Baby Boomers '52

Born a third the way into the 18-year Boom

we 1952-ers travel just ahead of the crest of the wave . . .

. . . we're the froth.

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Leaving Salvador Dali's House

It is a long time now since leaving Salvador Dali's home.

Of course. How else would it be? At its most concrete, time is ephemeral; once an instant passes, once a breath passes, then the time of now is gone.

When that instant was,
when that breath was,
that is what time becomes.
Here and now
whatever time was
time is now ago
And there it will stay forever.

But is it gone?

The heads atop Salvador and Gala Dali's home still overlook the Mediterranean Port Lligat, even if the lens that captured this moment is not there.
They are there.
They are not ago.
This photograph is real,
right now.

You can't really help yourself thinking like this after you've been to Salvador Dali's house, the timelessness of it is omnipresent. Rock. Sea. Sun.

Surrealism arrived about the time scientists started adding dimensions to the long held Reality of Three. Come to find out, as the 20th Century rolled along, Time, the absolute yardstick of Life, and thus of Death, was bendable.

Up until then Life was measured in what seemed a one-dimensional way, Time was so one dimensional it wasn't even considered a dimension. Then, Wham!
Not only is Time dimensional, it's such a flexible dimension it can verily double back on itself.

Freud, whom Dali called "my father," found the same thing in the human psyche: Time stretches -- forward, backward, every which where. Memory, conscious and un-, overtakes even the all-powerful present and spills forward into dreams, and obsessions, carving out needs even before desire arises; shaping our destinies.

Dali's best known canvas is about Time and titled The Persistence of Memory.

Perhaps there is no true leaving of Salvador and Gala Dali's house.
It is like the inside of a very bright egg, a stucco cocoon full of open-air windows.
The eccentric couple bought it as a fisherman's hut in 1930 and began shaping it around themselves.

Like the artist and his muse, the house is unusual, its impact sensual and breathtaking.

Although shuffled in, shuffled through, shuffled out the door,
the timelessness of sea and sun and stone remains. Either in memory or planted by Dali whose so named "Paranoid Critical Method" called upon his own "irrational knowledge" to trigger the release of others' -- this was the method to seeing Reality in its multiple Dimensions. Surreal.

The home is as though stucco grew around the light and sheltered the correct womb for Dali's studio, rigged for accommodating even huge canvases; then a few stucco stairs -- this is all white. White, white, white, white -- and it is the right place for the shelf for the stuffed swans and there a small altar space for some shells.

It is right to say Dali's home/studio grew organically -- as if the stucco grew around Dali's outrageous genius made live from the brimming brew of the omnipresent Gala.

Just to convey again: The ceiling, the stairs, the walls are white. They are white, white, white, white, white.

It is the same white hot light inside as out.

Egg atop the summer dining room
Anchors the courtyard.
Sun, sun, sun.
Sea, sea, sea.

Then something else. Georgia O'Keeffe?

Then inside, a grand piano, nestled and defunct within crumbling rock.

Meanwhile, playing on the white, white, white stucco wall is The Magician himself.

It would be easy to dismiss Salvador Dali on so many levels -- as George Orwell tried in 1946 in an essay discussing Dali's promiscuous and distasteful subjects:

He is a symptom of the world's illness. The important thing is not to denounce him as a cad who ought to be horsewhipped, or to defend him as a genius who ought not to be questioned, but to find out why he exhibits that particular set of aberrations.

But by the next decade, as time warped and dreams became potentially more real than what had once been Reality, Dali added complex mathematics and Einstein and DNA theories into the visionary work he produced on canvas and in objects; seeking to provoke in others the "irrational knowledge" that layers our Reality and telescopes our vision into other Dimensions.

Perhaps, to try to answer Mr. Orwell from this more distant vantage, from the future, Dali is trying to warn us of something.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

... the continuing saga of the dinosaurs

... additional episodes posted March 10, 17 and April 6, 2010 of this saga of two dinosaurs - waterman and print reporter .... I went searching for this particular piece from thinking about when watermen were watermen:

When I merely had designs on Jackie Russell, my Cape Cod brother-in-law told me, "Fishermen don't know the difference between a woman and raw liver."

Indeed, women don't reckon for much on the Chesapeake Bay. To hear a waterman tell, they're bad luck aboard a boat and figure prominently in the three worst calamities to befall man: A leaking boat. A smoking stove. A nagging wife.

In self-defense, I'd heard only about the luck and the liver the day I endorsed gender bias for my editor.

He had walked past my desk and said, “If she asks, you have to tell her there are no waterwomen.”

“Waterwomen?” I trailed him across the bluish, threadbare, indoor/outdoor carpeting glued to the cement floor. “Who asks?”

"Mary Z."

The latest publisher. I joined the county’s newspaper of record in 1985. The buying and selling foretelling the end of what was then called legitimate journalism was well underway.

Mary Z had offered her initialized name acknowledging an awkward pronunciation. The newsroom had merely eyeballed one another. We'd never before dealt with last names, initialized or not. Or unless it was to denote by single name some so-christened reporter.

“Only if she asks,” my editor said. He was using his hands by now. They'd fallen naturally on top of an array of scribbled notes which he swept into a pile of privacy. These were the confidentialities he’d guaranteed safely ensconced, responsibly distributed, facts to be investigated. He expected his reporters could read upside down. When he opened his palms he offered a tight shrug. “I told her there were none. Absolutely none. None. Not a single woman working as a waterman on the Chesapeake Bay.”

The newsroom gauges the editor’s anxiety by the tightness of his squint. “There aren’t any, are there?” he asked. You could have blinded him with tooth floss.

“Why does she want to know if there are women watermen?”

“She wants to call them fisherfolk,” he said.

“Fisherfolk?” I squinted.

“Fisherfolk,” he said.

“She wants to call female watermen fisherfolk?”

“She wants to call all watermen fisherfolk.”

“No,” I said. No doubt a nervous giggle escaped. Or an expletive. “Oh, no. She wasn’t serious was she?”

“Yes. She was serious. She was very serious. Yes she was. I told her it was impossible, it was a traditional name of centuries, and she asked if there were any women.” He paused. “I told her there were absolutely no women working on the water. Not one in the entire Chesapeake Bay.” He paused again. "And that I would check with you."

I would never have another date with Jackie Russell if my newspaper called him a fisherfolk.

The editor was silent and we looked at one another with narrowed eyes.

“Jackie Russell would agree with that,” I said.

“Yes. That’s what I told her,” he said.

Everyone in the newsroom heard this. The editor’s office consisted of four partitions, a door and no ceiling. The box sat in the cavernous back stocking space of a cinder block retail shopping strip. No one said a word when I returned to my desk, nor for the months that followed of Mary Z's tenure. But when Mary Z stepped foot for the last time out the glassed front door the whoosh of air hadn't yet reached the far back newsroom when a reporter called out, "She wanted to call watermen fisherfolk!" The newsroom cracked up.

Jackie Russell didn’t think it was funny. We would have seen one another the following Saturday night -- date night -- from whatever day it was my editor had sought gender guidance. Like poking at a loose tooth I naturally told him about saving the paper from fisherfolk. He didn't think it was funny at all.

Back when journalism was rated legitimate or non- we were the keepers of a very non-virtual century of our community's yellowing and crumbling archive of a world almost fully disappeared. We strove to shield the paper from ridicule from its loyal readers – the vanishing natives of St. Mary’s County – although few of them would believe such a thing of us. Many of our vanishing readers still considered “The Enterprise” the bastard paper. Thankfully indignation and outrage spurred them to plunk down increasing amounts of silver twice a week for the privilege of hating us.

We all understood why Jackie Russell wouldn’t think it was funny. Extinction isn’t funny. Coating a tradition as steeped in lore and legend as Chesapeake Bay watermen with something that sounded like a new display at the Small World ride in Disneyworld wasn’t going to translate well.

Back then the newsroom kept a bank of old filing cabinets with two drawers dedicated to the black and white photographs of people who made news. Many of the photos were still attached via rubber cement to stiff layout paper where every sentence and photo was arranged by hand less than five years earlier.

Back there, rifling through the "R" manila envelope, looking for a Raley or Ridgell, Jackie Russell manifested. The photo had been taken that first day I had met him, when I‘d just begun at the radio station, before I’d run thousands of miles away from St. Mary’s County and he'd called me back.

Later I would take the whole envelope back to my desk until finally I left the photo there. I eventually took it home. It was too old a photo by then to be newsworthy. By then Jackie Russell and I shared a home. I didn't write about the fisheries anymore. It’s probably still around here, somewhere. That photo.

When I first wrote down this fisherfolk story, during the years Jackie Russell turned from waterman to educator, I didn’t ask him again about fisherfolk. He can laugh about it now, the insult so far away the humor is more accessible. Still, I told him about the photo.

There was no point saying it was the day we met. Tell him instead the boat is leaking you want a reaction. “It was when you were chairman," I prodded, pushing at that loose tooth.

He thought back to the days he cast judgment upon the fisheries of the Potomac River and the watermen who made their livings from them.

“And we really thought we were doing something,” Jackie Russell said of that day, the day of that photo. He exhaled a heavy sigh before turning his back and asking to be spared any more narrative tonight, asking, instead for the peace of sleep.

“We really thought we were doing something,” he repeats and heaves his great sigh again, without self-consciousness, without awareness of his own melodrama.

“Trying to prevent this day from ever coming,” he says. “Right now.”

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Unbelievable! Watermen Working In Tandem

OK. It happened in the 17th century. Still it couldn't have been easy . . .

. . . when two llaguts (skiffs is a rough English translation) sailed parallel
dragging a purse net between them.

The boats worked the Catalan coast,
explained the exhibit,
as the farmers worked the land; thus
Dragnet Boats were also called Ox Boats.

The season ran September through March with the crews at sea two to three days at a time, according to the description below the model displayed at the Maritime Museum at the Barcelona Port. There could be several daily catches.

Centuries ago the process was criticized for its effect on marine life preservation. The seining would "drag up all kind of fish and other animals without discrimination scraping over the sea bottom."

Also displayed was a Trawler and Lamp Boat. The exhibit said the use of artificial light to fish is "very ancient." The use of torches was recorded as early as the Middle Ages in Catalonia.

A model of a Mediterranean trawler from the Catalonia coast. The lamps on the trailing Lamp Boat are almost more obvious in reflection off the glass case.

The exhibit marvels at the unusualness of a technique employed along the Catalonia shore originated in the New World. "Purse seine netting by trawlers is a fishing technique imported from the American coast" with its first recorded in use around 1825 in Rhode Island.

I admit it. I was proud. That's my Atlantic coast.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


I can't believe I left my press pass at home. One of my cronies -- as my husband refers to my journalistic-ally bent friends -- told me to flaunt my credentials. Pathetic as they are, she reminded me, a press pass is the key to the city.

How many times have I told students, even their high school newspaper's press pass carries weight. Everybody, everybody, EVERYBODY wants to talk about themselves to a professional listener.

And although my hair is still dark and my face somewhat leaner in the laminated photograph, I do have a press pass and -- albeit from a company no longer in business -- IT WOULD HAVE WON ME THE RESPECT OF THE GATEKEEPER OF SALVADOR DALI'S HOUSE.

His house.

But no. I didn't listen. I pulled that ancient old laminated press pass out of my wallet more concerned with the Tel Aviv airport than thinking about Salvador Dali. I took it out of my wallet and I KEPT IT AT HOME! Digging before the gatekeeper I discovered I had I kept my government pass in my wallet. WAS I CRAZY? No one in Tel Aviv asked me a thing about credentials. They just kept asking the origin of my name and if anyone had asked me to deliver a package out of the country. Then they'd asked me again, about 20 seconds later, like maybe it had slipped my mind.

How can I be offended by that. Obviously I am slipping. Turning into a non-journalist -- because who else would leave their press pass at home. So many of us former journalists are slipping -- some becoming flaks, others complete sleaze-bag journalists others sanctimonious. By this I mean, lean toward the sleaze-bag spirit of the old days and even if you have to use your kid's computer software and the laminate-kiosk at the nearest mall: DON'T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT YOUR PRESS PASS. We're talking about Salvador Dali's house.

Oh, and a small flashlight. Press pass or not, likely you're still in that economy hotel room down a hallway without a single electric light bulb. Some things change when you lose your credentials. Some things stay the same.

Old Ladies Can Still Solo -- SOLA -- to Europe

I finally got to Europe. Just in time as it turns out. Much can be lost in translation but I was hugely relieved to make it over in time to disabuse a charming young Frenchman of his line of query involving whether I'd been a wife of Salvador Dali's.

"Uh. No," I said, which are the same words or at least sufficiently similar sounds to apparently mean pretty much the exact same thing in all languages. "No," I said. I might have said it three times. What I thought was, thank god I got over here in time to clear that up. I'd made the right decision after all.

The decision was to solo Europe. I should have gone in the 70s with the rest of the boomers whom I'd always supposed had gone, smoked hash, met the Beatles and returned home to lucrative writing careers with Rolling Stone. But I stayed timidly home. Nor did I go in the 80s when, actually, I really should have gone. That was the decade I spent catching up on so many other things I'd missed in the 70s. The Divorced Years, by any other name. It didn't feel right to go alone. Shouldn't Europe be a honeymoon kind of place, or something? By the 90s, well, by then there were so many reasons not to go and having never been no confidence to bundle up a family of Americans into the unknowns of language, custom and passports.

Suddenly it's a good decade into serious middle age, a daughter spurs me into a ticket across the Atlantic, but then I was alone. And finally I come up with the motivating response: If not now, never.

Just Say Yes, is my new motto. And carry extra underwear. Everything else is exactly like you've always been told: half the clothes and twice the money. Remarkably, at the advanced age of a wife of Salvador Dali, the axiom works perfectly.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Few Minutes Before Midnight

A few minutes before midnight in the Tel Aviv airport, jetlagged already and awaiting another transatlantic flight I found myself confessing, again, the accusation that my generation abandoned the struggle for Justice to become insurance salesmen and grow houseplants. That’s how it would have been said back then, salesmen.

I confess this time to an intrepid young woman who’d asked permission to share a table then left her passport beneath her wallet at its corner as she returned to a kiosk to retrieve a bowl of soup rich with pesto. She had graduated a few months prior from boarding school and launched a “gap year” from the West Bank. In response to my praise of the soup she said life was more primitive where she had stayed. People made their food from scratch, she said. She expected to enroll next year in a conservative Jewish seminary school in New York.

I am meeting my daughter in the airport; she is a few years older than the future seminarian and has also been in Israel. Her time was spent within a multi-national project viewed with suspicion by Israeli officialdom. “My daughter is working for World Peace,” I tell this younger woman with the small ironic smile that provoked wry and slightly condescending smiles from my Baby Boomer peers back in America.

I tell the younger woman how glad I am to see young people getting back to our unfinished work on Justice. I tap my cell phone, worrying my daughter about the approaching boarding time. I mention Stuart Brand to the girl, the visionary scientist who grasped the significance of the first photograph from space of the entire planet which, Brand said, “gave the sense that Earth’s an island…” He coined not merely the phrase but the entire “Whole Earth” concept and led many of its earliest manifestations.

The message to us Children of the Sixties that We Are One wasn’t exactly taken to heart, I confessed.

It is 30 years since my accuser said we abandoned the struggle for Justice once we saw the price of war. He told me this the week John Lennon was shot, 10 years after Kent State where overly armed and undertrained Ohio National Guardsmen shot 13 students to rein-in protests against the Vietnam War. Four were shot dead. After that, he told me, my generation went home to sell insurance and grow houseplants. We didn’t merely capitulate; I inferred from this, we didn’t even stop at collaboration: We turned tail and returned to the lives of petty privilege feeding Injustice.

I wouldn’t need to explain Kent State to these two women; they’d been in Israel where overly armed men and women just their ages roam the streets. It would have been difficult to explain how it appeared back then that only men made war.

They would surely have grasped the quote from that time, “This is a nation at war with itself,” which Wikipedia attributes to a lawyer in the Nixon administration, but which was too broad a sentiment of the time to actually be accorded to only one man.

But as for One Earth – the Whole Earth – could they have grasped the significance of seeing for the first time our entire plant from outside, the recognition that we are not merely All One, it is actually a very tiny place. The first visualization of the mother planet, and she looked alone.

I offer none of these explanations. Instead I say of my accuser, “He lost his daughter and her family in 9-11.”

Why keep sharing this shard of guilt in the first place? And why now consistently endow it with the unrelated but somehow connected accumulated weight of 9-11?

And why in particular burden these fresh-faced women whittling toward World Peace? To assuage my own guilt? Simply because I had spent 13 hours in mind-numbing pettiness trying to move harmlessly and unharmed through Israel for no other purpose than to get home. I had not even been long in Israel. I had spent the weeks touring lovely European seashores and museums. I had bought my daughter a T-shirt of Pablo Picasso’s “Don Quichotte.”

Was that it? Simple but now compounded guilt?

It is time to seek our boarding gates. She has finished her soup and would like a polite way to exit. I am texting my daughter that it is time to board. All of this and a large glass of wine too quickly downed weighs on my jetlagged soul. “I’m nothing but an old hippy,” I tell the young woman. We smile and part.

And that alone of what I’ve told her was a lie. I wasn’t a hippie. In May of 1970 when four died in Ohio I talked a big game but pretty much expected life insurance, house plants, daughters. My friends and I didn’t choose petty luxury over war. We never considered war would – or should – interfere with the accumulation of petty luxuries. Few of us expected Lear jets, for example, but we all expected homes of our own, well, with our husbands and enough food and even ballet and piano lessons for our daughters. More petty bourgeoisie than hippie.

The Vietnam War was ludicrous. Our generation of soldiers weren’t saving anyone's world for Democracy, rescuing unjustly tortured and exterminated peoples. There didn’t even seem a conspiratorial economic reason for Vietnam as in oil in Iraq. Vietnam was our parents' petty bourgeoisie war.

It is only today I think to ask my accuser, what would he have had us do? Even had it been possible for Kent State to morph into a Harper’s Ferry what would we be today? Israel? You can't go to war to end war. It doesn't work. Nor did the peaceful strategies of refusal work when the war was more a generational struggle than a cultural clash. It is harder to bite the hand that feeds you than the one that takes your food away.

But even as I boarded, despite of or because of my tipsy jetlagged state, I still thought I'd handed something off. Something more than my guilt. Something kinder than the worn-out warning to do as I say, not as I do. I hope this young woman and my daughter nose around a bit about Stuart Brand or Kent State, about collective efforts and the incorporation of peace into life, even petty lives. And I also hope my husband watered the plants in my absence. It seems always a good thing to have reminders that in spite of it all, life is flowering around us.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What a Difference a Century Can Make

Welcome to Cadaques, the Solomons Island of Spain.

Once a fishing village, the town has turned to mega-tourism and the marketing and re-marketing of Salvador Dali who lived here until the death of his wife/muse Gala in 1972.

Today there are four fishermen left.
The good news is, many are better looking than in 1917.

A stone piling in 1905 remains but is put to different use in 2010:

Boat building looks remarkably the same in 2010 Piney Point as it did in Cadeques in 1909:

Traps are still repaired by hand as they were in 1910:

And the preparing of fish for market (the women are working with anchovies, I think) remains labor intensive today, although perhaps not so much as in 1910.

Thanks to the Cadaques Museu which allows photography (wow!) in its exhibit of what the town looked like a century ago.
More photos in future posts.