Monthly Archives: January 2009

If the shoe fits throw it!



A monument to a shoe thrown at former President Bush is unveiled at the Tikrit Orphanage complex.
[It appears the Iraqi government has since had the bronze fiberglass shoe removed]

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — For the war-beaten orphans of the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, this big old shoe fits.

A huge sculpture of the footwear hurled at President Bush in December during a trip to Iraq has been unveiled in a ceremony at the Tikrit Orphanage complex.

Assisted by children at the home, sculptor Laith al-Amiri erected a brown replica of one of the shoes hurled at Bush and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki by journalist Muntadhir al-Zaidi during a press conference in Baghdad.

Al-Zaidi was jailed for his actions, and a trial is pending. But his angry gesture touched a defiant nerve throughout the Arab and Muslim world. He is regarded by many people as a hero. Demonstrators in December took to the streets in the Arab world and called for his release.

The shoe monument, made of fiberglass and coated with copper, consists of the shoe and a concrete base. The entire monument is 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) high. The shoe is 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) long and 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) wide.

The orphans helped al-Amiri build the $5,000 structure — unveiled Tuesday — in 15 days, said Faten Abdulqader al-Naseri, the orphanage director.

“Those orphans who helped the sculptor in building this monument were the victims of Bush’s war al-Naseri said. “The shoe monument is a gift to the next generation to remember the heroic action by the journalist.”

“When the next generation sees the shoe monument, they will ask their parents about it,” al-Naseri said.

“Then their parents will start talking about the hero Muntadhir al-Zaidi, who threw his shoe at George W. Bush during his unannounced farewell visit.”

Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi leader toppled by the United States in 2003, was from the Tikrit region.

Al-Zaidi marked his 30th birthday in jail earlier this month. One of his brothers said he is “in good health and is being treated well.”

Al-Zaidi’s employer, TV network al-Baghdadia, keeps a picture of him at the top left side of the screen with a calendar showing the number of days he has spent in detention. The network has been calling for his release.

By tradition, throwing a shoe is the most insulting act in the Arab world. 


At Christie’s New York



The Truesdell SATURN which is an allegory of the season of Winter


. . . and a gorgeous Veerendael still life (which was withdrawn so this is a similar one.)



Hail and farewell to John Updike. Like many American readers of a certain age, I had a complex response to his abundant oeuvre, often dazzled, sometimes contentious. His short stories will always be important to me; probably because we can be so deeply affected by what we encounter early on. Updike and The New Yorker were among the lifelines I found and clung to as an intellectually isolated teenager in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Presidential Walk



The Obamas walk along Pennsylvania Avenue following the inauguration. Almost 2 million people braved hours walking and standing in the cold with comments such as “after waiting 400 years, a few hours of cold don’t matter at all.” Others described passing through pedestrian tunnels and long underpasses on their way to the Mall. In those covered passages with great acoustics the crowds would start up a chant of O-BA-MA which echoed and reverberated wonderfully. Another person told of being on a subway car when the passengers spontaneously began singing Amazing Grace. What a day!

Suzanne Wenger/Adunni Osun 1915-2009

I visited Suzanne Wenger, known as priestess Adunni Osun, at Osogbo and have a metal fish pendant she gave me. She died on January 12, 2009.


Wole Soyinka on Adunni Osun

“Years before Fela Anikulapo was tagged with the media ascription, Susanne Wenger, later to be known as Adunni Olorisa, was the original, quintessential abami eda of the Nigerian art scene, but most particularly of the Yoruba cultural community. Her passage of revelation was quite uncomplicated.

To resort to my favourite summation of her experience: she came, she saw and was conquered. An internal, as yet undefined spiritual quest, too personal for outsiders to understand, had come to fulfilment, and there was no turning back. I glimpsed this phase of illumination at our very first meeting, all the way back in the early sixties.

Thinking of Fela at the time of Susanne’s passing comes to me quite naturally, quite apart from the fact that I did try to induce Fela to visit Osun on a few occasions, confident that he might thereby deepen his affinity to the Yoruba world.

There were quite a few similarities – and contrasts – between her and my cousin, who came to be known even more widely as abami eda.

Both created their own worlds – communalistic in temper, internally regulated, and defended with a passion. Both were ardent promoters of Yoruba culture, although, in Fela’s case, he had a generally permissive cultural amalgam that went by the name ‘African culture’.

There, perhaps, the convergence ends. Susanne’s cultural space was a space of tranquility and meditation that transmitted a unique aura.

She hated showmanship, and was somewhat reproachful of Fela’s treatment of a shared resource, her eyes being always tuned inwards, communing with her private Muse in a secretive zone filled with images, with intimations of godhead, constantly homing in on what would be the guiding passage from her history and cultural antecedents to this world that reached out to her so compulsively.

She found that passage in the depths of Osun, and Osun became not merely her physical, creative retreat, but her spiritual refuge and inspiration.

Let this be clearly stated; Susanne Wenger never attempted nor pretended to be Yoruba. Even in her very last interviews, she took pains to stress this.

She was European, Austrian, yet a being of the universal spirit who found the truths of existence not in Europe, nor Austria, but in a place she had never heard of until brought thither in the most ordinary of circumstances.

Yet she recognized that space at once, intuitively, unquestioning. Austria lost an artist; Oshogbo gained one, a spiritual seeker and guide, community leader – despite herself – and creative mentor all in one.

No community imbued with any cultural pride and self-confidence in its authentic heritage, yet with openness to the offerings of external insights, could ask for more. The symbiotic relationship could proceed, at its own pace, and unfettered.

There is a lesson in this for all of us, viewed conversely. There is nothing strange in Africans, with their wealth of spiritual and cultural resources, seeking or voluntarily embracing spiritual affinities anywhere – from Rome to Mecca, from Jerusalem to Canterbury.

It is when these latter-day convertites assume the mantle of Absolute, Incontrovertible Truths to the extent that they affect to despise other Truths, destroy their icons, mutilate their heritage and embark on orgies of intolerance, even to a homicidal extent, that they declare themselves subhuman, and earn the righteous wrath of other claimants to the altar of spiritual verities.

Susanne Wenger, re-named Adunni Olorisa, mapped out the path of tolerance, of spiritual ecumenism, the choice of being true to oneself yet accommodative of others.

All she demanded, indeed insisted upon, was the sanctity of the spiritual space of her adoptive community. Let the warring dacoits of foreign deities take note, and place a check on their fanaticisms and bigotries. Believe and worship what you will, but let others also believe, and worship in their chosen mode.

What the Africans took to, and continues to thrive within nations such as Brazil, Cuba, Columbia and other Caribbean communities on island and landmass, Adunni-Osun found by accident – or guidance – in its original home, the abode of the orisa.

She dedicated her life to enhancing a preserve that spoke meaningfully to her, enabling a community of creative minds and hands in various genres, protecting, exploring and expressing outwardly the eternal essence of its sacred grove with the reverence of the imaginative spirit.

Such creative devotion does not fail to renew the spiritual dimension that lies at the heart of all religions, by whatever names they are called, and whatever their claims to world status in the directory of religions.

Adunni-Osun is how integrated she surfaces in my recall of her. She conveyed a variety of emotions, lessons, unresolved intimations to many, black, white, or bronze, from within the Nigerian nation space and from far distant lands, not excepting even tourists for whom she had little toleration.

For all however, this irreducible mantra, epitomized by the career of a questing stranger who came, saw, and was conquered:

“Go to the orisa, learn from the orisa, and be wise.”


“I, Barack Hussein Obama. . .”






Muhammad Ali

So glad they were there . . .



At L-a-a-a-ast. . .

Inaugural Prayer

Not a church-goer myself, but I loved Rev. Lowery’s mini-seminar on the genius of the finest black preaching as hope, history and prophecy, moving from the  third verse of the anthem hymn, Lift Ev’ry Voice And Sing, to classic  formal prayer to recognizing that God understands humor as an instrument of survival.

He began with the powerful poetic lyrics of writer and scholar J. W. Johnson which were set to music by his classically trained brother in 1905, and closed with well-known blues/street rhymes. A beautifully crafted and genuinely inspired compressed demonstration of how we not only got over but prevailed.


“God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far along the way, thou who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path, we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee, lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee. Shadowed beneath thy hand may we forever stand — true to thee, O God, and true to our native land.”

We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we’ve shared this day. We pray now, O Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant, Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration. He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national and, indeed, the global fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hand, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations. Our faith does not shrink, though pressed by the flood of mortal ills.

For we know that, Lord, you’re able and you’re willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor or the least of these and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.

We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that, yes, we can work together to achieve a more perfect union. And while we have sown the seeds of greed — the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.

And as we leave this mountaintop, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.

Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle. Look over our little, angelic Sasha and Malia.

We go now to walk together, children, pledging that we won’t get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone, with your hands of power and your heart of love.

Help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid; when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around — (laughter) — when yellow will be mellow — (laughter) — when the red man can get ahead, man — (laughter) — and when white will embrace what is right.

Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.


REV. LOWERY: Say amen —


REV. LOWERY: — and amen.

AUDIENCE: Amen! (Cheers, applause.)

America, America . . .



So many moments have marked the beginning of this new era. We have laughed and wept with joy at so many steps along the way; the long, hopeful campaign trail, the night in Grant Park, standing in the voting booth surrounded by the spirits of our ancestors and friends who did not see that day in the flesh.

 But there is something about the Sunday concert, about standing up and dancing, about singing at the top of our lungs, about the fabulous mix of performers, about the sheer, pure joy – – and even more the depth of the liberation, as song followed song – – until Stevie Wonder had the Obama family on their feet and dancing, something that let us understand just how far we had been pressed down, just how hardened we had become during eight years of a culture of death.

 And then, as musician after musician came onstage singing and playing their hearts out, the layers of psychic oppression began to fall away. We did not know how bent and hunched over we were until we jumped up waving our arms in the air, and shouting and singing and crying took back our own country, took back the power to change.

 We are liberated by the music and words that gave us back our own heartbeat. And oh my God Pete Seeger there at 89 channeling all of our parents and grand-parents; It was all breathtaking – – and breathgiving.