Campo dei Fiori, November 22

11 Sep

November 22, 1963. 

My mother was at home, watching As the World Turns. 

Of course she remembers where she was and what she was doing when she heard the news.  Everybody does.  She tells me.

But I got married on a November 22nd: It’s a long weekend.  New York is beautiful in the fall.  Everybody can spend Thanksgiving in the city.  Maybe go to the Macy’s parade. 

We liked the date.

It wasn’t lack of respect; we were just oblivious.

Then, my brother’s first child–my niece–was born on a November 22.

A new life.

In 1943,

in Warsaw,

here’s what Czeslaw Milosz wrote

about Campo dei Fiori:


 Someone will read as moral
That the people of Rome or Warsaw
Haggle, laugh, make love
As they pass by martyrs’ pyres.
Someone else will read
Of the passing of things human,
Of the oblivion
Born before the flames have died.

Or how about this poem.  This is Jacqueline Osherow from her book Dead Men’s Praise:

Site of the Jewish Cemetery, Raciaz, Poland

Why care that there’s a forest here
Where the cemetery used to be?
Fir trees, birch trees, pine trees, lovely markers.
And the local farmer’s daughter
Who walks often in these woods
Can show you where the markers used to be;
She’ll point out the remnants of the layers of cement,
Which (according to my father-in-law)
Were made to look like bedclothes on the graves:
A few small clumps beneath the spreading trees,
Spreading out their roots among the bones,
Who might even enjoy the lively company.
And as for the markers, the stolen markers,
My guess is the bones don’t miss them.
They know—don’t they—who they are. 

New York.

21 Responses to “Campo dei Fiori, November 22”

  1. Kim September 11, 2010 at 10:25 pm #

    What an elegant tribute to life. Simply perfect.

    • jenny September 12, 2010 at 5:46 am #

      Hi Kim! Thanks. I try always to have a couple of good poets on hand to make my points for me.

  2. M J Workman September 11, 2010 at 10:48 pm #

    Another one of your smashing triumphs weaving time periods together and making us all aware once again about the timeliness of good poetry. Thank you. You are right: I remember where I was when I first heard the news of the president’s assassination. I was a very young professor and had just given a lecture on Bismarck and German Unification and was walking across the campus when my young daughter met me and said I was to hurry home that mama had news. I had cast my first presidential vote in 1960 and felt dizzy with excitement when my man won. Then when he was shot and killed I felt dizzy with disbelieve and unutterable sorrow. A friend who was in the Navy and stationed in Mississippi (of all places) reported to me that there were crowds of white Mississippians out in the streets dancing and screaming: JFK had been murdered. November 22, 1963, was/is to me what 9/1l is to your generation.

    • jenny September 12, 2010 at 5:58 am #

      Well, MJ Workman, if that really is your name (to borrow from Group Captain Lionel Mandarake), I keep this blog to get a few stories/thoughts/ideas set aside for my children, stories like the one you have told here.

  3. Richard September 11, 2010 at 11:19 pm #

    All the World’s hope at that time seemed to reside in John Kennedy, even for his nominal enemies. It was shocking to discover that it was not so for everyone.

    My sister’s 28th birthday was on that day. I do not remember where I was when I heard. Perhaps the memory is blotted out.

    The parallel you draw is a poignant one and deeply moving.

    • jenny September 12, 2010 at 6:00 am #

      I suppose, Richard, that many of us (especially in Chicago) felt that kind of optimism when Obama was elected.

  4. david osman September 11, 2010 at 11:36 pm #

    i remember memories of others.
    i remember father telling me that when germans entered citi of polotsk in belorussia(his hometown) they executed all the jews incliding his relatives. i remember my mother telling me that when in 1943 she left for a front just to be appointed to run a hospital for wounded germans. i remember my aunt rosa telling me about my uncle killed in the air fight with germans. he was a fighter pilot. i remember my mother was denied a spot on the display in her clinic for world war participants. she was told that jews did not fight in the war. i remember memories of others.
    thank you jen

    • jenny September 12, 2010 at 6:04 am #

      David, That’s extraordinary stuff. I hope you’re writing these things down. Or, at least, talking about it at the dinner table.

    • Cheri September 14, 2010 at 8:45 am #

      Thank you for taking the time to share this personal list, the contents of which break my heart (again and again).

      These personal stories must survive the ages, so I hope you have chronicled them in some way.

      • Richard September 16, 2010 at 11:20 pm #

        Thank you Jenny and Cheri. For me, as a man, David’s report defied comment.

  5. Thomas Stazyk September 12, 2010 at 2:56 am #

    You’ve done it again–packed volumes of emotion and thought into a short and simple post. And this one has some interesting synchronicity–2 days ago I was talking to my brother back in Cleveland and he was telling me how had been in Kent recently and decided to swing by Kent State because he hadn’t been there for years. He said he was struck by the contrast between knowing what had happened there and how significant it was and the indifference of most of the people passing by.

    I was in Poznan in 2006 and went to the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetary (that’s were the Great Escape guys are buried). It is beautifully maintained like a national cemetary. Right next to it is the Russian War Cemetary. You can’t see a lot of the graves because they are overgrown with weeds and vegetation and most of them are simple stones with a star on them. The contrast was sad and moving.

    I wonder when they’ll stop reading names at Ground Zero.

    • jenny September 12, 2010 at 6:17 am #

      I just bet that the Russian War Cemetery in Poznan is neglected.

      I recently heard a story about a Russian visiting Poland and asking a passerby (in Russian) for directions to some tourist attraction. The Pole gave him careful and detailed instructions in flawless Russian…directions that led to the cemetery for Russian soldiers.

  6. Iden September 12, 2010 at 8:54 am #

    I know a 9/11 knock knock joke. It’s the company I keep. So disrespectful of anything other people see as sacred especially if it has been adopted as a tool of the Jingos. Yesterday I was in a synagogue in new york city. The rabbi said he had been to a ceremony to honor the police and firemen. He asked for a pamphlet with the names of the heroes so he could read them in Shul. His perception was that the man he asked gave him a sharp look that seemed to say, “what are you doing here. this ceremony [honoring the fallen] is for us [police and firefighters] not you”. The rabbi added that this perception could just have been his own imagination.

    Down at the hallowed ground I understand there were competing demonstrations over the Park 51 development. The so-called Ground Zero Mosque though it is really two blocks away from the site of the Freedom Towers. My friend went to a dinner party Friday (also in NY) where someone said that if they let them build the mosque there Muslims from all over the world will come there to have their picture taken and snicker at our weakness or something. Is this true? Where did she get such an idea?

    The other big historical “Pearl Harbor” or “Kennedy Assasination” event in shared consciousness is the Challenger explosion judging by reports I get from people in their 30s.

    • jenny September 13, 2010 at 6:45 am #

      First of all, Iden, you are a bit of a contrarian.

      So Muslims will come from all over the world to have their picture taken and snicker? (And stay at expensive hotels, eat in restaraunts, shop till they drop, go see a show on Broadway and take the ferry out to Liberty Island) There’s a business model here.

      • Iden September 13, 2010 at 7:29 am #

        that is a shrewd riposte to this point

  7. Philippe September 12, 2010 at 2:09 pm #

    I, too, was beguiled by the John F Kennedy image, and knew exactly where I was and what I was doing on that November 22nd in 1963.

    Kennedy, the supreme ironist, once said that in politics it wasn’t what you did that mattered, but how you were perceived. Image was therefore everything.

    Since it is always first impressions which stick foremost in memory, what will always stick foremost in our memories of John F Kennedy are of the handsome young president; the uxorious family man with adoring beautiful wife and oh-so-cute little children; the decorated war hero and Pulitzer Prize winning author, who faced down the Ruskies in Cuba and saved the world.

    We marginalize, therefore, the later stories about Kennedy’s liking for ladies not his wife; that his actions in the War which he was decorated for, came out of carelessness for which he should have been court-martialled; that his Pulitzer Prize-winning book was largely ghostwritten; that absent voting fraud in Illinois (Cook County) and Texas, he likely would have lost the 1960 election; the Bay of Pigs fiasco; and that in the Cuba missile crisis he failed by only a whisker to start World War 3.

    And, given the temper of those times, reflected in Kennedy’s jingoistic inauguration speech, would he really have avoided being sucked into Vietnam, as his adorers claim?

    • jenny September 13, 2010 at 6:50 am #

      Ah, Philippe, bonjour!

      JFK was never an idol of mine, so I’m not troubled by the questions you legitimately raise. In a way, it’s the problem of heroes that we are discussing so frequently on the Hannibal Blog.

      I am, as always, distracted by your effulgent 🙂 command of English. This morning I wonder whether there is a term equivalent to ‘uxorious’, with similar pejorative tone, to indicate a woman’s excessive devotion to her husband. Is there?

      • Philippe September 13, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

        “…..I am, as always, distracted by your effulgent command of English…….”

        The words I use are intended to elucidate, not to distract. If they distract, then they aren’t apposite.

        “…….I wonder whether there is a term equivalent to ‘uxorious’, with similar pejorative tone, to indicate a woman’s excessive devotion to her husband………

        I can’t think of one. But there probably isn’t one, for a woman’s devotion to her husband was considered right and proper, no matter how excessive (not necessarily the case today).

        In fact, to be an utterly devoted wife was a woman’s raison d’etre, was it not?

  8. jenny September 13, 2010 at 9:31 pm #


    Nonsense. Nonsense. The best words distract at first, and, then, elucidate. Why not? My comment was admiring.

  9. dafna September 16, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    Gmar Chatimah Tova, Jenny and David and all.

  10. jenny September 17, 2010 at 5:43 am #


    Shana tova u metuka to you, my dear!

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