Thursday, April 16, 2015

Living and Dying on The Cell Phone


I posted this exactly two years ago, when the Boston Marathon bombing was still breaking news.  The point I make below--about cell phones putting the world in instant contact with crimes and tragedies as soon as they happen, has been in my thoughts a lot lately, as we see civilian videos of police shooting unarmed black men and there is even--it's rumored--a video someone took inside the Lufthansa plane as it hurtled to its destruction piloted by its German co-pilot in the French alps.  Because I'm, well, from an old, pre-digital generation, taking a video of my last moments of life with my cell phone is something that would never occur to me, but younger people, who grew up on line, seem to reach for their cell phones as soon as tragedy threatens.  And that's good, I think, because it keeps us all connected, in the best and worst of times.

Photo-Getty Images
April 16, 2013--Yesterday I was in the waiting room of a doctor’s office when the receptionist got a call from her son, 40 miles away at the end of the Boston Marathon.  “He says there were two explosions at the finish line,” she reported.  “I told him there’s nothing about it yet on the computer.”
         He’d called to tell her he was all right. When I got home from the doctor, I sat down in front of CNN and watched, transfixed, for the next six hours or so.  I knew a number of people—all much younger than myself—who might have been there.  My daughter who lives in San Francisco and used to live in Boston called me when she got out of work.  She and her friends were at the finish line of last year’s Marathon. I told her that the cell phone service was down in the area surrounding the blast.  Some TV announcers said this was due to overload..  Runners were calling family members and vice-versa.  Where were they?  What had just happened?  Were they okay? The fears mounted as the hours wore on without answers.
         Then some people on the TV began saying that phone service had been cut in the area of the attack to prevent more bombs from being detonated, in case the first two had been set off by a cell phone.   (It seems now, about 20 hours later, that the two bombs that went off were not that sophisticated, but rather primitive bombs using a “timing device” instead of cell phone signals.)
When their cell phone calls didn’t work, people my kids’ age turned to texting and Twitter and Facebook.  Last night, as I looked at my own Facebook page, I, and everybody else, read about nearly miraculous survivals—like one of my Pilates instructors, running for charity, who wrote:  “I finished right before it happened. Jon and 3 kids cleared out of grandstands with 3 minutes to spare. Thank you much.”
            Here’s another post I saw on Facebook last night, posted by one Lexi Gilligan, evidently a student at Tufts along with the blonde girl in the photo who was holding two thumbs up, named Jaymi Cohen.  What Lexi wrote under the photo was: “So, so thankful my best friend is doing well after surviving a bombing, hospitalization, tons of stitches and a FBI investigation—And she still looks beautiful after.  Love you Jay!”
          Then there’s the ghastly graphic photo, posted several times on Facebook, of the runner who’s had both legs blasted off below the knee, except for one long protruding bone.  (I didn’t post this photo—nor did any of the papers or magazines I saw ---because it’s so horrific—but it’s all over the internet.)  The desperately wounded runner is being pushed in a wheelchair by three good samaritans, who are at the same time putting pressure on his legs so he doesn’t bleed to death before reaching the hospital.  One of them, wearing a cowboy hat, is Carlos Arredondo, an immigrant who lost a son in Iraq and now is a peace activist.  He is one of the many bystanders who, after the second explosion, ran towards the victims instead of away. As someone commented on the photo: “He’s actually pinching this man’s femoral artery closed with his bare hands.  Honorary citizenship for this guy!”    Carlos was also photographed later holding an American flag, his jacket splashed with the blood of the people he aided.
         Carlos Arredondo is only one of the heroes of this massacre, whom I feel I know personally after watching their courage and humanity on Facebook, internet , TV, and cell phone.
I am so old that I remember when every telephone was connected to a wall and had a rotating dial. (I even remember phones with party lines and phones you had to crank to get the operator’s attention!)
When I was growing up, there was no way to check on absent loved ones.  When I traveled around Europe in the summer of my 18th year, the only way to communicate with my parents was by letter—I would pick up theirs at American Express offices in various cities.  When my youngest daughter lived in France during a junior year abroad, traveled to Amsterdam and then dropped out of sight for four days, I became hysterical, convinced she was dead, until she finally found a way to call home.
          Now, thanks to our ever- present cell phones and internet, we can share our tragedies as they are happening and also reassure loved ones that we’re okay.  Thanks to the cameras in our smart phones, we can bear witness to instances of heroism, and perhaps record something that will help the FBI find clues to the murderer who planted yesterday’s bombs in the knapsacks. 
          When hope is gone, as happened with the victims of 9/11, we can say, “good bye” and “I love you”.  The downside of this instantaneous connection is all the rumors, bad information and paranoid fantasies that can be transmitted from witnesses to cell phones to internet to TV screen within seconds, as happened yesterday.  This is where journalists must come in—to double check the facts and stop the rumors. 
          But every time evil springs up and takes innocent lives, in this age of instant universal communication, I think the good of the cell phone outweighs the bad.  The Boston Marathon bombings will be remembered not for the perpetrator, but for the way the throng of people, gathered in Boston from around the world, ran toward the explosions and tore down the fences to help the victims, instead of running away.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Baby Countdown Ends on April 2.

On April 2, at 8:43 a.m., at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, Nicolas José Baltodano was born right on schedule--the happy climax to the Manhattan baby watch.  He weighed 7 lbs 7 oz.  All of us are ecstatic but none of us have had much sleep since then.  I'm too tired to be articulate,  but I wanted to share some photos of the welcome accorded our second grandchild by his family and fans.
You may have seen this photo already on Facebook--Amalia's awed and delighted expression when she got to hold her little brother for the first time.  She counts his little toes every day and woke up at 6:30 this morning insisting that I read her a book called  "You're a Big Sister" before I got up or had my first cup of coffee.  This photo and the next show Amalia on April 3, as she held her little brother for the first time.

On April 2, the day of his birth, we opened a bottle of  champagne that Papou Nick had brought for the occasion.  After all, this was his grandson and namesake!

Here is a sweet portrait of  Mommy and Big Sister and Little Brother, taken on April 3, the second day of Nicholas'  life.

Somebody else took this photo of me holding our new grandchild.

And here is the proud Papi, Emilio, revisiting the "football hold" that he used so successfully when Amalia was a newborn.  It works wonders with cranky babies.

 We're hoping that Baby Nicolas and  his mommy will come home from the hospital tomorrow, April 5, and will have a week to convalesce before much of the family descends on Manhattan to see its newest member and to celebrate Orthodox Easter on April 12.

(Did I mention that on Wednesday, April 1, while picking up Amalia from the Greek Cathedral preschool, Eleni decided to slip into the church to light a candle and found herself locked in and contemplating the possibility of going into labor right there.  Luckily, someone went hunting for her and got her out, and Baby Nicolas was not saddled with an April Fools Day birthday!)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Countdown to a Baby in NYC


I’ve been in Manhattan since March 11, hanging out with granddaughter Amalia, age 3, as she and her parents prepare for the arrival of a new baby in their family, expected around April 2.
Even before I arrived, Amalia was helping her Papi assemble new furniture from Ikea like these toy shelves,
and using her doll for a test run on this gadget, which will rock the new baby and serenade it with a variety of sounds, including falling water and birdsong.
A high point of Amalia’s life so far was Friday, March 13, when her Mommy was the Mystery Reader at her pre-school, where they’ve been studying children’s authors like Dr. Seuss.   
Parents have been serving as surprise Mystery Readers, presenting their child’s favorite book to the class.  Amalia’s Mommy read “Llama, Llama, Mad at Mama” by Anna Dewdney, while Amalia sat beside her, looking very proud.
Saturday, March 14, Amalia and Yiayia Joanie and Mommy went to the Museum of Natural History where they met up with the family of Amalia’s friends Siya and Milind.
The kids got close up and personal with some of the Museum’s famous critters, including the high-hanging whale, dinosaurs, tigers and polar bears. 
And a whale battling a giant squid.
The next day Amalia practiced pushing the umbrella stroller with her monkey Boots standing in for a baby.
On March 18, Eleni’s colleagues at Martha Stewart Weddings threw her a surprise baby shower with a Greek theme and all the fabulous Martha Stewart touches in food and flowers. 
At the last minute Amalia and Yiayia Joanie and Papi Emilio learned they were invited too.
waiting for Eleni to walk in and be surprised
On March 20, after dropping Amalia at preschool, (where every Friday she gets pizza for lunch and a dance party for exercise) Mommy Eleni and Yiayia Joanie had a late breakfast at Francois Payard Patisserie and learned it was Free Macaron day.
On Saturday, March 21, Amalia celebrated with pancakes at the Lexington Avenue Candy Shop,
story time at Barnes and Noble on 86th Street
and stomping in the snow which had blanketed the city the night before.
The next day, Sunday, the snow was nearly gone
and Amalia and family had an outdoor lunch at the Pain Quotidien in Central Park. Beside melting snow drifts, great swathes of snow drops bloomed in Central Park.
Before lunch they visited the Macy’s Flower Show, where Amalia stood in line for more than an hour with hundreds of other preschoolers to get her photo taken with Peppa Pig. 
On Friday, March 27, Amalia helped Mommy buy a Moses basket for the baby at Giggle. 
On Monday, March 30, she went to Lenox Hill Hospital where Mommy got the last sonogram of the baby before the expected birth-day of April 2.
And every night, Amalia asks the same question: “Mommy, when will the baby be ready to come out of your tummy?” 

“Soon,” her mommy says.  “Maybe tomorrow.”

Monday, March 16, 2015

And How Will YOU Celebrate Your 100th Birthday?

It's been a long time since we've posted about a crone of the week, but I couldn't resist this one!  On Saturday Georgina Harwood of South Africa celebrated her first century of life by a parachute jump out of an airplane along with 15 members of her family who jumped with her.  But Georgina isn't quitting there.  Today (Monday) she's following up by deep sea diving in a shark cage-- to feed the sharks birthday cake?

Here's how CBS reported it: 

Ms. Harwood said Saturday was her third skydive.  The first one was in 2007, when she was 92.

In the photo above, she is celebrating her jump with a glass of wine.  For my 100th, in 26 years, I may skip the parachute jump and the shark cage but will definitely join in the wine-drinking.

In Greek, when you wish somebody "Happy Birthday" you automatically add, "May you reach 100."  We'll have to think of a new wish for Georgina.

Monday, February 23, 2015

"Lost Bird" is Not Forgotten

 Last Wednesday I re-posted the story of Lost Bird, the infant girl who was found alive beneath her mother's frozen body four days after the Massacre of Wounded Knee on Dec. 29, 1890.  Named  “Zintkala Nuni” -- “The Lost Bird”-- by the tribe’s survivors, who tried to get custody of her,  she was adopted –as a public relations move -- by  Brigadier General Leonard W. Colby, whose men came to the killing field after the massacre was over.  In her short life,“Lost Bird” suffered every kind of injury and abuse the White Man imposed on Native Americans.  She died on Valentine’s Day in 1920, aged 29, and was buried in a pauper’s grave in California, but 71 years later, her people, the Lakota, found her grave and brought her remains back to Wounded Knee, the place where she was found as an infant beneath her mother’s frozen body. 

The reason I reposted her story last week was that I received a letter from Brian George, a Native American who lives and works at the St. Joseph's Indian School in Chamberlain South Dakota.  In our correspondence I was moved and delighted to learn that he honors Lost Bird every year at her grave and keeps her memory alive among her people 95 years after her death.  Brian has given me permission to quote from the e-mails we've exchanged, and he promises to tell me more details of his experiences-- sensing her presence during his pilgrimages to her grave-- when he travels to New England next summer on business.

On Jan. 30 he wrote in part:

"Good morning Joan,

While researching Lost Bird, I came across Lost Bird: Survivor of Wounded Knee, Betrayed by the White Man. Thank you for sharing her  story for the world to view and know. ...I have a special connection with Zintkala Nuni. I am also Native American, Chickasaw and Choctaw, from Oklahoma, but have worked here at St. Joseph Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota for 5 years. St. Joe’s is on the very same grounds Zintka went to school at Chamberlain Industrial Boarding School from 1904-05. She very much liked it at this school. One of the few bright spots in her life.
Every Valentine’s Day (day of her death), I go to Wounded Knee and take flowers and tobacco prayer ties for her. I spend some of the day with her in prayer. I am a cynical person, but have had many unexplained happenings while visiting her.  These things are not scary, but comforting to know her spirit is still very much alive and I have always had witnesses with me. In two weeks I will be visiting her again.
Please don’t think I am some off-the-wall person. My job at the school is Major Gift Officer, but I started as a houseparent raising 12 Lakota children at a time. I can say that I have helped raise 12 teenage girls at once. Quite the experience, but I survived and have wonderful relationships with them to this day."

I wrote back to Brian saying I was eager to hear more about his visitations with "Lost Bird" and he wrote back an e-mail that I found inspiring, so I'm quoting it here in part, along with the photo of the tattoo that he wears to remember her--and why he has it.

"I have attached a photo of Zintka on my shoulder. Under her picture is the word, Wakanyeja, which translates in Lakota as “ children are sacred” or “children are a gift.” I have never wanted a tattoo in my life until my connection with her. I was 49 when I went to Pine Ridge and got the tattoo about 12 miles from where she was found. The artist freehanded the tattoo from a picture in the book. A Lakota artist had to do the work of someone so sacred in Lakota history.
Why did I get the tattoo?  Every morning as I brush my teeth and I do mean EVERY MORNING, I look at the tattoo and think of all the hardship and tragedy she experienced in her short life and make sure I do everything I can each day so that our 212 young Lakota students don’t endure the same. I have tried to turn her tragedy into an inspiration. The Lakota children desperately need positive, strong and influential Native role models. My passion in life is empowering, motivating and mentoring our next generation of leaders in Indian Country. The values of work ethic, integrity, resiliency and self-determination are some of the traits I mentor to our students. I believe Zintka knows that all my waking hours I am about helping the Lakota children and she is my guide.
No one should have to live the life, Zintkala Nuni lived. Living 30 minutes away from some of the poorest reservations in the country, I see the endless cycle of poverty, addiction, suicide and abuse. Almost a feeling of hopelessness. However the people are resilient, strong and have that special Native sense of humor. They are survivalists.
I call the reservations in our country, “The Forgotten America.” We don’t have a third world country in our backyard. It’s in our living room!  
I believe Zintka is my “guiding spirit” and after I share my stories I’m sure you will agree. Even the spiritual journey about how I arrived in South Dakota from Oklahoma 5 years ago is incredible.
Generosity is the Heart of Native America !
God Bless
I'm grateful to Brian for sharing his experiences with "Lost Bird" and her descendents, and for his eloquent testimony about what she means to  him and to the Lakota children.   I'm looking forward to meeting Brian in person this summer to hear about his visitations with Lost Bird first hand, and I'll  definitely share them with you on this blog. 


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Update: Lost Bird, Survivor of Wounded Knee, Betrayed by the White Man

 Of all the stories I’ve uncovered while researching the antique photographs in my collection, this one is the most heartbreaking.  Starting with the Massacre at Wounded Knee on Dec. 29, 1890, “Lost Bird” suffered every kind of injury and abuse the White Man imposed on Native Americans.  She died on Valentine’s Day in 1920, aged 29, and was buried in a pauper’s grave in California, but 71 years later, her people, the Lakota, found her grave and brought her remains back to Wounded Knee, the place where she was found as an infant beneath her mother’s frozen body.

  I first posted this story on my blog “A Rolling Crone” in 2012, but am re-posting it now because I recently heard from a man, a Native American, who has been visiting “Lost Bird’s” grave with flowers on the anniversary of her death for years, and feels he has had spiritual communications from her.  I’ll tell his story in a subsequent post.

This antique photo is the most expensive and I think the most interesting one in my collection.  It’s an Imperial—which means a giant version of the cabinet card-- and measures about 7 by 10 inches; an albumen print mounted on decorative board.  It was taken in Beatrice, Nebraska by a photographer named Taylor.

As you can see, the photograph shows a handsome, stern-looking military officer in a general’s uniform holding an adorable Native American baby.  The officer is Gen. Leonard Colby who adopted this baby and had the photograph taken—as a public relations gesture.

This baby girl was found alive beneath the frozen body of her mother four days after the killing of hundreds of Lakota men, women and children on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota on Dec. 29, 1890, in what came to be known as the Massacre of Wounded Knee.  On the infant’s head was a leather cap decorated with beaded designs showing the American flag.

She was named “Zintkala Nuni” -- “The Lost Bird” by the tribe’s survivors, who tried to get custody of her, but she was adopted –also as a public relations move -- by  Brigadier General Leonard W. Colby, whose men came to the killing field after the massacre was over.

Over the protests of the Lakotas, he adopted the child, claiming that he was a full-blooded Seneca Indian.  He promised to bring food to the surviving tribe members if they’d give him this living souvenir of Wounded Knee. Then he had this photograph taken.  On the back Colby wrote in lead pencil on the black cardboard, words which are now nearly indecipherable:   “… girl found on the field of Wounded Knee…mother’s back on the fourth day after the battle, was found by me.  She was about 4 or 5 months old and was frozen on her head and feet, but entirely recovered.  The battle occurred Dec. 29, 1890, about fifteen miles walking from Pine Ridge, South Dakota.” 

Gen. Colby adopted the baby without even consulting his wife, Clara Bewick Colby, who was in Washington D.C. at the time, working as a suffragette activist, lecturer, publisher and writer.   The well-meaning adoptive mother brought the infant to Washington where Zintka, as they called her, grew up, buffeted by all the current social trends of the time—women’s suffrage, rejection by her own people, exploitation of her background by Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, early silent films and vaudeville. 

As an adolescent, longing to return to the West to learn more about her origins.  Zintka went to Beatrice, Neb., to live with Colby, who by then had left his wife and daughter and married her former nanny.  The girl may have been sexually abused by her adoptive father, because she became pregnant under his care and was shipped off to a prison-like home for pregnant women.  Her infant son was stillborn but the girl was confined to the reformatory for another year.

Zintka returned eventually to her mother in Washington, then married a man who infected her with syphilis.  She tried different careers, including working with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, which exploited her Native American background.    She tried to work in vaudeville and the early movie business—dressed as an Indian, of course-- and reportedly may have worked as a prostitute as well.

Zintka had two more children—one died and she gave the other to an Indian woman who, she felt, could take care of him better, because she and her ailing husband were desperately poor.

She fell ill in February of 1920 during an influenza epidemic, and on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, “Lost Bird” died at the age of 29 of the Spanish flu complicated by syphilis.  She was buried in a pauper’s grave in California.

The only bright light in Zintka’s story is that her bones were exhumed in 1991, seventy-one years after her death, by the Wounded Knee Survivors’ Association, to be returned to the battlefield and buried with great ceremony while news media and hundreds of Native American descendants watched.  A Lakota woman said, “Lost Bird has returned today to the same place she was taken from.  This means a new beginning, a process of healing is completed.  We can be proud to be a Lakota.  To our sacred children, this means a beginning.”

The story of Lost Bird is so steeped in irony that it reads as a fable of the exploitation and torture of the Native Americans by the white invaders.  On her own trail of tears, during her short life, Zintka was robbed of her name and her mother and any opportunity to learn about her own culture.  Despite her adoptive mother’s love and good intentions, she was terribly unhappy—prevented from going back to the West to find her kin and then sexually abused when she did return to the West. She was exploited and stereotyped by the film and entertainment world, eventually to die before she reached 30.

Lost Bird’s story has been told by Renee Sansom Flood in the 1998 book “Lost Bird of Wounded Knee: Spirit of the Lakota”, and Ms. Flood also spurred the effort to find Zintka’s grave and bring her home.  The author was a social worker in South Dakota when a colleague showed her a faded photograph that set her out on her years of research and writing.  That photo, found by the woman working with Renee Flood in an old trunk in her late father’s attic, was the same photo I own today—with Colby’s writing on the back. Renee Flood became so obsessed with telling Lost Bird’s story and bringing her home to be buried with her people that she had recurring dreams of the little girl until she fulfilled her obsession.
I know that owning this historic photograph is a serious responsibility. I, too, would like to  spread the story of Zintka’s  sad life.  The story of Lost Bird is a vivid illustration of how a faded old photograph, over a century old, can have the power to move people to make discoveries long after the subject and the photographer are dead.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

My Icicles Are Bigger Than Yours

 Having grown up in Minnesota I tend to assume an expression of scorn when my Massachusetts neighbors complain about the winter blizzards.  "You call this snow?" I'd sniff.  "Back in Minnesota the snow was so deep we'd have to  go out by the second story windows."

But now it's official.  Worcester, MA has been cited as having the most snow of any city in the U.S. this winter--something around 100 inches since January 1st, last time I checked. 

By escaping to Florida  halfway through January, we cleverly missed most of the Blizzard of 2015 until now, coming back in time to experience the latest storm that ruined everyone's Valentine's Day plans and dropped another foot of snow on top of the  previous accumulation.
Here's a photo looking down at the stonewall-enclosed swimming pool.  That dimple in the middle is the diving board.  The drift against the back wall hides the rock garden and fishpond.  I'm not very optimistic that the fish will survive until spring--I'll let you know.
This is a photo of the pool from ground level.   At left you can see the backs of the plastic lounge chairs that I forgot to take inside in the fall.
Here's a photo of the front of our house that I took yesterday.  I used to wonder at the way that New Englanders never expect guests to come in the front door, but now I understand.  We use the side porch door as an entrance, and none of our neighbors have plowed out their front doors either.
Here's a photo of our house that I took today, after last night's blizzard.  You can see that the snow is deeper and that giant icicle at the left corner of the house is bigger.  Pretty soon it will reach the ground and be transformed from a stalactite to a stalagmite, I think.  This year I learned about ice dams and how they are responsible for the leak that's dripping into a bucket in one corner of the dining room.  Next year I'll know what to do to prevent them, but for this winter, it's too late.
And to make your day complete, here's the last photo I took in South Beach, Miami, six days ago.  Only five more weeks until Spring!