Saturday, December 31, 2016

This is the End of 2016 My Beautiful Friend, the End

It’s New Year’s Eve and we gather together or sit alone and say good-bye to the year past while welcoming the new year full of unknown potential for good and bad.  It should be a time of fanfare and fireworks.  Not this time.  Looking back over 2016 I can only say “good riddance!”  Burn it down!  Looking forward to 2017?  Anyone’s guess. 

I certainly did not accomplish everything I had hoped to do this year.  But does one ever?  There were a number of research projects keeping me busy, and there were always the various writing projects - a novel, a novella, some short stories - that moved forward although not as quickly, and often not as satisfactorily as I had hoped.  Still, I persevere.  It’s what writers do.  Be happy with what you get down on paper.

I have not posted here very much this year.  I guess my mind has just been elsewhere.  There were none of the usual “Dispatches from Maine” during the summer months.  Distractions.  Everyone seemed to have them as we watched our politicians (I hesitate to call them leaders) eat their young during what had to be one of the most divisive national elections in our history.  It just seemed easier to submerge myself into the fictional worlds I have created.  There is a satisfaction even if the work goes slower than one had hoped.  So I will persevere.  There is still much work to do.

Tomorrow I will take a look back at the year we are thankfully leaving behind.  Every year comes with loss and disappointment, yet 2016 had more than its share.

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Celebrating Our 42nd Anniversary Today!!

               Photo Taken December 27, 1974 in Pensacola, Florida.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A True American Hero in Every Sense of the Word

I have just learned that John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth on February 20, 1962, passed away today at age 95 at the Ohio State University medical center in Columbus.

Glenn was the last surviving member of the original Mercury astronauts who also later flew on the Space Shuttle in October 1998, becoming the oldest person ever to fly in space at age 77. That should have been enough to make him a hero in anyone’s book. Yet he had the right stuff long before he became an astronaut, flying 59 combat missions as a Marine pilot in the South Pacific during World War II after enlisting in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He later flew 90 combat missions over Korea during two tours of duty in that conflict. He was a man who never walked away from danger in the service of his country. For his bravery he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and many other honors.

It seems these days the label "hero" is thrown around too easily, affixed to any individual who is simply doing his or her job. But John Glenn was so much more than that. He always did far beyond what was expected of him, and often at great risk of physical harm or death. That is a hero in my book. There aren’t too many out there anymore, and it is always a sad day when one leaves us behind.

John Glenn led a long and honorable life . . . a heroic life. He has slipped the surly bonds of earth for the last time. May he rest in peace.

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Happy Holiday Greetings!

Wishing everyone a very festive holiday season and best wishes for a return to sanity in 2017!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Eight Years and Counting!!

Today marks eight years I have been posting blog entries at "Looking Toward Portugal." I thank you for your support over the years . . . over a quarter of a million hits.

For those of you who have followed my blog postings I must apologize for my silence over the summer when I was taking a deep look inward.

But I am back to posting and i hope you will continue to read and support my blogspot.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Why I Write What I Write and When

Not long ago a friend and fellow blogger posted an interesting comment on Facebook – “Where I Get My Blog Post Ideas.”   So it got me to thinking.  Why do I write what I do and when?  It has never been that much of a problem.  Since I first began this blog eight years ago today, I have posted 381 times.  I have written about whatever strikes my fancy at any particular moment.  Sometimes it is something I read or heard.  Or perhaps a commentary on a recent road trip or some place I had visited.  A recollection of some event in my earlier life.  Maybe a response to something I ate or drank.  Or perhaps something purely whimsical.  Some posts were outlined before they were written; others have been raw and spontaneous.  This is what makes a blog so interesting and challenging.  You write what you want, when you want, and there is no editor to tell you "No thanks."   This is why, until now, I have called these postings "random notes from the edge of America."  I have always thought of the edge of America in geographical terms, writing as I am most of the time along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.  I was always Looking Toward Portugal in the quest for something new and interesting to write about.

On rare occasions I have proffered a political or cultural commentary.  I have tried to steer clear of these as much as possible; I don’t expect my readers to believe what I believe or think what I think.  I simply want to expand civilized debate.  But every once in a blue moon I can’t help myself.   Something so egregious occurs that there is no place for debate.  Evil in every guise requires a full throated condemnation.  No mincing of words.

More recently these censures have addressed the growing attacks on free speech in Turkey where journalists and secular politicians have been jailed or worse.   Here at home there have been the broadening attacks on the LGBT community in North Carolina and elsewhere.  Many of you may have noticed a rather atypical silence during my long annual summer hiatus in Maine this year.  I took a deep look inward as I observed the vicious election rhetoric coupled with the rise of authoritarian populism (Fascism for a lack of a better term) and demagoguery throughout Europe, as well as here in the United States.  How am I to respond to these disturbing developments?  And should I do so here?

Perhaps this is no longer a time for random jottings about everything or nothing at all.  Times have become too uncertain . . . even dangerous . . . .to entertain whimsy.  And now, as I look at the turn of events in my own country following the recent election, I recognize the need to speak out clearly about injustices and cultural crimes emerging from the shadows here at home.  I wish this were not the case, but the future does not bode well for democracy in the American republic.  Now I suddenly find myself on the cultural and political fringes of my American homeland when my own rights, and those of many of my friends and colleagues, are being infringed upon and threatened from within.  

So I beg your patience if and when such polemics rise to the surface.  I will try to reign in my horses as best I can, but sometime things need to be said as directly and to the point as possible so that there is no confusion as to where I stand.  Again, I offer these to you only as food for thought.  Nothing more.  Take them for what they are worth.

As I noted in my Thanksgiving greetings yesterday, I shall continue to strive to share my impressions of those things that bind us in the American experience; places and events that exist regardless of one’s political sentiment.  We still have that in common . . . at least for now.  Let us pray no one tries to take this from us.  That is when we will man the barricades and the real revolution will begin!  

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Wishing Everyone a Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving

Today we gather together with family and friends to give thanks for the what we have, whether it be much or little.  Regardless of what you might think of Eckhart Tolle, the German-born spiritual thinker, I have to agree with him when he wrote in his 2005 book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose: “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”  Despite the uncertain times we live in, when it seems that we as a people are recklessly casting aside the gifts afforded us as Americans, let us be thankful for what we do have and pledge to ourselves that no person or group shall deprive us of what is fundamentally ours as sisters and brothers in the human community.

Today let us give thanks for what is still good and promising - those things that bind us in the American experience; people, places, and events that exist regardless of one’s political sentiment.  Let us build on our common bonds and renew our willingness to do everything in our power to insure that these are not usurped. 

So let us give thanks today for what we have and what we share.  “Hem your blessings with thankfulness so they don’t unravel.” 

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Donald Trump - Making the Know Nothings Great Again

I have long tried to steer clear of political subjects and partisan rhetoric.  But with this country and the rest of the world descending into insanity, I find it more and more difficult to get a grip on my horses.  I feel I must speak my mind on what I consider to be one of the gravest threats to the continuation of the Great American Experiment set in motion 240 years ago by our Founding Fathers.

I never thought I would see the United States of America descend into fascism.  I was wrong.  I am not the first person to coin the term “the American Mussolini.” That distinction belongs to Dana Milbank, a opinion writer for The Washington Post, who affixed the moniker to Donald Trump back in early December 2015 when he pointed out that the candidate was “pulling the party to the black-shirted right by playing on fears of foreigners and racial and religious minorities.”  He refers to Trump’s physical and behavioral similarities to the clownish and bullying former Italian dictator who coupled his own fate with that of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime in Germany . . . his “chin-out toughness, sweeping right-hand gestures,” his ego and his fondness for pointing out the stupidity of his opponents.  Some have been quick to compare Trump’s overt fascism to that of Adolf Hitler.  Having long been a student of fascism and that which results from it, I have been guilty of this myself.  But Hitler, despite his inherent evil, was no fool.  Mussolini was.  And so is Donald Trump.  He is a fool and a fascist.  Furthermore Milbank points out that Trump is quick to show contempt for facts while feeding on the “pervasive sense of fear and overwhelming crisis” of his followers who, in my own humble opinion, show their ignorance more than their apprehensions.  Trump, like Hitler and Mussolini, finds a scapegoat for all that is wrong in America . . . usually foreigners and Muslims both foreign and domestic.  I have to agree with Milbank.  It is “necessary to call Trump the racist, bigot and demagogue that he is.”  Milbank’s assessment was repeated a month later by Andrew Roberts in The Telegraph (UK) who claimed to be dumbfounded and embarrassed by Trump’s “egotistical vulgarity” and “obscene self-regard,” finding Mussolini as perhaps “Trump’s secret template.”  Their words, not mine.  But I can’t help but agree.

This is a sad day for American democracy and the fate of our republic.  America is no longer a beacon to the world.   The rest of the world is laughing at us.  None of us will be laughing for long.

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

East Germany Redux? - Boycott North Carolina !!

A couple days ago North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory announced the creation of a 24-hour “Offender Hotline” enabling individuals to report others whom they consider “gender suspicious” and possibly in violation of the provisions of the recently enacted HB2 - the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act” - which prohibits transgender individuals from using a public bathroom other than the one corresponding to the gender assigned to them at birth.  I recall living in Asheville, North Carolina in the early 1960s when visiting a public bathroom was determined by the color of one’s skin.  How can we step backwards now?  This new state law supercedes any local non-discrimination laws and ordinances to the contrary.  “We need our state to unite as one,” the governor’s office announced, “if we’re going to keep our children safe from all sexual predators and other aberrant behavior that is out there.”  The governor seems only interested in the “gender suspicious,” and those found in violation of this law, the foundation of which is hate and ignorance.  If they are, he assures them the will “see jail time.  What about the heterosexual pedophiles and rapists who are more likely to commit a crime in a public bathroom?  Why stigmatize and punish someone who simply wants to pee in private?

This hotline also leaves it to an individual’s discretion to determine whether an individual is “gender suspicious.”  What are these snitches looking for in order to make a hotline report?   This is all strikingly reminiscent of life in the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany) where the Ministry for State Security, popularly known as the Stasi, relied on regular citizens turned "unofficial informants" [inoffizielle Mitarbeiter, or IMs) in order to protect its surveillance state and support the repression of the privacy and civil and humans rights of the citizens of the GDR.  Once denounced by an IM, whether the allegation or report was accurate or not, an individual would have a record that would follow her or him for the rest of their lives.  How is this different from what Governor McCrory is rationalizing with the passage of HB2 and the formation of a state sanctioned system of informing on the citizens of North Carolina?  And, in this instance, an individual will have been outed (whether she or he is actually a her or a him) in violation of their God-given right to privacy and security protected by US Constitution . . . the same rights the State of North Carolina claims it is protecting.  I don’t think so.

It is time to stand up and tell Governor McCrory and the state General Assembly and Senate that decent Americans will not tolerate this naked dispossession of an individual’s basic human and civil rights.  The citizens of East Germany stood up to repression and their state withered and collapsed.  The citizens of North Carolina must do the same.  Governor McCrory signed HB2 into law last month after it passed the General Assembly and state Senate which codified fear and ignorance by a vote of 82-24 and 32-0 respectively (the Democrats walked out refusing to vote in protest).  Since then thousands of jobs have moved out of state, and numerous companies - Facebook, Apple, and Paypal to name just a few - have warned that they intend to cancel plans to expand into the state.  Entertainers such as Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Ringo Starr, Bryan Adams, and the Cirque du Soleil have also canceled their concerts and performances in North Carolina to boycott the law.  These boycotts have already cost the state upwards of $200 million dollars in revenue.  Keep the pressure on!  Money is the only thing these people understand.   It was a stupid thing to do, and more importantly, the new law is unconstitutional and violates the Bill of Rights as it deprives individuals of their blessings of liberty and their privacy and right to be left alone while impinging on their right to be “secure in their persons” while subjecting them to “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

The actions taken by the North Carolina governor and the state legislature have brought shame and ill repute not only on themselves as representatives of a pariah state, but also on the entire United States.  Our oldest and most loyal ally, the United Kingdom, has now issued travel warnings to its citizens, cautioning them about possible risks traveling to North Carolina and other southern states, including Mississippi where legislation adversely affecting the LGBTQ community will take effect in July.  (If it does, it will be time to boycott that state as well).  The director of Human Rights Campaign Global cautions that these discriminatory laws are “causing serious damage to our nation's reputation, and the perceived safety of LGBT people who travel here."   The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association highlights countries with legislation targeting the LGBTQ community.  The United States joins countries such as Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Nicaragua, much of northern Africa and the Middle East, some of which punish homosexuality with death.  Not very esteemed company for the land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

This new law was passed and signed by a bigoted governor and legislature who are supposedly acting in the name of the people they represent.  It is time for the good people of North Carolina, like the East Germans before them, to stand up and take their state back.  If they do not, then they are equally culpable and should suffer the consequences of their inaction and silence.  Until this hateful and ignorant law is overturned, all people and organizations of good conscience should boycott North Carolina by refusing to visit or do business in the state.  If you have to drive through the state, gas up, eat, and lay in road snacks before you arrive.  Do not attend concerts or other events.  Don’t visit its beaches and mountains.  Quite simply, stay away and spend your dollars elsewhere.  Show North Carolina there is a price to pay for its intolerance.

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Je Suis Erdoĝan? - Shame on Angela Merkel

Shame on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union party for bowing to the pressure of the impervious and incredibly thin-skinned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoĝan.  He has demanded that the German government, under an obscure German law, criminally prosecute Jan Böhmermanm, a German television satirist and comedian, for allegedly insulting him during a recent Zweite Deutsche Fernsehen (ZDF) broadcast.   Böhmermanm, jabbing at Erdoĝan’s authoritarian rule in Turkey while pressing the envelope of free speech in Germany, read a doggerel and sexually explicit poem in which the Turkish president was prominently featured.   It was more than Erdoĝan could tolerate.

This is not a strange demand coming from a man who oppresses his own people, stifling dissent whenever it surfaces, while throwing journalists in jail if they dare question him or his policies.  Almost 2000 cases have been filed in Turkey against citizens of that country who have in some way insulted their president.  The definition of what constitutes an insult remains unclear.   And not just in Turkey.  Erdoĝan’s security thugs roughed up protesters and journalists during a recent official visit to Washington, DC under the protection of diplomatic immunity.  On American soil!  It is one thing to stifle free speech and expression in Turkey, but now Erdoĝan wants the German government to assist him in his dirty work while chastising it for allowing these insults to occur in the first place.  The German ambassador in Ankara was called in for a harsh lecture in the wake of the Böhmermann affair, and an ARD (German public broadcasting) correspondent was taken into custody upon his arrival at the airport in Istanbul.

Article Five of the modern German constitution protects the freedom of speech.  Interestingly enough, Germany has an obscure and archaic lese-majeste law originally drawn-up to prevent the insulting of the reigning German monarch - now the revised Paragraph 103 of the federal penal code-making it a criminal offense to insult a foreign head of state, or a representative or organ of a foreign government, although the prosecution of such an offense must be supported by the current German government.  This law is popularly known Germany as the “Shah Law”, because the former Shah of Iran tried to bring a prosecution under it in 1967.  Erdoĝan has insisted that the Merkel government prosecute Böhmermann to the full extent of the law.  Given Erdoĝan’s record at home, the Chancellor and her government should have risen above the fray.  Instead, Frau Merkel granted the Turkish request, agreeing that the insult was clearly intentional and clearing the path for criminal proceedings in Germany.  The courts will be left to decide Böhmermann’s fate.  If convicted, he could face a prison sentence from three months to five years.  The courts should not be allowed to define free speech which is protected by the German constitution, and certainly not at the behest of a foreign government that does not honor nor protect free speech.  Böhmermann is now under German police protection should Erdoĝan’s thugs try to take justice into their own hands like they did in Washington, DC.

Granted, Böhrmann’s anti-Erdoĝan commentary and poem were puerile and obscene by American standards.  Still, the German government and its parties across the political spectrum have never seemed terribly insulted when they were the target of Böhmermann’s invectives and satire.  Yet the insulting of Erdoĝan has somehow ventured beyond the pale of what is acceptable.  How is this possible?  You do not have to agree with what Böhmermann said, or how he said it, but if freedom of speech and expression are to exist, he must be allow to say it without the threat of legal action and prison.  It is up to the Turks to decide what Erdoĝan can get away with in their own country, but Germany should not be playing Erdoĝan’s nasty little game.

Recent German polls show that only 28%, mostly fellow members of Merkel’s CDU, support her decision to permit the prosecution of Böhmermann under the archaic provision of German law.  Opposition from the Social Democrats (SPD), her coalition partner, also threatens the stability of her government.  Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD), the foreign minister, held a press conference opposing Merkel’s decision, and Heiko Maas (SPD), the justice minister, has now  drawn up legislation to immediately repeal Article 103 which he plans to quickly put before the Bundestag, the German parliament.  Frau Merkel’s decision is hard to decipher when one considers that her government continues to chide the Turkish government to respect free speech and judicial independence and had already announced plans to scrap Article 103 before this recent flap with Erdoĝan.  So why would the Germans choose to enforce it now?  Even if the German legislation passes, Böhmermann will remain in Erdoĝan’s cross-hairs.  The Turkish leader has also filed a private defamation complaint in the German courts. 

Frau Merkel’s once impressive personal approval rating is also declining, due in large part to the growing unpopularity of her open door policy toward the massive influx of refugees into Germany and the surging political power of the extreme right wing.  It is therefore strange that Frau Merkel would take the side of an oppressive regime in Ankara over the basic rights of a German citizen.  Why?

The answer is simple.  Germany needs Turkey as a partner in order to stem the tide of refugees and other migrants escaping from Syria via Turkey and entering the European Union in Greece.  Freedom of speech is no longer on the table when negotiating with the despot in Ankara to protect the European Union’s migrant deal in which Turkey has agreed to allow Syrian refugees to remain in Turkey while taking back many now housed in transit camps in Greece.  Some might recall how the United States tried to prevent the filming of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” in 1938 when Nazi Germany threatened economic sanctions.  Political and economic realities often trump the preservation of civil and human rights.  Others have even compared Merkel’s decision to the appeasement offered up to Hitler to spare Europe from war.  We all know how well that worked out.

Frau Merkel, in the face of this growing opposition at home while watching her popularity decline, has now admitted that errors were made; it was a mistake to characterize Böhmermann’s poem as “intentionally insulting” [ "bewusst verletzend"].  Yet she stands by her decision to allow the investigation and possible prosecution against Böhmermann to continue.  This seems a high price for Merkel and Germany to pay to prop up the autocratic Erdoĝan who now seems unsatisfied only to hush opposition at home.  There are a number of reports circulating that Turkish diplomatic posts are searching social media for items appearing to insult Erdoĝan.  What next?  

I guess I am safe here in the United States where one of the leading presidential candidates has insulted just about every foreign leader he can name.  I am not taking any chances of visiting Istanbul any time soon.  I saw “Midnight Express” and I am quite certain the Turkish penal system has not improved under this new Sultan of Kasimpaşa.   

Shame on Frau Merkel for taking the easy low road.  She was once in the front ranks of world leaders marching in solidarity through the streets of Paris decrying terrorism aimed at the free expression of idea in the wake of the Charlie Hedbo massacre.  Much of the civilized world was crying out “Je suis Charlie Hedbo.”  Free speech, for which so many died in the offices of Charlie Hedbo, has fallen victim once again a pawn where despots call the shots.     

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sunrise Over Chesapeake Bay

Sunrise over Chesapeake Bay this morning.  I can hear the oysters settling into the silt as the blue crabs scurry over the sea grasses.   And there are rockfish out there wondering "Where is he?" Patience.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Down to the River We Did Ride

Photo by SallyAnn Rogers
                                      Down to the river
                                      my baby and I
                                     Oh down to the river we ride

                                                     - Bruce Springsteen, “The River”

Last month SallyAnn and I took a quick road trip to Cleveland, Ohio to see Bruce Springsteen in concert . . . again!  We attended our first Springsteen concert back on August 15, 1978, when the Boss and his E Street Band came to the old Capital Center outside Washington, DC while touring in support of the Darkness on the Edge of Town album.  Since then we have seem him at several venues in and around Washington, and we have travel to Philadelphia, New Jersey, and even west to Columbus, Ohio, to catch up with Bruce and the band and to share a little of that spirit in the night.  I am guessing that we have probably seen them in concert a couple dozen times over the years.

This current tour, which commenced in January in Pittsburgh, celebrates the 35th anniversary of the release of Springsteen’s 20-song double album The River, in October 1980.  This fifth studio album has long been considered his right of passage record - “where I was trying to find my way inside” at age 30 . . . beyond the boardwalk and the clubs in Asbury Park, New Jersey. “I wanted the record to contain fun, dancing, jokes, good comradeship, love, faith, sex, lonely nights, and of course, tears,” he confessed as he introduced the set in Cleveland.  “And I figured if I could make a record that was big enough to contain all those things, maybe I'd get a little closer to the home I was searching for.”   It was the album that would launch him into the stratosphere of rock stardom where he remains to this day more than a generation later.  So there was no way in hell we were going to pass up this tour after having witnessed Springsteen’s return to the Capital Center on November 23, 1980 during the original tour supporting The River.  We stood ready to buy tickets as soon as they went on sale back in December. 

I think back fondly to those early days when there was no problem scoring tickets to a Springsteen concert, if you were willing to stand in line at the ticket office when they went on sale.  There were even some record stores that a few of us knew about where one could purchase tickets without standing in line.  The ticket price for the original tour was $12.50, tax included.   Then Ticketmaster (fie on it and all of its spawn) too over and tickets seemed as rare as hen’s teeth.  One would go online the moment they went on sale and within seconds the concerts . . . at least those at DC venues . . . were sold out or available only through scalpers at many times their face value.   Now tickets cost $150 plus a rather exorbitant “courtesy fee” IF one is lucky enough to find one for sale.

We were therefore forced to look farther afield to find tickets, if we ever hoped to see Bruce in concert again.  Such was the case this time when we were able to find available tickets at the QuickenLoan Arena - “the Q” - just a hop, skip and a jump from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Cleveland’s lakefront.  I won’t travel so far for just anyone.  But Springsteen is a different matter all together.  If you have been to one of his concerts, you know what I am talking about.  If you have not, then you need to get yourself to a Springsteen concert before you die.  Then you will understand.

In fact, this was our first return to Cleveland since late February 2010 when we traveled there to see the special Springsteen exhibit at the museum.  It seemed appropriate as the Boss has always had a strong connection with his fans in the former rust belt of northeast Ohio.  He paid tribute in his elegiac 1995 song “Youngstown,” a paean to that nearby hardscrabble town and its “smokestacks reachin’ like the arms of God / Into a beautiful sky of soot and clay.”  Being a native Midwesterner, having grown up in many of its cities - my hometown of Chicago, Detroit, Toledo, Cincinnati - I feel a strong affinity for Cleveland even though I have never lived here.  It looks likes the places where I grew up.  Home.

So how was the concert you ask?  There was magic in the night to be sure.  The band opened with “Meet Me in the City,” one of a couple dozen songs written and recorded for inclusion on The River, but never released until the Springsteen box set that arrived in stores late last year.  I have to admit I was happy to see the E Street Band stripped down to its earlier configuration, without all of the back-up singers and horn section.  They worked with his more recent albums, but The River is simple and raw and there was no need for all the extras.  Nils Lofgrin was not around back in 1980, but he joined the band shortly thereafter and his signature guitar work compliments that of Springsteen and Little Steven van Zandt.   Add to the mix Soozie Tyrell with her acoustic guitar and fiddle and what more do you need?  Sadly, there were some missing faces from the early years . . . the Big Man, Clarence Clemmons, who passed away in 2011, and whose place has been admirably filled by his nephew Jake Clemmons; and Danny Federici, who died in 2008.  Wife Patti Scialfa, who has ducked out of a few dates on this tour, was also MIA in Cleveland and bassist Gary Tallent had a rare opportunity to move front stage.

Bruce and the band played for a solid three and a half hours to a packed house without a break.  Approaching age 67 he has amazing energy and drive, and his sheer joy in what he does shows through from start to finish.  I have never known Bruce to disappoint an audience and that evening in Cleveland proved to be everything we hoped it would be . . . and more.  At most of his concerts you never know what he will play.  They are always a mixture of old favorites and new tunes along with unexpected covers of iconic songs.  He even takes audience requests.  Such is not the case with this tour.  We knew what to expect going in . . . an in-sequence, complete performance of The River ending with the plaintive “Wreck on the Highway.”

Sometimes I sit up in the darkness
And I watch my baby as she sleeps
Then I climb in bed and I hold her tight
I just lay there awake in the middle of the night
Thinking 'bout the wreck on the highway.

Bruce paused at the end, smiled and announced “that was The River.”  And so it was.  It was what we came to hear and no one would go home unsatisfied.  Without taking a break, he switched guitars and added: “I’m gonna carry on for awhile” as he and the band launched into a lengthy encore during which they played a number of the favorite Springsteen classics . . . and it was not difficult to think back to those early concert tours when he played upwards of four hours.  The concert was full of fun, dancing, jokes, comradeship, love, faith, and a good deal more . . . an impressive performance from a man now in his 67th year.  And there is no end in sight.

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Maine Dreaming

Photo by Dave Breton
Spring has sprung here in Washington, DC and the cherry blossoms are popping out all around the Tidal Basin and throughout Potomac Park.  The flowers and the forsythia in our yard are all in bloom.   I would enjoy it far more if spring did not also bring with it the dreaded tree pollen that clogs my respiratory system come March.  It was hard to shake off winter this year.   There were early hints of sprint but these were followed by brief bouts of snow and cold, blustery days.  Hopefully those are all finally behind us.

With the arrival of spring, I begin to think forward to our annual summer hiatus at the lake cottage in Maine.   It won’t be long before we return to the shores of Sabbathday Lake where we shall remain through September and the onset of colder weather forcing us southward one again.  Spring has not arrived there yet.  It was an easy winter in Maine relatively speaking; there has been little snow and the ice on the lake has been too thin for ice-fishing.  Our summer neighbor took the above photograph of our cottage and the lake.  Normally snow would be piled up half way up the outer walls and the lake would be dappled with ice shanties.  Not this year.  Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that in Maine they do not have a summer, but just a thaw.   That’s not really true at all.  Summers in Maine are beautiful.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

"Maine is a joy in the summer,” wrote Paul Theroux.  “But the soul of Maine is more apparent in the winter."   Maybe this is true, maybe not.   Still, winter has not yet let go in the Pine Tree State and today some snow and freezing rain continue to belie its continuing grip on northern New England.   Spring will come soon enough . . . it always does . . . and the detritus of winter will be swept away.  The ice will melt and docks will go back into the water.  The resident loons will return along with us summer people from away.

So I sit here on this pleasant spring day in Washington and dream of summer in Maine . . . “an' the livin' is easy.”    It will be here soon enough and the dream that sustains me through the winter will come true.  

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

We Mourn in Paris and Brussels . . . But What About the Rest of the World?

Terrorism Strikes Again
In January 2015, over a dozen innocent civilians were murdered in a terrorist attack on the offices of the Charlie Hedbo magazine and elsewhere in Paris.  Government leaders and others from France and beyond marched through the streets of the French capital to demonstrate their solidarity.  The western world stood together through commercial and social media in solidarity against terrorism.  Last November terrorists struck again in Paris, murdering over 130 innocents and once again western governments and peoples stood together in solidarity against terrorism.

Yesterday morning dozens were murdered in two separate terrorist attacks in Brussels, not only the capital city of Belgium, but the administrative seat of the European Union.  Since these attacks the western world has come together again in solidarity against terrorism.  French President Hollande, no stranger to the deplorable aftermaths of terrorist attacks, perhaps said it best . . . this was not an attack only against Belgium, but against all of Europe . . . the world.

Not just the western world.  The entire civilized world.  Western Europeans are getting into the unfortunate habit of assembling at the sites of unspeakable carnage, to light candles and to spread flowers, all the while promising they will win in the battle to defeat terrorism.  Iconic structures throughout Europe are illuminated in the national colors of the latest country to fall victim.  And yet the terrorist attacks continue at a time and place chosen by any number of terrorist cells operating with almost impunity across the continent. 

European diplomats continue to meet and pass treaties in the hopes of stemming the tide of terrorism.  National representatives met to sign the Additional Protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism, which was adopted last October in Riga, Latvia.  Its purpose is to supplement the provisions of the original Convention adopted by the Council in 2005, codifying the criminalization of any  participation in an association or group for the purpose of terrorism, the traveling abroad for the purpose of terrorism, participation in a terrorist offence, receiving training for terrorism, organizing or otherwise facilitating foreign travel for the purpose of terrorism, or the funding of foreign travel for the purpose of terrorism.  So far
26 countries have signed the Convention over the past decade.  Still terrorism continues, and since many of the acts are the result of suicide bombings, almost no one has been tried and punished for these heinous acts of terrorism.

But terrorism is not confined to Europe; it knows no boundaries.  There are terrorist acts being committed across the globe yet only a few, mostly those occurring in North America and Europe, seem to generate international solidarity much less interest or coverage in the western media.  Why weren’t the national colors of Mali (20 killed), Tunisia (13 killed), Burkino Faso (30 killed), Cote d’Ivoire [Ivory Coast] (16 killed), Somalia (15 killed), or Indonesia (8 killed), illuminating the Eiffel Tower or Brandenburg Gate in the wake of recent terrorist bombings in these African and Asia countries?  I suspect the answer lies in the fact that these countries are in Africa and Asia.  Do the lives of the victims of these recent terrorist attacks mean any less than those who were murdered in Paris or Brussels?   They were, in most cases, victims of the same terrorist organizations responsible for the attacks in Europe.  These victims should matter just as much.  But they don’t.  Not where we live.

And what about the spate of deadly bombings in Turkey?  Yes, it is a predominantly Muslim country, but it has been a long-standing ally of the United States and much of Europe as a member of NATO and other international organizations.  Turkey has been the victim of seven deadly bombings over the past year.  They are becoming an increasingly common tragedy.  On June 5, 2015, there were bombings in Diyarbakir, a town in southeastern Turkey, during an election rally.  Four were killed and over 100 injured.  ISIS is believed to have been responsible.   A few weeks later, on July 25, another ISIS bombing occurred near a cultural center in Suruç, another southeastern town, killing 33 and injuring over 100.  In October over 100 were killed during a peace rally outside the central railway station in Ankara, the nation’s capital.  This neighborhood is the home to several government ministries, a court and a police station. Over 400 others were injured making it the deadliest terror attack in Turkey’s recent history.  Once again ISIS was the suspected perpetrator.  An ISIS  suicide bomber attacked Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square in the fashionable Beyoglu district on January 12, killing 13 and injuring more than a dozen.  Most of the victims were foreign, including several Germans.  A car bomb was detonated in Ankara on February 17, killing 29 and injuring 60.  A month later, on March 13 (just ten days ago!), another car bomb was detonated in Ankara’s Kizilay district near a major transit bus hub and not far from the central railway station, killing 37 and injuring hundreds of others.  Another ISIS suicide bombing occurred along Istanbul’s busy Istiklal Avenue on March 19 - just four days before the Brussels attacks yesterday - killing five and injuring approximately 40 more.  The street is often clogged with tourists and the victims were mostly foreign nationals, including two holding US citizenship.  In the light of these attacks Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a rather prescient comment shortly after the March 13 bombing in his capital.  “There is no reason why the bomb that exploded in Ankara could not explode in Brussels, or in any other European city . . .  The snakes you are sleeping with can bite you at any time."  I don’t often agree with much that Erdogan has to say.  But this time he is correct.   And I don’t believe it is over.

 Governments have responded to the attacks in Africa, Asia, and Turkey with quotidian words of condolence and promises of support.  There was limited media coverage, but nothing like what we saw in the aftermath of the massacres in Paris and Brussels.  Where was the popular solidarity?  The lighting of candles and citizen assemblies bearing witness to their solidarity with the other victims of terror?  My Facebook time line is full of calls for solidarity with our European friends.  “Je suis Charlie Hedbo.”  “Je suis Paris.” “Je suis Bruxelles /  Ik ben Brussels.”  It was full of commentaries mixed with calls for prayers for the victims and the survivors.  I don’t recall seeing any of the other “Je suis . . . . ” shown in the cartoon above in which Brussels asks whether there might be a small place for it among that crowd.  I did not see one reference on my time line to any of the Turkish bombings even though some of them were just as deadly as those in Paris and Brussels. 

I am not saying we should not mourn the victims in France and Belgium.  But what about the rest of the world?   Its time to realize that the life of a murdered victim of terror in Africa, Asia, and Turkey is just as valuable as an American or a European victim.  No single act of terror is more loathsome than another.   Terrorists don’t ask names, religions or national identities before they detonate their bombs.   Life does not matter to them.  But it does for the rest of us.  All lives matter!

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Still More Pondering . . . .

Today I am beginning the rest of my life . . . now as a card-carrying senior citizen.  I rise out of bed early each morning, brew a pot of coffee, and stare out the kitchen window considering the weather and what I really need to accomplish before I pull the plug on yet another building block in the evolving edifice that is my past.

I am going through old files, keeping a few and dumping a lot (many of them I have not looked at in this millennium); drafting a couple new blog postings and making up for the unusual silence since the New Year; watching German television news about another terrorist act, this time in Belgium; writing a few letters; reading and taking notes; beginning to work on the taxes; mapping out some research projects I must deal with in the coming days; eyeing a possible trip to Florida this spring to meet up with college chums I have not seen in over 40 years; or, perhaps, a return to the western North Carolina mountains of my childhood to attend a literary conference and renew old personal and professional acquaintances; and, finally, champing at the bit to get back up to the lake cottage in Maine and put some physical and psychic distance from the routines of the rest of the year and the growing insanity surrounding this year’s election cycle.

Just pondering in general.   Life is full of random impulses to do this and that.  I wake up each morning and see what the day will bring.  As a friend in Berlin wrote to me this morning in the wake of the terrorist onslaught in Brussels . . . “we go on living. That is where the strength is.”  I could not agree more.

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Still Raising a Joyful Noise . . . .

65 years ago today this quiet edifice - Holy Cross Hospital on Chicago's South Side -  came alive with the cries of a bouncing baby boy.  And he is still raising a joyful noise . . . and a little hell when he has the energy.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Pondering . . . and Begging Your Pardon

I have not posted anything here in almost three months.  This is not for a lack of interest, or an inability to come up with something worthwhile to share.  It is all very simple; 2016 has been a very busy year so far what with working on a novella and a novel, doing some traveling, and dealing with a sudden onslaught of freelance research projects at the National Archives.  Add to this mix a bad bout with the flu and the garden variety of aches and pains that come with advancing years (I turn 65 tomorrow).  Still I manage to get up every morning and face the new day with a stiff upper lip.  I am happy to get as much done as I do.   So I am sorry if I have not been looking toward Portugal recently.  I have wanted to, but there are just so many hours in a day.  I beg your patience and pardon for my extended silence.

But this is all going to change.  I have been pondering . . . and I have a lot of ideas I want to play around with in the coming weeks and months.   Friedrich Hölderlin, one of my favorite German poets, said it best.  “Man is a god when he dreams, and a beggar when he ponders.”  I have been pondering long enough, and now it is time to give flight to the ideas that have been crowding my dreams long enough.

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Thank You Readers!

200,000 hits and counting!  Thank you for checking out my blog and for your many fine comments.  Stay tuned for more postings throughout 2016.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Hope for a Just, Equitable and Peaceful New Year 2016

May the radiance of the Red Rose bring new hope for justice, equality and peace in the new year . . . a fresh wind to dispel an oppressive and divisive air that has settled over our land. 
Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.
               - Vaclav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic (1993-2003)