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Monday, January 25, 2016

Profound and Moving--Or Not; The Joys and Struggles of Parenting.

Last night at bedtime, I thought I would give my children wisdom. So I quoted from Reb Nachman of Bratslav, a man who lived a hard life with great wisdom and joy and helped to transform the major religion of Judaism. 

The whole world, he said, is a very narrow bridge. And it is absolutely essential to not be afraid. 

"Kind of sucks if you're scared of heights," said my teenager, and he went to sleep. 
Hebrew text reads - Kol haolam kulo gesher tzar meod vehaikar lo lfached klal
Kol ha-olam ku-lo gesher tzar me'od
V'hair-i-kar lo l'fached klal. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Marco Rubio and Flint, Michigan--How To Tell Statesmen From Politicians

When my oldest was seven months, he tested positive for an elevated lead level in his blood. We lived in an old house at the time--I've lived in one old house or another, pretty much steadily, since I was eight years old. Like an idiot, I was removing the lead paint in our house. I thought I was safe, with a child not yet crawling. I was wrong. 

It's not fun testing a seven-month old for blood. I remember holding him down, as he screamed, before a nurse blew up one of those little white gloves, drew a face on it with a permanent marker, and waggled that at him for a bit. I've often wondered if my child's fear of needles comes from that time. 

I've often wondered if some of his neurological quirks come from then, too. Though they told us at the time that his lead level was borderline, they have since, I understand, changed the definition of borderline to--there is no safe level of lead in a baby or a child's blood. Period. 

And there is no cure--at all--for lead poisoning. 

Flint water
So when I heard about Flint Michigan's water problem, I felt--feel--literally sick. Light-headed. I do not understand why it hasn't been on the political radar before this. 
Flint pipes
People have been complaining---since April 2014,  of skin lesions, hair loss, chemical-induced hypertension, vision loss and depression. And that's just the short-term problems. The first official warnings to Flint came in December 2014. The Republican governor of Michigan asked Obama to declare a federal emergency and provide millions in federal aid just to buy residents water--not to fix the pipes and plumbing of every single house in Flint, which will wind up costing billions. 

Marco Rubio, photo by AP photographer Mary Altaffer
But Candidate for President Marco Rubio questioned about this yesterday, says, "I'd love to give you a better answer on it. It's just not an issue we've been quite frankly fully briefed or apprised of in terms of the role the governor has played and the state has played in Michigan on these sorts of things." He said, he was unable to give "a deeply detailed answer on what the right approach should be, other than to tell you that in general, I believe the federal government's role in some of these things is largely limited unless it involves a federal jurisdictional issue." 

I guess he'd rather talk about God, Guns, Smaller Government and Big Money than deal with his possible future constituents being murdered by the callous poisoning of their drinking water so as to save a few bucks. 

I know that's harsh, but you know what? Those kids, those people, their bodies and minds, will never, ever recover. Excuse me. I have to go and be sick. 

21 Chump Street, A hilarious and painful mini-musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ira Glass.

This morning, I found myself telling three different people about 21 Chump Street,  the mini-musical (14 minutes, tops) based on an Ira Glass piece, a story by Robby Brown, that aired on WBEZ's This American Life in May 2011. The interviews were about a kid and a narc involved an undercover sting in high schools in Palm Beach County, Florida. Lin-Manuel Miranda turned them into a very brief musical that is funny and touching while it breaks the heart. (

Anthony Ramos, pleading, "What I Gotta Do To Be Wid You?" 
Somebody brilliant (Ira? Miranda?) had the idea to turn this classic Glass interview into a musical, with a professional cast. According to Glass, about seventy to eighty percent of the lyrics are taken directly from the interviews, with the other twenty to thirty being, "artistic inspiration." Miranda wrote the musical in--get this--a week. 

Justin serenades "Naomi" (Nye-O-Mi) in front of his classmates
Justin in an ecstasy of love for Naomi
The play is passionate, exuberant, joyful and sad. The cast is wonderful, especially Anthony Ramos as Justin, Lindsay Mendez as Naomi, and of course, Lin-Manuel Miranda, as, I assume, Ira Glass. The lyrics, with lines like: "What the  heck I gotta do to be with you, LOLOLOL," and "She was a light-skinned-ed, Puerto Rican-Domincan, long-hair, mature-in-the-body like--Whoa," will surprise you with their sticking power, as will the story, with our poor A-student senior, Justin, done-in by his love, getting sliced up by a morally ambiguous razor. 

If you know any teenagers, this would be a good place to get started talking about complicated subjects like love, sex and peer (well, romantic) pressure. If you're a grownup with any kind of memory of adolescents, well, after you watch it, you could start talking to yourself. . .

God, they knew how to dress in those days, didn't they?
Anthony Ramos is currently appearing in Hamilton, with Mr. Miranda. 

Ms. Mendez is coaching, "actortherapy," and I would assume, auditioning around. (It's always easiest for young males to find work in theater.) 

Ramos and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Ira Glass
And, of course, six cheers for Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ira Glass. 
May they have many more such collaborations. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Research Breaks--What To Do When All You Read is About Thailand.

My dining room is piled high with incredible books about Siam, (Thailand's historic name) Anna Leonowens, (Anna of The King And I,) and the history of Thailand. 

I'm in the midst or reading a fascinating biography about Mongkut, better known as Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramenthra Maha Mongkut Phra Chom Chao, Yu Hua, or Rama IV, as he was designated later. Mongkut was King of Siam, the fourth monarch of Siam under the House of Chakri, ruling from the 1851 to 1868. (My copy is from it's publishing date, so it's orange and cuter.) 

Clearly, the one-shoulder look won.
My favorite piece of information so far, delivered as an aside, is about Mongkut's reformation of Thai Buddhism, speaking of how Buddhist's at that time could get into doctrinal battles over whether the proper garment--the traditional orange robe of a Buddhist monk--should cover one or both shoulders. (I happen to adore silly religious quibbles--all faiths have them--and am happy to learn of a Buddhist one.)

Mongkut, however,  rose above this pettiness. A conservative, he worked to remove folklore and other religious beliefs that he felt had corrupted Thai Buddhism. This meant trading with traditional enemies while seeking out the earliest texts available. 

And lest you think his influence was small, keep in mind that in Thailand, it is traditional for all young men in Thailand, at around age 20 to spend a year or two as a monk, barefoot, owning only an orange robe, and carrying around a begging bowl, which will provide them their  only daily income--food they'll will beg from people as they wander through the country. 

What a fabulous training for a King. Even if it was only due to the early death of his father and the desire to avoid being poisoned or murdered by his older brother, who became king instead of him, Mongkut was the first King of Thailand to go through such training, which, in his case, lasted for, um, 27 years, which means he ate a heck of a lot of begged-for rice. 

 I'm also staring at images from this gorgeous book, Siam, Through the Lens of John Thompson 1865-66 Including Angkor and Coastal China. 

I *think* this is Bangkok. 

Be prepared, if you look at this book, to vanish from your daily life for a few hours, studying images like this one, which I *think* is Bangkok, or below, the image of a little princess. Stare at them for a bit, and try to understand which buildings are which, or the importance of the items on display next to this charming little girl--and in the full-sized image, the way the servant keeps the souls of his feet turned away from her and off the mat, part of how you dealt with royalty at a time when it was better that a Queen drown than that ordinary folk who might save her should touch her body with their profane hands. (True story, in the 1880's.) 

But I need a break from Siam now and then. What to read then? Well, in my case, The Crime and the Silence, by Anna Bikont, a careful, detailed exploration of a terrible massacre of Jews in western Poland in 1941, in and near the town of Jedwabne, committed by neighbors, with only two Germans in town. What Bikont does, interview by interview, document by document, is no more nor less than detail what is required to both create a genocide, and then to deny it, for over seventy years. Reading this book puts a human voice and face on Armenia, Rwanda, Darfur and the Sudan, but most particularly on those genocides that involve propinquity--when neighbor murders neighbor, then steals their house, featherbed, coat, pillow case, horse, cow, mill and rings. It means for those few who survived (by being baptized and married to Christians), how it feels to know that the man repairing your stove rounded up your family, beat them, and burned them alive. How painful it is to live with the memory of 1600 men, women, old people and children's death screams, the smell of their burnt flesh. How the crime seeps in to even those who most deny having committed it, as their mentally and physically disabled son greets you in the park saying, "My father did this," (slashing at his throat) "so now I have this--" pointing at his missing arm. 

Okay, okay, it's not exactly cheery reading. But when I hear the echoes of Jedwabne in Trump's speech, and Cruz's and anybody else running for President with an R behind their name, I know how important this is, for anybody to read. (Did you hear Marco Rubio's response to the drinking water fiasco in Flint?--I can't talk about it. It makes me literally sick.) 

And quite frankly, The Crime and the Silence is riveting, even more than the 1990's film, The Nasty Girl "Das Shrekliche Madchen," about a young girl in Bavaria who's desire to write an essay about her town's past during the Nazi era nearly gets her killed. Page after page of denial and battles for truth, page after page of detective work and yet another discovery as the author looks at the Catholic Church's active participation in Jew-bating, hating and murdering in this part of Eastern Poland, with it's complicated history during WWII, under first the Soviets, then the Nazis--a part of the world where Jews who returned from concentration camps after the war, often wound up murdered, and where those who hid Jews during the war were usually chased off after by their neighbors. Harsh, yes, but true to that time, though of course, there were about 100,000 Poles who risked their lives to save Jews. 

A funeral from the Kielce pogrom, when 42 Jewish refugees were murdered in 1946--after the war. 
And personally, The Crime and the Silence is fascinating for me, because my husband's grandfather was a roofer murdered by Polish laborers, this before WWII, before the Germans ever came. As I read the venom spewed by Catholic journals of that time in that part of the country--"Jews are lice, fleas, rats, it's best to exterminate them; the Germans are taking on the Jewish problem, maybe we can too; Jews murdered Cain and crucified Christ--it's time to serve them in kind--" well, it makes me understand better the why and wherefore of how Shmuel, The Roofer's, murder could have happened. 

But cheer up. I'm also reading some lit fiction--more about that later. And the occasional children's book. Betsy and Tacy anyone? I'm working my way through the cannon. 

What a journey this blog post has taken. From Thailand to genocide--Poland et all, and then up to "Deep Valley," Maud Hart Lovelace's made-up version of Mankato. May all the children of the world live in Deep Valley, not Jedwabne, Kilgali, Nyala or Flint Michigan. May their worst problems be those of Betsy and Tacy, at least until they are grown. Amen. 

Down the Rabbit Hole of Research, Part 3. Gabrielle Anwar's New Family Goes Mad Hatter.

So--To recap:

Gabrielle Anwar, brilliant actress from The Tudors, Burn Notice and other works,

recently married Shareef (Mark) Malnik,

whose father is Alvin Ira (Al) Malnik,        
who, pardon my snark,  looks like he's had enough facelifts that his earlobes need suspenders.

Alvin, 82, has ten kids, ranging from Shareef, who has a law degree and runs a nightclub called The Forge, through the children Al has with his second wife, Nancy: triplets, a singleton and twins.

Then, Michael Jackson comes into the picture, and things go Madder than Mad Hatter.  

Much like with the earlier Sheik, Al Malnik becomes indispensable to Mr. Jackson. He manages his finances, the two families become friends, the children--Michael Jackson, Jr., Paris Michael Jackson, and Prince Michael (Blanket) Jackson--become friends with Al's younger set of kids: triplets Spencer, (female) Jarod and Nathan, 15, Jesse, 9, and twins Noah and Sterling, 8. Malnik parties with Jackson, and is supposedly named guardian for Mr. Jackson's children in the event of Jackson's death.

Jackson's three children were born to Debbie Rowe, Jackson's then wife, and an unnamed surrogate, who gave birth to Blanket. Rowe has since claimed that her marriage to Jackson was never consummated, and that her children were conceived via an unnamed sperm donor, not Jackson. Al Malnik said, after Mr. Jackson's death, that he was the genetic father of Blanket, the third child. "I'm the one who saved Michael from bankruptcy, and in return, he said he would name me executor of his will. I was a father figure to Michael and now I intend to be a father figure to the son who is rightfully mine."

I normally do not pay much attention to gossip except to think, wow, that's a lot of drama. This is the case here as well. After all, if it's true, then
Prince Michael/Blanket/Jackson is Gabrielle Anwar's brother-in-law, and thus uncle by marriage to her children.

Perhaps someday, a mad tea-party will be had by all.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Joys of Critique Group, Part 2--Rebecca Wurtz, A Fellow Member, And Her Short Story "Hands Moving Through Hair.

So, yesterday, I bragged on the writing of my fellow critique group members. Here's Rebecca Wurtz,  with a short story that was a finalist in a Texas contest. I especially love this work because I am using tense and a similar spiraling, highly intertwined structure in my just-completed novel, The Color of Safety. I'm in the process of querying agents for that novel, so if anybody knows one who would like Ms. Wurtz's work, give me a holler--they'd probably like mine, too.

Rebecca Wurtz
“Hands Moving Through Hair” by Rebecca Wurtz.
I have lost track, but the afduubaha keeps track, tells me today is day twenty, day twenty-seven, twenty-nine. My abductor uses his fine English to taunt me: It’s been seven days since your government told us there would be no further negotiations, and more than five days since anyone in your family tried to contact us. You are running out of time. They taught us not to believe what captors say, not to lose faith, that our government would not let us perish, and I have drawn a bright, hard line around those promises. I know that there is turmoil in the outside world. My parents and my new husband have left no stone unturned, have been unceasing in their efforts to get the State Department to negotiate my release.

I am curled in the dirt in the dim corner of the hut, so dehydrated that I haven’t cried in three days, haven’t peed in two. My T-shirt is rough with dried sweat, and rank with the smell of goat grease and wood smoke from the nighttime guard’s fire. I am in and out of consciousness, drifting on a wave of murmuring voices, and heat, and my own stink.

Get up.
For the next forty years, I will play the next forty seconds over and over in my mind.
Get up.
I am startled from my drowse, but only part way. I can’t seem to break the surface, the hard bright line that protects me. Are you talking to me? I taste a metallic tang. Why should that be? Is that what startle tastes like? On a hot day running errands before we leave Washington, D.C., for good, I will buy a chocolate bar in aluminum foil, and unwrap it in the car. In my haste, some of the foil sticks to the candy, and the first bite will return me to my half-waking dream, to the dry heat of the Horn of Africa, to a diplomatic posting that went horribly wrong.
Get up!
The afdu’s voice reaches me, and my eyes open, and I am staring into the corner of the wretched hut, built of wooden poles — just branches really, no bigger around than a finger — stabbed into the dirt. The poles are weathered and old; they have been used many times to make many dwellings, gathered and carried, probably by children or women, from one place to another. At Cape Hatteras, my six-year-old son will build a sandcastle and palisade it with sea-bleached sticks. The crashing waves will rush in and out, like my ragged, dry mouth-breathing. I will have to turn my face away and I will see my husband smiling as he tickles our daughter, sitting in his lap.
Are you talking to me? His bulky shape is silhouetted against the blaring sun. He extends his hand — a deep scar running through the web between the thumb and forefinger — toward my face. On a cool North Carolina fall day, I will come home from teaching international development policy at the university, and a carpenter will be measuring for the bookshelves in our new home. He will hold his finger and thumb out to show me the distance between the wall and the base, and he will have a scar that travels across the web at the base of his thumb, just so. My eyes will dart to his eyes, and the kindness there will almost make me cry.
The afdu’s dirty fingers smell like gunpowder and curry as his hand hovers in front of my face. We will celebrate the Fourth of July at the international students’ potluck. In the yard, our host will light a string of bright red firecrackers. The smoke will rise and drift across a picnic table still crowded with potluck dishes of curry and rice. Involuntarily, I will touch my face because I will know what comes next.
With a sharp fingernail, my captor traces the dried track of my last tear down my cheek. A long, slow scratch, exceedingly quiet — I would not hear it if I were not inside of it. My blood seeps and mingles with the exhausted dust of this failed country.
Get up.
I can’t get up. My legs give way. His rough hands move through my hair, and for part of a second, that is all I hear. I will go out to the car alone to get another load to carry into my daughter’s dorm room. The wind will move the pine branches in a whispery sough, and my neck will prickle.
He yanks a fistful of hair and drags me, as I howl in pain and fear and rage, over the rotten scrap of wood that marks the threshold. For the rest of my life, I will be lucky. I will never make nor hear that sound again. The closest I will come is one day when I will rip an old sheet into rags, and the rending of the first long strip, from one end to the other, will bring tears to my eyes.
I paw and scratch at his hands. He dumps me near the remains of last night’s fire. After weeks of not seeing the sun, hooded when I was transferred from car to truck, kept in a basement and then the hut, allowed out only at night to go to the toilet in a pit, I can’t open my eyes in the bright light. I will squeeze my eyes shut against white daylight when the doctor takes the patch off after my cataract surgery. Cartoonish stars of pain will orbit around my head, and I will smell wood smoke and taste ashes.
Something is wrong. My captors are alarmed, shouting to each other, arguing as they pack the precious satellite phone in its plastic case. I will visit my son’s family, and the young Somali taxi driver who takes me home from the airport will talk urgently, loudly into his cellphone; I will realize that he was born years after I heard the clattering of guns and clanking of cooking pots being thrown in the bed of a truck.
I decide to run; this confusion can cover my escape. I force my eyes open and struggle to my knees. I raise my head to see the afdu striding toward me. It is not the knife in his hand but the look on his face — abstracted and primitive — that tells me he is coming to cut my throat. One day on a hike in the American Southwest, we will encounter a loping coyote, and the feral emptiness in its eyes will frighten my granddaughter. I will want to tell her where I have seen that expression before, but words will fail me.
I try to scuttle away, but I can’t move; I am immobile with fear. I think of my mother, her sorrow because I have been killed, and I am so very sad. I will sit by her bedside in the last weeks of her life, and I will sob when I remember my anticipation of a mother’s sorrow.
He grabs my shirt and pulls my head to the side, and my neck is exposed to his blade. Standing at the kitchen counter in my bathrobe, cutting an apple, I will accidentally drop the knife, and as I jump away, trying to avoid it, I hear the smallest breath as the blade travels through the air before clanging to the rocky soil. His grip relaxes, and his knees splay outward. He sits to the ground, blood running from his nose, a bullet hole over his ear. My husband will die from leukemia. Toward the end, he will bleed from his nose, and I will wipe his face and smooth his hair, and I will whisper to him that I always knew he would save me.
A crack and a whine, the sound of the sharpshooter’s rifle, reaches me after the bullet reaches the afdu. Late at night, awake and alone, I will watch the approach of a storm and shiver in the gap between the lightning and the thunder. A soldier in desert fatigues, and then another, move choppily up behind the truck and the side of a mud-brick hut. There is more shooting. Someone lifts me in his arms, asks me to confirm my name.
When I’m very old, a male nurse in the hospital will lift me from a gurney to a bed; he will ask my name and I croak it out. Dust will cloud my vision and grit pelts my face as a helicopter thumps down. I am handed in through the cargo door to a medic. And I will fly away.
Rebecca Wurtz on the writing of “Hands Moving Through Hair”:
Time may flow only forward, but memory and anticipation spiral in and out of that stream. I wanted to experiment with time and tense in a story — sentence by sentence. When I heard a radio interview of a woman recounting her abduction by and escape from a militia group, it seemed like the perfect opportunity, jangling with spirals.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Joys of a Critique Group--When It Really, Really Fits

Last fall, I took a class at a literary center. The class was called Master Mondays--Fiction. (Please stick your snoot in the air when you say its name.) 
Peter Geye, pronounced Guy. As in Big Guy.

In this case, it really was a Master Monday's class. The teacher was Peter Geye (Safe From The SeaThe Light-house Road and a new book coming out with Knopf, which I believe is called The Winterers.) Peter isn't just an extraordinary novelist, he's also a, well, master teacher. He created a class that was respectful, thoughtful and exciting, and he lucked out with the quality of the students who joined. Though some people weren't, um, masters quite yet, the level or writing was still extremely high, and the level of critique higher yet. 

Out of this group, a few people decided to continue on our own. These are writers who not only know their strengths and weaknesses, but have spent years challenging them. They're all grownups, too, calm enough that the drama is on the page, not at the meetings. The writing, thank heavens, is terrific, and fascinating. I can't wait to read people's pages. They are that good. 

We meet again tomorrow so I'm tap-dancing around the house today. It's terrific to be around smart, caring people who love writing. Yahoo! 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Romantic Part of Research--Anna Leonowens And the King of Siam

I am deep in that phase of research that parallels the romantic part of love: When you just can't get enough of learning about a subject about whom you plan to write, you just want to dive in, you have to order another book about the history of Siam or Anna Leonowens or King Mongkut.

Anna Leonowns in Canada

King Mongkut and Queen Debsirindra, 1856. 
Every other word out of your mouth is "Oh," and "That's amazing," and you bend stranger's ears with the absolute fascination of it: "And as a young monk, the king studied Sanscrit and Palian, plus he learned Laotian, Cambodian, Vienamese, Peguan, (what is Peguan?) Burmese, Malay and Hindustani. And then, later, he learned English, but there was no Siamese-English dictionary in existence, but there was an English/Pali one, so he had to translate words from Siamese into ancient Pali and then search for an equivalent in a "voluminous" Pali-English dictionary. And because he was never sure if the Pali word perfectly lined up with the meaning he wanted, he usually put in two or three choices, hoping he'd gotten at least one right."

Yes, it's true love. Staring deep into the eyes of your subjects, and wanting to learn every single thing there is to know about them.

Yes, I know this is Rudolph Valentino's Falcon's lair, and
not on Ivarene, but it will have to do
until I can do more research. 
Later will come the challenges in my research relationship, when I have to keep my cool even though, as the writing is pouring out, I have to stop, stop, stop, to figure out what kind of car star scenarist (screenwriter) Frances Marion would be driving in 1921, where the controls are in that car, how hard are they to manipulate, what the car sounds like as you drive it, what Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles might have looked like in 1921, and where can I find a photo of twisty Ivarene Avenue from that era? All those tiny, telling details that make something spring to life.

Right now, it's just bliss, just sinking into the cushion of another age--politics, religion, technology, geography, geology, and above all psychology, learning as much as I can about these fascinating other people's stories so when I write them, I will do them the honor of seeing them as clearly as I possibly can.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Down the Rabbit Hole of Research pt. 2, Gabrielle Anwar, Burn Notice and Crazy Research.

So, to recap. Gabrielle Anwar

married Shareef (nee Mark) Malnik
whose father is Al Malnik (get a load of the plastic surgery on these two)

with the ceremony performed by Tantric Kaballah Rabbi (!) and likely serial sexual assaulter and child predator, Marc Gafni, (nee Marc Winiarz) 
But the story gets both more interesting and crazier. The interesting part to me is that of Gabrielle Anwar's family.

 Grandpa on her father's side was Rafiq Anwar, from India. Rafiq went to England as an engineering student.  In London, he met Edith Reich, an Austrian Jew. (I cannot find a photo of her.)These two married and went back to India, where Rafiq became an actor. They had two children, one, a son, born in 1945. Which means they must have met before '45. Which hints that Edith had fled to England from the Nazis. 
In 1946, Rafiq starred in a film produced by his brother, Rashid, called Neecha Nagar, which won the first ever foreign language film award at Cannes that year. (The music was by a young guy named Private Ravi Shankar, and the dance segments, created by the doyenne of Indian cinema, Zohra Saigal,  were edited out for the Cannes screening.) 

Edith came back to London with her two children, followed by Rafiq, who also worked in Hollywood, in The Spy Who Loved Me and Lord Jim. Edith and Rafiq's story sounds rich and complex, something I would love to learn more about. Give a holler, everybody, if you know more than this bare outline I can find. 

Their son, Tariq, became a very well-known film editor: The Crucible, Oppenheimer, American Beauty, and The King's Speech, which earned him an Oscar nomination and two BAFTA Awards.He is now based in the United States and England. He is the father of actress Gabrielle Anwar. Mother is actress Shireen Anwar, nee Shirley Hills, and this is the only photo I can find. 

That's all the interesting part. The crazy part has to do with Michael Jackson, Al Malnik and Jackson's children:  Michael Jackson, Jr., Paris-Michael, and Prince Michael Jackson II, known as Blanket. More about that later. 
Sometimes, with the Internet, it's just fun to go down that rabbit hole. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Down The Rabbit Hole: Internet Research About Nothing in Particular, Burn Notice, and Gabrielle Anwar

I'm a little slow on the uptake when it comes to popular culture, which is why I just discovered the TV series Burn Notice (via Netflix.) Of course, I had to look up the writers, producers and actors, and when I did, I fell down the All-Time, Bizarro Rabbit Hole of internet research, all intertwining around the actress Gabrielle Anwar.

I have nothing at all against Ms. Anwar. In fact, I think she is an actress of extraordinary brilliance, so good at expressing complexes emotions that her face seems almost translucent. The rabbit hole, however, began with an article about her recent wedding to a man called Shareef Malnik, the service performed by--as the papers stated--a Tantric Kabballah Rabbi who officiated and read passages from his book to the blissful couple.

"Tantric Kabballah Rabbi. The name, which implies a tantalizingly silly mix of Hindu sexual practices, Medieval Jewish mysticism and the term for a Jewish teacher, set my Hilarious Garbage Antennae twitching. Those antennae were accurate. The tantric Kabballah rabbi in question, one Marc Gafni, (born Marc Winiarz), has a Phd from Oxford, and has been believably accused of sexual assault many many different times, including the grooming and assault of a thirteen-year-old student.

The woman in the Forward article,
speaking of her experiences being groomed and molested by Gafni.

Okay. Not exactly the guy I'd want at my wedding ceremony. Especially given that Anwar has three children by previous marriages and relationships, and her new husband also has a kid.

But if you want to go further down the rabbit hole, remember new hubby named Shareef Malnik? Hilarious Garbage Antennae go a bit haywire over that name. Is he the result of a Moroccan mixed marriage? A Jewish Mama's long-time crush on Omar Shariff?

Nope. Mr. Malnik was born as Mark Malnik in the U.S. in 1958.

Al Malnik then
Al Malnik now

In fact, Daddy is an all-American mob associate, Al Malnik, one-time lawyer for gangster, Mayer Lansky. It seems besides being mobbed up and representing Sammy Davis Jr. and some of his Rat Pack pals, Daddy more or less invented off-shore money-laundering in the Bahamas. Somewhere in between having his Rolls blown up (of course it was canary yellow) and the unsolved murder of some of his associates, Al became chief financial advisor--and much, much more--for Saudi Royal member Prince Turki Bin-Aziz. 

Now, Turki Bin-Aziz was one of the many sons of the king of Saudi Arabia. Bin-Aziz came to the U.S. in the 1980's on a crazed spending spree that encompassed several years, billions of dollars, and the kind of insanity that makes interesting news articles ("Saudi Prince hires decorator to paint genitalia of all mansion's statues in glorious, living color") and desperate neighbors. (Saudi family parks multiple Ferraris on your grass, lands their helicopters in your backyard, and shows up in middle of night offering three million for your bungalow as long as you and your family leave within the next half hour.) 

During this blazing craziness, son Mark starts toting a copy of the Koran and winds up married (briefly) to the sister of the Prince's commoner bride. (Look, this is so complicated and bizarre, that I can only hope I'm getting the details right.) I would assume it is at this point that Mark became Shareef, a name which, come to think of it, beats, say, Muffy Malnik for assimilationist silliness. 

The story gets even crazier, but I think I have used up my Rabbit Hole quotient for the day. And the good news is, it seems as if Anwar and Malnik's use of Gafni for their wedding has, hopefully, shown new light down Gafni's rabbit hole. Wouldn't it be wonderful if a costumed, Wild West marriage between an actress and a "restauranteur"/possible mobster, (this being wedding number five for him) would lead to a sexual predator finally having to face some of the consequences of his actions? Let's keep our fingers crossed. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Some Fascinating Reads From Last Year (Inspired by Literary Agent, Nephele Tempest--and Isn't That The Best Name Ever?

Nephele Tempest wrote a post about her favorite reads from last year. Not those she represents, just ones she read for joy.

She has some fabulous ones. I recommend you taking a gander, over at

And of course, I had to take her up on writing about my own favorites. Unfortunately for publishing, many of them are from least year or earlier, but oh, do they smoke!

Some books are comedies, like Nephele's choice of "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry." I think of these as the perfect books to read when you're going through a divorce, or have a child in the hospital--enough meat and insight to give meaning, but you always know it will end happily. And though, like Nephele, I tend to skew female in authors I read, I'd put the Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett "Good Omens" in this category. It is without a doubt one of the funniest books I have ever read. I would also include Toby Barlow's "Babayaga," (another guy) and Christopher Moore's "Sacre Bleu." (Three guys, oy.)

I enjoyed the book "Hild" by Nicola Griffith, an exploration of Saint Hilda and got jealous of Saint Hilda's 7th Century, a world where, believably, women were expected to work, weave, bake, brew, plot and wield power side by side with the men we more often hear about.

Two books older books changed the way I look at the world. Both deal with the overwhelming horrors of the Holocaust--and you have to figure that any . One is called "Conscience and Courage" by Eva Fogelman; the other is "Shielding the Flame," an interview with Warsaw Ghetto uprising leader Marek Edelman, written by Hanna Krall. Fogelman, who participated in the research into bystander behavior, (those infamous--"would you torture someone if you were ordered to" experiments) became fascinated by those few who refused to follow orders, which lead to interviews and analysis of those who saved Jews during the war. Her insights are astounding. Edelman, who survived the Warsaw ghetto and was one of the young leaders of the uprising there--they held out for longer than almost every country in Europe--later became a noted cardiologist. I found his view of God and life to be earthshaking.

Right now, I'm immersed in research on Anna Leonowens and her King of Siam. "You just got another book about Thailand?" my husband asks, while I skip for joy--another book! Both Leonowens and Mongkut, historically, are vastly different from the way they have been presented in American culture via missionary Margaret Landon's "Anna and the King of Siam," and of course, "The King and I." Both straddle multiple cultures in ways we have not historically understood before.