The common expression “every cloud has a silver lining” means that even the worst events or situations have some positive aspects. On vocabulary.com I learned that the phrase seems to be from Milton’s 1634 poem “Comus”. This expression came to my mind on the third day of the Shelter-in-Place order to protect us and the other fellow humans from being exposed to the Coronavirus, which has become an international crisis. On that day, March 18th, 2020, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel called it Germany’s biggest postwar challenge. The Coronavirus became the only subject the world has been concerned and talking about nowadays. No one knows exactly when the pandemic will be over, in three weeks or, G-d knows when. Meanwhile, many lives have been changed. Pessimists expect the worst. Optimists do not know what to expect. I belong to the latter group, and live by the adage, “Seek for the seeds of victory in every defeat.” Therefore, in the middle of the unknown, I decided to look for the “silver lining”. When I googled “Silver Lining of the Coronavirus”, I found stories without any imagination. So I decided to go back into the past to find out what visionaries saw in the future.
One of them, Jules Gabriel Verne was born in 1828. His books are translated into 149 languages, and he is the second most translated author (the first is Agatha Christie). In 1863, he wrote a book titled “Paris in the Twentieth Century” where he described the automobile, high-rises, fax machines and the electric chair. His publisher thought he was an idiot and it took many years before his grandson found the manuscript in the attic.
However, at the end of the 19th century, in 1899, Charles H. Duel, who was the Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, most famously uttered, “Everything that can be invented has been invented”.
Turns out that to predict the future, to find the “silver lining”, requires very special individuals.
We live in times when everything is possible. Though most of us do not know what tomorrow will bring, somehow Jules Verne knew. All of his predictions came true. Therefore, use your own imagination and fantasize about unexpected silver lining that you would like those challenging events bring to all of us.
P.S. It is always fun to photograph clouds and to capture the silver lining in them, as these four images can attest.
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I was recently driving on Balboa Street in the heart of San Francisco’s Richmond District, and when I crossed 24th Avenue, I noticed a large black sofa on the sidewalk next to a homeless person’s tent. When I drove back, something got my attention. On the sidewalk of 24th Avenue, there was an oversized outdoor toilet placed six feet from a hand-washing station. And some distance away, I noticed a young man in white overalls and a facemask sitting on a folded chair in the shade, looking down at his mobile phone. Next to him was a white bucket with cleaning supplies. I decided to park my car, but on the corner there were two signs restricting parking to protect the residence of three young men. Through the years I have photographed many homeless people, but never had an opportunity to talk to them. While I was photographing the owners’ possessions, which for some reason included two handicapped chairs, children’s toys, junk and even some artwork, the tent’s occupier stepped out and started a conversation with me. Adam told me that he is very intelligent, good at math, but he just does not like to live by the rules set up by baby boomers and would like to poke holes in their system of living. He also mentioned that the world we live in was designed by people who had structures in their lives, but his generation does not. “There is no mystery left in our lives”, he said. Then he pointed out to their camp and the attendant and said that the money the City spends on the arrangements could easily pay to put them up in a hotel. Though it seemed like there was plenty of food stored in the tent and there was a small stove, perhaps he was referring to the free alcohol and marijuana, which was distributed to the homeless addicts at lockdown hotels.
I would probably not bother writing about this subject. I have no clue how to deal with the homeless problems; if I would not find the way our City is dealing with the matter at hand laughable. It reminded me of the jokes I heard many years ago.
While living in Riga, we told jokes all the time (I still do). Among those jokes, there was a series about a fictitious city called Chelm (pronounced Helm), which was occupied by stupid people. Chelm was located high up in the Carpathian Mountains. To get there, cars had to drive on a narrow and twisted road. Many missed the turn and as a result, would roll down the hill. The city managers decided to solve the problem. Someone suggested widening the road, others, to build protective barriers and have lights along the way. Hearing all the arguments, the Mayor said, “Hold on, if all the cars are falling down, we should build a hospital at the bottom of the hill.”
The cost of dealing with homeless in San Francisco is growing every year. In the 2019-2020 budget proposal, the figure hits more than $364 million, which many expect to be higher. It seems that San Francisco’s liberal-minded supervisors, who like to make social experiments on the taxpayers account can learn some math from the Chelmites.
One fellow had very good news – his wife gave birth, but he was puzzled and went to the local rabbi for advice. “Rabbi, I heard that it takes nine months to give birth, but I’ve only been married for three months.” The rabbi pondered for a moment. “You have been married to your wife for three months, and for how long was she married to you? Three months, and how long were you married together? Three months. If you add it all together, you will have nine months.”
As to support my story, last Sunday, May 24th, Phil Matier wrote an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, “When narcotics cops left, Tenderloin drugs flowed” and Willie Brown echoed him in his Column, where he mentioned “Cleanup Call”. Sometimes I wonder, how did Chelmites manage to get to San Francisco?
P.S. Since this story is a little bit longer, I decided to share five images with you, which I hope will help you to see what I mean.
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There was a number of events within a few days which led me to this story.
It started with my daily reading of photography books. This time, it was The Definitive Collection of Robert Capa. As a war photography photojournalist, he participated and photographed many world events between 1932 till 1954. He was killed while covering the war in Vietnam. The book contains 937 images, many of which showed not only soldiers and battles, but also of many refugees. Seeing them and thinking about the uncertainty and challenges of their lives compared to what I/we have to go through during the COVID-19 quarantine, I decided just to count my blessings.
While having a conversation with a friend, she told me that she is ashamed to say it, but she is having the best time of her life. For personal reasons, her daughter had to move into her house together with her husband, two children and their dog. Since neither of them had to go out to work, the family could spend time together sharing meals, walking, talking and playing together.
In spite of the challenges and many people losing their income or even businesses and some – their lives, it seems that the majority of those whom I know somehow manage, and as my friend, even enjoy the opportunity to stay home, knowing that this experience is going to be over soon and we all will return to a version of our previous lives, though for some it is going to be different experience.
You may heard of Dr. Victor Frankl, a neurologist, psychiatrist and follower of Sigmund Freud, who after surviving as a prisoner of four Nazi concentration camps, wrote his best-selling book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, published in 1946. In the book he describes his experience in those camps using a psycho-therapeutic method, which involves identifying a purpose in life to feel positive about, and then imaging that outcome. He observed that some people who had a reason to stay alive for a specific purpose in their lives, survived. However, after the liberation, some experiencing dissolution, committed suicide. One of my favorite sayings is, “Seek for seeds of victory in every defeat”. Therefore I count my blessings.
P.S. Actually what triggered the title and the story, was my recent encounter in Golden Gate Park. While driving through, I noticed a person sitting on the bench, reading. I stopped my car and took a number of images. Then I saw a few other people, who came here to enjoy moments in their lives, or perhaps to count their blessings as well.
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One of the benefits of staying home was that while I was communicating with clients and our staff, I had more time to walk with Max, to photograph and to work on my images. And another benefit was that I could browse through many art and photography books in my private library. One of them is titled “The Life Millennium: The 100 most important events and people of the past 1000 years”. It was published by LIFE books in 1998. I learned a lot of fascinating facts, I will write about some of them in the future. This week, I will share what I learned about “The Black Plague”, which started in 1348, and in two years killed a third of Europe’s inhabitants (online I found different numbers which amounted to 50 million people or 60 percent of Europe’s entire population).
As tragic as it sounds, especially in the light of our time and the COVID-19 pandemic, what got my attention was the positive effect it had on the world. ”So when priests took sick, the Catholic Church’s grip was weakened and the door to Protestantism opened. Doctors discarded dogma and began dissecting human bodies, leading to the rise of the scientific method. The clothes of plague victims were turned to pulp, creating supply of paper that made it possible to increase the production of manuscripts. The new spirit of adventure emboldened Gutenberg to develop the printing press. It pushed Columbus across the Atlantic. And it would touch all that come later.” There is an interesting connection with the events of today – The Black Plague was transmitted in ships from Asia.
In the book I also found another interesting connection with Asia in a story titled “Gutenberg Prints the Bible”. “German goldsmith Johan Gutenberg succeeded creating his masterpiece, a run of 200 gorgeously typeset Bibles, in 1455 he unleashed an information epidemic that rages today.” However, “Gutenberg didn’t invent printing: The craft emerged in 8th century China. He also didn’t invent moveable type, which was invented by the Chinese printer Pi Sheng around 1040. Nor did Gutenberg invent moveable metal type. The Koreans did in the 14th century. What Gutenberg devised was the first Western moveable-type system that worked so well that it remained largely unchanged for 350 years.” No one knows what will happen over the next 350 years, not even what will happen tomorrow. But I am sure that overall everything is going to be good.
P.S. I’m writing this story by hand on paper, which was invented in China, with a pen, which was probably made in China, as well as many photography books in my library. In spite of the proliferation of the electronic reading instruments many people, like myself and those four book readers I encountered, still prefer the original version.
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When I lived in Riga, Latvia until 1972, it was part of the Soviet Union, with its oppressive regime. Telling jokes was probably the way to laugh at our circumstances. One of them was about a guy who was expressing negative opinions about the government. When he was arrested and brought for questioning, he gave all of his answers according to the party lines. Surprised, the investigator asked him, “Don’t you have your own opinion?” The man answered, “Of course I do, but I disagree with it.” After being married for over 52 years, my wife Elfa still complains that I change my opinion about some subject a week after expressing it. To this my answer is very simple, “This week I know something which I did not know before.”
I was thinking about this while reading an article in The Wall Street Journal on April 25th titled “The Lockdowns Were the Black Swan” written by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. He was referring to the book titled “The Black Swan” written in 2007 by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. On line I read that “the book focuses on the extreme impact of rare and unpredictable outlier event – and the human tendency to find a simplistic explanation for those events retrospectively”. In his article Mr. Jenkins points out that, some officials made statements which might be surprising to hear today. “We started off sensibly. ‘This is not something [American families] generally need to worry about,’ said CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier in mid-January. ‘It’s a very, very low risk to the United States,’ said Dr. Anthony Fauci a week later. Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York, urged residents to go about their business normally as recently as March 11. As coldblooded as it seems, these were the right statements at the time.” And close to home on February 24, 2020m the NDC reported that “Nancy Pelosi Visits San Francisco’s Chinatown Amid Coronavirus Concerns.” She said, “There is no reason tourists or locals should be staying away from the area because of coronavirus concerns” “Come because precautions have been taken. The city is on top of the situation.”
Of course by now all of those people have different opinions. I just wonder how we (and many others) will change our opinions a month from now. There is a saying, “If I only was smart then, as my wife is now.” I want to finish by sharing with you another joke.
At the interfaith conference representatives of different religions discussed the subject, when does life begin. After a long presentation with quoting the Scripture, a Catholic priest concluded that lives begin at the embryo conception. The next was Protestant minister, who claimed that life begins when a child is born. While they were talking, the rabbi fell asleep. They woke him up with a question, “What is your opinion when life begins?” “My opinion,” answered the rabbi, while stretching his arms, is that life begins when children leave home and the dog is dead.”
P.S. I hope you find my jokes funny, since I am working on my next photo-story book, “42 Encounters with Laughter”. There are going to be 42 jokes with 42 images of people laughing. I’ve included four of them.
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