Annamaria Alfieri
Annamaria on Monday By the machinations of my quirky unconscious, this past week I watched my three favorite films about art during WWII: Frankenheimer’s The Train, the documentary The Rape of Europa (based on a book of the same name), and The Monuments Men, based on that same book.  I chose these only because The Train, which had been on my Netflix dvd list for more than a year showed up in my mailbox.  It seemed only natural then to look at the subject from three vantage points.  By chance, I ended up with these visions from the past while my countrymen were tearing down monuments to people involved in hideous events. On top of which, my one of my favorite podcasts, On the Media aired a segment about monuments and the public memory.  Hence, these musings about the meaning of monuments and whether they should endure.  Some monuments deserve to live on because of their intrinsic beauty.  Yet these are all too often the victims of neglect.  Or worst of all, intentional destruction during wartime.  Of such events, the most painful to my heart is the Nazi destruction in Florence, particularly that of the Ponte Santa Trinita.  You have heard me wax enchanted here on MIE on how a trip to the supermarket in Florence takes me over the Ponte Vecchio.  Walking home with my groceries,  I see wondrous things that bring me joy.   But also, off to my left is the reconstructed bridge the original of which the Nazi’s blew up.  (They spared the Ponte Vecchio only because it was the Fuhrer’s favorite.)  They destroyed the rest, including Santa Trinita, considered one of the most beautiful in the world.  They did so despite the fact that Michelangelo had a hand in its design.  Here is how it looked when the Allies took the town. Attention Michael and Stan:  The soldiers walking on therubble are South African troops who helped to liberate Florence. It is said that destroying the bridges was meant to delay the Allies' pursuit.  Were the few hours bought for the retreating Nazis worth the loss? Barbarians!  That’s what we call people who destroy the beautiful without regard to its worth. But... The people who are taking down statues in the United States right now are a case apart.  Blacks in the United Sates have every reason to abhor the continued glorification of events that, though they "freed their ancestors from slavery," they also condemned them and their descendants to continue suffering fear, poverty, and anguish. This is where the On the Media podcast “The Worst Thing We’ve Ever Done” tore my thinking away from Europe.  It focused my thoughts on a perennial concern, but one lately in the forefront for Americans like me: white, appalled by the persistence of systemic racism, and anguished to be living at time when the flames of hatred are being fueled by the White Supremacist in Chief in the White House. For one thing, that podcast introduced for the first time for me (DUH!)  the notion that—while the US has raised many monuments to fallen rebels in the Civil War, we lack official memorials to murdered escaping slaves and those lynched to keep their fellow Blacks in terror.  On the Media Editor Brooke Gladstone took listeners to three places.  First to Germany and South Africa, where the governments and citizenry have erected monuments to remind them of the worst thing their countries have done.  To make sure it doesn’t happen again. Berlin In Berlin, there is a monument to European Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis.  The blocks are all different sizes to symbolize the fact that people of all ages were destroyed. Also, throughout the country, Stolpersteine - “stumbling stones” - have been embedded in the streets near the sites of historic events and the homes of people who perished.  They are intentionally placed where Germans can “trip” over their history.  These monuments are there to teach all Germans to join all Jews in saying “Never Again.” Next to Johannesburg, where I have had the privilege twice of visiting The Apartheid Museum.  When I first arrived there, I was afraid that I would not be able to stand to look at what was inside.  I had viewed apartheid only from afar.  I did not think I could bear to look at it up close.  It wasn’t easy, not the first time, not the second.  But the place is magnificently arranged both to teach and inspire. And I came away from it, on both visits, not only informed, but encouraged.  What you see in this brilliantly designed memory house is no less than the ugliest and the most beautiful things human beings are capable of. Johannesburg: The only one of these essential words that Americans ordinarily call for is "Freedom."  I pray we will learn to revere the others just as much.  Th entrance to the Apartheid Museum gets to you immediately! Nooses: the weapon of choice of racists everywhere it seems.   My country woefully lacks such places where we can learn the wages of our own original sin.  But there is at least one such in the United States.  Unfortunately, it is obscure.  But for Covid, I would head to it right now.  Alabama has not until now been on my list of places to visit.  But I now know that it is home to an example of the sort of thing that Germany and South Africa have done and are doing to deal with the "worst thing" their countries have done: The Legacy Museum.  I cannot give you a first-hand report.  I'll have to save that for another day.  But here is what I have leaned and why I want to go there: This monument is dedicated to helping Americans understand that insidious baseline of far too much of our thinking: that black people are inferior to white people.  This unexamined knee-jerk assumption keeps racism alive. The Legacy Museum The Lynching MemorialInscribed on each hanging copper panel is the date, the name of the victim(s),and the place where the murder took place.  There are 805 of them. Duplicate markers await to be  claimed by the citizens and  installed as local memorials. Citizens of the lynching locations bring samples of the dirt where the person died.Here they are, labeled with the dates of the crimes and the names of the victims. I could go on. And on. And on. But not right now. Highly recommended ways to learn more on this subject from "On the Media." "The Worst Thing We've Ever Done." https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/on-the-media/id73330715?i=1000482298522 "Forty Acres " https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/on-the-media/id73330715?i=1000484056033
Zoë Sharp
Zoë Sharp Having spent the last twenty years writing about strong women, I love to encounter them in real life, also. So, I was delighted to learn this week of history made by Eileen Flynn. She has just become the first woman from the Irish Travelling community to become a Senator in the upper house of the Irish Parliament. Eileen and her twin sister Sally grew up on Labre Park, what’s known as a halting site, in Ballyfermot, Dublin. Conditions at the site, a mix of mobile homes and houses, could be poor. “We could go a week without heating,” she reports. Not surprisingly, this had an ongoing effect on the family’s health and on education. Her mother died of pneumonia at just 48, when the twins were ten years old. For Eileen, hard times were just beginning. Little more than a week after her mother passed away, she was in a serious road accident, breaking numerous bones including her hips, legs, and an arm. She would spend the next two years in and out of hospital. Losing her mother at such a young age, plus the undoubted disruption caused by the treatment of her injuries, made school life difficult for Eileen. “I was suspended eight times, I was expelled once… but thankfully at the school I went to, the teachers all believed in me.” That faith was rewarded when both Eileen and Sally became the first Travellers from Labre Park to go on to third-level education. Eileen went to Trinity College Dublin on an access course, then Ballyfermot College, and got her degree in community and youth work at Maynooth University. Eileen Flynn (right) with her twin sister Sally.Photo: Bryan Meade, Irish Times For the past ten years, Eileen has campaigned for the Irish Traveller Movement, the National Traveller Women’s Forum, and Ballyfermot Traveller Action Programme, on topics including equal rights, abortion rights, housing, and anti-racism. According to the last census in 2016, there are over 30,000 members of the Irish Travelling community, and bias against them is still very much a part of life. Eileen admits that, if anyone commented on her country accent in the past, she would claim her father’s home town of Kilkenny. “I’d never say Dublin because of being recognised as a Traveller and being refused [entry].” When she married her husband Liam White, who is from the settled community in Donegal, she was concerned the hotel would look up her background on social media and cancel the 2018 wedding booking because of her background. “As a Traveller, it’s a fear you have all the time.” She stood for election to the Seanad Éireann (the Senate) earlier this year but just missed out on a seat. Fortunately, out of the 60 seats in the upper house, 11 are filled with appointees by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin. Eileen was the only non-party political nominee, as the others are from the three parties which make up the new coalition. The appointment of a nominee to represent the Travelling community was recommended in a Seanad report from early 2020, after they were granted status as an indigenous ethnic minority within the Republic of Ireland, and it was recognised that they ‘are still experiencing stigma, longstanding prejudice, discrimination, racism, social exclusion and identity erosion.’ Senator Eileen FlynnPhoto: Alan Betson, Irish Times Making her maiden speech in the Dublin Convention Centre last Monday, the new Senator Flynn said she hoped to be, “that person that will break down the barriers for Traveller people and also for those at the end of Irish society.” It is her ambition to introduce hate crime legislation in the Republic of Ireland. I had not come across Eileen Flynn when I created characters from the British Romany and Irish Traveller communities for BONES IN THE RIVER, but I have a feeling Queenie Smith would definitely have voted for her! This week’s Word of the Week is eudaimonia, from eu meaning well, and daimon or daemon meaning a minor deity or guardian spirit. Aristotle described it as doing and living well, leading to the word ‘well-being’. It differs from happiness as that is a subjective concept, whereas eudaimonia is based on what it means to live a human life well. Events Nobody’s going anywhere at the moment, although thanks to the wonders of T’Interweb, I can be seen, heard, or read on the following sites: Public Displays of Imagination A podcast interview with Mark De Wayne Combs on all things to do with writing. The Northern Crime Syndicate A podcaster interview with fellow writers A.M. Peacock and Judith O’Reilly. Women Writers Women’s Books A guest blog on my Road to Publication. I was also honoured to be asked to contribute to the WRITERS CRUSHING COVID-19 anthology, of articles, essays, and short stories in aid of the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. I hope you’ll take a look.   
Jeffrey Siger
Jeff--Saturday I'm not in a particularly good mood today.  A condition I'm certain I share with many these days.  But I don't want to write about something that might leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth--especially with Stan having expounded so eloquently upon the wonders of Marmite in his Thursday post. So, I decided to write about one of the happiest days in most folk's life.  Their wedding day.  But not just any wedding day, a Greek wedding among Mykonians on their home island of Mykonos.  Traditions there are somewhat different than in big city Athens, but no matter where a Greek wedding is held, I can assure you the party is always a blast. Traditionally when two Mykonians marry, several hours before the service the bride and groom go to their respective parents’ homes to gather with family and friends who’ve come to help prepare them for the big day.  Amid a lot of singing, drinking, and nuts (meant to be the edible kind, symbolizing fertility) the party begins. The groom, accompanied by an entourage including musicians, arrives at the church first, to cool his heels waiting for his bride to show.  Tradition always has her arriving late—possibly to give her groom a chance to sober up. The bride and her family also arrive with musicians, generally playing a santouri dulcimer and an accordion or two. They stop in front of the groom as the bride’s parents turn their daughter over to her soon-to-be husband.  Then it’s on to the ceremony.    All organized faiths offer more than simply words when asking souls to exchange lifetime vows; centuries-old symbols and rituals are employed to impress upon the couple the seriousness of their commitment. Symbolic of all Greek Orthodox weddings are a bible, almonds, wine cup and decanter, and two stefana—bridal crowns of starched white leather, orange blossoms and ivy joined together by a single silver ribbon (or a variation thereof)—all on a small table.   And everyone attending a Greek wedding has some traditional part to play.  The priest reads from the wedding service as he performs the expected traditional rites, such as touching the wedding bands, and later the stefana, three times to the foreheads of the bride and groom. The koumbarous and koumbara, honors akin to, but far more significant than, best man and bridesmaid, are charged with switching wedding bands three times from the couple’s left ring fingers—where worn when engaged—to their right where worn when married, and with holding the stefana above the couple’s heads waiting for the moment to switch them three times between bride and groom. The bride has the most whimsical, and some say “instructive,” tradition.  Near the end of the service the priest reads, “The wife shall fear her husband,” at which point the bride brings to life the expression, “It’s time to put your foot down,” by stepping on her man’s foot to the great joy and cheers of all, especially chiropodists.   The guests play their parts after the couple drinks three times from the common cup and begin their ceremonial first steps together as husband and wife.  The bride, groom, koumbaroi, and priest circle the small table three times amid a barrage of rice and, in Mykonos tradition, powerful whacks to the groom’s back by his buddies. Then its time for greetings of  “kalo riziko,” “na zesete,” and “vion anthosparton” wishing the couple a marriage of “good roots,” “long life,” and “full of flowers,” and off to the party venue.  The only ones who don’t head straight to the party are the bride and groom.  They stop at their new home to change clothes.  By the way, don’t worry if your name isn’t on the guest list, because as long as you’re with an invited guest you’re in.  That sort of thing is expected at a Greek wedding where there’s always more than enough food, drink, and room for one more.  There’s also music playing while the guests wait for the bride and groom to arrive, and as soon as they do, the tune switches to one that lets everyone know the couple is here.  Amid a roar of applause and shouts of good wishes, they make their way through a phalanx of hugs and kisses to the dance floor.   With a nod of the bride’s head, the band begins playing the ballos, the traditional six-step dance of the Cycladic islands, one of the most beautiful to watch, and the first done at any true Mykonian wedding.  Once they are dancing the party is officially underway, and the couple is joined in sequence by their parents, koumbaroi, immediate family, and guests until a full line of partiers is dancing in the syrto style that symbolizes the essence of Greek life to so much of the world.  Later will come the kalamatiano, arguably Greece’s most popular dance and one played at every Greek wedding. I will not mention the food. Just think enormous…and triple your thought. Tonight is a time to let loose and worry about nothing more than passing out before the last guest departs, which will be long after the cake cutting and fireworks display.  And don’t worry about having to find your way home in the dark. The sun will be up by then. Vion anthosparton, y'all! —Jeff