Monthly Archives: July 2008

The Need for More Black Narratives

In the latest American Scholar, published by the Phi Beta Kappa Society (I am not a member), Charles Johnson, the author of The Middle Passage, talks about the need for more diversity in narratives of what it means to be black in America.

When compared with black lives at the dawn of the 21st century, and 40 years after the watershed events of the Civil Rights Movement, many of Du Bois’ remarks now sound ironic, for all the impossible things he spoke of in 1926 are realities today. We are “full-fledged Americans, with the rights of American citizens.” We do have “plenty of good hard work” and live in a society where “men create, where they realize themselves and where they enjoy life.” Even more ironic is the fact that some of our famous rappers and athletes who like “living large,” as they say, seem obsessed with what Du Bois derisively called “the tawdry and flamboyant” (they call it “bling”). Furthermore, some of us do use the freedom paid for with the blood of our ancestors to pursue conspicuous consumption in the form of “powerful motor cars,” “elaborate estates,” “striking clothes,” and “the richest dinners.”

To put this another way, we can say that 40 years after the epic battles for specific civil rights in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, after two monumental and historic legislative triumphs—the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965—and after three decades of affirmative action that led to the creation of a true black middle class (and not the false one E. Franklin Frazier described in his classic 1957 study, Black Bourgeoisie), a people oppressed for so long have finally become, as writer Reginald McKnight once put it, “as polymorphous as the dance of Shiva.” Black Americans have been CEOs at AOL Time Warner, American Express, and Merrill Lynch; we have served as secretary of state and White House national security adviser. Well over 10,000 black Americans have been elected to offices around the country, and at this moment Senator Barack Obama holds us in suspense with the possibility that he may be selected as the Democratic Party’s first biracial, black American candidate for president. We have been mayors, police chiefs, best-selling authors, MacArthur fellows, Nobel laureates, Ivy League professors, billionaires, scientists, stockbrokers, engineers, theoretical physicists, toy makers, inventors, astronauts, chess grandmasters, dot-com millionaires, actors, Hollywood film directors, and talk show hosts (the most prominent among them being Oprah Winfrey, who recently signed a deal to acquire her own network); we are Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists (as I am). And we are not culturally homogeneous. When I last looked, West Indians constituted 48 percent of the “black” population in Miami. In America’s major cities, 15 percent of the black American population is foreign born—Haitian, Jamaican, Senegalese, Nigerian, Cape Verdean, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Somalian—a rich tapestry of brown-skinned people as culturally complex in their differences, backgrounds, and outlooks as those people lumped together under the all too convenient labels of “Asian” or “European.” Many of them are doing better—in school and business—than native-born black Americans. I think often of something said by Mary Andom, an Eritrean student at Western Washington University, and quoted in an article published in 2003 in The Seattle Times: “I don’t know about ‘chitlings’ or ‘grits.’ I don’t listen to soul music artists such as Marvin Gaye or Aretha Franklin…. I grew up eating injera and listening to Tigrinya music…. After school, I cook the traditional coffee, called boun, by hand for my mother. It is a tradition shared amongst mother and daughter.”

No matter which angle we use to view black people in America today, we find them to be a complex and multifaceted people who defy easy categorization. We challenge, culturally and politically, an old group narrative that fails at the beginning of this new century to capture even a fraction of our rich diversity and heterogeneity.

via A&L Daily

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Battling Militias in Defeated Austria

From: Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, From the Great War to the War on Terror, by Michael Burleigh (HarperCollins, 2007), pp. 142-146:

Another European state to receive the Vatican’s blessing was the ‘State of Estates’ – or ‘Standestaat’ in German – created by Engelbert Dollfuss in the ruins of the first Austrian Republic. Since the turn of the century, Austrian politics had been dominated by a clash between ‘Red Vienna’, where the atheist and militant Social Democratic Party held sway, and the provinces, where the parties that made up successive governing coalitions – that is, the Christian Socials, the Pan-Germans, and the Agrarian League – had their greatest support. In this respect, Austrian politics resembled other countries with a ‘Red’ metropolis hated by many provincials, notably Berlin and Madrid in the same period, although it is important to note that since the days of Mayor Karl Lueger the Christian Socials had support among Vienna’s petit-bourgeoisie who were drawn to his demagogic antisemitism, antiliberalism and deference towards the Catholic Church. The intellectual and political leadership of the Party was also based in the capital….

Both the Christian Socials and the Social Democrats had large paramilitary armies, which were soon augmented by the strong-arm groups of the Austrian National Socialists. The Christian Socials (and in some places the Pan-Germans) were close to many of the regionally based ‘home defence groups’, or Heimwehren, originally established after the war to protect villages from looters and deserters. These had evolved into a strike-breaking force financed by the employers and armed by the Italians and Hungarians. In the Korneuburg Oath, which they swore in May 1930, the Heimwehr leaders resolved to replace democratic government with an authoritarian corporative system modelled on the ideas of the political economist Othmar Spann. In 1923 the Social Democrats formed their own Schutzbund, after the Heimwehr had crushed a strike in Styria. The nature of the problem faced by the state becomes clear from the fact that its army of thirty thousand men faced sixty thousand members of the Heimwehr and ninety thousand equally well-armed members of the Schutzbund. In 1927, following the acquittal of Heimwehr men accused of murdering socialists, the latter stormed and set fire to the Courts of Justice during three days of rioting. The Heimwehr threatened a Fascist-style March on Vienna. Austria’s domestic disturbances were intensified by the obtuseness of France and the Little Entente in blocking a customs union with Germany.

In May 1932 Engelbert Dollfuss, an able peasant boy and war hero who had risen to be agriculture and justice minister, was appointed chancellor. At thirty-nine he was Europe’s youngest head of government; at four feet eleven inches he was also the slightest in stature. Dollfuss immediately negotiated a foreign loan of 300 million Schillings, only to find that the Pan-Germans voted against it, on the ground that renunciation of union with Germany was among the loan’s conditions, while the Social Democrats also refused to support the government out of doctrinaire bloody-mindedness. He achieved a narrow majority only by bringing Heimwehr leaders into his cabinet…. Dollfuss turned to Italy and the Vatican for external support against Hitler…. Rather than relying for mass support on the Christian Socials, on 20 May 1933 Dollfuss established a new Fatherland Front, which was supposed to absorb all existing right-wing potential into one governing party, along the lines already essayed by Primo de Rivera in Spain and Piłsudski in Poland in the 1920s and by Salazar in the 1930s.

The regime faced two challenges: one from the left, which it won, and another from the Nazi ‘brown Bolsheviks’, which it eventually lost. In February 1934, the Heimwehr arrested Schutzbund leaders and expelled representatives of democratic parties from provincial diets. In Linz, the Social Democrats decided to fight back, and met police incursions into their headquarters with machine-gun fire. In Vienna, the socialist leadership dithered so that the general strike they declared was imperfectly implemented against a regime that was well prepared for just this eventuality. Martial law was proclaimed while Heimwehr troops surrounded working-class suburbs. A full-scale shooting war ensued, with artillery and tanks firing into housing projects with such resonant names as ‘Bebelhof’, ‘Liebknechthof’ and ‘Karl-Marx-Hof’. One hundred and ninety-six workers were killed and 319 wounded, with 118 dead and 486 wounded on the government side. The government banned the Social Democrat Party and neutralised the trades unions by subsuming them into its own corporatist entities. Socialists were expelled from the national and provincial civil service. Courts martial were used to sentence twenty-one people to death – one of the nine eventually executed being taken to the gallows on a stretcher. Even Hitler managed briefly to occupy the moral high ground when he condemned ‘the criminal stupidity of letting people shoot down socialist workers, women and children’. The Vatican secretary of state, Pacelli, intervened in vain on behalf of those sentenced to death.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Nebaneba Land

Start of the Philosopher's Walk (Tetsugaku no michi) near Ginkakuji, Kyoto, JapanI started my second day in Kyoto by taking an early bus to Ginkakuji-guchi, near where I used to live as a kid, then taking the Philosopher’s Walk (哲学の道 tetsugaku no michi) along a ditch above my old neighborhood, most of which has long since been torn down and rebuilt enough to be almost unrecognizable. But when my rechargeable lithium-ion camera battery gave out unexpectedly about 8:30 a.m., I wasted the rest of the morning running errands. First, I tried to find somewhere to recharge (再充電 saijuuden) or replace it. I had to wait until Bikku Kamera at Kyoto Station opened at 10 a.m. to find that (a) they couldn’t recharge it for me, and (b) if I bought a replacement battery, it would have to be charged before use. And they didn’t have any disposable (使い切り tsukaikiri lit. ‘using-up’) digital cameras I could buy. And I had to check out of my hotel before 10 a.m., so I had a full backpack to schlep around, too.

So I gave up taking more pictures and went shopping to replace my overstuffed backpack (ryukkusakku), which had begun to fall apart the previous day on Mt. Hiei. (I had inherited it from my daughter when she upgraded hers after junior high school—nearly a decade ago!) The Isetan department store at the train station had poor selection and high prices, so I headed to Daimaru in midtown, where I still paid more than I wanted to. The helpful sales clerk asked me if I wanted to transfer everything into the new pack (詰め替える tsumekaeru ‘stuff-exchange’) right there (詰め込み教育 tsumekomi kyouiku is education that stresses cramming facts, rote learning). But I wanted to do it over a leisurely and refreshing lunch, so I began hunting for a likely place to eat.

I found the right spot along Nishiki-koji Food Market, a narrow, covered street parallel to Shijo-dori where you can find all sorts of Kyoto specialties. Genzou (元蔵) drew me in with a sign that offered cold nebaneba-bukkake-udon ‘sticky-topping-udon’: noodles in broth topped with slimy natto (fermented soybeans), okra, tororo (grated yam), seaweed (a bit like mozuku), and a runny soft-boiled egg. Sticky food is supposed to give you quick energy on a hot day, and this one served me well. Of course, I also had to sample a few other local kushi-katsu (‘breaded kebab’) seasonal specialties, like 穴子 (anago ‘conger eel’), 鱧 (hamo ‘pike eel’), 賀茂 (= 鴨 ‘Duck’, the name of the main river) Kamo nasubi ‘Kamo eggplant’, and 小柱 kobashira lit. ‘small pillars’, which looked like small scallops (帆立の貝柱 hotate no kaibashira) but were the adductor muscles of a smaller round clam, also called bakagai.

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German/Austrian Catholics vs. Nazis, 1930

From: Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, From the Great War to the War on Terror, by Michael Burleigh (HarperCollins, 2007), pp. 170-171:

Both the Austrian and German Catholic bishops were more condemnatory of Nazism than may be popularly realised. In 1929, bishop Johannes Gföllner of Linz warned the faithful against the ‘false prophets’ of Nazism: ‘Close your ears and do not join their associations, close your doors and do not let their newspapers into your homes, close your hands and do not support their endeavours in elections’ being as unequivocal as one could reasonably expect, although it was not incompatible with his advocacy of ‘ethical antisemitism’. The Austrian Catholic newspaper Volkswohl even parodied life in a future Nazi state in a manner that seems extraordinarily prescient. Every newborn baby’s hereditary history would be checked by a Racial-Hygienic Institute; the unfit or sickly would be sterilised or killed; dedicated ‘Aryan’ Catholics would be persecuted: ‘The demonic cries out from this movement; masses of the tempted go to their doom under Satan’s sun. If we Catholics want to save ourselves, then it can never be in a pact with these forces.’

The German bishops were similarly condemnatory of National Socialism when in 1930 the Nazis broke through the ceiling that separated a marginal sect with less than 3 per cent of the vote from a mass political party. Adolf Bertram of Breslau warned Catholics in 1930 against the Nazis’ radicalism, ‘racist madness’ and their schemes for a single supra-confessional ‘national Church’. The archbishop of Mainz went further, by declaring that Nazism and Catholicism were simply irreconcilable:

The Christian moral law is founded on love of our neighbour . National Socialist writers do not accept this commandment in the sense taught by Christ; they preach too much respect for the Germanic race and too little respect for foreign races. For many of them what begins as mere lack of respect, ends up as full-blown hatred of foreign races, which is unChristian and unCatholic. Moreover the Christian moral law is universal and valid for all times and races; so there is a gross error in requiring that the Christian faith be suited to the moral sentiments of the Germanic race.

The provinces of Cologne, Upper Rhine and Paderborn warned clergy to have nothing to do with the Nazis, and threatened the leaders of parties that were hostile to Christianity with denial of the sacraments. The Bavarian bishops banned Nazi formations from attending funerals or services with banners and in uniform, while condemning both Nazi racism and their eugenic contempt for unborn life.

The statements of these bishops so shocked the Nazis that Göring was despatched to Rome to smooth things over. Since Pius XI instructed Pacelli not to meet him, Göring had to vent his grievances against the Catholic Church on Pacelli’s under-secretary. His approach was to combine defence with attack, the latter diplomatically couched as ‘regrets’, such as the claim that many of the priests who belonged to the Centre Party were attacking Nazism in private. At the same time he disowned the writings of Rosenberg. Interestingly, as a prominent and sincere Protestant, who had married his wife Emmy in a Lutheran ceremony and whose daughter Eda underwent a Lutheran baptism, Göring tried to justify Nazi racism with reference to the theology of orders of creation, ‘for races had been willed by God’. He contrasted the silence of the Lutheran Churches with the ‘attacks’ the Party had received from the Catholic clergy, warning that the Nazis would defend themselves.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Kuhi, Ayu, Ukai

Our spirits were sagging after a long spell in the steamy, body-temperature heat of Gifu, Japan, during last week’s day trip there from Nagoya. We had arrived in Gifu on an early train, then walked 3 km through still-empty side streets to the cormorant-fishing area near the base of Mt. Kinka, site of Gifu Castle. We spent the morning taking the ropeway to the top, having a look around, then walking down the so-called 100-bend (百曲 hyaku-magari) trail, said to be shorter than the 7-bend trail that started from the same spot at the top. The trail proved to be not only much steeper and rougher, but also more twisted than we had expected. The last 35 bends from the bottom were marked with milestones and signs that counted down from 35 out of 135, rather than 100. We arrived at the bottom overheated and soaked with sweat.

We cooled off in the air conditioning of the wonderful Nawa Insect Museum, founded in 1919 by a Japanese entomologist from Gifu, Yasushi Nawa, who discovered what is now called the Gifu Butterfly, Luehdorfia japonica. Cormorant fishing would not start until nightfall, so we spent much of the afternoon relaxing in two hotel lobbies that overlooked the Nagara River, first the bland new Park Hotel, then the more storied 十八楼 (juuhachi-rou ’18-storey’) hotel.

Nawa Insect Museum sign, Gifu, Japan

句碑 kuhi ‘verse monument’ – On the far side of the lobby, we found a bench by the window looking directly onto a stone monument in a tiny garden beside a low flood wall bordering the river. We were well into our beers, served in bottles with stoneware goblets, when I noticed a small plaque by the window that explained the significance of the monument, into which had been carved a replica of a verse that the famous traveling poet Bashō was said to have composed on that very spot in 1688. The term for such a monument is kuhi: the ku is the same as in haiku (俳句), while the hi can be read in native Japanese as tateishi ‘standing stone’ or ishibumi ‘stone writing’. The monument itself was not erected until much later, during the late Tokugawa period.

Haiku by Basho at the Nagara River, Gifu, JapanThough my opinion matters little, the verse itself does not strike me as Bashō’s best work. The 5-8-5 – rather than 5-7-5 – syllable (or mora) structure is not that important. The haiku tradition was much less rigid in its early days, and Bashō was one of its principal creators. But that verse monument certainly did lend a certain caché to an otherwise unremarkable hotel lobby overlooking a cool river on a hot day. (Of course, the taste of the 啤酒 [Ch. pijiu ‘beer’] also made a vital contribution to all that was refreshing about that spot at that moment.)

このあたり 目に見ゆるものは 皆凉し
kono atari / me ni miyuru mono wa / mina suzushi
this spot / things the eye beholds / all is cool
(= in this place all that meets the eye is cool)

ayu ‘sweetfish’ – Both the cormorants and the humans of Gifu eat a lot of ayu ‘sweetfish’ from the Nagara River. So we rewarded ourselves for a grueling day by eating dinner at a nice restaurant that specialized in ayu, the Kawaramachi Izumiya. We ordered the shortest multicourse dinner and a small bottle of a local sake named 三千盛, which means ‘3,000 peak/prime/zenith’ but sounds like michi sakari ‘the highest point on the road’. The appetizer (前菜 zensai) course included a pungent bit of fish that resembled anchovy, some tiny pickled ayu, and a more subtly fish-flavored breadstick along with some vegetables. Next came a smelt-sized ayu broiled on a skewer, to be eaten whole, from head to tail. The tempura course featured ayu and vegetables, with a salt mixture rather than sauce (dashi) to dip them in. The ayu porridge (zōsui) course also featured a tiny fish steak wrapped in kelp, cabbage pickles, and pickled red turnip (aka kabu). The dessert course was a slightly savory sorbet flavored with mountain vegetables (sansai, 山菜). It was a memorable meal, and much better than what we would have been able to take or buy aboard the riverboat.

Statue of fisherman and cormorant, Gifu, Japan鵜飼 ukai ‘cormorant feeding’ – The actual exhibition of cormorant fishing involved a lot of waiting around interspersed with bits of verbal and video orientation. The word ukai literally means ‘cormorant feeding/raising’, not ‘fishing’. Despite being leashed to prevent them swallowing large fish, the birds do manage to swallow the smallest fish. On the night we attended, the catch itself was not all that impressive. After the exhibition, we were quizzed a bit by a Canadian photographer aboard our boat who was doing a magazine article on cormorant fishing. He was concerned with the animal cruelty angle, but it seems to me that most city people from developed countries have lost touch with the concept of animals as coworkers, and are only able to view animals as pets—as pampered dependents, not working dependents.

UPDATE: The same word for ‘feeding/raising’ (飼い) occurred in a sign imploring citizens to pick up after their dogs and not let them ‘run loose’ (放し飼い hanashigai ‘loose-raise’).

UPDATE 2: Doc Rock quotes another fitting haiku by Onitsura (鬼貫) that I like better than the one Bashō is famous for in Gifu. It’s more visual and kinetic. Here’s Onitsura’s verse, my transliteration, and Donald Keene’s translation.
夕暮は鮎の腹見る川瀬かな
Yuugure wa / ayu no hara miru / kawase kana
At the close of day / you see sweetfish bellies / in the river shallows

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Another Milestone, Another Rest Stop

I have now uploaded over 1,000 photos to my Flickr account, which I started over two years ago while on sabbatical in Japan. Now I’m headed back to Japan for one week of vacation, to Nagoya, where I might get the chance to attend a bit of the sumo tournament now underway there. I’ll also make a side trip to my old stomping ground in Kyoto, from my elementary school years there half a century ago. I recently managed by chance to get in touch with one of my elementary school classmates I haven’t seen in half a century. He was the son of an eccentric English bibliophile of some renown, not a missionary kid like most of my other classmates.

These days I’m spending more time posting photos on Flickr, and adding or refining content on Wikipedia, than posting text on this blog. In all three venues my approach is much more documentarian than artistic. Nearly everything turns into a little research project. That’s what keeps it fun for me.

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Lankov on the Origins of Commercialized Prostitution in Korea

In my reduced blog-reading of late, I’ve been a little slow to note an interesting take, by Andrei Lankov in the Korea Times, on the origins of what is now a highly developed industry in Korea (and elsewhere, in both supply and demand): commercialized prostitution.

Traditionally, most East Asian countries have had few scruples with regard to extramarital sex as far as males were concerned, but before 1900, Japan was remarkable in the development of commercial prostitution on a grand scale.

In this regard it was different from Korea, where in old times only the rich and famous could afford to buy expensive sexual services from gisaeng girls, while the “low orders” usually had no access to commercial sex whatsoever.

The Korean nationalists love to stress this fact, explaining it as another indication of the alleged “spiritual purity” of Koreans. Well, less lofty explanations are more likely, but it is difficult to deny that the large-scale prostitution industry was created by the Japanese presence.

In the 1850s, Japan was “opened” to the world, but for decades afterward it remained a very poor place, so “export-oriented” prostitution became a major industry there.

The Japanese working girls, known as “karayuki-san” (“those going overseas”), plied their trade across Asia, from Sydney to Vladivostok, from Shanghai to Singapore, usually supervised by Japanese brothel owners.

A Japanese prostitute and brothel remained ubiquitous components of urban life in the Asia-Pacific for the decades between 1870 and 1920, and remittances from these girls, who duly sent their earnings back home, were said to be the third biggest foreign currency earner for Japan at the turn of the 20th century.

Of course, neighboring Korea became one of the areas where Japanese prostitution flourished. Contrary to the now common misperception, typical commercial sexual encounters in Korea before 1900 did not involve a poor Korean girl serving some lusty Japanese male.

If anything, the situation in which a Korean male purchased sex from a Japanese female was probably more common. Until the 1910s, the vast majority of prostitutes operating in the country were Japanese.

Koreans may want to blame Japan for commercializing prostitution in Korea, but Japan can hardly be blamed for the growth of prostitution everywhere else in East, Southeast, and South Asia, except insofar as it led the way in creating a model of economic growth that spread the wealth beyond a narrow elite.

via The Marmot

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Ichiro’s “English for Special Purposes”

On top of his fine analytical and motor skills on the baseball field, Ichiro seems to possess the motivational skills necessary to manage an American baseball team, or so reports Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, who credits Ichiro’s motivational speeches for the American League’s string of wins in recent All-Star Games. Look for him to manage, say, the Chicago White Sox after he retires from playing.

“It’s why we win,” David Ortiz said.

He pointed to Ichiro Suzuki, the Seattle Mariners’ wisp of an outfielder, a man who still uses a translator to do interviews with English-speaking reporters – and happens to be baseball’s amalgam of Anthony Robbins and George Carlin. Every year, after the AL manager addresses his team, Ichiro bursts from his locker, a bundle of kinetic energy, and proceeds, in English, to disparage the National League with an H-bomb of F-bombs, stunning first-timers who had no idea Ichiro speaks the queen’s language fluently and making returnees happy that they had played well enough to see the pep talk again.

The tradition began in 2001, Ichiro’s first All-Star appearance, and the AL hasn’t lost a game since. Coincidence?

Um. No.

“I know how important it is to the game,” Ichiro said. “I’m more concentrated at that moment than I am in the game.”

A wide grin spread across his face. Ichiro’s secret had been exposed, so, hey, why not have fun with it?

He crafts his public portrayal similar to the image he projects on the field: a technician, a warrior, a Ph.D. in stoicism. In reality, Ichiro’s All-Star teammates love him for his wicked sense of humor and sly deceit, shown with a vocabulary far more expansive than he leads on.

All the first baseman around the AL know Ichiro speaks English, singles accounting for 1,393 of his 1,711 hits since joining Seattle in 2001. Generally, the conversation doesn’t move much past pleasantries, which makes the speech all the more shocking.

via Daniel Drezner

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Baciu on Writing a “Double Autobiography”

From Mira, by Stefan Baciu (Editura Mele, 1979), pp. v-vii (my translation):

Here is a book that I never in my whole life would have thought to write, or if I had ever thought to write it, I would have imagined something completely different from that which was imposed by the cruel circumstances I lived through from August 1977.

It was a warm night in Assisi, in Italy, where we had gone on a kind of pilgrimage, arriving from Cascia, which we had visited so that Mira could thank Santa Rita, the patron saint of impossible tasks, when I was awakened by the cries of pain from Mira, who always took great care not to “disturb” me. In the course of the events I relate in this book, it will be seen what began to happen from that night in Assisi, and if I refer back to it, it is only to express my conviction that her illness began from that time—and that place, even though four full months plodded by until, in Honolulu, the worst came to pass in all its horror.

No matter how paradoxical it may seem at first glance, this book is very much autobiographical, because from the moment we first got to know each other, in Bucharest in 1941, our lives have united to such an extant that I am unable to separate them.

I write these words after finishing the last page of a work of daily labor over a period of five months, at my worktable in Honolulu, in the house in which we lived from 1967, where Mira installed me in the quietest and most picturesque corner, so that I would have, in her words, “the one place where no one disturbs you.” Inasmuch as I have published since 1946 books written directly in German, Portuguese, and Spanish, I found after I had started this task, that the words I had committed to paper wrote themselves in Romanian, and of course I asked, “Why?”

I did not have to look far for the answer, because it arrived on its own: the pages that follow were written alone, dictated by Mira, with whom I always spoke Romanian, even when we were trying one or two days a week to speak Portuguese, which was—and is—second only to Romanian for us.

I began to write this “double autobiography” at the beginning of August 1978, and only a few days after I had begun to work, I realized that a month had passed since Mira left me, and I wanted her to remain with me—forever. If I had tried to write these words in Spanish or in Portuguese, many of the thoughts and deeds that I was transcribing would not have been written, or would have been written differently, for the good reason that Mira would not have dictated them to me thus, in those languages.

Throughout the final years, every time we talked about my work projects, Mira would tell me, and repeat with insistence, that my “mission” was to write my memoirs, which at her suggestion I entitled (for the years in Romania, 1918–1946) “Dust on the Drum,” a title inspired by my bohemian jeunesse at the Mercury, hearing the words of my “Uncle” Nicu Theodoru-Chibrit, a mythological figure, today, from a past even more mythological. During the summers, when I stayed alone in Honolulu instead of accompanying her on pilgrimages through Greece, Italy, and France, I would fill notebook after notebook of “Dust on the Drum,” work that served as a kind of extenuating circumstance every time she criticized my absence.

Books of memories and books of poetry, such pages cannot be written except in the language in which they were lived, dreamed, and endured. It falls on me to be the stenographer of our love and tragedy, just as I’ve reached 60, on the date Mira would enjoy so much, without being able to foresee that we would not be destined to spend that day together, and that I, “exiled alone on the other shore” in the words of my old friend, the symbolist poet Eugeniu Sperantia, would be forced, even on this day, to be the chronicler of my own misfortune.

Our life together was fundamentally, as they told me so often, 37 years of happiness, even if that happiness was overshadowed more than a few times by hurt and sometimes by illness. If I weigh it here and now, at the end of this ill-fated 1978, I find that sickness and pain were way stations on a long journey, too short, nonetheless, that started on a boulevard in Bucharest and ended on a bed in a convalescent hospital on an island in the Sandwich Archipelago.

Often, when we used to travel by train or by car from Bucharest to Brasov, passing through Câmpina, I thought that we should get off to see the “castle” of Hasdeu, where the bearded savant, the poet full of spirit and the pamphleteer full of vigor, buried his pain, seeking a pathway to the stars. Oh, how many times these days have I envied Hasdeu for his castle in Câmpina, where I know that he “spoke” with his Julia! Sitting on the terrace of our house in Honolulu, from which for so many tens and hundreds of hours we watched together the unparalleled sunsets over the Pacific, a fascinating and winning spectacle, I wish I could, like Hasdeu, talk with Her. It was for that reason that, more than once, I climbed the steps at night that lead from her room onto the terrace, expecting to meet her sitting in her armchair. to see her, or to hear her talk to me! It was not to happen!

It was still two days before Christmas when I visited the cemetery in Makiki where Mira sleeps the eternal sleep alongside the “Nightingale of the Pacific,” Lena Machado. I fastened onto a tropical plant, using a safety pin, the little parchment on which were depicted two wanderers with fur hats and sheepskin cloaks holding up a star, in order to fulfill the wish of her cousin, Ligia, and I thought that the day, or night, may nevertheless come when Mira will come talk with me or tell me something.

Until then, I can do nothing but await these secret dictations, which—alas—are about to end, as the year ends. Nothing remains in her life, in our life, not an episode that will not be relayed with full sincerity and honesty.

Starting life, against her innermost desires, as a pharmacist, Mira was by nature gifted with an extraordinary literary and artistic sensitivity, which sooner or later revealed itself, line by line, in poetry and in prose, in critical research and in teaching. Already near the end of her earthly cycle, she exploded with a richness that amazed everyone, in painting with a force that I regarded, and still regard, as sleepwalking. It lasted just eight months, from April to November 1978.

I do not know if these pages constitute a biography, a love story, or an adventure novel, but I know that they contain not a line, not a word that is not absolutely, precisely the truth. I had for almost four decades the privilege of knowing her and loving her and sharing with her day by day, night by night, moment by moment, bread and water, tears and pain, smiles and happiness. I was, in Bucharest, in Râmnicu Vâlcea, in Brasov, the escort who accompanied her on the most unexpected trails, to Bern and to Lugano, in Senegal and in Honduras, up the Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro and the Grand Canyon of Kauai.

Her disappearance has left me a widower and an orphan and I know that from now on, however life turns out, neither the bread nor the water nor the pain nor the tears will any longer—ever—be the same, that the days without Her will not have the same color or the same flavor.

I cannot entitle this book anything but “Mira,” even though a more fitting title might be found in the German “als wärs ein Stück von mir,” from the ballad of Uhland about “the good comrade” who, struck down by a bullet on the battlefield, falls at the feet of the one who survives “as if it were a piece of myself.” However, those words were borrowed earlier by a German memorialist, the playwright Karl Zuckmayer. On top of that, how would a title in German really sit with Mira, who, wherever and however she might present herself, was always Mira from Râmnicu Vâlcea or “the lass from the Olt” [River], as she wrote me on a photograph on the day she was naturalized as a citizen of the United States?

Of all the books that I have written in 45 years, this one is the most painful and the loftiest, because apart from being Mira’s book, it is at the same time, her life and mine, our life.

Honolulu, 24 December 1978, the first Christmas without Her

NOTES: My ‘cries of pain’ renders vaietele de durere (vai ‘alas, woe’, as in oy vey); ‘arrived on its own’ renders a venit de la sine; ‘bohemian jeunesse’ renders juneţea boemă (usu. junime); ‘Dust on the Drum’ renders Praful de pe tobă; ‘uncle’ renders nea (= nene); ‘more than a few times’ renders nu rareori (lit. ‘not rarely’); ‘way stations’ renders staţii pasagere; Câmpina was formerly a customs point between Transylvania and Wallachia; Hasdeu was a spiritist/spiritualist, as well as a noted historian and philologist; ‘the eternal sleep’ renders somnul de veci (lit. ‘sleep of centuries’); ‘with fur hats and sheepskin cloaks’ renders cu căciula şi suman (the traditional dress of Romanian shepherds); ‘in teaching’ renders în docenţă; ‘however life turns out’ renders oricum ar fi să fie viaţa; ‘the lass from the Olt’ renders lelea de pe Olt (the meaning of lele ranges from ‘sister, aunt’ to ‘libertine, whore’).

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Sudan’s Second Civil War, 1980s

From The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, by Martin Meredith (PublicAffairs, 2005), pp. 358-360:

As in the case of Chad, Sudan’s second civil war drew in an array of foreign players. Mengistu‘s regime in Ethiopia supported the cause of the southern Sudanese in retaliation for Khartoum’s support for Eritrean secessionists and Tigrayan rebels. In Libya, Gaddafi, who had once supported the Eritreans but who switched sides when Mengistu came to power, joined Mengistu in supporting the southern Sudanese. Numeiri meanwhile supported an anti-Gaddafi Libyan group, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, which set up offices in Khartoum in 1981 and broadcast propaganda programmes attacking Gaddafi. Numeiri also gave assistance to anti-Gaddafi groups from Chad. The United States, for its part, despite the repression Numeiri unleashed in southern Sudan, invested heavily in his regime to bolster him as a counter-weight to Gaddafi and Mengistu, both of whom it regarded as pro-Soviet activists; US assistance to Numeiri totalled $1.5 billion.

With American support, Numeiri was confident he could deal with any threat posed by rebels in the south. But he was beset by a host of other difficulties. Hoping to establish Sudan as the ‘breadbasket’ of the Middle East, Numeiri had encouraged massive investment in mechanised agriculture, but the overall result was a decline in agricultural production and a foreign debt of $12 billion that Sudan had no means of repaying. When drought struck in 1983 and again in 1984, causing mass hunger, Numeiri, like Mengistu in Ethiopia, ignored the consequences, desperately trying to avoid jeopardising Sudan’s image as a suitable destination for agricultural investment. Only after an estimated quarter of a million people had died was he prevailed upon to take action. Forced by foreign creditors to accept austerity measures, Numeiri found his grip on power slipping. Shortages, inflation, unemployment, deteriorating social services and rampant corruption caused widespread discontent. The famine itself provided a rallying point for organised protest. A coalition of trade unions and professional groups, including lawyers, doctors and civil servants, led the opposition. When urban strikes, riots and demonstrations erupted, not even the army was willing to stand by Numeiri. In April 1985, after sixteen years in power, he was overthrown.

An election in 1986 brought to power northern politicians fully committed to the establishment of an Islamic state. As prime minister, Sadiq al-Mahdi, the leader of the Umma Party, pronounced himself in favour of ‘the full citizen, human and religious rights’ of non-Muslims. But he also declared: ‘Non-Muslims can ask us to protect their rights – and we will do that – but that’s all they can ask. We wish to establish Islam as the source of law in Sudan because Sudan has a Muslim majority.’ The sharia code introduced by Numeiri in 1983 remained in force.

Under Sadiq’s regime the north experienced many of the benefits of liberal democracy – parliamentary debate, a vigorous press, an independent judiciary, active trade unions and professional associations. But for the south there was unrelenting warfare. The SPLM refused to accept a ceasefire or to take part in the election, demanding a constitutional convention. Sadiq responded by arming Baggara Arab militias in western Sudan – murahalin – licensing them to raid and plunder at will in the Dinka and Nuer areas of Bahr-al-Ghazal, just as their forefathers had done in the nineteenth century. Dinka and Nuer villages were attacked and burned, their livestock stolen, their wells poisoned; men, women and children were killed or abducted and taken back to the north where they were traded or kept as slaves. Atrocities were commonplace. In revenge for an SPLM attack on a Rizeigat militia group in March 1987, Rizeigat survivors attacked Dinka men, women and children in the town of Al Diein in southern Darfur, setting fire to six railway carriages where they were sheltering, killing more than 1,000; those who were not burned to death were stabbed and shot as they tried to escape. A report on the massacre, written by two Muslim academics at the University of Khartoum, blamed the killing on the government. ‘Government policy has produced distortions in the Rizeigat community such as banditry and slavery, which interacted with social conflicts in Diein to generate a massacre psychosis … Armed banditry, involving the killing of Dinka villagers, has become a regular activity for the government-sponsored militia.’ Rizeigat militias, they said, made a practice of selling Dinka women and children to Arab families for use as servants, farm workers and sex slaves. ‘All this is practised with the full knowledge of the government.’

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