Monday, July 13, 2015

The Pontifex, Le Veau d’or, and Me

My thoughts are all over the place.  This is undoubtedly the result of my having begun to draft a new story.  It is set in a place I love the way I love the African wilderness, but one I have never written about before.  My goal is to continue to research, but to draft a thousand words a day.  So far I am on target.  But this process can get chaotic.  Ideas are pouring into my head, and I am trying to shape them into a story that might, one day, be tamed into a coherent narrative.

In the meanwhile, the world that my real body lives in (as opposed to the place where my imagination is living) is full of happenings that mix with the themes I am writing about.

Hence this somewhat stream of consciousness blog post.

As a preamble to my next thoughts, I want you to know that although I was raised as a Catholic, went to Catholic schools for seventeen years, and was a devout practitioner of the faith as a young woman, I no longer believe in any religion.  That I write stories with religious themes has to do with the fact that I write about the past.  You and Sigmund Freud may have other explanations, but that is not going to stop me today.

With that as background, let’s start with the Pope.  It’s been great fun for me this past week to follow his travels to places I have written about.  At least for the past couple of days, he and I have had a lot in common:

On Wednesday, he was in Bolivia, home of Potosi, the city of my first novel City of Silver.

On Thursday, he went to Paraguay, scene of my second novel, Invisible Country.

As you know, he was born in Buenos Aires, scene of my third novel Blood Tango.  And he’s a Jesuit, as are my priestly characters, Padre Junipero Pimentel and Padre Gregorio Perez.

I have had a lot of fun this past week joking about how the Pope was stalking my characters.  But my connection to him does not stop there.

I really like Francis I.  In fact, I admire him greatly.  He is using his power to change the conversation the people of the earth are currently having with themselves.  These days, the world desperately needs to refocus.  His target, one I agree with whole-heartedly, is the dangerously vast gap between the rich and the poor.

These days, money seems the only thing people think about it.  It is the measure of everything.

When did lucre become the only really important thing?  Oh, I know, you are going to say that it has always been.  But it has not.  When I became an organizational effectiveness consultant in the 1970’s, all of my clients— many of which were Fortune 50 (not 500, top 50) companies—invited me to help them with employee retention, motivation, creativity.  Humanizing the corporation was a slogan.  The CEO’s wanted to preside over benign kingdoms that succeeded financially because their employees were well-treated, well-paid, valued.

And, in those lovely days, I lived in New York’s West Village, a grungy, challenged and challenging, but very exciting place to be.  The neighbors worked together, formed food coops, defended our landmarks, reveled in the edgy intellectual life around us.  We took care of our neighborhood and our neighbors.  We even had a committee to stop people letting their dogs poop in the sandbox at night.  David and I shared the midnight to 1 AM shift.

People talked about ideas.  Our goals were better public education, stopping pollution, making sure the elderly did not starve or die of the heat in summer or the cold in winter.
Then, in the 80’s, pretty suddenly, everything became about money.  Corporate executives stopped worrying about team building and equal opportunity and started talking only about the “bottom line,” a phrase that quickly morphed into executive bonuses larger than the GDP of Singapore.  In the public arena, politics stopped being about ideas, ideals, and policies and became about campaign spending.

Shoes used to be about feet, now they are status symbols.  On Bleecker Street, where Sam the junk jewelry guy used sit outside his shop and make sure the old people who passed by were doing alright, they now sell T-shirts that cost $569 a piece.  No real people live there any more, only billionaires.  The game they play is scored by amassing luxury goods.  They don’t talk about ideas.  The conversation is more likely to be about whether they will be taking their big plane or only the small one when they go away for the weekend.

The neighborhood is a lot cleaner.  There were times, in those days of yore, when we had to get out the hose on Sunday morning the wash the barf off the sidewalks.  Now, walking through there, I am more likely to fight off waves of nausea brought on by the sight of all that conspicuous consumption.

Everywhere in the world you look: Money is the measure of everything.  Being wealthy is the only virtue.

The Golden Calf is GOD.

I interject here a favorite aria from Faust.  It is Mephistopheles (played by the great Sam Ramey) who is singing.  (Note what his worshippers are carrying in their hands.)

Here is what he is saying:

The golden calf triumphs over the gods;
Basking in
His preposterous glory
The base monster insults Heaven!
He looks down, “O strange madness!”
On the human race at his feet
Sallying forth, sword in hand,
Through blood and filth,
Where the burning metal is shining!
And Satan leads the dance!

This is the conversation the Pope is trying to change.  Regardless of my lack of religious faith, I hope to God he succeeds.

In the meanwhile…

Many of you have been privy, in these precincts, to a heated exchange between me and my brother blogger Jeff Siger.  In the sincerest form of flattery, since he quoted Shakespeare the other day, I will imitate him.  My text is a speech directed at a man who is insisting on collecting a debt, even though doing so will take the life of the debtor.  I don’t need to change the words.  Here are the Bard’s, verbatim:

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.

I say AMEN to that.

Annamaria - Monday


  1. Amen, AmA, Amen. (Where's Sidney Poitier when I need him?)

    1. For my way is thinking, EvKa, the world can get too much of a lot of things, but never enough of Sidney Poitier.

  2. Sis, I knew you couldn't resist. :)

    We share a love of Pope Francis. He is hitting all the right marks. The accumulation of capital above all else is a curse upon the world.

    As for our exchange, I NEVER thought of it as heated. Not for a moment. Perhaps it's because I've lived among Greeks for 30 years and no conversation of politics is conducted at less than airplane engine decibels.:)

    I'm also not sure of what we disagree. While you were doing your work in NYC--corporate and caring--and was doing the same. Wall Street by day and power to the people much of the rest of the time. Whether it was in my role of bringing clergy into NYC jails to deal with the day to day hassles of its inmates or such things as responding to the call of students who'd taken over the NYU's Loeb Student Center on the eve of the Kent State University Slaughter and asked me to stand as their lawyer between them and the police, I always followed the same principle--one I know you share: I prejudge no situation, just look at the facts through what I hope to be an ethically driven frame of reference, and act accordingly.

    Applying that principle is why I admire (and love) you so. Even when you're wrong. :)

    1. You are not sure of what we disagree, but you do know I'm wrong???

    2. But of course. Have you missed the news? In Greece these days YES means NO and NO means YES. Just think Alice in Wonderland. :)

  3. Hear, hear! I see so many of my friends complaining about having to work such long hours and never being at home to enjoy their family or the house they worked so hard to build, but they are committed to their comfortable lifestyle... and I'm thinking: it really can be much simpler, you know.

    1. I feel for those folk working those long hours, Marina Sofia. You are right. Simpler lives would be more benign. But they are caught in a trap and can't see that.

      The following facts have been little remarked upon, but I saw them happening before my eyes. As executive greed was ratcheting up, the Clinton Administration proposed a bill to limit executive compensation--the means was to take away a corporation's tax deduction for any exec compensation over $2Million. On it's way though Congress, the Republicans inserted a caveat--"unless it is tied to corporate performance." The chosen measure of performance was the stock price.

      The easiest way for greedy top guys to raise the stock price was to cut staff. Voila! The salaries of those laid off due to "downsizing" went right into the bonuses of the CEOs, CFOs, COOs. Meanwhile down the org chart, departments that used to have a staff of 40 had only 30 people to do the work--salaried ones, who got no overtime pay. Fearful that they would be the next person to be cut, the employees put in whatever hours were necessary for the same pay. In one of my Fortune 50 client companies, a department head put up a sign to warn his stressed-out troops: "If you have a job, you are having a good day."

      Every time I hear the super rich called "job creators," my stomach turns and my blood pressure goes up six points. How gleeful those COPs (Corporate Organizational Piggies) must be when they hear the "entitled poor" (and not their responsible selves) being blamed for the squeeze upon the middle class. I wonder if the value of all the food stamps in Texas would pay for one private jet.

    2. Annamaria, you and I are of like minds when it comes to these issues, so I'll just say, "AMEN!"

    3. Amen to you, too. No surprise to me that we come out of all this in the same place.

  4. I love this post. I love all the things about this post.

    It makes me so sad that we, as a society, have reached a place where material possessions are more important to so many people than...people. I try to "be the change I want to see in the world" even though some days it's hard. I'm grateful to have friends like you who stand in that same corner too.

    And I love Pope Francis, even though I'm not a Catholic. Jesuits for the win!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. People who see the the world the way I do are so preciousto me. I know if I have such company the troubles around us will not get the better of us.

  5. I hope you will run this excellent blog on your home page in the USA, Crime Writer's Chronicle!!!!! Thelma Jacqueline Straw in Manhattan, Former Board Member of MWA-NY

    1. Thanks, Thelma. I will write something similar there soon.

  6. Bravo, Anna Maria. And my conservative friends are all screeching that the Pope should stay out of politics!

    1. Thanks, Stan. It's their turn to screech.

      Speaking of loud noises, I picture Kubu driving through the bush, singing along with Sam Ramey.