On Monday, September 22, President Mahmood Abbas of the Palestinian Authority spoke at Cooper Union. Have you ever been in the Cooper Union’s Great Hall? If so, you’ll remember how the columns abstract a full view of the stage so you and the rest of the audience bob and weave to see what’s going on. You’ll also remember that every speaker mentions that Abraham Lincoln spoke from that very podium. Mahmoud Abbas did this many times. His accent was so thick that Abraham had a wonderful Arabic ring to it and, at first, I didn’t know who he was talking about. It was an autumnal occasion: an elderly (79) politician who stayed the course even if he wasn’t particularly effective. The audience of about 700 consisted of mostly white, asian and arab millennials. There were several keffiyehs, the checkered headscarf worn by Palestinians and their supporters. Lots of yamakas. Groups of orthodox Jews and us. We were under the umbrella of Churches for Middle East Peace. You brought your sense of expectation with you. With a few exceptions (The current lot of the Palestinians is similar to that of the African Americans in 1950s USA), Abbas’s speech was boiler plate and aimed at a New York collegiate audience. And why not? It’s their generation that’s going to clean up the mess my generation and the preceding one created.It was a respectful group, lots of applause for Palestinian rights. Lots of standing ovations. Those who didn’t agree stayed seated and didn’t applaud. About eight years ago I attended a panel discussion between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli speakers. The late Tony Judt and John Meirsheimer were on the former side. Dennis Ross was on the latter side. The debate was sparked and fueled by the publication of Meirsheimer’s and Steven Walt’s The Israel Lobby. A woman with the unfortunate but unforgettable last name of Slaughter was the moderator. Cooper Union was packed. The air was electric. The forbidden topic: Israeli influence on the U. S. was being addressed. Quite an evening.
Later this week I attended a birthday party in a Soho loft that combines elegance and cosiness. An extremely talented singer and guitar player, aged nine, accompanied by her musician father played for the birthday girl.
Who knew how spiffy The Museum of the City of New York had become? Everyone except me, that’s who. Even the name change reflects a streamline, upscale NYC: City Museum. On Tuesday we went to a lecture, co-presented with Central Park Conservancy, on the fort landscape before Central Park. Three historians described the effect of the Revolutionary War and of the War of 1812 on the site that would later become Central Park. A shoutout for the Central Park Conservancy. It was begun in 1980 and has raised $750 million to restore the Park.
I slipped out of town on Friday to attend a Judson Memorial Church weekend in Ivoryton, Connecticut. It’s held each year at the Incarnation Center, a beautifully run camp on 700 acres near the southern Connecticut coast line. Do not let the word camp fool you. The accommodations are basic and clean. The food is delicious and the lake is a joy to sit by or jump into. Judson always has interesting activities and lots of fun: There’s a workshop on energy and consciousness, the question session asked by the senior minister and answered by everyone present in 20 seconds or less, swimming, rowing, walking, lots of talking, a baseball game and a dance party and variety show on Saturday evening. On Sunday there’s a service in one of the two chapels. Some members of the congregation elected to stay at home and go on the Climate March on Sunday. Others chose to do both by leaving the weekend early.
It’s been a busy week. On Sunday Judson Memorial Church bid farewell to Michael and Alana. He’ll be the senior minster at the Portland, OR. UCC. Alana completed her studies at Hunter and will be working with the elderly.
I enjoy attending Jazz Tuesdays at the New York Baha’l Center at 53 East 11 Street. The beginning of fall was celebrated with Mike Longo’s swinging 17-piece big band.
Wednesday: Ginger’s on 7th Avenue and 33rd Street is a big, bustling Chinese restaurant with great food, great service and great prices i.e. a Tom Collins is only $4.50.
On this Sept. 11 it was a typical NYC fall day and by late afternoon it was muggy. I watched firefighters in dress uniforms, jackets slung over their arms, returning from commemorative ceremonies. Some looked young enough to have been children in 2001. On 9/11/ 2001, I stood on Avenue A and watched one of the towers collapse. At times it resembled an ancient ruin. I thought then, as I think now, that if the U. S. weren’t so lopsided in its middle east interests it might not have occurred.
Scottish Independence. Have you been listening to BBC 4? Questions about the big yes, if it occurs this Thursday. The pound has taken a beating with the uncertainties. If the Scots become independent will they have an independent military? Will companies flee south? What about banking? Finance? Kilt edged securities ( a phrase I borrowed from the Financial Times). The U. K. betting parlors are making out like bandits. Looking into your crystal ball, what do you predict? Since you asked, I’m predicting the nos will win by a whisper.
On September 4th I had to go to a Madison Avenue building and take the elevator to the 19th floor. So what, you say. Ever have a phobia? I have a collection, but the elevator phobia tops the list. Climbing twelve flights? No problem. Ever get lost in a Moroccan hotel and not be able to find your hotel room because the stairs went in the opposite direction? That’s a problem, especially if your partner is trying to find you. The final straw came when he and I arrived for a dinner party and I couldn’t get into the elevator to go to the 18th floor. I phoned the hostess and claimed I had a bad sunburn and had to cancel. How’s that for implausible? Because of my embarrassment my partner and I had a fight.
Living in high rise New York, this phobia ruled my life. I had to do something about it. I found a phobia clinic at St. Luke’s- Roosevelt Hospital. It was run on a shoestring budget by a young social worker whose name I’m very sorry to say I’ve forgotten. He had had a phobia about driving over bridges. His own fear had led him to examine phobias in general. We were a motley group of eight women. One woman suffered from free floating anxiety. Another had a phobia about being alone. Her boyfriend was waiting for her in the lobby. Another woman only wanted to be alone. After hearing about my phobia she said she’d like nothing better than being alone in an elevator for the rest of her life. The other elevator phobe and I took over the meetings. Because of us, session after session the group was herded to the hospital’s elevator bank. I watched in horrible fascination as the doors opened and people walked out as if being in one of those boxes was normal. Our teacher explained how an elevator worked. He stressed that it was a machine. I find that comforting to this day. He adjusted the controls of one elevator so it would remain stationary and asked the group to get into it. The six bored, passive women shuffled in. We two phobes refused. The social worker, Mr. Patience himself, reiterated that the doors wouldn’t shut and the elevator wouldn’t move. I stepped in, avoiding the bored glares of the other women. The doors slammed shut and the elevator zoomed to the sixty-fifth floor where it was stuck between floors for hours. Actually, nothing happened except in my fevered imagination. The elevator didn’t move and after a few minutes we went back to the closet like classroom. I felt vaguely superior to the other elevator phobic. At least I’d gotten into the damned thing.
At the same time I had received a call from a housing establishment that I’d been applying to for ten years. There was a vacancy! Lucky me, I was told. The apartment was on the twelfth floor. I begged to be in a ground apartment. Absolutely not, I was told. Take the twelfth floor apartment or go to the back of the line. I took the apartment and walked up the twelve flights for a few weeks. Finally, I got into the elevator. Doing that on a daily basis plus the phobia clinic helped me curb my fear. Phobias lurk. If you’re lucky they’re caged, but they’re there.