A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Last Time I Saw Paris

The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay.
I heard the laughter of her heart in every street café.
The last time I saw Paris, her trees were dressed for spring.
And lovers walked beneath those trees and birds found songs to sing.
I dodged the same old taxicabs that I had dodged for years.
The chorus of their squeaky horns was music to my ears.
The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay.
No matter how they change her, I'll remember her that way.
      - Oscar Hammerstein II, written a few days after the fall of France in 1940

My heart is breaking. Paris – the cultural capital of Europe, the city of lights, where every building is an exquisite piece of baroque sculpture – violated by cruel, naïve, and unfathomably dangerous true believers. Children slaughtered while attending a rock concert. People gunned down while eating their dinners. It's almost too much to bear.
If you've never been to Paris, do yourself a favor and put it on your bucket list. With all respect to New York, London and Rome, it's the greatest city in the world. And it has captured the hearts and imaginations of Americans ever since Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson served as our country's first two ambassadors there.
"If you are ever lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man," Hemingway wrote, "then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."
Predictably, American politicians are falling over themselves to exploit this tragedy. And just as predictably, they're coming up with all the wrong answers and pointing their fingers at all the wrong people.
A lot of them are blaming the Syrian refugees, ignoring the fact that these refugees are fleeing from ISIS, the very same people who committed the Paris attacks. Ted Cruz says we should only admit refugees who are Christians. Mike Huckabee wants to use this as an excuse to cancel the nuclear deal with Iran, ignoring the fact that the only boots on the ground who are having any success against ISIS – apart from the Kurds - are the Iranians.
And Donald Trump took a break from his war on Mexicans – who, as far as I can recall, haven't bombed anybody – to train his fire on the Syrian refugees, saying, "If I win, they're going back."
It reminds me of what Great Britain did during World War II: It imprisoned Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany on the grounds that they might be German spies. None of them were, of course, any more than the 120,000 Japanese American citizens we imprisoned after Pearl Harbor.
It's only human to lash out at the nearest target when something like this happens, but is it wise? When Bin Laden ordered the 9/11 attacks, his goal was to trigger World War III between Islam and the West. It's a war that no one can win but everyone can lose.
Let's step back, take time to mourn the desecration of this beautiful city, and then fight. But this time, let's use our heads for strategy and our hearts for compassion, instead of being suckered into fear-based, impulsive action. The latter is what he would have wanted.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Walking Through History

Want a great stocking stuffer to give your Berkeley friends this holiday season? Have I got a book for you! It's "Berkeley Walks: Revealing Rambles Through America's Most Intriguing City," by Bob Johnson, a longtime member of the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission, and Janet Byron, my former colleague at the Oakland Tribune
 It features do-it-yourself walking tours of 18 different areas in the city, including 1444 Addison Street, where Mario Savio lived during the Free Speech movement in 1964, around the corner from 2315 Spaulding, where fitness guru Jack LaLanne lived when he was a student at Berkeley High (Class of 1934).
Then there's the love nest at 2267 Derby, where Bill Clinton lived with his girlfriend, Hillary Rodham, during the summer of 1971, which is just a stone's throw from 2603 Benvenue, where Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army three years later.
Not far away is a converted garage at 2628-A Regent, where Ted Kaczynski, the notorious Unabomber, lived while he was teaching at Cal. (The authors note that despite the fact he was the youngest teacher on the faculty, his students heartily disliked him.)
One block over is 2419 Oregon, where the future New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael lived from 1955 to 1964 while she was managing the Cinema Guild Theater at Haste and Telegraph.
2925 Russell Street is the former home of Jay Ward, the man who gave us not one but two cultural icons: Crusader Rabbit and "The Rocky & Bullwinkel Show." Around the corner is 2598 College, where Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder lived from 1906 to 1910 when he was in middle school. (It's now the Sigma Epsilon Omega fraternity house.)
Beat poet Allen Ginsberg wrote his masterpiece, "Howl," in 1955 while he was living in a cottage behind 1624 Milvia Street. (The cottage is gone, but his poem "A Strange New Cottage In Berkeley," which he also wrote while living there, remains.) At 1301 Henry is the commune of Woodstock emcee/Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor Wavy Gravy.
The book also highlights memorable structures by Julia Morgan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Ratcliff and Bernard Maybeck, including Maybeck's masterpiece, First Church of Christ, Scientist, at the corner of Dwight and Bowditch, one of only two designated National Landmarks in the city.
The authors aren't shy about making aesthetic judgments, such as the wonderfully quirky Normandy Village on Spruce Street, which they accurately label "a whimsical collection of apartment houses in the Hansel and Gretel style," or the house at 2325 Piedmont, which they call "another example of a Julia Morgan house destroyed by an insensitive 'modernization.'"
The book, an outgrowth of the walking tours Johnson and Byron have been conducting for years for Greenbelt Alliance, has been three long years in the making.
"We had no idea what we were getting into," says Johnson. "Five rounds of editing – two on the text, three on the galley proofs. I thought it would never end."
So what's next? A sequel.
"We have so many other areas to cover," Byron explains, "including the area between Grizzly Peak and Shasta, the wineries in West Berkeley, and the galleries near Fourth Street."
Meanwhile, they're still conducting their walking tours. To find out what's coming up and reserve your space, visit www.berkeleywalks.com.