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Baghdad by the Bay

By Paul Hicks

The summer before senior year in college, I worked the night shift with a classmate at a cannery across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco. Sleeping through the cool foggy mornings, we devoted our afternoons to discovering the charms of the city and environs that Herb Caen, a noted local reporter, called “Baghdad by the Bay.”

Spending a week in the Bay area recently, my wife and I were delighted to find that accolades such as these still hold true:

The Bay Area is so beautiful, I hesitate to preach about heaven while I’m here.” Billy Graham

You wouldn’t think such a place as San Francisco could exist. The wonderful sunlight here, the hills, the great bridges, the Pacific at your shoes. Beautiful Chinatown. Every race in the world. The sardine fleets sailing out. The little cable-cars whizzing down The City hills... And all the people are open and friendly.” Dylan Thomas

San Francisco is one of the great cultural plateaus of the world — one of the really urbane communities in the United States — one of the truly cosmopolitan places and for many, many years, it always has had a warm welcome for human beings from all over the world.” Duke Ellington

We stayed in Sausalito, just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, at The Inn Above Tide, a small hotel with a panoramic view from our balcony of the San Francisco skyline and all around the bay. Located next to the ferry dock and marina, we could watch the flow of maritime traffic, including sailors, rowers and paddle boarders as well as many birds and an occasional seal.

One of many highlights of our weeklong stay was a visit to the Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS), which is located less than an hour’s drive north of San Francisco. Within the park’s 100 square miles are vast stretches of undeveloped shoreline, wetlands, forests and grasslands, but it is also one of the few national parks to allow long-established ranching families to lease grazing land from the government.

Guided by Daniel Dietrich (Point Reyes Safaris), a naturalist and wildlife photographer, we watched and listened to a multitude of noisy elephant seals sprawled upon a beach, waiting for the pups to grow strong enough to resume their semiannual migration northward and back. Among other memorable sightings were a herd of native Tule elk and a badger plus many of the birds that make PRNS a birding hotspot.

Among our favorite places in the Bay area is Muir Woods National Monument, one of the last stands of old-growth redwood forest on Earth. In 1905, the forest property was given to the federal government in order to save it from logging and named in honor of John Muir, a pioneering naturalist. Because of its popularity as a tourist attraction, we got there just as it opened and were able to enjoy the tranquility of the forest following the easy trail along Redwood Creek.

One other outdoor adventure took us on a drive through miles of Napa County vineyards to the city of Napa. Passing up numerous wine-tasting offerings along the way, we enjoyed a delicious lunch and local wine at an excellent restaurant called Angele, one of a number that are located along the Napa River in the heart of the city.

There were three very good restaurants in Sausalito within easy walking distance of our hotel, but our favorite was one in Chinatown, despite its name (R and B Lounge). It was only a 20-minute drive from our hotel with little commuter traffic and very good directions from the GPS in our rental car.

We had equally good luck the two other times we drove into the city. One was to see a fascinating exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, exploring the influence of Henri Matisse on Richard Diebenkorn, who lived and worked for many years in the Bay area. It featured 40 Matisse paintings and drawings and 60 by Richard Diebenkorn. As explained by one reviewer: “Because Diebenkorn painted in both abstract and representational styles and wasn’t involved in the New York art scene, he is not as well-known as other American painters of his generation.

A return visit to the Bay area is back on our wish list. In the meantime, we have joined the company of its many admirers, including:

Rudyard Kipling: “San Francisco has only one drawback – ’tis hard to leave.”

O. Henry: “East is East, and West is San Francisco.”

Paul Kantner: “San Francisco is 49 square miles surrounded by reality.”  

The young hunters lined up early bearing baskets. Their target: thousands of chocolate eggs for the taking on the Rye Recreation field. As always, to the young went the sweets at the annual Kirby Memorial Easter Egg Hunt.

Photos by Melanie Cane

A panel of journalists and media experts will conduct a roundtable discussion on “Fake News, the First Amendment and Democracy” Wednesday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. at Rye Community Synagogue. The panel’s aim is to help news consumers learn how to be savvy interpreters and responsible sharers of the news stories they’re bombarded with on a daily basis and reflect on the value of a free press.

Participants include:

  • Heather Cabot, professor at Columbia Journalism School and former ABC News correspondent and anchor
  • Taegan Goddard, founder of the political website, Political Wire
  • Chris Vlasto, executive producer of “Good Morning America”
  • Diana Williams, reporter and anchor for WABC-TV’s “Eyewitness News”
  • Lee Woodruff, author and contributing reporter for “CBS This Morning”, will moderate

Panelists will provide expertise on distinguishing real news from fake news, suggest ways to get out of our “news bubbles,” discuss the media’s response to the challenges reporters are facing in the current political climate and highlight its role in ensuring a healthy democracy, among other topics.

“Americans are all talking about fake news,” says Andi Hessekiel, a journalist and organizer of the panel. “We are fortunate to have several respected journalists living in our community who are willing to discuss these issues and how they affect the government and our democracy. It should be a really interesting evening.”

The event is free of charge but registration is required to attend. Go to https://fakenewsmediapanel.eventbrite.com.

The discussion is made possible by We Persist, a local grassroots organization that sprang from this year’s Women’s March.

Heather Cabot, professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and former ABC News correspondent and anchor

Taegan Goddard, founder of the political website, Political Wire

Chris Vlasto, Executive Producer of Good Morning America

Diana Williams, reporter and anchor for WABC-TV’s Eyewitness News

Lee Woodruff, author and contributing reporter for CBS This Morning, will moderate

By Tommy Mulvoy

My grandfather was an immigrant, I married an immigrant, and am now one myself. At first glance, the circumstances behind each of our immigrations look different, but in reality, each of our decisions to emigrate from our places of birth was based on the desire for a better life. The national discourse surrounding immigration over the past 18 months, and more specifically the last few weeks, has had me thinking deeply about my relationship with immigration and immigrants and how that coincides with the term that most people would call me and my wife — expatriates.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out the “real” difference between an expat and an immigrant. According to the Oxford dictionary, an expatriate is “someone who lives outside their native country” while an immigrant is someone who “comes to live permanently in a foreign country.”

If that is the case, the Pew Research Center report published this past fall, which stated that more Mexicans are now leaving the U.S than arriving, should encourage Americans to refer to Mexicans in the U.S. as expats and not immigrants. And, a closer look at my family’s history has left me even more confused about the two terms.

By Annabel Monaghan

The blurb for “A Small Revolution” said something about the story grabbing you by the throat and not letting you go until the last page. Honestly, I thought, book blurbs really do lend themselves to hyperbole. I started reading anyway, and after about ten pages I cancelled my plans for the rest of the day. To correct the blurber, it’s been a month since I’ve finished “A Small Revolution” and it still has me by the throat. It’s just our luck that Jimin Han is coming to the Rye Free Reading Room on May 2 at 7 p.m. to talk about her spectacular debut novel.

“A Small Revolution” is the story of Yoona Lee who, along with three classmates, is held at gunpoint in her freshman dorm by a former friend who is unraveling before their eyes. The novel alternates between the hostage situation and the previous summer’s visit to South Korea, where Yoona and the gunman were thrust into the center of political upheaval and protests that ultimately led to her boyfriend Jaesung’s mysterious death. It’s a story about love, abuse, and revolutions big and small.

Rather than blather on about this book myself, I sat down with Jimin to ask her a few questions.

<Where did you find the spark of inspiration for this book?>

I was inspired by a trip to South Korea in 1985 like Yoona Lee, the main character in the book. I didn’t understand what was going on around me. There were protests in the streets and all over the news on TV. My Korean wasn’t good enough for me to understand what was happening.

I stayed with extended family for part of the trip and, like Yoona, also went on a student tour. One of my cousins was a new flight attendant for Korean Airlines — she was so pretty and glamorous — and she took me to nightclubs to go dancing. I was a nerdy 18-year-old who had grown up in a small upstate New York town.

At her apartment one night I was looking at framed photos in her room and a photo of a young man fell out. It had been hidden away. She was so upset I’d seen it and wouldn’t say anything about him. Another cousin told me that he was her boyfriend, a political activist she wasn’t supposed to be dating. I was dying of curiosity, of course. He became the basis for Jaesung in the book, though I made him Korean-American and had him meet Yoona on a student tour.

I was also interested in how idealistic people can be at that age. I demonstrated against my university’s investing in South Africa when it had apartheid, for example. And I’ve always been interested, as a writer, in the arts and in politics — when passion crosses the line and becomes dangerous to the artist herself and/or to others.

<Why did you decide to set the novel in a college?>

Mostly because I feel we’re so vulnerable in college. We’re open to making new friends and know so little about each other at that age. There’s no supervision and you have so much freedom. It felt like a good setting for people making choices about boundaries. Also, college tends to be for some students, though certainly not all, a time when they’re not saddled with real- life responsibilities — kind of surreal that way. But everything is felt so deeply.

<This book happens amid political upheaval and protests in Korea, and here we are in a politically difficult time in the U.S. Is there anything that readers can take from your book to inform their own small revolutions?>

It’s so disheartening. I thought we were way ahead of Korea in terms of what’s fair, but with this recent election and the corruption right in broad daylight, I feel we’ve gone backwards in some areas. Of course, in other areas, terrible things were being done all along and continue.

I’m really proud of the way people are participating more in the political process and there’s more calling out of injustices. I hope people will see that you can’t anticipate the outcome, but you can care deeply about other people and what’s fair in the world and stand up for it. You shouldn’t be afraid to care.

Our worlds don’t have to be limited to what’s in our immediate vicinity, our jobs and our families, that we can have an impact, as small as we feel our contribution is. In fact, it’s obvious that we’re all connected — each vote, climate change, etc. I think that’s already happening.

<In a book that exposes horrific domestic abuse and more subtle relationship abuse, what message would you want your daughters to get from reading this book?>

I guess I’d want my children to know that they’re not to blame for circumstances they find themselves in. They can only do the best they can and shouldn’t be hard on themselves. People who harm others are responsible for what they do. I’m so glad there’s a term like ‘gaslighting’ to describe what can happen in a relationship. Because of Yoona’s family history she doubts her perceptions. I want those in Yoona’s situation to trust their instincts — it’s all they have and no one should make them doubt themselves.

<What’s this style of fiction called, where it’s numbered verses rather than chapters? Why did you choose it?>

It’s called segmented fiction. Kathy Fish is brilliant at the form in her short stories. It reminds me of a type of list poems that I’ve loved. You find it in nonfiction, too. And in novels. David Levithan’s “The Lover’s Dictionary” took every letter of the alphabet to organize the demise of a relationship. I love it because the reader has to work a little harder to fill in the story. And in Yoona’s case, I thought there would be so much going on in her head in a hostage situation that this form would show how things could be happening at the same time, random thoughts with noting what’s going on around her with reaching for past experience to help herself.

<Please tell me there’s a sequel.>

I’ve got one in the works, and probably the answer to the previous question point to the sequel. Before the sequel though I’ve got a couple of other manuscripts. One is a mystery about a woman, Korean-American, who returns to her hometown for the funeral of a Korean-American woman she used to babysit. They were the only two Korean families in the town when they were growing up. Accident, suicide, murder? I got to play a lot of ‘what if’s with people I used to know. Ultimately, they’re completely different from the people I started with. That’s what’s fun about writing fiction.

<There’s so much more in this book to dive into. In terms of genre, “A Small Revolution” might be considered crossover YA fiction — a book for adults about an 18 year old that will really appeal to teens. So, please come to the RFRR on May 2 to hear more from Jimin in person. Arcade will be selling books, and Jimin will be signing. >