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We could have been in Rome or Paris or Berlin, walking in the gardens, gardens with statues and fountains. It might have been spring, the air moist with blossom and seed. Perhaps a light rain had been falling all morning and I was sauntering under my cheerful turquoise umbrella. But we weren’t in Rome or Paris or Berlin, we were on the line at Fairway, in the organic section upstairs. He was behind me, humming. I turned around and said, “You are singing.” And he said, “One must not stop singing.”

I was carrying a few groceries but he had a cart filled to overflowing. The top layer was chard escaping from a plastic bag, the large leaves with their red veins drooping over and nearly falling out of the cart. I began to laugh and said, “I see you have bought some vegetables.” And he said, “One must not stop eating vegetables.”

And as he talked, it was as though he was singing. I asked if he was a singer. “A baritone,” he said.

He was tall and slim, wearing a black wool jacket. And though his hair was dyed black with gray showing at the roots, he was ageless, like other angels I have met in the city. He was a troubadour who enjoyed singing and telling stories, descendant of the medieval troubadours from France and Spain.

It was a long line, everyone home from work on line at Fairway, it seemed. We had time to talk. I told him about two other troubadours I had met recently: Gary who played his guitar on a milk crate in the Overlook Passage in my Washington Heights neighborhood and sang “Let it Be” and nothing else. (I wrote about him here on November 1, 2014.) He had disappeared. “If only he were traveling,” I said. “But I fear he has sickened and died during our harsh winter.” And Scott, who played the flute in the same passage, taking turns with Gary who only played in the mornings. Scott was still there; he didn’t know what had happened to Gary. Both Scott and Gary were gifted in their own way, both of them homeless. Gary had never admitted he was homeless, but Scott had confirmed that he was.

“I have been fortunate. I had a privileged childhood and now I work at the Metropolitan Opera,” my new friend said. I never learned his name. There wasn’t enough time for that.  Read More 
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Ride The Wave

“Egon Schiele, My Father and Me” was published in New York on February 11th and will appear in London this week, or next, in a full page spread with a photo and illustration. I could not be more pleased. This is a story “with legs,” as we say, of interest to many and an important contribution to the historical record. It is my hope that it will continue to travel far and wide. I have retained all rights.

It’s always gratifying to have an article, essay or book accepted for publication especially if one is paid well and/or the subject is deserving of attention. Gathering material for a story, writing it, working it, submitting, and then collaborating with a good editor—the arduous process is rewarded with a sale. But it’s not the only reward. People respond to the work with commentary online or letters to the editor, or they contact the writer with a personal anecdote, a question, a criticism, or a correction. My preference is to answer everything I receive in a timely manner with courtesy and attention—even the critical comments. After all, I have sent my writing out into the public sphere and this implies an obligation to those who read it.

In the case of the Egon Schiele piece, which explores the oddity of my father’s art collection among other things, the response has been both heartwarming and critical. I have been invited for drinks, invited to peruse documents that might change my mind, and I have discovered cousins I never knew existed. Quite a ride.

Once in London, after writing a controversial article for The Times Educational Supplement about racism in the British school system, I was asked to testify in the House of Lords. I had been invited by a Lord who liked the article and wanted to use it in defense of new proposed legislation. In the midst of a hot debate during which I remained silent, another Lord got up and suggested I return to the United States where I belonged. Of course, he was extremely polite and called me Mrs. Bergman. I was very young and inexperienced . The flattery of the invitation had trumped my journalistic scepticism and I felt stung. It took me a while to understand that I’d done nothing wrong. The article had legs.


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Not Just Words

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

These are not just words. They are a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny.

--President Barack Obama in Selma, Alabama, March 7, 2015.

We didn't know what to expect when we arrived at the Court House in Kingston, NY last Friday morning. As we were leaving, my British-born son-in-law, Ryan, quipped wryly that he might be alone in the court room. His citizenship test and interview had taken place in Lower Manhattan which was teeming with people, but this was Kingston, a small, historic town in Ulster County. The town dates back to the 17th century Dutch period and there are many stone houses in the “stockade,” as it is called, in the old part of town. It was the perfect location to become a hyphenated Anglo-American or an American of British ancestry; the choice is always ours.

The ceremony took place in the Supreme Court of the State of NY, Hon. Mary M. Work presiding. And there were many surprises. First, the judge was a woman, an older woman—brava to that—and the Clerk of the Court, Nina Postupack, redundant to say, was also a woman, a younger woman. Brava to that, too.

Secondly, the court room was crowded: 46 soon-to- be New Americans from 30 countries, friends and family, filled the hard wooden seats. A woman handed out brochures for ESL classes and a Daughter of the American Revolution distributed American flag lapel pins. Just think about that, I thought, how that venerable elitist organization has had to change.

But, most surprising, were the thoughtful narratives from elected officials and the Judge. The most touching: Legislator Craig V. Lopez told the story of his Puerto Rican family, a hardscrabble childhood, and what it means to him to be an American. Then a local high school choir sang the National Anthem and God Bless America and the New Americans took an oath of allegiance which sounded dated, but also profound.

The next day President Obama addressed a crowd in Selma, his eloquent and elegant speech the perfect addendum to the citizenship ceremony, a reminder of how this country was formed and how much work we still have to do. The President is a good storyteller and a good writer, as were our well-educated, well-read Founding Fathers.  Read More 
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