrase 'pennies from heaven' comes from.  I don't know how I'd missed this story previously, since I've been picking up lucky pennies for my own reasons for about sixteen years.  This may not sell me on the idea of heaven, but it may have deepened my relationship with corks.  They periodically made me think of him in the past sixteen months obviously, but from now on I suspect they will always feel like something more, a hug and kiss out of the blue perhaps, from my goof of brother.   

*If you did it, or know who did, don't be afraid to 'fess up.  We can handle it.