Today is my oldest son’s birthday. He is fourteen and definitely a teenager. He wouldn’t want me to write a blog about him, though I am guilty of this and this. However it doesn’t seem right to wish Brad Pitt a happy birthday (his is tomorrow) and ignore my son ‘n heir, as we Brits are wont to say. So happy birthday, Pele.
Heralding from the olde countrye I am royally not amused with the whims and ways of actors and actresses. Living in California, I can’t help but note the amount of time people spend talking about them, and not necessarily their artistic achievements either.
We have family in SoCal which brings me, a few times a year, closer to Hollywood, duly noted by the fact that the stories often contain personal anecdotes: I met xxxx at the supermarket, I swam in yyyy’s pool.
But I do have a crush on Brad Pitt. I don’t think it is because of his devilish good looks and I am not even sure in what movies I have seen him. The crush was preceded by admiration. Upset with the failure of our government to come to the aid of those who lost their houses to Hurricane Katrina and the levee debacle, Pitt got some like-minded friends together and went to work, creating an organization called Make It Right.
But Pitt isn’t just about building houses. He wanted to make an environmental statement. People in the area talk about their houses being too cold in the winter and an oven in the summer. Heaters and air conditioners work around the clock for those who can, and often those who can’t afford them (I’m talking about the inhabitants and the environment).
Pitt’s houses are environmentally suited to the climate of New Orleans and some can even elevate in times of emergency to rise above the floodwaters. Critics will tell you that it looks like these houses have landed from another planet and do not reflect the culture of New Orleans. This is correct, but not necessarily a bad thing. It is okay to move with the times, to acknowledge that we can improve on the past and to seize an opportunity when a visionary comes to town.
Finally, these houses are not donated. The residents receive help obtaining a mortgage and purchase their homes. There is no charity involved. These are not Brad Pitt’s houses. They belong to the people who live there.
Brad Pitt has not only helped restore a neighborhood, he has helped restore pride. You can’t put a price on that. And I hear he’s a pretty good actor too!
Happy Birthday, Brad & Pele.
Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).