Monday, August 29, 2011

In the Aftermath of Hurricane Irene: Mourning the loss of my cherry tree

I am so tired of dealing with tree damage. We lost a major chunk of a tree the week before Irene, with all the usual downed wires and loss of service problems.

Now Irene has destroyed a beautiful very old—apparently very weak-- cherry tree. It bloomed the same time as a Redbud every April; the white cherry tree flowers intertwined with an adjacent Redbud were gorgeous. I looked forward to it every spring and it’s hard to accept that I’ll never see it again. I think of my trees as old friends and it's hard to part with them.
Cherry Tree and Redbud blooming together

I guess I should be happy that the tree didn’t cause major damage to the house. It fell on our little sunroom roof but didn't destroy it.

We’ll need to do some plastering and repainting thanks to a big locust branch which fell on our front porch and I’m sure when all tree debris is removed we'll discover more damage.

Right now we're dealing with downed wires all over the property, but amazingly at least so far, no loss of service. We can’t get our car out because of all the downed electric wires in the driveway and PECO has no idea when they can come out! At least, unlike FIOS, PECO eventually answers the phone.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

It’s getting harder to come up with a convincing answer to friends who ask me: “Why do you bother working within the Democratic Party?

It’s getting harder to come up with a convincing answer to friends who ask me: “Why do you bother working within the Democratic Party? It’s hopeless.”

My answer: in the near future, working to build space for progressive politics within the Democratic Party is the only option. I still believe this, but recent events have really tested my commitment.

Last summer many progressives Democrats learned that the Philadelphia Democratic Party had refused to seat duly elected committeeperson Tracey Gordon. This incident gave birth to the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus. Please see our website. and Facebook page.

Party Chair Bob Brady refused to respond to the repeated attempts of Tracey Gordon and of the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus to resolve the issue.

After all these attempts to contact Brady, Tracey Gordon’s lawyer Irv Acklesberg wrote to PA Party Chair Jim Burn requesting a grievance hearing with the PA Democratic Party State Committee. See the letter from Irv Acklesberg to Jim Burn posted at
In response, Burn makes the preposterous claim that Tracey Gordon has not exhausted Philadelphia Democratic Party grievance procedures.

In his reply to Jim Burn's letter posted at, once again Irv Acklesberg documents the repeated attempts to contact the Philadelphia Democratic Party re this matter. Irv’s letter notes that Dep. Executive Director Fadia Halma asked him to give Brady one more opportunity to address the grievance. Halma acknowledged receipt of Irv’s April 26 letter to Bob Brady. Brady ignored Irv’s letter, as he did with previous communications. Since almost four months have elapsed, Brady has had ample time to respond and as Irv states in the attached letter, the local exhaustion requirement has been met.

Also, there is no process applicable to a challenge of a duly elected committeeperson, because such a challenge would be unconstitutional, as decided by the PA Supreme Court and the State Rules (which require county committees to have a contest procedure, except where the committeeperson was elected, presumably because the party can't allow such challenges).

Irv further states in the attached letter that he will seek redress in court if this cannot be resolved internally. I would think that Burn would want to avoid the negative publicity which would ensue.

I understand that Burn has a close relationship with Brady and that Brady was instrumental in Burn’s becoming Party Chair. However, this personal relationship should not stand in the way of the party’s honoring the results of a democratically conducted, decisively won election.

When I do voter registration work, I encounter more and more young people of all backgrounds who want to register as Independents. It’s getting harder and harder to convince them (especially those who identify as progressives) that there is space for progressive politics in the Democratic Party.

The Philadelphia Progressive Caucus hopes in 2014 to encourage significant numbers of progressives to run for county and for state committee. If we can’t guarantee that if they win election that they will be seated, how will we ever convince them that Democratic Party is worth their time and energy?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Berlin, a Museum Lovers Paradise: The Berlin Diaries, Part II

More and more Berlin was reminding me of New York City. Our new hotel was in a part of Berlin that reminded me of West Village or some parts of upper west-side Manhattan. We found some great restaurants and set about exploring the sights and museums of Berlin. I went in the course of a few days from “I never want to see this place again” to planning our next trip to Berlin. (Rick liked Berlin from the start and his enjoyment of the city was not derailed for a day or two by the hotel imbroglio.)

Berlin’s artistic riches are astonishing. We were both unprepared for the treasures of the Pergamon Museum, which is part of a complex of museums known as Museum Island. Among the highlights of the Pergamon’s Collection of Classical Antiquities:

The 2nd century BC Pergamon Altar with its astonishing frieze depicting the battle between the Gods and Giants generally regarded as a masterpiece of Hellenistic art.

The two story Roman market Gate of Miletus built in 120 AD

Among the highlights of the Pergamon’s Collection of Near Eastern Antiquities:

The Ishtar Gate dating from the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar(605-562 BC)

To see everything in the Pergamon alone would have taken at least 3 days.
I was determined to squeeze in the Egyptian collection in the in Neues Museum to see the bust of Queen Nefertiti. It’s fascinating to actually see these iconic images rather than the photographic reproductions. There’s usually some unexpected difference. I remember how stunned I was when first saw Stonehenge—it seemed so small, nothing like the enormous monument I had imagined.

There was a difference with the bust of Nefertiti. That penetrating, far-away gaze of “the beautiful one” (as her name is said to mean) was far more powerful than any of the photographic reproductions conveyed. By some miracle the original color is preserved without restoration.

In addition to the Pergamon, the crown jewel of Berlin Museums is the Gemäldegalerie der Staatlichen Museen zu BerlinThe Gemäldegalerie has an astonishing collection of 13th -18th c European art. And the museum was uncrowded! Most of the package tours which stop in Berlin for a few days go to the Pergamon( which was crowded) and take a pass on the Gemäldegalerie. A major mistake.

We almost overlooked the Neue Nationalgalerie. Rick is a real Mies van der Rohe fan and he wanted to see the building which he designed. Since we were already at the museum—-one of the best designed museums I’ve ever seen—-we decided to see what we could of the collection. And what an astonishing collection of German art from 1900-1945—Feiniger, Beckman Grosz, Nolde etc. I really would like to go back to all these museums; one visit was not enough!

What the museum website refers to as "a temple of light and glass" designed by Mies van der Rohe.

In addition to the incredibly rich art museums, Berlin is home to many historical museums. We visited the Bauhaus museum (one of Rick’s interests—-mine not so much) and the fascinating Schloss Charlottenburg. For me the gardens were the highlight. ( No surprise here)

We also visited the much praised Jewish Museum. Unfortunately, the latter was something of a disappointment. Since the museum was supposed to be a history of German Jews, both Rick and I expected the museum would highlight the cultural contributions of German Jews to German science and culture. It seemed (to us) that the museum focused on the persecution of German Jews but neglected the contributions. Someone told Rick that these contributions were part of the permanent exhibit but we somehow missed them. I hope that’s the case. Absent another trip to Berlin we’ll never know.

I hope we manage to get to Berlin one more time.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I had not expected Sapphire’s The Kid to be so difficult to get through.

After taking a break from the BlogHer book club I decided to sign up to review Sapphire’s The Kid.

I was drawn to this book because I appreciate Sapphire’s drawing attention to a world so many people refuse to think about -- a world of extreme poverty, children no one wants, trapped in a nightmarish foster care system. I had not expected The Kid to be so difficult to get through.

You can read my review and other reviews of The Kid at
If anyone would like my copy of The Kid , let me know. This is a book I will not re-read.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Charming Old World Hotels and the Senior Traveler: The Berlin Diaries: Part I

My initial reaction to Berlin was not all that positive, but the city grew on me. Berlin is not one of those beautiful cites you instantly fall in love with--like Paris, Rome, Lisbon. Berlin may not be beautiful, but it is exciting and has tremendous cultural resources, kind of like NYC.

My initial reaction had a lot to do with our Berlin hotel mini-disaster, which was in part due to our reliance on the Time-Out Guide to Berlin. The Time Out Guides are great for restaurant recommendations, but as their extensive pub/bar recommendations signal, these guides are geared to young travelers. We learned this when we booked a Time Out recommended hotel in Lisbon and discovered that we had to walk up 4 flights of stairs before we could enter the hotel courtyard. (Time-Out made no mention of the stairs.)

This time it was much worse. Time-Out recommended a garden hotel in a quiet section of the former East Berlin. The photos of the garden were really inviting, and since we planned to stay in Berlin for six days we booked a suite for 189 euros. When we arrived, exhausted from the train trip from Warsaw, we learned that our hotel was a 6th (!!!) floor walk-up. The hotel staff told us than our confirmation included an attachment stating the hotel had no elevator. (I’ve since checked the email—there was no such attachment.) The annoying 20-something woman at the front desk told us it should be no problem to walk up those steps. Maybe for her it would be no problem! Since having a heart attack while struggling up 6 flights of stairs was not the way we planned to celebrate Rick’s 70th birthday, we refused. The young woman showed us the only other room available—what amounted to an ugly little closet. She was clearly trying to push us into accepting the 6 flights of stairs.

We said no way to the closet and then she said she could arrange something in a “sister” hotel, which had an elevator. The room was in a ramshackle, unrenovated part of the hotel and the suite consisted of a dark, dispiriting sitting room/bed room and a large kitchen with table ware for about 15 people! It must at one time have been part of an apartment—not a hotel suite as we generally understand the term. It looked as if it had not been occupied for a long time. When the staff managed to get the primitive hot water system to work, the water was ugly dark brown—a clear sign the system had not been used in a while. There was no air conditioning—a problem as Berlin was experiencing a heat wave; internet access was spotty—I was disconnected every 3 minutes; there was no phone in the room. Despite the ugliness and lack of amenities, the hotel was charging the same rates as their much larger and much more attractive 6th floor walk-up. The management wanted to get their 189 Euros a night.

I managed to get a phone, which I promptly used to find another hotel, and as usual looked for something with old world charm. When I called what my guide book described as one of the most charming small hotels in Berlin, I said needed an elevator, air-conditioning, reliable internet service and a laundry service. (We had decided to wait until we got to Berlin to deal with dirty laundry, but to our surprise we learned that the hotel did not have a laundry service. The hotel management said we could drag our dirty laundry to a laundromat 3 blocks away—not exactly the way we wanted to spend our brief time in Berlin.)

The hotel told us they could accommodate us, but when we arrived we found that the elevator was broken and we were forced to walk up what I think was 8 flights of stairs! (The hotel was on the top two floors of the building.) I demanded they find us another hotel. Who would have thought that it would be so hard to find a small charming hotel with an elevator in Berlin?

The manager found us a small, modern hotel in a convenient West Berlin location in the heart of the gayborhood, with an elevator, air-conditioning, internet access, and a laundry service for 119 euros—-much less than the charming old world hotels. So we settled into our air-conditioned hotel with a comfortable bed (unlike the rickety bed with a lumpy mattress in our former over-priced hotel). There may be a lesson here. At this stage of life, a few basic comforts, like an elevator and air conditioning, matter more than funky charm. It’s nice to get both, but if I have to choose, I’ll opt for the air-conditioning and the elevator.