Category Archives: religion

Status of Jews in Moldavia, 1934

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 149-151:

These hostile feelings were much more deeply rooted in the north, where the Jewish population had increased from about two thousand families to close on a million in a hundred and thirty years, most of them in flight from the appalling conditions in Poland and the Russian Pale, until in several large Moldavian towns, including Yassy, the Moldavian capital, they now outnumbered the Rumanian inhabitants and monopolized the commerce of the province. Small wonder that this indigestible explosion of people caused dismay, resentment and hostility among the inhabitants; there was nothing comparable here to the harmonious and long established position of the polished and much less numerous Sephardim of the Ottoman world; small wonder, too, that the Jews, denied full citizenship and with nearly every route to advancement or honour denied to them, should expand and excel in the only field that was not barred by prejudice. The remote principality in which they suddenly began to proliferate had no middle class; rural society knew nothing between the mediaeval feudalism of landowners – the great and the lesser boyars, many of whom seldom set foot on their accumulations of acres – and a vast and callously exploited peasantry. There was no urban middle class, and, in Moldavia especially, as the country expanded, the Jewish population became a semi-alien bourgeoisie of middlemen and retailers.

Everyone reluctantly admitted that the Jews were honest in their dealings, however ruthless, and faithful to their agreements. I also noticed that nearly everyone, however ill-disposed in general, had one Jewish friend who ‘was not like the others’, an array of exemptions that must have added up to an imposing total. It was only on later travels in Moldavia and Bukovina that I got to know, talk to and even make friends with Jews not isolated in a Gentile majority. Lack of any need to conform to alien ways had left their way of life absolutely intact: the long black kaftans, broad-brimmed black velvet hats, skullcaps, black, red and blond beards, corkscrew side-whiskers (like those of my host and his son in the woods of the Banat), and a Yiddish largely unalloyed by Rumanian, but embedded with Polish and Russian words as well as the Hebrew studied by the rabbis and divinity students.

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Bulgarian Monastery Hospitality, 1934

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 12-15:

St John of Rila is only surpassed in venerability by SS Cyril and Methodius, the inventors of the Cyrillic script, and by St Simeon, in Bulgarian hagiography. The great monastery that he founded near his hermitage in these lonely mountains is, in a sense, the most important religious centre in the kingdom. The church, burnt down again and again in the disturbed past of Bulgaria, was rebuilt in the last century. The poor quality of the frescoes which smothered every inch of interior wall space and the brazen proliferation of the ikonostasis was mitigated by the candlelight. The Slav liturgy of vespers boomed out by a score of black-clad and long-haired and long-bearded monks, all leaning or standing in their miserere stalls, sounded marvellous. It continued for hours. Afterwards, charitably singled out as a foreigner, I was given a little cell to myself, although the monastery was so full that villagers were sleeping out with their bundles all over the yard and under the trees. Many more arrived next day and the inside of the church virtually seized up with the pious multitude. There were an archbishop and several bishops and archimandrites besides the abbot and his retinue. They officiated in copes as stiff and brilliant as beetles’ wings, and the higher clergy, coiffed with globular gold mitres the size of pumpkins and glistening with gems, leaned on croziers topped with twin coiling snakes. They evolved and chanted in aromatic clouds of smoke diagonally pierced by sun shafts. When all was over, a compact crocodile of votaries shuffled its way round the church to kiss St Ivan’s ikon and his thaumaturgic hand, black now as a briar root, inside its jewelled reliquary.

For the rest of the day, the glade outside the monastery was star-scattered with merrymaking pilgrims. At their heart an indefatigable ring of dancers rotated in the hora to the tune of a violin, a lute, a zither and a clarinet, ably played by Gypsies. Another Gypsy had brought his bear with him; it danced a joyless hornpipe and clapped its paws and played the tambourine to the beat of its master’s drum. A further castanet-like clashing came from an itinerant Albanian striking brass cups together, pouring out helpings of the sweetish, kvass-like boza from a spigot in a tasselled brass vessel four feet high, shaped like a mosque, its Taj Mahal dome topped by a little brass bird with wings splayed. Kebab and stuffed entrails were being grilled in culinary tabernacles as bristling with spitted and skewered meat as a shrike’s larder. Slivo and wine were reaching high tide. The lurching kalpacked villagers offered every newcomer their circular flasks of carved wood. (Elaborate woodwork plays a great part in the lives of Balkan mountaineers from the Carpathians to the Pindus in Greece, where it reaches its wildest pitch of elaboration. The same phenomenon applies to the Alps: the conjunction of harsh winters, long evenings, soft wood and sharp knives.) Under the leaves, a party of bright-aproned women sat round the feet of a shaggy bagpiper pumping out breathless pibrochs.

On the edge of this vast Balkan wassail I fell in with a party of students from Plovdiv. Like me they had come over the mountains, and were camping out. The most remarkable of these was an amusing, very pretty, fair-haired, frowning girl called Nadejda, who was studying French literature at Sofia University: a nimble hora dancer and endowed with unquenchable high spirits. She was staying on at the monastery three days to do some reading, which was exactly the length of my intended stay. We became friends at once. Apart from the stern rule of Mount Athos, women are just as welcome guests as men in most Orthodox monasteries. Bestowing hospitality seems almost the entire monastic function and the atmosphere of these cloisters is very different from the silence and recollection of abbeys in western Christendom. With its clattering hooves and constant arrivals and departures and the cheerful expansiveness of the monks, life was more like that of a castle in the Middle Ages. The planks in the tiers of galleries and catwalks were so worn and unsteady that too brisk a footfall would set the whole fabric shaking like a spider’s web. The courtyards are forever a-clatter with mules. The father Abbot, the Otetz Igoumen, a benign figure with an Olympian white beard and his locks tied in a bun like a lady out hunting, spent most of his day receiving ceremonial calls: occasions always ratified, as they are everywhere else south of the Danube, by offering a spoonful of sherbet or rose petal jam or a powdery cube of rahat loukoum, a gulp of slivo, a cup of Turkish coffee and a glass of water, to help along the formal affabilities of the visit.

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Meeting a Transylvanian Rabbi, 1934

From Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Middle Danube to the Iron Gates, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 2, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 210-213:

My interlocutors looked bewildered when I tried to explain my reasons for not staying at home. Why was I travelling? To see the world, to study, to learn languages? I wasn’t quite clear myself. Yes, some of these things, but mostly—I couldn’t think of the word at first—and when I found it—“for fun”—it didn’t sound right and their brows were still puckered. “Also, Sie treiben so herum aus Vergnügen?” The foreman shrugged his shoulders and smiled and said something in Yiddish to the others; they all laughed and I asked what it was. “Es ist a goyim naches!” they said. ‘A goyim naches,’ they explained, is something that the goyim like but which leaves Jews unmoved; any irrational or outlandish craze, a goy’s delight or gentile’s relish. It seemed to hit the nail on the head.

The initial reserve of the other dwellers in these mountains had not lasted long; nor did it here: but the Jews had other grounds for wariness. Their centuries of persecution were not ended; there had been trials for ritual murder late in the last century in Hungary and more recently in the Ukraine, and fierce deeds in Rumania and pogroms in Bessarabia and throughout the Russian Pale. Slanderous myths abounded and the dark rumours of the Elders of Zion had only been set in motion fifteen years earlier. In Germany, meanwhile, terrible omens were gathering, though how terrible none of us knew. They came into the conversation and—it seems utterly incredible now—we talked of Hitler and the Nazis as though they merely represented a dire phase of history, a sort of transitory aberration or a nightmare that might suddenly vanish, like a cloud evaporating or a bad dream. The Jews in England—a happier theme—came next: they knew much more than I, which was not hard; and Palestine. Sighs and fatalistic humour spaced out the conversation.

Everything took a different turn when scripture cropped up. The book in front of the Rabbi was the Torah, or part of it, printed in dense Hebrew black-letter that was irresistible to someone with a passion for alphabets; especially these particular letters, with their aura of magic. Laboriously I could phonetically decipher the sounds of some of the simpler words, without a glimmer of their meanings, of course, and this sign of interest gave pleasure. I showed them some of the words I had copied down in Bratislava from shops and Jewish newspapers in cafés, and the meanings, which I had forgotten, made them laugh; those biblical symbols recommended a stall for repairing umbrellas, or ‘Daniel Kisch, Koscher Würste und Salami.’ How did the Song of Miriam sound in the original, and the Song of Deborah; David’s lament for Absolom; and the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley? The moment it became clear, through my clumsy translations into German, which passage I was trying to convey, the Rabbi at once began to recite, often accompanied by his sons. Our eyes were alight; it was like a marvellous game. Next came the rivers of Babylon, and the harps hanging on the willows: this they uttered in unfaltering unison, and when they came to ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,’ the moment was extremely solemn.

By this time the other-worldly Rabbi and his sons and I were excited. Enthusiasm ran high. These passages, so famous in England, were doubly charged with meaning for them, and their emotion was infectious. They seemed astonished—touched, too—that their tribal poetry enjoyed such glory and affection in the outside world; utterly cut off, I think they had no inkling of this. A feeling of great warmth and delight had sprung up and the Rabbi kept polishing his glasses, not for use, but out of enjoyment and nervous energy, and his brother surveyed us with benevolent amusement. It got dark while we sat at the table, and when he took off the glass chimney to light the paraffin lamp, three pairs of spectacles flashed. If it had been Friday night, the Rabbi said, they would have asked me to light it; he explained about the shabbas goy. This was the Sabbath-gentile whom well-off Jews—“not like us”—employed in their houses to light fires and lamps and tie and untie knots or perform the many tasks the Law forbids on the Seventh Day. I said I was sorry it was only Thursday (the Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday) as I could have made myself useful for a change. We said good-night with laughter.

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Emblematic Attire in Transylvania, 1934

From Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Middle Danube to the Iron Gates, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 2, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 156-158:

But all along my itinerary the chief difference between country Hungarians and Rumanians had been the wide-skirted tunic or shirt, caught in by a wide belt, which the Rumanians wore outside their trousers. Both dressed in white homespun linen, but the Hungarians’ shirts always buttoned tightly at the throat; their trousers were unusually wide from the waist down and sometimes pleated, which almost gave them the look of long skirts. Gatya Hosen, István called them; these were often replaced by loose black breeches and shiny knee-boots. But here the peasants, almost to a man, wore narrow white homespun trews like tights stitched together out of felt. Across the Hungarian plain and in Transylvania, the women’s clothes had been varying all the time. Each village and valley enjoined a different assembly of colours and styles: braids, tunics, lace, ribands, goffering, ruffs, sashes, caps, kerchiefs, coifs and plaits free or coiled: a whole array of details announced whether they were betrothed, brides, married, spinsters or widows. Sometimes coifs framed these heads like spathe and spadix; among Saxons, they shot up in stiff scarlet cylinders. There were bodices, flowing or panelled sleeves, embroidery, gold coins at brow or throat or both, aprons front and back, a varying number of petticoats and skirts jutting at the hips like farthingales, and occasionally these were accompanied by coloured Russian boots. This village finery gave all gatherings a festal air, especially as the level of beauty among Hungarian and Rumanian girls was very high. Populations were inclined to remain aloof; but the more they overlapped and mingled—Magyar, Rumanian, Serb, Slovak, Saxon, Swabian and sometimes Armenian and perhaps some Ruthenes in the north—the more striking they looked. Their everyday dress was a sober version of their gala outfits; but these exploded on feast-days and at weddings in ravishing displays. Clothes were still emblematic, and not only among peasants: an expert in Rumanian and Hungarian symbols, looking at the passers-by in a market-place—a couple of soldiers, a captain in the Ros, iori [= Roșiori], an Ursuline prioress, a sister of St. Vincent de Paul, a Poor Clare, an Hasidic rabbi, an Armenian deacon, an Orthodox nun, a Uniat archimandrite, a Calvinist pastor, an Augustinian canon, a Benedictine, a Minorite friar, a Magyar nobleman, an ostrich-feathered coachman, a shrill-voiced Russian cab-driver, a bear-leading Gypsy with his spoon-carving fellow-tribesmen, a wool-carder, a blacksmith, a drover, a chimney-sweep, a woodman or a waggoner, and above all, women from a dozen villages and ploughmen and shepherds from widely scattered valleys and highlands—would have been able to reel off their provenances as swiftly as a herald glancing along the flags and surcoats of a fourteenth-century battle.

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First Impressions of Romania, 1934

From Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Middle Danube to the Iron Gates, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 2, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 87-88:

When the fog lifts, the landscape shows little change from the Great Plain I thought I had left, except for wooded hills in the distance. It was a geometrical interlock of chocolate-coloured ploughland with stripes of barley, wheat, oats, rye and maize with some tobacco and the sudden mustard flare of charlock. Clumps of trees broke it up and every few miles russet and sulphur-coloured belfries rose from shingle roofs. Each village had a rustic baroque church for the Catholics and another for the Uniats, and sometimes, though not so much hereabouts, a third for Calvinists or Lutherans; for though the Counter-Reformation had triumphed in Austria, lively and varied crops survived in Hungary and Transylvania. These churches were outwardly the same, but once indoors, the Stations of the Cross or a roodscreen encrusted with icons or the austerity of the Ten Commandments in Magyar above a Communion table gave their allegiance away at once. There were storks’ nests and sweep-wells and flocks and cattle and Gypsies on the move. I began to like buffaloes the more I saw of them; their great liquid eyes, which seemed to lose the resentment I thought I had discerned on the banks of the Tisza, now looked aswim with pathos. But there was an important difference in the people. After the last weeks of blunt Magyar faces, the features were different—or was it merely imagination and recent reading that lent them a more Latin look? I fell in with a party carrying sickles and scythes and slung babies. Their ample white homespun tunics were caught in with belts as wide as girths and sometimes covered in iron studs, and, except for those who were barefoot, they were shod in the familiar canoe-tipped moccasins and rawhide thongs. Their rank sheepskin jackets were put on smooth side out and their hats—bulbous cones of black or white fleece over a foot high—gave them a wild and rakish look. They could all understand my hard-won fragments of Magyar; but I soon felt that the language they spoke to each other would be much easier to learn. A man was om, a woman, femeie; and ochi, nas, mâna and foaie were eyes, nose, hand and leaf. They were a little puzzled at first by my pointing at everything in sight with gestures of enquiry. Dog? Ox? Cow? Horse? Câine, bou, vaca, cal! It was marvellous: homo, femina, nasus, manus, folium, canis, bos, vacca and caballus thronged through my brain in a delirious troop. Câmp was a field and fag a beech-tree (‘…quatit ungula campum!’…‘sub tegmine fagi…!’). How odd to find this Latin speech marooned so far from its kindred! The Black Sea hemmed it in to the east and Slavonic to north and south, while the west was barred by the Finno-Ugrian dactyls of the Magyars.

By late afternoon, these linguistic exchanges brought us to the little town of Ineu—‘Borosjenö’ on my pre-war map—where a market day was ending. The place was full of lowing, bleating and squealing, carts were being loaded, pens broken up and hurdles stacked. Women and girls were busy with long goads keeping troops of poultry together. Kerchiefs of different colours were knotted under their chins and pleated skirts, with embroidered aprons back and front, sprang from girdles woven in patterns of red and yellow. A few of them had scarlet boots to the knee like figures out of the Russian ballet.

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Slovak Resentments, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 295-296:

We had hardly said good-bye when a spectacled young man on a bike overtook me and dismounted, with a greeting in Slovak—‘Dobar den,’ I think, instead of ‘jo nápot kivánok’—and asked where I was going. He fell in step beside me [and we conversed in German]. He was a schoolmaster and he enlarged on the past sorrows of Slovakia. It is true that the local villages are Hungarian, but further north they are pure Slovak as far as the Polish border. They had been under the Magyars for a thousand years and always treated as an inferior race, and when any Slovak rose in the world he was promptly seduced into the lesser Magyar nobility—with the result that all local leadership evaporated. Slovak children used to be taken away from their parents and brought up as Magyars. Even when they were fighting the Austrians in defence of their nationality and language, the Hungarians were busy oppressing and Magyarizing their own Slovak subjects. The schoolmaster didn’t seem to like the Czechs much either, though this involved a different kind of resentment. The Czechs, it seems, regard the Slovaks as irredeemable bumpkins, while in Slovak eyes, the Czechs are bossy, petit bourgeois bureaucrats who take unfair advantage of their closeness to the government in Prague. The schoolmaster himself was from northern Slovakia, where—partly thanks to the Hussites, partly to the general spread of the Reformation in east Europe—much of the population is Protestant. I hadn’t realized this. It was touch and go in the Dark Ages whether the Slavs of the North became Catholic or Orthodox. Under the proselytizing influence of SS. Cyril and Methodius—the Byzantine missionaries who invented the Cyrillic script and translated the sacred writings into Old Slavonic—it could easily have been the latter. When I asked why it hadn’t, he laughed and said: “The damned Magyars came!” The link was severed, and the Czechs and Slovaks stuck to Rome and the West.

When he reached his turning he asked me to stay in his village, but I had to press on. He pedalled away with a wave. A nice man.

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Heilsarmee Hospitality in Vienna, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 196-198:

We seemed to have been walking for miles in this dim wilderness. At last, not far, I think, from the Danube Canal, we reached a quarter full of sidings and warehouses, and tramlines running over cobblestones glimmered amid dirty snow, and broken crates were scattered about. Under the lee of a steep ramp, a lighted doorway opened at the foot of a large building whose windows were bright in the murk. The policeman left me and I went in.

A large antechamber was filled with a moving swarm of tramps. Each one had a bundle; their overcoats flapped like those of scarecrows and their rags and sometimes their footgear were held together by rusty safety-pins and string. There were Guy Fawkes beards and wild or wandering eyes under torn hat brims. Many of them seemed to have known each other for years. Social greetings and gossip combined in an affable manner and a vague impulse kept them on the move in a shuffling ebb and flow.

A door opened, and a voice shouted “Hemden!”—“Shirts!”—and everyone stampeded towards the door of the next room, elbowing and barging and peeling off their upper clothes as they went. I did the same. Soon we were all naked to the waist, while a piercing unwashed smell opened above each bare torso like an umbrella. Converging wooden rails herded us in a shuffling, insolvent swarm towards a circular lamp. As each newcomer came level with it, an official took his shirt and his under-linen, and, stretching them across the lamp, which was blindingly bright and a yard in diameter, gazed searchingly. All entrants harbouring vermin were led away to be fumigated, and the rest of us, after giving our names at a desk, proceeded into a vast dormitory with a row of lamps hung high under the lofty ceiling. As I wriggled back into my shirt, the man who had taken my name and details led me to an office, saying that a Landsmann of mine had arrived that evening, called Major Brock. This sounded strange. But when we entered the office, the mystery was solved and the meaning of the word Heilsarmee as well. For on the table lay a braided and shiny-peaked black forage-cap with a maroon strawberry growing from the centre of the crown. The words ‘Salvation Army’ gleamed in gold letters on a maroon band. The other side of the table, drinking cocoa, sat a tired, grey-haired figure in steel-rimmed glasses and a frogged uniform jacket unbuttoned at the neck. He was a friendly-looking man from Chesterfield—one could tell he was from The North—and his brow was furrowed by sober piety and fatigue. Breaking his journey on a European inspection tour of Salvation Army hostels, I think he had just arrived from Italy. He was leaving next day and knew as little about events as I. Too exhausted to do much more than smile in a friendly way, he gave me a mug of cocoa and a slice of bread. When he saw how quickly they went down, a second helping appeared. I told him what I was up to—Constantinople, etc.—and he said I could stay a day or two. Then he laughed and said that I must be daft. I untied Trudi’s eggs and arranged them on his desk in a neat clutch. He said “Thanks, lad,” but looked nonplussed about what to do with them.

I lay on my camp-bed fully dressed. A dream feeling pervaded this interior; and soon the approach of sleep began to confuse the outlines of my fellow-inmates. They flitted about, grouping and re-grouping in conversation, unwinding foot-cloths and picking over tins of fag ends. One old man kept putting his boot to his ear as though he were listening to sea-sounds in a shell and each time his face lit up. The noise of talk, bursting out in squabbles or giggles on a higher note and then subsiding again to a universal collusive whisper, rippled through the place with a curious watery resonance. The groups were reduced in scale by the size and the height of the enormous room. They seemed to cluster and dissolve like Doré figures swarming and dwindling all over the nave of some bare, bright cathedral—a cathedral, moreover, so remote that it might alternatively have been a submarine or the saloon of an airship. No extraneous sound could pierce those high bare walls. To those inside them, everyday life and the dark strife of the city outside seemed equally irrelevant and far away. We were in Limbo.

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Hirohito’s War Information Sources

From Japan Runs Wild, 1942–1943, by Peter Harmsen (War in the Far East, Book 2; Casemate, 2020), Kindle pp. 81-82, 108:

At home in Japan, the defeat at Midway only sank in slowly, partly because of reluctance to lose face, and partly because of continued problems with communication and cooperation among the different services. “I did not hear of the Midway defeat till more than a month after it occurred,” Prime Minister Tōjō said after the war. Hirohito, by contrast, was informed immediately about the disastrous defeat, including the loss of the four aircraft carriers. With access to more unbiased information than perhaps any other person in his empire, he was the only one to receive reports from the chiefs of staff of both the Army and the Navy, whereas the services were usually careful not to volunteer information to each other. This placed Hirohito in his own private tragedy: fully aware of how desperate the situation was becoming, but unable to do much about it.

On December 12, Emperor Hirohito went to the Grand Shrine at Ise, a city west of Tokyo. It was one of the holiest places for the official Shintō religion, and a suitable venue for the ruler to consider the position of the nation that saw him not just as a leader but a god, and had already sustained terrible sacrifices in his name. Performing rites going back many generations, he was now staring down into an abyss darker than any of his ancestors ever had to contemplate. The night before, he had spoken with complete candor to his military aide-de-camp, Colonel Ogata Kenichi. The emperor had recounted the numerous battles that had consumed Japan for more than a decade, beginning in Manchuria, then in the rest of China and now all of the Pacific. “It is easy to start a war but hard to end it,” the dejected ruler had said.

The fall months, filled with interminable and increasingly hopeless fighting in the deep south far from Japan’s own shores, had seen Hirohito subtly change his mind about the war. The setback on the Kokoda Trail had come as a particular shock. “From the time our line along the Stanley Mountain Range in New Guinea was penetrated, I was anxious for peace, but we had a treaty with Germany against concluding a separate peace, and we could not violate an international commitment. This was the dilemma that tormented me,” Hirohito told close collaborators after the war. Even small victories could not lighten his mood. After the Santa Cruz battle, in which his warriors had sunk the Hornet, he had congratulated them in a statement, which, however, also carried a cautionary note: “We believe the war situation is critical. Officers and men, exert yourselves to even greater efforts.”

The start of the year 1942 had seen the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy in triumphant mode. As the months passed, it had begun to take on the form of an annus horribilis. However, as his view of the war turned bleaker, Hirohito decided to up the ante. Gamblers come in two categories. There are those who decide to cut their losses when their fortunes fail them, and then there are others who raise the stakes. The Japanese ruler belonged to the latter type. On the last day of the year he met with his senior commanders and agreed that the Guadalcanal operation must be called off. Instead, greater emphasis would be placed on New Guinea. Hirohito was hoping for, if not actively seeking, a big all-or-nothing battle with the Americans that could shock them, and their casualty-averse public, into agreeing to a negotiated end of the war. The year 1943 would put that notion to the test.

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Origins of the Santa Fe Railroad

From From the River to the Sea: The Untold Story of the Railroad War That Made the West, by John Sedgwick (Avid Reader / Simon & Schuster, 2021), Kindle pp. 83-85:

It no longer needed a visionary. It needed moneymen from the great capital centers of Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.

Of the three, Boston was the most railroad minded. It had been the nation’s first major hub, with any number of lines running in and out of the city. For a small city on a stub of a peninsula, Boston was surprisingly worldly. The first great Boston fortunes were made in the China trade, then amplified by investments in the textile mills of early industrialization, only to be compounded by provident marriages to the daughters of other wealthy Bostonians. The investors were referred to as the Boston Crowd because of this interbreeding. They were mostly drawn from that class of Bostonians—Brahmins was the derisive term—whose members were, in the main, Harvard-educated Episcopalians, with the occasional Unitarian thrown in, who lived for their clubs and thought of themselves as existing on a social plane only slightly down from God. They were like honeybees in a hive—industrious but interchangeable.

From this esteemed collective about the only one to emerge with a distinctive personality was Thomas Jefferson Coolidge—and he on the strength of a surprisingly frolicsome memoir he had privately printed, the copies limited to just forty-eight—who served as the Santa Fe president for a year starting in 1880. Coolidge took his middle name from the American president, his great-grandfather on his mother’s side, but his lineage could be traced back to a Coolidge who settled in Watertown, just downriver from Boston proper, in 1630.

Coolidge grew up in Canton, China, where his father was a partner in a Boston trading firm that dealt tea and opium in the China Trade. After Harvard, he married the daughter of William Appleton, clipper ship owner, European trader, president of Boston’s Second National Bank, congressman, president of the Massachusetts Hospital, and one of the richest men in the city.

Coolidge served as the ambassador to France, and on any number of important national commissions, but he prized above all else his membership in The Friday Club, which, he noted, had once blackballed the eminent Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, father of the Supreme Court Justice, for fear he would dominate the conversation. His memoir is rich in frivolity—meeting the actress Fanny Kemble at a monastery in the Alps, touring the Caribbean aboard his eighty-foot yacht, riding a donkey to the temple of Ramses in Egypt.

In recounting his life, Coolidge mentioned his yearlong presidency of the Santa Fe railroad only in passing. In October of 1878, he wrote, he took his son and namesake for an extensive tour of the West that covered almost ten thousand miles, particularly enjoying the Colorado portion aboard the Santa Fe Railroad with one William Barstow Strong. Coolidge did not mention that he was a director of the company at the time. When he returned to the West two years later, he noted that he again boarded a Santa Fe train, but this time stepped off at Topeka, where “I was elected president of the Atchison Railroad at the annual meeting.”

Six sentences later, he was done with it. “I resigned as soon as I could,” he wrote. “I think in about a year and a half.” He failed to mention that on assuming the presidency, he had purchased $700,000 worth of the company. The point being, he presided over the Santa Fe only as an investor. The moment the investment seemed unpromising, he sold it and got out.

None of the Boston Crowd served as presidents for more than a few years. But this was the way of the modern corporation as they came to define it. They were not managers, but investors, and that inclined them toward caution in a business that demanded daring.

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First Englishman in Lhasa

From Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age, by Stephen R. Platt (Knopf, 2018), Kindle pp. 146-147:

Manning was the first Englishman ever to lay eyes on the city (and the last for the remainder of the nineteenth century). His only European predecessors were a pair of Catholic missionaries who had reached the city two hundred years earlier. From a distance, at least, it was the Shangri-La of fables. The grand Potala Palace where the Dalai Lama lived loomed high and white on a hill above the city, visible from miles off, more magnificent in appearance than he had even imagined it could be. But some of the magic was lost on approach. A ceremonial gate they passed through on the road to the city had gilt decorations that caught the sun from afar, but up close the ornaments seemed imbalanced and off-kilter to Manning, reminding him of “pastry work” or “gingerbread architecture.” The blindingly white palace itself was like a hive, swarming with monks in gorgeous robes of deep maroon, but the city below it was poor and rough. The houses were “begrimed with smut and dirt.” Wild dogs with mangy and ulcerated skin ran freely in the streets, growling and digging about for food. In spite of himself, Manning sensed a deep strangeness to the place, an unreality. “Even the mirth and laughter of the inhabitants I thought dreamy and ghostly,” he recalled. “The dreaminess no doubt was in my mind, but I never could get rid of the idea.”

On the advice of his munshi [secretary and translator], Manning pretended to be a Buddhist lama from India, one who happened to be versed in medicine. He hid the fact that he could speak or read Chinese, since it would make the presence of an interpreter suspicious. He also hid that he could speak English, so the two of them only communicated openly in Latin (in which both were fluent, it being the confluence of Manning’s Cambridge education and the munshi’s childhood training by a Roman Catholic missionary). This led to a long chain of interpretation when Manning spoke to Tibetans: someone would first have to translate from Tibetan into Chinese, then Manning’s munshi would translate the Chinese into Latin for him, and he would have to respond in Latin, back along the chain. To avoid standing out—and because he decided he liked it—he performed the kowtow before Chinese and Manchu officials whenever he was asked (a lesser version than that reserved for the emperor, touching the head to the ground three times rather than nine). In fact, he said, he found it so restful to kneel down to the ground after all the walking he had to do that he tried to kowtow as much as possible—including in front of high-ranking Tibetans (which offended his munshi, who said no Chinese would ever do that).

Manning was granted an audience with the Dalai Lama on December 17, 1811. To get to it, he had to climb up hundreds of steps carved into the side of the mountain on which the Potala Palace was built, steps that gave way in time to ladders on which he continued climbing up through the nine floors of the palace, its air rich with the smoke of incense and yak-butter lamps, to reach the high roof with its breathtaking view over the city and the broad, vast plain to the deep blue-white mountains in the distance. A monk escorted him into a smooth-floored reception hall built onto the roof, walls hung with tapestries and its ceiling held up by high, strong pillars. Sunshine streamed down through a skylight. In the middle of the hall, on a throne supported by carved lions, he found a young boy in maroon robes and a pointed saffron hood who appeared to be about seven years old (he had, in fact, just turned six). Manning knelt down before the Dalai Lama and performed the kowtow.

Manning still had his beard, but he had shaved the top of his head in preparation for the audience, so that the boy could lay hands on him. The normally impish Englishman was quieted in the lama’s presence. “His face was, I thought, poetically and effectingly beautiful,” wrote Manning. “He was of a gay and cheerful disposition; his beautiful mouth perpetually unbending into a graceful smile, which illuminated his whole countenance. Sometimes, particularly when he had looked at me, his smile almost approached to a gentle laugh.” They made polite small talk. The Dalai Lama asked about his journey. Manning asked for Tibetan Buddhist books, and asked if someone who spoke Chinese could teach him their contents, though he was gently rebuffed. It wasn’t the conversation that mattered, though, but simply the fact of being in the Dalai Lama’s presence. Unlike Macartney’s audience with Qianlong, there was no power relationship in play, no hidden challenge, no posturing. Just curiosity. And friendliness. All of Manning’s playful cynicism vanished. “I could have wept through strangeness of sensation,” he wrote afterward. “I was absorbed in reflections when I got home.”

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