Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A New Program

I’m getting hopeful about America again. Nah, not about the economy or the market, I’m excited about politics. Because after nearly 30 years of voting, I finally have a candidate I can identify with in Barack Obama. Maybe that is one of the benefits of middle age.

No matter what his critics are saying, the man knows what he’s talking about on stuff that matters to me. I finally listened to the speech he delivered about race back in March and for me, it was a brilliant piece of work.

I’ve long wrestled with my own racist and bigoted views. As a white American male, I grew up with all the baggage of black and white. I remember the fight in the 70s over forced school desegregation . That’s when black kids from inner Wilmington were put on buses and driven out to my white suburban school and ‘integrated.’ I remember white parents pulling my friends out of public school and sending them to catholic and private schools, just to avoid having their children exposed to “those” kids.

I remember the busloads of black kids who were attended my high school. I didn’t see many of them in my classes; they were tracked into “general education” and I was sent into “college prep.” I mixed with a few in my art and drama courses, but by then, it was an “us and them” issue. I didn’t speak their language or understand their culture. And because they were a small group, they stuck close together. One need only look at the tables in the cafeteria to see the division. They had their tables; we had ours. And being in the majority, I was more comfortable than them.

But that racism shit followed me around. It still does. It’s like a nasty virus that has remained in my bones despite numerous attempts to exorcise it. I’m hoping my infection won’t replicate any farther but it still colors my thoughts and that affects my actions every day.

If you are an American, you pretty well know what I am talking about. And so does Barack. He knows because his white grandmother had it and she was bold enough to admit her fear of black men. Amen to that. He knows because he sees the cost to the white community of its own racism. He understands that many of us fear and resent attempts to even the playing field because we’ve been conditioned to think in “us and them” instead of broadening our vision to embrace a ‘win win’.

Let’s face it, racism and the poverty and disaffection and crime and broken families and fear and ignorance that goes along with our racist past and present is sapping our nation. With the country financially and morally over-extended , we can’t afford to have people fail. All that fear is just too damn expensive. And Barack is talking about that. Finally.

When he is elected, as I am sure he will be unless the power brokers have again jury-rigged the election machinery, he’ll have his work cut out. It’s a bit like being asked to turn a maggoty rotting horse into a five star meal for 300 million diners. All the while, as some of the kitchen staff do the dishes, others try to piss in the broth. And out back, someone else substitutes 10w40 for the olive oil and the wait staff are supplied with gasoline to cook the bananas foster. Let’s just hope there are enough principled workers and diners to stand up to the shenanigans and others who will take back the kitchen.

There are a million good ideas out there and in spite of the forces arrayed against meaningful change, some of them will get through. And that’s why I remain proud to be an American. I’m not expecting miracles but I love being part of this huge experiment of a nation. (And even if I am on the other side of the earth, I’m a bit of a cultural ambassador, proving again that not all Americans are ignorant, gun-toting whack jobs.) I love that we keep changing, steering more closely to the mark as the years go by. Sure we’ve taken some wrong turns and it has taken some of us longer than others to realize it, but it seems as if finally, we’re getting with the program. I think Winston Churchill said it well: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.”

It seems like we’ve tried everything else. It’s time to get on with doing the right thing.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Daily Bread

I have a thing about bread and I'll just call it snobbery. I can't say when it started, but it has followed me ever since I set my little size 3 foot in a kitchen. Maybe it was those muffins my mom reheated in the oven. I loved the oil stained bag she baked them in. Way before anyone ever considered transfats, these came from an oven which transformed them from hardened shells to soft, cinnamon-scented wonders.

Maybe it was the second-grade school trip to Huber's bakery, where they made Sun Beam bread, a loaf that no doubt began its life being made by hands, but by 1968 or so, was rolling off an assembly line by the thousands. It was the kind of bread that you'd go fishing with, not really to eat, but mostly to mold round a fish hook, small enough to lure the bluegills that swam in Hannum's pond.

That trip instilled in me a wonder at industrial processes, but mostly overloaded my reptilian brain with the smell of fresh-baked bread, a smell that still attracts me, no matter how mechanized it might be.

That love of bread has led me to seek out the best bakeries where ever I go. In Fairbanks, that included joining a co-op which flew in bread from the Alpine bakery in Whitehorse, Yukon, 600 miles away. Trips to Anchorage often included a stop at bagel shop for enough supply to fill a second checked bag. Of course, Paris was full of bread, but like all cities, quality varies. The bakery below my apartment in the 13th arrondissement sold a nice looking crusty but ultimately insubstantial loaf for about 65 centimes, though for €1.10 I could usually get a ‘baguette traditionelle’ which always satisfied. I often bought two, to support the authentic cheeses I indulged in.

China was a nightmare for bread and I adjusted my expectations accordingly. Like so much in that country, all that seems to matter is what something looks like on the outside. Forget what it’s built from. Rebar in concrete? Nah, that just drives up the cost. This is the same kind of thinking that allows people to put coal derivatives like melamine in baby formula. Not surprisingly, Western-oriented products were all show but left the consumer empty. I mean, come on, get real. China’s built on rice and its wheat goes to noodles. It’s not a bread nation.

Bread bliss returned in Denver where trendy urban sophisticates have a growing appreciation of authentic bread and I found all sorts to choose from, but Sydney is a few years behind. It took weeks to locate the good breads and wouldn’t you know, my favorite is made by bakers who trained in San Francisco and who came back and created Sonoma Baking Company. I prefer to get my bread from Sonoma and each Saturday, they retail at the Orange Grove outdoor market near my house. I love riding my bike over, seeing the beautiful loaves and trading a bit of Spanish with the lovely Peruvian who runs the stall. I often follow that with a trip to the Gympie Farm vendors who are now retailing a terrific line of Tasmanian artesian cheeses.

It’s taken a while for Australia to join the epicures of the world, but the decades of immigration have paid off. Food is good here and I think outrivals any I’ve sampled in the US. Though I know one guy who every day still swallows Vegemite on TipTop, (the Australian equivalent of Skippy on Wonder) and the Asian-owned Hot Bread shops still sell heaps of doughy white, the days of monoculture bread are gone. Of course, cheap kilojoules still rule the market and good food costs substantially more here, but I’m thankful that I can get it, now that I too am an urban sophisticate.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The World In Sydney

One of the highlights of living in Sydney is its multicultural nature. Sometimes it feels like everyone's here, and I don't mean just during peak hour traffic.

Another highlight is listening to Adam Spencer on 702am ABC local radio. This guy is everything a radio presenter should be. Smart, funny, quick, witty and worldly. Last year he hosted "The World In Sydney" on his breakfast radio program and found people from more than 100 countries to join him. The show aired not long after I arrived and since then I've explored the neighborhoods and ethnic enclaves. Not a day goes by when I don't hear a second language, smell an Italian espresso or Thai lemongrass or Lebanese oregano. (I eat very well over here.)

Today, a year later, Adam did a second show. You can hear some of it here:

Last weekend, I went down to Darling Harbour, the main tourist district and visited the Chinese Garden. The experience stirred memories of the Middle Kingdom. Limestone formations set in lotus ponds, living curtains of bamboo, umbrellas of weeping willows and best of all, classical flute music, piped through hidden speakers, that emerged when the jackhammers paused. An oasis surrounded by skyscrapers, it lacked only two things: grey-suited guards and old men playing chess. But the toilets more than made up for it!

Friday, October 24, 2008

What I'm Doin' Over Here

With my hands, I build objects,
With my heart, I forge connections,
All while my mind conjures infinite landscapes.

My words have brought smiles and then destroyed dreams,
I've confused and confounded and contained my own screams, I've chided and cursed, connived and corrected,
I've even cajoled; confessed then connected.

My philosophy is broad and my heart has been wounded,
Crushed in the vise of fear, ignorance and hatred.
Yet my spirit is ever present, guiding me toward goodness,
Define it any way you like.

May these words add to the world; may they express love and soothe and assist us both in our journey toward wholeness. That's all I've ever wanted.

Let me be a conduit. Let my words broaden your world. But let your compassion forgive me when shortcomings trump.

We humans are great creators, whether we express it fully is our own choice. May the Great Creator facilitate our own great creations. And in His own words, I'm sure He said this somewhere, "Let's have some fun here."

Gettin' With It

I owe this one to my friend T. You inspire me.