Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dream Letter to God

Since I doubt You,
Your existence,
most of all Your churchmen
and the thousand propagandists
who seem so sure they've got You locked up
in their Bahbles,
You're entitled to doubt Me.

Since there still isn't much to show for
My existence;
those of My advocates who've done wrong,
I'm either unaware of it,
have cut them off,
or simply don't care.

Much like You,
who seem so uncaring
about wrongdoing
in Your name.
So we're even:
I'll let you off the hook for
Your indifference; You
can forgive mine.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Someone told me recently that I am unaware of the ripples I leave in the hearts and minds of others. Perhaps this Saturday afternoon, listening to a Mozart clarinet concerto, is the time to take stock of the ripples one sends out and the ones from which one comes.

We cannot live alone. Inescapably. No human infant would survive the first year without someone's care. We are all part of a chain.

We can, yes, live on our own -- provided we have a vast society around us. Someone somewhere is making sure the electricity is turned on and the water runs and even that the bus on which we commute is sent on its merry way on time.

I have been amazed about this since childhood.

Perhaps that's what it means to be a native New Yorker: to realize that someone had to get up to send off that garbage truck that wakes you up.

Similarly, someone -- parents -- had to have you and nurture you. We are in the nurturing chain. We are not islands, we are social animals.

We need to be mindful that we cannot live alone for long and thus respect all who nurture us -- which turns out to be all humanity.

My morning coffee was planted, grown and harvested thousands of miles away, in Colombia, Central America, Africa. The sugar I pour into it was cut by workers in the Dominican Republic or Jamaica.

The rubber in the tires of the bus that takes me to work might come from Thailand, Sri Lanka or Vietnam. The diesel fuel came from Saudi Arabia or Venezuela. The bus was made in Detroit.

Most of my computer at work was manufactured in Malaysia. The paper is probably from Canada. The ink we use might come from China.

I have the whole world in my palm, at my grasp -- every day.

Then there are the ripples I send out. The ripples that come from my working to repay all the work that brings all these things to me.

Also, the work to improve the working conditions of those who make my life possible. Someone said it better many years ago:
Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
-- Robert F. Kennedy, Capetown, South Africa, June 6, 1966

Each time I act to echo back the nurture I receive, I send forth ripples of hope and love. Ripples of this kind, sent by all of us, could change the world.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A New Aesthetic

It all began with a comment passed from mouth to mouth: several Argentines, to a pair of Brazilians, to an American woman, to me. As the journalistic jargon would have it, well-informed observers (one imagines little men standing on a hill scanning the horizon with binoculars) affirm that the cosmetic surgery in greatest demand in Argentina is breast reduction.

You read right: reduction.

The lollobrigidian augmentation is a thing of the past, according to the Feminine Party spokespersons. (Incidentally, my adjective -- also passé -- was once rumored to have been accepted by the French Academy to describe hilly terrain.)

These days the thing is to have bosoms no larger than an American champagne glass (see image).

Another correspondent adds:

I heard this from a transvestite leader: those who in the ´90s got silicone implants regret it today. They envy the young transvestites, who rarely even try to enlarge their breasts because, according to them, the masculine market (their clients in prostitution) demands adolescent breasts. Note that transvestites try to emulate the women that men desire.
Are we facing a new human aesthetic in the 21st century? If so, it is anti-rubenesque, transsexual and multiracial.

The gamine look, typical of the postwar French street waifs, with its slim, often boyish, sexually teasing appeal, is valued for women. Tom Wolfe calls them "boys with breasts" in A Man in Full. For the man, there's the hairless, or hair plucked, slim but not muscular look. The preferred skin is cafe au lait or Asian; the favored face is clean of obvious ethnic characteristics or, at a minimum, it hints at a cultural blend.

The desired character of women is now decisive and lively; the men calm and easy-going.

Think of Angeline Jolie's full and luscious lips or Halle Berry's prim and European pout or the transcultural look of Keanu Reeves, who in The Matrix played Neo, the new man.

The new aesthetic proposes, as I see it, the perspective of a generation that has seen neither war, nor hunger, nor pestilence, nor death. Today's young adults of around 25 began to become aware when the world was already cybernetic; in their adolescence they glided seamlessly into an Internet newly opened to non-academic users.

It's the L'Auberge Espagnole generation: thriving, open to everything, pluralist. To them, traditionally masculine and feminine roles are intermingled, because to the extent possible they share the common human task for the first time. The races, colors, nationalities, creeds, are all part of a quilt, humanity in fusion.

Perhaps this is the generation addressed by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill), possible president of the United States, or by Paul David Hewson (better known as Bono) in his humanitarian hegira in Africa, or by Danish novelist Peter Høeg, who Smilla's Sense of Snow playfully fused the humanities and mathematics.

Even though this trio does not belong to the new generation, they seem to express the new zeitgeist, just as The Beatles did in 1964 for the postwar Baby Boom generation that was really made up of their younger siblings.

Every aesthetic has its significance: the equilibrium of the Renaissance after medieval chaos; Baroque tension through the wars of the religion and the breakup of the European consensus; the theocratic escape of Gothic style as compensation for the loss of Greco-Roman culture caused by the onslaught of illiterate Teutonic hordes; the European absolute monarchs' excess, expressed in Rococo; and so on and so forth.

At the moment we see in this aesthetic an ethnic and cultural fusion, pansexualism and possibility. For the moment, it inspires optimism.

Friday, February 09, 2007

An Embrace for the Ages

In this cold northern hemisphere night, I am warmed by an image from a new archeological find in Italy of an unknown, 5,000-year-old couple locked in an embrace not far from the home of Romeo and Juliet. Our common humanity unites us across the millennia.

Supplied by the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali (Italian Cultural Ministry), the picture depicts the Neolithic age skeletons of a couple found in Valdaro-S.Giorgio near Mantua, about 25 miles from Verona.

As a university student, I once delighted in learning that the oldest extant manuscript, written in Sanskrit, was a recipe for making beer. Our ancestors, I then felt, had their priorities straight.

Tonight, I am touched by an ancient unknown couple. Like them, the thought of an empty bed is unappealing. They and I aspire to the warmth of another person, someone of the opposite sex, someone cuddly, someone into whose eyes one might plunge.

We are so hauntingly similar in revelry and romance.

Elena Menotti, the chief archeologist at the site, told reporters it was "extraordinary." Such a find is rare, perhaps unique. They are really hugging and they died young, as their intact teeth show.

Perhaps they were the real Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed lovers from long, long ago. We think sometimes that we invented love to the tune of the Beatles. We didn't. Maybe they did.

Whatever the case, the secret of life seems encased in that embrace. The greatest human joy is drawn from the urge to merge, to spawn; we, their children, are alive thanks to such an entwining.

All of life, that all-too-brief moment in which we awaken to awareness, from infancy through childhood and adolescence, to upright adult maturity, seems directed toward that coupling with another, after which we slowly nod off through senescence back into the sheath of gray unknowing whence we came.

This Mantuan couple has preserved the core for the ages, a monument to being in the fullest, most human sense.