Remembering Chile’s 9/11

Remembering 9/11/73, the day that changed everything–in Chile

We observed the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center this week. News channels had at least one story on the memorial observances. MSNBC relived the entire experience, replaying the NBC news footage from that fateful morning, minute by minute.

180px-Death_and_the_MaidenIn Santiago, Chile, they remembered their own 9/11, which had an even more profound impact on Chilean society.  The Christian Science Monitor reported that “President Sebastian Pinera marked the 40th anniversary of the military coup that overthrew Salvador Allende on Wednesday by urging Chileans to heal from—but never forget—the events of Sept. 11, 1973, that launched a bloody 17-year dictatorship.” Allende was a democratically elected socialist who launched the “Chilean path to socialism.” He nationalized the copper industry (mostly owned by US companies) and used the money to improve education and health care for his people. The US–meaning the CIA–found a way to sow chaos and provoke the military coup. Chile’s national history museum opened an exhibit this week to mark the anniversary.

Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman had a poignant article in the September 8 New York Times, titled “9/11: The Day Everything Changed, in Chile.”  He and his friend  Claudio Jimeno were among four advisers to President Allende when the government was under threat of a military takeover by the forces of General Augusto Pinochet.  The advisers  rotated nights at La Moneda, the presidential palace, to keep watch and alert the leader to any emergency.  Dorfman was to keep watch on Monday night, September 10, but changed nights with his friend because of a family obligation. The rest is history, of course. Jimeno was taken prisoner in the coup, tortured and became one of the desaparecidos.

Dorfman is author of the novel and play Death of the Maiden, which has been dramatized on screen as well as stage.  Victory Gardens Theatre will mount a production of the play in June 2014.  The 1994 film starred Sigourney Weaver as the activist who believed she had been raped and tortured by a doctor who befriends her husband. The events could have happened in most any country under siege today, but it was Chile. Chile after 9/11.

Bruce Springsteen honors Victor Jara, Chilean hero

newsVictorJaraLP

image courtesy backstreets.com

Bruce and the E Street Band performed in Santiago, Chile, on September 11, their first show in South America since the Amnesty International Human Rights Now! tour in 1988. Bruce took the opportunity to honor Victor Jara, Chilean poet, activist and Allende supporter, by performing his song “Manifiesto” during the encore set.  Jara was tortured and killed after the 1973 coup.


Weekend focus: Chicago

It’s Air and Water Show weekend

8_14_2008Chicagoist_airshowI can hear the airplane acrobats flying very very close to my roof.  If you come to the lakefront for the show, take public transportation.  Traffic will be bad before and horrible after the show each day. And parking is impossible in that neighborhood. Trust me.  It’s my neighborhood and I know.

Photo by Runaway Wind from thechicagoist.com.  For five reasons to go even without the  Blue Angels, see DNAinfo.com

Movies

The Act of Killing. This is a new documentary about the genocide in Indonesia in the late 1960s. It’s not your standard-issue genocide doc.  No blood.  But it’s a very surreal, gripping film — I’ll write more about it later.  It’s showing at the Music Box for a few days.  This film will generate lots of buzz, heated conversation, and certain award nominations

Twenty Feet from Stardom. This great music doc about female backup singers is showing at Landmark Century Centre for at least another week.  I wrote about it recently.  It’s a grand, joyful story about these terrific performers whose voices made all the difference for many big-name musicians. But they never really got the credit or success they deserved.  This film showcases their personalities and their voices.

Picasso Baby. Another plug for this intriguing performance video by Jay Z.  It will only take 12 minutes of your time to find it and view it.  And it will make you think about performance art and celebrity.

Theater

Invasion is showing at Silk Road Rising in the Methodist Temple building on Washington and Clark.  It’s an imperfect but thought-provoking play about Arab-American identity and assimilation.

Reading

Don’t miss the Peter Maass article on Edward Snowden and how documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras “helped Snowden spill his secrets.” As she went about her work, she was subjected to incredible surveillance by the US government. The article is in tomorrow’s New York Times Magazine and has been available online for several days.  It’s an excellent article with examples of how journalists are pressured by their own governments. Poitras has been working with Glenn Greenwald, who broke the Snowden story in The Guardian.


Czech Dream + Pussy Riot: Political reviews

Czech Dream – a hoax reviewed

The Czechs got punked in this smart and funny documentary set in 2003 Prague. It was created by two film students, who get government support to create the documentary.  Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me) introduces the film. He says admiringly, “I wish I’d thought of it.”

ceskysenlogoThe two filmmakers (Vit Klusak and Filip Remunda) go through the elaborate process of launching a new hypermarket for the shopping-crazed Czechs (who still remember waiting in long lines for basic necessities in the Communist era). Vit and Filip, as the store managers, get personal makeovers, pose for corporate portraits, and work with the local office of a well-known global advertising agency (BBDO). The agency (they’re in on the hoax) creates logos, signage, clever anti-consumerist advertising, giant billboards, flyers, even fake product labels for house-branded products. The campaign teases about the nature and location of the hypermarket, named Czech Dream (Cesky Sen) as a result of a focus group process.

The film ties in with the 2003 Czech Republic referendum on the question of joining the EU. The referendum passed with 77 percent of the votes and the country joined the EU in 2004. The political overtones of the film are probably more apparent to Czechs than they may be to viewers today.

On opening day, May 31, 2003, thousands of people gather hours before the store opening. Fencing keeps them a long hike from the colorful and massive storefront, which they can view in the distance. Finally, after long opening ceremonies and a bungled ribbon-cutting, the crowd is allowed to enter.  The crowd trudges across the field toward the store, including families with baby carriages, and elderly people using canes and walkers.

When they get there, they find it is a Potemkin village. A storefront with nothing behind it.

The reactions of the prospective customers are most interesting. Some are really angry. Some blame the government. Some get the joke and enjoy it.

Both filmmakers have continued to make films in the Czech Republic since then. They must have learned a lot about audiences from this process – and so will you.

Pussy Riot, A Punk Prayer – an activist’s review

We’ll stay in eastern Europe for this 2013 film: a profile of the feminist performance-art collective known as Pussy Riot, which premiered on HBO this week. Because of their February 2012 performance on the altar of a Moscow church, a protest against Putin’s reelection, they were arrested, tried, found guilty and sentenced to two years in a penal colony.

Pussy Riot on trial: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova,Yekaterina Samutsevich,Maria Alekhina

L to R, Masha, Katia, Nadia (Maria Alekhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova)

Nadia and Masha are still serving prison terms; Katia’s sentence was suspended and she was released. They have become poster children for free speech all over the world. They are activists who use art to communicate and bring about political action. They were defiant to the end. “Come and taste freedom with us,” was Nadia’s closing remark at the trial.

In the film, religious people tell the filmmakers how much they were offended, even insulted, by Pussy Riot’s protest on the altar. Russia supposedly is a secular state with a secular constitution, according to one of the defense lawyers. But they were charged with blasphemy. Katia’s sentence was suspended because she had not actually done anything on the altar; she was taken away by police before being able to perform. She continues the Pussy Riot activities while Nadia and Masha serve their terms.

Pussy Riot has many more members who demonstrated in Moscow wearing neon-colored balaclavas and tunics. One of their early protests was “kiss a cop.” The documentary shows video of members attacking Moscow police with kisses. The day of the sentencing, many protestors wearing trademark balaclavas protested around the trial site. Their protests involved climbing on to the court building, shouting and singing their political messages and punk lyrics.

I wrote about Pussy Riot last fall and showed this photo of the three defendants; Nadia is wearing her No Pasaran shirt. @free pussy riot is on Twitter and has a multilingual website http://www.freepussyriot.org To my great joy, #nopasaran is a trending hashtag on Twitter, almost 70 years after the Spanish Civil War.


Yes for “No” + Holy Motors + Goodbye Solo

In my continuing quest to tell you about pop culture that the mainstream media generally ignores, here are three terrific films. One is still in theaters and the other two are available on DVD.

No. 2012. Directed by Pablo Larraín. Spanish with subtitles. Nominee for best foreign film Oscar. Run time 1 hour, 45 minutes. This film will certainly be on a lot of best-of-2013 lists and it’s still in theaters.

September 11 was a day of infamy for Chile long before it was for the US. On that date in 1973, the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende was overthrown in a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet, who led Chile’s government for the next 15 years. (Allende was either assassinated or committed suicide, depending on whose side you believe.) This historical background is introduced briefly at the beginning of the film, which is fact-based.*

10CHILE3_SPAN-articleInline-v2In 1988, Pinochet agrees to international pressure for Chile to have a plebiscite on whether he should govern for another eight years and a Yes/No election is planned. Both sides are to have 15 minutes of national television time each night. (What a brilliant way to solve the campaign finance problem.) The leftists on the No side want to make TV commercials showing the torture, murder and disappearances of the Pinochet regime. But René Saavedra, a clever advertising executive, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, reluctantly agrees to help the left with its No campaign. People either don’t remember or don’t want to remember those days, he tells them. They want to believe they will be happy in the future. So the No campaign mounts a “Happiness Is No” campaign, complete with rainbow logos, theme songs, banners, parades and t-shirts. (Photo by Tomás Dittburn/Sony Pictures Classics)

You could argue this is a putdown of commercial advertising invading political discourse. Or you could just sit back and enjoy this clever satire on politics. The No side wins the plebiscite and the film ends in celebration. In fact, Pinochet had a behind-the-scenes role for years afterward.

The film is shot in smudgy color that feels like you’re watching an old videotape. There are other well-known Latin American actors besides the oh-so-darling Garcia Bernal, whose character is a mix of naïve and radical. You’ve seen him in Y Tu Mamá También, The Motorcycle Diaries, Bad Education, The Crime of Padre Amaro, and many other Pedro Almodovar films.

* The film has generated some controversy in Chile, of course. Described here.  http://nyti.ms/12G358m

Holy Motors. 2012. Fantasy drama film written and directed by Leos Carax, starring Denis Lavant. French with subtitles. Get the DVD. Run time just under 2 hours. (July update:  Holy Motors is now available streaming on Netflix.)

I hardly know where to start describing this. Lavant is M. Oscar, who lives 10 or 12 parallel lives or stories throughout the day and night of this film. He rides from gig to gig throughout Paris in a white stretch limo, which serves as dressing room, wardrobe and prop closet. His chauffeur Celine, a lovely woman with silver hair, apprises him of his appointments and keeps him on schedule.

He emerges from the limousine once as an old beggar woman, and again as a madman (M. Merde) who eats flowers stolen from a street market, then runs through the famous Paris cemetery, Pere Lachaise, where instead of names of famous people on tombstones, you see “visit my website at xxxxxx.com.” Other incarnations involve murder, simulated lovemaking in spandex, and a father-daughter interlude. You see why I said there’s no way to describe this film. Suffice to say, it’s a mesmerizing and beautiful film and you’ll be rewarded if you have patience. And … the title Holy Motors will make sense at the end. Kinda.

Roger Ebert gave it 3.5 stars in November and ended his review this way. “Here is a film that is exasperating, frustrating, anarchic and in a constant state of renewal. It’s not tame. Some audience members are going to grow very restless. My notion is, few will be bored.”

Goodbye Solo. 2008. Written and directed by Ramin Bahrani. On DVD. 90 minutes.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the Piedmont-Triad area of central North Carolina. So I was interested in this film set in Winston-Salem and Blowing Rock, a beautiful state park where I’ve hiked with my son. Solo is a Senegalese immigrant taxi driver who befriends William, a depressed old man, who hires Solo for a one-way trip to Blowing Rock.

Solo arranges to drive William whenever he calls the taxi company and tries to involve him in life in Winston, including meeting his pregnant wife and her daughter Alex. Solo worries about William’s plan for the trip to Blowing Rock, where it’s so windy “that if you throw a stick, it will fly back to you.” But he and Alex drive William to the park, and the last half hour involves the beautiful drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the visit to the park.

This is a small film, a sweet film (despite the ending). In a way, it represents how the area is changing with new immigrants like Solo making a home and a life. It’s not set in a taxi; you get acquainted with a lot of Winston-Salem and the region. This is Bahrani’s third film and I will be interested in seeing his other work.


Political junkie fare + Chicago stories

My comments on an intriguing TV series (only on Netflix), a famous painting and some Chicago news.

House of Cards Redux

My favorite winter screen find is this delightfully seamy, steamy political machination series, a Netflix original series. It stars Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, a South Carolina Congressman and the House Whip. (The Whip is the 3rd most powerful majority party position in the US House of Representatives. See, you can learn something reading this blog.) All 13 episodes are available now for streaming and they are juicy.

Even better, however, is to also watch episodes of the original BBC series with the same title, also streaming on Netflix. The BBC version was first shown in 1990 and is set just after the Margaret Thatcher era. The neat thing is that the US version is patterned after the original. Ian Richardson plays Francis Urquhart, the Chief Whip in Parliament and an equally devious character.

Both series feature a powerful wife and a young female journalist who is lacking a few scruples. Many of the characters track throughout and the plots track for the first couple of episodes. Now that I’ve seen four or five of each, the plots diverge somewhat2075113. And both allow the leading character to break the “fourth wall” occasionally and speak directly to the audience. With a bit of snark and sarcasm.

I’ve been alternating US with UK episodes and it’s fun to watch them that way. I don’t know why I didn’t watch the UK version before; it’s been in my Netflix queue for months. It’s very well done.  If you’re a political junkie like me, you will want to devour them all at once. But just as I don’t let myself eat a whole pint of salted caramel butter pecan ice cream at one time, I’m spreading out the pleasure of watching House of Cards and House of Cards Redux.

Streaming all episodes at once is Netflix’s attempt to feed the TV bingeing trend, made possible by DVD versions of whole seasons of popular series such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The Sopranos.

Binge or one at a time, both of these shows are compelling television.

Liberty vandalized

300px-Eugène_Delacroix_-_La_liberté_guidant_le_peuple-1Ever since I saw Eugene Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” in a baroque art class, I have loved it – for political as well as aesthetic reasons. BBC News reported last week that the painting was vandalized with graffiti while it was on display at a new branch of the Louvre Museum in Lens in northern France. Museum officials said that it appeared that the painting could be “easily cleaned” – it was and went back on display the next day. Delacroix painted Liberty in 1830 to commemorate that year’s July Revolution.

Chicago from the Michigan Avenue bridge

Rick Kogan, a veteran Chicago journalist, is host of The Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ (Chicago Public Radio). He recently talked about his favorite place in Chicago, which is also one of mine. I paraphrase Rick’s comments.

My favorite place in Chicago is the middle of the Michigan Avenue bridge. You can stand here and see buildings representing Chicago’s past and present; the river flows under you in reverse; you see the spot where the first home in Chicago stood, built by a black man named Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, and where Ft. Dearborn stood. (The river in reverse refers to the fact that in 1889, the city reversed the course of the river to flow away from the lake to protect the city water supply from water-borne diseases. And send them downstate instead. Read about it here http://www2.apwa.net/about/awards/toptencentury/chica.htm

800px-Michigan_Ave_Bridge_20100912

 

 

Kogan, whose father was Herman Kogan, a famous Chicago journalist, also mentioned his uncle Bernard. I had wondered what had happened to Bernard Kogan since I took my first Shakespeare course from him one summer at UIC on Navy Pier. I remember him as an inspiring professor who really made me appreciate the bard’s characters and language. I took this class during a summer term and we sometimes sat outside on the grass. Yes, there used to be grassy areas at the west end of Navy Pier, where it’s now all concrete.

Bernard Kogan was also known for his writings on Darwin and on the Haymarket Riot. I also learned from Rick that his uncle earned the nickname Babe for his softball batting skills, playing in Humboldt Park.


Fifty years ago: A book that changed lives

Books can influence us in many ways. Both fiction and nonfiction can have powerful effects on our psyche. (This is not about print vs e-books; that’s another essay.) Books by authors like Margaret Atwood, Alberto Moravia, Richard Powers and Virginia Woolf had an impact on me. And the history of the Spanish Civil War by Hugh Thomas opened a new window for me about political history. But none of them totally changed the way I viewed the world and my place in it as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique did.

friedan coverI can’t believe that this book was published 50 years ago. Because I can still remember my thoughts and feelings as I read it. I can remember the chair where I sat in the house on Maple Street in River Falls, Wisconsin. My memories of reading The Feminine Mystique are almost visceral in their power. (The book cover shown is my 1964 paperback. Yes, a book cost 75 cents then.)

Over the last few days, the book and its impact are getting some attention in the news media. Shockingly, the topic of women’s rights and woman’s place in the world is still subject to debate.

The most important thing about The Feminine Mystique is that it made me realize that my dissatisfaction with my stay-at-home-mom life was not without validity. I had a degree from the best journalism school in the country (yes, that would be Mizzou) and several years of newspaper and PR experience. And I spent my days taking care of home and two little boys (who now have their own boys). Until they went to school, part of the day’s routine was an hour for naptime in their room. Yes, I knew they weren’t sleeping, but it gave me an hour of peace. Soon after that, I found an excuse to go to work full-time when my husband needed to take a year off for graduate school. I worked in a series of great and challenging jobs for 47 years — without a break. I loved all my jobs until I retired last year.

In one of my essays in November, I mentioned some things I wasn’t allowed to do because I was a girl. https://nancybishopsjournal.com/2012/11/19/paul-krugman-on-the-fifties-not-twinkies/ But there were plenty of other issues later. Such as credit cards and bank accounts.  Everything was in my husband’s name. That’s the way it was. When I wanted my own Marshall Field’s charge card after I was separated from my husband, I had to argue with the credit department and prove to them that I had a job and was not being taken care of by a man. And did you know that help-wanted ads were divided between male and female jobs? Yes, there was a section headed Help Wanted—Women.  So even though there are still plenty of women’s issues to work on, some things have improved.

I’m glad to see that the 50th anniversary of The Feminine Mystique is being recognized – and that it’s generating debate and discussion. There have been several articles recently that explore the book and these issues today. Here are three I like. Please add your own by commenting on this post.

“The Feminine Mystique Reassessed after 50 Years” by Jennifer Schuessler http://nyti.ms/15sLQtQ

“The Feminine Mystique at 50” by Gail Collins http://nyti.ms/Ze5SUG

“Why Gender Equality Stalled” by Stephanie Koontz http://nyti.ms/XsudG6

I see I have written a whole post without any reference to Bruce Springsteen or rock and roll. Hmmm. Well, I wasn’t a Springsteen fan 50 years ago and his first album (Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.) wasn’t released until 1973.  Sounds like another anniversary coming up.


Quick cuts: Musical notes

Bouncing all over the place this week on musical topics. Quick Cuts #2 to follow on stage, screen and Chicago.

The Grammys and MusiCares

Bruce Springsteen was named MusiCares 2013 Person of the Year for his humanitarian activities. The MusiCares event took place two days before the Grammys. Many famous musicians were to perform Springsteen songs, and at first the news was released that the concert would be broadcast. And then that information was corrected. But we obsessives were hoping for at least online streaming. (I can stream anything from my laptop to my HD TV set, so I figured I was set.)

org-logos-mcThat evening, I tuned in for the excruciatingly boring, fashion- and celebrity-obsessed red carpet coverage. Gag me, please. Optimistically, I hoped I would get to see some of the music. But it was not to be. So I will have to wait for a sure-to-be-released DVD version. (There is a very nice six-minute video tribute  to Bruce as MusiCares Person of the Year here – the video is edited by the talented Thom Zimny.


The Grammys
is a crazy attempt by the Recording Industry of America to shoehorn a zillion performances, tributes and award presentations into 3.5 hours. Madness. There were many interesting performances – some of them straight up like Mumford and Sons and the Lumineers of their own songs. And odd combinations like Maroon 5’s Adam Levine with Alicia Keys. That inspired David Carr of the New York Times to tweet: “Maroon 5 and Alicia Keys go together like the whipped lard and sponge cake in a Twinkie.”

And there were tributes to performers who died last year. A tribute to Dave Brubeck by three famous musicians lasted all of 30 seconds. But at least the tribute to Levon Helm, the multitalented musician singer-songwriter, was a full rendition of “The Weight,” made famous by The Band. Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes showed her powerful singing chops and quite kept up with Mavis Staples. Fabulous number.

I thought there was to be a tribute to the late Glenn Gould, the brilliant and eccentric Canadian pianist. Did I blink and miss it?

It wasn’t all a fabulous show but it was fun to watch. Social media activity was high. The Grammys claim there were 18.7 million social media comments. Twitter was on fire.

The Eric Clapton survival story

I just finished Clapton, Eric Clapton’s autobiography (Broadway Books, 2007). I love reading biographies and autobiographies. This is a fascinating story and well written – and no one tried to launder the Brit-isms out of it for the US market. I strongly recommend it to music fans.Clapton2010Cover

But it is a heartbreakingly sad story. How did the man survive to be the revered guitar genius he is today? He went from being a guitar beginner, playing small gigs, to touring with the Yardbirds, Cream and Blind Faith. Throughout those years and later, he was first of all on various kinds of dope, then became a full-blown heroin addict, went thru rehab to break the addiction, only to become a roaring alcoholic who apparently was rarely sober.

Throughout these addictions, he played all over the world and usually (although not always) played brilliantly. If I didn’t know the story would end well, I would have stopped reading because it is an incredibly sad book. Clapton makes no effort to sugarcoat his past. And the part about losing his young son Conor is wrenching.

Also there was an unbelievable string of women, girlfriends, lovers, wives, etc. I lost track of the number of wives. But in 2002, he married and apparently has stayed married. He and his wife have three children.

As he says in the epilogue, when he wrote the book in 2007, he was 62 and 20 years sober and “the last ten years have been the best of my life.” He puts his highest priority (even before his family) as “staying sober and helping others to achieve sobriety.”

The best part of the book is Clapton writing about how he came to love the blues and his love for listening to, writing and playing the music – and how he loved the American blues musicians who brought the music to England. Shockingly, it took musicians like the Rolling Stones and Clapton to bring the blues to the US, where musicians here finally came to appreciate it. To this day, it’s recognized for its huge influence on rock and roll.

Greg Mitchell mixes music with politics

You may never have heard of him but Mitchell is well known in music and in news publishing. Early in his career, he wrote for Crawdaddy, the influential pioneer rock magazine. (I wrote about Crawdaddy in September in my post on the Glory Days Symposium; it has been resurrected as Paste Magazine.) Later, Mitchell was editor of Editor & Publisher, the trade magazine for the newspaper industry.

Today, he writes for The Nation and has written a number of books on history and politics. His latest post is written in sympathy for Marco Rubio’s apparent thirst during Tuesday’s Republican response to the State of the Union address. Mitchell, always the music lover, posts videos for five classic songs offering Rubio more water – songs from Otis Redding, Van Morrison, the Beach Boys, Leadbelly and Hank Williams Sr. It’s a great little setlist. Catch them here. http://www.thenation.com/blog/172862/marco-rubio-5-classic-songs-offering-him-more-water

Mitchell’s latest book is Journeys With Beethoven, coauthored with Kerry Candaele (Sinclair Books, 2012). The book is described as an “exploration of Beethoven’s musical, cultural and political influence today.” It’s available in print and as a $4 e-book from the usual sources. Check it out on his blog; link below.

Beethoven Cover final smallerHis blog Roll Over Beethoven explores a wide range of Beethovenovia to support the book http://journeyswithbeethoven.blogspot.com. Mitchell posts fascinating items and videos about all aspects of Beethoven, as performed by classical, rock and pop performers, writing and film aspects of Beethoven, and even news of a year-long Beethoven-on-Hudson Festival in Nyack NY, which will include “dozens of concerts, film showings, a Marathon at the Mall, and (we hope) a massive choral sing-out in the park, a rocking Beethoven-palooza, dance, a theater piece, and events for and recitals by young folks.”

One question: Is a Beethoven-Palooza something like a Stooge-a-Palooza? (Hint: It used to run on WCIU Chicago.)


Richard Blanco’s inaugural poem

Richard Blanco read a beautiful poem today for the President’s second inaugural.  It encapsulates the grandeur and the unity of our people and our country — real or aspirational. Blanco is a poet and teacher and the first Hispanic and the first gay poet to write a poem for an inauguration. You can see a video of Blanco reading his poem. http://bit.ly/WBLBGO

One Today

By Richard Blanco

Spoken at the 2013 second inauguration of President Barack Obama
January 21, 2013
 
One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.


Nancy’s Favorites of 2012

We love making lists. This is a restrained list of my favorite things about 2012, not necessarily the bests in any category. Politics, music, movies, theater, TV, books. Wanna argue? Write a comment here.

Politics

  • Constant political coverage, which annoyed everyone but political junkies like me
  • The reelection of President Obama
  • Bruce Springsteen campaigning for the President and riding on Air Force One.
  • Crowning of Nate Silver as King of Stats (others who did much the same, like Sam Wang of Princeton, unfortunately were not recognized)

Music – the Bruce Springsteen factor

  • Release of Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball album (yes, I still buy them). Excellent, substantive story songs even though the music is better played live
  • The Wrecking Ball tour and the six fabulous concerts I attended in Greensboro, New York (first time at the Garden!), Detroit, Los Angeles and Chicago (yay, Wrigley Field)
  • Taking my grandson James to his first Springsteen concert at Wrigley Field (see my September post)
  • Taking a road trip to Detroit with my nephew Brad and friend Craig to see Bruce at the Palace in Auburn Hills, with several dynamite food stops
  • Bruce’s keynote speech at South by Southwest. Regretted not going to Austin but I watched him streaming live. He gave us a history of rock and roll through his own career in music   Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s demand sensible gun control now

I don’t often write about explicitly political topics because the focus of my journal is the nexus of politics and popular culture — especially music and film. And truthfully, what I’ve been writing lately is pretty heavy on the pop culture side. But recent events inspire me to write about my position on gun control and see what happens.

If I were Queen of the USA or of the world, I would banish all guns to the bottom of the sea. We don’t need to be able to kill each other with guns. I know I could do a lot of damage with a good kitchen knife or even by stabbing someone in the throat with a sharp pencil. But a knife or a pencil can’t kill dozens of people in a few minutes.  Read the rest of this entry »