For a number of years, on its last page Time magazine has published a 10 Questions interview with someone they consider, well…Time-worthy.
I usually read this article, and one October day five years ago I reached that last page and began reading.
At first, I didn’t recognize the person being interviewed. But I was barely into the article and already thinking, “Who is this twit?” When I finally realized who I was reading about, I was inspired to write a response.
The person featured in the interview was author Elizabeth Gilbert, who in 2014 was promoting her new book, The Signature of All Things. Ms. Gilbert has a new book due out in June, so it seemed like an appropriate time to revisit my response:
Dear Ms. Gilbert:
I read your 10 Questions interview in the October 14 issue of Time.
I also heard your interview on NPR, so I’m inferring that you’re doing an author’s tour, which I understand has become an event…
As rare as a Loch Ness Monster sighting.
Of course, your status as an author of – well, status – is without doubt.
According to Wikipedia, your book Eat, Pray, Love spent something like seven million weeks on the best seller list…
And was made into a movie starring Julia Roberts.
Talk about status!
And you were included on a Time 100 list the of most influential people in the world –
not just the United States, mind you, but the world –
along with other movers and shakers like Sarah Palin,
and Larry the Cable Guy.
With regards to the Time article, I couldn’t help but notice – and can’t help but comment on – the following:
Your statement: “I was late [to this interview] because my hairdresser wanted to tell me about…”
Ms. Gilbert, regardless of your status, it is not OK to be late – to an interview, a lunch date…
A sighting of the Loch Ness Monster.
It’s a tacky power play sending the message that you’re more important than the person you kept waiting.
And you kept Time magazine waiting. Who’s next?
Your sweater: It looks like you were on your way out the door and thought, “Gosh, I need a sweater.
“Oh, look, here’s the pile of stuff I’ve been meaning to give to Goodwill for the past eight months. I’ll just dig down here and…
“Oh, that beige thing! Perfect!”
Wow, is that an actual A-Line from the late 60s? Judging by its lack of style and shape I’m guessing…Yes!
Your knees: Are ugly. We women reach a point when it may be prudent not to reveal certain body parts except in the privacy of our bedroom or gynecologist’s office. Knees are on that list…
Along with the stuff that accumulates on the underside of our upper arms and keeps moving even when we’re standing still.
You’re 44 and your knees show it. Stop showing them.
Your ankle boots: Are you serious? Ankle boots with a dress?
If you’re 24: Hot.
If you’re 44: Not.
Your new book: The Signature of All Things.
I haven’t read it and I’m doubtful I’ll tackle a 512-page tome about… moss.
And speaking of moss, have you read Kate’s book?
Now, she’s got some nice knees!
Ms. Gilbert, your new book, City of Girls, comes out in June.
But forget your newborn baby and leave it in a taxicab?
Earlier this month a couple in Hamburg, Germany were traveling home from the hospital with their new baby. The dad had brought along their one-year-old, Emma, to meet her new sibling.
The taxi arrived at the family’s house, they paid the fare, gathered up Emma and exited the cab, which drove away.
Then the parents realized they’d left their newborn in the cab.
I’m imagining the conversation just before the couple’s cab arrived at their home:
Wife (to husband): You forgot to bring my purse to the hospital even though I told you three times! So you’ll have to pay the cab driver. Husband: I didn’t forget! You forgot that I told you I didn’t want to walk around with your purse. And I was busy getting Emma ready to go!
Wife: And that’s another thing you forgot – Emma’s bottle. I told you to bring her bottle! Husband: And I told you we’re out of formula, because you forgot to buy it! And she’s fine, so forget about it!
Wife: Well, excuse me for forgetting to buy formula when I’m nine months pregnant and taking care of a one-year-old! Husband: And why do we have a one-year-old? Because you forgot to take your pill!
Wife: I didn’t forget! You forgot to pick up my prescription! Now pay the driver!
The newborn slept through all this.
And continued sleeping as the taxi departed, father chasing the cab and shouting. The baby slept on as the driver went to a parking garage, left (slamming the cab door) to go eat lunch, returned to the cab (another door slam), and drove to the airport.
That kid was one sound sleeper.
It was only at the airport that the taxi driver picked up another fare, who discovered the baby and was annoyed that the taxi already had a passenger.
A now awake and crying passenger.
Parents and baby were reunited, no harm done.
Mother: You forgot the baby! Father: No, I was paying the cab fare, you forgot the baby…
Thus are headlines made:
Speaking of parents…
Here’s a parent I’ll bet never forgets about a newborn:
Hard to overlook a newborn that’s 6 feet tall and weighs 154 pounds.
This is the newest Masai giraffe at the San Diego Zoo and her mother Domibella. The baby was born May 19 and both are doing well.
Which I find amazing, considering the mother endured a 15-month pregnancy, and then gave birth standing up.
Which meant the baby had a head-first six-foot drop to the ground.
Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.
Originally known as Decoration Day, it began in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades.
And this was nothing like father and son bonding time.
Last month Joseph Tilton, 39, of Lewiston, ME asked his dad to drive him to the bank to cash a check.
The dad, Keith Tilton, agreed, and drove Joseph to the Androscoggin Bank in Lewiston.
Joseph was inside the bank just a few minutes, then got back in the car and asked Joseph to drop him off in another part of town.
Dad agreed, and did so.
Dad’s homeward route took him back past the bank, where he noticed a number of police cars.
When Dad was about a block past the bank, the police pulled him over.
A bank teller had recognized the car and identified it to police.
It turns out that during those few minutes Joseph was inside the bank, he’d robbed it.
And then Dad, unknowingly, drove the getaway car.
Now, this is a story with a sad background. According to prosecutors, Joseph has a lengthy criminal record and had recently been released after serving time at a Maine prison. He’s described as a transient, has a drug problem and is suspected of dealing drugs.
Joseph is in jail facing felony charges of robbery, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and theft, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
To con your dad into driving the getaway car after you rob a bank?
Grand Haven is a nice town on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. The population is around 10,000.
The town has one zip code, and one highway runs through it – US 31.
It was on that highway, late last month, that a box with $30,000 in cash fell off the back bumper of a truck and brought people together with one shared goal:
To steal the cash.
Let’s pause for a moment because this scenario begs the questions:
Why was this still-unidentified man driving around with $30,000 in cash?
Why has he chosen to remain unidentified?
What had so befuddled his brain that he forget he left the box full of cash on the truck’s bumper?
Back to our scenario.
I’d like to think the people who suddenly appeared en masse to grab the $20s and $50s flying through the air were driven by desperation:
A single mom who’d just lost her job.
A recent college grad, drowning in debt.
A parent of a child with a terrible disease who couldn’t afford the child’s lifesaving medication.
Maybe. I think not.
Sometimes, when we humans have a chance to get something for nothing – even at someone else’s expense…
We get it.
As it rained cash, people abandoned their cars and caused a traffic jam on Highway 31. The Grand Haven Department of Public Safety was called, and they and some witnesses retrieved $2,470.
The truck’s driver eventually returned to the scene and told police what happened.
And it appears that a few people had grabbers’ remorse:
So far, one woman has returned $3,880 and two 17-year-olds handed in $630.
As worldly-wise as I sometimes think I am, I’m delighted to say that I can still be surprised. Here are two recent instances:
Surprise #1: I’ve Heard Of Ants In Your Pants, But…An Alligator?
Michael Clemons, 22, and Michelle Marchan-Le Quire, 25 may not be what you’d call nature knowledgeable.
On a recent date night, instead going to a boring old restaurant, they decided to go find a nice underpass in Punta Gorda, FL and collect some wildlife.
No ho-hum restaurant food for them!
At around 3:15am, collecting complete, the couple were enroute to somewhere else when they were pulled over by police for running a stop sign. They told the deputies they’d been collecting frogs and snakes.
There were several bags in the car, and after asking Michael for his license and registration, one of the deputies asked if they’d mind opening their bags so he could see what wildlife they’d collected. Michael opened his bag – just clothing and personal items.
Then Michelle opened her backpack and – here’s the evidence that these folks are not nature knowledgeable. Instead of frogs and snakes, Michelle’s backpack contained…
Dozens of little turtles!
The deputy asked Michelle if she had anything else…
And she pulled out a small alligator…
From her pants!
Clearly Michael and Michelle don’t know the difference between “frogs and snakes” and “turtles and alligators.”
The collected animals are native to Florida but are regulated, so Michael and Michelle were cited for having them and for violating bag limits, and got a warning for the stop sign violation.
I do wonder about the conversation after they were stopped, those blue and red police lights flashing in their rear window, police about to approach their car:
Michael: Shit! Busted! Michelle: I gotta zip up my backpack. Here – take the alligator! Michael: The alligator was your idea! YOU take the alligator! Michelle: I’m not taking it! What am I gonna do with it? Michael: I don’t know! Put it in your pants! Michelle: I’m not putting no gator in my pants! Your put it in YOUR pants! Michael: Geez, here come the cops! Put it in your damn pants! Michelle: Bite me! Alligator: OK!
Surprise #2: I’ve Heard of “Staycation” But…Fakecation?
Here’s the perfect idea for those:
Whose lives begin and end with social media on their phones.
Who’ve lost their jobs because they spent so much work time on their phones.
And cannot, therefore, afford to go on vacation.
That’s right: Fake a Vacation.
On the level: This is a Nebraska company whose website says,
Fake a vacation with pictures. Make your friends envious of where you were and have them thinking of being where you are. Fake vacation is a perfect Meme for bragging to your friends. Select from destination packages available or we can create a custom package just for you. Ready to the excitement.
I’m not sure what that last sentence means, but I am sure of this:
Now, instead of your social media buddies (and I know you’ve got thousands!) feeling sorry for you because you’re an unemployed loser, they’ll be green with envy because you went on a fabulous vacation – and they didn’t!
Just upload a few photos of you to Fake a Vacation, choose your destination – Disneyland, the Grand Canyon, Hawaii and others – and in no time at all you’ll be on Instagram and Facebook with pictures of you having the time of your life:
Without the bother of all that fun and relaxation.
The packages also include some facts – a cheat sheet – about each destination to help you concoct the story of your fake vacation.
So when your friends tweet, “Wow, your vacation in the Grand Canyon – very cool!”
You won’t tweet, “We had a blast! We went on every ride, and had our picture taken with Mickey Mouse!”
Here’s another good reason to go with Fake a Vacation:
Lots of people do it. And isn’t that always the best reason?
It’s a fact, according to TechTimes.com. In April they reported that a new study surveyed more than 4,000 adults from the United States, and revealed that 10 percent of the respondents have already posted fake travel photos on their social media accounts.
So what are you waiting for?
Fake a Vacation is ready to fake you into your dream destination, without ever leaving the comfort of your couch.
My first thought when I saw this headline on the splashy, full-page story in the Arts section of the Sunday Union-Tribune was:
“The Rise of Spain” – on the backs of how many?
This was the San Diego Museum of Art announcing its new exhibition, “Art & Empire: The Golden Age of Spain.”
My next thought:
“Golden Age” – for whom?
Certainly not for hundreds of thousands of indigenous people in South America, Central America, North America and elsewhere.
People the Spanish conquered, stole from, enslaved, raped, murdered, infected with diseases, and ultimately, in some areas, destroyed.
“Golden Age,” my ass.
I read the extensive article, curious to see what spin the museum put on glorifying Spain’s “Golden Age.”
To the newspaper reporter’s credit, she addressed this issue in the second paragraph:
“…the Spanish Golden Age, when Spain laid claim to land around the world, including vast swaths of North and South America, parts of Italy and the Netherlands, as well as the Philippines. Spain’s global expansion that began around 1500 brought a shift in the world order with the conquest of land, the subjugation of people and the demise of many societies.”
But then came…the “but.”
“But there was also a broadening of culture that led to a brilliant era in the arts, producing what are still considered among the finest works of art in history.”
So, what are we saying here? That “conquest,” “subjugation” and “demise” are fine, as long as we got some paintings along the way?
I read on.
“The Spanish empire marked the first major globalization in history.”
I think the correct word is “colonization.” Because that was Spain’s goal: To colonize as much of the New World as possible for the purpose of expanding its territory, filling its coffers with gold, silver and other treasure, and converting the “savages” to Catholicism – for their own good, of course.
And if this meant eliminating the native people who objected to being colonized and converted, well – it was all in the name of God.
Further along the article says,
“A gold cross with pearls and four large emeralds tells the story of conquest and conversion. The four emeralds were mined in Colombia before the Spanish arrived and would have been used in jewelry.”
That’s a way of saying, “The native Colombians mined the emeralds and owned them.”
“After the arrival of the Spanish, the gems were incorporated…”
Wait. Stop right there. “Incorporated”? You mean stolen, don’t you?
“…incorporated into a diminutive four-inch cross, made for a crown for a statue of the Virgin Mary.”
So the Spanish stole the emeralds, put them into a cross, and that made everything OK?
One of the exhibition’s five section is entitled “Splendors of Daily Life,” and I suspect this was not referring to the “splendors” in the daily lives of the people Spain was conquering and killing.
The article winds down with the quote I used in my title from the museum’s executive director, Roxana Velásquez: “We want to make the story as clear as possible.”
OK – let’s “make the story as clear as possible” about Spain’s “Golden Age.”
The Spanish Conquest of the Americas: This began in 1497 with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean and continued for three centuries. The Spanish Empire would expand across the Caribbean Islands, half of South America, most of Central America and much of North America including present day Mexico, Florida, and the Southwestern and Pacific Coastal region of the U.S.
The indigenous population plummeted by an estimated 80% in the first century and a half following Columbus’s voyages, primarily through the spread of diseases.
The native populations were also decimated by superior Spanish technology and weaponry:
The Spanish Inquisition: Over these same three centuries, beginning in 1478, these same fine folks were conducting the Spanish Inquisition, “to purify Catholicism in all their territories.”
This “purification” included torture and execution, with a death toll estimated at tens of thousands of “heretics.”
California: In 1769 another great land grab began under order of the Spanish king. Sea and land expeditions departed Mexico for what would become California, meeting in San Diego where the first fort and mission were established to serve as frontier outposts. The King sent military troops and Franciscan missionaries to the new land to colonize the territory and convert its indigenous inhabitants to Catholicism.
Twenty-one missions were established between San Diego and Sonoma, mainly built by native populations under the threat of whippings and imprisonment and, according to one visitor in 1786, “whose state at present scarcely differs from that of the negro inhabitants [slaves] of our colonies.”
In the 65 years between establishment of the missions in 1769 and their secularization by the Mexican government in 1834, more than 37,000 California Indians died at the missions. Around 15,000 of those deaths were due to epidemics aided by the missions’ crowded conditions, while a significant number of the rest succumbed to starvation, overwork, or mistreatment.
Estimates place the pre-Spanish coastal native Californian population between 133,000 and 300,000. By 1890, thanks in a large part to Spain, it had fallen to under 17,000.
Transatlantic Slave Trade: As busy as the Spanish were, from the 1500s to the 1800s they still found time to capture an estimated half-million people from Africa and transport them, primarily to Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and South America. Those that survived the horrible conditions on slave ships faced brutal lives of captivity, enforced labor, beatings, disease and death:
Now let’s return to present-day San Diego and the museum’s “Art & Empire: The Golden Age of Spain.”
I’m sure visitors will flock to the exhibition, enamored by the works of Diego Velázquez, Peter Paul Rubens, El Greco and others.
While they’re there, I hope they’ll spend an extra bit of time with the weary young woman – “The Kitchen Maid” – and remember that for many, Spain’s “Golden Age…”
I enjoy reading a good book and learning something from it, too.
Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing is a good book and I learned a lot, but I can’t say I “enjoyed” it.
This isn’t a criticism of the writing – Say Nothing is very well-written. For all its many characters and complications, Keefe’s deft touch meant I had no problem keeping track of who people were, what they were doing and why.
So when I say I didn’t “enjoy” Say Nothing, I’m referring to the tragic subject matter: the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland. The book covers the time period of the late 1960s/early 1970s to the present, with the focus on the 30 years leading up to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
If the words Northern Ireland, Belfast, IRA, Gerry Adams, paramilitaries, bombs, and murders resonate with you, then you know what I’m talking about.
If those words don’t resonate, and you want to know what the hell was going on in Northern Ireland and why, Say Nothing is where to learn more.
Say Nothing is about the conflict between Ireland and Great Britain and that, in itself, is not new. It had been going on for at least 800 years, with the Irish viewing the English as cruel conquerors, and Great Britain viewing the Irish as ignorant peasants in great need of civilizing.
That civilizing would, of course, include exploiting Ireland’s people and resources for the benefit of Great Britain, with little or no benefit at all to the exploited, from the Irish perspective.
Over the centuries the conflict led to rebellions, which led to suppression, which led to more rebellions, and eventually led to the partition of Ireland in 1920. Six counties in the north elected to remain part of Great Britain and became Northern Ireland, while the remaining 26 counties became the Irish Free State.
But many people in Northern Ireland were dissatisfied; they wanted a united Ireland, one country on one island, free of British taint. They wanted a republic of Ireland, and they were proud republicans, ready to fight, murder and die for their cause.
The lead characters in Say Nothing are rebels in their late teens and early 20s, brought up to believe as their parents and grandparents had: That the British were an occupying force and the Irish had the duty to expel the British by any means. That this was the year, and they were the new generation who would bring British oppression to an end forever. That a united Ireland was worth killing for, worth going to prison for…
Worth dying for.
And so began the Troubles.
Say Nothing starts with a mystery: Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1972. The 38-year-old widowed mother of 10 is abducted and vanishes. The “Why?” and “Who did it?” are woven throughout the book.
The abduction was just one of many in Northern Ireland, where people were “disappeared,” never seen or heard from again. Making people disappear was just one option in the toolbox of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), originally founded in 1919 but mostly dormant by 1969.
As the IRA was revived by the new generation of fighters, it developed other tools including bombings, especially car bombs – in both Northern Ireland and England – and murder, of both Irish and English people.
As Keefe put it, eventually the IRA
“…was carrying out a dizzying number of operations, often as many as four or five each day. You would rob a bank in the morning, do a ‘float’ in the afternoon – prowling the streets in a car, casting around, like urban hunters, for a British soldier to shoot – stick a bomb in a booby trap before supper, then take part in a gun battle or two that night.”
And the IRA didn’t limit itself to killing British soldiers on Irish soil. They killed British people in England. And they killed Irish people in Ireland, all in the name of a united Ireland.
Under the leadership of Gerry Adams, the IRA became very good at terrorism. Later on, Adams became equally good at denying he was ever a member of the IRA.
And the English government and military became very good at counterattacking and denying, as well.
In the end – though there is really still no “end” – it was, as Keefe says, “Three decades of appalling bloodshed and some 3500 lives lost.”
And after all the savagery, the bloodshed, the maiming, the deaths, the lives and property damaged or destroyed, today Ireland remains two countries on one island. Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom.
And, says Keefe,
“…the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic has seemed, at times, to have virtually disappeared. The soldiers and sandbagged checkpoints are long gone, and every day, tens of thousands of people and countless trucks full of goods crisscross the national boundary in one direction or the other.”
So the same old question: What was all the killing for?
And the new question: Brexit?
Will Brexit, postponed yet again until October 31, bring about a united Ireland?
Or will it spur yet another generation of young people to fight, kill and die?
And Jean McConville, the 38-year-old widow and mother who was “disappeared”? Keefe does offer his thoughts on the “Why?” and “Who did it?”
And his thoughts on Gerry Adams, as well. Adams, who transitioned from IRA leader to leader of Sinn Féin, the left-wing political party in Northern Ireland.
Adams, still very much alive, now retired from politics, and still denying he was ever a member of the IRA.
Adams declined an interview for Say Nothing, and Keefe closes with this:
“The downside of denying something everyone knows to be true is that the value of anything you say inevitably starts to depreciate.”
I’m hoping something much more scathing is carved on Adams’ tombstone.
The many lives of Gerry Adams (left photo, in glasses): As a 25-year-old “republican in 1973, forming part of an IRA guard of honour at an IRA bomber’s funeral.” And in 2018, age 70, as an author, touting his “Negotiator’s Cook Book.”
And in between…
In public and in private, Adams continues to deny he was ever a member of the IRA. He has repeated the same denial for presidents, prime ministers, even to the families of IRA hunger strikers.
If you were writing a history of the last 40 years of the IRA, Adams would appear on almost every page but he would have us believe he was somehow an innocent bystander who just happened to be in the room.