More Observations

The midterms are over – or almost over. All the races haven’t been called yet. I am relieved that it wasn’t a red wave, and that Kathy Hochul will be our Governor. It certainly was not a complete victory. I am left wondering how Marjorie Taylor Greene was re-elected and why did Herschel Walker get enough votes to force a runoff? These two people are, as Dave Chappelle said about Walker on Saturday Night Live, “observably stupid.” If I think too long about people voting for such incompetent candidates, I get depressed. So I won’t. I will focus on the more reasonable results and breathe a sigh of relief that the Senate will not be led by Mitch McConnell.

I’ve been thinking about some other things related to the election. For example, why are polls reported on as if they are news? Polls aren’t actions and they are subject to misinterpretation, given that few people understand statistics. How do polls further the mission of the New York Times (‘all the news that’s fit to print’) or the Washington Post (‘democracy dies in darkness’)? Polls should not be considered news! And, I could make a strong case that hyping the polls the way that they do, is detrimental to democracy. It certainly doesn’t shed light on it. The actual election is the engine of democracy.

I understand the utility of polling for candidates and their campaigns. The polls can help them target audiences or messages (whether that is a good thing is another subject I would be happy to argue, but I’ll leave that alone). But, what purpose do they serve to the general public? Why are they covered as if something happened, as if there were new developments? They may or may not be accurate and until the actual vote is counted, they mean nothing. All they do is add to the anxiety, they create an artificial energy (whether you are on the ‘losing’ or ‘winning’ side) that fuels more spending. When you look at how much our political races cost, it is mind-blowing. Think of all the good that could be done with that money.

When I mentioned this idea at a family gathering, my niece pointed out that the media report it because people find it interesting – they respond to the horse race aspect of it – and the media is driven by interest/ratings. I believe she is correct. But does it have to be that way? Isn’t it a vicious cycle? What would happen if mainstream media just stopped reporting on it? It is possible that they could make that choice.

My son-in-law commented that he wished we followed the model of some European countries where campaigns are limited to two months. We had a short debate about whether that would lead to more focus on substantive issues, or whether the candidates wouldn’t bother and would just get right to the bullshit allegations and smear campaigns. It is hard to say how it might play out, but either way we wouldn’t be subjected to the onslaught of ads for months – and it would cost far less. After watching a program where each political ad was worse than the one before it, my husband said, “It makes me miss the drug company ads.” I had to laugh. That says something. Gary, the doctor, would rather be inundated by ads that promise relief from eczema.

* * * *

We have had some extraordinary weather. Two weeks ago, I lamented that with November beginning, we were entering the dreary part of fall. I was premature in my proclamation. We were given a lovely reprieve. It was great timing for my family in that we hosted several gatherings over the course of the weekend. Our newest granddaughter, just over 5 months old, came for her first visit to our home and we invited aunts, uncles and cousins to meet her.

As the weekend approached, we kept checking the weather forecast. I was hopeful we could gather outside to minimize the possibility of spreading Covid/flu or even a cold. I couldn’t believe that it was going to be that warm and it promised to be dry, too! The forecast held. We had a brief drizzle that wasn’t enough for anyone to move inside, so we were able to eat, drink and visit in our backyard. What a delight!

Then to top it off, we had the most amazing sunset. The sky was pastel pink – the air itself appeared to be pink. I have never seen light like that before. Though we didn’t have many leaves on our trees, we still had some lingering yellow ones. We also have a carpet of pine needles – in bright light they look brown, but in this sunset they were orange. This phenomenon of the light was brief, and I couldn’t capture it on camera. I hope I can keep the image in my mind’s eye – it was spectacular. What gift!

Another gift – a tree in our backyard

* * * *

Speaking of gifts, we are coming into the holiday season where we do a great deal of gift-giving. We don’t want to overdo it with our grandchildren. If there are items we know they need, we are happy to get them, but the truth is there isn’t much they need. We are very fortunate. With our older granddaughter, we are starting to focus on experiences, getting tickets to a show or performance we think she will enjoy. And we can contribute to their college funds – who knows how crazy expensive tuition, and such will be by the time they enroll.

They have enough stuff. The only problem is that it can be fun to pick out stuff – cute outfits, colorful toys, squishy stuffed animals can be irresistible. They can never have enough books, in my estimation, either. But, I will restrain myself. In the interest of our budget, and not contributing to needless clutter, I won’t overdo it. At least I will try not to. Plus I can channel some of that desire to give to others who are in need.

Random Observations (Some Halloween-Related)

Sugar is like a drug. Once I start having treats – cookies, Halloween candy – it is hard to cut it off. I wish my body didn’t respond to it that way. For folks who don’t have weight issues, is it that their body responds differently – they don’t continue to crave it? Or, is it a decision/willpower? I envy those who don’t have that trigger, though I am grateful that I don’t crave alcohol or other addictive substances.

I miss having a sense of smell. I lost it (not entirely, I perceive some scents) years ago after a couple of rounds of a virus. Yesterday when a trick or treater came to the door, she asked, “What smells so good?” I was mystified at first. Then realized, “I just made roast chicken, I think that must be what it is.” She asked if there was any left. That made me laugh. But it also made me wish I could smell it! I know sometimes you become habituated to a smell when you’ve been in it a while and if you step outside and come back in you perceive it again – but that is not what happens with me. Something has to be quite pungent for me to smell it.  If I had to choose to lose one of the five senses, I guess this one would be the least critical. But it does dull taste and it makes experiences less rich. Oh well.

One other Halloween observation. When I happened to be on the Upper East Side of Manhattan a week or so ago, I was struck by how elaborate the decorations were (see photos below). I also thought some were quite gruesome. Have they gotten more horrifying over the years? I like cute pumpkins and Caspar the Friendly Ghost type of decorations. I don’t actually want to be frightened. I particularly don’t enjoy scenes that feature blood. A standard witch is fine, depictions of graveyards are okay, too. If it were up to me, we’d just skip the really gross stuff.

It is interesting to me that some people love that – seek out entertainment that scares them. I heard a snippet of an interview with Stephen King where he said that since he was a child, he liked the feeling of being scared. I don’t. I don’t want to watch scary movies and I don’t seek out risky activities (I’m faster on cross-country skis going uphill than down). I wonder if people who like horror movies also like thrill rides? I’d rather ride a roller coaster than watch a horror movie. Our son-in-law posted a list of horror movies he had watched in the lead up to Halloween. I have seen none of them. In one way, I feel left out of a whole segment of cultural references, but I don’t want to watch those movies, so I guess I’ll just have to remain in the dark, so to speak. It’s funny but both of my children, who grew up not watching horror movies, married people who love them. I will leave it to them to negotiate that – maybe they will become fans, too.

We have passed that threshold from the beautiful part of fall to the dreary. This year I did take the time to appreciate the vibrant colors. I think we had an unusual number of sunny, warm days that allowed the leaves to shine. We had some magnificent sunsets, too, made even more beautiful by the glow of the leaves. Now I look out the window and see mostly bare branches. There is beauty in that, too. I love the look of the silhouette of the trees against the sky. But not so much when it is grey and damp. Also, the less daylight we have, the less energy I seem to have.

This may be a little specific, but when you find a sub for an activity you are committed to (let’s say tennis), and then the sub finds they can’t make it, who is responsible for finding another replacement? If I told someone I would fill in for them and then found that I couldn’t, I would view it as my responsibility to get another person. I was a bit annoyed recently when the sub I found punted it back to me. But maybe I’m wrong on the etiquette. Thoughts? This is the kind of thing I should spend more time thinking about – instead of fretting about our democracy.

VOTE!!!

Early voting has begun in New York State. Let me direct. If you are a resident of this great state, I am asking you to vote for Kathy Hochul. We are being bombarded by ads, paid for by the Republican National Committee or another Republican political action committee, playing on fear of crime to get folks to vote for Lee Zeldin. I ask that you consider the facts. Has the crime rate gone up? The answer to that is: it depends – compared to when? What types of crimes? Where? Here is a chart (using FBI data) that illustrates that New York State’s crime rate is far below that of the United States as a whole and that it is far less than it was nine years ago. (New York is in blue, the United States is red – this is the most current available)

It is all about perception. I looked at current New York City data and again it depends on what you compare. Murder is down year over year. Auto theft is up this year compared to last. But, again, it is all relative because compared to five years ago, when crime was at historic lows, it has gone up. If you compare it to a decade ago, it is substantially lower.

No matter what your perception of crime is, what exactly are Republicans proposing to do about it that will make it better? There is no evidence that whatever increases we have seen are the result of ‘cashless bail.’ If the only solution to this perceived crime wave is to repeal cashless bail, it will not have the desired effect.

There was a reason the state adopted cashless bail and that reason has not gone away. We can’t have a system where persons who commit the same crime are treated differently because one has access to money, and another does not. One person can’t languish in jail while another walks free based only on one having access to cash. The current law may need to be adjusted, if there are loopholes or if aspects of it that aren’t working. In fact, it already has been amended. But, we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

The criminal justice system is flawed. We need to acknowledge the problems and not pretend that we can go back to some ‘good old days.’ There are no good old days when it comes to crime. I don’t have all the answers. I am not advocating defunding the police – neither is Kathy Hochul. It is a ridiculous notion, we need police. At the same time, though, we need to be honest about the problems inherent in the system. Beware of any candidate who offers simplistic solutions, on either end of the spectrum (from defunding the police to ‘lock ‘em up’). I appreciate that Kathy Hochul, despite the onslaught of these hyperbolic crime commercials, has not called for repeal of cashless bail. She has a spine – a necessary quality in a public servant.

I also believe that New York State has many other issues to grapple with. The more I hear of Lee Zeldin’s positions the more concerned I become. He is advocating lifting the ban on fracking. Again, this might sound appealing in the short term, but it would be a disastrous policy for the environmental health of our state. He advocates public funding for religious schools. This is another dangerous policy that in the long term threatens the very heart of our system of governance. We need to firmly re-establish the separation of church (synagogue, mosque or any other religious institution) and state. That separation is especially critical in education.

Since I wrote my blog post several weeks ago asking that you not be complacent,  the race for governor in New York has tightened. I believe the fear-mongering and relentless advertising is having an impact.

It is essential that we be vigilant – and not just at the gubernatorial level.  The same strategy of fear-mongering is at play in House of Representatives races. In my home district, the Republican candidate, Liz Joy, is portraying her opponent as soft on crime. The law that everyone is criticizing was enacted at the state-level, not federal. The incumbent Congressman, Paul Tonko, had no role in the move to cashless bail. Tonko has voted for the assault weapon ban and every other common-sense approach to crime reduction offered at the federal level.

Once again, I appeal to all to look beyond facile slogans and the relentless fear-mongering. Make sure you are getting your information from reliable sources. When applicable, look at the candidates actual voting record.

As a reminder, here are some of the bills Lee Zeldin voted against as a congressman:

Assault Weapons Ban (ironically, most in law enforcement support this), Inflation Reduction Act (but he takes credit for infrastructure projects and issues press releases to encourage federal spending in his district), Right to Contraception, Ensuring Access to Abortion, Women’s Health Protection Act, Infant Formula Supplemental Appropriations Act, Consumer Price Gouging…the list can go on and on. These bills were not part of some crazy liberal agenda – they are responses to problems and needs that most New Yorkers support.

Zeldin has downplayed the potential for rolling-back abortion access in New York State, despite his ‘pro-life’ stance, noting the Democratic majorities in both houses of the State Legislature. Please do not rely on that – the composition of the legislature can change (and has many times in my lifetime) and the governor has powers through budgeting and executive orders that can circumvent the legislature.

Finally, Zeldin’s close association with Trump is problematic, and it should be disqualifying. We in New York have seen Trump’s career – his multiple bankruptcies, his failures, his lies – up close. We know he is a charlatan. Somehow Zeldin overlooks all of that and refuses to hold Trump accountable for the damage done to our country. This alone makes him unfit to be governor.

I urge everyone to do their homework on the candidates (for all offices). Don’t rely on advertisements. Read their own words; look at their positions; if they have a voting record, check it out. And then vote – it matters.

Alive in the World

Yesterday we drove through the Berkshires on the way home from visiting our daughter. The oranges, reds and yellows of autumn were on full display. I selected Jackson Browne’s Solo Acoustic Album 2 as the soundtrack for our ride. The song “Alive in the World” came on. I looked at the magnificent scenery as the song played and I decided I needed to listen to it again. “Do you mind if I replay that?” I asked Gary, who was behind the wheel. “Go for it.”

Here are the lyrics:

I want to live in the world, not inside my head
I want to live in the world, I want to stand and be counted
With the hopeful and the willing
With the open and the strong
With the voices in the darkness
Fashioning daylight out of song
And the millions of lovers
Alive in the world

I want to live in the world, not behind some wall
I want to live in the world, where I will hear if another voice should call
To the prisoner inside me
To the captive of my doubt
Who among his fantasies harbors the dream of breaking out
And taking his chances
Alive in the world

To open my eyes and wake up alive in the world
To open my eyes and fully arrive in the world

With its beauty and its cruelty
With its heartbreak and its joy
With it constantly giving birth to life and to forces that destroy
And the infinite power of change
Alive in the world

To open my eyes and wake up alive in the world
To open my eyes and fully arrive in the world

To open my eyes and wake up alive in the world
To open my eyes and fully arrive in the world

If you would like to listen to it, here is a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8T4JwA4OIio

The song resonates with me – I have always liked it. I could have written the first two lines, or perhaps they were written for me. But the whole song is right on point. “With its beauty and its cruelty, with its heartbreak and its joy, with it constantly giving birth to life and to forces that destroy, and the infinite power of change, alive in the world.” What a perfect description of this thing called life.

Having spent two days holding our four-month old granddaughter, a bundle of light and joy, the lyric brought tears to my eyes – and it does as I write this. I need to believe in the infinite power of change alive in the world.

I wake up this Monday morning not feeling particularly hopeful, but I am replaying the song and holding on to that thought as we face the absurdity of Kanye, Elon and Trump (the list of threats could go on and on). I renew my request from last week, please vote, please make your voice heard. Let’s elevate Jackson Browne’s message, not theirs.

Don’t Be Complacent

Please don’t be complacent about voting. You may believe you are in a ‘safe’ district or state where the polls show a commanding lead for your candidate, but polls can be wrong. We have seen that. Not only that, but it is important that your voice be heard. It matters if a candidate wins with a clear majority versus a slim margin – the message from the electorate is more powerful when it is backed by huge numbers. So, no matter where you live, make your voice heard.

I write this because I am worried. In New York State, where polls show Kathy Hochul with a commanding lead in the race for Governor, I see the Republican candidate reaching for a familiar election strategy to change the momentum:  fear – fear of crime. We know that is an effective tactic. While we can legitimately discuss crime and whether bail reform is responsible for, or even plays a role in, the rise, it is not legitimate to use propaganda to stoke that fear entirely out of proportion to reality. The fact that the crime rate has risen in states that have not enacted changes to bail would suggest that there are other elements at work. Bail reform is a policy worth reviewing and can no doubt benefit from study, but it must be kept in perspective. It is especially problematic when there are so many other important issues to consider.

I think it is important to consider the candidates’ other positions. I took a closer look at Zeldin’s voting record – he has been in Congress representing the eastern end of Long Island since 2014. Here are some of the recent bills he voted AGAINST: Assault Weapons Ban (ironically I believe most in law enforcement support this), Inflation Reduction Act, Right to Contraception, Ensuring Access to Abortion, Women’s Health Protection Act, Infant Formula Supplemental Appropriations Act, Consumer Price Gouging…the list can go on and on. These bills were not part of some crazy liberal agenda – they are responses to problems and needs that most New Yorkers support.

I believe that among my community some may be considering voting for Zeldin, for two reasons. First, his position on crime and second, his support of Israel. I’ll address the second issue first because it is easier. While Zeldin is Jewish, I could find nothing that suggests that Hochul has not been an ally for Israel and for the Jewish community. In fact, when Cuomo was in the process of resigning, Jewish leaders from around the state voiced their support for Hochul and characterized her as “accessible, transparent and widely liked.” It does not appear that there is a difference between the two candidates on this.

For me, nothing is more concerning than his position on reproductive health. In this post-Roe era, the governor of New York must unequivocally support a women’s right to choose. Lee Zeldin does not. It is painfully obvious that governors and state legislatures are on the forefront of protecting women’s rights. We can’t afford to entrust the governorship to someone who will not provide full-throated support for autonomy over their own bodies, especially for our daughters and granddaughters.

Others may not place that issue as high as I do when they evaluate candidates. Here is another thing to consider. The anti-Zeldin commercials I have seen highlight his closeness to Donald Trump. I don’t trust political ads, so I read his public statements after January 6th and looked at his voting record on the issues surrounding it (Trump’s impeachment, the recent vote to fix the ambiguity around the role of the vice president in certifying the election, among others). What did I find? He deserves to be portrayed as a Trump supporter. He voted against impeachment and against the clarifying legislation. On January 7th, after the insurrection, this was the statement he issued: “ I just returned home from our Nation’s Capitol after witnessing firsthand from inside the House Chamber yesterday the best of America clash with some of the worst of it in a moment of my life I will never forget. For this moment, let’s take one collective deep breath, recharge and renew our spirit for whatever lies ahead. We are all Americans first.”

He took a play from Trump’s playbook by coyly not identifying who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. I didn’t leave out the part of his statement explaining that. To make matters worse, on the night of January 6th when Congress reconvened to certify the results, Zeldin voted to reject Arizona’s presidential election results. He also joined in the lawsuit that sought to discard the votes of Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, which was subsequently thrown out by the Supreme Court.

In the days, weeks and months that followed, Zeldin has never acknowledged Trump’s culpability in that attack or that the election had not been stolen. In fact, he has defended Trump, alleging that a double standard was applied where Trump’s inciting words were criticized but not Democrats. He failed to note which words and by whom. And, in case you were wondering, there are New York Republicans in Congress who have rejected Trumpism and voted in support of a number of the measures I noted above. A person who has not disavowed Trump cannot be trusted to lead our state – he either lacks a backbone or conscience or both.

As I have written before many times on this blog, I can understand and respect different policy approaches. I have never been a Republican and can’t imagine that I ever will be, but I recognize the importance of compromise and finding common ground. I am happy to debate policy issues, from taxes to crime to the economy and everything in between. I must draw a line, though. I cannot accept allowing Donald Trump to continue to be the standard-bearer for the Republican party. He cannot be permitted to skate by without being held accountable for the damage he has done, much less hold public office again. People like Lee Zeldin appear to be all too happy to allow him to remain in party leadership. I hope New York Republicans will reject Zeldin in his bid to be governor.

If crime is your central concern, there are any number of ways to communicate with elected officials and advocate for other approaches. I ask that you not allow the spate of political ads that play on fear and make exaggerated claims to dictate your vote. Look more deeply at the issue and what candidates are offering as solutions. I hope those in my community who might be considering Zeldin will realize he is a poor choice for a myriad of reasons, including that he does not offer real solutions to rising crime. It is a lot more complicated than repealing bail reform.

Most importantly, I urge everyone to do their homework on the candidates (for all offices). Don’t rely on advertisements. Read their own words; look at their positions; if they have a voting record, check it out. And then vote – it matters.

The newest statue in Central Park in NYC – an appropriate reminder of our responsibility to carry their work forward

The Eyes of History

“If I had my way, I would today build a wall about the United States so high and so secure that not a single alien or foreign refugee from any country upon the face of this earth could possibly scale or ascend it.”

Sound familiar? Could almost be a sound bite from the 2016 Presidential campaign or current political discourse. It is a statement one can imagine hearing at Trump’s recent rally in Ohio. But it was made by North Carolina Senator Robert Reynolds around 1939 in response to the growing Nazi threat in Europe.

This was one of the many echoes that struck me as I watched “The U.S. and the Holocaust,” the  Ken Burns’ documentary that aired on PBS last week. It can still be streamed for free.

Today it is appropriate, it is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, to reflect on the lessons that could be learned from Burns’ film. Those lessons could be learned if one watched the six-hour series. Sadly, the people who most need to see it, likely did not. It was hard to watch, painful, but so important because of the reverberations that continue to plague our country now. I will need to write more than one essay to explore it.

So many themes addressed by the film are alive today. I believe there is something to be gained by considering them. These issues are thorny, but we need to be honest and talk about them.

First, a word about terminology. Immigrant, refugee and migrant are all words used to describe people arriving at our borders. Theoretically these words mean different things, though I don’t believe there are agreed upon international definitions. A refugee is generally understood to have been forced from their home, while a migrant seeks another home voluntarily (it has the connotation of not necessarily being permanent and can be within a country, like migrants from the Dust Bowl back in the 1930s). An immigrant, on the other hand, is thought of as seeking permanent status in a new country. However, the ‘voluntary’ nature of the person’s move can be difficult to assess. For purposes of clarity in this essay, I am addressing refugees, though the lessons we take from our experiences from World War II are broader than that population.

One of the questions raised is: could/should the United States have allowed more Jewish refugees into the country in the late 1930s and early 1940s. We face this question today on a myriad of fronts – refugees from Ukraine, from Venezuela, from other war-torn or famine-afflicted states, or people displaced because of climate change (flooding, fires).

In the past people argued that we didn’t understand the risk to European Jewry, but as this documentary makes clear, that simply wasn’t true. It was known and it was known early enough to have acted. However, fear was an obstacle; the fear of spies among refugees – that there would be bad actors even among the Jews who were so threatened. That’s where another theme intersects: propaganda.

The Germans were masterful at stoking the flames of anti-Semitism, portraying Jews as evil, all-powerful, Communists. The image was believed even if it was internally inconsistent. Millions, and that is not an exaggeration, died as a result of that combination of fear and acceptance of propaganda – acceptance not just in the United States but in other developed countries that could have taken them in but were vulnerable to that toxic mix.

What can we learn from this? Maybe, just maybe, we need to be careful about stereotyping. When a whole group is portrayed as one thing – Mexican drug lords, Syrian terrorists – it is incumbent on us to think critically. It isn’t that there aren’t Mexicans who could be connected to the drug trade or Syrians who could be terrorists or Jews who could be communists. There are or were, but to what degree? Were the majority? That’s preposterous. The first question is:  Are the refugees at risk of death? If they are, the second question is: can we help in a way that minimizes the danger to our own citizens?

We have been plagued by the question of who can enter our country since its inception. We can’t keep pretending that it is new or that we don’t have biases that impact our policies. I am not suggesting that we allow unrestricted entry. The dialogue on this issue is so poisoned as to make it nearly impossible to discuss rationally. I am not aware of anyone, certainly not President Biden, who is advocating open borders.

The reality is that the vast majority of refugees are ordinary people trying to escape intolerable, life-threatening circumstances. One of the things the documentary so effectively illustrated is the individual stories – several Jewish brothers came to America in the 1910s, one went back to Poland and was never able to re-enter our country. He, along with his wife and children, died at the hands of the Nazis. The family that remained in the United States was devastated by their inability to help and lived with guilt and pain for the rest of their lives. We can become anesthetized to the pain of the individuals if we don’t take the time to understand their stories. It took years in a displaced persons camp for my father-in-law to gain entry to the United States, at least he made it.

The United States in the lead up to and during World War II, as is true today, didn’t want non-Northern Europeans to enter our country, they didn’t want the majority white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants to be ‘overrun’ by ‘ethnic others’. Semitic people were less desirable. It was chilling, and appropriate, that Ken Burns concluded the documentary with footage of the march in Charlottesville; showing men with tiki torches chanting “Jews will not replace us.” While that sentiment might not represent the opinion of the majority of Americans, it is frightening that our president was unwilling to clearly and unabashedly rebuke the marchers. It revealed something we don’t want to see, but we cannot ignore. If we want to keep our claim to being a force for good in this world, and maintain our democracy, we must face the demons which lie within. We cannot be complacent in the face of the evil. If a politician, no matter what other positions they take (they may ironically be a supporter of Israel), is unwilling to stand up to white supremacists, we must reject them regardless of party affiliation.

The answer to the question I posed above is that the United States could have and should have done more. Let’s not be in the position in the future of coming up short in the eyes of history.

Views From My Car Window

Though I don’t consider myself a photographer, I do like to take pictures. I find that, as long as I don’t get too caught up in the mechanics of it, it helps to notice the beauty around me and to solidify the memory in my brain. I snapped a lot of pictures on our trip through the southwest, many from the window of the car as we were speeding down the highway. Gary prefers to drive so I ride shotgun, doing the navigating, but mostly taking in the scenery. Here is some of what I saw as we passed through parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. It seems to me that almost all of southern Utah could be a national park. I hope you enjoy the views.

It is a spectacular country that we live in. I am grateful I got to see a portion of it – and that I got to see it with Gary, the best travel companion I could ask for.

Road Trip (and More)!

I originally planned this trip to the southwest of the United States in 2019 long before I had ever heard of Covid-19. We were supposed to go in May of 2020 but had to cancel, much to my disappointment. Well, we are taking the trip now!

This past Friday we flew from Albany to Albuquerque, New Mexico, leaving very early in the morning. Other than a misunderstanding about our hiking sticks – I thought they could come on as part of my carry-on baggage, TSA disagreed. They characterized them as ‘weapons.’ You’ll never guess who won that battle. We had to leave the security area and check our bags. We were early enough to get to the Delta check-in counter and back through security a second time so there was no issue. Otherwise, our travel to Albuquerque was uneventful, long (because we had a four-hour layover in Atlanta) but uneventful. Given the horror stories one hears about air travel these days, I am grateful.

We picked up our rental car and promptly got on the road to Santa Fe which is only a little over an hour drive. As we exited the small airport and got on the highway I did look around Albuquerque trying to find evidence of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, to no avail.

On the road in Albuquerque

The landscape looked about what I expected. It got prettier and prettier as we approached Santa Fe.

Snapped from our moving car

We checked into our hotel, the Inn on Alameda, a mere 14 hours from when we started our day. But it was still early enough to go explore a bit and get dinner. The gentlemen who checked us in was friendly, efficient, and provided us with good information about restaurants and nearby attractions, and a map (I love maps!).

Though we had not planned it to coincide, this was the weekend of Fiesta in Santa Fe. It is an annual celebration of the city’s Spanish heritage. The festival has evolved over recent years in recognition of the complicated relationship between the Spanish settlers, the indigenous people and the Mexicans who also ruled the area for a time. From our perspective, as tourists, what it mostly meant was that the city square had food and craft booths set up, as well as a stage where various performances were featured. It made for a fun, lively time.

After dinner we walked back to our hotel in a light rain. We basically collapsed in our bed so we would be ready for our scheduled walking tour the following morning.

We met up with our tour guide at a lovely coffee shop. He gave us an overview of the area’s history as we sipped our coffee. Then we started our tour. Here are some scenes from our tour:

The tour ended at the Georgia O’Keeffe museum. We enjoyed looking at her work and learning  her history. Women who are brave enough to forge their own path are inspiring – and she certainly did that. Plus, I like many of her paintings.

Not a ‘typical’ O’Keeffe, but I appreciated it. She did live in New York City for 20 years after all

We came back to our hotel, legs aching more from standing than walking, we had been on our feet for about 4 hours. Rather than make life complicated, we had lunch at our hotel. They had delicious offerings, as it turned out.

After a brief rest, we headed out again to explore – this time to Canyon Road where many of the art galleries are located. It is amazing how many talented people there are in this world. The paintings and sculptures were breathtaking.

Sunday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel. I couldn’t leave Santa Fe without getting a magnet – I make a point of collecting magnets from wherever I travel. The wall in our mud room has metal sheeting attached so I can put them up and remind myself of all the fabulous places I have been. I neglected to get one as we were wandering around on Saturday, so we drove over to the Five and Dime (that was the name of the store!) and I found a great addition to my collection. Now we could move on.

We had only 7 hours of driving ahead of us! – to get to Antelope Canyon, Arizona. Gary and I don’t mind long car rides, though this was pushing it. Some observations: The northwestern part of New Mexico is kind of depressing. Some of the landscape is beautiful, but some of it is dreary and desolate. You also see the poverty of the native peoples – pawnshops, scrap yards, and not much else in the way of industry.

Here are some photos shot from the car as we drove through New Mexico and into Arizona

Our destination was Horseshoe Bend, Arizona, where the Colorado River emerges from the Grand Canyon. We finally made it. We started our day in 55 degree Santa Fe. We emerged from our car into 90 degree blazing sun. It was a 1.5 walk from the parking lot to the site. Fortunately, we had water with us, though within minutes the bottled water was hot! But hot water is better than no water in that climate! The walk was well worth the effort.

Then it was on to our bed and breakfast – only 30 minutes away. Our host provided a beer for Gary and a glass of  well-chilled Chardonnay for me (a generous pour, too!). Ahhh! Lovely. We caught a beautiful sunset and moonrise before going to sleep.

Moonrise

We have finished 3 days of our vacation, 6 more to go with so many more magnificent places to see (Antelope Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks are coming up) before ending our journey in Las Vegas. By the way, did you know that there is a Las Vegas, New Mexico? We were confused by road signs for it as we drove to Santa Fe. We know our geography well enough to realize that Las Vegas is not 125 miles from Albuquerque. Who knew there was another one? One of the many things I learned on this trip. Apparently, New Mexicans refer to it as Las Vegas, and call the one in Nevada ‘Vegas’ to distinguish them.

Can’t wait to see what else I learn.

Art, Artists and Audiences

“And I went to see the doctor of philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry or see a B-grade movie
He graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind
Got my paper and I was free”

These are lyrics to the song “Closer to Fine,” by the Indigo Girls, released in 1989. They were the words sung by about 10,000 people attending a concert at Tanglewood in Massachusetts. The Indigo Girls began the song but stopped singing after the first verse and chorus, continued to play their instruments and invited the crowd to take it from there. And we did. It is a powerful thing to be among so many people singing words together – and these aren’t simple lyrics. Not “I love you, yeah, yeah, yeah.”  We were among strangers, and yet we weren’t. We all shared the experience of singing that song for decades, in our cars, in our dorm rooms, in our headphones while we jogged, while hanging out with friends. We were different people, living separate lives, varied ages and backgrounds, but united in finding meaning and connection in that song. It is a unique sensation experienced only when attending concerts in person.

When I bought the tickets a month or two ago, it was to see Brandi Carlile; I didn’t know the Indigo Girls would be the opening act, that was a bonus I learned in the days leading up to the concert. I first became familiar with Brandi Carlile from my local radio station (WEXT) and noted that I liked her sound. I saw her interviewed and was further impressed. I bought the tickets based on that. Then, more recently, I saw video of her performance with Joni Mitchell, and I am a huge fan of Joni, at the Newport Folk Festival. That sealed the deal; I was excited to attend my first in person musical performance since the pandemic began.

Tanglewood’s capacity, with lawn seating, is 15,000. It was close to full (there were some inside seats open until the rains came). Though most had come for the main attraction, it was clear that the Indigo Girls had their own fans, as well. The audience was very enthusiastic from the first notes and the performers fed off the energy of the crowd. I can only imagine how it feels to have lyrics you have written sung back to you by thousands of voices. How validating! Perhaps, after years of it, it becomes old hat. It didn’t seem that way for any of the performers that night. Brandi Carlile exulted, with her bandmates, that after years of playing chowder houses and chain restaurants in the Pacific Northwest, they had made it; they had, in her words, achieved their dream. I couldn’t help but feel happy for her and her talented band as they reveled in the cheers and absorbed the energy of the crowd.

Artists may pursue their art for a variety of reasons. Some may not love the public part, the performing; they may derive more satisfaction from the creative process. Some may choose to generate their work alone; others seek out collaboration. Brandi Carlile appears to enjoy both the performing and the collaborative potential music presents. Writing books, poetry or essays is generally a solitary craft, at least initially. Publication involves others.

No matter how the work is produced, though, the reality is that if you don’t have an audience, it may feel incomplete. People can talk about creating for its own sake, but without a reaction, without any audience, isn’t something essential lost? And, beyond that, the artist certainly can’t make a living without it.

This notion was reinforced by another ‘show’ I attended of an entirely different sort. The Clark Museum, also in the Berkshires, is hosting a Rodin sculpture exhibit. I have always appreciated Rodin’s work, especially The Thinker and The Kiss.

A small reproduction of The Thinker sits on my desk

I learned a few things from this exhibit. Rodin sketched first, then created a clay or plaster model (not necessarily full size). He did not cast the bronze or carve the marble himself; he employed someone to do that. I was surprised to learn that a woman, Camille Rosalie Claudel, did some carving for him. She was his student, assistant, model, and romantic partner for a time (Rodin also had a lifetime woman companion with whom he had a child but that is another story).

Learning that someone else did the carving was interesting on many levels. Part of me feels like the carving is an essential part of the artistry. One of the extraordinary things about sculpture of the human form is coaxing emotion and texture from stone. Does Rodin get credit for doing that if he didn’t do that part of the work?

Is this common practice? I have watched a number of profiles of artists on the news magazine CBS Sunday Morning. When working on large installations, artists have used teams of people to weld, pour concrete and other tasks involved in creating the work. But that struck me as different than having someone else do the ‘sculpting.’ But, where do you draw the line? Does it matter?

I don’t recall when I’ve seen Rodin’s work displayed at other museums whether the person doing the carving was given credit. If they were, I didn’t notice. At least at this exhibit they were.

I was also surprised to find that it was a woman who did the work. Maybe that wasn’t unusual either, he was creating in late 19th and early 20th century and I would not have expected that. It comes as news to me.  

One of the major themes of the exhibit was the role that patrons played in Rodin’s success in the United States. Without a few dedicated supporters, who bought his art, got it displayed in major museums and spread the word about his talent, he would not have become the world-renowned artist he became. It was also interesting to note that many of his patrons were women.

We may have an image of artists as lone creatives, toiling by themselves, perhaps tortured souls. A piece of that may be true. But, if we know about that their work, if they have achieved wide exposure, then it is likely that they have benefitted from a network of people who have supported them. Nothing wrong with that – and I am not suggesting it is luck, though that may play a role for some – but as a writer seeking publication, it is useful to keep that in mind.

Old Timers’ Day – Take Two

One of many ballpark rituals: standing for our national anthem

Let’s go Mets! Or, in this age of social media, #LFGM! But, let’s keep it old school for the time being. We did just go to Old Timers’ Day at Citi Field, which took us back to an earlier era.

Months ago, when it was announced that the Mets would host an Old Timers’ Day for the first time in almost 20 years, Gary jumped on it. Contrary to Gary’s take, I believe our son, Daniel, called it to our attention, not me. Anyway, Gary bought a bunch of tickets, not necessarily knowing who exactly would go, but wanting us to be there. Saturday, August 27, 2022 was the big day.

It was our first return to the stadium since the pandemic. It felt both odd and natural. I was excited mostly because I knew it would be special for Gary since he is a lifelong Met fan.

I did not grow up as a Met fan. I loved the Yankees. Bear in mind, that the Yankees of my youth stunk. This was the mid to late 1960s, before George Steinbrenner bought the team(in 1973) and bought success. I loved Mickey Mantle – I am not old enough to have seen him in his prime. I think I loved his name more than anything. My Yankees were the Yankees of Roy White and Horace Clarke. When Ron Blomberg came along in 1971, a Jewish player – a rarity and much beloved in New York City – I had even more to root for.

Another reason for my affinity for the Yankees was likely that two of my main nemeses growing up, my brother Mark and my Uncle Mike who both teased me relentlessly, were Met fans. I hated Tom Seaver. I don’t know if it was because I perceived him as arrogant or because my brother loved him – either way, I preferred my Yankees. I didn’t, however, hate the Mets as a whole and I couldn’t help but get caught up in their underdog 1969 season. As a serious sports fan, I watched the games, knew the team (I could name all the position players and knew the pitching staff even though it wasn’t that common for a 9-year-old girl to follow that stuff) and was delighted when they beat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series – even if my brother and uncle reveled in the victory, too.

Fast forward a decade and my enthusiasm for sports in general subsided. I still enjoyed watching games, but no longer felt a strong allegiance to the Yankees or any other baseball team. Steinbrenner made it hard to remain a fan. In 1979 when I got together with Gary, it was easy enough to put the Yankees aside. During our long marriage, I have supported his passion. Together we have raised our children to continue the tradition as Met fans.

Eight of us converged on Citi Field this past Saturday. Our son, Dan and our granddaughter; my brother Mark (yes, the one who teased me relentlessly and still does, though not relentlessly but is a loyal and loving brother too) and his wife, Pam, their son, Sam (also a passionate Met fan), and my high school friend, Steven, joined us. We took the subway, along with many other Met fans. The first leg of the trip on the 1 line, the subway car wasn’t air conditioned, but fortunately it was a brief ride and not too crowded. We had more luck with the 7 train, it was air conditioned, so we arrived at our destination in relative comfort. The 7 line travels above ground through Queens. I couldn’t help but notice the changes in the borough – so many high rises! The areas we passed have transformed from small residential and industrial neighborhoods to gleaming skyscrapers. New York City is ever-changing.

We arrived at the stadium with hordes of others but made it through the security checkpoint and entry gate without too much delay.

The turnout of players and fans was impressive. The seats were full. Representatives of the original 1962 Mets were present, as well as members of the Miracle Mets of 1969 including Cleon Jones, Art Shamsky, Ron Swoboda, and Ed Kranepool. There were players from the championship team of 1986, too. Obviously, the guys from the 1960’s teams are ancient, and some were infirm. It was nice to see them though and have them get a warm reception from the crowd. There was quite a range in how fit the players were, even among the more recent retirees. Endy Chavez, who made a spectacular catch for the Mets in the 2006 NCLS, looked like he could still patrol centerfield capably even though he hasn’t played a major league game in 6 years.

The players and fans were having fun. I was having fun, too, especially as I consumed a very large hard seltzer. I am no fan of beer, the usual stadium staple. I am so glad ballparks have expanded their drink options!

Among our group, five are serious Met fans (my sister-in-law, my four-year-old granddaughter and I don’t qualify). We played musical chairs so the five of them had chances to chat with each other. Gary compared Met notes with each of them. I was gratified to see everyone enjoying the conversation, taking in the event, and happily walking down Met memory lane. I engaged our granddaughter – can you spot Mr. and Ms. Met! Can you find six orange things?  – as best I could, hoping to give our son some time with his cousin who lives in the metro D.C. area. Dan and our granddaughter stayed for about 4 hours, deciding to leave before things could go south – a wise choice. Leave while it remained a positive experience.

It was a long afternoon, evening, and night at the stadium – between the Old Timers’ introductions, the ceremonial game, and the actual game, it was about six hours. It was warm, but there was a breeze, and we were never in the sun. Our seats were great – behind third base. The Mets won their game against the Colorado Rockies, too, continuing a successful season.

We were all in high spirits as we exited Citi Field and headed to the subway. Not surprisingly, the trip back into Manhattan was a mixed bag. Once again, the 7 went well, it was an air conditioned express! The trip uptown on the 3 was very unpleasant – slow, crowded and no air conditioning! It stopped for a bit between stations – the worst! We sat sweating, hoping we would start moving again quickly. Thankfully we did after a long few minutes. It was a relief to emerge into the relatively fresh air at 96th Street and Broadway. You know you have been uncomfortable when 80 degrees and 70% humidity at 11:00 at night in Manhattan is a welcome improvement! I knew it would only get better after I showered.

Upon arriving in our apartment, I did just that and then got into bed. It had been a long satisfying day. One from which memories are made.