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 20 March 2019 Too much is too much…

March 20, 2019

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It is the evening of March 20thand after twelve hours of traveling, I am in my little hotel in Oaxaca, Mexico, feeling just a shade Hemingway, top of my mind as Nick Stuart and I discussed him at dinner last night.  I am in a colorful town, a white-haired Yank, not knowing quite what is in front of me. And I am writing, my fingers tapping away at my laptop keyboard, hoping you’ll find these words worthy of reading.

Yesterday, I confessed both to my friend David and to Nick, that I had to pull back from consuming so much news and I’m not even watching television and listen little to the radio.  It has been too much.  I have not wanted to write nor read literature, drawn like a moth to the flame of current events. Everything has seemed interesting, fascinating, enthralling, frightening, mystifying and incredible.

The Ethiopian Airlines crash created anxiety; a friend was in Addis Ababa and was soon to leave and Nairobi would have been a natural destination.  He is fine and left Addis the day after, to a different destination and Ethiopian Airlines immediately grounded their Boeing 737 Max 8’s so there was no chance he’d be flying one.  I was relieved when I heard via Facebook he was safe.

Boeing’s public relations response has been eviscerated by the likes of Alan Murray of Forbes Magazine and I think rightly so while the reputation of the firm and the FAA has been damaged by the handling.  EA sent the black boxes from the crash to Paris for examination, a rebuke to the FAA.

Before the US grounded its 737 Max 8 fleet, I checked to make sure I was not flying on one to Mexico.  I have never had anxiety about getting on a specific piece of equipment.  Flying certain airlines in my travels around the world, yes.

The news of the mosque shooting in New Zealand left me stunned.  New Zealand?  They banned a British tourist family from returning for being too rowdy. Okay, so the man is Australian, but I don’t think of Aussies as violent chaps — rowdy maybe, but not violent.

Did the shooter really say, as he started broadcasting on Facebook Live, “Let’s get the party started?” Fifty people, two different mosques.  I found myself transfixed by the grieving face of Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, who has been rightly getting kudos for the human empathy she demonstrated as she dealt with a grieving, shocked nation.

Some of the victims had moved to New Zealand for safety from Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Not the New Zealand is without prejudice. A severed pig’s head had once been left on the doorstep of the Al Noor Mosque, where most killings occurred.

Staying at the Keene Farm, the views to the Catskills have been tranquil, inspiring. Gratitude still comes to me in the morning.

My friend David spoke of how, despite all this mayhem, we go on living our lives in their mundane wonderfulness.  He is off to ski with his sons in Utah, visits with his mother, goes to his office, eats dinner and does all the micro things we do to keep our lives humming.

David and I brought up the 2011 book, “The Better Angels of our Nature,” by Steven Pinker, which points out statistically, with all this tragedy, we are a kinder, better species than we have been, are generally better off and seem to keep moving that way.  His recent review of trends has not shifted his thinking.

Why then, David asked, do we still feel despair?

Because we are human and can see what can be and what can be is more than what is and wonder why we cannot get further, faster on a road to goodness?

Because we are human, with all those wonderful and awful human traits that we keep honing as we march down the road of history.  And then we have Greta Thunberg of Sweden, all of sixteen, up for a Nobel Peace Prize for her activism on climate change.

Rise up all the Gretas of the world. We need you.

 

 

 

 

Letter from a Vagabond 03 12 2019 Interesting times…

March 12, 2019

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              It is early-ish in Baltimore, where I am waiting for a bed to be delivered so I can move into “my” room at Lionel and Pierre’s home here.  Not that I will be here all that much, given my vagabond life.  A week from tomorrow, I fly to Oaxaca in Mexico for a time, a little time in Mexico City to see a business friend, perhaps a stop in Puerta Vallarta and then back to upstate New York, before a week in DC and, shortly after, off to the Vineyard for “the season.”

Speaking to a friend yesterday afternoon, she asked what I would be doing after “the season?”  Haven’t a plan or clue.  That will be, I’m sure, revealed.

While we think the phrase, “May you live in interesting times,” came from the Chinese, there is no equivalent in that language and probably was attributed to them by the son of a 19thcentury British politician, Joseph Chamberlain, when annotating his father’s papers. Wherever it came from, it is widely used, sounding like a blessing while being a curse.  Interesting times are likely to be full of upheaval while uninteresting times are probably good for living but not for writing sweeping sagas.

Robert Kennedy used the phrase in a speech in 1966, which was an interesting time. Times have been interesting for a long time.

They are wildly interesting in Great Britain, as it faces ANOTHER Brexit vote in Parliament.  French customs officials slowed down Eurostar trains and trucks crossing through the Chunnel, both in protest and practicing for a post-Brexit world.

If, as widely expected, Ms. May’s plan is voted down again, there will be a vote for a “no-deal Brexit.”  If that fails, there will be a vote to ask the EU for a Brexit extension.  Interesting, indeed.

The airline I am flying to Mexico is Delta, which does not utilize the Boeing 737 Max 8 and Aero México has grounded theirs.  It would not be interesting for me, to travel on one, right now.

Mr. Trump has unveiled the largest budget in U.S. history, giving more money to the military and taking from social services.  Interesting.  That is all I will say.

Venezuela is dogged by massive power outages as Maduro clings to power and I find the country’s condition sad.  How did a country with so much oil reserves get to this place?  Interesting story there.

What else is interesting?

Algeria’s president will not seek a fifth term after massive protests. While not much of a story here, it has been big news in Algeria and France.

The robots are rising.  A Swedish company has developed a robot to conduct job interviews.  “Her” name is Tengai and she is programmed to avoid biases. You can see her in action here.

The internet is thirty years old today.  You can find out what its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee thinks thirty years on by clicking here.Hint: he’s worried.

Space X, Elon Musk’s rocket ship company, just had a big success with the successful round trip of the Dragon capsule to and from the space station, while his motor company has been described as out of control.  Never a boring moment with Elon. Oh, he owns The Boring Company.

India’s PM, Modi, is up for re-election.  Raucous times expected.  There has already been one bombing.

Netanyahu is mired in scandal allegations and has aligned himself with a right-wing party as he faces election.  Also promises to be nothing short of interesting.

No matter where you look, there are “interesting” things happening.

What’s interesting in your life?

Letter From a Vagabond 4 March 2019 Patch, patch, patch…

March 5, 2019

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It is a quiet evening, “Cocktail Jazz” is playing and the view to the Catskills is lost to the night.  Yesterday, I returned from the Vineyard after a week of minding Edgartown Books, and a very, very, very quiet time it was, too.  School was out and everyone who could manage to get off island was off island.  There were a few stalwarts who chose to be on the island last week because they knew no one else would be there.

Dusting, I took a silly picture of myself with a duster one morning “fending off zombies, starving for literature” to send to Joyce, who is the mistress of the manor.  It’s so silly I won’t send it on to anyone else though it was a commentary on how quiet it was in Edgartown Books.  On two days, I didn’t sell one book.

One day, I was the store’s best customer.

The few who did come in, were grateful we were open.  Very little else was; it seemed the whole island shut down for vacation week.

Today, I went with my friend and host, Larry Divney, to Wunderbar, one of the local restaurant haunts, sat at the bar, had lunch and visited with a cadre of friends, doing the same, just after a conversation with my brother, freshly returned from his medical excursion to Honduras, as he was going to volunteer to help at a clinic for Hispanics in the Twin Cities.

Right now, I am reading, “The Dance of the Seagull,” by Andrea Camilleri, a mystery set in Sicily.  It is part of a series that was the rage last summer in Edgartown with, it seemed, everyone reading and being a favorite dinner party topic.

Unless something intervenes, I am on my way to Oaxaca in Mexico ion the 20th, for a week or two or three.  Then I’ll be pet sitting for friends in DC and then, I don’t know, though probably back to the Vineyard in May, for the season.

It’s been an interesting time for me this last couple of weeks.  From feelings of great comfort, I fall into some moments of great discomfort and I have yet to really track down the reason.

My friend, James Green, said he loves to follow me frolicking around the world and I responded by saying I love to frolic around the world.

It might be that my disquiet is coming from realizing I may have to have cataract surgery on my left eye sooner than later. Need to see my ophthalmologist. Tomorrow it’s an ENT doctor; my hearing has seemed dicey for the last six months, so I am going to have that checked out.

When I was kid, I remember watching Jimmy Stewart on the Johnny Carson show and when he was asked by Johnny how he was, Stewart replied with something along this line:  after seventy, it’s just, patch, patch, patch.  While I’m not seventy yet, I can feel the correctness of those words.

The political scene stresses me.  The Democrats are in disarray and, I fear, will not find a winning strategy and are giving Republicans a rallying cry.  They’re socialists! One morning, some weeks ago, I woke up and thought, well, we finally have a president who is worse than Warren G. Harding.  Well, we survived Harding and we’ll probably survive Trump. Please god, help us survive him.  The tax cuts are not being paid for and the debt is going up.  When did Republicans embrace debt this way?  Not ever before in my lifetime.

And, and, and…

And those are things I can’t actually influence all that much today, so I am listening to cocktail jazz, having my nightly martini, and working to figure out why I am having mood swings.  Thankfully, being this old, I know life holds mood swings.  It’s the curse of being human.

And, god knows, I am human.

Letter from a Vagabond 26 February 2019 Gob smacked by it all…

February 26, 2019

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In the middle of last night, I started, sure I heard a woman screaming.  Sitting up in bed, I realized it was the fierce night wind screeching through some crack in the house where I am staying.  Rolling over, I went back to sleep, choosing not to be disturbed by several more hours of wind roiling Martha’s Vineyard.

This house looks over Edgartown Harbor to Chappaquiddick, beyond that to the Atlantic. The harbor is choppy and white caps dot the ocean past Chappaquiddick.  The threat of wind disrupting ferry service is the reason I came to the island a day earlier than planned.  Here for a few days, I am manning Edgartown Books while Lisa, the year rounder, goes on vacation.

It’s been a pleasant day.  I reviewed films for the Wilbur Awards, given by the Religion Communicators Council, answered some emails, prepped for a couple of conference calls, went grocery shopping [and it is SO true, you should not grocery shop on an empty stomach! I have food for two weeks when I will be here for one].

It is the dead of winter. Outside the wind is still roaring, sounding like nothing so much as if I were inside a jet racing somewhere.  When friends phoned me while I was in my car, I thought the car might actually be tossed over while we chatted.

The world is rocked by the sexual abuse scandal of the Roman Catholic Church.  Cardinal Pell in Australia has been convicted.  Cardinal McCarrick has been defrocked.  The Church held a meeting at the Vatican about sexual abuse – a landmark moment that has been derided by some for doing not a lot.

Long ago, I joked I hadn’t been abused because I wasn’t cute enough.  But then, when I was kind of cute, I wasn’t abused.  When I hear some of the stories from the Catholic past, I shudder and am grateful I escaped it all, for reasons I am not quite sure.  And am embarrassed by my joke.

Had I been, would I be alive today?  I wonder.

There is a man I knew, god rest his soul, who spent his life tormented by that abuse.

The Catholic thing troubles me, circles back every time I read another article and wonder how I had missed seeing it?  Because all through my Catholic life, it was happening, only learning of it when, in my adulthood, friends have spoken of it, carefully.

Brother This did that.  Father That did this.

It has been a very long time since I have thought of myself as a Roman Catholic.  Being a gay man and being Catholic doesn’t mix so well and so I retreated, finally attending Episcopal services in Hudson where I felt community in way I hadn’t before.

All of this is closer to the surface of my life than it usually is because of the events of this first part of 2019.  Participating in the Lokahi Foundation event in Beirut, opened, again, all the questions about the role of religion in our lives and the upward battle so many are fighting to make things better in the world because they have faith.

My wonderful brother is in Honduras, giving medical care through a Catholic organization.  An incredible Sunni Muslim is devoting his life to helping restore the Yazidi Christian homeland.

The good and the bad done by believers belies our ability to understand it.

ISIS has killed, tortured and raped so many.  And there is a woman of faith I know who goes to help them, every day, the victims of that horror.

To this day, I remain, gob smacked by the wonders and horrors done in the name of religion.

And the abuse and horror done by men and women of religion to their fellow congregants because they felt they had the power.

Sitting at this table, darkness having fallen, still feeling as if I am in a seat on a plane because of the roaring wind, I am doing my best to come to terms with the dichotomies we exhibit in the way we live.

God forgive us all.

 

 

 

 

Letter From a Vagabond 02 22 2019 Even if I started out cranky…

February 22, 2019

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              Had I been a journalist in the 1940’s, I would have ripped my piece of paper out of my typewriter and thrown it disgustedly into the waste basket this morning.  I am not; all I had to do was drag my sheet into the garbage can on the lower right hand of my screen and hit the quick command for a new digital sheet of white paper and I could begin again.

This morning, I was grey and cranky.  Unusually cranky.  It’s not a state I find myself in often but reading the morning news set a sour mood and I didn’t bounce back with my usual élan.

Only this evening, as I finished errands in Hudson, did I find myself looking up at the sky as twilight began over the Catskills and think, at last, I have broken the mood.

Monday, I pack up my car and head for another week on the Vineyard, holding down the fort while Lisa, the year-round person, takes a quick vacation.  I will return then to the Hudson Valley and the week of the 12th go to Baltimore to see Lionel and Pierre and prep for what is looking like another summer on the Vineyard, reading and being a man about books.

It may have been that the morning was, once again, grey and foreboding, as it was through my time in Nashville and since I have returned.  Certainly, the tone of politics in the country, indeed, around the world, makes one think of nothing so much as fingers on a chalkboard.

Or perhaps it is the sore muscles in my chest from the fall in Istanbul, exacerbated by a bit of a tumble I did in Nashville when I didn’t see a box in my way. At the suggestion of my friend Medora, I went out and got some Aleve, taking a couple as soon as I exited CVS.  I am feeling some relief.

There are two windows in time before I go to the Vineyard for the summer and I am debating what I would like to do.  I could go to the Caribbean to see friends or travel to Oaxaca, which has been on my list or return to Europe for a few weeks.  Or something else…

My friends, Larry and Alicia, seem fine with my being at the Keene Farm and I will be gone when the parade of friends and family take over during the summer.  I could linger in Baltimore, or not…

There are a lot of possibilities; it’s just settling on what I would like to do.  Perhaps a visit to one of the lesser Keys?  I am thinking something warmish.

While I consider these possibilities, my brother is working in the clinic in Honduras and my conference friends from Beirut are about their business in Tanzania, Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lebanon and other places.

Far off, down by the river, the train whistle blows its cry up to me, both a lament and a comfort as the sun skids down beneath the Catskills.

We are closing in on the end of February 2019 and my astonishment at life abounds.  I am living a day both unexpected and a treasure, even if I did start out cranky.

 

 

A Vagabond’s Valentine 14 February 2019

February 14, 2019

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            It is Valentine’s Day and I am thoughtful as I begin writing.   I am in Nashville, sitting at the counter between the kitchen and the television room of my friend Tory Abel’s home, where she lives with her wife, Pamela.

Tory and I have known each other for thirty-four years come this fall, a long time, by any accounting.  I knew her before she met Pamela.

Friends have been on my mind a lot of late.

Last weekend, I spent with Jerry May and his wife, Gail Worthen, and I have known Jerry longer than I have known Tory.  He was my first client when I was at A&E and we have stayed in touch, looping loosely in and out of each other’s lives, ever since.

He recalled a day some years past, when, after finishing a dinner at Robert in New York, we were about to part and I told him I loved him.  I thought he should know.  He responded by telling me he loved me, too.

There is a gratitude I have when I wake up in the morning, knowing the number of friends who love me. And I am grateful I am aware enough to recognize it.

Today my brother arrived in Honduras, poised to go to the back of beyond, where he helps provide medical care to a village that has seen no medical services since last they were there.  His work there is an act of love.

In Lebanon I met a group of people for whom their lives’ work is also an act of love and I am in awe of that.  And a Valentine to all whose lives are works of love, to the caregivers, like my friend Debbie Dier, to the social workers, to the medical people, to those who, like David Larkin, man food kitchens, for every human act of kindness to other humans.  To Tom, my high school best friend, who made me a gift of asking me to godfather his son, Paul.  To Sarah, who has been my friend since we were three and whose son is a light in my life.

Happy Valentine’s Day for the love you give to me and everyone.

When Jerry and Gail and I were together we talked about how quickly the years have gone, slipping down into eternity, youth becoming age, seeing children grow and have children.

 

I wrote the following lines on my phone:

 

Time wracks us all,

even when we’re aware

and watching.

 

Slips up, an indiscriminating thief,

pickpocketing our youth

and our flurry, good times and all.

 

Though older, I am enjoying this time of my life, time for reflection and gratitude.

In terms of reflection, let me guide you to my friend, Dalton Delan’s article, a rumination on time with his father that made my heart burst.  We all have our moments in time, where sweet and bitter mix together in a heady brew of nostalgia, even if the memories are hard.

All around me, my friends seem to be in similar places.  We are, mostly, of a certain age and are sailing toward our final ports,  few of us are raging against the night, even as we struggle through the roughish waters of our aging process.

While Valentine’s Day is usually thought of as a moment for romance, it is also a time to pause and to appreciate the love we have for friends, the non-romantic loves of our lives that far outnumber the romantic ones, the people who cosset us on a regular basis and buffer us when romance fails us or becomes the shoal upon which we are wrecked, hopefully for just a little time.

So, to all of you who have shared your love with me, thank you!  It means more than I will ever have words for, and I will sing your praises as I vagabond joyfully into the unfolding future.

 

 

Letter from a Vagabond 05 February 2019 Things for which to be grateful…

February 6, 2019

     Hudson River, 5 Feb 2019, around noon     IMG_5057As I begin to write this, the train I am on scurries north through the night; I have been in the city for the afternoon and early evening, a good meeting, followed by an even better dinner meeting.

Friday, I am off to Nashville to see old friends.

Jerry May and his wife, Gail Worthen, pulled off a great punk a few years ago and convinced over a hundred of their friends to gather in Seattle for a birthday party.  Gail told Jerry’s friends it was for him; Jerry told Gail’s friends it was for her.

In reality, it was their wedding and I still get smiles when I think of the wonderful day and breakfast the following morning, a bit groggy for some of us, warm and cozy.

They now live in Nashville.

As do Tory and Pam.  Tory, I met in 1985 at a dinner in the Hollywood Hills.  A week or two later we ran into each other at SFO, a few days later had dinner in Beverly Hills and have been more than fast friends since.  Pam entered the picture a couple of years later and they have been together since.

The timing of my visit is fortuitous as Tory needs cataract surgery, which I have had, and Pam has been planning a trip with her high school friend forever, so I will take Tory to and from the surgery and get her whatever she wants that day.

As I am riding, I am missing the State of the Union address and, I will be honest, I’m not sad.  It will be better for me to read about it in the morning than to endure it in real time.

It’s been a week of some reflection, some a little enforced, as I was struck with a 24-hour virus the day after I returned from Istanbul.  Got up Saturday morning, felt fine and then, suddenly, I wasn’t.  For about thirty hours, I was either asleep or in the bathroom.

Back now, in the world of the living, I am realizing how much I have to assimilate since leaving Istanbul and Lebanon.

The people with whom we worked in Lebanon were extraordinary.  There were five from Iraq, including three young women, all born about the time of “Shock and Awe.”  They are warm, caring individuals who are working diligently to bring more peace to their ravaged land – and it has been ravaged.

One gentleman, a Sunni, is working to help restore the Christian Yazidi homeland, left in tatters by ISIS.  Another bright young woman with a laugh that can fill a room, drives a half hour from her home into Mosul to work with women who were tortured and raped by ISIS soldiers, helping them recover from their wounds and shame.

One person asked me to help them envision how they could use social media to help raise awareness for a friend in Yemen and is now condemned to death by the Saudi coalition.  As she spoke to me, I thought: this is not the kind of request I have ever, ever had.  And I gave her the best advice I could:  tell his story.  Everywhere and again and again.

A young Dane is prepping to go into Syria to see, on the ground, the people who are working for his Danish based N.G.O., helping refugees within Syria.  We talked “Peach Tech,” an idea that his N.G.O. and the Danish government and others are thinking about.  How to use technology to make things better on the ground for peace makers?  Ideas?  Send them.

In Tripoli, Lebanon, a group of Christians, Muslims and Jews, have created a What’s App group to inform all of them of potential dangers.  And to exchange jokes. We are, above all, human beings.

There is so much for me to unpack from this trip.  And when I say my gratitudes tonight, I will count this journey as one of my blessings.

 

 

The Vagabond in Istanbul 29 January 2019 Humpty Dumpty took a little fall…

January 29, 2019

 

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It is late morning in Istanbul, and I am finishing a late breakfast with a second cup of coffee.

Clumsy as I am, I somehow tripped and fell while walking through Sultanahmet yesterday; nothing serious – my upper left lip is a little swollen even though I iced it for quite some time yesterday.  It brought to a close what had been a lovely day.

It is always best, I think, when traveling internationally, to take confusion in stride.  So yesterday, as I was leaving the hotel, I hailed a “Taksi” and asked to be taken to the Grand Bazaar, thinking no one would not know that.  However, I ended up at the Egyptian Bazaar [who knew?] and when I shook my head no, he searched on his phone and showed me another Bazaar, which looked like the Grand Bazaar, so I nodded yes, and he took me there.

It was the Spice Bazaar and all I could do was laugh! I got out, paid him, thanked him with my translator app and went into the Spice Bazaar, which I had thought of visiting anyway.  For an hour or so, I traversed the 350-year-old market, with the smell of saffron and mint and every other imaginable spice wafting through the air.

Then I walked up the streets of Sultanahmet to the Grand Bazaar, seeing the life of Istanbul unfold before me as these crowded streets were not filled with tourists but with city residents out purchasing everything from spices to cooking pans.

The Grand Bazaar was better lit than I remembered it and I purchased some things for folks at home, doing a bit of fun haggling in the spirit of the place and with my packages began to descend the crowded streets of Sultanahmet when, plop, there goes the weasel!

Mostly it was my pride that was damaged though I did experience about five minutes of physical shock, shaken off by sitting down and letting it pass.  Haven’t a clue what happened.  It was one of the smoothest streets I have traveled, and I was stone cold sober but there it was – the sidewalk and I had an encounter.

Back at the hotel, I got a bag of ice from the bar, swished out my mouth with vodka as an antiseptic – best I could think of since I didn’t have Listerine handy – and went up to my room and held the ice there for some time.

One of the fifty things to do in Istanbul, according to one article, is to have dinner at Hamid, the restaurant at the top of my hotel, which I intended to do last night, and I have put that off until tonight or tomorrow so that I have time to heal.  Its food is supposed to be good and the view even better.

In an hour, I am going out on a booked boat tour of the Bosporus and that will consume the afternoon.

Tomorrow is my last day in Istanbul and I am looking forward to returning to the U.S., seeing old friends and continuing my vagabonding ways in America.

 

 

A Vagabond in Beirut Time takes us all…

January 23, 2019

 

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It is evening in Beirut; I am sitting the bar of the Radisson Blu Martinez where I have moved since finishing the Lokahi Global Exchange Program at the Le Royal Beirut yesterday.  On the television screen in the bar are recaps from the Arab Summit which completed on Sunday.

I haven’t a clue as to what is going on; it is all in Arabic, the first language of Lebanon.  The second is French; the third is English and I suspect English will soon be the second as it seems to be supplanting, from my observation, French.

The Lebanese currency is the pound or lira.  However, almost everywhere, prices are in dollars and in Lebanese pounds/lira or, frequently, just in dollars.  Billboards advertising car sales are in Arabic, with dollars as prices and sometimes the whole ad is in English.

Such are the wild contrasts which make up Lebanon.

The country was wracked by a civil war from 1975 to 1991.  Its ravages are still apparent though overshadowed by a pace of building that rivals New York.  Old buildings with good bones are being renovated.  Those without good bones are bereft, waiting, I suspect, to be torn down and replaced my something else.  On these, you can see the pockmarks of war.

On the streets are stylishly dressed women who share the thoroughfares with women who are completely covered in the most conservative Islamic tradition — and everything in between.

There are beggars but not many.  On the Corniche, a physically and mentally disabled man was selling Chicklets and I gave him money; he gave me two packets of Chicklets and waved to me as I got into my taxi to take me back to my hotel. His smile broke my heart.

It seemed to me, on a walk tonight, that the concept of a pedestrian crossing has not yet occurred to city planners.  It should; everyone including me, takes their lives into their hands to cross the street.

In Byblos, arguably the oldest place that has been continuously inhabited by man, I saw all of history meld together, from the days of the Pharaohs to the days of the Crusaders and beyond.

It is the Phoenicians who gave us the first alphabet, god love them.

In Tyre, I sat on a fallen pillar from Roman times and my friend, Nick Stuart, took my photo and I posted it to Facebook.  I realized all I am is a whisper in time, sitting in the ruins of thousands of years, which have seen men like me come and go, come and go, come and go…

Tyre became rich on its purple dye, coveted by kings.  It didn’t want territory; it wanted trade.  Rule me, it said, but let me trade.  Until Alexander the Great; it held out against him and paid the price, never again rising to the heights it had held.

We are all fools, of course.  Time will have its due with us.  All our craven dreams will be lost in the winds of time, like Tyre, like Byblos, like the ancient Egyptians, who held sway longer than any of us.

There are letters from the Princes of Byblos petitioning Amenhotep IV [Akhenaten] for help.  He was too busy creating the first monotheistic religion to help the outposts of his empire.  He left it to his ancestors to work to retrieve what he ignored.

Ultimately, the Persians came, then Alexander, then the Seleucids, and then the Romans; Phoenicia was then absorbed by Islam, became a battleground for the Crusaders, who created kingdoms here for a couple of centuries before they too retreated.

It’s all here; every age of man.  It is a land that survives.  Above all else, it survives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.