Hero of the American Revolution, Marquis de Lafayette

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LAFAYETTE and the HERMIONE

The Hermione, a replica of an 18th century Liberty frigate, set sail on April 16, 2015 from Port des Barques, France for a transatlantic crossing of 27 days and 3819 miles. It will arrive in Yorktown, Virginia to commemorate the historic voyage of the Marquis de Lafayette who sailed in 1780 to support George Washington and the American Revolution. Lafayette brought 5,150 men and 5 frigates as reinforcements and he had financed the whole enterprise himself. He was only 22 years old.

In Yorktown, Lafayette’s frigate took part in the blockade that led to the surrender of Lord Cornwallis and his army, helping to turn the tide of the American Revolution. Lafayette fought for the principles of the American Declaration of Independence and became an American general. He also became a symbol of the Franco-American Alliance and a part of the mythology of the United States. His motto was “Why Not.” Of the Hermione he said, “She sails like a bird.”

When he returned to France, Lafayette wanted to expand the rights and liberties of ordinary people but he was also a royalist and wanted to keep Louis XVI on the throne. Lafayette was a moderate who believed in an empowered nobility and a constitutional monarchy, but France was then moving towards radicalism. Lafayette was eventually relieved of his command of the French national militia and accused of treason. He was imprisoned for 5 years. In 1824, he made a triumphal return to the United States and was celebrated everywhere.
During World War I, when General Pershing’s aide, Charles Stanton arrived in Paris in 1917 he uttered the famous words: “Lafayette, nous voici.” (Here we are)

Lafayette died in 1834 at age 76 and President Jackson declared a national day of mourning.
There are at least 36 cities and numerous counties and other localities named for Lafayette in the United States but in France he is not as well remembered. There is a small “rue Lafayette” in Paris, but when people on that street were recently asked whether they knew who it was named for, most did not. One person guessed that it was perhaps for the founder of the Galeries Lafayette (a Parisian department store).

Lafayette is also the subject of a statue in New York’s Union Square Park by Frederic Bartholdi (the designer of the Statue of Liberty). He is buried in Paris at the Picpus Cemetery. The American Flag floats over his tomb.

And The Walls Came Tumbling Down

Castle and ramparts, medieval city. Carcassonne, France

Ever since the Bronze Age, people have banded together and erected barriers to protect themselves against invasion by dangerous “others.” This was especially true in Europe during the Middle Ages. Because of constant wars, dense population centers surrounded themselves with elaborate fortifications including walls, gates, observation towers and deep ditches. Some were built around castles. Others extended beyond citadels.

The Great Wall of China was erected for protection against the Mongols and other nomadic tribes. Hadrian’s Wall in northern England was meant to thwart barbarians and keep them from invading this outpost of the Roman Empire. These walls also served to collect customs fees.

Soon however, as cities expanded and flourished, the walls became an obstacle to commerce and contributed to isolation. They began to come down. Fortunately many have survived.

I have always been fascinated by the still existing walled towns and have tried to visit many of them in my travels.

Carcassonne, high on a hilltop in the center of France, is the largest former fortress in Europe. It is a medieval fortified town, restored in the 19th century. Its massive walls, dating from antiquity, encircle a gothic cathedral. There is also a castle complete with drawbridge. The view is superb everywhere you walk.

Saint Malo, a walled port city in Britany, was almost totally destroyed in 1944 by Americans. They believed a great number of Germans were hiding there (they weren’t). It too was completely rebuilt. You can walk on the cobbled streets of the ramparts and see the ocean on all sides. It is often grey and windy which adds to the overall somber effect. It is in Saint Malo that I have seen the highest and fastest tides in the world. Climbing to the top of the walls they seem to be propelled by giant forces.

Dubrovnik in Croatia was founded in the 7th century on a rocky island. Its thick creamy walls, turrets and towers are bathed in radiant sun. The vermillion rooftops, with views to the azure and glistening sea, give it the look of a jewel. You can walk and enjoy it for a long time.

Quebec City is the only walled city on the North American Continent. Its cobbled streets overlook the St. Lawrence seaway. A castle (Chateau Frontenac), cannons, churches and bell towers add to the fortress effect.

The Berlin Wall (1962-1989) was conceived as an anti- fascist bulwark meant to keep Western “fascists” from entering Eastern Germany and undermining its moral purity. Its real purpose, however, was to imprison the East Germans. It was to keep insiders inside.

It finally exploded from within in 1989, releasing all its prisoners. And the walls came tumbling down.

Frederic Chopin 1810-1849

Why does some music become stale and impossible to listen to? I no longer enjoy Bizet’s Carmen, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker or Swan Lake or even Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. I get a powerful urge to turn off the radio when I hear them. They have lost their potency and are merely annoying. Chopin, on the other hand, seems to live eternally. Is it because the composer died early and his music remained young with him?

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Piano music is intimate and seems to have been written for you alone. Chopin’s genius was in making the instrument perform like a whole orchestra while seeming to reach out from across the room. It is in turn passionate, tender, moody, exalted and stormy. It flows without any hint of sentimentality. This is romantic music in the original sense of the word rather than the pallid “candlelight and roses” meaning it has acquired in popular culture. It is pure sound without a story to prop it up.

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Chopin created or reinvented new musical genres like the ballad, nocturne, prelude and dance music like the mazurka, waltz and polonaise. Many lent themselves to adaptation into popular music without any loss of originality or vitality. The ballet “Les Sylphides” evolved from the Grande Valse Brilliante.” I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” comes from a fantaisie-impromptu. “No other Love” from an etude. They have migrated easily and there are more.

Chopin’s music is also infused with patriotic fervor and nostalgia. He was born in the Duchy of Warsaw in 1810. His mother was Polish, his French father taught in the local lycee. Chopin moved to Paris in 1831 and never returned to Poland but always retained a strong attachment to a country that disappeared from the map several times during the 19th century. For 123 years there was no sovereign country called Poland. On three separate occasions it was partitioned between Russia, Prussia and Austria and became a phantom country. This only reinforced Chopin’s fierce patriotism and fueled his music. He never ceased to mourn his native country. In France Chopin had a troubled and tormented relationship with the author George Sand. In his and her writings their relationship is often expressed in petty and acrimonious complaints but this too was sublimated and found an outlet in his music.

Chopin died of tuberculosis in 1849 and was buried in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. His tombstone features the muse Euterpe weeping over a broken lyre. Later his sister took his heart back to Poland where it is preserved.

Editor’s notes: Pictures by Simone’s daughter, Dina Cramer.  Your comments and responses to Simone’s posts are deeply appreciated.

 

 

 

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Is the Two-State Solution in Palestine Still Alive?

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Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1970’s

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Benajamin Netanyahu Today

What does Netanyahu’s big election win mean for the future of Arab-Israeli coexistence? It is a right-wing success, a challenge to liberals and a victory of fear over hope. There is fear of Hamas militants in Gaza, fear of Iran’s nuclear potential, and fear of Obama’s utopian objectives and his lack of understanding of Middle East realities.

Netanyahu is convinced that Mahmoud Abbas is not capable of heading a viable Palestinian state. So is the two-state solution dead and buried? It certainly seems to be, even as Netanyahu is now soft-pedaling his earlier pessimistic statements. This has been a masterful performance on his part, a skillful tap dance while juggling many balls in the air. This fancy footwork means that he has had to convince the Israeli people that he alone could provide security while at the same time trying not to alienate the rest of the world by adopting a hard line stance.

How can there be a Palestinian state when Jewish settlers are occupying much of the land that was to be part of that state? How can there be a Palestinian state as long as Israel will not consent to the division of Jerusalem? How can there be a Palestinian state when the Palestinian Authority is threatened by Hamas militants? How can there be a Palestinian state when Iran-supported Hezbollah continues to fire missiles at Israel or when ISIS (which calls itself DAESH) is only waiting for an opportunity to march into Jerusalem?

The disintegration of the Middle East as a whole is posing a threat to Jordan, Egypt and Israel and certainly to any future emerging state. A Palestinian state would end up being governed by groups who have sworn enmity to Israel. This common threat has brought Israel closer to Jordan and to Egypt.

At the same time, the risk of Israel finding itself isolated from the European Community and at the mercy of sanctions adopted by the U.N. Security Council is very real.

That is why Netanyahu has had to tread carefully to appease the United States. It alone can veto any anti-Israel resolutions. It is also the United States that contributes to Israel’s safety by helping finance the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Now Netanyahu needs to make things easier for both the Arabs in the occupied territories and Israel’s own Arab minority population (about 20%) which is suffering from discrimination, marginalization and restrictions. They need more work opportunities, easier check-point crossings, help in rebuilding Gaza after the recent war and in general a softening of the harshness of their daily existence. Will he do that?

Where Have All The Daughters Gone?

Where have all the daughters gone
Long time missing
Where have all the daughters gone
Long time ago
Where have all the daughters gone
People killed them one by one
Oh when will they ever learn
Oh when will they ever learn

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In Hunan Province an elderly woman placed the following ad:

Wanted: Kind-hearted daughter under 40 to take care of me in my old age, if satisfactory will inherit my fortune.
What exquisite poetic justice! China introduced the one-child policy about 30 years ago. It was a population control measure and it worked so well that China now has a nightmarish gender imbalance. That is because girl infanticide was a long established custom in China for centuries. Killing baby girls or allowing them to starve to death was commonplace. Drowning was another favorite method. Girls were expendable. Girls were more expensive to raise than boys and eventually left the family. It is hard to imagine such callousness but it was universally accepted.

In 2003 the one child policy was relaxed and families were allowed to apply for the right to have 2 children if one of the parents was an only child. It is too early to tell how effective this will prove to be.
In many early civilizations the same male bias existed. In Greece of 2000 BC the murder of female infants was so common that no more than 1% of families had two daughters. In India the custom of getting rid of girls is also embedded in the culture, especially in poor families who cannot afford dowries and lavish weddings. Sons on the other hand, are insurance. I read that in Karachi, Pakistan, nine out of ten newborns thrown on the dump are girls. Aborting female fetuses occurs regularly in India.

A few years ago I saw a film by Deepa Mehta called Water. It tells the story of young Indian widows rejected by both the husband’s families and their own who live in an ashram in Benares are made to shave their hair and are forced into prostitution to provide money for the temple. One of the widows was seven years old.

I have read that we should not force our own moral values on other cultures. I think this is called cultural relativism. I believe this is wrong. Some concepts are universal and if some societies have cruel traditions that cause suffering and death this should not be excused on the grounds that we should show tolerance toward cultures that are different from ours.