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From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now from home in Cambridge Massachusetts, after I had photographed internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. (I and the Alternatives to Violence Project, AVP, team plan a return journey in early summer 2019.)

Amongst ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples in this country. After the Arabs are transferred, the country will be wide open for us; with the Arabs staying the country will remain narrow and restricted … There is no room for compromise on this point … land purchasing … will not bring about the state … The only way is to transfer the Arabs from here to neighbouring countries, all of them, except perhaps Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Old Jerusalem. Not a single village or a single tribe must be left. And the transfer must be done through their absorption in Iraq and Syria and even in Transjordan. For that goal, money will be found – even a lot of money. And only then will the country be able to absorb millions of Jews … there is no other solution.

—Yousef Weitz, diary, December 20, 1940

PHOTOS

October 13, 2018, Saturday, Jerusalem, Old City, Golden Gates Hostel

I’ve done a fair amount of research about locations and routes. Nidal helped last night when I belatedly realized I’d not included his family’s origin site, Al Qabu (spelled Gabu in my notes), near Tsar Hadassah, which is near Wadi Fukin on the West Bank side of the Green Line. Most of these destroyed arab villages are near each other, which makes sense because all the folks I recently interviewed live in Aida refugee camp, proximate to the origin sites. To a large extent I expect to rely on Google Maps on my iPhone, rather than the paper maps and guidebook I brought. So much for paper, lightens the load. And perhaps directions I ask but I will need to exercise care in what I ask for, not the Arabic name, but the newly crafted Hebrewized Israeli name.

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Al Qabu/El Kabu, Ottoman period, 1870’s (click map to enlarge)

I look forward to discoveries, disappointments, good food, overnights in moshav guesthouses (no hostels that I discovered reviewing my literature last evening), and even in my car, if I can rock the seat back and sleep comfortably. I plan to go light, leave most of my luggage at the Golden Gate hostel, and hope I decide correctly what to bring.

Thinking I’m at a crossing point in this project, thus a good time to send a dispatch as I’d promised to my financial benefactors, yesterday I wrote a string of people, virtually the same message each time, personally adjusted to each person. Starting with Paul D, my first donor, followed by Shola, my second, and ending with my last so far, Diane M. They qualified by donating $25 or more. I was heartened by the list, by the image of each person, as if I carry them with me, and they carry me. I don’t recall ever doing this sort of fundraising before, where the mechanism creates a digital trail that I can readily access. Unlike earlier when I sent a physical asking letter, deposited checks, kept a record, left it at home when I traveled here, thanked only once upon receiving the money.

The message core:

diane,

thanking you again for your support and for being a neighborhood inspiration.

from the old city of jerusalem after one week in the aida refugee camp in bethlehem, now during a day off: finished with photographing (for now) internally displaced palestinian refugees in the west bank (blocked from entering gaza, maybe next spring), finished with photographing and videoing trainings of the alternatives to violence project (avp) in 3 west bank cities, now about to drive to some of the villages the people i met were expelled from in 1948 and 1967. 

samples below at the links.

onward. and later, when home in six days, i begin the next phase of this multi-trip journey: post production. as a wise person once stated, falling out of an airplane is the easy part of the trip, the hard part is when the trip ends.

—Skip (from the Old City of Jerusalem, occupied territory)

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Click image to donate

While eating a delicious chicken dinner with salad and bread that I’d picked up at the local family restaurant about 200 meters to the south of the GG hostel, and reading the latest bulletin from Friends Meeting at Cambridge (FMC), my phone rang. Minga! She dropped in via Whatsapp, asked what I was doing, heard my news, asked about my (Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) experience, who I’d met, given her cards to, and told me about recent FMC news, the Quaker birthday timeline that Chris J put together for the family meeting (which included me), and her uncertainty about going to the Texas border, El Paso for accompaniment, or to El Salvador for AVP. She then put JVB (her husband and my good friend, Jonathan) on who asked that we switch to video. I showed him around the hostel, introduced him to Lutfe, the hostel manager, who they both knew from previous stays here, and asked that we have a conversation, the 3 of us, shortly after I return, “to talk all about me,” I said. Meaning a decompression period, a digestion period, a time of reflection. I reminded him that he and Minga are the only Quakers who share so many details of Palestine-Israel experiences. Including the Christian Peacemakers Teams, Hebron, Ramallah, Jean Zaru, Ramallah Friends School, Ramallah, and right on down to the GG hostel.

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Minga via Whatsapp

Minga asked what I’d like her prayers for. Mostly in the realm of open heart, open eyes, good health, and relative safety, not too much safety, just enough. She asked me if I minded traveling alone. I answered no. Maybe now, in my current station in life, I might even prefer it. As the joke goes about the 102 yr old woman: anything good about being so old, yes, no peer pressure.

Traveling alone means no wrangling with a partner about where, when, why, and how. I recall all the fights Louise and I experienced driving cross-country in 1990, and yet, despite our fights, that trip led to one of the highlights of my experience with her, the Bigfoot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee. And the drive itself was monumental and unforgettable.

Also traveling with the AVP team earlier on this journey was a delight and I miss them constantly.

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Alternatives to Violence Project team at a memorial for a friend of Skip’s, Jerusalem Old City

Leaving Bethlehem thru the checkpoint I’d thought earlier I might write Katy [one of my two daughters] another note with some more photos but didn’t really have the chance. I made a few surreptitious photos as I went thru the vast mechanism, turnstiles, waiting people, and workers rebuilding the checkpoint, probably all Palestinian, and might consider, if I have time, sending her one or two with a brief account. I might include several acts of gentle kindness I experienced during this brief trip.

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Palestinian worker,  Bethlehem checkpoint 300

Among these acts of kindness:

As I stood outside my Aida guest quarters waiting for Mousa to drive me to the checkpoint, a man pulled up before the house, picked some people up, and then asked me if he could help. I told him I was waiting for Mousa. He phoned Mousa who told him he, Mousa, was waiting for me to phone him that I was ready. I didn’t know this requirement. Without that surprise benefactor I might have been waiting much longer: where the heck is Mousa?

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My luggage outside the guest house, waiting for Mousa

Mousa himself of course who’d offered to drive me when I’d asked about taxis.

Mohammed (Mousa) Al Azzeh, my organizer and translator, an accomplished photographer-videographer working for the Lejee Center in Aida-Palestine-Aida-refugee-IMG_1602 SM.jpg

Mohammed (Mousa) Al Azzeh, my organizer and translator, an accomplished photographer-videographer working for the Lejee Center in Aida refugee camp

Waiting outside the checkpoint for the big bus to Jerusalem, a long line of older folks presumably going to Al Aqsa mosque for Friday prayers, I wondered how to signal the driver to open the luggage compartment and not lose my place in line, risking he’d drive off without me and with my luggage? After I’d loaded my luggage from the outside a man told me to enter the bus ahead of others, but in effect regaining my place in line.

On the crowded bus, standing room only, me with my heavy bulky backpack and second small pack, a man who looked at least as old as me wearing a sort of turban, motioned for me to take his seat for the relatively short ride to Jerusalem. No thanks, I motioned back, pointing to my pack. Too much trouble but thanks anyway.

Maybe because it was Muslim prayer day or simply natural good heartedness and Arab hospitality, I was richly treated.

TO BE CONTINUED

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From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now from home in Cambridge Massachusetts, after I had photographed internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. (I and the Alternatives to Violence Project, AVP, team plan a return journey in early summer 2019.)

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October 5, 2018, Saturday, Bethlehem, Aida refugee camp

PHOTOS (of Abdel)

ABDEL

Abdel was a delight and a challenge. He insisted on talking; he was loud and energetic, especially at his age of 84; he used his hands well, an animated figure; the background was both distracting and intriguing (a small shop with a variety of objects; apparently he sells them, it might be called a junk shop); he was fully engaged with Murad who introduced me to Abdel, translated, and asked his own questions—in effect, conducted the interview—which allowed me more photographic flexibility; and his story, altho conventional, is good to consider. 

A few twists: an Egyptian helped his family flee. Jordanian soldiers worked with the Israelis to expedite removal. For a time the family lived in the forest which later became the huge settlement of Har Homa. He was shot in the knee, I’m not sure when or why, whether during expulsion or later. When seated, which was mostly when I photographed him, he looked sturdy and hearty, but when he rose with the help of his cane, he looked in pain and infirm. I try to show this contrast. Like the family of Abed Abusrour, his nephew, his original village was Beit Natiff which I plan to visit soon, if I can find it.

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Later, as we finished, a friend dropped by and asked to be photographed with the Abdel and Murad. While doing this the newcomer showed me a scar on his upper chest. To insert batteries, he explained. I nearly died. In a coma for a few hours, just collapsed. Now I feel fine. He is about 5 years younger than me. Another result of expulsion or the usual aging process?

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That was pretty much the day, along with working on my new blog about Yousef Albaba from HalHul which is nearly finished. A task for today.

October 6, 2018, Saturday, Bethlehem, Aida refugee camp

PHOTOS (of Asaed)

ASAED

Merrily we roll along. I feel good about the project, the use of black and white for portraits, my various collaborators, slowly accommodating to the triple tasks of photographer-interviewer-sound engineer. Yesterday with Murad I interviewed a relatively young man, Asaed Abusrour, in his 50s, good in English, a former English teacher, more of an intellectual than any of the others interviewed. He dodged most or all of my questions about emotions, launching instead into analyses. For the first time I did not need to rely on translation but could speak directly, even tho Asaed was too young to have experienced the expulsion.

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His parents are also from the village of Beit Natiff which he told me is now totally destroyed and remade as an Israeli area. Complicating his family tree, both his mother and father married twice; I’m not sure why. Asked whether he was hopeful, he pointed to the grand perspective—his strong belief that this current situation cannot be sustained and will eventually resolve into some form of coexistence. Luckily I have the audio to refresh me. Trying to photograph and record and ask at the same time is daunting. I’ve never been a particularly good listener (ask Louise) but the recording, if audible, might clarify haziness.

Murad remained mostly in the background for this interview, attentive but quiet until I asked him if he had any questions or remarks to add. He asked Asaed, what would you like to see for our future? Which led Asaed to his remarks about the occupation and siege being unsustainable. And to my separate conversation with Murad about his, Murad’s—way of working toward liberation—media and teaching.

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After the interview we toured Asaed’s home, apparently living on one level with the prospect of a second, the home very large and clean. He lives there with his wife and a few children. He had no reservations about me photographing in and from the house. Again I forgot to photograph the entire building. I did photograph the roof and ground level garden from the roof.

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To get names straight I might choose a representative photograph from each sitting and then ask Murad and Mousa to write the names, attaching names to faces. It would form a sort of directory and help me later when I try to assemble everything.

Directory

Discovered: why the variation in exposure when in the camera’s back button focusing (BBF) mode (or any mode presumably). Sometime in the past I’d set for exposure bracketing (eons ago, then forgotten). Last evening I discovered this when I finally saw a pattern of wrong exposures. A series of one dark, one light, one correct. Repeatedly. I turned off bracketing exposure, made other adjustments, retested, and now I believe I’m no longer afflicted with the problem. Similarly, the rackety noise auto focus makes when in live view video mode. Turn off the frigging auto focus and focus manually. Gotta, gotta, gotta remember this. Small steps, big results.

Nearing the end of my six-week sojourn (as a flâneur, a term I recently discovered with multiple meanings. My choice: a person who saunters around observing society.) I remain unclear about what to do next week, stay or go, remain in Aida refugee camp for more photographs of people and the camp, including Dheisheh refugee camp, also in Bethlehem, or launch the next phase, searching for the destroyed Arab villages of people I’ve interviewed and photographed by car. I am drawn to places like Lydda that I’ve heard about generally or from Linda or the people in my project specifically. Would Murad or Mousa be willing to travel with me to nearby areas germane to the people in the camp? Can they, given the occupation? I might ask.

Yesterday while awaiting Murad at Rowwad, a large group approached the building. I was sitting outside. Immediately I recognized the tour guide, Elias, formerly a guide at Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem. He’d been one of our two guides for the In the Steps of the Magi walk across the Judean Desert, a monumental trip in 2004. (Ramzi from Bethlehem for the desert, Elias for after that, Ein Hod, Hebron, etc.) He’s “filled out,” that is grown pudgy; I honored him in front of others as one of the best guides I’ve experienced. Abed then met the group and toured them thru Rowwad-2.

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While sitting outside waiting for Murad, two girls, ages 8 and 9 (they told me after they’d asked my age, 77), photographed the scene, including me. So their photos may be the only photos of me-Skip-the humble photographer resting between action.

LINKS

Report: Trump to Demand Recognized Palestinian Refugees Be Capped at Tenth of Current Number (Haaretz, August 2018)

TO BE CONTINUED

 

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From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field, as I photograph internally displaced refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, plus their ancestral lands. (and as I photograph the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) trainings at least in Bethlehem, Hebron, and Ramallah, Gaza as well if I get my permit from Israel)

A day or so after entry I wrote a few friends and family:

Dearest friends and family,

I write you happily from the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. At airport security, possibly because of the huge tourist influx, many drawn by the upcoming Jewish high holidays, I passed thru passport control with no questions, no suspicious looks, no requests to stand interrogation, no need for my various stories and contacts, no smiles, no welcomes, no shalom’s, just a simple handing back my passport with the treasured three-month visa. That three month period would get me past my December birthday, in case I wanted to celebrate it here.

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Church of the Holy Sepulchre

I’ve met a portion of my AVP team members (Alternatives to Violence Project), we expect to visit the kotel or western or wailing wall this evening, and tomorrow head to Bethlehem to set up trainings, and then to Hebron. We do not yet have our Gaza permit, but I at least remain hopeful. 

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AVP team, Rebecca Hecht, Joe DiGarbo, Steve Alderfer

On the airplane, Lufthansa, Boston to Munich to Tel Aviv, I made a slew of iPhone photos, my first ever with such a handy device, over the once warring Balkan region, and then over the even earlier warring Italian-Greek peninsula, site of the origins of so much we value in western civilization. Odd, thought I, that I’m flying on a German plane, stopping over in the fire-bombed Munich which also was the site of violence toward Israel by the Palestinian liberation organization (PLO), into Israel, with that history very current in my thinking and experience.

FLIGHT PHOTOS

Earlier today I met with owners of Educational Bookseller in Jerusalem, an exemplary approach to draw attention to life in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Mahmoud, one of the brothers, filled me in on details of the reality, especially the lethally faulty Palestinian Authority, notably with no authority. He told me various ministries had been created in anticipation of a state. Now a separate state seems a vanishing prospect so the ministries have absolutely nothing to do. A waste of money and personnel. Vast structures in the stratosphere suspended without foundations. 

Weather is fine here in Jerusalem, windy, dry, cool. Most everything else needs some work.

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Israeli settlement/colony in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City

Thanks so much for your concern for the issues I’m working on, including internally displaced Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the west bank, and their ancestral homelands now in Israel, and in my well-being. You all are what make a major part of my life possible.

Alternatives to Violence Project

TO BE CONTINUED

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Five days at the Agape Community in Central Massachusetts, 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir. Five days to recover from the disappointment of postponing my trip in June and July 2018 to photograph Palestinian refugees in Northern and Central Europe. Instead I concentrate on water, friends, prayer, and bugs.

June 24, 2018, Sunday, Cambridge

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More than 15,000 children have been detained when they tried to cross the southern border of the United States unaccompanied

I notice the propensity of many to use compressed (or short cut) thinking rather than extended (or deep) thinking. Example: immigration. Compressed thinking concentrates on the presence of immigrants only and how to block entry to the United States. Extended thinking incorporates why they are refugees and what to do about that. In many cases of immigrants and refugees at our border we consider only the fact that they plead for entrance. We disregard not only their personal reasons for entry but, more deeply, what generated those reasons, namely in many cases how our government treated their country.

Proximal problem (using dental terminology): immigrants and refugees appear at the border. Medial problem: because of conditions in their country and what they seek. Distal problem: inter-hemispheric relations, exacerbated by the foreign policy of the United States.

I used these terms, proximal, medial, and distal, with Sh. last evening over dinner at Zoë’s (sitting two tables away from Cornel West) to help explain my hypothesis about my urinary bleeding [possibly stress-related from my project to photograph Palestinian refugees]. Proximal cause: urethral wall irritation. Medial: stress from planning the European trip, spiked by Yousef’s betrayal. Distal: universal dread hinging on the 3 potential catastrophes we face, economic collapse, nuclear war, and climate crisis. I had discussed it extensively with many people while on retreat at Agape.

Similarly, Israel uses compressed thinking in response to the Great March of Return, of Palestinians in Gaza who struggle non-violently (mostly) for their Right of Return and the end of the blockade. Stop them at the fence! Don’t ask why they are at the fence. Disregard the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe begun in 1948 when Israel was declared a state and expelled many Palestinians. Forget about the role of the world community—especially the United States—which either ignores or exacerbates the conflict and injustice.

For my Friends Meeting at Cambridge summer potluck submission on the theme of cycles and circles, I’ve decided to submit twin photographic panoramas from Quabbin, a wintry view of the frozen water body with a few figures on it in the distance, and a dramatically altered rendition of a recent view of the water and sky, put thru an infrared simulation filter. The idea stemmed from first, the overall exhibit theme of cycles (summer-winter), second, what I can easily access (Quabbin), and third, what will most surprise viewers (the juxtaposition and the two photos separately). I believe I’ve made a good choice and await the verdict of others, shamelessly dependent on comments.

I’ve completed the retreat photo series, posted to my website, announced to the Mission Council, and later will announce via MailChimp to my limited audience. I’ve titled the series, Witness to the Light, and begin it with the puzzling photo of about 10 people gazing off and up. Second photo shows the object of their intense stare—the new solar panels on Bridget House. I follow this introduction with forest elements, lichen, ferns, chestnut tree leaves, then old trees, finally the water itself, shown in multiple ways, with my Canon and phone cameras. I include two short videos, one of lapping gurgling water, the other of light playing thru the clouds and trees on the back of the hermitage.

Somewhere in my blog I might use the following (which I used in some emails) in my announcement:

From the sacred depths of Holy Quabbin Reservoir, reflecting the overhead in its deepest memories, as it fosters life for those of us who drink its waters.

PHOTOS

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Where the families of 95 of the Palestinians in Gaza killed by Israel during the Great March of Return (up to May 26, 2018) are from, now in Israel. As of August 13, 2018, more than 170 have been murdered.

In a few weeks I leave the United States for nearly two months in Palestine-Israel, hopefully also Gaza, to photograph internally displaced Palestinian refugees and their homes of origin, now in Israel. Earlier info here (to be updated soon).

THIS IS THE LAST OF SIX EPISODES ABOUT MY RETREAT AT AGAPE-QUABBIN.

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Five days at the Agape Community in Central Massachusetts, 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir. Five days to recover from the disappointment of postponing my trip in June and July 2018 to photograph Palestinian refugees in Northern and Central Europe. Instead I concentrate on water, friends, prayer, and bugs.

PHOTOS (A Vital Conversation: Ecology, Justice and Peace—St. Francis Day, 2014)

June 22, 2018, Friday, Cambridge

In last night’s dream I was photographing in a strange land; it felt a little like Jenin in the West Bank. Boys swarmed around me, like gnats; men worked on a mechanism with brightly shining metal pipes; sand was everywhere. I was with others. We tried to photograph but the boys kept interfering, pushing sand into our gear. I fiddled with a bag of small pills, spilling them onto the sand. As usual I was totally frustrated.

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Jenin refugee camp, my photography workshop students, 2015, photo by Skip Schiel

Finally, I am home from 6 days abroad, i.e., Central Massachusetts with Agape and Quabbin. Am I healed, have I recovered, did I make starting discoveries?

I feel healed, for now. Someone from my urologist Dr. Das’ office left a phone message that the ultrasound of a few weeks ago reveals thickened bladder walls. So they want to do a CAT scan. This is mildly alarming, but it also may lead to some certainty about what caused the urinary bleeding. Maybe it’s not so simple as stress somehow causing the urethral wall irritation.

I feel recovered, at least partially, from the trauma of a broken summer photo plan. Still no word from Yousef (around whom I built my entire summer photographic project about Palestinian refugees in Europe), with none expected, merely hoped for. To more fully recover perhaps I should have sipped the healing waters of Quabbin, rather than only immersed myself. I’ve talked out my trauma with numerous others at Agape, received a compassionate ear, especially from S. whose special gift—among many—is compassionate listening.

Did I make any startling discoveries? I tried out my idea of global terror or angst or dread on several people, B., D., probably B. and S. With some agreement, some new ideas. I also tested my idea of immigrants and refugees as the New Jews during morning prayer, with some acknowledgment. I opened that up a little more with D. as he drove me to the Worcester train station yesterday. Jews are disproportionately represented at our local sanctuary church, more than their congregation numbers would predict, possibly because of their long-suffering as a displaced or confined people, in fact, as internally displaced refugees. That is, within their own country of origin, say Russia, they’d been relegated to the Pale, and thruout Europe to the ghettos.

Jews perennially have often been regarded as subhuman. Similarly, many believe immigrants and refugees to be subhuman, dehumanized, so they can be treated inhumanely. Witness the current separation of children from immigrant parents at our border, an abomination.

How else are immigrants and refugees the New Jews? They’re understood by many to be the major threat to this nation, imagined as a flood of aliens infesting the purity of our America Made Great Again. Similar to how Nazis used Jews as the hated poison; they contaminate the purity of the native stock. Jews are used to build political power. They are forced into unwanted jobs. Many parallels, a startling realization. And I’m certain I’m not the first to make this connection.

I plan to use excerpts from the White Rose leaflets (German resistance group opposing the Nazis) as my email footers, with a note about the movie, Sophie Scholl, the Final Days. In this movie, a key moment energizing her activism was learning how the Nazis killed the undesirables, the infirm mentally and physically. Might the current brutal, inhuman, immoral, illegal treatment by our government of immigrant families inspire a similar movement in this country?

Now it is a question of mutually coming to our senses, of mutually keeping one another informed…. If a wave of insurrection surges through the country, if “it is in the air,” if many join us, then this system can be cast aside with one last mighty effort. An end with terror is always better than terror without end.

— 2nd leaflet of the White Rose

Another discovery was the burbling sound of the Quabbin shore. I made several videos of this, as much to listen as to see. Holding the camera vertically I thought I’d wasted the chance for a useable video. (Same with the video of the back of the Hermitage as light, modulated by clouds and trees, played on the wall.) Examining the files yesterday, I discovered I could rotate them 90 degrees to make them horizontal. Whether this holds when viewed by others I’ll have to test. I also made panoramas at the shore on my last day at Quabbin, with my Canon and iPhone. Both might be useable.

For years I’d been claiming full credit for suggesting we locate Agape near Quabbin. My story is that B. told me he and S. were interested in homesteading, but weren’t sure about the location. At the time in the early 1980s I was photographing Quabbin; so I naturally suggested they look there. To test the idea, B. and I drove to the region, found a realtor, and checked various sites, partly for “perking” [to determine whether the land would percolate i.e., support a septic system, a requirement.]. We landed where we now are.

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The intake station in August 2001, now off limits after September 11, 2001

My earlier Quabbin photographs

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Topographic map—Quabbin Reservoir is the light blue vertical region slightly left of the center of the state (above the CH in Massachusetts).

Second version, from B. himself: inexplicably he’d received a flyer in the mail advertising property for sale in the Quabbin region. He asked me if I knew anything about the area. I told him about my photo project. One day we explored together. In this version I am not the sole inventor of the placement; I hitch on to the mysterious flyer.

S., his wife, remembers my version. How can we discover the absolute truth, if there exists such an absolute truth?

Riding the commuter train home yesterday (delayed 40 minutes by an outbound train, which was never explained), I suddenly thought, I‘ve missed a signal opportunity for another Agape photo series, what I might title, “The Don’t Smile Agape Portrait Series.” I would ask individuals like S., B., D., etc, and T., O., and any guests to pose for me and not smile. This would counter Agape’s usual style of smile broadly, hug each other. OK, I can do this next time.

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Photo courtesy of Agape Community, 2017

A final discovery concerns my revised Palestinian refugee photo project, dealing with the threat posed by publicly announcing myself as photographer-proxy for those trapped in Gaza. I could omit discussion of the second part of this project, in effect, photographically hopping the fence to enter the original lands now in Israel of Palestinian Gazan’s. I’d serve as their photographic proxies. Simply say that I’d like to meet people in Gaza whose origins are elsewhere; 75% of Gaza residents are refugees, internally displaced refugees. Or if that project becomes impossible because I can’t enter Gaza (needing permission from Israel), I could pursue the alternative L. earlier suggested, that would be easier on my stress-prone system, to photograph Palestinian immigrants in the United States, mostly in Dearborn Michigan where I visit regularly as part of my Detroit project. This would probably not raise alerts from Israeli antennas searching for any sign of security threat.

I have to reframe my project, develop two ways of writing about it, one that is public and another closer to the truth, the first I would use when writing to friends in Gaza and for possible funding, and the second closer to my intention, the deeper truth.

Which brings me home, where I stand at this moment, writing this journal entry. How do I feel? Relatively safe, satisfied, alert, ready for the next phase of my life.

Last night as a minor rite of passage, I downloaded all my text and photo files to my big iMac, converted where necessary, examined, and pondered: what does all this mean? This morning I struggled with Word file types, doc and docx, my old iMac not quite as supple as my new in opening files. Eventually I overcame technical glitches. I reviewed important email, aghast at how much is in my Forum, Update, Promotion, Social, and Scam folders. Little by little I get thru it. One important aspect of my retreat was utter refusal to look thru most of these folders, opening only the most important in the folder marked Important.

Ditto for restricting myself from web exploration. About the only time I researched was for the question of what constitutes the Quabbin watershed? This kept me in the retreat mode. I should apply some of this discipline now when home.

MAYBE ONE MORE EPISODE

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Five days at the Agape Community in Central Massachusetts, 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir. Five days to recover from the disappointment of postponing my trip in June and July 2018 to photograph Palestinian refugees in Northern and Central Europe. Instead I concentrate on water, friends, prayer, and bugs.

PHOTOS: Agape’s Francis Day Celebration: Muslim Voices in an Election Year (2016)

June 21, 2018, Thursday, Agape 

Last morning in the sunroom.
Summer solstice.
Fog over the garden.
After mistakenly dumping the fresh coffee grounds D. had thoughtfully loaded into the pot the night before, another in my long series of mistakes caused by faulty assumptions.

Finally, yesterday I found my photographable topic while on this retreat: sky, not any sky, but a radiant sky, clouds radiating from many points. And not only that sort of unusual sky, but sky over Quabbin. I’d hiked the newly raked Hermitage trail to Lyman Road, proud of myself for finding the trail, not losing myself in the Quabbin Wilds, down the road thru Gate 45, further on a rough gravel road, as I swatted, dodged, swore at myriad insects, mostly large, nasty, persistent, biting deer flies, and found the swimming spot B. recommends and I’ve used before. I’d forgotten my paper map but had it memorized (probably poorly). Plus I once again had scant Internet coverage (along with phone), enough to activate my phone map. Down the trail-road to the shore, from about 300 feet scan the shore for the sandy spot I’d used before, spot it, and shift myself around a rocky point to be less noticeable.

Now the question became to swim or not to swim? It’s a chilly day, the water is cold, I’d need to remove my clothing and then spray repellant over my skin again after I’d dried off. I have grown wobbly in my old age, less sure of my footing on rocks. I’m alone and might drown or slip and crack my head or have a heart attack, to be found floating lifeless in the Quabbin, a corpse polluting the pure sacred waters I so love. How ironic.

I decided not to swim. I sat in the fluctuating shade and finally the idea emerged: photograph the sky. I did, first with my Canon camera, slicing vertically thru the atmosphere for maximum pixels and to show maximum sky (because everywhere above me the sky spread its strands), and second—as the sky slowly clouded up—with my iPhone. I will have two versions to compare. [Later, a third after I’d reworked one.]

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A series of vertical exposures with a compact camera (Click to enlarge)

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Made with the panoramic mode of iPhone (Click to enlarge)

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Reworked in Lightroom, using Infrared simulation (Click to enlarge)

This pleased me greatly, as if a hungry man, nearly starved to death, finally found food. Not just dumpster food (which can be delicious in my experience), or home-cooked food, or restaurant food, but elegant food, perfectly cooked.

I scanned the rocks looking for one that called to me as a gift to my altar at home. I recalled being here a few years ago on another trip, probably a winter retreat. Also looking for rocks. But during that period I had a prospective partner, Sh., and chose a second rock, a companion for the first, as a gift to her. This time I only chose one, thinking, I do not have that hoped-for partner. A second rock would be meaningless. Thus my current station in life, my current thinking about my current station in life.

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Click for movie

On the walk in, I’d noticed recent truck tracks and wondered, is anyone here, will anyone spot me, will I acquire a shore companion, will I be booted out and possibly fined by the environmental police? I saw and heard no one. Another memory came to me, biking along this shoreline road, and perhaps, preceding that event, walking this same route with L. She’d grown tired and found a napping spot on the ground. This must have been before the widespread infestations of deer ticks. Or during a season absent of insects. So yesterday’s walk evoked many memories and speculations. Quabbin is a repository for memories, it nourishes the heart as it quenches thirst.

Last night I showed the movie, Sophie Scholl, the Final Days, to B., D., A., and T. (About the White Rose, a student-led, non-violent anti-Nazi resistance group; many paid with their lives.) Even upon my second viewing the movie maintains its importance, as both a well-crafted piece of art and a message for our times. The acting again stands out, in all parts. The sequencing. The lighting. But above all else the meaning. This woman and her colleagues courageously understood the truth of Nazism, contrasting with many of their peers—and stood for it, risked their lives. Seemingly a hopeless cause, their lives continue to resonate.

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Sophie Scholl, German Gestapo photo, 1942

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Sophie Scholl – The Final Days, Trailer

How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?

—Sophie Scholl

Watching it with 2 young women, I wondered, would either of them so absorb the story that someday they will be called to a similar action? And I wondered about the two men in the audience who’d done something related and suffered arrests and jail (B. and me), would this be a model for something we might do later, as a version of Nazism possibly envelops our country?

A story plays in the past, but also in the present. One can’t easily escape the “what if” effect. What if that had been me in those times, or what if those times hit us now? No better place than Agape to ponder these questions and no better time, on retreat.

Before dinner—S. and B. had graciously invited me to dine with them separately from A. and D.—B. and I sat in the gazebo drinking beer, his cold, mine room temperature, Harpoon IPA, with the young buoyant O. swirling around us providing “tea.” “Just water,” she reminded us, “we will pretend.” B. and I discussed the Irish Troubles because he and S. have had extensive first hand experience in Ireland and with some of the participants in the Troubles. He told me they’d once joined a Zen peace effort which brought together 2 IRA members and 2 Provisionals from Northern Ireland.

We were unsure of the utility of comparing Palestine-Israel with Ireland but I continue to read the book, “The Northern Ireland Peace Process: Ending the Troubles,” by Thomas Hennessy, in hopes of discovering something useful in that story to apply to Palestine-Israel. And besides, I’m curious how the peace, precarious as it might be (especially with Brexit) was achieved. B. thinks major breakthroughs occurred when rival leaders were brought together. This was done in stages, and in the earlier phases, in secret. Much as Mandela spoke with De Klerk in secret before public talks in South Africa began. (Both were later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.)

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Dinner conversation, because of O.’s presence, was necessarily truncated. B. and S. are devoted grandparents so O. was allowed to participate on her own level. Our general conversation theme was aging. How to incorporate various Agape participants who, in their aging, are becoming more and more needy. Who would care for B. and S. when they become seriously ill? How effective could their daughter be? Would the large community of Agape rally for B. and S. as it did for Wally and Juanita Nelson? (I happen to believe yes.) And what of Agape itself?

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The late Pat Tracy, devoted Agape Community member, at workday, 2014

For some reason, perhaps mistaken (again making faulty assumptions), I seem not overly worried about my own endgame. Who will help me? Daughters? Quaker community? Personal friends? Some combination?

I have my community, as S. and B. have theirs. I have my photo-film-writing archive. They have their Agape archive (soon in the form of a published memoir). Agape might end with their end. As my archive might end with my end. Truly, among the mysteries of life, continuance and succession.

As I write, email from Agape tings my little iPhone alert bell, while either S. or B., most likely S., in the basement office below me bulk emails Agape missives. The current themes are American Indians, incarcerated immigrant children, and Catholics. Sun slowly cracks thru the fog. “That is how the light gets in, there is a crack in everything,” sings Leonard Cohen.

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ONE MORE INSTALLMENT OF THIS BLOG COMING

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Five days at the Agape Community in Central Massachusetts, 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir. Five days to recover from the disappointment of postponing my trip in June and July 2018 to photograph Palestinian refugees in Northern and Central Europe. Instead I concentrate on water, friends, prayer, and bugs.

PHOTOS (St. Francis Day 2017: Listening to Native Voices—Standing Rock is Everywhere)

Agape Community

June 20, 2018, Wednesday, Agape  

Writing again in the sun room in the Francis House, early morning, after:

A chilly night in the Hermitage,
bothered endlessly by mosquitos and I presume spiders,
itchy all night.

Reading Virginia Woolf’s diaries, the version related to her writing assembled by her husband Leonard Woolf, I ponder, are there premonitions of her death?
Didn’t she die by suicide?
Any hints of that along the way?

All on a Tuesday morning, my 3rd day on retreat, sun at my back, chapel and prayer at my front. The day unfolds, the retreat unfolds, my life unfolds, all unfolds.

Last night I dreamt one big dream that seemed in two parts. In both parts I prepared to direct operas. One ended in a spectacular twin dance line which I photographed and later, after altering, made into an image even more impressive. Very wide, nearly panoramic, with lots of white created by dust kicked up by a long, still, solemn line of dancers, one line from an African country. The black bodies contrasted with the white dust.

As I entered the staging area of one opera I met Peter Schumann, founder-director of Bread and Puppet Theater, who asked me where I was going. “To direct an opera,” I said. He looked surprised, unbelieving. On one opera set, my father tried to move or add a watering hose; i asked him politely to please not do that because it would ruin the staging.

Unlike in many of my dreams, here I felt proud, I was accomplished, and I did not worry about outcomes. Maybe a little worried about how the operas would be received. What were the operas about? I’m afraid I have no idea, one maybe on a Classical Greek theme.

It had been a difficult night. Bugs frequently assaulted me, mosquitos and maybe spiders. I itched constantly. How could I produce a coherent (albeit based in dream logic) dream? Or perhaps, frequently waking, I had better access to my dreams. Did any of the bug assaults influence my dreams? Dreaming proves I slept at least a part of the night. The night ended not only with blazing sunlight, now unusually early—after all it is one day before summer solstice—but the nagging worry about how to implement my photographic Palestinian refugee plan. Can I make sufficient contacts in Gaza and elsewhere to actually photograph internally displaced refugees and then travel to their original sites? I should work on this immediately upon return home, writing people, organizations, etc. The challenge is how public to be since certain issues I intend to treat are so controversial?

Waking very early, I vowed to not sleep in the Hermitage tonight, my last night on retreat, to surrender to forces of the natural world and sleep in Francis House tonight. For a solid night’s sleep.

To summarize my last few days here (not including the Mission Council meeting on Saturday which began this retreat), I’ll quote myself writing to Sh.:

My retreat goes well, bike rides every day, visits to the Quabbin Reservoir nearly every day (and immersing myself there one time, a form of baptism), sleeping in our remote cabin called the Hermitage, experiencing a massive rain storm last night, with lightning flashes and crashing thunder, working daily in the garden, eating delicious home-baked bread and other nummies, and hanging out with S. and B. and others here. I’m reading Virginia Woolf’s diaries (the version edited by her husband) and an account of how people resolved the Troubles in Ireland. Agape and Quabbin are prefect sites at which to heal from my disappointment over summer photo plans.

In a schematic way that sums up fairly well my experience. But what about my deep experience, the inner experience, the hidden experience. How would I sum that up?

No epiphanies. Rather an ease of living, hanging out with the earth and friends here. A slow down time, breathing out rather than breathing in (remembering how L. would often call for a breathing out time in our sometimes overheated relationship).

Last night during my bug attack agony I suddenly thought: what if I have a heart attack in my sleep? Folks in the big house will wonder where I am, late for prayer at 7:30 am, not showing up for breakfast.

Where’s Skip? Maybe someone should check.

And they’d discover me in bed, call me to wake up, worry that something tragic had happened, shake me, check for breath and pulse, discover I’ve left this planet, exactly opposite the way I’d hoped to leave: as an active shooter, camera type, definitely not in my sleep, but aware of the death process, fully awake to a signal moment in my life. Despite my disappointment, I had died in an appropriate location—a rustic cabin that I’d helped build, the woods, Agape, near Quabbin. Couldn’t ask for a better location.

More garden work yesterday, with D. and A.—not watering this time because of the previous day’s heavy rain—installing cardboard and hay on the ground into which someone will later insert plants thru holes. This to prevent weeds, and also, D. believes, to encourage the growth of earthworms because they won’t need to surface for copulation when they’d be prey (or so I dimly remember).

Photo courtesy of Agape Community, 2018 (more info)

After lunch B. and I cleared the trail between the Hermitage and the road which leads to Quabbin. B. was surprised by the amount of undergrowth, mainly ferns.

Never in my 30 year’s here have I seen so much growth, he said.

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Trail between Hermitage and Francis House in the winter 2014

He strode ahead slashing with a weed sword (modern version of the ancient scythe) while I followed behind with a rake. Working together is often a form of relationship-building, most powerful perhaps when the results are tangible and have some longevity. Next year’s leaves, branches, shrubs, and ferns probably will erase our work on this trail. Returning, I asked B. if I could lead, to test my orienteering which is abysmal. With one exception, I did not err. This gives me some confidence that today, if I choose, I might myself, alone, find the path, the road, Quabbin, and depending on weather, swim.

That left a few hours in late afternoon for free time. Trying to build a discipline of at least one bike ride per day, I hopped on, lugged up hill south toward the town of Ware, turned right onto Lyman Road, along the road past a few houses, including the one owned by the fellow who is very protective of his property and takes down B.’s trail markings, past where the Hermitage path intersects the road, slightly further, thinking, maybe I’ll walk the path tomorrow, partly as a test of my trail-finding abilities, and enjoy this section of the Quabbin.

 

S. and I discussed the topic of watershed. She told me she’s been telling people that they live in the watershed of Quabbin. I countered with my definition of watershed: the area immediately surrounding a water body which drains into that body. Think of a watershed as a bowl, with a barrier that separates the watershed from other watersheds. All water rained or snowed into that watershed drains into that watershed’s water holder, a lake, river, etc. I promised to check.

So today, my last full day, the day before summer solstice: morning prayer in a few minutes-breakfast-see what assignments B. has for my morning, if any-get to the Quabbin whether by foot via the path we cleared yesterday or in some other way-read–join with others-make photographs maybe.

Today I might be unusually tired because of last night’s sleeplessness.

PLEASE TUNE IN LATER, ONE OR TWO MORE ON THE WAY

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