A little history

 

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As the As the snow fell today, I built a fire. Found a book, “A Little History of the World,” by E.H. Gombrich. Originally published in German in 1936, it’s  a world history for children. Not a textbook, according to the author, but hopefully an interesting, good read. It is. When finished I will pass it on to my 10 year old grandson, Eli. Each chapter focuses on an important period and characters in world history, starting with pre-history up to The Great War.

I never taught World History and although I knew many of the stories, I found it an easy to read, basic introduction. Lots of interesting stories.  I vaguely remember the battle of Marathon between Persians and Greek Athenians. But I couldn’t have told you the genesis of marathon races. A Greek ran to Athens from Marathon to warn the city about the Persians.

One story that caught my attention was from China in about 220 BC. The emperor, the first in China, Shih Huang-ti hated history. He ordered all history books, reports and records be burnt, along with the writings of Confucius and Lao-tzu.  He permitted books on useful subjects like agriculture. Anybody found in possession of any other books was to be put to death.

Huang-ti’s province was Ch’in; hence China. Haunt-ti conquered all provinces and unified and transformed the country. He threw out the princes and reorganized everything. He hated history and destroyed books because he wanted to wipe out every trace of the past. He would build a new China. He built roads and began work on the Great Wall of China.

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Huang-ti claimed his four thousand mile Wall was necessary to protect China’s hard working and peaceable peasants and townspeople from the wild tribes of the steppes.

Huang-ti didn’t rule long. The Han family ascended the throne. They didn’t undo all of Huang-ti’s projects but they were not enemies of history. They remembered the teachings of the past and required government officials to know them.

Haunt-ti’s burning of books didn’t work. It was a bad idea trying to prevent people from knowing their own history. Truth and history would eventually prevail?

I eead this story and thought it might have a lesson for today?

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Fact or Fiction

 

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I think it was in the mid 1980s, I went to my first Internet workshop.  I remember the presenter explaining how he would find information on the Internet, “Maybe we’re looking for a chart of the solar system.”  He typed “solar system” into a primitive search engine.   “Look,” he exclaimed, “thousands of hits.”  But he never opened one.  I quickly realized he might have opened dozens before he found a chart of the solar system.  I thought, get an atlas in the library, in minutes I can hand you a chart.  Of course, search engines have improved drastically and to some degree his promise has been fulfilled.  But it wasn’t then.

In back of me there was a group of twenty-something female teachers.  I could hear their excitement about e-mail.  One exploded, “It’s amazing, you can contact and communicate with …. (fill in celebrity of your choice)…  on line.”  Her friend jumped in, ” I heard somebody might pretend to be  … oh, Madonna . .. and you won’t know it’s not Madonna.”  Her friend’s response, “It really doesn’t matter if it’s not Madonna, it’s fun.”  My head  swung 180 degrees.  Talking to a Madonna impersonator is as much fun as talking to Madonna.  And of course, we don’t know which is which. Fact or fiction — it doesn’t matter.

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I thought of this incident in the past few months as we’ve begun to hear about the amount of fake news on Facebook and other Internet social mediums.  We are up to our necks in fake news from foreign countries, ideological organizations and individuals. Why is it accepted as fact; what does or matter?  It’s fun.

From the New York Times:

“Not coincidentally, it was also the year of “fake news,” in which pure fiction masquerading as truth (like posts that claimed Hillary Clinton used a body double and that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump) may have spread wide enough to influence the outcome of the election. Some were certainly deliberate lies spread by right-wing Clinton opponents and all-out profiteers, many in countries outside the United States (and possibly even the Russian government).” We are still waiting to see how much the Russians were involved in the election.

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And now we have a President who doesn’t believe truth and reality are very important.  He claimed repeatedly that Obama wasn’t born in America — then he denies the statement.  Or he claims that he really won the popular vote since millions of illegals voted for Clinton. His electoral college win was a historic landslide.   President Obama wire tapped Trump Towers during the election.  The list goes on and on.   No support or justification for any of the claims.  Believe Trump. Listen to his speech to Congress, “believe Trump.”  Forget that it’s a Presidential twitter vent, an outright fiction.   The mainstream (read, liberal, lying) media report Trumps lack of  facts but of course his supporters don’t believe the mainstream or don’t listen to it.  Trump trumps.

I read commentaries that chastise and exhort.  We need to teach students critical thinking.  We need to teach students to distinguish between real news and fake news.  We need to teach students to critically evaluate information on the Internet.  I want to say I agree but I also thought I was doing that for the past 40 years. How many of my former students are sucked in by the conspiracy theories, fake news, and Presidential lies.

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In the 1970s, I taught students about Marshall McLuhan’s concept that the “the medium is the message.” I wonder what McLuhan would think of social media like Facebook?  Is it hot or cold?  Individual or tribal?  What would he say about the President’s use of twitter?

There is no question that President Trump has exaggerated, spread false information and lied.  Constantly; consistently.  It is surreal.  How can we have media commentators, journalists, and politicians discuss his tweets, comments, and  statements as if it was real and truthful.  No surprise that George Orwell’s book, “1984” is a best seller on Amazon.

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We can be Democrat or Republican.  We can be conservative or liberal.  We can and should debate public policies.  But we cannot have a chief executive, President, that has no grip on reality.  Trump probably believes his exaggerations and lies.  We can’t.  Alternative facts are not facts.

Resistance must continue, it must grow.  Republicans must recognize that Trump is a danger to the country.  Fact or fiction?  — it matters.

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Surreal

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I can’t believe that I’m listening to a news broadcast (yes it’s CNN) that discusses Trump’s tweets claiming Obama wire tapped phones at Trump Tower.  There isn’t any question that there is no evidence (if there was, provide it); if it was evidence for an approved tap, why?  Trump or the campaign was doing something?   Unless your head is in a bag, you and I know the claim was to deflect attention from the Sessions contact with Russians during the campaign.  If there is evidence of taps show it.  There is none.

This guy, I have difficulty anymore calling him President, claimed Obama wasn’t born an American (then he denied it).  He claimed he won by a landslide (he didn’t).  Claimed millions of illegals voted and he didn’t lose the popular vote (they didn’t, he did).

During his campaign he attacked women, the handi-capped, Muslims, Mexicans and other immigrants.  He attracted racist, anti-semantic, white nationalist support.  He denies it.

His cabinet appointments were chosen to destroy the agencies they were to lead. They’ve begun doing this.

Russian connections to Trump and his campaign are being investigated by the the FBI.    His NSA appointment, Flynn resigned. There are other connections. This is the big story.

Comey, the FBI director, has stated there were no wire taps of Trump towers or the campaign.  He asked the Justice Department to state there was none.  They haven’t.

Trump has attacked the media — the enemy of the people.

He has attacked the U.S. Intelligence community.

His travel bans make no sense.  Hopefully the courts will agree.

The complete list  of his crazy actions and beliefs are easy to find.

Most Republicans in Congress are silent.

Trump is dangerous.  It’s obvious he can’t take criticism.  He exaggerates.  Creates alternative truth.  He lies.  And lies.

And the news reports it.

If we can’t get rid of him soon, it’s sad.

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Women in the news and in my life

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It’s March 2017.  I’m remembering January  21, the day after Trump’s inaguaration, thousands and thousands of women (and men) marched in protest in D.C. and cities around the country and the world.   The numbers were amazing.  The Women’s March.

It’s interesting and exciting that the dissent was spearheaded by women.  The President elect, our President maligned so many groups, including women.  But it’s women who took the initiative, don’t accept, resist. More are considering running for elective office.

Over a year ago I wrote a blog, “Friendship: the guys.”  I knew there needed to be a companion, “Friendship: the girls.” Maybe now is the time.

Women contributed significantly to who I am.  I have four sisters, all younger — Cissy, Vicky, Marylee and Lizanne.  All unique personalities.  My relationship with each is very different but they all have been very important in my life.    Several months ago I wrote about Marylee and will reflect on the others in future blogs, not here.   In a similar way, my mother Cis, daughter Jenny and aunt Ellen were/are important females who influenced me and deserves their own blogs.

Cousin Ellen Mignoni is the only other female relative whom I consider a close friend.  We grew up together and stay in touch.  Ellen is on my weekly call list; she is supportative and keeps me balanced. But it’s interesting,  in recent years I’ve had more contact with cousins Elaine and Phyllis;  closer friends in the making.

My earliest “girl” friend (much to mom’s dismay) was Carol Jefferies, a fellow Mill Street apartment resident, a tough kid — a year older and basically not the best influence. We got caught in a 5 and 10 store theft — can I say Carol was behind it.    In elementary school, there were various friends who were “girls,”  — Donna Lutz, Patty O’Gara, Karen Fannin, and Karen McGee.  There were different relationships with each of them but all good friends. Karen Fannin for several years was my first “girlfriend.” She taught me that girls had different interests.  In High School, I stayed connected with Karen McGee.   She was a bit of a confidant, we shared growing up concerns.  I should get in touch with her.

In my Sophomore  year I began dating Rainy Cohen.  She was from a liberal Jewish family, had an older college brother at Ann Arbor, who was involved in the anti-war movement. For me, a different culture (Jewish and political activist) and it may have contributed to my anti-war involvement in college.  Rainy today is a retired teacher, a liberal Facebook activist. We have FB contact.

Interestingly, Diane is the only female friend from my college years.  We met at a party in the Boston Statler Hilton hotel, dated for a year and decided to get married.  It’s hard to believe that was almost 50 years ago.  In the past few years, we’ve attempted to adjust to retirement and my medical issues.  It’s not always easy.  She can be very critical but it pushes me to look at my decisions.  We also share many interests and while traveling her serendipity (let’s check out this back road) complements my planning (but it’s getting late). I’d write more but she wouldn’t want me to write anything.  Enough.

In the early 1970s I read a book, “Open Marriage” by the O’Neills.  Their premise was that a married couple  didn’t fulfill all their spouse’s needs.   Wives would have male friends; husbands would have female friends.  I remember teachers at the Holy Ghost Prep faculty lunch table being amazed by the idea.  No “open  marriage” there.  But over the years Diane has had male friends and I’ve had female friends.  Many of these “girl” friends have become part of my life.

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After college and the Peace  Corps training, Diane and I lived in Bristol,  then Yardley. My first post-PC job was teaching at Saint Michael’s in Levittown.  Much to my amazement, my principal, a Mercer nun, became a close friend and mentor.  Sister Michael Marie was amazing.  She identified with kids, respected faculty, and energized  a school.  She taught me how to be an effective, understanding school administrator.  I kept in touch with her for decades, and we had a retirement lunch a few years ago, before she passed. One of my first adult female friends.

Diane and I  both became close friends with Barbara Cantor who would marry one of my best friends, John Paglione.  Barbara had moved to Bristol recommended by her Pratt College roommate Melody.  Barbara and John met in a local drug store and were soon married.  Melody, a developing  potter,  married a local boyfriend Garret Bonnema.  We all became friends.  Barbara and Melody are among my close women friends today, decades later.  Both contributed to my artistic sensibility.

For several years in the early 1970s, Diane and I lived with John and Barbara Paglione in a rented house in New Hope. Barbara became a “sister.” In recent years, we’ve visited Paglione’s in Ann Arbor, hosted them in Yardley and shared several short vacations. More are in the planning stages. Although John and I talk weekly, I really enjoy when I call and get to hear Barbara’s perspective.  A women’s point of view.

Barbara and John Dye were neighbors when we bought our River Road house in Yardley in the mid  1970s.  Their daughter, Kati and Jenny became best friends.  The Dye’s had been Peace Corps volunteers.  Although we all had similar interests, we had more contact with Barbara.    She was more out spoken, socially and political active.  She was a liberated woman and we became friends.  But it’s interesting, now that we’re all retired,  John and I have become closer. The interaction between couples is interesting.

My friends specifically female friends, were often associated with Holy Ghost Prep or Yardley Borough.  Rose Horch, lived in Yardley, was hired at HGP as an English teacher and later Academic Dean.  We became friends.  She left HGP for ETS but  we stayed in contact and although our current interaction is limited, Rose and her husband Dwight, Diane and I have had lunch in Lambertville. Rose showed me a professional woman.

Barbara Cavanaugh was a younger German teacher at HGP in the 1970s.   My first European trip with students was a week in Germany with Barbara.  Barbara was a female contact with the younger generation — music, movies, lifestyle.  I always commented how I had faculty friends that kept me young.  Barbara was the first female in that category.

Years later I became friends with another German (and math) teacher, Sandy Courtney.   For years Sandy organized an exchange program with an HGP school in Germany.  I signed on two years.  Sandy and I had a unique relationship.  She was pretty conservative, but socially liberal.  She didn’t drink but had no problem joining me as I sampled German beer.  I have some contact with Barbara on Facebook; but contact with Sandy has been too limited.

Another HGP teacher, Eleanor Osborne and I were friends from Bristol.  She and I grew up on the same block on Mill Street.  Regularly the Profy family had pizza and pasta from her family’s restaurant.  Eleanor came to HGP as a substitute foreign language teacher — Spanish.  As the years passed and we became older, Eleanor increasingly became one of my sisters with frequent telephone contact.  A new HGP language teacher, Edna Ramirez , and I have become social friends.  Fascinating how you just click with some people.

In my last years at HGP, I also became close to Kathy Posey, an English teacher. She was from Virgina and and at times slides into a southern drawl — calling me “Vinne.”  I would only allow that from Kathy.  She retired right after me and we have met for lunch several times. Kathy is understanding, a support, a good friend. Kathy showed me the importance of nurturing students.  Mom, Kathy.

Other HGP female friends include Arlene Buettler (her husband John was a 60s HGP grad, faculty member and friend) and Trish O’Conner.  Both were my assistants in the library.  Arlene’s library style was conservative, hush, quiet, very classic; Trish was liberal, loud, a friend of all students.  Although both could sometimes drive me crazy, they were/are close friends.  I still send Arlene notices related to “chocolate;” Trish gets emails related to Ireland. More recently, Gerri Carmine, another math teacher, and administrator became a cooking, Italian culture friend.  There are other HGP teachers who have left imprints, Louise Martucchi, Pat Esposito, Karen Smallen, Jan Nolting, Kristen Walters.

We moved to Yardley in 1978.  Several years later I was recruited by the local Republican Party to run for Borough Council.  At my first meeting I  met Susan Taylor.  A fiscal Republican but quite liberal socially.  I had registered Republican to vote against Reagan in the primaries.  Could I run as  Repulican?  I did.  Susan and I became a local team for eight years.  In addition to our time dedicated to borough issues; we socialized.  During the 1980s, our family vacation was chartering a 30 foot sailboat out of Rock Hall on the Chesapeake with the Taylors.   Jerry, Susan’s husband, had significant sailing experience.

For years I became involved in  local community organizations.  Susan, sometimes Jerry, were involved with the same organizations — the Yardley Historical Association, Friends of Lake Alton, Friends of the Delaware Canal,  the Yardley Community Center.  Although I no longer have involvement in the community organizations; our friendship with the Taylors is strong.  Susan is probably my closest female friend.  Words not needed; she understands.

Another girl friend from the Council years was Sue Micklewright.  Sue was hired as one of Yardley’s first Borough managers.  We had a professional relationship which developed into a personal friendship, which has continued even though Sue moved to Oregon.  When I’m upset, Sue is often my late night telephone call or FB friend.

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Women’s role in our lives and their contribution to our history – personal and national — is often not recognized.  I suspect I have a share of male chauvinism.  But  I believe I have also realized the contributions of women to my personal life and our national character. Part of who I am is because of them.  I thank them. May there be many more women’s marches.

 

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Masterpiece

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I recently watched “Victoria” (2016) a new Masterpiece series.  There were eight episodes, that followed the early life of the 18 year old queen, her  courtship and marriage to the German Prince Albert.  Jenna Coleman is a beautiful, determined, yes, stubborn queen.  It was exciting to see her stand her ground, choosing advisors she trusted, and policies she believed in.  Although cautious about Albert in the beginnng, they seemed to develop an open and loving relationship. I am looking forward to season 2.

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For decades Diane and I have enjoyed the BBC Masterpiece Theatre on PBS.  “Upstairs Downstairs” was probably our first Masterpiece experience in 1971-75.  There were five series; 68 episodes.  We watched the wealthy, aristocratic Bellamy family (upstairs) who lived at 165 Eaton Place in London’s Belgravia,  interact with their servants (downstairs) for thirty years (1903- 1930s).  Family and personal stories unfolded in the context of historical events.  Characters seem to become real people — remember the butler Mr. Hudson, footman Alfred, or the cook Mrs. Bridges.  In 2010, the series resumed through the 1930s with some of the same characters. We watched the new series and then re-watched some older episodes.

The number of quality Masterpiece shows is really amazing.  Among our favorites are Lillie, I Claudius, The Duchess of Duke Street, Arthur and George, Foyle’s War, Sherlock, Indian Summers, and Mr. Selfridge.  There are many others we haven’t seen.

Our all time favorite is probably “The Duchess of Duke Street” (1976-77)., created by John Hawkesworth. We watched Louisa Trotter (Gemma Jones) work her way up from being a skivvy (low level domestic woman servant) to become a cook for the King, owner of the Bentinck Hotel, and cook-caterer for the British aristocracy.  She was a determined, elegant, rowdy, convention breaking young woman who wanted to become a great chef.  She succeeds, with a little luck and help from friends.  Charlie Tyrell (Christopher Cazenove), a young aristocrat seems unsuccessful in his attempt to seduce her but they form a life long friendship.  There is Starr (John Carter), the rigid door man.  Who could forget Merriman (John Welsh) the house butler?  Or the Major (Richard Vernon), a reconteur, hanger on.

I didn’t know it until recently, but “The Duchess of  Duke Street” was based on the life of Rosa Lewis, like Louisa, a middle class girl who breaks into society.  There have been several biographies of Rosa.  I recently read “The Duchess of Jeremy Street” by Daphne Fielding, an upper class woman who came to know Rosa.  Born in 1867, Rosa left home at the age of 12 to become a servant.  She worked her way up the line to become a head kitchen maid.   In 1887 she began cooking in private homes, her first client was Lady Randolph Churchill, mother of Winston, who hired her to cater a dinner attended by Queen Victoria’s son, The Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII of England.  The Prince congratulated her on the meal, gave her a tip, Rosa fainted.  Her success was assured.

 

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Rosa had begun to abandon Isabelle Beeton’s “old style”  cuisine for lighter fare.  Mrs. Beeton’s “Book of Household Management” had dominated British cooking from it’s publication in 1861.  Rosa leaned toward the new style of Escoffier, who would come to dominate French cuisine for decades.  King Edward said “She takes more pains with a cabbage than a chicken. . . She gives me nothing sloppy, nothing colored up to dribble on my shirt front.”  Rumor suggested that Rosa was the King mistress.  Her parents pushed marriage; she married a butler, Excelsior Lewis, but it didn’t last.

In 1902 with King Edward’s help she purchased the Cavendish Hotel.  Rosa became the hostess for the British aristocracy and she had a soft spot for wealthy Americans.  During World War I she provided rooms, meals, and always champagne to soldiers and veterans.  If they couldn’t pay she padded the bills of  the wealthy.  She became known as the “Queen of Cooks” or “The Duchess of Jermyn Street.”  The hotel was located at Jermyn and Duke streets.  The hotel and Rosa’s fortunes slid in the 1930s-50s.  The Cavendish became rough on the edges; the times were changing.  Rosa died in 1852.  Her friend Edith Jeffrey operated the hotel for another 10 years.  Since then it’s been demolished and a new Cavendish has risen on the site.

There are many similar incidents in Rosa’s life and the BBC show, “The Duchess of Duke Street.”  One unforgettable event.  Rosa (Louisa) buys an ocean front house in Brighton.  The Yacht Club had hoped to buy the property to provide rooms for the ladies.  Rosa outbid them.  One evening she ís annoy with the Club and instructs a servant to collect the “pots” which she proceeds to lob into her neighborbors garden tea party.  Truth can be stranger than fiction.

I like to travel, read, live thematically, so I recently re-read “Below Stairs: the classic kitchen maid’s memoir that inspired “Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey.”  Margaret Powell published “Below Stairs” in 1968.  Powell entered domestic service as a young girl; her family needed the money.  Most of her placements were less than the best, certainly not Eaton Place or Downton Abbey.  But she provides a lot of insight into the relationships and differences between “upstairs” and” downstairs.”  Beginning in the 1920s, she worked in the homes of middle class gentry, short on money, but still high on expectations.  The golden age of domestic service was ending.  That decline is echoed in the Crawley family’s attempt to hold on the the traditions, property, and life style of Downton Abbey.

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Powell takes us into a world where servants are frequently not treated as humans.  Cigar smoking, brandy drinking gents might talk about sensitive topics after dinner assured no one would hear; servants in the room were invisible.  I just got a flash of President Trump discussing national policy issues at at dinner table at Mar-a-Lago; other club members were invisible although they listened and photographed the event.

Dating was frowned upon, although marriage might be a young woman’s only escape from service. The British system wasn’t slavery in the American fashion but servants were expected to give up their freedoms and be totally loyal to the “upstairs” family.  Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) on Downton Abbey exemplifies the dedicated, give all, servant; Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier)  seems to be in it for himself.  Interestingly most of us probably find Carson sympathetic and dislike Barrow.

Margaret Powell pulls no punches.  She is intelligent, “I didn’t know you read,, Margaret.”  She mocks the “horrible sensible” Christmas presents  — thick woolen stockings and rough fabric to make uniforms — generous gifts from her employers.  Never a silk stocking or something you might want.    Powell is determined to beat the odds and find a husband.  She does.

“Below Stairs” was first published in 1968.  Powell was featured in the media and wrote several other books.  A fascinating story.  Reading Powell, I wonder if Masterpiece is too romantic about the system. Although there are raised eyebrows and some resistance when chauffeur Tom Branson marries into the family; he is accepted.  All is well.  Apologists for American slavery often talked about “good masters” and a “good life on the plantation.”  I think when I return to view “Upstairs” and “Downton” it will be with a new questions.

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On a personal note, my Aunt Lucy was a domestic servant.  Turn-of-the-century single Irish woman, she worked for a family, the Buckmans, in Bristol Borough.  Lucy had a certain independence but I also remember a strong loyalty to the Buchanan family.  She lived and vacationed with them.  I don’t know how long; or her duties.  Retired in the early 1960s, she moved in with my grandmother — not a happy arrangement.   A number of times she took me to Philadelphia on the train.  We shopped and had lunch in Wanamaker’s Crystal Tea Room. Amazing when I think about it now.  She also started me stamp collecting, fed stray cats, and encouraged me to be myself.  When Lucy died in Nannie’s apartment, it was several days before anyone found her.

We’ve always enjoyed Masterpiece.  Hope Trump doesn’t cut funds to PBS.

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