7/30/2007 at 05:26
I'm not in pain.
Unlike many others versed in heartbreak, I've always thought it odd when people spoke of it as connected to sorrow, to feeling of any kind.
When something breaks, it also empties.
I knew that my course in International Health Law and Bioethics was going to be challenging. I even knew that it would be so on a personal level.
I knew already, when the professor told us we would have a section on Nazi doctors, some of what I would see- after all, as Professor Beres once told me, I majored in atrocity: laws of war, crimes of war, crimes against humanity. I've studied them all, spoken to Holocaust survivors.
But I didn't know that it was doctors whose ideology drove the Nazi regime. That practicing physicians who espoused eugenics inspired Hitler's madness.
That the largest group in the SS- 40%- was doctors.
I have seen pictures, before, of what was done. Heaps of bodies. Rows of corpses so emaciated they didn't look human at first glance. Crematoriums belching unending gouts of oily, obscene smoke to a sullen, black-smeared sky.
But this- torture and mutilation and laceration and maiming inflicted carefully, deliberately, repeatedly.
Rather than on the anonymous jumble of limbs and features of people entering a gas chamber, on a person on a table with her face clear before them as they destroyed her and only her.
Only one human being before them as they cut, injected, disfigured, brutalized.
They pursued "the advancement of science". They believed in science. Used it. Used other human beings without thought or compunction to feed the filthy maw of their ambitions, to pursue a profane betterment that sanitized those they sought to improve into fresh and perfect monsters, leaving under a healthy shell a putrid core of the corruption on which its outward appearance was built...
They were doctors. Doctors. They took the Oath to do no harm.
Did they feel, on entering medicine, as I feel? That this was the best way they could serve the human race? Did they love the sciences they studied, take fire with eagerness at the intricacy, the delicacy, the unimaginable wonder of it all...?
No. No. Even if they did it is different. We are different. This way lies madness.
They served the good of "society", not of their patients. When a Polish inmate, a doctor and freedom fighter, asked one of the doctors how they could do this to a patient, he answered that they were "preserving the health of society" by cutting out its infectious parts.
They served "society". Not their prisoners, their victims, their patients.
I am not like them. We are not like them. We must not be like them. We cannot allow this to happen. Ever. Ever. Even now this wound will never heal, the scar never harden, the stain never wash out of our profession.
And to prevent more like it, we must remind ourselves of what it is that people who shared it did.
Because we could. We could be like them. We could so easily act for the good of "society".
Reporting our patients to law enforcement for medical conditions. Influencing the patient into refusing or administering the treatments we choose, rather than giving them full choice. Glossing over the "informed" part of "informed consent".
And I have to know this contamination. Know it, gaze it in the eye, see it to its fullest extent: take in the full horror before me.
Take it in and make that terror, that unutterable destruction, a part of me.
Because it is true.
Because it happened. Because I have to know. And because in knowing, I cannot refuse the consequences and responsibilities of knowledge.
Because it must never happen again.
My head hurts. My body hurts.
But my heart? No. Still numb.
I can almost see sparks winking off the edges of splintered pieces, surrounded by the fluid thought and feeling once contained. Glinting in the light.
I have had pieces broken before. Repair is a skill that improves with practice.
And so I will mend this too.
In time. In time.
7/27/2007 at 08:44
1. Have money. Lots of it.
2. Bring your money.
3. Spend a great deal of your money.
No joke. Getting to
Getting there is only the beginning of the expenditures you’ll need to make. Even a form of transport as humbly plebian as a 3-day bus pass is 12€ ($15.00); expect to drop at least that much per ride if you want to get around in a taxi- and if you have the money, I’d recommend it. Coming from
Admission to the large museums will cost you $15.00 a go as well- make a reservation 2 days in advance, or you WILL stand in line for at least four hours at both the Accademia and the Uffizi, if you manage to get in at all… and if you leave without seeing the Uffizi, the Bargello, and the Accademia, why were you in Florence in the first place?
The smaller museums- basilicas and palaces- run cheaper; if, that is, you call $7.50 per person cheap. In other cities this would be reasonable; in a place like
There are no freebies in
Lodging matches this sort of “You’ll pay for it, so we’ll charge for it” philosophy. A room in an albergo’s dorm- meaning lodging with 4-12 other strangers and a communal bathroom in the hall- will start at 20€ per night and go up from there. The most expensive rooms in the city (whose prices are publicly available, anyway) go, in the high season, for prices like 2000€ a night.
There are hidden costs as well- don’t, for example, go into a higher-priced restaurant without inquiring if they have a “seating charge” (2-5€ per person) on top of their mandatory service charge. And plan to spend at least 6€ a day on water; you’ll need at least 3 liters to replace what you lose in the heat, and it’ll cost you. If you’re not used to moving around in blazing heat with no air conditioning as a respite, wear comfortable shoes that cover as little of your foot as possible (think Tevas or Crocs), light colored clothing in summerweight fabric, and sunblock. (Trust me on that last- my parents are ethnically Indian, and even I wear SPF 30 in
That said, few cities have more in the way of art, history, and the fascination which springs from the marriage of power and beauty (that is, the Medici legacy) to recommend them, and with a 1€ map, even someone as congenitally lacking in a sense of direction as I can find her way around Firenze’s twisting, winding alleys and cockeyed streets on foot.
Cellini’s Perseo (post of its own coming soon), which stands in the open air in the Piazza della Signorina, was worth every bit of the aggravation and heartbreak it took to get to
There was one moment which stood alone amongst all these glories, however: the Basilica di
On the ceiling above the chancel, Leon Battista Alberti painted in a deep and glorious blue a map of the constellations, their shapes and stars gilded onto the lapis background. It is a picture of the night sky above Florence, exactly as it appeared on July 4, 1442… a precise picture of the sky, painted when the Ottomans were ill-tempered upstarts irritating the Byzantine Empire founded by Constantine; when Columbus had yet to conceive the idea of flattering Isabella, for the very good reason that neither had yet been born; when the church at San Lorenzo had already been named, sited, and consecrated for eleven hundred years.
My scalp was prickling as I stared. Everything was prickling- my neck, my arms, my eyes- from being open too long... I couldn't pull them away for a very, very long time.
No matter what you spend to get there- or spend while you’re there-
Bring your money.
7/25/2007 at 07:27
-Criterion for which Altstadt Salzburg was included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites
I wasn't really knowledgeable about- or, before coming here, very much interested in- the Habsburg-Lorraine and Austro-Hungarian Empires, and all the cultural accomplishments thereof.
Seeing Munich shook that indifference. I've yet to post about that richly bright, beautifully organized, cheerfully friendly city in any manner which does it justice- and this blog post, alas, will not do so either. But it was an extraordinarily easy and wonderful introduction to Europe, and it’s a place in which I intend to spend more time in the future.
It also made me consider that I was genuinely lucky to be able to spend time in this region. However, I was still fixated on my planned trips to Italy; visions of Cellini saltcellars, La Serenissima, and figures pushing through the white foam of Carrera marble dancing in my head as I rode into the Tirol.
Those of you who’ve read my blog post on Tirol- Lanterns, Breath, and Holy Water from the Tirol- know that my attitude was no longer cavalier in any way a week after getting here.
But it took a trip to Salzburg to knock the last of the dust off my antiquated (or merely Mediterranean-centric) cultural notions and awe me as to the region’s cultural achievements, which stretch backwards to a time before any idea of the country in which I was born even existed.
Bea and I went to Salzburg in order to hear Mozart’s “Requiem” performed in the Kolligienkirche. The concert was wonderful, but it wasn't even close to being everything that made the trip worthwhile.
Salzburg, like my climb up that path in the Tirolian Alps, blew through me and replaced my breath with its own pulse, the steady bass throb of stone, the variegated ostinato chiming of the most perfect epitome of Baroque architecture and ornament in existence.
The history of Altstadt Salzburg, worth reading in far more detail than in this brief recapitulation, included Cardinals and Archbishop Counts and Dukes who imported Baroque architects and artisans to remake most of the town in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, and the result is the most immaculately preserved city of Italian Baroque architecture in existence. In Austria.
But the most perfect description of Salzburg I can conjure is one which I wrote to a friend:
Altstadt Salzburg is incredibly beautiful. And it’s not the fragile, ethereal, evanescent beauty of other places: light on the buildings in the late afternoon, a particularly gorgeous sunset. No, Salzburg’s beauty is solidly grounded, carved from ancient stone and masonry, shaped in plaster. Permanent. Pervasive.
It’s endured through 10 centuries, and even the battering of the winds of Time have only managed to make it more unflinching. It is, step for step, the most beautiful manmade place I’ve ever been- and let me tell you that the Taj and the Palace of the Winds make for stiff competition. But they are jewels shining in otherwise commonplace landscapes, ornaments which are all the more dazzling for their contrast with the plebian world around.
Salzburg is an enormous gem, a massive carving into the heart of a rock unornamented from the outside but glowing like light prisoned in a sapphire within, every curve and alley another facet of an adornment which IS the thing which it embellishes.
And I have walked through it, captivated by the incandescence at its core.
I raised my hand and stated my opinion, but didn't attack his.
He raised his hand- and repeated himself.
And I lost my temper and said: "Saying there's no right to die is absurd and inaccurate. People do die. Some of them choose to by active suicide or refusal of treatment- but they die. Everyone dies. Everyone has a right to. Everyone will.
Saying that people have no right to die is a mischaracterization. And dishonest. What you're saying isn't that they have no right to die. It's that you have the right to say when they should die.
You're substituting your judgment for someone else's on what should happen to the body they live inside. You're denying the most basic principles of the autonomy of every human being to determine what happens inside his own skin. And that's a usurpation of personal sovereignty and profoundly contemptuous of the dignity and integrity of every human being."
And the professor said, "Well, we know how you feel."
And I said, "Yeah, making that clear has never been a problem."
And turned around to see my friend Bea grinning at me.
And thought, Okay, done talking in class for today.
But I'm still glad I said something.
7/17/2007 at 18:44
Onomatopoeically rendered, that should read:
But simply moaning in pleasure doesn't come close to conveying the essence of this ecstatically wonderful confection.
The substance referred to as chocolate or cocoa (the word originated in the Nahuatl branch of the Uto-Aztecan language and means "bitter water") is a combination of solids from the seeds of the tropical cacao tree Theobroma cacao, cacao fat, sugar, and other additions.
It's been made in some form since at least 1100 BC, associated from the time of its earliest making with the goddess Xochiqetzal, bringer of fertility, and introduced to the Western world through the offices of Columbus, who brought it to
Cacao is as unique chemically as chocolate is historically, containing theobromine, a potent stimulant, as well as flavonoids and antioxidants. Human consumption also absorbs a family of chemicals known as anandamides (derived from the Sanskrit for "joy"), endogenous cannabinoids which with chocolate's tryptophan and phenethylamine content give rise to mild neurosynaptic stimulation, as well as the legends of chocolate's aphrodisiac qualities.
The making of good chocolate is a long, intricate, and cash-intensive process which resembles in its subtlety and complexity that of winemaking, with the added step of confection-making at the end of the growth, fermentation, roasting, and grinding process. The most expensive cacao varietals, the Criollo, grown in Central America and the
And I? I crave not only that heaven, but the rougher, spicier bliss of the blunt and artless Forastero, the bean from which most of the world's chocolate is made. A chocolate gourmand and gourmet, I've been exploring
My latest? Lindt's Edelbitter Mousse Sauerkirsch-Chili 70% Cacaogehalt. 70% cocoa solids encasing a 70% mousse, containing sour cherry extract, enwrapping a small core of chili extract (hearkening back to the very beginning of xocolatl, in which it was blended with chili and drunk).
Lindt, whose founder invented the conching process that gives modern chocolate its smooth texture, is the finest mass-producer of chocolates in the world. Its exquisite 85% bar gives even the 'grand-cru' producers a run for their money; its Mousse Sauerkirsch-Chili is a triumph of both confiserie and chocolatiering. Its distinct beginning, middle, and end notes deliquesce across the tastebuds; first the round, dark cacao, the barest trace of bittersweet coffee underpinning it, melting imperceptibly into the sourness of the cherry, finishing creamy on the tongue as the spice of the chili warms through the fruit until your tongue is left tingling and sated.
Ah, chocolate.I cannot better describe it than Baron Justus von Liebig, a 19th- century German chemist: Chocolate is a perfect food, as wholesome as it is delicious, a beneficent restorer of exhausted power... it is the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits.
I agree. Voraciously.
7/12/2007 at 05:35
I am sitting in
My Comparative Criminal Procedure class discussed shari’a law today. As such, the conversation turned to
And thence to “honor killings”, which occur entirely outside of shari’a law but are often ignored by it.
And thence to (my soul shudders within me at this phrase) “honor rapes”.
And thence to Mukhtaran Bibi.
Knowing I had lived in
So I told my classmates her story.
So I told my classmates her story.
She is a 34-year-old woman- a Muslim- from a small village, Meerwala, in
Her village council, the panchyat jirga, sentenced her to be publicly gang-raped for his crime.
And she refused to do the proper and expected thing and kill herself afterwards.
Instead she found a sympathetic cleric, a scholar of shari’a law, who helped her prosecute her case through the courts. She won justice from her rapists, and a judgment which she could have used to sequester herself in comfort, or to leave her village, to leave her shame behind her.
She did neither of those things. She stayed in her village, living with the taint of a woman defiled and dishonored, under threat from tribal lords and government officials. And she used the money paid to her as judgment to open two establishments there: a school for boys, and a shelter and school for women and girls.
The first people she approached to enroll were the children of her rapists.
I cannot write or tell her story, especially those last words, without wanting to weep.
And I have no words to describe such a woman, such a human being, such greatness of spirit. Mukhtaran Bibi is too big for any utterance of mine to touch.
So I turn to other famous words, from the last speech to the court of a man who was also condemned to a terrible fate by an unfair tribunal:
Remembering [her] heroism I felt small, small, at the presence of [her] greatness and found myself compelled to fight back from my eyes the tears, and quanch my heart, trobling to my throat to not weep before [her]…
But [her] name will live in the hearts of the people and in their gratitude when [their] and your bones will be dispersed by time, when your name, [their] name, your laws, institutions, and your false god are but a dim rememoring of a cursed past in which man was wolf to the man…
If it had not been for these thing [she] might have live out [her] life among scorning men. [She] might have die unmarked, unknown, a failure. This is [her] career and [her] triumph. Never in our full life could we hope to do such work for tolerance, for justice, for man's understanding of man...
- Last speech to the court, Bartolomeo Vanzetti
Postscript: There is a very troubling follow-up to the story of Mukhtar Mai (her local press’ name for her, meaning “respected big sister”). She has been held under house arrest in Pakistan, her rapists were let go, re-arrested, and are now being retried in a different court, and her passport was confiscated by the Pakistani government- meaning Pervez Musharraf, our very good friend- just before she was to travel to the US to be introduced by Bill Clinton as she spoke at the UN last year.
General Musharraf thinks her public speaking and work for women’s education will “hurt the image of
7/09/2007 at 02:33
Dismissed it. Wind in my ears.
Didn’t stop hearing it. Stopped a moment, halting him with me, and listened, and heard- bells.
Hundreds of small bells, ill-tuned, clanking in a susurration almost as mild as the hushed ripple of the water.
Couldn’t figure it out. We were looking out over hundreds of small boats- but they couldn’t all have bells, could they?
Then I saw it- metal blocks on the limp halyards, tapping against the bare masts, clanging in a quiet but variegated symphony.
We stood for maybe a minute, watching them bob on the gentle waves, hearing the dissonant but soothing murmur of the boats, talking in their sleep, gentling the wind and waves and each other.
Then both of us turned and went on our way.
7/05/2007 at 05:32
That is, obviously, an understatement.
Granted that I'm in the Tirolian Alps; granted that it's apparently the destination for German and Italian- not to mention Austrian- ultra-wealthy people. Granted that the village from which we started the hike that took me up into this glory- small place by the name of Igles- is so expensive that apparently only European cabinet ministers live there.
Granted all of that. But still... but still, I look around me and cannot help but think...
This place was birthed from the breath of the old gods.
And yesterday I pulled myself up the slopes of that aspiration, and it blew through me into the hollows of my bones.
Our group of law students wended our plebian way through Igles by bus, and at 8 p.m. yesterday landed at the base of a trail which went up.
We took lanterns and started walking. I was last on the trail, though not the only one having a hard time- even the younger folk were having difficulty breathing in the thin mountain air, and on a slope that was at least 35 degrees- but I walked with the guide who followed, Monica, and learned from her what it was like to grow up in the Tirol.
And had what breath I had left taken at every turn of the path by a dazzling magnificence that dried any words I had to ash on my tongue.
These mountains may be alive. Certainly they exhale, the mist birthed on their slopes blowing cool in the fading gold caught in the tall pines and scattered across our way.
Such respiration on an ageless and dizzying pitch has the effect of intoxication: Are the peaks really so far? How can they fade from green to grey and still be gilded? Why does the lapis of the sky not scratch as it drags across those points? Is what I'm breathing air or light?
Am I a sigh of this mountain too?
Monica picked stawberries for the two of us as we wound our way up, asking me about my studies, telling me about her husband, teasing me about having chosen to study so long, trying to describe the taste of apfelschnapp, explaining how late- for a Tirolian- she learned to ski.
We stopped once, at a bend in the path where she pointed out a tiny white hut. "A church," she said, "for those who come- who make the trip to the kirche at the top..."
"A pilgrimage?" I offered. "Yes," she smiled, "pilgrimage. They come to kneel, to pray-" by now we were walking again, ..."to ask, please, to Gott..."
She pointed to a sign ahead of us. Heilig Wasser Kirche, I read: Holy Water Church. "Die wasser," Monica said, "is good for the eyes."
And then we were there. Heilig Wasser Gasthaus.
We went inside. She gave me some of the schnapps she had been telling me about: made from apples, bearing not the vaguest relation to the beverage that goes by that name in the States, very much like downing straight vodka with more vivid a flavor.
Then beer with lemonade, another Tirolean specialty. Then jaegertee, hunter's tea, consisting of schnapps and hot water and a slice of lemon and a cube of sugar.
None of it as overpowering as the mountain on which we stood.
We sang and laughed and yodeled and danced and accordioned and guitared and drank.
And all the time I felt the mountain beneath us. Unmoving, impassive, but there: so steady in its presence that I could feel it like a pulse in the palm of my hand.
As soon as I could I went downstairs and out the door into the chill dark.
Looked at the lights of the valley before me, near-swallowed in the midnight silk of the mountains, a string of sapphirine glitter dimmed only a little by the faint luster of the mountains cradling them.
Thought, if I never come again, I must remember this for my whole life. I must always remember.
Stared into the darkness, memorizing the light, until my eyes ached and stung.
Felt the hand of Monica on my shoulder- she had followed me out into the night- pointing to the trough by the door of the kirche into which springwater bubbled. "Heilig wasser," she said.
Went to the trough. Let the water bubble through my fingers Cupped my hands in it.
Splashed my face till it ached with the cold.
Went down the mountain, last again, watching with Monica the string of flames bobbing and winding down before us.
Took Monica's hand at the bottom and told her, "It was my pleasure to have talked to you. Thank you. Please take care of yourself."
In response to which she touched my cheek lightly and said, "Danke, madchen. You take care also."
Went to my room. It was smaller and brighter than when I had left.
My vision had sharpened.
Breath and flame and song and mountain. And heilig wasser.
Very good for the eyes.
7/02/2007 at 06:46
MY TRIP TO
Benjamin Franklin’s bust on the Library of Congress, which sits in its central niche, directly over the front doors, in preference to Jefferson’s and Adams’. I like the way those people think.
The Union Station Starbucks people kindly giving me their internet code for 5 minutes so I could shoot off an email to someone I’d been desperately trying to reach. This despite its being 8:30 am, and the line of people waiting for their morning Starbucks fix stretching out the door for half a block down the station.
The images of Hammurabi, Napoleon, Augustus and Justinian, among other famous lawgivers, on the Supreme Court frieze- gorgeous. I’ve seen many a classical and Neoclassical frieze in my time, but this is hands-down my favorite.
The only image in any government building of Justice with her eyes wide open and sword raised, facing Inspiration eye to eye, on the SCOTUS frieze opposite to where the justices sit. I couldn’t pull my eyes away from their two figures, and admit unabashedly to having had tears in my eyes.
Discussion with an 11-year-old boy (Jeff or Jess?) on the relative aesthetics (his phrase, not mine) of the
Looking at poor Salmon P. Chase, the only justice ever (and in my opinion, through no fault of his own) to be impeached, standing in the Supreme Court hallway opposite Roger Taney- the judge who upheld the Dred Scott decision. They believe in keeping their skeletons in one place, I suppose.
The half-siblings Athena and Apollo, goddess of wisdom and god of truth, referred to as “allegorical figures” by the guide when they clearly bore the sigils of each Greek deity: owl and sun. I suppose we can’t be havin’ with any of that heathen nonsense in front of the highest court in the land.
Subway attendant laughing at me as I desperately patted my pockets for my railway pass so I could get out of the station, then holding open the gate through which I crept humbly while he shook his heavily dreadlocked head and shouted after me in a heavy Jamaican accent, “You wanna be more careful down here, little girl!”
Rodin’s sculpture of Mahler, which stands in the National Gallery, august and gravely handsome. I’ve never seen any representation of Mahler which showed this kind of gravity and passion, and I wondered for the first time just how well he and Rodin had known each other.
A stony-faced Capitol cop who, when I asked if I would get in trouble for jaywalking on a red light on a dead end, replied that yes, he was gonna take me in- before grinning and waving me on.
The statue of Grant standing on the first level of the Mall below the Capitol which, if you stand any closer than the far side of the reflecting pool, dominates the sky and completely blocks the main dome of the U.S. Capitol. It makes me wonder; the architects and monumentaires who planned it are too skilful for the effect to have been other than planned that way. Why? Did they wish us to reflect on what the Capitol would have symbolized without Grant’s contributions to the Civil War?
A little boy of 3-4 years old “quack”ing hopefully at the ducks on the reflecting pond in the Mall for several minutes before growing frustrated and shouting “Quack, darn it!” at the blissfully oblivious anatidaens.
16th-century sculpture of “A Young Man of the Zorzi Family” by Vittorini, also in the National Gallery, which made me understand for the first time the power of a profile. In full-face it is an ordinary if skilful rendering of a young man of ordinary charm and appeal which in profile becomes the kind of breathtaking beauty which sinks ships, commands armies, and burns towers.
The sculpture of a “Girl Reading”, also in the National Gallery, by Pietro Magni, which is quite simply the most lifelike, skilful, and nuanced rendering of a human in marble that I have ever seen.
The site of John Adams’ desk in the old House Chambers in the Capitol. I stood at that spot while Bill, Congressional staffer and tour guide extraordinaire, walked more than a hundred feet away and, through the Babelian uproar of the room, talked in a quiet, normal tone to me. I heard every word he said, perfectly; the acoustics of the “whisper spot” are extraordinary. It’s speculated that
The catafalque on which lay the bodies of Presidents from
More reflections later.
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