Letter From the Vineyard 28 March 2020 On a sea of hope…

March 28, 2020

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           The day began with lances of light pouring into my bedroom; muting to grey by scuds of clouds crossing the sun, a bright wind howling outside the windows, bending trees, the first soft and distant suggestion of spring on their boughs. Then, mid-morning, sun banished clouds, yielding to sky of powder blue, unbroken, as I island wandered, doing the few errands allowed.

The island wants “shelter-in-place” while the state demands it only be advised. From errand running, the island is winning on a wave of self-concern.  Since returning, I have washed my already raw hands as if Pilate, washing away sin.

This week, I had FaceTime drinks with my friend Larry; we virtually toasted while roasting Washington chaos.  Even as the nation buckles, self-interest roared, and shouting echoed through the normally sedate American Senate.

There were martinis on FaceTime with Lionel, sequestered across the street from where I once lived with a bonus visit from his husband, Pierre.  We talked of Verizon, his employers, their response to the disease, how they are working to help employees.  It was good to hear.

Ten or so from our train group had a virtual cocktail party on Zoom, the newest way to mingle without touching.

It appears the two point two trillion dollars is the down payment on surviving the pandemic.  In the bill, there is five billion for New York City; Cuomo calls it a drop in the proverbial bucket as he faces the need for 40,000 ICU beds.  Forty. Thousand. ICU. Beds.

The Javits Center, the labyrinthian convention complex on the Hudson, is being converted in a week to house hospital beds.

Across the country, governors are standing up, the galvanizers of the COVID-19 fight. Most prominent of them is Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, a normally polarizing man who has risen to the challenge of being governor of the American epicenter of the disease, where almost 5% of the world’s cases now reside.

Each morning brings more bad news; I read it gingerly while working my way into the day, then shower to wash it away, if it were only possible.  This reality lingers around us; infuses everything we do. Passover and Easter are upon us.  How will we celebrate as we are quarantined?

With much effort, I got the store’s phones forwarded to my mobile.  The people who work for Comcast Business are quite wonderful – the technology not so much.

New realities face us each day; we work through them as we can.  An impoverished nation is facing grim choices, including which bills to pay or not, and the stories will only grow.  And I ache as I read them.

Though shut-ins are finding ways to reach out.  My sister sent me this and it moves me to tears each time I watch it. [I am certain I am not the only one finding tears near these days.] A friend sent me a video of Rita Wilson rapping; I laughed.  If interested, see it here.

I shared a letter from Fitzgerald, only to discover it was written as a parody for McSweeney’s, though it has been circulated probably hundreds of thousands of times in recent days because it issued hope and hope is what we need.  If curious, read about it in this article.

Reading is a savior and people are reading all those piles of books they have set aside for just this kind of rainy day.  Or they are binging on all the television shows and films stored on some electronic device or bookmarked on their streaming service[s].

It is a dark, strange world in which we live though not devoid of hope, because it is hope that has kept us puny humans going since we climbed out of the primordial mud into the light of some long lost day, and have kept on hoping since then, all of us some version of Mother Courage.  If we didn’t have hope, we’d be long gone by now.

Knowing that, I have hope we will sustain ourselves through this so bleak time and find a way to revise the future story and make it better.

Letter from the Vineyard 03 21 2020 Hasn’t it been just…

March 22, 2020

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Letter from the Vineyard

March 21, 2020

Well, hasn’t it been just…

First of all, thank you to all who have reached out to check on me.  I’m fine, right now, and doing all I can to stay that way.  And I am concerned all of you are doing fine…

Morning came with a mystic fog snuggling the island, a sight which would have made me smile though today it seemed emblematic of our lives, moving through fog.

The week has been spent making homemade disinfectant and homemade hand sanitizer as none is to be found, a task adding to the surreal nature of the moment.

Everything seems life or death right now, wiping cardboard with disinfectant before unloading books, looking at every surface as an enemy, washing my hands with the frenzy of Lady Macbeth at Dunsinane, crying “out damned spot.”

It is rumored, not confirmed, Monday will bring an order to shelter in place in Massachusetts, becoming another state to do so.

It is the states which are leading the fight against this contagion.  On the Federal level, it beggars the imagination, which adds to the surreal feel of the moment.  The center from which we expect guidance dances the light fantastic; localities are banding together to direct us.

Shame on Washington.

Though God bless Dr. Fauci, the man who knows too much.  Read about him here. He is a national treasure and thank god he is still here.  He has led us through AIDS, Swine Flu and been the medical voice of reason for generations.

The Italians, having now passed China in the number of deaths, isolated in their homes, go to their balconies and windows to sing, god love them. View the video here.

The other night, in a text exchange, my dear, dear friend Lionel sent me this.  Would I had the way with words of Fitzgerald; it captures this time, as it did his moment as Spanish Influenza marched its deadly way across the world.

A LETTER FROM F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, QUARANTINED IN 1920 IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE DURING THE SPANISH INFLUENZA OUTBREAK.

Dearest Rosemary,

It was a limpid dreary day, hung as in a basket from a single dull star. I thank you for your letter. Outside, I perceive what may be a collection of fallen leaves tussling against a trash can. It rings like jazz to my ears. The streets are that empty. It seems as though the bulk of the city has retreated to their quarters, rightfully so. At this time, it seems very poignant to avoid all public spaces. Even the bars, as I told Hemingway, but to that he punched me in the stomach, to which I asked if he had washed his hands. He hadn’t. He is much the denier, that one. Why, he considers the virus to be just influenza? I’m curious of his sources.

The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us.

You should see the square, oh, it is terrible. I weep for the damned eventualities this future brings. The long afternoons rolling forward slowly on the ever-slick bottomless highball. Z. says it’s no excuse to drink, but I just can’t seem to steady my hand. In the distance, from my brooding perch, the shoreline is cloaked in a dull haze where I can discern an unremitting penance that has been heading this way for a long, long while. And yet, amongst the cracked cloud line of an evening’s cast, I focus on a single strain of light, calling me forth to believe in a better morrow.

Faithfully yours,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

So, I too, “focus on a single strain of light, calling me forth to believe in a better morrow.”

May it be so for all of us.

God bless us all, however you perceive god.

 

Letter From the Vineyard 09 March 2020 A sign of the times…

March 9, 2020

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A Letter from the Vineyard

March 09, 2020

The Via Condotti, Rome’s Madison Avenue, a street where years ago I was pickpocketed by two Roma women to whom I had just given money, is deserted.

Italy is one of the coronavirus epicenters; Italy, a tourist dependent country, is empty.  One of Rome’s five-star hotels ordered eleven pounds of potatoes last week.

Today, Monday, Italy has locked down the whole country.  No large gatherings, sports or otherwise. Even Catholic Mass has been cancelled.  You can go to work, if absolutely necessary, and that’s about it.

We have coronavirus, we have a toxic political environment.  Biden, who pulled off a political miracle, may well prevail in winning the nomination.  After that, it will be an ugly, ugly fall.

A friend, who was with me on the Via Condotti when I was pickpocketed, asked me in a text how I was, and I replied:  fine while living in a surreal world.

We have a coronavirus all the time as well as politics all the time news cycle.  It is dizzying, inescapable, making me sometimes yearn for a time there wasn’t a 24-hour news cycle.

Seminars are held on how to work remotely for jobs not normally remotely done, like teaching grade school.  This may be a tipping point for the way we work and live, forced by COVID-19 into different patterns from which we will never return.

It will be fascinating to see how it all works out, provided we live through it.

My godson, Paul, in New York on business for a couple of weeks, told me some stores were empty of toilet paper.  Certainly, they are empty of hand sanitizer.  On Amazon, two regular size bottles of Purell go for $100 or more. That’s panic.

When I went to pick up some prescriptions, I checked my pharmacy; sanitizers all gone, and none at the grocery store, when I went to pick up milk and bread.  The toilet paper section was not yet denuded nor was it robustly populated.

While I stopped at a local restaurant for some dinner [not easy this time of year on the Vineyard; I had already been to two which said they were open online but were not], the State Department advised against cruise travel as ships have become hot beds of infection.

On Sunday morning there were 30 states with COVID-19; by sunset [can we just stop daylight saving time, please] there were 33.  It is on the march. Part of what is fear inducing is we do not quite know with what we’re dealing.

Sunday at church, no one knew whether they should shake hands at the peace or not.  Most didn’t and a few did and when a hand was offered, I took it, remembering I had hand sanitizer [bought long before this madness] in the car.  My hands are actually tingling from washing and sanitizing.

The CDC has suggested if you are over 60, you stock up and just stay home, wait this out.  That’s not really an option for a lot of people, including me.

The markets are cratering, fuel on the coronavirus fire from an oil price war between Russia’s Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince MBS [Mohammed Bin Salman].  Among the victims will be American shale oil companies. Some analysts say oil will be worse for the markets than the coronavirus.  Oil is at $30 a barrel.  When was the last time?  I don’t remember.

You know what I am doing?  I am collecting recipes.  It is probable I will never make them, yet it gives me comfort, a bit like comfort food without the calories.  Sam Sifton of the NY Times, thank you for your wonderful, witty food columns.  Mark Bittman, you are my Brad Pitt.  It is a refuge in the sea of chaos in which we live.

So, this is what I am going to do: do everything to stay healthy, live to write more blogposts, keep washing my hands, take my vitamins, avoid crowds and say my prayers, not just on Sunday.  You do the same.  Please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter from the Vineyard 02/25/2020 What should we do?

February 26, 2020

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Sunday was the first real harbinger of a Vineyard spring, the temperature climbed into the 50s, sky a cloudless blue, people on the streets, walking, wandering, everyone in a good mood, treasuring an extraordinary February day.

It is Beethoven’s 250th birthday; he and Chopin have been playing on my Echo, soothing in a time of chaos.

It has been a time of being island cozy, glad to be away from the mayhem out in the world.  It is a thought often crossing my mind as I move around the island; what is going on out in the world is truly discomforting.

The primaries are in full swing.  Biden, who arguably should be the front runner, is not, looking to be soon marginalized. Pete Buttigieg, a gay man, is getting serious attention.  Like gay marriage, I didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime and it is.  I just wish he had ten more years of experience.

President Trump is, post acquittal, unleashed, none of it pretty. Petty, yes.

He is livid about so many things, I have lost count.

It is my fear this president finds the presidency intoxicating and addictive.

Mr. Trump is now in India, being treated to the kind of rallies he so likes, big ones, full of adoration, pumping up his ego.  At his side is Modi, India’s Prime Minister, seemingly determined to turn his country into a nationalist Hindu state.  My Hindu friends in India are appalled.

The Russians are back!  Supposedly helping Trump and Bernie.  Makes sense.  If all we hear is true, they want Trump and Bernie is the weakest to defeat him.  Unless there is a turn of the screw…

We have coronavirus, unleashing itself upon the world, taking its toll.  Italy has spiked in cases as has Iran.  A series of bad decisions made the Diamond Princess a cluster of the disease, largest outside of China for a time.  That honor now is South Korea’s.  The world economy is affected.  And a kind of panic is setting in.  Even here.

At church today, at the Peace, the man in front of me, used the namaste gesture rather than shake hands.  It surprised me though I understood when I thought about it.

At Stop & Shop, the lady behind me in the checkout line began talking about an island couple who had been on the Westerdam, a ship quarantined, outraged they were allowed back on the island.

As this whole thing is, it is confusing.  The woman who tested positive on the Westerdam has now tested negative and the island couple is self-quarantining for two weeks after already being quarantined for two.

In her fear, I saw how it swirls, gets the better of us; I was a bit frightened of her as she swirled toward the irrational.

I am frightened by the coronavirus, Covid-19.  We don’t quite know what we’re dealing with.  Italy has a surprising number of cases. Iran, too. South Korea is over 1000.  Nearly 90,000 are sickened, near 3,000 dead.  It may become pandemic, like influenza in 1918.

As it mushrooms, markets are tumbling. The Bologna Children’s Book Conference has been cancelled as well as Venice’s Carnival. Brazil announced its first case.

Monday was a day to be thoughtful about many things, not just potential pandemic.

Kobe Bryant and his daughter were memorialized in Los Angeles at the Staples Center, often referred to as the house Kobe built.  Katherine Johnson, the real-life central figure in “Hidden Figures” died at 101, a life well lived, one I am glad I found out about.  As did B. Smith, African American lifestyle guru, to early onset Alzheimer’s, 70.

In Syria there is a humanitarian crisis of Biblical proportions with nearly a million refugees.  In Greece, refugees beg for bread; while just miles away tourists consume grilled octopus.

What to do with all of this is overwhelming.  It would be easy to turn off even more of the information founts, retreat into the island, and I am tempted.  It is too easy and not, at the end, a reflection of the best me.  But what is it I should do? Or, rather what should we do?

 

 

Letter From the Vineyard 02 10 2020 Under a buttery moon…

February 11, 2020

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Mondays have become winter special.  The bookstore is closed; I spend the morning lingering, reading the newspaper, my current book, sipping tea, usually Irish Breakfast, savoring the interior warmth while outside is grey and chill.  Yesterday, when I heard a couple comment on how cold it was, I thought: it’s not Minnesota cold.

Last night, the snow moon floated above the earth, a soft buttery gold orb, seen through bare branched trees, on a mostly cloudless Vineyard evening. As I stood watching it, it reminded me of the inexorableness of nature and the world.  Mother Nature, as my friend and author Howard Bloom says, is a bitch.

And we have seen her bitchiness at work these last weeks, in the horror of Australian fires, the storm named Ciara, currently bludgeoning Europe after wafting a British Airways jet to the fastest Atlantic crossing of a subsonic plane in history, to the coronavirus marching, seemingly inexorably, out of China and onto the world stage, to the flu which claimed a four year old boy when people convinced his mother not to give him prescribed Tamiflu but to put potatoes in his socks.

As Howard says, Mother Nature is a bitch, and she is having her way with us right now.

As she has for eternity.  Think of the Pompeiians lost to angry Vesuvius or the thousands upon thousands swept away in the Christmas tsunami not so very long ago.

We live in a time of wonders.

Christina Koch has returned from the International Space Station, the woman who has spent more time in space than any other woman and who is second only to Scott Kelly in total length of time in space.

Space tourism will kick off in the next years.

Driverless cars will come.  Robots will march.

Science Fiction is reality, or soon to be.

“Longtime Companion” [1989] may well have been the first film to put a real face to the AIDS crisis.  In one scene, a handsome young man lies in a hospital bed, an oxygen mask on his face, his eyes wide with fear, not understanding what is happening to him.

It was was scene that came to mind when I first saw the picture below, on BBC.com, I think.

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It is Li Wenliang, the Chinese ophthalmologist who raised concerns about the coronavirus and was accused by Chinese authorities of “rumor mongering” and made to issue a public apology.

He died in the early hours of February 7th; his picture will haunt me, as did that scene from “Longtime Companion.”  How often in history has common sense and human dignity been trumped by fear in fighting illness?

We are fearful, we human beings, in equal or greater measure to our ability to transcend fear and do great deeds of kindness and heroism.

And that dichotomy is one which constantly amazes me, moving me to anger at times and to tears at others.  I thought of it earlier when I saw a photo of a young man helping an older woman get out of her home in the above-mentioned Storm Ciara [or Sabine, if you are in Germany].  The MET is calling her the “storm of the century” though the century is young; I suspect worse is to come.

Next year’s federal budget calls for a cut in social safety nets in this country while boosting spending for the military.

If I remember my history correctly, it’s a problematic scenario.  Louis XVII and his wife, Marie Antoinette, literally lost their heads because the French diverted so much money to the military, largely to help we Americans win our revolution against the British.

There is a tipping point.

So, here I am, bemused and bewildered, as I write this particular letter, not too happy with what I see.  A dangerous virus is advancing, fearful people are reacting with, not unexpectedly, xenophobia [there is, at least to me, something disgusting in those “wet” markets but a whole race should not be condemned], we are becoming unbalanced in our national priorities and it will come to roost somehow.

In the early 20th Century Teddy Roosevelt bridled the Gilded Age horse, preventing it from running amuck.  Something will change here.  Such is the nature of history.  It always changes.

 

 

 

Letter From the Vineyard 02 02 02 Not again, for a thousand years…

February 2, 2020

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Letter from the Vineyard

02 02 2020, a palindrome not to happen again until 03 03 3030,

a thousand years away

As I write this, the process to acquit Trump has mostly succeeded.

Cue:  Gotterdammerung.

Our political lunacy and distress are impossible to escape, even though I make every effort to keep it as much at bay as I can. It infects and infests my Facebook feed; most people I know are ardently anti-Trump, so I see post after post ripping at him, which I am sure gives some people relief though they are mostly preaching to the choir.

Doing my best to slide by that constant stridency, I love to see photos of my favorite Amtrak conductor, Loretta, celebrating her life and the amazing island pictures of Michael Blanchard, capturing magical Vineyard moments [really, do look up his work here.]

I love to see photos of my friends’ children and grandchildren, those are the things I feel makes Facebook delightful but when I do use it, there is a part of me feeling just a little slimy, knowing Mark Zuckerberg is living out the adult version of himself from the film “The Social Network.”  His company could become a force for global good; didn’t he herald that once upon a long time ago?

It serves a purpose and from these eyes which have seen the digital revolution, it has work to do to be its full potential and I wish it would get about it.

The founding mantra of Google was:  Do no evil.  They might like to think about that a bit more often.

Ah, it was nice to rant a little.

That is what most people I know on Facebook do, rant a little [or a lot] though I wish folks would rant less and do more.  The ranting comes from not knowing what to do; ranting helps people feel they have done something, that they are not powerless.

A sense of powerlessness raised Trump up, a sense of powerlessness may take him down.

What concrete things we can do feels elusive and contributes to this malaise, an illness pulling us in over the last half century, a thing begun, not with Trump but long ago, perhaps with Vietnam.

Lamar Alexander explained his vote to not hear witnesses this way: he didn’t want to throw gasoline on the cultural wars.  Ah, kicking the ball down the court, a thing we have become very good at doing…

How did it all get this way?

Solomon I am not, though I am not sure Solomon was as wise as we think he was, though certainly clever where the baby was concerned. He had moments of regal hubris; my friends who rant on Facebook are, not without reason, concerned the current ship of state is captained and crewed by men who know only hubris as their default position.

As a nation we are shaken by the death a week ago of Kobe Bryant, a very human man who shown like a star, fell from the sky, had feet of clay, acknowledged that, at least a bit, appeared working at making the world a little better, in his own basketball way.

Not a sports fan, I was still rattled by the flaming departure of someone who was so alive his smile could light up Staples Arena.

Coronavirus, not having anything to do with Corona Beer [seriously, some people believed that], is a fluttering angel of death over the world; we wait to know how bad it will be.

It has been a momentous week and in the velocity of life, it is comforting, at this minute, to be curled up in the winter quiet of the island, to be able to momentarily close my eyes and ears to the madness, simply listen, as I do now, to jazz [Billie Holiday], read good books [currently “The Ship of Dreams” about the sinking of Titanic and the end of the Edwardian era], eat good food, sip a nice wine now and again – and breathe, praying I will not actually have to hear Gotterdammerung.

 

 

 

 

Letter from the Vineyard 25 January 2020 “All we need is love…”

January 26, 2020

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In the background, Mozart plays; his music allegedly good for helping the brain work and God knows I need help making my brain work right now.  A week ago, I woke up with what felt like a small head cold.  Home that night, it seemed to have made little progress.

Thursday morning, I defied gravity, got up, sat down and went uh oh!  The small head cold had become something fierce during the night – not quite flu and certainly much more than a cold. And there began what has been a nine-day odyssey through an illness defying definition, leaving me swirling in its misery.

Boxes of tissue have disappeared, my heating pad was clung to, a life preserver in the sea of coughs.  I questioned my sanity, my presence on the island, my life, friendships, everything swirled around me in the wicked whirlwind of not feeling at all well, when the world seems much darker and Mephistopheles finds his way to your shoulder, whispering recriminations into your ear over things you’d long thought resolved.

Such is illness and mine was such a petty one compared to what others I know have gone through or are going through and that, in itself, spurred more recriminations and self-condemnations.

It was a gruesome Catholic week of recriminations and regret.

It seemed impossible to read or watch anything; I was incapable of absorbing content.  The same page would be read three times over and I still wouldn’t know what the characters were up to, which way the plot was turning, so I sat, staring out, listening to music, a cold and miserable chap.  Streaming programs resulted in the same:  what just happened?  I got tired of re-winding.

On Thursday, when I was not to be at the shop, I was to go to New York for a business luncheon and there was no way I could do it; my body was too weak, nor was my battered spirit much willing and cancelled, then became convinced the people I was to have lunched with probably hated me for letting them down.

After days of descending into this particular circle of Dante’s Inferno, I began to have a chat with myself, reminding myself of all the good things in my world, forcing myself to whisper to the Mephistopheles on my shoulder to get behind me. Incessantly, as he did not want to yield his spot upon that shoulder.

It has been a humbling week, illuminating.

With my frailties and insecurities in full display, if only to myself [I hope], I have had to carefully pull myself back together again, to remind myself, somewhat forcibly, to be grateful.

My life has been a grand experience; it is only right I treasure, clasp that specific reality to my heart and not wander into the land of different roads I might have taken.  I took the roads I took; my adventures have been what they have been; they have been great adventures, my mistakes, god knows how many there have been, have been my mistakes and in owning them comes forgiveness, which is what I needed in order to forgive myself my trespasses.

Forgive me for this meandering.  I needed to find words for this week, which tripped me up, spiraled me down and resulted in my winging my way back toward the clouds, though with only great effort and the deep realization of the complexity of the human experience.

So, here I am, anchored on the Vineyard, back in the store, chatting about books to interested people, once again grateful for the simplicity and wonder of this moment.

As for what is happening in the rest of the world, and, in particular, our political milieu, it seems only right tonight begins the “Year of the Rat.”

Letter from the Vineyard 15 January 2020 A little break…

January 15, 2020

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My life on the Vineyard has a rhythm, a predictability which has been unusual in my recent vagabond life.

Sometime between six and seven, I wake, make myself a cup of tea, usually Irish Breakfast, sit on the couch, read news, delving sometimes more deeply than other times — last week being one as we teetered on the edge of war with Iran.  I write a few personal emails, choose what I’ll wear for the day, shower, have a little breakfast and head down to the bookstore.  Days run into each other and I lose track of the days.  I called a vendor to discuss a damaged book. Only when I got a recording saying they were closed did I tick to it was Saturday.

We didn’t go to war with Iran, tensions calmed, and the focus is on them with the tragic downing of a Ukrainian airliner.

Put aside those hard things, it has been a lovely week, swinging from heavy wet snow to a high of nearly sixty degrees on Sunday.

Friday, I visited with Shirley Mayhew, discussing the vagaries of aging, she, at ninety-three, more expert than I.  On my way over, I wished I had something to give her though hadn’t a clue what, but our conversation directed me to a book I’d like to share with her, which I will take the next time I make the pilgrimage to her.

It has been hard to concentrate enough to focus on reading a book; I have started three and not progressed far on any.  If I look at one of my now many streaming services, I find it hard to want to watch anything, generally clicking off, returning to journaling, playing some solitaire.

It has been a time of reflecting, of reaching out to people who are far away, a way of comforting myself as I still know so few on the island though I sense it is beginning to change.  Twice this week I had meaningful exchanges with island people.

Sunday, at St. Andrew’s, I sat, as I usually do, in the front pew.  That way I can hear Father Chip clearly, his voice being in the range my aging ears find hard. The gentleman behind leaned in, asked me if I had lost a cap?  Mine eyes widened, I nodded; now returned to me after several weeks is the lovely cap I purchased in Ireland.  I had wondered where I had left it; never occurred to me it could have been at church.

St. Andrew’s is working on revitalizing itself, as was Christ Church in Hudson, as is probably every mainstream church in North America, and there was a potluck brunch and group meetings after church.  As I had joined St. Andrew’s after the process had started, I belonged to no group and was invited by Chris, a customer at the bookstore, to join hers, outreach, which is what I would have chosen.

It has been a blissfully mundane week, spared from the world angst which assailed me last week.  We need these weeks more than now and again to survive the rub of everyday life, challenging in so many ways these days.

As my fingers tap on the laptop keyboard, New Orleans jazz is playing on that modern marvel, an Echo, better known by her name, Alexa.  Alexa, play me some [whatever you want].  These parts of the 21st Century I enjoy; they help revitalize me for the other challenges of 21st Century life.

The Industrial Revolution is over and we’re entering another challenging epochal transition period which will challenge us all to the nth degree – what will Artificial Intelligence do to our lives?

Given a little rest, some good jazz, a good night’s sleep, a bit of good food, good companionship, and some natural beauty, which this island provides, we can better face our challenges and they are many, personally, nationally and globally.

 

Letter from the Vineyard 01 08 2020 A Place of Refuge…

January 9, 2020

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Letter from the Vineyard, January 8, 2020

A Place of Refuge…

“Well, here we are, ready and willing to go to the birds, and we can’t even find the way!” is the opening line of Aristophanes’ “The Birds” in a translation by a high school classmate, Jeff LaCount, performed my junior year in high school, playing Euelpides [Good Hope] with Greg Harrigan as Pisthetaerus [Trusty Friend], a play lightly skewering the politics of the time [450 BCE, 1960’s America, 2020 America?].

Both are middle-aged grifters who con the birds, led by a man transformed into a bird by a magic potion, into creating a kingdom for them, outwitting the gods, becoming the envy of other men.

It is a play about the folly of men, gods, their ambitions, the most fantastical of Aristophanes’ plays, permeated also by his sense of doom, as Athens had set out on an expedition against Sicily, ending up ill-fated as could be.

When I performed it in high school, I hadn’t a clue what it all meant.  I had good lines; I got good laughs; the director was happy.

Three years later, Greg died in the rice paddies of Vietnam.  I was at his funeral, shaken that that good man was dead even before he lived. Jeff LaCount died sometime later, no one seems to know why or where.

Our lives have been cluttered by our country’s ill-fated military expeditions. Vietnam.  Afghanistan.  Iraq.  None of them have turned out well for us.  Are we not all, who were alive at the time, a bit haunted by the photo of the last helicopter leaving Saigon while those who helped us were left behind, clawing at the embassy gates?

Shortly after we invaded Iraq, I was having a perfectly civilized lunch with a friend, ex-CIA, at Le Bonne Soupe on 54th Street in Manhattan, who asked me what I thought of the invasion?  I responded: Rome came a cropper there; I feared we would, too.  Over a magnificent pate, the reason we were there, he said he agreed. His area of expertise at the CIA was the Middle East and could have taught Carlos Ghosn a thing or two about getting in and out of countries.  My friend had more than once been smuggled into and out of a middle eastern country in a packing crate.

Afghanistan, the forever war, clogs on; after eighteen long years, we have started to talk about having lost.

Couldn’t we have learned from Alexander the Great? The Romans? The British? Or the Russians?

The Mideast is a quagmire vexing the western world forever, it seems.  The Brits, who owned the world in 1918, partitioned it to serve their purposes; we have all paid the price since.

While things have deescalated a little, we could be moving toward war with Iran, a thought which does not help me sleep well at night.

Sometime in the last years, I read some Evangelicals support Trump because they see him as facilitating the Second Coming, helping bring about events foretold in the Book of Revelation.

War with Iran might look a bit like the Book of Revelation.

And to my ex-CIA friend, with whom I have lost touch, we have come a cropper in Iraq; they are asking us to get out.

Peter Simon was the epic photographer of the island; god rest his soul.  Yesterday I looked at the 2020 Peter Simon calendar; it rings in January with this thought of his:

“I have traveled to exotic places, and have lived various lifestyles in the past, but have never felt so at peace as I do as a Vineyarder. I feel as though I have escaped the craziness of the ‘real world’ and am living out some dreamy fantasy, where the elements I value most are all anchored firmly on this sea and soil.  The Vineyard is the last resort for me.” – Peter Simon, “On the Vineyard,” 1980.

Like Peter, I have traveled to exotic places, lived various lifestyles, and there is a peace I find on the Vineyard.  It may not be my last resort and it is a place of refuge as the world grows mad.

God save us all.

 

 

 

 

Letter from the Vineyard 16 Dec 2019 Thoughts on Christmas in Edgartown and a few on history…

December 16, 2019

Letter from the Vineyard

December 16, 2019

Christmas in Edgartown with thoughts on history’s lessons…

In the mornings, I drink, usually, a cup of Irish Breakfast tea and look out the sliding doors to the woods outside.  Many mornings are Vineyard gray and, sometimes, Vineyard brilliant as it is as I write these words, wind blowing, bending barren branches of once verdant trees. And most mornings, somewhere in the process of consuming my tea and the usually dreadful news, I feel come across me a wave of happiness, as just happened, happy I am alive, sitting on a couch, looking at trees, having defied gravity one more time, climbing out of bed to insert myself into the life of the universe one more day.

I have reached a place in life where I am grateful for each good, healthy day I have on this planet, taking, hopefully, none for granted.

Saturday was the second day of the “Christmas in Edgartown “celebration; at eleven there was a parade down Main Street, somewhat truncated by the rainy weather which prevented bands from marching though Santa was there, riding joyfully atop a nearly hundred-year-old fire engine.

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            Edgartown Books is dressed up as gaily as I could manage; one of the people who liked our Facebook photo of author Jean Stone signing copies of her newest series of Vineyard books, said the store looked festive.  Thank you.

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I worked hard at it, making it up as I went along, adding things until Thursday, when I decided the storefront simply would not be okay unless I strung garlands over the windows.

Enter, garlands.

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Feeling festive after the day, I decided to go across the street to Alchemy to sit at the bar, have a drink, maybe a bite but, when I walked in, the place was overflowing, and I thought about just going home but decided as I was walking to my car to stroll over to the magnificent Charlotte Inn, have a martini in their very English evocative surroundings – think private English club in Kensington.  When I first walked in, it reminded me of a hotel across from Kensington Palace where I stayed in the aughts, when on a consulting assignment.

Sipping a martini in one of the parlors, two women entered, asked me if they could occupy the chairs by the fire?  I smiled; it was not my room and said, of course.  They ordered wine, then seemed to see me for the first time, really, and one said, oh my gosh you sold me a book today!  Which started a lovely conversation with two former college roommates off for a weekend together before the holidays, before going to another room for dinner.  The moment filled me with smiles.

Sunday was another lovely bookstore day, not as busy, though still full of “Christmas in Edgartown” visitors winding down the weekend and locals ginning up their Christmas shopping.

I will be in the store until Saturday and then off to New Orleans for Christmas, spent with my friend of longest standing, Sarah, her husband, Jim, their son Kevin, his wife, Michelle.  Restaurant reservations are popping up in my email; it will be hard not to return without a weight gain.

 

Meanwhile, in the real world, away from soft island life, the president will be impeached by Congress. There will be a trial in the Senate, virtually guaranteed to acquit him.

The Democrats will likely not heed the lessons offered by this week’s UK election.  Democrats, to their detriment, rarely learn lessons offered them.

It is time, I suspect, to read Cicero, study the rise of Caesar and catalog the mistakes leading to the end of the Republic and rise of Imperium.

Those singular rulers rode an upward trajectory; if we come to that, ours will likely ride a fall.