Driving My Father Home
By Russell Martin - Jun 6, 2015
IT WAS THE early autumn of 1968, that year in which so much of the world seemed to have come unmoored from its moral shore, and I was en route to Barcelona — a sixteen year old bound for a school-year abroad saying goodbye to his family at Denver’s old Stapleton airport. While we waited for my flight, we stood for a time in the warm September sun on a rooftop observation deck, all of us finding those moments a little awkward, I remember, watching a succession of propellered airplanes arrive and depart among the jets and saying only a little. My father — tall, self-possessed, his hair worn in a flat-top in those days — was particularly quiet, which was his lifelong way, and many years later I was surprised when my mother told me that after he rather stiffly had shaken my hand and watched me recede from sight down a jetway, he had begun to cry. Perhaps they simply were tears mixed of pride and hope, but I suspect he also observed how very frightened I was to be heading alone out into a world where he would not be by my side.
It’s certain that my father cried a few more times in his life — on the day his mother died, on the day when a grandson was stillborn — but as far as I know, he cried only once more in a context that had something to do with me. Within days of that second and final occasion, in the spring of this year, by chance I was scheduled to fly to Barcelona again — this time to spend two months at work in a city I still love decades later — but my father clearly was living his last days, and the question of whether it was the right time to leave for Europe was one I necessarily attended to constantly.
Also Your Neighbor.
By Russell Martin - Jun 27, 2015
A CAVE CALLED Shanidar cuts into a limestone cliff that rises above the Zab River, a tributary of the Tigris in the foothills of far northern Iraq. Kurdish tribespeople live at Shanidar today, and it’s likely that the cave has been continuously populated by humans and their ancestors for 100,000 years. During his excavations at Shanidar in the 1960s, archaeologist Ralph Solecki encountered the remains of a Neanderthal male buried between two boulders near the cave’s mouth. Solecki excavated the skeleton, removed it, and took samples of soil surrounding the spot where it lay. Sometime later, when the soil was examined for pollen content — a procedure that can lend valuable information about the season and climate at the time of a burial — something arresting emerged: Unlike typical soil samples, which include only a few grains of pollen broadcast by the wind, Solecki’s samples contained enormous numbers of grains of yarrow, yellow groundsel, grape hyacinth, rose mallow, hollyhock, and blue bachelor’s button — each of these species still flowering at Shanidar today as summer subsumes the spring.
Solecki concluded that the pollen could be accounted for only if it represented the remains of whole flowers rather than individual grains randomly borne by the breeze. And if blossoming flowers had been intentionally buried with the man’s body, then these beings labeled Neanderthal had certainly become something more than apes. They were big-boned, massively muscled, and a prominent brow ridge jutted outward above their eyes, yet these distant ancestors of ours apparently already were capable of ritual and symbolic activity and therefore of some level of complex thought.
By Russell Martin - Jun 21, 2015
PABLO CASALS WAS born thirteen years before the invention of the automobile and died four years after spacecraft first took men to the moon. At twenty-two, he performed selections from Fauré and Saint-Saëns for Queen Victoria, and at eighty-five he performed pieces by Mendelssohn and Schumann for John F. Kennedy. His ninety-seven years spanned one of the bloodiest eras in human history, and for virtually all his life he remained dedicated to the freedom of artistic expression and the impassioned pursuit of justice and peace.
Casals was a man of extraordinary sensitivity and supreme conviction, a physically unassuming man who utterly captivated people with his presence. He was deeply patriotic and loved his Spanish homeland of Catalunya more than he cared for perhaps anything else, but he also believed that love of country also often tragically blinds people to the true humanity of us all. Throughout his long life, Casals employed music as a means of urging people everywhere to work toward the highest ideals of humanity, and for fully thirteen years following the end of World War II — during a time in which he remained one of the world’s most renowned virtuosos — he refused to perform publicly, believing his stark and stubborn silence could speak more eloquently in opposition to war and injustice than could his sonorous and always moving music. His life was deeply emblematic of the joys and sorrows of the twentieth century, and his enduring dedication to peace and justice make him a vital and compelling figure for us to remember once more as a new century see wars and brutal violence swelling ever more menacingly around the world.
Who We Are