Strange Fruit

Leafing through the Art Review section of the New York Times, I came upon an image soon to be part of an exhibition by Zoe Leonard at the Whitney Museum in New York City. I stopped turning pages and focused in on the image, a white background with a variety of dead fruit sewn on it. The image was called “Strange Fruit”. My heart dropped a little. This image appeared to be a mockery of Billy Holiday’s rendition of the 1930’s poem/song “Strange Fruit”.

Reading the accompanying article did nothing to elevate my heart. According to the article, the artist, Zoe Leonard, created images through sculptor and photography, which tried to conceptualize the relationship between the present and the past. Looking at several other images, I could see the rationalization for this concept. Personally, I found the work to be at best iconoclastic, at worst, narcissistic. This is the artist who early in her career wrote:

I want a dyke for president.

I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew

Up in a place where the earth is so saturated

With toxic waste that they didn’t have a

Choice about getting leukemia. I want a

President that had an abortion at sixteen


I want a candidate who isn’t the lesser of two

Evils and I want a president who lost


Last love to aids, who still sees that

in their eyes every time ley lay down to


who held their lover in their arms and knew

they were dying.

These words are those of a person who can internalize the pain of others only as that pain relates to her own feeling of isolation and loss. Too bad Leonard never listened to Billy Holiday sing “Strange Fruit”. The experience might have broadened her perspective. It might have lightened my heart.


Southern trees bear a strange fruit

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root

Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze

Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant South

The bulgin’ eyes and the twisted mouth

Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh

Then the sudden smell of burnin’ flesh

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck

For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck

For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop

Here is a strange and bitter crop

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Her Own Drummer

My two sisters, although past retirement age, own and operate their own small businesses. The older of the two (77 in June) did a series of radio interviews recently on Leadership and Resilience. A few days ago, listened to a few of the broadcasts now ensconced on her website.

This sister has always been the “real smart, talented” one of my parent’s progeny. I remember our mother showing the neighbors a detailed drawing of my four-year old sister’s first train ride into the city. Since our mother was with my sister, she was able to recognize clearly the elements in the picture. That must have been the moment that our mother decided that my little sister should have drawing lessons. Several years later, she did take art lessons!

Before the art lessons another one of many indication of my sister’s multi-talents manifested it’s self. As a high school junior with a “B” average, the school guidance counselor approached me one spring day to tell me that my sister, who would enter as a freshman the next September, scored the highest on the entrance exam ever seen at our farm country high school, in mathematics.

My sister spent the next several decades outdoing her self and out-shining her siblings, unconsciously just by being her self. As such, making it impossible to be jealous or envious of her accomplishments.

As I listened to those radio broadcasts, the above, and other memories came flooding back. More importantly, as my sister revealed her process for developing resilience through workshops designed for management personnel, I recognized the evolution of her Four Steps to Developing Resilience as part of her life experience. Being the consummate professional that she is, every step was backed up by pertinent research. However, underlining, it all, was the life experiences of a talented, brilliant farm girl who always listened to her own drummer.


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A Surprise in a Suitcase

“Art imitates life.” Or, is it the other way around? In the 21st century Western World it is sometimes difficult to tell. Be that as it may, I had to smile broadly when I read that a stolen Degas painting was found in a suitcase (handbag) during a random bus search in France.

The first thing that popped into my mind was the revelation that the fictional Algernon Moncrieff of The Importance of Being Ernest, was found in a handbag (suitcase) in a train station. All right, my smile was the product of associative thinking. I’m very fond of The Importance of Being Ernest and of the works of Degas while less fond of suitcases (handbags).

The recovery of the million-dollar work, “The Chorus Singers” must be a relief to the curators of the Musee d’Orsay as well as art lovers around the world. However, the French police who recovered the painting have yet to find the thief. No one on the bus claimed the suitcase!

Many of the forensic science television detectives might suggest that the French police use a comb, brush or soiled underwear to isolate the DNA of the perpetrator and thus discover his/her identity. Ops! There I go again, confusing art with life, fact with fiction!

Nevertheless, I am pleased that “The Chorus Singers” is back at the Musee d’Orsay where all who visit can enjoy the painting.

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A Forgotten Virtue

A virtue that I have come to appreciate is humility. It is my opinion that this virtue has become obfuscated due to the rise of false prophets. Consumed by the general public through mass, electronic media, the mere utterances of movie stars, technology geniuses, billionaires, social scientists and an occasional politician have taken on the value of “truth”, be those words fact or fiction. This acceptance of anything that strikes one’s fancy has permeated every level of society, even so-called and serious intellectuals. Western society has gone beyond “I’m OK; you’re OK.” Because, we can not only quote these modern gurus, but, forward their messages to hundreds, sometimes thousands of others through social media, we are tricked into believing that we are masters, not only of our own fate, but that of others. The power feels good. We don’t question it. We are proud, not humble.

Yesterday I read a book review of the latest work of Bart D. Ehrman, a former Evangelical who no longer considers himself Christian, called, When Pagans Became Christians. Ehrman has written 30 books. I confess that I have never read one of them, nor have I read his latest. The book review, written by Tom Bissell, who respects Ehrman and his works, left me with the impression that Ehrman has, not had, great sympathy for the pagans who were left with a nothing in which to believe. Oh, yes, of course they could become Christian and believe in One God while adopting an ethical system that is based on the Ten Commandments; that encourages the rights of women; that takes care of widows and orphans; etc., etc. Boo, hoo!

It seems as if Mr. Ehrman has lost his way. He seems to like to hear himself talk/write. He has lost his Spirit – Holy Spirit, that is. I recommend a few prayers to the one God and a piece of humble pie.



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Stewed and Pickled

In the last two months, I hosted two small dinner parties. For both, I made beef stew – all right – two steps up from beef stew. Last month I made beef bourgeoning; this month, beef stroganoff. One requires a cup of red wine; the other, a cup of sour cream. They both require good cuts of meat and long, slow cooking. Guests appreciate these stew-like meals for two reasons 1. They take time to prepare 2. Local restaurants do not have them on their menus.

Compliments to the chef abound when fresh salads and crisp vegetables accompany these dishes. In my age bracket, appetizers and desserts hardly matter. The hostess who serves dishes that guests are not likely to make themselves due to time and other restraints are deeply appreciated. The praise that guests offer is also deeply appreciated.

Some times on purpose and some times inadvertently, while preparing for a dinner party, I slip in something “off the shelf”. Last night one of the vegetables that I served was pickled beets. Usually I buy canned sliced beets and pickle them myself. Since the store from which I purchased the beets had only jars of beets already pickled, I put them in the cart thinking that I would “doctor” them up. I forgot about the “doctoring” and threw them in a bowl.

Guests often ask how one dish or another is made. I am always happy to give a curious guest an abridged version. Last night, when a guest, reaching for a second helping of pickled beets, asked me how I made them. I smiled and said, “I unscrewed the lid of the jars.” That got a few guffaws!


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A Bit of Knowledge

What are Bit-Coins? That is a question that wafts through my brain every so often, not that I do anything about answering the question. It is not a word that comes up in my circle of life. But, when the New York Times Magazine ran a feature article, I saved the magazine until the other night. For some reason, my brain, which usually shifts to low gear sometime after 3:00 p.m., was wide -awake. I seized upon the opportunity by sitting my self under a bright light and by reading the entire article on Bit-Coins.

Needless to say, I did not understand many of the details I read. However, I did remember a few, I believe, important impressions, hopefully, real concepts.

Bit-Coins is one of several new protocols that A. provide an internet user with a safe, secure, private identity. The individual has his/her own combination that can chain link with a provider of goods and services without giving the service or provider any personal information such as credit card numbers, etc. B. Bit-Coins are better described as tokens that can be exchanged for products or services. They are not currency such as dollars or euros. But, one can earn extra tokens, why and how that is so, needs clarification, for me. C. To the author, most importantly, these new protocols have great potential. Not only do they prevent identity theft, but, like www, http, Skype, etc. they are not dependent on advertising like facebook and twitter to increase profit. D. A feature that I do not understand is that these protocols can be stored on the space of any hard drive.

If anyone who really, really understands this phenomenon reads this obscure blog, would you be kind enough to recommend that “Bit-Coins for Dummies” accompany other “Dummy” books on the shelves of Barnes and Nobel?


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Old Widows

Years ago, when I was the facilitator of the senior group at our church, Anne, a recent widow, served as treasurer. At the time, she was in her active eighties. Anne bowled once a week, played Bridge, drove her friends to lunch on Thursdays, helped mind her great-grand children and knitted blankets for the less fortunate.

Anne has lived in the mother-in-law attachment to the home of her son, a general practitioner, her daughter-in-law, a nurse for at least the last 25 years. She watched her six grandchildren finish college, practice careers, all of which required doctorates of one kind or another, marry and produce lots of great-grandchildren. Of course, in an achieving family of that size there were setbacks, heartbreaks and disappointments. Through it all, I never heard Anne complain, until the last few months.

Anne soldiered on after arthritis prevented her from bowling, after the same disease put her on a cane and when no longer able to drive, all of her activities were curtailed. However, this morning at church when I stopped by to greet her and her family in the very front pew, Anne shook her head. She said,” I lost my hearing aide and I can’t hear a thing. My eyes are so bad that I can’t see.” I knew what the next words would be, “Why am I here? Why hasn’t God taken me?” Before she could get them out, I said, “But, you can still enjoy the love of your grandchildren and the happy presents of your great-grands”. With that, Anne’s face brightened and she smiled. “Yes, they are great!”

With that I took my leave. I am not as old as Anne, but I am an old widow. Some days I wonder why I am still on this earth. On the good days, I remembered what a nun friend of mine told me. “The duty of the old is to pray.” I can live with that.



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