I continue to be amazed by the human urge to explore and create, and by the depths of empathy, love, and service to others that we often exhibit. No matter how things change in our world, some creations and accomplishments will always be worth a second glance, a closer look.
This blog is my humble thank you to all those who spread joy and laughter, love their neighbors, and strive to make a positive contribution. It is also my daily prayer for those fighting against ignorance and oppression.
My older daughter is a checker for a large supermarket chain. Just a few weeks ago, in early March, she called to vent a little about how stressful and exhausting work had become. Even though this wasn’t a holiday season, she and others had started working ten-hour shifts with only 30-minute lunch breaks. Shoppers seemed tense and weren’t exchanging pleasantries like they used to. There was a run on bottled water and paper towels as people started stocking up on items useful in a crisis.
Since February the media had been brimming with stories of the extreme measures being used to combat the new, highly contagious virus, COVID-19, that was spreading around the world. Millions of people had been quarantined in Wuhan, China, where the virus first appeared, and over three thousand people on a cruise ship were confined for weeks when an outbreak was discovered. The virus showed up in the state of Washington, carried there by a traveler and resulting in the death of several people.
As I did my best to offer sympathy, it finally hit me—Amy and her coworkers were now on the front lines of a growing world crisis. The public was anxious, even though the federal government downplayed the threat. The quarantine of a world city like Milan left everyone shaken. Americans who had seen the pictures of empty store shelves in Italy were preparing for a possible health crisis here.
People felt the danger, I told her, and the normalcy of the grocery market experience, with cashiers and courtesy clerks who remained professional and even cheerful, was reassuring.
My view of Amy and others as heroes only deepened as the week went by. Now there was a serious run on toilet paper and cleaning products. I was thrilled to score two containers of the few remaining anti-bacterial wipes—one for Amy and one for Natalie who has a new baby.
When the National Basketball Association canceled its season on March 11, followed by a postponement of hockey, soccer, and baseball games, panic buying appeared in full force. Shelves were quickly emptied of almost everything—milk, eggs, soup, canned tomatoes, bread, pasta, flour. The Los Angeles Unified School District didn’t hesitate long before closing all campuses, with no plan for alternative education. Flights from Europe to the US were abruptly restricted, causing considerable fear and difficulty for Americans trying to get home. The complete closure of Disneyland removed all doubt about the global threat from Covid-19.
Amy came for dinner one night after a long shift—too tired to shop for food that she needed. The anxiety of the customers was “heightened” she said, their behavior like a “megaphone” for their feelings.
When I repeated my assessment that she and her coworkers, more than ever, were serving as first responders in a crisis, she replied that one person actually said, “Thank you for your service,” and she had to fight back tears. Another checker told me that she received similar expressions of gratitude. Continue reading “First Responders and Unexpected Heroes”→
For me, the most moving experience of my first visit to Dublin was our tour of a site that is considered sacred ground by the Irish. This is the 82,300-seat stadium known as Croke Park, which is owned by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and dedicated to the preservation of traditional Irish games – Hurling and Gaelic Football, and the women’s sports of Camogie and Ladies Gaelic Football.
Irish reverence and esteem for Croke Park are highlighted by the fact that Frank and I were the only foreigners on this tour! Everyone else – parents, grandparents, children – were from somewhere in Ireland. Our tour guide queried us during his introduction, and you could see his satisfaction when he heard, “County Cork,” “County Clare,” “County Kerry,” etc. The treasurer from one of the North Ireland GAA clubs was also part of our tour group.
The history and current influence of the GAA is profound. Established in 1884, the organization was part of the reassertion of Irish culture and language after centuries of English domination. In 1913 the GAA acquired land that would become the headquarters and principal venue for Irish sports. The arena was named for Archbishop Thomas Croke, one of the association’s early supporters, and it played a role in the struggle for independence from England.
The size of Croke Park signifies its importance. This little country, the Republic of Ireland (population 4.9 million), has the third largest stadium in Europe after Barcelona in Spain and Wembly in London!
Frank and I stumbled across this monumental symbol of Irish history and culture on the north side of town when we decided to walk down a different street on our way to the Liffey River. It was a busy street, a thoroughfare for cars, bordering a working/middle class neighborhood. Looming over the two- and three-story brick houses were the steel struts and supports of what we first thought was a soccer stadium.
The sounds of traffic waned as we turned down a side street searching for a front gate and marquee. Clearly, there was no game that day. We crossed a canal and passed a well-used but vacant building that said Croke Park Hotel. Further on were modest row houses whose residents may have been at work. Few people passed us, on foot or by car.
Turning right at the next street we finally found the main gate on the north side of the stadium with signs inviting us to visit the museum and tour the stadium. The short museum film by itself was an eye-opening experience!
Rick Steves devotes two pages to the GAA and Croke Park, but he put the stadium at the bottom (Number 22) of his handy list of things to see in Dublin. Rick Steves is mistaken! Croke Park should be ranked near the top. It reveals the essence of Ireland on so many levels.
The GAA is a daily part of life for many Irish residents, even in the smallest towns, because of the widespread participation by boys and girls, men and women, in traditional Irish sports. The stadium itself is an iconic site in the long struggle for Irish independence.
In 1920, after several years of unrest, the British Black and Tans entered Croke Park during a Gaelic football match and fired indiscriminately into the crowd, killing 13 spectators and one player from Tipperary. The outrage over the Bloody Sunday Massacre influenced Britain’s acceptance of the Irish Free State a year later.
The stadium’s two biggest annual events are amateur competitions – the all-Irish Championships in hurling and Gaelic football. Even at the highest levels, the players all have day jobs! They play for their county, for community pride. After a game both teams, winners and losers, are joined by their families in the clubhouse for a celebratory meal! Are there any high school or college teams who do that here?
My roots are in a small ethnic community back east that doesn’t think twice about putting a new housing development on a vacant field next to a cemetery. Graveyards, like churches and beer gardens, are a part of life there.
Early California cities seemed to think otherwise—that cemeteries were bad for business. In 1900 San Francisco voted to stop burials within city limits. Most bodies that were already interred in the city’s thirty-some cemeteries were removed for relocation. The work was often sloppy, not to mention disrespectful, with broken tombstones and misplaced remains.
In 1877 Los Angeles established a non-denominational cemetery, Evergreen, in the hills far to the east of Downtown, across the LA River. There weren’t many residents at that time in the area we now know as Boyle Heights.
Today, our sprawling megalopolis has grown tight around Evergreen Cemetery. A dense neighborhood of bungalows, apartments, and small businesses surrounds this historic site that continues serving the spiritual needs of today’s families. New interments occur often and families continue to visit and decorate the graves of their departed.
In the center of Evergreen’s 67 acres are the huge markers commissioned by the families of LA’s early Anglo leaders who gave their names to streets and cities (Van Nuys, Lankershim, Temple, Hollenbeck, Bixby). The past is always present when you visit Evergreen.
The early diversity of Los Angeles is also reflected here, even though interments were initially segregated by ethnicity—African Americans, Mexicans, Armenians, Japanese, and whites. Shamefully, the Chinese were only allowed to bury their relatives in the section for the indigent known as Potter’s Field, and unlike others, they had to pay $10 extra. The city was very happy to hear about a new Chinese cemetery established in 1922. Potter’s Field was becoming full. But the city only offered $2 per grave to relocate the remains.
I first visited Evergreen with my friend Yolanda five years ago on a cold winter day. We are among those who like to explore, and we were not deterred by the weather.
I had never realized until this year that my husband and César E. Chávez, union organizer for the farm workers and civil rights activist, share the same day of birth, March 31. California government offices and many school districts close in tribute to César Chávez each year. The astrology sign for this day identifies personal strengths of courage, confidence, determination, and honesty, and adds that the person likes taking a leadership position.
Chávez remains a defining eminence of my youth—an inspiring labor organizer who spotlighted the immoral and dehumanizing working conditions of migrant farm workers.
His vision, non-violent tactics, and personal integrity garnered wide public support and revealed him to be more than just a union leader—he was a symbol of hope for those who believed we could build a more equitable society.
For young people like myself, who learned in school about child labor laws, the New Deal, and civil rights court cases, it was shocking to realize that much of this did not seem to benefit the people harvesting our food.
Chávez, like Martin Luther King, Jr., broadened our conception of civil rights. Is there any meaning to the word “freedom” if people are forced to labor for pennies and sleep in shacks with no plumbing? Are people free when they are deprived of dignity?
Frank and I both observed the boycott of non-union grapes, which grew to international proportions at that time. Even now, every time we drive north on Hwy 99 and pass Delano, I recall the march to Sacramento by Latino and Filipino farm workers in 1966. It took them 25 days, trudging along the side of the highway for more than 300 miles, in their quest for union recognition by the growers. Over 10,000 people were waiting to greet them.
The Mountain Home of the César E. Chávez National Monument
I met my husband in a community whose core is no longer what it once was—a haven for the poor, a second chance for the out-of-sorts, space for the disaffected. It was a fabled community, in the same way as Greenwich Village or Haight-Ashbury, only it sat along the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Elderly men and women found shelter in cheap hotel rooms by the beach and sunned themselves on benches along the boardwalk. Young people came looking for answers, exploring alternatives, finding themselves. It was the antithesis of the high-end homes and glitz that are its hallmark today—Venice, California.
It was serendipity that Frank and I both stumbled into Venice, a year apart, unaware that it was already a mecca for questing youth of our generation. Venice, with its algae-clogged canals, cheap housing, and clean beaches, was a center of counterculture—tie-dyes, candles, long hair, homemade bread. We were both pretty straight, but there was room to be different, and all were welcome.
Originally built in 1905 as a planned resort for the wealthy, Venice had gone to seed long before World War II. By 1970 the neighborhood was being reshaped by the transforming cultural wave of the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the coming of age of the baby boomers.
In one way the community was sort of a hippie heaven—dazzling wide beaches, available dope, and various places to crash at night. But it was also a place of intense political discussion about changing the status quo to end the oppression of women, minorities, and people in third world countries.
Everything was on the table. Were large institutions like B of A working against humanity? What was the best way to fight Jim Crow–the politics of the Black Panthers or the principles of Dr. Martin Luther King? Was it vigilantism if women went out in groups at night, looking for would-be rapists? Did you need a male doctor to take charge of your own gynecological health? Sad to say, the problems that prompted these questions are still with us.
Neither Frank nor I knew any of this about Venice (its politics or its hippiedom) when we moved to the neighborhood in search of affordable housing. As a new graduate student in astronomy at UCLA, Frank had arrived from Boston with his wife. I was single, also enrolled at UCLA, trying to get my life back on track after a failed marriage. (No, I was never the “other woman.”)
I inhabited a converted garage that was connected to a traditional 3-bedroom home built in the 1950’s. My rental was definitely spacious, if a little funky, with eleven-foot ceilings, a kitchen and bathroom created in what once must have been a breeze way, and a long, skinny bedroom added along one side. It looks like someone still inhabits it today. I deeply regret that I have only one Instamatic picture of the place. Continue reading “Co-ops, Communes, and Love in Venice”→
For local film-maker Julian Park, the season for giving is every month of the year, not just December. He doesn’t wrap his presents in shiny paper or bind them with jaunty bows. He tells stories through film. Some are fictional, some are documentaries. You can see them all on the internet for free.
His body of work reflects themes of optimism, kindness, and following one’s passion, and I urge people to watch his films this Christmas season. Not only will the stories lift your spirits, your added “clicks” to the “number of views” are a way of way of saying Thank You to Julian for believing in and celebrating human virtue.
Julian’s self-described high school hobby of making movies has become his passion. He poured a lot of sweat equity into making his earlier films.
“I want to tell meaningful stories,” he says. For this latest one, Invincible Boy (Video), he hired a professional crew and actors, financing it through his day job as a web designer.
He wrote, directed, and edited this 20-minute story about two young boys wanting to make a difference in the world. The young protagonists, Vincent and Barney, played by Kaleb Alexander Robert and Nathan Kim, are perfectly cast.
A rewrite was required after Julian first approached city officials for a permit in his hometown of Downey. They told him that he couldn’t block off the streets.
“My initial ideas were too expansive,” he says. Filming in Downey, where he grew up, was an advantage for the rewrite. “I know it [the city] so well, that at least when I wrote the sequences, I knew where it would take place in my mind.”
He managed to convey a dynamic chase scene even without blocking any streets, and the city refunded most of his deposit when he finished the five-day shoot. Local streets are recognizable for those who live in Downey, and the multinational cast reflects the neighborhood. I even recognized some of the “extras” in the bus scene as my friends and neighbors.
Julian’s mother must be a lovely lady to have raised such a thoughtful, reflective son with empathy for others. But I would think that his generous heart must make her anxious over the risks he takes for some of his films. In 2009, after studying creative writing in college, he left home with a backpack and Handycam, only telling his mother that he was going on a road trip.
“I wanted to find adventure,” he says in the film. “I wanted to see America. I wanted to witness kindness.” The result is a 53-minute personal and compelling documentary about the people he encountered in his travels across the United States, Only Kindness Matters – hitchhiking across the USA (Video)
Documentary in Kenya
In 2010 Julian filmed a 30-minute documentaryStandard 8 (Video) that would make any professional proud (even the likes of Steven Spielberg or Ron Howard). A high school friend, Eddo Kim, had started a non-profit, The Supply, to serve children in African who have little or no access to education. The organization’s particular focus at that time was assisting a public elementary school in the slum of Lenana, Nairobi, Kenya.
At Eddo’s invitation, Julian flew to Nairobi to help publicize this educational effort. He and an associate spent a week filming students and their teachers. The documentary is titled after the exam the students must pass. Continue reading “A Gift From Julian”→
Hats off to the lush production values in many of the new Netflix and Amazon series, such as The Crown, Peeky Blinders, and Marco Polo. I use the Pause button often, pausing in places to study clothes and settings for authenticity. I would bet money that real Mongolian musicians were used for a festival scene in Marco Polo.
Recently I came across another perfect subject for a series based on actual events – the heroic service of American Ambassador Elihu Washburne (and his family) during the siege of Paris by Prussia (1870-1871) followed soon after by the gruesome insurrection of the Paris Commune. Washburne’s exploits during these ten months read like a romance novel. It’s hard to believe the story is not made up
Guided by a personal sense of integrity and service, Washburne was the only diplomat from a major neutral country who chose to remain in the fabled city as it faced starvation, artillery shelling, and roving mobs of insurrectionists. His courage made a difference for thousands of foreign nationals, even those from other countries, caught behind city walls.
Washburne in Paris is an ideal TV series because there is no end to the number of subplots and episodes. There are lovely ladies in distress, people reduced to eating rats, the capture of Emperor Napoleon III, and the escape of his Empress Eugenie to London, escorted only by a famed American dentist and his colleague. Who could ignore this compelling story of bravery and honor in beautiful Paree?
Even more, Washburne is the perfect foil to the gay Parisiennes. He was a straight-arrow known for his direct manner, frugality, hard work, and integrity. He didn’t smoke, drink hard liquor, or gamble – virtues which are not always assets in politics. Even though he spoke French, there were many who thought he was “coarse, uncultivated” – unsuited for the position.
I came across the Washburne story in David McCullough’s book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, about the artists, scientists, and businessmen traveling to Paris after the country had recovered from the French Revolution. Washburne’s adventure is so epic that McCullough gives it two long chapters. Much of the rich detail comes from Washburne’s daily journal. Don’t be afraid to pick up McCullough’s book. It reads like a novel. This is a social history about Paris and its allure.
Washburne’s backstory is like Abraham Lincoln’s, only with a happier ending. He was the third of eleven children, born in 1816 to a struggling farmer in Maine. At the age of twelve he was “hired out” as a farmhand and two years later went to work as a printer’s apprentice. Making use of public libraries, Washburne got what education he could and was admitted to Harvard Law School in 1839. A year later he sought his fortune in the wild west of Illinois and was soon earning enough as a lawyer to send money back home.
He was friends with both Grant and Lincoln and was elected to Congress in 1853 as a Republican opposed to slavery. His stature during the Civil War was such that he was with Grant when Lee surrendered at Appomattox. When Grant was elected President in 1868, he appointed Washburne as ambassador to France in the following year. (Washburne’s family actually spoke French as a second language because his wife Adele had been educated by French nuns in St. Louis.) Continue reading “An American Hero in Paris”→