Four Remarkable Women
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 20 Sep 2021
13 Sep 2021 – This post is a departure from my usual themes. It reflects an amateurish interest in depicting a fascinating form of feminism that is exemplified by certain exceptional women who I have been privileged to know. It was originally written to be a chapter for my memoir, but when the manuscript became longer than the publisher could accept, I was persuaded that this fixation of mine was too peripheral to my life to be spared editorial surgery. I was compelled to cut 100,000 words, and this way of ‘publishing’ is one way of saying that my life is bigger than the book!
Angels would not condescend
to damn our eager souls.
That is why they awe
and why they terrify us so
— Rainer Maria Rilke, The Duino Elegies, First Elegy. Translation: Robert Hunter
A Group Portrait
To attempt to depict a human genotype or sociological template that binds together these supremely individualist women who are so unlike one another is an act of hubris. Yet somehow in my experience, they form a vivid tapestry in my mind that has certain shared shapes, colors, and images. It is this that I wish to recall, fully aware of the hazards, but also as an acknowledgement of my lifelong joyful dependence on feminine inspiration.
I have written in my memoir [Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim (2021) praising the achievements of several remarkable men who created by act of will, innovative learning communities that flourished while they lasted outside of ivy walls. Here I present four remarkable women who exemplify the opposite kind of human perfection: standing erect and alone, splendid in their sometimes bizarre, yet always valuable, isolation. Each has a distinct posture of somewhat defiant solitude that is waging war against the conformities of sociability and political correctness that provide comfort zones for most of the rest of us. These women are often written off as eccentric or hopelessly opinionated. I am among those who cherish and adore them for their vividness, candor, the special forms of knowing that they impart, and a kind of wisdom that flows from a rare fusion of detachment and engagement. I noticed that whenever I have met someone comparably close to any of the four it immediately melts the ice of a first encounter, establishes rapport, and immediate bonds of trust. It is as if a secret society of admirers exists without ever being consciously formed, somewhat in the manner of the ancient goddess cults, for instance the Oracle at Delphi.
I met none of these four women until I was in my late fifties, and Rosemary only by email, and then not before celebrating my eightieth birthday. It makes me wonder whether when younger I overlooked those women who chose to stand alone before the world, but thinking back I cannot recall anyone that I have overlooked, although Zsa Zsa Gabor and Claudette Colbert who crossed my path often while I was an impressionable teenager were glamorous versions of the upper reaches of feminine charm that I found enchanting, and many other women over the course of life have projected auras at once vivacious, sensuous, sensual, and magnetic that have enlivened my life in ways that the British poet/essayist Robert Graves so memorably described in The White Goddess.
There are several shared qualities that these four women possess. Despite their magnetism, the other three either never married or had life partners or if married, it was a brief foray onto hostile terrain. Three of the four were content to live without children, but not without family, and certainly not without friends. Each relished being the source of provocations, as well as being unabashedly contrarian, exaggerates wrongs and rights in the world, and divides people in her experience into polar categories, usually of intense like and dislike, approval and disapproval. There are no shades of gray in their color spectra. No man I have ever met shares these characteristics, or even comes close. These women are a breed apart, obviously proud of being non-replicable. They fashion a distinctive habitat for themselves that scares off the timid and thin skinned, and delights devotees.
Their life style and personality is more important in defining their sensibilities than their politics or even their life work, but each in their very different ways, work to the point of exhaustion, and have had to cope with serious health issues. Two of the four nurture serious love relationships with animals, possibly partly as a reaction to their antipathy toward patriarchy. Each of the four is capable of filling a room with light and laughter, will be always noticed, and never forgotten.
Beware, as well. Any of the four can take over the lives of others with a flick of their wrist, molding them to their imagining as a potter might clay. It is usually for the sake of healing or fulfilling the potential of others, but the pattern reflects the paradox of super-strong individuals stomping on the relative passivity of others, who may indeed benefit or even yearn for such guidance, welcoming this kind of overbearing push by women with a sparkle.
For myself, I have listened to and learned from each of these women. Each has a gift of clarity, and even certitude, that contrasts with my often overly cerebral ambivalence. Each found a pattern of living that frees birds from their cages, which by itself, is enough to make me feel inspired and captivated, and empathetic, if a project one of them embarks upon goes awry. As with all who hold reason in contempt, while following their passions, their stern judgments on some occasions will seem too extreme or even cruel to those of us composed of milder metals. What redeems even their missteps is their undisguised intolerance toward knaves, fools, and self-important roosters, as well as their unerring antennae for outing those they condemn and celebrating those they affirm, to whom they bestow love.
Each has an ‘impolite’ integrity that makes their assertiveness seem belligerent to some, but I found that if I stood my ground quietly, a mutual respect would slowly take hold, and even adverse opinions would not be allowed to cast a cloud over the sunshine of valued closeness and cherished affirmation. I have been blessed by having the trust and maybe even a touch of non-romantic love from each of these four remarkable women who left deep footprints on whatever paths they chose to walk. Despite the totally different quality of Marilyn Monroe’s more accessible and brand of charisma, Elton John’s wonderfully moving celebratory lyrical tribute, ‘Candle in the Wind’ also describes the intensity of living achieved by these four iconic figures.
Gloria Emerson came first like a bolt of lightning illuminating the gray clouds so often hovering over Princeton. I believe we first me in 1990 after leaving her illustrious journalistic career behind. Of all these four women, Gloria, left the heaviest footprint on public consciousness. She won the National Book Award in 1978 for Winners and Losers. It was a brave contrarian book notable for putting a focus on the suffering and devastation endured by the people of the Vietnam and on the American vets wounded in either mind or body in Vietnam. She recorded their ordeal with a passion and an empathy generally absent in mainstream reporting on the combat realities of an American war. In a passage from the book that is often quoted she summarized this dynamic of killing from a safe distance that existed before drones became the American weapon of choice in the post-9/11 period: “Americans cannot perceive, even the most decent among us, the suffering caused by the air war in Indochina and how huge are the graveyards we have created there.” This is not a message the American mainstream wanted to hear.
Always her focus was on how war caused suffering to people and their habitats, and most of all to those who were weak and vulnerable. She was also one of the first prominent journalists to take on the Israeli dehumanization of the Palestinians, publishing a moving account of her experience of living for a year in Gaza. Her book, Gaza: A Year in the Intifada (1991) looked upon the conflict from a people-oriented perspective, and aroused completely unjustified accusations of its anti-Israeli portrayal, which she shrugged off as being not worthy of response. Perhaps, these ethical/political affinities produced a spontaneous trust between us, not because we put politics first, but because we allowed our emotions and shared values to shape our political assessments. This identification with a variety of struggles from below is what brought us close, although as we came to know one another, it did not spare me from searing criticism whenever I felt short of her expectations.
When I first encountered Gloria, she reminded me of those rich eccentric women who live on Park Avenue and often wear odd looking hats at public events. She was tall, a commanding presence in any social setting, and capable of either warm reassurances or biting criticisms. By the time we met she was done with the mainstream journalism, being a rather negative alumna of the NY Times. She reacted against the surrender of this esteemed media institution to the worlds of corporate advertising, political correctness, and Washington militarism. Without knowing it, Gloria taught those around her, what is meant by the phrase ‘talking truth to power.’ Her maternal sides, which were genuine, and like her other attributes when expressed, were strong. She seemed to attract various kinds of protégées, maybe the best known of whom was a young Sy Hersh, someone she somewhat mentored and at the same time greatly admired. As if Princeton was the Vatican, and Gloria its Pope, Sy would make periodic pilgrimages. I would put myself, although older, and without notable public achievements, in the same category as someone who Gloria liked and respected, yet benefitted from her stern reprimands and self-assured guidance.
Gloria committed suicide in 2004, apparently convinced that as her case of Parkinson’s Disease worsened, she would steadily lose the ability to do the one thing, other than befriend those she affirmed, that in those last years, gave meaning to her life, which was to write for publication. She left behind her own handwritten obituary that conveyed her honesty that never spared herself and her satiric feeling about what it meant to be a woman working in the trenches of mainstream journalism. Unsurprisingly, her parents were from a socially prominent background and quite wealthy due to oil investments, but ended up squandering everything. As a young adolescent she escaped from what she recalled as a ‘wretched alcoholic family’ and only got the chance to cover the Vietnam War because the NY Times mistakenly thought the war was over before it, and hence okay to send a woman on an assignment that no longer involved exposure to combat conditions. In reality, I heard from many sources that she was more fearless than her male counterparts who rarely strayed from their Saigon hotels and relied on locally hired assistants for ‘eye witness’ accounts of unfolding events. Gloria developed a strong following among American disaffected soldiers in Vietnam who sought her counsel and friendship when they returned, often traumatized, to the United States. She brought her literary gifts to bear in describing the misery of the maimed and the wounded on both sides of that miserable war that caused so many casualties, including those occurring far from the combat zones that are not included in the statistics of that war’s casualties.
Gloria’s presence in my life was surprisingly profound considering my age and the how late in my life met. Above all, she was quite judgmental toward the women then in my life, mildly disapproving of Elisabeth Gerle and more starkly averse to Mary Morris, while unreservedly affirming of Hilal. I know in retrospect she was unfairly judgmental toward Elisabeth and Mary, perhaps reflecting her growing disenchantment with all things Western, while saving her affection and empathy for those who came from the non-West. Was she still struggling to shake off the sinister influence of her blueblood wayward WASP parentage? Maybe these negative judgments in combination with the awesome arrogance of American war tactics as observed up close in Vietnam had given rise to a pervasive sense of alienation as she grew older.
Of course, Hilal was not really from the non-West, much less the Global South, but I suppose Gloria responded, as so many did, to her Turkish charm, genuineness, Muslim identity, and progressive sentiments. While in Sweden 1900-91 during my time as Olaf Palme Visiting Professor, I relied on Gloria’s judgment on several occasions. I was unable to return to my Princeton residence to avoid losing a U.S. tax break associated with staying out of the country for at least 330 days during the calender year, and yet wanted to find a new place to live as the tenants at my Prospect Avenue house made me a purchase offer I didn’t want to refuse. I trusted Gloria’s judgment more than that of others, when choosing a new home for myself. I bought the house without ever seeing more than pictures and was sensibly swayed by Gloria’s ardent clarity.
Undoubtedly, Gloria’s biggest influence on my life was to strengthen my resolve to marry a fourth time. After Florence I had decided that I was not well suited to marriage, neither its routines nor its constraints. I had quested after romance and mutual love before I was even a teenager. I was useless by background and temperament as a household partner. This form of inadequacy can be traced back to a middle class childhood where at that time at least in Manhattan most children were expected to stay away from the kitchen. and even in our financially stressed situation, not allowed, much less expected to do house chores. Besides, monogamy didn’t come naturally or early to me, which led my partners to become more possessive than was comfortable for them or me. Since a child I was fascinated by feminine sensuality, including the Giaconda smile, colorful attire, sensual expressiveness, and sexual enticement. I had not met Hilal until the fall of 1994, that is, after Sweden, but I think I owe Gloria posthumous thanks and many hugs for making me brave enough to make a life commitment one last time. I can affirm that this somewhat unnatural commitment has greatly enhanced the quality of my life during the ensuing 27 plus years.
Gloria did more that provide psychological support. She had a practical side. Despite an aura of otherworldliness at times, she had a knack for getting things done. She even found a minister in Princeton willing to marry us, not a foregone conclusion as it meant joining a Jew with a Muslim in holy matrimony. She persuaded her neighbor Sue Ann Morrow, the Protestant deputy chaplain at Princeton, who presided over an ecumenical ceremony of the three Abrahamic religions in the living room of the house that Gloria had chosen for us.
I mention these impacts on my life partly to be suggestive of the degree to which Gloria took benevolent charge over those she cared about, making things happen, even using her modest material resources as needed. She did this impressively by medically facilitating the courageous Palestinian human rights leader in Gaza, Raji Sourani and his wife, facilitating the birth of their children. I want to convey the sense that what made Gloria get happily intoxicated was not scotch, not political engagement or even journalistic scoops, but acts that to most others would seem irresponsibly rash at the time, but later would be properly viewed as private miracles.
One Thanksgiving in the early 1990s we were both alone and decided to celebrate this ambiguous national holiday of thanks together. We hunted around for a restaurant near Princeton that was open, and finally found a rather expensive Scandinavian hotel in a wooded area not far from Princeton. We sat at a quiet table, entranced by the flames of a nearby fireplace, enjoying a typical Thanksgiving meal. Yet what was memorable for me about this meal was the of the rare silent intervals that serenely paused our animated conversation. When that happens in human interactions, it seems a sure sign that a friendship is secure enough to engender trust. I have only discovered in old age that is not primarily words that confirm intimacy but how silences are handled, either as grim expressions of alienation or as telling signs of true closeness and utmost trust.
I never for an instant doubted Gloria’s virtues or the joy and guidance that her friendship brought into my life or the gifts she conferred on so many, and through her work on the world. In the end our distinctly platonic love flourished because we worshipped the same gods. It never occurred to validate this love of ours with even a single romantic kiss. Her book Loving Graham Greene is a sly confessional about how love and loving could be real, especially when left untested by contact.
On the surface, Deborah seems the most ‘normal’ of the four. She was married to our UCSB colleague, Giles Gunn, and they were jointly devoted to their daughter, Abby, as were we. They lived on the northern rim of Ventura in a house fronting the ocean and overflowing with the latest books of high culture with many heaped on a huge living room coffee table. I remember scanning the latest arrivals to decide which book I must read next. Deborah taught religious studies with zest at a nearby Lutheran university.
But in the end this façade of normalcy seemed a cover fashioned to obscure somewhat what set Deborah apart. It may have been her infectious laughter or the radiance that lit up the darkest of social occasions. Or possibly, her exuberance for life that never lessened even when severely tested by a long struggle with terminal cancer that she daily enduring throughout the years we knew her. Hilal knew Deborah far better than I. They immediately established the sort of friendship that gives others the impression of being so deeply rooted that it must have been formed their kindergarten years. Among Hilal’s many admirable qualities is her deep rapport with super-strong women, including those with commanding, even domineering, personalities that often intimidate, threaten, arousing envy among lesser beings whether women or men, in part because they absorb most of the social oxygen in the room. Hilal trusts selectively but with absolute and unflinching loyalty, but when she does, she is trusted and beloved in return. This was the case with Deborah.
Deborah’s tragic final years were never short on exhibiting those qualities that made her remarkable. Her strength of being was so compelling than as a seriously ill patient she was able to lure her renowned Houston cancer specialist for a friendship visit to their Santa Barbara home. Despite the pain, the constant treatments, and of course the underlying sadness that comes with the knowledge that there is no cure, she was intent on collaborating with her local attending doctor on a book that was the most demanding of undertakings, a memoir devoted to the experience of dying that gradually takes over the experience of living. We all die, and are dying throughout our life, but mostly we are blessed with sufficient health as to be able to enjoy living without taking much account of our inevitable mortality. What made Deborah inspirational was that despite the severe stress of her deteriorating health and impending death she retained her undiminished zest for life, rescuing the rest of us from the pitfalls of complacency or bestowals of pity.
Few of us would have the courage and energy under such conditions to come to Istanbul alone to teach a literature course at Bosporus University, living by herself in campus housing, and adventurously moving around this impossible city without the benefits of speaking Turkish, companionship or even prior familiarity with the place. Not only did she cope, she loved the experience of this fascinating, picturesque city, and such was her elation that she didn’t even mind being cheated by taxi drivers now and then. I remember our dinners together that summer were always fun, upbeat, and without any hints of what would for most mortals would be such a dismal reality as to keep them pinned down at home. We were on opposite sides of the Bosporus, which with Istanbul traffic ordeals, made each meeting complicated logistically, yet gratifying.
Deborah’s joie de vivre that was evident in so many ways, including her vibrant devotion to those she affirmed, loved, and inspired. I can still remember Deborah grabbing Abby one night while we were together for several days on ‘a blue voyage,’ our vessel anchored in one of the harbors of enchantment close by the city of Bodrum, and dancing with wild movements of joyful abandon as the boat swayed in the evening breeze. I am sure that Abby will never forget what seemed a peak experience for both mother and daughter. If the moment remains so alive for me, a mere witness of this spectacle of love and delight, what must it be for a daughter so spontaneously celebrated.
Perhaps, because these remarkable women are such strong presences, it is a rather difficult challenge to be their partner. Giles faced this challenge in ways that displayed both his appreciation of Deborah’s transcendent qualities but also the strains that come with such hallowed territory. I have no knowledge of how well Deborah dealt with the routines of marriage and family life, but she always gave me the sense, perhaps wrongly, of someone who for better and worse was profoundly alone, not a disappointed solitude, but that kind of empowering individuality that Nietzsche celebrated. I have the weird phantasy that if Nietzsche had been a feminist, he might have been inspired to choose Deborah as his life model for Zarathustra.
Ceylan is at once the easiest and most difficult of my chosen four. She remains a work-in-progress living in solitude on a steep hillside outside the village of Mazi, with a magnificent view of the waters of the Aegean that surround the Bodrum peninsula. Her container-built house, an unlawful and ungainly structure constructed without a permit, which is apparently only obtainable in many parts of Turkey through bribe of local petty bureaucrats. Hilal ‘met’ Ceylan on email due to their shared concerns about conserving the water resources of Turkey more than twenty years ago.
Ceylan was from a successful Kemalist family, her father being a military officer who upon retirement, followed the American patterns, entering the business of arms sales. Her brother and sisters enjoyed notable conventional lives in various places, and all were well educated and cultured. Ceylan was close to her parents, and when we knew her, built a kind of hospital room for her mother to allow her to be close and comfortable in the last years of her life.
When we first knew Ceylan in the years following the AKP rise to power, we often met in social gatherings in Istanbul and later in Torba, where she had a fine house close to the water. I kept as silent as possible whenever the conversation touched on Turkish politics as my views, especially in that early period of 2002-09, when I marveled at what the AKP had achieved, did not sit well in Kemalist circles. In contrast, the secular opposition gave angry, worried voice to their phantasy fears that Turkey was becoming a second Iran and that Erdoğan was well on his way to becoming a dictator in the Putinesque mode, while threatening to fracture the Turkish geopolitical comfort zone, which had for decades tied the country’s foreign policy tightly to Washington’s shoestrings. We usually met in the company of Ceylan’s friends in her apartment on the square in Istanbul containing the Gallata Tower. Ceylan’s guest tended to be wellborn and likeminded in their unreflective hostility to the political tide that swept across the country in the first decade of the new century. sweeping across Although they did not say as much, at least in my presence, they would have welcomed a coup by the Turkish armed forces undertaken in the name of safeguarding the endangered principles of Kemal Ataturk. In fact, whether openly or not I had the impression that they would have welcomed a military takeover that restored the private and public sector dominance of the Kemalist elites. Although by this time, twenty years later, the Ataturk legacy has somewhat weakened, yet still the great leader’s picture remains by the far the most present, but still many magnitudes less so than when I first started coming regularly to Turkey in the mid-1990s. In one respect, Kemalism, as expressed through the life and work of Ataturk, functions as not Erdogan, not AKP, in the Turkish political imaginary.
There is no doubt that Ceylan, never reluctant to speak her mind, can be provocative, even hurtful, as she was when telling Zeynep that her knee pain resulted from psychological, not physical, disorders. Or telling Hilal, immediately on meeting after a lapse of a year or so, that she looked older and had put on lots of weight. With me, maybe because I was older by at least twenty years, she never made those somewhat cruel kinds of observations, and took mercy on my knees as they worsened. In her early years at Mazi we stayed comfortably in a guest house a few hundred yards down the hill, but more recently, we were given a more accessible guest room in a cottage next to where she lived.
There are many amazing aspects of Ceylan’s life that put her on a high pedestal. Before her knees betrayed her rhythmic ambitions, she would go to Buenos Aires every year just to learn and practice tango, acquiring a stately house in the Argentine city and devoted friends along the way. We were always impressed, and admittedly a bit envious, that wherever Ceylan went she seemed to acquire real estate, and then later dispose of it at a big profit. We displayed our considerable talent for doing the opposite, buying high, selling love. She even owns a large tract of land in Uruguay that is suitable for olive orchards, and maybe an olive oil business. Ceylan time after time makes it clear that she is much closer to her dogs than to the excitements of real estate deals, and maybe even people, excepting ourselves, of course, which I note with a smile of self-deprecating irony.
As impressive, despite an urban upbringing, Ceylan became an all-consuming horticulturalist, raising exotic plants and trees with native habitats throughout the hemisphere. She has written a book, so far available only in Turkish, explaining how she became such a gourmet gardener. People who have read what she has written, sing praises. With only sporadic help with the work, and a sprawling garden that needs daily care, occupying distances that would take at least ten minutes to cover by a brisk walker, Ceylan rises before dawn to provide water, eliminate weeds, and whatever else it takes to make such a huge garden flourish despite the absence of reliable rainfall. She spends no less than four hours per day so challenged by what the earth has to offer when well loved.
Yet above all what impressed us most is the choice, the sheer madness of it, to live alone in a home that require a SUV to manage an almost impassable dirt road that winds through the steep inclines. We have only crawled along the road during the dry months, and found it so bad as to tempt us to stay away, but if rain and mud are around, as in the Winter months, the road mounts a challenge no ordinary car could survive To be so alone day after day, and even more so, night after night, without being required to live in such a seemingly austere and lonely way, puts Ceylan in a class apart from what Aristotle had in mind when he described humans as ‘social animals.’ This life choice, one no ‘life coach’ would dare recommend, is made more noteworthy, and in a way puzzling, when we take account of how much Ceylan loves to be with people, hospitably provides delicious food and excellent wine, shares generously her plants and flowers. There are mysteries here, but probably not for me to decipher.
As I write the mysteries are being deepened. A wild fire in August of 2021, the second COVID year, chose Mazi as a place to ravage, and Ceylan’s hill, including the love of her life after retreating to deep country—a libertarian garden—was almost destroyed by this vengeful display of nature’s fury. Ceylan admits that this apocalyptic intrusion on her way of life has raised doubts about whether she can restore the atmosphere, turn what is now mostly black and brown back to mostly green. The grit displayed in even returning to such ravaged scene already qualifies as heroic. If she persists, and manages to maintain restorative mission until its completion—undoubtedly ‘building back better’—it will likely shape the rest of her life, and imprint an image of what it takes to be a 21st century pioneer in the minds of awestruck friends who could never endure the rigors of such a life for more than 24 hours, myself included. For Ceylan it is both a retreat and an embace.
I am so grateful for Ceylan’s non-judgmental friendship, which is not so widely bestowed as near as I can tell. She knows we disagree on many trivial things such as politics, but she also seems to know that on the essentials of living and life, truth and beauty, we agree, and we do. On most matters of good and evil here on earth, particularly in Turkey, we seem content generally to avoid, seeming to sense that our different perceptions, backgrounds, temperaments and experiences might bring tensions, angry grimaces, and if pressed, even tears.
Ceylan as with the other three ladies of distinction, possesses strong magnetism. People come to her despite the challenging remoteness of her residence. She almost never leaves her hilltop for social purposes, making exceptions only for her health and that of her dogs, and for the weddings of her nieces and cousins. If I lived so remotely, I cannot imagine having a single visitor per year. Even my children, although expressing ritual regret, and maybe feeling occasional pangs of guilt, would find ample reasons to stay away. I draw such a comparison as my way of bearing witness to both Ceylan’s high voltage social magnetism and my own shortcomings.
I suppose it is a bit odd to include Rosemary. We have never met in person. I totally reject some of her impassioned opinions. We have only a few close friends in common. She was at first ill-disposed toward me, a story she likes to tell. After all, she is a dedicated expatriate and I a seemingly sterile American, and worse, could come across as an apparently loyal servant of its imperial government.
Such an initial reaction was understandable. Rosemary, who is intensely critical of Israel and Zionism, first heard of me when I was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2008 to be the replacement for John Dugard, as Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestine. Rosemary rightly believed that John, a South African jurist who had gained political maturity during the height of apartheid, had done a fantastic job at the UN, exposing Israeli violations of international law and the crimes against humanity that were the core realities of its prolonged occupation of Palestine that had started after the 1967 War. It was quite reasonable for her to expect the worst from his successor. Isn’t that the way the world works? Or at least the UN? Especially, since it was widely known that Israel had lobbied hard in Geneva for the selection of someone who shared their concerns, and would spin the reality of the Israeli occupation of Palestine in a Tel Aviv direction.
I am not clear what softened Rosemary’s gaze, perhaps some in her circle who had worked with me on past occasions. I think one person who came to my rescue was Vera Gowlands, a progressive international law and human rights professor who lived in Geneva, and developed a commitment to the Palestinian struggle. Whoever it was, it brought Rosemary tumbling into my Internet life as no one before or since has done. Her passions were raw and almost always linked with her elaborate past life of service to important persons for whom she had worked or befriended, ambassadors and ministers, especially from the MENA countries. Rosemary could recall the details of encounters and gala parties from decades ago as if they had occurred the prior evening. It led me to encourage her to write up a life so rich in exotic detail. She could narrate an endless string of social entanglements in exotic settings filled with endearing recollections illustrating the lives of these vivacious personalities with whom she worked and played. As with Gloria, Rosemary found young persons of promise, whether male or female, and did her generous best to goad them into fulfilling their potential. And like Ceylan, found her ‘divine’ cats a source of love and admiration, and lent her energies to animal welfare efforts in Cairo and elsewhere with the same zeal she seems to bestow on glittering social events and dear friends.
While others learn from books, although she reads widely and avidly, Rosemary seemed to learn the lessons of life from her very distinct experiences over the span of many expatriate years. I am not sure about whether she did much by way of graduate education, yet she was learned in the manner of gifted auto-didacts, and seemed conversant with the best works of modern literature. She likes describe herself as ‘a typist,’ in good moods as ‘a glorified typist,’ who was employed throughout her career by various international institutions, and seemed to have such an advanced and engaging social consciousness as to gain the confidence and affection of her bosses. If a typist, then in a new category—‘a typist savant’ willing to entertain guests with her version of belly dancing.
Somewhat surprisingly, Rosemary grew up in Minnesota, and unsurprisingly, was a college homecoming queen. She somehow emerged in full bloom as a woman alive and alone in Europe, holding a series of jobs in global cities of high culture. Along the way she developed a strong hostility to America’s global role, to Israeli policies and practices, and to any form of organized religion and even to private shows of religious devoutness. Somewhere along this path she encountered and paid a kind of romantic homage, eventually professing love for Paul Findley, a brave ten term congressman from downstate Illinois who paid with his Washington career for taking on the Israeli lobby in the 1980s, and never backed down during the several decades that followed his political defeat. Paul, who I met at a Washington conference on the Jewish Lobby became a lonely voice in what still remains after his death a forlorn wilderness of prophetic insight.
As with the other three, and with the same unforgettable verbal verve, Rosemary is passionate about her opinions, pro and con. With a touch of irony, she holds forth online to her Internet likeminded circle from what she self-mockingly calls ‘my speaker’s corner,’ initially at Marrakesh and now from Angers in southern France. Her affection for Morocco turned sour some time ago, and her views of the country are now of the darkest hue. At present, she feels happier in the city of Angers, filling her days with messages to the world and tales of young Syrian refugees that add spice to her life as she adds direction and maternal devotion to theirs.
Rosemary has developed a retinue of those who love her spirit, and probably like me, overlook the opinionated rants. She is a demagogue of the emotional life, yet according to her own self-portrait, ever ready to laugh uncontrollably at both her own occasional missteps and the absurdities of others. She has soft spot for sympathetic provocateurs and stray cats. What more needs saying!! With such life-sustaining energies, love is rarely absent.
Profiling such vivid personalities is somewhat daunting and risky. I discovered along the way that by their nature they transcend all efforts at portraiture. To experience such women as friends is the silver lining of a patriarchal civilization. In their presence I felt always the pressure of being challenged, sometime directly, more often tacitly, and in the end with sentiments of gratitude.
Of course, I realize it is a violation of their individuality to categorize four women whose signature identity is to stand alone far from crowds, avoiding even arenas of societal influence, in some instances seeking maximum attainable remoteness. Despite this penchant for solitude each is socially gifted, and beloved for what she is and has achieved, and by way of appreciation, standard canons of judgment are rightly suspended as inapplicable.
I believe these four women have taught me many lessons outside the confines of classroom, library, and bedroom. Admittedly, it is an unusual pedagogy, especially with respect to what might be identified as ‘moral posture,’ standing tall, or as tall as possible, in relation to ‘political correctness’ or to express empathy toward the most vulnerable and downtrodden while spitting in the direction of their tormentors. And not only are pieties dispensed, but hedonistic insights as well. These women have this great capacity to affirm life in ways that express their distinctiveness, and not only to lament wrongdoing.
I can only wonder why I have known no such men, not even close calls, despite many cherished male friends who were confidants, sharing my love of sports, ideas, games, romance, and the ebb and flow of a long life. Unlike these women who draw to themselves others from great distances, the men I have been close to lack that gravitational pull, at least in my case. Maybe Edward Said or Gerry Spence are partial exceptions, but their lives are so bound up with others close at hand that I would feel an intruder if I dared to show up at their doorstep on a night of loneliness in search of a reassuring hug!
Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, Distinguished Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies, UCSB, author, co-author or editor of 60 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to two three-year terms as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and associated with the local campus of the University of California, and for several years chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is On Nuclear Weapons, Denuclearization, Demilitarization, and Disarmament (2019).
Tags: Feminism, Literature, Memoirs, Richard Falk
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