Sunday, August 21, 2011

Journey On

I have been thinking about Christmas a good deal in the last week.

Now there could be several reasons for that: about 9 days ago, before I left the United States for Jordan, I spent a couple hours addressing Christmas cards which I will use in four months when I return to the United States. And then a week ago when I bid my family a heartfelt farewell before stepping onto the Delta plane whisking me thousands of miles away to Jordan, I kept saying, “I will see you again at Christmas-time!” That is when a Delta plane will touch down with me on it again in Cincinnati. Last night I was talking to a faculty member here who is staying here over the Christmas break, and I suggested that he invite his family over and they celebrate in Bethlehem.

But it’s not so much looking toward the holiday that has held me captive in the last week, although on hot days I must admit I like thinking of the cold at Christmas—it’s those wise men who have been on my mind.

I guess as I was addressing the cards, I looked at the variety of cards I had, and I was drawn to those Magi. I remember as I addressed a card to my old librarian friend Lynda Morgese, I looked at those Magi on the card, and thought, “Of all the characters in the Christmas story, the ones we need to keep our eyes on, indeed, come to think of it, the ones most like us, are those Magi, those Wise Men.” Funny, how with all the things that needed to be done in my remaining days, I chose to address Christmas cards four months early, and then I have kept thinking about those wise guys all week.

When I posit that they are the ones most like us, I am not suggesting that we are either so regal or wise, but let’s consider some of the other characters in this story. Ahhh….Christmas in August, I suppose. Let’s take Mary, the young teen minding her own business when an angel of the Lord comes and addresses her: “Hail, Mary!” Like that’s going to happen to us.

Consider this: the shepherds are out in their fields watching their flocks by night, when an Angel of the Lord appears to them…speaks to them…and suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appears, praising God. Like that’s going to happen to us.

And on and on—but those Magi—we need to watch them. These are the travelers, the ones who undertake a great and arduous journey. Maybe because last week at this time I was about to embark yet again on the great journey back to the Middle East, but those Magi continue to be on my mind. Let’s imagine the conversations back home when those magi have agreed to undertake this great trip. “Honey,” says one, “Me and the guys, we’re following a star. Not sure where or what it will lead to. We’ll be away—for months, maybe longer.”

Of course, I am just joking a little here. For the magi it was no mere whim, their undertaking. They didn’t embark upon this adventure without careful thought and good reason. They did their best to explain themselves and their reasons to their families. They extracted themselves from various commitments. They planned the route and agreed how to finance it. Journeys of this sort are expensive—the costs of travel, with inns and meals, not to mention a loss of income from being away from work. I guess they worked. (Come to think of it, this sounded a lot like my thought process as I pondered this whole Jordan thing in 2007.)

They probably spent considerable time on what to take, what gifts to bring, and anticipated the exchanges of cultures and rituals and languages they would encounter.

The long awaited day arrived for them. Those magi hugged their loved ones and said their good-byes, not quite sure when they would return. There are tears, second thoughts, probably pleas to stay.

Finally, they are on their way—on their adventure. As they spent time together on this adventure began to learn each others’ moods, rhythms and fears. They learn the sound of each others’ laughter. And they probably needed to ask for directions. You know that since these are wise men they were probably not inclined to ask for directions.

The star gets the magi all the way to Jerusalem, but then it goes on the fritz. It is in Jerusalem that they have to ask for directions. “Where,” they ask, “is the child who has been born King of the Jews? For we have observed his star rising, and have come to pay him homage.”

This is the moment their adventure really starts. It starts when their accents give them away; when they reveal themselves strangers in a strange land; when they first disclose to others the purpose of their quest; when they admit they don’t know which way to turn; when they are forced to entrust themselves to the good will of complete strangers (some of whom turn out to be possessed of ill will); when they find out that the mere mention of Jesus causes shifts in power, threatens principalities, begs for a re-ordering of the structures that discriminate. Now, they are on their way.

I guess I have thought about these guys this week when I realized they would have been travelling right around where KA is here in Jordan, not far from Jerusalem. I thought about them when I think of the journey that I have taken since January, 2007 when I decided to follow this quest to help start this school here. I have thought about them as I greet and work with the new faculty here.

In the last four days, I have spent considerable time with the brand-new faculty—22 in all—who have just arrived in the last few days here in Jordan. One is from Peru, one from the Maldives, one from Nigeria, one from Spain, one from down the street in Amman, but most, fresh off the planes from the United States. I see in them all that excitement we had in August, 2007 as we greeted each other and trusted each other to work on this project. We have taken them out to dinners, watched as they saw their first camel, had their first banking experience, talked about politics and food and the students we have met here. We are learning about each other as we embark on the journey of the school year of 2011-12. We have all gone on this adventure, a little clueless about what we will encounter or learn. But just like we were, and still are, we are ready for the adventure. We’re following a star here, too, in many ways, and as hokey as it sounds, that star of excellence in education, or that star of multi-culturalism, of experience, of fulfillment, of understanding.

So as I look out at the plains to the west—there in those hills where David once shepherded, I am back in the very land where those magi travelled and risked and followed their star. Yep, those guys, those exotic, adventurous, risk-taking, intrepid kings or astrologers, or whoever they were—they are the ones to watch.

We all have journeys, some longer, or farther afield, but relationships, and new jobs, or simply the life of faith is a life of adventure. I think you will know you are on the right road, that you are getting close to wherever, when it gets thrilling, tense and intense, important, scary, edgy, absorbing and fantastic.

Tomorrow I will spend about six hours helping to pair advisors and advisees for the coming year; I will meet with the 9th and 10th grade teams to work on our new courses; and then finally, we will have an all-faculty iftar, the nightly breaking of the fast during Ramadan, at about 7:21 p.m. to celebrate the return of the veteran teachers and introduce the newest members of the followers of our star.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Porters All

I love my Kindle.

When these little digital libraries first came on the market, I will admit that I was more than skeptical—in fact, I kept saying, “I wouldn’t want a Kindle ‘cause I love books too much!” I love holding books, writing in my books, displaying my books, giving books as gifts. Obviously I must like storing books since in my $100 a month storage locker in Cincinnati there are 85 boxes of books awaiting my return to the United States and properly being displayed and loved again with me in residence.

But then my former student Audra showed me her Kindle in the summer of 2009, and for every point I made, she kept saying, “You will love it—especially if you love books!!” So that Christmas my sister gave me a Kindle.

For those of you who might not yet have purchased one of these Kindles, or the other kind of e-book devices, do you know what you get to do??? Well, besides holding hundreds of e-books in the Kindle itself, one gets to download samples of books for free! For free!!!!! It’s like spending time in a book store looking through books you may just want to buy…however, I have downloaded hundreds more book samples than I could ever have devoured in afternoons in a Barnes & Noble! I mean, I gotta tell you, one way I kill time in airports (because of the usually-free WiFi) is that I look through the Kindle store and download dozens and dozens of samples of books I might enjoy.

If I open the Kindle right now, I have 438 samples of books…it’s like a kid in a candy store!!! (Again, for the un-washed, un-Kindled, a sample is about a 40-page excerpt of the beginning of a book, designed to tempt you to buy the entire e-book for around $8-10.) I have about 80 novels (yes, Anne Siviglia, I occasionally read fiction!!) and 200 samples of history books, and then the books on movie history, television history, theater history, food history, art history (yes, I am a history nut) and memoirs and humor books and books on current events. I also have a file on religious history and books on spirituality. Why not download almost any kind of book that might shed some light on…pause for a serious phrase…the human condition…

One of the more unusual samples I downloaded this summer was a book about St. Benedict, considered by many to be the founder of Western monasticism. In the year 530, Benedict composed a rulebook, “The Rule of Benedict,” by which his monks would live an ordered, holy, and monastic life.

When I downloaded the sample, I had no idea what the book would be about, but I discovered that the “rules,” the chapters were oddly interesting. Now, let’s face it, anything historical is always interesting to me. Put sports and history together—thank you to Gary Klein for helping me with this—and all of a sudden I am a sports junkie.

Anyway, back to Benedict. I think I originally downloaded the book because I have joked occasionally that working at KA in Jordan has, well, at times, felt “like a monastery on a gulag.” I mean that in an endearing way! Anyhoo, I thought the book by Benedict and all of his rules might be interesting to compare a real monastic life to my life in a dormitory in the desert 30 minutes outside of an urban area.

Huh. The entire 66th chapter of Benedict’s Rule is devoted to explicating in detail the duties of the monastery’s porter, that is, the gatekeeper or doorman. It seemed remarkable to me that one of the renowned spiritual documents of the Western world has an entire chapter devoted to how to answer the door.

Remarkable, yes, but as it has ruminated in my brain, also understandable.

Among all the brothers in the monastery, the porter alone straddles two worlds. With one foot, he is firmly located within the monastic enclosure: the world to which he has vowed his body and soul. The monastery is a regulated, all-male world—a world of black tunics, scapulas and hoods—a world of silence, simplicity, poverty, chastity and habitual prayer.

However, the porter, alone among his brother monks, also has a foot in the world without: the world as it flows by the monastery’s door, bearing with it its flotsam and jetsam of noise, bustle, color, chaos, confusion, disorder and temptation.

It is the porter’s main duty to exercise the Christian art of hospitality. At the sound of a footfall, or horse hoof, or knock—no matter what time of day or night—the Porter scurries to the door, flings it open and cries out: “Deo Gratias! Thank God you have come!”

For the Benedictine, the art of hospitality is a theological necessity. Genuine hospitality is the warm and practical evidence of God’s love.

For the Benedictine, the art of hospitality is something else as well: it exposes to all manner of persons and experiences. It is a way of living that renders us available to the world.

In the Benedictine world, the job of Porter is assigned to one person. That person alone in the monastery straddles two worlds.

Besides, the “kick” of learning some medieval job description, does this Chapter 66 mean anything more than a little trivial information???

Yesterday the administration at KA welcomed the new faculty for the 2011-12 school year—we have a week of orientation with them before the returning faculty join us on campus for a second week of orientation. Yes, for any school this is more orientation than you have in a decade! Be that as it may...yesterday in his opening address to our new faculty, our (I’ll say it again) wonderful headmaster John Austin read from the 2011 book by King Abdullah II from the part of what he gained from being at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. Of all the many things he gleaned, he found that his tenure there helped him cultivate “wisdom and patience,” and understand and undergo an “egalitarian experience.” When Abdullah assumed the throne in 1999, he knew he wanted to create a school in Jordan that would do a similar thing. His Majesty has said often, and indeed wrote in that recent book, that he hopes the students from KA will “create a new tribe in Jordan, a talented meritocracy of lived lives of service and leadership.”

How exciting to work at a place that has that credo embedded in its founding. As John read from some passages of the King’s book, I thought of the lone Porter in the Benedictine monastery, and his importance of straddling two distinct worlds. His Majesty wants our students to straddle two worlds as well, the West and the Arab world, bringing the best of both to create a “new tribe.” If you know anything about the Arab world, tribal stuff is of primo importance. He wants a new tribe that is able to transcend the boundaries of old.

Straddling two worlds is hard—that rule of Benedict provides some insight about how porters go beyond the comfort zone, how they see two worlds and intermingle between and among. Think of how we all straddle various worlds. We all have a foot firmly planted in the “real” world: where might makes right, where wealth rules, where skin color and accent and bank account and education and nationality and ability, define us. Some people don’t like stepping inside another world, retreating from what could be a transforming experience. The borderlands are hard. Just the other day, I crossed over borders. I crossed over national borders. I also crossed over the border from summer into a consuming school world.

I thought about how excited I get every year for the beginning of classes—I am probably as giddy as the Benedictine porters as they fling open the door and announce: “Deo Gratias! Thank God you have come!”

As I listened to the hopes of King Abdullah II for this school, a school entering Year #5, it is clear to me he urges us all to straddle different worlds, cross borders and see what wisdom and patience can be gleaned from the experiences. I have no idea if His Majesty has Benedict’s rule on his Kindle, but I would imagine he would urge us to go beyond the single porter of Benedict’s day, and encourage and inspire that we are porters all.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Summer ended yesterday when I landed at the Charles de Gaulle airport outside of Paris. I now spend a good deal of time in this airport every year. So far, in the last four years that I have come in and out of the Charles de Gaulle airport I have yet to actually go into Paris! I land at the Charles de Gaulle airport on my way to and from Cincinnati or Amman for my summer breaks. When I land there in late June, this signals the beginning of summer, and when I land in August it is the reminder that summer has ended. I have a 5-8 hour layover every time (and by the way, it is just enough distance outside of Paris not really to make the ride into town worthwhile!) and it gives me time to make the mental preparations to put work out of my mind, or to access the work files in my brain yet again.

When that plane touches down in Amman, I am back at work. I wait until the last minute to return, always hoping to keep the jet lag at bay, and I dive into the many, many meetings. Yesterday was a nearly 8-hour spate of meetings with the senior staff, and today I met for several hours helping prepare for the teacher orientations in the next week.

As we began our senior staff meeting yesterday, our leader, the wonderful head of school John Austin, reminded us that each year “we have the chance to create the school culture we seek anew.” Yes, indeed-y, that is one of my favorite things about the school world. You have this break, you shake off the travails of the year, and then you get that chance to start fresh, to begin anew.

But before we bask in the newness of the year, let me just enjoy the summer one last moment as I put it in the memory book.

What was the best part of summer? What did I do? I mentioned a number of things in my blog entry about 10 days ago—remember, the portals I would open into the past/present/future of my life. Besides my encounters with friends and family—simply wonderful and meaningful, the best thing I did this summer was go to a performance of the Broadway play, Warhorse.

Now I don’t want to dwell too long on the dearth of theater in Jordan, but I gotta tell you, when I hit New York, I gobble up theater like a fat kid gobbles up chocolate cake. I try and go every day, and I try and see as much variety. The Broadway stuff is expensive, but there are still ways to go and see many things. Four mornings this July I went down to a Broadway theater to wait in line for a few rush tickets to be sold at $30 (remember the going rate is now $130!!!) and I still got the half-price line available, and Christy still has one of those great services that offer some shows at $4.50 (those are like the remainder bins in department stores, but hey, theater is theater!).

But Christy had gone ahead and paid full price for one show, the British import Warhorse. What did we know about it? We knew it had won the Tony Award for Best Play for 2010-11, and we knew that it had puppets. Oh, gosh. Puppets? Puppets. I mean, I did love Lion King and I found Avenue Q clever, but as a general rule, I am not excited about puppets. But I had read a review that called the play, “swoon-inducing.” Well, now. And it was produced by Lincoln Center—a sign of class and pedigree. So she plunked down the money for us for full price for Warhorse!

This was the most magical few hours of my summer, apart from time with family and friends. Warhorse was stunningly theatrical and charismatic and captivating.

The story is a pretty simple narrative—it comes from a novel for teens set around the Great War in England as Albert Narracott, the son of a ne’er-do-well, liquor-loving Devon farmer and a hard-working mum, yearns for a horse. When Dad, drunk as usual, buys Joey at an auction — an act of sibling rivalry toward his hoity-toity brother — young Albert takes on the animal’s care and feeding with deep enthusiasm. You probably guess one of the pleasures of this story—Warhorse speaks, cannily and brazenly, to that inner part of adults that cherishes childhood memories of a pet as one’s first — and possibly greatest — love. This is a show for people who revisit films like “Where the Red Fern Grows,” “The Yearling,” and “Old Yeller.”

But this is not just a play that registers as agreeable children’s entertainment. Joey, our half-thoroughbred horse, is a puppet. That sounds so one-dimensional, to just write, “Joey… is a puppet.” Joey is summoned into being by a team of strong and sensitive puppeteers. It is a puppet—yet this “puppet” is full of substance and soul. You watch this horse Joey, and admire the love Albert shares with Joey, and then your heart breaks as the father sells Joey to a World War I cavalry regiment.

So what is this Warhorse about? It is about imagination and majesty and love and adolescence and growing up and cold realities and hope and determination.

As the play unfolded, I did what I love to do during live performances—I watched the audience as often as I could. This was a matinee crowd and looked like a typical New York crowd—not the tourist crowd. I saw tears. I saw men take out handkerchiefs and choke back tears. Now come on—let’s get real. For a moment I admonished my inner self to stay observant and see the play for what it really was—a group of well-made, very large horse puppets. Two men can stand inside the puppet, one at the shoulders, and one under the hips and hind legs. A third man is at the side as if leading him along on a stafflike object resembling a lead line. I reminded myself that there were humans operating these beautifully engineered, lifelike horses. But as I watched, the cold reality melted away, and instead it was brilliant how the staff of Warhorse could move these staid New Yorkers to an emotional state.

The show’s storybook sensibility is enhanced by projections of drawings on what looks like an outsize strip of torn paper, which fluidly convey shifts of time and setting. After Joey is sold by Albert’s father to a cavalry regiment bound for France, the production’s look segues from idyll to nightmare, with harrowing images of walking corpses, enveloping shadows and death-machine tanks and guns. And of barbed wire, on which many a good horse met its end during World War I. Though human characters repeatedly bite the dust, it’s the horses on which our deeper hopes and fears are focused. And it’s the visions of their being fatally tangled in wire that are the show’s most unsettling. Albert goes in search of Joey through the hellish trenches of France. I won’t tell you how the story ends—Steven Spielberg has done a movie version of Warhorse which premieres in December.

But it’s not the actual narrative that is so breath-taking. It is the theatrical imagination to take an ordinary thing and make it far more extraordinary that it could have been or should have even been. Every so often, a pair of balladeers show up to sing about how we all “shall pass from this earth and its toiling” and be “only remembered for what we have done.” The implicit plea not to be forgotten applies not just to the villagers, soldiers and horses portrayed here, but also to theater, as an evanescent art that lives on only in audiences’ memories.

And also to the summer where precious evanescent reconnections are made with family and friends.

And also to the fragile beauty and ordinary-ness of school. Warhorse and school seem to intersect in quite a few ways for me, but perhaps in one important lens by which to view the unfolding of life’s adventures: both are about how the dirt that gets kicked in our faces sometimes gets transformed into magic dust.

Here I am—back for year 5 in Jordan…fresh from a summer and ready for the untold miracles of a school year, evanescent memories, cold realities, hope, determination, ordinary things transformed…I’d say that is “swoon-inducing” indeed.

Let’s begin anew!

Saturday, August 6, 2011


It has been seven weeks since I last checked in with you on the blog. I have been on my summer sabbatical in the United States doing perhaps what I do best—talking and eating. I take a sabbatical from the blog on one hand since I am not in work mode, and do not sit at a computer much in the summer, but also because I don’t know if my list of friends I see makes for interesting reading. Not that my friends are not interesting, but we often do not plow new ground, but re-connect, re-live, re-invigorate important relationships. I don’t know if the list of meals and friends makes for profound reading. I mean, in all of these wonderful and soul-stirring reconnections, nothing here is exactly new, but that is why I enjoy them so much. My summer is a collection of “my greatest hits” of relationships, and I enjoy the familiarity of them so much.

The title of this blog entry has to do with the way much of my summer is handled. I spend a good deal of time in the summer with my calendar out, scheduling friends and family for meals and visits. I choose “vacation” spots based on who I get to see, not a new locale, or incredible new beach, or really a new sight at all. I look at where I can go and with whom I can re-connect. Then in a rather OCD kind of fashion, I “schedule” people into time slots of generally 2-hour, 4-hour or 6-hour durations. That sounds so clinical, and I guess even impersonal, but my summer is actually one long personal re-connection with loved ones. This summer my travel companion Anne and I went to the Seattle area not just to revel in the beauty of the Olympic mountains and lakes of the Northwest region, but also to revel in the beauty of relationships with former students. However, even I have to chuckle at how the summer seems to break down into those 2-4-6 hour blocks. I will visit with dear friend Tony for four hours, go to a concert with dear friend Sylvia and enjoy a two hour visit, or since Dawn is always on warp speed, a 2-hour meal is sped by in lightning speed.

Two weeks ago I had a “cancellation,” i.e. one of my former students slotted for a “two hour” had a death in the family and had to jet off to Florida. Into this unexpected free time I went to the movies with Christy to see Woody Allen’s 41st film, Midnight in Paris. What a charming movie! It opens with a couple on holiday in Paris with her parents. The couple, Gil and Inez, are officially in love; he’s at work on a novel about “a guy who owns a nostalgia shop” and at the same time indulging in the virtual time travel that Paris affords a certain kind of visitor. Gil yearns to sit at a table where Hemingway drank wine or meet Scott and Zelda—and imagine that they just stepped out to take the air. Ahhhh…nostalgia…the good old days.

The definitive poem in English on the subject of cultural nostalgia may be a short verse by Robert Browning called “Memorabilia.” It begins with a gasp of astonishment — “Ah, did you once see Shelley plain?” — and ends with a shrug: “Well, I forget the rest.” Isn’t that always how it goes? The past seems so much more vivid, more substantial, than the present, and then it evaporates with the cold touch of reality. Some good old days are so alluring because we were not around, however much we wish we were. Midnight in Paris imagines what would happen if that wish came true. It is marvelously romantic, even though — or precisely because — it acknowledges the disappointment that shadows every genuine expression of romanticism. Midnight in Paris shows a Paris both golden and gray, breezy and melancholy, and immune to its own abundant clichés. Paris in the 1920s—now THAT was a time! Pablo Picasso, on the cusp of his painterly brilliance; Ernest Hemingway, hunting wild beasts and churning out prose of inner bravado; Gertrude Stein, at the hub of it all. And the surrealists—Dali, Bunuel, and Man Ray—striving valiantly to live life in the non sequitur.

And then it happens. One night as Gil is out for a midnight stroll, an extended vintage motor carriage comes by and picks him up. This is his magical ride to the Paris of yore, the Paris he's been pining for, the Paris he's been utterly romanticizing. All the luminaries are there. He takes this trip each night, developing relationships with them, and realizing their own human neuroses. Pablo Picasso, the uncertain lover; Ernest Hemingway, the unblinking blowhard; Gertrude Stein, enduring mother hen. And the surrealists—Dali, Bunuel, and Man Ray—striving ridiculously to live life in the non sequitur. This humanization of these icons of the art world is as amusing to Gil as it is to us. The electricity of the time is felt as he makes not just priceless connections and contacts, but friendships. The magic and charm of 1920s Paris is right out in front of everything, but at the same time, the imperfections begin to show, and not just the contrasts, but the comparisons to his present-time situation grow all the more evident. In fact, he realizes that the gift of nostalgia, the present of nostalgia, is actually a better understanding of the present day.

As I watched the film, and enjoyed the delightful return to a certain time period, the 1920s, and then La Belle Epoque, I realized that my summer was like this movie. Over and over this summer I have been like Gil, enjoying a trip into the past, reveling in the excitement of another age and the relationships of that time.
I began the summer with the ultimate trip down memory lane, a reunion of the Denison Singers, an event chronicled in the blog before, when we had met in the spring of 2008 and again in the fall of 2010. This four-day love-fest/song-fest is a doorway to the the 1980s, rekindling friendships and love of music that had been so important to my college years.

But the summer proved to have many doors to my past. This summer I found an old friend from the 1970s, a friend from Kirkwood that had meant so much for a decade, then as time does, we traveled down different paths. This friend David and I started visiting on Facebook, then on the phone, and we laughed about old jokes and fun times from our youth. On a trip to Gastonia and Charlotte, North Carolina, I opened the doors to the late 1980s as I visited with Cookie, and the early 1990s as I visited with Chuck. In my two weeks in the New York area, I opened the doors to the late 20th century and early 21st century as I visited with friends from the Hackley chapter of my life.

On the trip to Seattle, I visited with Stefan and Sean, such important figures in my 2000-2006 life, but then for a day, for a great four-hour slot I got to see Louise again (first time since 1993) and enjoyed the doorway to 1991-92.

Have I done anything new? Oh, I saw theater productions in New York, and especially enjoyed the phenomenal play, Warhorse, but my summer really has been like Gil’s happy adventures in Midnight in Paris—through the portals of a happy past. At the Frick Museum I bumped into Rika Burnham, the greatest museum educator I have ever known, and that little 10-minute slot was a wonderful doorway remembering how she electrified and inspired me in 1994-95. Then two nights ago when my dad and I went out to dinner in Cincinnati, we bumped into my two greatest high school teachers, sisters Mrs. Michaels and Mrs. Schneider. It was Mrs. Michaels’ birthday, and I got to enjoy these two icons and remember my debt to them for 30 years. I had a two-hour slot with Miss Wilson in July, the third in the troika of my greatest teachers of my youth…

As I look back over this summer, nothing here is exactly new, and that is what I wanted in my summer. But—and here is the important part of my summer and the parallel to this gem of a movie—very little is stale either. Woody Allen has gracefully evaded the trap of nostalgia with a credible blend of whimsy and wisdom. The movie makes clear that those good old days are seen through the clichéd rose-colored glasses, but the greatest point is how we live in the present, and the “present” of the present. That a shared love of Cole Porter’s music allows the movie character Gil to forge a connection in the present (and conceivably the future) with a young Parisian woman is a sign that his fetishizing of bygone days has been based on a mistake. Paris is perpetually alive, not because it houses the ghosts of the famous dead but because it is the repository and setting of so much of their work. And the purpose of all that old stuff is not to consign us to the past but rather to animate and enliven the present.

That is how I have felt about my 2-4-6 appointments of the summer! When I visited with Laura Hirschberg at Carmine’s Italian eatery (the scene of so many delightful meals for me in 1994-95) or enjoyed the annual visit with Sharon, it was not a musty trip down the ghosts on memory lane, but a reminder of where we come from, and how that animates and enlivens our present.

Ah, did I once see these childhood friends plain? How strange they seem, and new. And relevant. And enlivening.