How We Grieve VOL.XL • ISSUE 1 • SEPTEMBER 2012
table of contents
Around the Colleges Visualizing the Story 3 small talk
Jupiter on Broadway Innocents in Prison 10
Feature by Teo Soares
Don’t Apologize in Wartime Daniel Bethencourt
A Room Without a View Amelia Urry
THE GREAT AMERICAN SFOGLIATELLA Profile by Sanjena Sathian
The Sounds of Shamblytown Sarah Maslin
The Matchbox 9 The Lifeboat Party 38
Fiction by Abigail Carney
32 HOW WE GRIEVE
Cover story by Akbar Ahmed
1 | Vol. XL, No. 1 | September 2012
THINGS WE KNOW YOU DID LAST SUMMER
at 1 a.m. the day that OCI “let’s Skype” to 15 different went live. people, then never did. 1 Bluebooked 6 Said And now you’re already complaining about the classes you were so excited about.
It’s the summer version of “let’s get a meal sometime.”
for the Toad’s of whatever to avoid telling the other incity you were in. terns what school you went to. 2 Searched 7 Tried And then realized there’s no place like Toad’s.
But subtly implied that it was somewhere really prestigious.
about what a relief it was to yourself ” in a foreign be in the “real world.” country. 3 Talked 8 “Found
It’s so nice to escape from all the pressures of You just love the lifestyle there so much. It’s, having no responsibilities. like, so laid back.
4 Actually missed Yale Dining.
your “dream job” is actually soul-crushingly boring. 9 Realized
Killed somebody. 10 Just kidding. Unless you’re Jennifer Love
You got a craving for tofu apple scramble, probably while eating a bread sandwich in your kitchen. Picked up a hobby you’ve already given up. Knitting, playing the oboe, sleeping.
This one applies only to those working in finance or consulting.
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shorts DAILY NEWS
Frocos worked hard to make name tags for their froshes’ doors. Which are the best?
Executive Editors Eliana Dockterman Molly Hensley-Clancy Nicole Levy
Deputy Editors Daniel Bethencourt Madeline Buxton Edmund Downie Sarah Maslin
Design Editors Raahil Kajani Lindsay Paterson
Design Assistant Ryan Healey
Photography Editors Zoe Gorman Kamaria Greenfield Victor Kang Harry Simperingham Emilie Foyer
YALE DAILY NEWS Editor in Chief
Max de La Bruyère
Subscriptions: To subscribe to the Yale Daily News Magazine, please contact us by email at mag@yaledailynews. com. Subscription for 1 year (7 issues): $40.00 Nameplate by Ryan Healey Cover photo by Harry Simperingham
Timothy Dwight 3 | Vol. XL, No. 1 | September 2012
BOOK REVIEW TWEET
VOCAB•YALE•ARY Bust v. To break up a party, i.e., I don’t want to go off campus because I’m worried Mary Miller will bust the party; n. a female’s chest, i.e., That girl’s bust size is quite large; adj. with the addition of “-ed” describing something undesirable or failed.
Everything in its Path: Destruction of Community in the Buffalo Creek Flood by Kai Erickson
ydnmag yale prof emeritus explores how a community
deals with collective trauma. could we take a page from his book?
THE GOP IN TEXAS:
Visualizing the story, p. 21
Voters in the May 2012 TX Republican Senate Primary Race
Voters in the May 2012 TX Democratic Senate Primary Race
2008 Presidential Election Results John McCain Barack Obama
Results from July 2012 Republican Primary Senate Runoff Race
Ted Cruz ydnmag.com | Yale Daily News Magazine | 4
Indivisible D by teo Soares D
he first characters to appear were pipe players. They wore black berets and red kilts and thick black socks that rose to their knees. There were ten of them, mostly men, with their faces hunkered over their instruments so their chins folded in two. They formed a horseshoe on the stage and played “Amazing Grace,” their bagpipes filling the arena with a melodic bellowing that teetered on dissonance. Their music competed with the din of voices coming from the delegates that by now were filtering in and scanning the rows of seats for the section assigned to their district. That Texas’ is the country’s largest Republican state convention was a fact asserted often during those days in Fort Worth. Looking around the arena, you’d find no reason to doubt that state5 | Vol. XL, No. 1 | September 2012
ment. The attendees — 8,996 delegates, plus alternates — packed the folding chairs pitched on the convention floor and spilled into the tiers of stadium seating that rose all around. As it would in a baseball game, a camera panned over the audience and displayed their faces on the large screen that hung behind the stage. Nothing about these delegates identified them as such, save their badges and certain articles of clothing: a hat shaped like an elephant, a sundress patterned like the Texas flag, a T-shirt that showed support for Ted Cruz or David Dewhurst. Eventually the pipe players left the stage. The large screen now showed a timer that counted down to the start of the convention proper. As the numbers dipped below a minute, the spotlights that hung from the ceiling shot beams of
purple, yellow, and blue into the crowd below. The fiddle music that played over the speakers grew faster, and as “0:01” became “0:00” the audience erupted into a cheer. An announcer then told us to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. This being Texas, it was an understood part of the narrative that the pledge to the American flag would be followed by a pledge to the Texan flag, and so after the echo of the first came the words to the second: “Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible.”
hy the Republican Party of Texas would gather in Fort Worth, with the party’s nomination already settled and the state’s
feature votes all but already cast, was a question I asked often at the convention. The question was in fact idiotic, but only one delegate called me on it, his answer to the effect of: because it has to. State conventions are a matter of procedure. The Texas Election Code mandates that, in years of presidential contests, each party holds a state convention to select delegates to the national convention, where these delegates will cast votes for a presidential nominee. In the past, before primaries decided the nominee, the selection of delegates at the state convention might have been an exercise of some consequence, but by the time the 155 delegates from Texas arrived in Tampa for the Republican National Convention in late August, their nomination votes had been predetermined by the primary election in May. The second purpose of the convention, beyond the selection of delegates, is the drafting of a platform, the outlining of principles, or “planks,” held by the Texas Republican Party. In theory this platform would inform deliberations in the national convention, but reality plays out differently. Consider, for example, that the 2012 platform of the Texas Republican Party contains a plank dedicated to the enforcement of the 2012 platform of the Texas Republican Party. That the document must assert its immediacy suggests, I think, a lack thereof. In fact the procedural aspects of the state convention — the selection of candidates, the drafting of the platform — are rituals of symbolic value. The entire exercise is meant to set the tone and put forth the narrative that will culminate in November, nothing more. There is no material consequence to any of it, but politics, like literature, is a realm of the symbolic.
he task of setting the tone fell on Steve Munisteri, Chairman of the Texas Republican Party, who came on stage after the bagpipes and the Pledge of Allegiance. The narrative he presented was the seige of that principle dear to the Republican Party: liberty.
“Our freedoms are under attack,” he said. The aggressors went by many names: “those on the left”; “the Democratic Party”; “the most left-leaning, socialistic administration in the history of the United States of America.” Munisteri’s speech was a call to arms, a rallying cry meant to coalesce the party against these aggressors. Quoting Ronald Reagan, Munisteri called on delegates to proclaim “in bold colors and not pale pastels that we’re the defenders of liberty … We must come out of this convention unified.” The boldest colors were not in the arena but in the exhibition hall, a highceilinged room in the middle of the convention center with a square footage that must have neared six figures. It housed some 70 booths, the cost of which started at $1,000 and stretched to $6,000. Willing to disburse for a few square feet of exhibition space were activist organizations, such as Texas Right to Life; multiple political campaigns, including David Dewhurst’s and Ted Cruz’s; and assorted vendors, like the Blingy Boutique, the Arizona Cap Company, and the Patriotic Shop, Inc., which peddled buttons and bumper stickers and everyday items adorned with flags and eagles and elephants. There were earrings shaped like teapots and ice buckets colored red, white, and blue. On sale for $299.95 was a clutch purse bedazzled with the American flag. Regular price: $338.50. The entire production — the bagpipes, the bedazzled clutch — brought to my mind the 2008 election cycle, when Republicans labeled Barack Obama a showman. The to-be President, they said then, was more flair than substance. The difference, I was told by a Tea
Party activist, was one not of style but of content. “The Obama administration’s lights and P.R. and big glitz were about one man,” she said. “What’s happening here — the lights and the glitter — is about the American people. It’s red, white, and blue. It’s patriotic. It’s about the people and not the man.” The people being, in this case, defenders of liberty.
here were, in the press section, questions as to whether the people in the audience had shouted “boo” or “Cruz” when Rick Perry mentioned Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. Perry himself later told reporters that the audience had said “Dew,” but this struck me as wishful thinking. That we were pondering this question was an accident of timing. It so happened that five months before the convention, Kay Bailey Hutchinson announced she would retire at end of her term, ceding the senate seat she’d occupied for nearly two decades. It so happened that she chose to do so in 2012, a year when the fissures between grassroots voters and the Republican establishment have grown so large that Tea Party darling Ted Cruz, running in the primary against Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, managed to force a runoff election. And it so happened that this runoff election was scheduled for late July, meaning that the state convention, happening in June, became a battleground for the contest between the two men. The jeering came after Rick Perry, speaking on the first day of the convention, said there was a need for more “Texas conservatives in Washington,” including “my friend David Dewhurst.”
There were earrings shaped like teapots and ice buckets colored red, white, and blue. On sale for $299.95 was a clutch purse bedazzled with the American flag. ydnmag.com | Yale Daily News Magazine | 6
feature The audience disagreed, loudly. “Texas works,” Perry said twice, trying to sooth their scorn, but the jeering drowned out his next three or four sentences. Dewhurst himself spoke twice at the convention, once as Lieutenant Governor and again as a senatorial candidate. Well over six feet tall, he is a man of proportions that are awkward but fit well on the stage, where the podium was tall enough that he only had to hunch slightly to mouth his words into the microphone. His voice is low and deep and mostly monotone, but occasionally it cracks, and in those moments his words stumble, as though he were bracing against tears. Not until later did I learn that this manner of speaking is a trace of the stuttering he acquired as a child after his father, an Air Force veteran of World War II, was killed by a drunk driver. It was not too long ago that Dewhurst would have appealed to Texas Republicans. After his father died, his mother took two jobs to keep food on the table. Dewhurst joined the high school debate team to overcome his stutter, and later followed his father’s footsteps into the Air Force as a volunteer in Vietnam. He spent time in Bolivia as a CIA operative before returning to his native Houston, where he made a fortune as an oil-andgas investor. (The company he founded, Falcon Seaboard, also owned a number of ranches, allowing Dewhurst to moonlight as a cattle raiser and horse rider.) He launched his political career in 1999
as Land Commissioner of Texas, and in 2003 he was sworn in as Lieutenant Governor. That none of this — neither his childhood nor his career nor his service to his country — deterred delegates from jeering at his name warrants an explanation. Their contempt was not grounded in issues. Dewhurst and his opponent, Ted Cruz, professed identical stances on every topic of import to Texas Republicans: both griped about taxes, both supported tough border controls, and both had pledged to repeal Barack Obama’s healthcare reform. The two men fought their battles not over issues but, as Dewhurst said in a later debate, over “the only thing you can judge: character.” He meant “character” as a synonym for “repute,” but the literary definition of the word is also apt. When I first saw Cruz at the convention, he was a guest on an online radio show hosted in the exhibition hall. He had a headset wrapped around his face and was explaining why he had rebuffed Dewhurst’s challenge to a debate in Spanish (a language the Lieutenant Governor learned in Bolivia). To understand why Cruz declined this debate, you need to know two things about his character. First: Ted Cruz grew up speaking Spanglish because his father migrated to the United States from Cuba (“with $100 sewn into his underwear,” a detail insisted upon by the campaign), but Cruz never mastered proper Spanish. Second: Ted Cruz was a debating
The narrative of siege has become popular within the Texas Republican Party. The enemies are many: the media, socialists, environmentalists, gays, Iranians, feminists, immigrants, special interests, abortionists, the government. 7 | Vol. XL, No. 1 | September 2012
champion at Princeton and, after graduating Harvard Law, was Solicitor General of Texas, arguing cases before the Supreme Court, in English, and winning. All of this is to say that Cruz refused to debate in Spanish because, though he could embarrass his opponent in English, he stood little chance if the two men were to engage in another language. This, of course, was not the explanation he gave to the radio host. “The voters in Texas speak English, and we need to debate in English,” he said instead. He went on: there’s a reason Dewhurst “made this challenge. In the course of the primary, the Lieutenant Governor … hid from the conservative grassroots voters of Texas, so he desperately wants to have a debate in a language Texans don’t speak.” Cruz then declined, preemptively, debates in French, German, and Swahili. By “conservative grassroots voters” he meant the Tea Partiers of Texas. That a Harvard-educated lawyer of Cuban descent managed to win the support of these far-right Republicans is a testament to his ability to speak their language, to craft a character suitable to their understanding of the plot. Dewhurst’s inferiority in this regard went on full display at the end of the Lieutenant Governor’s first speech, when, trying to rouse the audience, he cried, “Together, we won’t stop fighting until we send Barack Obama back to Chicago.” Applause burst from the audience, and as it faded someone shouted, “To Kenya.” Dewhurst seemed confused, so others chimed in, repeating the word, enunciating each syllable: “Ken-eea.” “Oh, Kenya,” Dewhurst said and made to resume his speech, but by then the audience had begun to laugh. Words seemed to have left him. So great was the gap between the Lieutenant Governor and grassroots voters that he failed to adopt a common construction of the Tea Party language: Barack Obama comes from Africa. The best he could muster, when he finally spoke, was, “Wherever he wants to go, that’s fine.” I don’t mean to imply, by contrast, that Ted Cruz pandered explicitly to
feature birther theories, but he is a former debating champion and Solicitor General of Texas. Such a résumé endows him with a certain set of skills, among these the ability to adapt to an audience, to speak their language, and to present himself as a compelling character. Consider the speech Cruz delivered in late July, after winning the runoff election against Dewhurst: “We’re witnessing a great awakening. Millions of Texans — millions of Americans — are rising up to defend our country and to restore the constitution,” he said. “Together, we will stand up and preserve that shining city on a hill that is the United States of America,” the shining city on a hill, in this narrative, being under siege.
t wasn’t on purpose, I don’t think, that the press section had been blacked out from the convention map. We were on a strip of seats that looked onto the stage from a hard left, so an unusual number of my notes refer to the speakers’ ears: Rick Perry’s, crumpled and folded against his head; Ted Cruz’s, narrow and somewhat elfish; David Dewhurst’s, rounded at the top and anatomically exemplary; and Ron Paul’s, large and protruding far from his skull. The convention lasted from Thursday to Saturday. Mostly I wandered the exhibition hall, occasionally walking to the Starbucks across the street to use the Internet because Wi-Fi at the convention center cost $99.95 a day. I’d been sent to Fort Worth by a Dallas magazine to write blog posts, which I uploaded when I went home at night, but journalists with deadlines during the day either footed the Wi-Fi bill or used personal USB modems in the media room. Access to that room was allegedly granted only to those who wore the gray badges issued to the press. In truth, Room 111, “the media room,” lay behind an unmarked door at the end of a seemingly unending hallway, so far removed from the arena and the exhibition hall that access was regulated by sheer isolation. The room was furnished with four or five long tables, one of which offered
Photos by teo soares / Contributing Photographer
Goldfish and granola bars. There was an iced tea tub, empty when I checked, and there was no coffee, so every morning I shelled out money at either Starbucks or the convention center’s concession stands, which sold Starbucks coffee at a markup. I visited the media room twice, once to work on a post, and once to steal a bag of Goldfish. I spent a lot of time interviewing attendees, and mostly the people I met were nice. I mention this because their niceness surprised me. I was, after all, a member of the press, which according to many Republicans is symptomatic of a particular type of idiocy. In the exhibition hall there was a booth promoting “Accuracy in Media,” which sold ironic buttons that read, “Trust me, I’m a reporter.” That the press section had been blacked out and the media room relegated to the far end of the building were probably coincidences, but they didn’t make me feel particularly welcome. And yet the people were nice. As it turns out, the ease with
which some Republicans deride the media does not apply when that derision is targeted at someone whose media affiliation is only evident from the gray badge they wear around their neck. The most poignant manifestation of this phenomenon came after Ron Paul’s speech, when a columnist from San Antonio interviewed Ronald Gjemre, a Paul supporter. Gjemre, who also went by Ronnie Reeferseed, was in his fifties but looked younger, and he wore plaid shorts and a tattered shirt from one of Paul’s congressional campaigns. He’d come in late and installed himself in the press section, holding up a sign that obstructed my view of Paul’s ear, and when a pause came in the speech Gjemre shouted, “I love you.” It was from him that I first heard the term “presstitute.” During the interview, he told the San Antonio columnist that he believed Paul could still win the nomination in Tampa. When the columnist pressed, Gjemre blamed the media
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feature for Paul’s unpopularity, saying they’d stopped reporting on the congressman because they (like Mitt Romney and Barack Obama) were in the pockets of special interests. They were, in one word, presstitutes. Note I say “they,” which was the pronoun chosen by Gjemre. He was speaking to a journalist, a member of the press, so the second person “you” would have been appropriate, but he chose, instead, the third person plural, “they.” It’s possible he did so to avoid confrontation, but I don’t think that was the case. It was, I think, a case of a discrepancy between the narrative and reality. Gjemre said “they” because neither I, nor the columnist, nor any of the other journalists who now packed their notebooks were, in his eyes, members of the large and abstract collective he called “the media.”
he narrative of siege has become popular within the Texas Republican Party. The enemies are many: the media, socialists, environmentalists, gays, Iranians, feminists, immigrants, special interests, abortionists, the government. Consider the platform that came out of the convention in Fort Worth: the longest plank, on immigration, weighs in at 389 words and features one of the document’s only three exclamation marks. It comes in the sentence,
“The U.S. Border must be secured immediately!” this being crucial to ensure “safety and security for all Americans.” I find it curious that “immigrants” appears not once among those 389 words. The plank refers, instead, to “the immigration issue” and “undocumented individuals.” I should note that the words are relatively level-headed about these “undocumented individuals,” pronouncing their mass deportation “neither equitable nor practical,” but the plank’s language is emblematic of a practice common in contemporary Republican rhetoric: the tendency to pit party and land against a disembodied collective. When Texas Republicans speak of immigration, immigrants serve a purely grammatical function. They are objects and subjects of sentences, around which come the verbs that call for their deportation, or blame them for joblessness, or complain about their inability to learn English. From these verbs comes meaning. The noun is nothing but a placeholder. When Texas Republicans speak of immigrants — when they speak of any of the many forces that threaten their shining city on a hill — they are talking not about people but about abstract collectives around which coalesce their sentiments. Remember: during those days in Fort Worth, I was not the presstitute; “they” were the presstitutes.
The reverse is also true. The besieged thing in this narrative is no more concrete than the disembodied collective against which it must be defended. When Munisteri speaks of the defenders of liberty, when Cruz speaks of a great awakening, their words lack personal meaning. They conjure a plot in which a unified Republican Party will rise, united, against its enemies, and which fails to acknowledge the fissures between the Tea Party, the establishment, and folks like Gjemre. A consequence of this narrative is the illusion that the Republican Party is, in fact, one.
t’s decorum to place the right hand over one’s heart during the Pledge of Allegiance, both to the United States and the state of Texas. I have, in my notes from the first day of the convention, a line about this pledge, which suggests my right hand was not over my heart but holding a pen. It’s also unlikely I ever spoke the words, not because I don’t know them, but because I can’t write and speak at the same time. The pledge is in fact etched in my memory. Every morning during high school, we took a minute to recite it. I failed to see, at that time, why the words insist on the oneness of the state. D D D
The Matchbox My fingers, which should be familiar, belonged to another woman. The splinter melted the plastic, blackened the wood a coin-sized scorch — an absence. I thought the plastic was green-checkered, but it was the one with roses. Rain fell this morning, in the garden, and the leaves were dry under the sheltering oak. You knelt in the garden, with busy hands. That was the color of your hair that fragile orange — 9 | Vol. XL, No. 1 | September 2012
I light fires in the evening, balling newspaper behind the grate, and the crisp snap is quieter than the silence — quiet, quiet rain revisiting the garden. I pressed my hands over the roses, fingers splayed. You told me I could press out your image too, hands on my temples, pressing. When rain and newspaper and pressing did not work, I slid open the box again.
– Nikola Champlin
Small Talk JUPITER ON BROADWAY D INNOCENTS IN PRISON I’m weaving through a tattooed
crowd outside of Toad’s on York Street one November night, trying to reach the York-Elm intersection before the 20-second crossing period ends. But before I can cross, I’m approached by a stranger — a middle-aged man of average height with a red windbreaker on. His forehead wrinkles like a topographical map when he begins to speak. “Hey, do you want to take a look at Jupiter tonight?” He twists the “a” in “at” so that it sounds like two syllables instead of one. Looking behind him I see a telescope set up and a young girl rearranging the eyepiece for me. Four ... three ... two ... one. The crossing time runs out. Cars begin zooming through the intersection. I’m stuck. “Sure. Why not?” I tell him. Joe Alcott, Hamden resident and self-proclaimed Sidewalk Astronomer of New Haven, explains that I’m about to see the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest in the Milky Way. I look through the telescope lens and eye an orange Creme Saver 500 million miles away from me. Alcott stands outside Origins most Tuesday and Saturday nights, gathering crowds of up to 50 people after Toad’s ends. Although sidewalk astronomy is not his primary occupation (he is a truck driver and a father of three) and although he bought his first telescope just two years ago, he has brought a long-standing tradition to New Haven. Sidewalk astronomy has been popularized in the past 40 years by John Dobson, eccentric cosmologist and ex-monk, who founded the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers in 1968. Dobson, now 97, is bent on reconciling religion and science — he spent 23 years in the San Francisco Vedanta Monastery trying to figure out how he could give everyone the chance to look up at the stars and “see where they were born,” as he says. He designed a more cost-efficient and user-friendly Newtonian reflector scope, the Dobsonian telescope, but because his experiments detracted from his duties as a monk, he was eventually asked to leave the monastery. Penniless and homeless, Dobson carried his telescope out the back door and began sharing his contraption with passersby, usually buoyant children, on street corners in San Francisco. He quickly attracted a following and with the help of his most devoted fans built a 24-inch telescope that he could transport on highways throughout California to allow increasing numbers of people to see the stars. Sidewalk astronomy has spread across America and the world. “It is a natural concept for anyone with a telescope
who wants to share the beauty of the heavens with his fellow earthbound humans,” said Tom Hoffelder, who co-founded the Sidewalk Astronomers of New Haven with Alcott. Yet Dobson’s unorthodox cosmological philosophies (he doubts the validity of the Big Bang Theory) have been ridiculed. Hoffelder, an astronomer with a BS in aeronautical engineering and a former engineer for Pratt and Whitney, has met Dobson twice and “consider[s] him to be a wonderful person with lots of good ideas … but if he started talking his cosmology, I would find someone else to talk to.” Sidewalk Astronomers of New Haven began when Hoffelder met Alcott about two years ago on a trip to New York City and asked him if he would be interested in setting up a telescope on a street corner one weekend. “Saturn and its rings are going to be beautiful this fall,” he said. Alcott had a brief inner monologue, rife with amusement and a little excitement: Is this guy serious? What can you really see in the city? The first time they showed the moon to onlookers in New York, they amassed a crowd of 300 people. The success encouraged both men — one an experienced astronomer, the other an amateur — to try the same in New Haven. Hoffelder moved to Maine this past spring to pursue clearer skies, and Alcott is, for now, the sole Sidewalk Astronomer of New Haven. He hopes to expand the group and increase his following at Yale and in New Haven. “Right now we’re kind of small, and we’re hit and miss as far as weather goes,” he says. Alcott still loves debunking people’s misconceptions about telescopes and outer space. “We sometimes have to show people
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small talk there’s actually not a picture inside of [the telescope],” he says. “People think it’s a hoax.” He especially enjoys telling people that when they see Jupiter through his scope, they are seeing it eight minutes in the past because of the time it takes for light to travel from space to their eyes. “The look on their faces is beautiful shock,” he says. That beautiful shock is what Sidewalk Astronomers is all about: asking people to stop for just a moment in the hustle of life to appreciate the vastness and profound splendor of the universe, to give everyone on earth the chance to see the stars for a moment on one night of their lives. – Arielle Stambler
I began my summer certain that
innocent people are sometimes wrongfully convicted, but believing that when authorities are faced with irrefutable proof — DNA evidence, for instance — the innocent would go free; indeed, the government would practically trip over itself to rectify its mistakes. I was wrong. I was a communications intern at the Innocence Project, an organization that works to free wrongfully convicted prisoners using DNA evidence. The group represents inmates and lobbies to stop wrongful convictions from occurring. Now in its 20th year, the Innocence Project has played a key role in most of the 300 exonerations through DNA evidence in the United States. Early in my internship I learned about the case of George Allen. You could hardly imagine someone sitting in prison who seemed less guilty. Allen alleges that police arrested him by accident when they confused him with a suspect in a rape and murder case. They discovered their mistake, but decided to interrogate the drunk and schizophrenic Allen anyway. A recording shows police guiding him to answer questions in a way that would incriminate him. Nonetheless, Allen was convicted of the rape and murder in 1983. It wasn’t until 2011 that testing revealed that Allen’s DNA didn’t match semen found on the victim’s clothing. In many ways, Allen’s case is a common one for the Innocence Project. But here’s the thing about Allen: he’s still in prison. In spite of the evidence demonstrating his innocence, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office refuses to release him. They have been “reviewing” his conviction for almost a year, while for nearly 30 years, he’s been behind bars. Of the many troubling aspects of this case, the most disturbing is that authorities appear to have known that Allen was innocent since his conviction in 1983. According to the petition for Allen’s release, the serology expert discovered that semen from the crime was of a different blood type than Allen’s, yet the expert crossed this finding off the report. In the last year, police have admitted that their interrogation was “iffy,” that it included “leading questions,” and that they did not turn over all the evidence to the defense, including fingerprint evidence that further demonstrates Allen’s innocence. I turned to an employee who sat behind me. I said something 11 | Vol. XL, No. 1 | September 2012
to the effect of, “Can you believe this?” She responded, “Yeah, it’s terrible.” She sounded sympathetic, yet unsurprised. She had, after all, worked at the Innocence Project for a few years, and no doubt had seen this sort of bureaucratic intransigence more times than I could fathom. “But they’re going to have to let him out, aren’t they?” I pressed. “They’ll let him out eventually,” she replied. “They’re just stalling for time.” Part of the reason police have stalled is sheer embarrassment. When an inmate is exonerated, the headlines are everywhere. Press on prosecutors and police can be fatal to careers. On the other hand, when even someone like Allen is still in jail, the stigma of conviction can sew doubt in the public mind. Under those conditions, prosecutors have every reason to stall or even hide evidence. These tactics came to light during the case of Bruce Godschalk, who was convicted of two counts of rape in 1987. When the Innocence Project demanded DNA re-testing, the prosecution lied in three different ways: first, they claimed that the evidence had already been tested, then that the results had been inconclusive, and finally that the evidence had been destroyed in the course of the testing. But it turned out that testing had never taken place; the same police officer who had coerced Godschalk’s false confession failed to deliver the samples to the lab for testing. All of this took months to emerge, but when the evidence was finally tested, it cleared Godschalk. He was released on Valentine’s Day in 2002. These are the obstacles the Innocence Project encounters, and its work only gets harder as the American prison population grows: 2.27 million adults are currently incarcerated, nearly twice the number from 20 years ago. Each exoneration is a success, but each is also a failure — a failure of the criminal justice system. The Innocence Project is “part of the criminal justice system,” says one of the Project’s staff attorneys, Olga Akselrod, but “by the time the cases get to us, they’ve been an example of total system failure.” Policy Director Stephen Saloom agrees. “The most important role our work has played is to force people to recognize the uncomfortable truths of the system’s fallibilities,” he says. At any given time, the Innocence Project is evaluating 6,000 to 8,000 potential cases and representing 300 active cases. Any one of these people might be innocent, but the chances of their exoneration are extremely slim. After a summer of work, the Innocence Project showed me an underside of the justice system that I hadn’t known existed. It showed me a world in which prosecutorial egos and bureaucratic red-tape can hinder justice, even in the face of hard evidence. Above all, it showed me the importance of continuing to fight for the truth. – Scott Stern
DON'T APOLOGIZE IN WARTIME D
by daniel bethEncourt D
DANIEL BETHENCOURT / CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER
was in a guesthouse in Johannesburg, South Africa that had its own high white walls and electric sliding gate with four dogs, they barked at anything and everything within 30 feet, I thought that was excessive — two weeks in someone jumped over our wall to nab a laptop from the house next door while the owner was gone, so we got medieval spikes that took about a week to paint white, to match the walls. Living in this city felt like war. I had no reason to feel that way. I would drive a tiny rented car around a corner and feel like I might see a bomb blare through the road’s
center, orange lapping flames … I didn’t want to roll my window down while driving. A gated estate manager named Sid told me I’d be fine over ten weeks, but if I stayed a few years, “Your time will come.” Left me thinking, what if my time comes in just ten weeks? Johannesburg is flooded with more capital and BMWs and sky-high buildings than the rest of Africa. It was founded in a scramble for a sprawling gold mine and there’s still that feeling of a frantic hunt for quick money at any cost. Wealth that soars in towers next to devastating ydnmag.com | Yale Daily News Magazine | 12
personal essay third-world hunger means there are suburban streets at night without a single car outside, also these patient fences with electric wires ten feet high. But I was inside my head. The seething city and my isolation shoved me back inside myself, and then the city’s violence and its fear of violence made me think that I should stay that way, holed up in my own brain with paranoia. I wanted to think my paranoia was weighed down with meaning for the nation, as if it were part of the debate as to whether South Africa would find its way as a democracy after apartheid’s crumble 18 years ago. But that’s not what happened: I was just American and silly and really alone out there. South Africa is extremely south, by world standards. That seems obvious and yet the feeling affected everything I did. As the American it felt like I could shout and no one I know or understand would hear for roughly 8,000 miles. Which is how far Yale’s campus was, if I could have launched myself across the leagues of black ice water in a perfect line. Who am I to complain about the lack of safety? At least 1.6 million are living this reality, many of them their whole lives — felt angry I had never known that a huge portion of the world lives just like this, all the time. But I forced myself to learn something that still seems halfway valuable from sleeping in a house with barred windows and two separate doors I locked before I went to sleep. Like I better figure out what I can do with my whole life inside this cage, like I should be searching out exactly what I want and not apologize to anyone who expects something different, since there aren’t nearly enough minutes or seconds for me to feel embarrassed when my twisting American brain is telling me my life was on the line, everyone’s time feels destined to come, here in this city, that time seems like it comes fast. This is how the lesson started teaching itself: I was an intern at a newspaper, and when I stopped showing up with two weeks left, no one noticed. (I had come there for nine weeks, thinking this would be a new experience it — was.) I stopped showing up once I felt like I was in the wrong city as a reporter, I was the wrong type of reporter, maybe in the wrong profession. All I knew was that my sense of propulsion in the opposite direction from the newspaper and the city was strong. I spent most of the remaining time inside my rented guesthouse with the pair of barred-in doors both locked, even in daylight. (Seven weeks in, weren’t the odds turning against me?) The place came with enormous rats that would explore the inner depths inside the walls at all hours — the woman I leased it from told me politely that it was their mating season — and I would not have minded, but their scratching sounded just like someone 13 | Vol. XL, No. 1 | September 2012
was picking the front door lock. Now I faced a cage that was my home, no cell phone that could be taken seriously, few friends and no compelling reason to still be here and 8,000 miles from Yale’s campus. I figured my flight time couldn’t change. The all-out retreat into my head was now in full effect. I started to pace the tiny walled-in driveway back and forth while the sun was shining down, and I was crunching on what could be called British biscotti, “rusks,” consuming a cereal-sized box of these things, watching the crumbs drift out onto the patio from my narrow raised platform that split up the driveway and a tiny garden, as if one could ruminate while walking the plank and one of the four dogs is a German Shepherd named Gracie, who stared at me while poised in sympathy; all she had to do was bark when someone got remotely near the gate and walls. The walls newly equipped with matching spikes. War, war … I was in no active danger yet I’d let myself spin this far down, and there was no wavering in life direction in a war, especially one I made up … I wanted to write something much weirder, larger than a story for a paper, I started to work on writing that still felt like reporting, why I came here in the first place, but now I was following the facts I had haphazardly collected so the story’s end, unlike in the papers, seemed so far from clear. I was writing with a blue Bic pen and blank white printer paper matching every painted surface of the guesthouse — walls and ceiling were solid white with no adornments, white matching even and especially the bars across the windows. I fell hard into that vacuum with no one to call or be called by, I fell almost too far inside myself once I’d turned my laptop off and tucked it under the bed so I’d forget about it. I was all but hearing voices down in there, odd songs that got louder since everything slowed to pen and paper speed. It got really, really quiet, each word a muted thudding down. This felt like all I had, and everything was suddenly in forward motion. During a war I mostly imagined, I found a way to write that felt like home for long enough to make staying inside the city’s cage worth it. Two weeks later I was visiting a street in Manhattan’s West Village, bombed out with wealth and numbingly quiet. I was checking over both my shoulders every 30 seconds, thinking, Is it safe to be on foot? I knew I had changed. I thought I’d better welcome myself to real life, I’d better make sure I was walking the right street at the right time with my head down slightly and a damn good cosmic reason to be walking anywhere at all. D D D
ROOM WITHOUT A VIEW D
amelia urry D
Photos by Amelia Urry / Contributing Photographer
he one window in our apartment looks out onto the wreck of an abandoned construction site. The facing building is barely ten feet from our own, separated by an irregular gap that resembles nothing more than a lopsided elevator shaft. The two buildings are built are the same basic principles, with one narrow apartment stacked on top of another, and approximately matched in height. The large frame of our window corresponds to the wide mouth of the unfinished room, a kind of brick corridor tucked between the neighboring buildings but left open on two sides. At the far end of the corridor, we can just barely see — past a clutter of empty plastic buckets, planks tumbled like Pick-Up-Stix across the concrete floor, broken bricks, and sun-faded plastic tarps hanging down from
the stained cement ceiling — the grainy view over Ho Chi Minh City’s jumbled roofs disappearing and reappearing behind the flapping tarps like some cautious magician’s trick. When I wake up on my first morning in Vietnam, I ask Michael if we should close the curtains. I am jetlagged and disoriented, but he has been here two weeks already, along enough to know that progress in Vietnam is not as straightforward as cause and effect. He assures me that a construction site does not mandate construction workers, and we go back to sleep in the thin morning light. I am here, in this tiny, one-window apartment in a city whose language I do not speak, because I wanted — idiotically, naively, stubbornly — to test myself. With ydnmag.com | Yale Daily News Magazine | 14
He does not turn his head when my own dark shape moves behind the curtains, but I am sure that he can see me from the corner of his eye as clearly as I can see him. I close the curtains. a final year of college ahead, this summer afforded the perfect opportunity to stretch my limits by about 7,000 miles, more or less, to see what was on the other side. What I found first was our apartment, which, with its clean white tile and mod-ish wall recesses, admits very little of the outside world. Under the fluorescent lights of the living room, Michael and I sit for hours, our strange schedules dictated by erratically organized independent projects, staring at computer screens and stringing words together. For weeks, Michael’s theory about our abandoned construction site holds true. So I am not prepared to wake one morning with a sick shock at the sight of a man’s silhouette framed in our window, the intruder not-quite-in-the-night, but close enough to make me shudder with evolutionary impulse. He is rooting through the wreckage ten feet from our window, so close I feel I could speak and he would hear me. He does not turn his head when my own dark shape moves behind the curtains, but I am sure that he can see me from the corner of his eye as clearly as I can see him. I close the curtains. Every morning for the next few days, the man, or his doppelganger, comes back to rummage around for a few hours before disappearing as mysteriously as he arrived. Michael and I hypothesize about his purpose. Is he searching for scrap metal to sell? Salvaging supplies for some other construction project in this city climbing over itself to grow faster, faster toward the future? Or is he scoping out our building so he can come back and burgle us later? We are torn between fascination and mild fear, our default reaction to much that happens in the first few weeks we spend in the country. What is that on the plate, and is it safe to eat? What is she saying? What does he want? Does the traffic ever stop? Do the smiling kids like us or laugh at us? Few of our questions get any answers. Since the man comes around seven or eight in the morning, I make a habit of getting up before him. Life 15 | Vol. XL, No. 1 | September 2012
starts early here; most people are already awake by five-thirty, if they have not gotten up in the darkness before that to jog through the empty streets. Once the sun starts to fill in the sky behind the buildings, the roads begin to run with traffic. People mill along the sidewalks, which will soon be ceded to the sun, stopping to slurp breakfast at plastic tables along the side of the road. When the sun comes up in earnest, most people retreat into the shade of their shop awnings to put their feet up and prepare for a day of waiting. Work, construction and otherwise, starts by eight at the latest. By then, Michael and I are just getting up, eating the tiny, sweet bananas we love sliced over large bowls of cereal, a Western indulgence that costs us a few extra dollars at the supermarket. Sometimes over a bowl of cornflakes, it is easy to forget where we are, six stories up in Ho Chi Minh City’s endless churning life. After all, it is always quiet in the bright, windowless room. Then the sound of hammering rattling us unceremoniously out of unconsciousness one morning, and the city enters our apartment in earnest. It feels like someone is pounding on the wall beside our heads, the sound echoing in the narrow shaft between buildings, filling the hollowness with enormous noise and percolating into our room through the thin layer of glass we had thought was meant to keep the outside out. Voices shout back and forth, abrupt, lilted syllables, bantering maybe, or commands shouted across the gap, while ladders rattle their claw-like feet against the cement and the hammering continues to play staccato on our heads. The power goes out, like a bad joke. For a minute, Michael and I both sit in the darkness and listen to the men hammering as the light leaks around the edges of our curtains. This has happened twice already, but now the stifling darkness is intensified by the sounds reverberating through the walls around us. As the lack of AC starts to draw the air even closer, we cannot stay any longer. A taxi ride later, we station ourselves at a small round table in a familiar café and order iced coffee so sweet it makes the muscles of my cheeks clench on the first sip. Michael opens his computer, and I dawdle, staring out the wall-sized windows of the cafe. We are on the street level, and the vendors and bikers who pass by sometimes stare back at the people sitting inside. Women in straw hats and face masks walk by, balancing heavy baskets of fruit across their shoulders or selling large plastic bags of chips and candy. One woman is cooking sweet wafers over a little coal-fired brazier on the sidewalk. Bored teenagers thumb their iPhones from the doorways of family restaurants. On tiny plastic chairs beside the food stands, men poke through bowls of noodles as young women in impeccable suits zip by on motor-
bikes. This is the city as it exists every day, as it moves and flows and confounds itself like a great river, rushing forward but still snagging among the old traditions. Across the whole city, skyscrapers stick up from the field of old, narrow houses as the aluminum roofs and pastel sun porches sheltering electric-lit Buddhist altars are crowded out block by block. Everywhere, mechanical cranes nod with ponderous intention over the sites of future high-rises, luxury resorts, shopping complexes foretold in the oversaturated pictures plastered over high chain link fences, many of which enclose nothing for the moment but empty space. We walk back to the apartment after lunch and a long afternoon spent leisurely working in the cafĂŠ. Walking in this city is a particular challenge; not only do we start to sweat after a humid block or two, but the sidewalks themselves are heaved tectonically up in some places; elsewhere, they are only wide enough for one person to walk, or else crowded with parked motorbikes and vendors whose carts and tables we pick around gingerly. This movement has a kind of rhythm to it, though, and we find ourselves striding with undue purpose. When we cross the busy streets, the traffic moves around us like a strange school of fish, continuous and yet yielding
with a readiness that always surprises my inner New Englander. There is a method to the madness, a system of hierarchy among the vehicles moving on their many intersecting trajectories; we, too, are absorbed into the pattern. Traffic is just starting to pick up as it does in the early evenings; the streets and sidewalks are suddenly packed with motorbikes, kids returning from school and families heading home for dinner, teenagers loitering in narrow parking lots with their friends, talking and watching the flood go by. This is the best time of day in Saigon, just as the sun slips behind the skyline and the heat breaks with palpable relief. For the first time all day, we are joined along the rickety sidewalks by throngs of people, strolling or playing badminton or bouncing along to the motions of an aerobic instructor, earnest and utterly unabashed. With so many people on all sides in this city, there is no privacy except the anonymizing force of the crowd milling, mingling, equalizing all. Back at the apartment, the men have gone home, and the flapping tarps in the room across the way have disappeared. Through the newly-cleared opening, I can see the view on the other side clearly for the first time, the ydnmag.com | Yale Daily News Magazine |â€‚ 16
crit plaster face of the building across the wide boulevard, its slatted windows and, at the top, a little porch tasseled with greenery. The muddled roofs spread out haphazardly behind it, finished buildings and hollow shells alike, everything frozen in the midst of some great geological surge uplifting this whole region. But the view is gone two days later, when the brick wall appears after another long day of hammering outside the window. After that, the sheath of concrete and plaster is applied to the brick with similar abruptness, in the space of a few days. An iron grille is welded upright between the two windows, now mirrored versions of the each other. The potted plants stationed on the shelf outside our window have survived this summer of change well, despite the reduced sunlight and the rain that now has to drip past a mesh of planks and grilles to feed them. I feel similarly hardy. We have passed the test that proves us able to take this sprawling, boisterous city in stride, to cross intersections without flinching, to weather the endless abrasion of 10 million people living loudly on all sides, without losing track of ourselves. Like any city truly lived in, Saigon now exists for us less as a complete place than a pattern of certain intersections and
17 |â€‚ Vol. XL, No. 1 | September 2012
streets with certain landmarks we visit habitually. The rest of it, that blur of jackhammers and little alleyways, everything left unexplored by the end of the summer, lies outside of the particular version of Vietnam we have known. When two workmen come to smooth a second coat of plaster over the first, we leave the curtains open. Somewhere below, the endless hammering continues in short, rhythmic bursts. The men outside our window have laid planks across the gap between the two buildings, and sit casually over the great depth with their bare feet dangling, smoothing the white paste into the corners of the building and talking easily back and forth. One sings a short line to the tune of â€œYellow Submarine.â€? Behind them, the view which we used to piece together from behind a fluttering curtain is now reduced to one long rectangle squeezed between new doorways and walls separating that once-empty brick hallway into a series of clean-cornered rooms. There, a glimpse of that beige building across the way, the green roof behind it, the single slice out of an enormous puzzle. D D D
the Sounds of Shamblytown D
by Sarah maslin D
photos by sarah maslin / contributing photographer
LASKA — Mile 102 of the Glenn Highway and my knuckles are white. Out one window, a drop-off to an ice block 27 miles long and four miles wide. Out the other, small cliff fragments strewn across the road. Neither the thin metal railing, twisted and torn where previous drivers steered toward the glacier, nor the road sign that says “Falling Rocks” settle my nerves — especially when two hyper dogs are intent on driving our car. Jade and Big Belly’s paws explore everything: the dashboard, the driver’s lap, the clutch, the steering wheel. Dog butt in my face and slobber on my sweater, I’m jammed under a mound of backpacks with a case of beer squishing my feet. My left leg has been asleep since we left Anchorage two hours ago. This would all be okay, exciting even, if I knew where the heck we were going. “Mendeltna,” my co-counselor Andrea whispered in my ear all week long as we led a squirmy bunch of kids around the woods and longed for Friday. “The Mendeltna Creek Music Festival. It’s bluegrass. It’s awesome.” Bluegrass isn’t exactly the Friday night pump-up music I’m used to hearing blasted through courtyards at Yale. But staff at Trailside Discovery Camp, where I work in Anchorage, have been playing the fiddle-music constantly in the vans we use to cart kids around. Now, the car radio emits only static. Raindrops thump on the windshield and huge gray Alaska clouds fill the Matanuska valley, obscuring the tops of the Talkeetna Mountains. I begin to wonder if Mendeltna exists at all. We are nowhere.
After nearly four hours, we arrive at a tiny green marker for Mile 153 on a stretch of highway that looks no different from where we were 10 minutes earlier, or ten minutes before that. A cluster of cars is parked in front of a lone building that looks as if it’s built out of huge Lincoln Logs: the Mendeltna Creek Lodge. A piece of cardboard announces, in Sharpie, “The 3rd Annual Mendeltna Creek Music Festival.” D Although Alaska could tuck 120 Connecticuts inside its borders, it has a population of less than 750,000. So much land and so few people has kept the “Last Frontier” remarkably wild. This vastness, and the accompanying isolation, may explain why bluegrass music has become so popular in a state I never expected to find it. Bluegrass comes from the “hillbilly music” of Appalachia, where British and Irish immigrants introduced the fiddle and fast-paced dance rhythms to old-time country tunes. The style of music got its name in 1938, when country star Bill Monroe decided to call his new band “Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys” as a tribute to his native Kentucky, the Blue Grass State. The genre, which picked up elements of gospel, blues, and jazz as it evolved in the early 20th century, is known today for its traditional acoustic instruments, complex vocal harmonies, and powerful, often melancholic sound. Like immigrants in 19th-century Appalachia, recent settlers in Alaska have looked to bluegrass as a way to cope with their new surroundings and to bond with one another. ydnmag.com | Yale Daily News Magazine | 18
observer I figured that an Alaska bluegrass festival, in the age of mainstream festivals like Bonnaroo and Coachella, would be relatively tame. These days, most are — but only because the wilder hoedowns of the past have recently been shut down, including the granddaddy of them all, the Talkeetna Bluegrass Music Festival. Its hosts called it quits last summer after 30 years of operation because they were sick of fighting with the local authorities over permits and capacity issues. The smaller festivals that have survived in Alaska — there’s nearly one every weekend, all summer long — are advertised on a single web page that lists the town, the date, and the host’s email or phone number. There are no set lists or online ticket booths, and often no address other than a milepost on a highway. It’s what all Alaskans would call “shambly” — a word I heard for the first time my chaotic night at Mendeltna Creek. D About 60 bluegrass fans braved the trip up the Glenn Highway to Mile 153. They came with their tents, their toddlers, and enough layers — or lagers — to keep warm in the frost of late May. I’m sure there was good music playing that night, but instead I remember snapshots tinted by the dull gray of Alaska fog. A huge oriental rug, the backdrop of the stage. A white cockatoo perched on the shoulder of an otherwise-normal-looking guy who used his bird to lure dance partners. A mostly empty bottle of Heinz yellow mustard atop a swinging rope bridge. A weirdly bright sky, like a huge night light, dimming only slightly as the hours passed. Crumpled beer cans around a campfire and flames flickering all night long. Dogs. So many dogs. My time at Mendelta ended, quite literally and quite unfortunately, in shambles. I woke up in Andrea’s tent early the next morning freezing cold, my right foot throbbing with pain. Sperry’s — with their utter lack of ankle support — are far from proper footwear at a bluegrass festival, especially one that involves dancing on uneven wooden boards and particularly when you’re someone who’s prone to sprains. Lesson learned: go barefoot or go home. (Or wear boots, like most of the Alaskans dancing that night.) I did go home barefoot, but only because my ankle had swollen to the size of a large egg and could no longer fit into my shoe. I decided in the car on the drive back that going forward, I’d only listen to bluegrass on iTunes. D But a mere three weeks later, squeezed into the back of a different bulging car, I’m headed up the Glenn Highway on a second Friday afternoon. This time, the drive — to the Granite Creek Music Festival, in Sutton — is only half as long. A brilliant sun has replaced the gloomy clouds, and it is beginning to feel a little less like winter and a little more like spring (never mind that it’s technically June). This time, thank God, there are no dogs in the car. 19 | Vol. XL, No. 1 | September 2012
We turn off the highway onto a narrow dirt road lined with cars on both sides, clusters of tents pitched haphazardly under a canopy of spruce and cottonwood trees. The cottonwoods are in full bloom. With every gust of wind, white tufts float down from the bright sky, dotting the ground like snow. I exit the car in a kind of daze. I was sleeping, it is sunny, and the air is filled with campfire smoke. I can’t remember why on earth I’ve come. After all, I’m on crutches — the consequence of the first time I ventured out into the middle of nowhere to listen to bluegrass with a bunch of hippie Alaskans. A loud “Whoop!” comes suddenly from across the road, where my co-worker Rachel is cooking steak on a Jetboil stove in the back of her Subaru. She waves me over to meet her posse: two tall girls in long flowy skirts and brown XtraTuf rainboots, along with a guy holding what looks like a crystal ball. (“He needed a ride,” Rachel explains.) Liam rolls the ball up his forearm, into the crook of his elbow, onto his shoulder, and then, with a quick snake-like movement, over his head and down the other side. (I later find out that the ball is called an “orb,” and it has an additional function. “Have you ever killed an ant with a magnifying glass?” Liam asks me. “Similar idea, you’re just killing your bowl of weed.”) The guy with the bird is there, too. Rachel tells me she’s exchanged some of her hula-hoop-making supplies — plastic tubing and colored tape — for the steak she’s cooking. She has opted to prop her stove in her car trunk, next to several cases of beer and a carton of fresh eggs, rather than by her tent, an expensive combination of tough fabric and sturdy poles designed to retain heat in even the harshest winter conditions. The tent is sacred, I learn, and thus, steak grease will stay in the car. My first 30 minutes at Granite Creek are a string of mini panic attacks. I worry that the stove will blow up Rachel’s car. I’m overwhelmed by the people and the noise — it takes me a while to figure out where the stage isc because there are impromptu jam sessions at several campsites, and music is coming from everywhere. A dozen dogs are suddenly barking. And a kid on a unicycle is riding precariously close to me and my crutches. But the sun feels good after weeks of dreariness and cold, and Rachel’s laid-back attitude puts me at ease. As we walk over to the music area, I scope out the crowd: there are plenty of young adults, but also many families with kids, and older couples, some of whom lean back in their camping chairs like they’ve been coming here for years. Everyone wears loose, comfy clothing: flannels, puffy vests, Carhartt pants, patterned skirts with flowery blouses, and jewelry that doesn’t quite match. “Hiking-boot-chic” is the norm here. In fact, Anchorage prides itself on a poll that rates it as the worst-dressed city in America. If a strict music schedule exists, I’m not aware of it. Everyone seems friendly, though I overhear a woman complaining that someone has peeled off the Obama sticker on her car (this is still Palin country). At some point, I loosen up enough to let
observer Andrea drag me up onto the dirt in front of the stage — a flatbed semi truck covered with a bearskin rug — to dance, crutches and all, with a gang from work. When it starts getting dark, at around 2:00 a.m., the music moves away from the stage and disperses in every direction, picking up again at campfires where it seems like everybody can play the guitar. I peel myself away and crawl into my tent, falling asleep to the cozy sounds of banjoes and water rushing through the rocks of the creek-bed. D My dad pays me a visit towards the end of the summer. My ankle still won’t let us do much hiking, so I decide to take him to a music festival in Hope, a sleepy fishing town across the bay from Anchorage. It’s windy and pouring rain, and we encounter practically no one on the Hope Highway, a 15-mile road that leads only to the town. After parking on Main Street, we seek refuge in the Seaview Inn and Bar — a white and green building with a rusted tin roof, four tables in the dining room, and fishing and hunting paraphernalia along the walls and shelves. The tables are all full, but we hear there’s still seating at the bar, where the festival will take place because of the rain. As we duck into the room, I notice two things at once. The first is the sound of a mandolin — a bluegrass band is tuning at the far end of the bar. The second is the familiar green and yellow of a Green Bay Packers T-shirt, worn by a football fan in front of me. The guy next to him is wearing a Badgers hat. “Are you guys from Wisconsin?” I blurt out in disbelief. After three months in Alaska, I’ve met few folks from my home state. “Yeah,” one of them replies, “and so’s the band!” I look towards the makeshift stage. They’ve finished tuning, and the mandolin player, sporting a Fu Manchu mustache and a paisley shirt, picks up the microphone. “I’m happy and sorry to see so many fishermen here tonight,” Matthew Pustina says. Everybody laughs — evidently, the catch wasn’t so good today. Pustina steps back from the mic and nods to the other band members. They begin to play. “Keep your head up and your blade sharp when you’re walking the streets of this old town / People here don’t like your kind around,” go the lyrics of one song. Another song announces an intention to “pump your brains full of blood and steel” with a “Super Redhawk Alaskan 44,” a revolver that’s often used for protection against bears. In spite of the dark lyrics, the songs are lively and upbeat. On this night in Hope, Pustina has friends visiting, so nearly half the bar is from Wisconsin — enough people to start a lively rendition of the song “Aaron Rodgers Rock and Roll,” accompanied by a five-piece acoustic bluegrass band (Aaron Rodgers, of course, is the Green Bay Packers’ star quarterback). My dad, with his Mason jar of beer in hand, thinks it’s all pretty great.
Shambly, adj. Chaotic, sometimes verging on crazy. Often linked to the consumption of alcohol on a Friday night, especially Old Crow. D “I came to visit,” most Alaskans will tell you with a smile or a shrug. “And then, well, I guess I just stayed.” Two years ago, Hot Dish guitarist Lucas Soden was visiting his former band-mates from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, twins Matthew and Nicholas Pustina, who had moved to Alaska a few years earlier. “I fell in love with the mountains,” he tells me at a barbecue he is hosting at his Anchorage apartment the week after the concert in Hope. Soden ditched his teaching job in Kenosha, Wis. to move to Alaska, where teachers are generally paid more. The friends started jamming together again, for fun — in college they’d played rock ‘n’ roll, but Soden now preferred bluegrass. Before long, they’d booked their first gig: a National Outdoor Leadership School benefit in Palmer, 45 minutes north of Anchorage. They were paid with local vegetables and a freshly slaughtered chicken. These days, Hot Dish Bluegrass is a regular presence at festivals around the state (including Salmonstock, Alaska’s two-yearold version of Bonnaroo, which features a big-name line-up and tickets that cost over $100). They released their first CD in August. “Why ‘Hot Dish’?” I ask. The band members wanted a name that had something to do with both Wisconsin and food. A “hot dish” is a popular Midwestern term for a casserole — good ol’ comfort food, and a far cry from the wild rice and salmon (Soden’s catch) that we’re eating tonight. As the August sun starts to dwindle, Soden and Pustina put their cards down and take out their instruments. They begin to pick out a tune. The mandolin wavers on a high note, descending to meet the steady strum of the guitar. After a few bars, Soden’s husky tenor cuts in. This is a song he wrote. “I’m on my way, I’m on my way,” Soden sings, “Wisconsin bound.” Unlike Soden, I have just one more week in Alaska. These bittersweet lyrics hit home. D D D
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selen uman / staff photographer
22 |â€‚ Vol. XL, No. 1 | September 2012
The Great American Sfogliatella BY SANJENA SATHIAN PHOTOS BY SARAH STRONG
eter Faggio’s hands are large. They have soft, wide palms that look both worked and untouched and long, thick fingers ending in floury white nails. His hands are the envy of the other bakers at Lucibello’s Italian Bakery in Wooster Square — only his are large enough to cup the wide slab of dough that forms the basis of Lucibello’s signature pastry, the sfogliatella. Peter is the owner of Lucibello’s and doesn’t get his hands doughy as much as he used to. But sometimes when he walks through the kitchen, he unfolds his arms from their crossed position, rubs some shortening onto a thin piece of dough and takes a moment to make the perfect sfogliatella. At 6 a.m. one Thursday, Lucibello’s is rubbing the sleep out of its eyes to begin a long morning of pastry and cake making. By 7:30, the bakers have arrived and the delivery truck from Wallingford has come and gone, filling the back room with flour and gallons of whole milk and sacks of sugar and hefty buckets of pre-cracked egg yolks that hold more than 200 eggs in each con-
tainer. From a block away, I can smell the wisps of Lucibello’s morning preparations already: fresh cream; warm, flaky pastries; and swells of toasted pine-nut cookies peering out of their display cases. As the little one-story building begins to nourish the morning air with thickly layered scents of soonto-be-sweetness, the street around it seems to sag in comparison. A lone man stumbles down the industrial avenue, past the convenience store across from the bakery and towards the wired fence a few feet away. I find my way to Lucibello’s early on this groggy Thursday, arriving an hour before Peter, who has just dropped off his nine- and fouryear-old girls at Catholic school on the way from his home in Durham, CT to New Haven. When Peter gets in, he heads to the front of the store, busying himself around the cash register. Peter is tall, standing in the front of the bakery behind the counter with always-slightlyhunched shoulders, as though he is afraid he is too big for the little store; his dark head of hair nods downward
often and the corners of his eyes crinkle when he smiles. Impressively, he has managed to spend his life working in the bakery since the age of 15 without even a paunch behind his uniform — a white T-shirt with careful red cursive spelling out “Lucibello’s.” He spends his life surrounded by sweetness, but he doesn’t indulge much himself. The walloping olfactory experience that overwhelms me on my first morning at the bakery is business as usual for Peter. And Lucibello’s has been a part of the everyday of New Haven since 1929. Peter and the bakers mention (but do not boast) that they regularly win recognition as the “Best of New Haven” in the New Haven Advocate year after year. Walking into Lucibello’s on a busy Friday afternoon, the waiting customers almost fill up the small front area of the shop. There is no seating area and all orders are to-go: customers enter with a plan — six cannoli, a couple neapolitans, and maybe throw in some of those Pignoli cookies too. One of the girls in the front boxes it all up in a clean white cake box, pulling a candy-
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cane-striped string from the ceiling to tie it up with a flourish. During holiday season (Christmas, Easter, and St. Joseph’s Day in March), the lines cannot be contained inside the tiny one-story building; they stretch outside, curving around the brick walls and down the street. The cookie case is perpetually full, stocking piles of sugary treats covered in almonds and pine nuts and the occasional colored sprinkles; next to them, the pastry case looms regally, displaying cannoli and sfogliatelle and lemon squares. Behind the register, a looming display of tiered white Italian wedding cakes juts aggressively into the heads of the store employees as they rush about filling cake boxes for eager customers. The customers say mostly the same things: “I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid.” “This is really the only place to go.” “I keep coming back!” 23 | Vol. XL, No. 1 | September 2012
For Peter, the explanation for both the bakery’s longevity and its continuing success springs from the same source: tradition. “We’ve been very fortunate,” he says, always with a smile and a tiny bow of his head. Peter speaks in collectives and with gratitude. He talks about Lucibello’s as though he has always been there, telling me that “we didn’t used to be at this location until 1960.” But Peter, now 43, has only been running Lucibello’s for the last 19 years. Before he owned the bakery, it was his after-school job, and, even before that, it was his playroom. It has seen him grow up, from a child skipping around the back kitchen, through his adolescence and college years when he worked the register out front, and into a man with a family and children of his own. The customers who come to buy Peter’s pastries have been coming to Lucibello’s for years; if they are first-timers,
in all likelihood they found Peter by way of a friend who has been coming there for years. “Lucibello’s on Olive and Grand,” as the advertisements read, has lived in Wooster Square since 1929. The area, dubbed a “Historic” district by the city of New Haven, looks like a tiny fragment of what it was 82 years ago. The neighborhood’s original kids on the block have grown old in sunny Floridian retirement homes and their children have moved away. “Ninety percent of the emails in my inbox come from the old-timers down in Florida wanting to know if we ship pastries,” Peter tells me one afternoon. (They don’t, yet.) As he says it, a trickle of elderly blonde women slide in, chattering and peering into the glass case to pick out their desired treats for the afternoon. “How’s your mom doin’?” one woman asks Peter. “And the girls?” “She’s been well, thank you. We’re
profile all doing well,” he responds. “I’ll tell her you said hello.” he way Peter tells the story, he ended up running Lucibello’s by accident. When his father fell suddenly ill, Peter, 24, fresh out of Quinnipiac University with a degree in finance and plans of heading to Wall Street, instead inherited Lucibello’s and became a baker. On the verge of leaving like everyone else, Peter ended up with the thickest roots imaginable holding him to fading Wooster Square. It was a hefty inheritance: young Peter wasn’t just taking on the 63 years of Lucibello’s history in New Haven, he was also becoming a curator of nostalgia, inheriting hundreds of years of sweet-toothed Italian history. Despite its name, the bakery has been out of the Lucibello family’s hands since Peter’s father bought it at the age of 26. The Lucibellos, like the Faggios, were Italian immigrants from the Amalfi coast who settled in the Wooster Square district around the turn of the century. Mr. Lucibello was part of a wave of Italian immigrants who began arriving in Connecticut a little before 1900 and kept coming through the 1920s. Immigrants were nothing new to Connecticut: Scots, Irish, and Poles had already found their way into the state, but the famously parochial Italians seemed less inclined to assimilate into the rest of the population. They were fiercely defensive about maintaining the old ways in the new country. On Sundays, the Italians congregated in the square by the church, loud and boisterous; in the afternoons they’d eat never-ending dinners, gabbing afterward over porches with neighbors who were often also family members. The immigrants came to New Haven hoping for industrial jobs; New Haven offered them factories. But since the 1930s, those factories have been reduced to lines in history textbooks. The Italians dispersed to find new jobs, richer cities. Their children grew up, spoke English, and didn’t need the insular protective
ghetto anymore. The street where Lucibello’s now stands has seen its own changes; it was once lined with old ornate Victorian homes. Today the corner of Olive and Grand is a sunken memory of industry — around a few lonely streets of homes, the train tracks hang just across from the bakery, and the streets are quiet even on a Sunday afternoon after Mass. Peter’s own extended family no longer lives around Wooster Square, where his father grew up; cousins and aunts and uncles are scattered throughout nearby Connecticut towns. Lucibello’s is one of the last holdouts of the dregs of a dissipating industrial immigrant district. But it survives. Customers who grew up in Wooster Square, or whose grandparents once lived here, make the 40-minute drives back for Lucibello’s. They join the Christmas rush, and they’re back to get pies for St. Joseph’s Day. Some of Peter’s old high school friends even come to help box cakes during the holiday rush. He smiles, adding that these days it’s only a few of the old Italian high school crew who return. Almost everyone else has moved away. Peter himself doesn’t remember a time when Wooster Square was any different from today. But his father grew up in the days of the true Italian district. At age nine, when Peter’s father broke a window, Peter’s grandfather decided it was time for his son to get a job and learn some responsibility. He approached his friend, Mr. Lucibello, and got Peter’s father a job washing dishes at the bakery. He worked there through his childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood. When Mr. Lucibello was ready to sell the bakery, Peter’s dad, then 26, bought it and kept the name. Since then, the kitchen staff has grown in size from one to five bakers, and a few things have been added to the menu, like Italian ice in the summer and a single row of orange Halloween cookies in the top of the display case in October. But many things remain the same. The refrigerator, shiny and white
with silver buckles all over it, dates to 1940. Three steel countertops line the main thoroughfare of the kitchen, one interrupted halfway through by a slab of marble from the original store, used years ago to cool fresh cream. There is only one oven, hiding unobtrusively against one wall, big enough to hold six trays of pastries at time. And there is no dishwasher: that work is still done by hand. Along the back wall stand two mixers, at six or seven feet tall, like comically overgrown Kitchenaide appliances — two of the few new technological additions Lucibello’s has made through the years. Between them sits an old-fashioned radio, usually tuned to oldies; Rick Astley and the Rolling Stones keep the bakers company as they work.
here are a lot of things at Lucibello’s that arrived and never left — Peter and the fridge among them. Early on a Thursday morning, John Ripkin, one of the two full-time bakers at Lucibello’s, is mixing the ingredients for an Italian sponge cake on an ancient copper penny-stove that looks straight out of “Little House on the Prairie” and is about as old. John has been a baker at Lucibello’s for 32 years, since Peter’s dad’s days as boss; he remembers Peter running around the kitchen as a little kid. “He was a real brat.” John laughs. “Don’t tell him I told you that.” Peter grew up watching his father run the books, manage inventory, and make pastries in the back of the store. It was his father’s territory, and the sfogliatelle were the kingliest treats of them all. Only his father made them — no one else even knew the recipe. But 19 years ago, his father was suddenly diagnosed with cancer and died soon after. It changed everything; the bookkeeping fell to his mother, the management to Peter, and the sfogliatelle had to find a new maker. The secret sfogliatella recipe — known by only five people in the history of Lucibello’s, passed down on
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profile wrinkled old index cards that Peter still keeps in a carefully guarded box in his house — was haphazardly released into the hands of another baker when Peter’s father fell sick. After his father died, Peter quickly claimed responsibility for the sfogliatella making. He had two weeks to learn the recipe and perfect a centuries-old Italian delicacy. “I kinda feel bad for him,” John says as he stirs in a bucket of yellow precracked egg yolk. “It was real tough for him. His father passed away two days before his birthday, and then he got stuck working here … he went to college, and not to do this kind of work, y’know?” Peter admits that this is not at all what he had in mind for his future through high school and college. But when his father died and his brother, harboring dreams of being a police officer, had no interest in the store, he felt the weight of two generations on his shoulders. Peter’s nine-year-old daughter has already laid claim to the bakery as her future career. He smiles as he says this, perhaps wondering if her future turn out as unexpected as his was. But family legacy at Lucibello’s is as important to the bakery as the pastries themselves. John tells me that he loves his work at the bakery. He’s been a baker since he chose not to go to college at 18, and he has a glimmer of thanks in his eye when he tells me that Peter’s father saved him from a period of unemployment during the days when baking jobs were short and he’d had to retreat to a factory. Stacy Capodilupo, the other full-time baker at Lucibello’s, just rolls her eyes affectionately as she explains that she’s been there for ten years, on and off. In the middle of the decade, she left to get a master’s in education and taught first and sixth grade. And then she missed Lucibello’s. So she came back, laughing at the circularity of it all. Sometimes Peter’s smile becomes enigmatic as he bows his head and says, “I never expected to end up here.” Then he nods and turns back to work, to an25 | Vol. XL, No. 1 | September 2012
swer the phone or greet a customer.
hough cannoli are the bestselling pastry at Lucibello’s, sfogliatelle are Peter’s favorite by far. Sfogliatelle, which are also called “lobster tails” in simpler parlance (though the kind Lucibello’s makes more closely resemble clams), are a 400-year-old southern Italian traditon. The word (pronounced sfee-ah-tell, though when Peter says it quickly it sounds like “striadel”) means “folded leaves” in Italian, referring to the wound up mosaic of dough and powdered sugar enclosing the filling. The pastry’s origin has been traced to the Santa Rosa convent on the Amalfi coast, the region from where Peter’s family hails. Legend says that one night the nuns in the convent had nothing left but scraps to make dessert, so they threw the leftovers together — ricotta cheese, dried fruit, eggs, cinnamon, sugar — like a dessert version of pasta puttanesca — and the sfogliatella was born. Making the sfogliatelle at Lucibello’s is a sign that you have made it to the top of the baking pyramid. Their layers make them fragile, and a pair of careless hands on them can break the dough before the pastry is done. Peter is the best sfogliatella artist around, and Stacy is the only other person alive who knows the secret Lucibello family recipe. (I ask, but it seems that I will not be admitted to the club.) The day I try to make my first sfogliatelle, I find that my hands don’t quite live up to the legacy of their teachers’. Standing under Stacy’s watchful eye, I select what seems to be the perfect piece of the wound-up dough —a collection of thin layers wrapped ov er and over on top of themselves like a snail’s shell — rub on the shortening with my fingers, pressing into my palm until the dough pancakes flat across my hand. I lift the piece up with my thumbs and smooth out the edges, skipping my fingertips around the little circle like I’m spinning a tiny Frisbee. I can feel the dough slacken as I give it a final spin
and suddenly there, between the third and fourth circles of layered dough arranged like year lines on a tree trunk, I have made a hole in my dough. My hands have broken 400 years of history. Stacy laughs at my disappointed face just as Peter swings open the kitchen door, arriving for the day. “Should we put her on the payroll yet?” he asks Stacy. Not quite. After I have attempted to mend my hole with some creative dough-squishing, I follow Stacy as she spoons the filling into her pancake. She reminds me to “overstuff ” because our hands aren’t as big as the boss’. I heave my spoon into the filling and scoop it liberally into my cupped hand, trying both to keep my hand adequately cradled around the shaped dough and to not crush or maim the little body either. Stacy tells me to add more. I add another dollop. More. I add another. More. I can barely fold the dainty edges of the dough around all the filling, and my hand is soon covered in gobs of squeezed out ricotta-and-mystery as I place the folded pastry onto the tray. It will now be frozen overnight and baked in the morning — baking it too early ruins the over-soft filling, which needs to harden and freeze overnight, so that in the morning, the oven can work through the thaw, browning it to just the right flakiness. Stacy nods approvingly and reaches over to fix the edges of my floppy-looking sfogliatella. It looks like a forlorn clam drooling its contents onto the tray. Peter bounces into the kitchen, arms crossed over his white Lucibello’s t-shirt and gray hoodie. Stacy and I wheedle him into joining us, and the three of us stand in parallel, our variously sized hands out in front of us, nursing the dough. As Peter makes a sfogliatella, his movements are fluid and intuitive. He picks up an elliptically shaped chunk of dough, dips his wide fingers into the slippery shortening, smooths it across the dough. Slowly it spreads across his
palm, bending and sighing beneath his fingers. He reaches a large spoon into the pot full of secret filling. It’s chunky like mashed potatoes but wavy-soft like new-churned butter. This is why Stacy envies his hands: cupping the dough in his palm, it is clear that the sfogliatelle he makes are just a hair larger than hers, with room for the tiniest bit more of that secret filling. He slaps a few spoonfuls in without any pretense of precision, folds the dough around it, and places the pastry onto the baking tray where it sits, just a shade larger than Stacy’s and several shades happier than mine, respectfully holding in all of its filling and grinning up like an oyster hoarding its secret pearl inside.
he comfort with which Peter moves around the bakery makes it easy to believe that he’s been walking those same tiled floors since he was a child. But what it’s harder to see behind the ease is that 19 years ago, for a few weeks, he didn’t have the comfortable flow he has today. Peter tells me, as I am looking gloomily at my handiwork, that his sfogliatelle used to be messy, too. “The first time I made one was frustrating,” Peter adds later. “It was after I had just taken over — and I knew that this had to be my work now.” Peter’s sfogliatelle were inelegantly lumpy for weeks, as his hands grew used to their new work. But then he
started getting better. He created a rhythm — his rhythm. The cadence of Peter’s days is nothing like what he expected it to be 19 years ago. Instead of counting success in stocks and bonds, he counts his days in pastries and cakes. His Mondays are cookies and cannoli, his Wednesdays are biscuits, his Thursdays are sfogliatelle, his Fridays are cakes; weekends are weddings and holidays are the rush season. Peter doesn’t keep a ledger of inventory. A quick look around and the gut sense that nearly 20 years on the job gives him is all the information he needs to know how much heavy cream he’ll need for next week and how much flour is left over. The numbers that run the grooves of his mind aren’t stock tickers or finances, but quantities: 200 pounds of sugar a week, 30 gallons of milk, 40 quarts of heavy cream, 100 pounds of shortening, and 60 pounds of creamy ricotta cheese. Six pounds of sfogliatelle every day. The only records that matter are Peter’s father’s old index cards, with Mr. Lucibello’s original recipes scrawled onto them. No one really needs them — the bakers work with the inherent sense of proportion and precision that Peter has, and they’re all computerized these days, just in case. But sometimes, Peter digs them up again, just to double-check a recipe. He begins most mornings by making Italian cream in the enormous standing mixer in the farthest corner of the bak-
ery. It is perhaps the most meditative place to stand early in the morning, shoveling 18 gallons of milk and several crates of sugar and eggs into the enormous bowl. As the blades start up their churning, the humming of the mixer drowns out the buzz of the rest of the bakery. Without the radio crooning Tom Petty in the background, without Stacy and John’s back-and-forth banter about the relative importance of icing versus cake decorating, without the giggling of the clerk-girls out front, the bakery moves like a sensory symphony. The saccharine smell of little hills of powdered sugar waiting by the single steel oven to be shaken over warm pastries mingles with the flaky scent of fresh baked cannolo shells and icing bags filled with soft waves of fresh whipped cream. Peter, quiet in the corner, can survey the scene of his making: the gentle percussion of the back-and-forth of the bakers as they roll large slabs of plush dough, their hands pressing and kneading it carefully to a soft cadence; the pattering of customers through the tiled floors, their fingers drumming on the pastry display case, their eyes devouring the sweets; the rhythm of his hands doing what his fathers’ did and what his daughters’ may one day do. D D D
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Pai Contra By Abigail Carney
Illustrations by Aube Rey Lescure
27 |â€‚ Vol. XL, No. 1 | September 2012
hen I was a boy and first upset by the strange filthy-looking people who paraded about our streets, asking for things, my father explained that they were called homeless, but that this was not their entire story. He told me, so as to not upset me concerning the state of their lives, that they usually liked being homeless, that their rags and unkempt hair were like the painted faces and wigs of the clowns we’d seen at the circus that Sunday. He explained it was only a costume, that some of them weren’t even homeless at all, that they had homes and wives and little boys like me, that the way they got ready for work each morning was to take a shower of dirt and wrap themselves in bandages, that there were even some who had other jobs, good jobs, as bureaucrats and bankers, and that these ones were really only actors when they walked about all crooked. The few, the very few, that slept on the streets because they had to, had chosen it long ago, had decided to take strange pills and give their money away in bright rooms of gambling. These were the ones who perhaps did not like to be homeless, but had chosen it just the same. I am older now and know that although these things are not exactly true, the homeless are part of the city, and that despite where they came from, they are not noticed often. But I am not homeless, and as this is my story, I know you would be quite caught up in boredom if I strayed from what concerns me into the shrunken limbs and plastic tarps. I am not a man taken to writing, to painting, to art. At the ballet last night, I found myself only thinking of the women I’ve known and will know, of dinner. My wife says she thought only of the dancing, but as I looked around the theater, and considered each person and what they were considering, be it the ceiling, their fingernails, the rain, I knew quite well that this was not only art for them, that if anything they were admiring the bodies of the dancers and not the dance. At museums we care far more about the artists than the art, how else would one explain the worthlessness of a perfect replica of Abaporu? I am writing this then only to answer a question of yours, my son. I worked hard as a young man, not as hard as I might have, but harder than other young men and I went to a good university and had a good job, and worked often. Not being fond of this first job, I soon found another, but this one was not entirely satisfying either. As I was working in a big finance firm, though, it was easy to flip about what I was doing. So I changed from investment analyst to strategic analyst to real estate analyst, all within in the same firm. After seven years of my moving, the company decided they would move me. But this job would be like a vacation. I would do it and it would lighten me, and when I returned, I’d work harder. It was a position at a non-
profit firm operated by my firm, and a few of the other for-profit firms, the consulting firms, the banks. And the workers at the non-profit firms were all workers taking breaks from their for-profit firms, CEOs and analysts who felt guilty or despondent. I felt no guilt because the bank I worked for did no more wrong than to operate in a society which itself may have been flawed, but the flaws of the bank itself were never the fault of the bank, and even less due to me. Prostitution is a sad affair but if I do not visit a brothel, they will still exist, and if I do visit a brothel, it is better for the prostitute that I am not an old filthy man who sees the whore as an object. I was not sent to the nonprofit for guilt. I do admit I was a little tired, my boss believed it would revive me. I knew he would relieve me if I did not go, and that if the time away did not improve me, I would be disposed of. I am still not sure exactly what many parts of the nonprofit did. The office was a cavernous, quiet space, suits bent over silver laptops, a seldom used coffee machine in the corner. After one week of being analyzed, I was assigned to a project in Rio de Janeiro. It was the year before a big event in Rio de Janeiro, and as always the city was working to pacify the favelas, the Brazilian slums. The company from which I was resting was always working to develop poor urban areas. They can be excellent pieces of real estate, and in a few short decades, excellent locations for luxury apartments. The non-profit was working to mitigate the effects of “integration” of the slums, which is gentrification of the slums, which is taking out the ugly. As it was not a place with a clear power structure, I was not given a tremendous amount of guidance or limitation for what I did with Rio de Janeiro. I was given the papers of the other people who’d been doing work in the area and had since left the non-profit to return to their real jobs. I would work to ensure educational opportunities for the favela children, and to be certain that the young who needed homes would not have them destroyed during integration. After months of spreadsheets and conference calls, I flew to Rio with my wife and you, my son. She was pregnant with you, and refused to stay in New York alone. She was prone to all sorts of strange wants during that time, due to the pregnancy. We had married one year before. Her family had been against it. They, from the South, were not confederates but the kind of family that had been. I, not being from the South, had upset them. They, all professors and politicians, and had called my line of work dishonorable which was both amusing and untrue when held up against their history. Her family also did not like me because although I’d always stayed within the firm, I’d cycled through it. They said I’d be out entirely soon, which I was afraid would prove true, now that their pregnant daughter and I were in Rio, a place further south than them. ydnmag.com | Yale Daily News Magazine | 28
fiction The favela I was concerned with was in a prime location. Your mother wanted to visit it, and though the taxi driver looked at us strangely, and though I was not sure of my own safety, he or I could not persuade her otherwise. At the base of the favela the colored, I’ll not call them houses, the brightly colored walls and roofs began marching up the mountains, dropped onto one another like the blocks you so love to build into cities. For the first few feet it was like any lower class neighborhood I’ve seen. Darkskinned people, two children sitting on a bicycle for one, street vendors of cheap stolen cell phones, stores of fried dough and meat, if you’re not careful you might get cat. They were men in red vests waiting on motorcycles to be paid to drive customers up the cramped winding streets to cramped houses with open doorways and windows. We walked up, and saw “Bem Vindo” in bloated text sprawling across the concrete, other pictures and phrases covering the wall. Unlike in the good parts of the city, there were no English translations. The man had assured me that this favela was on its way to pacification. I saw two policemen on the street corner, and was not sure if I should trust them. An openbacked truck of white chickens crowded in boxes of wire drove by. My wife, a vegetarian, did not like this. Up, and a badly smelling storefront, if it can be called that, because in the favelas, the stores are all open to the street, no door to walk in at all. In this one hung animal carcasses that I would not have eaten. Up were three overflowing trash bins and a thin legged man in rubber boots picking through them. Telephone wires tangled into one another. At one street there were dozens of tennis shoes with their
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laces knotted together hanging. And still, we walked up the main avenue. Do not think I am the kind of man with a fashionable passion for the slums. I do not find dirt appealing, nor barefooted children charming. I think graffiti and falling in houses are ugly. I do not like streets too small for cars, or to imagine how glamorous it would be to live here. I would not have gone to the meeting with the man at all had my position not required it, and I might have demanded we hold it elsewhere had my wife not wanted to see the “real” Rio de Janeiro so badly. You may be wondering why the meeting was in the slums, as was I. I was expecting that, as it was a meeting for the non-profit run by my firm with a sad individual who’d devoted his life to the difficulties of the favela. I expected that he was attempting to thrust the poverty in my face. I do not like when people do this. I know people are poor. Up, and then, on a stoop was a dog. Its head was covered in sores. Its fur was black and it was shivering despite the heat. Flies and the stink of lunchmeat sat heavy. This is when my wife said, “I think, I think, I’m not feeling well.” I was not going to let her turn back after she had wanted to come so stubbornly. “What should I do?” I asked her. “I need to, let’s walk a little farther.” Up until we were in the residential neighborhood, walls of colors that perhaps had once been cheerful. My wife, with no shame, and no Portuguese, leaned down to a child with well-cared-for shoes and spoke to him. “Ola,” she said. “Ola,” he said, defiantly, because there were not many white well-dressed women here and perhaps he thought she should’ve known better than to come here, and to, upon coming here, speak to a local. “Ola, agua por ele?” I said. I knew that this wasn’t quite Portuguese but I just wanted to find somewhere for her to sit and have a bottle of water, the water from the tap is filthy in Brazil. He, nine years old or perhaps older, had started with English and once it was clear I could not understand I think he said in his own language, began to speak in a clear, forced English. I don’t like poetry, for precisely this reason, but it was what his speech reminded me most of, in its constant slipping and struggling. Once he led my wife inside, I had only ten minutes or so before my meeting, though Brazilians are always late. The boy practiced his English with my wife, who was quite enamored with this little dark thing and he was stunned by her blondness and lightly freckled white skin. He told us that he liked school and about his home which his family had built after coming from the poor Northeast several generations ago. It was modest, but comfortable,
fiction and one wonders why we are always fretting so much over the abject poverty when the lights work. The boy sounded dumb, as he was speaking English, but that is the luck of being born into the wrong language. I went to meet the man, one of the city officials applying the measures of pacification. “Hello, hello,” he said. “We are here to talk about slum development?” His English was accented but quite good. “Yes,” I said. “This one is being pacified? What exactly is pacification?” “Pacification today is about getting these people basic structure, so that these places become civilized, parts of society. We knocked out Favela do Metrô. Now, it’s trash, but in the future it will be livable. We can’t do that with all of them, but we are getting rid of the drugs. The drug lords used to run this favela, and now it’s becoming the police, sometimes still, the police are influenced by the drugs, it’s true. Rio is becoming important to the world and it can’t be known as favelas. First, we need the favelas to stop being dangerous, and next, we need them to stop being favelas. “Your company can help with both of these things and soon, you’ll benefit so much. These homes, here and here,” now we walked towards the street where I’d left my wife, “are going to be replaced soon. We’ll demolish them and let the property sit for a while until most of the squatters are gone. Soon, this will be a neighborhood like Copacabana.” “Why these homes?” “They were constructed by people who might not have even owned the land. They don’t meet city codes. They’re prone to landslides, drug trafficking. We have many other firms looking at property like this. It’s valuable.” We walked about the neighborhood, the streets that weren’t quite streets but would soon be nothing. We passed the house where your mother sat. “This house?” I asked. “Of course,” he said. “We’re excited about the kind of development your firm does.” “You know,” I said, “I’m here to represent a non-profit firm, not the other company.” “So?” he said. “I’m here for a project with the non-profit that is devoted to helping the children of this favela.” “You cannot help the city if you worry about one child.” “I know. And this is the way cities work. The poor people have to leave when they can’t afford to live somewhere, and one day where they move will be worth something too.” “Exactly.” “But what happens when the people do not want to leave?”
“We offer them resettlement, compensation packages. We warn them before eviction. You’re working for a nonprofit?” “Not really. No.” I saw then what would happen. On the walk back we stepped over cheap tiles done in an imitation of the waves of white and black stone of the Copacabana boardwalk. The patterns here were a shrunken replica and the black and white had begun to fade to grey. No designers had been hired to imagine these streets into artwork. You cannot see the beach from here, or perhaps you could, but the buildings were too close together for any good view. When I returned to my wife, the hands of the boy were on her stomach.
h!” she said to him, not seeing me in the doorway, not hearing the door open as there was not one. “Did you feel that?” “Yes,” he said. “It was a strong kick.” The boy looked at me, “It will be a boy. I know. Parabéns.” “Clara,” I said, “Let’s go.” “Senhora Clara,” he promised with the sincerity only a child can have. “If you want anything in the city, I can do it for you. I can help you with your Portuguese.” “Obrigada!” she said, which means thank you and also this is the only thing I know how to say in Portuguese. “And, you,” the boy said turning to me. “Your wife said you will help this favela. Thank you. My family has been here for much time. If they take away our house or our favela, it will be very hard. We do not have much, and if we lose our home, I will not be able to go to school.” “You won’t lose your home,” your mother said. “He’s ydnmag.com | Yale Daily News Magazine | 30
fiction working for children like you.” “Please, remember the others,” he said. “Oh!” your mother said. “He’s kicked again.” “I think you need to go back to the hotel,” I told her. “Goodbye!” she said to the boy, letting him kiss her on the cheeks. I’d called a taxi, and on the drive down your mother spoke to me of how much she’d loved the boy, and how much you’d been kicking. She was proud of the work I was doing. “Clara,” I said. “You do know that I can’t work at the non-profit for much longer. It is not set up that way, and if I put the interests of the favela ahead of those of my firm, they would never take me back.” “Well, it is good you are working for the favela now. You will help him. It will be so good.”
would invest in the favela of course. I do not need to tell you, because you know already. I stopped with the non-profit and once the favela had been civilized, we rented an apartment there, on a street near the home of the sad little boy who had felt you kicking. And though it has become much nicer, and the police control the city the way they should, if you do see a beggar, which you will, I want you to know that you must understand what he is. There was a boy in the street today, fourteen or fifteen years of age. I don’t know if you will remember this when you read it, but we were coming home from the circus. You were happily holding the red clown nose you’d wanted so badly. The car had been parked and we were nearly at our door when this boy began speaking to your mother, asking her to stop. “Liçenca Tia, liçenca.” We are only in Rio for part of the year, when I have business or it’s cold in New York and I still do not speak much Portuguese, maybe by the time you read this, you’ll have learned. Your mother tries to learn sometimes, but is very busy taking care of you. I kept walking past the boy, your mother though, was pregnant again and full of whims. “Ola,” she said. “Dinheiro?” This means “Hello. Yes, I am a white woman. Would you like some of my money?” He did not say anything, only stared at us, and then towards the house to where we were walking. “Clara,” I said. “Let’s go.” You grabbed your mother’s hand, your other tightly protecting the nose of the clown. “Ola,” the boy said, to you this time. And then he began with a stream of Portuguese I could not understand, only the word “casa” or “house” and “mentiroso” which is “liar.” “Desculpe,” your mother said, her Portuguese some-
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what improved in the last five years. “Não entende muito bem.” This meant she did not understand, almost. “English?” the boy said. “Do you want English? I used to want English too, but I have not had school for years. Did you know I used to live here? I need money. Do you have money?” “Here,” your mother said, dropping five reais into his palm. I thought this would be enough. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you.” Then it was your mother who began to shake and say, “You used to live here?” “Yes, I did.” I do not know if you will remember the boy when you read this, but there was a wound on his cheek, an unexplained wound. It could have been gained in a fight, or could have been infection. Had it been on his leg or arm, it would have still been a wound, but not so ghastly. It was an open cut, or sore, I’m not sure how to describe it, but there is no ignoring a mark like that when it is on a face. I became angry that he had decided to talk to us, with you looking so small, and he so ruined. “But what happened?” your mother asked. I did not know why she was asking this, as she knew very well that I had convinced my firm of the value of an investment here, and that we and the city had cleared out all the slum housing. She knew that not only had it been the best thing for the company, but the best for our family, as it had secured my position at the firm, and secured her ability to live well and have children. Then you spoke. You let go of your mother and asked the boy, “What happened?” He just looked at you, the five reais note in his hand. I was prepared to pick you up and run. But he only looked at you and turned away, began the walk down the hill. “What happened to him?” you asked your mother. She was crying. “That boy is in the street because of your father.” “But why is he in the street? What is he?” “He’s homeless,” she said. “Because of you?” you said to me. I could not answer then, but I will not lie to you as my father did to me. This boy was not an actor, and what he is is not his fault. The deal, though, would’ve happened whether or not I made it, perhaps by a firm who didn’t have any morals at all. Your mother wanted to be wealthy and to live with a lovely view of Rio, and then there was you, son. Your mother may have cried, but she will keep living here. As will you. D D D
how we grieve
By Akbar Ahmed
irst comes the email. Sent from the address of a top administrator, such as Yale College Dean Mary Miller or nowVice President Linda Koch Lorimer, the message is to the point. It lays out the bare bones of the tragedy in brief sentences and explains where we might find support: deans, Chaplains, psychiatrists. Soon, more messages arrive in our inboxes. They tell us about vigils and, in some cases, investigations. They give us numbers to call if we need help. They emphasize that our university, our community, stands ready to support us. And just like that, we enter a grieving process with thousands of others on this campus. In the hours after one of those
emails is issued, pain fans out across Yale in various forms. It hits those closest to the tragedy first. Then it diffuses, striking strangers with nothing but a couple of Facebook friends and maybe a lecture course in common with the Yalie who has died. Of them, some will take the news hard — they’ll contemplate the tragic waste of a young life or their own mortality. Meanwhile, others will take a moment to process the event before deciding it’s time to move on. Each of these students will, in the back of their minds, register that they’re experiencing something they’ve endured before. Since the fall of 2009, ten undergraduate students (including two recent graduates and three students taking time off from Yale)
have died, leaving our student body mourning at least one death — and sometimes more — each semester. Being vulnerable to such shared grief is, unavoidably, part of what we signed on to when we elected to enroll. “Being part of a community makes it easier to deal with the loss, but also, if you weren’t part of Yale, you wouldn’t be feeling anything,” says philosophy professor Shelly Kagan. “It’s this oddity that Yale both giveth and taketh away — or really, it taketh away and giveth. It provides the community which, among its many, many manifold advantages … also makes you vulnerable.” That vulnerability has been underscored in a new way over the past three years. Before the recent losses, Yale’s undergrad community
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cover saw relatively few student deaths. None were reported in the 2008-9 school year. In the spring of 2008, two students passed away. Before that, one died in the spring of 2006 and another in the spring of 2005. Today, we are familiar with more regular losses. Were the new statistics linked to a singular cause, they might point to a larger institutional issue, but the student deaths we’ve seen do not. Instead, they read like a survey of different causes of death: accident, illness, suicide, murder. What’s unique is that the losses have been tragically close together. Yale’s response, then, has largely been about support, not policy changes. According to Jonathan Holloway, the master of Calhoun College and the current chair of the Council of Masters, those emails the university sends undergraduates are part of an emergency response plan fine-tuned out of necessity over the course of the 2009-10 school year, during which Annie Le GRD ’13 was murdered and three members of the undergraduate community — Andre Narcisse ‘12, Cameron Dabaghi ‘11, and Scott Michael Robinson, a former member of the Class of 2011 who had withdrawn during his sophomore year — died of various causes. “Yale’s gotten good at it,” Holloway says of the process. “I could see how we were getting better at it that year … with 2009-10, then 2010-11, I’ve never seen — I can’t recall a series of events like that.” He details the steps the university has taken to reach out to undergrads time and again, but he acknowledges “there’s no emotional playbook.”
hree weeks into their arrival on campus, members of the class of 2013 heard that Annie Le, a graduate student set to finish her time at Yale the same year as they would, had gone missing. She was found dead in an Amistad Street
building five days later. “It was just scary, mostly,” says Meredith Davis ’13. “We didn’t know what had happened to this girl ... The worst part was, there could have potentially been some person walking around the streets who had killed her.” As news coverage mushroomed, the investigations into Le’s murder revealed new facts each day, and the student’s tragic story — her disappearance, her impending nuptials, her discovery in a laboratory wall — spread across their new campus, the class of 2013 found themselves in the midst of a communal experience rarely a part of the average freshman’s first month at school. Grief and uncertainty came up regularly in students’ conversations, Davis says, as the freshman class tried to understand how to react to a tragedy at the new home they’d idealized even before moving into their dorms. “It was hard to grieve for someone we didn’t know but who had such a tragic death.” Natalie Willis ’13 does not, she says, recall a sense of conscious grieving among her peers; instead, she witnessed the development of a constant, curious topic of conversation. The topic has not been far from their minds since. The current senior class’ time at Yale maps onto the difficult time Master Holloway spoke of. They have been here, since 2009, to watch as one or more of their peers has been lost each semester. Le’s death “did really mark the beginning of a lot of tragedies,” Davis says. Since her class began its time here, the undergraduate student death rate has been higher than that at almost any other Ivy League school over the same period, with the notable exception of Cornell, where the frequency of the student suicides has been notable, with six suicides over
Andre Narcisse ’12 • Cameron Dabaghi ’11 • Scott Robinson ’11 • Daniel Siegel ’11 • Mandi Schwartz ’11 • Michele Dufault ’11 • Ralph Verde ’11 • Moira BanksDobson ’11 • Zachary Brunt ’15 • Marina Keegan ’12
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JAMES LU / CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER
the course of six months in the 20092010 school year. Responding to a News survey asking whether Yale has changed after the recent deaths, one senior anonymously writes he or she feels that the class of 2013 “especially has become weighed down in some way by the deaths we’ve experienced since fall 2009.” The numbers back up that hypothesis: according to statistics from that same survey, which was completed in the first week of September 2012 by 733 students across class years, 31 percent of seniors think about the series of student deaths once a month. That statistic falls to 20 percent for the undergraduate community as a whole. Just as tellingly, 33 percent of the general student body is now at a point where the the deaths never arise in conversation with their fellow Yalies; of the class of 2013, only seven percent selected that option. “My friends and I,” an anonymous respondent says, “almost expect that somebody will die each semester, even though we recognize that that’s no way to live. I almost didn’t want 35 | Vol. XL, No. 1 | September 2012
to come back this semester because I was scared of having to re-experience the grief of losing a member of the student body yet again.” His or her concern for a random member of the community reflects how tightly knit a class year at Yale is. They are tied to each other by bonds as disparate as camaraderie, campus organization membership, and complex paperwork. They’ve shared problem sets and parties. And they’ve watched as members of their community have left them forever. The class of 2013 is, in that sense, a microcosm of Yale College. Alongside them, each class year other than 2016 has experienced the death of one or more Yalies. We have been united in our exposure to suffering, and statistics show that we still talk about it, think it, feel it. Those elements could all combine to mean that the pain has become, at some level, an integral part of our collective identity, according to the work of legendary Yale sociologist Kai T. Erikson. In his research from the 1990s, which he told me could be applicable to a university context, he writes of trauma as “a
continual reliving of some wounding experience” and argues that social groups dealing with such wounds, like our own, are distinct from mere assemblies of traumatized persons. Traumatic wounds, he explains, “can combine to create a mood, an ethos — a group culture, almost — that is different from (and more than) the sum of the private wounds that made it up … Trauma, that is, has a social dimension.”
anet Cooper-Nelson, chaplain at Brown University, wants to bring grief out of the shadows and into public discourse. “The truth is, death is closer to us all the time than contemporary American society wants to acknowledge,” Cooper-Nelson says. “We don’t have much American language for that.” Developing such a vocabulary means bringing sensitive memories, honest conversation about painful times, into our everyday lives. It will inevitably offend. And it may even trigger more hurt among communities that are still raw. Right now, that includes our own.
cover University Chaplain Sharon Kugler asked me to consider very strongly the demands of a piece exploring grief at Yale. Would any good could come of it, the Chaplain wondered. Some undergraduates doubt that it would.When the News sent out its survey, participants clicked the link to the questionnaire and read an informed consent page that explained the research concerned student death. They could then choose whether or not to respond. One randomly selected participant, Rachel Yen ’14, expressed her discontent with the questionnaire on Facebook, explaining that she found it inappropriate. I met with her to ask why. At the edge of her seat in a residential college common room, Yen told me that what the questionnaire engaged in — and what I must avoid in my writing — is over simplification. Grief, Yen argued, cannot and should not just be measured in days felt or conversations had, the markers I’d asked students about in the survey. She had had, she added, her own experiences with grief at Yale. Yen had been friends with Michele Dufault ’11, who died in a lab accident weeks before she was set to graduate. As the then-freshman dealt with her grief, her friends, professors, and peers were overwhelmingly supportive and accommodating. But Yen recalled a different encounter with Yalies’ collective attitudes towards grief. She spoke of being at dinner with her friends after another student death months after Dufault’s passing. The Yalies she was eating with, she said, briefly discussed the topic and then moved on to another. “It’s astonishing … how unwilling friends are to even let a little bit be said about grief,” Chaplain CooperNelson says. Sociologists suggest that the resistance to discussing grief in casual discourse, considering the
long-term impact such pain can have, may hinder the community’s healing process. Cooper-Nelson and Kugler emphasized the idea that grief takes months to settle in fully. While it may not be at the front of our minds, it lies dormant in our consciousnesses, individual and collective, waiting to be re-awakened. At Yale, according to the News’ survey, that lingering feeling manifests itself in our thoughts and conversations. Seventy-eight percent of Yalies think of the deaths on occasion, with 32 percent saying they consider the losses once a month or more. Sixty-seven percent said they
that?” Overcoming our grief together could be a start.
t’s a bright spring morning in April 2012. Commons and Woolsey Hall rise up imposingly from Beinecke Plaza, the March chill in the air has given way to a just-right April breeze, and volunteers ranging from 6’5” basketball players to spry, small gymnasts are asking passersby to sign up for a bone marrow donor program called the Be the Match Registry. It’s the day of the fourth annual Mandi Schwartz ’11 Donor Registration Drive, an event that means two things to our campus: it’s a
Chaplain Cooper-Nelson of Brown University speaks of grief as gestational: the end of a life, CooperNelson believes, takes as much time and care to deal with as the beginning of one, and grief is as individual a process to a griever as pregnancy is to a mother. still discuss the incidents with their friends. Most of the student body said they did not experience grief for longer than three days after an incident — but at some subliminal level, they evidently remain concerned. So, too, do administrators. “It’s about being here for students who are now facing something they’ve never had to face before … most of the students have not had something like a person their age [whom] they know die,” Holloway says. “You guys all feel like you’re immortal at your age. When your mortality is highlighted in such a dramatic fashion, it sends a shock. How do you make sense of
campaign to help those in need across the country and, in local terms, an effort to memorialize one of our own. Schwartz, a hockey player, died in April 2011, after a long and visible struggle with leukemia. “In Mandi’s case, it’s very easy to go in a positive way,” says Holloway, the master of Schwartz’s residential college, Calhoun. “She was very willing to be public about her struggle, [and] there was something concrete that could come out of her loss.” Watching her fight the disease, Yale channeled its grief and empathy into a form its high-energy, driven student body could understand and
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take ownership of. Schwartz’s cause will improve lives for decades. Her memory will be associated with some sense of striking forward, building towards a better future. Chaplain Kugler notes that many of the student deaths in recent years have been followed by outcries to “focus on the life and the promise of the person,” through the establishment of scholarships in his or her name or initiatives like the bone marrow drive. These speak to us because, as Kugler’s counterpart at Brown put it, “we are such do-it people.” That’s why calls for an Artichoke Fund in the days following Marina Keegan’s ’12 tragic accident earlier this summer seemed not out of place but, in some bizarre way, an obvious next step. It’s why a number of the written responses to the News’ survey spoke about the need for a boost in mental health visibility after the suicides of Dabaghi and Zachary Brunt ’15, or the development of new lab safety procedures to prevent another incident like the mishap that killed Dufault. For a number of Yalies, one of the first reactions to a calamity is the instinct to yell, “Fix this!” That “fixing” can take the form of a memorial. But, possibly due to the group mentality that Professor Erikson said is typical of traumatized communities, we also often look at our disasters, understand some part of the pain they’ve caused, and then consider where to place the blame. Yale is often the easiest target. And in some cases, it’s a deserving one. Lab safety needed to be tightened. Yale Mental Health, that perennially criticized institution known best for its delays, could be run more efficiently. Holloway admitted that the administration had limited knowledge about the “little corner of Yale” in which Andre Narcisse ’12 was taking the drugs on which he eventually overdosed. One anonymous response to the
News survey said those in positions of authority here have failed to get to the root of the problems behind the deaths. But not all the deaths we’ve seen at Yale can immediately be tied to “fixable” causes. The University could not have stopped cancer from striking Schwartz, Dan Siegel ’11, or Ralph Verde ’12; nor could it have somehow prevented the car accidents that killed Keegan or Moira BanksDobson ’11. Holloway spoke of a contrast between the situation on our campus and that at a school like Cornell. There, after the suicides during the 2009-10 school year, a range of new policies was enacted, including the installation of safety nets over some of the campus’ gorges. Meanwhile, in the aftermath of student deaths at Yale, the University seems to have functioned in a way most undergrads approve of: 90 percent of respondents to the News’ survey believe Yale’s public response to the series of tragedies has been somewhat or more than adequate. If Yale’s administration is doing all it can, but student grief still lingers on, is it time to turn our focus back to the individual?
’d guess that Yalies, mostly, are thinking and feeling people,” says Jeffrey Dastin ’14, the current president of Mind Matters. “They would acknowledge the tragedy and feel horrible about the deaths, but because Yalies also are such busy and committed people, they can only allot a limited amount of time [to grieve].” After the interview, we both scurry off to our next commitment. As Dastin suggests, when Yalies — immersed in a culture defined by the ‘do it’ attitude Chaplain CooperNelson identified — negotiate their interactions with grief, they approach it cognizant of other priorities and respond accordingly.
cover Thirty-two percent of undergraduates (excluding freshmen) told the News they did not experience grief after the student deaths over the last three years, and a number of comments in the free response section expounded on the idea that death is a universal truth, whether it occurs at Yale or away from it. Asked whether he or she thought the student deaths would have a longterm impact on his or her campus, one anonymous survey respondent said, “It seems to be accepted as a fact of life.” When a loss occurs, some Yalies would argue, one must simply deal with the emotional fallout immediately. Then it’s time to focus on the next project. Inevitably, those attitudes affect others less prepared to soldier on. Fifteen percent of students told the News that they felt expected, after each student death, to wrap up their grieving and return to their normal activities. Chaplain Kugler says it is important to remember that not all will move onto that next project as quickly as others. “I don’t think we’re a campus that’s in mourning 24/7,” she says. “But I do believe we are a campus that has corners that continue to ache.” Chaplain Cooper-Nelson of Brown has empathy for those corners. “When you start to layer death after death on all of you, I can imagine that you’re just exhausted emotionally,” she says. “What you do when you’re exhausted is to rest, but these are not communities of rest. It’s necessary to rest and give these large emotions time to become what they have to become.” She speaks of grief as gestational: the end of a life, Cooper-Nelson believes, takes as much time and care to deal with as the beginning of one, and grief is as individual a process to a griever as pregnancy is to a mother. ‘“I would like for you, as the person grieving, to have respect for yourself
in that process, and not to imagine that you can just forge ahead and do your activities,” she says. One of Master Holloway’s priorities, he tells me, is to remind the Yalies in his college to have that self-respect — to tell them that any reaction, whatever they’re feeling, whenever, is valid. His own reaction, Holloway adds,
has been a mix of emotions: “When I went to my third vigil, Cameron’s vigil, I was angry. I was like, ‘This is insane! ... we’ve got find a way to stop having these things ... I am sick and tired of coming to these things. “But I will always come.” D D D
The Lifeboat For and After Elizabeth Bishop As you all know, tonight a new volcano has erupted. Although it is a cold evening hot ash creeps down its uneven orifice hardening what was once a loved, a celebrated hill into unbreathing slopes of breast. It was cold and windy, scarcely the day, yet it was the hour when night makes the mountains lament. So as from a magician’s midnight sleeve all heaven and earth made love to itself, wailing darkness. Dead birds fell, but no one had seen them fly. New fireborn land now lies in water, Half squatter, half tenant (no rent), it is coast and its creator. It makes park first and the shaking Aspen leaves are eyelids, lying and lifting. Where there were once too many waterfalls— the crowded streams so tiresome, always shrieking!— land tries to build a harbor, withdrawing water to still the falls explosions on the rocks. Instead, it walls off a swimming-pool where Inside the water lies perfectly flat. Of course I may be remembering it all wrong. Remembering, say, the Strait of Belle Isle or Rio de Janeiro, with its stray cemeteries and children. Are those of you seated in the back able to get A good enough view of the volcano? You should be seeing eyeless storm roam an uneasy sky, ash sinking above endless and flooded above. -Ava Kofman ydnmag.com | Yale Daily News Magazine | 38
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