Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Fun Visit "Home"

When I finally moved to Washington in 1977, (that’s when I moved out of my car and stopped driving between Boston and DC every weekend) we would drive around the monuments and Marthena would always exclaim, “How fortunate we are to live in such a beautiful place.” And she was right. Whatever you may think of the government and all the elected officials, it is a physically beautiful place to live. If you are lucky enough to be part of whatever Administration gets into power, you also find that it is not only gorgeous, it can be a great deal of “heady fun.” (OK, that may have been mostly in the past, but if it wasn’t some fun, no one would live there.) We don’t live there anymore, but there are delightful memories that I keep alive not only by telling, and retelling them, but by having friends in an Administration who are kind enough to celebrate special events with me.
with Tara, Heidi, Kerry, and Nadine Last Tuesday, Tara D. Sonenshine was sworn in as the Under Secretary for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy at the United States Department of State. And yes, the job is even more important than the size of the title. There have been any number of people who have held this position, mostly when it what was The Director of the United States Information Agency (which was integrated into the State Department and no longer exists as one of 92 independent government agencies.) Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy have nothing to do with Public Relations. Unfortunately, preceeding Tara’s appointment, most of the Undersecretary’s never understood this. Most wanted to sell the United States to the rest of the world as if it were a product – toothpaste or perhaps a brightening detergent. This job oversees all the Exchanges programs, from Nannys to the Fulbright scholars. She is responsible for all the media operations, (libraries and electronic) cultural and educational programs in the embassies throughout the world, as well as the People to People programs operating in the U.S. This may be too much information, but for the first time in years, this Undersecretary knows that the US is not a product. Additionally, it’s as important to listen to what the rest of the world is telling us, as it is to tell our story. The Information, Public Affairs, and Press officers who serve Tara, understand how important this is. And having a leader who respects the importance of what they do because she understands how important Public diplomacy (people to people) – which differs from Political diplomacy (government to government) -- can be, means a great deal, especially during these chaotic years.
Without presenting her resumé, when the Secretary of State administered the Oath of Office — which still moves me to tears — she knew that those programs were in most competent and loving (her family is as important as any job) hands. In or out of government, being invited to that event was still great fun.
Last night was the White House Correspondents dinner (otherwise known as the “prom” of media dinners). It was the public event I loved most of all when we were in DC. The first of these dinners to which I was invited in 1977, my dinner partner was Henry Kissinger. That was only the beginning. For the first four years, I was invited by a news organization (who invite potential “newsmakers” to their tables. At the table there were always celebrities, politicians, and an assortment of reknown characters. After the dinner, there were always parties (also invited) but I was never turned away. When the Administration ended, I no longer got invites from news organizations. (You just don’t if you are one of the great unwashed.) But I still attended because my wonderful friend, Steve Daley (with the Chicago Trib) invited me to go with him. He did not invite me as a source or to make an impression. He invited me because he didn’t have to babysit for me. We worked the room separately – but always enjoyed when we would happen upon one another conversing with some colorful character. I wore the same dress every year (my Mother’s head to toe, white sequin gown.) And he was dressed smartly in a handsome tuxedo. It was always an amazing evening, where you got to see everyone in DC that you knew, and to meet everyone at the dinner who you wanted to know. Steve passed away this year. The loss of my friend was such that going to the “Prom” was simply not as important to me. In fact, if I wasn’t going with Steve, I didn’t want to go. When you live in Washington, there are those events which position you as a player. This was one of them. I just didn’t want to play without my excellent playmate. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Friday, April 27, 2012

Oh, Those Cousins

This is one of those “sometimes you are so random, Iris” blobs. Yesterday, we rented a car so that I could go home, and David could keep shooting and not have to move all his camera crap from one place to another. As oft happens with different GPS systems, , they each give you different directions. We decided the smart thing to so would be for me to follow him .
the alleged GPS guidance vehicle Turns out, it was not so smart, because he does not know how to drive in a motorcade. He lost me at the orange light in North Brunswick – which he sped through as if he didn’t make it he would be punished for male hesitation. We were in rush hour traffic, so I turned on my GPS, which took me to the front of the hotel instead of the garage. It took me an hour to make the turn necessary to get me where I wanted to go. Actually, it took me only an hour because I took two illegal left hand turns. OK, I did give him the finger as I followed an ambulance past him. But that was appropriate behavior. Here’s the point, if he was a volunteer driver in my campaign motorcade, I would have fired him. Yes, I am sorry to share this information, but I think it’s only fair for every blob reader to know that you should never try to follow David Burnett, or any guy who has set the Land Speed record as their lifetime goal. But that’s not what I wanted to blob about.
Who knew? It was not really a surprise, but it was certainly not something I expected – it was always there but never articulated. My cousins are really special. I guess I have always known that. But it took so many years for me to see it as clearly as I do now. Maybe it’s because the first generation is gone and we wanted to make certain that we “carried on” in the way they would have insisted we do. It was without the fighting and the yelling – but we still heard their voices in our heads. (And also we do pretty good imitations of them.) Or maybe it’s because you take for granted those things that you have always had, but they are not be taken for granted—ever. Passover was an eye opener. My cousins all came together to make sure that the legacy continued. Everyone participated in whatever way they could. Even if was just to enjoy. It was all good. We had such an extraordinary time. There were sixty people in attendance. Originally, we thought there would be maybe, 30 –maybe. Then, when we started counting, it was fifty. Ultimately it was sixty. The comments I get are usually, “Geez, sixty people, the service must go on and on.” It doesn’t. We tell the story of the Jews making their infamous getaway. We say and then sing the Four Questions, and Dayenu, we eat, we talk, we drink (grape juice of course), we laugh, we catch up, we celebrate being together. Most importantly, we remember those who gave us this amazing gift of family, and we hope that, as Aunt Peppy says, “it continues long after we’re gone.” There was no drama and no politics. The people who could come, came. The people who weren’t able to attend, sent notes, or regrets, or hopes that they would see us all next year. It was a living, loving tribute to the past, and hopes for the future. It was a partnership. It was at my house, but that was just the place —like it had been at Aunt Sophie’s, Aunt Peppy’s, and Rosalie’s. It was everyone’s Seder and it will come as no surprise to know, it was perfect. We’re Just Sayin’ …. Iris

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Twere a Distant Solstice

An adventure, just like in Paris, only it was a little closer. For a change, let's begin at the beginning.

Since neither of us wanted to drive through the Holland tunnel and, over the Bayonne bridge, (horrific even when the conditions are perfect). We (matty's old, my new friend David), decided we would take public transportation to see Matty's new musical, Goddess Wheel, at The Snug Harbor Cultural Center, on Staten Island. (yes, all the details are important). The show was wonderful so, well worth the effort.

We met at the Ferry, he was standing under the second A, in the enormous sign that announces you have arrived at the dock. It's been a long time since I was on that Ferry and it was going to be a pretty exciting adventure. The trip over was easy and simple -- subway to the ferry, ferry to the Staten Island terminal, short bus ride to the cultural center, off the bus, through the gate, short walk to the reception, lovely fruit, over to the theater, enjoyed the show, ready to head back to the Ferry exactly the way we came. Not going to happen.

It was raining, we had to walk around the building we had come through, over to the gate to catch the bus. The gate was locked. All the gates were locked on the bus side of the center. Walked back around the building, hoping to find an exit or maybe a cab. ( In our dreams). We did find the parking lot, there were no cabs, it was raining harder. Here's where it get's like Paris (and yes, here comes the name dropping).

I was helping to plan a Presidential trip to France, and as I always did when I was in Paris, my accommodations were at Ambassador Harriman's official residence. Needless to say, it was glorious. My suite overlooked THE gardens. Do I need to describe how elegant, how amazing, how, how, how.... I think not. Anyway, it was summer solstice. There was an area in Paris where hundreds of musicians gathered and there was a festival on the streets -- many streets. Along with the Ambassador's assistant and another female diplomat, we ventured on the Metro to this outdoor party. We sang and danced and ate and celebrated the beginning of summer with thousands of new Parisian friends. At about 12:30am, we decided to start back to the Embassy. No one told us that the Metro shut down at 1:00. So, there we were, somewhere on some street in Paris, at 1am. It had started to rain and wherever we were, there were no cabs, no people, no nothing. There was no choice but to start walking. And walking and walking and more walking. Now it was 3am. Still raining, still no one. And then, there were lights, an actual vehicle approaching. I ran into the street hoping whomever was driving would not run me over. Although, by that time we were so tired we would have welcomed an ambulance.

The teacher who rescued us was curious about why three American women were walking alone, in that section of Paris, in the middle of the night. He was especially interested in our destination -- the Ambassador's residence. There was really no way to explain the Adventure, especially the hitch-hiking (which was obviously not an acceptable means of transportation for diplomats in France -- ooh what would Pamela have thought, and we promised one another that we would never tell the story. But it was simply too amusing not to share. So what does this have to do with Staten Island? Well, in desperation I once again threw myself into the street and hailed a car to take us to the Ferry.

We waited about a half hour for the boat. We walked to the subway, but the 4 and 5 weren't running. We hopped aboard a West side #1 train. At 42nd St. I tried to change to an E, to continue uptown but east. The E was not running. I wandered back to the crosstown 7, waited for 10 minutes (because now it was raining and late into the night). Prayed that the 6 would still be running, (it was), took it to the 51st Lex stop, and finally arrived home a mere 4 hours after leaving the theater.

All in all, it was a lovely evening. And if nothing else, it gave me a great excuse to finally tell the solstice story. We’re just sayin’.... Iris

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's About Women, Not Gaps

As has often been said during Presidential campaigns, (and it doesn’t matter which political party is having the conversation) there is a GENDER GAP. Both parties argue about which side has the largest gap -- in the past there has been little contest – the Republicans have been the gappiest. And in the past the Democrats figured that women had no place to go but the Democratic party. The 'dialogue' is about how to deal with the gender gap, and it usually takes place between a bunch of men.

What’s wrong with that picture? The Democrats take the women’s vote for granted, and the Republicans have no clue about why women would hesitate to be Republicans. But they can’t get out of their own way in terms of policy decisions that will inevitably have an impact on women.

In order to explain the hows and whys of this, allow me take you for a trip down memory lane. Whatever else you want to say about Bill Clinton (and yes you can make many dirty or snide jokes about it), but during the Clinton Administration, women were in powerful government positions, and the West Wing did do their best to open channels of communication with non-governmental individuals and groups. We had a great time finding ways to make the public and government officials understand the important role that women could play if they had a voice in policy decisions. We created the White House Women’s Office, the Interagency Council for Women, and we selected delegations to world conferences that were truly representative of a cross section of women. We looked like America -- Republicans, Democrats, (conservatives and liberals), different religions, colors, cultures, organizations, sizes, temperaments and on and on. You could take a picture and see that this was an honest attempt to make sure that everyone felt included.

Flash forward to the Bush Administration. They eliminated the White House Women’s Office, the Interagency Council, and any remnant of the progress we had made in the government. They said that those things merely marginalized women and they didn’t want to marginalize us. It’s what men (Dems and Repubs) always say about any mechanism that insures women have some input in decisions which affect them.

What the men, who have always had the power, don’t get is that issues of concern to women go well beyond health, education, social issues and children. Women care deeply about the economy, national security, technology, privacy, government interference in our personal lives, and just about everything from birth to death,

Clearly, there is a gender gap. But the reason for it is because women talk about these things in ways that differ from the way men talk about them. For men, everything is black and white; women see shades of gray. Men make lists of things, women describe the items on a list. Men “cut to the chase”, women tell a story. Regardless of beliefs, women do not want men to usurp their ability to decide about their lives. Here’s an example. A woman may not believe in abortion, but she certainly does not want a man (and especially an elected official), to tell her if she can use birth control, or determine what happens in her bedroom.

Despite the stupidity of the Repubs trying to take women back to the dark ages, the Obama Administration will have to do some serious repair work if they expect women to vote at all. In the last election there were a number of us who were liaisons to the Hillary advocates, because rather than vote for Obama, they were simply not going to vote at all. Most of those important liaison people did not get government positions in order to advocate for an agenda that paid some attention to their issues. As a consequence, people who were not well versed in women’s priorities, (children) had no idea about what was acceptable and unacceptable in terms of a women’s agenda. The Obama White House was not women friendly. Mistakes were made. The men who did -- and do -- surround the President didn’t have a clue. And calling on the First Lady to be visible and involved simply may not be enough to repair the damage. Women may not vote for the Republican nominee. But there is no guarantee that they will vote for the President. The gender gap may be measured by how many women will choose not vote at all. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

apples and oranges -- oil and water?

Some would say it’s apples and oranges – you be the judge.

Gas prices are out of control. Every week we hear that they have peaked and will start to go down. But they just keep going up. If the President would simply suggest that he’s going to okay the pipe line from Canada. Repeal oil subsidies. Go into the oil reserves. Or allow additional drilling in the Gulf, you would see the prices drop - really drop. He actually doesn’t have to do anything. Just the mere suggestion that he’s going to seriously consider an energy policy that deals with the realities of what exists now (solar power, and corn, are not part of that reality), prices would drop immediately.

Santorum dropped out today, so we don’t have to worry about lunatics in the White House. Romney will be the nominee. A failed Governor instead of a failed Senator. Is that the good news? So what better slogan for Obama then, “Geez, look who I’m running against”.

I don’t mean to be snarky, because I believe there is no choice but to support the President. But it is as worrisome as when Gore ran against Bush. What didn’t matter to the general public was that Bush was incompetent to be the President. (and I mean that in the nicest possible way). He had no sense of himself, history or a curiosity about the world. But it didn’t matter. He was a likeable backslapping guy, who if he drank beer, would have been a good choice for a beer partner. This is not the case with Romney. He is neither likeable, nor does he have nay clue about the way real people have to live.

But Obama, and all the VIP elected officials (VP, Speakers, rich people, etc) are also pretty out of touch. They have no idea what it means to chose between gas, food and medicine, because you can’t afford all. They simply have no idea how all the people, who are not elected officials, or the very rich, have to survive.

There I went digressing again, when none of this, (except not having a clue), is not what I want to blob about.

We had a friend that, rather then get up to see if there was any butter, would simply say, “is there any butter”, and expect someone – preferably female—to jump up and check to see. It was not malicious or sexist, it was just the way he was used to asking for something. We dealt with it by answering “I don’t know, is there any…?” Men are good at figuring out how to avoid tedious tasks. Someone told me about her husband who would take a wet cloth and wipe a single window sill, and say, “I just can’t stand to see dirt” When at the same time, he tracks mud into the bathroom, never wipes the tub down after a shower, and rather than actually look for something that appears to be lost, simply says “I can’t find it” Which means, “so you have to look for it”

What does this have to do with gas prices? Well, like the President, who has no idea how painful it is to fill a gas tank. Some men, have no idea what it means to delegate all the crappy tasks to their wives/partners. If they had to clean the house themselves, it would be a whole lot less likely that they would expect the cleaning, laundry, cooking,and looking, to be their beloved’s job. It’s not apples and oranges. It’s just when you don’t have to suffer any pain, you have no idea how painful any of this can be for someone who does. We're Just Sayin.... Iris

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Gefilte Fish Central, 2012 Edition

Gefilte Fish Central, here to report that the weekend of Seders, just couldn’t have been more amusing. For whatever the reason, maybe because it’s spring and spring always feels, fresh and clean and like all life is renewed, Passover, not New Years, is how I mark the beginning of the calendar year.

This is the first Passover that we had no one from the first generation to turn to for advice or instruction. And even though The Gefilte Fish Chronicles COOKBOOK serves a purpose, it, like my mother and my aunts, calls for a great deal of guess work. Last year, although Aunt Peppy was infirmed, we still could ask her important questions. Like, do you put the eggs in before or after you “hock” the fish (like chopping, but you do it with more enthusiasm, it takes longer, and the fish seems to fight back.) Or, how long do you need to cook the soup? Because, it seems that no matter how many times you prepare the same meal (over 25 years for me) you can never remember how to put it together. It takes a team to do it right. Our mothers understood that. They didn’t duplicate jobs. Everyone did everything. They all thought they were in charge of something. They shopped, chopped, hocked, seasoned, mixed, tasted, disagreed, talked, yelled, screamed, carried on, and never forgot the love they felt for one another.

This was both a difficult and marvelous year for me. It was difficult health wise, and we moved, and we lived in one bedroom/one bathroom for longer than I care to remember. Having almost recovered from the loss of my Aunt Sophie, and my mother, Aunt Peppy died. Kind of a one, two, three, punch. If you have suffered the loss of a parent, you understand the loneliness one feels when it seems there is no one to listen, or to hear, or who will be there as unconditionally as a parent. And for most of us, we had at least four or five parents, not just the one who birthed us. (Don’t you love the word birthed—its so Southern.)

They are all gone. Not that we don’t still think we can call them when something awful or hysterical happens, it’s just that they no longer pick up the phone.
Stephanie & Gary
Honey & Milan
Billy, Iris & Honey
a roomful of Cousins
The family has become geographically scattered over the years. When we moved to Newburgh, we chose the location because I had family there and we really needed to find a new support system. (Our Washington family was not blood, but they certainly provided a wonderful support system for about 30 years.) It isn’t easy to replace those connections. Anyway, it turned out that it was a very good decision for many reasons – not the least of which was a reconnection with the Newburgh cousins, but in addition this Passover, we (all the cousins – Florida, New York, Massachusetts and on and on) became a Team. Without any of the first generation, the second, third, fourth, and even fifth generations came together to as a Team orchestrate the most beautiful (emotionally) Seder in all my memory. The baton was passed and we took it, ran with it, and surpassed all expectations. The Matzoh balls floated feather-light. The Fish was a perfect excuse to eat Horse Radish. The Chicken was divine. And the Cholent—don’t Ask!

our array of tables
a veritable car lot on Dogwood Hills
Jack reads...
Lovey, Honey & Rosalie
Well, go ahead and ask, but there just isn’t any left to take home. It was truly a family affair and we knew, as we made our way through the service, that the first generation (probably at their own Seder), was proud beyond belief, that everyone who could, came to Newburgh to be together for this beginning of a New Year. A thank you to all my beloved cousins/family for an amazing holiday. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Tracy & Debbi

Gen.4 passes Gen. 5 to Gen.3

the Birthday girls: Milan, Tracy, Brett, Madison