Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Anarchy of Spain

The anarchy of Spain

I first observed it en route to Barcelona from the US. Passengers waiting to board the plane were not sitting patiently waiting for their zone to be called but all of them crowded around the gate. I smiled remembering so many trips just like this one.

My first taste of the news left me shocked. Media in the US doesn’t really follow what happens in Spain so unless you... read the news online (and even then) you only know the basic fact that Catalonia is fighting for Independence from Spain. The rest of the news falls by the wayside and it can help you understand why this is happening.

Most important of all the news is the corruption on every level of the political world. No party is exempt. One of the so called heros of Catalan nationalism, Jordi Pujol, was found to have taken millions from the government to fill his private coffers in offshore banks while he was head of a foundation specializing in ethics. He’s not the only one. 51 people were arrested in October including many mayors. The ruling party, the PP faced endless corruption scandels including a large scandel involving Rodrigo Rato who was the former head of the IMF and the bank, Bankia which handed out credit cards to all kinds of officials for their free use. Bankia had to be bailed out. The Socialists ran a scam in the south of Spain taking money destined for government funds for companies to pay laid off workers for their own benefit. Bankers went wild and several banks had to be rescued. Even the royal family (which was once respected because Juan Carlos saved democracy) is under investigation. The husband of one of the princesses is facing a prison term for embezzlement. Juan Carlos abdicated in favor of his son and is now divorced from Sofia. Juan Carlos himself was photographed on a safari after having shot an elephant which did nothing to endear him to the public.

Despite all of the poltical mess, the economy seems to be improving. New political parties like Podemos (which the PP is trying hard to discredit), Ciutadans, UPD and others may provide alternatives. Catalan nationalism is growing despite the scandels of the politicians there. It’s hard to imagine a Catalan nation will be any less corrupt than the Spanish one. One surprise is the Basque country which after years of armed conflict has settled down.

A Saturnian Look at Life

A Saturnian look at life....

How many times have you thought of what it would be like to be old, I mean really old? Let’s say 90, 95, and older. I recently visited my friend’s mother who is 92 and living in a residence. She continually repeats, 92, that’s a lot of years and she’s right. She appears cheerful in her own present Buddhist like reality with no recent past or focus on the future. In her residence, the bedrooms are small and the residents are encouraged to spend their time in common rooms.
In contrast ,I visited a friend’s father in Buffalo who also lives in a residence. His room is large with his own TV and memorabilia around him. He spends most of his time there. I don’t know if the difference between the two is cultural or simply due to aquisitive power.
It could be a portion of us will spend our old age in places like these that are slightly reminiscent of dormitory life. That is, if we are lucky enough to be able to afford even the simplest of these places. What brings one to these places can be a simple fall, a chronic illness, or just the lack of anyone to help with the basic tasks of life.
Youth imagine death in a purely romantic way- that they’ll never get old, that they won’t live past, say 50. The joke Is on them- we see the old rockers in their 70’s still performing. So like with everyone else, old age creeps up on the youth and they will face the same uncertainties.
Two of the most common questions asked astrologers in India are when will I get married and when will I die. Perhaps that will help. With the notion of a time frame, you could prepare or if it’s off you could breathe in the beauty of another day and appreciate this fragile world even more.
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Saturday, November 29, 2014

End of semester reflections and a poem, "Stones"

 End of semester reflections and a poem, "Stones"

                I’d often been asked odd questions before- one day a young Korean woman asked me what size shoe I wore and because I didn’t feel like answering, I launched into a talk on taboo questions in America.  Another day, a young Asian woman asked me, “Why do you teach?  It must be so boring- all those mistakes, those corrections.”  My answer was that I liked to learn. 

             I’ve been re-reading “Disgrace” and Coetzee’s main character reflects on that idea. “The irony does not escape him: that the one who comes to teach learns the keenest of lessons, while those who come to learn learn nothing.” I suspect my idea is not so much learning humility but worldliness, meaning cultures of the world and cultural norms outside of my own. That I have certainly found.  On one job interview I responded to a question saying I had probably taught students from most countries around the world.   

            I found a poem I’d written ages ago, perhaps when I was teaching at the University of Barcelona.  So often in those days I resented a poem lost as I stood in front of yet another classroom or a storyline I wanted to write down with so little time to do so.  These days I am softer, more appreciative of this work I chose and I have learned ever so much while enjoying myself.   Perhaps the teaching is what I will remember more.




Through the camel's eyelid,

one step off

the tree in bloom,

just out of reach

of day to day.

Freed from the cave,

I carry a sack of stones

to the classroom

to impart one by one

to the open mouths.

Outside, the softness

of the new

spring leaves


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Snow Clues

     Did fortune shine on me?  I moved back to Buffalo in April 2007, not too long after an October snowstorm cracked trees heavy with leaves and took down power lines.  The storm was still a topic of conversation and the cause of the escape of a friend whose car had been crushed by a fallen tree. Just not tough enough, I thought.
     I moved to Atlanta in August and despite a few glitches have managed to find a job and get somewhat settled in.  Nostalgia for Buffalo still remains yet I have to admit I am relieved I left before this devastating November 2014.snowstorm.  And I know what I'm talking about- I lived through two of the big blizzards- 77 and 86 and they remain in the deepest part of my brain that scans the neighborhood for grocery stores I can walk to wherever I move. 
    This storm makes me sad.  Just when Buffalo was getting positive press for being one of the most bicycle friendly and livable cities, and all importantly, one of the most progressive, the weather strikes a blow.  We're back to stereotypes.  Hope all of you are safe and warm!

     Snow Clues is the title of a poem in my third chapbook, Dance the Truth, and it's the subtitle of a mystery novel I wrote which is waiting for one last edit and a publisher.  Will fortune shine on me?

Snow Clues

Walk the winter white world
our prints merge
with animal indentations.
Who crossed this path first?

Sleighs pass

The sparkle white
Snow sleep lures
most of all.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Finding my Way Home

This move from Buffalo to Atlanta has my father’s imprint on it.  Odd you might say, considering he’s been dead for decades, yet he’s been appearing in my dreams since before I left for Atlanta in August. Yang energy could be enough of an explanation for making this move.  What does it take to uproot oneself?  An upheaval of sorts, a burning dissatisfaction, or the perpetual longing for something more?  In my case, it wasn’t the upheaval but the sense I had to escape a kind of rust belt poverty and that time was running out for finding a good job. 

Back to the dreams which seemed to be foreshadowing this change. My father appeared in all the standard dreams of home, the childhood home where I lived for the first 17 years of my life and which still is the only place that bears the archetype of home.  In those dreams death is always a factor, usually my mother’s.  She is sick, we call an ambulance, or we weep at what has already occurred.  The house stands in one of its many forms, sometimes bigger or shabbier than I remember but always an important protagonist.  In one dream I came upon vomit in a room- the symbol of which I’m still trying to figure out. 

Then, in one dream, he flat out asked me why didn’t you have children?  My response was, aren’t my stories and poems enough?  Perhaps it’s a genetic question and in that case I have no answer or a million.  Years ago a Peruvian shaman I met told me I had a genetic make-up that was rarely seen and I carried more of my father than my mother.  One thing I know is I inherited his love of wanderlust.


Here’s a poem from my first chapbook:


Finding My Way Home


The Hmong bury placenta,

close to home.

Danger rises in direct proportion

to their distance from it.


The Navajo began

the long march home

where each tree,

each stream tells the past.


The spot that fixes me

to the ground, floats.


Lost in the birches

and pines of the Baltic,

following the storks south,

to nest in the bell towers

of Castillian churches,

I´m finding my way home.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Atlanta 2, me 0 and a flash fiction piece

By the strangest twists of fate (apologies to Bob Dylan), the two times I have spent time in Atlanta I've been in car accidents.  You can ask how that is possible when I don't even drive.  Well, this is a car city like so many "newer" cities in the South and West.  You really can't go many places without a car as I've learned in my carfree innocence.  This is such a car city that I don't even dare to ride my bike except in the depths of the suburbs or on preplanned bike routes. 
     The first accident happened when I first returned from Spain to the US.  My sister and I were going to a poetry reading which of course, we never got to.  It wasn't too bad and we weren't hurt nor was the car but the accident (more of a fender bender) happened in the middle of the domain of Emory University so there were 3 sets of police cars that arrived on the scene along with an ambulance.  My first thought was I had no health insurance but fortunately I didn't need any treatment.
     November 1, which just happens to be my birthday.  Is that a bad omen when a car accident happens on your bday?  Does it set the tone for the year or is all the collective bad energy dispersed?  I need to consult my astro friends on that one.  Anyway, we ( my sister and I again) were entering a highway (of which Atlanta has a multitude, perhaps like LA) when an elderly woman ran a red light and hit the back end of the driver side of the car.  The next thing I knew we were  in the car facing the wrong direction, looking at oncoming traffic.  Fortunately, a police officer was getting off work, saw the whole thing, and stopped traffic.  What I do know is that to avoid getting into a car, I took 2 trains, a bus, and a long walk to get home.
    Food for thought again- am I in the right place? 

I've attached a car story- one I wrote for a prompt exercise.  Hope you enjoy it!

Cars, Today, and Tomorrow


Calvin was always complaining about progress and how the US was falling behind. Now he was back on the same jag.  ¨It´s true, Doug.  Look at China.  Cars show how far a society has come.  Progress. Now they´ve got more than us.  That´s an indicator; everything is Chinese; it´s because they´ve got cars now.¨

¨Come on Calvin, what are you nuts?  What´s this poison soup we´re breathing? Carbon m-o-n.-o-x-i-d-e.  Take a deep breath of that shit.  Fill up those lungs.¨

The two men were standing on the overpass of Route 20 A next to the mall waiting for the AAA to pick up Calvin´s car.  Smoke was billowing out from under the hood and the engine looked like it was ready to blow.  Doug couldn´t believe it; even with his car practically on fire, Calvin wouldn´t stop defending cars.  ¨The Chinese are now ahead of us in pollution too.  They got big black clouds there.  You can´t see the light of day in some of those cities.  That´s progress?¨

¨Think of it; the smell of a new car. Picture it a Jag or, let´s say a Porsche.  Soft leather, heated seats in the winter when you get into that baby.  Cream color interior, GPS, a sound system better than you got at home.¨

¨Get out of here, it´s not sex we´re talking about.  And hey, dude, dream on. Where do you see a Jaguar?  What do you call that over there that´s smoking up a storm?¨  Doug pointed to the 20 year old Chevy ten feet away.   ¨You think it could explode?¨  He stepped farther away just in case.

¨Nah, only on TV.  It takes a lot to get one to blow.  You got to cover it in gasoline.  My car is fine.¨

¨What´d you do, forget to put oil in there?  You with your cars.¨

Calvin ignored Doug and continued his reverie.  ¨Power, that ´s what you want.  That feeling under you.  You can take on the world.¨

¨How long did they say?¨ Doug was getting impatient with the triple A.  ¨They´re usually pretty good.¨

¨An hour about.¨

¨That Chevy has seen better days.  Maybe you should get that dream car.¨

¨The Chevy was Dad´s.  Still got some life in it.¨

¨Yeah, if you keep pumping your paycheck into it.¨

¨At least I´m not on some corner waiting for a goddam bus.¨

¨Well, at least, I´m not poisoning anybody.¨

¨You kidding. With those buses.¨

¨They´re ecological now.  They burn natural gas.¨

¨Next you´ll tell me they burn chicken shit.  You luddites are going to set us back a few centuries.  Then you´ll be happy.  You won´t have any cars, no lights, no TV, now that´s ecological.  Get your garden going.  Make your own clothes.  What kind of future is that?¨

Doug laughed, ¨I´ll keep my way.  You stay in that pile of shit.  I´m going to walk to the mall.  That´s where we´re supposed to be right now.  I got to get my daughter´s birthday present.¨

¨See how you get home.¨

¨Hey, I´ll take a bus.¨

¨Remember that´s why we´re in this mess.  There is no bus.¨

Friday, October 10, 2014

Another cancer story?

When I wrote this story I was looking for a way out of the familiar pain of my mother's death from cancer.  It was ever present, even years later and I was tired of feeling my own heavy sorrow which I understood could be nothing like what she had suffered.  The thought occurred to me to write about cancer and all of those emotions from the perspective of a young mother.

When I worked as a reader for a publishing house in Barcelona, the editor would pick up a memoir or a novel and say, "Another cancer story."  It was always said with a particular disdain so it took me a long time to write the story, hoping her viewpoint wasn't one shared by my potential readers.  In fact, "Three Months" has become one of the stories I've written that I'm most proud of. 

As Dylan Thomas wrote, "After the first death, there is no other."  Or is it that each subsequent death only widens the breach in the heart created by the first one?  In any case, I hope you enjoy reading the story published in Grey Sparrow Press.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Le Joli Mai


Now that I’m staying with my sister in a house with cable TV, I’ve had access to TCM (that favorite of everyone over 60 and movie buffs alike).  To my surprise, the other night they showed  the documentary, “Le Joli Mai” which brought back a flood of memories of the time I spent in Paris years ago.

My college graduation gift to myself was a return trip to Paris, where I’d spent a year abroad studying.  The promise of the trip got me through the seminar on war, my study of Russian, and a tutorial on French writers, so by the end of classes I was more than ready to escape.

Before I left Buffalo, I dreamt of the name Lamartine.  Thinking there might be some meaning in the dream, I looked him up and read about his political life in the second republic and a few of his poems which were less than inspiring.

But when I got to Paris, chance would have my finding the Hostal Lamartine and its cast of characters.  The first person I met Josip, followed me as I was going out for the evening, carrying an umbrella and walking me to the metro so I wouldn’t get wet.  Josip was on a special grant from Croatia ( then, Yugoslavia) and his preferred snack was poitrine fume, a kind of fatty bacon.  He also helped me wash my hair in the sink of my tiny room.

Then there was Max, a professor who had been sent to learn French so he could teach it along with the German he was fluent in.  Max had grown up in Indonesia and lived in just about every city in the world.  He made the tourists at Pere Lachese cry when he recited the poems of Heine in German.  The three of us, Max, Josip, and I went on picnics in the various gardens of the city.  Josip claimed my French was better than Max’s though Max had the formal study and I was just hanging out talking to everybody.

The last figure was an elderly man who was a permanent resident of the hostal.  He was one step away from being a clochard (the politically incorrect word would be bum).  Michel would come to my room and spin his tales all the while letting me put my cigarette ashes in the cuffs of his pants.  Michel told me we’d get the patron (not sure who that could be) and his car.  We would drive to Brittany and eat crepes and drink rich thick milk.  When I left to return to the US, Michel had tears in his eyes.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mo Joe Anthology

John Roche put together a collection of Joe poems.   The Joe phenomenon started with his own collection of poetry but Joe proved so popular, he opened the theme up to other poets and over 100 are published in this collection.  This Friday, August 22nd, Buffalo contributers will be reading at Dog Ear's Bookstore at 7pm.   With my recent move from Buffalo to Atlanta, I won't be able to make it, but here is my own Joe poem. 

Joe Does the Grand Tour

Joe steps off the launch.
No cameras flash, no biennale
or Thomas Mann to be found.
Just another stop on the Grand Tour, Venice, this time.
Boats whir, the damn water rises shiny black
the city crumbles and shakes.
Joe visits the church built to protect from medieval fevers,
sees Peggy G's tomb with dogs in the palace yard.
Gondoliers dream of land
and read racing car magazines.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Suicide is on everyone’s minds.  The shock of a famous person committing suicide touches us all and the media doesn’t let go yet provides us little solace.  The old Simon and Garfunkel song, “Richard Corey” based on the poem by Edward Arlington Robinson comes to mind.  This captures the disbelief that someone who apparently has everything would end it all.


Is suicide the ultimate freedom providing a way to make physical suffering or mental anguish  stop?  Of course in religion, that is the biggest taboo since you are taking away what “God” does- gives life or takes it away.  Or the other taboo- are you setting a precedent for people who might otherwise find a way out and be helped?


In our own lives  we may have experienced the suicide of someone close or not so close to us.  I remember Jose (I changed the name) in Colombia when I was working as an English teacher in a binational center.  My first encounter with him was when he accused me of changing my name.  No, I insisted, Teresa is my name.  Sometimes I use the Latvian form, Terez but Teresa is my name.  He didn’t  believe me so we started off on the wrong foot.  Jose was in charge of materials so he spent a lot of time chasing after teachers who didn’t check off the right number of books they took out of the supply room.

He had a good reputation as a teacher.  I observed his class once and he told the students that he knew they were funny or smart of whatever but in the new language (English) they should stick to what they could communicate. They didn’t need to resort to Spanish.  Jose was also a painter.  He made  prints of the Colombian currency with huge portraits of Simon Bolivar on them in bright colors.

I had little contact with him outside of work until we took a trip to a small town in the interior of the country for a national English conference.  I knew something was wrong because Jose looked disheveled with greasy hair and he stood behind the bus driver all the way from Bogota to Boyaca as if he were controlling the driver.

Once we were at the conference, things didn’t get any better.  I saw him wander in and out of sessions.  All of us from our center (6 of us) were sharing a suite.  Jose wasn’t sleeping at night.  It didn’t help that the other female teacher was trying to get involved with him or that I was sleeping on the sofa in the common space so there was no escaping any of their drama.  One night Jose was talking to the logs in the fireplace in great philosophical detail.  It was obvious all was not right but we were all too young to really think much beyond how weird he was acting.

And we didn’t give it much thought until some months later, he killed himself.  At the funeral, I remember thinking that now he would have some relief from what was tormenting him.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

For these difficult days

Here's a poem from my chapbook- "Dance the Truth" which seems appropriate for these days. 



Buy gold.

Buy it now.

When you flee

the home exploding,

the burnt landscape,

trade it for a loaf of bread.


Remember the rhymes

of so many poems

to fill the confined

calendar days

of prison life.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Violence is even hitting close to home

Violence is even hitting close to home


With the daily reports of the horrors inflicted on Gaza and airplanes falling out of the sky, there is the question of what can one do?  Social media has been a godsend.  Although Russia still dupes its citizens, we learned almost immediately that the Ukrainian separatists armed by Russia shot down Malaysian flight MH 17. At least we did in the international media; the US media took much longer.  If you stick to reporting that isn’t the standard US newscasts, you can find out what is happening in Gaza and let others know.  That might help change the impressions of a public that has always been fed one point of view.  Here’s a moving article by a Jewish writer living in Canada:


The next question is what to do about our local neighborhoods.  Lately, Buffalo (where I’m living) has undergone what the media calls a renaissance. 


At the same time there were a series of rapes in what are among the most gentrified neighborhoods in the city.  I’ve heard nothing more except for the arrest of one of the perpetrators.   The website, which tracks crime statistics, lists even more sexual assaults in the City since late last month:

•07/07/2014 | 300 Block FOX ST

•07/07/2014 | 1100 Block MAIN

•07/06/2014 | 1 Block KINGSLEY ST

•07/05/2014 | 300 Block BRECKENRIDGE ST...

•07/05/2014 | ELMWOOD AV & ALLEN ST

•07/02/2014 | 400 Block DELAWARE AV

•06/29/2014 | 200 Block ALLEN ST

•06/29/2014 | 1 Block FAY ST

•06/29/2014 | UNKNOWN & NIAGARA

•06/29/2014 | 300 Block W FERRY ST

•06/28/2014 | 100 Block HIGH ST

And unfortunately more.

Yesterday I found out about 3 violent assaults in the same neighborhood as the one where some of the rapes took place.  Thanks to the neighborhood association which has put out this information.  Otherwise, I don’t think many of us would even know what is going on at night. Has it always been this way?  Or is social media making us more aware and able to take more precautions?  Is the violence a backlash in the 4th poorest city in the US?  Is it some sort of gang initiation?  The property crimes can be connected to poverty but the rapes?  There are more questions than answers here.  Fortunately, there are women who organize free self-defense classes and marches at night but how many women are afraid now and how is that limiting our lives?

Here's a poem that I usually open my poetry readings with and will probably continue to do so:


Past knots and tendons,


I look


to bone


and see,


 centuries past.


my face shrivels


as flames rise higher.


The point of a sword


slashes my belly.


Today, head to toe in black,


I barely breathe,


walk the requisite


steps behind.


The open hand


of my husband


reddens my cheek.


In  India and China


girls form


the Greek chorus,


and chant,


Never born,


Never born.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Moving again!

2 years later and I'm moving again.  Here's a repost from then-not much has changed.


I  am sitting in a room that’s in the process of being dismantled, bit by bit, box by box.  Where does moving fit on the scale of life’s most stressful events?  Somewhere up there, after death and divorce.  My many moves are bookended by long periods spent in the same place.  17 years in the farmhouse in Varysburg, the small town where I grew up, and then 15 years in the atico flat in Barcelona with its terraces and views of the sea as a distant blue line and Montjuic, the city’s hill off the port. 
Since my American adventure, I’ve lived in three places- my sister’s home in Atlanta, a sublet in Buffalo, and my present apartment where I’ve been for, hard to believe but four years now.  Four years of living alone.  Surprisingly except for one brief stint here when I was in college, I have never lived alone.  Now that I’ve done it, it seems easy.  Solitude doesn’t weigh but there is that occasional need to find a witness for the daily details of life. 
So now, encumbered by a lot more stuff, I’m preparing for move 4.  I left Barcelona after twenty years with three suitcases and a few boxes of my papers which I sent.  How is it possible that I have amassed more stuff in four years here than in all that time abroad? 
My first trip away from home to Paris for my junior year abroad only required one suitcase and a small carry on.  With every subsequent voyage I’ve been weighted down with more stuff.  I have my books (heavy, aren’t they?), DVD’s, papers (way too many), CD’s, and more clothes than I could ever wear.  What do I really need?  Comfort is a way of life in America and every object is designed for that finality.  How much can I shed?  As I look around the chaos that is now my pre-move life, I’m going to find that out.

                                                                        “You can’t go home again.”  Thomas Wolfe   

Cross the yard
to open the gate,
my mother stands
at the door.
Inside, the grey carpet
with faded roses,
consumes my breath.
The mismatched couches
 are covered over again,
a paint by numbers seascape
hangs on the wall.

I reclaim these rooms,
the medicine stained floor,
my father metes out drops
so he can breathe.
His voice, the backdrop
to my dreams,
as he reads aloud to my mother,
their secret night life.

Stripped naked
I try again to enter,
13 steps to my bedroom,
Petal pink, a girl long buried,
still wants the Barbie dress up world.

My mother’s closet holds two suits
from her past life,
strappy heels, red leather,
thick ankle straps,
I touch and identify,

She never wanted to be here,
in this farmhouse in America.

Yet she greets me,
we share for a moment
this white house,
this undersurface dream space.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

It's July and time for the Tour

When I lived in Spain, I loved watching the Tour in July- a hot, lazy month and the stages of the Tour were perfect for relaxing on the sofa.  Here's a short piece I wrote for a bicycle magazine.



July- it’s the middle of summer in Barcelona and it couldn’t be hotter.  July means my teaching schedule is split in the middle and I get home at the hottest time of the day.  That also means that I am stuck in my sweltering top floor atico apartment.  During the rest of the year, the terrace is a delightful luxury but in the dead of summer even with the awning stretching out over the top, it’s too hot to venture out in midday. 

No air conditioning, no escape.  Even my gym has an air conditioning system that barely generates a light chill.  I get home after teaching two English classes at a multinational insurance company.  The students are what you could picture in such a class.  There are four of them who study risk or numbers or god knows what.  But it is easy enough and it pays the rent.

I stop on my way home trudging up the hill to my flat, stopping to pick up lettuce and prepared gazpacho which I drink by the liters, providing liquid and salt in equal measure.  After I eat, I lie down on the sofa, remote in hand.  News comes on and then, the Tour de France.  Nothing could be more suitable for the summer than the peloton making its way through the pretty green French countryside.  The droning voices of the two announcers, one a former cyclist himself, never fail to put me under. 

At some point during the broadcast, my two kids get home from their colonias, which is a kind of school camp.  Mostly it serves to let the adults keep working and give the kids who don’t have doting grandparents a place to be.  My wife, Lina herds them away.  “Daddy’s watching the Tour.”

“Daddy’s sleeping.”  Paul the older child announces.  Undeterred, Lina says “ssssh” and takes them into the kitchen to feed them the kind of snack I was never allowed, a piece of baguette with nutella.  It seems to do them no harm.  They have boundless energy and no cavities.    The voices have penetrated my consciousness and I shift away from the TV screen, having given up all pretense of watching. 

Big days are mountain stages and time trials but those are interspersed with these slow days where the overall standings never change and I can fall into that delicious drowsiness without worrying anything can happen.  I usually wake just in time to see the stage winner kissed by young women dressed in the color of the winning jersey.   The yellow jersey and the small stuffed animal are handed out to the leader of the tour at the end of the broadcast.


“And there’s been a fall!  A rider is down!”  the announcer’s voice reaches a high pitch.  Immediately I turn back to the screen and I watch the replay of the unlucky rider get his wheel caught in the rider in front of him.  That one miscalculation and Joseba Beloki, a rider I’d been following attentively like the rest of Spain, is on the ground.  Minutes later he’s taken away in an ambulance. 
“Damn.”  Beloki had been the Spanish heir to Indurain.  Having been in Spain long enough to watch Indurain ride to five victories, I’d pinned my hopes on Beloki.  I rubbed the sleepiness from my eyes.

I get up, stretch, and head into the kitchen to join the boys for a bit of that bread. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day- a poem from my new chapbook!

Here’s a poem from my new chapbook- it’s father, a la Sylvia Plath.  The chapbook should be available soon.  My book launch will be on July 15th.

Father’s Day


Green spring erupts,

the kittens,

wild, frantic,


over each other

racing in the barn.

His touch tames.

He presents them

like the  peas he shells and

lines up.


The lull never lasts,

wind whips through cracks of

closed windows.

He’s the one I search for

in shapely dark madness.





Friday, June 13, 2014

The Pleasures of the World Cup

Yesterday I walked into the office and asked Rashid, “How are you going to watch the World Cup on Internet?”  He said, “I was just going to ask you the same thing.”  He picked up a child’s ball ( we’re in refugee resettlement and education and the office is full of clothes, junk, and weird donated food*) and we played catch and even headed the ball a couple of times. 

I haven’t followed football all that long but still remember the tragedy of Spain’s loss to South Korea years ago with its dubious refereeing. These football matches can be discussed for years and any football fan can describe in detail their team’s wins over decades. 

Four years ago there was Spain’s glorious win and the sound of vuvuzelas in the stadiums, and let’s not forget Paul the octopus who correctly predicted the winners.  The Spanish chef, Jose Andres, in honor of Paul, had a moratorium on serving octopus in his restaurant.  Football is filled with such stories. For me, they capture an innocence not seen in professional US sports. 

Of course, soccer players earn huge salaries but seem more like regular guys.  Perhaps because they aren’t massive like American football players or the giants  in basketball.  They are closer to us.  After all, you just need a ball to play and you’re good to go. 

I’m not much of a sports fan ordinarily but the World Cup even brings a touch of  the citizen of the world to it.  As an NPR reporter commented, everyone in the world is watching except for the US and Antartica. 


*If you donate food to any charitable institution, make sure it’s something a person might want to eat.  No spam, no endless cans of candied yams or Thanksgiving leftovers. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Poor are Bilked Again and Again


I went to buy my bus pass at the city supermarket that sells the monthly passes.  It’s not the usual glossy shiny supermarket I shop at but a higher priced less attractive one that offers this service.  As I was waiting on long line of workers cashing their checks, I saw the list of charges that anyone who doesn’t have a bank account has to endure.  First of all, to cash your paycheck you pay from 1 to 2$.  They won’t cash tax refund checks-maybe that sum they charge doesn’t make it worthwhile.

Next, come the charges for paying bills.  Electric, gas, and other services charge about 2$ or so.  Paying your Verizon cell phone bill costs $3.  If you don’t have a checking account (which if you’re earning minimum wage is too hard to keep up a balance so you don’t have to pay a monthly fee), you are charged at every turn for every action.  And this isn’t even the worse- your neighborhood corner store will charge a lot more to cash a check. 

So once again, the working poor are hit the hardest.  Meanwhile, we are subsidizing all the corporate CEO’s who refuse to pay a living wage.  Those workers have to be helped with benefits and food stamps because the CEO’s are earning millions and pay far less a percentage of taxes than I do.

And to top it off, 2 of my students had their bicycles stolen at work.  For them the bikes are their means of transport.  This loss is compounded with so many losses beginning with the most serious one- the loss of a homeland. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Memories of Godard and the Paris of long ago

I was going through files on my computer and found this essay I wrote awhile ago.  It seemed appropriate to post while Cannes is taking place and my old favorite, Godard has two films showing. So here it is, part of a series I called, "A Place in the World".
  •  Paris saved my life.  Late that summer I sat with the acceptance letter in my hand, worrying about what my father would say.  Somehow I´d managed to fill out all the application papers for my junior year abroad with no certainty of what would happen next.  My family was in a haze of mourning; my mother had died in the previous autumn after a five year of cancer. We´d watched the pain and steady decline until she spent the last four months of her life in a state of unconsciousness. 
My father nodded as he read; “Go”, he said, “see as much of Europe as you can.”  I had his blessing and with it the possibility to leave behind some of the pain. Here was a chance to go interrupt it or trick it out of existance. 
It was the first time I ever took a plane.  I flew from Buffalo to Kennedy with endless hours to wait in the airport.  I felt very adult, having lunch at the TWA terminal which looked like a place the Jetsons inhabited.  Then somehow I made my way to a bar, met up with a group on their way to Germany and proceeded to drink beer with them.  So much that how I got on the plane remains a blur.  I slept through the meals and woke refreshed as the plane taxied into Gatwick.  Then there were more trains and a boat until I arrived at Gare du Nord in the evening.  From the taxi to the hotel I remember seeing the prostitutes in their spike heeled boots near Strasbourg St. Denis. 
           The hotel I stayed in was a pleasure with its patterned wallpaper, bidet in the closet, and breakfast brought to the door, hot coffee, croissants, and tartines.  In those days even inexepensive hotels had room service and in the morning there was a knock on the door with a tray.
Different, Paris was different  but also familiar.  My parents were from Latvia and there were certain indelible habits that marked Europeans.  One was the cloth shopping bag my father always carried and his penchant for unusual juices and sweets.  In Europe everyone seemed to carry their own string market bag and shops were filled with just the same impractical delicacies that my father always sought out. 
What can a person say about a city like Paris that doesn´t sound cliche?  It belongs to everyone who has visited it.  Its momuments are almost too familiar.  The stereotypes border on absurd.  Before I arrived, I imagined the city would resound with syrupy accordian music or the voice of Yves Montand, hoarse with cigarette smoke. A French friend looking at my French textbook with its requisite photos of a man on a motorcycle with a huge baguette tied to the back or a pig on the street, exclaimed, “A pig in Paris.  Impossible!” 
But this was how we believed the city would be.  An American friend coming to Europe had searched everywhere for a beret before coming, wore it, and was truely disappointed that no one else was wearing one.  When I first arrived and walked around the city I had the idea that everyone was paired off.  It certainly looked that way.
So then how is it possible to make sense of a place inside all of that fantasy?  Since this was the first large city I ever inhabited, Paris became the measure of all cities.  Even New York years later, fell short.  Nothing else would do.  The impressions it left on a twenty year old would last forever. 
Finding myself in a place where there were actually things to see and do, I sytematically set about doing them.  I visited every place I could, but not in the manner of a tourist who spends two days and crams everything into a visit, but slowly, carefully.  Of course I avoided the more obvious tourist destinations like the Eiffel Tower.  I only saw it from the distance of a friend´s apartment or from the job board that was located nearby and was where all the aspiring au pairs went to check job listings. 
I prided myself on never visiting the Eiffel Tower until the 90´s when I was with a Brazilian friend who insisted on seeing it.  By that time I was free of any prejudices of trying to be cool.  Her visit to Europe was an attempt at recovery.  Not only had her fiance died in a car crash but was dressed in drag when it happened.  I don´t know how Paris was supposed to help her get over that.
There was never a shortage of places to see.  On Sundays the Louvre was free.  Saturdays I took long walks from my neighborhood, crossing the busy traffic of the Place de la Concorde eventually making it to Odeon and St. Mich where a girlfriend lived.  There I often took a bath since I lived in a maid´s room without a shower. She would make me a cup of tea to drink ; it still brings back a sense of wellbeing, lying in a bath sipping hot tea.
Her apartment was her boyfriend´s; it made her seem daring.  He took her to places like the Tour D´Argent which in those days was the height of chic, and was convienently away on business travel.  Often enough so this very centrally located apartment could be used for parties.  At one, I lost my contact lens on the fur rug and we all got down on our hands and knees to search for it.  I was lucky, like in most things in Paris and I found it intact though people had been walking around the apartment all night.  
Another Paris cliche was cinema.  I took a course in film which entailed going to an endless number of movies and talking about them. The professor had made a documentary about May 68 which we saw several times to learn a sense of the political and a disdain for what was American.  
Usually I went to tiny cinemas which weren´t heated sufficiently in winter so I shivered through the first showing before the building had warmed up.  On one ocassion I went to see a Tati film, Mr. Hulot´s Vacation.  Next to it, Cries and Whispers was playing.  Somehow I walked into the wrong theater.  The clock ticking on the screen and all the red on the screen should have been a warning, but thinking I was seeing a preview I sank into the seat to watch and before I knew it I was watching the slow agonizing death of one of the sisters.  At one point I could no longer contain myself and just began to cry, which turned into a kind of gasping for air weeping.  When the film ended, the person next to me asked me if I was all right.  What could I say?  I had gone in expecting a comedy and walked right straight into my own mother´s death.
I became a fan of Godard with his bloody Weekend and futuristic Alphaville.  Truffault was even more entertaining.  I loved the Bride who Wore Black since most of the young women I knew, myself included, had to spend time fending off advances from men we weren´t interested in.  This even happened on the metro.  One night an Italian man simply asked if he could go home with me and followed me until I had to scream at him.  With some men I used my Latvian, by the time they could assimilate this was a language they didn´t understand, I had time to make my escape.   So this film was the perfect revenge, Jeanne Moreau systematically killing off the men who were present in a nearby apartment and by accident had shot her husband on their wedding day. 
And what would be Paris without Jules and Jim?  I saw it with an American man I met on the boat train from London.  I was settling into my seat on the train, he moved across from me so he could look at me he said.  He was my temporary reward for having lost my mother.  We also saw Women in Love together on one of our many outings during the two weeks he was in Paris; we ate trout with grapes and almonds, went to the Place des Voges, stayed up and talked endlessly. 
We travelled out to Versailles by mistake on a Monday when everything was closed.  The gardeners were burning brush and we stood with them and drank brandy from a flask they passed around.  He was on his way to Greece and was looking for a typewriter to buy.  Everyone had literary aspirations in those days.  Our encounters were fairly limited since he was sharing a hotel room with a friend, and I was staying at a friend´s apartment.  There were hooves on the wall of his hotel which he assured me came from a kosher animal. 
His mother had died of cancer when he was thirteen.  Mostly he remembered the screams.  But he had to move on; it was his European trip.  I was much younger than his usual girlfriends he said surprised to see I wore no make-up and was amost always dressed in jeans.  Actually I had no idea of such things though eventually I would find out.  Paris was the perfect place to do so. 
Then I went out with a postal clerk I met at the showing of The Last Tango in Paris.  We had absolutely nothing in common but we sat next to each other in the cinema and we laughed at the same parts of the film.  It never occured to me that the subject matter of the film could have played a role in his asking me out.
 His life was structured and rigid with his own rules.   Fifteen days was the maximum to spend on a bus; evening meals were to be light.   He was shocked when he discovered I hitch-hiked. But there was a hopefulness to him that made me sad; he showed me books he was reading, he tried redecorating his apartment.  When we went out I always borrowed clothes from a friend from New York.  She had the largest collection of cashmere sweaters I´d ever seen.  I´d come to Paris with just one suitcase and had never owned such a thing.
Then there was the all night movie theater.  I often ended up there with my closest friend after the metro stopped running and we found ourselves stranded downtown.  There were double features that went on until about six in the morning.  Generally we watched the first, napped through the second, and woke up in time to catch the first metro in the morning.  One night we took our friends, one of whom entered the theater with Miko, his black cat.  That gave a new twist to the evening, Miko was on a leash but didn´t stop jumping over the seats in front of us. 
Our French friends were stunned we would go to a place like this.  It looked like most of the viewers chose this cinema rather than pay for a cheap hotel room.  The owner periodically walked around to give someone a poke to wake them up.  He had shoulder length hair which looked like it had never been washed.  Here, we saw films like Ziebreski Point, Car Wash, Texas Chainsaw Massacres, and any number of usually bad films I only saw half of before I nodded off.  There must be a tenacity to our friendship since these French friends are still friends, after so many years. 
This was my Paris.  The city of the nuit blanche, the cafĂ© near my maid´s room where I would have a coffee and a tartine on my way home as the sun came up. I was putting on weight with the endless amount of bread and cheese I consumed.  I lived right above a chocolate shop that had dark chocolate truffles the size of a dessert plate. They left the dust of cocoa powder all over as you bit into one.  And since I had to walk up endless flights of stairs to get to my room, often I treated myself to one as an incentive for that climb. 
Part of my studies included theater too.  So I saw the ever popular Ionesco´s  The Bald Soprano which may even still be playing in the Latin Quatrter and went to the Comedie Francaise where I discovered I simply didn´t fit in the seats designed for bodies a couple of centuries ago.  I saw Eden Cinema, written by Marguerite Duras before The Lover made her a household name.
Of course I discovered food in Paris.  The first restaurant I went to was Algerian and I developed a love for couscous.  It was also the first time I saw it was perfectly acceptable, if not desirable, to have an entire bottle of wine with a meal.  I adapted quickly.   Of course I had the requisite French food which I loved but found a bit heavy in the days before nouvelle cuisine. 
The worst place to eat was in the student cafeterias in the university.  And there the worst dish I had was tongue with a layer of fiber covering its sponginess.  And sudents were hungry.  Often if you left something on your plate someone would pick it up.  There was no shame involved; it happened with lightning quickness. It all depended on your budget.  I was on student loans and working as an au pair so I was careful but didn´t have to go that far. 
My job as an au pair entailed on afternoon and one night a week of childcare. The mother always made me lunches with large quantities of beef which she thought, being American, I would love.  There wasn´t much of an age difference between us.   It doesn´t sound like much work  but at the time I had never even held a baby in my life and had no experience with children whatsoever.  There were two, the boy as I described to a friend, just lay there and she informed me he was probably under six months of age and the little girl was three.  Their mother had been a former model and tried to brush out her daughter´s curls and make them straight.  That brought on screams and tears on a regular basis.  The husband knew less about children than I did and didn´t seem particularly interested in learning.   When he arrived I could technically go but he always asked me to stay until his wife got home from her shopping.  Feminism hadn´t reached this household yet.
Often I would find myself with both children crying and screaming for no apparent reason. There was nothing that could distract them.  I soon saw that being a mother or even an au pair required fulltime attention.  It wasn´t possible to pick up a book or even do something that required less concentration like watch television. I soon developed a generalized anxiety whenever I had to go to work. Sometimes I practiced deep breathing and would tell myself I could do it and I was lucky it was only two days a week. Probably more than one woman has decided not to have children based on an early experience as an au pair. 
My last visit was on my way back to Spain from Buffalo. I spent a couple of days in Paris in August but that didn´t matter at all.  I breathed in an element I had been missing - a mixture of baroque architecture and history in the foundations. The jardin du Luxembourg with its hidden enclaves and statues were precisely things you wouldn´t find in an American park.  There is a dank mossy smell of age which isn´t unpleasant at all  and metal chairs to sit near the palace or the lake.  This order of gardens and space is what I find comforting.  It´s a public space which is meant to reflect the measure of man and to finely tune nature.  Nothing is left to chance which  I find reassuring.  If I want nature I will go to the countryside. 
The gothic cathedrals also left their impact on me.  I visited all the great ones in the nearby cities trying to imagine the days when they were brightly painted and the centers of all activity.  They were visible from a distance and grew in size as you approached on foot.   There were Chartres with its rose window, Rouen´s cathedral painted by Monet, Reims with the stained glass designed by Chagall, and Beauvais that reached so high the vaulting collapsed and all that´s left standing are the transcept and choir.
Perhaps the image of France that stays with me is on a walk in the countryside complete with snacks of boiled eggs and apples organized by our French teacher and her husband, who were spry well into their sixties.   We came upon an outdoor wedding celebration, all the guests seated around a long wooden table on a gloriously sunny autumn day. It seemed the very embodiment of happiness.  Paris served as a positive image of what humans could construct, of what constituted beauty, of how it could be a measure.   It brought to life nineteenth century romanticism which I still hold as an ideal.