Saturday, June 29, 2019

Still Missing John Haines (1924-2011)

Today would have been John Haines' 95th birthday. John, who passed away in Fairbanks, Alaska in March 2011, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of a career naval officer. As a boy, Haines attended school in Washington, DC while his father was stationed at the Washington Navy Yard.

After serving on a navy destroyer in the South Pacific during World War II, Haines studied at American University and the National Art School, both in Washington, and the Hans Hoffmann School of Fine Art in New York City and Provincetown, Massachusetts.

In 1947, Haines left Washington and eventually homesteaded acreage along the Richardson Highway approximately 68 miles southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska. It was here that he spent much of the next four decades running his trap lines and living off the land while trying to realize his artistic talents evolving from the visual to the literary arts, and his experiences in the Alaskan wilderness were the inspiration for his early poetry collections - Winter News (1966) and The Stone Harp (1971), the essay collection Living Off the Country (1981), and the memoir The Stars, the Snow, the Fire (1989).

Haines came back to Washington in 1991-92 as Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Residence at the George Washington University, and visited Washington frequently during the last two decades of his life. He also taught at several other colleges and universities; his last academic appointment was as an instructor in the Honors Program at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

His later books included New Poems 1980-88 (1990), The Owl in the Mask of the Dreamer (1993), Where the Twilight Never Ends (1994), Fables and Distances (1996), A Guide to the Four-Chambered Heart (1997), For the Century’s End: Poems 1990-1999 (2001), and Descent (2010).

Haines was honored for his writing, receiving the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the Western States Book Award, two Guggenheim Fellowships, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Bellagio Fellowship, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Library of Congress, and the Alaska Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, among others. He was also named a fellow of the Academy of American Poets in 1997.

I met John as a Jenny McKean Moore fellow at George Washington University in 1991 and we remained good friends during the final two decades of his life. He was a guest in my home during his visits to Washington, and I look back with particular fondness on the days he and I spent together in Big Sky, Montana in the autumn of 2004 following the release of A Gradual Twilight: An Appreciation of John Haines which I edited and which was published by CavanKerry Press.

So Happy Birthday, John! I still miss you.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Strawberry Season in Maine!

One of the first things we look forward to each summer when we arrive in Maine in late June is our attendance at the annual Strawberry Festival sponsored by the local historical society here in New Gloucester. This year is no different and last night we headed over to the First Congregational Church in the Lower Village along with summer friends and neighbors as the festival celebrated its 44th year. We have been vacationing in Maine for the past 31 summers, and have spent the entire summer (June - October) here for the past decade. What better way to actualize the belief that one truly can go home again.
And strawberries are on everyone’s minds this time of year. The strawberry season in Maine is all too short. The best time to pick them is typically during a three to four week period between mid-June and mid-July, with the height of the season right around the July 4th holiday. Unfortunately this year spring has come late with a great deal of rain and the harvest is running about a week behind schedule here in Cumberland and Androscoggin counties.

The earliest varieties were harvested only a week or so ago, and the local pick-your-own operations at the nearby Gillespie Farms, part of New Gloucester’s Pineland Farms Produce Division (just a mile or so from our summer cottage) is just getting underway. Gillespie’s is one of the memorable local PYO farms, cultivating 300 acres with a variety of fruits (strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries), sweet corn, and vegetables for wholesale and direct purchase. Its PYO operation is open during the growing season from the first strawberries in June through the last of the high bush blueberries in August. My wife always looks forward to a few early mornings picking a flat of strawberries. This season barely opened in mid June and there were very real concerns that the harvest would not arrive in time for the local festivals held around the Pine Tree State.

Disappointment was averted when last night the Historical Society served up "scrumptious" local native strawberries served over frozen custard from Hodgman’s stand, a summertime institution in the Upper Village since 1946, and fresh-baked biscuits, all of this topped off with genuine whipped cream. We gathered in the church’s Vestry Community Room where we were entertained by the dulcet tones of the Hall Family Band which this year stood in for the perennial Berry Berry Good Band. A good time was had by the hundreds who showed up.

Summer is here now and we look forward to seasonal weather and successful harvests before autumn descends on northern New England in September. Now I’m waiting for the fresh corn to be picked. It’s looking great.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Remembering Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018)

Today would have been Anthony Bourdain’s 63rd birthday. He took his own life in a hotel room in the small village of Kaysersberg, in eastern France, on Friday, June 8 as he was approaching his 62nd birthday. Shortly thereafter I posted a personal tribute to the man who taught me a great deal about how to enjoy food and travel, especially in cultures and with cuisines unfamiliar to me.

It has taken me some time to understand and express the impact Bourdain has had on me. He seemed, even when his responses bordered on irreverence, that he enjoyed life to the fullest. To paraphrase his close friend Anderson Cooper of CNN, Bourdain was always up for an adventure, and more importantly, sharing it with his legion of loyal readers and viewers. So why did he choose to end it all?

Writing in his book Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook (2010), Bourdain implored people to open their minds and travel the world. "It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn. Maybe that's enlightenment enough — to know that there is no final resting place of the mind, no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom, at least for me, means realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go." We watched him as he traveled here and there while eating pretty much anything placed in front of him, whether it be an uncooked warthog anus in Namibia, or the most carefully prepared haute cuisine in New York or Paris. They read and listened as he boisterously opined about what he did not like, yet he was passionate about that which made him happy – the places, foods, and people he deeply cared for – as he continued on his quest to parts unknown and food untasted. "He was an explorer who removed degrees of separation from the world's sociological arithmetic," wrote Drew Magary in GQ last December. "A man who was always, in his words, hungry for more."

It has been a year since Anthony Bourdain left us. I still grow melancholy when I think there will be no more culinary adventures, no more of Bourdain’s brash claims mixed with considered opinions. Since his death I have gone back and watched many of my favorite episodes of his shows, and I have reread many of his books. I can’t help but smile as I watch Bourdain wander here and there, tasting and relishing this and that. Yet the melancholy always returns.

Many who knew Bourdain personally, and more who never met the man, have agreed since his death that he meant a great deal to a great many people and that what he gave to all of us cannot end with his passing. A few weeks ago, two renowned chefs and close friends - José Andrés and Eric Ripert, who was with Bourdain in France when he took his life – announced that today would be declared "Anthony Bourdain Day" during which friends and fans alike can remember and celebrate what he meant to them. They were also encouraged to share their memories under the hashtag #BourdainDay. So permit me to share again what I posted in the wake of Bourdain’s passing:

Talking and writing about Bourdain helps keep his memory alive and vital. Still, there is that dull, empty spot down deep that just won’t go away. Perhaps Paula Froelich, a journalist and author who once dated Bourdain , said it best. "I just think it's lonelier without him in the world." It really is.


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Anne Frank at 90

Anne Frank was born on this date in 1929 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.  Had she lived she would have turned 90 years old.  But we will always remember her as a smiling 15 year old girl who dreamed of one day becoming a writer.

Most people think of her as a young Jewish Dutch girl living in Amsterdam, but she was actually born in Germany and immigrated to Holland with her family when she was four years old.  She retained her German citizenship.  They remained happy in their new homeland until 1940, just shy of Anne’s 11th birthday, when Holland was attacked and occupied by the armed forces of Nazi Germany which quickly enacted laws restricting the rights of Jews.  Anne's father tried to obtain asylum in the USA or Cuba but was unsuccessful.  Stripped of their German citizenship they managed to somehow survive in Amsterdam until the summer of 1942 when Anne’s older sister Margot was ordered deported to a labor camp.  The family and a few friends went into hiding in a secret room which Anne’s father had prepared at  Prinsengracht 263. 

Anne received a small diary on her 13th birthday, shortly before her family went into hiding, and over the next two years recorded her thoughts and feelings.  She dreamed of becoming a writer; writing and publishing stories, and even a novel.  Such dreams for a young girl hiding with her family in fear for their lives.

Their hiding place was discovered and stormed by the German Security Police on August 4, 1944.  Following their arrest and interrogation the family was sent to the Westerbork transit camp in northeastern Holland.  In late September they were  transported to Auschwitz, in Poland, arriving there three days later.  Miraculously Anne and Margot were spared from the gas chambers during the selections on arrival.   They remained at Auschwitz until late October or early November when they were transported with thousands of others to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.  Both sisters died there during an outbreak of typhus in the spring of 1945. 

Only Anne’s father survived the war.  He returned to Amsterdam to discover that Anne’s diary has been saved by his secretary.  Upon reading it he knew what he had to do.  


I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I've never met. I want to go on living even after my death! And that's why I'm so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that's inside me!

The first copies of the now famous diary were published in June 1947.  It remains one of the most important reminders of the Nazi persecution of the Jews.  Today her diary is read in 70 different languages and warns the world of the dangers of anti-Semitism and racist discrimination . . . a valuable lesson in today’s world.  Thanks to her diary, Anne Frank continues to live in our memory today.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Full Confidence in Their Courage and Devotion - Remembering the D-Day Invasion of Europe

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 75th anniversary of Operation Overlord - 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 into 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 the Allied Expeditionary 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 every 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 Hd 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.  Over fifty years later this film, despite all of its Hollywood trappings, is still recognized, along with “Saving Private Ryan,” 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 all 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.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Tiananmen Square - Thirty Years Later

Thirty years ago this week dozens of protestors, many of them young university students, were massacred in Beijing as they protested for democratic governmental reforms and greater personal freedoms.   As many as 10,000 were arrested during the imposition of martial law, and many of these disappeared without a trace.

What can one say about a country that will jail and 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.

To commemorate this important historical benchmark I am sharing an earlier post:

“Who controls the past,” George Orwell warned, “controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

Resistance is never futile.  Never forget the brave souls who spoke out and acted in June 1989.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

National Cheese Day 2019

Other foods are celebrated so why not cheese?  “Does America have a more versatile food?  Best of all, National Cheese Day happens on June 4. Time to officially celebrate the delightful dairy item we’ve eaten in one form or another since the Roman Empire.”

Unlike other foods, cheese is seldom found by itself on most menus, but it is a key ingredient in so many dishes . . . pasta, pizza, burgers, salads, soups, appetizers, sauces . . . . You get the point! 

I love cheese!  Hardly a day goes by when I don’t enjoy it in one form or another.  To celebrate let me reshare a couple posts from a decade ago.  You’ll get the idea:

Here are a couple National Cheese Day activities recommended by National Today -

– Try Something Scary!
Find a cheese that scares you a little bit and give it a go — you'll likely be surprised how much you like it. Looking for a suggestion? Give Epoisses de Bourgogne a try, if you can find it. It's got such a pungent aroma that it's been banned from public transportation systems in France!

– Make Your Own!
Making cheese can be a pretty simple process — it just requires a bit of patience! It's always interesting to go "behind the scenes" of our favorite food items, but with cheese in particular, it's pretty incredible seeing all the hidden steps that take place.

– Perhaps a new pairing?
Cheese seems to go with everything! Well, almost. But things get truly magical when you find perfect pairings that bring out different flavors. Have you ever tried figs with brie? They're delicious separate, but they're simply irresistible when brought together.

No matter how you choose to celebrate, get out there today and eat some cheese!