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Is Anybody Listening? > The Seagull Takes Flight > The Cat in the Hat for President > Facing Addiction in an Upper East Side living room > Seeds of Peace Summer Camp
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84 THE SAUGATUCK STORYFEST The Westport Library and Staples High School Collaborate to Create Westport’s First Annual Story Festival by Elizabeth Titus 96 THIRD EYE: FROM STAGE TO SCREEN The Seagull Takes Flight by Iris Wiener 106 FICTION: MRS. The New Mother at school is the topic at the French cafe on Madison Ave. by CaitlinMacy 118 FICTION: SELF-PORTRAIT WITH BOY A Cloisters Moment in Time by Rachel Lyon
36 THE CAT IN THE HAT FOR PRESIDENT A 1968 Election Day Tale Rings all too Familiar by Robert Coover 48 IT MAY ALL END IN ALEPPO Ah-lepp-oh. The name on the world’s lips as the war rages. by Courtney Zoffness 62 WESTPORT’S LIZ HANNAH, A SCREENWRITER DEBUT FOR THE RECORDS Stephen Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and an Oscar Nominee by Melissa Silverstein and Laura Berger 72 AMERICARES The New Canaan roots of the international rescue organizaton, Americares
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DEPARTMENTS 24 TRAIN OF THOUGHT Listen by SusanMinot from It Occurs to Me that I Am America The words of the national conversation, open to interpretation 130 I’LL TAKE MANHATTAN Pera Brasserie and Pera Soho Where the flavors of Istanbul meet in Manhattan 134 LIKE A ROLLING STONE Journeys Near and Far 160 ROOM WITH A VIEW Facing Addiction’s Young Leadership Team Sharing the struggle in an Upper East Side living room 164 ARTISTIC VISION The Watermill Center in the Hamptons: Giving young artists a place to live, work and experiment by Christy Smith-Sloman Narciso International Antiques Exhibition in Sorrento 172 GREEN ROOM Summer Theatre Roundup: Litchfield, Fairfield, Westchester Counties, Long Island, The Hamptons, NJ and NYC 174 COMFORT & STYLE Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Spring Collection 2018 176 HISTORY MAKERS Garden Genealogy at The Jay Heritage House by Suzanne Clary 178 IN GOOD TASTE Spring Awakening: Recipes with Marukan 187 SCHOOL AND SUMMER PROGRAMS GUIDE Seeds of Peace Summer Camp Remembering the Steinberg Family of Scarsdale 240 COMMUNITY ROOM Trophies for All. by J. C. Duffy Winners, Losers, EVERYBODY deserves a trophy!
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THE CONCEPT behind IT OCCURS TO ME THAT I AM AMERICA was simple: a collection that would bring together writers and artists to tell stories that addressed ideas, thoughts or simply impressions regarding civil liberties and freedom through race, gender, to what it means to be an American – to be published on the one-year anniversary of the Women’s march and all in support of the ACLU. The results were not only diverse in subject matter, from dystopian worlds, to hate crime and even hilarious satire, but brought up the very nature of what it means to tell a story. Susan Minot’s “Listen” defies categories while expanding them. At once a discourse, a dialogue, a conversation, a poem, a story, it captures the way people speak and express their outer (and inner) thoughts, particularly at this complex moment in history. The myriad voices Minot employs with such skill are equally disparate and unifying, confused and imploring. “Listen” challenges us, as readers and as people, to not only think, reason, and listen to what others are saying but to what we are saying. –Jonathan Santlofer, Editor, IT OCCURS TO ME THAT I AM AMERICA
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By SusanMinot —We were all so surprised. —You were surprised? I wasn’t surprised. —Shocked. —It was surprising how unhappy. —No one saw. —No one could see. —No one wanted to see. —They saw. —Didn’t really think about it. —So they were right. —Of course they were right. —They were wrong.
—They’re the future. —Liars. —They’re what’s happening. —They’re the heart. —They won’t. —Who’re they? —They don’t care. —They’re insane. —They used to be great. —Why can’t they get along? —They’re clueless. —Trying our best. —Symbols of hate. —Doesn’t work anymore. —Never on our side. —They were never. —Have no choice. —Making it worse. —Did our best. —Human behavior. —Must do better. —Having no choices. —The rich. —Wrong of them. —The poor. —Can’t handle. —Leaving. —Never leaving. —Must do something. —Time for a change. —Out of complacency. —Not mine. —Doesn’t work anymore. —Time to act. —Not theirs. —Who’re they? —We’ll show them. —What they’re saying. —They are. —What they want to say. —What they couldn’t say. —What they’re thinking. —Symbol of hope. —Used to be great. —Not trying. —Have to fix.
—What are they thinking? —They couldn’t say. —No one was listening.
—The rich always. —Can’t be helped. —Human nature. —Can’t be changed. —Must be saved.
—Weirder every day. —Nature unbridled. —What I heard. —Did something else happen?
—Who’s they? —They were. —They are. —Seeing what they weren’t. —Feeling left. —Who’re they? —Wanted what everybody else. —Left out. —Who’s everybody? —Reasons for it. —Can’t ignore the numbers. —People want. —The numbers say it all. —People hoping. —What the numbers mean. —People always want. —What the rich. —People always want something. —What the poor. —People always something new. —Want something more.
—Can’t watch. —Can’t listen. —How can they? —Can’t dismiss. —Can’t blame. —So surprising. —More each day. —Less each day. —Have to leave. —Never leaving.
—What can we do? —I thought we were. —What will they do? —Isn’t fair. —We didn’t know. —Seen it all. —What the kids? —It’s never been. —Truly insane. —Lost his mind. —Never had it. —He was great. —Never in my lifetime. —Only the rich. —Like it was before. —99%.
—People always. —Who’re people? —The uncounted. —They can’t.
—The ignored. —They won’t. —They try. —Just ignore. —They’re forgotten. —They know who they are. —They’re to blame. —Who’s the problem? —They’re corrupt.
—Keep fighting. —Really worried. —How do you like your meat done?
—Can’t listen anymore. —What’re they saying? —Can’t watch. —Can’t stop watching. —How can people?
—Can’t sleep. —What do they want? —Please hold. —How can people not? —More. —Stop complaining. —Feeling threatened. —Upon themselves. —No, since then. —Anyone better? —Sorry I’m late. —Somebody must. —Who? —She couldn’t. —She could have. —She didn’t. —He did. —He heard them. —He was great. —They hated him. —We loved him. —They loved him. —He heard them. —Can’t believe this. —Nothing like this yet. —Can’t be happening. —Had to happen. —They’ve finally gotten. —Can’t go on. —Can’t stand to listen. —Can’t bear to watch. —Has to change. —Message is clear. —What’s the message? —Can’t bear. —They’re insane. —Must condemn. —Has to stop. —Blame the rise. —Feeling threatened. —No one listening. —Accept the differences. —Deliberate strategy. —No strategy. —Did something else happen? —You mean Charlottesville?
—Once again. —Feeling threatened. —Haven’t a clue. —Never will. —This is where I work. —Not anymore. —Threatened. —I never did before. —Can’t stand it. —Not anymore. —Have to for my family. —Still can’t believe it. —Can’t imagine. —Can’t bear. —Can’t look. —Not another word.
From It Occurs to Me That I am America by Susan Minot. Copyright © 2018 by Jonathan Santlofer. Reprinted by permission of Touchstone, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. ---
SUSAN MINOT is the author of the novels Monkeys, which was published in a dozen countries and won the 1987 Prix Femina Étranger in France; Folly; Evening; Rapture; and Thirty Girls . She has written a collection of short stories, Lust & Other Stories , and of poems, Poems 4 A.M. She wrote the screenplay for Bernardo Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty and coauthored the screenplay of Evening , based on her novel.
—Really worried now. —Like the world has never seen. —Not the way I like it. —Lies. —Getting what they want. —No, thank you. —Hell, yeah. —Must ignore it. —All lies.
—Has to change. —Nothing new. —Never before.
—No one listening. —He heard them. —No one heard. —They heard him. —Which them? Which him? —Across the aisle. —This is how I like to cook my meat. —Great again.
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A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
“The Cat in the Hat for President” is a 1968 election-year tale, written in a mouse-infested Mexico City hotel with brass spittoons in the lobby, a temporary hideout from the University of Iowa, where I was then employed. Iowa, like so many universities, was on the boil that spring. The nation still had a citizen army then, and the
and his own job was in jeopardy. There were no photocopiers in those days. Two typed carbon copies were about max for readability. I had sent the original and one carbon copy to Hal, kept the other one for myself. Hal didn’t hesitate. He slipped his carbon to his friend, Ted Solotaroff, editor
young were being drafted away to die in a stupid war virtually no one believed in, so there was a desperate urgency about the mounting nationwide resistance, and we found ourselves in the middle of it. Vigilante police teams had been created and thrown into battle, heads had been bloodied, students hospitalized and arrested and charged with conspiracy. We needed a break. My wife Pilar’s Argentinian guitar maestro was in Mexico that spring, so we decided it was time for a few quiet lessons. While she practiced and lessoned, I entertained our three small children. And it was while reading a Dr. Seuss book to them that my eye fell on the little Cat in the Hat symbol on the front cover:
of the new New American Review , who had already printed one of my stories in his second issue. “The Cat” appeared there that autumn in the fourth issue, just ahead of the elections. While we were still in Mexico, President Johnson, realizing he’d been duped by a disreputable gang of glory-seeking generals and himself no longer believing in the war for which he’d long served as cheerleader, had announced he would not run for reelection. The well-planned North Vietnamese Tet offensive had begun and, though stopped at first, would eventually lead to American defeat. In April of that year, Martin Luther King was assassinated, in May Paris was rocked with massive general strikes and the occupation of university and government buildings, and in June presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, brother of the assassinated president was gunned down. That was the cheerful atmosphere in which the Cat’s campaign was launched. The Republicans nominated Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew as their candidates, and at the raucous Democratic convention in Chicago, presided over by Mayor Richard Daley, the vice-president Hubert Humphrey at his side, smiling benignly while outside in the streets Daley’s police were moving violently against the massed protesters, Humphrey was chosen as standard bearer with Ed Muskie as veep. Not long after the story’s publication, Richard Nixon was elected President—easily, until the current one, the worst in American history. Nixon’s election meant that the war, with sinister
THE CAT IN THE HAT FOR
A POLITICAL FABLE BY ROBERT COOVER
“I can read it all by myself.” It looked remarkably like a campaign button, and, by changing one letter, it was one. The Cat’s goofy anarchism resonated, I realized, with that of the current generation of students, all of whomhad been brought up on the Ted Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) stories, and I could count on them going to bat for the Cat who knows where it’s at. Like Mr. Brown, I had my candidate. I rented the maids’ laundry room on the roof of the hotel and set to work, and by the end of our trip I had a rough draft of the story. As soon as we got back to Iowa City, I gave it a quick slap of the polish rag and sent it off to Hal Scharlatt, my editor at Random House, in the hopes that we could get it out before the election. Random House was also the publisher of the Dr. Seuss books, so maybe Geisel could even provide some illustrations. But the publishers would have none of it. They buried the original typescript in a locked drawer and told my editor to forget it, it didn’t exist. Dr. Seuss was a multimillion dollar business for Random House, and they were taking no chances. Moreover, Hal was warned that if the story appeared anywhere , I was no longer a Random House author
Henry Kissinger calling the shots, was only going to worsen on the way to its all too predictable end. Bombs and napalm would soon rain down on Cambodia and Laos as well as North Vietnam. Peaceful protesters in the U.S. were going to get shot. A lot of draftees as well. And, eventually, in spite of all the sacrifices, the Americans would have to flee, their tails between their legs. The two Cat stories ( The Cat in the Hat and The Cat in the Hat Comes Back ) provide mock-interpretive background for this story and all the characters are Dr. Seuss characters. The narrator is a cynical party hack named Mr. Brown (you all know Mr. Brown, he’s out of town—though later he came back with Mr. Black), his principal interlocutor and the genius behind the Cat being the monstrous Clark from One Fish Two Fish . The story would appear briefly during the 1980 election campaign as a little book, titled with the original story’s subtitle, A Political Fable . Republican conventioneers would be welcomed at the entrance to their hotel by young women dressed in cat costumes, holding up signs that read “Let’s Make the White House a Cat House.” —Robert Coover
I Can Lead It All by Myself” was the legend on the Cat’s campaign buttons. His button portrait was the familiar one: tall floppy red-and-white striped hat, red bow tie, white-gloved hands clasped decorously over his chest, thumbs pressed together, grinning that idiot grin (though thin-lipped, I had to admit). The Cat in the Hat himself did not at first appear. His madcap explosion on the scene was engineered—apparently, at least—by Joe and Ned, a couple of maverick Midwesterners whose techniques were as fresh as they were amateurish. Only several hysterical hours laterwas I tomeet the real spirit behind the coup: a luminous, ingenious, pear-shapedmass named Clark. The first day went as I’d planned, with plenty of fanfare, good food and drink, back-slapping and vote-trading, stirring speeches, the usual Convention hoopla—though admittedly it was all a little hollow, beclouded with the factuality of being the party out of power and little or no hope of getting in. The only hint of something out of order was the slogan that appeared on toilet walls and crept oddly into conversations: “Let’s make the White House a Cat House.” But the next morning, into the hotel breakfast rooms throughout the city, Joe and Ned, dressed like the Cat in striped hat, bow tie, and gloves, came shuffling, doing a soft-shoe to their “Cat in the Hat Campaign Song”: It is no time for no, it is time for yes! It is time to elect our candidate! They passed out buttons, introduced the Cat-Call (Me-You!), and yak-yakked their way through a cornball vaudeville routine with such awful gags as: Joe: Hello! Hello! Ned: I said hello! Can you hear me, Joe? Joe: What is this, a party line? Ned: Well, that’s what I’m calling about, Mr. Joe!—to tell you about our new party line! Joe: What line is that, Mr. Ned? Ned: Why, a Fe -line, Mr. Joe! I’m talking about the next President of the United States! Joe: The next President! Who’s that, Mr. Ned? Ned: Why, it’s the Cat in the Hat! Joe: I’m sorry, Mr. Ned, I didn’t get your predicate...? Ned: A pretty cat? Well, no, he ain’t so pretty, Mr. Joe, but he’s got a lotta pussy-nality! Joe and Ned sing the “Cat in the Hat Campaign Song” while passing out buttons, then soft-shoe out. Here is the Cat who will clean up the mess: The Cat in the Hat for the Head of State! So go to bat for the Cat in the Hat! He’s the Cat who knows where it’s at! With Tricks and Voom and Things like that! Go! Go! The Cat in the Hat!
BY EVENING MY BEAUTIFULLY PLANNED CONVENTION HAD turned into something of a circus. Regardless of political commitments, nearly everyone had taken to singing the Cat in the Hat song, and, even alongside their other pins, to wearing the Cat button—I even caught my man Riley with one of the damned things on. On the toilet walls: “What This Nation Needs Is More Pussy!” And sure enough, at the banquet that night, in pranced a hundred gorgeous milk-fed Midwestern coeds, dressed in tight elastic catskins, wearing the goofy hat, bow tie, and gloves, leaping in and out of laps and licking faces, sending up a delicious caterwaul of Me- You’s. The new gimmick of the night was a miniature replica of the Cat’s Hat with an elastic band for fastening under the chin—when you squeezed the Hat, it emitted the Cat-Call. “Keep it under your hat!” the girls purred as they passed them out, then whisked away, twirling their tails. For some reason, everyone kept grinning at me, apparently conjecturing that I’d arranged the whole gag, and since I still wasn’t sure just what was up, I grinned along with them, returned their winks, even—though only one time— squeezed the silly Hat. The Cat in the Hat himself appeared a day later right in the middle of my man Boone’s big parade and rally, breaking it up. It’s against tradition for a candidate to appear on the Convention floor before his final nomination. It’s against all propriety to intrude on another candidate’s rally. And the Cat’s performance itself was against every standard of Convention-floor behavior, not to say all probability. But that damned Cat couldn’t care less—in fact, this balmy flaunting of the rules of the game was to become the pattern, if not in fact the message, of his whole Presidential campaign. Boone, a Californian, had been nominated by the Governor of Kentucky, with handsome seconds fromAlaska, Virginia, California, and Idaho. I was delighted. His symbols were coonskin caps (Boone-skins, his supporters were calling them) and b’ar guns (in fact, before politics, he’d been a chemist and later vice-president of one of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies, had never had any kind of gun in his hands before in his life); his slogans: “Explore the moon with Boone!” and “We want Boone soon!” A thousand frenetic, hollering, coonskin-capped, placard- and flag-waggling, bull-roaring, Madison-Avenue-b’ar-gun-toting demonstrators had piled in, pushed wildly to the front, seized the microphones to broadcast their chants, looking like they might decide to take the Convention by force, when the Cat in the Hat turned up. Clinking and clanking in on that goofy clean-up machine of his, the machine now bearing in red-white-and-blue letters his famous line: “Have No Fear of This Mess!” Maybe the Boone people thought the Cat was one of their own— certainly he was lugging a rusty old b’ar gun over what he had of a shoulder. At any rate, they went suddenly silent, quick as it takes to snap off the TV, and turned expectantly to the Cat, who said:
It is no time to fear, it is time to cheer! It is time to play on your instrument! The New Day is near, the New Way is here! The Cat in the Hat for President! So go to bat for the Cat in the Hat! He’s the Cat who knows where it’s at! With Tricks and Voom and Things like that! Go! Go! The Cat in the Hat!
“Hello! hello! How are you? Can you do What I can do?”
Arms reached out from the clean-up machine, snatching Boone posters. The Cat shuffled them, passed them out again. Now they read: “Eat a prune at noon with Boone!” Another mechanical arm stretched forth and from the crowd plucked, by the seat of his honorable pants, Boone’s nominator,
the Governor of the State of Kentucky, by image a rotund dignified Southern gentleman, already looking a little out of character in his Boone-skin cap, much more so now dangling, rump-high, over the Convention floor, the tail of his cap down between his eyes. The Cat in the Hat lowered him to the platform, whisked off his coonskin cap. Under it was another, oddly a bit larger than the first. The Cat pulled this one off, revealing yet another, larger still. The next coonskin lay on the Governor’s ears, the next flopped down over his eyes. As the Cat whisked off caps, the Governor gradually disappeared beneath them. Soon he was wearing a cap
yet—and anyway the delegates never came back. In the media nothing but the Cat in the Hat: he was a national sensation, though the media people themselves, infected by it all, were filing haphazard and even outrageous stories. The Cat, though in great demand, slipped out of sight, but his disruptive spirit lingered on. The delegates were completely out of hand, and the banquets that night were slapstick, table-dumping, pie-throwing affairs. Only one of my scheduled speakers had the nerve to carry on—someone rigged his mike through a tape recorder so that everything came out backwards; when he paused, his scrambled voice carried on,
that covered his head and rested on his shoulders, then one that flopped down his shirt front, others that lay on his plump belly, reached to his knees, his shoes, until finally there was only one huge coonskin cap on the platform. The Cat lifted the cap: no Governor! Shouts of amazement, even fright, from the Convention floor. The Cat, though smiling still, looked perplexed. Silence fell. The Cat doffed his own Hat, and there, on his head, in the lotus position, sat the Governor of Kentucky. “Me-You!” the Governor said, then clapped a pudgy hand over his mouth, gazed sheepishly at the now wildly cheering, wildly hooting crowd. The Cat fired his b’ar gun suddenly, a tremendous explosion and cloud of smoke: when it cleared, all the Boone- skins had turned into live raccoons which were scampering madly about, sending the girls shrieking up onto chairs with lifted skirts. Sure enough, under most of the Boone-skins, the delegates had been wearing the miniature Cat Hats, which they now merrily squeezed, raising a din of happy Cat-Calls. Some of the coons balanced balls on their noses, some rolled and tumbled, but most of them
and when he spoke the speakers went silent. “What’s happening?” he cried and sat down abruptly on a miniature Cat Hat someone had planted in his chair, issuing a lusty ME-YOU!— had a heart attack, and nearly died. Things were that serious. And through it all shuffled Ned and Joe with their lame- brain hayseed routines: Ned: Say, Mr. Joe, our nation has got cat problems! Joe: How do you mean, cat problems, Mr. Ned? Can you make me a list? Ned: Make you a list? Why, Mr. Joe, I’ll make you a catty -log! Joe smiles as the audience guffaws and issues the Cat-Call. Ned: I mean, things is catty-clysmic, Mr. Joe. They are catty-plectic, catty- strophic, and all cattywamptious ! Joe: That bad, hunh? Well, what’re we gonna do about it, Mr. Ned? Ned: Well, Mr. Joe, I say you gotta send a cat in to do a cat’s job. Joe: Send a cat in to do a cat’s job? How do you mean, Mr. Ned?
ARMS REACHED OUT FROM THE CLEAN-UP MACHINE, SNATCHING
BOONE POSTERS. THE CAT SHUFFLED THEM, PASSED THEM OUT AGAIN.
NOW THEY READ: “EAT A PRUNE AT NOON WITH BOONE!”
Ned: Well, Mr. Joe, supposing your house was full of rats, what would you do? Joe: Unh-hunh, I think I see what you mean, Mr. Ned! The Cat in the Hat for President sounds like a good idea. Ned: It’s not just a good idea, Mr. Joe—it’s a catty-gorical im-purr-ative! Reprinted with permission fromThe Cat in the Hat for President: A Political Parable, OR Books/Counterpoint Press. --- One of the most revered contemporary American authors, Robert Coover’s most recent books are Noir, The Brunist Day of Wrath, and Huck Out West . A book of selected short fictions, Going for a Beer, will be published in winter 2018 by W.W. Norton. He is the recipient of the William Faulkner, Brandeis University, American Academy of Arts and Letters, National Endowment of the Arts, Rea Lifetime Short Story, Rhode Island Governor’s Arts, Pell, and Clifton Fadiman Awards; as well as Rockefeller, Guggenheim, Lannan Foundation, and DAAD fellowships. *
started humping each other. The whole nationally televised Convention floor was a mad melee of shrieking laughing girls, Cat-Hat-squeezing delegates, and copulating coons. I fainted dead away. Later, they told me that the Cat fired one final salvo on his b’ar gun, and a little flag popped out that said: “Come along! Follow me! Don’t be afraid!
There are many more games That we haven’t yet played!”
And then he’d clinkclanked out of the hall in his clean-upmachine, the Governor of Kentucky squeezed, wide-eyed and jolly, in beside him, most of the delegates deliriously Me-Youing along in his wake. Riley never even got nominated. It took hours to clear the hall of coons—in fact, as far as I know, they’ve got the run of the place
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n the Aleppo of my mind, the coffee was bitter, the figs supple, and the evergreens open- crowned. I gorged on pita and labnah and after every meal, smoked a pipe of shisha, and watched mint-scented clouds swell and retreat. In my Aleppo, I rode an eastbound tram from al-Jamiliyah to Bab al-Faraj, tracing the skyline with my finger: up and down spires, up and over domes. Everything was the color of oatmeal and the sky, an electric blue. I zigzagged through a 14th-century souk with vaulted, honeycombed
by Courtney Zoffness by Courtney Zoffness
ceilings and lost myself among mounds of spice. I passed cooked sheep heads, teeth intact in their semi-smiles, and pyramids of pottery, and rug stacks taller than their merchants. I passed a stall devoted entirely to brooms. It was hard not to think of the Silk Road on which the Syrian city had been a central stop. Especially when someone trotted by on a donkey. Granted, this was the Aleppo of the 1960s, well before I was born. Also, as a young American woman in a conservative country, I likely couldn’t have done these things. But I did. I went to all these places. I picked pomegranates from local shrubs and tucked them in my pockets—on the page. You see in 2006, a few years before Aleppo got ensnared in civil war, I met a middle- aged Syrian Jew who had a story to tell. And I became his ghostwriter.
the Sephardim.) I am, I said. I didn’t tell him I’d resented Hebrew school in adolescence. That my bat mitzvah proved memorable mostly because a friend made out with the boy I liked. How I was still waiting to believe in God. Instead, I offered assurances. I’m a diligent researcher, I said, a quick study. A lanky, yarmulke-wearing employee barged in without knocking and muttered something to Henry in Arabic. The man’s eyes scanned me, then darted away. His mouth suppressed a smile. I’d received a similar reaction in the reception area. Clarity would come later: how Syrian Jews reared in a majority-Muslim country seemed to have assumed the Arabic designation for women: haram. Forbidden. How Henry and his staff—all male— observed a sect of Judaism that limited interaction with the opposite sex. I had a simpler understanding at the time, one no less true. I’d worn a tank top in the summer heat. My bare shoulders, I decided, made them squirm. In my Aleppo, the Citadel, world’s oldest castle, presided over the Old City from atop a giant hill. Its limestone steps summoned Greeks and Romans. Each archway framed a different view. Ramparts. Courtyards. Domes aligned like breasts. I paused at a shrine for the Mesopotamian god Hadad, protector of life, and again at the fortified gates. I traipsed through secret passageways designed to dupe the enemy. So many ways to stay safe. But I’m only telling you the dream. There was also a nightmare. At the base of the Citadel hung a sign: “No Pests Allowed.” The accompanying illustration was a caricature of a hook-nosed Jew. Aleppo, a.k.a. Halab. So-labeled, legend says, after Abraham tramped through with a flock of sheep and distributed their milk— halav —to the city’s poor. Aleppo: recorded in the Good Book as part of the extended area of Israel. Aleppo: eponym of the world’s oldest, most accurate and complete copy of the Hebrew Bible, the Aleppo Codex. Jews there preserved it in a safe, inside a rock, beneath the Great Synagogue, for 600 years. There were ten thousand Jews in Aleppo when Henry was born in 1947. The exodus began months later with the UN’s decision
to partition Palestine. Mobs torched Jewish homes and schools and the Great Synagogue, slayed 75 supposed Zionists. Al haraek, Aleppans would call it. The fires. Henry and his family might have been consumed too, had it not been for a Muslim neighbor. Try another block, the man told the approaching crowd. There aren’t Jews here. He knew, of course, that on the other side of the wall behind him, Henry’s parents were willing their infant son not to cry. Jews fled in droves after al haraek, and not just because they dreaded more conflagration. Their fear was greater. Mystical. Rumors had spread that when the Great Synagogue smoldered, so did the Codex, a parchment that had magic powers. Young women who gazed upon it became pregnant, locals said. Men in trouble who prayed before it could have their luck restored. And those who held keys to the safe that housed it were divinely blessed. Likewise, if the Codex suffered harm, a plague would befall the community in charge of protecting it. By 1959, just two thousand Jews remained in Aleppo. By 1967, there were half that. Still, Henry’s recalcitrant parents had refused to budge.Theywere old, tired.They’d worked hard to establish a life in their city and didn’t know where else to go. Sanctions intensified. Jews could no longer own cars or homes or phones. They endured a 10 pm curfew and identifying stamps on their IDs. By 1971, Halabi Jews were confined to a 3.5- mile-wide patch of city and threatened with death if they tried to flee. But that summer, 24-year-old Henry did. I interviewed Henry for hours at a time over weeks: in his midtown office, over the phone, in his brick house on Brooklyn’s Ocean Parkway. The more he spoke, the less I understood. His childhood neighbors belonged to Muslim and Christian and esoteric sects I could barely pronounce, let alone describe. The regimes under whose laws his family suffered fell every few months, one coup after another. Even Aleppo’s architecture spoke to a mesh of influences I couldn’t parse. I wandered library aisles agog: theology, geography, political science. My book piles ballooned. Two months of writing became four became six.
h-lepp-oh. The name on the world’s lips as the war rages. Its faces flicker on our eyelids en route to sleep. That wide-eyed boy, skin and hair talcum-powdered with debris. A sea of anemone fingers grasping at rations. Sopping corpses, 230 all told, lined up like tombs after locals pulled them from the Queiq River. One image forces my eyelids open: a red- shirted toddler, chubby cheek pressed into the sand, lips a figure eight, water lapping at his forehead. He is the same size as my two-year-old. He has washed ashore on the Greek Island of Kos after fleeing from a city just north of Aleppo, as has his five-year-old brother. I have a five-year-old, too. Aleppo: the city Othello names just before stabbing himself in the gut. Aleppo, whose mention in Othello inspires Nabokov’s story “That In Aleppo Once…” The link? Heroes in both narratives struggle to distinguish between what’s real and what’s imagined. I met Henry in a windowless, midtown- Manhattanoffice, onewhose small conference room was crammed with clothing racks. Henry owned an apparel business, which is how we connected. My friend, a journalist, interviewed him for an article on retail trends. Afterwards, Henry inquired about writers to pen his memoir. Enter the freshly minted MFA in need of a job. Henry had side-combed silver hair and ruddy pink cheeks; absent his Arabic accent, he might’ve been mistaken for a Westerner. He seemed disappointed that I didn’t know anything about Aleppo. Aren’t you Jewish? he asked. (The Syrian city had been a polestar for
Sometimes I’d submit a section and Henry would wag his finger, shake his head. I don’t think you’re working very hard, he’d say. I don’t think you’ve been listening. I could have blamed an inadequate tongue. I speak English and a smidgen of Spanish. Henry traded off between Arabic and Hebrew. He dreamt in French. I could have confessed that I passed on World History in high school in favor of Ceramics. But then I’d hand over a section and he would slap his forehead in delight. You’ve penetrated my brain, he’d say. It’s like you’re seeing through my eyes. How to know what would resonate? His memories commingled with my research and presumptions and inventions. His narrative, my sieve. His words in my mouth. What was real? What was imagined? Everything. Nothing. In 2014, warring blocs in the Battle of Aleppo merged and parted and reformed. While TV reporters struggled to keep track—the al-Tawhid Brigade, the Salafi jihadists, the al-Nusra Front—I peered over their shoulders. There, the pillar atop which Saint Simeon preached for nearly 40 years. There, the Baron Hotel, where Agatha Christie penned Murder on the Orient Express . I nursed my newborn son and watched palm fronds on the skyline wobble in the wind, the static photos in my books suddenly inspired. Aleppo! I thought. Aleppo was alive. Henry didn’t know about the Holocaust— not until hewas a grownman. Not until he left. He’d heard rumors, whispers in his boyhood, but it seemed impossible. How could six million people perish? By what means? In Syria, muzzled reporters skated over it. Books by local authors excluded it. Henry’s history texts favored Arab nationalism over the Final Solution. What to make, then, of Syria harboring Nazi war criminal Alois Brunner, so-called “architect” of the Final Solution? Just as well his family didn’t know how Brunner repaid his hosts: by sharing the torture tactics he used under Hitler. Some of Henry’s declarations seemed implausible, but I couldn’t know for sure. I was the first one in Aleppo in 40 years
to run away, he told me in one interview. I graduated from college as the best student in all of Syria, he told me in another. These statements might have raised red flags or led me to dismiss other recollections as hyperbolic, if not fantastic. But they didn’t. Maybe it’s because he had an elephantine memory for details about his home city, all of which were verifiable. Or maybe it was because he could summon his 1971 flight with painstaking precision. I can’t tell you too much about his escape—the story is his, not mine—but I can tell you this: it was Hollywoodesque. It involved a Bedouin disguise and a cigarette smuggler. It entailed hiking over mountains and riding in a tractor-trailer beneath rows of shitting sheep. It required aid from a synagogue community in Beirut and secret signals in a strange Lebanese café and an Israeli Navy torpedo boat. Eventually he made safe passage to Haifa and emigrated to the States. This much may seem unlikely, but it’s true. Aleppan Jews had a rich spiritual life. Henry attended a yeshiva—albeit an underground one—and studied with foremost scholars, vestiges of the city’s Jewish roots. His family kept kosher, observed the Sabbath, went to shul. I wish I could say religion bonded us, eclipsed our differences, but Henry and I knew different Judaisms—he, Orthodox Sephardic, I, Reform Ashkenazi. We spoke a few of the same Hebrew phrases but in our respective accents the words didn’t match. Our common holidays were feted with different customs. And while we knew some timeworn songs in common, we sang them to different tunes. What we did share were stories. Moses freeing the Jews from bondage in Egypt. Esther, Queen of Persia, foiling Haman’s plan to annihilate our ancestors. A flood that cleansed the earth of violence, sparing only Noah and his ark. What we shared was faith in tenacity. In resolve. In the olive branch Noah’s dove retrieved from an earth reborn. Miraculously, the Codex didn’t burn. (An act of God?) After al haraek, community leaders picked through the ashes of the Great Synagogue, assembled the Codex’s scattered pages, and re-
hid them. Over a decade later, it was secreted to Israel. Aleppo’s crown now resides in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum. The poet who narrates Nabokov’s “That in Aleppo Once…” married a woman who doesn’t exist. Because she’s mythic, he must speak of her, he says, as if she’s a character in a story. And yet the woman is so real to himhe is tortured by her memory. How is this possible? Such madness, he fears, is hazardous. If I am not careful, he says, nodding to Othello’s suicide, “it may all end in Aleppo .” In other words, he doesn’t know if he can live in a fantasy. He needs truth to survive. I was sponging a tomato sauce stain off my son’s high chair when I heard the news on CNN: the last Jews in Aleppo had been saved. It was October 2015. I squinted at the screen half-expecting to see the names of Henry’s parents, to see images of the faces I’d assembled on the page. Instead I saw an elderly mother and her two daughters, one of whom would be denied passage into Israel because she’d married a Muslim and converted. Mariam Halabi, 88, would have to leave that daughter behind. The reporter said there was no electricity in the part of Aleppo where Mariam and her Jewish daughter, Sarah, lived. Water was scarce. The women sensed Assad’s army was inching closer. In fact when rebel forces pounded on their door in the middle of the night to transport them to safety, Mariam and Sarah presumed they were about to be arrested—or worse. Their fear was warranted. In the last moments of Aleppo’s battle the following year, when all remaining residents were presumed enemies of Assad, Syrian troops simply charged into civilians’ homes and slaughtered them. Mariam’s r e s c u e mission h a d Take away every hospital in the city. Take away 31,000 Aleppan lives. Remove half the city’s remaining inhabitants— a million, all told— and ten million more from the rest of the country. Sprinkle them like ashes across the globe.
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