Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Beware the Ides

In brighter news than the below, today is Marjorie Merriweather Post's birthday; 
here's the foyer of her modest little home, Hillwood, on my last visit. You know 
it's kind of an iffy day when thinking about Marie Antoinette cheers you up...

This is a peculiar time in Our Nation's Capital, unsettled and tetchy. The weather, after a long stretch of late June last week, turned dank and lowsome, and the trains, as you might have read, have been misbehaving. And, as you may also have noted, the politics aren't helping.

Yesterday, my usual early-morning Metro simply gave up the ghost at Arlington Cemetery - "offloaded," as the elegant local term goes, onto the too-narrow platform. The crowd - and who can blame them at the cheerful hour of 6:45, in the newly returned daylight-savings darkness? - was not happy. Knowing that multiple stations downtown had closed, I decided to take advantage of my new-found fondness for exercise and walked the two or so miles across Memorial Bridge, past Abe Lincoln's modest little marker, across the Mall, and eventually on to the offices of Golden Handcuffs Consulting Amalgamated International.  It was chilly yesterday, and the dark waters of the Potomac were grayer than the sky and my mood combined.

Trudging through the slowly waking city, I thought of the book I'd just finished, one full of many (to put it mildly) much greater inconveniences of transport and horrors far worse.  The Past is Myself is the story of Christabel Bielenberg, an upper-middle class British woman who found herself living in Nazi Germany.  As with a book I've raved about before, Marie Vassilchitkov's Berlin Diaries, Bielenberg's memoir takes one with shocking directness into the heart of that dark time and place, the experiences of one thoughtful and cultured woman telling the story of a slowly unraveling optimism, a growing unease, and eventually the grinding years of fear and hardship before and during the inevitable war. Bielenberg and her idealistic German husband actively chose to stay as other friends left, believing along with a few others that the best way to defeat the Brownshirts was through logic and common sense, from inside. By the time they knew just how lost their cause was, there was no way out.

Now, there's a vast and incomparable gap between a cold, damp day in Washington, having to walk the better part of the way to work following a temporary bother, and taking a shuddering tram through Berlin as the bombs fall all around. The latter is something that Bielenberg experienced in the very last weeks of the war, when she left a safe refuge where she was living with her children, venturing right into the falling heart of the collapsing Reich as the Russians approached, to try and free her husband from Ravensbruck. Amazingly, in time, she succeeded, in part by marching into Gestapo headquarters and, with the foolhardy courage of the desperate and more than a touch of patrician asperity, shaming the functionary handling his case.

No, we're in a very different place.  For now.  Just as I was starting the book, though, at the end of last month, the reliably excellent Self Styled Siren found herself thinking of Bielenberg and American politics right now. She quotes from a scene early in the book, in 1932, when the Bielenbergs, on a lark, go to see what it's like at one of those Nazi rallies they kept hearing about. "You may think that Germans are political idiots, Chris," says the sensible and intellectual Herr Bielenberg, "and you may be right, but of one thing I can assure you, they won't be so stupid as to fall for that clown."

Whatever ailed the trains yesterday is, it seems, far worse than we knew yesterday, and the transit authority has taken the unprecedented step of closing the system entirely tomorrow, for at least a day and possibly longer. I can only imagine at the moment how I'll get to work - the buses will doubtless be swamped, Uber unobtainable.

I hope that whatever it is that ails this puzzling country of ours can be fixed as relatively simply as the vexing subway cables that keep catching fire. At the moment, I'm none too sure of either. And I don't think Christabel would be, as well.


  1. Marjorie Merriweather Post also maintained a summer home in the Adirondacks on St. Regis Lake. When my parents and I were staying with friends on the lake one summer, once a week we would be taken to the Post home, where she would show commercial films - sort of a "Turner Classic Movies" for the Adirondack set.

    1. How marvelous! Hillwood's exhibits give ample hat-tips to both Topridge, in the Adirondacks, and to Mar-a-Lago, once home to dear Mrs. Post and now considerably come down in the world...

      I'm quite envious of anyone who got to experience Mrs. P.'s legendary hospitality. And, as for Berwyn, there's a place I know rather well, if the allusion is to the Main Line hamlet.

    2. When I was 6 years old, my parents moved to Berwyn from Newtown Square. That's where I was raised and lived for most of my adult life until I moved to Florida. For 20 years I lived with my partner in the Main Line Berwyn Apartments across the railroad tracks from Lancaster Pike.

    3. Tiny planet, indeed; my home through the benighted teen-age years was on the border of those two towns. And my Latin teacher lived in the Main Line Berwyn Apartments.

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  2. You braid a moustache of old with a modern day comb-over, and place it gently on the precipice of frenzied, and increasingly difficult, times.

    In this country, surely the angst of the masses can not be funneled neatly into the fire hose of a self-enamored media whore?

    Should journalists and those exercising free speech be blasted by said hose, would there not be repercussions, and a dwindling of those even remotely wanting to be connected to such a movement?

    In my United States of America no large group of people could be lured into the wholesale acceptance of another's interests as their own self-interests, be rabid for polarizing solutions offered, and answer to the dog whistle of the lowest common denominator. Nope, not going to happen here.

    For mobility, consider a scooter. For an awakening as to what has really happened to us, get your eyes into a book with a worthwhile message, such as, "Crippled America, How To Make America Great Again". The author is running for President, and he's winning!

  3. "...one thing I can assure you, they won't be so stupid as to fall for that clown." How chilling. How prescient. Jx

  4. It's never been harder, save for the days of the second Iraq war, to be an American abroad. I'm asked about what's-his-name 10 times a day. My response has gradually been getting shorter and shorter. Today I said "I have no comment to make on that."

  5. I would sell my mother for those bowls

    1. Mrs. Post really did have enviable taste. And so much of it.