My Muses Part 1

Rita Tushingham

I had always viewed myself as something of an ugly duckling. In grade school, I was always close to being the shortest kid in class. Also, I was always a bit on the scruffy side—and I still am. So when I wound up in college, some six hundred miles from home (and me never having been more than a few miles from home before), I found myself gravitating toward the movies.

The first film I saw projected at Dartmouth’s Fairbanks Hall was Carl Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (1943), a film about witchcraft that got me started thinking about film as an art form. I was particularly impressed by the Danish actress Lisbeth Movin, who plays a young witch married to a minister. I don’t think I had ever seen an actress quite so beautiful. Now, some sixty years later, I still think of her as radiant.

Lisbeth Movin in Dreyer’s Day of Wrath

I was always enthralled by the beauty of certain actresses, even though I felt like Caliban in front of most girls. At the time, Dartmouth College had only male students; so I was relatively safe from making a fool of myself.

My next “muse” was Rita Tushingham who made a big impact on me during the 1960s.

Another View of Lovey Rita

Her eyes were so close together under her bangs, and her nose was the perfect ski jump, but I was enthralled. She had been described by some in the press as “ugly,” but I did not think so. According to an article in the guardian, “A New York Times reporter who met her described her as ‘a slip of a girl, her uncosmeticised face framed in straight dark hair, wearing a sweater and jeans, with those enormous eyes incessantly expressive even when the rest of the small face disappeared behind a big yellow coffee cup.’”

I think it was the eyes that did it. I have always been a sucker for women with eyes that seemed to come to life. Today I saw her first film, Tony Richardson’s A Taste of Honey (1961). She was to appear in other 1960s productions such as The Girl with Green Eyes (1964) and Doctor Zhivago (1965), but it was that gamine Rita of the 1960s that I so dearly loved.

Lend-Lease

American M3 Lee Tank Used by Russians in WW2

I have just finished reading David M. Glantz and Jonathan M. House’s The Battle of Kursk, probably the authoritative study of the campaign that turned the tide on the Eastern Front against the Germans. (For some reason, I always spend part of every summer boning up on military history, particularly the American Civil War, the Roman legions, and the Second World War on the Eastern Front.)

The Soviets were greatly helped by the Lend-Lease program that provided the non-Fascist combatants in the war with surplus military equipment. Russia was the beneficiary of $11 million worth of war supplies (though Britain got the lion’s share), including planes, tanks, and miscellaneous trucks and other military vehicles. Even Britain and Canada joined in, as shown in the below photo:

British Valentine Tank Earmarked for the USSR

Of course, things didn’t always go smoothly. You might be interested in reading a memo by a Comrade Korobkov relating to miscellaneous problems with the tanks arriving by convoy to Murmansk.

The Glantz book contains a couple of amusing nicknames assigned by the Soviet troops to the gifted tanks. Because of its odd layout and insufficient armor, the M3 Lee was referred to as a “grave for seven brothers.” The unreliable and flammable British Valentine and Matilda tanks were called “field crematoriums.”

 

Kursk

It Was the Greatest Tank Battle in History

People in the United States know very little about World War Two as it was fought in Europe. The real war in Europe was waged on the Eastern Front, after Hitler invaded Russia in the summer of 1941. At first, it was all blitzkrieg, with German victories on all fronts and horrendous Russian losses. Things began to change after Stalingrad, however, when the entire German 6th Army surrendered to the Soviets.

The next big battle was at the Kursk salient. Hitler and his generals planned to attack the salient from two sides, take Kursk, and trap several Soviet armies. This was the intent of Operation Citadel, as shown in the map below:

Operation Citadel as the Germans Planned It

The German General Staff thought the Russians would take fright at the Nazis’ technologically superior tanks and surrender in droves. But the Russians—beginning with Stalin himself—learned their lesson in 1941 and 1942. In July 1943, Stalin realized he had more human and industrial resources to draw on than the Germans. This was similar to Ulysses S. Grant realization during the American Civil War when, after the Battle of the Wilderness, realized that he could afford to take more casualties than Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and still win.

Instead of pinching off the Russians in the salient, General Walter Model advanced only 10 miles on the north, where he was beaten by Rokossovsky’s Central Front. The real battle was in the south, where General Erich von Manstein battled with Nikolai Vatutin’s Voronezh Front over the town of Prokhorovka. Vatutin kept throwing rifle regiments, tanks, and artillery at von Manstein’s Army Group South until, after a 30-mile advance, the Germans could go no further.

The Russians had a very good idea of what the Germans were planning with Operation Citadel, and they had more men (at a 2.5:1 ratio) than the Germans, and more tanks (though not as good). So they planned carefully to fight to the last man, if necessary.

The Battle for Prokhorovka (The Germans in Blue)

By the time Vatutin and Rokossovsky had finished with the German army, there was no more blitzkrieg. Hitler didn’t know it yet, but from this point his armies were in retreat.
.

“Yet To Die Unalone Still”

Russian Poet Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938)

He got it right when he said, “Only in Russia is poetry respected—it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?” In fact, Osip Mandelstam was killed for his poetry, mostly for having written some highly uncomplimentary things about Stalin, things like:

His thick fingers are bulky and fat like live-baits,
And his accurate words are as heavy as weights.
Cucaracha’s moustaches are screaming,
And his boot-tops are shining and gleaming.

Although Stalin wanted to send him to the Gulags considerably earlier, Mandelstam spent much of the 1930s in a Siberian labor camp, finally dying in 1938 of a heart condition.

He is without a doubt one of the three or four leading Russian poets of his generation, as this short poem proves:

Yet to Die. Unalone Still.

Yet to die. Unalone still.
For now your pauper-friend is with you.
Together you delight in the grandeur of the plains,
And the dark, the cold, the storms of snow.

Live quiet and consoled
In gaudy poverty, in powerful destitution.
Blessed are those days and nights.
The work of this sweet voice is without sin.

Misery is he whom, like a shadow,
A dog’s barking frightens, the wind cuts down.
Poor is he who, half-alive himself
Begs his shade for pittance.

The translation is by John High and Matvei Yankelevich. I got it from the Poetry Foundation’s website.

 

Along the Paraná

Vacation Homes Along the Delta of the Paraná

I was talking to my friend Bill Korn a few minutes ago. When he happened to mention that there were massive fires in the delta of the Paraná River, I was shocked. I was familiar with the Paraná Delta, having taken a boat tour of the area in 2006 and 2015. I pulled up an article The Guardian, which described parts of the delta upriver from Tigre, around the city of Rosario: The area with which I was familiar was where the river feeds into the Rio de la Plata. It is an a weekend getaway for the residents of Buenos Aires that is densely vegetated, very pretty, but full of mosquitoes.

The Drainage Area of the River Paraná

The Paraná is the second longest river in South America. Its drainage area includes Argentina, all of Paraguay, and parts of Brazil and Bolivia. As you can see from the above map, Rosario is not far from Rosario, a city I went through on a night bus on the way to Puerto Iguazu, where the boundaries of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina meet, The river is some 3,030 miles (4,800 km) long and is navigable for much of its length with several deep water ports along its length. In Puerto Iguazu, I dined on surubi, a fresh water fish caught on the river.

View from a Boat Ride on the Delta

I have been to Argentina three times and fallen in love with the country. I hope that, what with Argentina mired in the coronavirus, they manage to save some of the beautiful places I have seen. It is along the river that much of Argentina’s Yerba Mate crop is grown. I remember from that bus ride passing through almost a hundred miles of fields where the tea leaves are grown.

 

Plague Diary 30: Heroes and … Martyrs?

We’re All in This Together, or Are We?

There is a nauseating saccharine imagine coming down to us from corporate America of everyday heroes in the struggle against coronavirus. The word “hero” is being bandied about … a lot! But when you come to think about it, it doesn’t cost much to employ people in hazardous work without making much of an effort to guarantee their safety. You see, if you call them heroes, you open up the possibility that many of them can make the ultimate sacrifice and become martyrs. And we know that martyrs are heroes that can no longer fight back. Very safe from a corporate standpoint.

I have become very suspicious of this type of unanimity from U.S. corporations. But it’s not just an American trait: During the Chernobyl disaster, dozens of Soviet citizens were fighting toxic radioactivity with nothing more protective than brooms and shovels. Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich wrote a book of interviews with people involved in the disaster. It was entitled Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster. I am not trying to imply that the coronavirus is like a nuclear accident, but it certainly shared a similar awfulness and magnitude.

SNL Takes on Three Mile Island

While on the subject of nuclear accidents, I am reminded of a Saturday Night Live sketch after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979. The title of the skit was “The Pepsi Syndrome.” The reaction of the bigwigs was to send Garrett Morris dressed as a maid with a broom to clean up the radioactivity.

It is in the nature of power to make the innocent pay the price. The whole hero thing is nothing more than soft soap, and during this epidemic, we certainly have had enough of soft soap, haven’t we?

 

 

 

Medical Miracles

Me in Ojai 1999

I bought my first digital camera, a Kodak, in 1999. Although I had severe osteoarthritis in my left hip and did not dare walk without a cane, I was still pretty active, working full-time at a busy Westwood accounting firm, traveling, and even hiking on weekends. It was not without pain, however, which was to get worse until 2002, when I visited my orthopedist who asked me, while looking at my X-Ray, “Tell me, Mr. Paris, how is it you are able to walk at all?” At that point, my left leg was 1½ inches shorter than my right; and I had a few bad falls.

Within a few months, I had a hip replacement, during which my left leg was somehow lengthened to be even with my right. After my release from Cedars-Sinai and several visits to a physical therapist, I was able to walk without cane and without pain.

The surgery was nothing less than a miracle—and not even the first one in my life. Back in September 1966, I was hospitalized at Cleveland’s Fairview Park Hospital with a chromophobe adenoma, a pituitary tumor that had given me over ten years of severe frontal headaches on most days. With considerable pain, I managed to get a four-year education at an Ivy League college thinking I was just just being a coward about pain. My headaches were due to migraines, a “lazy eye,” hay fever—you name it! It was only when I got the mother of all headaches, one that segued into a coma, that my doctors figured out there was something else happening. In those days,it was not easy to look inside the body except via X-Rays, and X-Rays did not show tumors.

Fortunately, my family doctor just happened to be an endocrinologist who managed to guess I had a pituitary tumor. The surgery was one which typically killed the patient, turned him into a paralytic or a blind man. I was the first person ever to have my pituitary accessed through the brain without dying or becoming totally disabled. And the headaches are totally gone, except for an occasional small one that responds well to aspirin.

 

 

Rewriting History

Still Standing Statue of Saint Junipero Serra

I have written before about attempts by mostly leftist protestors to rewrite history by attacking monuments commemorating Confederate generals, Christopher Columbus, and now Father Junipero Serra, recently declared a saint by Pope Francis. I get very uncomfortable by anyone attempting to mess with the past. People believed and behaved differently in the past, and, yes, they were frequently racist. In fact, before a certain point in the Twentieth Century, everyone was a racist. That included my Mother and Father, whose memory I revere.

The current attempts to punish past racists remind me of a scene from Luis Buñuel’s film The Milky Way (La Voie Lactée), my favorite among his films. In one scene, the religious pilgrims view the exhumation of the body of an archbishop who, because it was discovered he had been a heretic, is to have his body burned. I sincerely doubt that the heretical bishop was discommoded in any way by the firing of his remains; and I doubt that the religious zealots viewing the exhumation and fire received any benefit therefrom. I feel the same way about the renaming of Fort Bragg, the pulling down of statues of Robert E. Lee and Junipero Serra.

Over the years, Martine and I have visited several of the California missions founded by Father Serra. We found them to be places of peace. We know for a fact that many of these missions included barracks for Spanish troops. If there were any depredations against native aborigines, they were conducted by soldiers and not Franciscan priests and monks. Were any of these Franciscans racists? Of course, they were Spanish—and that racism was endemic during that historical era.

Father Junipero Serra, Recently Sainted

Perhaps we should burn all our history books, after first admitting that all previous generations were tainted. Instead of rewriting history, perhaps we should burn all the books and create a mythical Edenic portrait of people who lived in the past and condoned slavery while admitting that all men were created equal. Maybe we should burn the people who who are toppling the statues. It makes me disgusted that I have liberal leanings!

 

Breakfast

Our Dinner Table in 2011

My main meal of the day is breakfast; and the most important component of my breakfast is a fresh pot of tea. The above photo was taken nine years ago, but I am using the same cheap metal Japanese teapot. I like it because it has a removable insert which captures all the tea leaves so I don’t end up pouring any in my cup. Visible in the upper left of the photo is a green and grey houndstooth-checked tea cosy, which I hardly use any more. After breakfast, I let my tea cool and, for lunch and dinner, pour the cold tea into a glass and add ice cubes. If I want to be fancy, I could also add Splenda, a little splash of dark rum, and a squeeze of lemon or lime.

My tea preference is almost always an Indian black, consisting of Ahmad of London’s loose teas, sometimes a mix of Darjeeling, Ceylon, Assam, and Brooke Bond Red Label tea. Right now, I am drinking pure Darjeeling, which I consider the best of Indian teas. When the coronavirus eventually subsides, I will shop for a high-quality Chinese Oolong from Ten Ren Tea Company for occasional entertaining.

At present, I add a bit of Mesquite Honey to the tea in my cup and a squeeze of lime.

Along with the tea, I rotate between steel-cut oatmeal with dried cranberries; grits with sausage, butter, and pepper; scrambled eggs with Serrano chiles; onion or sesame bagel with butter and cream cheese; my own kind of Welsh Rarebit on a sourdough English muffin with sharp Cheddar cheese and spicy red chile powder; crunchy peanut butter and jelly sandwich; sausage and biscuit; or, if I am pressed for time, just buttered toast.

It’s not much, but it makes an excellent start to my day. Martine and I usually eat breakfast separately, so I usually read the Los Angeles Times, concentrating on the comics, Sudoku and Kenken games, and (finally) the news.

Deatinations: Baja

Suddenly, in My Quarantined Stupor, Baja California Looked Better and Better

Next to my seat at the kitchen table sits a stack of Lonely Planet and Moon travel guides. Of late, the top volume in the stack has been the Moon Baja guide. I have nibbled at the edges of the 775-mile (1,274 km) peninsula several times: once to Cabo San Lucas for several days, once to Ensenada for three days, once to Tijuana on a day trip, and once to Mexicali.

What begins to interest me of late is a drive on Mexica Route 1 from Tijuana all the way to Cabo San Lucas. If I went by bus, it would be a 24-hour ride. If I went by car, it would be much longer, because there are a number of towns along the way at which I’d like to stop for several days, and a number of side trips to the old Jesuit missions which are the Mexican equivalent of the Serra’s missions in my State of (Alta) California.

Mapa of the Baja California Peninsula

I am not much of a beach person, but I do love the desert—but never during the heat of summer. I see myself visiting missions, Indian cave paintings, taking pangas to se the Grey Whales, eating fish tacos and drinking good Mexican beer. I want to see the desert full of strange Boojum Trees (Fouquieria columnaris), which look as if they could have been invented by Dr. Seuss.

Paging Dr. Seuss

The damnable thing is that Baja is so close to Los Angeles. It would take me maybe three hours to drive to the border. I would prefer to rent a car, but I don’t like the idea of driving from TJ to Los Cabos and back again. I’ll have to see if some special arrangement could be made for me to fly back after dropping the car off.

Well, it’s maybe just a pipe dream; but it could happen.