Welcome to the new home of Dispatches From the Former New World. You can find all my earlier Dispatches in this Dabbler archive. For more about me and my plans for the blog click About above.

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Paris in the Terror


French soldiers mingle with the crowds outside the Louvre

We saw a real guillotine on this year’s summer travels, with the original blade and bag to catch the head still attached. It was a gruesome reminder of Terror past as we visited three countries living in the shadow of Terror present.

Some friends and acquaintances questioned our decision to make this trip Continue reading

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Body Language in Black and White

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President Obama was speaking, his image almost filling the television screen, but my eyes were drawn to two people in the group behind him. They sat in the front row, one on either side of the President at his shoulder level. Two white police officers, a man and a woman. Together the image of the podium, President Obama, and the two officers formed a kind of triptych of mourning. It was Dallas on Tuesday July 12th 2016, the memorial service for the Continue reading

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On The Road


In On The Road, the latest of my occasional blogs for Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL) I revisit the Golden Age of motoring. Is a renaissance underway for the Great American Road Trip?

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Surprised by Patriotism



To celebrate July 4th I dig into The Dabbler archives for a piece I wrote some years ago recording my gradual acceptance of the American holiday and some memorable celebrations over the years. One July 4th I was surprised by feelings of genuine patriotism when I heard the National Anthem performed on a Chinese violin. In this season of xenophobia the sentiments seem especially timely.

Surprised by Patriotism

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On My Bookshelf – Turning Tides

Turning Tides

At a dinner party in Berkeley some years ago I met a visiting history professor from the University of Leuven in Flanders. Naturally I told him I am half Flemish. When I tell people that they usually just assume that the other half is English. But the professor didn’t assume. “What’s the other half?” he asked. When I responded “Irish” he reared back in mock horror and said “Goodness, what a volatile combination!” My family has had a few laughs over that ever since, blaming our volatile combination for any number of sins.

In consequence of this heredity Continue reading

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The Dagenham Idol


The Dagenham Idol


My Dagenham Idol replica











A few years ago I received a mysterious Christmas gift from my San Francisco brother. I opened the long, narrow box to find a crudely formed human figure made of wood. It looked like something you would find in the “exotic” home décor aisle at Pier 1 or World Market, along with the carved elephants and brass Buddhas. Standing 18 inches tall the figure was armless with a disc shaped head, a rudimentary nose, and a single eye. Just above the legs a round hole was an ambiguous indicator of gender. I stared at the figure for some time wondering what on earth my brother was thinking Continue reading

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On My Bookshelf – Rupert Bear


Strictly speaking this book is no longer on my bookshelf, though for many years it lived with a collection of old children’s books in my daughter’s former bedroom. Back in the 1980’s when my children were small my mother brought it with her on one of her visits from England. I assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that she had permission to give it away. The truth came out quite by chance. Continue reading

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