Martin Rushmere on Marin Onstage’s production of Ibsen’s Doll’s House

(printed early to catch readers before the show ends)

A Doll’s House

Marin Onstage

Directed by Ron Nash

Little Theatre, St Vincent’s, Marin

Through November 17

Brave Nora? Poor Nora? Selfish Nora?  The strength of Marin Onstage’s production of Ibsen’s A Doll House is that the acting and dramatization are of such quality that they leave the audience free to make up its own mind whether Nora is justified in slamming the door on a marriage plus three children.

The production is so good that the questions Ibsen asked 130 years ago about women’s place in the world and home get beneath the skin and make a modern audience question its own complacency about marriage, the home and personal duty.

 As ever, 75 percent of the success or failure of the production lies with the lead role, and Stephanie Foster’s wonderful performance ensures the success. Her girlish twitter completes the impression of a naïve “little lark” concerned only with frivolous spending and making her husband happy. As Krogstad’s blackmail net draws closer the twitter is heard less often and becomes more forced. Director Ron Nash brings out the particular power of Foster in the frenzied tarantella dance rehearsal, timing the long pause at the end exactly to bring out the sense of impending doom that awaits Nora.  

But Foster could still show more steely resolve in the showdown with Torvald to prove that the “little lark” has flown away for ever.

Gabriel Ross as Torvald in fact is the more powerful in the final scene, particularly in forbidding his wife from having any future contact with the children and stopping her from reading Krogstad’s letter, even though it is addressed to her. The success of his own performance is ensured in the declaration “I would gladly work night and day for you, Nora–bear sorrow and want for your sake. But no man would sacrifice his honor for the one he loves” – shocking and thought-provoking at the same time.

Her retort restores the balance of power. “It is a thing hundreds of thousands of women have done.”

 Jim McFadden brings out a fine measure of whining, crushed resentment against the world as Krogstad, making the observer reluctantly feel some compassion. But a greater sense of menace is needed to show he will destroy her husband if Nora does not meet his demands.

Bill McClave dons a competent persona as Dr. Rank, the family friend secretly in love with Nora. Their own denouement falls short of convincing however, almost as though McClave is not fully concentrating on delivering his admission – which sets the pace for the whole scene — with the right mix of emotions.

Kelsey Sloan as Mrs. Linde works up power and moves into her character as the scenes unfold. Her first scene elicits an “uh, oh, is she up to the part?” but she gains confidence and shades Krogstad in their big encounter.

Regardless of performance, Ibsen almost always brings out the bleakest aspects of humans. The comments on religion and suicide make us despair of our whole existence.

Ron Nash’s production proves that local companies (with the exception of a certain Marin group) do have the ability to stage the classics,which should not be the preserve of big city groups only.

A personal plea to directors and producers the world over. Why, ohhh why, are the slam of the door and the letter in the mailbox,   the enduring symbols of A Doll House, so often portrayed OFF STAGE? Just putting the mailbox on stage ratchets up the tension – and gives Nora a greater range of opportunities to show her state of mind.

Martin Rushmere is a writer and journalist from Sausalito, California and may be reached at martinzim@earthlink.net

 

Synchronized Chaos November 2013 – Mapping the Inner and Outer Cosmos

 

“You are not obliged to finish the task; neither are you free to neglect it.”  –  Pirkei Avot 2:21

Welcome to November’s issue of Synchronized Chaos Magazine.

Many cultures view the last few days of October and beginning of November as a special time to remember and honor those who have passed on, to reconnect with history and heritage. We wish a happy Day of the Dead, Samhain, Diwali, and Halloween to those who celebrate.

We also mention some insightful, courageous writing from longtime contributor Jaylan Salah, from Alexandria, Egypt. She recently had a piece published in the Elephant Journal about the freedom in being authentic: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/10/nakedly-naked-jaylan-salah/ and another on poverty and sexism within modern Egyptian culture: http://guardianlv.com/2013/10/egypt-the-country-you-know-nothing-about/ Please feel free to take a look at these short pieces.

This month we voyage out into the vast expanse of the universe, looking to culture, history, science and geopolitics for insight.

Charlotte (Capaldo) Shea reviews Robot Futures, Dr. Illah Reza Nourbakhsh’s book on the scientific promise of robotics research. Rather than repeat skepticism and fears about ‘robots taking our jobs,’ Nourbakhsh takes a more optimistic and curious tack, exploring various technical possibilities and holding out faith in humanity’s ability to adapt.

Regular neuroscience columnist Leena Prasad reviews Dr. Eric Chulder’s Neuroscience Haiku, a collection of thoughts on brain science expressed in the traditional Japanese poetic form by the University of Washington researcher. Dr. Chulder communicates modern findings through a form of expression that goes back centuries, engaging us as we learn about the frontiers of research.

Leemond Dollins’ poem, “A Day on the Mat,” where a speaker combats depression through yoga and medication, plays with form, varying line lengths according to a Fibonacci sequence pattern often seen in nature, such as within the structures of pine cones, seashells, and leaf and flower petals.

Nigerian medical student and essayist Ayokunle Ayk Adeleye discusses the university staff strike in his home country and warns his government against violent solutions. His piece provides a view of current affairs from a local citizen’s perspective.

Also, and sometimes at the same time that we look outward, we peer within, to our minds, hearts, and desires. These submissions express our wishes for transcendence, our longings to go beyond our own lives and circumstances and connect with something larger than ourselves.

Sages and philosophers have admonished us for ages that if we want to unveil beauty, solve the mysteries of existence, or teach others about living a meaningful life, we must first confront our own issues. While that makes sense, it is difficult to figure out how to deal with ourselves – prompting another maxim, that the problems facing our age may not be solvable by the minds that created them.

However, we need to start somewhere – we may be imperfect when it comes to understanding and moral strength, but sometimes we are all we’ve got! Even when we turn to faith, there is still some element of human responsibility in terms of understanding and living out the values of our spiritual traditions. The mere fact that something is difficult, or even impossible in its entirety for us as mortal creatures does not necessarily excuse us from the duty to attempt it. And this month’s contributors, when their thoughts turn inward, make attempts at honest reflection and self-analysis.

Charles Mazzarella celebrates the creative journey in his piece on the writing process, going beyond his own work to discuss the art in general and setting a tone for this issue.

Sophie Mazoschek highlights the brevity and fragility of each of our moments, and each of our lives, in her imaginative rendering of a San Francisco bus ride. Her vignette extends the life of a small slice of time. Jack Savage graces us with another dream image, reaching into his subconscious to create an interesting striped animal.

Kamila Boegedal expresses her speaker’s desire to touch the cosmos, to expand her circle of thought and concern beyond her own daily matters. She longs for the freedom to reach up to the heavens and to share the relative permanence of trees.  She yearns to expand, to connect to something larger outside herself.

Sue Barnard chronicles literal journeys in this issue, to the less-frequented Roman ruins of Ostia and to a Swiss independence day celebration. Yet these travels represent something more than just a personal diary, reminding us why we go to visit historical places. Apart from intellectual curiosity, we are acknowledging that we are part of something larger, that humanity existed before us and will continue after our passing. We are not so unique as to have never faced many of the vagaries of human life and nature before, yet we are important enough to play some part in leaving a legacy for future generations.

Emma Bernstein also looks to mythology in her poem Chained Woman, evoking images of the stars and the cosmos, as well as classical Greek tales, in her piece on the constellation Andromeda. Science here is a modern day myth, re-infused with the idea of sacrifice and redemption.

Bill Vernon provides an earthy, humorous look at one man’s dedication to Latin translation, choosing the elevation of the mind over the needs of the body.

James Humphries, Texas’ first prison fine arts teacher, as described by his son Jonathan in the memoir Windham’s Rembrandt, and reviewed here by Kimberly Brown, had to deal with his own issues before being able to serve others. This became a practical necessity as well as a psychological platitude, since he realized he was also vulnerable to some of the same life issues and temptations facing his students. Mr. Humphries develops empathy for the inmates as he encounters his own problems, and becomes able to teach them without either judging them as human beings or coming from a superior position to pity them as poor victims. The book honors the humanity of its characters – in and out of prison – without ignoring or excusing negative actions on their part, by illustrating their capacity for reflection, growth and change in the face of internal and external obstacles.

David Toussaint’s book DJ: The Dog Who Rescued Me, also deals with self-examination, with a protagonist who finds his way out of depression. Reviewed here by Elizabeth Hughes, and illustrated by Piero Ribelli, the book shows a narrator who avoids the pitfall of self-absorption even as he tackles his own personal issues by staying connected to the larger world through caring for a rescue dog. Dealing with ourselves doesn’t have to mean neglecting our responsibilities to each other, or completely isolating ourselves from others’ needs, and can be a mutually enriching process.

Hughes also reviews Paul deBlassie’s The Unholy, a novel using the paranormal genre not as an escape but as a way to explore the spiritual, the psychological, the world beyond what we can see. DeBlassie aims to promote values of life, healing, nature and nurturing through his work, as opposed to greed and lust for control, and the horror aspect of the book highlights the real harm caused by selfishness and ignorance, and shows the need for and power of the beauty and grace within the story.

Daniel Jacobs’ The Eyes of Abel, as reviewed here by Fran Lewis, shows a journalist learning to confront and tackle his unconscious political biases, and those of the rest of his media organization. Charlin is well-meaning, brave, and determined to expose the truth, but must first make sure he understands the complete picture. The novel suggests that peace in the Middle East may become possible when we hear the perspectives of all involved and grapple with the deeper economic roots of the conflict.

Irving Greenfield also addresses inner reflection in his melancholy short story, “Sorrows of Santa.” The piece suggests there is a price to pay for losing the illusions that have become ingrained in and possibly necessary to our society. How much would fall apart if things got examined, if we faced reality? Do we need to live a lie? Conversely, how could we find and provide hope while telling the truth to ourselves and our children?

Greenfield’s next tale, “Toward a Darkling Plain,” shows the pain that can come from facing reality, as a lonely man’s adult worries resemble his childhood terrors. As James Humphries dramatizes in Windham’s Rembrandt, we are only so strong, whether in the face of inner weaknesses or external threats. That is part of why we turn to myths, heritage, faith and the larger world for transcendence – not just for personal strength, but for the reassurance that life will continue after we are gone, that something will outlast us even when we lose our own battles.

Please enjoy this month’s issue of Synchronized Chaos Magazine, and please feel free to leave comments for our writers and artists!

Poetry from Emma Bernstein

Chained Woman

By Emma Bernstein

Andromeda,

Flesh spun into stars

Crooked limbs

Stretched like galaxies across blueberry-velvet skies

You tremor above pavement

Cast your frail glow on autumn evenings

Andromeda,

My lonely sacrifice

Appease our gods

With their ice-carved features

Find me absolution for my sins

Andromeda,

My wayward flame

Bound to stone

Bound to constellations

Plush lips bellow mournfully

As I watch from my window

Forgive me,

My darling Andromeda

I have fallen from grace

My wings are dust

White ash drifting listlessly

Through gray fingers

And I fear you are my redemption

Essay from Ayokunle Adeleye

Again on the ASUU Strike. (ASUU: Academic Staff Union of Universities)

There are hints, yes, insinuations, that the President, if ASUU rejects his next (perhaps, last) offer, will forcefully open the Universities- and perhaps Polytechnics, since ASUP is also on strike.

I’m forced to ask (myself), Can that happen? Will he drag the lecturers back to class or will he teach us himself?- I particularly look forward to a lecture on Schistosomiasis since he had a shoeless childhood.

But I answer my own question from my recollection of national events a mere score and two months ago when he let soldiers loose on our streets and shut down our (peaceful) protests against the petroleum product subsidy cut. Can he do that again? Can’t he?

Only the weeks ahead will tell. But if history is anything to go by, we have a President who resorts to force once he feels he’s at the wall. We’ve wondered if his is a pseudo-military regime. We just might get the answer soon enough- disappointingly.

As I pray it wrong the opinion that “the only lesson men learn from history is that men learn nothing from history”, I also pray that our President doesn’t have the Biblical Jonathan’s temper- or feel at wall, hands on throat and choking away. For we know how that ends.

Or do we now? With our colonial masters wondering just what to do with us, corrupt and rather corruption-ridden- and our rather enticing resources. With the former President tactfully silent- and silently tact. With the Military yet waiting on the lord- and renewing their strength.

God help us.

Amen.

Ayokunle Adeleye. Sagamu, Ogun State, Nigeria.

Poetry from Leemond Dollins

 

A day on the Mat

A pill in my hand

and four on the floor.

The sage stretches forward and down

to release the hips and something

more, something collective and shared with

the group.

A yogi wet dream seems to

slip between the mat and

the breath.

Truth

soothes.

The truth

is the pill;

pills make the pain dawn

upon land soaked in mania.

He takes his place in the hell that designed depression.

Downward dog deletes the ego.

The truth comes to him.

Energy

is the

hope

spring.

Catalyst consists

of potential that

exists as waves of motion.

Change from tradition

is a logical

decision. Downward dog

massages the truth that

circumnavigates the pill.

The four on the floor that

give birth to greater pain

are left there with

disdain. The future

forgotten and the past foreseen

realize that now is the truth

that one’s wish designs.

Charlotte Shea reviews Dr. Illah Reza Nourbakhsh’s Robot Futures

 

I attended a robotics media panel recently and was disheartened when the topics were announced. Three public voices central to communicating the complexities of robotics were about to engage us in an hour-long discussion on the two most contrived topics: drones, and robots taking our jobs. I patiently sat to indulge the predictable concerns, hoping someone might enlighten me with something new.

Just a few days later I read Illah Reza Nourbakhsh book Robot Futures and found what I was looking for. I believe Nourbakhsh would have been similarly unenthused with the topics, though the the contrast of profound contributions would have been refreshing. This situation is symptomatic of the nature of the hazy field, a moment he calls “robot smog.” Perpetually just beyond our reach, the existing technologies don’t offer much else to discuss but the relevant controversies.

His ethical probings consider the challenges and benefits of interacting with robots; the new spaces of augmented reality; and how, someday, our very bodies will be littered with nanobots. He does so from the expert perspective of a Carnegie Melon University engineer, and with great humility.

To inform the world of what is to be expected from robotic innovations over the next few decades, Nourbakhsh sets out to describe the haziness of this “ragged frontier.” The varying innovative paces of the key robot ingredients, from hardware to networks, make predicting what will be deemed a “robot” in the future nearly impossible, though worthwhile. His knowledge of the technologies, juxtaposed with his sci-fi vignettes, offer a glimpse of the future and of the author himself. Nourbakhsh creates a space in which we can begin to grasp our future. He reasons that, though much of the technology now seems superfluous and confined to places humans don’t want to be, we ought to thoughtfully consider their potential.

We have every reason to believe that we will embrace robots and other interactive media the way we have our smartphones. We were born multitaskers, and hang on our friend’s every recommendation for flash card, cloud storage, and babysitter apps. We can’t help but yearn for the kaleidoscope of ways to expedite our daily to-dos. Imagine how the average robot—smarter than the average human—could help and work with you.

Nourbakhsh describes intelligent systems that are already engrained in our society. Adbots—data-mining algorithms for ad-placement—bridge the digital and physical worlds in profound ways. When your regular news source websites start showing you overstock.com products that you were scrolling through the day before do you feel a little twinge? What will these dynamic marketing strategies make of our free will? Aren’t they judging our actions—our search results—to feign knowing us?

This is the unsettling aspect of our future with robots. They will know more than and about us, using their seeming omnipotence to give us superpowers. Our masterful multitasking will only feed the billowing innovation. The human-machine interface will grow exponentially indecipherable, and our roles on the planet will look as foreign as the profession of computer programmer might to a pilgrim. Perhaps every life will become, as Nourbakhsh puts it, the “CEO of Me Incorporated”, in which physical limitations disappear and we are in multiple places at once. Institutions will be similarly enhanced.

The majority of research happening today is government funded, and much of it won’t effect the lives of the American public any day soon. Nourbakhsh himself has devoted his time and talent to developing interactive media to educate the public of technology, thereby effecting their daily lives. He encourages creators to seek altruistic motivations and funding.

What Nourbakhsh manages to emphasize amidst his frank depictions of possible futures, is a vote for humanity’s ability to adapt as we have in the past—an idea often overlooked by popular media and the panel alike. What he sees in this new human-inspired race is an opportunity “to affirm the most non-robotic quality of our world: our humanity.”

Charlotte Shea is a science journalist from the San Francisco Bay Area, and may be reached at aline4shea@gmail.com 

Robot Futures may be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Robot-Futures-Illah-Reza-Nourbakhsh/dp/0262018624/

Poetry from Charles Mazzarella

The Mystery of Written Word

From deep slumber does this pen arise
But cause the motion giver to be evermore a blither.
For sleep does at times but whisper my name,
Though I answer not its call.
Important more for me is this:
That the words upon which you now gaze,
Create themselves from brain to ink
And allow my mind, for now, a chance to rest.
Words flow within my head
As waves upon uncharted shores.
Amazed am I at the result
Though the author of them, I am not.
Inspired by God or someone beyond the grave,
I take the credit nonetheless.

Kimberly Brown on Jonathan Humphries’ Windham’s Rembrandt

Kimberly Brown on Jonathan Humphries’ Windham’s Rembrandt, a memoir of his ex-Marine father’s work as Texas’ first prison art teacher

A noble and peaceful man embarks on an adventure when he decides to take a job in a Texas prison.

James feels privileged to be able to teach art. However, by teaching art in prison, James encounters some of the greatest challenges of his entire life.

James was initially going through problems of his own when he first started working at the prison. But he soon decided that if he was going to provide aid in any way to these prisoners, he had to let go of his own inner demons. He had to deal with everything that caused him to stumble and get into a sober mind to deal with the prisoners regularly.

James, newly divorced and a stone cold alcoholic, put all that behind him, to find God, to serve prisoners, and to find love.
Although reluctant at times about whether or not he would continue to work at the prison, James stuck it out as long as he could. Before he would leave the prison, he would see men so depressed that they would kill themselves. He would be pranked by his art students on many occasions. And he would also stay in touch with a couple of his students from the past. James gave his students, through an art class, an outlet to release and express themselves.

Although what James saw behind those walls at the prison pained him daily, he would return. And he would often be surprised and amazed by his students, some of whom possessed a professional level of talent for drawing and art work. James would grow to love to help his art students in the prison. He even found a tough, threatening inmate student willing to be his own personal ally in times of prison trouble and someone who came to defend him against attacks from other convicts.

James would become more involved and meet more prisoners from different walks of life. Many surprised him because they had what seemed to be normal lives before prison. While others, whom he could hardly bear to see and teach, had committed brutal crimes.

James and his students made history. James was a pioneer in creating that art class in that Texas prison and making it work for he and his students. In life, we all go through our troubles, and James refused to let his personal life get in the way of the compassion that he had for teaching art to his troubled prison students. James carved a path for many of his prisoners, inside and outside of the class. He was a great man who spent over a decade serving them.

Kim Brown lives in East Palo Alto, CA, is a mother and businesswoman who may be reached at kimbrown_kimronice@yahoo.com 

 

Short story from Irving Greenfield

 

THE SORROWS OF SANTA

by Irving A Greenfield

With the exception of a white beard, he wore the red uniform of his calling. We shared a small, round table in Starbucks, a short distance from the department store where I was sure he worked. A portly man, with a large square head, and large facial features, he looked as if he were deep in thought or sad, possibly both. If smoking was allowed, I imagined he’d be smoking a curved pipe.

Ordinarily, I keep to myself. I’m an observer, a people watcher, and Starbucks is a wonderful place to do that – – watch people. Perhaps it was the excitement of the season that caused me to say, “How’s it going, Santa?”

He gave me a baleful look, and in a deep voice said, “It’s a good gig.”

From the sound of his voice, I thought that any conversation we might have had was aborted before it could begin. But I was wrong, because after a pause, he said, “I’m not sure I can take it anymore.”

I immediately thought he was responding to an overbearing supervisor. I knew nothing about the world of Santa Clauses, other than that they were supposed to be jolly. But the man sitting opposite me was far from being jolly; he was in fact morose.

I sipped my coffee. The man didn’t seem to be in a conversational mood; and I wasn’t about to intrude on his private time. My attention shifted to a lovely looking young woman, seated diagonally opposite from me. She too, was sipping from a cardboard cup with a plastic top. There were two very large shopping bags close by, on her left side. Despite my age, I enjoyed looking at her. She wore very little makeup, and her cheeks were still rosy from the cold outside.

Young women, especially good-looking young women, possessed a gaiety about themselves that young men of a similar age seemed to lack . . . Had I been years and years younger, I might have been brash enough to introduce myself to her, and let the proverbial chips fall where they will. But now the pleasure was completely voyeuristic, and maybe a little imaginative. Aging changed many things, but not my gender.

“I have to make a decision,” my table companion said abruptly.

My attention switched to him. I waited for him to elaborate. But he was in no hurry to continue; and his reticence gave me the eerie feeling that we were engaged in a conversation, but I knew that wasn’t the case. I sipped more of my coffee, while I waited for him to speak. I was tempted to look at my watch, and count the seconds or minutes before he spoke again. But I didn’t. Instead, I looked at him, and silently began to count. When I reached a hundred and he still hadn’t spoken, I returned my attention to the young woman. She was prettier than he was, with his pockmarked face and doleful expression.

For courtesy’s sake, I made another count after a few minutes, and reached eighty, before he again said, “It was a good gig.” Obviously, he was weighing the financial benefits of his job, against whatever else was on the other side of the scale.

“And my boss doesn’t bother me,” he added a few moments later.

That eliminated one of the possibilities I had previously thought about.

“It’s the kids, the poor ones, whose mom or dad paid five dollars for me to lie to them.” His eyes became watery, and he brushed each one of them with the back of his hand, before taking another sip of his coffee.

Suddenly, I was in deep water, doing a mental doggie paddle. I did know how deep the water really was, or where the shore was.

“Those poor kids want what other kids want. You know what I mean. And there’s no way in hell they’ll get anything but a poor substitute. . . .”

I was a child during the depression years, and my family was poor. Yet somehow, my mother managed to scrape together enough money for me to visit Santa Claus, and asked him for a set of electric trains. But when Christmas morning came, I wound up with a set of wind-up trains, a sad substitute for what I’d envisioned, which was either a set of American Flyer or Lionel. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince myself that my wind-up trains were better than either of the possibilities I believed I would get. I lost my faith in Saint Nick, and I am sure that betrayal started me on the road to the cynic I became – –

Barging into my thoughts, the man said, “Sometimes I feel like jumping up and yelling, ‘I’m a fraud, the whole thing is a fraud, especially when I get one of the really poor ones.”

I shook my head, “That’s not the way you want to go.”

He didn’t answer. Instead, he looked at his watch and announced it was time for him to leave.

I watched him disappear into the crowds of late afternoon shoppers; then I looked at the table, where the young woman was sitting. She was no longer there. But two young men wearing woolen stocking hats, sat opposite one another. Both had ragged looking backpacks nearby.

Finishing my coffee, I sat at the table awhile longer, thinking about the man dilemma: if he quits, he loses income; if stays, he’d have lost something of himself. Which would be the greater loss to him? I felt my lips tighten. I didn’t like a problem that put me or other people between a hammer and an anvil, the rock and a hard place, which was where he stood. There was nothing I could have said, or done, that would have helped him chose. That he would have to do on his own.

My interest in the man’s problem waned, and I drifted into my people-watching mode. Starbucks was crowded, and the noise level was up. It must have gotten colder outside, because people who now came in, were more bundled up than those who were here earlier. Twilight had already settled on the street. Headlights were on, and the street lamps glowed, their bases resting in pools of yellow light.

I looked at my watch; it was time for me to go home and tell my wife about my day, which was not much different from my other days, except for having met a disenchanted Santa. I disposed of my empty coffee container, and walked to Seventh Avenue, where I was lucky enough not to have to wait for a number twenty downtown bus. The streets we passed were festooned with holiday decorations, and practically all of the passengers were holding the results of their Christmas shopping.

Suddenly I felt tired, a bit weary. Traffic was slow, and became slower when we approached the streets leading to the Holland Tunnel. But as soon as we passed them, we moved quickly, and I was shortly at my apartment door. It opened before I opened it, and there was my wife, Irena. She threw her arms around my neck and fiercely pressed her face to my chest. Ordinarily, not an overly emotional woman, she was sobbing and simultaneously telling me the police were looking for me. I seemed to have become “public enemy number one.”

When I was finally in the apartment, and managed to calm Irina, I learned that I was allegedly responsible for hypnotizing a man, who caused mayhem in Macy’s toy department.

Suddenly, I started to laugh. I laughed so hard tears came to my eyes, and I began to hurt.

“I listened too long,” I managed to sputter and continued to laugh. But then I realized it wasn’t funny; it was sad, and I stopped laughing. He needed a reason, an excuse to do what he wanted to do and I was it.  

Nonfiction from Sue Barnard

POMPEII’S DISTANT COUSIN – OSTIA ANTICA

There can be few people anywhere in the world who have not heard of Pompeii and its near neighbor Herculaneum – the two towns on the Bay of Naples which were destroyed so spectacularly in AD 79 by the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius. These two towns, now painstakingly excavated and preserved, are today, amongst the most visited sites in the whole of Italy.


But Pompeii and Herculaneum also have a distant cousin.  Less well-known, but no less impressive, is the ancient Roman town of Ostia Antica, situated about 16 miles (25 km) south-west of Rome.


Ostia is generally believed to date from the second half of the 4th century BC, and was originally built as a military post to control and defend the mouth of the River Tiber.   It takes its name from the Latin ostium, meaning, “river-mouth”.  In its heyday, Ostia was the principal port for the city of Rome and a thriving commercial centre, with a population of around 100,000 people. Its decline began in the second century AD, when much of the commercial traffic was redirected to the newly-built harbor at nearby Portus.  By the 4th century AD the harbor at Ostia was beginning to silt up, and an epidemic of malaria eventually caused the town to be abandoned.


Ostia might be less spectacular than Pompeii or Herculaneum because it died a gradual, rather than a sudden death, but it gives visitors a much more complete picture of life in a Roman town.  Streets, forum, capitol, theatre, bathhouses (many still with their original spectacular mosaics), temples, market, shops, offices, workshops, warehouses, grain stores and private residences – they are all here, and all remarkably well-preserved.


Ostia was home to all social classes. The wealthy enjoyed the sumptuous comforts of spacious, detached houses (domūs), whilst the working-class people lived in the three- or four-story apartment blocks (insulae) which varied considerably in their levels of comfort and decoration. One of the smarter ones is the House of Diana, which boasts a private bathhouse and a central courtyard. The bar on the ground floor, still houses the marble counter where the customers bought drinks and hot food.

 

The cosmopolitan nature of the town is reflected in the diversity of its places of worship. In addition to Roman temples, there are also a number of temples dedicated to the Persian god Mithras, as well as a first-century Jewish synagogue and a Christian basilica.

 

The site museum is home to the many exhibits which have emerged during the excavations of the town. Sculptures, statues, pottery, jars, amphorae, glass or alabaster bottles – all offer great insight into the everyday lives of Ostia’s inhabitants. A more recent addition to the site is a modern visitor-center, which also houses an excellent café.

 

Ostia is easy to reach from the center of Rome – the journey takes about half an hour by suburban train. The modest admission charge to the excavated site (scavi) is an absolute bargain. Allow at least half a day for your visit, but you may well find the place so fascinating that you’ll want to stay a lot longer!

Sue Barnard, 2013

Reviewer Fran Lewis on Daniel Jacobs’ The Eyes of Abel

The Eyes of Abel: Daniel Jacobs

Reviewed by Fran Lewis

The beauty of Israel, the warmth coming from the sun as it is about to set, and the stillness in the air are the setting for the first scene in this novel. As Roger Charlin and Maya Cohen sit together, discussing their lives, his stories and their feelings about Israel, Palestine and more, something will shake the foundation they are sitting on. The horizon and landscape will explode within seconds, as bombs fill the sky, hotels and buildings collapse, a boat explodes and the world changes.

Thinking about his publication and his recent expose´ of Newton Oil’s corrupt practices, Charlin reflects back on his sources, his initial encounter with Maya Cohen, and, even more, his feelings about Israel/Palestine. He reflects on their conflicts, his take on the situation, and why he feels it has never been resolved. The Eyes of Abel answers these questions, and much more, as the author flashes back three months before this attack on Israel, describes another terrorist attack over San Francisco, and shows what Charlin did to prove that terrorists similar to the one who got through in San Francisco can often fool security officers. But, what he learns will hopefully change things for readers and for him.

At the beginning of the novel, Roger, with the help of some of his colleagues, creates a new image for himself as an Arab, traveling from America to Israel. This is part of an expose´ he conducts, intending to bring to light how sometimes airport security is too tight, and that profiling certain people and singling them out for extra interviews or scrutiny is often based on race or nationality. What happens during his brief encounter, how and why the agent realizes he is using a fake passport and fake identity, just lets the reader know that the agents at El Al Israel are truly always on target. Investigating a secret energy project at Princeton, we hear him speaking with his source, getting the information, and we understand just how creative he will get, and how in-depth he will go to get a story, and in this case, the Pulitzer Prize. But March 26, 2015, will change it all.

Trans Flight 144 goes down and the events spiral out of control, as Roger Charlin immerses himself in more than just the story about racial profiling at the airport. Trying to find out more about Maya Cohen leads him to many discussions and negative viewpoints about the state of Israel. Maya relates her position, and her discussions with Charlin are heated and well-informed, and each side is vividly presented.

But, Roger is trying to create an article that will break open the fact that EL Al security seems to target those who are Arab or appear to be Arab. Is it politically correct to single out these people? Shouldn’t everyone receive the same security clearance? And why is he so concerned with Middle-Eastern people at the airport? But, meeting Maya will change it all.

Who is she, and why is she really here? Within this complex plot, there is much more to uncover. The Princeton Plasma Lab that has been lying dormant for so long now seems to have come to life, igniting more than just the possibility of a new energy program. Things get out of control for Charlin, as his relationship with Maya heats up when his reporter friend and mentor Ben Lampsky breaks the Princeton research wide open, in an article that sets events in motion, which causes lives to be lost. Israel comes into the limelight, and the light shines, but the truth is clouded.

Reporters, Charlin states, are supposed to report the truth and not worry about who gets the story out first. Reporters, Ben states, report events as they see them, write the story through their own eyes, and give the public what they want everyone to see and hear. Next, a video that has been doctored, or at least, whose credibility is in question, sparks more negativity about Israel, before the scientists at this lab are whisked away, and hopefully back home, before more lives are lost.

Project Sherwood, in Jacobs’ novel, “was a secret effort in the 1950’s, during the Eisenhower administration, to produce unlimited energy through fusion.” But, finding this information, taking a trip to Princeton, and signing on to assist Lampsky to learn just who in the government is funding an energy program that was declassified decades ago, sets in motion catastrophic events of huge proportions. Observing several men walking dogs in the middle of the night might not trigger anything suspicious, except in this case, the location is near the lab.

As the author elaborates about the program, and discusses energy production, we learn more about what might be driving this program to be restarted and we wonder why anyone would unleash it to the press and not protect its security. World energy would change, and telling the world about it, would do more harm than good. So, why did Charlin agree to find out more about the government and take the bait?

Since the TransCom 144 incident, he has done nothing significant. Within Chapter Four, taking place Feb. 5, 2015, we learn about an Israeli Medical Team being killed, and the details are graphically described. As his relationship with Maya intensifies, he finds out information about her that would change their fates.

Learning her real reason for being in America and knowing why she disappeared, does not stop him from wanting answers, and trying to find her. But before long, he is interrogated by the Senate Congressional Committee when Lampsky breaks open the story about the fusion program, and the possibility of an energy breakthrough.

When asked why he never filed his article about racial profiling, readers will be surprised at his response, knowing his negative views towards Israel. But, things change, perceptions differ, and although he still has some misgivings about how Israel handles and responds to attacks, we see him becoming more open-minded.

As readers see Lampsky’s expose´ about the breakthrough at Princeton Labs, and hear his words, they can decide for themselves if he intentionally endangered the scientists at the lab. Especially when they see what happens when Charlin explains Maya’s role, and how this article affected the situation.

Throughout the next two chapters, Jacobs vividly presents many incidents, focusing on attacks on Israeli soldiers and letting readers decide whether the reporter really told what happened, or just what he or she thinks happened. We see slanted journalism in many cases, and incidents ignited by the press, with the aid of Youtube videos.

When interrogated by the State Senate Committee, Charlin realizes just who set him up, and why. His remarkable comeback, and his response, will impress readers. Just who in the government is pulling the strings? And why, when Charlin relates information regarding the killing of federal funding for fusion research, does the tone of the hearing change?

A news bulletin relates events in Israel, global reactions, and a world turned against a people just trying to live and survive! Near the middle of the book, there’s a section where we hear the voices of so many. A reporter’s vision or viewpoint of certain events and how different sectors of different countries react to the same incident. This underscores the role of media bias in shaping the Mideast conflict.

Hidden behind the walls of a nondescript building, is a projector, whose screen will emit slides that change the course of the world, change Charlin’s perspective about Israel, and bring the fusion program to life. But, when secrecy is breached, and Israel is in danger, what chance do they have? While he and Maya look bravely to the future, she formulates his next move. Will Charlin agree to the terms? Will he risk it all to help Israel, the United States, the fusion program, and hopefully dismantle a war, before it’s too late? 

What happens next is explosive, and the one person that is the key, turns in different directions.

Background on Abel in the title: Abel was the second son born to Adam and Eve. Abel was the first shepherd, the first martyr in the Bible and murdered by Cain, his brother. This murder, of course, did not please God. Cain, a farmer, grew grains and vegetables, and Abel was a shepherd, tending the family’s herds. They were brothers, who never got along, yet loved each other.

The family had to sacrifice something to God to atone for their sins. Abel was worried about making his sacrifice special to God and he offered his best lamb. Cain sacrificed crops from his garden, yet, God was not pleased with his offering. So, Cain asked his brother to walk with him and struck him down to the ground and killed him.

As with Abel, other countries see her as being favored by the United States and other countries, and thus not punished for her violence and retaliation. So other nations feel justified in attacking Israeli civilians.

Cain was only concerned about getting caught and not the consequences of his actions, but they caught up to him over time. The ending of The Eyes of Abel, you might say, parallels life in the fact that we often have to deal with and live with our choices, and face the consequences within ourselves. What happens at the end, is quite explosive, thought-provoking, and proves that while we teach children to think before they act, adults don’t always do the same. The description of the lattice is quite extraordinary; the events of March 26th will burn within Charlin’s and Maya’s minds, and readers’ minds forever.

Decide for yourself who is right, and who needs to understand: too many Cains in the world, and not enough Abels, to provide the stability needed to protect everyone.

Israel is here to stay. She will not give up, and In the Eyes of Abel, in the Eyes of the People of Israel, we see hope for freedom for everyone and someday peace within the Middle East and the world. This is one powerful novel that will create much discussion and controversy over the material offered. It’s definitely a must-read.

Charlin and Maya: What’s next?

Fran Lewis: Reviewer

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