Archive for the ‘trains’ Category

The European Project

September 19, 2018

The Beginning of the End of the Royals running Europe started with an upstart French officer named Napolean and a musician from the German outback named Beethoven.

The End of the Beginning of the End came when Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914, the event that ignited the First Big War.

Archduk4

The End of the Royals running Europe came when the appointed Generals, elected Presidents and Prime Ministers of a war-crippled Europe assembled in Versailles, France, in 1919.  The secular Leaders began trying to pull the pieces of Europe back together again, to reset Euro Civilization on a new Democratic/Republican game-plan.

StreetValncia

Since that time, the Europeans have had a rough time of pulling themselves together as a political entity. To begin with, the rubble-heaps of post-WWII Europe ended up  in a new polarity of two distant controlling hegemonies—the US and the USSR. These two emergent political empires  were centered  far outside of the fanciful entity we know as Old Europe, which existed in previous history as a continental area governed mostly from these ancient Capitols:  Athens, Rome, Madrid, Paris, London, Berlin, Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, Vienna, and—a most honorable mention—Geneva.

I call Geneva  honorable  because it is the City  on that grand network most associated with a very important concept: Peace.

The Peace of Europe had been, for 1900 years, an elusive State of Affairs, which somehow managed to survive as a glimmer of hope in the Heart and Soul of a quasi-mythical Europa.

Europe is very old, but contemporary Europeans have taken on a venerable Project to form a European Union. Exactly what that is, is a matter of political evolution, politics, compromise, and of course, Money.

This EU is a logical step forward, because the formerly long-hoped-for Peace of Europe has been flourishing since Allied victory was won at great cost of blood sweat and tears, in 1945. By the grace of God and Man, Europe has been at peace with itself since that time, 73 years.

But the next step beyond the Peace of Europe– European Union– is a prospect as elusive as finding the Holy Grail, or Valhalla, or Arcadia, or Elysian Fields of Camelot or Heaven itself.

But its political success is nowhere as easy as the Prospect for Unity that we Americans had back in the day. We had a vast, undeveloped continent as a frontier, which was populated originally by primitive tribes who were unorganized and unprepared to deal with our transplanted European development Mindset.

Most of us Americans had ancestors who wandered via Ships across the Atlantic to—as it turned out— find and construct a New World. Our forebears were confronted only by those undeveloped tribes who were already here, and a bunch of competing, mostly-poor immigrants like ourselves from different mostly-Euro traditions.

We certainly had some problems along the way, getting it all together as the United States of America. We even had a goddam Civil War trying to get it all worked out but we managed to get through that and keep the Union going, and expanding all the way to the Pacific shore.

Yes, we certainly had some problems getting it together, but our USA has been, relatively speaking, a light-duty Project compared to what the Europeans have been dealing with since the Collapse of the Old Roman Empire.

We New Worlders had advantages. We did not have, you see, all that  2000-year-old institutionalized sociological, economic and ethnic baggage that the Europeans have had and still have that keeps them caught up in differing National Purposes and Visions.

Presently, between the Teutonic bean-counters and the Mediterranean lay-backs, Europe just cannot get it together to decide how all the Expenses of governance and economic maintenance can be Paid-off.

Now we Americans don’t necessarily pay our Public Deficits either, but at least we are United in our rhetorical affirmation of equality and justice and Credit for All.  So we just keep running up the Tab and nobody gives a dam, because we have been, for a awhile, the, you know, new kid on the block and king of the hill and all that and we can get away with it.

Whereas the Euros are presently arguing about Who is going to pay the bills—the Teutonic bean-counters or the Mediterranean lay-backs.

We Americans cast a trans-Atlantic glance at them and express our deepest concern and well-wishes for a continuing Progress toward the elusive European Union and we say wholeheartedly:

Good Luck with that!

Now here’s the good news.There is a bright lining that envelopes this present Cloud of Complex Cooperation in Europa.

French President Emmanuel Macron has now proposed a new plan whereby the burdens of EU Debt, Expense, Governance and Administration of the EU are Dealt-With according to (as my American online ignoramus self-satisfied cyber-awareness would understand it) gradations of Participation, Responsibility and WhothehellCares-Responsibility in the EntitiesUnited of Europa.

These levels of Participation will be most heavily taken Seriously and Attended-To by those State/entities that are closest to the Center of Power and Influence. The peripheral Nations/States will be garnished according to their relative positions in the  outgoing Concentric Circles of Europe.

These Circles are most likely actually Parabolas. Because the actual Working Center of Europe consists not of one Point, but rather, Two Points, where the real Movers and Shakers (Bankers) of Europe run their Industrial/Financial Empires.

The Two Points are Berlin and Paris. There is a Third Centric point between them: Brussels, which is the errand by for Paris and London.

So we see that, with  Monsieur Macron’s proposed plan for the widening Circles of Influence, Europe has great Hope for the Future.

It may be a plan worthy of implementation. The Europeans have achieved Success in the Development of an essential condition: Peace.

Now it’s just the Money that’s hanging them up.

This American believes that the pesky Arguing about Who pays the Bills is actually Progress, because it is qualitatively better than Bombing each other! So they must have gotten something right, beginning back in ’45.  They have indeed  come a long way since Sarajevo in 1914.

TrainBarc

One more thing, very important. This American notices that, in spite of all the different member nations with different languages and politics and values, their system of Trains and Metros puts ours to shame. With just a mention given to their impressive High-Speed, Efficiency and Clockwork Precision, the most endearing characteristic of the Euro rail is Ease and Comfort. Taking a Euro train trip from one city to another is a much easier and far more comfortable Prospect than doing the yankee airport runaround, with sardine-contortion seating and  limited passage in the aisles when you may have to pee. Most important of all–the train seats are comfortable, roomy, easy to get in- and out-of, and less pricey than planes.

Maybe we can teach them something about Debts Pretension, while they teach us something about Running the Trains.

EuroTrain

Smoke 

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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 

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