Category Archives: Barak Obama

>Travel: Vice of Choice

>In my house, we say travel is our vice of choice, which means a voyage takes precedence over trinkets, gadgets, fancy dinners or fashion. Apparently we are not in the majority because in late March, the U.S. Passport office announced that the applications for passports dropped by 25% auguring that many consumers have decided to dedicate their hard earned dollars to other corners of the market.

My neighbors and I are all tightening our belts and staying up nights worrying about mortgages, groceries and college tuition. My little family is not flourishing the way we were a few years back, but still my dreams wander to travel and the huge benefits I accrue from far-flung trips.

I just returned from ten days in Tunisia. This trip was fueled, on the surface, by a writing assignment on a wonderful former fashionista who now works teaching design and business skills to artisans in the developing world. Inspirational stuff right there, but what made it mind expanding and debt worthy, were the conversations I encountered in every corner of the small Islamic country of Tunisia.

Conversation was facilitated because French is a common language. Most Tunisians possess a basic grasp, lingering as a shadow from French colonial times, and I have my exuberant, rudimentary high school Francais. I love to talk and somehow people babble back: shop keepers, taxi drivers, waiters and the artisans in the market. For me this is the miracle of travel.

Yes there are deserted Roman cities, which inspire with efficiency, and the elegance of design from over two thousand years ago. The palimpsests of central heating, non-skid streets, theatrical acoustics and gob-smacking, mosaic beauty are reason enough to travel to Tunisia, but for me it is the conversations that glue us to each other as members of a tribe that is larger than country, religion, gender or ethnicity.

We are human. We long to connect. So when a cab driver in Tunis took me back to my hotel after a day ogling mosaics at the Bardo museum, I was overjoyed when he turned off the engine and asked if we could talk. He wanted to know why Americans have such a negative image of Arab people. Did all Americans really think that all Arabs were terrorists and evil? It was heartbreaking and important.

I told him that many Americans, know that good and bad people populate all countries, all races and all genders. I told him I believed that more things connect us, rather than separate us. Maybe it is conversation in the present tense and the simple vocabulary from which I carefully parse my words, but there was a power to this conversation that doesn’t happen when we banter at a dinner party or yell back at the evening news.

When I was attending the workshops that Aid to Artisans sponsored in Tozeur, a small walled city in the south, I had another opportunity to converse. I rose early one morning and hired a caleche pulled a scrawny horse named Pamela Anderson and driven by Petit Omar.

I had read about the distinctive brickwork that faces many buildings in the medina and the newer city and I wanted to see the brickfields.

So we clomped along talking about farming, and the fancy hotels that had closed down because of the dwindling economy. I learned how dates are hand fertilized, how the lettuces are planted under the massive date trees in the oasis where 200,000 palms flourish. “Is farming like this where you live?” We talked about family farms and factory farms, and as we trotted along a dirt road, little kids and adults waved, yelling OBAMA! OBAMA! They knew I was American and I was happy to be embraced for a potentially positive administration.

When we arrived at the brick fields Pamela Anderson pulled up under a tree. I walked over to inspect the wood forms, but the barefoot worker only wanted to talk about Obama. “ Are you as hopeful as we are?” he asked, “Do you believe this will change the world?” I hedged my bets, as I am not sure what one man can do. I said that, but then I realized that the conversations, which inspired me in EL Kef, Tunis, Dougga, and Tozeur all took, place one on one.

It saddens me that travel is so expensive and often seen as an expendable luxury, because I see travel as the staff of life. For me, money spent traveling comes back ten fold. The lessons learned and the goodness spread returns and multiples back home.

>Obama Day in TriBeCa

>We considered going to Washington D.C. for the big day; my African American husband grew up in D.C. so we have places to stay and invites, but my husband wanted to be home. And home is TriBeCa. He wanted to be home to hear every word and cry and cry when he needed and wanted to. And so we watched and held hands and then, overcome, I had to go out for a walk.

The streets of downtown Manhattan, or my tiny corner of it, were filled with neighbors congratulating each other. The smiles of every person I encountered were street wide and folks were stopping and telling stories.

One woman, of Jewish heritage, told me about when she was an olive skinned, eight year old girl and she was turned away from a swimming pool in the south when she was visiting friends. She recalls how humiliating it was to have her bathing suit pulled up at the edges to prove she was white. “How did African Americans feel to have this happen again and again? And now today.” Her face was shining with hope.

Local school kids poured out at 3p.m. holding hands with caregivers or parents and they were all telling stories of the day’s speeches watched, and the stories of slavery taught and unknotted and repositioned by a new generation. The big kids, bounded out of Stuyvesant High School with visions of power re-configured in their over-achieving heads. All the talk on the street was Obama and the things we were seeing today.

A real estate agent friend stopped me, eyes brimmed over and reddened from a day’s celebrating, “ Go walk by my building on White Street and see the flag I hung out. I am so proud.”

This is not the normal rhythm of TriBeCa; patriotism is often defined in different stripes, not flags and faith, but in a pride that we follow a different drummer, and yet today once again, we are all proud to be Americans.

There is a jaunty clip clop to our steps and the joy spread over the faces of those who stepped out of Puffy’s Tavern after watching the speech was palpable. It is beyond the glow of good beer, or a pop or two at mid-day. NO this was real. The difference between fervor and faking it.

Obama was clear that we are in perilous times. We understand that down here, but we are also entitled to have a renaissance based on belief in the real American Dream not the watered down, badly polluted version we have been wincing at for eight years.

>Yes We Did!

>Yes we can.

Yes we did.

And yes, we will keep on.

So is it now President-elect Back Obama, and in our multiracial house the phone never stopped ringing well into the early morning.

Our son calling from his college apartment where he was hosting a party with wine and cheese and feeling very classy for a 20 year old.

Friends calling from Times Square and London and the South of France and Milwaukee, and Minneapolis and Los Angeles and Mexico City. Everyone seemed overwhelmed in some way by both what happened and the hope that what will pass from the country will be in equal force and quick apace.

No one is delusional; we all know there will be tough times ahead to get us to a place where we can be a society that talks about race, and health care, and full employment and a culture of gluttony. It will take time and work, but today it was joyful on the streets of Manhattan.

I rode to the gym up Sixth Avenue and a pack of bike messengers were all whooping and giving high fives and loudly proclaiming all of us “brothers.”

If you bumped into a person of color they were radiant and so full of joy it was Christmas come early. My husband’s family was calling all day saying, “Wouldn’t Grandma have been so shocked that wish could happen in our lifetimes?”

The Pakistani clerk in the bakery–I had to get a little celebration cake–said that she felt now she would no longer be looked at as a terrorist but as a real American. She had tears in her eyes as she wrapped up my package. The Puerto Rican concierge at the gym was gleeful and celebrating with a bunch of the trainers and many of the clients. Everywhere you heard. WE DID IT !!!!

And we took the message from Obama’s speech last night to truly mean that this was an army of those full of hope, and tiny donations and leg work from dawn to dusk. We know the work has to continue, but for now it is a joy to behold.

>Orgasms, Ice Cream, Coffee and Doughnuts: The joy of voting

>My daughter, who is 23 and terminally cool, informed me this morning that with an “I Voted” sticker, you can get treats at Krispy Kreme, Starbucks, Ben and Jerry’s and Toys in Babeland. Thus the title and impetus for this entry.

I have never heard of incentives like this before as a way to reward or inveigle voters to hustle to the polls. But I love it. It is what I hope may be the start of the ‘incentivization’ of the younger generation. I see my daughter running out to vote with her good eye makeup highlighting her blue eyes and she is sporting her lapiz ring from Morocco and her Brazilian blue stone necklace as a way to “Pump up the Blue State Vote.” This morning, over coffee, she told me that in Brazil, it is a National Holiday and the bars are closed until the polls closed; then it is one big party. I think we have forgotten what a good time and celebration voting should and can be.

Downtown, there are long lines and lots of gab as neighbors talk about the glorious weather and the potential for change. I know that many of us have put our lives on hold in the overblown expectation that if Obama wins this election:
-Our lives will change
-The stock market will turn around
-The world will no longer see us as morons
-I will personally find a job
-My family and many others will get health care

That coupled with the treat enumerated above make this Election Day an enormous potential party. I know that all of this can not, and certainly won’t come to fruition is any kind of quick step, but after eight years of such stunning disregard for:
-The world
-The environment
-The middle class and the poor
-Education

I just need to believe that we are not witnessing the end of days.

And if hope is evinced in treats, then I am heartened by the free offers which abound. I write this with bated breath and fingers crossed, which by the way is a tough way to type.

>Meltdown

>I recall back in 1987, my daughter was three years old and witnessed with us the biggest one-day stock market crash, which looks quite pale by comparison to this eight day descending market. A group of grown-ups sat around the dinner table discussing the market crash in terrified tones, when my smart girl piped up, “And the super market, did that crash too?”

It was a joyful realization that some things remained in tact.

But now when countries are failing, banks and businesses, and it is hard to breathe, sometimes waiting to find a job and consider myself safe, and I know this spills over to all of us, but all of us are desperate to find ways to find safety. This economic terror seems less to me that the explosions and threats, as they can be labored through and this terror seems to ask for hunker time.

My husband went to the still-standing super market in the Hudson Valley and bought a giant bag of rice, 50 pounds, and cans of beans and bags of beans and all I can say is that a hunker might prove very gaseous. But still I am making a big pot of chili for tonight, and still steaks remain in the freezer. But honestly, what should we all be doing?

That is where the terror lies. I know that America, and I have gotten too fat and soft in the last decade. I know that I have to say NO to the idea of giving myself a loan to buy what I think I need. I know I don’t need it . . . . Just fill in the blanks. But still I need, really need to pay the mortgage and college tuition and will there be loans for that?

In times of fear I want to read, to escape, or I want to hit a ball or chop down trees or grass or watch a good movie. I am tired from the opera and from continuous weeks of sharing my feelings on this blog about an event that I thought might wave a magic wand and change my work life for the better. But that curtain dropped and, yes, there is small work to follow, but the magic ended on the stage and the real world with its economic craziness that has left the tiny amount of money I saved and squished into Apple stock or Johnson & Johnson — all good companies — turned into dust. So it is as if I wished for a magic dust to change things and I forgot to be specific enough and what we got is this.

I know I am not responsible. I know that even when I put on my magical thinking cap to say, “Okay, would you wish for Obama in the election, the economic situation to turn around or for the job to come to you?”

I know I say “OBAMA.”

Because I believe if that happens, then maybe the other pieces will fall, ever so slowly, into place. Oh the things that wishing makes you ponder.

>Hearing the passion in Obama’s Downtown supporters

>

I have lived in Tribeca for over 30 years and certainly in its graying, last decade, when its residents either got just older, or older and riche, it has seemed as if my neighborhood was a very indifferent place, politically.

Many of us who came of age in the Mark Rudd, S.D.S. anit-war protests of the ’60s and ’70s, of late have tread the road more taken. The political apathy of the generation formerly known as activist, rabble rousers is renowned — as we are more often cited for parenting vigor or traveling aggressively. But on Monday night, the official observance of Martin Luther King’s birthday, and the same night that three Democratic candidates were slinging mud in a debate, there was a political meeting in Tribeca.

It was the brain child of an unlikely foursome: Downtown resident Ruth Charney who offered her big loft in the old Bob DeNiro, Harvey Keitel building on Hudson St.; activist comedian Reno who is the resident celebrity in my building on North Moore St.; long time Obama friend, and supporter, the lawyer David Carden; and the final member being economist Jeffrey Shafer, currently the head economist and political strategist at Citigroup’s global banking division. These four had met at a previous Obama rally, and Jeffrey Shafer and Reno concluded that if the Obama movement could bring together souls as disparate as they are, then there must be something more happening. And so they endeavored to set up a Tribeca meeting designed to allow undecided voters to gather information about Barack Obama, the man and candidate.

Reno acted as the emcee managing the crowd of over 75, who took chairs, leaned against walls or lounged with kids or dogs on the loft floor. She took pot shots at the current administration and other politicians, as well as herself referencing her well-known lesbian activist roots: “I thought I had to be for Hillary because, well she is a woman and I am a woman, at least ‘menza menza’ I am a woman. But we asked people to come and hear about Obama, people who might be on the fence.” The meeting took off when Jeffrey Shafer, under secretary of international affairs in the Clinton administration’s Treasury Dept., told why he was supporting Obama. The distillate of Shafer’s path to Obama involved reading Obama’s books and simultaneously writing to the Hillary Clinton campaign with ideas, and getting no response from her advisors. In a 20-minute presentation involving great quotes, and personal stories, the essence emerged. Shafer came to the conclusion that, “Obama understands how other people see the world. He understands that unity is the great need of the hour.”

David Carden followed; a thin man, brimming over with facts, experience and information all strung together with an intelligence that heated the room. Carden unfolded his path toward supporting Obama and recounted how strongly he feels that we must have inspiration and real intelligence in out next president if we are to in any way redeem our country in the eyes of the world. Carden said, “If you had asked me 22 years ago, when my wife was working at the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago and Obama was organizing on the South Side of Chicago, if this man could be president, I would have said, yes. Let me tell you why. He is the best listener I have ever seen. He emits empathy and intelligence. This is what led Obama to stay in the business of other people’s business, which is what politics is.”

The formal presentations ended and the questions, queries and worries from the audience began to pour out. A variety of neighbors questioned electability, experience and even specific votes for both Hillary and Obama. There was a sense from some attendees that the evening had turned from fact finding to a rally for Obama. And it certainly was difficult not to be caught up in the passion evinced by Shafer, Carden and some other guests who had been in Iowa canvassing for Obama. Carden’s retelling of the Iowa trip was moving as he recounted the personal stories of those he met. He concluded with this: “We need a shared mythology. We are the stories we tell and we are also the stories others tell us.”

Certainly this evening, when dozens of neighbors rallied to share their thoughts, ideas and stories, had gone a long way to providing the assembled with both facts and the effect surrounding Barack Obama. It also had perhaps the unintended effect of uniting us as a community. We forget that we have to listen to our neighbors, know their stories, as well as our own and respect our differences and the vibrant similarities.

Yes, information was shared, but the energy, the belief that we can still be passionate was the most important byproduct for this too often apathetic voter.