For Peter

I had a day shy of two weeks in my Massachusetts quarantine spot, a rustic setting, with lazy days of walking, reading, Zooming, cooking (eating). And then one morning, “Could you come a day early?” And so I did, and so did he — Peter Alasdair Briel.

The Little Prince seems sure of his place in the universe as his mother and father prep for the journey.
Seamus: “BRING IT ON”.

RAINY DAYS AND SATURDAYS
Seamus, if you could entertain Joey for a couple minutes, that’d be great.

That’s How the Light Gets In

Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” has sometimes felt like a cliché to me, something to toss around when the personal or collective tunnel is in all likelihood ending. Tonight, though, it’s much more truth than cliché.

Whether you’re reading this in India, Thailand, Hong Kong, Israel, Greece, Switzerland, France, the UK, or the US, I’m afraid the killing of George Floyd by police in our Twin City across the Mississippi River is known to you. In the viral video, his calls for help – “I can’t breathe” – mark a stark contrast to the three silent police officers who look on as their brother officer plants his knee on George Floyd’s neck, applying BVD (“The Carotid”).

The day after the killing, fearful of the fires and looting that had occurred in Minneapolis, many Saint Paul businesses near me – cafes, restaurants, shops – hired carpenters to board up windows.

That day after the killing, as I took my two short neighborhood walks – part of requisite pandemic therapy – I saw what quickly became commonplace.

Tonight we still hear the sirens and helicopters, but many fewer, and by now most of us can tune them out. We’re not out of the tunnel, but let me mix that metaphor even more, and say that, yes, there is some light about to come through the crack.

Quite possibly, the desperate hunt for hope has started to reveal some of its treasure. Around the corner from my apartment this afternoon, I came across this group producing a mural to cover the boards that had been put up over the windows.

Work in Progress on Selby Avenue, Saint Paul

And there’s more.
The other day, a friend and her son – some of Totino-Grace High School‘s finest – designed their own Anthem, this one in the form of a question.

I’ll have one in my window soon. And maybe inside my sunroom, too, facing me, so I can adapt the spiritual practice (cf, below)

In her letter introducing the sign, Christy recalled putting a different one outside her home as she began working against the Marriage Amendment in 2012. Everyday when she looked at the “Vote No” sign in her lawn, she prayed for those who had gone before her – at lunch counter sit-ins, marches: people who sometimes gave their lives to clear the way for people like her and her husband and their children.Christy referred to this as a spiritual practice, and of course it was.

Now, I need to start that, too.

(RING THE BELLS THAT STILL CAN RING)

Technology in the Time of Corona Virus

  I don’t care that the Times is printing articles about Zoom Fatigue. I’m still charmed.

Tuesday Centering Prayer usually takes place in the neoGothic sanctuary of St Thomas More Catholic Church here in St Paul. For over a month, we’ve been centering via Zoom. Others – from Minnesota, California, Nebraska – have also joined.

Two weeks ago a group of friends from the convent, some of whom had not seen one another in 50 years, met for a Zoom visit. We all told one another how great we looked, though later some of us probably said to ourselves, “I wouldn’t have recognized —–.” Anyhow, by popular demand, we’ll meet again this week.

And a few days ago, the Retired Teachers Monthly Luncheon metamorphosized into a lunch-less Zoom meetup. I was mildly nervous the teachers (including me) would talk too much, but our facilitator graciously moved us along. I’ll bet we’ll do it again sometime.

But by far, the technological gift that’s offered me both the most heart-satisfying and heart-rending moments has been Zooming classes with some of The Melissa Network, based in Athens. These women, most of them young mothers, would normally be gathering for class in one of the generous spaces upstairs or downstairs. Or weather-permitting, we might be having class in the the garden of  Melissa’s gracious  old house near Viktoria Square.

“Melissa” is Greek for honeybee, and consciously or not, the name describes the low buzz which would emanate from groups of these migrant women,  mostly African and Middle Eastern, as they gather most weekdays for companionship, as well as classes and therapy of all sorts. They’ve nearly all made the sea voyage, a sense of which a brilliant young American writer, filmmaker, and Melissa teacher taught them to capture on film.

The women would have a hot lunch, and before or after that, French Press or tea; their preschool children went to daycare downstairs.

These days, as I say, we Zoom. We started with grand intentions (mine), dividing into Farsi-Arab-French-speaking ESL students; then I added an advanced conversation group; after that, a basic ESL, and eventually, a Melissa Moms’ English-speaking group, to which Elizabeth, has brought her Hong Kong expertise as artist and facilitator of other Zoom groups.

But things happen, don’t they?

I’ve let go of the Basic ESL, and I’ve merged Farsi- and French-speaking ESL students. I’ll probably merge some more next week. This week and also last week, two women wrote me to say they were now homeless, so wouldn’t make it to class. Another has lost wifi, and yet another has moved to a place without a connection. They can Zoom on their phones, most do, but Wifi is the great issue. When you borrow your neighbors’ signal w/o mentioning it to them, you fade in and out. When you change apartments, it takes awhile to get a SIM with WiFi capabilities. Some never will.

Sometimes I think of starting a Women’s Wifi Collective (JK).

But back to Athens — because Greece responded quickly and strictly to the pandemic, some places in the city are now starting to open. The mothers we met with today, though, aren’t at all sure they trust the city. To make the point, one of them sent me this video from outside her neighborhood market: social distancing outside, and a few masks, but not so indoors. We’ll see what next Thursday’s meeting brings to the discussion. And the Thursdays after that.

Melissa English Class back in the day.

Barcelona

Everybody told me I couldn’t not visit Sacrada Familia. Elizabeth had spent much of last summer in the city, so she’d been around the outside, which itself has stories to tell. This time, she went along inside with me.

Inside and out, it has a dreamlike quality that Gaudí surely intended.

Exterior –

Eastern facade: Nativity

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For me, the other great adventure in Barcelona was visiting the studio where Elizabeth worked, learned, and produced her prints last summer.

The 3 of them visited in 2, occasionally 3, languages. Ask me about the evening we visited — in its own way, a dream.

E. With her 2 mentors — in one of the (many) rooms in the studio.

Boston/Worcester Before All

Joey, 6 months, who doesn’t appear in the photos, had his first real sickness over Christmas. Caught by an alert daycare provider,the wheezing eventually subsided (nebulizer, you have to love it), and by all accounts,he’s now nearly fully recovered.

Seeing the “Nutcracker” was a dream — for Mary, for me – thanks to Megan. They posed beforehand with two of the dancers.

Uncle Tom’s gift of Indiana Jones – his dog’s look alike – was another dream for MIB. This Indy is probably as close as she’ll get to a pet at this point, but who knows?

Santa or somebody else gave Seamus and Mary nerf guns for Christmas. I may have reservations, yet as is evidenced above, these two are now a regular Bonnie & Clyde poster.

Oksana, great friend from Athens, made the trip from Boston to Worcester.





Image

Aeolus’ Bag of Winds, et cetera

LAST weekend at Porto Rafti, where the sea and the sky matched the Aegean and the flag.

Visual Description of 3 photos from resort town 45 minutes from downtown                                                 1: From our table at lunch, over pots of white flowers, across the road, to the Aegean Sea.                    2: Exterior, Whitewashed Greek Orthodox chapel, with blue-and-white Greek flag.                                     3: Shoreline of the Aegean, deep blue sea, and in the background a pyramid-shaped island

THIS Weekend in Athens

As it was  for Odysseus and his crew, however, Aeolus’ bag of winds can be brutal in Greece.  People in cafes, forced away from the ubiquitous  umbrellas-and-tables outside most cafes, move inside, pleased to bring themselves in where it’s warm. At the best (imo) cafe in my Exarchia neighborhood,  The Blue Bear,  their pets are welcome inside, too. 

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(Visual description of photo inside The Blue Bear Cafe: A young German Shepherd, standing guard inside the cafe, where his owner is finishing up a latte. I insert this photo of 8-month-old Mojo because he is, as Tom Briel said, “Indy’s brother from another father” – Indiana (Jones) is Tom’s 8-month-old German Shepherd.)

As I was saying, the winds change everything here. 

–> Passengers can’t take ferries to the islands.

–> People on the streets don heavy coats, scarves, and some of them, gloves and  hats. The temp as I write this morning: 53F. 

—> My herb garden’s 3 plants are toppled a couple times a day, but still require watering because the gusts dry out the soil so quickly.  

Visual Description of photo: Edge of terrace, Elizabath’s studio. 8′ and very thin pieces of bamboo lie on the ground, propping up rosemary, basil, and thyme plants

The bamboo overhead awning on the terrace, shown above supporting my tender herbs,  came down in September’s hurricane. I haven’t done anything about getting it re-positioned or replaced. No, I’ll leave that to another season, and to an  eye  more seasoned, artistically-speaking,  than mine. 

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One thing that’s  never out of season for me, and I don’t care  how many times I’ve a said it:  Melissa Network, the NGO for young women refugees.   The other ESL volunteer is an amazing young woman, an experienced ESL teacher. We’ve taken to teaching beginner students together, but honestly? Her lessons, her props, her manner with our students are all so fine, I sometimes  just stand around soaking in what she does and how she does it —

img_2914Visual description of photo: foreground, on table, an open laptop shows Joan Baez about 10 years ago, sitting in what appears to be a  kitchen, holding her guitar and preparing to sing “We Shall Overcome.”  On the right side of the table are some Melissa students; on the left, several more; this group is purposely edited out of the photo.  The young teacher at the end of the table is standing before a whiteboard, as she finishes her lesson. 

If you look at the laptop, you’ll see one of my own props, Joan Baez. I’ve used her part-Farsi version of “We Shall Overcome” in previous visits,  but believe I’m  only now understanding how to Teach a Text to Beginners. I’d like to say it’s the online ESL course I’m completing, but really? It’s pure Trial and Error and Joan, who explains that  she dedicates the verse in Farsi “to the people of Iran.”  Most of our students in this class speak Farsi (though not all are from Iran). It’s not unusual to hear them wailing a line or two in English or Farsi, as they pick up their books and head out of the classroom. 

By way of follow-up the other day, I tried to get them to name things they were not afraid of. That’s pure American optimism-cum-naivete, and you can see they had no time for that. Sidenote: sometimes the young women  have a poetry workshop (as they did after this class) with a brilliant, MacArthur Grant recipient,  much-published American-married-to-a-Greek poet. I looked at what they said, and I wrote down,  and thought — this has poetry potential. Doesn’t it?

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After “We are not Afraid”: Students flipped it before I had a chance to revise the topic, So here’s  what I’m afraid of…

Visual description: Whiteboard, with the words NOT AFRAID OF at the top. As explained above,the students were having none of it. Instead,  they named these things that they are afraid of (in this order…):  centipedes, snakes,dark,  rats, mice, sea, bees, myself, injection, everything.

I know I’m not in St Paul, MN anymore when…

… two of today’s purchases hold this promise: “Complete instructions on brochure,” and the brochure is entirely in Greek, and I don’t mean, as in, “It’s Greek to me.”

… everything I eat contains lemons or thyme, often lemons and thyme, including the hotel breakfast, whose buffet also offers baklava.

… streets look like this: 

…two visits to nearby churches reveal no Ash Wednesday liturgy possibilities. “Try in a week,” says an Orthodox friend, gently reminding me I’m no longer 3 blocks from the RC Cathedral of St Paul.

… I run into this suggestion – for a honeyed liqueur – at the shop next door:

And finally, I wake up to this, realizing there’s nothing sub-zero or icy here. Really!

Another EPIPHANY

What a difference a year makes, and at so many levels, but I digress.
Last 6th of January, Jeanne and I were wearing linen capris on Aegina, watching the long-robed, high-hatted priests disappear in a cloud of incense.
Waiting outside the cathedral for the #21 this morning – in the wind – these line from Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi” roiled (as do, now I’m home and reading the poem, those later lines about the old dispensation!)

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter…’

Tim Martin’s reading:

And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

 Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running strean and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

 All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death?  There was a Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt.  I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

(


The Junta and Control, Illusion of…!

A rainy Athens Saturday, but not just any rainy Saturday: it’s the 17th of November, 


the date commemorating the Athens Polytechnic student uprising of 1973.  A few days earlier – 14 November –  a tank had been sent crashing through the iron gate of the Polytechnic just down the street here from my neighborhood, Exarchia –   Though full disclosure:  while still edgy, especially after dark, that piece was written a few years ago; people now speak of Exarchia as “high-rent” and “chic”.

Anyhow, Greeks, at least young ones, seem anxious to use this day for demonstrations in parts of the city, especially after sundown.

Actually,  nearly everything I  know about tonight is word-of-mouth. Busloads of police have arrived in the neighborhood, but a search of the English-language papers here suggests that the biggest fight this week is still the current Church-State Disagreement.

As for me, I believe I have some reading to catch up on, and some post-market cooking to do,  after sundown.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about Control: First the photos, then the poem!

Coffee

Happy Place

Ex Sidewalk2
A sidewalk
Exarchia sidewalk
Another sidewalk
Monistiraki
Happy Place (Monistiraki)
Chicken_
Happy Place: new spices in an old favorite
OliveWoman
Happy Place: the Olive Woman
MrktSt
Another Happy Place: Rain/Saturday Market

Revelation Triolet

Now, you know the illusion of control,

Like the toddler scrambling from his Melissa* mother.

You’ve been clear about your  goal,

Now, you know the illusion of control.

How was it that you  forgot the toll?

You’d been warned, but didn’t bother.

Now, you know the illusion of control,

Like the toddler scrambling from his Melissa mother. 

*A few days a week, I  have the great pleasure of spending time with the women, many of them mothers, of Melissa Network .

From Athena’s City to Poseidon’s Temple –

Yesterday afternoon, Sawsan (Syrian mentee and marvelous human) and I had class. It had not been a particularly uplifting topic. We were ready to leave it and the city behind us.

(Visual: whiteboard with terms like  “SICK,” fever,” “cold,” “sore throat”)img_2593

Stratos (“like stratosphere, only without the fear”)  arrived, and we snaked our way through Friday traffic. As we passed the French Embassy, he slammed on the brakes and cried out, “Why the French? We like the French!”

(Visual: French Embassy with blood-like paint dripping from the outside walls and windows)img_2595

in Exarchia, where I’m living these months – Elizabeth’s studio apartment – it’s nothing to see exotic decoration, amazing graffiti.

3 Visuals: 3 examples, Exarchia neighborhood graffiti: 1.) : b&w geometric “city” superimposed on the ground floor of a building painted red, with a black, red, and white:”Talking Breads” sign . 2.) 6-stormy building with a white arm& hand grasping by the wrist and lifting up an extended black arm and hand3.) 2 (6-foot High)hands, open to reveal an uncapped fountain pen.

img_2572.jpgExarchia building-high grafittiimg_2520

The French Embassy was a jolt inexplicable to all three of us, but honestly? We quickly left it behind us.

Once out of the city and heading south, we drove along the Saronic Gulf, part of the Aegean . We stopped to look at these hot springs in a gorge formed a few millennia ago. Those dots of white in the background, on the right are umbrellas over tables at a cafe-restaurant. The place is a draw for the young & trendy as well as the old & arthritic. I resisted because we were on a mission.

But first, dinner. We ate outside, about 10 feet above the sea: fried calamari, the unfailingly delicious salad of feta and etc ( I could eat that cheese at every meal, and sometimes I do). For Sawsan, it was “potatoes,” by which she means fries – as ubiquitous as my Greek salad.

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No photos from dinner, where we were much closer to the sea than this picture suggests, but you get the idea: sailboats and a few yachts are set against  Aegean Blue.

Our goal, however, wasn’t the sea, at least not directly,  but [the ruins of] Poseidon’s Temple. Built of marble in 444 BC, same year as the Parthenon, it stands sixty-five meters above the gulf, so is nicely placed if you’re trying to placate the god of the sea. Since the Cape of Sounion is the southernmost tip,  sailors knew they were nearly home when they saw the gleaming marble.

We were there when the sun was setting.

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Sawsan-Temple of Poseidon

Sawsan – Temple of Poseidon

(Visual: BOTTOM –  My friend, Sawsan, standing, hidden in shadow,  beneath  this view of the Temple of Poseidon:  an orange-hued sky against the 16 remaining Doric columns, in 2 rows, with what looks like a giant urn in the center; TOP –  yellow-orange sun reflected in a pink sea, enclosed, foreground and background, by rocky terrain)

I remembered Byron had loved Greece, fought for Greece, and died here, but I’d forgotten his reference to Sounion (“Sunium”). Thank you, Lonely Planet for summoning it up in these lines from Don Juan:

  Place me on Sunium’s marbled steep
Where nothing save the waves and I
   May hear our mutual murmurs sweep.

 

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