Sunday, November 12, 2017

Veterans Day 2017

During the past few years we've been observing the centenary of World War I, and now as we move toward the 100th anniversary of the Armistice next year, I'll share a few thoughts.

Here’s one, for example. Did you know that the holiday we now call Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day for the very reason that it marked the anniversary of the Armistice that ended the fighting in the First World War? The unfortunate intervention of several other wars made the specific date of November 11 less relevant, so the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day to honor those who had fought in all of these conflicts.

Remembering that, this is a proper time for further thoughts about Veterans Day and in this post I’m sharing thoughts not only from me, but also links to two important essays I found during the past week. And while I’ve not done many personal blog posts over the past few months, sharing these essays seems like an appropriate opportunity for moving back into my efforts with my personal blog.

Like many others, I was caught up in the observance of the centenary, even from its early days back in 2014, or perhaps even a little earlier. I read much about the war — and the lead-up to the fighting — and my reading on the subject (which continues unabated) hasn’t been particularly limited to either fiction or non-fiction. I’ve done both, reading more books than I could count, I expect.

I also shared three posts as the observance began, as it was my intention to continue sharing thoughts about the Great War (as people in much of the rest of the world — especially in the U.K. — refer to what we Americans call "WWI" or the “First World War"). It was my goal to write about some of the things I've learned about what went on during that amazing period in our history. And how what we learned affected what we’ve become as a society.

But as I say. my own efforts got side-tracked, and there wasn’t any long list of Guy’s WWI posts. There were three, though, for anyone who wants to re-visit what I wrote about in my own observance of the centenary at the end of 2014:

Guy’s Homage to WWI: The Very Fine Exhibition at the New York Public Library December 22, 2014), describing “Over Here: WWI and the Fight for the American Mind”
Guy’s Homage to WWI: Holiday Greetings from the Front (December 25, 2014), describing my little group of Three World War I postcards I discovered when I lived in England.

And then yesterday came along, our day of observance, and I spent much the day thinking about what the war meant to us, as citizens so far removed from the time of the First World War and, quite simply, as Americans. And no doubt I’ll continue thinking (and, yes, there will probably be more posts from me on the subject). Why? Because I continue to be inspired, and I want to share what I’m thinking about.

And among other inspirations, just Friday I attended the memorial gathering honoring Thomas J. Fleming, a good friend and very prolific author. Tom was, for me, one of the finest writers I’ve ever known, and he wrote one of the best stories about WWI. It was a novel (Over There, published in 1992), and it was a book that had quite an impact on me. Tom found some notes and stories from his own father, and they sent him, as he put it once to me, “to the stacks of the library to see what else I could find.” As it happened, when Over There was published the book was greeted with much enthusiasm, and the book continues to find new fans (including myself of course) as time goes on.

And now we move toward the actual centenary of the Armistice, the agreement that ended the fighting on the Western Front that went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of November 1918. And even though negotiations went on for six more months, the Armistice did lead to the Treaty of Versailles of June 28 1919 which officially brought World War I to an end.

We will observe the Armistice centenary a year from yesterday, and while I won’t promise anything, I'll probably share a few more thoughts between now and then. But in this post these thoughts are not from me. As promised earlier, I’ve read two important essays that I want to let friends and colleagues know about.

The first is an excellent essay from the fine people at Foreign AffairsWhat America Owes Its Veterans: A Better System of Care and Support, by Phillip Carter. The article offers a good history and analysis of our country's interactions with its veterans. It’s a real “thought-piece” and well worth reading. And thanks to the publishers Carter’s essay is a "paywall-free" article from Foreign Affairs, so there's no charge to see this article (if the live link doesn't work you can use to open this article).

And if you have the chance, please also read Ending DACA Will Hurt Immigrant Troops, by Former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates. His opinion piece provides much stimulating content for us on this Veterans Day week-end (again if the live link doesn't open, please use In his article, Former Secretary Gates relates how he believes we need legislation to "provide a pathway to citizenship for those immigrants who, among other attributes, are serving or have served in the military...." In light of their service and sacrifice, he points out simply that "it is also the right thing to do."

Something we might think some more about in this final centenary year of the “war to end all wars.”

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Special Exhibition: A World Of Emotions — Ancient Greece, 700 BC - 200 AD

Exhibition View
We New Yorkers like to talk about the many "secret" activities and events found throughout the city. And it's easy to understand why there are so many of these hidden things to see and experience, when you think about how many people live in New York or come into the city either as visitors or for work. There is a significant critical mass for experiencing what the city has to offer.

Yet many of these lesser-known activities get plenty of excellent publicity, and their sponsoring organizations work hard to get the word out. So I'm always surprised to see how much many of us miss. I suppose it’s because there’s so much on offer, and we just can’t keep up with all that’s available.

The work of the Onassis Cultural Center in Olympic Tower, 645 Fifth Avenue (at 51st Street) is a good example of what I’m describing. The excellence of the programs and exhibitions at the center is noteworthy, and I think these events are well attended, but somehow (through no fault of the center) many of us just don't know about them and we tend to forget about watching for what's coming up at the center. 

The current exhibition — the 17th, I've been told — opened to us on March 9, and now, having just discovered it, I want to tell all my friends about it and give you an idea of how impressed I was with what’s on at the Onassis Cultural Center just now. The exhibition ends on June 24, so if you're a fan of ancient Greek art, you want to take a look at A World of Emotions — Ancient Greece, 700 BC - 200 AD. Make a point of getting over to the Olympic Tower. 

Boy with a Goose
(Photo: National Archaeological
The idea behind the exhibition is to invite us, as visitors, to think about the role of emotion in our lives. At the same time the exhibition provides an opportunity to give attention to how all the many emotions we experience, “in our interpersonal relations, in private life, in the public sphere, and in religious worship” (as described in the exhibition’s very well-written guide) penetrate everything we do and contribute totally to all art and literature. So the exhibition gives us an opportunity to connect what we know and experience about our own emotions with what we can now learn about their role in ancient Greek life and behavior. 

It’s not possible to describe all of the beautiful objects on display in the exhibition. Of course there are the sweet innocent pleasures, satisfying just to look at (such as the famous Boy with a Goose, a third-century BC sculpture from the National Archaeological Museum, Athens). Once I looked at it the other day I immediately remembered how much I loved it when I saw it at the museum back in — I think it was — 1981 or so). Equally thrilling are some of the beautiful and often very moving depictions of funerary and commemorative steles. Indeed, the descriptions of the role of cemeteries and death in the lives of the ancient Greeks are touchingly described in the section on grief.

Naturally much attention is given over to drama, the art so often performed for the Greeks and comprising — as we all know — a big part of their life. One section of the exhibition is titled “Enslaved by Emotions” and I really liked one thesis put forward in this section: “The earliest and most emblematic text of Greek literature, the Iliad (ca. 700 BC) has an emotion as its subject: Achilles’ uncontrolled indignation, caused by an insult.” Immediately following is a section — certainly linked to emotions that enslave — about Medea. I was impressed by the description and visuals of (and wished I had been able to witness) a 1984 Japanese all-male staging produced by the Japanese director Yukio Ninagawa. And for opera lovers like me, it was real trip down memory lane to see the commentary about Maria Callas (including a fantastic oversize photograph of her in her perhaps-most-famous operative role). 

For me the exhibition also provided the great pleasure of connecting some of what I’ve experienced in my past with what is on display here, and I’m very satisfied with what I’ve seen in A World of Emotions. As I think about some of what I’ve learned in my own classical studies (although I am definitely no expert or authority, I can assure you), I find with this exhibition that I’m looking at wonderful depictions of many of the stories and myths I grew up with and learned about as I was educated. And what I kept hearing about and learning about throughout my adult life as I played with “the classics.” Certainly one of my endeavors of a few years ago returned vividly to mind as I viewed this exhibition, as many of the displayed items brought back happy memories of a long journey throughout Greece in the 1980s. On that trip I took along the fairly recent and much-lauded Robert Fitzgerald translation the Iliad and Odyssey. For me, reading these made ancient Greece came alive, even more so than I had experienced in previous trips. This exhibition helped me remember that time with even more pleasure.

Exhibition hours are Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri, and Sat: 10 AM - 6 PM (Thu from 10 AM - 9 PM). Find time to visit Onassis Cultural Center before June 24.