Sunday, July 09, 2017

Florence Silverman (1929-2017)
A friend passed away this week. We had known each other for only twelve years, barely a blink in her life of eighty-eight, but Florence Silverman had an outsized influence on our lives. 
Mrs. Silverman ran a small country store that rested on a high point of the rolling countryside of Bethel, NY.  It was an easy place to pull into and visit for a while, filled with items taken in on consignment – everything you could imagine from 12-piece ceramic dining sets from the 1930s, to mounds of books, glassware, knives and forks, radios and toys.  And she sold eggs.  She once ran a large egg business from her farm and even after she had sold the chickens, she continued to sell eggs along with the output of her vegetable garden.
The store was open every day and usually Florence was next door cooking or in her garden digging. There was a service station bell that would notify her when someone entered the parking lot and she would come bounding out of her house ready to fetch eggs or answer unanswerable questions about the provenance of some treasure that had been uncovered from the dozens of boxes and crates and piles of the cast-off history of this region of the Catskills.
When we first met Florence Silverman, she and her husband Dave were still running a small café in the store.  She made breakfast for the locals and the workers from the surrounding farms.  When Spanish became the lingua franca of her breakfast clientele, Florence learned enough of the language to keep everyone well fed and intuited what she didn’t understand.  Long after the Health Department determined that it was time to shutter the café corner of the store, Florence kept a pot of coffee on for those who wanted it.  She had the energy of a spirited person half her age and she was an inspiration.
My son was a little over one-year-old when he met Mrs. Silverman, and each summer when we returned to Bethel, we would spend time with her, having breakfast, shopping for toys, wandering around the barn…  This will be our first summer without Mrs. Silverman, and we are just one family among the many for whom this unique person was a loved member.
Yesterday I stopped by the store.  I had recently arrived in Bethel and was looking forward to seeing Florence.  When I arrived her daughters were organizing the Funeral service that would take place that afternoon on one of the lawns next to the main house.  I knew she had been ill and I felt when we left last summer that it might have been our last visit.  But that knowledge does not dull the loss. 
Scattered about this cabin are items from her store; delicate glass, carving knives and china, and a gilded wooden treasure box I discovered last summer.  I haven’t found a specific use for it yet, and maybe I never will.  It was just something beautiful that intrigued me, something I would not have gone in search of, but once discovered, I could not abandon. 
With love.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

An American moment

Swimming Class

August 18, 2007

Yesterday morning a group of about 25 parents and grandparents gathered to watch their offspring receive swimming class certificates, earned over a summer of early mornings in a cold mountain lake.  The children ages, 4 to 10, were the ostensible focus of the morning’s activities, but there was more to this event than acknowledging success in swimming.

The head lifeguard George is a High School teacher from New York City, a man who has been watching the water nearly every summer since 1966 when he was a senior in High School.  Each June he returns to this Catskill Mountain Hamlet ninety minutes north of Manhattan.  Yesterday, as he was giving the children their awards and remembering to acknowledge each one for some noteworthy accomplishment, he also spoke about the dozens of summers that preceded ours and some of the older folks, people who had been coming to this lake since the 1940’s, nodded their capped heads.

An American flag fluttered from the lifeguard stand beside George as he began the Pledge of Allegiance.  He was a school teacher again as he stood there, his arm bending a soft salute to his heart.  He led us as he had probably led his students a thousand times before.

Russians, Poles, Bronx-Irish and Italians, Americans all, on a late August morning, in the mountains above New York City, a region rich with history and legend and for a few moments we shared a scene of authentic American life.  Then, sated with meaning, we waded through the piles of bagels and donuts spread out on the picnic tables nearby.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Gardening with the next generation

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Cologne 2016

2016 began with a number of troubling events.  The mass attacks on young women on New Year’s Eve was a shock to everyone who lives here.  It isn’t that Cologne doesn’t have problems with crimes against women - it does.  Sadly, women in Cologne, as in the rest of the world, have long had to cope with unwanted attention from men - some of this escalating into physical violence.  What was different about that night was the scale, the volume of the violence and the failure of police and security personnel to realize there was a problem and react to it.  The most troubling stories from that night involve young women who exited the train station into the crowd of groping, aggressive young men and then attempted to return to the station to seek assistance from the police. At one point, the police were so overwhelmed they turned these women away, forcing them back out onto the square where they had to run a gauntlet of young, drunk men, grabbing at them and, in the mayhem, stealing from them, reaching into their pockets and bags. 
Yesterday the first case arising from NYE came to court.  The young man was given a six-month suspended sentence and fined 100 Euros.  The police chief said it was unlikely that most of the perpetrators would ever be apprehended.  And the young woman in this case was unable to definitively identify the defendant as one of the men who groped her because there were so many of them in the crowd.  He was the one caught with her phone, so that was the crime he was charged with – that, and that alone. It looks increasingly likely that there will be little or no justice for the victims of the NYE assaults and I don’t think that will sit well with many Germans.
That said, the majority of people in Cologne remain tolerant and willing to extend their hospitality to the refugees currently living here.  Cologne is one of the principle cities in North Rhine Westphalia – the state that has received the largest share of the one million+ refugees that entered Germany in 2015.  But while the people of Cologne are tolerant and remain mostly positive, it is also clear that many feel the government acted without having adequate safeguards in place when this huge influx of refugees entered the country.  Housing, food, clothing, language and integration classes – the work required to secure and integrate this number of people is huge and the system is severely stressed.  I don’t think this area could sustain this level of support should 2016 witness anywhere near the number of refuges it received in 2015.  And if anything like the events of NYE are repeated, what good will remaining would likely evaporate. 
Cologne is one of the more open and tolerant cities in Germany but even the people of Cologne have their limits.  The other factor in this situation is the radical right that descended on Cologne in the days following NYE to protest the presence of the refugees in Germany and use the events of NYE as fodder for their continued attacks against Chancellor Merkel and those who support her.  Many of the women protesting the attacks on NYE, also protested against the presence of the PEGIDA demonstrators in Cologne.  They resent being used once again, this time as political pawns by the extreme right.  It is a messy and highly combustible environment.  One more event like NYE and all bets are off.
The fact is, over one million refugees are here and more are arriving every day.  The war in Syria, the economic conditions in large portions of North Africa and the Middle East generally - these conditions do not seem to be improving.  Many of the recent immigrants are economic refugees – they are here looking for work.  And unless and until the situation in Africa and the Middle East changes and changes significantly, the pressure on Germany and the rest of Europe will only grow.  And the pressure on Cologne and cities like it in Germany will grow.  No one knows what the future will bring, but unless Europe faces the challenges in some unified and organized manner, it seems more than likely that the situation will get much worse before it improves.