Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dancing in the Light

Last night I watched the Kennedy Center Honors. They have a special place in my heart because in 1978, Liz Stevens asked a few of the Carter political appointees to help out with this new project her husband was working on. She said it was simple work. We just had to escort an Honoree while they were at the Kennedy Center for the evening of special activities. It sounded like fun and I agreed to help out.

The nominee I was assigned was Fred Astaire. When I was a little girl I dreamed about tapping like Fred, (whom I worshipped on the silver screen), but my mother didn’t think I would practice, so tap lessons were not on the list of things I could do. Oh, my cousin had an old accordion available so she encouraged me to do that. But the damn thing was so heavy I couldn’t carry it from school to the lessons.

Anyway, tap was always a passion. And in my imagination, Fred Astaire was always my partner. You can only imagine how excited I was about meeting him. But meeting was only the beginning. We were all introduced to our Honorees early in the day. Since most of us worked at the State Department, we could walk the short distance to the Kennedy Center. (Some of us galloped).

There were five nominees that year. Although they were exceptional performing artists, they were neither voted on nor was there any particular reason they were the first, except that they accepted George Stevens invitation to be honored. They were Fred Astaire, Marian Anderson, Richard Rogers, George Balanchine and Arthur Rubenstein. The people in Washington were ecstatic…. Real artist/celebrities coming to their town. And not just any old celebrity – Marian Anderson and Fred Astaire! All of them would probably dress up and even glitter. (Washington in 1978 was not the sophisticated city it is today. There were two restaurants that were open late – both in Georgetown. One was Spanish (not Mexican) and one cheese. (You can only imagine).

Fred Astaire was absolutely charming and incredibly forgiving. When we were introduced I could not remember my name. But he looked at my tag and reminded me who I was. He insisted that I accompany him to the celebrity cocktail party and that I wait backstage (instead of outside the box) so I could see the tributes and meet the artists. He assured me that he would call me on my radio if he needed anything, but said there was no way he was going to miss a moment of the show to go to the bathroom. The cast from “Chorus Line” performed as part of his tribute. It was so exciting to be there backstage and witness the frenzy.

It was very late when I went to retrieve him after the show to escort him to the after dinner. The technology was such that it was done in real time. He was elated and exhausted by the kudos (Hollywood loves Washington, and Washington loves Hollywood), after the show. While we were walking through the Center he asked me if I enjoyed the show and did I like to dance. I told him yes and admitted that he was my fantasy dance partner and had been from the time I was a little girl. And he asked me to dance. Right there in the middle of the Kennedy Center lobby, in front of God and all the other VIP’s in the hall. I didn’t hesitate for even a minute. “Yes, I would love to dance with you.”
It was Thrilling. Thrilled, moved to tears at the same time, I was laughing and listening to my heart beat louder than it ever had in my life. He sang, “Dancing in the Dark.” The lights were bright but for those few moments, there was no one else in the hall. A treasured memory, to say the least..


We’re just sayin’… Iris

Sunday, December 25, 2011

It's Pronounced "DRAY-dul"

It's Christmas morn. Since I don't have to rush to see what's under the tree, (that would require a tree), I thought I would take a minute to share the most absurd discovery of this holiday week -- because I don't know how long it will last -- and if you can, you should discover it as well.

Jews are kind of left out on the 25 of December. We might celebrate with friends, or try to recreate the holiday, in a bastardized form (a Hannukah bush never had the same magic) and my mother would have burnt the bush, and probably the house down with a Hannukah candle, if we ever set one up.) I'm not denying that I love the whole Christmas spirit thing -- lights, decorations, Santa, the Salvation Army, ringing those bells on street corners and in front of the market (food not stock).

But we have a wonderful holiday to celebrate, often at the same time. The Miracle of the Lights... Hannukah. When we were kids, my cousin Stevie and I would light a candle each night and then receive a small gift. Some were memorable. Like once we got our cousins’ used Schwinn bikes, and one year we got Winky Dink screens and since we only had a 14" screen, we would fight over who got to use their screen. (The fight ended when I screamed, "Uncle Phil, he hit me," and Stevie was dragged off to his room for some medieval torture).

Anyway, I'm getting way off track. Except some Jew who also felt denied, created the Hannukah channel, #68 on your XM or Sirius satellite radio. When the words Hannukah appeared as I was flipping through the stations, I was surprised and yes, delighted. A holiday station without "Oh Holy Night"' or “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer" or my new favorite, "Grandma Got run over by a Reindeer" - which David has on a hat with moving, lighting up, sing-along antlers.

Still off track, allow me to share some of the songs that have become favorites, which I have never heard before and, I assume, I will not hear again until next year. On the top of the list is a ballad entitled, "I'm Just a Latke (potato pancake) Waiting for Hannukah." [ see here... ]This is a serious outcry, from a latke, who is lonely without someone who will enjoy his crispy flavor. Trust me, this is for real. My next favorite was Ma Atsur (The Jewish Rock of Ages), sung as a Rock-A-Billy tune. ( Rock-a-Billy is even more distasteful than the Blues, and I hate the Blues). And what do you know, " Eight Days of Hannukah" sung with a Bluesy tune. There were lots which were sung to the tunes of famous Christmas Carols, old Rock songs, and children's music. (Why can't people be original if they are trying to do something different?) But wait, there were some imaginative, original songs. One, and I apologize for not remembering the actual name, was an upbeat ditty which decried the use of anything fake, or fat free, in a kugel (noodle pudding). And while I agree with the sentiments (having once made a fat-free sweet kugel), the sentiments clearly did not necessitate a song... Where the rhymes are stretched well beyond acceptable rhymability.

Sure, there are a great many old favorites sung in Yiddish, Hebrew, and English, but they are well disguised as tunes which are better off not being aired in public. The whole concept of a Hannukah Channel is hilarious. The Jews are unprepared for music to express the power of the holiday, and some of us are not prepared to listen. Years and years ago we found a charming Hannukah cassette tape (that pretty much means the early 80s). It was music to celebrate, music you could dance, sing to, and even enhance the celebration with a variety of kid like musical instruments. If I were doing the programming for XM68, I would play a few ridiculous songs, and then I would play this music 24/7, and just go with what works for the spirit of this special holiday. I bet Christ probably lit a few candles in his time.... Or was that too early in the Hannukah timeline? Anyway, let's celebrate whatever holiday happens to be ours, and wish for Peace, Love and the retention of our rapidly eroding First Amendment rights... We’re just sayin.... Iris

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Joi Bangla!! + Forty Years....

Blobbing is one of those exercises which is remarkably like exercising. That is, you take what you think might be an alloted time, set it aside, and say to your left-side brain “write! you simpering bastard, write!” But it never really ends up like that. In much the same way that I regard the spinning bike and dumb bell weights as friends in the long road to longevity, a keyboard brings with it an implied obligation which is at times difficult to endure. There are days when my fingers fairly fly across the keys. Others when they seem like a set of over-burdened mountain donkeys, whose lives of impressed labor for small Mexican mining firms, has given them just enough energy to do absolutely nothing when lined up in the Churchill Downs starting gates. (Think Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and then “Seabiscuit”... how unalike those situations really are.) Now, finally, a week after my return from Bangladesh, I hope to share a few points about what has turned into a marvelous avocation (and a surprise at that!) – working with fellow photographers in a workshop with the collective known as “Photographers for Hope.” ( P4H) This little group got together a year ago for the first time, the brain-child of Anna Wang and – marginally – myself. Though really, I just helped to sharpen a few of Anna’s ideas. She is someone who spends her days doing the “vision thing” (GHW Bush, 1992 if only HE had understood what it was really about) but doing it with aplomb and great insight.
Shahidul, Anna, and I
For starters, she was a student at American University twenty years ago, and had the joy of taking more than one of Professor Burnett’s classes in the Communications School (Iris, not me.) After a long period where they lost touch, Iris and Anna ran into each other last year somewhere in DC, and decided to stay in touch. She lives in Geneva, married to a Danish UN diplo, and has two wonderful and talented daughters. Much of her professional life has been in the area of producing documentary films. But her real love, as we jointly discovered, was photography. She had taken a couple of workshops with some seriously good photographers (Gary Knight and Marcus Bleasdale), and when we spoke early last year, prodded me into thinking about doing a workshop – more accurately doing “our workshop.” We thought it would be fun to do something in the realm of sport (the UN has a whole Dept. of Sport & Development) and we ended up spending two weeks in Rio de Janeiro in Sept 2010, chasing several sporting events (including the Homeless World Cup of Soccer – an event so amazingly named that you cannot NOT want to know more about it) and working with some local NGO’s whose mission is to use sport as a tool to try and keep kids in the favelas more interested in boxing and soccer than in running drugs for the local bosses. It all sounded big and far fetched, but when 9 photographers gathered in Rio, we opened a wonderful box of surprises which continues to amaze to this day. Through the NGOs we were all given a bit of access to Brasilian society which would have taken us individually much longer, and as we left the country, our pictures were not only in an exhibit sponsored at the NIKE store, but in use by those NGO’s to try and promote their agendas for helping kids out. It was, in that deplorably overused vernacular phrase, a win-win.
A rickshaw (and yes, he has a mobile phone)

Midnight Edits

night market workers...

Photographers for Hope was thus born, and the strength of the idea is simple. The group, which varies in membership but which has drawn several members half way round the world two or three times, continues to try and find projects which will benefit not only those of us who are coming from the ‘outside’ to make better pictures, but the people and groups we team up with locally. It gives us a chance to see things we might not, otherwise. And to share our joint visions when it’s over. We did another small project over the summer in Glasgow, giving small point/shoot cameras to homeless news vendors, coaching them in their photo technique, and letting them tell their own photographic stories about their lives. That, too, was a wonderful coming together of intention, inspiration, and creativity. (You can see all the work on the website.)

For at least ten years, I have been invited to join the biennial photographic festival which takes place in Bangladesh known as Chobi Mela. Started by Shahidul Alam, the multi-talented Bangladeshi photographer and photo maven (of agency fame, as well as the Pathshalla photographic school, both in Dhaka) Chobi Mela has become a goto stopover on the world Photo festival tour, every other January. As one of the few photographers still working (there are several – Kennerly, Abbas, Raghu Rai...) who covered both the enormous influx of refugees across the East Pakistan border into India in the summer of 1971, and the subsequent Indian-Pakistan War that December, I have had a standing invitation to come to Chobi Mela. I just never made it. It requires a bit of determination... its an ankle-numbing 24 hour flight to Dhaka from New York. But this December – last week to be exact – was the 40th Anniversary of the end of the War, and founding of what would become Bangladesh. It’s a big anniversary: how many people are actually around for the 50th or 60th anniversary of anything they remember? Not so much, not so many. So, 40 is a good one for getting things in order, and above remembering what the hell you were doing there. I was a young Time Life photographer living in Saigon (yes, I had a deal with both TIME and Life) and it was only a couple of hours flight from there to Calcutta, which was the jumping off point of both the Refugee crisis in July ’71 (which yielded my first ever TIME cover) and later that fall, the war.
a small P4H contingent
After partition in 1948, the part of eastern India which was heavily Moslem was left aligned with Pakistan, even though the two countries were separated by India, and 1000+ miles in between. It was definately one of those geo-political decisions which was done by men wearing funny fluffed pants stuffed into riding boots, and whose predeliction for gin with no ice was a constant source of amusement. Over time (the 50s and 60s) as the self-governing movement grew in East Pakistan, the authorities responded with iron fists to put it down. By 1971, it was a cauldron of unrest, and the authorities had begun (check your history books, Dr. Kissinger again finds himself on the wrong side history) a ruthless and deadly program to try and rid the country once and for all of this notion of independence. The result was, quite predictably I suppose, millions of refugees leaving East Bengal, and heading into West Bengal (India) for safety. In the end some 6 or 7 million people walked the walk that summer, leaving virtually everything behind, in a bid for safety. For me, a 24 year old kid from Salt Lake with a Nikon in his hand, it was something quite amazing to behold. By the thousands, the people kept walking towards me (I was working out of Calcutta, and spent time near the border as the refugees just kept coming.) I had never seen anything like this, and was mesmerized by both the visual power of those moments, and the strength of the people who had given all up in favor of some unclear sense of security.

Later, in December, when the Indian Army began moving into East Bengal, liberating town by town en route to the capital of Dhaka, I accompanied those troops, though the final couple of days, when I ought to have arrived in Dhaka with victorious Indian Army units, I fell ill to nausea and world-class headaches (I didn’t know at the time, but it was malaria... I had neglected to take my pills in Vietnam) and had to leave those historic moments to others. In the early battles, near the Indian border, I was shelled numerous times by artillery made in Massachusetts. It was a weird feeling being bombed by stuff your tax dollars paid for. (The US supported Pakistan for some vague real-politik reasons, rather than those who fought for their own freedom.. yet again!)

A few of my pictures were published, no so many, but at the very least I had helped contribute to the visual history of what would become Bangladesh. So it was kind of a big deal to finally return there this year, and help lead a photographic workshop. The older I get, the more I seem to be trying to close some of the open loops of my career. And this one was another moment when I was happy to be able to finally get to Dhaka, albeit some forty years after the fact, that I should have.

a few Dhaka images: Cricket kid, fish monger, a "dude", and the everpresent water

Bangladesh today remains a country in development, one which relies still greatly on the manual labor of its workers, and yet at the same time, possesses an energy and sense of purpose which is remarkable. It would be easy enough to dismiss the lack of automation as a “third world” thing, but in fact, there is something quite exciting and notable about the way in which people throw themselves into their lives. As several of our group noted, “you don’t see a lot of people sitting around here... everyone is doing SOMETHING.” Whether its whacking at the side of a small freighter in dry dock with a hammer to clean the hull, excavating heavy clay in the middle of a street dig to redo sewage pipes, or making bricks by the thousands by hand – there is something quite magnetic and admirable about the energy and commitment of the workforce. In the city there is an amazingly self-governing sense to the often horribly overcrowded traffic. Rickshaw drivers, whose thin brawny bodies power their two-seat charges across town in the midst of hundreds of honking cars, remain quite a physical presence. There are a few cabs, but its mostly rickshaw, small buses, and private cars. The brownian motion of their crisscrossing is a dizzying site, yet virtually no accidents were seen by any of us the ten days we were there. Every intersection is a close call, something out of a Spielberg movie, worthy of Indiana Jones. Traffic lights? Yes, they exist, but they are, to put it politely, just a suggestion or perhaps an option. Red means “look twice but don’t bother to stop if you think you can make it...”

DB & Rupert
Our photographers worked in the slums (which in Dhaka are a rather admirable term for a poor neighborhood... lacking the sense of put-down which reigns here), the docks, the waterside markets, and in homes of families. It was a chance to try and capture some of the spark and excitement of this place. The point is, it was life going on, not just something which existed for the sake of a workshop. And when we would huddle in the common room of our guest house (the Ambrosia is a great place to stay if you are headed there) editing in small pools of light cast by Macbook screens, we were able to see what did and didn’t work, and what might be done better next time. This is a surprisingly accomplished group of photographers, and I think we all felt, by week’s end, that it’s really a “human life force” workshop, with a bit of photography thrown in. The best of times are like that. You live a life different than the one you know so well, and in those moments of displacement and discomfort, that is when you really start to understand the balance between looking, seeing, feeling, and eventually, capturing a moment. When that balance is positive and uplifting, as it was in Dhaka, the pictures usually rise to the occasion. It meant that editing our work (“.. never edit your own work!”) was even more difficult. It had been arranged through the good folks at and the good offices of the US Embassy cultural office (that means they sprung for it!) that a show of the work would be put together and put on display on the backs of freight-style rickshaws. (see the pictures... it was too good for words.) We had, on the anniversary of Victory Day, 10 rickshaws wrapped in our photographs, and which spent that day at the University, with teeming thousands of onlookers and celebrants taking in the pictures. The plan was for those photo-exhibit-rickshaws to spend this week driving through the city, taking the show back to the people. It was a smashing idea, perfectly executed, and as far as we know, not a single rickshaw was run off the road.

the Rickshaw based exhibition on Victory Day + 40 Years

One of the other reasons Bangladesh was a perfect candidate for this kind of project was the general level of photographic achievement. Whereas a generation ago, there were a few very good photographers, in the new post internet age when learning is available to those who care to, an amazing scene has developed.
under the gaze of young Pathshalla photographers
The Pathshalla School of photography has helped create dozens of very talented shooters. The pool of talent there now is quite amazing. To the extent that if there were another big, big story to take place, I would have no chance of being assigned (as I was 40 years ago) since there are so many good photographers already living there that it would make no sense. It is exciting to see photography just take off, and become such a powerful tool of communication. In the end that’s what it’s all about. (See the work of a few friends... Abir Abdullah and Munem Wasif, for example.)

I suppose nothing can really describe the joy that comes from common and shared endeavor. Working with this small group of photographers everyday for over a week, forged us, once again, into a kind of family. One in which we care for each other and each other’s work. One where jealousy and suspicion are completely absent. It is anchored in the good humor and positive sense of accomplishment we all share. And in the post-modern age of fewer and less resourced magazines (which were the highlight of my career for over 40 years) it is a powerful demonstration of the true power of photography and humanity, to work together, and share our visual ups and downs, before returning to our own lives, ones that by comparison, feel unusually bounded by obstacle. There probably isn’t going to be a way to include everyone who would like to be a part of P4H, but the one thing we have proven is that you can do this on your own. The new electronic world has given us many gifts amid the tumult: organize yourself, your friends, your colleagues. Reach out to do things you didn’t think were possible, and you will find out just how wrong you were. It’s still f/8 and be there. But if you divide f/8 by 12, you come up with something like f/1.4 and be there. That works for me, too. We’re just sayin’..... David

Team P4H

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Change? Why?

One of the problems with moving, or change for that matter, is that nothing stays the same. Duh! Nothing. Barack Obama said that change is good. I am not convinced. Take for example, all the things that get lost or left behind in the move. David left all his files in the file cabinets and just moved them packed beyond full. My papers were pretty much organized and in order. So I packed them in boxes.... Which disappeared into the great morass of who knows where. Of course, it's probably ok since my file cabinets never made the trip, so I would have had no where to put the files. Or take for example the elimination of dial phones, or hard line phones. But I'll get back to that kind of change later.

Since we have moved to NY, I never see the NY friends I always saw when I lived in DC. Maybe it's because you think they are so close you can see them anytime. But it never happens. And I miss them. In fact, I see my DC friends more than the NY friend... And I don't see them either. I miss them too. Sounds like a lonely life. But I have family and am just collecting new people in upstate NY – not the same but OK.

Then there's the people who move or die at the same time you do. Shopping at Loehmanns is just not the same without my mom and my daughter. We all used to go and (especially my mother), try on absurd things and simply enjoy the entertainment of us. When mom was with one of my aunts, or alone, she never tried anything on. I don't think she saw the inside of a dressing room for years. She called it her exercise. "that's a good one"' I told her the first time she shared that information with me. "It is my exercise. I go to the mall or a store. I walk around and buy something I like. Usually clothes on sale. Then I take it home. By the time I get home, I don't want it anymore. So the next day, I go back, walk around, and return it Now you know why most stores have a policy about one person returning too many items. Yes, you have my mother and my aunt Sophie to thank for that policy.

Back to the things we loved that don't even exist anymore. Dial phones, albums, vhs, and now, much to my surprise, car keys. In the realm of fuddy-duddy, here is my latest embarrassment, Yesterday I took the mini in for service, Turns out, this particular mini, because of the color and year, has potential to be a classic. Sure it does. Anyway, it needed some work that would take more than a few hours, so they gave me the new "big mini" --it's an oxymoron but too true. The car is terrific and the idea of taking it for a few days was most appealing. The deep green, four door, all wheel drive "big mini" was waiting out front. Not to waste a minute, I got in, found the lights, fixed the mirrors, located the wipers, figured out where the radio and the heat controls were and looked at the key. First I thought there was a button to release the key. It was not the case. After a frustrating 10 minutes, I walked back into the dealership and asked the service people to show me how to start the car. Can you imagine not knowing how to start a car?

This is all to say, I love the past. I adore what was. At the same time I love what’s coming,. It’s just that I’m uncomfortable being left out of any new information especially technology (my grandson at four knows more than I do) but I can’t seem to keep up. Oh well, as my mother would have said, “that should be your biggest problem.”
we're just sayin.... Iris

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Just Pull it Apart

Yesterday, I found Aunt Sophie's recipe for coffee cake. It's not really cake because you shape all the dough separately and eventually they become a mass of cinnamon, sugar, raisons and chocolate that you can pull apart. But when she started baking, there was no such thing as a pull-apart, so she called it coffee cake. You make it with a yeast dough, and it has to rise several times before you shape and bake. Not that how many times you get to punch it down matters, (recipe to follow with punching included) but what matters is, that one recipe was enough to feed all the flight attendants who pass through the Milwaukee Airport in a day. But if they each had a small bite, they would never be able to fly, because the cake is so heavy a 757 couldn't get off the ground.

In order to deal with the emotion, as well as frustration I felt, (having found this priceless but incomplete list of instructions), I called my cousin Ro. (Aunt Sophie's daughter, who also a great baker.) The fact that there were no directions for the temperature in the oven,(everything was 375), was far less important than how to shape the dough in order to pull it apart, and how to cut the ingredients by at least half. Turns out that when she got married all the recipes she got from her mother were for at least 10 people. They were only two. In desperation her husband finally said, can you just buy 2 lbs of meat instead of 10. I am tired of eating leftovers for a week.

Our mother's never knew how to cook for two, or four. They prepared for at least six in case someone (family or stranger) appeared at the door in time for whatever meal was being prepared. As children, sometimes we ate at home and sometimes we ate at one of the Aunt's. This was never a decision made in the morning. We waited to see who was making what and then we would decide where to eat. That meant that our mother's would have as few as two to feed, or as many as many as ten.

What's all this mean? (When I write it is senseless to look for a meaning.). Life was like a restaurant. We had a plethora of choices about what to eat and where to eat it. There was always enough and the choices were only limited by weather and geography. (Aunt Helene's was much too far if it was raining or you were tired-- the longest distance from house to house was three blocks).

(you want to talk circuitous, watch this). Last night I watched yet one more Presidential debate. And like aunt Sophie's coffee cake, it wasn't really a cake. It was a pull apart. It tasted different than was expected. And yes, it was a little heavy. It was the same as all the other debates, but this time the target was Newt, instead of Rick or Mitt. (I've seen them so often, a first name basis seemed appropriate). Newt, however, who had nowhere to go but up, refuses to be a target. Having spent all those years learning how to play the game, he plays it very well. Maybe it does take an insider to play a game where there is permanent stalemate. And just like Aunt Sophie's coffee cake, the recipe doesn't change, the outcome is unpredictable, you can pull it apart, but it's never going to get any lighter.

The recipe, as written and interpreted for this blob: Melt 1/2 stick of margarine in 1 cup of milk, 2/3 cups water. do not overheat, the margarine doesn't need to melt. When cool (not warm, not cold), add 2 eggs, 3/4 cups sugar 1 1/2 tsp salt, 2pkgs quick rising yeast. I find that if you mix all of that and then slowly add 5 or 6 cups of flour, (it depends on the size of eggs, temperature, how quickly you add it -- I start with an electric mixer and finish with wooden spoon and then knead for about 10 minutes). The dough should be elastic, not sticky. Put a little veg oil in a bowl. Make a ball of the dough, roll it in the oil (just so it doesn't stick), cover bowl with a clean kitchen towel, let it rise til it doubles. Really punch it (it's very stress relieving), let it rise again, punch it silly again. With your hands make a jelly roll, fill with (your choice), raisins, cinnamon mixed with sugar, nuts chocolate chips. Then cut into muffin size balls. Make sure to seal the ends of each muffin. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Let it rise again. Pre heat oven to 375. Bake for about 40 minutes (til they are golden brown). Let them cool. How much sugar and cinnamon do you mix together? Start with 1/2 cup sugar and add cinnamon until you like the way it tastes. Oh, and FYI, no matter how much mixing the Presidential candidates do, you may never develop a taste for any of them. We're Just Sayin.... Iris

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Besheert is not for Sissies

Are you out there in readerland (not as good as Neverland, but more today.) familiar with the concept of besheert. It's a Yiddish word that basically means, made for each other. The word usually refers to a love affair. But you can be besheert with someone who is a friend, family, or even a colleague. Just FYI, I have been besheert with a few colleagues, but I'm too whacky, so it's rare, (You besheert colleagues who you are).

As it turns out, my beloved David is besheert with my incredible cousin Debbie. Although they didn't know each other until recently, they bonded immediately. They are, as say in the old country, (That would be Boonton, N.J.),simpatico. From the time they met for real, they have enjoyed one an others company. She always thinks he's funny. He always finds her entertaining and delightful. She marvels at the work he does. He gets a kick out of all her communication--whether it be in person or on line.

When he told her he was going to Bangladesh (she knew before the rest of us), she actually said she wished she could go with him. "To Bangladesh?" I said. "Yes, he is doing such remarkable things." It took my breath away. Having been married to him for a very long time, I know he is remarkable, but traveling with a photographer who is on assignment, or doing something photo related (tech talk, I call it), is unbelievably boring. Like on our pretend honeymoon he was on assignment to do a country story (Jamaica) for National Geographic. While I do enjoy the tropics and sightseeing, stopping to take a picture every two minutes, is not my idea of the way I want to have a kissy/huggy encounter. No I am not a bitch, (maybe I am), but I thought a honeymoon was when you spent time together, which we hardly did --except when we checked into our first hotel, which was a whorehouse, so it took hours to find an alternative.

Generally speaking, (and I know it's not fair),when he talks about his plans my eyes glaze over. He is not allowed to talk to me without a calendar in his hands, because my feeble little mind cannot keep track of everywhere he intends to go.

That being said. we are also besheert. The amazing part is that despite the fact that we grew up so differently (he's from Utah, I'm from New Jersey. I still like listening to the Barry Sisters. He would just as soon listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.) Yes, a Jew from Salt Lake, it's almost like a joke that needs a punchline. Nevertheless, we have the same values, think a sense of humor is the most important character trait anyone can have, like to experiment with food (although some of the places he goes are frightening). We want the same thing for all our children and despite and bickering, we really like one another. (He's in Bangladesh, so he won't get to edit this or argue with me. I know how talented he is. I know he sees differently than normal people, and I am never surprised by his excellence. He is generous, worldly, funny, overly forgiving to people who take advantage of him, a great friend, relative, dad, Stepdad, Poppie, and companion. So it should come as no surprise that people marvel at him as a person as well as his professional ability.

We have been together for a long time and, when you seemingly have been together forever, you forget to say, WOW, as often as you should. But because of this new relationship (besheert) with Debbie, I have been able to see him with different eyes.

A thank you to Debbie is in order. However, when she asked me if I wanted to see the latest picture he sent her, (him on the flight to Bangladesh, I declined. "No" I told her "He promised you an exclusive, and I certainly don't want us to break that promise".... Let's be honest. He's so lucky to have Debbie. We're just sayin...Iris

Sunday, December 04, 2011

About the Rah Rah

Can you believe it’s December of 2011. That within a few short weeks we will be dating our checks 2012. As I may have mentioned, (this is really for new readers), around the end of the year I like to share thoughts. For example, on my list of favorite things to do, is watching college football. Unlike professional football, college games have generally been without corporate bullshit and steroids. (Have you ever noticed that during the transition from college football star to professional player – they all get enormous.) You could feel the team spirit, the excitement of the contest, the flashback to the years of rah, rah, rah. Even when there were playoffs or simply televised games, it always seemed to me that they just played football. Or so I thought, until recently. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

On Saturday we watched the Michigan State – Wisconsin game. David says it’s just one more sign of the degeneration of the American spirit - being sold to the highest bidder. Michigan State’s uniforms, shirts, even do rags, were covered with Nike swooshes. Wisconsin was advertising Adidas. It’s hard to believe I never noticed this before. Maybe I didn’t notice it because I was so involved in the game. And this game was The Game -- simply exceptional. It was the best football game I have seen, maybe ever, (except the 1972 Dolphins playoff.) But because the chatter of the guys doing the play by play & “color” was so inane, I was distracted from actually watching the game. Too much Rah Rah? Can’t we just have a great game, and let the crowd & viewers provide our own Rah Rah? Who knows?

Ok that’s one share. Here’s another. When you are a person who collects people your whole life (starting in pre-school), by the time you get older, it’s hard to fit everyone into the time you have available. When we were in Washington two weeks ago, there were so many friends I wanted to see, but there just wasn’t time. Same thing when we went to LA. We only have so much time to do the things we want to do and see the people we love. The problem is, when I don’t see the people who are important to me, I feel bad. Incomplete.

What is most interesting to me, is that when I mention that I am going to see a friend from elementary school, high school, college or any of my past eclectic professional careers, (like the amazing people who became part of my life in politics, (40 years ago) government (30 years ago) or USA Networks (15 years ago)) -- people cannot believe that I still actually keep in touch with anyone who I didn’t meet yesterday. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how many people you want to collect, social media and the internet have made it possible not only to reconnect with additional people you liked, but – and this is the IFFY part -- people who you never wanted to see again, now have a way to find you. Icky Poo.

My life has been sensational. Interestingly enough, if I was 25 today, and because of all the technology available and ways to communicate, would it make my life ordinary? You know the old joke about young PR professionals deciding to be in the profession because they are good with 'people.' Well, I really am. (If only “life coach” had been a profession when I was 30.) The reason my life was amazing wasn’t simply because I was able to travel all over the world (Skype probably would have made that unnecessary). But I developed deep, lasting, personal relationships & friendships, and knowledge with and about people, that would only have been superficial and inconsequential if E-mail, texting, and Face Book had existed. The truth is that I am excellent at talking face to face, lengthy telephone communication, and experiencing all kinds of life first hand. If these old, special, necessary skills hadn’t been important, you would probably be visiting me at the Independent Living facility for public speaking teachers. We’re just sayin… Iris

Friday, December 02, 2011

JKB at the Barre (LA)

Think about a massage parlor you might see in the movies. Especially if they were filmed in the orient (is that, as opposed to oriental, politically correct?). Anyway, my incredibly talented daughter said we should get massages. There were no appointments available at her fitness club, where we did a mother-daughter workout, “It doesn't matter mom, I know another place where they do foot massage for 25 an hour.” I love a foot massage, and inexpensive always appeals to me. "But you can't laugh when we go in. The foot massage is in the front room, the full body is in the rear."

We entered from the front which looked harmless enough. The massage therapists, however, did not look harmless. Their costumes were reminiscent of one of those movies, where the Asian professionals, aren't much interested in your feet. "It's OK, mom. They are very nice.”

In the front room you do not get undressed. They start the massage on your back and work their way down. Then you lie down on a comfy sofa/lounge, and they do head, arms and finally feet. The feet part is the best because while I love to have my feet rubbed, I think my feet are kind of disgusting (trust me, it's true.)

But back to the point of my blob, which is neither feet, or massage, it is about my daughter who happens to be incredibly talented.

On Monday evening Jordan Kai Burnett performed at the Barre, a lovely night spot and restaurant, in LA, which is also a venue for Caberet, Standup, and musical theater talent. (the grilled cheese is to die for.) Jordan did a one woman comedy show, which , along with her comedy, also introduced her ability to sing, play the ukulele, and her skills as a puppeteer. I can hear all of you now, "sure, sure,we are going to believe whatever her mother thinks." But it's true, and if you want testimony, I’ll provide you with the names of total strangers. Well, not total, but not blood.

I have seen Jordan perform at least a thousand times. But this hour was unlike anything I had ever seen. She was as good as any standup comedian you have seen, her voice was as good as any American Idol contestant, and she could be a Muppet. No joke. Just the combination of all her talents is good, but her ability to be improvisational and hilarious is astounding. With that said, we are winging our way back to NY, but I have included a sample of the experience for you to share with friends family and any talent agent you might know personally. We're just sayin...Iris.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Tis' the Season

David Burnett often makes me laugh. Not often enough lately, but today he had me in stitches. If you reuse this line you must credit him. We were talking about the number of strangely self-important people and unimportant things are on Facebook and he said: “It’s so random – hell, that I have FARTS on Facebook.” Now that is bathroom boy humor, but it made me belly laugh for ten minutes. Maybe I had too much to drink yesterday.

Tis it the season to be jolly? When we were kids, me, my cousin Stevie, Andy Hurwitz, David Levine, and Steven Fraum had to stand in the back of the room when the class sang Christmas Carols. Instead of the act being considerate of the fact they we were Jewish, it made us feel like we had the plague. My cousin Stevie would have none of it, and he ran around the classroom singing loud and intentionally off key. Finally, as was often the case, one of the teachers would grab him by the shirt collar and hang him from a coat hook in the front of the class. This is not a whine about my being discriminated against during the happiest season of the year. Quite the contrary. While we did not celebrate Christmas in my house, I always spent Christmas Eve and part of the next morning at my friend Pam’s. We decorated the tree, sang songs (often a Hannukah ditty), ate a great meal and opened gifts. So, despite bad judgment on the Boonton school system, it was easy to get in the spirit and love the holiday.

As if good feelings weren’t enough, the Economy proudly presents Black Friday. When did this start? I don’t remember it when we were kids, young adults or even grown-ups (which clearly hasn’t happened yet.) As far as I can tell someone on Wikepedia said “The term Black Friday itself was originally used to describe something else entirely — the Sept. 24, 1864, stock-market panic set off by plunging gold prices.” Newspapers in Philadelphia reappropriated the phrase in the late 1960s, using it to describe the rush of crowds at stores. The justification came later, tied to accounting balance sheets where black ink would represent a profit. Many see Black Friday as the day retailers go into the black or show a profit for the first time in a given year. The term stuck and spread, and by the 1990s Black Friday became an unofficial retail holiday nationwide. Since 2002, Black Friday has been the season's biggest shopping day each year except 2004…. when Bush was President—now there’s a happy memory.

Anyway, people now line up days in advance at retail outlets for special discounts. I do my research (I am a genetically perfect professional shopper – all my aunts were as well.) The truth is that, if there are big discounts, there are usually only 3 of whatever product the store is using to bring you in. If you happen to be fifth on line you are just out of luck. This has made people angry in the past. But rather then staying home, they now go out prepared to do battle. This morning, a woman at an LA Wal*Mart (accompanied by two children), was armed with pepper spray, which she used liberally on the crowd in front and in back of her as she grabbed an Xbox. (Note: apparently according to Fox News, she was just spraying a ‘vegetable.’) Rather than calling this a hostile act, most of the media called it ‘aggressive shopping.’ No it wasn’t shopping at all. It was some lunatic, that wanted one of the three Xboxes on sale, so without any regard for the spirit of the season, or true purpose of the holiday, she opted for terror instead of love, kindness and giving.

What does that say about who we are as a nation. We know what it says about the economy – people are so desperate to get a break they will resort to all manner of behavior to get it. But what kind of people have we become? We’re surely not nice, or civil, or well mannered anymore. We are reduced to feeling entitled to take what we want by any means. David says, it was just one incident. But I’ll bet if you asked people who went shopping today, they will tell you that it was neither a pleasant or jolly experience. The gift of giving be damned – let’s take what we can for the least amount of money and tell our kids that the gifts we acquired were purchased with love in our hearts – and pepper spray in our back pocket. We’re just sayin….Iris

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


This is the beginning of my end of the year blobs. They will neither be coherent nor will they be orderly –I am only hoping for an occasional laugh.

Sometimes I just feel like an old fart – which we all know, I am not. Well, at least not old. For example, I spend more time thinking about what happened to being polite? There was a time when good manners and simply being nice, were the standard for how a person behaved when other persons are involved. That civility seems to be absent when dealing with people who feel entitled. Young, old, it doesn’t matter. They would just as soon knock you over as they would share personal space. But, they have no sense of your personal space – all the space in th entire universe is theirs, so you just better move over. (Yes I did have had a number of encounters with the entitled).

But that’s not what I wanted to blob about. Last week we were in Montreal. We met with the Segal Center for the Performing Arts about, GFCtM. (For those of you who don’t pay attention, Gefilte Fish Chronicles, the Musical). They would like to produce it for their Yiddish Theater. Would my bubbe not be kvelling? So their vision is to do it in Yiddish and travel all over the world. We are all ok with this. I asked Paul, the artistic director, if he knows a great many young people who speak Yiddish. He doesn’t but they learn it phonetically and then they use subtitles (as for the Opera) in English and French. Hopefully, they will decide that the material is perfect for their program – but we will see. Fingers crossed everyone!

David is convinced that we are watching the end of the United States unfold in fast motion and right in front of us. He is a journalist and totally apolitical, but he is a concerned citizen and he is convinced that, as someone –anyone from Cicero or Shakespeare – said, when the time comes that the leaders understand how powerful they are and use it for personal gain, it is the end of that civilization. (I didn’t put it in quotes because I believe I paraphrased what was an astute observation). Oye Vey.

Speaking of Oye Vey, or in the In the realm of either “What were you thinking?” or “Are you kidding?”. Marthena ran over herself with her car. She is bruised and sore but she is fine. There was a time when I was going to write a book called “Oye Vey Es Mere Marthena,” because ridiculous things seemed to happen to us. But this one pretty much runs away with the prize. A bus hit her car, or she hit the bus. When she leaped out to see what damage had been done, she forgot to put the car in park and yes, it sneaked up behind her, and before she knew it, it had taken her down. When I say she’s OK I mean, while on the gurney, she made sure to get her purse, shoes, coat, call her husband and probably had a sandwich. Her foray to the hospital, although painful, was, considering the severity of the bruising, fairly brief. Her son was with her to take her home, get her into bed and administer drugs. Get well cards are unnecessary but prayers and good wishes can’t hurt.

It is one day away from Thanksgiving. This is the time of the year we think about the things for which we are thankful. Of course, I have a list. But it’s much too serious, rather predictable, and not the clever I like to be. Things like, wonderful family, incredible friends, good health and Medicare are on the top. But what about the middle and the bottom of the list? There isn’t a middle or a bottom. I am grateful that my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, (all those genetically connected), gave me the good sense to make the right decisions—although somewhat questionable at times – mostly they turned out to be OK. Almost no regrets, (except I should have been medicated when I was twenty one) Almost no apologies (except to my son and that’s nobody’s business). Life is good. The glass is half full. Maybe even five-eighths. Who really cares about the pilgrims? Happy eating…. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Monday, November 07, 2011

What the ????

What the……?

There must be something in the air, aside from general air schmutz. If you need an explanation of schmutz, just try taking a deep breath. Here’s what I mean: Conrad Murray, despite the testimony of an 86 year old loving patient was found guilty. The speculation was that because jurors don’t like to convict doctors – I believe the description was “he is quite a presence in the court room, he looks like a doctor.” Now there’s a good reason to set him free. Clearly, there was a need to blame someone for Michael’s death. Clearly, Dr. Murray did not understand the consequences of having Michael die on his watch. They certainly weren’t going to blame the ‘plastic surgeon to the stars’, who may have caused Jackson’s addiction – but has too many important patients. And besides, he said he loved Michael, he only wanted him to be beautiful. And I say, what the….?

At one point, before my mother died, she was 86. There is no way she would have ever testified against her doctor. It wouldn’t have mattered if he gave her pep pills or cyanide, she loved him. We found that love (i.e. catering to an old person’s need have attention) is not enough reason to be confident about the kind of care she was getting. But there was no way she would leave her doctor, so we had to physically remove her from his care. Which is to say, looking like a doctor and presenting testimony from an elderly person, isn’t a reason enough to find someone innocent. At the same time, who is really guilty? Michael was a grown up person, who did not take responsibility for himself. It seems unfair to blame anyone who was really trying to help. Regardless of competence, Michael thought Dr. Murray was that person.

The other day, and I may have mentioned this before, I saw the Kris, walking down 3rd Ave and about 61st street in NY. (Yes, that Kris). It was after the marriage to Kim, and before her decision to divorce him. There was that 10 minutes. One has to assume it was her decision because according to E!: "He's just training and working out again, getting ready for basketball season. He's taking it day by day and surrounding himself with family and friends in Minnesota." Who would go to Minnesota (with the weather being what it is), if it wasn’t to recover? What the…? Why would she have put that lovely guy through all that crap? (I don’t know him personally, but he was awful cute, and tall.) Yes, she’s a media whore. And yes, she’s good at her job (being a media whore.) Encouraged by her mom and family (what did they do to Bruce Jenner’s face?) she made such a fool of that wholesome all American. (I don’t know him personally, but he looked clean cut.) Is she just incredibly mean, or does she not understand the consequences of screwing around with someone’s head. Mom (her’s, mine is dead) was talking about it today. She thought the SNL skit was hilarious. They all did. She has always encouraged her children to have a sense of humor. (Sure, they thought it was funny.) It’s just too bad that they didn’t share the joke with Kris before he bought the ring – or was that another part of the freebie wedding package.

Obama is acting Presidential again. Better late than never. Or is it? What the….? Why did he wait three years before he decided to be the President? From what I’ve heard, there is a difference between running a campaign and running the government. The way messages are delivered is different. Politics is not good training for governing. It is excellent training for eating unhealthy food. It is also excellent training for adjusting to time change, and more than frequent traveling. But it does not prepare anyone for leading a nation or, for that matter, dealing with bureaucracy. It does not prepare anyone for dealing with the consequences of inaction, foolish compromise, or imprudent decisions.

But I’m willing to give the guy a break. Not that he needs it from me, but as a good citizen what are the alternatives? The only thing I would appreciate is if he stopped negotiating and started to kick some ass. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Saturday, November 05, 2011

You Never Know.. Do You...

I m just back a week now from a wonderful week in Adelaide, Australia.. where the Australia Institute of Professional Photography had their annual "Event"... a four day get together, primarily for Portrait and Wedding photogs, but also including Editorial, and a smattering of Advertising shooters. They had a great program, and wrangled me into being the Keynote speaker [not sure why that's any different from just SPEAKING... especially at 815am on a Monday!] but the audiences were attentive and the rooms full. You can't ask for any more than that... I gave to presentations, one a walk through my career, the other having to do more with your own projects, and the kinds of things which you might do even though you're not paid for them. Great hospitality, and a wonderful group. If they ask you to come, don't hesitate. That said, be advised that the US dollar, in it's ongoing Fed-fed tumble from Currency du Jour to not quite so Current.. is about equal to the Aussie Dollar. That makes things really expensive... (it used to be .60US = 1AUS$ ) But it's a great place ... and while it takes time to get there... it's more than worth it. Yesterday I received an email from one of the photographers who attended the sessions, and I was so moved by her note that I reproduce it here. Thanks Pam!

from Pam McClure:


I was fortunate enough to attend both of your sessions at the recent Nikon Event
hosted in Adelaide by the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers.

I think, as human beings, most of us hope we will positively impact the lives of
at least one person during our short stay on this earth. I certainly aspire to
that. Often though, whilst we see the overt signs, we never see how deep that
impact is. Is it actually possible for someone (besides Mother Teresa and the
like) to have such a profound effect that someone might change the course of
their lives?

In my late 40's, I am a late comer to the world of professional photography and
am still working as a paramedic while I build my photography business. Since
returning from Adelaide, I have committed to many of the practical ideas to work
towards a successful business. Your sessions however, didn't so much offer
practical, business tips but have certainly had a huge impact on me.

History is a powerful thing. When I visited Tiananmen Square, I stood and let
myself be consumed by the power of the events in 1989. I crouched down to
touch the cobblestones of the Forbidden city and quietly reflected on the
thousands of years of history that had also touched them. The significance of
the ancient history of the Great Wall and Xi'an and then all of the temples
around Angkor Wat and the modern history of Cambodia were not lost on me. In
each case I was overcome by the experience.

After your session, I approached you and asked to shake your hand. I was still
overcome by the power of your stories. It wasn't just the insight you gave us
into the 'behind the scenes' of historical events - the humour and the tragedy,
but the way you presented all of this as a 'normal' person and showed that you
had been touched by events, that made everything so much more powerful. I thank
you for your generosity in sharing your experiences and the extraordinary images
that document them. You are a living history book.

As inspired as I was, especially travelling your journey of mistakes and lucky
coincidences that made you even more real, I admit that I walked away thinking
that what you did/do was out of my reach. You had gained your reputation over
many years. Your stories were of interest to everyone and you had been in the
thick of world history in the making. I had no hope of such experiences and
wasn't sure I could apply anything.

This week, my first job back on shift, as a paramedic, I met a 90 year old man
who required transport to hospital. He was a frail old thing but chatted away
as I attended to him in the back of the ambulance. Alex talked to me about
some of his experiences in his younger days. In our short, 20min journey, he
told me about one day that turned his life around. He was fighting in Russia
with the Italian army. Conditions were freezing and he had frostbite on all of
his toes and was crawling along the ground because he could no longer walk.
The group that he was with were all in a bad way when they came across an enemy
patrol. As was the expectation, from both sides, it was shoot to kill. In a
matter of a couple of seconds, he watched the other two members of his group
shot and killed by two of the enemy patrol. He realised what was coming and
looked up to see his executioner with gun poised to shoot him. He accepted his
fate and made the sign of the cross. The enemy soldier lowered his weapon and
walked towards Alex. He never said a word but bent down and picked Alex up,
hoisting him over his shoulders. He carried him to a nearby train that was
taking 3000 prisoners to a war camp. He placed Alex onto one of the flat bed
carriages and said "Good Luck" then walked away. Alex said it was the most
powerful experience of his life and that he viewed all men as one after that,
regardless of race, colour or creed.

Needless to say, I was very moved by the stories of this old man and, 4 days
later, he is still very much on my mind.

I have decided, taking my inspiration from you, that everyone has a story and,
while it may not be significant in the global scheme of things, it is of value
to someone. I want to tell some of these stories. They will not win me
recognition or make me money but, of far more value to me, I think they will go
some way toward that hope that I mentioned earlier, of deeply touching someone's
life in a positive way. Something beyond the overt signs I see regularly of the
impact of my job.

So after that long-winded essay, my point is that, by sharing what you did, you
have had a profound effect on my life and the path I have decided to explore.
Thank you. Well, that and the fact that, as a digital photographer who had an
analogue Mamiya 645 sitting in a cupboard that I've never used, you imagery
inspired me, so that the moment I walked in the door from the airport, I
retrieved it. I can't wait to develop my first roll.

Thank you again for your generosity in sharing your knowledge, experience and

Kind regards

Pam McLure

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

You Get What You Pay For

The question about why I am not writing about politics anymore was easily answered before this election season. It was because I didn’t think I knew anything. Suddenly, it struck me that this was a ridiculous reason because, hardly anyone who comments or talks about politics knows anything more than I know. And I wrote a book about the subject – “So You Think You Can Be President.” It’s a bi-partisan approach to government and politics. We spare no one regardless of party. And whoever can answer the questions should be the President because it means that they read the book, which is in itself, an important education.

While listening to the news over the last few days I paid particular attention to the pundit rhetoric. There is not an original thought. Maybe it’s because they expect to get paid for advice, so they hesitate to say anything real. There was a period of time when I wanted to set up a “Lucy” kind of political advice stand on the corner of K and Connecticut in downtown DC. There would be two signs. One would say, “Political Advice – Free.” The other sign would read “Good Political Advice --$10.” This merely means, and you have heard it before, you get what you pay for.

Because I am no longer involved in politics, I feel fine about giving good and original advice—for FREE. (You still get what you pay for). Here’s what I mean. The banter about the Republican candidates goes something like this. Rick Perry is no longer a front runner…. Well just a minute. Cain took his votes and if Cain goes down in flames, then those votes will likely go back to Perry. And maybe he can be the front runner. Newt is not a serious candidate --wait a minute. He’s the best debater, he’s stayed alive through all the controversy, and in South Carolina last week, 400 people showed up for an event at Chick-fil-a. Maybe we are underestimating the Chick-fil-a factor and he could be a front runner. Mitt Romney waffles on every issue. He cannot get beyond the 20% mark. He will never be the front runner. He cannot win the nomination. Just hold on there. Mitt is the tortoise in a race with lots of rabbits. Maybe he doesn’t waffle, he reads and learns and once he is educated, in a most thoughtful way, he changes his mind. Okay, well maybe Mitt can get to be strongly opinionated and he can be the front runner.

Then this tonight. Hillary is one of the only members of the Obama Administration who defends the President.

If I were updating my book here would be my first question.

A. Isn’t it time to fire everyone in the Administration who doesn’t.
B. If Hillary is going out of politics, what is she thinking.
C. Homeland Security’s policies on immigration are one of the reasons the economy is failing.

And speaking of Homeland Security, my second question:

If you were the President of the United States the first bureaucracy you would break up is
A. Homeland Security because they are so large the left hand doesn’t even know if the right hand exists.
B. Homeland Security -- because visas do not belong in the same place as the Secret Service and FEMA
C. Homeland Security because there is not a person making decisions who knows anything about the subject matter on which they are deciding.
D. Need I go on

Obviously no need. Here’s my point. There is no point. In the past, I would have listened to every show, every talking head, everyone who had anything to offer about anything political. It all sounds the same to me. Even people I know, like, and respect will have nothing substantive to offer, until there are two front runners or one nominee. But I do intend to keep blobbing about the campaigns, and the election and ultimately, the old or new government. Hope you enjoy it, but remember, you get what you pay for. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Yechhhhh, It's Too Early For Winter

When I lived in Massachusetts, a few too many years ago, I loved the State but I hated the weather. It’s surprising that when you are in college, you hardly ever notice the weather. Probably, because you are too busy having fun to notice anything -- but having fun. In fact, in about 1966 on May 30, we were at Dartmouth for a spring weekend, and it snowed. I hardly blinked. But once you are out of school, you do begin to take notice of things like, how to make a living, what path you want your life to take, and the fact that there is usually 10 months of winter. My first husband used to say that the weather weighed heavy on my personality – any weather, but especially the cold. Blah blah blah—Sure I was in a bad mood when it was snowy, cold, or rainy, but that’s what the majority of days are in New England. It’s one small reason he’s no longer my husband. But that’s another blob which you will never read.

Moving to Washington DC was the best remedy there was for my personality. There was cold and snow and rain, but it was different. Usually the weather was OK. It was hot in the summer, but everything was air-conditioned. It snowed, but by the time it ended it was usually melting –except when Barry was Mayor and in Florida and it snowed 3 feet. In DC there is no snow removal. We call it the “Lord giveth and the Lord take it away”, attitude about snow removal. It's not that it doesn't snow, it's just that they are in permanent denial about what happens in winter. So I learned to live with the inconvenience of snow a few times a year, but it was nothing like New England.

Moving on. Living in Virginia was splendid—in terms of the weather. Except every 17 years when there was a locust infiltration – some call the bugs by other names, but they are locusts. Okay, another inconvenience – but not like having to deal with 2 feet of snow every other week. Then, one day you wake up and you do not belong in Virginia or politics anymore. Where do you go? For me it was NYC. Ah, the Big Apple. The Great White Way. Times Square. Uptown, downtown, all around the town. But a person with as much stuff as David has cannot live in a one bedroom apartment with little storage.

We bought a house in Upstate New York. Newburgh NY. A place where half my family lived and with which I was incredibly familiar. It’s a place I never thought I would live. A. It’s snowy and wintery. B. I never liked it when I liked it. But, A. There is wonderful family there. (And for someone who hasn’t lived with family for many many years), it is quite a joy. B. The house, (which I love), is not one that I ever thought we would buy. It has too much property. It has no garbage disposal. There is septic, instead of sewers. Oh yes, and it is heated by oil.

What is all this leading to? The weather. It snowed on October 29th. Before Halloween. Geez. We had no spring, we had no summer because all it did was rain, and now we will have moved right from the non-summer to not having a fall. Right to winter. We’re going to have 10 months of winter. It’s clearly a flashback to my life in New England. But hold on. I am not miserable, or even in a bad mood. Sure it snowed earlier than ever recorded, and yes, we lost power for a few hours. But I am delighted to call it home and I am thrilled I can weather, the weather.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

How Do You Spell H A L L M A R K ?

There I was riding along, on my way back into the city, and, as usual, thinking about whom I needed to call. Why do we all think we need to be in touch all the time? Further, why, when we are driving somewhere, do we think we need to answer the phone? The obvious answer is that, we ‘need’ to think we are so important that when we can never be out of touch. Someone always needs us want to connect. What horse pucky. But that was not what I wanted to blob about. As I rode along, looking at the beauty of the leaves, and feeling incredibly good about my life, I thought … ‘it’s about time.’

But there are some things from which we cannot escape.. like our mothers. Now I don’t want you to think this is a morose blob about mom, because it isn’t. But today I paid special tribute to the Rose by watching non-stop Hallmark Channel Movies.

Rosie’s three favorite shows were Judge Judy, Dancing with the Stars, and anything on Hallmark, especially the movies. In honor of Halloween the movies were about a “Good Witch.” Yes, there is a “Good Witch” series. It begins with Cassandra’s arrival to somewhere in Massachusetts…maybe. Not clear which state but it’s about witchcraft so I assume it’s Massachusetts. Anyway, much to the chagrin of the Mayor’s wife, Cassandra opens a store called ‘Bell, Book, and Candle” (how Kim Novak can you get?) Yes, there lot’s of drama, but eventually, Cassandra, with whom the police chief is in love, defeats the mayor’s wife and lives happily ever after. It turns out that the ‘Good Witch” movies are a series. How my mother would have loved that and become obsessed. The next movie was about Cassandra almost losing her home and heritage – she doesn’t. And the third revolves around the wedding of Cassie and the Chief of police on Christmas Eve.

Who knows what’s going to happen at 9:00 pm, a new and never before been seen movie about Cassie and her family. I can hardly wait. Mom would have been happy beyond words.

Mom enjoyed getting involved in stories. She hated soap operas, but she loved drama. Whether it was the drama of a game show, or the drama of a court show, she delighted in the outcome.

Now that she’s gone, and we miss all her idiosyncracies, it’s easy to watch the programs she would have loved, and pretend that we like them too. But the truth is, I do like them. They are safe. You don’t have to worry about topic or language. They are a safe place to be. And not only does it make me think about Mom, but it also takes me to a safe and happy time. Miss her, yes? Miss using her as an excuse to watch brainless TV – even more. We re just sayin’… Iris

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Celebration of Lives

"Happy, happy birthday babies". They would have been 91. It doesn't feel like they're permanently gone. The only time that the loss is unimaginable, is when you need an answer to a question and the 'answerers' are no where to be found. Things like; 'on which holiday do we light a memorial candle?' Or, "do we need to sift the flour before we make the cake?" Or," who is the person in the picture that we don't recognize?" Or, "With eight kids and two bedrooms, who slept where?" Or, "Where did you put that great black sequin dress"?

These were questions that would always lead to some kind of a discussion. While, not quite a conversation, it was also not quite an argument. Except it was usually loud and started with "What are you talking about? That is not true!" Or, "It certainly did not happen that way." Or, "Are you out of your mind". You get the idea. A confrontation of some sort, was how they expressed, not only their opinions, but their love. Yelling was an art form that they developed with years of practice. They were never yelling at you. They were just yelling... probably to be heard because there were always so many voices at once.

If you weren't part of the family, then it was likely you never heard any of these squabbles. They were particularly deft around strangers. We always said, "They were very good with strangers." Strangers thought they walked on water. So sweet, so kind, so generous, so charming.... And they were, but we were often in awe at their ability to become a whole other person from the one we knew. Don't misunderstand, they did not pretend to be anything they weren't. It was just that they had different personalities depending on the people in the room. They were, however, always consistently loving and very funny. They didn't always know they were funny - but it didn't matter. And, whether you were talking about the twins (Rosie and Peppy) or any of the eight, they seemed to have one mind. Yes, they argued all the time, but they also never needed to talk to know what one of the others was thinking.

The sibling's, Betty, Jack, Sarah, Sophie, Fritzie, Helene, Peppy and Rosie, if you take the spaces out between their names, (bettyjacksarahsophiefritziepeppyrosie), they become one character who I have always thought of as Lekish. Not to exclude their spouses, who are certainly a part of the whole picture and a good part of the color. So, today, on the RosiePeppy birthday, I will light birthday candles for all of them (and no it's not just an excuse for cake.) I will sing my heart out,loud as I can, in my terrible voice. I will think about all the joy, laughter, and "schpilkes" they brought us for all of our lives. And I will miss them.... even more than last year and probably less than next year.... We're Just Sayin ....Iris

Monday, October 17, 2011

So Many Questions

Maybe someone can explain to me how we all went from being optimistic and so hopeful about the 2008 election, to being so disappointed about what has happened over the past few years. OK, you’re right, it is likely that I wouldn’t listen. But that’s not the point.

When I awoke to the news that we were sending 100 troops to Uganda, it was like a bad dream. It’s not 100 troops, it’s a hundred people… probably young people. People we know, maybe even love. And what for? It has to be more than the Pentagon needed somewhere to send those people who were hanging around in the halls. Or maybe not. It’s clear that the Pentagon is making those decisions. The White House never does.

Yesterday at a NFL game the announcer stopped to salute the men and women who are serving in 175 countries around the world. I was appalled. Not because they wanted to salute the military personnel serving around the world. I was on the USO National Board and I love the troops. Why the Pentagon doesn’t take care of those who have served, (as well as their families) is an issue that is indefensible. We all agree that there is a need for much more than a free ticket for a football game, and a salute, but that’s not what upset me.

We are in 175 (now with Uganda 176) countries? What are we doing in all those places? Maybe they count includes Marine guards at Embassies, but where is our common sense? Martin Luther King had a dream. We can give lip service to how important peace in our nation and the world should be. And then we look around the world and we see there is not much peace anywhere. If we discount the police fighting with protestors, and we disassociate poverty and violence as part of a worldwide problem, we might find the dream. It is, however, unlikely.

We have spent billions of dollars on technology, developing weapons, and sending people and resources to people in other countries. Not all of those countries welcome our so called “support,” but we don’t even ask anymore. Well, maybe we ask corrupt leaders, but we certainly don’t ask the people. We eliminated our public diplomacy mechanism to do this. Let’s say we asked all the people in the world to raise their hands if they applauded an American presence. Then we asked all the people in the U.S. if they would rather send aide abroad or concentrate on fixing the problems we have here. Just think about the number of hands that would suggest we take care of our own infra structure, education, jobs, and health concerns. (We know no bankers or Wall Street Titans would lift their arms – but that’s a given.) As well as the number that hope we will just leave them alone and mind our own business.

It is extremely depressing to think about the consequences of our haphazard foreign and domestic policies, but think we must. And maybe even demonstrate our displeasure. And maybe even send a dollar to those brave and frustrated citizens, who have taken over Wall Street to express concerns, not only about wealth and greed, but about injustice and corporations breaking the law. Maybe we should bring all our troops home and send them to Wall Street to bond with other people who care about this country. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Goin' Home Again?

Thomas Wolf was not altogether wrong when he wrote that “You Can’t Go Home Again.” We often invoke his title in our lives, but when you really ARE trying to go home, it becomes a very different, very personal matter. I was in Salt Lake City ten days ago for the opening at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts of a photographic show of some of my work … “Too Close.” It’s a set of pictures taken from news and newsy kind of events of the last forty years, which stand back from the subjects, giving the more context to the scene, showing, more or less, just what I saw when I took that picture. Over the years when mom still lived in Salt Lake (up until about 4 years ago) we would regularly drop by the Museum on trips home, and mom would berate the poor volunteer at the front desk, beseeching that her talented son (yes, me!) ought to be on display there.
RFK at BYU, 1968
Well, it finally happened this fall. A 53 piece show beginning with Bobby Kennedy’s campaign in 1968, and ending with a picture of the Space Shuttle launch two years ago. In between are a mix of politics, news, some pretty famous, and relatively unknown folks. The most interesting thing about it is the ability to just stand in front of the picture and study all the details. Always a lousy caption writer, and envious of tough minded wire guys who would ask someone’s name, age, and hometown no matter how awful the scene, I have presented a set of pictures which are full of mostly anonymous subjects, aside from the Presidents and Ayatollahs, who we all seem to know by heart. Thirty, forty years on, I really wish I’d written down some of those names. [LangVeiGI] I’d love to know what’s happened to these people.

When you’re young and impetus, as I suspect I was, those kind of details mattered less, and the fact that I worked mainly for weekies (Time, Life …) the names seemed to be less of an issue than it would have been were I shooting for a wire service or a daily paper. Too bad for me.
A patron of the arts...UMFA

Mt. Olympus, seen from "home"
I went to SLC in time to help hang the show, work on the order of presentation, and arranging of the double-hung images (there was only so much wall space) and in the end, I think it looks pretty damn good. We had a crowd which included some cousins and my dear Aunt Esther (who will be 99 this Christmas day, and no doubt sending out dozens of emails when she does… she is addicted to email!), and at least 150 people who weren’t related to me. Yes, actual citizens. That was gratifying. I spoke for about an hour describing my early days in the Olympus High darkroom, and how it led to a career which has seemed to fly by in a hurry. I’m getting tired, in speaking about my work, of using the phrase “… well.. thirty six years ago…” everytime I mention a photograph. But at the same time, I’m happy as a lark that I’m still able to be taking pictures, and some good ones, sometimes even for the same folks I worked for 37 years ago. I realize that life is meant to fly by on its own schedule, not necessarily our own.
a "young" D-Day vet at a lunch sponsored by the French, Omaha Beach -1974 (the 30th anniversary)
In 1974 I went for the first time to Omaha Beach on occasion of the 30th anniversary, and met some of the D-Day veterans, many of whom later became every-5-year reunion acquaintances. Even know I wonder if those vets, as they grew older, would look back upon D-Day with the same wistful wonderment I do over things I did in the 70s and 80s, which seem so close, so recent that the numbers feel like lies. Stories I worked on in 1979 still feel like they might have been last year, or last month, but certainly NOT 32 years ago. It’s really true that what our parents always said… that time only goes faster, is as true as “you can’t go home again.”

the Creek and stone bridge
Well,, I tried to go home again. Or at least near home. Mom and dad sold our original Cottonwood house in about 1990. Dad’s driving had deteriorated, and without much fanfare (which always amazed me) they sold the house in the country, the one with the 300’ driveway, the big field in front where the entire neighborhood played baseball season after season in the 50s, and where my pal Jamie Atwater and I would find a surplus of dirt clods near by when we wanted to play Junior Marines. They bought a house conveniently located adjacent to the 6th fairway at The Country Club, and he was able to just “walk to work,” simply crossing the 6th, and in two minutes was at the Pro Shop, ready to report for his next round of 18 holes. After WW2, with some great degree of clairvoyance, my granddad and his two brothers bought 31 acres in what was then the june-grass covered boonies off 6200 South. It was ten miles from downtown. There was a #16 Holladay bus which would come about once an hour, and take the long, plodding trip to downtown, and which we used to go see a variety of scary 1950s horror movies in the years before my bike or a car would get me there. On that plot of land were a total of four family houses, each separated by enough distance that if you hiked thru the june grass for half an hour, plucking the sharp hay colored schrapnel from your socks as you’d go, you might see a dead deer carcass sooner than a cousin’s driveway.
Grandma Atwater's...
Dad would occasionally go into the back yard with a two-wood and a few old, cut Titlest golf balls, and aim them over the trees towards Aunt Molly’s house. She was the grand dame of the family ( a 5’ 0” version, who when she drove her oversized Cadillac gave the impression of a driver-less car, that impression betrayed only by the sight of two hands reaching up to the wheel to attempt to steer it.) I don’t think dad ever hit a window, but now and then when we’d head over to swim at Molly’s pool, we’d see a few golf balls on the lawn which had been launched from our back yard.

Once mom & dad sold the house, the rest of the cousins thought, why hold on to this when so few of us are there. So they formed a corporation, put all the land into it, and sold it off as a newly fancy soon to be gated community called Roseland. Over the last 15 years, a dozen or so gigantic homes (the 4 or 5 bay garages are as big as our house was…) which have replaced those somewhat reasonable 1940s homes which previously habitated there. On the Friday after my show opened, I drove out to the old family homestead and took a little look around. The ever moving Cottonwood creek which was next to our house was still snappily clear with very drinkable water, the stone bridge where Jamie and other neighbor kids and I would hang out is unchanged. There is a big gate at the entrance of our old driveway, and it felt absolutely extrusive (what is the opposite of intrusive?) I walked the short length of 23rd East where our mailbox (often replaced when vandalized by neighborhood kids) had stood, and peered into the grove of trees across the street where Grandma Atwater (Mary Meigs Atwater, one of the legends of modern Native American weaving ) had lived with her obstinate Doberman, Duchess. I say obstinate but Duchess really only ever bit me once, a lunged-at nibble on the forehead when I’d confronted her in the grove one day. I was too young to be naturally afraid of Dobermans, but I think that since then I have been more than a little suspicious of them. I realized that even for the people who bought ‘our house’ twenty years ago, that it’s starting to feel like a long time ago. We’ve just moved into a house which has whole set of grown ups who grew up there in the 60s and 70s, and while I would happily welcome them into “our place” to have a look around, I suspect they would see it as very nearly alien territory, filled with our tastes, our things, and bear little relationship to what they knew when they were four, watching Sesame Street. Maybe we are meant to float around from place to place, and those of us lucky enough to actually have a choice in the manner can usually turn what might be gut wrenching and frightening into a soft landing. But there is something in the human psyhe that longs for the familiar, and no matter how much we may think of ourselves as a “mobile society,” destined to be on the move, that place we think of as “home” will forever sit warmly in our hearts. We’re just sayin’… David

the Extrusive Gate at our old driveway

the telephone pole on Fardown Ave. where I first clobbered the passenger side of the Plymouth, circa 1963