Letter from a vagabond 21 November 2018 Happy Thanksgiving!

November 21, 2018

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It is November 21st and my birthday was last Sunday, a day filled with unplanned joy.  Usually, I organize things for my birthday and this year didn’t, too fresh from my time in Europe, still absorbing being back on American soil and lacking any real sense of what I might want to do.

So, I let the day happen.

First, I went down to Christ Church where I was serenaded by the congregation with a round of “Happy Birthday” and that was followed by meeting Lionel and Larry at my favorite bistro, The Red Dot, for a long, lazy lunch.  Alana, who owns the place, and Patrick, Alana’s partner, were there as well as a rotating room full of friends and acquaintances.  There were many rounds of “Happy Birthday” sung, toasts given, and laughter shared.

Lionel, Larry and I went to The Flammerie, a German restaurant in Kinderhook and filled ourselves with flammkuchen and other delights.

We came back to the Keene Farm, had a nightcap, more laughter and then to the sweet sleep that follows a day of fun.

And I have floated through the following days on the joy of that day, with a remarkable number of people wishing my Facebook greetings, phone calls and texts.

We are now facing the great American Feast, my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving!

This year it will be a catered affair at Alicia and Larry’s, brought together by Melanie, a good friend of Alicia’s.

The last of the errands were run today; I delivered a Thanksgiving pie to Alicia and Larry this afternoon, along with a few other things after shopping for the Friday brunch at the Keene Farm which follows Thursday’s feasting.

And to all of you, I wish a Happy Thanksgiving.  Great joy, lack of strife, good food.  In his column today, Sam Sifton in the NY Times, reminded us all to just relax; it will be all okay.

He also linked to a wonderful ad done by Elton John for John Lewis and Partners in the UK.  View it here.

And have a tissue handy.

Personally, I am thankful my sister seems to have done well with some not a walk in the park surgery yesterday and is out of ICU and while will miss Thanksgiving, the surgery has addressed a long-standing issue.

 

 

 

 

Letter from a Vagabond 01 12 2019 Unexpectedly…

January 12, 2019

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As I sit facing the dancing cursor on my screen, the lights of Beirut are spread out beneath me, climbing up into the hills and around the edge of the harbor where several freighters sit at anchor, placidly waiting, to come or go, unload their cargo…

Thursday night, I left JFK and flew to Istanbul and from Istanbul to Beirut.  Since I left from upstate, I was about twenty hours in transit.  As I slept a fair amount on the JFK – Istanbul segment, I am not as tired as I thought I might be.  In fact, when I came down to breakfast this morning, I surprised my colleagues with how chipper I was.

Last Saturday, Nick Stuart texted me: are you still interested in going to Beirut?  Of course, I texted back.  Within two hours, I was on a conference call with Gwen Dickinson in the UK, head of the Lokahi Foundation, which is putting on a conference in Beirut for religious and social change makers from places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Bosnia, etc.

Friday, one participant on the staff side had fallen out; Nick suggested me as a replacement and on Monday morning I received an email letting me know they were delighted I would be joining them.

Tuesday, I planned travel, Wednesday I packed, Thursday I traveled.  And here I am in Beirut, a city I have wanted to see since I was six and my Uncle Henry enthralled me at a dinner about the wonders of this city.

Truthfully, I haven’t seen much yet, though tomorrow I will be going from our hotel, settled into a hillside facing the Mediterranean, and going into the city proper.  Monday there will be workshops, Tuesday, a trip to Tripoli, meetings with the Maronite Bishop of Tripoli, the Orthodox Bishop of Tripoli and the Grand Mufti of Tripoli.

Wednesday, Nick and I are the stars of the day, he more than I, and Thursday we will go to Sour/Tyre and Saida/Sidon, ancient cities who helped form the world in which we live.

Friday, more workshops and Saturday, a visit to the ancient city of Byblos, from which the Bible derives its name.

Come the 24th, I will leave Beirut and fly to Istanbul for a week and then, home. To America.  To go back to my friends’ guest house.  Vagabonds don’t really have homes.  We have the vagabond life and it has been invigorating me the last eight months, to be a vagabond.

There is a sense of adventurism about this I love.

Here I am, unexpectedly, in a city I have wanted to visit since I was six and will go off from here to visit a city I have not seen for nearly twenty years and will go back to a place where, unexpectedly, I feel much at home. [Thank you, Alicia and Larry, for the gift of your guest house in my wanderings.]

What a marvelous time I am having.  Unexpectedly.

 

 

An article by the vagabond… 01 10 2018 Written for the Digital Center

January 10, 2019

Here is a link to an article I wrote for the website of the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg.  Please go https://www.digitalcenter.org/

 

 

 

Letter from a Vagabond 01 03 2019 Thoughts on the age…

January 3, 2019

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         As you ascend from the tracks in Penn Station, to the lower level, the air is infused with the siren smell of popcorn and I must pass through this with the steely resolve of Odysseus listening to the Sirens sing.  Mentally, I bind myself to the ship’s mast to sail through the popcorn straits.

It is, perhaps, my favorite taste treat.  At certain times of stress only a bag of freshly popped popcorn will soothe my spirit.  When I can’t get fresh popcorn, I reach for Cheetos, orange like our president.

In New York for a noon lunch with Jeff Cole of the Center for the Digital Future, then drinks with an old friend and dinner with even older friends, followed tomorrow by my quarterly lunch with my friend David, another potential meeting or two and then back to the Keene Farm, where I will work out what my next vagabonding steps will be…

It is the year 2019 and I am staggered by that reality.  If, in 1969, had you suggested I would be around for this year, I would have laughed in your face.  “Live fast, die young, have a good-looking corpse!” was a common battle cryand and there were times when it seemed I might make that a reality.

Yet, here I am.  I have not died; my fast living was short term and I won’t have a good-looking corpse.  Sigh!

This is likely a not uncommon refrain among baby boomers.  How did this happen to us, we, who were to be forever young?

Age comes to all of us who are lucky enough to age.  There are those who have not been so lucky.  I lift my hat to my good friend, Richard Easthouse, still and always missed, felled by AIDS just before the cocktail and to others lost to that disease, as well as car accidents, overdoses and cancer.  Baby boomers were not immune, regardless of our strident sense of immortality.

Living in the U.S., we are often, it seems, pounded by bad news, which is why I suggest you read the article you will find here.  It gives us 99 stories [and a bonus one] of good things happening which we probably missed in the strum und drung of contemporary American culture.

Speaking of which, could not someone helped President Trump refute the scathing Mitt Romney Op-Ed with something other than a tweet saying, “He has a big, stupid mouth!”  That is the question.  Rather it is just one of the questions wrestled with concerning the behavior of our current president.

However, as I pointed out to someone when all this began, Rome survived a string of bad emperors.  [Though they didn’t have a nuclear trigger at hand.]

So, with all that is going on, partial government shutdown, Syria, Iraq, Congressional stalemate and everything else, I will re-read the article of things done well this past year and take hope in things going well and will continue to think about how I can contribute to things going well.

Do read the article!  There are some amazing things going on and we need amazing things to buoy us up and carry on – hope, after all, is one of the great traits and gifts of the human race.

View story at Medium.com

Letter From a Vagabond 12 29 2018 As the year ends…

December 29, 2018

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It is a quiet afternoon; I have returned to Larry and Alicia’s guest house on the Keene Farm and am settling in for a few days, ensconcing myself in my favorite spot, the small round table that looks out over the pond and west to the Catskills.

It is deeply quiet here, the only sound – well, there isn’t any, just the thwacking of my keyboard.

Christmas was in Boston with Kevin Malone, his wife, Michelle Melton, his mother and dad, Sarah and Jim, family of choice. He and his wife treated us Thursday evening to a custom meal made by Samara, a Boston chef, known for her Middle Eastern dishes and it was a feast for the ages.

For the last twelve or thirteen or fourteen years, my Christmases have been spent with some combination of the McCormick clan, with whom I grew up in Minneapolis and, as I sat in the chair I claimed as “my spot,” I thought about the wondrous thing that is long term friendship.  I have been with them and they with me, in both good times and in bad. I can only hope my support has meant as much to them as it has to me.

Yesterday, I drove through a chill drizzle and when I reached the Keene Farm, there was a sense of joy, grateful for the open, welcoming arms of Alicia and Larry, allowing me to rest here now and again between my bouts of vagabonding.

I considered it a good sign from the universe when my favorite reading glasses were returned to me, after I had left them in a restaurant six weeks ago.  I had surrendered them as lost and when I stopped today at Wunderbar, for a bowl of soup, they had them for me.

The year is ending not with a whimper, on any front.  The market roils, the President tweets, an incoming Democratic Congress seems ready to use its subpoena power, the robots are coming to take us away and, and and and!!!!!

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

In the meantime, there is little I can do about the very mixed up, awful global scene other than to donate a little money to a few causes that can maybe help move the needle on the chaos a bit more back to “normal.”

I am figuring out what it is I am going to do on New Year’s Eve.

It might just be a night by the fire and a good book, which sounds pretty awesome to me.  Kevin introduced me to Brattle’s Book Store in Boston, a used book store with a wonderful rare books section on the third floor.  Between my purchases at Edgartown Books and Brattle’s, come New Year’s Eve, if I am home by the fire, there are a plethora of reading choices.

One of my bases is Baltimore and there are about forty boxes of books there looking for shelves and I need to get down there and find bookcases in which to put them.

Kindles are wonderful devices, especially for a plane, and yet there is nothing like the feel of turning a page, a smudge of ink on your fingers, the comfort of a folded over page, marking your spot in the reading adventure.

There was something wonderful about being at Edgartown Books, helping people find their next read or the book they’re going to give their dad or uncle or mother or…

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to keep reading.  I found a signed copy of “Leonardo da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson at Brattles.  Literary gold.

In reading we can learn from the past so as not to repeat its mistakes. So please keep reading; it does seem a lot of mistakes are being repeated.

 

Letter from a vagabond 12 12 2018 The things we can do…

December 13, 2018

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For the last twenty-four hours, I have laid low, after coming down Monday afternoon with a cold, not terrible, but enough to feel miserable, to use up more than one box of tissues, to have a cough, to pray for scientists to come up with a cure.

Monday I was working at the bookstore, happily going along until, rather suddenly, a sniffle became a snuffle, and all went downhill from there.

It is Wednesday, and I am pretty sure I am on the mend, having doubled down on vitamin C, drinking lots of fluids, including doses of Airborne, utilizing nasal spray, and staying warm.  Are you supposed to starve a cold and feed a fever or is it the other way around?  I never remember though I think I am erring on the side of starving the cold as I haven’t had much appetite.

The view out the window of the house where I am staying is stunning, Edgartown Harbor, with Chappaquiddick across the bay and beyond that the Atlantic, and I have awakened the last two days to devour the beauty that is in front of me.

In the last couple of years, freed from having to be in an office at a certain time I have developed a new rhythm in the morning.  Waking relatively early, I have a little caffeine to start the engine, and spend some time reading the news on my phone.  It is the dose of reality I allow myself every day; to do more would be to invite the gnawing and gnashing of teeth.

One of the things I have discovered, is that generally, as I move through my small routine, there comes a moment of gratitude.  Not every day but most days.  Now in my 60’s [however did that happen?], I have lived longer than I would have thought when I was a college student indulging too much in the pleasures of my day.  Or in my twenties, grappling with being alive and making sense of that.

Here I am, sitting, looking out at the water, enjoying the moment.  It felt this way last summer, working at the bookstore, when I was living in “The Best Most Exotic Marigold Hotel” of guesthouses and this fall in St. Malo, in the wonderful hotel there, facing a day of wandering the streets of that small walled town.

My European journey reminded me of the ragged and often bloody road we have taken to this moment in history.  The Ossuary at Verdun is captured on my phone and in my heart, a reminder of the evil done by humans.

Yet we laugh. And joke.  Have moments of great kindness; talk of things great and small.

An old friend of mine worked with an illegal immigrant in sanctuary, helping her return to her country of birth, in hopes she could then return to the United States, legally, to be with her family here. And that gives a sense of Christmas hope.

I look for ways to move the needle of goodness in the world.  Today, I will smile spontaneously at someone and see if there is some small kindness I can accomplish.

The huge issues; I still work to see how I can affect them.  Sometimes, I feel there is nothing I can do against the assaults happening in the world and yet feel I must try.

That’s the gift of life.  We get to try.

There is tragedy in Yemen and countless other places and I am here, absorbing the beauty in front of me, and not ignoring what else there is in the world and accepting, at this second, there are limits to what I can do while knowing I need to move the needle a little here, in this little space of time I own.

Letter from a Vagabond 07 12 2018 Remembering Pearl Harbor and other things…

December 8, 2018

 

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It’s December 7th and it is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, a day “that will live in infamy” according to President Franklin Roosevelt who guided the U.S. through the Second World War only to succumb to heart failure as victory was within sight.

The course of history changed; we benefited from the sacrifices of “the greatest generation,” a new world order was established.  As I still keep up the Facebook Page for Edgartown Books, I reminded folks of what today was and where to find history books in the store.

At the moment, I am training north to Hudson, spending the night at the Keene Farm, and heading over tomorrow to catch a ferry from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard where I will be until Christmas Eve, helping people with their Christmas book shopping.  I can’t think of a nicer way to get into the Christmas spirit.

Last Saturday, I went to Baltimore to pick up a few things I needed for the Vineyard, spent a few days with Lionel and Pierre, then up to New York for a Board dinner last night, breakfast this morning with my dear friend Mary Clare Eros, then lunch with my friend Gary Koven, always a nice thing, though I will be adding his father to my prayer list as he is recovering from back surgery and his dad is not having an easy time of it.

Not living in the city anymore, I have forgotten how miserable the traffic is this time of year as streets become overcrowded and roads are blocked for holiday events.  Journeys double in length of time, due to traffic.  As lovely as the city is, I am glad not to have to deal with the crowds.

It will be interesting to see the Vineyard in the winter, with its dramatically smaller population.  On Christmas Eve, I will drive to my “nephew” Kevin Malone’s Boston area home, where he and his wife, Michelle, live while she is finishing Harvard Law.

Since my last letter, I haven’t written, distracted and a little tired, for no good reason I can ascertain.  My British stomach ailment pops up now and again, which is inconvenient but nothing more.

It feels a bit surreal we have arrived at Advent and the Hanukkah candles are being lit.  Can the year really have gone this quickly?  Yesterday, my friend Rita Mullin and I went to the Morgan Library and took in the Frankenstein exhibit [quite a delight].  I made a comment that in museums, time moves more slowly.  Perhaps that is why Christmas is catching me by surprise, during my European trip time moved slowly and then sped up once I returned.  I feel “discombobulated.”

While in Baltimore, Pierre and I put up my white Christmas tree and decorated it with bulbs and ornaments harvested from Target, whose “Wondershop” looked like a wildly plucked field, plowed over at the end.  There were only three strands of white wired lights in the store and I guarded them closely before checkout.

Last year, I started buying Christmas presents in January and this year I have bought none.  Instead, I will make a donation in the name of family and friends to a charity doing some good work in the world.

This year has been an interesting year and I am changed by it and will be assimilating the changes until the last bell has been rung for me.  Not so long ago, it seemed I was at adventure’s end and now feel like it’s another chapter of adventures beginning.  And that is a good feeling.

The world around us is mad; let us give sanity to each other in this Holiday Season.

 

Tuesday thoughts from a vagabond… 11/27/2018

November 27, 2018

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Out to the west, the sky is clearing, a little, after two dreary days with heavy skies, leaden with a mixture of rain and snow, falling alternately.  The windows are spotted with dots of water from the last little rain that fell, ending a few minutes ago.  To cheer me, I have started a fire and am listening to a couple of songs from “Mary Poppins Returns,” out in theaters soon.

Today, the plan had been for me to go to New York, have lunch with friends, then a drink with Nick Stuart, and back to the country again.  Waking even before the alarm, I knew immediately it would not be a good idea, but it took until I was in the shower to convince myself it really wasn’t a good idea.

The stomach virus that has plagued me since Cornwall returned again to once again to inflict its discomfort on me and only recently have I pulled myself from the comforts of bed.

As well as the stomach bug, I feel like I am shaking off a post-Thanksgiving kind of blues and I haven’t been able to reason with myself why that is. Is it because I am now back, both from the Vineyard and Europe and must sketch out my next moves?  Is it the rebuke one of my readers gave me for being “miserable?” Is it the unremitting greyness of the last three days?  A combination of all these things with the stomach right at the top of the list?

Probably, the latter.

A small storm of perfect proportion coupled with having apparently lost my favorite reading glasses yesterday!

And all these things, I must remind myself, are white wine problems.

Unlike Paul Manafort, I am not looking at spending the rest of my life in prison.  AND, it has been reported, that our good friend Paul, visited with Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London just before stepping into the role of Trump Campaign Manager.  I am sure he didn’t!

And I am not an immigrant at the border of the United States and Mexico, where tear gas was used over the weekend.  Nor I am in one of the camps this side of the border, housing detained [insert your own word here], where it appears that, while it is mandated, no one has been performing required background checks.

I am not a transgender woman who died in custody in one of those camps.  Her autopsy demonstrated she had been beaten before her death.

Nor was I a passenger on the Lion Jet airliner that crashed minutes after takeoff.

What I am is a more than middle aged white man, resting very comfortably in the guest house of friends, staring out at the Catskill mountains, over which the sun is bravely trying to emerge.  I am freshly back from a summer on the Vineyard where I loved selling books and a fall traveling, much of the time in Europe, seeing monuments everywhere, built as memorials to those who died in this war and that, each one more awful than the last as weapons got more vicious and am sobered by that in a way I wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t been to Verdun, Omaha Beach, Pont du Hoc, Mont St. Michel, Heidelberg Castle, Cologne with its Roman Museum and other places.

Perhaps, I shouldn’t be bothered by any of this and should only be thinking of how good my life is, savoring each glorious mouthful and, yet, here I am, bothered by the starvation following in the wake of the Yemeni war and a slew of other issues our world is facing and feeling there is something more I should be doing.

At every church I hit in Europe, I lit a candle and asked the universe for an answer and maybe this bout of blues is because I have no answer from my question to the universe and must struggle to find it for myself.

Well, damn…

 

 

 

 

Letter from the vagabond… 11 24 2018 Good people…

November 24, 2018

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It is the evening of the Saturday after Thanksgiving; a fire burns in the Keene Farm fireplace and jazz plays on Pandora, which can be piped through the house.

Yesterday, some of the Thanksgiving guests arrived at the Keene Farm around two and we had a marvelous brunch:  croissants, toast, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, jams and jellies, coffee, Bloody Mary’s, mimosas, champagne, fruit – a day after brunch feast that came close to matching the feast from the day before.

When it was over, everyone went off to take naps.

This morning, I woke in a wonderful mood and set off to do errands, taking things to the Transfer Station [“the dump”], getting quarters at the bank to be able to use the air machine at the gas station, picking up things at the Post Office, putting air into my under inflated tires, saying good-bye to Lionel and Pierre, saying hello to old neighbors.

And I finally met the people who bought my cottage.  They invited me to stop by and have coffee with them, which I did.

It was the first time I had been at the cottage since I sold it and it was fine.  I was glad someone was there who now loved it as much as I loved it when I was there, and I didn’t feel nostalgic for the place.

They are delightful people, both artists.  She is an actress, Victoria Finney, and her husband, Julian Crouch, is a stage designer with a show on Broadway and works with La Scala in Milan.  When Vicky opened the door, she gave me a great hug and when I left, so did Julian.  They have two children, James and Josh, who are quite wonderful.

When I decided to sell, I asked the universe to give me buyers who would appreciate the place and they do.  It is entrusted to the next people and I am peaceful with that.

My life is moving forward and there was no need for the rearview mirror; a thing for which I was very grateful.  It was just fine.

Finishing my errands, I went to The Red Dot for brunch, joined by my friend Jim Karic, having a good “chin wag” with him and now I am back at the Keene Farm, a fire burning, jazz playing.

Another good day.

Letter from a Vagabond 11 23 2018 The day after…

November 23, 2018

My young Turkish friend, Yetkin, when he was still struggling with his English and had an upset stomach, would say, “my tummy is touchy.”  And for two days before Thanksgiving, my tummy was touchy.  I blame it on the fact I had Caesar salad both Monday and Tuesday and on Wednesday, the CDC told us not to eat any romaine lettuce.

Regardless, I didn’t eat very much on Wednesday or Thursday until we sat down for the Great American Feast of Thanksgiving and, I must say, I did myself proud and without consequences.  Hopefully, my tummy is no longer touchy.

As has been the tradition for the last ten years or so, we gathered in Stuyvesant at my friends, Larry and Alicia’s magnificent home and consumed our share of turkey and fixings and wine and…

And then we gathered around the baby grand in the living room and sang show tunes.  Well, everyone sang but me as I can’t carry a tune to save my soul and the whole evening was delightful.

It’s early on Friday and eventually the guests will gather here, at the guest house, and Lionel and I will fix a post-Thanksgiving brunch with eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, croissants, fruit and we will all go into what is left of the long weekend, sated.

It’s also Black Friday, where millions lay siege to big box stores for bargains.

You will not find me, I suspect, within a mile of any of those locations.  Shopping is painful for me at the best of times and the thought of today’s frenzy makes me a little crazy – it’s a shopping thing that seems to have spread around the world.  Earlier today, I saw a picture of store in Sao Paulo in Brazil where mobs were handing merchandise over their heads to other family members.

Sorry, I just can’t.

Never could.

Dunham Department Store in rural Pennsylvania doesn’t go in for Black Friday madness either.  They help their customers have a slow and thoughtful experience.  It sounds like my kind of store and not one you find many places.  Cheers to you, family run Dunham!

This post-Thanksgiving morning, my spirits are good, my tummy steady and I am looking forward to a good day.

May all your days be good also!