Thursday, May 31, 2012

Great movie quotes

Something's got a stranglehold on my creativity lately.  In the past, blog posts have seemed to spring from the tips of my keyboard-tapping fingers.  Nowadays, Dame Inspiration is a sometime visitor who can't be bothered to sit down for a cup of coffee even.  But the blog must go on.

Today, some of my favorite lines from some good movies.

"Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed.  But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops.  Uh, depending on the breaks." --General Buck Turgidson from Dr. Strangelove

"There are two kinds of spurs, my friend.  Those that come in by the door; [making the sign of the Cross] and those that come in by the window."  --Tuco from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Carol:  Why can't I just have a normal boyfriend?
Carol's mother:  Everyone wants that, dear.  It doesn't exist.  --from As Good as It Gets

Prince John: Poor John. Who says poor John? Don't everybody sob at once! My God, if I went up in flames there's not a living soul who'd pee on me to put the fire out!
Prince Richard: Let's strike a flint and see.   --from The Lion in Winter

"I told myself it was beneath my dignity to arrest a man for pilfering firewood. But nothing ordered by the party is beneath the dignity of any man, and the party was right: One man desperate for a bit of fuel is pathetic. Five million people desperate for fuel will destroy a city. That was the first time I ever saw my brother. But I knew him. And I knew that I would disobey the party. Perhaps it was the tie of blood between us, but I doubt it. We were only half tied anyway, and brothers will betray a brother. Indeed, as a policeman, I would say, get hold of a man's brother and you're halfway home. Nor was it admiration for a better man than me. I did admire him, but I didn't think he was a better man. Besides, I've executed better men than me with a small pistol." --General Yevgraf Zhivago, from Doctor Zhivago

"Now go home and get your f*cking shine box."  --Billy Batts from the movie Good Fellas

Happy birthday, Paige!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bleeding heart

Galling revelation took shape before me;
No roaring Fury announcing approach,
But a hope I'd warmed to like a windfall friend
Revealed to be a smiling murderer;

Barbéd dagger which I'd given up fearing
Forged within defenses I deemed causeless
Arced swiftly stabbing, ventricle-puncturing;
No thrust could ever find a truer home;

Bleed, now.  Just let the flow wash it all away.
There are no allies can take your part. Bleed.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Rose City weekend

Tree stump... or is it more?
Down in the Brooklyn neighborhood, we came upon this tree stump that had been shaped into a "maypole" (if you will). 

As if in defiance of the Great Co-opting, this symbol stands directly across an unmarked, serene residential street from the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, with its tall, solemn, crucifix-punctuated steeple.  The crucifix is stark, unadorned.  

"He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me"
Next to the church, Christ bestows his blessings on whosoever may be meditating in a well-groomed garden.  Today, myself and Dave Hauth.

Hacky sackers
Some young men displayed impressive agility and eye coordination playing hacky sack in front of Richmond Elementary School.  Apparently, the hacky sack World Championships are to be held this summer in the Rose City.  When I snapped this photo the lads wanted to make sure I knew about it.  About the Championship.

This little city has its charms, humble though they may seem to cutting-edge New Yorkers, or glamorous Los Angelinos, or flamboyant San Franciscans.  Our little gray-skied city.  Our little city with the folks in the rain slickers slurping coffee under the awnings while the rain hisses on the pavement.  Our feisty little Portland.  Our verdant, meditative garden.

Just an accident of birth that I'm here, now.  Asked myself more than once, how'd I get so lucky?  Not fool enough to imagine it's something I'll ever know.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Spending out the ink

Got caught in it today
Springtime in Portland. An excellent time to clean the nib.  First step:  spend out the ink.

Anyone who has lived any length of time in western Oregon will tell you that the weather here at this time of year is unpredictable.  Pacifica is temperamental in her moods.  Sunshine one moment, furious downpour the next.  I got caught in it halfway up Tabor this afternoon.

Are you having a nice drink, young one?

It seems a happy time for the young oak on top.  Someone, some human, found an empty bird's nest and placed it in the young limbs at shoulder height.  There were no takers, nor does it seem likely that there will be this late in the spring.  Hard to believe any nesting bird could find the site attractive, in any case.  But it is proof positive that there are others in the community that care about the sapling oak.  He, the oak, is a gift we will pass on to the people who will live here in the centuries to come.  He'll have many residents over the decades.

No takers, alas.
On the way back down, Pacifica relented and brought forth the sun.  She does love us, though we wound her.

Cielo muy azul
About 2 years ago I mentioned Sawman, sawing on his cello on Hawthorne Boulevard.  I'm happy to say he is returned.  His name is Martin.  Yesterday, he was playing with a young woman who sang and played percussion.  Today, he was by himself.

"Hey, man," I told him, "you could play here all summer and that'd be just fine with me."

He smiled from behind his long, wind-lashed locks.  "Well, I'm going to, so--"

I bought him a coffee from Peet's.  Support your local busker.

Martin, the cellist

Things are shaping up for a good summer.  Can you feel it?  I can feel it.  We're in for good times, methinks.

Monday, May 21, 2012

An incident in Indio

Dad with Brother Eric and I at my cousin Terry's wedding
Someone had thrown garbage in the swimming pool.  A bottle of bleach.  Half-eaten food.  Soggy newspapers.  All floating on the water, above the dazzling patterns that played on the brilliant white floor; patterns drawn by the refracted light of the oppressive Coachella Valley sun, mid-summer.

Work was done for the day.  We'd been up in the early hours, arriving in the grape fields in the dirty brown light that foretold the dawn.  In the Coachella Valley, in mid-summer, outdoor work ended by noon.  It was too hot to work beyond that.  It was hard work.  We clipped bunches of Thompsons and Pearlettes and packed them in boxes for delivery to produce departments of grocery stores across the country.  That is what we did during our summer vacations in the 70s.

That day, we'd come back to the apartment in Indio, a one-bedroom box with a kitchenette, and napped for an hour or so.  Dad and Jeanne had the bedroom.  Eric, Paige, and I, and one or two of our cousins, Danny or Deona or Inez, in the living room.  We kids were small enough that we could sleep two to a sofa, of which there were two.  Plus, there was the big chocolate beanbag that we kept in front of the television.  In the later afternoon, we arose and ran out to the swimming pool in the middle of the complex, as we did every day.  The pool was where we spent our leisure time, splashing and playing until supper.

But that day, we stood at the side of the pool in the brutal heat and stared at the garbage floating in the water.  When Dad saw it he swore.  He found the pool net and fished out the garbage.  "Alright, kids," he said.  "Go ahead."  We hesitated.  When Dad swore like that it was time to watch your step.  But we sensed that his rage was directed outward, away from us.  So we jumped in.

While we swam, Dad and Jeanne sat in the pool chairs and watched us play.  Dad cast sharp glances at the anonymous doors of the other apartments that surrounded the pool. None of those people ever came to the pool.  We didn't know them.  They didn't speak to us.  They kept behind their closed doors with the curtains drawn.  Against the heat, as we thought.  At first.

Only once had we shared the pool with any of the other residents.  Brother Eric, Cousin Danny and I came out once to find a woman, wearing the scowl of the perpetually unhappy, in the pool with a toddler girl.  She was obese and appeared very white when contrasted with us, the Filipino-Mexican boys who were every day out in the sun.  Out of respect for her and the young child, we kept our splashing to a minimum, but she was not satisfied.  "You boys don't belong here," she said.

"What do you mean?" I asked.  "We live right there, in Apartment 4."  I pointed to the door of our apartment where Dad, Jeanne, and Paige were inside.

Her lip curled to a sneer.  "How many of you live in there?" she asked.  But she did not expect an answer.  I was flummoxed and distressed.  Soon enough she took the child out of the water, dried off and retreated to her apartment.

When I told Dad about the incident with the fat woman, he brushed it off.  But when we found the garbage in the pool, something changed about him.  I could tell by the way Jeanne, always the most attuned to Dad's shifting moods, became uneasy.

That night proceeded normally.  There was no work the next day, so we were up late watching Creature Feature.  Eventually, Dad and Jeanne retired to the bedroom, while Eric, Paige, Cousins Danny and Deona, and I found places to sleep on the sofas or in the huge beanbag.  We were just settling in when a heavy thud, a smashing sound, disturbed our calm.  The door to the apartment jumped, as if someone were trying to force his way in.  Then silence.

"Who's hurt?" Dad called from the bedroom.  "What happened?" 

"Something hit the door!" I called.

Dad came out.  The door was knocked ajar by the force of impact.  Dad opened it and swore.  A smashed egg ran down the door face.  Dad peered out into the night.  "Who's there?" he called.

I heard voices mumbling from outside.  Dad swore again.  "Who did this?  'Cause I'll kick the f*ck out of 'em."  Jeanne emerged from the bedroom.  Her careful advance, her mincing footsteps, were caution to us all.  We held our breath.  There were more voices outside.

Dad rushed back to the bedroom.  I heard him slide open the door to the closet.  Then he was back.  He gripped his shotgun in his right hand, barrel pointed toward the floor.  He stepped out the door and stood on the walkway.  From where I lay, he was a lone figure, in shorts and tee-shirt, against the darkness outside.  "You tell whoever did this that if I find him, I'll kick the f*ck out of him," he said.  His voice was aflame with rage and menace.

More voices from outside, but whoever was out there was dispersing.  The tones were sullen and fearful.

Dad came back in and shut the door behind him.  He spoke to Jeanne.  "It's those punks.  The teenagers.  They say they didn't do it, but they cleared out fast enough."  He leaned the shotgun against the wall, by the door.

"Ross--" Jeanne said, but she let it linger.  There was no reasoning with him at times like that.

"If I find out who did that, I'll kill the f*cker," he said.  He went back into the bedroom and Jeanne followed him.  The shotgun stood, butt down, against the door frame.  Eventually, I slept.

It took me years to understand that night, to understand all the forces and emotions at work.  In retrospect, it is all so obvious.  A low-rent apartment building in Indio, California.  An apartment full of dark-skinned Mexican-Filipino children who every day splashed and shouted in the swimming pool.  A scowling, angry woman who objected to our being.

But I was a child back then.  I didn't know.  It was Dad that knew.  Dad and Jeanne.  From then on, Dad insisted that we go to the pool every day, even if we didn't want to.  I suppose he felt we had to show the flag.

But I remember the shotgun propped against the wall.  I remember Dad's words:  "I'll kick the f*ck out of 'em."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Another year with Maty Bombay

Born in the red dust of Ouagadougou,
Far from the land her father called home;
Farther still from where the boy she'd love
Even then endured the tragic-joyous
Morph to manhood;

The woman in Ouaga whom God had blessed,
With foresight called her "American girl,"
Knowing she was bound toward
The rain-washed valley where he was born,
To love him there;

She brought her quiet wisdom and her love
And salvation he believes beyond
The power even of his bookish gods--
Shakespeare, Hemingway, Tolkien, Steinbeck--
To ever describe;

Just her being makes me cry
Because I cannot do it justice;

Happy birthday, Maty Bombay!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sad man

Sad man brandish your surly talisman to ward away pity!
But what would you do were I to damn you as you have damned yourself?

Gathered were we, beneath the canopy that grew at the foot of your mountain;
Entranced by your laborious climb;

When you lingered on crevasse lip
We cried "Care!"
When you slipped on the sun-stroked ice
Our breath stopped.
When you teetered on rock chimney
We panicked.

And never once did we withdraw our extended hands and hopes
Though you spurned them;

And now you've fallen --fallen down and are broken;
Do you blame us if we now turn away?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Book review: What is the What

What is the What is the story of the life of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan --some 20,000 boys displaced by the Sudanese Civil War in the 80s.  The boys, separated from their families, walked across a thousand or more miles and three countries to seek refuge in Ethiopia and later Kenya.  Along the way, they suffered military attacks by government forces, brutal conscription into rebel armies, starvation, disease, privation, and attacks by lions, crocodiles, and hyenas.  Bit of a tough road, wouldn't you say?

It gets worse.

The story is told by Valentino himself, with the assistance of writer Dave Eggers, through the prism of Valentino's life in the United States where he has been resettled as part of a program arranged by the United Nations.  America hasn't proved to be the promise that it seemed when Valentino lived in a refugee camp in a remote part of Kenya.  Much of the book is related as Valentino lies bound, hand and foot, on the floor of his apartment while armed thieves take his belongings.

What is the What is a great book for putting things in perspective.  Getting a taste of Valentino's story has a way of making the everyday problems I endure seem rather petty.  Got a problem getting along with your boss?  Try swimming across a crocodile-infested river while soldiers shoot at you from the shore, instead!

The other members of my book club greatly enjoyed the book.  And I enjoyed it as well, but not as much.  In some ways, the book suffers from a bit of an identity crisis.  Is it an autobiography?  Or is it a novel? Valentino writes in the foreword that the book is his personal recollection of events, but that readers should make allowance for the tricks of human memory and for the artistic license implied by the term "novel."

That's all well and good.  It's an important story that must be told.

I was slightly put off, however, by the detachment.  The book is written as if Valentino were verbally recounting his memories.  It lacks a sense of immediacy and is therefore not as compelling.  Whatever.  It's a minor complaint. 

A few years ago, I saw a flick about the Lost Boys of Sudan (God Grew Tired of Us), so I was already somewhat familiar with the subject-matter.  Valentino has set up a foundation to help the suffering people of southern Sudan.  It's called, the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation.  All the proceeds from What is the What go there.  It's a worthy cause, as anyone who reads the book will know.

What is the What offers valuable insights into an alien, savage reality.  It's a reality known to untold millions of the people on this planet  --people who didn't have the good fortune to be born in a land of peace and plenty.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Movie review: Coriolanus

In case anyone had any foolish doubts about the relevance of Shakespeare in our current times, Ralph Fiennes lays them all to rest with his startling, severe rendition of the tragedy of Coriolanus.  It is the story of Caius Martius Coriolanus, the blue-blooded war hero who leads Rome's armies to victory while holding a deep-seated contempt for the city's common people.  His bravery wins him Rome's love; his pride repulses her.  (Oh fatal pride!)  Driven on by his honor-hungry, warlike mother, Coriolanus is pushed into a terrible fate that destroys not only his physical body, but that which he holds most dear, his sacred honor.  In the end, he proves human and is therefore destroyed.

This is a film very much about the world today.  Fiennes deftly introduces modern phenomena in convincing fashion.  Cast extras flit about with video-recording cell phones and digital cameras to give the work a modern day appearance.  Protesting Roman citizens recall the Occupy protests that swept the United States last year.  Urban combat scenes, although depicted as occurring in Italy, very much reminded of the savage fighting that occurred at the end of the last century in the Balkans just across the slender Adriatic.  Fiennes makes use of off-focus shots and video footage to give the film a modern media appearance. 

In yet another nod toward our civilization's evolving mores, Fiennes film introduces a hint of martial homo-eroticism into the story.  The hand-to-hand combat between Coriolanus and Aufidius has an almost sexual intimacy; the cultish warriors who follow Coriolanus indulge in initiation orgies that are highly suggestive.  An interesting interpretation that I'm not sure Shakespeare (whoever he was) might have imagined. 

Beyond the successful set construction, however, it's the acting that makes this film.  Fiennes himself is marvelous in the title role.  His steel-eyed gaze and Roman nose give him the appearance of a pitiless predator. (And quite a jarring contrast with his role in The English Patient.) Gerald Butler, in the role of Coriolanus' arch-enemy, Titus Aufidius, provides a mirror-image of his rival, but with certain crucial differences.  Brian Cox, a versatile and under-recognized actor, is the conciliating Senator Meninius. But the standout performance, in my mind, was Vanessa Redgrave as the frighteningly martial Volumnia, Coriolanus' unyielding mother.

Five minutes into this film, I knew I was watching a winner.  Granted, I'm a sucker for Shakespeare.  But, if there is such a thing as an obscure Shakespeare play, Coriolanus might qualify. Fiennes could have taken a safer road by producing yet another of the Big Four (Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello).  Instead, he chose Coriolanus to demonstrate its relevance in the 21st century.

I'd say he succeeded admirably.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Marriage equality: President Obama is on the right side of history

Yesterday, in an interview with ABC's Robin Roberts, the President said:  "I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married." 

Another milestone in the march toward marriage equality and a politically courageous move by the President.

In spite of polls that show the American public coming around to the idea of same sex marriage (a slim majority of Americans are in favor), the President is standing on shaky ground.  The day before the President made his remarks, North Carolina overwhelmingly voted to define marriage as legal only between a man and a woman, effectively banning legal recognition of same sex couples.  North Carolina is a state that the President won by the merest of margins in 2008.  It is deemed a 2012 swing state by most political analysts.  If the North Carolina vote is a true indicator of the President's prospects in November, he just wrote off the Tar Heel state.  What about other swing states like Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Iowa?

For those voters willing to look deeper than jingoistic sound bites, the President has drawn a stark contrast between himself and his opponent, Mitt Romney, in the upcoming election.  Romney has repeatedly changed his positions over the last several years in order to win the support of right-wing ideologues.  Here's what Romney said on the matter, yesterday, after the President made his remarks:  "My view is that marriage itself is between a man and a woman.  This is a very tender and sensitive topic, as are many social issues, but I have the same view that I've had since -- since running for office." Tepid and vague.  And calculated to reassure right-wing zealots without alienating moderates

The battle for marriage equality is no different than the great racial civil rights battles of the 60s; the outcome equally predetermined.  As I've stated before, the 2003 ruling by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, declaring that state's ban on same sex marriage unconstitutional, set in motion an irresistible social landslide that will eventually bury the opposition.  That's how things happen.  

As a happily married heterosexual man with many gay friends and neighbors, I'm encouraged by these latest developments.  Certainly, credit belongs to gay rights activists who have relentlessly pushed the issue.  But credit the President as well. This is a battle he didn't have to join.  The safer course would have been to remain silent on the issue.  The President has taken a principled stand and, in doing so, has undercut his own political support.

They call that leadership.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Diez declaraciones que suenan profunda...

...pero que significan nada.  Para practicar el español.  Pués...

  1. ¿Quién sabe adonde va el coyote cuando canta el búho?  La vieja sabe.  Pero ella no dice nada.
  2. Leones pequeños se divierten en el bosque.  No hay hombres para comer.  Hoy.  El oso se lame los labios.
  3. Cuando se encuentra en un cuarto llena de tontos, cerrar un ojo.  En esta manera, el mundo parece solo que medio malo.
  4. El llave a las políticas y la guerra partisana es para continuar existir.
  5. Si yo sería una jirafa, dolor en la garganta sería un problema muy grande.
  6. No me culpa.  Yo no nací a ser rico y por lo tanto, nunca puedo ser excéntrico.  Desde no tendré dinero, siempre seré loco.
  7. No es mejor nunca tratarlo la diferencia entre un hombre y un niño en la ducha.
  8. ¿Por qué nos puso aquí para sufrir y morir?  
  9. Si matar al rey, debe matar al rey.
  10. Muchas veces el coyote es un brujo.
¡Esto es suficiente!  Mientras yo tengo una iota de orgullo restante.

Monday, May 07, 2012

On the march with the Timbers Army

Jeld-Wen Field
Historian Gwynne Dyer holds that large public sporting events serve a useful sociological function.  Mock battles.  Armies gather; a battle is fought; one side exults in victory, the other agonizes in defeat.  Nobody gets killed and everyone gets to do it again the following week.  An infinitely preferable alternative to the Real ThingTM.

Having attended the Portland Timbers soccer match on Saturday evening, I'm fairly well convinced that Dr. Dyer has it just right.

A gang of old friends, season ticket holders and Timbers Army soldiers all, had me along on a General Admission pass to join the rowdy and ribald mob that occupies the stadium seats at the North End of Jeld-Wen Field.  The Timbers Army Football Club, according to its web site is a fan-organized support organization that is funded by "The 107 Independent Supporters’ Trust."  You can read about it here.

The match started at 6:30pm, but we had our place on queue staked out several hours before game time.  General Admission is general admission, eh?  Early bird gets the worm.

The opponent of the day was the Columbus Crew, out of Ohio, which drew abuse from the crowd outside Jeld-Wen Field even as they drove past the stadium to the locker room.  At the sight of the traveling coach with its impenetrable tinted windows, Timbers fans jeered, hooted, and produced jangling sets of keys which they held high and rattled.  (Not unlike aboriginal warriors brandishing ghastly trophies of teeth plucked from the jaws of the vanquished.  Fierce! thought I.)

90 minute mock battle
When the gates opened, all were gripped by an urgency.  Get your claim staked.  Not so fast as to be rude (this is Portland, after all), but no time for pleasantries either.  We got seated about 10 rows up.  Good seats. 

The match was fun.  These are 2nd or 3rd tier athletes as far as professional football players go, but their footwork dazzles, nonetheless.  And the english they can put on the ball...  The game ended in a 0-0 draw.  No one was happy, but considering the Timbers lack of success thus far in the season, nobody complained too loudly.  The Timbers were on the offensive most of the game.  They just couldn't finish.

But as least as much fun as watching the match was enjoying the rowdy atmosphere among the Timbers Army.  There were more than a few tipsy folks in the stands before the match started.  At the end of the match there might have been 2 or 3 left sober.  People waved flags, raged at the officials, cursed their luck, and belted out profane, mocking cheers directed at the visiting team and its supporters.  The fans were egged on by a cadre of fan cheerleaders who led them in verses that they all knew by heart.  (One of them was in Spanish!)

Timbers Army, progressively louder and less coherent
All in all, a fantastically fun time.  This was my first ever Timbers game.  I dig the "Rose City pride" and the semi-militant Republic of Cascadia sentiments.  And I like that the Portland Timber's roster is full of West Africans and Latin Americans, as well as US men.  I'm always encouraged by multinational teams.  It seems such a hopeful omen for the future.  

Hope to go back soon.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Book review: Bad Times in Buenos Aires

British writer Miranda France has achieved something with her memoir Bad Times in Buenos Aires that I have often aspired to, but never quite managed.  In approximately 200 pages she captured the essence of a city and its people.  Specifically, Buenos Aires and its denizens, los porteños.

The book is an account of the years, in the middle 90s, when France left her home in the United Kingdom to work as a free-lance journalist in Buenos Aires.  France's Buenos Aires is a city of maddening frustrations.  Nothing works.  Los porteños stand in line for hours to pay bills, endure leaky roofs in cockroach-infested top-floor apartments that lack functioning lifts.  Rents are high.  Streets are cratered.  Telephone wires are crossed.

Buenos Aires is a city tortured by its recent past, and given no respite from a bleak present and an unhopeful future.  The complicated Argentine psyche is bedeviled by bronca, a manifestation of the disappointment and frustration of unrealized potential.  Everyone in the city is on edge.  The people are haunted by the recent Dirty War, addicted to psychoanalysis, afraid to confront the past, confused at how the promise of Argentina's great populist heroes, Juan and Evita Peron failed to come to fruition.

France relates it all as she experienced it:  angst-weighted conversations with friends and acquaintances, pretensions and snobbery from Argentine blue-bloods, hollow machismo from Argentine men emasculated by the national humiliation suffered in the Falklands War.  The ghost of Evita Peron still rules the city, grown all the more seductive since her death 40 years earlier.  And everywhere, the phantoms of los desaparecidos, the Disappeared, the victims of the Dirty War, haunt the streets, demanding acknowledgment.  France's encounters include a perplexing conversation with a genial military officer named Carlos, whom she learns may have been a torturer and a murderer during the Dirty War.  

France writes with subtle, dry humor (very British, I thought) and with undeniable skill.  My mom, recently back from a visit to Buenos Aires, recommended this book to me and I'm very glad to have read it.  Buenos Aires has been very high on my list of places to visit for several years now.  After reading this book, I'm all the more eager to see it.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Springtime thoughts

The young year's sun is stark and pale. Menacing and actual as inevitable disaster.  But a thing distant enough that panic may be forestalled.  For a time.

These are today the sounds that buoy you out of your nascent slumber, that lift you into awareness:  the hushed lament of the wind in the boughs of Douglas-fir and hemlock; blithe, frolicking songs of warblers.   You will live within that spectrum.  As have I.

In the sunlight, dreaming of how conversations might go.  Or what if I had given her a book?  Or what if he were to ask me something at a time when I could answer?

Silly thoughts, those.  Across the river, the golden promise of spring enlightens the crowns of the West Hills.

Home for now.  I'll be back, my young friend.  For a little while.  And if, in your glorious future, you remember a dim, warm shadow that loved you as you slept, it is more than enough.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Sixty-seven years since the Red Star rose over Berlin

Sixty-seven years ago today, Red Army soldiers hoisted their flag over the Reichstag, signalling an effective end to Hitler's Third Reich.  The city of Berlin lay in ruins; the Wehrmacht, the greatest military organization the world had ever seen, was no more.

While German soldiers to the west, in Bavaria and Westphalia, were surrendering en masse to advancing American, British, and Canadian armies, it was a different story in Prussia.   

"Munich gave up without a fight," a young German man told me in 1999.  He was my guide on a tour of Dachau, the notorious German prison camp where some 35,000 souls perished.  His short black curls, practical, round spectacles and black shirt and trousers gave him a severe appearance, but he was a pacifist and a liberal.  "In Berlin, for some strange reason," he continued, "they fought to the last man." 

The Soviets outnumbered their German adversaries three to one in the final assault on Berlin.  The Wehrmacht had been in full retreat ever since the Soviets had broken out from the Kursk pocket on the faraway Russian steppes nearly two years earlier.  Although to express doubt was an act of treason in dying Germany, it seems unlikely that even the most zealous Wehrmacht soldier could have harbored any illusions in those final days.  And yet, they fought on.  To the last man.

All told, nearly 200,000 persons lost their lives in the battle for Berlin.  In the last push from the Spree River to the Reichstag, a distance of less than a mile, the Red Army suffered 5,000 casualties.  German casualties are unknown, but estimated to be even higher.  When I visited at the end of the century, there were still scars from the savagery that had occurred over 50 years before.

It is impossible to express any judgment on the Battle of Berlin.  It was the result of the thoughts and actions of millions of people, defying any rational explanation.  In terms of scale and sheer savagery, it ranks as one of the most appalling battles in human history.  One could argue that it was the fulfillment of the nihilistic German worldview; the invocation of Ragnarok.

Mankind hasn't grown any more humane in these last 67 years.  We are what we are.  But it would not displease me if I spun out what time remains to me before the next Battle of Berlin occurs.