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Sunday, November 12, 2006

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Tulips and Poppies, with Narcissis


Daily blogging is turning me into the Will Ferrell character in Stranger than Fiction. You know, the guy who wakes up one morning to hear his life being narrarated. Everything menial thing I do, I can hear myself blogging it--the yard work, the juice glass of beaujolais, listening to Joni Mitchell, peeling some potatoes--it's all fair game.

Perhaps it's to make me seem more interesting to myself. Peeling the potatoes doesn't seem so mundane if one can pretend it is an element of a much vaster montage. Not just peeling potatoes but introducing a note of earthiness and authenticity to the overall narrative.

Like I wasn't self-conscious enough to begin with.

What I miss about being able to go quiet for several days in a row is the fallow time. Being able to let the events and thoughts of the day break down, compost a bit, before sending up a shoot. Being on a 24-hour clock feels forced, like putting tulip bulbs in the refrigerator to trick them into thinking it is spring. They come through with the show, but you miss the context. It's rather sterile.

Also, (and I know I'm whining now) I'm constantly on the spot. Usually by the time I sit down to write a post, I have a pretty good idea of where I want to begin, if not a burning desire to make a point. I am three paragraphs into this entry, and I still haven't got the slightest idea what to write about.

I said yesterday I would write about Rembrance Day (Veteran's Day in the U.S). My mother sent me photographs of she and my sister's family attending the wreath-laying at the memorial in my hometown. I remember those ceremonies so vividly. I should. I attended them, along with every other able-bodied resident, every November 11 until I left home. My cousin wrote that there are three WW I vets left in Canada. The youngest is 105. I remember the few Great War soldiers from my childhood Rembrance Day observances. I'm sure I thought they were a hundred years old then, but they must have been in their seventies and eighties. The World War II veterans were still pre-retirement age. My best friend's father had served during that war.

Wednesday, I was listening to Terry Gross interview Daniel Mendelsohn on the book he wrote about tracing the last days of his Ukrainian Jewish relatives, victims of the Holocaust. As they were talking, it struck me anew that these events happened in my own parent's lifetime. In modern times. They happened to modern people. It's not like looking back at the Black Death, and be able to say, whew, thank goodness we know something about germs now. There is nothing--not one fundamental thing--we know now in our time that the world didn't know then. They had vaccination and psychoanalysis and the theory of relativity and existentialism and religious reformation, and most of that century's greatest minds had already weighed in. Arguably, the only thing that sets us apart from humanity then is that we have the benefit of hindsight. We know it could happen, because it did. Does that translate into a course for prevention? I think about Rwanda and Darfur, and I wonder.

Lest we forget. That was the Veteran's motto. We wore felted plastic poppies all week to show that we wouldn't. I wonder if they are still as widely worn at home. I never see one here. I never hear about wreath-laying ceremonies here. The only way I know it is Veterans' or Memorial Day is when SALE! appears after those words in a flyer that comes in the morning paper. When it comes to the gravitas of war, Americans seem to be either deeply uneasy or totally cavalier. It is always macho bluster with them, whether they are pro- or anti-. I almost never see or hear anyone discuss war without being, themselves, aggressive.

To acknowledge--to feel-- the grief and solemnity of war is to acknowledge vulnerability. It is to give voice to our collective regret. It admits human failing. Those are the messages I got as a child from those dignified and ancient-seeming warriors who used to come and salute their fallen comrades around the town square. That was what was transmitted in the long moment of silence. Those were my heros.

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5 Comments:

Blogger sgazzetti said...

My friend Jože invited me to spend Easter with his family a few years ago. His grandfather was tending the garden and cornered me and started telling me a story, whose broad strokes I managed to follow. He told me about how the Italians came and forced him into their army, and how they crossed the mountains and he was captured by the Russians. The Russians planned to work him to death, but his forced-labor crew was strafed by an airplane (German, he thought) and he jumped into an open cesspool. When he climbed out, all covered in liquid shit, he was the only one left alive. So he started walking south again, and when he got home he joined the partisans and lived in the hills for two years fighting the Nazis. Then the war was over and he got married and built this house [the one behind us] and married Marija and put in this garden [the one we're standing in] and raised a family and at this point Jože told him "stop it, grandfather, you're boring him."

5:50 AM  
Blogger K. said...

Incredible. The image that comes to mind is of someone trying to pass something valuable and urgent into your hands before getting caught.

The guy Terry Gross interviewed had some interesting things to say about what the war did to the European psyche. He said it is a haunted place.

Thanks for commenting. It reminds me I need to get over and see what's up on the Issglossia. :)

6:48 AM  
Blogger Erika said...

Poppies are still ubiquitous in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day. Veteran's sell the poppies in the liquor stores for a donation. A smart move if you ask me - get them while they indulge their sins and the guilt will get you a big donation.

I remember the poppies being red felt with a green centre, but the last few years the centre has been black, more appropriate and more realisitc. Not sure if this is my childhood memory playing tricks on me. Other than that they haven't changed a bit.

6:57 AM  
Blogger Helmut said...

Yeah, our plastic poppies used to have a green centre but now they're black.

I'm from St. John's and everyone wears them around here, starting with the two weeks up to Remembrance Day.

You don't feel right if you forget to put it in.

The fact that the "holiday" is now associated with the big sale at Macy's is horrible.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Jule Ann said...

I don't have a lot to add to this, other than a general "amen". I miss the solemnity and consciousness of Remembrance Day in Canada, and I can never really seem to express it to my American friends without it sounding hokey. It wasn't. It was real. And the cavalier "hooray for our soldiers, let's have a BBQ" attitude that permeates American culture just always makes me feel a little bit of sad longing for the quietness of a single trumpet playing the Last Post and the notes seeming to hang crisply in the cold, November air.

12:27 PM  

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