Friday, January 29, 2010

Yad Vashem

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out. – Martin Niemoller

January 27 th marked the sixty fifth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi death camp. In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated this day as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an annual day of commemoration to honor the victims of the Nazi era. That same year, the newly rebuilt Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem (the national Authority for the Remembrance of the Martyrs and Heroes of the Holocaust) was opened at the 50-acre site on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

For He Was Welsh, You Know: Reading Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth

Fluellen:  And I do believe your majesty takes
no scorn to wear the leek upon Saint Tavy’s day.

King Henry:  I wear it for a memorable honour,
For I am Welsh, you know, good countryman.

As I listened to John Metcalf’s Mapping Wales, I conjured a sky thick with Welsh archers’ arrows.  The arrows weren’t the stuff of my imagination, but a scene from Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V.  As one thing so often leads to another, I thought it time to give the film another look.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Virtues of Difficulty

I had intended this, my first post here, to address the literary economy in some way. As co-director of the Pages & Places Book Festival in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and as we’re deep into the planning for the 2010 festival, our second, I'm now contending with all the expected difficulties regards, for example, convincing government officials and even grant-giving foundations to support a celebration of books. So I have plenty of opportunity, let’s call it, to realize to what degree lovers of books and reading are but a tiny minority.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Winter in Valley Forge

“It is beyond description to conceive what the men suffer . . .”
~Col. Philip Van Cortland,
in a letter to the Governor of NY, 13 Feb. 1778

It is cold. The wind whips down the grand parade of Valley Forge National Park. In winter the tree branches are exposed and bare. The landscape, which had been a spectacular panorama of fiery reds, oranges and yellows in autumn, is a muddle of drab browns and grays now. The ground is frozen, it is certainly no weather to enjoy a picnic, as you might if you came to Valley Forge in the spring. But winter is the time of year to visit Valley Forge.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Insurance-Defying Fitness: In Praise of Marilyn Moffat

Gina Kolata’s recent article, “Treat Me, but No Tricks Please,” in the New York Times, brought on a firestorm in response.  In the article, Kolata questioned whether there was “rigorous evidence” to show that physical therapy was effective and asked, “With all that voodoo physical therapy out there, though, how can you tell if what you are getting is helping or useless?”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chance Encounters

Back in the sixties, my dad was transferred to Washington DC for a year, so my mom was temporarily trapped in a little apartment with me, a toddler, for company. Right next door, as luck would have it, was Dotty, another transplanted mom with Theresa, her toddler. My mom and Dotty found themselves sharing lots of coffee while their two little girls played. Mothers who undergo the slings and arrows of raising toddlers together often bond over this experience, like battle-weary soldiers. Mom and Dotty were no exception. Our photo album is filled with pictures of Theresa and me at birthday parties, playgrounds, swimming pools and picnics.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A World of White and Snowy Scents

Still one would want more, one would need more,
More than a world of white and snowy scents.

-Wallace Stevens

Right now, I can’t imagine beyond snow.  It’s been falling all day again, though this time, not to much effect.  Deer tracks run everywhere:  they veer toward the hemlock, then, foiled by the fencing, veer back to open ground.  The paths break into ragged patches where deer scraped through to get at grass.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


This movie signals our entry into the second decade of the new millennium. Writer and director James Cameron conceived of the project 15 years ago, though he had to wait this long for technology to catch up with his vision - he even invented a new camera in the process.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Armchair Traveling: Mapping Wales, the Music of John Metcalf

Despite several trips to Great Britain, I’ve never been to Wales.  My partner of many years felt marooned there for a time, and that may be the reason we haven’t gone.  (Back then, if an English grammar student had no Latin, attending university in England to study English was next to impossible—Wales was almost all there was.)  The other association we have with Wales is no better:  we’d met a Welsh singer who, we were told, had a lovely voice, but what we encountered was a decidedly unlovely drunk.