Keep Active!

I’m not 87 yet, or 72, but I hope to reach each age in decent health and in not too decayed a state. I think one way to achieve that is to keep active. Here are a couple of examples of people of a certain age making contributions, following inspirations and staying in the game (yes, I know, a rather cringey expression, but it suits here): Hazell Jacobs is an 87-year-old woman who, during the early days of pandemic, decided to do something creative with her time. A lover of scarves, she started a blog that has become internationally popular, even being featured in the New York Times; and Gerald Stratford is a 72-year-old man who has become the “king of ‘big veg’ gardening” and appears in a Gucci campaign. Curiously – or perhaps predictably – both are Brits.

Hemingway

I am a fan of Ernest Hemingway, so I loved, loved, LOVED Ken Burns’ documentary series about the writer. I especially appreciated that Edna O’Brien was one of the interviewees. She was one of my favourite writers as a teen. I thought I knew so much about him, but I really did not: the family suicides; the first heartbreak that scarred so deeply; the open-mindedness about people’s struggles with sexuality; the concussions in the last years, traumas that kept him from using his talent at the end; the deep depression that led him to be institutionalized; his longing for a daughter. I found the latter so touching – this macho fellow wanted a daughter. Above all, what surprised me was that he had written short stories so sensitive and clear, including one – Up in Michigan – about date rape (long before we called it that). It was, at the time, not included in a short story collection he had published, as it was deemed too controversial. The only thing the series lacked was an entire episode devoted to his love of cats. Hemingway would never approve of that aspect of his life being neglected.

Israel

My once-upon-a-time colleague — at the Ottawa Citizen — John Robson, sums it all up so well.

Of course, criticism of Israeli government actions is not inherently anti-Semitic. If it were, Israel would be full of Jewish anti-Semites. But it’s one thing to note mistakes and condemn individual acts of brutality and quite another to equate a democracy where Arab Muslims have full rights with a blood-soaked tyranny where Arab Muslims have no rights.

Space precludes discussion of the unequalled persistence and virulence of anti-Semitism. But you’d think its extraordinary history, including the Holocaust, would make decent people everywhere very wary of this mental and moral poison. Instead, the New York Times observed on Sunday: “Divisions within the (Democratic) party have burst into public view, with the party’s ascendant left viewing the Mideast conflict as a searing racial justice issue that carries echoes of U.S. politics.”

This comparison to American slavery is nothing short of demented. And nobody would expect any other nation on Earth, even a tyranny, to tolerate endless bombs and rockets, stabbings and car attacks, rhetoric of annihilation and periodic invasion attempts. So what’s the deal with Israel?

To coin a phrase, j’accuse.

Read the whole thing.

Atlantic Crossing

I am following this excellent series on PBS. Of course, for personal reasons – having to do with my Norwegian mama and her brother – I have an interest in it. But it would be worth my time, regardless. It is an intelligent series that covers the personal lives of the protagonists, while still managing to capture the terror inflicted by, and the existential threat of, the Nazis. In the first episode, there is a scene in which the Germans – invading Norway – strafe a passenger ship: impossible to avert your eyes from the cruelty and capriciousness of the act, as well as the fear of the victims. It has only been 80 years, but it is easy to forget how depraved the Nazi vision and actions were. The cast is terrific – I am pleasantly surprised by Kyle MacLachlan as FDR. He isn’t doing an impression – thankfully – but manages to capture the whimsy and gravitas of the president.

What I most appreciate about the PBS website is that they have included a “fact or fiction” page for each episode. I was delighted to learn that a particular moment in episode two was fact: Princess Martha is leaving Norway with her three children, bound for a ship that will bring them to the United States. In order to reach the ship, they must go out on a smaller boat through a harbour in which there are many Norwegian fishermen. They recognize the princess and begin singing the Norwegian anthem and cheering then three-year-old Prince Harald (future king). Martha holds him up in response. So beautiful. And made more so by the fact that the little boy is still king of Norway! I wonder what he remembers from that difficult time.

Update: wanted to add this paragraph from the obituary (written by yours truly) of a family friend. His name was Haakon Aass, and as such a name would suggest, he was Norwegian. He was living in Norway during some of the events of Atlantic Crossing:

“…Haakon went on to engineering school, graduating in 1936. Shortly thereafter, he committed himself to a career in the Royal Norwegian Air Force. During the Russian-Finnish conflict of the late 1930s, Haakon, along with several Air Force classmates, took an active part in the protection of Finland. One war barely over and another to fight, when, in April of 1940, the Germans invaded Norway. Along with many other Norwegian soldiers, Haakon went first to England and then to Canada to further train for missions in Europe. In Toronto, he was stationed at a camp known as ‘Little Norway.’ Writing of that time, Haakon recalled that many of the people there were brave members of Norway’s underground resistance. They were, he wrote, ‘the cream of Norwegian youth.’ Modesty ever intact, he continued, ‘Please do not consider me in this class. I was sent by the Air Force.’…Soon after [1942], he was posted overseas to fly missions in the North Atlantic. In May of 1945, he co-piloted the plane which flew the Allied delegation to Norway to accept the surrender of the Germans. He often told us how wonderful it was to have German officers clicking their heels and saluting him, to be part of liberating his country.”

Prince Philip’s Mother

I had known that his mother was among the Righteous at Yad Vashem, but I am surprised – maybe I shouldn’t be – that it got little media attention during his life. I was also surprised that it was not written into The Crown. Again, perhaps I shouldn’t be. The Crown, while entertaining, is fictionalized history, and as such relies on caricatures: Prince Charles is a spoiled pill; the Queen is duty-obsessive; Prince Margaret an embittered tippler, and all the rest. When the Duke of Edinburgh died, a lot of column space was devoted to his colourful comments over the years, and I suppose that is justified. But there was clearly so much more to him than that. His sisters married Nazis and yet he fought against the Nazis. His mother rescued Jews, at very real risk to her own life. His great mentor during his teen years was a Jewish refugee who founded the Gordonstoun School which Philip and Charles attended (poor Charles did not enjoy it, I gather). For all the bluster about what an old curmudgeon he was, he spent his adult life walking three steps behind his wife. I read that he was the last person in the Queen’s life to call her “Lillibet,” her childhood nickname. I can only imagine Her Majesty’s grief.