Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

John Updike

Street Seens: What Does It Take…..?


The next five words if they had not made it too long to be a headline, would have been…..to make someone a winner.”

 Pardon the nit-pick, but it’s not the time to let a phrase mislead.  It should not/must not be allowed to sound ambiguous or suggest an “I give up” attitude. It’s quite possible we are hearing too many conversations of late about “losers.” This will not be another. This is a conversation about a dazzling array or winners I was blessed to encounter in the week just past.

In the face of yet another national tragedy read on if you agree that it is time to seize on small victories and to make that a tiny step to a larger, braver healing and consolation. 

The first on a list of “winners” was the pigeon strutting his blue and teal glory on an East 66th Street sidewalk Tuesday morning. I wished it “Good Morning,” and “Thank you for bringing your beauty to a place where you and your breed are not always greeted with positive emotions.”  This pigeon was singular.  Arguably the most beautiful one I can remember seeing.  As it strolled toward Lexington Avenue I was forcibly reminded of the insight of the late John Updike in his moving book Pigeon Feathers.

In that book, the musings of a little boy asked to dispatch  the pigeons his parents felt were invaders in the family’s barn.  The little boy was trying to make sense of the sad death of a relative and questions about “what is next?” after the death of an elder.  Looking at the extraordinary, multi-hued wonder of the fallen birds’ feathers he concluded that there must be something next, something more that simple extinction to honor this bit of creation. He was forced to wonder whether anything so glorious was fated simply to be erased.

As he fell off to sleep the boy posed that puzzle to the Lord whom he was told by his clergyman was the champion and defender of the vulnerable. So, David put his hand outside the covers and asked the Lord, if he was there and if he was such a protector, to touch his outstretched arm telling him that there was more than extinction at the end of the life of creatures. The conclusion of that dialogue was this: “He returned his hands to beneath the covers uncertain if they had been touched or not.  For would not Christ’s touch be infinitely gentle.” Any creature that sets off that train of memories is, in my opinion, an unquestioned winner.

Then there was “Flynn.” I was sorry to miss his big win at the conclusion of the iconic Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.  (Am I the only person who never had a dog who is magnetically drawn to the annual television coverage of this canine Super Bowl?)

On return from the evening meeting that kept me from the real time coverage, news reports showed me a virtual “puff ball” of a Bichon Frisé that had gotten the nod as “Best in Show.” The reporter noted that the decision apparently elicited a moment of surprised silence.  Perhaps not surprising as more than one person mentally questioned how a creature so arguable “cute” had also been judged what millennials would likely dub “awesome.”  Now mind you, as a short person I would never hold out for tall being a standard for excellence.  After all, the Irish Wolfhound wins my heart and my vote every time, at least mentally, since the patent impossibility of its being a part of life in my one-bedroom UES apartment. 

But, back to Flynn.  As he made appearances on network television and other high visibility destinations that morning, we were reminded that “Cute” and lovable has much less to do with his win than the fact that he is a nearly perfect iteration of the BF breed standards.

Next was a conversation with a young man whose story of a rescue I wanted to share with you.  I will not tell that story because more even than its power was his response.  Rejecting any sense of heroism, he simply thanked me for my interest and reminded me that the story belonged to the one he considered himself fortunate to have been able to help by being in the right place at the right time.

In a world where the definitions of winning vary wildly I had a glimpse this week of some of the best.  Who are the winners? The ones I met in the week just ended remind me that winning is not a matter of overcoming.  It is a story of being and becoming.  And the rewards?  Not just gold medals that can be melted down or trophies that could be dented. Not notoriety that fades with the next news cycle.

The winners to whom I am indebted are the individuals who simply by being, remind us that it is a great achievement to be true to standards that are much wider and deeper than just yourself. A pigeon that in its loveliness brings along a reminder that the simple truth of living your limited moment to its fullness brings a lasting gift to those who observe it.  A “top dog” who was honored for being an example of what it means to demonstrate not just who you are but how you demonstrate the power of those who came before you.  You tell your world about the best possibilities of your “breed.”  A modest young man who demonstrates that the best way to tell your story is to honor the eloquence of another person’s story.  To be your own unique story and respect that the other has every right to own a story in which you played a role. 

Here’s to the “winners!” May their tribe increase.

Five Fabulous Flicks Featuring Mystics


With Dr. Strange coming out Friday, (the buzz says that it’s the trippiest Marvel movie yet), inevitably the mind turns to other magicians, wizards, witches, and sorcerers supreme who’ve dazzled us on screen.  As the following examples show mastering the Dark Arts is a veritable cinematic tradition.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) This technicolor, musical-comedy-drama-fantasy, based on the beloved Frank L. Baum masterpiece, represents the best of Golden Age Hollywood with Judy Garland in the performance that made her an icon. While (spoiler alert) the titular wizard is a fraud, the powers of Elphalba the Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda the Good Witch are very real and propel much of the events of the plot. It was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture but lost to Gone With the Wind. Initially something of a box office disappointment, it would later go on to become one of the best known films in American history and a cultural landmark.

Excalibur (1981)  Directed, produced, and co-written by John Boorman (Deliverance and The Tailor of Panama) Excalibur retells the classic legend of King Arthur primarily from the viewpoint of Merlin played with grandeur by Nicol Williamson (Hamlet, Inadmissible Evidence). From the days of Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne in the role that launched his career) to Arthur’s final showdown with Mordred, Merlin steals the show. And this is among a truly great cast including Nigel Terry as King Arthur, Helen Mirren as Morgana Le Fay, Nicholas Clay as Sir Lancelot, Cherie Lunghi as Gwenevere, a young Patrick Stewart as King Leondegrance, Liam Neeson as Sir Gawain, and Corin Redgrave as the Duke of Cornwall. It was all filmed in Ireland, and holds up as one of the best Arthurian adaptions of all time.

The Witches of Eastwick (1987) Directed by George Miller of Mad Max fame and based on the John Updike novel of the same name.  Alexandra (Cher), Jane (Susan Sarandon), and Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer), are three women all living in Eastwick, Rhode Island who share two things in common. One, they’re all single having lost their husbands. Secondly, unbeknownst to them, they are all witches, and wittingly they start a coven and start practicing spells. Soon the mysterious Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) comes to town and that’s when things start to get freaky. It was nominated for two Academy Awards and holds an over 70% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) Directed by Chris Columbus. No such list would be complete without including the movie based on the best-selling book series that kicked off one of THE most successful film franchises in history. It helped that to do justice to Rowling’s vision they put together an all-star cast as well including Maggie Smith, John Hurt, Robbie Coltrane, and the dearly departed Alan Rickman. Billions of dollars later, Hogwarts has become a cultural landscape that all children secretly dream of being invited to attend, Dumbledore and Snape are now household names, and it launched Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe’s careers into the stratosphere.

The Witch (2015)  Newcomer Robert Eggers wrote and directed this historical period supernatural horror tale that came seemingly out of nowhere to become an indie hit that grossed $40 million on a $3 million dollar budget. A puritan family is banished from their old settlement and builds a new farm by the woods. But beginning with the disappearance of their youngest child infant Samuel it soon becomes clear they are being terrorized by a powerful witch.  It has an over 90% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and Stephen King said the movie “scared the hell out of me.”

Top photo: Bigstock