Friday, February 25, 2011

Savannah, slaves, and refugees

Savannah is such a beautiful city- the public squares shaded by oaks draped with the Spanish moss I'd always heard about but never seen, the river that gives so much architecture and character, and the bounties of good climate and delicious food. 
    I visited the house of Juliette Gordon Low mostly out of the curiosity to see a Southern mansion.  Daisy, as she was called, was talented in the Victorian arts as women were in those days.  She was able to paint, sculpt, and write.  Of course she is best known for being the founder of the girl scouts and was even buried in its uniform. 
     A tour of the house showed us the dumb waiter and the space that formerly housed the kitchen but there was no mention of those who kept the household running smoothly.  Were they slaves?   How often were they mentioned in the many letters the Low family wrote to each other? 
      Has slavery always existed?  The Romans had slaves as did the Arabians and the Africans.  There have been and still are, jobs that are just one step from slavery.  And what about modern day sexual slavery? 
       So I will read "A Mercy" by Toni Morrison which gives a voice to those voices missing from history.  And I recommend "Purge" by Sofi Oksanen which tells the story of an Estonian woman, a victim of sex trafficking, who escapes from her captors.
      A brighter, more generous aspect of America is its openness in accepting refugees regardless of their level of education and helping them resettle in the US.  Congress is threatening to cut this program.  Please consider contacting your senators to keep this  program that has contributed so much to this land of immigrants, alive.
Thank you!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Post V Day

Even though I'm not in a relationship (of the typical couple type) I had one of the nicest Valentine's Days (or VD Day as a friend calls it) ever.  Virtual flowers arrived from my cousin whose husband just escaped from potentially scary health problems.  There were e-mails and FB greetings and at work totally unplanned by me,  there were chocolates and more chocolates and even brownies. Amazing how quickly students from 14+ different countries adapt to the customs of America.

    Rewind back to a different take on romance - from my chapbook.

Aftermath of Love

The waters of Lethe
sprinkle my eyelids
with  a sweet poison.
I sleep and sleep
through this daily dream.
naked, shivering
on a rock,
in the sea,
Waves pounding.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Delaware Park

Today I'm home from work- still struggling with a root canal months later.  Nostalgia- here is a memoir piece that was published but I can't remember where. 

Delaware Park, Buffalo
The most significant and massive intrusion onto Omsted's design occurred about 1960, when an expressway was extended across the park, separating it into two sections and bringing the roar of traffic into the heart of the park. As a part of the construction, significant portions of the park lake were filled. The lake, long suffering from upstream pollution, became little more than an open sewer, and retained little of its Olmsted shoreline. 1989-2007 Stanton M. Broderick

With each step around Delaware Lake, I feel their presence.  With the ground squishy with moisture, as I walk, my uncle’s face appears.   Like when I was a child back from a day out, he asks me what I have seen.  “A rabbit?  A fox?’  And as if such things were possible in the city, I vigorously shake my head.   Crossing a grove of trees I relive all the trips to the hospital for chemo, my mother clutching a plastic container she vomits into.  Five years of pain see me through high school and give me the possibility of escape. 
            Yet I can recover great pleasure too.  I find my first love again, Daniel, who resembled a Rafael painting of Jesus.  We lay on a rooftop or under a blanket on the living room floor for hours pulsating to the universe.  His scent acrid like a farmhand’s remains.
Each moist step forgives and brings back the past.  My father worked at Dunlop Tire and Rubber. Asbestos filled his lungs leaving him on mood altering steroids and an asthma inhaler.  The delicacy of his peeling my fruit, mending my clothes, and finishing my home ec projects contrasted sharply with the bouts of rage that erupted from nowhere and found me shaking in silence. 
            This city provided a frame to my existence, the years when I was so shy as to be unable to speak.  The heritage of an immigrant past meant you were taught not to stand out, since such pride could lead to a trip to Siberia.  On my return I find the remains of that person who had no way to construct the boundaries needed just to survive.  I could flow into the rivulets that empty into the lake, a motionless expanse of water. 
            The memory resides in my blood, in my Latvian family heritage.  The Balts inhabited their white winter landscape and the endless sunlight of summer.  This verge of spring fills each cell with longing. 
            Across the street, I gravitate to the anonymity of the local university library, doubting I can still pass for a student.  The clock chimes the quarter hours as definitively as the local cathedral in the Spanish town I inhabited for so many years.  The chimes mark my inability to focus.  Another fifteen minutes and my mind is still racing, facing the blank page in front of me.    From the window, the grey sky is the color of a Paris winter where buildings and air meld together. 
            The old me, who I thought I’d squelched so long ago resurfaces.  In my dream I am lying in bed.  The doctor comes to visit but turns out to be my French dentist.  He examines me and tells me the problem is my heart.  I walk outside to find giant snowflakes filling the night sky. Can I return to this place and recover my heart?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Democracy- personal

      I woke up today with the concept of democracy on the brain. Here it's been the excuse used for deposing both despots and legitimately elected governments.That's why it's so exciting to see a popular movement in action. No surprise that Tunisia had a quick transition to a new government.  Even in Roman times it was the area of North Africa that was most open to outside influences.  What happens in Egypt remains to be seen and determined by decisions made in the US.
     I thought of my own experiences dealing with my own idea of democracy. In my class I sometimes ask the students to vote on which activity they'd prefer- a reading or grammar (it's an exam prep class so neither option is much fun).  When they're disappointed in the result, I tell them, well, you didn't vote or you didn't share the majority opinion; that's how a democracy works.  Usually they sit in shock for a few minutes.
   Years ago I was on strike from a school in Barcelona.  The strike lasted about 4 months and every decision was made by consensus- each of the 40 or so of us gave our opinion about what the next step would be.  After that glorious experience of solidarity I thought I'd never be able to deal with a top down decision making process again.
   Fast forward a few years to the school of modern languages at Barcelona University. Decisions were made by consensus but it was a consensus fueled by the most vocal.  Much of the time it seemed more of a hassle to argue a position than to just let it pass.  Inclusive or exclusive?  Who controls?  How important is your opinion?  Are you represented?  Those are the most basic questions to ask.