Category Archives: Inspiration

The Storm

An excerpt from “Memories of my Melancholy Whores” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (my latest obsession)

At dusk I faced the rainstorm, whose hurricane-force winds threatened to blow down the house.  I suffered an attack of sneezing, my skull hurt, and I had a fever, but I felt possessed by a strength and determination I’d never had at any age or for any reason.  I put pots on the floor under the leaks and realized that new ones had appeared since the previous winter.  The largest had begun to flood the right side of the library.  I hurried to rescue the Greek and Latin authors who lived there, but when I removed the books I discovered a stream spurting at high pressure from a broken pipe along the bottom of the wall.  I did what I could to pack it with rags to give me time to save the books.  The deafening noise of the rain and the howling of the wind intensified in the park.  Then a phantasmal flash of lightning and a simultaneous clap of thunder saturated the air with a strong sulfur odor, the wind destroyed the balcony’s window panes, and the awful sea squall broke the locks and came inside the house.  And yet, in less than ten minutes, the sky cleared all at once.  A splendid sun dried the streets filled with stranded trash, and the heat returned.

When the storm had passed I still had the felling I was not alone in the house.  My only explanation is that just as real events are forgotten, some that never were can be in our memories as if they had happened.  For if I evoked the emergency of the rainstorm, I did not see myself alone in the house but always accompanied by Delgadina.  I had felt her so close during the night that I detected the sound of her breath in the bedroom and the throbbing of her cheek on my pillow.  It was the only way I could understand how we could have done so much in so short a time.  I remembered standing on the library footstool and I remembered her awake in her little flowered dress taking the books from me to put them in a safe place.  I saw her running from one end of the house to the other battling the storm, drenched with the rain and in water up to her ankles.  I remembered how the next day she prepared a breakfast that never was and set the table while I dried the floors and imposed order on the shipwreck of the house.  I never forgot her somber look as we were eating:  Why were you so old when we met?  I answered with the truth:  Age isn’t how old you are but how old you feel.

“Last Train To Paris”

“Last Train to Paris” by Michele Zackheim had a profound effect on me.  It made me feel, Unknown-5experience, think; it swallowed me, touching every single string of my soul.  This book is not on a bestsellers list, and I doubt it would ever be.   Too honest, too brutal, too tragic.  For men it is too womanly, for women – too harsh.

The desperation and anxiety in pre-war Paris and Berlin, where R.B. Manon (Rose) – the correspondent for Paris Courier worked, was palpable.   The lively, dynamic cities became gloomy and dangerous; the people were turning into “ghosts” trying to escape the atrocities that Third Reich was planning for them.  Every character had his own story, but all of them had one thing in common – the sense of despair and hopelessness at the sight of the enormous war machine that was about to crash them, to break them and their lives into pieces.

There were also Rose’s estranged childhood and complicated relationship with her mother, her love affair with Jewish swastika engraver Leon, her coming back to her Jewish roots in the middle of “Aryans’ cleansing campaign” , and numerous moral dilemmas she had to face.

“Last Train to Paris” is one of the best works of fiction about the WWII I’ve ever read.

umbrellas-open

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

1964 French cinematic opera, composed by Michel Legrand and starring stunning Catherine Deneuve, began as a passionate love story of an umbrella store sales girl and an auto mechanic.  The sight of people walking the rainy cobble streets of Cherbourg under the colorful umbrellas, set to the most romantic music of all times, built an anticipation of the strong feelings overcoming everything and anything.   There was no force in the Universe powerful enough to keep 17-year-old Genevieve and 20-year-old Guy apart.   They were madly in love, cherishing every moment they spent together.   The scene at the train station, with Genevieve weeping, singing  heart-breaking “I Will Wait For You” to her beloved Guy going away to the war in Algeria, left no doubt that the song promise would be kept.

However, the long distance relationship did not last long.  After a few months of loneliness, waiting for an occasional letter, pregnant Genevieve decided to marry the wealthy diamond dealer.  Guy did not die of a heart-break either.  He married his aunt’s nurse shortly after his return from the war.

They met accidentally at Guy’s gas station, four years later.  Both had families with a child named Francese (the name they’ve decided on before the split).  The snow was falling; Genevieve got out of her car and followed Guy inside the gas station featuring a huge Christmas tree decorated by his wife and son.  Polite greetings followed. She offered him to meet his daughter, waiting in the car, but he did not seem too excited about it.  They parted shortly after, mostly likely never destined to meet again. The entire scene was accompanied by “I Will Wait For You”.

The movie is incredibly beautiful; at times enormously poignant and dreamy, at times tearing your heart out.  Based on the melody, I want to believe that they still love each other, and their lack of emotions is just an act to preserve their new lives each has created without the other.  In any case, the story line and the musical subtext are utterly at odds.  I got quite confused by this disconnect.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is not the only European classic that has an unclear end.  In fact, most of them do.  Various circumstances easily push the love birds apart, making them pursue options more suitable for comfortable, secure life.  Living for a moment rather than a lifetime seems to be a recurring theme.  Jumping in the sea of love usually follows by doing what makes sense, and cherishing the happy memories.

American classics, on the other hand, always have a happy end.  It does not matter what comes next, how long it would last, how poor/sick/ insane you may become, or how many other people would be unhappy as a result of your happiness; LOVE is all that matters.  Happy end is the ultimate goal that gives the movie its purpose.   Consequently, Americans (at least in the movies) are much more likely to commit spontaneous, emotional acts of insanity, otherwise known as love, for a longer period of time. And I’ve always thought Americans were the more pragmatic ones.

Make-A-Wish Super Bowl Splash 2014

Would any sane parent let his/her child jump into the freezing, ice-cold ocean in the middle of winter?  My answer was firm” NO!!!”  Then “May be?” Then “Yes” (never said that).  Being raised by a Jewish grandmother, I learned from the very young age, that making yourself exposed to cold by taking off gloves, hats, scarves, or any other items of clothing could lead to bad, very bad things; including, but not limited to untimely death from hypothermia.   This unproven, but undeniable fact was engraved in my brain forever.

We tried; we offered to just make a donation, but our son was on a mission to make our lives difficult.  He was determined to jump in the bitter cold water in February.  He made a decision.  Luckily, the God collaborated with meteorologists and brought 49F temperature to Long Island that day.

The new Long Beach boardwalk was filled with people.   Dressed in orange shirts, volunteers were directing people to drop the donations and waivers; American and Make-A-Wish flags were flying in the sunny sky; the loud music was coming from the stage assembled on the sand.  Thousands of people crowded the beach, playing football, dancing Lambada, running around, laughing, or just sitting on the blankets enjoying the view.   I didn’t remember seeing that many people being in a good mood at the same time.  People of completely different cultures, religions, believes, gender, age, skin color, sexual orientation came together for a great cause.  It was beautiful and powerful at the same time.

The thanks were extended to officials that helped to organize the event; the “Make-A-Wish” kids told their stories; prayers said; big donations announced.   Participants, including few dogs, emerged in the chilling winter water, and ran back to the shore; some wrapping themselves in the warm towels right away, some enjoying a cold breeze for a bit longer.  It was a great experience.

“Make-A-Wish” is the cause that depends solely on the donations of the regular people, like us.  There are no government programs, or grants, or allocated companies’ budgets.    We are the ones to make it happen.  Supporting and helping each other unconditionally is a universal concept, and it works every single time.  Doing Mitzvah never goes out of style.  After all, these special moments, that “Make-A-Wish” foundation helps to create, make the life worth living.    Next year, we all are planning to jump, just because it is something we want to do.

MV5BMjIyMDAwNDkwMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzM1Nzg0NQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_

Sunflower

I am not a movie critic; I cannot judge the quality of a script, or lighting, or camera work, or how much money it makes in the box office.  I rate the movies I watch based on my emotional barometer.   If it stays on 0 marks, I’ve wasted my time; if it goes off the scale, I’ve made a good choice.  Sunflower, Italian drama directed by Vittorio De Sica with Sophia Loren (Giovanna) and Marcello Mastroianni (Antonio) playing the leads, is a good choice.

My son did not do well on his Italian test.  In my attempt to help him improve his listening skills, I’ve decided to watch the movie in Italian with English subtitles.  New Italian phrases and words were not the only things he got out of this movie.

Sunflower is about love and war, about humanity and hope.  Giovanna and Antonio got married and, then he simulated the mental illness to postpone his deployment to Africa, but happiness did not last long.  After the authorities discovered that he was faking insanity, he was forced to volunteer to Russia (2nd World War).  He did not come back, but Giovanna felt that he was alive, and traveled to Russia to find him.  He had another family with a Russian woman and a little daughter.  She fled back to Italy, and eventually created a family with a co-worker.  Antonio and Giovanna met briefly at the end, but decided to part their separate ways.

The plot is not unique; it has been told in many books and movies.  The war devastated a lot of families, mixed things up. It was not that unusual for the people to wait for the loved ones to return for many years, or the person thought to be dead come back alive.  What striked me the most was how Vittorio De Sica portrayed it in the movie.  As they say: “The devil is in the details.”  I’ve watched a lot of movies about the war, Russian and American, yet “Sunflower” made it very real for me.  The women standing on the train station meeting the soldiers coming from the war, holding the pictures of their loved ones, hoping someone would recognize them.  The procession of Italian soldiers barely walking in the gruesome Russian winter, with wind blowing into their faces, biting into the flesh.   Look on the Antonio friend’s face, considering whether he should try to drag him, or leave him, and let him die in the snow.  The lone log cabin in the middle of the snow-covered field packed with Russian soldiers, sleeping standing up.  Historical black and white footage of women and children digging the graves.  Never-ending rows of simple wooden crosses with the names of Italian soldiers written on them.  The most beautiful sunflower field planted on burial ground.  There was no shooting, no screaming, no sound of bombs or artillery; only silence-silence, that spoke louder than words.

My son expected the happy end; he was quite disappointed. Isn’t it the point of the movie to make the good guy win, love birds reunite, and live happily ever after?

What I like about this movie is its simplicity.   There was no blood running with limbs piling up the battlefield, no transformers discharging gigantic bullets from their enormous guns while making wild sounds; no aliens invading the Earth; and Superman did not come to the rescue either.   Characters did not drown their tears in drugs and alcohol, and hair was not pulled out  from their respective heads (except occasional ripping off pictures and breaking the dishes).  There was no cursing and yelling, and no corpses to speak of.  There were a man and a woman, and their story.  They did not say many words to each other,  their time together was brief, yet it made it all worthwhile.