Saturday, July 7, 2018

Sure, I hung with Nelson Mandela....

     Zulu dancers. A line of them, far away and below. And music. Drums.
     Or some kind of dancers. African. 
     That's it. That's all I remember.
     And I didn't even recall that until I noticed a beaded chain holding press credentials hanging from a door knob in my office. 
     Seven Chicago Police Department news media identification cards, from 1991 to 1998, a big red and blue PRESS tag from the 1996 Democratic National Convention.
     And a greenish yellow OFFICIAL PRESS CREDENTIALS with the seal of the City of Chicago and the words: "NELSON MANDELA, Chicago VISIT, July 6 & 7, 1993. City of Chicago. Richard M. Daley, Mayor.
     Leading to two thoughts.
     Nelson Mandela visited Chicago? And I was there?
     Exactly 25 years ago.
     Dancers. Music. Nothing else.
     You'd think that kind of thing would lodge in a guy's memory.
     Could I have gotten the tag and never gone? Then kept it? That doesn't sound like me. 
     Although ... I had the Democratic National Convention credentials and I know for a fact I never went inside the hall, not once. But I was outside, talking to ... anarchists. 
     Those dancers....
     I scribble notes at the end of each day for just such a situation, so pulled the maroon 1993 Waterstone's Literary Diary down from the shelf.
    Tuesday, July 6—the diary observes that in 1674 the second edition of Paradise Lost was published, and Milton received 5 pounds from the printer. In the little section for the day, I wrote:
      Started to get cracking on old people story, but sent over to cover Mandela at City Hall. Couldn't get to fifth floor because of security sweep so I worked the crowd waiting downstairs. About 150 fans & curious passerby. Young man who shook hands with Mandela held his hand aloft as if broken and beamed at the hand. Wouldn't let friend touch it. Strolled over to Palmer House—pleasant, smoking a Cuban, stuck in upper balcony, waiting without a newspaper. Fought urge to go get something to read—made myself just sit there—zen. Mandela was ushered in w/dancers and drummers. Endless speeches by religious leaders, including a cartoon Sikh who, as best I could tell, lectured us on the benefits of Sikhism. No lunch, caught a frozen yogurt from Carson's on the walk home (Since when do I refer to the newspaper as 'home'? A bad sign). Mandela didn't say a lot—basically begging for money. But his speech was delayed so much that he blew the market edition deadline and I had to scrape together whatever scraps I could to fill a story.
     A reminder that, for all our complaining about cell phones, at least now you always have something to read. Wasn't always the case...
    Looking over the stories that ran—the main story by Lynn Sweet—I don't seem to have missed anything vital. Mandela was here to raise money, was sorry he couldn't meet Michael Jordan, who had a previous commitment. An unsigned quote box gives a sense of the speech I heard:
     A sampling of Nelson Mandela's comments here:
     On how black South Africans will benefit economically from a new regime:
     "The government that will be installed will be able to address the major socio-economic problems facing our country, raising questions of employment, raising the living standard, working out illiteracy."
     On violence:
     "We must not lose our sense of proportion to think that because of the violence that there will be no progress as far as the quest to bring about a democracy in our country."
     On his rival, Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi:
     "He must not allow himself to be used as a cover by sinister forces and to curry to the impression that there is a clash between two black organizations, which is what the ruling class is trying to create. I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of our people are for peace and in due course all organizations and individuals who are playing the role of spoilers will be sidelined."
     I'm not saying Mandela isn't worthy of reverence; he is. But sometimes we also magnify our heroes to a height they don't quite deserve. As amazing as it is to think I don't remember a speech by Mandela, it's even more amazing to realize that, just maybe, I don't remember it because it wasn't very memorable.


  1. A favorite recent book series has been Michael Palin's diaries. I don't recall you mentioning that you keep daily notes regarding your job before in this forum. The daily thoughts of a journalist at a major newspaper would make for engaging reading. Ever have any thought of publishing those notes?

  2. No. I don't think I could get that published. The industry is constricting, and we in the middle are squeezed out.

    1. Those notes are gold. Think Pepys. The daily thoughts of a man who sees the inner workings of a great city and occasionally crosses paths with people of note, while inevitably revealing the life of a thoughtful citizen of the time. I would buy such a book in a heartbeat.

  3. "Cartoon Sikh" comes across a bit Menckenian and makes me concur with your skepticism of getting the diaries published. But it wouldn't stop me from buying - and, no doubt enjoying - them.

    Yes, we can over esteem our heroes, "noble Homer dozed" and all that. But the Mandela you saw was a 74-year old giving a political fundraising speech, one of a half dozen he gave over two days in Chicago, which was but one stop in an eight-day US tour. It’s understandable for him to have been forgettable. More importantly, his heroism is founded on his vision and persistence, not his oratory.

    Sure, we can over esteem our heroes, "noble Homer dozed" and all that.
    Regarding Mandela's


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