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.
VIDEO: South Miami Settlement
November 2, 2009, Monday, Miami Florida, guesthouse of X and Y
In one dream I was tending a child about 4 years old who seemed a conglomerate of Cid and Ella. The child, androgynous, was difficult, aggressive, and most noticeably feigned vomiting each time I tried to guide or discipline it. The suggestion was it hated me and would resist any order or suggestion from me. Its mother was present, resembling Katy, and she just seemed to sigh and express resignation.
During the night, in real life, as I moved the second pillow that elevated my head too high, I knocked over my night drinking glass filled with cold tea. It shattered, making further sleep a problem.
The nights are very warm and sticky, reminding me of Gaza.
Providentially I made my Quakers in Palestine/Israel presentation on the day beginning the 50th anniversary of the building used by Miami Friends Meeting. Mine was during the meeting for learning, in which I learned that Mustafa Bourghoti’s daughter graduated from the Ramallah Friends School and may have influenced her parents toward non-violence. I’m told a relatively large group attended my session, probably because of the anniversary celebration, and I believe the show went very well. I’m learning that show intimately. Makes all the difference.
Meeting itself drew about 35 (maybe 25 attended my show), which also was said to be a large number, and most importantly it was lively and hearty with strong messages. One ended in a robust sung solo. Andrew’s girl friend/partner gave an odd message that ended in what I thought was the statement, afraid to be happy. I was prepared to add to it about people in Gaza afraid to be happy. I didn’t. And later asked her what she meant. She corrected my hearing by declaring, I said “dare to be happy.” I might have crafted a message around that assertion. Other messages were about loss, a husband, a sister, the sister endlessly suffering, as do many I’m afraid. No way out other than dying.
Meeting for worship was followed by meeting for eating and schmoozing, always fun. I was confirmed in observing that this meeting is highly politically active, compared with some. They recently opened a Quaker peace center across the street, essentially one room. From its budget they gave me a very generous honorarium, more than I’d expected (expectation = zero). Warren told me as he handed over the check, you may not receive anything from the other Miami venues (2 university shows sponsored by student groups). Before meeting several discussed the case of a woman who might be deported back to Central America, how they might help. This reminds us of the sanctuary movement in the early 1980s, protecting Central and South Americans from deportation.
Miami is ethnically diverse: not only Cubans, but many from the other Americas make this their home. And some have become affluent. For a photographer concerned about subcultures, as was someone I met in Miami, this is Mecca. It also sprawls, and has lousy public transportation. But at least one good public school which is what brought my host here initially.
I passed a milestone: last blog and subsite entries from the Palestine/Israel summer trip posted. Now what? Photos and writing from this trip?
Daughters Kate and Joey both wrote about Halloween with the weenie ones, Cid as a pirate with a red headpiece (was it?) and Ella as a pink pig. Rex took a pass for this year. There is now discussion about a family Thanksgiving in NYC, maybe renting an apartment for the 3 families, Kate and family, Lynn and Chuck, me. Elaine also wrote with a brief update. And I’ve been in touch by phone with my cousin Bob Schiel who now is a prisoners’ advocate in an institution, reporting that he loves his job. Y leaves for her cross-country drive on Wednesday, I must write her today.
November 3, 2009, Tuesday, Miami Florida, guesthouse of X and Y
Nearly a nightmare situation last night finding the venue at the Florida Atlantic University, and finding my home site later. The ride there, coordinating with Andrew and Mohammed, took about 3 hours, passing at least 3 accidents, and returning required a cool 3.5 hrs. Admittedly the first journey was during rush hour, 3:45 to 7, but the 2nd began at 10 pm.
Partly this is my fault for assuming Mohammed who’d set up the gig knew where I’m residing (he had had a phone discussion with one of my hosts), and partly his seemingly native ignorance of travel and directions. He couldn’t find his car, twice, aimed at the wrong Old Cutler Road, but luckily he and I remained calm, trying our best to laugh this ballooning debacle away. Net result was we arrived at the last minute for the show and I crawled into bed at 1:30 AM.
I resist writing details of this painful journey so I can move to the veggies of the evening: a family of 7 Palestinian women and girls attended, learning about it on Facebook at the last minute (I must remember to learn how to use Facebook more effectively for announcements.) Some had rich backgrounds, others seemed less knowledgeable but equally eager to learn. The family has roots in Bethlehem’s Aida refugee camp, knows Al Rowwad Cultural Center, knows Abed, the director, but the children had attended another summer camp in Aida, which I promised to research to see if I might volunteer someday.
Otherwise the audience was miniscule, some 5 others, in a hard to find conference room, which Susan Koppelman recently used to make a presentation about Lifesource.
A highlight of the day was biking. Aas I mentioned to my host yesterday that I was going for a walk in the nearby park, he responded: why don’t you borrow one of our bikes.
Great idea. I landed what he calls a “Comfort Bike,” large with a high seat and high handlebars, effective shock absorbers, many gears, and wide tires. The machine hums along. It brought me for a ride thru a golf course, something I’ve never done before, up and down rolling hills on a path used by the carts. No one shooed me away. Other than the maintenance personnel, I was alone—no golfers. Periodically I spotted white signs stuck in to the green announcing a certain synagogue along with what I presume are supporters of the golf course or an event that happened on it recently. Also a marina, apartment or condo complexes, waterways, a myriad of Florida-specific landforms that present the traditional Florida face. They challenged me to show it in some slightly or dramatically different way. Have I succeeded?
I later tried 2 other branching roads. One led me to a horticultural research station exploring sub tropical plants. Told to leave. Another to a park past a recycling center and ball field into a construction site. Told to leave. But I’d managed to choose the right path first, the golf course.
Taking advantage of the phone rate structure which does not differentiate between local and long distance calls, I phoned Y on a lark to wish her goodbye (she leaves tomorrow to drive cross country.) and Katy to just drop in. Ella said a robust hello grandpa, lighting my day considerably. At this moment Ella is really the only person intimate physically with me, an irony—and intimate only in the sense of holding hands, sitting on my lap, the sort of intimacy that is a major part of what I miss while single.
Returning from the bike ride I swam, another highlight of this 3-day drop in to South Miami. I don’t recall being in any city with more highways, more private vehicles, a more convoluted and spread out landscape. We drove endlessly yesterday and nearly always on 8 lane highways past malls. What could be uglier? Mohammed who can’t be more than 35 years old told me he remembers when one of the roads we drove on, Rt 1, the main road south, going to the Florida Keys, was mostly farms. (Is this the road Jack Kerouac took when traveling south, later to write about it in On the Road?)
A bright spot in all the driving is conversation. And since relationships are one of my favorite topics, I turned to A to ask him more about his relationship with S who sat next to him at meeting, the two of them caressing each other during the silence. Knowing each other for 10 years, sort of partners for 7, he initially suggested marriage, she demurred, saying where would we live, how would we share? She is reasonably content where she is, he where he is, not only the physical arrangements but the life styles. Which is what Y and I faced when considering living together and marrying: too different, too set. So A and S co-exist, share overnights, have a sort of commitment (again like Y and me) with a big difference about extra partner sex. One favors, one does not.
November 4, 2009, Wednesday, Orlando Florida, on the bus between Miami and Tallahassee
I begin this after an 80-minute layover in Orlando. It is now 6:30 AM.
Having slept most of the first leg of this 12 hour bus journey (which began at midnight in Miami), I am now poised for a journey across the first part of my Gulf Coast route to New Orleans. On the bus with me are about 20 others (about 1/4 full), mostly black, mostly young, a few with small children. Legroom is ample, service is decent, air is cold (I wear my mid weight fall jacket). Cost is $45, station facilities adequate (altho they closed the café within 15 minutes of me sitting down to drink my coffee and eat my yogurt with banana). I saw virtually nothing on the first portion, sailing thru the night under a full moon.
The Gaza show last evening to a class in the sociology of the Middle East (Florida International University in Miami) went exceptionally well, judging by the length and intensity of the discussion. It continued for more than one hour, with many questions, none of them hostile, most thoughtful and well articulated. Besides the usual issues raised, I learned of 2 other countries that are now united after decades of division, or once were —Germany and Yugoslavia. Another vexing question that recurs is what explains the pattern of oppressed people turning into oppressors? One answer given by the prof is that while individuals may possess historical memory, societies don’t—there is no societal memory. Evidence for this is how as nations we usually learn little from history. Vietnam into Afghanistan, Johnson into Obama. Otherwise humanity would have evolved much further than it has. So he claims.
This was a mixed crowd of about 40, standing room only (small room), mostly the class’s students, but some from outside, including about 5 young Muslim women. At the last minute (one of the virtues of slide shows) I’d inserted a photo of the local federal representative, Ileana somebody, a Cuban exile with right wings tendencies (common among that class) who’d authored House Resolution 867 opposing the Goldstone report on Gaza. It had been voted on yesterday, the day of the show. I’ve not yet heard the results. [overwhelmingly approved, meaning the US House overwhelmingly condemns the report]
I’m learning the show intimately; I’ve tailored what I say. I have nearly memorized some of the narration, and I can anticipate much better the slide sequence. A problem remains: how vividly do the visuals alone, sans words, show the politics of the issue? I’d referred to this problem while introducing the show and a young man, the only Jew present, asked me specifically about how can photography better express politics. Which launched me into a discussion about the relationship between words and pix. I believe I fail to brilliantly utilize visuals; here I need to learn technique, maybe by closer observation of the work of masters such as Smith, Lange, Selgado, and younger photographers.
To try to answer that young man I mentioned my use of portraits, photos of things only, not people, and sequence. I used the portrait of Raghda as an example, stating, some (thinking of X’s heartening response to the photo) might find this evocative of Raghda’s true nature, her suffering and struggle, while others might see merely a beautiful woman, or an exotic woman, or a Palestinian, or nothing at all. (Not stated was do you see my love for her?) Later at dinner (delicious Japanese, a treat from Mohammed to Carlos and me) I admitted my love for her. She is among the most important ties I have with Gazans, one of my dearest connections.
One way to improve my Gaza show is to deepen the portraits, concentrate on key people: Raghda, Ibrahem, Amal, Yusef, Belal, Reem, Adham, and if only I had better photos of Mohammed, how he suffers.
Who is Carlos, mentioned earlier? A young man with Venezuelan roots who we drove to the show, friend of Mohammed’s, and part of the organizing team for a group of immigrant rights’ workers who plan to walk from Miami to DC between January 1 and May 1. We discussed this extraordinary effort in the car driving to the university—and I invited him to outline the walk during the discussion. The group of 3 key organizers has contacts in national organizations, seem very knowledgeable, are all students who are going on leave for one semester. They have some financial backing, Mohammed promised to help with resources from his organization, the Islamic Council, and they risk arrest and deportation. This walk is more daring than any I’ve undertaken. I hope to stay connected, having offered Carlos the Atlanta Buddhist dojo Nipponzan Myohoji contact.
Carlos seems astute, articulate, committed, and brave, I hope I’m fair to consider him a fellow traveler. Once again, a side benefit, an important benefit of this tour, unpredictable but expected, is meeting such as Mohammed and Carlos.
I had my second bike ride, on that special bike, the Comfort bike, generously lent me by R. This time to an upscale housing development where I made videos while biking, one of my favorite modes of making visuals. I was stimulated while observing the construction of a mammoth house. Then I headed back to the Deering Bay complex and biked along the cart trail in the gulf course making video. Humming and talking to myself, I spontaneously narrated the video, much fun. This time I was warned that biking is not allowed—warned by a woman with skinny legs—in a golf course. The paradox of bikes forbidden, carts OK, once again speaks to the ethics of this country, our priorities.
Following the bike ride, a swim, following the swim, lunch, following lunch, a nap, following my nap, cottage cleanup and packing, following that, more computer work.
I struggle to recalibrate my system, one aspect of my essential being: less dependent on attention from women (or anyone), and more independent while working and traveling. In a practical sense this means less disappointment when no one corresponds with me, or the correspondence is fragmentary, sporadic, pithy to the point of being formulaic, and more appreciation for my solitary state of being. Why moan about loneliness and miss the pleasure and privilege of roaming the earth out of eyesight of others? Why not revel in my isolated existence? Why not more fully engage the mystery of being alone? Why not cultivate being incognito? How about becoming a present day Ambrose Bierce, who vanished from the earth and in vanishing became more visible?
It is now 7:08 AM, and I am northwest of Orlando, heading to Gainesville and then Tallahassee. This route revisits some of my earlier sites on this tour.
I inquire: am I the sort of grandpa that my father was to me, always traveling, not fulfilling family duties, missing the growing up phase of my youngers?