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Sad Days even a week later

Carol Shield’s final book Unless concerned a daughter who sat with a begging bowl at the corner of Bathurst and Bloor. She wore a placard with the word “Goodness”. The daughter appeared to be so overwrought with the state of the world that like an alms-begging monk ,she had retreated from polite society, her own cosy, loving home to the hard pavement, brought down by the numerous calamities of daily life.

I understand that image of the bereft woman so well these passed weeks. The world with Donald Trump and our mini-sized Trump here in Ontario delight in destruction. This past Tuesday morning after Thanksgiving began for us with The Star’s reporting the threat of destroying Bill148 that upholds workers’ rights. For the States, in last few weeks the Kavanaugh debacle that ended in his selection and confirmation to the Supreme Court made me want to weep. His behaviour perhaps uncorroborated in the past by a few select witnesses, still portrayed the man in the present in a toddler’s rage, marked by a level of tantrum, insults, egotistical, self- pitying, beer drinking embarrassment that does not, I believe, align with the coolheaded judgements he will be asked to make as a supreme jurist.

Leaving me aghast was Susan Collins who voted for him, a supposedly independent thinker who occasionally moves against her party.For her to affirm the nomination was treacherous, strange and pitiable as a woman. All who listened to Blasey Ford found her credible, 100% identification of her attacker and her demeanour impossible to criticize, yet now she is cast with all the other survivors of these acts indelibly etched in their souls, their testimonies ignored. And worse yet, society since the Anita Hill investigation, believing themselves more open, more caring, more listening and more supportive of women, have shown that is not the case at all. Perhaps only more two- faced. In fact, we cycle and recycle the same old terrible stories with the same sad terrible results, the victim tossed aside, the perpetrator, like his pussygrabbing boss, boasting false innocence, faces shining in triumph. Small heroes, but heroes in deed were Lisa Murkowski from Alaska and Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota who voted against Kavanaugh, the later who will lose her seat but not her rational ability to see clearly and act appropriately.

And here too, the women one had once believed independent, clearheaded thinkers have sided with our Premier, all ready demonstrating their allegiance to outmoded ideas and the brutish shenanigans that accompany their party head. A colleague of my husband’s suggested Caroline Mulroney is ever too much a daddy’s girl, willing to please her father figure boss,Ford : ironic as her real father disagreed with commandeering the Notwithstanding clause that hangs over our heads for anything or anyone who disagrees with him. And Christine Elliot, another we had believed to be rational, perhaps still in her husband’s shadow, not finding her own legs, more confident to ride the coattails of the head man here. It certainly perplexes in these times when women are supposed to be more empowered, able to knock their heads against glass ceilings. But perhaps still unable or in this political situation unwilling to break through that ceiling. So much for the chatter around Sheryl Sandberg’s “ lean in”, be assertive mantra. Rather, smile sweetly and nod your pretty little heads, girls.

What begins to emerge are two worlds, the division in the States as promoted by Trump, a world where compromise, cooperation, empathy, research and thoughtfulness is tromped upon, and the yahoos prevail. The people who cheer Trump on no matter what he says or does. That the US economy rises must be self-satisfying, yet he takes credit where he deserves none, riding on Obama’s coattails. And one begins to wonder, incredulous that Barack Obama once was even elected and lived in the White House. How did that happen when such a reversal has occurred? I shaking my head at the inconsistencies. And still worse, the blockheads who buoy up the Trump era, agreeing that ‘ fake news’ or the dirty Democrats are responsible for all of society ills and complaints.

I begin to think that some of us do live in a totally different world. Yes, we see the protesters who not only storm the steps in Washington, but hold Jeff Flake’s elevator door, shouting their truth. We read the reports in credible papers such as The New York Times. We watch John Oliver’s weekly and Stephen Colbert’s nightly attacks , laughing at the incredulous, ludicrous behaviours perpetrated on immigrants, dreamers, women, all “the others”, and know these voices that speak out are in deed preaching to the choir because the voters who put these men in office PUT them in office. Even Lady Gaga and Robert Di Niros are mere whisperers among the raucous shouting of the mesmerized.

And what of these blind folk who follow, do not think, the populous who have endorsed with their votes, their shouting rage, their staunch feeling that Trump speaks for them? They recall for me the Peter Brueghel painting of The Blind Leading the Blind, one attached to the other, ready to topple over another, not just blind but unwilling to see. Who are they that they can persist in a notion of the future where climate change, isolationism, and greed will support and improve the lives of their own children? Even some of the supporters must be women or have daughters?

Where do we turn, transfixed , heartbroken by the shape of our society?

When I read Unless so many years ago, I was not particularly impressed, The Stone Diaries and certainly Larry’s Party exerting a stronger impact on my evaluation of Shield’s writing. However in these present times, the symbol, the depiction of the daughter Norah and Norah’s mother, Reta’s helplessness in the scourge of their times persisted and resurrected itself in my head.

Perplexed but understanding of the daughter’s action in Unless, Shields writes,

“Why is Norah acting, or not-acting, as she does? Tom thinks she’s suffering post-traumatic stress, but he… [l]acking answers, and under the influence of Danielle Westerman( therapist), Reta adopts a theory of female exclusion, which she expounds in a series of letters addressed (but not posted) to men guilty of failing to recognise women’s achievements. As Reta sees it, ‘The world is split in two between those who are handed power at birth, at gestation, encoded with a seemingly random chromosome determinate that says yes for ever and ever, and those like Norah, like Danielle Westerman, like my mother, like my mother-in-law, like me, like all of us who fall into the uncoded female otherness in which the power to assert ourselves and claim our lives has been displaced by a compulsion to shut down our bodies and seal our mouths and be as nothing against the fireworks and streaking stars and blinding light of the Big Bang.”

So sad moments. As we treat women, the disenfranchised so we treat ALL people. To be alive in the 21st Century and to be behaving thus is incomprehensible, shameful. So I weep.

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Reposting of The Weight of Ink

I think we often look for Jewish connections and enquire of friends and family about “Jewish geography”: points from which to unravel our identity as people belonging to a particular religion with shared knowledge , ideologies, beliefs, customs and traditions.

A friend of mine remarked that a certain reviewer she knew was always looking for books with Jewish themes. Not surprisingly, that reviewer lectures mainly to bookgroups at synagogues so why wouldn’t her topic revolve around authors whose interests relate to Jews?And yes, I agree it’s important to empathize and stretch, expanding our perspectives beyond one’s own realm, but oftentimes when we peer deeper into ourselves, we begin to understand others better.

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish has been making the rounds, especially as a Jewish book award winner, it has attracted much attention. The story contains two entwined stories, one in 1660; the other in 2000. Documents secreted in a hidden cubbyhole of a house are the rallying point for a story that showcases the lives of two independent women, the main protagonist, orphaned penniless Ester Velasquez from Amsterdam and Helen Watt historian from London. Unlike Ester, Helen is not Jewish, but has had a meaningful relationship with Dror, a Holocaust survivor in Israel.As well, Helen, has lived on a kibitz around the time of the War of Independence. Life in Israel stimulates an interest and an enduring remembrance of a Jewish love. She has a sketch of Masada on her walls and is drawn to research that recalls her passion for the country.

Similar to A. S. Byatt’s construction of a historian’s unearthing important documents in the book, Possession, Helen is the taciturn seeker who initiates the search into Ester the young Sephardic woman, an anomaly for her times. There are many parallels between the women: their questing, intelligent minds, their unfulfilled love lovers, their strong sense of self, and disregard for authority, especially male imposition. Complimenting the story are other Jewish women, not side figures who are poorly written, but memorable women with their own personal ambitions, histories, desires and limitations due to the times into which they were born. For example, stoic Rivka, survivor of Polish pogrums; flirtatious wealthy Mary a confused teenager, abandoned by her father, whose adventures lead her to danger, Ester’s Portuguese mother whose discussions regarding love are perplexing confidences to the developing Ester. All women have deep connections to Judaism: of what is written, allowed and forbidden.

Particularly as the Inquisition has damned Jews in Europe and depending on the particular King who sits on the throne in England , Jewish lives are accepted, ruined or made miserable. In all cases, antisemitism is promoted . In one shocking scene in the novel, in order to save their lives, the “ Jewesses”, Ester, Rivka and Mary, must turn over Mary’s family house and its contents to the Church, rather than be put to death by a mob pelting windows with excrement and stones.

Even the Jewish men in the story are multidimensional from Aaron Levy, American doctoral candidate who works with Helen in the rare manuscripts department, to blinded Rabbi HaCoen Mendes who encourages Ester as his scribe and confesses that she is brightest of two pupils he has ever taught: the other being the excommunicated Spinoza. HaCoen Mendes regrets the role he has played in Ester’s life, accepting guilt on his deathbed that he encouraged her studies, allowing her to be his scribe when her brother could not – particularly in a time when women’s learning was not tolerated.Ester distressed by betraying Mendes’s trust through her dalliance in correspondences , tells herself she would not have changed a thing.

To confound the notion of love and loyalty is gay Alvaro HaLevy whose father signs him up for the life of a sailor and Mary’s lover, Thomas Farrow, ribald actor and disgraced son who refuses responsibility in regards to his deeds. Laced throughout are troubling writings considered heretical , some by the banned Spinoza who equates G-d and nature. For Jews in 1660, to even consider such thoughts, but even worse to put pen to paper to share these speculations, was reason for excommunication, treason and death.

But the protagonist, Ester is fascinated and troubled, pondering ideologies and ontologies while her female contemporaries plan marriages and provocative dresses. So too Helen is a serious scholar whose discovery of Ester as author is a breakthrough advance for feminist history.

In her 1988 book A Poetics of Postmodernism, Linda Hutcheon refers to books like this as “historiographic metafiction.” Such novels display a special awareness of the relationship between history and literature. They combine real events and lives from the past, unconcerned with accuracy. Kadish uses The Plague and the Great Fire of London along with real documented facts and attitudes held by the English towards Jews, even situating Ester and Mary at a play that resembles Sir George Etherege’s The Comical Revenge: or, Love in the Tub ( 1664).Her protagonist Ester is a creation, her relationships fictional, yet Ester is the readers’ gateway that brings insight and awareness into lives lived by Jews at the time, but especially of Jewish women.

Historiographic metafiction is an intrinsically postmodern form, by Hutcheon’s definition, and so it follows that these books have special pertinence to the moment of their writing. Interestingly, The Weight of Ink delves into seventeenth-century Jewish culture in Amsterdam. In Heretics, Leonardo Padura Fuentes also focuses on a Jewish assistant to Rembrandt, forbidden to make representative images by The Ten Commandments.

Both novels investigate the crisis caused by Sabbatai Zevi, the seventeenth-century rabbi who claimed to have fulfilled the role of the Messiah. Both novels also address the herem—or shunning—of Spinoza at the age of 23, as well as the significance of the return of Jews to England.

As Rachel Kadish is a woman, she explores the life of a woman by her own reading of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Here the notion was contemplated: what if Shakespeare had a brillant sister, what would her fate have been( see questions with Rachel Kadish at the conclusion of the novel). Although Woolf speculates that “Judith” Shakespeare would have died young, unable to test her intelligence, Kadish gives us tough minded Ester in a narrative that imagines the possibilities of one young woman- a Jewish woman at that- provided by fate with the tools to drive a personal need for knowledge and enlightenment.

Labelling herself as” unnatural” and an” empty vessel”, Ester is more than a copyist or mere scribe to Rabbi HaCoen Mendes. In a recent interview with JewishBoston, Kadish noted that Ester “speaks the language of philosophy..her mind incandescent.” To engage the thinkers who are likewise ponder questions of existence, Ester uses male pseudonyms, spurring questions and replies on metaphysics and religion with some of the greatest thinkers of the 17th-century, such as Van den Enden, Thomas Hobbes and even, Spinoza.

Criticized for being over written in its 600 pages, The Weight of Ink does fully develop and extend a picture of a world inhospitable to Jews, made more difficult for some Jews themselves through their “crypto- conversion” from the Inquisition, pettiness, exclusionary tactics for self protection and their adherence to unflinching rules and traditions to safeguard remnants of faith that is constantly used against them .Yet in light of repressive and terrible consequences, anti Semitic attitudes that could result in death, the communities in Amsterdam and London endeavour to survive by any means possible. That Benjamin HaLevy and Rabbi HaCoen Mendes soften, display kindness and even provide opportunities to a young woman,Ester, demonstrates the glimmers of hope in the worst of times, for the most beleaguered in society.

In light of the few female names that have survived in the visual and written arts, one wonders how many women actually painted and wrote in attics , at dusk or dawn with forbidden brushes or pens, how many struggled to overcome the edicts of their days, and their birth – and how many allowed their desire to die or whither in fear of punishment or worse.

It is a fascinating story and truth of past lives.

The Weight Of Ink

I think we often look for Jewish connections and enquire of friends and family about “Jewish geography”: points from which to unravel our identity as people belonging to a particular religion with shared knowledge , ideologies, beliefs, customs and traditions.

A friend of mine remarked that a certain reviewer she knew was always looking for books with Jewish themes. Not surprisingly, that reviewer lectures mainly to bookgroups at synagogues so why wouldn’t her topic revolve around authors whose interests relate to Jews?And yes, I agree it’s important to empathize and stretch, expanding our perspectives beyond one’s own realm, but oftentimes when we peer deeper into ourselves, we begin to understand others better.

 

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish has been making the rounds, especially as a Jewish book award winner, it has attracted much attention. The story contains two entwined stories, one in 1660; the other in 2000. Documents secreted in a hidden cubbyhole of a house are the rallying point for a story that showcases the lives of two independent women, the main protagonist, orphaned penniless Ester Velasquez from Amsterdam and Helen Watt historian from London. Unlike Ester, Helen is not Jewish, but has had a meaningful relationship with Dror, a Holocaust survivor in Israel.As well, Helen, has lived on a kibitz around the time of the War of Independence. Life in Israel stimulates an interest and an enduring remembrance of a Jewish love. She has a sketch of Masada on her walls and is drawn to research that recalls her passion for the country.

Similar to A. S. Byatt’s construction of a historian’s unearthing important documents in the book, Possession, Helen is the taciturn seeker who initiates the search into Ester the young Sephardic woman, an anomaly for her times. There are many parallels between the women: their questing, intelligent minds, their unfulfilled love lovers, their strong sense of self, and disregard for authority, especially male imposition. Complimenting the story are other Jewish women, not side figures who are poorly written, but memorable women with their own personal ambitions, histories, desires and limitations due to the times into which they were born. For example, stoic Rivka, survivor of Polish pogrums; flirtatious wealthy Mary a confused teenager, abandoned by her father, whose adventures lead her into danger, Ester’s Portuguese mother whose discussions regarding love are perplexing confidences to the developing Ester. All women have deep connections to Judaism: of what is written, allowed and forbidden.

Particularly as the Inquisition has damned Jews in Europe and depending on the particular King who sits on the throne in England , Jewish lives are accepted, ruined or made miserable. In all cases, antisemitism is promoted . In one shocking scene in the novel, in order to save their lives, the “ Jewesses”, Ester, Rivka and Mary, must turn over Mary’s family house and its contents to the Church, rather than be put to death by a mob pelting windows with excrement and stones.

Even the Jewish men in the story are multidimensional from Aaron Levy, American doctoral candidate who works with Helen in the rare manuscripts department, to blinded Rabbi HaCoen Mendes who encourages Ester as his scribe and confesses that she is brightest of two pupils he has ever taught: the other being the excommunicated Spinoza. HaCoen Mendes regrets the role he has played in Ester’s life, accepting guilt on his deathbed that he encouraged her studies, allowing her to be his scribe when her brother could not – particularly in a time when women’s learning was not tolerated.Ester distressed by betraying Mendes’s trust through her dalliance in correspondences , tells herself she would not have changed a thing.

To confound the notion of love and loyalty is gay Alvaro HaLevy whose father signs him up for the life of a sailor and Mary’s lover, Thomas Farrow, ribald actor and disgraced son who refuses responsibility in regards to his deeds. Laced throughout are troubling writings considered heretical , some by the banned Spinoza who equates G-d and nature. For Jews in 1660, to even consider such thoughts, but even worse to put pen to paper to share these speculations, was reason for excommunication, treason and death.

But the protagonist, Ester is fascinated and troubled, pondering ideologies and ontologies while her female contemporaries plan marriages and provocative dresses. So too Helen is a serious scholar whose discovery of Ester as author is a breakthrough advance for feminist history.

In her 1988 book A Poetics of Postmodernism, Linda Hutcheon refers to books that present verifiable events, locations and situations as “historiographic metafiction.” Such novels display a special awareness of the relationship between history and literature. They combine real events and lives from the past, unconcerned with accuracy. I think we often look for Jewish connections and enquire of friends and family about “Jewish geography”: points from which to unravel our identity as people belonging to a particular religion with shared knowledge , ideologies, beliefs, customs and traditions.

A friend of mine remarked that a certain reviewer she knew was always looking for books with Jewish themes. Not surprisingly, that reviewer lectures mainly to bookgroups at synagogues so why wouldn’t her topic revolve around authors whose interests relate to Jews?And yes, I agree it’s important to empathize and stretch, expanding our perspectives beyond one’s own realm, but oftentimes when we peer deeper into ourselves, we begin to understand others better.

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish has been making the rounds, especially as a Jewish book award winner, it has attracted much attention. The story contains two entwined stories, one in 1660; the other in 2000. Documents secreted in a hidden cubbyhole of a house are the rallying point for a story that showcases the lives of two independent women, the main protagonist, orphaned penniless Ester Velasquez from Amsterdam and Helen Watt historian from London. Unlike Ester, Helen is not Jewish, but has had a meaningful relationship with Dror, a Holocaust survivor in Israel.As

well, Helen, has lived on a kibitz around the time of the War of Independence. Life in Israel stimulates an interest and an enduring remembrance of a Jewish love. She has a sketch of Masada on her walls and is drawn to research that recalls her passion for the country.

Similar to A. S. Byatt’s construction of a historian’s unearthing important documents in the book, Possession, Helen is the taciturn seeker who initiates the search into Ester the young Sephardic woman, an anomaly for her times. There are many parallels between the women: their questing, intelligent minds, their unfulfilled love lovers, their strong sense of self, and disregard for authority, especially male imposition. Complimenting the story are other Jewish women, not side figures who are poorly written, but memorable women with their own personal ambitions, histories, desires and limitations due to the times into which they were born. For example, stoic Rivka, survivor of Polish pogrums; flirtatious wealthy Mary a confused teenager, abandoned by her father, whose adventures lead her to danger, Ester’s Portuguese mother whose discussions regarding love are perplexing confidences to the developing Ester. All women have deep connections to Judaism: of what is written, allowed and forbidden.

Particularly as the Inquisition has damned Jews in Europe and depending on the particular King who sits on the throne in England , Jewish lives are accepted, ruined or made miserable. In all cases, antisemitism is promoted . In one shocking scene in the novel, in order to save their lives, the “ Jewesses”, Ester, Rivka and Mary, must turn over Mary’s family house and its contents to the Church, rather than be put to death by a mob pelting windows with excrement and stones.

Even the Jewish men in the story are multidimensional from Aaron Levy, American doctoral candidate who works with Helen in the rare manuscripts department, to blinded Rabbi HaCoen Mendes who encourages Ester as his scribe and confesses that she is brightest of two pupils he has ever taught: the other being the excommunicated Spinoza. HaCoen Mendes regrets the role he has played in Ester’s life, accepting guilt on his deathbed that he encouraged her studies, allowing her to be his scribe when her brother could not – particularly in a time when women’s learning was not tolerated.Ester distressed by betraying Mendes’s trust through her dalliance in correspondences , tells herself she would not have changed a thing.

To confound the notion of love and loyalty is gay Alvaro HaLevy whose father signs him up for the life of a sailor and Mary’s lover, Thomas Farrow, ribald actor and disgraced son who refuses responsibility in regards to his deeds. Laced throughout are troubling writings considered heretical , some by the banned Spinoza who equates G-d and nature. For Jews in 1660, to even consider such thoughts, but even worse to put pen to paper to share these speculations, was reason for excommunication, treason and death.

But the protagonist, Ester is fascinated and troubled, pondering ideologies and ontologies while her female contemporaries plan marriages and provocative dresses. So too Helen is a serious scholar whose discovery of Ester as author is a breakthrough advance for feminist history.

In her 1988 book A Poetics of Postmodernism, Linda Hutcheon refers to books like this as “historiographic metafiction.” Such novels display a special awareness of the relationship between history and literature. They combine real events and lives from the past, unconcerned with verisimilitude . Kadish uses The Plague and the Great Fire of London along with real documented facts and attitudes held by the English towards Jews, even situating Ester and Mary at a play that resembles Sir George Etherege’s The Comical Revenge: or, Love in the Tub ( 1664).Her protagonist Ester is a creation, her relationships fictional, yet Ester is the readers’ gateway that brings insight and awareness into lives lived by Jews at the time, but especially of Jewish women.

Historiographic metafiction is an intrinsically postmodern form, by Hutcheon’s definition, and so it follows that these books have special pertinence to the moment of their writing. Interestingly, The Weight of Ink delves into seventeenth-century Jewish culture in Amsterdam. In Heretics, Leonardo Padura Fuentes also focuses on a Jewish assistant to Rembrandt, forbidden to make representative images by The Ten Commandments.

Both novels investigate the crisis caused by Sabbatai Zevi, the seventeenth-century rabbi who claimed to have fulfilled the role of the Messiah. Both novels also address the herem—or shunning—of Spinoza at the age of 23, as well as the significance of the return of Jews to England.

As Rachel Kadish is a woman, her dwelling on the life of a woman by her own reading of Virginia Wolf’s A I think we often look for Jewish connections and enquire of friends and family about “Jewish geography”: points from which to unravel our identity as people belonging to a particular religion with shared knowledge , ideologies, beliefs, customs and traditions.

A friend of mine remarked that a certain reviewer she knew was always looking for books with Jewish themes. Not surprisingly, that reviewer lectures mainly to bookgroups at synagogues so why wouldn’t her topic revolve around authors whose interests relate to Jews?And yes, I agree it’s important to empathize and stretch, expanding our perspectives beyond one’s own realm, but oftentimes when we peer deeper into ourselves, we begin to understand others better.

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish has been making the rounds, especially as a Jewish book award winner, it has attracted much attention. The story contains two entwined stories, one in 1660; the other in 2000. Documents secreted in a hidden cubbyhole of a house are the rallying point for a story that showcases the lives of two independent women, the main protagonist, orphaned penniless Ester Velasquez from Amsterdam and Helen Watt historian from London. Unlike Ester, Helen is not Jewish, but has had a meaningful relationship with Dror, a Holocaust survivor in Israel.As

well, Helen, has lived on a kibitz around the time of the War of Independence. Life in Israel stimulates an interest and an enduring remembrance of a Jewish love. She has a sketch of Masada on her walls and is drawn to research that recalls her passion for the country.

Similar to A. S. Byatt’s construction of a historian’s unearthing important documents in the book, Possession, Helen is the taciturn seeker who initiates the search into Ester the young Sephardic woman, an anomaly for her times. There are many parallels between the women: their questing, intelligent minds, their unfulfilled love lovers, their strong sense of self, and disregard for authority, especially male imposition. Complimenting the story are other Jewish women, not side figures who are poorly written, but memorable women with their own personal ambitions, histories, desires and limitations due to the times into which they were born. For example, stoic Rivka, survivor of Polish pogrums; flirtatious wealthy Mary a confused teenager, abandoned by her father, whose adventures lead her to danger, Ester’s Portuguese mother whose discussions regarding love are perplexing confidences to the developing Ester. All women have deep connections to Judaism: of what is written, allowed and forbidden.

Particularly as the Inquisition has damned Jews in Europe and depending on the particular King who sits on the throne in England , Jewish lives are accepted, ruined or made miserable. In all cases, antisemitism is promoted . In one shocking scene in the novel, in order to save their lives, the “ Jewesses”, Ester, Rivka and Mary, must turn over Mary’s family house and its contents to the Church, rather than be put to death by a mob pelting windows with excrement and stones.

Even the Jewish men in the story are multidimensional from Aaron Levy, American doctoral candidate who works with Helen in the rare manuscripts department, to blinded Rabbi HaCoen Mendes who encourages Ester as his scribe and confesses that she is brightest of two pupils he has ever taught: the other being the excommunicated Spinoza. HaCoen Mendes regrets the role he has played in Ester’s life, accepting guilt on his deathbed that he encouraged her studies, allowing her to be his scribe when her brother could not – particularly in a time when women’s learning was not tolerated.Ester distressed by betraying Mendes’s trust through her dalliance in correspondences , tells herself she would not have changed a thing.

To confound the notion of love and loyalty is gay Alvaro HaLevy whose father signs him up for the life of a sailor and Mary’s lover, Thomas Farrow, ribald actor and disgraced son who refuses responsibility in regards to his deeds. Laced throughout are troubling writings considered heretical , some by the banned Spinoza who equates G-d and nature. For Jews in 1660, to even consider such thoughts, but even worse to put pen to paper to share these speculations, was reason for excommunication, treason and death.

But the protagonist, Ester is fascinated and troubled, pondering ideologies and ontologies while her female contemporaries plan marriages and provocative dresses. So too Helen is a serious scholar whose discovery of Ester as author is a breakthrough advance for feminist history.

In her 1988 book A Poetics of Postmodernism, Linda Hutcheon refers to books like this as “historiographic metafiction.” Such novels display a special awareness of the relationship between history and literature. They combine real events and lives from the past, unconcerned with accuracy. Kadish uses The Plague and the Great Fire of London along with real documented facts and attitudes held by the English towards Jews, even situating Ester and Mary at a play that resembles Sir George Etherege’s The Comical Revenge: or, Love in the Tub ( 1664).Her protagonist Ester is a creation, her relationships fictional, yet Ester is the readers’ gateway that brings insight and awareness into lives lived by Jews at the time, but especially of Jewish women.

Historiographic metafiction is an intrinsically postmodern form, by Hutcheon’s definition, and so it follows that these books have special pertinence to the moment of their writing. Interestingly, The Weight of Ink delves into seventeenth-century Jewish culture in Amsterdam. In Heretics, Leonardo Padura Fuentes also focuses on a Jewish assistant to Rembrandt, forbidden to make representative images by The Ten Commandments.

Both novels investigate the crisis caused by Sabbatai Zevi, the seventeenth-century rabbi who claimed to have fulfilled the role of the Messiah. Both novels also address the herem—or shunning—of Spinoza at the age of 23, as well as the significance of the return of Jews to England.

As Rachel Kadish is a woman, her dwelling on the life of a woman by her own reading of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own underlines her novel.Here the notion was contemplated: what if Shakespeare had a brillant sister, what would her fate have been( see questions with Rachel Kadish at the conclusion of the novel). Although Woolf speculates that “Judith” Shakespeare would have died young, unable to test her intelligence, Kadish gives us tough minded Ester in a narrative that imagines the possibilities of one young woman- a Jewish woman at that- provided by fate with the tools to drive a personal need for knowledge and enlightenment.

Labelling herself as” unnatural” and an” empty vessel”, Ester is more than a copyist or mere scribe to Rabbi HaCoen Mendes. In a recent interview with JewishBoston, Kadish noted that Ester “speaks the language of philosophy..her mind incandescent.” To engage the thinkers who are likewise ponder questions of existence, Ester uses male pseudonyms, spurring questions and replies on metaphysics and religion with some of the greatest thinkers of the 17th-century, such as Van den Enden, Thomas Hobbes and even, Spinoza.

Criticized for being over written in its 600 pages, The Weight of Ink does fully develop and extend a picture of a world inhospitable to Jews, made more difficult for some Jews themselves through their “crypto- conversion” from the Inquisition, pettiness, exclusionary tactics for self protection and their adherence to unflinching rules and traditions to safeguard remnants of faith that is constantly used against them .Yet in light of repressive and terrible consequences, anti Semitic attitudes that could result in death, the communities in Amsterdam and London endeavour to survive by any means possible. That Benjamin HaLevy and Rabbi HaCoen Mendes soften, display kindness and even provide opportunities to a young woman,Ester, demonstrates the glimmers of hope in the worst of times, for the most beleaguered in society.

In light of the few female names that have survived in the visual and written arts, one wonders how many women actually painted and wrote in attics , at dusk or dawn with forbidden brushes or pens, how many struggled to overcome the edicts of their days, and their birth – and how many allowed their desire to die or whither in fear of punishment or worse.

It is a fascinating story and truth of past lives.

Fasts or Not

Last night when Thandie Newton won an Emmy for her performance in Westworld, she said she wanted to thank G-d even though she did not believe in Him. And so we, like the radiant Thandie, want it both ways: believing and non- believing, hedging our bets – just in case, there is an afterlife, that there exists a power in the universe, a first principle, one that might seek us out or One we might fear could wreck havoc on us.

In our darkest times, we search for meaning, attempting to make sense of injustice, of evil: and we tend to come up with no reasonable answers: platitudes that we cannot understand, the knowledge is “ beyond” our limited comprehension, but no one, I assert, can accept the suffering of little children… In the best of times, we thank G-d for lives that shine, for the gifts we ponder we deserve or do not deserve. We like to think we have been blessed, that the records of our comings and goings have yielded our good fortune, and like the offspring of our proud mommies and daddies, we are being rewarded for our actions. On a walk last week, my grandson spotted tiny aphids all working in concert, tiny programmed insects, dancing to the dictates of nature. Reading The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish, through her 1660 heroine, I observe Ester, who explores Spinoza’s “heretical ” theories that G-d is the impetus, the spark that illuminates all of us and Nature, not responsible for the good or bad,but that underlying force that motivates. Studies show that people with religious beliefs do in deed do better in illness as their strength to endure is fortified by their beliefs.

During these days of awe, our High Holidays, Jews are supposed to behave better, atone, ask for forgiveness, demonstrate their potential for positive behaviour. And then tomorrow, Yom Kippur, we fast, symbolically draining our bodies of the bad, purifying our souls. We wish one another “ a good fast.” My parents who were perhaps most exemplary good and moral people you could ever encounter did not fast. My mother prone to migraines, as I am, was all ready so lean she did not want to lose an ounce. My father, I may recall, perhaps fasted to noon, having disparaged religion when polio took his legs. Yet they still counted themselves as Jews, my mother particularly, possessing a mystical belief in a Creator. Bound up, yet having loosened the holds religion places and expects of its followers.

In synagogue Elyse Goldstein, rabbi at City Shul provoked her congregants to think about what it means to be Jewish, providing all the arguments the Millennials sprout regarding Anti-Semitism, the holocaust, nostalgia, doing good deeds, notions of religion, fidelity to Israel. etc. She explained that Israel is such a contentious topic, that even she, rabbi of a Reform pulpit, hasn’t lectured on it for many many years. She challenged us to consider, What does the “am” signify in “I am Jewish” for each congregant. She cited a study in New York that enquired of people what religion they belonged to, the surprising response of several claimed Judaism as their own in spite of the fact they were not born or converted to Judaism.

I’m finding that certain memories have been hammered in my head, the holiday dinners at my grandparents and later at my parents’ home , yet as I attempt to ferret out the break- fast dinners, I come up empty. I do recall my parents would drive north, depart the city for Mackinaw Island or Agawa Canyon, taking in its autumn beauty, but I am unclear exactly when these drives occurred, and did they arrive back home for my mother to put dinner on our table, or did they stop for a grilled cheese sandwich at a diner, for they did follow kosher dictums on food.

Except, we as children, Wendy and I, were allowed bacon because our Jewish paediatrician extolled the virtues of it, years before the tasty meat was discovered to harbour dangerous carcinogens. My father, guffawed and did not accept that medical opinion. To weeks before she passed away, my mother’s favourite lunch was a bacon and tomato sandwich toasted.

From my youth, I do recall attempts at fasting and one particular Yom Kippur when a friend and I succumbed to bags of potato chips in the early afternoon, we received the scorn of her neighbours, the Fishbeins, who discovered us chomping, giggling and our adolescent mouths covered in crispy crumbs. But I hold no memories of a formal family get together in which we “ broke the fast”.

For years, fasts have reached a vogue position from the Atkinson to the Mediterranean to the present day Keto in which some uphold that if you starve yourself of carbs, your body will find them in your body and devour them, rendering you slimmer.

Having fasted yesterday, I do wonder at the benefits, for I received my persistent headache that even prevented my sleeping. My Pilates instructor informing me that our Yom Kippur fast does not help the body for the right way is a three day cleanse wherein one gradually reduces foods and sugars, and then day by day reintroduces them to the body. So our fast may be symbolic, but I have yet to attend a Yom Kippur service where someone, either man or woman, usually “older” has not passed out. So the ritual does not make a lot of sense except if the comatose person is able to connect directly with G-d.

Rather, reciting prayers together, revisiting those departed in a liturgy, retiring from the demands of daily life and the cell phone, dreaming of a new and improved year are worthy objectives. So cynical and as unknowing as I am, I cannot complain about a day at shul, especially with a rabbi who makes me think, ponder and consider .And even a symbolic fast isn’t so bad, but more than just once a year.

Big things, little men( and women)

Yesterday I asked my grandson what his homework was and he replied, “ democracy.”

With everything going on in the world, I wondered if civics class is part of the grade 5 curriculum or was his teacher following the papers, and like the rest of us, jaw dropped at the bullies in the world who use the word democracy but truly mean their own brand of personal democracy.

With Premier Ford overturning Justice Balobaba’s ruling that attempted to stop the reduction of 47 municipalities to 25, people like angry children screamed,” You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game. It’s not fair.” And so our Premier asserted, “Oh yes I can”, and he did, ignoring and trampling on our legal system by calling out the “ not withstanding clause “ from our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Much like the Republicans in the States who give lip service to their president, our government demonstrates no backbone, knowing that unless they support the direction of their leader, they will suffer personal loss of their positions. In deed, some pundits say Ford’s decision to decrease 47 to 25 is a move based on petty grievances and previous lack of support at council.How incredibly disillusioning: that rather than stand up and assert what is right, greedy souls pander to their party leader: for personal gain . A panoply of articles from Marcus Gee and Martin Regg Cohn to private citizens on editorial pages in our national papers and even The New York Times are discussing our constitutional crisis. Writes Stephen Marche in nytimes.com,

And from Italy to the Philippines to Canada, this cannibalizing populism is swallowing traditional Conservatism whole. Mr. Ford snuck through to the leadership on a voting system that ranked ballots. He won neither the popular vote nor the greatest number of constituencies. But the Progressive Conservative machine is behind him already. It operates on inherited loyalties, antipathy against scandal-plagued opponents, time-for-a-change sentiments and basic self-interest.

Others rightfully are attacking Caroline Mulroney, Ford’s attorney general, for her gutless consent, even her father acknowledging the travesty of Ford’s actions that undermines our Charter. Can anyone who believes in rights and freedoms, the breadth and wisdom of our Charter, honestly believe that a premier’s petulant wishes should commandeer the Illustrious notions that underpin a free democracy. Instrumental in the development of the Charter’s “ not withstanding clause”, former Prime Minister of all of Canada Jean Chrétien, Premier Roy Romano’s, 12 th Premier of Saskatchewan and jurist Roy McMurtry declared that Ford is violating the spirit of our Charter in using the clause because its intent resides in exceptional situations, “ only as a last resort and careful consideration.” These contributors assert, “ We condemn his( Ford’s) actions and call on those in his cabinet and caucus to stand up to him.” Sadly, they will not. I think of Mickey Mouse swatting flies with a hammer. And I think how history will judge these spineless ones, their silence, their tacit approval of wrong, for self- serving benefits.

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Ford says he embodies democracy in spite of an election ballot of only 58% of the population. And some suggest, the people in the burbs who elected him really don’t care about these big issues , happy that big daddy is loud, boisterous and returns us to the era of Father Knows Best. But in these worst of times, especially as we shriek at Trump’s behaviour in overriding justice to our south, we should be holding our democracy closer, ensuring our little men don’t personally rewrite through their own perspective what pertains to our overarching, hard won freedoms. After Ford’s decision to override Balobaba’s ruling, people symbolized their opposition; papers reported “protests rock house” detailing a 70 year old woman, daughter of holocaust survivors, taken away in handcuffs. Bill Davis, former 18 th Premier of Ontario , a key architect of the 1982 repatriation of the Constitution was infuriated, adding his name to the mounting list of people opposed to Ford’s manoeuvres to get his own way. Amnesty International and hundreds of other Ontarians were/ are enraged. Yet the Colossus strides, upturning buildings, destroying order, simply because he can.

Canadians who pride themselves on being more civil, perhaps more intelligent and thoughtful than those in the States are in the same boat with having elected a leader with no scruples, values or awareness of the true meaning of democracy. Where money and business stand in for culture, caring and cooperation, these men did not hide their hearts’ desire of smashing all that they cannot understand or value. The lack of empathy, compassion and awareness of diversity in society does not mean anything to their personal drive for success, and rename their boastful slogans “ democracy.” How do you explain this to a fifth grader? In deed, why would you?

In trying to approach the notion to my grandson, I enumerated the multiple levels of society, federal, provincial, local, explaining each had a person who responds to the voices of the peoples they represent. I gave examples, contrasting “ our democracy” with autocracies, oligarchies and monarchies. My husband said it best and most simply, that the word comes from the Greek that means “ people”.

I thought of the Shakespearian line from Measure for Measure,

…So you must be the first that gives this sentence…. O! it is excellent To have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous/ To use it like a giant.

And too, the music and lyrics of Hamilton pounding in my head: the story of man with such strong values and belief in government that he supported Thomas Jefferson against Aaron Burr because Hamilton demurred,” The former had principles; the latter none.”Hamilton in his Federalist Papers, Hamilton’s deep reflection, Hamilton’s belief in government, Hamilton a giant, Ford a fly.

To the innocents of our days, with their first study of democracy, I refuse to profer examples of our present day abrogation of what small men do in the political arena, rather returning to Hamilton, Kennedy, RBG, Hannah Arendt whose stood for more than just themselves. Marche from The New York Times,

Conservatism is no longer a political ideology in the recognized sense, but a repository of loathing and despair. It’s where people thrust their hatred of modernity — of globalism and multiculturalism and technocratic expertise, but also of the democracy that fostered those systems in the first place. By giving high office to buffoons, by choosing thugs as their representatives and by revelling in nastiness for its own sake, the Conservative brand now is principally a marker of contempt for political order itself.

Rosh Hashanah Reflections

On Passover, we ask, “ Why is this night different from all others.” Yet it holds the sameness of all other holidays: our religious gatherings at nightfall when all of the precious people of our family come together around the festive table to celebrate our history, our faith. So here we are again at Rosh Hashanah. All of us dressed better, in a happier mood, relishing the food, the time, the love that binds us at the beginning of the new year and the demise of the old one. Here we all are again, anticipating a clean slate, forgiveness, expectation as gleaming as our grandchildren’s shining faces. I’d often heard of family “ brogus” being set aside at holiday time so that bad feelings could be relinquished as the new year arrived.

Heralding the brightness of new beginnings along side the darker desire for atonement and reflection, we will watch as Poppa points to those Rosh Hashannah symbols represented by rosy apples, dripping honey, warm challah and sparkling wine, his prayers sanctifying them, the children’s unblinking eyes glued tightly on him.In unison, we will yell, “ Oi- men”, and laugh, delighted to pass the fruits of the earth to one another, the work of our hands, the blessings of G-d. These repetitions provide the hallmarks of enduring memories throughout our lives.

For me, the days of preparation for dinner is a combination of old favourites of the perfectly stuffed turkey, but also another attempt to emulate my mother-in- law’s excellent gefelte fish . Mine either lacks correct spicing or too watery even after my yearly attempts to follow her loose descriptions of “ pinch of this…handful of that..you’ll know when…” Usually the food receives compliments but I believe the fish is consumed as part of the New Year pattern :that fish precedes soup which proceeds kugels en route to multiple deserts. Still I wonder if some special ingredient has been omitted from my fish.

My buby Molly was legend in her realm of cookery, but my Aunt Goldi confided that the” family” cabbage rolls were transmitted to others without the squeeze of lemon so that the original recipe could go to the grave with the original chef who no doubt thought it a family secret to forgo one ingredient in the recitation of ingredients. So like a story whose sections are embellished or deleted in the telling, some element is omitted – even between relatives- so the result cannot be served completely in tact.This troubles me greatly.

And because my mind always leap to other places, it flies to the whispered repetitions of coveted foods in women’s sections in concentration camps during the Holocaust where a scrap of paper or smidgeon of shoe leather was the repository for a special recipe. These lost moments of a tangy smell, a sweetened taste, a loving glance around the table stimulated familial celebrations of beloved faces and cherished voices, and a necessary hope that life would be restored, the madness disappeared and rituals restored; that the food, the preparation, the coming togethers were only just stalled until the entire mishpucha would once again reunite, safely around the burning candles that dripped streams of wax on a fine linen table cloth passed down throughout the generations.

At this time of year, I, too, hold close the memories of my parents and the Rosh Hashanah dinners at their house. Never a thought was given to the work that necessitated my mother to rise even earlier than usual or fall into her bed, energy depleted, after the last plate dried. There were squabbles over who would sit next to my father who always commanded the head of the table. He quietly beamed at us, taking in our families, while chanting the prayers, his pronunciation of certain vowels differing from our Hebrew School learning, we noted, wondering why.

My mother darted back and forth, serving and occasionally perching, her legs aching from the last days of cooking, cleaning and now placing her dishes before us . Her mother, I recalled, disappeared into the kitchen to eat by herself, no doubt also collapsing into whatever chair available: to suck chicken feet – if I glimpsed her behind the swinging door to the dining room where uncles sported dark fedora hats and aunts like preening peacocks were festooned in special navy dresses, and we, cousins, waited expectantly for the moment when we might depart the table heaped with food, bound into the rec room below to hoot, shout and play games without adult supervision.

We were not religious people but we came together as a family at these holiday suppers, reminding me of Bella Chagall’s memoir Burning Lights as she narrated the annual arrivals of her far flung family in the shetl, Vitebsk, at the end or commencements of the harvests, family on horseback, in carts, the women bearing heavy pots, depicted in her narration of unending dinners that continued late into the velvety nights under Russian skies.

Many years ago my son invited his university friends to Rosh Hashanah dinner and I set myself the task of making as many different kugels as I could find ; fortunately all but the potato could be frozen. From zucchini to eggplant to sweet potato with raisins, I scoured cookbooks that offered an impetus to create the puddings. Finally at table, we chortled, attempting to identify the vegetables that all began and ended with eggs, onions and matzoh meal, even foods resembling that cycle of creation and endings of our rituals. Since then, though, the meal has been pared down to only two potato kugels, one sweet , one plain, three or four fruit pies, of course, a honey cake and at least one other completing desert, usually chocolate, contributing to eating ecstasy. The laughter, the camaraderie, the delight of being together, sharing a meal whose very basis is the reason we gather at dusk.

Although the table heaped with offerings is the centre of focus, one year, post -dinner wrestled for attention as we received a midnight call, requiring immediate babysitting. Perhaps unable to battle all the kugels, soup, side dishes, meats and deserts crowding his space, grandson number two decided to exit six weeks early. He was named Aaron, the high priest.

But, as well, this time of year holds unforgettable events- sad events that marked our life. My father succumbed to polio one Labour Day weekend when I was 18 months old. Interestingly, no one ever mentioned Rosh Hashanah that year, arguing whether it had been “early” or “ late.” I imagine in my mind’s eye, the family dinner, quieter than usual, especially my buby Molly at the edge of tears, and my mother clutching me as I, more than a year, squirmed in her arms.

And my mother again- close to 92, so many years later, shortly after hearing the shofar blown in her hospital room, passed from this world of beginnings to another.

Perhaps because this is season of my father’s polio, she was always anxious around Rosh Hashanah as a period of transition, likely focusing on holiday preparations to banish frightening thoughts from her mind. She is, not surprisingly, is at the periphery of my thoughts during these days. Now as I age , there is so much I would share with her: questions I would ask ( about knitting, for sure), so many fears or doubts I would look to her for assurance : that all would be well and turnout fine. She was so fearful herself, often struggling tenuously to hold our world together like a jigsaw whose pieces might suddenly fall asunder and require reassembling by her able practical hands, handling and rearranging our lives, a task she completed as in the child’s story of The Little Red Hen that she never ceased to cite in deference to the lack of assistance by her family: “ALL by her self”, she would loudly affirm, moving between the real and the storytale, endowing herself with magic to erase our troubles and difficulties she had encountered but overcome in our lives. She, our mother, always silently praying, that this New Year would be better than the last.

If she were still on this earth and we were meeting for Saturday lunches, I might behave slightly differently, not avoiding difficult conversations, attempting to banish them into non- existence, probing more deeply and certainly, more sensitively. Not merely scoffing at her refrain that she wished she had become a nurse or an interior decorator. With greater compassion and kindness, I would NOT counter now, to change the subject,”Well, an orange cannot be an apple”. Truthfully, as she pondered her life, combing through lost opportunities, I was afraid to listen, not wanting to be hurt by some detail I had not all ready heard.

My parents had a wonderful way to celebrate Rosh Hashanah beyond our family gatherings. Yearly they would travel to the North where in Ontario at this time of year, the air is crisp, the autumnal leaves ripe on the trees, a kaleidoscope of colours. They might spend a day or several, driving through the beauty of nature, their thoughts far from the city. I stayed behind, but one year, cracked open the bottom drawer of a dresser in their bedroom. Heaped inside were the remnants of their life before and during my father’s polio. I poured over the barely readable postcards sent from the hospital where he had spent nine months when he was only 28 years old, robbed of the muscular power of his limbs.

In their exchanges, they write my name as “Paddy”, as an Irish person would. Or maybe the crosses on the “t’s” are sloppy and resemble “d’s”, but the fragments break my heart as I glimpse the broken communication between my parents. Tears overrun my eyes as I sense the immense difficulty even a few words has taken to produce their daily interchanges, but I sense in the scribbled half formed letters the depth of my father’s love for my mother.In my talks to her, I do not want to re- awaken these knives of pain and so we did not unshovel the past. Perhaps this why she does not speak of the missed holiday dinner that separated them.

So I approach the New Year with a mixture of emotions, grateful but longing for my mother’s company, pondering my relationship with my father, but also anticipating a supper with most of my children and grandchildren present, observing their fingers coated with honey , and their chomping Honey Crisp apples carefully chosen by my husband.

I enjoy the look of the table with my grandmother’s silver and her fine dishes: ones I refused, but finally belligerently accepted, because they are heavily ornate, not my style at all. Now I am happy for their place at my holiday table, a silver treasure, their quality beyond cost and symbolizing that I am a thread in my family that has unwound, as evidence of immigrant migration from Poland. I gaze too at the fine porcelain tableware, wishing I had investigated the stories the plates must withhold, although remembering my mother had related: that a peddler would come to the door weekly, selling one precious spoon or dish – and my grandmother would save and save until she could afford to purchase one here, one there , until she had put aside enough dollars to complete a full set.No wonder that even at 90 my mother precariously stoops to pick up a penny!

I wonder what my grandchildren will take from my suppers. Will they joke about the kugels, the unending offering of deserts, some strange detail that I imparted such as my grandmother’s delicious dun- coloured handmade wine from purple plums, or the reminisces of rollicking fun I shared with my cousins. Or the disgusting slurp of sucking chicken feet?

This year, the first ever, my family from Philadelphia will arrive for the family dinner completing the circle . How excited am I ,covering their beds with toys and new clothes.Usually we fill that absence at Thanksgiving at there house, but it happiness of happiness, joy of joys, on Sunday night -in person – they will be here, participating in traditions that are saturated with love: from the planning of foods to the folding of napkins to covering the them” with uninvited hugs and sloppy kisses, steeping them in Rosh Hashannah adoration.

The traditions etched in my mind and body have indeed shaped me as a person, a Jewish person acculturated by my laxity of making the traditions fit my life, weighing the precepts of giving anonymously, living a honest life, not fasting when sick, sadacka, for example, scoffing at burying dishes in the earth, or not eating shrimp, etc: the strange bits I discover when reading the translation of Torah portions written in another age…

Rather, it is the meaning of passing down a closeness, a memory of what it means to belong to a religious ritual- even briefly -that is initiated by an old and sacred story, a story that interrupts the workday to stress what is the most significant and meaningful in my life, that “time out of time”: as T.S. Eliot might conjecture, ” the still point of the turning wheel”. The family at the core of one’s life, the family that even when we’re gone will continue to interrupt the stream of their lives to sit down at dusk to reinvent and participate in a that yearly event that reaffirms difference but continuity in Jewish lives.

Stories of ordinary people

There is the factory girl, the immigrant, the son of the truck driver and the lonely lady who owns the bar. These are just ordinary people, people who come and go, grapple with life’s manipulations and tribulations. They are not self serving types. They do not blame their circumstances on others, rather they are merely dreamers searching for a way to improve or change the conditions of their days and weeks and years.

The factory girl is spunky, outspoken, denying but entranced by the fellow who works at the park. She keeps returning ,magnetized by his charisma, fascinated and like the moth to light drawn to danger.

The immigrant born in the Carribean knows he’s an outsider. Constantly his upbringing is the hand that smacks him and taunts him, causing him to talk too much but somehow his sense of self pushes him forward to excel beyond his caste in society.

The son of the truck driver also feels locked up by the closeness of his upbringing on a street where his cousins have inhabited forever. He spies a guitar, takes his mom’s pay check for lessons, but cannot commit to lessons. So he quits, bumbling around, disquieted by his circumscribed life.

And the woman who was once married is bored but resigned to her café in a hot and dreary place where nothing ever changes,she reminiscing about the romance of movie stars.

These human stories, these snippets of nondescript people we know personally, whom we pass on the street were the windows through which I peered last week, gleaning their tales, their thoughts in New York. The stuff of stories on Broadway, the quiet, unassuming, penetrating experiences of those quiet introspective types trying to figure out where home is and why they must stay or seek out alternatives to their present states yesterday, today or tomorrow.

The factory girl is Julie Jordan in Carousel, a mill worker who falls in love with the wrong guy. Standing toe to toe, able to meet him eye to eye but uninterested in committing to him, she does fall and falls hard for the man who is more interested in unlawful deeds than committing to a traditional life of responsibility.Complicated types both she and her guy Bill are torn up by emotions they cannot control, she rationalizing and standing by her man, acknowledging but unable to leave his abuse. In this retro piece, Julie at first is admirably strong but cannot move away from his flame.

Strangely for a modern day audience, we are shown Bill’s fate in which the playwrite produces on stage a surrealistic landscape of an in-between heaven populated by angels in ragged flounced gauze. Bill is allowed to return to earth for a final chance at redemption, but his strong “ man’s” inability to confess his weakness underlines his hubris.The strong man shown weak, the weak woman made strong by the difficulties of life, their voices made eloquent in songs that have persisted although the dramatization renders an anachronism, sweet but perhaps silly. The strains of “You’ll never walk” alone divorced from Jerry Lewis’s telethon now an ardent plea for the desire for help when the everyday storms threaten to topple you.

The Caribbean is Alexander Hamilton , Lin -Manuel Miranda’s brilliant creation of the driven outsider whose brain, wit and insight propel him upward in society to sit beside and guide George Washington. His writing , his thinking, his intelligence and charisma are the catalysts to upper class society, marriage and the builders of the emergent America of 1776. Still his jealous arch rivals, especially Aaron Burr, riddle his life with intrigue, opposition, betrayal and eventually death. There has been,as well, love by the upper class Schuyler girls, but instead of the tickle of fame, it is the power of a sexual liaison that undoes Hamilton’s rise in government. Hamilton cannot be praised enough, music, acting, words, the trajectory of events reaching out to grab, shake and mesmerize those present , privileged to share the hopes of the boy who comes to America and suffers by the hands of his jealous rivals who lack values that transcend petty personal gains.

It is Springsteen who is in a sense the American Dream as he stands before us, reciting poetry others have gleaned in his music. Not a fan, I am drawn in by the words that create indelible images of his mother’s high heels that clack along the floor that turn into slow dancing steps as she declines into Alzheimer’s; and the tension at the bar when as a boy he is sent to wrestle his father from his stool, a man with haunches like a rhinoceros: these words that hold fast in my mind .So much and so deep a Catholic he marvels how well his education has seated that religion in his soul. Yet desperate to leave the shelter of his small town, he flees as fast as he can in an open back truck under the canopy of night stars. His language of a young man’s pain piercing his own present day successful acceptance.

And the other lady, Dena, a typical Israeli in Betatikvah not Petatikvah who plays host to The Band’s Visit entertains an Egyptian musician from Alexandria for one night , he along with his fellow band members , witnessing the life of those out of work, aimless, who roller skate, cry out their fears, meet at cafes, listen to the baby’s cries, the belligerent racist, who go on existing, their own silent music also producing a rhythm.

As in the best books, we lose ourselves in the narratives of those who resemble, maybe a lot or a little, ourselves, reminding us of our own struggles, our boredoms, our helplessness or lack of control, of the bullies, the places and spaces that lock us in, but how passages can be opened even slightly by the temptation of love and human desires. We entrap ourselves in these stories, transfixed, forgetting our own personal anguishes, embracing those who say or sing it more loudly and more eloquently than in the silent thoughts that bang around in our own heads. These people speak and give voice for us, and like augers transform our thoughts into pictures that allow us to stand outside ourselves, creating potent catalysts to release us from ourselves. It is a release, a wonder to truly observe ourselves and as TS Eliot would suggest- knowing the place for the first time and although we view with awe and horror, we watch others involved , knowing the circumstance, the community but freed from the pain of the experiences. Schaudenfraude.

Broadway where every step is in pattern, where every note is perfectly on key, where life is larger than life and we sit in the audience, both watcher and participant, acknowledging , knowing in our heart of hearts that a writer has communicated what our fumbled words are unable to express, what our failed looks have failed to connect, what our pinched hearts are feeling. And it is magic. It is what Aristotle imagined in his unities- the pity and the terror of the stage that can trigger a catharsis. Or a moment’s epiphany.

Synagogues in the South,Part 2

When I travelled with my aunt and uncle in Europe, I noticed they always searched out synagogues. I found this rather strange as neither one was an observant religious shul- goer. He, a World Federalist, she, a Voice of Women( VOW) member, had humanistic leanings, rather than specific Jewish ones. Yet, culturally, they seemed to be concerned with yiddishkeit and ancestral roots. Interesting, as he was the son of a British ha’ sun( cantor) , and her mother, a community leader in raising money for Jewish causes, even selling bricks to build the old Mount Sinai Hospital on Yorkville in Toronto. Besides just historical, their fascination had to do with discovering Jewish migration , and as I am now passed their ages when I accompanied them so many years ago, barely out of my teens, I find myself emulating their search, comprehending their motivation and wanting to piece together my own Identity as a Jew.

We are in Charleston and my American cousin suggests we make our way to Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim( KKBE) , the oldest synagogue, as well as the founding Reform Jewish Congregation in the United States. He tells me his son Josh was Bar mitzvahed in this unique landmark. So although we are only in Charleston for a day and a half, we decide the synagogue is first on our list of “ what to see”.

Fortunately our hotel, the Dewberry, is close to Calhoun, and remarkably the Synagogue on Hasell Street is less than two blocks walking. The outside of the building is in deed impressive with its huge menorahs and its colonnade of massive white pillars. There is a large marble tablet above the doors that proclaims the Sh’ma( Deuteronomy 6:4)and we ring to be let in. Larry opens the door for us. He is about to dash off, as he is a member, not a tour guide, running some errands. Although he obviously has business to attend to, he kindly locates a key to the sanctuary so we can spend a few minutes there.

He provides us with a pamphlet that answers some of our queries, stating the first reference to a Jew in the English settlement of Charleston occurred in 1695. By 1749, a sufficient number of Jews attracted by freedoms of religion who had come to South Carolina, previously gathering to pray in one another’s homes, organized Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim and within fifteen years, the building is erected. Most likely survivors of the Spanish Inquisition, this Sephardic Orthodox Congregation in 1824 petitioned to change the liturgy to a briefer Hebrew version.

The more progressive element of the congregation who had wanted but were denied an English service (also in 1824) eventually persuaded the rest of their group to install an organ: this was the first time a synagogue had introduced instrumental music into worship. In 1973, KKBE joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, now the Union for Reform Judaism.

The design and construction of the present synagogue emulates the form of a Greek temple and is consistent with other religious architecture in Charleston circa 1830, coinciding with the beginning of the Reform Judaism movement that had its roots in Germany. In 1790, President George Washington had congratulated the congregants and wrote,

…May the same temporal and eternal blessing which you implore for me, rest upon your Congregation…

According to Larry’s pamphlet, the great Charleston fire of 1838 destroyed the first cupolated Georgian synagogue building , but was replaced in 1840 on the original site of the first. The second great Charleston fire occurred in 1861. The synagogue was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1980.

Standing in the grand, airy sanctuary we note the white cupola above our heads. Two tiered ,the original separating women, with that impressive organ and beautiful bima, the feeling of the sanctuary is light- filled and awe- inspiring. The ark is crafted from Santo Domingo mahogany. Above it are carved these words,” Know Before Whom Thou Standest.” Two Corinthian columns stand at each side of the ark, continuing the underlying Greek theme. Beautiful glass windows represent symbols from the Bible and date from 1886.

In the Barbara Pearlstine social hall , Larry points out several works of art by a well known Charleston artist William Halsey, son of a congregant. The mural depicts the city’s destroying fire along with two menorahs, one with six and one with seven branches, to represent the synagogue’s original orthodox status and now the present day reform one. A second Halsey mural portrays the revolutionary patriot and legislator Francis Salvador who hailed from England, arriving in South Carolina in 1773. Salvador was the well educated son of an aristocratic Sephardic family, the Marrano name of “Salvador “was taken in response to the Inquisition which either tortured and murdered Jews or forced their conversion, although many practiced in hiding.

A diorama also illustrates Salvador’s scalping and demise on horseback by Cherokee Indians. More than twenty members of the congregation fought in the American Revolution. Larry is obviously very proud of these artworks that proclaim the early congregants’ contribution to the country :Francis Salvador as the first identified Jew to be elected to an American legislative body and the first to die for the cause of American liberty. Another wall steel sculpture, again by a synagogue member, William Hirsch, interprets the prophets of consolation and admonition.

We journey on to Savannah,Georgia and we are privileged to spend more than an hour at Congregation Mickve Israel dating from 1773. Here the chief docent, Jules, relates the origins of the synagogue. He narrates the story that dates back to the Inquisition in Portugal of Dr. Samuel Nunez in 1733, who ministering to the king, hides his Jewish background. When it is revealed he is still practicing his Jewish faith and traditions in private, Nunez arranges for a day at the shore to be the means of escape to London. He, his family and friends are welcomed by the Bevis Marks Congregation in England .Later, forty- one Jews , both Sephardic and Ashkenazi from German shetls , arrive by ship, the William and Sarah, to the Georgian colony. These Jewish settlers brought with them a safer Torah, one of the oldest Torah scrolls in existence in America, as well as a circumcision kit.

In 1741, the War of Jenkins Ear causes the congregants to worry that the Spanish might reclaim Britain’s outpost here. Fortunately the former Portuguese-conversion Jews regain their security and freedoms in Savannah when the Spanish are unsuccessful in their takeover.

We sit in the sanctuary as Jules narrates the historical background. Our eyes search out the original Gothic chairs, in deed, the Gothic revival architecture layout is reminiscent of stately churches, its ceilings pointed and arching many, many feet above our heads. The supporting columns are also in the Corinthian style, melding with the pointed arches of the Gothic style. The stained glass windows as well feature symbols associated with Judaism such as the spread fingers of the Kohenim, olives, menorahs, an ark, a lion, a crown with entwined grapevines as backdrop: no human bodies as dictated in the Ten Commandments. At the very back, two more windows coalesce in the Art Nouveau style contributing to the softened light created by the other windows.

Jules takes us to the ark and opens its doors. The congregation is very proud of their Torahs, our docent highlights The Slany Torah, one of 1564 Czech Memorial Torahs confiscated and saved in Prague during the Nazi occupation, 1939-1945. Before World War II, there were about 350 synagogues in the Czech Republic. On Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938, the Nazis destroyed 50 synagogues along the Sudetenland border region.

Creating a storehouse of goods confiscated during World War II in Prague, the Nazis collected artifacts. Although believed that Hitler was intending a museum to the extinct race of Jews, Leo Pavlat in a journal article,1. says the museum’s collection had been in place from 1906 and in 1939, all ready holding 760 items representative of Prague and Bohemia.

Yet the narrative goes that in 1942, several prominent Prague Jews persuaded the Nazis to allow artifacts from abandoned and destroyed synagogues to be stored in Prague, where a museum would be opened. Of the more than 100,000 artifacts , there were 1,800 Torah scrolls, labeled ,indexed, and given a provenance. According to the narrative, all of the Jews who participated in this project would be deported to Terezin or Auschwitz, with only two surviving. One Torah collected during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia is now on permanent loan at Congregation Mike Israel and used weekly at services. The Torah is inscribed with its provenance, “This Scroll came from Slany and was written in 1890.” It came to Savannah in 1968.

A condition for custodianship of a Czech Torah is that it must be maintained in perfect condition, used regularly and returned if a synagogue is re-established in that town. In 1458, Jews were officially expelled from Slany , more Jews removed during WWII, and unfortunately in the present day population of about 15,000, no Jew remains.

Jules turns on a tape, and we listen to Hebrew chanting. I’m caught off guard and feel tears collect in my eyes. Later my husband contributes that he thinks it is the synagogue that unites Jews, perhaps more than Israel, for in these places, we all sing the same songs, have studied the same ancient prayers, stand before the ark, familiar and welcomed by our traditions, uniting us as Jews. He is moved as well. I concur that we both feel we are a continuing strand that has unwound across continents, yet part of a tapestry that persists in holding us together- no matter where on earth we might find a welcoming synagogue: a living legacy that rekindles our proud sense of being Jewish.

Upstairs in the museum, there are the two deerskin Torahs described by Jules in that journey by the intrepid Dr. Nunez. Here too are reproductions of letters to the congregation by every American president, beginning with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe on to Roosevelt, Obama, etc.2.

In 1997, a recipe for charoset, a Passover mixture of fruits and nuts essential to the reading of the Haggadah was found from the congregation, dating to 1794. 3.

We have a plane to catch but notice more people are arriving, drawn to this synagogue, as if to rekindle and nourish their Jewish souls, a symbolic coming home and coming together of Jews spread across the diaspora.

1. The Jewish Museum in Prague during the Second World War European Judaism: A Journal for the New Europe, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Spring 2008), pp. 124-130.

2. George Washington to Savannah, Georgia, Hebrew Congregation, May, 1790, George Washington Papers at The Library of Congress. Accessed November 22, 2011 in Wikipedia.

3. Nathan, Joan (April 16, 1997). “Retracing Jewish Steps, Through Haroseth”. The New York Times.

Apologies

Please excuse the three versions of my most recent blog. Apparently, according to Howard, the first and second are in tact, the third ( last sent when the others did not appear on his iPad) with many repetitions.

The damn publishing process here scrambles my paragraphs and frustrates me. So sorry, but if you read repetitions, go to another.

Bloggingboomer, ready to scream.

To the Mountains, Part one

With the craziness of climate change, we were fortunate to be invited to my cousins’ place in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Their summer retreat is located at the zenith, the tippy top of one of the mountains in North Carolina and truly you feel as if you are perched at the crest of the world. With several foggy overlapping layers of clouds, mountain and sky, you might be in Shanghai-la, gods overlooking the world below. It was on the surveying porch where we had breakfasts and dinners, constantly held in awe of the transforming view. Here too, my cousin Jon might snooze from time to time, rendered so restful that he sank into the gauzy vistas of beauty.

We drove along the tips of those mountains, shifting our perspective, attempting to seek out our viewing spot from our initial encounter with them at Jon and Elaine’s place, incredulous to ride on to the peaks where only an hour before we had observed them, wonderstruck. The cascading falls en route, refreshing, crashing, beautiful.

From here we travelled to other charming towns such as Brevard that claims Andy Griffin’s Mayberry cop and Asheville known for its quaint shops, burgeoning food and artist scenes. Best of all was a trip to one of largest estates in America the 150,000 square feet, Biltmore property, erected by the Vanderbilt Family in the late 1880’s, requiring the labor of well over 1,000 workers and 60 stonemasons!

The Vanderbilt family, comparable to J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Andrew W. Mellon, and John D. Rockefeller, monopoly holders were to be described by Thomas Carlyle in his 1843 book, Past and Present as “ robber barons”, unscrupulous, ruthless and unethical businessmen. Cornelius Vanderbilt in the time of no regulations rose from operator of one small ferry in New York Harbor to dominate vital industries. In the realms of railroads, steel, and petroleum, consumers and workers were exploited by these powerful men who emulated their European counterparts of kings and tyrants.Yet, much of their legacy paved the new world with beauty, mimicking privilege, taste, and class of another world. Yet, later, an attempt necessary to bolster the estate’s financial situation during the Great Depression was required; Cornelia Vanderbilt and her husband opened Biltmore to the public in March 1930 at the request of the City of Asheville, which hoped the attraction would revitalize the area with tourism.

Notable guests to the estate over the years included authors Edith Wharton, Henry James, Presidents William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama. Films too have been shot here such as Peter Sellers’ Being There, Robin Williams’Patch Adams, Ritchie Rich, Forrest Gump and the Hannibal movies.

With inns, restaurants, a winery, equestrian station, gardens, shops and lavish forests festooned with lambs, goats, horses and cows, the Biltmore Estate is in deed a mansion worthy of a prince. Gardens designed by Frederick Ohlmstead( of Central Park fame) and architect Robert Morris Hunt, along with the Sargent Singer portraits enshrine the family. Drawing on French Renaissance chateaus that Vanderbilt and Hunt had visited in early 1889, such as Château de Blois, Chenonceau and Chambord in France( we’ve been to these chateaus with the kids ) and Waddesdon Manor in England, Biltmore incorporated steeply pitched roofs, turrets and sculptural ornamentation, embellishing this lavish palace with celebrated art works and tapestries from Europe’s 15-19 th centuries. I also noticed Albrecht Durer engravings.

The 250 rooms in the house include 35 bedrooms for family and guests, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, three kitchens and 19th-century novelties such as electric elevators, forced-air heating, centrally controlled clocks, fire alarms, and a call-bell system.

Fortunate for our visit was a Chihuly glass installation in the estate’s six tiered gardens. Strangely organic, Chihuly’s diverse array of multicoloured balls, squiggles, stems and glassworks pieces fit perfectly into the various gardens, enhancing the grounds. Whimsical, part manmade, part plant, each installation melds with a setting of bright flowers, shadowy nooks and groves, sunny exposed spaces, or greenhouses that suggest an elision of human and nature.. To the mountains

With the craziness of climate change, we were fortunate to be invited to my cousins’ place in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Their summer retreat is located at the zenith, the tippy top of one of the mountains in North Carolina and truly you feel as if you are perched at the crest of the world. With several foggy overlapping layers of clouds, mountain and sky, you might be in Shanghai-la, gods overlooking the world below. It was on the surveying porch where we had breakfasts and dinners, constantly held in awe of the transforming view. Here too, my cousin Jon might snooze from time to time, rendered so restful that he sank into the gauzy vistas of beauty.

We drove along the tips of those mountains, shifting our perspective, attempting to seek out our viewing spot from our initial encounter with them at Jon and Elaine’s place, incredulous to ride on to the peaks where only an hour before we had observed them, wonderstruck. The cascading falls en route, refreshing, crashing, beautiful.

From here we travelled to other charming towns such as Brevard that claims Andy Griffin’s Mayberry cop and Asheville known for its quaint shops, burgeoning food and artist scenes. Best of all was a trip to one of largest estates in America the 150,000 square feet, Biltmore property, erected by the Vanderbilt Family in the late 1880’s, requiring the labor of well over 1,000 workers and 60 stonemasons!

The Vanderbilt family, comparable to J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Andrew W. Mellon, and John D. Rockefeller, monopoly holders were to be described by Thomas Carlyle in his 1843 book, Past and Present as “ robber barons”, unscrupulous, ruthless and unethical businessmen. Cornelius Vanderbilt in the time of no regulations rose from operator of one small ferry in New York Harbor to dominate vital industries. In the realms of railroads, steel, and petroleum, consumers and workers were exploited by these powerful men who emulated their European counterparts of kings and tyrants.Yet, much of their legacy paved the new world with beauty, mimicking privilege, taste, and class of another world. Yet, later, an attempt necessary to bolster the estate’s financial situation during the Great Depression was required. Cornelia Vanderbilt and her husband opened Biltmore to the public in March 1930 at the request of the City of Asheville, which hoped the attraction would revitalize the area with tourism.

Notable guests to the estate over the years included authors Edith Wharton, Henry James, Presidents William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama. Films too have been shot here such as Peter Sellers’ Being There, Robin Williams’Patch Adams, Ritchie Rich, Forrest Gump and the Hannibal movies.

With inns, restaurants, a winery, equestrian station, gardens, shops and lavish forests festooned with lambs, goats, horses and cows, the Biltmore Estate is in deed a mansion worthy of a prince. Gardens designed by Frederick Ohlmstead( of Central Park fame) and architect Robert Morris Hunt, along with the Sargent Singer portraits enshrine the family. Drawing on French Renaissance chateaus that Vanderbilt and Hunt had visited in early 1889, such as Château de Blois, Chenonceau and Chambord in France( we’ve been to these chateaus with the kids ) and Waddesdon Manor in England, Biltmore incorporated steeply pitched roofs, turrets and sculptural ornamentation, embellishing this lavish palace with celebrated art works and tapestries from Europe’s 15-19 th centuries. I also noticed Albrecht Durer engravings.

The 250 rooms in the house include 35 bedrooms for family and guests, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, three kitchens and 19th-century novelties such as electric elevators, forced-air heating, centrally controlled clocks, fire alarms, and a call-bell system.

Fortunate for our visit was a Chihuly glass installation in the estate’s six tiered gardens. Strangely organic, Chihuly’s diverse array of multicoloured balls, squiggles, stems and glassworks pieces fit perfectly into the various gardens, enhancing the grounds. Whimsical, part manmade, part plant, each installation melds with a setting of bright flowers, shadowy nooks and groves, sunny exposed spaces, or greenhouses that suggest an elision of human and nature. The Chihuly installation soon ends, returning the gardens to an alternate state, no doubt, also magnificent in colour, style and elegance.

Sadly we left the warm chaos of our cousins, their children and grandchildren preparing for the the mountain Community’s Spoon competition, which- no surprise- involves spoons. I am sad to report that the Christmas family with their overly long arms took the Golden Spoon😟 this year. As well, the family’s other grandkids from New York had come to North Carolina for summer camp so we met them in a happy tangle of sprawled bodies, lazy meals, retreats to tablets and easy banter.

On to beautiful lCharleston and then Savannah. I’ll be including a piece on these cities’ synagogues in next week’s posts so no need to describe here the arrival of Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition in the 17th Century to the southern United States.

However, outside of Charleston, we did spend half a day at Middleton Place House whose namesakes played prominent roles in the colonial and antebellum history of South Carolina. John Williams, an early South Carolina planter, likely began building Middleton Place in the late 1730s. His son-in-law Henry Middleton (1717–1784), served as President of the First Continental Congress, and Middleton’s son, Arthur Middleton (1742–1787), was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. So the grand three – building residence with approximately 500 surrounding acres is steeped in stories. The house possesses interesting artifacts in the library, bedrooms and dining rooms. The reassembled four sets of silver candlesticks, a child’s Noah’s ark, a curved shaving bowl and a discarded robe extended a presence of the early occupants.

At Eliza’s slave house,( eventually a freed person’s house) considered lavish for its raised foundation, wood floors, divided room and windows , we listen to early slave history. Our well informed guide tells us that the Middletons began business in sugar cane, but their second year’s production was wiped out. Wise enough to draw on the expertise of slaves from West Africa, likely Ghana, their product turned to rice that was shipped worldwide.The guide is unflinching in his description of treatment exacted on the slaves captured in Africa, explaining that perhaps 10-14 million persons perished during this time, underlining, too, the terrible boat conditions that recall for me the film Amistad.

Sadly the formal gardens are not in bloom. Henry Middleton ( 1880’s) purchased 253 different species, including 52 types of flower seeds, 54 sorts of bulbs, 71 hardy herbaceous plants, 41 varieties of greenhouse plants and 35 kinds of vegetable seeds from England. The estate reports some of the country’s oldest oak trees. There is a heavy downpour so we only briefly tour the stables, coopers, pottery makers and seamstresses. It is the words of the guide on the slaves’ lives that remain with us.

Savannah must be beautiful in better weather. It is breathless in these dog days of August. We manage the elegant synagogue and a trip to Jones street, voted “ the most beautiful in America “. We’re remembering “ in the gardens of good and evil”, while strolling among the grand houses framed by low hanging Spanish moss, moving slowly through picturesque garden squares that frame statues, both majestically spouting water or solidly recalling heroic battles. It’s a slow amble, enjoyable- coolish in the heat.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our ten days, gaining new information about the South , and renewing our bonds with our hosts, my dear cousins whose kind invitation initiated this ramble.

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