Photographs and Memories (dedicated to Chantal Cavé)

Shadowlands

There must be something endearing about the fact that when I was thirteen years old, my then girlfriend and I used to listen to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” – a song that was not contemporary at that time – conscious that due to our age, our puppy-love would not last forever. Yet it was Croce’s “Photographs and Memories” that I had found more haunting at that time. It’s funny that as a thirteen year old boy – the extent of whose “bedroom talks” consisted of talking on the phone until late into the night – I was impressed at how such a short and simple song lyrically, could so adeptly transmit the tragedy inherent in love and memory.

Photographs and memories
Christmas cards you sent to me
All that I have are these
To remember you

Memories that come at night
Take me to another time
Back to a happier day
When I called you mine

But we sure had a good time
When we started way back when
Morning walks and bedroom talks
Oh how I loved you then

Summer skies and lullabies
Nights we couldn’t say good-bye
And of all of the things that we knew
Not a dream survived

Photographs and memories
All the love you gave to me
Somehow it just can’t be true
That’s all I’ve left of you

But we sure had a good time
When we started way back when
Morning walks and bedroom talks
Oh how I loved you then

Fast forward almost 30 years, and one day in the summer of 2014 when trying to come up with a new song to sing goodnight to my first born son, “Photographs and Memories” and its lyrics came back to me almost instantly. And for some strange reason – maybe the mention of “Christmas” – my son loved the song.

Sadly, rediscovering that song coincided with my brother’s fiancée, Chantal Cavé, being admitted into the hospital and then a few weeks later passing away, two years ago today.  Those nights when Chantal was in the hospital on the other side of the Atlantic with my brother at her side, I would sing that song to my son, and I did everything in my power not to break out in tears.

As I have written before, I did not know Chantal well. I met her once but knew about the year she and my brother had spent together and that it would define him forever. The most I could do was write a short poem about that year.

Now two years later, my son still asks me every few nights for “Photographs and Memories” and each time I sing it, I think about how few photographs and memories are left from when I was thirteen, about the people we love and cherish, and about the huge hole I feel in my heart for my brother and Chantal’s family that can never be filled with photographs and memories alone. But sometimes photographs and memories help.

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The Sympathizer

The SympathizerI just finished the Pulitzer Prize winning The Sympathizer by Viet Thahn Nguyen about an American educated Vietnamese double-agent (of mixed European and Vietnamese parentage) that takes place during the aftermath of the Fall of Saigon. There were things about the book that I loved – fantastic insights into American culture, policy and its attitude towards Asians – but I ultimately did not always relate to or care about the main character. The book is supposed to be reminiscent of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, but it felt more like The Orphan Master’s Son to me.

Here are a few samples of some of my favorite lines from Mr. Nguyen’s wonderful prose:

The General’s men, by preparing themselves to invade our now communist homeland, were in fact turning themselves into new Americans. After all, nothing was more American than wielding a gun and committing oneself to die for freedom and independence, unless it was wielding that gun to take away someone else’s freedom and independence.

. . .  happiness, American style, is a zero-sum game […]. For someone to be happy, he must measure his happiness against someone else’s happiness, a process which most certainly works in reverse. If I said I was happy, someone else must be unhappy, most likely one of you. But if I said I was unhappy, that might make some of you happier, but it would also you uneasy, as no one is supposed to be unhappy in America. I believe our clever young man has intuited that while only the pursuit of happiness is promised to all Americans, unhappiness is guaranteed for many.

What am I dying for? … I’m dying because this world I’m living in isn’t worth dying for! If something is worth dying for, then you’ve got a reason a live.

 

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The One-Sided News Cycle

donald-hillary

 

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing good to say about Trump and the last thing the world or our country needs is for him to become president. But my entire Twitter and Facebook feeds are fully consumed with the latest offensive, ignorant or stupid thing that Trump or his representatives are saying. The same with the front pages of our major newspapers. There is no real discussion or scrutiny of Hilary or her polices. Hilary is suspiciously absent from the news. The entire election has become about how ridiculous Trump is, and that is definitely not good for America or for democracy. Election coverage should be a series of discussions about different policy options and the candidates’ qualifications and ability to implement those policies.

The 2016 Election is just a dumb, one-sided Reality Show.

We’ve become a country of suckers. #UnitedStatesofSuckers

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The Undeniable Political Pressure to Keep Benzema off the French Team

Karim

 

UPDATES BELOW:

In declarations yesterday to the Spanish football newspaper Marca, Real Madrid footballer, Karim Benzema, said that the French national team coach, Didier Deschamps, caved into political pressure from racist portions of French society to exclude him from the team at the European Soccer Championship taking place this month in France. As you can imagine, the French political class has been quick to condemn his statements.

But is Benzema wrong? The president of the French Football Association (FFA), Noël Le Graët, has just responded saying that Benzema’s comments were “unjustifiable and inappropriate”, and Thierry Braillard, the French Secretary of State for Sports, says there is no racism in the FFA. But Benzema never said the FFA or Deschamps were racist. He said that the political pressure to make the decision had racist origins, and that is very hard to deny.

The controversy stems from a formal investigation earlier this year into whether Benzema had aided in a scheme to blackmail fellow footballer Valbuena in relation to a sex-tape. Benzema was never formally charged, let alone found guilty. The most damaging evidence against Benzema were telephone recordings with his ex-convict friend (all leaked to the press) making fun of Valbuena and his predicament.

Nonetheless, as a result of the Valbuena affair, Deschamps made the decision (together with AFF president, Noël Le Graët) to exclude Benzema from the national team and this summer’s European tournament, citing team unity and cohesiveness as the reason. France’s Prime Minister, Manuel Valls was adamant in his public statements that Benzema should be barred from the team. It should be noted that Benzema is currently France’s most talented player and just came off his best year at Real Madrid.

So was Deschamps acting under pressure relating to the current political landscape in France? That there has been political pressure is undeniable. Continue reading

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Filed under Essays, Football/Soccer

Was America Ever Greater? We’re Doing Just Fine

Back in 1936 after having honored the United States with four gold medals in front of Nazi Germany, when asked about Hitler, Jesse Owen reminded his interviewer that the U.S. president would not receive him either at the White House because he was black.

Shortly thereafter, World War II broke out in Europe causing one of history’s greatest human tragedies. America sent hundreds of thousands of its young men, black and white, to the front to help change the course of the war and reshape contemporary history. At the end of the war, the young American men returned and benefited from the greatest socioeconomic engineering campaign in American history, called the G.I. Bill. This program almost singlehandedly created the American middle class which has fueled the economy ever since. Excluded from these benefits were African Americans, with effects that are felt very much to this day, as described in Ta-Nahisi Coates’ The Case for Reparations.

Fast forward to 2016 and the White House looks like a very different place than it would have to Jesse Owens had he been treated any better by Roosevelt than he had been by Hitler.

So I don’t know what Mr. Trump is talking about. If we are going to make America better again, in which point of American history is he talking about? The one that wouldn’t let Jesse Owens into the White House? That of the Greatest Generation when our young men came back from the war to receive huge government benefits which built the middle class for White America only, while leaving Jim Crow in the South and housing discrimination in the North? It seems to me looking at the White House today that we are doing alright. At least those of us who aren’t complaining that we’re not so great anymore are doing just fine. We are doing just fine, thank you very much.

And watching the sitting President of the United States receive people at the White House to celebrate America’s unique cultural heritage, tell me whether you can think of a cooler place on Earth.

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Filed under Essays, Obama 44, We The People

My 2015 in Books

Layout 1In 2015, I read some really great books, in particular the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novels and Dan Sharfstein’s The Invisible Line. Here’s the list:

Sharfstein

If it hadn’t been for Elena Ferrante, whose books I obsessively read and recommended throughout the months of Fall, all I would be talking about this year is Sharfstein’s book. Of course, I am very biased. Sharfstein and I were high school friends and I had lost contact with him over the past 25 years. Another major highlight was  Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.  But although Coates’ received universal praise for Between the World and Me, as an avid reader of his articles and huge fan, I didn’t find anything particularly new in the book. If you haven’t ever read him, I definitely recommend you go straight to The Atlantic right now. I’ve said it before, Coates is the best writer today on the American experience. Another big 2015 highlight was finding George Pelecanos’ crime fiction, which as a Washington, DC/Maryland native I really enjoy his work and will continue to read him in 2016.

When I have more time in the new year, I hope to dedicate individual posts to the Ferrante novels and to Sharfstein and Coates.

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#ParisILoveYou

ParisIloveYou

Paris holds a special place in my heart. It was in Paris that I met my wife and in Paris that we were married on a sunny day beneath the red, white and blue French flag.

For three years I commuted between Madrid and Paris to be with the woman I love, and during 2010 while my wife was pregnant with our first son, I made 27 trips alone to the city to be with her. And we still travel frequently to Paris to visit friends and family.

The three cities I feel closest to are Washington, DC (my home town), Madrid (where I have called home for the past 15 years) and Paris. All three have suffered terrorist attacks since 2001. After the attack on the Pentagon in DC in 2001, my immediate sense was of doom, anticipating that my country would take drastic measures and that the world would forever be changed for the worse. I was in Madrid on the morning of March 11, 2004 during the Atocha train bombings and was (and continue to be) amazed by how the Spanish reacted calmly, without panic and without the thirst for revenge. Now today after the Paris attacks, I am left with only profound sadness. There are some many things I love about Paris, about France and its multiculturalism (which I generally see succeeding in ways it doesn’t always do in America), and my heart breaks.

No one has the right to take the lives of others, and certainly no murderous, sociopath terrorist has the right to speak on behalf of anyone other than himself or to invoke the name of a god he certainly does not share with a billion other people around the globe or with my children who are citizens of the great nation of France.

Thankfully our family and friends in Paris were unharmed, yet we know others – including friends of our friends — were not so fortunate.

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Filed under Digressions, Friends / Family, Living la vida española, Married to a Moroccan, We The People