Posted on April 22, 2015
I can’t say I’m having a lot of fun with Across the River and Into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway. I keep feeling like I’m missing something, and I’m not sure I care what it is.
It’s about a colonel in the US Army occupation forces in Italy who, we gather, is not long for this world due to a heart condition.
He goes on a duck shoot with a bunch of people and then we flash back to the previous two days which he has spent in Venice with his girlfriend, who is nineteen years old (he’s 50) and a contessa from one of the city’s oldest families. They have a palace.
The reader gleans this information bit by bit from a sparse narrative and a lot of dialogue, and it takes a lot of work, especially since a lot of references that Hemingway might expect his readers to get at the time are now dated.
The main theme of the book seems to be the fact that the colonel used to be a general, but is not anymore because he lost a regiment or a battalion or some large portion of an army, due to misguided orders which he had to obey.
He and the contessa stroll and dine and shop around Venice, and there’s some heavy petting aboard a gondola (I think. The text is ambiguous.)
And since they both know the town well, there’s a lot of amusing banter with the bartenders and waiters and the manager of the hotel, the gran maestro, some of whom served with the colonel when he was in the Italian Army in World War I.
And she keeps asking him about the war (the second one) and the lost regiment, and I think the idea is she wants him be at peace before he dies.
But mainly, I guess, it’s about two people making the most of what they know is a short amount of time.
So they often say how much they love one another until it’s a little like Jerry Seinfeld and his girlfriend calling each other ‘schmoopie,’ but you can kind of skip over that, and it does reach a certain level of poignancy.
A lot of it is funny, too. He teaches her to speak American, so after breakfast she offers her hand to the gran maestro and says, “Put it there, pal. This grub is tops.”
Then she asks the colonel how they announced breakfast back on the ranch when he was a boy. He says the cook would say, “Come and get it, you sons of bitches, or I’ll throw it away.”
“I must learn that for in the country,” she says, referring to the family’s chateau. “Sometimes when he have the British Ambassador and his dull wife for dinner I will teach the footman, who will announce dinner, to say, ‘Come and get it, you son of bitches, or we will throw it away.'”
The colonel and his buddies have this funny club called the Order of the Knights of Brutadelli, named for a war profiteer from Milan who publicly accused his young wife of having “deprived him of his judgment through her extraordinary sexual demands.”
There are a lot of jokes about Brutadelli throughout the book, and near the end the colonel tells the contessa the order’s “Supreme Secret”:
“Love is love and fun is fun. But it is always so quiet when the gold fish die.”
I get it. Sort of.
Posted on April 16, 2015
When I was in sixth grade, more than half a century ago, the man who brought the news of President Kennedy’s assassination to my classroom was The Reverend Francis Caswell, headmaster of Dexter School from 1938 to 1964.
Rev. Caswell was a beloved teacher and mentor to hundreds of Dexter graduates over the years, including President Kennedy and his older brother Joseph, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, and Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee.
Rev. Caswell took on the extraordinary task of sending a postcard to every Dexter graduate on his birthday, hundreds and hundreds every year.
These postcards, duly forwarded by my mother, found me in all the different places where I resided throughout my life and served as a cheery reminder of this warm and caring educator.
Rev. Caswell — he was actually known to us as Mr. Caswell — taught us Latin and Social Studies, and I still remember a mnemonic device he taught us for remembering all the members of the U.S. president’s cabinet: St. Wapdiacl.
(Secretary of State, Treasury, Welfare, Attorney General, Postmaster General, Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor).
I can attest to the effectiveness of this mnemonic device, because I still remember it after more than fifty years.
“But,” you might ask, “what about the Department of Education and the Department of Energy?”
These two departments were not included in Mr. Caswell’s mnemonic device because they didn’t exist at the time.
The Department of Energy was created in 1977 and the Department of Education in 1979.
Posted on March 19, 2015
We had a very active season at the birdfeeder this year, with four pairs of cardinals, a red-bellied woodpecker, and countless sparrows, chickadees, juncos, tufted titmice, bluejays, and pigeons.
Then one day I put out the sunflower seeds and nobody showed up. I guess it was the hawk, tentatively identified as a northern harrier. Well then we found the poor hawk’s body next to the driveway, dead of unknown causes, and we’ve seen quite a few of the birds return, but there seems to be only one pair of cardinals left. I guess the others perished or skedaddled.
I do like the flashy, colorful big birds, but I really put the seed out for the chickadees and sparrows and the other little guys. I always wondered how they make it through a cold winter, and the answer is they often don’t.
I was pleased to learn that a study in Wisconsin showed that black-capped chickadees with access to birdseed had a survival rate of 69 percent, compared with 37 percent for those without it.
Posted on March 9, 2015
Just lately I was amused to see my hometown mentioned in a Swedish murder mystery.
I was rereading Murder at the Savoy by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo and found a reference to the Sacco and Venzetti murder trial in Dedham, Massachusetts.
The Sjowall/Wahloo mysteries feature detective Martin Beck, who knows a lot about everything, including the first use of ballistics evidence in a murder trial, which, it turns out, was in Dedham at the Sacco/Venzetti trial.
It was a cause celebre at the time, with people all over the world protesting the conviction, but modern historical research indicates that while Venzetti was probably innocent, Sacco seems to have a connection to the murder weapon.
The whole truth will probably never be known.
I heartily recommend the Martin Beck mysteries, even though I always end up thinking the murderer did us all a favor and ought to go free.
But I’ve become attached to the characters in this series, as I mentioned in Martin Beck’s Loveless Marriage, just as I have with Kinsey Milhonne in Sue Grafton’s alphabet series.
Nowhere in literature will you find a better description of the pain of love than in Kinsey’s Second Marriage.
“The hours creep by. From time to time, you hear a car, but it’s never his. By 4:00 a.m., it’s a toss-up which is uppermost in your mind — wishing he would come home or wishing he were dead.”
Posted on March 3, 2015
Back in the ’80s, my brother Paul wrote a song called ‘Say It Ain’t So’ that went “Say it ain’t so/ When I tell you to./ I’m getting used to having my own way.”
It was written during the Reagan Era, when people got tax breaks for buying SUVs and alternative energy was a hippy pipe dream.
Another couplet went, “Light the fire,/ Turn up the air conditioning …ing …ing …ing./ Me and Nancy gonna stay inside all day.”
The song was about Reagan and climate change, but I was just thinking it also applies to Benjamin Netanyahu and the slaughter in Gaza.
Here’s yet another guy with millions of people who will say it ain’t so when he tells them to, even Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — ouch!
As Jimmy Carter has pointed out, any member of the U.S. Congress who stands up and says Palestinians have rights like everyone else will not get reelected. That kind of talk is simply not permitted. You remember Jimmy Carter. He put solar panels on the White House. Reagan took them down.
Anyone who points to the dead bodies in the streets of Gaza and says that those who fired the rockets and tank rounds that caused the explosions that caused them not to be alive any longer were responsible for their deaths… is guilty of treason, of siding with the terrorists.
And guilty of the blood libel of saying the Israelis kill children. With lifeless children lying in the streets of Gaza, I’m going to leave that irony alone.
Say it ain’t so/ when I tell you to.
I understand Israel’s difficult position in the Middle East, I feel much as they do about their neighbors and I consider myself a friend of Israel, but as Socrates pointed out, a true friend is not necessarily someone who approves of everything you do.
And I’m getting the sense that the only two groups who are actually allowed to criticize Israeli policy — American Jews and Israeli citizens — are getting a little tired of seeing brutal undeniable facts and being told to say it ain’t so.
If these groups lead the way, non-Jews and politicians will follow and support a sane policy toward the occupied territories that doesn’t involve a two-tiered system of citizenship that leads down the Primrose Path to apartheid followed by Israel’s erstwhile ally, South Africa.
If this were just what I think, it would be hardly be worthy of note, but it is what Ariel Sharon said, and what many other friends of Israel have said — friends in the true Socratic sense.
I view the conflict in the Holy Land as a struggle between those on both sides who want war and those on both sides who want peace.
War helps those who want to continue the inexorable pace of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, and it also helps fanatics maintain their control over Gaza and the West Bank.
If the Palestinians had leadership committed to the policy of non-violence, and if Israel had a humane policy toward the people, if not the leaders, of Palestine, we could at last see a way toward peace in the Holy Land.
But don’t take my word for it. Go to the video page of Fotonna.org and watch the video made by the Austin Stone Community Church. If you aspire to be a follower of Jesus, as I do, I believe you will get a new insight into this conflict.
Posted on February 16, 2015
My friend Harold and I went and saw the UMass Minutemen beat the Duquesne Dukes Saturday at the Mullins Center to keep their share of a four-way tie for first place in the Atlantic Ten Conference.
The basketball action is great, but it’s also a great spectacle with lots more to see.
Posted on February 7, 2015
I picked up a copy of Time magazine in the sauna the other day, and I nearly fell off the bench when I read the following passage:
“To understand why a campus can be a dangerous place for a young woman, it helps to watch something called the Frank video. It is a re-enactment of a conversation between a University of Massachusetts researcher and an actor portraying a study respondent.
“Here’s what a young college woman is up against:
“‘We’d be on the lookout for the good-looking girls, especially the freshmen,’ says the study participant.
“‘They were easy prey, and they wouldn’t know anything about drinking or how much alcohol they could handle, so you know they wouldn’t know anything about our techniques.’
“The young man goes on to explain those techniques:
“‘We’d invite them to the party … We’d get them drinking right away. We’d have kegs [of beer], but we always had some kind of punch also, you know, our own home brew. We’d make it with a real sweet juice and just pour in all kinds of alcohol.’
“The man goes on to describe removing the woman’s clothes. She tries pushing him off; he pushes her back down and uses his arm across her chest to pin her down while having intercourse.”
The Frank video was made by Dr. David Lisak, Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Men’s Sexual Trauma Research Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
The video is not available on the web, because it might be seen as a manual for rape, and it is intended to be shown only in an instructional context with a qualified discussion leader.
You can order it through Legal Momentum, the website of the Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund.
According to the Legal Momentum website, “In one sample of 1,882 men… results revealed that 120 men had committed 483 rapes against women they knew. None of these rapes were ever reported.”
“Of these 120 rapists, 44 men committed a single act of rape and 76 were serial rapists who committed 439 rapes, an average of nearly six rapes per rapist.”
Since many rapists would never admit what they had done, even in an anonymous survey, we can only assume that these figures are on the conservative side.
I think every student going off to college, male or female, should see this video with their parents and teachers and discuss the morality of deliberate, premeditated rape.
As Jimmy Stewart declared in the Philadelphia Story, after seeing home an intoxicated Katherine Hepburn, “There are rules about these things.” And there are laws, and then there’s something called honor.
As for Frank himself, the rules of the research study prevented researchers from even telling him he was a rapist. If it were up to me, he would be in the state pentitentiary at Cedar Junction, getting a new perspective on sexual assault.
Posted on January 25, 2015
I’m sure you’ve been wondering why archaeologist James Mellaart, after three highly successful seasons excavating in Turkey at the neolithic settlement of Catalhoyuk in 1961 through 1963, was denied a permit to dig in 1964 and again in 1966.
Mellaart’s excavations at Catalhoyuk had unearthed a huge Stone Age city, with hundreds of houses, burials, and artifacts, including wall murals that represent the first known human art on a manmade surface.
Turkish authorities denied Mellaart’s permit because of his involvement in the Dorak affair, which has puzzled archaeologists, and the general public for more than half a century.
The story, in brief, goes like this: Mellart was on a train to Izmir when he saw a woman with a gold bracelet that any archaeologist worth his salt would identify as Bronze Age Anatolian craftsmanship.
He chatted her up, asked about the bracelet and she told him her family had a whole hoard of artifacts from the same period that had supposedly been excavated from Dorak, near Troy, when Greek troops occupied the area after World War I.
She gave her name as Anna Papastrati, and when she learned he was an eminent archaeologist, she invited him to the family home to see the artifacts, which included objects of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, amber, marble and obsidian.
There were scepters, bracelets, daggers, swords, ax heads and vessels, and a solid gold throne cover inscribed from the second pharoah of Egypt’s fifth dynasty. No horde of Bronze Age artifacts would be complete without one.
The pharoah’s gift was made to a ruler of the Yortan kingdom, which bordered Troy, of which nothing much is known.
Mellaart drew detailed sketches of all the objects, and published them, with a description of their provenance in the Illustrated London News.
So far, so good. But when Turkish authorities went to the address Mellaart had given, they found no trace of Anna Papastrati, or of her family, or, needless to say, of the treasure.
Not one of the objects described by Mellaart has turned up for sale anywhere in the world, as far as we know, and the Dorak affair remains a mystery to this day.
Some say Mellaart made up the whole story, but why would the most famous archaeologist of his day make up such a story, when it cost him his right to continue his excavations?
Some say he did it to cover up an affair with Anna Papastrati, but if so, he would have had to spend so much time sketching and researching that there would have been precious little time for any hanky-panky, if you know what I mean.
The explanation that appeals to me is that the treasure is real and in the possession of smugglers, who took advantage of Mellaart’s expertise to authenticate their artifacts, which were obviously much more valuable after the sketches appeared in the Illustrated London News.
Pretty clever when you think about it. Planting the woman on the train with a solid gold Bronze Age bracelet, counting on the famous archaeologist to recognize it. Luring him to a remote village to view the treasure, getting him to publish an article, and then scooting without leaving a trace.
Excavations at Catalhoyuk resumed in 1993 under the direction of Ian Hodder and Shahina Farid. Mellaart continued his career as a scholar and the author of numerous works on the ancient civilizations of Anatolia and the Near East.
I found this story in the May/June 2005 issue of Archaeology Odyssey magazine.
Posted on January 17, 2015
In her book Wickford Tales, excerpted in the June, 1965 edition of American Heritage, Anita W. Hinckley recalls life in a Rhode Island town around the turn of the century.
“I was always glad to get back from Europe,” she writes, “to Wickford, where things were happening,”
She writes about the first railroad station fire, the subject of a previous entry, about several romances, murders, and other local events, as well as other details of local life, like clambakes.
“In the fall, getting ready for winter and collecting all the food to be stored took much planning and lots of arguing and arranging.Our cellar at Cedar Spring was large, and under the high windows on the south side of the cellar were the barrels of molasses, hard cider, sweet cider, salt pork, and oysters in their shells.”
“Every Sunday the oysters were fed a handful of bran and they made a sucking noise eating quite plain to be heard. Whether the ones on the bottom of the barrel got any bran, I don’t know, but as the ones on top were the first eaten, their turn came soon enough.”
A gentleman named Ed Standeven was the master of the Sunday clambakes. He would supervise as the clams, lobsters, chickens, potatoes and sweet corn, each wrapped up in cheesecloth, were layered into a pit with seaweed between the layers.
Other incidentals included clam broth, watermelon, beer, soft drinks, johnnycakes and cider.
“To make the perfect johnnycakes, two thirds of last year’s meal and one third of this year’s is used. To use all this year’s makes it too moist.”
“We were very particular about our cider, too. No wormy apples were allowed — every apple was carefully picked , and the straw used in the press was clean and changed every time. We made sure the pressing was never hard enough to break the apple seeds. We thought the best cider apples were Gravenstein, and the best eating apples were Baldwins or Seek-No-Further.”
“At the clambakes we always sang, and it was fascinating how our guests changed the time and tempo of the songs. When we had Whiffenpoof boys we of course had charming close harmony. Southern friends meant ‘Dixie’ and such-like songs.”
“On the rare times in the past when we were only family or had old-fashioned guests, we sang the standard old tunes, and Mother’s dear voice rang out with every word of every verse of ‘Johnny Sands,’ ‘The Spanish Cavalier,’ ‘Tell Me, Kind Sir,’ ‘Seeing Nellie Home,’ ‘Now the Day is Over,’ ‘Home on the Range,’ and all the rest.”
“It was always beautiful at our clambake place but when the moonlight was on the water it was very lovely to sit looking at the ocean, singing with friends and being at peace with the world.”