Sunday, September 30, 2012

Not THAT Fifty Shades of Gray...

No, no, no  I mean my HAIR which is now at least fifty shades of gray. From charcoal to dove to silvery to white, finally  after a rocky period of growing it out  it now looks pretty damn good.

Eighteen months ago I decided I had to stop coloring my hair.  It took time, it was expensive, it was a lot of chemicals seeping into my head through my scalp. I knew what it was doing to my schedule and my bank account  who knew what it was doing to my brain?  It took me about two months to hesitantly bring it up with my hair colorist (a lovely guy named Mark who gave great color).  Gently I told him that I LOVED my color but I just didn't want to spend the money or the time any longer.

He looked in the mirror, stared straight at me and said, "WELL, you know it'll take about a year and we'll have to highlight it while it's growing out, which is more expensive because it's a more time-consuming process, BUT we can do it." 

More time?  More expense?  GEEZ  no thank you. I decided to go cold turkey.  For awhile it looked awful, but I was determined to ride it out.  Then after a few months in the no-color-zone, a crazy coincidence happened.  Through email and then phone, I "met" a woman who lives in California and was connected through my work.  We graduated college the same year, both had boy-girl twins, and hit it off almost immediately.  Susan shared with me her blog and when I started reading it  lo and behold  there was the post Time To Kick the Habit  all about not coloring your hair!  

Even Katie Couric recently did a show just about hair  and talked about how she did "a day in gray" and what that felt like. (You do feel you look "older" because we women have been coloring our hair so long we don't have a true image of what our age really looks like.)

Susan has written far more eloquently about this than I could (read her post!) but I'll quote her here: 

"Society’s views of aging women have not been kind to those of us who yearn to live more authentically."

Well  fifty shades of gray and all  I'm living more authentically and (regardless of what society thinks)  I'm lovin' it!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What Comes From Thrift

When things are bad, really bad.  When I’m both enraged and in tears, frustrated and furious.  When I feel as if there’s no one I can turn to  for one reason or another, real or perceived  I will head out to a thrift store to find comfort.  

There is a certain routine. I quickly work the perimeter of the store going through furniture, housewares, glassware, and most important, art.  I may find a treasure, I may not.  Next  on to the racks.  In this store, first I go through Men’s, looking for my husband, son, possible male gift?  Unless I have a specific need or something catches my eye  I skip over Children’sthen head for Women’s  avoiding the nightgowns, gowns, vests, sweaters and scrubs.  Tops first. Hanger by hanger, I flip through the long line of fabrics, patterns, styles and sizes of the shirts on the long, long rack.  The only thing uniting the arrangement of these tops is sleeve length.  

Through the small, large, extra small, 8Ps and 20Ws, my eye is mostly focused on finding for everybody else.  A pair of jeans, white background with a large print comprised of colorful license plates in tones of green, brown, blue, yellow, and black. Terrific for somebody, but whose that size?  And would wear them?  I think of someone who might be perfect, but I don’t know her well, her size or her taste. Should I buy it anyway and take a risk?  I think of the things in my guest closet (really my gift closet) and wisely decide NO.  The whole time I’m crying but the good thing is, filing through the clothes, staring at the rack, hanger by hanger, eyes cast down   this behavior doesn't draw attention cause it’s what people do.  

I see a sleeveless stretch top with a dance-wear label.  A gorgeous Chinese print in pretty butternut-golds, orangey-reds, emerald-greens, and shock of blue, determined dragon on the front and all.  It's a definite taste but would be way cool on somebody.  I’m buying it. $3.39 plus tax, and  it has the original tag  $40.00.

I continue on pushing past the plaids, polka dots, paisleys, stripes, sea shells, embroidered Halloween motifs, and solids.  Still looking.  Avoid the blacks.  I have so much black in my closet. Go for color.  And I do look for color.  I really try but why is it I always find something I like in black?

Why come to the thrift store looking, looking, looking?  What about it comforts me?  
With my body shielded by row after row of clothes, with my head buried in those racks, my eyes completely focused on assessing the stock before me  suddenly, it hits me.  

In spite of the tears, in spite of my sadness, feeling as if I’m bereft, for that moment I can pretend  that my mother and sister are there with me, a few racks behind, shopping and searching.  Maybe I’ll hear one of them call out  “Look at what I found for you!” because they would be there looking for ME.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Case for Your Academic Integrity

More on character...I hope you will share this with a young adult in your life.
My assignment in 1,500 words or less: What is academic integrity?
How can I capture everything that’s important about honor and trust, character and community, cheating and plagiarism, codes of conduct and adjudicating conduct, academic honesty and dishonesty in so short an article? Well, here’s a start: imagine you’re on a plane heading overseas for a semester abroad, you’re on a gurney rolling into the operating room, or (let’s make this easy) just looking up at the ceiling above you. Now, imagine that the pilot, the doctor, or the contractor all cheated their way through exams or falsified their certifications or résumés.  Still think that cheating is no big deal? Think again.

Now, I want you to recall a time that you
  • considered cheating,
  • saw someone else cheating, or
  • cheated yourself.
It’s okay.  There are no thought-police around.  No one will know if you honestly face up to past academic misconduct, because  if truth be told  almost all of us have grappled with academic integrity. Maybe you’re thinking, “The infraction wasn't so great.”  It was just borrowing a snippet from the Internet, failing to cite someone else’s work, or collaborating when you were supposed to do an assignment on your own. It’s no big deal, right?  No one got hurt; it doesn't seem to do any harm; and no one will ever know.  But someone does know — you do — and you’re the most important person when it comes to this discussion.

Students seem to be under much more pressure today. The classes are tougher, the tests harder, and more AP courses are expected. Everyone’s trying to be the best. Then, besides all that pressure, you feel some classes have work that doesn’t really matter. Why waste your time and energy on an assignment that’s rote and boring? The teacher doesn’t seem to be working that hard, since the assignment is copied right out of a book! If all this posturing is to try to convince yourself that academic integrity doesn’t matter, then you’re fooling yourself. All of the reasons, rationales, and excuses don’t really amount to what’s at stake: your reputation, your learning, and your trust as a member of society —your self-respect.

Whether you’re in middle school or high school, in undergraduate or graduate school, in higher education or business, it all comes down to the same thing: do you want to be an honest person and do you want those around you to be honest, too? What do we owe each other? What are the rules about our behavior as a member of an academic community?

To begin, citing someone’s work shows that you are trustworthy. It’s also a sign of respect, because scholars learn from and build on the work of other scholars. As a member of the community of scholars (yes, that’s what you are, a scholar), you owe it to yourself to recognize the contributions of others. One day, you’ll want others to treat you in the same way. As Gary J. Niels wrote in his 1996 paper on “Academic Practices, School Culture and Cheating Behavior”:

Academic integrity is ethical behavior most visibly expressed by respecting the value of words, thoughts, images, and ideas; as well, it includes an understanding of the principles of ownership with respect to words, thoughts, and ideas.

If you find it difficult to imagine this situation in your own life, think of how you would feel if a song you composed, an illustration you sketched, or a poem you wrote, suddenly appeared on the radio, a magazine, or a CD cover and was not credited as yours  or worse  was credited as someone else’s work?  Scientific and scholarly works are the same as artistic and literary endeavors.

This article can’t articulate every instance of when and how to cite sources. I could give you some general parameters but couldn’t cover each and every particular circumstance. The reality is — it’s up to you to find out what applies in each and every circumstance.

The responsibility for academic honesty is yours. It’s a topic that requires awareness, dialogue, and shared understanding. You can discuss academic integrity with your teachers, the librarian, or media specialist in your school. If you’re thinking ahead to what it might be like once you’re in college, the Internet is loaded with resources and guidelines to help, too.  Among other things, you can find commonly used manuals for how to cite references in each academic discipline and type of publication. That’s because the citations for chemistry, music, history, physics, etc. differ. Every field in higher education has a guide outlining what’s expected.

Statistics confirm that the best deterrent to cheating and plagiarism is a well-taught class in which students identify with the instructor's teaching and learning goals and values. [Would you cheat in a class where you really liked and/or respected the teacher?] Many of you are thinking about or preparing for college now. The pressures are on: get good grades, build a résumé, and get high test scores. But what does it mean for your future? Are SAT or ACT scores the total measure of your worth? Is success defined as getting all A's— at any cost? Assuming that they are, can lead you to put yourself and your character in jeopardy. Now, more than ever, you need to commit to act with honor in all your work and promote academic integrity.

Unfortunately, violations of academic integrity exist in most settings. The temptation to cheat isn’t limited to students who are struggling academically or unique to any other single audience of students. After years of research on the subject of academic integrity, Professor Don McCabe of Rutgers University said (almost ten years ago and it's still true today) his “college research suggests that things may be changing to the point where levels of cheating are fairly equal across all GPA levels — with the brightest students cheating as much as anyone else.

Well, I may not have answered every question set before me in this assignment. I haven’t spelled out every situation where students need to exhibit character and academic integrity. But, I have tried to explain why academic integrity is important and what students’ responsibilities are.

Here’s one last thought that I hope will make the case for promoting academic integrity — 

You’re in the pool and just don’t feel like getting out, heading to the
bathroom, and changing out of and back into your wet bathing suit. So
what if you pee in the pool? It will dissipate and be absorbed. No one
will know. It’s a huge amount of water and your “deposit” won’t make
any difference. Besides, you can pee in the water without ever getting
caught. But what if everyone is thinking and doing the same thing? Then
the water in that pool is tainted. Cheating is like peeing in a pool. And
your community — of classmates, friends, and others — is the pool you’re
peeing in. Discovered or not, your actions do make a difference.

So whether you’re the pilot in the cockpit of a 747, a neurosurgeon preparing to operate on someone’s brain, or the contractor responsible for a building — how confident can we be about your academic integrity? 

[First published in a newsletter for academically accelerated middle- and high-school students. Revisions have been made.]

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Character: The Sum of Who You Are

Perhaps there is a child, grandchild, or young person in your life you will send this to.  Then talk about it — who's your hero?
char·ac·ter (kar ik ter) 5. a distinctive trait, quality, or attribute; characteristic 6. essential quality; nature; kind or sort 7. the pattern of  behavior or personality found in an individual or group; moral constitution 8. moral strength; self-discipline, fortitude, etc. 9. good reputation-----Websters New World Dictionary

In 5th grade I read a book club selection that stays with me still: Shackleton’s Valiant Voyage, an abridged version of the diary of Sir Ernest Shackleton by Alfred Lansing. Although it only cost 50 cents, I gained a lot from reading it. This was probably the first lesson I learned independently on the meaning of character. Shackleton was a British explorer who wanted to be the first to cross the Antarctic by land; he spent two years gathering the men, supplies, and ship to embark on an expedition. It was 1912, and Shackleton dreamed of making his mark on history. But before they ever got to land, their ship, the Endurance, was trapped and slowly crushed by the brutal polar ice. Imagine being stranded on a vast expanse of ice with twenty eight men counting on you. No one is coming to rescue you… no radio, no radar. The people back home in England 11,000 miles away don’t even expect to see you again for the next two years. If you were in charge, what would you do? How would you stand up under such enormous pressure?

Ernest Shackleton stands out as a person of character, because without hesitation he gave up what he most dearly wanted and pursued a new goal — to save every one of his men and to bring them back to their families. With endurance, perseverance, and a dose of humor, he guided his men in three open boats (the size of big rowboats!) across 800 miles of rough seas. In spite of all odds, under his command, they all made it back alive. It was a stunning tale of courage, bravery, and resolve.

Shackleton was my hero, and for years I told everyone I knew about him because he so inspired me. What I learned from reading about Shackleton was later summarized by my eighth grade class graduation motto: “Determination paves the road to success.” To this day, when people tell me I have staying power or guts, I think back to the lesson on character I learned from reading about Shackleton.

Your character is the sum of the qualities or features that make you who you are and guides your actions and reactions. It’s not about being smart or athletic or good-looking. It’s about being honest, fair, and considerate, and if you are those things then you stand a pretty good chance of being a person of good character with ethical behavior.

A person of good character goes through life always trying to do the right thing. Sometimes, doing what’s right isn’t easy. Learning is part of being a person of character. At any age, it can be helpful to think about what you can learn from others and what you can do to act with character.

What can you learn from others?
Reading biographies and autobiographies offers you an opportunity to examine the lives of others for their positive character traits. Instead of focusing only on an individual’s accomplishments, ask yourself: What character traits does this individual have that are admirable? Is the subject of the story someone who is kind and cares about others? Is the individual generous, courageous, or someone upon whom others can rely? How does this person act that sets him or her apart from others?

Along with biographies and autobiographies about real people, great literature can also provide opportunities for learning about character through fictional characters. The novel To Kill a Mockingbird is rich with characters who do and don’t do the right thing. When you’re reading ask yourself: How would I describe this individual’s character in one word? Is this person someone I’d like to be like? Positive and negative traits of character can be found by examining figures in science, art, history, mathematics, government, education, and industry.

Too much of our time can be spent watching television. But as you’re watching TV, try to look at the people in the drama or sitcom to see how they treat one another and what consequences their actions have—for both good and bad. How many times have you watched a show and thought to yourself, “Oh no…that’s a mistake…don’t do that, or it’s going to get you in big trouble!” Sometimes it can be helpful to see what others do and learn through someone else’s experience. Living vicariously, experiencing life through someone else, can be a valuable and safe way to learn a powerful lesson.

When you’re listening to music, watching movies, or playing video and computer games what messages are the lyrics, the plot, or the actors sending you? Are the messages in sync with your own values and thoughts?  Instead of simply absorbing someone else’s values, make sure that what you’re seeing and hearing promotes what you believe is valuable.

What can you do?
Being honest, fair, and considerate can be everyday occurrences. After you’ve given yourself a chance to examine character in others, practice behaving with character yourself. Start thinking about what you can do on a daily basis. Though everyone’s life is different, here are three situations that offer you an opportunity to act with character.

Resist cheating
The temptation to cheat exists. Most people say that the person most cheated by cheating is the cheater. Cheating cheats everybody.

Be true to yourself
Have you ever been tempted to hide your skills and talents trying to fit in?  You are who you are, and you need to be honest with others about yourself. You don’t have to be someone else in order to get someone else’s approval.

Don’t stay silent about bullying
Ever see a group of kids pick on or tease another kid? Has it ever happened to you? Well, take a stand against bullying. When a stronger person intimidates a weaker or more vulnerable person it’s wrong. The only reason bullying has become such a problem in schools is because most of us stay silent even when we know it’s not right. You can be a person of character by not allowing a bully to be in charge. Standing up for others can be as simple as saying, “That’s not how we treat each other in our school.”

If you can live your life being honest, fair, and considerate of others, then one day someone may be reading a book about you!    

[First published in newsletter for upper-elementary students who are academically accelerated.]

Sunday, September 16, 2012


A gift from my friend Thelma
Before his acceptance speech for the Vice-Presidential spot on the 2012 Democratic ticket, in a video of his life story, Joe Biden told us that his mother always said "courage was the most important virtue and that everything else would flow from that."  It surprised me because I always felt the most important trait of character was either respect or honesty.  Later on in my life, honesty (telling the truth) changed to integrity when I understood the difference between “honesty” and “integrity.”  According to author Stephen Carter, integrity involves three steps:  integrity is discerning the difference between right and wrong, then acting on it — even if it’s at great personal cost.

Today, how often do we spend time talking to our kids or the other adults in our life about these traits?  Not enough.

We spend so much time, energy, money, and effort on teaching students academic skills but we don’t consistently and conscientiously teach them skills to enhance their character.  

Every day — in every school, in every state, in every classroom — kids take math.  Why is that?  Because we want students proficient in it. That’s a lot of class periods of math.

Reading.  Teachers really focus on reading (and should).  We incorporate reading in all that we can.  We have students read in school, read at home, have adults read to them, even have whole schools or whole cities read and discuss the same book — even discuss the movie.  Reading is a staple and should be.

But how much time do we spend on building a kid’s character?  Hard to say?  Certainly if/when time is being spent, parents and faith-based communities do the bulk of it.  And so do elementary school teachers — they pretty much weave character every day, in any way they can.  Some are doing it very creatively.  Good job.   And at minimum (for those less comfortable with character),  teachers can manage the trait of the month. (February is HONESTY. Abe Lincoln and all that — 

But somewhere around 4th to 5th grade, we drop those lessons out of their focus — just when things are getting tougher for kids. 

In another year or so, they leave the cushioned world of lower school (if they're lucky) where they may have been since kindergarten — with their same teachers, and their same classmates, from their same neighborhood. In elementary school, they knew what was expected (if they were lucky) — and it was the same up the hall or down — year after year. There is a certain amount of stability and strength in knowing what's what.

Just when they're feeling solid, we send them to middle school — with different kids from different neighborhoods, with different teachers (lots of them) who have different expectations (even different from one another) and different ideas of who they should be and how they should behave. They go off where everything changes, including expectations (most damagingly). If that weren't enough, to make matters worse — they’re bombarded with media.

I found this online:

According to a 2012 study from Yahoo! and ad agency Carat Interactive:
“The Internet has passed television in the amount of time spent a week, the Web portal and media firm found in a report called “Born to Be Wired” released Thursday. Young people, ages 13-24, spend an average of 16.7 hours a week online, excluding e-mail, compared to 13.6 hours watching TV. After TV viewing, they listened to radio for 12 hours, talked on the phone for 7.7 hours and spent six hours reading books and magazines for personal entertainment.”  

That works out to another SEVEN hours a day absorbing pop culture’s/movies and music's messages.  Messages which often are not only not about character, some of it actively promotes bad character.  Yeah bitch.

Pretty continuously our students have got all this @h#! consuming their non-school, non-sleeping leisure hours — not to mention Facebook (Tumblr, Foursquare, Pinterest, OK Cupid) and Twitter.  

And we can't carve out 50 dedicated minutes a week (let alone a DAY) to focus on developing their character and giving them cognitive and social opportunities to practice navigating their ethical challenges and hanging on to their moral compass in spite of all that @h#! ? 

And we're the adults here?

Thursday, September 13, 2012


I must give credit where credit is due  wasn't that a knock-your-socks-off, blow-the-roof-off speech Bill Clinton gave at the Democratic National Convention?  Wasn't it an unbelievably terrific speech?   [Click here if you missed it.]

I only wish President Obama had given that speech. I really, really wish he had.  But he didn't. Bill Clinton did and he's such a contradiction to me.

As my friend Aaron says, it’s hard to understand how someone so talented and so smart can be so self-destructive.  My husband says Bill’s bad behavior cost Al Gore the election, but then acknowledges that Gore didn’t carry his own state  so we can’t blame Clinton for that. But I can and do blame him for his bad behavior while in office.

This is an editorial I wrote in 1998 about then-President Clinton. Despite the stellar job he did it the other night, this still rings true for me.
Way back, when I was 22 and soon to graduate from college in New York City, I worked 15-20 hours a week as an editorial assistant at Random House, the book publisher.  Even though I usually dressed in saddle shoes and overalls, when I rode up that bank of elevators to the fifth floor I felt like a grown-up.  But I wasn't.

My core group of friends at the office were older, married, had taught school.  They looked out for me, took an interest in and worried about me when I wasn't making the best choices for myself.

For months I had been dating a man I was really excited about.  My buddies kept asking to meet him so one day I said, "He's picking me up for lunch, why don't you come downstairs to meet him?"

I can't remember his name now, but I do remember their faces as I waved goodbye from the backseat of his chauffeured Lincoln.  

"Your friends don't approve," he said as he began to nuzzle my neck and stroke my arms and ears on the way to lunch.

"Oh I just never told them anything about you," I replied and for me that was the end of it. I was happy to be with him and to have his attention.

When I returned to my cubicle, I was greeted with a steady barrage of "What are you DOING?"  He's old enough to be your FATHER!"

My lunch date, the man I'd been seeing for months, was the 51-year-old president of a company in Argentina.  He had a sexy accent, spent lots of money taking me exotic places for lunch (his wife looked the other way, but I guess not so at dinner), and I had fascinating conversations with him about his import/export negotiations.  He counseled me on my finances, worried over my studies, and half-urged me to "see some boys my own age."

In hindsight of course, I was looking for a father.  I was taken with is authority, his savior-faire, and his power  all of which were very appealing to me.

And though he didn't treat me as a daughter and I wasn't his girlfriend, I did feel as if I were his little pet.  Still, I was struggling emotionally, floundering in an adult world and I was flattered that he would make time to be with me.  The truth was, I was out of my depth.

I think of Monica Lewinsky that way  young and smart and feeling like the cat's meow to be working in Washington at the White House, just the way I felt in a big Manhattan publishing house.

And although my gentleman caller was only president of a chemical corporation and not President of the United States, I can understand the appeal and the excitement that must have been hers when the president of the country started calling.

What I can't understand is President Clinton.

I don't expect presidents to be flawless. We all make mistakes.  I've done things in my past that I wouldn't do today because I'm older, I'm wiser, and I have too much at stake.

Is it unreasonable to think that our president should have been able to exercise that same judgment?  Aren't we talking about a man who worked a good part of his life to achieve a goal that few dream of or attain: to be President?  Whatever past he brought with him, once he reached the White House, isn't it reasonable to expect that someone smart and savvy enough to become president would also be smart and sensible enough to avoid an inappropriate relationship with someone young enough to be his daughter?

I'm tired of hearing all this blamed on a right-wing conspiracy, a hounding media, and even on Mrs Clinton for not putting her foot down earlier in their marriage!  Whatever you're thinking, the basic facts are that as president, Bill Clinton had a sexual relationship with a young woman who worked in the White House as an intern.  He showed horrendous judgment  first in having the relationship and then lying about it.  Then it was exposed, instead of owning up, he let her twist in the wind for months and months until his back was against the wall and he couldn't get away with denials any longer.

It more than troubles me that people keep saying we should separate his professional from his personal behavior.  Don't I have a right to expect that our president can be a skillful executive as well as a moral leader with enough integrity to serve as a role model for young people?  

I'm not ready to just let things move on.  And for anyone who can't understand that, just substitute the name of your daughter or sister for "Monica Lewinsky" and you may think differently.

To me it's reasonable to expect that while in office the President of the United States should uphold the honor and integrity of the presidency. 

If this kind of morality is too much to expect, then maybe it's time to revise the oath of office and make integrity a requirement of the job.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


It would be hard to write something that hasn’t already been said or written about the tragedies on September 11th.  Having lived in Manhattan for eighteen years, I’ve always considered myself a New Yorker, but my affinity with the city goes back to a time before the World Trade Center was built.  I was four, living in an apartment on Boulevard East in Weehawken, New Jersey.  Our living room windows overlooked the Hudson River and I thought the Empire State Building was our next-door neighbor.

Later, when we moved deeper into NJ, during high school, I traveled into the city by bus (on my own) two nights a week for Armenian dance rehearsals.  It is inconceivable to me now that at 15, my parents allowed me to go in and out of Port Authority on 42nd Street by myself and travel to Park Avenue midtown — returning home well after ten o’clock at night.  But times were different then. 

I loved going into the city — I felt so grown up in Manhattan.  So when I was away in Boston my first year in college (and miserably unhappy), I jumped at the opportunity to attend a small women’s college smack in the midst of the Upper East Side.

Though this next college experience had its drawbacks and disappointments, the best part was being in Manhattan.  I lived in the city from 1971 until 1989 and for the most part, adored every minute of it.  New York City was the only place I knew where at four in the morning you could go dancing, get a haircut, buy flowers, or eat anything your heart desired.  Not only was there every kind of food from all over the world — but it was being made by natives of that country and available in every price range!  For someone young and single, life there was a whirlwind experience of non-stop sensations.  But many years later, as new parents of young babies, those same exhilarating sensations became a constant bombardment of noise, smells, and an ever-present crush of humanity that flooded one’s life and made everyday-living-with-infants a real struggle.  The long-lasting honeymoon was over  it was time to move away.

So move we did but it was hard to be so far away from everyone we knew, especially with two-year-old twins.  My husband started working for an airline so frequent trips back were possible. We wanted our kids to know New York the way we did.  With free airfare and so many of our family and friends still in New York (offering places to stay), each visit we explored more of our favorite haunts: Papaya King uptown and Zookie’s downtown for the greatest hot dogs [Unlike our first “Dog House” experience in the South where the hot dogs were actually red on the inside all-the-way-through when you bit into them!]; down to the World Trade towers to wait on that enormous line snaking its way atop the mezzanine to get our half-price tickets to Broadway; across Canal Street over to Chinatown to duck in and out of shops and eat dim sum and dumplings.  Of course, there were the usual visits to the Metropolitan, Natural History, and Modern Art museums, trips to Ellis Island and the top of the Statue of Liberty and Rockefeller Center, the Thanksgiving Day parade and 57th Street and Fifth Avenue at Christmas.  Though we no longer lived there (my son said apartment living was just too crowded for his taste) we felt connected still and our children had a sense of the place where they were born.

For my entire adult life, the Twin Towers anchored the skyline in Manhattan.  Larger than any structure one could imagine, incredulously they rose upward almost farther than one’s neck could crane.  Whether flying in, driving over from New Jersey, or staring out from Broad Channel, Queens over Jamaica Bay, there they were  planted firmly for all to see.

It was unthinkable that they could be toppled.  But on September 11th, with many, many watching, they sank before our eyes and with them our sense of forever.  The brother-in-law late to work, stuck in the subway; the cousin in a hotel across the street; the friend ten blocks away — thank God, all safe and sound.  All in our circle accounted for and alive but so, so, many others lost forever. Reactions of disbelief, shock, sorrow, fear, and depression eked their way into the mainstream of American life. 

After the attacks, our neighborhood Association down south decided to have a luminary tribute to the 250 victims on planes. A white paper bag for each victim.  Each small bag had the name of someone’s son, mother, daughter, father or friend.  As we lit each votive candle in their fragile paper holder edging our neighborhood park, I tried to say every name aloud:  Albert Dominguez, Patrick Quigley, Sonia Puopolo, Alfred Marchand, Garnet “Ace” Bailey, Betty Ong, Jesus Sanchez, Wolfgang Menzel.  My neighbor and I were conscious that we were moving bags and not body parts  it was little to do, but our candles and tears honored each of them.

When it came time to remove the bags, we couldn’t throw them away.  I kept my eight. Then we went to the Farmer’s Market and handed them out to people who offered to light them on their porches and in their homes. 

As Americans, until that day we had a false sense that we were untouchable. We never expected that those committed to using violence to convey their message would visit terror on our doorstep, anymore than we could imagine those towers would fall. 

Just after 9-11 during the National prayer service, I heard this phrase from Corinthians,

“What cannot be seen is eternal.”

It’s been twelve years since I’ve lived in Manhattan. For me, the silhouette of those buildings will always be present. 
This piece first appeared in a local independent newspaper in 2002.  Now it's even longer since I've lived in Manhattan  21 years  and I still miss the sight every time I go "home."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

You Gotta Have Art

Throughout this trip I have been looking for art.  Art to take home and enjoy and have as a remembrance of our travels. I have not been hitting it.  We are on our way back to an art gallery where I saw something I really liked the other day but didn't want to spend the money.  So we are traveling through Venice, when I pass by and spy two very small oil paintings in the window of a lovely nook of a bookstore  I am curious, so we go inside where we find books piled upon books upon books upon books.  Scanning the cluttered premises, I immediately see and fall for a small framed watercolor  all soft grays and greens  of a boat suspended over a dock.  It is utterly simple and beautiful.  

"OOOH. What is this?" I cry to the slightly disheveled middle-aged man with spectacles seated behind an over-piled desk.

"It's not for sale.  It's the only thing in the shop that's not for sale.  It's the only painting that exists that was done by my father," and this leads us into conversation with this British ex-pat who has lived in Venice and sees the world from his small stuffed library of a shop.  Chris buys a tiny Oxford University Press book Marlowe's 'Faustus" and Goethe's 'Faust' and we move onward to find Scriba the small gallery where I  again torture the poor young and hip saleswoman by pouring over again and again the pointillist work of Rosario Morra which I find quite compelling.  I can't make up my mind.  We ask Alessandra where SHE would eat and, very helpfully she writes down the places she would go. One of them is ai Promessi Sposi on the Calle dell'Oca.  We think this will be the place to head for and we start our quest.  It turns into an overly long and winding trip through the maze of calles and campi and canals.

We bought this art of  the Jewish Ghetto because it
reminded us 
of how we felt in the Jewish Ghetto. 

As we wend our way through some very narrow and steep alleys that are almost claustrophobic, I think of our guidebooks — that because it was a confined area for the Jews, they  were allowed to build higher than elsewhere in Venice.  As the sky darkens and the building walls seem to be closing in, thinking we are yet again lost there in the middle of the alley stands Valentina from our first night at Antice Stellato!  She is smoking outside the restaurant next to a chef who is eating from a handheld plate of food.

”It’s the James Family!” she announces to her friend, who looks at her, startled that she knows this strange couple approaching.

“Valentina!” we sing out, smiling to find her here, knowing that the food inside will be good. "Someone told us to come here and"

“You must, you must, you MUST have the beef tartare! It is magnifico!" she interrupts, "and the orechietto with caper pesto!  You will LOVE it!!!”

We are introduced to her friend (who had a Greek god's name I can't remember), chat a bit and then head inside to find a cozy and romantic place with cream-colored walls, rustic wood-beamed ceilings, handkerchief-covered light pendants  and Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett playing in the background.  It is perfect and so is our beef tartare, pasta and wine.

As we come and go down our fondamente, we pass by these magnificent doors day and night. The door knobs are crowned heads in brass.  Our time in Venice is coming to a close.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Pittoresco Torcello

Torcello is one of three islands off the coast of Venice and perhaps the least visited.  Murano is known for its glass, Burano for its colorful buildings and its lace and Torcello, well Torcello was where the Venetians came BEFORE there was Venice.  We decide that it’s Torcello we really want to see and while everyone has said (“You must see Murano! You must see the glass!  You must see the lace!”) the idea of traipsing through a factory that makes glass under hot temperatures when it’s already incredibly hot, is too much to consider.  Besides. We only have a limited time and it’s overwhelming to think of seeing all three islands so we buy a 24-hour pass, jump aboard a vaporetto outside our hotel door, and change at Fondamente Nove to take the fairly long boat ride to Torcello by way of Burano.  I’ve noticed that my feet are sunburned in the pattern of the straps of my sandals  that is how intense the sun is but aboard the boat watching the beautiful waters and the buildings as we chug on by makes it all breathtakingly beautiful.  

Waiting on the small dockside enclosure for our last boat change before heading to the island, I whisper secretively to Chris, “Do you know who that is?  THAT is Joyce Carol Oates!”  There she is, the frail but fiercely prolific author whose early works were the subject of my senior paper in American Lit over  35 years ago!  Joyce is waiting anxiously for the boat we are, accompanied by a fairly grumpy guy she keeps looking to for guidance and he keeps not having much to deliver.  As we get on board and head for the very back of the boat where it’s open and we hope to enjoy a steady breeze (no such luck it turns out) we end-up sitting right next to Joyce and her companion.

“Miss Oates,” I say hesitantly and a bit shyly, “I don’t mean to bother you, but I just want to say I’m a big fan and we both saw the play you did at Duke a few years ago.”

“Oh how nice,” she says very sweetly and brightly and holds out her hand to introduce herself and her husband, Charles.  Charles it turns out is a brain scientist and I think is more interested in what’s on the inside of a person’s head than the outside.

“I did my senior paper in college on Them and Garden of Earthly Delights,” I wanted to gush but these books are probably 40 years in her past and not of much interest.  I also don’t share that I tried her 2004 The Falls: A Novel and could not get past the first third.

Charles asks to borrow my map which shows the water routes of Venice while we pass the trip marveling at the water and the buildings and the beauty of the light which Joyce Carol Oates remarks on.  They disembark at Burano but we switch to the boat that will take us to Torcellothe end of the line.  With us are a German family mother, father, daughter and perhaps sister-in-law.  It’s funny seeing these charming Germans, we can tell them of our travels in Berlin and unbelievable we are still saying “Danke” and Bitte” even though we've already been in Italy for five days!  The restaurant we had been hoping to try, Locanda Cipriani (of Harry’s Bar fame) is closed on the day we arrive, but the Germans tell us to try Villa '600 that the food is good and the place is lovely so we head straight there  passing by gates and two doghouses (!) that I stop to admire.  

 The restaurant (left) is located in a quiet landscaped field under a tent and we order I try the spaghetti Vongole a Venetian specialty of pasta with clams, and when it arrives it is a beautiful sight with 20 or 30 dime-sized clams (I have never seen clams this tiny with beige and brown softly striated shells.  It is delicious!  Delicate and garlicky and buttery good.  I am so hungry that I ignore what I've been told (Italians NEVER pick up their food with their fingers) and I just pick at the tiny clams, slurp the fish inside, toss my shells and enjoy my really al dente buccatini.  I am in heaven  sipping a crisp white wine and enjoying the birds hopping from stone to stone on our patio.  At the table near to us I see an older couple and the man has ordered what I have.  He meticulously takes his fork and spoon and carefully holds the shell in place with one utensil while using his fork to gently pull the teeny clam from its home.  He does this until he has amassed about 6 or 7 clams.  He puts down his fork, uses his spoon to scoop up the empty shells and then deposits them carefully in the bowl.  Then he puts down the spoon, picks up his fork and gathers a swirl of pasta and clams and eats that his food forkful by forkful until his stash of clams is gone  and then he painstakingly repeats the entire process with a great delicacy that matches these minuto clams. I on the other hand wolf down my plate in about a third of the time it takes him to finish the same meal.  I am ashamed and I am not.

Torcello is home to a simple and yet rustically majestic  Duomo Santa Maria Assunta, that has been in existence since the 7th century!  I am amazed at the artistic work inside  one entire wall of the church, 30-feet high is covered in very detailed mosaic depictions of the Last Judgment.  For all the parishioners who came and could not read, it is a powerful Biblical pictorial to both enrich and warn.  Here are your Bible teachings in mosaic form and wonder.  Snakes coming out of one’s eyes, blackened faces of the devil’s workers  it is a rich and gorgeous stone tapestry that has been enthralling and educating for centuries  I am in love.  While it is the simplest and most “ruined” of all the churches we have seen thus far, it has a beauty that is indescribable.

Outside we tour two other buildings where we see the works of artists over the centuries.  I am shocked to see a lance /mask with a small swastika etched in the metal. I am delighted to see a small figurine of an Etruscan acrobat!

I hope you can see the little acrobat from the 6th century!

It has been a rich and rewarding day, and we hop on a vaporetto in hopes of traveling to San Lazzaro the home of an Armenian monastery.  We arrive too late to San Giorgio for the connecting boat.  The two Hayr Soorps at the dock (Armenian celibate priests, as opposed to Der Hayrs, priests who can marry and serve in a parish but not rise in the church hierarchy)  gently tell us that we will not be allowed to visit the monastery or even walk outside on the grounds as they are strict about closing times to visitors.  

As they board the small boat and ride away without us, in their wake, I irrationally burst into tears at the lost opportunity to connect with my Armenian heritage.