Confessions of an Indoor Person

Confessions of an Indoor Person

Okay, I admit it. In fact, I readily admit it.

I am an indoor person. I like the indoors. I like doing things indoors, like reading, writing, rewriting, watching Acorn and Britbox. All indoor activities. And I come from a long line of indoor people. You know, the kind whose main physical activity was carrying books home from the library.

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Now, it’s not that I don’t appreciate nature. I do. But looking at it, not necessarily being in it. Like Monet paintings, Renoir – you know, that blurry, romantic take on nature.

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For the last several years, exercise has been a focus of my day. And so most mornings would find me in my car, driving to the Y, where I would climb onto the elliptical machine or treadmill and put in my time. I freely admit that, rather than walk in my highly-walkable neighborhood, I would drive the six miles, park my car, trudge up the precipitous incline to the door of the Y, take the elevator to the second floor, and “walk,” all the while keeping my eyes focused on the closed-captioned CNN broadcast.

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Now that the Y is no longer an option, I was forced to look for other options. The first one was the ancient treadmill that had been relegated to our attic. Whether it decided to show me who was boss, as a punishment for stowing it in a dark, unheated/uncooled area, or whether I just forgot how to turn it on, obviously some magic, inconspicuously placed button, that proved not to be an option. So…. what’s a girl to do?

The outside. Walk outside. In this time of national sacrifice, this I could do. I am not hoarding toilet paper, I only buy what I need, and now…. I could actually walk outside. Which I have done, faithfully.

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I’m listening to birds; I’m enjoying the blooming of the trees and flowers; I have successfully avoided being attacked by two (or maybe by one twice) Canada geese, as well as artfully sidestepping their copious droppings.

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I’ve passed neighbors walking their dogs, patted two cats, and breathed in what must be fresh air. Actually, it’s not so bad. Well, the hills, they’re bad, I’ll be honest.

But I must admit that I’m beginning to look forward to it. This nature thing. I think it could catch on.

On Displaced Persons: Then and Now…

I wanted this to be a straight-forward post, a comparison of how refugees (Displaced Persons they were called) were treated after World War II with how refugees are received today. I wanted to say that universally the former group was viewed sympathetically, that countries opened their arms, and hearts, to do what they could so that these people who suffered through the horrors of war could have a better life.

I wanted to say that the world was a better place then, that we heeded our “better angels,” that we appreciated what we had and wanted the same for others.

And, in some cases, we did. While many DPs were “relocated” to camps that had once served as Nazi concentration camps, they were given as adequate food allocations as possible, considering that Europe was enduring near-starvation conditions. Schools were established. They received minimal, if not adequate, healthcare. For those who were displaced were so because of who they happened to be, what their last name happened to be, where they happened to live.

I’m not naïve enough to believe that all were blameless, that none supported the losing cause, that none did their part, however small, to aid the Nazis. Women, children, throughout Europe, their cities, homes destroyed. Ethnic Germans who had lived in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, perhaps for generations, who had the misfortune of having a German last name were deported (relocated was the term used). Many did not even speak German. In the throes of frantic days following the end of the war, laws were enacted that banned them from the countries that they had lived in, for most, the only country they knew. They were deported to Germany, including a number of Jews who had been released from concentration camps and had found their way “home.” In this fever of hatred, because their last names were German, they were once again rounded up and sent, on railway cars, to return to the camps that they survived.

 More than 80 camps were established, with the majority in Germany. But families were kept together; ethnic and national groups were grouped. Repatriation took years to accomplish for the millions affected, for what they once had, where they once lived, for the majority, had been destroyed. There was nothing to go home to. Many chose not to return, especially to those Eastern European countries that were now part of the Soviet bloc. The United States passed The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 which authorized for a limited period of time the admission into the United States of 200,000 certain European (italics my own) displaced persons (DPs) for permanent residence. (It wasn’t until the 1949 Chinese Revolution under Chairman Mao that Congress allowed Chinese immigrants to remain in the country rather than face persecution if they were required to return home.) So you see, we have always favored those who look like us, our color, our religions.

They were not all loved, were not all welcomed. But they were not put in cages; children were not forcibly separated from their parents. Those countries whose citizens accepted them may have done so grudgingly, but they were accepted. They had a home, a place, a refuge.

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As we consider how we welcome refugees to our borders, we must pause, consider, remember. And ponder how we will be remembered, this prosperous country of ours, how we welcome those who come to our doors, whether we called on our better angels.

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Germany Gets It, I Think…

Germany Gets It, I Think…

Now I’m not claiming to be an expert, a pundit, or even someone who has done sufficient homework to expound on such a topic. This is just one person’s take, after a short and admittedly superficial visit to three cities in the former German Democratic Republic, East Germany as we once knew it. But sometimes you just have a feeling…

Here’s what I think the Germans get:

I sense that they have come to terms with the evils and atrocities of Nazism and the brutalities and barbarisms imposed by Hitler and his supporters. Of course, there are museums dedicated to helping those too young to have experienced this history, and it is taught, some younger students believe excessively, in schools. Those of my generation, those schooled in the 50s, report that they learned, heard, nothing, that their realization of the role Germany and individual Germans, ofttimes they parents, played in World War II came independently, as they catapulted into the tumultuous 60s.

That educational philosophy changed in the 1960s and 70s. Teaching history is now a pillar of national identity in postwar Germany, and the Holocaust is an integral part of the curriculum where students are encouraged to visit a concentration camp. Only in Bavaria is this visit mandatory. Recently, a Berlin state legislator with Palestinian heritage, proposed making such visits mandatory for everyone.

An article in Jewish World (February 2019) featured German students commenting on this:

Fynn Bothe, a high school student in Hanover, noted that he was exposed to the subject in ninth or tenth grade where they learned about the war and Auschwitz. “I am satisfied with how the school teaches the subject because we learn what the Nazis committed. They were responsible for one for the most horrific crimes in the history of Germany.”

Anna Laura, from Dusseldorf said that her class read Anne Frank’s Diary, and focused on the atrocities committed during the war. “We discussed the subject all year long,” she said. “I think that the school is doing good work by teaching the youth about the matter and by not ignoring the horrors (that were committed).”

I saw heart-rending sculptures appearing in unexpected places; gold cobblestones caught my eye, as well as my heel, as I explored historic areas. On each is inscribed a name, a birthdate, and the location where that person was last seen. At the entrance to Berlin’s bustling Friedrichstrasse Station is a sculpture that no one can miss – children with suitcases, on their last journey. I passed this on several different days, and each time, a memorial of flowers stood by its base.

Reminders. Everywhere. An undercurrent of Never Again.

And yet…it is not perfect. People are not perfect. Germany experiences anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant sentiment. East Germans resent West Germans; West Germans resent East Germans. Neo-Nazis have been emboldened by the arrival of Alternative for Germany, the first far-right party to break into Parliament since World War II. And there are concerns that the recent absorption of more than a million immigrants, many from the Middle East and many Muslim, has inadvertently created incubators of a different kind of anti-Semitism — one hiding behind the injustices of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but sometimes reverting to hateful old stereotypes.

The reaction in Berlin, where there are strict legal prohibitions of Holocaust denial and Nazi propaganda, has been swift. The government appointed its first-ever anti-Semitism coordinator.

And there are many in the country, as in our own, who understand and support the immigrants’ journeys.

And through this, I think of my own country, how we have avoided coming to terms, acknowledging the atrocities of our past. Stories of visitors to South Carolina’s plantations, resentful of having slavery presented as an integral, and sordid, part of our story. “We didn’t come to hear a lecture on how the white people treated slaves. We came to get the history of a southern plantation and get of tour of the house and grounds.”  (For some comic relief, check out Twitter’s responses to this comment.)

And our horrific treatment of Native Americans continues as we deny them access to voting and move pipelines through lands sacred to them.

Such hubris. So we just don’t get it, do we?

I don’t think Germany is perfect by any means. But they get it. Most get it. I think.

Who Remembers Carol Lynley?

Carol Lynley has died. She was 77 years old. She did many things after gracing the covers and pages of Seventeen. She appeared on Broadway; she acted in several scandalous-for-the-time movies; she even posed for Playboy. Her obits seem to identify her career high point as the singer (actually, song-mimer) in The Poseidon Adventure.

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I saw this and bought a yellow dress. Though not the hat.

But for me, she will always be Seventeen. How we treasured those magazines, pouring over them to see if we could get those wispy bangs that she had. (We couldn’t.)

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My mother bought me a suit that looked just like this. Even the gloves. Though not the hat.
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Those were the years, the times, when our favorite Christmas present was a Princess phone, most likely pink. Like Carol Lynley’s nails. We thought that her manicure was much too grown-up and therefore fake. Though we did covet those bangs.

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Now for those born after a certain time, they will not believe that girls, real-life girls, went to dances dressed just like this. They did. We wore waist cinchers that rivaled Scarlett O’Hara’s, and long gloves that came to our elbows. We looked like Carol Lynley, if only for a night.

And, as Carol did, we left that behind, because life for a teenager in that era did not continue as an idyll.

But, for a minute, as we remember her, we remember, always in tones of sepia of course, a time when our bangs looked just as perky as hers. Godspeed, for all of us.

Yet Another Clusterfuck: Britain, Brexit, and Belfast…

Yet Another Clusterfuck:  Britain, Brexit, and Belfast…

Oh, I realize that I’m not an expert. I can’t figure out Brexit, its implications, though I can understand why such a large percentage of Brits voted for it. Mistakenly. I think even they realize it now. And certainly, four days in Northern Ireland, as a tourist, doesn’t make me a pundit. But I can report on what I saw, what I felt.

The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are worried. This nervous peace, which most of us an ocean away point to as “see, it can be done if the two sides want it badly enough,” is tenuous, fragile, like a bad marriage that relentlessly threatens to come apart at the seams. It is just that — a bad marriage, with years, now centuries, of merciless history barely concealed below the surface.

“Oh, it is 95% better than it was.” I heard this phrase, these exact words, from every tour guide, every native spoke with. And I have no reason to doubt it. But it also signals how bad it was. The Nationalists, Catholics, want one nation, harbor what seem to me to be ancient grudges; the Unionist, Protestant Presbyterians mainly, harbor more recent resentments. This nervous peace.

Here’s what I saw – in Belfast, the City Centre, alive, vibrant, restaurants, coffee shops, tour buses; then a bit north of the centre, beautiful, tree-lined streets, and the beautiful campus of Queen’s University. Ah, all is well, you think.

And then – for isn’t there always an “and then”? — the “other” side of town, where working people live, those without the resources for those well-manicured lawns and highly-polished brass door fixtures. Rows and rows of smaller houses, most neat and well-cared-for. And graffiti, and slogans, and murals on so many of the building walls. The Nationalists, the Catholics, you can tell their neighborhoods. They support Palestine, identifying with them in their fight for existence.

They support Catalonia in their fight to be separate from Spain, though to this outsider, the argument can be made that the Catalonian issue supports the Unionists, who want to be separate from the Republic of Ireland. (I kept those thoughts to myself.)

The Protestant neighborhood, no graffiti or slogans, their umbrage more subtle.

To me, an outsider, the neighborhoods seems identical. But they are still separated by walls, by fences, by religion. Separate. Still separate.

Start with the children, you say. Sounds good, except 97% of the public schools in Ireland are under church control, 91% of it under the control of the Roman Catholic Church. And while the Irish seem to have found the acumen to think for themselves (same-sex marriage, legal abortions), this does not appear to have affected their thinking about bringing Ireland under one aegis.

I visited Derry, or Londonderry as the Unionists call it, the city that experienced the worst of The Troubles. The Battle of the Bogside historically marked its official beginning. So much history, so many mistakes, and the bog area, the west bank of the River Foyle, still glaringly poorer than the rest of this lovely city. Yet I walked across the Peace Bridge, constructed in 2011, as a visible symbol of …what? Peace, perhaps?

So many mistakes. The English valuing country over people; the Irish valuing independence over human lives; systematic starvation; and the feelings so deep, religion an easy coat to label.

But this has nothing to do with Brexit, right? Or does it?

Those I talked with worried that a split, with Northern Ireland leaving the EU, would provide a vehicle for Nationalist sentiment to come to the fore, a tacit approval to mount a campaign of violence. The Republic of Ireland likes being part of the EU. They have fared well, as, it appears, has Northern Ireland. Open borders, free flow of traffic, goods, and people, and, perhaps most importantly, money.  Pulling Northern Ireland from this agreement raises a myriad of imponderables – how would you monitor goods, how would you keep good with lower standards, and perhaps lower prices, out of the EU? And should you?

And what about this peace, this nervous peace?

I have no answers, no advice. I was but a tourist.  But my heart aches for this island, this Ireland.

On the Women at the Y…

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None of us look like this. Thought some of us once did, or wished we did. Our group brings to mind that passage from The Velveteen Rabbit. You know the one about becoming Real:

“It’s a thing that happens to you…It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time…Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to those who don’t understand.

We gather a few mornings a week – in the warm pool at the downtown Y, and go through an hour of water aerobics, easier on the joints. We greet each other affectionately, gathering in newcomers who may at first feel awkward, protecting themselves, shy in their bathing suits without the camouflage of Spanx and loose-fitting tunics and leggings. We’ve all been there, that first visit, and remember.  We welcome the new while remembering those who are no longer with us.

Now, unlike the Velveteen Rabbit, most of us still have our hair, though some not – chemotherapy. Our eyes haven’t dropped off, and our joints are tight, or replaced and, most times, achy. We know one another by first names only. Few of us socialize on dry land. But we are here. We are here for one another. We have been here through chemo rounds, through mourning, through recovery. We’ve been here to celebrate milestones and victories, great and small, all while semi-submerged in our chlorine-laced pool. We are here- without makeup, without artifice.

So here’s to us, who show ourselves as Real, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to those who don’t understand.

When You’re the Only One Who Knows It’s Their Birthdays…

Here they are – my maternal grandmother and my great aunt. They each had their stories, all forgotten now, except by me. Their birthdays come and I am the only one who knows, and that pains me a bit, though my rational side tells me it is only normal and makes me realize that this will come to me as well. That there will be no one to remember my birthday, or my story.

Perhaps that is why I write – on the off chance that someone, someday, may pick up a book and give a thought to the person who wrote it. But for now, I am thinking about their stories, their lives, what I know of them. And this year, I will write about them, so that, perhaps, someday someone will remember and wonder.