The Sea Calls Us Home

Posted April 23, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

They were sitting at a picnic table that shouldn’t have been there. The table should have been long gone last fall, collected by the grounds crew at Lighthouse Point.

But the table was still there and had remained there through the fall, the winter, and now the spring, and would remain there throughout the summer.

I find that irritating. The picnic table sits in the very area where I sit and have sat for the past 15 years, under the black cherry tree alongside the path that circles above the bank overlooking the sea.

Actually, the table is to the rear of the black cherry tree and doesn’t really interfere with the exact spot where I sit. Still . . . it’s there, in the back, and by its very presence invites people to come and to sit on its benches.

The problem is, I don’t want people sitting on its benches10 feet behind me. People talk and eat and sometimes play the radio. They make noise. They intrude. They interfere with the stillness of the moment. They crowd out the sound of the waves splashing against the shore.

That’s my spot. I’ve claimed it over the years. I’ve earned it. It’s mine. Keep out !

But when I arrived early this afternoon, there was a couple sitting at the picnic table. A middle-aged couple. A Hispanic couple.

I set up my chair anyway, under the tree, facing south. I didn’t look at them. I didn’t acknowledge them. They were speaking very quietly, just above a whisper. And they had a small radio that was tuned very softly to a music station. Every now and then, the woman would sing very softly with the music. It was very gentle, very sweet. But still . . .

I decided to stay where I was for awhile and see how long the couple would sit there. If it got too bad, I could always leave and try to find another place to sit, although no other place can match the spot under the black cherry tree.

Ten minutes went by, and then suddenly the couple left. They walked in front of me toward the water, but then paused and smiled at me and the man said how beautiful the day was. I smiled back and said yes it is beautiful. He spoke with a heavy Spanish accent. The woman smiled.

“A beautiful day next to the beautiful sea,” I said. The man laughed. “Yes,” he said, “the sea is beautiful.”

“I come here often,” I said. “It is good for my soul. I always feel better when I leave here than when I arrive.”

He nodded, Yes, he knew what I meant.

“It’s like visiting our birthplace,” I said. “We all came from the sea. When I come here, I feel, in a way like I’m coming home, that I’m visiting my mother-the-sea. Hello, Ma-ma.”

They both laughed.

“We come from Grenada,” he said. “It’s good for us to come here. It reminds us of home.”

“I can understand that,” I said. “The sea is both in one place and in many places. Sometimes when I look at the sea, I feel like I’m back on a ship traveling across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. It’s very immediate and very personal.”

“Yes,“ he said. “The sea is very powerful, very personal.”

They smiled again and then headed towards the water.

“Enjoy the beautiful day,” he said.

“And you, too,” I said..

They moved down the bank and across the rocky beach. The tide was low. They walked to the outer reaches of the rocks and sat for awhile, just inches away from the gentle slapping of the waves.

They took each other’s photos with their cell phones. And then they just sat there, right next to the water, and looked out across the bay. They stayed like that for 20 minutes or so and then got up and slowly walked across the rocks along the sea and wended their way slowly along the coast, just inches away from the tide.

It was very touching and strangely intimate. The man and woman were silently connecting with the sea, moving through a kind of emotional wormhole between New Haven and Grenada. They were connecting with their home thousands of miles away through the rhythm of the local tide.

I felt a little embarrassed at having reacted so negatively when I arrived to the presence of this gentle couple. . They were nice people who knew how to react deeply to the sea in front of us. They did not spoil my mood. They illuminated it. It wasn’t their fault that the picnic table was where it shouldn’t be.

I gathered my camera, binoculars and notebook into my backpack and headed toward my car.

As I passed by the picnic table, I silently forgave it for being there. But just for today. Just this once. Just for that couple from Grenada.

When I return next time, I expect to reclaim my irritation.

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Once Again The Serbia-Croatia Death Dance

Posted April 19, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

Croatia and Serbia have hated each other for generations. Even when they were part of one country called Yugoslavia, they found ways to turn their rivalry into bloody, vicious aggression toward one another.

In those days, Yugoslavia was comprised of six republics: Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro. But Croatia and Serbia were the big boys in that neighborhood, and it was their antagonism toward one another that defined the tension boiling beneath the apparent unity of the country.

The Yugoslav president, Josef Broz Tito, who was himself a Croat, held the country together by the force of his charismatic personality and by his often harsh treatment of people who got out of line. He was both an enlightened leader and a harsh dictator. He was also a skillful politician who cleverly loosened Yugoslavia’s political and ideological ties to the Soviet Union.

But a lot of good, honest, innocent people went to prison during Tito’s reign. He was so intent on keeping Yugoslavia together that he did whatever it took to preserve the apparent unity of the country, even though the country was composed of people of all different ideological, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.

When Tito finally died, all hell broke loose and vicious battles took place during the 1990’s among the different republics — the most brutal and bloody taking place between Serbia and Croatia, with Serbia committing the most heinous acts, though Croatia also engaged in murderous ethnic cleansing that resulted in international criminal trials.

My grandmother was born in Croatia — in the city of Osijek, when the area was part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. She left home when she was around 15, went to Vienna, worked in various menial jobs, saved enough money to book passage on a ship to America, arrived in New York by herself, met a man from northern Germany, they married, moved to Connecticut, had five children, one of whom was my mother.

I visited Osijek during my four weeks in Yugoslavia in 1965. So I am not a completely neutral observer of events in former-Yugoslavia and in today’s version of Croatian-Serbian relations. But I try to look at events there with a cool and rational eye.

Things have generally settled down a bit since the wars of the 1990s. Not completely, but a little more rationally. Croatia and Slovenia are members of the European Union and Serbia is trying to gain membership in that association.

But hostility still boils beneath the surface. For instance, earlier this week, a delegation from Croatia — whose capital is Zagreb — traveled to Belgrade, Serbia’s capital — to discuss ways the two countries might expand their cooperation.

The talks didn’t get very far. As soon as the Croatian delegation arrived, a right-wing member of the Serbian parliament shouted insults at them, and then grabbed a Croatian flag, threw it to the ground and then stamped on it.

The Croatian delegation promptly turned around and went back home.

The Serbian jerk who did the shouting and the stamping is leader of the far-right Serbian Radical Party. His name is Vojislav Seselj, and he is a notorious hater and a convicted committer of war crimes.

But now he’s free to take his hatred public again and to unleash his ethnic bile into the public mainstream once more.

There is an element of Serbian-Croatian hostility that is insane. It’s like a continuing blood feud that goes back two hundred years.

It’s a larger, more potent, more dangerous version of the old American Hatfield and McCoy feud that led to both sides killing each other just because . . . they were Hatfields and McCoys.

That’s about how much sense the Croatian-Serbian antagonism makes. Yes, both sides can point to legitimate grievances committed by the other guy. But at some point, you have to say Stop ! Enough already ! And the Croatian delegation did that by traveling to Belgrade.

But when hostility has been in the blood for so many years, reason can get overwhelmed by the lower glands. And the impulse to act stupid again and irrational in the name of ethnic pride can take over.

Or, as in the case of the criminal Seselj, ethnic hatred can lead to vicious insults and the defiling an opponent’s powerful symbol.

So far, no shots have been fired since this outrage. But when the spleen is primarily involved, instead of the brain, no promises of peace can be guaranteed.

It Didn’t Work Out As Planned

Posted April 15, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

He was the kind of man that people pointed to and said that he’s a good person. He did good things, important things. Things that could save people’s lives.

He was a lawyer, but not just a lawyer. He was a public defender. He defended people in court who could not afford a lawyer. They could be good people, bad people, innocent people, guilty people. It didn’t matter. If they had to go to court, and if they didn’t have a lawyer to go with them, then he would be their lawyer.

He did that for 32 years here in New Haven. And for 25 of those years, he was in charge of the city’s Public Defenders Office. He was a big deal. The New Haven Register quotes a fellow lawyer as calling him “a giant.”

But it’s hard work defending people, month after month, year after year. Poor people, disadvantaged people, unpopular people, guilty-as-hell people.

And after 32 years, he decided it was time to stop. He was tired. But more than that, he had more to do in his life. He was only 67 years old. By today’s standards, that’s not so old. He had done good work for a long time, but now he had other good things to do, and he wanted to focus on them.

When he retired this past August, he said , according to the Register, “A close friend of mine got sick out of the blue and passed away within three months. I’m leaving before something catastrophic happens. I have a lot of things I want to do: hiking, kayaking, traveling with my wife, seeing our sons.”

This past weekend he was doing some of that hiking he wanted to do in the Adirondack Mountains in the upper part of New York State.

The Register reports that he was walking along the OK Slip Falls Trail, which begins outside of Indian Lake. The trail is 6.7 miles long and ends near a waterfall.

The New York State Police found his body along that trail.

It was a mere eight months after he had retired “before something catastrophic happens.”

The problem is that catastrophe has a way of acting on its own. It doesn’t attend retirement parties. It doesn’t feel obligated to grant us our wishes. It doesn’t even take us into account.

Catastrophe simply happens. Often out of the blue. In the middle of a forest . . . near a waterfall. Or sometimes in a tower. Or two towers. Or in a village under siege.

And after it finishes its work, catastrophe moves on, leaving only sadness for those left behind and bitterness for those who wonder.

The Thoughts of a Poor Little Boy

Posted April 7, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I’ve just received an emergency news bulletin from the New York Times. The first two paragraphs read as follows:

SÃO PAULO, Brazil; After vowing for months that a conviction on corruption charges would not stand in the way of his bid for a third term as Brazil’s leader, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva surrendered to the police on Saturday evening to begin serving a 12-year sentence.

His imprisonment was an ignominious turn in the remarkable political career of Mr. da Silva, the son of illiterate farmworkers who faced down Brazil’s military dictators as a union leader and helped build a transformational leftist party that governed Brazil for more than 13 years.

It was the phrase, “the son of illiterate farmworkers,” that caught my attention.

I imagined — and I wondered if in his new prison cell de Silva himself will recall sometime during his next 12 years — his past as a poor child of poor illiterate parents.

Imagine that: a small boy in the poor, back country of Brazil, his parents unable to read or write, his schooling haphazard, his prospects humble if not hopeless, his day-to-day life hard and thankless, no books in the house, no library nearby, his friends as poor and barefoot as himself, no money in his pocket, no fancy clothes to wear, no one to teach him what others themselves do not know.

And then life goes on and years pass by, and one day he stands before his country and the world as President of his country.

How can such things happen? How could this poor child, raised by parents who themselves could not read or write, living in the back woods of lost lives — how could this happen? How could Lula achieve such power, such status, such international recognition, such glory?

And now, be so humiliated by his imprisonment?

If it were me, I would think back to my childhood poverty and remember those days when I would be alone and feeling sad and hungry in my tiny home, thinking that perhaps this would be my life until I die.

Sitting on a small stool in the back of my ramshackle house, looking across the fields and up into the hills and thinking that this is my life and feeling bound by all that I do not have, all that I do not know and may never learn, places I most likely will never see, people I will never meet, things I will never have.

And then one day, I had everything and lived like a prince in the presidential palace and I met all the famous people in my country and around the world and I danced with and made love to beautiful women and was cheered as I walked down the street, and ambassadors from around the world sat quietly and listened to what I said in the United Nations, and my words were carried on radio and television and on the internet and up into satellites circling the Earth.

All of that from the little boy in the back country of Brazil, the little boy whose parents could not read him bedtime stories, the hungry little boy who looked at the fields and the hills surrounding his village and wondered if he would ever ride a bus or own a bicycle or ever eat a fancy meal in his country’s capital city.

And now, as ex-president of Brazil, he sits in prison with no fields to look at, no hills to gaze upon, no bicycle to ride, no bus to take, no beautiful women to whisper to him in the middle of the night.

Revisiting Superb TV Drama From Long Ago

Posted April 3, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

The very talented writer and producer Steven Bochco died this past Sunday. The New York Times published a long obituary in today’s print edition. Bochco was only 74. He died of leukemia.

Most of you have never heard of Bochco, I suspect. Not until you came across today’s obituary.

Bochco changed the way TV dramas looked and sounded when they were about cops. And those changes revolutionized police dramas throughout television and have continued to evolve through today’s largely mediocre versions.

But Bochco’s work was great, especially when he worked with fellow-writer-producer David Milch. They created “Hill Street Blues” in the 1980s and my favorite series, “NYPD Blue,” in the 1990s.

His writing was sharp, edgy, fresh, aggressive, personal, sexy, and above all eloquent in a plainly-spoken New York City way.

I loved Bochco’s work. “NYPD Blue” ran for 12 seasons, 1993-2005. I was especially taken by the episodes starring David Caruso, 1993-94. Caruso was magnetic and gave the dialogue a bite and intensity and quiet, suppressed intimacy. He was one of the main characters marked by clashing complexities.

I watched every original episode way back in the ’90s on my 19-inch TV, which only added to the sense of intimacy.

In 2002, Court TV re-ran the series and I taped as much as I could on five, long-playing video cassettes . . . which I still have in my film library.

And although I have a new 43-inch, flat-screen Sony, high-definition TV in my front room, with a separate Bose speaker-box attached, I also have a 25-year-old, 19-inch RCA TV in my back room, given to me by my friend Robert, when he bought his own flat-screen TV. It is not connected to cable.

What the RCA has is a built-in cassette player. And that‘s the machine I used this morning, as I played two “NYPD Blue” episodes from one of my five cassette tapes. The tapes include all 26 episodes starring Caruso.

Sitting there this morning, with the blinds closed and the ancient TV playing the ancient cassette tape, was like floating back in time. I’ve set up Logitech speakers on each side of the TV; so the sound is better than the TV speakers. But the graininess of the cassette copies gives the drama an extra element of authenticity, of creative texture, as if what’s happening was shot with an undercover camera, making the drama more “official,” more true-to-life.

And the sense of revisiting this superb dramatic series with devices used at the time of the original telecast also connects me in a way that feels closer in spirit and tone to the cultural times in which they appeared.

I’m back in the early-1990s, as if having arrived via a time warp, to re-visit an important drama that has fallen into the cracks of cultural amnesia.

I’ve resurrected an old video hieroglyph and am pouring over its long-ago evidence of a time when mass TV made room for complicated grown-ups, and when eloquence and intelligence were not in competition with the short attention spans demanded by Smart Phones or prettied-up by the glaring brightness of blue-ray DVDs.

The Old Strangers Next Door

Posted March 29, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I’m not quite sure what to say about this story. I don’t even know what the whole story is. I just know what I read in this morning’s New Haven Register. And what I read was strange, sad, pathetic, and mysterious.

And yet, at the same time, it might not have been as sad as it looks. Maybe the old people wanted it this way. Maybe they were content to be unknown, to be unvisited, to be unnoticed, to be left alone, to be just the two of them together, without anyone else butting in.

Maybe they just gave up living in the world and felt it wasn’t worth the trouble anymore. The world had become something they didn’t want to be part of. It wasn’t like it used to be, when they were young and just moved into the neighborhood 40 years ago.

They just wanted to spend what time they had left retreating into their home, keeping to themselves, ignoring the neighbors, the town, the country, the continent, the world, outer space.

They had each other. They knew each other. They relied on each other. They had enough to eat. Their house was sturdy. They were warm in the winter. They paid their bills. They had a car for driving around, if they wanted to drive around.

What more did they need that wasn’t complicated? Who did they need, other than each other?

All the same, it was strange. And all the same, the neighbors were no help. If the old couple felt lonely, nobody on their street cared.

The story in this morning’s Register reports that an old couple in the next town was found dead in their house two days ago. They were found by the police who had gone to the house because the old couple hadn’t been seen for weeks.

They’d been dead a long time. They’d lived in that house for 40 years and yet the neighbors didn’t even know their names.

Didn’t know their names.

The next door neighbor has lived next to the couple for 20 years. Twenty years. Didn’t know their names.

The old people were called “quiet” and “not social.”

“They were reclusive,” said the next door neighbor. “If no one heard from them it’s normal.”

Normal.

The couple was rarely seen, said the neighbor, except when the man was outside working on his car.

“They didn’t talk much.”

The only time the neighbor saw them was when the couple drove around the block in their car.

Drove around the block.

In their car.

No one talked to them. No one rang their bell and wished them a Merry Christmas or brought them a bottle of wine.

No one said to this old, reclusive couple, “If you need anything, just give me a call.”

No one said anything. Not until the mail started to pile up. Then the neighbors called the police. And the police came and found two dead old people in the house.

We don’t know the names of the old people, yet. Nor how old they were. Autopsies were performed on both of them, and so maybe we’ll learn what they died of.

The both of them dying together. The mail piling up.

The neighbors going on about their business.

No one really noticing. No one really caring.

All those tweets to write. All those hash tags. All that news to watch.

The Liberation of Donald Trump

Posted March 27, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

Let’s say that the Russians do have incriminating evidence on Donald Trump. Let’s say it has to do with sexual activity he engaged in with someone other than his wife while he was visiting Russia.

At this point, Trump should say, “So what! If you want to release it, Russia, go ahead. It can’t be any worse than Stormy Daniels on ‘60 Minutes’ and her threatened law suit against me.”

And he’d be right. In a way, Stormy Daniels has inoculated Trump against Russian threats. If Russia were to release documented evidence that Trump slept with prostitutes in Moscow, who would care? The publicity surrounding Trump having sex with Stormy Daniels has taken away any shock value or finger-wagging that might have followed Russian secret evidence before Stormy.

Of course, there is a sleazy story going around that Trump hired a couple of prostitutes to pee on the bed that Barack Obama slept in during Obama’s trip to Moscow as president. Trump, so the story goes, wanted to defile the bed that held Obama.

If that were true and the Russia released video of the peeing episode, that would deepen the disgust that many people feel for Trump. But it wouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise.

Nor would it hurt him much politically with his base of Christian conservatives. They have turned out to be the worse religious hypocrites since Jesus attacked the Pharisees. No matter how low Trump behaves — no matter that he had sex with a prostitute while his wife was home nursing their new-born child — Christian conservatives keep looking the other way and saying nothing.

Remember how they harangued Bill Clinton for his oral sex relationship with Monica Lewinsky? They virtually condemned him to Hell. And remember how they attacked Obama for just being Obama?

But when it comes to a true moral bully and religious infidel like Trump, they say, “No one’s perfect” and contribute vast sums of money to his reelection campaign.

As a bunch of hypocrites, they are disgraceful and should never again be taken seriously as moral examples.

And besides, no one is talking about poor Melania Trump. She has been publicly humiliated in ways that surpass Hillary Clinton’s ordeal over Bill. Melania is degraded daily by accounts of Trump’s sexual abuse of females far and wide.

The Trump family is not exactly a role model for “Family Values.” And yet, you don’t hear a peep out of religious conservatives.

But in a strange way, Donald Trump should feel liberated from Russia’s implied secret evidence against him. How much worse can that evidence be than what he’s going through now?

Unless the secret evidence that Russia has is not about sex. Maybe it’s about money and sleazy financial deals involving real estate and money-laundering and the Russian mafia and kickbacks and political manipulations and international double-crosses.

If that’s the case, then Russia really does have Trump by the short hairs. Any involvement with prostitutes would just be the cherry on top.

 

NOTE: Since publishing this essay yesterday, I have read in today’s New Haven Register (March 28) that Donald Trump’s approval ratings have gone up. According to the latest poll by the Associated Press NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, Trump’s overall rating has improved by 7 percent over last month’s numbers. Plus, 47 percent of Americans now approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, and 46 percent approve of his tax policies.

His overall approval rating, however, is just 42 percent.

This poll was conducted before Stormy Daniels’ appearance on ‘60 Minutes.’ It’s anybody’s guess — Americans being what they are — whether Trump’s approval ratings will go up or down following Daniels’ interview.