Archive for June, 2009

A Tale of Two Towns: June 26, 2009

June 26, 2009

Contemplating it all…

A long time ago in that faraway country that was my youth, I wrote papers for school in long hand and then typed the final product on a black Royal portable that had been around our home since long before I was born. Were I now my age when that portable Royal was young, I would be sitting in front of it with a pack of cigarettes and an ashtray with a martini to accompany them while I typed with the hard, tough strokes of a manual typewriter, working to make sense of the world in which I was living — rather like a Walter Winchell [anyone remember him?] or a Hemingway or Fitzgerald, were I to aim very high.

It has been that kind of week — the kind in which the world needs figuring out. Half way across the world, protests continue to sputter in Iran over the election as the Twitter posts also sputter. Once separated by nanoseconds, minutes if not hours now separate the Iranian posts. What remains to be seen is the lasting changes that will come from this. And there will be lasting changes – Iran, as much as the Mullahs may pretend, will never be the same.

There was a piece of video I watched last weekend, uncorroborated when I saw it though later it was, of a young woman shot and dying on the streets of Tehran. It was shocking, horrible, real: it was the ultimate price people pay for protest. Neda was her name, a 26-year-old graduate student who wanted to lead tours; she went out to protest the elections and was killed with a bullet fired, probably, by the pro-government paramilitary Basiji. The video has become a rallying image around the world for the Iranian Protest Movement. It will be an image that will live on and haunt the Iranian government. Beautiful, full of life and now gone, her power to galvanize will remain.

As “#Iranelection” is trending downward on Twitter, soaring upwards in the world of internet chatter are tweets about Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, two icons who died yesterday and who are being remembered by the legions who idolized them. Both of them will be remembered for their great influence on pop culture in their time and for the feeling that something went wrong for both of them, with Michael Jackson the winner in that dubious category. From beloved superstar to very, very weird dude it was a long hard bumpy ride down the superstar slope. Still beloved by many, he had become to many others a parody. Dogged by rumors of pedophilia, drug abuse, and just plain over the top weird behavior, Michael Jackson will remain a symbol of all that can go wrong with a superstar life and will be up there with icons like Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland – talent that got very lost along the way.

Farrah was the epitome of beauty for every straight boy when I was much younger and the poster of her in that red bathing suit was ubiquitous; you couldn’t ignore it if you tried. That’s what she’ll be remembered for – that and some later life behavior that seemed to indicate drug troubles. What probably won’t be remembered is the depth of her performance in THE BURNING BED or the haunting portrayal of heiress Barbara Hutton in the mini-series POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL.

So it’s come to this: I think the ’70’s and ’80’s are now officially done – they have just moved into that past that is that foreign country. The iconic links we had to them, pop culture wise, are gone and we are left with individual memories, adrift now in our remembrances. Pop Culture is only part of the essence of those times.

More important than Farrah or Michael were events like the fall of Saigon and the iconic photo of the helicopter retreat from the U.S. Embassy and the crash of the Challenger. Pop Culture seems to define us while somehow failing to be the essential substance of a time.

A Tale of Two Towns, A Tale of Two Worlds

June 19, 2009

A Tale of Two Towns, A Tale of Two Worlds
June 18, 2009
An interesting week…

When I started writing this I was filled with images from my college-like road trip with several friends as we attempted to get home last Friday night when service was halted due to a rockslide on the tracks. My desire to sleep in my own bed was visceral and shared by my companions also wanted to be at hom. Four hyper-responsible adults became young adults again, momentarily celebrating the joy of being on the road. We laughed, exchanged stories, commiserated and celebrated ourselves while sharing wine and food as we were being driven north. It was a remarkable moment incorporating youth and adulthood. I cannot completely share its wonder with words. Finally we all reached home and hearth and I slipped into the welcoming arms of Morpheus.

The following day was centered on the Flag Day Parade that consumed Warren Street [think Main Street] in Hudson; Flag Day is Hudson’s 4th of July – the parade went on for two hours with every volunteer fire department, school marching band, etc. making its way down the street to the riverfront. It was a celebration of small town America, of a way of life that seems slipping away.

A column in the NY Times mused on how Hudson’s Parade was perhaps no longer a town celebration but a show for the upscale newcomers. I don’t agree with that – Hudson is an interesting mixture. The town’s inhabitants and newcomers are mingling together and there is an interesting community evolving. Beyond Warren Street the earthy grittiness of tough town Hudson still exists, a town once best known for its brothels – not the antique stores that have recently made it famous.

While we were celebrating Flag Day, across the world a drama was beginning to play out – Iran was holding elections. We were celebrating the adoption of the flag, our symbol for all that we feel America stands. Going into the Iranian elections there was a sense of buoyancy. The generally unpopular Ahmadinejad looked to be toppled by a rival, Mousavi, in the June 12 election.

Iran and the world seemed giddy at the chance for change. When results were announced Ahmadinejad was said to have won by a landslide.

Iran is a young country; a majority of the population is under thirty. That majority, largely supporting Mousavi, did not take the announcement well, smelling a rat in the ballot box. The protests have now been going on for four days and look like they will be continuing – the marches continued today to mourn those who have died. The protests have taken on the mantle of something larger. Internally and externally, the protests are being carefully watched to determine if this might not be a brewing revolution.

Thirty years ago youthful Iranians brought down the pro-Western and much despised Shah. Now youthful Iranians are chafing under the rule of the Islamic Republic of Iran and were pinning their hopes on Mousavi. All polls pointed toward his winning. Against them the landslide nature of Ahmadinejad’s victory did not seem plausible, hence the beginning of the protests.

To the surprise of ruling elders, efforts to suppress the protests have been outmaneuvered by the use of Twitter. Yes, Twitter. While the current rulers are curtailing access of regular reporters, young Iranians are using their mobile phones to “twitter” out pictures and short commentaries that are now being followed breathlessly around the world. Major news organizations are closely scrutinizing the photographs to make sure they are real and most seem to be.

Social networking tool, Twitter, is being used by Iranians to coordinate the actions and disseminate information when normal outlets have been closed to them. So significant is the role of Twitter in this series of events that what is going on in Iran is beginning to be called “the Twitter Revolution.”

Twitter is helping Iranians move toward a day when they can have a Flag Day for themselves, hopefully to celebrate the same kinds of freedoms we honor on our Flag Day. One of their flags colors is green; it’s become the color of protest. I will wear some green in solidarity today.

Letter From New York: A Tale of Two Towns

June 12, 2009

Letter From New York
June 10, 2009
A Tale of Two Towns

With credit to Kate Thorsey

Anyone who has followed my musings for the last oh so many years is aware much of my heart lives in the Hudson Valley, in Claverack, on its named creek, on my God’s little two acres. A good portion of my life resides around that spot and when I am gone too long my heart yearns for it in a way it has for no other place I have inhabited in my life. That cottage is my home, the refuge I have preserved against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – the place I have clung to through the ups and downs of life and the place I have retreated to in order to heal.

Yet there is the reality I must, in my business, travel extensively, spend huge amounts of time in New York City and I have learned, particularly in the last weeks, a part of my heart resides there also. Long, long ago when I was living in Los Angeles I recall a time returning from New York when I breathed a sigh of relief as the flight crossed the Rockies and headed into the west that was then my home, a relief that grew deeper as we flew closer to LA over the sandy desert colored its many shades of burnished ochre. I feel that same feeling now when I bounce through the rutted streets of New York City on my return from some journey. I feel it even more when I fly into Albany International Airport, working my way south to the cottage passing familiar places that make my face smile – such as the turnoff to my friends Chris and David’s home where I have had so many memorable times, including one awesome lobster adventure that caused all attending to imagine they were at a Roman bacchanal.

Like many people I know in Columbia County I call it home and must, for various reasons, including psychological and financial ones, remain attached to the buzz and jive of New York City, appreciating that and the bucolic ideal of the Hudson Valley. Would I appreciate Claverack as much if I did not have the contrast of New York City? Perhaps. I do have the contrast so I am deeply appreciative. I also know the limitations of the countryside; while wonderful there is the siren call of the bright lights of the big city. We humans seem to want both and – lucky me – I have both. I can revel in the city yet know I can jump a train north [thanks to my ten pass ticket] and in two hours be home. Because when all is said and done it is Claverack that wins the battle for my heart and will be the place, God willing, where I’ll be at the end of my time.

Though I have been there eight plus years this is still a new feeling for me – it’s one I have never had before. In the rare times people have spoken to me about jobs outside of New York I have always known I did not want to give up that place, that one small place where I have had a sense of home — in most of my life I have let career choose where I live. Now my choices include that place which gives me a sense of home.

It’s not perfect; no place or situation is. It is better than any other place I have been. I feel torn between two worlds – as do many of the folks I know in the Valley. While they would like to be there full time there is not a sufficient platform to support us so we must remain divided between two towns. I must labor in the city to enjoy the pleasure of “home.” The labor in the city is less burdensome because it supports “home.”

I expect I will live for a number of years more in this “tale of two towns” and at the end I expect I will follow my heart home. May everyone be so lucky.

Letter From New York June 5, 2009

June 5, 2009

This week’s letter is not the usual letter; it’s abbreviated and has only one go through by me. Usually I sit down on the weekend and write a draft which gets honed over a couple of days and then gets out on Tuesday evenings.

Last weekend, my brother Joe came for a visit and we had a wonderful New York weekend: dinner on Friday with my friend Gary, Saturday a leisurely brunch at a little slice of Britain, Tea and Sympathy, a restaurant that could have been transported from any British village to the West Village of NYC, followed by a leisurely stroll past Ground Zero, which is now mostly a construction site and which is still a magnet for people who want to come and see where the future we’re now living was born. We spent part of the afternoon on the sundeck of my apartment building, having eschewed the country for the delights of the pagan city and then went to a long, leisurely dinner at Café Luxembourg before seeing an Off-Broadway play starring Tracy Thoms, daughter of my good friend Donald Thoms. She is one of the stars of CBS’s COLD CASE.

Sunday late morning he left and I became involved in some impromptu business meetings between shopping and catching TERMINATOR SALVATION. Between all that and keeping up with the email stream there really wasn’t time for a rough draft, Monday was chock a block with meetings and on Tuesday evening I had dinner scheduled with my friends Annette and David Fox. It seemed more important to have dinner with them than to put my fingers to the keyboard. In a sobering time, and it is a sobering time in which we are living, it is better to take time to connect with other living beings than to labor over the computer.

General Motors has gone bankrupt… It is almost unimaginable — and would have been when I was a child. “What is good for General Motors is good for the country,” was a phrase famously said by one of its CEOs. Well, if that’s true, bankruptcy would be good for the country and there are those who are concerned that we might just go the way Argentina did a decade ago. The Chinese Economic Minister is busy lobbying behind the scenes for a new reserve currency, afraid the American dollar will cease to be effective. He’s getting some good listening to by others who have the same fear. It’s a bit self-serving, of course, as China sees this as a time when the Yuan can find itself in the position of the dollar in the foreseeable future as China works to make the 21st Century the Chinese Century.

It was sobering that an Air France Airbus went down – anyone who flies with any regularity has been on an Airbus and they have had a sterling record. This particular plane disintegrated over the Atlantic, reasons unknown though today it is being speculated that the plane may have suffered a computer glitch that cascaded into tragedy. Computers! The blessing and the bane of our time. Everything is being computer automated which is lovely when it works and possibly catastrophic when it doesn’t. Yet we could not return to the pre-computer world – without these machines we couldn’t handle the velocity we have created with them.

It has felt in the last few weeks that I’ve been living under the tyranny of emails – the volume has become ridiculous; 300 a day is not uncommon. When friends ask me what I read in my spare time I jokingly respond: my emails. It’s not a joke and I haven’t learned yet how to get through it all and I must or soon it will seem I have no life beyond my Mac. The volume and velocity is becoming almost terrifying. So, on Tuesday evening, when normally I would be getting out my LETTER FROM NEW YORK, I took a deep breath and went to visit friends. Let’s all do that this week – visit with someone and get our faces off the computer screen.