Friday, October 22, 2010

Umnak Island, 1 October 1944


My lovely one …
A trip to the library, a coke, a long-awaited letter from my one love, a letter from –three guesses—Harri [Harrison Pearne, Murray’s half-brother] (advising me to vote for Dewey), and quiet evening in the hut, absolutely alone with the Cleveland Symphony, which played a Weber overture, Tristan and Isolde, and a tone poem written by Lionel Barrymore for brother John. This was followed, by accident I suppose by L’apres midi d’un faun.
With no one around to complain, I have been dial twisting and consequently have heard more good music in any six-hour period since leaving the houseboat. At present a Met soprano is putting Verdi through his paces, and a little while back I had Berlioz’s Damnation echoing down the plastic tunnel of the hut. I picked up the music without hearing the announcement and was rather surprised when I discovered it was played by the Tokyo Symphony, and that fairy story was followed, quite appropriately, by the Tokyo version of the news. 

Speaking of fairy story journalism, I found this little story in a New York Times review of “Fair Fantastic in Paris,” by Harold Ettlinger, a newspaperman. He worked at night in Paris and found his colleagues of the press a source of constant wonder. One of them, bored to extinction with recording the dull routine of international courtesies and inspired by drink, wrote the following, which was printed:
“The Prince of Wales visited the children’s section of the British hospital yesterday. He smiled graciously at all the little girls and boys there, but one little boy did not appreciate the favor of the Prince’s visit.
“The Prince went up to the little boy and said, ‘Little boy, what is your name?’
“The little boy said, ‘What business is it of yours?’
“That was not very polite and it made the Prince very angry. It made him so angry that he took his cane and bashed the little boy’s brains out.”

Also in the Times (review by Prescott) was a quote from Aldous Huxley’s new book, “Time Must Have a Stop.” It summarized pretty well what I was trying to say a few days ago about my loss of faith in the possibilities of decisive reforms by purely political actions: “There’s only one corner of the universe where you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self…You’ve got to be good before you can do good.” But hell, Will Butler beat Huxley to it by at least a year in his doctrine of personal relationships.

In the New Republic, Stark Young came up with this one in the course of reviewing Mae West’s new play, Catherine Was Great: “Well, there is that remark of Voltaire’s when he said that the theatre was the most delightful of pastimes known to men and women when more than two of them are met together.”
 
And that brings me around to the most flagrant misuse of an adjective I have encountered in some time. I have at long last got back to reading “Land Below the Wind,” the story of the American girl who married a British official in North Borneo. Her writing is of that ilk which can be called spritely, a description of which can be ambivalent. In describing the thirteen-year-old bride of one of their innumerable servants, she said the girl was “luscious as a mango” and that she had “sophisticated breasts.” Just to be certain, I looked up sophisticated. It still means “wordly-wise; deprived of natural simplicity.”

The books I took out of the library this time were: The Hudson, by Carl Carmer; Man’s First Million Years, by Lucas; and North Pacific, by Edward Weber Allen. The first is another of the Rivers of America series.

Your letter today is the one you wrote last Monday after getting my telegram. It was postmarked Wednesday morning and came up in four days … It was a wonderful letter, little one, and the first that I have received in exactly a week. I had hoped for a whole bundle of them, but this one was long and lovely. 

I am looking forward to seeing the new pictures of Mrs. Carl. The one that you liked best—and that the [Seattle] Star did not take, I think you might send in to the picture editor, Life. Or, if you prefer, send it in my name to Gottfried on Time (you can get his new title from the Time masthead) and ask him to relay it to Pictures to the Editor, Life.

The Crosby and Burgoyne over from Shelton is a nice one to have in your back pocket in case anything goes wrong with your work in Seattle, but I am glad you are liking the newspaper business so well from this strange angle.

Our hut is now down to five men, and its barrenness is most pleasant. Only one of the fellows, Al Hesse, was here when I came. Reading from left to right as you come in the door we now have: me, then Mac the Cook, a vacant bed, and Hesse in the corner. Across from Hesse is Stan LaRue, of Okkland Addition, Tacoma. He is married to Dorothy Brown, who was a classmate of yours at Lincoln. The two middle bunks are empty and across from me is the double wristwatch kid, Ralph Lundquist.

LaRue, our latest, is a tall, loosely knit kid who, although in his early twenties, has the slightly flaccid look of a middle-aged bank clerk. He is very quiet, very neat and seems to live on a schedule. He keeps a New Testament on his desk and in the front of it is pasted a poem to Mothers. For a short time he was a censor, but now he has been reassigned and Al, Ted and I are carrying on as usual. We needed a fourth censor about as much as a platypus needs wings, but it was fun while it lasted.

I had a long talk with Ted the other night. He is a strange kid. Although he volunteered for the ACS and has had city assignment from the start until four months ago, when he came here, he feels that the outfit is mistreating him by keeping him away from his wife. I don’t that he just feels unhappy—he feels that failure to make special allowance for his marriage is persecution. He also feels that his service in Fairbanks (at $5 a day over his staff sergeant’s pay) should entitle him to more consideration than men “who were only overseas a year in combat areas.” This type of myopism seems very prevalent in the army. It is hard for any of us to see any problems but our own. …

While I have been writing this, there has been a great radio broadcast. It was based on recordings made in the Arnhem pocket by a BBC radio newsman. The sound effects, or rather , sound recordings for they were of the real thing, were terrifying. It was, I believe, the best broadcast I have heard since that long ago “The lights are going out in Czechoslovakia…”

Arnhem Gap:
 (September 30, 1944, The Nation)
The question of the duration of the European half of the war is being settled outside a city in the Netherlands. The air-borne division in the Arnhem pocket is still holding out, after seven days and nights of fighting, but its perimeter has been badly compressed. Presumably there is what amounts to a military vacuum in this area. The stiffness of the German resistance along the line from Arnhem to the Belfort Gap indicates that every available division has been committed to this action. The German reserves have been drawn into the fire fight both in Normandy and along the Westwall; they were held and enveloped in Normandy and will either be held and enveloped in the Netherlands or broken through in Germany.
From The Archive
The prospects of an immediate victory of the U.S. over Germany went glimmering with the magnificent failure at Arnhem. Arnhem, of course, was not a complete failure, the estimate of "80 per cent success" placed on the over-all air-borne operation by a senior staff officer seems just. The Red Devils occupied the full attention of General Sepp Dietrich's first-class troops, and held out for nine days against greatly superior forces, heavy artillery, tanks, and flame-throwers. Their grievous losses and outstanding courage and tenacity enabled troops to move from the stalemated line of the Escaut Canal to new positions.
Charles G. Bolté
Charles Collingwood
About radio broadcasts: Charles Collingwood, our old CBS friend who had the contract to clean the Dover cliffs of the bluebird droppings, is the fellow who really fouled up the Paris liberation story by getting it two days early…And that Radio Tokyo broadcast I heard today devoted two minutes to quoting with happy praise an article by Clare Booth Luce. I’ll bet hubby Henry is unhappy.

And of battle reporting, here is the story of the Chinese writer of the 13th century: “No sound of a bird now breaks from the hushed walls. Only the wind whistles through the long night, where ghosts of the dead wander in the gloom. The fading moon twinkles on the falling snow. The [illegible] of the walls are frozen with blood and bodies with beards stiff with ice. Each arrow is spent; every bowstring is broken. The strength of the war horse is lost. Thus is the city of Han-li under the hand of the enemy.
M





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