The excited cries and yells of the teenagers echoed down the narrow, winding stone staircase and into our tiny hotel room where we were trying, unsuccessfully, to unpack without bumping into one another. We had just arrived at the Porta Rossa Hotel in Florence, a 13th century building that looked as though it hadn’t been renovated in all the centuries since. It was a kind of Italian Fawlty Towers, only with a real tower. We hurried up the stairs to find the source of the excitement. A rat in their room wouldn’t have been out of place in this medieval pile. Continue reading
German troops on the Champs Elysees in Paris 1940
My latest blog for my former professional home, Montgomery County Public Libraries, is a companion piece to my post on Churchill’s V sign. I introduce a selection of books on World War II resistance in Europe and reveal my favorite fiction and nonfiction books of the year so far, which just happen to be on the same theme. Also, the next book up on my nightstand, by one of my favorite authors: Resistance in World War II
Last Saturday I watched the funeral service for Senator John McCain at the National Cathedral. I really tuned in because I wanted to hear President Obama’s eulogy, but I was soon drawn in by the beauty and dignity of the ceremony. The music was magnificent, particularly John Rutter’s setting of The Lord is my Shepherd and Renee Fleming’s Oh Danny Boy. Several speakers mentioned McCain’s love of literature, but I could not have been more surprised by his choice of a reading from the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. The chosen passage was from As Kingfishers Catch Fire beginning with the line “the just man justices.” One rarely hears mention of Hopkins in public life in America and Continue reading
Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill makes the V for Victory sign in The Darkest Hour.
I finally got to watch the much lauded film The Darkest Hour last weekend. Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill certainly deserved the Oscar Award for Best Actor. Equally deserving were the creative group who won the Oscar for Makeup. In real life Oldman looks nothing at all like Churchill, but with an inspired combination of acting skill and makeup bravura he pulls off the seemingly impossible. Director Joe Wright brings a suspenseful “you are there” quality to the story of Churchill’s first days in office in 1940, battling with political rivals who favored a pact with Hitler and strategizing to save the British army trapped in Dunkirk. It is a “warts and all” portrait including Churchill’s excessive drinking and his controversial decision to sacrifice the garrison at Calais to buy time to evacuate the troops from Dunkirk. So far, so historical. But then came a scene I knew was an anachronism. Churchill giving his famous V sign for Victory. But that couldn’t have happened in 1940 for the V campaign didn’t start until Continue reading
“Now I can tell you what happened,” whispered my husband Mel when the children had finished eating and gone to play in the other room. He did have a strange expression on his face when he came back from the Fish N’ Chip shop with our dinner, a cat that ate the canary kind of smirk, but he said nothing until the children were out of earshot. It was his first visit to England and we were staying with my mother in the house where I grew up on Marks Gate Estate in Chadwell Heath. We were all tired after a long day of sight-seeing in London and nobody felt like cooking. So Mel offered to go round the corner to the Fish N’ Chip shop on Rose Lane and pick up dinner. He felt proud that he could go it alone, having spent a couple of weeks getting used to deciphering the London accent. He had also learned about ordering fish and chips, that you have to specify the kind of fish and that one of the choices is plaice, a fish unknown in America. But it turned out that the timing of his expedition would give him quite a different immersion in English culture. Continue reading
In my latest blog for the library I share my recommendations for summer reading, novels set in idyllic vacation spots. Sometimes throwing people together in a new environment upsets the status quo, making for drama, intrigue, and unexpected revelations. Perfect ingredients for engrossing fiction!
Travel by Book
To celebrate the July 4th holiday I reprise the amazing true story of an American patriotic song, first published in The Dabbler on June 3rd 2015. Could it be that Yankee Doodle Dandy started out as a British insult?
In recent years I’ve spent a lot of time singing nonsense songs to my grandsons. Nursery rhymes and traditional children’s songs, often imperfectly remembered. So sometimes I make them up and improvise pure nonsense as I go. The other day I found myself singing the American patriotic song Yankee Doodle. This time I remembered the words exactly but, as if hearing them for the first time, it suddenly struck me what utter nonsense they are. What on earth does the song mean? Continue reading