1. What a world we live in, I keep saying to myself.  I’m getting old and every day brings a new experience that makes me marvel at how the world is not the world I grew up in.  Not better, not worse.  Just different.

    I found myself staring just now at the photos from Jerusalem  of the people involved in the stabbing by the fanatic fundamentalist who believed he was doing a good thing by sticking a knife into the bodies of gay people as they marched down the streets of his Holy City.  Maybe as a defense mechanism, so I wouldn’t cry, or so I wouldn’t throw things, I found myself marveling at the high quality of the photos.  Getty Images, it says in the bottom right corner.  Wow, I said.  Somebody took some really good pictures.

    This is Jerusalem.  Gay Pride.  Future shock.  Progress.  What progress we’ve seen.

    OK, so there is resistance.  Of course there is resistance.  The Abrahamic religions have it in their scriptures that there is something wrong with homosexuality and those who take those scriptures literally have to have this reaction, that in order to remain loyal to their faith they have to disparage gays and lesbians.  “It is written!”  We try to let religion off the hook, but there it is.  “It is written.”  This poor old man with the long scrawny beard, dressed in black from head to toe, this Yishai Shlissel will be dismissed by his own kind for going too far.  Killing is wrong, say the Haredi, Israel’s radical right religious folk.  You don’t kill people.

    But Shlissel read the scriptures.  He knows “It is written!”  Seen from afar, this is just another example of social change, progressives looking to extend the rights of folk, conservatives cautioning against rapid change.  It just gets a little rough around the edges, that’s all.
     
    Israel is a place of such ironies, to me.  I have never been there.  Not sure I want to go anymore.  Wouldn’t go for religious reasons, and certainly not for political ones.  But it figures large in the lives of my Jewish friends and I’ve always had an interest.  It was born on my birthday, in 1948.  When Israel celebrates its birthday, I celebrate mine.  Silly little detail, but life is made up of such silly little details.

    80% of Israelis are secular, as are most Jews around the world, I’m told.  It was son of Jewish immigrants Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg who uttered that quotable saying, “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

    Israel illustrated the aptness of that quotation today, just as it did when the ultra-orthodox killer of Yitzak Rabin shot Israel’s hope for the future down and set the possibility of negotiations back who knows how long, possibly decades.  Apparently the country will remain in the grip of religious fanatics for the foreseeable future.  They have control over the right to marry.  They keep this insane occupation of the West Bank and Gaza going.  They are a dangerous force.

    I blogged yesterday about the mistake I think we make when we confuse religion with its adherents.  A similar error of cognition is made when we confuse Israel with Jews.  I would hope that gay people, particularly at this time, recognize what an exception Yishai Shlissel is, both to Judaism and to Israel.  Reform Jews in America were one of the first religious organizations to embrace gay people and take them in without condemnation.  Not just tolerate them, but celebrate them.  It would be a tragedy to mistake the actions of a fanatic for the whole – even of the Haredi – although they are a very closed-minded bunch when it comes to gay liberation.  Women’s liberation.  Any compromise toward peace in the Middle East, for that matter.  I think it’s important, when events like this attack yesterday in Jerusalem take place, to remind ourselves that the whole consists of very diverse parts, and that generalizations are particularly self-defeating at this point.

    You don’t often see a drag queen in tears.  When the drag queen is an old man, who then looks like an old lady, there is a double incongruity.  Drag queens are satirists.  They’re supposed to make you smile.  They poke fun at our arbitrary distinctions of male and female, at the tyranny that gender classification often goes to. You’re not supposed to see them with mascara running down their cheeks.  To see them as tired, worn-out old ladies. You’re not supposed to watch a drag queen mourn. 

    But there they are, those photos, chronicling yet another future shock event, the long hard struggle for gay liberation in far off places that turn out to be not so far off at all.   This is one of those times when we come to understand that “they” are “us.”   Good for you, Getty Images.  Good for you internet, that brings us an up-close look at the world beyond our doors.

    I wish you a speedy recovery, you guys who got the worst of it. 

    Get better, and march again next year.   There’s still more work to do.





    A note on the photos:  I have copied and pasted the photos into this blog entry without permission. They all come from a single article in today's Advocate magazine, whose authors I assume had permission to publish them from Getty Images.  If I have overstepped the bounds, I will immediately take them down and urge viewers to go to the original sources instead.  I hope that making it clear that I have no financial gain from passing them on here and that I credit the original sources is sufficient. 



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  2. I saw this satire on religion on Face Book earlier today, and even though I'd seen it before (it comes in several versions) it felt like a fun way to start the day, so I passed it on to my friends.  What landed in my e-mail inbox were several ha-ha’s from like-minded friends, and one comment which I think is worth giving some thought to.  This friend suggested that the slam against Islam was “in a different vein.” 

    What he’s getting at is obvious.  There has been a whole lot of anti-Muslim prejudice expressed lately.  Since 9/11 Muslims have been under attack and saddled with the terrorist label by people who don’t know what they are talking about.  It’s cruel prejudice and very ugly.

    But here’s the thing.  The satire in that list on the left is directed at “religion,” and not at “religious people.”  It has always been hard to separate people from their ideas.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.  I think people who actually vote Republican have their heads where the sun don’t shine.  But I would never wish them any harm.  They are so much more than their bad ideas.  And just because you love dogs and children does not mean you’re a saint.  I might enjoy being with you more than with a Republican, but you don’t get a free ride from being decent in other ways, either.

    Religion is a portmanteau word.  It is used to mean a set of doctrinal beliefs, an organization of like-minded people, a set of cultural practices, a source of inspiration for art and music, and much much more.  It’s not a word we use with precision.  Even the names of particular religious denominations are overly broad.  If you tell me you’re Catholic, the first question that comes to my mind is, “What kind of Catholic – a Salvatore Cordileone kind of Catholic or a Nancy Shea kind of Catholic?”  Cordileone, the San Francisco Archbishop, would have it that in order to be a good catholic you have to believe that gay people are “inherently disordered” and masturbation is a grave sin.  The second of those claims is just laughable, but the first isn’t so funny. I know kids who killed themselves because they had had inculcated in them the self-loathing that logically follows such claims.  The idea that a person with same-sex desires is inherently anything (other than sexually attracted to the same sex, I mean) is wrong. 

    I think the idea that a god can come to you by means of a religious ritual in which you eat his actual body and blood in the form of bread and wine is also wrong.  But it does me no harm.  My friend Nancy left her church when her priest told her she should not vote for a democratic senator because he had not voted correctly on the issue of abortion rights.  But she quickly found another church because, as she told me, “I can’t give up going to mass.  Participating in the Eucharist is the meaning of life for me.”  She’s gone now, but she was a wonderful lady.

    Satire is by nature reductionist.  It takes something complex, like religion, and reduces it to one of its salient features.  We do this all the time.  We even have a name for it – synecdoche, letting a part represent the whole.  Gays are called artistic because lots of gay men are in theater and fashion.  Never mind that lots are dentists, accountants and ditch diggers, as well.  (And yes, I think it’s possible for a ditch-digger to be creative.)

    Hamed Abdel-Samad is a secular Muslim.  His father is an imam.  Hamed emigrated and now lives in Germany.  His latest book bears the title, Islamic Fascism.  His claim that Islam is inherently, by nature, fascistic has made a big splash in Germany, as you might imagine, given their direct personal encounter with deadly fascism.  But he refuses to back down.  The great age of tolerance that permitted religious people to live in harmony, and made what Muslims claim was a golden era, was accomplished not because of Islam, he says, but despite it.  The Islamic religion stemmed from Mecca and Medina, which never produced anything of grace and beauty, he says.  The glories attributed to the culture of Islam are misplaced.  They came because of political regimes characterized by tolerant rulers, motivated by things other than religion.  His suggestion is that one can admire the cultural accomplishments of a secularized Islam without confusing them with religion.

    All this is debatable, of course, and I don’t want to debate it here.  I bring it up only to make the point that there is no justification for holding religion beyond criticism.  I am more inclined, actually, to view it as inherently pernicious.  Many think it is the chief source of morality and that it brings out the best in humankind.  We differ on what it means, that’s all.  Whatever it is, it is not synonymous with the people who buy into it.

    I appreciate the impulse my friend had to defend Muslims and propose that the implied criticism of Islam was “not in the same vein,” and I think his point is well taken – the satire on Islam has a meaner touch the satire on Catholicism, Hinduism and the rest.   Perhaps I should have modified the list (I did not invent it; I merely passed it on).  But let me explain why I don’t think that is called for.

    I don't think I should be intimidated by the fact that people commonly confuse a religion with the people who adhere to it.  They do those people an injustice by reducing them to some of their half-baked ideas.  I'm with those who think of religion primarily as a force for bringing out prejudice, clannishness, silliness and all manner of folly.  Yes, there are decent Muslims, maybe even 99% of them, just as maybe 99% of the adherents of any religion are decent folk.  But decent folk use religion despite its perniciousness, in my view.  It is usually not religion that makes them decent.  It is the love of caring parents and teachers that makes them decent, and possibly their own good human nature.  If they use religion to help that decency along, they do it only by cherry-picking the elements of their religion that match their inclination toward kindness and generosity and tossing the rest of it on the trash pile.

    I feel under no obligation to respect a belief in angels and demons and holy spirits, any more than I should respect the belief that trolls live under bridges.  It’s people who deserve my respect.  Not the figments of their imaginations.  The right of human beings to dignity and equity is absolute, in my book.  Religious notions, on the other hand, are subject to analysis, and if they enhance the well-being of our lives in the here and now, help us foster community and lead to justice and fair play, they should be praised.  If they do the opposite, they should be subjected to ridicule and dismissal.

    Islam produces great poetry, love of one's neighbor, and some say it has inspired amazing art and architecture.  I'm with Hamed Abdel-Samad in thinking they give it credit that actually belongs elsewhere, but that’s a topic for another time.  I’m willing to allow that Islam has a positive side to it.  It also has produced madmen by the thousands.  I get to satirize it.

    Christianity, in that satire, was reduced to "Send money."  That ain't nice, either.  Wasn't meant to be.

    We need to keep the distinctions.  Jews pray to a god who advocates bashing the heads of the children of their enemies against a rock. Screw that guy.  Screw that notion.  Most Jews have also learned to white that part of their scripture out and focus on community building instead.  And justice and fair play and decency in their interaction with others.  The religion in and of itself is not what counts; it’s what its adherents have done with it.  I should love a religion that celebrates the drowning of all those young Egyptian boys God lured into the Red Sea in pursuit of the Hebrews and then closed the waters on them?  Did their mothers not ache over their loss?

    I should “respect” the stories people make up about how their God loves them better than their enemies?  This is 2015.  I respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Time to put tribalism to bed as a pernicious notion.

    As I write this, the news comes in that an ultra-orthodox Jew has stabbed six people in Jerusalem at a Gay Pride March.  That’s the power of gay people to regain dignity on one side, the power of religion to generate fear and loathing on the other.  I’ll take the people any day.

    Up with Catholics who feel a connection with their God through the Eucharist.  Down with a Catholicism that generates an erotophobic misogynistic deity who visits the sins of a man upon his children for seven generations.

    Up with Muslims who love and care for each other and sacrifice so that their children can have a better life than they did.  Down with an Islam that urges death to those who leave the faith.

    Up with Baptists who become great dancers.




    The satirical poster "Religions of the world" was copied from a blog from the Philippines.  I have never met its author, Laon Laan, and I have no way of knowing if he shares any of the ideas expressed here.







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  3. Just wrote a letter to one of my extended chosen family nieces.

    She's the older sister in the photo.

    Doesn't look like that anymore, now that she is potentially grandmother material.

    She lives in the Bible Belt, bless her heart and soul, yet votes Democratic and has written a book on why she left the church.  Lots of strength of character here.

    Thought I'd share.






    Christina:

    I’ve been following Face Book lately, and I noted your frustration when dealing with somebody down on Hillary Clinton.  You are a loyal and engaged Democrat and I share your sense of concern that the country could be thrown back again into the clutches of the Republicans.  An unmitigated disaster, in my view, given that Ruth Bader Ginsberg is likely to retire during the next administration and appointing yet another of the ilk of Scalia, Roberts, Alito or Thomas to the Supreme Court would mess us up even worse than we are now, with Citizens United and all power going to those who support the wealthy ruling class and corporate America over the rest of us.  I think you are right to worry Hillary might not get elected, assuming she is the only real person who might make it to the White House on the Democratic ticket.

    I’m watching Bernie Sanders with fascination.  I can’t believe he’s doing so well.  What’s going on, and I think this is obvious, is that the left has been left out for so long that they can’t help but get a little optimism back, now with his candidacy, that the country might actually be able to correct its course.  And he speaks to the left in a way Hillary can’t.  She clearly represents the established middle.  (And from where I sit the “middle” is center-right, compared to the rest of the world’s democracies.)  She represents the wealthy.  Those who bailed out the too-big-to-fail banks and put a band-aid on rapacious corporate America, instead of fixing things.  We have not had anybody around who could actually fix things.  Ralph Nader was never somebody who could appeal to large numbers of people.  Bernie Sanders is much better, because he walks and talks like a politician and makes people think he might know how to work the system, if elected, unlike Nader.

    I listened to an interesting interview with Cornel West recently in which he expressed the worry that in the end Bernie Sanders might throw his weight behind Hillary, instead of holding out to the bitter end for the interests of marginalized Americans.  That’s kind of where I am.  I’m not sure Bernie Sanders is a wunderkind or a savior.  I’m too convinced the system cannot be adequately dealt with by any single individual, that the only way America can right itself is for people to recognize how really bad off we are, how much we have surrendered to the imperialists among us, to the liars, the propaganda machines, those who defend torture and the hypocrites who run the show, both Democrats and Republicans.  Without a revolution in thinking, a revolt of people fed up who don’t want to take the lies anymore, I doubt any individual in the White House could make a difference. 

    I will vote for Hillary, if she gets nominated.  I will vote for Bernie Sanders with much greater enthusiasm, if he gets nominated.  I will vote for the two of them if they share the ticket.  I will vote for Mickey Mouse, provided he’s the candidate on the Democratic ticket against God, if God runs for president on the Republican ticket.  I don’t want another conservative on the Supreme Court.

    People say those of us on the left are making a mistake running “against” Republicans, instead of “for” a clearly articulated program of progressive goals.  I agree that this isn’t the best way to go, but it’s the cards we have to play with at the moment.  Any democrat is likely to be better than any republican.  That’s overstated, but essentially how I feel.

    If I were king of the world, I would get more people to listen to Noam Chomsky.  I know he drones on endlessly and refuses to engage in debate and discussion, preferring to see himself as the only one around who really understands things.  But he’s so good at pointing out the history that gets hidden, the facts that we should have on hand for making decisions.  I think if we listened more to people like Chomsky and Cornel West we’d begin to see Bernie Sanders for what he is, a reasonable man, and not a crackpot socialist.  We don’t get enough perspective.  We get people in the media who point our heads toward the centrists posing as progressives, those who make the fallacious argument that the truth always lies in the middle, rather than pointing out that when you are arguing with somebody who makes up his own facts, you’re arguing with a liar and the debate is rigged.  If we had a more knowledgeable citizenry, we would know more about what Chomsky and West are all about – never mind how much we may find their takes unbalanced at times.  We'd see the line between Bernie Sanders as a fair-minded man and Hillary Clinton as a tool of Wall Street.

    I repeat, I will vote for the tool of Wall Street, because I still believe not to vote is a sign of incoherent thinking, of throwing the baby to the wolves instead of making them tear it out of your hands.

    I hope you can make a case for voting for Hillary.  It’s not the least of all evils in my view.  But it’s practical.  We have to be practical.  We have to work with the doable.

    I wish you success.  And you know I’ve always thought you must be some kind of hero for enduring life in the Bible Belt, in any case, so please know that my admiration continues.

    XXX


    Alan
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  4. The McCornick-Gundelach wedding, October 1938
    I’ve finally finished going through several boxes of old photos, some of which I’ve schlepped around with me for fifty years.  Don’t know how I managed to hang onto them, since I went through several periods when I thought the best thing I could do was to simplify my life and shed all unnecessary accoutrements.  Like old memories.

    It took me four days.  Three of those we had no dining table to eat on, because the photos were spread into fifty categories.  The drive across the country with “the good little boy” and “the bad little boy,” two students of mine whom I allowed to talk me into taking them with me.  Big mistake.  Pictures of students in Japan from the 1970s whose names I couldn’t recall on a bet but whose faces still bring a smile to my lips. And loads of family photos.  Loads of “before” (when our hearts were young and gay) and “after” (when our hearts were still gay, but what happened to the hair and is my belly really that big?).

    My mother died young.  She had a heart attack at 60, in 1975, and died three days later because we were people who didn’t go to the doctor.  Take an aspirin.  You’ll be fine in the morning.  My father lived on until 2001, and I remember writing at the time he died that I was not going to mourn just yet, that there would be time, once his passing had sunk in.

    Being able to see the course of one’s life laid out in photographs across the dining table gives you a sense not only of time but of connectedness.  I never mourned that much, but I did develop over time a much stronger awareness of what a good man my father was and how glad I am that we are connected.  I come from a particular place.  I have an inherited set of identities.  I can now go back in time and see how those identities were formed, point by point, or I can stand back and wonder at the trajectory, and the realization that those of us in these photos saw none of it coming and that it’s hard not to see life as one long drawn-out curious accident.  Not train wreck accident, although there were some difficult moments, but accidental chain of events in that they all now seem so terribly arbitrary.

    Nova Scotia, Summer 1947
    I wonder if people living in the digital age, people who don’t take photos and stuff them in cardboard boxes, aren't missing out on something. Will you pull out a digital photo a half century from now and take note of the little things?  I mentioned earlier that I was fascinated by the fact that in a photo from the first of many many summers we spent with my father's Aunt Carrie and Uncle Charlie (pictured) in Nova Scotia, my father had his arm around me.  I lived with the notion that my father was not one for affection.  But there it is.  His hand on my arm.

    Then there is the announcement in the Torrington Register in October of 1938 about a young lady named Clara Louise Gundelach, who was employed “at the Standard Plant,” i.e., that she was a factory worker.  She was marrying a young man named John Stanley McCornick, who was employed as a clerk at Mubarek’s Grocery Store.  They were 23 and 22 years old, respectively.  Working class kids.  And yet, there’s my mother in a white satin gown complete with veil and long train, carrying a bouquet of white snapdragons.  The wedding was obviously a big deal, and the newspaper printed the names of all the guests who motored down from Massachusetts and up from Hartford.  Hartford is 28 miles away.  Belmont and Malden and Stoneham and North Quincy, Mass, are all of two hours’ drive.


    And Walter O. Stoeckert played the organ.  Even the organist is mentioned, complete with middle initial.  The bridesmaid will also carry snapdragons, but she will be wearing ruby red satin and a silver turban on her head.  She would later marry the best man, my father’s older brother and I would come to know them as Uncle Tom and Aunt Elizabeth.  All these people are long gone, of course.  But I can see them in the church on that splendid red carpet.  And at the reception afterwards at the Germania Singing Society Hall, which the bride’s father (Vati) managed and where I used to have to sit in a chair and be quiet as the bride’s mother (Mutti) mopped the floors.  To this day, I can feel the rage filling my face and my lungs at having to sit and be quiet when I wanted to run free.  None of this is in the announcement, of course, because it would all come four or five years later, long after my mother and father left for their wedding trip through New England, she in a “fall outfit of brown with rust accessories.”

    I was born two years later, and we still called St. Paul’s Lutheran Church the “German” church, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised the wedding announcement identifies it as “St. Paul’s German Lutheran Church.”  After all, the town of some 25,000 souls had a Finnish and a Swedish Lutheran church as well.  And an Italian Catholic and an Irish Catholic and I don't know where the Poles and the French Canadians went.  Oh, and a Lebanese Maronite Catholic church, still running strong today.  The Lutherans combined and lost their old world identity over the years.  The Catholic churches, I think, still hold onto theirs.

    Grossmutter, my mother’s birth mother, is not mentioned in the announcement.  I can only wonder what she was experiencing. And where she sat. She had given my mother up because, as a single mother in the middle of a war in 1915, she decided her sister and brother-in-law, people everybody called “Mutti” and “Vati” could do a better job of it.  Grossmutter went and got a job as a stewardess on the Hamburg-Amerika Line and only saw my mother again twelve years later when she jumped ship in New York and came to Connecticut and reclaimed her.  But I see from this wedding announcement that my mother still had the Gundelach name (Vati’s name) when she married and it was apparently Vati who gave her away.  Who else?  He was, in fact, her adoptive father.

    What they all made of this emotionally was never passed on to me.  I saw only harmony all around.  They were all remarkably close, and perhaps they did manage to put aside the pangs of regret and the misgivings that must have plagued them.  Or am I just projecting from a point in the future when we no longer feel constrained to sit on our feelings?

    Kurt and Willi Schultheis
    I tracked down the ship that brought the Gundelachs, Mutti, Vati and their son Paul, to America in 1928.  I never would have found them because in the Mormon records in Salt Lake City somebody had copied their name off the ship's manifest wrong.  They hit the "s" key next to the "a" key and typed in "Gundelsch."   It was by pure chance I was able to find them.  “What if my mother was still traveling under her birth name?” I asked, after exhausting all other possibilities.  And she was.  There is was, big and bold, Clara Schultheis, travelling with Paul and Johanne Gundelach.  She was not officially their daughter, in other words, but their niece.  The adoption must have taken place in America.  But when?  Without my grandmother’s permission?  I thought I had answered all these questions, but just looking at this wedding announcement, I realize there are many more.

    Like why, for example, did my grandmother have photographs of my Uncle Willi and my Uncle Kurt, whom my mother never knew, two sons my mother’s birth father had from a second wife.  Did they stay in contact?  They must have.  My grandmother insisted I meet Willi when I was a student in Munich, in 1960.


    Here’s Kurt and Willi, in their German uniforms in World War II.  I kept this photo hidden when I applied for the Army Security Agency two years later.  Even then it was touch and go, since any German connection at all was still suspicious.  One look at those uniforms, and I would never have made it to Berlin to spy on the Russians - and later the East Germans.

    Here’s another photo of my mother and father and my sister Karen, who came five years after me, and me, taken at Mutti’s house, where I failed to pat my hair down in time for the photo.  I love the fact that nobody thought to throw this photo away.  In it went, with all the others, chronicling the march of time.  And here's one of me with Karen and her husband Joe, and my father, in the last year of his life, no longer looking all that chipper.  We don’t always march with time.  Sometimes we have to roll through it in a chair.

    I found the photo I was looking for – of an old friend from college days I managed to locate on Face Book after fifty-four years.  And the rest of my photos got organized in the process.  Four days out of my life.

    But four of the best days I’ve spent in ages.



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  5. postcard from Dieckhorst, message side
    My mother was born in Celle, not far from Hannover, in Lower Saxony, in Northern Germany.  I was there only once, to visit a great aunt and uncle over Christmas, in 1960.  It was awkward.  I took right away to my great aunt Marie, my grandmother’s younger sister.  Onkel Fritz, her husband, was hard for this twenty-year-old from America.  It was only fifteen years after war’s end, and they still lived by the habits they had acquired in the dark days.  We were not allowed to turn on any lights until it got real dark.  Onkel Fritz would sit by the window with his newspaper, lifting it closer and closer to the glass as the sun went down, to get the very last of the natural light before we were able to turn on a single lamp.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the bulb were no more than fifteen watts.

    There were several strained moments.  “You Americans write “I” with a capital letter.  We Germans write “you” with a capital letter and "I" with a small letter.  That says a lot about our putting others first and your need to feed your ego.”  Not the exact words, but close enough.  I wanted to bop him one, but I was only twenty and on my best behavior.   Wish I could say I also finessed the goose fat soup challenge, but there I failed miserably.  When Tante Marie set a bowl of goose fat soup in front of me, I took one sip and thought I was going to retch.  I put my spoon down and apologized.  “I’m sorry.  I can’t eat this.”  “If you had gone through the war, and known hardship, you’d be glad to have a little fat to eat.  There were times when we thought we were going to have to eat grass.”

    They were decent people and the family connection was enough to make me overlook the culture gap.  I don’t remember how long I stayed.  Two or three nights, anyway.  I was in Celle long enough to get the lay of the land and to meet cousin Annemarie, who was married to a borderguard on the Dutch border and to walk the streets I assumed my mother knew as a child, before I realized she was actually raised in Braunschweig, because my grandmother had given her to her other sister, Johanne, to raise, because Johanne and her husband, whom I grew up with and called Mutti and Vati, lived on a farm and they at least had enough to eat before hightailing it for the Promised Land called Connecticut.  Cousin Annemarie gave me a book about Celle published in 1940 and written in Fraktur, the old Gothic script that goes back to the 15th century and in use until the end of the war.  More reminders of wartime.  I just missed Hitler by fifteen years, I thought to myself.  Thank God my mother and her mother both left (separately) in the 20s, or this is where I might be today.

    Unlike many, including my mother,  who was only eight when she left the old country, and unlike her sister Johanne, my Grandmother kept close ties and went back to Germany six times over the years, always by long sea voyages.  When I was leaving for New York in the late summer of 1960 to catch the boat to Germany for the first time, I came upon my grandmother crying.  I had only seen her cry once before.  That first time I asked her what the matter was and she said, “I miss my mother.”  Her mother had died fifty years earlier and this made no sense to a teenager, so I just thought at the time she was weird.  This time I assumed it was because I was leaving for a year.  “Don’t cry,” I said to her.  “I’ll be back in no time.  A year will go by fast.”

    “I’m not crying because you’re leaving,” she said.  “I’m crying because of what’s going to happen to you.” 

    “What’s going to happen to me!?  What could possibly happen to me?"

    “I don’t mean an accident.  I trust God will take care of you.  I’m just thinking that I left my home in Germany when I was only sixteen years old and came to America alone and made a home here.  But I was always homesick for Germany.  So I often went back.  And the whole time I was in Germany I was homesick for my loved ones in America.  I see that in your future.  Living on one continent and homesick for the other.  It’s a hell of a way to go through life.”

    She didn’t say “hell of a way.”  She didn’t talk like that.  But that was her meaning.  And I’ve thought my whole life long how right she was, whether I was living in Berlin, or Tokyo, or the West Coast of the U.S.  I expanded the two-continent dilemma to three, and there was always a sense no matter where I was that I had left a part of me behind.  This has been mitigated in recent years, now that we can hop a plane anytime and fly ten or fifteen hours and turn around and fly back again a short time later.  All the years I lived in Japan I came home three times a year.  But in my grandmother's day, when one traveled by boat and it cost an arm and a leg, things were different.  My mother never saw Germany again, and for most of my American family of German origin, Germany might as well be Mars.  It is a faraway place, and plays no role in their lives.  Today, the idea of a both/and national identity is once again common, but the waves of immigrants who came in the early part of the 20th century from Europe pretty much cut their ties.  It was un-American not to.

    My grandmother was an exception to that pattern and her fierce loyalty, not so much to the country, but to the culture, she passed on to me, and I am eternally grateful for the gift.

    In sorting through old photos the past few days I’ve come across a number of treasures, which have let loose a flood of nostalgia, and no shortage of surprises.  One picture really blew me away.  It’s a picture of me standing next to my father.  He’s 31 years old and I’m 7.  And he’s got his hand on my arm.  That can’t be, I thought.  My father believed it was unmanly to show affection.  I forgot – or simply never focused on it – that this was not the case when I was small.

    postcard from Dieckhorst, picture side
    The Celle family, too, caught me by surprise.  I came across a postcard to my grandmother in  Connecticut, mailed from a small town called Dieckhorst, just east of Celle, near where my grandmother was born and grew up. It’s one of those wish-you-were-here kind of postcards whose sole purpose is what linguists call phatic communication.  Messages which are totally devoid of real information but are sent to remind one, “we’re here, we’re still your friend/family, and we still think of you from time to time.”

    I stared at the card.  It was written in pencil and it was pretty faded.  Reading the Sutterlin script (the handwritten version of Fraktur) was hard.  “I’m here in Dieckhorst,” it says.  Letter to follow.  Love from Onkel Fritz.”  While I was working on who this uncle might be – it can’t be Marie’s husband Fritz.  I've got more than one Onkel Fritz - there is no shortage of Fritzes in Germany, obviously, but how am I to figure out which one this is - suddenly the stamp caught my eye.

    Hindenburg!?  I'd know him anywhere.   I suddenly realized the card was written in 1946, but it’s got Hindenburg on the stamps!  Now how did that happen?  And there are the words, big and bold, “Deutsches Reich.”  I thought the “Deutsche Reich” became the Grossdeutsche Reich when Hindenburg turned the country over to Hitler.   Did it go back to "Deutsches Reich" in 1945?  I thought it went to "Occupied Germany" and then to the Bundesrepublik.  Shows you what I know. But what’s he doing on the stamp in 1946?

    Obviously I am in need of a history lesson.  Sure enough, the “reich” continued on, even after the establishment of the Bundesrepublik and the two terms were used concurrently for a while.  How come I never knew that?


    You can learn a lot rummaging around in boxes of old photos.

    And there's a p.s.

    After a little shuffling around on the internet, I came up with this very same postcard, now for sale on the internet.  For 9 euros.  No way I'm going to give up my copy, obviously.  Not till I figure out which of my many Uncle Fritzes we're talking about here.


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  6. Thomanerchor Leipzig
    I have little use for religion.  Virtually none at all for organized religion.

    The jury’s still out for me, however, when it comes to spirituality.

    Let me tell you about my day listening to the voices of angels.

    Ask most people to name a bird and they will come up with the robin.  Not the ostrich.  And certainly not the chicken.  Italian food? Spaghetti.  A French singer?  Edith Piaf.  Categories have their default representations.

    When I think of religion, I think of the Taliban.  Or TV evangelists.  Fundamentalists who use religion to explain why they’re on the right track and you’re on the wrong one, why government should defend Israel and bomb Iran.  People who display astonishing gaps in their education, who claim America was founded by Christians and who couldn’t tell a deist from the Wizard of Oz.

    If pressed, I can see the ostrich as a bird and corn as Italian.  And I can see that religion is also represented by the likes of Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.  And that religion can be approached either as an organized set of truth claims, or as a poetic approach to the challenges of living a life of consequence and meaning. 

    I know those are not the only two ways to approach religion, but they are the two dominant ones.  The first way raises instant resistance in me.  I am conditioned to want to limit truth claims to the empirically verifiable.  But the second way still has a certain appeal.  I consider that, over time, to an ever greater degree I have settled the questions that plagued me as a youth.  I know my intellectual strengths and weaknesses, more or less.  I understand my sexual nature, at long last – that one took much longer than it should have.  I may not be as much in control over my emotions as I find desirable, but I know what is likely to make me angry, sad, sentimental, generous or thoughtful.  The one area of my personality I know to be most undeveloped, I think, is my spiritual side.  I am not talking about having a chat with the man in the sky.  I’m talking about the embrace of the transcendental.  Stopping to smell the roses.  Letting go of the unjust and the corrupt and relaxing into the poetic, into the concept of harmony and what is musical, the rhetorically uplifting.  Allowing myself to relax into the notion there are things beyond my capacity to understand and not assume we’re talking only about leprechauns and faeries.

    Music does it for me better than poetry does.  Which is strange, given that I spend far more time with words than I do with melody.  I can sit through a barely comprehensible discussion by German politicians over what to do with the possible departure of Greece from the Eurozone, and justify the time.  But to just shut everything down and listen to Mozart’s Requiem – a piece of music that I know from experience will lift me into the world beyond, that’s less likely to happen, for some reason.  The obvious inconsistency there, my tendency to choose the intellectual over the transcendental, well, I attribute that to my lack of spirituality.

    I remember a bull session I was part of many years ago on a religious retreat, where we took up the question of where spirituality ends and religion begins.  I’m not sure, but I believe that was when I first developed the notion that religion was the enemy of spirituality.  That one’s natural inclination toward the love of beauty, and all the positive virtues, kindness, generosity, compassion, could just as easily be subverted by religion as fostered by it.  Obviously, I was speaking of the dogmatic form of religion, not the inspirational, but I realized, even in my twenties when I was still a Christian, that I needed to be suspicious of the sanctimonious and the self-righteous.  I listened to my father when he explained he never wanted to go to church because that's where you're most apt to encounter hypocrites.

    It was when I went to Germany, at the age of twenty, that my attachment to organized religion began to slip away.  I had been confirmed in the Lutheran Church and was excited to be in the land of Luther, as I so romantically conceived it at that age.  The Lutheran Church which I went to with my grandmother as a child and then later joined, with its bright red carpet down the center aisle and the glorious stained glass windows and the Bach music every Sunday, with people who drank beer and loved to dance and sing at the top of their lungs, that church faded away once I got to Germany.  The Lutheran Church I found in Germany felt like an ice-cold shower by comparison.  Cold stone.  Sour faces.  And a youth group horrified at my admission that I loved the Hofbräuhaus and that most of my friends were not religious and that was fine with me.  It came as a shock, but I realized early on that I had been defining religion on the basis of the way it manifested itself in the culture I grew up in. I could not keep it in my grasp once I saw it in a new and different cultural space.  Travel, as they say, is possibly the best teacher you’ll ever find.  The irony was not lost on me that it was the land of Luther that led me to leave the Lutheran Church.  In later years I would find a parallel phenomenon in Americans I knew who had become attracted to Zen Buddhism and then found they lost that attraction when confronted with the way Zen was practiced in Japan.  It's bound to be a rude awakening when you discover how you've been mistaking culture for religion.

    I have wondered at times if my experience with the German Lutheran Church was colored by the fact that I encountered it in Munich, in what was then still very Catholic Bavaria.  Somebody suggested once, when I told this story of falling away, that it was probably that the Protestants in such a Catholic environment were feeling a kind of siege mentality and thus pulling in and getting stricter and more orthodox in order to keep the faith, and that's why you found them off-putting. I have no idea whether that idea holds water.  It wasn’t just that the people were not the same people I knew in America, and they weren’t unkind or hostile.  It was more that I had seen in my grandmother's church a way to be German, and once I got to Germany, it was of no further use.  I gradually realized that I had not really had any stake in the doctrinal claims.  If I could find a time machine, I'd go back to 1960 and find my twenty-year old self.  I'd hear myself saying, "The Catholics are silly with their "actual body and blood" claims.  We "know" that Christ comes to us "in, with and under" - i.e., "in, mit und unter," as Luther taught us.  Luther is an imperfect but great man for teaching us that, you know."   I'd put my arms around that twenty-year-old man, and smile.  You know that?  Sure you do! And I'd try to convince him I love him anyway, even though he had obviously drunk some awful Kool-Aid there somewhere and in time was going to need a laxative.

    As time went by, and I got to travel and as I got drawn to anthropology and became aware of the arbitrariness of belief systems, and of how much they are geographically determined, I walked out and never looked back.  To this day, much as I can empathize with seekers on a human level, I find arguments for why I should give my nickels and dimes to Zoroaster and not Zeus an illustration of human folly.
    Founding document from 1212

    Jump a half century ahead to the present day.  I’ve just finished watching a marvelous documentary, which I can not speak highly enough of.  It is the story of the boys' choir of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig.  St. Thomas Church (die Thomaskirche, in German) is where Johann Sebastian Bach was “cantor,” or “musical director” from 1723 until he died in 1750.  Another word for it came into vogue years later – Kapellmeister, but in Leipzig, he's still referred to as cantor (specifically Thomascantor in the case of St. Thomas)  The current cantor, Georg Christoph Biller, got to help his choir celebrate its 800th anniversary in 2012.  

    J.S. Bach's burial site inside St. Thomas Church in Leipzig
    Bach looms large over the work of this group of 92 boys aged 9 to 18 who live in the boarding school (die Thomasalumnat) and are known as “Thomaner” (and St. Thomas Choir, in German, is known as der Thomanerchor).  Much of their focus is on J.S. Bach and in the documentary you see the boys laying flowers on Bach’s grave, the location of which, down front and center, leaves no doubt about the church’s desire to claim him as their own. This claim extends to Leipzig itself, which holds a Bach festival every year which draws thousands from around the world.  

    It’s a fascinating story.  It’s not like the Middle Ages, when boys were castrated to preserve their pure soprano voices.  But there is something mediaeval about taking young boys from their homes and placing them in a highly controlled environment all for the sake of music.  Even at Christmas time, when religious music plays a huge role in the German tradition and the boys are expected to be available for Christmas concerts, the boys stay at the boarding school instead of returning to be with their families.  There is one interview in which a boy now graduating reflects on how much he missed by not participating in the family goings-on.  How much, he wonders, might he have affected the way the family lives and relates to each other.  Another boy speaks of how he suffered bouts of homesickness, and how he worked it out with the aid of his comrades.  You can actually see how group solidarity is built on common experiences, and bonding takes place when things get rough.

    boys of the Dresdner Kreuzchor
    boys of the Dresdner Kreuzchor
    No mention was made of what has to be a rival boys' choir in Dresden, Saxony’s other large city, The Dresden Kreuzchor. These guys only go back a mere 700 years.  And nobody reflected on the curious practice of using the voices of young boys much in the same way organs are used to provide the kind of atmosphere in which spirituality can flourish.  But it is clear that there is definitely something spiritual about a boys’ choir.  One cantor made a heroic reputation for himself arguing that his boys should not be drawn into Hitler’s army, “because it would damage their voices.”  It seemed, actually, to have worked, although I don’t have the statistics on how well and for how long.  Another cantor got into trouble during the days of the GDR when he, like so many, got entangled in working for the Stasi, a double disgrace considering the loftiness of boys' choirs for bringing out the best in us.  Today, about 80% of the people of Saxony claim no religious affiliation, and that means the Thomanerchor has to choose boys from non-churched families.

    At one point, Georg Christoph Biller, the cantor, puts a positive face on that fact, and points out that this need not be a problem as long as there remains a critical mass of believers who make up the core.  And apparently, there are more than a few baptisms and confirmations along the way, as the boys get caught up in the religious features of the culture in which they live their daily lives.

    As one of the boys put it – in perhaps the best articulation of how culture and religion can blend I’ve ever heard – “I never believed in God as somebody I could talk to and he would talk back to me.  But when I sing, it’s different.  I can feel it’s a kind of dialogue, and God comes to me in the music.”

    Boy soprano voices are not for everybody.  I’ve met people who actively disliked them, a fact that mystifies me.  What can I say but different strokes?

    I mentioned earlier that my spiritual side is the least developed side of my personality, in my view.  I’m still miles from being Saint Theresa, whose faith used to make her levitate and bump her head on the ceiling.  But I’m just a tiny bit closer to getting off the ground.  Don’t know if any of these links will do anything for you, but I offer them to you, just in case.

    And if this rumination on the topic of spirituality is too much of a stretch, fine.  At least I trust you’ll agree with me that they sure do sing pretty.




    1. A short history of the Thomanerchor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxmI_XD7y3w boys’ choir (subtitled in English)  

    2. If you’d like to see an even better and more complete documentary on the Thomaner (in German): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlUt8G4Eqg4   And if you are really interested, the DVD is available with English subtitles, on Amazon, although I have not heard it, so I cannot guarantee the quality.  [Added, July 25: I ordered it and sat through it again.  The English translation is well-done and the DVD is worth the fifteen bucks.]

    2. The building of the new organ in St. Thomas, built according to the specifications Bach would have liked.  It’s actually the organ Bach wishes he might have had to play on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CN1afTeihZ4

    3. Bach's Passacaglia in C minor on the organ at St. Thomas, after its construction was completed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xExidpT26E

    4. Feast of the Reformation – first-rate Bach – until it is cut short, alas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHhzAx5ZkzA



     photo credits:



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  7. Hamburg train on the S11 line, from inside
    An autoclave, I understand, is a pressure chamber for sterilizing things.  Like surgical equipment.  You use steam, and once you’ve sterilized dental equipment, say, you can seal the instruments in air-tight packaging and they will remain sterile for about a year.  Great invention.  Another thing you can do with an autoclave – don’t ask me how – is aerate concrete, making it porous and lightweight and easier to manage than normal concrete.  You can make building blocks with it, for example, which can easily be cut up into the shapes you need.  Imagine.  A cinder block you can cut with a saw.

    Once you’ve manufactured some “autoclaved aerated concrete” (AAC), the uses are unlimited.  You can wall off a room, for example, or use it for construction in high-rises, where its light weight is a distinct advantage.  Its high porosity makes it useful as a fire retardant.  It also gives it a high thermal efficiency, making it a good insulator.  You can also wall up a subway door with AAC, if you choose.

    Same train, from outside
    Just as many people use the brand name “Kleenex” as a generic name for paper tissues, AAC is often called Y-tong.  Y-tong is the world’s largest manufacturer of AAC.   Here’s an ad in Greek, for example.  And if you’d like to see how you build a wall with Y-tong, here’s a link.  Scroll down to the how-to video. The instructions are in Dutch, but the visuals are good, so don't let that phase you. 

    Did you know that the smartest people in Germany live in Hamburg?  That’s not quite right.  What I mean is somebody decided to test the IQ levels of people in 22 cities in Germany and the Hamburgers came out on top.   They apparently have an IQ of 124 on average, way ahead, say, of Frankfurt (113) or Munich (112), leaving Wiesbaden and Wuppertal (104) in the dust.  Men are smarter than women, also, according to this report.  They come in at 107 compared to women at 105.  Unspoken, of course, is the fact that 100 is supposed to be the average IQ.  I guess Germans are just a little smarter than the rest of the world.  On average.

    Now you may be wondering how I’m going to put these two facts together, the fact that there is this marvelous invention called AAC, aka Y-tong, and the fact that people in Hamburg are particularly smart.

    I won’t keep you in suspense.

    The pictures above show a subway train on the S-11 line in Hamburg where some enterprising young folk have sealed up a door with these cinder blocks. 

    OK, so this isn’t cool.  It will cost the city tens of thousands of euros to take down the wall and repair the damage, according to one news item.  But that can't be.  Really?  Ten of thousands?  If that's true, somebody in city government is getting a little off the top, I should imagine.  

    The best part of the story is that the construction job was done with great German precision.  The blocks were pre-measured and fit perfectly into the space.  The signals that tell you when the door is open were shut down so it took the driver of the train an hour and a half to even discover there was a problem.  All done in the dark of night last Tuesday before the trains were started up to make their daily rounds.

    See what happens when you give people too much intelligence?  Eat your heart out, you Wiesbadener and Wuppertaler.


    Picture credits: Y-tong blocks 

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  8. mystery dog
    I was giving our girls their usual evening constitutional last night when my heart lept into my mouth.  A black cocker spaniel raced right by us and into the street, straight into the path of an oncoming car.  Fortunately, the driver had his wits about him and slammed on the brakes.

    Just then a couple very good souls, a woman and her daughter who live around the corner from us, shouted out, “Is that your dog?”  “No,” I said, and we stopped to piece together what had just happened.  A homeless man had asked the woman to take care of this dog which had attached himself to him.  “I don’t have a home,” he said, “and I can’t take care for him.”

    A beautiful little thing, with black curly hair.  Clearly shaken by his near-miss and with all the strangers suddenly focused on him.  Jennifer, the woman’s name was, took the dog home for the night.  My girls' other daddy and I brought over some dog food and sympathy.

    This morning Jennifer had the dog checked out.  No identifying microchip, no collar, and the dog had not been neutered.  Surprising, since the dog looked well cared for.

    Although they are cat people, they took the dog in and calmed him down.  And later this morning they took him to the shelter, where for some reason he perked up.  “That guy’s young, and he’s gorgeous,” said the intake person.  “We’ll have no trouble getting him adopted.”

    So, so far, at least, the story has taken a nice turn, and I get to feel extra good about my neighborhood - a place where you find kindly people, including a careful driver who then suggested the dog might like his candy bar.  Funny how people’s first thought with animals is to feed them.  We suggested perhaps there might be nuts or chocolate or something not good for the dog in there – and that’s why I made a point of bringing round some dog food.  But the naivete of it all warmed my heart.  Three strangers – I’m counting mother and daughter as a unit – suddenly brought together by fate and an opportunity to embrace a lost soul in need of some warmth and protection.

    So often you get to see hostility out there outside your front door.  This was a sign that things sometimes go right.

    If you’re from around here and know somebody who might make a home for the little guy, contact the Berkeley Animal Shelter and tell them you’re in the market for a cocker spaniel – Jennifer thinks there may be some dachshund in him, as well.

    Lovely little guy.  Big eyes.

    In need of some regular lovin’.

    And if you are thinking how curious it is that strangers will come together to take care of a dog while a homeless man is left to shuffle off on his own, I'll tell you I think your point is well taken. Forgive me, though, if the answer is that the dog seemed more vulnerable.  And OK, a whole lot cuter.  And because I can't save everybody doesn't mean I can't try to help living creatures ranked on the basis of how much I would enjoy sleeping with them.




    Photo credits:

    The first photo is of the little black cocker spaniel in question, taken from a neighborhood chat site. Jennifer is trying all she can to find the owner.  The second photo comes from: http://petfilm.biz/?p=25715 - and has nothing to do with this story. It's just that I figure if you've read your way this far through this blog posting you're probably the kind of person who needs no explanation for why I would post it. 



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  9. Emblem of the city of Offenburg
    I had a friend years ago whose family name was Reutlinger.  “What is a Reutlinger?  Somebody who reutlings?” I asked, thinking I was being cute.  I should have known it’s the German way of identifying somebody from Reutlingen, in Baden-Württemberg, the German state that snuggles up to France and Switzerland and has Stuttgart for a capital.  Maybe I should have asked what a reut is, since “ling” sounds like a diminutive.  You know as in “foundling” -  a little found thing.  Or as a duckling is to a duck or a gosling to a goose.  Sometimes used derogatively, as in “princeling” – some minor nobody in the royal family.  Fingerling potatoes, some of my favorite things.

    Anyway, I suppose if you are a Baden-Württemberger – you know, as somebody (or something) from Hamburg is a Hamburger and somebody (or something) from Frankfurt is a Frankfurter – you will have to ask not only what a reut is.  You’ll have to ask what a bob, or an ess, a tutt, a ba or a vill is, as well, since there are lots of folks in Baden-Württemberg who are from Böbling, Esslingen, Tuttlingen, Balingen and Villingen.  Villingen-Schwenningen, actually, but I’m assuming that before there was a Villingen-Schwenningen, there were people who were Villingers and other people who were Schwenningers.  But I digress.  And if I’m going to digress, I’m going to have to ask why there are so many –ingens as well.  Lingens without the l – in Baden-Württemberg.  Like Tübingen, for example.  Or Sigmaringen.  That’s likely explained by the Germanic love of the –ng sound.  King and Kong, thing and thong, sing a song while you play ping-pong, and the like.

    But back to Baden-Württemberg.  Why do they combine so much?  Baden-Baden, for example, which means something like “bath-bath.”  Not something like bath-bath, but bath-bath.  What’s that?  Besides being the setting for Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, I mean.  And the town where Queen Victoria, Berlioz, Brahms, Turgenev and Dostoevsky were known to “take the waters.”  Fans of Brahms can visit his house there to this day – he actually lived there permanently.  Thanks to Google, I just got an answer to my question.  There are lots of Badens, evidently, and this one is located in the state of Baden (think New York, New York).  So no mystery there, turns out, except that I guess that means Baden-Baden today is officially Baden-Baden, Baden-Württemberg.  Not to be confused with that place where the Canadians holed up during the Cold War, Baden-Söllingen, Baden-Württemberg. 

    Baden-Württemberg has other mouthfuls.  Mouths full.  Imagine having to tell people you’re from Schwäbisch-Gmünd all the time.  Or having to live in Pfortzheim and work in Furtwangen and make sure you didn’t make all the kids laugh when you got them mixed up and called one of them Furzheim or Furzwangen – which would translate “fart home” or “fart cheeks.”

    Leutkirch is kind of nice.  “People Church” has a nice ring to it.  As does Heilbronn – “healing well.”  Heilbronn, I understand, serves as the economic center for Ittlingen (what’s an itt?), by the way, as well as Massenbachhausen, Pfaffenhofen, and Untergruppenbach, just in case you were collecting home towns with five syllables or more.  OK, so Pfaffenhofen has only four.  It’s still funny.  Pfaffe (you know how High German pf , f and p are all related historically, and Apfel is apple, and the p of pater in the Romance languages comes out f as in father in the Germanic languages?  Well, Pfaffe apparently was once papa and Hof is “court,” so Pfaffenhofen was some sort of priestly court, except that Pfaffe today has lost its pizzazz and means something like “shifty vicar” or hypocritical Holy Joe.  Not that Pfaffenhofer think any less of themselves any more than people on Broadway think of their street as the street of the broads.

    Just one of them nasty coincidences, I suppose.  Like Tauberbischofsheim in Northern Baden-Württemberg, which, to the uninformed, might suggest a home for deaf bishops (a deaf bishop = ein tauber Bischof).  Since Tauber are also male doves or pigeons, there are other possibilities, which I won’t go into.

    I spent a little time in Freiburg im Breisgau (full name enables you to avoid confusion with other Freiburgs - just as the place where the Franks forded the Rhine is not the same place as where the Franks crossed the Oder (i.e., Frankfurt am Rhein is not Frankfurt an der Oder, which is a river, and not just the German word for "or"), a lovely little university town on the edge of the Black Forest.   The junior year program I was affiliated with had a branch in Munich, where I studied (sort of) and another in Freiburg, and we bounced back and forth because friend Dal (for Dallas), whose real name was Tom Sawyer, had been assigned, much to the chagrin of the other three of us in the foursome friendship, to Freiburg.   We adored him (well, I did, anyway) and missed him so much we borrowed Rudolf’s 1948 VW and smashed it up in Strassbourg one time while visiting.  Rudolf never forgave us, I think.  But I didn’t worry too much about that because when Rudolf was my roommate, instead of washing his socks, he would hang them on the windowsill to air, and I was not filled with a great sense of obligation. 

    So much water under the bridge.         

    My interest today in Baden-Württemberg comes from looking up the background of Angela Merkel’s Number Two Man in Germany – Wolfgang Schäuble.  He’s from Baden-Württemberg and, as Germany's Finance Minister, figures large in the story of Greece’s demise or rescue – the jury, as they say, is still out on that – and possibly the demise of the euro, if not the European Union.

    Probably not.  That’s a highly pessimistic worst-case scenario.   In the meantime, I’ve been trying to learn all I can about the Grexit background, including this man Schäuble.  And his counterpart in Greece, Yanis Varoufakis.  This little clip helped.


    But, as you may have noticed, I am easily distracted.


    Photo:

    Emblem of the city of Offenburg, in Baden-Württemberg, which Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble represents in the German Parliament.  I'd use a prettier picture, except that they all seem to be copyrighted and I don't want to mess with any law-and-order people for the time being.  I understand use of this photo is acceptable as long as I'm not making any money from it. I assure you nobody sends me money for any blog entries - nobody ever has.  And I have nothing but good things to say about Offenburg or Baden-Württemberg.  Even if Gmünd is not a sound one should have to make in polite society.  The link is here.

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  10. I’d like to repeat what I’ve said many times before when people have suggested I’m lucky to live in a place with so many gay people, that living in San Francisco means I can take solace that there are many like me and I don’t stand out so much as a gay person.  It’s the gays, they want to claim, who make San Francisco what it is.

    That’s not the way I see it.

    San Francisco is a great place to live not because there are so many lesbians and gays around – satisfying as that is – but because the straight people are so welcoming.

    Life would not be bearable without allies who understand what you’re going through and get your back.  Step up and stand beside you.  Pick the metaphor that best suggests support.  Robin Morgan used to speak of men fighting the cause of feminism as “men of conscience.”  I’ve been urging people to help tear down the Confederate flag because I don’t think African-Americans should have to fight this battle for dignity alone – they should not be the only ones appealing for a rejection of this awful nostalgia for the days when children were ripped out of their mothers’ arms, women were raped with impunity, and the law forbade people of color to learn to read in this country. 

    I've been reading lots of discussion the past few days that fits under the rubric of backlash over the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality.   Justice Roberts and others argued in their dissents that we should not have shut down the debate, and we need to remember that our opponents out there are people whose arguments are as good as ours.  They “simply disagree.”

    Never mind that the "debate" has been raging for decades - virtually my entire life - and I'm 75 years old.

    I’ve been told all my life that I’m somebody who advocates sin and the destruction of  society and the family.  And now it’s time to smile and "agree to disagree."

    Bullshit.

    A straight ally in this struggle against aggressive nonsense directed me to the Facebook page of another straight ally, an essayist who writes for Parade Magazine.   Connie Schultz writes (June 27):

    I've seen quite the flurry of social media posts suggesting those of us who are celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court's marriage equality decision are not behaving as gracious winners. We should show more understanding toward those who are disappointed, the critics say. We should not "rub it in." Other commonly spotted criticisms of our joy: We are gloating. We are insensitive. We are being poor sports.
     For decades, I have seen the bigotry of homophobia break up families, ruin careers and destroy lives. I've read -- and written -- too many stories about gay teens who chose suicide over another day of bullying -- from classmates and strangers, and sometimes from their own family members. Children. Killing themselves because they felt unlovable as the human beings they were born to be. 
     Over the years, I hosted so many gay friends for holiday celebrations because their own families made clear they were not welcome to come home. I have sat and cried with too many gay friends whose hearts were broken after their fellow citizens passed one hateful piece of anti-gay legislation after another. I have watched so-called Christians pray publicly for the death of people I love. I have seen them do this outside of funerals, their young children holding signs that say, "GOD HATES FAGS." 
    This is not a sports championship we're celebrating. We are not victors in a political campaign. 
    We are cheering for something that will not harm the lives or the marriages of anyone like me, a heterosexual who got not one, but two government-sanctioned tries to form a more perfect union. We are overjoyed, and we are relieved. America really is better than our worst behavior.
    As a straight ally, this has been our shame to bear, this government endorsement of second-class citizenship to people we know, people we love. How many times have I tried to assure my friends and loved ones that most of us don't feel this way about them? How many times have I fallen silent to their rebuttals, their ability to point to what sometimes seemed to be overwhelming evidence to the contrary? 
    All of that is now history.
    I don't want to harness my joy to make the bigots feel more comfortable. I will not temper my celebration to make those who oppose same-gender marriage feel better about their self-righteousness. I am not celebrating their misery. They didn't lose anything.
    I am rejoicing for my gay brothers and sisters. I am welcoming them home.


    Thanks, Connie.

    Thanks Mr. Olson and Mr. Boies.

    Thanks to all y’all, you straight people out there, you men and women of conscience.


    Thank you.


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