Madam Secretary Reflects on International Relations and Happy Happenstance

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The Ring of Kerry. My photo.

WELL, MY FRIENDS, IT’S MARCH, and I’m sure we all agree that Old Man Winter has way, way overstayed his welcome.

I thought I would be serving tea at a place in the city. Instead, I’m working in our office so my dad can make up for lost time in the fields, and my current occupation doesn’t involve traveling to anywhere except the post office. (It’s like doing laundry: you sort through the junk mail, code and file the invoices, try to decipher heavy Asian accents on the phone, empty the waste baskets and get everything tidied away for a little while, and then you start over again.)

I’ve always said that administration is not my thing.

So the joke is on me, as usual.

Anyway, I’m bored, and thinking of tea and travel makes me nostalgic, so I’m going to ramble about other countries and things that are none of my business.

I’m not a politician–just a farmer’s daughter. But Ireland and Israel are like strangers who keep crossing my path and bumping into each other, and I feel like they should be friends.

I had the joy of spending Christmas 2014 in Ireland with my sister’s husband’s family. Dublin looked like a bloom of glowing plankton from the sky, the night we flew in. I woke up at three o’clock the first morning and didn’t know where I was until I tuned into an Irish radio station. Billy Joel was singing “Just The Way You Are,” and that song has had a special place in my heart ever since. Continue reading “Madam Secretary Reflects on International Relations and Happy Happenstance”

Snug As A Bacillus In A Cheese

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THERE WAS A WINTER when it was so cold that the air hurt to breath and made the hair in adult noses crackle. Power lines snapped under the weight of accumulated snow, which completely buried our car, and which we melted in pots on our wood-burning stove because the plumbing was frozen. It took real guts to venture out on the icy roads. Starving coyotes would sit outside the house at night, punctuating the stillness with their delirious howls, while our Border Collie slept fitfully indoors by the fire. My sisters and I curled up together, spoon-style, beneath a mountain of quilts, more like one body than three. To ward off the doldrums, we played a sadistic little game in which we dared one another to go outside and run all the way around the house barefooted. We were always the kind of children who were easily entertained, and so it was no hardship when fog settled in like a nebulaerasing the world around us. I perused the whole shelf of World Book encyclopedias from A to Z. I ate instant oatmeal and learned the importance of ritualthose little habits and routines that lubricate the machinery of life and maintain our sanity.

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My sisters and me.

So it must be nostalgia or femininity or some combination of both that when I think of “adventure” I automatically think not of storm-chasing or espionage but of Gontran de Poncin’s description of hibernating at a Hudson Bay Company outpost in Kabloona.

“Paddy had done wonders with his living room. It was warm and intimate and was the frame within which our life was lived. Here within a hundred miles of the Magnetic Pole there was a kind of bourgeois* coziness that was unbelievable. I used to say to myself that there were no bourgeois places, there were only domesticated souls. One could be an adventurer in New York, and one could also be an old maid in the polar regions… Nothing would have been present to remind one of the Arctic if a few white foxes, the ‘money’ that paid for my excursions on the trail, had not been hanging from the ceiling… There was even a vase of artificial flowers—which I would hide from time to time and Gibson would bring out again almost immediately…

Adventure has two faces—one showing men at grips with the elements, the other showing them darning their socks. It was in Gibson’s living room that I saw a remarkable photograph of three members of an Antarctic expedition. They were sitting in a hut, one of them mending his pants, another smoking with a far-away look in his eyes, the third writing a letter. Had they the same peace in their own homes, I wondered? … I felt as snug as a bacillus in a cheese… Continue reading “Snug As A Bacillus In A Cheese”

A Letter To The Man In Orange: Uncensored

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My photo.
DEAREST UNCLE BUD,

How are you? Had any visitors lately? How’s your new prosthetic working?

Yes, the trip was ok and everyone’s fine.

Flying with El Al afforded fifteen solid hours to get pre-acclimated to Israeli bluntness and the rich sound of spoken Hebrew. The gate at Los Angeles International Airport is very remote and hard to find (just like the Israeli embassy in San Fransisco is located in an unmarked building and, once inside, deliberately disorienting). The jet was roomy and clean, the staff professional, the food tasty. Most of the passengers were Jewish, and so there was a lot of camaraderie and sarcastic humor going on. There was also a lot of seat-shuffling, because some of them didn’t want to sit with members of the opposite sex.

The sophisticated young lady banker to my left chatted with me in a refreshingly candid way and shared her things as though we were old friends. The elderly lady to my right overflowed her seat like a big pillow and doted on me with shocking warmth. “We need people like you,” she sighed, patting my leg. A helpful lady in the row ahead taught me some fun Hebrew phrases (“Is my accent cute?”). She had a dark complexion and her traditional turban made her look like a Gypsy fortune-teller. “Be very careful,” she warned me, almost as if she were gazing into a crystal ball, “Stay away from crowded places.”

My best adolescent friend was a Gypsy girl from Romania. Do you remember her from when you were at our house, the last time you escaped? Her adopted grandparents were quite the globetrotters, if you remember, and I used to like to sit on a camel saddle at their house. So now I’m traveling and everyone looks like a Gypsy to me. Maybe one day I’ll see a Gypsy staring back at me from the mirror… Continue reading “A Letter To The Man In Orange: Uncensored”

Chief Cornerstone & The Thirteenth Apostle

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HE WAS CROSSING KING DAVID STREET, in Jerusalem, near the hip vicinity of Mamilla Mall. I noticed his distinctly Native American features and limber stride even before I saw the long hair dangling down his back, swinging behind him like a pendulum as he disappeared into a sweaty throng of pedestrians.

His head was high. There was a bounce in his step. No slumped shoulders and shuffling feet. No empty whisky bottle. No shame. No defeat. No Johnny Cash singing honky tonk…

Jerusalem is a colorful place. It isn’t Disney Land, it isn’t Paris, but it really is like the naval of the world. Here you might find a Baptist church led by an Assemblies of God pastor meeting on Saturday instead of Sunday, and I walk around humming It’s A Small World, because the world really does seem to shrink when you are here, surrounded by Jews, Arabs, Armenians, Druze, African refugees, foreign dignitaries, and tourists speaking almost every language under the sun…

Still, outside of the military, it’s unusual to see an American Indian so far from America.

He’s a long way from homeI marveled.

But so am IContinue reading “Chief Cornerstone & The Thirteenth Apostle”