Friday, October 30, 2020

A Review of Jon Meacham's His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope

 


John Meacham notes at the very end of His Truth is Marching On  that he has not attempted to write a full scale biography of John Lewis, but instead “an appreciative account of the major moments of Lewis’s life in the Movement.” I agree with that summation.

We get quick coverage of Lewis’s birth and youth, and then attention to his assimilation of non-violence as found in Christianity, Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Finally we are taken through the major civil rights campaigns that Lewis led or participated in.

One of the things I found appealing in the book is that it summarized for me a series of events that I lived through, but ashamedly did not see or feel as deeply as he did or I should have. This is perhaps not surprising as I was a young northerner who grew up in an almost totally white environment. My own  unconsciousness of racial issues wasn’t really aroused until my senior year of college in 1959 when I saw my first “colored” water fountains and restrooms on a spring break trip to Florida. Marriage, graduate school, new jobs, and a new family kept me conscious of, but clearly not participating in the movement in any significant way in the ten years after that. I wasn’t asleep through those years yet I think now that I probably thought that starting a new independent life took precedence over the struggle Lewis was engaging in. And I have a feeling that I was not the only young white man from the upper Midwest who used that as an excuse in those days.     

Looking back now at Lewis’s courage in the face of constant adversarial challenges is something that stands out on every page of Meacham’s book. Lewis comes off as neither utopian or cynical, but as a realist who was steadfastly willing to take a punch without responding in order to move the fight forward to another round.  Always step forward, never back.

Definitely new to me was how dependant Lewis’s philosophy was on education and on sessions at the Highlander Folk School. This was a philosophy oriented summer camp spearheaded by a labor organizer named Myles Horton. It was integrated and focused on the “love your neighbor” admonishment of Christianity. Rosa Parks went there in 1955 before the Montgomery Bus boycott and at other times Martin Luther King went there, Pete Seeger went there, and even Eleanor Roosevelt went there. John Lewis attended sessions in 1958 before launching the 1960 Louisville lunch counter sit-ins.   

Having just finished reading Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, I am now much more attuned to the systemic racism that Lewis was working against. The fight, as was pointed out by historian Arthur Schlesinger at the time, was to finally attack the white unconscious belief that there was a necessary inferiority in skins of a darker color. Although Plessy vs Ferguson in 1896  sanctioned separate but equal, Justice John Marshall Harlan in dissent was already writing that there was no superior caste in America and that the Constitution is color blind.  And there in a nutshell was the “Movement” of the 1960’s. 

Another strong point of the book was its reminder of just how many forces were aligned against the Movement. We now seem to think that the sixties produced a marvelous groundswell of change and all we need to do is clean things about around the edges. Unfortunately we have mostly forgotten that the March on Washington of August, 1963 was deemed too radical and too strident for over 60% of the American public.  Although Robert Kennedy told Lewis that he had changed his mind after the March on Washington, the November assassination of JFK ushered in the realization that non-violent protest might not be enough.  

Meacham impressively steers us through how difficult it was for Lewis to keep to MLK’s 1961 admonition of “We will meet your physical force with soul force.” On “Bloody Sunday” March7, 1965 on the Edmund Pettus Bridge John Lewis took the first blow from a billy club wielded by a “peace officer” and ended up with a skull fracture. In that year of the march from Selma to Montgomery there continued to be bloody events.   

By 1966 the “Black Power” movement was gaining steam as people like Stokley Carmichael and Malcolm X entered the fray. In July of 1966, John Lewis found himself removed as head of SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee)—a group he had heroically led for a number of years. He had become according to Meacham, an “expendable commodity, a former leader.” Lewis was disheartened and backed off. He found renewed relevance by attaching himself to the campaign of Robert Kennedy only to be hit a final hammer blow in 1968 when both Bobby and MLK were assassinated.

That is where Meacham ends his story. There is no attempt to deal with the post 1960’s when Lewis went on to become a political icon in the US House of Representatives and that is just fine. The salient details have been covered. Meacham quotes him as saying then what you have to do is just “Keep pickin em up and putten em down” Always step forward, never back. We are left with the knowledge that the march toward that “more perfect union” still continues today.        

 

 

 Aug 63  (we had just returned from a summer in Europe and were moving to Monmouth

 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

 

Three Whodunnits For Some Detective Escape

Between some more meaty books in the last month, I have zipped through a couple of mysteries. Cipher by M.A. Rothman was a totally predictable outing that had excellent FBI procedurals, but a story line that I am pretty much sick of--i.e. sexually obsessed serial killer taking out young women.  Skip this one.

One of my favorite authors for escape reading combined with  historic tidbits from my favorite city (London of course) is Christopher Fowler. He has written a series of books featuring two eccentric old codger British detectives--Arthur Bryant and John May. Their beat is London and the books always feature eccentric humor, strange plots, and tours through the hidden byways of the city you can’t be tired of unless you are tired of life. In Bryant and May and the Bleeding Heart we find the daffy personnel of the Peculiar Crimes Unit trying to figure out why a dead man seems to be walking and why some ghoul seems to be digging up additional graves. This makes a read that is ideal for Halloween.

Fowler often brings theatrical lore into his books and I must admit that The Bleeding Heart doesn’t have a lot of that. If you are a theatreophile like me, look for Fowler’s The Memory of Blood, which features a murder that takes place during a theatrical cast party and is done in a locked room occupied only by the corpse and a life sized puppet of Mr. Punch of Punch and Judy fame. It is filled with delicious theatre history along with an ingenious plot.  

 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Caste: The Origins of our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson

 


Caste: The Origins of our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson

It’s been a while since I posted a review. The reason is that Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste with its Shakespearean tragedy sub-title is crammed with thought provoking content and illustrated with a cascade of personal and researched evidence. You have to stop and think after almost every chapter.

She chooses the term “caste” because she believes it goes deeper than race, skin tone, or religion in defining the hierarchy of human divisions that you are born into.

A strange derivational oddity is that the word “caste” itself, which we often associate with India comes from the Portuguese word “casta” meaning race or breed. It was applied by the Portuguese to the Hindu caste divisions they experienced  when trading with India.

Wilkerson, a black woman with a widely varying background, concentrates on three main caste systems which she believes have stood out over time. The first and oldest is the still active, caste system of India. Second, is the tragic, officially vanquished but rising again, Nazi campaign against the Jews. And third, her primary target, the unspoken caste pyramid in America that has persisted into the present day despite the legal termination of slavery after the Civil War.

She enumerates three pillars of all caste systems. They are set down by God or a divine presence.  You are born into the system and cannot easily rise out of it. And finally, there is a prohibition against marriage or propagation outside of any caste in order to avoid diluting or mixing the blood lines.

In discussing the history of the German dealings with the Jews, she makes a strong argument that many of the Nazi justifications for their policies were taken whole cloth from the American “eugenics” movement of the late 19th and early 20th century.

She argues that all dominant groups in a caste system are sensitive to threats from below, but the lower the caste the more fearful they become of losing the fewer rungs below them on the ladder. For instance white lower class Americans with less education are extremely concerned with separating themselves from the lower classes of color. She owes this to a fear that the one commodity that separates them (their white skin) is losing value.  If this seems prescient two weeks before our current election I cannot deny it.   

In America the dominant or Brahmin class has been white, landed, and educated. Think of Washington, Jefferson, plantation owners all over the south, and the industrial giants of the eastern sea board. Now put into it the figure of a black man by the name of Barack Hussein Obama, who created what she calls a “supernova of fear and anxiety” amongst both white leaders and the white lower castes.

The election and then re-election of Obama, she argues, has  thrown the white under classes into total panic. The fear of what will happen when the population shifts toward more people of color has shown itself in the hatred of immigrants and the election of a man who is going build a wall to keep the Mexicans out and who will put his foot down on China to save lower class jobs. Conservative American protestants, commonly called Evangelicals, have joined in the chorus of fear and now rail against Muslims, gay rights, legal abortion, and liberal social programs. All of these ideas seem to favor groups who have always been on the bottom of the ladder and now are rising. 

Looking at the same movement from the standpoint of the Alpha class gives you another picture. How does the insecure Alpha behave?  He yells, he screams, he bullies, he attacks, and he lies in order to beat the enemies below into submission. Who does this remind you of?

She also cites studies that 80% of all whites (both rich and poor, both educated and not as well educated) exhibit “unconscious bias” toward African Americans because the American culture has exposed them for so many years to so many myths about people of color.  They are criminals, rapists, lazy, can’t be educated, won’t keep their place, and siphon off all the welfare money. Although the more obvious discrimination of the Jim Crow period has receded, she argues, that most whites still discriminate in unthinking ways.

She goes on to explore the many more ways that the subordinate castes in the United States were kept down not just by skin color, but by economic restrictions.  “Redlining” has kept people of color in the United States from living in certain areas. Banking discrimination has kept them from financing homes or businesses. This combines with well established facts that struggling whites and most blacks get poorer education, poorer health care, and have poorer nutrition by being congregated into food deserts. Ultimately these folks have more untreated health conditions and lower life expectancies than the wealthy. Add this to more stringent policing and more and longer incarcerations and you have a concerted system of underground controls that continue to keep the already oppressed down and in their place. To bring this again to the present, all you need to do is look at the current Covid statistics in relation to who is getting the disease and who is dying more often.

The end result of all of this has been to keep the lower castes  both black and white from accumulating wealth, which in turn deprives them of the most valuable of all traits--POWER. Power is what the top class desires and what it will defend at all cost.

Ultimately she admits that caste doesn’t explain all the ills in this world, but she does insist that it has become hard to understand American life without taking its long lasting and “embedded hierarchy” into account,

She feels that the price American pays for its caste system is ironically a bleaker and less benevolent landscape for all. We have no universal medical care, few family leaves for illness or pregnancy, shorter or no vacations, weaker retirement care, and overall less concern for our fellow citizens than most other developed countries. For an update on this idea you need only to think of the symbolism embodied by wearing a mask as we experience a worldwide pandemic.   

What must we work for? Not a violent revolution, she says, but more effort to at least understand the problem and then maybe to work slowly to manage some fixes. We should search for the humanity of the person in front of us. We are here and now. There is no sense in arguing about whether we are responsible for the sins of our forefathers. We are responsible for the good or ill we do to others who are alive today. We must try and make do with what we have and face up to the present by trying to change what we can change. You must admit above all that you have been born to a certain place in the scheme of things and now must decide whether you wish stay there or accept the challenge of trying to climb out of it.   

Inserted along the way in this stimulating book, are more little tidbits of derivation. For instance do you know the origin of the term “scapegoat?”  It comes from a Hebrew tradition of presenting two goats at the altar. One is killed to cleanse the sanctuary and the other is presented live to the Lord. A culture thus attempts to transmit its sins to the “scapegoat.” Over time the meaning has mutated to seeing the “scapegoat” as a symbol of misfortune for everyone in the scapegoat group. Thus you end up with the Jews blamed for the ills of German society and the  criminal, lazy, welfare stealing blacks and immigrants who are blamed for ruining the fantasy world that never was. These groups whether Jews, Untouchables, or people of color are coming to get you and must be segregated and stopped. Sound familiar?

Another little morsel was the origin of the term “Caucasian.”  It actually comes from a 17th century German medical professor who collected skulls and thought that one that came from the Caucasus was his most beautiful specimen. And thus the name for the fair haired, fair skinned, Aryan white European stock comes from Central Asia.

Sorry this is long, but it strikes me as important to at least consider this view of the world presented by one of those who was born with a weight on her head rather than a silver spoon in her mouth.

 


Saturday, October 03, 2020

Review Louise Penny's A Rule Against Murder

 


Penny Louise A Rule Against Murder 2008 4th in the series

I hate to say it, but I have finally found a real clinker in Penny’s long and distinguished list of novels. We find ourselves in a secluded Canadian lakeside summer resort that manages to have Armand Gamache and his wife as guests along with one of the most vituperative and vile families you can imagine. Very few of the Morrow family are likeable with the exception of a rather strange and androgynous child who cannot jump.  

For a reason I still can’t fathom the family matriarch has decided to erect a large statue of her deceased husband on the grounds of this resort that the family has apparently visited regularly over the years. It is no surprise when one of this clan is murdered shortly after the unveiling of the statue.  

Gamache is already Armand on the Spot and takes charge of the investigation. We learn a good deal more about the pasts of this covey of unpleasant suspects while everyone chows down on the gourmet meals provided by the lodge’s staff who also are suspects of course. As in all of the Gamache series our chief inspector also must deal with some moral failure in this own life. In this case it is the onus of his father’s conscientious objector past, which is rather too conveniently tied to the plot by having the 2nd husband of the matriarch revealing that he knew Gamache’s father was a coward.  As they say one coincidence too far.  

A slow start develops into a less than convincing motive when the final excavation into the checkered pasts of our suspects is revealed. I must admit that ultimately I couldn’t care less who turned out to be the murderer.  


Saturday, September 26, 2020

Mark Sullivan "Beneath a Scarlet Sky" Review

 



Mark Sullivan  Beneath a Scarlet Sky Review

My wife has been reading about the Holocaust ever since she devoted a major teaching unit to it for her sixth grade classes years ago. She recommended Sullivan’s BENEATH A SCARLET SKY to me and since I am an avid consumer of WWII stories, I pulled it up on our Kindle. 

A young Italian boy named Pino Lella is the main character in this semi-historical narrative that covers the last days of WWII’s Italian campaign. Pino was a real historical figure, but Sullivan’s novelistic treatment has espoused a host of negative charges ranging from total fabrication and faulty dating to his easy acceptance of Lella’s accounts without sufficient confirmation from other source

With that caveat what we do have is the story of Pino’s exploits as a savior of Jews and a spy for the resistance and the allies. He begins his career as a 17 year old experienced mountaineer who guides Jews over the Alps to safety in Switzerland. A bit later he returns to his home town of Milan (now ruled by Mussolini and occupied by the Nazis) and is rather quickly and astonishingly taken on as the personal driver by general Hans Leyers, a high ranking Nazi industrial engineer. Leyers has a mistress in Milan and the mistress has a maid named Anna who Pino falls desperately in love with. Pino now sports a Nazi armband but has become a spy who delivers German plans to his Uncle and the Resistance.

Both General Leyers and Lella seem to fall under a single quote from the book that seems to highlight at least one truth. “The game of life, it is always preferable to be a man of the shadows, and even the darkness, if necessary. In this way, you run things, but you are never, ever seen."

The prose is rather rudimentary and sometimes even wooden. There seems little room for real reflection on the human feelings that lie beneath the firestorm of action. I also have no doubt that the narrative and timelines have been tweaked to make Lella’s involvement in major events more dramatic.

Even with these problems I still found it a good historical reminder of the Allies’ slow and bloody progress north in Italy as the war was winding down in France. My recommendation is if you decide to read it, take it more as an adventure novel rather than history.  It will always be hard to tell from this distance if Lella and his brother were embroidering their own lives like fisherman whose catch gets bigger with each passing year or if Sullivan just wanted to make his story more appealing and exciting to the potential movies producers who expressed interest in it. 

i.e. enjoy but buyer beware.




 e.c..”e.s. 

 


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Louise Penny GLASS HOUSES (2017) review

 


Louise Penny Glass Houses (2017) review

Let’s start with a summary of a conversation from about half way through the book. Myrna (the psychologist and bookstore proprietor), Reine-Marie (Gamache’s wife), and Gamache (our heroic and always troubled detective) are discussing why Pinocchio was not a real boy? It was not just because he was made of wood, but that he had no conscience, other than Jiminy Cricket. People with no conscience at all are called psychopaths. We are used to the rather transparent movie villains of this type, but most psychopaths are far cleverer than that. They have mastered the art of pretending to care, that it is they who have been wronged, and then achieve their retribution by masterful manipulation. (Think Iago,) Gamache is beginning to pierce the  fog that the Cobrador appearance has laid down and now starts to posit that  someone in the background was manipulating all the participants as well as the investigators. As Penny puts it, someone was lurking in or around the village who was “in fact not quite human.”

It is this driving force that Armand Gamache must deal with and I wish that Penny had been more successful in elucidating it.  Somehow the early narrative line that keeps shifting from the lead up to the murder and back to the trial of the accused murderer never quite gels. As one critic noted, there is “too much teasing with too little action,” There is “too much philosophizing and repetition of the same situation.”  

Why Penny feels it necessary to conceal the identity of the accused from the reader is beyond me. It may create some early suspense, but everyone in the courtroom can see the identity for themselves so why not us? Another bothersome detail from the early going is that Penny’s normal skillful integration of weather and nature seems to have gone astray. She puts Chief Gamache in a literal hot seat by turning the courtroom into a sweaty tizzy by the convenient loss of the air conditioning. This may have been pertinent symbol for the Scopes Monkey Trial, but seems rather too contrived for the modern day.  

What does still work is the establishment of an atmosphere of fear and dread through the use of the scary legend of the Cobrador, who historically stood silent and shamed a miscreant until they broke down. That element tracks nicely through the entire book.

Ms. Penny is also known to integrate larger philosophical debates into her murders.  Here Gamache has taken on his new position and has inaugurated a secret “burn all boats” plan in order to deal with the growth of international drug cartels. This threat is believable and current, yet it takes a leap of faith to believe that in a tiny place like Three Pines there would not be some notice of rampant strangers running vast quantities of drugs through multiple border gaps for years without raising a shred of suspicion until now. It is for this reason that I feel that Penny seems to be laying more on her idyllic fictional town of Three Pines than it can bear. Would the head of a giant multi-national drug cartel be so stupid as to run around with only one bodyguard no matter how safe he felt? Is the Bistro quite up to harboring so many sinister guests and more secrets behind fireplaces and in walls than are found in a dozen Dan Brown novels? I think not.

Nevertheless, Gamache’s moral wrestling match on the issue holds  attention. Long term revenge nags as various approaches are debated. Mahatma Ghandi’s thoughts about “a court of conscience” that goes beyond and above temporal laws keeps rearing up.  Gamache and his few confidants struggle with whether a moral imperative to tell the truth exists. Can such tragedies as the destruction of a Coventry or Dresden be defended when in pursuit of a later and more overwhelming defeat of the axis? And ultimately for Gamache can perjury or at minimum failure to reveal what you know be compensated for by a larger long term necessity?

The book may simply put Gamache on a pedestal just a few feet too high and then try to justify an overly outlandish premise with too many philosophic mind games. To be gracious here, perhaps the death of her real life husband while she was writing the book may have had an impact on Penny’s more pinpoint narrative skill. It would certainly be understandable. Meanwhile I shall leave Jiminy Cricket to deal with Pinocchio’s lengthening nose.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Book Review A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

 


Review A Great Reckoning

It is difficult to begin a commentary on Louise Penny’s 2016 A Great Reckoning. There are just so many threads to connect. It clearly wants to find the good memories while continuing to root out decay and the evils of old wounds. As Beauvoir says toward the end of the novel, “. . . the world is a cruel place, but it’s also filled with more goodness than we ever realized. And you know what? Kindness beats cruelty in the long run. It really does. Believe me”

The key to the plot is that Armande Gamache has moved once again out of semi-retirement to take on the task of commanding the Surete Training School, whose students have been exploited and trained in cruelty by the corrupt police administrators of the past. The murder of one of the old professors at the school that Gamache has kept on staff in order to find final evidence of his corruption links four young Surete cadets as well as Gamache to the murder and to the search for secrets found in an old map. In this case it is a 100 year old orienteering guide found secreted in the walls of the Three Pines Bistro. The map connects a stained glass church window that honors young WWI war dead in Three Pines’ St. Thomas church and that prods a search to find the mapmaker and the identity of the young war victims. All is ultimately connected to the town, its quirky bunch of inhabitants, to Armand Gamache’s career and his family, and personal devils, and finally to the evils of the Surete itself.

The ending is moving and Penny leaves a solution to a final lurking question until the very last words. All told one of the very best in a series of very fine books that go well beyond the province of detective mysteries. Penny is in the league with P.D. James and Iris Murdoch when it comes to integrating philosophy, poetry, history, music, food, and brilliant evocation of nature and place into her work.  I mention Murdoch because we learn that while writing this book, she was dealing with early onset dementia in her husband, which is of  course a reversal but still a moving comment on how one moves on and creates in fiction as well as life.    

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Eric Larson's The Splendid and the Vile review

 



Larson Eric The Splendid and the Vile

“Mammoth” is a word that defines anything written about Winston Churchill. Everything about the man is more than life-size and the bibliography expands to fit his personality and accomplishments. Eric Larson with The Splendid and the Vile joins the list of eminent writers who have tackled the Churchillian mountain. The book’s five hundred closely packed pages covers only the critical period between his election as Prime Minister through to the war’s end. It differs from a standard military battle history because it tends to  concentrate on the man, his family, his inner circle, and the people who endured the horrors of the Blitz with him.   

A good deal of this retelling is not pleasant. You must endure the destruction of Coventry, Plymouth, and London in excruciating detail. On one of Churchill’s now legendary excursions into the smoldering wreckage of London, Larson reports he asks a small boy what he wants to be when he grows up. The boy responds with a depth beyond his years, “Alive!”

That may illustrate the “vile” of the title, but there is plenty of time devoted to the splendid too. We have detailed reconstructions of the composition  and delivery of some of his now famous speeches to Parliament and humanizing glimpses of the man in his bathtub puffing on a big cigar while dictating messages. One humorous quote was from a young woman who feared she would die a virgin if she didn’t have sex with her boy friend.  Her diary records "If that's really all there is to it, I'd rather have a good smoke or go to the pictures."  

Even more interesting are detailed accounts of Churchill’s family life. We get to peer into his relationship with his wife, Clementine, his young daughter, Mary, and the roving eye of his son Randolph’s wife, Pamela.

Finally there are many portraits of the political figures and aides who surrounded the great man. My own knowledge expanded as I learned more about people like Lord Beaverbrook, his airplane construction tsar, Jock Colville, his administrative assistant, Professor Lindemann, the armament guru, and Inspector Thompson the sole detective who was his constant bodyguard.

By and large the book reads as smoothly as a novel. The pictures emerge through evocative descriptions. One example I recall came in another of Churchill’s many walks to survey bomb damage. Larson says, “In his long overcoat over his round form, he looked like the top half of a very large bomb.” Only occasionally are we bogged down in too much detail. The main item I recall in this vein was a full page devoted to a list of drug supplies that the hypochondriac Rudolf Hess packed in a suitcase when he flew into England toward the end of the war.

Anyone with a penchant for WWII biography will find this book fulfilling. Churchill the man was often erratic and sometimes  downright weird, but there is no question that he was  “Splendid.”

A final suggestion. If you have never been to London, do not miss the experience of touring the Admiralty War Rooms where a lot of  this book takes place. It is now a splendid museum.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Labor Day Musings

 

Labor Day Musings  9/7/2020

On Labor Day 2020 a Public Broadcasting post asked readers to send them some thoughts about their first jobs. It provided me with a perfect excuse to do some current writing labor by recounting my memories of the first four jobs I held. If my musings strike a chord perhaps you could put some things down from your life that might be of interest to your children or relatives.    

Job Number One was the proverbial starting point for young boys of my generation--i.e. newspaper delivery. Shamefully, it is pretty much gone now. Even a lot of the newspapers that might be delivered now have been chewed up and spit out by one of the nastiest consequences of our internet centered age.

Sometime around the age of twelve in 1950 or thereabouts, I began to help a school chum named Bob Slindi with his paper route. A while later he wanted out and I took it over. You collected your money in cash once each week. It must have a little over two dollars. You then paid your bill at the Milwaukee Journal distribution shed located just behind the beer depot at 20th and Morgan. You had to pay your bill for number of papers given out and if you couldn’t collect the week’s tab from a customer, you had to pay the Journal anyway. No credit was allowed. That reaffirmed early on a sound business rule that in business you always have to have enough cash on hand to pay your suppliers. Saturday was the normal collection day.

It is important to remember that in the 1950’s most people, and of course mostly men, brought their weekly pay packet home in cash on Friday. Even if you were paid with a check, you would have to cash it somewhere before you got home because banks in those days were often not open on weekends. That also unfortunately led to Daddy stopping of at the local dispensary after work for a few slugs with the boys. That was not my dad, but it was the dads of some of my friends. For all of my dad's working years at Lindsay Brothers, he would board the #79 bus in a suit and tie to go to work and he would always go downtown for lunch. I think my dad was paid by check and believe that he would have cashed it at the Marshall & Ilsley Bank over his Friday lunch hour. That evening he would turn cash over to my mother who would insert it in a budget box containing envelopes for each month’s household expenses and savings. He would keep out money for his bus passes, his lunches, and some basic personal recreations like golf and bowling. 

Above has been a bit of a digression, but it is germane to how I may have picked up some fairly conservative financial practices. I learned quickly on paper route collection day not to carry too much change other than singles and quarters. Occasionally we would have a customer who would insist on credit for next week if I didn’t have the correct change, but mostly they were feeling flush on Saturdays and would say on a $2.80 bill, “Don’t worry keep the twenty cents. ” A fifteen or twenty cent tip on a bill was the gravy that went into the piggy bank. The only other thing I remember about my paper delivery days is that if the weather was really bad mom would roll the car out and drive me around the two block circuit. Believe me that didn’t happen often, but I was always grateful.

Job Number Two was the summer I was fourteen, which would have been around 1952. I applied for a job as a caddy at Tuckaway Country Club. I would ride my bike north on 20th Street to Grange and turn right—a distance of about 2 miles. At 27th you had to cross busy Hwy 41 and neither mom or dad were too happy about that, but thankfully I survived. Tuckaway has long ago been sold off to create fancy suburban housing and nothing remains there to remind you of the wooded golf course other than one street called Tuckaway Drive.

The caddy drill was simple and unforgiving. You arrived early in the morning and signed in. Then you would lounge about in a roofed shed that was called, yes you guessed it, the “Caddyshack.” You would wait and wait until someone who knew you and had been satisfied with your service would ask for you or you would just sit until your number was called for a loop with a customer who had no preference. I remember no pull carts and certainly no motorized carts. We all hoped to be called by that generous guy who would tip well and generally looked down on the stiffs who did not tip and particularly the creeps who insisted on carrying their own bags. Some days you would get a loop or even two, but you made not a dime if your number didn’t come up or if the weather turned bad. A few extra coins were possible by picking up shag balls from members who used the driving range. You would take their empty bag and go down the range and pick up the balls they hit and put them back in their shag bag to use all over again. This was usually an easy couple of bucks, especially  if the guy practicing or warming up was good. Shagging for a beginner or a duffer was another story. They would spray balls all over the place and you could put a lot of miles on your sneakers before it was finished.

The big perk of the job was you actually got one morning a week when you could play the course for free. I think it was Monday as the busy days for the members were generally on the weekends. My dad was an expert golfer and loved the game all his life. I developed my own taste for the game that summer at Tuckaway, but I never got quite as good as Dad. I might have reached that level if I had not had a period of about twenty five years when I didn’t have the time to play much. On the other hand I was always good enough not to be a disgrace and did play regularly later in life until my shoulder gave out when I was 80. Golf is a fin and  lifelong sport.    

Job Number Three was my first true salaried position. It began at the ripe old age of fifteen when I was a scrawny little high school student who was able to compete on the Pulaski HS wrestling team in the 103 pound weight class. I won far more matches on forfeit than I did on the mat. Mr. Pauly, the coach, was just happy to have found someone light enough to make that weight.

I applied and got a job as a weekend busboy at the new Howard Johnson restaurant at 27th and Morgan. Nobody called it Ho Jo’s then. The restaurant was right near the equally new Southgate Shopping Center with its flagship Gimbels store. It was maybe ¾ of a mile away if you walked and a breeze if you rode your bike to get there. Busing tables was good for balance and arm strength. We were paid fifty-five cents an hour plus any tips the waitresses might share with us. Some did regularly and some were as cheap as those guys at Tuckaway who insisted on carrying their own bags. Howard Johnsons became my go to job for the next six years right through college. During my last two high school years, I spent most weekends and a fair amount of summers employed by the restaurant. I graduated to dishwasher and then to a real fountain boy, which paid an extra ten cents an hour and enabled me to interact with the customers more. It also gave me an opportunity to try all of the famous HJ 27 flavors, Mint Chip and Butter Pecan are still my favorite ice creams of choice today. I became an expert at making malts, floats, and fancy sundaes. The soda fountain was also right next to the cash register and if the hostess was away from her station, I was given permission to take checks and give out change. As I entered my college years, I worked more and more out front occasionally filling in to seat customers, act as relief cashier, and even getting a shot at being a waiter in the dining room or at the soda fountain seats during the late evenings. Hooray, you got tips there and I knew how to bus tables so didn’t have to share them with a bus boy. Another step up with a boost in wages was being tagged to help the manager take the regular Saturday inventory and to help unload and stow food deliveries. I even had a key to the basement store rooms.

Finally I was asked if I would be interested in handling some kitchen duties and in the summer before starting my senior year at Beloit College, I juggled Howard Johnson’s with Job Number Four. This was downtown at the Eagle Knitting Mills where I packed boxes of socks and did light warehouse and shipping work from 7:00 to 4:00 each week day. Monday thru Friday I would punch out and jump on a bus that would take me to 27th street where I transferred to another bus that would take me right to Southgate and the restaurant. I would grab a fast bite before starting the rush hour as chief grill cook. I’d get a break around 7:30 or so and then finish out the night in front as host and/or cashier or both. Weekends I would often work the grill in the morning and help out where needed for lunch since I could literally do every job in the place. The summer after I graduated from Beloit, I worked full time at the restaurant mainly in the kitchen or out front. I think it is fair to note that had I not been off to grad school in the fall of 1959, I might well have joined the managerial ranks in the restaurant trade and my life would have taken a much different turn.

There was a lot of informal learning going on in those first four jobs. I learned that the food industry involved hard physical work, risky returns, and long hours on weekends and holidays when everyone else was not working. Most of the employees were just   eking out a living from week to week while drawing a minimum or below minimum wage. Tips for the servers remain an inconsistent hedge. The unfortunate truth is that the restaurant business has changed little in the last fifty years. 

I did pick up a whole new vocabulary of slang and a lot of words that can’t be used in polite company at the restaurant. There was also knowledge about life in a world that countless millions inhabit, but that  I had never really been aware of before, and frankly thankfully never would really inhabit again. I heard at the big trestle table in the basement break room and in the sweat smelling windowless  locker room a raft of stories of life among the marginal and the struggling.  I do remember that a lot of our waitresses were divorced and or single mothers. There were footsore from the work, had kids, and were divorced or considering it because they were fighting to keep their sanity while trying to learn enough to buy groceries each week. I listened to people who talked about visiting friends or family members in jail and even heard some tales from a few who had been in a jail. All these people, whose names I no longer remember, were pretty much plain hard working folks who were earning just enough to get by and yet would take up a collection to help a fellow worker pay the rent, a hospital bill, or meet the next payment on a needed appliance or car. They were the salt that gave all life a flavor even if the cut of meat on the table was a bit tough.    

When I think back on it now, those four first jobs were also good training for spending a life teaching and working in and for the arts. The lessons learned have been ingrained. Showing up is half the battle; showing up on time adds another 30%; learning to do a job, no matter what it is, ties a bow on the box. There is even a sweet desert inside for those who have had the benefit of spending a life working at a labor they loved. Just think, I got paid for creating theatre, teaching young people about the  theatre, and for attending as many plays as I could.  


A Thought from the past about the Future

 I am in process of sifting through several boxes of old theatre files in order to feed the recycling bin with material that has sat in a closet since my retirement. I opened a file labeled Athol Fugard--South Africa's most acclaimed playwright and found myself looking at a review of his award winning play "Master Harold . . . and the Boys." Having just seen a revival of this play in AZ this past winter, I just felt I had to read it. It was written about the first production at Yale in 1982 by a young Frank Rich.

Hally, one of the three characters in the play, is a young white South African who has been mentored and raised by the two black men who work in his mother's tea room. A series of problems develops that cause the young Hally to attack and humiliate the black men horribly. Rich sees in this young privileged white man a boy who "is typical of anyone who attacks the defenseless to bolster his own self-esteem." Is this starting to ring a bell even forty years on?

This play centers on the creeping evil of "apartheid", but Mr. Rich talks also about how all hatred sneaks up, ignites, and then grows. He notes that Hally seems on track and admirable in the early parts of the play. He would appear to be someone you might vote for. However, as the play progresses, the young man becomes more cruel, spiteful, hateful and ready to assert his inborn power and superiority. In spite of this we find it hard to pull ourselves away from Hally. Rich then asks why do we stick to him even though we can feel and see he is sliding into an abyss. The answer appears to be because we see in Hally's behavior our own latent capacity for cruelty. Our own ingrained self-hate immobilizes us. We cannot admit our errors and turn to another solution. Trump and what he represents will never change. In order for us to change and break the old order, we must begin to finally see just who it is we really hurt when we give in to hatred.

Just a thought as we approach our current election. The past must always speak to the present.

jdy

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Another light summer theatrical read.

 




Rutherford,Anne  The Opening Night Murder
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was built in 1599, burned down in 1613, was rebuilt and reopened in 1614, operated until the closure of all theatres in 1642, and was demolished in 1644. Anne Rutherford’s 2012 historical mystery, The Opening Night Murder, posits that the Globe actually stood vacant until the Restoration in 1660 and was reopened by a former kept woman and her son who was fathered by a Royalist nobleman. Suzanne Thornton is the doxy turned impresario and all is going well until a body drops out of the heavens at their opening performance of Henry V. As luck would have it, the fresh corpse turns out to be the fearful Puritan who kept Suzanne during Cromwell’s reign. 


While the box office receipts remain strong our fiercely independent heroine must find the real killer to keep her own son from the gallows. The theatrical atmosphere was over-shadowed somewhat by Suzanne’s on again off again longing for the thoroughly unlikable Earl who fathered her son and now has returned to London with Charles II the new King. 

Another plot limitation is that the denouement, though exciting, strains credibility.  But on the plus side the period detail is vibrant and the feminist leanings in the character of Suzanne Thornton could be explored in further books capitalizing on the introduction of women as performers on the Restoration stage.

Let’s give it a three out of five stars.   

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Review of THE GEOMETRY OF HOLDING HANDS

 

Alexander McCall Smith  

The Geometry of Holding Hands 

Here we go with the umpteenth in the series of Elizabeth Dalhousie books by what must be one of the most prolific authors ever to grace the veldts of Africa or the streets of Edinburgh, Scotland. You know you are in the presence of a Renaissance mind when you run into references to Daniel Barenboim, Bertolt Brecht, Petronius, Ovid, Plato, Aristotle, Moliere, Hoarce, W.H. Auden, Benjamin Britten , and petri dishes all in the first four pages of a novel.

Let’s face it. Ms. Dalhousie is as far away from Mma. Ramotswe, the stalwart operator of Botswana't No.1 Ladies Detective Agency as can be.   Mma. Ramotswe is a woman of comfortable size married to an auto mechanic who has great intelligence and love for others but little formal education. Isabel Dalhousie is a wealthy, art loving, highly educated, urban dweller whose husband is a professional bassoonist.  She publishes an academic journal devoted to exploring the finer points of philosophy and ethics while also spending a good deal of time assisting in the operation of her niece's delicatessen. . Though separated by both geography and social class, both women do exhibit similar characteristics. They love helping people and have a difficult time turning any request down. Isabel, in particular, seems to dwell so intensely on the moral significance of simple daily interactions that she is constantly getting into tricky situations that highlight her inability to say no to almost any request.

In this outing McCall Smith has Isabel and Jamie, her musician husband, dealing with two major threads that center around this inability. First, Isabel is approached by a stranger suffering from a terminal illness who asks her to serve as the executor of his will.  She has severe doubts but accepts and then has to deal with how she will decide who of three relatives will get how much of the man’s considerable assets. The second plot knot is more familial. It involves Cat, Isabel’s niece and delicatessen proprietor,  who has become engaged to a man who has some dubious character traits. This involves considerable philosophic discussion that seems to be best summarized by Isabel’s conclusion that difficult people get away with a lot because one never quite knows where to start in saying “no” to them.  Ultimately both of the central issues come down to tough decisions about the distribution of money.  I must admit that I  kept wondering how the problems would be solved if a considerable fortune had not been at hand to put salve on the emotional distress in both cases.    

All told, not my favorite McCall Smith book, but still thought provoking and pleasantly humorous. One minor event that stood out was the funny scene in a fancy Edinburgh restaurant where the waiter warns Isabel and Jamie off certain menu items. This fosters an ethical consideration as to whether it is appropriate for a waiter to do such a thing and does it mean he really hates his job and might be likely to spit in the soup before serving it.  

As is often the case with McCall Smith, a final coda ties the title to the major story lines and we end with a scene of peace and love.  Brother Fox also continues to pad through the garden on occasion. 

  


Sunday, August 16, 2020

Book Review of Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood

 

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Felix is a successful director of a major Canadian Theatre Festival (Think Stratford) who is victimized and fired by ambitious members of his governing board just as he is planning a revolutionary production of The Tempest. He spends several years afterward as a hermit all the while carrying on with the imaginary presence of his own dead daughter named Miranda. Finally comes a sudden opportunity to lead an experimental theatre program in a prison (Think a remote island).  He is successful over the next few year and then decides to mount the production of The Tempest he had been working on when he was fired,  He recruits the actress who he had wanted to cast as Miranda in his ill fated production of years ago to now play Miranda in this prison setting. Then a marvelous coincidence puts his old enemies within reach (Think a shipwreck).  His thirst for revenge has been  rekindled.  And thereby hangs the tale.  

Familiarity with Shakespeare’s The Tempest is not required, but it does help deepen and fill out the story.  Anyone with a love for theatre will enjoy the re-creation of these two parallel worlds by award winning author of The Handmaid’s Tale.   

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

A great Arizona drive THE SALT RIVER CANYON

Taking a break from the book reviews now to bask in a little Arizona scenery.  Are you in the vicinity of Globe AZ?  Take highway 60 and drive through the Salt River Canyon.  T'aint the "Grand" one, but it is a nice option since you can drive right down to the bottom and then back up again.  



From above the views are splendid. 


Closeups are even more spectacular.


At the bottom you cross the river on a modern bridge.




The river seems shallow and pretty placid down here. 


The view looking up is fascinating as yo see the road zig zagging down.



There are lots of places to stop  and look as you go down or back up out of the canyon.





And pretty soon you are back on the other side and can't even tell it is there. 




Ohh to be traveling again!



The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny



A Review of Louise Penny's The Nature of the Beast

Methinks I am suffering from Three Pines fatigue. I have just finished a catch up read of The Nature of the Beast in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series. We are focused once again in that weird little Brigadoon hamlet that seems to harbor more than its share of Freddie Kruegers. Even though Ms. Penny notes at the end of the book that Gerald Bull was a real human being and a real armament designer, I found her fictional plot elaborations made things less rather than more convincing. 

We must accept once again that the forest surrounding Three Pines is so dark and impenetrable that hermits’s cabins or a massive artillery piece (even if covered by camouflage) could remain unknown for more than twenty years. In this case the hidden gun is in a spot easily reachable by a small boy exploring the forest a veritable stone’s throw from his own backyard. You must also accept that the search for this gun has kept several lay people and several governments in a frenzy for years. Then you have to believe that all of this is somehow connected to an incarcerated serial killer cum playwright who has managed to write a producible work that also offers hidden clues to the whereabouts of the plans for the nasty gun. Luckily Inpector Gamache has been at the secret trial of this killer and just happens now to be retired to Three Pines where he has taken a liking to the small boy who is later killed after discovering the hidden monstrous weapon. 

Enough! Nice try Louise, but I just can’t buy it and though the familiar characters are still sitting on benches around the green, still meeting at the Bistro, still having artistic blocks, and still eating scrumptious gourmet meals, it just doesn’t compute.   

Maybe after a break I’ll return to continue my progress in reading all of the Gamache novels.  


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Book Review: Twenty Theatres to See Before You Die



Twenty Theatres to See Before You Die

 Way back in the sixties, John Steinbeck wrote a best seller titled Travels With Charlie. As I recall he piled into his truck with his dog Charlie and set out on a cross country odyssey that was memorialized  in a penetrating and heartwarming take on the human temperature of America.  Amber  Massie-Blomfield’s Twenty Theatres to See Before You Die is a similar offering in that she travels to a selection of fascinating theatres throughout Great Britain and uses them as the grist for her comments on their physical properties, their audiences, their communities, their employees, their directors, and ultimately to the nature of theatre itself.  She does not purport to make a “best of” list or rank the theatres she has chosen; she simply tells their stories. Let me also note that this is not a footnote laden academic study.  It is short, conversational, often quirky, and will make a delightful read for anyone with even a bit of theatrical blood in their veins. 

Her twenty choices are all intriguing in some way. They are not the common names and I have only been in three of her choices although I have been in a lot of British theatres in my lifetime.  The range of her choices goes from Cornwall’s cliff side Minack Theatre, which was literally hewn out of stone by its founder to the miniscule Tom Thumb Theatre in Margate, Kent.  She even pays homage to the archaeological remains of the Roman Theatre at St. Albans, which is one of the three I have visited.

Where do we start?  Every reader will want to underline a few notes from her  text and what follows are a few of mine. If they don’t appeal,  don’t worry, because I guarantee there will be another tidbit that will attract your fancy.

One of the first theatres she describes is the Theatre Royal in Bath (that’s the second of my three).  Ms Massie-Blomfield uses this historic venue to call up Peter Brook’s The Empty Space. She quotes Brook’s famous lines, “I can take an empty space and call it a bare stage.  A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.“  Then she goes beyond Brook to declare that even a space with no one walking across it is not empty.  It is a place of “memory, and history, and politics” along with all of the resonances that went before. A performance can never be separated from its location whether it be a grandly decorated auditorium or a dank basement.  I think immediately about my theatre,  the old Monmouth College Little Theatre,  a space where the insubstantial pageants have long faded and the fabric long dissolved.  Yet it still lives in the memories of its directors, its actors, and its audiences.  That is how this book works. You may not know any of the theatres she visits, but her descriptions make you think about other theatres you may have visited or worked in.  The author has a love for the theatre and it shows in every page. If there is a common thread that runs through all the chapters, it is that the people who run or have run these spaces all have had a passion for their art and the uncommon energy to pursue their visions at all costs.

From the chapter on the Liverpool Everyman Theatre, I underlined the idea that when a theatre works well it reflects its city or its community back at it. By sharing with all a theatre makes its home town a better place.  This is good advice for any artistic director.

From the chapter on the Holbeck Underground Ballroom located in a red light district in Leeds, there was for me a spinoff of my old colleague Bill Wallace’s “before the curtain speech” to his casts.  The Leeds director phrased his theatrical admonition as  “Have fun. Learn how to collaborate, show up on time. Believe in something.”    This was followed up by a discourse on the idea that “Principles only have value when they become difficult to stick to.”  Reading  this in the week that our country was laying the civil rights giant John Lewis to rest just added to my appreciation of the sentiment.   

I could go on, but there is no need.  This love letter to the spaces wherein theatres can exist and to the people who work in them and attend them makes its own points. Top that off with a style that is personal, entertaining, and ultimately upbeat and you have a fine read.  I’ll not close with a sleep but with the motto for the Battersea Fine Arts Centre.  It works for every theatre on every level.

“Non Mihi, Non Tibi, Sed Nobis”

    Not for me, not for you, but for us.”

 


Monday, July 20, 2020

An American Quilt by Rachel May 2018 Book Review



An American Quilt by Rachel May 2018

Have you had difficulty in processing the words “systemic racism”?  Did your schooling  teach that slavery was basically something  practiced by Southerners?  If so, you may need to read Rachel May’s An American Quilt.

It is not an easy or quick read, but it is packed with content that may help you adjust your thinking about racial issues in our country.  It took May years to pursue her investigations and after that there was still the work of developing a strategy for communicating both the history and the partly imagined stories of enslavement.
The emotional thread of the book is carried by the author’s discovery of a group  of unfinished quilt tops, their paper patterns, and a cache of saved letters. That the quilt tops were never sewn together makes the unfinished quilt a powerful  metaphor for our country’s racial history. We are all still in the process of working toward “a more perfect union.”

The family she highlights had both Southern and Northern roots. The key marriage involves a woman(Susan Williams) from the North and a man from the South (Hasell Crouch).  Susan’s new husband holds inherited enslaved people as domestic staff and as she tries to rise in Charleston SC society, she shows an easy adaptation to this situation.  The enslaved people (Minerva, Eliza, Jane, and Juba), whose history is little more than their first names, become the threads that Ms. Day has to basically re-create.  Given the paucity of records for people of color, she must depend on casual comments in the old letters of white masters, a few bills of sale that document the transfer of the enslaved to other owners, and the generally available historical record.  

You will note in the preceding paragraph that I use the term “enslaved people” to refer to what many of us were taught to call “slaves.” Ms. Law argues that we must revise our language in order to begin revising our imprinted white supremacy.  Using the term “enslaved peoples” imparts to these departed souls some of the recognition they were denied during their lives.  They were real people.  The difference was that the whites thought that black and brown people were essentially sub-human. Thus it was easy to treat them as objects that could be bought, sold, abused, or bequeathed.  This is a real life example of what is known in communication theory as the Sapir-Whorf  Hypothesis, which claims that the way a speaker structures language and uses or speaks words affects that speaker’s own understanding of the world.  i.e.your perceptions are partly controlled by the spoken language you use.  Add to this the brutal treatment of  enslaved  peoples and the all too common sexual abuse of  females by their masters and you have a crazy quilt indeed. 

One of many historical tidbits that I was unaware of was that women of color were identified by their main farming occupation and often called  “hoes. “ That is, according to the author, the derivation of the word “whore.”

While developing her story of the personal lives of enslaved people and their masters, May also weaves another thematic thread. She effectively rebuts the long lasting white perception that slavery, racism, and trafficking were mainly confined to the South.  She documents the interconnections that the families and the owners of the Northern fabric mills, the Northern distilleries, the Southern plantations, and the ships that trafficked slaves and goods were participating in.  She demonstrates that a large proportion of our young country’s growing economic wealth was dependant on the labor of enslaved people. The trade in human lives produced “an endless cycle that bound North and South” and made the North just as culpable for slavery as the South.  As May finally said  “No one was clean of slavery.”

My admittedly minor caveats to all this is that the book is 400 pages of small print with a lot of less than well printed illustrations. There was a little too much detail on sewing, fabric, and quilt making for me, but for someone with an abiding interest in those items that would not be a negative.  I also found it a challenge to process the constant time jumps back and forth. The shifts too often included repetitions of material that had already been treated.  Thus I do think the enterprise could have profited from a firmer editorial hand.  

In spite of these concerns, I learned some new things and was reminded of some things that I had forgotten.  I am definitely the better for reading this book and will never again use the term “slave” when I can say “enslaved people”.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Book Review Hell and Other Destinations






Hell and Other Destinations by Madeleine Albright is occasionally a heavy lift, but it is more often funny, acerbic, and thought provoking,  Her humor is wry and sneaky.  When she was told by another woman how brave she was for not getting a facelift, she admitted that she was tempted to respond to the courage the woman had shown in dealing with the results of hers.

And that’s how it goes. In the chapter on her family and friends we find that they all were educated and did well,  particularly in helping professions like the law and international children's assistance.  Education was her passport to a full life and she has passed her support for it on to her children and to the minions of countries around the world. Her father was a well known college professor and fled from Prague with his family just prior to WWII. One saying of his she remembers was “There is nothing better than to be a professor in a free country.”   She says that her father felt that the professorial life, because of all the time spent in preparation, was a solitary profession at heart.  Yet the rewards came from constant exposure to young minds, interchange with “mostly amiable” colleagues,  and a campus environment that was exciting and frustrating in somewhat equal measure.  Having spent my own life as a student and teacher on many campuses, I could not agree more. Albright continued to teach throughout her government career and another thing I agree with her about is that due dates are important.  In real life, she says, a decision memo or paper that arrives too late  “is as useless as a screen window on a submarine.”  Or as I have often said to generations of students, "Showing up is half the battle."

Midway in the book I was starting to bog down a bit, but when she began to relate the  discovery of  her Jewish heritage,  my interest returned.   

She was only five when her father escaped from Czechoslovakia with his family just ahead of the Nazi crackdown on the Jews.  She discovered much later in her life that  her grandparents and other members of her family did not. Instead many of them were shipped off to Terezin from Prague.

Five years ago my wife and  I visited Terezin and it was one of the most moving experiences of our lives. Terezine was not an extermination camp but essentially a prison where many died and many thousands more were sent on to Auschwitz. The rows of graves and cells are more than enough to bring the most jaded to tears. 



One of Albright’s relatives who did not survive was a young girl who actually did some of the extraordinary heart wrenching drawings we saw in the town’s Holocaust Museum and were later memorialized in the beautiful book titled I Never Saw Another Butterly.  You can still get a copy. https://www.amazon.com/Never-Saw-Another-Butterfly-Concentration/dp/0805210156


Albright knew the great Holocaust communicator Elie Wiesel and cited his famous admonition “Not to transmit an experience is to betray it.” in her book.

With interest rejuvenated,  I tackled the chapters dealing with her relationship with Vaclav Havel, the renowned playwright and later president of the new Czech Republic.  Her personal recollections covered  both his life as an artist and political figure.  It drew me back into my own connection with Havel.  The last play I directed in the Little Theatre at Monmouth College some twenty years ago was his compelling  work The Increased Difficulty of Concentration.  

Albright's final chapters tend toward philosophical reflection on governance and statesmanship. She said that she often answers questions by first saying the issue is complicated.  That, she continues, is because most important issues are complicated and if they were simple they would already have been solved.   

She muses on how even the passage of small amounts of time weakens memory.  The young, she said,  can’t conceive of a system worse than the one they are experiencing.  “Lacking patience, they underestimate the difficulty of governing, and are quick to find fault when their needs are not swiftly gratified.”  The gap between desire and reality produces a situation that no government  can fix on a dime and thus we are hammered simultaneously by the sometimes violent pressure to produce change quickly while also yearning for a world that feels stable and familiar.  This thought certainly resonates now.  

If you do need a dose of optimism, you can find it as she closes. She still feels there are enough people. both young and old, who believe that we cannot stay much longer on the present course without doing lasting harm to our country. The final thought comes from Joseph Lowery’s rainbow benediction at Barack Obama’s inauguration in January of 2009.  

 ”Help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back; when brown can stick around; when yellow will be mellow; when the red man can get ahead, man; and when the white will embrace what is right."  

"Amen."