The Hungarian Uprising, 1956 ~ Erich Lessing, Magnum Photos
On October 23, 1956, I celebrated my tenth birthday. There was cake, ice cream, and a small party with balloons and crepe paper streamers. On that same day, in a world utterly removed from my cozy Iowa neighborhood, other children watched as friends, parents, and neighbors dared to cheer an occasion first known as the Hungarian Uprising and, somewhat later, as the Hungarian Revolution.
As I headed toward our kitchen for my post-birthday breakfast on October 24, or perhaps on the 25th, the Des Moines Register was lying on the dining room table, where my father always laid it before going upstairs to shave. A huge photograph filled the space above the fold, with the words “Revolution In Hungary” splashed across the top. Continue reading
Long ago and far away, when metal feed-store thermometers dangled next to mops and buckets on the back stoop, heat indices weren’t yet in fashion.
In those far-away times, summer began with mirages: pools of imaginary water shimmering above the asphalt — swirling, receding, and evaporating before our eyes as we traveled.
In summer, heavy, breathless nights made sleep impossible. Even the heat-heavy trees murmured and complained as we dragged cots from the house and lay beneath the stars, surrounded and lured toward dreams by the chirring of unseen crickets.
Detail from “Woman Before a Fish Bowl” ~ Henri Matisse (1922)
Walgreens is an impulse shopper’s paradise.
Established in 1901, after Charles R. Walgreen purchased the Chicago drugstore he’d served as pharmacist, the chain grew slowly, but steadily. In 1926, a hundred stores existed. By 1984, there were a thousand.
Over the years, Walgreens moved beyond filling prescriptions: as a way to accommodate people who needed something to do while waiting for their prescriptions. Greeting cards appeared, along with hair brushes and shaving soap. Eventually, detergent, envelopes, candy, and socks were added to the inventory, and a newer, more modern version of the general store was born.
Even in these days of online ordering and drive-through pick-up, the stores have continued to thrive. People do run out of toothpaste, get sudden cravings for chocolate, or need single sheets of yellow and red construction paper at 9 p.m. on a Thursday night, and Walgreens fills those needs.
Many years younger, fairly well-traveled but still impressionable, I arrived in Berkeley during the 1970s: a relatively peaceful decade sandwiched between the tumultuous events of the University of California’s Free Speech Movement and the slightly less shattering Livermore earthquake.
Despite the unfortunate closures of the original Fillmore and Fillmore West prior to my arrival, there were consolations to be had. Afternoons, I lingered at Caffé Espresso, breathing in the scents of eucalyptus and French roast. Weekend trips across the Bay allowed for exploration of San Francisco’s tourist sites (Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, Chinatown) as well as increasingly confident forays into neighborhoods filled with fabulous architecture, tiny galleries, and expansive views.
Atop the Berkeley hills, views were as varied and compelling as anything available across the Bay. To the east lay Mt. Diablo, wheat straw dry or dusted with sunlit snow. To the west, San Francisco’s skyline shimmered by day and sparkled by night. In season, tendrils of fog twined their way around and through the Golden Gate, wrapping the Bridge in silence and the easy breath of dreams.
While in the process of completing a post on quite a different topic, I happened across this photo, taken after the recent “closing” of the Lincoln Memorial. I found the photograph distressing and inexplicably haunting. Surely I hadn’t written about these events – or had I?
I awoke this morning remembering a post from my earliest days of blogging. Written in 2008, it seems equally relevant today, though not in any way I could have imagined at the time. I’m reposting it here with only an edit or two for clarity and the addition of these two quotations from an 1859 letter from Abraham Lincoln to Henry Pierce. The first is both relevant and amusing.
I remember once being much amused at seeing two partially intoxicated men engage in a fight with their great-coats on, which fight, after a long, and rather harmless contest, ended in each having fought himself out of his own coat, and into that of the other. If the two leading parties of this day are really identical with the two in the days of Jefferson and Adams, they have perfomed the same feat as the two drunken men.
The second is merely relevant.
Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.
(Re-posted from June, 2008) In recent weeks, Cuban policies limiting citizens’ access to certain goods and services have been liberalized. Farmers no longer are required to purchase materials from state-run stores, and it’s now possible for more individuals to rent cars.
Restrictions on personal cell phone ownership have been eased, and bans lifted on the purchase of electronic or electrical consumer items of all sorts, including computers, televisions, pressure cookers, rice cookers, electric bicycles, microwave ovens and car alarms.
Raul Castro’s reforms have been scrutinized closely for practical as well as political significance. While apparently desirable, they are filled with a certain irony. In a nation where most individuals are not allowed to purchase a car, car alarms seem somewhat beside the point. The scarcity of many basic food items and the prohibitive cost of others make the possibility of possessing an electric rice cooker or microwave seem just slightly amusing. Continue reading
Children of the Cuban missile crisis, we bear within ourselves certain visceral memories unimaginable to students today. Sitting in our classrooms, watching the clocks tick off the implacable hours, we awaited a word from our President and cast sideways glances at one another as we began to wonder – Have we celebrated our last birthdays?
In 1962, I knew less of Havana than I did of death. Most of what I knew had come from television and film – especially Desi Arnaz and his Babalú– or from adult gossip about cigars, rum and fishing the jewel-like waters that separate Cuba from the Florida Keys.
Even as an adult visiting Key West, my exposure to that “other world” just ninety miles away was limited to enjoyment of Cuban coffee and pastelitos, the lilt of the music and the entirely kitschy “buoy” that claims to mark the southernmost point of the U.S. It’s not a buoy, of course, and several locations are farther south. While the claim of “90 Miles to Cuba” is correct, you still can’t get there from here as an ordinary citizen, and it’s extraordinarily difficult to get here from there. Continue reading
This post has been rewritten, and reposted as “Becoming the Sky.” Please click the link to be taken to the new version.