Monthly Archives: June 2013
Last night my friend and I tried to name world leaders from any time in history that we would place on a pedestal with Nelson Mandela. I am sure Mandiba (his clan name and a term of love and respect) has not been perfect but we could not find anyone that came closer to that sought-after 10 than this man.
Of course I am not South African so it’s not possible to experience the depth of love, hope, trust and respect he represents to practically all South Africans, black, coloured, of Asian heritage or white. However I have been to South Africa a few times, have gotten around the country a little by bus and car, have read newspapers and books and talked to people, and I believe Nelson Mandela has come to represent everything that’s good and hopeful for South Africans.
South Africa is such a big and important country with a history not so very different from ours. The same kind of discovery by white men, the same sordid history of slavery/apartheid, the same rainbow of people ( under President Mandela named the Rainbow Nation), the same wealth and wide open spaces, and dense and sometimes dangerous cities.
So this guy, this political activist lawyer, was imprisoned for 27 years in an Afrikaner-ruled police state. He never stopped learning, teaching, politicking, speaking truth to power in all those years. Then to be finally released and have the intelligence, strength, grace and compassion to lead South Africa into democracy and serve as her first president. Wow. And since then to have been a quiet support for the good voices rising to the forefront of South African politics and a gentle reprimand to the less well-intentioned.
Back to our discussion last night. Great world leaders. GREAT world leaders. Who’s on the list? This one led us into war, that one out; this one improved the lives of his/her people, that one moved all the people’s money to the Cayman Islands…it goes on of course. But there are a few standouts. George Washington for example who was honestly quite brilliant in getting something called the United States of America launched. And Abraham Lincoln. And Winston Churchill I guess and in a way Charles deGaulle. Let’s see Catherine the Great was a force. I could name a few potential greats from South America and Africa but in many cases they were killed off in coups—frequently instigated by our very own CIA. You know I think Nelson Mandela may stand almost alone on that pedestal. Shall I put Washington or Lincoln up there with him? I don’t think so…at least not until he is no longer with us and the world is through grieving.
Hard to predict the future of South Africa. It is so very critical to the future or at least the near future of the continent. The Rainbow Nation has held together for quite awhile now but it feels like a crucial juncture is approaching. It also seems like it will be harder to keep that rainbow in the sky without Mandiba’s guidance.
SOME PHOTOS FROM MY TRIP TO CAPE TOWN (THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CITY IN THE WORLD) A FEW YEARS AGO. THIS IS THE ROBBEN ISLAND TOUR.
Coming of Political Age in New Mexico
Continuing the tale of New-Mexico-Love after the epiphany in Valley of the Fires. For the next two years, I lived on Holloman AFB with my Air Force husband and two grade-school rabble-rousers. Our sons insisted on letting their white-blonde hair grow long, only gradually realizing the disadvantages. While that long hair did establish their independence from standard military fashion, they were apparently the only two little boys living on the base with long hair so when the little mini-gang of neighborhood friends struck, their dad would inevitably get a call from base security.
By now I had discovered politics…well actually that particular epiphany happened previously while listening to JFK’s inaugural address followed by an interest in Minnesota’s Eugene McCarthy and living through the three assassinations. But I hadn’t done anything yet and now seemed like the right time. Women’s Lib was in the air—the concept of strong women taking charge, working their collective asses off, and being smarter and more determined than the men around them was not new to me. My conservative Christian farmer mom would not have admitted it for the world but she had all of those “Lib” qualities…another story.
My Holloman Air Force wife years were consumed with commuting to Las Cruces to finish up an undergraduate degree in education (minor in History) at NMSU. I was listening, with car and house windows wide open and the music up loud, to Helen Reddy’s
I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend
‘Cause I’ve heard it all before
And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again…
and Judy Collin’s “Marat Sade”
Fighting all the gentry and fighting every priest
The business man the bourgeois the military beast
Marat always ready to stifle every scheme
Of the sons of the ass licking dying regime
I suppose you could say I had attitude.
I was studying history, thinking politics and wearing my husband’s camouflage jacket to NMSU’s pathetic little peace rallies. My teaching supervisor and I drove to El Paso to hear Gloria Steinem and a woman traveling with her (who gave the opening address and said f*ck more in one sentence than even Anthony Bourdain can manage 40 years later). I hung out on the freaks side of the student union; once some kids from the cowboys’ side beat up one of my friends. We drank gallons of coffee, smoke cartons of cigarettes, and talked volumes of political truths! This was heady stuff for an air force wife from rural Minnesota—all happening in my new state of New Mexico.
So…me and New Mexico. Loved it during those years. I student taught in the underwhelming little town of Alamogordo, drove up into the Sacramento Mountains to Ruidoso or down to Juarez on day trips, and especially loved the drive to school through White Sands Missile Range. Early morning New Mexico, empty roads, think/ plan/muse/dream, sometimes halted for awhile so a rocket could be launched. Occasionally my friend, also from the base, rode down with me—the friend, it turns out, who was having an affair with my husband on weekends while I was studying—obviously she was a quicker study than I! Oh well.
Obviously politics was of growing interest and New Mexico was a good place to get started down that particular long and twisty road. Such a sparsely populated state, you really could get to know the cast of characters pretty easily. At this stage it was mostly through the media but before long I would get to know them—well the Democratic them—more intimately.
“Soon There May Not Be a Morning Paper Anymore”
2016. A post of which I’m proud—although my faith in ‘commercial’ journalism has dropped way down since I wrote this three years ago. For newspaper lovers you’ll mourn with me. I’ve now cancelled everything, newspapers and TV, to avoid the orange shyster’s photo everywhere. Yeah….. mourn with me.
It used to be the newsboys
would sell the morning Sun.
They’d call out “get your paper here!”
To people on the run.
Some boys would take a paper route
and bring it to your door.
But soon there may not be a morning paper anymore.
No, soon there may not be a morning paper anymore.
They put the news on MTV,
They twitter and they tweet.
The blog is now the focus
Of the new reporters beat.
The boys don’t call out
Get your paper! Like they did before.
And soon there may not be a morning paper anymore.
No, soon there may not be a morning paper anymore.
Song by Ben Daitz (I think)
I just re-subscribed to the Albuquerque Journal this morning because of the absolutely brilliant, moving, scary documentary about the Rio Grande Sun, “The Sun Never Sets.” A story of what still exists in some obscure corners of the world called fearless, truth-telling, hard-hitting journalism. Really? In Espanola, New Mexico? And for how long anywhere?
I re-subscribed to the Journal, not because it has any of those aforementioned attributes in great quantities…but it is a morning paper…it is a newspaper…it is paper with words and coherent sentences and informative paragraphs you can hold in your hands comfortably over the first cup of coffee or last thing in bed at night and fold and crease and wrinkle up to clean the windows and from which you can cut out important articles for later perusal and besides…soon there may not be a morning paper anymore..
I previously took the Albuquerque Journal for years but it is actually not a great newspaper, leaning fairly far right, and being awfully thin in content and pages, with poor international, arts and travel coverage. But then I tell myself if not enough of us buy it soon there may not be a morning paper anymore.
The New York Times is delivered to my door every day—and I always mean to read most of it, but it tends to get away from me. Sometimes I have a big reading morning on the weekend and sometimes big untouched bundles end up in recycling…unread. Nevertheless I believe in the NYT and consider it the closest thing to the truth one is likely to get in corporate America and soon there may not be a morning paper anymore..
Most of us over 20 probably have newspaper reference points in our lives. Mine include dad picking up the Sunday Minneapolis Star Tribune after church. I seem to remember comics but not much else? Dad read the paper and mom did Prizeword Pete in case she should get lucky and win some actually cash, which god knows there was little of around the house. It was the closest she ever came to the evils of gambling! But we almost always got the Sunday paper however poor we were otherwise.
When I lived in the Philippines the Manila Times was delivered to our door in Angeles every morning. Since I had a maid/nanny for that brief moment in history, my morning routine was to sit on the patio eating mangoes, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and reading the Times. I cannot help but remember that newspaper very fondly whether it was a good paper or not.
Nowadays there are a whole bunch of entities who want to tell me about the world every morning: Old media like chatty or belligerent television personalities who yell or cook or giggle most of the time (with the exception of BBC or Aljazeera I should note); or new media such as the Huffington Post and a multitude of other websites—right wing, left wing, silly, ponderous, perhaps truthful, perhaps not—and all delivered on hard surfaces.
Okay so I’m a cranky old luddite. But let me tell you my children your smart phone will never give you the same pleasurable experience as sitting on the patio with a giant cup of fresh coffee and the Sunday Times all spread out around you! So—if it’s not too much to ask could you all subscribe to some actual paper papers just until I go to the nursing home and believe my bingo cards are actually sharing the news with me. Soon there may not be a morning paper anymore but hopefully by then I won’t know the difference.
Land of Enchantment
In the course of the first 365 days of this blog’s life I will come to love New Mexico again. Our relationship has had some rocky times but since my life will be lived out here in the Land of Enchantment it is to my psychological benefit to fall back in love.
The story goes like this. After a solo stint in Taiwan, my Air Force husband was reassigned to Holloman AFB, Alamogordo, New Mexico. I was unhappy about this—miserable, angry and repelled by the idea of living among sand and cacti and giant spiders and burning sun would describe my feelings accurately. I was a girl from the green and humid part of the world as in Minnesota, Florida, the Philippines and North Carolina.
It couldn’t be avoided however so one late summer day in 1970 we drove out of Greenville, North Carolina where the boys and I had been living and pointed whatever old car we had west, stopping only to visit Don’s Kentucky family, and for one night in a motel. When, a few days later, we finally reached New Mexico’s Raton Pass sometime before dawn the headlights went out. Nothing to do but pull over and wait for daylight. Given the excitement of the night and my state of depression, as Don drove south I slept the sleep of the righteous/damned for much of the next day, waking only briefly to notice Albuquerque’s Big I as we drove on through.
Then. Sometime in the late afternoon, just as the sun was low enough to cast long shadows, I came wide awake—in the Valley of the Fires just outside of Carrizozo. That was the moment—love at first sight. A vista of sharp/wavy, broken/smooth, black/charcoal, dull/shiny lava rock lasts forever. A moonscape with just the occasional cactus, green bush or weed, and tiny delicate purple wildflowers relieving the otherwise uncompromising severity. Pale lavender blue outline of a distant mountain range seems near/far. Light so clear and sharp—the fabled painters’ light of the high desert country—throwing the landscape into a cache of singularly distinct memories.
That was my first sighting of one of only a few truly magic moments in my life. Yes, now that I think of it I must put New Mexico onto my short list of enchanted places and moments. Not all of New Mexico or all experiences in New Mexico. But some. More than one. Maybe quite a few.
We reached Alamogordo at dusk and checked into a motel as our house on base wasn’t ready yet. My first view of the inhospitable-looking Sacramento Mountains towering over that non-descript little town didn’t make my newfound love interest any less appealing. I was truly enthralled—enchanted with the land of enchantment I guess you could say. A condition that would change very little until just a few years ago.
For more of Charles Mann’s incredibly beautiful photos go to www.charlesmannphotography.com
“About Me” and Blue Trees of the Rio Grande
Book Clubs, Books and Satirical Negativity
Book clubs seem to be everywhere—I belong to one and think about joining some others—for example the Huff Post book club or my newly retired friend’s circle of smarties who gather to pursue the classics with far greater depth and seriousness than we ever did in high school or college. If Fareed Zakaria creates a book club I am definitely in, and another friend (a historian) and I have talked about creating our own two-person history-based book club (but with only two old friends there’s too little at stake if you don’t read what you said you’d read. My personal choice would probably be a club focusing on international thrillers/murder mysteries.
Yes, I do currently belong to a book club. It doesn’t have a name and I joined only because two of my very favorite old buddies were founders and it is a chance to see them. There is a problem however. We each pick one book a year and, unfortunately I always dislike several of the selections! At first I rationalized belonging as being about friendships but now I am thinking life consists of so many books, so little time so why would I spend time reading books I find dreary, boring, offensive, or badly written?
Last night the book club discussed “Petroleum Man” by Stanley Crawford. Since I’ve been traveling I didn’t have much time to read and, having a premonition about my response to the selection, I decided to borrow and not buy as I usually do. I sat down Saturday to start reading, figuring I would plow through, whether I loved it or not, in the next two or three days. I could not.
I really really dislike this book. Now in all fairness, I only read a little and then skimmed so maybe I missed the good parts. It’s not because I don’t get it…I do! I am a dyed-in-wool left wing liberal with little admiration for much of anything in the corporate world. That still doesn’t make me a fan of heavy-handed, dated, not-very-clever satire about a very rich, fascist-leaning business dude telling his grandchildren a tale of loathsome liberals. It would have been a brilliant short piece about 10 years ago. It’s not short and it’s not 10 years ago and even if I missed something I am happy to have curled up with my Swedish killers instead.
After the meeting last night where the reviews were mixed, half loving half hating, I thought I should consider why I was in the hating half. Especially since I’ve periodically been criticized for throwing around some heavy-handed satirical passages myself, generally in relation to religion or politics. Satire is said to have the noble intent of societal improvement, using irony and sarcasm to achieve that goal. It is also intended to be humorous. “Petroleum Man” was potentially all of that—in fact the two clubbers who liked the book found it hilarious. I think the sarcasm was tedious, the humor juvenile and the voice relentless. I guess I am not a fan of satire in general, although “Innocents Abroad” mixes it with real reporting and Garrison Keillor’s is gentler (I do love “Lake Wobegon” on the radio but think his books too silly).
It’s not just Stanley Crawford then is it? It’s my inability to appreciate satire—which I am pretty sure is a negative trait.
BOOKS: “Some Kind of Peace” and “Last Will”
Scandinavian thrillers are most frequently written by men and feature semi-loser but scruffily endearing crime solvers of one north country or the other. The gender balance appears to be shifting. Of my stack of new murder mysteries from the Village Bookstore in Grand Rapids the majority are the work of female writers. And what an interesting bunch they are.
Women crime solvers aren’t societal models for mental health or organized living either but their flaws are definitely more interesting than the average male investigator—at least up north. The two books I’ve just finished “Some Kind of Peace” by Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff and “Last Will” by Liza Marklund feature high-powered women who screw up at work a lot (while overall performing brilliantly of course!), have real relationship difficulties and between them exhibit characteristics of mental illness, intense jealousy, inordinate bouts of indecision/self-doubt and alcoholism (this latter being a stable of their male counterparts across much of global club of crime solvers).
“Some Kind of Peace” was written by sisters, one with a business/econ background and one a psychologist—both areas of expertise which figure prominently in the story. Essentially a personally troubled youngish prettyish therapist who drinks way too much finds herself in the same position as a client—believing she is going mad. Her disbelief that she might be the target of a killer leads to excessive consumption of wine and messy work relationships before she finally believes that—yes, someone is trying to kill her.
The setting is Stockholm and as with many of the best in this genre the location figures prominently in the story. It’s one of those books you wish you had read while you were there in that very city so you could walk down that same street and go wine-drinking in the very neighborhood where something suspicious happened, etc. The terribly flawed but equally terribly appealing heroine, Siri Bergman, grows on you even as you want to pour out all of the wine in her house and sober her up so she can better keep an eye out for the very bad guy.
“Some Kind of Peace” can be safely labeled a psychological thriller with lots of interesting references to various mental illness diagnoses. My favorite class when pursuing an MSW was on the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) where we analyzed and diagnosed all of the characters in “Prince of Tides” (Pat Conroy). Reading this book was a little like that.
“Last Will” by Liza Marklund also takes place in Stockholm with that same strong sense of place. Down that street, over to that neighborhood, bar, restaurant—the smells and sounds of a climate and place. In this case our crime solver is a journalist for a tabloid paper—a possibly failing enterprise where she is not very popular anyway. Annika Bengtzon is smart, conflicted about her job and home life, and manages to get herself in the middle of a situation involving Nobel prizes, the Karolinska Institute, multinational pharmaceuticals and a whip-smart and beautiful female assassin just a little too reminiscent of Lisbeth Salander (but in this case she’s not anything close to being the main character).
Bengtzon takes a little longer to warm up to than Siri Bergman because, while being a disposed to a certain amount of chaos, she is less vulnerable. Still, it takes her too long to realize she might be in personal danger even as she connects with a number of people with extensive credentials and in impressive positions. Unfortunately none are without possible ulterior motives for the various bloody deaths that make up the murder part of this murder mystery.
Both “Some Kind of Peace” and “Last Will” are perfect examples of why I prefer crime fiction that does NOT originate in the U.S. The main characters are both fleshed out and smart and flawed enough for the reader to care about them and identify with them. And, best of all, this is good good writing. Brilliant, maybe not, but damn good—which is generally NOT true of most American crime writing.
Footnote: In Iceland, my granddaughter, friend and I participated in a city tour featuring the sites and sounds of that country’s plethora of chilly crime. It wasn’t a very good tour but the idea is brilliant and could be further developed. For example, if I win Powerball my contribution to the world could be to live comfortably as I develop these crime-reading sojourns in the world’s really fine murder sites like Stockholm, Reykjavik, Oslo, Cape Town, etc.
A summer dawn is the best time of the day. Soft gray, warm, just a hint of moisture (well, the latter is mostly dependent on a good imagination), friendly ducks/cranky geese, so quiet.
5:30AM today. The wind blew, gusted, and flung dust and sand around even so early. Not a morning walk for photo ops or wandering but kindly thoughts of loving New Mexico. And…one of my many goals is to love New Mexico again, an emotion somewhat lacking lately but I’m working on it. In fact this evening is beautiful—not windy, very dry and sunny…