Tuesday, August 29, 2017

In which I have a disastrous vacation

As a treat, to celebrate the end of what I knew would be a difficult summer, I booked a mini vacation in Buffalo so that I could attend a family reunion of my mother's side of my family. I was looking forward to getting together with cousins I haven't seen in years. I also bought a ticket to the Silo City Vertical tour, in which you get to climb to the top of some of the abandoned grain elevators on the Buffalo River. The tour warns that you can't be afraid of heights, and must be able to climb 100 feet and ascend a ladder, but I thought I could handle it.

When I planned this trip, I didn't realize that Charlottesville would be invaded by terrorists and that I would be somewhat of a wreck over it. I'll fill you in in a later post about what has been happening in Charlottesville lately, but we are a seriously traumatized community. And I don't know if this contributed to what happened to me this weekend, but I do have a history of experiencing complete physical collapse in the face of great stress. Not that these are imaginary illnesses - they're real - but stress does compromise the immune system.

Landing over beautiful Lake Erie

I arrived in Buffalo Friday afternoon and had dinner with my mother-in-law. I stayed in an airbnb apartment in downtown Buffalo - a very nice urban apartment on a street that one wouldn't have dreamed of living on back when I was still living in Buffalo.

Saturday, I had big plans to eat an indulgent breakfast at my favorite cafe and then do the Silo City Vertical tour. Later, I was supposed to have dinner with my father and his wife and my brother and sister. I woke up with a terrible headache, which I believed was the result of drinking a glass of wine with my mother-in-law, while also being dehydrated from flight. Drinking water didn't help, so I napped instead of going to breakfast and managed to get myself up and out for the tour, but I had a bad feeling about it.

Ominously we were all given flashlights and warned about a 100-foot spiral staircase. "Anyone have vertigo? Anyone?" I didn't speak up and stayed for the first bit of the tour, where we stayed on the ground and heard the history of how Buffalo became a great shipping center, but I was feeling steadily worse and had begun yawning excessively, which is something I do before I throw up. (Curious - does anyone else yawn a lot before vomiting?) As we were about to begin the ascent, I spoke up and said I couldn't continue on the tour. The guides were so kind and said I could return the next day if I was feeling better. So I left, and I know I made the right decision because I threw up in the car as I was driving home. (Add the intersection of Michigan Ave & Swan St to the list of public places I've thrown up in.) Despite being ill, I did manage to take a few pictures.

Seen at the entrance to "silo city" Classic Buffalo.

It's amazing how an abandoned industrial site can be so beautiful

Buffalo River - we used to row past these silos when I was a rower
I was astonished that this huge vertical structure was on rails and could move.
In the distance are the General Mills elevators - still active and where Cheerios are baked to this day.
The wind off Lake Erie sends the smell of baking Cheerios miles inland through the city.

I spent the rest of the day in bed with cold sweats and vomiting and an excruciating headache. I was too sick to read. I looked at my phone a bit but the news about Houston and the pardon of Joe Arpaio made me feel even worse and I felt guilty about feeling so bad when others were much worse off. To be alone and sick is very frightening, and to be alone and sick in a strange apartment away from home is even more frightening. My sister offered to bring ginger ale and other aid, but I declined. I didn't even think I could get down the stairs to let her into my building. Of course I had many sympathetic texts from Jon, but there really wasn't anything he could do to help. I began to be afraid for my safety. My neck was killing me. What if I had meningitis? What if I became so dehydrated I developed an altered mental status? I'd drunk half a glass of water over the course of the day and thrown most of it back up. I realized I'd forgotten to bring my insurance card. I was too weak to even turn over in bed. It was horrible.

Sunday morning, I felt marginally less awful but was still throwing up. This time, I accepted my sister's offer of help. She didn't even have a car and took an Uber to my apartment and brought ginger ale, saltines, Advil and stayed with me for a bit, until it was time for her to go to the reunion picnic. I was able to keep down sips of ginger ale and later attempted a saltine and the Advil. By evening, I was well enough to take a shower and take the rental car out to top off the gas tank. I made it on time to my 6:30 am flight out of Buffalo and got home to Charlottesville without incident, although I still felt a bit woozy. I had a planned vacation day for today (Tuesday) and I still don't feel great - my face hurts - but I'm definitely on the mend. Ugh, what a waste.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Empty Nest and Cville Terror Aftermath

Seamus moved into his dorm on Saturday - a day I was both dreading and anticipating. To be honest, I am totally OK with being an empty nester. I've been parenting for twenty-five years, and while I love my children more than anything, I am ready for them to be launched. Also, I've learned from experience when my older children moved out, that the parent-child relationship changes after they leave. You can be less of a parent, more of a friend. (Not to say that you're absolved from all parenting duties, and seeing your child go through young-adult crises and heartbreaks is agonizing.)

That said, when a child moves out, there's a big hole in your life that takes a while to fill. But after time passes, everyone adjusts, and your kids come home for visits and holidays and it's lots of fun.

Move-in itself went smoothly. Friday night, we were woefully unprepared and not packed, but when around 10:00 pm, I finally got around to reading the move-in instructions, I learned that the check-in time for Seamus' hall and floor wasn't until 4:30 pm, which gave us a lot more time to get packed and organized.

For those of you not familiar with Virginia Commonwealth University, it's a large state university in the middle of Richmond. It's truly an urban campus, with no real defined boundary between the school and its neighborhood, known as the "Fan" a large fan-shaped area of 1800s buildings just west of downtown Richmond. Seamus preferred this to the self-contained and peaceful setting at George Mason University, the other school that accepted him.

I took a few pictures of the VCU neighborhood, walking back to the dorm after parking. Most of these buildings are part of the university. VCU is a large state school, but without the usual soulless, large, state school campus. Richmond's Fan is one of the loveliest urban neighborhoods I know.

Streets close to the dorms were closed to all but VCU students, so we were able to pull right up to the door of Seamus' dorm and unload the car. I drove off to one of the designated long-term parking areas, while Jon and Seamus waited for student volunteers to help carry his things up to his room on the 11th floor. The streets were alive with volunteers and campus police to direct people and music played out into the streets - a nice touch to relieve stress and create a festival atmosphere.

Seamus' new home

We didn't get to meet Seamus' roommate because he had already moved his stuff in and gone off somewhere when we arrived, but he left a note with his phone number, which has an out of state area code. He's a complete stranger, but his note was considerate and his belongings, neatly arranged, were similar to the sorts of things that Seamus brought, which bodes well, I think. (Significantly, he didn't bring a TV. Ian's freshman roommate brought a huge TV which he would turn on the minute he got up each day. It was enormously irritating and inconsiderate.) We picked up Grace and all went out to dinner before Jon and I drove back to Charlottesville. It's only an hour's drive from Cville to Richmond, so we are close at hand, but not too close. 

All settled in.

The move-in was successful, but not without trauma. Starting college is a stressful event for the whole family. On top of that, last week was very difficult as we tried to assimilate the feelings of having been under attack,  and then to hear Trump's remarks, calling the nazis who murdered a young woman and who threw fuel at protesters and tried to set them on fire, "fine people" and then basically saying that we deserved this violence. I didn't get more than four hours of sleep a single night this week and rogue nazis continued to terrorize us for days. On Monday evening, as I walked Phoebe, three men on scooters deliberately swerved at me and tried to run me over. I had to flatten myself into a hedge to escape and they all beeped and laughed at me as they passed. The "violence on both sides" argument is a vicious fiction in order to gaslight those of us who don't support Donald Trump. And on top of that, the terrorist attack in Barcelona was traumatic to hear about, and on top of that, the contrast between Trump's response to the Barcelona attack, compared to his response to the Charlottesville attack is sickening. Donald Trump is an irredeemable beast and he is actively engaged in the ethnic cleansing of the United States. He refuses to denounce the people who attacked Charlottesville because they are doing what he wants. Trump is a sadistic monster who enjoys seeing his opponents suffer.

On Wednesday night, 5,000 people in our community gathered on the UVA grounds to reclaim our space with a candlelight vigil. I attended, and although I think this was a healing event for many, I was overwhelmed by a crushing sense of despair. There have been few times in my life when I felt more alone and sad.  I already deleted the pictures I took (which were terrible) but here's one I shared on instagram, of people gathering in Nameless Field before the march.  Lots of spectacular pictures elsewhere.

A post shared by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

Anyway, the house is a bit lonely now, but we will be fine. I am glad this hateful summer is nearly over though.
Seamus' empty room. This is certain to become Phoebe's bed now.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Terrorist Attack on Charlottesville Virginia

I'm sure you have heard that my city, Charlottesville, Virginia, was attacked by white nationalist terrorists on Saturday, August 12th.  I didn't attend the counter-protest. I'd been dithering about it, partly wanting to go, but also worried because the white supremacists coming to the rally had been bragging about violence. Friday when I got home from work, I impulsively climbed onto the porch roof and painted a resist sign. We live less than a mile from downtown and I wanted any nazis who might park their cars in my neighborhood to know that they were not welcome.

The evening before the rally, white supremacists gathered near the University of Virginia grounds for a torchlit march, which ended in violence when they encountered a group of anti-racist UVA students and attacked them, including throwing their lit torches at people. I even heard a claim on a news video that the nazis threw fuel on people and then threw their torches. I think I speak for many locals when I saw we feel protective of UVA students. It was monstrous that they should be attacked defending their college grounds.

Saturday, the rally was supposed to start at noon, but people started assembling around 9:00 am and quickly became violent. A friend of mine who was there says that the violence was in little, self-resolving bursts. Punches thrown, then a calm, then punches thrown somewhere else, followed by calm. The city declared a local state of emergency and unlawful assembly was declared before even the official start time of the rally. That clinched it for me and I didn't go. I thought it would be a bit of a jerk move to show up after unlawful assembly had been declared. So I stayed home, glued to my twitter feed, until the horrific terrorist attack.

To explain the scene for those of you who aren't local: downtown Charlottesville has a pedestrianized street with shops and restaurants. It's a popular destination for tourists and locals alike and is always crowded on summer weekends. Two streets are allowed to cross the pedestrian mall, although with speed bumps and multiple warnings to drive slowly and yield to pedestrians. After the rally dispersed, there were still many people downtown. A car, driving at full speed charged across the pedestrianized mall and crashed straight into the crowd. Witnesses say he then reversed and slammed into the crowd again. On the eyewitness video I saw, the car was driving so fast it was a blur. One local woman was killed, 32 year old Heather Heyer. Many others were injured, some critically. Jon had been leading a retreat for health care workers and many of the participants were paged to come into the hospital and help with the multi-casualty incident.

The driver of the vehicle was apprehended about a mile from the crash scene. It is confirmed that he was a white supremacist, Trump-supporter.  I had been horrified by similar vehicular terrorist attacks in Nice and London and the fact that it had happened here, in my own town, on a street I walk on frequently was too shocking to comprehend.  And then, perhaps an hour later, the state police helicopter that had been circling the event all day, crashed. Both officers on board were killed.  Never in my life have I been in a place that was actively under attack. Yes, I was safe in my house, and my neighborhood stayed peaceful, but it was horrifying. And an innocent woman was murdered by a terrorist. We won't forget that and we won't let it happen again.

Sunday afternoon, the rally organizer (a local blogger and embodiment of toxic white male culture) had the audacity to hold a press conference. I had this crazy idea that if I attended this conference I could maybe throw a tomato at him or something. Shocking, I know, but I was brimful with rage and I thought if I could just get an opportunity to get close and just maybe gently lob something on him because he needs to be marked with humiliation for what he invited to our town. But then I thought that a tomato would be too firm so I went to Wegmans and bought the biggest, messiest, chocolattiest cream doughtnut they had. I just thought, if the opportunity presented itself, I might clap it against his shirt or smoosh it into his face. I was totally serious about it, but I didn't get an opportunity because when I got to the press conference, there was a large crowd and I couldn't get anywhere near the man. I could barely see him. We all screamed SHAME at the top of our lungs and completely drowned him out. Then someone rushed the podium and punched him and he ran away and we all chased him. We literally chased him away and the riot police came rushing in and blocked the alley he'd run down. There was a standoff for a while but nothing much was happening, so I wandered away and left the bouquet I'd bought when I was buying my assault doughnut at the impromptu memorial for Heather Heyer.

A few pics from Sunday:

My own memorial for Heather
The memorial that sprung up on the spot where Heather Heyer was murdered.

That blue hat had a swastika on it, but every time I tried to take a picture he turned his head.

Riot police protect Jason Kessler's escape

These videos are straight from my instagram. It seems they don't show up if you are reading this in a feed. Sorry! The quality is so much better than if I put them on youtube, so that's why I do it this way.

A post shared by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

It was incredibly cathartic to scream at this man. I think most people around me felt the same. We were so enraged and shocked at what happened in our community that we needed to scream. I screamed myself hoarse. People on social media called us thugs and said we were as bad as the nazis, but that is BS. Don't you DARE compare people venting their rage to terrorist murderers. I reject any claim that our behavior was bad in any way. Also, any argument about "both sides" or "violent leftists" is FALSE. This "But what about the leftists?" has become the new "But her emails." The white supremacists INVADED our town. In the weeks before the event, city council and local businesses worked together to find a way to legally prevent the rally without being guilty of a free speech violation. There was a lawsuit and a last-minute injunction by a judge saying that the rally had to be allowed to go on as planned, despite multiple claims of an expected crowd of thousands.

Sunday evening there was a vigil for Heather Heyer at the site of her death. Originally, it was to be held in a local church, but nazis threatened to attack it. Think about that. These hateful Trump supporters threatened to attack a peaceful vigil for the woman they murdered. But some republicans are trying to claim that the left is responsible for the violence. We gathered and lit candles and sang. State and local police were there to protect us from Trump's terrorists. It's always sad to hear about someone who was murdered, even if it's someone you don't know, but it's a different feeling when the murder was an intentional and vicious attack on your community. The community itself is an additional victim. This is something I hadn't realized. I would also like to thank all the people around the country who held their own vigils and rallies in support of Charlottesville.

The vigil for Heather Heyer on Sunday evening

And finally, this morning, as Phoebe and I took our pre-dawn walk, we saw a memorial of white paper luminaries that had appeared overnight in our park. The park itself, with its hilltop location, groves of ancient oaks, and the worn-down stones of a mountain range older than human memory, has always felt like a sacred space and the memorial was like a tiny paper Stonehenge, there in the dark (and literally at the intersections of Druid and Stonehenge Avenues).

Monday, August 07, 2017

Window Washing Weekend

I spent the weekend washing windows, which is way more fun that it sounds. Nothing makes you feel quite so accomplished as surveying your sparkling windows.

The window-washing cloths from Williams-Sonoma are the best. All you need is water.

Sunroom windows cleaned.
This window still had glazier's fingerprints from decades ago.

Even after cleaning, the front door and windows look rough.
It will be a future project to restore our porch.
I'm dying to get rid of that basket chair, but Jon will object.

Otherwise I'm really dissatisfied with the state of our house right now. In addition to washing windows, I scrubbed the toilets, washed the kitchen floor, vacuumed, and cleaned the microwave and yet still the house feels grimy and unpleasant. The living room is still partially dismantled so that Sancho can sleep closer to the floor. Cobwebs are taking over. No sooner do I vacuum them up than more appear. One morning we're going to wake up and find ourselves cocooned in them.

Cobweb level: Satis House

I made poke bowls for dinner for the first time. I'll eat sushi in restaurants without a qualm, so it's odd that I felt squeamish about preparing raw fish to eat at home. It was yummy and easy to prepare but I have too much poke angst to make this again.

I also spent the weekend reading Olivia in India by O. Douglas, a very charming epistolary novel about a young woman's trip to India just prior to World War I. Every book I read by O. Douglas is even better than the last. Also reading The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope, which I have been reading forever, it seems.

This summer is rushing to its conclusion. Only thirteen days until we move Seamus to his dorm at VCU. I think we have managed to get most things done. He's registered for classes, we finally submitted the dreaded immunization form. I bought twin, XL sheets, a laundry bag, and a laptop. He can take a few bath towels from home, and whatever else we need, we'll just get at Diversity Thrift on move-in day. I'm extra happy to shop there in particular because their profits benefit the LGBQT community and I learned that Vice President Mike Pence will be speaking in Richmond on move-in day. Couldn't this asshole pick a day when the city isn't already overburdened with tens of thousands of students moving in? Seriously. Isn't his team supposed to research things like this? Can't he see that not disrupting an entire city and creating a hell day for thousands of people is more important than getting his ego stroked by a group of sycophants? (Although that's probably the only thing of his that gets stroked.) It occurred to me that we could carve out some time to go and protest him, but I doubt it will be possible.

Meanwhile, Seamus and Ian left on a trip to New Orleans to visit Brigid. A brothers' trip! To visit their sister! Isn't that cute? They're going on the train, which didn't depart Cville until 10:30 pm yesterday so they both spent the day moping and I was happy to see them go. Based on what we're hearing from Brigid, the rain down there is intense, and I'm hearing worrisome tales about flooding and riding a bicycle through waist-deep water. Brigid herself got a job teaching art in a public elementary school in her neighborhood. She's also volunteering in a community garden and at a studio that teaches costume making to kids.

With everything that's been going on this summer, we have't had a proper vacation but once Seamus is settled at school, I'm going to Buffalo for a family reunion. Jon's going to the upper peninsula of Michigan for a conference in October, the two of us are going to Boston in November for a professional event for Jon, and we're going to try to squeeze in a trip to New Orleans as well.

I'll leave you with an awesome bit of craftivism that appeared overnight in our park. The letters are cut off a bit, but it says DISARM HATE. I haven't hung any yarnbombs lately because I've been working on one that's larger than anything else I've attempted so far and it's going to take a while.