Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

Letter From Claverack 04 21 2017 The past fights the future…

April 21, 2017

Apple blossoms dressed the trees in the orchards as I drove along 9H earlier today, the first, best sign of spring I’ve seen though, once having noticed them, I was aware that small buds of green were appearing on other trees.  The ones outside my windows don’t seem to be sporting them and I’m sure they will come eventually, which is how this spring has seemed – eventually we will get there – just not yet.

It has been a quiet sort of day.  Earlier I spent some time at OMI, an art center near me that I have known about but had not visited and that was my loss.  The two-hundred-acre campus is dotted with sculptures, the main building with art exhibits.  Today quite beautiful children were painting, running around in young life’s exuberance, bringing smiles to all the adults.  I offered up a thought for good lives for them; the future does feel cloudy right now.

It’s not just that this is a gray day.  Generally, I am an upbeat sort of person [or at least I think of myself as that] and today I’ve not been.  The state of the world has been weighing on me, both close to home and far from here.

Close to home, I am burdened because a friend sent me suicidal texts and I was incredibly concerned and finally asked the police to do a “welfare check.”  They did.  He then texted me he wanted nothing more to do with me.  Truthfully, I did the right thing and, at this moment, it hasn’t turned out well. For me and, I expect, not for him as he is in deep trouble and won’t admit it.

Candles to be lit; prayers to be said and to continue, as best we can.

Paris is continuing as best it can after a policeman was shot yesterday and two badly wounded by a terrorist who was killed as he was fleeing.  IS claims responsibility and France is having elections on Sunday.  The far-right candidate, Marie Le Pen, is threatening to remove France from the EU so that it can control its own borders.

She has a chance of winning.

The far right is making its might felt all over the place.

And that is so worrying to me.

For a brief, shining moment in my life it seemed we might actually be headed toward a global society and it has not happened.  It was around the time the Berlin Wall went down, a moment I will forever remember.  Driving down Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles, headed west, my bestest friend, Tory Abel, called me on my car phone and said: do you know what’s going on?  As I was listening to classical music, I didn’t.  The wall was falling.

There are all kinds of suppositions about why that magic moment did not result in a better world.

Right now, I am reading a book about “the weekend” in British homes in the 1930’s and one of the revelatory bits was about a British Lord who became a Muslim because he saw Islam as the bulwark against women getting the vote and having shorter skirts and working.

He would probably have a lot in common with IS.

Change is hard.  And changing centuries of tradition is hard and people will fight it.  IS is fighting it.

When all of this works itself out, I won’t be here.  It will take more than a lifetime.

And that is history in the making.  It takes lifetimes to work itself out.

If you are not aware of it, Chechnya is conducting a campaign against gays.  It is putting us in camps, not unlike the Nazis; there are tales of torture and death.  Can this be happening in the 21st Century?  Apparently so.  The reports are horrific.

The President of Chechnya has declared he will eliminate the gay community by the beginning of Ramadan on May 26th.

Putin has declared there is no evidence this is happening and that is Putin’s view of the world: no horrible thing is happening.  There is no sarin gas is Syria, there is no campaign against gays in Chechnya, there is no fill in the blank.




Letter From New York 11 22 2015 The world goes its crazy ways…

November 23, 2015

Anniversary of Kennedy’s death. Lionel White. Pierre Font. Brussels. Paris. National Registry for Muslims. Donald Trump.  Marco Rubio.  Jeff Cole. George Stephanopoulos. Jeb Bush. Ebola. Liberia. Earthquake in Afghanistan.

It is the 22nd of November and for some reason I remembered that today is the 52nd anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy.  When I was reading the Times this morning with my first cup of coffee, it struck me.

I was in middle school and the principal came in and whispered to the teacher, who told us and we were all sent home from our Catholic School and began a mourning that I am not sure we are over.

It was a grayish day today and on the chill side but tonight there was the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen in my time here.  The sky was a lush red that filled the horizon.  I attempted a photo but it didn’t do the colors justice.IMG_1062

Also, the deer have returned.  There was a family of them scattered on the road, on my property and across the street at Lionel and Pierre’s home.  Standing proudly in Lionel’s yard was a young buck, watching as his family crossed the road in front of my very slowly moving car.

While I listen to jazz and wait for Lionel to arrive for Thanksgiving week festivities, the world itself goes on its crazy way.

Brussels seems to be in a virtual lockdown and a series of raids have been held during the course of the evening.  The city is on the highest level of alert, the Metro will not run tomorrow and schools are closed.  People are being advised to stay home and inside.

In Paris, they are searching for a third suspect and some are saying many “red flags” for the attacks were missed.

The world has changed, again, since the Paris attacks.  Trump is talking a “national registry” for Muslims.  He also claims that on 9/11 “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey cheered as the Towers fell.  He claims to have seen it himself, on television.  Really?  George Stephanopoulos reminded him that the police say it didn’t happen.  But it did, George, but it did.

The Washington Post did an evaluation of the top Republican candidates and estimated that the nominee is likely going to be Marco Rubio, which my friend Jeff Cole suggested when we had lunch six weeks ago.

Jeb Bush comes in at number 5.  Number two is Donald Trump.  Is this really happening?  I have stopped laughing because The Donald might just pull it off and that is a really scary thought.

The Paris attacks have changed the tone of our electoral campaign and will continue to influence it as we progress toward this, to me, most bizarre of electoral cycles.

Sadly, Ebola has re-emerged in Liberia and 153 people are being watched to see how it develops in them.

There has been a 5.9 magnitude earthquake in Northeast Afghanistan, bringing even more misery to that land of misery.

Thankfully, the jazz is soothing and the fire cheery.  So I end the day, curled up in the comforts of the cottage, Tempting as it might be, I am not yet retreating into blocking out the news of the day.

When I was younger, globe trotting, I felt like a citizen of the world.  I still feel that way.

Letter From New York 11 19 15 Wanting to kill us because we are…

November 19, 2015

Outside it is dark already and it is only 5:15 PM.  Sunset was at 4:31 PM according to my Weather app.  It is still another month to the shortest night of the year and the long lengthening of days that follow.  It is a time for hibernation and that is what I have done all this live long day, hibernate.

Outside, it is blustery and a heavy wind has been blowing.  The electricity blinked on and off.  Winter is arriving in the Hudson Valley, no question about it.

A fire burns in the Franklin stove and floodlights illuminate the creek and the front of the cottage.  I’ve spent the day doing my best to personally thank all 250+ people who wished my “Happy Birthday” yesterday.

While it is still unseasonably warm, it was impossibly drear all day.  No glint of sunshine brightened this day.  I’ve been psychologically chilled by the dreariness.  Having managed to whittle down my inbox, I took some time to read a book, a mystery. 

When I woke this morning and read the headlines I saw that there had been an overnight raid in the Paris suburb of St. Denis.  A young woman killed herself by blowing up her suicide vest and a young man, now identified as Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected mastermind of the 11/13 attacks, was also killed, his body riddled with bullets.  They used DNA and fingerprints to identify him.

People are asking how it was that he was in Paris when French Intelligence thought he was in Syria?  The raid is being called a success and a failure.  Success because he has been taken out and a failure because he wasn’t where they thought he was.  How had he gotten back onto the continent and into France?

Young Abdelhamid was quite the IS poster boy, featured in some of their videos and their online magazine, shown in one video dragging bodies behind a pick-up truck.   His own family had disowned him and wanted him dead.  They now have had their wish come true.  He recruited his younger brother to Syria.  I wonder where he is now?

Here is the US dozens are under watch as the government does its best to prevent a Paris type attack here.  There have been reports that Washington, DC is targeted as well as New York City’s Time Square. 

The real lesson from Paris is that nowhere is safe.   And that is frightening a LOT of people.

Congress voted today to prevent Syrian refugees from entering the country.  Obama vows to veto it if it comes to his desk.  It is a sign of how afraid we all have become.

Europe, which has had an “open” border policy is now re-thinking that.  It would be something like, again, having to go through border controls when going from New York to Massachusetts.  Enormously inconvenient but that is what they’re thinking about in the EU.

Especially since some of the participants in last Friday’s tragedy came from Belgium, which is now promising to crack down on anyone they suspect of being a terrorist.  It all feels a bit like a bad Hollywood movie but this is the world we live in.

French officials believe the raid in St. Denis prevented another attack.

Sitting here, listening to jazz, staring out at the floodlit creek, it is hard to imagine the world beyond here but that world exists and it is relentless.  There are people who are out there who desperately want to kill us because of the world we have created.


Letter From New York 11 14 15 The Real Great War to end all wars…

November 15, 2015

Paris. Hollande. IS. Daesh. Bruce Thiesen. Christopher Hitchens. Hitler. Stalin. Mussolini. Afghanistan.  Alexander the Great. Russia. Viet Nam. Democratic Debate. Jihadi John. Marco Rubio.  Fox News. Libya. Pope Francis.  World War III. Genghis Khan. Fred and Ginger.  The Great Depression. The War to end all wars.

When I finished blogging yesterday, the body count in Paris was below thirty.  Today, when I woke and reached for my iPhone to check the news, 129 were dead, 350+ injured with 99 of them in critical condition.

Friends of mine, Chuck and Lois, have an apartment in Paris and spend a good part of every year there; thankfully they were not in Paris yesterday. 

All morning I felt grim, unbelieving and so very deeply saddened.

Last night’s event has touched the world in a way nothing has since 9/11.

Hollande has all but declared war on IS or Daesh, using the Arabic acronym for the organization.  Countries around the world have lit their most important buildings in the red, white and blue colors of the French flag.

There is the weight of tragedy in the air.  The events were on the mind of ever thinking person I know.

Bruce Thiesen, a fellow blogger, posted this quote from Christopher Hitchens:  This is an enemy for life as well as an enemy of life.

Truer words were never spoken.  It all harkens back to the horrors of World War II, of men like Hitler and Mussolini and Stalin. 

The events of last night have infected my day as they have for everyone I know.  It came to me as I was shopping, for tomorrow is my day to do coffee hour after the 10:30 service, that Hollande is correct; we are at war.

I’ve felt that since 2003, when we invaded Iraq. We are at war. We have participated in wars without really involving the American public.  We fought but the public was to go on with their normal lives, shopping and eating at restaurants and not think about war.

I think that was a mistake.  In some way, shape or form, we should all be engaged if our men and women are fighting.

We should be actively supporting them in some way. 

It’s a favorite rant of mine.  I wanted to be asked to sacrifice if they were being asked to potentially make the ultimate sacrifice.

Now, we are years into this.  Afghanistan is our longest war ever, a place that has bedeviled military leaders since Alexander the Great, the place that was Russia’s Viet Nam, a place the British couldn’t hold at the height of their power.

Tomorrow there will be another Democratic Debate.  Really?  I’m exhausted already and can’t imagine all the campaigning yet to come.  But because of Paris, the debate will be focused more on terrorism and how the candidates would respond.

Jihadi John, the British terrorist who beheaded a number of men, is apparently dead in a drone attack.  On Friday, the head of IS in Libya is believed to have died in an air attack.

At the gym today, the TV at my treadmill was turned to Fox News and I actually didn’t change the channel.  I wanted to know what they were saying.  They brought on Marco Rubio who decried events and blamed them on Obama and said as President he would take the fight to them.

Yes, I do think that will happen.  Probably right now we’ll be led by France which, in righteous anger, will attack Daesh in every way it can.

More war.  Pope Francis suggested we are fighting World War III now, in bits and pieces.  He may be right.

Rubio said it was a “civilizational war” and he is not wrong. 

IS wants to destroy the West.  It hates our civilization with a passion and a fervor not seen, I suspect, since Genghis Khan who swept all before him before he and his Empire became dust in the wind.

It is dark.  Floodlights illuminate my beloved creek.  I am going to make myself a martini and watch a movie that, I hope, will transport me beyond the ugly realities of the day, the way Fred and Ginger lifted the hearts of Americans during the Great Depression.

We may well be now fighting the real Great War, the war to end all wars.

Letter From New York 11 13 15 Poor Paris…

November 13, 2015

Paris.  City of Light.  Paris shootings. Stade de France. Arc de Triomphe. President Hollande. Bataclan Theater.

The sun is setting and the land is turning a dusky grey; white clouds reflect the fading light.  I am curled up in the cottage and have lit a fire; tonight will be the chillest night yet – down into the 30’s.  The trees have been stripped of their leaves and tomorrow should be the last clearing of the year.

In the late 1970’s I spent part of a summer in Paris, living in a little apartment in the 16th Arrondissement at 73 Rue Chardon La Gache.  It was a magical time in a magical city.  Anti-Americanism among the French was at its height but I experienced only one small incidence of that, in a McDonald’s near the Arc de Triomphe.

As I sit here writing, it is reported that 18 people have been killed in a series of shootings in the 10th.  More blood in Paris, the “City of Light.”  More have been injured.  I am trying to grasp this and find it difficult.  It is too early, say the reports, to determine that this is another terrorist attack.  President Hollande, who was in the area, has been evacuated as are several neighborhoods near the shootings.

In refreshing my browser, the death toll has risen to 28 and there are reports of explosions near Stade de France, which is where Hollande was, with the German Foreign Minister, watching a soccer game between the two countries.

Hostages have been taken in the Bataclan Theater where a heavy metal band from California was performing.

When I was in Paris, I walked miles a day, passing through, I’m sure, the streets that are now scenes of chaos.  One night a group of Americans, myself included, stood beneath the Eiffel Tower at two in the morning and sang “The Star Spangled Banner.”  A gendarme looked at us and shook his head: those crazy Americans and because it was so late the Metro was closed so we all walked to our homes across Paris, unafraid, feeling as safe and secure as we could have anywhere.

That is not the Paris of now.

I have been back a few times since then.  Paris has seemed to me like Colette when she was older rather than Colette the younger, which is what she seemed to me when I was there in my twenties, living out, briefly, my “Lost Generation” moment.

Now, tonight with jazz playing, I mourn for the “City of Light” through which darkness is passing.  It seems particularly cruel that Paris, noted for its gaiety and joy of life, has been singled out this year for so much sorrow.

Letter From New York 01 12 15 Venturing back to the city…

January 12, 2015

Last night, I returned to New York City to have dinner with a friend, David, who was in town from Delaware. It was interesting stepping off the train and throwing myself into the mild mayhem that is Penn Station, so much grittier and grim than Grand Central Station.

There is always, now, a moment when I take a deep breath before plunging in to the swarm. Really, it is an assault on the senses. Parts of the station seem to be falling apart. Tarps lined one of the ceilings to keep rain from falling on our heads, I guess.

Meeting David at his hotel, we went just a half block to Angus’ in the Theater District and had a meal and a drink and a good catch-up. As I don’t have cable either at home or at the little apartment in New York, I watched the Golden Globes with David. The moment that stood out to me was in George Clooney’s acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award. He said something to the effect that everyone in the room had managed to grab the brass ring, they were inside the tent and getting to do what they wanted. And it is true, people in that room, for the most part, had grabbed the brass ring. Good for him for saying so.

This morning when I left the apartment building, William, the daytime doorman, reminded me it was raining outside. I thanked him for the warning but ventured out without an umbrella. I had forgotten that all the umbrellas are at the cottage. It was a wet, chill day in New York, grey and somber, streets slick with rain and everyone a little damp and miserable.

In contrast to the bucolic setting of the cottage, the city makes it easy to be reminded of all the things happening in the world. Sirens blare, ambulances screech through the streets, police cars race from one point to the next, lights all rotating madly, enough to give one an attack of some sort. Here it is possible to feel close to the chaos that was Paris last week.

Sitting waiting for an appointment, CNN Breaking News as well as the BBC announced that ISIS had hacked into the twitter account of Centcom, the US Military Command. I wondered if we had moved into the era of total cyber warfare? Centcom defined the attack as cyber-vandalism. When does vandalism cross into being an attack?

I feel less dispassionate in the city. The world is very close to you. The reality of trouble is only a fingertip away. Winding my way through the streets and traversing the subway, I felt a greater need to be alert, to be a bit more careful. Part of me wanted to slip away as quickly as I could, to once again bathe in the calm of the cottage. I am here tonight, gone tomorrow and then back again on Wednesday for a dinner meeting. I’ll stay, probably, the rest of the week. It will be interesting to see how I adapt to city life again after so much time in the country.

Letter From New York 01 11 15 While they marched in Paris…

January 11, 2015

Riding on Amtrak back to the city, the Hudson River is more heavily iced than it was just a few days ago. Once again, it is steel grey as is the whole world, grey and overcast, not bathed in the golden light of yesterday.

On the train I usually ride in the café car; it has been years since the trains running between Albany and New York have had an active café car. Sitting with me are two friends I have made through the train, Kathleen and Arthur, who have a small farm on the west side of the Hudson, outside of Catskill.

We met on the train some years ago, taking the same Sunday train back into the city. We had a tradition of bringing along leftovers from the weekend and making a picnic of the ride into New York. With food and a good bottle of wine, the trip always evaporated.

Then I started not going back on Sundays, waiting until Monday mornings and, while not riding the Sunday picnic train, we have remained friends and we have partied since off the train. We’re all headed back early this Sunday because we have dinners in the city.

Arthur is headed to Paris next week for a culinary tour of the City of Lights. Naturally our talk turned to Charlie Hebdo and the march that took place there today. Millions marched for solidarity; lead by the French President Hollande, who was joined by British Prime Minister David Cameron and Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany. Also there was Netanyahu of Israel as well as Abbas of Palestine, the President of Ukraine and the Foreign Minister of Russia, all putting their differences aside long enough to join this march, equal parts of sorrow and defiance. With no speeches, just presence.

Back in Germany, Hamburger Morgenpost printed some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and was firebombed.

Some are saying that this event has ripped the soul of France the way 9/11 seared the soul of the United States, a fundamental change occurring in the fabric of society.

Obama is calling for a “Counterterrorism Summit” is Washington in February.

Ah, the clouds have parted and some sunlight slips through, causing flecks of light to bounce off the icy waters of the Hudson.

It is impossible to know where the road is leading at anytime. But the situation we face with radical Islam seems particularly knotty. Is it, as Arthur suggested earlier, a result of poverty? Or does radical Islam offer a route away from oppressive governments? Or is it that we are seeing the beginning of an Islamic Reformation which promises to be as violent as the Christian Reformation? Any of these is probably too simple an answer for the most complex question of our time and reality is a mixture of all of these and more.

Each day will be played out and we will move irrevocably into the future and the future will unfold. In the meantime, three million took to the streets in Paris in some effort to express feelings that must seem inchoate.

When 9/11 happened, the streets of New York were eerily quiet and the world seemed in a daze. It will be interesting to speak with Arthur when he returns to see if Paris is the same.

Letter From New York 01 07 15 Je Suis Charlie

January 7, 2015

The night was bitter cold as the frigid weather from the Midwest began to barrel into the Northeast. Outside the cottage, the wind blew and you could hear the wind swooshing through the barren branches of the trees. It was a good night to be snuggled in the cottage, watching episodes of Netflix’s Marco Polo series.

When I woke this morning, I did, as I usually do, check what emails have come in while having my first cup of coffee. There was one from CNN Breaking News that announced that three masked men had entered the offices of France’s satiric magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and killed ten. The number would later rise to twelve, including two policemen.

Eleven more staff were wounded, four seriously.

It was an operation carried out with military precision, happening on the one day a week that all staff would be at the office for the weekly staff meeting. As I write this, the three killers are still on the loose. America and the UK have pledged assistance. It is presumed the masked men were Islamic radicals offended by Charlie Hebdo’s unrelenting satire of Islamic Radicalism.

While constantly shocked by mass killings on our home ground, we are unaccustomed to stories like this from Paris, which has not suffered an attack like this since 1961.

Fear of all kinds walks the streets and boulevards of the City of Light tonight. Parisians are afraid. French Muslims are afraid; worried that this will accelerate the anti-Muslim sentiment sweeping secular France and give more wind to the sails of the Far Right.

Interestingly enough, even as anti-Muslim sentiment rises so has anti-Semitism. Not just in France but across Europe.

Thousands gathered in Germany to protest the presence of Muslims within that country’s borders. The Cathedral in Cologne turned off its lights in protest of the protest.

There will be a national day of mourning in France tomorrow and, for a while, at least, the shock of what has happened will hold the country together. Thousands have gathered in Paris to hold their pens in the air as a sign of solidarity with the dead journalists. The same is happening in Trafalgar Square in London.

Everywhere, people are holding signs that pronounce: Je Suis Charlie. I am Charlie.

Charlie Hebdo was raucous, outrageous and often controversial. It was firebombed three years ago after it published a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed, a thing forbidden in Islam. So, today, there was no sign that let the attackers know which offices belonged to Charlie Hebdo. They forced that out of a woman at gunpoint.

Among those who were killed was Stephane Charbonnier “Charb”, the editor, one of two who had a police officer assigned to him after previous death threats. Also dead is an eighty-year-old cartoonist, Georges Wolinski, considered one of the world’s great cartoonists and one with a wicked sense of humor.

Really, an eighty year old?

While what Charlie Hebdo does is often outrageous and perhaps a bit profane, it exists in a country where free press and free speech are constitutional rights. And that is why so many are carrying signs that say Je Suis Charlie. I am Charlie.

They are supporting the right to free speech, not just in France but around the world where there are those, including these three masked men, who would extinguish that right. They pronounced themselves Al Qaeda when they stormed the building.

They wanted to turn out the lights at one establishment in hopes it would cause fear in others – as it probably will – but against that are the thousands standing in the cold in London and Paris and other places saying, Je Suis Charlie.

Je Suis Charlie.