In 2003, I was smart enough to buy tickets (with a friend) to go and see Elaine Stritch's one woman show when she brought it to Toronto. At the time she was nearly 80. The evening was a collection of singing and stories about her raucous, hard-drinking life and love affairs. Here she is talking about Ben Gazzara (one of my big crushes) and Rock Hudson. Hilarious! If I weren't so shy, one day I think I could do a show like this about my love life (but without the singing, as a favour to the audience).
Stritch passed away a few days ago: may this wonderful woman rest in peace and if you have a moment, look online for 'Elaine Stritch: At Liberty' (the show of which I speak) and treat yourself to the whole thing.
The usual useful idiots are out there saying the usual nonsense. My favourite has to be the 'x number of Palestinians have died, but no Israelis have died!' It is not a crime to put time, money and effort into protecting one's citizens, and it actually is a crime to do what Hamas does -- use human shields and deliberately place weapons in densely populated civilian neighbourhoods. But I recognize that for some, there are never enough dead Jews. There is also the plain fact that Israel does everything it can to minimize civilian deaths.
I think Alan Dershowitz here is worth a read, and also Tom Doran. Above all, there is this piece by Jeffrey Goldberg. For my money, this is the key point, and one that has me going back to when I was in Gaza and Israel as a journalist in 2005, when Israel disengaged from the territory. I was able then to sit down and talk with some settlers who were being forced out and who were not happy about it, but who still hoped that the Palestinians would make a go at building a civil society and at putting down their weapons. So far, that hasn't happened.
In 2005, the Palestinians of Gaza, free from their Israeli occupiers, could have taken a lesson from the Kurds -- and from David Ben-Gurion, the principal Israeli state-builder -- and created the necessary infrastructure for eventual freedom. Gaza is centrally located between two large economies, those of Israel and Egypt. Europe is just across the Mediterranean. Gaza could have easily attracted untold billions in economic aid.
The Israelis did not impose a blockade on Gaza right away. That came later, when it became clear that Palestinian groups were considering using their newly liberated territory as a launching pad for attacks. In the days after withdrawal, the Israelis encouraged Gaza’s development. A group of American Jewish donors paid $14 million for 3,000 greenhouses left behind by expelled Jewish settlers and donated them to the Palestinian Authority. The greenhouses were soon looted and destroyed, serving, until today, as a perfect metaphor for Gaza’s wasted opportunity.
If Gaza had, despite all the difficulties, despite all the handicaps imposed on it by Israel and Egypt, taken practical steps toward creating the nucleus of a state, I believe Israel would have soon moved to evacuate large sections of the West Bank as well. But what Hamas wants most is not a state in a part of Palestine. What it wants is the elimination of Israel. It will not achieve the latter, and it is actively thwarting the former.
Remember this? Well, I ran into someone from my old Italian class with the 'Io sono scrittrice' lady in it and with the people who kept speaking English in it, and what did this person say to me? And I mean, he said this without prompting, without my mentioning the class in question or the people in question. He said, 'You were the smartest person in that class'.
Oh yeah. Fat lot of good it did me.
Of course, I don't suppose it was exactly saying much either. But I'll take it.
Paul Mazursky died last week. He directed Harry and Tonto, which for my money is one of the best American movies. I blogged about it over two years ago and you can read what I wrote and see a clip from the movie here. It seems to me that if you can create one work of art like that and leave it behind, you've done your bit on this planet. Mazursky made other films that I know some found interesting, but none impress me like Harry and Tonto, a man and his cat.
Louis Zamperini died, as well. He was the subject of this book, which I highly recommend. Some of us have very little happen to us, some of us have gothic lives. Zamperini was one of the latter. An Olympian, a war hero, a man who was lost at sea for seven weeks in a raft and a man who was tortured by the Japanese while in a POW camp...and more. What sets him even more apart from the rest of us was that after the war he forgave his captors, meeting as many of them as would agree to meet with him. Some wouldn't. The Japanese culture at the time would not allow for anything that would bring 'shame' to someone -- admitting a wrong, meeting with a conqueror (i.e., a former soldier of the army that defeated you) and so forth. But the ones who met him, I believe, must have found great peace. So wonderful.
We said goodbye to my aunt today -- a beautiful service, unpretentious and sweet and real. My cousin did a wonderful job and talked about how my aunt viewed everything as an adventure. The only thing missing was some Elvis music, as my aunt was crazy for him.
I love this guy. He is one of the street cats for whom I help provide care and he always reminds me of the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz. Whenever I visit with him, I half expect him to burst into 'If I Were King of the Forest'. Truly a noble beast.
The life and work of Vivian Maier, years after her death, are getting plenty of attention. Below see my favourite Maier pic -- it captures a perfect moment. I read, recently, the New Yorker article about Maier and interestingly, this coincided with the aftermath of my mother's death. One of the things that happened after my mother died was that my sister sent to me a huge file that had been in mom's closet: virtually every letter/postcard I had sent to mom and my father when I lived overseas. I sat down and read them and realized that, by God, I was a really funny, positive, smart and funny young woman during those years, very observant, optimistic and adventurous, and the cards and letters I sent my parents reflected that.
So, you know, you might think my parents would have been encouraging. Instead, what I got from them was nearly non-stop nagging and criticism and letters that ended in 'we live in constant worry about you', and two people telling someone who clearly was not civil service material that the key to her happiness was moving to Ottawa and working for the civil service. They also created a narrative whereby there was something 'wrong' with me and I just needed to 'get over it'.
Now, I realize we all have parents who don't often 'get' us and who worry about us. This is a symptom of love, in a way, but also of forcing someone to fit a certain narrative that is important to the forcers. And when I didn't fit that narrative, instead of just saying, 'well isn't Rondi kind of cool the way she is?', much fiction was created. So sadly, reading those postcards I wrote just made me sad, rather than making me smile at my youth.
And reading the above-linked Maier article hit a nerve, especially when I read this part:
The unconventional choices of women are explained in the language of mental illness, trauma, or sexual repression, as symptoms of pathology rather than as an active response to structural challenges or mere preference.
(Emphasis mine.) A response and a mere preference. It is as complicated as that.
May Maya Angelou rest in peace. I admire her having written openly about having been sexually abused in her youth, but it is a safe bet that any writer who is taught primarily in Women's Studies courses is not a good writer. Her politics were ridiculous, too. I think the most revealing thing about her is that she insisted on being called 'Doctor' even though her PhD was honorary. My late brother, whose PhD was earned, hated being called 'Doctor' and most certainly would never have insisted upon it.
Her greatest performance wasn’t in the miniseries Roots or on the album Miss Calypso. It was playing the character Maya Angelou. There’s a P.T. Barnum quality to Maya Angelou. Convincing the world of your greatness requires a greatness. This is especially true of the mediocre.
That last line is true of many in this life, is it not?
The Mad Men episodes for 2014 are now finished -- seven (or six?) more to come in 2015 and that will be the end of the entire series, sadly. I so enjoy it, and I have to say that this year's episodes have been among my favourites, largely because they have avoided (to my astonishment) the ham-handed politicizing of some of the previous seasons. In fact, the one episode that featured hippies prominently, showed them to be selfish, spoiled and stupid (exactly what they were). And each time some snot-nosed punk in this year's episodes has made some disrespectful or ignorant comment about the world around them, they find themselves neatly and promptly smacked down by an adult. It is refreshing.
For my money, the last scene in the last episode of this year was utterly magical and might even have been the best possible finale for the entire series. Who knows? Perhaps Matt Weiner can top this, but somehow, I doubt it.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney wound up with egg on his face Monday as he told reporters that President Barack Obama first learned from a TV news report that his Veterans Administration was denying medical care to vets with secret off-the-books-waiting lists.
Oy gevalt. Just imagine if one of W's press secretaries had said something similar.
My mom's little sister -- she was 90 -- died last night. She was lovely: gave me my first nail polish and makeup kit, something my mother found appalling! She was the youngest of four siblings from Norway, one of whom was a war hero, another a successful businessman (who also served in World War II in the RCAF) and the two sisters were writers and teachers and moms and wives to not always the most easy of men.
My aunt taught overseas, something I did for many years, and whenever my mom wanted to chastise me for being 'flaky' or for not living a conventional life, she would say, 'You're just like your aunt!' She meant it as a warning, I suspect, but I felt fine about the comparison. Of course, my mom loved her sister very much, and the two were more alike than either might ever have wanted to confess.
I had an odd dream last night that my parents were trying to call me on my cellphone, one at a time, over and over again, to tell me something. At first I didn't pick up and then when I did I woke up before they could speak. And then this morning -- only a few minutes after I woke up -- my cousin called to tell me my aunt had died.
When my mom died, I kept thinking about Auden's poem In Memory of W.B. Yeats. It also seems appropriate here, as my aunt -- like my mother -- went from her seniors' residence to a hospice, where she died less than 24 hours after being admitted. She died peacefully, in her sleep, like my mother and like my brother. Grateful for that much.
But for him it was his last afternoon as himself, An afternoon of nurses and rumours; The provinces of his body revolted, The squares of his mind were empty, Silence invaded the suburbs, The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.
It's been a while since I posted one of my feral pictures. This is the very imaginatively named kitty 'Tabby', one of the oldest cats on my feral route. He is a great, grizzled guy who loves to sing the song of his people at the top of his lungs, often from rooftops. This picture was taken last Sunday.