Excerpts from my journal while touring the southern United States with new photographs and stories (itinerary). The main shows are Gaza Steadfast, Bethlehem the Holy, Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, and Quakers in Palestine/Israel.
On Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2009
VIDEO: mcdonalds florida
October 27, 2009, Tuesday, Gainesville, Florida, home of SC and S, front room:
Finally, a dream or two that seems substantial, at least I recalled major sections of one. Too often the dreams have felt piecemeal, fragmentary, chunked up, as if watching a movie while going for refreshments, the toilet, the lobby to chat with friends, and so missing much of the film.
I was with family at some special location, like a bed and breakfast. P and I avoided each other. She was telling about Bertie and Alan’s daughter Jennifer, age 16, who’d become a single mother. Alan and Bertie adopted the child to raise it. As she told this I didn’t hear properly and had to ask, who, how old, what, why? This irked her and I finally walked out.
I then sat by myself during a meal while the rest of the family ate together. I pouted, I was miserable, with a sense that I was generating a large share of my own misery. This made my misery even greater.
My hosts in Gainesville are Z and his wife of 15 years, a second marriage, C. Both are Jewish, she has family in Israel; Z has been there several times. He is perhaps best known from a movie about a group of Vietnam War veterans who spoke out about what they were doing. He is fully disabled and I assume receives compensation. He seems not to have a job. C is a teacher, working with disabled children.
He drives fast, using 2 radar detectors. He sleeps into the late morning, staying up as late as 6 AM, thus requiring about 4 hours of sleep. He carries a licensed concealed revolver and declares that he is not a pacifist. He is 8 years my junior, joined the Marines just out of high school, the same year I became a conscientious objector. I mentioned to him as he unrolled his story that had I entered the military he and I might have met in Vietnam.
He has 2 confirmed kills from hand to hand combat, and many others not confirmed. He has 3 Purple Hearts, and was part of a squad ambushed by North Vietnamese soldiers not far from Hue. Not only wounded in Vietnam twice, but seriously wounded in the USA by a hit squad of federal agents for his political activity. He works with Veterans for Peace, and a new group founded during the Gaza assault, among other projects. His wife C seems to work much with him.
As with all my hosts and organizers I could devote my journal entirely to their stories, each fascinating in a unique way. This surveying of lives is a major part of my tour.
The Gaza show last night was held at the Civic Media Center, the CMC, which when I heard the term imagined a huge centrally located auditorium, drawing 1000s. Instead: a storefront library and meeting space, newly established, with a serviceable video set up and many many books and videos. Two groups were meeting, one a committee about outreach for the Center; most of the attendees were college age, and a few stayed for my show. Total audience count—about 20. And not a very exciting show.
One question that I must add to my show is who profits from sustaining the violence? In short, the interlocking military industries. Also raised was how to broaden the audience, a common question. Talking with Yazan about this earlier I answered, the elderly residential centers and universities and colleges broadens the audience. I could add high schools, an overlooked audience.
Z and C live in a rambling house in the country, sitting alongside 3000 acres of forest. We saw a bobcat stroll thus the woods yesterday. They have dogs, 2 of them old. Z expanded the house by adding wings and enclosing a porch and garage so that now its 10 or so rooms seem to absorb people. Fish inhabit the house, mostly from Africa, in a series of about 10 large tanks. They are in many rooms, forming a veritable many-celled aquarium. The computer room houses about 4 Macs, so many, Z explained, so that they have enough for backups and for others who use the house as an office. He promised me free software and an operating system upgrade. Z is in the enviable position of being retired and working fulltime. He is 61, seems healthy, active, energetic, committed, living a dream life of any activist. He is fully an activist.
Hearing his various dramatic stories I had the impression that he’s told these many times, often to large audiences, some in high schools and colleges. He is an able raconteur and gave me a lifting introduction last night (which did not seem to warm the small crowd).
For both this is their 2nd marriage. They’ve merged families, bringing their children from previous marriages together. However, many of the children when they married were grown. They seem to be active as grandparents. The dynamic here must be complicated.
This is a layover day because another opportunity at Gainesville evaporated when the local organizer failed to secure a room. The possibility of a mosque also fell thru so I have a day of respite in Gainesville, my first day off since beginning the tour about 10 days ago. I intend to revise the Gaza show, caption my photos, attend to the tour organizing, and possibly see what I can do at a distance about my New England tour. No wireless internet here, so I have to use his computers for my Internet access, a minor impediment.
With this relaxed day I might be able to expand my limited photography. Z promised to show me a church which is displaying hate signs against Arabs and Muslims, equating Arabs with the devil.
Leaving New Smyrna yesterday D showed me the beach. Astonishing—the tiny particles of dark gray sand, tightly packed. She explained that this is also the quality of Daytona Beach nearby and why it makes an ideal speedway. The water was cool, she says it’s clean; a few people were in the water, none swimming. Undertows are a concern, drowning some people, and New Smyrna is known as the shark capital of the world. Many bites, few serious injuries. Why? Fishers dump their trash into the ocean, attracting the sharks.
A long drive across the width of the state. I was impressed with how people-empty much of Florida is—the human population concentrates near the water. Mostly trees, many pines. 2 lane highways, nothing alongside them but the forest and sand. Very flat.
October 28, 2009, Wednesday, Gainesville, Florida home of SC and S, front room:
Dreaming: that Y and I attended a dance with many people eventually dancing together in one large circle. All held hands, and then someone declared that we would each turn right, bend over, tuck in our head, connect with the next person to make a chain, and prepare to be leaped over. A man was in front of me, I had to pack my neck against his butt, not an easy task.
Y seems to be appearing regularly in my dreams now, and as herself, not a stand in for her that is not a look-alike. In one we might have even have decided to reunite.
If this dream is indeed now recurring, it might be prompted by the couples I’ve been staying with and observing. D and D a few days ago in New Smyrna Beach, and now Z and C. As Z and I sat together at the dinner table he asked, are you still married? (one of his few questions to me, he does not seem to interested in my experiences.) I explained my situation and then thru my questions and his spontaneous disclosures he outlined his situation: informal and multifarious, admirable but not quite for me.
Z and C are married; he professes a life-long commitment between them, tho not fully monogamous. Not a bad arrangement. However, given my poor record with that form of relationship I’m not sure I would do well with this. It is most decidedly not what I’m looking for now.
They work together closely, on boards together, planning events, sending out mailings, and last night setting up and cleaning up from the peace event their organization cosponsored.
I’d say what I most miss, admire, and desire is a working partnership.
At my request, Z took me for a walk around the grounds. He and C own about 10 acres, and nearby is a plot of some 3000 acres. We discovered new fences, shocking him. No animals, but signs of armadillos—turned up ground, they’re looking for insects. Some scat, no tracks, nothing definitive, no sign of the bobcat we’d spotted the day before. Leaving the house C said, I’m going to pack a piece, you never know what we’ll find. He carried a revolver strapped to his waist, ammo pockets, GI style, on the belt. The belt or the leather holster creaked as he walked. I photographed. He told me, I can hit a man’s head at 100 yards, this is a high power 22-caliber target pistol.
He is also a wild driver, speeding down a slick (just rained) highway at night, 80 mph, two radar detectors operating. And Z and C were both stoned.
The event last night brought together a Jewish-Muslim-Christian panel for interfaith dialog about how to make peace. Absent from the discussion was the notion of justice. I mentioned this several times to different people. C explained that they wished to be non confrontative in their first session, not risk driving people out—or not attending at all. A large group showed up, around 100, and when asked to identify their orientation by standing when that worship form was announced—Christian, Muslim, Jew—I noticed about an equal division, thirds. Next to me sat a woman in her 40s that didn’t stand until the designation other faith community was called. Thinking she might be Buddhist, I learned when we broke into small groups that she was Unitarian Universalist, not thinking of herself as a Christian.
At times the questions seemed rather complex: what is your community’s notion of peace, what does your community do to foster peace, what blocks peace, does your community have people who believe their way is the only way, etc. In our groups of 3 we were to discuss the questions, appearing on a screen to remind us.
Much energy and good feeling pervaded the gathering and many expressed wishes to continue. This reminded me of the meeting in the Cambridge mosque shortly after 911—much energy, little follow-up. This group however might be different, a mix of faith communities and peace groups. Z is a key person and he doesn’t seem likely to let the event drift into some archive, never to stimulate a second program.
On the way there we stopped at a church that has put out signs demeaning Islam, claiming it is of the devil. A gallows showing a Muslim hanging a Christian main is the feature. Needless to state, this has been controversial. Someone called Z telling him about the signs, he rallied his various groups, Eve McMasters, the local Mennonite minister who I’d met last December while on tour, organized a prayer vigil at the signs that drew over 100 people. I photographed the complex of signs and gallows while a few people stood in front of the church, about 300 yards from me.
The day off allowed me finally to return to revising Gaza. I find waiting is vital for this process to work well. Waiting till after a requisite number of showings demonstrate to me what is lacking, what is repetitive, what is unclear, what is dramatic? Which slide should precede, which succeed another. Absent is any mention of Israeli Palestinians protesting the Gaza assault. Wrongly placed is the social landscape of Beit Hanoun—should come before not after the first aid class and soccer field. I’ve added 2 pix of pre-conflict Gaza, addressing the suggestion David made at Y’s about not showing enough of that period, in fact, barely mentioning it. Slowly the show grows. Will it ever become a major entity in the world of media?
Z gave me a few important computer applications—OS 10.5, Techtools, and Macripper for copying DVDs. He offered me others. He’s also given me copies of some reports and photos he’s made, one about his trip to Israel-Palestine in the 90s. In his manner, a very generous and supportive person.
October 29, 2009, Thursday, Tampa Florida, home of MU, side room by kitchen:
Shifting from Gainesville, I am now further south and west, in Tampa, on the western coast of Florida, with MU, her son L, and T. Exactly who T is and what relationship he has with the others isn’t yet clear.
Grandparents of M are from Norway, she and L look very Norwegian, and she’s visited there with the film she brings around the country and world about Sami Alerian, the computer science prof from the University of Southern Florida suffering years in prison and now under house arrest because of alleged ties with Hamas. I will make my Gaza presentation tonight at that same university, with security provided in case of protests.
L seems a remarkable character, how he looks and what he does. A recent graduate of Luther College in Iowa, he paints. Someone from the USS Liberty commissioned him to make a painting about that tragedy. He showed it to me, working in his studio converted from the garage. Working from photos of the ship, he is drawing in suffering figures with a motif that vaguely suggests Christian iconography. He explained it to me, a triangle representing the trinity, but I failed to register the subtleties. The commissioner is a Christian and at first requested more overt symbolism.
L also has a theory about the CIA influence on modernism, another theory or observation I didn’t fully follow but would like to investigate. His contention is that certain political powers in this country, notably the intelligence agencies, wished to remove political content from art and thus supported abstractionism—Jackson Pollack chief among them, and others in that school. This was effective, resulting in the creation of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, a testament to modern art. Result: the removal of political art.
I doubt I have the theory accurately noted here, simply a notion to explore later. L’s art is clearly political and on that level we resonate.
He is handsome in an odd sort of way. High wide forehead, curvaceous mouth, and very strong muscled arms. His mother tells me as a youth he was teeny, now he works out.
T is the mystery figure. A statistician, he uses data and statistics to answer questions. He is diabetic and in the kitchen last night after my show at the United Church of Christ church near the house we chatted about how late onset diabetes can be mitigated, if not cured, by simply eating vegetarian and exercising more. He’s published a book. This method does not work for him because his diabetes is early onset. He also claims the mind can cure much of the body’s illnesses, a contention I support.
My Gaza show at the church last night drew a group of about 30 seemingly appreciative souls, many of them Muslim, most of them women. More Muslims are attending than on any of my earlier 3 tours. David Goodman and his wife Mary Jane (whose laugh is distinctive and infectious) greeted me. I’d met them last December when they hosted me. I believe they toured me around Tampa. (I could probably check in my journal, one of the many blessings of keeping my journal so religiously.) I also met Samar who’d interviewed me by phone last week for her radio station. She’s from Lyd, a destroyed Palestinian village now in Israel and told me that she recently visited her house, met the resident, and learned that one or more Palestine families continue to live in Lyd. And that the area is now infested with the drug trade.
The show went well. Quotes from Nomika Zion and Eric Yellin in Sderot are a major enhancement, adding content to the otherwise relatively straightforward images. I’ve whittled the show down to some 65 minutes which this audience at least tolerated. No one fled, all stayed for the discussion, which itself was rich. One complaint about the sound however—that it boomed or buzzed and was more distracting than beneficial. I’d noticed a strange tone to the music, thought it was the audio setting, but now have to reconsider this choice of sound.
I am coming to like the show more, to experience some pride in it, to look forward to sharing it with others. Whereas previously I was embarrassed by it, stung by earlier shows that drove people from the theater or church. Nothing is more upsetting to me than people leaving.
Rob at the local public radio station interviewed me in the studio. M thought it was a very good interview. I was impressed with his background info and how he challenged me. The interview generated 2 call-in’s, both supportive, one rambly. I felt collected and sharp. This is a chore—same chore during post show discussions—to stay focused on the remark someone offers. At times to listen beneath the surface and speak directly to the heart of the other. Especially challenging would be a hostile remark.
The drive with S to meet M was once again terrifying. He speeds. Nearing 90 mph, I questioned silently whether we’d survive. He is, in his manner, a mad man, driven mad perhaps by his war experience.
But he and his wife C are gracious. He explained further to me his attitudes and practices concerning women. A brazen fellow with much to admire, I have to wonder how that would suit me. Too complicated, too time consuming, too distracting. Rather my impulse is toward one loyal woman, a partner in multiple facets.
A brief Google chat with Katy who reports finding writing work. 2 jobs, both of them I assume high paid. Good for her.
My latest blog about Jerusalem and Ramallah has generated nearly 100 visits, almost a record. Good sign. Someone is at least sampling my writing. No comments yet.
A few more gigs are coming thru, some in southern Florida, one possibly in Memphis. We scratched the Oxford Mississippi one because of transport problems.