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The Fjords of The Sunshine Coast~

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(Please click to enlarge).
We are in a very remote cabin. People may say this sometimes when maybe it isn’t really true. But trust me. It is completely true. This is how our luggage was brought up to our “off the grid,” hyrdo (read river) powered cabin in The Tantulus Mountains.
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Our “stuff” was truck-pulled up the funicular (my word), dumb-waiter (my husband’s word) to our minimal-carbon footprint “chalet.” There are a lot of rules to living up here which I will not bore you with, but the place is so knock your socks off beautiful you won’t believe it, and I will post photos of it soon so you will believe it.
I am however chronologically (as well as spelling and directionally) challenged, so I am going to post the photos in consecutive order. For now, check out the spectacular beauty of The Sunshine Coast.
I managed to post these because we left our chalet and drove down the pitted dirt road in the peaks, to go get groceries, where I found a place that actually had wifi! God Bless Starbucks! They really are everywhere and they always have wifi, as well as low-fat Carmel Macchiato latte……ahhhhhh civilization! You don’t appreciate it until you leave it.
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This is the view from the place we stayed in Egmont before we commenced “roughing it.”
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It is located on the Shookumuchuck Inlet.
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The inlet is in a vast wilderness area reached via Egmont Canada.
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These rock formations are further up the inlet, viewable by boat, in the Jervis Inlet.
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There are bald eagles everywhere!
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Cheers to you from our stunning, lovingly constructed mountain abode, in the tantalizing, non-latte drinking, tips of the Tantulus Mountains!

“In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin.”

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Leni Riefenstahl: Triumph of the Will

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The Dodd Family

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin
by Erik Larson

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Cindy Knoke‘s review

Dec 28, 12  ·
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Eric Larsen is a meticulous researcher and writer.  His book “Devil in the White City,” a non-fiction account of a serial killer on a spree during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair was a tour de force, but “In the Garden of Beasts,” may be his greatest accomplishment to date. This book, relying on historical records and eye witness accounts, details the experiences of William E. Dodd and his family living in Hitler’s Berlin from 1933-38, when Dodd was the first US ambassador to Berlin under Hitler’s regime.
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Dodd, an unassuming professor from the University of Chicago, who had received his Ph.D. from the University of Leipzig thirty years before, was somewhat ill prepared to be an ambassador. He was more at home at his farm or in a classroom than in an international embassy.  He was viewed as a middle class, penny-pincher, who scrupulously monitored embassy expenses.  This made him the butt of jokes and ill will among embassy staffers, most of whom were independently wealthy.  His penurious ways also made him the butt of jokes among the Nazi elite.
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Despite this awkward fit, Dodd was a remarkable person, who sent a series of astutely accurate reports back to President Roosevelt during his tenure, documenting escalating atrocities against Jews under Hitler’s regime, restrictions in civil liberties, press censorship, violence and incarceration against opponents and German citizens, and the alarming increase in martial law.
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When Dodd assumed the Ambassadorship, Hitler was Hindenburg’s Chancellor. Hindenburg died a year later, the same year that Hitler and his supporters staged a coup to route out their substantial German opposition led by Eric Rohm. It was after this violent and bloody coup, “The Night of The Long Knives,” that Dodd commenced his campaign to inform President Roosevelt and the American leadership about the atrocities occurring under the Nazi regime. His remarkable and accurate reports were essentially ignored by American leadership preoccupied by the depression, and unable to get their minds around what was occurring in Europe. Dodd was relentless in his unpopular campaign despite this resistance.
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As if all of this wasn’t challenging enough, Dodd who served in Berlin with his wife, son Bill and daughter Martha, had his hands full with…umm…vivacious Martha. Martha, 22 years old when she arrived in Berlin, had already been secretly married and divorced. She wasted no time upon arrival in Berlin to involve herself in the Third Reich social whirlwind. It was impossible for me to keep track of her sexual liaisons, but she had affairs with an Luftwaffe Officer; Rudolf Diels, the head of the Gestapo; a Russian spy stationed in Berlin; a French Diplomat; American personnel; the poet Carl Sandburg; a Nobel Laureate and many more. Keeping track was difficult for the reader, and possibly for Martha herself.
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Originally Martha was a Third Reich supporter, but after The Night of the Long Knives, her politics turned sharply left and anti-Nazi. The violence and imprisonment of her friends who opposed Hitler shocked her. The ambassador’s residence phone was tapped by the Nazis,  and servants were paid to spy and eavesdrop on the family. Her mother nearly had a nervous breakdown due to stress.
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So Martha, being Martha,  decided to convert to communism, and spy for Russia with her lover, the Russian spy.
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Martha’s fascinating life is way too complicated for me to try to explain. You must read the book. She did continue to spy for Russian against the US through the Cold War, even after marrying Alfred Stern, heir to the Sears Roebuck fortune.
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This review is just the tip of the iceberg. You must read the book. The denouement of the ambassador and his family’s tenure in Germany is absolutely fascinating reading, as is the denouement of Martha’s Dodd’s peculiar life.
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No one could make up a story like this because it would not be credible. You will learn so much about this period in German history, and for that alone this book is invaluable. The full story of Martha’s life is mind-boggling as well.
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But in the final analysis, it is steady, relentless, William Dodd, trying to alert the US to what was happening in Europe that impressed me.
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Highly recommend this remarkable book.

The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From A State Hospital Attic!

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Willard State Hospital

by, Darby Penny, Peter Stastny, Lisa Rinzler, Robert Whitaker.

When Willard State Hospital closed in 1995, after 125 years of continuous operation, 427 patient suitcases, filled with patient’s personal belonging, were discovered, abandoned, in an attic.

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This interesting book attempts to bring to light the personal stories of ten of these patients whose suitcases were intensely studied. The authors chose these specific suitcases because there were a lot of personal notes and materials in each of these ten suitcases, that provided the authors with enough data, combined with patient records and charts, to try to reconstruct these ten people’s lives.

This is a fascinating book about these people’s lives and about the hospital itself. The authors are incredibly patient detectives, who tease out a great deal of facts and details from these suitcases, chart notes, and interviews with hospital staff members, many retired. They locate living relatives of the deceased patients and also interview them whenever possible. The reader feels as if one is reading a riveting detective story x 10, but it is non-fiction, which makes it all the more remarkable.

The “The Willard Asylum for the Insane,” opened in Ovid, New York in 1896. It closed in 1995.  54,000 people were committed to Willard during its 126 years of operation. Most patients stayed at Willard for an average of 30 years. One woman for example, arrived 1899, and died 77 years later in the hospital at the age of 100. Half the patients who entered the facility died there.

Many of the people who were admitted to Willard would not meet the criteria for involuntary hospitalization today. Many were immigrants, who had experienced a series of major stresses in their lives such as the death of a spouse, loss of a job, poverty, homelessness, one woman was regularly beaten by her spouse. There was a nun who left her order and had nowhere else to go. And of course, many patients did have major psychiatric disorders.

Today most of these people, if lucky enough to be able to GET treatment, would receive short-term treatment on an outpatient basis, living in board and care homes. Or they might live on their own with case management, or as quite often occurs, they would live on the streets with no medication or treatment at all, either because services are unavailable, or patients are non-compliant. Many mentally ill people today, who could be helped by a short stay in a psychiatric hospital, therapy, and medication, are unable to receive these services and end up living on our streets (Barton, C. 2006).

What makes this book so interesting, is not these grim statistics, but the detective work the writers embark on to tell the stories of these people’s incredible lives. Who were these people who were left behind and forgotten? Where did they come from? Why were they left here for so long? What was their story?

The bulk of the book examines these people lives and answers these questions, and it is a riveting read. You will find yourself drawn into to these people’s lives and experiences, taken back to the times they lived, and you will see their experience through their eyes.  This is a major accomplishment on the part of these four authors. The authors, one of whom is a psychiatrist, and another a journalist and advocate for the mentally ill,  are all exceedingly patient, master-detectives.

The suitcase project eventually became an exhibit, that traveled around the country and I have included the following link for you to see. It gives an idea of how interesting and compelling this book is.

http://www.suitcaseexhibit.org/indexhasflash.html

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Highly recommend.

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Willard Hospital

(Photo Source: The Suitcase Project: The Lives They Left Behind).

“In The Sanctuary of Outcasts,” Neil White.

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Carville Louisiana

Neil White was a supremely successful southern business man, first a reporter, than a publisher, with a beautiful wife, lovely children, gorgeous homes and a yacht. He was a leader in the business community, contributed to many charities, and was an elite philanthropist, who traveled the world in high style.

White’s world came crashing down when he was arrested for kiting million dollar checks and committing financial fraud by the FBI. White was sentenced to 18 months incarceration in Carville Louisiana, a picturesque, verdant, small, community in Louisiana.

It was not until White arrived at the locus of his incarceration, that he realized he was to serve his time in the nation’s only remaining Leprosorium, for people who were disfigured by Hansens disease. Many of the people in the facility had contracted the disease as children and were living out their entire lives in Carville, to protect them from the cruelties of the outside world. Most had been there for decades.

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Other white-collar criminal types were also incarcerated at Carville. One was new White’s roomy, a Russian born physician and pharmacist, convicted of Medicare fraud for using an compound banned by the FDA, but quite effective for weight loss. He estimated that he had billed Medicaid between $15-$37 million for these useful services. He was sentenced to 15 years in Carville. He was an very interesting man.

At White’s first prisoner group meeting upon his arrival, led, of course, by a priest, another newly arrived con-man criminal, tells the priest group leader, that he didn’t want to “become no leopard.”

Shortly after this first fun group orientation, White receives notification that his wife has, understandably, filed for divorce.

So starts this absolutely incredible memoir. It’s reminded me in some ways of Thomas Mann’s, “Magic Mountain,” except that Mann’s sanatorium was in a TB Asylum in Switzerland, not in a Leprosorium in Louisiana.
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White is an astoundingly good writer, and he strips himself raw in this memoir, examining himself and his life. He enters the leprosorium, an arrogant and self-involved man, and he leaves it profoundly changed by the experience.

The book is not a depressing read. It is incredible, at times uplifting, sometimes tragically sad, but also moving. It is, of course, also true.

The residents the reader meets who live in the Carville facility seem to exist in an alternate universe, separate entirely from our world and ways. The reality of people sequestered away for their entire lives for a treatable, manageable, disease is heartbreaking. More so when you consider the separations and horrific losses this would have necessitated earlier in their lives. By the time White enters the facility most of the permanent residents had lived there for decades. This was their home.

At times, similar to when reading Mann’s Magic Mountain, I felt the residents sense of safety, their adjustment to their completely removed sanctuary, even if it meant they were outcasts.

After all, don’t most  people feel like a bit of an outcast at some time or another in their life?

Shakespeare certainly did. He wrote Sonnet 29 about it:

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“When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.”

But then he remembers, no matter how outcast he might be in “fortune and in men’s eye’s,” he is not an outcast …..

“For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.”

Something similar to this occurs in this book .  Some of the people in the sanctuary, form bonds of friendship, respect and emotional attachment to each other, that results in an unexpected community, that is quite moving to read about.

In fact, later when I learned they might move the residents out of the only home they had known for many decades, I became quite upset, thinking you can’t rob these people who have suffered too much, of their only sanctuary.

White forms a close friendship with Ella Bounds, an 88 year old black woman and double amputee, who contracted leprosy as a child. She is a dignified and impressive person, who clearly had a powerful effect on White, as she does on the reader. There are more people and stories here that will at times humor you, possibly anger you, definitely surprise you, but in the end, move you profoundly.

White leaves after eighteen months, a changed person, and the reader is a better person also, for having read this book.

Highly recommend.

For more reading on the history of the Carville Facility and the current location of the present facility, please see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Hansen’s_Disease_Museum

The Wolff Brothers: “This Boy’s Life & The Duke of Deception.”

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The four best memoirs I have ever read, and I have read too many, are Frank McCort’s, Angela’s Ashes, “Tobias Wolff’s, “This Boy’s Life,” Geoffrey Wolff’s, “The Duke of Deception,”  and Jeanette Walls, “The Glass Castle.”

These books are similar in describing horrendous childhood’s of upheaval and instability, complicated by mentally ill, vagabond, eccentric parents, and a sort of lower middle class poverty. (I know that’s an oxymoron, read the books and you’ll understand). But the similarities go much further and deeper. Each author is a brilliant writer, with an uncanny ability to recount his or her traumatic childhoods without self-pity. They don’t seem to hold resentment towards their incompetent parents. In fact they are able to recognize the strengths in their parent’s oddity and the positive aspects of their personalities. They find in their chaotic childhood experience, grist for creative tour de-forces, in each of these four memoirs.

Please see prior review of “Glass Castle”. I will review “Angela’s Ashes,” soon.

Tobias and Geoffrey Wolff are brothers. Geoffrey is eight years older than Tobias. When their parents divorce, Geoffrey heads off to live with his father and Tobias goes with his mother.

Arthur Wolff was a Yalie, fighter pilot, and ersatz aviation engineer, who was also a vagabond, con-man, flim-flam-man, forger and alcoholic. In the “”The Duke of Deception,” Geoffrey describes his chaotic life with his crazy father who bilks and cons everyone he meets, including friends, associates, wives, and Geoffrey himself.  They move from place to place in continuous flight from debtors and jail. (They end up in La Jolla, where I was born and living at the time, with my father named Arthur and brother named Jeffrey.)  Arthur forges credentials and lands a job as an aeronautical engineer at General Dynamics, where my friends parents worked at the time. Eventually Arthur is committed to a mental hospital and Geoffrey heads off to Princeton.

Geoffrey’s descriptions of his father are brilliantly nuanced, remarkably sympathetic, and psychologically insightful.  He says for example, ”As I dislike him more and more. I become more and more like him. I felt trapped.” This is a remarkable statement. As a therapist, one of the most difficult things to get across to people is the concept that without significant insight and effort, one tends to possess the very aspects of their own parents that they most despise. Geoffrey masters this in three short sentences.

Tobias Wolff’s book starts in 1955 with ten year old Tobias, fleeing in a Nash Rambler that was continuously boiling over, with his mother, who was leaving one of a series of continuously violent relationships. They were driving from Florida to Utah and had broken down once again on the top of the Continental Divide, when a semi looses it’s brakes, screams it’s air horn in one long wail, and flies off the divide with Tobias and his mother watching. Tobias’s mother was moving to Florida to strike it rich mining uranium.

So starts Tobias’s memoir.  Honestly, I don’t understand the appeal of fiction as much anymore, when non-fiction is so much weirder, more incredible, and far more interesting.  Tobias eventually ends up living in a town called Concrete (Washington) with a concrete, blockhead of a stepfather, who was a sadistic, martinet.  Eventually he escapes all this chaos into the relatively more predictable Vietnam War and training in the special forces. (He wrote a great book about his tour of duty entitled, “In the Pharaoh’s Army: Memoirs of the Lost War.)

Tobias and Geoffrey meet up once, after a six-year separation in La Jolla, just before Geoffrey leaves for Princeton, after their father is institutionalized.  Tobias comes out by bus.  Geoffrey spends the summer writing technical manuals for General Dynamic’s under his father’s name, while assigning Tobias daily reading requirements of all the Greek tragedies. I was younger at this time swimming at Windansea, right next to where they lived.

Geoffrey eventually goes on to receive his Ph.D. in Literature, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and was a Professor of Literature at University of California Irvine.  He has published numerous highly acclaimed books. He had two sons and married a Clinical Social Worker. (I am a Clinical Social Worker. Weird coincidences).  Tobias studied at Oxford, received his Master’s Degree in Creative Writing at Stanford and is a Professor of Creative Writing at Stanford.  He also has written many highly acclaimed books.  He married and had three children.  A movie was made of the book, “This Boy’s Life,” starring Leonardo What’s His Name.  Their mother eventually became President of the League of  Women Voters.  Truth is stranger than fiction.

The relationship between the brothers remained close and mutually supportive since their time together in La Jolla.  Both are considered two of America’s finest contemporary writers.

It is remarkable and comforting to realize that all four of these authors overcame childhood’s of shocking hardship and trauma, and used their experiences to write creative, beautiful, and inspiring memoirs.

Highly recommend all four of these books. Recommend you read them in chronological order starting with “Angela’s Ashes,” then “The Duke of Deception,” “This Boys Life,” and “The Glass Castle.” (Toss in Pharaoh’s Army and you’ll be glad you did!)

Happy Reading!

“Covered Wagon Women: Diaries and Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1849,” by Kenneth L. Holmes

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“Covered Wagon Women” is a fascinating non-fiction account of fourteen pioneer women traveling west in the 1840’s. The book was edited and compiled by historian Kenneth L. Holmes. It is a remarkable book in that it consists of primary source, unedited diary entries, letters and other correspondence. The editor left the women’s narratives unedited as the women actually wrote them, replete with original syntax, spelling, and punctuation, and the mistakes made therein.There are additional “Covered Wagon Women,” volumes in a series. I read volume two and found it equally compelling.These unedited first person narratives give the reader a genuine sense of who these women really were, what they were seeing, experiencing, and feeling. Of course the unbelievable hardship, birth, death and tragedy are heart wrenching, but these incredible women’s intelligence, courage and appreciation of the beauty of their experience is also made abundantly clear. The women’s observations are reminiscent of the biographies of the famous male explorers, at times scientifically dispassionate, as they keenly and in detail, describe the new flora and fauna, terrain, climate, and Native Americans they encounter. They were after all, explorers as well.

They are also most effective in relaying their feelings. Take for example this excerpt from Tabitha Brown about her experience traveling west in 1846, now left to her own devices as she struggles on with an old, feeble, near death companion who was unable to care for himself or offer her any assistance,

“Here the shades of night were gathering fast and I could see the wagon tracks no further. I alighted from my horse, flung off my saddle and saddle bags and tied him fast with a lasso rope to a tree…..his senses were gone…..I covered him as well as I could with blankets…and helped the old gentleman, expecting he would be a corpse by morning. Pause for a moment and consider my situation-worse than alone; in a strange wilderness; without food, without fire; cold and shivering; wolves fighting and howling all around me; darkness of night forbade the stars to shine upon me; solitary- all was solitary as death…. As soon as light had dawned, I pulled down my tent, saddled the horses, found the Captain so as to stand on his feet…”

And she continues on towards Oregon. Remarkable. And there are many more narratives like this in the book.

I read a lot of these non-fiction pioneer and Native American history books (more about these in a latter review) as I traveled recently through the west, crossing and re-crossing the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails. I read books about a woman homesteading alone on the prairie, the first homesteading couple in what is now Glacier National Park, another about a widow hiring a helper and traveling on the first trek over the Oregon trail where they broke the trail, a book about a woman and her family crossing the Mojave Desert and this incredible collection of women’s narratives and I realize we’ve all been robbed with the books, movies and folklore of “the old west,” that have focused on the cowboys and male explorers, and mostly ignored the incredible fortitude, bravery and contribution of these pioneer women.

Riveting reading. Highly recommend.

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“The Memory Chalet,” by Tony Judt

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The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt
The Memory Chalet
by Tony Judt

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Cindy Knoke‘s review

Sep 23, 12  
Such a haunting and beautiful book by such a brilliant man.While dying of ALS Judt envisions heaven as a train on which he rides continuously through the Alps. This evocative imagery has stayed with me and probably always will.While becoming progressively “locked in” by ALS, Judt’s mind remains very much alive. He escapes into “the memory chalet,” a Swiss chalet he stayed in on holidays as a child. He recalls in his memory every room, nook and cranny, the smells, the food, the snow, the happy memories.He does this with other memories of his life as well, and shares these memories with the reader. We are the better for it.Judt who had made such a huge contribution to all of us through his life long scholarship, continues to make a huge contribution to us as he dies. He let’s us realize the power of our minds to help us escape from intolerable circumstances and shows us that memories can be almost as powerful as reality.

Somehow, through brutal honesty, and no-sugar coating, he makes the process of dying from something as horrific as ALS seem less terrifying. His memories provide great comfort to him and to the reader.

Highly recommend this inspiring and moving book.

I wish Judt endless sunny skies  as he rides over the Alps on his never-stopping train.