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Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

Friday night, West 13th St., New York

In art, beauty, cities, culture, life, U.S., urban life on September 10, 2016 at 2:02 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

 

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You know how you sometimes, spontaneously, have a perfect evening?

Last night was one of them.

We ate at a new-to-us restaurant on West 13th. Gradisca, that sits in the basement of a historic brownstone.

The 16-year-old restaurant, named for a character in Fellini’s film Amarcord, has deep red walls, dark wooden tables and the kind of atmosphere that signals you’re going to have a good time — attentive and professional staff, delicious food, reasonable (for Manhattan) prices, funky posters and filament bulbs on the walls.

The kind of place they let you have a taste of your wine and still (reasonable for this city) charged $11 a glass for it; ($15-20/glass is fairly standard now.)

I had vitello tonnato, an item still hard to find in many Italian restaurants, then tiny, perfect tortellini — handmade by a woman standing at a table near the front door, her worktable fronted by a black velvet rope. The tortellini were the size of a fingernail. Amazing!

Outside the restaurant, grips and make-up people and technicians ran up and down the stairs of the brownstone next door — filming an episode of “Younger” a television show (how fitting!) about a 40 year old woman trying to pass as 26 to get and keep a magazine job.

It was so utterly New York!

On many streets here, especially the gorgeous older ones in the West Village which are lined with elegant old houses, tree-shaded and cobblestoned, you’ll very often see the enormous white trucks (grrrr, no free street parking!) for the stars, and director and make-up and wardrobe, lining entire blocks while a film,  TV show or commercial is being made. If you’re nice, maybe you can snag a cookie from the “craft table”, the tented area where the crew finds food and drinks during hours of shooting.

It was a very humid 90-degree evening last night, so it must have been exhausting to work for long hours.

We walked a block east to the Tenri Cultural Institute — 43A — with a doggie day care and spa next door and another Italian restaurant, completely blocked from view by one of the enormous white trailers, in front of it.

I’ve lived in New York since 1989 and keep finding new-to-me things to enjoy.

The Institute, an astonishingly cool, modern white space with 20-foot+ ceilings you’d never suspect was in there, was hosting a concert of contemporary shamisen, shakuhachi and flute music, played by a 2012 MacArthur genius grant-winner, Claire Chase.

It was astounding. The room held about 75 people, an intriguing mix of Asian and Caucasian, an age range from 20s to 60s. Everyone was artistically stylish, many sporting wrinkled cotton mufflers (worn by men and woman alike; mine was silk), lots of little black dresses and a great pair of platform lace-ups on the 60-something-year-old woman sitting in front of me.

The shamisen player was a young man visiting New York on a fellowship, heading back to Japan 2 days later. I’m no expert in the instrument, but he played with terrific attack and speed. The three-stringed instrument sounds mostly, to Western ears, like a banjo, but also adds percussion when the soundbox is hit with a large wooden pick.

My favorite piece was The Universal Flute, written in 1946, by Henry Cowell, an American composer who died in 1965.

I had never heard of him and his biography is extraordinary; the piece is a duet between shakuhachi, a Japanese wooden flute, and a traditional metal flute, the one we know from orchestras worldwide.

As we listened, I kept thinking about Pearl Harbor — 1941 — and how that attack, and the resulting attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, wondered how it might have affected his composition.

The evening was everything I love, at its best, about multi-cultural New York: a great meal, an intriguing and affordable ($20 tickets) concert; discovering a wholly new set of experiences with Jose, my husband; a night in cozy,  historic Greenwich village.

 

 

Three great cop shows — all European!

In Crime, culture, entertainment, television on September 6, 2016 at 12:19 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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I’m not, per se, a huge fan of cop shows, (although I enjoyed, and miss, NYPD Blue.)

But three shows have really caught my attention: Wallander (the Swedish version), The Tunnel and Inspector Lewis.

There are two versions of Wallander, the Swedish one (with English subtitles), filmed in the small southern coastal town of Ystad, and the English one, with Kenneth Branagh. For a variety of reasons, I prefer the Swedish.

I love the craggy, grumpy Wallander (pronounced Vall – AN -der), played by Krister Henriksson, who always looks like he could use 10 more hours of sleep, some coffee and a shave. He supervises two young detectives, Pontus and Isabelle, and their relationships form an interesting backdrop to the storylines.

I love the moody gray, blue and black palette of each 90-minute episode, which feels — to a North American viewer accustomed to 30 or 60-minute shows punctured with ads — luxurious and immersive, like a movie.

I love seeing Sweden’s gorgeous landscapes and beaches, and I like the way they say “Tack!” like a gunshot (Thanks, or please) into their cellphones.

I sat riveted every Sunday evening to see The Tunnel, a BBC production that is — a first — bilingual, half in French, half in English. It’s also the first time that officials allowed anyone to film inside the undersea tunnel that runs between England and France.

I missed the first episode, but it begins with the discovery of a woman’s severed body, half on the English side of the tunnel and half on the French side.

Ah, les rosbifs“, sigh the young French female detectives as the grizzled English cops arrive, as they now, resentfully, have to work together to solve a bi-national crime.

I saw no North American press coverage of this amazing show, and think Clemence Poesy is astounding as Elise Wasserman, the pale, taciturn blond who leads the French investigation. Her leonine face seemed to be make-up free, her hair always un-brushed, focused laser-narrow on her work.

Her British counterpart, Karl Roebuck, is a tough old thing who has multiple children with multiple women — and can’t keep his trousers zipped. He’s used to charming his way through most situations, a tactic Elise (even tougher) is utterly immune to.

The storyline is complex , with a surprise twist at the end.

It’s violent, of course, at times but emotionally compelling, and I found myself deeply involved with the two key characters.  This 10-episode series also had a very distinctive aesthetic — pale, washed-out, everyone wearing blue, black, green or brown.

The scene switches constantly from England to France, from one culture and language and procedural style to another. (As someone who’s lived in both countries, and speaks French, I loved this element of it.)

Inspector Lewis, (simply called Lewis in the UK) is so English!

Set in and around the gorgeous city of Oxford, and on the university campus, its three major characters are as likely to head to the pub for a pint as to gather at a murder scene.

I haven’t yet been to Oxford, (or Ystad), so I enjoy seeing the gorgeous scenery and the creamy stone buildings of the university. There are endless little digs at class difference and a wry perspective on the insularity of academic life.

Like Wallander, Morse plays a somewhat avuncular role with his younger sidekick, and it’s interesting to watch that relationship.

These shows allowed me to enjoy visiting Europe each week, without a long flight or jet lag.

Do you have a favorite police show?

 

 

What would you grab?

In behavior, culture, domestic life, life, urban life on September 2, 2016 at 12:25 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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The climate is changing.

If you watch national television news, as we often do, (and/or read thoughtfully and listen carefully), every single North American broadcast now carries yet another enormous forest fire and devastating floods.

Add hurricanes and tornadoes, and the very human wish to remain in your home, surrounded by objects you enjoy, stands in growing opposition to the forces of implacable nature.

Culturally, there’s now, additionally, the cult of Marie Kondo, a Japanese woman whose fetish for de-cluttering has millions of (affluent) people studiously deciding what to keep and what to toss, donate or sell.

Here’s a recent post by Grace, author of the blog Cultural Life, who recently Kondo’ed her closet.

And then there are tiny houses, a trend that has some people sneering in derision at people who can afford much better choices deciding to live in 200 or 300 square feet, some with children or pets. These micro-homes are all the rage, but also, de facto, demand severe paring of all possessions. (Or renting a big storage locker!)

These are all privileged decisions, of course. Some people live with so very few possessions or don’t have a home, or the things they own are so worn out and broken they long to replace them — and cannot.

I often wonder what, if I had to make a snap decision as fire swept through the woods around my house, or flood waters started rising, (neither of which, thank heaven are likely), what I would try to grab.

(We live on the top floor of an apartment building, on top of a high hill, several miles from the Hudson River. Nor is New York a zone typically, historically, prone to hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes.)

Some of my most valued, (not all monetarily valuable), possessions:

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— my Canadian passport and my green card, which allows me to live and work legally in the U.S.

— several battered stuffed animals from my childhood

— a pile of journals I kept in my 20s and 30s

— a dress I bought in L.A. years ago and later wore to marry Jose in

— my jewelry

the paintings of my mother done by my father (small, easy to carry!)

— my framed National Magazine Award

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— an original print of The Loneliest Job in the World, taken Feb. 10, 1961, an iconic portrait of the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy standing silhouetted in the Oval Office of the White House. Ours is signed by the late photographer George Tames, who Jose worked with at the Times.

No matter how minimalist our lives, we do choose and enjoy certain items, some of them markers or identity and status, some  of them inherited or hard-won.

Here’s a list of 20 things to ditch tomorrow.

 

What would you grab?

The Tragically Hip — a global Canadian campfire

In culture, entertainment, life, music on August 21, 2016 at 1:48 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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Did you see it?

Last night’s astounding concert by the Tragically Hip, whose lead singer, Gord Downie, 52, has an incurable brain tumor, the kind that killed an American legend, Senator Ted Kennedy.

It was broadcast by CBC, and we watched it here at home in NY on television, live-tweeting with fellow Canadians.

One guy tweeted — “I’m in Seattle. Where can I find a bar showing it?” I tweeted the link and he tweeted back, “Watching it. Thanks!”

Another Twitter pal needed to find a place to stay near Kingston, an area we know fairly well, and I tweeted out my suggestion.

One friend watched it on her phone in her car on a road trip from Toronto, sitting in New Mexico.

Canadians at the Olympics in Rio shared a hello.

Canadians in VietNam and Africa tweeted hello.

The Hip, as they’re known, have been together for 30 years, an unchanged line-up, since they met in Kingston, Ontario — fittingly, the site of last night’s concert, the last of a national tour.

The arena had 6,000 people in it, while Market Square, usually a venue for farmers selling carrots and maple syrup, burst with astonishing 20,000 fans.

In the arena audience, wearing a Hip T-shirt and a jean jacket, standing alone, (although clearly not without security nearby), was Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, eight years younger than Downie.

No fuss was made about him. He didn’t grandstand or make a speech.

Thank God. That was so typically Canadian — low-key, modest, no need to make a fuss or draw attention away from the main event.

It was Downie who called out to Trudeau, putting him on notice (and praising him for a good start) to address the many needs of Canada’s aboriginals, facing appalling rates of murder and suicide.

The show went almost three hours, with three encores, an astonishing length for any band, and for a man whose craniotomy scar was visible, etched into his face, mostly hidden beneath an array of hats with feathers, hard to imagine. (The show’s TV credits included his “wellness” team, and his oncologist has been traveling with him.)

His costumes were goofy and playful — a silver suit, a pink metallic suit, a sparkly silver suit. A Jaws T-shirt.

Two striped socks pinned together at his throat to keep it warm, he explained.

He cried, although it was hard to tell his sweat from his tears.

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It made me deeply homesick.

Living in the U.S., which I have for decades, means living in a place where Canada is seen as a bit of a joke, all hockey and beer. It gets old and it gets lonely when no one knows — or cares about — your shared cultural references.

There are also very few times Canadians get weepy and emotional and wave enormous flags at one another in public.

The Olympics is one.

This was another.

Here’s a lovely analysis by fellow Canadian musician Dave Bidini:

Canada is good when it’s viewed and heard through the Tragically Hip, and the Tragically Hip is good when they’re viewed and heard through us. No other band stretched our potential as a nation of popular art. They put weird songs on the radio. They put thousands in stadiums listening to strange, wild jams. They wrestled our inherent Presbyterianism and won over a public that, more often than not, demurred when it came to stronger flavours. They offered an anti-hero as hero who was as interested in promoting his brand and chiselling his image as he was selling cars or soap or gasoline. For all of their commercial proportions, the Tragically Hip weren’t a commercial band. They have a sense of composure, and dignity. And grace, too.

In terms of history, and the history of art in Canada, we scramble to celebrate what’s good or who’s done what and why this thing or that person matters, but it’s often in the greasy sizzle of a sudden trend or in the twinkling glimmer of the rear-view mirror. But with the Hip, we were given the chance to cheer them not through museum glass, but in the hot thrall of the moment. We were able to point to them – point to Gord, whose courage as a performer will be forever burnt into our imagination – as they deadheaded across the country.

 

As we, living in the U.S., face day after day after day after day of the insanity and toxicity of liars like Ryan Lochte and Donald Trump, what a refreshing break from bullshit and spin and feeling like I need a shower every time I listen to one more piece of trash being sold to me as gold.

What a glorious, heartbreaking night.

 

 

A perfect Manhattan day…

In cities, culture, life, travel, U.S., urban life, US on August 13, 2016 at 1:53 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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Lincoln Center, one of my greatest pleasures of living in New York

It was 95 degrees, and humid — and said to feel like 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

It did!

But it was a perfect day, a day spent gratefully away from the endless grind of the computer and the claustrophobic roar of the air conditioner.

A hooky day.

I drove into the city, (a 40 minute drive from our town on the Hudson River, north of Manhattan), reveling in air conditioning and listening, as usual, to WFUV (the radio station of Fordham Univerisity, a private Jesuit college here.)

Loved seeing dinghies with bellied sails on the Hudson and several huge barges being pushed by tugs. Tugs are like elephants for me — the very sight of one just makes me really happy. Given non-stop maritime traffic here, I get to see them a lot!

I enjoy the drive south from our town, parallel to the Hudson River to my right/west, with glorious views of the city’s skyline, the George Washington Bridge and New Jersey, just a few miles across the water. I moved to New York in 1989, and I never tire of these views. I feel lucky to live close enough to afford it, and to dip in and out of the city without paying every penny to live in it.

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The railings of the David Kock Theater at Lincoln Center have lacy, gilded dividers and the diamond-like lights repeat in the exterior and hall interior

I parked beneath Lincoln Center, (whose underground parking lot was a recent discovery), and walked over to ABC — the television network — to drop off the backpack we filled to donate.

Those corporate lobbies are really something. HUGE. Boatloads of green and red marble. Mostly intimidating and not very attractive. One wall of the lobby is filled with color photos of all their stars, and you realize that each person is a brand, a polished and valuable commodity in their collection.

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I’d planned on a 1:10 movie, but missed it so I settled into a favorite French restaurant, La Boite en Bois, for a long, long (2.5 hours) lazy lunch. It’s a tiny space, a few steps below ground, and has been in business for 30 years — an impressive run in such a difficult city.

For much of the time I had the 48-seat room all to myself. Chatted in French to one of the waiters and enjoyed a three-course (!), very good meal for $27 ($32 with tip.) I caught up on two days’ worth of the Financial Times and the day’s New York Times. (And fielded a few work emails.)

Hopped a bus crosstown to meet a friend for a drink at a craft beer joint, The Jeffrey, which was terrific. One of the fun things of living here is that there’s always something new to discover — because rents are so high, places can open, even to rave reviews, and be gone within months.

Walked six blocks north, bussed back to the West side and caught Equity, a new film, at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, another below-ground gem. (Sounds like a Hobbit-y day!)

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Walking back to the car at 10:15 p.m. — past the now illuminated Lincoln Center fountain, people silhouetted against its lit-up waters — was one of those perfect, classic Manhattan moments. Like Grand Central Terminal, Lincoln Center is such an elegant icon. I never tire of its understated white marble beauty.

The day wasn’t cheap; it’s Manhattan, after all, but not as bad as some might think. I usually limit my NYC excursions to once a week or so, but make sure to maximize my pleasure once I’ve made the journey.

Total cost of my perfect day: parking $48 (10 hours); lunch $32; bus fare $2.75 x two; cab $13; beer (paid for my friend, on her work expense account — we’re both journalists); movie $15, popcorn (dinner!) $5.

 

A level playing field matters

In behavior, culture, immigration, life, news, politics, sports, world on August 8, 2016 at 12:59 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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The United States Capitol. Policies and laws enacted here affect everyone, rarely equally.

There’s an expression I hear a lot in the U.S. — to put your thumb on the scale — i.e. to tilt a result in your favor.

I  live near New York City, in a county rife with stunning wealth, (and the not-so-wealthy!) so we have a front-row seat to this constant jockeying for power.

I believe in its opposite — the level playing field.

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If you own, and can afford to use and maintain a vehicle, you’ve got a huge advantage over those who can’t, certainly in places with little to no public transit

As some of us watch the Olympics this week, fair competition is front and center.

The Muslim-American fencer Ibithaj Muhammad I just blogged about got to Rio thanks to a playing field, (in this case, piste!), leveled by the Peter Westbrook Foundation, a 15-year-old non-profit in New York City founded by a former bronze medalist who is African-American. The program has worked with 4,000 lower-income children, offering them opportunities to learn this elegant, historic and fantastic sport, and one all too often seen as impossibly elitist.

Then there’s this. From an explainer in The Economist:

A World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report into Russian doping by a Canadian lawyer, Richard McLaren, was published only on July 18th—18 days before the opening ceremony. Furthermore, the contents of Mr McLaren’s report were appalling. Beginning in 2011 the Russian ministry of sport set up a comprehensive programme to circumvent anti-doping laws. It reported false negatives to WADA, created a steroid cocktail to boost performance (the name it was given, “Duchess”, is worthy of Ian Fleming), worked with the FSB, the state security service, to evade independent testing, and tampered with drugs tests while hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The world is, for many of us, a highly competitive place. The more ambitious you are — socially, financially, professionally — the greasier the pole.

Then there’s this moat-building drawbridge-lifting bullshit that, seriously, sets my hair on fire, reported in The New York Times most recent edition of Education Life, an occasional special section that looks at American higher education.

Harvard, already hell to get into, also has private on-campus clubs so exclusive that people weep on their doorsteps when refused admission.

 

Because what’s the point of privilege — unless you guard it ferociously?

 

The Fly is one of six remaining all-male final clubs. They are, if not the hub, the apex of social life at Harvard — upscale surrogates for those classic centers of college merriment, sororities and fraternities…

Entree can feel like belonging, rejection like a scarlet F…

But to many students on the outside, the clubs are laden with a legacy of upper-crust snobbishness. As the writer Kenneth Auchincloss referred to them in a 1958 dispatch in The Harvard Crimson: Final clubs are gathering places of the “St. Grottlesex crop,” an amalgamation of the names of several elite East Coast boarding schools, who “look to the Clubs as centers for privacy and ‘good-fellowship,’ cut off from the hectic University by their locked front doors, their aura of secrecy, and a generally shared feeling of superiority.”

…The elaborate courtship of the desirable can begin with an engraved invitation slipped under a dorm room door to “punch” — a selection process that continues with a series of outings and culminates in a black-tie dinner feting the few who make it through.

My husband Jose works part-time as a photo editor at abcnews.com, owned by Disney; this week they handed out brand-new backpacks, asking employees to fill them with donated school supplies.

We don’t have kids, so the whole back-to-school routine is something we don’t do. We had a blast running around Staples, and discovered that it cost $50 to buy everything on the list.

That’s still a significant sum in our family — and an impossibly high one for a family with a lower income and/or multiple children to shop for.

We hope the recipient enjoys it!

Here’s a sobering piece from The Atlantic:

In dealing with the persistence of intergenerational wealth, the changes that would be most effective are also the most sweeping: Taking private money out of political campaigns would give more of a voice to people who’d benefit from stronger social policies. Bolstering housing-voucher programs would let poorer families move into better neighborhoods. Increasing taxes at the uppermost end of the income spectrum would redistribute perpetuated wealth. Finding ways to get lower- and middle-income workers to put more money into savings would help them improve their lots.

So, the lesson from this report: Take whatever extreme, politically unfeasible changes everyone thought were necessary to increase economic mobility and make them more extreme and more unfeasible—that might be enough.

For refugees, fleeing Syria, it’s a hunger for basic dignity, as Mohammed Ali, 26, told Cnet:

“I just want beginning,” he says. “I just want to be at level zero, because here we are before level zero…I feel nothing change. Like, I was in Syria a number and here I am still a number. I have to be a person.”

Some of my recent reading…and yours?

In books, culture, entertainment on August 4, 2016 at 12:57 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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Not a day goes by that I’m not reading for hours — newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs…

But books.

Aaaaaaah, books!

That’s what I read for pure pleasure.

Here’s some of my recent reading:

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Kicking the Sky, Anthony de Sa

 

Loved this book. Loved!

I grew up in Toronto and, like anyone who knows their hometown or city well, I know its history when I was a teenager there and its urban peculiarities.

Toronto was stunned, in 1977, (I was in my second year at University of Toronto), by the murder of a young boy, a Portuguese immigrant named Emmanuel Jacques. He was raped and murdered and left on a rooftop.

It was ugly and terrifying and the city had never seen anything quite like it, at least not in recent memory.

Toronto is, then as now, very much a city of immigrants, and the Portuguese community was clustered in a few streets downtown. The women would scrub and wash their sidewalks, something I’d never seen anywhere else in the city.

This novel, by a man who grew up in that community himself, is so detailed and nuanced, so filled with moments you know he lived. It’s also set along an alleyway filled with garages, so  much a part of Toronto as well.

His characters are indelible, his intimacy with the subject and the city and the backstory utterly compelling, told through the eyes of a 12 year old boy, Antonio Rebelo.

Although the murder is grim, his characters are not — and I highly recommend it.

(If you like or are curious about other novels set in Toronto, I also really enjoyed Cat’s Eye, by Margaret Atwood and In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje, better known as the author of The English Patient.)

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The Killer Next Door, Alex Marwood

 

Wait, more murder and mayhem?

Hmmmm.

Not even sure where or when I bought this book, as it’s not my genre at all. But it’s very very good and very very scary.

Marwood, a London-based journalist, sets her novel in a seedy London boarding house filled with transients, one of who is very much up to no good.

Her characters, and their individual histories, are wholly believable, and if you know London a bit (as I do), you can totally picture this street and the characters’ English reticence that pervades every scene.

She also describes so well the cultivated anonymity of people who need a huge city to disappear into…until it happens to them in a way they hadn’t planned on at all.

 

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Inside, Alix Ohlin

 

Whenever I go back to Canada, usually two or three times a year, I drop into a bookstore to see what’s on the shelves there, always finding fiction and non-fiction I just won’t see in an American bookstore, and prominently displayed.

I normally don’t read fiction, as I so often find it disappointing, but am enjoying this one, interlocking portraits of four people.

I enjoy reading stories set in places I know, allowing me to fact-check the work for veracity and detail while being able to picture scenes easily — this 2012 book is partially set in Montreal, where I’ve lived twice, and New York, where I’ve lived (nearby) for more than 20 years.

Her writing is clear, simple, unadorned, but she paints a picture of people who are complicated and private, trying to know themselves and one another, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not.

The New York Times review was savage — but this one, from the Rumpus, was not.

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Alligator Candy, David Kushner

Oh, this is a tough one.

I don’t, I promise, automatically reach for books about murder! (Trying to fathom what this inadvertent pattern of mine is saying about my current tastes.)

Yet here’s another, this one a powerful memoir by the older brother of a young boy who was snatched in the woods of Florida, and killed, on his bike, on his way to buy candy.

Jonathan was 11, and it was 1973 — again, a resonant time for me, as it was my adolescence, too, although far from the pine woods of Florida.

I found the book too long and sometimes repetitive, but, like de Sa’s novel, Kushner captures so well a lost sort of innocence, when kids roamed freely outside and they — and their parents –thought nothing of it.

And…on a totally different subject, I’m also reading The Genius of Birds, a new book of natural history by Jennifer Ackerman.

It’s a great read and I’m learning a lot. Our suburban New York balcony is in the tree-tops and we’re happily surrounded by birds, so I’m very curious to learn more about them.

We have swallows fluttering past each morning and evening, hear jays and robins and woodpeckers and crows — and once even had a red-tailed hawk land on our balcony railing. It was amazing!

Last year’s favorite book, by far?

The Goldfinch, a work of fiction by Donna Tartt, which I received as a birthday gift. MUST read that book, (and yes it drags at the end.)

 

What are you reading right now?

 

Anything we should pick up?

Pay attention!

In behavior, culture, domestic life, life on July 28, 2016 at 10:20 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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They’re asleep, encased in glass and plastic — don’t be like them in the real world!

Whether your children or grand-children or sweetie or spouse. They want, need and deserve your undivided focus.

Whether to the current Presidential campaign, (if you live in the U.S. and are able to vote, certainly.)

Whether to the people around you on the road as you drive — no texting!

Whether as you walk around your city or town, playing Pokemon Go or reading something on your phone, forcing everyone else to dodge you.

Whether you leave your grocery cart sprawled in the middle of a parking lot because…be considerate.

Whether you yammer away in a public, shared space on your cellphone reallyloudly, Face-timing or speaking to someone.

Whether — as someone did yesterday in our small, congenial town several times — you open a cafe door into a cool, air-conditioned space — carelessly leaving the door wide open to the 90-degree-plus air outside, as you enter and exit.

Utterly oblivious to the needs of those around you.

We share the world with others.

Please pay attention to them as well.

 

Is compassion a limited resource?

In aging, behavior, culture, domestic life, journalism, life, news on July 25, 2016 at 12:43 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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Have you reached your limit?

 

Some people I know — usually smart, curious, globally engaged — are shutting off the news, signing off of social media.

They’re exhausted and overwhelmed.

They just can’t listen to one more killing, whether of an unarmed black American man, or a police officer, (armed but unprepared for ambush), or of people gathered to watch  fireworks in Nice or music at Bataclan or shopping in a Munich mall or in a cafe in Kabul…

They can’t hear another video of despair, of crying, moaning, screams of terror.

It’s not, I think, that we don’t care.

At least, I truly hope that’s not why.

For some, it’s caring too much.

It’s also a feeling of powerlessness and, with it, a growing loss of hope.

What will change?

How and when?

What will make a difference?

It feels too grim, too unrelenting, too much to process or comprehend.

Compassion fatigue is real.

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Here’s a poem that might resonate, written by a man fed up with the materialism he saw around himself…

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. –Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

That’s a sonnet by William Wordsworth, written in 1802.

We live in divided times.

We live in increasing fear of ‘the other’, the people who dress, behave, worship and vote differently than we do.

Is it safe now (where? at what time? for how long?) to board a train (axe attack in Germany. head-on collision in Italy) or airplane (they’re about to give up looking for MH 370)…

Who can we trust, and should we?

It becomes easier and easier to mute, block, unfriend, ignore, turn off and turn away and turn inward, abandoning our best selves, our impulse to compassion.

That’s what scares me most…

I loved this story from my native Canada, a place where individual families (including one I know) are sponsoring entire refugee families from Syria, people as different from them in some ways as can be.

It’s worth reading the link, in its entirety — a bunch of strangers determined to help.

Compassion in action:

 

When Valerie Taylor spotted a family of newcomers looking lost in the hustle and bustle of rush hour at Toronto’s main Union Station on Wednesday, she offered to help them find their train. What she didn’t know was that some 50 people would do the same, on a day that would turn out to be one of her most memorable trips home ever.

Taylor, a psychiatrist at Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital, said she was heading home on Wednesday after what had been a hectic few days. The heat was blazing, she was tired and looking forward to getting home, when she spotted a family of seven with two baby strollers and several heavy bags.

They looked confused, she said, and a young woman was trying to help them.

Taylor went over to see if she could lend a hand.

“Are you new here?” she asked. Only one of the children, who said he was 11, could speak English.

“Yes,” he said. They had just arrived from Syria four months ago, he told her, and were looking to get to Ancaster, about 85 kilometres southwest of Toronto, to spend a few days with family there.

‘People started trying to problem-solve’

Taylor was headed in the same direction and offered to take them to the right train. To their surprise, strangers began to take notice and to help carry the family’s bags up the stairs and onto the train, some riders even making room to give the family a place to sit, Taylor said.

 

 

 

Six days of silence

In behavior, culture, education, Health, life, religion on July 20, 2016 at 4:02 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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Five years ago this week, my husband — then fiance — decided to take me to a silent Buddhist retreat.

It was a birthday gift, one he thought might prove calming and healing.

I went in like a sulky five-year-old, arms crossed, dubious.

I emerged with a lot of new insights — if you’re interested, search my archives for July 2011 and you’ll find them, as I posted every day, a bit stunned by how powerful my feelings were and how much they changed over that week.

I’m not a Buddhist, but have spent time at various sanghas with Jose, who is, so was already familiar with the language, precepts and rituals like mantras, chants and prayers. I also knew and was friends with his lama, Surya Das, so wasn’t intimidated by him or his presence. Had every single bit of it been unfamiliar, it might have been even more challenging.

It’s never a bad thing to withdraw and retreat from the insanity of “normal” life and this was an opportunity to do so, and one — I admit — I would never have undertaken on my own.

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A play is on in New York City right now, Small Mouth Sounds, premised on exactly this thing — a group of people attending a week-long silent retreat —  and it addresses the emotional turmoil so many people bring with them into the meditation hall.

 

In a week of silence, your heart speaks very loudly indeed.

 

Every morning, as we nestled once more into our cushions or chairs for the morning teaching, more and more were empty as people fled, unable or unwilling to stay.

Even those who stayed rebelled, some driving off-campus in their cars to a local bar or standing deep in the woods, yammering on the cellphones — both a violation of the rules we agreed to when we arrived; 75 of us had come from across the globe to do this thing, knowing it would be difficult, and craving that discipline.

I emerged from it dazed, sharpened, newly and exquisitely aware of the daily noise we barely even notice, and had never been conscious of before: cars, sirens, animals, neighbors, airplanes overhead, people talking on their cellphones or listening to music too loudly through headphones.

Jose and I drove to a local bar — where two enormous television screens blared…something. Instead of it feeling, as it usually would, like background noise it was suddenly alien and very much in the foreground. We felt assaulted and exhausted by it.

I missed the precious, glorious, cocooning silence we’d bathed in all week.

I missed the inter-generational community we had created in our silence, sometimes with just a raised eyebrow or shy smile.

I missed sitting in the retreat’s luxurious garden, alone for an hour, my only companion a very bad bunny eating everything he could reach.

I missed the soothing simplicity of our days, from the waking early-morning hand bell rung down the long corridors to our meals eaten together at long wooden refectory tables, the only sounds the clinking of cutlery on china.

Here’s my first entry:

The retreat offers three teachings a day, the only time we’ll be allowed to speak. The food will be vegetarian. There will be no cocktail hour, or wine at dinner, both something we usually enjoy daily at home.

Steak? TV? Three daily newspapers? No, no, no. Ah, the things I cling to.

We’re taking my softball glove and ball, and my bike. I’m taking my camera and watercolors, and plan to write a speech due August 10 in Minneapolis.

I’ll sit in the teachings and meditations and chanting as much as feels comfortable. He and I will share a room, and plan to write notes back and forth. It will be very odd — and difficult — not to talk to him. We typically talk several hours a day and I really enjoy it.

So it’s already a powerful meditation on the loss of that comfort. We may whisper to one another in our room. We’ll see.

I’ve been the butt of jokes for weeks now. “Buddhist,vegetarian, silent — I can’t think of three words less likely to describe you,” said one friend.

 

 Have you ever taken a silent retreat?

 

Would you?