Friday, March 22, 2013

From St. Francis to Diesel Fuel to Summer Camp

Prophetic or Just Lucky? When the programmers at Turner Classic Movies put together their list of flicks for March, do you think they had advance word about the name to be chosen by the yet-to-be-elected pope? 

Tonight at 9:30 the cable channel will air Flowers of St. Francis, an 87-minute paean to St. Francis of Assisi, what TV Guide calls a “lighthearted episodic account of the life of the Italian monk” whose name has been taken by the newly installed pontiff.  

In truth, the coincidence is just fortuitous serendipity. TCM is running a month-long salute to Italian director Roberto Rossellini. Flowers of St. Francis is just one of 14 of his films airing this month. However, one cannot help but wonder if there was some higher authority that guided the selection process.

Fill ‘er Up: Did you hear about the trouble President Obama had in Israel with his armored presidential limousine? Seems someone filled the diesel tank with gasoline. For those not familiar with what happens to a diesel engine filled with the wrong fuel, it shortly stops working. Lucky for the president and his Israeli hosts, a second limo was procured from storage in nearby Jordan. 

The incident reminded me of when my boss about 20 years ago visited Italy with his wife. They stopped for lunch at a quaint hillside village after gassing up their rental car, only to find it dead as a doornail when they returned from their delicious meal. He called the rental company which agreed to send a replacement vehicle. It would take several hours, an inconvenience John was more than willing to endure when he realized he had put regular gasoline into the diesel car.  

Parallel Parking: Last Sunday I pulled up next to a late model Ford on South 5th Street in Philadelphia. Just a block away from the National Museum of American Jewish History we wanted to visit, the spot was a tight one for my Toyota Avalon. The others in the car thought it was too small, but I chose to give it a try. After all, last year when I taught in-car Driver’s Education, I told my students the only time they needed to pull off a perfect park was on their road tests. After you pass, you can hit the curb or the cars in front or behind you as often as you like, I told them. Nobody's going to take your license away.

The young couple that had emerged from the Ford as we pulled up lingered across the street, watching my every move, ready to pounce should I nudge their car. I slid in perfectly. When I got out of my car I couldn't resist shouting across the street triumphantly, “I taught Driver’s Ed.” They didn't hear me, but I felt good all the same.

Inside the museum I spent a goodly amount of time at a film display of 30 influential Jewish Americans, people like Sandy Koufax, Albert Einstein, Steven Spielberg, Irving Berlin, Golda Meir, Jonas Salk, and Louis Brandeis. I don't know why the museum chose the 30 they did, why they left off some pretty important people, luminaries such as Robert Oppenheimer, Louis B. Mayer, Howard Schultz, Marvin Traub, Philip Roth, William Paley. The list can go on and on, from almost every human endeavor. 

Sitting there watching those videographies I missed seeing the second floor exhibit on Jewish cultural life in America. When Gilda asked if I'd seen the pictures of Camp Massad I raced up the stairs for a quick run through of the camp I attended from ages 7-11, from 1956 to 1960. For some reason I was disappointed my picture wasn’t among the few on the wall, though why it would have been there I cannot imagine. 

There was a picture of the arts and crafts building, named after Bezalel, the biblical artisan who crafted the desert tabernacle. My first year crafts project reflected the mores of the time—I made ashtrays for each of my parents, a brown one for my father, a sandstone one for my mother. 

Another camp photo was of the man-made lake, Kinerret, the Hebrew name for the Sea of Galilee. I didn’t learn to swim there, as long-time readers know. I remember being cold, standing waist-deep in the water, a thin reed of a boy unable to stay afloat when putting my head in the water, flailing my arms, kicking my legs. How I dreaded going to Kinerret twice a day, once for general swim, once for instruction. I loved everything about Camp Massad except swimming.

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