What Does Survive? A Reading in New York

What Does Survive? A Reading in New York

From the author of What Survives

A Reading and Book Signing at the American Sephardi Federation in New York City

Jan. 18, 2017

Arthur and I arrive in New York City in the early morning hours at JFK via the Jet Blue red-eye. I am here to do a reading and book signing for my novel What Survives.

We settle into our taxi, just half-awake, accustomed to the heavy morning rush hour traffic and ready for the long drive into midtown Manhattan. We cross the bridge we’ve crossed a gazillion times before and like little children returning to the Emerald City in the wonderful Land of Oz, we call out to each other as if we are seeing these old friends for the first time.

“Oh look, there she is, the Lady of Liberty, waking up with us!”

“And there’s the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, just where we left them!”

“This city actually glitters in the morning light!”

“Oh, my old coffee shop on 57th and Broadway, I think it’s gone, Arthur. I can’t believe it. I used to write lyrics there.”

I close my eyes, as I always do now, and create the missing Towers.

The barricades

11TOWER3-master675Suddenly we are no longer moving. Our driver begins to curse in his native language. I’m guessing it to be Chinese because we have experienced traffic in Beijing. Occasionally, a heavily accented “shit” emerges.

I notice the barricades and ask, “What is going on here?”

He doesn’t respond but curses again at yet another turn he is unable to make. He bangs the steering wheel in frustration, lurching forward to find some way to turn left. Suddenly it dawns on me where we are and what has most recently changed.

Donald Trump is President-elect of the United States. The barricades are there to protect him.

“Trump,” I sigh.

The cab driver finally acknowledges me with an abrupt shaking of his head. This is a word he understands. This is the name of the man who would possibly deport him, too, if he could.

It is a few days before his inauguration, and Trump is sequestered in his tower in New York City. He is the cause of all of this traffic confusion.

But this is still my New York, damn it, and I leave these thoughts behind. I’m doing a reading and book signing at the American Sephardi Federation. This is something to be excited about.

And there is a deli on the corner of our hotel with real Jewish bagels, cream cheese and lox. We head there immediately for breakfast. The young woman behind the cash register gives us a warm smile. We recognize that she is Muslim by her headscarf. We smile back and tell her, yes, we will have coffee.

I must be happy. I must block out my negative thoughts. I bite into my warm bagel and sip my coffee. Heavenly.

I must

santafewomensmarchA text vibrates on my cell phone. It’s from my friend Debbie back in New Mexico. “Will you come to the Santa Fe Women’s March with me on Saturday?” Shit, I think. We’re getting back at 11:30 Friday night. It’s cold. I’ll be tired.

I look up from my bagel at the Muslim woman. She is laughing at something her Hispanic coworker has said. Shit, I think again.

I text back, “Yes, I’d love to.”

Arthur asks, “What is that all about?”

What is this and that all about? I’ve written a novel about Turkey.  I’m a Jew whose father fled from the pogroms in what used to be Russia and now is Ukraine and could become Russia again, if we’re not careful.

I’m coming to speak to Jews whose families have fled from  once thriving cultures in Iraq and Iran, from Egypt, from Morocco and Tunisia, from the ravages of what remained of the Ottoman Empire, people who fled from as far back as the Spanish Inquisition, along with the Muslims who were expelled with them.

I want my simple talk to become more political, to carry more weight. But then I remember my relatives in Israel whose politics are so different from my own.

But my book is about the politics of women. And isn’t life about the politics of women? Stick to the point, I tell myself. But what is the point? Do I even know anymore?

At the reading

asf_2014_logoOut of respect for the fact that I am so kindly and politely received at the American Sephardi Federation, with all the hospitality and warmth that is so indicative of the cultures belonging to this particular Diaspora, I do not say what is in my heart. I don’t know who these people are or what their politics might be in this crazy new world. The spices are all blending, and it’s sometimes difficult to detect them, to get them right. This is a kind and attentive audience.

Afterward, they want to tell me their stories and I want to hear them. But there is no time. The director must close the gallery and lock it up carefully. It is almost under as much security as Trump.

What does survive?

Sky Yellow Blue Clouds Blue Sky New Mexico

Now I am back at home in New Mexico with clean mountain air and blue skies that stretch on forever. I meet my interesting new friend and publicity person for lunch and a meeting about starting a blog on my website. Carolyn Flynn is a journalist and a writer. She has written a novel about Greece.

Over lunch we talk about the Women’s March that Carolyn helped to organize in Albuquerque; we discuss the current times and the need for writers and artists to speak out in all of the ways we do best. I bring up the horrific times in Turkey and the shutting down of the press there.

Carolyn goes home and I start this blog. I block out my visit to the September 11th Memorial Museum only several days ago, my vision of the burnt and shriveled steel fire truck that once carried living and breathing Irish firemen, our brave and beautiful New York Irish firemen who drove to their deaths in order to save the lives of other human beings whose families also fled starvation and persecution, people of all colors, languages, religions, spices and flavors going to work on a sunny fall morning.

Instead I write short sentences (as opposed to that very long one) about my talk, my novel, restaurants and basically, it is all much ado about nothing. This I edit, rewrite, save and send off to Carolyn.

And in the middle of the night I wake up and it hits me. What does survive? Is it our intelligence or our stupidity? Both. History just repeats itself and repeats itself and repeats itself. Up go the buildings only to knock them down again. Over and over. It’s not the first time these thoughts have come to me, of course, they are written in my novel.

But is it really over and over, the very same thing? Is there audacity in hope? The people I see marching in the streets today aren’t angry young people protesting “the establishment.”

Love begets love

We are the establishment, old and young Americans from all walks of life, men and women, rich and poor, gay and straight, religious and atheist carrying flags – not burning them – carrying babies, holding dogs on leashes. Is this the birth of a new love generation inherited from the old love generation, consisting of those of us who are waking up to the fact, as I did this very night, that we have to raise our voices, not block them out, if we wish to hold on to the lives we have come to take for granted. We have seen what can happen anywhere, and one way or another,  we’ve all come here.  And we should never forget. This is what must survive.

Now it is 5:14 a.m. It is time to delete the old blog and forward the new one to Carolyn. As my dearly loved and recently departed friend, author Lisa Lenard-Cook, used to say, “You have to put the blood on the page. Otherwise, don’t even bother.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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