What Have They (or Maybe WE) Done to Us?

Cindy wedding 1971The day I got married my mother looked over my shoulder into the mirror and said “NOW do you finally believe you’re beautiful?”  Of course I said no.  Each of the #TBT photos here elicited the same response: “Am I beautiful?  Remotely?  No. Cute maybe.  Fun.  Smart.  Lively.  But beautiful?  No way.”

It’s always been like that.  For decades I’ve read feminist pieces on self-image and beauty and with all the intellectual awareness I have, I still can’t for the life of me, figure out how I got here.  All the years I wasted feeling so much less than, it seems, I was.

Look at these – if not beautiful, certainly not bad:

Cindy Smith College 1965
Cindy DC 1969
Cindy Paris thumbnail 1988


cindy small marin august 2014
cindy parkside edited










I know internal beauty and intellect are treasures, but this matters too – we can’t help it. Let’s keep the girls in our lives today from wasting so much energy and time on the what the world doesn’t seem to want to let them understand, and learn to define their beauty for themselves.

WWI, Women and Jon Snow: Testament of Youth

The bravest women of their (and just about any other) time, they left their protective parents and a world of white gloves and chaperoned afternoon teas, where they were barely permitted to touch the hand of a male companion, for the French battlefields of World War One and the hellish field hospitals there, washing naked, wounded men, treating their wounds, the stumps of their amputated limbs, their lost sight, their mustard gas-poisoned lungs and their shell shock.  Mocked as privileged snobs out for a thrill, they struggled to prove their strength and capacity over and over again, and they did.

Vera Brittain as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse, 1915. Photograph: the VB Estate/McMaster University Library, Hamilton, Canada VIA The Guardian

Among them was Vera Brittain, who’d fought to be one of the earliest women at Oxford, her father permitting her to enroll and risk “becoming a blue stocking” only because her beloved younger brother Edward refused to go if she could not.  Testament of Youth , the story of her struggles to attend Oxford, her brief presence there and her life-shattering experiences as a wartime nurse, is a classic, still in print and still beloved.

Kit-Harrington-and-Alicia-Vikander-Testament-of-Youth-534165Now it’s a film, and the stature of the cast, including our own Jon SnowKit Harington, as her fiancé Roland Leighton, The Wire‘s Dominic West as her father, Emily Lloyd as her mother and Miranda Richardson as her mentor  suggest that British headliners wanted to be part of her remarkable, very British  story, even in a small, if gorgeous, art film like this one.

I first met Vera in the 1979 PBS Testament of Youth series, moved from there to her trilogy: Testament of Youth, Testament of Friendship and Testament of Experience and found a sister.  A young activist in the 60’s, I understood  her need to contribute, to be part of the crisis alongside those she loved, and as a woman fighting to function in a mostly-male profession, her battles as a woman were mine too.

So, if you share the political memories, ideal and goals of so many of us,  Testament of Youth needs to be part of you, too.  Go see it.



Ripple, The Grateful Dead and Don Draper

Once upon a time, things were hopeful.  We were too.  Not because there was peace and love and bounty in the world but because, if we all tried, maybe there could be,

blissed out don draper Coke commercialThat’s what was so perfect about the Mad Men finale: the ironies of hindsight.  There was the desperate Don Draper, moving toward bliss and emerging from both the 60’s and his misery to create the perfect, pseudo-idealistic yet consummately cynical commercial: a UN of young people on a hilltop, singing about Coke.

This video is what that video should have been.  Musicians from 12 cities on 5 continents, brought together by Playing for Change,  join to pay tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of The Grateful Dead and to remind us of what had all hoped, and maybe still hoped, could be.

I was a little teary.  The friend who sent me the link said he’d been “crying like a girlymon the whole weekend…”

This isn’t the first “Playing for Change” video; take a look at what is a wonderful body of work created not only to move sentimental people like me but also to raise money for music schools and other services in areas of great need.

And while you’re at it – here are Robert Hunter’s lyrics for this beloved Dead classic.

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine

And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung,
Would you hear my voice come thru the music,
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken,
Perhaps they’re better left unsung.
I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

You who choose to lead must follow
But if you fall you fall alone,
If you should stand then who’s to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.

Lanny Budd, Hero for a Lifetime: a Pilgrimage to Juan-les-Pins

Lanny Budd lived somewhere on this hill .
Lanny Budd lived somewhere on this hill .

He’s been part of my life for more than fifty years – dashing, smart, generous and always on the side of the angels.  With him I wandered through most of the 20th Century in the company of critical figures including playwright George Bernard Shaw, powerful arms dealer Basil Zaharoff,  Adolph Hitler and his brilliant propaganda director Joseph Goebbels, Leon Blum, the first Socialist (and Jewish) Prime Minister of France and of course Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin, as well as the infamous “modern dance” pioneer Isadora Duncan, Chinese rebel leader Mao Tse Tung, and, among so many others,  Albert Einstein and of course, FDR, whom he served as a Secret Agent from before WWII to well after the war.

When we met, he was 13 and I a couple of years older and, much like the NYT’s Julie Salamon, my mom introduced us and from our first meeting I knew that I would love him forever.  His remarkable life revolved around his home base of Juan-les-Pins,  where he grew up, and to which he always returned.

The house was built on the top of a rise, some way back, from the sea. It was of pink stucco with pale blue shutters and a low roof of red tiles. It was in the Spanish style, built around a lovely court with a fountain and flowers; there Lanny played when the mistral was blowing, as it sometimes did for a week on end.

Last week we went there, where Lanny  lived, with Beauty Budd, his artist model mother.  Though she and his father Robbie Budd, a New England arms dealer, never married, Robbie visited often, struggling to transmit his conservative capitalism to a young man living in dire danger of corruption among artists, journalists, socialists, communists and wealthy ladies, many of them an earlier version of trophy wives.  Their fierce conversations were a wonderful window on the conflicts of those times.

Lanny is, of course, not real – at least not to everyone; he’s the hero of eleven novels written by the prolific Upton Sinclair (yes, he’s the one who wrote The Jungle) tracing world history between 1913 and 1949.   Best-sellers all when they appeared in the 40’s and early 50’s and translated into 16 languages in 20 countries, the books formed much of my political and historic perspective and I was hardly alone.

When people ask me what has happened in my long lifetime, I do not refer them to the newspaper files and to the authorities, but to Upton Sinclair’s novels. — George Bernard Shaw

As we walked through the village I turned to my ever-tolerant husband with a catch in my voice, said – surprising myself with the depth of my emotion “I’ve known him almost longer than I’ve known anyone except my family.”  He and the saga that surrounded him felt, in so many ways, just that real.

One of Lanny’s childhood friends, Silesian, and bitter about the deprivation caused by enormous war reparations after WWI, became a Nazi; another, British and liberal, a fighter pilot and socialist.

His first wife ended up hanging around with with the Nancy Astor and the pro-German “Cliveden Set.” My world view was formed through their eyes and conversations and the events they faced as allies and sometime adversaries.

The books, Lanny, and the characters who moved in and out of his life were, for me – a very personal window on the horror and violence, courage and evil, glamour and idealism that was the first half of the 20th Century.

Oh, and of course, it being the South of France, the literary folks hung around there too.  We had lunch at Scott Fitzgerald’s “Villa Saint-Louis”, just down the hill from Lanny’s neighborhood and now the Hotel Belle Rives.

Belle Rive fitz patio
“With our being back in a nice villa on my beloved Riviera (between Cannes and Nice) I’m happier than I’ve been for years. It’s one of those strange, precious and all too transitory moments when everything in one’s life seems to be going well.” 
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, March 15, 1926, Juan-les-Pins (Plaque outside the hotel that was his home on the Riviera)

Clinton confidante Lanny Davis was named for Lanny Budd.  The late NBC News anchor John Chancellor once told me he wanted to be Lanny Budd.   At 15, I wanted to marry him.

Now, I wish I could have gone up the hill to the pink villa, rung the bell and just thanked him for all I learned from him, how much more available I am to travel and political thought and my own role in the world because I’ve known him.  He may not be “real” but his impact on me, and so very many others, was profound.

Indeed, thanks Lanny, and Upton Sinclair, and my long-suffering husband who tolerated a pilgrimage to a place where not so much happened in the “real world” but plenty happened to me.

The Jews of Girona, Their Exile – and Bruce Springsteen (Seriously)

Girona refl 2 fix

This is Girona, home to a large, prosperous, and effective Jewish community until a confluence of events took it all away.

In a single year, two historic moments changed western history and Jewish history, too.  It was 1492.  The very Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, partners in a marriage made to consolidate power, threw all the Jews out of Spain.  Immediately.  Convert or get out.

At the same time, of course, these same “Catholic Kings” sent Christopher Columbus on his way to the “new world” and forever changed faith, power and geopolitics.

The Jewish History Museum of Girona beautifully documents much of this story:

Two "JIDE" - Jewish figures from the 1050 "Creation Tapestry" and also seen here.
Two “JUDEI” – Jewish figures from the 1050 “Creation Tapestry”

The letters floating above these two little people say “JUDEI” – Jew.

Girona mikvah dating from 1465

This 14th Century mikvah was found only recently. How haunting, especially with the recent mikvah scandal, to see before us evidence of how long women have honored this commitment.

Words from a tombstone (see next picture)
Words from a tombstone (see next picture)

For some reason, this just felt extra sad.  There are so many little boys in my life – and some big ones – so maybe that’s part of it.  Beyond that though, the humanness and loss felt so real, and the suffering of those times so much more concrete as I absorbed the words of this one grieving parent.

But what, you may ask, does any of this have to do with Bruce Springsteen?  Well, as I entered the lovely museum gift shop, attended by this equally lovely gentleman, I heard Bruce on the radio. Gradually, I realized that he was singing My Hometown. 2015-06-23 11.32.28

BRUCE My Hometown

Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more
They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to your hometown  

Last night me and Kate we laid in bed Talking about getting out
Packing up our bags maybe heading south
I’m thirty-five we got a boy of our own now
Last night I sat him up behind the wheel and said son take a good look around
This is your hometown

Exile and loss, pain and deprivation can be understood on so many levels. Just as the Jews were brutally ejected from the homes and community they had so painstakingly built, so were workers throughout this country as the factories and mines and mills that had sustained them for so long collapsed. Although on a different scale, they too lost everything they knew and the life they had loved, and were forced to find another, unknown place to call home. Although less brutally required to depart, they had no choice, really.

Loss of home, love, family and community is a hardship experienced by more and more people throughout the world. Hunger, terrorism, civil war, drought, economic collapse and religious, gender and racial discrimination hurt in different ways and to different degrees, but the pain is the same in nature if not in degree. The only thing that changes is the faith, or class, or color of the refugees.  We still certainly don’t seem to have learned to care much more today when it happens to people who aren’t us.

Battles and Bougainvillea in the South of France

Maquis of the French Resistance

There’s lots of history around here – spread out among the beauty that distracts from most of it.  For the second time, today in the village of Borme Les Mimosas, the flowers overwhelm.  Borme wins the best in show award for the region regularly and it’s not hard to see why.   But before I share the loveliness, here’s a cool fact: the WWII resistance fighters known as Maquis got their nickname from the dark green plants and shrubs that covered huge swaths of ground and offered perfect hiding places – so perfect that the brave men and women they sheltered came to share the name.

War history haunts the fields and French villages crammed with memorials and statues, villages also overflowing with flowers, climbing the walls, overtaking public walkways and making very turn in the tiny streets a wonderful new surprise.

So for the second and probably the last time, here are the award-winning blooms.  This time: the flowers of Borme des Mimosas.

Multicolored Bloomd og Borme
Multicolored Blooms of Borme
Bourn purple red
Borme purple and red
Bourn flower petals
Flower petals fill a tiny square
Bourn Bougenvillia path
Borme’s purple pathway
Bourn covered passage
Flower-decked covered passageway

How’s that for a treat and a break from all the awfulness that seems to haunt us lately.  Whoever urged us to stop and smell the roses – well. . .



Hyeres, France
Hyeres, France

Flowers are a big part of the beauty of the Mediterranean. Since the constant activity of this trip has kept me from posting every day, here’s a non-verbal look at some of what grows around here.

STR Ft Grimaud beauty flowers
Fort Grimaud, France
Eze, France
Aix-en-Provence, France
Rome - at the Forum
Rome – at the Forum
Bonifacio corsia
Bonifacio, Corsica

See what I mean? More “real” posts soon.


Barcelona and The Spanish Civil War Revealed

The militias need us!
The militias need us!

This poster recruiting women to join and support the anti-fascist militias was just one of the remarkable graphics and photographs shared during this tour of civil war history in Barcelona.

The tour’s guide, Nick Lloyd offered a passionate, rich, information-crammed account of the war and the complicated situation that preceded and followed it.  The topic is thrilling, but it’s the teacher – the guide – who makes it real – and he does just that.

B Nick 2
Spanish Civil War guru Nick Lloyd delivers his lessons and brings clients to the edge of their “seats” — actually, feet….

The stories are stunning. The first: the International Brigades from all over the world who came to help, including the Abraham Lincoln Battalion – the first integrated US military force,  the second, the alliance among the police, the workers and the community – anarchists, communists, socialists, liberals – all trying to stop the viciousness that was the emerging Fascist machine.  The next, individual courage demonstrated among so many under cruel, sadistic conditions.

The women, of course, did find a place in the movement.  This first poster is the emblem of the Anarchist women in Spain.  The second, was for the “people’s Olympics” conducted in protest of the “real” 1936 games in Nazi Germany.  Young people came from everywhere for the event and many remained to support the struggle to sustain democracy and keep the Fascists at bay.  And the third – a shattering portrait of American “Negro” contributions to Spain’s struggle.

B Women Anarchists poster

B peoples olympics

B NEGRO donors to civil war

Very few stories combine romance, politics, evil, idealism, danger and courage as well as those surrounding the Spanish Civil War. Some of the stories were so moving they were hard to bear. To the people of Barcelona, they are still real, and tangible and tough to hear and recall. For the rest of us, they bring pain and inspiration and sadness at how often similar tragedies have entered our history.  And never seem to have taught anything to those who came after.

Harbors, Cathedrals, Markets and Lavendar UPDATED

AIZ Marseille boats and cathedral
Harborside view of Marseilles and her cathedral

Marseille was a funky town once. Now it’s got a shiny harbor, some beautiful museums and broad vistas, a hugely diverse population and close to a million tourists per year – up from the 20,000 it claimed when we were there in the 1980’s.

On arrival we went almost at once to nearby Aix-en-Provence, and  its markets, lavender shops, cathedrals and history. (Even aerosol olive oil – see second pic.)   AIX Market


2015-06-14 10.56.02The wars are here too, as they always are in Europe – today in memory plaques for the “martyr’s of the Resistance.”  The story of those real participants is scary and moving and true.  There’s also a memorial to those who helped to liberate Aix.

AIX Resistance martyrs AIX WWII martyrs 1

It was really hot in Marseilles so we took this tiny train on a one-hour circle up to the Basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde and back.
2015-06-14 15.33.44

And on the way, one more reminder of the continued ghost of WWII here – this tank was part of the liberation of Marseille and sits on a triangle of land among apartments and houses and a plain residential neighborhood. History doesn’t have to repeat itself – it’s still here.
AIX tank cropped

Really Pretty Piece of History: Fortifications and Flowers

STR Ft Grimaud beauty flowers

It was all about the fortifications back then.  This lovely walkway in Fort Grimaud has existed for centuries.  It’s part of the walled village of Fort Grimaud about half an hour outside St. Tropez.

No major earthshaking moments today but still lovely and intriguing, reinforcing the reality that being safe, enclosed and protected – keeping marauders or warriors or other bad guys at bay – that was the bottom line.

As we made our way back to the ship, the Romany (gypsies to many) were out in force – this is just one of the parking lots we passed – jammed with their trailers, laundry trailers, cooking trailers and more.  Our guide kept telling us how everyone had to “watch their wallets.”  These folks have a pretty bad reputation across Europe as pickpockets and other mischief makers.

STR Ft Grimaud WWI memorial STR De Gaulle proc

Fort Grimaud also recalled this: s in the rest of Europe, the World Wars are central to the soul of so many still – all these years later. These two – a monument to those in this small town who died in World War I and a 1940 declaration of peril from French General Charles de Gaulle in 1940 ,the year war once again descended on his country.  London to Lithuania to France – these wars haunt memory and remind residents of fear, and death, and loss.

Lorenzo and Gerard






Then there are these — we were the first customers for Lorenzo and Gerard in their new shop – gorgeous earrings for me!  AND then lunch with some new friends and the best salad (with extra summer tomatoes) ever…..