Sunday, February 23, 2014

And Then There Was Sochi

In October of 1960, three years into the age of Sputnik, the space race, the math & science race, and a dozen years into the Cold War, the Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev came to New York to speak at the UN. He demanded the resignation of Dag Hammarskjold, then UN Secretary General, and a few days later made what those of us in the 8th grade thought was the ultimate bullying threat. He took off his shoes during a speech by a Philippine delegate (who had accused the USSR of imperialistic maneuvering in Eastern Europe) and pounded the shoes on his desk.  Sitting comfy at home in Salt Lake, I took those threats seriously. I mean, who takes their shoes off and pounds them on a desk at the UN?  All the more so that Uncle Max (born in Russia, he was somehow my grandfather’s cousin, via one of those first/second marriage schemes which we later well understood about our Mormon neighbors, but less so in our own Russian roots from the 1800s) had come for dinner that Sunday.   He would have been in his 70s, still drove his Nash (the first reclining seats) and always arrived with a fresh roll of Cherry flavored LifeSavers, sharing them gleefully with the kids.  Those LifeSavers seemed to us to be way more amusing than the schmushy wet kisses the great-aunts proffered.  Though it had been years, Max still spoke and could understand his native tongue, and before the UN translators had begun their rather diplomatically monotonic translations, he was telling us what Khrushchev was saying.  It wasn’t really anything I wanted to hear.

I’m sure there were meetings in the Kremlin where the discussions centered around how to freak out Americans (decades before the term was in vogue) and just what kind of behavior would be not only acceptable, but play a certain role in making a threatening Soviet case to the West.  Of course things never go just as planned, and it was widely reported, although I forget by whom, that when Khrushchev first entered the Waldorf-Astoria elevators, zooming to a luxurious top floor suite, that he couldn’t understand why the elevators didn’t lurch wildly like the ones back home.  It was a time when every 13 year old American kid, especially one like me who’d spent several 4th grade afternoons staring west out of the Oakwood School windows, trying to see if we could see the ‘flash’ from an Atomic bomb test several hundred miles away in Nevada, pondered whether or not our fighters (F-102s) could shoot down their bombers (M-4 “Bison”) should it come to  a real confrontation. 

How it is possible for a lifetime to have passed by so quickly, I just don’t know.  I am now about the age that Max was when he came calling with the Lifesavers, and aside from a few stock Russian phrases (Spasiba, Orchin charasho, and Smotry! Volchunuk*) I am limited to nods, smiles, and the occasional French  “Pardon” to maneuver through the Sochi Olympic world. It is a Russia far different from even a few years ago.  The place is staffed with thousands of “volunteers” - the key to any successful Olympics, and they are by and large, smart, multilingual, helpful, eager to converse, and full of what I have to take as a hopeful sense of what Gorbachev called Glasnost and Perestroika (a two sided sense of increasing openness and reliance on the people instead of a centralized government for the propulsive energy of the society.)  I suppose Gorbachev is seen as the guy who let everyone down by dismantling the Soviet state, but as tough as it must be for many people, you have a sense that for a lot of Russians, they see a chance to succeed for themselves which rarely existed in the old regimes.  It is probably hardest on the folks my age who came to terms with the status quo in the 50s and 60s and probably thought it would never change.  All this stands in the face of those early press reports about the craziness of the not quite finished bits of the Sochi Games:  Toilets either 4” off the ground, or 4 feet,  rooms with doors that didn’t open, and stray dogs wandering through nearly finished buildings.  In the end, it all seems to have come together in a way that is surprisingly efficient, and pleasant.  In three weeks I have yet to meet anyone seriously contrary. I know that everyone is ‘trying harder’ but I have to say that what I have seen of the young people on this trip is impressive.  As opposed to our own kids, in addition to understanding how to program a cell phone, and operate in the neo-digital space we inhabit, I suspect more than a few of them know the names of the Bolshoi Prima Ballerina, and probably of a few modernist poets.  We are each, in fact, a product of our times, and I cannot forget the ongoing admonitions of Boris Badenov to Natasha in the classic  Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoon series of the 1960s: “ What about Moose and Squirrel?”   If that can be the worst that is said of our two cultures, then we will all be the better for it.
you know it's getting near the end when the reporters take their chairs out of the arena
I can only hope that going forward their kids and our kids will have the same kind of chances to meet and mingle that we have had this month.  Beyond the excitement of the athletics, there is a wonderful quality of shared experience which the Olympics gives us, millions of viewers, thousands of in-stadium spectators, and that is something to cherish.  To hold on to it beyond the three weeks of the Games, aye, that’s the key.  But it’s worth being reminded every two years that these kind of rare get-togethers produce far more than mere glittering gold medals.  It’s the Gold Medal of the heart and soul which counts, and this week, I think there have been a lot of winners.  We’re just sayin’…. David

* (Thank You,  Very Good,  Look! A Baby Wolf!!)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Whither Weather

It’s snowing again.  Word has it that in Central Park they have 44 more inches of snow than is usual.  It’s just about the same all over the northeast. In the south, where they never have snow, they don’t know because no one has measured snow amounts before.  And in the midwest, no one knows because no one can get out the door to measure the amounts.

That’s the bad news, the good news is that I can catch up on all the TCM movies I have already seen a million times – but this month is the Oscar month so all the movies have won awards.  It doesn’t matter to me.   The only thing that matters is if they still make me cry. With that in mind, today I watched “The Way We Were”. The blubbering has not yet ceased. Thank God “Dumbo” didn’t win anything or that would really put me over the edge.

The roads were terrible today (of course they were, it’s been snowing since my 5th birthday.)   But I was out of dogfood, so we went to Pet Smart because they have the designer food Ty eats.  He loves to go to Pet Smart. Actually he loves to go anywhere he can be social.  Today he met a 3 month old Pekinese. They are the cutest pretend dogs imaginable.  Ty just wanted to kiss him until he cried “Uncle”. Eventually the puppy needed to leave and Ty cried like they were best friends in the whole world. The removal of his new pal meant we had to find other ways to be entertained. So we looked at pet clothes. Under ordinary circumstances, they are pretty hilarious, but I bet you didn’t know that Martha Stewart has a pet clothing line.  For a mere $30 your pet can have a  dark blue wool pea jacket.  And is it gorgeous, you bet.  But even I wasn’t going to spend that kind of money on pet wear for a laugh. (This from a person who bought a leopard skin lounge for her puppy).

Tomorrow it’s supposed to be 40 degrees. That will mean a major melt and flooding.  The newcasters recommended we check outside to make sure the drains and down spouts are not blocked. Just how do you do this under two feet of snow.  First you have to dig out and  you have to find a place to put the snow.  There is no place to put anymore snow.  There is no second, so don’t expect one.  The sun needs to come out. Especially for those of us who need the sun to behave as normal people.  It’s difficult for me to be normal under any circumstances – so you can only imagine.

Let me share this secret. Weather is not my friend. The heat does me in. And the cold is almost unbearable. But were I to chose between snow and a warm rain, I would opt for a shower any time.  Snow Snow go away, give the rain a chance to play.  We’re just sayin’…Iris

Sunday, February 16, 2014


Once Upon a time Hallmark Cards invented a holiday  (they invented many), to celebrate Love and mostly to sell cards. It was OK because who wouldn’t want to celebrate Love and buy a card to show how much you cared.  Feh! (That’s not a word,  it’s a noise which I think my mother invented to show her distaste.for something). But yesterday I realized that Valentine’s day celebrates sweetness. Not just candy, but the sweet things that happen to all of us, which we may not think about everyday.

When people post pictures of their children and grandchildren, they do it because they are proud of their accomplishments or just because it’s a place to let all their friends know how much they love them.  Facebook  isn’t an intimate setting to share your pride, but it’s very sweet.

My family is always so supportive of the things we do.  They are interested in all the places we travel and all our activities.  Why not, you say, that’s what families are supposed to be.  But that doesn’t always happen.  We have family in a great many places, and almost without exception, they are inquisitive and supportive.  And they laugh at our idiosyncrasies.  That’s so sweet.

Our friends, are many. Even though we have been out of the loop for three years, whenever we say we are going to be in DC, or Salt Lake or LA, we don’t worry about a place to stay, or the fear of being lonely.  It reminds me of when Jordan used to come back from LA and she would send a message that she would be on the plaza in back of Block Heads on 51st street from 1-4, and her friends show up in droves.  For us, we like to meet at Mark’s Duck House (in Falls Church) for dim sum.  They go out of their way to join us – even if it’s just a drop by.  That is so sweet.

 And speaking of Mark’s Duck House, I love to bring cards to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The servers are so grateful for bringing them good luck in a little red envelope that they fall over themselves to make us happy.  It feels so sweet.

And David Burnett on Valentines day always sends me something you can’t eat or wear.  Usually it’s a love note in the newspaper, But this year, since he’s so far away, he sent me a picture of a heart in the snow, with some greens in the middle. He made it himself.  Now don’t get angry kids I truly love you, but David’s thoughtfulness  is the sweetest thing in my life.  We’re just sayin’… Iris

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Ambassador Sure Could Sing

It’s been the kind of month that there was so much to write about, I couldn’t focus on one subject… until yesterday when it was announced that Shirley Temple died.  Woe are we all. Or at least woe is me. To be Shirley Temple was my fantasy. Even today, if I know one of  her old movies is on TV,  there I will be, glued to the screen. And it’s not just the “Good Ship Lollipop” era.  Her teenage years, when she performed with the likes of Cary Grant, were remarkable.

Like every other kid who watched her movies, I wanted to be able to sing, and dance and act. And I thought I could.  If only my mother had allowed me to take tap lessons, I was sure I could have succeeded in the same way as Shirley,  But no. She wouldn’t let me go to Miss Gerties Tap Studio because she said I wouldn’t practice. My mother was soooooo wrong.  I could have been a star.  Oh well, once again, dreams smashed to smitherines.  (Not quite sure how to spell smitherines, but you got the picture.) 

What was most amazing about Shirley was that she, unlike so many of her colleagues, had no apparent pill or drug problem. She was not a diva, nor did she act out for public attention. At 21, she left the screen, had a relatively normal life and became a successful political operative and and Ambassador.  My life could have followed the same course. If my mother had only let me have those lessons.  Instead, I skipped the part where I was a star and went immediately to political operative. There was no Ambassadorship. Or any high ranking job where people would have had to address me with a title for the rest of my life – like Ms. Vice President, or Senator so and so.  I repeat, dreams smashed to smitherines. (Who cares if I can spell it).

David (with Ron Bennett and the Ambassador, before the 'gray hair era') at State ca. 1983
And speaking of Shirley Temple, (watch this transition),  last week I made a quick trip to LA for Jordan’s birthday and a very funny show in which she was performing. (I apologize to all my West Coast friends and family, but it was quick and I didn’t have a car.)  A good time was had by all. However, a strange thing happened. We had cocktails every night.  Not just an ordinary martini or a rum and tonic, but  things like “a ginger spice gum drop”.  People in LA like specialty cocktails.  Every bar and restaurant has their  own designer drink..  While I don’t make a habit of putting surprise liquid in my mouth, it was a new experience.

David is at the Olympics shooting for the Olympic committee. Shooting with his old cameras . If you want to see him  just look tor the big cameras  and the mop of gray (Editor's note:  Silver, not Gray)  hair.  No one else has either or at least, both together.  Ty is vacationing  at Oscar’s with his good friend Bosco, and I am sitting comfortably in a foot of snow.  Tomorrow is Valentine's day.  It was my favorite holiday, then it wasn’t and now, I think it is again.
Home or away, David makes everything special.  Hope you  all have a romantic day, whether it be with a partner,  alone with your favorite music, or  with a good friend who has always laughed at the same things you do.  Hearts and flowers, always a good thing.
We’re just sayin…. Iris