Non-fiction day


In regards to questions as to why everyone is concerned about Paris, but not about Beirut, the Russian plane, or (the months-ago attack on) Kenya, I think much of it is because so many of us have absorbed “Paris” over the years.

The French capital has what is probably the most iconic landmark ever, one that most westerners recognize. I doubt that the Houses of Parliament in London (hey, a big building!) are as instantly recognizable, nor the Washington Monument (hey, an obelisk!). People who have lived in Munich will recognize the Frauenkirche, but otherwise it looks “like a European cathedral.” Prague’s Charles Bridge is a bridge. Edinburgh’s castle is a castle. King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein (the model for Sleeping Beauty’s castle) might be as recognizable, but many people won’t know just where it is. The same, even, for Mount Rushmore — what’s the closest city? (Air Force brats from Ellsworth AFB, you’re ineligible to play)

The Eiffel Tower, though — everyone knows what it is and everyone knows where it is.

In music, we have the song “I Love Paris,” but not “I Love Beirut.”
Gershwin embraced “An American in Paris,” but not “An American in Lebanon.”
Louis Armstrong played “April in Paris,” but not “April in Syria.”
Nelson Riddle blamed it on Paree, but didn’t blame Jerusalem (neither Palestinian nor Israeli).

In the realm of the seductive, many 1950s mothers were honored on birthdays and Mothers Day with eau de Cologne named Evening in Paris, but I don’t think anyone ever received cedar-scented Evening in Lebanon.

Cinematically, we do have From Russia With Love, and Dr. Zhivago. Out of Africa, based on Isak Dinesin’s stories, was gorgeous. Those movies are iconic, but reflect the few filmed stories about specific places. New York probably is as well-filmed as Paris, but I don’t know that The Big Apple has the same aura as The City of Light.  The list of movies set in Paris is, to be trite, a laundry list.

Funny Face
Sabrina
Gigi
Irma la Douce
Amelie
Julie and Julia
Three Men and a Cradle
The Red Balloon
Around the World in 80 Days
Midnight in Paris
Moulin Rouge
An American in Paris
The da Vinci Code
Last Tango in Paris
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Les Miserables
Phantom of the Opera
The Pink Panther
The Aristocats
Ratatouille
The Day of the Jackal
and many more

The recent attacks that didn’t get the spotlight that has shone on Paris are just as tragically important. The people who died in the other attacks died just as horribly and uselessly as those who died in Paris. Their families are equally devastated. They need to be recognized and work needs to continue to keep anyone from being mown down, decapitated, executed, or blown up. It is a long work.

What we probably don’t need to do is unnecessarily beat ourselves up for not feeling those attacks as viscerally as we did the attacks in Paris. We know about the other places, but we love Paris.

Let us use that to recognize the human suffering among all people who were attacked.

Yesterday evening was a sad time. It’s difficult to feel particularly useful while sitting in an unremarkable place, and with no talent that is productive during a tragedy. It’s hard to even express a public feeling of sorrow when whether you do or not has little immediate effect.

Still, not expressing sorrow feels callous, and Paris does have meaning for me.  I lived in Europe, off and on, for over twenty years. My first memories are of England (which isn’t Paris, but is close enough for a Chunnel day trip from Brussels), and my husband’s final assignment with the U.S. Army was at Daumerie Kaserne by Chièvres, Belgium (still not Paris, but again, close enough for day trips with the kids).  A friend lives in Paris. Although I’ve never lived in Paris, I’ve strolled there, avoided rivers of traffic, ridden le Métro, sipped hot chocolate (I’m not a coffee drinker), done the tourist routine, and eaten prix fixe meals. The attack happened someplace that was, for me, working on becoming an everyday place.

One of my favorite pictures isn’t of an instantly recognizable landmark. The one I like is a sign for a picnic area.  It still makes me laugh.

Roadside sign in France designating a picnic area.

Roadside sign in France designating a picnic area.

Despite the feeling of immediacy concerning the shootings, explosions, and dread execution of concert-goers, I’m also saddened by the attack in Beirut. By the downing of the Russian plane. By the refugees fleeing these bastards who’ll kill anyone, anywhere, and use anyone to do it. I’m sickened by the deaths of innocent people who are near the combatants of our self-appointed enemy who choose to hide in hospitals, and our myopia in attacking such a place. It’s all so desperately tragic and all I can do is say I’m heartsick.

The only cold encouragement is remembering that London wasn’t beaten by the Irish Republican Army bombings in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. London was changed — and I can’t see an unattended bag without thinking about it — but it’s still there. Paris will still be there, too.

I hope the terror abates soon.

In a Facebook group for women veterans, I recently saw a recommendation for a book on American women veterans of the Vietnam war: Women Vietnam Veterans: Our Untold Storiescollected by Donna A. Lowery (Sergeant Major [Ret.] ).

Right now, I’m working on short stories for a book whose main character is a woman who is a Cold War era soldier. Instead of being assigned to Vietnam, she is stationed in West Germany, which is where I lived for eighteen years. I served in the Army during the Vietnam era, but my time was short and my experience limited.

Although my main character didn’t serve in Vietnam, she will know women who did. My stories are genre fiction, suspense/mysteries, and are meant to be entertaining. I’m not trying to write definitive histories.

Despite having the aim of writing entertainingly, I do want the stories to be as accurate in their details as I can make them. Because my active duty experience was limited, I wanted to read the viewpoints of other women so I could develop characters with individual voices and outlooks. Fidelity to time and to the broader experience of women in the Army is also important to me. Accuracy was the main reason I bought the Women Vietnam Veterans.

What I didn’t expect was to know anyone mentioned.

Boy was I wrong.

After I opened the shipping box and while I was flipping through the 700+ pages, I stopped and exclaimed to my husband.

There on the page was a photo I recognized. The picture was of an NCO assigned to the WAC Detachment at Aberdeen Proving Ground at the same time as my husband and I had both served there. The sergeant is listed as having worked at Kirk Army Hospital at Aberdeen, but neither I (in Personnel) nor my husband (a calibration student) were acquainted with her. In our after-duty-hours lives, though, picking up mail and so forth, I had passed her many times walking along the WAC Detachment’s company street. Maybe it was the unit patch worn on her right shoulder, designating an assignment to a combat area, that made her so memorable.

My memory jogged, I wondered if the book listed another woman whom I knew had volunteered for duty in Vietnam. I checked the index, and there she was.

Thinking I’d maxed out the coincidences, but curious in a hopeful way, I scanned the index. Altogether, I found nine names I knew. Nine. One of them was the name of my Basic Training company commander. Another name was of an office supervisor, my NCOIC in the permanent party personnel section at Aberdeen. A third worked in the student section of the Personnel complex.

Even more surprising, three of the names I recognized were my barracks-mates at Aberdeen. One woman I shared a cubicle wall with. A second shared a cubicle wall with the woman across from me (and asked me to turn down my record player when I was playing The Doors). The woman across from me was the third.

I was certain, though, that my First Sergeant had also worn a combat patch on the right shoulder of her uniform, so I dug out a group photo of the WAC Detachment and checked the names on the photo against the book’s index. I added three to the count, and one, indeed, was our First Sergeant.

02 WAC Det

I’m looking forward to reading the accounts of all the women who served from the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force.

I’m still surprised that, out of the approximately 1200 military women assigned to units in Vietnam, I knew twelve. Even more amazing (to me) is that about 1/10th of the women in the Aberdeen Proving Ground WAC Detachment from 1969 served in Vietnam.

Bye, Baby Bunting, daddy’s gone a hunting.
To get a little rabbit skin, to wrap his Baby Bunting in.

This lullaby, surprisingly, has many elements of a current nine-day-wonder, the controversy around the picture of little Landon Clevenger suspended in the flag of the United States by his sailor father. The lullaby has the baby, the daddy, daddy’s “hunting” (his military job), the container for the baby, and wrapping up the baby.

One not-so-obvious element, at least not to modern ears, is the bunting. In the lullaby, it is a wrap for a baby. In patriotic parlance, it is the red, white, and blue material used decoratively. The entire controversy could have been avoided had the baby been suspended in bunting.

But that didn’t happen.

What did happen was that, apparently, the person behind a now-removed Facebook page commented negatively on the photo and that drew in many defenders.

To sum up many of the complaints about the complaint:

Yes, a federal law governs the use of the flag. Chapter 1 of Title 4 of the United States Code.  The law is not merely guidelines.

Yes, there are many violations of that code, but, to quote Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes, “The law is on the books, but it would take all their resources to enforce it.”  This is why we’ve wound up with stars and stripes bikinis, flag napkins, flag clothing, and flag anything else. This particular law depends on a populace that respects this law enough not to violate it.

Yes, the sailor has rendered service to the country. Despite that, if I informed my Drill and Ceremonies instructor in Army Basic Training that I was able to use the flag of the United States for my own purposes because I’d enlisted — freedom of speech — I can just hear her asking me who I thought I was. Then I’d have been on my hands and knees for a day, scraping up floor wax with a razor blade (a more useful activity than pushups).  A Navy-version of flag etiquette is provided at Navy for Moms .com  Flag etiquette, sailors and women

Yes, the Supreme Court has ruled that disrespect of the flag of the United States is protected speech. But even that ruling was not unanimous.

Writing for the dissent, Justice Stevens argued that the flag’s unique status as a symbol of national unity outweighed ‘symbolic speech’ concerns, and thus, the government could lawfully prohibit flag burning.

Yes, the photograph contains much symbolism.

a. From birth Americans are wrapped in (whatever imagery you apply to the flag)
b. Fathers are strong protectors of babies.
c. Military men are hot dads (those strong protectors).
d. Family pride
e. That military service members are protecting the country for future generations.
f. Hope for future generations.
g. The child’s involuntary sacrifice of a parent being away from home.

The symbolism acknowledged, I read the dissent by Justice Stevens as meaning that the flag belongs to all of us, not to each of us. As people who respect the meaning of the flag, if we want to set a good example, following the law would be a good place to start.

Yes, protesters exercising their First Amendment rights have used the flag disrespectfully for their own purposes: To quote a commenter from somewhere on the Internet: “If we have the freedom to burn it, we have the freedom to wrap our babies in it.”  Is the worst example of free-speech usage of the flag — burning it in protest — the example we ought to use? Is this what we strive for?

A “troll” commenter made the example of the inappropriateness of the image: “It would look cuter with a cat.”

If substituting another object for the baby, would the image still be appropriate? This freedom-hating-Pharisee who is an Obama-loving keyboard-warrior (I think those were all the slurs I attracted elsewhere) doesn’t think so.

I don’t think the Old Guard would agree, either.

Coalport Countryware One set of my many teapots shown in an inventory photo taken before moving from Germany to Belgium. 1st generation digital photo

Coalport Countryware
One set of my many teapots shown in an inventory photo taken before moving from Germany to Belgium.
1st generation digital photo

The other day while I was catching up on email digests, a conversation on a writing list caught my eye. Someone asked about “tea” and I gave a quick response because I have a passing familiarity with it, although more as a drink than as a meal. My Air Force dad was assigned to a military unit in England when I was little and, while we lived there, the daughter of my mom’s cleaning lady was my babysitter. Occasionally I was sent over to their house and would play with my babysitter’s younger brothers. Despite this vague familiarity with English family life, and later exposure through all the English mystery novels I’ve read, my language training would prove to be inadequate.

1951  Mom pouring me milk while we're having our tea.

1951 Mom pouring me milk while we’re having our tea.

Fast-forward a long ways from my childhood but not quite up to the present.

Before my husband retired from federal service, we lived in Belgium where my husband worked closely with others assigned to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, NATO’s military headquarters, otherwise known as SHAPE. SHAPE, like NATO, is multi-national so the possibility of having friends who weren’t American was high. I expected communication difficulties with the non-English-speaking people — I certainly didn’t speak all the languages of NATO, and I didn’t think everyone else would speak English — but I didn’t expect any problems communicating with the British.

 

Our daughters, sitting on the haynets they'd stuffed, at the SHAPE riding club when it was at Bauffe, Belgium. 1st generation digital photo

Our daughters, sitting on the haynets they’d stuffed, at the SHAPE riding club when it was at Bauffe, Belgium.
1st generation digital photo

Our daughters were members of the SHAPE riding club, so I was out at the stables a lot. I helped out, too, doing little chores not requiring expert horsey-knowledge. I could fill hay nets, put saddles away, pick hooves if no one else were available, and even stay on top of a horse although I’m not an expert rider. One day, one of the English women asked if I would be around that afternoon. As I petted her black Labrador, I said I would be. She then asked me if I would give her mare, Anna, her tea.

I was perplexed. I knew that some of the horses had special feed, but I didn’t know that Anna also had a special drink. As far as I had seen, all the horses drank only water. I looked at the woman and said, fine, I could do that, but that I didn’t know where this tea was kept or how to make it. She looked at me as if I had suddenly gone simple. Maybe petting dogs was the limit of my talents?

“Her tea.” she said, emphasizing the word “tea.” “At about five o’clock?”

It took a minute, in which I’m sure I fell in her estimation of whether or not I ought to be let out on my own, but then, with her emphasis on five o’clock, roughly the time when the horses were given their evening meal, it clicked. The woman wanted me to give the mare her supper.

While we Americans think of “tea” (as a meal) as something frilly and fancy — such as, afternoon tea — apparently, in general usage in England, it is meant as “supper.” For horses, that would be a cup or so of oats and a nice net of hay, a task well within my capabilities.

I’m sure that once the linguistic light dawned on me, I stammered a bit, then said, great, I’d give Anna her “tea.” The woman gave me a look as if she were reconsidering, then turned, and calling her dog, went on her way.

In my life overseas, I had yet another language lesson, but, more importantly, Anna had her tea.

Me, in 1999, performing one of the riding stable tasks for which I am qualified -- poop scooping. 1st generation digital photo

Me, in 1999, performing one of the riding stable tasks for which I am qualified — poop scooping.
1st generation digital photo

By no means am I on the cutting edge of anything.  In my literary life, I still haven’t recovered from:

  • the loss of my local bookstore
  • the disappearance of B. Dalton & Walden Books
  • A Common Reader going down in flames
  • Borders falling off the map
  • Barnes & Noble changing from a discount catalog for remaindered books into the local bookstore

Now it looks as if a Chrome extension has Amazon in it’s sights.

Chrome Extension Turns Amazon into a Catalog for Oyster’s eBook Subscription Service, 1 Feb 2015, Ink, Bits & Pixels

And thanks to the plugins, readers have the opportunity to ask themselves if they really want to buy the book they’re looking at, rather than read it in Oyster’s apps for Android, iPad/iPhone, and their web browser.

I can’t keep up with it all — probably a result of being one of those people who thinks 1990 was ten years ago. To put an even more elderly gloss on my situation, I was fifteen when Alvin Toffler first published Future Shock.

Yeah, yeah, I know: “Alvin who?

Mr. Toffler enlightened a generation about the awareness of information overload, coupled with the stress and disorientation of continual frequent change.  In modern parlance, remember when there were no smart phones to perpetually upgrade?  About the only consistent feature of today’s consumer environment is that whatever you’re using is almost guaranteed to be archaic long before it wears out.

Not so long ago, using old stuff just showed you were unfashionable, out of date, unhip.  You couldn’t get out of the box, man, because you were the box. At worst, you were L7 (hold up your fingers so that you have your left thumb & index finger as an L and your right ones as a 7 — put them together): a square.

Today, using old stuff doesn’t make you just uncool, it can leave you stranded (hence, why poor people need cell phones). You’d be left out of most loops because not only is your gizmo old (at least by one year), but it can’t connect to anything.  Just try getting that information off those floppy disks in the bottom of that drawer, or watch a VHS tape. How much longer will anyone bother producing devices to play DVDs or CDs?

Given Amazon’s effect on businesses-you-can-actually-drive-to, I don’t know that I’ll mourn the company’s possible twilight (although I love being able to find esoteric items that businesses-I-could-drive-to never had). The effect of always expecting future shock, though, has me already wondering not only what’s going to replace Oyster, but who is going to make it worthwhile for authors to produce any new work.

So, what virus have you had?  You must have because everyone I’ve run into lately has a virus-story.  I swear it’s a biological smorgasbord out there.

I could understand catching more than one bug per season if I worked in a school, or if I regularly met the general public, but I don’t.  I sit in a room, typing, usually with the door shut to keep out the cats, well, one cat in particular.  He’s a jerk and so’s his sister.  Thank goodness she lives with her foster-mom. Two of them would be too trying.

But back to disease. I’m a virtual recluse, so how do the blasted germs get in?

Not only am I a recluse, but I have a thing about my hands (not OCD, but enough so that a son-in-law noticed).  Anything gets on the digits and they get a tubbing, then a massage with lotion or cream.  I’m not weird about it, or anything, just …, well, just reliable.  You can safely shake hands with me (and I won’t even immediately adjourn to a wash-basin.  I wait at least a couple of moments.)

I’m surprised that my hands don’t look like they belong to the Pillsbury Dough Boy because they’ve absorbed at least a metric ton of moisturizer.  I discovered Jergens hand lotion when I was 10 — I remember the event** — and I haven’t (voluntarily) been without hand cream since.

But back to disease.

I have a theory on how germs spread so easily — they’re like honey.  The moment you touch honey, even if it’s not obvious that your finger touched it, it’s all over the place.  On the handle of the knife.  Then on the handle of the fork. Then on your sleeve.  The stuff’s a mess.  (tasty, but a mess) Germs are like that — sticking onto everything.

But, how do they get into my sanctum sanctorum, the back room?  My daughter even noticed our special status because she came down with the most recent bug the very day before I did.  Given incubation periods, we had to be simultaneously exposed, but we don’t frequent the same places.  She goes out in the world, but she’s even more fussy about her hands, especially during germ-season, but she comes by it professionally: she’s a doctor, a veterinary surgeon. Scrubbing-up is second nature to her and she (and I) are not huggers or touchers. We stay here, you stay there, everyone’s happy (except her huggy sister & aunt/my huggy daughter & sister, but they’re used to us).

So the doctor and recluse both get the tummy-bug, and we’re damned irritated about it.  The only up-side I can see is that it gave me a subject for a blog post, but only after way-laying me so that I sat here for the entire month of January, often staring at the blog, but not wanting to type anything at all. So I got a blog post out of it.  Whoop.  Make that a Big Whoop.

I can’t wait for these blasted bugs to go away.

 

** Meeting Jergens Lotion: Ladies’ room of the Family Services office where my mother volunteered.  Pink walls and ceiling decorated with painted black poodles.  Very 1950s chic.  For me, the lotion was love at first sniff & touch.

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