Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Summer of 1927

Bill Bryson's recent book One Summer: America, 1927, is a very enjoyable treatment of what it must have been like to live through the excitement of Lindbergh's flight in May, the thrill of watching Babe Ruth make his record number of home runs throughout the baseball season, and the pain of the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, which took place on August 15 of that year.

Other events of the summer occasionally distracted the newspapers from their nearly incessant coverage of Lindbergh and his triumph and his trip through the US, which Bryson returns to throughout the narrative. I admired his broader treatment of aviation before and after Lindbergh, and the way that Lindbergh's flight inspired the rise of the American flying industry. Bryson also explains the continued development of the automobile, especially mentioning Henry and Edsel Ford, the end of the Model T, and the upcoming Model A.

Bryson presents the political scene as it developed that summer. President Calvin Coolidge announced while enjoying his summer vacation that he did not choose to run for a second term. Of great importance was the pervasive negative effect of prohibition. Also interesting: the rise of both J.Edgar Hoover and Herbert Hoover.

One Summer: America 1927 is a fascinating book, and I found it much more fascinating because my parents often remembered certain events that Bryson detailed.

My mother graduated from Soldan High School in St.Louis in June 1927. She often spoke of Lindbergh and how his great success dominated the last weeks of her high school experience. Lindbergh's flight had a variety of St.Louis connections. Her class motto was "Ad Astra" -- to the stars -- and her classmates' vision was of going to the stars in a plane like "The Spirit of St. Louis."

Less often, my father spoke of how devastated he felt when he heard of the death of Sacco and Vanzetti, whom he believed were innocent. My parents rarely mentioned the politicians of that era, and I seriously doubt that they ever mentioned or thought about baseball in that age -- though Bryson several times mentions the St.Louis Browns ball team in his descriptions of Babe Ruth and his team's success.

Here are some pages from my mother's scrap book and graduation memories that illustrate her experience of the year that Bryson wrote about. (I've used them in earlier blog posts a few years ago.)

Little souvenir plane on a place card from an
event celebrating my mother's graduating class.
Family photos from that time.
Class photo. My mother's photo (which also appears on the place card) is in row 5, column 5.
Somewhere on this photo is the most famous member of Soldan's 1927 graduating class. Her name at the time was Kitty Fink. Soon after graduation -- under the name Kay Thompson -- Kitty Fink became a Broadway and Hollywood character and author of the children's book series about little Eloise who lives at the Plaza in New York. My mother didn't really remember her, because at the time, Jewish students (like my mother) didn't mix with Christian students (like Kitty Fink). When my mother attended her 25th class reunion, Kay Thompson didn't show up. She was far too famous, and I think by that time her age had diminished too much to allow her to admit what year she had graduated.

I don't believe that my mother ever knew that Kitty Fink's paternal ancestors were Jewish but abandoned the religion. "Unfortunately, anti-Semitism existed on both sides of the Atlantic and so, like many others, the Finks submerged their Jewish heritage in order to assimilate into mainstream society," writes Kay Thompson's biographer.

Bryson deals with antisemitism in his discussion of Henry Ford and his trial that summer (where he officially rescinded his virulent attacks on Jews) and on the later support for Nazism of Charles Lindbergh. He mentions the fact that both of these paragons accepted and never repudiated medals from Hitler. I appreciated Bryson's treatment of this issue in the midst of all the excitement of the era.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Best Seller: "My Promised Land" by Ari Shavit

The popular book My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit deserves its reputation. The portraits of Israeli individuals, starting with the author’s own great-grandfather in 1897 were vivid. Each chapter depicted an era, epitomized by one or several individuals who embodied the spirt of that age – the essence of history, both negative and positive.

In each era, as Shavit presents it, the vision of the Zionist founders, pioneers, leaders, defenders, settlers, or good citizens contrasts to their blindness towards the Arab inhabitants who were displaced as the country of Israel emerged. However, the author’s sympathy and loyalty to his country allows him to provide nuances, understanding and empathy, as well as a keen analysis of the situation. He sees both sides, but he knows which side he’s on.

I’m not going to write a review, exactly, as this book has been reviewed vastly often including in all the mainstream journals and over 1000 times on I’m going to talk about what it means to me.

In my own reading, I especially enjoyed revisiting my past experiences in Israel as Shavit’s geography introduced me to a great deal of history of places I have been. He was born in Rehovot, where I have spent most of my time during my three visits to Israel, making the descriptions of how the original old orange groves were planted most interesting. Shavit’s promised land may not exactly be my own, but I loved the overlap!

On all three visits to Israel, we stayed at visitor housing in Rehovot, where Len was visiting the Weitmann Institute. Shavit was born here: his father was a physicist. Two photos of the Weizmann campus from our 2006 stay:

He also talks a great deal about the history and impact of Israel’s nuclear program, headquartered at Dimona. While driving from Rehovot to Eilat we once passed by this area – full of warnings to mind your own business, so we did. 
Google map showing the nuclear complex near Dimona (I think)
One high point of that trip was a visit to the moshav at Nahalal. And during all our trips, on several weekend outings, we stayed at various kibbutz accomodations: Shavit obviously has much to say about the history of the moshavs and kibbutzes. I’m not sure he mentions that one way that they have tried to adjust to the way their world has changed is to transform family accommodations for members into tourist accommodations for both Israelis and foreigners.

Moshav Nahalal seen from the Nahalal cemetery.

I never visited any settlements in the West Bank or Gaza, but I found Shavit’s discussion of the settlers extremely enlightening. Don't get the idea that I'm not interested in the political and moral dimensions of his fascinating book. The other reviewers have definitely done them justice -- I'm just describing the other thoughts I had when reading, and the expanded historical dimension that his writing offered me.

A tower in Ramleh, near Rehovot,
which I saw without knowing what I was seeing.
Shavit's book has provided me with much more insight.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mona and Cats

My new Mona Lisa Piggy Bank, a hand-made ceramic from Peru,
purchased at Peaceable Kingdom in downtown Ann Arbor.
I'm so delighted with my beautiful new Mona Lisa piggybank that I am interrupting my series of pictures from my trip to Holland to include her.

However, I'm now going to continue this post with several photos of cats that I took while walking around the picturesque streets of Amsterdam and other Dutch cities.

Amsterdam, a beautiful day, many people were
sitting on the stoops of their houses.
Cat on a canal barge. 
Another cat. 
Window cats.
Cat about to cross a street in The Hague.
These cats are dedicated to my blogger friend and cat lover, Jeanie of the Marmelade Gypsy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Few Windmills

The Dutch countryside is splendid; it looks like a series of painting from the Dutch Golden Age. We loved windmills, sheep and cows, canals and other waterways, and a sky that varies all the time.

We are back in Ann Arbor but still have vast numbers of photos to enjoy and post.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Walk in Leiden

There's water everywhere: canals, little ditches, the Rhine River...
Kayaks on a canal
Sailing ships docked on the Rhine River --
which is not actually the mouth of the river that goes through Germany,
as the river changed course centuries ago.
Would you be disappointed if I didn't include a windmill? 

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Amsterdam in the Evening

During the interval of our concert at the Amsterdam Concert-Gebouw tonight.
We heard one piece by Ravel and several by Beethoven,
including Creatures of Prometheus with an interesting explanation. 
Exterior of the Concert Gebouw building at night. It's a great concert hall.
Vitrine in lobby celebrating the
125th anniversary of the Concert Gebouw. 
Across from the Concert Gebouw: the Rijksmuseum where we spent several hours yesterday.
We had an eventful day, lots of photos to come in the future!


We arrived in Amsterdam yesterday morning. With great luck, our hotel room was ready at 9 AM, and we had a lovely day. Getting ready to go to the Van Gogh museum today. Here's a shot of a canal as we strolled around after dinner: it's pretty cloudy so the light isn't brilliant. More to come!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sketching in Public

Illustration from today's "Ethicist" column in the New York Times.

The ethical question: is it ok for someone to sketch strangers while riding the subway? Long story short: Chuck the Ethicist says it's ok. See: "Sketched Out on the Subway"

The other question: what does Mona Lisa have to do with this? The usual answer: nothing at all, she just makes a nice image when your illustrator lacks imagination.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Paris Burning

Riots in Sarcelles, a suburb of Paris, July 20, 2014. Photo from Haaretz.
Paris "inside the walls" is a peaceful and beautiful place, full of incredible historic buildings, restaurants of notable quality, museums and churches, boutiques and open-air markets, and picturesque street scenes. Central Paris is home to around 2 million people. The other 9 million or so Parisians live outside this magnificent and museum-like marvel. The Paris suburbs include many beautiful, tree-lined neighborhoods and delightful parks such as the Bois de Boulogne. But there's another part of Paris that no tourist need ever experience: the impoverished suburbs where immigrant communities live in a different world.

Many of the immigrants are Muslims, who are alienated from  the French mainstream. They suffer from high unemployment and predictable social problems. For the last two weekends, these Muslims and others have demonstrated against Israel -- and against all Jews -- engaging in antisemitic violence of a type that's all too recognizable. Demonstrators have attacked a synagogue while chanting "Jews to the ovens," looted Jewish-owned shops, and beaten individuals who were walking on the streets.

After violence the previous weekend, demonstrations were prohibited for July 20, but took place anyway. An editorial in the New York Times writes of the demonstrations: "While many protesters stayed home, some defied the ban to assert what they said was their right to demonstrate peacefully. Others came bent on violence, including some spewing virulent anti-Semitic views. In the largely immigrant neighborhood of Barbès on Saturday and on Sunday in the northern suburb of Sarcelles, demonstrations degenerated into street battles between protesters hurling stones and police firing tear gas. In Barbès, an Israeli flag was burned. In Sarcelles, a kosher market was looted, cars set on fire, shop windows smashed, a funeral home attacked."

From Haaretz:
"It is unacceptable to target synagogues or shops simply because they are managed by Jews," Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters during a visit to Sarcelles, which is also home to large non-Jewish immigrant populations. 
"Nothing can justify anti-Semitism, noting can justify that kind of violence. This will be fought and sanctioned," he said. 
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manuel Valls has denounced a "new form of anti-Semitism" on the Internet that he said was spreading among youth in working-class neighborhoods. Speaking as France honored some 13,000 Jews rounded up 72 years ago, most kept in a cycling stadium before being sent to Auschwitz, Valls said, "France will not allow provocations to feed ... conflicts between communities."
I've been participating in the blog event "Paris in July." It's nostalgic, artistic, literary, and beautiful -- all about Paris inside the walls, where all is peaceful. A paradise on earth. I'm posting this as a kind of balancing view of the not-so-paradisical Paris.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Paris in my Mind's Eye

When I think of Paris, vignettes from the past, from novels, and from films fill my mind's eye -- along with the standard images of boulevards, monuments, and metro rides. I think of the Musee Carnavalet, full of Paris history -- and recall one particular exhibit, the actual furnishings and noise-deadening wall-coverings of Proust's actual bedroom where he wrote. The museum has a long page devoted to this room. I'm thinking of it partly because Proust was a contemporary of Edouard de Pomiane, the cookbook author who is the subject of my current research project.

Musee Carnavalet: Proust's Bedroom
At the moment, I'm reading Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette a biography by Judith Thurman. Colette lived in Paris and was a nearly exact contemporary of my subject, Pomiane. They may have lived in the same city, but in two totally different worlds! The cover of her book, published 1920:
Another view of Paris: I recall scenes from Godard's film "Breathless," especially the scenes where Jean Seberg was selling the Herald-Tribune on the street. When I saw the film recently, it took me back to my first visit to Paris, a few years after the film was made.
From the New York Times: a scene from Breathless
And the film Pépé le Moko (1937) has memories of Paris, the title character's home, though the action takes place in Algiers. A certain style of film noir from the thirties was characteristic of the way Parisian film makers worked.

Last year, I had just come back from Paris before the blog event "Paris in July." It's been a year since the trip, but my mental images have not faded. Back then, I listed a number of films that featured Paris. They were: "Charade," "Hugo," Disney's "Hunchback of Notre Dame,""Last Tango in Paris," "Midnight in Paris," "Night on Earth," "Ratattouille," "Sous les toits de Paris" and "Zazie in the Metro."  Now I've thought of these two -- I suspect there are many more.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

My Art Fair, Ann Arbor, 2014

Ibrahim's Booth
Last week was the Ann Arbor Art Fair, a madhouse of art and commercial selling of all sorts of merchandise, snacks, bottled water, tee-shirts, and more that extends throughout the downtown area and on campus. I spent a few hours walking around there by myself on Wednesday when it opened, and more on Thursday evening with friends. The "original" fair, which began 52 years ago, was formerly at the south side of campus. It's now on the campus near the Carl Milles fountain and the Michigan League. And it's always my favorite. This year I saw many appealing booths there, belonging to artists in glass, ceramics, clothing, photography, painting, hand-woven straw hats, jewelry, and more.

My only purchase was from Ibrahim, a dealer in african masks, who rents some space from the owner of a shop just outside the fair. He has no official designation, he just drives in and sets up where  he has a space. I have purchased masks from  him in previous years, and I admire his selection of high-quality wood carvings from many African tribes. I believe that he travels to Africa to obtain his wares.

Masks on my living room wall. The two small ones are this year's purchase.
Our new masks come from the same area as the existing mask above them. Ibrahim says they are "passport masks," that is, carried as identification of the person's membership in a particular tribe or group. Many tribes create small masks for various personal use. They can be amulets to protect hunters, they might be kept secret in one's home, or might be worn on one's arm to show affiliations.

All three masks have a central bird figure above the face. In the new mask to the right, the bird leans over, and its beak also forms the nose of the mask. This identifies them as coming from Ivory Coast, from the Guro division of the Senufo people. We suspect that our masks were used in a village because their interiors smell strongly but pleasantly of wood smoke, as if they have been near a campfire, but neither the interiors nor the beautifully finished exteriors show any signs of burning. Of course this is only a guess.

For more information on the mask we've owned for a while, see this blog post that I did when we bought that mask.

All Sold Out!

Gallup Park Birds

A few days ago, we rented a canoe and paddled around the pond at Gallup Park looking for birds. Len has already posted them on Flickr, but I wanted to have them here as well:

A young green heron. Its parents were nearby. All were surprisingly unafraid of the canoe.

A sandpiper walking on the lily pads

A baby cliff swallow waiting for its parents to bring food --
we watched the adults go in and out of the nests.

Many swallow nests are just underneath the bike path on the
road bridge over the water.