Tag Archives: Mariette Bermowitz

On Friendship

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Mariette and Mariette At this time of the year when most families are gathering to celebrate the holidays, I think about those of us who because of various misfortunes have lost the comfort of family and tradition. These times then become moments of reflection on what we have created to bring joy to our lives. My thoughts turn to the friends I have made over the years. They have sustained me and  have become family. They have given me joy and warmth and the courage that is needed to feel that one belongs in this sometimes cruel world.

Some are no longer friends, some have died, some may not always be available but they all have a place in my heart. But the most painful is the memory of friends who have died too young. It reminds me of the way my mentor and creative source, Michel de  Montaigne, dedicated his work to his best friend, La Boetie. When La Boetie died all too young, Montaigne wrote: ce jour qui pour moi sera toujours amer, toujours sacre. (That day which for me will always remain bitter, always sacred) And so I think of my friend Mariette, who died in her early twenties.

Mariette was the first friend I ever had. Sharing the same name gave us a special bond from the beginning. It was during the war in Belgium. We were both six years old at the time. Even then she was la grande and I was la petite. I had no other friends in those days because as a Jewish child hiding in a Catholic community, it was dangerous for everyone concerned that I not say anything that might connect me to being Jewish.

Mariette and I never discussed such things. We were children, and then young  adolescents sharing the joys and moments of celebration in the village where I returned every year to be with my benefactors. Then I left for America when I was twelve and never saw Mariette again.

I looked forward to our reunion when I went back “home” for the first time after ten years of separation. I was ecstatic to return to Belgium, and looking forward to seeing Mariette again. No one had told me that she had died a tragic death three weeks before I arrived.

Mariette,Flore,Ghislaine1She carried with her the memory of her own mother, blown to bits before her eyes. Mariette’s mother had taken too long to vacate the cellar where they were hiding and was struck by the fragments of a grenade. Now my friend Mariette had taken her own life.

I cannot forget her. I recently found a picture of her and her two cousins. She is sitting at the head of a wheelbarrow holding the handle which looks like a cross. For me it represents the cross she bore of having witnessed her mother’s death.

I dedicate this holiday to all the children suffering from the aftermath of war.

And I dedicate this memory to all those who are blessed, like myself, with friends dear enough to be family.

And lastly, I dedicate these words to my beloved friend, Mariette.

In Remembrance

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Images of the devastation  Sandy  leaves behind is a searing reminder of how vulnerable we are before nature. It is beyond  belief  and through it all we are  learning  that we as people care for each other. Yet I still find it hard to forget Katrina.

I still see that oil rig that blew up in the Gulf of Mexico and the destruction of a habitat filled with wild life that is gone forever.

Our world is so wounded. I wonder what it will take to heal. I wonder.

In Remembrance

The sea fans out

iridescent

tear drops

across the beach

where birds

try in vain

to wash the stains

that glisten on their wings

They are

dying

lying on the sand

Their feathers

stretched out

like hands

begging

to be set free

… But their bodies

lie limp

in a pool of tar

Dying birds

who once soared

to the stars

© Mariette 2012

 

Pomegranates for Thanksgiving

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With Thanksgiving approaching and guests announcing themselves, I head for the bookcase where my cookbooks tempt me with fabulous titles. I bought several of them while traveling and living in foreign countries. That in itself allows me to reminisce and dream about the journeys that led me to learn about different foods, ingredients and fragrances that linger in the mind.

I choose from among the glossy covers tempting me, the fabulous cookbook by the Iranian born chef, Najmieh Batmanglij, entitled Silk Road Cooking. There, next to a dish of  Pilau (rice) infused with pomegranate seeds I am smitten by the sight of two crimson colored pomegranates. The appellation of the word comes from ancient French pomme grenate or crimson apple or more mysterious still, somber red.

Painting by Patrick Flynn

The first time I ever saw this tempting fruit was in a Flemish still life of the seventeenth century. I will always remember that open pomegranate in the forefront of the painting emptying its scarlet seeds and sensuous color onto a white porcelain dish. But it was in the Iranian city of Yazd that I discovered its origins.

I had traveled three hundred miles through a barren landscape to visit the last center of Zoroastrianism and learned that Marco Polo had visited this city on his journey from Italy to China in the thirteenth century. And it was in one of the quaint restaurants along a dusty main street that I first tasted Yazdi Polow , a rice dish from Yazd, with Khoreshe Anar(Pomegranate sauce).

Yazd, Iran

According to Najmieh Batmanglij, “The red pomegranate is native to Iran and the tastiest ones come from Yazd, where it has been cultivated for at least 4,000 years. It is considered the fruit of heaven; in fact, it was probably the real “apple” in the Garden of Eden. The ancients commended it. Among them were King Solomon, who had a pomegranate orchard. And the prophet Mohammed said, “Eat the pomegranate, for it purges the system of envy and hatred.”

That being said, recalling my journey and exotic discoveries in Iran, fills me with sweet nostalgia. And so I will share that extraordinary gustatory experience with my version of Khoreshe Fesenjan (Pomegranate sauce) which may be added to either chicken or turkey for Thanksgiving.

Chicken or Turkey with Pomegranate Sauce

2 ½-3 lb fryer (cut up);  2 cups walnuts (finely chopped); 5 tbsp. shortening

3 ½ cups water; ½ tsp. poultry seasoning; 1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. cinnamon; ½ tsp. pepper; 2 tbsp. lemon juice

1 large onion (finely chopped); 1 cup fresh pomegranate juice or

2-3 tbsp. pomegranate molasses; 2 tbsp. tomato sauce; 3tbsp. butter

1 tbsp. sugar; 2 whole pomegranates

Wash and prepare the chicken pieces (or turkey breasts) for frying. Sauté the chicken with seasoning in shortening until light brown on all sides. As an alternative method the chicken may be baked in a 350oF oven for 45 minutes instead. Put aside. Sauté the onions in 3 tablespoons butter until golden brown. Add tomato sauce and sauté for a few minutes. Add walnuts to the sautéed onions and sauté over a medium fire for about 5 minutes. Stir constantly and be careful not to burn the walnuts. Add water, seasoning, lemon juice, and pomegranate juice (or pomegranate molasses). Cover and let cook on a low fire for about 35 minutes. Taste the sauce and if you find it a little sour add sugar.  Arrange the sautéed chicken in this sauce. Cover and let simmer for 20-25 minutes. Serve rice.

The trick to serving this beautiful dish is to cut the pomegranates into slices . Add some seeds into cooked rice, then place the rice  into a mold. When you remove the rice from the mold, the red seeds will add a beautiful touch to the rice crown. Arrange the rest of the pomegranate slices around the rice or use to decorate the chicken or turkey dish.

NOOSHEJAN       BON APPETIT

St. Emilion 2012

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St. Emilion 2012 by Mariette Bermowitz

Travel is a profitable exercise. The soul is there continually exercised in noticing new and unknown things, and I do not know a better school.

“Les Essais”

Michel Eyquem, Seigneur de Montaigne (1500’s)

During the seven weeks I was in Europe this summer of 2012, I was inspired by the thinking of this admirable writer and found my daily life as filled with new insights and discoveries as his must have been.

It began when I left the comfort of a rented apartment in Paris and headed for St.Emilion, where I had been invited to attend the jazz festival. My friends, Monique and Dominique had launched the musical feast. For four days and four nights I felt as if I had stepped into a dream. First there was the music reverberating against the medieval setting of St. Emilion, then there were the colors, the lights, the musicians rehearsing, the invitations to local chateaux, the taste of fine wine, and glowing faces amidst the festivities.

During rehearsals I sat next to Ustad Zakir Hussain, the percussionist and virtuoso of the Indian tabla. On the back of his album cover I read, “Music is the play of aesthetics, beauty, sensitivity, creativity and divinity in sound and in the soundless realm between and beyond sounds. Music is expression. Music is life. Music is the manifestation of every emotion of the human heart, every sense of the human body and every nuance of the spirit. Music is nature. Music is God.” And so I learned from this master about vocal expressions that can bring one closer to that divine state. Vocal expressions such as Raga, Thaya, Gamak, Meend, Choot, Murki, Taan, Prabandha, and the angas-s and Dhatu-s of Prabandha. Vocal manifestations that are rivulets of energy.

For me it is a new language that transcends words and transposes me into another realm.

I also met Steve Shehan, a man whose presence evokes Lawrence of Arabia. Tall, handsome, gifted, an adventurer who collected the music of distant and unknown places to transform it into sounds of love. In his album “Safar,” I felt transported to those places where I lived and traveled in Iran, Afghanistan and Nepal. I also spoke with Thierry Maillard, a virtuoso pianist. What skill, and what an extraordinary presence! And above all so humble, so generous with his time. I think I fell in love with Yoran Hermann, another musical genius who set my heart aflame with the exuberance of his performance and sound. Feelings I once held as a romantic young woman were rekindled.

And then to conclude that amazing journey I had the greatest pleasure getting  to know the musicians of Earth Wind & Fire. Al McKay, the instrumental force behind the music of Earth Wind and Fire is an unforgettable figure in the music world. To me he will always remain that gentleman who held my hand as I stepped out of the van on the way to the festival.  There are names I will not easily forget: Tim Owen, Ben Dowling, Freddie Flewelen and Claude Woods, whose incredible knowledge and thoughts reminded me of an ageless philosopher.

I returned to Paris renewed and energized with awe and joy. Of course a dinner date with Yoran Hermann was part of it. Travel is indeed a profitable exercise. New and unknown things are revealed and enrich our lives. And like Montaigne, I do not know of a better school.

My Life Report – Part Two

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When I graduated from Brooklyn College I married a very rebellious young man who later became Alan Vega Suicide, one of the founders of the punk rock movement. Our marriage lasted ten years.

I thought I had been a good wife. In the sixties, that meant stick by your man no matter what. But that was impossible when the Ramones were colliding with my idol, Edith Piaf. By that I mean our tastes and habits were irreconcilable.

We divorced. I had a breakdown. When I recovered, I followed a young medical student to Shiraz, Iran. My years in Iran were the most fulfilling of my life. I met the Islamic world on a grand scale. I taught French at the University where I met a group of outstanding young adults. Whenever I asked them to translate words in Farsi they would remind me that I was there to teach them, not the other way around. I explained how wrong they were and then they went on to tell me about the mystics and the Sufis living in the area. It led me to a spiritual path that opened up a whole new awareness of being. I also traveled to Afghanistan, Nepal, and India where I encountered cultures I had only read about in books, and religious beliefs that made total sense to me.

Then I had the good fortune to go to Israel, where I reconnected quite by chance, with a woman I had known as a child in Belgium. She had been saved just as I had been. I learned that it was her sister who had placed us in the convent. This sister now lived in Brazil and knew the story of my family. So I went to Brazil and found the clues necessary for me to put together the puzzle of my early childhood and the family I had lost.

It took me ten years but I have now finished writing my memoir. It is a major accomplishment which fulfills a lifetime promise to myself. I gave it the title Mindele’s Journey – Memoir of a Hidden Child of the Holocaust. It was a soul searching endeavor, but in the writing I found the survivor, a spirit that resisted defeat. I learned very early on from the wonderful people who saved me, that love and compassion can overcome so many of our differences. I learned that no matter what happens there is a force that matches the will to overcome obstacles and challenges. Through our experiences we come to understand who we are, and what we are, in the world.

I have made mistakes along the way. The most painful one has been not having children. I never found a partner who stayed long enough for me to feel secure in bringing another life into the world. And I did not have the courage to face motherhood alone. Perhaps I should have been more persistent. Instead, I explored life and turned my love and compassion in other directions.

Click here if you missed My Life Report Part 1

My Life Report – Part One

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Iran 1976

All of history depends on memory which is one of the reasons why I needed to write my story. I want my words to be part of a legacy that not only hails the human spirit but gives credence to the survival of beauty, kindness and love in a world that seems to have gone mad. Although fear, intolerance and injustice still exist, we are experiencing a time when the power of love and light is manifesting and bringing us to the understanding that we are all ONE  emanation of a Divine power. Our stories sustain us, establish our place in time and space and link us to the rest of humanity.

My story is a  piece of the puzzle of the survival of spirit. Last fall, David Brooks of the New York Times asked people over 70 to write what he called “The Life Report.” I saw it as an opportunity to look at the memoir I had just written, which helped me to understand my past. Having lost most of my family in the Holocaust, the ghosts of the past still haunted me.

My story is a legacy to the memory of the family I lost, and also to the power of believing in a force that has guided me through chaos and challenges.

My father and me 1945

When I was four years old, my father grabbed my hand, pulled me out of an attic window, and dragged me over rooftops in Brussels, Belgium to escape the Nazis. My mother and four other siblings were not so lucky.

I was saved and given sanctuary in a convent in the  Belgian countryside.  It was an act of heroism on the part of the nuns who risked their lives in the face of great adversity. It has taken me a lifetime to understand why I survived. Very early on I knew that to be a Jew was to be different.  I also learned that there are people in the world whose love and compassion go beyond these distinctions. The loving nuns in Belgium and the Catholic women (siblings of the Mother Superior), the three sisters I called “les tantes,” who protected me throughout my childhood, have been my role models throughout life.

My father survived the war. When I was twelve we left Belgium to go to America to live with his sister in Brooklyn. I felt displaced not only because I couldn’t speak the language but also because I missed my Catholic family. School became my salvation. Within six months I learned English. I knew early on the importance of knowing other languages. I spoke Polish and Yiddish as a child. When the nuns took me into hiding, they immediately taught me French. But Belgium is a bi-lingual country so I also learned Flemish. Les tantes, proud of their heritage as women from the Ardennes, taught me the dialect known as “Walloon.” I was one multinational child!

My Family 1930s

In high school I became the protégée of the head of the language department, Dr. Albert Schwartz. We bonded immediately when he told me that he had lost family members during the war. They lived in Antwerp and were all deported. I was assigned students to tutor in French. I also excelled in other subjects and looked forward to going to Brooklyn College. But no one in the family approved of it. My aunt said her daughters were secretaries and that would be good enough for me. My stepmother did as well (my father had remarried). I decided to go to work part-time to pay for books and general fees which were very manageable in those days. I was not going to let myself be defeated by anyone who knew better than me what to do with my life. My father had always told me how stubborn I was.

I majored in education and French literature and became a teacher of French in the New York Public School System. I could not have chosen a better career. I used to say to myself “They pay me to do this?” I almost didn’t get licensed because I wasn’t quite five feet tall and that seemed to be a requirement. But the very high heels I wore for the interview did the trick. I loved my students and they loved me. I often felt they were the family I didn’t have. Every single one of them was special to me. Within a week I had memorized the one hundred and fifty names of students on my roster. Many of them would come during my free time to confide their teen-age angst. I used a most unforgettable text in class. I know because to this day I have students contact me (Face Book being the culprit) to tell me how significant the lessons were that they learned from “Le Petit Prince.” This wonderful book for children and adults written by the French author, St. Exupery has sustained me through life as well.

L”Essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. On ne voit bien  qu’avec le Cœur.

What is essential is invisible to the eyes. It can only be seen with the heart.

That is probably the most important message I conveyed to my students. I also encouraged them not go to college right after high school, but to travel and learn other languages in order to meet people from other countries, cultures and worlds. When a Haitian population moved into the neighborhood I had the opportunity to learn about yet another culture, another view on life, another look into struggles and the will to achieve. I even managed to learn some Creole, sometimes with a humorous twist, such as when I talked about the Buddha, only to be told that in Creole it was the part of the body you sit on. A life lesson indeed.

See Part 2 of My Life Report