Unclaimed, Unforgotten

Posted in Life and What about It, Los Angeles with tags , , , , on December 4, 2019 by Louise Steinman

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Welcome the Stranger

Posted in Art and Culture, Crooked Mirror, history, Lublin, Poland, refugee crisis, Travel with tags , , , , on September 16, 2019 by Louise Steinman

It’s been an intense and magical week in Lublin, Poland. A Kabbalistic text appears over the archway of the Brama Grodzka; a flamingo is invited to perch in a storks nest high in a poplar tree; the words of Polish veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq are projected on the walls of the cultural center, reminding us of the hospitality that veterans need after the trauma of war. In the passageway of one the crooked streets of the Old Town, the voice of the local poet Jozef Czechowicz– killed in the German bombardment of September, 1939, fills the air… just near the vinyl record shop where they’re playing Talking Heads and Miles Davis. And at the Old Well in what is now the bus depot– and was once the Jewish quarter of Lublin– a voice sings forth on the hour with the words of asylum seekers, some from Guatemala, some from Eritrea, Iraq. “I don’t even know where this ship is taking me.” “I’m sorry cousin, I could not save you.” These art projects are all part of Open City Festival 2019, curated by Pawel Leszkowicz and Tomasz Kitlinski– dear souls, fiery social activists– who invited me and artist Dorit Cypis to create a piece for the festival they had set on the theme of “Hospitality” one of fourteen artist projects. Thus, “Welcome the Stranger,” an installation for social engagement… with a text inspired by Edmond Jabes that asks, “What is a foreigner?” “What does a foreigner help us understand?” After the installation, Dorit and I have loved /watching people in the busy bus depot– carrying their satchels and suitcases– arriving or leaving for other cities, countries– and the local cabbies– reading the text and listening to the Voice of the Well… which is a witness from the past, the only surviving well of the many that once served the city’s citizens, places where people came together to fill their buckets wth water, wells that were drawn from springs and river under the cities, connecting Lublin to places far away, to other continents… all connected. On opening night, we joined a procession of 200 plus people that began on the steps of Lublin Castle, then proceeded to the bus station and the Old Well, and on into the old city to visit all the art projects and listen to the artists speak about them, a beautiful night with a full moon, a city engaging with art, with history, with questions about hospitality and the lack thereof, in this world we all shar

“This happened centuries ago. This happened yesterday.”

We thank our collaborators– Jimmy Harry (sound score composition); Magdalena Birczynska (vocals); Piotr Florcyzk (translation), Lloyd Hamrol (water station design)– and the wonderful Lublin artists Magda and Ludo Franczyck who added their support plus Ludo’s beautiful performance at the Well; the art historian Joanna Zetar, from Brama Grodzka, who offered a fascinating talk on the history of Lublin’s wells and waterways… and took us to see the mural of Jewish Lublin placed along the small river that runs near the well…another delight of “hidden Lublin,” all that exists below the ground and in memory, kept alive by those indefatigable guardians of memory at Teatr NN… friends Joanna Klass and Wojtek Sasznor; Katy Bentall for sustenance and hospitality in the beautiful village of Dobre, to the staff at Rozdroza Foundation and the great tech team, Marcin and our guy Krzysztof Spoz and our friends and supporters on Gofundme, thank you all thank you all and many more.

Water station designed by Lloyd Hamrol, in front of Lublin Castle

Artist Ludo Franczak giving a talk at the Well, his search for the key to the Well, and playing his recording of the sound of the Well taking a breath, taking our breaths away.

A woman reads the text on the Old Well at the bus depot. [photo: Katy Bentall]

Dorit Cypis in conversation with two Lublin cabdrivers at the Old Well, talking about the text they just around, about “foreignness.”

Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child

Posted in asylum, civil rights, history, Life and What about It, Peace and social justice, refugee crisis, refugees with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2019 by Louise Steinman

merlin_157452141_35556aff-1a2e-4fce-8149-44a0ca5e6ad1-superJumbophoto: Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

July 6, 2019

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
A long way from home, a long way from home

Sometimes I feel like I’m almost done
Sometimes I feel like I’m almost done
Sometimes I feel like I’m almost done
And a long, long way from home, a long way from home

What does July 4 feel like to a child in a cage in Clint, TX? To a Salvadoran mother wearing an ankle monitoring device afraid of being deported? How can one celebrate the 4th of July in America?  The Statue of Liberty is weeping.  I’m gliding on the elliptical this morning at the Glendale Y, to a podcast of an interview with Tracy K. Smith, our last poet laureate, who took  poems on the road, reading to rural communities in America, testing her theory that poetry can break down the divide between us, a black poet from the east reading poems about the Civil War in South Dakota, at a womens prison in Maine. Why, she wonders, when reading aloud a powerful Joy Harjo poem at the Alaska Veterans and Pioneers home, in Palmer, Alaska, do more of the residents not respond? Ask questions as others have at other community centers, libraries across the country. She hears just a few quiet moans from the audience. Then learns later, that those attendees suffered from Alzheimers and dementia—they hadn’t spoken aloud or moved their bodies in some time. The poems did reach them, deeply, the staff informs her, they could tell.

Interview over, I switch to music, shuffle songs.  And I forget so much of what’s in that library of music, assembled over so many years, music acquired for different ALOUD events at the library.  And out of my earbuds into my soul comes a soaring voice, Marian Anderson, singing the spiritual, “Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child.”  I’m gliding on the elliptical and weeping, can my body keep moving while weeping? Gliding to a halt.  Unbearable, the weight and suffering in her voice, the images of children in ICE Detention, the truth of their pain brought to the heart through the agency of the human voice, a pain so strong you could feel it on Novocain, and hammered home by this New York Times expose on Clint, TX, shortly after I return home, sit at the kitchen table with my coffee, open the newspaper.  How can one celebrate the 4th of July?  As we learn of this secretive site where children endured outbreaks of scabies, shingles, and chickenpox while being held in cramped cells? Where “the stench of children’s dirty clothing was so strong it spread to the agents’ own clothing—people in town would scrunch their noses when they left work. The children cried constantly.”  Two brothers, both epileptics, separated from their guardian sister, deprived of their medication, desperate to contact their father. Trying to behave “like little adults.”  Young mothers with dried breast milk on their dirty clothes. How does July 4th feel to a child in a cage in Clint, Texas?

July 12th rally, Lights for Liberty rally, Metropolitan Detention Center, 535 Alameda, downtown Los Angeles, 7:00- 9:00 PM.

Marian Anderson sings “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”   listen and weep. listen and get yourself to a demonstration against the depredations and humiliations of ICE inflicted on our fellow human beings. Write your reps! Be outraged!

as I take care of the pupil of my eye

Posted in asylum, civil rights, Human Rights, refugee crisis with tags , , , , , , , on June 22, 2019 by Louise Steinman

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[photo: LS2019]

I have been corresponding with inmates at Otay Mesa Detention Center, where asylum seekers to the US are being detained. There are detainees from Mexico, Yemen, Iran, Tajikistan, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Eritrea, Columbia, and many more countries– fleeing persecution, rape, gangs, torture, police, threats to family and livelihood.  One young man from Congo, has been detained for two YEARS and 28 days.  As ICE ratchets up new raids and threatens deportations, please think about these people kept behind bars in a country (once upon a time) predicated on the idea of offering safe harbor to those fleeing persecution.  With this letter-writing system, every week you are given the name of someone in detention to write to, and all the letters (redacted) are published on-line. These letters are a life-line to those in detention separated from their families. They need to know that someone cares.  People who come to this country fearing for their lives should not be treated like criminals. Find out more here: Detainee Allies    This young man from Yemen (words below) would take care of our country like he would THE PUPIL OF HIS EYE.  What a good measure for any citizen!

Honorable Judge,

I hope that you will give me the right of protection and let me live

in this country like any citizen.

For I pledge to you that I will serve this country and will work

to build it up night and day and will take care of it

as I take care of the pupil of my eye,

and I will be a trustworthy watchman for it

and contributing member of society,

not a destructive one.

-refugee asylum seeker from Yemen, in ICE custody

and read this letter from Horacio, from Mexico to his pen pal Dora in Maine… I was so moved by this.

To Dear Dora and Otay Allies

It is a pleasure to write you and all members of Otay allies, I am so happy to receive your letters of support every week and to know that there is still people that care for the human rights nad actually still have comprehension, compassion ,and kindness. I also feel admirable towards you for you generosity every time you help me to buy my needs here in detention thank you very much for your kindness, I love to read yours letters and when you tell me about the water in Maine and the things you do every day I can imagine everything in my mind about what you do every day in your house and believe me I know where Maine is I know the names of all the states of U.S. A. in my case I used to live in a realy beautiful area close to Monterey CA, Carmel Valley, Santa Cruz is a very place places in California nice places in California where is located the Salinas valley where all of vegetables grows like lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, strawberries, artichokes and all kinds of vegetables. I don’t know if you of Clint Estwood, very good actor for the Western movies, he lives in Carmel Valley very close where I used to live, if you have the chanse to look it in google or even visit those places you will be amazed How beautiful they are. I receive the letter that you wrote me and I ma glad to know that you guys can be able to understand every single letter that all the detainees write to you guys even and knowing that there must be hundreds of languages that write to you guys Google translate is very good that’s the one I used to use every time I needed. I like the way that you send me the letter half in Spanish and half in English, for me when I was barely 16 year old I was brought to U.S. right after I started working in the field of Salinas CA my job was irrigate all of those vegetables with irrigation sprinklers that are really long and heavy but I was very happy because I was with my two older brothers, I them started going to ESL clases every afternoon after my work that how I learned som grammar I also used to love to take my younger brothers or sometime I used to go to those cities that are by the sea like Monterey, Santa Cruz just to take walks and to talk with the American people that honestly were and are very nice and kind and I remember I loved to make conversation with that people just to improve my English so that way I could practice more and more people in that area are honestly so sweet and is always are willing to help you I know that most of the American people are like that, I can say that because threw the years that I lived here I had such a good memories with the people from this country. I also must say that my situation is critic and sad I have to be truth about it it is sad the price that we “Mexico” people must pay just to be neighbor of the most rich and powerfull country of the world I say that because I see a lot of discrimination against us, like for example Mexican don’t get asylum almost never I don’t know why even knowing what is going on in that country with the cartels and all of that corrupted goberment that Mexico has all of those massive killings are happening just because they are fighting for territory why because that envolves a lot of money because this country has it. I always ask myself if Mexico will be situate where Argentina and Uruguay are it wouldn’t be that bad in crime people will be working decent it would not be all of those killings that are happening now that’s is one of my points of views. I am plenty fighting to be deported to Mexico I askin the court that I m fighting now to please try to send me to another country I have send letters to the embassis of Guatemala and else of the Panama to see if they fix something, that’s is what the deportation officer has told me to do, to try to get in contact with the consulates or embassis and ask them if they can give me what is called asylum humanitarian so I can avoid to go to Mexico or get deported again there, it is else part of my argument what I’m telling the court please send me to another country   Well Dora it is a pleasure to hear from you and also to write you every time I have the chanse I hope you can understand my situation that it is so difficult. I hope you had the chanse to listen to those wonderful songs that I mention to you in my last letter that I send you last time I hope you enjoy them, but I totally forget o mention about one other band of music of my favorites which is the Bee Gees I really love their music Barry Gibb is one of my favorites one of my favorite songs are “Alone” something in the Dark by Barry Gibb and I also know all about them Barry Gibb has a couple of CDs by himself listen to them they are wonderful I am sure they are going to like a lot. Well Dora thanks for everything and I hope for the best for you

You have a very noble kind heart, we definitely need more people like you in this world.

A++ your friend Horacio

 

 

Time Regained: Reading Józef Czapski in Billings, MT (about Marcel Proust, the Gulag, and reading as salvation)

Posted in ALOUD, Art and Culture, Crooked Mirror, history, Human Rights, Literature, Poland, social justice, translation, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2019 by Louise Steinman

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[from THE NOTEBOOKS OF JOZEF CZAPSKI, Polish limited edition]

I WOKE UP around 5:00 a.m., disoriented in an unfamiliar bed. I did not know east from west, up from down, where I’d find a floor to take the weight of my body. The hazy proportions of the room gave no clue; curtains blocked the winter light. In the moment my eyes opened, I lost my connection to those essentials that are, as Proust assures his readers, held fast by our psyches during sleep: “[T]he sequence of the hours, the order of the years, and the worlds.”

 

My disorientation went beyond the geo-gravitational. One era of my life had ended, and the next had not yet begun. If I lived in a traditional society, I’d have been standing on the threshold of the hut listening as a priest beat drums and stirred strong potions, a state the anthropologists call liminality.

Just six weeks before, I’d been fired from my job of 25 years. It was a job I’d loved, that had drawn on my love of literature and my delight at convening people from across Los Angeles to engage with the issues of the day, to ask questions of innovative thinkers, to practice agreeing and disagreeing in a public forum. The events at Central Library, the hearth of the city, were free; homeless patrons sat next to lawyers and teachers and students to listen to Christopher Hitchens talk about religion or Ta-Nehesi Coates discuss reparations. They came to hear local poets read Walt Whitman translated into Farsi and Spanish; to celebrate novelists like Colson Whitehead and his re-imagining of the Underground Railroad, to learn from naturalists like Terry Tempest Williams, primatologists like Frans de Waal. Hundreds of literary luminaries — Susan Sontag, Toni Morrison, August Wilson, W. G. Sebald, Margaret Atwood, Adam Zagajewski, Ursula LeGuin — all presented their work on our stage over the years. At our last event, Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter read from her grandfather’s just-published prison letters. One evening, during his sound check, Cornel West pulled me aside to say, “You know, don’t you, that this space is sanctified?” I did.

Now I was untethered from the satisfactions of my job and as well, from the scaffold of responsibilities that had, for so many years, structured the rhythms of my life. I was past the tearful stage, but I was still heart-torn, grieving. Luckily, I had been granted a writing residency that fall at an arts colony on a ranch outside of Sheridan, Wyoming, and Susan — my soul sister-in-art — had been awarded a residency there as well. Perhaps some time away would open a way to re-focus, to pick up the thread of my own writing life.

As a way to jumpstart our adventure, Susan and I schemed a rendezvous, picking a town on the map that neither of us knew at all — Billings, Montana — simply because it had an airport and decent airfares from Los Angeles, for me, and from Portland, Oregon, for Susan.

Susan rented us a car and a two-bedroom Airbnb bungalow in Billings. We planned to cook simple meals together, drink good wine, catch up on stories about our lives, plan collaborative projects, and, at the end of the weekend, drive the 70 miles to the Crow Reservation to spend some daylight hours at the Little Bighorn Battlefield, then travel the final stretch to the Wyoming ranch and our official residency.

At the last moment, life tectonics shifted. A mutual friend — jazz musician David Ornette Cherry — suffered a medical emergency. He couldn’t breathe, barely managed to call 911 from his Portland studio before he suffered a cardiac arrest. David was “gone,” the paramedics said, for four whole minutes, and was now in an induced coma, on a ventilator in a Portland hospital, in the limbo of the ICU, where machines bleated heart rates and IV bags dripped nourishment into human veins, between life and death, this world, that world, with Susan by his bedside. He had no family nearby. He was going to need a lot of support to pull through.

I wholeheartedly supported Susan’s decision to stay behind, to forgo the residency if David didn’t recover soon. I realized as well that it was too last-minute and too costly to redirect my itinerary.

Which is why I woke up alone, in a strange bed in a strange house in Billings, Montana, where I dreaded spending the weekend alone.

MORE. READ ENTIRE PIECE, as published in Los Angeles Review of Books, May 21, 2019

Resister in Sanctuary: We Won’t Go

Posted in FRIENDS, history, Human Rights, Life and What about It, Los Angeles, Peace and social justice, social justice with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2018 by Louise Steinman
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Joe Maizlish at Induction Refusal, 1968 Black and white photograph/L.A. Resistance Collection, Los Angeles Public Library

In one glass case, what first draws my eye is a REMEMBER JOE MAIZLISH bumper sticker identical to the one I affixed to the bumper of my dad’s Ford Mustang in 1968. Yes, I do remember Joe Maizlish. Decades ago, I wrote to him in while he was in federal prison, where he served two and a half years of a three- sentence for refusing induction to the draft. Joe, now a psychologist and mediator, in present-day, is my neighbor in Silverlake.

The item, along with posters in fonts of various degrees of psychedelia, is on exhibit at WE WON’T GO: The L.A. Resistance, Vietnam and the Draft (at the Central Library’s Getty Gallery until August 19). Curated by Winter Karen Dellenbach, an L.A. Resister, together with Ani Boyadjian, Research & Special Collections Manager for the Los Angeles Public Library, this inspiring display of civil disobedience was drawn from the Los Angeles Resistance Archives, acquired by the library in 2014. The collection includes letters, posters still and moving images, diaries, mimeographed newsletters, draft cards and other ephemera donated by members of the L.A. Resistance and their supporters. Essentially, this is a chronicle of the non-violent anti-draft activities of the L.A. chapter of the Resistance, a nationwide movement.

I recognize a black and white photo of General Hershey Bar, with his signature plastic B-52’s worn as medals. The real General Hershey, a Nixon advisor, was head of the Selective Service, and General Hershey Bar was a familiar sight at anti-war rallies in the ’60s. “Fixin-to-Die Rag” (Country Joe and the Fish) cues in my head:

Well, come on all of you big strong men
Uncle Sam needs your help again
Got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
Put down your books and pick up a gun
We’re going to have a whole lot of fun”

MORE on Los Angeles Review of Books

 

When a Rock is a Stone: Finding Spiral Jetty

Posted in Art and Culture, climate change, Environmental Art, Literature, Travel with tags , , , , , , on August 10, 2018 by Louise Steinman

June, 2018. Rozel Point Peninsula, Great Salt Lake

In 1970, when artist Robert Smithson first set his gaze on the Great Salt Lake’s Rozel Point Peninsula, he knew he’d found the right site….

Los Angeles Review of Books, Aug 6, 2018

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