Thursday, November 29, 2007

I Am Up to Here..

I am up to here (since you can’t see my measurement I am holding my arm way above my head) with Tim Russert as political Guru. Mr. Russert, who has had every opportunity to act as a journalist, has done nothing but suck up to the people he interviews on and off TV. Additionally, he has not asked a difficult follow-up (or maybe appropriate is a better word) question since I fell off my dinosaur in some campaign when I first realized I was older than dirt. But that’s not what I am going to blob about.

There was a Republican debate last night where the candidates argued over who could pray to God the hardest, who would pull the switch on an execution faster, who would fight the hardest to protect a fetus, who will build the tallest wall on our borders, who will snicker at Gays in the military and my own personal favorite -- who would wait the longest to pull troops out of Iraq (except Ron Paul — who all the others treat with disdain). There was absolutely no conversation about health care, education, or the economy. What is this election really about? These guys are fighting so hard to win the Conservative or Christian Right vote, that they have forgotten about what the real issues are for real Americans. Maybe it’s me, (and often it is all about me), but how will we build a strong and successful nation without real concern about the housing market, an aging population without good health care benefits, and educating our children so they can compete with children from other countries — and maybe teaching civics, public speaking and geography, about which they are totally clueless. I remember when Jordan started school and the teacher told her that it wasn’t important to know how to spell, write legibly, or know where to find Russia on a map. Have children today even seen a globe?

It is not that immigration is unimportant but building a fence is just a joke. People cut through, climb over and go through fences. If someone wants to cross a border they will. The real question is what can we do to discourage illegal immigration and encourage legal immigration. We might have the technology to identify bodies crossing the border, and we might be able to electrocute a couple of wanderers, but is immigration the issue or is it the impact of immigration on the economy?

I guess, given our limited international vision, and lack of concern about the environment and energy, it is not surprising that we have a President who has never gone to Israel, or a group of candidates who know nothing about the world except keeping troops in Iraq and making the Saudis happy -- without regard for their human rights violations. I am truly frightened by the prospect of the enormity of the lack of discourse about issues other than what happens in my bedroom, my synagogue, and my kitchen. (Don’t try to make the connection – it would take hours to actually get there.)

But I want to be fair in my criticism of candidates. What the heck is Hillary Clinton thinking? Here’s a campaign that has avoided most of the Presidential politics pitfalls by being cautious and mostly consistent. Why would you do something as silly as plant questions or talk about experience you don’t have. And here’s my own favorite with the regard to the Senator. Why would you ask for Barbra Streisand’s public endorsement? Not only is she closely related to Bill Clinton and an era gone by, but if there is one woman more polarizing than Hillary, it’s Barb. I wish she would just sit down and shut up – and I like her, at least as an entertainer. I get that Obama has Oprah, but Oprah is middle America. Endorsements may not help a candidate but they certainly send a message and if that message raises questions, the endorsement can certainly hurt. It’s why, in the old days when advance people made political decisions, we always made sure that the people standing next to the candidate on the dias, were not convicted felons. Oprah might actually get those women (who have previously not voted) interested in this election. She might, as she has done in so many areas, educate a great many people about issues with which they need to be concerned because they will impact on every American (if not foreign) life. Why didn’t Hillary just get someone nice to endorse her? If she wanted a singer why didn’t she get someone from American Idol?

I am now wringing my hands and holding my head. Where will this country be in ten years? Will my children be paying $10 for gas, a million for a small three bedroom home, 2 million for the college education of their children? Will we have ‘normal’ relations with other nations or will we remain totally dependent on the resources of countries that actually make things,( We no longer make things except a few cars that no one wants), that are way beyond us with technology, and who are well educated in science, math and the world around us. Will they still be arguing about abortion or will the technology have so surpassed the action that there needn’t be a discussion? Will women still be dying by the millions because there is no early detection for breast cancer? Will there be homes for the elderly which disregard humanity, and will I be in one? Will the Supreme Court or the Justice Department be making decisions that will further take away their civil rights? Will we be at war with Iran, Korea, or maybe Grand Fenwick?

As we approach the end of the calendar year and the beginning of the real Presidential political season, I have so many questions. One thing I am grateful for — I may have forgotten this on Thanksgiving, is that the Primaries may actually determine who the Candidates will be. For a while the media had already decided it would be Hillary and Rudy — he who still hasn’t answered ethics questions. And why doesn’t someone ask Mitt (or Willard, his real name) how he did flip flop 180 degrees on almost every social issue? David traveled with him last week and no one asks — not the public or media.

There are people who are fervent (another great word), about a candidate – even young people. With this group of candidates it’s hard to imagine, but there’s no accounting for taste. Kidding, I like when young people participate in government. And by the way, what happened to Chris Dodd (who moved to Iowa) and Joe Biden (who really does have experience). They seem to have disappeared. We know Richardson is still running for VP so that explains his lack of visibility. The primary season began so early and will end so quickly. There’s so much nasty it’s hard to believe that there won’t be so much bad blood by the end of the primaries, that the ‘winner’ won’t be considered the victor – they will simply be the ‘candidate.’ I am saddened that it will be another election where I will vote for the lesser of two evils --
I wish Sara Ehrman would run for President. I love her and she is smart, funny, worldly, experienced, takes no crap, and makes reasoned decisions. We’re just sayin...Iris

Sara Ehrman for President!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Studio at Thirty Thousand

Every four years it seems that not only is there a new crowd of candidates presenting themselves to run for President, and that around each of them swirl a whole new cast of minor characters dealing with the Press (i.e. Me!) Many are just out of college, some have actually come from real world jobs, but most tend to be young and unschooled in the techniques of what it takes to be a press person covering a candidate. We professionials, and I use the term as loosely as a “loose meat sandwich” in aWaterloo, Iowa cafĂ©, are left with the job of trying to educate the new flocks of Advance people in the ways of the world. From the first day they start working for a campaign they become suspicious of us, and are, I’m sure, fed with propaganda that there is no way the Press will ever really be your friend; beware, as they will do nothing but try and embarrass our candidate, and make them look as silly as possible for as many News Cycles as possible. I’m sure there are people in the press who feel their day isn’t complete unless they have scored a “Gotcha” on someone they are covering. Even at my ripe young age, however, I remain fixated on that ridiculous, age-old notion that the story (in this case the campaign) is more important than the messenger, and that my real job is to try and show something about that person, something which millions of viewers & readers won’t have a chance to see up close, and for themselves. The cynic in me acknowledges that campaigning, and the coverages thereof, have become somewhat like the attitude of workers in the waning days of the Soviet Union, who more than once told me “we pretend to work, they pretend to pay us.” In the modern, fourth estate/media rules-the-world version of that dictum, it goes more like “they pretend to run for President, and we pretend to cover them.”

I have somewhat fond memories of 1976, which was my first real campaign. (I arrived back from Vietnam in October 1972 just at the end of the process, though I did spend time with some Congressional and Senate candidates – the “fresh faces” of the ’72 campaign, which included Bill Cohen, Joe Biden, and Jack Kemp. (Admit it, can you even possibly imagine Joe Biden as a young, fresh face? That was about 437 millions words ago.) In ’76 I took the Trailways bus from Port Authority (even seedier then than it is now – and lacking Au Bon Pain) to Manchester, a trip which took somewhere between 5 hours and 2 months. Well, it only FELT like 2 months. But once there, I was trying to bum my way around on the Winnebagos of various candidates. Somehow, and we can’t actually figure out how his happened, on those long and amusing days on the Mo Udall campaign, Iris and I never met. How different our lives might have been if we had met on a campaign stop, and, early on, she had given me the redVelvetRope treatment (as in: don’t CROSS that line!) I was honing my political skills even then, and for about a day and a half, I even thought the former Penn. Governor Milton Shapp had a chance for the Democratic nomination. (Yes, my skills NEEDED honing if I thought Shapp was a possiblity.) In both 76 and ’80, Reagan was a force to be reckoned with.

In ’76, traveling with President’s Ford entourage just before the New Hampshire vote, I remember a great question from a mostly warm and friendly crowd at Nashua High School. The questioner was a Gorilla. And he asked a policy question about the economy. But he WAS a Gorilla (head –to-toe outfit.. but remarkably little mumbling). And President Ford answered him as if he were Lawrence Spivak. Not even a hint of irony – as if in the Ford White House, in the hallowed corridors of power in the West Wing, there were whole teams of Gorillas wandering around with position papers in folders, and perhaps, at a cabinet meeting where things got animated, swinging from one end of the table to the other via the chandelier. It’s funny what you remember.

Al Gore on Air Force II, 1998

The one thing that I have to admit I remember doing every year is trying to act as educator for those young campaign Press doobies who are assigned to deal with the press, but who hopefully won’t to have to actually touch one. The thing is this: for a photographer, you will almost never have better light than the gorgeous portraity light you have from an airplane window at 30,000 feet. Look at the pictures of the Kennedy campaigns, Reagan, the Clintons & Gore. Nothing gives you that soft, wonderful studio like bathing of lumiere like a giant reflector (the sun & blue sky, or the sunlight bouncing thru soft clouds) poring then through that small airplane window. They always think you are trying to trick them into asking the candidate for something which eventually get them yelled at. Couldn’t be further from the truth. I would prefer to have a studio in a permanently flying plane, have the candidate sit in the mid bulkhead row (i.e. no seats in front of them for 6 to 10 feet), and just take my chances. But as with most things in my professional life, I end up having to test things on myself. Each flight is a potentially different look: the way the clouds are or aren’t present, the angle of the sun to the plane, the glint of a hard reflection off the wingtip. Each of these gives a singular touch to the look of the picture. And everytime you fly, you have a new possibility for that artistic look. On the way back from Milwaukee last Friday, I was in an exit row, and took advance of the 2/2 seating on Midwest Express. Working with my tiny Panasonic Lumix LX-1 point/shoot camera, I’d hold it at arms length, and then look into the light, down from the light, away of the light, trying to catch something which could become one of those nifty TIME or American Photo covers. So, maybe I won’t be ON the cover of TIME this week as I was with John Kerry nearly four years ago.

But the nice thing about digial photography is that you can usually see right away when you screw up, and take another chance to get it right. Now, if only someone could help me explain this to the twenty-something wunderkinds, with their Blackberrys in permanent array, unable to look you in the eye while they tell you which van to get aboard. Maybe the thing is.. you send them a text message as you walk across the parking lot to ask them a question, and the message is something like this: “Look into the eyes of the guy who is about to ask you a question…” We’re just sayin…. David

My Studio in the Sky

Monday, November 26, 2007


The other night, after our 4th annual Hannukah party, which usually isn’t on Hannukah, Jordan and her friends went out dancing. I am always nervous about this late night stuff because of the incident two years ago when they were rear ended by a drunk who then left the scene of the accident. It was not an accident – he was drunk, got in his car, drove right into them and upon hearing a parent was on the way, fled. Alex wrote down their license and at 4 in the morning they (cops, David and kids) found the guy, identified him and proceeded with criminal charges which were later dismissed because the guy said it was his cousin from Costa Rica who had been driving, and the cousin was long gone. What crap. The kids did the right thing and pressed charges, and we went to trial. They all came home from school to testify. As soon as I saw the jury I knew the charges would be dismissed. It was an all white jury in Northern Va. It was obvious they felt sure that these supposedly entitled children shouldn’t have been out at that hour and the poor immigrants were just trying to survive. Anyway, I awoke Saturday at 3am and asked David if Jordan was home.

A Studio Shot, Hannukah Party Nite: Caroline,Lina,Jeff,Jordan & Paul

She had promised not to be late but would call if she was. He got up and came back to bed announcing that she was not home, having looked out the bathroom window and not seen the Volvo. “Damn” I said. “Call her”. And he did, and she answered the phone with a sleepy voice. “Where are you hon?” I heard him say. He hung up and said, “She’s in her bed.” I was a bit incredulous. “I thought you checked. I said. “Well” he answered “I checked -- and the car wasn’t there.” Needless to say, the car was there, he just didn’t see it and he never looked in her room to see if she was in bed. The worry was for naught. (Don’t you love that word?) But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. It only skirts the subject, which for this blob is traditions.

A New Year's '06 snap: Dressed Up and Stayin' Home

Traditionally, traditions are things that have some meaning and that you repeat year after year. The Burnetts have had a few celebrations that became traditions (I’ll get back to Hannukah) and we both looked forward to and enjoyed them all at the time we were involved. There was a time when we did an annual Meat Loaf Cook Off. Now that I think about it, there was only one and it should have become annual but it was too much trouble and the host, who owned the restaurant where it was held, won the cook-off, so everyone cried fowl (even though no one used turkey), but had a great time. At about the same time we had a Super Bowl party. It started at our house on Q Street and then moved to the Evans on S St. above Dupont Circle. No one ever watched the game because Super Bowls are infamous for their boring nature, but it was held for at least five years and the crowd grew rather than diminished. Then the Evans moved to upper Northwest, and the party was terminated.

There was a time when we always went to Germaine’s Asian Restaurant for New Years, and in fact, that is where David and I announced our engagement. David said he had important news to share, and proceeded to speak in what appeared to be Japanese, while David Kennerly did simultaneous interpretation in English. Everyone was laughing so hard they missed the announcement about our engagement. But, three weeks later we were a married couple who lived happily ever after. The End. Not really, it was just the beginning. But then, I can’t remember whether there was a fire at Germaine’s or it just got too hectic, so we stopped going out and started to have a New Years Party at our new house in Arlington. This tradition was well documented by all the photojournalists on the invitation list, as well as the host. And the photos were an additional way to preserve the memories. People loved the David “couples pictures”, and they were often the best picture the couples had ever had taken. It was always a great party and although the invitation list grew and changed depending on who was around, the feeling of looking forward to a new and exciting year remained consistent—as did loads of food (I always made blini and caviar, lobster salad, and Raclette –a melted Swiss cheese thing with boiled potatoes and gherkins) and there was never a shortage of drink. But then, a few years ago, things changed. Caviar got prohibitively expensive, and too many friends were sick or had died. I didn’t have the energy to celebrate another year. So we decided not to invite anyone and (we did get dressed in formal wear) but we stayed home and took pictures.

I have talked on and on about Thanksgiving, at first celebrated in Miami Beach, then Washington, and finally New Jersey. I have also blobbed about Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – which are also New Jersey celebrations because that’s what that tradition dictates. On Christmas Eve we go to Ronnie’s for an Italian seafood specialty and a glass or two of home made wine. Then on to Pam’s for Lasagna, gift exchange, and a couple of more glasses of wine—not home made. After dinner, gifts and song, we get into our cars (we do it carefully) and drive about ½ mile to see the ‘luminaria’ in Mountain Lakes. That’s when rich people light candles to enhance the look of their spectacularly Christmas decorated homes, and Jews drive around looking at them. I’m kidding, everyone looks, Jews just do it with envy in their hearts. Finally, we proceed slowly home to await the Bloody Marys and fine food fare at breakfast in the morning. The best part of the morning was always that our mothers, who never talked when we were in high school, finally got together on Christmas day and developed a once a year very dear relationship. We are hoping that this tradition will keep going even though my Mom is across the country and Joyce’s mom passed away a few months ago. But this is a ‘wait and see’ if our kids want it to continue. I am a bit doubtful since children have their own lives and want to make their own traditions, but who knows.

I told David that I didn’t want to have anymore traditions. I’m happy with the ones we still have but I think that traditions are for people who need some structure in their social life. People who know they will be in a certain place every year. And that doesn’t work for me anymore. So we went to Milwaukee for Thanksgiving, it was totally stress free. Yes, maintaining traditions can be incredibly stressful -- so who needs it. Maybe we’ll go to Seattle next year. New Years will be spent in St. Helena (Napa), with some people we know but most will be new friends. Next year we might be home, New York or on a cruise. (I just threw this out there for a laugh). I think it’s time for us to take a chance, and throw caution to the wind. When my kids were little and there was a special moment I would say “close your eyes, remember what you saw and felt, and make a new memory”. If it’s good enough for them, it’s just fine for me. We’re just sayin... Iris

Quality of Life

Tonight, when I was driving Jordan to the airport, we passed about three motorcades. They were not car after car after car with eight or nine police cars and a secret service vehicle with a microphone moving all the cars off the road – so it was neither President nor Vice President. They were maybe five car cades – probably a foreign Ambassador returning to work, or attending the Summit. In Washington, we get used to the inconvenience brought on by Very Self Important People (the VSIP) a term I always preferred to VIP, because who gets to decide on whether or not you are important. In Washington a great deal depends on your job. If you don’t have a job you might have a career considered important. If you have no glamorous or powerful career then you have only two alternatives. One is to create (or as we say in the swamp) a smoke and mirrors career. This resembles lying but we don’t lie in the heart of the national government we fabricate a tale or two by embellishing reality. This takes a great deal of work. So, the second choice is to find something witty or mysterious to say at parties when everyone asks, “what do you do”/ I have started to answer that question by saying, “I am an expert”. (I was not the originator of being an expert, but my friends are generous with their ideas. When the asker says “An expert in what?” (And they always do). I say, ask me any question about any subject and I’ll demonstrate my expertise. By the time I finish my answer they have inevitably turned to look for or talk to someone else. Also something people in Washington do. They never look you in the eye, they are too busy looking for someone more important than they think you are.

Anyway, I started to think about the lives that these VSIP’s must live. It’s probably different for foreign officials than for Americans, but some things are universal in this somewhat limited territory. They must always be groomed properly. For instance, when the Valerie Plame story broke and she was exposed as an agent, David was taking some pictures of her husband. In one of the pictures he took, she was in the background in her pajamas. He never used them because no one had seen a picture of her—but a picture of an emerging VSIP in close to underwear, would have been disgraceful, or maybe a little oo la la —for her, not David. You must never swear in public – you know, just let those obscenities rip. Can you imagine the horror if in the middle of an elegant evening you heard some beautifully adorned male or female just screaming the f word in some patterned fashion. The VSIP’s children must attend the ‘best’ schools for their entire education – birth through graduate school. Of course, these mini VSIP’s are always raised by a parent substitute. This should not be confused with the household help. It is critical to have household help and depending on the degree of importance that might mean day help, live in help, or a serf who does everything from clean to cook to market (they are always at COSTCO creating chaos in the lines at checkout) and even drive. They must have an acceptable religious affiliation. They can even be Jewish but it’s not quite as good as believing as being a person who celebrates Christmas. And let me see what else? Oh yes you must have the ‘right’ address. These are not complicated qualities or rules, but they do take work and usually money – it doesn’t have to be personal funds but if they government related the VSIP might not have the same flexibility.

The question is do they have nice lives? Who cares? So what’s my point. As usual, I don’t have one, I just started to think about the quality of life. Like I have a nice life. Wonderful children, friends, family, places to reside, pretty good health, interesting work (being an expert is terrific and there is actually no need to know anything). But I often ask myself, what would I do if my quality of life changed and it wasn’t nice anymore. We always think if we’re fine now that’s the way it’s always going to be but what happens when we get old? We might be in good health and financially well provided for but we’re all either going to die or if we’re lucky get old gracefully. But we’re still going to become fragile, and probably less likely to tap dance or run a marathon. So how do we prepare for a change in this quality of life. First of all, we need to think about the impact being a doddering old fool will have on our kids. David and I have collected lots of crap in our world traveling lifetimes. We need to downsize so that our kids aren’t encumbered by these tangible personal memories. I figure anything that can be sold on ebay, should be bayed. The only thing we need to keep are things that have will have some historic or financial value like family pictures or David’s photo’s. But our lives need to be orderly so they don’t have to spend weeks or months trying to sort it out. One of my friends actually did get down to leaving her daughter a single carton of things to inherit. We will never get there and it wouldn’t be like us to make things that easy, but they can be made manageable.

But the most important quality of life for me, maybe us, is the ability to laugh and enjoy the day. If we could no longer do that life wouldn’t be worth living. I guess that’s one reason it is so sad to watch what’s happened with friends who have been terminally ill or with my mom. There is a total lack of pleasure. It seems for them, there is nothing good on the horizon and they are just passing time til there is no horizon. We try to make them comfortable and safe but we cannot make them happy. There really isn’t a way for us to be satisfied with what we can do, but we just can’t do more. I cannot imagine a life without joy and God willing, I won’t have to. We’re just sayin...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Grateful for What...

This morning, while I was overlooking the magnificent site of the Milwaukee skyline from the 23rd floor work out room, (it’s so lovely that one of the stalls in the ladies room has a glass wall which permits viewing), I was also watching the morning shows—not from the stall but from the treadmill. Every one of the shows had, predictably, the family of a service man or woman serving in Iraq. And everyone of the hosts said “I am thankful that there are troops serving in Iraq.” It really made me cringe.

Before anyone starts to scream “liberal pinko slut”, let me say this: I am grateful for the troops. (Period). I am thankful and often shocked that in this day of ‘all about me’, there are still young people who are willing to serve their country. I am thankful that they are willing to die for their country but I am not happy that they are dying in Iraq in a war based on a lie as well as making the friends of Cheney and Bush even wealthier than most people can imagine. I am nauseated when someone in the administration announces that the death toll is down and only 7 or 8 young people died this week—as opposed to what, 20 or 30, 150 or 500? The use of the word ‘only’ is truly despicable. One child dead in a senseless skirmish is one too many. How many parents of those kids are truly grateful that their child was among such a limited number. I’m sure right after they got the news they shouted “hooray at least he/she didn’t go with a large number of other kids.” What have we come to? Are we truly that insensitive? That unfeeling. That stupid?

About an hour ago, amidst out Thanksgiving preparations, there was a woman on NPR radio reading a letter to her dead son. In the letter she wrote about how sorry she was to have lost him. She said that she felt his presence every day, but never more than when she was at his grave. She talked about the beauty of his tombstone and how she never expected to die before he did. She did not say that she was happy that he gave his life. Nor did she indicate that she was grateful he served in Iraq. There was never a mention about how relieved she was about him being ‘only’ one of six children who died last week. Oh, and she also said that it was going to be hard for her to give Thanks this year—and there would be no celebration.

There isn’t a parent who wants to think that their child died for nothing. God knows I would not want my kids to die for nothing. Although I will admit I cannot imagine what kind of death they would have to suffer to be for something. But I also cannot imagine, what parent would want some other parent to suffer the same kind of loss in the unexplainable Bush power fantasy. And by the way, today yet another American General who served in Iraq (Sanchez, this time) confessed that it was a mistake to keep our troops there. I wonder what it will take for all the boys (and that is not a gender specific description), to finally say, “let’s get those kids out of there.” I wonder if there is any Presidential candidate, Democrat or Republican, who will actually end the stupidity. Certainly it won’t be any candidate who thinks we should still be there. But which of the candidates who think we shouldn’t will actually take on the defense contractors and the oil lobbies? Which of them will be able to compromise enough to get elected but yet will still be in a place where they are able to be independent once elected.

The whole discussion about who has enough experience to be President is moot. While it is true that Hillary understands the way things work in the White House, is it possible that she is so jaded by that information that she will be too cautious to make decisions that are courageous. In the same way, the Senators who are running are so indoctrinated by a failed bureaucracy -- will they be able to see how to be independent and compromising at the same time? The ex and present Governors who are running do have some management experience but will they also develop a ‘big picture’ vision for the country and our place in an increasingly dangerous world? This is too depressing. Let’s talk about Thanksgiving parties.

For many years we had Thanksgiving in Virginia. It changed a few years ago because it was easier for Boston and Seattle family to get to New Jersey. But the level of stress that came with that change increased over the years. It always started out OK. Dinner at the Reservoir Tavern the night before. Drinks at Johnny’s tavern for some. Meetings with old friends, flames and foes. Even the dinner preparations were easy. We always made the same thing—turkey, stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. We even made it the same way except the one year Pam decided we need to cut back on the cream in the mashed, boy that sucked, but so what – it was about the company not the food. You know I’m lying. Thanksgiving is the one time it’s only about the food. Then the Boston kids stopped coming, it was too far for the whole Seattle family, and Pam’s family had to go to her sisters. So we decided to have dinner with Mom, Auntie, Lee and Marty, Jordan and anyone who had no place to go. After all the dinners were over, everyone (previously in attendance who was around) came to Mom’s for dessert. But then about three years ago, Mom always got sick on Thanksgiving—having nothing to do with the food. So, as you can imagine, in the past few years this has become an event we no longer looked forward to.

This year Mom is in Seattle, not feeling very well, and we decided to venture to Wisconsin. And I have been thinking about what I’m grateful for. There are the obvious things, like all the kids and selected family. (just kidding). There are the friends, for whom I am always deeply grateful. But what else? I am thankful that we can afford to celebrate so many occasions. I am thankful for nice weather—not just fabulous, but nice, with blue skies and warm breezes. I love the ocean, and the beach, and Napa. The apartment in New York is near the top of my thankful for list, and, of course, discount shopping. I know these are uncomplicated things to celebrate and that some are not within my control but they do make me smile, and where is it written that everything has to be complicated. But I guess right up on top is good health. I am really grateful for good health, not only mine but for everyone I know. And staying in good health is my fondest wish for all the children in the military, wherever they may be. We’re just sayin…Iris

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

That Refreshing Midwestern Attitude

We’re in Milwaukee for Thanksgiving. It’s always a refreshing pursuit to change venues, and while most of our venues this year have been Morris County (NJ), Boston, Seattle, NY and the greater Washington area, the Midwest has much to offer.[In addition to actually FLYING on Midwest Express air whose chocolate chip cookies are da bomb.) In many ways. Technically, I suppose, if you bothered to do a study on all the criminality in the country, and read the Compendium of Statistics of Annoying Behaviour (Annotated), you would very well see that there are as many twits and jerks in Milwaukee as there are in all the places we KNOW they exist. But when you’re here on a short sojourn, much of the jerkiness gets filtered out, and you end up with some quite delightful little moments. Even the mere upfront attitudes are like a splash of cool rose water on parched skin. This morning we dragged Iris’ life long pal Tina (born in Boonton, grew up running a minor shake down syndicate in grade school with Iris, and moved to Wisconsin in high school) to a new, and I mean crinkly new Costco, on the outskirts of town. There are some things you need to do when in search of large quantities of Pigs in a Blanket (finger food), and this was one of them. We arrived yesterday afternoon, Jordan late in the night, so the four of us dragged ourselves into the store with great hopes of cheap Malbec red (Argentine) and PiaB’s. Jordan and I quickly peeled off, and went marauding on our own through the new store. There were some great tastings offered up by folks who not only spoke English but were more than willing to engage in conversation as they handed out Lindt Chocolate Truffles. Frankly, who couldn’t make conversation with the ante card of a tray of Truffles. But here they do it with an earnestness that is quite delightful. Even a hint of mischievousness crept into her attitude. It made scoring a Truffle all the more fun. And on the way out, JK and I (sorry there is no photo, this was a good one) posed, like a couple of modern day twits, ourselves – right out of Dumb and Dumber – in front of a large mountain of boxes, heralded by the sign “Traditional Fruitcake, $ 12.99” It was a father – daughter moment of the first order, as we all convulsed with laughter, heading for the cashier. I suppose it could have happened at the Costco in Arlington, but it would be less likely. All those Pentagon officers being serious. All the Hill people being serious. All the rest of the K Street crowd taking themselves so seriously, one might even risk imprisonment with all those sour pusses. From Costco we went to City Market, (like the Pike St. market in Seattle, but no ballistic salmon which night knock you down.) Nice folks, smiling, and happy to help, not all that concerned about whether or not you’re spending, they’re just happy to have you there, and please, take a taste of the Wisconsin Cheddar while you’re at it.

Central Hall, Milwaukee Art Museum

Paul Gero, a great photographer, and pal who used to live in DC, and now is living in southern Cal, is from Wisconsin, and is blessed not only with that great accent, but a gift of mimic: he can do just about any version of the English language you like, and with very little prep time. I think Paul, more than most, appreciates that sense of open engagement you get here. Like a lot of things, you could turn these aphorisms into the legislation, and make a lot of people happy. I mean, you could mandate that anyone paying more than, say, $5000 a year in taxes (you have to draw the line somewhere) would get a free trip to one of the other parts of the country for a long weekend. So you could have lawyers from Tupelo visiting Boise. Lobstermen from Maine coming to Des Moines. Phoenix toy salesmen coming to Green Bay. The point is, that while vacation time is supposed to do that, we have forsaken a lot of this kind of immersion time for “quality Disney park” time (hey, I own a few shares of Disney, but it doesn’t’ change my opinion). The real theme parks out there are the themes of real people: barbecue & music in Memphis, brats and brews in Milwaukee, coastal drives and fish frys in Monterey. I am a big believer in travel as the best education, but you first have to figure out where to visit. And for us, coming to Milwaukee for a few days is like being dipped in a lovely bain de l’ame.. a bathing of the soul. This afternoon, after we did the delivery of the Thanksgiving goodies to the ‘big room’ where we’ll (23 of us) gather tomorrow, I walked in the blustery wind to the Milwaukee Art Museum,

even in the first winter's snow... Milwaukee is...

a newly minted singularly striking structure on the shore of Lake Michigan, shaped like a giant prow of a ship, aimed at the endless sheet of silver water. Walking in, you are confronted with a stunning wide band of windows, fully reflective, which give you the sense of an enormous pair of kissable lips. I shot a pic with my phone (yes, it IS that era) and showed it to the docent, asking if the “lips look” was done on purpose. The reply was a surprize: “wow, I work here everyday, and I’ve never seen that!” Well, I guess the architect had it in mind. And it was well done indeed. Situated in the center of the windows was a pretty tree, lit in small red lights, with a label, denoting it as the Holiday Tree. Proof again, that even in a relatively sane place like Milwaukee, silliness abounds. Let’s just call it a Christmas tree, folks. It’s not a Hannukah Bush, it’s probably not a Kwanzaa Bough, either. But someone felt it necessary to fall into the crevice of political correctness. Maybe they’ll get over it when they realize they just have a big set of lips on their hands, and name it for a Rolling Stones Album. That would make a bit of Midwest sense, wouldn’t it? We’re just sayin…David

Go Figure..

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Favorite Time of Year

Even though we’re Jewish and, as far as I know, have always been, the Christmas season is my favorite time of the year. I think that it just feels different from other parts of the year. Granted, the years seem to be getting shorter. As my grandfather used to say, “life is like a train, when you are you young it feels like you are on a local, and the older you get you are more likely to be on an express.” This is not exactly how he said it because he didn’t speak any English, but it’s close enough to the original Yiddish. And although the holidays are getting longer because retailers want to give you more time to shop, there is a period of time around Thanksgiving and until right after New Years, when there is a kind of special feeling about each day.

North 17th St., Arlington on a leafy Monday

Part of this might be the weather—but not for me because I hate the cold and I don’t live in Florida. Although I do love lighting a fire, which we do incorrectly (mix fake logs with real). And it doesn’t warm the house (the hot air escapes and cold comes in through the flue). But it always has the same results. It is lovely and incredibly romantic. When we lived on Q Street at Dupont circle, we had a fireplace in our bedroom. And at that special time of the year there was nothing better than feeling great about the crisp day and lighting the fire on a cold night.

And it’s not the gift buying or the crowds—because I’m not good in crowds (except at Cow Town). Actually, it’s not possible to explain the way I feel by describing a tangible set of circumstances. It’s just my favorite time of the year. I suppose it has a great deal to do with memories of certain events. When we were growing up we celebrated Hannukah instead of Christmas. We lit candles in a musical Menorah (candle holder) and we sang a song or two. We never got a gift for each day and mostly we got Hannukah gelt (money), which was usually about 2 or three dollars. But it was always a time we looked forward to. It’s certainly different today. When Seth was small we tried to do things that illustrated how wonderful it was to be Jewish. When Jordan was little we did small gifts everyday and usually one big gift. Yes, it was overkill but we wanted her to love Hannukah as much as her friends loved Christmas. And yes, there was always a bit of competition/desperation, but we do our best to have as much fun as we can with both. But because Christmas is so big and accessible (Hannukah items often provide just a 'fill in the blanks'), it’s simply easier to be playful with Chrstmas crap.

Jordan, trying on a Christmas Tree skirt as a Cape, Boston

Back to why I think I love this time of the year. I guess part of the reason is that the leaves are changing color. I always thought that the color of the leaves was somehow related to the amount of water we get in the spring and summer. But apparently this is not the case. From what my meteorologist friends say, no one knows why the color is either vivid or dull, and in fact some of them believe that no one even knows why they change color before they fall. All they do know is that if the wind blows, they fall faster. Duh. Anyway, when we were driving back from New York at the beginning of the week, the leaves in south Jersey were gorgeous. Almost a New England kind of breathtaking. As we arrived in Virginia we commented that it was okay, although a bit muted if not dull, but certainly no comparison to what we had seen. And then yesterday, as I was driving home from the post office, the leaves on a small street around the corner but near our house seemed to come alive. It was so unbelievably colorful that I actually pulled over just to have time to get a good look.. And when David got home I insisted that we go back to that street to look again. He was equally impressed. Today, having had an almost religious leaf experience I went back, and the same street was pretty but nothing special.

Donn, prepping the Malt Machine

The Key: Carnation MALT Powder

So I love holiday celebrations, lighting a fire and the leaves changing. But what I think I love most is that it is the time of year when friends try harder to see one another. For example, the Viviani’s, who are the parents of Jordan’s high school boyfriend, (the kids broke up, but we didn’t), are people we don’t see with any frequency but we love to be with. Because of our nonstop travel we have become very last minute “event” people. And it happened that the Viviani’s were free for the same fifteen minutes we were going to be home. It was somehow decided that rather than go out we would have dinner at their house. They are excellent cooks (along with being excellent athletes) so we always assume we will eat delicious as well as healthy. Which was true until Don asked how we felt about malts. As you may recall most of our September was spent trying to find the best malt in New Jersey. Well, the Viviani malt might actually be the best malt we have had –if not ever-- at least in the last ten years. We tried Vanilla, Mocha, Chocolate, and Black & White.. it was a Malt Tasting. After malts we bid a fond farewell and agreed that they would come to our “not on Hannukah” party next week.

If it isn't a Hamilton Beach, its Not a proper Malt

And so, all things considered, I expect to be in a pretty good mood over the next few months. If you can’t be happy during your favorite time of the year then when will it ever happen? And speaking of happy, is not being in a bad mood glass half full or just a epiphany. I’m even looking forward to our first snow – as long as it doesn’t interfere with our travel plans – which it most likely will. (Almost glass half empty but not enough to matter). We’re just sayin…Iris

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Birthday Memories

Yesterday was my birthday. For the past few years I have pretty much ignored it because the day never met expectations. Here’s what I mean by that. When you are little you look forward to whatever kind of celebration you know there is going to be. All through elementary school I looked forward to my birthday because it was also Janice Davidson’s birthday, and her mother always made special cookies or a cake. Then when I got older, and Janice was no longer a close pal , my other friends always did something memorable. On my seventeenth birthday Andy Hurwitz, Joyce and Pam threw me a surprise party and even though it was the day John Kennedy was killed-- as kids we paused only for a moment of sorrow and then moved on to having fun. After high school there were only certain birthdays that were worth celebrating. Since you could drink in NY at eighteen, that was worth a toast. For the same reason twenty one was also a day to lift a glass. Having a sixties mentality, thirty meant you were over the hill. But thirty five was the turning point in celebrations for me. My business partners gifted me a spa day including beauty salon. It was a disaster. Bad haircut, allergic reaction to the cream they used for my facial, and the masseuse was a beginner. Talk about disappointed expectations. After that I kind of stopped wanting to celebrate—it wasn’t that I hated getting old it was just that, as I said, never as terrific as I wanted it to be.

Anyway on the occasion of my birthday and after reflecting about life (as most people do on their special day), I thought I’d share some memories. Actually, as you might have guessed, I don't remember the my birth very well. But I have heard the story from my mother on any number of occasions. It goes something like this:

"Daddy took me to the hospital and wouldn't leave me until I went into the labor room." By modern standards this meant that my father dropped my mother at the hospital and then was forced to desert her because some prehistoric rule declared that being with your husband during labor was unsanitary. This rule also gave the sperm donor an excuse not to share in the beauty of the birth.... and the screaming and yelling with which it was inevitably accompanied. Enough editorializing. I'm sure my father wanted to be there. Or at least I’m sure he would have been there if it were possible.

The story goes on, (as told by my mother), " You were a beautiful baby"
(you and I both know there are no beautiful babies except my grandson. At best new
born babies look like mushrooms growing in the grass after a bad lawn mowing) "You looked just like your daddy, In fact the doctor drew a mustache on your lip, Daddy had a mustache, and you looked just like him." I always liked the beautiful baby part of the
story but the mustache part has caused me no end of agony throughout my life. It was said, specifically by my father's mother, no less than three hundred thousand quadrillion times before she died that my father was very pleased when I was born
and no matter what I heard to the contrary that he was not disappointed that I was not a boy. (I might add here that I was not disappointed either). After these brief conversations with my grandmother, my father would take me off to the side and
continuously reassure me that despite my despicable behavior for a great portion of my young and not so young life, he never once regretted my being a girl. But you can well imagine the effect it has on a clever and impressionable youth to hear from ones own
grandmother-- a real blood relative, not just by marriage-- that there was even the slightest degree of disappointment about your sexual make-up. It can be a bit disconcerting-and probably cause irreparable damage. Back to the mustache part, which has been a constant source of pain throughout my life.

Like many persons of the Semitic race, and although I am not dark skinned, the hair on my body is somewhat dark. The first time I noticed the hair on my face I was fourteen years old and on my way to my first big dance. My brother, (Jeff) who is six years my junior and to whom I did not speak until he emerged as a person on his eighteenth birthday, looked at me and -- pointing a finger-- said that I looked very nice and if I didn't have a mustache I would look like a girl. I thought I would die. I
was never going to be seen in public again. I explained to my mother that I would take all my meals in my room, I would have to have a tutor if she expected me to be educated, and she should absolutely count out ever having a grandchild unless some man was
willing to marry a woman with a paper bag over her head.

My mother, who was always the voice of reason, assured me that the mustache condition was not fatal, that there were ways to remedy it, and if I didn't stop carrying on like a lunatic she would beat me to a pulp. Thus I began to bleach...and for the most part I stopped carrying on, but not without knowing in my heart of hearts that if THEY had not painted that mustache on me in the hospital, I never would have suffered one moment of concern about my appearance or my hormones. In fact. if it were not for just a few other things like that having impacted on my life I would be a normal person today.

All these incidents are connected, and so you see, I come by birthday dread honestly. Let’s pause here for another anyway; my cousin Ro says “consider the alternative”, and Soozie says, “glass half full” and they are right, so I’ve decided to do a total turnabout and look at that day with good humor. Additionally, I had a great birthday which started with Jordan calling at 6am because she forgot I was on the west coast, Seth calling to chat, good wishes from friends and family and ending with dinner with Jeff and Els. I guess it was because I had no expectations, we had a delicious dinner, good conversation and the whole evening was really fun. So I say, if you live long enough it is possible to change and now I can’t wait for next year. We’re just sayin...Iris

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Make the Noise

After you give birth to a baby you have to figure out what comes next. I don’t mean in the greater scheme of things, like ‘do you want to take time off from a lucrative career’, I mean everyday. It is obvious that you need to feed a baby, change their diaper, hold them, nurture them and keep them safe. Unless you have post partum depression and want to either give them away or kill them. That was not nice. But taking care of a newborn (unless you have full time help and can sit in front of the TV eating ice cream bon bons), can be incredibly difficult or maybe boring unless you can find a way to entertain yourself.

Mimi and Zach - the "Make the Noise" pre-game Meal

Just for arguments sake let’s assume that the women who choose to have children, actually want to spend all the time they can with them. (This is not going to be a lecture about stay at home mothers). So when the reality of what it’s like to spend about 16 waking hours—not counting night time feedings-- caring for a bitty baby with whom you cannot have an interesting conversation, it can be devastating.

Reading Time

This was not the case for me when I had my kids. Despite their size and ability to communicate, I wanted to find a way to relate to them. When I had Seth my mother insisted that I either have a baby nurse or she would come to “help” me. There was never a question about the choice. First of all, she was taking care of my father and her absence would have taken a toll on his well being. OK, I’m full of crap. If I had to deal with my mother and sitting on a rubber pillow I would have considered offing myself. I may have talked about this previously, but the baby nurse came the week I was supposed to give birth. Only I was three and a half weeks overdue (actually Seth was overdue!), and in a very bad mood, and she was from Germany and the kind of German you see in movies—with all that might imply. I don’t mean to be unkind (now you know that’s not true) but to say she was a little inflexible, was like saying the ocean is a little polluted. On a good day she was like a nice commandante in a concentration camp. “You will eat your breakfast. You will take a nap. You will exercise. Too much TV will make you blind,” and stuff like that. It wasn’t only that she was bossy and humorless, it was also that I am not good at not being in charge. It got so competitive that we found ourselves reduced to giving contradictory orders to Sherman, my shaggy dog.

More reading...

When Seth finally arrived we were both so happy to have something to do that we almost started to like one another—but then she decided that I was to do nothing and I was reduced to sneaking Seth out of his crib and hiding him in my bed in order to nurture him in my own way. Well, the nurse finally left and months passed. He matured nicely and did all the things expected of a little baby, and along with feeding him and watching him grow, I tried to find ways for us to be entertained together. And so we discovered a game called, ‘make the noise’.

It’s a pretty easy game to play but I find it works best if you wait six or seven months. Here’s how it works. You wait until the baby makes one of those wonderful sounds that babies make. The goo goo gaa gaa kind of sounds. Then you take two fingers and gently but quickly cover and uncover their mouths, and you say “make the noise”. The sound is very amusing for both adult and child. After a while the kid realizes they are making the sound (with adult assistance) and they like doing it. You really have to see it to understand so we have asked the fabulous Zack Jacobson to help with the demonstration.

Jordan also made the noise and when I showed David how to do it, he did it nonstop. It got to be a thing and I challenged most of the babies with whom I came in contact to participate in my game. OK it’s a little silly but I can assure you it can provide hours of endless entertainment.

Zach and Auntie Jordan, practice making the noise..

And for a first on the Blob: click below.. Zach makes the Noise:

And speaking of endless entertainment, I am on my way to visit mom in Bainbridge. Unfortunately, it will not be exactly what I expected because last night there was a fire in an apartment two floor above hers and because there was water damage in her apartment, She couldn’t stay there last night and we don’t know when she’ll get back. Jeff and Els stayed with her in a motel down the street—she got the bedroom they got the sofa bed. I guess these things happen and it seems that with my mom there is never a dull moment. It’s not really that entertaining but maybe I should suggest to my brother that he simply put two fingers over her mouth and ask her to make the noise. Were just sayin...Iris

Friday, November 09, 2007

Just Get The Glass

When we were little and someone would lose something, like a necklace or a key or whatever, my mother would take a glass put it on the kitchen table and turn it upside down. I have no idea why turning a glass upside down would lead to the discovery of a misplaced object, but it often did. Sometimes it took hours and sometimes days, but eventually, like magic, the lost item surfaced.

Over the last few years I’ve noticed that the number of glasses on my kitchen table has increased considerably. For whatever reason, and I am not discounting age but I don’t like to think about it, I can’t remember where I put things. For example, my Aunt Fritzie had this absolutely fantastic plastic penguin that you filled with toothpicks and when you dipped the nose of the bird, it released one pick as needed. It was made in Korea at a time when everything was imported from Korea instead of China. It was also a time when everyone smoked and I can remember my Aunt serving cocktails in their beautifully finished basement, with everyone sitting around smoking and pressing the penguin – if not for the pick at least for the entertainment factor.

The penguin somehow made it’s way to my mother’s house. I guess because my mother was the last one to have a house. When I was cleaning up “just stuff” I found the penguin. My brother was with me and we both remember that I put it in my suitcase to take home. Needless to say, when I got home, I couldn’t find it. So I turned a glass over on the table—where it remains now, three months later.

Then, before Halloween I purchased one of those giant bags of candy to dispense to children who would get all sugared up and not settle down for days. For this reason, when my kids were little, I never gave candy to kids. I gave little gifts like stickers, fancy pencils, colorful erasers and toys. Jordan was always embarrassed by this, “Why can’t you just give candy like normal people” but it was a matter of principle. I was just opposed to giving out sugared crap when there were alternatives. Anyway, this year I couldn’t find the little gifts. (Probably a good thing since they were from an Oriental Trading catalogue where everything is imported from China), I was sure I had put them safely away in the basement but despite my every effort, (including another turned glass) I could not find them, so I unhappily, I bought candy. Why did I need to buy anything, you ask. Well we were going to be in NY and we wanted to show our neighbors that we were nice people. Our neighbors in Virginia already know this.

As if that wasn’t depressing enough, I misplaced about 150 pieces of the candy. You see, after I bought it I thought I would take half to NY and leave the rest in Va. for our Hannukah party. When I got home last Monday I looked for the candy. I can’t remember where I hid it. I did hide it because I didn’t want to eat it. I bought candy I love and despite the fact that I don’t eat candy anymore I simply can’t resist a Snickers or M&M’s Peanuts. So I turned over another glass. And then I couldn’t find the candlesticks my Dad brought back from Africa after the war. The big war when we were fighting for Democracy—we all remember Democracy, right. So I searched the house and I couldn’t find them. I was so upset I sent David an e-mail and he suggested I look outside because when we were home a few weeks ago we had dinner on the deck. And there they were. I was surprised to see them suffering the consequences of any number of storms, as well as the cold, but at least there was no need for another glass.

Then I began to think about whether or not the glass would work for other losses. I mean what if you lost a friendship, obviously not because they died. What if you could just turn a glass over on a table and everything would be alright. And what about the loss of a job or a contract. How would you direct the loss request. Would you turn the glass upside down and say a prayer over it. Something like, “Dear Glass I really screwed up and I need you to help me figure out how to deal with it.” Maybe you would have to light candles and put a “schmata” on your head (it’s usually a napkin because a kitchen towel is too big), like we do on the Sabbath. It certainly can’t hurt. But then what would you do about disappointed expectations if it didn’t work. Would that lead to additional anxieties or perhaps the expense of a therapist. There are things to consider before we make any demands on the glass.

This is getting much too complicated. Like any old wives tale, it sometimes is close to the truth, sometimes an alternative for scare tactics and sometimes just nonsense. In the case of the glass, it provides hope for an aging hippie who believes that there is a solution for every problem—including not remembering. We’re just sayin..Iris

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

But I Don't FEEL Like A Master

November must be Workshop month. However, unlike the ones I used to be invited to help teach (Maine in the summer) the ones this month have been in slightly less obvious locales. The weekend of October 26th I worked with a team from National Geographic teaching Vietnamese – American kids in New Orleans the finer points of shooting, and how to deal with subjects in your own neighborhood.

This week, after a longish flight from Newark, I landed in Amsterdam, my favorite PhotoCentric town, to work with the World Press Photo “Master Class.” Master Class started about ten years ago, with the idea that WPP ( would bring together a dozen promising young photographers (the ‘students’) from all over the world, in most cases under 30, and have them spend a week being tutored by a half dozen “Masters”, themselves from a variety of countries. It has been a terrific week of trying to sort out the new photojournalism from the old, where it’s all headed, and what we are trying to do with it in a world bombarded with digital stuff from every direction.

The students come from Russia, Argentina, Italy, UK, US, China, Germany, France, Iraq, Belgium, Poland, and Bangladesh. The “Masters” (true, I'm not really ever going to feel comfy with that handle..) hail from UK, Sweden, Bangladesh, the US, Germany, and Denmark. It is a great team of people, serious in their craft, yet full of good humor, and it makes the long, very long, extremely long (8 am till midnight?) days fly by. There are a few very cool things. They have one of those little ‘pod’ expresso machines, and there is even Decaf, though I suppose I’m considered a wus for being the only one drinking it. The presentations have been terrific, and the one-on-one ‘s with the students are also quite enlightening, even though they run forty minutes. At the beginning, I said that I thought I’d have trouble getting through 40 minutes of Cartier-Bresson pictures (ok, my mistake!). Well, I repaired that faux pas, and the pictures, I have to say are quite terrific from some of the photographers. I have already figured out with two whose work I really like that we’ll trade prints (that s the way you cut out the gallery chunk, and go straight to the source.)

Holland remains the kind of place where you can see how they keep the water out: they are buttoned up on the things that matter. Like keeping the dykes repaired, and water more or less under control.

My herb of choice: Fresh mint tea

And the lesser important stuff (i.e. buying a single Joint in a coffee shop for five bucks) is done with intelligence, and a decision NOT to imprison a few million people for no reason. For the record, I didn’t smoke anything but a stogie I brought from New York but the freedom of choice thing is pretty impressive when you compare it to the way we Yanks feel a need to spend megabillions on controlling something that probably doesn’t need that level of control. Oops, I forgot.

How do you NOT love a place with grass on the tram tracks?

Today at lunch I was the recipient of a “swell gift”. Knowing of my fetish for the weird and oddball camera, Jan Garup, the very talented Dane who is part of our team, gifted me a new copy of the recently re-issued DIANA camera, the little plastic bugger which was the precursor of the Holga.

Made of nearly all plastic, the DIANA was the first of the ‘lighter than ten Oreo cookies’ plastic jobs of the last decade. They were imported from Hong Kong starting in the 70s, and become cult icons. I first became enamored of the fuzzy/sharp/fuzzy look in a book by a guy called Eric Lindbloom who was not only a helluva photographer, but a smart guy as well. Poor fella, he had to make three, or was it four? trips to Florence, Italy to shoot pictures of statuary with his Diana cameras. Yea, tough life, eh? All that Florentine food and drink, on a grant, to take pictures . (Editors Note: Where the Hell do I Stand in Line for THAT one?) His book, Angels at the Arno was a wonder when I picked it up at a Vermont bookstore one year on our annual gallavant to the Armani outlet store summer sale. Great pictures. What more can you say. The combination of art and commerce. Meanwhile, when I have a free minute, which I don’t have much of, I’m trying to do some additional writing about my adventures in Iran during the 1979 revolution for a book which should happen next year. I will say this on behalf of keeping a journal: You memory, rock solid as it might once have been, does fade perceptibly after thirty years, and note taking really should be practiced if you want to remember what you saw, thought, and felt.

Our hotel, the Lloyd Hotel, a former Dentention Center, is in the newly reclaimed part of town, just east of downtown. Its on the water, nice views, some funky aluminum apartment buildings near by give it an air of modernity. The hotel, though has it’s colorful aspects. Most rooms (all are different) do not really separate the bathroom from the bed room. I have a spacious room, about 12x30 feet, big squishy feather blanketed bed, and just a coin toss away, is the sink, the shower, and the Loo. Im solo here, but I could forsee that the lack of any privacy might eventually create some issues with visitors who aren’t really ready for the NoPrivateDoodie arrangement.

Spacious but.. well... Open air...

It’s a kind of “at home” feel, very unprepossessing Dutch atmosphere, and after two days, I even found where the closet was hiding (opposite the sink, in anyone asks). They have a swell breakfast buffet with a series of non-brown food group items (how UN-EmbassySuites of them ) including adorable little strawberries, cucumbers to refresh you, and a cumin/caraway cheese which my sister in law Els would surely run a mile for.

Two more days of trying to be smart and meaningful and then back to Newark (did someone say Reservoir Tavern?) Friday night. Thursday evening I am the star speaker and in honor of which they are LiveNetCasting my speech (bring a beer, and put your feet up.. oops, its only 11am in NY then… lose the beer) to the Masters, Staff of WPP (who we do love), and the Students as well as a group of Dutch photographers invited for the occasion. You can tune in here on Thursday 11am Eastern if you want to sample the new technology. The students,

At the Tram, en route class...

having been chosed in the spring, spent part of the summer each working on a common theme: Fragile. A book with their work is being launched after my speech, so this is a kind of big deal for everyone. Ill try not to be too foolish on cam, though, let’s face it, I can never guarantee I won’t be. It’s on the tight rope, no net, well actually the INTERnet. Come drop by. (its More wisdom to impart, but first I have to ride up and down this amazingly reflective elevator a dozen times. We're just sayin! ..David

Monday, November 05, 2007

Like Millions of People...

When Aunt Sophie died and I got the gold Cadillac, I decided that I was going drive rather than take public transportation when traveling from DC to New York or NY to Boston – sometimes even DC to Boston. I like the idea of just getting into my most comfortable old, but still plush vehicle, not waiting for a train or a bus – where I would have to deal with crowds (I can build one but I don’t like to be in one) -- and just going.
Books on tape have become a passion and I have had the pleasure of many hours of listening enjoyment, as well as many minutes of horrible readers. Even when the story is good if the reader is bad you just can’t make it through a tape.

So imagine my consternation when I learned that the power steering hose had a leak and I would not be able to make the trip from NY to DC in my own space. What to do? David loves the train and it is logistically easier than the plane, so I made reservations to go on the ground. I made my reservations for the 11:30 –which originates in NY. It is always better to take a train that starts in the city from which you depart than to have to battle passengers who have been established in a seat for 300 miles. But since we turned back the clocks and my body time was an hour ahead, I was ready to go at 8am. But I needed to complete some bank business (Kerry and I now have a joint account for when we are being jointly entertained –see blob 8/4 for more info). When I finished that business it was 8:45. If I’d had my car I would just have thrown stuff in the back seat and been on the road in no time, but because I was reserved for an 11:30, I had to change my departure time (on line, with an agent, or at the station.) By the time I had completed the banking and change task, it was 9:15 and I reserved on the 10:30. That’s the mediocre news.

The good news is that when you travel by train you get to go to the train station. In this case it was Penn Station. Let me share this confidence. The thing I like least about train travel is getting on, (especially if the train does not originate in NY or DC) so I usually ask a Red Cap for help. The last time Jordan and I boarded by ourselves I almost got in a fist fight with a Philistine, who thought he should be in front of us -- and everyone else in the station. I think it was an occasion when I asked him if he took his foul mouth to church with him on Sundays (a favorite comeback which works much better than screaming back obscenities). I no longer attempt to board without assistance.

Anyway, when you await assistance you do it from a designated area (they throw that in once you’ve indicated you may actually spend a couple of bucks.) This morning it was the waiting area –not for the Acela Express but for steerage passengers. It doesn’t really matter where you stand, you still get to observe the dynamic of the busy confusing station. First I located a Red Cap who would provide assistance and then I began my watching. An older couple stopped at the security gate and asked the woman at the desk if she would help them find a porter. “ I can help you find a Red Cap” she replied. “We don’t have porters anymore.” I looked at her and we both chuckled. “It’s an age thing”, I said. Or he has been watching too many movies on TCM.” She directed him to a place where he could stand until she found someone to help him. Then a young (20’s) couple approached a “porter”, who was waiting outside security.
“Can I use your carrier” she inquired.
“No, I need it for my work.” He said nicely.
Well, you would have thought he said something horrible because she began to throw herself around. She was incredibly angry about his refusal. I mean, she was violent with her bags and her attitude. It was certainly a scene. The people behind the desk remained calm and polite, and my new friend just shook her head and, once again chuckled. “You never know what people are thinking” she remarked.

There was additional live and very local color: like a Red Cap whose overloaded cart dumped and there was luggage all over the station. There were international tourists who asked for help in their native tongue which led to colorful charade-like performances, and there were mothers dragging kids who had “no bones”. “No bones” is not a physical condition. It occurs when the kid doesn’t want to go where you want them to go, and their bodies become totally limp, so you are forced to drag them along – often leaving skid marks from the sneakers. This is a condition that often appears in supermarkets, toy stores and restaurants. The cure can be a good kick in the ‘tuchas’ but I wouldn’t do it in front of a police officer or young busy body.

My own personal Redcap, Arthur, appeared about fifteen minutes before departure.
”We have a track, so let’s go” he instructed. And after a quick “I enjoyed this time we had together” with my new friend, I was happy to leave the whirlwind activities of Penn Station behind and proceed to gate #13. I found a nice seat and spread out in hopes that the train was not over crowded and I wouldn’t have to share space with any stranger. I got my book on tape ready, along with my computer, the inflatable pillow, my 6 minute hard boiled egg salad, and my NY Post, which is easier to read in a small space than the NY Times. It was, admittedly, quite comfortable. And given the circumstances an adequate alternative to the car. At least it is better than the bus.

I have a return trip to make and by the time I get back I am hopeful that the Caddy will be repaired and ready for travel. It’s funny the things we get attached too and the things we leave behind. I mean, I really miss my DC pals and my Mini, but I am over my house and the contents. Without Jordan and her friends around, it has become a storage facility for David’s crap and a place where, when I am there, I have to drive everywhere I go to get anything I need. The irony is that 500 mile East Coast drive, which happens frequently, is such a pleasurable task, but driving the mile and a half to the market is such a drain. Oh, and I guess I miss the local library where I get the books on tape for free. Somehow traveling like millions of people (like when we lived in Jersey and I took the bus to NY everyday) has never really worked for me. But such is the place I find myself in on, thank God, not too many numerous occasions. We’re just sayin...Iris

Friday, November 02, 2007

Gift Wrapping 101

Gift wrapping has never been my fortĂ©. It has been my failing, and hard as it is for me to admit, I can’t wrap a gift or cut ribbon or anything related to giving away a pretty package. It is unclear when I realized this was the case. It could go back to as far as when we did Christmas gift exchanges in elementary school. We were all told to bring a gift, worth no more than a dollar, but to wrap it nicely and it would go into a big grab bag. Everyone in the class chose a package—except mine. I was forced to take my own package home. It was humiliating but there was nothing to do except pretend I didn’t know who that package was from. Luckily I am a terrific gift buyer so I liked what I was going to give away, but still, a little surprise would have been nice.

The next time I noticed my wrap-ineptness was when I was about 8 or 9 and started to celebrate Christmas Eve at my friend Pam’s. It so exciting for a Jewish kid to be invited to celebrate this most mysterious holiday with people who knew about Jesus and giving. Over the years we developed a ritual. We would decorate the tree, have lasagna—Aunt Claire makes fabulous lasagna—together we would hang an ornament on the tree. Then we would open one gift per person after which I would go home. In the early years my sloppy wrapping wasn’t so noticeable. But over the years, when everyone elses improved (and Pam’s an artist so hers was really awesome), and mine still looked like an 8 year old had done it, I was mortified.

Time marched on. Gift wrapping was never on my list of talents. Oh how I tried to dress packages with ribbons and bows and glitter and love. I tried to convince myself it was the thought that counted, but it never made my packages look any prettier. So then I thought, why bother? Just put the gift in a cute bag and never mind. And it worked. But then I started to think, why are we just buying stuff that means nothing, in order to have something to give. Is that really what Christmas is about? Well, I’m still a Jewish kid and I don’t know what Christmas is about, but I love the excitement that surrounds the holiday and there are people I want to gift.

Trick.... or....
Anyway, tonight is Halloween and while we were cutting ribbon for the packages of candy I noticed that we had cut some of the ribbon too short. How typical, I thought. I can’t even cut the ribbon long enough to wrap around the bags of candy. And then I paused because, (remember I said I was the best gift giver), I never gave candy at Halloween. I used to give little toys and games. Jordan would always admonish me for giving toys not candy. “People don’t want to come here because that stuff is lame,” she would say. I didn’t care. Hated all the crap we gave to kids so I gave little toys and games.. Things like stickers, mini-cars, key chains, pocket games etc. When I told Jordan I was packing candy bags she could hardly believe it. “What are you thinking?”, she said. “You have never given anyone a piece of candy.” And that’s true. But I didn’t want to stock up on Halloween crap so I opted for a $12 bag of candy from Costco – fun sizes, all -- which I then divided and put in cute little orange bags to give to children.

...Treat..(notice the orange 'goodie bags')

And here’s something that I realized while selecting the right bag of candy. I was only going to buy candy I liked. The bag I chose included Snickers, Reese’s peanut butter cups, Almond Joy, M&M’s, Nestles Crunch, Baby Ruth, you get the picture. Wasn’t I wonderful buying all this candy we love. And then when I was packing the bags I found myself putting all the candy I loved into a bag which David and I could attack later. It was hard to admit but I didn’t really want to share the candy I loved with any little pishers I didn’t know. And I started to think., did I buy toys because I didn’t care about sharing those with strangers. Did I hesitate to buy candy I liked because I am a selfish bitch and I couldn’t bear to part with it. Halloween, for me, has become more than a holiday where you can dress up as whomever you want. It has become a statement of character. This is much too heavy, so let me reflect for a minute on when I started to love the holiday. When we were in college in a very conservative Back Bay Boston, we were not even allowed to wear pants out of the dorm -- we had to wear dresses or skirts. But, we were a theater school and there were many gay students. No one was openly gay (it WAS the 60s), but on Halloween, all the gay people in Boston would cross dress and go to a party at a bar in the combat zone. We weren’t allowed in the bar but we would stand outside and admire the costumes. The performances were breathtaking. There were the most gorgeous men dressed as the most gorgeous women making audacious appearances. I loved the whole idea and, in fact, started to celebrate the holiday.

After Jordan left for school it just wasn’t as much fun to welcome the trick or treaters, so we stopped doing it—until tonight. We are in NY and David decided that it’s hard enough to be a kid in a NY apartment without having to forgo a Halloween experience, so we participated in the Leslie House Halloween celebration. I packed candy and we gave it out from 6-7 – we had theater tickets for 8:00. And limited as the time frame was, and terrible as I felt about giving out candy, it was still fun to see the kids enjoying themselves. And despite the fact that I can’t wrap a bag or a gift, I was still happy about giving away candy I loved, to kids who didn’t know it was not really what I wanted to do.
Times change and candy is still what kids want, and I remain unable to wrap or give a gift that looks like something someone wants. But they’ll still take it. We’re just sayin...Iris