Posts Tagged ‘Josephine Baker’

Letter From Claverack 07 15 2017 On the Auto Train outside of Jacksonville, FL…

July 15, 2017

It is closing on 6:00 on the 15th of July, 2017 and I am riding north on the auto train from Sanford, Florida to Lorton, Virginia.  Pierre Font, married to my friend Lionel, and I are bringing his parents’ car from Miami to Columbia County, which is where they will be living while they sort out their lives.

There are no stops.  Well, except for the one where one of the engines lost power but they managed to fix it and we are going again.  It is a bit like being on a cruise, having a day at sea.

Forty years ago, in Tehran, Maryam Mirzakhani, was born.  She is the only woman to have won the Field Award in mathematics, the equivalent of a Nobel Prize.  And today, she passed away, a victim of breast cancer, a brilliant mind gone quiet.  She has been a Professor at Stanford University since 2008.  RIP.  It is hard to lose such a brilliant mind.  By the way, she was Muslim.

Yesterday, one of my relatives sent me an email warning me about a young Muslim politician in Michigan.  It was, to me, both xenophobic and un-American, and I angrily deleted it.  We were being warned he might one day become President of the United States.  Today, I wanted to retrieve it but couldn’t seem to find it.  My relative’s unhappiness with the man was simply based on the fact he was Muslim.

One of the finest people I have known in my life was Omar Ahmad, a Muslim, who when he died prematurely from a heart attack a few years ago, was Mayor of San Carlos, CA.

There was a moment when I wanted to respond.  I didn’t because it would have no effect on him as nothing I say would change his mind.  This is who he is, xenophobic and un-American and he has been that way since I have known him.

Yet, I feel guilty at not having responded.

Such is life in 21st Century America.

The election of Trump to the Presidency has given lots of people more freedom to express xenophobia and racism and all the ugly things we haven’t dealt with in America.  And all the things that more and more of the world is having to deal with as huge populations move around the globe.

France was welcoming to Josephine Baker in the 1920’s; it could afford to be.  It looked down on the United States and its racial policies.  But would a Josephine Baker from a Muslim country today still find the embrace she did?  I’m not sure.

It is one thing to be a rarity in the 1920’s and another to be part of an encroaching potential majority in the 2010’s.

I am saddened and worn by all these things and grateful I will be gone before all this plays out.

It is possible for me to look back and think, gratefully, on what a life I have had.  It is my hope that the people who are younger than me will also have a wonderful life and that a solution will be found to all of this because if we do not find a way to embrace each other, it is not going to be pretty.

Letter From New York 06 24 15 But it looked good in the movies…

June 24, 2015

It is a sunny day in New York City, the temperature is in the 80’s but the air is not sodden with humidity, as it was yesterday. Pleasant enough, with breezes, that I walked a mile to the restaurant where I met a friend, Guy McCarter, that I hadn’t seen in some years. It was nice, in that we picked up again as if no time had passed at all. We visited and then he headed to a meeting and I sauntered back to Todd’s office.

Tonight I am meeting a friend at 5:30 at the Blue Bar at the Algonquin Hotel, home of the “Round Table” back in the 30’s, and then to dinner with another friend at Nirvana, then home to read I suspect.

Last night, I stayed up too late finishing Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop,” a funny book about the newspaper business pre World War II.

Joseph J. O’Donahue IV, who I had the great pleasure of knowing, was born in 1912 and passed away 88 years later. He was a great bon vivant, considered one of the best looking men of his generation, and sailed, mostly, through life with grace and elegance.

Mismanaged trust funds left him hard up at the end of his life but he carried on with huge style and was a fixture on the San Francisco social circuit.

He declared that civilization had ended with World War II.

I don’t know that is true but certainly sometimes it seems that on some levels the world was more civil then.

Treatment of blacks was worse in this country. Joe once brought Josephine Baker, the African American dancer who had wowed France, to El Morocco in New York and was turned away. He never returned to the Club. If Josephine wasn’t good enough, he wasn’t either.

Now that I think about it, it wasn’t so terribly civilized then but it sure looked good in the movies.

There were the Nazis. And there had been the “War to End All Wars,” which was merely a prelude to the big show, World War II. Joe was asked to leave Germany by Adolf Hitler after protesting the arrests of Jewish friends.

And there had been the Great Depression, not a good time for anyone.

No, civilization didn’t end with World War II, a new age opened up.

And that new age, in which we live, isn’t particularly pretty either. IS militants blew up a couple of tombs in Palmyra yesterday. They were about 500 years old and held the remains of important Shia. IS is, you see, Sunni. They have also mined the classical ruins to discourage any efforts to take them back.

Palmyra was a place that was on my bucket list. It will probably have to stay in the bucket. In interesting news, if not a media stunt, is that Lexus is developing a hoverboard like the one used by Marty McFly in “Back to the Future.” They plan to test it out in Barcelona in the next few weeks. I’ll be following.

The Queen [Elizabeth II of Great Britain] is visiting Germany. While there, a small robot performed for her and charmed her.

She may not be charmed by the fact she may have to move out of Buckingham Palace for an extended period of time, as there is so much updating to be done. Wiring, plumbing and decorating all need to be brought into the modern age as, for the most part, nothing has been done for at least sixty years.

In September the Queen will become the longest reigning British monarch. She will overtake Queen Victoria that month. Given that her mother lived to be something 103 or 104, I am guessing we may have the Queen around for a while.

One of the things which has been around for awhile is the Greek Debt Crisis, described by one as the slowest moving financial train wreck in history, which could be a good thing. Had a collapse happened three years ago it would have been much worse.

Monday’s optimism that a deal could be done has faded and a meeting broke up early because of “major policy differences.” There are only six days left to the month. At the end of June, Greece needs to make a payment and it doesn’t have the money. The European Central Bank is propping up Greek banks as depositors remove a billion Euros a day.

I feel a little like I need propping up after having stayed up too late reading. I’m off soon to drinks and dinner and hopefully a pleasant night in New York.

You have one, too, wherever you are!