Category Archives: memoir

10 Years On: 9/11 Families Grieve At Ground Zero

I watched much of C-Span’s coverage of today’s 9/11 memorial service at Ground Zero in New York City. Blessedly, speeches by politicians were minimal, and the event was devoted to naming those who died in the attacks. Relatives read the names, two speakers at a time, while others in the audience sought out and touched their loved ones’ names cast in bronze tablets that line the reflecting pools that now fill the footprints of the World Trade Center towers. Continue reading

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Finding A Balance Beyond 9/11

I’m reading Colum McCann’s fine novel, Let the Great World Spin, winner of the National Book Award in2009 . It is widely acclaimed as a post-9/11 novel even though its setting is 1974 New York, when Philippe Petit made his audacious high-wire walk between the towers of the World Trade Center. McCann’s Prologue describes that scene as it was apprehended from ground level on the streets of lower Manhattan. Reading it took my breath away. I heard in McCann’s phrasing the sprawling democratic lists and rolling cadences of Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” It’s a robust expression of a long literary tradition.

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Remembering a Free Man in Paris on Father’s Day

A street artist in Montmartre made this sketch of my father, Bob Willis, in 2005. It’s based on a photo taken after the war which is tagged “Paris 1945.” I carried that photo in my pocket until I found a suitable artist. The challenge now in Montmartre is choosing just one while evading a flock of noisy and aggressive competitors. In commissioning this drawing I was completing a circle for me and my dad. He had carried a wedding photo of my mother throughout the war, and in Montmartre he found a street artist who turned the image into an oil painting. The price Bob negotiated was two cartons of cigarettes and a chocolate bar.

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Was Pablo Neruda Poisoned After the Coup?

I remember walking into a coffee shop on Cape Cod in September 1973 when I learned about the right-wing coup in Chile. There was no doubt in my mind, no doubt in the minds of any of the morning habitués there, that Richard Nixon and the CIA were involved in some way. When I heard later that Pablo Neruda had died not long after his friend, President Salvador Allende, I knew the poet had to have died of a broken heart. I was 18, and though I would have denied it then, I was an incurable romantic about Neruda and Chile’s fragile, Communist-led democracy.

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Fare Thee Well, Liz Taylor

I hadn’t thought much about Elizabeth Taylor until a few weeks ago, when I happened to listen to Bob Dylan’s I Shall Be Free. what do we need to make the country grow? Brigitte Bardot, Anita Ekberg, Sophia Loren, and in the end, Elizabeth Taylor – all the impossible fantasies of my 1960s childhood! It’s a helluva song, but just try and find a video clip of the original. Give it up Bob! It’s a national treasure!

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