Friday, December 30, 2011

After Katrina and Christmas: Column for the Bay City Times

(Note: This piece is very specific to an event that is very much out of our headlines currently, but I decided to drop it into this blog because I am reminded of late of other things that are slipping from our headlines: Hurricanes in subsequent years, the BP oilspill that has left parts of the Gulf of Mexico dead, the earthquake in Haiti that still is not recovered from. I am reminded that just because things are no longer considered "newsworthy" does not mean they chould be forgotten. Forgetting is just another way of wearing ourselves until one day a disaster that does not immediately impact us personally fails to awake in us any compassion for those who are impacted. So it is good to remember. SPM)

Holidays bring different sorts of memories and associations to each individual. The day after Christmas is for many a great anti-climax that is hard to recover from, while for others it is a relief to be able to look back on another holiday rather than forward to one; depending on the holiday, I can see both points of view.

This New Year, post-Katrina as well as post-Christmas, is one that holds a great many unknowns for all who have been fortunate to survive this past year to see the new one in.

Many have spent holidays in ways and places they had not expected and the New Year is not being brought in with the typical resolutions because this year is full of uncertainties beyond many of the years preceding it.

We in Michigan are not immediately, obviously impacted by Katrina, but for many in the South there are questions more pressing than any resolution: Where will we live if there is no home to return to? How will we live? Will my family always be separated? Will I ever feel safe or at home again?

There are certain places in this world that bring images and half-memories to even those who have never physically visited them: Paris with its art and romance and rain. Istanbul, Gate to the East. Jerusalem with the Temple Mount and the Wailing Wall. New York City with its Stock Exchange, the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge. And, ever and always for some, New Orleans with its fourteen-foot ceilings, its Latin Quarter, its Mardi Gras and – oh, most of all – its music.

They are the places that we share with each other; places we all know a little about, places that are a subtle part of our human identity. They break the ice in public and inspire dreams in private, and the world is more wonderful because they simply exist.

I have to believe that New Orleans will recover because it is such a part of the whole that it will leave a great void if it does not. Never mind Mardi Gras; parties come and go. The music, the art, the architecture and the bizarre and delicate tolerance of the Crescent City are too valuable to let pass without the greatest struggle. There are far too many things that only survive in memory and photograph, too many ‘used-to-be’s, for this not to be so.

We need New Orleans just as we need every one-horse town and steamboat stop along the sultry Gulf Coast. Wherever we may be from in this country, whatever may come, they are a part of who we are, and we cannot forget them just because they are beginning to slip from the headlines.

A disaster of this magnitude is not over because we are tired of hearing of it. Rather, it will go on, impacting further daily, like a deep flesh wound that must heal from within before it can be made truly whole again.

This healing is going to take time and it is important that we continue as we have begun and exercise patience and generosity, not because we have to, but because we were spared and are able.

Even when – having grown up in the South I cannot bear to write the word ‘if’ – New Orleans is placed upon its feet again, there is a great deal of distance between a place that has never changed and a place that has been restored, no matter how loving the restoration. The loss of life and way of life as well as the loss of property and the displacement of commerce cannot be reversed, but they can be lessened.

Some hold that there is another life in which we settle our tab from this one, and others hold that the present life is the only one we can be quite sure of. Either way, it would seem wise to use this life very carefully.

Whether one is an optimist or a pessimist, whether the glass is half full or half empty, the contents are what we have; this New Year is the one we have to work with and, though eating less and spending more time reading are admirable resolutions, let me challenge you to another this year: Purpose to pause now and again and simply remember.

Remember the simple and often taken-for-granted boons of your small children about the house and your old people around the table; neither will be there always and it is impossible to tell what this year may bring.

As you are remembering and counting blessings, don’t forget those whose children were old enough to go to war and may not be coming back as well as those whose old people may not have been fast enough to escape Hurricane Katrina. Remember and do what you can; no one could ask more.

(Originally published in the Bay City Times, December, 2005, SPM)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Le Cour des Miracles: Column for the Bay City Times

Hundreds of years ago in Paris, France the area around Place du Caire was inhabited by beggars, gypsies, prostitutes, thieves and rag-and-bone men. By day many of these plied their fellow citizens with strange wounds, maimings and crippled children; by night wounds were wiped off, maimings became whole and crippled children laughed and romped. The place became derisively known as ”Le Cour des Miracles”, (The Court of Miracles).
I remember the first time I had heard of that place and realized that each of us have our own “Court of Miracles.” A place we go when we need to be who we are and not what we have to be to survive. In that place we have friends who know, and do not judge us for, our weaknesses. They are our people, these friends, and we come together with fair regularity to escape the myriad stresses and expectations of the day.

One such place for me is the coffee house on Saginaw Street. I know that on any given day I can amble in and be among friends, or, at the very least, away from stresses. There I can engage in intelligent conversation on the interesting trivialities that make up my world or quietly put thoughts together into stories, paintings or bindings.

This afternoon the coffee house was filled with members of the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra and the piano kept us all company as we worked or chatted on this or that until the time came to go to the evening concert in Wenona Park.

I stopped for a moment today as the piano played – sitting with a cup of joe – and thought of a few past moments: Ba’b and the Spur-of-the-Moment Fur Coats, Helen and the Saga of the Man-Eating Mini Dog, Amandrew and the Naughty Bowels, Naseem and The Many Queens, Chadwick and The Next Sarcastic Thing, Erica and The Swearing Tuesdays, Judith and The Soggy Quiche, Mark and The Dangerous Tambourine, Sean and The Porkchop Hooker . . . .

I cannot begin to number the griefs shared, the stories swapped and the laughs enjoyed in that place; they come, do what they do, and leave our lives that much the richer for having brought us all closer for those few moments. After such times, we gather the tools of our various trades, adjust our countenances for the rest of the world and leave our Court of Miracles until the next time we meet, each able to better cope with the day because of the respite had and the respite anticipated.

(Originally published in the Bay City Times, 2005, SPM)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Cow

I was told once that there are always three sides to any story, his, hers and what actually happened. This story not ending in cake and confetti, I only have the “his” bit to offer with all of its flaws and possible errors. I’m not saying it’s fact. I’m not saying it’s fiction. I’m saying it makes me feel better, so here it is:

I was engaged to a woman once. Sort of. She was from Houston, Texas and I met her through giving her and her niece violin lessons at a local music store before moving to Michigan to grow into myself. This girl had blue eyes and an electric, somewhat crazy grin, she wore cowboy boots in all weather, or wedges that were denim or cowhide and she liked many of the same things I did for completely different reasons.

After many, many letters, emails and all-night phone calls we decided we might make a good – or at least a solid – marriage between us and she should come to Michigan for an extended visit to see if what worked on paper and over wires worked in person. I think it possible that lack of sleep might account for an awful lot of what finally fell out.

She arrived in town with a good amount of luggage and a fixed sort of expression that implied she might have done some thinking during the flight, but that it was too late to turn around now. After some initial chat we headed to the friends’ who had offered to let her a room during her stay so she could get settled for the next five or six weeks.

In the ensuing days we had some fun catching up on mutual acquaintances, sharing meals and introducing her to people. We began to run thin on activities in about a week because it is a small town, and it was cold, and we had no clue how to proceed after we ran out of new things to talk about. I think we actually had a conversation sitting on a bench once that went,

Me: “What a wonderful tree.”

She: “Yes, yes it is.”

That was it. For two hours. Eventually, we decided kissing could be a good thing to look into if we were to spend the rest of our lives together since there might not always be a tree to discuss.

She had never kissed a guy before and I felt since my experience was only with other guys the conversation might have gotten awkward if I tried to offer advice. Her sister had told her that chocolate made first kisses more interesting, and we figured it was worth a try while we were spending time in my studio after dinner and watching “Ten Things I Hate About You.” She put a piece of chocolate in one of our mouths and then leaned in slowly to begin kissing. That’s when I realized she had gotten a bar of chocolate with dried blueberries inside.

I have to agree that trying to kiss around melting chocolate did sound interesting in theory, but given the newness of the joint activity the addition of dried fruit might not have been advisable.

The girl went from gentle lip pressing to eating my face; actually eating it. Her teeth were trying to pull my lips from my face much the same way they would have pulled meat off an over-cooked short rib.

The intensity of her approach caught me off guard and I inhaled a dried blueberry and began choking. She did not notice the difference between a return of passion and a desperate struggle for life, and the realization hit me: “I am going to die asphyxiating on a blueberry watching Heath Ledger drill a hole in some nerd’s text book while a woman enthusiastically chews my face off.” Shit.

I was finally able to swallow during a brief tactical error and survived our first kiss, but – for a now-confirmed gay man – things don’t get any more real than that moment and I still class blueberries amongst unconventionally deadly things like tire irons and cast-glass door knobs and socks filled with pennies.

I remember on a weekend I’d gone to the house where she was staying to see what she was thinking of doing with the day, knocked on the back door and waited. And waited. I called her cellular phone and got no response so I knocked again and finally heard steps in the house as I was about to leave. She answered the door in whatever she’d woke up wearing with her mouth set in a firm line and moved aside to let me into the kitchen. She was clearly peeved, and I wasn’t sure why. (This being early in our relationship as a couple, I had not yet realized that trying to run her mood through logic wasn’t a productive use of time.)

On the butcher block table (which now lives in my own kitchen) were two place settings, one used, in front of the two stools that lived there and on the stove was a sheet pan bearing what appeared to be baked rocks. I sat down at one of the stools and waited for something to develop.

“Here,” she said in a flat-line voice putting two rocks on my plate with a thud and a clink. “You were supposed to be here earlier. I made breakfast. My mother used to make these when my sister and I were growing up.”

Did her mother make rocks for breakfast when they were growing up to let them know they’d behaved too badly for mere bread and water? Would I have gotten rocks for breakfast if I had come when anticipated? Did I have to actually eat the rocks, or just regard them mournfully and wait for a change of topic? Pending conversation, I sipped tea and made a tentative attempt to cut into one of the rocks.

I later learned the items in question were Scotch Eggs which consisted of a boiled egg rolled in uncooked sausage, then in breadcrumbs and baked until brown. Her eggs had sat meditating in the oven long enough they resembled the handiest tool of a street fight.

From that point forward, things began curdling between us more often than sparking and because everyone knows confined spaces soothe hostile situations, I thought a road trip to one of my favorite places might be fun. Sort of like Camp David, but without warring Middle Eastern factions or the involvement of even one Bush.

An hour and a half north of where I lived in Michigan is a national forest, and in that national forest is a spot called Iargo Springs. The springs are not a spot commonly known even to people who live in the area because most people think the spot is only another scenic overlook of the Au Sable River.

Next to the overlook platform are over 300 stairs descending to a place where the world seems to stop and time doesn’t exist. It is a heavily wooded place of babbling springs – clear as a fine day and cold as an angry woman’s stare – criss-crossing each other twisting around mossy stones and fallen trees to the river. It is possible to look out across the water at the outside world but there isn’t a building or power line to be seen in any direction.

We had a very quiet drive north until we reached the parking area near the top of the stairs and began to descend. The place had more than the effect I had hoped; I hadn’t realized that having grown up far away, she might not be familiar with this type of terrain at all and just might find it both interesting and possibly a little alarming.

We wandered, and then settled in one of the seating areas overlooking the springs where I took out a note book and began doodling and she sat with a book in her hands looking at the springs and woods until she nudged me and asked with barely-subdued alarm, “Is that a cow!?”

I looked at her very seriously and after reminding her that we had come down over 300 hundred steps asked her if she thought a cow, even a wily, devious and blood-thirsty cow, could do that. Once she agreed this was not likely I looked in the direction she had thought she’d seen a cow: The cow was actually a bear cub ambling casually into a clearing.

When I told her that the cow was really a bear she wondered aloud if it were safe to pet the animal. I was left with the distinct impression that she would never in a million years approach a cow with such familiarity, but a bear – that was different; stuffed bears were given to children all the time, so how dangerous could they be?

Part of me, the petty, bored part, wondered what would happen if I said she could, no, should – even – pet the bear, but then I recalled we were alone and there were bound to be questions if a girl from Texas got mauled petting a bear in the woods of Michigan while her boyfriend watched, so I suggested we take pictures and sit tight.

When the bear’s larger mother arrived, the girl looked at me again as if to ask if now it were alright to approach. I hesitated, but said it was best to leave the animals be.

I think now of the ensuing arguments, episodes of depression and bewilderment, the exchanges of non-compatible wants in life, the confused bartenders, bag ladies and friends and the irrevocable damage done to an innocent vacuum cleaner and I can only shake my head. In retrospect it might’ve been simpler to have just let her pet the cow, but I was hardly to know that at the time.

(This piece was finished on a bus to Patras, Greece.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Link to temporary blog...

While with the Rotary Team in Greece, we will be blogging in joint at

Check it out!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Warmth of a Smile and a Fountain Full of Lions

We were met at the port in Heraklion at 7 in the morning by Anna, whose ready laugh and humor set the tone for our stay in Crete: This was to be an incredibly different experience from Athens in that Anna was determined we were to slow down, laugh, see what there was to see but – above all – never hurry.
We were settled into suites provided at Anna’s Kalimerna Village Hotel in Piscopiano just outside Heraklion to rest until a late lunch.

TJ and I unpacked in what turned out to be our little house with a living room, bathroom, kitchen and two bedrooms and I had the chance to open my violin case and play a bit to relax; this last resulted in Anna’s directive to bring the violin to the evening’s Rotary club meeting.

The meeting was to take place at a hotel in Heraklion owned by the very chic Maria, but before the hotel we stopped by a salon owned by the club president, Giannis, where we were given gifts and the girls were left to have their hair done. (This is also where we met another gorgeous soul: Fo-fo.)

While the girls were being pampered, Anna took Tj and I for a walk in the center of Heraklion. My first impression of the city was one of magic, laughter and soft lights off of incredible window displays, music drifting from full cafes, the saffron-and-purple lit lion fountain in the central square and, as ever in Crete, the laughter and enthusiasm of Anna.

Once we had collected the girls we went to the Rotary meeting in the rooftop restaurant of Maria’s hotel. There was more Greek than English available in the room, but we never for a moment felt out of place or anything but very welcome.

The club secretary, Sophia, translated our presentation for us and after a wonderful dinner (which was made a lot of fun by Voula’s conversation) we heard wonderful young musicians from the school of Ms. Marianne play flute and classical guitar and I played a piece improvised for that evening on my violin. After many, many, manymanymanymanymany photographs and much laughter we went home – in one afternoon of Anna’s hospitality it began to feel like home – to Piscopiano for a night’s sleep.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Honey, Love and Faith

In the morning we visited Attiki Honey to find out how the company not only packages honey, but also creates three distinct blends of honey as well as coaching the apiaries from which they buy honey in the best techniques to produce the best product.
We then visited a place called Margarita:

Margarita was founded in 1978 by a mother whose daughter was challenged by Downs Syndrome. Only hall the school’s funding is subsidized by the state; the rest of the funding must be raised through private donations and grants.

The school’s purpose is to assist mentally challenged individuals in finding jobs in the open market and learning basic life skills such as hygiene and simple meal preparation so that they can make the best possible lives for themselves with the most dignity possible.

Students enter at age 14 or 15 and though many only stay 5 or 6 years, some stay into their 40’s.

We met a good number of the students in our visit learning to weave, make copies, jewelry, cook, etc. One thing stood out to me: Wherever we went people who do not know how to lie lit up with appreciation for the people guiding us through this remarkable facility.

Meeting Katy, who has decided to learn Greek after growing up in Britain and only coming to Athens after losing her father and Murto whose day was complete in the simple action of giving some one else a hug and telling a portion of her day…these were incredible experiences illuminating the incalculable importance of providing a place in our world for people who do not know what it means to be bitter of grow old.

One of the original students of the school graduates this year at the age of 50.

The government funding for the school has been frozen because of the financial crisis currently shredding the economy of Greece and the staff has not been able to be paid since February of this year, but – yet – they are still here.

Upon leaving Margarita, we went to the mountain where much of the marble that graced the Acropolis and other monuments in ancient Greece was taken from. On the top of this revered mountain is a monastery of great age noted for its focus upon education – even when education of common people was forbidden. There is a secret school underground and under the “modern” church. The tiny chapel of St. Stephen, also underground, was the site of many generations of marriages and christenings.

We board a night boat to Crete after dinner…

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sweets and Smalti

We had separate vocational visits today and my first was immediately after coffee with Dora. We left the house and she drove me to a bakery (Top Bakery, to be specific) near home in Kiffisia where I was to put in my morning. While waiting for Dimitri, the owner, to arrive I had the chance to look about the shop and counted over 130 different baked products including varieties of breads, cakes, tarts, cookies, rusks, sandwiches, sweet and savory pies as well as gelato and espresso.

Dimitri arrived and we had coffee as he explained to me that they make and sell something like 500 loaves each day aside from other goods. The bakery makes gelato in house and we discussed specific types including one called Kaimaki made with Sheep’s milk and mastic (a special substance whose production is unique to one Greek island - Xios - in all the world), thickened with salepi, frozen and topped with a “spoon sweet” of sour cherries. I am thinking this one might just show up at the Magic Bean when I get home.

Aside from learning to make phyllo dough and about 8 other things, I had a very interesting discussion with Dimitri about the economy in Greece and how it impacted his business; the intriguing thing was how similar the economic challenges to service businesses in Michigan and Greece seemed to be.

I was picked up from the bakery by a Rotarian contact and spirited to meet Maria and her daughter, Aggie, in another part of Athens where I was allowed to visit the studio of a mosaic artist working in the Byzantine style on a piece of the Madonna for a church commission.

It was incalculably useful to be able to see, smell, touch the various natural adhesives, stone and glass smalti and backing materials that were strange to me; the artist was enthusiastic to share what she knew and her book of pieces was very impressive.

Having a chocolate and a sandwich with Maria and her girls at a French-themed café next to a large church afterward was an amazing way to chat and end the scheduled part of the day before returning to Kiffisia to rest and get ready for dinner.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Layers of an Ancient Society

The morning started with the finding of a parking space near the city center so that we could visit the Presidential gardens, walk around the surrounding district of mansions and consulates and go to the Byzantine museum. The museum was interesting to me in particular for its collection of icons and wall paintings.
{photo of mosaic Madonna of Tenderness]

We filed out of the museum to make it to Constitution Square for the changing of the guard at Parliament and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The skirts of the guards contain 400 pleats: One for each year of Turkish occupation.

Next came a walk to end all walks: We went past temples, Hadrians’s gate and the stadium where the first modern Olympic Games were held on our way to the New Acropolis Museum to meet our guide – the inimitable Dora with her wide grin, floppy hat and perfect English.

The museum was an incredible architectural experience: The glass floors and open spaces of the structure give the impression that floats above the architectural dig that gave the museum many of its objects.

The place of honor in the museum is reserved for what much of the world knows as the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum. These pieces were looted irrespective of structural damage to ancient temples and monuments and taken to England in the late 19th century/early 20th century where they remain today. Greek officials and academics have tried unsuccessfully through diplomatic means to engineer the return of these objects to where they belong: In Athens.

Initially, the British Museum and government claimed reluctance to return the pieces because the city of Athens had not a safe or suitable home prepared for such historically significant works of art. The current museum certainly resolves that issue without dispute. I sincerely hope one day to return to Athens to see the alarming number of plaster casts scattered through the phenomenal facility replaced with the originals pirated by a British collector about a century ago; it is time for the marbles to come home, regardless of the possible chaos it may cause in the world’s most famous museums. It is time to call theft what it is and make restitution.

The climb to the Acropolis itself was a bit tiring in the heat, but standing on the summit amid structures I had only read of and never thought I would see in person was a very moving experience and well worth the climb.

My favorite building was never the Parthenon; It was always the temple that belonged to both Poseidon and Athena, though it is said that Athena got the lion’s share of space because she gave the perfect gift to the ancient Athenians: An olive tree that once stood in the angle where the two sanctuaries met.

The olive tree was significant because it symbolized life, light and wealth through its oil and fruit. An olive tree was replanted in the same spot some years ago…I left the Acropolis to head to dinner and then to walk folk dances from all over Greece, but in my pocket were two dried olives and several leaves gathered from under the tree re-planted to commemorate Athena’s perfect gift.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Art, Golf and a Sunset

After a chatty breakfast with Dora we went to the studio of {insert name}, noted painter and sculptor. The light in the studio came mostly from one wall and fell on a forty-year accumulation of canvases, plaster busts and medals, mosaics and stained glass panels.
I loved that the abstract canvases – some very large – all had very harmonious colors but a strong sense of movement as if the swirling fragments might converge into something new if one only looked long enough. All of the artist’s human compositions in either plaster (later to become bronze) or in paint had a warmth I have not seen in portraiture in some time.

My favorite piece, though, was a small composition on paper – again a rapidly but quietly moving abstract – in an incredibly beautiful frame of leaves and cherubs ornately wrought in bronze. The artist rightly commented that the piece combined with its very contrasting frame became a separate work that neither could have achieved alone.

I create works in a variety of materials and it has often worried me that this was not sustainable; this studio and this artist have shown that not only is such variety sustainable, but that it can also help produce better works through interchange of disciplines.

[insert pic of studio, artist, busts, stained glass and piece in bronze frame)

After leaving the studio we were taken to the Athens Golf Club in Glyfada where we leatned that gold was a costly sport to maintain in Greece due to the water requirements involved in maintinaing a course. So far we have only heard of three courses in Greece. We learned to hit balls, strokes for long and short game as well as putting…though golf was never a favorite of mine, our coached made thigns simple and I had a good time.

Instead of a more formal meeting of the younger Rotary club of Athens, we had a lunch meeting at the gold clubhouse chatting sociably with those we had tootled around the course with earlier.

After lunch we bundled into a couple cars for an excursion to the Cape of Sounion (Maria had to return to work, Sevy joined us and I rode with Jimmy).

After sweeping around curves over hills and through valleys we drove up Cape Sounion to explore the ruins of the Temple of Poseidon at the top. It was an incredible fitting site for such a temple so that it’s god could accept his offerings and keep an eye on his watery kingdom at the same time. The site was also one of ancient tradgedy, we were told, when an ancient Greek king threw himself from the cliffs mistakenly thinking his son had gone to battle and been killed when in fact he had conquered and merely forgotten to change the color of his sail as agreed upon before leaving home.

The massive standing columns and seemingly random piles of colossal pieces of marble combined with the sunshine, wind and sparkle of the sea to make one of the most romantic sites of our trip so far.

[Photos of Temple]

On our way up to the temple we had driven past a group of abandoned buildings and I requested a stop on our way to the bay to explore a bit. The church was the most interesting to me because it was unlocked and most of the bits of paper and prayer cards left behind dated from 1969. It almost seemed as if the last prayers were offered and then the church was left to the howl of the wind and the sand swirling restlessly across the floor.

[photos of abandoned village and church]

The day’s activities closed with swimming in the bay below Sounion as the sun set. Had dinner at a lovely Taverne with Dora before crashing for the night.

[sunset at sounion photos)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Walking Glyfada

Waking up at the Glyfada Hotel there was just time for an espresso and a three-block walk to the beach (the color of the seas is this incredible blue-green) before meeting Olga and Kosmas for a walking tour of the shopping district of Glyfada. The pavements we walked on in a very short time had captured my attention (not hard to do): There were sections of white marble (most of the curbstones were also marble), red marble, granite cobble, polished granite interspersed with tile, pebbles and all were tied together with the crosshatched 16” colored and cast pavers.

We stopped for coffee (which is a typical mid-morning in Greece). In passing, Cappuccino Freddo is wonderful and will become a favorite of the team. After meeting our hosting District Governor and after deciding where we were to eat and were waiting for our meals we settled in for some chat on what we would be doing and where we would be going during our stay in Athens.

We had several dishes, but the lamb fricassee with a warm salad of chicory on top. A woman in black carrying a cardboard sign walked up to the café wanting money before shuffling off. Despite very slight translation issues we had an enlightening afternoon before being taken to our host families to rest and settled before heading to dinner at an Aesop-inspired cafe.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Flight to Greece

We boarded a plane at MBS bound fro Chicago after the weighing of bags and much debate over whether everyone had everything he or she should have to be equipped for a country none of us had ever visited.

The layover in Chicago seemed long, but the chance to stretch our legs before the longer portion of our journey would prove precious later and the airport was an enjoyable one to explore.

The Lufthansa flight to Munich was novel for a group that had become used to domestic American flying conditions in post 9/11 United States: We were greeted by copies of international papers to read in flight, hot towels for our faces, lap blankets, cocktails ranging from Dewar's and Capari & soda to beer and meals that were actual meals were all included as a part of our fare.

We settled each in our respective ways to read, journal or watch television (the latter chosen from a wide variety of programs available to us) as the the flight took us into the night and across the Atlantic Ocean to Munich before boarding a connecting flight into our first Greek home - Athens.

Met upon arrival by three of our new Greek Rotarian friends, we were taken to the Glyfada Hotel to rest before dinner and unpack. Our new friends and dinner itself were wonderful, so I will write of the separately as soon as time permits.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

An Inherited Memory of Place

I met an individual a few summers ago (Ralph Wolpart, I think I recall him saying) who owns one of the empty buildings on Potter Street not far from the train station and the details this 80-something recalled from the time he was a grocery delivery boy on Potter Street so clear and detailed:

The distinct hot-wet smell of trains
Almost as if they drew a deep breath far, far away
And only exhaled when they came to rest
(find two people who remember that - I dare you)

People streaming in and out of storefronts
Making purhcases or deliveries
For long trips
Or a homecoming

Sounds of horse-drawn vehicles
On wood and brick pavements

The quiet that fell after the last train of the day

Ralph finished his coffee that day and shambled out leaving on the counter in front of me a gift I could almost-but-not-quite touch: A memory-like impression that the Potter Street district must have been an amazing place once.

Now it is very, very quiet as if the last train of the day somehow led to an indefinate stall that left people trickling out over the decades and now the empty windows of the stores and depot look on nothing and no one. Well, almost.

It is interesting to note that even as the city govornment of Saginaw looks upon this neighborhood as a problem to be dealt with there is a small, but very energetic, group of people who live in the few remaining "big old houses" and the friends of these residents who see the remaining commercial buildings and homes surrounded by a tree-dotted meadowland as a place of opportunity.

That opportunity only exists as long as the neighborhood also continues to do so...
Potter Street at night. Six blocks worth saving...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

[a diverse life]

michigan seemed like a good opportunity
to reinvent myself
but sickness and time alone
and people who only live
on written pages or in hospital beds
taught me it was not enough
to wear a mask
in a place where I could be
not theirs
but me
and that rediscovery and restoration
were more profitable
than reinvention
and that it really made sense
to trade pieces of my life
for pieces of others
because then
there was this crowd of people
who rested gentle fingers
on points of each other’s lives
that interested us for intensely personal reasons
so at the end of days
that left no will to go on
we knew just one thing
with perfect clarity

we could not let
our shareholders