Standing with Ukraine
because I disagree with stamping out any culture, for any reason
How fortunate are we, here in New York City? I spent Thursday at a luxury restaurant where the tasting menu featured mostly seafood from all over the world, sculpted into small bites and tiny froths by a Brazilian chef. (spoiler: there was chicken at the end, three ways, slathered in squid ink sauce that looked like chocolate)
Friday at a Broadway show, Hadestown, sifting the overt political messages (a wall, anyone?) from archetypal lessons in the original Greek myth (don’t look back, you should never look back) I heard at least four languages around me.
Then, the very next day, I attended a brand new play written and directed by Rasa Allen Kazlas and performed by the writer and her political scientist husband, Juozas Kazlas, with lovely musical accompaniment by Dr. Dalia Sakas on piano (this talented pianist is also the director of a music school for the blind!) The play was performed in a Catholic Church in Brooklyn.
The Lithuanian Consul General was in attendance with two honored guests. The entire program was in Lithuanian, and poignantly, it was about living an entire life in America in hyphenated culture. The whole piece centered around a creepy/beautiful and very familiar Lithuanian children’s song that celebrates the death of an owl at the hands of a starving family—the playwright cleverly focused on the overlooked phrase “all of the children dispersed,” adding movements she learned as a professional mime — it was a multicultural piece if ever there was one, necessitating at least two homelands to fully understand it.
And then, being a room full of Lithuanians who well know what happens when the enormity that is mother Russia decides she needs more space, we went back to the reception and took photos to post on social media with the hashtag #standwithUkraine - no fewer than four (and probably more!) of the audience members had impulsively stayed up all night making Ukrainian flags and flyers to share with other people. In case you don’t know, the blue is always on top on the Ukrainian flag: the flag is symbolic of blue sky over a field of golden wheat.
As I stood there, a demonstration of solidarity was being planned whereby the Brooklyn Lithuanians had offered to make a speech of gratitude at the Brooklyn Ukrainian church — Ukraine stood with Lithuania in the 1990s and now Lithuanians stand with them. (The amusing debate was whether speeches should happen during the mass or afterward; the ultimate decision being after, to be more respectful of the service.)
—Quiz: How many countries and languages did I see and experience in the last four days?
How lucky are we to live in a country where this sort of back to back multiculturalism is not only possible, but celebrated in our plays and musicals, and even in our food? My heart rages against the brutal situation in Ukraine. There is so much greatness to be found in cultural crossover — instead of hammering all the nails into one flat, unyielding surface, let’s enjoy their jagged unevenness. Is it hard to have many cultures all climbing each other for the same spotlight? Yes, of course it is. But here in American we have frequently managed to maneuver through these jagged spots: and when we do it properly it might even, ultimately, look like a dance.
The only thing I’ve written this week, to be honest, is a Medium article. It was early in the week, before Ukraine was invaded. It’s a funny little essay, but now isn’t the time. I’ll talk about it next week. Hopefully.