yes, except I was brought up Episcopalian. My uncle converted and once Erika
walked into St. John’s, she never looked back. Too bad for me. No dreidls or
undid his collar button and ran his hand along the back of his neck. Hairy just under the
Adam’s apple like my father. He might as well have taken off his shirt. “So I’m
talking too much. What about you? Parents, grandparents, country of origin?”
wasn’t used to being the interviewee—“you ask so many questions,” people said—and
I was particularly reluctant when it came to family. “When
were you born? You first.”
23, 1947. When’s yours?”
didn’t know what to say. If I spoke too quickly, he’d think I wanted
to make something of it. If I didn’t acknowledge it and he found out later,
he might think I actually lied sometimes. Later?
nodded and pushed away a curl that creeping toward my mouth.
How cool is that? We’ll celebrate together next year.” He pumped my hand. "Deal."
it.” I pulled back and pointed to the book he’d had under his arm with the
Herald Tribune. “What’s with the Chekhov?”
honest. I didn’t bring it to impress you. Double degree from The Sorbonne,
Russian literature and architecture. I started this year at Columbia, by the
way—hey, we might have seen each other last summer. Were you there?”
nodded again. “Can’t you tell a story without interrupting yourself?”
so much to say, Lois Lane. We’ve got a lot to catch up on.”
Barnard legend. They told her story to incoming classes and I’d taken notes the
first time I heard it. Like me, the Erika of the story had no parents, only
Erika had been on the last train of Jewish children out of Prague before the Nazi
invasion, children transferred from train to boat to Palestine, kids who’d
built their own kibbutz hand over hand. And I remembered that had it not been
for her uncle, her mother’s brother, she would have been one of them.
Erika Bentoff.” He poked his thumb into his chest. “My mama. So you’ve got your
count on one side…” He ran his thumb from his forehead to his stomach, then
swept his hand off to the left. “And your Holocaust survivor on the other.” He
sliced down his torso again and brushed his hand to the right.
great-aunts and uncles, cousins galore,” he motioned left. “Ma famille, pas de tout,” he motioned right.
Antonin, get it, Tonin, Antonin.” I noticed that one hair in his left eyebrow
was curled, while the rest were straight. “Went to Columbia in the late-1920s
to teach chemistry. Another family folk-hero. A mensch. Took a cut in his
Columbia salary to get her into Barnard. Plan had been for my grandparents to
follow but… not survivors. So that’s how she met Janos.”
time in the café that day lasted long enough for Tonin to recount three centuries
of his families’ histories, two world wars, persecution, migration, and bloodlines
that linked him to names familiar to anyone growing up in New York in the
Fifties and Sixties—U Thant, Millicent McIntosh, Calder, and many more.
His grandfather was a Czech
count born in 1895. “Papa” married “Babi,” whose family manufactured printing
presses, in 1923.
could see what was happening,” he said. “Got their money and families out by
’38, opened accounts in London and New York, bought the place on 86th
Street.” He spoke as if he’d been party to the decision, as if he’d been there
when the papers were signed. He knew exactly when they’d moved to London, the
date they had flown to New York to settle there, precisely which furniture
dealer Papa had contracted with to provision his office at Broadway and West 58th. “His name never made it into the papers for his role in forming
the U.N.,” Tonin said, “but Janos more than made up for that.”
What’s he got to do with it?”
was responsible for The Lone Emperor, the famous photo of the penguin, standing
sentinel on an outcropping of ice, the Pegasus Berg in the distance. I knew the
picture, everyone knew the picture—ever since it appeared on the front page of
The Times. The original, in color, first was shown in an exhibition of Janos’s
Antarctic work at the Metropolitan where everyone, including me, clambered for
tickets. The black-and-white version was on posters, T-shirts, bumper stickers.
Even I, who hated fads, the last of my friends to buy a Beatles album, the sole
holdout in kneading bread, had the Emperor in my card collection. The solitary
penguin, noble in a barren world, an emblem of hope.
Speaking of robots, this one puts the lie to those who thinking that being present isn't possible when you're not, how to say, there. Willow Garage (where else do they come up with such things) has, I believe, cracked the virtual nut. Watch it all the way through, notice the casual stance of the guys watching the robot appear, and then imagine a whole room full of these things having a meeting. I love this thing!
My friend Doug Lea has a good eye for fresh material. "Ten rules for writing fiction" from The Guardian is purportedly about writing fiction but...take a read and you'll see why I put the word in parens in the title. Novelists of note list their pointers. Having just read and loved Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood (despite my aversion to dystopian fiction, this novel is barely a quarter-inch off reality), I went right to her ten:
1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens
leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane,
because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.
2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.
3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.
4 If you're using a computer, always safeguard new text with a memory stick.
5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.
the reader's attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold
your own.) But you don't know who the reader is, so it's like shooting
fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the
pants off B.
7 You most likely need a thesaurus,
a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means:
there's no free lunch. Writing is work. It's also gambling. You don't
get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially
you're on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so
8 You can never read your own book
with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious
page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You've been backstage.
You've seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a
reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the
publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you
have a romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
Don't sit down in the middle of the woods. If you're lost in the plot
or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the
other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the
10 Prayer might work. Or reading
something else. Or a constant visualisation of the holy grail that is
the finished, published version of your resplendent book.
Dan Pontefract, who, though he lives in Vancouver, was able to tear himself away from the games long enough to write "The Ability to Lead Remote Employees Will Become the Next 2.0 Skill," provides a list of questions for you, leaders, teamers, and followers, to ask yourselves. In an increasingly crowded field of me-too posters, Dan's got some original ideas:
Do you set up time in your calendar to randomly phone, email or instant message team members?
Do you create idea factory web-jams over asynchronous means to instill a sense of virtual brainstorming?
Do you post quips and updates on your whereabouts, initiatives, questions or thoughts?
Do you track project updates and discuss options in an open manner with all team members?
Do you post illustrative thoughts, issues or ideas about the team, the business, etc. for discussion?
Do you post short, informal videos about anything business related that the team could benefit from?
Do you engage with your team face-to-face, even if not physically face-to-face?
seconds, I became one of those women I disdained, the kind who became
blithering idiots around men they found attractive. I found it hard to look directly
at him, difficult to think of anything to say, and embarrassing to continue to sit
there as it became evident, at least to me, that the French student leaders
were not going to show.
on the other hand, seemed quite at ease. He talked about the people we were
waiting for—how impressed he was with Daniel’s knowledge of the law, how
sophisticated the European students were in comparison with the American
antiwar protesters, how they weren’t usually late for meetings. I don’t recall
my actually saying anything but I do remember telling myself to pull my fingers
out of my mouth and stop chewing my cuticles.
about an hour, the last five minutes of which Tonin had spent walking in and
out of the room, he, still standing, pulled a pen from his pocket and wrote on
the margin of the Herald Tribune: “du vin
rosé avec moi?” He tapped the paper with his pen, lightly, repeatedly,
making small artful dots resembling seeds until he’d circled the words avec moi. I got up as he pulled out my
...to award an Endless Knot for this headline in today's NY Times Dining section: "Just Like Mombot Used to Make." Yup, those crazy robot makers have gone and come up with something new (isn't that what they're supposed to do?)--robots in the kitchen, all for the purpose of studying human-robot relationships. Or something like that. I just love the headline.
Hmmm...now how to categorize this. Food? Recipes? 90% People, 10% Technology? Right, a new one: 10% People, 90% Technology.