I believe in discovering fun and pleasurable things wherever I find myself each day and I am told I have a knack for unearthing them. My hope is that by sharing in my pleasures and some of my ways of finding them you will begin to collect all the riches that lie in the moments of your life. They are there. Take them! All our lives should be.....Epic.
Sunday, February 28, 2010
All gourmands know it. Sometimes you are in need of a true feast. The twelve course chef's menu. With a couple of fine bottles of wine. Other times, nothing but a plate of steak frites and a carafe of vin rouge will do. There are several fine extended histories of World War One. Twelve course feasts for the true enthusiast of the period. Recently, however, I was given a one course delight on the subject.
It should be plain by now to the return reader that I am quite interested in history in general and in World War I in particular. There is such a superior body of literature surrounding the tragic events of 1914-1918, both fictional and historic, that the reading person cannot ignore the period. Add to the mix the fact that the "resolution" of the First World War set in inexorable motion the forces that lead to the Second World War and to many of today's problems in the Middle East and Central Europe, and a good volume or two on the clash should be required reading.
Sadly, the topic of the First World War is merely a footnote in most American primary educational curricula and few people really know much about it. This may not be limited to our shores. Robert McCrum noted in The Observer a few years back that the new generation finds the First World War almost as remote as The Iliad. An interested person seeking to begin learning about this vital and interesting era often finds their efforts impeded by the fact that war histories in general tend to be thick tomes overburdened with troop movement maps and tactical theorizing by armchair generals. Fine for the amateur tactician but rather heavy food for a person who has interest in, but not passion for, the history of a particular conflict. Another obstacle is the pace of modern life, which lends itself more to endless dashing about than to sitting still reading, particularly when some degree of thoughtfulness is required by the subject matter.
Arriving to solve all of these dilemmas is World War One, a slender and elegant retelling of the conflict by the noted historian Norman Stone. In 186 pages, Stone manages to provide a superbly readable short study of the war, from its prelude in the rise of great European empires and modern notions of nationalism to its epitaph which endures today across the globe. That Stone can accomplish this task in so few pages is a testament to his mastery of the subject matter.
A few appetizers are in order to whet the literary appetite. Regarding the society which immediately preceded the war, Stone states:
In 1900 the West, or, more accurately, the North-West, appeared to have all the trumps, to have discovered some end-of-history formula. It produced one technological marvel after another, and the generation of the 1850s--which accounted for most of the generals of the First World War--experienced the greatest "quantum leap" in all history, starting out with horses and carts and ending, around 1900, with telephones, aircraft, motor-cars. Other civilizations had reached a dead end, and much of the world had been taken over by empires of the West.
If one finds this paragraph disturbingly familiar, one should read more about World War One. Immediately. Stone describes most key events of the war in a fashion certain to satisfy the interest of the historically curious, and even more certain to whet the appetite of the reader for more in-depth knowledge of this tragic time.
The book ends with reference to Hitler's Mein Kampf and its encapsulation of the fears expressed by Lloyd George years before...
...in twenty years' time the Germans would say what Carthage had said about the First Punic War, namely that they had made this mistake and that mistake, and by better preparation and organization they would be able to bring about victory next time.
The cessation of hostility in 1918 lasted all of twenty-one years.
Some tend to consider short histories no more than shallow treatments which at best ill-inform and at worst misinform the consumer. In reply to this notion, I refer the reader, again, to cookery. A sauce which is diminished in volume after application of heat is not called a minimization but, rather, a reduction. Rendered more potent and rich by the effort. So too, World War One is a master's reduction of a heart breaking and complex time which leaves the consumer hungering for more knowledge. The stimulative effect of this fine book upon the intellectual appetite is perhaps its greatest facet.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Each evening, John's dream of Florida grew stronger. Helen worried about his enthusiastic descriptions of the photos in "the Florida book" as they shared dessert on Saturday dates. It all seemed so...distant...and vaguely dangerous. Inconsistent with certain topics that were, each Saturday night, seeming to congeal into a map for a lovely and seamless future for them both.
The Senior Clerk was unlocking the doors to the bank lobby and the first customers were drifting in, each accompanied by an auras of snow flakes and a gust of Arctic wind. John shivered. At lunch, he knew what he was going to do.
John did not discuss leaving with his superiors at the Commerce Bank out of fear that they would successfully point out the substantial list of reasons why he should not abandon a promising career. He left the bank at lunch, after drawing out all of his savings. Plus an extra sum derived from the sale of his grandfather's gold pocket watch. He went to the shop where Helen worked and said goodbye. She was saddened by the news, but did not seem terribly surprised. John left her an envelope too, for her to open later. Mrs. Lesley at the boarding house said she was sorry to lose such a nice, regularly paying young man as a tenant. In the closet of John's room were his few belongings and his father's valise...
...the one Dad brought back from Flanders at the end of the war. Inside it were the linen suit, some grooming items and the book of Florida pictures. John buttoned his jacket and walked through the snow to the train station. He booked a coach ticket to Florida. One way.
When John arrived in Jacksonville, the station's size surprised him...
He felt invigorated by the scent of the sea and the damp heat, even in February. He wondered what the fellows at the Commerce Bank would think of him now. Wearing his linen suit. Standing in Florida!
Through one mechanism and another he traveled to Tallahassee, where he found a nice place to stay for a few days...
They had a beautiful college there as well...
John met a salesman in the diner at the motel, a veteran of his father's battalion at Belleau Wood, who agreed to give him a ride south. They ambled down the state, past orange groves as far as the eye could see...
One particularly beautiful Saturday found John with an evening free. He prepared a small grill outside his cabin to broil another newly discovered favorite. A fish called "grouper". As John squeezed fresh lime juice over the fillets at his tiny kitchen counter, he heard an auto pull up outside and a door open and close. Light steps on his patio. A tentative knock. John ran to the screen door and pulled it open. Auburn hair. Blue eyes. A summer dress and a big straw hat with a pink ribbon. Helen. As John held her close, Helen whispered that after months of trepidation, she had finally opened his envelope. To find the train ticket tucked away inside. Wrapped in a crisp sheet of Commerce Bank stationary bearing the notation "John Hutchins, Junior Clerk".
Notes: To all my readers who are currently mired in one of the harshest winters on record and who may be in need of a small respite. Also, with apologies to the Allman Brothers and their great song "Nobody Left To Run With". Finally, the Florida Department of Tourism did not pay me money to write this. I wish they had. ML
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Oh so long for this night I prayed
That a star would guide you my way
To share with me this special day
Where a ribbon's in the sky for our love
There have been several phases of my Valentine's Day experience. The first was what I call the "little candy heart with 'kiss me' on it" phase. From about age 6 through 12. When I met and won my first girlfriend. Nell. Gave her a ring from the dime store with a little pink stone in it. She grinned so big I thought she would pop. Those forty years ago.
Then the "my stomach hurts when I see her" phase. From about 13 through, oh, 21. Then the "in a bar in the Blue Ridge Mountains learning about how not to drink vodka while the Valentine's dance is going on" phase. Definately 21 through 23.
Then the halcyon days. Champagne and roses. Barry White and The Manhattans on the stereo. And lots of Valentines. Of the grown up sort. My favorite Valentine song ever is Stevie Wonder's "Ribbon in the Sky". I send it out today for my very last, and very best, girlfriend D. And for all of your Valentines...
This is not a coincidence
And far more than a lucky chance
But what is that was always meant
Is our ribbon in the sky for our love
We cant lose with God on our side
We'll find strength in each tear we cry
From now on it will be you and I
And our ribbon in the sky
Ribbon in the sky
A ribbon in the sky for our love...
Here's to an Epic Valentine's Day to each and every one of you.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
In New Orleans!! Thanks to the amazing, fantastic, incredible, odds-beating, historic SAINTS!! Champions of American Football after defeating a mastermind and an "unstoppable" offense.
These are the best potato chips anywhere, fresh from New Orleans! You can get them here.
Underwriting Note: Zapps isn't paying me anything for this. I wish they were. ML
Sunday, February 7, 2010
It should, by now, be clear to return readers that I am not a "lets take a few laps around the pool" sort of guy. I am, however, a famous "lets go stretch out in a lounge chair by the pool with the paper and a silver pot of freshly ground, very strong black coffee" guy. The Brazilian Court has the perfect pool for just such activities...
I have written before that at the best sort of places one feels enhanced. Part of the enhancement is that at the best sort of places one tends to meet the most charming people. Both of which are certainly true of the Brazilian Court Hotel of Palm Beach. This is a place where you dig out the crinkled, seersucker trousers and the double breasted navy blazer with plenty of gold buttons. Where you go to live, or re-live, a little. This inviting, well-run and vastly restorative hideaway comes with the highest Epic recommendation.