Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Freezing the Toad

Well, this will be short and sweet and low on pictures.

I thought I'd just share, in general, that I am in Pamplona; Spanish home of the annual running of the idiots (as the bulls like to call it), though the festival of the patron saint, San Fermin, is in summer.

In winter, it is so cold and windy here that the train trip was lined, once we were in Navarra, with wind farms (and one solar farm). The wind farms are so successful that the entire region's electricity is provided by them.

I finally finished breaking the nikkor lens on my camera (which almost made me cry--several times). I will be taking pics, but on Manual focus and with no help from the lens (which doesn't switch to a manual style of focusing when set to manual (or can't because it's broken), who knows.

I do promise to get as many good pics as I can and post them, as well as continue my comments on France and Spain; probably tomorrow--now that Jaime's almost been electrocuted by a lamp and my complaints tot he hotel management about that and the (short) list of other room issues has gotten us an upgrade and free wifi.

Plans for New Years, anyone?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

let it snow...

It is, anyway.

I have walked in sneakers in Paris in snow. Last night it was coming down hard--Here's a great one of Jaime in front of Notre Dame!

In case the look on his face isn't enough, I will tell you, he's freezin' his butt off!

In the background, there, is Notre Dame with a blue-lit Christmas tree. We were heading from Shakespeare & Co., an American bookstore at "kilometer 0"--I think, technically, that this is the center of Paris--to Rue de Rivoli.

We are not brave enough souls. We made it as far as about 100 feet from that photo, then turned our tails right around and found the nearest metro.

This is actually the very same metro entrance we took the other day after Jaime asked me to be his pain in the ass--and that's a picture from then. I was not stopping to photograph in the snow.

In fact, the photo above was at Jaime's request; my general rule for precipitation being that cameras and wet things do not match.

Today, we again started out with grand plans and high hopes. We wanted to take a nice walk--do not come to Paris unless you plan to walk a lot--and perhaps do a little shopping.

The shopping only happened because the best coffee we've had in Paris is at the Galleries Lafayette. Imagine a moderately sized American Mall. Then add two buildings, make the main one 7 floors and the others 3 each. Finally, add a gorgeous stained glass dome to the top:

Oh, yeah, and it's just one department store. If you can't find it here, well, it's probably at Walmart.

The store itself is beautiful. We had lunch there this week, at Lafayette Gourmet. The lunch, particularly considering our previous coffee adventure, was rather disappointing. We had Chinese which was ok, and then we had what I can only call Pasties. I have no idea what the French call them but they're pastry filled with meats, vegetables, all different manner of savory foods. The pasties were slightly less impressive. In all, for a place that has little "gourmet" shops where one can buy any food one likes, we were left with the general impression that coffee and maybe croissants were the limit.

We tested that limit this morning. I prefer the little Brasserie at which we'd been having our morning coffee and croissant--had it not been closed, we'd have had it there.

Regardless, we were happy to do a little shopping and then march down to the Rue de Rivoli, which we had walked part of earlier in the week. Rue de Rivoli comes off the Champs Elysses. It's a bunch of lovely shops across from the royal gardens. It's not worth a mile-long walk in the snow.

I'm not sure the Arc de Triomphe would have been worth that walk, and it's probably my favorite Paris sight (parasite?). The Arc is immense. Immense is the only word I can think of that sounds adult and appropriate. I prefer hugeumongous. Jaime says, "BIG-ASS." I'll let you decide.

This is the Arc from across the street. Look at the scale as compared to the cars.

I leaned backwards under one of the four archways to get this picture. Jaime worried--loudly.

That's Jaime in the middle. I took the picture of the whole pillar because it lists Spanish cities that were "conquered" by Napoleon.

But for me, the top was the best. This shot's obviously the Tour Eiffel from the roof of the Arc. We didn't climb the stairs (though we have managed three of the major stairmasters of Paris (the catacombs, the Pantheon, and the subway), there's an elevator for arthritic, broken, pathetic people like me who think that several hundred stairs for this grand view is untenable.

The view was worth it, but the inside exhibits of the history of the Arc, the history of War, in general, and the design of the Arc were even more worth it.

These two screens, show scenes of war (in red on the left) and peace (in blue on the right), switching famous photos every second (possibly faster) and as you can see with the words War and Peace in different languages popping up on occasion.

It kept me mesmerized.

Tomorrow, I will write about the catacombs, the obsession with death, and the connections to the Arc de Triomphe. For now, I leave you with this: Why build such an immense monument to the triumph of the armies of France in its wars and then attempt to suggest that one values peace?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Oh No! She di'nt!

Well, yes. Yes, she did.

The woman in the subway did, actually, grab me and start talking frantically as I was about to go through the gate. When I turned around to tell her to back off (I'm staying family friendly--for this sentence at least), she started saying, "It's okay, I go with you." I started yelling that it was not okay and to get away from me. She kept repeating herself, so I pushed her away. As I walked through the revolving gate she yelled, "You don't even know what it's for!" and I yelled, "It's theft!" And we walked away, my hunny asking me what that was all about.

I'm guessing by the nice coat, the fur hat, the big designer purse (no, I don't care if it was empty), that "what it was for" had more to do with getting close enough to take things off my person than getting a free ride on a 1.2 Euro train. But then, I really don't think it matters. I just guess it was prove Leah wrong because she wrote Parisians are nice day.

On the way home this evening, as we were exiting a different subway station, some guy reached his hand through the subway exit doors in an attempt to stop them from closing. Up the stairs there was some sort of commotion with a guy yelling what were rather obviously cuss words even if I don't speak French (my dad will likely counter that one). The woman behind the glass looked like things were about to get pretty ugly. We left fast.

Last night, on the way home, and again in the subway, we came across a group of police surrounding what looked like a small contingent from a school group trip. This seems to be the season for Asian school trips to Paris. We had two in our hotel (yes, they were separate groups). And then there were these.

Some things just transcend language.

Two teenage guys, leaning back on the wall of the subway, with a semicircle of police standing around them, while their older if not wiser chaperon yells into the phone. Two teenage girls looking dowtrodden and disheartened. We sat and waited, partly to watch, but mostly because we didn't want to get on the sardine-packed subway cars that rolled by. We were waiting for something a little less "rush-hour" to float our way. The kids were just the free entertainment.

There came some point at which things turned, and so did the police, marching the four young "thugs" and their rather unhappy looking adult out with police officers along both sides of the moving column. No one was going anywhere. The young bloods strutted out with their heads held high, the girls, in the back, stared at their feet while they walked. I could here one of them thinking about how this looked.

Another "fun" aspect to subway travel here is the musicians. I know I sound like a grumpy old fart, but I am a grumpy old fart. Or maybe, I'd be willing to listen to and even give money to subway musicians if they were any good.

We have so far had the pleasure of two guys with guitars (on separate occasions) playing South American Music. One of them played "Che Guevara." And two accordionists (again on separate occasions). The accordionist in the subway tunnel, to me, is not as much a nuisance as the one in the subway car. First off, he doesn't expect to get paid by everyone lucky enough to have heard him. Second, one can escape. In Paris, one can escape within 2 minutes. But the guy who gets on the car and plays Michael Buble covers, which are, of course, covers, just can't be helped. He finished playing, then wanders around asking people to pay him for what he just did for free--and that's AFTER the Buble punishment! Buble in accordion! Some things should not happen.

The good news about being in a town with mass transit is that it has mass transit. The bad thing is, well, it has mass transit.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Frog de Paris

First things first: If anyone ever tells you the French are rude, slap them and tell them to go to France before they make stupid statements like that.

We've been here two days. EVERYONE we've talked to has been lovely, and friendly and tried to be helpful--even if they spoke no English and I could only get a bit of the French. The breakfast place we've chosen has a guy who doesn't speak English but he and I murder German and French together.

The police have been kind and friendly, even when sometimes wrong (one officer told us the wrong direction on our subway connection--of course she was in the middle of an arrest at the time (I know! weird!).

Oddly enough, Paris is cold in December. Heh. It's REALLY REALLY cold. Good thing I lived in Niagara Falls/Buffalo. I know how to walk on ice.

So far, we've seen the Eiffel tower:

This view is from across the Place de Mars--the plaza of war--but that structure in front of the tower is a monument to peace.

It has the word peace written on it in many languages.

It sits, interestingly, between the Ecole (school) Militaire (military), and the tower. We watched two helicopters take off from the center of the Ecole Militaire.

Here's a shot from closer up:

That's ice and salt at the bottom of that walkway. Like I said... cold.

I have no idea why blogger won't flip this for me like it did the other one, but it doesn't matter. This is the view from the foot of one of the pillars of the tower.

I got dizzy trying to take it. It is an amazing structure.

We didn't go up--the queue is about a 3 km wait--but we wandered about and looked at the astoundingly intricate design.

The rest of the Eiffel experience is up to others. I'm not sure that going to the top is the point. There are names engraved in the tower, and I think that's really what this is about. One can go up and see Paris from a hight, or one can stay on the ground and look Paris in the face. Paris is history. Move a few hundred meters and you find yet another statue of yet another amazing mind.

And we Americans think we invented the modern Democracy. What we forget is that it would not have been possible without the European thinkers who were writing about liberty alongside our American forefathers. What we forget is that the beautiful statue of liberty which we hold as a symbol of our liberty was gifted to us by the people of France.

We left the Tower and crossed the bridge. Walking along the Seine we--well, to be truthful, we froze our asses looking at a brown river, but it was nice anyway.

Down on the Champs Elysees, there was a Christmas market. Tons O' junk on sale. Same as the US in some ways (all about the buying) and yet different. These are artisans. They make what they sell. And some of them make food. Delicious, chocolate filled, mulled wine flavored, or bread-cheese-&-sausage, food. It was glorious.

I had a crepe running over with Nutella. Generally a good thing, unless one's camera is hanging underneath one's runneth over crepe--and mine was.

I cleaned the camera. Thank goodness none got on the lens, and all of it was cleanable parts--but I learned my lesson.

We actually then walked to Notre Dame. I say ACTUALLY because this is actually, keeping the walk tot he Eiffel and from in mind, about 6 miles all told. Holy mother of God, I am still feeling it in my thighs. This had better take care of that Nutella filled Crepe.

Along the way, we found some lovely examples of haute couture, which I will share here:

Yes, these lovely pants can be yours--if you are an extraordinarily skinny MAN.

They come with a matching suit and tie!

You see the clothier, here, has suggested a muted shirt (light blue) with a slightly less muted tie (actually he whole tie selection was hideously orange and shiny).

This, is but one example.

The next store over was a habberdasherry, which had bowlers as its primary offering. I'll save that pic for later.

And to the right you will see the latest craze in Men's shoes.

I can only imagine the zoot suit that must match. And I prefer not to. Thanks.

We considered stopping, NOT, and continued our tramp due Rivoli all the way to the island in the Seine on which Notre Dame is built.

Notre Dame is a medieval cathedral. It is quite beautiful, though it has seen some interesting ravages of history--including the bells almost being melted during the French Revolution.
This is my favorite stained glass window from the building, but I have many, many pictures of stained glass!

Here, we have a docent. Who happens to be a hunch-backed man. I don't know about you, but I began to imagine Victor Hugo wasn't writing fiction.
 Finally, we left.

The back of Notre Dame is more beautiful than the front.

Walking along the river, we stopped at a small bridge, so I could take a picture:
When I turned around, my hunny held me close, asked me if I would be his pain in the ass forever, and gave me this:
I call that a pretty nice day.

There's more, but I have to go tromping about Paris in the cold again. Not that I mind one bit!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

So we're headed to Europe...

Warning, this is some scattered, tattered thinking that has connections in my head, but I'm not sure where I'm going, so forgive me if we get to nowhere together.

Tomorrow, we're flying to Europe.

And it's a place I love dearly.

But we head there at a time when, well, it's ugly cold, there are terrorist warnings in France, students are rioting in London, and Spanish air controllers only went back to work after being threatened with jail time.

It's just so easy to see chaos outside the door.

Last night I watched a documentary about the Middle Ages. The fall of Rome meant the loss of city living. It meant the loss of many technologies, and I don't just mean aqueducts.

And this morning, yes, while driving through the Starbucks, I thought about the Butterfly Effect.

If a butterfly's wings can affect (for "good" or "bad") weather patterns around the other side of the world, what effect does my crossover have?

I feel on the cusp of something. There is a great deal going on that all begins in a devolution. I think we were all delusional a decade and two ago when we thought we were going to fix everything. Rather, I feel as though we've taken over too much and the world is going to take care of the problem. The universe is a system always in balance, humanity is a system that refuses to balance itself. the two cannot co-exist, and the truth is that while the universe is an unstoppable force, humanity is not an immovable object.

And there is no unless in this picture.

It is not that we are going to be killed off in massive numbers by global warming (for all my far-right friends: warming is defined by longer, hotter summers and shorter more extreme winters, so your snowfall is not proof I'm wrong)unless we do something. It is that it will happen, it is happening, it will continue to happen because the universe is an infinite balance.

And I'm not sure I'm not ok with that.

I am sure the dark ages sucked for the majority of humans. Even without the grey-lit reenactments on the documentary, I knew that life without sanitation, electricity, and water heaters must have sucked.

I watch the green channel, but I know that while I can knit, sew, cook, bake, garden (if forced), and clean (if forced at gunpoint); I knit with store-bought yarn, sew with store-bought thread and machine made needles, ad nauseum.

If Katrina really bothered us, we'd build mass transit and tax road use for private drivers. If the Tsunami really hurt us, we'd start growing hemp for paper and clothing making rather than cutting down trees (which take longer to re-grow), or using petroleum. If this really bothers me, why do I get in my car every morning? How can I?

And what will I do if I can't stop? There is an addiction-level use of, well, everything in my life and world.

And anyone who wants to call me a left wing nut may do so as much as she likes. But the economic model we live with is a stupid one that sacrifices tomorrow's life for today's profits. And anyone who's ever taken an econ class can tell you, that's a bad business model.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bah Khag Bug

So, in order to get kicked out of the tribe, I have thus far admitted to not liking matzah balls (though i do redeem myself by making killer ones I refuse to eat) or gefilte fish. I actually loathe these foods. But this may make it permanent.

This is the big one that may just get my Israeli citizenship AND my tribe card revoked (and forget about ever being allowed to use the secret handshake again!).

I hate Khannukah.

I really, truly, madly, deeply do.

The only worthwhile thing about any of it used to be the latkes, donuts and "anything fried" rule. But I'm a fat-girl, and there's only so many sufganiot out there. and better clothes for not-so-fat girls.

This holiday sucks! It sucks in part because it gives non-Jews an excuse to force "holiday" behavior on me, to make assumptions about me and my family, and to think they have all the answers because they're Adam Sandler fans.

You know what? Some of my best friends are Jewish, too!

Worse? I live in the sort of culture where this kind of behavior is endorsed by everything, and I'm a scrooge for thinking that a bunch of sugar-addled children screaming and running around is not amusing, thinking that wearing obnoxious holiday attire to a party I pretty much have to attend is hegemonic silencing, and that having to exchange gifts is not gift giving, it's gift forcing and not pleasant.

I have family members who send out the yearly "newsletter" (in family, here I include close friends). Well, it's nice to catch up, but really? This is just the pre-internet material version of the status update. You want me to be your friend? You want to remind me you love me? Call me. We'll chat. We'll catch up. And then I'll read your status updates. But this cannot be the only communication we have all year.

The saving grace for me, each year, is that I get to do as little of it as possible before I leave the country and watch it happen in another language. Somehow it's less disturbing when I can't understand it.

My hunny's family is just as crazy as the rest of humanity, but at least they don't go Christmahannukwanzaastice nuts. We exchange gifts as soon as we get home from the airport. We keep them to a minimum (except mom who likes to buy gifts throughout our stay, but she does it from love). They have a creche in the fire place, and it's surrounded by god-awful lighting. They light it some nights. Some nights they don't.

Simple. Low stress. No freaking out about who wants what. No going broke. No forcing anyone to do anything. Well, mom makes me have more dinner, but that's not a holiday thing, she just knows food is love. Really? Mom rocks! She's awesome. And I love to escape.

Sadly, I have to get through my holiday first. I have no qualms with lighting candles. But my favorite part as a kid was singing with my family after we lit the candles, and, well, we all grow up. I sing. It's not the same.

So for the record:

Khannukah is a CHILDREN's holiday.
It is not important in the Jewish scheme of things.
It only became a big deal because of Christmas.
Only rich kids get 8 presents.
Middle class kids get 8 "stocking stuffer" type presents and one BIG one.
Poor kids get pocket change, a little chocolate, and in the case of those of us born within a month of the holiday, a birthday present.

SO. Khag means holiday in Hebrew. And I say:

Bah Khag Bug!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The most something time of the year

First, a confession: I watch Love, Actually several times a week (sometimes several times a day) as the semester draws to a close.

Problem: It has occurred to me that I need to find a Springtime ritual equivalent. I think it helps me write and grade.

My dad, knowing my hunny and I are packing off to Spain where we spend the "holidays" (mine are over by then) with his family, asked me whether my hunny was taking the TSA exam (so no one else would be allowed to feel me up--or pat me down). I joked with him about it, but there are some things I have simply got to say about this bunch of idiocy.

The first is that I used to be an EMT, and one of the first lessons of Emergency Medicine is that no matter how awful you believe your hygiene to be, there is someone out there who practices (and I mean actively, with zest, pursues) a worse version than yours. Imagine having to get your hands on and around someone who thinks that showering once a millennium is optional if you have patchuoli. Worse, imagine the one who doesn't feel patchouli's necessary. Imagine people who, though they may generally clean themselves, are having a really bad day, have eaten something that disagreed with them (like, say, airport food) and simply cannot help the flatulence.

I think that if you think the TSA folks are gettin' their kicks by going to work this holiday season, you have a warped sense of reality and should be forced to work with the unwashed, unhappy masses for an hour--believe me, that's more than enough.

So if you're traveling this year and are too afraid to let someone see an outline of your body, thank your TSA person. He or she is in just as uncomfortable, unpleasant place you are--only several thousand times more often!

Of course, we could avoid ALL this rigmarole.

I have, since my birth in Israel, traveled in and out of Ben Gurion Airport several times--in the 80s, in the 90s. I have never had to remove any item of clothing. I have never had to baggie up all my toiletries in 3 ounce bottles all fit into one quart ziplocks. I have never even considered whether knitting needles are or should be allowed on an airplane--and the last time an Israeli-related plane was hijacked was the year of my birth! 1972 (for those curious or young enough not to have heard of the TWA flight).

"Why?" You ask. "How is it possible?"

Because in Israel, when one enters Ben Gurion, one must stand in a line (basically, this is the queue to get your luggage on the plane), and while in that line, one is spoken to, pleasantly, by an Israeli soldier. That soldier will ask you three questions. It doesn't even matter what the questions are; he or she isn't looking for information, he or she is looking at you!

For any of you who've watched the brilliant TV show "Lie to Me" you have seen this approach to behavioral and psychological profiling in TV action (that is, made worse for the camera). It is a simple approach based on real scientific research, and it works.

"How well does it work," you ask?


There has not been a single failure of this system since it was put in place in the 70s, likely because the training keeps up with the science. Likely because there's a whole lot at stake. Likely because, in Israel, "Profiling" is not a dirty word.

"But this is the US!" you point out. "We have hundreds of airports, millions of travelers!"

The Israeli system takes fewer people profiling per flying capita. We would need fewer people to make this happen, and it would happen quickly, and if done right, effectively.

So why the big screen Vs. the pat down choice this lovely holiday season?

Perhaps it's the government trying to keep TSA people employed. Perhaps it is the international unwillingness or inability to admit that the Israeli government (human and therefore fallible as it may be) actually has the answer on this one.

Perhaps it's because we've forgotten that while words have power, that power is supplied by us--by our usage. That we have a right to reclaim profiling for what it is, and not what racism turned it in to. That it's easier to train one person to recognize facial micro-expressions (which cannot be hidden) than it is to train a million TSA agents in how to pat people down effectively without unintentionally causing discomfort.

So do two things for me: First, thank your TSA folks. Their job is TOUGH, their pay cannot be enough, and their days are filled with unhappy people. Second, write your congressman. We can still fix this idiocy.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Bah Sing Bug

My baby sister likes to go to the mall on Black Friday. She doesn’t go early, and she doesn’t shop. She likes to go in the mid-day, by the time people are tired and grumpy and fist-fights are likely to break out. She says she likes watching people argue over the last (insert useless toy that will cost half as much on Jan 2 here).

The one time I was visiting and thus privy to this particular approach to observational sociology, we saw no fist fights, but there were two women in the knife & sword store who looked like they wanted to test the merchandise on each other.

There were gaggles of men sitting around in the center aisle of the mall, grumping with each other about why they had to be there: The American tradition, of course, being that cavemen, from earliest times, had had a long enough week sitting in their cubicle working hard so the women could put a year’s worth of spending on their credit cards in one day and that should give them a pass from having any part in the decision making of who gets what at gift-time. Especially if gift-time includes a CaveMall!

My sister’s husband wandered around blissfully enjoying the weirdness of others’ behavior on this special day—we were all in a sociological mood—and commenting on tight spots that looked like they might turn ugly. “Ooh! That woman just got the last (insert piece of clothing produced by the millions & easy to find—or for half the price come Jan 2 here)!"

We spent a great deal of time in the games store—their mall actually had one, where we yakked about the toughest puzzles we’d ever done. We’re a rough & tumble bunch, my family. Everyone who could has served in the military, and we now all use our “extra” time to play scrabble long distance with each other online.

But even observational sociology can get tiring—especially when the people being observed insist on acting like starving idiots over a $5 cup of Starbucks. And my sister and I had pretty much had enough when we finally got to the part of the day I most enjoyed and would love to recreate yearly.

Mind you, I hate Christmas. I’m a bah humbug who doesn’t at all mind gift giving, but loved that my hunny, last year, rather than trying to fight with people over last in the bin garbage tips, spent a thoughtful few minutes in the grocery store picking up gift cards.

I’m not unsentimental. I would absolutely love it if he thought year round about the perfect gift, planned it in advance and hid it in the closet—or by anything remotely related to cleaning, since then there’d be no chance of my finding it—I simply know him better than that, and he knows that a bookstore gift card will make me happier than anything in the world, since then I get the pleasure of browsing and of purchasing.

I’m a christmahannukwanzadanstice hater because it starts the day after Halloween, goes until New Years’, and leaves most Americans with debt they spend the rest of the year working off. Seems like a bad way to celebrate the birth of one’s savior, the miracle of a little oil lasting a long time (especially this one), the majesty of African American heritage, or the shift of the earth. On years when Ramadan is at that time, it also seems rather against the idea of day long fasts designed to help one become introspective. It’s just wrong! And every year, we rail against it. And every year, we fall right back into the same big ugly hole.

Last year I had the, erm, pleasure of working in a retail store for the holidays. I was a cashier, tasked not only with getting people out the door quickly, safely and with all their purchases paid for, but of trying to sell them even more last minute crap they hadn’t thought of yet. I tend to be a talker (if the writing hasn’t let on), and I tend to treat each person in my line as if she were the only person in my line. I like thinking I am doing what I’d want others to do if I were on the other side of the register. I am, apparently, wrong. I have never in my life been cursed at, yelled at, treated with such malign attitude as last year. And I’ll tell ya’ it is not worth the $6&change.

“Happy Holidays!” I brightly said to one man as he grabbed his bag violently from me. “NO! Merry CHRISTmas!” He replied.

I thought—but wish I had said— And I’m sure Christ would be very proud of all you’ve learned from his example about how to treat people.

I didn’t. I turned to the next person, asked him if he’d gotten everything he was looking for and if he had a discount card with “us.” He actually apologized for the behavior of the man before him. It was the only nice thing anyone had said to me all day.

So you’ll understand that the best part of wandering through CaveMall with my baby sister was both fascinating and terrifying. Why it made me wonder who these people were and what they would think or feel if their religious leader showed film of their behavior in their place of worship come the following day of service. I was tired. I was beleaguered. I was ashamed of the 99% DNA I shared with all these desperate people. I was even a little worried about what had made them all do this.

My baby sister (a woman I love & could only wish would be my friend were we not relations) put her arm through mine and whispered in my ear, “You do the high harmony,” and began, loudly to sing, “Oh Holy Night.” My smile returned. I love love love the high harmony—as does she. It was a gift.

We walked through the CaveMall, arm in arm, going through every beautiful, non-jingly, carol we knew, and as veterans of high school choirs, we knew many. I’d like to hope we made at least one person think. But even if we didn’t, I loved every minute of it.

Did I mention we’re Jewish?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Call for Selfishness in “תיקון עולם”

In the past month, I have watched many National Geographic specials and documentaries, and attended a Friday night service, which was used to commemorate Kristallnacht. I am now sitting in a presentation at the National Conference of Teachers of English. The presentation is titled “The Genocide Project”—more accurately, it is about a Rwandan Genocide memorial project. The project, while it encourages students to learn about genocide and its lessons, also continues to point to the ongoing genocide in Darfur.

As a Jew growing up primarily in America, I have spent a great deal of my life being taught about genocide. I have learned about Nazis, Russian Refuseniks, Ethiopian Jews, Rwandans, Croatians, and many more, and was raised to maintain an awareness not only of what was happening at any given time, but a greater awareness of what I, as a human, and now as a teacher and a scholar, might be able to do about it.

But today I have a problem. Today I sit here, with people talking about teaching their kids that awful things happen in other countries and that there may well be something they can do about it. Last week I watched a NatGeo special about Americans flying to China to adopt little girl babies who otherwise would be left in orphanages, or killed, or to help keep them from being aborted. And there’s nothing wrong with what these people are teaching or what thoe parents to be are doing, but I wonder who’s teaching the violence, ghettoization and killing off of massive populations in the US? Who’s going to adopt the “unadoptable” kids in the US—who are untouchables because they are some shade of brown?

It seems the Shoah acted as a wake-up call for US involvement in the world, but that the call allowed the US to begin to enact a national belief system about what does or doesn’t happen here. Or to ignore what has happened here. Where are the calls to end the genocide of unequal education that maintains socioeconomic control and keeps the powerless in their silenced position?

At what point do we call it a genocide? Is it a genocide that the Chinese government eradicates Mongolian culture by moving Chinese populations into Mongolian cultural spaces, by moving Mongolians, by force, out of their spaces and into Chinese ones? Is it a genocide that in Catalunia, until the 90s, Spanish was taught to the detriment of Catalan or is the new Catalunian regime’s insistence on not teaching Spanish to Spanish citizens in order to maintain and grow Catalan culture and language the cost of their mobility within the rest of the country?

We need more words. And that, in itself, is the tragedy beyond words.

We need to practice some Tikun Olam (The Jewish term for social justice, in essence) in our own places. We need to turn to home a bit. The American Dream, an attempt to provide all Americans with a belief in upward mobility is not just a lie—and we all know it is a lie—it’s a lie that allows elites permission to blame the downtrodden for not pulling themselves up by their non-existant bootstraps. “I did it!” they can cry, in particular if they are among the few who did. “Why haven’t you?!?” The American Dream, coupled with the wake-up call of the Shoah, makes it possible for people to help those abroad in need of help at the cost of the permission it gives them to pretend those who need help at home simply don’t deserve it. They live in America, after all! They should just work harder!

But hard work doesn’t cut it for everyone. Hard work doesn’t make it happen in every situation. In fact the people who work hardest make the least progress in this country.

My father liked to say (back when as a returning American he worked three jobs) that there is nothing more expensive than poverty.

I am not arguing against the need to stop genocide wherever it may occur. I am simply suggesting that if we work to stop the immense inequality, social silencing and expense of poverty at home (in whatever place you call home), we might not get to the point at which we have to term it genocide. What we need to do is come up with new words; words that pronounce, as they announce, the slide toward genocide.

Fixing the disease is far better than treating the symptoms.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jewish Penicillin

1. If you are sick and making your own chicken soup, stock is not cheating.

2. Chicken soup is best reheated on the stove. By your mother. Who somehow manages to make it full of love as well as nutrients.

3. But if she were here, you wouldn't have made it yourself, so using the microwave is not cheating.

4. The tribe cannot disown you for eschewing matzah balls.
They will threaten.
They will use words like shandah.
They will tell you how much you've hurt them--and this is, by the way, not the time to mention your inability to eat gefilte fish.
You must respond by being a dog: Dogs don't do guilt trips.

5. No matter how old and practiced you become at the art of chicken soup, you will never, even in full health, make it as good as your mother, your aunt, your grandmother, and those of anyone else in their generation.

If any of these women suggest that yours is as good or better, watch out; this is likely a ploy to make you the soup-maker for the next soup-involved holiday (which, incidentally, is coming up Friday).

6. When you sit down to eat the chicken soup you just remembered you made last night because you are ill and in need of it, try to keep in mind that you just took it off the stove, and only your mothers "fooing" will get it to the right temperature.
Resign yourself to mouth-burns and a sudden, instantaneous, inex-physics-plicably switch to too cold!

As your mother would say if she were here; "you'll live."

Of course, if your mother were here, none of this would be necessary. She will have made chicken soup from scratch, imbued it with her love, managed to serve it boiling off the stove at exactly the right temperature, and even know how to make you lie down and eat it at the same time.

Sucks to be you.