The Two-Legged Ones

Walter Kirn, who writes the “Easy Chair” column in Harper’s, reported on his August visit to Standing Rock  in the December 2016 issue.

In August Standiing Rock was

“a spectacular sight: thousands of Indians camped on the banks of the Cannonball River, on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. . . awaiting a federal court decision on whether construction of a $3.7 billion oil pipeline from the Bakken region to Southern Illinois will be halted.”  — New York Times

On the fourth of December, with thousands still standing ground but now in freezing cold

“the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will not be granting the easement to cross Lake Oahe for the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. Instead, the Corps will be undertaking an environmental impact statement to look at possible alternative routes.” — standwithstandingrock.net

Now on March tenth thousands marched at the White House, for as we know, President Trump with a quick flick of his pen, signed

“an executive order that reversed a decision by the previous administration of Democratic President Barack Obama to delay approval of the Dakota pipeline, a $3.8 billion project by Energy Transfer Partners LP.” — New York Times

Tribes gathered in D.C. for several days ahead of the protest.
Paul J. Richards/AFT/Getty. Huffington Post

It was a very personal article, quite thoughtful and revealing both about the happenings at Standing Rock and about Kirn himself.  But the highlight in it for me, and the reason I sought out his website which has led me to add his books to my reading list, was the next to last paragraph.  A little mistake caused me to chuckle.  It wasn’t the error that the editor appended to the Letters section in January 2017’s edition, so I know they check for errors.

“Because of an editing error, “Standing Rock Speaks” [Easy Chair, December], by Walter Kirn, misstated the year of the American Indian Movement’s occupation of Wounded Knee. This event occurred in 1973, not 1972. We regret the error.”

Here’s what made me smile.  Kirn wrote:

Photo: Joe McKenna/Flickr Creative Commons

On my way to the camp, I parked along the river’s banks and watched it drag last spring’s Montana snowmelt slowly south across the prairies. There was a crow, of course, yakking on a tree branch, grouchy, ornery. Crows are often considered tricksters, and in some legends crows created the world. But now it is all ours, not theirs. It belongs to us, the two-legged ones.

Crows have two legs, the right one is peaking out from behind the left, believe me.

The glue here is Bourdain

Morgan – where & when?

My older son worked in restaurants while in school, during the summer, and when out of work. In fact my younger son worked in restaurants — how could I forget? I’m pretty sure both Sarah and Sam, their wives, did also.  Morgan at the old wonderful Woodshed in Moultonborough, Egg in Brooklyn, even Chili’s in Nashua, someplace on Martha’s Vineyard, at a few ski resorts, and Alex at Court Street Grocers again in Brooklyn, both of them at our Olde Orchard Inn. They washed dishes, cleaned the stove, threw pizzas, shucked oysters; worked the line and the register; expedited, managed, served, and played various roles at our bed and breakfast.

513wxtu2q4l-_sx331_bo1204203200_They told stories of course, but nothing like those of Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential, which came out in 2000. I read it, learned from it, cringed at parts of it.  It was a peak into what went on in kitchens and what happened after the kitchens closed. It was a frenetic read, but thankfully it was neither of my son’s lives.

I never forgot the book, in fact thought of it often, but never followed Bourdain nor watched his series. Now Journeyman, the article in a recent New Yorker has Bourdain calling to me again and hopefully I’ll catch up.  He is not, yet he is, the same man whose book I read.

Bourdain takes Obama to dinner in Hanoi - $6

Bourdain takes Obama to dinner in Hanoi – $6

Why my inerest? His life, his work, his experiences are legend.  He’s been everywhere, eaten everything, gets to film it, write about it.  President Obama had lunch with him on one of his adventures.  So cool.  Would I like to go on  one of those adventures?  Not so sure I could do it.  I once invited myself to lunch with Norman Mailer and then could barely say a word.

All through the  New Yorker article I found snippets that made me think of my children, quotes to send them or not send them. I usually have to think it through — how often to email, call or text. How often to intrude into their already full adult lives.  These are important decisions for a mom who is so proud of and so loves her sons and their wives but doesn’t want to be over-momming it.

Instead I’ll write them here.  Perhaps they will read them some day.

For Morgan, who has done research on New York City’s food carts, and who with his wife Sarah works at the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, this quote from Bourdain describing his proposed Pier 57 “market modelled on Singapore’s hawker centers or open-air food courts.”  Bourdain plans to bring in the “best street-food vendors” recruited “from around the world and awarded visas — assuming that the United States is still issuing them — ”

Singapore’s orderly hawker markets combine the delights of roadside
gastronomy with an approach to public-health regulation that could pass

muster in post-Bloomberg New York. They cracked the code with out
losing this amazing culture.

For  Sam, who writes for Food 52, and Alex who is a frequent commenter, this clip on Bourdain confessing that he now seeks to “capture how people go about their daily lives amid violent conflict” while filming Parts Unknown — ”

160912113331-parts-unknown-s8-card-large-169

As ‘Parts Unknown’ has evolved, it has become less preoccupied with food and
more concerned with the sociology and geopolitics of places Bourdain visits. . .
To viewers who complain that the show has become too focussed on politics, Bourdain responds that food is politics: most cuisines reflect an amalgamation of influences and tell a story of migration and conquest, each flavor representing a sedimentary layer of history.  He points out that most shows about food are premised on a level of abundance that is unfamiliar in many parts of the world.

Go Sam!  We all knew you were right to bring politics onto the website!

I’ve got a good one for my buddy Lee, who’s a firm believer in “if it doesn’t kill you it will make you strong” as he judges the edibility of some morsel that I question.  It’s a conversation of Bourdain’s with Stephen Werther, his partner in his new market project, and Stephen Alesch of Roman and Williams, the design firm which has agreed to work on the Market.  They are talking about those Asian food vendors again. “The new frontier for American tastes is fermentation. . . That’s funk. . . Aged steaks. . . Age is code for rot. .  . Cured.”

“Alcohol is the by-product of yeast,” Stephen Alesch chimed in.  It’s the
piss of yeast.”

“Basically , what we’re saying is that filth is good,” Bourdain concluded.

And I found one for me. Bourdain’s publisher Dan Halpern from Ecco and HarperCollins says of Bourdain —

“He can’t believe his luck. He always seems happy that he actually is Anthony Bourdain.”

I am so lucky too!

* * * * * * * * * *

Last night, after putting this post to bed for a quick review in the morning before publishing, the thought came to me that there was still more to do. Netflix streams Parts Unknown.  I watched the first episode, filmed in 2013, in Myanmar.   Bourdain presents an interesting, colorful travelogue, integrating the life of the people with the food of the country.   His dining companions spoke out loud, but guardedly, of their new freedoms. The story is out of date because the papers today are filled with atrocities against the Rohingya, and I was left wondering what his experience would be if he went back.   Bourdain seemed surprisingly uncomfortable in front of the camera.   I will watch more.

Daydreaming in the bathtub

the-lighthouseMany an evening during my tweenie-teenie years would end with a soak in the bathtub. I would luxuriate in the warmth daydreaming of becoming a National Parks ranger or marrying a fisherman or living in a lighthouse.

I did work for the National Parks for a while, in Lowell.  I was a librarian in an urban historical park which is a far cry from being a ranger in the desert or in the mountains. My husband was a sailor, not a fisherman. And now the Hudson River Historic Boat Restoration & Sailing Society is holding a raffle for a night at the Saugerties Lighthouse. Of course one night in a bed and breakfast is a lot different than living in a lighthouse, but it is pretty good.  If you never daydreamed about living on a tiny island, waiting for the mail boat and supplies, seeing the tides come in and out, watching the gulls, signalling to the ships that pass in the night, get in your bathtub right now and do it.

“Lighthouses capture the imagination in ways few buildings can.
They hark back to an era when nautical travel reigned and
time moved at a slower knot…As special as these buildings are,
even more uncommon is the privilege of staying in one overnight.”
                                                             – – – The New York Times

Eleanor sailing towards the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse

Eleanor sailing towards the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse

Your raffle ticket money will go toward completing the restoration of the 1903 sloop Eleanor, the last of a class of “raceabouts” built by Clinton Crane. She sailed the Hudson River from Albany to New York City. You can read about her and the band of volunteers who are meticulously rebuilding her so that she will once again be on the water offering all the opportunity to learn about the Hudson River’s history and environment, the forces of nature, the value and rewards of cooperation and good communication, as well as the thrill of the wind at your back as you sail.

Like the Eleanor, the Saugerties Lighthouse is on the National Registry of Historic Places. In 1834 the U.S. Congress appropriated $5,000 for a lighthouse at the mouth of the Esopus Creek. It was required to guide ships away from nearby shallows and into the Creek when Saugerties was a major port with daily commercial and passenger transportation.

One beautiful summer afternoon several years ago during low tide I walked out to the Saugerties Lighthouse and daydreamed again, but along with growing up comes practicality.

cup-3I’ve bought my chances.

Get your chance to stay at the Lighthouse here.

The Ultra Bulk

2016-04-15 21.13.34 copy (1) Germantown Channel on the Hudson River at 9:13 this morning

The Ultra Saskatoon, known to her friends as Ultra Bulk, passed by this morning as I was attempting to take a photo of the many fishermen who were beginnning to fill Cheviot Landing.  There’s a full parking lot right now, mostly boat trailers, but relatively few  fishermen in the park.  One boat is coming in as I write.

There’s been a lot of car traffic going up and down the tracks, although only one very big barge. Looking north I see cars parked here and there, and I’m sure there is lots of activity in the other direction also.  Hope there are enough fish to go around.

2016-04-15 21.12.44

I looked up Ultra Bulk to see where she was from and maybe what she had carried on different voyages, and found her! along with her full name, that she was built in 2012, that she is 656 feet long, she can carry 34778 tons and that she sails under the Panama flag.  Someone told me there was a site like this several years ago, but didn’t know the name.  I looked in vain and finally gave up.  It’s marinetraffic.com.

Ultra Bulk is currently on route from New York City to Albany at a speed of 8.3kn.  Her ATD was 11:23 last night and her ETA in Albany is 6:30, sorry, 18:30 this evening.  I’ll check to see if she’s on time and if my photo is posted there.

Pop, Jennie and Brino

CCI10042016Bard Conservatory Graduate Vocal Arts Program and the Conservatory Orchestra treated us very lucky people at the Fisher Center on March 4th to a glorious evening of talent, beauty, cleverness, and adorableness.  An evening to lift one’s spirits. One month later I am still bubbling with broad spectrum happiness, awe for the cast, the crew, the musicians, the set and costume designers, and Nicholas Muni, stage director and production designer. Every time Jennie, the Sealyham terrier, shook her little tail, I got goosebumps and giddy and the next day watching my own silly little stiff-legged, ragamuffin Brino who barks too much, the two became as one. Brino, just like Jennie, believes that there must be more to life than everything.

You must wonder what am I talking about.

I am talking about a night of two extremely different operas: Higglety Pigglety Pop with music by Oliver Knussen and story by Maurice Sendak, and The Magic Flute Redux by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder, sort of. Muni, in the Director’s Note asks us to “embrace the redux on its own terms. . . as a second presentation in the World Mother Goose Theatre”. After her own starring role in Higglety Pigglety Pop, Jennie and her new friends at the Theater perform, attend and comment delightfully on the condensed Flute.  Dawn Upshaw, Director of of the Vocal Arts Program, helps us understand the link between the two operas.  “They both reflect upon an essential need among all humanity — a yearning for meaning and understanding of things outside our own experience.”

You still might be wondering what am I talking about.

coverHave you read Higglety Pigglety Pop by Maurice Sendak? If not, I suggest you get a copy and read it once, read it twice, and then read it to every little boy or girl you might know and to grownups you love who still have a spark of childhood in them. Sendak is an award winning children’s book author and illustrator, one of my favorites, and this small square picture book with line drawings has now become one of my favorites too.

Sendak is a master at pictures books and productions “for” children, some of which are “not so much for children as about children – in other words, an attempt from an adult perspective to recapture and explore lost innocence,” if I may borrow from a not so positive review by the English opera critic Rupert Christiansen of a double Sendak production at the Aldeburgh Music Festival in 2012.

CCI15032016Sendak produced an animated Really Rosie for television, featuring the voice of Carole King, he collaborated with others several times staging and filming Where the Wild Things Are,  his book Bumble Ardy was an outgrowth of his Sesame Street segment of the same name, and he designed sets for operas and ballets, including The Magic Flute and the Nutcracker. He collaborated on more than one operatic production of Higglety-Pigglety Pop.

The set of Bard’s production was true to Sendak.  As we sat waiting for the show to start we viewed the street above, without Cat the Milkman and his truck, who arrived later.  I  had never seen a LED screen set before and found it fascinating to watch as the movement of the backdrops focused my attention on Plant in her window, or Jennie in the milk truck.  It was as if someone were reading the story to me pointing out the characters and actions in the pictures as she read.  Wish I could show it to you.

CCI11042016 (1)I watched the animated/costumed version of Pop online before going to the theater — eh, so/so: I liked Bard’s production so much more— and reread the book to refresh my memory of the story. The Bard production was in the original English but still the words were often impossible to decipher. The text was streamed, but barely legible, and a bit awkward across the top of the stage. I was glad I did my homework. The book was available at the local library the day before the performance which amazed me actually, because I would have thought other opera goers would have taken it home to read.

CCI11042016_5It’s a pity that there were no reviews in the press. The cast, musicians and crew were wonderful. Kelly Newberry performed the role of Jennie and stole my heart.  The amount of time and energy that went into these two-nights of performance must have been enormous. The credits are copied here from the program so that the participants will go down in history, although just today I found a promotional article which lists the singers.  Someone told me that the operas were professionally filmed. Hope so.

Meeting Jennie has brought new life to my relationship with my little Brino and my love of him is mingled with my fascination for that brave little white dog who sang so beautifully. His fur has now reached the shaggy stage and he 2016-04-10 02.04.43 copysoon will be ready for his summer puppy cut. The way he is now tho, he would look good on the end of long stick wiping the cobwebs from the corners of the rooms in my house. That sounds like something Jennie would have been game to do before she became a star.

Perhaps you had to be there.

One summer’s reading group: Postscript

This is the third part of a three part post.
Click for the first — One summer’s reading group:  Preface
Click for the second — One summer’s reading group

The memories in part two of One Summer’s Reading Group came back to haunt me about a year ago while reading Letter from Germany — The Last Trial: A Great-grandmother, Auschwitz, and the Arc of Justice by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker. It was very difficult to read, as were the articles researched for this post, and that dreadful feeling of not being able to pull myself away came over me.

Kolbert’s Letter begins with the trial of Oskar Groning, whose assignment in the S.S. was to collect, sort and count the money taken from people sent to Auschwitz. Groning lived freely but discreetly in Germany after the war. In 1985, nazi-oskar-groenin_3274160bhowever, he came forward with details of his work  and observations at Auschwitz in an effort to deflate the lies of Holocaust deniers.  In 2014 at the age of 93 and was convicted as an accessory to murder in 300,000 cases.

Forty years after the war, Groning did not fear or anticipate arrest. There were many attempts to define crimes against humanity, murder and genocide, and  how far down the ladder of responsibility did guilt creep.  Kolbert leads us through three stages of trials in which the line between “guilty” and “innocent” was continualy moving.

She quotes a chilling statement of Germany’s first postwar Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer,

‘You don’t toss away dirty water when you don’t have any that’s clean.’

* * * * * * * * * *

In the attic of the home of Kolbert’s grandparents in New York state, were boxes of the papers of her great-grandmother, Franziska Maass.. Kolbert and her mother went through them in 2009 after both grandparents had died.  Among them were her great-grandmother’s letters written between March and October 1942 to her son who, like so many others, had moved to the Americas during the war.

‘With great longing I am thinking of you,’ one read, in part. ‘I pray to God that I will see you again.’

‘Beloved Children!  I think a lot about you. I am very lonely.’

08_its_impressions_3Franziska’s son had tried with out success to learn what had happened to his mother.  Kolbert and her mother were able to put together a sketchy picture of her life from these papers and from information found in the records kept by the Third Reich stored now in the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen.  On December 14, 1942

. . . she, along with eight hundred and ten others from Berlin and surrounding towns, was put on a transport train to Auschwitz. On the record of the transport, she was listed as arbeitsfähig, or able to work. She was sixty-two years old.

Several years ago friends of Kolbert who lived in Germany told her of the German artist Gunter Demnig, whose Stolpersteine, “stumbling stones,” are found embedded in the streets of Berlin where victims of the Nazi barbarity lived before they were sent to concentration camps.  Kolbert writes:

placing stoneIn contrast to most memorials, which aim to command attention, Stolpersteine are understated—literally underfoot. Each one consists of a block of concrete onto which a plain brass plaque has been affixed. The block, which is about the size of a Rubik’s Cube, is embedded in the sidewalk, or inserted among the cobblestones, so that the plaque’s surface lies flush with the ground. Every plaque is stamped by hand, as a gesture, according to Demnig, of opposition to the mechanized killing of the camps.

. . . The project has been called the ‘largest decentralized memorial in the world.’ Demnig installs most of the stones himself, and the project has more or less taken over his life. Demnig himself has placed most of the more than fifty thousand stones now in the streets of Europe. In Berlin, where there are over six thousand of them, “residents formed groups to find out who had been deported from their neighborhood.”

one line of stones

Kolbert contacted Demnig to place a plaque in memory of her great-grandmother. About a year after she filled out the forms a date was set. She and her parents and a few friends attended the “laying of the stone.”

Kolbert’s Letter holds out a light. It is not a beacon of hope for a more tolerant and peaceful future, or for understanding the horrors of that time so we will do better in the future. It is a small spotlight on a man and his quiet, solemn, dignified memorial to those who suffered and died, including those whose stories still have not been discovered and therefore have no stone.  These stones are a path for all who bemoan the senseless loss of loved ones and the unnamed.

* * * * * * * * * *

There is so much more to Kolbert’s Letter that I strongly suggest you click on the link at the beginning of my post and read it for yourself.  Some interesting additional material is available at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/22/world/europe/oskar-groning-auschwitz-birkenau-guard-trial.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oskar_Gr%C3%B6ning

http://www.stolpersteine.eu/en/home/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolperstein