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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Trust No One?

Oasis Reflection: On Trust During Troubled Times

David: Why do people do such terrible things?
Sophie: Like what?
David: Like beat people, and kill them, and make them prisoners.
Sophie: Most people don’t do that, David.
David: My friend Johannes always used to tell me, "Trust no one."
Sophie: Oh, life wouldn’t be worth living if you did that, David. You can be cautious, but you have to let people in.
David: How do you know if they’re bad or not?
Sophie: David, most people are good. They have families and friends, and they just want to live their lives as happily as they can. Oh there will always be bad people in this world and you will usually know them when you meet them, but sometimes you won’t. But you can’t let that stop you from living your life fully and freely. And making friends and seeing the goodness in people because if you can’t do that you will never find any happiness.

Do you ever wonder how you can trust again after a difficult experience? I admit that I struggle with this one. Sometimes I think I'm a bit like the 12 year old David in the quote above. He was taken by himself to a Bulgarian concentration camp when he was young because of his family's political beliefs. Growing up away from his family in a lackluster environment surrounded by guards who are quick to administer punishment changes the way he interacts with people. He forgets how to smile. When unexpectedly he is given a chance to escape, he sets off on a journey across Europe to Denmark carrying important secret papers which later turn out to be his personal identification and the information needed to reunite him with his mother.
The story is compelling, but it is his interaction with Sophie, the Swiss woman who helps him to get in touch with his mother that is the most moving. She is played by Joan Plowright, a favorite English actress who plays a similar role, Mary who takes care of Luca Innocenti, in Tea with Mussolini. Both Sophie and Mary are exactly the kind of people I admire. In both of these roles, we meet creative, self-sufficient yet engaged with others woman; these women are not afraid to reach out when help is needed. Admittedly, I like Joan Plowright best in Enchanted April, where she plays Mrs. Fisher, a woman whose feelings have contracted so much that she has lost the ability to feel compassion for others, but then her time in Italy thaws the her heart and she realizes the importance of yielding to creative impulses and allowing connection with others. (photos from Facebook fan page)

Why am I pulled toward this type of character? I think I have to continually learn the trust lesson. I imagine myself sitting down and discussing life over a cup of Earl Grey tea with a wise woman like Sophie. If I let my imagination go further, I can envision that I might be a woman like Sophie in the future...and maybe a little now. However, at the moment, I'm feeling more like David-cut off and fighting with my own emotional demons- I'm particularly battling with trust issues.

Perhaps you know that my own mother was murdered by a neighbor. (I have told the story before-just click the link.) I don't know if you realize how perplexing it is to that young person who resides in me -ever an innocenti- who cannot comprehend how someone familiar and well-known-a lifelong neighbor- could do something so drastically cruel.

You read about people- this past weekend in Puerto Rico, for example- who kill their own spouse or family, and then turn the gun back on themselves. It seems like such a foreign experience. You never think you will have to confront that type of situation with anyone you personally know.
I have never been able to connect the act of murder with the known person who was my neighbor.
Factually, I know he did it. I've looked at him in photographs and in court but it never made sense to me. I think about his behavior more as a symptom of society's sickness and lack of tolerance for others differences. I have to make myself remember that it was his hand that pulled the trigger. It was Jim Brooks who killed my mother and her partner, Christine.
No, even after writing that statement, it still feels remote.
While viewing I am David, I allow myself to feel upset. After the movie, I watch an episode of Friends and found it extremely amusing. I laughed out loud. I felt freer somehow and more open to all emotions. I know it is important to feel. I also know that trying not to feel leads to depression. Did you know that when you have trouble, it often acts like a trigger for a cluster of repressed feelings, and there are some things that you just don't want to remember. Noticing myself going through this emotional roller coaster made me realize that I need to remember to feel and allow myself to trust people again.
Sophie is right, "...there will always be bad people in this world and you will usually know them when you meet them, but sometimes you won’t. But you can’t let that stop you from living your life fully and freely. And making friends and seeing the goodness in people because if you can’t do that you will never find any happiness." I'll take that wise-woman's advice!

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Day in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Blogland Lane Re-post-View from my Puerto Rican Oasis
Hi neighbors! Will you please excuse the resident of number 70 who has been out of town for a while? I want to share with you some of my everyday summer views of Puerto Rico. Many people think of Puerto Rico in a traditional somewhat nostalgic way, similar to this Sugar Cane painting that hangs on the walls of a local Old San Juan restaurant, Manolin Cafe but the reality is quite different.
Last week, I went to Old San Juan with Mr. Oasis where he is teaching for the summer and so much is happening at the Esquella Artes Plastica (Art School). The students have joined in with the University of Puerto Rico students to protest the government wide-budget cuts, and they are camped out on the lawn of El Morro. (Click here if you want to read an Oasis post about El Viejo San Juan.) What a lovely place to camp-even if it is illegal! I met my bff, Ms. D, for lunch at Manolin Cafe- a traditional Puerto Rican restaurant that locals frequent. I enjoyed the mofongo and Yaucono cafe served with hot milk. If you haven't tried Puerto Rican coffee, it's time to be adventurous. In my opinion, it is the best coffee in the world. Confession: When I visit state-side relatives, I find the unopened Christmas present coffee still in storage. Why is that? (My Michigan cousin, Tammy, says it's strong and they prefer coffee-tea! Her coffee drinking quirk is to mix instant chocolate into a cup of weak morning coffee, which apparently gives her more wake-up power.)
My friend, Ms. D, knows where to go and how to spend money wisely. She suggested lunch at the Manolin Cafe because it has the best local food at the most economical prices. However, the value is not a secret! We had to wait at the door for a few minutes to be seated. And of course we ran into a friend because Puerto Rico is small, and you run into friends everywhere. Deeply immersed in conversation with our former co-worker and now world traveling friend, Mr. G, we completely forgot to compete for our place in line. After noticing we were still not seated, I took the initiative to be the rude one and excused us from an extended talk about the political situation and policy at the University of Puerto Rico. Finally, we were seated and it was well worth the wait. The photo is a half serving of mofongo, served with white rice and a mixed salad. I recommend that you do not order the rice with mofongo. It's too heavy. What was my waiter thinking? I find that being a vegetarian in Puerto Rico is a challenge. Often perfectly nice servers will give me starch with starch served with a side of starch. My growing middle may be blamed on such eating experiences as these!
Aside: Friends you have to try making mofongo. It's not too difficult as long as you have access to green plantains. Yes, you have to peel them with a knife, but it's worth it to try. Yes, they have to be sliced in one inch pieces, fried in oil until both sides are golden, and then briefly cooked again-but here is where you change your tostones to mofongo.
Place the fried plantain in a container and smash them with lightly roasted garlic until they are broken down into a nicely textured rounded pile. Flip unto a plate and serve with a little salad and Spanish olive oil. Delicious! (Click here if you want to try a more traditional recipe that includes meat.)
What I do differently in this recipe: I allow the plantains to get crisp so that when they are mashed, they continue to have texture. Also, I drop the garlic cloves in oil until they are a bit crunchy as well. Both of these changes make even the meat-eating Mr. enjoy the days when I serve his traditional food vegetarian style.
~~~~~~~~~~~ These Spanish looking baked clay tiles are on the floor of the Art School. Above them, an old picnic table on one side, and just behind the table, a scrap pile of boards and disgarded art projects. In spite of their neglect, I find the tile pattern beautifully arranged and pleasing to the eye. Doesn't it give you a feeling of another time? The art school is losing funding-drastically-and the students continue to work on their projects even though it feels as if the roof is caving in. It's a highly competive art school that produces students who can create in both the classical style art and more modern media, such as computer graphics. What a shame that art is the first to go when money is scarce.
Blogland Neighbors, thank you for sharing a cup of cafe con leche and some traditional Puerto Rican food with me. If you want to borrow a cup of sugar, please stop by whenever you are near Blogland Lane # 70 -or if you prefer azucar mascabada o negra (cane or brown), come over to Oasis !

Reposted from Blogland Lane

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Animal Farm- Finca de los animales

Oasis Animals: Michelle's Eyes

Michelle, ma belle, sont des mots qui vont tres bien ensemble-
tres bien ensemble...
(The Beatles/Paul McCartney)

What is so compelling about our animal friends? I love Ma Belle, Michelle's, face. I love to press my forehead against hers and send her all my love. Contact with Michelle gives me such a feeling of profound well being. I know this is not unusual. Many people have a special connection with an animal friend.
I also feel great warmth (and sometimes anger) toward Miss Junie. She claims all flat surfaces with a sense of authority that defies all boundaries.
Lately, we have been having a territory battle over the large table that I use as a desk. She determinedly knocks over my pile of research books and brushes her paw across the carefully stacked and ordered mail while she makes herself quite comfortable as owner of the table. But what can I do? She's the queen of the house, and is likely to punish anyone who attempts to constrain her. (These punishments are unspeakably naughty! If you have a territorial cat, you completely understand. If not, it's best not to go into it.
Recently, she has allowed me to pick her up and hold her in a close hug. Her tolerance of my affection has made me so much more permissive about her eccentricities.
This lovely yogi cat (Lionheart, Temple Cat) is from the Seven Centers Yoga Arts in Sedona, Arizona (photo credit and to read the latest newsletter click here.)
A love song to our animal friends...

Only You by Ringo Starr's quirky video expresses this sentiment! (Click to watch the video!)
Only you, can make this world seem bright.
Only you, can make the darkness bright.
Only you and you alone can thrill me like you do
and fill my heart with love for only you
Only you can make this change in me.
For it's true, you are my destiny.
When you hold my hand, I understand the magic that you do.
You're my dream come true.
My one my one and only you.

Introducing Benicio del Toro (AKA Beni' and 'Nicio)!
He is the classic dog. Completely loyal. Completely protective. He is our oldest stray. One day, his mother, Ms. Nellie, arrived at our gate and just waited. She waited until the night. She waited until the next morning. She found her way into the fenced in back area and settled in. We fed her and then it was all over. Little Ms. Nellie was pregnant. The following day, she had our little bull- headed, Beni!

A few words of love by the renowned (and occasionally sardonic) poet, Billy Collins:

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her dog house
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance—
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Ghandi with his staff and his holy diapers?

Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.

If only she did not shove the cat aside
every morning
and eat all his food
what a model of self-containment she would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only she were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in her welcomes,
if only I were not her god.

"Dharma" by Billy Collins, from Sailing Alone Around the Room. Random House, 2002.

And if that is not enough, here is a story that you can read to your little ones:

I’m a Big Boy
It was time for bed, but Joey was afraid of the dark.
“Go to bed Joey”, his mom said.
The room was dark. A big shadow moved on the wall.
“Mom” Joey yelled, “Mom!”
“What is it son?”
“There’s a big shadow on the wall!”
“A shadow,?” His mom asked “It’s from the big tree outside your window!”
Joey wanted to be brave but when his mom left, the shadow grew!
Joey could not fall asleep and only by holding his stuffed animal, Buster Brown, could he quiet his fear.
The next morning Joey went to the park with his mom. He had dark shadows underneath his eyes. He was cranky.
He met his friend Suzy.” Hey Joey, do you want to play ball?” Joey didn’t answer.
You look sad. She asked him, “What’s wrong, Joey?”
Joey said, “I’m sad”.
“Why are you sad?” asked Suzy.
“It’s a secret. I’ll tell you if you promise not to tell.”
Joey told Suzy everything, even the part about the shadow and how his stuffed animal, Buster Brown helped him fall asleep.
“I think I know how to help you, but it’s a surprise. I’ll come over this afternoon.”
Later, Suzy talked to her mother and then, they came over to Joey’s house with a gift.
When Joey and his mom opened the door, they saw that it was a soft fluffy puppy!
“Oh mom, can I keep him? And can he sleep in my room?” Joey asked.
She smiled, “Yes dear, but only if you are a big boy.”
Joy said to his new brown puppy, “I am a big boy, Buster Brown!”And everyone laughed.
Joey knew he was a big boy because he took care of a real puppy and big boys are not afraid of the dark!
Here's wishing you all the puppy love you want!