Saturday, August 14, 2010

Umnak, 7 January 1945

My bonnie ambivalent bivalve…
I have finished reading Balkan Journey, the book you sent me quite a while ago after Howard [Daniel] had mentioned a new SE European opus he liked. This, I am sure, is not the one Howard had in mind, for the author’s prime objection to Mataxas [Greek Prime Minister Gen. Ioannis Metaxas]is not his being a dictator but his attempt to gain popular support by currying favor with labor. The Minister of Labor in the Metaxas cabinet was unpopular with American businessmen: Socony-Vacuum, General Electric, American Express.
[A recap of the book’s take on Greek governmental troubles in the late 1930s follows]

That in the background against which Archer’s book is written. He was, as I mentioned before, the director of the Near East Foundation, a goodwill outfit which trained agricultural specialists in the Balkans. But his whole attitude was that of the American businessman abroad, rather than the professor. He was smug, conscious of representing a great country, and had that curious American businessman’s super-respect of royalty—the royalty of the Russian past and the Greek present thrilled him by speaking to him. He even referred to England’s George as “very smart,” which is an unEnglish overstatement, I believe.
The early parts of the story are very disconnected and the political dope is second-hand hearsay. But it is this hearsay that makes the last half interesting, for while I do not believe Archer gives the inside picture of what was going on during the last days of Greece, he certainly gives a fine impression of what the foreign colony was talking about. And there are a fine set of anecdotes, both funny and heroic, which deal with the way each defeat was explained and made swallowable if not palatable.
I would like to know how much of the book was written after the fact. Once thing which makes me suspect it is an item in May 1941, which speaks of German troops leaving Greece for Russia. It wasn’t until six weeks later that we put out the Special Special Extra Wuxtra of the Washie [Grays Harbor Washingtonian, which Murray edited and Rosa made up another quarter of the news staff in 1941; Murray described the other two staffers as an 18 year old and a drunk]announcing the end of the world, the freeing of Finland and similar absurdities.
But whatever its merits or demerits, the book has made me long for another look at the Balkans—and for a first look at Ragusa on the Dalmation coast. I hope Howard makes it over there. He may be able to help us some way or another.
I was at the library yesterday to pick up some more dope about Alaska and in looking around fund Graham Greene’s book of mystery in Mexico, “The Labyrinth Ways,” which seems to have as its hero a lay priest. Since Greene’s “Ministry of Fear” was shown at the Rec Hall the other day I was talking to Ted about him tonight over a cup of tea. Mostly I remembered Gracene, but I also recalled Greene’s semi-priestly status, which has long confused us. I said I didn’t understand how he could be a priest half the year and a layman the other half. Ted said, “We’ll have to ask Leedom.” I bit and said, “Is he a Catholic?” “No. He just knows everything.”
Leedom is the character I told you about who informed me how CBS writes its news broadcasts. He has developed a great reputation for blowing hard and long. One of his roomies gave a remarkable description of how he came in and found everyone talking about architecture. That was about nine o’clock. Leedom started telling them all—including one architect—about the ways houses are built in Seattle. At ten thirty the first fellows started going to bed. Leedom was still talking. At eleven everyone else was in the sack and the lights were out. Leedom was still talking. And, Ted swears, at one a.m. he awoke after a nice nap and the exposition on architecture went on uninterrupted.
My only incident to toss into the pot took place a week or so ago when I was at the library looking up some dope on sealing. Leedom volunteered that I could get better information from an old priest at Sitka and when I inferred that I doubted the CO would give me a pass to drop down to Sitka for a few weeks he thought perhaps I ought to write about a doctor in Anchorage instead of sealing. Fortunately we are not on the same shifts. One of the day-shift idealists had a very rough time the other day trying the convince the omniscient sergeant that countries like Holland and Yugoslavia deserved their independence after the war. “If they’re so good what did they let themselves get licked by the Germans for?”
The reminds me. Al [Hesse] has a new reason for pessimism about the post-war peace. “Everything seems to come in threes so I suppose we have to have another war.”
The other day I wrote at length about the Noel Coward business. Even so I forgot to quote a quote that the critic I was quoting quoted. Here it is with the critic’s very own introduction and explanation:

Certainly he cannot expect Americans, who never thought of defending the globe-trotting Senate group before, to be pleased when he complains of how these senators interrupted a party he was enjoying one evening in Cairo. “It wasn’t that they were rude,” Mr. Coward writes, “or even controversial; they conversed without distinction but quite amiably, in fact their behavior was above reproach, but oh my god , were they dull.” That is, until these “aggressively homespun figure” took their leave. (Local editors, please note but do not copy the insufferable charm of “homespun,” as here used.

Remembering that Buncombe Bob Reynolds of North Carolina was among the Senate group, I find the only possible criticism to Coward’s reaction was that he was able to find them only dull. Judging by Reynolds’s recent showing in the North Carolina primary, his constituents found him more boring than did Coward.  [for a brief bio on Buncombe Bob:]
And now, my cherished coatimundi, I will get back to work on the Aleutian stuff. I can’t believe it, but I have nearly a third of the material finished—first draft—and see nothing that will slow me up very much on the rest of the stuff. It would be nice to complete a second book up here. I’m very very anxious to hear what you have to say about the parts you have seen so far—and for a fuller reaction to Day of the Dead. So far you’ve said you liked it, but not what parts you like and, really, what parts you didn’t.
There’s a soldier here in love with a girl in a Seattle houseboat, the unblushing varmint…

Friday, August 13, 2010

Umnak, 11 January 1945

My Pretty Plikka,
Last night we had an experience which could be conceived only by the master minds of the United States Army. Here on this womanforsaken island, miles and months from anywhere, we had inflicted upon us the semi-annual showing of the sex hygiene movie with detailed instructions of how to protect our health after sexual intercourse. It’s regulations and attendance was mandatory.
After the compulsory part of the movie was over, I ducked out and raced back to the hut, for tonight was symphony night and our Arturo was doing his best by Beethoven. I missed the first movement of the Fifth, but  because our station has the curious habit of filling up any spare time in the symphony hour by replaying the start of the program again, I managed to hear fate getting in his four knocks. Everyone else from the hut was at the movie, so I had the music all to myself.
Later I found another symphony program but just as the first movement of the Jupiter was well underway the boys came back from the show. Al Hesse left the program on but LaRue with loud wails turned it off and got a mystery drama with an odor of Roquefort. I couldn’t object because the hut agreement is that anyone has the privilege of tuning out mainland stations in favor of the programs over our local Army station. And though the program was bad it was followed by the poetry program which LaRue, in turn, could not dial away, though he wanted to. Which was lucky, for Ingrid Bergman was reading a group of love poems and a couple of humorous ones were marvelous.
And just a little while ago one of our shortwave foreign language (in the main Filipino Tagalog dialect, I believe) programs put on a program of American folksongs: Robeson, Marion Anderson, Tibbett, and Richard Dyer-Bennet, who did that wonderful one about the haunted house in the English field.
So you can see it has been a rather successful day. It may also have brought us winter, although I’ve been fooled often enough before so that I’m ready to hedge. One swallow does not a summer make, nor one snowfall…..
The January 8 edition of Time came today and it has one exceptionally good item, a reprint from the London Observer, which sheds more light on the Greek situation than do most commentators in fifteen minutes. The item, written by Stephen King-Hall, simply supposes that Britain had been invaded in 1940 and that the Americans had now liberated it and restored the Chamberlain government intact. The implication is that the British would welcome the Americans bearing gifts of former appeasers as their rulers in the same way that the Greeks welcomed the British when they brought back the old “manipulators of evil and referees of futility.”
I picked up that last phrase in “My Native Land.” Adamic quotes it from the conversation of a sixteen year old girl about the prewar European politicians. Until I’ve finished the book I’m not going to go into detail about it. Instead I’m going to talk about a book I read in New York and whose title I’ve forgotten. John-Boy told me to read it; insisted, in fact.  The author is G. Ferraro, a living Italian, and the subject was the reconstruction of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars and why the peace was kept for almost a century afterwards.
Ferraro is a royalist. He does not believe in the divine right of kings or any such nonsense, but what he does believe in is the legitimacy of kings. He feels that the post-Napoleon peace was kept mainly because the governments of Europe were legitimate and stable. In essence his theory is as simple as this: An agreement with either a military dictator or a pure democracy is not guaranteed. A dictatorship, being at most a temporary thing, can afford expediency, can afford to break the agreement. A democracy is bound only by the will of the people, and they can and do change their minds. But an agreement with a monarchy binds the monarchy and as long as the monarch or his legitimate successors are on the throne the country must feel itself bound.
This, it seems to me, is the crux of the British position in liberated Europe. The Foreign Office is composed of disciples of Ferraro who want to deal with government s they feel will abide by their agreements. It explains how the British with a figurehead king whom few can respect can wish to impose either monarchs or regencies on Italy and the Balkans, and it explains, I believe, the failure of our Allied propaganda to attack the emperor of Japan.
Personally, I find the Ferraro position a little silly. It is easy to point to monarchs who tacked with the wind—Alexander, Carol, Boris—and I cannot see the benefits of legitimacy, say, in the case of the House of Savoy which though definitely entitled to the throne has so smirched the reputation of the monarchy that the people have no respect for it.
But it does seem the only legitimate grounds on which intelligent men could support the theory of kingship in the twentieth century. And although they may have social astigmatism, the British foreign officials are intelligent.
On the same track, I think that you will find Ed Murrow’s interview, enclosed, another impressive proof that he is the best man in radio today. (And speaking of the radio there is now playing a Javanese song which makes me think of our long-mustached, long-missing Geoff.)
I’m sending along two more sections of the Aleutian work, the first of which I like a lot. [This was published in 1946 as Bridge to Russia: Those Amazing Aleutians, Murray’s second book, and republished in 1981 as Islands of the Smokey Sea.] The Baranof bit is going to be the longest in the book, I believe, and I’m not quite sure of how much detail I want to use. I must work it out as I go along. When I finish with him I have a nice piece in mind about Rezanov, who planted a colony of Aleuts in California, and then a bit about a couple of the Russian priests. That will wrap up the Russian history and American story of Aleutian occupation, up to the war, shouldn’t take a lot of telling. This is the most fun of anything I’ve written, Nunny, and I hope you like it. I’ve sent you seventy-four pages so far, which should be pretty close to half the total. Be sure to let Dad see these.

from Bill Fett, 22 January 1945

Attu, 25 February 1945

O Rare Rosita…

The weather is inclement today, which, in our Aleut dialect, means that it is damn near deadly. The debates on whether or not to go to chow, which involves fifteen minutes of struggling into special clothes and half an hour of battling the blizzard, are really intense. Whether you get more energy eating than you lose making the trip is a matter for serious, unscientific argument. With our hotplate we are in a better position than most huts, and my own solution is one trip a day to the mess hall. 

The Quonset hut and its entrance
The weather has an effect on everyone’s nerves. I believe that if effects Gene [Elliott] more than most. He is always depressed when it is storming. I hate to go out in the stuff, but once having made the trip I feel good, like after running white water (except Box Canyon) or making a good climb. But Gene, who seems to be able to venture out without a preliminary mental struggle, comes in irritated and depressed.

Last night, however, he slid down into the hut just as the tea was being poured and decided that hereafter before leaving anywhere he would phone and tell the people at the place where he was going to put on the pot to boil. He is amusing irritated with his own irritation and last night was wearing a mental hair shirt because , when one of the other censors kidded him at chow, he stood up and was all set to brain him a crockery coffee cup. Fortunately the intended victim found the whole thing funny. 

There is a lot of the irrational in our life up here. My reaction to no mail is that way, darling. Your letter, explaining the difficulties in getting time to write, came in a couple of days ago and it makes me feel the bastard complet to have made you unhappy. And the worst of it is that even when I wrote I knew there was good reason for the lack of mail. I am truly sad, my sweet, for the thing I want most is for you to be happy. Just the thought of you fills me with a tenderness and longing which always threatens t overflow into tears. It makes me understand the Pathetique, even. And tonight when the radio had the second half of Fidelio with Mr. T doing right by Mr. B, I lay on the cot and looked at your picture and watched your expression change with the mood of the music. 

In talking to Gene last night I mentioned that I longed so much to be home that, for the first time in my life, I worry about the plane trip. He said he felt the same way, and also that other he had talked to had worried. It is a completely baseless worry, but the safety record of the air service out here is incredible; it is simply a manifestation of the dread that something might delay or prevent homecoming. In the same way I fear a freeze of furloughs, which there is no reason to expect. One of the fellows in our hut, Smitty, has been due out of here for more than a week now and so far his orders have not showed up. He takes the delay very well, but the rest of us—Gill, who is due to leave in 17 days; Hart, in 43, and I in 63—are sweating out his departure in earnest, nightmaring about similar snafus in our own cases.
I saw in a recent copy of the Saturday Review of Literature that Edmund Wilson is being given a polite sacking by the New Yorker as a literary critic. He is t go to Europe as some sort of special correspondent. This is too bad, for he had replaced John-Boy as my favorite critic. For instance in the February 3rd edition he has a marvelous mauling of Lin Yutang. He echoes our complaints about the unheathen Chinee, which, of course, makes him deeply perceptive in my opinion. He says:
                Lin Yutang is a professional Chinese. I don’t suppose that he began by being one. I did not read “My Country and My People,” which many people seemed to find interesting, so that I cannot trace the stages of his progress. But it is certain that at the present time he is hardly any longer what he may once have been: a comparative critic of civilizations. He is a Chinese for women’s club discussions, for book-of-the-month choices, for big publishers’ advertisements. One of the most depressing features of American culture is its capacity for attracting the most banal elements of the cultures of other nations and rendering them more banal by applauding and paying them on a scale they could hardly have hoped for at home. The English sent us Hugh Walpole and, later on, Somerset Maugham; the French sent us Andre Maurois and Bernard Fey. Now China has given us Lin Yutang…the first chapters of “The Vigil of a Nation” are made up of a loose tissue of platitudes which is at moments almost unbelievable…

I have just finished reading “Kabloona” by a French vicomte who spent 18 months living with the most primitive Eskimoes in Northern Canada. It has a lot of crap in it, but most of it is good and there are parts which are both excellent and charming. One passage I liked particularly told of his visit to a missionary serving in an incredibly remote village, where he lived in a cave which had an average winter temperature of 58 below. The missionary had taught a few of the Eskimos to write, and he wrote a note to one asking him to guide his visitor back to the post. The reply, which de Poncins includes as an illustration of the bashfulness of the Eskimos, was:

Since the white man has no companion for this journey, I shall go with him. I greet the white man. I go now to hunt seal for the journey. What shall I do? I will be so shy with the white man. Write to me. Encourage me. Ittimangnerk greets the priest.
There was also a bit of philosophical writing which was interesting but with which, of course, I did not agree:
If  war comes tomorrow, I shall not know it. If a sidereal cataclysm destroys half the surface of the globe, I shall not hear of it. Man’s pride lies in feeling himself one with his kind, in the knowledge that he is a member of human society; we, at Gjoa Haven, have not this honor. We are the tail of the lizard, cut off from the body and continuing to wriggle.
In my present mood I can think of nothing more delightful than t be cut off from society, or all but a very small segment of it. And I have recently decided that it would be a disadvantage to learn Spanish fluently. My idea of a perfect life consists of being somewhere with you where we cannot understand enough of what is being said to be disturbed by it. Just as I like folk music as long as I don’t know the words, I like people as long as I have no idea what they think.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

from Wilmott Ragsdale, 5 March 1951

As their 13th Anniversary present to themselves, Murray and Rosa called Rags and Ellie in New York City. 

Dear Murray and Rosa—

Eleanor is still talking and if I begin to write now I can feel I’m going on with the conversation, if one-sidedly. Calling like that, so calmly and lavishly about the time, gives a fine illusion that we have rich or foolish friends.
Eleanor has just hung up.

Now I think of the questions I forgot to ask. When is Skid Road coming out?

Do I understand that the Canwell Committee is going again? And is the Committee for Academic Freedom also going again? 
Martin edited the New Statesmen
and clashed with George Orwell.

Are we to expect a copy of the New Statesman and Nation? Are you a regular subscriber? I knew Kingsley Martin and he’s a surly type.

I’m glad you’re going somewhere next year. In spite of our current position of mild but deepening debt and all the spent money, I’m satisfied it was the best thing. Even the year at Johns Hopkins was good whether I ever become a teacher or not. One dinner with inlaws and I know the “wasted years” were good ones. “You are pink and now you’ve made Eleanor pink” my brother-in-law said to me, when drunk, adding, “You should get sound.” Sic. I am resolved to go to the sweet end without giving up anything now, even poetry.

It was just that Allen Tate who teaches at NYU (He is a leader of the “new critics”) saw ten poems I wrote, and gave me a letter to Auden, saying, he had not done this for anybody in two years. Auden and I sat for an hour drinking coffee, and I handed over the poems, and am waiting for a reaction. My most secret thought is that if I got a few published, I might bluff myself into another teacher job. However I would prefer to wait until something is published, if ever, before posing as a poet. After that, you can, when we are mentioned, say, “oh yes, the poet. I knew he was very fond of Robert Service.”
I am resolved to go to the sweet end without giving up anything now, even poetry.  -- Rags

I’m glad you feel you can travel with Lane. That’s the test. You will always be holding her up to see things that you know she will never remember seeing.

England or Mexico? What a decision. [We went to Mexico] A couple named Dilys and Alexander Laing just came through and stopped with us on their way to Mexico. He teaches at Dartmouth—the great issues course. Both are poets, both are novelists. They have their eight year old son with them. 
Sidney Hook

I have sat at the feet of Sidney Hook. That is I asked him to let me visit one of this seminars. He was the only teacher who didn’t replay immediately, “Fine, come ahead.” He was slightly suspicious, but he agreed. And he was very good as a teacher. It was on American theology. [Hook, a philosopher and historian, lived long enough to be bewildered by his grandson, Jon-Jon Goulian, author of Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt]

We have been to quite a few plays. We haven’t been able to go together, because a sitter would cost more than the plays. But we go separately to Lady’s Not for Burning, Member of the Wedding, Affairs of State. $1.20 Movies we cut down on this year. But saw fine Bicycle Thief and Kind Hearts and Coronets.
The job at the New School for Social Research is in teacher the Analysis of the Press or the Wayward Press. They didn’t have such a course and I sold them into it. But now I see it will take quite a lot of research and am worried. I feel that after the first class I will have exhausted all I know. And there are two, two hour classes each week.

Dilys Laing

New Yorker, 28 January 1950

We have just been talking about your moonlit clearing with two inches of snow. And we were both remembering very vividly meeting you at the Little Theater, Rosa in her leather coat, and something brass brought in Greenwich Village, and that wonderful time when the ferries didn’t run. In fact just this afternoon I was remembering some kind of very warm army jacket that I wore when we walked down the beach to the point toward the gravel pit. And then the Mallomars, and the sponge mop and the mountain right across the bay at Dash Point. In fact it was an act of great impulse to give away your anniversary gift by telephoning us all the way from Trout Lake to New York City.