it’s been like being in hospital (& not):

I wrote these lines last Saturday, but – for reasons I won’t go into here – embargoed this piece until I felt like posting it. Now, in the same space on another day of high heat & humidity, & in the midst of another writing spate, I feel like posting it.

With this heatwave outside it’s been
like being in hospital (& not):
I haven’t been outside for two days
but I feel I’m in a good place,
especially now, thanks to the god
or whatever, of grass,
& the grower & waterer,
& the vaporizer operator,
& my still-capable lungs, & me

a nice place to be
to see what I see
when I’m stoned
like

this

this this

here now

& matters
however pressing,
oppressing, represssing,
suppressing, depressing,
elsewhere & elsewhen
simply don’t matter

with my afternoon glass of tea
& a spray of nicotine
I know some drugs are good for me
in good doses

& though even here
I may natter again of such matters
or of other differences
between hospital & here
where I share a space
with only one other person
& the occasional visitor,
& my editor says
the details don’t matter either,
so I delete them.

So.
Maybe enough sitting here for now.
Move about.

Whoo, I’m back quickly,
though moving slowly, unsteady on my legs,
I’m more stoned than I thought,
more stoned than I ought
to be, but N’s cutting some watermelon,
& I’ll start coming down
(I hope, that’s what usually happens)

Ah! & some blueberries too
on the white plate that she brought me,
the cold sweetness of the watermelon pieces,
every berry to the last, every piece
a taste of honey dew (“Weave a circle… “)

& now for a spray of nicotine
& goodbye for now.

 

So I started going to the Shanghai Jewish School…

I have two photos of me from my five or so childhood years in Shanghai. The earliest one is a photo of my class at the Shanghai Jewish School, from some time in 1945 or ’46. I’m the fourth boy from the left in the back row.
s 008sjc fII crop2

And here’s a 300% enlargement of a crop from that photo which may give a better picture of what I looked like that day.

I started going to the Shanghai Jewish School some time after I became consciously a Jew, after my “initiation” into Judaism which I wrote about in a previous memoiring, The day my father died, Yom Kippur, 1945, in Shanghai. I quite liked going there. I liked our teacher, Mr. Radet, a kind man who taught us patiently & without threats, even when we sometimes annoyed him. The lessons were in English, though we started every morning with a class reading in Hebrew of the Shema Yisrael prayer, in Sephardic pronunciation because the school was a Sephardi institution. (By then I had already started learning some Hebrew at a Talmud-Torah run by the synagogue my father had taken me to, where the pronunciation used was Ashkenazi, but I found no great difficulty in adapting to the simpler Sephardi forms.)

One thing that annoyed Mr Radet was the way some of us (I among them) would often emphatically pronounce one word in the prayer, sometimes also without being able to suppress our giggles. This didn’t happen in the first line, which we all understood as telling all Jews, “Israel”, to hear & know (& remember by saying it every day) that JHVH our God, our God is One; nor in the next, where it says (we may have had these words explained to us too, I don’t remember) that you’ll love your God JHVH with all your heart & soul & might; but in the next part, which says that the things He’s commanding you today are to be on [in?] your heart, & continues: veshinanta levaneykha vedibarta bam beshivtehkha bveytekha uvalekhtekha baderekh uveshakhvehkha uvequmekha, “and you’ll repeat them to your sons and speak of them when you sit in your home & when you go along the way & when you lie down & when you get up”. We’d pronounce it as bum, which for us, then, was a naughty word…

On the verso of the photo are the names I wrote then of those of my classmates who were present the day the photo was taken. Unfortunately I wrote the initials only of the given names, of which I remember only one, that of the boy on the right, Dicky Razon, who lived not far from where I did.
sjc fII verso
But there were classmates who must have been absent on the day the photo was taken. I know this from autographs other classmates wrote in the autograph book I still have from my last months at this school, which I’ll write about towards the end of this page.

 

I also liked the daily journeys to and from school. The school was in the “International Settlement”, which had been controlled by the British and the Americans before it was occupied by the Japanese after Pearl Harbour, and all the street names & the names of institutions there were in English, while in the French Concession where we lived all those names were in French. It was almost like crossing a border from one country to another twice a day. Even though the Chinese people in the streets of both sections seemed no different in their clothes or language or behavior (all of which; like most “Europeans” in Shanghai, I had learned largely to ignore; more about this another time, perhaps), the atmospheres in these two sections of the city were different. I would walk the short distance from our home in Rue de Cardinal Mercier (see the red dot in the map below) to the broad Avenue Joffre, then one block left to wait for a trolley (some days I met Dicky Razon there & we would travel together) for the long ride up the Avenue du Roi Albert which, on the other side of Avenue Foch  – the boundary of the French Concession  (marked with a thick brown line in the middle of the map) – became Seymour Road.  (I knew that Joffre and Foch had been important “marshals” in the French army in World War I , but had no idea who the Roi Albert was until I googled it today & found the avenue had been given this name by the French in honor of King Albert II of Belgium.)

shnghai toSJS map

There you had to get off & walk across the road to catch another trolley & buy another ticket for the remainder of the ride. The school, which was on that road (the green rectangle in the top left corner), was a formidable building, though not as magnificent as Ohel Rachel, the great Sephardi synagogue beside it.

An aerial view of the Ohel Rachel synagogue. In the foreground: the corner edge of the school roof

Earlier during the war the Japanese had closed the school and synagogue for some time and taken over the buildings over for to use as headquarters and barracks, as they had also done with the Cathay Theatre on the corner of Avenue Joffre and Rue de Cardinal Mercier, but now they had returned the complex to its previous owners. When I started going there, there were still signs of damage their occupation had done to the buildings, but reconstruction was already in progress.

I don’t remember what we studied. The anecdote I told above is my only actual memory. There must have been the usual combination of lessons, English, maths, probably history & geography & Hebrew & bible stories. I don’t remember any sport or art activities. Anyhow, I did pretty well as a student there, won second prize in the class one year & was awarded a book, Tom Sawyer Abroad, which I still have with me, but never enjoyed as much as the first Tom Sawyer & certainly not as much as Huckleberry Finn.

As my phrasing on the verso of the class photo suggests, I got along OK with most of the other pupils in my class, but had no particular close friend or friends I played or did things with; in fact I was very much a loner (already!) in those years, after my break-up with Joboy  & Jessie, which I remember grieving over for a long time. I also clearly remember that it was simultaneous with my break-away from Christianity but today I no longer remember why: I don’t know if my parents forbade me to see them again, or if I went to the back fence once more & told Joboy that I was a Jew &/or if that led to his parents forbidding him & his sisters to see me, or if he got angry at me & thought that I’d been lying to him all this time, pretending to be a Catholic (at this point in time I don’t even know myself if that’s what I’d been doing all that time). Anyhow, we didn’t see each other at all any more for a long time, a year, perhaps two, & though we became friends again, it wasn’t quite the same.

But I had my own interests  –  I read a lot, I followed the progress of the war, listening to the news in Russian, which I understood very well by then (as I’ve mentioned briefly in Tatuś, tatusiu:  (What I called my Dad in Polish); on weekends & holidays I would sometimes go to the Soviet Youth Club & later also to Betar, which I either heard about in school or was told about some friend of my parents; & then the war in Europe ended, & a few months later the war with Japan ended, & the American soldiers arrived, & a whole new & exciting era began for me (I’m planning to write about these things in the next pages of my memoirings).

At a certain point it began becoming clearer that the Communist forces would take Shanghai within the year. The American forces would not stay to fight them, and without them it was not likely that the Chiang Kai-shek’s Chungking forces would fight to try to keep Shanghai. What this meant for all “Europeans” living there was that they would have to leave Shanghai soon. In about mid-October, autograph books started appearing at school. The first ones to bring them were the kids that were leaving soon. My class-mates David Blanker, Harry Klajman and Daniel Kriesberg (none of whom are in the photo) were all going to New York, and asked me to write messages of farewell in their autograph book. I wrote that I was very sad that we were separating and very happy for them that they were going to New York, and very jealous too (by then I had formed a picture of America as the best place in the world for a kid to live in). And I asked my mother to bring me an autograph book from the American PX where she had managed to get a job. Even though we weren’t leaving yet, & didn’t yet have a permit to go to any other country, I wanted some of those who were already leaving to write messages in my own book – Joboy had already told me that at the end of November the San Lazaro family would be leaving their mansion and garden and the city of Shanghai for ever – and I also wanted to start collecting autographs early, because we would be leaving some time too.

When I got it, I wrote on the pink page stuck to the front cover: “NOTICE / To write in my album / My friends I invite/ But to tear out pages/ I call impolite”, and on the facing pink page, in a handwritten scrawl: “This Autograph belongs/ to R. Flantz/ Recieved on 24/10/45/ Shanghai”). David wrote: “Farewell, Dear Richard”, and quoted: “Here’s a sigh to those who love me/ And a smile to those who hate/ And, whatever’s sky above me,/ Here’s a heart for every fate. your David. D. Blanker/ Shanghai. ch. Latter address : 71 Hig Street N.Y.” Harry wrote “Forget M/ Forget E/ But remember me”, and signed.daniel auto crop1 And Daniel wrote: “Dear Richard – 26/10/1945″ with a drawing of a sunflower on the right and of a seven-petalled leaf on the left of that, and then “My best wishes to you and your family. I hope you shall remember me forever for I shall never forget you. Remember me as your chum, Daniel”. Another friend, also not in the photo, the girl who – according to a memoiring I wrote many years ago – I shared a desk with in class, and felt much affection for, wrote: “North South / East West / Of all my friends / I love you best // From your best friend Zaia Hania”. I don’t know if any of them remember me, but I have to admit I don’t remember any of them, what they looked like, how close we were, nothing. The faces in the class photograph do arouse feelings of recognition, I seem to remember, yes, that was someone I was in school with. I also seem to remember that for some of the time I had a secret crush on a girl called Lily (quite possibly the second from the right in the front row).

 

eu (pronounced ‘you’: ancient Greek prefix for good) wishes

& these are my
fatherly & grandfatherly
eu (pronounced ‘you’:
ancient Greek prefix
for good) wishes
for you, for me,
for everyone born
into life
by a mother:

 

eutrophyeudaimonia,
long & fruitful eunoia
with much eupathy & eupraxy,
occasional euphoria,
euphony & eurhythmy,
& when the time comes
to end it all,
an easy & a gentle
euthanasia.

 

Two sets of lines composed with tea etc in an air conditioned room when it’s 35°C outside

1

This is how I can write
when I can see
the difference
between a perspective
& a prognosis
& how either or both
can beget
& hence belittle,
demean, deny, or
the opposite of any or
of all of the above,
both one’s image
& the actual lived reality
of the Other
(sides &/or persons)
& inevitably of oneself,
one’s own
(side &/or person)

[inspired by,& a follow-up to my previous share of David Remnick’s fine survey & the intro
I wrote for it: https://www.facebook.com/richard.flantz/posts/10154731081535018?pnref=story%5D

 

2

& where wishes come in,
some leading to action,
desperate or moderate,
& some to depressive inaction,
some to domination & some to submission,
some to demonization & some to compassion,
some to blinkered indifference,
& some to realistic acceptance
that wishes are wishes,
no more no less,
& those on all sides
with the power to act
towards their wishes
will act as they act
& what will be will be

so (series 3, no. 1): an update on my wellness

so
back home five days now & glad to be here (on sunday, the day after my return from hospital, I sat down on the back steps of Jonathan & Ora’s house to rest a little before walking home from Amalia’s 13th birthday family jakhnun lunch, & snapped some winphone pics, & here are one with the trees opposite me & their shadows in the foreground, where at the right you can just see Nitza walking home accompanied by Omri towards our little red house deep in the mid-background, & one of my shadowed upper part with the bottom of my walking stick near its middle (though actually ahead of me) on the gravel path as I walked home later.

DSC02313 (800x533)
DSC02337 (800x705)& yesterday i wrote the lines below to a friend who sent me an email asking if I was well, & later I thought I’d like to share it with friends who might like an update on my wellness.

I haven’t been well, but am definitely recovering & am feeling quite reasonably good, came home a few days ago after being in hospital for about a week, to bring down the build-up of congestion & prevent a repetition of the congestive heart failure that had me in hospital for a fortnight a month earlier, all “side-effects” of the cortisone etc treatment’s slow healing of the all-over-my-body acute psoriasis flare-up I was hospitalized for over a fortnight a little over a month before that.

That sums it up. But for anyone who wants to know a little more, & I’ll fully understand anyone who doesn’t, we all have our things to bear & don’t really need to know about anyone else’s & I won’t be offended if you don’t read any further), I’ll add now that that acute  flare-up came  after quite a few months of constant & often excruciating itch which for a long time looked like an all-over rash that none of the GPs or the even the dermatologist I saw identified as psoriasis, even though I also had, & have had for at least 20 years, chronic psoriasis in several areas of my body. These months of “rash” were punctuated by periods on cortisone that were freer of itching. It now seems that what caused the flare-up was that I came off the last round of cortisone too quickly.

I’m still on cortisone (prednisolone), & with the good guidance of the geriatric specialist at the John Flynn Hospital who got me through that flare-up am coming off much more slowly this time from the daily 50 mg a day (the higher doses of cortisone, I should add, are quite a buzz, I got quite high on them for quite a while, as some of my posts from those day probably show). I’m halfway though my fortnight on 10 mg (not much of a buzz in that, unfortunately), which will be followed by fortnightly reductions of 2.5 mg (for the 7.5 & 2.5 I’ll have to cut the 5 mg tablets with a pill-splitter every second morning). My ankles are still swollen; I often feel pressure across my feet and around my shins; my legs feel weak below the knees, & I walk distances with a walking stick. I have to monitor my weight every morning, & if it’s above 72 I should take an extra 20 mg of lasix (a diuretic) on top of my daily 20 mg, but not too often because that can damage my kidneys.

I also have to take a whole bunch of other pills every morning after breakfast & before I go to sleep at night; once a week at midday I take 8 2.5 mg tablets of methotextrate for the psoriasis; the other days of the week i take folic acid, vitamin C & magnesium at this time. I get-short of breath after efforts, more than I did with my emphysema before the congestion began.

The skin on my arms & legs is mottled almost like a leopard’s, but much less evenly, with varying shapes of bruises of underskin bleeding (from the slightest bump of any part of them into anything); the latest ones are a dark red  & the older ones a lighter red, & these intermingle across archipelagos of remaining patches of psoriasis, most of which don’t itch, though some do, especially in the mornings when I wake up, but I can usually get rid of that itch fairly quickly with a 180 mg antihistamine tablet. I see all the mottling clearly every day when I sit on a stool when I shower & afterwards when I smear the betamethasone cream over all my psoriasis zones. When  I look down at my body I don’t (but already do), recognize me, not the me I remember, none of the many mes I remember, & there’s also so many more I don’t. I look in the mirror & don’t like what I see, mostly not the most recent cortisone-induced puffiness, especially around the cheeks & jowls. I’ve grown a beard, it hides some of that, but the face still looks weird to me.

So that’s how I am physically. & mentally I need to remember to move more slowly; to be more aware of how I move thru space, not just not to get more bruises, but not to scrape against anything or bump into something hard like the tow ball on the back of the car I hit my shin on the day I went into hospital, which had me bleeding for hours & then days & then seeping less and less blood for another two weeks but seems to have stopped now: no spots any more on the plaster I’m still wearing there (one of three on my legs, I won’t tell the stories of the other two)…

Well, so much for my physical wellness & the mental awareness it calls for (which I don’t always remember: old habits die hard, as I wrote in an earlier post); but otherwise I’m quite well,  (“not too bad” or “good enough” are my favorite & pretty accurate answers when anyone asks me how I am) & am fairly optimistic about my chances of gradually getting physically better & fitter & being able to do more of the many things I still want to do (with my family, with things that need doing at home, exercising, walking. writing, communicating, blogging & facebooking, getting rid of things I don’t want to leave behind for my wife & sons to have to bother with), in what I’m learning to accept, gaily enough (although I want it to last as long as it’s bearable, I’m not going to rage against the dying of the light), as the closing part of my life (& when it’s time to go, into what I don’t think of as a night, good or bad, because a night is generally followed by a day, & I don’t expect there to be anything at all to be there for me when I’m gone, I do want to go gently [Dylan Thomas was only 37 when he wrote his famous & powerful villanelle, & I can fully understand someone feeling that way at that age]).

In a recent post I published some lines about people living & loving with blinkers on. Now, thinking more about the stage of life I’ve reached, I’m beginning to feel more & more that it’s the final strophe in that set of lines I most need to concentrate on:

& what use is my caring, for those of them
that I know, & for the many I don’t know
or for all the oppressed & repressed? can it be
that this is what I see when I don’t see things
closer to myself, with my own invisible
& effective (but not visibly to me) blinkers on?

 

Happy happy birthday, Nitza

n at amalia131 crop1You’re 71 today, a month or so & 51 years
since first we met,
& began to love each other
& married only a few months later

you,
I wrote in some lines for your 50th birthday,
dancing suns in deep brown eyes,
spirit comrade of my spirit
brilliant seer, generous giver,
truest partner of my living and loving
and parenting and doing, […]

I still feel so blessed that you still are
all the things I said there, & so much more,
indeed much wiser than before, still the so-creative
artist, inspirer, of me & also of so many actual & virtual
friends, a true comrade, partner, seer,  & revealer to me
of truths & things I wouldn’t have seen without your
unafraid showing & telling, giver of wisdom & love

& attention to me, to n at amalia132 crop1our sons, & all our family,
true friend to our daughters-in-law, whose sides
you unstereotypically take so often, wonderfully devoted
to our four grandchildren who I feel are so fortunate
to have you as their grandmother. What would I do,
what would I be, without you, I often think, but I know
the answer: I am what I am now, already,
also because you are what you are.

So I bless you on this day, & bless this day,
November 12th, when you were born, 71 years ago,
in 1943, as the Red Army was driving the Nazis
out of Ukraine where your parents came from,
& the British were already in Italy,
& the Americans were already bombing Berlin,

& your parents named you Nitzhia, which compounds
both Victory, nitzahon, and Eternity, netzah,
& you for me are both,
victorious over so many obstacles, & for ever
the one my soul loves & unconsciously always sought.

With Invisible (But Visibly Effective) Blinkers On

A photo of the Jezreel Valley by Asaf Amran, which I found shared today on Facebook

A photo of the Jezreel Valley by Asaf Amran, which I found shared today on Facebook

With invisible (but visibly effective) blinkers on
(how else?) in that so beautiful land (really
beautiful though only mythically “holy”)
day in day out (I know, I wore them too, during
most of the several decades I lived there,
& often still do while I live here
in this no-less-beautiful part of what was
once the land of the Dreaming,
where similar if not so extensive wrongs
& injustices continue) good people
who have no other homeland
live & love, recreate & procreate,
& create too, fine, folk, pop, hip-hop,
modern, postmodern, postpostmodern
art, & literature, theater & songs
in their old-new language; music & dance,
architecture, town-building, agriculture,
horticulture, science, invention, low-tech,
hi-tech, restaurants & cafes, movies, TV,
landscaping & airscaping, anything, in so
many ways escaping the reality around them
(the Facebook posts of some of them show
only the beautiful things they see & like,
& those things really are beautiful)
that sustains their lives
through a brutal & oppressive occupation
& recurrent waves of bombings of towns
& killings of indigenous people
dispossessed of their rights & their homes

& in all this they’re not so different from
so many colonists or their descendants
who have made their homes
in countries & continents
other than their countries of origin
except that now, there,
the resistance of the oppressed
& its repression & that of the protests
of the few who have cast off the blinkers
is increasing & accelerating & escalating
to a point where it all may explode or implode,
or both, & if that happens, what use
will those blinkers be?

& what use is my caring, for those of them
that I know, & for the many I don’t know
or for all the oppressed & repressed? can it be
that this is what I see when I don’t see things
closer to myself, with my own invisible
& effective (but not visibly to me) blinkers on?