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. 

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