Sunday, December 28, 2014

Slaughter of the Innocents

In many Christian denominations today is Holy Innocents' Day, commemorating the massacre of all boys two years of age and under in the City of Bethlehem on orders from King Herod, who was frightened by the prophecy told to him by the Magi some time after the birth of Jesus that one of the boys would grow up to be the King of the Jews.  The story is found only in Matthew, and like some other New Testament narratives that reference a specific historical incident, such as the census ordered by Caesar Augustus (that Luke said brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem), there is some doubt this event actually occurred.  Of the four canonical Gospel writers, Matthew was the one most concerned with Old Testament prophecies, and the massacre story is thought to be the fulfillment of one of them. 

Regardless of whether the event took place as Matthew described, it has certainly inspired many artists.  One of the most striking paintings by the Venetian Tintoretto, one of my favorites, is his treatment of this story.  Slaughter of the Innocents is just one of his many large depictions of bible stories on display at the remarkable Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice.  In fact, the large two story building is so chock full of his paintings that some are displayed on the ceiling of the second floor, where mirrors and seats are provided for viewing.
In his guide to the collection, Francesco Valcanover remarks that Tintoretto's painting displays “a tragic, violently dramatic pathos created by the unrestrained tangle of forms in the cruel scene....  All the details are of epic expressive violence and some attain high points of poetic effectiveness... The individual episodes are ... amalgamated under the unifying, continuous force of radiant lights into a whole that gives off an inspiration of dramatic greatness....”
R Balsamo

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Good Tidings of Great Joy

....And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
From the Gospel of Luke

A postcard from the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany at Ashland Avenue and Adams Street on Chicago’s Near West Side, giving times of various 1905 Christmastime worship services and celebrations.  According to Father George Lane in Chicago Churches and Synagogues, the Church was constructed in 1885 of rusticated Lake Superior limestone in the Romanesque style reminiscent of the Trinity Church in Boston, and contains “elegant woodwork and beautiful mosaics.”

R Balsamo

Friday, December 12, 2014

Patrick O’Brian at 100 – Remembering His Remarkable Aubrey-Maturin Series of Historical Fiction

Today would have been the 100th birthday of Patrick O'Brian, author of a remarkable feat of historical fiction – a story spanning 20 and one-half books of the particular friendship and adventures of English naval captain, expert navigator, and amateur mathematician Jack Aubrey and Irish/Catalan noted physician, spy, and naturalist Stephen Maturin.  At first drawn together by their love of music, they become fast and somewhat improbable friends and serve together in the British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, through battles and intrigue, loves and losses, sickness and injury, and wealth and impoverishment, all while fighting the French, their allies, and their spies across the globe on both land and sea.   

O’Brian was not only a great storyteller but was as well a meticulous researcher.  The series is a treasure for its complexity of plot, depth of characterizations, and fascinating period detail about flora, fauna, food, drink, and sailing ships.  His use of authentic language and nautical terms is impressive, though it takes some getting used to (but I now know quite a bit about the weather gauge, slipping one’s anchor, and the danger of a lee shore).  And there’s plenty of history and geography, music and mores, and of course battle strategy and tactics. 

Patrick O'Brian
Humor abounds, usually subtle and dry but sometimes broad (the dog watches being curtailed and choosing the lesser of two weevils come quickly to mind).  The writing style, the depth of slowly-drawn detail, takes no small measure of perseverance at first.  In that regard the story is like a fine tawny port – strong and an acquired taste, but once hooked, exquisite and sublime. 

Fame and fortune came late to O’Brian, when he was more than half-way through the series whose first volume, Master and Commander, was published in 1969.  Living modestly and reclusively with his beloved wife, he wrote for decades in a small house in a French Catalan village on the Mediterranean coast near the Spanish border.  When he passed away in January of 2000 he was partway through the 21st book, which has been published as-is up to the point he left off the last time at his desk, with alternating pages of a photocopy of a single hand-written page paired with a typed transcription. 

In 2003, director Peter Weir premiered a beautiful, richly-layered film which drew on a number of story elements from different parts of the series – Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.”  And of note, the handwritten manuscripts for eighteen of the Aubrey-Maturin novels, as well some first editions and other pieces from O’Brian’s body of work, were acquired by the special collections Lilly Library at Indiana University, where I was fortunate to see them all displayed at the 2008 exhibition “Blue at the Mizzen” (which is the title of the last full volume in the series).

For well over 15 years I have been enjoying this long tale; whenever I get through the last volume I just start all over at the beginning.  I always have a book going, and I find I read it sporadically in fits and starts, daily for stretches, and then maybe not at all for a few weeks while consumed by other books; but I am never very long away from the story.  If the joy has not yet been yours, by all means get the helpful lexicon and the geography guide, start at the beginning, and stick with it in the first three volumes and let O'Brian hit his stride.  As Lucky Jack Aubrey is wont to say, there is not a moment to lose.

R Balsamo

Monday, December 8, 2014

Oops! Rolling Stone Rape Accuser Now Says It Was West Virginia University

In a shocking new development to the unraveling story of Rolling Stone Magazine’s secret rape accuser, whose tale of being brutally gang raped by white University of Virginia students at a specifically-named fraternity has fallen apart as actual facts have come to light, “Jackie” now says the brutal rape probably occurred at the University of West Virginia, not the University of Virginia.  She says that she was nervous in the 13-minute Rolling Stone interview on which the magazine story was based and plum forgot to mention the word “West.” 

In a related development, Rolling Stone announced that it firmly stands by “Jackie’s” story, whatever it is and whatever it becomes, stating that even if “Jackie” is wrong on trivial details like time and place, and even if she has no scars, not even teeny-weensy ones despite a brutal gang rape lasting hours on shards of broken glass, Rolling Stone is certain of the higher truth of her story and of her specific memory that her attackers were all big, strong, white, very white in fact and for sure not minorities of any kind not even light-skinned Hispanics, men who each showed her his official Republican secret decoder ring and Nazi party membership card before he raped her. 

Actual rape is a terrible crime, and it is absolutely despicable when liberals lie about it to further their political agenda.  There is a long history of such lies, from the Scottsboro Boys and the cases that inspired To Kill a Mockingbird, to Tawana Brawley and Crystal Magnum of the Duke case and Lena Dunham.  Modern "feminists" recognize the power of such lies.  Kevin D. Williamson writes (link) in National Review:
The distasteful but undeniable fact is that organized feminism is not very much interested in rape as a crime; organized feminism is interested in rape as a metaphor, which is why the concrete problem of rape has been displaced in our public discourse by the metaphysical proposition of “rape culture.” ....  For feminists, rape is not as much a discrete crime as it is a dramatic instantiation of what they believe to be the larger and more insidious project of men’s domination of women in all spheres — sexual, economic, social, political, etc.  The reality of rape — and it is a horrific reality — is for them a political tool: If you refuse to prostrate yourself in front of the designated totem of the day, then you are an apologist for rape.  It is not coincidental that false accusations relating to rape are used as political tools by the Left, or that the targets of these false accusations are either explicitly conservative groups and individuals or such traditional bugaboos of the campus Left as fraternities, the military, and sports teams.
Related Post:
R Balsamo

Friday, December 5, 2014

"Fake But Accurate" Tales of Racist and Rapist White Men

Carl von Clausewitz
With their influence on the wane as more people wake up to their hateful ways, social justice warriors are doubling down on their “narrative”, their Big Lie, that society is being brutalized by the behaviors of racist and rapist white men, particularly those white men such as fraternity brothers or athletes perceived to likely be conservatives or Republicans.  Clausewitz said “war is merely the continuation of politics by other means,” and radicals have long declared war via their “Big Lie”.

Since there are apparently insufficient incidents to prove up their case, the radicals must invent them.  For some time we’ve seen cases of faked racist affronts like a noose on a door or an epithet scratched on a car.  The Tawana Brawley case (link) was an early one, in which noted race hustler and Obama pal Al Sharpton helped invent and sensationalize a story of a gang rape of a black girl by white men as a strategic tool in his quest for power, fame, and of course wealth.  The Duke Lacrosse False Rape Persecution (link) is another well-known example.  All the while, rape accusations against non-white males, or actual statistics about the racial makeup of convicted rapists, are played down or ignored completely as they do not fit the political purpose behind the Big Lie. 

Lately we’ve seen a rash of allegations that have all the indications of hoaxes.  With fake rape claims, for example, the alleged attack was usually long ago and the supposed victim did not seek medical attention and did not report the attack it to the police, because of course to do so would have revealed the absence of evidence.  So all that exists presently is the naked accusation, floating in the air untethered to any disprovable "fact."    

Now we have the fantastical claim, hyped in the ultraliberal Rolling Stone magazine, from an anonymous woman that two years ago she was brutally gang raped at a University of Virginia fraternity party, where much of the assault occurred on the broken shards of a shattered glass table top.  Yet she did not seek any medical attention, let alone call the police.  This serious accusation was published based solely on the nameless woman’s story without any verification of a single detail.  In response to this most dubious allegation, the woman running the university saw a good excuse if ever there was one and promptly shut down all fraternity activity there.  Clausewitz would certainly recognize the age-old military tactic – create a fake incident that justifies to a gullible public more power for you. 

We also have the equally suspicious recent claim by ultraliberal pop culture icon-of-the-moment, one Lena Dunham, that she was raped years ago in college by a white male, only vaguely identified so no male in actual existence can refute the claim.  No police report, no medical evidence.  And not leaving anything to chance, she identifies her supposed attacker specifically as a Republican.  Oh how convenient.  Finally, at the University of Chicago I am sad to note, recently a student was so distraught that insufficient attention was being paid to the racism he felt all around him that he anonymously (or so he thought) posted racist comments at another student’s website page to prove it exists.      

Initially the supporters of the Big Lie smear any doubters, those who search for objective truth, as "rape apologists."  I have read that one Amanda Marcotte, an apparent radical liberal who writes for a website named Slate, recently wrote that  “rape denialism is like Holocaust denialism,” in obvious ignorance of the central theme of the widely acclaimed, landmark novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  Then invariably when the lies fall apart defenders rush to assert the risible “fake but accurate” defense – that the event was “truthy” even if untrue.  Thus so-called social justice warriors must invent fake rapes by white men to prove that the campus "rape culture" exists, all to further their own vanity and reach for power while permanently damaging innocent lives and reputations in the process.

R Balsamo

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Remembering Churchill, at 140

Today is the 140th anniversary of the birth of Winston Churchill.  I don’t remember when my particular interest in him began.  No doubt I was aware early on, through all those WWII movies and books I voraciously consumed.  But there was certainly much more to his life than his war days, and over time that came into focus for me.  I now own over 40 books by or about the man, and I have read most of them.  My first perhaps was the one-volume biography by Martin Gilbert, a condensation of his much longer treatment.  My favorite is the two-volume The Last Lion by William Manchester, and for an emphasis on his personal life and habits I like The Private Lives of Winston Churchill by John Pearson.  Of Churchill’s own work I have especially enjoyed My Early Life, The River War, and The History of the English Speaking Peoples.  There was much to find and much to learn in studying the life of this most remarkable of men.

Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was born on November 30, 1874, into a life of privilege and wealth.  He was the grandson of a duke and the son a rich American heiress.  He was born premature, so it was said, in the coat room of his grandfather the Duke of Marlborough’s majestic Blenheim Palace.  He had a very confident, perhaps overconfident, independent nature; and surprisingly, for a great speaker, he also had a lisp, which he worked hard all his life to mask and overcome.  After a much neglected childhood, with indifferent and self-absorbed parents, he attended Sandhurst, the British military academy analogous to the American West Point, from which he graduated a cavalry officer.  His mother, quite the socialite, often pulled strings with her many friends and lovers to secure advantages for her son. 

As a young man he had a remarkable career as an army officer, war correspondent, and writer, often all simultaneously.  He sought out military action wherever then it was, and often at the same wrote dispatches to newspapers back home for pay.  Then shortly thereafter he would write a book about it all.  He always had a lifestyle that required plenty of cash, more than he was earning as an officer even when supplemented by an allowance from his mother.  So he wrote, and wrote well.

He was an observer and correspondent during the Cuban revolution of 1895 while on a leave from the army.  He was posted to India, where he was a skilled polo player.  While there in 1897 he joined a unit in northwest India fighting a local tribe and served with distinction, and also was well paid for his reporting from the front.  The following year, through his mother’s influence he secured a choice position in Kitchener’s punitive expedition up the Nile to confront an army of frenzied Islamic militants.  The march to the Sudan was in part to avenge the murder there of the popular British official Charles "Chinese" Gordon, of whom Churchill wrote "a man careless alike of the frown of men or the smiles of women, of life or comfort, wealth or fame."  In that campaign at the Battle of Omdurman he was part of the last cavalry charge of the British Army. 

In 1899 Churchill left the Army, lost an election for Parliament, and headed off to South Africa to cover the Boer War as a newspaper correspondent.  While an observer on a British scouting mission in an armored train car, he bravely, though illegally, took charge while under fire at a critical moment during a Boer attack and saved many, though he was captured.  He famously escaped from a prison camp in Pretoria and found his way to safety in British territory, where he was hailed as a hero.  Though he continued as a war correspondent, he then rejoined the Army for its ultimately victorious campaign.  He eventually returned to Britain, left the Army once again, and won the first of many elections to Parliament. 

Churchill was an influential political leader right from the start, joining a group of young reform-minded Conservatives. In 1904, he left the party in a fight over free trade, which he supported, and joined the Liberals.  With them he held many important leadership positions, culminating in being appointed First Lord of the Admiralty, the head of the British navy, a post he held for over three years extending into the start of WWI.  While there he upgraded, modernized, and developed new technologies (such as the tank, despite his being in charge of the navy, not the army).  After the disaster of the Gallipoli campaign which he had helped formulate, he took much of the blame, unfairly in my opinion, and resigned.  He then reactivated in the Army and served as a front line senior officer on the brutal Western Front.  

His reputation quickly recovered and he returned to a series of government leadership positions.  He led the British support for military action in the Russian Civil War and the Irish War of Independence.  Then in 1924 he left the Liberals and rejoined the Conservative Party, saying at the time that "anyone can rat, but it takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat."  He became Chancellor of the Exchequer (akin to Treasury Secretary in the US) and led the country’s return to the gold standard, which turned out to be an economic disaster.

The Conservative government was defeated in the 1929 general election.  Churchill remained a Member of Parliament, but fought with others in his party over free trade, which he still supported, and home rule for India, which he did not.  With no leadership position and his party out of office, Churchill became a backbencher in Parliament in what he described as his “wilderness years.”  He spent that time writing books and articles, painting, traveling on speaking tours (including a long one through the United States), enjoying his country estate Chartwell, and, most importantly, increasingly warning the near-heedless free world of the growing danger of Nazi Germany. 

Melding wisdom with wit, Churchill is said to be the third most quoted source in the English language, after the Bible and Shakespeare.  Once when asked about a fancy London dinner he had just attended, he said "it would have been splendid, if the wine had been as cold as the soup, the beef as rare as the service, the brandy as old as the fish, and the maid as willing as the Duchess."  He was a truly prodigious drinker all of his adult life, yet he lived past 90, explaining that “I have taken more out of alcohol than it has taken out of me.”  He described Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”  Although an excellent writer, Churchill once remarked that the rule against ending a sentence with a preposition is "the sort of English up with which I will not put."  He described the socialist Labour politician Clement Attlee as "a modest man with much to be modest about."  He said that "the vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings, whereas the virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery."  He averred that "communism was a religion – Jesuits without Jesus."  Finally, in a story perhaps apocryphal, Churchill's perennial political sparring partner Lady Astor once said to him that if he were her husband she would poison his coffee, to which he replied that if she were his wife he would drink it.   
When war broke out again in 1939, at two months shy of his 65th birthday Churchill was returned to power and the rest, as they say, is better known history of this most remarkable man.

In the last volume of the Pax Britannica trilogy, his near-poetic, masterly, pointillist history of the events and ethos of the British Empire, James Morris wrote of Churchill at the time of his death on January 24, 1965:
He had become the living exemplar of British glory.... and the most universally honoured man on earth.... [N]ot only his own nation, but half the world paused wondering and reverent to mourn him.  It was like that moment of antiquity when, the wild god Pan having died, strange music sounded and spirits moved from one end to the other of the classical world.  Churchill had gone, and a sigh, part regret, part wry, part sentimental, went round the nations.
R Balsamo

Monday, November 24, 2014

Obama – The Man Who Would Be Caesar

Obama’s lawless immigration decree is outrageous and ominous, but, sadly, entirely predictable given the distain shown the Constitution and proper legal process by Obama and his supporters.  Obama is also, as he often does, testing limits, to see what he and his fellow control masters can get away with. 

A de facto amnesty affecting millions of illegal aliens, contrary to established law and the will of elected federal representatives, is far beyond anything this Republic has yet seen on this subject.  There are existing immigration laws that, like all laws, should be enforced until they are changed.  If they need to be changed they should be changed, but until such time they are the laws of the land.  The doctrine of prosecutorial discretion, heretofore a limited, practical prioritization of cases by prosecutors with limited resources, is now being used to justify a sweeping executive action involving many millions.  Furthermore, however tenuous the Obama rationalization is in invoking prosecutorial discretion on a massive scale, what he cannot do, but has said he will do, is confer on those he is essentially pardoning positive legal rights such as work permits not permitted under existing law.     

Despite repeated previous announcements that he was not the “Emperor of the United States” and “could not legally” issue the dictate that he just in fact did, once all federal elections during his presidency were over this former ersatz lecturer in Constitutional law decided to go ahead and make the decree anyway, Constitution be damned.  Quite predictably, the gaggle of lawyers working for him quickly patched together a legal justification, chock full of hair-splitting and analogizing that voilĂ ! discovered that everything in Obama’s edict is all hunky dory with the US Constitution, legal precedents (real or imagined), the Articles of Confederation, the Magna Carta, and the Ten Commandments.  Indeed, time and again without fail ultraliberal lawyers through their patented legalistic legerdemain, their semantic razzmatazz, can justify legally any action taken by any Democrat president, any time, anywhere.
The supporters of this dictate gleefully argue that it’s a good idea, a very good idea indeed according to their self-regarded superior and virtuous minds, and therefore it should be done, and can be done, by whatever means necessary.  The puppet-masters of the Democrat Party are manipulating their gullible and malleable dependents and acolytes by essentially declaring that there is an unwritten “Gridlock Clause” lurking somewhere in the penumbras and emanations of the United States Constitution that makes the President a dictator if “Congress doesn’t act” in a way he sees fit on any law he himself deems "broken".  As Benjamin Franklin said to the American people, you have a Republic – if you can keep it.

Impeachment and removal is the simple Constitutional remedy for Presidential lawlessness, though certainly the Republicans will not muster up for that fight.  And even if they tried, the vice-like grip that radical liberals have on the levers of culture and media will thwart with vicious force the undoubtedly hesitant, bumbling, and contradictory moves Republicans would make.  Patriots who seek to preserve this system of government, this Great Experiment, will seek other avenues of action – through the purse and through the courts.    

Obama’s latest outrage is consistent with the strategic principles of the modern Democrat Party, which are: (1) remember that the ends justify the means; (2) collapse the system upon itself and grab more power in the disarray; (3) distract and fool the foolable by relentlessly smearing any and all opponents as racist, sexist, homophobic, and selfish dimwits; and (4) ever expand the mass of people dependent on government for welfare and for jobs, creating these modern-day serfs who will faithfully vote for the Democrat party puppet masters (who, as one wag has put it, regard illegal aliens as “undocumented Democrats”) no matter what is happening to the fabric of the Republic.     

This Republic, which few at the beginning thought could last this long, exists on a shared set of values and beliefs.  When it ends, if it ends, it will not likely end in one fell blow, but rather will die of many cuts, over time, until there is no blood left to sustain its life.  This cut was deep.  The American body politic has shown great healing powers, so we shall see what comes of this latest gash.

R Balsamo

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Il Trovatore at the Lyric Opera

Il Trovatore sign, in flames
The other day we took in a grand performance of Verdi's Il Trovatore at the Lyric in Chicago's Loop.  It’s a familiar story in opera: tenor good boy meets girl, baritone bad boy meets girl.  Boys are rivals, boys are enemies.  The bad boy is powerful, the good boy is oppressed.  Both love to sing and sing often about their love for the lady (the soprano of course) and about their hatred for one another (and about some other things).  The twist here is that the boys are brothers but don’t know it, and Verdi throws in for good measure a gypsy foster mother out for revenge, thundering hammers, a deep family secret, and the disturbing visage of a woman and a baby consumed by flames.

 Il Trovatore’s appeal is emotional and visual and aural, not intellectual.  Yes, it’s an Italian melodrama filled with themes of vengeance and superstition, and loaded with passionate characters spending lots of time passionate about their passion.  But it’s also filled with beautiful music, some of the finest Verdi ever wrote.  It has one of the most rousing and memorable choruses in all opera – the Anvil Chorus; in the performance I saw, no one wielding one of those giant hammers missed a pounding beat.  In the Lyric Opera Companion’s essay on Il Trovatore, Stephanie von Buchau writes that, however intellectually pedestrian the libretto may be, in all of opera Il Trovatore is “the 19th century’s most impressive and beloved example of romantic melodrama.”  In The New Criterion, music critic Jay Nordlinger said “Il Trovatore is a combination of bel canto and blood-and-guts grand opera.”

The Main Hall at the Civic Opera House of Chicago
The program guide tells us that this production premiered at the Lyric Opera of Chicago before going on to the Metropolitan and San Francisco Opera, and is now back home.  The setting is Spain, and on the Lyric’s curtain was a reproduction of Goya’s jarring “Pilgrimage to the Hermitage of St. Isadore”, which hangs in the Prado.  One year in college a roommate and I had a Goya drawing, almost as disturbing, in our dorm room on loan through an art program, but that’s another story.

The Goya Main Screen at Il Trovatore
The Lyric’s first Leonora was Maria Callas (in 1955) – how about that?  This time around, two principals, soprano Amber Wagner as Leonora and baritone Quinn Kelsey as the bad Count di Luna, are alumni of the Lyric’s own renowned training program – the Ryan Opera Center.  Also in the cast are tenor Yonghoon Lee as the hero Manrico and mezzo Stephanie Blythe as Azucena the gypsy.  The Lyric’s program guide asserts that “of all the Verdi operas, there is none more formidable vocally than Il Trovatore”, containing, among other highlights, “the most harrowing five minutes ever composed for operatic mezzo-soprano” and “the most exhilarating of Verdi’s soprano/baritone duets”; I would add the rousing tenor aria “Di Quella Pira” and, in the final moments, the beautiful and touching tenor/mezzo duet “Ai Nostri Monti”.  Caruso is said to have said that all that is needed to make Il Trovatore work is “the four greatest singers in the world.”  It certainly worked for me the other night.

R Balsamo

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Cruising Up North in Michigan – Part Four

On our recent drive into northern Michigan, we made an overnight stop in Traverse City, which sits at the base of Grand Traverse Bay, a huge inlet from Lake Michigan that is bisected by the long, narrow Old Mission Peninsula.  We had been looking forward to touring the area and walking around the compact downtown, but we awoke to a cold, blustery, and rainy day.  After driving around a bit we decided to run out the rain by continuing northward.    

Old Mission Peninsula, Looking Westward from the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay
We traveled north on US31 and reached Charlevoix in less than an hour.  The city sits on an isthmus between Lake Michigan and small Round Lake, which is sort of an ante-lake to the much bigger Lake Charlevoix which lies just out of sight to the east.  We did manage to find the lakeside neighborhood with the little English hobbit-house-like cottages.  After lunch and a walk around town, we continued north to the Petoskey area.

Petoskey sits on the southeastern shore of Little Traverse Bay, a large inlet of Lake Michigan.  The town is full of neat old buildings in a thriving downtown.  Its growth at the turn of the 20th Century was fueled by summer residents coming up north from Chicago and Detroit.  Nearby is the Chautauqua-like settlement of Bay View, which I suspect was one of the attractions, along with the woods, streams, and inland lakes, that drew people like Earnest Hemingway’s parents to summer in this particular area of northern Michigan.  The summer people first came by lake steamer, then by train, and now by automobile and airplane.

Little Traverse Bay from the Southern Shore near Petoskey, Looking Northwest out to Lake Michigan
We stayed a few days in the area and enjoyed the sights and Lake sounds.  We had some nice dinners, and stopped for drinks in the bar of the historic Perry Hotel.  I bought a few Petoskey stones, those polished-smooth, stone-like pieces of ancient coral found on the shore of Lake Michigan – where better to buy them but in Petoskey?  The area is Hemingway country:  he would occasionally get into Petoskey during his many summers in the area, and would actually live there for some months around age 20, although he spent his time primarily just south of town at his family’s cottage (and later small farm) on Walloon Lake and in the small nearby town of Horton Bay on neighboring Lake Charlevoix.    

The Petoskey Marina on Little Traverse Bay
One day we drove north about an hour to Mackinaw City, where we boarded a ferry for the short ride to Mackinac Island, which lies just off Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on the Lake Huron side of the Straits of Mackinac.  From the boat we had great views of the enormous Mackinac Bridge that connects the lower and upper peninsulas.  Travelers disembark on piers jutting out from the one small town on the island.  Without motorized vehicles, horses all around, and well-preserved 19th Century (and earlier) buildings, the island evokes a simpler, slower bygone moment in time.  We spent hours walking about, on yet another day of record-setting mid-September cold.  

Mackinac Bridge, with a Cargo Ship in the Distance, Looking Westward on a Calm Day
One particular highlight was our walking tour of the Grand Hotel, a vibrant scene of by-gone elegance decorated with lots of bright reds and greens.  Understated it is not.  The famous front porch affords great views of the surrounding grounds and the fraying pool area, and in the distance, Lake Huron and the Bridge crossing the Straight.   

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island 
View of the Straits and the Bridge from the Grand Hotel Porch
In town I confess that we did stop in a fudge shop or two.  We missed visiting Fort Mackinac, as time constraints, cold, and drizzle conspired against us.  We shivered in our light jackets waiting for the return ferry; I think we later heard that it was about 20 degrees below average for that day of the year.   
The Main Street on Mackinac Island
An Island Hotel and Waiting Taxi
We drove back to Petoskey for one more night, then headed south the next day for home.  On our first day back at the southern end of Lake Michigan, the weather cleared and rose 15 degrees back to average.  On our next drive Up North, we’re hoping for a taste of that “global warming” we’re still waiting for around these parts.

R Balsamo

The entire series is here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The US CDC Ebola Guidelines in Plain English

The United States Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) Ebola Guidelines in plain English:

·       Although we have been spending most of our ample time and buckets of money at the CDC worrying about traffic light safety, size of helpings at McDonald’s, obesity in lesbians, and sedentary lifestyles, we have found a few people in the basement back by the service entrance who keep an eye now and then on communicable disease and we have consulted with them.

·       Listen to us because we are trained professionals and we know what we’re talking about.

·       You cannot catch Ebola sitting next to someone on a bus, unless you’re in West Africa where the person next to you might actually have Ebola.

·       There is no reason to avoid public transportation in the US, because you cannot catch Ebola on a bus or a plane.

·       If someone on a bus or plane sneezes or coughs near you, we’d look at your situation.

·       If you have Ebola or have been exposed, do not travel on a bus or a plane.

·       The nurse who cared for the Liberian Ebola patient should not have traveled on an airplane before she got sick.

·       We do not recommend travel restrictions because it will not matter if more people with Ebola enter this country.

·       Stopping more people from coming to this country from Ebola hot zones won’t completely protect all Americans, so it is not worth doing.

·       Restricting travelers from Ebola hot zones from entering this country would prevent us from sending aid to those countries since all medical aid from the US to the Ebola countries must be balanced by Ebola-infected people entering the US.

·       Restricting travelers from Ebola hot zones from entering this country might hurt the economies of those countries, so we should not interfere with the free movement of people even if they have Ebola.

·       Restricting travelers from Ebola hot zones from entering this country would be racist since the Ebola outbreak is in Africa, so we should not interfere with the free movement of people even if they have Ebola.

·       Listen to us because we are trained professionals and we know what we’re talking about.

·       Our personal protection protocol for Ebola health care workers is 100% effective.

·       Ebola is a hard disease to catch, unless you’re a highly-trained nurse following our personal protection protocol.

·       The nurses who followed our protocol but who nevertheless contracted Ebola must have breached protocol.

·       We don’t know how the nurses breached protocol.

·       We really just know that our protocol is 100%.

·       Even though our protocol is really, really 100% effective, we’ll now look at improving it.

·       Ebola is a very hard disease to catch and trust us, we are trained professionals and we know what we’re talking about.  We have top men, top men, working on this.  After all, why would we fudge the truth?

R Balsamo

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cruising Up North in Michigan – Part Three: Hemingway Country

On our recent trip Up North in Michigan, we spent a few days in Petoskey, a fine little town on Lake Michigan's Little Traverse Bay which, among other things, sits in Hemmingway country.

I grew up near Hemingway’s boyhood home in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, and I went to high school there as well (though at a different school than Hemingway's).  Because of his particular local fame I have had a passing interest in his life and writing, although I am not especially partial to his style which I find excessively sparse and metaphorical.  I have though enjoyed his semi-autobiographical (which of his work is not, for that matter) Nick Adams short stories, about a sometimes barely-fictionalized boy and young man growing up in northern Michigan. 

On this trip we did not make it over to the Walloon Lake – Horton Bay area, a short distance outside Petoskey.  Hemingway spent twenty summers there starting when he was practically a newborn.  Early on he stayed with his family at their summer cottage on Walloon Lake.  Later his parents bought additional property on the opposite shore and developed a truck farm there that Hemingway worked for a few years as a teenager.  He would rough it in a tent on that side of Walloon Lake, and gravitated for meals and company to nearby Horton Bay, a small settlement a few miles west down the road on neighboring Lake Charlevoix.  Later on at 20 years old, after his return from his WWI experience in Italy, he spent one autumn and early winter in a Petoskey boarding house, as the cottage was too cold and he chose not to return to Oak Park to stay with his parents.    

At Horton Bay Hemingway met two siblings named Smith who would figure large in his life.  They were from St Louis but spent some summers in the area with a rich aunt.   He would have an affair with Kate Smith, a beautiful girl who would go on to introduce him to two of her girlfriends who would become his first two wives and the mothers of his three sons.  Bill Smith became a close friend.  Later, Hemingway would live for a while on Chicago’s near north side in the apartment of the oldest Smith sibling, Kenley, who would introduce him to some literary figures who would set him off on his career.  One of these was Sherwood Anderson, who entranced Hemingway with stories of his recent time in Paris among the “Lost Generation” and encouraged the young man to move there (which of course he soon did).  As an aside, some years later, after Hemingway was married to his second wife and living in Key West, Kate Smith came to visit both her friends and there met Hemingway’s pal and fellow writer John Dos Passos, whom she soon married.

Hemingway married his first wife in a small church on the shore of Lake Charlevoix in Horton Bay.  After their honeymoon at his family's cottage on Walloon Lake, the couple left to live in Chicago near Kenley Smith.  Less than three months later they moved to Paris.  Although his experiences in northern Michigan with family, friends, lovers, and the outdoors would loom large in his writings, Hemingway returned to the area only once more in his life, for a short time when he was about 50 years old.    

I have particularly enjoyed the biography of Hemingway’s early life – "Along With Youth" by Peter Griffin.  I have also read parts of, and relied upon, "Hemingway: A Biography" by Jeffrey Meyers.

R Balsamo

Part One here; Part Two here.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Cruising Up North in Michigan – Part Two

Heading north from Crystal Lake we quickly entered the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the large, sprawling federally-protected area of coastal dunes stretching for miles along the shoreline.  Although large sand dunes can be found all over the Great Lakes, they are particularly prominent along the southern and eastern shore of Lake Michigan.  We in fact began our trip not far from another great stretch of dunes, those in Indiana at the southern tip of the Lake, where much of them are now enclosed in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.  The most majestic of all the Great Lakes dunes are said to line the northwest lower peninsula of Michigan. 

We took a short detour off M-22 to find a special area called the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a federal park with a seven-mile paved lane that winds through the woods atop a stretch of high dunes.  The scenic overlooks are stunning – Lake Michigan is on one side and inland Glen Lake is close-by on the other.  At the entrance to the park visitors must stop at a small booth to pay an admission fee.  We were greeted there by a very friendly park ranger.  He was so friendly in fact that we waited about five minutes while he engaged in a seemingly quite pleasant chit chat with the folks in the car ahead.  We later saw that those people were an elderly couple, with plates from an eastern state, so apparently both parties had much to talk about.  The wait was well worth it.

An inland lake -- Glen Lake -- in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
The Sleeping Bear Dunes is a rolling landscape of very high sand dunes, one section of which, to Indians and early explorers alike, looked from out in the Lake like a giant recumbent bear. 

Trees, grasses, and other plants surprisingly can grow in the dunes by sending roots far down for water and anchorage.  Here a clump of trees stand tall in the sand against the winds:

I had been there once before, as a boy on a car trip around Lake Michigan with my parents and brother.  I remember being awestruck by the height of the dunes.  My brother and I found them irresistible and so slid and tumbled all the way down to the bottom far below.  Once at the water’s edge, I remember looking back up and wondering how the heck we were going to get back to the top.  It took a while.

From high atop a great dune, South and North Manitou Islands are clearly visible:

South (left) and North Manitou Islands
Reluctantly we left the national park, regained Highway M-22, and continued north into the Leelanau Peninsula (the little finger of Michigan’s mitten-shaped lower peninsula).  We passed through Glen Arbor and other scenic lakeside towns and finally stopped in Leland, which is the terminus of the ferry to the Manitou Islands.  Leland was a great place to stretch our legs, order fresh Lake Michigan whitefish, and sample wines at the tasting room of a Leelanau winery.  We had had a first visit just last year when we met up with friends who had boated across the Lake from Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin, out way over the horizon.  

The distance to the Manitou Islands is almost 18 miles.  An old friend tells me that as a younger man he kayaked from Leland to South Manitou Island.  I suppose I believe him. 

Leland; the ferry terminal is the small brown building in the left center
We continued on M-22, first north further into the Leelanau peninsula, then inland for a short while until we hit Grand Traverse Bay at the other side of the peninsula, where the road then took us south, with the beautiful Bay on our left, into Traverse City where we spent the night.
[Part 1 is here.]

R Balsamo

Monday, September 29, 2014

Cruising Up North in Michigan – Part One

The time was right for a leisurely drive Up North, so a couple of weeks ago we headed out from New Buffalo, at the extreme southwest tip of the state of Michigan, on a meander up the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.  We eventually reached the very top of the state’s lower peninsula, Mackinaw City, where we hopped a ferry for a day trip to storied Mackinac Island.  We encountered unseasonably cool weather, at times 20 degrees or more below average with frequently overcast skies and the occasional drizzle, but it stayed just warm enough to allow for an enjoyable cruise.    

We passed through towns large and small, some thriving, some struggling, and some half-abandoned.  In all though, the coastal area seems to be doing better than many parts of inland America, as the sightseeing, recreation, and industry supported by the Lake bring people and money.

At Grand Haven we left the highway and toured around the town.  We found a lively, orderly city with a downtown filled with shops and businesses, a marina on the Grand River for boaters, and of course a beautiful stretch of lakeshore.  The public beach is wide and clean, with a pier and lighthouse a little off to the north and tree-covered high sand dunes spreading out to the south, with spacious Queen Anne houses overlooking it all from a great bluff.

Looking South from the Lakeshore at Grand Haven
We were struck by the number of large, inland lakes so close to the Big Lake, some separated by distances measured in yards rather than miles.  Residents can enjoy the majesty of Lake Michigan but retreat to a smaller, inland lake for swimming and boating in water warmer and calmer.  We stopped briefly at Onekama on Portage Lake, which actually communicates with Lake Michigan.   Like so many other towns along the Lake, hidden from the main road, down small, winding roads, are summer houses and inns.  Petoskey and Walloon Lake further north may have Hemingway, but Onekama had its own famous annual summer resident up from Chicago – Paul Harris, an attorney who founded the service organization Rotary International.

Portage Lake, Michigan, on an Overcast Day Looking Toward Lake Michigan
Just north of Manistee begins M-22, the fittingly fishhook-shaped scenic highway that hugs the coast up to and around the Leelanau peninsula and then heads back south along the western shore of Great Traverse Bay to end in Traverse City.  It passes through scenic lakeside towns and one of the most beautiful places on the Great Lakes – the Sleeping Bear Dunes.  Just north of Arcadia there is a scenic turnout worth stopping at:
Looking South from the Scenic Turnout Just North of Arcadia on M-22
M-22 took us by one more large inland lake, Crystal Lake, before entering the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  We stopped near a row of small, neat houses lining the small strip of land between M-22 and the water:

Crystal Lake, Michigan, from its Northern Shore
Partway along the northern shore of Crystal Lake, M-22 takes a sharp northward turn away from the water and heads into the remarkable Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  For my next post.  

R Balsamo

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

A few days ago the Lyric Opera of Chicago put on its annual Stars of the Lyric free concert in Millennium Park to kick off its new season.  The audience was under the stars, but the performers were sheltered beneath the Gehry-designed bandshell that bursts out in a cacophony of curvilinear silver shards and folds.  It was a great night for outdoor music, clear and dry, with just the faintest breeze off the lake.  

Three of the six selections were taken from operas in the upcoming season: the overture from Tannhauser; the Te Deum from Tosca; and the final scene from Don Giovanni.  There were also scenes from Verdi’s operas Rigoletto and Macbeth, plus a not-often-heard piece from Mascagni's Iris. 

The Don Giovanni performers included Ana Maria Martinez, whom I saw last year sing Mimi in La Boheme at the Lyric.  Once I was invited to a dress rehearsal of Don Giovanni at the Lyric and for the first time there sat in box seats, which are very cool for anyone who likes moveable chairs with extra leg room.  Not a bad way to listen to Mozart.  The offering from Rigoletto, a tale of what-one-sends-around can come back around – with a vengeance, was the complete Act III, which includes a particular favorite of mine – the quartet. 
Macbeth undoubtedly carries lots of memories for people – who didn’t read it in high school?  And what a story – out damned spot and from his mother’s womb untimely ripped.  As I sat there, I recalled that Macbeth is the only opera I have seen at the Met in New York, and, aside from the great spectacle of it, I remember thinking how incredibly comfortable the seats were there compared to those at the Civic Opera House, where the Lyric performs.  Of course, hard to beat is enjoying the music and voices of Macbeth from the comfort of a spacious canvas folding chair while working on a bottle of pinot noir under a beautiful night sky.    

R Balsamo
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