Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I am busy at work, Joshua is busy with his casebooks, and both of us are homesick.

We will not be able to go home for Easter this year. I must work on Good Friday, and Josh has classes on Good Friday, and we decided it made no sense for us to go home for only a few hours.

We did not go home for Easter last year, either, and yet we somehow made it through the weekend. We shall do the same this year.

Everything is well back home.

My parents have settled in after the trip to Greece. My mother is planning a backyard Easter Egg Hunt for my nephew and niece for Sunday morning. My father is reading a biography of Benjamin Disraeli. The dog has developed a fondness for crossword puzzles.

My older brother has decided that the joys of fatherhood are perhaps life’s greatest gift. My sister-in-law, after a year in the Twin Cities, has declared Minnesota home, and a far better place to raise a family than London or New York. My nephew and niece are spending lots of time playing in the backyard on warm afternoons.

My middle brother, for the first time in over four years, has a girlfriend.

He met her at a church function. She is an elementary teacher in Nebraska, and my brother has traveled to Omaha five times to visit with her and her family.

No one in my family has met her yet.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Guy Is A Sleaze

NCAA East Regional Final
West Virginia 73, Kentucky 66

[Kentucky] Head Coach John Calipari . . . failed to guide his third different team to the Final Four, though the appearances by Massachusetts in 1996 and Memphis in 2008 were later vacated due to violations of NCAA rules.

The Sports Network
27 March 2010
9:39:42 p.m. EDT

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Because I Like Him

My favorite basketball player, Iowa sophomore Matt Gatens, who is supposed to be a very, very nice guy.

This photograph is from March 11, 2010, the day of Iowa's loss to Michigan in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

The defeat marked the final game of Iowa's season and the final game of Iowa coach Todd Lickliter, officially relieved of his duties the following Monday morning.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

. . . And Returns

Joshua and I returned from Greece on Sunday evening.

We enjoyed our trip very much—and so did my parents and so did my brother—and we were pleased that we had an opportunity to view so many of Greece’s most important and most historic attractions.

Nevertheless, our trip to Greece was not the vacation of our dreams. In fact, it may have been the most disappointing trip to Europe we have ever undertaken.

The miraculous theater at Epidaurus was the highlight of our journey. My mother wept when she saw the magnificent structure.

Our visit to Thermopylae was the low point.

The topography at Thermopylae has changed considerably since 480 B.C. The narrow valley in which Leonidas attempted to halt the massive Persian invasion of Greece no longer exists. Mountain ranges have crumbled, rivers have changed courses, and shorelines have altered over the last 2500 years. Today it is impossible to recreate in the mind’s eye the drama of 480 B.C because the present terrain is so drastically different from that extant during the seven days of the battle.

Modern multi-lane highways crisscross the Thermopylae of today. Giant concrete parking lots accommodate rows of tourist buses. Two cheesy modern monuments lend additional indignity to what should be a near-sacred site.

We were appalled.

In hindsight, it may have been a mistake for us to cram the highlights of Greece into eight days. However, in our defense, eight days were all that were available to us.

We enjoyed each other’s company, and we had a lot of fun. The weather was beautiful throughout our journey. We are, nonetheless, of no mind to return to Greece anytime soon.

Greece is a very poor country, practically primitive by American standards. The infrastructure from The Classical Era continues to rot, centuries after the nation should have implemented a serious plan to control its deterioration. The nation’s museums devoted to Greece’s cultural heritage are insufficiently maintained. The city of Athens is unattractive—unclean, disheveled, chaotic—and the country’s current efforts to preserve its cultural monuments appear to be driven largely by profit motive.

It was all very depressing.


Joshua and I now enter our busiest time of year.

Spring break now over, Josh is back at the books and soon enters his exam period.

I was thrown several complicated and extensive projects at work first thing Monday morning.

I think our fun is behind us for now.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Joshua and I leave for Greece on Friday, and we shall not return until Sunday, March 21.

We shall meet up with my parents and my middle brother at JFK, and take the same flight onward to Athens.

Given all the turmoil in Greece at present, it may prove to be an interesting trip.


My father said tonight that The University Of Iowa, within the last two days, has made a decision to cut its ties with Todd Lickliter, Iowa’s basketball coach. Absent an extraordinary run in the Big Ten Tournament, scheduled to begin tomorrow, Iowa has determined that it must make yet another change in its basketball program, the second such change within three years. Lickliter’s dismissal will be announced as early as Friday morning (assuming that Iowa, as expected, loses its first-round game against Michigan tomorrow afternoon).

Apparently the decision to get rid of Lickliter was an agonizing one.

Lickliter was an undoubted man of integrity, yet the product he was putting on the floor was appalling. Lickliter was probably not cut out to run a big-time program. Success at mid-major levels, which he has enjoyed, often does not translate into equivalent accomplishment at major-conference levels.

In addition, Lickliter has been faced with a constant round of player defections as well as unprecedented public apathy toward his stewardship of the program. Attendance at Carver Arena has hit annual all-time record lows during Lickliter’s brief stay in Iowa City.

Lickliter has four years remaining on his contract. Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta gave Lickliter a seven-year contract at the time of Lickliter’s hiring, an absurdly-generous term for a new coach. Iowa has decided to bite the bullet and pay off Lickliter rather than suffer through yet another gruesome season.

It’s the right decision—but Barta should be booted, too, for issuing Lickliter such a ridiculous contract.

After Barta very skillfully engineered Steve Alford’s much-needed departure in 2007, Barta with great fanfare gave Alford’s replacement a seven-year contract with a base salary 25% higher than Alford’s final deal, all for the purpose of gleefully and publicly rubbing Alford’s nose in mud.

That was very foolish of Barta, who got carried away back in 2007—and it has ended up costing the university millions of dollars (as well as unspeakable sums of lost ticket revenue).

Sunday, March 07, 2010

A House In Marseille

I recently completed reading Rosemary Sullivan’s “Villa Air-Bel: World War II, Escape And A House In Marseille”. Sullivan is an English instructor at the University Of Toronto.

“Villa Air-Bel” tells the story of a chateau in Vichy France that, from August 1940 until September 1941, was a haven for refugees fleeing Nazism. The chateau served as a veritable way-station in World War II’s “underground railroad”, a loose network of people and organizations involved in a concerted effort to smuggle artists, intellectuals and others out of German-occupied war zones into the relative safety of neutral countries.

A large 19th-Century manor house outside Marseille, Villa Air-Bel was unofficial French headquarters for the Emergency Rescue Committee, an American organization that helped two thousand refugees obtain, legally, exit visas from France. The Emergency Rescue Committee, however, had another, more clandestine, purpose: to smuggle out of Vichy France persons—writers, artists, Leftists—whose names appeared on the Gestapo blacklist, a list that virtually guaranteed their extinctions (Vichy France had agreed to honor all German requests for extradition). Using forged identity papers and currency obtained on the black market, the Emergency Rescue Committee shepherded over 200 persons on the Gestapo blacklist through the Pyrenees to the safety of Spain or secreted them aboard freighters bound for Africa and South America.

Shortly after France fell in June 1940, the world learned of the detention camps that had been established throughout France and Vichy France, and the tens of thousands of persons detained in such camps, most awaiting certain extraditions to Germany. The Emergency Rescue Committee compiled a list of several hundred notable persons it wished to have released, and it resolved to free as many of these notables as possible—and by any means necessary.

The Emergency Rescue Committee’s efforts in Europe were headed by Varian Fry, a Harvard-educated Classics scholar, editor and journalist (Fry was married to Lincoln Kirstein’s sister, Eileen). Fry had utterly no background suggesting he was a man suitable for such an endeavor, yet the Committee, for reasons still unclear, accepted Fry’s request to lead its European venture—there may have been no one else available and willing to accept the assignment—and sent Fry to Marseille in August 1940 to see what he could do.

Contrary to any reasonable expectations, Fry proved amazingly resourceful at his work. Intending to remain in Marseille only for a month, he ended up staying for thirteen months, only returning to the U.S. after Vichy France declared him an “undesirable alien” and expelled him from the country. During his time in Marseille, Fry was instrumental in securing safe passage out of France for a long list of European luminaries: Hannah Arendt, Andre Breton, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Lion Feuchtwanger, Siegfried Kracauer, Wanda Landowska, Heinrich Mann and Thomas Mann, Jr., Max Ophuls, and Franz Werfel and Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel.

Fry was assisted in his efforts by two young American women, both as unlikely candidates for such dangerous work as Fry himself: Mary Jayne Gold, an heiress from Chicago who had settled in Paris; and Miriam Davenport, an art student from Boston studying in Paris when the Nazis invaded France. (From 1951 until her death, Davenport lived in the Midwest—and my father, through a mutual friend, met Davenport several times in the 1970’s.)

In June 1940, Gold and Davenport, independently, had fled south when it became clear that Paris would fall. Both ended up in Marseille, where they met by chance while attempting to arrange passage out of France.

Waiting for their exit papers to be issued, Gold and Davenport made contact with Fry. From Fry they learned of the desperate situation of persons on the Gestapo blacklist, and both women decided to remain in France in order to assist Fry in his rescue efforts. Gold and Davenport proved to be remarkably dedicated, working tirelessly with French and American authorities—as well as with the Marseille crime syndicate—to get as many persons out of France as possible. Their work was substantially aided by Gold’s inheritance, which proved to be invaluable—her vast fortune was used to grease many a palm among French officials and the French underground.

Gold and Davenport worked from Villa Air-Bel, which Gold had rented as temporary quarters. Shortly after moving in, Gold and Davenport realized that the large but ramshackle villa might become an ideal hiding place for persons at risk of extradition to Germany. Villa Air-Bel, consequently, was to become temporary shelter not only for Gold and Davenport, but also for an extraordinary array of displaced persons awaiting a means to leave France.

In Sullivan’s book, it is Villa Air-Bel itself that is the main character. The house and its inhabitants—as well as its parties, dinners, art salons, political discussions, and the many surreptitious comings and goings—provide Sullivan with her subject matter.

The chief pleasure of the book is taking note of the enormous cast of celebrities that populates its 544 pages. The list of famous scientists, artists, musicians, authors, poets and philosophers is an exhausting one, a veritable Who’s Who of notable persons displaced by Nazi Germany.

Alas, none of these remarkable figures comes to life in Sullivan’s telling. The author provides brief biographies of dozens of persons who make fleeting appearances in her book, but the effect is more that of a concise biographical dictionary than a genuine set of distinct character sketches. In fact, such entries appear to be entirely canned, borrowed from other sources.

Even Fry, Gold and Davenport emerge as cardboard figures in Sullivan’s hands. At the end of Sullivan’s lengthy book, the reader has no clue what motivated these admirable individuals to put their lives at risk, no idea what were the sources of strength they were able to summon daily in a period and place characterized by incessant danger.

More critically, “Villa Air-Bel” is fashioned in a haphazard manner. The volume moves back and forth from subject to subject, person to person, place to place, in search of an effective organizing principal. Its sixty short chapters more resemble an anthology of random ancient magazine articles than a serious and scholarly study.

Charges of plagiarism have dogged “Villa Air-Bel” since its publication in 2006. Experts of the period have contended that Sullivan relied excessively upon Fry’s 1945 account of his work in Marseille, “Surrender On Demand”, as well as Gold’s 1980 memoir, “Crossroads Marseille 1940”, lifting entire portions of her text directly from those old volumes. (The self-effacing Davenport was never to publish a book about her involvement in the rescue effort). Further, Sullivan relies far too heavily upon already-published letters that have rehashed this same territory, endlessly, for decades.

Indeed, much of what Sullivan offers is of no worth whatsoever. For instance, the first hundred pages of “Villa Air-Bel” provide a history of France in the 1930’s, and Sullivan’s handling of that history is neither deft nor penetrating—nor even particularly accurate.

Perhaps more seriously, Sullivan fails to acknowledge the selfless work of so many others who were instrumental in refugee work in 1940-1941 Marseille.

Fry, Gold and Davenport were vastly assisted in their efforts by a sympathetic diplomat at Marseille’s American Consulate, Hiram Bingham IV, who personally issued hundreds of transit, exit, entry and visitor visas to European nationals, all in direct contravention of official American policy. Bingham’s efforts were to cost him his career with the U.S. State Department.

A Massachusetts-based Unitarian mission operating in Marseille in 1940 and 1941 was equally important—and equally successful—as Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee in husbanding persons in danger out of France. In fact, the Unitarians, headed by Waitstill and Martha Sharp, little-known because they never engaged in self-promotion after returning to America, may have been responsible for directing an even larger number of endangered persons to safety than the Emergency Rescue Committee.

There was one very unpleasant and very unsettling aspect to the work of Fry and the Emergency Rescue Mission: the project was directed almost exclusively to the already-famous. Persons unknown in the United States who requested assistance were generally turned away. Fry justified such decisions on the grounds that financial backers in New York required a focus upon celebrities in order to maintain the necessary fund-raising back home.

Happily, Bingham at the American consulate and the workers of the Unitarian mission were not so sharply focused on helping the famous, and only the famous.

For Fry and Gold—and for Bingham, as well—their work in Marseille provided the central event of their lives.

By all accounts, Fry was an abject man when he returned to the United States in late 1941. In 1942, he wrote an article for The New Republic predicting the state-sponsored demise of European Jewry. It was the first such article to be published in the United States and was not well-received—no one in the West could yet grasp the concept of the monstrous death machine the Germans were about to put into place—and Fry, disappointed that no one in authority was prepared to heed his warnings, retired to private life. His 1945 “Surrender On Demand” attracted no interest whatsoever and quickly went out-of-print, not to be republished until after his death. Fry died in 1967. He was only 59 years old.

Gold was never to marry. She was to spend the rest of her life living off her considerable fortune, moving back and forth between luxury homes in New York and the South of France. She died of cancer in France in 1997, having reached the grand old age of 88.

Bingham retired from the diplomatic corps, a broken man, and lived in poverty at a farm in Connecticut for the rest of his life, enduring a succession of failed business ventures. He died in 1988 at age 85. His eleven children have been tireless in keeping his name alive.

Only Davenport was able to move on with her life after her work in Marseille. After the war, she enjoyed two long and happy marriages (her first husband died) and she experienced rewarding academic careers at universities in Iowa and Michigan. She was a much-respected and much-beloved woman by those who knew her.

Davenport was to outlive the entire cast of characters in “Villa Air-Bel”. Davenport, like her old friend Gold, was to die of cancer. Her death occurred in 1999, at age 84.

In 1997, two months before Gold’s death, Gold and Davenport were reunited for the first time in 56 years. Davenport, having learned of Gold’s mortal illness, had traveled to France in order to see the woman whose noble work she had shared more than half a century earlier.

The reunion, by all accounts, was a happy and touching one. It was amply documented by French journalists and filmmakers.

Of both women, who saved so many, it may be said: theirs were lives well-lived.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Monitoring Developments

Tram, rail, subway and bus services shut in Athens and other cities as employees rallied against cuts to bonuses and holiday payments. A walk out by air-traffic controllers forced the cancellation of all 58 flights to and from Athens International Airport between midday and 4 p.m. and the rescheduling of another 135, according to a spokeswoman.

—Bloomberg News, Friday, March 5, 2010, 12:03 p.m. EST


And, of course, there are the ongoing riots.

We leave for Greece a week from today, and my mother is becoming increasingly concerned.

“Perhaps we should cancel Greece, and go to Paris instead” were her words this afternoon.

We continue to monitor developments.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Vienna's Rathaus

Vienna’s Rathaus, the Gothic Revival Town Hall erected between 1872 and 1883, which we visited on August 5 of last year.

The photograph below shows Vienna’s Rathaus in 1938, shortly after the Anschluss.