Showing posts with label Westport. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Westport. Show all posts

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Syrian Refugee: ‘Who Picks Their Country?’



Courtesy of WestportNow.Com

The headline struck me.  Indeed, who gets to pick their country?  For most of us it is an accident of birth.  I keep in touch with my old home town, Westport, Ct. through WestportNow.com.  A Syrian refugee, Mohamed al Maassri, spoke to the Westport Sunrise Rotary Club about his experience of settling his family in Norwalk, Ct, fleeing the carnage in Syria. Although his tale is anecdotal, the typical rigorous background checking already in place is not.  Here is a refugee who would be denied the opportunity to pursue life, liberty, and happiness in a nation that has welcomed so many fleeing their countries for political or economic reasons – all because of the accident of his birth. What kind of a callous country are we becoming?  This is the face of the "new nationalism"?   It is an ugly one.  Mohamed al Maassri’s experience of US officials knowing “more about me than I did” is already the standard.  Surely, vigorous vetting is a better solution to protecting our nation than Trump's dictum of excluding ALL refugees from specific countries.  


Mohamed al Maassri today put a face to the national debate over refugees, telling the Westport Sunrise Rotary Club what it’s like to flee a war in Syria, leaving him stateless, homeless, and destitute.

“Who picks their country?” he said, explaining that it was happenstance that he got caught up in the war in his homeland and ended up in Connecticut eight months ago with his wife and two children.

Maassri’s tale was not that of a typical refugee. He owned a construction material importing exporting business in Dubai at the outset of the war in Syria. He then returned home and saw how the “Assad (government) and Iranian and Hezbolah militias” destroyed his town.

He lamented: “1,500 people were dead in the street, and I don’t know why.”

Because he was a Syrian, he said he was then blocked by Dubai immigration officials from returning to his company and was told his business had been closed. He said he lost everything.

After months of interrogation, Maassri arrived with his family in the United States. “They knew more about me than I did,” he said of the U.S. officials who vetted him.

He and his family finally settled in Norwalk, aided by the Westport Interfaith Resettlement Committee, a group of six churches and synagogues. Members found them a place to live, provided language education, and a got him a job at Whole Foods.

“My goal is to improve myself, so I can do more here,” he said. While he likes his job, he said the pay is not enough to sustain his family.

When asked what he’d like to do, he responded, “I’d like to get back into import export, but I have nothing to start it with.”

A singer, he said we would like to find “a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian, and sing about peace.”

Helen Garten, Sunrise Rotary president, said, “When you do, you’ll come back and sing for us.”

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Wistful Remembrances



Scrolling down my, now, all-too-ridiculously-lengthy  key word index to “Westport”  there is a score of entries, a testimony to the strong feelings I have towards where I worked and lived for some thirty years of my life, receding with the speed of light into the forgotten past.  The essence of this blog is a written record of remembering.  I speak not of major events, but the nuances of fleeting feelings.  I was reminded of this today by an entry from more than six years ago.  Although it is a review of Happy Days by Samuel Beckett, bravely produced by the Westport Country Playhouse, it evoked surreal feelings of place and time.  I quote the first and last paragraphs of that piece.  It could almost be read as a stand-alone (without the details of the theatre production) as it says as much about time, and wistful remembrances.
  
What a cynical title for Samuel Beckett’s brilliant play, courageously presented by the Westport Country Playhouse to celebrate its 80th anniversary. It is not the kind of light fare one might expect on a languid summer’s night at a country theatre far off Broadway, and it was a brave choice by the Theatre’s Artistic Director, Mark Lamos. But this is Westport, Ct - a bedroom community of NYC where we lived for so many years. In fact, we were there during the celebration of the Playhouse’s 40th anniversary – half of its lifetime ago -- so although we are now only summertime visitors, its byways are subliminally imprinted on us.

It was a night of powerful theatre. We exited to the parking lot. It had just rained and the humidity hung in the air, also rising off the steaming macadam and fogging our glasses. So we drove the back roads of Westport, returning to our boat, passing landmarks indelibly imprinted and always remembered such as the location of the old Westport National Bank (gone) turning left onto the only road that runs west and parallel to Riverside Avenue, along the southern side of the Saugatuck River, passing homes where we had partied in our youth (including one Christmas eve where guests in an alcoholic induced stupor set a couch on fire and it had to be dragged out to the snow to extinguish the flames), the building our first Internist once occupied (who later died in the same nursing home as Ann’s mother), the Westport Women’s Club where my publishing company held our annual Xmas party for so many years, my old office itself across the river where I worked for the first ten years in Westport, now the Westport Arts Center, past the street where Ann and I went for Lamaze classes when she was pregnant, over the old bridge crossing the Saugatuck, turning left then right under the Turnpike past the structure which used to be The Arrow Restaurant (long gone) where Ann reminded me they made her favorite dinner, crispy fried chicken, and then further west to Norwalk, all fragments of our own earth mound, being earth bound, trying to understand. Theatre to think about. Oh, happy days.
View of Westport, CT from my office circa 1972

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Nostalgic Tour


Once again we are preparing to leave our boat after an abbreviated summer in the Northeast, one that was mostly hot and humid.  This is our thirteenth summer living on our boat and given that time, combined with the countless weekends during the score of summers preceding retirement we spent on board our boats, not to mention vacations during that same time we’ve probably lived almost six years on the water.  Could that be? As I type this, the water is slapping on the hull, a sound we’ve become inured to, but one I will surely miss one day.

A couple of weeks ago our friends, Harry and Susan, visited.  It was a hot day, the wind not exactly right for going out to our mooring, so instead we toured our old homes and haunts in Westport, Weston, and East Norwalk, sandwiched between lunch at our club house and then dinner in Westport (why does everything seem to be centered around food as one ages?).

Our first stop was the home on the Norwalk River where we lived before relocating to Florida.  We had renovated the old cape, adding a master suite to the top floor.  It was certainly Ann's favorite home, and mine for the view and nautical feel, but when the Nor'easters came, so did the river and on several occasions the home was surrounded by water.  As the burden of manning the pumps fell on me, I was not sorry to bid the home goodbye.  The house  has been renovated still again, the guts of it torn apart and even the top floor which we had so meticulously planned and built redone as well, but at least the house was recognizable.

Next stop was the town of Westport. When we arrived there in 1970 it was a quaint town of shops, a movie theatre, a bank, some venerable restaurants, a nice New England feel. It has morphed into an outdoor mall of Brooks Brothers, the Gap, Coach, Crate and Barrel, Talbots, etc.,  those stores replacing Klein’s, the Remarkable Bookstore, Acorn’s Pharmacy, etc. The character of the town has changed; the only remaining stores I recognized being the Westport Pizzeria, and Oscar’s Deli.  That’s it!

From there we went up North Main to Fillow Street which becomes Ford Road, passing the Saugatuck River on the left and the entrance to the Glendinning complex  an office building now occupied by Bridgewater Associates, one of the largest hedge funds in the world.

The Saugatuck River has a waterfall there and we used to swim in the pond above the waterfall, cool, clear mountain water so refreshing. Now it has been fenced off, another casual freedom lost.  Turning onto Sipperly's Hill Road, where we had first rented a small chauffeur's cottage on a nine acre estate (now parceled off with huge homes built on the property), we arrived at our first home on Rabbit Hill Road.

The house we bought in 1972 was set on two acres bordering a pine forest.  Over the last 40 years  the subsequent owners have rebuilt parts of it, adding a small second story, although the footprint has not  changed that much.  We drove up the narrow driveway, feeling a little ill at ease doing that, and sure enough someone came out of the house and got into her car and proceeded down the driveway.  We had to back out.  We rolled down the window and said we used to live there forty years ago and, remarkably, she invited us in.  She had bought the house in 1992. 

It is still a modest home, and some of what we did to the house remains, such as adding a small dining room off the tiny kitchen, but the bookshelves I built around the fireplace are gone, although the fireplace and mantel still stand.  The original detached one car garage remains, probably built when the house went up in 1925, just large enough for a model T! Outside the house the new owners cut back part of the pine forest and they now have a beautiful expansive lawn before the forest begins.  Actually, it is no longer a forest as one can see other new houses beyond.  When we lived there, Rabbit Hill itself – the subject of the Robert Lawson children’s book -- was indeed an uninhabited hill except for the few small homes clustered around the entry road.

From there, we drove up Weston Road to the home we lived in for twenty five years near Weston Center.  Ridge Road / Lane, was almost unrecognizable, many of the old homes torn down or lots sold off to build huge homes, the size of which astounds me.

We bought our Weston home in 1975, a small ranch, which we added onto, but retaining the character of the home.  Our old home is now gone and a “McMansion” has been built in its place.  Although it sits well on the property in the front, the back of this “palace” is almost on the road, its towers and turrets in one’s face and – I thought -- inappropriate for the sylvan nature of the setting.  Sad to see.

So the day was one of nostalgia, and now there is another sense of melancholy as our summer on the boat is winding down and soon we'll be flying to Copenhagen to meet a ship that will be returning to NYC via the northern Atlantic route, with multiple stops in Norway, Ireland, Scotland, and stops as well in Iceland and Greenland.  Ann has organized tours at each port and I hope to post some interesting photographs and a narrative of our trip sometime in October.

I’m loading up a few novels to read, but meanwhile I’m trying to finish Blake Bailey’s massive biography of Richard Yates, A Tragic Honesty, probably the best literary biography I’ve read since Carol Sklenicka's biography, Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life  It is a breathtakingly detailed biography of a much under-appreciated artist, Richard Yates.

Until reading Bailey’s account, I was never fully aware of the extremely biographical nature of Yates’ fiction. His characters are from his life experiences.  And I never fully realized the extent of his asceticism, an anti-materialism that manifested itself in the most austere living conditions, almost a stereotype of the dark, brooding artist.  (One of his apartments was a seven story walk-up on 26th Street, off of 5th Avenue in NYC.  Bailey describes it as “a long studio with a few random sticks of furniture – an orange sofa bed where he slept, a wobbly table in the narrow sit-down kitchen, two or three chairs and a desk by the plaid-curtained window; also he installed a bookshelf where he mostly kept the work of friends and students, as well as a handful of novels he couldn’t do without.”)  Cockroaches frequently were his companions in these run-down apartments.

His self-destructive alcoholism (which naturally he denied), his militant, compulsive smoking (4 packs a day, even after he was diagnosed with TB), and his need to be with a woman who would support him emotionally, is in many ways reminiscent of Raymond Carver’s life, a writer who he apparently met only once.

Yates worshiped the works of Flaubert, Hemingway and then Fitzgerald, always feeling inferior to the latter or any writer who was Ivy-League schooled.   Although Yates taught fiction at the graduate level, he never went to college himself.  Nonetheless, Yates felt he had a lot in common with both Hemingway and Fitzgerald and even tried to emulate the latter in his dress from Brooks Brothers, not to mention living in Paris during his formative years.

Between his bouts with mental illness and compulsive drinking, his marriages, affairs, children, and peripatetic teaching positions, it is a wonder that he wrote such classics as Revolutionary Road and Easter Parade, two of my favorite novels, as well as other novels and short story collections.  He was the writer’s writer, respected by all but loathed for his lifestyle.

I was saddened to see that Bailey quotes what someone said about the edition of Revolutionary Road I had republished, lamenting that it “languishes in a grim (and expensive) hardcover edition published by a reprint house (Greenwood Press).”   This particular edition was reprinted for college libraries and had to be manufactured to the “grim” standards acceptable for library use.  It was not a consumer edition but at least the classic was kept in print.

Perhaps I’ll write more about this superb biography sometime in the future.  I first have to finish it!

In the meantime, we bid adieu to our boat and friends and family in the Northeast as when we return from our cruise we'll begin our drive back to Florida.  Until then……