Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What's That Outside My Window?

Our 27th floor apartment is situated so that none of the neighbors in our building or ones nearby can see in. Quite a selling point in Manhattan real estate, where neighbors in the adjacent building can be as close as the ones next door.  If we crane our necks and squish our faces flat against the kitchen window, we can see the living room of an apartment a couple of floors below.  It's quite stylish with contemporary floor lamps, glass table, some kind of abstract art on the wall.  But, we hardly ever look, hardly ever. . .

Sometimes when I forget an "unmentionable"(is that a word only women over 50 from the South use?) in the bedroom, I tiptoe from the shower, glancing left and right to make sure that there aren't any telescopes pointed in my direction.  How would I know?  Who would be interested anyway?  I grab a towel, just in case.  "A woman is nothing, if not modest."  A Southernism, to be sure.

So, you can imagine my shock, total disbelief, even momentary discombobulation when I lifted my head from my laptop to see three men staring right at me, faces-to face. They were standing outside our living room window, outside the glass, waving! A distant email from the building management inched its way through my paralyzed brain. Something about window washers and using window shades to ensure privacy.

These window washers looked so comfortable, nonchalant even, in their car-size window washing contraption. The only window washer I had ever seen sat on a bench, suspended from ropes which were somehow attached from far above.  He was thankfully strapped in, just in case something broke, frayed, detached, or if the window washer, himself, got distracted by apartment goings-on and let go.

Hurrying to grab my camera, thinking, "The grandchildren would love to see this!" I motioned to the trio if I could take their picture.  A couple of them stopped, smiled ever so slightly, which I took to mean "yes."

It didn't seem like the proper time to stick a piece of paper and pencil out the slit of a window to get their written permission to use their pictures on my blog.  I'm hoping they won't mind, or better yet, never know.

I must say that I have great admiration for the work window washers do, or anyone who works more than a ladder's height above the ground.  My fear of heights borders on phobic, with weak knees, light-headedness, and a semi-paralysis which keeps me glued to the ground.  So how can I live on the 27th floor and look down at tiny people and cars?  I have great admiration, and trust, for those people who make strong, thick glass.  

(My latest article for Downtown Magazine - "Nathan Hale, American Patriot, To Be Remembered at City Hall Plaza" - is now online at  Thanks for reading!)


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Face of Peace

Mohammed Azziz

A Face of Peace

I had never met a Mohammed before.  I had never met a Muslim before.  Living in small Arkansas towns for 36 years, then Alaska for 11 more, the chances were slim that I would have crossed paths with one. Then in 2000 Drew and I accepted jobs at Cairo American College and spent the next four living years in Egypt, a country where approximately 85% of the population is Muslim.  

Mohammed Azziz was the first Mohammed I encountered.  I remember naively thinking, “He must be very special to have the same name as THE Mohammed.” As I gradually met more Egyptian men teaching and working at the school, driving taxis, selling souvenirs, delivering groceries, and parenting students in my 2nd grade classroom, I quickly deduced that at least one out of every three Egyptian males must be named Mohammed.  Sharing a name with thousands didn’t make “my” Mohammed any less special.

We had been in Egypt for less than 24 hours when I walked into my new classroom.  I had spent most of the night before, wide awake, at our dusty kitchen table scribbling the same question across my journal pages, “What have we done!?” As I sat in a jet-lagged Twilight Zone, surrounded by a jumble of desks and boxes of books, Mohammed, the custodian for the 2nd grade classrooms, opened the door.  In his 25 years at CAC, he had surely seen this pitiful sight before - a teacher new to the country, new to the school - close to tears.

“Mrs. Twylla,” (which sounded more like Mrs. Shwylla), “I am Mohammed. Welcome to Egypt." He  extended his hand and smiled, the same glad-to-be-alive smile that I never saw Mohammed without. Until 9/11.

We worked together that day, hanging blue and yellow bulletin board paper, arranging desks, sweeping, dusting, stacking books, creating a space for children to learn and grow.  For the rest of the year, Mohammed greeted me every morning, cleaned my classroom every afternoon. We learned about each other’s families. He taught me an Arabic word each day and, like Professor Henry Higgins (though more gently), asked me to repeat and repeat until correct.  My favorite expression was the one I heard him say whenever anyone needed his help, “Moofishmooshkala,” “No problem.”

I was writing the day’s schedule on the board, the first day of school after 9/ll, when I heard the door open. Mohammed entered.  Pale, solemn, shoulders sagging. He walked directly to me, took my hands in his, and with tears in his eyes, looked into mine.  “Mrs. Twylla, I’m so sorry what happened to your country.  It’s crazy people, crazy people.”  

I nodded. “I know, Mohammed, I know,” the only words to escape before sobs swallowed the rest. Sobs of loss…. and overwhelming hope.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Haikus Herald Summer's End in Central Park

When spring was barely budding, I continued my tradition of writing five haikus during each of the seasons.  In my posting on March 11, 2012 I explained how I began writing "Haikus Written in Russia but not in Russian" when we lived in Moscow. Pokrovskoye-Streshnevo Park was my setting as the seasons changed.  When we moved to New York City, I needed another park.  Thank goodness, there happen to be a few.

I returned to Central Park on Saturday, as a kind of "farewell to summer" outing.  Not that summer is officially over, but it's beginning to feel that way with school starting and sweaters replacing tank tops in every clothing store window.

Enjoy the words, pictures and the sentiments of a season, soon to begin yet another transition.

idyllic rowboats
paddle cross dappled waters 
how distant the shore

flowers philosophize and
whisper words of love

       timeless purity
        dear Angel of the Waters
          bless of what we drink

summer skating rink
smooth as frozen split pea soup
where is everyone? 


a book and a bench
in the company of trees
summer's end; perfect
Web Analytics