Archive for the ‘trains’ Category

What the Jews did

January 30, 2018

What the Jews did was establish about half of the narrative foundation of the Western World.

Their Old Testament, combined with the New, were received as Holy Scriptures  by the Church, which, after Constantine, dominated European cultural development for over a thousand years.

Long about 1500 or so, the Protestant Reformation began the process of unshackling the chains of dogmatic error that the Catholic hierarchy had, over 1400 years, lapsed into. Then Reformation disruption of Papist hegemony broke ground for another new emphasis—the Renaissance. This humanist  arts movement unearthed the  quasi-dormant other half of the Western cultural narrative, the ancient Greeks, most notably Homer, Herodotus, Plato and Aristotle. On the coattails of the Greek philosophers, the Roman writers, most notably Cicero, Cato and Virgil later appended their contribution to the philosophical and governmental legacy of ancient Greece. It later became a bedrock of Western culture and government.

That ancient Greek heritage had initiated an idea called democracy, which was later amended to Republic by the Romans in their Empire.

Judeo-Christian Religion, Greek Democracy and Roman Republic became the religious, philosophical and governmental foundations upon which the Western World was established in Europe and beyond.

In the early stages of Western history, during the period of the Roman Empire, along came a Roman general named Titus. In 70 a.c.e., he ran most of the Jews out of Israel, their homeland, and he sent his soldiers to Jerusalem to destroy the Jewish Temple, even though it had had been constructed by one of the Romans’ own puppet kings, Herod.

Titus apparently thought it was a notable accomplishment that he had expelled most of the Jews out of their own ancient capital;  the Hebrews had previously managed to reclaim Jerusalem after the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar had expelled them about 670 years earlier.

Titus’ Roman victory over the Jews was thought to be quite impressive by his successors. A few years after he died, his brother Domitian commissioned the Arch of Titus to be constructed in the main area of Rome. Among the conquests of Titus depicted in stone on the Arch, the plundering of Jerusalem is plain to see.

ArcTitusMenr

In this picture that I snapped, the Jewish Menorah can be plainly seen. To the victor goes the spoils, eh? The Roman big shots must have thought themselves something special after they ran those upstart Jews out of Jerusalem back in the day. The Jews were infamous among several historical empire-builders for being ungovernable.

One reason that Titus and Nebuchadnezzar and Antiochus and their ilk had so much trouble governing the Jews was because the people of Israel always insisted on being free.

This whole idea of freedom, around which Western culture revolves, originated largely with the Jews.

Long about 1400 or so years b.c.e., Moses rounded up the Jews and lead them out of the slavery that Egyptian pharoahs had inflicted on them.

This turned out to be a major event in world history.

Why? Because Moses and some of his people wrote a book about it. We know it as the book of Exodus. Along with the other books of the Torah/Pentateuch/Old Testament, it later became an international best-seller for many and many a year, many and many a century and several millenia of time.

What later became the Bible was passed down through the ages to many and many a person and group of persons to read and spark inspiration.

That spark of freedom that enabled the Jews to throw off the bondage of Pharoahic slavery—it has been an inspiration to many freedom-seeking people throughout history.

Case in point, within our lifetime. (All ye Boomers out there, hear ye, hear ye. . .)

Dr. Martin Luther KIng, Jr., on the night before he was assassinated, declared this message to his people in Memphis, and ultimately via audiotape to America, and to the world:

“I’ve been to the Mountaintop. . . I’ve seen the Promised Land . . .”

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

We can see that Dr. King was inspired by Moses. A long time ago, I wrote a song about it. Mountaintop

And we know from the Hebrew scriptures that Moses was inspired by God.

Now this may seem a little old-fashioned to you, a little bit religious. But this religious thing is much more than belief in God. It’s not just out-of-style old hat. Faith also includes the idea of freedom. It also includes the idea of freedom of religion , freedom to believe what you need to believe, and freedom to act on what you believe to be true. It goes way back, way back . . .

Here’s another example from American history. A hundred and fifty years ago when black folks in this country were still enslaved . . . in a situation not unlike what the Jews had found themselves in ancient Egypt, one of those black former slaves, Harriet Tubman, started a secret society for the purpose of providing an escape for self-freed slaves who wanted to come up to the free states.

The name that was given to Harriet’s clandestine network was the Underground Railroad. Have you heard of it?

I’m here to tell you that the Underground Railroad has been transporting people from bondage to liberty for a very long time.

Last century,  freedom-seeking people did another version of it to smuggle the children of Israel  out of the Nazi Third Reich. Have you heard of it?

But know this: it’s still going on.

Underground Railroad Rides Again.

 And we can thank the Jews for that, because way, way back in the day . . . they started it; they started the freedom track that runs through human civilization.  The first one ran from Egypt to the Promised Land, and its been going, whenever needed, under the radar ever since.

It will never be shut down.

Glass half-Full 

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On the Rails of Old Memory

January 14, 2018

Memories linger mysteriously in our minds, sometimes like precious old photographs, sometimes like skeletons in the closet; they can hang around being stubbornly unpleasant and fearful, or they can shine happy and hopeful like a walk in the park in springtime.

I suppose most memories are intimately personal, but not all of them.

I feel we have collective memories, especially in this modern atmosphere of media saturation, where public events pry deeply into our private imaginations.

My g-generation, the baby boomers—we were the first to grow up with this thing called TV. Now our kids are the first to grow up with this thing called the worldwide web. These media—TV, Internet, radio, cellphones etc. fortify and intensify our memories, especially the collective ones.

Most of us American boomers remember, for instance, where we were and what we were doing on the day that President Kennedy was shot in Dallas.

And we and our children remember, most of us, where we were and what we were doing on that fateful day in 2001—9/11 when the twin towers came down.

These collective memories are potent; they latch on to us; and while they do recede into dark tunnels they can be easily brought to the surface at the mention of those circumstances.

And we have, of course, powerful  personal memories from our own youth. Most vivid perhaps, are those that surround a first love or romance. These vague vestiges of the past are capitalized upon by our songwriters and movie-makers. Here’s an excellent example of a very special song about the mysterious aspect of memories.  It was popular when I was a teenager, Dusty Springfield’s Windmills of Your Mind.

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKV9bK-CBXo

But there is another kind of collective memory that goes back even further than modern pop-music or movies. It is tucked away in the crevices of history itself. And I find that certain settings or objects can serve as talismans through which human memories are passed from generation to generation and possibly from age to age, even from century to century.

You’ve heard of deja vu, haven’t you? That’s the feeling you can suddenly experience sometimes in a situation that you could not have been in because it took place before you were born.

This deja vu, which is French for “already seen”  is a feeling I get whenever I’m near or in an old train.

So yesterday I was uncovering some serious deja vu when I toured the North Carolina Transportation Museum which is located at an old, obsolete railroad service yard in Spencer, NC, near Salisbury.

   http://www.nctrans.org/

RailEngn

There is, for me, something very special about these old trains . . . something that stirs intensely in my soul pertaining to days long ago, in past centuries, when these steaming iron beasts roared across the vast landscapes of that hastily-industrializing age. The feeling that I get has something to do with retrieving past memories that I myself could never have experienced, almost as if the locomotives themselves were mnemonic repositories of 19th-century passengers who embarked to ride in those ancient passenger cars.

In the 2014 novel I wrote, Smoke, I attempted to capture this feeling in the story I was composing at that time. The collective memory, mentioned at the end of the scene described below, is implanted in Philip’s mind when he grabs a brass handrail on a French train passenger car. The scene takes place in 1937, in Paris.  It depicts the beginning of a journey being taken by a young American and an old Frenchman who are about to travel from Paris to Lille, in northern France:

       Half a morning later they were boarding the northbound train. By that time, whatever it was that had brought together this aged Frenchman and  his young, attentive American charge had been uncorked to its full expression.  The old fellow was intermittently pouring out his life’s vintage in a slow trickle of memory;  its balmy flow had begun to endow their embarkation with a kind of therapeutic anointing, the beneficiary of which was neither the young man nor the old, but that Man of the ages whose fermented wisdom percolated through deepened souls of both men.

       Now they were walking beside the train, small luggage in hand. Pausing in mid-stride, Mel managed to recap, in the midst of crowd and bustle, a simple advisement that he had begun last night and had already landed upon this morning. “Half the battle in this life, I think, is deciding what to keep and what to let go. You have got to know when to hold them.”      

       They arrived at the railcar to which they had been billeted. Philip appropriated Mel’s briefcase, collecting it with his own, both in his left hand. Placing his right gently hand on Mel’s lower back for support, he waited patiently as the old fellow carefully climbed  onto the steps to ascend into their coach. As Mel’s bony, spotted hand grasped a vertical brass handrail inside the little stair, it seemed to Philip that the ghosts of ten thousand French souls were lingering there. The rail’s brass patina had been worn to a dullish sheen as ten thousand reaching hands had, in the beginnings of their ten thousand journeys on this train, taken hold of it.

RailBrass2

I felt like I, or somebody, had grabbed this rail before. The worn brass summons up a kind of  old, collective memory from days gone by.

I guess you’d have to be there . . . Maybe I was, in a sense, there, yesterday when I visited the Railroad museum.

Smoke