Redheaded Ramblings: Sheila A-stray  

"This race and this country and this life produced me, he said. I shall express myself as I am." -- James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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"I've never felt Truth was Beauty. Never. I've always felt that people can't take too much reality. I like being in Ingmar Bergman's world. Or in Louis Armstrong's world. Or in the world of the New York Knicks. Because it's not this world. You spend your whole life searching for a way out. You just get an overdose of reality, you know, and it's a terrible thing. I'm always fighting against reality."

-- Woody Allen

  contact Sheila Link: 12/20/2002 10:28:00 AM

Friday, December 20, 2002  




Rebecca West's classic travelogue of Yugoslavia, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, begins at the railway station in Zagreb, Croatia, 1937. Robert Kaplan, following her trail in 1989, begins his book Balkan Ghosts at the same railway station.

In 1918, the Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes merged, and formed the kingdom known as Yugoslavia. Rebecca West's intimidatingly extensive book (she was truly a woman ahead of her time) delves into this concept known as "Yugoslavia". Her book has been described as a cross between The Decline and Fall of the Roamn Empire and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which I think is beautifully apt. She visited Yugoslavia in 1936, and fell so in love with the place that she returned in 1937. She called Yugoslavia "the country I have always seen between sleeping and waking." Her massive book is the result of these trips. One of the things which makes her book so fascinating, and so terrifying, is that, in retrospect, the reader knows that all of this is about to end. World War II is approaching. Nothing can stop it now. Communism is coming. In a matter of 5 or 6 years, the dictatorship of Tito would be established, and history would stop. For over 40 years. It's unbelievable.

Rebecca West senses that something big is coming. She is "already convinced of the inevitability of the second Anglo-German war", and sees that "the whole world is a vast Kossovo, an abominable blood-logged plain". The woman is nobody's fool. She says in the first paragraph of her book: "All Central Europe seems to be enacting a fantasy which I cannot interpret." Her journey through Yugoslavia is her quest for interpretation.

After all, SOMEBODY needs to interpret the Balkans for us! It's filled with Byzantine intrigue, long long memories, lots of hate, lots of pride, everybody tangled up with one another, everybody yearning for lost glory. Rebecca West is an amazing guide.

Robert Kaplan says of her book, which changed his life, and put him on the path he is now on today: "By any broader definition, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is, like Yugoslavia, a sprawling world unto itself: a two-volume, half-a-milliion-word encyclopedic inventory of a country; a dynastic saga of the Habsburgs and the karageorgevitches; a scholarly thesis on Byzantine archaeology, pagan folklore, and Christian and Islamic philosophy. The book also offers a breathtaking psychoanalysis of the German mind and of the 19th century origins of fascism and terrorism. It was a warning, of near-perfect clairvoyance, of the danger that totalitarianism posed to Europe in the 1940s and beyond."

West, after spending only a couple of days in Zagreb, called it a "shadow-show." By this she meant: the people were already so distracted and absorbed in the divisions between them (Orthodox Croat vs. Orthodox Serb, plus the hundred other barriers which kept them from one another) that they were like phantoms. Insubstantial. Ghosts. Even before the Nazis arrived. Tyranny and dictatorship had a very easy time taking over Croatia. The people were already "divided and conquered". West sensed this. She found it tragic.

Croatia had long been one of the most prosperous and independent country in the Balkans. But alighting from the train into Zagreb, West felt that those days were over. The past had risen up, and had overshadowed everything else.

Kaplan writes (in regards to the populace of Croatia, filled with ethnic hatred and suspicion): "The Nazi occupation detonated these tensions. In primitive ferocity -- if not in sheer numbers -- the massacre in Catholic Croatia and neighboring Bosnia-Hercegovina of Orthodox Serbs was as bad as anything in German-occupied Europe. Forty-five years of systematized poverty under Tito's Communists kept the wounds fresh."

So when Yugoslavia broke apart, violently, the 45 years of oppression and silence vanished in an instant, and all the hatred from the past came exploding out. Surprising everybody in the world with its savagery. Even though Rebecca West (and others) had basically predicted it.

Kaplan says:
I immediately grasped that the counterrevolution in Eastern Europe included Yugoslavia, too. But because the pressure of discontent was being released horizontally, in the form of one group against another, rather than vertically against the Communist powers in Belgrade, the revolutionary path in Yugoslavia was at first more tortuous and, therefore, more disguised. That was why the outside world did not take notice until 1991, when fighting started.

It took no clairvoyance to see what was coming, however. My visit to Yugoslavia was eerie precisely because everyone I spoke with -- locals and foreign diplomats alike -- was already resigned to big violence ahead. Yugoslavia did not deteriorate suddenly, but gradually and methodically, step by step, through the 1980s, becoming poorer and meaner and more hate-filled by the year. That's why every conversation I had was so sad.

Kaplan describes entering the world-famous Esplanade Hotel, right next to the Zagreb train station:

I walked a hundred yards in the rain from the railway station to the Esplanade Hotel: a massive, sea-green edifice that might easily be mistaken for a government ministry, manifesting the luxurious decadence -- the delicious gloom -- of Edwardian England or fin-de-siecle Vienna. I entered a ribbed, black-and-white marble lobby adorned with gold-framed mirrors, drawn velvet curtains and valences, and purple carpets. The furniture was jet black, and the lamp shades were golden yellow. The lobby and dining hall resembled a cluttered art gallery whose pictures recalled the universe of Sigmund Freud, Gustav Klimt, and Oskar Kokoschka: modernist iconography that indicates social disintegration and the triumph of violence and sexual instinct over the rule of law.

Kaplan meets up with Slavenka Draculic, a journalist in Zagreb, who is waiting for him in the lobby. He describes her bold designer clothes, her intense perfume. It feels over-the-top to him. He writes:

The overall message was unmistakable: despite Communist-inflicted poverty and the damp, badly heated apartments and the sorry displays in the shop windows all around, we Croats are Roman Catholic, and Zagreb is the eastern bastion of the West; you, the visitor, are still in the orbit of Austria-Hungary, of Vienna -- where the modern world was practically invented -- and don't you forget it!"

Slavenka explains to Kaplan: "This place is not Hungary, Poland, or Romania. Rather, it is the Soviet Union in mininature. For example, this is happening in Lithuania, but that is happening in Tajikstan. This is happening in Croatia, but that is happening in Serbia or Macedonia. Each situation is unique. There are no easy themes here. Because of Tito's break with Stalin, the enemy in Yugoslavia was always within, not without. For years we were fooled by what was only an illusion of freedom."

Communism was terrible for Croatia. Of course. But without it, tribal ethnicity knows no limits, there are no more checks on expressions of inter-tribal hatreds. Kaplan speaks of the wreckage left by Communism's collapse, the dangerous void. Things are always more complicated than what they seem:

As the flood waters of Communism receded and the land became recognizable again, much that was understandable and easily forgiven through the 1980s, the last decade of the postwar era, ceased to be so. Only against the backdrop of Tito's grim, industrial feudalism and the steel jaws of his secret police could the legacy of Habsburg Austria-Hungary and the Roman Catholic Church -- and by extension, of Pope John Paul II -- look so benign. Indeed, the aspect of Croatian nationalism that saw itself as culturally superior to the Serbs -- the very nationalist tradition that had inspired [Cardinal] Stepinac's original desire to see the Serbs converted to Catholicism -- could not have come about without the active incitement of the Habsburg court and the Vatican.

Rebecca West ends her time in Zagreb with a visit to a statue of Bishop Strossmayer (the man I spoke about a couple of days ago, who tried to promote unity between the Orthodox Christians and the Catholics). He is no longer a fashionable hero for Croatia. They love Archbishop Stepinac, the nationalist ethnically proud "Catholics Only" inciter. But a statue of Bishop Strossmayer remains in Zagreb, and West (as well as Kaplan) make a pilgrimage to it. Recognizing that if there is to be any hope for Croatia, Croatians must also embrace the legacy of Strossmayer.

Kaplan talks about the statue:
The sculptor who had executed the statue of Strossmayer was Ivan Mestrovic -- the same Ivan Mestrovic who, many years later, in 1960, carved the tomb of another local patriot, Alojzije Stepinac. There was no contradiction here. Mestrovic was a personal witness to the noble side of Stepinac's character. In 1943, during a brief visit by Stepinac to Rome, Mestrovic begged Stepinac not to go back to Croatia because his life was increasingly at risk there. Stepinac replied that he had already accepted his fate: if the Ustashe [Croatian nationalist group] didn't kill him, the Communists would. Having started at a point of complete political blindness, the archbishop brutally applied to himself the correct lesson of the "black lamb" and the "grey falcon": he was willing to be the sacrificial lamb, not out of self-righteousness, but in order to fight for others.

Kaplan closes his chapter on Croatia, Zagreb, and Rebecca West with the following moving paragraph:

History in this gray, intimate city was indeed subject to many interpretations. Pope John Paul II seemed poised to give his. (As of late 1992, there were still no official visits for a Papal visit to Zagreb. But given the geographical closeness of this Catholic city to the Vatican, and the sufferings endured by the Croats in the civil war, it seems highly conceivable that the Pope will pay a visit sometime in this decade.) If and when the Pope did come to this outpost of Western Christianity, so near and yet so far from the Vatican, he would havee to break with Vatican tradition concerning Yugoslavia and come to heal and to reconcile. I stood respectfully in the chilling rain before the statue of Bishop Strossmayer, lover of Cyril and Methodius, aware that this was the monument in Zagreb, more than [Stepinac's tomb] in the cathedral, that the Pope must bow down before.


  contact Sheila Link: 12/19/2002 10:46:00 AM

Thursday, December 19, 2002  

"Yesterday we went to Zephyr. A thaw was on and the roads were dreadful. We visited another rough, ignorant family living in a little log house at the back of beyond. At night we went to Guild. When we came out I thought of the drive home with dismay. The roads were so bad -- and I was so tired and sick. How could I endure those endless seven miles of half bare hills and swamps? But lo, that drive home proved to be on eof those peculiar psychological experiences I have by times. As we left the church something suggested to my mind a verse from 'The Lady of the Lake'. I began recalling the poem, which I have known by heart since childhood -- and not only recalling it but living it. I roamed through its vivid scenery. I talked with its people. Other poems followed and them I also lived. The physical discomforts of the drive were quite unnoticed. I was snatched far away from them and in spirit lived 'one crowded hour of glorious life' oblivious to all my surroundings, save only the stars shining over me. That drive home, instead of being the nightmare I dreaded was a strange, scintillating, vivid dream of unearthly delight."

-- Journal entry of L. M. Montgomery, Jan. 30, 1914

  contact Sheila Link: 12/19/2002 10:02:00 AM

Some of these photos of the plans for downtown Manhattan move me. I want that hole in lower Manhattan to be filled up, but still ... it's sad, somehow, to think of something else being there. I do know I want something big, tall, and bold. A statement. (Unfortunately, nobody asked me what I want!) So some of these designs are definitely grand enough. I like the first one. And I don't know if it's a pretty building, but the massive one which is three tall towers, connected by crosswalks, is stunning. Like a sci-fi picture.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/18/2002 05:04:00 PM

Wednesday, December 18, 2002  

(When am I not speaking of Eminem?)

Great discussion going on about Eminem, and the rest of the great music happening this year.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/18/2002 01:09:00 PM

I came across this article in Arts & Letters Daily (one of the best sites out there, in my opinion). The article has to do with AOL's "dirty chatting" appeal (the dark secret of squeaky-clean AOL), and how the merger with Time Warner has screwed up the very thing which made AOL so much fun, a guilty pleasure. Now this is a spin on things I have not heard before! I am extremely interested in what is happening with AOL at the moment, since it directly affects my job, so I have read every spin, every puff piece, every WSJ article about what is going on, but this is the first article I've read which focuses on AOL's main attraction: the ability of its members to "hook up" in an online fashion. This is the underbelly of AOL.

A couple quotes:

Not only did AOL have better technology, it had what nobody could reproduce without great luck and limitless money, which was a critical-mass audience -- chat doesn't work unless, at every moment of the day, you have loads of chatters. Across the Internet, there were lonely chat rooms (where the chat function didn't really work, anyway) and, at AOL, rowdy and randy crowds ("Are you hot?" "Yeah! What are you wearing?").

Meanwhile, the AOL guys were refining their story. A great American brand could not appear to be in the sex business. So what AOL focused on was getting the dirty-talk audience to buy things. From sex to commerce was the conversion it was attempting (this is the conversion that cable television managed with infomercials in the mid-eighties). Certainly, Time Warner believed in conversion (the people at AOL used the word community as a euphemism, but the people at Time Warner used the word for real -- as though imagining little shops and churches and schools).

Conversion from sex to commerce. Conversion from anything to commerce is the Holy Grail of the Internet! It's a pipe dream now, unless you're Amazon.

And here's the rub:

Everybody with any speed is locating and targeting and qualifying possible mates with great ease in well-designed, mall-like settings, while back at AOL, it's still a creepy, anonymous, low-class world (AOL's weird censorship policies, in an increasingly tolerant world, somehow seem to add an extra measure of tawdriness). Or, in a high-speed world, you and your friends are merely using the AIM applet, effectively cutting AOL out of the transaction.

It's a demographic nightmare: If you are still signing on to AOL to chat, there is, ipso facto, something wrong with you.

This will mean nothing to people who don't care about AOL, who haven't been involved in AOL for years, who have no interest in what is going wrong with the company. But I read this and thought: YES. This is exactly IT.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/18/2002 12:11:00 PM

A couple nights ago, I was hanging out in my room, getting organized, purging myself of possessions, plugging in power strips, moving stuff around in some sort of manic episode. As I did this, I listened to the "Marshall Mathers LP", from start to finish, which is quite an experience. I definitely have favorite songs which I go to specifically ("Drug Ballad", "Criminal", "The Way I Am"). But listening to the CD all the way through is another thing. It's operatic. It's episodic. It's schizophrenic. It's fascinating. Every time you think you can say, "Okay, so THAT is the real Eminem ... THAT is Marshall Mathers..." he does some random jujitsu move, upending your expectations of him. He refuses to be pinned down.

Jen came home, and hung out with me for a while. The two of us rocking out in my room.

I said, "I have listened to this entire CD all the way through. I feel like I've been reading The Canterbury Tales."

There was a long pause and then Jen said, calmly, "I bet that that is the first time Eminem has been compared to Chaucer."

  contact Sheila Link: 12/18/2002 09:30:00 AM

Had an early early meeting this morning, so was unable to delve into Croatia. More tomorrow.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/18/2002 09:26:00 AM

This quote is from Year of the King, a wonderful book written by an actor named Antony Sher. It is his diary during the year he creates Richard III for the Royal Shakespeare Company. In the following anecdote, he talks with Michael Gambon (a fantastic British actor).

Wonderful seeing Gambon again. He and Howard have been rehearsing a play here. They've just heard it's been cancelled because of the scene-shifters' strike. Everyone assures us that it will be over by the time we go inito studio in four weeks.

Gambon tells me the story of Olivier auditioning him at the Old Vic in 1962. His audition speech was from Richard III. 'See, Tone, I was thick as two short planks then and I didn't know he'd had a rather notable success in the part. I was just shitting myself about meeting the Great Man. He sussed how green I was and started farting around."

As reported by Gambon, their conversation went like this:

Olivier: "What are you going to do for me?"
Gambon: "Richard the Third."
Olivier: "Is that so. Which part?"
Gambon: "Richard the Third."
Olivier: "Yes, but which part?"
Gambon: "Richard the Third."
Olivier: "Yes, I understand that, but which part?"
Gambon: "Richard the Third."
Olivier: "But which character? Catesby? Ratcliffe? Buckingham's a good part ... "
Gambon: "Oh I see, beg your pardon, no, Richard the Third."
Olivier: "What, the King? Richard?"
Gambon: "---the Third, yeah."
Olivier: "You've got a fucking cheek, haven't you?"
Gambon: "Beg your pardon?"
Olivier: "Never mind, which part are you going to do?"
Gambon: "Richard the Third."
Olivier: "Don't start that again. Which speech?"
Gambon: "Oh I see, beg your pardon, 'Was ever woman in this humour woo'd.'"
Olivier: "Right. Whenever you're ready."
Gambon: " 'Was ever woman in this humour woo'd -- ' "
Olivier: "Wait. Stop. You're too close. Go further away. I need to see the whole shape, get the full perspective."
Gambon: "Oh, I see, beg your pardon ... " Gambon continues, "So I go over to the far end of the room, Tone, thinking that I've already made an almighty tit of myself, so how do I save teh day? Well, I see this pillar and I decide to swing round it and start the speech with a sort of dramatic punch. But as I do this my ring catches on a screw and half my sodding hand gets left behind. I think to myself, 'Now I mustn't let this throw me since he's already got me down as a bit of an arsehole,' so I plough on ... 'Was ever woman in this humor woo'd -- ' "
Olivier: "Wait. Stop. What's the blood?"
Gambon: "Nothing, nothing, just a little gash, I do beg your pardon ... "
A nurse had to be called and he suffered the indignity of being given first aid with the greatest actor in the world passing bandages. At last it was done.
Gambon: "Shall I start again?"
Olivier: "No. I think I've got a fair idea how you're going to do it. You'd better get along now. We'll let you know."

Gambon went back to the engineering factory in Islington where he was working. At four in the afternoon he was bent over his lathe, working as best he could with a heavily bandaged hand, when he was called to the phone. It was the Old Vic.

"It's not easy talking on the phone, Tone. One, there's the noise of the machinery. Two, I have to keep my voice down 'cause I'm cockney at work and posh with theater people. But they offer me a job, spear-carrying, starting immediately. I go back to my work-bench, heart beating in my chest, pack my tool case, start to go. The foreman comes up, says, "Oy, where you off to?" "I've had bad news," I say, "I've got to go." He says, "Why are you taking your tool box?" I say, "I can't tell you, it's very bad news, might need it." And I never went back there, Tone. Home on the bus, heart still thumping away. A whole new world ahead. We tend to forget what it felt like in the beginning."

  contact Sheila Link: 12/18/2002 07:35:00 AM

There's an interesting article about Zadie Smith, author of White Teeth, in the New York Times. I particularly enjoyed this quote. I see so much truth in it. She is discussing the culture of fame.

"Everything in the culture is so hysterical. Everything is fantastic, or it's the worst thing; you should either be given a Nobel Prize or shot at dawn."

The article ends with her saying something which gave me a chill up my spine. Love this:

"I'm influenced by everything I read, shamelessly. In a review someone said, `Oh, she sounds very much like Amis.' I was flattered by that. I love Amis. Thank you very much. I think if I carry on plagiarizing for 15 years, it will settle like silt, and I'll write something really great."


  contact Sheila Link: 12/17/2002 12:52:00 PM

Tuesday, December 17, 2002  

Sometimes I wish celebrities would just keep their mouths shut, if they are going to keep saying stupid things. Ted Turner said: "I went from no money to a pile of money, just as big as the World Trade Center. Then -- just like the World Trade Center -- poof, it was gone. Overnight." Apparently, he laughed as he said this. Then he goes on to say some really dumb inarticulate things about the war on terrorism. Did you know that, according to Ted, the reason the Arabs are so mad at us is that we don't do enough to help them? But it's the comparison of his "pile of money" to the "collapse of the WTC" which resulted in over 3000 deaths that is absolutely disgusting to me. Reprehensible.

And then of course there's Sean Penn, being duped by the Butcher of Baghdad. Reminds me of all of those celebrities going over to Russia during the 30s and 40s, and being given tours, seeing the squeaky clean streets, the modernizing technology, the happy smiling busy Russians. Of course they were not shown the famine, the gulags, the torture chambers. Some of these celebrities TO THIS DAY will not admit that Stalin was a monster, an aberration.

Anyway. Never mind. The sun is shining, I'm wearing my cozy fleece jacket, I'm going to go get some lunch, the transit is NOT striking, I have my writing group tomorrow and I've been working really hard ... so life is good. Screw Ted Turner and Sean Penn. Life is good.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/17/2002 12:44:00 PM

"I'm not sure we in America, certainly not white America, people in the South, fully understood who this man was, the impact he has had on the fabric of this country." -- Trent Lott, discussing Martin Luther King Jr., on his BET interview

Uh ... Trent? I think that YOU are the one who does not fully understand who "this man" was ... In case you haven't noticed, his birthday is a federal holiday...a federal holiday which you voted against. So YOU are the one who does not get the "impact". YOU. Only YOU.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/17/2002 12:15:00 PM




The best way to describe the split in the Croatian Catholic Church is to talk about Bishop Josip Strossmayer and Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac. (I am stealing this device blatantly from Robert Kaplan).

But first:

A bit of theology.

During the rule of the Habsburgs, Croatian Catholic theologians were increasingly looking for ways to promote Christian unity among the Slavic people. Remember, Croats were Roman Catholics, living in the Balkans, an Orthodox Christian place, a Muslim place. But these Croat theologians wanted to look beyond the schism of Rome and Constantinople way back in the Middle Ages in 1054, and find what they may have in common with their Orthodox Christian brethren. To do this, they looked to the 9th century, to Cyril and Methodius, the two apostles who converted the Slavs to Christianity. Basically, Croat theologians were looking to a time when the "Yugo" (South) Slavs were one. Cyril and Methodius were representative of unity between Catholic and Orthodox churches.

But then the schism in 1054 between Rome and Constantinople screwed up any unity Cyril and Methodius may have been hoping for, and most of their converts had become members of the Orthodox church, so Croatians are pretty much the ONLY Catholics in the world who revere Cyril and Methodius with such passion.

The passion for Cyril and Methodius started coming alive in the 19th century, due to one man: Bishop Josip Strossmayer.

A quote from Robert Kaplan about this remarkable man:
Strossmayer -- Croatian patriat, philanthropist, founder of the University of Zagreb, accomplished linguist and gardener, breeder of Lippizaner horses, wine connoisseur, and raconteur. As a Croatian Catholic intellectual, Strossmayer accepted in full the equality and legitimacy of the Serbian Orthodox church. When he sent a letter of congratulations to Orthodox bishops on the millennium of Methodius' birth, he was denouced by his fellow Catholics in Austria-Hungary and the Vatican. The Habsburg emperor, Franz Joseph, insulted Strossmayer to his face. Strossmayer, in response, warned the Habsburgs that continued misrule in Bosnia-Hercegovina -- the province south and east of Croatia, where many Croats lived among Serbs and local Muslims -- would lead to the collapse of their empire, which is exactly what happened. Dame Rebecca West lauded Strossmayer as a "fearless denunciator of Austro-Hungarian tyranny." She writes that Strossmayer, who battled both anti-Semitism and anti-Serb racism, was hated by the 19th century Vatican because, in its eyes, he was "lamentably deficient in bigotry."

Okay, so you get the picture. The man was a renegade. Ahead of his time. His view of Christianity was a healing and inclusive one. How incredible would it have been if Croatia had followed his legacy. But life never seems to work out that way.

In the 1930s another Catholic figure arose to lead and speak for the Croats. This was the archbishop Alojzije Stepinac. He was more of a pious rabble-rouser, and Croats were swept away by him. He incited nationalist pride, ethnic pride, religious pride. (Again: a dangerous mix!) He's a very confusing elusive guy. You want to judge him, you do judge him, then he does something which makes you re-think the judgment.

Kaplan on Stepinac:
The young Stepinac had found his companions in the Catholic student association insufficiently religious. ... Upon taking over the post of archibishop-coadjutor in 1934, Stepinac had himself mantled with the girdle and scapular of the Franciscans, in order to be publicly identified with the ideal of poverty. He soon organized special masses and processions against swearing and the sins of the flesh. His railings, especially against sunbathing and mixed swimming, lent a Cromwellian air to his leadership. According to Stepinac's own diary, he believed that Catholic ideals of purity should extend to Orthodox Serbia too. "If there were more freedom ... Serbia would be Catholic in 20 years," wrote Stepinac. His dogmatism caused him to think of the Orthodox as apostates. "The most ideal thing would be for the Serbs to return to the faith of their fathers ... then we could at last breathe in this part of Europe ... "

In 1941, Germany and Italy invaded. Stepinac found himself trying to play both sides. But he was naive, and not all that bright about what was actually going on. His dread of Communism and of the East, in general, blinded him to the horrors of fascism and the Nazis. He ended up seeing the forest for the trees later on, but by then it was too late. The newspaper of the Croatian Catholic Church began an op-ed campaign, smearing Jews and Marxists. This is nothing new, clearly; nothing specific to Croatia.

But what is interesting about this whole story is the differences between these two archbishops, and how those differences are still in conflict today in Croatia.

Kaplan again:
Strossmayer was a South Slav nationalist struggling against the Austrians and the Vatican, while Stepinac was a purely Croat nationalist who embraced the Vatican and the Austrians in a struggle against his fellow South Slavs, the Serbs. From his early youth, Stepinac was, in Archbishop Bauer's own words, "excessively pious," unlike Strossmayer, who loved wine, horses, and the good life.

In 1941, the Croatian fascist group Ustashe proclaimed the "Independent State of Croatia", which was Stepinac's dream. He aligned himself with Ustashe (who, basically, were fascist terrorists). Under the Ustashe, Croatia became nothing more than a puppet state divided between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Stepinac was too naive at the time to see what was going on, to see the larger picture. The state, like many other states, began to put into place organized brutality against Orthodox Serbs and Jews.

The reality of this was more than Stepinac bargained for. (See? The man was totally naive.) People took him at his word, and then when he saw them acting on his word, he tried to take it all back. As World War II dragged on, and the pogroms and brutality continued, and Stepinac began to see the light, began to see exactly what this "independent state of Croatia" led by Ustashe meant, he began to publicly confront Ustashe. He tried to stop what was happening. But this would be like Milosevic trying to stop the slaughter in Bosnia, saying softly: "Uhm ... hold on a second ... this wasn't REALLY what I was talking about when I mentioned creating a Greater Serbia ... sorry for any misunderstanding ... uhm ...hello? Hello? Is anybody listening?"

The Catholic Church in Croatia stimulted Croats to anti-Serb feeling. Well, I suppose the anti-Serb feeling was always THERE, but the Church encouraged Croats to express their feelings. The Church preferred Croats to be under the rule of fellow-Catholic Austrians and Hungarians than to be outnumbered in a state dominated by Eastern Orthodox Serbs (who were psychologically aligned with Bolshevik Russia.)

It occurs to me that I am writing about this in a very confusing way. Is everybody following me??

Now here's the deal: The concept of modern nationalism came together at the same time that fascism was rising in Europe. Because of the fight against fascism and Communism, Croatia found itself aligned with Nazism (many countries had to make these choices). Croatia refuses to apologize for this to this day.

There was a mass murder of Orthodox Serbs by Catholics (instigated by the Ustashe) at a Croatian death camp called Jesenovac. This is that whole "arguing about numbers" phenomenon which I brought up yesterday. People are still arguing about what happened at Jesenovac, and how many people were killed. "Oh, come on, only 70,000 people were killed..." ONLY 70,000? Death camps were erected by the Ustashe, at the instigation of the Nazis, and Ustashe herded the Jewish and the Serbian populations into the death camps to be killed. The Ustashe, in Bosnia, threw Serbian Orthodox women and children off of cliffs. Stepinac's meek speeches about the "sixth commandment being Thou shalt not kill" had no effect at all.

Stepinac's tunnel vision and ethnic blindness made him feel that Croatians were the most brutalized of all people by World War II. What happened throughout the rest of Europe, and the rest of Yugoslavia, to Poles, Jews, Serbs, Gypsies, Muslims, Czechs ... had no reality for him. He didn't "get it". He also didn't get the long-term impact of aligning himself with the Nazi-puppet Ustashe.

World War II ended, leaving Croatia part of the brand-new Communist state of Yugoslavia. Which was the Croats' (and Stepinac's) worst fears realized. Being under the yoke of the dreaded East, being led by the awful atheistic Bolsheviks.

In 1946, Tito, the leader of Yugoslavia, put Stepinac on trial for "war crimes". But what it was really about was that Tito recognized that Stepinac would be a challenge to his leadership, that somehow Tito had to crush the Catholic Church in Croatia, in order to be an effective dictator. He met with Stepinac a couple of times, before charging him with anything, trying to persuade him to break free of the Vatican, and create a "free Church of Croatia". The other churches in Yugoslavia had already done so, which meant that the churches were subservient to the Communist regime. Stepinac refused. He refused to break with the Vatican. Not only did he refuse to break with the Vatican, but he continued to denounce Communism publicly. He knew that he had screwed up by being part of the murderous Ustashe. He knew that Tito knew of his involvement with Ustashe. But he had seen the error of his ways, and he refused to budge.

So Tito arranged a show trial, accusing him of being a "war criminal" and Stepinac was convicted. Officially, he is still persona non grata in Croatia. But by martyring him in 1946, Tito created a monster. Ever since then, the Yugoslave "state" apparatus had next to no legitimacy in the eyes of the Catholic Church in Croatia.

He is buried in the Zagreb Cathedral, and a long line of people come to see him and pray at his tomb every day. For years and years, Pope John Paul II had wanted to come and kneel at Stepinac's tomb, but the authorities in Belgrade had long denied him permission. Of course. I actually don't know if the Pope ever has visited Croatia, since the crack-up of Yugoslavia. It would be interesting to get a little epilogue to this whole story. I do know that Pope John Paul II made Stepinac a cardinal, in the 1950s, acknowledging what he saw to be his greatness and his commitment to the faith.

So the Vatican sees Stepinac as a hero against Communism. Others see Stepinac as a brutal butcher, who allowed and made possible the executions of thousands of Serbs and Jews. Stories about Stepinac's behavior abound: he would perform forced mass conversions of Orthodox Serbs, right before they all were executed. So they would be able to "go to heaven" once killed.

Kaplan, traveling through Croatia in 1989, talked to everybody he met (college professors, waitresses, nuns, people on trains) about Stepinac. Here are a random selection of the quotes he gathered, just to show what a hot and divisive issue it continues to be:

Ethnic Serb on the train: "The Croatian fascists did not have gas chambers at Jesenovac. They had only knives and mallets with which to commit mass murder ... The slaughter was chaotic, nobody bothered to keep count."

An old woman at Stepinac's tomb in Zagreb, clung to Kaplan's arm: "Write well of him. He was our hero, not a war criminal."

A government official: "The judgment for us is final: Stepinac was a quisling butcher -- the priest who baptized with one hand and slaughtered with another."

A monsignor in the Croatian Catholic Church: "Stepinac is a great ecclesiastical figure of Europe; we will not let them drag him down. We will defend him ... War is half-criminal anyway. Why single out Stepinac? We can't deny everything. What happened at Jesenovac was tragic; maybe 60,000 were killed, maybe a little more, certainly not 700,000."

A Croatian Catholic politician: "The young [Catholic] priests are now uneducated. Only when educated young men are attracted to the priesthood can pressure mount from below for the Church to look seriously at its own past and at Stepinac."

And finally: here is an interesting analysis by Kaplan, of the character of the Catholic Church in Croatia:

"The Church, like so much of Zagreb, was for decades a wounded being. Since 1945, the Church's raison d'etre, its all-consuming responsibility to its flock, was its own physical survival. Communism had backed the Church against a wall, as the last sovereign remnant of the Croat nation -- hunted, oppressed, attracting only the uneducated poor to its clerical ranks. In contrast, the Orthodox churches were accustomed to this kind of oppression. Under the Ottoman Turks, they had learned the art of survival: how to deal with rulers whose malevolence was presumed as an ordinary, uncontrollable force of nature, like wind or sleet, in order to preserve what was most important.

But the Croatian Church, with no comparable experience under the Catholic Habsburgs and, furthermore, emboldened by an external protector, the Holy See in Rome, was unwilling to concede an inch of disputed historical ground, defending even what need not and should not have been defended...

In Zagreb, I learned that the struggle for bare survival leaves little room for renewal or for creation. While Ukrainians and others openly apologized for their actions against Jews during the Holocaust, Croatian groups only issued denials. The statistics on mass murder in Croatia were exaggerated, I was told. Weren't the Serbs also guilty of atrocities in World War II? And weren't the remaining Jews in Croatia being treated well? Undoubtedly, these arguments had a certain validity.

What troubled me, however, was the Croats' evident need to hide behind them, as if a simple apology without qualifiers might delegitimate them as a nation ... A brave and unambiguous appraisal of the past is necessary to untangle these threads.

Why did the Ukrainians act one way and the Croats another? Because the Ukrainians, in 1991 and 1992, were not having their cities bombed and their people brutalized in an unprovoked war of aggression. The war in Yugoslavia -- the struggle for survival -- has postponed the self-examination of Holocaust history in Croatia. But come it must."

Next: Zagreb

  contact Sheila Link: 12/17/2002 08:07:00 AM

[Thomas Jefferson's] first hero was his fellow-Virginian Patrick Henry, who seemed to be everything Jefferson was not: a firebrand, a man of extremes, a rabble-rouser, and an unreflective man of action … Jefferson was 17 when he met him and he was present in 1765 when Henry acquired instant fame for his flamboyant denunciation of the Stamp Act. Jefferson admired him no doubt for possessing the one gift he himself lacked -- the power to rouse men's emotions by the spoken word.

Jefferson had a more important quality, however: the power to analyze a historical situation in depth, to propose a course of conduct, and present it in such a way as to shape the minds of a deliberative assembly ... It was Jefferson, in 1774, who encapsulated the entire debate in one brilliant treatise -- Summary View of the Rights of British America...Jefferson relied heavily on Chapter Five of John Locke's Second Treatise on Government, which set out the virtues of a meritocracy, in which men rise by virtue, talent, and industry. Locke argued that the acquisition of weath, even on a large scale, was neither unjust nor morally wrong, provided it was fairly acquired. So, he said, society is necessarily stratified, but by merit, not by birth. This doctrine of industry as opposed to idleness as the determining factor in a just society militated strongly against kings, against governments of nobles and their placemen, in favor of representative republicanism.

Jefferson's achievement, in his tract, was to graft onto Locke's meritocratic structures two themes which became the dominant leitmotifs of the Revolutionary struggle. The first was the primacy of individual rights: "The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them." Equally important was the placing of these rights within the context of Jefferson's deep and in a sense more fundamental commitment to popular sovereignty. "From the nature of things, every society must at all times possess within itself the sovereign powers of legislation."

It was Jefferson's linking of popular sovereignty with liberty, both rooted in a divine plan, and further legitimized by ancient practice and the English tradition, which gave the American colonists such a strong, clear, and plausible conceptual basis for their action. Neither the British government nor the American loyalists produced arguments which had a fraction of this power. They could appeal to the law as it stood, and duty as they saw it, but that was all. Just as the rebels won the media battle (in America) from the start, so they rapidly won the ideological battle too.

-- Paul Johnson, A History of the American People

This quote goes out to my mother, who loves Thomas Jefferson.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/17/2002 07:36:00 AM

Actually, another O'Malley announcement, but this is one is for all the readers in the Manhattan area:

My sister Siobhan has a gig coming up, a prime-time spot at the very cool Sidewalk Cafe. It would be great to see you all there! Here are the details:

Friday Dec. 20th at 10:00 p.m.
at the Sidewalk Cafe (corner of Ave. A and 6th St.)
No cover!

For more info, check out Siobhan's home page.

Sidewalk Cafe is really fun, and really mellow. I've seen a couple shows there. So stop by!

  contact Sheila Link: 12/16/2002 05:26:00 PM

Monday, December 16, 2002  

My mother just sold her first painting!! This is all I know. But it's wonderful. Details to follow.

See two of her other pieces here.

Congratulations, Mum!

  contact Sheila Link: 12/16/2002 05:14:00 PM

I received an email from my friend Beth, responding to my post about the behavior I witnessed between the two couples in the video store. I opened the email at 7 am, it was my first email, and it made me laugh out loud. I will post it here, and you will see why:

Those people are not in a relationship with each other. "Relationship" implies two way street. Those bitchy demanding girls are in a supply/demand sort of thing, as are the guys. And they will probably go on together, each and every Saturday night. And the guys will plan football weekends that involve massive amounts of beer to dull the pain that is their lives. And the girls will guilt them into getting married, and plan a ridiculous Cinderella event that completely and utterly revolves around the bride ONLY because she feels it "is MY day". And she will force him to dance to the "Theme from Ice Castles". And he and his friends will get obliterated on the night of his
bachelor party and totally participate in lap dances with Barbie-doll boobed pole dancers. That is not a relationship that you want any part of.

Editorial comment My favorite part of this entire diatribe, is the whole "Theme from Ice Castles" detail. "Please ... don't let this feeling end...It might not come again ..."

Thank you, Beth. That email has already made my day.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/16/2002 09:58:00 AM




This week I will delve into Croatia. "The martyr of Yugoslavia". I kind of want to leap right into the 20th century, and the whole battle of the Catholics there (who will inherit the spirit of the Croatian Catholic Church ... it is an AMAZING story), but I will start with the ancient history. As Landmark Education says: "Context is decisive." True, true.

The Croats are Slavs. They were the first Slavic tribe to escape the rule of the Byzantines and establish their own kingdom. This was in 924 AD.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Turks occupied Croatia. Eventually, they did withdraw, but not far. They backed off into Serbia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. So the threat was imminent. The Sultan's forces remained there for another 200 years.

One of the things which sets Croatia apart from the other countries in the Balkans is its religion. They are a Western Catholic nation, in a peninsula dominated first by Orthodox Christians and then by Muslims. They have had a difficult road. (Hence, the "martyr" complex which is a part of their cultural memory). One writer I read described Croatia as having a "hardened heart". They take no s***. They are angry.

In 1089, the Croatian king King Kresmir died, without leaving an heir to the throne. At this time, Croatia fell under the dominion of King Ladislas of Hungary. This may sound like a bad deal, but nothing is ever simple in the Balkans. Croatia felt very threatened by Venice at the time (an ally of the Byzantines), so they welcomed Hungarian protection. This established a pattern for the country. As will become clear.

Croatia has a dread of the "East". They consider themselves to be part of Europe, part of the West. But they keep getting sucked into the Oriental madness of the Balkans, so close to Asia. They have been dominated in the past by Eastern empires, whether it be the Byzantines or the Turks. So Croatia, over the centuries, have been swept willingly into the arms of popes, Hungarian kings, Austro-Habsburg emperors. They need to be shielded, they feel. Of course, this has ended up in a vicious cycle. Croats have been exploited by kings and emperors, who have supported Croat hostility toward Orthodox Serbs.

Look on a map at Croatia's position. It is almost in Europe. Almost but not quite. To Croatia, Vienna is symbolic of the West and of Catholicism. For this reason, Croatians have forgiven the Habsburg dynasty all its multitudinous sins. Croats are convinced of their cultural superiority to the rest of the peninsula.

Speaking of the sins of the Habsburgs: Any unrest in Croatia was put down by mass executions. Here is where it gets so complicated I need to squint my eyes in order to "get it": The Habsburgs wanted the Croats to hate the Serbs. That hatred was extremely useful to them. So they gave the Serb minority in Croatia special privileges in order to incite the rage of the Croats. This worked like a charm. It still is working today. The country is run on hatred and grievance.

After World War I, Croatia found itself to be part of the newly created Yugoslavia. The Serbian royal house was given dominion over the Croats. Uh-oh. What a MESS. Communal hate took root with a vengeance.

The Croats and the Serbs are sworn enemies to this day.

A couple of quotes on all of this: (Heads up: Most of this information has come from the book that started it all for me: Balkan Ghosts, by Robert Kaplan).

Passage #1
Numbers are all that have ever counted in Zagreb. For instance, if you were to say that the Croatian Ustashe ("Insurrectionists") murdered 700,000 Serbs at Jesenovac, a World War II death camp located 65 miles southeast of Zagreb, you would be recognized as a Serbian nationalist who despises Croats as well as Albanians, who judges the late Croatian cardinal and Zagreb archbishop, Alojziji Stepinac, a "Nazi war criminal", and who supports Slobodan Milosevic, the rabble-rousing nationalist leader of Serbia. But if you were to say that the Ustashe fascists murdered only 60,000 Serbs, you would be pegged as a Croat nationalist who considers Cardinal Stepinac "a beloved saint" and who despises Serbs and their leader Milosevic.

Passage #2
One could approach this issue through the psychological theory of nations advanced by the Bulgarian-born Noble laureate, Elias Canetti, which is based on "crowd symbols". For example, Canetti said the crowd symbol for the English is the "sea...The Englishman's disasters have been experienced at sea ... His life at home is complementary to life at sea; security and monotony are its essential characteristics ... " For the Germans, the crowd symbol is the "marching forest." For the French, it is "their revolution." For the Jews, it is "the Exodus from Egypt ... The image of this multitude moving year after year through the desert has become the crowd symbol of the Jews." Canetti, unfortunately, did not discuss the people of the Balkans. The psychologically closed, tribal nature of the Serbs, Croats, and others makes them as suited to crowd symbols as the Jews, and more so than the English and the Germans.

Since Croats are ethnically indistinguishable from Serbs -- they come from the same Slavic race, they speak the same language, their names are usually the same -- their identity rests on their Roman Catholocism.

Passage #3: And stick with me, here! This is where it all gets very confusing!!
On the map, Bosnia is next door to Croatia, and seen from far away -- especially during the decades when Yugoslavia was one country -- the two regions might have struck a foreigner as indistinguishable. But Bosnia was always light-years removed from Zagreb. Zagreb is an urbane, ethnically uniform community on the plain, while Bosnia is a morass of ethnically mixed villages in the mountains. Bosnia is rural, isolated, and full of suspicions and hatreds to a degree that the sophisticated Croats of Zagreb could barely imagine. Bosnia represents an intensification and a complication of the Serb-Croat dispute. Just as Croats felt their western Catholicism more intensely than did the Austrians or the Italians, precisely because of their uneasy proximity to the Eastern Orthodox and Muslim worlds, so the Croats of Bosnia -- because they shared the same mountains with both Orthodox Serbs and Muslims -- felt their Croatianism much more intensely than did the Croats in Croatia proper, who enjoyed the psychological luxury of having only their ethnic compatriots as immediate neighbors.

Passage #4
To modern Croats, the Habsburgs represent the last normal and stable epoch in Central European history prior to the horrible detour through Nazism and Communism. But the Croats forget that, before Nazism and Communism, informed individuals had little good to say about the Habsburgs. In the words of Dame Rebecca [West]: "This family, from the unlucky day in 1273 when the College of Electors chose Rudolf of Habsburg to be King of the Romans, on account of his mediocrity, till the abdication of Charles II, in 1918, produced no genius, only two rulers of ability in Charles V and Maria Theresa, countless dullards, and not a few imbeciles and lunatics."

And lastly: Passage #5
The past in Zagreb was underfoot: a soft, thick carpet of leaves, soggy from rain, that my feet sank in and out of, confusing with the present. Leaving the railway station, I walked through curtains of fog tinted yellow by coal fires, the chemical equivalent of burning memories. The fog moved swiftly and was rent by holes, a fragment of wrought iron or a baroque dome appeared momentarily in fine focus. There. That too was the past, I realized: a hole in the fog you could see right through ...

Zagreb means "behind the hill," the hill being the site of the upper town, which dominates a lower one. In the lower town are the railway station, the Esplanade Hotel, the turn-of-the-century neo-Renaissance, Art Nouveau, and Secession-style buildings and pavilions, separated by leafy expanses. High on the hill, staring down at the lower town, is the fortified gothic Cathedral of Zagreb, a veritable mini-Kremlin, consecrated in the 13th century and restored at the end of the 19th. The cathedral is the largest Roman Catholic structure in the Balkans and is the seat of the Zagreb archbishopric. After visiting it on Easter Eve 1937, Dame Rebecca exclaimed: "There was an intensity of feeling that was not only of immense and exhilarating force, but had an honorable origin, proceeding from realist passion, from whole belief."

Tomorrow??? Catholicism in Croatia, and the battle between the two cardinals. Amazing stuff.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/16/2002 09:09:00 AM

The Chinese are the last people in the world still manufacturing spittoons, chamber pots, treadle sewing machines, bed warmers, claw hammers, "quill" pens (steel nibs, dunk-and-write), wooden yokes for oxen, iron plows, sit-up-and-beg bicycles, and steam engines.

They still make grandfather clocks -- the chain-driven mechanical kind that go tick-tock! and bong! Is this interesting? I think it is, because the Chinese invented the world's first mechanical clock in the late Tang Dynasty. Like many other Chinese inventions, it was forgotten about: they lost the idea, and the clock was reintroduced to China from Europe. The Chinese were the first to make cast iron, and soon after invented the iron plow. Chinese metallurgists were the first to make steel ("great iron"). The Chinese invented the crossbow in the 4th century BC and were still using it in 1895.

They were the first to notice that all snowflakes have six sides.

They invented the umbrella, the seismograph, phosphorescent paint, the spinning wheel, sliding calipers, porcelain, the magic lantern (or zoetrope), and the stink bomb (one recipe called for fifteen pounds of human shit, as well as arsenic, wolfsbane, and cantharides beetles). They invented the chain pump in the 1st century AD and are still using it. They made the first kite, two thousand years before one was flown in Europe.

They invented movable type and devised the first printed book -- the Buddhist text the Diamond Sutra, in the year AD 868. They had printing presses in the 11th century, and there is clear evidence that Gutenberg got his technology from the Portugese, who in turn had learned it from the Chinese.

They constructed the first suspension bridge and the first bridge with a segmented arch (this first one, built in 610, is still in use).

They invented playing cards, fishing reels, and whiskey.

In the year 1192, a Chinese man jumped from a minaret in Guangzhou using a parachute, but the Chinese had been experimenting with parachutes since the 2nd century BC. The Emperor Gao Yang (reigned 550-559) tested "man-flying kites" -- an early form of hang glider -- by throwing condemned prisoners from a tall tower, clinging to bamboo contraptions: one flew for two miles before crash-landing.

The Chinese were the first sailors in the world to use rudders; westerners relied on steering oars until they borrowed the rudder from the Chinese in about 1100.

Everybody knows that the Chinese invented paper money, fireworks, and lacquer. They were also the first people in the world to use wallpaper (French missionaries brought the wallpaper idea to Europe from China in the 15th century). They went mad with paper. An excavation in Turfan yielded a paper hat, a paper belt, and a paper shoe, from the 5th century AD. I have already mentioned toilet paper. They also made paper curtains and military armor made of paper -- its pleats made it impervious to arrows. Paper was not manufactured until the 12th century in Europe, about fifteen hundred years after its invention in China.

They made the first wheelbarrows, and some of the best Chinese wheelbarrow designs have yet to be used in the West ...

It was the Chinese who came up with the first design of the steam engine in about AD 600. And the Datong Locomotive Works is the last factory in the world that still manufactures steam locomotives. China makes big black choo-choo trains, and not only that -- none of the factory is automated. Everything is handmade, hammered out of iron, from the huge boilers to the little brass whistles. China had always imported its steam locomotives -- first from Britain, then from Germany, Japan, and Russia. In the late 1950s, with Soviet help, the Chinese built this factory in Datong, and the first locomotive was produced in 1959. There are now 9000 workers, turning out three or four engines a month, of what is essentially a nineteenth-century vehicle, with a few refinements.

Like the spittoons, the sewing machines, the washboards, the yokes, and the plows, these steam engines are built to last. They are the primary means of power in Chinese railways at the moment, and although there is an official plan to phase them out by the year 2000, the Datong Locomotive Works will remain in business. All over the world, sentimental steam railway enthusiasts are using Chinese steam engines, and in some countries -- like Thailand and Pakistan -- most trains are hauled by Datong engines.

-- Paul Theroux, Riding the Iron Rooster

  contact Sheila Link: 12/16/2002 08:35:00 AM

I was in the video store last night, browsing. (Avoiding the clearly insane man who was wandering around the "adult" section in the back, muttering obscene things to himself.) There were two guys, two nice-looking preppyish guys (SO Hoboken), standing by the "New Releases", trying to pick something out. I wasn't paying much attention to them.

Suddenly two girls entered the store. "Hey..." "Did you pick something out yet?" Clearly, they were girlfriends of the two guys. And they were ALSO such Hoboken girls. Hard to explain, but once you live here, you know the type.

The two girls looked at whatever videos the guys had in their hands that they were considering, and immediately mocked them.


"What movie are you looking at?" She glances at it and states: "No. No. I am NOT watching that."

Laughing, as though he couldn't possibly be serious, and was only holding the video as a joke.

Basically what I saw was that the two girls came in, and immediately cut these guys off, made them into little kids, mocked their choices, emasculated them. The whole vibe changed. The girls had been sent to park the car, and the guys had been sent to pick out the movie ... but clearly the girls did not trust the guys to do the right thing and had to come back and check.

I know I'm being vaguely hostile, but I don't care. I can't stand women like that. I really can't.

So then the two girls took over the job they had given the guys, cause clearly the guys were such dolts that they couldn't handle the task ... (If they're such dolts, then WHY ARE YOU WITH THEM??). And the girls made three suggestions for movie rentals, and by the third one, I almost laughed out loud.

You hear conversations in video stores all the time between couples: "No ... I don't want to watch Safe Passage with Susan Sarandon. I want to watch Blade II." Couples trying to come to an agreement. It's a cliche (chick flicks vs. action films), but there is much truth to it. But here's the deal: I feel like I would never expect any boyfriend that I have to absolutely adore The Bridges of Madison County. I don't need to convert men over to be chick flick fans. No.

The first movie suggested by one of the girls was The Majestic. I never saw it so I cannot comment. But the reviews I read all had the word "sentimental" in it. Also "inspirational". A clear chick-flick if ever I saw one. The suggestion was greeted by an uneasy silence between the guys. I (the innocent bystander) could feel the almost-violent "NO I DON'T WANT TO SEE THAT MOVIE" vibration coming from off the guys, but neither of them said a word. No response. The two girls didn't even care that they didn't get a response, and bulldozed on.

It was then that I heard one of the guys murmur to the other: "I heard that The Majestic sucked."

I wanted to cheer. Yes! Keep your own opinions! Don't let her bully you! I heard The Majestic sucked too!

The next suggestion was also such a chick-flick, only I can't remember which one it was. Perhaps it would come back to me under hypnosis.

The guys might as well have not been there.

And then the third movie suggested was: "How about The Shipping News?" That was when I almost snorted with laughter. This was too much! Too much of a cliche. These bumbling guys in wide-wale corduroys and big NorthFace jackets, trying to be nice and polite to their nice-smelling black-clad vaguely bitchy girlfriends, who keep suggesting chick flicks for their Saturday evening together, an evening where clearly EVERYBODY is supposed to enjoy themselves. Not just the girls.

Here's one other thing I noticed.

The girls entered the store, peered at the video tapes in their boyfriends' hands, and immediately and openly mocked the choices being considered.

The boys never once said, "No frigging' way am I watching The Shipping News on a Saturday night. Are you INSANE?"

They had better manners than that. They definitely had opinions about every soppy chick flick suggested, but they held back the bile. Unlike the girls.

I SO wanted to know what they all agreed on. I think it was The Rookie, which I think was a very very good choice, if that is what they picked. It's definitely sentimental, and their marriage is a huge part of the story, but it is also a gripping fascinating baseball movie. Actually, come to think of it, they DIDN'T come to an agreement as a group.

The women sort of huffed out of the store, after emasculating their boyfriends, negating all of their choices, and making stupid chick-flick suggestions...and the two guys were left by themselves. One of them said, "Let's watch this." (And it was a title which was "The R----", but I didn't hear the rest of it. The Rookie was also in its own display...) And then they were off. To join their bitchy girlfriends.

I know I'm so judgmental. But I don't care. That's actually what I SAW in those moments. And maybe it's not that big a deal to them. Maybe the girls like treating their boyfriends like they're irresponsible little children who can't handle the simplest tasks, and maybe the guys like to be treated like that.

But it certainly doesn't appeal to me, I'll tell you that.

Well, the proof is certainly in the pudding. Girls like that always are in relationships, and I never am. Go figure.

But I don't want to have a boyfriend if I have to look at him like he's a little kid doofus, and treat him like he's semi-retarded.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/15/2002 08:54:00 AM

Sunday, December 15, 2002  

I was talking with my mother yesterday about Cardinal Law resigning. What does it mean? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Is this the beginning of something good and healing, or is this the end? I thought the man would never resign, and while he remained, it seemed as though, in the words of John Dean, there was a "cancer" on the Church, and it was spreading.

Mum went to Albertus Magnus University in the 1960s, a Catholic women's college. Many of my aunts went there, and a couple of my great-aunts, who were nuns at the time, were on the faculty. Mum was telling me what it was like, when she was there.

"You could not walk on the grass. Nobody walked on the grass."

"So the rules were really strict," I said.

"Oh, so strict! I remember leading a rally with a friend for them to allow us a second carton of milk at lunch! This is like another world from the way it is now. And then ... I don't know who was the first one to do it ... but people started walking on the grass. And from then on, it was like the nuns were happy if we just showed up in class."


So she's talking about the slippery-slope here ...

Then Mum tied it all together for me: "So I think Cardinal Law being forced to resign is like people suddenly walking on the grass."

The turning point. The moment when something is lost. The transformation.

The end of an era, most certainly. But what else? I suppose that remains to be seen.

Damn, people, they have GOT to let women be priests. I mean, it has just GOT to happen. I hope I see that in my lifetime.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/15/2002 08:23:00 AM

I'm lost by life. I don't know anything about life. If I make a movie, I don't even understand why I'm making the movie. I just know that there's something there. Later on, we all get to know what it's about through the opinions of others. If you make a film, it might as well be important as be nonsense. You can't go for ten cents and expect to come up with a million. You have to go for everything. Whether you fail or don't fail, you have to go for what will make us better when we're finished. I like to work with friends and for friends on something that might help somebody. Something with humor, sadness; simple things.

The artist is really a magical figure whom we would all like to be like and don't have the courage to be, because we don't have the strength to be obsessive. Film is an art, a beautiful art. It's a madness that overcomes all of us. We're in love with it. Money is really not that important to us. We can work 36, 48 hours straight and feel elated at the end of that time. I think film is magic! With the tools we have at hand, we really try to convert people's lives! The idea of m aking a film is to package a lifetime of emotion and ideas into a two-hour capsule form, two hours where some images flash across the screen and in that two hours the hope is that the audience will forget everything and that celluloid will change lives. Now that's insane, that's a preposterously presumptuous assumption, and yet that's the hope.

--John Cassavetes

  contact Sheila Link: 12/15/2002 08:20:00 AM

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