Reviews and News:
When Churchill stayed at the White House over Christmas: “On a cold December 22, 1941, an airplane carrying Winston Churchill touched down at an airfield near Washington, D.C. The prime minister had come to pay a visit to President Franklin Roosevelt and discuss how Britain and the United States could best coordinate strategy in the wake of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor…Churchill stayed at the White House for the next three weeks, taking up residence in the Blue Room. The American newspapers couldn’t help but comment on the irony of the prime minister residing in the mansion that British troops burned during the War of 1812. The close quarters helped Churchill and Roosevelt cement their friendship. They started talking in the morning and didn’t stop until lights out, turning over ideas and weighing options.”
What makes a Stradivari violin different? The wood: “‘If you compare Stradivari’s maple with modern, high-quality maple wood that is almost the same, the two woods are very different,’ said Hwan-Ching Tai, a professor of chemistry at National Taiwan University and an author of the paper. In the study, done in collaboration with the Chimei Museum in Taiwan, Dr. Tai and his colleagues used five analytical techniques to assess wood shavings from two Stradivari violins, two Stradivari cellos and one Guarneri violin. Their measurements yielded several major findings.”
How the world looked when Jesus was born, according to Roman geographers.
Drugs and warfare: “In Shooting Up, a historical survey of drugs in warfare that grew out of his research into future military applications of biotechnology, Łukasz Kamieński lists some of the obstacles to getting the facts straight. State authorities tend to cloak drug use in secrecy, for tactical advantage and because it frequently conflicts with civilian norms and laws. Conversely it can be exaggerated to strike fear into the enemy, or the enemy’s success and morale can be imputed to it. When drugs are illegal, as they often are in modern irregular warfare, trafficking or consumption is routinely denied. The negative consequences of drug use are covered up or explained away as the result of injury or trauma, and longer-term sequels are buried within the complex of post-traumatic disorders. Soldiers aren’t fully informed of the properties and potency of the drugs they’re consuming. Different perceptions of their role circulate even among participants fighting side by side.”
The last bookbinder on the Lower East Side: “In 1980, according to the census taken that year, there were 1,500 bookbinders in New York. A great number of them plied the trade in downtown Manhattan, on the Lower East Side, among the garment workers, delicatessens and dive bars. Of that proud and once ample contingency—the binders of the Lower East Side—now there is only Henry.”
Essay of the Day:
The letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor, James Campbell argues in The Times Literary Supplement, show a man who appreciated “distinctiveness” wherever he found it:
“Patrick Leigh Fermor knew his place: bestriding the posh and the primitive, with one hobnailed boot planted in each. ‘Some parts of Greece, and this is one’, he wrote in 1966 of Kardamyli, the village in the Peloponnese that was to become the closest he ever had to a permanent home, ‘are so backward they don’t know the difference between nice and nasty.’ This has been read by one reviewer of Dashing for the Post: The letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor as appalling snobbery, but Fermor’s immersion in Greek society at every level was as deep as any foreigner’s can be. He came close to dying for it on several occasions. The attachment stretched over eight decades, ending only on June 9, 2011, when, aged ninety-six, he returned from Kardamyli to England, to die the next day at the place where his wife Joan Eyres Monsell was buried. One letter after another in this superb collection recalls meetings with ‘infirm, booted, sashed, turbaned’ Cretans, a people ‘quite unlike anyone else, funnier, higher-spirited, more musical and alert’. He relished the ‘whiskery embraces’ that enfolded him on visits to the island for reunions of survivors of the resistance in which ‘Mihali’ – Fermor’s nom de guerre – had played a prominent, even decisive, role. When, in 1975, he appeared on a French television show with Manoli Paterakis and another guerrilla fighter, all were put up in a ‘grand hotel’ off the Champs-Élysées. ‘It was so strange to see Manoli – a mountain chap who belongs to sheepfolds, caves and mountain tops – among those muslin curtains, brass bedsteads, pink lampshades, Empire furniture, watered-silk panels on the walls, gold swan-shaped bath taps, and reproductions of Watteau . . .’
“When away from Greece, whether in England, France, or elsewhere, Fermor (known to almost everyone as Paddy) hobnobbed with the titled, the crowned and the castled. The letter about Manoli was written to Balasha Cantacuzène, Fermor’s first true love, with whom he lived in Romania before the war, ‘a princess from one of the great dynasties of eastern Europe’, as Adam Sisman puts it in his Dramatis Personae, a roll-call of lords, ladies, viscounts and duchesses. Here, between Janetta Parladé, ‘much admired for her beauty. . . eventually she would marry a Spanish aristocrat’, and Peter Quennell, ‘man of letters, knighted in 1993’, we find George Psychoundakis, the shepherd whose wartime memoirs Fermor translated into English and persuaded John Murray to publish in 1955 as The Cretan Runner, one of the most vivid accounts of the campaign. A letter to Murray contains a gentle reminder to pay Psychoundakis the second half of his advance.
“Having indulged his craving (a strong one) for the upper crust, Fermor returned to his taste for rustic bread. It was a taste unique to himself, like most things about him, but even that was not without a strain of the autodidactic pride that enchants his adoring readership. He was drawn to distinctiveness in all spheres: remote communities, disappearing languages, secret castes, national characteristics, blue blood, residents of any ‘hinterland’ where ‘the wireless [is] out of earshot’. ‘I do resent their presence in Byzantium’, he wrote to Freya Stark of the Turks in 1953, by which time they had been there for 500 years. Istanbul remained Constantinople in his atlas until the end.”
Image of the Day: Watten
Poem: George David Clark, “Adoration of the Christ Child”
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This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard