2021

Travelling

Some years ago a friend of mine said: “I wanted to go Traveling this year, but my money is tight.” My response: “Watch some travel documentaries. The National Geographic channel on TV can take you on a safari, on a cruise, it can pole you down the Venice Canals, or walk you on the Silk Road, fly you to Nepal and so much more. You can go anywhere you want from the comfort of your easy chair.” Fast forward to our Virus Era and I found myself in the same boat, though for Covid reasons. So, during these past few weeks I went Travelling from my comfortable seat at home!

First, I went to Ireland, which has always been one of my unrealized dreams. In fact, in one of my posts at one time I had written about my Bucket List and one of the items was that some day I intended to invite Gerry Adams for a drink at a quaint old Irish pub! I wish! Anyway, after Ireland, I went to Scotland and then hopped over to France. This week I am in Korea, and all this Travelling has been simply delightful! Perhaps it is my mood, or the miserable conditions of the world that made me enjoy escaping into these books as much as I did. In any case, I enjoyed their carrying me through their pages to four different countries and introducing me to aspects of life that I was aware of, but had never really delved into as much as these novels revealed to me.

I was in Ireland with Michelle Gallen and her novel: Big Girl Small Town. In Scotland I went with Douglas Stuart and his novel: Shuggie Bain, and in France Muriel Barbery introduced me to: The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Now I am still in Korea where I am accompanying Lisa See to: The Island of Sea Women. I could not have had more eloquent, compassionate and realistic guides than these terrific authors writing about intriguing characters in fairly modern times who compelled me in the most unobtrusive way to ask myself some serious existential life questions, the first one being: how much do we really know about other people’s history – their personal, as well as their political – and how that shaped them? I surmised that it was not as much as we should.

Each one of the main characters was authentic to the extreme. In the first two novels, the main protagonists are young, and as such, some of their manners were actually offensive and vulgar, but they were, nevertheless, very genuine and endearing. They both worked in take-out places, and while we have all been to a fast-food establishment at one time or the other, how often do we look at our servers and wonder what their lives are like? What they feel? Their circumstances? During these Virus days we may have heard more about them than usual, we may have supported an increase in wages for them, unionization, better treatment from their corporations, as such the two authors of the mentioned novels carried the important message of how the Margaret Thatcher policies, which took years, if not decades to unfold, decimated and upended the economies of Ireland, Scotland and England so drastically that the consequences for working class people led to huge social problems and miseries as well as more of the millennia-old Inequity and Social Injustice that we are living in today. This reminded me so much of how the Ronald Reagan financial measures, which also took many years before their full effects were felt, had undercut and slashed all the advances that had allowed so many Americans to move up to the middle class and enabled them to have dignity and the means to take care of their families. I am convinced that many of the US social and economic problems – certainly not all – brought on by Reagan’s policies, as well as the twenty-first century cyber world with its ensuing economic, social and cultural changes, are what led us to where we are today. These policies had opened the door for cutthroat runaway capitalism, impoverished so many, and, ended up manifesting themselves so offensively and ruthlessly during the Trump Administration. Yes, Thatcher had gotten to Reagan (not that it would have taken much to sway him!) and had convinced him of the righteousness of her colonist, racist principles which he ended up espousing. The saving grace difference for the Brits is that they had a safety net built into their governments and that provided “socialist” principles that afforded the working class, especially, basic financial aid, healthcare, education, subsidized housing that they call “projects,” and so much more that the American people did not have. There are NO rules, regulations, decisions, policies or actions that do not have consequences whether we are talking of personal matters, or national issues. It is as simple as that, and the authors illustrated this admirably by spinning a beautiful story while subtly pointing to our social ills!!

In the third novel, the main character is a middle-aged woman who works as a Concierge and I just loved her! There again, there is the underlying author’s message of the differences between the haves and have-nots, their attitudes, habits and life-styles which the writer addresses with candor and empathy. What a delightful read, and what wonderful characters throughout, although if one has never lived in a building with a Concierge one might not be aware that the person behind that reception desk has a life and a story, and it might be a very interesting and original story as this one is!

As I write this, I am still in Korea and being absolutely, totally fascinated by a beautiful story, and, most of all for an education into Korean history (which the novel Pachinko also provided), reminding me of all that the Korean people endured of occupations, colonization, uprooting, incarceration, rape, humiliations and heartache from the Japanese, Chinese and Americans, who were as ruthless and as pitiless as the other colonists. The truth is that there are No Benevolent Colonists. Non-existent! This brought home what I believe that most of us Palestinians are guilty of – myself included – which is that our Catastrophe is unique. Frankly, it isn’t! History proves that Colonization of other people, wars and strife have Always existed on this Planet, and were Always horrendous. Here’s what General Eisenhower said in 1947: “War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly.” And isn’t that the sad truth . . .

. . . and the disturbing aspect that as human beings we have rarely, if ever, learnt anything from the stories, the moral objectives inherent in most books fiction, or non-fiction; the lessons of life that could have made us more tolerant, compassionate, understanding, knowledgeable, peaceful and civilized. Yes, civilized, especially, because looking at the state of our Planet we are not even close to that yet. In fact, sometimes it feels more as if we are regressing. What, Oh What is it really going to take?

2021

Is it Normalcy?

There was a joke circulating in Lebanon during the height of the Civil (Un-Civil!) War whereby a man approaches a public computer and types in: Shoo fee ma fee (What’s going on?) at which point the computer crashed! There was just too much going on at the time for even the computer to be able to process!

I believe that my brain was about to crash also as it couldn’t anymore process how much was going on in our world, even though I am sadly aware that except for some differences, settings, actors, and costumes the issues have been pretty much the same since Moses, Abraham Jesus and Mohammad! Pathetic!

Nevertheless:

Two weeks ago I went to a Shopping Center that I had not been to since February of 2020. First of all, I thought that I was lost, because that road, on which I hadn’t been, again, since 2020, seemed totally unfamiliar and, being paranoid, I panicked for a few minutes thinking that I was lost! Second, I shopped at the store that has my Middle Eastern stuff, stopped by two other places and then met a friend for lunch after which I came back home shaking with excitement at having spent a Normal morning! Normal! So, I got to thinking that “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like . . .” Normal? Is it? It felt so Comfortable, Predictable and Nice!

Frankly, I do not have much to complain about as not much in my life changed during the Pandemic Lockdown – and the weeks before, as well as the months after – since I am mostly a homebody anyway and, at this ripe old age, I have arrived at an intellectually snobbish state of mind in which I prefer my own company to so much banality out there.

Nevertheless, and despite the humongous problems around the world, it seems that people are traveling, vacationing, filling the arenas, eating out at restaurants, drinking at bars and . . . Is It Normalcy? Are we all in a state of euphoria that we can be up and about doing our “thing” (whatever that may be) once again? Of course, many of us are! And it feels good! However, there is Nothing, Nada, Zilch that is even close to Normalcy for millions of people across our world, especially in those numerous war-torn, ravaged and mismanaged countries who’s citizens are also yearning, begging for their Normal! Moreover, the Pandemic is not done with us yet. Scientists are now warning of other variants yet that might be emerging, while others are warning that come Fall we might be in a worse situation should people continue resisting the vaccine, and as most of the world is still way under-vaccinated.

Anyway, during these past two weeks in the United States we have been witnessing the heroic efforts by first-responders at the Surfside tragedy in Florida. It was heartbreaking! That building, though, seems to have been built on sand. Some days it feels like this whole country, this whole world in fact, has been built on sand that is beginning to crumble from the effects of a Climate Change that so many continue to deny. How can this be? Are we going to wait until it all crumbles around us and swallows us the way those poor, innocent people got swallowed up in Florida? Incomprehensible!

Also, during these past two weeks, amongst everything else happening, we heard that Donald Rumsfeld passed away. It struck me as eerie that this occurred in the same time period when we are in the process of pulling our troops out of Afghanistan. Could it be an omen that all our Forever Wars will pass away and end same as Rumsfeld, who, with the other Bush gang members, supported those unwarranted, futile, destructive and criminal foreign adventures? Let’s hope so! And let’s hope that Biden keeps to his promise (and all the other promises!) and shutters up our illegal American military base in Guantanamo, where my children keep facetiously reminding me that if I continue my ranting and bitching on this blog the Black Helicopters are going to swoop down on our house one day and whisk me off to that same Guantanamo, although I tell them that I’d rather be flown to Club Fed where the coddled people are jailed! And what a hoot that would be! I think my kids still carry with them the illusion from their childhoods that I am much more powerful than I really am. It must be from when I told them things like: I have eyes at the back of my head and I can see everything! The innocent babies believed me! I began screwing them up then, a process that, like most parents who inevitably end up screwing their progeny in one way or another, might have had all the good intentions at its core. Alas, there is No Rewind, or Undo button to remedy this and so much else! But then, I think of some youngsters in this country who are being told: The Election Was A Lie, and then with that same zealous breath being told: If You Lie God Will Punish You! How much more screwed up and schizophrenic can it get? At least I never told my children such bizarre stuff! They ought to be very grateful!

All that aside, after my lovely outing that day I decided that since I’m feeling Normal, I needed to give it all a rest, to live, for a brief moment, worry and stress free away from all the turmoil swirling around me and congesting my brain. Simply take a break away from all of it! After all, if Bezos, Branson and Musk are carefree and seem to worry not one iota over all the stuff that keeps me fretting and awake, but are only busy stroking their egos and protruding parts as they vie for who’s going to make it to space first – a nauseatingly tasteless competition at a time when the Planet is agonizing in every sense of the word – then I am quite entitled, and definitely deserve to go on pretending that all is Normal and that there is nothing to worry, or stress about! I know that this interlude will pass by pretty quickly and I’ll be back to ranting and bitching in no time!

Meanwhile, if I am asked: Is It Normalcy? I’ll answer emphatically that, yes, it is and, while it lasts, it feels so Comfortable, Predictable and Nice!