Saturday, December 31, 2016

Three Christmases: Harry Leslie Smith
and Ruth Wolff

A 21st Century Indiana Christmas

Several of the books I read this read this year included lovely, magical, memorable Christmas scenes. Three in particular stood out for me, all from approximately the same time period but celebrated in very different ways, according to economic circumstance.

1. In Harry's Last Stand, Harry Leslie Smith (b. 1923, Barnsley, United Kingdom) recalls a British depression - era Christmas, the last year that his father was physically able to work full - time as a miner:

42 - 43: "Yet despite the cold gloom and half - light of winter, that Christmas (1926) was as close to magical as I can remember from my childhood. We celebrated and defied our poverty, our mourning over Marion and our anxiety for the future with passion and happiness at being in each other's company.

"On Christmas day, my father entertained us by playing carols on the piano while my mother prepared a goose. Our feast had been bought at the expense of my mother's wedding ring that had been put in hawk at the pawnbroker's shop. For a present, I was give a toy train engine that my parents were never able to equal in extravagance during subsequent Christmases. In the years that followed, my sister and I would speak of that Christmas as if we had received the riches of Croesus from our parents, because it was one of the last moments that we remembered our family being truly happy."

112: "And even though times were rough, he [my father] tried to make the most out of family life. I remember the excitement of once seeing a Christmas panto, or going to the seaside with my family. I remember in particular one bank holiday outing to Southport." [Where Gerry and I, along with Gerry's parents, took Ben and Sam several times to see the panto; and Gerry before them; and Gerry's mother before him!]

2. In I, Keturah, Ruth Wolff (b 1932, Massachusetts) writes of a Christmas somewhere in rural America, but not too far from a city, sometime between the WW I & WW II, from the perspective of an orphaned teenaged girl, who has at long last been taken in by a loving, elderly couple:

74: "I shall always remember my first Christmas at the Dennys'. Late in November Mrs. Denny baked her fruitcakes. Candied fruit was snipped into tiny pieces walnuts and hickory nuts we had gathered in the October woods were cracked and shelled; the heavy dough was stirred with big, wooden spoon in an earthenware mixing bowl lined with tiny cracks of age. while the cakes were baking the house was charged with a wonderful spicy odor. Coming in from the cold outdoors and smelling the cakes rising in the oven was to sniff of an exciting time to come.

"Mrs. Wayburn came over to help with the cookies . . . we rolled out the floured dough and cut it in the shapes of stars, wreaths and animals, sprinkling the tops with pink sugar, cinnamon drops and raisins . . . ."

My Pink & Red Sugar Cats from Christmas 2011
Photo ~ January 4, 2012

75: "Reading was put aside as we pored over mail - order catalogues. Mrs. Denny would slyly let Mr. Denny know what she wanted by lingering over a certain page. In the same way he made his desires known to her. . . . The Dennys had bought clothes for me . . . warm dresses, a coat, shoes, three pairs of lisle stockings, underwear, and a green felt hat. The morning the boxes arrived, I tried everything on for Mrs. Denny, who saw that it fit and approved. . . ."

76: "Two days before Christmas, Mr. Denny and I went out to the woods to cut a tree for the bay window in the parlor. There was a light snow on the ground. Mr. Denny whistled as we walked through the snowy woods, his cheeks rosy, an ax over his shoulder. He knew the tree he wanted. He had not taken it the year before, wanting it to grow a bit more.

"Surrounded by the snow, the fir tree stood strong and beautiful in the winter afternoon. Mr. Denny gently touched the feathery branches. I could see he hated to cut it down.

" 'But think of the pleasure it will give us,' he said, having to have a reasonable excuse to take it from its native woods. . . .

" 'I'm sure this tree never dreamed it would grow up to be a Christmas
tree . . . . ' "

78: "After the tree was set up in the bay window, we popped corn, strung it, and wound it around the branches. Mrs. Denny brought out a box of ornaments she kept from year to year, carefully unwrapping them from tissue paper, and Mr. Denny and I hung them on the tree. Last of all, the little candle holders were clamped on the tips of the branches and a red candle placed inside each one. Just at dark on Christmas Eve Mr. Denny touched a match to each candle. When they were all lit the little green tree was more beautiful than it had been in the snowy woods. Its candles burned twice, once on the branches and again in the windows. I thought how proud the little tree must feel standing there with it strings of popcorn, its glistening ornaments, its reflected candles It had come out of the lonely woods where it had been showered by rain, warmed by sun, decked with winter's snow where it had shivered in the sharp cold holding up its branches under the darkest sky. And I felt a kinship toward the tree, its origin shrouded in mystery as my own."

Lights shining twice, on the branches, in the windows!
Photo ~ December 12, 2011

80: "The basement of the church was hung with red and green crepe paper. In the center of the room stood a great tree lighted with white candles. Around it the folk of the countryside gathered and sang carols, while the candles brightly burned and reflected on their upturned faces. The voices rose until it seemed as if the ceiling would be lifted by their joyful praise. around the tree stood men who wrestled with the earth from dawn to dusk, women who spent their lives in hot kitchens, in cleaning big, old - fashioned farmhouses, in rearing children; old folks with lined faces hand relieved of the reins of work; young people who would follow in their parents' footsteps, others who would go beyond the limits of their birthplace to seek their fortunes, who would never spend another Christmas Eve around the big tree at the church; wide - eyed children clinging to grown - up hands, trying to catch the words of the songs; babies soundly sleeping in strong arms."

3. In The Skeptical Feminist: Discovering the Virgin, Mother, and Crone, Barbara G. Walker (b. 1930, Philadelphia) describes the "typical middle - class American Christmases" of her youth:

45: " . . . not unique, not sacred, not particularly religious. They could easily be criticized as commercial, and overindulgent. My mother used to say, 'Christmas is for the children.' "

This post, with further excerpts from Walker,
to be continued in January . . .

Friday, November 11, 2016

Narratives of Resistance

Wounded Angel (1903) ~ Hugo Simberg (1873 - 1917)
Museum of Finnish Art, Helsinki

1. Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
(first published 1947; English translation 2009)

"But she will keep her self - respect.
Then that will have been her attainment in life,
keeping her self - respect."

In this narrative of heroic resistance to Hitler, Fallada deftly weaves the true story of law - abiding model German citizens Otto and Elise Hampel into a compelling, distressing novel about Otto and Anna Quangel and their small circle of relatives, acquaintances, and co-workers. After the loss of their brother / son, the compliant, unassuming Hampels / Quangels become convinced that loved ones are dying in vain. And so begins their understated project of resistance, scattering postcards throughout Berlin: "German people wake up!" "Hitler's regime will bring no peace." "Hitler's war is the worker's death!" "Free Press! Why suffer war and death for the Hitler plutocracy?"

Their undertaking mystifies the Gestapo for two years (1940 - 42) before they are apprehended and sentenced to hanging. The following passages occur near the end of the novel, when Otto is imprisoned along with the musician Dr. Reichhardt, and they ponder the course their lives have taken and the impact of their resistance effort:

429 - 30: " 'I sometimes think now, Doctor, about the gifts I had no ideas I had. It's only since meeting you, since coming to this death row, that I understand how much I've missed out on in my life.'

'It's like that for everyone. Everyone facing death, especially premature death, like us, will be kicking themselves about each wasted hour.'

'But it's different for me, Doctor, I always thought it was enough if I didn't mess anything up. And now I learn that there are loads of other things I could have done: play chess, be kind to people, listen to music, go to the theater. You know, Doctor, if I were granted one wish before my death, it would be to see you with your baton conducting a big symphony orchestra. I'm so curious to see it, and find out my reaction to it.'

'No one can develop every side of themselves, Quangel. Life is so rich. You would only have spread yourself too thin. You did your job and were a man of integrity. When your were at liberty, Quangel, you had everything. You wrote your postcards.'

'Yes, but they didn't do any good, Doctor! I wished the earth would swallow me up when Inspector Escherich told me that of the 285 postcards I wrote, 267 went straight to him! Only eighteen not handed in! And those eighteen didn't do any good, either!'

'Who can say? At least you opposed evil. You weren't corrupted. You and I and the many locked up here, and many more in other places of detention, and tens of thousands in concentration camps -- they're all resisting, today, tomorrow.'

'Yes, and then they kill us, and what good did our resistance do?'

'Well, it will have helped us to feel that we behaved decently till the end. And much more, it will have helped people everywhere, who will be saved for the righteous few among them, as it says in the Bible. . . . As it was, we all acted alone, we were caught alone, and every one of us will have to die alone. But that doesn't mean the we are alone, Quangel, or that our deaths will be in vain. Nothing in this world is done in vain, and since we are fighting for justice against brutality, we are bound to prevail in the end.'

'. . . You want to remain brave and strong; everything that keeps you brave and strong is good, just as everything that makes you weak and doubtful, such as brooding, is bad.' "


2. Diary of a Man in Despair by Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen
(first published 1947; English translation 1970, 1979, 2000)

“Really, this people, only yesterday so
intelligent and discerning, seems to have
been overcome by a disease of the mind.
They now believe everything they are told,
provided it is done with sufficient aplomb.”

In connection with Every Man Dies Alone I can't help thinking of the wartime narrative of wealthy landowner Fritz Reck, who -- like the Quangels / Hampels -- found a way, in the midst of despair to maintain his self - respect. Reck's very privileged and well-connected life is somewhat different than most of the WW II accounts I've read over the years. Still, the Nazis got him in the end because he bad - mouthed the government and wouldn't kowtow to the most powerful.

He was a backward looking man with a pastoral vision of cows in the meadow and virgins dancing at the crossroads (Gerry's phrase to describe a similarly misguided perception of Ireland). Of course, he could afford an anti-progressive stance because the old ways had been good to the landed gentry. In that way, I couldn't share his politics, since I usually have to align myself with the working class when it comes to the benefits of revolution. However, I agreed with him and found him wisely gazing into the future when he observed that petroleum and the advent of the automobile (big government, big auto) would ultimately do way more damage to civilization than the abuse of alcohol. If he could see the world today he really would despair. [See "A Horse Is At Least Human" & The Front Porch of My Life]


Gerry shared this book with his father,
who passed it on to his friend and neighbor
James White, who wrote the following response:

"I have always been interested in Germany -- their stamps, language and history. I had never heard of Friedrich Reck -- odd as the diary is a rare interesting account of life and conditions in Germany. It was dangerous to keep such a frank account and took a lot of courage.

I am sure much of the material has been incorporated into the documentaries, such as those frequently shown on aspects of Hilter on Freeview TV, but I have never noticed an acknowledgement of Friedrich Reck.

The heartfelt invective regularly featured against the regime is quite difficult to appreciate -- a bit of flaunting of his classical education and superiority socially and otherwise, so I do not think he exactly qualifies as a saint, although his death was no doubt heroic and honourable.

He was exactly the opposite of what I would support in many ways -- a conservative, a monarchist, an aristocrat, an elitist. It was quite amusing to me that the worst he could say of Hitler was that he had once lived in rented room at an unfashionable address! That is how people not born to privilege have to live while on the way up!

Although he prides himself on the accuracy of his facts, he is quite frequently wrong, as Paul Rubens points out in the notes illustrating the danger of gossip -- even from people who claim to be eye - witnesses. I was surprised at how people in his elevated circles knew of Eva Braun at an earlier date than I thought -- most Germans did not know (or care) of her existence -- and Reck seems to have been in the right place to report at the right time: Munich at the birth of the 'movement'; Berlin and Vienna later; and to have had embassy connections in Russia.

I was pleased to read a little of Sophie Scholl ( mentioned p 178), a young girl (18 or 19, I think) who had converted from Lutheranism to Catholicism and showed the highest moral objections to Nazism -- quite fearless and coherent -- a heroine, a patriot, and a saint which any country would be proud to own as a daughter. Traudl Junge, who was one of Hitler's private secretaries and in the Berlin bunker when he died, said that she had excused herself as too young to see the evil that Hitler was doing to Germany until after the war when she read Sophie Scholl, who was younger than she was -- and knew fully."


3. All the Light We Cannot See (2014) by Anthony Doerr

Thanks to my friend Katy Bunder for loaning me this book
(and for initially inspiring me -- eight years ago! --
to start a book blog and keep it going).

A novel of and for the senses -- a young French girl named Marie - Laure who cannot see, a young German radio communications expert named Werner, a priceless gleaming jewel that can curse or bless -- called the Sea of Flames, miniature models of complex cities, so many hiding spots, voices from the past. In this dual odyssey of compliance and resistance, of connection and coincidence, of place and time, Doerr brings Marie - Laure and Werner at last to the same Here and Now.

Of the numerous acts of resistance described by Doerr, the most ennobling occurs at Werner's military school when his classmate Frederick declines to participate in the enforced torture of a prisoner who has been tied to a stake on a cold night and doused repeatedly with water until he freezes.

228 - 29: "The water keeps coming. The prisoner's face empties. He slumps over the ropes . . .

The buckets make a muted, frozen clanking as they are refilled. The sixteen - year - olds finish. The fifteen - year - olds finish. The cheers lose their gusto and a pure longing to flee floods Werner. Run. Run. . . .

When his turn arrives, Werner throws the water like all the others and the splash hits the prisoner in the chest and a perfunctory cheer rises. He joins the cadets waiting to be released. Wet boots, wet cuffs; his hands have become so numb, they do not seem his own.

Five boys later, it is Frederick’s turn. Frederick, who clearly cannot see well without his glasses. Who has not been cheering when each bucketful of water finds its mark. Who is frowning at the prisoner as though he recognizes something there.

And Werner knows what Frederick is going to do.

Frederick has to be nudged forward by the boy behind him. The upperclassman hands him a bucket and Frederick pours it out on the ground. . . .

The night steams, the stars burn, the prisoner sways, the boys watch, the commandant tilts his head. Frederick pours the water onto the ground. 'I will not.' "

When Gerry and I visited the Algonquin Restaurant
in New York City last Christmas (2015), Doerr's novel
was one of the featured reading selections in the window:

Monday, October 31, 2016


I like it when I order two new books and the covers kind of go together!
~ Thanks to Ben McCartney for the recommendations. ~
Among other things, this book "tries to unravel the essential paradox of the entire episode: that under - regulated markets ran badly off the tracks and the government rushed in to save the day, yet the government emerged as a villain" (xvii).

I'm surprised that Blinder would find this surprising.

"Can we prevent asset - price bubbles in the future? Here, unfortunately, the answer is mostly no. . . . No, while we may be lucky enough to nip a few bubbles in the bud, we will never stamp them out. The herding behavior that produces them may well be programmed into our DNA" (47).
What? This is supposed to be a book about using your thinking cap! "Herding behavior? Maybe. But, lets be honest, we're also talking about "greed." Instead of blaming "our DNA," how about offering some reality - based suggestions for behavior modification.
from After the Music Stopped:
The Financial Crisis, The Response, and the Work Ahead

Alan S. Blinder, American economist, Princeton Univ. (b 1945)


"Custom was the keystone of life. . . . the underlying deep continuity that represents the nature of England itself. . . .

"The ancient roads, the witnesses of prehistoric life and travel, still persisted in the medieval landscape. But they were joined by other highways in the historical period. Many winding lanes between farmstead and farmstead, many sunken hollow - ways leading to the village, deep - set and drowsy on a summer afternoon, were constructed in the twelfth century
" (7, 119).

from Foundation: The History of England
From Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors
by Peter Ackroyd, British cultural historian (b 1949)

I had seen the photos . . .
always with autumn colors in the background,
as if the school were based not in a town
but in a month, October

from Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn, American author and screenwriter (b 1971)

I love it when my reading material matches my outfit!
~ Panama Bag, Tucson, AZ ~ October 2014 ~

*Ben also recommends the sequel(L)!
And, should you need any help with your reading (R):

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Religion and Politics

Cover photo by Corbis

Continuing last month's focus on politics and religion, here are two more titles, both recommended over the summer by my brother, The Rev. Bruce L. Carriker.

Beginning with Religion:

The Preaching Life
Barbara Brown Taylor
~ (b. September 21, 1951)

53: "Ours is an historic faith. We believe in a God who acts in time, who began acting long before we came upon the scene and who will continue acting long after we are gone from it, which means that our present trust is sustained by memory on the one hand and hope on the other."

56: "The disparity between the vision and the reality was wrenching, like looking at a wasteland through a window painted with flowers . . . the reality had not yet caught up with God's vision, but it would." [As in "Science does have all the answers . . . we [just] don't have all the science."]

57 - 58: "I did not have to settle for memorizing . . . or reciting . . . I could take the text apart and put it back together again without harming it, ask questions and challenge the answers without being struck by lightning. The word of God turned out to be plenty strong enough to withstand my curiosity. Every time I poked it, it poked me back. Every time I wrenched it around so I could see inside, it sprang back into shape the moment I was through. In short, the Bible turned out not to be a fossil under glass but a thousand different things — a mirror, a scythe, a hammock, a lantern, a pair of binoculars, a high diving board, a bridge, a goad — all of them offering themselves to me to be touched and handled and used."

62: "Like a lifeline strung from the beginning of time to the end, [the Bible shows] us a way through all the storms of culture, nature, and history . . . the way to the Word beyond all our words, in whose presence we shall be made eloquent at last."

67 - 68: "There are no solo sacraments. We need one another. . . . If, in touching or being touched by these ordinary things, we believe that we are being touched by God, then we can no longer draw a clear line between the secular and the sacred in our lives. Every created thing is a potential messenger, sent to teach us more about our relationship with God. . . . Sacraments are our road maps home. God may not need them, but we do."

69 - 70: ". . . the word of God calls for a response with some human daring in it."

71: "When I say "We believe . . . " I count on that to cover what I cannot believe on my own right now. When my faith limps, I lean on the faith of the church, letting "our" faith suffice until "mine" returns. Later, when I am able to say, "We believe . . . " with renewed confidence, I know that I am filling in for others who are indisposed for the time being, as they filled in for me. My decision to say the creed at all is a decision to trust those who have gone before me, embracing the faith they have commended to me."

74: "At first it looks like the door out of the church, but as we walk through it we discover that it is the door into the world, where Christ may yet be found and followed."

53: "That is the God who walks toward me in the Bible -- not only the God of the past but also the God of the present and the future."


Moving on to Politics (and Religion):

Not forgetting that in fact, way back in 2012,
my brother suggested that we all read this one!

Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction
David Kuo ~ (June 26, 1968 – April 5, 2013)

David Kuo started working with George Bush (the Second) in 1998, as deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. But not until 2003 does Kuo draw the conclusion that "The president had made great promises but they hadn't been delivered on. Worse than that, the White House hadn't tried. Worse than that, we had used people of faith to further our political agenda and hadn't given them anything in return" (243). Kuo is dismayed by the various so called "compassionate measures" that had hardly any effect, positive or negative, on anyone but somehow made it seem to the religious right that the George W. Bush Administration had just done something generous for his followers.
As for Bush himself, Kuo writes, "I was surprised by the brazen deception and I was crushed by it, too. That same passion for the poor I first heard in Austin was in his voice and in his eyes. But the passion was a passion for talking about compassion, not fighting for compassion" (249).

Kuo's narrative is revealing, but why does it take him so long to realize these truths? How could he remain deluded for so long? If only I could reach back over the years, and share with David Kuo this excellent advice from Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey: "When people show you who they are, believe them." He could have saved himself a lot time.

Last Month's Post:
Harry Leslie Smith (Politics) & Barbara Walker (Religion)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Politics and Religion

We all know that Miss Manners, Linus, and nearly everyone else advises us to avoid discussions of politics and religion, but -- throwing caution to the wind -- here are a couple of eye - opening titles from my more serious summer reading.

First, politics:

Book at amazon
Photo at

I have been a fan of Harry since reading his remarkable 2013 essay "This year I will wear the poppy for the last time." Last month, I took some time to read his Last Stand (you can read it in a day) and felt that I had discovered a latter day Orwell. I like Harry's politics, courage, and honesty in speaking from the heart of a lifetime of experience. I agree when he writes that "It is both anti - democratic and immoral when life doesn't get materially and socially better for the majority. . . . For over a generation, British society worked together for one common aim: measured prosperity for everyone. To achieve it, free health care and education were provided to every citizen to even out the playing field of life" (105, 124).

Any time that "social democracy is placed jeopardy," Harry speaks up on behalf of the populace (155). He is living proof that aging does not lead inevitably to regressive politics. He observes that "Many people who are younger than me presume that because of my age I have a default setting which makes me, among other things, a lover of dogs, suspicious of immigrants, wary of welfare benefit recipients and distrusting of those who possess piercings and / or multiple tattoos" (66). But no! They'd be wrong!

When one of Harry's younger relatives points out that "The world has changed a lot since you were a boy, "Harry draws the opposite conclusion: "Though I didn't want to disagree with him, it seems to me that the problem is that it hasn't changed enough" (72).

Of the elderly, Harry writes, " . . . we are not so different to you. I still have many of your familiar worries, from how to pass the time of day to how to pay my rent. Like everyone else, I grumble about money. I think I have too little; that my pension is shrinking while the cost of living is rising. Like you, I have some regrets. Why didn't I ever learn to swim or speak French? Why didn't I buy that computer stock? Like all of us, I worry about my children, despite the fact that they are halfway along in their own lives" (8).

He provides a voice of reason amidst all the nonsense: "When I watch the news of television -- and it doesn't matter which broadcaster: BBC, Sky, CNN, Fox or CBC -- it all sounds tired, deflated, as if it had been written by a lobbyist or government policy maker. It seems contrived and fake, like the newsreaders are in on a joke that eludes their public. I can be in Yorkshire, Albufeira, New York or Toronto, but the message is always the same: health care is too costly, education must be about job training, immigration is too high [and so forth]. It can't ever be about making a more informed citizen because culture is too costly in a world content with scripted reality television shows and blockbuster zombie movies. . . . I will never understand why the daily rags castigate the poor and label them scroungers with a vigour that should be reserved for corporations . . . Yet these voices that ring so loudly are media creations, and only exist to create discord, mayhem and hatred . . . " (18, 9, 127).

Harry Leslie Smith
follow on facebook ~ listen to interview

Now for some religion:

“The Bible is a human product:
it tells us how our religious ancestors saw things,
not how God sees things. "
Marcus J. Borg

"It is not Christianity, but priestcraft
that has subjected woman as we find her.
The Church and State have been united,
and it is well for us to see it so."
Lucretia Mott

"Whatever the Bible may be made to do in Hebrew or Greek,
in plain English it does not exalt and dignify woman. . . .
we say that these degrading ideas of woman
emanated from the brain of man,
while the church says that they came from God."
Elizabeth Cady Stanton

"In practice the Mother of God or Queen of Heaven continued to occupy the same position in the Christian pantheon as in the earlier pagan one, even when churchmen officially declared her nondivine (though somewhat mysteriously miraculous). Medieval Mariolatry provided some degree of comfort for downtrodden women, although it could not assuage their pain more than just a little, since churchmen declared Mary exempt from the supposed crimes and disadvantages of mortal women. Mary was sexless, sinless, and absorbed in her relational role of mother to the exclusion of all other roles. The God who had impregnated her without pleasure had usurped all her earlier functions, such as creatress, lawgiver, judge, protectress, nurturer, spirit of nature, inventor of the civilized arts. The church insisted that the multitudes who worshipped her as divine were not really doing any such thing, simply because the church had forbidden them to view her as a true goddess."
from The Skeptical Feminist:
Discovering the Virgin, Mother, and Crone

by Barbara Walker

~ also an influential knitting expert ~

Next Month's Post:
Barbara Brown Taylor (Religion) & David Kuo (Politics)

Sunday, July 31, 2016

443 Robinson

"Our moments have blotted out theirs.
Maybe this is a necessary element of domestic living --
maybe it's the only way we can co - exist comfortably
with each other's past lives, each other's ghosts. . . .
it's not really our house at all is it . . .
It's like we're just the top layer.
And one day there'll be another layer right on top of us, squashing us down. . . . There are whole pieces of the past that lie just around the last corner,
closer perhaps then we'd like to think.
We may choose to forget this, but the house doesn't.
The house has seen it, done it, felt it all before."

Home: The Story of Everyone Who Ever Lived in Our House
by Julie Myerson (23, 16, 46)
~ see previous posts: The Top Layer & Our Island Home ~


Indeed, some talented people
have preceded my family in this house!

Novel by Charlotte S. Scarcelli
Illustration by her friend Marcia Smith - Wood

Seascape by Ralph Scarcelli

Landscape by Ralph Scarcelli

History of Purdue

Purdue interveiw with Robert W. Topping:
"West Lafayette. I lived on Robinson Street. As an aside, I think my dad bought that house in 1911 for three thousand dollars. They recently remodeled it and it recently sold for four hundred thousand. It was a big, big yard.

"Had to walk to school. We walked home for lunch. That’s a long way from up on Grant Street, clear down to Robinson and back."
~ see previous posts: House Sisters & House With A Past ~

Thursday, June 30, 2016

"Sometimes a girl just needs to read a good book!"

" Announces
the Most Well-Read Cities in America"

An exciting headline and an impressive list of cities, but a totally silly ranking system based on sales data. Unfortunately, many of the more popularly purchased titles don't exactly qualify as literature (not even with a small "l" let alone with a capital "L"). They may be marketed and consumed in book form, but Tidying Up? Shades of Gray? coloring books for grown - ups? a Texas barbecue cookbook? C'mon amazon! We expect better! We know how to read!

Books / projects such as these, no matter how interesting or trendy, don't really make a person or a city "well read." But then again as Gilda Radner used to say (Was it Roseanne Roseannadanna? While looking at magazines in the beauty parlor?): "Sometimes a girl just needs to read a good book!"

In fact, the list of "well - read cities" includes some of my favorite spots, although no place that I actually live or have lived. As my friend Katie suggested, perhaps Philadelphia didn't make the list because folks there buy more high-brow books! Could that also explain why Indianapolis made the list but not West Lafayette? To claim a spot on the real list, how about if Amazon tracks down the cities where the most people have read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ulysses, or War and Peace?

While amazon may be tracking all the latest trends, my many well - read friends have given me so many excellent and timeless suggestions that I will never run out of summer reading ideas. I have more than enough to last well into the fall and thru the winter and even into next summer!

Awhile back (I'm always way behind), my friend Diane suggested the following audiobooks for "light" listening while driving or exercising -- complete with her "five star rating system":
J.R. Moehringer

Nicole Krauss

Nick Hornsby

Jonathan Safran Foer

T.C. Boyle

DRY **
Augustun Burroughs

Margaret Atwood

Elizabeth Berg

Cormac McCarthy

Jay McInerney

Alice Hoffman

Sue Monk Kidd

Ian McEwan

Elizabeth Hyde

Kazuo Ishiguro

H. Kimmel

Anne Tyler

My friend Heather's "three best books of Summer 2008":
Michael Pollan
[also recommended by Tammy Knox Sandel]

Anne Cherian

Martin Millar

Latest from Cate:
Mary Hogan

And this from a couple summers ago
Deep South Summer Reading List

Monday, May 30, 2016

Preponderance of War

Two years ago, I was working my way through several books about the Battle of the Little Big Horn. All were of great interest, but what drew all the perspectives together for me was a more recent text that I came across a year or so later. It was late September (2015) in The Wonder Book Store, one of my favorite spots to visit with my sister Peg and nephew Dan in Frederick, Maryland. In keeping with the season, Wonder Book had a display table featuring title after title in various shades of autumnal orange, where I found:
The Day the World Ended at Little Bighorn:
A Lakota History

by Joseph M. Marshall III

I appreciated the clarity of Marshall's history and some beautiful expressions of Lakota philosophy. For this post, however, I'm thinking of a most curious rationalization of a community's "need for war." I can't help thinking about the warmongering sentiment of those elders and their apparent readiness to sacrifice their offspring to the gods of war:
60: "The ultimate proving ground was warfare. A man who consistently demonstrated courage and good sense during the stress, chaos, and confusion of battle would likely do the same off the battlefield. Lakota society had long ago learned the necessity of the warrior. Life was not worth living unless you were compelled to defend it now and again, according to many elders."

A month later, when visiting my brothers Dave and Bruce, another echo -- negative this time -- of humanity's "need for war" caught my attention:

The Notebooks of Lazarus Long
by Robert A. Heinlein
"The second - best thing about space travel is that the distances involved make war very difficult, usually impractical, and almost always unnecessary. This is probably a loss for most people, since war is our race's most popular diversion, one which gives purpose and color to dull and stupid lives. But it is a great boon to the intelligent man who fights only when he must -- never for sport."

Then came December (2015) and a somber day for reading
Voices From Chernobyl:
The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster

by Svetlana Alexievich
complete with some welcome skepticism of the "need for war":
"And suddenly I catch myself filming everything just the way I saw it filmed in the war movies. And then I notice that the people are behaving in the same way. They're all carrying themselves just like in that scene from everyone's favorite movie, The Cranes Are Flying -- a lone tear, short words of farewell. It turned out we were all looking for a form of behavior that was familiar to us. We wanted to live up to the moment, and this is what we remembered. The girl is waving to her mom in a way that says, 'Everything's fine, I'm brave. We'll win!'

. . . And I imagined myself making that same gesture: we'll win! We're warriors. As far back as I can remember, my father wore military clothing, though he wasn't in the military. Thinking about money was bourgeois, thinking about life was unpatriotic, the normal state of life was hunger, They, our parents, lived through a great catastrophe, and we needed to live through it, too. Otherwise we'd never become real people."

from "Monologue About War Movies"
Sergei Gurin, cameraman
in Voices From Chernobyl (109)

"A feeling of oppression but also of carrying out a necessary task -- that lives within us, the need to be where it's difficult and dangerous, to defend the motherland. Did I teach my students anything but that? To go, throw yourself on the fire, defend, sacrifice. The literature I taught wasn’t about life, it was about war: Sholokhov, Serafimovich, Furmanov, Fadeev, Boris Polevoy. . . .

. . . We already felt like it was wartime. It made a lot more sense when three suddenly appeared lines for bread, salt, matches. Everyone rushed to dry their bread into crackers. This seemed familiar to me, even though I was born after the war. I could imagine how I’d leave my house, how the kids and I would leave, which things we’d take with us, how I’d write my mother. Although all around life was going on as before, the television was showing comedies. But we always lived in terror, we know how to live in terror, it’s our natural habitat."
from "People's Chorus"
in Voices From Chernobyl (140)

[see previous posts "May Day Parade" & "Ammonia Avenue"]


Finally, over Spring Break, I read Chinua Achebe's classic novel of the old world versus the new -- Things Fall Apart. While not quite the same as the "need for war," what I couldn't help noticing in this story of late 19th Century Nigeria was a preponderance of guns. Whatever elements of Western colonialsim the Ibo tribe may have spurned, they did not hesitate to embrace the gun:
" . . . Ezeudu was to be buried after dark with only a glowing brand to light the sacred ceremony.

But before this quiet and final rite, the tumult increased tenfold. Drums beat violently and men leaped up and down in frenzy. Guns were fired on all sides and sparks flew out as machetes clanged together in warriors' salutes. The air was full of dust and the smell of gunpowder. . . .

. . . Darkness was around the corner, and the burial was near. Guns fired the last salute and the cannon rent the sky. And then from the center of the delirious fury came a cry of agony and shouts of horror. It was as if a spell had been cast. All was silent. In the center of the crowd a boy lay in a pool of blood. It was the dead man's sixteen-year-old son, who with his brothers and half-brothers had been dancing the traditional farewell to their father. Okonkwo's gun had exploded and a piece of iron had pierced the boy's heart." (123 - 24)
Live by the gun, die by the gun. On this day of gun salutes, may I suggest that the "need for war" has seen its day on this planet. It is time to find something else to live for, something else to make us strong, something else to make us proud.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Until We Seek Until We Find Ammonia Avenue

". . . we can't all move to the moon . . . "
from Voices From Chernobyl
by Svetlana Alexievich (b 1948)
Nobel Prize in Literature ~ 2015

So Many Memorable Passages:

61: "Is there anything more frightening than people?"

164: "And still we had a great time on May 1.
We came home late at night, and my window had been
blown open by the wind. I would remember that later on."

173: " . . . maybe the moral is simple . . .
You should come into this world on your tiptoes,
and stop at the entrance? Into this miraculous world . . . "

193: "And then the conversations begin again, until midnight. First about him, the deceased. But after that? Once more about the fate of the country and the design of the universe. . . . We’re metaphysicians. We don’t live on this earth, but in our dreams, in our conversations. Because you need to add something to this ordinary life, in order to understand it. Even when you’re near death."

213: "We read Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov, went to each other's houses, had endless talks in the kitchen. We wanted something more from life. What? Somewhere there were movie actors -- Catherine Deneuve -- wearing berets. We wanted freedom."

214: "And the May Day parade? No one forced us to go -- no one forced me to go there. We all had a choice and we failed to make it. I don't remember a more crowded, cheerful May Day parade. Everyone was worried, they wanted to become part of the herd -- to be with others. People wanted to curse someone, the authorities, the government, the Communists. Now I think back, looking for the break. Where was it? But it was before that. We didn't even want to know the truth. We just wanted to know if we should eat the radishes."


124: “Show me a fantasy novel about Chernobyl--there isn't one! Because reality is more fantastic.”

168, 191: "People didn't understand. They'd been frightened over and over again about a nuclear war, but not about Chernobyl. . . . We'd been afraid of bombs, of mushroom clouds, but then it turned out like this . . . this wasn't like anything else."

180: "The apocalypse — nuclear winter — has already all been described in Western literature [and music, e.g., Ammonia Avenue], as if they were rehearsing it, preparing for the future. The explosion of a large number of nuclear warheads will result in enormous fires. The atmosphere will be saturated with smoke. Sunlight won't be able to reach the earth, and this will ignite a chain reaction -- from cold to colder to colder still. This man - made version of the end of the world has been taught since the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century. But atom bombs won't disappear even after they destroy the last warhead. There will still be the knowledge of atom bombs."

Cases in point, of post - apocalyptic fiction, prefiguring (or attempting to prefigure) the real thing:

1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968) ~ Philip K. Dick ~ I have always meant to read this precursor to the movie Bladerunner, if for no other reason than to make sense of the bizarre title. No matter how many times you've seen the movie, try reading the book then re - watching the film with the text fresh in mind, in order to see how much the screenplay has been altered from Dick's original novel.

It was quite touching to overhear the replicants discussing the nature of fiction and the mysterious concept of imagination:
" . . . pre-colonial fiction."
"You mean old books?"
"Stories written before space travel but about space travel."
"How could there have been stories about space travel before — "
"The writers," Pris said, "made it up."
"Based on what?"
"On imagination." (150 - 51)
Made it up! Imagine that!

The movie devotes little time to one of the more important themes of the book -- the human desire to own a living pet, as a status symbol, if nothing else, in this nuclear - damaged world where animal life is so scarce that most pets are battery - powered imitations. Thus the query, if humans dream of real sheep, do androids dream of ersatz sheep?

At the close of the novel, Rick Deckard finds what he at first believes to be a lone living specimen of an extinct variety of toad:
237: "The toad, he saw, blended in totally with the texture and shade of the ever - present dust. It had, perhaps, evolved, meeting the new climate as it had met all climates before. . . . only the top of its flat skull and its eyes projected above the ground. . . . The eyes held no spark, no awareness . . . But it had moved."

238: " . . . he felt its peculiar coolness; in his hands its body seemed dry and wrinkled -- almost flabby -- and as cold as if it had taken up residence in a grotto miles under the earth away from the sun. Now the toad squirmed; with its weak hind feet it tried to pry itself from his grip, wanting, instinctively, to go flopping off. A big one, he thought; full-grown and wise. Capable, in its own fashion, of surviving even that which we’re not really managing to survive. . . . Life which we can no longer distinguish; life carefully buried up to its forehead in the carcass of a dead world."
As John Isidore explains: "Even animals -- even eels and gophers and snakes and spiders -- are sacred. . . . Insects . . . are especially sacrosanct." Spiders have become so rare that any one of them might be "the last spider . . . The last living spider on Earth" (161, 210). A similar reverence for animals is repeated throughout the testimonials recounted in Voices From Chernobyl, from dogs to bird, all the way down to flies, wasps, and cockroaches (see my previous post "Birdwatching"). Chernobyl actually has a lot in common with Androids, in a weirdly ironic way.

2. Roadside Picnic (1972) ~ Arkady & Boris Strugatsky ~ Similar to Androids & Bladerunner, this 1970's novel of existentialist science fiction -- in which alien travelers have stopped by Earth for a brief visit, leaving behind a contaminated Zone -- bears a fictional but striking resemblance to real - life Chernobyl. In the novel (and the related, but very different, movie Stalker) the aliens have left behind a scattering of curious debris -- copper discs, batteries, metal hoops and bracelets -- much as careless Earthlings might litter the site of a Roadside Picnic. Did the aliens even notice that they might be disrupting someone else's habitat in a potentially harmful, even devastating, way? Perhaps not.
131 - 132: “A picnic. Imagine: a forest, a country road, a meadow. A car pulls off the road into the meadow and unloads young men, bottles, picnic baskets, girls, transistor radios, cameras . . . A fire is lit, tents are pitched, music is played. And in the morning they leave. The animals, birds, and insects that were watching the whole night in horror crawl out of their shelters. And what do they see? An oil spill, a gasoline puddle, old spark plugs and oil filters strewn about . . . Scattered rags, burnt-out bulbs, someone has dropped a monkey wrench. The wheels have tracked mud from some godforsaken swamp . . . and, of course, there are the remains of the campfire, apple cores, candy wrappers, tins, bottles, someone’s handkerchief, someone’s penknife, old ragged newspapers, coins, wilted flowers from another meadow . . . A roadside picnic.” [Ellipses in original text.]

128: "How do you think it is all going to end? . . . for humanity as a whole. . . .

"That depends on our luck . . . We now know that for humanity as a whole, the Visit has largely passed without a trace. For humanity everything passes without a trace. Of course, it's possible that by randomly pulling chestnuts out of this fire, we'll eventually stumble on something that will make life on Earth completely unbearable. That would be bad luck. But you have to admit, that's a danger humanity has always faced. . . . You see, I've long since become unused to discussing humanity as a whole. Humanity as a whole is too stable a system, nothing upsets it."

132: " . . . what makes us great? . . . Is it that we re-created nature? That we harnessed forces of almost - cosmic proportions? That in a brief time we have conquered the planet and opened a wndow onto the universe? No! It is that despite all this, we have survived, and intend to continue doing so."

139: " . . . statistics is a very precise science, despite the fact that it deals with random variables. And furthermore, it's a very eloquent science, very visual."
3. Only Begotten Daughter (1990) ~ James Morrow ~ A feminist revision of New Testament Christianity, with a futuristic (2012!) New Jersey - Philadelphia setting, featuring not a nuclear annihilation but one of fire and brimstone.

The novel opens with some clever parallels: Murray Katz & his daughter Julie = Mary & Jesus; Georgina Sparks & her daughter Phoebe = Elizabeth & John the Baptist; New Jersey = New Jerusalem; The Garden State = The State of Israel; Atlantic City (that "burning, outsized Monopoly board") = Anti - Christ; the lighthouse beam = the Star of Bethlehem; the three paramedics = the three Wiseman (64, 125, 151, 29, 35). Instead of “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here” written over the Gates of Hell, it's "All Hope Embrace, Ye Who Enter In" flashing across the entrance to Dante's Casino (64, 127, 169).

Julie Katz is not just a "flash in the pantheon" but may be the one to bring "a new religion, a faith as apocalyptic as Christianity, fierce as Islam, repressive as Hinduism, smug as Buddhism" (57 - 58); or, better yet, she has come "to rescue the masses from nostalgia . . . [to] topple the empire of nostalgia" (110-11): "My mother is outside the universe . . . the God of physics . . . The tragedy of my species . . . is that it does not live in its own time. Homo sapiens is locked on history's rearview mirror, never the road ahead, bent on catching some presumed lost paradise . . . the human race is destroying itself with nostalgia . . . My mother wants us to live in our time. When a species fixates on the supernatural, it ceases to mature. . . . You must live in your own time! . . how can you bring about utopia with one eye cocked on eternity?" (94, 100, 118, 160, 186).
103: "In the beginning was the Word, but now God's vocabulary was growing. The first Word was an English noun, savior, but the second would be a French verb, savoir, to know: at long last . . . we can know things. Three more years of college, and then she'd buy a word processor (no, Word processor) and publish her covenant of uncertainty, declare her kingdom of impermanence, topple the empire of nostalgia -- teach the truth of the heart. The heart was a pump? Yes, true enough, provided one meant: at the present moment in history, pump is the best metaphor we have for what a heart is."

104: "And the kidney was a filter. Earth orbited the sun. Microbes caused disease. Yes! The time of her ministry was at hand. She would take neither the high road nor the low, but a byway of her own devising; she would beam her message onto every television screen in creation, etch it onto every phonograph record, smear it across every printed page. In the beginning was the Word, and in the end there would be a million words, ten million words, a hundred million words, all authored by the only begotten daughter of God herself."

138: "You wanted the masses to embrace reason and science. It will never happen. They can't join in -- there's no point of entry for them. . . . The problem is, only a few people get to be scientists. You see the dilemma? Given the choice between a truth they can appreciate and a lie they can live, most people will take you - know - what."

[And from Chernobyl, 181: " . . . humans do not accommodate science very very much -- they get in the way of it."]

90, 187: "Science does have all the answers . . . we [just] don't have all the science . . . that's the beauty of science. It's self - correcting. It welcomes new data." [And perhaps grants us access of knowledge already revealed but not yet known.]
P.S. The human dilemma:


Could it be . . . Ammonia Avenue?

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Challenges: Special K & Ten Favs

The Novel Reader by Vincent Van Gogh
See more Paintings of Readers

A few months ago my niece Brittany challenged her facebook friends and family to play the "First Letter of Your First Name Game." Thanks Brit, for getting my mind going on an otherwise lazy day! Here are my results, complete with a few readerly references:

My Name ~ Kitti

Girl's Name ~
Kevy ~ from favorite junior high novel,
A Crack in the Sidewalk by Ruth Wolff


Kezia ~ from favorite short story sequence,
"Prelude" by Katherine Mansield

Had I ever become the parent of twin girls, wouldn't
Kevy and Kezia have been the perfect names? Yes!
Boy's Name ~ Kerry
Animal ~ Kitten
Color ~ Khaki
Movie ~ Kill Bill (I would never watch this movie!)
Television show ~ Kotter, Welcome Back (inverted)
Something you wear ~ Kilt (have never worn kilt!)
Drink ~ Keifr (would not drink this stuff!)
Food ~ Kelp (would not eat!)
Something found in bathroom ~ Kleenex (ok, use lots!)
Occupation ~ Keyboard Player
Hobby ~ Knitting (right, Cate?!)
Game ~ Kick - the - Can (Clover Meadows)
Place ~ Kingdom Come (or Kiev)
Country ~ Kenya (Mumbi!)
Reason to be late ~ Kept getting distracted . . . by facebook challenges!
(Peg, remember this one?)

Author(s) ~
Franz Kafka
Nikos Kazantzakis (see below)
Ken Kesey
Sue Monk Kidd (see below)
Stephen King
Barbara Kingsolver (see below)
Rudyard Kipling
Milan Kundera
Poem ~ "Kubla Khan"

Novel(s) ~
Katherine ~ Anya Seton
King Dork ~ Frank Portman
Kitchen ~ Banana Yoshimoto
Kite Runner ~ Khaled Hosseini

and, cheating a little bit:

Karenina, Anna
Kisses, Parachutes and
~ Erica Jong
Song(s) ~
"Keep Christmas With You"
"Killing Me Softly"
"King of the Road"
"Kiss Me"
"Knowing Me, Knowing You"
"Kyrie Eleison" (aka "Carry a Laser")
Play ~ King Lear

Musical ~ Kiss Me Kate, Kismet

Fictional Character ~ Knave of Hearts

Four-letter word ~ Know

Still Life: French Novels
See this Van Gogh and many more

Also awhile back, my friend Milly wrote to say "I have been challenged by a couple of people to list my ten all-time favorite books. Impossible! I have put together a short list in no certain order of books that I loved! I challenge Kitti to do the same!"

Here's Milly's List

1. To Kill a Mockingbird ~ Harper Lee
2. Wuthering Heights ~ Emily Bronte
3. Me Before You ~ Jojo Moyes
4. My Losing Season ~ Pat Conroy
5. The Diary of Anne Frank
6. Gone With the Wind ~ Margaret Mitchell
7. The Orphan Train Quartet ~ Joan Lowry Nixon
8. Reach for the Summit ~ Pat Summitt
9. Plainsong ~ Kent Haruf
10. Rome Sweet Home ~ Scott Hahn

Still Life with French Novels and a Rose
Vincent Van Gogh

Here's My List

I'm going to be a copycat on
1. To Kill a Mockingbird

and since Milly mentions Pat Conroy, I'll add
2. The Water is Wide (also, the movie Conrack)

3. The Master and Margarita ~ Mikhail Bulgakov
4. Out of Africa ~ Isak Dinesen
5. The Last Temptation of Christ ~ Nikos Kazantzakis
6. The Secret Life of Bees ~ Sue Monk Kidd
7. Animal Dreams ~ Barbara Kingsolver
8. The Alphabet and the Goddess ~ Leonard Shlain
9. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn ~ Betty Smith
10. Mrs. Dalloway ~ Virginia Woolf

So hard to stop at ten!

Blossoming Almond Branch
in a Glass with a Book

Click here for Van Gogh Slideshow

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Climb Inside and Live There

Thanks to my brother Bruce for this Reading Poster!

A few holdovers from 2015, including
Two Thought Provokers

Ghost Boy ~ Martin Pistorius ~ almost impossible to believe, except that it's true! An autobiography of admirable triumph over astonishing odds. By the end, though, I wish the diagnosis of his illness had been revealed. Then again, perhaps it remains unknown to this day.

Homer & Langley ~ E. L. Doctorow ~ the quest for truth is hard enough as it is, why does Doctorow have to complicate matters with make believe facts (in manner of March and Caleb's Crossing -- I do not approve). Even so, his prose is mesmerizing!

On hoarding:
" . . . in our home, a monumental tribute to late Victorian design . . . with its big upholstered pieces, or tufted Empire side chairs, or heavy drapes over the curtains on the ceiling - to - floor windows, or medieval tapestries hung from gilt poles, and bow - windowed bookcases, thick Persian rugs, and standing lamps with tasseled shades and matching chinois amphora . . . it was all very eclectic . . . and cluttered it might have seemed to outsiders, but it seemed normal and right to us and it was our legacy, Langley's and mine, this sense of living with things assertively inanimate, and having to walk around them" (6 - 7, emphasis added).
On life after death:

" . . . remembering my trips to the Woodlawn Cemetery to bury my parents, I could only think of how easily people die. And then there was that feeling one gets in a ride to a cemetery trailing a body in a coffin -- an impatience with the dead, a longing to be back home where one could get on with the illusion that not death but daily life is the permanent condition" (67, emphasis added).

" . . . on Armistice Day 1918 . . . Of course I was as relieved as anyone that the war was over. But underneath all this gaiety I found myself in an awful sadness. What was the recompense for the ones who had died? Memorial days? In my mind I heard taps.

"We had a joke, Langley and I: Someone dying asks if there is life after death. Yes, comes the answer, only not yours" (100 - 01).

[Along the lines of "The King is Dead! Long Live the King!" For further comparison see Sue Miller's novel Family Pictures, 42 - 43]

Three Mysteries

The Tinen Killings: A Novel of Civil War Veterans ~ J.D. Solomon ~ like taking a walking tour of my favorite city! I loved the post - Civil War Philadelphia setting, and the humorous telephone scenes [reminded me of asking my kids to help me figure out my cell phone]:
"But the real reason [Roberts] wouldn't seek out the Bellevue's telephone, he admitted to himself, was that he was totally intimidated by the idea. . . . He'd used a a telephone exactly three times in his life . . . And each time he's had to enlist the help of the youngest deputy in his department. . . .

" 'Why not just call him?' Megan said. 'We can do it from the hotel right after lunch.' She noticed the men seemed reluctant to accept the suggestion. 'For heaven's sake, gentlemen, relax,' she said. 'It's just a telephone call; I'll show you how to do it' " (132, 171).

The Player's Boy is Dead: An Elizabethan Mystery ~ Leonard Tourney ~ a bit disappointed that this was not really about Medieval theater troops, as I was hoping, but still fun.

County Constable Matthew Stock & his wife Joan: "They contemplated this mystery together, neither willing to interrupt the other's thought" (34).

When Matthew & Joan are invited to dine at Saltmarsh Hall:
" 'Tis what you've been waiting for, is it not -- what comes of success in trade, a mingling with a better sort of folk?"

"Aye," she replied thoughtfully. "And yet had I thought the entertainment might make you restless beyond endurance, I would have rested content by our own fire" (58).
Joan assesses Matthew's nature:
"You love the plain road, husband, and could not see perversion were it hanging on our strong oak like a child's bauble. Did it not the more make you fit for my husband, I would lament that your very innocence should so undermine your ability as constable...."

"I have never thought of myself as such, but as a plain man, no better or worse than my fellows."

" 'Tis not virtue I am accusing you of but innocence. They be different."

He laughed again. "And now who plays the moralist?" (70).

The Willow Pattern: A Judge Dee Mystery ~ Robert van Gulik ~ fun to read but just a bit disappointed to find that this novel is not really about the Blue Willow China pattern, as I was hoping -- even the author knows exactly what I mean:

"I admit that the clue of the Willow Pattern
is a very tenuous one" (63).

Eerie vision of the plague of A.D. 677:
"Now the Spirit of Death rules over the Imperial city. A city of fear. . . . In the daytime the only people one sees about are the hooded scavengers dragging along the carts of the dead. And now, at night, there are only shadows. A city of shadows, died out. . . . Yet, deep down below . . . in the slums and cellars of the old city, something is stirring, in the brooding darkness. Can't you feel the mounting miasma of death and decay? It seems to spread over the city like a suffocating shroud" (10 - 11).

"Following the youngster through cavernous halls and long, silent corridors with raftered ceilings blackened by age, he felt increasingly ill at ease. The meeting with this pitiful old lady, sick of body and mind, leading a shadow existence amidst the relics of a phantom - past had shocked him deeply. Even more disturbing, however, was the uncanny, threatening atmosphere of this old, deserted mansion. One fleeting moment he had a vision of himself as an unreal visitor to a very real world that existed one hundred year ago, a sinister age of brutal violence and revolting bloodshed. Was the past usurping the present? Were the dead of the past rising to join the errant souls of the victims of the plague, was this ghostly horde going to take over the silent, empty Imperial capital? And was this then the reason for the strange feeling of fear and foreboding that had got hold of him earlier in the night, when from his terrace he was looking out over the dead city?" (49).
Uncanny description of puppeteer and puppets:
"The only other customer was an elderly man who was sitting alone at the corner table . . . engrossed in the contemplation of the gaudily dressed marionette he held in his hand. Two other puppets were lying on the table in front of him. . . . The puppeteer gave him a scornful look.

"That's because they are only stage villains. In the theater, all actors and actresses are sharply divided into good and bad characters. But my puppets are more than actors, soldier. I want them to be real human beings in miniature. Therefore I don't want a stage villain. Do you get me?" (26 - 27)
The inequitable distribution of the "Five Blessings":
"Money, high office, long life, good health and many children. Why not call this tavern after them, soldier? It's built against the back wall of the last big house of this quarter. Across the streets the slums begin. So this tavern is the boundary stone, so to speak, dividing the five blessings between the rich and the poor. Money, high office, long life and good health for the rich. Many children, too many, for the poor. Four to one. But the poor don't complain, not they! One is enough and to spare -- for them!" (27).

"There'll always be the rulers and the ruled, and the ruled will always come off losers!" (117).
And in closing, sadly:
"She must have done it an hour or so after midnight,
the time when the human spirit is at its lowest ebb" (102).

Chinese Legend
See my previous post:
That Old Blue Willow Has Me in Its Spell