Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Woodstock, Mona Lisa, Red Squirrels and a Jewish Lament

The closest I got to Woodstock was marrying a woman who had a ticket to the 1969 three day festival but chose not to attend. 

With three of her friends Gilda bought $18 tickets to the transcendental festival after seeing a poster in Greenwich Village near where she worked for Hartz Mountain during the summer between her sophomore and junior years at Brooklyn College. Delores, Karen and Gilda would travel upstate to Bethel, NY, in Barbara’s car as she was the only one with a driver’s license and a car. 

This was nearly a half year before I showed up on Gilda’s radar, or she on mine, so the fact that she was madly infatuated with another young man at the time was not a cause of concern to me. During the summer of 1969 I was enjoying another splendid eight weeks as a division head in a sleepaway camp, Kfar Masada, in Rensselaerville, NY. 

As fate would have it, Gilda’s longing for a date with her heartthrob came to fruition on the same weekend as the Woodstock concert. She chose amour over music, sold her ticket, and bid her friends happy times.

They never made it to Yasgur’s farm. Traffic, overwhelming traffic, kept them and tens of thousands others from reaching their destination. Her friends pulled off Route 17 and found a church to sleep in on the floor. They went home the second day of the concert. 

As you undoubtedly figured out, Gilda’s love interest failed to reciprocate. Our paths crossed, repeatedly, during the next school semester. We began dating in December 1969. Yes, 1969 was a very good year.

Mona Lisa, Mon Amour: August used to be a good time to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Parisians generally exit the city during August, leaving tourists to contend just with ... tourists. But these days there’s an abundance of tourists—the Louvre attracted a record 10.2 million gawkers last year, way more than any other museum, anywhere—meaning time spent staring at Mona Lisa’s eyes can be no more than the equivalent of a drive-by encounter, especially now that the Leonardo da Vinci portrait has been moved to temporary quarters 

I’ve gazed upon the Mona Lise several times, the first being in August 1966 when I was 17 and visiting Paris for the first time. Accompanied by my cousin’s then husband, a struggling painter who spoke no English while I, despite two years of high school instruction, knew barely enough French to ask which way to the library (“Ou est la bibliotheque”), made my way through hall after hall of the Louvre. No doubt I passed by many works by renowned masters. Sadly, I couldn’t take advantage of my companion’s expert commentary. But as I wandered around the Louvre, mostly oblivious to the treasures before me, he did manage to point out the Venus de Milo standing amidst other statues, and, after I had walked past it, he brought me back to view the Mona Lisa. Back then she was treated like any other painting, hanging nondescriptly on a wall with other works of art. 

Red Scare: I spent more than a few minutes today, I sheepishly admit, entranced by the efforts of a grey squirrel to negotiate around a large inverted plastic funnel designed to prevent the rodent and his brethren from gaining access to the bird food I assiduously hang from trees in my side yard. Most of the time the enterprising squirrel backs away or falls to the ground without clutching the suspended cage holding the desired food. If he is successful, I shoo him away, admonishing him that the food is intended for the feathered, not the bushy tailed. 
The attempted incursion is mild compared to what is going on across the pond. Seems North American grey squirrels have taken over the British landscape and are threatening the existence of native born red squirrels, a more genteel species popularized in children’s books. The reds are about half the size of their trans-Atlantic cousins who are more aggressive food gatherers and who carry a disease the reds cannot withstand. 

It’s gotten so bad that in parts of the United Kingdom bounty hunters have been hired to kill grey squirrels. It’s a scenario a nativist like Donald Trump would embrace to safeguard against an unwanted immigrant horde (https://https://apple.news/A78Qbg70wT8-GP4bZSxE-nA).

Oy, Vey Ist Mir: If you are of a certain age and Jewish, there’s an ethnic ritual your parents practiced on you. Whenever a person of distinction, be he or she an entertainment celebrity, a scientist, a professional athlete, a politician, or any position, even a hoodlum, that brought you into the public eye, your parents would point out if they were Jewish. Younger readers may recognize what I am referring to if they are familiar with Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song that highlights members of the tribe. 

Of course, not every high profile Jew elicited pangs of pride. Mobster Meyer Lansky was no source of chest thumping, though he did make life difficult for the pro-Nazi German-American Bund before World War II. Neither was Bernie Madoff a short time ago. And Jeffrey Epstein has clouded Jewish skies of late. Oy, the shame of it all. 

I’ve seen too many episodes of Homeland to categorically discount conspiracy theories surrounding how he was able to allegedly commit suicide in a federal lockup. I’m not willing to name whom I think might be behind Epstein’s demise, but I would definitely grill all the security guards at the Manhattan Metropolitan Correctional Center. Someone(s) had to be paid off. The key, as it was in Watergate, “Follow the money.” Someone is going to start spending dollars way beyond their pay grade. It might take years before the urge to splurge surfaces, but it will. It always does. 

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Rantings on Boycotts, Reading Lists, Japan and Tourism

So Mika Brzezinski, co-anchor of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, is boycotting Equinox, SoulCycle and Hudson Yards because Stephen Ross, one of the investors in the projects, is a big-time Trump supporter and is hosting a fundraiser for his re-election in the Hamptons Friday night. 

Really!?! Have we sunk so low in our ability to think for ourselves that we need media celebrities to promote their actions to generate outrage among the masses? It is regrettable we have made newscasters, if indeed Mika fits that identification, into role models upon whose actions we cling (probably because the media is in cahoots with each other to promote their members’ importance). 

I doubt all the newscasts on all broadcast and cable stations have an aggregate audience anywhere near what Walter Cronkite or David Brinkley had 50 years ago. My point is we are imbuing in today’s news personalities status beyond their reach, influence they don’t deserve. 

If we choose to boycott companies whose leaders or silent partners are not to our liking because of their politics, employment practices or social/religious beliefs, many of us wouldn’t shop Walmart or any other store, let alone Amazon, we wouldn’t buy cars or gasoline, log onto Facebook or Twitter, or eat in Chick-fil-A (rated the favorite fast food restaurant by the American Customer Satisfaction Index for the fourth consecutive year). 

Grow up, America. Make up your own mind.

Reading Lists: Brooklyn College is my alma mater. I’m used to getting mail from it, usually fundraising solicitations. So I was bemused to open an email from the school’s Office of the Provost that began, “Dear Faculty,”.  Apparently I have not submitted my “textbook information to the Brooklyn College Online Bookstore” and Fall classes begin in less than three weeks.

Okay, the bottom of the email notes in really small type, “You are receiving this email because you are a member of the Brooklyn College alumni community.” So, I’m on a mailing list. 

Maybe that’s also the reason theteachersnetwork is now following me on Instagram. I’d like to think musings on my blog, Facebook and Twitter provide some educational insight, and my past does include after school Jewish instruction in a Far Rockaway children’s home when I was in college; in-car driver’s ed instruction after I retired from Chain Store Age; volunteer help at the English as Second Language study hall at White Plains High School; and one-to-one sessions with foreign students as part of the Conversation Partners program at Westchester Community College. 

But, no, I never had a formal teaching position, so why Brooklyn College wants my reading list for a course I am not giving is beyond me. 

Update from March 14, 2011: More than a quarter century ago I provided reflections on my family’s visit to Japan, including the following: 

“Japanese women craved more fulfillment and independence. They deferred marriage for careers and, frankly, because the men were immature. The men had four passions: sumo wrestling, playing pachinko (a vertical pinball game), reading comic books and drinking. Delaying marriage contributed to the country’s negative birth rate.

“Women’s status was so stunted that even if the highest executive at a meeting was female she was still expected to serve tea to all the men. Men did not defer to women, or children, when entering an elevator. They would push Gilda, Dan and Ellie aside to scramble in first.”

A recent article in The New York Times affirmed the choices women were making in deferring marriage, sometimes forever, and the impact their decisions are having on the economy (https://nyti.ms/2yCwMz3). 

Stay Away: In the wake of recent mass shootings in El Paso, Dayton and Gilroy, several foreign countries and Amnesty International are warning tourists about the dangers of visiting the United States. They’re advising travelers to stay away from crowded areas. 

Which leads me to ask, why bother coming to America is you’re going to limit your visit to desolate parts of North Dakota or Utah?