The bravest women of their (and just about any other) time, they left their protective parents and a world of white gloves and chaperoned afternoon teas, where they were barely permitted to touch the hand of a male companion, for the French battlefields of World War One and the hellish field hospitals there, washing naked, wounded men, treating their wounds, the stumps of their amputated limbs, their lost sight, their mustard gas-poisoned lungs and their shell shock. Mocked as privileged snobs out for a thrill, they struggled to prove their strength and capacity over and over again, and they did.
Among them was Vera Brittain, who’d fought to be one of the earliest women at Oxford, her father permitting her to enroll and risk “becoming a blue stocking” only because her beloved younger brother Edward refused to go if she could not. Testament of Youth , the story of her struggles to attend Oxford, her brief presence there and her life-shattering experiences as a wartime nurse, is a classic, still in print and still beloved.
Now it’s a film, and the stature of the cast, including our own Jon Snow, Kit Harington, as her fiancé Roland Leighton, The Wire‘s Dominic West as her father, Emily Lloyd as her mother and Miranda Richardson as her mentor suggest that British headliners wanted to be part of her remarkable, very British story, even in a small, if gorgeous, art film like this one.
I first met Vera in the 1979 PBS Testament of Youth series, moved from there to her trilogy: Testament of Youth, Testament of Friendship and Testament of Experience and found a sister. A young activist in the 60’s, I understood her need to contribute, to be part of the crisis alongside those she loved, and as a woman fighting to function in a mostly-male profession, her battles as a woman were mine too.
So, if you share the political memories, ideal and goals of so many of us, Testament of Youth needs to be part of you, too. Go see it.
Once upon a time, things were hopeful. We were too. Not because there was peace and love and bounty in the world but because, if we all tried, maybe there could be,
That’s what was so perfect about the Mad Men finale: the ironies of hindsight. There was the desperate Don Draper, moving toward bliss and emerging from both the 60’s and his misery to create the perfect, pseudo-idealistic yet consummately cynical commercial: a UN of young people on a hilltop, singing about Coke.
This video is what that video should have been. Musicians from 12 cities on 5 continents, brought together by Playing for Change, join to pay tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of The Grateful Dead and to remind us of what had all hoped, and maybe still hoped, could be.
I was a little teary. The friend who sent me the link said he’d been “crying like a girlymon the whole weekend…”
He’s been part of my life for more than fifty years – dashing, smart, generous and always on the side of the angels. With him I wandered through most of the 20th Century in the company of critical figures including playwright George Bernard Shaw, powerful arms dealer Basil Zaharoff, Adolph Hitler and his brilliant propaganda director Joseph Goebbels,Leon Blum, the first Socialist (and Jewish) Prime Minister of France and of course Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin, as well as the infamous “modern dance” pioneer Isadora Duncan, Chinese rebel leader Mao Tse Tung, and, among so many others, Albert Einstein and of course, FDR, whom he served as a Secret Agent from before WWII to well after the war.
When we met, he was 13 and I a couple of years older and, much like the NYT’s Julie Salamon, my mom introduced us and from our first meeting I knew that I would love him forever. His remarkable life revolved around his home base of Juan-les-Pins, where he grew up, and to which he always returned.
The house was built on the top of a rise, some way back, from the sea. It was of pink stucco with pale blue shutters and a low roof of red tiles. It was in the Spanish style, built around a lovely court with a fountain and flowers; there Lanny played when the mistral was blowing, as it sometimes did for a week on end.
Last week we went there, where Lanny lived, with Beauty Budd, his artist model mother. Though she and his father Robbie Budd, a New England arms dealer, never married, Robbie visited often, struggling to transmit his conservative capitalism to a young man living in dire danger of corruption among artists, journalists, socialists, communists and wealthy ladies, many of them an earlier version of trophy wives. Their fierce conversations were a wonderful window on the conflicts of those times.
Lanny is, of course, not real – at least not to everyone; he’s the hero of eleven novels written by the prolific Upton Sinclair (yes, he’s the one who wrote The Jungle) tracing world history between 1913 and 1949. Best-sellers all when they appeared in the 40’s and early 50’s and translated into 16 languages in 20 countries, the books formed much of my political and historic perspective and I was hardly alone.
When people ask me what has happened in my long lifetime, I do not refer them to the newspaper files and to the authorities, but to Upton Sinclair’s novels. — George Bernard Shaw
As we walked through the village I turned to my ever-tolerant husband with a catch in my voice, said – surprising myself with the depth of my emotion “I’ve known him almost longer than I’ve known anyone except my family.” He and the saga that surrounded him felt, in so many ways, just that real.
One of Lanny’s childhood friends, Silesian, and bitter about the deprivation caused by enormous war reparations after WWI, became a Nazi; another, British and liberal, a fighter pilot and socialist.
His first wife ended up hanging around with with the Nancy Astor and the pro-German “Cliveden Set.” My world view was formed through their eyes and conversations and the events they faced as allies and sometime adversaries.
The books, Lanny, and the characters who moved in and out of his life were, for me – a very personal window on the horror and violence, courage and evil, glamour and idealism that was the first half of the 20th Century.
Oh, and of course, it being the South of France, the literary folks hung around there too. We had lunch at Scott Fitzgerald’s “Villa Saint-Louis”, just down the hill from Lanny’s neighborhood and now the Hotel Belle Rives.
Clinton confidante Lanny Davis was named for Lanny Budd. The late NBC News anchor John Chancellor once told me he wanted to be Lanny Budd. At 15, I wanted to marry him.
Now, I wish I could have gone up the hill to the pink villa, rung the bell and just thanked him for all I learned from him, how much more available I am to travel and political thought and my own role in the world because I’ve known him. He may not be “real” but his impact on me, and so very many others, was profound.
Indeed, thanks Lanny, and Upton Sinclair, and my long-suffering husband who tolerated a pilgrimage to a place where not so much happened in the “real world” but plenty happened to me.
This is Girona, home to a large, prosperous, and effective Jewish community until a confluence of events took it all away.
In a single year, two historic moments changed western history and Jewish history, too. It was 1492. The very Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, partners in a marriage made to consolidate power, threw all the Jews out of Spain. Immediately. Convert or get out.
At the same time, of course, these same “Catholic Kings” sent Christopher Columbus on his way to the “new world” and forever changed faith, power and geopolitics.
The letters floating above these two little people say “JUDEI” – Jew.
This 14th Century mikvah was found only recently. How haunting, especially with the recent mikvah scandal, to see before us evidence of how long women have honored this commitment.
For some reason, this just felt extra sad. There are so many little boys in my life – and some big ones – so maybe that’s part of it. Beyond that though, the humanness and loss felt so real, and the suffering of those times so much more concrete as I absorbed the words of this one grieving parent.
But what, you may ask, does any of this have to do with Bruce Springsteen? Well, as I entered the lovely museum gift shop, attended by this equally lovely gentleman, I heard Bruce on the radio. Gradually, I realized that he was singing My Hometown.
Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to your hometown
Last night me and Kate we laid in bed Talking about getting out Packing up our bags maybe heading south I’m thirty-five we got a boy of our own now Last night I sat him up behind the wheel and said son take a good look around This is your hometown
Exile and loss, pain and deprivation can be understood on so many levels. Just as the Jews were brutally ejected from the homes and community they had so painstakingly built, so were workers throughout this country as the factories and mines and mills that had sustained them for so long collapsed. Although on a different scale, they too lost everything they knew and the life they had loved, and were forced to find another, unknown place to call home. Although less brutally required to depart, they had no choice, really.
Loss of home, love, family and community is a hardship experienced by more and more people throughout the world. Hunger, terrorism, civil war, drought, economic collapse and religious, gender and racial discrimination hurt in different ways and to different degrees, but the pain is the same in nature if not in degree. The only thing that changes is the faith, or class, or color of the refugees. We still certainly don’t seem to have learned to care much more today when it happens to people who aren’t us.
There’s lots of history around here – spread out among the beauty that distracts from most of it. For the second time, today in the village of Borme Les Mimosas, the flowers overwhelm. Borme wins the best in show award for the region regularly and it’s not hard to see why. But before I share the loveliness, here’s a cool fact: the WWII resistance fighters known as Maquis got their nickname from the dark green plants and shrubs that covered huge swaths of ground and offered perfect hiding places – so perfect that the brave men and women they sheltered came to share the name.
War history haunts the fields and French villages crammed with memorials and statues, villages also overflowing with flowers, climbing the walls, overtaking public walkways and making very turn in the tiny streets a wonderful new surprise.
So for the second and probably the last time, here are the award-winning blooms. This time: the flowers of Borme des Mimosas.
How’s that for a treat and a break from all the awfulness that seems to haunt us lately. Whoever urged us to stop and smell the roses – well. . .
This poster recruiting women to join and support the anti-fascist militias was just one of the remarkable graphics and photographs shared during this tour of civil war history in Barcelona.
The tour’s guide, Nick Lloyd offered a passionate, rich, information-crammed account of the war and the complicated situation that preceded and followed it. The topic is thrilling, but it’s the teacher – the guide – who makes it real – and he does just that.
The stories are stunning. The first: the International Brigades from all over the world who came to help, including the Abraham Lincoln Battalion – the first integrated US military force, the second, the alliance among the police, the workers and the community – anarchists, communists, socialists, liberals – all trying to stop the viciousness that was the emerging Fascist machine. The next, individual courage demonstrated among so many under cruel, sadistic conditions.
The women, of course, did find a place in the movement. This first poster is the emblem of the Anarchist women in Spain. The second, was for the “people’s Olympics” conducted in protest of the “real” 1936 games in Nazi Germany. Young people came from everywhere for the event and many remained to support the struggle to sustain democracy and keep the Fascists at bay. And the third – a shattering portrait of American “Negro” contributions to Spain’s struggle.
Very few stories combine romance, politics, evil, idealism, danger and courage as well as those surrounding the Spanish Civil War. Some of the stories were so moving they were hard to bear. To the people of Barcelona, they are still real, and tangible and tough to hear and recall. For the rest of us, they bring pain and inspiration and sadness at how often similar tragedies have entered our history. And never seem to have taught anything to those who came after.
Marseille was a funky town once. Now it’s got a shiny harbor, some beautiful museums and broad vistas, a hugely diverse population and close to a million tourists per year – up from the 20,000 it claimed when we were there in the 1980’s.
On arrival we went almost at once to nearby Aix-en-Provence, and its markets, lavender shops, cathedrals and history. (Even aerosol olive oil – see second pic.)
The wars are here too, as they always are in Europe – today in memory plaques for the “martyr’s of the Resistance.” The story of those real participants is scary and moving and true. There’s also a memorial to those who helped to liberate Aix.
It was really hot in Marseilles so we took this tiny train on a one-hour circle up to the Basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde and back.
And on the way, one more reminder of the continued ghost of WWII here – this tank was part of the liberation of Marseille and sits on a triangle of land among apartments and houses and a plain residential neighborhood. History doesn’t have to repeat itself – it’s still here.
It was all about the fortifications back then. This lovely walkway in Fort Grimaud has existed for centuries. It’s part of the walled village of Fort Grimaud about half an hour outside St. Tropez.
No major earthshaking moments today but still lovely and intriguing, reinforcing the reality that being safe, enclosed and protected – keeping marauders or warriors or other bad guys at bay – that was the bottom line.
As we made our way back to the ship, the Romany (gypsies to many) were out in force – this is just one of the parking lots we passed – jammed with their trailers, laundry trailers, cooking trailers and more. Our guide kept telling us how everyone had to “watch their wallets.” These folks have a pretty bad reputation across Europe as pickpockets and other mischief makers.
Fort Grimaud also recalled this: s in the rest of Europe, the World Wars are central to the soul of so many still – all these years later. These two – a monument to those in this small town who died in World War I and a 1940 declaration of peril from French General Charles de Gaulle in 1940 ,the year war once again descended on his country. London to Lithuania to France – these wars haunt memory and remind residents of fear, and death, and loss.
Then there are these — we were the first customers for Lorenzo and Gerard in their new shop – gorgeous earrings for me! AND then lunch with some new friends and the best salad (with extra summer tomatoes) ever…..
That’s the Castello at Dolceacqua, alongside Claude Monet’s wonderful portrayal of it. It stands at the start of the stone pathway that crosses the bridge and leads into this ancient, wonderful beehive where, since the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries people have lived, shopped and tolerated the tourists.
It’s a quiet, special treasure, a bit mysterious, mixing the distant past with today, and far more fun and exciting for us because we hadn’t expected much at all from this trip designed to get us out of the shopping center that is San Remo.
NOW – about that Pizza Margharita. Our wonderful guide, Giusiana, as we passed a statue of “Regina Margharita” added yet another factor to her wonderful narrative. WHAT is the reason the much beloved Pizza Margharita bears her name? A baker created it in the colors of the Italian flag: tomato sauce for red, basil for green and mozzarella for white — and dedicated it to her in thanks for her just and creative role as the first woman ruler of Italy.
And there you have it – another brief, photo-heavy offering. It’s late again – and it was a wonderful day. I am reminded every day as we move from place to place of the value of travel – learning the narratives and dreams and history of other cultures and finding within them lessons for our own.