Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Vineyard vehicles

Since Martha's Vineyard serves as a playground for the rich, naturally one sees a lot of BMWs, various hulking SUVs, and the occasional Hummer. But because the island has mild weather and thrives on a cultivated eccentricity, it also is home to a bummer crop of relic cars. Maybe not quite on a par with Cuba, but plenty enough to notice.

This vintage Bug just whets the appetite.

Sometimes her friend "Margaret" comes to visit.

Margaret is a vintage Chevy, nothing fancy in her youth, but now a proud and serviceable antique.

Even her bumper stickers proclaim her age and culture.

Working vehicles also show their age.

Some positively gleam.

No, this pump along the side of the road doesn't actually work.

At that price, don't we wish it did?

Even the modern gas station in West Tisbury looks kind of quaint. Quaint is part of the attraction here.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A letter from Beirut:
"bringing the war to closure"

A worker sprays disinfectant, to prevent diseases, at the rubble of buildings that were destroyed during the 34-day long Hezbollah-Israel war, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, Aug. 28, 2006. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Tawil)

Tina Naccache wrote:

...So I went to movies. And to a meeting. And one Tai-Chi class. And most of all fell apart.

I had been so tired that I felt it in every bone and couldn't keep my eyes open in the evening. But also couldn't really sleep. So on Friday, I drank coffee. And then set myself to straighten up papers. It took two days work and mounds of paper thrown into the garbage; I have ended up with seven binders straightened up.

I read a short piece in a newspaper; then I understood why I was doing it. The writer talked about how people who had left their homes and returned to find them either standing or hit or flattened felt that the war was over. The returnees were feeling it. The people of Beirut who just heard it all and stayed in their homes were feeling kind of lost because the war for them was not over. And this is why Beirut is still unable to go back to life.

After reading this, I understood that my cleaning up the folders was my way of turning a new page, of bringing the war to closure. So yesterday I wanted to go to the southern suburb, to check on my friend Luqman's house. I knew it had been hit.

We drove near the main entrance of Shatila and headed straight. It was strange not to see the bridge. The airport's bridge is just cut. Very strange sight. Luqman's house is partly hit. Not badly by the standard of what was to be seen. But badly by any other standard.

We drove inside some of the wider streets. I didn't want to see it all, just to have a feeling. Very quickly tears came up to my eyes at the sight of mounds of rubble. Here and there, between buildings there is a mound. Tall buildings flattened with few marks from shrapnel hitting the surrounding buildings. Just the blast effect on the windows and outside curtains (the ones on the balconies) and the inside. But no holes cut by shrapnel. I know of about shrapnel; parts of my apartment are marked by shrapnel gouges from the civil war. They have become part of the walls and the surroundings.

Stuck in a street narrowed by rubble, I had time to look around at the piles of debris that were just outside the car window. I saw a computer keyboard that had lost only its space bar. As I type this, tears come up again. Our lives are in a keyboard. Mine, yours. People like you and me lost everything. Even the backups must have been lost.

And not because of Mother Nature. And not because of a virus. Just because of the arrogance and hatred and stupidity and foolishness of humans, men and women. The pilots should be taken to an international court. War criminals.

It was Sunday and the machinery was silent. But I saw some men near a building with paper masks covering their nose and mouth. They looked like professionals assessing the work to be done. I could see a mattress salvaged on the side of the street. Who will sleep on it with all the dust and the burning smells? Indeed on some streets I could smell the same burning smell that the wind carried to my apartment during the bombing.

When we drove away from the area, Albert said: "What is terrible is to see how gratuitous was this bombing." We were already at the beginning of the Green Line of the preceding wars. We passed a building that has a tire shop at street level while the two floors above were destroyed some decades ago and were never rebuilt. The walls were pocked. Plants growing inside some holes here and there. An old beaten up building that had seen fighting. A totally different sight from what we had just seen. No flattening. Marks of fighting. One could imagine the men shooting at the building with different kinds of weapons. Obviously the inhabitants would have run away as happened on my parents' street.

The destruction of this recent war doesn't seem human made. It feels as if the bombs were dropped by demi-gods, flying the skies with no human challenge. Pilots believing themselves to be Haddad, the Zeus of this part of the world. Stupid men. Criminals. A friend told me today that another friend went to the suburbs to check on her house. She was with her husband. They started arguing about which mound was their home. Several buildings had collapsed and the view of the rubbles confused them. Flattened buildings. Flattened homes. Flattened as if someone had pushed with a mighty hand and all became a pile of concrete. Nothing to be salvaged.

We drove down the entire Green Line starting from the flattened southern suburbs. Layers of wars. Leftovers of wars. When we passed the public garden behind the racetrack on the other side of the museum, the pine trees were alive and well. This part of the garden is not open to the public yet. The city of Paris and its suburbs financed the replanting of the area. The garden is called "Hersh," the word for forest in Arabic. It had been planted by the Amir Fakhreddine, 250 years ago. Israeli pilots had burned it in 1982. This is not the first time they flatten and burn in my city.

We went down to the Corniche [Beirut's famous seaside promenade]. The Corniche was full of people. Some with covered heads and some with beautiful hair. Children of all ages. Families. Mothers. Young men smoking water pipes seated on plastic chairs. Bicycles that were a real nuisance. Roller skaters. Gay men in the spot they always pick at night. Some people were fishing although the sea has not recovered yet and the oil is covering the rocks in the bottom. I walked enjoying the scenery. People were alive. The sun was setting with no drama.

It came to me that Beirut had a strange power. People kept coming to visit and many loved it and were taken by its charm, while we had still scars of fighting that happened 30 years ago. A special city I guess.

When I made it home I listened to Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah while embroidering. He is such a great orator and such a great speaker. He was interviewed by a woman. Her questions were good, they allowed him to express himself. His answers were exciting to listen to. I made an indent in the embroidery. I felt I was coming back to life.

When Lebanon is not under attack, Tina Naccache works for the rights of domestic workers and makes films.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Martha's Vineyard trails

During my unexpected summer on this agricultural island cum vacation refuge for the rich, I've done what I always do and gone looking for trails. As a Californian, I've had some learning to do.
  • They don't do public lands on this side of the country. Most land has been privately owned for hundreds of years. In general, landowners jealously guard against trespassers.
  • Land that is available to the public often consists of conservation easements and the holdings of a few non-profit conservation outfits. Martha's Vineyard actually is fortunate to have the Vineyard Conservation Society and the Sheriff's Meadow Foundation, among other non-profits. A public entity, the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank, uses the proceeds of a real estate transfer tax to buy up land for public use. Something over 10 percent of the land is under various conservation restrictions, but that doesn't mean it is publicly accessible.
  • One of the factors ensuring that access remains restricted is that there is no legal place to park a car adjacent to most of the wilder areas. If you don't live nearby, it takes some ingenuity to get to a trail head.
  • That is assuming that you can find a trail head. Many, perhaps most are not marked or marked at one end only. I found more than one by simply nosing around off dirt roads, hoping that the path I was following wouldn't end up in someone's back yard. I had already found most of the nearby ones before I learned that the Vineyard Conservation Society sells a small book with pretty good directions to many of the island's trails.
So what's out there to be found on the Martha's Vineyard's trails?

These third growth woods are support a lot of underbrush, almost thickets at times.

The greens in these woods are intense.

Rare older trees are majestic.

Woodpeckers ate well on whatever this dead tree harbored.

The Land Bank marks its trails distinctively.

And does provide some road side signs.

But this too is a trail head. Would you be able to guess?

Once on the trails, the conservation outfits remind you off the neighbors' property.

Often the path will follow an old stonewall.

Very occasionally you'll pass an interesting structure. Was this a church or meetinghouse?

Sometimes, far off, you can spy a well hidden McMansion.

The highest point on this island is 311 feet above sea level. Trails here do not lead to dramatic vistas. The beauties are mostly more subtle. Here a glimpse of the ocean, hemmed in with greenery.

I happened on unexpected delights, such as this wetland at a tiny stream's source. It has been a tremendous privilege to explore these New England woods, to know a little of a kind of land so very unlike the area where I live.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Peace newspaper comes out of retirement

This morning I read that Iran and Turkey are shelling the part of U.S.-occupied Iraq where the Kurds live. Administration thugs like U.N. Ambassador John Bolton keep pressing for a U.S. war on Iran. The news is all wars and rumors of wars and Democrats are dithering.

This country desperately needs a more active citizen peace movement. If we are to have a chance to end the Administration's policy of force and violence everywhere, if we think attacking Iran is not just a bad idea, but a recipe for disaster, aroused people need to get out and organize for new policies, for peace. War Times/Tiempo de Guerras is one free tool to help activists build the demand for peace.

Lots of people STILL don't participate in online forums like this one. We need to engage them in conversation and offer them credible reading material. A special print issue of War Times/Tiempo de Guerras newspaper will be available in September. This eight-page, bilingual newsprint tabloid was published from 2002-2004 to provide a free resource to anti-war individuals and groups to do outreach to folks who don't get their information from forums like this. (Disclosure: I have been part of the War Times volunteer activist core since its founding.)

The paper went into semi-retirement in 2004 because we saw that a majority in the U.S. was coming to oppose the Iraq war -- our peace energies could be better used elsewhere, including on the election that year. We did continue to maintain a web presence and write background flyers for free download. But we believed that the peace movement no longer needed a printed tabloid; the kinds of stories that early on after 9/11 were not covered, such as the Bush administration's phony claims about Iraq's WMDs, were now mainstream front page news.

But this summer, U.S. neo-conservatives, with far too much cooperation from Israel and forces everywhere which embrace military solutions to all problems, have pushed the world toward wider carnage. We now live amid constant speculation about a U.S. attack on Iran. The War Times folks thought making available an issue covering multiple threats would be a service to the U.S. peace movement. We've raised enough money (though we always need more) to print and ship a September paper.

Our editorial notice explained:

In the last few weeks, war, occupation, death and destruction have dangerously intensified in the Middle East. The U.S. government has encouraged Israel's devastation of Lebanon and Gaza. Three thousand civilians are dying by violence each month in Iraq. Almost a million Iraqis are living as refugees in neighboring countries. The mainstream press offers its unquestioning approval of U.S. and Israeli moves, while condemning -- or ignoring -- the widespread opposition of the Arab world.

This one-sided news coverage reminds us of the early days of the U.S. "War on Terror" and of the buildup for the war in Iraq. In those times few media voices were raised to oppose the Bush Administration's designs. We face a similar situation today....

We will of course make the issue contents available on our website and to our email list. But the printed version will allow organizers, teachers, activists, and all peace-loving people to provide the issue for free to their neighbors, colleagues, students, members, friends and families. We hope it will be a contribution to peace with justice in the Middle East.

Free papers in bulk are available for the asking from this address. For more information visit War Times/Tiempo de Guerras.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Yet another Lebanese joke

Thanks to The Arabist.

Friday Cat Blogging:
Mr. Cat gets what he wants

They're having drinks, cheese and crackers. Maybe they've put out something for me.

Just a little closer. I do like cheese.

Maybe they won't notice if I sniff.

That looks good.

Hey -- she is interferring!

Who me? I wasn't going to do anything wrong...but the cheese is still there.

You can always guilt trip them. They're well trained. I work at it.

Better clean up now. I mustn't let on that I got my way.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Katrina in Edgartown

THE place to be on Martha's Vineyard yesterday was at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown for an event titled "Hurricane Katrina: The Aftermath." Spike Lee, along with one hour of his HBO documentary, headlined the event. A panel conisting of African American academic luminaries who summer on the Vineyard followed, urging the audience to remember the storm and how our society treated its victims.

Folks gathered early to be sure to get into the sold out event.

Thinking the doors were opening, they pushed forward...

but gradually formed a more orderly line. The panel was distinguished.

Moderator Charles J. Ogletree of Harvard Law School and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice

Mia Bagneris, New Orleans native and Harvard graduate student (left), Dr. Manning Marable, historian, political theorist, and human rights activist

Lani Guinier, Harvard Law School

Film maker Spike Lee really said it all though:

While we're all up here on the Vineyard
living high on the hog,
let's remember those people down in the bog...

The event raised some $12,000 for hurricane-related relief.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Brazilians on the Vineyard

Sign for the Brazilian cantina on a back road in Vineyard Haven

Even in a resort playground, somebody has to do the work. In the modern United States, hard, undignified and dirty work is usually done by immigrants, often undocumented. Here in Martha's Vineyard, for the last ten years, many of the immigrants doing the scut work have come from Brazil.

This island, which hosts 75,000 people in mid-summer, shrinks to some 15,000 residents in the winter. It is estimated that 2-3000 of these are Brazilians, the island's low wage work force. The life they come to is hard:

Joao, a middle-aged Brazilian painter, says that he deals with life one day at a time. “Every day I break a new barrier” he says, “finishing a day’s work is a new victory.”

...[Joao's friend] Pereira, 18, is optimistic about his life on Martha’s Vineyard. After only four months of work, he is hoping that in eight months he will have already earned enough money to repay the $10,000 his aunt lent him in Brazil to pay the human trafficking agency that arranged his journey to Martha’s Vineyard. Unlike some Brazilians, he does not have a deadline to pay the sum; nor does he have to pay interest on it. He estimates the cost of living for himself and most Brazilians on the Island to be $800-900 monthly, roughly $30 daily, which includes rent, telephone bills, food, and in his case the cost of being an indentured servant to his aunt for the next year.

... In Brazil, both Joao and Pereira were led to believe that they could easily make upwards of $25 per hour in the United States. Both currently earn $13 an hour and say that only English speaking Brazilians who have professional skills can make $18-25 an hour....

They say that a friend who only makes $9/hr must work 16-hour days so he can pay off the money that he borrowed to come here and simultaneously support his family in Brazil.
Martha's Vineyard Times, August 18, 2005

Neither of these men plans to stay in the United States permanently, though New England has historically become home to many previous Portuguese-speaking immigrants, mostly from the Azores.

Naturally the new community has the usual detractors. Here's an excerpt from a letter to the editor from a Vineyarder who clearly thinks her space has been invaded:

Has anyone else taken notice of the court news? There seems to be a recurring trend. Last week at least half of the people listed were Brazilians or other foreigners, all going to court for no license or a fake license, no inspection, no insurance, etc.

On the other hand, island public libraries and educators are making serious efforts to serve this newcomer population. And island musicians are enjoying cross cultural fertilization.

Given the tension over their presence, their demanding lives and the cost of doing business on this island, it is not surprising that Vineyard Brazilians have not created a highly visible cultural enclave. There are Brazilian-oriented businesses, but you won't find a lot of people in any of them in the middle of the day -- folks are working. Here's a tour of a few I found.

The cantina was empty at mid-day.

Inside shelves displayed a limited variety of Brazilian products.

At the commercial strip mall outside Edgartown, you wouldn't know that a store carrying Brazilian imports occupied the corner space.

In fact, you might not even know from looking at the doorway.

Though a close look at the window sign might be a tip off. This one also was empty of customers at midday.

Around a corner, I noticed this door to a remittance office from which earnings flow to Brazil. It is probably more important to many Vineyard Brazilians than any business asking them to spend their money.

By far the most visible Brazilian institution I found was this evangelical Protestant church in Vineyard Haven.

Looks like Brazilian Christians are here to stay.