31 July 2008

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.

30 July 2008

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.

28 July 2008

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.

27 July 2008

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 verse 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.
Yuugure wa / ayu no hara miru / kawase kana
At the close of day / you see sweetfish bellies / in the river shallows

19 July 2008

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.

17 July 2008

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

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

14 July 2008

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’).

13 July 2008

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.'

10 July 2008

On Translating Baciu's "Patria"

Barely more than a month after I started blogging, I translated a poem entitled Patria by the Romanian exile, Stefan Baciu, whom I knew from my graduate school days at the University of Hawai‘i. Baciu administered one of my two foreign language reading exams required for my Ph.D. program. My major language (rather useful for research on Pacific languages) was French, for which I took a standardized test, while my minor language (less useful) was Romanian, for which Baciu chose a literary passage for me to translate, one describing a rural homestead after an uprising (or pogrom), with 'rafters', 'sizzling flesh', and other such vocabulary rare in the usual sorts of academic expository prose. (I was allowed to use a dictionary.)

Before I embarked on my language-rich, linguistics-poor Fulbright postdoc year in Romania in 1983, Baciu also gave me a copy of his (1980) self-published memoirs to take along. I left my copy with a literature professor at the University of Bucharest who showed a particular interest in Baciu, partly because all the exiles were nonpersons in Romania at the time. Nowadays, there is a growing revival of interest in those exiles, as Romanians seek to regenerate some of the historical limbs that were twisted, shriveled, or amputated during the communist and fascist eras of the last century. I think of it as a memory reforestation project, one that I hope does not lead to a revival of too much greenshirting.

Now that I have gained access to another copy of Baciu's memoirs, I've been translating pages and posting them on this blog, doing my little bit to build a small English garden from his memories. In Wikipedia, I find it interesting that Baciu's biographical entry is longer in the Spanish edition than in either the Romanian or the English edition. I've been adding External Links from the English Wikipedia entry to my translations here, but I noticed that the Spanish entry has far more External Links on Baciu, including a link to my English translation of the easiest of the three segments of the poem(s) entitled "Patria" (which I think best translates into 'Home' in this context).

So I thought I should try to translate the two harder passages in the bunch. The quatrains in Part II were harder because of the ABAB rhyme pattern, which forced me to swap lines and stray further from the meaning of the original words in several cases, while retaining the original imagery as far as possible. The hardest task in Part III was resisting the temptation to add a footnote to each line noting, for instance, that Time, Torch, and Ancient Beliefs were the names of publishers, or that Buzesti Square (not far from the Bucharest North train station) is now the site of a MacDonald's and the Turkish restaurant (named "Shark") where my wife and I shared a pleasant evening with my earlier Romanian cotranslator (of an old German grammar of a New Guinea language) and his wife during our quick visit to Bucharest in January. Networks of all kinds are so much easier to maintain these days.

Baciu's "Patria" ('Home') is in several ways representative of his poetry in exile, which is full of nostalgia, longing, and the merger of mental and physical terrain across time and space. From now on, it's back to translating memoirs, not quatrains, for me. Somebody else is welcome to translate his last major collection of poetry, entitled Peste o mie de catrene ('Over a thousand quatrains').

Home (Patria)


Home is an apple
in a Japanese grocery window
on Liliha Street
in Honolulu, Sandwich Islands
or a gramophone record
heard in silence in Mexico
--Maria Tanase beside the volcano Popocatepetl--
home is Brancusi's workshop in Paris
home is a Grigorescu landscape
on an autumn afternoon in Barbizon
or the Romanian Rhapsody heard on a morning
in Port au Prince, Haiti
and home is the grave of Aron Cotrus
in California
home is a skylark who soars
without borders and without plans
home is a Dinu Lipatti concert
in Lucerne, Switzerland, on a rainy evening
home is this gathering of faces
of events and sounds
scattered across the globe
but home is
a moment of silence.

This is home.


With home you can talk by telephone,
You can hear it in distant whispers,
Carry it in your pocket, like a comb,
Or find it decapitated in the papers.

It’s not just earth or stone or air,
But a smell, a face, a twirl in the park,
A sound that echoes from anywhere,
A voice that pierces the midnight dark.

Because home is not an anthem bound,
illuminated, decorated, with border.
It’s a shroud, in deepest dreams rewound,
At dawn unraveled, in disorder.

Nor is home revived by boasts,
But by silence, by distance, by sorrow,
Squeezed from dust, on tropic coasts,
Scattered abroad, in hopes for the morrow.


The steeple of Saint Nicholas in Schei,
The echo of the train off Mt. Tâmpa at night,
“Kefir Lukianoff” in Cismigiu Park,
New books from “Time! Torch! Ancient Beliefs!”
“Hot corn-on-the-cob! Hot corn!”
Mr. Misu from Romanian Books,
The rainbow scarf of Emil Botta,
Maria Tanase singing at the Neptune in Buzesti Square,
Father commenting on War and Peace,
Or a page of poetry by Nietzsche
(tapping into the book with his index finger),
A cappuccino at the Crown

And this banknote of 500 lei,
Found in the bottom of a yellowed envelope,
Brought I don't know how,
From Brasov to Brazil,
And then to Honolulu, Hawai‘i,
Island of Oahu,
Sandwich Archipelago

06 July 2008

Foreign Surgeons at the Birth of Zimbabwe, 1974-79

From The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, by Martin Meredith (PublicAffairs, 2005), pp. 321-326:
The coup in Lisbon in April 1974 changed the fortunes of Rhodesia irrevocably. The end of Portuguese rule in Mozambique not only deprived Rhodesia of a long-standing ally and brought to power there a left-wing nationalist movement; it meant that Rhodesia's entire eastern border, some 760 miles long, was potentially vulnerable to infiltration by Zanu guerrillas operating freely from bases in Mozambique. Moreover, Frelimo's accession to power in Mozambique emboldened Rhodesian nationalists to believe that in Rhodesia too guerrilla warfare would succeed in overthrowing white rule.

The South Africans were quick to recognise, in the aftermath of the Lisbon coup, that an entirely new strategy was needed. Hitherto, they had looked on Angola, Mozambique and Rhodesia as a valuable buffer separating them from contact with black Africa, a cordon sanitaire which it was in their own interests to strengthen. But with the withdrawal of the Portuguese from Angola and Mozambique, Rhodesia was no longer important as a front-line defence, for the winds of change had finally reached South Africa's own frontier. The South African prime minister, John Vorster, calculated that in the long run Smith's position, without an open-ended South African military and financial commitment, was untenable. White rule in Rhodesia was ultimately doomed. In this new assessment, Smith, with his long history of intransigence, was no longer a useful partner but a potential liability. His stubborn resistance to change only served to magnify the dangers of communist involvement in southern Africa. An unstable white government in Rhodesia was less preferable than a stable black government, heavily dependent on South African goodwill.

With this objective in mind, Vorster set out to force Smith to come to terms with the Rhodesian nationalists. He was obliged to act circumspectly for fear of antagonising his own electorate and provoking an outcry in Rhodesia. Fortuitously, he found an ally in Zambia's President Kaunda, who had become increasingly concerned about the disruption caused in Zambia by the Rhodesian imbroglio and about the dangers of a widening guerrilla war there. In conjunction with other African leaders, Vorster and Kaunda conspired to impose on Smith and the nationalists their own plan for a Rhodesian settlement. As a preliminary step, Smith was required, much against his better judgement, to release nationalist detainees, including Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe....

Under pressure from South Africa, Smith went through the motions of attempting a negotiated settlement but, like Mugabe, saw no need to compromise. A conference in August 1975, held under the auspices of Vorster and Kaunda in railway carriages parked on the Victoria Falls bridge on the border between Rhodesia and Zambia, broke up in disarray after the first day....

In early 1976 the guerrilla war entered anew and more perilous phase. From bases in Mozambique, hundreds of Zanu guerrillas infiltrated into eastern Rhodesia, attacking white homesteads, robbing stores, planting landmines and subverting the local population. When Nkomo's talks with Smith broke down, Zapu guerrillas joined the war, opening a new front in western Rhodesia, along the borders with Zambia and Botswana. Main roads and railways came under attack. White farmers bore the brunt, living daily with the risks of ambush, barricaded at night in fortified homes. A growing number of whites, rather than face military service, emigrated.

Though Rhodesia's army commanders still expressed confidence in their ability to defeat the guerrilla menace, in many parts of the world it seemed that Smith was embarked upon an increasingly risky venture to sustain white rule which endangered the stability of the whole region. Among those whose attention was drawn to the Rhodesian war was Henry Kissinger. In the wake of the Angolan debacle, Kissinger was particularly alert to the dangers of how nationalist guerrilla wars could widen the circle of conflict, drawing in neighbouring countries and providing the Soviet bloc with opportunities for intervention. He found Vorster similarly worried and impatient with Smith's intransigence. In tandem, they agreed on a plan to force Smith to accept majority rule. To make Smith amenable to the idea, Vorster cut back oil shipments and supplies of arms and ammunition, withdrew helicopter pilots and technicians from Rhodesia and delayed its import and export traffic through South Africa. Kissinger was left to present the terms of surrender.

At a meeting in Pretoria in September 1976, Kissinger handed Smith a typed list of five points that he said must be used as the basis for a Rhodesian settlement. Smith took the document and slowly read aloud the first point: 'Rhodesia agrees to black majority rule within two years.' He looked around the room and said: 'you want me to sign my own suicide note.'...

When Smith finally left the stage as prime minister on the last day of white rule on 31 May 1979, his legacy was a state unrecognised by the international community, subjected to trade boycotts, ravaged by civil war that had cost at least 20,000 lives and facing a perilous future.

As the war intensified, Britain launched one last initiative to find a solution, calling for negotiations at a conference to be held in London. Muzorewa and Nkomo readily agreed to attend, but Mugabe saw no need. His guerrilla army was planning to embark on a new phase of urban warfare. 'We felt we needed yet another thrust, and in the urban areas, in order to bring the fight home to where the whites had their citadels', he recalled. The longer the war lasted, the greater were the prospects for achieving his revolutionary objectives.

Only under extreme pressure from Zambia 's Kenneth Kaunda and Mozambique's Samora Machel did he eventually agree to attend. Both Zambia and Mozambique had suffered heavily as a result of Rhodesian raids on guerrilla bases and supply lines they harboured. Neither could afford to sustain the war any longer. Machel was blunt in his warnings: if Mugabe refused to go to London and explore negotiations, then Mozambique would withdraw its support....

Mugabe arrived in London in September 1979, a cold, austere figure who rarely smiled and seemed bent on achieving revolution, whatever the cost. While in exile he had repeatedly insisted on the need for a one-party Marxist state, threatened that Ian Smith and his 'criminal gang' would be tried and shot, and warned that white exploiters would not be allowed to keep an acre of land. His main hope was that the conference would break down.

Against all odds, however, the conference stumbled towards agreement. At the final hurdle, when Mugabe balked at accepting the ceasefire arrangements and made plans to fly to New York to denounce the whole proceedings at the United Nations, he was given a direct warning by an envoy from Machel that unless he signed the agreement, he could no longer count on using Mozambique as abase for operations; in other words, as far as Mozambique was concerned, the war was over. Mugabe was resentful about the outcome of the conference: 'As I signed the document, I was not a happy man at all. I felt we had been cheated to some extent, that we had agreed to a deal which would to some extent rob us of [the] victory we had hoped we would achieve in the field.'...

Returning to Rhodesia in January 1980, nearly five years after his escape into exile, Mugabe was given a hero's welcome by one of the largest crowds ever seen in Rhodesia. Banners portraying rockets, grenades, land mines and guns greeted him, and many youths wore T-shirts displaying the Kalashnikov rifle, the election symbol that Zanu wanted but the British had disallowed. But Mugabe himself was unexpectedly conciliatory. In Mozambique, shortly before Mugabe's return to Salisbury, Samora Machel, still struggling to overcome the massive disruption caused by the exodus of whites at independence in 1975, had intervened to warn Zanu against fighting the election on a revolutionary platform. 'Don't play make-believe Marxist games when you get home,' he said. 'You will face ruin if you force the whites into precipitate flight.' Consequently, Mugabe's manifesto was stripped of all reference to Marxism and revolution.
Black Star Journal has an update on the latest reactions of African leaders to what Mugabe hath wrought.

05 July 2008

Baciu's Memories of Brasov: Country Cousins

From Praful de pe Tobă: Memorii 1918-1946, by Stefan Baciu (Editura Mele, 1980), pp. 11-12 (my translation):
From the earliest years of my childhood, we would spend part of our holidays, especially at Easter and in summer, together with Father in his native village, Nadeşul Săsesc [Saxon Nades] in Târnava Mică county, where lived Grandmother, an uncle who was a priest, married to my father’s sister, Auntie Elena, and several first and second cousins. We would leave from Braşov for Sighişoara on either the express or the limited express, and from there we would take a suitably dilapidated bus for about an hour, through potholes, dust, or mud, along the road between Sighişoara and Târgul Mureş. At the bus station, which was at the head of the village, would be waiting Uncle Rusu and a few cousins, who would accompany us on the road to the parsonage in the middle of the village, where they lived. We would walk, while the oxcart followed slowly behind with the suitcases and packages we had brought along, with an occasional “haw” or “gee,” which would give me great pleasure. It makes me nostalgic to think of the evenings we spent crammed around the table, chatting over a glass of Târnave wine or, when I was still small, listening to my elders. During the days, we would go for walks through the vineyards or to the neighboring villages, Ţigmandru and Pipea, collecting mushrooms on the road through the woods. In the evening we would roast them with pieces of bacon skewered on spits of hazel wood expertly carved by Uncle Ionel.

Every afternoon around five was a special moment, when the bus delivered the postal sack, which was carried to the Post Office, whose mistress was my cousin, Tiţa Dan. I would attend the undoing of the sack as a kind of ritual, snatching out of her hands envelopes addressed to me. Other cousins would usually attend this “cult”: Elvira and Sabina Dan, Ionel Moldovan, Lucia and Stela Rusu, with whom I would discuss the news in the letters and magazines we received. Sometimes I would go home with Ionel Moldovan and we would sit on a wooden bench under a leafy tree, breaking open large and juicy onions and drinking generously of wine brought by Auntie Aurelia, the mother of Ionel, a newly commissioned second lieutenant in the cavalry.

The last time I was in Nadeş was only for a single day, with Mira, in the spring of 1946, only a few months before leaving the country. Grandmother examined us with her weak eyes under the ever-present headscarf covering her forehead, then took me aside and said, “Bravo, Ştéfane (accented on the first e), fine wife you’ve taken. She’s a real lady!” At parting, she asked me if I had opened an office (she knew that I was licensed in law), and when I was just about to leave she put a question to me that I didn’t realize at the time showed prophetic vision, “What do you think, Ştéfane; will this democracy last a while? Because the kids roam the streets and shout that that’s democracy!”
NOTES: ‘Auntie’ renders Tuşa; ‘express’ renders accelerat and ‘limited express’, rapidul; ‘dilapidated’ renders hodorogit; ‘haw’ renders hăiş and ‘gee’, cea, which steer draft animals to the left or right, respectively; ‘mushrooms’ renders bureţi (also ‘sponges’); ‘cousins’ renders veri şi verişoare (Fr. cousins et cousines); ‘juicy’ renders zămoase (zămos), a word I couldn’t find in my dictionaries (but see zămoşiţă ‘hibiscus’, which has a sticky sap); ‘was just about to leave’ renders eram gata de drum (lit. ‘was road-ready’).

UNSOLICITED PLUG: I've bought a motley assortment of Romanian dictionaries in print, none of them either comprehensive enough or bilingual enough to handle this translation. Instead, whenever I translate from Romanian, I now keep open the best Romanian-English dictionary I've found in any medium. According to the publisher, it has over 30,000 words in Romanian, along with more than 35,000 translations of common and less common phrases. And it is indeed "extremely fast and easy to use."

UPDATE: Mulţumesc cititorului Mihai, who pointed me toward zemos 'juicy', related to zeama 'juice', a word I knew but didn't think of when I needed it.

04 July 2008

Baciu's Memories of Brasov: Hobbies

From Praful de pe Tobă: Memorii 1918-1946, by Stefan Baciu (Editura Mele, 1980), p. 10 (my translation):
I don’t think that I would have been more than 6 or 7 when I began to use scissors to cut caricatures of politicians out of the newspapers, saving them in different shoeboxes. I recognized from “the lines” and signature the most important caricaturists of the era: Sell, Ross, Dragoş, Anestin, Dralex. Thus I learned, without yet being able to read very well, such figures as Trancu-Iaşi, Tancred Constantinescu, Jean Th. (Tehaş) Florescu, Mihail Oromolu, Marshal Averescu, Iuliu Maniu, Vaida Voievod, I. G. Duca, Nichifor Robu, Leonte Moldovanu, Ştefan Ciceo Pop, and all the Bratianu family, not to mention Argetoianu, Iorga, A. C. Cuza, and Octavian Goga. At about the same time, I “organized” a collection of automotive insignia that, with the aid of a pin on the back of little metal plaques, could be worn on the chest like a kind of brooch. I kept them in boxes lined with wadding and can still see before me the various insignia: NSU, Alfa Romeo, Hispano Suiza, BMW, Austro Daimler, Lancia, Ford, Chevrolet, Puch.

After that came an era of postage stamps, stuck in a Schaubeck album, but philately didn’t last long. One fine day I began to sell them to Old Man Gebauer, who owned a toy shop in front of the Council House, in a style that today reminds me of certain surrealist photographs. I sold him row upon row of my hard-won collection, and with the money I bought pamphlets and magazines at Staicu’s kiosk facing Military Circle on the Promenade. I would have been 10 or 11 when one day I asked, “Who is Stelian Popescu” and “the hundred millions of Romulus Boila.” A man who at just that moment was buying a pack of cigarettes looked me up and down, then said, “Well, now, my boy, is that what you’re reading about?” Yes, it was true, that is what I was reading, and I remember how avidly I bought articles signed X.X.X., which were said to have been written by Marshal Averescu himself.

Speaking of collections, I also remember my autograph collection, about which more will be said later, and my collection of political posters, probably an extension of ... the caricatures. I remember that one day Father found me, probably rather surprised, stringing up as if for exhibit large posters of the Iron Guards, and other little red ones with stickers on the back, of the Workers and Peasants Bloc, communists, which I had obtained from their respective leaders (the lawyer Trifan and the doctor Kahane), presenting myself as “the son of Prof. Dr. Ion Baciu.” I think both were amused, each in his own way, by the unexpected visit, but they both gave me “rich material” that I placed in respectable enough bundles classified by party: liberals, socialists, peasant parties, factions loyal to Lupu, Iunian, Cuza, Iorga, or even Ghelerter, because I had discovered at Dealul Zorilor [Dawn Hill] tavern, where they sold wines from liberal vineyards, the old “agitator” Iuliu Neagu Negulescu, who had become an innkeeper in Brasov.
NOTES: ‘Old Man’ renders Moş.

02 July 2008

Red Cross Inspector Shibai, Nagasaki, 1944

From First into Nagasaki: The Censored Eyewitness Dispatches on Post-Atomic Japan and Its Prisoners of War, by George Weller (1907-2002), ed. by Anthony Weller (Three Rivers, 2006), pp. 63-67:
Underground in the mine you could always tell when the B-29s were making a visit overhead. The main power plant on the surface closed down, the weaker auxiliary pumps went into action, and the air grew gluey and hard to breathe. In a slightly different way you could tell, while underground, when the Red Cross man was making a visit. From every section gang the strongest American was told off and ordered to take the mine train to the surface. He had ceased being a miner; he was now an actor. He had a role in a play that the mine authorities were going to put on for the benefit of the audience of one: the Red Cross inspector.

Two or three days before the Red Cross man—usually a Swiss or Swede—actually arrived, secret rehearsals had already been begun by what might be called the leads: the Japanese authorities of the camp. But for the real fibre of the performance the Japanese counted on their unrehearsed extras, the Americans.

Show day comes. A one-shot performance can be as good as its scenery, rarely any better. What is this extraordinary change that has overtaken the filthy little clinic, where operations without anesthesia have often taken place? It is transformed. Not only ether and morphine, but other medicines have appeared, the very medicines that were unobtainable 24 hours ago.... And look at the notice board! What are those neatly typewritten sheets fluttering from its black surface, now suddenly innocent of punishment records? It is the Daily News Bulletin, no less. ("We do what we can, Mr. Inspector, to satisfy the extraordinary American curiosity about current events.")

And here comes the Red Cross visitor, walking like a prisoner himself in a phalanx of potbellied Japanese colonels and majors. Has he been underground? He has not. Will he get a view of the barracks? Well, a quick one, maybe. But first he is shown documents for three hours, till his eyes ache. Then the place for him to go is to the hospital. After all, a hospital is the great index of humanity. If the hospital in a prison camp is all right, everything else must be all right, too.

And everything in the little hospital is right, as superlatively right as the last canto of Scrooge's Christmas. Just the entrance alone is beautiful. On each side of the door, Red Cross boxes are piled tastefully in twin pyramids—medicines, food, a cornucopia of abundance. The military interpreter opens the door and the inspector enters. Order and cleanliness, a lovely sight. The faces of the men on their cots are turned toward him. Sick? If these men are the sick, confined to the hospital under medical treatment, then it is hardly necessary to see the healthy, now working down in the mine. For these men, as prison standards go, are not badly off at all. Their faces—though wearing a peculiar quizzical, stolid expression—are round and full. Their eyes are clear. A Japanese doctor would call them robust.

The visitor, stroking his moustache, turns to the Japanese nurse, one of several chubby little starched creatures who have been placed at even intervals the length of the ward, like markings on a clinical thermometer. "How are the prisoners doing?" he inquires through the interpreter. "Oh, very well, very very well," she says, with a shining nursely smile.

The inspector observes there are white sheets on the mattresses. Really not bad, altogether. Each man has a can of salmon or of pears at the same geometrical point near his bed. Not quite within reach, perhaps, but nearby.

Gently Captain Fukuhara suggests that perhaps the official party had better not delay too long in the hospital. Luncheon is already waiting. Would the inspector like to see what the prisoners are eating? The party passes rapidly through the kitchen to the mess hall, where the prisoners are lined up, waiting to be seen. Their faces still bear looks of unmistakable pleasure and anticipation, in which a sharp eye might detect strong traces of astonishment. There is no doubt that this is a happy camp. Look at the faces of the prisoners as they scan the miracle that lies waiting for them in their wooden mess gear: three camp rolls with a dab of margarine, bean soup with a bit of pork, a spoonful of Japanese red caviar, and a baked apple.

(It is the baked apple, though the visitor does not know this, which has really bewitched them. This baked apple is more than remarkable; it is historical. It is the only baked apple ever seen at Camp #17 in two years.)

The inspector has now seen the camp. But he must not go away without talking to one or two individual prisoners. So he is led to the Japanese headquarters, he is settled in the comfortable chair of the commandant, and several handpicked Americans are brought to him. The room is full of Japanese military and police; the only non-Japanese are the prisoner and the Red Cross man.

"We were selected for health, first," Sergeant Joe Lawson of Klamath Falls explains it. "Then, when they knew the inspector was at the railroad station, they double-timed us to a bath, clean clothes and a shave. We went in that room and only needed to look around at the familiar faces to know what we were up against. We'd had plenty of stickwork done on us already. We knew that to get plenty more, all we needed to do was open our mouths."

Now the last monosyllabic prisoner has walked out. The inspector rises. It is all over. Everybody is smiling. Nobody has said or heard anything disagreeable or discordant. Even the prisoners back in their quarters are happy in a way, for their fears that the visitor would ask penetrating questions and make it impossible for them to conceal the truth have been dispelled. The lie is still intact. How cheerful everyone is! Captain Fukuhara—on whose hands is the blood of five Americans beaten and starved to death in the aeso, the guardhouse—is geniality itself. He suggests a photograph to perpetuate the occasion. His lieutenants take up the proposal with an acclaim like bacchantes. A picture, a photograph of everybody! We must have it!

A table is decorated with cigarettes, cookies and fruit from the mess of the kempeitai, the military police. A Japanese Cecil Beaton runs around, all dithery excitement until he finds what he wants to put on the table with the edibles: a trumpet, a harmonica and a guitar. A suggestion is made that some of the irreproachable prisoners might be summoned back to get in the picture, but the picture is too crowded already, and the suggestion falls flat.... "All smile, prease!" (It is a little joke, for the fussy photographer to use the language of the prisoners, and all smile at it.) "Sank you! All finish!"

The military motorcar is waiting for the Red Cross man. Perhaps, in this last moment of shaking hands, he may be troubled by some inner doubts. But there is no time to sift them. He must hurry off, for he is to catch the train for Moji, connecting with the express for Tokyo. See you next year!

If he had seen the prisoners the next day, instead, the inspector would have learned more. If his officer escort would allow him to get off at the first station, turn around and go back to the camp, the inspector might see how the pageant of his welcome, as insubstantial as Prospero's, faded into nothingness as soon as he left.

What has happened in the camp? The pyramids of Red Cross packages are demolished. The boxes are in Captain Fukuhara' s closet, and the key is in his pocket. The cans of fish and pears have disappeared. Gone, too, are the white sheets from the hospital beds; where, nobody knows. The little nurses are climbing into their truck to be taken back to the local hospital in Omuta, swans never seen before in camp, unlikely to be seen again. The Daily News Bulletin is gone without a trace from the notice board, and a kempeitai is frowningly nailing back the punishment schedule. In the kitchen the Navy cook, Woodie Whitworth of Bourne, Texas, is preparing supper. The menu is the same as usual: one-half bowlful of plain rice, laced with millet to make it cheaper.

A column of prisoners dressed for work, with cap-lamps and sweat rags, is marching past the god of the mine (a giant, greenish-black statue of an idealized Mitsui miner, towering in the prison yard above the buildings). As their guards command them, they all bow to his exalted, unsmiling image. These miners are the extras of the benefit performance, who were patients in the hospital until a few minutes ago.

Having arrived at the entrance shaft they adjust their lamps for the last time, hug their mess-gear full of cold rice, climb into the roller coaster-like iron train and hold on. The cable starts moving. The train slides down the slanting chute into the sooty, echoing tunnel. For a while its roar is loud, but soon it dies away. After five minutes or so a bell rings. The cable slows, tightens, and finally stops. The patients from the hospital have reached their normal level of operation, 1,440 feet below ground. The sideshow is over. The Mitsui show is on once more.