Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Stories Cemetery



I went to the stories cemetery today. I had wrapped my latest story due for burial in a plastic cover, taking care that it would not wrinkle. I gave it a last gentle stroke with the palm of my hand before I carefully placed it in my bag.

It was one of those rainy, gloomy days, a perfect fit for my long overdue homage to all the stories that died a premature death. I walked down the unkempt lanes, weeds growing abundantly, partially covering some of the epitaphs. Some had been carved with great care, betraying the author’s ambivalence at having to let go. An ornamental gravestone read: ‘In loving memory of ‘the Crooked Warrior’. Died prematurely, due to lack of good diction.’ Another one, this one barely legible: ‘Here lies ‘the Missing Slippers ’. Died due to a lack of stamina’. ‘Died due to a bad plot’. ‘Died due to too many words’, etc. It was all so depressing, so I stopped reading.

I found our family plot, and looked for a good spot to lay my latest story to rest. The epitaph I had prepared read: ‘On this spot lies ‘the Weathervane’. Died prematurely at the tender age of 3 weeks, due to lack of inspiration.’ It took me a while to finish digging; my glasses began to fog up because of my tears, but I finally placed the plastic bag carefully in the grave and began to cover it with dirt.

I was about to pat down the earth, when I felt a small stirring under my hands. Did I bury a little creature together with my story by accident? I must have imagined it. So I kept going. Now, there was a distinct movement that I couldn’t ignore. The soil heaved and heaved, until I saw a small piece of plastic appear. Read more...

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Dream of the Godfather's Hyman Roth has come True



“Michael, if I could only live to see it, to be there with you. What I wouldn't give for twenty more years! Here we are, protected, free to make our profits without... the goddamn Justice Department and the F.B.I. ninety miles away, in partnership with a friendly government. Ninety miles! It's nothing! Just one small step, looking for a man who wants to be President of the United States, and having the cash to make it possible. Michael, we're bigger than U.S. Steel.”
 (Hyman Roth, The Godfather II)

 After having written dozens of articles about Trump, Hillary Clinton and the presidential campaign during the year leading up to the election, I was hoping to get away from that tedious topic. And I have.

However, the media have not. The problem remains, and it is the media’s responsibility to keep reminding us daily that we live in an unacceptable situation: We have a president who should not be president. It’s that simple. The Trump presidency is upon us, but it is unacceptable. Read more...

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Identity Theft



My mother-in-law, Yopie, is turning a hundred this year. She lives very very far away from her children, her grandchildren and her great grandchildren, of whom she has so many that she cannot remember most of their names.

Yopie has always been better at remembering faces. Voices as well, until she turned deaf, first in one ear, as a result of a severe ear infection, then in the other a few decades ago, give or take. Now that she is embarking on her second century of life, a name or a face is not even a guarantee for success, as you will soon find out.

On her hundredth birthday, she will receive a letter in the mail from the President, congratulating her on her long life. She insists on all of us being there when the letter arrives, her five children and their respective wives and husbands, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

So we pack our bags, my husband, the children and I, and resign ourselves to the prospect of spending our holiday in freezing Holland instead of beautiful Bali. With some effort we convince my husband’s older brother Sam, who has settled in Greece after a divorce from his English lawyer wife, to join us. He never leaves his goat farm, you see, not even for one day. He is a recluse and hates to travel, always using his goats as an excuse to stay away from family events. Read more...

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Childhood Memories



I was born in Budapest, but we fled from Hungary to France two years after the war. I was seven then, my sisters were five. We were refugees and our life in Paris was difficult. My parents couldn’t find jobs. Soon my father went back to Hungary, reasoning that he would be better off living under Communism with a job than under Capitalism without one. That was the last we saw of him.

My mother did finally find a job working in a photo lab on the Boulevard Saint Germain, in the 6th arrondissement. She had to be at the lab from early morning to eight at night. She had a nearly two-hour long commute each way, combining a long walk, then a bus, then twenty-five subway stops.

We didn’t see much of our mother during those years. Sometimes she paid for a horrid, witch-like care-taker (with an ugly mustache). We also spent time in cheap boarding houses. At times, we simply took care of ourselves, feeding ourselves and putting ourselves to bed. My mother would get home well after ten. How well I remember her gentle good-night kiss, how happy it made me, even as it woke me up.
Read more...

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bravo la France, Bravo the Monde!



 The election of Emmanuel Macron to the French presidency on May 7 is a victory for France, it is a victory for Europe, and a victory for the world. 

We now have a pattern: During the past year, the British people have voted to exit from the European Union, the US elected President Trump, while the Austrians elected a Green Party President, the Dutch turned back Geert Wilders’ nativist insurgency, and the French elected the centrist Emmanuel Macron to the presidency.

It appears that the two Anglo-Saxon nations have  given in to the politics of fear, hatred and division, whereas other countries (so far) opt for the politics of hope, progress and unification.

It may be that the United States and Britain, having been largely dominant in the world for the past couple of centuries, are having difficulty adjusting to a diminished role and a reduction in privilege. Read more...

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Against Nuclear War and Social Injustice



 The mission of Physicians for Social Responsibility is to help protect the public against threats to global survival, specifically nuclear warfare and proliferation, global warming, and toxic degradation of the environment. It offers testimony to Congress and delivers professional and public education. It is a national network with 50,000 members and e-activists, and it is the U.S. affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, winner of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. It is not necessary to be a physician to be a member or a supporter of this excellent organization.

One of the Sacramento chapter’s major functions is the Annual High School Scholarship Essay Contest. This was the 13th consecutive year that the contest was held, a period during which over $150,000 has been handed out.

The contest consists of responding to a prompt in an essay of 500 or fewer words. Each year a different prompt is used and the essays of past contest winners are posted on the PSR/Sacramento website at www.sacpsr.org.

This year’s prompt was the following statement by Franklin Roosevelt: “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” Read more...

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Conversation with Ata, my 103 Year Old Mother

Ata Kando


I watch Ata struggle with her blankets. She has returned from one of her numerous trips to the bathroom, trying to settle back in her recliner close to the window. My sister Juliette moved it there on her last visit, so that Ata can look out, although she cannot see much any more. Just spots, she says. My mother has grown thinner and smaller since last September. When she shuffles across the room, leaning on her wheeled walker, her hunchback is now so prominent, that she has difficulty looking straight ahead.

She breathes heavily, groans and sighs until she finally settles in her usual comfortable position. Then, her sweet smile returns and she is ready to engage with the world, which is now me, on my latest visit from America.

It’s a beautiful Dutch spring day and I ask Ata if she would like to take a ride to the beach that afternoon. But even brief day trips are no longer part of our routine. Her world is reduced to trips to the bathroom and to her bed at night.

A few years ago, when she was only 96, we could still go on overnights together to places like the Ardennes. As the years passed, our trips got shorter, but my visits to Ata were always fused with the joy of driving through beautiful Holland together.

This time it is different. Ata no longer leaves her recliner. She no longer reads, listens to music, or watches TV. She cannot smell the blooming cherry trees in front of her large bay window. Her extreme old age has sneaked up on both of us, as one by one, her senses have abandoned her. Read more...