Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Other September 11

Then there is the 'other' September 11 -- the coup d'etat in Chile in 1973 when the Chilean military (backed in no small regard by Nixon & Kissinger) ousted President Salvador Allende. I was on the first plane out of NY headed south that night, having just returned a couple of days before from Paris. It was the early days of my working for GAMMA (then being led by Raymond Depardon) and no story was too far away or too distant a topic to cover. I'd been in Paris the week before, and answered the fone from Chas Gerretsen, the GAMMA photographer who'd been living in Santiago for months, advising us of a bad day in the street, and that his film was headed to Europe. So Chile was already in the back of my mind that morning when we heard that Chilean Air Force planes had bombed the Presidential Palace. It was still the world of 16mm cine film, and 35mm Tri-x, so nothing was instantaneous, but required time to process and print. The man who had been the Chilean Ambassador to the UN, Gabriel Valdez, was on that Braniff flight leaving JFK, and the early word (wrong , of course) was that he might be the new man chosen to take over the Presidency. We made a few pics of him in First Class as he sat uncomfortably, and in Miami, dropped that film, even as new journos hopped on the plane. Joining there was the venerable Bob Sherman, a freelancer from Miami who I ended up sharing a room with for two weeks at the Sheraton Carrera when we finally made it into Chile. 

We were in fact supposed to fly to Santiago, but the Junta had closed all flights in and out of the country for what turned out to be almost a week. Diverted to Buenos Aires, we spent each day trying to figure out just how to get into Chile, and only after six days of nail biting was the first flight permitted in - a Press charter full of writers, photographers and tv cameramen. The airport was essentially closed, and we had to unload the bags off the 707 ourselves, and since there were as yet no taxis, we found a dump truck and a bunch of us climbed into the bed in the back...Rolling through the town at dawn, quiet smokey streets greeting us along the way, we made our way to the Carrera, which is in the same square as the Moneda, the Presidential Palace. As we turned the last corner into the square, the late Bill Montalbano, a very suave and savvy Miami Herald correspondent, who knew the place well, just sighed, "...this is gonna be something...." And seeing the bomb damage and bullet holes.... it was. This picture was made later that day by Bob Sherman - and for the life of me, I cannot understand how I went into a world of a right-wing anti-"extremista" junta looking like this. I was just turned 27 and like a lot of young photographers, I suppose I thought I knew best. But I'm just glad I was able to do my work, and aside from being arrested a few times, able to get my film back to the office. Forty two years later, it all seems so fresh.  We're just sayin'...  David

Tea & Milk at Dale's

Sometimes my mind goes to places that may be memories and maybe made up.  Like this morning a cup of tea took me to Dale Brocker’s house.  When we were in 3rd and 4th grade we walked to school together.  It became a ritual.  Before we actually started our four block hike her grandmother would make us sweet hot tea and milk.  I have no idea what kind of tea it was but I have never been able to replicate the delicious taste.

 So last night was the Republican/Trump debate. It was certainly not a debate. A debate requires listening as well as blurting. There was no listening because all the candidates were desperate to be heard.  It reminded me of Friday night dinner at Aunt Sophie’s. Four sisters and Four husbands all talking at once.  When I met David he would say, “why are you yelling at me?” and of course I had no idea that I was yelling. It was just how we talked in order to be heard.
A good friend and colleague texted me during the debate and asked me who was doing the best.  There was no “best”, but if someone held me down and threatened to pull my fingernails off, I would say that the people who were at least memorable were Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio. Now there’s a Presidential ticket.  It is possible for them both to implode. But last night they did what any person who wants people to listen, should do.  They gave personal examples. Their rhetoric was studied and controlled but not impersonal.

Carly and Iris have nothing in common.  We probably don’t agree on any issue.  But she did say something that Democratic women have been saying for a long time.  She said that, “Women are not a special interest group. We are 51% of the population.”  As with most of us who have worked on “issues of concern to women”, we know that war, the economy, health, education, and pets are all women’s issues. That is to say, everything that touches our lives is a women’s issue.

 So what does any of this have to do with tea at Dale Brockers?  I’ll get back to that. But for right now  there needs to be comment about the other people on the stage. It’s hard to think of them as “candidates”. Donald Trump may become the nominee, thanks to the media. They can’t seem to get beyond their obsession with his silliness. It may be however, that it is the beginning of the end for him. When you see him posed against the Governor of Ohio, the Governor of New Jersey, a smattering of Senators, and even another Bush, he doesn’t measure up.  He’s at a terrible disadvantage because he has to overcome the bluster and the bullying.  When Carly answered the question about how she looked, she did it was graceful and pointed.  The one thing you can never say about Trump is that he is graceful.

 Anyway, back to tea and milk. There are some things that you can never replicate.  Sometimes it is a love. Sometimes it is a friendship. Sometimes it is an activity, often it is a laugh, and often it is a smell or a taste.  This political year can never be replicated. The Democrats are happily supporting a socialist.  Everyone but the anointed candidate thinks she is in big trouble.  She still has time to fire her advisors, but she won’t.  There are enough Republican candidates to form competeing  baseball teams.  The taste of the tea and milk, not so much.  It’s hard to listen or watch what passes for the news.  Admittedly, I have no taste for it.  We’re just sayin’….Iris

Sunday, September 13, 2015

New Years and the Aunts

"the Sisters - and Uncle Jack -  with their parents" ca. 1950

The Jewish kids had an extra holiday.  The Jewish New Year.  Unlike today, not everyone had a break. It was just us and we loved it.  We got new clothes and new shoes. We did suffer a bit of anti-Semitism but mostly it had nothing to do with religion.  It had only to do with we got the day off, and no one else did. Did it make us feel like outsiders? I don’t think so. It made us feel special.
 But that’s not what I wanted to blob about.  My family was always present to be a big part of what made the holiday special.  There were things we did every year that, although painful in those days, were just something we did. And the “sister” dynamics was no small part.  Every sister ( my mom and her 6 sisters)  had a job to do, except my mom who was the baby and pretended she had no idea what was expected.  But that’s another blob.
 They were an incredibly entertaining group of women. And it wasn’t only them, it was first cousins as well.  A number of my young first cousins once removed have asked me what their grandmother, (who died much too early) was like.  It’s funny because she (Elaine) is such a presence in my life that I think everyone knew her. But not the children who were born after she died.  So when I tell her grandchildren what she was like I always start with her laugh, which was infectious.  She loved being with family, not only immediate but with her extended cousins.  She was lovely, generous, and beautiful, inside and out.  When we did the fist Gefilte Fish Chronicles, she was tasting horse radish, so you can’t hear her voice. But you can feel her good humor.  Oh, she would have been so proud of her children, grand children, and great grand children. It’s easy to be sad about her loss, but it’s more important to celebrate who she was.

There’s one thing about each aunt that is memorable. One is just the beginning. Aunt Helene and her discount coupons.  Aunt Sophie and her returns. Auth Fritzie and her goodness (or her kippers). Aunt Peppy and her Jack Daniels. Aunt Betty and her ability to delegate. Aunt Sarah and her stories.  Rosie and her blintzes, Uncle Jack and his silver dollars.  And that’s only the surface.

We had such a special family and we thought that’s what every family was like. And maybe, to some degree it was.  But every New Year I remember just one more thing and I look forward to the memories as much as I look forward to buying new school clothes.  We’re just sayin’….Iris

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Another Year

Birthdays are of course given to relative levels of celebration. Nothing is cooler than being 5 or 6.. being able to blow out the candles in one big breath, all your kindergarten pals gathered around for cake. Later, it starts to take on slightly iffier connotation. One of the very few times my mom ever embarassed me was my 13th birthday. (That would have been 1959, and I suspect I was more concerned with the state of the Juno II moon probe attempts than the type of cake.) But as I blew out the candles, now surrounded by a pack of 8th graders, she announced... with nothing intended but love and admiration... "well, I guess that officially makes you a teen-aged teen-Ager!" I did secretly groan... but as I was to find out, there are worse things than your mom extolling your wonderment. The least fun birthdays are usually the ones on the road, solo... in some place that might have been good for a story, or even for pictures, but which after hours kind of turned into a not terribly fun place to be.

This picture, taken at Cole Palen's Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, was shot the week I turned 24, in 1970, just a couple of weeks before I left for Saigon the first time. Even then I was trying some wacky stuff out.. this was a Spiratone screwon fisheye lens adapter, which you screwed into the front element of your 50mm, and pretended it was really a fish eye. I had seen a story in the TIMES (and I still remember the picture by Wm. Sauro, of the TIMES staff) and for a guy who grew up loving airplanes, both models and full size, it was a place I had to be. I spent a day at the Aerodrome, flew one or two missions in their camera plane, and wired this Fokker D Vii with my Nikon on the outer strut. And for once, Ed, "that Fokker was actually a Fokker!" I even tried to see if I could talk LIFE into assigning me the story.. ..but in the end, off I went to Vietnam, leaving the LIFE story to my pal John Olson. He was much better at attaching cameras to places they didn't belong, and eventually had a 4 or 5 page story on the old planes. I went back to the Aerodrome a year ago, and it has grown immensely - some 60 beautiful antique planes, though they just had a fire at their gift shop, and will be doing a fund raiser next week to try and rebuild it. If you like planes, especially planes that are made out of baling wire and canvas, the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome is worth a trip. They still do the hokey stuff with Snidely Whiplash and Miss Kitty (the names have been changed to protect the innocent) but above all, you get to hear the sound of rotary engines, a sound which was designed a hundred years ago, and pretty much died out about 80 years ago. There is no sound like it.. the engines doing On/Off to act as throttle (there is no throttle... just On, or Off).. as they touch down at the end of a flight. It almost sounds like a kid getting ready to blow the candles out. We're just sayin'... David