Posts Tagged ‘NY’

Letter From New York 06 14 15 Celebrations of democracy on two sides of the Atlantic….

June 14, 2015

Today is June 14th, Flag Day, a holiday I must say I never paid much attention to before moving to Columbia County. On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed a flag resolution. It stated: Resolved, That the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white, the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.

In 1949, Congress made it official.

Hudson, the County Seat for Columbia County, takes Flag Day VERY seriously; the day outstrips the 4th of July in celebrations. The parade is bigger than the 4th’s and Flag Day fireworks are much more spectacular than those on the 4th.

Apparently, it started with The Elks. They made it mandatory to celebrate Flag Day for their members in 1908 and the Hudson Elks started marching down the main drag, Warren Street, along with the high school marching band and a few others.

It is interesting to note that when Congress made the day official in 1949, Harry Truman was President, and he was an Elk.

In 1996, the Hudson Elks opened the parade to the whole county and it has soared since then.

Every year I go to the Red Dot, have my brunch, and watch from outside the restaurant as every fire truck in the County seems to wheel down the street. Most years, the Caballeros, from New Jersey, musically march down Warren Street in white and black with red scarves and sombreros.   They’re an annual hit. Alana, the Red Dot’s proprietress, hails from the same Jersey city they do and she relishes their presence. She followed them down the street yesterday, blessing them with the soap bubble gun she had me go out and buy for her.

Children dance and cheer and wave flags their parents have bought them from vendors plying Warren Street. It was a picture postcard perfect day yesterday and it was a picture postcard event. Hudson is a town of about 8,000 and 10 to 12 thousand jam into the city for the parade and the evening’s fireworks.

I was not in town for the fireworks, having invited friends for a barbecue last night.

Today is a lazy afternoon of finishing putting the house back in order. Right now, I am seated on the deck, staring down onto the creek, gently flowing down into the pond. The overhanging trees are reflected off the mirror like water, so that all in front of me is a riot of green. Birds are chirping on the other side of the creek and overhead is the muted roar of a plane flying south from the little Columbia County Airport due north of me. All is peaceful in my little world. When I have finished this, I will start “Scoop” by Evelyn Waugh, recommended to me by my friend, Nick Stuart.

It is a lovely afternoon in Columbia County, sitting on the deck, sipping water and tapping on my laptop.

The world, of course, is not peaceful but it feels so far away when I am here.

While Columbia County has been celebrating Flag Day with a weekend of festivities, Britain has been celebrating that tomorrow is the official 800th Anniversary of The Magna Carta, the document that established the King was not above the law but subject to it. It is the foundation upon which democracy has risen.

King John signed it at Runnymede and tomorrow the Queen will be there, hosting a celebration, which will include thousands of people. There have been jousting matches and re-enactments of carrying the document down the Thames to London by barge, 800 years ago.

A thirteen-foot tall statue of Queen Elizabeth II was unveiled yesterday at Runnymede to mark the occasion.

While Britain is in the throes of its Magna Carta celebration, Talha Asmal, a young British citizen from Dewsbury, blew himself up in Iraq, becoming the youngest known British suicide bomber. He was just seventeen. He had run away and joined IS in March.

Sudan’s President, Bashir, was in South Africa for a meeting of the African Union. South Africa ordered him not to leave the country because he is wanted on charges of genocide at Darfur. However, as I write, it appears he may have slipped out of South Africa and is on his way back to Khartoum.

IS has created “flirt squads” to unmask gay men so they can throw them from rooftops.

Once I flirted with the idea of going to the Middle East, it seemed exotic and wonderful. Now I am afraid of thinking about going there.

I will treasure my afternoon, on the creek, listening to the sounds of my woods and watching the mirror like creek reflect the trees.

Letter From New York September 02, 2014

September 2, 2014

Or, as it seems to me… 

I learned a hard lesson yesterday; I wrote a blog directly on WordPress and then there was a glitch and all my eloquent words disappeared into digital dust. So I have learned to draft in Word and copy and paste into WordPress. A small lesson.

I was writing about how beautiful it was but how the leaves had begun to change – fall is no longer far away. You can reach out and touch it.

My mind was focused on the dichotomy between the sylvan beauties of the cottage here in Claverack and the harsh realities when you get away from this little spot. Not so far away Hudson is transforming itself into a quaint town, full of gentrified housing and charming shops and galleries. In twenty-five years, I suspect the town will be rather like Provincetown without the Atlantic.

But that doesn’t change the fact there is poverty in Hudson now and that some of it seems intractable. It’s not the kind of poverty you witness in India but it is hardscrabble for America.

Go a little further afield and you find that Ferguson, MO is still restless and wounded after the shooting of the unarmed Michael Brown. A call for a traffic stoppage mostly didn’t materialize yesterday, at the request of Michael’s father. The death of young Michael Brown has caused America to pause and think about the state of race relations. Have we really come all that far?

African-Americans make up the majority of inmates in prisons. They have higher incidences of poverty. They are more likely to get harassed by the police.

I was at a conference in Washington, DC not so long ago, hosted by Sojourners, a progressive Christian organization. In one of the sessions, the founder of Sojourners, Jim Wallis, asked the audience to look into their hearts to see what private prejudices they maintained. And looking into my heart, I was not innocent. Underneath the surface, it took an extra beat to push back the societal prejudices, not to mention some familial prejudices, that I was raised with – while I might not act upon those thoughts, I still had those thoughts, enough that I sometimes consciously had to batten them down.

I don’t like that.

But it is real. And I suspect is realer than we would really like to admit.

It is nearing the end of the day and reports are filtering out that ISIS, the tightly organized group that is carving out a rogue state, an Islamic Caliphate in Syria and Iraq, has beheaded another American, Steven Sotloff, a freelance journalist captured in Syria. Another atrocity in a region filled with atrocities, lands now overflowing with refugees and where suicide bombings seem like a daily event. A world away from the quiet of Patroon Street in Claverack, NY but still in and of my world.

Letter From New York July 27, 2014

July 27, 2014

Letter From New York

Or, as it seems to me…

It is a mercilessly grey day in Claverack. A medium hard rain falls outside the cottage and far away thunder rattles the skies. It is a drear day; so dark it is actually hard to see to the end of my property.

It is the flip side of yesterday, so lusciously beautiful that it caused a heart to ache – perfect skies, perfect temperature, a day lazed away in idle pursuits, antique shopping on Hudson’s Warren Street, a leisurely stroll through the little Farmer’s Market, then reading on the deck while the creek languidly slipped by on its way to the pond. It was a splendid afternoon. The wind caused the tall branches to brush against one another, their rustling the music of the afternoon. The reflections of light on the creek with the stirring of the water by the breeze resulted in thoughts of pointillism.

This austere day is made for contemplation. It cries for thought as I stare out the window by my desk, on the rain-drenched drive of the cottage, casting my mind out into the world.

It is hardly prettier out there this week; the Ukrainian crisis still unfolds. Body parts still apparently lie in the debris field of MH17, most certainly brought down by a missile. Putin seems to be doubling down on supporting the pro-Russian rebels. Two doctors leading the fight against Ebola have contracted the disease. I cannot tell from this morning’s headlines if there is or is not a temporary ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. The ill-fated Costa Concordia reached its final resting spot. The United States has evacuated the embassy in Libya because of escalating violence. The Taliban reclaim tracts of Afghanistan. The Boko Haram have kidnapped the wife of the Vice Prime Minister of Cameroon. Forest fires plague the drought stricken state of California with no rain in the forecast. An Air Algerie flight fell from the sky over Mali.

The litany of the world’s trials and travails could go on and on. They are enough to cause us to climb into our bunkers and hunker down for the duration. And that may be a bit of what I do when I retreat to the cottage and indulge in the beauty that surrounds me. If I focus too much on the world an existential ennui falls upon me and I feel I cannot breathe.

For all the dark things happening in the world, there was still laughter on the street yesterday. Hot dogs were purchased from Rick’s stand at 6th and Warren. Ice cream cones were being consumed from Lick, farther down Warren. Little children careened down the street, chased after by parents. Newborns rode in carriages. People find jobs and sit down for meals. The world keeps going on and, in that, I find solace.

It is like this moment, when suddenly the rain stopped and the sun burst through the clouds to dapple the land with its light. The earth abides, hope survives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter From New York, August 21, 2011

August 21, 2011

Or, as it seems to me…
I am back from the Vineyard and ensconced this morning at the cottage, curled on the couch, as the early morning sun becomes hidden behind incoming rain clouds, rain that has been predicted all weekend but which has held off now until today, Sunday.

I realized that the cottage is my land of “off.” I arrive and feel a weight lift from me, for a moment I am away, mostly, from the deluge of email, some of which feel like they “e-maul” me.

And the lovely sight of Claverack Creek lazily flowing is more than soothing and over each day I am here, I want, as much as possible, to let the soul rest as well as the body, to enjoy quiet and to recoup from the wear and tear of life. Even though I know my life is magic compared with so many in the world – almost all our lives are – I also know we are not immune from the vagaries of life.

Earlier this week, I read that western nations are more deeply plagued by depression than underdeveloped nations. Is it, I wonder, the result of complex lives, the juggling of so much beyond the basics that our brains malfunction from the strain of processing? Is depression a by-product of technological development? At least on the scale from which we seem to suffer from it?

I don’t know the answer to that but the question has scratched around my brain since I read that factoid in an online article earlier this week while researching something completely different. So I went online and googled “depression and technology” and found out I am not the only man on a laptop who has questioned that this might be the case. “Depression and technology” brought up 131,000,000 items in 0.17 seconds [oh, how we love you Google]. There are also indications that technology can help with depression, particularly among seniors who are beginning to feel isolated and feel they have lost their autonomy.

It is complex and fascinating and a subject I am going to delve into more as time goes on. One writer ruminated on what he felt was the impossibility of the human mind at this time successfully processing all the information we are presented with [I’m saying ‘at this time’ because gosh knows we evolve; perhaps we are at a stage similar to the first creatures that crawled out of the sea to conquer land living?]. But certainly the human brain has had to cope with a dazzling degree of technological evolution in the last hundred or so years.

My Google search revealed people were beginning to wonder about it in the 1920’s and if they were wondering about it then…

Just think about how many of us get anxious if we haven’t checked our email on our smartphones in the last twenty minutes? How many people do I know, myself included, who roll over in the morning and check their smartphone to see what has occurred during the night? Many. Almost all of the people I know are information obsessive and feel anxious if they are cut off.

And this probably is not a good thing. Perhaps a very bad thing? Perhaps a road toward depression?

So I am going to do my best the next few days and pay attention to information overload, be sensitive to it and hold it a bit at bay while still accomplishing my duties and yet thinking about the role technology may play on us, individually and nationally, in encountering psychological distress as the price of technological innovation.

Letter From New York November 7, 2010

November 8, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

As I am writing this, I am journeying back down to the city after a very brief sojourn at the cottage, going back to the city to attend a farewell party for James Green, formerly CEO of several high tech companies, including Sabela Media, the company for which I was working when I moved to New York. James has emerged as a good friend and we have stayed in touch since the Sabela days.

Today he is about to embark upon an adventure he has been dreaming about since he was twelve years old. He and his wife have sold everything, purchased a lovely catamaran now named Ondine and are heading south to spend the winter sailing through the Caribbean before a spring Atlantic crossing to the Mediterranean where they will spend the summer. After that, who knows? Back to the Caribbean, out to Australia, back to work? But they are sailing away, the whole family, James and his wife, Emma Kate and their two children, Paloma and Ronan, who will most likely learn more while traveling than they ever could in school. Off to an adventure that almost everyone has dreamt about at one time or another – and an adventure they are going to live out. They’ll be gone for a year or two, vagabonds of the sea…

The Ondine, in port in the British Virgin Islands.

It’s probably a good time to be away. The Midterms have come and gone with the general consensus among my Democratic friends that it was not as bad as it could have been. Harry Reid might be despised by nearly everyone but was not so unpredictable as the loose cannon Sharon Angle, who struck me as simply unbelievable but less unbelievable than the Republican/Tea Party candidate in Delaware, Christine O’Donnell, she who once said she had frolicked on a Satanic altar, a statement that haunted her enough that she felt a need to take out ads that stated categorically she was not a witch, a decision she later regretted.

New York was spared the embarrassment of Paladino as Governor, a candidate that seemed to have a boundless ability to insert his foot in his mouth and to alienate nearly everyone while also leaving behind the impression, if not the fact, that his business dealings were suspect if not downright sleazy. Both Senatorial seats from New York remained in Democratic hands with Cuomo defeating Paladino for the Governorship. Locally, Democrats fared less well. Scott Murphy, the freshman Congressman from my district was voted out. The Republican State Senator, Steve Saland, defeated his Democratic rival, a disturbing result as Saland potentially crossed ethical lines in sending letters to volunteer fire departments demanding they support him publicly by directing members to vote for him and to have signs supporting him on fire department buildings in exchange for all the “help” he has achieved for them in the Legislature. This late breaking development in the race was disturbing to me and ensures that I will work to unseat him next election; he has crossed a line as far as I am concerned.

The entire race seemed to generate excitement only among the far right. The left was seemingly exhausted and unable to become enthused and motivated to work hard to fight back against the assault of the right. While Republicans claim a mandate, voter polls indicate that might well be a mistake. For example, in exit polls 47% of voters were in favor of maintaining or expanding health care reform while 48% were against it. Only 40% want the Bush Era tax cuts extended for everyone. 53% of voters have an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party while 52% have an unfavorable view of Republicans.

At the end of the day, the voters seemed to be saying – as it seems to me – that what is happening now is not good enough and something better is needed. What I fear is that as we seek that something better we might yield to the loud voices of demagogues rather than those of reason, seeking answers from leaders who promise easy solutions born out of undirected anger and pointed divisiveness.

A Tale of Two Towns, July 27, 2009

July 28, 2009

Letter From New York
July 26, 2009

A Tale of Two Towns

Anniversaries…

This past Saturday felt like an old-fashioned summer day; warm to the edge of hot, muggy to the edge of insufferable, sun showers – crowds swarming Warren Street, moving from shop to shop with the riverfront swelled by crowds looking to study the Halfe Maen [Half Moon], the half size replica of Henry Hudson’s vessel which was docked in Hudson as part of the 400th Anniversary Celebration of Captain Hudson’s historic voyage up the river that bears his name.

Standing on the waterfront, looking at the half sized Half Moon I thought: at full size I might have trusted it to carry me up and down the river but across the Atlantic? No. I prefer something more the size of the Queen Mary II for that voyage. Looking at the wooden craft, I imagined 400 years ago. It must have taken tremendous courage – or foolhardiness – to set sail from the old world for the new. The Half Moon may have been the height of maritime technology at the time but it’s not very spectacular four centuries later when we can compare it to the Queen Mary II – the Half Moon would probably easily into one of QM II’s holds.

While I was attempting to imagine crossing an ocean in a ship twice the size of the craft I was staring at, I found myself thinking of another anniversary that occurred last week – the 40th anniversary of man’s landing on the moon. Apollo 11 was the height of space technology at the time and yet the further we get from that moment when Neil Armstrong took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” we now know that their craft was the space equivalent of the Half Moon, best available but crude at best.

A few months ago I read somewhere that the Apollo 11 mission was not expected to succeed. In fact, speechwriters worked hard at crafting words for President Nixon so that he could announce their deaths to the world should the mission, as expected, fail. The best-case scenario seemed to be that Apollo 11 would probably have to abort and return to earth without successfully landing on the moon.

However, the Eagle did land.

Standing on the riverfront while appraising the Half Moon, I found tears coming to my eyes as I thought of the courage of Hudson and his men willing to toss themselves out onto the cold Atlantic in a voyage of exploration. The feeling was intensified when I thought of the men of the Apollo 11 mission: Collins, Armstrong, Aldrin, men who chose to risk their lives to learn more about the unknown, to stretch man’s reach to the moon if not yet to the stars, to begin the long hard journey out into space – “the final frontier,” to toss themselves out in the coldness of space in a voyage of exploration.

The only autograph I have ever asked for was from Buzz Aldrin, one of the Apollo 11 three. At the request of my friend Howard Bloom, I orchestrated a meeting for him at History Channel. As he was about to get into the car to head for the airport, I couldn’t resist and it sits framed in a place of pride in my home office. I want to be reminded of that kind of courage as often as possible.

Life often seems daunting and impossible, occasionally causing even the most stalwart of souls to edge on despair. It is good when edging on those moments to think of those who risked their lives to stretch the horizon of the world inhabited by other human beings.

Thankfully, Nixon did not have to give that speech and the first three men to the moon are still alive and were able to celebrate their anniversary. Hopefully, by the 50th anniversary of their feat we will have returned to the moon and start the long march to the stars – because it is the “final frontier” and the human race seems to do best when it stretches its imagination and efforts to know the unknown, to find the wonder of being human.