Happy 25th Anniversary Berlin!

Happy Friday everyone! During the last 10 days or so, we’ve been enjoying another road trip around Europe during the kids’ fall break from school. Although I have yet to evolve a stress- and anxiety-free way to enjoy these longish, multi-country excursions with Stefan and the kids, they will undoubtedly still go down as one of the best parts of our time living in Italy.

This journey ended up taking us to interesting places that aren’t only historically significant, but that intermingle with our own families’ histories as well. We found connections in Dachau, Prague, and Vienna, but it was our visit to Berlin and its infamous wall that once separated democratic West Germany from communist East Germany, that was especially meaningful for me, and not just because this weekend marks 25 years since it fell. My family emigrated to the US from communist Cuba, and it was both comforting and frustrating to uncover just how similar the German and Cuban experience has been. As in the case of East Germany, the communist government in Cuba has erected obstacles, much like the very long and winding Berlin wall, which have split families apart and isolated a population.

That’s probably why I was glued to my little TV set in my college dorm room in 1989, teary- eyed at the sight of East Germans insisting on passage through the wall. A still very young news network, CNN, was broadcasting all these jaw-dropping images, and I remember calling my mother to ask if she was seeing what I was seeing. We sat there in silence on the phone just flabbergasted by the moment. Most of the East Germans weren’t interested in staying in West Berlin, although some had surely been yearning for that freedom for decades. Instead, the majority just wanted to be able to go where they wanted to go, see who they wanted to see. Shop, eat, visit with family and friends, and then head back home.

Somewhere between the long silences, we decided that my mom should just come over to my dorm room, so we could watch the coverage together. She was there within the hour and we watched as the gates opened and hundreds of faces poured through. Some were crying, others yelling happily, yet others looking completely astonished, as if they couldn’t believe this was happening at all. We were overjoyed for these Germans, as we saw a sister run into the embrace of a brother waiting on the West side; a group of teens, in all their late-80s gear, dance on top of the wall; and an East German soldier smile widely and give a rose to a girl on the other side, as if no one in the whole wide world was more relieved than he was. It was quite emotional up in that university high rise apartment. In part, of course, because the parallels to our family, stranded behind the formidable waves of the Caribbean instead of a cement wall, were far too clear. We couldn’t help but wonder, what if…

 

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

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The part of the wall that has been preserved with murals commissioned right after its fall, is part of the East Side Gallery. The neighborhood now feels like the Lower East Side of Manhattan, grittier and cooler than the rest of Berlin, but just as sophisticated and modern:

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This one’s for you, Mami!

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Leeloo’s come up with a very endearing new habit… listening to history through architecture. “Mom! It’s like I’m there and the soldier is giving the girl the flower!”

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For my Italian peeps/ Per i miei amici italiani:IMG_0512

 

This image evokes a way of life with which I’m quite sure my relatives are painfully familiar:

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How do you say “perestroika” in Spanish?

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Somebody made sure that I didn’t get too romantic about the whole thing with this insightful graffiti, in Spanish nonetheless! (Sons of bitches. Stop lying. We haven’t learned anything.)

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Yet, a girl can keep dreaming. IMG_0545

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I like that Leeloo serendipitously added her face to the hundreds in this scene, re-playing what I saw on my TV in ’89. She’s got quite a few cousins that I can’t wait to see pass through their own wall someday. Hopefully, not another 25 years from this anniversary.

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Si, Possiamo! (Yes, We Can, Italian Style.)

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Marcello o Matteo?

Today, Christine has local politics on her mind, and after reading her post, I can easily imagine the tension that creeps up at the supermarket, at school, at the cafe, or on the street when everyone in a small town has been made to feel like they needed to pick sides. Jets or Sharks? Crips or Bloods? North or South? Donkey or Elephant? As she mentions next door, this kind of contentious politics is new to the area, and unfortunately, it seems to be the beginning of a wave that might take a long time to recede.

I wish I had more knowledge about how our local politics works here in Bologna, but I’m going to need a bit more time to figure that one out. National Italian politics, as you might have heard, is populated by a colorful cast of characters, chief among them, the infamous Silvio Berlusconi, ex-Prime Minister, who was quoted all over the place last summer saying that since he was being convicted for tax fraud here in Italy, his next career move would be running for State office in New York. Move over Cuomo.

Italy was understandably a little bored by his two successors who concentrated more on economic policy (yawn) than on the “boom boom” parties that Berlusconi favored, so last month, the country decided to spice things back up by naming their youngest ever Prime Minister, 39-year-old Matteo Renzi. Never mind that the ex-Mayor of Florence had never been elected to Parliament or held any other national position, he’s very charming and comes armed with uncommonly straightforward messages, espousing the need for radical change in Italy’s notoriously bureaucratic government. Not only that, he’s even got his own snazzy website. With an economy that’s 2+ years into recession and dealing with unemployment close to 50% for people under 30, it seems like this old world population might actually be ready for the kind of transformation he’s promising. And as if all this weren’t exciting enough, he’s also a dead ringer for Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita! It’s as if Fellini, himself, had handpicked the guy to play the smooth talking Prime Minister. Let’s hope he’s as effective in his role as Marcello was in his.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voting for Peace

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This past Tuesday my village of 1,993 residents voted to elect two new members to its Village Board–a board that, along with the mayor, forms the governing body of our tiny community. The Board has many responsibilities: finalizing development plans, negotiating with the sanitation department and other village committees, determining budgets and approving building proposals. They also set the tone for the community at large.

In a tiny place like Cold Spring, the Mayor and the Board Members are highly visible members of the community. Some own businesses on Main Street. Others have kids who attend the local elementary school. One past mayor used to ride his bike all over town, stopping to shake hands and hold babies and pet dogs. It can seem like a useful arrangement, this: that those living within a community preside over it, ostensibly making the community strong and stable and sincere.

As a relative newcomer to Cold Spring (I moved here six years ago) I’ve been dismayed by the politics that take place around town. I remember well the way my neighbors — sweet, protective folks who took good care of me (a newly single mom with a very young son) — yelled after to me to choose the “right” guy as I walked past them on my way to cast my vote in the first village election I participated in. (In that case, the “right guy” for mayor was a guy who had already been mayor for 16 years.)

I didn’t think much of their attempt at coercion at the time. To be honest, I didn’t really care who won that election—I hadn’t lived here long enough to understand the nuances, or the profundity, of the battle. Besides, I grew up in a small, rural upstate town—a town where my father held office as the (Republican) president of our city’s Water Board for nearly 20 years—and so understood that the genuine passion to preserve a town’s legacy trumped almost everything else during political races like that (and often for good reason).

I’m a terrible sports fan and so I’m registered as an Independent voter (because I never like to wear foam fingers or take sides), so I vote with my heart and my gut and can’t always tell you why.

Though I’d never be a good politician, my politics have always fallen very far to the left of my (very conservative) aforementioned father’s on issues such as abortion and gun control and fluoridated water but we love each other, so our differences of opinion about matters even as important as those have never descended into personal attacks. First we are family. Then we are fellow community members. Then we are people. We’ve never waded into the murky pit where enemy lines (and weapons) are drawn.

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Signs supporting the candidates waited for commuters at the Metro North station.

This year, in Cold Spring though, some folks have insisted on separating themselves by party lines. And not only separating themselves, but have made it their mission to destroy their competition. You know, the other community members they are running against. It’s been a vicious and ugly fight–one in which spying, muckraking and taking opposing sides on all matters was on full display in BOTH of our local papers. When I was at the fire station casting my votes the other day, the police were there, too–apparently called to the scene because of a disgruntled poll worker who was causing a raucous. Truthfully, I was surprised that the place didn’t erupt with violence, everybody in town has been about to blow for weeks.

This election…THIS ELECTION…has been contentious and rude from the very start and was, in the end, decided by 20 votes (17 in the case of the second place winner) but has divided our community in a most spiteful and unkind way. The malicious run-up to the vote on Tuesday, coupled with all of the accusations and attacks and nasty comments on Facebook–have conceivably injured our town’s soul in a manner that I fear it may never heal from.

I’m sad for that. For the broken soul of this adopted town of mine that I’ve grown love; a town that my son calls home.

Ours is a town that carries a physical beauty that still manages to take my breath away, despite this mercilessly cold and snowy winter. We are blessed to live in a village of unequaled allure; a community that draws huge crowds of tourists on weekends throughout the year and causes my NYC friends (who refer to it as “Brigadoon” when they visit) to comb the real estate windows on Main Street searching for houses they can afford as second homes.

Will its magic be gone now that the battlefield of our government (and Main Street) is scattered with broken swords and resentment? Will people turn their heads away from one another as they pass on the street? Will we become an “us” and “them” place, like that island that Dr Seuss’s Star Bellied Sneeches inhabit?

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The Sneeches.

In the coming days it’s not going to be the significance of who won this election that matters, but the conscious decision of the two newly elected officials to find a way to try and bridge the monstrous gap that remains between those scant 20 votes; for them to work to heal the very critical injuries this election cost the members of our very small town.

Everyone is bloodied from the fight. And everyone is tired. We will all need to work together to stave off this seemingly never-ending divisive and blood-letting fight.

It is my hope that our two newly elected board members recognize that nearly half of the vote casters voted for the other guy. It’ll be important for both of them to remember that often during the coming two years, when they are faced with opposition and disagreement; when not everybody in the room wants them there and, because this is America, you get to say that out loud.

I fell a little out of love with Cold Spring over these past few weeks, but I want to find a reason to be in love with it again. Yes, spring is coming. Eventually Dockside Park will be green and Breakneck Ridge will be packed with hipsters and cars will be fighting for parking in front of the shops on Main Street. It is my hope that, in the meantime, my community (led by those very leaders that we elected) will find a way to come together as the beacon of beauty and hope that so many from the outside come to bask in.