Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I like Mussolini, very much

According to Amazon, Enigma Books, a US imprint, is today publishing a reprint of Diary 1937-1943: The complete unabridged diaries of Count Galeazzo Ciano, Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, 1936-1943, first published in 2002 by Phoenix. However, it is worth noting that there is no mention of this new edition on the publisher’s website. Nevertheless, it is as good an opportunity as any to celebrate - if that’s the right word - Ciano’s fascinating diaries. According to Malcolm Muggeridge they are ‘the most interesting [documents]’ to have come out of the Second World War, and the ones which ‘will probably prove in the end the most useful to historians’.

Galeazzo Ciano was born in Livorno in 1903. His father, an admiral, was later decorated in the First World War. Ciano moved to Rome, where, when only 18, he took part in the march which led to the Fascist overthrow of the Republic. He studied law, tried journalism and then settled on a career in diplomacy. In 1930, he married Benito Mussolini’s daughter Edda (they had three children), and thereafter rose to become a member of the Fascist Supreme Council. He was a secretary of state for press and propaganda, and then served in the Italian air force during the invasion of Ethiopia, before becoming minister of foreign affairs. In 1939, with Ribbentrop, he signed the Pact of Steel with Germany.

By 1943, however, Ciano’s doubts about Italy’s relationship with Germany had grown to the point where he advocated that Italy seek peace with the allies. Mussolini sacked him and the whole cabinet, and returned Ciano to the diplomatic service, as an ambassador to the Vatican. Still Ciano and other leading fascists were able to force Mussolini’s resignation. Thereafter, though, the new government prepared to arrest Ciano for embezzling, and so he fled Rome. He was captured by Mussolini sympathisers in Northern Italy, brought to trial for treason and executed in January 1944. Further biographical information is available at Wikipedia, the CIA, or the Constantine Report.

Ciano kept a diary during the entire period he was minister of foreign affairs, from June 1936 until February 1943. After his death, his widow, Edda, managed to smuggle to Switzerland the diaries he wrote from January 1939. By 1946, Doubleday, New York, had published, in English, The Ciano Diaries, 1939-1943: The complete, unabridged diaries of Count Galeazzo Ciano, Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, as edited by Hugh Gibson with an introduction by Sumner Welles. This is freely available to read online at Internet Archive. A year later, the diaries also appeared in the UK, published by William Heinemann with an introduction by Malcolm Muggeridge.

Ciano’s earlier diaries (1936-1938), however, followed a more tortuous route to publication. They fell into the hands of the Germans, and were later destroyed, although Edda seems to have saved an imperfect copy of a German translation. This was eventually translated into English and published by Methuen as Ciano’s Diary, 1937-1938 in 1952. In 2002, for the first time, the two lots of Ciano’s diaries were put together and published by Phoenix as Diary 1937-1943: The complete unabridged diaries of Count Galeazzo Ciano, Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, 1936-1943. The book has a preface by Renzo De Felice which is followed by Malcolm Muggeridge’s original introduction. And it is this edition that is supposedly being reissued today by Enigma Books, a US imprint, part of Casemate.

The first couple of paragraphs of Muggeridge’s introduction to Ciano’s diaries are worth reproducing.

‘Of all the documents which have come out of the 1939-1945 war and the events which led up to it, Ciano’s Diary is the most interesting, and will probably prove in the end the most useful to historians. I can imagine some future Gibbon, or even Lytton Strachey, coming upon it with a gasp of delight. This is because Ciano, like Boswell, was too vain to hide the true workings of his mind and the true character of his aspirations, and too foolish to be aware of how completely he was giving himself and those about whom he wrote away. If he had been cleverer his Diary would have been less revealing; if he had been better, his Diary would have been worse. Day by day he recorded his thoughts, hopes, conversations, all that had happened to him, against the background of his inordinate vanity, and in the end, waiting in a prison cell at Verona to be taken out and shot, engineered the publication of what he had written in the fond hope that thereby he would revenge himself on his father-in-law and former patron Mussolini.

What he achieved actually was to provide the world with one more record, incomparable in its naiveté, of how futile a pursuit is power, and how certainly those who pursue it become enmeshed in their own deceits and stratagems. For this at least he deserves gratitude. In exposing Mussolini he perforce exposed himself, and all who take the path they followed. Without knowing it, he presented Mussolini as Macbeth, with Hider for the Horrid Sisters. Duce he was, but the promise of yet greater things to come proved irresistible. Like Macbeth, he struggled sometimes against its seduction, but in the end succumbed, as many others did, to the Führer’s fearful certainty. The actual events that Ciano recounts are too near, and their tragic consequences too present, to require his confirmation. It is not his account of the play which makes his Diary so valuable, but his revelation of the character of the players and of their relationships with one another.’

For further information on Ciano’s diaries see also Warfare History Network or The Atlantic. Here are several extracts taken from the 2002 Phoenix edition.

22 August 1937
‘In order to protect my writer’s vanity, should these notes be published one day - please bear in mind that they were jotted down by me, in fits and starts, between meetings and phone calls. I was obliged and wanted to kick literature out and I limited myself to taking very short notes on the matters of which, I am, at once, either actor, author or spectator. The facts themselves will generate the interest rather than the hurried writing style.’

23 August 1937
‘Starting today I intend to keep this diary on a regular basis. The Duce told me that democracy is to Slavs what alcohol is to Negroes. Total destruction. Afterwards, there is the need for exceptional regulations following intense revolutionary upheavals.

Ingram made a friendly move regarding the torpedo attacks in the Mediterranean. I replied brazenly. He left almost satisfied.

The Chinese want airplanes for Shanghai. I practically said no. I reminded them of their behavior during and after the sanctions. Now they can no longer count on our goodwill.’

27 September 1937
‘Essen. Visit to Krupp. Very much impressed by industrial power. Arrival in Berlin. Triumphant.’

29 October 1937
‘This morning medals were awarded to the widows of those who died in Spain. A successful ceremony. But, to see so many people in mourning, and to look into so many red eyes, I had to examine my conscience, and I ask myself if this blood had been spilled for a just cause. Yes: that is the answer. At Malaga, at Guadalajara, at Santander, we defended our civilization and our Revolution. And sacrifice is necessary when bold and strong spirits must be forged within nations. The wounded were very proud. One of them who had lost both hands and one eye, said: “I ask only for another hand so that I may return to Spain.” It sounds like a reply from an anthology, and I heard it from a boy of twenty, struck down by enemy weapons, who was happy because the Duce paused with him for a moment. The Germans that were with us learned something.

The Duce does not believe that I should go to Brussels. All things considered, he is right. The unprepared meeting with Eden, would be useless and perhaps damaging for the disappointment that it would create. If it is to be, the occasion can always we found later on. I spoke to Perth about it. He was not very convinced by my arguments. Personally he wanted the meeting, which, according to him, would have clarified the situation a lot.’

6 November 1937
‘This morning we signed the Pact. One could sense an atmosphere very different from the usual diplomatic ceremonies. Three nations engaged down the same path, which could lead to war. A necessary fight if we want to break this mold that suffocates the energy and aspirations of young nations. After the signing we went to see the Duce. Few times have I seen him so pleased. It is no longer the situation of 1935. Italy has broken its isolation and is at the center of the most formidable political and military alliance that has ever existed.

In the afternoon a three-man meeting between the Duce, Ciano, and Ribbentrop. It was a meeting of great interest: I took minutes in a notebook.

In the evening gala dinner at the Palazzo Venezia. The two very pro-fascist Japanese military attaches were beaming. They wish the military pact well. They were happy when I told them, in the presence of the Duce, that they will have to occupy Vladivostok, which is a pistol pointed against Japan.’

12 February 1939
‘The Duce agreed to take part in the funeral of the Pope, which has been set by the nunciature for the 17th. That decision pleases me, because it will make a good impression on the conclave participants. In some American circles it is rumored that the Camerlengo has a document written by the Pope. The Duce wants Pignatti to find out, and, if it is true, to try to get a copy of the document “in order to avoid a repetition of the Filippelli incident.”

Calm, for the time being, in other areas.

Gorgeous Sunday of a Roman winter, warm and sunny. I spent most of it at the golf club.’

16 February 1940
‘François-Poncet, whom I had not seen for a long time, complains about our press attacks, and especially those appearing in the Popolo d’ltalia. French newspapers, for the time being, are not reacting, but relations between the two countries are suffering from this nonetheless, and the atmosphere of better understanding which we had established in the last few months has been upset once again. I used some kind words, but nothing more, since the press campaign is desired and directed personally by the Duce, my influence being very limited.

Donegani is worried about the coal problem. If our supplies are reduced or cease entirely in the next few days, industry will suffer a sudden stoppage with dire consequences in the field of production and labor.

I receive Sidorovici, leader of the Romanian Youth Movement. Some leader! He is a big hulk, a preposterous creature devoid of any interest.’

29 March 1940
‘A report presented by Melchiori, who has spent a month in Germany, has had a profound influence on the Duce. I do not know the value of this individual’s observations. He is a shining example of amorality, greedy ambition, ineptitude, and ignorance, who does not know a single word of German and spends his time in the anterooms of the consulates and the embassy begging for secondhand information, which he then cooks up in a rather vulgar style. The trouble is that Mussolini takes him seriously. Few documents have struck him lately as much as the Melchiori report, in which even though he reaches the conventional conclusion of “an unavoidable German victory” he also points out the difficult living conditions of the German people. This report has not substantially modified the decisions of the Duce, but for the first time he admits that Germany is not resting on a bed of roses, and that the failure of the offensive or a long-drawn-out war would mean defeat, and hence the collapse of the German regime. “I do not understand,” he said, “why Hitler does not realize this. I myself can feel that Fascism is wearing out - a wear and tear which is not deep, but is nevertheless noticeable, and he does not feel it in Germany, where the crisis has already assumed rather alarming proportions.” ’

29 June 1940
‘Balbo is dead. A tragic mistake has brought about his end. The antiaircraft battery at Tobruk fired on his plane, mistaking it for an English plane, and shot it down. The news saddened me very much. Balbo did not deserve to end up like this. He was exuberant, restless, he loved life in all its forms. He had more dash than talent, more vivacity than acumen. He was a decent fellow, and even in political clashes, in which his partisan temperament delighted, he never stooped to anything dishonorable and to questionable methods. He did not desire war, and opposed it to the last. But once it had been decided, he spoke with me in the language of a faithful soldier, and, if fate had not been against him, he was preparing to act with decision and daring.

Balbo’s memory will linger for a long time among Italians because he was, above all, a true Italian, with the great faults and great virtues of our race.’

26 September 1940
‘I am on my way to Berlin. On Hitler’s order the train is stopped at Munich. Attacks by the Royal Air Force endanger the area, and the Führer does not wish to expose me to the risk of a long stop in open country. I sleep in Munich and will continue by air.’

23 May 1942
‘The Duce telephoned indignantly, charging that the Japanese ambassador, Shiratori, made certain unacceptable statements: the dominion of the world belongs to Japan, the Mikado is the only god on earth, and that both Hitler and Mussolini must come to accept this reality. I remember Shiratori during his short stay in Rome. He was a fanatical extremist, but, most of all, he was very uncouth.

Bismarck has confirmed to d’Aieta that Himmler is playing a personal game by inciting people to grumble. Is this true? For the time being I think that the rumor must be accepted with a lot of caution.’

8 February 1943
‘I hand over my office at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Then I go to the Palazzo Venezia to see the Duce and take leave of him. He tells me “Now you must consider that you are going to have a period of rest. Then your turn will come again. Your future is in my hands, and therefore you need not worry!” He thanks me for what I have done and quickly enumerates my most important services. “If they had given us three years’ time we might have been able to wage war under different conditions or perhaps it would not have been at all necessary to wage it.” He then asked me if I had all my documents in order. “Yes,” I answered. “I have them all in order, and remember, when hard times come - because it is now certain that hard times will come - I can document all the treacheries perpetrated against us by the Germans, one after another, from the preparation of the conflict to the war on Russia, communicated to us when their troops had already crossed the border. If you need them I shall provide the details, or, better still, I shall, within the space of 24 hours, prepare that speech which I have had in my mind for three years, because I shall burst if I do not deliver it.” He listened to me in silence and almost agreed with me. Today he was concerned about the situation because the retreat on the Eastern Front continues to be almost a rout. He has invited me to see him frequently, “even every day.” Our leave-taking was cordial, for which I am very glad, because I like Mussolini, like him very much, and what I shall miss the most will be my contact with him.’

The Diary Junction

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Beat writer‘s last months

William Seward Burroughs, giant literary figure of the so-called Beat Generation, died 20 years ago today. He lived to a reasonable age given his colourful life, of drug and alcohol misuse, not to mention accidentally shooting his partner, and various other escapades with the law. He was friends with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, both of whom played some part in transforming the rather wayward young Burroughs into a writer.

Burroughs was born in 1914 into a prominent family in St Louis, Missouri - his grandfather having founded the Burroughs Adding Machine company. After attending various schools, including Los Alamos Ranch School in New Mexico, he studied art at Harvard University, graduating in 1936. During his time at Harvard, he also worked as a junior reporter, and visited New York City where he experiment with drugs and became involved in the emerging gay subculture. On leaving formal education, Burroughs was provided with a regular income from his parents, leaving him free of any need to work. He travelled to Vienna, tried studying medicine, and engaged in promiscuous behaviour. He married Ilse Kapper, a Jewish friend needing a visa to escape from the Nazis. 


Back in the US, Burroughs severed a little finger under provocation from a friend, leading his parents to be concerned about his mental health. Indeed, after enlisting for the army in 1942 (having failed to be considered as a pilot or spy), he was not able to cope too well, and, eventually, he was given a civilian disability discharge. In 1944, Burroughs began sharing a Manhattan apartment with Joan Vollmer Adams (then married to a soldier) and Jack Kerouac (see The rush of what is said on Kerourac’s diaries). Allen Ginsberg was also one of their friends (see Thoughts, epiphanies, poems on Ginsberg’s diaries). Kerouac and Burroughs collaborated on a novel, but failed to get it published at the time.

Burroughs, addicted to morphine, began selling drugs, and was eventually arrested. On his release, he lived with Vollmer in Texas, where they had a child together in 1947, and then in Mexico City, where both were caught up in a cycle of drug and alcohol addiction. There, Burroughs completed his first novel, Junkie, written at the urging of Ginsberg who also helped it be published later (in 1953). In September 1951, Burroughs accidentally shot Vollmer dead at a party. He spent a few days in jail before family lawyers managed to get him released on bail. His son was taken to St Louis to live with his grandparents, and Burroughs waited for trial. While still in Mexico, he began writing a work that would eventually be published as QueerEventually, he decided to flee, travelling in South America before returning to the US. He was given a two-year suspended send in absentia.

Biographers generally agree that Vollmer’s death marked a sea change in Burrough’s life as well as his writing. By 1954, he was living in Tangier in Morocco, drawn there by Paul Bowles’ fiction. During his four years in Tangier, he wrote what eventually became Naked Lunch. Excerpts first appeared in 1958, and the novel itself emerged in Paris in 1959, gaining much attention not only from the 1960s underground culture, but from critics too. A celebrated legal case of obscenity against the book, after publication in the US, failed. Burroughs moved to Paris, and then London, by then something of a beat celebrity, supporting himself and a continuing addiction by writing articles for different magazines.

In 1974, Ginsberg, worried about his friend, secured Burroughs a position teaching creative writing at the City College of New York, and, for a while, he stopped using heroin. He moved into an apartment, dubbed The Bunker, on The Bowery, but soon gave up the teaching. He became friends with the likes of Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Susan Sontag; he tried to make a film with Dennis Hopper; and he collaborated with Nick Cave and Tom Waits. As an ageing avant-garde radical, he did reading tours and attended conventions dedicated to his work. Between 1981 and 1987, he published Cities of the Red Night; The Place of Dead Roads; and The Western Lands. He spent the last 16 years of his life in Lawrence, Kansas, where he died on 2 August 1997. Further information on Burrough’s colourful life can be found all over the internet, not least at Wikipedia, The New Yorker, Beat Museum, Encyclopædia Britannica, and The Telegraph (biography review).

According to Burroughs himself, he kept journals as a teenager documenting an erotic attachment to another boy, but later destroyed them out of shame. He certainly kept notebooks during some periods of his life: in 2007 Ohio State University Press brought out Everything Lost: The Latin American Notebook - see Goodreads for more information. He also kept a diary of sorts in his final months. This was edited by Burroughs’s long-time assistant James Grauerholz and published as Last Words: The Final Journals of William Burroughs (Grove Press) - see Googlebooks.

In Last Words, Grauerholz provides this background to the journals: ‘It was in mid-November 1996 that Burroughs began to write the journals that are presented in this book. The first entry records the death of his cat, Calico Jane. In 260 days from November 14, 1996, to August 1, 1997, he made 168 entries. These writings include successive drafts of several short routines; remarks on books he was reading or had read long ago, and scenes suggested by them; lists of favorite lines from a lifetime of reading and listening; fits of impotent rage at man’s stupidity, day-to-day commentary, the heartbreak of the deaths of his beloved cats; and the contemplation of his own mortality. As late as these last nine months of his life, Burroughs was still compelled to do imaginary battle with his primordial foes: “Drug Warriors,” school-stupid FBI men, cat-haters, humans destroying the earth’s species in their arrogance: “When whales and seals and elephants weep, I cannot suppress the deadly Sin of Anger.” ’

Grauerholz adds these notes in his acknowledgements: ‘William Burroughs’s closest friends often saw him scribbling in the bound journal books that accumulated until there were eight of them, but he was a bit secretive about their contents. He did turn over one book to Jim McCrary to be typed up, and he made some editing marks on the transcription; this shows that he knew the journals would someday be published. (Selections from that typed journal were published in The New Yorker just after William’s death, as “Last Words.”) In late August 1997 Jim offered to transcribe the handwritten journals, and I was content for him to do that because I was not yet ready to face their contents, in William’s familiar scrawl - “dead fingers talk.” I procrastinated reviewing Jim’s transcription until the spring of 1999, when I finally felt up to the sad task of reading my best friend’s last testament. Rather than silently correct mistakes of spelling or sense, I used brackets to insert short clarifications, or to indicate words and passages that remained illegible after my best efforts to decipher them. In the subsequent editing process (with Ira Silverberg’s help), I cut about 5 percent of the material, primarily for reasons of privacy or because of excessive repetition. Following William’s text in this volume is a set of editor’s notes, arranged chronologically, providing additional background and explanation of his many references that would otherwise be obscure.’

Here are several extracts (from the Flamingo edition of Last Words in the UK).

14 November 1996
‘Thursday This is November 14. 1996
November 10, Calico was killed at 19th and Learnard. I heard about it the 12th from Jose. Tom had seen the cat by side of the road.

In the empty spaces where the cat was, that hurt physically. Cat is part of me. Mornings since, I break into uncontrollable sobbing and crying when I remember [where] she used to be - sit - move, etc. No question of histrionics. It just happens.

So dream remembered:
Oh, it was also a cat. I wasn’t sure it could find its way.’

16 November 1996
‘Coming up narrow tenement stairs. Met two people coming down at landing, said: “Hello.”

At top of stairs was a cubicle room with old sewing machine and other odds and ends, and there was an affectionate cat, whose head seemed removable. This room was open at top, three floors up.

Other people on roof said something about “Absolutely,” referring to the cats.’

1 December 1996
‘In a plane coming in for a landing in Paris. The plane landed in a narrow slot. Outside I could see Paris streets and then the plane angled upwards, looked ready to stall at any moment, and I felt physical fear.

“It’s going to crash!”
But it didn’t crash. Landed OK in Paris.

Paris is in many ways my favorite city. Never really got into Rome. London was always antithetical to me. Leaving NYC which is always New York. Small towns like Tangier.’

11 December 1996
‘Let the little growth on my head rest. It is an inoperable, benign, nonentity. So let it stay like that. If the soft machine works, don’t fix it. If it works, don’t fix it.

The words under the words, bubbling up with a belch of coal gas:
“We are - They are - come on! Hit! Hit!”
He cowered there, nursing the welt inflicted.’

30 December 1996
‘Reading New Yorker, July 31, 1995, account of “firestorms” in Hamburg occasioned by Allied bombing. (They don’t need an Atom bomb.) Then Dresden, to break German morale. The result was history’s second major firestorm. Like I say, top people in USA and England were such shits as you can’t believe.

What is left in these minds? Very little of value to me or anyone I can relate to. “All my relations,” as the Indians say. Like the drug anti’s in Malaysia say: “dealers are not human to him.’ And he - Mohathir Mohamed, Prime Minister - is not human to me. I curse him with my whole heart. There is nothing in him I feel for, or with.

Same goes for the firestorm impresarios.

So as this inglorious chapter in the USA draws to a dreary close with Clinton squeaking like the rat he turned out to be, that [in] Arizona and California together courts [are] quasi-legalizing marijuana for medical or any other purpose. . .

You must mark it to its place. It is an ILLEGAL drug and by illegal, beyond question.’

30 January 1997
‘To Kansas City. Pleasant trip. Good breakfast at Nichols’. Back by the freeway.
David made an especially good dinner, small roast, thick, toothsome, and new potatoes and carrots and peas.
My god, how dull these English diaries can get.

I expect Trant - or is it Glen? - will soon be jolted out of his apathy - and his greenhouse, and his green iguana.
Fold sweet etcetera to bed with Ovaltine.
So what does happen?

“Trant thought the frescos were becoming more and more morbid - each of the Martyrs had died in a different way - one by roasting.” (In a Rube Goldberg machine). “A saint carrying his own skin - lifelike in the extreme - the child was timing him to see how long he took” (to find out there was something to be tooked.)

He did something the others had not done: he laughed.
I once questioned in a dream an evil Italian Mountebank Spirit:
“Like, who are you?”
And he laughed and laughed - and went on laughing, in a marble dark lagoon, chintzy Italian decor - and he was deliciously evil.
As someone said about this evil spirit goes around sucking out the last breath from a dying youth:
“It was tasty.”

The child looking quite radiant. He was in fact a Radiant Boy, suck the breath out of an old queen.
He’s got a name, that Eyetye spirit - the Harlequin?
“You must leave now. Follow me.”

Few things are less inspiring than muddy snow. It’s an uncreative accident. (Bacon speaks of “the creative accident.”)
A road of dirty, muddy snow splattered accidental enough -  like a pig wallow.’

29 May 1997
‘Life review is not orderly account from conception to death. Rather, fragments -
(Telephone - my eyeglasses are ready.)
“You can keep quite comfortable on codeine.”
 - from here and there:
“He looks like a sheep killing dog.”
- Said about me by Politte Elvins, Kells’s father, who later went nuts with paresis. [He’d] been treating himself: “Doctors are just mechanics.”
“Take Beano for the measles, you pay two dollars down.”
- Old song heard at Los Alamos campfire sing, from Henry Bosworth.

I hate that son of a bitch, if he still lives anywhere. He called me “a goddamn worthless little pup.”
I hanged him in effigy by the big square fireplace in the Big House. I had used a statue of a Boy Scout, with the message around his neck: “Bozzy Bitch, goddamn him.”
(Now he later was fired for fooling with the boys, especially the Marsden family - Bob Marsden was a right bitch in his own right.)

A. J. found out about it:
“Yes,” he said, “I know everybody who got up that night.”
He had his network of snitches.
“What’s the safest place in the U.S., Billy?” he needled me, and Connell says: “Where you are.”
(Suppose you are on death row? I guess Fort Knox is about the safest place, offhand - all that gold. Or maybe a vault in Zurich, tended by gnomes.)
It was out by the sawdust pile, caughted fire and been smoldering for years like a mattress.

Recollect in New Orleans Joan set her bed on fire with a cigarette. I was the one woke up. We pour a wastebasket full of water down one hole, and it starts smoking down the other end. Took four metal wastebaskets to quell the fire, and it took $50 to quench the landlady.
Dropped my drink into a wastebasket at the sight of a Glock double trigger.
If they would -’

20 July 1997
‘They say a writer should have something he does with his hands (besides typing, that is). Pulling cat hairs from the Hudson Bay blanket seems to be my hand thing. That and shooting. I groom her, but the hairs are seemingly inexhaustible. What’s a man to do. Ain’t got no chance, one man alone.

Stumbles on a vile deed: report in the Weekly [World] News. McVeigh has turned into a sniveling coward, sobbing: “I don’t want to die.”

Has he? No responsible newspaper has reported what is certainly a newsworthy event. Only the Weekly News has culled this scoop from its mysterious “sources.” I nominate the Weekly News for the Vilest Act of the Century. If this story is fabricated, the News has perpetrated - has extended the very frontiers of vileness.

I remember the Machos. Died smoking. Mexican banditos stand against a pitted adobe wall, sneering at the firing squad.
So some reporter who wasn’t even there reports:
“The bandits died begging for their lives. Most of them lost control of their bowels and bladders.”

I was there. I will hunt that rat reporter down. I will force him to beg for his life in front of witnesses, promising to spare his life if he begs for it like Fido on his knees, with little yips while the cameras roll.
Lights, action, (pistol shots), camera.
To me the most unforgivable sin is the Lie, because like counterfeit currency, it devalues truth.

He has endured tortures that would have reduced most men to sniveling wrecks, an agent of a service so secret it can never be admitted to exist. Now he is, by computer magic, suddenly “a dirty child-molesting dope fiend,” spit on and pelted with rocks from snarling children.

He’s had all he can take.
“Fill my truck with ammonium nitrate. I’m going to fertilize till the land looks level.”
Few survive the Big Switch.
So then?
Straight-aheadedness.’

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Tupper the tinkerer

Earl Silas Tupper, an American tinkerer, businessman and inventor, best known for Tupperware, was born 110 years ago today. For a few years when a young man he kept a daily diary, extracts of which can be found in The Tinkerer’s Story by Kathleen Franz. The diary shows him energetic, full of ambition to be an inventor, to make money, and, above all, to own a car!

Tupper was born on 28 July 1907 on a farm in Berlin, New Hampshire. His father looked after the family farm and greenhouse, while his mother took in laundry and ran a boarding house. As a boy, Earl learned he could sell more of his father’s produce by going door-to-door than he could in the market. After finishing at high school, he continued working for his parents, who now owned a nursery in Shirley, Massachusetts, until he was 19. He found employment on the railways and as a mail clerk before studying tree surgery. He started up his own tree and landscaping business - Tupper Tree Doctors Company - and began inventing items such as a women’s corset, a special hairpin dubbed Sure-stay, and a portable tie rack. In 1931, he married Marie Whitcomb and they would have five children.

During the Depression, Tupper’s business went bankrupt, but having met Bernard Doyle he went to work for his plastic company in Leominster, Massachusetts, part of the larger company, DuPont. A year later, he left and started The Earl S. Tupper Company, designing and developing plastic industrial products. During the war years, he mostly worked under contract for DuPont, producing moulded parts for the navy. It was from DuPont that he acquired a black, hard, polyethylene slag, a waste product of the oil process, and eventually found a way of refining it into a translucent, flexible, lightweight, non-toxic plastic which he called Poly-T. After the war, he turned his attention to the consumer market, making items such as plastic tumblers and cigarette cases; his Tupper Seal invention allowed an air- and water-tight lid. But selling plastic products - even in his Fifth Avenue shop - remained an uphill task.

In the late 1940s, Tupper joined forces with two distributors of his products - Brownie Wise (in Florida ) and Thomas Damigella (in Massachusetts) - who began to shift high volumes. The three met in 1951 and developed a new sales model called the Tupperware Home Party Plan with exclusive rights for selling Tupperware products (which were withdrawn from sale in shops). The plan was modelled on a home party plan pioneered by Stanley Home Products, but expanded and refined by Wise. Damigella and his wife became the first such distributors of Tupperware; and Wise was named vice president of Tupperware Home Parties in 1951. In 1958, Tupper fell out with Wise, who was dismissed, and then sold his company to Rexall Drug Company for $16m, divorced his wife, gave up U.S. citizenship (to avoid tax) and bought himself an island in Central America. He died in Costa Rica in 1983. Further biographical information is available at The Tupperware Collection, The New York Times obituary, Daily Maverick, Encyclopedia.com or Wikipedia.

Between 1933 and 1937, Tupper kept a daily diary of his activities. As far as I know these have never been published. However, they are used (and quoted from) extensively by Kathleen Franz in her book Tinkering: Consumers Reinvent the Early Automobile (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005). This is available to preview at Googlebooks. The opening paragraphs in Chapter 4 - A Tinkerer’s Story (i.e. about Tupper) - are worth quoting in full. (The illustration below also comes from Franz’s book.)

‘Earl Silas Tupper represents one grass-roots inventor who embraced the prolific advice literature on the importance of individual inventors and the profitability of patents during the Great Depression. Tupper, creator of the famous plastic containers that bear his name, was an avid tinkerer who began his inventive career by patenting and promoting an automobile accessory. In the 1930s, a young Earl Tupper tinkered with the design of numerous consumer novelties ranging from hairpins and permanently creased dress pants to a streamlined sled. While many of these were fleeting ideas, he promoted some quite vigorously. Tupper kept detailed diaries and notes of his daily activities between 1933 and 1937, and these documents reveal the intense efforts of one consumer-turned-amateur inventor to heed popular advice on invention, to emulate an older generation of independent inventors, and to successfully market his automotive improvements for profit.

Even as the design of the automobile became more complete in the 1930s and university-trained engineers and designers took greater control of technological innovations in the car, Tupper proved that tinkerers still saw the automobile as a fertile field for improvement. Tupper focused his efforts on patenting and marketing a collapsible top for rumble seats, which he dubbed the Clipper Rumble-Top. The rumble-seat top embodied Tupper’s hopes for gaining fame and fortune from invention. His writings reflect the widely held belief in the democratic nature of invention. Like many inventors, he hoped his patents would provide the capital on which to build personal financial security.

For Tupper, invention provided the key to individual success. Although Tupper wrote about the humanitarian benefits of invention, the bulk of his diary entries reflected his more immediate worries about money and his goal of improving his own material circumstances through patenting and selling his ideas. Popular advice encouraged tinkerers like Tupper to model themselves on inventor-heroes of previous generations and to use their own experience to redesign existing machines. A devoted student of popular magazine stories about invention, Tupper embodied what historian Brooke Hindle has called the process of emulation, an empirical approach to invention in the nineteenth century that relied on “fingertip knowledge,” creativity, and a desire to “equal and surpass the work of other [inventors].” Advice experts and committed grass-roots inventors like Tupper continued the process of emulation into the twentieth century, sustaining the efforts of those who invented outside a growing system of corporate research and development laboratories.

Earl Tupper’s coming of age in New England fit the genre of inventor biographies circulating in the popular literature of the early twentieth century. Born on a New Hampshire farm to a family of modest means, Tupper “developed a love of invention” and “showed an enterprising and entrepreneurial spirit” by the age of ten. Tupper worked at odd jobs and, through study and persistence, achieved success by inventing a simple plastic container. This simplified story, however, obscures the haphazard and difficult path Tupper followed prior to his success. Tupper had a complex relationship to automobility and to invention. His diaries speak not only to the economic hardships faced by many Americans during the Great Depression but also the hopes and difficulties of patent management for grass-roots inventors. Tupper’s experiences serve as a bridge between nineteenth-century ideas of invention as democratic and accessible and a modern corporate structure that placed invention and innovation in the hands of trained scientists and engineers who worked for large corporations.’

And here are several brief excerpts from Tupper’s diary, all of which I have extracted from Franz’s narrative (each one, therefore, is very likely to have been taken from a longer entry in the diary itself).

2 January 1933
‘Lately I have developed a ravenous appetite for knowledge, [. . .] Why couldn’t I have realized my real future desires while in school?’

7 January 1933
‘If I can get a little money ahead, I’ll show the world some real inventions. [. . .] I let my imagination play to-day . . . on what I would buy if I had only . . . $10,000 to spend. (Boy! - it was tough getting back to the depression).’

12 January 1933
‘I’ll be a super being if I successfully complete it [a programme of study].’

20 January 1933
‘I am ever impressed by the vast amount of interesting - fascinating - and elevating knowledge to be had by the ambitious in this world. It is impossible to live long enough to acquire it all.’

10 February 1933
‘It certainly is amazing what a rotten grafting game our politicians can get away with - even when the facts are broadcast to the people. If this old depression could continue for five more years,  think it would much to awaken the masses to activity towards wiping out corruption.’

4 March 1933
‘This noon we heard . .. President Roosevelt sworn into office. . . Mr. Roosevelt said a lot of nice things if he can and will see them through. I hope this old depression either grows much worse, or leaves us entirely - and very soon. Boy! I feel more stranded than Robinson Coruso [sic] even could have felt. . . It’s certain things can get no worse for me - financially.’

5 May 1933
‘That rumble top certainly looks like somebody’s Million Dollars.’

18 June 1933
‘I am too strapped for money and have notebooks full of sketches and a house of models of inventions awaiting completion and business. [ . . .] If I had a car, I could take care of myself.’

25 June 1933
‘No matter how poets and song writers play up pagan existence and Midevial [sic] civilizations, I’ll still take modern civilization . . . and ultra modern civilization - the more advanced the better I’m for it.”

23 July 1933
‘Gosh this standing around with nothing to do, is driving me crazy. I’m going to start making tops if nothing else.’

10 August 1933
‘Those birds don’t mind saying mean things to a poor little inventor. Just the same, I still believe that I can make money and selling those tops.’

10 September 1933
‘I have just $19 left to my name, no car, and apparently nothing else. With those business assets, I must take care of a fine little wife and a darling child. [. . .] I could always live, but to carry on and keep life for them worth living is a problem - it has been for a year.’

9 December 1933
‘How I crave a new auto now!’

7 February 1934
‘Mr. Sheedy doesn’t want to spend any more money until he sees what we can do toward merchandising the top. I believe that the patent should be granted, then we would have something to sell. As it is we have nothing. [. . .] And since Mr. Sheedy is paying the bill, I can’t say much.’

8 March 1934
‘I hope they sell like hot-cakes.’

22 March 1934
‘I’ve been planning sales campaigns, moving, buying a car, and everything else.’

22 January 1937
‘I can do this designing better than anyone else.’

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Signalling with Marconi

‘Signalling with Marconi and Parallel-Wire systems to Lavernock Point.’ This is George Kemp’s inauspicious diary entry for 13 December 1897, the day the Italian radio pioneer, Guglielmo Marconi, made telecommunications history. Marconi, who died 80 years ago today, certainly kept notebooks and diaries himself, though they are brief and coded and considered largely inscrutable by biographers. Of more use to biographers, especially those wishing to trace the evolution of Marconi’s technical innovations, are the diaries kept by Kemp, his first assistant and lifelong friend.

Marconi was born in 1874 into a wealthy Bologna family, and, although mostly brought up in Italy, he spent several years living with his Irish/Scottish mother in Bedford, England. As a boy he took a keen interest in physical and electrical science, studying the work of physicists Maxwell and Hertz. Another physicist who was also a neighbour, Augusto Righi, let Marconi attend lectures at the university of Bologna. In 1895, he began experiments at his father’s country estate at Pontecchio, and succeeded in sending wireless signals over a distance of one and a half miles. The following year, he took his apparatus to England where he was introduced to William Preece, engineer-in-chief of the Post Office, and was granted the world’s first patent for a system of wireless telegraphy.

Marconi demonstrated his system successfully in London, on Salisbury Plain and, most significantly, across the Bristol Channel (on 13 May 1897); and later, in July, he formed The Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company Limited. That same year, he gave a demonstration to the Italian Government at Spezia where wireless signals were sent over a distance of twelve miles; and, in 1899, he established wireless communication between France and England across the English Channel. He soon erected permanent wireless stations in several places on the south coast. In 1900, he took out his famous patent No. 7777 for ‘tuned or syntonic telegraphy’ and, on an historic day, 12 December 1901, determined to prove that wireless waves were not affected by the curvature of the Earth, he used his system for transmitting the first wireless signals across the Atlantic between Poldhu, Cornwall, and St. John’s, Newfoundland, a distance of over 2,000 miles. A year later, a transmission from a Marconi station in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada, became the world’s first radio message to cross the Atlantic in the other direction. In 1905, Marconi married Beatrice O’Brien in 1905, and they had three children.

Marconi expanded his company rapidly, developing inventions, and building high-powered stations on both sides of the Atlantic to communicate with ships. In 1904, he established a service of transmitting news to subscribing vessels at sea, and a few years later he launched the first transatlantic commercial service between Glace Bay and Clifden, Ireland. In 1905, he patented his horizontal directional aerial and, in 1912, a ‘timed spark’ system for generating continuous waves. Marconi’s company played a significant role in saving lives after the sinking of the Titanic, a development which brought Marconi himself some fame. He was awarded the Nobel Prize, shared with Professor Karl Braun, in 1909. In 1913, the Marconis moved back to Italy.

In 1914, Marconi was commissioned in the Italian Army as a Lieutenant, and placed in charge of Italy’s military radio service. He was later promoted to Captain, and in 1916 transferred to the Navy in the rank of Commander. He was a member of the Italian government mission to the United States in 1917, and in 1919 was appointed Italian plenipotentiary delegate to the Paris Peace Conference. He was awarded the Italian Military Medal in 1919 in recognition of his war service. Marconi continued to experiment, extending  knowledge and uses of shorter and shorter radio waves. In 1924, his company obtained a contract from the British post office to establish shortwave communication with the countries of the British Commonwealth. In 1927, having had his first marriage annulled, he married Maria Cristina Bezzi-Scali and they had one child.

In 1930, by which time 
Marconi had joined the Italian Fascist party, Benito Mussolini appointed him president of the Royal Academy of Italy, which made Marconi a member of the Fascist Grand Council. He received many honorary doctorates and other international honours and awards, including Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order in England, and the hereditary title of Marchese in Italy. He died on 20 July 1937, and was given a state funeral. The following day, all BBC transmitters and wireless Post Office transmitters in the British Isles observed two minutes of silence in his honour. Further information is readily available online, not least at Wikipedia, Nobel Prize, Electronics Notes, and Encyclopædia Britannica.

Marconi was an inveterate keeper of notebooks which rarely, it seems, had the character of a private diary. Such notebooks from his teens (and other archival materials) were discovered in the 1990s at Villa Farnesina (which had been the home of the Royal Academy under Marconi’s presidency). Some information on these early notebooks (and photographs) can be found at the Guglielmo Marconi Committee’s website. Although the text is in Italian, Google Translate provides a reasonable text in English. 


Otherwise, there is information in English about Marconi’s adult notebooks/diaries in various biographies. Marc Raboy, in his much-respected and very recent work Marconi: The Man who Networked the World (Oxford University Press, 2016), summarises: ‘Every life has its store of secrets and mysteries, which is perhaps why people get so exercised at the thought of some government agency having access to their phone records or hard drives. Marconi’s diaries hold clues to questions unasked and unanswerable, often hinting at relations and interests that then vanish without a trace. There is a backstory to Marconi’s elusive life that we can only begin to glimpse. He loved recounting and reinventing it, but he also took great care to keep parts of it shrouded in obscurity. He would record meetings and make notes to himself in small leather-bound diaries, but he often used a series of indecipherable codes meaningful only to himself; a word, a name, a single letter, a number or an X. The diaries are inscrutable, strewn with references to people who turn up nowhere else in any of the accounts of his life. One of these ephemeral figures was Betty - whose full name was Marion Elizabeth Jessie Marconi Clover. Marconi would occasionally make a note regarding his children - Degna, Giulio, Gioia. . . and, once in the same breath, Betty Clover. On the surface, what could be more reasonable than taking one’s fourteen-year-old goddaughter to Cartier, London’s finest jewellery dealer (as he recorded doing on January 24,1925), or so it would appear.’

Raboy includes more than a dozen mentions of Marconi’s notebooks/diaries in his index, but, as far as I can tell, he only quotes from the diaries once - and in this context: ‘Marconi also carried around a small pocket diary in those days that he used occasionally for recording experimental notations. The notations are often stripped of any context and not necessarily placed on the pages bearing the dates when they were made. But under December 12, 1901, partly obscured by other notations that he may have made earlier or later, he has written: “Sigs at 12.30 1.1 OX and 2.20,” and on December 13, 1901: “Sigs at 1.38.” These entries are the only ones in ink; the others are in pencil. In later years, Marconi frequently referred to these notations, as well as Kemp’s diary, as evidence of the time and date the signals were received. What is perhaps most unusual is that neither Kemp’s nor Marconi’s diary indicate they felt that anything extraordinary had taken place. The entries are matter-of-fact and unadorned. In later years, they both embellished the story, turning it into drama.’

Kemp - George S. Kemp - was Marconi’s right-hand man for many years. Marconi always considered Kemp his first collaborator and a valued friend; indeed emp was still employed by the Marconi company when he died on January 2, 1933, at the age of seventy-five. Marconi was one of the witnesses to his will. From 1887 to 1932, he kept a diary recording his work with Marconi. The diary is a considered a precious resource for understanding Marconi’s research in the early days, and is referred to and quoted from often in Raboy’s biography.

Similarly, Gerald Garratt has much to say about Kemp in his work (available at GooglebooksThe Early History of Radio: From Faraday to Marconi (Issue 20 of History and Management of Technology Series - Institution of Electrical Engineers, 1994): ‘A name that does not appear in any of the contemporary accounts is that of G. S. Kemp, to whom we are chiefly indebted for the day-to-day account of the Lavernock trials. Kemp had joined the Royal Navy at the age of fifteen and, when he was discharged in 1895 at the age of thirty-eight, he joined the staff of the Post Office as an assistant in the Engineer-in-Chief’s Laboratory. In that capacity, he had been instructed to assist Marconi in the earlier experiments on Salisbury Plain. With the decision to hold the more extensive trials in the Bristol Channel, Kemp was made responsible for transporting and setting up the apparatus at Lavernock and Flat Holme. Following his life-long habit, Kemp recorded brief details of his daily activities in a pocket diary. It is to this diary - and particularly to the expanded and edited versions that Kemp prepared for the Marconi Company in about 1930 - that we are indebted for the details which follow.’

Garratt’s text then continues (I have italicised the entries from Kemp’s diary for clarity):

‘In Kemp’s words, the historic experiments started early:

6 May 1897
‘Left at 8.30 a.m. for Paddington with apparatus for experiments at Cardiff. Arrived at 2.17 p.m. and stowed apparatus in store. Proceeded to Lavernock to see mast and found that a long cable had been fixed, stretching out beyond low-water mark, for the earth connection. Fixed a wire atop the 107 ft pole, 16 strands of aluminium wire. Then returned to Cardiff to make arrangements for transporting apparatus to Flat Holme Island.’

7 May 1897
‘I packed Mr Marconi’s transmitter into a small tug at 6.30 a.m. together with the transmitting and receiving apparatus belonging to Mr Preece’s Parallel- Wire system and transported all to Flat Holme Island. Fixed a wire of 18 strands to top of 110 ft pole and prepared Mr Marconi’s transmitter in a small hut close to mast. Slept at a small house owned by the person in charge of the Cremation House.’

For the next few days, Kemp was busy on the little island, fitting up and testing Marconi’s transmitter and Preece’s parallel-wire system. He had trouble with the insulation of the zinc drum at the top of the mast and with the insulation of the stays. Sparks on the parallel-wire system also caused difficulties whenever he used the Marconi transmitter, but these were only ‘teething troubles’ and by the Wednesday of the following week he was able to record that, ‘The signals transmitted across to Lavernock by Mr Marconi’s transmitter and the Parallel-Wire system were good.’ Insulation, however, was still proving troublesome and his next comment was, ‘As I did not like the insulation of the drum, I sent some of these signals on the aerial which was connected to insulated stays’ - a reminder of the very high voltages encountered in the aerial circuits of the early spark transmitters.

Mention was made above of the two versions of Kemp’s diary: the original contemporary pocket diary (parts of which the owner, Kemp’s son, Leslie, kindly permitted me to photograph some years ago) and the expanded version which Kemp had typed and edited for the Marconi Company in about 1930. The latter version contains an amount of detail to which no reference is made in the original, and while no actual contradictions have been noted, it is difficult to avoid wondering how an old man (he was over seventy at the time) writing more than thirty years after the events could have remembered many of the trivial details he mentions. In the original diary, the events of the time from Monday 10 to Friday 14 May are bracketed together with the single comment, ‘Signalling with Marconi and Parallel-Wire systems to Lavernock Point’, but in the 1930 version the daily events are recorded with considerable detail, for example:

13 May 1897
‘The great day for Flat Holme signals. 1 started at 7 a.m. and fitted a new copper earth wire in lieu of the iron earth. I sent and received good signals on both systems between 12 and 1.45 p.m. The first half hour of V’s were on a paper strip on the inker, the second, ‘so be it, let it be so’, and the third, ‘it is cold here and the wind is up’. This message was posted to the Kaiser by Professor Slaby.

In the afternoon Mr Marconi came over and tried some adjustments; Mr Taylor came with him and did a little transmitting but, as T sent the best sentences between 12 and 2 p.m. I returned to those adjustments and sent them the following:
How are you?   repeated
It is hot   repeated
Marconi   repeated
Go to bed   repeated
Go to Hull   repeated
So be it   repeated
Tea here is good   repeated

Nine similar sentences follow. The tests were resumed the following morning. A motor-driven commutator and a Vrill break were tried, but with no marked improvement on the previous day’s results.

15 May 1897
‘I dismantled the Marconi transmitting apparatus on Flat Holme, leaving it at Penarth, and then arranged for a steamer to Brean Down on Monday.’

Here is the first mention in any of the records of an attempt to transmit right across the Bristol Channel from Lavernock to Brean Down on the Somerset coast. It leaves the impression that it was a sudden, ‘on the spot’ decision, inspired in all probability by the success of the Lavernock-Flat Holme experiments. Preparations continued over the weekend, with Kemp assembling the Marconi transmitter on the top of the cliff at Lavernock. Monday, however, brought bad weather, and Kemp noted that it was too rough for the receiver party to land at Brean Down. Kemp himself remained at Lavernock to operate the transmitter. Just how the receiver party eventually reached Brean Down is not evident from the surviving records. There is no record either of the names of those in the receiver party, or of exactly what they received, but in his contemporary diary Kemp noted on Tuesday, 18 May: ‘Good signals to Brean Down using kite and 300 ft (91.4m) of 4-strand wire’.

In the language of the day, the phrase ‘good signals’ was far from being synonymous with ‘good messages’. In the 1930 version of his diary, Kemp seems to qualify his original comment by saying ‘The engineers reported that they had received signals at Brean Down’. Whether or not the signals were exactly ‘Q5’ (fully readable), it is evident from Gavey’s report that the Post Office officials were impressed with the inherent possibilities of the system. Signals, of sorts, had got across, although it was clear that, in Gavey’s words, ‘There was . . . still much to be desired in order to convert crude appliances into good working devices’. [. . .]

This historic series of experiments across the Bristol Channel came to a close, as Kemp noted the following in his diary:

29 May 1897
‘Packed up and returned to Paddington by the 10.37 p.m. train from Cardiff, arriving at Paddington at 3.30 a.m. on Sunday morning. We stowed all the apparatus in the cloak room.’ ’

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Estonian writer’s secret drawer

Karl Ristikivi, one of the most important Estonian writers of historical novels, died 40 years ago today. He kept a diary for a decade or so, and this was published in 2009 to some local acclaim - one reviewer said his diary resembled a secret drawer. However, Ristikivi remains unknown in Britain, and none of his work, and certainly not his diary, has been translated for publication in English.

Karl Ristikivi was born in 1912 in western Estonia to an unmarried maidservant. He was baptised as a Russian Orthodox, like his mother, with the first name Karp. His childhood was spent on farms where his mother was employed, but in 1927 a rich relative offered to send him to study in Tallinn. He left college in 1932, and took up writing, contributing stories to magazines, and publishing children’s books. This earned him enough money to study (sociology) at the University of Tartu from 1936. He graduated in 1941. Between 1938 and 1942, he published three volumes of his so-called Tallinn Trilogy. In the tumult of the war years, he managed to secure himself a position at the Estonian Bureau in Helsinki, and from there, in 1944, he crossed to neutral Sweden, never to return to his home country.

Domiciled in the Stockholm area, Ristikivi worked for the state health insurance office, writing novels, magazine articles (for the Estonian press) and, occasionally, poems in his spare time. His novels (including three trilogies) were largely set in Europe in different historical time periods. None of these have been translated into English, indeed Ristikivi remains largely untranslated into any language. Further information about his life is not readily available online in English, although Wikipedia does have an entry, and there are articles about him at the Estonian Literary Magazine and Karl Ristikivi Society. There is also an informative thread about him at the World Literature Forum.

In 2009, one of Estonia’s largest publishers, Varrak, brought out a 1,000 page edition of Ristikivi’s diaries: Päevaraamat (1957-1968). The original manuscripts are held at the Baltic Archive, part of the Swedish State Archive in Stockholm. The diaries were edited and annotated by Janika Kronberg, a writer who has been head of the Karl Ristikivi Museum and Director of the Estonian Literary Museum. A review of the book, by Rutt Hinrikus, can be found at the Estonian Literature Centre.

Hinrikus says: ‘As is often true of diaries, Ristikivi’s does not contain the information one would expect, nor does it reveal great secrets. Rather, it corresponds to all the characteristics of the canonical diary: it is monotonous, full of repetitive openings, memory fragments, returns to the same themes. It is unexpectedly circumstantial while also unexpectedly private - a very human document in its moving helplessness. Nevertheless, it is very deliberately written as the diary of a writer, a public figure who belongs to the public sphere. While concealing everything that is deeply personal, information is periodically divulged about conditions surrounding writing, including the writer’s health. The author knows that the diary is a personal document, but he also knows that one day it will be found and read. Otherwise, why would it be composed so thoughtfully? The writer notes the dates and ceremonies that are important to him, and emphasizes the way he recollects the past. He heals past trauma through scriptotherapy, sometimes dramatizing the past in order finally to be freed from it. Daily writing allows him to lighten his heart, and helps him begin writing again. The first-person narrator of Ristikivi’s last work, Rooma päevik (Roman Diary) refers to his diary as a hermit’s monologue. Ristikivi interrupts the fictive monologue of Roman Diary in mid-sentence. Ristikivi’s own writer’s diary, however, resembles a secret drawer. The writer does not hold out the key to the reader, but hands him a secret message directing him to the next hiding place, where yet another secret message awaits him.’

Here are a few entries from Ristikivi’s diary, as translated and found in Hinrikus’s review.

1 August 1957
‘It is a very ordinary day, this day on which I begin my diary. I do not know which attempt this is, nor whether I will get farther with it this time than I did the previous times. But now I have decided to keep it for 10 years. Thus it would replace the newspaper clippings---which I am now finished with—after 10 years of work.


And so, for starters, my coordinates. I am 44 years old and work in the Solna health insurance office/---/This is located diagonally across the street at Rasundavägen 100, and I am sitting under the window.’

12 October 1957
‘I am afraid of people, afraid of illness, afraid of accidents. And unfortunately this is not without reason’

26 November 1959
‘When day dawns and with the coming of the lighter season of the year, these existential fears recede and Ristikivi exerts himself to find a topic that would attract him enough to be able to start writing again. Often the greatest obstacle is not so much the present with its everyday fears and routine, but images from the past that continue to make themselves felt. Just as the writing of history is a dialogue between the present and the past, so also is a diary. Sixteen years ago I left Estonia. I had no real place there, neither do I have one here.’

Diary briefs

Diaries from the Siege of Leningrad - Harvard University Press, The IndependentMail Online

Journals of L. M. Montgomery - Rock’s Mills Press

Court case over Chiang Kai-shek diaries - Taipei Times

Diaries of flying ace Albert Ball - Leicester Mercury, Daily Mail, Nottingham Post

Diaries of immigrant Japanese businessman - Stanford News

Diary of Jersey Under the Swastika - Youtube, Amazon

Did Soviet spies steal a Canadian PM’s diary? - CTV News

David Sedaris publishes diaries - Little Brown, The Guardian

Langley’s diaries unblocked by court - The Guardian

1,000 Days on the River Kwai - Pen & Sword Books, Amazon

Lost diary of tortured Mexican - New York Historical Society, Times of Israel

Diary clue to lost New Zealand natural wonder - NZ Herald, The Guardian

Child’s diary of abuse by grandmother - Crime Online

Depression diary of suicide student - Oldham Evening Chronicle

Wing commander’s war diary auctioned - Cheffins, Daily Mail

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Miscegenation and lusotropicalism

‘Could this odor really be from a burned black man? I don’t know - but this definitely gave me the chills. I never thought that such horror could be possible at this time in the United States. But it is. Here there is still lynching, killing, and burning of blacks. This is not an isolated incident. It happens often.’ This is from the diary of Gilberto de Mello Freyre, a much respected Brazilian sociologist and the originator of Lusotropicalism, who died 30 years ago today. He kept a diary only when young, and decided to publish it nearly half a century later. One researcher, though, believes Freyre considerably revised the diary entries over time ‘for the sake of impressive self-presentation’.

Freyre was born in 1900 in Recife into an old Brazilian family descending from the first Portuguese colonisers. He started school at a Baptist missionary school run by Americans. This led him to converting from Catholicism to Protestantism, and also to a scholarship at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. After graduating, he enrolled at Columbia University where he studied for a masters in political and social sciences. While at Columbia, he moved away from religion and, influenced by the pioneering anthropologist, Franz Boas, became enthused towards the cultural anthropology of his own country. His thesis, Social life in Brazil in the Mid-Nineteenth Century
, was translated and published in English (see Internet Archive).

After travelling in Europe for a year or so, Freyre returned to Brazil in 1922. He worked as a journalist but also organised the first northeastern regionalist congress in Recife and created a Regionalist Manifesto for the encouragement of local novelists, poets, and artists. In 1927, he was appointed as head of cabinet for Estácio Coimbra, governor of the State of Pernambuco; but with the 1930 revolution, headed by Getúlio Vargas, both Coimbra and Freyre went into exile. Freyre went first to Portugal where he worked as a translator, and then to the US where he travelled and found work as a visiting professor at Stanford.

By 1932, Freyre had returned to Brazil. The following year he published what would become his most famous book Casa-Grande & Senzala (The Masters and the Slaves). Where many Brazilians had been anxious about their lack of identity, he argued that Brazil’s cultural mixture or miscegenation, resulting from immigration and interbreeding, was precisely what made Brazilians distinctive. He was the prime mover in organising the first Congress of Afro-Brazilian Studies with the goal of studying African minorities. In 1936, he was appointed chair in sociology at the University of Brazil; further books followed. 


In 1941, Freyre married Magdalene Guedes Pereira, and they had two children. Following the coup which deposed Vargas, Freyre was elected to the federal Congress, where he contributed to the negotiations on a new constitution. He was instrumental in launching social research institutes, the first of which was established in 1949. A year later, he became director of the Regional Center for Educational Research in Recife, where he promoted policies attentive to Brazil’s diversity. At the invitation of Portugal’s government, he travelled to Portuguese provinces in Africa.

Freyre is particularly remembered for Lusotropicalism, a name he gave to the distinctive character of Portuguese imperialism overseas which, he considered, to have been better than that of other European nations. This was due, he argued,
 to Portugal’s hot, tropical environment and from it having had much experience of previous European empires and cultures. In 1962, he was awarded the Prêmio Machado de Assis of the Academia Brasileira de Letras, one of the most prestigious Brazilian literature awards; he received numerous other awards, both in Brazil and abroad. He died on 18 July 1987. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, a Gilberto Freyre tribute site, or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

In the mid-1970s, Freyre decided to publish a diary he had kept as a young man: Tempo Morto e Outros Tempos: Trechos de um diário de adolescência e primeira mocidade, 1915-1930 (J. Olympio, 1975). A few (undated) extracts in English can be found in Luso-American Literature: Writings by Portuguese-speaking Authors in North America, edited by Robert Henry Moser, Antonio Luciano de Andrade Tosta (Rutgers University Press, 2011), parts of which can be previewed at Googlebooks. The extracts, translated by Jayne Reino, are included in the chapter entitled The Dead Season and Other Occasions.

However, Maria Lucia G. Pallares-Rurke argues - in an essay The Creative Memories of Gilberto Freyre in Literature and Cultural Memory (Brill, 2017) - that the text of Tempo Morto e Outros Tempos ‘was written and rewritten over the years’. Although she quotes other examples of how Freyre adapted past writings ‘for the sake of impressive self-presentation’, her essay focuses on the published diary. Here is part of her argument (taken from Literature and Cultural Memory available online at Googlebooks):

‘In his preface, Freyre noted that the published text was “extremely incomplete”, since the manuscript had been left in an old chest and was eaten “pelo cupim” (by termites). He also claimed that the revision “had been minimal”; respecting the words of the adolescent and the young man that Freyre had been at that time. However, as I discovered, Freyre did not tell the whole truth and Tempo Morto is not so much a diary as an autobiography in the form of a diary. In fact, the text was written and rewritten over the years. In 1948, for instance, 18 years after the text comes to an end, Freyre wrote to his friend, the novelist José Lins do Rego that “I have added various things about you to the diary. It is becoming a book”.

It scarcely seems an exaggeration, then to describe Tempo Morto as a masterpiece of self-presentation or self-fashioning (to employ the now famous phrases of Erving Goffman and Stephen Greenblatt) or, following Coffman’s dramaturgical approach to everyday life, to describe Freyre’s text as a dramatization of his youth - and it is no accident that Tempo Morto was adapted for the theatre in 1981, six years after its publication. As in the case of Yeats and Gandhi, it may be suggested that the text of TM tells us more about the later Freyre who was writing or rewriting it, and perhaps writing with nostalgia about a time long-passed, than about the young man of the years 1915-1930.’

And here are several excerpts from Freyre’s diary as in Tempo Morto e Outros Tempos (taken from Luso-American Literature).

‘Aboard the “Curvelo,” 1918.
I travel full of saudade. But I am also filled with great curiosity: to know what awaits me in the United States. What will my studies be like? How will I adapt to the Yankee lifestyle? It is true that my brother has already paved the way. But though we are brothers, we are not exactly the same. In various respects we are different.

I practice my English with an English family that, unable to return to England, is going to the United States: the Joyces. She’s a widow. The daughter is a pretty young British girl with whom I’ve been conversing a lot along the way.

Mr. J. was a missionary in Bahia, it seems. Or in Espirito Santo. He died from a chigger flea wound. The vermin was poorly removed. The poor Englishman’s foot couldn’t withstand the infection.

I think about the fact that no Brazilians die from chigger fleas. On the contrary: it’s hard to find a Brazilian who hasn’t had chigger fleas as a child. It’s an initiation into becoming Brazilian that few children escape. The vermin enters the foot of the Brazilian child: it installs itself there and begins to itch. It’s extracted with a hot pin, lime is rubbed on the little wound, and that’s all there is to it. The itch does leave behind a certain saudade. But if the foot is that of an Englishman, things can transpire like they did with Mr. J.: infection, fever, delirium, death.

Getting a chigger flea is like having yellow fever on a much smaller scale: it does no harm to a Brazilian but it can be fatal to a foreigner. What a shame for that girl’s poor father.’

‘Waco, 1919.
1 seldom receive any letters from Brazil. One here or there. Almost all of them are from my family. I rarely receive one from a friend. Meanwhile, here, all of the students receive word from their hometown, not only from their families, but also from their friends; numerous letters per week.
Could it be that we Brazilians don’t have a spirit of friendship, but only that of camaraderie? That’s how it seems to me sometimes. It’s safe to say that Brazilians are far from rivaling Americans from the United States in their epistolary friendships. Here, correspondence is something sacred among friends.’

‘Waco, 1919.
I had imagined that Waco’s “black neighborhood” would be some kind of terrible place. But it was even more horrible than I had foreseen. Filthy. Squalid. A disgrace for this philistine civilization that, in the meantime, is sending missionaries to the “pagans” of South America and China, India and Japan. Such missionaries, before crossing the seas, should take care of these domestic horrors. They are violently antichristian.

As a matter of fact, since my first contacts with the United States, I have been losing respect for their Evangelical Christianity. It seems to me that this country needs to be Christianized, evangelized, and purified of its sins, in order to have the right to give lessons about “Romanism” and “papism.”

I have already spoken with various blacks. Bitter people, but resigned. A young black woman approached me. She was pretty, though in no way as alluring as a Brazilian woman of color. “Baylor University?” she asked me. Yes, I responded. We talked a lot. I asked her several questions. One of her female friends became impatient: “Do you boy want jig-jig?” At least that’s what I understood. She was convinced that the only thing that had brought me to that dive was my hunger for a loose woman.’

‘Waco, 1919.
The trip I just made to Dallas was truly macabre. I went with some of Professor Bradbury’s other Biology students to the University Medical School in Dallas. They tell me that the school has the reputation of being, or at least of becoming, one of the best in the United States. Old Brooks is Baylor’s President and the Medical School is the apple of his eye.

We, the Biology, pre-Anthropology students, went to observe how quasi pre-medical students dissect cadavers. The cadavers gave me fewer chills than I had expected. Green. Incredibly green; they seemed like dolls to me. They didn’t give me the impression that they had once been men or women, instead they seemed like dolls that had been made to be studied, examined, and taken apart in extremely white, antiseptic rooms.

What did give me the chills was the intense smell of burnt flesh that we sensed on our return, as we were passing by a city or village called Waxa-haxie (I believe that is how this complicated name is written; the word is American Indian, I suppose, just like Waco). We were informed with relative simplicity: “It’s a black that the boys have just burned!” Could this be true? Could this odor really be from a burned black man? I don’t know - but this definitely gave me the chills. I never thought that such horror could be possible at this time in the United States. But it is. Here there is still lynching, killing, and burning of blacks. This is not an isolated incident. It happens often.’

‘Montreal, 1921.
There is something that I recognize here, something that I find familiar and similar to Brazil. It must be the Latin allure left behind by the French Catholics, who, to some degree, still resist assimilation to Anglo-Saxon ways and Protestantism. It is a country that welcomes a Neo-Latin from Brazil. The fraternal spirit originates from two influences that were common in the developing civilization of America: the Latin and the Catholic traditions.

At the same time, Canada is a civilization, a people, a landscape, already very influenced by the Anglo-Saxons: at times there is the feeling that one is still within the United States. But it is only an impression.’

‘New York, 1921.
A few days ago, I saw sailors from the Brazilian Navy walking through the snow in Brooklyn. To me, they seemed small and fragile, lacking the physical vigor of authentic sailors. Is it mal de mestiçagem, the malady of racial mixing? Nonetheless, the wise John Casper Branner admired the racial mixture of Brazilians - even those who are not at all athletic or robust - in an article that I requested he write for El Estudiante, a magazine for Latin American students that I co-edit with the Chilean Oscar Gacitua. Branner tells of an occasion when he was traveling by train through the interior of Brazil and the locomotive broke down. There was dismay among the passengers: they wouldn’t be leaving any time soon from that desolate area where the engine had stopped. The engineer didn’t inspire any confidence at all: he was one of those feeble and clumsy mestiçozinhos [diminutive persons of mixed race] that are indistinctly referred to in Brazil also as caboclos [persons of indigenous and European ancestry). Or, in Portuguese that is even more Brazilian, amarelinhos [little yellow fellows]. He was, however, a marvelous mechanic and technician. He fixed the engine in no time. It was as if the engine’s clamour held no mystery for him. For Branner, it wasn’t an isolated case. The mestizo, the cabodo, the amarelinho - perhaps this is the best description of a type that many Brazilians today call the Brazilian Jeca [a rustic type or hick] - is, in fact, intelligent and capable, despite his unfavorable appearance at times.’

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Did cut her owne throte

John Dee, a mathematician, philosopher, alchemist and original fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, was born all of 490 years ago today. He left behind a diary - one of the very earliest English diaries - covering most of the second half of the 16th century. It was first found in the Ashmolean Museum and published in the mid-19th century, but has since been re-edited and re-published several times. Much of what modern historians know about this extraordinary’s man life - including the gruesome fact that his nurse committed suicide - comes from the diary.

Dee was born in London on 13 July 1527. His father was a mercer, and a courtier to Henry VIII, supplying the king with clothes and fabrics. Young Dee attended the Chelmsford Chantry School (now King Edward VI Grammar School) until 1542, and then entered St John’s College, Cambridge. In his last year, 1546, he began to make astronomical observations, that same year he became an original fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, on its founding by Henry VIII. From 1548 to 1551, he travelled to the Continent, staying in Louvain (where he wrote texts on astronomy, and became friends with the geographer Gerardus Mercator), and well as Brussels and Paris (where he gave very popular lectures).

Dee returned to England with a collection of mathematical and astronomical instruments, and soon joined the service of the Earl of Northumberland, when he wrote a work on tides. When the Catholic Queen Mary came to the throne, Dee’s father was among many protestants arrested. He was released but only after being deprived of all his financial assets - assets which Dee had expected to inherit. Subsequently, having apparently come to terms with Catholic society, he proposed to Queen Mary that she build a Royal Library. Although the idea was not taken up, Dee himself began to build his own library. After Mary’s death, in 1558, Dee soon found favour with the Protestant Queen Elizabeth (some historians believe Dee might have been spying for her while Mary was still Queen) to the point of being asked to use his astrological skills to choose a coronation day. He served as her trusted advisor on astrological and scientific matters; and also provided technical assistance for the various global voyages of discovery under way at this time.

Dee spent much time abroad, collecting books for his library (at his mother’s house in Mortlake), and studying the linked subjects of astronomy, astrology, mathematics and magic. By the mid-1560s, he had returned to live with his mother. In 1568, he published Propaedeumata Aphoristica, which he presented to Queen Elizabeth who was so impressed she took maths lessons from Dee to understand it. And two years later, he published his Mathematical Preface (on the central importance of mathematics for other arts and sciences) to Henry Billingsley’s translation of Euclid’s Elements. In time, this would prove to be Dee’s most influential and reprinted work. In 1578, Dee (who had already lost two wives who bore him no children) married Jane Fromand, and together they had eight children. The following year, Dee’s mother gave him her house, and the year after she died.

From the early 1580s, Dee began turning his studies towards the supernatural, especially with the much younger Edward Kelley, a medium he met in 1582. Together they travelled to Poland, at the behest of an impoverished yet popular Polish nobleman, and Bohemia, arranging spiritual conferences and giving magical performances. Kelley was taken on as an alchemist by Emperor Rudolf II, but, after six years, Dee returned to England in financial difficulties. There he found the Mortlake house ransacked, and much of his library and many of his scientific instruments stolen. He tried without success to get compensation for his losses. Queen Elizabeth did approve him for a post in London but this failed to materialise. Eventually, in 1595, he was appointed warden of Manchester College. In 1605, after his wife and several children had died of the plague, he returned to Mortlake, living his final years in poverty, dying himself in 1608. Historians believe that three years later, William Shakespeare based his character of Prospero in The Tempest on Dee. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, MacTutor, Encyclopedia.com or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Dee’s intermittent, and often brief, diary was first published by the Camden Society in 1842 entitled The Private Diary of Dr John Dee, and The Catalogue of his Library and Manuscripts, as edited by James Orchard Halliwell. The preface explains that the diary was written in ‘a very small illegible hand on the margins of old Almanacs’ and was only discovered ‘a few years ago’ in the library of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The editor goes on to state: ‘The publication of this Diary will tend perhaps to set Dee’s character in its true light, more than any thing that has yet been printed.’ The text is freely available online in various places, not least Internet Archive. It certainly counts as one of the very earliest of English diaries. More recent editions of the diary include: The Diaries of John Dee, edited by Edward Fenton (Day Books, 1998); Dr. John Dee’s Spiritual Diaries: 1583-1608, A True & Faithful Relation, edited by Stephen Skinner and Meric Casaubozn (Llewellyn Publications, 2012); and John Dee’s Diary, Catalogue of Manuscripts and Selected Letters (various editors, Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Here are several extracts from the 1842 edition (the first includes a gruesome account of how his nurse killed herself).

1590
‘Aug. 5th, Rowland fell into the Tems over hed and eares abowt noone or somewhat after. Aug. 8th, I gave Nurse Barwick six shillings, so she is payd for the half yere due on Weynsday next. Aug. 9th, I payd to Mr. Lee the scholemaster 5s. Aug. 22nd, Ann my nurse had long byn tempted by a wycked spirit: but this day it was evident how she was possessed of him. God is, hath byn, and shall be her protector and deliverer! Amen. Aug. 25th, Anne Frank was sorowfol, well comforted and stayed in God’s mercyes acknowledging. Aug. 26th, at night I anoynted (in the name of Jesus) Ann Frank her brest with the holy oyle. Aug. 30th, in the morning she required to be anoynted, and I did very devowtly prepare myself, and pray for vertue and powr and Christ his blessing of the oyle to the expulsion of the wycked; and then twyse anoynted, the wycked one did resest a while. Sept. 1st, I receyved letters from Sir Edward Kelley by Francis Garland. Sept. 8th, Nurse Anne Frank wold have drowned hirself in my well, but by divine Providence I cam to take her up befor she was overcome of the water. Sept. 23rd, Sonday, T gave Nurse Barwyk six shillings for a monthis wages to ende on Wensday comme a fortnight; Mrs. Stackden was by. Sept. 29th, Nurse Anne Frank most miserably did cut her owne throte, after-none abowt four of the clok, pretending to be in prayer before her keeper, and suddenly and very quickly rising from prayer, and going toward her chamber, as the mayden her keper thowght, but indede straight way down the stayrs into the hall of the other howse, behinde the doore, did that horrible act; and the mayden who wayted on her at the stayr-fote followed her, and missed to fynde her in three or fowr places, tyll at length she hard her rattle in her owne blud.’

1592
‘Oct. 13th, I exhibited to the Archbishop of Canterbury two bokes of blasphemie against Christ and the Holy Ghoste, desyring him to cause them to be confuted: one was Christian Franken, printed anno 1585 in Poland; the other was of one Sombius against one Carolius, printed at Ingolstad anno 1582 in octavo. Oct. 14th, 15th, a mighty wynde at sowth-west. Oct. 30th, 31st, one of these two dayes I hurt my left shyn against the sharp small end of a wooden rammar abowt four of the clok afternone. Nov. 1st, Mr. Ashly, his wife, and their familie, did com to my howse and remayned ther. They had my mother’s chamber, the mayde’s chamber, and all the other howse. Nov. 9th, Her Majestie’s grant of my supplication for commissioners to comme to me. The Lady Warwik obteyned it. Nov. 22nd, the commissioners from Her Majestie, Mr. Secretary Wolly and Sir Thomas George, cam to Mortlak to my howse. Nov. 28th, to Richard Walkdyne of his wagis 20s. Dec. 1st, a little after none the very vertuous Cowntess of Warwik sent me word very speedily by hir gentleman Mr. Jones from the cowrt at Hampton Cowrt that this day Her Majestie had granted to send me spedily an hundred marks, and that Sir Thomas George had very honorably dealt for me in the cause. Dec. 2nd, Sir Thomas George browght me a hundred marks from her Majestie. Dec. 24th to 31st, at Mr. Lurensey of Tooting all these days, and Newyere’s Day allso, and so cam home by coach (as we went) by Tuesday none, I, my wyfe, Arthur, Kate, &c. Dec. 31st, at Tooting at Mr. R. Luresey his howse; abowt thre of the clok after dynner dyd the Bishop of Laigham serve process uppon me for the nangle, but most unduely.’

1600
‘Aug. 5th, I visited the grammar schole, and fownd great imperfection in all and every of the scholers to my great grief. Aug. 6th, I had a dream after midnight of my working of the philosopher’s stone with other. My dreame was after midnight toward day. Aug. 10th, Eucharistam suscepimus, ego, uxor, filia Katharina, et Maria Nicolls. Aug. 30th, a great tempest of mighty wynde S.W. from 2 tyll 6, with wayne. Sept. 11th, Mr. Holland of Denby, Mr. Gerard of Stopford, Mr. Langley, commissioners from the bishop of Chester, authorized by the bishop of Chester, did call me before them in the church abowt thre of the clok after none, and did deliver to me certayn petitions put up by the fellows against me to answer before the 18th of this month. I answered them all eodem tempore, and yet they gave me leave to write at leiser. Sept. 16th, Mr. Harmer and Mr. Davis, gentlemen of Flyntshire, within four or five myle of Hurden Castell, did viset me. Sept. 29th, I burned before Mr. Nicols, his brother, and Mr. Wortley, all Bartholomew Hikman his untrue actions. Sept. 30th, after the departing of Mr. Francis Nicolls, his dowghter Mistres Mary, his brother Mr. William, Mr. Wortley, at my retume from Deansgate, to the ende whereof I browght them on fote, Mr. Roger Kooke offred and promised his faithfull and diligent care and help, to the best of his skill and powre, in the processes chymicall, and that he will rather do so then to be with any in England; which his promise the Lord blesse and confirm! He told me that Mr. Anthony considered him very liberally and frendely, but he told him that he had promised me. Then he liked in him the fidelity of regarding such his promise.’

The Diary Junction