Thursday, August 31, 2006

Varian Fry an American Schindler

In his book titled SURRENDER ON DEMAND the American journalist Varian Fry cites a conversation he had in 1941 with a French policeman who was anxious to arrest him. The policeman says, “. . . it used to be believed that it was better to let a hundred criminals escape than to arrest one innocent man. We have done away with that. We believe that it is better to arrest a hundred innocent men than to let one criminal escape.” The policeman goes on to note that the United States still adheres to an old form of human rights. His government (as an occupied country under the rule of Nazi Germany) had come to recognize that “society is more important than the individual.”

In the summer of 1940, Varian Fry, a 30 year old journalist with a degree in classics from Harvard, undertook a trip to occupied France under the auspices of a newly formed group called the Emergency Rescue Committee. His job was to attempt to get as many political, intellectual, and artistic refugees out of Europe as possible before the French authorities and the Gestapo began to hunt them down.

He expected his work could be completed in three to four weeks and was unprepared for the elephantine morass of murky governmental red tape, the underground of political tension and spying, and especially the hostility of his own American government toward his mission. Fry stayed in France for thirteen months before he was summarily deported (with the collusion of the United States government). But it did not occur before he had become an American Oscar Schindler. In spite of constant harassment by the French and the Germans, he constructed an elaborate and large-scale rescue network that moved some 1300 people across various borders and to safety from Hitler's retribution. In addition he offered counsel and financial support to thousands more.

The book outlines the problems Fry faced and then goes on to chronicle the ingenious and highly dangerous solutions that he and his associates created in order to solve them. Neither Fry or any of his workers were trained in intelligence or espionage. They had to learn their tradecraft on the job, which meant enduring a number of narrow escapes and failures as well as successes--many of which are recounted in this volume. Fry admits at the end that it was his triumph over his own hesitations that might make his story exceptional, but primarily through it all his narration is unassuming and modest to a fault.

We need to add here that among the many guided to safety by Fry and his fellows were: the artists Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, and Andre Breton, the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, the philosopher Hannah Arendt, and the authors Franz Werfel and Lion Feuchtwanger.

This brings up another item other than the book. The Buchanan Center for the Arts hosts the exhibition "Varian Fry Assignment Rescue" from August 26th to October 25th on the square in downtown Monmouth, IL. Come to see it if you can. Read the book if you can't make the exhibition. Photos of the opening were taken by yours truly.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

You Are What You Place Around You

Where is the window to your soul? According to a number of psychologists, an examination of what you acquire or what you surround yourself with is a good indication of the central core of your life. The Chigago Tribune this morning has a nice list of questions for you to answer. At the end you can draw some conclusions about me or about yourself if you choose to extend the exercise by answering the same questions.

Here goes.

#1 One thing on your nightstand. Books (and kleenex).

#2 One thing on a wall in your living room. Photos and objects from our travels. (The grandkid's photos are on the mantel not the wall)

#3 One thing from your childhood you have in your house. A hand made aluminum photo stand with a picture of me in my cub scout uniform. It was made as a Cub project and given to my mom on Valentines Day or Mothers Day--not sure which anymore.

#4 Three condiments we would fine in your refrigerator. Fat free salad dressing, various mustards (including a lime wasabi that will roast your sinuses in an instant), and of course ketchup.

#5 Three things we would find in your medicine cabinet. Toothpaste, Aspirin, Safety razor. (Sorry no anacondas or Swiss wrinkle creams.)

#6 Do your dirty dishes go in the sink or the dishwasher? Most get rinsed and put in dishwasher; knives and stuff too mucked up to get clean usually get the soak in sink treatment until the pile gets too high and hand washing must commence.

#7 What is the biggest collection in your home? A tossup between books, old slides old photos, and CD's. If space consumed to house is the critical measure, books win hands down. They are stacked and shelved in almost every room except the bathroom (see question 9).

#8 What music do you listen to at home? Classical 99% of the time whether on CD or public radio.

#9 What reading material would we find in your bathroom? Absolutely none. In a 100 year old house the bathroom is so small that there is little encouragement to spend time there. We just thank god that it's indoors now and there is running water.

#10 What do you hide when guests come to call? We usually close the door of two of the three upstairs bedrooms. They tend to collect the unsorted denitrus of two undisciplined pack rats who are too lazy to carry things to the attic and too sentimental to pitch them.

Now you have the questions and my answers. The Lucy Memorial Psychological Advice Stand is open for business. What does it all mean? You tell me!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

How the pro's do it?

Another week slips by and no entry. Is the life at hand too dull and uneventful or too busy to take the time to write anything? Perhaps a bit of both.

Cleverness stolen from another place. Try googling the word "failure."

According to one guru we started in Iraq with no good strategy and poor information which led to bad tactics. We now have a better strategy, but the old tactics don't work for it and we are still left holding the bag labeled STUPID.

School has started for fifth grade grandson in Cedar Rapids.
Public Schools are underway in Monmouth.
The college gets started this weekend.
This retired guy is happy. That leaves the golf course less crowded.

Come to think of it maybe that's why I'm not too embarrassed to let a week go by without comment. I'm not a pro and I don't have to make a daily entry in order to keep up.

Bye bye, the first tee calls.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Week Goes by.

You go out to dinner a time or two; you meet some friends or two; you go to a meeting or two; you play a round of golf or two; you do a crossword or two; pick some tomatoes or twelve; cut the grass and curse the rain that made it grow while loving the fact that the garder is producing like gangbusters. It's easy to forget that some folks in Lebanon and Israel are returning to the shells of their destroyed homes. As one refugee put it on public radio this morning, "There are no winners in war, just losers and more losers."

Peace brothers, please! Why is killing the only possible solution?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Chicago, "It's a Wonderful Town"

Back from a lovely train excursion to the "Windy City", which was not windy at all over the last three days. While I tramped the halls of the Palmer House at the 20th anniversary convention of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, Jan strolled the shores of the Chicago River, treaded the halls of the Art Institute, and I suppose paddled the various puddles at the Shedd Aquarium. As usual the meals were scrumpious. There was a glorious medium rare tuna steak at the Blue Water Grille, an equally tempting roasted duck breast atop a broth of Asian noodles and vegetables at the Atwood Hotel, and finally a pig out buffet at Dick's Last Resort. BURP! Home to a week of BLT's from the garden that is now overflowing with bright red splendor. Yum yum and healthy too.

For those who need a moral lesson in blog entries and who shouldn't offer one after these last three days of facist, imperialist, sinful, and overtly conspicuous consumption, here is a bon mot from a Robert Frost poem.

"Most of the change we think we see in life
Is due to truths being in and out of favor."

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Expresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith

Just finished "Expresso Tales" by Alexander McCall Smith. It is occasionally uneven as the residents of 44 Scotland Street do not all jump off the page, but the ones that do like Bertie the precocious six year old who wears pink dungarees, befuddles his psycotherapist, befriends dogs, gangsters, and a vegan named Tofu, are well worth plowing through a few duds. This is not quite in the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency realm, but it remains a fine read. Smith's sardonic humor and basic humanity doesn't shine quite as brightly in sun starved Edinburgh as Botswana, but the poem at the end of the book makes up for any minor flaws along the way.

It expresses a lovely thought about what is truly important in the act of living.

"Be content with small places, the local, the short story
Rather than the saga; take pleasure in private jokes,
In expressions that cannot be translated,
In references that can be understood by only two or three,
But which speak with such eloquence for small places
And the fellowship of those whom you know so well
And whose sayings and mood are as familiar
As the weather; these mean everything,
They mean the world, they mean the world." p.344

Theatre News

I'm off for the 20th anniversary of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education. It started after the implosion of the old ATA at a fiery meeting in Toronto. It will be interesting to evaluate where it came from, where it is, and where it may be going. Certainly the future of the live performing arts is continually looking bleak, bleaker, and super bleak.

On the other hand check out a mordant article on Beckett in the latest New Yorker.