Monday, December 28, 2009

Laps, Laps and More Laps

So much news for this, the end of a most interesting year. Sean Goldman is back with his dad. For whatever the reason, I was terribly disturbed by the whole story. (Some would say I’m terribly disturbed without the help of a story, but that’s not the point). For divorced or separated parents, who do or did not, have full time access to their kids, this whole episode was too much of a reminder of the pain of that absence. Not that all parents who live without their kids are totally denied a relationship (like with Sean – who at this point can barely speak English), but it’s just never easy to explain all the why’s – especially at holiday time.

Today the news was not stop terrorist attack on a Northwest flight from Holland to Detroit. As it turns out the terrorists father called the American Embassy to report that his son was probably a terrorist and at the very least should not be allowed to fly to the United States. He might also have mentioned that the kid had trained in Yemen with Muslim terrorists. Whoever took the phone call either chose to ignore the warning or didn’t take it seriously. What an Idiot, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. There are so many unanswered questions about the whole incident that no matter how many questions are answered, just like a game of ‘Whack a Mole,’ more just keep popping up.

The only good news about this whole story is that the guy attached the explosives and faulty detonator to his groin. If that isn’t poetic justice. He’ll live, but without the balls he thought he had when he determined he would blow up a plane with over 250 people.

That is not the best part of the news. Today, an incredibly stupid businessman, flying on the same flight – same flight number, same route- was taken ill in the air and locked himself in the bathroom. Why the guy didn’t tell them that he was sick, or why the crew didn’t break into the bathroom, are still unanswered questions. But neither happened and so the plane was taken to a secluded part of the airport where they discovered that the guy was sick and there was no need to have taken any of these precautions.

And speaking of incredibly stupid, The Department of Homeland Security has issued new and even more ridiculous rules for flying. For example, passengers can only carry one bag, they won’t be able to get out of their seats for the last hour of the flight and they will not be allowed to have anything on their laps for that hour. I’d like someone to explain to me how any of those rules will help to deter a terrorist. Especially since they are all a reaction to the terrorist whose father called to say don’t let him on an American airliner and some Homeland Security person screwed it up.

Everyone who has ever been involved in security (ah my hidden past), knows that making rules in reaction to a single incident is not going to prevent a different incident from occurring. No one involved in airport security is thinking about what works and what doesn’t work. How many people do you know, terrorist or otherwise who would strap an incendiary device to their “pupik” (it’s Yiddish but you get the picture). Why in the world would you forbid people to have something on their lap for an hour (unless there’s a delay and it’s more), because some idiot had explosives in his lap.

What the rules do is make the flight attendants into security officers – as if they didn’t have enough to do. The constant rewriting of rules is an inconvenience for everyone flying , that will not have an impact on any security. Business travelers who work on the plane, photographers who have cameras they don’t want stolen, and parents who are traveling with children, would like to fly, but Homeland Security, which needs a good dose of my mother’s common sense, is making it increasingly difficult, If there is an alternative to flying, people will eventually opt for that. And then what happens to the airline business? What a shame that the very people who are supposed to keep us safe, have become the enemy at the airport. How can we have any respect for a system that body searches old ladies, but ignores the warning of a parent who knows his kid is a real danger to the public. As my mother would say, “smart, smart, stupid.” We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Boxing Up on Boxing Day

One of the things we were taught in grade school, and I’m sure is no longer on anyone’s curriculum (including how to SPELL ‘curriculum’) is the fact that December 26th, is known in the UK at Boxing Day. It seems the tradition came from “collecting” boxes after Christmas, and evolved into making contributions to the poor, and other charitable efforts. In the US we don’t celebrate it as such. Instead we have the institution of the ‘after-Christmas sale,’ one which seems to have taken on almost the same cache as the Black Friday after Thanksgiving. That’s the day when store keepers lure hungry shoppers in with well advertised deals to try and kick off the shopping frenzy for the next four weeks. Today, in celebration of that grand tradition, I accompanied my wife and daughter to the 8am doors opening at Bloomindales on Third Avenue. My mother-in-law used to say “… when Bloomingdales has a Sale, its some Sale!” She, an Olympic class shopper, would be the one to know such things. The idea of 50% off an item already 20 or 30% off is enticing in the idea, though not always as rich in the follow through. I agreed to accompany the expeditionary force as the doors opened at 8am, and I figured it would probably be good for the ongoing development of my character. We actually arrived inside at 8:08am, no lines visible from the street, and being that Bloomies is so cavernous, there were virtually no signs of the hellacious Penney’s or Walmart-esque crowds which are constantly portrayed on 5pm local news shows.

I have to admit that the concept of saving $45 on a $170 Ralph Lauren tie ALMOST gets my attention. (Apparently Men’s wear doesn’t operate on the same discount levels as Women’s.) But its still leaving you with a $125 piece of neckwear. Thus, the phrase “oh, I’ll take three…” didn’t get uttered this morning. Yet I have to admit that the sheer logistics of running a sale like this.. a block square store in New York (plus all the other Bloomies stores around the country) – prepping the prices tags, figuring what will and won’t be actually slashed, and keeping some semblance of order, is truly a great triumph of management and marketing. So, while I didn’t buy anything of substance in the store today, I admit there is a tinge of admiration of the mere fact that they are able to carry it off. There must be 100.000 items for sale in the store, and keeping track of all of them, even with the luxury of inventory programs on computers, is a real challenge. (For more, please check – and I’m not making this up – the RFID Journal.)

Yet, walking back onto Third Avenue, on this somewhat lazy gray and languid Saturday morning, was like a little trip back into the past. There were, as far as I could see – down to the low forties, no cars on the Avenue. Nothing that would bear a resemblance to the madcap horn-driven traffic of just 48 hours ago. The city is still amazing when you can find it in those little moments of traffic reverie. You could stand in the middle of the street for a whole minute and risk neither life nor limb. Our New York base is in the shadow of the Lipstick Building, an ovalesque structure which takes up the block between 53 and 54th streets.

Red finish, shaped, indeed, like a lipstick tube, it is a singular building. And last spring it was better known, for a few weeks, as the headquarters of Bernie Madoff’s financial empire. It’s the building where he put together the scams which ripped off thousands of people. For more than a week, news crews were posted outside the building on a stake out (the most tedious and difficult kind of assignment) to try and get a glimpse of the great swindler, himself. I remember the first day I heard Madoff’s name mentioned in the same sentence as “fifty billion” and assumed, like almost everyone, that it had to be a misprint. Fifty Million? Maybe. Fifty Billion? You kiddin’ me?

The Lipstick building itself has managed to maintain its poise throughout. And it remains little beacon, denoting a part of town that looks like no other. So even the though city is still reeling from the aftershock of the year’s great swindlers, there is a feeling that things will somehow move ahead. That even with all the dreary news about the economy, security, and the unfortunate state of the body politic, we may face days ahead which will enliven as much as depress. Ten years ago, having just plunged into the dot-com bubble, we thought we’d never see things recover. The spectre of Y2K, now laffable in retrospect, remained a real concern for those who knew of such things. (One major CEO, who I accompanied on a trip to China in May of 1999, was incredulous that the Chinese were taking virtually no steps to avert the disaster that the world was facing from Y2K.) On the afternoon of December 31st when we saw that Sydney had not been plunged into darkness, relief was briefly restored. But we seem to have navigated our way through the ‘aughts,’ if not entirely without incident. (Yes, I would have to say the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were ‘incidents.’) But standing in the middle of Third Avenue, you get a sense that there is power enough to make it, God forbid! To 2019, and that, essentially, it’s right around the corner. When I was a kid in school, I used to try and figure out just how old I would be at the changing of the Millenium. Born in 1946, and subtracting that from 2000 equaled 54. It seemed like a number that was bigger, broader, older than almost anyone I knew, except maybe George Washington. (I still remember the crushing moment in the 2nd grade when I learned that Washington was no longer alive.) Now, imagining that in a mere decade as we approach the TwentyTwenties, I’ll still be a young guy with silver hair, I wonder how it could all have scooted by so damn quickly. Well, we have a whole week to go before Twenty Ten, make the most of it I say, even if you can’t get everything at fifty off. We’re just sayin’….David

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Traditions, and Our Lives

Apparently, Sean is going to go home with his dad. It is unclear what happens now, but the Brazilian Supreme Court ruled in favor of David Goldman. Here’s what I don’t get. Right after they made the decision, why didn’t daddy Goldman get in a car with Rep. Chris Smith, drive directly to the kidnappers home, and take the child. The scenario would be something like; they drive up in an American Embassy vehicle. (This is important because the major reason the Brazilian’s ruled for Goldman was because the United States threatened sanctions which would have an adverse impact on their economy.) Then they all get out of the car and knock on the door. I would suggest Chris and the Ambassador lead the way. Then David approaches and says, I know this is confusing for you Sean, but we’re getting on a plane and going back to New Jersey, your home. We have a lifetime for me to explain all of this, but I love you and ultimately it is right for us to start this New Year together. And because it’s Christmas, not only will we thank God but I’ll buy you big expensive presents. I like the idea of bribes.

The holidays seem never to be easy for families. Whether it’s too much tension, too much stress or the idea that people who are related but don’t necessarily like one another, feel forced to be together. Ultimately, it is not always a time to reunite in a positive way. We, like so many other families, always celebrated the holidays in traditional ways. In other words, we had traditions. For example, we always celebrated Thanksgiving in New Jersey with my brother's family, friends and mom. The tradition began with dinner at the Reservoir Tavern the night before Thanksgiving. Then, on Thanksgiving the kids would make a gingerbread house and I would cook with my sister-in-law. We would always get a Honey Baked ham for Seth, and we would cook a delicious turkey, mashed potatoes (usually purple), green beans with cream of mushroom soup and French’s fried onions, a squash soufflĂ© and stuffing. After dinner other friends would join us for dessert and coffee. For the last few years, Before mom moved, she would get sick and we would spend the rest of the night in the hospital—that was always colorful.

We have been celebrating Christmas with the same friends for more years than I would believe possible. When I was small I went by myself. Once we were grown the whole family was invited. It usually starts with dinner at the ‘’Res’ the night before Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve we have appetizers, good wine and lasagna at the Hance’s. Christmas morn is spent with Joyce and Ron and their family. We eat, and sing and exchange silly gifts. For me, laughter, family and good friends are what the holidays are about. But things change.

Once mom moved out of her house, Seth and Joyce stopped coming and opted to spend Thanksgiving at home in Plymouth, Ma. The rest of us moved Thanksgiving out to Bainbridge, Washington so we would still be with mom. We usually celebrated the week before the actual date because it was easier to travel that week.. It was always fun, we still miss not having Joyce and Seth and now their kids celebrate with us but things change.

Last year, because we had already celebrated Thanksgiving (and David was somewhere working), Jordan and I had a lovely meal at the York Grill. The restaurant was booked to capacity so we sat at the bar for dinner and drinks and it was most delightful. This year David was going to be gone again and Jordan decided to spend the holiday with her boyfriend and his family. I spent the afternoon with my college friends and had dinner with new friends back in the city. On Christmas, Jordan will be with us, Seth and Joyce with her family. And I know things will continue to change. Eventually, I fear David and I will be spending the Christmas with friends, sans family, and who knows what will happen with other holidays, like Passover – which is much more important to us than it is to our children. Glad we did the “Gefilte Fish Chronicles” because at least we will always have those memories.

David and I know that there is really nothing we can do if our children’s lives lead them to make decisions that do not include us for family celebrations. Seth has his own fabulous family and their own traditions, and Jordan has someone she loves who also has traditions. Part of it may be that we have accommodated everyone’s schedules by celebrating holidays on days that were not actually the holiday. That was also colorful, and easier. But it may have led the kids to believe holidays were not important to us – as opposed to, holidays were so important we wanted to celebrate them whenever we could.

When we were kids it was traditional to eat dinner at Aunt Sophie’s every Friday night. There were no excused absences, no passes. Time passed, we grew up, Aunt Sophie sold the house and, as adults, we grew apart. Recently, the absence of ongoing old traditions and realization that the “kids” have their own lives is not as easy to deal with as we thought it would be. But life moves on. Things change, and we feel sure there will be new traditions to which we can look forward. Every holiday will be a new adventure. We’ll just leave a cell phone number in case anyone wants to text us to find out where we are. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Sunday, December 20, 2009

About Sean....

Doesn’t anyone remember Elian Gonzalez? He was the child from Cuba whose mom (without his father’s approval) took him on a small boat ride from Cuba to Miami. Their boat sank and Elian’s mom died. Elian was taken to relatives in Miami until there was a decision about what should be done with the child. The Cuban community in Miami was not about to turn him over to Castro – not to mention his father (who was a communist).
Elian and his dad, reunited
I was in the Clinton government as Chief of Staff at the USIA, when we confronted the “Elian” situation. Lula Rodriguez, who was working with me, was a close friend and confidante of Janet Reno’s (and a Cuban refugee), got a call from the Attorney General. She wanted to know what Lula thought they should do. “Send him right home. Under no circumstances should you give that family the opportunity to grandstand.” The Justice Department did not heed that sage advice. And, as predicted, the family used Elian as a symbol of their anti-Castro sentiments – for six long months.

The United States and Brazil are both subscribers to the Hague Convention. It is an international document that, among other things, prevents international kidnapping, even by a parent. Or maybe, especially by a parent. David Goldman’s wife took their son Sean, to visit her family in Brazil. It was never just a visit home. She intended to stay. But she knew her husband would never let his son go – if he knew what she intended to do. Once back in Brazil, she divorced David, remarried, and got pregnant. She died in childbirth. (If that’s not a sign from God I don’t know what else it could be).

Her new, and apparently well connected husband, decided to keep David’s child. Kind of like Elian’s Miami family did without the politics. Here’s the simple fact. The mother kidnapped the child, who must have been traumatized by losing his dad, and then his mom. The Brazilian family now says that since the boy has been with them for so many years, he should stay with them. What a bunch of crap. Unfortunately, David can’t just take him and flee. Or maybe he could, if the State Department would support the effort. Hasn’t the government made daring raids into dangerous areas to rescue hostages. Why doesn’t Chris Smith, the Representative from NJ, and human rights advocate, just walk up to their door and say, ENOUGH! It would probably be better if Hillary went with him so that the federal government (Democrats and Republicans, diplomats and legislators) appear united against this heinous injustice. It would also be good to get Bruce Springsteen to go, but that’s a pipe dream.

The President has been silent about this personal and tragic situation. I wonder how he would feel if Michelle just took the kids to somewhere without extradition, and did the same thing. OK, she wouldn’t but I’m talking about feelings, not reality. I understand that with the bombing of Yemen and all the trips to Copenhagen he must be distracted, but what if he went to Brazil and said to their President, stop this foolishness and give this American citizen back to his dad.

A child is not a thing or a possession. The Brazilian family that is holding him has no right to keep him. It’s obvious that the Brazilian Courts have no idea about justice or injustice. Someone is making some money on this. It’s time for our Justice Department, State Department and Congress to take the issue to the Hague. It would be an international embarrassment for Brazil to be dragged to this court and maybe bring enough pressure to ensure Sean’s return to his dad and to his homeland in New Jersey. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Forming Reform

Who thinks it’s OK for the insurance companies to be able to cap the cost of a devastating disease, like cancer. Who thinks that the American public will be happy about the kind of ‘reform’ that we are about to suffer. It’s always fun to look at the real definition of something and then to try and connect it with what is the reality.

According to reform is defined as “correct, rectify” with Synonyms such as: “ameliorate, amend, better, bring up to code, change one's ways, clean up, clean up one's act, convert, correct, cure, emend, go straight, improve, make amends, make over, mend, rearrange, rebuild, reclaim, reconstitute, reconstruct, redeem, refashion, regenerate, rehabilitate, remake, remedy, remodel, renew, renovate, reorganize, repair, resolve, restore, revise, revolutionize, rework, shape up, standardize, swear off, transform, turn over a new leaf, uplift.” None of these sound like what the health care bill will be.

Admittedly, I did not read the bill. I was waiting for the Republican Senators to read the 2000 pages to me as a part of their filibuster. What was I thinking? None of them can read. Well, maybe a few can read, but not all those words. All you have to know is that insurance stocks are rising. What does that say. That the insurance companies are expecting a windfall. That the insurance companies are not worried about being controlled. Or that the insurance companies are not afraid of government competition. My skepticism is probably a consequence of thinking like a progressive. You remember the progressives? We’re the people who helped to elect Obama because we believed that he would end the war and make sure people who didn’t have access to healthcare would finally not have to choose between food and medication.

The progressives have been told over and over that we are not going to like this bill. What’s to like? I’d like a list—even a short one. We have also been told that while there is no public option, and the insurance companies really don’t have to cover preexisting conditions, (wasn’t that one of the points of reform?) there will be yet another ‘fund’ to do all of that. What I now realize is that the Obama Administration, which turned health care over to the Congressional lobbyists, instead of writing their own plan, really did want to reform health care and not health insurance. I kept writing about how important words were. And people did not understand what health care meant, so how could they support changing it. But now I see that I was wrong. As long as no one understood what the Congress and the White House were reforming, the likelihood of supporting the status quo while giving lip service to ‘health reform’ was precisely what they intended to do.

Today they announced that there were enough Senate votes to pass health care reform. And so they will. But no one, including the people who wrote or mangled the bill, will understand what they have done until it is too late to see the consequences for all the people who need help (and most of those who don’t.) Then, I guess, they will have to reform the reform. That should be another 2000 pages or more. You can be sure, however, that the insurance companies will pay no penalties and suffer no hardships or God forbid, competition.

If I were the President, I would do exactly what Howard Dean suggested. Just throw the whole thing out and start over again with specific goals. Things like ‘you have to be able to read and understand the bill within an hour or two’—and that’s reading and comprehension. And how about, the health care offered to the pubic has got to be equal to the health care offered to our elected officials. Or, conversely, that the Senate/House coverage would have to mirror that which was passed for everyone else. They would never tolerate what they have now foisted upon a distracted public. The real shame is that President Obama now appears not to care about promises made, or, what was that word….. Oh yeah, Change. Some would say same old, same old. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Quite frequently, when we are minding our own business, (I know that it doesn’t happen with great frequency), some stranger will say to David, ‘”Excuse me sir, but could you take our picture?” This happened last Saturday when two young women asked David if he could shoot their picture in a Christmas decorated park in Milwaukee. He didn’t hesitate to say “yes.” The only thing is, when David shoots a picture, (of stranger or otherwise), it just takes longer than the subject expects, because he is real photographer and he wants to take a good shot. Anyway, after a great deal of fussing with an unfamiliar camera, the girls (clearly uncomfortable with this unkempt stranger), said that they had to leave. Did I forget to mention he was wearing a wool hat with the price tags still on. Anyway, David said he would take a shot with his camera and send it to them. They looked frightened by this suggestion. It’s funny when a young stranger thinks your husband is a pervert, so I jumped in and said, “go to David and you’ll see who took your picture.” And apparently they did because what follows is a note we got from them yesterday:

We are the two random girls from the Milwaukee Cathedral Square. Could you possibly send the pictures to this email address??
you have a lot of talent!!

It’s Christmas season and it feels like everything in Milwaukee twinkles. It’s a nice town. Tina and her husband moved there from Madison years ago, and found it to their liking. There is good food, lots of theater, a wealth of extraordinary architecture and the Pfister Hotel. There is also black ice, (that’s the ice that looks like just a little water on the ground and before you know it, the ground is exactly where you will find yourself), a few great restaurants, a wonderful Lt. Governor, a beautiful little park with colorful holiday lights, and some lovely people -- who will gladly give you directions whether they know how to get to wherever you’re going or not. But not worry, it’s a terrific place to walk, regardless of the time it takes to find your way to your destination.

And speaking of finding. We found our way to the auditorium where Jordan was performing. We took Tina, her children and grandchildren to see “Seussical.” Mostly, the show is targeted to children who know the Dr. Seuss, stories or the parents of children who have fond memories of the stories. We have been in audiences where there were and weren’t parents. The shows where there are teachers instead of parents are better. Quieter, more respectful of what’s happening on the stage. This audience was made up with very well behaved school children, who, among other things, knew that if they behaved, they might have another opportunity to get out of doing school work for at least half a day.
JKB and the 'roomies'
The show remains adorable and the cast equally so. Jordan’s four roommates (they have been sleeping 4 in a room , two beds, everywhere.) They have a $40 a day per diem – for food and lodging and decided to stay with us at the Pfister (we get an amazing deal and pay about $10 more than their usual Motel Six. If you haven’t ever been to the Pfister and plan a trip to that part of Wisconsin, put it on your list of things to see. It’s a gorgeous, old world European hotel. The ceilings are a combination of carved gold muted paintings. Everything wreaks of elegance. (I know wreaks is like smelly but I was going to say ooze and that was even less pleasant.) Let’s call a do over. The hotel drips with elegance. Never mind, you get the point.
a Pfister blobbing moment
The whole weekend was great fun. When we are with Tina and the kids we always have a good time. You never know when someone will call
In fact, when Jordan was a kid it was so much fun it’s where she chose to celebrate every birthday. And the good people of the county board who run the Mitchell/Milwaukee airport, have added a sense of wry humor by proclaiming the sit-down-and-get-your-stuff-together area after Airport Security, the RECOMBOBULATION Area, in honor of those of us who know all to well what Discombobulation is all about.
It was another on our list of fabulous, brief, road trips with the bonus being good friends and a sparkling holiday feel. As my mother would say “Try it, you’ll like it.” We’re just sayin’… Iris

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Ode to an Old Silver Pal

Even though much of what is done in photography is very personal, very isolated, removed, in a way, from everything but the photographer’s eye and the subject, there remains still a certain camaraderie amongst those of us who practice this endeavor. If you’re working on a story of gang life in Limerick, Ireland (by Rian Dundon) or the growth of fundamentalism in Pakistan (by Yusuke Harada) you will probably find yourself in the middle of a lot of people, none of them photographers. These are the kind of stories which require a certain commitment from a photographer to plunge in, essentially letting the story unfold at each new stage and which by definition mean that you, the photographer, are working on your own. And then there are those stories, and most of us have been there, when you find yourself in a pack of photographers, each one trying to glean a moment out of a situation which might not be so obvious. But ours is a business of colleagues, and many of my own good friends are photographers. There is something collegial about our work, and whether it is sharing opinions on the new DSLR that shoots hi-def video, or the best point-and-shoot camera for taking on vacations, the banter tends to cement friendships. Maybe it’s like a lab experiment – put 10 photographers in an enclosed, confined space, shake well, and see what happens – but many good friendships have been made of lesser stuff.

This month, however I want to write about another friend of mine. One I have known for forty years. One which has always been there for me. A friend I know I can rely on when the chips are down, and failure is not an option. And while I feel a little like this friendship sometimes seems like it’s a one way street, there is no doubt that I would stand up for and defend this friend if the challenge would arise.
The Continental Palace Hotel, Saigon
In a time of so much uncertainty, it is a joy to know you have someone to rely on. And for me, that friend, the one I became acquainted with in the first year of Richard Nixon’s term, was my 26” Halliburton aluminum travel case. In early 1969, a year in the business, and trying to complete my ‘kit’ of gear, I was always on the look out for good deals. John Olson, a friend who was working for the weekly LIFE (at 22, the youngest staff photographer they’d ever hired) was selling some of his gear, and I happily purchased a few of those goodies. It was a very different time: Hong Kong was still a cheap place to buy photo gear at unbelievable prices, and things were bought and sold even before there was an eBay to facilitate such things. John sold me a black Leica M4 with a 21mm lens for $325 (and he made money on the deal, I’m sure) and for an extra hundred, threw in a mildly beat up two-suiter aluminum suitcase (official stats 26x18x12.) I was only just beginning to own enough gear to come close to filling a case that big, but somehow I knew I’d eventually own enough gear to fill it up. In one early incarnation, I filled the case with four layers of foam, and cut out holes to fit all my cameras. (Shipping was much more secure then. It was rare that something didn’t make it to the final destination of choice.) Sadly, the foam I chose wasn’t quite firm enough for all my cameras and lenses, and when I opened the case (in Lima, I think) all the gear had schmushed down to one end, the foam rubber barely keeping the cameras apart. It looked like a pizza which has been carried home from the cafĂ© in a vertical position, and when the box is opened, a giant mass of cheese has settled pillow-like all the way down on the bottom. I learned to be nicer to the case – and the contents. When packing cameras in foam, I bought the more expensive stuff for a change. Often, I’d throw cameras and clothes in together, as the aluminum outer shell of the case made it almost impervious to the crushing forces which lesser bags have succumbed to. I used the case to get my cameras to and back from Vietnam in the early 1970s. The fact that it locked with a pretty silver key gave it an added air of safety and protection. You would need real cutting tools to get inside a locked one. I eventually started buying decals on my trips, and sticking them both inside and out, little mementos of trips which came to have great meaning to me personally. It came to be a shippable version of my 70s and 80s itineraries. Like most photographers, I think, I still get those little butterflys of uncertainty as the plane flies over the fence on final. You look out the window, see the local cabs and buses scurrying on the perimeter road and wonder awaits. Nothing boosted my confidence on arriving at a foreign airport like seeing the silver Halli, rotating around the luggage carousel, beckoning me to grab it and get on with the work.
Snuggling up with the 4x5 gear
Most of us have a few old friends like that which we rely on. Dennis Brack, the great DC freelancer, has been using the same black heavy plastic shoulder bag for at least forty years. It’s not a very handsome bag, and anything but chic, but the one thing it offered, virtually no one other did: you could stand on it without either crushing it, or falling off. It let Dennis be 6’4” when he needed to be. All the difference when a little elevation was called for. I’m just back from a trip to another exotic location – Southwestern Ohio, and as I unpacked the big silver case yesterday, I slowly read over all those stickers again, and so many images came back to me. Saigon 1971, a submarine trip in the Pacific 1982, Sarajevo 1984, the Pope in Poland 1983 (where Lufthansa tried, unsuccessfully to destroy the case, and paid heavily for it!),
The Black Madonna of Czestacowa (Poland)
Tehran 1979, Ayers Rock 1981, Jamaica 1985, and the Presidential campaigns from 1976 through John McCain a year ago. It scares me to think that I’ve been married to a suitcase longer than I’ve been married to my wife, but each of them seems to understand the place of the other. And even though the Halli doesn’t cook so well, and has a demeanor devoid of the kind of humor I appreciate, when I need to pack up my stuff, and head to the airport for trip to Timbuktu, I know that it will be the one case which will get me out and back. We’re just sayin’…David

It's About the Threes

When I was a kid a friend told me that airplane crashes always come in threes, so if a plane crashed at a time I was supposed to travel I shouldn’t go. Obviously, if you gotta go, you gotta go. This meant, that when I got on a plane, after two planes crashed, within a few days of my trip, I simply prayed a lot and hoped for the best. This was not as disconcerting as when my college boyfriend took me to the airport and told me that my number wasn’t up, but – (and he would point) “you see that guy going with you, his number is.” Needless to say, I lived, but it was a sign the relationship was doomed.

Holidays always seem to be a time when people are celebrating or they are getting sick. For example, this week I found out that the grandson of one of my friends has leukemia, a treasured cousin has inoperable pancreatic cancer, and an old friend has a brain tumor.

This week there were three news stories that were equally unimportant and yet, received an overwhelming amount of media attention. First there was the White House party crasher story. Then there was the Tiger Woods, “did she try to kill him or save him” story. And last but not least, Chelsea Clinton is getting married to a nice Jewish boy. Should I send them a copy of “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles”. I know his mother must be kvelling. I mean, I know his mother and I know she must be kvelling.

What is it about the number three. Or, maybe a better question is, what is it about superstitions that make us pay attention and find significance in something like a number. In my family there were no shortage of superstitions. Although some were ridiculous, some actually seemed to make sense. (Sense may not be exactly the right word but in my family it's hard to distinguish between sense and nonsense.) Some superstitions were directed specifically at the women in the family. One of them was, “if you throw something at a pregnant woman, the mice will eat your clothes". Or, if you go down the staircase backwards, you will get your period. And, my own personal favorite, “if you have your period when you make the horse radish—it will never be hot enough.” If, on Passover when they had worked to make the horse radish unbreathable, and you could open the jar and still breathe, she would line us all up and insist we confess about being ‘clean'. (When you have your period you are not ‘clean’) Other old wives’ tales or as my grandmother called them bubemeisters seemed to be a bit more rational. For example, if you lose something, and you turn a glass upside down on the table, you will find it. (Try it, it’s amazing.)

There were also bubemeisters to which she insisted we pay attention: You never moved into a new home without first putting salt, flour, and sugar in the cabinet and a broom in the closet. And most importantly, you never did anything (like dress your children to well) or anything that would draw the attention of someone who might give you the evil eye. Now aren’t those refreshing. Especially in light of the horrible 'three' thing.

This is also the time of year when we think about things like our own mortality, what we weigh, and how to avoid fighting with our families at holiday dinners. But it should also be a time to remember that no matter how hard we try to live good lives, life is so tenuous that there is no predicting what will happen. So, I would say, err on the cautious side and stay away from black cats and broken mirrors. We’re just sayin’… Iris