Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Ripped from the Headlines: Grandparent Wannabes Sue; Theft, Not Murder, in the Cathedral; Mona Lisa Assaulted

Taking care of one’s parents is a time-honored tradition in India and many other cultures. When we moved to our current home 40 years ago one of our neighbors was an Indian husband, Filipino wife and their young daughter. Kamal was one of several sons who emigrated to America, attended universities and earned professional degrees. By agreement among the brothers, another sibling, the youngest son, stayed in their ancestral village to care for their parents. The young man was not trained for any occupation. 


When their father died the American-based brothers brought their mother and sibling to America. Again, by agreement, they paid for their brother’s delayed education. Their mother spent several months a year with each brother. 


All well and good. Now comes a new wrinkle in parent-child relations. A middle aged Indian couple is suing their son and daughter-in-law “on the grounds of ‘mental harassment’” because they have not provided a grandchild after six years of marriage. They are seeking a grandchild or $650,000 in damages (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/29/world/asia/india-couple-grandchild-suing.html?smid=em-share).


Ooh boy! Gilda and I waited almost six years to have a child. My brother and his wife waited almost six years. As much as our parents wanted the next generation to be forthcoming, their stoicism never rose to anything more than sarcastic prodding.


However the civil case turns out in India, it made me wonder if grandparents might have legal standing to sue a child and their spouse if a grandchild does not live up to their expectations. Could they sue for incompatibility and receive damages?


Moreover, if tragedy befalls a grandchild, would grandparents have the right to seek redress from anyone responsible for denying them the pleasures of grandparenting? 


You may think this whimsy is just another example of my silliness. But we are treading on heretofore unimaginable legal constructs in the aftermath of the expected Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade and the imposition in many states of restrictive right to an abortion. 


In those states there is increased talk of banning all forms of contraception. Also being discussed is the personhood of an embryo which could put at legal risk anyone who does anything to jeopardize the safety of an unborn, even a woman who, say, drinks alcohol or takes drugs during a pregnancy.



Theft in the Cathedral: Brooklyn is known as the borough of churches, many of them stately, stone structures serving a large Roman Catholic population. During the year before our marriage in late January 1973, Gilda lived in a ground floor apartment on 65th Street in Bensonhurst, a mostly Italian Brooklyn neighborhood of single- and two-family attached homes and six story apartment houses. 


Two weeks before our wedding the community was rocked by the theft of jeweled crowns and other gems valued at more than $100,000. The crowns adorned a portrait of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus in the Roman Catholic Votive Shrine of Regina Pacis on 65th Street. 


It was not the first time the crowns had been pilfered. The first time was in 1952. Then, the stolen goods mysteriously showed up eight days later from an unknown source. Speculation that the culprit had been “persuaded” to return the crowns by local Mafia dons could not be proved, but you know how local folklore has a way of cobbling out the truth. Here’s a link for a more complete story of the 1952 caper: https://www.bklynlibrary.org/blog/2009/08/05/regina-pacis-and-case.


I don’t know the outcome of the second theft of the crowns (our wedding, followed by a next day move to Connecticut, dampened any interest in tracking the story; a Google search also failed to shed any light on whether the crowns were recovered), but another robbery of religious relics has just transpired, this time in Park Slope, a short stroll from where our daughter and her family lived before moving to Omaha. 


Somebody, or somebodies, used a power saw to steal the altar’s solid gold tabernacle and decapitate a statue of an angel in St. Augustine Cathedral. The theft is estimated at $2 million (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/30/nyregion/stolen-tabernacle-brooklyn-church.html?referringSource=articleShare). 


These high profile robberies require lots of planning, a familiarity with the sanctuary and its security features. One would hope that during their reconnaissance the thief or thieves spent at least a few minutes praying, and not just praying for the success of their heist.



Mona Lisa Defaced: Well, not exactly. Let me explain.


Seeing the Mona Lisa up close and personal at the Louvre in Paris is not easy. There are long lines and set, limited, viewing times. One enterprising man used the charade of being a wheelchair-bound woman to get priority access to the famed da Vinci portrait. The better, it turned out, to pummel the glass that protects the painting first with his fists and then with cream from a pastry. The Mona Lisa was not damaged (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/30/world/europe/mona-lisa-pastry-louvre.html?referringSource=articleShare).


I’ve been fortunate to have seen the Mona Lisa several times, though my first encounter almost eluded me. As a 17-year-old in August 1966, I went to the Louvre with the then husband of my Parisian cousin Miriam. He was 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”). 


We meandered our way through hall after hall of the vast museum, I, sadly, not able to take advantage of his expert commentary. I was mostly oblivious to the treasures before me, though he did manage to point out the Venus de Milo standing amidst other statues in what my memory casts as a basement setting of forms and shapes of marble of equal weight and importance.


Shortly after I had walked past it, he ushered me back to view the Mona Lisa—back then the da Vinci portrait was treated like any other painting, hanging nondescriptly on a wall with other works of art. Anyone could spend as much time as they desired staring into her eyes and at her enigmatic smile.  

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