Wednesday, May 04, 2005

New York Interlude: once a brat always a brat

Continuing on my trend of seeing NY-specific movies when in New York, I took in two in the last couple of days. Both pleasant and nicely big-applish. One, the Interpreter, struck a chord.

This is not a post about how I could not get enough of Sean Penn’s face – especially in the last scene. Were I to write on that, I would have to add that in addition to great chefs and great writers I am prone to falling in love with men with expressive faces. Or at least with that particular expressive face.

It is, instead, a post about the UN – an organization that elicits tremendously strong feelings in me, though not of the “I am in love with Sean Penn’s expressive face” kind.

Now that I live in Wisconsin, the word brat connotes big greasy sausages, on a bun, with beer.

But many decades ago it was a label thrust upon me by virtue of my father’s work for the United Nations. I was a UN brat. We, children of the diplomatic corps, we ran around the UN building thinking our parents would save the planet for us. We believed in their work and in the hundreds of relief agencies that came to the aid of forgotten, neglected people in far off places.

And I am sure every one of us, even the greatest cynic who’ll flaunt countless examples of failure will acknowledge that the world without the UN, would be worse off. Even without the top fifteen floors of the Secretariat building, it would be worse off.

Today I watched the mayors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima sign declarations of peace just next to the General Assembly (Ocean felt that it ought to bear witness). The Japanese media were there en mass, but ours was conspicuously absent. It struck me right then that in the parts of the UN open to the public, foreign visitors outnumber Americans ten to one.

As I was waiting for the signing, I looked hard at the 1945 photos from Nagasaki on display in the background, the kind of photos that you don’t really want to remember.

Forty years ago, you did not have to pass through countless security stations to enter the UN. Forty years ago we, at the UN School sang songs about Zulu tribes and kookaburras and Per Spelman and his cow. Such brats we were!

And so where has this bold confidence taken us? We, the unhappy surveyors of the now damaged organization, resurrected to prominence in a movie, but not in real life. Even as it keeps chuggin’ away, mostly quietly, providing relief and promulgating dialogue. Not enough, we say, and kick it around some more, listing all its failings, in the same way that bodies were counted after epidemics, ethnic cleansing, nuclear blasts.
Nagasaki, Hiroshima lessons Posted by Hello
United Nations: as good as the nations and the people represented therein Posted by Hello

New York Interlude: waiting

New York is always described as a frenetic city. The legendary rush hour, the quick pace on the sidewalks, the subway -- all speak of a crazy speed. You forget that here, like elsewhere, so much of time passes in simply waiting: for events to occur, for the game to begin, for problems to resolve themselves, for the sleeping person to wake up.

Two photos this morning of people waiting, just as a reminder that patience is needed here as well, every day, just to get by.
waiting: to start playing Posted by Hello
waiting: for the library doors to open Posted by Hello