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An American Dream

It’s hard to put down this unusual biographical narrative by a Korean War veteran and POW who elected to settle in China after the war rather than return to the low horizons available to African-Americans in the pre-Civil Rights era South.

Clarence Adams after Korean War
Author, veteran and POW Clarence Adams after the Korean War.

Twelve years later, after earning a degree at Beijing University, working for years as a translator for the government publishing enterprise, and developing sincere friendships with Chinese colleagues, Clarence Adams left China during the Cultural Revolution when intellectuals, teachers and writers were attacked by gangs of Chinese youths encouraged by Chairman Mao to make a “permanent revolution.”

He returned to the United States in 1966 and may as well have stepped barefoot into a minefield.  In the U.S. some media outlets distorted his actions and played to the quick prejudices of the public confused by rapid social change and the numbing carnage of the Viet-Nam War. Adams and the twenty other American POWs who had elected not to return to the United States after the end of the Korean War had already been tried and condemned as traitors by the media and popular opinion, even though the treaty that ended the war included a clause permitting prisoners of war to choose any country for repatriation.  Adams returns to this point throughout the book.  He explains that by staying in China after release from the war prisoner camps, he was given the opportunity for education and professional experience that would not be open to him in the United States at that time.

Adams grew up in a clearly defined segregated South in a Memphis family used to dealing with the harsh economic and political realities of segregation and discrimination.  He learned to hustle for extra tips at a hotel job by playing up to people’s need to feel important. Then came the call for soldiers to fight in Korea.

Though the segregated U.S. military was supposed to be a thing of the past by 1948, it took years for the entrenched military to change.  Various encounters in the military underlined the de facto segregation in the North that led Malcolm X to this statement:  “The Mason Dixon line begins at the Canadian border.”

The Chinese entered the Korean War, surprising US troops fed on Thanksgiving turkey and incomplete information from their US superiors.  Adams observes a black regiment providing cover for white troops escaping enemy fire, leaving no cover for the African-American soldiers.  This event distilled into Adams’ a life long protest:  though blacks in America lived in a climate of distain, were denied equal opportunity and basic human rights, they were shipped off to fight America’s wars.

An American DreamIn An American Dream, Adams writes of harrowing scenes of capture by Chinese troops, the march on iced roads to prison Camp 5 near Pyuktong and the near-starvation of the captured Americans. His narrative includes acts of kindness by the Chinese captors, but Adams is politically aware and knows that getting out alive will require communicating with the army prison officials.  During the march to their permanent prison Adams couldn’t keep up with the main column of prisoners.  Weak POWs who lagged behind were being shot, so Adams bargained for his life, begging to be allowed to start out early on the march and continue slowly to the next night’s camp behind the main column. He lost toes on one foot; he didn’t sleep, but he made it to the camp. Though afraid he might be branded a collaborator, months later, Adams stepped forward when the Chinese asked for representatives from the prisoner ranks to work with them to improve camp conditions.

After the war, Adams and 20 other American POWs (three African-Americans including Adams) elected to settle in China, some, like Adams, were placed in university degree programs, others were given factory jobs.  All, according to Adams just wanted a better life than what they knew would be waiting for them back in the US.  Vilified by the press, the 21 American POWs had varying degrees of success in China. Adams explains his choice:  “I might not have known what China was really like before going there, but I certainly knew what life was like for blacks in America, and especially in Memphis.”  (P.64)

Adams married a Chinese woman, they had two children, and he finished university and worked as a translator for the Foreign Language Press.  During the Vietnam War Adams spoke on Radio Hanoi appealing to black American soldiers to think about their position in the war, suggesting they should be fighting for their own civil rights back home.  The broadcast to American soldiers in Vietnam was used as grounds for a summons issued to Adams for testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which dropped the charges after questioning Adams for a week in camera.

After 12 years in China, Adams decided to return to his homeland.  The Cultural Revolution had begun with unprovoked attacks on westerners, beatings and incarceration of educated people and intellectuals, not to mention, widespread destruction of art and cultural artifacts.  When his employer told him to leave the Foreign Language Press and work in a distant factory, Adams knew his run of good relations with the Communist government was over.

An American Dream

By Clarence Adams

Edited by Della Adams and Lewis H. Carlson

University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, MA, 2007. 176 pages.

Code Girls

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Researched and written with vibrant detail, the book runs a thriller’s pace. Blurbs call out “Astonishing…” “Captivating…” “Addictively readable.” Exactly right; I couldn’t put it down.

This book is not a novel, not espionage fiction and not a memoir. This book is about the history of World War II.  It’s about American Women’s History.

Secret teams of American women–thousands and thousands of women–were recruited before they graduated from universities and colleges or they were schoolteachers or intelligent young women in need of a job and eager to serve their country. More than 10,000 women were civilians working for the Army or enlisted in the Navy. All were trained in code-breaking, cryptology and sworn to secrecy. For years, they cracked multiple ever-changing German and Japanese communications code systems.

At the time, it was thought that women were more careful and had a better temperament for repetitive work than men. Yes, they could do the tedious repetitive analytic tasks and recognize patterns, compute numbers mentally and break cipher keys as well.  Mundy writes: “To a real extent, the same prejudice against women persists to this day. Even now, the disciplines that are hardest for women to break into–like math and laboratory and computer science–are the ones that are believed to depend on innate genius, a trait long, and wrongly, associated chiefly with men. … But all along there have been female geniuses whose contributions are as important.  It’s just that far less attention has been paid to them, and often these women were denied the top spots that would have brought them more recognition.”

WWII women Code Breakers at Arlington Hall
Code breakers at Arlington Hall, U.S. Army communications station during WWII.

 

Thanks to round-the-clock shifts of enlisted and civilian women (and men who were not assigned to combat roles) deciphering coded messages in Washington, the Allies kept just in front of German and Japanese maritime movements and supply chains. The majority of the code-hackers and linguists were women, working at the U.S. Navy Communications Annex near American University in Washington and at Arlington Hall in Virginia for the U.S. Army.  During 1943-44, hundreds of female recruits were  assigned to the NCR factory in Dayton, Ohio to build and test the Bombe code-breaking machines designed by Alan Turing to counter the German Enigma enciphering machine.  

 

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Code breakers at Bletchley Park, England.

 

By the run-up to D-Day, the contents of intercepted cables were solved and relayed by the code-cracking women in Washington to their counterparts at Bletchley Park and vice versa. Decoded communications reached Allied brass around the world almost as fast as encrypted messages were transmitted by the enemies.

During 1942-45, my Mother was working on arial photography interpretation and my Father on topographic models for bombing logistics at RAF Medmenham. Like many of the women profiled in Code Girls, my parents met while on active duty.

Liza Mundy has researched and written an outstanding book about the long-hidden achievements by American women who worked to defeat authoritarian dictators and fascism that exalts nationalism and race.

Resources:

CNN Interview with author Liza Mundy

National Archives and author Liza Mundy

Washington Post – The Brilliance of the Women Code Breakers of World War II

The National Cryptologic Museum

The National World War II Museum – Women in WWII

The Women in Military Service for America Memorial 

Code Girls The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

Liza Mundy, New York: Hachette Books, 2017. 

Includes: Appendices, Reading Group Guide, Notes, Bibliography, Photographs and Index. 434 pages.  Paperback edition: $16.99 US, $22.49 CDN.

 

 

 

 

 

Shorewords

Shorewords, A Collection of American Women’s Coastal WritingsShorewords cover

 

The shore is a metaphor for women’s lives — fast changing, on the edge yet constant, healing and nurturing, rugged and gentle. In the preface, the editor explains she selected “women authors who struggle to understand the littoral of female identity. Some…feel trapped by the shore while others…explore the tidal ebb and flow of their lives.”

Designed “to add women’s voices to maritime literature,” Shorewords contains 73 pieces that span the 19th to 21st centuries including a play, poems, fiction and non-fiction. Some of these were extracted from longer works.

Perhaps I overlooked it, but I didn’t notice editorial classification noting whether a prose piece was fiction or non-fiction. Too bad; because the book could be a useful teaching resource. As a long time adjunct professor of writing and journalism (online and on the ground), I know there’s already confusion in the classroom about “creative non-fiction” (when the writing is loosely based on facts with fake bits added for gloss) and fact-based reported journalism (writing that is researched and verified with multiple sources).   Can we rely on teachers, students and readers to know the difference?  Readers often don’t know the difference between a novel and a memoir, an opinion essay or a news article. Call me old school, but I want to know if an author is describing real events or making up scenarios, characters and outcomes. If we can’t determine when a writer is reporting truth or spinning a yarn, how will we develop antennae to spot lies from more powerful sources? 

The anthology would benefit from writings that push the geographical coverage northward and southward on the continent as well as the inclusion of more Native American women writers.

On the whole, though, the anthology is a welcome collection of women’s reflections on water and observations of sea and shore. The editor provides a personal note, mentioning her walks with a dog named Kali. While it could be considered the editor’s intent is to stamp her fingerprints on the book, the recurring theme stitches together the eight sections in the anthology.

Includes: Jennifer Ackerman * Nancy Allen * Gloria Anzaldúa * Kerry Neville Bakken * Dorothy Balano * Andrea Barrett * Doris Betts * Kate Braverman * Mary Louisa Burtch Brewster * Mary Parker Buckles * Rachel L. Carson * Kate Chopin * Amy Clampitt * Lucille Sayles Clifton * Wanda Coleman * Rebecca Blaine Harding Davis * Jan DeBlieu * Emily Dickinson * Joan Didion * Annie Dillard * Gretel Ehrlich * Anita Endrezze * Diane P. Freedman * Tess Gallagher * Susan Glaspell * Mary Hood * Cynthia Huntington * Sarah Orne Jewett * Mary Karr * Susan Kenney * Carolyn Kizer * Ursula K. Le Guin * Denise Levertov * Anne Morrow Lindbergh * Nancy Lord * Sandra McPherson * Edna St. Vincent Millay * Marianne Moore * Ruth Moore * Sena Jeter Naslund * Gloria Naylor * Mary Oliver * Elizabeth Stuart Phelps * E. Annie Proulx * May Sarton * Elizabeth Spencer * Harriet Beecher Stowe * May Swenson * Sara Teasdale * Celia Thaxter

 

Resources:

Native American Women Writers

Mexican Women Writers

 

Shorewords,   A Collection of American Women’s Coastal Writings

Edited by Susan A. C. Rosen, Charlottesville: Univ. of Virginia Press, 2003.

ISBN 0-8139-2234-8 paperback

 

 

The Year of Magical Thinking

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Reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, I traveled so far and deeply into her world during the first 53 pages that I was dumbfounded how little time had passed when I caught a glimpse of the library clock.

This is what writers do, deliberate and highly competent ones, anyway.  Suspend time, compress it, extend it.  Good writers eliminate time, a mundane human constraint.  There is no magic of higher wisdom. 

Sermons and religious ritual, drummed dances, goddess-driven examination of entrails — none are as elaborate a bulwark against time’s threats as this writer’s potion of thought.  Willingly submerged in the memories projected by this writer, we peek at her eternity mirroring our own.  Qualities the world’s religions have been promising as they dither with meaning and subjectivity, are dead leaves compared to the poetry of written experience.

Take solace for life’s wounds wherever you can find it.

French Gastronomy : The History and Geography of a Passion

 

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Opening with a tongue-in-cheek discussion on whether gourmandism is a sin in France (or anywhere), the author is equally at ease citing evangelical and Pauline epistolary evidence as the classical Greek and Roman philosophical commentators on how to live life well. For those concerned with the eating habits of Jesus, the author points out that once the fasts ended, Jesus ate and drank heartily with the best of them.

From there, the lively analysis moves to explain that French food is so varied because it lay on the path between the warring and striving clans of the past. Political changes brought trade and the next thing you know, wealth builds, which buys good cooks, fine ingredients and the leisure to stay at table.

The Parisian dedication to eating and measuring success by wealth of the table long predates the ostentatious 1890’s or the studious culinary minimalism of the 1980’s. The Venetian ambassador to the King of France in 1577, surely no bumpkin, commented on the diverse provisions and how rich and poor alike eat well. In the early 19th century Parisians could buy strawberries in January, grapes at Spring solstice and pineapples year round.

The big advance in French cooking occurred with the change in meat preparation from roasting on an open fire or boiling in a suspended pot to a raised prototype stove called a potager. Built of bricks and tiles, a similar cooking system existed in Italy a century before it arrived in French kitchens in the 1700s. Hot coals were arranged inside the potager and cooks could simmer broths, stir sauces, and braise meats. “Henceforth, cooking was done standing up, close to the source of heat, a position more favorable for producing complicated hot dishes.” Of course the elaborate presentation caused the food to cool by the time the dish reached the banquet table.

In more recent centuries, the author’s primary source archives expand. Chapters dedicated to the French royal and imperial kitchens extend to the rest of Europe because any duke worth his salt wanted a French chef. Contemporary French food nationalism, street eating habits and the revival of regional producers dedicated to traditional specialties come under Pitte’s scholarly scalpel, always leavened with humor and graceful translation by Jody Gladding. In the end the author is hopeful that the French will abandon fast food and nouvelle cuisine, returning to their gourmandizing  and sinning ways.

French Gastronomy: The History and Geography of a Passion, Jean-Robert Pitte

Columbia University Press, 2002, 207 pages with index.

Reviewed by L. Peat O’Neil who teaches Food and Travel Writing for the Smithsonian Resident Associates Program and L’Academie de Cuisine.

Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush

 

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While a Fellow at the New York Public Library, author Colm Toibin delved into the papers of Lady Gregory held in the Berg Collection and published this thoroughly entertaining biographical sketch in 2002. It may be a short read, but it reassess the literary contributions of Augusta Gregory, founder of the Abbey Theater in Dublin while also having a bit of fun with the mystique of W. B. Yeats’ role in Irish nationalism and the Celtic literary revival.

Augusta, Lady Gregory’s founding of the Abbey Theatre and her encouragement of Irish playwrights is well known. Her writing, especially her contributions to plays attributed solely to W. B. Yeats, is less known. Although Yeats gave Lady Gregory some public credit for this collaboration, he “never acknowledged the extent of her work on Cathleen Ni Houlihan,” which bothered her.

Yet Lady Gregory also let Yeats take the lion’s share of credit for stage management of that production, even though he led just a single dress rehearsal when press were present. In their collaboration on the cycle of Irish legend-plays, Lady Gregory had the better ear for dialogue. She drew on a lifetime of conversations with farmers, trades workers and servants.

Cultural nationalism can’t be the product of one or two persons, no matter how well intentioned or talented. Myriad influences contribute to bonding a culture to a nation or a political stream. Irish authorities thought the plays based on Celtic myths would incite the nationalists to bolder action. Against the advice of cooler conformist advisors such as G. B. Shaw, Yeats and Lady Gregory forged ahead with the Abbey productions. As Toibin explained in an essay for the New York Review of Books (v. 48, n. 13, Aug. 9, 2001, p. 40) written while he was working on this book, the enduring legacy of the Abbey Theater was the nurturing of fresh voices and producing mythic dramas rather than staging political plays that incited hot heads to riot and ruin.

Lady Gregory sustained creative friendships with many writers during her eighty years. The narrative is spiced with anecdotes about the curious habits and behaviors of several icons of 20th century literature culled from Lady Gregory’s letters and diaries. Toibin’s irreverent scholarship sheds light on W.B. Yeats’ inflated sense of self and Lady Gregory’s efforts to edit her public image in order to maintain ties to the Irish aristocracy while supporting revolutionary nationalists.

Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush, Colm Toibin

University of Wisconsin Press, 125 pages, ISBN: 029918000X

This review by L. Peat O’Neil appeared in The Bloomsbury Review.

Resources:  W. B. Yeats and the Occult

 

 

Stories from the City of God

Stories from the City of God: 

Sketches and Chronicles of Rome, 1950-1966storiesfromcityofgodcover

Pier Paolo Pasolini
Ed. by Walter Siti, Translation by Marina Harss.
Handsel Books, an imprint of Other Press, NY. 2003, ISBN 1-59051-048-8

In the years after World War II, Rome supported a scrappy demi-monde ravaged by the invasion and aftermath. Pier Paolo Pasolini lived that tooth and claws existence, scraping together food and work when he could, begging when he couldn’t. Later he would use those experiences to drive his creative products – films, novels, stories and articles.

This mix of short fiction and non-fiction sketches explore Roman people of that time.  What’s ugly and squalid shows its beauty to Pasolini.  He cuts through the outwardly pleasing cowards and hypocrites that repel him and celebrates successful thieves and  crafty con artists. The stories mark incremental successes in modest lives where the big picture is only to stay alive for another day.

The short pieces succeed as portraits of people and place during a certain time.  It’s full of timeless portraits of the fleet stealthy underclass that every big city hides.  The stories feature Roman boys — canny youths wise beyond their birthdays.  The author opens up a window on hidden Rome, a part of the city that continues to exist in certain dodgy corners and presumably always will. 

He also notices the timeless landscape of Rome. “Delirious Rome” (p. 25, uncorrected page proofs) opens with two trolley antennae sparking at a track crossing.  The image propels the author to a meditation that compresses time as he thinks about workers commuting all week, and then relaxing along the Tiber. The Roman landscape takes on mythic proportions in Pasolini’s reflection as he skips through history during the trolley ride. The story starts with a spark, a moment in 1950, yet the details of Roman life as illuminated by Pasolini remain. Decades later, the sparks still explode when trolleys cross track lines, sending a rider’s thoughts cart-wheeling beyond the immediate.  Pasolini captures ten seconds of mental musing in pages of robust description.

Pasolini captures smiles and smells, the empty places where the downtrodden hole up to sleep or sell their pilfered wares. By using dialect of the under class, Pasolini thumbs his nose to aristocrats and the fascist enforcers they so recently embraced and supported.  Still, he was no hero to the left, who saw his attention to the less savory aspects of poverty as a perversity.

-This book review originally appeared in The Bloomsbury Review.

The Deadwood Beetle

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Here is a love story between a retired science professor and an antiques dealer. It’s also a story of hiding and shedding the past, human behavior as it mimes beetle traits, and the seductive trap of obsession.

Dr. Tristan Martens finds his mother’s sewing table by chance in a Manhattan antiques shop owned by Cora Lowenstein. Tristan is obsessed with recovering the sewing table which he’d last seen during World War II in Holland. He recognizes the table because of a phrase written on the underside “When the Jews are gone, we will be the next ones” scratched long ago by Tristan and his sister Isolde. Might their names bear other meanings?

At times, Tristan seems too frail and vulnerable to be a retired NYC professor, albeit a solitary entomologist. More butterfly chaser than durable hard-shell beetle man, he embarks on a mildly calculated seduction of Cora as subterfuge to acquire the sewing table. Instead of persuading her to sell the cabinet, Dr. Martens becomes entranced by Cora. In time, Cora displaces the piece of furniture to become the object of Dr. Martens’ quest and she has a secret.

A compelling read from start to finish, the prose gleams with memorable allusions to entomological science. Tristan Martens wonders if he had never been born, would he be… “lying, an unfertilized clump in the honeycombs of the universe.” He imagines the academic progress of Elida Hernandez, the graduate student he mentors, “climbing her green reed. I watched her grasping, reaching, hand over hand.” His ex-wife was nearly killed when “the train slammed into our station wagon and sent it flying through the air with its green doors flapping like grasshopper wings…” Of himself, he decides that there’s “nothing enticing about the cracked carapace of a man. When he loses his front, he puts his robe on quickly… .”

Ultimately, Tristan’s life-long beetle collecting and Elida’s pursuit of minutely different evolutionary changes in the cerambycid species that she’s tracking in the Arizona desert become emblems the novel’s main characters. People may appear to be of similar age, upbringing, sensibility, but have profound differences only visible with microscopic inspection and focused attention. Tristan muses, “I wanted Cora Lowenstein to be exactly like me. Mistrustful of the world beyond the simplest, hardest evidence.” As the story deepens, Martens reflects on his family origins, their history in Holland and Germany and withholds the details from Cora.

Cora’s own secret is Sandor, her husband cocooned away in a nursing facility. After his heart stopped during minor surgery, he’d sunk into a profound coma and was “reduced to an empty shell.” Tristan is a shell too, an armored beetle covering his desire for Cora and shame for his family’s history. Perhaps the only dent in this polished novel is that occasionally the dialogue falters. A conversation between the young Tristan and his sister about general wartime poverty and waiting has Tristan asking “When do we get ours?” a colloquialism tuned more to the upwardly mobile late 20th century.

The novel ends in a filigree of disconnected and elliptical statements meant by the two friends, Cora and Tristan, to cover their discomfort in talking about their present day situation. As a cap for the story, this smattering of words confuses rather than clarifies. The Christmas Eve dinner scene with Elida’s family seemed off-base, as if the phrases were lifted from a different encounter.

Yet the author’s careful imagery is sustained throughout the book, providing technical structure and poetic allusion.  During the Hernandez family gathering, Martens mentions that he became interested in entomology by watching carrion beetles during his work as an apprentice butcher. “They clean up the dirty work. Absolutely essential to life,”  says Elida. Twenty-four pages later Cora alludes to the same tasks: “your people did the housekeeping” referring to Martens’ Nazi-supporting parents. Looming behind the story is always Tristan Martens’ past, growing up the child of Nazi collaborators in Holland, though Cora excuses him. “You were just a child,” she says, several times.

Yet some of Tristan is a child still. The boy who crawled under the sewing table to retreat from a disturbing world shows a child’s grasp of the complexities of adult friendships. His more recent past is also a puzzle to him – an ex-wife and a Christian zealot adult son, both living in Texas. Rather than examine the complexities of the human psyche, Tristan uses an insect explain his son’s harsh letters insisting that Tristan embrace the Supreme (Divine) Authority. The species is a New Guinean fly with “armored, spearlike protuberances that brandish from just below their widely separated eyes … [all] he can do then is wiggle his legs, unable to move, living in dread of the scavenger ants… .” Tristan hides in his apartment when events proceed in ways he didn’t anticipate and others’ take actions he hasn’t orchestrated.

At novel’s end, it’s not clear whether Tristan understands the world and its people are not beetles in a display case. The story bears witness to his coming out to take a look, and shows him ultimately going back to emotional hiding. Perhaps, like the scarabs placed atop the hearts of ancient Egyptian mummies to remind the heart not to bear witness against the self, Tristan decides against judging himself too harshly.

The Deadwood Beetle. Mylene Dressler BlueHen Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. 226 pages ISBN 0-399-14805-1

A similar review by L. Peat O’Neil previously appeared in The Bloomsbury Review.

 

Overbooked

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By Elizabeth Becker . Simon and Schuster, Trade paperback edition 2016.

Elizabeth Becker spoke to an audience in the Ralph Bunche Library at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC about her latest book, Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, as part of the Library’s ongoing Speaker Series. 

In 1980 there were 250 million tourists. In 1995, 500 million. By 2012? Wait for it…. One billion tourists rove the planet in search of something different than home. Then there’s the environmental impact of the mammoth cruise ships, idling buses, trains, planes, ferries or cars they rode in on. Where ever that place may be, there’s an impact – sometimes positive, often negative.

A large eager group listened to Elizabeth Becker discuss the research and analysis behind her new work “Overbooked” The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism published by Simon & Schuster this year. Becker pointed out that tourism provides opportunities for advancing public diplomacy and ran us through the efforts of savvy countries like France, Costa Rica, China and others with national marketing programs. Attracting tourists from BRIC countries – China mainly- France harnessed the power of tourism decades ago. The “well-heeled, educated tourists” leave their RMB, reals, and rupees and rubles throughout France, not just Paris. The country has an integrated win-win marketing strategy that drills down to agricultural networks so provincial inns will have enough succulent organic lamb chops for the menus. Every week, a cultural festival in different regional towns ensures steady stream of visitors. The tourism ministry even issued a marketing report on how to attract Chinese tourists.

Alas, the US government abandoned the promotion of US tourism around 1995. There’s no national tourism marketing program. Since 2011, tourist traffic to the US has flat-lined, called “the lost decade” by travel industry professionals, said Becker. During the same decade, the number of tourists nearly doubled. In 2009, more Chinese went to Paris than anywhere in the entire USA, including Hawai’I, Becker pointed out. US efforts to leverage tourism for public diplomacy are lightweight or non-existent. Tourism marketing is left to the states, Becker pointed out, but most states don’t have the resources to integrate with regional or national travel networks.

Anyone who’s been out and about in the world during the 21st century knows about the crowds of people – in the baggage scan line, traveling and spending money. Too bad they aren’t spending that moola in the US, even if they do stand on the wrong side of Metro escalators. The impact of gigantic cruise ships damages the ocean ecosystem and shore environments. Fragile Venice receives 20 to 24 million tourists a year. Angkor Wat took in 800,000 tourists in the first quarter of 2013, yet the province of Siem Reap is now Cambodia’s poorest with devastating environmental degradation and declining water resources. I wonder if there is an internal migration issue as well, as in China, Mexico and elsewhere, farm families go to the tourist destinations for hotel construction work or service jobs, but can no longer afford to live in their own region. I’ll have to read the book to find out.

It’s not all bad though – Costa Rica practically invented eco-tourism and maintains highly sustainable programs. African game safari tourism is key to protecting animals and communities, Becker commented.

The Q & A session opened with discussion of what can be done to tap into tourism revenues and how can public diplomacy leverage tourism to support its goals. Becker mentioned that in the past Embassies offered information about travel in the US, helping to promote the US tourism industry. She mentioned that the US could encourage residents and citizens to learn foreign languages to be better hosts for those potential visitors. At the request of one participant, Becker recalled her celebrated war reporting career, a strange interview with Pol Pot followed by a desperate escape from Cambodia.

Students Staying in Sevilla

Let’s Stay Abroad in Sevilla

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Sevilla street scene at night. Image courtesy: holeinthedonut.com

Anna Alexandra writes in “Let’s Stay Abroad in Sevilla” a trove of practical tips for a successful stay in a lovely town of hidden treasures. Many of her travel tips can be applied to other regions of Spain.

Her clever footnote tips are handy for those unfamiliar with the language, culture or the area. The enthusiastic descriptions of the numerous eateries make planning a trip there very enticing. A short list of more elegant restaurants and lodgings “for when mom and dad come” is certainly a thoughtful and necessary point in a student’s guide. The language clarifications and foods are also well documented in most cases.

However, students staying longer than three months won’t find a section about visas and renewals for long term stay. It is a pity this important procedure is lacking in an otherwise complete guide to living abroad.

The author has made an ambitious attempt to clarify some cultural and local oddities from her personal point of view, which other residents of Spain could certainly contest. However, given her evident limited personal experience, these minor misinterpretations can be pardoned. She writes: “barmen and taxi drivers and hotel workers do not expect tips, but you should in nice restaurants”…when actually tips are very welcome and customary everywhere. Refrigerators are locked in boarding houses not because “the kitchen is the Spanish woman’s domain” but because in a boarding house for students specific meals might be included, but American-style “all you can eat, anytime” situation is not the rule.

This quick, easy to read guide can give a future visitor an overall view of what is awaiting in sunny Spain and most likely make adaptation a bit easier and more fun.

Contributors include Linda Casanova, an American resident of Spain for 30 years, is an interpreter and former exchange student from Salamanca.  She has traveled extensively through Spain and gives seminars on adaptation to the Spanish culture for business transferees and student groups.

Review by Pat Watson who traveled to Sevilla.

The Art of Grace

Art of Grace_coverIn The Art of Grace, Pulitzer Prize winning dance critic Sarah Kaufman explores the meaning of moving gracefully.  While thought and reason are celebrated, it turns out our brains exist so that our bodies will move better. Those who cannot flee fast, fall to the predator.

Continue reading “The Art of Grace”