Thursday, May 08, 2008
Monday, May 05, 2008
Wilma and Ernesto Reich (1980s)
Above are two recently dug-up photographs of my maternal grandparents (Oma and Opa), Wilma and Ernesto Reich. Unfortunately, my Opa died when I was still a young girl. I was extremely close to my Oma and hers was the first oral history I collected. She died only 3 years ago in 2005 at the age of 91.
After a whirlwind two-week courtship with Ernesto Reich, my Oma (originally from Berlin) moved to El Salvador from Amsterdam in 1938. With the majority of her family killed in death camps only a few years later, she never saw her mother, brother, sister-in-law, nephew, and niece again.
Hers was a hard life...but she always lived it gracefully, inspiring me to no end.
You can find her complete story in an anthology edited by Marjorie Agosin, entitled "Taking Root: Latin American Jewish Women Writers."
Many thanks to Ruth and Paul Feldman for the photograph.
Saturday, May 03, 2008
May 16, 2008: REVERB. Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Spring 2008 Show
Friday, April 04, 2008
Tempus is fugiting! -Walter the Seltzer man's favorite customer.
Before launching into my update, I want to share a great piece with you. Joe Richman, producer of “Radio Diaries” did a piece for the “NY Works” series, profiling those jobs that are being phased out by computers, changing tastes, automatic delivery, industrialization, and globalization (among other things). This one is about Walter the Seltzer man. It is a great ditty; short and sweet…something that definitely merits your five minutes.
Check it out at: http://www.radiodiaries.org/newyorkworks-home.html
In other news, my recording with the nuns of Waterville has come to a close. I am now writing and re-writing scripts (up to version eight at this point) and working hard to keep things suspenseful, interesting, yet tightly edited. Wooo! On my last day with the Sisters, I had two very intense interviews--Sister Mary Emmanuel Masson was one of them. The eldest of the nuns at age 91, she joined religious life in her early twenties. Sister Mary Emmanuel wakes up every morning and spends five minutes on the exercise bike in the convent’s basement. Then she sweeps the basement and walks off to early morning prayer. When I asked her about the 1996 double murder, she didn’t want to speak about the actual event.
“I was in the Chapel when it happened,” she remembered. “I hid in a pew.”
When prompted about forgiveness, the Sister looked at me. Her answer was simple yet incredibly poignant.
“How can we hate him if we love him?”
I responded in disbelief. “Sister: You feel like you must love him?”
She smiled, “I never met anyone I didn’t love.”
When I left the convent that day, she made the sign of the cross on my forehead (as she always does) and prayed that I should have a safe journey. The journey didn’t really end with my arrival back in Portland. I listen to the Sisters every day….editing and trimming, making painful decisions such as which quotes to exclude and which details to integrate. I’ve been given six minutes; I must try to do this group of women some serious justice in that space of time.
In the middle of this task, I must also begin work on my second story. I decided to focus on female truck drivers and found my subject in Debbie Seelow. Born in Farmington, Maine and living in Jay, Debbie has been driving for 19 years. A single mother of one daughter, her first haul was to New Hampshire. Now she travels as far as California. We leave this Monday morning and I’m already starting to mentally pack my bags. Besides many tapes and back-up batteries, I’ll need flip-flops for showering in truck stops, a pillow for my bunk in her cab, and serious fortitude for those long days on the interstate. I want to take the listener through her daily experiences but also want to focus on the women of this industry. What are their interactions like? Do men welcome them? Shun them? Harrass them on the CB-radio? Who knows, but after five days in an 18-wheeler, I should definitely have some answers.
That’s the latest from Maine….where it’s supposed to snow tonight. I’m looking forward to some sun and hope this long haul takes us south. Debbie asked me if I had a dream destination for the trip.
“Some place where it’s not winter,” I said.
Laughing over the phone, she said “Oh girl, I’ll try. I’ll definitely try.”
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
No Praise. No Blame. Just So.
It's rainy. It's snowy. Yet, the work continues here
I've been spending quite a lot of time up in
Waterville at the Convent of the Blessed Sacrament,
interviewing sisters one at a time. Last week, I
spent a good afternoon with Sister Elizabeth Madden.
We sat for a few hours recounting her past with me
inquiring about her decision to join a religious
order. She invited me to lunch and I enjoyed my time
at the long wooden table, getting to know the other
sisters. One older woman, Sister Mary Emmanuel (who
must be around 90), sat hunched at the end of the
table. I had to scream in order for her to understand
our conversation (reminded me of my dear Oma). She
remembered to me that she once had a "lovely Jewish
friend" and asked whether I was religious. I
mentioned to the sisters that my mother used to
encourage me to sample different religious services if
I was curious. I used to go to Spanish mass with my
good friend Andrea and her mother (one of my other
mothers, I like to say) Ligia. My only instructions
were: "Don't kneel. Don't take communion." Sweet
Andrea used to sit in the pew with me when the rest of
the Church was kneeling. I'll never forget those
moments and I thank my mother for encouraging such
exploration. If anything, it helped me to better
understand my own traditions and my own religious
identity. The sisters were amazed by my mother's
openness and noted that "she is quite a woman." Of
course, I agreed. :)
We enjoyed chatting and at the end of our lunch, I was
not sure how to say goodbye, A handshake? A hug? A
kiss on the cheek? I decided an affectionate grab of
the shoulder would be most appropriate. As I lay my
hand on the bony Sister Mary Emmanuel, she grabbed it
and lay it across her cheek, kissing it before finally
Very moved, I knelt down to speak face to face:
"Sister Mary Emmanuel, I'll see you next week."
"You never know dear. You never know."
Her smile was radiant and I couldn't help but nod.
Sister Elizabeth and I spent our last hour together
discussing "the tragedy" of 1996. She was in the
other North American convent in Pueblo, Colorado at
the time of the murders. She remembers being
interviewed by an ABC affiliate reporter who asked:
"Don't you hate this man? This man who killed your
sisters...Don't you hate him?"
She responded: "How can I hate him? I don't even know
She looked at me after recounting this story,
obviously concerned about the young reporter: "He must
have been very young, dear."
My last question for Sister Elizabeth rounded out our
late afternoon conversation about forgiveness. I
wondered if she had a verse or a saying or a mantra
that she visited when experiencing trouble forgiving.
Within three minutes of my asking, she responded: "I
actually love this Buddhist quote...and I cannot
remember the writer. It is very simple. She sat up
straight and cleared her throat before saying....
No praise. No blame. Just so.
No praise. No blame. Just so."
She repeated it three times and I think I must have
been holding my breath. After she finished, I let out
a huge sigh and pushed stop. An incredible interview
to say the very least.
Instead of attaching a radio piece this week, I want
you to explore one of my favorite new websites.
Mediastorm.org is a phenomenal site that blends
photography and audio to tell stories. With pieces
ranging from issues in Africa to drugs in NYC, this is
a website you should visit often.
I have signed up for a "soundslides" workshop here at
Salt which will teach me the software to create such
pieces as these; a new and very exciting webtool that
I hope to be able to use in my work.
Check it out at:
Let me know what you think when you have the chance.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Don’t knock the weather. If it didn’t change once in while, nine out of ten people couldn’t start a conversation. -Kim Hubbard
It's been a week and much has transpired in Portland, Maine.
On the way to collect my car from the King Middle School parking lot
(where it was parked during the citywide snowban), I watched a young
woman a few feet in front of me slip and fall on a piece of ice.
Careful not to give the neighborhood a repeat, I inched slowly across
the sidewalk. Boom. Fell exactly in the same place.
Embarrassed but not to be stopped, I stood up and immediately felt a
sharp pain in my left arm. No good. Did I mention that I fractured my
right foot TWICE this past year? This was not going to another
I walked to my car, massaging my elbow; hit the closest CVS and packed
on the ice and advil. By noon, my elbow had ballooned into some sort
of foreign looking limb. I decided to hit the emergency room. After a
few hours of bandaging, x-rays, ooohs and ahhhs, it was declared..."a
Well, so much for wishful thinking. I am wondering whether I'm
supposed to receive a higher message from this incessant fractur-ing.
Too bad I'm not getting it... but at this point, the whole mess is
starting to get funny.
Despite the bruised bones, I am hard at work...developing my stories
One story takes place in Waterville, Maine at the convent of the
sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. I met with Superior Sister Mary
Catherine this past week and explained my interest in their
She looked at me smiling: "Well, dear....you are welcome to spend time
with us....although I don't think we are very interesting."
I beg to differ. The sisters are mostly above 55 and some came to the
order after becoming widows. A total of nine live in the convent but
the story doesn't end there.
"Dear, you know we are a traumatized community," she continued.
In January of 1996, Mark Bechard, a young Waterville man who was in and
out of the Augusta Psychiatric Institution for much of his adult life,
broke into the convent and attacked four sisters during prayer. Using
a knife, religious statues, and one of the sisters' canes, he murdered
two and severely injured the remaining two. A tragedy on both sides,
Bechard was acquitted of all criminal charges in relation to the event
and institutionalized indefinitely in a Maine psychiatric facility.
His story is the story of many mentally ill....lost in the gaps of the
system, many are left to suffer in silence or to act upon
hallucinations precipitated by their devastating diseases.
Despite the horrific crime, the sisters issued official forgiveness just days after
the crime was committed.
The then Superior Sister spoke to a journalist of Mr. Bechard at a mass being held a year after the murders: "He's certainly deserving of our prayers. Our stance is still forgiveness. We stand by that."
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Whatever nature do, this house do. -LeAlan Jones, 13. "Ghetto Life 101"
It was a rough morning. I woke up to a beautiful snowy day and slowly got dressed. I am now the resident blogger for Salt and needed to report to work pretty early. As I was signing out for the day, I received an email:
“SNOW DAY- NO WORK.”
Well I’ll be damned………a snow day………………and in MAINE?
Wasn’t as pretty as I thought it would be. There was also a snow BAN which means all cars need to be off of the streets (including mine). I trudged out to the Toyota only to find it completely plowed in by walls of white stuff. I had my boots on but suddenly, I could feel snow on my thighs as I stepped through the barricade to open my car door.
I borrowed a shovel from a neighbor and started digging. It was enormous; I felt like an ant on Mt. Everest. Where would I put it all? What is snow etiquette? I sure didn’t want it near my car but then again, should I shovel it onto the barricade of another? Forget Miss Manners. I tried to shovel it neatly between the front of my vehicle and the back of the next….but I’m not sure I did such an honorable job.
A big truck drives by and honks. A nice looking guy tips his hat. Next thing I know, he parks off to the side and runs out with a shovel. This dude shoveled more in 3 minutes than I had just done in 45. Definitely seems like the moment to spend time on developing my biceps. He instructed me on pulling out and I did the job (with a bit of smoke and noise from my car….but she made it out OK). What a trip.
But then I had to find parking.
That story is much less exciting but let me just say that it took me another 45 minutes to walk back to my house from the free lot at the local high school. Despite my three layers of socks, these toes were definitely frozen by the time I arrived home. Decided I’m not leaving the house again today. Enough is enough…..and my hot tea is waiting.
But to more substantive matters. Our weekend in Gardiner proved fascinating. As I wrote in my last installment, we were dropped off in this random town near Augusta at around 7:30am last Saturday. We hit the A1 diner and proceeded to peruse the local paper. There was a “Baby Parade” where people’s baby pictures compete against one another. An odd concept in my mind and one I thought we might look into. Vetoed by the rest of the crew. We piled into my car and found Staples Funeral Parlor. Knocked….knocked again….hmmmm…..and again. No answer. From the tire tracks it looked as if someone had left earlier that morning. We hit the road again. Found some funky buildings outside of town but no one was interested in speaking with us. Eventually, we were back on Main Street and I decided to drop in on the local tailor. Originally from NY, Amber told us to head down to Moda Bella, the local dress shop. I thought “a dress shop?” and in Gardiner, Maine? We walked down the street…..feeling somewhat demoralized but at the same time determined to find something.
We walked in and within five minutes we met Miss Maine 2004, 1st runner-up Miss Maine International (whatever that pageant is) 2007 and Mrs. Maine 2005. Mrs. Maine is accompanied by her husband Marty and together they make up “Crown Consulting,” a stylist/etiquette team that prepares young women (as in over 18) for pageants. They ARE the pageant people of Maine.
And what the hell are they doing in GARDINER???
RaeAnne Seubert was determined to find the gown of her life. She tried on six and I felt exhausted by the end.
Too prommy. Too cheap. Too red. Too white. Too virginal. Too…too.
She settled on my personal fave…a cocoa-colored long gown embellished with more silver sequins than I know how to count. Very pageant, in my opinion.
Moda Bella is the dress shop to pageant competitors in Maine. People come from all over the state, even from across the border to sample Diane Tucker’s style. Cannot say I’ve ever seen this type of inventory before…..but then again cannot say I’ve ever competed in a pageant.
Our group got some great pictures, great info, great audio. I recorded Heather (the coach and also Mrs. Maine 2005) explaining how running in pageants was like running on a soccer team.
“Both are sports, both require training. I mean, they definitely need good shoes……so do we!”
Definitely a fun afternoon and one that left me thinking about the coaches. What do they feel after one of the mentees has won? Or lost? Is this simply about making a living or do they really feel some social/emotional investment in this type of work? You may be scoffing as you read this, but some of the moments in that dress shop really blew me away. I never expected such depth from Mrs. Maine 2005. Guess my own prejudices shine through when it comes to too many sequins and stilettos. Of course, those ladies would tell me there is no such thing.
As for the future, I’m meeting with Superior Sister Mary Catherine at the Blessed Sacrament Convent come a week from tomorrow. I may contact Heather and Marty to discuss their coaching roles and my search for a jump-rope team continues. The maternity home people and child pageant leads remain at-large but I’m on it. A prelim competition for little Miss and little Mr. Sunburst is slated for Feb 24th….and I’ll definitely be there.
For today’s audio doc, I want you to listen to Dave Isay’s “Ghetto Life 101.” It’s a powerful project spearheaded by a man who once envisioned himself an M.D. On the way he fell in love with radio and has been doing it ever since. He is the pioneer behind StoryCorps, something you may listen to on the way to work in the mornings. This particular piece is incredibly moving…..two young boys (one living in a project and the other living down the street) reveal their lives and experiences on the South Side of Chicago.
Take a listen.