Listening to Patti Smith’s performance, which seemed to me a prayer, at the Nobel awards ceremony, I teared up for the sweetness and strength, the disappointments and successes, the childhood and future of my own darling young ones — both blue and brown-eyed — and for yours also. Amen.
Germantown Channel on the Hudson River at 9:13 this morning
The Ultra Saskatoon, known to her friends as Ultra Bulk, passed by this morning as I was attempting to take a photo of the many fishermen who were beginnning to fill Cheviot Landing. There’s a full parking lot right now, mostly boat trailers, but relatively few fishermen in the park. One boat is coming in as I write.
There’s been a lot of car traffic going up and down the tracks, although only one very big barge. Looking north I see cars parked here and there, and I’m sure there is lots of activity in the other direction also. Hope there are enough fish to go around.
I looked up Ultra Bulk to see where she was from and maybe what she had carried on different voyages, and found her! along with her full name, that she was built in 2012, that she is 656 feet long, she can carry 34778 tons and that she sails under the Panama flag. Someone told me there was a site like this several years ago, but didn’t know the name. I looked in vain and finally gave up. It’s marinetraffic.com.
Ultra Bulk is currently on route from New York City to Albany at a speed of 8.3kn. Her ATD was 11:23 last night and her ETA in Albany is 6:30, sorry, 18:30 this evening. I’ll check to see if she’s on time and if my photo is posted there.
Bard Conservatory Graduate Vocal Arts Program and the Conservatory Orchestra treated us very lucky people at the Fisher Center on March 4th to a glorious evening of talent, beauty, cleverness, and adorableness. An evening to lift one’s spirits. One month later I am still bubbling with broad spectrum happiness, awe for the cast, the crew, the musicians, the set and costume designers, and Nicholas Muni, stage director and production designer. Every time Jennie, the Sealyham terrier, shook her little tail, I got goosebumps and giddy and the next day watching my own silly little stiff-legged, ragamuffin Brino who barks too much, the two became as one. Brino, just like Jennie, believes that there must be more to life than everything.
You must wonder what am I talking about.
I am talking about a night of two extremely different operas: Higglety Pigglety Pop with music by Oliver Knussen and story by Maurice Sendak, and The Magic Flute Redux by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder, sort of. Muni, in the Director’s Note asks us to “embrace the redux on its own terms. . . as a second presentation in the World Mother Goose Theatre”. After her own starring role in Higglety Pigglety Pop, Jennie and her new friends at the Theater perform, attend and comment delightfully on the condensed Flute. Dawn Upshaw, Director of of the Vocal Arts Program, helps us understand the link between the two operas. “They both reflect upon an essential need among all humanity — a yearning for meaning and understanding of things outside our own experience.”
You still might be wondering what am I talking about.
Have you read Higglety Pigglety Pop by Maurice Sendak? If not, I suggest you get a copy and read it once, read it twice, and then read it to every little boy or girl you might know and to grownups you love who still have a spark of childhood in them. Sendak is an award winning children’s book author and illustrator, one of my favorites, and this small square picture book with line drawings has now become one of my favorites too.
Sendak is a master at pictures books and productions “for” children, some of which are “not so much for children as about children – in other words, an attempt from an adult perspective to recapture and explore lost innocence,” if I may borrow from a not so positive review by the English opera critic Rupert Christiansen of a double Sendak production at the Aldeburgh Music Festival in 2012.
Sendak produced an animated Really Rosie for television, featuring the voice of Carole King, he collaborated with others several times staging and filming Where the Wild Things Are, his book Bumble Ardy was an outgrowth of his Sesame Street segment of the same name, and he designed sets for operas and ballets, including The Magic Flute and the Nutcracker. He collaborated on more than one operatic production of Higglety-Pigglety Pop.
The set of Bard’s production was true to Sendak. As we sat waiting for the show to start we viewed the street above, without Cat the Milkman and his truck, who arrived later. I had never seen a LED screen set before and found it fascinating to watch as the movement of the backdrops focused my attention on Plant in her window, or Jennie in the milk truck. It was as if someone were reading the story to me pointing out the characters and actions in the pictures as she read. Wish I could show it to you.
I watched the animated/costumed version of Pop online before going to the theater — eh, so/so: I liked Bard’s production so much more— and reread the book to refresh my memory of the story. The Bard production was in the original English but still the words were often impossible to decipher. The text was streamed, but barely legible, and a bit awkward across the top of the stage. I was glad I did my homework. The book was available at the local library the day before the performance which amazed me actually, because I would have thought other opera goers would have taken it home to read.
It’s a pity that there were no reviews in the press. The cast, musicians and crew were wonderful. Kelly Newberry performed the role of Jennie and stole my heart. The amount of time and energy that went into these two-nights of performance must have been enormous. The credits are copied here from the program so that the participants will go down in history, although just today I found a promotional article which lists the singers. Someone told me that the operas were professionally filmed. Hope so.
Meeting Jennie has brought new life to my relationship with my little Brino and my love of him is mingled with my fascination for that brave little white dog who sang so beautifully. His fur has now reached the shaggy stage and he soon will be ready for his summer puppy cut. The way he is now tho, he would look good on the end of long stick wiping the cobwebs from the corners of the rooms in my house. That sounds like something Jennie would have been game to do before she became a star.
Perhaps you had to be there.
This is the third part of a three part post.
Click for the first — One summer’s reading group: Preface
Click for the second — One summer’s reading group
The memories in part two of One Summer’s Reading Group came back to haunt me about a year ago while reading Letter from Germany — The Last Trial: A Great-grandmother, Auschwitz, and the Arc of Justice by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker. It was very difficult to read, as were the articles researched for this post, and that dreadful feeling of not being able to pull myself away came over me.
Kolbert’s Letter begins with the trial of Oskar Groning, whose assignment in the S.S. was to collect, sort and count the money taken from people sent to Auschwitz. Groning lived freely but discreetly in Germany after the war. In 1985, however, he came forward with details of his work and observations at Auschwitz in an effort to deflate the lies of Holocaust deniers. In 2014 at the age of 93 and was convicted as an accessory to murder in 300,000 cases.
Forty years after the war, Groning did not fear or anticipate arrest. There were many attempts to define crimes against humanity, murder and genocide, and how far down the ladder of responsibility did guilt creep. Kolbert leads us through three stages of trials in which the line between “guilty” and “innocent” was continualy moving.
She quotes a chilling statement of Germany’s first postwar Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer,
‘You don’t toss away dirty water when you don’t have any that’s clean.’
* * * * * * * * * *
In the attic of the home of Kolbert’s grandparents in New York state, were boxes of the papers of her great-grandmother, Franziska Maass.. Kolbert and her mother went through them in 2009 after both grandparents had died. Among them were her great-grandmother’s letters written between March and October 1942 to her son who, like so many others, had moved to the Americas during the war.
‘With great longing I am thinking of you,’ one read, in part. ‘I pray to God that I will see you again.’
‘Beloved Children! I think a lot about you. I am very lonely.’
Franziska’s son had tried with out success to learn what had happened to his mother. Kolbert and her mother were able to put together a sketchy picture of her life from these papers and from information found in the records kept by the Third Reich stored now in the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen. On December 14, 1942
. . . she, along with eight hundred and ten others from Berlin and surrounding towns, was put on a transport train to Auschwitz. On the record of the transport, she was listed as arbeitsfähig, or able to work. She was sixty-two years old.
Several years ago friends of Kolbert who lived in Germany told her of the German artist Gunter Demnig, whose Stolpersteine, “stumbling stones,” are found embedded in the streets of Berlin where victims of the Nazi barbarity lived before they were sent to concentration camps. Kolbert writes:
In contrast to most memorials, which aim to command attention, Stolpersteine are understated—literally underfoot. Each one consists of a block of concrete onto which a plain brass plaque has been affixed. The block, which is about the size of a Rubik’s Cube, is embedded in the sidewalk, or inserted among the cobblestones, so that the plaque’s surface lies flush with the ground. Every plaque is stamped by hand, as a gesture, according to Demnig, of opposition to the mechanized killing of the camps.
. . . The project has been called the ‘largest decentralized memorial in the world.’ Demnig installs most of the stones himself, and the project has more or less taken over his life. Demnig himself has placed most of the more than fifty thousand stones now in the streets of Europe. In Berlin, where there are over six thousand of them, “residents formed groups to find out who had been deported from their neighborhood.”
Kolbert contacted Demnig to place a plaque in memory of her great-grandmother. About a year after she filled out the forms a date was set. She and her parents and a few friends attended the “laying of the stone.”
Kolbert’s Letter holds out a light. It is not a beacon of hope for a more tolerant and peaceful future, or for understanding the horrors of that time so we will do better in the future. It is a small spotlight on a man and his quiet, solemn, dignified memorial to those who suffered and died, including those whose stories still have not been discovered and therefore have no stone. These stones are a path for all who bemoan the senseless loss of loved ones and the unnamed.
* * * * * * * * * *
There is so much more to Kolbert’s Letter that I strongly suggest you click on the link at the beginning of my post and read it for yourself. Some interesting additional material is available at:
This is the second part of a three part post.
Click for the first — One summer’s reading group: Preface
Click for the third — One summer’s reading group: Postscript
Every summer a group of about twenty high school students, mostly Jewish, from Bayonne, Jersey City and Hoboken met every day on the beach at Tenth Avenue in Belmar. One year, 1966?, someone started reading holocaust stories out loud. I took the photo above. That’s not me front and center.
I knew about the Holocaust. I had read Anne Frank and had seen the movie. My father, he’s on the left, and uncles had fought in the war, although none in Europe. Family of friends had numbers on their arms.
Distant cousins would write to us periodically telling us about their lives and asking us for financial support. They had escaped from Hitler — I do not know if they were in the camps or not — but they had made their way to Israel. There were two girls, Tamara and Shulamith, about my sister’s and my age. That is them to the right in Tel Aviv 1954. My mother always got upset when these letters came, and there would be whispered conversations between my mom and dad.
My mother always made me feel as though it could happen again — Jews being rounded up and imprisoned or killed, anytime, anywhere. It is true that one morning we woke up to a swastika drawn with snow on the gate to our backyard. We believed but never were certain that the children who lived on the corner and who attended St. Andrew’s did it. After all, the nuns at St. Andrew’s used to walk their students to the corner after school to make sure they didn’t stop at “the Jew” Lennie’s candy store.
Mom distrusted anyone who was not a member of the tribe. She spoke of Jews not being served in restaurants, not getting jobs. We knew of families who had changed their names. I’d come home from school during the McCarthy era to find her glued to the television set, and many evenings I would hear her talking to my father, who was the token Jew in his department in the Civil Service Commission. She feared he and some of their friends would be called up before the committee. Who knew what to think? I was young.
I was sucked into the Holocaust readings with fascination and horror, and felt we were doing something that our parents — at least mine — would not approve. Even many years after that summer, my imagination was filled with images of blond, blue-eyed men and women with thick accents opening up my stomach to see if the monkey sperm with which they had tried to impregnate me had created a monster. Or they would take away my glasses and since I was minus 16 in one eye and minus 18 in the other I would be useless and they would send me to the showers.
As my life became more my own these nightmares disappeared. My mom relaxed too. She welcomed into the family a “very nice” Protestant son-in-law with parents who, she was surprised but relieved to discover, had similar values and life-style to hers. There she is with my husband’s mom at the our wedding. She lived in senior communities with few Jewish neighbors and fewer if any Jewish staff on which she grew to depend. She sang the Jewish holiday songs and relished the holiday meals and lit the Sabbath candles. She sang Christmas carols and enjoyed the lights on the Christmas trees. I hope her heart softened and she was less afraid.
But now I think mother might have been right, and I was naive.
It would do us all good to spend a summer reading about the Holocaust and the millions killed in genocidal wars in Korea, Rwanda, India, the Ukraine, Algeria, the Congo, and, and, and. We might read about how self-righteous white men in our own country treated the Native Americans, and how they pulled Africans from their homes and made them slaves, and how they now, every day during this tedious primary season, spew hate and bigotry as a mainstay of America’s exceptionalism.
Oh dear, I’m ranting. Forgive me.
Our world is diverse. Let us one day rejoice in these differences and recognize the infinite possibilities they offer. Let us one day work together for the benefit of all mankind and this remarkable, beautiful, rich world we live in.
My mother’s parents, Fanny and Harry, also known as Little and Big GG, bought a house in Belmar, New Jersey when I was three? five? Perhaps I could ask my aunt — just one aunt alive now and living in Wisconsin. It had four bedrooms on the second floor. Grandma & Grandpa’s had a private porch which I loved to sit on.
I remember the day we accompanied them to look at the house — climbing up the porch stairs and walking into the living room with its robust wood pillars and dark brick fireplace. (The photo is from 1983). My parents wouldn’t let me play on the stairs to the second floor during that visit. You could start climbing a few steps either from the entry or from the kitchen. These two small staircases joined at a landing and then turned to go up to the second floor. They were a favorite place for me to play when nobody was paying attention once it became our summer home. A grate in the floor at the top of the staircase so that the heat from the fireplace could hopefully warm the second floor was another object of childhood fantasy.
My mother had two sisters and I was one of eight cousins. We all lived on the same street in Bayonne, and every summer we would go down to the Belmar house. The men — my father and two uncles — divided the attic into three bedrooms and a full bath to accommodate us all as the family grew. I have only a vague remembrance of my grandfather joining in on the work but perhaps I could ask my uncle — just one uncle alive now and living in Wisconsin.
Every June after school let out we would drive through Staten Island to the shore. I remember going in our 1937 Pontiac. Even after the Turnpike and Parkway were built we would often go through Staten Island since we lived at the southern end of Bayonne very close to the bridge. We would travel old Route 440 and pass Dinger Farm. I watched for it every trip and would giggle to myself because that was the word one of my aunts used for that strange thing that my boy cousins had but girls do not.
The picture of the car is from 1949 when the car still belonged to my grandfather. He had a vanity plate. HR were his initials and he lived at 80 West 5th Street.
The moms and the cousins would spend the summer in Belmar. We had two refrigerators in the kitchen — two families would share each and each family had its own kitchen cabinet and pantry shelf. As the families grew we would switch bedrooms. It finally wound up that the older boys and Janet and her parents were on the third floor and my sister and I were on the second. Going up to the third floor to use my favorite shower after a day on the beach was like entering uncharted almost hostile territory. The boys always seemed to be up to some sort of boything. The second floor shower was small and creepy and I never felt comfortable in the outside shower. It’s amazing that it still exists, while the two porches are now gone. It’s the little bump out at the lower left corner of the house to the left. Showers were tough.
The uncles and Grandpa worked in the city and would come down by train on Friday nights. As I got older I was allowed to stay up for their arrival. There would be Entenmann’s crumb coffee cake and coffee. Do you remember the Entenmann’s man coming to your back door to sell cakes and things? In later years Uncle Eddie would make pizza — which was quite foreign to me. It was much later when Vic’s in Bradley Beach became a regular for us for a fun night of pizza out. My father would take a two week vacation to be with us every summer. We’d go fishing at the inlet which is now apartments, play miniature golf, and go to Asbury Park for the rides and salt water taffy.
As we grandchildren grew into our “tween” and teen years, my aunts and their families stopped coming and the summers consisted of just my parents and older sister and my grandparents. I loved these years at the shore. It was the only time I really felt free — no school, a gang of friends who spent every afternoon on the beach and every evening at the 10th Street arcade. My parents let me roam.
One year I had a blue polka dot bikini with a wired top which caused me a lot of ridicule from the boys who knew that it wasn’t me. I would get burnt to a bright red color at the beginning of every year. I had a crush on a Lawrenceville boy who sometime would give me a ride home on his bike. That’s him to the right. At night we played pinball and listened to rock and roll.
My parents eventually bought the house, winterized it, and moved in. I was already away at college and home only for the summers. and moved out on my own immediately after graduation. By that time too many bad feelings kept me from visiting much.
About ten years after my dad died my mom finally sold the house. This was much later than my sister and I knew she couldn’t live there by herself, and she resisted. We moved her to a senior residence in New Hampshire, just a few minutes drive from me.
My boys have few memories of the house, which is my fault for not visiting with them, but we all went down to look and walk the boards a few years before Sandy. I am sure the inside has been modernized — at least I hope so.
Every year as Thanksgiving nears I look for a place to bring the family to celebrate. Nothing is as good as Grandma’s house.
But the house in Belmar and the memories it stirs are an aside to my story.