Posts Tagged ‘south’

© All text & photos (unless otherwise noted) copyright Skip Schiel, 2004-2010

A series from my earlier writing, not always directly about Palestine-Israel, this an attempt to understand my journey of discovery that continues to enthrall and mystify me.

Written September 10, 2002, revised February 9, 2010


There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath had different names. It is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation so ever they become brethren in the best sense of the expression.

—John Woolman, luminary Quaker (1761)

For my entire adult life I’ve been making visual art, first films for some 15 years, then, when that pursuit became untenable because of lack of audience and money, I turned to photography, a childhood passion. Since the early 1980s I’ve been able to follow this particular muse, at times taking part-time jobs for income and health benefits. Finding these jobs gnawingly restrictive, I sought another way, one that would provide the economic foundation for my various photographic projects. Thanks to family, friends, mentors, and ancestors, I’ve been able to derive sufficient support for my life in art.


One key: community. For years I followed the conventional dictate that pronounced art-making as singular, one brilliant individual making things that perhaps no one understood. Until after death. Virtually no support. The model of Vincent van Gogh, for instance, or Charles Ives. Vincent lived and died destitute, yet his paintings now fetch millions of dollars. Charles Ives, writing music ahead of his time, rarely found an audience, but was wily enough to never rely on music-derived income: he sold insurance. Both men illustrate the image of an individual creating great works in a world ignorant of their worth.

For my first two adult decades, I tried this, I fell flat. Painfully I’ve since discovered an ancient wisdom— refuse to be isolated, participate in community in most everything you do.

My communities are manifold:

The Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers, since 1980, one of my core communities, providing support in the forms of prayer, guidance, criticism, equipment, love, audience, incentive, ideas, and services;

Other artists, thru the Fellowship of Friends in the Arts (Quaker) and a local network of photographers meeting periodically to photograph, show and comment.

A Buddhist-led Pilgrimage to the School of the Americas-part 1

A Japanese Buddhist community, Nipponzan Myohoji, which constructs peace pagodas and conducts walks and pilgrimages, these pilgrimages the subject of many of my projects;

A lay Catholic nonviolence community in western Massachusetts, Agape, priests, nuns, friends, other lay people, all united in pursuing justice thru nonviolent means, helping me with funding, insights, a retreat center, and connection with my Catholic roots;

Family, especially my former (and enduring, in some sense) partner, Y, pairing with me on many projects, offering editorial and financial assistance, grounding my work in her strong Buddhist walking practice, and my two daughters, Katy and Joey, both artists, maybe not sharing totally my perspectives, but respectful and loving;

And where I teach usually photography, the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, a rich source of other photographers, work associates (especially people helping me with computer applications to photography), and most importantly students who teach me.


The second key: a frugal life style. Unlike J.D. Rockefeller who when asked “How much money do you need to be happy?” answered “just a little more.” I reply, about “what I have.” I have enough. I live on between seven and ten thousand dollars annually. Much of what I need is in the form of bartered services— A Quaker friend and colleague lends me his darkroom—no charge. The Cambridge Center offers me its darkroom and computer center—no charge. Upwards of six individuals once volunteered their darkroom skills—no charge. My daughter, former partner, and a good friend take care of my apartment when I’m on long trips—part of the family. I pay back with photographs or friendship or volunteered time or familial reciprocity.


And the third key: finding reliable means of earning income. I generate a sufficient amount of money thru teaching, donations, and grants, along with sales, fees, and bartering with my photographs.


And a true surprise, the fourth key: An important source of financial support, aiding me in keeping my economic needs slim, is the state. Oddly enough, the government—in the forms of national, state and local—has been generous in providing subsidies for my necessities: housing, food, health care. However, should a catastrophic event occur in my life, like a major accident, a serious illness, or debilitating infirmity from old age, I, like my wealthier peers no doubt, am vulnerable. My position is precarious, but I remain confident that if I maintain my course, I will find the support needed to live and work.

That’s the survive portion of my experience. How do I thrive?

Let me use three of my photo projects for illustration.


Since the mid 1980s I’ve photographed a reservoir and adjoining land in central Massachusetts, Quabbin. In the late 1980s I helped two friends find land near the watershed on which they could construct a nonviolence center, the Agape Community I referred to earlier. They asked me to join the steering committee. We meet four times each year, timed with the change of seasons. This schedule brings me to Quabbin regularly. My photo project continued, bumpingly.

In late August 2001, they allowed me to use their small cabin, The Hermitage, for a week-long retreat. Every day I walked or biked along the shores and forests of Quabbin, extending my project considerably. I felt I was making rapid progress discovering color, reflection, mood, outline, and the spirit of Quabbin itself, deep and abiding.

One week later—September 11th, 2001, the attack on the United States—Quabbin was sealed shut. I renamed my Quabbin project, Not Forever, Quabbin Reservoir. Not Forever depends heavily on my association with Agape. I thrive thru my participation in its community.


The second project stemmed from a pilgrimage I made thru the Mississippi Delta in late 1999 as part of a grander effort retracing the trans-Atlantic slave route with many other pilgrims, the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage. Raised in Chicago, fleeing the approach of Black people by moving to the suburbs in 1955, I was dimly aware of the Great Migration and its effect on the city and me. Finding myself in New Orleans, the terminus of the US portion of the Middle Passage Pilgrimage, I left the pilgrimage and decided to drive slowly north to my homeland. I explored the history of Black resistance to Jim Crow— Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr, and the Freedom Riders. At the same time I dove into a more personal, less public past that Black friends in Chicago had told me about.

Twelve years earlier, while photographing the Chicago Fellowship of Friends in Cabrini Green, a notoriously violent public housing complex, I met Bernice Thomas. She’d been raised on a cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta, she escaped the South in the late 1950s, and she told me stories of her pained experience, her flight north, her vow to never raise her children in the South. She described where she’d lived and suffered—the plantation, the movie house in Clarksdale Mississippi, her last home where she’d birthed her first daughter. I found all the sites, photographed them, visited her with the pictures and further stories. She’d never returned home. I had, for her, and discovered an eerie connection: I was her, I had come home, thus, “Delta Passage, a Journey Home” is my slide show about that experience.

How could I have traveled that course, depicted that experience without the friendship of Bernice Thomas, without the active participation of Friends in Chicago, without my Quaker connection? Would I have found this rich trove of insights without the mentoring of some of my meeting’s elders, without the many meetings with the various clearness committees that formed for me?


And the third project is about Israel-Palestine. Since my first journey there in 2003 I’ve not only discovered truths often hidden by most of the international media but my Quaker connection. They are multitudinous, dating back to 1869 when 2 Friends from New England explored what Quakers might be able to do in Ramallah—founding a girls’ school because of the absence of education for girls—and for the quasi Quaker organization, the American Friends Service Committee, its service to refugees in Gaza in 1948, caused by the expulsion of many Arabs by Israel when Israel founded itself as a state. Without that Quaker connection I’d not have had the opportunities presented to me: working with and living at the Ramallah Friends School, teaching photography and photographing thru the AFSC youth programs in the West Bank and Gaza, and the haven provided by Jean Zaru and Kathy Bergen in the Ramallah Friends Meeting and International Friends Center in Ramallah.

Amal Sabawi, director of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza, Popular Achievement Festival, August 2009

The most recent show is Gaza Steadfast. I’ve shown it nearly 30 times thru the South, at times to Quaker meetings, and now I’m preparing a Northeast tour with a new version of the show launched recently at my local meeting, Friends Meeting at Cambridge.


To conclude, prayer is full attention. To the inner voice, the still small voice within; to the light without, revealing and enabling photographs; to the spirits of history, those sometimes fleeting, sometimes compelling accretions of memory; to destiny, who we are yet to become, our successors, our lineage; and to the interconnectedness of all creation. By being still, I tune to these tiny signs, build on them. Thru my photography I attempt to practice this prayer, this full attention, with enduring hope that I as an artist and human being will be sustained, and will contribute to the endless flow of life.





Read Full Post »

Excerpts from my journal while touring the southern United States with new photographs and stories. The main shows are Gaza Steadfast, Bethlehem the Holy, The Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, and Quakers in Palestine/Israel. (I’ve completed the tour and I’m now happily at home in Cambridge Massachusetts for the foreseeable future.)


VIDEO: Feet, Shoes & Boots, Winter Holiday Vacation, 2009

November 24, 2009, Tuesday, Cambridge:

Home at last, god almighty, I’m home at last. The day after. Feeling good.

These dreams to celebrate: watching Y—very clearly Y for a change, not some stand in—walking thru a park, maybe Dana, on her regular morning solo walk. Tempted to join her since we’d not seen each other for some long time, I resisted, knowing she’d rather be alone. I’ll greet her later.

And a 2nd dream, about my home, one room in a 2-room home. A new couple was moving in, I met them, along with the couple moving out. I did not relish the thought of sharing a home—would I have privacy? I noticed the man moving in was in a wheel chair and considered his difficulty getting to his portion of the house. Up a landing and thru my room.

My home is familiar to me, for a short while pleasingly familiar: the paths I use to reach different parts of my small home (700 sq ft), where I store things, my various routines such as the one I used this morning to make an omelet, how the bed feels, where I meditate, when and how I exchange clothes between hot and cold seasons, where I bathe, and endless other paths and routines I use to exist day to day. All familiar to me. Whereas I’ve just returned from daily encounters with novelty.

The train ride yesterday [November 23, 2009] felt long, 24 hours roughly, Atlanta to Boston. The train on time, a private seat so I could spread out during the day, as opposed to the night when I shared my seat with a woman I learned later came from Liberia. She and I were instantly friendly, especially when I announced yesterday morning early as she was stretching awake, you can have both seats now. And there in the café car I sat for most of the morning, until noon and DC. She brought me my reading glasses which I’d left at the seat.

I found an Internet connection at the Corner Café in the DC Amtrak station as I awaited my train to Boston, ate a muffin (banana and not my favored chocolate), sipped strong coffee (my 2nd or 3rd cup), and did some email. I avoided going outside, not wishing to carry my heavy black equipment bag. And the weather was cold and wet, as it was all the way between Atlanta and Boston. E wrote asking when I was returning, which led to a fantasy about her then writing to ask if I needed a ride from the train station, to which I’d reply, sure, and that would eventually and ineluctably lead to an intimate experience.

I made my way home from South Station alone, lugging all my gear thru the wet drizzle, and eventually mounting the stairs, shedding my clothing, firing up my erotic imagination, and settling in.

How would I assess the tour overall? Splendid, a qualified success. Decent shows, reasonably large audiences, warm response, equipment held up, Dave did a passable job, and the tour ended brilliantly at SOA Watch, with the Gaza Steadfast show to a large enthusiastic group. This bodes well not only for my photo work but for the topics I try to illuminate—for this trip, mainly Gaza. I should report this to my friends back home in Gaza. The main problem was finding venues in Louisiana and Mississippi, many open dates. We’ll try again next year, do better.

Tuned to Y: thru our mutual South African friend, SF, who wrote me recently; thru the SOA Watch which she in turn tuned to; thru the Nipponzan Myohoji theology and practice and people we share; thru activism (she wrote recently about joining a demo at University of California Berkeley over tuition increases and brutal treatment by the administration); thru Ella and family generally; on and on. One wonders, aren’t we meant to be couple? Answer: guess not.

Today: slowly unpack, relishing every second of it, slowly check off the various duties I now have ranging from replacing my Boston public transport (T) elder pass (which I lost) to editing more slide shows from last summer’s photos. I might call Katy to see about meeting her and Ella at school today, assuming school is in session (it’s Thanksgiving week).

November 26, 2009, Thursday, Cambridge:

One major dream to start us off: after some event requiring lots of folding chairs, I offered to help fold and store them. This required acrobatics—we had to fling ourselves out into space, grabbing the hand of a new partner, holding on for life itself; crawl thru constricted spaces; climb up and down narrow stairs; while a couple sitting to one side, not participating, asked us inanely, how are you?

I was impressed with my abilities, my agility, strength, perseverance. The older me strode gaily with the youngest and strongest.

Which is what happened on the pilgrimage I attended capping my southern tour, and how I felt in comparison with the young ones who tended to unexpectedly fail from various physical problems. I’d worried about my legs, that they might ache, be weak, not carry me long walking distances. They not only succeeded but seemed to heal. After walking, resting, sitting, sleeping, they felt back to normal—I can live up to my earlier moniker, earned walking the Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage in 1995, Iron Man.

The weather has been dark, cool, misty. Neither winter nor autumn, an in-between time. And today is Thanksgiving, snow not anticipated, far from it. The leaves have mostly fallen, revealing new patterns of vegetation (the weed growing amidst my rose bush for instance). Garden hoses in the community garden are stashed, which probably also means the city turned off the water. I missed gardening this summer because of my Israel-Palestine journey. And I look forward to the garden for next season, realizing that I might be able to persuade grandkids to help with it and learn.

Next summer I will be 69 yrs old, 4 years my own father’s senior when he died, 6 years my mother’s, assuming I survive past my birthday which is coming in about one week.

Being home and beginning again has been unadulterated joy: no deadline, virtually no schedule, fit in the tasks I love doing, one at a time, like opening mail, while making way for more onerous tasks like cleaning the house that demand doing, all the while relishing truly precious tasks like shifting my computer setup and beginning editing slide shows. This is sheer spontaneity, when the muses are at their best. They have free rein. They are happy.

I’ve begun a report of the tour, sketching out ideas first, and these I based on yesterday’s lunch conversation with Ken when he seemed genuinely interested in hearing from me. Main points, such as audience response, venues, etc (unlike many who say, oh Skip, you’re home, I can’t wait to hear all about your trip, and then either try to listen but slip away to other topics, or never find the time even to try.). As usual, asking him about himself, his response was, oh, about the same, nothing new, same old stuff. Which means lots of reading about the holocaust, plus attending some Israel-Palestine events.

I also updated my itinerary to more accurately reflect what happened. This will be a good public record of my tour, the details.

I nearly didn’t arrive home by train when I’d hoped. In New Haven CT I made the serious mistake of misinterpreting the train-boarding announcement. I was standing on the platform, enjoying the air and the space, when a woman’s voice called, all aboard, last call. I assumed this was meant for folks in the waiting room, not on the platform. A conductor walked by and I asked him a question I’ve now forgotten, when I noticed the train doors closing and the train moving. Holy shit, I yelled, it’s leaving without me! Can you stop the train? He called on his radio, the train slowed, I ran after it, it stopped. The door didn’t open, I pounded on the door, and then I saw a conductor about 4 cars ahead waiting for me. I ran, apologized, found my car, my seat, all my gear. What a disaster that would have been. What if the conductor had not happened by when he did? I’d be stuck in New Haven, most of my luggage on the train—all by itself.

All because I’d misheard—again—and wrongly assumed—again. These 2 factors seem present in most mistakes I make. I concluded that my mischievous tricksters were at it again, playing with me. They are probably my muses with a playful nature. They know how easily misled I am. They play games with me. I never seem to learn.

End with a perplexing thought about love: suppose B and I were to become a couple, suppose she wished to live and work somewhere else, Germany, Oregon, Gaza. What would I decide? Would I be willing to leave my entire life in Cambridge and New England to be with the one I loved?

Or suppose I insisted on staying here while she wished to move elsewhere? What might she decide?

Is this sort of thinking useful, does it accomplish anything? Two answers: it is pure fantasy, compulsion, sickness of the heart, longing, yearning, disgusting, a waste of time. Or it is productive, a thought experiment, useful for engaging the imagination and supposing what if, stretching the mind, preparing for a possibility.

As I imagine another in bed with me, cuddling, or with my family, eating turkey with dressing, or on tour with me in the south or with me in Israel-Palestine, or me with her in let us imagine Bosnia, photographing together. Why not? Such imagination is free and fun. Or even in a photographic workshop I teach, maybe Winter Light to the far reaches of the Blue Hills in the cold and snow, stranded. Why not imagine it?

Free and fun.


Video: Viva Palestina Convoy Arrives in Gaza

On the Road: a report of the southern photographic tour, October 17 – November 23, 2009

Detailed itinerary of southern tour

Seeking venues: Upcoming New England tour with recent photos from Palestine & Israel

Slide show Gaza Steadfast screens February 7, 2010 in Cambridge MA

Read Full Post »

Excerpts from my journal while touring the southern United States with new photographs and stories. The main shows are Gaza Steadfast, Bethlehem the Holy, The Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, and Quakers in Palestine/Israel. (I’ve completed the tour and I’m now happily at home in Cambridge Massachusetts for the foreseeable future.)


VIDEO: Free Gaza: First Night Parade in Boston, 2009

(Please see links at the end of this post for more information about the Gaza Freedom March and Viva Palestina)

November 22, 2009, Sunday, Columbus Georgia, home of N and J, bed of my bedroom:

A grand finale to my southern tour yesterday: march to the gates of Fort Benning with Nipponzan Myohoji [the Japanese Buddhist order building peace pagodas and conducting pilgrimages, socially engaged Buddhism] drumming, along a big highway, many honks in support; a rally at the gates, enclosed by multiple fences, some with razor wire, numerous security personnel (what does all this cost the various governments? How useful or useless is it?); the rally attended by 1000s, many of them very young, nearly all white, same as and different from the US Social Forum in 2007 when I first met my tour coordinator Dave; literature, clothing, crafts, books, videos, and people from a wide variety of organizations, many of them for indigenous rights (including Guatemalans), many of them with religious bases (saw nothing Quaker); loud music (Charlie King, Emma’s Revolution, etc) and frenetic speakers blasting from many loudspeakers to the point of me wearing my ear plugs; a brief meeting with Kathy Kelly who told me some group in upper New York state has been following my work; tabling with Dave, trying to sell my photos (1, of Bethlehem, for $5, not exactly a killing); wandering around trying to photograph some of this activity; and suffering a minor migraine that twice had me dizzy and experiencing partial loss of vision. All in a day’s work.

Then my Gaza Steadfast show to a packed room of about 80 people. I’d wondered how many would show up since the regional focus of SOA Watch is on Latin America. One of the best shows I’ve given—most stayed for a rich discussion, entered in at the last minute (coming late) by Medea Benjamin and (former colonel) Ann Wright (friend of my family in Juneau Alaska when she stayed with them). Several people offered venues, Dave had magically appeared and seemed enthused (important to keep him happy), and I felt gratified.

Housing on these last 2 days has been more than expected. N and J hosted “the boys,” Jim, Jules, John, (the 3 J’s), Dave, Bob, Skip. In my own room, a comfortable bed, some privacy, near the toilet, with fast Internet, I could not be much happier—unless in my own home.

Y wrote and I phoned back while walking to the rally, giving the phone to Jim so they could say hi. She was rushing out for a meeting. She writes that her housing quest is going well.

November 23, 2009, Monday, nearing DC, on the train, in the café car:

Yes, on the train, the long awaited train ride home after 5 weeks on the road with my photos from Palestine/Israel. Not the most restful night on a train but good enough. These dreams then:

The first, now disappeared into oblivion, at least proved to me that I was sleeping. And then one in which I was playing catch with a man by throwing tomatoes back and forth. When he tried to catch mine, they splattered, shattered. A large bird, perhaps a duck, either flew between us or one of us caught it and threw it to the other. It hit a tree, seemed dead. When a child attempted to touch it, it opened its eyes.

Now my purported reality: on the train I slept beside a middle aged Black woman, in a car full of mostly Black people, the larger share of them overweight and old, some feeble. My companion spoke what sounded like an African language on the phone, plus fluent English. She seemed worried about her belongings and kept her 3 large bags under her seat, squishing her in. She slept under a blanket, a very clever way to produce privacy. I coughed repeatedly, maybe an allergy, maybe my postnasal drip exacerbated by my upright position. I told her as I left the seat this morning, I’m going to the café car, you can spread out.

The car attendant assigned seats, she wanted a window, and altho I usually prefer windows, for this night, thinking I might have to pee many times, I offered her my seat. Later during the night (on my only pee break, unusual), in an exploratory mood, I went into the next car and found it empty. Why not, thought I, bed down here? Within minutes an attendant asked me to leave—Why? Car out of service. Doesn’t make much sense to have an empty car when most of us are squeezed together.

I sit now in the chilly café car, a stream of hungry morning risers buying food. It is raining outside, cloudy, foggy, typical late November weather, early winter, even here, south of DC. And from the water in the car linkages, I assume rain has been falling on this entire trip. It rained at the School of the Americas event, it rained driving to Atlanta. And it was cold, sometimes windy.

I am inordinately happy—mubsut!—about completing this journey. On a very personal level, it ended well, the finale at SOA Watch with my Gaza Steadfast show, and then yesterday, the funeral procession with the puppetistas, placing the crosses at the gate (which I missed, as I did placing the Palestinian flags at the gate, an initiative by Dave, missing this because I’d forgotten about it and was cold, tired and hungry—therefore distracted, I forgot the lesson from Dorothea Lange that I often convey to my students: never assume you’re too fatigued to do more; diligence pays off.)

However I did photograph the procession, the lifting of crosses at each name and presente, the puppets, some speeches (especially by Kathy Kelly framed against a huge image of a fallen Central American woman), many individuals, and assorted other images. I continue to find myself oscillating between still and motion, wondering if this is a leading in the bud: do I return to video-film making?

And do I kick myself for missing the gate scenes? Or think, others were there (a multitude of media, mostly not the commercial media, as far as I could determine), they’ll show it, and I’ll borrow if needed. Plus my aim was not complete coverage, but seat of the pants spontaneous photography, as spirit leads. Spirit did not lead me to the gate. On this particular day—it had the day before.

2 processions on the train that leap out, if I could video them: in the middle of the night, me walking by the sleepers in their various postures, some of them with heads hanging into the aisle, others—the lucky ones with no seat partners—splayed across 2 seats, one elderly obese woman with her cane jutting half way into the aisle, and some sitting upright as if corpses. Perhaps one or 2 open their eyes and notice an apparition of the night passing them.

The 2nd procession is occurring now, on the way into the café car: lining up for food. Most look dazed, sad, depressed, some sick. Often with blank expressions. In sharp contrast with our pilgrimage group processional to the food table: smiling, happy, greeting all.

~~The train races north. Just now thru Orange Virginia. Two hours to DC~~

Some catch-up items:

There were 3 newly formed couples on the pilgrimage, all devoting one year to the service program run by Anton in LaGrange. Zack and Margarita, always holding hands, she relatively quiet, both loving; Ben and Monica, both with foot problems; and another whose names I don’t remember. How sweet, thought I, how will they be 3 decades down the road?

Years ago Y and I might once have resembled them, an older version, especially on the first walk we made together, the 1992 Columbian Quincentennary, or before that, the Bigfoot Ride to Wounded Knee. How did we appear to others?

Or P and me, when we met in 1960 during a YMCA-YWCA conference in Cedar Rapids Iowa, holding hands while strolling thru the night.

M wrote, with another of her cryptic but attentive messages, some concerning the Namu Myoho Renge Kyo chant:

A poignant video (yours). [referring to the Miami settlement video] The only thing I could hear, above the breeze (or was it the sound of the ocean) was your question, Who are the workers? Great video!



Whether one says na’mu myoho renge kyo or the informal “nam…” the benefits are the same. I’m delighted and over joyed that you spend “hours” chanting the wonderful sound!



IAF, the Black Muslim from Birmingham also wrote, to me directly and on his blog about me. A new friend, thanks to the Birmingham Alabama mosque appearance and the blog:

I spoke to you briefly in Birmingham Alabama a couple of nights ago. I was the tall black guy (crude description I know, but how else am I going make sure you remember me?)

I wrote up a little post on my blog about your visit.

You gave a very good presentation the other day. You’ve taught me a lot, and that’s good ’cause I usually think I know it all.

Please keep up the good work. You are doing something very important that not many people have the opportunity to do.

Peace (and I mean that in every sense of the word),


And from his blog:

Gaza Photos

I had the chance to see something not too many people see: astonishing Gaza photos of the destruction caused by the Israeli siege earlier this year.

At the Birmingham Islamic Center in Hoover, Alabama, photographer Skip Schiel showcased his photos of the aftermath of Israel’s war against Hamas. He gave a pretty balanced presentation as he also displayed photos of the damage caused by Hamas rockets into Israel.

But there was no comparison. The damage caused by Israel’s barrage made the difficult situation in Gaza even worse. I can’t even begin to explain or describe everything he talked about. All I can say is, whatever I thought I knew about the situation was only just a glimmer of how life really is.

I’ve heard people call Gaza the world’s largest refugee camp. Gaza is roughly the size of Manhattan, and has roughly the same population (about 1 million). But Gaza doesn’t have high rises, skyscrapers, Central Park, Madison Square Garden, or a subway system.

Actually, Gaza has little of anything. An economic blockade prevents medicine and construction materials (but not guns). The infrastructure has been destroyed so the modern necessity of electricity is rare. And Israel destroyed many hospitals and schools in Gaza during the war.

There is a little hope. Skip’s photos showed Gazan (is that a real word) residents engaging in learning activities, leadership classes, and he himself gave them a photography class.

But as optimistic as I am (I’m a Mets and Knicks fan. Now that’s optimism) even I must admit that hope seems to be diminishing for the Gaza as well.

Please visit Skip’s blog, and like I  had to do…deepen your understanding.

Also visit Skip’s photojournal for more pictures of Gaza.

One regret: no contact with J and S of Birmingham. I realize they are busy, her with her illness and her mother, him with his radio interviews and Dallas speaking engagement, but the end result disturbs me: didn’t attend my show, didn’t meet, and didn’t follow up with a phone call or email. How would I have responded if he or she came to town for a performance? Do I now cross them off my list of friends? Or am I being precipitous, as is my pattern?


Gaza Freedom March

Gaza Freedom March Demonstration at French Embassy in Cairo

French woman dead in Cairo part of Gaza Freedom March (Marie-Renée Le Grand)

Marie-Renée Le Grand, a French woman associated with the March died on Wednesday of a heart attack. She was not present at any of the demonstrations, according to an organizer of the French delegation, Yasser Hassan.

Décès de Marie Renée Le Grand
publié le jeudi 31 décembre 2009

Gaza Freedom Marchers issue ‘Cairo Declaration’: End Israeli Apartheid

Viva Palestina: Gaza aid convoy leaves Syria

In Memory of Marie Renee, by Alice Kast (posted on gazafreedommarch-boston and used with permission)

Marie visited me this morning.  She didn’t tell me her own story of why she had come all the way to Gaza.  I don’t know her statistics–how old, what city, whether she had a family, or if she came alone.  In fact, she did not speak at all.  She was a presence.  It was obvious to me that her heart was breaking.

The whole city of Cairo was a prison but she came anyway.  A woman willing to witness to love and solidarity.  They  were not allowed on busses or in taxis to get to the border where they wanted to let the people of Gaza know that they were not alone. Their representatives at the Embassy would not speak with them.   Some were barricaded in their hotels.  Some were followed around the city and made unwelcome even in stores.  It made no difference to Marie that she wasn’t literally enclosed in the pen with the other French witnesses when she died.  The whole city was throbbing with the tension which could explode at any minute.  The riot police, the red water cannons were all reminders to her of what could happen at any moment.

She died because she knew that to bring into being a world where everyone has a place to live, she would have to place herself in danger.  Thank you, Marie.  You knew there was the possibility of beatings or arrest and you were willing to pay the ultimate price for the children and families living in the concentration camp that is Gaza.  And thank you for visiting me this morning.  I will never forget you and welcome your presence in my life.

It was a mixed blessing for anyone to be there in Gaza at all and those who had come from all over the world received mixed greetings.  People witnessing to the inhumanity of what is being done in our name are not always welcomed.  I just say thank you that  there are still some in the world whose sense of humanity includes all people.  Genocide is not something “good” people should do.

Thank you to all of you who went because it was the right thing to do.  Can’t wait to have you back.

Love in solidarity with the one family of humankind.

Read Full Post »

Excerpts from my journal while touring the southern United States with new photographs and stories. The main shows are Gaza Steadfast, Bethlehem the Holy, The Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, and Quakers in Palestine/Israel. (I’ve completed the tour and I’m now happily at home in Cambridge Massachusetts for the foreseeable future.)

On the first anniversary of the Massacre of Gaza


VIDEO: a buddhist led pilgrimage: justice for immigrants

November 15, 2009, Sunday, Atlanta, Nipponzan dojo/Buddhist temple:

The train delivered me on time to Atlanta, and thanks to a kindly Denise and generous and patient Jean C, I made it to the dojo, dinner, a bed, sleep, and now this morning we drive some 3.5 miles to meet the walkers. The theme is immigrant rights, along with close the School of the Americas, SOA.

This is my final week of the 5-week tour, with only 2 gigs remaining, one in Birmingham Alabama, one in Columbus. The train stopped in Birmingham for about 15 minutes. I reached Jim Douglas who reported sales of his book, JFK and the Unspeakable, Why He died and Why It Matters, thanks in part to a recommendation by Oliver Stone the filmmaker, have topped 20,000. He has 15 radio interviews pending in one week, and will soon leave for Dallas for a talk. I joked with him, Jim, my friend, you have become a marked man. He replied, isn’t that the point, getting in the way?

On the train, as usual one of my favorite work sites, I completed the Miami settlement video, another installment of my blog, a new subsite, along with finishing my journal entry of yesterday. The train ran ahead of schedule, was about 1/2 full, a large percentage black (and fat), service was excellent, my power went out for awhile, then reappeared, and I worked mostly at my seat.

Passing thru the flat lands of Mississippi and Alabama, then Georgia, I noticed much water on the ground, learned later from Jean that tropical storm Ida had rained heavily further north, maybe here as well. What may have been cotton fields were now uncultivated. Mostly forests, with some timbering evident. Very few people in the fields. Of course this is early winter.

I missed sunset, emerging from my nap of more than one hour (unusual for me), and so I made only one sunset photo—a grain elevator brilliant in the slanting sun rays. I also tried making a video as we crossed the gaping Lake Pontchartrain. Weather has been cool.

Jean is a lively soul. About my age, with connections to the Atlanta dojo, she seems jolly, unflappable, patient, and loving. Waiting for me at the train station she had to circle in traffic for nearly one hour. She seems without a strong mission, other than to struggle for peace and justice.

November 16, 2009, Monday, Americus Georgia, on the SOA/immigrant rights walk:

Another unusual dream (2 mornings in a row): I noticed the light on a friend’s face that lit him so his eye sockets and mouth were totally in the dark. This was thru a window in the early morning. I knocked on the door, showed him my camera to ask his permission to photograph, he let me in but was busy with something like a mobile phone call. I made one photo and thought this might be the one.

This may be the first long walk (relatively long walk) I’ve made since the Middle Passage Pilgrimage in 1998-99. Very relaxed and well led, the group yesterday on the first full day of walking traveled some 15 miles, me joining at lunch riding with Jean, about 8 or 9 miles. We are residing at the Koinonia Community in Americus Georgia, a mythical site because of its history during the civil rights movement when it pushed for integration by integrating itself, black and whites living together. I learned that it is also the seedbed of Habitat for Humanity, organized by one of the early partners. If time allows I hope to scout the area, it seems extensive.

Last night at the potluck about 40 people showed up, from inside and outside the Koinonia Farm. It felt decidedly Christian, with a song about Jesus, some prayers, and an interdenominational Eucharist. Not exactly my path. So I ducked out of the after meal program, partly to dodge it but mainly to try to exploit my new found slow sketchy Internet connection.

I’d left a phone message for Y during the walking, recording the drumming sound for her before announcing where I was. Later I found an email from her asking me to phone that night, and informing me that she’d reached Napa after being frightened by a storm alert. She drove non-stop from the east side of the Sierra Mountains to Napa. Talking with her later she asked about my hips during sleeping—the only person on the planet that would be concerned about this—and about Sister Denise and Brother Utsumi—one of the few people sharing this interest with me. So the walk brings us close together.

Jim Harney is also much in my heart since one theme of the walk is immigrant rights. Y also told me that Nancy S had sent an email which included some of Jim’s last journal entries, and that she might continue doing this. A true gift. I intend to add Jim to the morning prayers—Jim Harney presente!

X wrote with

hello Skip, from Guatemala!

i loved your film through the golf course in florida – made me laugh out loud

i am not sure why but it made me think of this small video of Leonard Cohen’s


i hope you enjoy it

happy travels down south

Well, at least one person seems to have appreciated that video. The Cohen video did not strike me deeply, on first viewing. I’ll try again.

November 18, 2009, Wednesday, Birmingham Alabama, in the Days’ Inn motel, sitting on my bed:

Dreamt about saying goodbye to a sweet heart, forever, but she was not one of my actual friends. I was extremely sad, expecting never to see her again, or even remain in touch. Dreamt also about a very young grandson who walked perilously close to a precipice, almost fell over, caught himself at the last minute.

November 19, 2009, Thursday, Buena Vista Georgia, St Mary Magdalene church, in the back pew:

About the most torturous sleeping conditions of this journey—on the floor, on a thin pad, narrow space between pews, cold, no sleeping bag or blanket, rising a few times to pee (partly because of the cold, me not sleeping well), stepping over bodies, some slight snoring (mostly Sister Ichikawa). But hey, adapting what they might say in Gaza, that’s life on a pilgrimage.

So what? It’s fun. Talking with M after a delicious dinner of spicy potatoes and black beans cooked by our local host, the voluble Patrick, we agreed, this life is fun (for awhile). A slumber party.

~~Morning prayer begins, I take a break from journaling.~~

Once again I seem to be in the mentor role. M, young, blond, shapely, beautiful, in her early 20s, wishes to write, to perform in plays, to photograph, all about her dying and dead father, about the funeral. What to do in my life? The big question of those in their 20s. Why do some seem to find me useful?

What do you suggest, she asked, for becoming a good writer (or photographer)?

Write, desire to be a writer, join a writing group, circulate your writings, read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, read good writers (she’d not heard of Proust or Gertrude Stein).

An easy day walking since Dave and I, driving 4 hours from Birmingham, joined at lunch, and walked for the afternoon about 7 miles into Buena Vista. For the first time on this trip that I’ve experienced, people came out of their homes to greet us, ask us where we were from (all over the country), where we were going (to Fort Benning to close the School of the Americas), what we were walking for (peace). Lots of good will, especially among black people who were the preponderance of greeters. Occasionally we passed men who looked Latino. They seemed dazed by us, not fully registering that one of our 2 themes was immigrant rights. An older woman greeted us as we entered downtown Buena Vista with the words, welcome to Buena Vista even if you’re coming for the wrong reasons. She gave us an article about the value of the military, why they should be honored rather than opposed.

I’m making more videos on this trip than usual. Yesterday feet and shadows, plus lunchtime snoozing. Then this morning at prayer. I feel I’m understanding better the differences between motion and still, sound and silent. I play with the differences, oscillating between video and still. My Canon camera encourages this since it has both functions and can switch readily between the 2.

D is like a wandering ghost, rarely fully present, eternally hovering. He stands to one side, gazes, rarely interacting with others. A blank personality. For his intended occupation this is a handicap. As R wisely surmised after sharing a room with him, D has a self-esteem problem.

Last evening was free. I’d accidentally chosen an ideal spot for my home, the backbench, the last pew, relatively private, adjacent to a power outlet. So after the delectable dinner and the equally delectable conversation with B, I retired to my home away from home and finished sketching another blog, No. 5. Also a new subsite, mostly Baton Rouge. Looking at what I’d photographed, with the crucial assistance of my host there, M who graciously drove me around on tour, I realize how dependent on others I am for my photos. Without him I’d have been severely limited.

November 20, 2009, Friday, Buena Vista Georgia, st Mary Magdalene church, in the back pew:

A long day walking, some 17 miles, thru heavily forested and harvested rolling hills with a fair among of truck traffic. All this made the walking boring, dangerous, arduous, having to dart off the road to dodge traffic. Yet I am so pleased I can walk. Earlier, anticipating problems from my arthritic hips and sore legs, I said to Brother Utsumi when we met, I’m not sure I’ll be able to walk much. In fact, the walking seems to heal me. I feel as strong as ever.

Our destination yesterday was Culetta which we learned from a plaque outside the municipal building had been a major Creek Indian site. Some migrations, and then a disappearance, presumably but not noted—the infamous Trail of Tears. Another plaque admitted that an early courthouse had been built with slave labor.

Long chat with Z, again about favorite books, sharing lists, with him also, like M, comparing me favorably to one of their art profs. He asked, are you Dutch? The resemblance. Their prof is senile, however, and Z believes I’m not. He nurses a sore knee, perhaps from so much early sports playing.

No photos to speak of, a dry day photographically. I find I wish not to repeat myself, feel I’ve sufficiently shown key aspects of pilgrimage, either on this trip or on others—the long line, individual walkers, the circle, prayer, etc. Only if I can find some distinctive way to show the event and people do I even try. Is this laziness or conciseness?

Talking with Laura, swapping stories of Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli who disclosed that Israel had nuclear weapons.

Hard to write this with so many distractions, upcoming events, uncertainties.

Winding down, winding down from this tour. Thinking of home, privacy, predictability, boredom. Love, love, love.

November 21, 2009, Saturday, Columbus Georgia, home of N and J, bed of my bedroom:

An ideal housing arrangement, producing dreams, and a few extra minutes for my morning routine, including journaling. My own room, soft bed, up early enough to write, quiet. In 2 groups, me and 4 other men separate from the monk and nuns. No prayer. Fast Internet connection. And so these 3 dreams, amazingly vivid:

Observing and analyzing a photo of Jimmy Carter taken thru a keyhole. He’d almost been assassinated, shot. The photo showed him smiling, and I noted to others that had something been slightly different (angle, light, I’ve forgotten the detail), he’d be dead.

Watching a parade in which I’d have my last chance for marriage. If the last puppet figure was somehow not my wife to be I’d not have much chance of ever marrying. The last figure was not even a puppet—but a dog.

Teaching a painting workshop to about 4 adults. We each were to choose something in a small room or hallway to paint, and then my plan was to look at all the paintings and comment. I chose an inch-long section of chipped wood, labored over it, fairly proud of what I’d achieved, even tho in the dream I was not an accomplished painter. Then—we might have been on a walk—it was time to begin walking and we never were able to analyze the paintings. Upon awakening I thought, however, this might be a good way to teach photography—by having my students actually paint small sections of a surface.

Altho I thought yesterday was to be a short walking day in Lumpkin, the site of the Steward Detention Center run by the private security company, Corrections Corporation America— the nation’s industry leader of privately-managed corrections solutions for federal, state and local government, quoting their website—I was mistaken. We walked (my face sunburned, forgetting to carry my sunscreen) for about 6 miles, 3miles a sort of warm up on a highway coming into Lumpkin and then another 1.7 to and from Lumpkin center and the detention center. We were told that some 1000 men were held there, most of them non-criminal immigrants, most about to be deported. We carried the photo of a young man who’d died from a heart condition complication, Mr. Roberto Medina, in his early 30s.

We were a funeral procession, marching slowly, with the Buddhist Nipponzan Myohoji prayer drums serving as the signalers of grief. About 100 participants, all ages, after a rally at the old courthouse and another at the gates of Stewart. I photographed extensively, especially at the gates, trying to show the stern scowling officials holding the gates, one with a brush cut (a style I’d not seen in ages), nor responding in any way to the procession, even tho invited to sing Amazing Grace with us.

Anton did a fine job leading this event, and I assume designing it. It is the 2nd or 3rd year. He also gave a rousing speech to conclude the various remarks delivered by others, all brief, including a young woman whose father had been deported, breaking up the family. Apparently, despite promises from Immigration and Customs  Enforcement, ICE, not much has changed under the new administration, a pattern and not a surprise.

We could ask, who profits from the system? Why does it continue? Greed is a key answer, the privatized “security” industry, plus fear. Greed motivates the leaders of the companies and the municipal officials, and fear allows the populace to accept this dirty rotten system. And this is probably a pattern for understanding societal injustice generally.

I found myself switching back and forth between still and video, thinking, what can I show here, and how can I best show it? For instance, approaching the gates. Show the gates and the personnel and then in one take swing the camera along the road to show the approaching procession. To portray the juxtaposition of sign announcing Stewart and the procession, use a still from behind the sign and include the back of the line stretching out.

Having both functions in one instrument helps. I observed a media man with 2 still cameras, one long lens, 1 video camera, and a notebook and tripod trying to manage all the gear, running from spot to spot, and trying to keep up with the slow moving march. To his credit, he came fairly early and stayed to the end.

A few days earlier we’d noticed another photographer on the road, stopping to photograph us, a short man with a beard, not smiling, with a Fort Benning parking permit and a license plate that said media. He showed up behind the detention center gates, and we suspected that he is employed by Stewart. He had privilege, for sure.

D noticed—at times he may be a klutzy organizer and poorly organized himself, but he can be astute—that buses may have been rented in case of a mass arrest, and they were parked to block the view of the prison. I tried to show what I could thru the openings between buses.

Some of the events forming the School of the Americas Watch itself are housed in several places in Columbus Georgia, including a converted industrial building that now serves as a convention center. Huge, wooden in parts, large beams exposed, much space, gorgeous. Nearby is the Howard Johnson’s Inn where I attended a program about Guatemala. I did this in solidarity with my new friend who has focused recently on Guatemala, is there currently, and might find her path more and more entwined with that region. Odd that I’d come to a possible emerging involvement in Central and South Americans affairs thru a new friend. I’m so pleased I attended, not only for the information and stimulation provided by 3 speakers about the region, including a torture survivor, American widow of someone disappeared there (Jennifer Harbury), and another woman, plus a very well made video, Do Not Forget, but to build a friendship.

I noticed some parallels with Gaza: a peace accord in 1993 (same year as the Oslo Accords), the use of a fact-finding commission, ignoring or neglecting the results, a call for bringing the case to the International Criminal Court, the continuing presence of criminals in government, etc. I also realized I could end my new slide show Gaza Steadfast better by concluding with a plea for justice, as Do Not Forget does. So I might revise my show.

In a nutshell the situation in Guatemala: in 1954 a democratically elected regime fairly responsive to the needs of Guatemalans. Then overthrow from corporate-driven interests, like United Fruit, supported by the United States. Responding to egregious oppression, the formation of an armed resistance group. Brutal retaliation by the government and militias in the 1980s—more than 300 massacres, many disappeared, a wave of emigration. Both sides committing atrocities, but something like 90% of them from the government and terror groups. In 1993 a peace accord but little change, the oppression continues.

So not only do I possibly connect more directly with X but I learn about a parallel case. And I can be more in solidarity with my colleagues at Cambridge Center for Adult Education from Guatemala.


Noam Chomsky: “Gaza: One Year Later”

Koinonia Farm

Corrections Corporation of America

School of the Americas

School of the Americas Watch

History of Guatemala

Read Full Post »

Excerpts from my journal while touring the southern United States with new photographs and stories. The main shows are Gaza Steadfast, Bethlehem the Holy, The Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, and Quakers in Palestine/Israel. (I’ve completed the tour and I’m now happily at home in Cambridge Massachusetts for the foreseeable future.)


VIDEO: Crossing Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans North

November 14, 2009, Saturday, New Orleans, University of New Orleans, Training, Rehabilitation, and Assistance Center, guest room (where I began this entry), and the train bound for Atlanta (where I completed the entry)

Many dreams last night, recallable, probably because I needed to arise early this morning to meet the taxi, to meet the Amtrak station, to meet the train to Atlanta, to meet Jean Chapman who will meet me at the Atlanta station, to meet the Buddhist dojo, to meet my bed for tonight, to meet the pilgrims tomorrow, eventually to meet the School of the Americas and close it, then to meet my train home. And to meet my home and all will be bliss.

All that might be considered a dream.

I’m writing now since the night is fresh, but I won’t have time to finish—in a few moments I’ll have to walk across campus to meet my taxi.

To the dreams: sharing a home with Fran, my dad, him wanting to have all of us prepare lunch together, me resisting, raiding the fridge to make something for myself, trying to clean it, complaining about how messy the fridge and kitchen were, partly because of a very young Katy [my daughter] who’d made herself toast with butter sprinkled with brown sugar.

Preparing to make a huge print, talking with someone, a Japanese man, about how to prepare the printer, clean it of dust, run a test print which will require much ink.

While talking with someone about selling his bike—a slim yellow cone with tiny wheels and foldable pedals—I suggested the Bike Workshop in Cambridge. Then I was there, a sort of worker, but not getting my hands greasy. In walked a large delegation from Friends Meeting at Cambridge on some sort of procession; they were all dressed up, men in suits, women in dresses. Would they recognize me? A few did, far fewer than I’d hoped. I’d learned earlier by stumbling into the meetinghouse early that this was a special day for men, honoring men. Andy told me that. I’d have to miss it.

During family camping, I was counting quarters donated to my wife and me, separately. I was confused, partly because the counting platform was wet and dirty, and some boxes supposedly of money had other materials not money. Fireworks were part of the dream.

I note that one theme of these dreams was family: my father and Katy, my wife and our kids, Quaker family. Absent from my recurrent themes: women (except for P), sex, and love.

I devoted yesterday to exploring New Orleans, post Katrina, and with memories of my 2-week visit here in 1998 fairly fresh. I’d ended my romp with the Middle Passage Pilgrimage, I’d formulated my plan to return to the south for 4 months to volunteer my photography, I’d arranged with Sister Clare and Brother Kato to drive the dojo car back to Leverett, and with Y to reside with her for one month to get ready for the next leg (as a couple our worst month ever). I was free to stay at the church the pilgrims had used. I believe they had left for the Caribbean so the church was relatively empty.

(This all reminds me of Kato’s devotion to Clare. He’d planned on leaving the pilgrimage to return to temple building. He understood she needed his support so he decided to go the entire way. What a difference between Y and me, my devotion to her so embarrassingly slim.)

Yesterday, under conditions different from the pilgrimage, I bussed in to the center of the city. The route took me thru the St Bernard area. Only African Americans rode the bus, many of them looking destitute, and the neighborhoods were a mix of new construction, boarded up homes, and vacant lots. This was the No. 52 bus; I could later check its route.

Part of my mission was reconnoitering the route from my room on campus to the train station, planning to catch the Atlanta train at 7 am while the first bus ran at 6. A chore. Doing this, realizing how long it was and how difficult with my luggage, how much I’d worry, and that if I missed the train I might miss the pilgrimage to close the School of the Americas, I decided to book a cab for about $20 and ease my anxiety, assure my timely passage.

First stop: library and Internet. This is the same facility I used 10 years ago, upgraded. Didn’t learn much thru my email.

I rode the St Charles street trolley thru the Garden District, as I’d done 10 years earlier, this time finally—but too late—remembering I could video from the trolley. So I tried, with mixed results. As memory infests much of what I do and who I am, New Orleans notably from my one and only visit here in 1998, the trolley brought back many childhood experiences riding a trolley much like this one, similar vintage, along Stony Island Avenue on Chicago’s South Side. Same grinding sound as the motors increased their rotational speed, a sound I could simulate by turning my dad’s grinding wheel faster and faster. Same squealing brakes like pigs being slaughtered. Same thundering sound of metal wheel against metal rail. And same bobbing motion—a land voyage on a tour boat.

In the French Quarter, wandering like a lost ghost alone and eager for excitement, to return to life—resurrection thru sex—two black prostitutes welcomed me. Ah, thought I, had I only the guts and the gonads and the bucks I might try this. Yet, for one fleeting effervescent moment of pleasure I might be saddled with deadly poisons. So: ladies, no thanks. From other buildings frenetic music roared. I ducked into one of these places to pee and felt repelled by the singing of what looked like a mad man, belting out fuck you’s and shit’s.

On the street people sipped from brightly colored tubes that turned out to be grenade drinks, rumored to be powerful, each Grenade and its sipper a walking testimonial to the buzz of the drink and the buzz of the marketing campaign.

Jazz from 2 outdoor bands contrasted with the boisterousness of this first bar music. One of them all black except for the tuba player, the other all white and this band included dancers, one couple reminding me of M and her man friend, how they might dance together. Standing by a railing in Jackson Park behind the first band, which was playing outside the park, I tried for an unusual vantage point, showing their backs and the listeners. Moving to be in front of them, I concentrated on the trombone player, his one puffed cheek, and the washboard player, his silvery washboard gleaming in the sun, his face equally gleaming. I also thought of a Robert Frank photo—I think it was his—showing a man hidden behind his tuba. Tried the same arrangement of player and instrument.

Photographing the other band, all young, vibrant—why haven’t I fallen in love with a musician, maybe the blond clarinetist in the band? Is this the next episode in my love life?—the dancers appealed, how they darted about in perfect synchrony (do they have sex together, is it good, as the sex between M and her friend, she says, is good?). The sunlight glanced off them, adding to their appeal.

The casino was a hit. Slot machines that emit an otherworldly hum (music of the gambling spheres?), electronic versions of all games, like poker, blackjack, craps (I assume) and roulette, “gaming” tables filled with not so jolly “gamers,” each table serviced by a bored looking “player,” windows where patrons can order more money, various food lines depending on one’s membership type, all in a darkened womb-like huge room or series of rooms, the outside world effectively blotted out now for the fantasy of hitting the big time. Few do. Posted around the casino: if you’re having a gambling problem, call…

I gambled on making photos, surreptitiously pushing my shutter button while the camera was draped casually over my shoulder. I’d preset it in the bathroom to not be noticed. I’m sure plain clothes security prowled the joint, some may have noticed me gliding back and forth looking very suspicious, but no one interfered. I assumed the worst that could happen was ejection, and I’m used to rejection, my close cousin.

A few photos might later be useable, most I soon jettisoned because of blur.

Incidentally, reading the October 2009 issue of the Sun Magazine, an essay by Jim Ralston called “Confessions from a Conversion Van,” he says while encouraging a young student he’s about to fail to write one essay in his own language: and include one detail about your girlfriend dumping you. How’s that supposed to fit in?, says the student. That will be the part that makes the piece worth reading.

And this may be one of the main reasons I include similar material in my blogs, and why I find writing about failed and successful loves so appealing in my journal.

This also from Jim Ralston: I’m not ready yet to look at the smiling pictures of us [Jim and his former girl friend, Raven] vacationing in Guanajuanto. Her letter is emotionally detached compared to the way we talked to each other fairly recently. She says she never meant to hurt me, that she’s learned so much from our time together. (The ultimate kiss off: “I have learned so much from you.”) Fuck you, Raven…

Sounds familiar.

As I was about to enter the river front area I reached for my sunglasses—gone. Where’d I leave them? The retired surfers restaurant where I’d eaten the delicious fish tacos? Fallen off my head when I placed them there and forgot about them. Somewhere else? Should I return to the restaurant? Ditch that idea and simply assume I’d not find them and would soon replace them. After all, didn’t they need replacement anyway, scratched and perhaps not filtering out UV?

So I squinted my way along the waterfront, noticing for the first time how many did and didn’t wear sunglasses. I’d say the ratio of did to didn’t is about 4 out of 5.

Another discovery and new since I’d last visited the river was the holocaust memorial. I tried to figure it out. It consisted of a series of tall colorful panels, vertically oriented, that seemed to compose new figures depending on one’s vantage point. Exactly what these futures were partially cleared up when I found the obligatory artist’s explanation. Essentially a Star of David symbolizing the Jews massacred during the holocaust turned into 2 radiating spheres, symbolizing humanity recovering. Or some such. Thanks to god for the explanation; otherwise this would remain in mystery.

~~On the train we are now zipping past what looks like a suburb; a housing development, flat fields, low sun illuminating all. We’ve just passed a graveyard, all graves hovering over the wet earth.~~

On my 1998 visit I’d noticed for the first time living statues, people earning money by pretending to be frozen. Very clever and perhaps hard to do. This time I only noticed 2: a perfectly still black man caught in mid movement, and later, at a trolley stop, a woman in silver—silver makeup and a silver costume sliding from her body. She sat on the tub she used to collect money. She appeared dazed as she inhaled her cigarette. She looked drunk. She looked sorrowful, like I feel sometimes when considering my misguided love life. So, to show myself, I show her. I snuck the photos by holding the camera low, viewing the scene on my flip out screen, and snapping without anyone noticing.

~~On the train we are now racing along a huge water body, one of the lakes near New Orleans, Lake Pontchartrain, between the water and a levee, homes and fields on the other side. The levee has thickened from about one meter to about 3 meters, reminding me of the separation barrier in the West Bank. What happens to the tracks when the water rises?~~

Finally, finding my way back to the campus in the early evening (dark descends here at about 5:30 this time of year), thanks to friendly Black men who knew where the No. 52 bus would stop, proud of myself, I discovered the campus student center was not only open (Friday evening early) but its dining hall features all you could eat take out for a mere $7. Can’t pass this up. I’ll eat in my room, reading mail and news on the computer. And go to bed early to rise early, 4:15 am, to meet the cab, to meet the station, to meet the train, etc.

But first, tomorrow: who’d meet me at the Atlanta station and when would I join the pilgrimage? I checked the pilgrimage schedule, discovered to my horror that tomorrow evening the walkers would have driven to Koinonia after walking to the Martin Luther King Center in the morning. There might be no one home? Now what?

Call Dave. He’s not coming until Monday.

Call Denise, and hope she’s not grouchy as she can be. Reach Denise who turns out to be sweet and loving and patient. You’re lucky, she chimed, we had a slight change in plans, someone sick whose partner is driving down to retrieve her. So someone will be here on Saturday evening and can pick you up. You’ll drive on Sunday morning to meet us.

Oh, thank god for that, but not for the illness. I hope she does not have the H1N1 flu. I read that it is striking the world hard, in the US some 500 children already dead (is this accurate?), with something like 3,000 adults dead. God in heaven if this is so, and when will it end? Should I be more careful with hygiene? I’ve had shots, I carry flu remedy.

So far, the only illness I’ve suffered on this tour is a slight flu-like symptom already reported here. It passed. I feel good, currently.

~~We are now perilously streaming past two large water bodies, Pontchartrain on the left, another lake on the right, with numerous bridges spanning the water. What happens to the tracks if the water rises? What happened during Katrina? Isn’t this precarious?

I’m about finished with this writing for now, might break for coffee and food from my larder, a breakfast while gliding over treacherous waters. Later to spell and grammar check.~~

Read Full Post »

Excerpts from my journal while touring the southern United States with new photographs and stories. The main shows are Gaza Steadfast, Bethlehem the Holy, The Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, and Quakers in Palestine/Israel. (I’ve completed the tour and I’m now happily at home in Cambridge Massachusetts for the foreseeable future.)


November 12, 2009, Thursday, Baton Rouge LA, home of J & M, in their living room:

Several breakthrough dreams last night, in the sense of being vivid, memorable, and possibly important. In the least dramatic but most intriguing—and hard to recall, describe and interpret—either I or someone else was explaining that we’d recently discovered or uncovered a remnant of an earlier people, foot prints encased in resin. These footprints were somehow connected with our early loves.  If only we could detect presence in the footprints we’d have access to these earlier loves. Vague, I know, but when dreaming it I felt deeply moved.

The second was an intense sexual encounter with someone I didn’t know. Then the scene suddenly shifted to outside, a group of people lining a walkway saying, give them room, let them breathe.

So much for my dream life, what about my real life?

Well, photographically speaking much is happening. Last night, showing Gaza at the local Islamic center to about 20 tired-looking folks after evening prayer, one man from Gaza came to me later to complain about me showing Sderot [the small Israeli town 1 mile from Gaza that has suffered many of the rocket attacks] as if the suffering was equivalent, Sderot and Gaza. This felt to me like the same argument some Jews might use when someone places an experience of deep suffering beside the Nazi holocaust of the Jews: can’t compare them, the Jew might say, completely different. Has the Gaza massacre, for Palestinians, become the New Holocaust, Palestinian style? Sacred, inviolable, incomparable? And eventually used to justify subsequent acts of injustice and brutality?

The man was angry, tho polite, thanking me for my efforts, but clearly feeling wronged, slighted, misunderstood. What could I answer? I offered at least 2 reasons for including Sderot, maybe 3: it’s a strategic method to build an audience; I’m curious about life there, especially trauma; and to show the boomeranging effects of the rockets, how they’ve increased the oppression rather than decreased it. To do this I should be clearer that many in Sderot have become radicalized, more extreme against the Gazan. And world attention suddenly focused on the plight of Sderot, deflecting attention from what happened to the Gazan. His remarks confirm to me the correctness of my choice—ending the slide show with Sderot. Or so I pray.

Otherwise the show and audience seemed lacking something, not with my usual energy. Partly reacting to the poor turnout and my host, M’s, disappointment. Many more were at prayer, choosing not to remain. M takes this seriously, this lack of awareness and action among his fellow Muslims. His wife, J, also seemed to feel it. Compared with the only other mosque appearance I’ve made, this one clearly failed. But the photos looked good, the audio sounded good, and I didn’t miss many of my lines.

Other than the evening show, followed by dinner at their favorite Mid East restaurant, Almazar (the diamond), not much to narrate. I accompanied M as he did some chores. We discussed prostate problems and remedies. He suggested Flomax and Finasteride, both prescription drugs, and J added saw palmetto. I believe it’s time for me to do something about my noxious little problem.

I worked at home—this was Vet’s Day—to finish the next entry for my blog, about M and S, S especially because of the day. This entry has been one of the trickiest to edit: how much to disclose about both, especially him? I removed major portions of my story about him and his wife, trying hard to conceal their identity, protecting them: fewer weapons, virtually nothing about their free-flowing love lives. I chose not to send the initial blog version to him for checking, mainly because of the deadline, also the supposition that he’ll never see it and that I’ve done a sufficient job concealing him.

M was easier, not too much to hide. And since I do not link the photos directly with the writing, tracing who’s who will be harder. I linked to the latest photo set, and the video about McDonalds, hoping they both show something vital about my experiences in Florida.

Calling Dave yesterday to sort out the remaining schedule was helpful. Our plan now is for me to train from New Orleans to Atlanta in the next few days, depending on how much hospitalility I can find in New Orleans. Then join the School of the Americas Watch pilgrimage organized by Sister Denise and Brother Utsumi, drive with Dave back to Birmingham for that gig, and end at the SOA. The last weeks are coming together, slowly, but unless magic happens with New Orleans housing—an ironic twist on the Katrina story: Skip without housing in the Crescent City—I’ll not have much free time to explore.

My walk this morning was glorious—sunny and cool, clear sky, flat terrain, much to watch, especially the live oaks, many paths to take, no rush, and inspiring my hosts to begin a walking regimen. I miss such walking.

November 13, 2009, Friday, New Orleans, University of New Orleans, Training, Rehabilitation, and Assistance Center, guest room:

On a sunny cool morning, living alone for a change, with an open day for New Orleans exploration. The Gaza show last night, sponsored by a newly formed chapter of Amnesty International and the General Union of Palestinian Students, to about 20 students and one off campus man, Joe.

M graciously drove me all the way into New Orleans, with our usual animated conversation about political events, plus news about his precarious economic position requiring him to continue working in his civil engineering business. I experienced a big loss recently, he said, not giving details, which keeps me working. Altho he is generous and compassionate, I detect a note of deep suffering, frustration, impatience. He is often highly critical of others, using the word disaster frequently. Yet he and his wife are exemplary hosts, inviting me back for further shows. I wonder if he’d prefer being in S’s position, free from the need for paying work, able to devote full time to organizing.

On long bridges we soared over swamps,. This is a water rich area, one that if I ever finish my Palestine/Israel project I might concentrate on for its water theme. The title might be, Water in New Orleans.

The group heartened me last night, many of them young activists, attentive to my show, with many questions later. I found myself disclosing personal information to an extent unusual even for me, in particular about consequences of my secondary trauma—weeping, love, love, love, and sex. I told the story of photographing the burning mother in Nepal, occasionally glancing at Jason who is Nepali, how I noticed cattle fucking near the cremation ghats. I regarded this as a sign of the intimate connection between death and sex, or between suffering and love. That was in response to a question about how I dealt with witnessing suffering.

A related question—and I worry at times that I’m too much about me, not about others—was about how children respond to suffering: attending programs like Popular Achievement in Gaza, university enrollment, graduate education, sports, religion, sometimes extreme forms of religion as with Hamas and even more radical Islamic groups, and of course despair, caving. Which may be more prevalent than I observed because I was with a select group of Gazans.

At the show at Louisiana State University I’d seen a display about hidden people and decided to use this theme in my intro. Forgot. Forgot also at the mosque show but last night I remembered and opened with that. I asked, after explaining how I came to this idea, what are some hidden populations of humans that you know about? Only a few responses. (Of course, being hidden they might not be apparent.) I listed the Katrina population, especially people of color. Paradoxically there was great attention to Katrina itself, as a catastrophe, and some attention to the victims, of all types. But because of how blacks living in poverty were portrayed—criminals, rioters, killers, monsters in short—they were rendered invisible: their true selves were hidden. They were not rendered as human beings. Ditto for American Indians. And for the Vietnamese during the war, the gooks, and the Iraqis, and the same for the Gazans—who we are taught are all terrorists. This proved a useful frame for the show.

Also I now use the 2 images from Newsweek, Vice President Joe Biden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, contrasting them: man in suit with American flag lapel pin, smiling vs. a scowling bearded Arab. This to the point of why I do my work: to balance the big picture by portraying Palestinians as human beings.

I encouraged questions about photography, so from what equipment do you use to how are you regarded when photographing in Gaza were tossed at me. I’d said earlier to a young man who had professed interest in photography, please don’t hesitate to ask me about photography, few do, and I love those questions.

In the few hours I had between drop off and show time, I searched for internet access, found none, concluding this is one of the tightest campuses yet for internet security; walked to Lake Pontchartrain and made a panoramic photograph from a levee; bought and snagged food for later consumption (some of it I’m afraid is from the stash of the resident assistants); and pondered what to do about New Orleans, how long and where stay?

I feel cut off  without Internet access. I’ve had it fairly reliably on this trip, especially during the last days in Baton Rouge, and at home since I signed up for Verizon. Without internet I am blind to new developments about trip planning, can’t get local info, can’t book my Amtrak ride (I could over the phone), won’t know if any personal messages arrived, and can’t add web material to the slide shows. Perhaps I’ll find temporary access today in my travels. A library perhaps.

Jason, my host, is from Nepal. He informed me that the campus suffered greatly during Katrina, under 18 feet, yes FEET, of water, but suffered more from the vandalism and looting inflicted by evacuees who’d been temporarily housed here. I’m not sure how true this is, perhaps a projection upon others?

He also cleared up for me the use and meaning of the term teeksa. Not pronounced teek-sa, but thik cha, 2 syllables, the Nepali pronounciation of th not available in English. And Nepali has a word for thank you, contradicting what I’d learned when in Napal in 1979, but at least I was correct in guessing that thik cha means ok, fine, why not, etc. So I’ve mauled the word, yet correctly interpreted it. End result: I’ll make no change. I’ll continue to use it for my photography passion, but not explain it as the Nepali equivalent of thanks because the language lacks that word.


Gaza Freedom March

US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

Stolen Beauty, a selective boycott campaign against an Israeli product, Ahava, promising “Beauty Secrets from the Dead Sea”

Israeli Apartheid Video Contest

Read Full Post »

Excerpts from my journal while touring the southern United States with new photographs and stories. The main shows are Gaza Steadfast, Bethlehem the Holy, The Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, and Quakers in Palestine/Israel. (I’ve completed the tour and I’m now happily at home in Cambridge Massachusetts for the foreseeable future.)


November 8, 2009, Sunday, Slidell LA, home of L, in the dining room:

Some confusion about the remaining big plan: which of the few remaining gigs are confirmed, where will I stay at night, what will be the transport? Last night’s show scheduled for a church in Biloxi MS had to be shifted to the home of one of the organizers, G, because someone had slipped and not actually booked the church—so we couldn’t get in. The afternoon Hydropolitics show was in a classroom on a nearly empty campus—so few attended. In short: dismal times.

Partly this seems to reflect the political climate here, sodden, conservative, quiet, at least in the region of the Gulf Coast other than New Orleans itself (which is said to be highly politically active). As one man said, the Egyptian at my Gaza Satori coffee house show (which was well attended), there is no one to argue with here, dead.

I respond: so what? One of the main reasons Dave and I chose to move into this zone was exactly its relative backwardness compared with other parts of the country. Backward only in the sense of awareness and involvement in progressive politics.

Surprisingly I’m not worried. I trust that good things will eventually happen. Church locked? Use someone’s home. Few upcoming gigs? Use the time to explore New Orleans and Birmingham. No housing around the time of Birmingham? Use Couch Surfers and Hospitality Club [2on line systems for finding hospitality worldwide, I used it in Israel] to find alternative housing in that area. Worst case is perhaps shift to Atlanta and reside in the Japanese Buddhist dojo and join the immigrants’ rights march, or ship myself home early. I have choices.

At the end of this road is the prospect of a full month of relaxation and concentrated photo work. December: enjoy the onset of winter, plunge into processing the photos from the summer, maintain blog and website, visit family, perhaps establish a deeper friendship with a few good souls, put together a New England tour, and photograph in New England.

About hurricane damage, the aftermath of Katrina, I’ve noticed open land where buildings once stood, foundations, building relics, and other markers of habitation. The Long Beach Mississippi University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Campus for instance. Driving in past boarded up buildings my impression was of dereliction. Abandonment. Loss and no recovery. Driving further, following signs for “Event parking,” we entered the renovated part of the campus. I learned from an English prof there that the university is slowly rebuilding, from the back of the campus to the front, in part using insurance money.

Casinos seem to have been rapidly rebuilt, altho some construction was frozen because of the economic crunch. Workers have removed the tons of sand blown in by the storm. In places they were distributing new sand to reconstitute the beaches. Oddly, in most parts of the beach we drove along between Ocean Springs and Gulfport few people were on the beach, only one or 2 in the water.

Our Middle Passage Pilgrimage in November 1998, about this time of year, had walked along this stretch. I believe I spotted the Lutheran church were we resided, and I noticed the beach area where we’d stopped for prayer in a circle, which I’d photographed. Later I’d like to check my records to determine the exact route, and to read what I may have written about my experience on the way to New Orleans and eventual departure from the pilgrimage to construct my own.

My Slidell Louisiana host, L, is the only person that I’ve queried about knowing about the Middle Passage Pilgrimage that actually remembers it. She attended a church event on the topic, but did not herself participate. She thinks we headquartered in the Unitarian Universalist church in New Orleans. I might check that when I’m there.

To meet the threats posed by violent storms, buildings now must be built on stilts, at least the residential buildings. I’m not sure what changes in building codes have been instituted for large buildings. Sitting square and huge along the water I muse about their vulnerability.

Slidell Louisiana

Unfortunately photographing this is tough. In a car, whisked from spot to post, by friendly hosts, I’m not able to walk, find vantage points, consider the light, and make decent photos. And since so much seems viewable from ground level, I float the thought that to photograph this topic well—aftermath of Katrina—a helicopter might be a useful tool.

About the folks hosting me: D and D, exceptionally kind and thoughtful, my every need considered, jewels of humanity. Initially meeting in high school, they now seem utterly compatible. They’ve strewn their tables with unfinished projects. D showed me his garage with wood tools he’s not used in 3 years. His computer books are all out of date. Before retirement he worked as a chemist, she a secretary. I love them and hope to know them better on my next trip. They appreciated my work, invited me back.

My main host, G, aging, falling asleep at odd moments (said to fall asleep while on the internet), hunched over because of back problems, lost his wife recently, her 4th marriage (widowed twice). Dave thinks he’s a good organizer but judging from the turnout maybe not.

Another host, L, about my age, speaking very slowly with a southern accent, lives alone with her cat in a house that resembles that of someone living inches above the poverty line in the early 20th century—lace, old fashioned furniture, thin rugs, spare kitchen. But she rallied, met me in Gulfport, drove me to her home, is hosting me for 2 nights. Her part time job is shelving books and she complained about once being married to the “world’s worst husband.’

No wireless Internet where I’m staying in Slidell with L, but I can use her computer. Once again I’m handicapped—but not for long

November 9, 2009, Monday, Slidell LA, home of L, in the dining room:

I found this powerful poem that I’m now using as my footer.

A thunderclap under the clear blue sky
All beings on earth open their eyes;
Everything under heaven bows together;
Mount Sumeru leaps up and dances.

—Yuelin Shiguan

Being close to the traditional Veterans’ day, which I thought was either the first or second Tues in November (the first was election day, does this replace Vets’ day?) yesterday, a Sunday, I happened upon a parade thru the center of Slidell which included lots of vets, lots of Junior ROTC marchers, and one armored personnel carrier manufactured locally at Textron. I’d been out walking, surveying this somewhat dismal town—observing the Amtrak station (which if I’m lucky I might pass while on an Amtrak bound for Birmingham), noticing a small internet café at the station that I might have used had I known about it, the town’s center and in it a church with a huge attendance, L’s neighborhood consisting mostly of one story, flat housing, much of it looking ramshackle, hardly able to stand up against floods and winds, a park along a bayou, missing trees in its midsection (L explained that Katrina had destroyed many trees and most would probably not be replaced), another park with a name like Hound or Pig Hollow, many small closed antique and boutique shops, a few other people out walking, plenty of cars, and a few other points of interest.

I photographed houses set about 8 ft up on stilts, learned from L that many of them have been raised to offer some protection from flooding. A few abandoned houses. Not much to photograph. Until finding the parade. Then, how to show it compassionately? The announcer repeatedly called for the crowd to “put your hands together and honor…,” a Korean war vet, a major who’d made some contribution, performing cheer leaders, a marching band, etc. All American, and I’m on the outside. I don’t hate this exhibition of militaristic fervor but I find it repellant. To the point of imagining a conversation between me and someone who’d noticed I wasn’t “putting my hands together.”

I might respond: I’m with you on honoring courage and dedication, trying to act effectively for what one believes. I have to question the belief, the objective of the action. Is using violence to resolve conflict smart? How many innocents are injured and killed when military action is taken, what is the long-term achievement of using the military, and what are the hidden costs such as post traumatic stress disorder?

The person might pop me one as a weakling or supporter of terrorism, or might say, well, I’ve never thought about that. Let’s go somewhere after the parade for coffee and conversation.

I discovered the Ali Baba café, serving Mideast food. Tasty but slow, a gracious overworked owner, very dark skinned with a wide smile. The shelves were spotted with a few Mideast foods but empty space predominated over filled space, lending the appearance of either a start up business or one that is not exactly thriving.

Sunday was an off day, I hope not one in a growing string of off days—no gigs. I had time to edit and post on YouTube my first video of the tour, made while cruising thru a hilly golf course on my comfort bike in Miami while talking to myself, barely hearable over the wind noise. I’m curious about responses to this video, whether some might find it stupid and pointless, others innovative and courageous. Is it deep or is it a trifle? It surely was fun to make and about as fun to post.

Looking at my YouTube viewing numbers I discovered that a Walk Around Ramallah was most viewed, with over 1500 or so viewings, while some others like the workout in Portland gathered only about 60 or so views. The ratings, when people stopped to rate, were generally good.

A few more observations about my host, L. She seems to live alone, not only in her house, but in her community, rarely referring to anyone or any community. She has habits like every morning eating instant oatmeal, eating while sitting on a beach chair at the dining room table with her legs up reading the morning paper and cuddling her cat. She is very helpful and thoughtful, which I appreciate, and she likes my photos, to the extent that she volunteered to put some on her Facebook page. This may be her true community, Facebook.

I gave her a 5 by 7 of her choice, she had sharply observed remarks to make about some that almost made the cut (I’d offered one free), asked me to photograph her for Facebook, asked if I’d be her friend on Facebook, and is now trying to find me housing in New Orleans thru a friend.

Anne R is circulating a doc entitled GLOBAL ACTIONS TO END ISRAEL’S OCCUPATION, which has her mark on it. It lists various organizations and other initiatives that suggest the efficacy of Boycott-Divest-Sanction, BDS High on the list is Veolia Transportation, the company that presumably pulled out from its contract proving light rail service to Israeli settlements, running thru Palestinian territory. I’ll have to thank her for this and I’ll consider sending it to my list.

Hurricane Ida is approaching, how will this effect my plans, and what will it do to the land and people?

November 11, 2009, Wednesday, Baton Rouge LA, home of Joey and M, in their living room:

Mississippi River, Baton Rouge Louisiana

A tour of Baton Rouge with the ever hospitable M, dinner with him and his wife at home, a minor revision of Gaza, and finally contacting my New Orleans host—that about makes up my day yesterday. Not the most exciting day of the trip, but adequate.

The Mississippi river runs thru Baton Rouge (red stick, supposedly from a red stick that native people placed along the river to designate the spot), and because of the levee the river is hard to see unless one is on the levee or a bridge. A railroad line runs along the levee, past a station converted to a museum. The city built a walkway, much used at sunset yesterday when m and I promenaded along the levee and tracks. Here I made a panoramic of setting sun, opposite shore, bridge, and perhaps a few walkers. We tried gaining perspective for photos by driving as slowly as possible across the new and the old bridges, without much luck. I believe I was able to show some of the numerous refineries along the river. I believe this stretch of the river is called Chemical Alley because of all refineries.

On the Baton Rouge levee (click for an enlargement)

We also visited the government complex along the lake, centered on a tall building of about 30 stories built in the 1930s by Huey Long. He was assassinated in the main hall. The lake was gorgeous, and the grounds included an Indian mound thought to be a sacred or leadership site, a rose garden with odorless depleted roses, egrets, and the old powder magazine left over from a fort. Inside the magazine a museum explaining the history of Baton Rouge and exactly what a powder magazine is.

We cruised thru various sorts of neighborhoods, including ones inhabited by black Americans. These are spotted throughout the city and are remnants of pockets of Blacks who lived near plantations, if I understand M correctly. There is also a larger concentration of Black people elsewhere. Unlike Slidell, there has not been a permanent immigration of Katrina survivors. Some moved here temporarily and then returned to New Orleans or moved elsewhere.

M treated me to a catfish lunch at a well-known restaurant opened by a former football player, now a sort of chain in Louisiana. Good food but obsequious service. The aging “server,” Desiree, used most of the endearment terms in the book: dear, hon, honey, sweetie, love, baby… and we’d just met! M quipped that such terms in English often relate to sweet food, whereas in Arabic, the multipurpose word habibi, the terms are more focused on relationship. Habibi can range from dearest one to friend, and might even be a sort of imperative, as in HABIBI, come here!

The downtown, altho initially appearing decayed to me, is in fact, M explained, being rejuvenated. This is due to a governmental initiative to relocate government offices to the central city. as Chicago reawaked its downtown by siting colleges there, thus drawing ancillary service organizations and people, Baton Rouge appears to have done this thru legislation—a mark of good government?

Weather was warm and moist, with manifold sky creatures zooming about, mostly cumulous. M complained about the year-round heat and mosquitoes, using this to explain his lack of exercise.

The remark about Sderot from someone in the audience at the Baton Rouge show prompted a slight revision of Gaza. Indeed, I learned that Sderot is built on Palestinian land, the cleansed village of Nadj in 1951, and might have been founded to define Israel territory—another fact on the ground. It also housed refugees from North Africa, Kurdistan, Persian and other regions, so it is a town of immigrants. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any visuals to illustrate the idea of worldwide Jewish and Christian attention to the town when attacked by Gazan rockets, contrasting with the minimal attention to Gaza itself and the suffering Israel caused.

J and M have lived in this house more than 30 years, raising all their children here for at least part of the children’s lives. M and J speak of moving to Damascus, his original home, claiming that at least one child wishes to move with them. But as J, from the US, added, he’s been talking about this for 40 years. I note that I am one of the few people I know not beset by bi-regionalism. With no desire to return to the Chicago area, my original home. Perfectly content to live out my remaining hours, days, weeks, months, years in New England, if not the Boston area, if not Cambridge, if not 9 Sacramento St.

Refinery, Baton Rouge

And my New Orleans host, JS, finally emailed me, claiming he’d had the flu and was busy. He assures me of hospitality for one night, I remain presently an artist without a home for the remaining few days in New Orleans. Ditto for Birmingham. Slouching toward Atlanta where in about 12 days I board the train home. Can’t wait, not so much for this journey to finish but to be home and in my expanded December zone of work work work, with family, friends, Quakers, land all mixed in.

H wrote in response to my first video, about bicycling around a fancy South Miami golf course:

The subject says it all… this is surreal… a contrast to Gaza perhaps?… maybe an ‘opposite sketch’?… maybe you are……… ???

And from me:

all [of what you wrote] seems correct: surreal, Gaza, “opposite sketch,” and … mainly just having fun, playing, momentarily in the land of the rich. you are very perceptive.


Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage: “The Modern Dance of Imperialism,” by Teresa Williams

A Spirit People: One View of the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, photos of the pilgrimage by Skip Schiel

Global Actions to End Israeli’s Occupation (mostly using Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions, BDS—thanks to Anne Remley and QuakerPI.org)

Read Full Post »

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Click for interactive map

Beit Hanoun, Gaza, August 2009

First the nuts and bolts about my recent 5 week tour of my photos from Israel-Palestine to the southern regions of the United States:

approximately 30 showings in almost as many venues to about 1200 people, in colleges and universities, mosques and churches, and seniors’ residential centers. Mainly the photo presentation Gaza Steadfast, but also Quakers in Palestine/Israel, Bethlehem the Holy, and The Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel.

Jenin, West Bank, Palestine, July 2009

Beginning in the triangle area of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh), south to Miami, across the Gulf Coast to New Orleans, northeast to Birmingham Alabama, and concluding in Columbus Georgia at the School of the Americas Watch vigil and procession to the gates of Fort Benning.

Residing mostly in homes, also a few hotels and motels, traveling by rides provided by hosts, along with the train and bus.

Detailed itinerary

After viewing an exhibit about hidden people at one of my university venues I began introducing my shows with the frame of hidden or obscured people. Examples would include American Indians, people worldwide  living in poverty, victims of color in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, indigenous Mayans in Guatemala—and of course, Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians, and especially Gazans. Hidden in a subtle way: not overtly hidden but disguised, distorted, transformed, their true humanity masked by being turned into savages (indigenous people), criminals (black residents of New Orleans), and the notorious terrorists firing rockets into civilian areas of Israel.

Indeed, Gaza militants fire rockets into southern Israel, probably a war crime, but this does not define all Gazans. Who are they, how do they live, what is their fundamental nature? Gaza Steadfast!

Legislative building, Gaza City, Gaza Strip, August 2009

I also used a second frame: the rise of the international court system and its application to Israel’s attacks on Gaza and the rocket fire from Gaza. This development in Gaza is unprecedented, a significant step in the history of Israel-Palestine but also for humanity. Despite the Obama administration and US House rejecting the report, the recommendation to take the case to the International Criminal Court in the Hague is a significant step. (At this writing, the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly have endorsed the report and the Security Council is poised to consider it—with a US veto expected.)

Gaza City, out the window of Dr. Mona Al-Farra, August 2009

First aid workshop, Popular Achievement, American Friends Service Committee, Beit Hanoun, Gaza, August 2009

Beit Hanoun, Gaza, August 2009

Raghda Al-Jedeli, Bureij refugee camp, Gaza, August 2009

A few impressions from the tour:

For the first time in my 4 tours to the south, more Muslim-Arab groups organized shows, both students and adults; more individuals from these populations attended; and I noticed somewhat more activism among this population at mosques and higher education institutions.

The tour was in the shadow of the Richard Goldstone report about Gaza commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, with the shameful responses by the Obama White House and the House of Representatives, both denying the validity of the exhaustive and fair-minded report. The latter, HR 867, was voted on while I was in Florida, the home state of the representative authoring the resolution, Ilena Ros-Lehtinen. I feature the Goldstone report in my Gaza Steadfast show. Much rich discussion about the report and responses followed each show.

Audience response was usually warm. No hostility, no incivility, little sharp criticism—with a few exceptions. On occasion after the public discussion individuals expressed opposition to some of my claims and perspectives. Among them: I’ve not seriously regarded Israeli justifications for their policies and actions (these remarks usually from supporters of Israel), I’ve not fully acknowledged the right of an oppressed population to resist by any means available (usually supporters of Palestine, and often Muslim Arab).

Mangroves, Tampa, Florida—Click for enlargement

One highlight was showing at mosques. In most cases this was in a community room, but in Birmingham Alabama, they hosted me in the mosque itself. A gorgeous spacious cavernous room, once a Christian church, elegantly transformed into the simple space of Islamic worship. I felt honored. And here I was most seriously questioned about including the suffering of Jews in relation to that of Palestinians. My Gaza show ends with a depiction of life under the Gaza rockets—the Israeli town of Sderot, just one mile from the northern strip. I’m still not sure about this ending, I need to digest my experiences using it.

From a young man at the mosque, Abu Ibrahim Ismail:

You gave a very good presentation the other day. You’ve taught me a lot, and that’s good ’cause I usually think I know it all.

Please keep up the good work. You are doing something very important that not many people have the opportunity to do.

He also stated on his blog:

I had the chance to see something not too many people see: astonishing Gaza photos of the destruction caused by the Israeli siege earlier this year.

At the Birmingham Islamic Center in Hoover, Alabama, photographer Skip Schiel showcased his photos of the aftermath of Israel’s war against Hamas. He gave a pretty balanced presentation as he also displayed photos of the damage caused by Hamas rockets into Israel.

But there was no comparison. The damage caused by Israel’s barrage made the difficult situation in Gaza even worse. I can’t even begin to explain or describe everything he talked about. All I can say is, whatever I thought I knew about the situation was only just a glimmer of how life really is…

There is a little hope. Skip’s photos showed Gazan (is that a real word) residents engaging in learning activities, leadership classes, and he himself gave them a photography class…

In front of the Dove Outreach Church, Gainesville, Florida

Since my home community and primary practice is Quaker, I was impressed with Quakers in Miami who hosted my Quakers in Palestine/Israel show. They told me about their recent opening of a Quaker Peace Center. Good to learn about such rare meeting-wide Quaker activism.

Quoting co-clerk Warren Hoskins from the meeting:

…I’m already thinking about your next visit… you tapped on the doors of many people, and I truly expect far more to open in the future.

…you were the first speaker brought to South Florida by the Quaker Peace Center of Miami Friends Meeting. As such, you set a suitably high standard for future guests to bring talks, published books or other writings, multimedia programs and projects and other works for peace and social justice to South Florida. Thank you so much for that, too…

Much of the region I covered is little visited by people like me—it is fresh territory for artists and activists, cultural workers and witnesses. Which might partly explain why finding venues was so difficult. Student organizers cancelled at two venues when they failed to follow up on commitments. During the last 2 weeks there were many blank days which in the north might have been more easily filled. However, on several campuses student chapters of Amnesty International and Students for a Democratic Society co-sponsored shows. Despite my disappointment and thanks to the good work of my organizer, David Matos, we intend to try again next year, deepening our penetration in the Deep South and Mississippi Delta.

We ended by joining a Buddhist-led walk for immigration rights and to close the School of the Americas, AKA, The School of the Assassins (SOA).

This controversial facility at Fort Benning Georgia trains military from Central and South American countries often implicated in death squads and assassination teams.

The tour finale was a presentation of Gaza Steadfast during the workshop period of the SOA activities. To an enthusiastic crowd of about 70 people. The number and degree of participation surprised me because the SOA event concentrates on Latin America. Two organizers of the Gaza Freedom March slated to begin in late December of 2009, Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright, attended the discussion and added details about the daring and dramatic trip to Gaza organized by Code Pink and others.

Altho my primary purpose for this trip was to show photos I also learned about the region, especially southern Florida with its ethnic diversity and huge gap between wealth levels, and the lingering damage along the Gulf Coast caused by Hurricane Katrina more than 4 years ago. I photographed and videoed what I could, periodically posting on my website and blog.

From Anne Remley:

A very “telling” account… you’ve chosen a difficult path, sharing your experience of Gaza and Israel, helping at a distance those loved folks like your Raghda, but as a consequence having less sharing of love-at-hand, of the kind of deeper active connections one may feel with family.  (Though of course one can be lonely in the midst of family, too.)

… this is quite a saga, from the discomfort with lavish but distant hosts to the warm accounts of presentations that aroused good probing and reactions from people who clearly much needed to learn and think about the Palestinians’ life of virtual enslavement, as I think of it.

(How can our country support and enable the enslavement, degradation, and harassment of so many thousands of human beings — in the name of “friendship” for Israel and military strategy, as well– though so mistaken — since our support for this daily enslavement creates military enemies against us and hazards for us every day that we continue this special “friendship.”)

Slidell Louisiana

… yes,  you’ve had a distant Anner friend here reading and traveling with you, appreciating the journey, resonating to the traveler’s times of loneliness (maybe an existential human condition we all share — but especially felt by One Who Journeys).

Thanks for taking your words and images and knowledge to the far reaches of Florida.  This is a form of living love for R and the rest.

Earlier, about photos from Palestine/Israel:

How do you DO it, Skip. Your photos are full of surprises. Like little gift packages with unexpected, unexpectable little presents…

Such gifts are these.

“Veteran’s Celebrate Freedom,” the Sunday before Veterans’ Day, Slidell Louisiana

For our next tour Dave and I are concocting a dream journey: for 1 – 2 months. We visualize a trip beginning in Washington DC, heading southwest along the Amtrak route (so I can more easily move between venues by train) to New Orleans (on Amtrak’s Crescent), north thru the Mississippi Delta and along the river (using the legendary City of New Orleans train), with a major stop in Chicago (my hometown), and then head thru the hinterland home to Boston (on the Lake Shore Limited). A dream tour indeed. We hope this journey will happen in the fall of 2010. (If you live in that area or know people who do, you might want to contact David Matos for more information, aiken (underscore) peace (at) yahoo.com, 803-215-3263.)

My touring in the United States is the antipodal end of my yearly travel to Israel-Palestine. There I learn and make the photos, here I learn and show the photos. Both are needed.

Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.

—Vaclav Havel


“Report back from Stewart Detention Center Protest by SOA Watch”

A video: a buddhist led pilgrimage: justice for immigrants

School of the Americas Watch

Example of my videos: Deering Golf Course, Miami Florida

Read Full Post »

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, The Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, and Quakers in Palestine/Israel. (I’ve completed the tour and I’m now happily at home in Cambridge Massachusetts for the foreseeable future.)


VIDEOS: Crossing Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans North + a buddhist led pilgrimage: justice for immigrants

November 5, 2009, Thursday, Tallahassee Florida, in a motel room:

Sitting at a small desk in a spacious motel room just around the corner from Florida State University in Tallahassee (I think I’ve finally learned how to spell it, now what does it mean?), the morning open until I board yet another bus for Pensacola (learned to spell that as well), I now write with some distraction.

One long relatively vivid dream last night, shortly before awakening: I was swimming in a fast moving stream with a woman; we were bucking the current and doing well. We bobbed up and down, for long moments underwater. Foam capped the water. I could see into the water. We approached a bridge. She called out, I’ve lost my … something, maybe glasses, a sad moment but not a tragedy.

Scene shifted. I and not her was with a family near the stream looking out on the water. A dog had gobbled something up which was prohibited and the dog now pretended to be asleep, feigning innocence.

An interpretation of the first part seems obvious, so much so that it might be inaccurate: in my life I swim against the current.

I dreaded the long bus ride between Miami and Tallahassee but it turned out to be pleasant, relaxing, meditative, allowing me to work on my computer enroute (composing advanced info for the winter session at Cambridge Center for Adult Education, remove the guns from S’s images by alteration, skillfully if I do admit myself), write my journal, all while battery charge is plummeting (no AC hookup on Greyhound), and observe the terrain along the split 4 lane highway (mostly forests of new growth and uncultivated fields, a few small towns).

Amnesty International and the local campus Mid East studies group sponsored my Gaza presentation last evening. The small auditorium was filled, close to 100 people, mostly students, but a smattering of people who’d seen it advertised either on Facebook or in the local paper (incorrectly, so we fixed that). The US House voted yesterday to support Resolution 867 rejecting the Goldstone report—a sad moment in US history—and this provided my entry point for the intro. Earlier Samah, who I’d met at lunch (along with 8 or so others, mostly students and the Arabic prof, Zeina Schlenoff {a name I failed to remember so I couldn’t refer to her directly in my gratitude expression}), gave the intro. She read from my website and I told the audience that was the first time I’d heard those words spoken aloud. They embarrass me yet cause me to feel proud. They are apt, even if possibly overblown.

I’ve worked in the words from Eric Yellin and Nomika Zion from Sderot and the general theme there of trauma and their courage in speaking out, also the radical Islamist group that Hamas apparently destroyed while I was there, and HR 867, but not yet the vote’s outcome.

The show seemed well received, with hearty applause, most remaining thru what is now 60 minutes (skipping one sequence about the Popular Achievement program), and about 2/3s remained for the conversation. Only a few walked out. The discussion wasn’t as rich as the night before, partly because of the space: spread out. And the level of awareness seemed lower. (I can access this by asking during the show who knows such and such, like about the USS Liberty or the Goldstone report, and by the remarks.)  After the discussion a young woman approached me with the words, you asked whether there were any Jews in the audience, there was one, me, and relayed to me and a small group her experience participating in Birthright, the free tour program for American Jews to imbibe the conventional narrative about Israel. She abhorred the racism expressed by others in the group—and their drinking. I wish she had spoken this to the audience. I sold a few photos for a change.

About 6 stayed to talk with me—one wanted to record all my links and organizations, another wished to know the composer’s name, others had questions about the issues, such as what role does religion play in the conflict? (My answer: a vital part of the fabric of discord, at times crucial, other times, minor. Land and resources a big part of the conflict, also differing interpretations of history, and then there is fear and hatred.)

There are snags in the upcoming schedule: empty slots mostly, and long distances between venues, exacerbated by the fact (which Dave informed me about weeks ago) that the Amtrak line between Orlando and New Orleans is closed—sorry, Katrina did it. (And 4 years later not restored, a mark of the nation’s valuation of passenger rail.) So I bus or find rides. Dave suggested I take the early morning bus from Tallahassee to Pensacola but I demurred, opting for the later 1:30 PM bus bringing me there 6 hours later. Now to arrange a ride to my accommodations, maybe a taxi.

Y is on her way west. She wrote how appreciative she was about my phone call, and how she wishes to remain connected.

I replied immediately, hoping she reads it before departing. She was on her way south, to Hartford CT to visit B, and then head west.

I am trying to put into practice a declaration I made recently that I would wean myself from my absurd dependency for attention from others, especially women, especially the current woman of my dreams. I resolve to be more independent, solitary, free, to the point of relishing being incognito.

I am not doing well. I’m grateful that Y remains actively in my life, not only writing me but participating with my family, as with Ella and Kate. Will I ever achieve the goal I’ve set for myself, and what exactly is that goal, and why has it become important to me?

I realize that in the sphere of love I might never grow up. I may be fated to remain forever an adolescent.

Should I begin blogging about this southern tour, or simply send links to photo sets with minor comment? I really don’t have the time to blog. Maybe later during my down time on tour, or when I return.

November 6, 2009, Friday, Pensacola Florida, home of L and SS, in a chilly back room:

Another fairly long bus ride (6 hours, $30) from Tallahassee to Pensacola, about half of it along the Gulf Coast. Large tall elegant housing (10 stories or more, no doubt vulnerable to hurricanes), palm trees, shopping malls, a divided 4 lane highway, and then long stretches of sand. Looking for the RR tracks that no longer carry passengers between Orlando and points west, finding none, I learned later that probably Amtrak has no plans to reconstitute that line. I learned also that a hurricane preceding Katrina by a few years destroyed stretches of track. However, the tracks now function and carry freight. So much for the renewal of passenger trains in this area.

On the bus mostly black men, a few women, some small children, a few Euros like me, the bus again only about 1/3 full allowing relative spaciousness. And tho the legroom and thus the maneuvering room for operating my computer were minimal I managed to do a fair amount of work: maintain my website, prepare the first blog entry of this tour, and sundry. Too bad I couldn’t connect to the Internet at my home stay site, a signal but no connection.

Checking my email on the house computer I found a short note from X, announcing that she is leaving Monday for one month in Central America, wants to hear how the tour is going, and mentioned that a friend active on Palestinian rights is disappointed that I’m not coming to his city, Baltimore. Her words, tho brief and not particularly warm, elicit my adolescent urges. I ponder how to respond: copiously as is my habit, pithily to match her incoming message, delay till after she leaves, or not at all. My tendency is the second option—wait a few days, write something brief. She also promised to write again before beginning her trip.

Here’s what I wrote to my Levant list:

Photos—maybe a blog eventually—from my southern tour with photos from last summer’s 3 months in Palestine and Israel. Itinerary below in the footer.


So far some 20 shows in about 12 locations from North Carolina to southern Florida, mostly of Gaza Steadfast, to audiences at churches, colleges, and universities. Many Arab-Muslims attending, including a sizable proportion of people from the West Bank and Gaza. I notice that Arab-Muslim activism is on the rise. And I am horrified—I hope you are also—by the recent US House resolution passed overwhelmingly that opposes the Goldstone report about war crimes in Gaza.

We have some open dates so if you check the itinerary and can suggest local organizers to book shows, please help.

From Tallahassee Florida on my way west, eventually New Orleans, ending in Columbus Georgia for the School of the Americas Watch,

In contrast, KA directly referred to the photos, calling some of them “intense.” I sent her the originals of S with weapons, to compare with what I posted showing no guns. Is what I long for from women what I might have longed for when my mother, Pearl, was alive: validation as a competent person, a photographer?


Those anti-Muslim signs and effigies by the church in Gainesville were pretty intense.  And that entrance to the University of Southern Florida was a bit tense as well.  Yikes!  About as much fun as going to I/P talks at the Newton Public Library.


right you are: intense. life here is intense. tends to be very conservative, yet miami is distinguished by its diversity. this is precisely where i’d like to be.

however, audiences are usually cordial, never hostile, and not as challenging as i’d expected (to my chagrin—i love a fight, certain sorts of fights. after all, i am from chicago, the southside.)

more intense yet was my host in gainsville, sc, combat vet from vietnam, 2 confirmed kills, many others unconfirmed, and staunch peace and justice advocate—up to a point. i share with you in strict confidence 2 photos of him that i didn’t post, at his request. i altered them for the website. originals attached.

if i ever get to blogging my tour i will have a tortured time deciding what to share publicly about s, others as well, a recurring challenge when blogging.

from the deep south, cool weather at last,


Wow, those photos really do give one pause.  It becomes so hard to characterize people with all their complexities.

I also struggle with what not to post publicly, particularly since the victims in Palestine have their own faults.  It makes it hard to put that halo on them sometimes.  🙂

No show last night in Pensacola because the students who were to have arranged it thru the university didn’t. So a night off, perhaps one in a long line of remaining nights. Not many bookings. One tonight in Mobile Alabama at a coffee house, then 2 on Saturday, followed by many open dates. I’m trying to arrange a long stay in Birmingham, best if with S and J, but if not perhaps thru one of their friends or by way of Couch Surfers and Hospitality Club—to which I’ve written.

Yesterday morning was mostly working in the motel room with its strong fast reliable connection, and a short walk around a gorgeous University of Florida-Pensacola campus. The weather has cooled, partly because of a new air mass but also from coastal geography.

I’ve started making videos again, inspired by what I did in what I’m calling an upscale Miami housing settlement, then the golf course, and yesterday two more: in a McDonalds when I found myself with the right light, the right position, the right moment. I simply turned the camera on, set it on a high counter facing the main counter, and let it observe. Later as the sun was setting, a second—but too late for anything useful, I deleted it—the coast thru trees. Might have been brilliant had I thought of it about 30 minutes earlier.

November 7, 2009, Saturday, Ocean Springs MS, home of D and D, in his study:

One dream, and some important news from X.

The dream was clearly about her, yet in the dream the woman playing the part did not look like her. I simply knew this was X. We had joined tighter publicly in the sense that as we sat outdoors sharing a computer, looking lovingly into each others eyes, sitting close, talking softly to each other, others noticed and commented—oh, you two have joined together. Judging from the timing of her next email to me the dream might have coincided with her writing.

I have to admire her, I feel gratified and gifted by her presence in my life, I believe she is a truly extraordinary person, I love her, and yet I’m disturbed that her path now takes her away, far away. Our paths diverge even more: hers toward further studies and research, Central America, Spanish, poetry, and mine photography, Israel-Palestine, family, Quakers. Not much common ground. We’ll see: long distance relation between elder and younger, one fairly set, one emerging?

Last night I performed at the Satori (meaning enlightenment) coffee house, and performed might not be such an inapt word. The coffee house usually hosts bands; I’m a one-man band (as I wrote spontaneously to X). More people than I expected showed up (none from the crowd of youth playing cards and sipping java in the adjoining room), about 30. The Gaza show went well, most remained for a heated discussion, including a young man from Gaza who remembered how easy a family drive from Gaza to Tel Aviv was, another young Palestinian man, and a Muslim woman with family from Haifa. One woman spoke of the wavering, leisurely, lazy Arabs, while a man from Egypt referred to all Jews as greedy. I did not try to counter their claims, hoping others might (no one did).

My Pensacola hosts, S and L, were exemplary, S driving me to Mobile for the café show, after treating me to a delicious Indian buffet in the newly opened restaurant in Pensacola. I also took a short (2 hour) hike around Pensacola, mainly to the water and downtown historic district. No photos but I learned later from S that the area had suffered hurricane damage, destroying many buildings, leaving some areas shorn, others newly built upon. But with the crashed economy most of this new construction lies empty. A ghost town in the making?

I’m now in Ocean Springs Mississippi along the Gulf Coast, learning that Katrina took down some trees in D and D’s back yard, and inundated some of the neighboring buildings that were lower lying than theirs. One theme emerging in my travels is hurricane effects. Not much to photograph, but much to write about.

2 other news items: Michael C of Friends Meeting at Cambridge wrote saying the Peace and Social Concerns committee agreed to sponsor one of my slide shows at FMC. And from Warren Hoskins, co-clerk of Miami Friends meeting, a testimonial that I shamelessly sent to the Israel-Palestine group at FMC, along with Anne R, and Dave:

Skip, it [a photo of Jerusalem’s old city]  is beautiful. Thank you so much. And I’m already thinking about your next visit, so please don’t let me forget–this time, you tapped on the doors of many people, and I truly expect far more to open in the future.

Before I forget, you are also now always able to say that you were the first speaker brought to South Florida by the Quaker Peace Center of Miami Friends Meeting. As such, you set a suitably high standard for future guests to bring talks, published books or other writings, multimedia programs and projects and other works for peace and social justice to South Florida. Thank you so much for that, too. And for the Woolman quotes–by any chance do you have your excerpts in a file you could share? Very helpful to Quaker sensibilities.


Gulf Coast and New Orleans damage from Hurricane Katrina

Recovery along the Gulf Coast

Israeli attack on the USS Liberty

Read Full Post »

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?


“Culture and language: for more than half a century cultural diversity has been a hallmark of Greater Miami. Today its population mix is a mirror of the Americas”

Deering Bay Yacht and Country Club

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: