Monday, January 31, 2011

Shopping at Elmwood

On Friday I was too sick with a flu to even write. Couldn't even read the newspaper, or do the crossword puzzle, which is a daily ritual with me. By Saturday I was dehydrated and went to one of those Emergency Clinics to get a litre or so of intravenous fluids, kind of like re-hydrating a dried out sponge. By Sunday I was feeling better, and it was a beautiful day outside, high in the 60's, so I decided to go out.

Earlier in the week Sue had read an article in the local paper, a column by Mark Washburn, which told an unusual story about a grave in Elmwood Cemetery, located in the northern part of Charlotte, and about 25 minutes from our house.

The grave mentioned was that of one John King, known locally as the "Elephant" King. The story is quite unusual. According to the article by Mr. Washburn, whom I have no reason to doubt, there were, during the years before and through, the Great Depression, a number of circuses touring the area between here and Florida. They all had elephants, which, as all living things must do, sooner or later, pass away. This required them to be buried. In the case of these circus elephants, some were buried in unmarked graves, leading to the conjecture that someday, when scientists discover these remains here in the southern part of the United States, they will draw the incorrect, but comical conclusion that elephants once freely roamed the countryside. Our story concerns only one of these elephants.

"Chief" was an Asian elephant, and according to the article by Mr. Washburn, was captured in 1872 and sold to the John Robinson Circus. He was an unruly beast, unsuited to captivity. He came to Charlotte on September 27, 1880. The Observer of the time reported that the "Chief" became enraged while being unloaded from his rail car and turned on John King, his handler, pinning him to the side of the car and crushing him. He then turned on the assembled crowd, who were by then already in flight. "Chief" was eventually captured and spent 10 more years in the circus before passing away in 1890. Our poor Mr. King was not so lucky. He never made it through to the following morning, and was buried here in Charlotte at Elmwood Cemetery.

Around the corner from this Coca Cola sign is one of the city's best kept secrets- Elmwood Cemetery. Elmwood is the second eldest of two cemetery's located in Uptown Charlotte. The first one is about a generation older, and much smaller, being confined largely to the grounds of an adjacent church. That site is very different in flavor from Elmwood. As one of the earlier places of interment, it houses an inordinate number of children who died from diseases such as cholera, etc. It can be a bit depressing to wander around there. But Elmwood is a much more diverse and sprawling location, located only a few blocks North of the churchyard. It houses such a variety of gravestones and memorials that is has become a veritable park, which plays host to walkers, bicyclers, and even the just plain curious on any given day.

This log cabin mausoleum is a perfect example of the variety of markers to be found in Elmwood. There seems to be a Woodcutter's of America Society that many of these deceased belonged to. Some of the markers take the form of tree trunks cast in stone. There is also a marker with the names of all the members of the Association buried in Elmwood. I will have to look them up sometime and read about the history of the Woodcutter's.

Elmwood is a veritable outdoor art gallery, though some might find it a bit morbid. The whole atmosphere of the place is the same as Central Park in New York, with many different types of people strolling around, walking dogs, pushing baby carriages and riding bicycles. There were even joggers in the cemetery, which I found to be mildly amusing, as if by running through, they could somehow outrun death itself!

My favorite monument is the one known as "The Weeping Woman, eternal home to the Bryan family. One of their daughters, born in 1895, passed away in 1919 at age 24, presumably as a result of the flu epidemic. Buried on the other three sides of the monument are her parents and a sibling. "The Weeping Woman" still sits in testimony to the sadness and grief that must have encompassed this family. No parent should ever have to bury their child.

There are so many things, and stories, in Elmwood, that are of real interest, for me to write about, and not enough room here. But this is a great link to the Elmwood Cemetery site, which has some more pictures and a history of Elmwood Cemetery itself;

http://www.cmhpf.org/Surveys&relmwood.htm

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sick Day


This may be the only post until Monday. I'm sick. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Goodbye, Gladys Horton


Farewell to Gladys Horton, the lead singer of The Marvelettes, who passed away today at age 66. She was 15 when she first began her career, inspiring, with her unique vocals, everyone who heard her sing. Even The Beatles covered her version of "Please Mr. Postman." Gone too young, too soon, I hope that letter is waiting for her when she gets there...

"Comic Art Propaganda" by Frderik Stromberg


This is a fun book. It contains a collection of comic art that spans over 100 years, from the Anti-Chinese "comics" of the early 1900's, to the latest editions of "Spiderman", fighting the Islamic threat in Iraq. In between, the comic book art genre has been used to villify everyone, and everything.

Some of the most loathsome were, of course, the Anti-Semetic cartoons, which were so popular during Stalin's reign of power. Make that his reign of terror. Part of his arsenal to dehumanize an entire group of people was comic book propaganda. Hitler did the same. The Chinese under Mao brainwashed an entire generation, or two, with their own type of art form.

As Americans, we have been no less guilty of this form of slander. The cartoons of World War Two, with their depictions of the Japanese as buck toothed, sub humans, wearing Coke bottle glasses, and later, the Anti-Communist cartoons of the 1950's, along with the "Step and Fetch It" series of the 1930's, which depicted African Americans as shuffling, boot lipped creatures, are no less appalling than any of the cartoons previously mentioned. As in the the former, the latter is just one more tool of dehumanization in the pursuit of often dubious goals.

The book also explores some of the counter culture comics of the 1960's, such as "The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers" and "Mr. Natural." The whole Zap comics era was one of great satire, along with a return to the tradtional style of comic drawing from the 1930's. This shift can also be seen in the cartoons of the 1950's, when production costs made it more profitable to skimp on the artwork. Think of the old Max and Dave Fleischer "Popeye" cartoons from the 1930's, and then compare those to the King Features Syndicate "Popeye" cartoons of the 1950's and you will see what I mean.

Overall, this was an entertaining romp through the world of political cartoons, and the stereotyping they sometimes engender. From the Revolutionary comic books of Cuba and Che Guevara, yes, they actually had them, to the more traditional "Peanuts", it's all represented here in a colorful and educational way.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"The Great Oom" by Robert Love


Most of us think of Transcendental Medtation, and Yoga, in conjunction with the 1960's and The Beatles. There can be no denying the fact that the 1960's and the pop culture of the decade did a tremendous amount to advance the practice, and study of, Yoga in the United States. But prior to that, for almost 100 years, this movement of spiritual and physical beliefs was being practiced here in the United States, quietly, and by some of it's most prominent citizens.

The author delves into the history of Yoga, explaining just what it is that has attracted, and retained, millions of followers the world over. Exploring the differences between the Hatha and Tantric styles, the reader is given a deeper understanding of just what Yoga is, and how it can be of benefit to both mind and body. They are, after all, connected to one another.

Yoga makes it's first written appearance in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the four Hindu texts known as the Vedas. These date back to about 1,500 B.C., though Yoga has been praticed for about 5,000 years, in total.

It is not certain exactly when Yoga first came to this country, but it is well known that the spread of the discipline can be traced directly back to a very unusual man during the Gilded Age. His name was Perry Baker, who would go on to become Pierre Bernard, a Victorian version of the Maharishi. Through lectures and publicity he became the father of Yoga in America for many years.

Beginning in San Francisco, and then on to the Northwest and back East to New York, Mr. Bernard leads the nation in a quest for spirituality. This journey leads him to the elite Wall Street crowd and the creme de la creme of Victorian Society. The stories of the rich and famous, as they seek enlightment, are priceless. The names involved are noteworthy.

At the same time as this book follows the journey of this one extraordinary fellow, (he even gets involved in elephant training at one point, and with a baseball team in Nyack, N.Y. at another) it also follows the efforts being made by others to introduce the nation to the lost teachings of the East.

As early as 1875, in New York City, there was the team of Madame Helena Blavatsky and Colonel Henry Olcott, who founded the Theosophical Society in order to study the texts of Buddhism and Hinduism more closely. By 1901 they were a world wide force, with chapters in over 42 countries.

The book is also helpful in explaining the different approaches to Yoga. It appears that there are two main forms; the Hatha discipline, which is based upon the control of the body, through a system of postures and exercises, in order to clear the mind; and Tantric Yoga, which seems to focus more on the use of the mind to harmonize the body. Don't judge me too harshly on these understandings, as this is my first time delving into the Mysteries of the East, and I invite any corrections of my limited understanding on the subject.

A very interesting read that need not be confined only to those interested in Yoga, this book is a portrait of people, then and now, looking to find a better way to live. And along the path to that story is attached a colorful and interesting account of America from the 1870's through the 1950's. A great gift for the Yogi in your life.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Defiance" with Daniel Craig


A movie as lavish as "Dr.Zhivago", with the all the sparse reality of "Schindler's List" would seem to be an impossible feat to pull off. And if that story were also true, as in the case of "Schindler's List", then you would have a movie very worth watching. "Defiance" meets all of these expectations, and more.

The true story of the Bielski brothers, who were farmers at the time of Hitler's invasion into Poland in 1939, is one of amazing courage and sacrifice. On the run from the Germans in the woods for over 2 years, the Bielski brothers find themselves up against not only the Nazi's, but also at odds with partisan Russians and Poles, who are anti-semetic, but still need the help the brothers offer.

Zusia, Asael and Tuvia Bielski were Jews. As the Germans bore down on the Jews of Poland, the brothers took to the woods, where they foraged for food while dodging German patrols. But as the German atrocities began to mount, the brothers soon found themselves joined by, and in charge of, a large group of Jewish refugees. Not only did they manage to survive the harsh winters and savage fighting, but they also lead this group through the frozen woods, towards safety, only to find their path blocked by a swamp. At this point the older brother is ready to give up, the situation is almost biblical. The Germans are like the Egyptian Army, poised and ready to strike a fatal blow. Only a miracle, such as a parting of the waters can save them. But with miracles in short supply, the brothers must find some other way to escape the Germans, and certain death. The younger brother provides the inspiration and solution to the problem, leading the whole group across the swamp tied together with rope and belts.

The movie also explores the anti-semetism that was rife amongst the Polish and Russian freedom fighters, who believed all Jews to be cowards. Zusia, along with his youngest brother Tuvia, believes that fighting the enemy would be suicidal. Instead they form a community in the woods, complete with a school, a hospital and a cookhouse. He welcomes any survivor into the camp.

Their brother, Asael, has a different idea, he wants to fight the Nazi's in an effort to prove that Jews are not cowards. In the end, as with most things, all three brothers are proven right, as the Russian and Polish resistance fighters finally accept them as equals in the fight against fascism. This is largely due to Asael's death in the fighting on the Russian front in 1944.

This is a gripping film, you can actually feel the cold and hunger as you watch this group of refugees struggle to survive. All the performers are exceptinal in this dramatic, moving and true story of what man will endure in order to survive.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Mrs. Murphy's Porch" by Wysteria Edwards


One of the most well kept secrets in the Charlotte area is the existence of the Old Courthouse Theatre and their Living Room Reading Series, which I have covered here before, with much pleasure. Yesterday's World Premiere performance of Wysteria Edwards exceptionally well written new play, "Mrs. Murphy's Porch", was equally well performed by the cast.

If you have never been to a "reading", then you have no idea what you are missing. The actors sit, or stand, in front of the audience, scripts in hand, and read the play without the benefit of scenery or costumes. This is the true test of any play. Does it have the clarity, and the power, to deliver the author's message standing soley upon their written words? In Ms. Edwards case, and with the help of Director Jonathan Ewart and his band of performers, the answer is a resounding yes.

The play opens in a classroom on January 28, 1986. This was the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after blasting off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, killing all aboard. The opening of this play co-incides with that moment.

The story centers around Penny, a young girl, played with great empathy by Melissa Bowden, and her friend Henry, played by Jake Sumner. The two are largely inseperable and play all kinds of fantasy games. Penny is always in charge, while Henry follows her lead. When they play at Peter Pan, Penny is Peter Pan while Henry is relagated to the role of Tinkerbell. Penny is controlling, while Henry is almost docile.

Penny's home sits next door to Mrs. Murphy, a local spinster,played wonderfully and with great tenderness by Margaret Lackey, who sometimes joins in the childrens fantasies and games. She is also the sympathetic ear for the children and Penny's parents, Jim, played by Jeremy Peterson, and Elaine, played by Claudia Reiff. As parents, they are very different from one another. Elaine sems almost obsessed with Penny's living in a constant fantasy world, while Jim feels that she is just going through a phase. He even participates in some of her fantasy games.

When Henry goes to visit relatives in Myrtle Beach for a few weeks, Penny is devastated. Her world begins to crumble. Without the fantasy based friendship of Henry, Penny has no place to look, except to her real life. By this time, the audience has been introduced to the town physician, Dr. Hamilton, played with great charm by Gene Saine, as a wise, but lonely man.

When Henry returns from Myrtle beach, things have changed a bit between him and Penny. He seems reluctant to play the subservient role. At this point Dr. Hamilton has revealed the big secret which is the driving force behind Penny's controlling behavior. In a heart wrenching scene Penny visits her younger sister, Amy, played by Elaine's real life daughter, Olivia Reiff, in the hospital where she is dying from lukemia. The two girls share their views of life and the pure chance that governs all of our fates. It is at this point in which the audience realizes that Henry has been penny's surrogate sister all along. That point is made all the more poignant when it is revealed to the audience that Penny's sister is her twin.

Interspersed, as it is, with references to the Challenger disaster, the children, as well as the adults, are all forced to examine the random nature of the events that sometimes overtake us. Only Mrs. Murphy, a woman who has been widowed, seems to understand the full nature of this thing we call life. Doctor Hamilton seems to understand this as well, and the two are drawn to one another as the play comes to a close.

The central message that I took away from this beautifully written play is that we are all victims of life, and all that it brings us, for better or worse. All we can do sometimes, as human beings, is to accept those things, store them for reference and then move on.

This was yet another triumph for Concord's Old Courthouse Theater and the Living Room Reading Series. The performers were all superb, Melissa Bowden was excellent as the lead character of Penny, who narrates portions of the play as a grown up, looking back upon the events in the play. Thanks, Jonathan Ewart, for another wondeful and enjoyable presentation.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

This Should Be Illegal


Woke up this morning, looked at the thermometer and went back to bed. There oughta be a law....

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Wedding Band(s)

I was married on July 4th, 1986. There is no doubt about that. It's stamped on the inside of my wedding band along with the words "Forever Yours." But the real story behind the date is kind of funny, as it wasn't done until sometime after the date shown on this receipt, which is sometime later that July.

The ring, the original one, had been purchased before the wedding and was delivered on time for the ceremony. Sue lovingly placed it on my finger when we exchanged vows. I have the pictures to prove it. And the ring is right there for all to see. It was hard getting used to wearing a ring, as I was never really into jewelry. For the most part, unless I was buying it overseas and wearing it home for re-sale, I considered it kind of a non essential item. So, when asked if the ring fit, I said yes. It was a size 7 and a half.

Sue and I proceeded to go on our honeymoon to Cancun. This photo shows me arriving in Cancun, with the band visible on my left hand. It wouldn't be there for long. On the third day of our honeymoon I had been swimming, while Sue had been up in the hotel room, or somewhere, but when she came back she noticed that I was playing with the ring, twirling it around the base of my finger. Naturally she asked me if the ring "fit okay?" And naturally, never having worn a ring before, aside from a high school ring, which I had long ago lost, I didn't know how it was supposed to feel. As if to prove my point I took my hand and went, "See, it fits fine." With that statement I made a bold sweeping motion with my arm and hand, as I flung them both forcefully towards the fine, white Caribbean sand. The ring flew from my fingers, instantly swallowed by the Sand God, Lostringus.

Sue and I stared at one another in disbelief. But we were both instantly on our hands and knees, scooping up sand by the handful from the immediate area in which I had sacrificed my ring. After a few minutes a small crowd had gathered to watch us. Some of the more enterprising Mexicans were on their hands and knees along with us, as I had offered $100 to anyone who found the ring first. This may have been short sighted on my part, after all, if the gringo is willing to pay $100, it must be worth more..

After about an hour of this we gave it up to the Sand God, packed up our chairs and went back to the hotel and out to dinner, a bit bummed out. Sue was sure that this was an omen, dooming our marriage, which by now was all of three days old. For my part, I was wracked with guilt for my stupid and grandoise gesture, which had given birth to this whole tragedy. But I never doubted that the marriage was at stake. This photo was taken the following night. You will notice the absence of the wedding band on my left hand.

We got back to Maryland, where we were living at the time, and immediately went to see the jeweler, where I got a new ring, with the same date and inscription as the first one. Although there was some initial discussion as to whether or not this ring should be a nose ring, we quickly settled on the traditional finger style which I had lost in Mexico. Only this time we made it a size 7.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Old Text Books - Foundations to Build On.


When I was in Juinor High School (W. Arthur Cunningham JHS 234 in Brooklyn, NY) there was a bookshelf in the back of my homeroom class. It was filled with older, obsolete textbooks. I used to browse through them with great interest, as they were from the years that my parents had attended school. I also have always loved old books, and so, accordingly I was very interested in what these books contained. There were all kinds of subjects represented on that shelf; science, literature, history and math all come to mind. But the book that held my interest the most was this little gem "Energy and Power" by Morris Meister. The copyright date is 1930, with a second printing in 1935. Inside the front cover there is one of those book stickers that we used to place inside the front cover to identify the owner of the book. This made the book even more desireable to me.

I was a good student in Social Studies, History and English. Anything which allowed my mind to wander was a welcome respite to the tedium of the classroom. Science and Math were my two worst subjects, which is kind of funny when you consider that I went on to become a Navigator aboard ships at sea, a position steeped heavily in my two worst subjects. Even more suprising, at least to me, was that I was good at it! And this little book had a little something to do with it.

While not paying attention in class one day, well, one day might be short changing myself, I came across this book and realized that it was old enough to contain all the basic information that I lacked in my understanding of all things mechanical. So, I took it home to read. And I never took it back. I've never felt badly about it, mainly because those books were destined for the trash and had been out of use for several years. I had to blow the dust off the book before I read it.

The book covers all manner of scientific subjects, among them are; Sources and Transmission of Light, Reflection and Refraction of Light, Cameras and Photography, Projection Lanterns and Motion Pictures, Color, Gravity, Friction, Inertia, Engines and Automobiles. These were all subjects for which I held very little, if any, interest. This was mainly because all of the basic information on these subjects was missing from the newer textbooks. They assumed that we knew these things. They were, in my case, wrong. And so this book became my friend.

From this little book, about 241 pages, I have learned all of the basic principles of science and the little bit of automobile mechanics that I know. I have evn used this book to help me figure out how to explain stuff to my kids while they were growing up and in school.

When is a book too old? I don't think they ever really age. The information contained in almost every book is timeless in some respect. And this book is even more important now, when everything is so complicated that you can sometimes feel overwhelmed and underinformed. That's when I turn to my small, but potent, collection of outdated textbooks. I even have two books from my Mom and her time at James Madison High School. One is H.G. Wells', "The Outline of History",copyright 1931, and the other is Bassetts' "Short History of the United States", copyright 1921. Both books have been invaluable to me when trying to unravel the history of the Middle East, or even something as contemporary as the roots of the Vietnam War.

All books are sacred, they all contain something that was worth writing down. But as our knowledge continues to grow, it often becomes necessary to omit, or condense, the things we already take for granted, in order to include the latest information. When that happens, some of the basics, and the understandings that go with them, are often glossed over. It is then that I turn to my older books to solidify the foundation of the subject I am reading about.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"Crossing Mandelbaum Gate" by Kai Bird


The history of the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict is as confusing and conflicted as anything can be. We, today, concentrate on the events that have taken place since the formation of Israel as a nation in 1948. That is a short sighted view, focusing on who threw the first stone in the last 60 years or so. This book, written by Kai Bird, the son of an American Foreign Service Officer who moved his family from Oregon to serve in Jerusalem during the late 1950's, lays bare the roots of the continuing conflict that still ravage the region. This was a very tense time in the history of the area, a time in which Israel took control of the Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal. And young Kai Bird had a front row seat to it all.

What makes this book so compelling is that is holds no real bias for either side. Rather, the author explores the history and cultures of the region, looking for the reasons behind why these two cultures, who are so close in many of their beliefs, have come to the brink of annihilating one another while the whole world watches. The conclusions drawn by the author may shock you.

The Mandelbaum House, which had a gate, from which the author took the title of this book, was a house that stood on the very edge of the Northern Wall to the Old City of Jerusalem. It was built by Simchoh and Esther Mandelbaum in the late 1880's, who, having outgrown their house in Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter, decided to build just outside the wall in an effort to attract, and expand, the Jewish Community.

At first things were going well, but by the 1920's the house had become an outpost, frequently attacked by the neighboring Arabs. In 1929 the house became the headquarters of the Jewish Haganah. It also became the unofficial dividing line between New and Old Jerusalem. This is the gate through which the author passed daily as a child.

Throughout the 1950's and on through the 1970's the Mideast was in the throes of all the political changes that would come to define the region in the 21st Century. The double dealing and duplicitous oil company Aramco (Arab American Oil Company) sought to carve up all of the Middle East for the profit involved in extracting the oil in the surrounding countries.(Israel has no oil reserves of it's own.)

The infighting amongst the Saudi families, the wrangling between President Eisenhower and Abba Eban on the eve of the 1956 War, which would pit the United States against the Soviet Union for de-facto control of the region, are all covered in this scholarly and researched work. Jordan's changing role over the years is of special interest, as the Palestinian refugees continue to suffer the hardships of their initial refusal to share Palestine, largely at the urging of her Arab neighbors, such as Jordan and Egypt.

The biggest surprise in the book is how the author lived, side by side, with both Israeli and Palestinian citizens, getting to know each side of the story that has come to define the Middle East. This is an engaging and informative book that will help you navigate the intricacies of that conflict.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Scoop - Governor to Retract Statement Within the Hour


I just got off the phone for the third time to the office of Governor Bentley in Alabama, and have been assured that a retraction of his call for a Return to the Inquisition will be released within the hour.

He Ain't Heavy - And NOT My Brother!


There I was, taking the day to myself, not wishing to write about anything at all, when into my line of fire comes this latest example of what clean urine and a college degree can do to you.

While speaking at a church, moments after his Inauguration as Governor of Alabama, Mr. Bentley actually said, "Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their saviour, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother."

I just got off the phone with the Governor's Office in Birmingham, I'm like that when I get pissed off, I make calls, and I left the following message. "I do not want you as my brother. I had a brother, and it took me years to get rid of him. I have had people tell me that they thought of me as a brother while they stole from me. Please convey to the Governor that I do not desire a brother, and as such, he is unwelcome, and unfit to fill the position."

The woman taking the message was a bit annoyed and angry, but polite. I had to correct her on the spelling of a couple of words, like brother, but I should have anticipated that. Here's the direct line if you care to weigh in with the Governor's Office;

334-242-7100. Tell them Rob with Rooftop sent you.

Now, please, can I go back to what I wasn't doing?

Day Off


I'm taking a day off to finish the book that I will review here tomorrow, I promise.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Kansas City Confidential" with John Payne, Preston Foster and Lee Van Cleef


This is pure film noir, with all of the usual shady characters, a sinister plot and even a cheesy love interest, played by Coleen Gray as the daughter of one of the principal characters. Shot, of course, in black and white by director Phil Karlson, this 1952 release was in the last wave of the genre and still stands the test of time.

A masked man summons three others, one by one, to his hotel room in order to propose a crime, in which all four will share the proceeds. One catch; no one but the masked man knows who the others are. He then assists them in the hijacking of some money from an armored car, using a vehicle which is identical to that of a local florist, and driven by an ex-con. The police immediately apprehend the driver for the crime, assuming that he is guilty. While he is being beaten, in an attempt to gain his confession, he realizes that he is being framed. Moreover, he believes that he knows who it is.

Meanwhile, the alliance between the 4 actual robbers, of whom only one knows all the identities of the rest, is beginning to unravel, as mistrust and greed begin to set in. When one member unwittingly falls for the daughter of another, things heat up even more as the film ticks towards the inevitable conclusion of double cross, and in some sense, justice.

A remarkable film made at the tail end of the film noir genre, it still has that gritty quality that makes it the little gem that it is. Well preserved, with a crisp picture and clear audio, this is a surprisingly good film.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"The Jew Store" by Stella Suberman


This is a book which I read about 6 years ago and have never forgotten. It is written in sepia tones, much like "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn." And, just as in that novel, this book examines the coming of age in the life of a young girl within a distinctly ethnic environment.

During the early 1900's, through to the 1970's, there was, in almost every southern town of account, a store which sold all manner of dry goods. This could range from school clothes to kitchen appliances. They were like little Macy's. They were also almost always owned by Jews. Ms. Suberman has penned a wonderful memoir of that time and place.

The author has placed her memoir in the fictiously named town of Concordia, Tennessee. I'm not sure why she did this, as the book is wonderfully written and the characters drawn with complete reality. These are people we have all met at one time or another. Some are good, and some are bad. Life is like that.

The book is, in large part, devoted to the history of her ever optimistic father, Aaron Bronson. As a Russian immigrant at the turn of the century, living in New York, he decides to take a chance and go further inland to see what this New World holds in store for him. Originally a salesman, he decides to start a store in one of the towns that he passes through.

The author recounts how her father obtained a lease on a store, which he proudly named "Bronsons Low Priced Store", and his dealings with people who did not want the Bronson family in their community. The store becomes a family affair, with both the mother and 3 children participating in the daily operations. There are the usual cast of characters in town, some of whom come to accept the Bronson family as one of their own. There are also the bigots, who do anything they can to make life just a bit harder for Mr. Bronson. But, with his ever present optimism, Mr. Bronson overcomes all odds to become a permanent fixture in Concordia.

The book also explores the relationships of the 3 children and their mother as they struggle to adapt in a town where they are the only Jews. With the older son's Bar Mitzvah approaching, he is forced back east to study his Hebrew for the big day. His sisters also have their share of problems, as they struggle with bobbed hair and gentile boyfriends, in a Jewish home, much to their mother's dismay.

There are also kind hearted neighbors, like Miss Brookie, who helps the family through their transition into becoming Southerners. The book takes place during the heady days of the 1920's and the lowest points of the Great Depression, during the 1930's, when the town almost went bankrupt. Only a Town Auction would save the day. I will not spoil this portion of the book for you.

The book not only chronicles the story of the "Jew Stores" that dotted America during the first half of the 20th Century, but also the people and the towns in which they were located. These stores were often the first encounter that many Americans had with people of the Jewish faith. It is also the story of a group of immigrants looking to assimilate into a new land.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Transfigurations" by Jana Marcus


This is a ground breaking photo exhibition about the transgender community which explores the changing perceptions of the human form. Photographer Jana Marcus is trying to publish the work as a book. This subject is something that I, personally, do not have any involvement with. Wait! I do. I live in this rapidly changing world, in which some people have chosen to bend the gender a bit, in order to be more comfortable in their own skins. Do I like it? I don't know. Things have changed so quickly within the short span of my lifetime, that I am often at a loss to know just exactly how I feel about a number of subjects. But that doesn't make them any less valid.

It's funny to see how accepting people can be when watching science fiction. Take Star Trek as an example. There is Captain Kirk, or whoever, and he is surrounded by fellow crew members who are often half dog, or ape, and human. And we accept that. We flock to see the films. But some in those same audiences would probably find nothing wrong with a little "fag bashing" on a Saturday night after a few drinks too many. Think of it, we are more accepting of the fictional than we are of our own fellow human beings. That's what makes a work like "Transfigurations" so important.

Jana Marcus, a second cousin of mine, has apparently been on tour with this exhibit for several years already, garnering a few awards along the way. Since I have not seen the exhibit myself, I will let her do the talking about the project via this handy little link;

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/transfigurations/acclaimed-photodocumentary-transfigurations

Remember, before you judge the topic, or the photos, that it's a small world, and it gets smaller everyday. We are all going to have to share it. So, make room, and play nice. Thanks Jana, for opening our eyes to one another.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Martin Luther King and "The Dream."

Today is Martin Luther King's birthday. Although the holiday is still mired in controversy, it would be wrong not to note the occassion of his birth with a few words about the man, as well as a few words by the man himself.

Few people in my lifetime have had as profound an affect upon a generation as did Martin Luther King. His personal lifestyle choices aside, this man put himself at great risk, and his family in grave danger, to achieve something lasting for his own people. His work within the system gave birth to some of the most sweeping legislation concerning Civil Rights in 100 years. This is a feat worth noting.

Here is the text of the "I Have Dream Speech", which was delivered in August of 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The text is taken directly from the audio of the speech, which is viewable at the bottom of the page. I hope that, even if you have seen it before, you will watch it again. It is one of the greatest speeches ever made, in defense of any cause.

"I Have A Dream" by Martin Luther King

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."¹

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."2

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Below is the video of the the speech. It's well worth watching and really listening to. It is as applicable today as it was in 1963.

Friday, January 14, 2011

"Candy Cigarette" by Sally Man


I was looking for an image to attach to yesterday's post when I ran across this website of black and white photography. I am a big fan of the genre. It is stark and real when it needs be, yet can also soften some things. It is versatile in a way that color photography cannot be. Here is the link to some more of Sally Mann's work, as well as the photography of others;

http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/06/09/beautiful-black-and-white-photography/

The photo above is a still life, with what I see as social overtones. When I look at it, I am struck by symbolism. I see a young girl, wielding a candy cigarette, and I am confronted by thoughts of what her present life must be like, as well as what her future may hold.

The false glamour of the candy cigarette sends, to me, the message that this is a young girl at risk. She has already, at a tender age, been sold a false picture of what "glamour" really is. She will probably struggle with that impression for the rest of her life as she looks for her true self.

Of special interest in this photo, is that it is really three photos in one. The little girl on the right, with her back to the camera and hands at her hips, face hidden, almost expresses her disdain and contempt for the photographer/viewer. The boy in the left foreground, on stilts, is above it all, pursuing his own goal.

Still, another interpretation would be that the girl with the cigarette is guarding the "secret" world in which she lives. She is posed as the "protector", while the younger girl watches the boy on the stilts, unconcerned with the viewer because the older girl is watching out for her.

The picture was taken in 1989 by American photographer Sally Mann, and appears in her book, "Immediate Family." There appears to have been some sort of controversy surrounding the work, apparently due to some partially nude photos of young children in rural settings, unposed. Some of those photos may appear in the link.

A remarkable photo by Ms. Mann, it really grabbed me and made me want to see more of her work. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, you can view more of her works at;

http://www.slideshare.net/blindlibrarian/sally-man

Some may find a few of the images a bit too revealing for their liking. Just a warning. I, myself, find nothing offensive in the way these photos are presented. I will be looking at more of Ms. Mann's work. Her use of light and texture, as well as subject, make her a very interesting, and somewhat unusual, photographer. And those are usually the ones who take the best pictures.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"The Boy At the Window" by Richard Wilbur


Seeing the snowman standing all alone
In dusk and cold is more than he can bear.
The small boy weeps to hear the wind prepare
A night of gnashings and enormous moan.
His tearful sight can hardly reach to where
The pale faced figure with bitumen eyes
Returns him such a godforsaken stare
As outcast Adam gave to Paradise.

The man of snow is, nonetheless, content
Having no wish to go inside and die.
Still, he is moved to see the youngster cry.
Though water is his element,
He melts enough to drop from one soft eye
A trickle of the purest rain, a tear
For the child at the bright pane surrounded by
Such warmth, such light, such love, and so much fear.

Richard Wilbur-1952

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Books I am Currently Reading

I don't always take out books to read all the way through. I sometimes look to affirm some of my beliefs by taking out books on the relevant subjects. I peruse them to either confirm, or refute, what I think I know. Those books, often, don't get reviewed here. In this first case, the subject is Malaria, a cause that I have been very interested in for several years, and on which I hold certain beliefs concerning the treatments and vaccines, that I wished to verify.

The book is informative, a bit over clinical for my purposes, but written in a very easily read fashion. Sonia Shah is an expert in the field of Malaria, and more than that, she seems to know the entire history of this disease that has afflicted mankind for over 500,000 years. The author also explores the various methods of treatments available today and their effectiveness, including the newer vaccines.

There is also a political component at work here, as the big pharmaceutical companies sell new these new vaccines, which are only effective about 50% of the time, to third world countries, along with the AIDS "cocktails." Rather than prescribing quinine and spraying DDT, as was done here in the United States, and the Panama Canal, to great success, why is this known, and effective treatment being denied to the African Nations? Why must they be subjected to these experiments at a time when they are fighting an immune disorder? Why are over 1 million people a year still dying in Africa, from a disease long ago erradicated here in the Western Hemisphere?

The answer usually centers around the environmental concerns related to DDT. Yet, when Katrina rolled through New Orleans a few years ago, we sprayed DDT to thwart the spread of the mosquitoes. Why there, and not in third world countries? My questions are largely about the legitimacy of making people take experimental malarial vaccines in order to obtain treatment for AIDS. It would seem to me, counterproductive, to further assault the affected immune systems with an experimental drug, rather than use the quinine and DDT. But that's why I read, to find answers.

I took this book out to review some of my knowledge about the differences between the major faiths in the world today, and why those differences affect us. Big topic with lots of side roads to explore. What I found is that while I know quite a bit about the subject, I know so little, and have so much to learn.

The last few days have been snowy, and I've been a bit lazy. (Chipping ice, digging out the car, replacing my car battery, etc.) I'm headed to the library later today, where I hope to find that "perfect" book. One that will keep me riveted to the pages from first to last.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ones


Today is 1-11-11. Thanks to Suzy at http://mendogardens.blogspot.com/ for the reminder! We won't have another Day of the One's until November 11th. Enjoy it while you can!

Snow - The Next Day


This is the street in front of my home this morning. The 6" of snow from yesterday has been replaced by a coating of ice, which will melt later, but in the meantime has everybody slowing down a bit, taking time for that extra cup of coffee while the cars warm up.


This is the backyard at 8 AM this morning. The second wave of freezing rain came through late yesterday night and covered everything with a sheen of ice. It's pretty if you can stay inside and enjoy it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Short Drive In the Snow


I took a short drive to Huntersville and back this afternoon, mainly to get a battery for my old car, but also to look at the snow. These 2 photos were taken on Poplar Tent Road at about 4:30 PM, less than a half an hour ago. The snow has stopped and the sleet and freezing rain is set to begin....

The White Stuff - 6" and More On the Way


Woke up to the predicted 6" of snow. More is on the way, with freezing rain and sleet by the evening. So, I'm taking the day off to read, relax and probably do nothing.


This is my street at 7AM. When the sleet begins, with the freezing rain, this will all become a sheet of ice. Kind of humbling in a way. 2 wheels, 4 wheels, they're all nothing when pitted against the forces of nature. A great day to slow down. Stay warm!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Politics of Division and Denial - America As a Third World Nation

The climate of intolerance is rising in America. The people are angry. Though I in no way condone violence, I do understand the tide of intolerance that breeds it. While listening to the news about the tragedy in Arizona yesterday, I couldn't help but be reminded of the the lyrics to "Who Killed Davey Moore", the 1963 Bob Dylan recording which poses the question of just who was responsible for the death of the boxer Davey Moore. The song is a series of denials by all parties involved in the blatant exploitation of Mr. Moore, which resulted in his death. Kind of like politics in America today. It's killing us, yet no one is to blame.

Today, and throughout the week coming, we will hear all manner of finger pointing concerning who/what is responsible for this tragedy. And the answers will be the same as it was for Davey Moore. No one will step up and admit their own intolerance. It's always someone else's fault. Well, I've got a big flash for you;

We are all responsible for the senseless events in Arizona. We are all responsible for the climate of intolerance that currently grips our nation. We were all set up to be divided by the politicians. And our shame is that we let it happen. We have let the Conservatives spread their hateful and divisive views to the point that, "We have," finally, as Pogo once opined, "...met the enemy, and he is us." We are responsible for letting ourselves be divided. Liberals, Conservatives and Tea Party members are turning our nation into a Third World Country. We are already the most indebted nation in the world. Need we sink even lower?

As I watched the news unfold yesterday, I had to wonder how we ever arrived at this point. And all I could think of was the divisive, hateful comments that will come of this. The Conservatives will state that the over reaching agenda on the part of the Liberals is to blame. And the Liberals will claim that the Conservative climate of fear currently gripping the nation is at fault. But it is our collective fault for having let ourselves be divided with "window dressing" issues such as flag burning, abortion, gay marriage and so-called "patriotism" that is really to blame.

I hope that you get what I am driving at. Maybe the lyrics will help to drive the point home. I hope so, for time is growing short, as are tempers, in America today.

"Who Killed Davey Moore" by Bob Dylan

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not I," says the referee,
"Don't point your finger at me.
I could've stopped it in the eighth
An' maybe kept him from his fate,
But the crowd would've booed, I'm sure,
At not gettin' their money's worth.
It's too bad he had to go,
But there was a pressure on me too, you know.
It wasn't me that made him fall.
No, you can't blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not us," says the angry crowd,
Whose screams filled the arena loud.
"It's too bad he died that night
But we just like to see a fight.
We didn't mean for him t' meet his death,
We just meant to see some sweat,
There ain't nothing wrong in that.
It wasn't us that made him fall.
No, you can't blame us at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not me," says his manager,
Puffing on a big cigar.
"It's hard to say, it's hard to tell,
I always thought that he was well.
It's too bad for his wife an' kids he's dead,
But if he was sick, he should've said.
It wasn't me that made him fall.
No, you can't blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?


"Not me," says the gambling man,
With his ticket stub still in his hand.
"It wasn't me that knocked him down,
My hands never touched him none.
I didn't commit no ugly sin,
Anyway, I put money on him to win.
It wasn't me that made him fall.
No, you can't blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not me," says the boxing writer,
Pounding print on his old typewriter,
Sayin', "Boxing ain't to blame,
There's just as much danger in a football game."
Sayin', "Fist fighting is here to stay,
It's just the old American way.
It wasn't me that made him fall.
No, you can't blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not me," says the man whose fists
Laid him low in a cloud of mist,
Who came here from Cuba's door
Where boxing ain't allowed no more.
"I hit him, I hit him, yes, it's true,
But that's what I am paid to do.
Don't say 'murder,' don't say 'kill.'
It was destiny, it was God's will."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls


A few years ago I bought Sue this book for Christmas, intending to read it myself at a later date. That was in 2006. Last week I was at the Mooresville Town Library, I can usually be found there several times a week, pouring through the biographies on the rear shelves, and something seemed familiar about the first few pages, I could have sworn that I had read them before. And I had. When picking a book to read,I generally go by the cover, and if I like it I read the first page. If I turn the page to keep reading I assume that I have found a book which I will enjoy. It's a pretty good system that works well for me.

Upon arriving at home I told Sue all about this wonderful book and how it began. She gave me one of those wifely looks that roughly translates into, "What kind of idiot did I actually marry?" It was then that she informed me that we already own this book, and moreover, that I had purchased it. What can I say? When she's right, she's right.

This is a gem of a book. A memoir written out of the pain that comes from being raised in a dysfunctional family. And boy, was this family ever dysfunctional!

The book opens with Ms. Walls in New York City. She is standing outside of her building waiting for the doorman to hail a taxi for her when she sees a woman rummaging through a trash bin. It was her mother. Just how she got there, and how the author dealt with growing up with such unusual parents, is the crux of this beautifully written, no holds barred book.

The authors parents were exceptional people, there is no doubt about that. They teach their chidren to do math in binary numbers prior to 1st grade. They learn to read all the classics before they turn 10. They are children blessed with astute minds and a thirst for learning. They are also burdened with two of the strangest parents one could ever hope to conjure up.

Ms. Walls mother was an aspiring artist who would stop the car in the middle of the desert to paint a Joshua tree. The house was filled with flies because she felt that the chemicals in bug sprays were more dangerous than the flies themselves. This was previous to Rachel Carlson's "Silent Spring."

Mr. Walls was a mechanical genius, always on the verge of inventing something that would pull the family out of the poverty they lived in. His theories were all correct, and would be proven by others, with time and money that he himself would never possess. He was also a hopeless alcoholic.

Bouncing around from the deserts of Arizona to the hills of West Viginia, the family experiences many different hardships. Hunger was a constant companion. There was never any real Christmas holiday celebrated in the usual fashion. The children were almost feral in their lifestyles, roaming wherever they pleased, encouraged by both their mother and father.

The most striking thing about this book is the lack of shame, or even anger towards her parents, that the author feels about her unusual beginnings. This is no "poor me" book. Instead it is an exploration about what happens to the children of those adults, who are too busy fighting their own demons, to be "normal" parents. No matter how strange they may have been, they gave this author the "grit" that she would need to survive. That the author manages to find her own voice, and create a productive life, is a tribute to both her, as well as her parents.

A striking read that was in my house for the last 3 years, or so, and I had to get it from the library! I'm sure to hear from Sue on this one...

Friday, January 7, 2011

"The Diary of Anne Frank" with Millie Perkins, Joseph Schildkraut and Shelley Winters


If you haven't seen this movie in a while, then it is worth re-visiting, as I did last night. In the wake of larger productions such as Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List", as well as some of the more recent film documentaries about the Holocaust in general, which are all magnificent works in their own right, it is refreshing to see a film as simply made as this one. A film that explores the plight of one family, and their guests, in a hidden attic apartment, simply trying to survive. There is no overview of the Nazi Holocaust, it serves merely as the backdrop against which this group of human beings is forced to struggle. Rather than detract from, this approach actaully adds a singularly human element to the film.

It's easy to get lost in the history of the Nazi's, focusing on the atrocities. But sometimes it can be more telling to step back and look at the effect on one family in order to gain a wider understanding of just what it meant to be hunted and persecuted like animals. The horrors of the conentration camps are so cruel and terrible, that viewing them can seem almost abstract, when compared to the more easily imagined discomfort of being shut away from all that you have known. The small, cramped attic apartment can be even more daunting, in some respects, than the open areas of a concentration camp. In the camps, you were already discovered, and rid of that fear. Your fate was sealed. In the attic, there was still hope, but with that hope came the constant, unrelenting fear of discovery. And that way of living can take it's own toll as well.

The tiered construction of the set, comprising the 3 floors of the building in which the Frank family lived, gives the viewer a good idea of just how close the family was to discovery with each passing day. Confined to bed during the daylight hours, with no talking allowed, the only view of the sky through a skylight, wondering if that police siren is coming to you, these were the circumstances under which the family lived and Anne Frank wrote her diary.

Millie Perkins is wonderful as the young Anne Frank, stumbling through her early teenage years hidden away in the attic. Joseph Schildkraut, arguably one of the best actors of all time, is gentle and nuturing as her father. He is the leader of this band of hidden refugees. His words are always measured, his decisions always clearly thought through. He is a responsible and very well liked man.

Shelley Winters is in fine form in this film, playing Petronella Van Daan, the wife of Peter Van Daan, played by Richard Beymer to perfection. They are the couple who have come to stay with the Frank family. She is a woman who is frustrated and angry, someone who wishes that she could just go back and do it over. It is clear that she does not love her husband. He, on the other hand, is a man who feels beaten and betrayed by everything, including his wife.

Ed Wynn is his usual mixture of comedy and pathos, playing the role of Albert Dussell, a non observant Jew who is thrust upon the family in the middle of the film, at a time when the Jews were being snatched off the streets and taken away for the "Final Solution." He is crass and angry, with a feigned allergy to the cat that lives in the attic with the family.

Frances Goodrich wrote the play, as well as the script for the movie, using the Diary of Anne Frank. If you have ever read the book, then you have marveled at how this 14 year old girl was able to capture all of the nuances involved in living in such close quarters, both with the people she loved, as well as perfect strangers. Where did such insights come from?

When the Nazi's do finally come in, it is with all the force and brutality that one expects. And in the end, all that is left is Anne's diary. That little book will stand on it's own merit for eternity. In it are the hopes and dreams of not just one young girl, but of all humanity, calling out collectively for dignity, freedom and justice. Is that too much to ask for?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Demonizing Twain - When PC Goes Too Far.

They're at it again. Those self appointed pesky Politically Correct Speech Monitors are working in overdrive to alter some of the best literature ever written. Allan Gribben, a man who professes to be a Professor of Literature at Auburn University, in Alabama, approached Suzanne La Rosa at New South Books last July with the idea of releasing "Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" in a combined edition, sans the word "nigger." Oops! I mean the "N" word. You know what it stands for, you say it to yourself when you read it.

Mark Twain has often been misunderstood, mostly by people in the publishing industry, who are, after all, just businessmen seeking to make money from the words that others labor to write. I can understand that. Those who can't write sell the writings of others. Thus has it ever been.

Editing has always been an honorable task, helping a writer to better hone the message that he is seeking to impart. But when you take the words of a book which has been recognized for well over 160 years as a Classic, and then change those words, you have surpassed the realm of editing and entered the murky world of censorship. And to what end? Mr. Gribben states that he is not attempting to "sanitize Mark Twain. I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word and just let the stories stand alone." This is bunk.

When reading "Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" in grade school (yes, they actually allowed us to read these books) we were told about the use of the word nigger and what it meant in the context of the times in which it was written. This was in 1965, which for those too young to remember, was a very racially charged year. And the lesson learned in class was that the word was confined to literature. We were made to understand the superiority of Jim, in both his morals and actions, to the white men, I mean the evil "W" men who were chasing him. That lesson will now be lost.

To be fair about it, Mark Twain did state, in his autobiography, that although these books were children's stories, he preferred that they be read by an older audience. That is all very well, and perhaps there is merit there. I only know that I loved these two books from the very first time I read them, never construing the use of the word nigger to be offensive in it's intent.

This is not the first time in which Mark Twain has been misunderstood in regards to race, or religion. When he returned from his trip around the world in the 1880's, he wrote about the Jewish community in Austria. The piece was entitled "Concerning the Jews." It was hailed as "Philo-Semetic." That means that it was favorable to the Jewish people. Within weeks the word had been misunderstood and the more well known phrase "Anti-Semetic" was substituted in it's place. It would be more than a century before the cloud of Anti-Semetism hanging over Mr. Twain's head would start to clear away.

As the Publishing industry continues to salivate over the profits to be made selling Mr. Twain's books intensifies in the wake of the newly released Autobiography, you can expect more of these misrepresentations of the author's work. Imagine how much money Suzanne La Rosa, co-founder of New South Books, and Mr. Gribben, thought they were going to reap from the publication of a bastardized version of two of the greatest American novels ever written.

You can reach New South at 334-834-3556. Let them know how you feel about this politically correct version of the book before it is released in February. And if you see it on the shelves at your local book store, be sure and bypass it in favor of the authors original work, which is readily available in paperback for just a few dollars. And if you'd like, you can borrow the older version free from your local library.

I wonder what book Mr. Gribben will find offensive next?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Weird Michigan" by Linda S. Godfrey


This is a fantastic book, something along the lines of the book and film by Mike Lassiter and Scott Galloway, "Our Vanishing Americana", both of which I reviewed here a few months back. If I thought my state was strange, well, you know the saying, "The Grass Is Always Greener on the Other Side?" This book may prove that to be true.

All states have their own regional qualities and assortment of quirky artifacts and legends, but Michigan seems to abound in these things. The book is organized into categories such as Local legends, Mysteries, Fabled Places, Phenomena, Beasts, Oddities and even a section entitled "Haunted Michigan."

The book reads well, too. The author has carefully written down the legends and stories in a most readable manner, guaranteed to preserve these local oddities for generations to come, at least on paper and in photos. Just as in "Our Vanishing Americana" you get the feeling that these things will not be with us for that much longer.

If I had to pick my favorite piece from the book it would be "The Glass Tower." It was built by Michael Evans in the town of Matherton, 25 miles northeast of Lansing. Rather than attempt to tell you about it myself, I will use the words of Mr. Evans cousin to describe it. He also has a webpage about it with a few more photos, including one of the Tower as it used to look at night when lit.

"If any of you have seen the book "Weird Michigan", then you've read the story about this tower. My cousin built it in the 70s. He died in 1987. He had been in a Automobile accident and was in a wheelchair when he built it.

According to the book the tower is 20 foot tall and shaped like a bottle. It was built between 1973 and 1983. People gave him bottles and he and the kids picked up bottles along side of the roads. (For a time Michigan had a no return policy for bottles, so many of them littered the highways). It has about 10,000 bottles in it.

He had a lot of help from the local teenagers, and about everybody in this town (population about 250) were related to him in some way so he had a lot of relative help too."

Here is the link to the Tower site; http://www.pbase.com/image/75040405

For me the Tower of Bottles is a very personal sort of thing, as I collect them. I have always loved glass bottles, as a kid I considered them to be art.(Eventually the rest of the world caught up to my thinking.)

This is a fun, quirky book about the funny and quirky people that we all are deep inside. It's just that some people have a way of putting their ideas into action, creating all the unusual things that there are to see around us. And it seems there is an over abundance of these things in Michigan. I just might have to take a drive up North this summer and see them.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"The Wind That Shakes The Barley" with Cillian Murphy, Liam Cunningham and Padraic Gelaney


This was a hard film to watch. Taking place in Ireland at the time of the "troubles" in 1920, the film takes a hard and uncomfortable look at the violence and hatred, on both sides, in a struggle that would last for another 80 years. To this day there are still issues that threaten the peace. I could delve into the history of the conflict, but that would take days. And in the end my conclusion of whom is right, or wrong, would make no difference. So, I will confine myself to the movie.

Filmed in Ireland, in the towns Ballyvorney, Bandon, Coolea and Timoleague, all in County Cork, places the action right where it happened, lending a reality to the film that could never be achieved in a studio. The early morning fogs, the damp weather, all serve to make the viewer uncomfortable, which is just what Director Ken Loach had in mind when he made this film. This is not "A Quiet Man."

Damien O'Donovan, played by Cillian Murphy, is a young doctor on his way to London and a job in a hospital there. His brother, Ted, played by Padraic Delaney, is a leader in the local IRA militia. The two brothers are on opposite sides of the fence about the British occupation. While Damien feels that there is nothing to be done, save submit, his brother Teddy is busy organizing, and fighting, for Independence.

After a hurling match the brothers return home, only to be rousted by the British Black and Tans, who beat his friend Michael to death after he refuses a strip search. Still determined to leave Ireland he prepares to board the train to London. But an incident at the station, where the engineer refuses to transport the British soldiers, resulting in a brutal beating of the train's elderly conductor, changes his mind. He returns home and joins his brother in the fight for Independence.

Staging raids on the local British arsenal gains them a supply of arms, and the wrath of the British, as they search, house by house, for the culprits. When they find no men at home, they burn the houses down. When the women won't answer questions, they are beaten, and their hair is shorn and ripped from their heads.

After being captured themselves, the brothers are tortured, just as the Anglo-Irish Treaty is about to be signed. This treaty would only make Ireland a Domain of Great Britian. As the Irish Free State becomes the law of the land, some of the old militia, including Teddy, join up with the new, British backed, Irish Army. This only infuriates Damien. After all, he gave up his career to bring forth a free Republic, not a vassal state of the British.

At this point Damien begins his own war against the new Irish Army, directly fighting against his brother. When he is captured in a raid and sentenced to the firing squad, Teddy pleads with him to reveal the names and locations of the IRA members and their weapons caches. Damien, who never wanted to be in this struggle to begin with, refuses. He writes a farewell letter to his lover, Sinead, played by Orla Fitzgerald, stating his undying love for her and letting her know that he faces death unafraid. He is then placed in front of the firing squad, and Teddy, fighting back tears, gives the order to fire, killing his own brother. When Teddy informs Sinead of Damiens death she physically attacks him, and bans him from her life forever, underscoring the deep divisions that the "struggles" have caused.

At 121 minutes, the film can feel a bit long, but the acting and direction carry the day, as the viewer is compelled to see how this all ends. And when it does, you are find yourself painfully aware of the fact that this struggle continued for another 80 years, tearing families apart. A stunning portait of a very dark era in the history of both England and Ireland, Ken Loach has given us a truly realistic and disturbing picture of the darker side of human nature.

Monday, January 3, 2011

"Uncle John's Triumphant 20th Anniversary Bathroom Reader" by the Bathroom Reader's Institute


This book actually lives up to it's flamboyant cover and really delivers the goods on all sorts of things. Some are topics you have wondered about at one time or another, and some are about things you have never even imagined.

At about 600 pages long, this book will give you the entire history of Peanuts, along with the biographies of Charles Schultz and all of the characters in the Peanuts comic strip. From there it is only a turn of the page that takes you to another topic, equally dissected and examined.

True crimes, sports history, geography, the origins of common phrases (the phrase "bakers dozen" came about as the result of laws enacted to keep the weight of bread regulated- the penalties were so stiff that the baker threw in an extra roll as a precaution), space exploration, sports records, crazy stunts, all of it is crammed into this book.

One chapter, Strange Celebrity Lawsuits, is really interesting. Vanna White sued Samsung for creating a robot that could perform her job of turning the letters on Wheel of Fortune. Although the machine was not in any way a likeness of her, she sued and won $403,000.

The still pending lawsuit between country star Keith Urban and the New Jersey painter with the same name explores the world of web domains. The painter has keithurban.com, while the country star has keithurban.net. The painter has had his site for longer than the country star has been famous. What will happen? I don't know, but it makes for good reading. (This book has a copyright date of 2007, so the lawsuit may have been settled by now.)

Another fun section is the one that deals with famous expressions, such as "The Shot Heard 'Round the World." First coined by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1837 for his poem "The Concord Hymn", written about the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the phrase has come to mean a variety of things. The Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand that began the First World War, is one example, while another would be when the New York Giants were playing the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951. It was the last game of the season, 9th inning, when Bobby Thompson, of the Giants, belted out a home run to cinch the game.

If you're a TV buff this book has a very concise and informative section about the Dumont Network of the late 1940's and how it became an independent network, known as Metromedia after Mr. Dumont sold off his stations. Mr. Dumont was one of the early pioneers of the medium, and is credited with the first sitcom, "Mary Kay and Johnny." He also pioneered Soap Operas, Religous Broadcasting, and was the first station to broadcast sports events. Today's Fox Network was built upon the remains of the Metromedia Network by a very saavy Australian named Rupert Murdoch.

From Christmas being banned in Boston early in the 17th century, to the complete text of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, this book is packed with things we take for granted, and the stories behind them.

There are lots of books like these out there, but for my money this is the best I've seen yet. I have a belief that if you carry something to read you never have to wait. It's only when you have nothing at hand that you seem to find yourself stranded, sometimes for hours. Think of this book as sort of an insurance policy, and throw it in the back of the car. This is the perfect book to have on hand while waiting for the tow truck to arrive.