Category Archives: Digressions

The End of Innocence

My six year son is having regular, recurring nightmares. Even before he falls asleep, he tells me that he is scared because he doesn’t want to have “bad dreams”. Normally when I ask, he says he doesn’t remember them, but yesterday morning he snuggled next to me on the sofa and said, “Daddy, I know what my bad dreams are about. War.”

It all started last month when his class began studying Picasso’s Guernica. He was fascinated about the painting, especially because his book on Picasso said the painting was bigger than a soccer goal (and my son is obsessed with soccer). But one night before going to bed, he asked me why planes were bombing the town of Guernica and what happened to the people when they were bombed, especially the kids his age. I did my best to say that the war happened a long time ago.

He then said, “Daddy, what was World War II?” which he only knew about because according to his book it is when Picasso lived in Paris. I told him that it was a war that happened mainly in Europe a long time ago. When he asked if Grandpa was alive then, I explained that his great grandmother (who is still alive today) had two brothers who fought in the war and that one of them was awarded the special Purple Heart medal.

My great uncles were first generation Italian Americans, who like many first generation immigrants were the first to be drafted and sent to war. I didn’t get into details, but here is an extract from a short piece about the one who was wounded (not the one in the photo):

In 1942, as a very young man, Ralph was drafted into the U.S. Army 441st Auto-motored Weapons Co. His first time out of the Metro New York area was for Basic Training at Camp Stewart, Georgia. From Georgia, his world travels began in earnest with his unit being deployed to Africa. Ralph and his army unit then became part of the Allied Forces that invaded southern Italy in 1943. Ralph became a member of the four-man team half-track crew, which housed a twin 50 caliber machine gun. Ralph’s unit then moved from Sicily to Anzio, where they joined Patton’s 5th Army.

As the 5th Army proceeded next to Rome, Ralph was very seriously wounded and left on the battlefield for dead. By some stroke of very good fortune, Ralph’s cousin happened upon him and carried him to the medic station. From there, he was taken to a hospital in Naples for the start of his treatment. Ralph Perrotta was awarded a Purple Heart, during his stay at the Naples hospital. He was enrolled in the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in recognition of exceptional sacrifice in defense of the U.S.

My son then wanted me to confirm that the war was a long time ago and that there were no longer wars or bombings. I told him honestly, yet gently that there are still some wars in the world, in particular one in Syria. He then asked if in Syria they bombed at night time and where the kids would go during the bombing.

I lied and said that the children were safe and that Syria was far away. But Syria is not far away, the kids are not safe, no one is safe, and no one can say that wars like the brutal civil war in Spain or the world war shortly thereafter won’t threaten my children in their lifetime. Certainly I cannot imagine what it was like for my uncles to be sent off to Italy to fight in a war, ironically they didn’t believe in (at the time many Americans, especially anti-communists like my great-grandfather, were very much against U.S. intervention in Europe).

Maybe it’s the man we now have in the White House, his utter disregard for the world order and all décor, the fact that on the other side of the Mediterranean, a horrendous war continues and that when a fire spreads, there is likely nowhere to hide – but I feel like I am losing the fatherly innocence that the world will be safe for my children. If my child is terrified by the 80 year old painting of a war, I cannot begin to imagine the life of a Syrian child or parent today.

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A few weeks later, my sister and niece came to visit us in Madrid, and my son was very excited to go the Reina Sofa Museum with them to see the Guernica. “Daddy, it’s bigger than a soccer goal!” But when we were just turning the corner into the large room that holds the painting, my son began to cry and say that he was too scared to see it. After fifteen minutes of back and forth, I finally convinced him to take a look. He loved the painting, especially its size. It’s funny because I never thought much of the Guernica, but it is a real testament to Picasso’s art that 80 years later, his painting – which was intended to depict the horrors of war – can have such a profound impact on a child.

About the same time, Audi premiered its Super Bowl commercial about how girls face greater challenges than boys. I have two boys and a newborn baby girl. Until that commercial – even though I considered myself very conscious of the disparate treatment of women in society, I had never given a thought to the fact that the little girl before me would face a different reality to that of my sons. Who said art no longer has an impact?

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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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Musée Mohammed VI d’Art Moderne et Contemporain

musee-Mohammed-VI-2

Yesterday we went to the (relatively new) Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rabat, Morocco.

All of the artists displayed are Moroccan and there is plenty to enjoy.

Lalla Essaydi (converging terr)

My personal favorites were the above painting by Lalla Essaydi and La Foule by Amine Demnati.

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Give Me One More Thanksgiving Holiday

Charlie and EvelynEvery year since I started this blog, at this time of year I always eagerly write about how excited I am with the coming Christmas season. And today being Black Friday, I can now officially start playing my Christmas favorites and decorating the house.

And as much as I love Christmas, I think that if I had one wish. If I could ask for anything in the world. There is nothing that I would want more than to take my wife and son along with, say 30 years back, to spend just one Thanksgiving holiday with my grandparents just like I did as a child.

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Extinguish Thou My Eyes

Shadowlands

Extinguish Thou my eyes:I still can see Thee,
deprive my ears of sound:I still can hear Thee,
and without feet I still can come to Thee,
and without voice I still can call to Thee.

Sever my arms from me, I still will hold Thee
with all my heart as with a single hand,
arrest my heart, my brain will keep on beating,
and Should Thy fire at last my brain consume,
the flowing of my blood will carry Thee.

– Rainer Maria Rilke

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RIP Chantal Cavé

Timeofourlives

Time is a funny thing.

Some years fly by. Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring and then Summer is back and over with again.

Some years seem all the same, and some years all seems new.

Some years we hope would last forever, and some years we wished had never happened at all.

And some years are all we have together, an entire lifetime.

 

 

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12 Years in Chamberí

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Back in late spring 2008 just as I was reaching my apartment in the Madrid neighborhood of Chamberí, I noticed a strange looking vehicle driving down my street. As it got closer I saw that it was the Google Maps car. I stopped and stared it down, hoping to be immortalized on Google Maps street view. And sure enough, a few months later, there I was. At least until very recently. Google has recently refreshed its Madrid street view and I am no longer standing at the door.

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Coincidentally, just as my virtual tenure on Google Maps has come to an end, so have my 12 years in Chamberí. Tomorrow we move to a new address.

It all started back in June 2000. I had been working in Washington, DC at a small boutique law firm specializing in environmental law. I enjoyed the work and city, but quite out of the blue – and against my will – I was becoming one of the few experts on the regulation of nutrient pollution in man-made water bodies (for those who care, Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act). However that may sound – exciting or excruciating – I was in my late 20s and didn’t want to be typecast so early in my career. In other words, the time was ripe to make a change. I chose to move to Madrid where I had close friends and a plan: do an MBA at Instituto de Empresa right when European business schools were taking a giant leap in competitiveness vis-à-vis their American counterparts.

So, in the Spring of 2000, I co-published an article entitled “Politics, Pollution and TMDLs: New Directions in Point and Nonpoint Source Liability for Watershed Restoration” in a now long-defunct trade magazine that no one ever read, and by summer I had quit my job , moved to Spain and the rest was history.

While looking for an apartment in Madrid, I moved in with an old friend and his then girlfriend in Chamberí. It took me two months – during which his girlfriend didn’t know which one of us to strangle – until I finally found a nice apartment in the very pijo Salamanca neighborhood.

But after one year in Salamanca and just as my MBA was coming to its end, my landlord – taking advantage of the end of Peseta – was in a rush to sell off the apartment, and I was left homeless. I had no idea whether I was going to stay in Madrid or move back to DC, but I needed some time. My friend who I had stayed with in Chamberí had just broken up with his girlfriend and – against what you would imagine – encouraged me to move in with her and help out with the rent until I could figure my next move. To make a long story short, she ended up taking a job in Barcelona, and I took over the management of the MBA program I had just graduated from along with her apartment.

That was 12 years ago.

In the meantime, I became a fixture in my neighborhood. I have my vegetable market, butcher, cheese guy and fish monger. I do the vast majority of my shopping locally. And when I walk down the street, everyone says hello and knows my name. It helps that my son was born at the hospital down the street, and all of the old ladies want to play with my curly-haired little boy.

While living in this house, I married, changed jobs three or four times. I have gotten good news and I have gotten bad news, and as mentioned, our son was born. I have watched as the local kids were born and grew up, and I have seen my neighbors grow old and pass away. I once even saw a neighbor begging for money in the metro.

And isn’t that what is so special about living in a city? In the U.S., we don’t really have cities. By cities I mean a place where people of all ages and classes live in the same buildings, walk the same streets and buy their groceries in the same stores. In Chamberí, I have had all of these: the old ladies, babies, teenagers, immigrants in the cheaper interior apartments and the bourgeoisie with their balconies. And of course, outside you see beggars and drunks. You are exposed to all faces of humanity.

But now after 12 years, it’s time to move on. We’re moving within walking distance to where my son will start school in September. And we are very excited to move to a bigger, more comfortable space. Nonetheless, while it is technically still within the city (and definitely a far cry from the American suburban life), we will lose my querida Chamberí barrio lifestyle.

Twelve years. That may be the longest time I have ever lived at one address. Almost as long as the house where I grew up. I don’t feel anything close the attachment I feel for my childhood home, but I will definitely cherish its place in my life.

Goodbye to 12 years in Chamberí.

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