I am not a historian (at least any more, I was a history major in college) nor a current affairs expert- I tend towards the medieval- so take this with a grain of salt, but these are perhaps the three best books I have read for situating America in today’s world. I sang Judt’s praises earlier this year, and Kissinger and Stewart write with the authority that comes from living the stories they tell. All three take the US to task at various points, yet all three also seem to still believe that the US is a fundamentally positive agent in the world, or at least has the ability to be so. There are no easy answers in any of these books, Stewart’s especially reads as tragedy, but all three authors shine in that they speak as Westerners, people we (middle class Anglo-Americans can/want to ID with) but they are able to understand cultures foreign to us. Most importantly they are open with their closures and completely at ease not understanding everything. Judt speaks of a Europe he loves and helped build, Kissinger of a relationship he cultivated and safeguarded, and Stewart of a land he tried to govern. Each is also, at heart, a profoundly good story teller. And the stories they tell matter to the future of this country. They are lessons learned from life that we would be wise to listen to.
I now miss Europe again. Talking to people traveling reminds me of all the places I love
Perhaps finishing Post-War has me feeling European- and thinking about Budapest. Anyhow, a shot of the Danube and one of my favorite cities in Europe. Read about my experiance there here
Reading Tony Judt’s Post-War makes you a better person. It is, in fact, difficult to ‘review’ a book that covers Europe, c. 1945-2005. Perhaps it is not perfect, I am not the best historian to ask, but what I can say is you should- perhaps must- read it. Especially if you are an American asking the normal Yank questions: ‘Europe, WFT?’ It pleases me to no end to see that in Judt the great tradition of British Historiography lives on. He writes with verve and panache and is not afraid to make judgments. Post-War neither hails the dawn of European golden age nor bemoans the impossibility of such an age; rather it seeks to understand the past in such away that facilitates moral and ethical engagement with the present. Thankfully Judt facilitates such engagement not by preaching or sermonizing but by telling a story, the story of how Europe got here. Moreover Judt can write. At 830 pages Post-War is daunting, yet it never lags and- more often than not- he leaves you wanting to know more about a given moment rather than slogging through details. He artfully counterpoints survey and anecdote and leaves no arena untouched. Nor is Judt in the business of making or breaking heroes. Men and women are men and women who make good and bad decisions. He holds leaders and nations to task, but he also understands how good- or rather normal- people can and do make reprehensible choices. I really can’t recommend Post-War highly enough. Read it.
PS, Oxford history/PPE pals in the know say it’s good too, so don’t just take this medievalist’s word for it…
As promised, my impression of climbing the Nordkante. Details may be fuzzy given the fact that my brain got so cold I can’t remember the middle 1000 feet of climbing.
Four days, 1600m of vertical rock climbing, and over twenty miles of walking later it was all over. My climbing partner and I had bagged a life long goal: the North Ridge of Piz Badile. In terms of technical difficulty it is not that hard but it is a full 1100m long. Its length, exposure, lack of escape option, and complex decent make the Nordkante a ridge to be reckoned with. We had tried to climb it the year before but weather kept us grounded for the duration of our week in Bregaglia, a rugged valley linking St. Moritz and the north end of Lake Como. Knowing I was moving back to America this fall lent extra urgency to this summer’s trip, generously supported by a Wadham Society travel grant and an A.C. Irvine Fund grant.
Climbing the Nordkante involves far more than just climbing it. After three days of torrential rain Rob and I walked up to the Sciora hut one afternoon, praying the rain would stop and the rock would dry, and spent an uneasy night in the Sciora hut wondering about the weather. Thankfully a 3am trip to the outhouse revealed skies hard, cold, and clear, as well as a brisk wind sure to dry the face. The next morning we packed and set off to Torre Innominata, our ‘warm up.’ The West Ridge of Torre Innominata is a 500m ridge of a slightly harder standard than the Nordkante. We figured that if it went well, and the weather held, all would be good for a summit bid on the Badile the next day.
I am from Kentucky and unused to biting cold. Whereas my English climbing partners loath climbing in the boiling heat of summer, I love it. I though, become almost non-functional when the mercury dips below 5 C. Though sunny and dry it was well cold and the wind was whipping. Climbing gets hard when you cannot feel your hands, I discovered, but all was well, we got on with it, got up, and concluded the next day would be fine as the Nordkante comes in the sun a good 6-7 hours before Torre Innominata. Thus we reasoned the sun would warm up the rock by the time we hit it. After a rather brief but strenuous walk to the other side of the valley we settled into the Sasc Fura Hut for a brief nap before our 4am breakfast.
We were out the door by 4:15, scrambling up the wildly exposed approach slabs by 5, and gearing up at the starting notch- with about 40 other people- at 6am. And it was cold. Very cold. So cold we almost bailed. I wanted to, but could not lower my self to break the news to Rob, my climbing partner. He is from Scotland. He feels no cold. No sympathy there. So we set up, wearing all the clothes we had, pounding frozen snickers bars just to keep the metabolism going, and generally wishing we were still taking rest days on the shores of San Siro.
Usually, when climbing in the Lakes or the Peak or Snowdonia, I can keep track of how many pitches my party has climbed. I will know we are on, say, the fifth of seven. By pitch seventeen I’d lost count. We were just leap-frogging up the ridge. I would lead until I ran out of rope, I would then build an anchor and Rob would climb up to me, pause for some water or to get some gear off me, and then be off into the clouds on his lead. Rinse, and repeat. Thirty-odd times. Somewhere around mid day and mid height, I started to loose functionality. I replaced verbal commands with grunts and nods, and finally had to skip a pitch I was to lead because I was just too cold. Finally, though, the sun began to beat back the cold, progress increased, and we gained the summit at 330pm that afternoon. Then we had to get down.
There are two options: abseil the way you came up, i.e. 30 abseils down a broken ridge, the last few in the dark. I hate abseiling and to be honest, 30 abseils seemed like more work than the climb. We opted for eight abseils down the SE face and down to the Gianetti hut in Italy. The only problem with this was that we were now in Italy and not Switzerland. We were now separated from our campsite by a wall of granite whose primary weakness had already required our full energy to surmount. After falling asleep in my risotto at the dinner that night I rolled into bed and slept for 14 hours. The next morning we surveyed our options: take the quick walk to Val di Mello, pay 50 euros each for a taxi to San Martino, then take the long bus/train back to our camp in Chiavenna or take the epic long walk around the Bregaglia Massif to the shores of Lake Como and then catch a train back to camp. Given that we had 27 euros between the two of us- minor point: no matter how expensive beer is in a hut, it is impossible to resist after a major climb- the decision was simple: go the long way. So we descended, by foot, close to 3000m in a single day. By the time we got back to camp and, I had dislodged my entire foot from the front third of my shoe, I was done. The trip was over. I was sitting by the lake and eating Gelato until Sunday.
So I finished this book last night. Maybe not the greatest novel ever, but the right book at the right time. I have hated F. Scott Fitzgerald since 10th grade. At 15 I was not ready to read The Great Gatsby. I didn’t get it and I didn’t like it. I liked Star Wars. Lord of the Rings was as high brow as I got those days. I liked to read, but I liked light-sabers and long-swords, not moody billboards. A decade later I still like light-sabers and longwords, but I am able to appreciate literature a bit more, or at least one would hope given I just finished my masters in Lit at Oxford. I borrowed Tender is the Night from my girlfriend because it checked the major box signifying a good climbing trip read: it was long. Long books are essential to survive rain delays. Well I dove in, still loathing Fitzgerald, and emerged yesterday suitably shaken. I will not spoil the story, but decadent 20-something americans living beyond their means in Europe on the edge of a collapse hits pretty close to home when one is a 25 year old American living in Oxford. The beauty and curse of Oxford is that it allows you to fake being decadent. With innumerable black-tie dinners, balls, etc., not to mention my predilection for getting ‘research’ funding the visit medieval libraries in, say Italy, one begins to think one has money. Sipping a mid 80’s Bordeaux, or say, 1950’s Port- on the college of course- in a tuxedo while lounging in a medieval garden leads to delusions of grander. As a Sub-Dean, I have seen people ‘crack’ the way Fitzgerald describes, and his evocation of an American who has enough money to peak in the door but is always waiting to see when everyone’s glass is full to offer to buy a round is haunting. Basically, I had to grow into Fitzgerald. Hemmingway is an accessible ex-pat. His terse style and rollicking narratives play up (parody?) the adventure seeking American where as one can almost read Fitzgerald’s Hemmingway-esq Tommy Baraban as the ironically Gallic foil to his own American anxiety embodied in Dick Diver. In the end Fitzgerald’s restraint makes the book. What he does not say overwhelms what he does say. Just like most of the teeny boppers in Oxford, content to stick to their alcho-pops at lurid bops, would spit out an Americano as too bitter or harsh, the teenage reader of Fitzgerald is so unprepared for his balanced cocktail of money, booze, sunshine, and regret that he or she- or me in this case- doesn’t get it at all. Even if they do, they don’t ‘dig it,’ in 90’s parlance. On the other hand, a decade later, Tender is the Night goes down like a real Old Fashioned after a long, hard, days work.
Anonymous asked: You are the reason people have fantasies about librarians while spending inordinate amounts of time in the stacks.
If a person is stuck in the stacks fantasizing about librarians, I’m assuming it’s because they can’t find their book and need help real...
It takes an ocean not to break.
“Poetry must resemble prose, and both must accept the vocabulary of their time.”— William Butler Yeats on modern poetry in a rare 1936 BBC recording.