“Byron, have you ever been to Warsaw?”

Recuperating, my Dad found The Winds of War mini-series on Netflix. Couldn’t resist it. We sat and watched the first two episodes together yesterday afternoon and evening.

Based on Herman Wouk’s 1971 novel about Americans in Europe before Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II, it was shown originally in February 1983. My wife and I bought the DVDs a few years ago, and feasted on it during several evenings’ viewing. A prominent American officer and his English “paramour” (of course, right?) became a particular focus of humo(u)r between the (English) Mrs. and myself.

Winds was remarkable television, made before U.S. network TV became dominated by people behaving like circus performers in cheapo “reality” programs. It boasts some absolutely superb actors from the era. How the fictional characters are woven into history is usually clever and eminently believable.

Years ago, teaching college on Long Island, I regularly heard from some students – and still hear from some people now – how “dry” history can be. However, Winds is about often ordinary people living amidst a downward spiral of terrible events usually beyond their control; their individual fates are uncertain. It’s not about memorizing “dates” for some test.

It’s still a spectacle over 30 years on. Wikipedia says it attracted an average of 80 million U.S. viewers each night over its initial 7 night run. Save for the Super Bowl, a U.S. network TV broadcast almost never gets anywhere near that sort of viewership any longer.

Yeh, it is romantic. And it can also be melodramatic and “soap opera-ish” in spots. Viewed from 2014, some of the production values are naturally somewhat dated too.

But it’s often greatly moving and memorable. If you’ve never seen it, give it a chance. Above all, it’s entertaining, and you’ll may learn lots without even realizing you are. ;-)

Quai d’Orsay

I watched this on the plane over to the U.S. last week. Thoroughly entertaining, it even made me laugh out loud several times (embarrassing on a plane), and took my Dad’s illness – which was why I was flying to the States – off of my mind for a little while. As such, it deserves a post:

How to characterize Quai d’Orsay? In simple terms, it struck me as sorta loosely a combination of, say, Yes, Minister and The West Wing. Like the former, it satirizes a shallowness in politicians. Similar to the latter, it’s fast-paced, with lots of rushed conversations while walking through hallways at a retreating camera.

You have to follow along [read the subtitles] closely, or you’ll miss lots. Forget it’s about France. (If you feel you don’t know much about French politics.) If you like well-written, political comedy on screen, you’ll probably like this.

The ensemble contains an actor now likely most famous outside of France for a closeness to the, uh, current real French president. Leaving that aside, she’s at times hilarious in this fictional role as an adviser on Africa policy. For instance, when, during a foreign policy crisis, she’s drafted into keeping the Maronite Patriarch busy for an hour, the expression on her face, and her reaction, is priceless.

Naturally it also has a decidedly French flair and cultural grounding. The fictional French Foreign Minister fancying himself standing up for France’s “grandeur,” sharing his pretensions to personal literary and intellectual prowess with a patrician pomposity (that is somehow not ultimately off-putting), and topping it off with an “I know best” glint in the eye – while it often also seems he is about to poke himself in the eye – would not readily fly written for a U.S. on-screen politician. I don’t think U.S. audiences would buy it.

Meaning I suspect it would be close to impossible to portray a U.S. Secretary of State in a manner similar to that French minister. Yet you have to believe someone in Hollywood has already optioned the rights to this (because *it’s French*) to try to concoct some U.S. version. And they’ll probably eventually produce some predictably weak, watered down film, over-straining to be funny.

An Incredibly Dangerous Job

Ernie Pyle was embedded with U.S. forces on Iejima, Okinawa, in 1945, where he would be killed by Japanese machine-gun fire.

Photographer Robert Capa landed on Omaha Beach with U.S. troops in the second wave on D-Day. A decade later, traveling with French forces, he would die in Indochina after stepping on a mine.

ABC’s Bill Stewart, in Nicaragua covering the Sandinista rebellion in 1979, was shot at a government roadblock in cold blood despite having on his person, and having presented, press credentials issued by the Nicaraguan president’s office.

History is full of so many other examples of how war reporting is incredibly dangerous even when a journalist is accredited to one side and a “frontline” is relatively clear. But attempting to report from a “fluid field” is even more problematic: reporters may end up largely on their own in “no man’s land.” Being a journalist does not provide automatic “neutrality.”

Errol Flynn’s son, photojournalist Sean, was captured by communist Vietnamese forces and (presumed) killed in Cambodia in 1971 by the Khmer Rouge.

More recently, back in May, French photojournalist Camille Lepage, covering the horrific and confusing civil war in the Central African Republic, was discovered by French peacekeepers in a truck, having been murdered.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a newspaper and magazine.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a newspaper and magazine.

Now James Foley has been added to the terrible list. He will not be the last, of course. We should always remember those who bravely choose to place themselves in potentially fatal harm’s way to try to give us back at home some insights as to what the hell is going on. :-(

“You fascist!”

….No, no, no, the post title doesn’t mean I’m calling *you* (friendly reader/ visitor) a “fascist.” Please don’t misunderstand. I used it because that (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) accusation is hurled in Passports during a morning, uh, “friendly exchange of views,” between Isabelle and Uncle Bill at Bill’s Rhode Island coastal cottage:

Next Bill called to the dining room. “Isabelle, toast and eggs?” Unexpectedly, he expanded the menu choices. “Want anything else? If you were being polite last night, don’t be. This is a continental house. Feel free to smoke.”

Despite being unsure if she had again misunderstood Bill’s English, Isabelle nonetheless dived in.

“White coffee and toast please, Uncle Bill. That will be lovely. Thank you.” Both feet on the floor now, she crossed her legs and pushed aside hairs hanging down on her forehead. “And so you know,” she added, “I don’t smoke. You think all the French are the same? We all smoke?”

“Well, all the French I know seem to smoke like chimneys,” Bill maintained as he advanced to the table and chose the seat across from her. Next he changed conversational topic mid-paragraph as he often did. “So what about that Mitterrand? He’s done over there soon, isn’t he? Who’ll be the next president?”

James sat on a longer side of the slightly rectangular table, between them, as if positioned inadvertently to referee. Taking some toast, he joked, “Uncle, you been watching the news on public television again?”

Isabelle responded from across the table without hesitation, “Balladur or Chirac, of course.”

Pouring orange juice, Bill questioned, “Who?” He moved the toast plate closer to Isabelle. “Please, have some more. You know, I sensed it last night. You’re a Gaullist. You fascist! Gaullists hate Americans!”

“No, they don’t,” she answered softly. “They love France. It is the Socialists who hate Americans. Mitterrand has been a disaster for France.”

Bill smiled broadly and looked over at James sitting to the side. “Nephew, you sure can pick ’em.”

“Okay,” Isabelle began to question Bill mockingly, and a bit flirtatiously, “who should be President of France, as you sit here, great American writer, judging the world from, ooh, what little state is this again? Uh, Delaware? I forget.”

Bill lobbed a calculated grenade at Isabelle. “Whoever the Socialist is. We need socialism in the U.S.”

“Bah!” she dismissed that out of hand. “You have not lived under socialists. I know communists, yes, but I do not want them to rule France. You have been with Spanish writers and Cubans. They do hate America. I bet they are communists. We thanked God that Mitterrand had to spend so many years sharing power with Chirac.”

Ignoring her charges, Bill went another route. “God? I thought young Europeans today were a lot smarter than our Bible-thumping Americans?”

Isabelle was at a loss. “Aren’t you Catholic like James and your family?”

Taking a breath, he explained, “Right. You know, Isabelle, I think of myself as a Unitarian.” Seeing her appear to go blank at the word, Bill appended, “We believe in sort of everything.”

Isabelle was underwhelmed. She knew what a Unitarian was. “But do not Unitarians believe in God?” she grilled him pointedly while grasping her coffee mug. “And to say one believes in everything is to hold nothing sacred.”

Bill pronounced, “Nephew, she is definitely French!”

James complained, “Uncle, I didn’t think I was in this breakfast debate?”

Had enough? As James has? What? You mean that back and forth didn’t cause you as a conservative to turn socialist, or vice-versa?

I follow many of you who are also authors – or musicians, or actors, or you travel blog, or you’re interested in cultural issues, or you’re just sharing thoughts with us. It should go without saying I’m flattered if you follow me. In organizing my followings here deliberately along mostly “apolitical” lines, WordPress has become for me a welcome island of friendliness, learning and calm compared to much else out there in major media.

As we know, nothing exists in isolation. In recent days I’ve been surprised by several generally “non-political follows” who’ve suddenly taken to mounting Everest-height soapboxes. They’ve filled posts with barrages of heavy-handed political invective. (That’s being “charitable” in describing the content. I could use stronger language.)

If you wish to read diatribes from those who support your “worldview” (whatever it is), it is usually easy enough to find out there. Follow a few of the crazies on Twitter. Or just click over to commenter cesspools that are found on sites like CNN’s.

In a friendly Twitter exchange I had had with a CNN.com producer about so many of the incredibly nasty online comments, he noted that he simply tells op-ed contributors not to read the comments below their pieces. Can you imagine? Yet it’s easy to understand why: the bigotry and viciousness some spew via keyboard is appalling – and, one has to believe, mostly also from those who would likely never be so rude to someone’s face.

Free Stock Photo: The White House in Washington, DC.

Free Stock Photo: The White House in Washington, DC.

I know I have on occasion blogged here on somewhat contentious issues. Amanda Knox, Devyani Khobragade, and immigration, immediately come to mind. But when I do, I try to do so with moderation, within the framework of my own knowledge and experience, and while remembering my self-imposed guidelines for this blog. (See the top banner.)

Civility and respect: where have you gone? If you want to scribble vitriol online, of course you are free to do so; but I did not follow YOU to read that. I firmly believe that chest-thumping, name-calling, and jumping up and down usually wins no friends who don’t already agree with you, and rarely changes minds.

Five Centuries In Eight Photographs

Yesterday, we visited the Castillo de San Marcos at St. Augustine. For centuries, the fort was central in the town’s existence. Although it has changed hands by treaty several times, no attacker has ever taken it in battle.

That in mind, here is a history of that fort, and St. Augustine…. as, uh, illustrated and outlined, in chronological order, by some photographs:

1. In 1513, Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon wanders through seeking the Fountain of Youth. He never finds it. [Photo by me, 2014]

1. In 1513, Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon wanders through seeking the Fountain of Youth. He never finds it. [Photo by me, 2014]

2. The site now marked by a cross, other Spaniards land in 1565. A first Mass is said. [Photo by me, 2014

2. The site now marked by a cross, other Spaniards land in 1565. A first Mass is said. [Photo by me, 2014.]

3. After several wooden forts fail to do the job they want, the Spaniards get serious and decide to build a masonry one. [Photo by me, 2014.]

3. After several wooden forts fail to do the job they want, the Spaniards get serious and decide to build a masonry one. [Photo by me, 2014.]

4. Front of the Castillo de San Marcos. [Photo by me, 2014.]

4. Front of the Castillo de San Marcos. [Photo by me, 2014.]

5. Imperial Spain's flag proudly flew over the town and fort for centuries. [Photo by me, 2014.]

5. Imperial Spain’s flag proudly flew over the fort. [Photo by me, 2014.]

6. Unfortunately, Spain's flag also looked too much like England's Cross of St. George from a distance. Which made fighting naval battles a bit confusing. So in the 18th century, the Spanish changed their flag. [Photo by me, 2014.]

6. Unfortunately, Spain’s flag looked too much like England’s Cross of St. George from a distance. Which made fighting naval battles difficult. So in the 18th century, the Spanish changed theirs. [Photo by me, 2014.]

7. Great Britain took over Florida in 1763. But they had to give it back to Spain in 1783. [Photo by me, 2014.]

7. Great Britain took over Florida in 1763. But they had to give it back to Spain in 1783. [Photo by me, 2014.]

8. Finally, the Americans.... [Photo by me, 2014.]

8. Finally, the Americans…. [Photo by me, 2014.]

A bit of a history lesson. In pictures. But don’t worry, there’s no quiz to follow. ;-)

Happy Independence Day, 2014

A few thoughts on today’s U.S. Independence Day. It’s an extra-special one for us because it’s my wife’s first as a U.S. citizen. And she is – as you know if you visit regularly – British.

It’s also the first one for some time in which we are actually physically present in the U.S. We have often laughed on our trips around the U.S. over the years as to how the history of “1776 and all that” seems a bit awkward at times. Invariably, at some point, she’d hear some tour guide say something like this:

“Welcome. This is where George Washington lived. He was our first president. He led the American army in battle against the British.”

Or:

“This is the home of Thomas Jefferson. He is most famous for writing the Declaration of Independence during the war with Britain. He also once said he would have sunk that whole island into the sea.”

Or:

“Here, at Yorktown, this is where the Americans and the French cut off the British under Lord Cornwallis, and the British army eventually surrendered.”

She accepts all of that. That was then, she jokes; and things have changed rather a lot since. And, earlier this morning, she reminded me with a smile that this is “her country” too now.

However, one matter she is never too happy about is, uh, that “the French” were here! ;-)

Photo that is the source for the Passports novel cover. [Photo by me.]

Photo that is the source for the Passports novel cover. [Photo by me.]

The famous Tricolor we know so well is not the French flag under which France aided the U.S. in the war. The French flag then was that of the Ancien Régime. During the 1790s, Americans became split on whether they owed the new French revolutionary regime anything, given that regime was not the one that had helped America win independence.

And the U.S. Stars and Stripes was not the flag under which independence was declared either. But never mind. It all gets too complicated. :-)

Happy 4th of July!
________

UPDATE: That said, one Lynn Cole, resident in Italy, shares this view in The Guardian:

I am not a god-fearing, gun-toting, flag-waving, red-blooded American but a world citizen, and always have been.

She would hardly be the first to fancy herself a “world citizen.” To confirm it, my suggestion for anyone who holds that opinion is the next time you approach a border officer in airport arrivals in New York, London, Paris, Rome, or wherever globally, that you inform the officer of that status. A U.S., or other country’s, passport will no doubt not then be required of you as you are warmly greeted, “Welcome, World Citizen.”

Favorite News Sources

I saw this asked on Twitter yesterday:

What are some of your favorite sources for trusted news?

I had never really considered that systematically before. I read lots of sites, so I had to think on it carefully; and I tweeted back several. Here is a fuller list of my “go to” regularly sites:

CNN
BBC
France 24
CBS News
VOA
RFE/RL
LBCI
The Christian Science Monitor
ANSA
SABC
The Times of India

Looking at those again now I’ve just realized that only one – the Times of India – appears to be an outright “newspaper.”

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a man reading a newspaper on a bench.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a man reading a newspaper on a bench.

Taking matters to another level, how about this? “Favorite” correspondents? Mine are:

1) “International”:

Hala Gorani (CNN), Vivienne Walt (Time, etc.), and Anne-Elisabeth Moutet (The Telegraph, France 24, etc. – and who follows me on Twitter!).

2) “U.S. national”:

Mark Knoller (CBS), and Brooke Baldwin (CNN…. who also follows me on Twitter!).

3) Extremely “U.S. local” (meaning the Catskills, in upstate NY):

Watershed Post (and which also follows me on Twitter, and is in my sidebar here).

I could go on and add some others – media outlets and individuals – but I’m sure you get the gist. Everyone has their preferences of course, and likely you have yours. Oh, and being followed on Twitter does not necessarily impact my preferences! ;-)

My Day

Friday was a relatively ordinary day. I started early, at the PC after 6am re-reading Thursday’s writing output. I then had a read of what’s going on in the world, messed around on Twitter a bit, and put up a post here. Actually getting dressed and eating breakfast followed. I then tackled a few things around the house as well.

Around 9am, the new writing began. Here, I use a large-screen, desktop PC that sits on a glass-topped desk positioned on our loft office space. I have a comfortable office chair (which has wheels). If I sit back for a think, I can see Windham Mountain through a window.

The desk is large, and I’ve got reference materials scattered all over it and stuffed in hanging files sitting off to the side. For a background history refresher, on the desk right now is also a book I’m re-reading on the Algerian conflict (1954-1962). Reference material like that usually ends up supporting only a paragraph or two, or a few sentences in a conversation; but I firmly believe that, for this tale, reality has to support the fiction believably. (Think, in a similar sense, of the likes of, say, The Winds of War, but on a much more intimate scale…. and with no character becoming close to a U.S. president or a Soviet dictator.)

I had sat down with a detailed part of a chapter already firmly in mind. (I have the sequel outlined, but “the guts” are what need filling in.) I also had had a brainstorm about an unplanned, new chapter for the second half of the book, and which I felt I had to sketch out at least. I don’t really want to add to “part 2” just now; but when an idea hits, I have to write it down so I don’t forget it.

When I get going, I “zone out.” I put in earphones and play music (often older stuff from the 1990s as inspiration). My wife jokes that she knows not to talk to me when I’m writing. (“Your brain is elsewhere, thinking I don’t know what, about I don’t want to know who, and I can see that.”) As I tap, tap, tap, she leaves me alone, and goes off to do whatever she has to do.

image

Hours disappear. If you want to see your life vanish, write a novel. Nine o’clock yesterday morning was suddenly 1pm. Four hours gone in a flash. After a bite to eat, and a quick shower, it was back to “the grind.” Four o’clock rolled around faster than I could yell “Patchogue!” – hint: that’s an obscure reference to the first book:

“No, I’m definitely not English,” James made clear. Trying to play it cool, he looked down again at his notebook for a moment, unsure what to say next. Finally, he voiced what seemed obvious. “And you aren’t from Patchogue?”

Uh, to be clear, I’m not asserting there that “Patchogue” is obscure. I don’t want to get into trouble! Rather I’m noting only that the reference to it in the book might be. ;-)

Aside from a sandwich and the shower, in all those hours I had barely gotten far from the desk. The result was worth it. I had pages and pages of (what seems decent) material.

At some point, I checked Twitter. I could see tweeting pals either exulting or bemoaning Spain’s being kicked all the way to Amsterdam in the World Cup. I was back in “the real world” again. :-)

Happy Saturday!

In Kinderhook

In “I Love NY” TV ads, Hyde Park gets mentioned regularly. FDR, FDR, FDR. Always, FDR….

President Martin Van Buren's home, in Kinderhook. [Photo by me, 2014.]

President Martin Van Buren’s home, in Kinderhook. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Tourist board at President Martin Van Buren's home, in Kinderhook. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Tourist board at President Martin Van Buren’s home, in Kinderhook. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Yesterday, we visited the estate of the first, and thus far only, U.S. president not to have spoken English as his first language. (His was Dutch.)

About an hour and a half north of Hyde Park, President Martin Van Buren’s home, Lindenwald, on Route 9H in Kinderhook, is a relaxed place – and a pleasant learning experience. It’s also inexpensive. The extensive grounds are free (and there are also walking trails), and it’s only $5 for a 50 minute National Park Service guided tour of his beautiful home.

Yes, we all know FDR is a huge deal. So of course his Hyde Park home is a “must see.” But, hey, let’s not totally overlook the 8th president…. who was also the first president born as a U.S. citizen (in 1782), as well as the first to come from New York! ;-)

The Outsiders

The New York Times, being the New York Times:

Britain’s New Immigrants, From Romania and Bulgaria, Face Hostilities

I write “being the New York Times” because the piece chatters, but ultimately leads nowhere. It tells us nothing essentially new about the migration issue itself. Nor does it offer any suggestion of a way to diminish those “hostilities.”

In that article, Britain really could be any country; and Romanians and Bulgarians could be any newcomers arriving in any country. As Britain does (as every country does), Romania and Bulgaria have their borders…. and settlement laws and frontier guards empowered to decide who may enter. And most of those populaces would likely not be pleased about masses of British incomers deciding to cross “their line” and set up homes within their geographical area either.

Even though I have “permission,” I have always been self-conscious of the fact that in my working in Britain a native might not have a job. A Danish friend, married to an Englishman, and living in the U.K., has said similarly that she often reminds herself she is not British. Yet her brother-in-law is also British and married to her sister, and he is living and working now in Denmark.

Twenty-first century borders are far more formal than they have ever been, but human communities have always enforced boundaries. Whether it was an Ancient Greek “city-state” of a thousand souls setting itself apart from another similarly sized one just across a mountain, or today’s high-tech nation-state frontiers relying on biometric passports, we create them for a variety of reasons too complex and varied to begin to explore here. And, lest we forget, even within our modern countries there are uncountable gradations of “borders”: from province/ state, to county, to city, and so on, down through school catchment area all the way to, say, residents’-only street parking.

image

We humans have always been an “excluding” species. Because they are not “from, or of, here,” outsiders have always faced “hostilities” simply because they are outsiders. There is no reason to believe that will ever change.