Sunday, August 25, 2013

How do we sleep when our beds are not burning?

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

It was a beautiful day yesterday, on and off the water. We caught the free orange ferry to Staten Island, and then the subway, which isn't sub at all, and we walked through a green forest, and weed ridden fields, and saw yellow and blue songbirds, and later sat on a bench in the grass under an American oak to eat our sandwiches and drink our split beer. The bench bore a plaque in memory of a sailor born 1956, and who had died in 1980. 24 years old. The bench from his navy friends, who said they missed him.

Downtown Brooklyn

At night after supper these days I watch The Winds of War on Netflix. It's my break from Boardwalk Empire, whose brilliance is marred by excruciating violence, about which I was beginning to dream. 

The Winds of War was made in 1983 and I had not thought it would stand watching in 2013. But the sheer scale of the epic soap opera - each episode is feature length -  is still remarkable: the self-indulgently long takes, the crowd scenes, the sometimes mediocre but often good and occasionally superb acting, with some stunningly off exceptions (Ali McGraw...just, why?), the quaint battleship scenes (models bobbing in a tank of fake waves), the real war footage, the context of shot-on-location geography and the revisiting of half-forgotten facts and real horror. 

I realize that I am being entertained by stories of war, and understand that we all are at some point. But it becomes impossible, while watching, not to imagine the stories, the ones happening right now, as I type, and you read, and as I do so often these days, of the unsolvable Middle East - of Syria, which has refused to go away; of T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom; of Egypt, which has been bumped out of the headlines for a bit by these new, old crises, Lebanon leaping up. We've all but forgotten about Iraq and Afghanistan - they lurk in tiny footnotes on unread newspaper pages. But they are still there. At what cost to us? To them? To what end? 

Brooklyn Heights

Every time I drink a glass of water, or wash my face, or pick some herbs, or lie down on the clean bed, or carry out the trash, or hear a cricket, I think, I am not being bombed, or shot or hunted or starved. Or gassed. 

And I wonder, if we were in trouble like that, who would come to our aid?

Would they all just wait, and watch, and redefine, the crossing, and re-crossing of that thin red line?
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