Posts tagged Globalization

Chapter 1
Of the Beauty that Still Remains

Photo Credit: Natalie Lape

A glint of light reflected, for a split second, off the belly of the Freedom Tower underneath an otherwise overcast sky. Such is the tenuousness of human life. The sun rose behind us and, while our conversation was held in abeyance, Richard Thompson[1][2] strummed to a set of lyrics about music, about Amsterdam, about Rembrandt and Anne Frank. I thought about—as I often think about—globalization, but also the ubiquity of tragedy and human suffering, and what we do with it. And I thought about Anne Frank and all she has come to represent, the consummate will of the Jewish people specifically and, more broadly, the triumph of the human spirit.

I looked on as the glint of light faded into the clouds and wondered what Jacklyn was thinking about, and how many of the 600,000 others commuting into the city still actively remembered the HaShoah (the Holocaust) or 9/11, some 70 and 14 years later. I and even my parents have the luxury of having lived through only one of those terrible moments that peel back the veneer of civilization and put on display the evil of which some of us are capable. How many, for better or worse, pondered the realities of this highly globalized society in which we all exist? The Twin Towers seem to me to have been a sort of double vision, a symbol of our taking for granted the semblance of peace we enjoyed. The Freedom Tower is a singularity, the clarity that comes when one’s world changes irrevocably and we have taken the proper time to process and channel the chaos.[3] A chance to start over. A reminder to take care, to be more empathetic, more loving. To appreciate the important things in life.

From the Bookshelf: Netherland

We ate breakfast at Penelope at 30th and Lexington. I asked her what color the walls were painted and she said blue, baby blue, and I said okay. This was September 11th, 2015. Four days later Liam was born: 12:39 PM, 20 inches long, 7 pounds and 13 ounces. Pale pink skin, near-black hair wrapped around his head, shoulders, and back. A truly beautiful boy with gray-blue eyes. And hydrocephalus. He was born on Rosh Hashanah—an anniversary of sorts—in the shadow of the anniversary of that horrible day from my adolescence, a day that will not, thankfully, live in the memories of my new son. And I thought about the nature of human tragedy; about the anniversary of nine-eleven; about the Holocaust; about Anne Frank’s diary (Het Achterhuis. Dagboekbrieven 14 Juni 1942 – 1 Augustus 1944); and about Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, one of histories most well-known artists, and whose first three children all died within two months of being born.

These referents got me thinking about Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, a novel about a Gatsby-style[4] Dutch immigrant named Hans van den Broek, a man who, living in New York in the stygian wastelandish residue of the attacks of September 11th, becomes a man suddenly without a home and family as his wife Rachel absconds the city with their son Jake for London. She flees, significantly for the problem of American identity that I frequently discuss with friends and family, because of what she calls our nation’s “ideologically diseased…mentally ill, sick, unreal” condition. It is a beautiful and harrowing tale that asks us to question the notion of the American dream and what that dream means in a global sense. It is novel, not about loss, but about what possibly we stand to gain when we lose everything. For Hans, this means injecting himself into the West Indian-dominated cricket culture on Staten Island. This gesture expands O’Neill’s incredible novel beyond the simple 9/11 tale. As Hans enters the cricket world, the novel necessarily comments on the history of colonization and the long-term ramifications of same, which merely include the disaster at the World Trade Center.

Cricket in the United States has not enjoyed mainstream success since around the time of the Civil War,[5] as we have since the turn of the twentieth century preferred cricket’s cousin sport, baseball, as our national pastime (and even that doesn’t matter anymore, since in the twenty-first century, football has usurped baseball as the undisputed king of the American sports universe). But it is the remaining locations of cricket’s popularity—Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, England, India, Ireland, Kenya, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, and Zimbabwe—that raise the interesting cultural questions offered by O’Neill’s narrative. Hans notices early the global makeup of the sport: “My own teammates variously originated from Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka…I was the only white man I saw on the cricket fields of New York.” The locus of his novel on the cricket field is one of extraordinary cultural significance; it exposes the outer limits of the displaced immigrant and the archetypal postcolonial subject. Both the game and its players are in their entirety un-American.[6] That the novel takes place in New York during what many consider to be America’s greatest tragedy exterminates the myth of the American melting pot. Instead, the symbolism has a more nihilistic flair about our country, that American is what it is not. It exposes what for many is an existential homelessness, an often violent taking away of the notion of home that we finally experienced on that horrible September morning, but that countless others have felt throughout the history of civilization. The field provides a pointedly foolish way at looking at un-America:

What all these recreational areas have in common is a rank outfield that largely undermines the art of batting, which is directed at hitting the ball along the ground with that elegant variety of strokes a skillful batsman will have spent years trying to master and preserve: the glance, the hook, the cut, the sweep, the cover drive, the pull, and all those other offspring of technique conceived to send the cricket ball rolling and rolling, as if by magic, to the far-off edge of the playing field.

Hans laments the unplayability of cricket in New York, considering, for example, the un-grassiness of the “weedy ground” that bastardizes the carefully honed batting and fielding skills of the game’s players. He derides baseball penchant for “going deep” and that this urban version cricket seems to have adopted some of the less sophisticated techniques found in baseball. The language reveals some postcolonial tropes: the seeming “skill” and “magic” of the colonized, the authenticity that comes from generations of practice, the care required for proper cultivation of native lands, and the counterfeit of colonial alterations of old world cultural artifacts transformed to the American landscape and its largest metropolis. Which brings me to my newborn son, who has no authentic culture to call his own.

Liam has a varied heritage, more diverse than most, although the more I ask around the more common this phenomenon seems to occur. There is no greater testament to the progressivity of our culture than the expanding diversity found within our families. On his mother’s side Liam is very European: Irish, German, English, and French (the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 9th largest ancestry groups in the United States);[7] this, in a way, makes Jacklyn the consummate American and our son half-consummate American. My side of Liam’s heritage is a bit more complicated. His great-grandfather was of Greek Jewish (likely Romaniote) descent, and his family likely emigrated to the United States as refugees who married an Irish (or Scottish—long story) Catholic woman. The tagline of his other pair of paternal great-grandparents’ story goes like this: an American soldier stationed in Okinawa during the Korean War returns to the United States with a single Japanese mother of three. For the record, my grandmother’s harrowing story from the island of Okinawa is absolutely fascinating and I will tell it at some point.

For my son, I worry about this world. In all its tragedies and all its violence, I have yet to determine whether or not this is a good place. I have long struggled with the question of whether not it is ethically the right thing to do to bring a child into this world. I mean for the child in question, rather than in terms of his ecological footprint or some other external issue. Most of the people I talk to say, well, of course it’s better for the child to have been born. All the joy and good memories and family bonding make life worth living. The problem is that we all experience pain and trauma. These two facets of existence are almost completely unavoidable. And, there are too many complications to the logic of having children to expound upon, here.[8] Obviously, Jacklyn and I decided having a child was a move for the greater good or Liam wouldn’t be here right now. But I wonder if that fear will always be pulsating in the background, that all the pain and hardship and sorrow he is forced to witness and through which he struggles can somehow be brought back to the crucial decision of his ever being brought to this universe from the void of un-existence. I suppose I have to borrow from the wisdom of Anne Frank, who demanded of herself not to “think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”

 


DSCN1388To Cook From the Book:

American Bastardized Callaloo

One of the national dishes of Trinidad and Tobago is callaloo. It has a well balanced combination of sweet, savory, and spicy ingredients…


The Son Also Rises,
A Prologue

Photo Credit: Natalie Lape

I am not Ernest Hemingway. He stood six feet tall, wore a heroic beard,[1] and–after being struck by a mortar shell while volunteering as an ambulance driver during the First World War–carried a wounded Italian soldier on his back to safety. I am just under five-foot-nine. I cannot grow a beard. I have never served in war. Hemingway hunted big game in Kenya. I’m pretty sure I’ve never even held a gun, and they make me incredibly anxious and uncomfortable. In his lifetime Hemingway wrote seven fictional novels, two non-fiction novels, and six short story collections (several others have been published posthumously), most or all of which you have heard. I have struggled to produce a single tangible product. Hemingway. Papa. A yardstick by which the American male is measured. Hemingway was the voice of the Lost Generation. If he was exceptional, I am seamlessly average.

From the Bookshelf: The Sun Also Rises

When my wife, Jacklyn, was 26 weeks pregnant, our doctors diagnosed him with a severe case of hydrocephalus, and we instantly became overwrought with grief, panic, and helplessness. The weeks that followed felt like months. We made all the necessary appointments and ensured to the best of our abilities that Liam would have a lifetime of quality care and the best chance at a normal and happy life. As the panic waned, we readied the nursery and prepared ourselves for whatever the universe planned to throw at us and our precious boy. Let me explain.

Hydrocephalus occurs in approximately 1 in every 1,000 live births. It is a fairly common abnormality, yet frustratingly difficult to prognose, especially because there exist nearly 200 causes for the condition (all of tests for which, in our case, came up negative). Hydrocephalus refers to an enlargement of the brain’s ventricles, which carry cerebral spinal fluid across the brain and through the spine. At 26 weeks a fetus’ lateral ventricles (the two running the length of the brain from front to back) should measure between four and eight millimeters. Our son’s measured around thirteen. By week 32 they each measured close to 30 mm. Hydrocephalus puts an enormous amount of pressure on the child’s brain and, as a result, the head will begin to enlarge. Babies diagnosed with hydrocephalus often experience problems with motor function, learning disabilities, and seizure disorders.[2] [3]

Our son, whom we have named Liam James, will be born via Caesarian section at New York University Hospital today, September 14th, 2015. Our doctors will not be able to determine the type or severity of his symptoms probably for several months. Liam will require brain surgery almost immediately after his birth and continuous observation thereafter and for the rest of his life. We have most of the same worries any new parent experiences. We hope he can be independent. We hope he will be happy. We hope he will have amazing friends. We hope we do a good job teaching him right from wrong. We have worries too. We worry he will never be able to walk or feed himself. We worry he will never be able to speak. We worry he will undergo a life of physical and emotional pain. There comes with these worries a tremendous amount of almost unimaginable guilt and fear. Questions arose: Is this our fault? What could we have done differently? I remember her face not thirty seconds after the news broke. “What are we going to do?” she asked, as tears flooded her face with such pain that I felt like I had broken a central tenet of my wedding vows to her. I was to protect her. I was to protect Liam. And in this moment I felt I could do neither.

I feel I need to address an important question I have been asking myself over the past several weeks. Why am I doing this? Why am I writing this thing in this way at this time? I have two great passions in life: food and books. I have been in the restaurant industry for over a decade and I have been an avid reader for my entire life. I originally intended these writings to reflect the mores of American fatherhood and pair those thoughts with some favorite books I have read and foods I have eaten over the years. I can trace just about everything I have learned about life to a great book I have read or a great meal I have eaten in some respect or other. Maybe that’s untrue. Maybe it’s reductive. The project has changed, but not incredibly. I still want to discuss food, books, and the nature of fatherhood, but I suppose if nothing else I have matured over the years. I have been forced to adapt the model and, more significantly, my outlook and attitude have changed dramatically during these last several weeks.

I absolutely adore Ernest Hemingway and all his work. I reread his novels more frequently than those of any other author. I read The Sun Also Rises at least once a year, and I believe it to be the greatest and most American novels of the twentieth century. Hemingway’s first is a novel about bullfighting. It’s about exile. It’s about food and drink. It’s about love. His characters party through Paris, Pamplona, and Barcelona. Their exchanges and the surrounding environment are beautiful in content and style, without deigning to extravagance:

“We drove out along the coast road. There was the green of the headlands, the white, red-roofed villas, patches of forest, and the ocean very blue with the tide out and the water curling far out along the beach.”

By the end of the story it becomes abundantly clear that true love and modernity are an incompatible and too-often-imbalanced “exchange of values” system, in which each of the players’ character arcs results in incredible dissatisfaction. Compounded by the habitual self-medication wherein Hemingway‘s protagonist Jake either drinks “just enough to be careless“ or enough to lose “the disgusted feeling and [be] happy.” Eventually, as the pattern of diminishing returns concludes he proffers, “I began to feel drunk but I did not feel any better.” This is the plot: A carefree adventure becomes a restless struggle for love and ends in desolation. This is true both of the novel and our pregnancy, or so it seemed. Novels have for their own benefit the advantage of ending. Jacklyn and I have struggled to endure, to cope, to find peace and love and happiness with our continued journey.

For all the beauty and accuracy concerning the Lost Generation on which it comments, I have developed very recently many and the same type of philosophical problems with the novel as I have with the man who wrote it. The American male of the twentieth century, particularly before and during the terrible wars, was defined by a romantic notion of expatriation and a lack of loyalty to one’s country or even one’s own wife family. Hemingway married and deserted four wives—leaving three by way of infidelity and divorce and the fourth by suicide—and three sons. Hemingway married Elizabeth Hadley Richardson in 1921, when he was twenty-two years old. By 1925 he had begun working on The Sun Also Rises and had engaged in an affair with journalist Pauline Pfeiffer. By 1927 he had divorced his first wife—and with her left his first son, Jack, behind—and married Pauline. Within the family mixed stories about the nature of his parenting abound. His descendants describe him as passionate, fun, unusual, abusive.[4] [5] Beyond the exaggerations of his legacy or the extent of his transgressions, commitment never seems to have been a part of his personality.

Departure, expatriation, infidelity, disloyalty, divorce, suicide. These are the defining characteristics of a man with whom myself and the American imagination have held in such high esteem. Hemingway’s personal tragedy seems to have been an inability to cope with boredom, both in his daily experiences and in his interpersonal relationships. My point, I suppose, is that for all his masculinity and all his bravado and all his achievement, Hemingway seems to have lacked either the patience or the inclination to be a good husband and father. He was a living Byronic hero, which for this discussion means he lacked the dependability, involvement, compassion, empathy, and honesty required for truly valuable fatherhood. This list comprises the qualities to which I plan to aspire as a new father, especially one who has had to mature so abruptly as a result of Liam’s diagnosis. Hemingway and his Lost Generation defined themselves by exile and departure. But I refuse to flee. I’m not going anywhere.

 


DSCN1332To Cook From the Book:

The Only Way to Roast a Chicken

“We had a good meal, a roast chicken, new green beans, mashed potatoes, a salad, and some apple-pie and cheese.”