"War does not determine who is right - only who is left." Bertrand Russell
WAR & FRIENDS
We are in an age of corporate-owned media in some countries and government-owned media in others. I go as both observer and sometimes participant to protests in the city, taking photographs to later post for friends abroad. Those friends do the same in their country and share their experience with me. The media is a constant source of surprise in their reporting; participants undercounted if there is any real coverage at all; altercations and arrests duly reported. Some governments forbid the press to cover the war in their country and interested and concerned individuals are left to get the news as best they can. So, I pack my camera and my notebook and I go—when I can—to where the protest is in the city and when I have gone to a protest in Washington DC it’s as a participant as well. I send my observations abroad and to friends across this country. Wall Street protests have of late given way to concerns in the Middle East.
Last Sunday I found myself in Times Square, talking to some of the young men and women who were protesting Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The few hundred people gathered for the demonstration quickly blossomed into many thousands; a lot of them appeared to be families. They were clearly upset about the bombings, the crippling blockade on their people. Among the throngs in the demonstration there were chants of protest, handmade placards illustrated with images of the devastation, young men throwing power fists. But there was also music and dancing. There were self-professed Jewish people in the march, and their placards read: “Jews Cherish Life & Abhor War.” One wag with a great smile displayed his homemade sign: “Another Jew Against Israeli Chutzpah.” In attendance were also Native Americans, Mexicans (“Mexico hearts Gaza”), and Asians—all contributing to the march with brightly colored instruments; beribboned drums; a conch shell blown to purify the environment from evil effects. There were members of the Hassidim at the microphone, elegantly clothed in long black overcoats and velvety black fedoras, speaking to the swelling crowd, horrified (in their own words) at Israel’s actions.
I fully wanted to converse with anyone in the small faction of dissidents gathered across the avenue from the main protest. From what I observed they were as a group not more than twenty or so individuals, children among them. Their posters were to a one bitter. A boy I guessed to be maybe ten or so replied to my question—about why he was there and how did he feel—with such hateful epithets that I could hardly believe my ears. He said—and pointed across the avenue—they should all die. An older man I guessed to be his father held a placard urging Israel not to stop the bombing until the job was done. I recollected the many peaceful demonstrations in Washington DC and in Manhattan that The Mister and I joined after 9/11 to protest our government’s direction and the sweeping loss of civil liberties. Sidelining the route were always small clusters of anti-protesters screaming hateful things. Did they represent America—an America reacting to the tragic events of 9/11? They did, but then so did those of us who were horrified at the course our government was taking.
So, while we citizens wait for the mainstream media to get its spine transplant, we take photographs of events like this and send them to friends. If an article or a book, like The Yellow Wind for instance, makes an impression we recommend it.
It’s not about provocation; it’s about information. As a friend tells me, “We have always hungered for communication other than the hard news.”
One sometimes stumbles across an indignant reaction to simply passing along information; the argument being you can’t possibly understand, you are not (choose one): a mother, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, man, Black, Muslim, Jew. If you are not a proponent of the death penalty and in fact are strongly against capital punishment then there is someone out there who tells you “You have never had a loved one murdered.” You have also never been poor (or as poor as somebody else), never suffered rape, spousal abuse. You have never been the victim of a crime; never lost your house in a fire or your pet in a flood. You have never lived in a Communist country.
There are a lot of things I have never experienced. There are a lot of things I have never done. There are a lot of things I am not. But, by virtue of my birth, I am an American. The U.S. has brought consternation and even condemnation from friends abroad, particularly during the past eight years. The information they share, though it condemns the politicians that govern my country, does not condemn me personally. Plenty of Americans have been self-critical. Not of the people, necessarily—though it has been nothing short of a challenge for some to understand how this entire nation could seemingly, overwhelmingly keep the outgoing president installed for not only one, but also two terms.
People who are not necessarily of like-minded politics or religion but are not afraid to share information and leave the recipient to make up their own minds are valuable friends indeed. And there are those whose stories, no matter the difference in language, culture, and personal politics, enrich one’s own.
One such person in my life is a woman in Barcelona: a writer, translator, and literary critic. Her name is Isabel Nuñez and it is because of her that I make any feeble attempt at writing a blog. My intention towards that blogging is to recapture parts of myself, my childhood, my family and find those stories worth repeating, and no matter how difficult the experience of the past, to allow their shapes to be softened by distance and memory. To write about my life with The Mister (which needs no softening) and to make my way through less cheerful memories of a difficult childhood, armed with some humor. Bel (as she is affectionately known) writes stories of family and childhood, marriage undone, politics and love. She has inspired me.
We met through a mutual dear friend, a writer in Paris named Rauda. Miscommunication in the beginning caused me to miss meeting Bel on her only trip to New York in December 2002. Our connection sparked after she returned to Barcelona. It was a virtual meeting and we have carried on a friendship for nearly six years in cyberspace.
Neither of us knows the sound of her voice but we venture to say we can imagine what our respective laugh is like. We send each other photographs of our feet, idiosyncratic clues to our travels. Of course, we also send portraits of ourselves—our loves, our friends, her son and our cats. We write about our concerns both personal and political, our sadnesses and the bright sparks that sometimes shed a white light we wish for each other.
Perhaps we never attempt long distance phone conversations because I speak no Spanish. When she would tell me about a short story she was writing, I bemoaned the fact that I could not read it. Until one day I discovered a software program for translating. We howled at the clumsy results. Isabel would then take the time to better translate a passage or two for me. I returned her efforts with suggestions as to what might be a more appropriate phrase in English. I became hooked on the beauty of her writing.
We began in earnest to translate an entire story. If memory serves, it was the title story to her collection of short stories called: “Crucigrama.” In English it means Crossword and referred to her father’s penchant for doing the crossword puzzles when he was dying. We worked slowly and in the time we had. Bel would send the story in a document in Spanish. I would put it through the translation software and send it back.
We finished that story and plunged into one more after another; stories of her mother in hospital; visiting a Buddhist Center; traffic jams with her ex. Poetic details, like the wild cat that beats the grasses to throw off its prey. Passages flew back and forth between us as she slowly restructured the clumsy software translation and I would help her to “finish” the story when she was stuck on a meaning in English for a particular word or phrase. We laughingly referred to me as her “Finisher” and in that manner managed to complete a half dozen or so of her spare and powerful stories into English.
She has just published a book titled: If a tree falls. Conversations about the Balkans war. What follows is a description of that book:
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