Wednesday, February 26, 2014

It was the best of times...

I re-read A Tale of Two Cities which I read at age 12 for school.  I remembered the famous beginning ("It was the best of times... .") and the iconic close ("far better rest that I go to... .") but not much in between. 

I see now that it is a novel about expiation of past sins through terror which is in itself a horror.  During the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, each day scores of people were condemned to die within 24 hours under the Guillotine (the National Barber) for various impure thoughts or actions towards the Republic by jackal courts thronged by vengeful baying people who retired therefrom to the "sharp female, newly born" to watch that day's grim tally tied to the instrument and perish one by one.  The crowds would count out loud each head as it was lopped off. 

How far to take the cleansing? asked Ernest Defarge, a revolutionary leader, of his vengeful, implacable wife.  "To extermination." 

When will there be a finish to it? he inquired of her.  "Tell the Wind and the Fire where to stop; not me!" was the soulless answer.

Written in the 19th century about occurrences in the 18th century, such sentiments presaged even worse events in the 20th century.  As the dreary tumbrils trundled through the crowded streets towards the guillotine each afternoon, each dolorous cart bearing its piteous load of bound, condemned prisoners, the occupants looked out with their faces reflecting various expressions, resignation, defiance, dignity, desperation, but not one looked out beseeching mercy, because there was no pity to be had in the massed crowd.

Monday, February 24, 2014

2013 in Review Part II.

I took two trips in 2013--one a generally unsatisfactory major league baseball trip in the spring to Miami that had certain fun moments; and the other a more satisfactory rafting trip in the summer to West Virginia that included some minor league baseball.  The problem with the first trip was the host city's incessant search for funds from parking fees and driving tolls from it's lifeblood of tourism, leaving foreigners feeling eviscerated by the bloodsuckers; while the summer trip provided exciting water fun on a huge river system plus relaxing minor league baseball viewing.

In the spring the Miami hotel I stayed in, a rundown downtown establishment that offered no parking, set me into a maze of meter parking that was in effect at all times except from1 am to 5 am, with a minimum of two hours fare per meter (no 15 minute trips!), in an offensive money grab, and a tollroad system that did not take cash or credit cards--you had to buy a transponder system that worked nowhere else, which I refused to do so I was consigned to slow congested local roads.  But I saw two baseball games at the new Marlins' stadium, enjoyed a cold beer in a local pool hall near the stadium which was priced right ($3) where I was obviously the only English-speaking patron, savored happy-hour fare at an oyster bar and squeezed in a trip to Key West, the southern-most part of mainland USA.

In the summer I saw two baseball games in funky minor league parks, rafted on the high-water New River twice which included many rapids and much swimming and visited the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia and the nearby Natural Bridge.  It was a relaxing journey through rural Appalachia with a return to rafting for the first time since a rugged trip I undertook on the Dolorous River in the west in 2010.

Also notable last year was I bought a convertible, donated blood for the hundredth time, ran my first trail race (a hilly 5-miler in 50:03--drat!), was furloughed for half a month by Congress and reached my goal of running regularly four times a week about twenty miles which helped me to get my weight under two hundred.  2014 is going to be even better!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Adding Days & Miles

This week featured five runs totaling twenty-one miles, which is just where I want to be.  It started off quietly enough with a one-mile run on Sunday to the Metro garage, where I keep my car under cover during inclement weather, to pick up my car without a parking fee during off-hours.
Tuesday I ran four and a half miles at noon on the Mall with a co-worker; and Wednesday I did an LSD of 10K on the Mall with another co-worker who is pushing out her mileage as she prepares for a HM the month after next.  Thursday it was back to four and a half miles at noon with yet another co-worker, running the Hill twice (at the beginning and end of the run) as is customary in my runs on the Mall these days.
Today I went out to Fairfax and ran five and a third miles with John in an outing that was more akin to a hash-house outing (without the drinking at the end) than a regular run.  Because of the leftover snow mounds from last week's big storm still left piled on the sidewalks we ran down unaccustomed highways and byways that took us through unfamiliar places (backyards, marshy fields, alongside highways with no sidewalks) and uncertain elements (through patches of black ice, across snowpack, past hissing geese).
I'm not even recording the elapsed time of each outing anymore as my running style has changed so much from pre-injury (2009) to post-comeback (2011).  I've gone from a race a week to two races a year, and from track training and tempo runs to mere outings mostly in a social mode, but it keeps me out there running.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Seventy Times Seven

Happy Birthday, oldest son.  Now in your late twenties, I trust you are alive, I hope you are well, and I wish you happiness.  Call me about the VA Pre-Paid Tuition Plan, which will be forcibly dissolved by the state this year if it's not used.

Then came Peter to him, and said,  Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me , and I forgive him? till seven times?  Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.  Matthew 18:21-22.

Monday, February 10, 2014

2013 in Review, Part One.

2013 in Review.

Here are the dozen most noteworthy books I read last year, in the order of their importance to me.

Richard II by William Shakespeare
The First Salute by Barbara Tuchman c1988
A Rumor of War Philip Caputo c1977
Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan by Ronald Spector c1985
Shrapnel In The Heart by Laura Palmer c1987
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown c1970
Gettysburg by Stephen W. Sears c2003
Lost Triumph: Lee’s Real Plan at Gettysburg by Tom Carhart c2005
To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsular Campaign by Sears c1992
Chancellorsville by Sears c1996
Antietam by James M. McPherson c2002
Exposed: The Secret Life of Jodi Arias by Jane Velez-Mitchell c2013

One Great Literature (R2), a heartstrings book (Shrapnel--stories on the Vietnam Wall), seven history books (four civil war battle books, a WW2 history, an Indian wars recounting and a Revolutionary War era history), a fantasy (what was Lee's plan at Gettysburg?), an autobiographical sketch (Caputo as a young man in Vietnam) and a guilty pleasures book (sex & murder--true crime).

I don't know why but as you can see, 2013 was a lean year for me in entertainment. I went to no movies and only read seventeen books. I don't watch TV, really, besides some NFL football, a few baseball games and the Military Channel, which endlessly recycles reasons why the Allies won WW2.   My slight curtailment of costs with the cable company removed the other channels I used to watch, the History Channel, Discovery and a couple of other shows.   My 1900 cable channels are a true wasteland.   I don't have an I-phone so I can't claim that I was outside walking around at 2/3rd speed very distracted, riveted to intently watching my palm every second.   I think I'm fretting about acquiring enough money to retire now that I'm in my 60s and it's totally distracting.

The Tuchman book was the most eye-opening because it placed the American Revolutionary War in its proper place on the world stage at the time (Great Britain lost to us but beat the rest of the world by ultimately defeating the powerful French coalitions arraigned against it).  I didn't previously know that the British placed more importance on the sugar-producing isles in the Caribbean than on the querulous thirteen colonies.

Richard II was the most pleasurable reading experience because even though Shakespeare plays take awhile to read, the language laced throughout each one is an endless source of rumination and application.  When my father died after a wasting illness when I was in my thirties, I thought of and found applicability in Richard's famous speech as his own doom approached--I hath wasted time and now doth time waste me--suddenly he saw that, incredibly, he had just run out of time.  That can, and will, be you and me someday.

The Carhart book was the most interesting, speculating that Lee actually had a grander plan to annihilate the Union army at Gettysburg than merely butting against its center, uphill, on the third day.  Perhaps Lee meant to send Stuart's 12,000 cavalrymen around behind the Union lines to suddenly strike the rear of the Union center at the appointed hour, a maneuver perhaps foiled by, of all historical figures, George Armstrong Custer.  There was a spirited cavalry battle to the north of Gettysburg in which Custer's troopers played a prominent role about the time that Pickett charged the Union lines.

The other nine books on my list were various gradations of good to better to excellent (Antietam to Gettysburg to Rumor).  Of the five additional books I read last year that didn't make the cut, two were military memoirs ( a Pacific War remembrance and the WWI experiences of a Canadian) and three were alternate-scenario military posers mostly involving WW2 (Hitler's only chance to win WW2 once he invaded Russia, it seems, was to reinforce Rommel in North Africa, take Egypt from the British, drive through to the Caucus oil fields to secure them for Germany and then perhaps even link up with a Japanese thrust into south Russia or head off towards India).