A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Polish National Home

This afternoon, cousin Joanne and I headed to Hartford to have lunch at the Polish National Home. John Jeski, who broadcasts the "Polka Party Radio Show" from there every Sunday, had graciously offered to let us plug our fundraiser for free. By "our" I mean the Polish Center of Discovery and Learning in Chicopee, and by "fundraiser" I mean the Jimmy Sturr concert coming up next Sunday. Joanne is a polished public speaker, so the Director of the Center, Stas Radosz--who's been working tirelessly for eight years without a salary, and is getting a bit tired of riding all over New England--was happily relieved of the duty.

John Jeski advertises his show as "the longest running remote broadcast in the country, reaching over 350,000 people in as many as 7 states." In addition to being a DJ, he is the leader of a popular polka band ("The John Jeski Band") and, with his wife Lorraine, owner of "JOLO Multimedia." A visit to his website, johnjeski.com, is an adventure. In the ten years I have been playing around on the Internet, I have never seen a site with so many animated banners and clipart gifs. Once your eyes have adjusted, you can download dozens of songs, buy CDs and tapes, play games...even write a letter to Santa.

With John's polka selections as backdrop, we followed our hostess to a booth and ordered off the menu. Being a vegetarian somewhat limits my choices, especially in a restaurant like this one. But with pierogis only 85 cents apiece, vegetables cooked from scratch, and beer-battered onion rings, I managed to get full for about five dollars, while Joanne happily polished off the "Polish Plate" of kiełbasa, pierogi, gołumbki, etc., etc. The slender blonde waitress had a lilting old-country accent and manners to match, the coffee was delicious, and the atmosphere congenial.

We were stuffed, but couldn't resist shelling out another two dollars for the dessert crepes. Piping hot, perfectly browned, filled with cottage cheese, and served with seedless raspberry jam. Joanne, who had grown up in our grandmother's house, was in heaven. "Just like Babu's," she kept saying. "These are exactly like what Babu used to make."

At this point in my life, I don't need anybody to tell me what to think about something I've experienced for myself. But the many framed reviews I noticed as we exited provided a nice affirmation. "One of those semi-secrets that I'm just reluctant to share with the world"..."tasty, substantial fare"..."almost criminally cheap." No less an authority than the Sterns, in no less a rag than Gourmet, waxes enthusiastic about the restaurant at the Polish National Home.

Making fun of Polacks is like shooting fish in a barrel. But there's something to be said for a group of immigrants who have been, after all, extremely successful. Just be honest and friendly, work hard, and keep doing what you've always done for about a hundred years, no matter how hard anybody laughs at it, and people will eventually come to respect you.

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Poetry in the Park

The downtown library has an open mic poetry series this summer, hosted by Crystal Senter Brown. The sessions are held once a month, in the Quadrangle if the weather's nice, or in the Community Room if it's not. I wasn't able to attend in May, so I made a special effort to go over there today at noon.

Crystal Senter Brown is a poet who used to show up sometimes at the Dunamis Café on Wednesday nights for Crossroads Poetry, the liveliest poetry event I've ever had the pleasure of attending. I wondered if she'd be able to tell me what happened to the poetry after the Dunamis ceased to host it. Or if some of the spark was still following her around.

At least one Dunamis alum was following her, as it turned out: my old friend and workmate Maurice "Soulfighter" Taylor, making an appearance to show his support for CSB. He wrapped up the program with a powerful recitation, followed by a freestyle poem. The audience gave him "fire," "purple," "love," and "exacerbate," which he gamely composed a verse around...I say gamely because he wasn't even sure of the meaning of "exacerbate"...but he did manage to include it!

Before Soulfighter, we had elderly Beth with a poem about eye contact, classically enunciated; Harold on the human condition, Charlie and Steve with some rather humorous offerings; an apologetic poetess who composed in Spanish; a serious gentleman with moving poems about 9/11 and his faithful dog; two ladies with deftly observational verse; Jerry, solemn and passionate; three young women who read and recited, together and separately; a kid who did long dramatic recitations of Lewis Carroll and Tolkien; and, of course, Crystal herself.

The only people who didn't participate were Anna the librarian and I. Anna was supervising. What was my excuse?

At the end, I asked for the floor, and issued an invitation to everyone present to channel their artistic energy--if so moved--to the subject of one of my hobbyhorses: the possibly-soon-to-be-demolished carriage house behind the Quadrangle. I suggested they read or perform the poems next time, or send them to Crystal or Anna, and I would read them.

The local preservation and neighborhood associations, the city's building and law departments, the Historical Commission, the mayor, and the owner have all fallen down on the job, IMHO. Let's see now what the poets can do.

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