Healing

Terrible Beauty

AP photo, published by CNN.

It was late in the afternoon of the day Notre Dame burned when my daughter called.

“This is your time period, isn’t it, Mom?”

“Well, mostly,” I answered, “apart from the 19th century Viollet le Duc restorations that, along with Victor Hugo’s novel, saved the building only that recently. One timeline has the building dating from the 13th century but it is actually far older. This building was begun in  … ”

I was in defensive, art historian mode. (more…)

Book Seasons

Photograph by Dede Hatch

I needed more room on the shelves that hold my books about Vietnam, about the war there, then and now. One by one I asked them – do you need to be here now? I am on a journey with this work and that journey keeps changing, sometimes before I have fully noticed. Holding onto anything that has become dead weight is senseless. If I were trekking to the Arctic it would be life-threatening. Perhaps that is true now as well. (more…)

Food Diplomacy

Ten years ago it wasn’t a possibility. Five years ago the sheer passage of time, the children of Vietnamese immigrants having grown up, made it likely and now, here we are, Vietnamese food is finding a comfortable niche in American culinary choices, right alongside Thai and Korean. Many Americans now know what phở is – and even how approximately to pronounce it – bánh mì is on the menu of my local sub shop, and to American taste, nuoc cham is addictive. (more…)

The Ken Burns Effect

Marines marching in Da Nang, 1965. Associated Press, via PBS

Even after the passage of 50 years time, it is hard to imagine anyone except Ken Burns who would have dared to take on a documentary about the Vietnam War. Love him or hate him, he has stature and respect and a resumé that means that, if nothing else, he cannot be ignored. Already, before it has aired, partisans of the extremes of opinion the culture has carried for all this time, are condemning it for not doing what it has expressly set out not to do – bring the issue to resolution. (more…)

“Thank you for your service”

thank-you-for-your-serviceA few years ago, Mark and I were sitting with a friend in a Panera restaurant having coffee and talking. Suddenly a man I call the Panera Stranger thrust his hand at Mark and said, “Thank you for your service!” Mark mumbled something, I was paralyzed, and we were all – including, most likely, the Stranger, left feeling awkward and uncomfortable. (more…)

Chautauqua, and not a moment too soon

250px-ChatauquaInst_HallPhilosophyI came to the Chautauqua Institution six years ago and while I loved it, I had not been tempted to return. My own fault, really. I approached it, by habit, as a Learning Experience. I took classes. I listened to lectures. In the spirit of the Institution’s founding, I felt Improved. But nothing happened that stirred me.

This year, by chance, I came across the theme for the season, “What It Means To Be Human,” and saw the theme for Week 8, “War and Its Warriors: Contemporary Voices.” I scanned the speakers. Some were new to me but I had the books, in some cases multiple books, by four of them on my shelves. (more…)

Saturday People

candle-flameIt is the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, a strange day, liminal time. It was always hard for me to know how to feel on this day. Ever practical, I would be properly solemn on Good Friday but on Saturday I would say I knew how this story turned out and there were things to be done – eggs to be dyed and braided bread to be baked and, in the time when I was going to church, candles and lilies to be arranged and potted flowers to be put out for the children. (more…)