Friday, September 19, 2014

Lincoln Logs Come to Maine - Dispatches from Maine

One of my favorite playthings when I was young was a set of Lincoln Logs.  They came in a long, round tube with a metal bottom and a pry-off lid and the contents gave me hours of enjoyment when I was growing up.  There were various sizes of notched redwood logs and other pieces, some painted green for the roof, and always a bright red block for the chimney.  And one could always buy more if something larger than a simple log cabin was intended.

Lincoln Logs © was the brain child of John Lloyd Wright (1892-1972), the estranged second son of Frank Lloyd Wright.  Himself an architect of some note, John Lloyd came up with the idea for the toy while working with his father on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.  He launched the Red Square Toy Company (later J.L. Wright Manufacturing) when he returned home to the United States.  The Lincoln Log concept dates from 1916, and production began two years later.  Wright received a patent in 1920 which he later sold.  The production of wooden pieces continued into the 1970s when the misguided decision to make the pieces out of plastic was a complete and utter failure.  One wonders if the young Abraham Lincoln’s father sat him on his knee one day and looked him in the eye: “I want to say one word to you.  Just one word . . . are you listening?  Plastics.  There is a great future in plastics.”  No, I don’t think so.  You can’t make a log cabin out of plastic.  So production of Lincoln Logs once again relied on wood, and after almost a century of production it entered the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999. 

A couple of days ago K’NEX of Hatfield, Pennsylvania, the company that currently manufactures and distributes Lincoln Logs under license from the Rhode Island based toy company Hasbro, announced that it was happily moving production from China back to the United States and to the State of Maine.  The governor (he who shall not be named), who likes to tell everyone that “Maine is Open for Business,” was quick to announce the move and welcome Lincoln Logs to the Pine Tree State where local wood will be used in the production (there are no redwoods here . . . and who wants to cut down a redwood in the first place?).

Pride Manufacturing, a wood manufacturing company in the Waldo County hamlet of  Burnham, which employs around 130 souls and until now was known primarily for its wooden golf tees and cigar tips, will produce the wood pieces which will then be sent to K’NEX, in Pennsylvania (they also manufacture Tinkertoys), for painting, packaging, and distribution.  Production is ramping up in Burnham and should be going full tilt by November, adding between five and ten new employees at the Burnham plant.

I can see why the governor is so excited.


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Monday, September 15, 2014

Drinking Cowboy Coffee - Dispatches from Maine

I like strong coffee.  Strong, black coffee.  The stronger the better; the kind in which the spoon stands up on its own if it doesn’t dissolve completely.  You get the idea.

At home I usually brew my mugs in a coffee maker, for heavy duty mornings, but otherwise I make it a mug (a big mug) at a time, pouring hot water through rough-ground coffee in a filter.  In either case, it seems too much trouble for a cuppa. 

I wonder why I just don’t make it “cowboy style.”  It is as simple as throwing coffee grounds loose into a coffee pot and letting it boil to the proper strength.  Throw in some egg shells to help settle the grounds to the bottom and you are ready to go in a very few minutes.  And it usually tastes better than coffee brewed with a lot more hoopla than is really necessary.  Unfortunately one does have to make more coffee than one might normally drink as cowboy coffee is not “good to the last drop” . . . unless one likes to chew the last few gulps.  Even some of the earlier servings may be a bit silted at the bottom of the cup.

So this morning I eschewed the filter and treated myself to a couple salubrious cups of joe sans filter.  Talk about a wake-up call!  It is not something I would do every morning, but variety is the spice of life.  Now if I can only get down off the ceiling.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Get Off My Damn Bumper Redux - Dispatches from Maine

We have been in Maine almost three months and I feel the need to redux this posting from about this time last year. I love Maine, but cannot fathom the local sport of tailgating.

“The way life should be” . . . that is what the welcome signs say when you enter the State of Maine.  I have always agreed with this sentiment; it is the reason we have been coming back here regularly for the past quarter of a century, and Maine has been our default summer residence since 2010.  I like it here!  And why not?  The people are friendly, even to those of us “from away.”  The pace of life is good.

With the exception of the Maine Turnpike (Interstate 95) from the New Hampshire border to Portland (a distance of roughly 50 miles), or the mostly two-lane US Route One running along the entire coast of Maine, there is very little traffic on the roads and nobody seems to be in a terrible hurry to get wherever they are going.  Coming from the environs of a Type A city like Washington, DC, this is a noticeable and welcome respite from the hurry up and wait traffic clogging its streets.

That said, what is with this local obsession with tailgating . . . driving so close to the rear end of a vehicle that the driver of said vehicle cannot see the bumper, sometimes even the headlights of the tailgater?  What’s the big rush?  Where’s the fire?   Slow down and back off and enjoy the way life ought to be before it ends prematurely for both of us.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

We Were All Americans Then - Dispatches from Maine

This morning I feel far removed from that day none of us will ever forget.  Whereas the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 made the United States one with a world already at war for over two years, the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 made the world one with the United States.  And for a brief moment there an empathetic spirit of world-wide solidarity as the French newspaper Le Monde ran a headline, “We are all Americans now.”  It is a shame it was so short-lived.   Where is that solidarity now when the world needs it most?

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Monday, September 1, 2014

What a Summer It Has Been So Far - Dispatches from Maine

We have been in Maine for nine weeks so far and oh, and what a summer it has been.  I have read 26 books; organized and given two lectures - on the Holocaust, delivered in Augusta, and on the Indian Stream Republic, delivered in Colebrook, New Hampshire; drafted two more lectures to give in September - on war crimes prosecutions, at the Maine State Prison in Warren, and on the American Revolution in Maine before our local historical society here in New Gloucester; worked on the drafts of two novellas and read from one at the Monhegan Island library (and I will read again at our local library this month); drafted an outline for a short story; written 25 letters and several postcards; driven roughly 4500 miles since leaving home in June, exploring the back roads of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, with a quick weekend trip to northern New Jersey and back for a wedding; taken roughly four thousand photographs; met a very famous artist (Jamie Wyeth) and hob-nobbed with others; eaten several lobsters and dozens of clams . . . and a few Whoopie Pies, but who is counting?; had dinner a couple tables away from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; seen two moose and lots of other wildlife; spent another week on Monhegan Island (our 15th year to do so); had friends and neighbors from home stop to visit while others stayed for a few days to share our tranquility here on Sabbathday Lake. And still, there have been long periods of quiet and solitude.

Better yet, we still have five weeks to go before we must return home to Maryland.  My mom will visit for a week (her fifth summer to do so), and we plan to return to Monhegan Island for the annual “Trap Day,” when the local lobstermen set their traps for their winter fishing season.  We look forward to more peace and tranquility as we watch autumn arrive in Maine.  People always asks me why we return to Maine every summer - this is our 27th year here.  Now you know why.


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Friday, August 29, 2014

The Whole World Was Watching - Dispatches from Maine

It was the summer of 1968, one of the most turbulent years of the twentieth century which had its fair share of turbulent years.  The Tet Offensive, the Battle of Hué and the siege at Khe Sanh by the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong were quickly turning the tide of America’s involvement in Southeast Asia.  Martin Luther King had been murdered that April and one American city after another was lighting up with racial tension and rioting, including my hometown of Chicago where Mayor Richard Daley had issued a “shoot to kill order to the city police.  This tumultuous year was barely half over when Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York was gunned down in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen in June after claiming victory in the California primary to become the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. 

Early that summer I spent some weeks in Europe where French students and workers were threatening to bring down Charles DeGaulle’s Fifth Republic.  The Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies had invaded Czechoslovakia putting to an end that country’s reform movement during the Prague Spring.  The newspapers there were full of stories about genocide in Nigeria’s breakaway Republic of Biafra. 

I worked much of that late summer in Milwaukee before returning to Park Ridge, in suburban Chicago, for my senior year of high school.  Before classes began there were a few carefree days in the city with my friends.  Chicago is my hometown and that summer it was buzzing with nervous energy as delegates poured into the city for the Democratic National Convention to be held at the old International Amphitheater near what was left of the Union Stockyard on the South Side.  It had been the site of four previous conventions (two Democratic and two Republican) since 1952, and I had seen The Who perform there the previous August.  My visit downtown would be nothing like what I intended or expected.

It was going to be a wide-open convention for a Democratic party that was fractured and without clear direction after President Lyndon Johnson announced that spring that he would not seek reelection.  Originally the race had been between the incumbent Johnson and Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota who was calling for an end to the war and for the withdrawal of US combat troops from Southeast Asia.  Bobby Kennedy entered the race and began to syphon support from both Johnson and McCarthy, especially on the issue of the war.  Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, along with Kennedy and McCarthy, was also a vocal opponent of the war, further dividing the anti-war faction within the party.  Johnson threw his support to Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, his vice president, and the fuse was lit for what might be an explosive convention in a city already on tenter hooks.  There was talk of moving the convention to Miami where the Republicans were holding their convention, but Mayor Daley called in markers to keep it in Chicago and even threatened not to endorse of Humphrey if the convention was moved.

With Bobby Kennedy out of the race and the anti-war faction split, Humphrey came to Chicago to be anointed yet there was no real unity within the Democratic party.  He was Johnson’s proxy at a time when there was little support for the Administration’s war strategy.  In fact, Johnson never came to Chicago.  Humphrey stood by Johnson’s pro-war position as the anti-war faction imploded.  Its platform plank was debated and defeated as protestors in downtown Chicago engaged the authorities in what came to be known as the “Battle of Michigan Avenue.”

As the politicos and delegates in the International Amphitheater negotiated the nomination of Humphrey with Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine as his vice presidential nominee, the city swelled with over 10,000 protesters who had been planning for weeks to disrupt the convention while calling for an end to the war.  Mayor Daley, who had promised that there would be no organized demonstration, denied permits for gatherings and marches.  He also put almost 12,000  Chicago police on alert backed up by 15,000 US Army troops and Illinois National Guardsmen and several hundred Secret Service personnel to put down any disruptions swiftly and decisively.  What was intended as a peaceful protest soon erupted into violence when the police fired tear gas into the crowds and began attacking individual protestors with truncheons while kicking and beating others.   Members of the Fourth Estate covering the protests were also accosted by the police, many of whom removed their badges and name tags so that they could not be identified later.

The confrontations along Michigan Avenue, in Grant and Lincoln Park and elsewhere throughout downtown Chicago, occurred the day I planned my carefree excursion into the city . . . . and I never expected what I encountered that day.   Although I was certainly not in the thick of things, I nevertheless got a taste of the anarchy of the crowd and the lawlessness of the police as the remnants of the indiscriminate use of tear gas along the lakefront drifted through the downtown and loop.  People were wandering around coughing and rubbing their eyes, myself included.   Thankfully I did not end up in the wrong place and the wrong time.

That evening, safely returned to my home in the suburbs, I watched the news and the film coverage of the Chicago police riot and wondered how such a thing could occur in America.  I quickly learned that the whole world was watching and questioning what had become of America.  1968 certainly marked the end of innocence in this country.

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Farewell to Buddy’s Store? - Dispatches from Maine

In Happier Days
A couple summers ago I posted a paean of sorts to Buddy’s, our local country store here in New Gloucester [“Eat Here & Get Gas” - Looking Toward Portugal   (September 1, 2012) - http://lookingtowardportugal.blogspot.com/2012/09/eat-here-get-gas.html].  Since then I have continued to watch this familiar landmark gradually wither away, a mere shadow of its former self.  And now it is closed and up for sale and I fear it may be gone for good.

Back in the early days, when we were coming up here for two or three weeks every year during the month of August, I would arise early in the morning and head up to Buddy’s on the main highway a couple miles from the lake cottage.  I would have a quiet early morning breakfast while folks stopped by for coffee on their way to work.  Delivery men restocked the shelves and coolers for a new day, and a few regulars would gather at the same table to enumerate and then solve the problems of the world . . . all in that unique Maine vernacular.  Armed with my notebook I would scribble notes and ideas and snippets of conversation and then I would head back to the cottage and bring SallyAnn, who had stayed in bed for a couple more hours of sleep, up-to-date on all that I had heard and learned.

Unfortunately, a few years ago the State of Maine realigned Maine Route 26 in order to bypass a series of dangerous curves on this heavily traveled road between Portland and western Maine, northern New Hampshire, and Montréal and the Eastern Townships of Québec.  With this rerouting Buddy’s was no longer the place to stop and the regular commerce and customers gradually vanished.  It was not uncommon to drive by and see not a single car parked outside.  It began to open late and close early.  There was very little there to buy except for whatever was in the coolers.  Breakfast and other fast food were replaced by slices of heated-up pizza.  One could still purchase no-name gas, but at prices twenty to thirty cents higher than any other filling station in the area.  Without breakfast and coffee the local morning council moved on and the problems of the world went unsolved.   More recently it seemed to be closed more often than open, and a couple days ago I drove by and discovered that the property is up for sale.

Several years ago Buddy (turns out that was not his real name) told me at the end of one summer that he was going to convert the place into a brew pub over the winter and for the next several months back home in Maryland I dreamed of visiting Buddy’s (or whatever its new name might be) for happy hour rather than breakfast.  That next summer, as we arrived back at the lake, we turned the last corner and Buddy’s came into view.  No brew pub, but still the place we had come to know and love.  No happy hours, but I did return most mornings for breakfast and life went on.  The problems of the world continued to be resolved.  Perhaps I can still dream that a rural brew pub might arise in the future, but to be honest, I fear this time Buddy’s might be gone for good. 

Now the locals and passers through will be obliged to seek out the small stores in the Upper Village for quick stops for gas, milk, beer, and the like.  Cloutier’s Mini-Market offers good coffee throughout the day and there are fresh pastries available if you get there early enough.  And nearby Link’s serves food to a few scattered tables in back yet it just does not have the that early morning ambiance that Buddy’s once did. I make breakfast at the cottage now which is fine with me and I eat out on the deck while enjoying yet another nice day on the lake. 

I drive by and see the sign announcing “Eat Here & Get Gas.”   Perhaps I have really done that for the last time.  It was an icon whose time has come and gone.  .  I will miss Buddy’s. I

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Friday, July 4, 2014

Refreshing Our Recollections on the Fourth of July - Dispatches from Maine

The date was July 4, 1826 and the nation was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.  Only three of the original 56 signers were still alive.  Two of these signers who worked tirelessly drafting the original proclamation during those stifling hot days in the early summer of 1776 were invited to participate in the national celebration.  John Adams, age 90, was at home at Peacefield, in Quincy, Massachusetts, while Thomas Jefferson, age 83, resided at Monticello, his estate near Charlottesville, Virginia.  Unfortunately both men were too feeble to publicly celebrate the spirit of this momentous occasion, yet Jefferson nevertheless thanked and congratulated the citizens of Washington, DC.  “Let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”  Adam also toasted the approaching anniversary.  “Independence forever” was his simple message.  As fate would have it, both of these founding fathers died on that very anniversary, Jefferson at noon, and Adams a few hours later with the words “Jefferson lives” on his dying lips.  Only one of the 56 signers, Charles Carroll of Maryland, remained alive 50 years on.  He lived another six years, until November 1832, when he passed away at age 95.

Perhaps recalling Paul’s letter to the Galatians in which he cautioned them to hold on to their freedom and to never to use it carelessly, these brave men, looking to divine providence for protection, gathered to ratify and sign the Declaration of Independence while mutually pledging to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor knowing full well the penalty would be death if they were captured.  These were mostly men of means who had flourished under the tutelage of Great Britain and her King.  Yet they valued liberty more, and many of them endured lasting hardships as a result of their patriotism.  Some were forced to flee with their families.  Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned by the British forces sent to the upstart colonies to put down their rebellion.  Nine took arms against the British and died from their wounds or other hardships during the Revolutionary War.  Five were captured and charged as traitors, and were tortured before they died.  Three had sons who were killed or captured during the war.  It was a high price indeed to pay for freedom and liberty. 

The centennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence occurred in 1876, just eleven years after the end of the Civil War that divided the nation our Founding Fathers struggled to bring together.  Many of the issues that divided the original signers gave rise to that great conflict, and states that seceded from the Union beginning in 1860 to form the Confederate States of America included four of the original thirteen colonies.  The nation was licking its wounds, some of them still fresh a decade after that momentous conflict.  There was little interest in celebrating the centennial. 

The bicentennial in 1976 was a bit more festive.  I recall watching the celebrations across the country on TV as we packed our small apartment in Tucson in preparation for our move cross country to the outskirts of Washington, DC, our current home.  That evening, with an apartment full of boxes and expecting the movers first thing the following day, we walked to the University of Arizona campus where we watched the local fireworks.  Upon our arrival in suburban Maryland that August, we spent a great deal of time wandering our nation’s capital in the throes of its big birthday gala.  It was an exciting time to explore our new home.

Once again we are spending our summer in a small town in Maine.  We have been coming here each summer for over a quarter of a century, yet only now am I truly beginning to appreciate its wonderful history. In 1736, a group of citizens of Gloucester, Massachusetts petitioned the colonial governor to settle land near the coast in the Province of Maine (it would not become a state until 1822).  The petition was granted the following year, and in 1739 a group of settlers cut a road from Yarmouth, on Casco Bay north of what is now Portland, through the intervale to the headwaters of the Royal River at Sabbathday Lake where our summer cottage is located.  A blockhouse fortification and palisades were erected on the high ridge line of Gloucester Hill circa 1753-1754 during the French and Indian War.  The town of New Gloucester was eventually incorporated in 1774 at a time when the thirteen American colonies were organizing to express general dissatisfaction with their treatment by the British crown.  Upon incorporation the good people of New Gloucester made it known that it would gladly contribute to the common defense of the united colonies in support of full independence.

So this morning we went down to the Lower Village, not far from the site of the original fortification and palisades, to the New Gloucester meetinghouse dating back to circa 1772.  Here members of the local historical society, townspeople and visitors  gather each July 4th for a public reading of the Declaration of Independence.  This year we commemorate the 238th anniversary of the ratification and announcement of that most eloquent of documents which gave birth to the American republic.  I had forgotten how long it is - 1,336 words not counting all the signatures – and listening to those words, and contemplating their full meaning and intent, one quickly realizes that there is more to the 4th of July than fireworks, family picnics, and a day off from work.  The Declaration of Independence is America 101; it expresses what we as Americans feel we deserve and why. I had forgotten this until three years ago when I participated in the reading at the New Gloucester meeting house, something I have done every year since.  It is a refreshing of our recollections as we read and listened to those words spoken in unison which make the sound of people standing up for what they believe in.  Read them, speak them, share them, and more importantly, remember them and don’t let anyone tell you they are no longer relevant.  I think a lot of us have forgotten what wonderful and beautiful music these words can be.  Raise up your voices and be free!

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Journey Proud - Dispatches from Maine

This is the first of several “Dispatches from Maine” to be post here through the beginning of October.
 
Last week seems like a blur to me now; running around visiting and saying good-bye to friends I won’t see again until October; taking care of a few last minute details for ongoing projects at the National Archives; making certain the house is clean and secure and ready to endure our summer absence; and packing and more packing . . . all the stuff we will need at our home away from home.

What type of clothes should we take?  We are heading north just a week after the onset of summer and we anticipate the occasional hot weather we could very well encounter (an early heat wave accompanied by high humidity greeted us upon our arrival with temperatures hovering near 90 degrees).  By the time we return home we will have put the window fans away with the arrival of crisp early autumn days when we will fire up the wood stove in the morning and evening to do battle against the nip in the air.  Not that long ago, in April, the last vestiges of a harsh winter still clung to the margins of the lake, and there is every chance there will once again be snow in the air not long after we depart.  Summer is short in northern New England and so one needs to be prepared for both heat and cold.

Then came the loading of the car and insuring that we had not forgotten anything important despite lists and more lists of things to do and what to take with us.  By the time we had everything in the car it was late in the day and we were too beat to even consider hitting the road and making our way north.  Our neighbors happened to be planning a fiesta with great food and drink and so the delay of our departure was a welcome respite after all the fuss and bother of the previous week.

One thing I did hope for yet failed to materialize was a good night’s sleep before our 10+ hour drive to Maine the following day.  I have driven this route between our home in suburban Washington, DC and the lake cottage in Maine literally dozens of time over the past quarter of a century and I swear I can do it blind-folded.  Still I am always “journey proud” . . . that deep-seated apprehension about an impending trip.    What will the weather be en route?  What about the traffic as we gradually escape the clutches of Washington and Baltimore on Interstate 95; by-passing Philadelphia through the pinelands of southern New Jersey and the meadowlands of north Jersey as we give New York City a wide berth along the Garden State Parkway and across Westchester County; and finally the diagonal trek on Interstate 84 from southeastern Connecticut to Worcester, the environs of Boston and northeastern Massachusetts.  Finally we are moving quickly north through coastal New Hampshire and into Maine, our summer home.  As it turned out, the trip was uneventful.  The weather was fine and the traffic, save the swing around Boston and its harried drivers, was lighter than we expected.  There was absolutely nothing to worry about.

And so here we are again, our 27th summer at the cottage on True’s Point, on Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester, Maine.  We have truly become summer expatriates in every sense of the word.  We have learned to navigate two very different places very well.  There is our home in Maryland where we have resided for nearly four decades, and there is this summer lake cottage in Maine.  Perhaps we are not fully understood in either place nor do we fully understand the lives around us in both places.  There is certainly a great deal we still need to learn and comprehend and maybe we will never rise to the task.  But you know what?  That is perfectly fine with me.  I enjoy the mystery that remains, and with it comes the comforting degree of privacy I have always cherished.  I read recently that this nature of the expatriate is “an uncontrollable quality” that follows us back and forth between Maryland and Maine.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Man of the Hour on His 90th Birthday

Today would have been my dad's 90th birthday. I miss him every day, but don't necessarily say it out loud. So a shout out to you, Dad, on your special day. I know you can hear me.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Time Flies

My dad retired 30 years ago today in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and I was honored to speak at the ceremony. We both retired at age 59. This coming Tuesday would have been his 90th birthday. Where does the time go?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Full Monty - Enjoy an English Fry-Up

I have long claimed the English can ruin a glass of water, but now that I think on it more, I have been unkind and unfair with my cutting remark.  They do make a fine pot of tea.  So perhaps it is time to give our Britannic brethren a fairer shake.

People who know me well know that I will eat just about anything . . . at least once.  There are not too many things I won’t eat at all.  Brussel sprouts come to mind.  Cooked or raw, I just cannot stomach a Brussel sprout.  There is no debate.  There is no changing my mind.   Eggplant was on the list for years, but I have gotten past my reservations and I will eat it from time to time if served to my liking.  On the other hand, I can easily do without it, especially in a casserole.  That is still on the list.  There are other foods I am not a big fan of, but I will eat them and say “thank you” when I am done.  But there are no yummy sounds going through my head or emanating from my digestive tract.  So to be fair, let me say a few words in tribute to something the English do quite well . . . the full English breakfast, or fry-up, and its regional variations. 

There are some on our side of the pond who have experienced this repast and who will admit they like it.  For many, however, it is not quite cricket.  In fact, it flutters the dovecote for those who can’t fathom the idea of touching such an offering with a bargepole.  “Gross” is an adjective I frequently hear when the subject of a full English breakfast comes up. “All that fried food!” . . . or “baked beans for breakfast?”  The idea is as black as Newgate’s knocker.  These skeptics are all belts and braces in my book.  Indeed, many are the British jokes and put downs about a full English breakfast . . . almost all of which are of such a nature that I cannot share them here.  In 2005 the Royal Mail stamp selection committee considered a set of stamps on a gastronomic theme.  One stamp was to feature a full English breakfast but it was rejected “on health grounds.”  The committee favored stamps representing healthy food items, including fish and chips and tea.  But I’ll argue the toss.  You can’t trip in a restaurant, pub, or B&B breakfast room anywhere throughout the British Isles without falling full face into a  full English.

Really, I am not quite sure what all the fuss is about; a full English in many ways resembles the standard high-fat, high-caloric blue plate breakfast at any American diner or highway “stop & choke.”  I have never been a big breakfast eater at home, but when I am on the road, either here or abroad, breakfast becomes an important ingredient of any travel experience . . . eggs, bacon or sausage (or scrapple if I can get it), with hash browns preferable over the chunkier home fries (unless these come with thick gravy).  Some places will offer corned beef hash, or a slice of ham or a small steak, but I usually keep it simple.  Add some slices of buttered toast or an English muffin , a couple large mugs of joe, and what more could one possibly want for breakfast?  Well, our British cousins have answered that question.

So what is it about a “full English” (or its Cornish, Scottish, Ulster and Irish variants) that makes me enjoy it so much?  Some may think it a bit of a curate’s egg; certain components appear just fine while others are revolting at best.  In my humble opinion it includes a host of foods that I thoroughly enjoy both alone and tout ensemble.  Granted, the presentation can often leave a great deal to be desired; it almost never look all that good on the plate.  In some instances it really can be downright revolting in appearance.  But it tastes so damned good.  So let’s break it down.  

Fried eggs for breakfast, whether served here or there, has long been a staple morning dish.  Sunny side up, over easy, or even scrambled, I don’t think anyone can find fault with the concept of eggs, fried or otherwise prepared, unless they just don’t like eggs to start with. From my own experience, the Brits tend to favor their eggs over easy with a semi-hard yoke.  With everything else on the plate a runny yoke is perhaps carrying the coals to Newcastle.

A full English also offers a variety of meats.  There is back bacon which we here commonly refer to as “Canadian bacon” rather than the rashers of strip bacon we are used to.  Sometimes the Brits just refer to it as ham, but there is a difference.  Along with the fried eggs, this style of bacon is still usually accepted as regular breakfast fare.  A full English also includes a type of sausage, most of which are unlike any sausage you have tasted before.  They can take some getting use to.  Cumberland and Lincolnshire sausage are probably the closest to what you are served here although the Cumberland is much longer and thicker than our link sausage.  The spiced pork content in both is diced rather than minced.  Oxford sausage are also similar to our links although they contain veal as well as pork.  Still, they taste familiar and I will eat them all in a tick.  Newmarket sausage, on the other hand, contains an overabundance of bread filler and whereas they resemble our link sausage, they have a rather pasty consistency.  Unique to the full English is the addition of black or white pudding (or both).  Black pudding is simply sausage containing pork blood, spices and oatmeal while the white version contains oatmeal mixed with spiced minced pork and fat or suet and bread filler.  Both are sliced and served either hot or cold.  Some places you will find kidney on your plate.  You know what that is; need I say more?  Traveling through Scotland one might also be treated to a serving of haggis, a pudding containing sheep offal minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, and spices.  It is traditionally encased in a sheep stomach although modern commercial haggis is usually prepared in a standard sausage casing.  One may also encounter tinned sardines and pilchard, or cold-smoked kipper herring when traveling in coastal areas.  I have particularly enjoyed the addition of Arbroath smokies to the breakfast offering while traveling in Scotland.  These strips of salted haddock taste as good as they smell on the kiln sticks in the smoking sheds along the North Sea waterfront. 

The Brits also fancy potatoes for breakfast.  It could be chips (french fries) or their own version of hash browns which is usually nothing more than left-over mashed potatoes pan-fried into a potato cake.  Something we seldom find on the breakfast platter in America are vegetables of any fashion, yet the English fry-up usually features fried or grilled tomatoes, as well as “bubble and squeak,” a portion of fried left-over veggies mixed with the potato serving.   Fried mushrooms are frequently added to the mix.

And then there are the ubiquitous baked beans.  Americans may look at the serving of baked beans for breakfast with high disdain, but truth be told the dish fresh out of a tin is an American import now offered up for breakfast.  From everything I have been able to learn on the subject, baked beans are a relatively new addition to the full English breakfast dating back only about 50 years although some blame the Yanks for bringing them to the ould sod during World War II.  Regardless, they seem to be there to stay and seldom is a full English served up without them.  I think they’re great, especially with a dab of mustard!

That is a great deal of food to contend with and as they say, you don’t want to over-egg the pudding.  But add some toast, a muffin, an oatcake, some soda bread, a tattie (potato) scone, or even a bowl of porridge in some locales, then pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea, and you have a full English breakfast.  Such a bounty of smells and flavors; why it’s enough to cobble a dog!  So, if you have never had a full English breakfast, I say grasp the nettle, break your duck, and give it a try.  You’ll find it keen as mustard and downright royal.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Haunted By Waters

        For my friend Ted Mitchell (1949-2008), a dedicated Wolfe scholar 

During my recent visit to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to attend the annual gathering of the Thomas Wolfe Society on the campus of the University of North Carolina, I was reminded of a prologue reading I delivered at a similar gathering in Asheville, North Carolina back in the spring of 2007.  That reading was taken from Antaeus or A Memory of Earth which Wolfe wrote in 1930 and which he originally intended for inclusion in his massive second novel, Of Time and the River (1935).  These passages are Wolfe’s fictionalized account of the great flooding of the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers in and around his native Asheville, in July 1916 after several days of steady rain.  A dam was breached and the rising waters inundated the city’s river front claiming the lives of eleven local citizens.  Wolfe had previously referenced this flood in Chapter 27 of his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel (1929), but the Antaeus passages were Wolfe’s first well-tended treatment of the subject.  One cannot read these passages without realizing how well Wolfe understood that no one could spend any time on or near a river without feeling, and perhaps fearing, it as a living presence.

     Finally, the names of the mighty rivers, the alluvial gluts, the drains of the continent, the throats that drink America (Sweet Thames, flow gently, until I end my song!).  The names of the men who pass and the myriad names of the earth that abides forever; the names of the men who are doomed to wander and the name of the immense and lonely land on which they wander, to which they return, in which they will be buried – America!  The immortal earth which waits forever, the trains that thunder on the continent, the men who wander, and the women who cry out, “Return.”  Finally, the names of great rivers that are flowing in the darkness (Sweet Thames, flow gently, until I end my song!).
                                                                ***
     The names of rivers, of great mouths, the mighty maws, the vast wet coiling never glutted and unending snakes that drink the continent.  Where, sons of men, and in what other land will you find others like them, and where can you match the mighty music of their names? – the Monongahela, the Colorado, the Rio Grande, the Columbia, the Tennessee, the Hudson (Sweet Thames!); the Kennebec, the Rappahannock, the Delaware, the Penobscot, the Chesapeake, the Swannanoa, the Indian River, the Niagra (Sweet Afton!); the Saint Lawrence, the Susquehanna, the Tombigbee, the Natahala, the French Broad, the Chattahooche, the Arizona, and the Potomac (Father Tiber!) – these are a few of their princely names, these are a few of their great proud glittering names, fit for the immense and lonely land that they inhabit
     O Tiber! Father Tiber! You’d only be a suckling in that mighty land! And as for you, Sweet Thames, flow gently till I end my song; flow gently, gentle Thames, be well-behaved, sweet Thames, speak softly and politely, little Thames, flow gently till I end my song.

William Least Heat-Moon, writing about his long trip across America by boat in River Horse [1999], describes navigating his way along the Missouri River, in South Dakota.  “There’s something in flowing water that can make a bloke downright contemplative.”  Standing on the banks of the Missouri just a month before I delivered this prologue reading I started to think a great deal about rivers; not just the flowing waters of the big American rivers, but also about my beloved trout streams in Northern New Hampshire; the chuckling waters of a freestone creek in Latimore Township, Pennsylvania, not far from where Wolfe’s father grew up; the French Broad River, as it meanders through western North Carolina.

And thinking of these I was reminded of a favorite passage from Norman Maclean which, appropriately, always speaks to me of the dimensions and constituencies of all water.  “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are the words, and some of these words are theirs.  I am haunted by waters.”  The American actor, Tom Skerritt, who portrayed the father in the film adaptation of Maclean’s novel, once noted that rivers are very visceral, and that this passage is “as fine a piece of American prose as I can ever imagine.”  Maclean added, “A river has so many things to say that it is hard to know what it says to each of us.”

Wolfe, like Maclean, also searched for the true nature of these flowing waters.  Writing to his editor Max Perkins in July 1930, Wolfe clarified what he was intending with Antaeus; “everything moves across the enormous earth . . . moves to the great rhythm of the great river . . . .”  Perhaps Wolfe was recalling Mark Twain’s stories of flooding along the Mississippi, something William Faulkner also alludes to in The Wild Palms (1939).

     Of the paw of the yellow cat that smites the nation, of the belly of the snake that coils across the land – of the terrible names of the rivers in flood, the rivers that foam and welter in the dark, that smash the levees, that flood the lowlands for two thousand miles, that carry the bones of cities seawards in their tides; of the awful names of Tennessee, the Arkansas, the Missouri, the Ohio, and the Mississippi.

Thomas Wolfe would have understood this elegy as he demonstrates so well in these quoted passages which he describes to John Hall Wheelock, another editor at Scribner’s, in 1930.  “In Antaeus, in a dozen short scenes, told in their own language, we see people of all sorts constantly in movement, going somewhere, haunted by it . . . I saw it as a child, I’ve seen it ever since, I see it here in their poor damned haunted eyes.”  There is an urge to wander the earth just as its rivers wander through their various landscapes.  Life is brief, but the rivers continue to flow gently on.

     Yes, he likes livin’ on the River, an’ he likes lookin’ down the River, an’ he can’t fool me, I know why he keeps listenin’ in the night when he thinks I’m sound asleep; he’d like to be out there upon the River, he wouldn’t care if he went on forever, he could spend his life-time floatin’ down the River
                       
[ . . . ]
    O God!  Just let me live where nothin’ moves!  Just let me live where things will always be the same!  I want a house way up there on a hill! Just make him build a house upon high ground!  I want a house that’s all my own, an’ trees an’ hills an’ no more River!
     There’s nothin’ you can hold there on the River!  There’s nothin’ you can keep there on the River!  It takes your house, it takes your home, it takes Annie holdin’ to the oak, it takes people by you all day long, it takes your man away – yes! even when you look at it you find you cannot look at it, it takes your eyes along with it, an’ you keep lookin’ down the River, there’s nothin’ you can keep along the River, my life an’ time an’ all, ten years of it, have gone on down the River!  That’s why I hate an’ always will, the River!
                                                                 ***
     Now he’s beside me listenin’ to the River.  Now I can feel him listenin’ to the River!  He thinks that I’m asleep, but I can’t sleep for listen’ to the River!
     I know each sound that’s comin’ from the River!  I hear the willows trailin’ in the River!  I hear the oak-limbs snagged there in the River!  All of my thoughts are flowin’ like the River, all of my life is movin’ like the River, I think an’ talk an’ dream just like the River, as it flows by me, by me, by me, to the sea.

[Thomas Wolfe, Antaeus or A Memory of Earth, edited by Ted Mitchell, The Thomas Wolfe Society, 1996]

Thomas Wolfe was certainly haunted by waters.  Perhaps we all are in one way or another.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Summer of '69 - Lighting the Fire

                       “Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire.”
                                         – William Butler Yeats

My high school alma mater is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.  Opened in Park Ridge, Illinois in 1964, the first graduating class of Maine Township High School South, including a young Hillary Rodham, received their diplomas in June 1965.  Four years later, on June 10, 1969, I stood in my black graduation gown in the school’s very warm gymnasium waiting to step onto the stage to receive my own diploma.  The Class of 1969 was only the second graduating class to spend its entire high school career at Maine South, and the last graduating class that was required to adhere to a strict student dress code which required men to be clean shaven, and to wear their hair cut above the collar.  Bob Dylan reminded us . . . the times they were a-changin’.

The last episodes of Star Trek and the Smothers Brothers Comedy had aired on NBC and CBS respectively during the previous week.  Joe Namath quit the New York Jets and Mickey Mantle’s #7 was retired by New York Yankees.  The Beatles release the “Ballad Of John & Yoko” in the US and Tommy James & the Shondells released "Crystal Blue Persuasion."  Warren Burger was confirmed as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and President Nixon announced that 25,000 troops would be leaving Southeast Asia by the end of the summer to begin the “Vietnamization” of the war.

In the weeks following graduation we watched as more racial unrest erupted in cities across the US.  The three-day Stonewall riot in New York City would mark the beginning of the modern gay rights movement.   Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an automobile accident on Chappaquiddick Island in which Mary Jo Kopechne drowned.  Charles Manson’s cult family committed the Tate-LaBianca murders in Los Angles, and Hurricane Camille took the lives of 256 along coastal Mississippi and Louisiana.  There was also unrest and uncertainty brewing beyond our borders.  A brief war erupted between El Salvador and Honduras over a soccer match.   A revolution in Libya would bring Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi to power, and British troops began their militarily intervention in Northern Ireland.

With over a half million men and women deployed to Vietnam, the war continued to rage in Southeast Asia a year after the Tet Offensive despite the planned withdrawal of some US troops.  On June 27, Life magazine displayed portrait photographs of all 242 Americans killed in Vietnam during the previous week bring the war even closer to home.  The US began a secret bombing campaign over Cambodia and more than 11,000 US troops would be killed in action in 1969.  Hô Chí Minh died that September but his death brought the war no closer to a conclusion and the Selective Service began a draft lottery in December 1969.

During that summer, and perhaps for the first time, we began to look in earnest beyond our own planet.  Two American astronauts landed on the moon’s Sea of Tranquility, taking one small step for man yet one giant leap for mankind while a third orbited on board Apollo 11.  Pioneer 10 began its long voyage to Jupiter and eventually beyond our solar system while Mariner 6 and 7 began sending photographs of Mars back to Earth.

Closer to home, American youth continued to make their voices known as they flocked to the Newport Jazz Festival, the Atlanta Pop Festival, the Seattle Pop Festival, the Atlantic City Pop Festival, the  Texas International Pop Festival, the New Orleans Pop Festival, and the Woodstock Music & Art Fair.  The Rolling Stones played a free concert in London's Hyde Park.  It was another Summer of Love imprinting itself across the cultural landscape of America.  Even the Boys of Summer heralded change as the long-shot New York Mets defeated the Baltimore Orioles to win the World Series for the first time in their short history.

After graduation my family moved to the suburbs of Milwaukee where I worked on a  construction crew during the week and returned to Park Ridge on the weekends to hang out with my friends as we prepared to begin our college careers in the fall.  We had picnics and spent warm days on the shores of Lake Michigan.  Despite all that was going on in the world around me, it was a mostly carefree summer, a time to spend with friends and to begin looking toward my future.  How was my high school education going to pay off?  What was I going to do with the rest of my life?   One of my buddies planned to join the Marines that fall; unlike the rest of us who hoped college would somehow keep us out of the military, he wanted to go to Vietnam.  He visited me at my college in Florida later that year after he finished basic training.  He shipped out to Vietnam in early 1970 and was killed in action shortly after his arrival in country.   It would be a summer not to forget for so many reasons. 

I am reminded of “Summer of 69,” one of my favorite songs by Bryan Adams:

    Oh, when I look back now
    That summer seemed to last forever
    And if I had the choice
    Yeah, I'd always wanna be there
    Those were the best days of my life.

At the time those relatively carefree weeks after graduation did seem like the best days of my life.  I had put another chapter of my life behind me and I was entering into an even bigger adventure.  I had no idea what life had in store for me.

Now I look back over these forty-five years and I am thankful for everything.  They were not years of simply filling the bucket of all that life has given me.  Back in the summer of 1969 I lit a fire that is burning ever brighter with each passing year.  

    And now the times are changin'
    Look at everything that's come and gone.

I would not change a single thing. 

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Friday, June 6, 2014

The Longest Day

"It's a hell of a war, but God willing, we'll do what we came here to do.”
                – John Wayne, in “The Longest Day”


Today we mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of France.  On the morning of June 6, 1944, after months of planning and preparation, over 150,000 US and Allied soldiers made airborne landings in coastal France followed closely by landings on the beaches of Normandy.  An armada of several thousand ships of all sizes and descriptions had slipped out of English ports in the darkness and crossed the English Channel to the European mainland where four years before Britain had retrieved its  battle-worn troops from the beaches at Dunkirk [Dunkerque].  As the Allied soldiers once again stepped ashore, they were greeted by a murderous hail of machine-gun and mortar fire by deeply entrenched German positions along the Atlantic Wall.  Having fought in North Africa, across Sicily and up the boot of Italy, the Allies and Operation Overlord were finally taking the war back to western Europe for the final push to defeat Hitler’s Germany. 

The expectations of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of all Allied forces, were simply stated.  "You are about to embark on a great crusade. The eyes of the world are upon you and the hopes and prayers of all liberty-loving peoples go with you . . .  Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory."  Later that morning he would broadcast an announcement to the peoples of western Europe, telling them of the landings and declaring, "all patriots, young and old, will have a part to play in the liberation."  Today there are less than five thousand survivors of those who saw action during the initial stages of the Allied invasion.  We owe them, and all of those who died there or have passed on since then, a deep debt of gratitude.  These days we tend to throw the word “hero” around too carelessly.  But these men and women were all heroes in very sense of the word.

My father was part of that effort although he was not involved in D-Day or its immediate aftermath as the Allies attempted to move deeper into France.  He fought in Patton’s Third Army which landed in Cherbourg, west of the Normandy beaches, that July and  then began to move across France just after those who landed on D-Day and shortly thereafter finally achieved their breakout from Normandy.   I knew about that part of the conflict from what my father told me as a young boy when I anxiously asked him “Dad,. What did you do during the war?”  It was not until a few years later that I began to fully understand the momentous importance of what those brave men and women accomplished on D-Day and the long days, weeks and months that followed.

I was thirteen years old when I finally saw The Longest Day, the 1962 Darryl Zanuck-20th Century film based on Cornelius Ryan’s 1959 book on the D-Day invasion of France (Ryan also wrote the screenplay).  It happened to be on the twentieth anniversary of that watershed event of the 20th century as well as my last day of 7th grade.  After our release from school I walked up to the theater on Pack Square, in Asheville, North Carolina, and sat through two complete showings of the three-hour film.  It was my first introduction to that historic struggle to turn the tide of war against Nazi Germany.   Fifty years later this film, despite all of its Hollywood trappings, is still recognized as perhaps the most complete effort to capture on film the scope and importance of that seminal historical event. For those involved in the invasion, it truly was “the longest day.”

So let us take a moment today to remember those living and dead who were participants in that great struggle.  They all did what they came there to do and we are all thankful for their sacrifice.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Remembering the Tiananmen Square Massacre

A quarter of a century ago something quite unordinary occurred in the world’s most populous country.  Almost thirteen years after the death of Mao Zedong, the founder and “Great Helmsman” of the People’s Republic of China, a young generation of Chinese students, largely from the University of Beijing, congregated in the 109-acre Tiananmen Square, to demand more democratic reforms in a country celebrating its 40th anniversary.  The ruling Communist Party sat quietly by, allowing the students to vent their frustrations and make their demands, and having done so, the hope was they would soon return to their studies and classrooms.  But they did not leave, and with each passing day and week their voices grew ever stronger and strident.  Before long the ranks of the students were joined by others long tired of government corruption and in the desire for more personal freedoms.  Soon the assembled masses swelled to an estimated three million and spread well beyond the square.  Nobody was going home and the government realized it had lost control of the situation.

Enough was enough.  The nascent seven-week pro-democracy movement finally ended on June 3-4, 1989 with the Communist government declaring martial law and ordering heavily armed soldiers and tanks of the People’s Liberation Army into the streets of central Beijing to restore order.  Yet the protestors did not back down in the face of an overwhelming show of military might as they attempted to block the advance of tanks and troops into the Tiananmen Square from every direction.

Without provocation the PLA units opened fired on the demonstrators several miles from the square, killing several.   They inflicted heavy civilian casualties as they continued moving toward the square and soldiers fired indiscriminately on nearby buildings lining the route of their advance.  The local populace, incensed by this unnecessary violence and killing, quickly took to the streets to attack the soldiers and tanks.  The casualty rate grew on both sides.   As the PLA units approached Tiananmen Square demonstrators there were warned not to oppose the implementation of martial law.  By this time, however, word of the death toll elsewhere in the city had reached the tens of thousands of demonstrators in the square.  The moment of decision had arrived . . . to depart or to continue their non-violent protest. 

Despite pleas for calm by some of the protest leaders, the largely peaceful demonstration descended quickly into violence as the units of the PLA arrived in the square.  They were pelted with rocks and bottles and several vehicles were set ablaze.  In an attempt to seal off the square and to isolate the demonstrators, several more unarmed students were shot or killed as tanks and armored personnel carriers overran and crushed the tent city erected there.   The indiscriminate killing continued for several more hours until the PLA had finally secured the square and forced the demonstrators to leave.  But it did not end there.  The PLA pursued and attacked them beyond the square and  dozens of civilians were reported shot in the back as they fled.  The blood continued to flow in the streets of central Beijing.  

The government eventually regained control following the military's seizure of the square.  With suppression of information about the crackdown the death toll estimates have varied widely, from several hundred to a few thousand.  Leaders of the demonstration were arrested and jailed and the fate of many remains unknown to this day.  At the time the Communist regime in Beijing justified its actions as suppression of counter-revolutionary agitation resulting in brutal attacks on the PLA by the demonstrators.  Those in the government who originally condoned the demonstration were quicky purged and the government began the process of a state-enforced erasure of the pro-democracy movement and its bloody finale from the collective memory of the Chinese people.  Now, 25 years after these events, it is still forbidden to speak of the uprising and the resulting judicial murder of dissenters.  Images of the protest on the Internet have been censored in China.  If its actions were justified, why is the regime so afraid to talk about it now?  I think the answer is quite obvious.

What can one say about a country that will murder dissenters in cold blood?  A country that cannot reconcile itself with its past is a country living in self-denial, a country that will fail learning from that past.  Even though the Chinese government has attempted to erase all memory of its crimes against its own people striving for basic human freedom and dignity, it is important that the rest of the world stand united in its condemnation of the cruel and unnecessary slaughter of a people brave enough to stand up for their beliefs in the face of their oppressors.

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Stroll Down Memory Lane

I spent a lot of time at the McKeldin Library, my old stomping grounds on the campus of the University of Maryland at College Park, between 1976 and 1984.  I was enrolled as a graduate student completing my doctorate in Germanic Studies, and the library was situated just a short distance from my campus office.  Since completing my degree thirty years ago I have had little opportunity or reason to return to the campus and I had forgotten just how many strong and pleasant memories I have of the place.

Since my retirement four years ago I have renewed my membership in the alumni association which offers me inter alia borrowing privileges at all of the campus libraries (there are eight at last count).  I have been taking advantage of this by re-familiarizing myself with the stacks and the layout of this old book barn and using the peace and quiet it affords to work on a number of new projects with all the materials I need close at hand.  Most recently I have worked on a novel-in-progress in a quiet corner.

The place has changed quite a bit since I last worked there.  Gone are the banks of wooden cabinets housing the thousands upon thousands of dog-eared bibliographic data cards needed to locate books and other publications in the stacks.  They have been replaced with computers which allow for a different type of fingertip search.

As I searched the library’s holdings on Halifax during World War II, I have been  overcome by curiosity (and not a small measure of hubris) as I typed my own name into the computer catalog’s search box.  And there it was - an entry for my doctoral dissertation completed back in November 1984.  A few minutes later I made my way  into the stacks where I located that 344-page monstrosity, now hardbound in two volumes, one of the signed copies I had to submit to the Graduate School faculty as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the PhD degree.  I could not help myself.  I carried the volumes back to my work table in the reading room and spent the next hour or so perusing the product of long days and nights spent in this library those many, many years ago.

The title is not something that rolls right off the tongue, but typical for a dissertation, I guess - Spatial Behavioral Patterns in Selected Short Prose of the German Democratic Republic [East] and the Federal Republic of Germany [West] as Evidence of Developing Cultural Diversification.  Despite its long-winded title, the study itself is a rather straight forward (remarkable for me) examination of postwar German fiction literature as a means of tracking and evaluating how Germans in the two German states handled space differently and how these modalities served as benchmarks to measure the development of two distinct German cultures over the course of almost four decades. The conclusions drawn by my study demonstrated (at least my examination committee believed I was successful in my approach) how and why literary historians and critics must look at the sociological and anthropological sub-texts of literary works in order to properly understand their meaning and importance within the cultures that produced them. Pretty heady stuff, to be sure, or so it seemed at the time.

There are two (at least) recurring nightmares that every graduate student experiences; that the only copy of a thesis or dissertation is lost or stolen and one must go back to the beginning and start over, or one’s advisor dies or disappears under mysterious circumstances and one is left alone without any clear guidance as to how to carry on. I was lucky to avoid both of these as well as a third somewhat unique to my circumstances.  Almost five years to the day after I successfully defended my dissertation, the Berlin Wall, much to almost everyone’s surprise, fell and a year later the two German states reunified.  I still shudder to think what would have happened had I been called to defend my conclusions - that the two postwar German states were gradually, but steadily, giving rise to two distinct German cultures - faced with the reality of one of the more momentous and unexpected events of the late 20th Century.  I am still confident, as I was then, that my ultimate conclusions are sound, and despite the political and economic reunification of Germany, there are still two distinct cultures, in the sociological and anthropological meaning of that word, in evidence in the reunified Federal Republic of Germany.  That said, I am glad I was not put to the unnecessary test of my wits and my wherewithal.

So it was a treat, to say the least, to discover these bound volumes of this hard fought study just a short distance from where many of the outlines and early drafts took shape. They awaken many fond, old memories.  But past is past, and my visits to McKeldin are now focused on new projects.


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Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Cheese That Brings Back Memories: The Bon Bree Cheese Brick is Back!

This posting is a follow-up to “Cheesehead Revisited - Part 2” originally posted on July 24, 2013 [http://lookingtowardportugal.blogspot.com/2013/07/cheesehead-revisited-part-2-dispatches.html
As Paul Harvey use to say at the end of his daily radio broadcasts, “And now you know the rest of the story.”


I have previously written that I find it gratifying to learn there are others out there who share my “hankering for a good hunk of cheese.”  I mentioned my particular love for the Bon-Bree cheese brick, a true Wisconsin Lake Country tradition, produced by the long defunct cheese factory in Mapleton (it closed sometime in the 1980s).  And not long after my original posting back in 2009 [“Confessions of a Cheesehead - Part 2” posted May 17, 2009 - http://lookingtowardportugal.blogspot.com/2009/05/confessions-of-cheesehead-part-2.html ], I began to receive regular comments from fellow afficionados who enjoyed my story of discovery and my own enjoyment of and dedication to Bon-Bree.  We all mourned its passing into cheese history.

One of these contacts was Bob Kapsy who lives not far from the site of the old Mapleton factory in rural Waukesha County northeast of Milwaukee. He had seen my 2009 blog posting mentioning my interest in Bon-Bree and we both agreed it was a black day when the late Terry Shaw, the Oconomowoc cheese maker responsible for Mapleton’s Bon-Bree, decided to close up shop.  The good news, however, was that Kapsy, a local wine merchant, was partnering with Lloyd Williams’ Homestead Farm and Creamery, a six generation family farm in Delafield, in the hope of soon producing an artisan “Mapleton style cheese” replicating the consistency and taste of the Bon-Bree cheese of old.  Williams would make the cheese and Kapsy would take on the responsibility of sales and marketing.  In doing so, they hoped to answer the prayers of Bon-Bree’s many loyal and longing disciples – to reintroduce “The Cheese That Brings Back Memories” – while in the process making the Williams family farm financially sound.

Williams knew Terry Shaw, and years after the Mapleton cheese factory closed, they visited the Dairy Business Innovation Center and the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, where they tested several batches trying to recreate the original Mapleton recipe.  Sadly, Shaw passed away shortly thereafter and Williams carried on their plan alone.  Luckily he soon joined forces with Kapsy and they quickly discovered that you cannot patent a cheese recipe, but you can the trademark the name.  They did just that and the rest is new cheese history.

For four years Williams developed cultures and refined the recipe while looking to the future marketing of the new Bon-Bree.  He wanted to bring back what the old Mapleton customers grew to love while initiating a new generation of cheese lovers to what he believed was a truly artisanal product.  Secure in the belief that a satisfactory recipe was in hand, Williams began to produce several test batches while Kapsy sampled them at local wine tasting events and when visiting local groceries and markets.  Kapsy was kind enough to keep me in the loop on developments and to share some of these early samples with me, sending them through the US Postal Service to my home here in Maryland.  There was concern that the cheese would not withstand its transit through the mail, but I assured Bob it would be OK.  After all, my family sent blocks of the original Bon-Bree to me in college in Florida and Arizona.  I even had Bon-Bree shipped to me during a year I spent studying in Germany.  Surely it would hold up on the trip from Wisconsin to Maryland.  And it did.  I could not wait to sample it.  As I have previously reported, the color of the new brick is more white than the buttery hue of the original . . . something which only occurs with proper aging in “bringing back the Bree.”  Otherwise it looked, felt and smelled the same as the Bon-Bree of old. 

It was not long before Kapsy called me last summer to announce,“We have cheese!”   Better yet, he was shipping me a sample of the final product.   I was in heaven!  The bricks were properly aged – Williams cautions that “you can’t rush a good thing” – with the plan to soon have cheese in stores.  Like its predecessor, the new Bon-Bree brick cheese contains no preservatives, synthetic proteins, bovine growth hormones, or artificial coloring.  It is 100% natural milk from pasture-fed Holstein cows using primarily cheese cultures and salt.

By late August Bon-Bree went into full scale production at Ron Henningfeld’s Clock Shadow Creamery, an environmentally “green” and carbon-neutral urban cheese factory situated in the Walker’s Point neighborhood on Milwaukee’s near south side since 2012.  It produces grass-based organic cheese products in small batches.  It is “very much a hands-on process” Henningfeld confesses. 

Initial distribution of the new Bon-Bree brick cheese was limited to a couple dozen stores, including several Piggly Wiggly outlets and the Mars Cheese Castle, a highway icon near Kenosha since 1947 where I have bought cheese since I was a kid.  It is also served in a handful of local restaurants in southeastern Wisconsin.  One can purchase bricks – the original along with versions containing carroway, dill and chive – online
[http://www.bonbree.com]. 

Publicity and customer reaction have been over the top and Bon-Bree now has its own Facebook page.  Fans of the earlier Bon-Bree, myself included, are ecstatic in their flights of nostalgia.   And the food establishment has been laudatory.  “It tastes a little like a cheese curd, it’s a bit like mozzarella, it’s soft like Monterey jack,” writes Nancy Strohs, the food editor of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.  “Buttery, creamy, pleasantly salty [only 3% salt content], a little sweet, a little nutty.”  It may soon be available in the relatively new Mariano’s grocery chain in the Chicago area.

I am delighted to report that the fine tradition of Mapleton’s Bon-Bree has been resurrected and is once more available to those of us who have enjoyed it in the past, and to all those who are now discovering it now for the very first time.  Nothing says happiness like a brick of Bon-Bree Cheese . . .  “The Cheese That Brings Back Memories.”

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

That Magical Campus: A Return to Thomas Wolfe's University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This past weekend I was lucky enough to find myself back on that “magical campus” as famous alumnus Thomas Wolfe described the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the oldest state university in the country having been established there in 1789.  Most of the students there, and dare I say perhaps some of the faculty, were only a twinkle in their parents’ eyes the first time I visited the campus to conduct research in the North Carolina Collection housed in the Louis Round Wilson Library (some of my correspondence has managed to find a home here).  I have returned many times since for one reason or another thus disproving Wolfe’s old saw, “you can’t go home again.”  A lot of water has passed under the proverbial bridge since that first visit many years ago, but I was happy to see that the town and campus appeared pretty much the way I always  remember them.  I could certainly find my way around without consulting a map or asking directions.

The reason for this latest trip?  I was invited to chair a session of papers presented at the 36th annual conference of the Thomas Wolfe Society.  Indeed, Wolfe has been my reason for each of my previous visits to UNC-Chapel Hill; either to attend earlier gatherings of the Society, or to conduct research in the Wolfe papers in the Wilson Library (I have also ferreted through the more extensive Wolfe papers and manuscript collection at Harvard’s Houghton Library).  It was nice to catch up with old friends and colleagues while making the acquaintance of a number of young and budding American and foreign Wolfe scholars who will insure the future of Wolfe studies.  It all made for a delightful weekend on his “magical campus.”

It is difficult to spend any time in Chapel Hill or on the UNC campus without invoking Wolfe’s name; it was here he flowered into one of the premier 20th century American writers.  Born 1900 in Asheville, in the western Carolina mountains, Wolfe arrived in Chapel Hill shortly before his 16th birthday having graduated from the North State Fitting School, in his hometown.  UNC numbered around one thousand students at the time, nothing close to the enormous present-day campus with an enrollment of almost thirty thousand   The University offered him his first opportunity to escape his native landscapes and the culturally provincial environment of Asheville.  It also provided him a large degree of independence from “his crouched family,” as Eugene Gant, Wolfe’s alter ego, describes his in the original “O Lost” manuscript of his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel (1929).  “He was happy, full of expressive joy . . . He was closer to a feeling of brotherhood than he had ever been, and more alone,” Wolfe wrote describing the fictional Eugene Gant.  “His isolation was in his favor.”  Like Gant, Wolfe was able to spread his wings for the first time in his life, to rub shoulders with others, especially those students from the wealthier Piedmont and coastal areas, who grew up much different than himself.  He was not exactly a “mountain grill” his father looked down upon, but he had only a very limited exposure to the bigger world beyond Asheville.  His eyes were opened wide, and his time at UNC would eventually lead him to Boston, New York, Europe, and literary fame.

In a later letter Wolfe described his time in Chapel Hill as “close to magic,” and the UNC as “the magical campus.”  But it did not seem so during his freshman year.  Being six foot-three and weighing less than 140 pounds, Wolfe was a clumsy lad outfitted in old and ill-fitting clothes.  He lived in a boarding house on Franklin Street, still the main commercial drag adjacent to the original campus, and lived a mostly solitary and lonely existence . . . so much so that he hesitated returning for his sophomore year.

His father forced him to resume his studies, and it was a good thing he did.  Once back in Chapel Hill, Wolfe began to take a real interest in his course work and campus activities.  He studied English literature under Professor Edwin A. Greenlaw (the building currently housing the English department is named in his honor) who pushed the young Wolfe to do more than what his other instructors expected of him.  He began to flourish as a member of the “Dialectic,” or “Di,” one of the two literary societies on campus he joined as a freshman.  Perhaps we can say the “die was cast.”  Wolfe joined the writing staff of the University of North Carolina Magazine, and The Tar Heel, the campus newspaper of which he later became the managing editor and editor-in-chief.  He would also serve as the editor of Yackety Yack, the campus annual.   From a lonely freshman he gradually evolved into a campus leader much in demand, exercising what he called “the huge pretense of idiot geniality.”

During his last two years on campus Wolfe studied under Professor Frederick Koch who instilled in him an avid interest in drama and the theater, an interest he would continue after graduation in George P. Baker’s 47 Workshop, at Harvard University.  While at UNC Wolfe wrote two one-act folk plays - The Return of Buck Gavin and The Third Night - both of which were performed by the Carolina Playmakers toward the end of Wolfe’s time in Chapel Hill.  He also performed the leading role in the former.

The main core of the UNC campus . . . the one Wolfe came to know . . . has not changed all that much since he was there.  The brown-brick buildings bordering the forested central quads extending southward from Franklin Street are still there and look much like they did in Wolfe’s day almost a century ago.  So is The Old Well, the iconic campus meeting place.  One evening at dusk, I wandered this magic landscape from Franklin Street to the Wilson Library where I heard Joseph Bathanti, the current poet laureate of North Carolina, read from his work.  It seemed entirely appropriate that he conjured up shades of Thomas Wolfe and his western Carolina mountains where Bathanti continues to live, write, and teach.  How could he not?  

In the past, the Wolfe Society has always met at the Wilson Library with its rich collection of Wolfe papers.  This year, however, we moved our proceedings to the venerable, elegant Carolina Inn, just a few blocks away.  Completed in 1924, four years after Wolfe left Chapel Hill, the Inn has, according to its official historian Kenneth Joel Zogry, served as the “University’s Living Room” for the past 90 years, hosting countless meetings, receptions, weddings, and banquets celebrating faculty and students past and present.  Its simple elegance oozes Southern charm and hospitality.

“The Carolina Inn,” writes Zogry, “was born of a bad night’s sleep.”  John Sprunt Hill, a Carolina alumnus and trustee who went on to become a prominent lawyer, banker, philanthropist and trustee responsible for the expansion of UNC at Chapel Hill, visited the campus in 1921 as head of the school’s building committee.  He stayed at one of the Franklin Street boarding houses, and offended by the heat and frequent nocturnal visits by vermin, he walked along the edge of the campus one night, and according to the local legend, pledged to build a proper inn befitting the oldest state university in the country.  A lover of literature, Hill was also largely responsible for the construction of the Wilson Library, which opened its doors in 1929 and eventually housed the North Carolina Collection which he also endowed.  In 1935, Hunt and his partners donated the Carolina Inn to the University, stipulating that the profits from its operation would support the Collection.  It seemed only right that the Wolfe Society would hold its meeting at the Carolina Inn seeing that the proceeds would benefit the preservation of the Wolfe collection and other important North Caroliniana. 

Upon graduating in June 1920 with 144 others, Wolfe scribed the senior class poem, “1920 Says a Few Words to Carolina.”

        They’ll think again of this night here
        And of these old brown walls,
        Of white old well, and of old South
        With bell’s deep booming tone.
        They’ll think again of Chapel Hill and-
        Thinking – come back home.


Wolfe final novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, was published posthumously in 1940.   He may never have returned to his magical campus, but I have done so with every opportunity offered to me.  I look forward to coming home again.

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