report from ccc

 So Chien-Chi wrote the following for a Taiwanese publication. Accompanying photos, of course.

Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, getting from Vienna to Kyiv took a little less than two hours in the air. But now the journey takes about two days, using all forms of transportation—train, car, bus, taxi—plus hours of waiting at borders and numerous checkpoints.


Still, I am finally home again from war-torn Ukraine. I dropped my helmet and body armor on the floor and tossed the clothes I have been wearing for almost a month into the washing machine. Besides the swooshing and the occasional thump from the machine, it’s eerily quiet, as always, at home, with the snowcapped Alps on the distant horizon. I watered my cacti, left a voice mail for my kids, and opened a bottle of red wine. I wanted to decompress and thought I could use a bit of intoxication. I fell asleep with my head on the kitchen table. But then the spinning of the washing machine became the air alarm siren in Ukraine, and I startled awake.


In the past thirty years, I have photographed conflicts in different parts of the world, but I am not a war photographer per se. Still, I have determined to document Russia’s evil invasion, for I fear Taiwan could be the next country to be attacked by a large and powerful neighbor. I want to share my observations and documentary coverage, particularly with the younger generation in Taiwan.


In early March, several days after entering Ukraine, I decided to be honest with my kids and let them know that I was in Ukraine, not Poland as I had told them before I left. But I promised them that I would be extra careful and that we would video-chat every night and I kept my promise during seven weeks and two trips to Ukraine. My children have kept my sanity intact, but every time I tried to move closer to the front line in the Donetsk region or the far south of Zaporizhzhia, where Russian soldiers are on the other side of the river, I hesitated, as I could hear the distant incoming and outgoing artillery from all directions.


Never pee in the woods, I was told, because I might step on a landmine or hit a booby trap. I was also reminded that a tampon could not stop catastrophic bleeding. As many times as I practiced the use of a tourniquet kit, I doubt I could use it in time if I were in shock. And shouldn’t I carry four tourniquet kits? After all, I have four limbs.


In the late afternoon of March 26, 2022 in Lviv, two Russian cruise missiles flew over my head and struck the oil depot ten kilometers away from the city center. After several loud, shattering and pounding explosions, thick black smoke billowed out of the depot throughout the night. The city was in an extremely tense mode with police and fire engine sirens screaming by from all directions.


Lviv, some 70 kilometers from the Polish border, had been considered safe. It was where most of the foreign diplomats had relocated from Kyiv weeks before the war. But clearly no place is absolutely safe or secure. There are about ten thousand calls a day about suspicious activities. The hunt for Russian saboteurs has always been clandestine and on high alert.


Perhaps it is the absurdity of my profession that I tend to run towards the places people are running away from. Yet I have never seen a nation that is so emotionally and strategically united, on every level of society, to fight the aggressor. The unjust war has also united Europe and the majority of the world’s democratic nations. Ukraine has earned and deserves this support and respect. There has been an outpouring of international donations, but just as important are all of the Ukrainians helping their own people since the invasion began.


As far as I am concerned, the war in Ukraine started in 2014 with Russian separatist militia in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and the Russian illegal annexation of Crimea. Thus the Ukrainian military has been fighting for eight years and has received military training from Western nations for those eight years!


Now, the international community is uneasily monitoring China’s support of its northern neighbor. Since both leaders in this strategic partnership are now without term limits, many see the European conflict as a mock-run for an invasion in Taiwan. Isn’t it a warning for everyone who lives next door to a puissant nation with a taste for empire? If Taiwan is under attack, will we have the will and courage to unite and fight at any cost? Will I hang up my camera and pick up a rifle?


Will the international communities come to help? Will foreign fighters join us to fight the aggressor? Two members of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense in Donetsk said to me that Ukrainians are aware that Taiwan could be attacked by China! If that happens, they said, we will come to defend Taiwan. I hugged them and raised my hand with my fist clenched. “I stand with Ukraine!”





stormy weather

The last boat ran Friday morning. And it looks like no boats tomorrow either. That's a long nor'easter! The rain stopped, and the sun came out, but the ocean is still rough and it's still blowing like 25 mph with bed-shaking gusts. Hard to sleep with the chimney rattling and the house quaking.
Certain people will make fun of me for all these through-the-window shots. But hey, who wants to go out? Except to the dump, of course.

I did entertain many friends and family members. Well, I didn't entertain them, but they came over. I was not best pleased that Alan wrote on one of my good rocks with permanent marker, leaving aside the question of whether or not his assertion is correct.


on the ground in ukraine


We are all thinking about Ukraine, especially now as May 9, known as Victory Day in Russia, looms. Putin has made V-E Day, the end of WWII in 1945, into an annual show of military muscle in Red Square. And people fear some extreme show of force to mark the day. I  can't stop looking at Kate Knapp's painting of sunflowers.
   Ed Barnes, an old war horse who has spent considerable time in wars in the area (think Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Ukraine, etc.), in particular is worried. He hears the clarion call and wishes he were there. And he particularly is worried about our friend Chien-Chi Chang, who is there. The other night, Chien-Chi heard missiles strike a railroad not far away from the place he is staying. (You can see his photographs on Insta on the Magnum Photo feed.) Ed would like him to get out. Now. He smells danger.
   But journalists do what they do, and they can't do it remotely. And so, Chien-Chi stays. Having grown up in Taiwan, he can viscerally relate to the menace of a powerful neighboring country. And he stands with Ukraine.



t'ville's skyscraper



Bill Stone had a vision. Bill Dugan sold him a cheap piece of land next to his cabin on the river in Thomasville, and Bill Stone put in giant cement pilings. And reinforced the riverbank with cages full of rocks. He remembers the flood. Then he bought a bowling alley floor. And then he started building up.
   But he likes to cook, particularly crawdads and seafood, so first he built an outdoor kitchen on a deck overlooking the river. (That is not his outdoor kitchen above—that is the "indoor" kitchen, though the glass garage door and window over the sink roll up to another deck over the river that make it almost outdoors.) To the outdoor kitchen, he added a smoker, and a large screen TV to watch football games. I asked, aren't you afraid the rain is going to wreck it? He said, "Nah."
That's Dugan's house on the left, more typical of T'ville than Stone's extravaganza. The two Bills disagree on about everything politically, but they get along fine as (very close) neighbors. 
    All of these decks overhang the river. 

Much of the wood came from local lumberyards (except the bowling alley floor), and Stone clearly loves wood. He is building what he calls his meditation wall.

 And he lovingly pointed out the alien and the doggy in the grain on his bowling alley floor.

He is particularly proud of the lavish stove in his indoor-outdoor kitchen.

In the upstairs there is only one bedroom and a bathroom. The bath has no mirror, but rather a window to the river. "I don't need to look at myself," he says. Stone and his wife live in town about a half an hour away, but he and his crew work in T'ville. 
  "Does your wife come out much?" I asked.
  "Nah. She don't like it here." 
  "So this is your bachelor pad?"
  "More like the doghouse."
The downstairs bathroom features the below.

 The place is obviously a work in progress. Such furnishings as there are seem surprisingly mimsy for such an industrial design. But Stone is clearly having a wonderful time creating this artwork in his off hours. I will try to take a picture of the front of the house next time I am there. I meant to post this up long ago, but pictures are so slow to upload here in BI that it took me a while.




dove news


When I last saw the pair of mourning doves in my window in NY, they were switching off nesting duties. However, this pic from Toby's friend shows that the hatch as occurred. Now the parents are switching off feeding duties. And, as you can see from the pooping, the two chicks are being well fed. Just a few days later Debby took pictures (below) that showed how much the chicks had grown. Oddly, Hannah discovered a pair of mourning doves nesting in my porch in Block Island as well. (I can't get a good picture of the nest because it's too dark under the eaves.) So if I turn up a pair in Missouri, it's be a grand slam. Deep mourning.


down home ri

Does anyone think that my life is an endless series of entertainments? Well, it is. That and worrying about opening and closing houses and scheduling guests. But I do that in the middle of the night. In the day, it's entertainments.
   There was an unexpected one at Johmnny and Pam's Skibo (above) when the ferry was cancelled. Pam made dinner (flounder! a spring fave!) and Johnny built fires in the fireplace to keep us warm. Yes, it's in a  woodsy area on a lake not far from the boat. 
 Once on BI, I went to Erin and Flip's house (below), where they appear to be settling in nicely. Or at least Flip is! And the dog Poppy, who is recovering from a snapping turtle bite on her nose.
And then we went to Karen's house so that Flip could see it, and Erin could enjoy the late afternoon sun (below)and Flip could admire the construction, which Johnny had a hand in. Do you sense a rustic country house theme here? So right. And of course mine is another.



camilla and the impending doom

getting there


However, as you can see, Waldyn is on the job. Doors (not the ones I wanted but everyone seems to think they are fine not matching) are in, wall is in and painted, exterior trim moving forward. One month to go. I think we will make it!



advance notice


Hannah's on Block island is rented as of the end of May. I knew the French doors had to be replaced (yes, after just 15 years), so I ordered them in the fall, knowing it would be months before I could get them. I was so relieved when they came. Pop the old ones out, pop the new ones in. Piece of cake. Waldyn, Ana and Jose's son, who is to do the work, sent me a pic of their arrival. But then he popped the old ones out. 

The big hole is on the interior. Apparantly the French doors upstairs on the balcony leaked so badly that they rotted out the walls. So now this has become a project and a half. Note to self: Seaside houses require a lot more maintenance than other houses. Haven't calculated how that is offset by higher rents!


flurry in the dovecote

I sat down in my usual seat, glad to be home after two days on the road and the parking nightmare. I turned around to check my plants, which sit outside on the windowsill while I'm away, and saw what it thought was a rock in one of them. I went to brush the fern fronds away and—whoops! She flew away.
One could understand why she soon returned. I left the room for a bit, so she could without fear, and started sitting on the other side of the kitchen table. I soon realized that there were two of them, and they were both keeping an eye on me. Pretty soon, they stopped flying away as I came in and out of the room.
I looked up some stuff about pigeons and found out that they mostly mate for life, and that doves are among the only birds that take turns sitting on the nest and feeding the young with "crop milk." there is an urban legend that no one has ever seen a baby pigeon, and apparently the reason for this is that they stay in the nest until they have what look like mature feathers. Changping had a pair on her balcony this spring, and she saw the chicks and then saw them fly away. She said they got to know her too. Apparently, doves are among the friendliest birds to humans, and they can recognize individuals.
  I was charmed to see the male perch on a nearby windowsill, waiting to switch off. He flew down, watched me for a while and then took over.


the ed report 2022

I had not seen Ed since December, though I talk to him often enough that I know he is suffering slippage on the space-time continuum. Every place that he has ever been, he could have been yesterday or today. He has been in Poland and Kiev recently, and is not always sure whether he is on the road or in Pennsylvania or Brooklyn or the hospital, where he has been twice recently for seizures, which, according to wife Alison, are a side effect of brain surgery. He knows he is struggling, and it makes him sad. Alison says she has never seen him so upset, even with his post-wars injuries and PTSD.
   But it makes him very happy to see his friends, and we were able to find the right time and space to track him down in Brooklyn yesterday. Barbara harkened back to her Candy Striper days and wheeled Ed to one of his fave restaurants, Mazzat. Good food cooked by owner Jimmy, who is originally from Egypt.
Ed can sort of hobble, but he can barely see, so getting around is difficult. He kept thinking Barb was speeding! In our four decades of friendship, Ed and I must have had lunch together hundreds of times, including when we were no longer coworkers. Usually they lasted more than three hours, and he had more than a beer and a half and ate more than a bite of hamburger. Barb and I did our part yesterday with the humuus and bacon-wrapped dates and fried cauliflower and shrimp and chicken and salad. Ed was worrying about Chien-Chi being in Ukraine without him.
   Ed may be wandering around, but he has not lost his news sense. While we were sitting outside at the cafe, a couple of unmarked police cars went by headed towards Manhattan. Then an ambulance came past, with sirens blaring, then a fire truck, siren on. "They got him," Ed said.
   The day before, a guy had shot up the subway in Brooklyn, not far away. He had not been caught, and as I got on the subway to Brooklyn, I admit to a moment's pause knowing that dude was still at large. (Notice that it's never a woman who goes crazy and shoots up places?) 
   Barb checked her phone. Yes, dude had been caught.
   "How did you know?" we kept asking Ed. He said well, after such an event the day before no emergency service vehicle or police car would have sirens blaring otherwise. I mean, he was a cop for a time.
    But that didn't adequately explain it to us.
    He just has a feel for the news.

So grateful to Alison for arranging this visit. It was terrible and wonderful at the same time.


made it

It was a challenging drive from Missouri to New York City, but the most challenging part was when I arrived at home and was unable to find a parking spot and too tired to cope. (Also I had to pee after circling the drain—I mean the block— for two hours on top of the two-day drive.) Decided to suck it up and accept a parking ticket. Cost me $60. No parking after a hour or so today, so I went to a garage on 42nd street at $55/day. Took the bus home and stopped to buy sushi at Zabar's as a consolation prize.

  As always, my apartment is unfamiliar territory when I return after several visits.  What happened to the? Where's the? Did somebody take the? And also there's the who left me a six pack of my fave beer and a container of my fave rosemary cheese crisps? And while no one finished the puzzle, someone left me three more.

Why is the window shade on the floor? Why are all the plugs unplugged? Why is the furniture moved around? But on the other hand, two new pairs of my fave flip flops, clean sheets and towels. No condoms under the sofa cushions. I need to ponder the name of this place: The Apartment of No Regrets.

I'll put the window shade (shoji screen) back up tomorrow. And pay the bills.

Also I just found a pigeon nesting in my flower pot! Can you see it?