LETTER FROM ITHACA

June 2, 2006

Hello, sports fans! I see that five months have passed since my last posting here. Well,
I don’t want to do overdo things. As proud as I am of my work and of this site, I don’t want to be one of those cyber-popinjays who insists on telling you EVERYTHING that’s going on in my life and career.

That said, a lot certainly has been going on on all “fronts” (to lapse into martial speak). I certainly can’t remember the last time I had two launch parties and/or openings for two different projects on different sides of the Atlantic but a few weeks apart, but that’s exactly what occurred this past March 2lst and April 14th, in Amsterdam and Ithaca, respectively. It’s difficult to say which event was more memorable, or more meaningful, so I will tell you about both.

Consider this, then, your semi-annual report from Sander Media, your favorite one-man media company–

Okay, now, about those parties–

A TALE OF TWO LAUNCHES

First, on March 21st, I hosted the launch party for the Dutch (Bert Bakker) edition of “The Frank Family That Survived,” my historical memoir about my mother’s family’s experiences during the Dutch Holocaust at the Hollandsche Schouwburg in Amsterdam. Formerly a Jewish theater, the Schouwburg was employed as an assembly point for the thousands of Jews who fell into the Nazis’ “Jew-net” after the German invasion of the Netherlands in 1940. Now owned by the Jewish Historical Museum, it is considered one of the most hallowed sites of the Dutch Holocaust.

Thus you can imagine what a great honor it was to be invited by the Museum to have my launch (as these things are called in Europa) in the Schouwburg’s Walter Susskind room. Susskind was one of the Dutch Gentile heroes who worked at the Schouwburg during the war who risked his life rescuing many dozens of the Dutch Jewish children who were temporarily detained there along with their despairing parents en route to the death camps. Like a number of his fellow resisters, whose names are today engraved on a small plaque on the exterior of another building near by, he paid for that heroism with his life. (Incidentally, if you would like to read a wonderful, portrait-in-depth on the subject of Dutch rescuers, I strongly recommend “The Heart Has Reasons: Holocaust Rescuers & Their Stories of Courage,” by my friend, fellow Cornellian Mark Klempner.)

For some reason, I had never visited the Schouwburg, whose most striking feature is an outdoor memorial built around the original brick floor of the theater — the same floor where many of the 130,000 Dutch Jews who were ultimately sent to the camps (of whom nary 25,000 survived), including my aged great-grandmother Leontine, who had refused to “dive under” with my mother’s family once stood or sat (I imagine, in Leontine’s case, just sat) before being dispatched by train to the Westerbork transit camp in the north (which I did visit) and thence eastward to Auschwitz, Sobibor, and the other death camps (in Leontine’s case, Sobibor, where she was murdered several days after her arrival) — during the extensive research I conducted for “Frank Family.”

I was also too busy the day of the reception getting ready for my presentation to go outside, either. But the following day, when I returned to the Schouwburg to pick up the rented slide projector I had left behind, I did. In the event, that pleasant spring afternoon in Amsterdam, I had the sacred site to myself. For a moment I tried to put myself in the place of all those thousands of forlorn men, women, and children who had stood or sat or milled about there, trying to figure out what was going to happen to them. Or trying not to.

Impossible. Then, after saying a silent prayer, I returned inside, where there is a small display case of books related to the Dutch Shoah for sale, (including the diary of Anne Frank, of course) — not a bookshop, just a small display. On top, I was thrilled to see, were copies of the British and just-released Dutch versions of my book, with the pictures of Flory and Myrtil, lying side by side atop the main counter.

I have always felt that the long, winding journey behind my book — which began that long ago July afternoon in 1965, when my mother, on her first return visit to Holland since the war, took me to 14 Pieter van den Zandenstraat, the small street apartment where she and her family spent 1036 days hiding from the Germans — would only truly be over once I saw the book for sale, in Dutch, in Holland.

And so there it was — at the Hollandsche Schouwburg, no less.

(BREAKING NEWS: Cornell University Press has informed me that the Press Board has “effectively approved” purchase of “The Frank Family” for publication here in the U.S. next winter, bringing the number of editions of the book to four — British, Dutch,
Brasilian [due out spring 2007], and American — and, effectively, giving the book a new life–Huzza!)

That was certainly a moment. It was also very nice to see my tome for sale several days later in The Hague, whence I moved after my intense Amsterdam sortie for a gezellig (a Dutch word which means roughly “cozy”) and received a boisterous welcome from my Haagsche friends — particularly the owners of the restaurant Impero Romano, Fabio and Umberto, whose establishment I had praised in the small feature I wrote about my beloved Den Haag for the Travel Section of The New York Times. Fabio and Umberto, two wild and crazy and very savvy Italian guys whose fun-packed establishment brings some much-needed warmth and brio (not to mention excellent food) to this elegant if at times chilly city, insisted on purchasing a copy of my book so that they could give to one of their newest best customers, the American Ambassador, who had called for reservations–after reading about their place in my little piece.

That was cool. As was the rest of my all-too-brief stay in my beloved Holland.

But that moment at the Schouwburg was definitely the highlight.

Then, seemingly, the next moment — it was actually three weeks, but it certainly seemed like the next moment — I found myself back beneath the magical, inspiring dome of Sibley Hall, home of the Fine Arts Library, my creative headquarters, putting the final touches on “My World,” the photographic retrospective I have been working on with my brilliant, just graduated co-curator and protégé J.J. Manford ’06 (thank you, J.J.!).

As some of you Sander stalwarts know, in 1998 I mounted my first retrospective — “My America: A Panoramic Photographic Exhibit-Memoir,” I called it — at Taidehalle, the Municipal Art Hall of Helsinki. That show, comprising 60 images of “my” America, from sea to shining, neon-lit sea, which took up the entirety of the museum’s elegant restaurant, Taidehallin Klubi, was a considerable undertaking.

So is “My World,” which takes up where “My America” left off, and contains no less than 75 images from virtually every corner of my entire world, including America and beyond, from “The Twilight Zone” (a large reproduction of Rod Serling’s swimming pool) to New York in the ’60s and ’80s (“New York When I Was Young”) to London (“London Calling”) to the Baltic, etc., etc.

As you can imagine, the show, which was “sculpted” to fit the quixotic dimensions of the sprawling, two-floor Fine Arts Library, was also something else to mount, with hundreds of hours spent on photo selection, printing (thank you Cornell Media Lab!), installation, poster and invitation design, liaison with Martha Walker, the wonderful head librarian at FAL, who decided to make “My World” the first one person art/photography show which that the Library itself has sponsored, party arrangements, etc., etc. What’s an exhibit without a catalog? Would you believe that I was typing up that damn catalog — what f___ year did I take that shot of Helsinki? — until an hour before the reception?

And so there I was, after hurriedly changing back at my apartment (should I wear the shades?), frantically pedaling back to Sibley. And then I opened the door to the library, the same door I walk through most every day when I am here in Ithaca, and — well, there it was, just as I had envisioned it months before, when I first got the crazy notion of turning the library into a museum space.

Amongst the madding crowd in attendance that memorable Friday evening were a number of friends who had traveled to exotic Ithaca just for the event, including my old/new buddy from P.S. 131, Jesse Braverman, and his wife Debbie, who came all the way from Albany for the festivities; as well as a sizable New York contingent that included my friend and attorney, Bob Stein; my former ace assistant Sarah Ruth Jacobs; and, last but not least, the true star of the evening, Mrs. Dorrit Sander, a.k.a. my mother, who flew up especially for the show, which, as it happens, includes a portrait I took of her in Dam Square in Amsterdam back in ’65, during our aforementioned trip together.

Talk about circles closing!

Must say, that was a nice moment, too.

Pleased to report that the show got lots of press from the local media, including articles in The Cornell Daily Sun and The Ithaca Journal. Most pleasing (and most accurate) of all was a lavishly illustrated feature in last week’s Cornell Chronicle, the university newspaper, written by Dan Aloi. Excerpt:

Writer and photographer Gordon Sander’ 73 celebrates his multifaceted relationship with Cornell in ‘My World,’ a photography exhibit on display through June 16 [please note!], in the Fine Arts Library in Sibley Dome — the largest retrospective of Sander’s photography career–The images are more than moments captured by the artist’s shutter; even Sander’s most pictorial work has a surreal edge and the sense that something is about to happen..

‘This library is my creative base,’ Sander says. ‘It’s my greenhouse. I came back to Risley [College, the arts-oriented residential college where I was artist in residence from 2002 to 2004] to write and came to realize that I do my best work here [at Cornell]. This exhibit is sort of my way of repaying Cornell and this library for making a new home for me…

‘I’ve had this sort of quixotic career,’ Sander says. ‘I don’t have children; I have projects–’”

For me it indeed seems, all roads ultimately lead back to Cornell.

Thank you, J.J.! Thank you, Drea! Thank you, FAL! Thank you Martha! Thank you Ezra Cornell!

(Incidentally, those of you who weren’t able to make it up to Ithaca to see ‘My World’ will be interested to know that I will be mounting a smaller version of the exhibit
at the Gershwin Hotel in Manhattan later this summer. Watch this space for more details.)

CRAZY MOMENT

As you can imagine, what with juggling all these children-cum-projects, all of them seemingly coming to a head at the same time, there have been some pretty crazy moments over the last months, as well. Indeed, there was one day somewhere in the first half of March, when on/from my desk at Sibley, I was simultaneously blocking out the final act of “Epos,” my first screenplay, and my principal text project for the past year; ironing out by email the details for the Amsterdam launch of “The Frank Family”; knocking out installment No. 23 of C-Town Blues, my first novel, about my hazy/crazy college days, for The Cornell Daily Sun, where my Bildungroman has been serialized for the past three terms, due that evening at 6 sharp!; and rushing over to Tjaden Hall, where the Media Lab is located, to oversee the printing of the large pieces for “My World.” I think I was down at the Green Dragon café, talking to J.J. about this or that (Did I tell you that J.J. also was my illustrator on the novel? And what a smashing job of he did with that assignment.) when I just sort of started giggling and couldn’t stop.

“J.J.,” I said, bringing myself up short, “if you listen closely, you can hear my brain cells dropping to the ground.’

And you could.

It’s been that sort of spring, too. Crazy man. And the beat goes on!

Who knows? Maybe this will turn out to be my year. Certainly is looking good. And, as Norma Desmond would say, thanks for being a part of it, all of you wonderful people out there–in the dark.

Your devoted servant,

Gordon

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