Friday, February 10, 2017

January 25, 2017, Washington DC

January 25, 2017, Washington DC

Coming out of Union Station
The Silver Meteor pulls into Washington DC at 6:30 AM, nearly thirty minutes early.  It’s dark outside, so I stop and eat breakfast in Union Station before heading out to explore the city.  The place is still decorated for Trump’s inauguration which was five days earlier.  There are huge flags hanging from the front of Union Station.  The capitol’s dome, in early morning light, can be seen from the great hall. 

Capitol in Early Morning Light
I leave the station at 7:15 A.M.  I have nearly the whole day, but unfortunately the museums won’t open until 10 AM.  I don’t have to be back at Union Station till 3:30 PM to catch my next train.  I zip up my jacket as it is cool, yet unseasonably warm for January in Washington, and head to the capitol which is bathe in the rays of sun as it rises over the horizon.  I walk around the north side of the capitol and kick myself for not bringing a better camera (I have my iPhone).  I click photo after photo as I walk around the capitol.  On the south side, the stage and platforms for the inauguration are still up.   I head down toward the Washington Monument.  The grassy area in the middle of the mall had been covered with two inch thick plastic flooring to protect it from the crowds who’d gathered at the inauguration.  Along the side of the mall, media companies are breaking down their equipment.  When I reach the monument, I take a break, looking out toward the White House.  It’s only a little after 8, yet the city is busy with helicopters coming and going and flights from Reagan National taking over every few minutes. 
Plastic Flooring used to protect the Mall's grass
There is a large orange construction crane a block or so behind the White House, the kind that is a couple hundred feet tall and a boom sticking out that’s almost as long as the structure is tall.  My sarcastic side takes over and I think to myself that maybe they are installing an orange canopy over the White House to mimic Trump’s hair.  As I continue walking toward the Lincoln Memorial, I notice a couple of very serious photographers set up at the base of the Washington Monument, their cameras mounted on tripods with massive lens pointed toward the White House.  I think that maybe they’re trying to catch Trump as he comes and goes in a helicopter. 
A small section of the WW2 Memorial

I first come to the World War II memorial, which is so massive (I had always through the monument of the Marines raising the flag was the memorial for this war, but now there is a massive memorial in the middle of the mall, between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial).  I walk through it, with pillars for each state.  It is so big that it is impossible to catch with one photo and the sun’s angle makes it hard to capture the “Pacific Theater” side of the monument.  

Bronze Soldiers looking at Wall
"Pieta" in bad light
Next is the Vietnam War Memorial, which I’ve seen a few times (including at night and I recommend seeing it then).  While I have seen this one before, I have not seen the memorial to the women members of the Armed Forces who served in Vietnam.  I am moved by this small memorial.  There are three women, one is a nurse who his holding a wounded soldier in a fashion that reminds me of the Pieta (Michelangelo’s statue of Mary holding Jesus after he was removed from the cross).  Unfortunately, the sun is behind this section of the memorial and without a strobe, I am unable to capture a decent photo of it.  After a few minutes, I head on toward the Lincoln Memorial.
Lincoln Memorial

Korean War Memorial
After walking around the Lincoln Memorial, I head for the Korean War Memorial.  This is another new monument that I’ve not seen and it is incredible.  If you are in the Washington, check it out.  The memorial is haunting as there are bronze soldiers on patrol that are reflected by a wall behind them.  I’m impressed.  After spending some time at the memorial, I head back up toward the Washington Monument.  The museums are now open!  

Greenpeace's "Resist" Banner

As I walk, I notice the photographers have packed up their cameras and as I get closer I see what they were aiming to shoot.  On the crane I’d noticed before, that’s just behind the White House, flies a huge banner reading “RESIST!”  I take photos and, upon posting one on Facebook, learn from a friend that six members of Greenpeace took over the crane and unfurled the banner.  I stop and have a snack and remove my jacket and store it in my bag.  It’s really warm for January!  While I watch the banner wave, I wonder how long it will fly and if Trump has been tweeting about it.  I now have to decide which museum I want to visit.  I would really like to see the Holocaust and the African American Museums, as I’ve not been to either, but they are way too far from the train station (and I’m going to also have to eat lunch).  I decide to go to the American History Museum (which I was last in when I was probably 15) and save the others for a longer trip in DC.  So I walk back toward the capitol and stop in the museum. 
Leaving DC

The National History Museum is enjoyable as I really like GM’s exhibit of American transportation (especially the part about maritime history).  After a few hours, I have lunch in their cafeteria and then head back to the train station.  I arrive at 3 PM, allowing me enough time to duck into the Postal Museum that is adjacent to Union Station (which has an incredible stamp collection along with some interesting exhibits of the RPO (Railway Post Office) and the Pony Express.  At 3:45 PM, I’m at the station.  When the call for my train comes, I show my ticket to the conductor and he directs me to the car with my sleeper compartment.  After dinner in the diner and a toast of Dewar’s in honor of Robert Burns (today is the birthday of the Scottish poet) I fall asleep as the train rocks it way through the Allegheny Mountains.  In in the morning, I’ll be in South Bend, Indiana.  

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Wait Till Next Year (A Review)

I have been traveling again (by train to South Bend, Indiana and then by rental car to a conference at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI) and rather absent from the blogworld.  Hopefully I will get around sharing some of those stories, but until then, here is a review of a book I read this past month.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997), 261 pages, some photos.

Goodwin, a renowned historian and author of presidential biographies, recalls her childhood fascination with the Brooklyn Dodgers in this delightful memoir.  The Dodgers were referred to as bums, as it seemed they would never win a World Series.  In the forties and fifties, they were a National League powerhouse, often winning the pennant, but losing in the Series.  They were "always the bridesmaid, never the bride.”  Against this backdrop is a young girl whose father taught her how to keep score.  As she became better at scoring, she would listen to the afternoon game and then retell the events of the game to her father when he came home from his job as a bank examiner.  She credits baseball with making her a historian and storyteller as she learns to build suspense in recalling the events of the game.   

As Goodwin recalls each season in which the Dodgers disappoint them again, she shares memories of growing up in her Brooklyn neighborhood as well as events happening in the country and around the world.  She lives by two calendars: one from church and the other from baseball.  She tells many humorous stories such as making her confession before her first communion.  It has been impressed upon her how serious this is and to think hard about her sins.  She realizes she has been wishing bad things upon others, such as wanting a certain Yankee player to break an arm or a Phillies ball player to experience some other kind of misfortune.  As she confesses, the priest’s giggles and admits that he too is a Dodger fan.  Then, he uses the occasion to teach a lesson, asking her how she'd feel if the only way the Dodgers win the Series is that all the other players are injured.  Another story involved Old Mary, who lived in a dilapidated house.  The neighborhood children were sure she was a witch and set out spying on her.  When Goodwin's mother learns of how they have been treating Mary, she takes her daughter down to meet the old woman who was from the Ukraine and had learned only broken English.  A few months after learning she was a nice old and lonely woman, Old Mary dies.

Goodwin enjoyed school, especially literature and geography.  She even had a teacher who required them to learn the principle towns along the Trans-Siberian along with the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian railroads along with the Baikula-Amur line. However, I'm not so sure about the Baikula-Amur line, a Siberian railway that runs north of Lake Baikal, as most of the work on it was twenty-plus years after Goodwin had finished elementary school.

In addition to what was happening locally, Goodwin reflects on the national events.  The fifties were the waning years of segregation and she pays attention to the events at Little Rock.  She ponders over the Rosenbergs children after their execution and worries over the Soviet's exploding an atomic bomb. She goes out and searches for the first satellite launched by the Soviets.  All this is recalled as Goodwin recaps each season.  The book comes to a climax in 1956, when the Dodger's beats the Yankees for their first World Series win. She and her parents celebrated in downtown Brooklyn.  But with the win comes losses.  Goodwin's childhood friend moves away, a trend that will happen over and over again with the affluence of the 50s.  She becomes interested in boys.  Then her mother dies and her father, who is heartbroken, decides to sell the only house she's really ever known.  Then the final straw breaks in 1957, as the Brooklyn Dodgers (along with the hated Giants) announce they will relocate to the West Coast.  The magic of childhood has passed her by. 

In the Epilogue, Goodwin tells about how she again fell in love with baseball as a graduate student at Harvard.  This time it was with the Boston Red Sox, a team who (at the time of the writing of her memoir) was a lot like the old Dodgers.  Although they often had good teams, they were unable to win the Series.  Goodwin, like her father before her, has the pleasure to introduce her children to the magic of the game. 

I enjoyed reading this book.  Goodwin is a wonderful storyteller and has an eye for history (with perhaps the exception of Russian railroads).  I recommend this book!  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Early Music that Influenced Me (and a sailing photo)

I finished this post while watching the Steelers and Patriot’s game.  I’m not happy the outcome.  We’ve had bad thunderstorms since Saturday afternoon and for much of the time we've been under a tornado watch.  However, before the weather turned bad, I was able to enjoy a bit of time yesterday on the water.  The winds were strong (so strong that we decided not to race).  As the wind blew from offshore, it brought in fog. It was exciting to be on the water as the photo illustrates. 

I decided to follow a post by Charles at "Razor Zen.  This "meme" calls for a list of  the top ten albums (from ten bands) that were important to me during my teenage years.   It took me a while to whittle down my list to ten.  I stuck to music that was important during my high school years.  There are others that albums that became important in my waning teen years, but was after I was in high school.  This list of bands would include Pink Floyd (Wish You Were Here” came out just after I graduated high school), Steely Dan, Van Morrison, and the Cars.  There were others that were important in high school and would continue to be important, that just didn’t quite make the cut include Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan, Heart, Jim Croce, Harry Chapin, 3 Dog Night, and the Carpenters (who didn’t love Karen Carpenter’s voice and what American boy didn’t lust over her looks).  Here are my top ten bands with their album and the year it was released:

  • Beatles, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band” (1967).  This is one of the oldest of the albums I remember enjoying in high school.  Although I knew most of the songs on the album, I still remember listening to it in its entirety during my junior year.  By then the Beatles had broken up, but I found myself rediscovering their music. 
  • Yes, “Fragile” (1971),  (Roundabout, Long Distance Runaround,  Heart of Sunrise)  Yes was one of my favorite groups in high school and it was hard to pick an album.  I still enjoy listening to their music that blended rock and roll with the classics. 
  • The Doors, “LA Woman” (1971)   This was the group’s last album with Jim Morrison. The single, "L. A. Woman" was great rock and roll.  I would later appreciate The Doors for their blues (“Waiting for the Sun” is a favorite album), but in high school it was all about rock.  This album also had other hits such as “Riders of the Storm” and “Love Her Madly.” 
  • Moody Blues, “Days of Future Passed” (1967).   I’ve always thought “Nights in White Satin” was one of the most beautiful songs ever.  However, it is hard for me to pick out one album by the Moody Blues, as I enjoyed their first six or seven albums. 
  • Led Zeppelin, “Led Zeppelin IV” (1971).  I was in the seventh grade when Led Zeppelin’s second album was released with the song, “Whole Lotta Love.”  From then on, they became a favorite group.  The group’s fourth album had the classic single “Stairway to Heaven” which was probably the song most played during my high school years.  The album, which featured a peasant man carrying wood on the cover, also included the “Battle for Evermore.”
  • Marshall Tucker Band, “Marshall Tucker Band,” (1973), “Can’t You See” has always reminded me of the possibility of jumping a freight as a way out of a situation.  I remember seeing them in concert in 74 or 75.
  • Chicago, “Chicago” (1971).  Although I really liked Chicago's first album, "CTA," their second album really made the group.  I still remember hearing “25 or 6 to 4” while riding to Atlanta Georgia in 1970.  This album also featured other favorites: “Make Me Smile,” and “Color My World.”
  • Deep Purple, Machine Head 1972 – This album had the classic, "Smoke on the Water" which helped out with my geography as I had to look at a map to discover the location of Lake Geneva (this was before I began studying John Calvin who lived much of his life after fleeing France in Geneva). 
  • The Eagles, “Desperado” (1972).  I always enjoyed The Eagles.   In my 30s, when I was refusing to settle down, many people suggested that “Desperado” could be my theme song.  It could have been worse.  They could have suggested “Tequila Sunrise.” 
  • Rolling Stones, “Goats Head Soup” (1973).  This is the album that featured “Angie,” but there were a number of other great songs including the funky “Coming Down Again” and the fast paced, “Heartbreaker.” 

Although I would continue to enjoy all this, in college I began listening to Pink Floyd, Electric Light Orchestra, Steely Dan, The Cars, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and the early albums by Jefferson Airplane. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Pope and Mussolini

David I. Kertzer, The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe (New York: Random House, 2014), 549 pages including index, detailed source notes, references and photos. 

                The Catholic Church was fearful of what was happening in Europe after the first Great War.  It had lost its protective status in Italy and an anticlerical movement was rising.  Priest were regularly beaten, killed, or forced to drink Castrol Oil by anticlerics (which could be either fascists or communists).  There was a great fear of what had happened in Russia and of Bolshevism spreading to other countries in Europe.  In Italy, there were fears of Protestants strengthening their position as well as a deep-rooted anti-Semitic feelings toward the Jews.  This was the church Cardinal Achille Ratti, a mountain climbing priest from Northern Italy, inherited when he was elected pope in 1922. 
 A few years later, the fascists under their strong man, Benito Mussolini achieved power in Italy.  Mussolini set out to suppress all political parties including the “Popular Party” which had close ties to the Catholic Church.  In an attempt to protect the church, the pope through diplomatic channels began negotiations with Mussolini.  The Fascist party would call off the attacks on the church and make the church the only official religion in Italy.  The church, which was afraid of Communism as well as Democratic movements, would inherit a world ordered in a way it felt would best suit its purposes.  In 1929, the Fascist state and the Church signed the Lateran Accords, which would become known as a deal with the devil. 
This is a fascinating but highly complex book.  At the beginning of the book, before the Prologue, are ten pages listing key players and organizations in the story (I recommend skipping over this and moving to the Prologue and referring back to the list when you get confused).  The Prologue takes us to Pius XI death bed, early in 1939, where the dying pope is working on a paper to be delivered to the church leaders.  Kertzer lets the reader believe that the Pope, seeing what had happened due to his support of Mussolini, was going to renounce the Lateran Accords and fascism in both the Italian and German forms.  But Pius XI dies a week before the conclave and the papers are quickly collected and destroyed by the man who will become Pius XII, whose critics named “Hitler’s Pope.”
This book should be a warning to all religious leaders who look to the government to buffer their position in society.   Such agreements might offer short-term benefits but as we see, can also be a “deal with the devil.”  By early 1939, even before the beginning of the World War II, Pius XI was feeling that Hitler was going too far with his dealings with the Jews and was concerned that Mussolini (who’d had a Jewish mistress) was following Hitler’s lead.  By this point, the church had compromised its position so that it no longer had any moral ground upon which to stand.  What would have happened if Pius XI had denounced fascism is left to speculation. 
There was a lot of interesting tidbits provided in this massive work.  There was some brief discussion of excommunicating Hitler, but the only real possibility came when he served as a witness at a Protestant wedding.  Also, the church seemed to be concerned about the Jewish leaders in Communist movements even after Stalin began purging such leaders within the Soviet Union.  There was also rumors of pedophile priests in Italy (even in the Vatican) and Germany.  In Italy, Kertzer makes the case that it there were such priests and such knowledge was able to be used by those outside the church to control the Vatican.  Kertzer doesn’t comment on how valid the German accusations were, but there were a number of priests and nuns brought to trial by the Third Reich. 

This is an interesting book and I would recommend it for anyone interested in the events leading up to the Second World War.  It is also a book that raises the dangers of when the church enters the political fray in order to secure its position in society.  I’m thinking of sending my copy to Franklin Graham or another such church leaders who seem to look at our president-elect as a second savior.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fog and Water

I took ten days off after Christmas.  The 27th and 29th were warm and foggy days and I spent them both on the water.  A friend and I went out sailing on the 27th, in very light wind.  We set at the marina porch for thirty minutes debating whether or not to go.  A little after noon, the visibility wasn't much over a mile (it had been much less in the morning).  The flags were barely fluttering. Had the winds picked up, the fog would have been blown away.  As we watched, there appeared some ripples on the water.  We then saw another boat host its sails and make their way up the river, so we decided we'd give it a try. The tide had just turned and was rising, so we sailed out on the Wilmington River, into Wassaw Sound, toward the north end of Wassaw Island.  The wind picked to maybe a sustained 5 knots with a few puffs of maybe 8 knots, nothing exciting but enough to allow us to make decent headway against the tide.  We talked and watched dolphins feed.  After an hour or so, we turned around.  Shortly thereafter enough of the fog was burned off or blown away that we saw the sun for a few minutes.  Running with a spinnaker and being pushed by the tides, we quickly ran back toward the marina  But about a 1/4 mile from the marina, the wind died.  We let the tide pull is in and then used paddles to navigate through the break wall.  We'd come back just in time!

Paddling out as the fog lifts
The next day, I took off in my kayak at 10 AM from the Delegal Creek marina on the south side of the island.  As I launched, the visibility was maybe a quarter mile.  I paddled out of Delegal Creek on the falling tide and headed out toward Ossabaw Sound.  I hug as closely as possible to the shore as I didn't want to get lost, but I had to be careful to be out far enough that I wouldn't be caught on a mudflat with the falling tide.  In the soupy fog, I thought I heard someone talking and wondered who would be out on the water with such fog, but it turned out to be gulls squawking on a sandbar.   Later I would hear a motor as a boat made its way out of the river and into the sound. I couldn't see him for the longest time, but could hear it through the fog.  Then he stopped for a few minutes, would run for maybe 30 seconds and then stop again.  I thought maybe he was trying to find the channel, but later, as I approached the south end of Wassaw and the fog had lifted to where I could see a mile or two, I realized he was pulling crab traps.   
lunch on Wassaw

The paddle out was one of the smoothest I've had on these waters (as was the paddle back).  Bottle-nose dolphins were all around me, some of which appeared to dance on the the water as they played around, gracefully jumping as they fed on baitfish.  I arrived on the island, ate lunch and took a nap on the sand, before walking around the island for maybe a hour.  This was the first time I've been on the island since Hurricane Matthew.  I was surprised that there were few down trees, but there were a number of pines that had died from salt water, but these were mostly in wash areas that would have been flooded for a long period during and after the storm.  The trees growing on top of dunes appeared to have done well.

Sand Dollar on the beach
At 3:30, I decided I'd better be getting back.  The tide was running in hard (low tide was a little after 1 PM) and it would be getting dark a little after 5.  I made the five mile paddle back and had loaded my boat on the car as the sun set.  It was another good day. 

Below are a few more scenes from my trip.

Bottle Nose Dolphin (taken from Wassaw Island)

Wassaw Island

Wassaw Island