The Joke Is On Us

20140305-152544.jpgHere at the shore I have high-security, Internet and television all in one big blob of a bill every month. Since I don’t watch that much television and I read a lot, I cut down on just the basic cable channels coming into the house.

Last night reluctant to expose myself to all-day-bad news that is on television, I decided to flip the channels to see what else was on. I came across the E! channel at the beginning of a Kardashian series of vacation shows in Thailand. Well, I have been to Thailand a couple of times and I enjoyed it, so I thought I would stay on the Kardashian’s for a while to see what they’re going to show in Thailand.

OMG! What on earth did this family to do to make themselves rich and so famous-unbelievable!
A lot of brainpower going on here? The entire series seemed to be based around Kim’s doing selfie’s naked, half naked, ridiculously posed, or otherwise, for her soon-to-be husband Kanye West.

And the ridiculous, un-empathetic conversations that were going on by the mother and daughters about her son who doesn’t go anywhere and stays in the house because he’s so severely depressed. Poor Rob! Too bad this kid was born into that family! I know enough about mental illness it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand unless he gets help, the right help, he may wind up killing himself. I can imagine the intimidation and stress and living with that house full of narcissistic Kardashian women must be so ‘cuckoos nest.’ Only the older sister Chloe seem to even care or have empathy for his suffering.

In essence I have never watched a group of such self-interested, narcissistic people in my entire life. It was a disgusting display of everything that could go wrong in this country with morals and attitude and greed for celebrity.

And what is most of all frightening to me is that people watch this stuff on a regular basis. The public has made them celebrities. And it all began with the sex tape that Kim did that went viral.

Folks, if I was depressed yesterday about all of the bad news in the world, after watching this show, I have really hit the bottom. And it’s not about the kind of people who act like this, taking from society and never giving, or perform unabashedly like this for money and celebrity exposure, but it’s about the people who are supporting this type of entertainment, if you can even qualify it as that.

And to add insult to injury the fact that Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue and powerhouse in the fashion industry, would put this narcissistic nobody of the Kardashian’s on her front cover is almost inexcusable. Anna has made Vogue no longer a fashion magazine but a celebrity cover magazine.

As my daughter, Brett, said to me this morning over the phone, ” I loved life the way it used to be.”
Amen, Brett. Amen.

Copyright Sandra Hart All rights reserved.

No Chance Meeting

100_1691I never knew Japan could be so hilly along the coast. My legs were killing me. We had been walking around for hours looking for the beautiful Sorakuen Gardens, our final stop before heading back to the port in Kobe. We were lost. Frustrated. Tired. Then my husband and I started blaming one another which ‘left’ and ‘right’ we should or should not have taken. Finally, giving up the blame game, and desperate for directions, we knew our only hope was to find someone who hopefully might speak a little English. Enough to get directions anyway.

As we were about to try to find our way back to the ship, we suddenly saw in the distance across the narrow street a man scurrying along at a fast pace dressed in familiar garments that suggested he might just be a rabbi. Arthur and I looked at one another with the same desperate thought. We turned and literally ran after him, cameras flopping against our chests, “Dear God, please let him speak English!”

Well, that was the beginning of the most interesting adventure in Kobe. Much better than a stroll through another garden we had seen many of on our many world tours.

Rabbi Shmuel Vishedsky, turned out to speak English, was in his late twenties and from Israel, and upon hearing our plight invited us to visit his temple. Anything to get off my feet, I thought.

He walked us up the hill to Ohel Shelomoh, his temple.

Getting lost turned out to be an interesting day filled with history. We learned from Shmuel about his life in Kobe, Kobe itself, his temple and the early migration of the Jewish settlement there and the earthquake in 1995 that almost destroyed it all.

Even though we had been to Kobe before, we had no clue Kobe has a very rich Jewish history. We would have never known about any of this had we not met him. The city was and continues to be one of Japan’s major ports, and a turning point in Kobe’s history took place when its port opened its doors for trade with the West in 1868. We were told Jewish traders most likely ventured into Kobe for trade purposes during this time, settling in Kobe. The Rabbi showed us with pride the beautiful carved chairs donated by the Jewish traders more than a century ago. Most are now empty during services.

The first Jews arrived in Kobe around the turn of the 20th century. Up until World War II, Jews flocked to the port city from Poland, Russia, Germany, and the Middle East due to its wealth and trading opportunities and the temples flourished.

As was often the case in Jewish history, Jews were predominantly involved in mercantile businesses because of limitations imposed upon them by their home countries, and working in trade allowed them to prosper without settling down.

By 1941, there were two separate synagogues in Kobe, one for the Ashkenazim and another for the Sephardim. During World War II, the Sephardic synagogue burnt down as the result of an American air raid, and the Ashkenazim shared their space with the Sephardic community. It is this synagogue that serves to small community of 17 to 20 Jews who are comprised of those working in Japan teaching English and a small group of permanent residents.

The Rabbi showed us where there were still minor cracks in the walls, and evidence where the earthquake of 1995 did other major structural damage to the building. But, with reverence, he also showed where the tablets showing the commandments above the Ark were not touched by the quake as though saved by the Hand of God.

I thought, in a way, knowing his thirst for biblical knowledge makes him happy, but because of his dedicated religious beliefs what an isolated life he and his wife and young child had here in Kobe. We stayed around for a while because Shmuel was so anxious for us to meet his wife and child who had been out for the day.

Unfortunately, time would not allow that, so we had to say goodbye to our interesting host without meeting his family. He seemed disappointed that we couldn’t stay, but so pleased at our chance encounter in the streets of his adopted city.

We were like a voice from home I think, and it turned out he was just as delighted to see us English speaking Americans as we him. And I do believe in this life there are no chance encounters. Each has its meaning and purpose.




Copyright 2014 Sandra Hart. All rights reserved.

Waiting For The Vultures




In Greta Alfero’s dramatic film rendering that I recently watched, the hearty gourmands in Dutch seventeenth century renderings usually featured are not a ruddy faced group of raucous Dutch or Flemish burghers, but a gluttonous swarm of vultures. Watching the vultures devour with gluttony took me back to a visit I made to Mumbai, India.

(This may not be my most popular post, but it is a reminder of what past memory I didn’t want to capture.)

March, 2006……….

Our guide in Mumbai (old Bombay) with his fair hair and English schoolboy-scrubbed-complexion was a dichotomy to me as soon as he spoke. His speech was that of a born East Indian. Had I closed my eyes, Mahatma Gandhi could have been standing before me. He had a distinct and strong Hindi dialect.

“My father was a classical musician born in Bombay and my mother was an opera singer from England,” he said when I remarked about his fair complexion. So, I thought, there is my answer. Riddle solved.

We hopped into his car and began our first day of touring in this colorful and very populated city of old Bombay. Our first stop was to be The Hanging Gardens. Slowly we made our way through the oppressive heat and crowded streets, past oxen drawn carts, bicycles and tut-tuts carrying tourists. Soon we began to wind around up a long hill to areas with more greenery than we had seen before.

The Hanging Gardens, in Mumbai, also known as Pherozeshah Mehta Gardens, are terraced gardens perched at the top of Malabar Hill, on its western side, just opposite the Kamala Nehru Park. We found them to be the greenest place we had seen in our Mumbai travels yet. They provided sunset views over the Arabian Sea and featured numerous hedges carved into the shapes of animals – green and beautiful. The park was laid out in 1881 by Ulhas Ghapokar over Bombay’s main reservoir, some say to cover the water from the potentially contaminating activity of the nearby Tower of Silence, to be our second destination. The Tower is a circular, raised structure used by Parsi for exposure of the dead, particularly to scavenging birds.

As we ascended to the top of the hill beyond the gardens we had just left, I could see large birds, vultures, I assumed, circling above the treetops. Gliding smoothly around, riding, cutting clean swaths high over our heads, again and again. I knew why they were there. I had done my homework. Sustenance was nearby. Our driver was a member of the sect, Parsi, and therefore allowed, at least partially, in that restricted area near the gardens that is closed to non-Parsees.

We knew the Parsi have an unusual method of disposal of the dead. The Parsi corpse is exposed to the rays of the sun, and the corpse is consumed or devoured by birds of prey — crows vultures, or kites.

As in Greta’s piece that took little over 10 minutes for the vultures to devour, it takes an hour or two at the Tower of Silence.

When we arrived at the entrance to the area, we chose not to go further. Just seeing the vultures above circling their prey, human flesh, was enough. Just the thought of what was happening beyond the gates was morbid to me.

In a way, in India, with little space alone for the living, I can see why cremation, or feeding dead human flesh to vultures would be practiced. Although, probably, the Parsi have a religious reason for such an ending, an ending after life is gone from the body that has nothing to do with available burial space, the sense of it all may be there somehow.

I know I am fortunate to have traveled the world many times, climbed the Great Wall of China, on my hands and knees practically crawled into the claustrophobic Great a Pyramid, endured the one hour trip by steps to the top of Masada in the Israeli desert, and up the 268 steps to the Tian Tan Buddha in Lantau. But, please believe me, just peaking through the fence into the Parsi burial grounds was more than I could handle. I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t ever want that memory stored anywhere.

As a result, turning the car around, our driver then followed our wishes and descended the hill toward the next stop, to something, to some place that would clean the air. A place where the sun and active human life are hard at work doing what they do. The remarkable open air laundries, Dhobi Ghat.

(Through my research I have since learned the Parsis are followers of one of the oldest, if not the oldest revealed religion in the world -Zoroastrianism. Globally, as a community, the Parsis number barely a hundred thousand. But it is not by numbers that this community can be judged, for no less a person than Mahatma Gandhi has recognized: “I am proud of my country, India, for having produced the splendid Zoroastrian stock, in numbers beneath contempt, but in charity and philanthropy, perhaps unequalled, certainly unsurpassed.”)

(And as another side note, there are far less vultures in number each year and the Parsi are concerned about the future and what that will bring to their burial ritual.)




Memories In A Box


In an old Balfour box (from my college jewelry days) I found a group of long-forgotten time weathered envelops addressed to me in Ohio and posted from Berlin, Germany. Letters that took me back into a world that was about to change, way beyond the innocent exchanges of my new pen pal, Ursula Thie and I. We became pen pals through a program at our Methodist Church.


The beginning year of our childhood correspondence was 1953. I had just turned 14 and was enjoying the freedoms of Junior High and life in a thriving Ohio Valley Steel town.

Berlin, den 27.2.1953

Dear Sandra,

I thank you for your letter. You have it write in the december and I have became it now in february. With your letter together I have become three table of chocolate, about these I was very glad. My name is Ursula Thie.

We girls here in Germany are not how you Y-tem. Our name is young community of evangelist church. In our group we are girls between 14th and 20 years. I self am 17 years old…..

I live in Berlin with my mother and my brother. My father was falling in the contention 1945.

I am 1,70m great, have blond hairs and blue eyes. When you have a photo from you please send it me.

In the winter I am going several times into a teatre, In the summer I travel out of Berlin.

Please write me in your next letter many things from you and your live. I please you, to excuse my base english. The name of the flower at this letter is bell-flower-glickenblume.

Sincerely yours,
Ursula Thie

In my world, we had just elected a new president, Dwight D. Eisenhower and my family in January was glued to our television set watching I Love Lucy give birth. In February our president refuses clemency for Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and Walt Disney’s 14th animated film, Peter Pan, arrived at our local movie theater.

In Ursula’s world, she was learning English, going to festivals where she was singing jolly songs and eating pancake, enjoying her girl’s group where they visited various denominational churches including the Russian Orthodox and the Naumburger Dom and planning ahead for a summer away from Berlin.

Little did we both know that on June 17 of that year things would change for her in East Germany.





“I’ve known rivers. I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.” Langston Hughes

The River of Life

Clickety-click. Clickety-click. The sounds of the train’s wheels came steady and even, a metronome marking the beats of a song. To and fro, to and fro, to and fro. The inertia of the movement gently rocked our bodies to its rhythm. Our compartment with its worn cloth seats was the first comfortable place we had been since we left Israel and I stretched my legs to capture the cool air flowing beneath my calves. We had started early the day before motoring from Tel Aviv through Taba, crossed the Sinai to the Gulf of Suez and headed north to the canal where we crossed and continued west into Cairo. There we boarded the train for our long journey down the Nile.
Yesterday’s travel had been through miles of echoing desert silence. Harsh and rocky surfaces bleached dry by thousands of years of baking sun flanked either side of the road that sliced through the desert’s breast. Little evidence of life was visible except for an occasional Bedouin tent encampment far beyond the road’s edge. Now, as we headed west it was as though we had entered another world. Here near the river’s edge and beyond as far as the eye could see the land became green and life began again.
Outside my sand-spattered train window the landscape and the life on it mirrored a time long past. Low palm-roofed houses, abandoned tractors rusting in the fields next to donkeys hitched with primitive plows. Modern technology abandoned for more familiar methods of working the fertile soil along the river.
Groups of women scrubbed the family wash on large rocks while naked babies slept nearby in baskets and children skipped stones that skimmed creating small uneven hiccups on the surface of their murky playground. Mile upon mile, I watched them launder, bathe, play and drink from its waters- this river of life. The Nile.
It’s like looking through The National Geographic, I thought, remembering when my brother and I as children would spend hours poring over its colorful pictures. In our imaginations with each turn of the page we traveled to strange exotic places we had never before seen. Only now, I was here and the reality of what I was witnessing was almost overwhelming, enveloped safely in my coach behind my window, trespassing, unnoticed, into the lives of a culture, familiar, yet so foreign to me.
My husband and I had spent great time preparing for this trip. Gathering brochures, scouring travelogues for information that would make our vacation run smoothly. Initially, we had just planned on visiting his relatives in Israel, spending the bulk of our time traveling and covering as much of the historical sights, but the more we researched, the more convinced we were to include Egypt on our itinerary.
Arthur had never been to Israel before and was looking forward to seeing his relatives and praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. I was realizing a life-long dream of visiting the sights where Jesus was supposed to have performed miracles. Our diverse religions and heritages, Judaic and Christian, would come together again as it had in our marriage. And now, here we were in Egypt, the second leg of our journey, traveling along the Nile by train.
I looked over at my husband sleeping soundly with his head facing away from the window’s light, his jaw slack and moving ever so slightly in cadence with his breathing. My son had gone to the club car to get our itinerary from the tour guide, his backpack was open and thrown carelessly across his empty seat. Just like a boy, I thought.
I suppose his father’s disappearance when he was still so young has made it twice as hard for me to realize that he is growing up, hard for me to let go. I’m so used to doing it all alone most of the time. Habit really is my worst competitor. Sometimes I feel like an octopus with tentacles stretched everywhere. Arthur was never married before and never had any children, but he has done well, considering. I’m still learning, even at this point.
“What?” Arthur said half asleep.
“Nothing Dear, I was talking to myself again. Go back to sleep.”
“What time is it?”
“Early,” I replied.
He closed his eyes, adjusted his sleeping position and his jaw ever so slightly dropped again. He was asleep.
I watched him and marveled at how he could sleep so easily. I was never able to sleep on anything moving. I don’t know why, but ever since I was a child it was so.
My, how being here brings back memories of my childhood. I hadn’t been on a train in years. I remember during the war we lived in Washington, D.C. and traveled by train to my grandparents’ home in Ohio. My father would always book a drawing room which consisted of several bunk beds and a lavatory. I would play games on the floor in the center of the room. When bedtime came, my father must have read me hours of stories trying to get me to sleep on those overnight trips westward through the Allegheny Mountains. Daddy would hold me on his lap and sing to me. I remember resting my head on his shirt and hearing the deep resonance of his voice through his chest. It was that soothing resonance that finally brought the Sandman.
I looked at my watch. Seven-thirty. I could let Arthur sleep a little longer, at least until Lee returns. I studied his handsome face, peaceful and relaxed. His fair skin had been tanned by the hot Israeli sun and accentuated the whiteness of his fine wavy hair. He really must have been so handsome when he was young, I thought with those blue eyes.
I turned toward the window and the passing landscape along the Nile wondering what powerful secrets and stories its waters held. God knows I was no stranger to secrets…..

Sandra Hart©2006/2012

Tuesdays Are For Traveling

By the time the dog days of August roll around, I start thinking of the change of seasons and cooler climates. So put on your warmest gloves, down coat and pull your hat way, way down over your ears and come to the Antarctic with me. And just in case you are wondering what the ‘red stuff’ is in some photos, it is krill droppings from the Antarctic penguins.

So now, get back to your Pina Colada and find shade somewhere.