Saturday, December 20, 2014

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

 

Volume XLI                                                                                                            December 25, 2014

Christmas 2014

Forty-one years and some things don’t change; we are still searching for a bit more peace and goodwill on this war and terror torn planet.  History can give us cruel reminders, but it cannot extinguish hope, so “once more, dear friends, into the breach” with tidings of the season.  First you get a gift request.  Since time is at a premium send us a copy of the shortest book of the year--Things I Cannot Afford by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.  It won the title in a close heat with the Amish Telephone Directory.  Do not send us anything made out of or covered with “camo.”  We refuse to disappear into the jungle. And did you know that you cannot breathe through your nose when your tongue is out?   Ho! Ho! Can’t believe we just made you stick your tongue out while reading a Christmas letter.  You may now wish we would disappear and we will after this brief rundown of the year.

The old folks, assuming that a moving target is harder to hit, continue to travel as much as possible.  We bit at least part of the Snowbird bullet last winter by extending our Arizona stay to a full two months in a Tucson condo.  “Oh, what a relief it was,” as the reports on the weather in the Midwest kept pouring in.  We shall be returning to the Southwest again shortly after Christmas.  Summer trips saw us in Beloit, WI, for our 55th College Reunion and a golf outing near Green Bay  that gave us the chance to visit Door County, do some genealogical research in Oconto, and re-visit Kelly Lake where we spent many happy vacation days with Jan’s parents.

Later in the summer we took Amy, TJ, and Mikel to London for a week.  After they went home we flew on to Finland to spend time with David, Lotta, and grandaughter Frida. 



The big event there was their formal church wedding, which  in Finland often occurs some time after the civil union.  


We had plenty of time with Frida, but confess to feeling that the distance is going to make our connection more difficult as she grows up.  Jan continues to work with AAUW and serve on the Warren County Library Board.  Both of us volunteer at the Warren County Historical Museum. Jim had the biggest change when the elected president of the Historical Society resigned last spring and the 1st vice president could not take over. As 2nd VP of the Board he ended up in the driver’s seat for the rest of the year.  

Daughter Amy continues to teach in the Cedar Rapids public schools and Todd puts in the long hours that factory work requires to make a living these days. Their lives have been complicated this fall by Todd’s father’s serious illness.  This has been on top of the major family re-alignment that occurs when a son graduates from high school and goes off to college.  Here's the entire family on the happy day.

               
TJ, the graduate,  is now pursuing his Fire Safety degree at Des Moines Area Community College or DMACC.  He continues to work at the Hiawatha Fire Dept one weekend a month. Mikel is having a  successful go at seventh grade and is enjoying his new status as senior son at home. He pitched and caught for his baseball team this past summer.  Last month he fell into an upholstery machine, but luckily is now fully recovered.  This is a joke and a large groan is permitted.
 
 Son David, wife Lotta, and granddaughter Frida live in Helsinki, Finland. The best news from there this year is that David found an IT job that he loves with the Kone Elevator Company.  It’s an ideal position as it is a  Finnish company with an international reach that conducts most of its business in English.  His office overlooks the beautiful Helsinki harbor.  Lotta remains with the  YLE (Finnish Broadcasting System), but is working hard to finish her certification as a Gestalt Therapist, which will give her a much more flexible schedule.  Meanwhile Frida is already two years old and counting (in both languages).   Is  she a happy soul? Yes! 











 Is she a beauty like her mother? Yes!      

By the way, the police were called to her day-care center last week. Apparently the kids were resisting a rest.   More and louder groans are allowed or maybe it is just time to wish for more peace and good will in 2015 and a Very Merry Christmas to each and every one of you. 



















Jim and Jan      jdeyoung@maplecity.com

 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

More Nordic Noir with Camilla Lackberg



Ms. Lackberg is apparently the hottest selling author in all of Sweden and also very popular in Europe.  She may also now be catching on in the US. 
 
I picked up The Ice Princess at our public library. It is apparently her first big hit and was started as she was taking a course in crime fiction writing some years ago. Check out her website at www.camillalackberg.com for more background.
 
 
A beautiful woman is found dead in a bathtub in an unheated house and Erica Falck, a childhood friend of the dead woman, who has returned to the small Swedish seaside town of Fjallbcka after the death of her parents is one of the first to find the body.  Erica is a writer who has up to now been specializing in biographies of famous Swedish women, but the new death, which quickly turns into a murder rather than a suicide, drives her into the hunt for the killer.  One of the investigating detectives turns out to be an eligible divorced old friend as well and we have a nice little romance along with a tandem investigating team.  The peripheral characters, especially the writer's sister and the staff at the police station are beautifully drawn with a combination of reality and humor that makes their stories almost as intriguing as those of the suspects. The dark secrets of the past that drive the nasty goings on in the present are painstakingly dug out and there are ample twists and turns to keep you turning the pages. Lackburg's tendency to shift scenes in the middle of chapters is a bit bothersome, but once you expect it you can deal with it.

The atmosphere is indeed icy. The Swedish demeanor demands a heavy varnish of respectability and in all the novels of this genre it seems that the price of the present is plenty of buried and violent secrets.  Though the crimes are violent Lackberg doesn't offer us the kind of violence between the villains and the searchers that you see in Steig Larsen or Henning Mankell.  In that sense the book seems like a pretty straightforward old fashioned Agatha Christie. The action centers on the digging out of the truth not the confrontations with the villains.  What keeps it in the genre is the continuing attack on that myth of the Scandinavian social paradise.  According to these writers there are plenty of problems in the so called frozen Gardens of Eden up north. 
 
I give it four stars **** and will look for some more of her work.

 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Berlin and the Wall Summer of 1963

With news of the 25th Anniversary of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall going the rounds, it might also be instructive to share some photos of Berlin in 1963 shortly after the wall was constructed.  It was our first trip to Europe and just getting to the city was a trial and a half.  We took a train through the eastern sector and the machine gun armed and generally surly passport controllers quickly sent the message that we were none too welcome.

The photos have deteriorated over the years, but they do show you how the wall did look some fifty years ago.   



Famous Brandenburg Gate  






Checkpoint Charlie where you entered the East


Another Checkpoint mainly for pedestrians.


East Berlin street dead ends, wall and the West beyond. 



Another view of wall from East Berlin looking to west. 


East Berlin kids playing with wall and West Berlin in background
 
East Berlin Street empty and colorless

 
  
Back to West Berlin with cars and people

 Which do you prefer?





Wednesday, November 05, 2014

SMOKEFALL Goodman Theatre Chicago


 

Smokefall by Noah Haidle at Goodman Theatre Production October, 2014 was a visual, emotional, and intellectual treat. The scenery was evocative, the sound design rumbled, and when the house and the family’s world came apart at the end of Act I, it made for a splendidly theatrical unity of  thematic statement and staging expertise.   Couple this with a universally excellent acting company and you have a show that hit on all cylinders for me. 

Certainly the  Colonel/Tommy,  played to the hilt by the remarkable Mike Nussbaum, walks away with the most kudos, but this was a strong cast all the way through.   I do have doubts on whether it was necessary to burden the play with the blatantly derivative  “Our Townish” footnotes.   I suspect the narrative could have been conveyed and the necessary points made without a “stage manager” to hammer them home.    

I did want to know a bit more about the play, but it has not been published yet.  In lieu of that I  did do some additional research. 
 
The title appears to come from a passage in Four Quartets 1: "Burnt Norton" (1935) [1] by T.S. Eliot. “The moment in the draughty church at smokefall.” A bit more of the poem shows Eliot zeroing in on time and the defining natural  moments of remembrance, which almost always floats just out of reach in the gauzy past. Seldom do we manage to perceive clarifying memories at the moment they happen.   In that sense Smokefall depicts the efforts to search for them and describes the search as occurring over and over in succeeding generations.   I still remember my mother admonishing me with “We get too soon oldt and too late smart.”    

 Meditate a bit on this.

“Time past and time future

Allow but a little

consciousness.

To be conscious is not

to be in time

But only in time

can the moment in the

rose-garden

The moment in the arbour

where the rain beat.

The moment in the

draughty church at

smokefall

Be remembered; involved

with past and future.

Only through time

time is conquered.”

This gauzy time warp of memory and regret and frustration is enhanced by the doubling characters and their generational jumps.  Although the time frame appears to be kind of pre-9-11 middle class late twentieth century, Haidle has excised most references to specific historical events.  The Colonel and wife have traveled the world in the military,  but no particular war is mentioned. No racial events, electoral decisions, or religious controversies  rear up to tip the emotional playing field into an Arthur Miller  type socio/moral dilemma.  The deserter father (Daniel)  works,  but no specific profession is mentioned.  Beauty, Daniel and Violet’s daughter,  have  been schooled, but I do not remember if we were told where. Two generations of stay-at-home wives are present, but women’s issues are not directly raised.  For me the play seemed like a meditation on Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man.  Time passes and we ache to establish some kind of  connection between what happened then,  what we wanted it to be,  and what it is now.  Chasing those connections takes a lifetime until senility turns you back once again into a dependent child. “sans everything. ”   

The visualization of this feeling  begins with the stage design itself.  No curtain was used and we were offered plenty of time to take in a large apple tree hovering over the stage. Just below the tree was a canted slice of house featuring wide siding and a lighted window.  Below that,  two levels,  a 2nd floor bathroom and sitting room,  an exit leading up that may lead to that lighted window, which seems to be Beauty’s room.  Stairs on the right then led down to the main floor  containing a middle class kitchen on the left, a semblance of living area in center, and the front door of the house on the right.   The main impression is of a  zig zag,  off kilter world done in predominantly muted colors.  
 
The stage design is echoed by the front cover of the program that was pictured at the start of this entry. In that illustration a man and woman  are touching hands silhouetted against  a golden sunset.   They are next to a house with a lit window overshadowed by a spreading apple tree. Even before the first line is uttered we are thinking tree of life, original sin, etc. The tree’s roots spread out below into a shadowy, foggy environment with moon that leads you back to the title of the play and the T.S. Eliot passage.     

What did I get out of the play?  Violet,  sad and winsome and outside of it all, is played with a sad intensity by Katherine Keberlein.  Her daughter, Beauty, has stopped speaking and is now eating dirt and paint as she tries to somehow compensate for her feelings of helplessness at not being able to influence the deteriorating relationship of her parents.  Beauty’s father, Daniel,  disappears by running off at the end of  Act I like the father in Glass Menagerie,  who was a lineman who fell in love with long distance.   The apple tree takes over. Was this the original sin and betrayal of Adam? Beauty spends a life searching without aging for that lost father. When she does find him he is senile and in a nursing home.  She carries his ashes back to the old family home where her brother is still living.  She spills part of them on the floor and makes the double helix DNA sign in them before they are carried out to the yard for burial.   You can seemingly go home again, but the unchangeable DNA in your bones seems to doom the generations to repeat and repeat their searching for answers out there when the answers have always been in there.  

 
In a spooky remembrance for me, we planted an apple tree in our yard when we moved into our new house in Milwaukee.  I was about eight.  That tree grew up and literally took over the area between the house and the garage.  It shaded and nourished us for many years. And it was gone when we drove by some years ago.   Even the apple trees die.