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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 95

A mask free summer @ the Moriello Pool

in New Paltz, NY

photo ©copyright Carol Bergman 2022

 

More or Less

 

The president was not masked at public events he attended at the end of the week, which is in conflict with CDC guidance that says people should wear a mask for 10 days after a Covid infection.

 

                                        -Politico, 7/23/22

 

 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, still the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, segued from Trump to Biden smoothly, yet in an interview the other day he looked exhausted  and pained. Maybe I was reading in, but I don't think so. My sense was he was struggling to tout the party line on federal guidelines during the current surges (individual responsibility, more or less) and resisting the use of the word "mandate."  There is nothing any one man or politician can do to correct the systemically flawed "public" health initiatives in the United States, a nation where decision making is bi-furcated between the central government and the dis-united states. So let's give our public health officials a break for a minute—not including getting monkeypox under control—and concentrate on November's election, a Democratic sweep, and legislators who will be able to legislate. Meanwhile, I'll accept my individual responsibility vis-a-vis Covid.

 

Like Cuomo during the early days of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci was our go-to guru. We watched him constantly for guidance and comfort, the news that vaccines were coming fast, that they would be protective—they still are, despite the variants—and that the simplest of measures, such as wearing a mask and distancing, would/could stop the spread. Then we got our government sponsored test kits (watch the expiration dates), testing sites and antivirals. All good news. But because of Trump's dangerous solipsistic insanity, both Cuomo (for all his faults) and Dr. Fauci, known affectionately simply as Fauci, became our governors, literally those that govern for the common good, our personal guides until we were more or less safe. I don't think either of them anticipated the more or less part of this sentence, but I don't want to minimize how they both got us through those early 2020 terrifying days and became our invited household guests during lockdown.

 

But more or less is where we still are during this third Covid summer. It's not nearly as scary as the first one, or the second one, thank goodness. We can relax a bit, certainly outside. Many people are risking travel, many people are socializing. I don't wear my mask at all in certain well-tested situations with people I trust, which feels nearly normal. And there are days when I forget we are still in the midst of the pandemic, which gives the vigilant worry brain a rest, wouldn't you agree, dear reader? I'll be inside working, say, and then take a run to the pool for a long, relaxed lap swim, two people to a lane this year, no reservation required. Once there I can chat mask free to the teens at the outdoor sign-in desk, some in high school, some in college, learn their names, their ambition, and ask how these past two years have been for them. Hard. Very hard. I try to encourage, support, solicit emails of their latest art projects or college application essays, offer to give them a read. They know I'm a  prof and a journalist and seem eager to talk to an adult who takes an interest. I easily oblige. Now that I can see their faces, and their smiles, we've formed a cohort, a community, of those who have survived, or are surviving—in  the continuous present tense—a  terrible ordeal, albeit only more or less over.

 

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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 94

 

Homo homini lupus est. 

© photo copoyright Yenka Honig 2022

 

And We Thought We Were Done

 

 

He that is to govern a whole Nation, must read in himselfe, not this, or that particular man; but Man-kind;"

 

 Thomas Hobbes, "Leviathan"

 

 

I was in the health store buying organically regeneratively cultivated food when a family breezed in—two parents, three kids, two of the kids in the shopping cart—all unmasked, when one of the kids started sneezing, coughing and spurting phlegm all over her siblings and into the air. Though no one said a word, the shoppers pulled away. It's a small store, so this was not easy. I retrieved another mask from my back pocket—I only had a surgical on--and moved to the end of the check-out line. What was there to say or do other than that? Not much, unfortunately, except to leave the store without my organically regeneratively cultivated food, all of which I hope will keep me and my husband fortified for the BA variants upcoming before we get our FIFTH SHOT sometime in the autumn.

 

Whether this sweet sputtering child had Covid or not is irrelevant as there is no way to know. And it's not her responsibility anyway to consider the safety of the public at large. And she may have tested negative and just had an ordinary cold. But what were the adults thinking? Why not keep the child in the car, at least, with one of them. Was this too logistically difficult, too ethically challenging? Are they too busy to pay attention to anyone other than themselves and their immediate family?

 

Rhetorical questions.

 

It's summer and several friends and family members are traveling. We want to enjoy ourselves, see each other, see the world as it flails and burns. But we also have to preserve and repair. In the most global sense, the pandemic is a wake-up call, a symptom of the larger environmental challenge and the breakdown in international peace and cooperation.

 

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Weather Map

Grass finding shelter in a tree. photo © copyright Carol Bergman 2022

 

WEATHER MAP

 

 I don't believe the sleepers in this house

Know where they are.

-Robert Frost

 

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth.

-Herman Hesse

 

 

Except for summers when I was a child, and later when I was raising a child, I always lived in a city, either a large city such as Boston, London or New York, or a small city, such as Berkeley when I studied at the University of California. I never imagined that a consoling mountain landscape could be a year-round home. But in the spring of 2018, we moved out of the city permanently to a mid-Hudson valley small town, west of the Hudson River.  Our apartment has three screened-in nearly always open windows looking out onto the Minnewaska Ridge. On any one day I might see a grazing deer, coyotes, a fox crossing my path, a black bear resting in a tree on the SUNY campus, rabbits, vultures, eagles and hawks, or groundhogs feasting in the apple orchard. The sensation of sharing an ecosystem is constant and profound. It deepened during lockdown and isolation as my commute to the city lessened and then ceased. I've had one trip in recent months to see the Basquiat show, my cousin, and some friends visiting from California, but I need a very good reason to navigate the crowded streets, and feel the pressure of concrete, metal, glass, foul air, and hustle, not to mention surges in Covid.

 

It's not that I've become a recluse, far from. I started writing occasional pieces for the local newspaper a few weeks ago which keeps me engaged with people, community, politics and life's seemingly constant exacerbations. But the solace of the landscape envelops me even as I work a story, write my blogs, edit books, or facilitate a Zoom writing workshop, and this makes deadline pressure not only bearable, but meaningless. 

 

If  I am so in sync with nature now, composting and recycling diligently, it's curious, my husband, says, that I check my weather app so frequently. Why do I do this, I wonder? Storms announce themselves in the sky, in the tumbling clouds, and in the moist or dry air on my skin. Seasons change, or retreat, or explode suddenly. The calendar on my desk or in my phone tell me where I am within a given year. And even if there are climate change surprises—droughts and floods, a fire, a tornado—I manage well, without fear, most of the time.

 

Every Sunday as Covid ripped the fabric of our lives, I walked and talked with my friend Helene. Both the walking and talking were grounding, an antidote to social isolation. And we've continued the practice more or less every Sunday since. We pass old stone houses, a farm, a field of hay, barns, burial grounds, a nature preserve, gardens, people walking their dogs, other walkers. We may stop to chat, widening the circle of connection, or not. As the walk proceeds, earth sky, flora, fauna, and human habitation feels in balance and we feel in balance. It's more than likely the illusion of proximity or wishful thinking; the Wallkill River is very polluted, algae bloom all summer. It's a reminder that repairing our degraded environment—even in this beautiful landscape—must be intentional and unrelenting into the next season, and beyond. 

 

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Imagine

My vet husband, Jim, and daughter, Chloe, on a  long ago arms are for hugging peace march in Central Park. photo ©copyright Carol Bergman

 

IMAGINE


Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace…

 

-John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Released 10/11/71         
                                                   

***
Dear Professor Freud,

 

Is there any way of delivering mankind from the menace of war?

 

It is common knowledge that, with the advance of modern science, this issue has come to mean a matter of life and death for civilization as we know it; nevertheless, for all the zeal displayed, every attempt at its solution has ended in a lamentable breakdown…

 
-Albert Einstein in a letter to Sigmund Freud, 30 July 1932
 

 

When the war in Ukraine began, I imagined myself on the frontlines, my family on the train to Poland. I imagined myself fighting, my family fleeing. Often, as a child, I asked my mother why she had fled the war zone, that soon became a genocide, and left her parents—my grandparents—behind, a child-centered question. The complexities of invasion from an imperialist power cannot be answered by one, afflicted refugee escaping bombardment and atrocity. I had no humility and said, bluntly, "I would have stayed and fought in the underground."


Many imaginings will surface in this blog post. I can't imagine, for example how my questioning made my mother feel, how it might have intensified her survivor's guilt and grief. I can't imagine how Peter Zalmayev, Director of the Eurasia Democracy Initiative, based in Kyiv, will feel when I talk to him on Thursday and ask the questions: Do you see an end to this war? Is there any way to make peace and stop the slaughter? Who is profiting—governments, arms dealers, both—from the arms pouring into Ukraine?


Is it fair to ask these questions of someone only recently surfaced from a bunker?


It isn't only the deflection of resources in a world still in the midst and/or recovering from a pandemic, it's the realization that the NATO alliance is on a war footing and has revved up its war economies; it's the sadness of the frailty of peace, the seeming impossibility of a peaceful world, the continuing futility of diplomacy. Consider Israel and Palestine, for starters. Consider the pushback of migrants, their flights from despotic, impoverished regimes while the rest of us worry about the price of gas and food and whether or not we'll be able to go on vacation this year.  


I am old enough now to remember peace marches, peace signs and John and Yoko's iconic song. It's a utopian lullaby, an incantation, embedded in my psyche. I hope it helps.

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Born Again

 

Born Again

 

 

We cannot get rid of mankind's fleetingly wicked wishes.  We can get rid of the machines that make them come true.  I give you a holy word: DISARM. 

 

Kurt Vonnegut, "Deadeye Dick"

 

 

We had a visitation from a friend from Kentucky yesterday. She left Kentucky a long time ago, but she has not lost the Southern oral-telling gift. Her whole body goes into the telling, especially if there's a lot of dialogue. One particular story began with a question to her audience at the table: Do you know anyone who owns a gun?

 

I know a sheriff, a chief of police. a New York City transit cop, a former soldier, a hunter, I said,  but that doesn't count apparently. What Linda Sue meant is—and I am using an alias to protect her privacy— do I know an ordinary person who owns a gun? Everyone else at the table said, no, not really.

 

Then I remembered that I have a cousin from Ohio who grew up on a farm and has a safely locked away gun collection. He's what in America we call a "responsible" gun owner. Would it matter if we had more of those? Probably not.

 

There are more than 400,000,000 guns in America. Did I get that stat right, add all the necessary zeros? And though that number includes police and military, there are more guns free floating in America than any country in the world, even trigger-happy countries, or countries at war. Remember the testimony of the Capitol Hill Police officer: she looked out at the rioters and saw a war zone. She hadn't been trained for a war zone.

 

So, here's the thing, in Kentucky everyone owns a gun, Linda Sue continued, and I mean everyone, just ordinary everyday people. Even when they are in church, they take their guns. Anything could happen, right?

 

In church?

 

Even in church if the Good Lord strikes.

 

Not to mention if a shooter strikes, I said.

 

She didn't want to go there. Who does?

 

Doesn't the preacher get everyone to check their guns at the door? I asked.

 

You must be kidding me, she said.

 

Did you go to church when you were a child? I asked.

 

Yes, but I lied about being born again. I wanted the preacher to leave me alone.

 

Now you live up north, gun free and church free?

 

Yes, she said. But my mother told me on my last visit that I am surely going to Hell. I told her, Hell will be a better place than this gun-toting frontier town where the fear of slave insurrections won't quit and the white supremacists have been reborn.

 

Mitch McConnell's state, I thought to myself. This is the culture that shaped him. Problem is, unlike my friend, he never left.

 

Should I give my friend from Kentucky the last word, she would surely say something about the Select Committee's hearings, and the clear and present evidence of the calculated hate-mongering all of us now have to endure. It's primary week. The very least we can do is get out to vote, thus honoring all the brave and devoted election workers who have resigned, and those still working under threat.

 

 

 

This blog post is dedicated to the the House of Worship shooting  victims, Black & White, Christian & Jew ((1980-2018) and their grieving families and communities.

 

◾ JUNE 22, 1980 Gene Gandy (50) • Mary Regina "Gina" Linam (7) • James Y. "Red" McDaniel (53) • Thelma Richardson (78) • Kenneth Truitt (49) ◾ MARCH 10, 1999 Vaniaro Jackson (19) • Carla Miller (25) • Shon Miller Jr. (2) • Mildred Vessel (53) ◾ SEPT. 15, 1999 Kristi Kathleen Beckel (14) • Shawn Brown (23) • Sydney Rochelle Browning (36) • Joseph Daniel "Joey" Ennis (14) • Cassandra Fawn Griffin (14) • Susan Kimberly "Kim" Jones (23) • Justin Michael Stegner Ray (17) ◾ MARCH 12, 2005 Gloria Sue Critari (55) • Harold Diekmeier (74) • James Isaac Gregory (16) • Randy Lynn Gregory (51) • Gerald Anthony Miller (44) • Bart J. Oliver (15) • Richard Reeves (58) ◾ AUG. 28, 2005 James Wayne Armstrong (42) • Ernest Wesley Brown (61) • Holly Ann Love Brown (50) • Ceri Litterio (46) ◾ MAY 21, 2006 Erica Bell (24) • Gloria Howard (72) • Leonard Howard (78) • Doloris McGrew (67) • Darlene Mills Selvage (47) ◾ DEC. 9, 2007 Philip Crouse (22) • Tiffany Johnson (25) • Rachel Elizabeth Works (16) • Stephanie Pauline Works (18) ◾ AUG. 5, 2012 Satwant Singh Kaleka (65) • Paramjit Kaur (41) • Prakash Singh (39) • Ranjit Singh (49) • Sita Singh (41) • Suveg Singh (84) ◾ JUNE 17, 2015 Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45) • Depayne Middleton-Doctor (49) • Cynthia Hurd (54) • Susie Jackson (87) • Ethel Lance (70) • Clementa Carlos Pinckney (41) • Tywanza Sanders (26) • Daniel Lee Simmons Sr. (74) • Myra Thompson (59) ◾ NOV. 5, 2017 Keith Allen Braden (62) • Robert Corrigan (51) • Shani Corrigan (51) • Bryan Holcombe (60) • Crystal Marie Holcombe (36) • Emily Rose Hill (11) • Gregory Lynn Hill (13) • Karla Plain Holcombe (58) • Marc Daniel "Danny" Holcombe (36) • Megan Gail Hill (9) • Noah Grace Holcombe (1) • Dennis Johnson (77) • Sara Johnson (68) • Annabelle Renae Pomeroy (14) • Haley Krueger (16) • Karen Sue Marshall (56) • Robert Scott Marshall (56) • Tara E. McNulty (33) • Ricardo Cardona Rodriguez (64) • Therese Sagan Rodriguez (66) • Joann Lookingbill Ward (30) • Brooke Ward (5) • Emily Garcia (7) • Peggy Lynn Warden (56) • Lula Woicinski White (71) ◾ OCT. 27, 2018 Joyce Fienberg (75) • Richard Gottfired (65) • Rose Mallinger (97) • Jerry Rabinowitz (66) • Cecil Rosenthal (59) • David Rosenthal (54) • Bernice Simon (84) • Sylvan Simon (86) • Daniel Stein (71) • Melvin Wax (88) • Irving Younger (69)

 

 

 

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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 93

What if, I ask? What if, as we tear down monuments, we erect new ones, such as this tipsy sign, but cast it in stone?  Photo © copyright Carol Bergman 2022

 

Political Triage

 

 

Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.

     -Mark Twain

 

True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.

-Kurt Vonnegut

 

 

It's odd what I remember overnight in my sleep and then record in my journal first thing in the morning. I'll get an email that calls me prejudiced and insane and wake up with that slam dunk in my ear and have to get it down in writing, not to savor it, but to expunge it. This week an anti-vaxxer let me have it. Whoa, that took up several paragraphs to expunge.

 

Apologies and thanks rarely arrive in my in box, the occasional compliment, maybe, if I should be so blessed. A nurse in my doctor's office blessed me as she scooted out of the room with the blood pressure monitor and I said, "I accept all blessings."  I'd just heard her story about the cruise she's going on with her mom to the Bahamas and she'd slipped the mask under her nose as she was talking and taking my blood pressure, all at the same time. Politely, kindly, I said, "Could you please pull your mask up for me, Honey, otherwise my blood pressure will white-coat skyrocket. This is an annual wellness visit and I want to stay well."

 

Had I really called her Honey?  She was young enough to be my daughter so I figured she'd accept that I am her elder, someone to be cherished and respected, someone I could ask ever so politely and kindly to please put up her mask.

 

 "These damn masks," she said.

 

Indeed. Damn helpful, I'd say. Damn useful. Damn necessary.

 

Have we—the most vulnerable—been triaged  aka strategically prioritized, shunted to the bottom –-I  ask myself, for the sake of mask-free faces before the election in November?  This is the third summer of magical thinking, but we can't admit that, because if we admitted that, really felt it,  the mask mandates would still be in place, as would the testing sites.

 

There's an organization in Oslo called The Peace Research Institute that set my mind straight this morning. They study the conditions for peaceful relations between states, groups and people. Needless to say, the trusting neighborly conditions for peaceful relations among the people in the American nation state have broken down. And the constantly shifting and confusing Covid protocols have contributed to this breakdown, or, at the very least, exacerbated it.

 

Last week my husband went into the city and came back with the news that he had been exposed to Covid. This is common and constant these days, the new normal, I'd say. Onto the CDC  website for information about  quarantine and when and how to test. Good thing we have a computer and a few stockpiled tests. But what if we didn't have a computer and stockpiled tests, then what?  

 

Is anyone out there watching over us during this still ongoing, still Global Health Emergency? Well maybe in my house, but not in your house. Hard luck if you are vulnerable, and have no access to tests, or masks, or vaccines, and have to get to work, have kids to look after. And so on, or so it goes, as Vonnegut would say.

 

Government officials—forget  their party affiliation for now—are responsible for  this confusing birthday party. Some people have been invited and others haven't and that is the reality; the vulnerable have been triaged, nationally and globally. Define vulnerable any way you want:  poor, weak, immunocompromised, old, too far away to care about, or in a war zone, maybe.

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Swords Into Ploughshares

Robert Macpherson and his service dog, Blue © copyright Veronica Kenny-MacPherson 2022, by permission.

SWORDS INTO PLOUGHSHARES

 

 

There's something happening here/ What it is ain't exactly clear/ There's a man with a gun over there /Telling me I got to beware

 

Lyrics by Stephen Stills, "For What It's Worth"

 

 

.

The war in Ukraine still raging, and now the shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde and, this morning, Tulsa, guns and gunfire are annealed into our psyches. As we sell weapons of war internationally, and simultaneously lobby to restrain and curb the use of these same weapons in America, have we gone mad, developed split personalities? We are certainly in the midst of a domestic humanitarian crisis. Weapons of war in our schools? In hospitals? It's unconscionable.

 

In the interest of sanity, I decided to reach out to Robert Séamus Macpherson, who wrote a prize-winning book about using his training as a soldier to heal broken lives, Stewards of Humanity; Lighting the Darkness in Humanitarian Crisis. He'd been a Colonel in the United States Marines for thirty years and was injured in Vietnam. After his rehabilitation, he segued to humanitarian work with the agency CARE where he coordinated and monitored safety and security for the agency's 15,000 staff in 72 global programs.

 

When we first connected, some months ago, I asked about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, our most recent 20-year war. Had it been worth it? All those lives lost? Soldiers and civilians injured beyond repair? Is it fair to ask a soldier that question?

 

We were on a Zoom call so I wasn't sure if he threw up his hands, shrugged his shoulders, or just quoted the numbers. Thousands of lives lost, military and civilian. And where are we now? Barely a year ago, the Taliban re-conquered Afghanistan, the scrambling to escape reminiscent of the airlift out of Saigon when the People's Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong  entered the city on April 30 1975. The Fall of Saigon, as it became known. led to the reunification of the country.

 

I was talking with Bob, his wife Veronica, and Bob's service dog, Blue, while they were on vacation in Maine. At my request, Bob introduced me formally to Blue, trained by Southeastern Guide Dogs. And, yes, I was talking to this adorable 90-pound white Labrador, who is by Bob's side 24-7, an "empath," the trainers call him. They should be provided free to every returning veteran, every retired and psychologically or physically wounded first responder. Just imagine the guilt all those officers in Uvalde have to live with now, and forever. Is it any wonder that soldiers, humanitarian workers and domestic front-line workers suffer from PTSD. It took a while for Bob to acknowledge his struggle, but he faced it, as he had all the other challenges in his life. 

 

"How does writing help with the PTSD?" I asked him.

 

"I believe the events I write about affected me deeply. I found that once I started writing about them, all the facts seemed to unfold like a movie. Every name, event and nuance seemed to appear in front of me—just when I needed it."

 

The book took five years to complete. Was it cathartic, a healing exercise in itself? Absolutely, he says.

 

Will he write another?

 

"Yes, about my relationship with Blue."

 

But my main reason for getting back in touch: What does this decorated Marine and humanitarian worker think of gun control? This is his reply:

 

"I've been an advocate for gun control for decades. In 1994, I breathed a sigh when assault weapons were banned for ten years. I thought that was only a formality and the ban would continue. What troubles me the most is that behind the refusal of elected officials to act to mitigate gun violence is something sinister. I have always hesitated to say evil because I think that gives it a "religious " connotation. Now, I wonder? I'm angry, frustrated and disheartened about the continued violence…I believe we lack a coordinated effort to address and assist the common will of the American people to end this slaughter.

 

Sorry, to run on… 

 

Cheers.

Bob"

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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 92

photo copyright © Carol Bergman 2022

Would it help if we could itemize every lost or misbegotten soul,

Enter every name in vellum registry?

Would it summarize my life to list every object

I have touched with these two hands?

 

-Campbell McGrath from "The Mercy Supermarket"

 

 

Dedicated to the one million who have died from Covid, and to the friends, family, colleagues. spouses and significant others they have left behind.

 

 

It's been almost a month since I wrote a "Virus Without Borders" post, but yesterday my small town in upstate New York went on emergency alert. Numbers are up, masks are strongly suggested, and restaurants and bars will be allowed to set up outside tables in the coming weeks without special permits.

 

So here we are again, or still. Meanwhile, the long Covid cases accumulate, nearly 7 million Americans in all, including me, and research projects are underway. All this, my readers will undoubtedly already know. I am reiterating it here as a prelude to the ongoing discussion about individual responsibility as I was faced with a moral dilemma this week when a friend called to ask if an anti-vaxxer friend of hers, who finally caught Covid, and is still testing positive, should teach a weekly scheduled dance class in a local art center, a class which she attends.

 

I concede that protocols and instructions are confusing these days, but this was a no-brainer for me: Don't let me near that person, please. I don't want to get Covid again. And keep her away from others, if at all possible, until she tests negative. This is what I told my friend, who passed it along to her friend, who passed it along to her friend, and so on.  It was just an opinion, my opinion, not a mandate, not a law, no enforcement possible.

 

I still had a moral conundrum, though. Now that I know there is a woman walking around town positive, going to work, and threatening to teach a class in a public space, what do I do? What can I do? If I do nothing, I am complicit. At least that is how it feels to me. So I called the Chief of Police for advice. He's a thoughtful and empathic man who grew up in the community and still lives here. At first he said that it was up to me whether or not I exposed myself to someone positive, which I had no intention of doing. And then he suggested a call to the Ulster County Department of Health, to what end I am not sure, perhaps for more advice. But that was the day everyone had gone home early because of a tornado watch. So, there was no answer. By the next morning, I'd slipped the knowledge of the super spreader person to the back of my mind and slowly, painstakingly, repotted my rescued basil plant. Someone had left it on the front lawn, maybe for the deer, I wasn't sure. It's doing well, which I can attribute to giving it lots of light, water and tender loving care. If only we could do the same for one another.

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Basquiat

BASQUIAT

 

 

In our all-or-nothing culture, creative work is too often either apotheosized or ignored. You're a rock star or you're nothing. The public has little appetite for nuance.

 

                 -Jed Perl in the New York Review of Books 11/4/21

 

All I could think of as I walked through the narrow, packed gallery was that this adorable, talented boy died of an overdose at 27, that the narrative of his tormented inner life has been lost in the exploitation of his work, and that both his mentally ill abusive Latino mother, who nurtured his artistic inclinations before she succumbed to her own demons, and his abusive Haitian father, have escaped responsibility for their son's short life in the hagiography of this exhibition. Basquiat ended up homeless on the streets of New York, became addicted to cocaine and heroin, suffered greatly as he tried to get sober, and then was gone. And despite this awful backstory, or perhaps because of it, he created a lasting body of work now worth millions, $110.5 million just recently.

 

The work is intentional, energetic, mysterious, uplifting, sometimes crass, usually profound and inspiring, especially to young artists today, by all accounts. But in the years since his death, it has been sold at auction for profit by his family;  his two sisters, with the help of their step-mother, mounted this immersive exhibition. Is any of this profit going to rehab programs, or research about trauma and addiction? I have found no evidence of this in the Basquiat family's internet footprint, and my query to the media relations department was answered anonymously: the pricing is "commensurate" with other New York City attractions such as the Van Gogh immersive exhibtion, which had no original art at all. 

 

How do the artifacts, scraps of paper, and re-created living spaces illuminate Basquiat's life and his artistic process? I am not sure they do. Indeed, at times, it feels voyeuristic, rather than informative, to be looking inside the cleansed, pristine living spaces of the dysfunctional Basquiat household. Not to mention that there is no place for the voyeurs-- aka audience-- to rest and contemplate, and no backtracking once one gets to the end.  Is there accommodation for those with a disability? I hope so.

 

I had entered on a press pass, but my cousin, a well known print-maker who adores Basquiat's work, had bought a $45 ticket without flinching. I pondered that price, and the opportunity to skip the line with me if she had paid $65. Price for seniors, students and military: $42 and for children under 13: $40. That's a whopping lot of money for a family, say. No surprise that on the day I was there, just about everyone in the gallery was an older lighter-skinned person, commensurate with where most of the privilege resides in the United States. The irony of this would not have been lost on Basquiat who railed articulately against economic and racial injustice. 

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Forever Free

 Icons by Jacques Hnizdovsky. All the woodwork is hand carved by local artisans. The image does not capture the chapel's magnificence. 

Forever Free

 

 

We try to be free and try to be more free over time.

 

-Jill Lepore

 

 

I drove up to the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church in Kerhonkson, NY on an overcast spring day. Tucked away on a mountainous, long, quiet road, I made a wrong turn and texted Father Ivan. "It's the building with the crosses on the top," he replied. I had already experienced his wry humor during our first telephone conversation. And there he was waiting for me in the parking lot in the cool drizzle, a one-person rescue party.

 

The church is an architectural masterpiece set in a wooded enclave that must feel both safe and welcoming to its parishioners, about one hundred in all, more on holidays when relatives and friends attend services. When the war in Ukraine started, the community mobilized. Many still have family in Ukraine, or family and friends escaping Ukraine, or family and friends who are fighting in the resistance. Stacked in the corner of the undercroft are cardboard boxes and donated medical supplies to be packed up and shipped to Poland. It is a continuous operation, almost military in its intensity and precision. "And after the war is over, there will be reconstruction," Fr. Ivan said as I commented on the floor-to-ceiling boxes. Parents and children work together tirelessly in the relief effort based at the church. They hope to eventually host up to fifty refugee families.

 

The Rev. Dr. Ivan Kaszczak is an historian and within minutes we were discussing the history of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, before, during and after Stalin, its persecution under communism, its long and proud history of resistance, and the first wave of refugees that arrived in America in the 1950's. Fr. Ivan still speaks Ukrainian to his parents. He has served the church in Kerhonkson for eleven years now; before that he was an Air Force chaplain.

 

"I saw how the military works," he told me.  "Professional soldiers don't want to fight; they want to retire." In other words, they don't want to come home maimed or in body bags. I thought of the volunteer Ukrainian freedom fighters, the Russian soldiers—cannon fodder—our  own war of independence, my family's flight from Europe. I still have days when I don't think I am meant to be an American, then I stop myself and ask, Unless we are indigenous, survivors of colonial genocide, what is an American anyway? We are either descendants of immigrants, refugees, brutal enslavement, or brutal wars. This one feels like the Thirty Years War, back to the Dark Ages or, in more recent history, the atrocity of Bosnia.

 

 Fr. Ivan took me up to the chapel, a repository of shared memory and preserved ancestral culture. A local  artist, Jacques Hnizdovsky, who died in 1985, used parishioners as models and, according to Halyna Shepko, one of the parishioners, a few were a bit uncomfortable when they saw their features rendered in the icons—the hands, a nose, the expression in the eyes—a bit of wry trivia, it made me smile. In my experience, like many persecuted peoples, Ukrainians have a highly evolved sense of humor. "Think of Billy Crystal," Fr. Ivan reminds me. One of Crystal's grandmothers was from Kyiv, the other from Odesa.  As I write, the runway at that port city's airport has been destroyed. And there is more to come, alas, before Ukraine is at peace.

 

Donations of medical supplies are accepted at the church drop off box. Monetary donations may be sent to the Ukrainian American Youth Association PO Box 35, Napanoch NY 12458 or at the following Go Fund Me link: Donations for Ukraine   The UAYA have already raised $100,000 worth of supplies.

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