Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dia de los Muertos, American Style

The smell of marigolds was pervasive. The vendors were almost finished setting up at the Dia de los Muertos Celebration in Oceanside, California, as I rushed to deliver my mixed media piece made from an old guitar to the art gallery. Images of surfing skeletons, skeletons skateboarding, flirting, grinning, bicycling, marrying.. peered out from booths on t-shirts, blankets, buttons, purses, aprons, postcards, match book covers. Then there were the vendors with trinkets like in Tijuana, - maybe Mexican, maybe made in China. And flower vendors. Marigolds everywhere.

A mariachi band started to play. It was 10:00 a.m. and the celebration was officially open. I wandered towards the food. The bakery booth with the special Day of the Dead breads was doing a brisk business. The decorated sugar skulls weren't edible, so I got skulls made of amaranth and honey for my grandsons. Hypnotic drumming of the Aztec Dancers drew me towards the real heart of the celebration.

Past the food, past the vendors pushing their wares, were the altars - the real reason for it all. The marigold smell became heavier, enveloping this sacred space. The local Hispanic community, gathering together to remember loved ones who had passed away, were at the same time sharing this tradition with the rest of us. Teenagers were volunteering, wearing their light blue Dia de los Muertos event staff t-shirts, with its logo graphic on the front. Family groups, babies to elderly, paid hommage to these memorial altars. The mood was reverent but not sad, and overwhelmingly an affirmation of life.

Each altar was unique. One was for a child, less than a year old judging by the photos, toys and size of the little blue plastic shoes.

There was an altar done by the MEChA student group (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan) of a local Community College. A history lesson about the Tlatelolco Massacre of unarmed college students by the Mexico City government in 1968, the banner read "Recordando el Movimiento Estudiantil de Tlatelolco." The students' banner in 1968 read "No Queremos Olimpiadas. Queremos Revolucion." (We don't want Olympic Games. We want revolution.) They were gunned down by their own government. The young woman who explained it to me said, with wide eyes, "they were our age." It was so personal to her. It made the history real.

A tall beautiful older woman with a carved wooden cane struck up a conversation with me at the next altar. We stood next to the simple memorial, with a woman's name and dates, and "grandmother, mother, wife, friend" hand-lettered on a sign. Most surprising to me was seeing this woman's steam iron on the altar, realizing her hand had touched it: a making sacred of something so ordinary, and a glimpse of her life. I commented on this to my new friend. "Each altar is different" she said. She told me how when she was growing up there were no Hispanic teachers who could be role models, how she and other children were punished for speaking Spanish. "And now our kids are teachers;.. my son is a dentist." She recalled meeting Cesar Chavez in the early days, when it was just small gatherings in people's homes.

"And now we have Barak" she said. Our eyes met, both filled with tears.


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Friday, September 19, 2008

Constancy & Change

Every morning I had cut the day's weather map out of the newspaper, carefully saving them in a cigar box. I originally started this habit as part of my mixed-media series "Cherish Each Day," using them as collage material. But it also became a form of morning meditation to notice each pattern and remind myself that each day is unique. No two maps are alike, no matter how similar. Some days I would be rushed, or get careless, glance at it, and not cut it out, telling myself that there would always be more in the future.

A few week ago the newspaper changed its format. It took several days for me to grasp that my supply of these patterns is now finite. I am grateful that I have several hundred, but those are all there are. I'm still trying to learn the lesson...

Friday, July 4, 2008

Gay Marriage in California: Red, White, ....& Blue

Marriage is as American as apple pie, true now in California for same sex couples as well. "If you want to get married, you have to annul your Canadian marriage first, because you can't get married twice" said a gay attorney acquaintance. No way. Our Canadian marriage is our marriage. We would never annul it.

We hope that a majority of Californians will defeat a ballot initiative in November that would overturn gay marriage. People are being told that the same-sex marriages previously performed would remain legal even if the initiative passes, but it still feels uncertain. For ourselves, we just want our Canadian marriage recognized, thgaye same as any other American couple who gets married outside the country and then returns. "Full faith and credit" as they say...

First we registered as Domestic Partners with the City of West Hollywood. Then the California Domestic Partner Registry law was passed. We registered in the first two weeks, our form
romantically notarized by the young clerk at Postal Annex. That was before the careful attorney's analysis in the gay press about the legal liabilities we would be signing up for (e.g. taking on each other's debt.) We stayed registered. Then a few years later the state upgraded the Registry and sent us a new certificate with a fancy gold seal. They dated our partnership from the time of the new certificate, rather than honoring the earlier date. Then later on laws shifted again. Our attorney sent out a letter to all her clients outlining the additional legal liabilities that Registered Domestic Partners would incur if they did not dissolve their partnership by December 31st of that year. We laughed and made no changes.

Our straight friends did not throw us showers and give us gifts until we went to Vancouver to get married. They congratulated us on the 'serious commitment' we were making - as if we wouldn't have done it sooner and closer to home if it had been legally available.

I predict the ballot initiative will be defeated, for two reasons. More young people will turn out to vote this time around. And the gay marriage business is big business. Out-of-state couples from cold-in-winter parts of the country will come to California to get married in the sunshine and honeymoon at fabulous resorts. Think of what it will do for creating jobs in the restaurant, hotel, flower, photography, and tourism industries. Think of the tax revenue it will generate for the state.

Meanwhile, even if California does recognizes our Canadian marriage, this will mean nothing if we ever move to another state. May we see full recognition everywhere in our lifetimes!

August 4th addendum: We got another opinion last night from an attorney friend, who said that Canadian marriages were a gray area - not mentioned in the California Supreme Court ruling. She said that we wouldn't have to get divorced in order to get married again in California, and recommended doing so before November 4th. Reason: if Obama is elected, he has said he would rescind the Defense of Marriage Act. This would mean that if we ever move to another state, a California marriage would have a greater chance of someday being recognized than a Canadian one. It all feels so convoluted and legalistic. We didn't get married to make a political point. We got married for the same reasons anyone does. So - we will take it as one more opportunity to renew our vows.

Posted by MultipleVisions

(My mixed media piece above is called "Cigar Box")

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Convivencia & Optimism

In Madrid, there were posters everywhere for a popular current show: "Anne Frank, the Musical." Anne Frank's face smiled out from every billboard and bus stop shelter. It initially felt absurdly surreal. A musical? After a while it felt like a metaphor for the history of Spain that I was struggling to understand. Yes, extermination happened. But as Adin Steinsaltz, a modern Jewish sage has said, "You know, the definition of a Jewish optimist is the one who sees things as bleak as possible - and still hopes." La Convivencia, "The Coexistence," - the past time when Jews, Muslims, and Catholics not only got along, but experienced a rich and deep cultural interplay, did fall apart. But it also did exist. I would like to hear the sound track of Anne Frank, the Musical...

Friday, May 30, 2008

Dreaming of Convivencia

I didn’t expect the vendors from Nepal, with their beautiful pseudo-Pashmina shawls, to be in the courtyard of the Granada Cathedral on Easter Sunday morning, reminding me that globalization is pervasive on many levels. Nor did I expect to be accosted by a Gypsy woman at the gated side entryway, clearly not dressed like the going to church crowd, offering me a sprig from her pouch full of rosemary, which I accepted. I couldn't understand her language, but I understood the message. She looked me directly in the eyes and grabbed my hands. Her clustered fingers touched the center of my palms with the point they made. We both smiled. It was both a fortune telling and a blessing, and both seemed good.

It was a blessing from a Gypsy woman to a Jewish woman, on Easter Sunday in the courtyard of a Catholic Cathedral. Behind her were vendors with plastic made-in-China souvenirs, Nepalese fabrics, and maybe even some things made in Spain. All as I was about to visit an amazing Moorish palace, The Alhambra. Was this a dream?

The Alhambra, with its mystical architecture, a reflection of the universe, continually opened out levels of consciousness and nourished my soul. Until, that is, when we came to the room where the Edict of Expulsion was signed in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella after they had conquered the area, condemning Jews to expulsion, conversion, or death - and the same fate to Muslims a little later on. The juxtaposition was jarring.

The strange mosaic of Spanish history once again challenged linear understanding. I can’t really begin to put it all together. All I know is that in my dreams I am wide awake. And I am still dreaming of Convivencia. The sprig of rosemary is dried out now, but it is still fragrant...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Looking for Convivencia: Tibet

Passover: a retelling of the journey from slavery to freedom; the leaving of our internal Egypt, the narrow place of our fears, our narrow ways of thinking, - and moving forward into unchartered territory. Jews everywhere are in a frenzy of cleaning, shopping, and cooking, getting ready for the seder. This family home ritual conducted as part of the Passover observance starts tomorrow night.

Arthur Waskow's Shalom Center sent out the following:
"This year, Roger Kamenitz, who wrote The Jew in the Lotus, and developed the Seders for Tibet, (a 'grandchild' of Arthur Waskow's original Freedom Seder) writes

Suggestions for Tibetan additions to seder:

Symbol: an empty picture frame placed beside the seder plate.
When we tell the story of our own slavery in Egypt we pause to
consider the current oppression in Tibet:

Tibetans are forbidden to have photos of the Dalai Lama in Tibet.
The Chinese government confiscates them. The Tibetans took to hanging empty picture frames. The Chinese police confiscated them as well..."

We embrace this addition to this year's seder. Looking for Convivencia does not only apply to Spain!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Looking for Convivencia: I Left My Heart in Cordoba

Timelessness happens in Cordoba. The stones of the small, and simple synagogue were cool to the touch. I could feel their roughness surrounding my back and shoulders as I huddled in a corner. This was not the site of a destroyed synagogue, or one 'built over' by a church. It was really still here. One of the Hebrew verses at the top of the North Wall, a plaque told us, was from Psalm 27:4, "one thing have I asked of God, one goal do I pursue: to dwell in the The Eternal's house throughout my days, to know the bliss of The Sublime, to visit in God's temple." The coarse broad stones held me up as the tears flowed. The Psalm in the synagogue of these Medieval Jews who lived The Convivencia, the people who translated the Greeks into Arabic, and from Arabic into Hebrew, who read Arabic love poems, is the same Psalm we recite today every day in the month leading up to the High Holidays in the Fall. A few feet away the guide was saying something to the rest of the group. It was a distant drone.

I was with my people, connected by this spare and humble building, feeling their prayers still inhabiting the space. Were any of my ancestors among them? Or was it a past life? I know I was here before. It was home.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Looking for Convivencia: The View from Toledo

Light poured through the stained-glass window, pooling on to the stone floor. The Toledo Cathedral was stunning, awesome beyond words. We ended our tour at a small courtyard surrounding what had once been an exit portal. There was a beautifully painted fresco around the archway and surrounding wall, but the content was confusing. It seemed to depict the capture and crucifixion of a young boy. It turned out that the Cathedral's exiting message to the Toledo populace over hundreds of years was the old blood-libel myth that Jews capture and kill young Christian children. And it was so beautifully painted...

La Convivencia, "The Coexistence", has its tensions and contradictions. There was no way to be in Spain during La Semana Santa, Holy Week, without falling under it's spell. Easter here was definitely not about chocolate and bunnies. If I were in India during a major Hindu festival, I would want to learn about it and experience its spirit. We had seen incredible floats depicting the Passion of Christ in Girona on Good Friday, which would be carried in procession on Easter Sunday. We had gone to the Granada Cathedral on Easter Sunday morning hoping to see Granada's floats. And yet, it was the zeal of the Inquisition that expelled my people, or forced them to convert to Catholicism, or burned them alive in auto da fe's. So, it was both like enjoying a Hindu fesival in India as outside observers, and not like it at all. How to reconcile the incredible beauty of the Alhambra with it being the place the Edict of Expulsion was signed in 1492? How to reconcile the fun of the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, with all its wonderful restaurants and shops, learning at the same time that it was a place that people came to watch Jews being burned alive in auto da fe's? And how to reconcile the beauty of Toledo's Cathedral, largely due to it's core of Moorish architecture and it's former life as a Mosque, learning that the Muslims were later also subjected to the same treatment as the Jews? And then the frescoe at its exit portal - essentially fine art used as hate speech?

The weird thing is that I came away in love with Spain, despite all the contradictions and unanswered questions. I understand why people became Conversos rather than leave the warmth and beauty of the land, the people, the climate, the wonderful mix of cultures.

Looking for Convivencia: Santa Maria La Blanca, Toledo

Only a small plaque on the walled entrance indicate that the Church of Santa Maria La Blanca was originally a synagogue in the twelfth century. A visitor wouldn't necessarily be aware of it, except perhaps for some Judaica in the adjoining gift shop. And this one hidden six-pointed star... Off in a corner, high up near the ceiling, added during a renovation, we would never have known it existed, had we not been told.

The Synagogue was considered an example of La Convivencia, "The Coexistence," when it was first built in Toledo in 1180: designed by Moorish architects on Christian soil for use as a Synagogue. The Moorish architecture is very beautiful, uplifting and inspiring. To simply say it became a church in the fifteenth century glosses the truth of the Inquisition.

I am intrigued by the one hidden six-pointed star, added in a later renovation. What is the back story? Was it a Converso workman who snuck it in? (A Converso was a Jew compelled to convert to Catholicism). Was there a Converso overseer who allowed it to slip by? Was it an act of civil disobedience? Why was it allowed to remain? Did La Convivencia go underground ? Did it remain in the hearts of of certain individuals, particularly those who had intermarried over the centuries, whose DNA was more like than unlike each others?

Still looking for Convivencia.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Looking for Convivencia

We got to the Museum of Jewish History in Girona, Spain, fifteen minutes before it closed early for Good Friday. The employees were Catholic, and were being given time off for the holiday. Worst of all, the bathrooms were out of order. It had been a long bus ride through gridlocked holiday traffic .

The previous evening, some of our group had gone to the synagogue in Barcelona to celebrate the Jewish Holiday of Purim. They reported a festive time, enclosed in careful security. The men were instructed to remove their kippah, (skullcap) upon leaving - that is, to remove overt signs of being Jewish. The group was told to disperse quickly afterwards, or go back into the building while waiting for the bus.

Today, back at work, I was telling my office neighbor about the trip. Her face froze in shock. She had never heard that the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, under threat of forced conversion or extermination. Same for the Muslims a little later on. And that Good Friday had in the past been a time for attacks on Jews.

We had signed up with a traveling university group, in search of La Convivencia, "The Coexistence," - a time when Jews, Muslims, and Catholics not only got along, but experienced a rich and deep cultural interplay. We treasured any glimpses both of Convivencia in the past, and hope for the present and future.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Valentine's Day for All of Us

I created the Freedom to Marry Angel in 1996 as a gentle warrior, protective of lovers everywhere. Her shield is the pink triangle and her sword a bouquet of flowers. As a copyrighted logo she was printed on buttons and t-shirts, in which there was little interest at the time. Twelve years later I can see how naive I was in those days! I have great faith, however, in the young people who are transforming our country in so many ways. By the time they are in charge, all of this will be so ho-hum...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

An Historical Footnote

“We don’t have school on Monday, because it’s Martin Luther King Day”, my six year old grandson announced. “Who was Martin Luther King?” I asked, curious what his first grade class was being taught. His eyes grew big. “Don’t you know who Martin Luther King was?” he said incredulously.

I told him that when his grandpa and I were married and his mommy was a baby, we were students at The Martin Luther King School for Social Change. As he gets older he’ll learn the rest.

It was a small school, a dozen or so students, founded by radical Quakers, American Gandhians, on the campus of Crozer Seminary outside of Philadelphia. It was an interesting place to be on April 4, 1968, when Dr. King was assassinated. It turned out that Dr. King was an alumni of Crozer Seminary, having gotten his Masters Degree there in 1951. The King School students, together with the Crozer Caucus of Black Seminarians (another dozen or so people), approached the Crozer administration to ask that Dr. King’s picture be hung in the Board Room. The room had a large rectangular dark wood conference table in the middle. The surrounding walls were hung with portraits of eminent alumni - all white.

Today this seems like such an obvious and certainly minimal request. In those days, it was controversial. They actually said no! It appeared that they were not proud of this alumni, that they did not want to acknowledge him as one of theirs, that he was too much of an agitator, a radical troublemaker. Negotiation and tense confrontation went on for a period of time.

Two years later, King School no longer existed and Crozer Seminary had merged with Colgate Rochester. On the present day website of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School they list an abundance of events for Martin Luther King Day, and talk about the life-changing legacy of the social gospel. Under history, the heading about Crozer’s move to affiliate with Colgate Rochester in 1970 reads “Martin Luther King, Jr’s Alma Mater Moves to Rochester.”

It is perhaps in the footnotes of history that its complexity takes shape. Crozer Seminary did want to be on the cutting edge of social change. That is why they shared their campus with The Martin Luther King School for Social Change in the first place. They appear to be carrying on that mission today, in their present incarnation. The people who made the unfortunate decision in 1968 are no longer around. We may never know the back story.

I hope that as my grandson grows older he will learn that Martin Luther King Day is about more than parades and a day off from school!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

First Beach Walk of the Year

A little girl scratched "2008" in the sand with a stick, soon to be washed away by incoming tide. Couples of all ages strolled hand in hand at the water's edge, watching the sky change. Families posed for their New Year's Day snapshot in front of the spot where the sun was spreading a shaft of gold on the water. Children were everywhere: babies wrapped in blankets, toddlers on shoulders, older ones playing in the sand. There were only a handful of surfers and one lone fisherman. I was among the solitary walkers, since my honey had a cold. It was definitely a holiday crowd.

A foreign tourist, a woman walking south as I was coming back north stopped to greet me. "Where does it end?" she asked. I was startled by her question, given the vastness of the shoreline, but it was a language problem, so the answer was not "the tip of South America". I managed to suggest she walk down to Flat Rock and back, the same walk I had just taken.

I snapped this shot on my way home, of the lagoon flowing under the railroad trestle towards the ocean. A good way to start the New Year, with a fresh supply of sand now on the floor of my freshly washed car.