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Archive for May, 2017

Christopher Nolan’s new movie Dunkirk will open in July, but you can watch the trailer now. The Rolling Stone called it “Gripping,” and said the trailer moves forward with, “…white-knuckle intensity.” Seeing as the Rocker composed the music and sound design for this one, I can understand why:

Nolan wrote and directed the movie, which takes place in 1940, when 400,000 Allied troops were surrounded on the beaches of Dunkirk, France, caught between the English channel at their backs and the German army on land. Civilian sailors joined the English navy and air force for an all-hands-on-deck evacuation operation. http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/see-gripping-new-trailer-for-christopher-nolans-dunkirk-w480901

I’d never heard of this story, about simple Sunday sailors and fishermen setting sail across the channel to rescue their British troops. If Hitler had turned his army toward that edge of sand, the war might have been over before we got our chance to jump in after Pearl Harbor.

Great Grandpa Hudson remembers seeing kamikaze pilots in the Pacific even after Hiroshima. He was retelling some of his war stories this week while we were visiting, and Great Grandma Ada told us some of her frustration with the VA. She’d been trying to get her WWII Vet a new set of hearing aides for months.

Hudson just turned 91 in April. He is one of two men left from the ship he served on in the Pacific. The Navy made him the cobbler onboard when he was a teenager, which probably sparked his interest in woodcarving. Totem poles abound around their property that he has painstakingly carved over the years. He is starting to slow down now, but still has a twinkle in his eye!

I was struck again at how profoundly deaf Hudson has become, and how isolating that can be for him and all our seniors. He and Grandma waited months for a new set of hearing aides to arrive, making calls to no avail, until finally Ada wrote to the Administrator, the Boss of the whole operation. All of a sudden, she received emails and calls tracking the package, a semi-apology, and supposedly the hearing aides are actually in the mail and on the way.

Did the package actually ship? Was their address correct? Who knows, but not many 90+ year olds are married to such a feisty 93 year old!

It’s Memorial Day weekend and if you’re not traveling, you’re probably barbequing something. But let’s not forget our Veterans, the men and women who risked life and limb only to return home to staggering “wait times” in order to see a doctor at their local VA. The proposed new budget from Mr T’s administration may look good to some, but is in reality a typical GOP move to outsource services:  “We are very concerned the administration’s request to make the Veterans Choice Program a permanent, mandatory program could lead to a gradual erosion of the VA health care system,” the VFW stated Wednesday in written testimony.'” It’s kind of like eroding the public school system by pushing charter schools. http://taskandpurpose.com/veterans-groups-criticize-proposed-va-budget-cuts-elderly-vets-benefits/

Funding for medical research will be reduced by 30 Million, and the new priorities will be Gulf War Vets and opioid and suicide prevention. This is all well and good, but let’s not forget our elderly Vets. When I found out that Medicare doesn’t pay for hearing aides, or audiology testing, I was dumbfounded. Bob told us that soon enough we will be able to purchase hearing aides over the counter. Ada said, “But will they be any good?”

A feeling of not being heard would land me into a state of deep despair. It’s such an important sense, not just for communicating by phone that a set of hearing aides have not yet arrived, but for our ability to connect with others.

When the call went out to send as many sea-worthy vessels as possible to evacuate the British soldiers from Dunkirk, 933 ships responded including battleships from the Royal Navy and a 14 ft open-topped fishing boat. They brought back 338,226 Allied soldiers over eight days while being bombarded by Nazi planes.

What if they never heard the call?

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A heartless, cowardly maniac waited by Manchester’s stadium until the end of Ariana’s concert, until children leaving with parents were crowding the exit. Some people stayed behind, waiting for an encore song, instead they heard the explosion. 

How wide should our perimeter of defense actually be? Presumably bags were checked before entering the concert. 

When we landed in Heathrow, police with automatic weapons clutched to their chests roamed up and down the airport. My bag was checked at every museum and even before entering Harrod’s. 

I wonder, do they check bags at Macy’s?

Living in a small city, I’d forgotten about all the precautions of modern day post 9/11 life. Europe and Israel have had to live like this for many decades. Always alert, but carrying on through it all; walking into Churchill’s War Room museum brought the British peoples’ resolve, their fortitude home to me. 

The last time we went to London, an Irish girl’s luggage was found with a bomb packed inside. She was waiting to board an ElAl flight and her terrorist boyfriend had sent her with this “present.” Nice guy.  

She is the reason we are always asked today at every airport if anyone else has touched your luggage or asked you to bring something with you. This was over THIRTY years ago!

The perimeter of safety we can reasonably expect is shrinking. 

Bob and I have been listening to This American Life’s podcast about Fermi’s Paradox. The first story is about a scientist’s sadness that we may actually be all alone in the universe. No aliens out there… no intelligent life in the galaxy. And I thought to myself, maybe it’s because we cannot be trusted not to end it all. 

Fermi did posit his question, “Where are they?” these aliens…while he was visiting Los Alamos and we were developing the first atomic bomb. Maybe he thought intelligent alien life might have saved us from eternal wars. 

“We stand shoulder to shoulder with the U.K.” Said President Obama. Our perimeter, our borders, are permeable, our democracy is secure. We will resist building walls, to build bridges toward understanding and peace. 

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Insisting I get back to “normal,” I found myself on a bike at the gym reading the New Yorker. It’s the latest issue and the extremely long, entangled article titled, “Are You My Mother?” (a gay couple, an adoption plan, and a brutal custody battle) by Ian Parker held my interest; so much so that I would have never have left the bike if not for my aching back! New York family law was in the midst of defining what makes a parent for same sex couples – biology, adoption, support, intent? After all, it is a bit tricky.

Still I had two mothers long before it was even possible with open adoptions, LGBT rights, and the latest in reproductive wizardry. My mothers had made an arrangement in 1949; Nell would care for me while the Flapper was recuperating from her injuries. My biological mother couldn’t afford to pay her and she didn’t offer. I found out later the Flapper was receiving a small stipend from the state of PA as a widow with children, but my foster parents never asked for money. No papers had been signed, only an oral contract asking Nell NOT to adopt me.

In this Brooklyn case of two mothers (Hamilton v Gunn) there was also no contract signed. Two women were a couple who had planned to adopt, it was an international adoption and so one had to “pretend” to be a single heterosexual woman, only before the adoption became final these women broke up. Pure and simple – they were no longer a couple, yet the one woman, Hamilton, who had begun the process of adoption still wanted a child. And so she continued and brought home a boy from Ethiopia. They had never married, though one claimed they’d been engaged.

For years the previously romantic couple continued their friendship, naming the other woman, Gunn, the boy’s Godmother, To complicate matters, this other woman continued to help financially and also to babysit at times. It wasn’t until Hamilton decided to return to Great Britain where she would be able to find work and be close to her family that Gunn sought out a lawyer, thereby striking new territory in parent equality cases – many times while reading this article I thought to myself, if this had been between a man and a woman what would have happened? Why is a same sex couple treated differently by the courts?

In most family law cases it comes down to this: what is the best decision for the child! This best-interests rule is dubious at best. Hillary Clinton wrote in 1973 that the rule is used as “…a rationalization by decision-makers justifying their judgements about a child’s future, like an empty vessel into which adult perceptions and prejudices are poured.”   http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/05/22/what-makes-a-parent

Who will be able to afford the best schools, the better vacations, etc and most commonly it was the marginalized parent without resources who would inevitably lose. The women’s movement gave us some freedom, but made mothers who traditionally hadn’t developed a career outside the home, more vulnerable in family custody hearings by granting more rights to fathers. Remember the movie Kramer vs Kramer? That scenario scarred me for life.

In the end, Gunn lost her case because the judge said that their plan to adopt had terminated – that it had not “continued unabated.” The little boy would get his passport back, but since Gunn has appealed the ruling, there will be no flying away to England in the foreseeable future. So the lawyers get richer and the child is stuck in limbo.

In cases like these, I am always drawn to the Biblical story involving two mothers and the sound Judgement of Solomon. I want to believe the real mother would naturally give up her child in the end, would never allow a sword to be used, even in the metaphorical sense. Maybe that’s because I was always going back and forth, between two mothers, two states, two very different temperaments. With Nell and Daddy Jim I had the unconditional love of two parents, and for that reason the Flapper never insisted I return to her. She worked hard, she moved to NJ, and she waited, until it was my decision.

And in my opinion, love, like the definition of family, is expanding all the time.

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When the Rocker was in Middle School, we hopped a train into NYC to see Chicago. He brought a friend along and we had exceptional seats in one of the side boxes next to the stage. We could see the sweat on the dancers’ faces. And when they broke into the Cell Block Tango song “He Had it Comin,” I laughed till I cried.

Well this morning I just wanna cry in my coffee.

Though jet lag is behind me, the American news has been assaulting me daily. Mr T was a little too chummy with a Russian diplomat named Lavrov, the same guy Flynn resigned over, and the one guy left on the Hill with any credibility at all, HR MacMaster, is trotted out to deny any classified information was leaked – even though Mr T admitted/tweeted he had every right to do it, which he may have done, though who cares, right?

He had it comin so to speak…

He had it coming
He only had himself to blame.
If you’d have been there
If you’d have seen it
I betcha you would have done
The same!

Our President has been playing at his role, learning on the job, and demonizing the press. But this news today, allowing only Russian media into the Oval and then handing them classified information on ISIS, like a child showing his buddy the cute frog he just caught, is not only just damning, it’s possibly treasonous. To put it into Broadway lingo, he didn’t just break a leg, he shot himself in the foot. And he only …”had himself to blame.”

“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-revealed-highly-classified-information-to-russian-foreign-minister-and-ambassador/2017/05/15/530c172a-3960-11e7-9e48-c4f199710b69_story.html?utm_term=.804daaaa5484

When will the GOP wake up and realize what is happening? When will they appoint an independent prosecutor? What about his Taxes?? Is anybody listening? We heard all about Hillary’s emails to Huma regarding creme brulee, but Mr T can fire his FBI Director for dubious reasons and keep playing at a reality show/game of How. Friggin. Much. Can. I. Get. Away. With…

In the musical Chicago, there was a guy named Alvin Lipschitz. He was very artistic and went out every night to “find himself.” Mona, one of the dancers in the cell block tango, didn’t take too kindly to all the women and men he found himself with, so she broke up with him, in the worst possible way. Her defense was artistic differences, and she swore he had it comin!

A free press will not be barred or barricaded away from this White House. We the people deserve an investigation into how Russia colluded with Mr T’s campaign to swing our election. He also has it comin – he should be facing impeachment hearings for his pure and utter incompetence.

Let’s just say we have irreconcilable artistic and public policy differences.

And just as a welcome back to Cville, this past weekend found a “white heritage group” bearing torches and chanting Nazi-like slogans at Robert E lee Park. Lots of guys in khaki and white button-down shirts with Confederate flags. We have some stylist differences as well. Hate speech has a free hand today, disguising itself as freedom.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/05/14/528363829/richard-spencer-leads-group-protesting-sale-of-confederate-statue

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I know it sounds a bit bizarre, but we are home from the South of France by way of meeting an old high school friend in Heathrow Airport courtesy of Facebook. Edie and her husband Steve had been traveling around Great Britain and we’d been following each other’s exploits – she kissed the Blarney stone, I made a quiche. You know how these things go. Facebook envy, it attacks when we least expect it…it’s what started us out on this journey; my vicarious following of a Facebook friend and her buddies hunting for mushrooms in Italy!

After a grueling day of travel in three airports in three countries, covering about 4,500 miles and traveling through many time zones, I had to roll all over the floor with my deliriously happy dog…then I turned on the TV last night to watch Bill Murray receive the Mark Twain Prize for Humor on PBS. I figured it would be better than a jolt of CNN after such a long news-free sabbatical. I missed the run-up, but caught his surprisingly sentimental speech, which actually took place at the kennedy Center last October, before the election. http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/watch-bill-murray-accept-mark-twain-prize-for-american-humor-w446373

Remember those happy Camelot days? Before Mr T (BT), when we thought anything was possible for our country, when we had a statesman, a gentleman for a President, and a First lady who actually lived with him and they seemed to love each other? Government may have been clunky at times, but it worked and was moving toward a brighter future for ALL Americans. After Macron’s victory in France, I was feeling pretty bleak about our state of affairs.

And on our last day in St Remy, I met a delightful, older (probably 80+) British woman who was traveling alone. I helped to translate a store clerk’s French for her – it seemed she had taken a bus to this town and the clerk thought that with the rain and the hills in the next town she should rest at the local cafe. It was too hilly and slippery the clerk said to this elegant, grey haired lady with a cane. Then my fellow traveler turned to me and asked, “Are you an American?”

“Unfortunately,” I replied, “I am.”

She looked me straight in the eye and wagged her finger at me and said in her proper British accent, “No, no, you must be proud to be an American! I am sure you are referring to Trump?” And I shook my head resolutely. In fact, I nearly cried. Some people you meet in passing bring out that Ann Tyler moment for each of us. Then she took my hand and told me that he will not last forever, that my people are smarter and stronger and there will be change. That everything changes.

So I sat with Bob at a cafe for an almond pastry and deux cappuccino and I told him her story. And we talked about how Europe takes the broad, balcony view; because of their history, maybe Brexit will be just a blip on the larger screen.

And as I was falling asleep in our own comfy bed, in that place between reality and dreams, I thought of meeting our friends at Heathrow, like the movie Love Actually. And I thought about Bill Murray’s speech, talking about the trampoline in his heart. That love is like that, it bounces out to touch others. People beyond continents and time.

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Choosing to paint, to create for your life’s work is never easy. So many artists were only discovered by the art world late in life, or even after death. Today we visited the small town of Arles, where Van Gogh lived for a short time. He had been committed to an asylum on the outskirts of town, where he painted “The Weeders.”

The museum devoted to Vincent was small with less than a dozen of his paintings. But the exhibit that grabbed me, that caught me by the throat was about an American woman artist I had never heard of; someone who was from my home state of PA. Her paintings and a video of her life drew me into the Flapper’s world. One that was less than kind to passionate women. 

Alice Neel was a portraitist who lost her first child and her second was taken away by the state. She had a compulsion to paint and her brush strokes had as much fire as the Dutch man in the other room. You could feel the pain of her subjects. 

And when she said in an interview that she always felt guilty for painting – and not keeping house as women were expected to do – until the Whitney exhibited her work when she was in her 80s, my heart skipped a beat. 

She was a sweet, beaming grandmother at that point. And when they wanted her to stop her slide show, she peed on the floor. 

On purpose. 

How many women artists have we lost over the years? How many more have I never heard of? I am in love with Provence, even in the cold and the rain. You have won me over! Maybe this beach house idea is misguided?

Here is Andy Warhol with what looks like surgical scars. 

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Another day, another market. For me this is the best way to travel; visit vintage and farmers’ markets, climb up medieval cobblestone hills with lavender wind in my hair. No laundry, no cleaning, no schedule and three cooks preparing delicious dinners every night. 

Bob just jumped into the pool because the sun has returned. Provence is warming up, the rain has stopped and it looks as if Liberty Egalite and Fraternite will win this election – the French people are voting today for inclusion, for freedom, for Macron! Tonight we will all eat cake because it’s Catherine’s birthday!

Catherine is a recovery room nurse with a golden retriever at home, who looks just like our villa dog Flash. Only Flash is a brilliant black with a white stripe down his chest. 

Tomorrow is cooking class! Ratatouille and bouillabaisse are on the menu along with an evening of wine tasting in Luberon.  I’ve never actually had to cut up a whole fish, head to tail, so wish me luck. 

And desserts? Mais oui for lunch and dinner! I’m afraid I may never eat another American strawberry again, they are so sweet here. I’m also afraid to get back on a scale when we return home. Our fabulous tour hosts are Marco, Claudio and Suzanna of https://www.whatscookin.it/

They pamper us, they drive us, they delight us every day. Barbara is teaching me about truffles because I’ve always wondered what the whole mystique is about; the smell, the tree roots, the dogs. And I’m proud to say we had some freshly grated on eggs this morning because this area is actually truffle heaven. 

I bought a couple of grams in a small shop that looks like an abbey – they are dried December truffles that smell like chocolate. I’m hoping my cousin Kenny the chef will give me a recipe or two. I was thinking of maybe sprinkling them on a white pizza? For now I must hide them from fearless Flash. 

We will light a fire and turn on the TV tonight to see the official results. Macron needs more than 60% to govern well. I am falling more in love with France every day, the language, the people, the cuisine! 

Maybe I can talk Bob into buying some inoculated filbert trees for growing truffles? I hear that TN terrain is ripe for the special symbiotic relationship it takes to create such a gastronomic delight. I wonder if Ms Bean could be trained…

Cheers to learning new things! And to my French friends for fighting fear and voting for Love. We needed them during our Revolution and we still do! 

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