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: http://uncpress.unc.edu/browse/book_detail?title_id=213]
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…
M

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