Archive for October, 2012


“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage — to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.”  Alex Haley

Everyone knows, with the exception of the only child, that what we remember about a particular family story is never the way our siblings recall the incident.   Each child has their own perspective on that story, and seen through the eyes of their sibling, that story can be wildly different.  Is that bias?  Selective memory?  Or is truth simply determined by how we see it?

Recently I’ve been plunged head-long into the retelling of my husband’s family history.  The family matriarch – his mother – turns ninety-nine this spring, and about ten years ago, in contemplation of her own final chapters – she declared to us, “how much longer am I going to live?”    The importance of Family has been THE primary focus of her entire life.  There is no doubt that she endorses what Lee Iacocca once said:  “The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works is the family.”

With that thought,  she has written the family history – both sides – incorporating it into her autobiography.  To say she’s had an extraordinary and unconventional life would be an understatement, but the prevailing thread has always been Family.  Her incredible recall has now been committed to paper – or, I should say, the computer.  Yep, at 98 she not only uses it to tell her stories, she also sends copious political e-mails (to the dismay of all recipients,) and manages her own finances.  How lucky are we to have such an example of aging with grace, panache, and piss and vinegar!  My daunting task is to edit and ready this tome for print in anticipation of her hundredth-year celebration and the gathering of this far flung and unwieldy family.

As a history teacher, she begins her story appropriately in the mid-19th century with a historical explanation:

“During the Napoleonic era, the Jews were forced to take family names.  Rather than being called Solomon ben David (meaning Solomon, son of David,) a family name was assumed.  Sometimes it represented their trade, as in Silverschmidt for the silversmith, or a local landmark such as Schwartz, meaning Black Forest.”

The matriarchal family name of Moldovan undoubtedly comes from the tiny country of Moldavia, (now Moldava) which was sometimes part of Romania and other times part of the Hungarian-Austrian Empire.  Here we are introduced to great-great-great-grand-father, Naftula Hersh Moldovan, his son Ferenz Moldovan (and his seven siblings) his wife Rose, their daughter Freya, and her four siblings.  Freya, Mom’s mother, was a tailors’ apprentice who came to America ALONE, when she was eleven,  sometime around 1900. Would you believe there are 978 immigration entries for a Freya or Fany Moldovan immigrating to New York City between 1899 and 1905.  None are hers, so I’ve got the date wrong.   More sleuthing ahead,

Unraveling the mysteries that are inherently part of any family history is fascinating, but therein lies the conundrum – what to do when the stories don’t add up.  How, or even IF, to determine if a name was changed at the time of immigration.  By corroborating information from Ancestry.com and the website Jewish Genealogy.com, I’ve been able to support many of these stories with documents, such as Mom’s father’s WWI draft registration card, which boldly shows in his own handwriting, that he comes from a village in Hungary called Ignatz.  Who knew that?  No one had that piece of information.

That tiny piece of the puzzle took hours of Internet sorting, through maps of Hungary and lists of towns, villages and burgs during the 1870’s, before I chanced upon what we would now call a ‘suburb’ of Budapest, which in Hungarian is spelled Iguatz.  Each time  I insert these clues – these bits of information into the websites, little green leaves magically appear, signaling that I’ve uncovered corroborating documents, or other family connections. Sometimes they are a match and sometimes it’s a long dead-end, but piecing the puzzle together is fascinating and great fun.

Remarkably, six generations of the family branches are now chronicled and her memory of each family member is recounted – sometimes in flattering ways, sometimes not.   Oh dear, that brings me back to bias, selective memory and remembered truths.  So I have to ask the question, how important is the “unvarnished truth” as someone remembers it?  Are there extenuating circumstances?  Is it important to report the details of another persons’ life, which might be better left private?  Perhaps in politics it is important, but in family histories, maybe, maybe not.  Every family has its share of juicy secrets.  After my mother died, we learned some surprising things that she would definitely not have wanted us to know.   My own life has a few stories I wouldn’t want to see in print.  I think Winston Churchill was quoting someone else, but he said “History is written by the victors.”  Ha!  Is family history written by the survivors?

So as this family tree grows exponentially I’ve made some 270 connections and I’m only 1/3 of the way through.  What I have determined is that without using a whole can of whitewash, I will try to edit on the positive side and leave the unvarnished truth to others.  I think I can still preserve Mom’s efforts to follow the Talmud teaching: “As my family planted for me, so do I plant for my children.”  I urge you to go do some planting of your own.  Family is important. Isn’t that the place where, when you go, they have to let you in?

This past week was a culture cram, as we previewed three entirely different but equally entertaining films currently available in our area.


First up – spoiler alert – this one is probably trending a bit far from the main stream  –  Swan Lake – is the 2011 filmed performance of a contemporary interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake as seen through the eyes of choreographer Matthew Bourne.  While it may be the longest running ballet in London’s  West End (since its introduction in 1995,) this unsettling adaptation was described by one reviewer as more creepily inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds than by the Bolshoi.  Ah ha!  Now I understand…and I couldn’t agree more.

As one of our party opined: “The dancers were far better than the choreography given them, and seven moves were crammed in, when four would have sufficed with more grace.”  I found it inconsistent at best, and likened it more to a poor imitation of what the great American theater director, Peter Sellars, (who is so well known for his brilliant contemporary interpretations of classic operas) might have done.   Bourne also felt the need to throw in every clichéd red Freudian slip, including some thinly veiled references to Oedipus  – or was that Cougar Town?  Enough said.  Am I recommending it at 2+ hours?  Ummmm, maybe not.

Diana Vreeland –  The Eye Has to Travel is an exquisite documentary that chronicles, in her own intriguing words, the remarkable life’s work of the editor of  Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue  Magazines: the enigmatic Diana Vreeland –  one of 20th century’s most intriguing, contemporary fashion icons.  Anyone who ever perused these magazines in the sixties will remember her unique perspective, which ushered in a “fashion as art, and more” philosophy that went on to create its own billion dollar impact on our lives.  I doubt it’s ever been surpassed.

As one Daily Beast reviewer so succinctly put it: “It would not be an exaggeration to say that Diana Vreeland is single-handedly responsible for the pop-culture meme that great fashion editors are flamboyant and eccentric, possess the temperaments of tyrants, and are prone to mysterious pronouncements about pink being the navy blue of India.”   But perhaps Jackie O stated it more clearly in her observation,  which was quoted in the LA Times review:  “To say that Diana Vreeland has dealt only with fashion trivializes what she has done. She has commented on the times.”  

Diana’s career (everyone pronounced her name dee-ah-na, in that mad sixties-affected way) culminated in her final, crowning accomplishment as consultant to the Costume Institute of the  Metropolitan Museum of Art,  1971-84, where she mounted twelve exhibitions, making each one’s opening a glittering society  “happening,” much to the chagrin of the staid museum directors.

The film is largely narrated by her interviewer George Plimpton and produced by her granddaughter, Lisa Immordino Vreeland.  It’s a nostalgic trip through the freshness of fashion and celebrity and art and the avant-garde –  that spun  mid-20th century innocence into a whirl of Lights!  Color! Action!   After my Pucci mini dress and Twiggy haircut, I was never the same.  Were you?

Ben Affleck does it again!  Argo tops a body of work that just keeps getting better with each offering.  Affleck is a master story teller…but we knew that after Good Will Hunting and Gone Baby Gone.  We confirmed it after Our Town.  With Argo we’ve become fervent aficionados.

From the opening scene, to the closing credits, you’re committed – not a wasted word, not a meandering scene, not a moment of confusion.  This thrilling, true account of the covert plot to rescue six Americans stranded in the Iranian revolution erupting at the end of Carter’s Presidency, has you clinching your fists and holding your breath, even though you totally know they are all going to get out.  The masterful pacing is just right and John Goodman and Alan Arkin bring the absolute perfect dollop of over-the-top comic relief as fictitious Hollywood film types who sign on for the caper  – and we sure need the relief, because this one will have your stomach in knots.

I was exhausted!  Best film of the year.

A guest post from my best friend.

There was a persuasive, smart candidate who arose on the political stage.  The people knew next to nothing about him.  He edged his way on to the political stage through great oratory, pomp and pageantry, and no small amount of political foolery.  He smiled and frowned and waved.

With eloquence and passion he blamed the current government for everyone’s difficulty.  He tapped the resonance of the people’s discontent and promised them everything they wanted.  With slight of hand and tremendous confidence, he convinced people to disregard his earlier involvement with groups that intimidated people who disagreed with him.  His impassioned speeches promised change and hope.

The people, and particularly their newspapers, chose not to speak out against him.  He was championed, after all, as the one to lead them from their despair to the light – so the press feared they would lose access.  The people wanted to believe that he would deliver on his promises.  With few voices of opposition and  warnings of danger ignored, he was elected to office with a little help from minions who were willing to bully or beat dissidents into acceptance.

Slowly but surely, person by person, department by department, bureaucracy by bureaucracy, the controls of governmental power were seized by him.   He issued unchallenged proclamations ignoring his country’s constitution.  He bypassed his congress and consolidated his stranglehold on everything.  He broke treaties and agreed to others without consent.  He confused, cajoled, intimidated and convinced his allies to allow him to do what he wanted in the name of pacification.

So the world stood by and waited to find out what his country stood for and who his country stood with.

How did he get the people on his side?  Those promises.  He promised jobs to the jobless, money to the poor and rewards to labor unions for their allegiance.  He advocated better wages and better jobs.  He did it with a compliant media and a hopeful populace.  And he did it all in the name of “change” as he stirred discontentment and pitted one against the other.

During those days, people of conscience warned of his threat but they were shouted down, called names, and ridiculed. When a popular public figure, someone extremely familiar with history’s lessons, pointed out the obvious, he was booed, marginalized and called a liar and a troublemaker.

In less than four years, scapegoats were identified, large segments of the economy  were regulated into submission and government rule, laws were abrogated, children were turned against parents, and neighbors turned against neighbors.  All this was in the name of “change” and moving “forward”.

The people stood by and allowed it to happen.  When they finally woke up, they found out that they had abrogated their responsibility to their democracy and it was too late to do anything about it.

Let me guess.  You were thinking this was another right-wing racist tirade about Barack Obama.  I must admit the similarities are striking, but the truth is, I was writing about Adolf Hitler.

I only hope that in the coming weeks, as we consider who we are and what we stand for, we remember this story and are guided, not by what we have the right to do, but by what is right to do.

 

 

Everyone has a price threshold.  When gas reaches $4 a gallon, we all start screeching about the oil industry – until then we’re relatively complacent.  When the cost of everyday prescription drugs becomes greater than our food costs, we start questioning lots of things that we previously ignored – like the  entire philosophy of western medicine and the predatory incentives of an industry far more interested in suppressing symptoms than healing our bodies.  Geesh, you mean if we get well, doctors and pharmacies won’t earn as much MONEY?  Talk about an annuity!  It’s always about the money isn’t it?

Let me preface this rant by saying that for years I have suffered from a mysterious, debilitating illness that behaves like an allergy and in the past two years it has worsened to the extent that my days revolve around my annoying ailment.   On both coasts, I’ve seen countless Internists, Allergists, ENTs, Gastroenterologists and Pulmonologists and spend thousands of dollars on medical testing, including having our house professionally tested for every known allergen; purchased only cotton fabrics, encased our bedding in non-allergic materials; detoxed my body, eliminated every possible food, yada yada yada.

Zip, Zilch, Nada, Nothing.

I am no better now than when I first  exhibited these classic allergy symptoms about the time that I turned fifty and menopause and arthritis hit me like a TON OF BRICKS!   Ah ha, you say.  Arthritis , menopause and allergies are all in the autoimmune department.  But when all tests are exhausted and you test negative to EVERYTHING, including bacteria, fungus or virus, the sage medical profession declares as though he invented air: “Your autoimmune system is attacking itself.”   So I’m allergic to myself.  Lovely.  Thank you.  That’s so helpful.

To say that I’ve become intimately familiar with pharmaceuticals as well as non traditional “remedies” would put it lightly.  From Zyrtec to Clariton to Allegra to Drixoral to Sudafed, to pseudoephedrine – the darling of shake-and-bake meth labs – to every known inhaler and oral corticosteriod as well as current exploration of unconventional remedies like Colloidal Silver and acupuncture,  I’ve had them all and done it all;  know the side effects and interactions of each drug, and unfortunately,  know the fluctuating cost of each remedy.  I’m still sick.  In order to be functional and to be able to sleep through the night requires a creative combination of meds and regimens.   Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t – no two days are the same – no pattern, no triggers, not a hint at the cause.  Flying is an issue because I fear what air cabin pressure will do to my ear drums… a recent trip to Idyllwild (8,000 ft.) cleared my ears and I could hear for the first time in weeks!  But I digress..back to the subject.

When I went to pick up a prescription the other day, the pharmacist said, “If you wait a week for this script, it will be significantly less.  The generic is coming out.”  Humm…. that particular prescription had become increasingly more expensive over the last several years – from $100 to $140 to $190.  When I returned a week later, it was indeed much cheaper…FORTY BUCKS!

“Why the price fluctuation?”  I asked.  The pharmacist  said, “Just prior to when a drug’s patent runs out, the pharmaceutical manufacturer jacks up the price to “recoup” their anticipated losses.”   Interesting.  Another tidbit I recently discovered was that my Advair inhaler, which up until this month was running about $240 a month, just went up to $340, while the same thing in Mexico is FIFTY BUCKS!  Now why is that?

The top 50 pharmaceutical industries in 2010 sold $593.4 BILLION  in scripts.  By 2005 A NY University study showed that Big Pharma was spending twice as much on advertising as on research and development.   Soooo, the industry isn’t seeking new cures, it’s just a clever marketing entity, focused on profit.  There’s another statistic that’s interesting: these types of mysterious allergies are far more prevalent in “developed” cultures.  Could it be that our food supply and the myriad additives and chemicals used in the behemoth Agra industry might be suspect?

First rule of the road:  We are responsible for our own health.  We are responsible for taking inventory.  We are more likely to unravel the cause of our problems if we arm ourselves with intelligent research and resist the overwhelming barrage of suggestive pharmaceutical ads that have us all wondering if we should ask our doctor if such-and-such  drug is “right for me?”

No question health care is a massive, complex issue in modern society, but we cannot afford to leave good health up to big pharma and agra businesses; tired medical providers who are dictated to by insurance companies; or legislators who are bought and paid for by special interests.  None of the above has anything to do with you and me.

Stay tuned.  Next stop may be the Mayo Clinic.  But I will get to the bottom of this  – cause I’m pissed off and weary of feeling rotten!

 

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