Thursday, March 27, 2008

Random Acts of Violence

Marty and I went to New Hampshire, and then, probably against better judgment, drove rather than taking the train into Brooklyn, NY to see our son. We stayed at what seemed like a good location right on the ocean near Coney Island Avenue. But, the night before we left, our car was vandalized and the driver side window glass shattered and the door dented with a rock left by the vandals. Four other cars parked nearby were also vandalized. Fortunately, we had our valuables like cameras, laptop, etc. with us in the hotel room.

The vandals rifled through everything, and left some blood on the leather seat and in the glove box, probably from broken glass cuts. There is a change holder in the divider between the front seats. They took all the quarters (good for laundry machines, I guess), but left the dimes and nickels. They took an investment guide left by Marty in the back seat, but passed on his small iPod in the holder on the dash (too old a model. I'm guessing). A Lincoln Continental next to us, bearing a Lojack steering wheel lock and a perimeter alarm, fared no better---driver side glass was also shattered. The police who came to write up a report called it "criminal mischief"--I suppose that is a technical term.

We were lucky in some ways. A vehicle in the same vicinity had been stolen the day before, and we hadn't left anything of value in our car (except our passports, by accident, which were in a backpack in the trunk--but they didn't take those though for a scary few minutes we had trouble finding Marty's). Our ride back to Detroit was tiring and noisy from the wind, considering that we had to tape the window up with a clear garbage bag and duct tape. But we were lucky to find a very nice young guy at the nearby Ford dealership who helped by cleaning up the broken glass and taping up the garbage bag, and the weather on the way back mostly cooperated--it could have been a lot colder. Even luckier, we had just the week before leased a second car, so we aren't totally without wheels while this one is being fixed.

There is nothing else to say about this except that "s---t happens." And---it's stupid to take a car into New York City. Or maybe I mean foollish--stupid would be doing it twice.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Travels to New Mexico

Since the dollar is tanking in world markets, it is a good thing that the United States is so diverse that traveling to another part of it can almost feel like a foreign country. So it was with our journey to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, for an Elderhostel (or hostel elders, as our friends' children call it) trip. It was a wonderful week--full of great learnings and photo opportunities.

New Mexico was originally part of the Spanish empire in North America, and did not officially become a state until 1912--the last territory on the mainland to join the union. The Spanish and Indian heritage are both very rich. We were there to participate in what turned out to be a fascinating study of conversos and crypto-Jews, with classroom study and discussion in Albuquerque and several field trips. I can't say enough good things about Elderhostel--everything was so well organized and the group we were with was very congenial and curious--lots of interesting discussion and dialogue.

I had never thought much about a Jewish presence in this area, other than the warm and dry climate attracting retirees from other parts of the country. But the history goes all the way back to the Spanish Inquisition, when many were forcibly converted to Christianity by the Catholic authorities in Spain and expelled from the country in 1492, the same year that Columbus discovered the West Indies (of course, he was looking for India itself--from which has come all the confusion about the name "Indians.") . Some of these forced converts found their way to the New World, first to Mexico and then to small and remote towns in the north, far from the prying eyes of the Inquisitors--they literally had to convert in order to be able to board the ships.

Although a significant number intermarried and forgot their former faith in the new world (this was more difficult in Spain and Portugal, where they were constantly reminded and discriminated against), others continued to practice Judaism in secret---while also outwardly adhering to the Catholic faith, which was the recognized religion in the Spanish New World. A town could not be formed, in fact, until 30 families got together and a church was built--so the church was an imposing and constant presence in any small town. Until recently, it was assumed that these "crypto Jews" no longer existed, but this is not the case---it is clear that the tradition of crypto Judaism has been passed down for hundreds of years. And it was this clearly curious phenomena--why people would practice two religions, one in secret--that we were there to learn about.

In addition to Albuquerque, we visited Santa Fe and Chimayo, where we traveled to a Pueblo Indian village. Many of the Indians in this area also practice a dual religion--their own native customs and beliefs, and the Catholic religion that they, too, were forcibly converted to.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Albuquerque here we come!

Weather permitting, Marty and I are headed to Albuquerque, New Mexico with friends for a week. I say weather permitting, because another blizzard is forecast for Friday and Saturday. This week, we had a heavy snow on Wednesday, which caused most of the schools to close. In this world of change, it is refreshing to know that kids today do the same thing we used to do 50 years ago when snow forces a day off school: they build snowmen! Our neighbors built a whole family of them, and even strung Christmas lights at night to show off their work....