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Leah Dunaief

Split, Croatia

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Continuing our sailboat-and-diesel cruise down the Dalmatian Coast on the Adriatic, we next stopped in Split, the second largest city in Croatia. Again, located against the backdrop of steep limestone mountains, Split is particularly known for its beaches and Diocletian’s Palace.

Built for the Roman emperor, Diocletian, at the turn of the fourth century, and built like a Roman military fortress, the palace was at one time the home of thousands of inhabitants and its 200 buildings are surrounded by white stone walls. Today, the palace is a sprawling Romanesque destination spot for tourists, and it also offers bistros, hotels, shops and a cathedral, some of which are underground.

The city, like the rest of Croatia, was variously part of several empires throughout the centuries, including that of Austria-Hungary and Venice. Its importance, because of its coastal location and proximity to both Europe and the East, was as a trading center. Now it is a picturesque stop on the Dalmatian Coast.

With the mountains along the shore getter ever steeper, we cruised on to Dubrovnik on the southern coast of Croatia. The Old Town is surrounded by massive walls, extended until the 17th century, and features fabulous examples of Baroque, Renaissance and Gothic architecture. Paved with limestone and lined with shops and restaurants, the city is built along the shore and up the sides of the mountains, a natural magnet for photographers. There is even a cable car to ascend the undeveloped upper mountainsides. We rode back down in one such car at sunset, marveling at the beauty of the city as the lights came on below us in the houses and shops, and on the many boats in the distant harbor.

Dubrovnik is particularly known for its wealth and its diplomacy. The first was much the result of the second. During the many centuries of warfare and strife among the surrounding empires, the rulers of Dubrovnik, established along the doge and city council pattern of Venice, were able to avoid invasion. They paid tribute to the sultan of the Ottoman Empire and to others throughout the years by using the wealth they accumulated from their favorable trading position along the coast and from the sale of their precious natural resource: salt. 

Further evidence of their diplomatic skill extends even to the American Revolution. They were able to provide ships that carried pelts from Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York to Marseilles, France, because they had gained the status of safe passage from the colonists and were not fired upon during hostilities. 

Slave trading was abolished in Dubrovnik, then part of the Republic of Ragusa, as early as 1418. The city, along with its neighbor to the north, Split, is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site List. And although Dubrovnik was heavily shelled in the early 1990s from Bosnia-Herzegovina, the city has been carefully rebuilt to authentically reflect its medieval and renaissance history and architecture. Visitors can see where the lower old stones of buildings remain and where the newer, careful reconstruction has replaced the demolished tops and roofs. Dubrovnik is the pearl of the Adriatic and the city that attracts the most visitors to Croatia.

Last along the coast is Montenegro, named by the Italian sailors as “black mountain” for the steepness and hence frequent cloud cover that blocked out the sun above the mountainsides. Montenegro is a republic and offers tourists some of the most rugged terrain in Europe. There is much wild greenery and most of the areas have only one lane roads. We visited an olive oil farm while there, enjoying sight of the ancient methods of making olive oil compared now with computerized processes. 

On the way, we stopped to overlook the Bay of Kotor, a strategically important site of great natural beauty. Though not a member of the European Union yet, it is the government’s goal to join by 2025. Nonetheless the country uses euros and looks to develop into an elite tourist destination. At this time, its economy is dependent on direct foreign investment, and the Chinese and Arabs are competing there for developmental control. 

Next: Back to the Italian Coast.

Rovinj

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

All vacations are wonderful in their own way. A chance to get a break from the daily routine, to rest, perhaps to view new scenery, meet new people, learn new things, even just to get a break from the news — these are hoped-for results. We’ve just returned from a trip abroad and, as I have done in past columns, I would like to share some of what we saw and did.

We boarded one of the largest sailing vessels in the world in Venice, Italy, after an eight-hour plane ride from JFK International Airport. I won’t go into raptures about Venice because it would take up the rest of my allotted space and, besides, I’ve done so before. I will just say that there were probably more visitors in Venice than there are on any given day in Walt Disney World. Large ships are not allowed inside the harbor, so our small group was ferried to the Wind Surf by small motorboats lined up waiting for passengers along the Grand Canal. 

Let the adventure begin.

We departed at 6 p.m. and set sail to cross the Adriatic Sea, an extension of the Mediterranean, to land on the Dalmatian Coast the next morning. The first city, in the north of Croatia, was Rovinj, pronounced roveen. Croatia is a country often described as being at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe and one that is exquisitely picturesque with seaside cities and steep limestone mountains. As you might guess, for being in the center of human history, the country has had many invasions, rulers and iterations of government. Now a republic, it has been a duchy, a kingdom, in a union with Hungary, part of the Habsburg Monarchy, part of Austria-Hungary, part of Italy, then remade after World War I into Yugoslavia until that country finally fell apart into six independent smaller countries after the 1980 death of the autocrat, Josip Tito. 

The countries surrounding Croatia geographically are Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. Croatia joined the European Union in 2013. All of that abbreviated history took place over only the past 14 centuries. The area actually has been inhabited since prehistoric times.

Rovinj is a fishing port on the Istrian peninsula. Surrounded by blue-green, startling clean Adriatic water, its pastel houses crowded down to the seafront, the small city offers a tangle of pale yellow cobblestone streets, lots of inviting bistros and a beautiful Baroque hilltop church, St. Euphemia, whose tower is the highest in Istria at about 61 meters and can be climbed — not by me — for a magnificent view.

The Adriatic is only 120 miles at its widest point, separating what was known as the Balkans from Italy. The coastal towns were often under attack and thus encouraged to build fortified walls along the beachfronts. 

We walked the pebbled beach of Rovinj, bargained in the marketplace for native olive oil and truffles, and bought a couple of scarves made in Italy at cheaper than Italian prices. In fact, Croatia is known as a less expensive tourist destination, where a room in a fine hotel for the night during high season may be had for 50 euros (about $55). So far mainly Germans seem to have discovered this bargain, and they visit Rovinj in large numbers.

The eastern shore of the Adriatic is often referred to as the Dalmatian Coast and the name stems from an Illyrian tribe called the Dalmatae, (from their word “delme,” meaning sheep) who lived there during classic antiquity. Dalmatia is even referenced in the New Testament. And, yes, the hardy Dalmatian dogs come from there, whose unique black and white markings make them easily spotted on fire trucks. Dalmatia is one of the four historical regions of Croatia and for a long time was ruled by the Republic of Venice from 1420 until Napoleon of France appeared on the scene in 1797.

One of the frustrations of traveling along the coast by ship is that time spent in any port city is of necessity limited by the schedule of the cruise. After a delicious fish lunch in a sidewalk café, we returned to the ship, with its white sails billowing dramatically in the breeze, then went on to the larger city of Split. More next time.

Stock photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

A book I recently finished and enjoyed has topped The New York Times Best Sellers Hardcover Nonfiction list, so clearly many others appreciate it as well. It is “Talking to Strangers,” Malcolm Gladwell’s latest offering.

Reading it, in some ways, is like a summary of controversial current events, with a lot of interesting yet extraneous information thrown in because that makes for a good story. And one thing about Gladwell: He is a good storyteller. The author of previous bestsellers including “The Tipping Point,” and “Blink,” Gladwell is said to turn social science into best selling books. One of the critics said that he could probably make a riveting story about a pencil sharpener.

Initially I picked up the book because of its title. I thought it could have been written for me because I habitually and notoriously talk to strangers. I say it that way because I’m not sure the people I am with always appreciate sharing me but I can’t help myself. When I am in a theater and it is intermission, I am interested in how the people around me like the show. When I am at the opera — where a surprising number of different languages are spoken by the audience — I wonder where the people next to me come from and I ask them. Sometimes I even begin chatting with others in an elevator in conversations of obviously limited duration.

Lest you think I am an insensitive pest, I rush to assure you that if those questioned by me would seem unwilling to talk, I would immediately become silent. But I find quite the contrary. Most people seem to enjoy talking to strangers who are sharing the same environment.

‘Talking to Strangers’ by Malcolm Gladwell

So I started reading but was surprised that Gladwell’s theme was quite different from what I was expecting. From his perspective, it is difficult to evaluate a person, especially in a provocative situation, simply by talking with them and reading their body language. Why? Sometimes people lie, and lie convincingly. An example he gives is Bernie Madoff, who with his quiet and thoughtful manner, was able to convince clever and talented financial experts that he was honest. For a time, even members of Renaissance Technologies in Setauket were caught off guard. 

As Gladwell wrote, “Through a complicated set of arrangements Renaissance found itself with a stake in a fund run by [Madoff]” and “The people at Renaissance are brilliant … but couldn’t quite make the leap to believe that it was all a setup” despite personal interviews with Madoff. That is, until they became sufficiently suspicious to take out their money, but then only half that was invested with Madoff, according to Gladwell.

There are other examples in the book having to do with cultural or contextual differences between the viewer and the person being viewed, sometimes with disastrous results. One such situation involved Amanda Knox, an American student incarcerated for four years following the murder of her roommate in Perugia, Italy, largely because Italian prosecutors interpreted her youthful American goofiness as signs of guilt. She was subsequently acquitted of the murder.

Another example put forth by Gladwell is the unwillingness of witnesses to recognize the guilt of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant college football coach who abused children. Yet another example, the one that starts and ends the book, is of Sandra Bland, the African-American woman from Chicago who was stopped by a white highway patrolman in a small town in Texas for not signaling when she changed lanes. It should have been a routine event. Instead, because of misreading, it turned into a confrontation resulting in her death three days later by hanging in a local jail that was ruled a suicide. There are also fascinating stories about Cuban spies fooling the CIA, among other tales.

Gladwell’s conclusion is that we should “accept the limits of our ability to decipher strangers.” He goes on to say, “What is required of us is restraint and humility. … There are clues to making sense of a stranger. But attending to them requires care and attention.” And knowing that we can be wrong. Anyone who has hired the wrong applicant for a job can vouch for that.

Stock photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Ageism is a bias just as much as racism and religious intolerance. And just like other bigotries beget those who are fighting to correct such attitudes, there is an effort underway to counteract ageism. One arena being targeted in that regard is the advertising world, as at the Advertising Week conference which is being held in New York this week.

Now, remember, older people hold the bulk of the wealth in this and every other country and make up a growing segment of the global population. According to The New York Times, in an article by Tiffany Hsu Sept. 23, more than a third of the American population is over 50, yet that segment is portrayed “in only 15 percent of media images, according to research from AARP, the powerful advocacy organization” for older Americans.

We all know that marketing and advertising are powerful influencers in our lives. Martha Boudreau, AARP chief communications and marketing officer, is quoted as saying that “many advertising agencies had never dealt with marketing campaigns targeting older consumers. Recent ads have described being 50 years old as being ‘basically dead’ and characterized older people as selfish and out of touch.”

In fact, it is the older generation that is helping their younger family members to attend college and get a start in their careers to an unprecedented degree because the older generation is richer today than at any other time in history.

So why would that attitude persist? Here’s a likely explanation. There is rampant ageism in the offices of advertising agencies. Again, according to The Times, at advertising, public relations and related companies in the United States, “more than 81 percent of employees are younger than 55. And just for an interesting comparison, in Britain, the average age of advertising employees is “not quite 34.” In trade publications for the advertising agencies, employees have described the industry as a “Peter Pan,” Few last long enough for a retirement party and there have been lawsuits charging age discrimination.

Yes, someday those same employees will be 50 years and older, and their perspectives will change, but we are dealing with the here and now.

Here are some more details from a report involving 1,116 images reviewed by AARP. More than 53 million people older than 50 are employed in the United States, but only 13 percent of the images showed older people working. Those photographed were pictured mainly at home, with a partner or a medical professional.

The numbers get worse. Not even 5 percent of the images showed older folks handling technology, although the Pew Research Center found that 69 percent of people in the age group of 55-73, according to The Times, owned a smartphone. But more than a third of the images showed younger people with technology.

AARP’s Boudreau commented for The Times, “Marketers reflect the culture and the conversation in our country. Stereotypes about the 55-plus demographic were really limiting people’s sense of what they could do with this half of their lives.” The group collected 1,400 images for conference attendees showing older people running businesses, playing basketball and hanging out with younger generations.

“McCann, which runs a network of advertising agencies, suggested in a report last year that marketing campaigns consider perspectives of aging as ‘a journey of limitless opportunities and personal growth’ rather than ‘as a time of anxiety and uncertainty,’ according to The Times.

There has been some progress in changing perceptions. A decade ago the best-selling image from Getty, the stock media supplier of images, was of an older couple in sweaters embracing on a beach. In June with an increase of 151 percent in customer searches of “seniors” from a year earlier, the most popular image in the category shows a group of women in T-shirts practicing yoga.

For our part, here at TBR News Media, we welcome older applicants for positions just as we do those of any age. All we are interested in is the best possible talent and judgment to serve our mission each week.

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The Bates House in Setauket was brimming with book and food lovers the evening of Sept. 24.

TBR News Media hosted its 2nd annual Cooks, Books & Corks event at the venue, with 100 ticket holders in attendance to chat with 17 authors and to sample entrées, desserts and beverages from 18 establishments. Cellist Alison Rowe was on hand to provide the background music.

The event was organized to raise funds for a paid intern for TBR’s six newspapers next summer. The intern will be selected from students attending Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. Ticket holders had the opportunity to stroll through the Bates House to sample food and chat with authors, as well as buy books. A few of the attending writers even took to the stage to describe their works to the audience.

During the event, publisher Leah Dunaief thanked the crowd for attending, and she said after last year’s Cooks, Books & Corks she received many compliments, including that it was a highly dignified event, and she hoped those in attendance found this one just as grand and exciting.

Laura Lindenfeld, interim dean of SBU School of Journalism and executive director of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, attended the event.

“What an important time to be involved in journalism,” she said, addressing the attendees.

Lindenfeld said the opportunity to work with SBU journalism students was amazing, and she said they tell “important stories grounded in truth.”

As the author of “Feasting Our Eyes: Food Films and Cultural Identity in the United States,” the interim dean said she couldn’t turn down the opportunity to attend Cooks, Books & Corks. She said those involved were building community, a word she said ties into communication.

“I love the idea that the word communication comes from the word community,” she said. “It’s about a sense of belonging, being together and making meaning together. And I can see that happening in this room here.”

Lindenfeld thanked the attendees for supporting the fundraiser for an intern to have the opportunity to get experience in the field.

“We just want to get them out in the world, telling good stories that make a difference and then help us really be open to change,” she said.

Hernan Cortes

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Anniversaries sometimes bring out interesting tidbits of history. One such anniversary involves events that happened 500 years ago. In September 1519, Hernán Cortés met the ruler Montezuma II in what was the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlán that is now Mexico City. Records tell us that Cortés was greeted cordially, in part because his arrival happened to coincide with Aztec expectations of a god returning right at that time. To the Aztecs, the Spanish — 500 strong, with their pale skins, guns, canons and horses — must indeed have seemed godlike. The indigenous people had never before seen horses, nor had they any familiarity with gunpowder. Montezuma sent out envoys to meet the newcomers and welcome them to the city.

The Spanish conquistadors, for their part, had different intentions, as we know from elementary school history. For them it was the Age of Exploration. Christopher Columbus had shown the way in 1492, and young Cortés, bored studying law in Salamanca, western Spain, was eager to follow in those footsteps.

So who was Hernán Cortés?

He was born into a noble but not wealthy family in 1485 and was smart and ambitious. The original intention of the explorers was to find a passage to the Far East, from which they could bring back nutmeg, cloves, pepper and cinnamon, the spices so desired by Europeans. But Cortés wanted to explore the New World to seize more land for Spain and ultimately convert the natives in the Americas to Catholicism even as he plundered their gold, gems and made himself rich. The landscape in the 16th century was dramatically changing, with Afro-Eurasian trade connecting a global economy. Opportunity existed for acquiring great wealth.

In 1504, Cortés set sail for Hispaniola — now Haiti and the Dominican Republic — where he became a notary and farmer. In 1511, he joined Diego Velásquez on an expedition to conquer Cuba, where he eventually became the equivalent of mayor of Santiago. Then he persuaded Velásquez to enable a voyage to Mexico, and despite an order at the last minute canceling the trip, he set sail with 11 ships, 500 men and 16 horses, and landed in the Yucatán Peninsula, on the east coast of Mexico, in 1519.

He was, by all accounts, astounded by the gruesome rituals and human sacrifices he saw there, and he replaced pagan idols with crosses and figures of the Virgin Mary. Like so many of the other conquistadors, he regarded the natives as inferior culturally, technologically and religiously. When he encountered resistance in a place called Tabasco, he overpowered the opposition and was given, among other prizes, 20 women slaves.

One was La Malinche, who became an important figure in his life and in his eventual success in conquering Montezuma, for she was able to learn languages and translated Mayan and Aztec for him after she learned Spanish. She also bore him a son, one of the first children of mixed heritage. However, when eventually his wife joined him in Mexico from Spain, Cortés appears not to have acknowledged either his mistress or son.

The rest, as we know, is history. Cortés went on to conquer the Aztecs, with the help both of some of the dissident tribes the Aztecs ruled and smallpox, against which the natives had no immunity. An estimated  3 million indigenous people fell victim to the disease. Cortés sacked the sophisticated capital city and began rebuilding Mexico City on its ruins. Although he was eventually appointed governor of New Spain, he was removed from power by Spanish King Charles I in 1526. Cortés went on to discover Baja, California, in the 1530s. His first wife had died in 1522 and he remarried, fathering several children along the way. Ultimately he returned to Spain, where he died in 1547 in his early 60s, frustrated and embittered that he had not received the recognition and rewards he felt he was owed.

Another anniversary this week, the 80th, is of when Germany marched into Poland and launched the Second World War. But that is another tale.

Dr. Laura Lindenfeld will be the guest speaker at the 2nd annual Cooks, Books & Corks

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

You are invited on a date. The night is Tuesday, Sept. 24, the time is 6 to 8 p.m., and the place is the Bates House opposite the Emma Clark Library on Main Street in Setauket. On behalf of Times Beacon Record News Media — that’s us! — I am inviting you and your loved ones and friends to a fun community event. This one, the 2nd annual Cooks, Books & Corks, will feed both your body and mind.

Here’s the deal.

Some 18 fine restaurants and caterers are coming together to offer you delicious specialties from their menus, washing it all down with a selection of wines, and a dozen-and-a-half local authors are bringing their latest books for you to peruse and perhaps buy that evening. It’s Dutch treat at $50 a ticket, and the proceeds will go to a summer fellowship for a journalism student. In this way, you can help a young person take a paid step toward his or her ultimate career even as you help yourself to a scrumptious dinner and a literary treat that encourages local authors. And you will be helping us, the hometown news source, staff up a bit at a time when our regular team members tend to take vacations.

Here are some of the details.

The food will be supplied by these generous eateries: The Fifth Season, Old Fields, Pentimento, Elegant Eating, Sweet Mama’s, Zorba the Greek, Fratelli’s Bagel Express, Prohibition Port Jefferson, Toast Coffeehouse, Villa Sorrento, Lauren’s Culinary Creations, Sunrise of East Setauket Senior Living, Southward Ho Country Club, Sunflower Catering & Event Planning. Fishers Island Lemonade and Luneau USA will supply drinks. Desserts will be sweetly taken care of by, among others, Kilwins and Leanne’s Specialty Cakes. I’m salivating just typing the list. Start fasting. Come hungry.

Local authors include Jeannie Moon, Marcia Grace, Jeannine Henvey, Susan Van Scoy, Angela Reich, Ty Gamble, Dina Santorelli, Elizabeth Correll, Suzanne Johnson, Joanne S. Grasso, Rabbi Stephen Karol, Kerriann Flanagan Brosky, Michael Mihaley, Carl Safina, Mark Torres, Michael Hoffner and Linda Springer. People will be able to meet and greet with the authors and request book signings. Why would anyone want to write a book? How does one go about the process? Getting it published? Having it distributed? Would they recommend doing so to would-be authors? This is an awesome assortment of local talent to have in one room at one time.

A few remarks will be shared by Laura Lindenfeld, the interim dean of SBU School of Journalism and executive director of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. Gentle background music will be handled by the talented Three Village Chamber Players. And there will be the usual basket raffles.

A special and huge thank you to Laura Mastriano of L.A. Productions Events.

Now we need you!

To purchase tickets, please visit our website tbrnewsmedia.com or our TBR News Media Facebook page to pay with PayPal.

We also need sponsors who would like to support and be associated with this “high tone” event — as one of the vendors put it last year — to please contact us. Sponsorships may be had starting at $125 and will feature your name and logo in our newspapers, social media and our website, including a major “thank you” ad after the event. First one just in is Andy Polan, talented optician and owner at Stony Brook Vision World. And a big thank you to Camelot Party Rentals for their in kind donation. We would welcome your call at the newspaper office at 631-751-7744 or email events@tbrnewsmedia.com.

So come share in a delightful and satisfying event with lots of good food, good drink and good conversation. We hope you will follow up with visits to the participating eateries and caterers who have given of their time and specialties, and that you will enjoy reading your new books. We think when you leave the beautiful Bates House, you will be proud that you live in the area. And it certainly beats cooking dinner on a Tuesday night.

A scene from 'The Farewell'

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Three-day weekends are wonderful. When you go to sleep Sunday night, you know you have an extra day of weekend on Monday, and you feel so rich. What did you do on Labor Day? I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

First I met some old friends at the bagel store and we had breakfast and caught up on summer activities and the latest news. Then I did some work, so I should feel a little bit virtuous. And as a climax to the free time, I went to see a movie with a good friend. Just imagine! Going to the movies on a rainy Monday afternoon. What a treat.

We saw “The Farewell,” and we both loved it. I checked it out first, and it is probably the only movie I have ever seen with a 99 percent rating from Rotten Tomatoes. In spite of having such high expectations, we were not disappointed.

The movie is an independent Chinese film, largely autobiographical from Lulu Wang, with subtitles and speaks to several themes all centered around one peg. I won’t be revealing anything that would spoil the experience for you by saying that the plot revolves around a lie. In fact, at the beginning of the film, we are told that what we are about to see is based on “an actual lie.” The deception is as follows. Grandma Nai Nai is terminally ill, and everyone wants to see her one final time. But the problem is that she has not been told that she has malignant spots on her lungs. Her X-rays reportedly show “benign shadows,” or so she is made to believe. The immediate family do not want her to know the truth about her condition.

Her granddaughter Billi, who grew up in New York City and is thoroughly Americanized, doesn’t agree with that decision. The rest of the family tries to leave Billi behind as they go back to mainland China to visit the grandmother, but she follows anyway and asks the expected questions: “What about her individual rights? Isn’t it illegal to withhold such information? What if she has some last details she would want to take care of if she knew she were dying?”

But no. The rest of the family agrees to enter into a charade in which they act as if the reason they are all coming back to China is to celebrate the marriage of the grandson, who has in fact been seriously dating a Japanese girl for only three months.

The grandmother, of course, is overjoyed at the prospect of seeing her scattered family return home and of hosting a wedding celebration, although she is not so sure about this Japanese addition to the family. And despite their sad faces and behind-her-back anguish, grandma is persuaded that the return is as presented. She goes about arranging for a bountiful reception for family and many friends.

The Chinese explanation for the deception serves as stark contrast in the film between the cultures: Chinese people aren’t regarded as individuals to the extent that they are so clearly in America, but rather as a member of a family structure and a social community. One’s life is part of a whole, and no one wants to tell grandma that she will soon be leaving this world and bring her sadness in her last days. In China, a diagnosis of cancer means certain death, we are told.

Yet despite the depression felt by the family, their love for their matriarch shines through, and there are the universal family interactions of anger, laughter, grief, memories and regrets. The film is both deeply personal and can be universally appreciated for its sweetness and familiarity.

China has modernized physically. Billi finds that her old neighborhood has been replaced by a forest of high rise apartment buildings, none quite completed yet, and modern highways link the city. That is a measure of how long she has been separated from her roots. But can there be a “good” lie? Billi will effortlessly lie on her phone to her grandma about whether she is wearing a hat to ward off the cold in Brooklyn, but she is deeply troubled trying to bridge the cultural big lie that is at the heart of this film.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This week there was a mini-reunion at my house of college classmates who happened to be in the area. One actually came in from Arizona, but she was making her annual New York visit anyway and included a trip to my house from the city. It was great fun to see the nine women who arrived for lunch and chatter. As classmates we do share a lifetime bond and, as contemporaries, we share a lot of history and culture. We don’t have to stop mid-sentence and explain our obscure references to younger listeners because everyone gets the point.

Each of us is curious to see how the others have aged. We mentally compare wrinkles, double chins, weight gains. We talk about our children, our grandchildren, our husbands and, in a couple of cases, ex-husbands. We tell each other about good plays we have seen, worthwhile books we have read, interesting trips we have taken. But these are superficialities. What we really want from each other is to share wisdom. After all, we have been around the block a few times by now and hopefully have learned a few things in the process.

So we ask the question of the group: At this stage of life, what is a most important insight you have had?

One answers, “To be appreciative.” I can certainly relate to that. To wake up in the morning and know you have the gift of a new day, and if you are lucky, to do with that time as you wish. Some who came still work, others are retired. Most people who come to reunions, I think, are basically happy with their lives. So since the miserable ones don’t come, those who do make it find common currency in appreciation. “I have had a good life so far, I’ve been very lucky,” is a frequent refrain.

“To be in the moment,” posits another. Yes, it’s a cliché, but one with significance. To be fully aware at any given point of where we are and what is happening around us is to enjoy a full existence. Feeling the sand give way underfoot during a walk on the beach, hearing the calls of seagulls over the water as they search for dinner, feeling the soft wind coming up from the southwest as it blows against one’s cheek, smelling the salt in the air as the waves break against the shore — all of those experiences enhance the present moment.

“Let it go,” offers another. Now we are getting into deeper discussion. We carry guilt to some degree, all humans do. We also carry anger, or fear, perhaps. We may struggle with resentment, envy, an affront, disappointment, hurt, traumatic memories and any number of other negative emotions. Have we learned after all this time to let them go? Or at least have we learned how to work through them so they lessen in our hearts and minds?

“I have learned how much it pleases me to make connections,” was another response. “If I am somewhere and meet a stranger who is striving for a goal, and I know something or someone else who could perhaps help that person to realize his or her ambition, I enjoy connecting them.”

That comment made me think of one of my favorite analogies, that of comparing life to a game of billiards. We glance off each other as we move along, perhaps exchanging a few words in just a few moments that have meaning.

I remember one day waiting for the light at Ninth Avenue in Manhattan on my way to the Lincoln Tunnel and New Jersey. How many times I had made that trip, and always the same way. But this one time I noticed that the pick-up truck waiting next to me was turning in the opposite direction despite having New Jersey plates. So I rolled down my window and called out to the driver, asking where to turn. He yelled back his answer, the light changed and we both drove away. But his way shortened my trip by several minutes. In that brief exchange, he changed my life positively. How meaningful even the briefest connection can be.

As you might tell, we had a good time at our mini-reunion.

Leah Dunaief

By Leah S. Dunaief

If you want to see what your kids really think of you and have some fun in the process, ask them to come up with a profile for you if you are single to use on an internet dating app. My children and a couple of grandchildren were here for a visit this past weekend, and that was one bit of interaction we enjoyed. I have never filled out such a profile before, and I turned to them — the generation that started using apps to find partners — for help. Here are some words they threw out.

Beautiful: Well listen, if your sons don’t think you are good looking, what was the point of all that maternal sacrifice? This one is just a given.

Energetic: Of course. You have to have some measurable degree of energy in order to put yourself out there. It’s certainly easier to lay back and watch endless television or read a novel every night. And I am leaving off the comments they threw out about double chins and still having my original teeth.

Good conversation: Yes, OK, but it takes two to tango. Willing to offer opinions on just about everything. And listening is at least as important.

Loves to travel: That probably narrows the field to about 90 percent of the female population.

Enjoys theater: Ditto.

Sense of humor: If you have to brag, not much hope. I would hate to be asked to say something funny. Probably more of a way of looking at life.

Likes sailing: Although I no longer ski or play tennis, because of knees that are given to protest. That’s probably in a league with long walks on the beach. Not much personalization there. Come now, let’s find something unique.

Opera subscription: Only unique for the younger generation of Dunaiefs because they can’t imagine thousands of people gathering to hear some fat women screech. Little do they know that the women are no longer fat, and the human voice can be one of the most exquisite instruments delivering some of the most beautiful melodies ever written. Plus operas often have profound themes dealing with universal questions. What we have here is theater, concert and choir all in one offering. They are young yet, they may come upon the bargain that is opera one fine day.

Well read: That’s correct if measured by the amount of newspaper articles I feel it necessary to ingest every day. Books mostly have to wait for vacations.

Loves learning: Now we are getting somewhere. They say that journalists know things a mile wide but only an inch deep. That is true. From one day to the next, we have to leap from subject to subject, spending only enough time on each one to be able to write about its newsworthiness correctly before moving on to the next. And that suits me fine. Where I become more interested, I can always go back and dig deeper. Meanwhile there are endless facts to absorb as I move along.

Still working: Yes, that’s how one continues to learn.

Independent: You bet. That is definitely a truth about yours truly, and those children of mine are probably glad that I am. Being independent, not having to live up to anyone else’s expectations, including one’s own from long ago, is hard won and to be cherished. Not having to lean on anyone for support, unless by choice, is the ultimate liberation.

Loves raspberries and blueberries: Now we are getting to the heart of the matter. Yummy!

Adores flowers and nature in all its magnificence: Yes, yes, yes.

Good friends: You have to be one to have one. I certainly try.

Love my family: And I am close to them. A most important part of my life.

Optimistic and positive to a fault: I have always told my children that all things are possible. They just have to work hard to succeed. They are the CEOs of their lives.

Romance: Ah, yes. What is life without an adoring someone? Worth searching for, I think.