Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Travel Log 6 - The Holocaust Museum

Tuesday, July 31, 2007. 9:00 PM.

Today we visited the Holocaust Museum. It was horrific.

The most memorable exhibit was one of the first we visited. It traced the story of the Lodz Ghetto through the eyes of ghetto children who left diaries behind. The ghetto was led by Rumkowski, a Jew who rigorously worked the inhabitants to meet German demands, believing the majority would be the better for it. He did his best to provide hospitals and schools even in the worst conditions, but one of the many quotations on the wall caught my eye: "They have neither beards nor wives, but they are already working. The ghetto children must work." In the end, the children, the old, and the sick were carted off to extermination camps, leaving behind only those who were useful for labor. Reading the children's diaries, seeing their pictures, and gazing at their toys and tin cups for rations, made the children's fate at the exhibit's conclusion quite touching.

Then we moved to the main part of the museum, the part that told the whole story of the Holocaust. There were original Nazi propaganda videos playing, and displays of artifacts from Germany before the war. A plaque recounted how Nazi leaders nonchalantly discussed "the final solution" - genocide - at the Wannssee Conference in 1942. There was small, creaky a railroad car into which visitors could go to see the kind of transportation that brought Jews to the camps. A whole roomful of shoes spread out on the floor told the story of hundreds of unfortunate victims whose possessions were confiscated before their appalling fate. One plaque that captured my attention and my spirit described the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. Armed with only a few pistols and hand-grenades, the inhabitants resolved "to die like humans," and fought off the well-equipped German troops for nearly a month, until the whole ghetto was destroyed. To fall in a battle like that, I thought, is to perish unconquered.

Finally we saw videos taken by the forces that liberated the extermination camps. The horror was painstakingly documented on film. General Eisenhower said he was careful to observe everything first-hand, in case the facts were ever questioned. The videos showed hundreds of bodies, clothed and unclothed, in various states of composition, being disposed of by the allied commanders. The skeleton-prisoners left alive gulped down thin soup. Generals told the camera how they were working to clean up the mess, and what a big job it was. One British film showed and explained the horrors with German-Language narration, and directly informed the German people that they were responsible, not having stopped their government from committing such atrocities.

It made me think. In the situation of the German people during the war, what would I have done?

Travel Log 5 - Impressions of Washington

Since we're not staying in D.C. right now, I've typed up five characteristics of the city (or the part of it we saw) that I noticed.

1. Little night life. Washington seemed to be mostly a city of commuters - people who drove in to do office work, and left at around five o'clock. Most places closed in the evening.

2. No big-city feel. I expected this place to feel like LA. In some ways it does: there are huge buildings, traffic, and an unusual amount of foreigners. In other ways it doesn't: there's not a lot of bustle, everything is clean, and the heritage is strictly American. The only big-city life we ran into was a person playing his trumpet by the subway entrance and a teenager rapping on the way down an escalator.

3. No cold water! The faucets all run warm and stale, and drinking fountains match them. One has to walk miles to find a building with a single refrigerated fountain in it.

4. Educated people. The number of office workers makes a large percentage of the population walk around in suits, and it's more common to see someone reading here than in Denver.

5. Grandeur, but plainness. As I said in another post, there's more granite here than concrete - and yet somehow it still feels like small-town America. Whole streets are lined with majestic stone edifices fronted by pillars ten times as tall as I am; the architecture proclaims the presence of a great state. But the feel is not modern, artistic, or cosmopolitan. Whole acres of lawn owned by the Federal government are left unkept, and the city is organized, planned, and operated with more precision and security than style and flair. This is the head of a practical and economic nation, not a creative one.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

D.C. Trip Travel Log 4

Here's what we've done over the last three days.

Friday, July 27, 2007.

We toured some of the monuments with my dad, who was off today. Then we walked to the White House, which we could only see through a gate.

In the afternoon we toured and ate at the Old Post office building, a structure that was built in the late nineteenth century, faced destruction, and was later restored. Now it is little more than a historic attraction.

In the evening we sat by a fountain in the National Arts Gallery sculpture garden, and watched a jazz quartet. All the musicians were good, but the vibraphone player was outstanding.

Saturday, July 28, 2007.

We left Washington D.C. and set off for a hotel in Springfield, Virginia, nearby. We took advantage of our free time today and walked through Baltimore. I saw the Chesapeake bay and had my first look at the Atlantic Ocean. We had lunch in the Federal Hill commercial district, full of restored historic buildings. All the store fronts were quaint and interesting.

On the way out we saw a Japanese man playing an Erhu. It was beautiful. Instead of a soundbox, it has a hollow tube, like a woodwind instrument; otherwise it is quite similar to a violin. He had attached a harmonica to the top of the tube and played harmony from time to time. The man was nearly blind, and clearly showed his gratitude for the few dollars we offered him.

Sunday, July 29, 2007.

This morning we attended the Sovereign Grace Baptist Church of Virginia, pastored by Mr. Gifford. Homeschoolers might know the Giffords from Doug Phillips, who spoke at the 2006 CHEC conference. Mr. Phillips likes to tell stories about Mr. Gifford, his former pastor. The sermon was on perseverance in the Christian walk, and used 2 Thessalonians chapter 3 as its starting point.

In the evening we went to the Spy Museum, which traced the history and methods of espionage from ancient through modern times, especially the twentieth century. It was fascinating.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Renigald, a Knight of the Midle Ages

Real-life adventurers are the heroes of old, sung in legends and preserved in annals and tales. One rarely finds them in our "degenerate age"; indeed, in any age they are scarce. But musty records hand down to us stories of "mighty men who were of old, men of great renown" (Gen 6:4).

Among such men is Renigald de Chatillon, distinguished in the second crusade. Here followeth a summary of his life, quoted from Brooks Adams's book, The Law of Civilization and Decay.
Renigald de Chatillon was the type of the twelfth century adventurer.He came to Palestine in the train of Louis the Pious, and he stayed there because he married a princess. He was a brave soldier, but greedy, violent, and rash, and his insubordination preceded the catastrophe which led to the fall of the capital.

At the siege of Ascalon he so fascinated Constance, Princess of Antioch, widow of Raymond, that she persisted in marrying him, although she was sought by many of the greatest nobles, and he was only a knight. Her choice was disastrous. He had hardly entered on his government in the north before he quarreled with the Greek Emperor, who forced him to do penance with a rope around his neck. Afterward he was taken prisoner by Nour-ed-Din, who liberated him only after sixteen years, when his wife was dead. He soon married again, this time another great heiress, Etinnette de Milly, Lady of Karak and Montréal, and, as her husband, Renigald became commander of the fortress of Karak to the east of the Dead Sea, which formed the defense against Egypt. But as the commander of so important a post, this reckless and rapacious adventurer defied the authority of his feudal superior, and by plundering caravans on the Damascus road so irritated Saladin that "in 1187 he burst, with a powerful army, into the Holy Land, made King Guy prisoner, and the Prince Renigald, whose head he cut off with his own hand."

Source: The Law of Civilization and Decay, by Brooks Adams. (New York:Vintage Books, 1955.) pg. 102.

D.C. Trip Travel Log 3

Wednesday, July 25, 2007. 6:15 PM Eastern Time.

Sitting in on Congress

After a tour of the Capitol building we went to Tom Tancredo's office and got free tickets to the Congress Visitor's Gallery. For a couple of hours Mark, Jonathan and I watched the thirty or so members of the House of Representatives who were present debate a spending bill.

Actually, there wasn't a whole lot of debate going on. The bill concerned appropriations for law enforcement and investments in science and research. For some time, one member after another rose, thanked all the committee members he had worked with (or hadn't) and praised the amount of money being allotted to such-and-such a cause, which he said was very important.

One man stood up and began an eloquent and ponderous oration on the necessity of spending generously in this bill. Cutting funds, he said, would save money now but cost us in crime and a stagnant economy in the long run. No one cared what the man was saying; every portion of the budget was being increased anyway, and nobody had proposed any cuts so far. The man's time ran out and he stopped short.

Another man walked up to the podium and burst forth in a glorious blaze of passion and enthusiasm. Th U.S., he declared, has more incarcerated persons than any other free nation, and we needed to fix that problem. This bill was the perfect thing - it focused attention (i.e. money) on juvenile programs to prevent crimes fbefore they happened. Rah, rah, rah! Then this man's time ran out too, his fire vanished in a puff o smoke, and he walked out of the room. A solitary member clapped for him as he left.

A Debate

Finally, one member (we'll call him A) brought in a bit of controversy. The Chinese, he said, were violating trade regulations. Counterfeit auto parts had cost the US 750,000 jobs, contaminated pet food had killed animals, and defective toothpaste had already been sold. His proposed solution (surprise!) involved money. Why not take $6 million from the census budget and put it into trade enforcement?

Another representative (Mr. B) replied that 1) the trade problem had sufficient funding already and was being tackled by American transportation companies, and 2) that the census was essential, the only part of the bill mandated by the Constitution.

Mr. A got up again, countering that $6 million was a small amount of money, and fair trade was extremely important to our economy.

Mr. B said that the census provides essential economic data, needed by firms.

Mr. C said that a larger issue was at hand, and it should be dealt with separately. $6 million was indeed a small amount of money - too small to make a difference in trade regulation enforcement anyway.

The proposal was voted on by roll call, and rejected.

Thursday, July 26, 2007. 7:30 PM Eastern Time.

Today we relaxed and took it easy. In the afternoon we saw the Post Office Museum and toured the Voice of America headquarters. They were both fun to visit, but didn't leave much to write about.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Carl's Adventure, The Exciting Conclusion

Part II (Continued from the July 22 Post)

After three months Carl located his family. Those were three months of stress, toil, and adaptation. The adaptation was the hardest. There were some technological differences to cope with, but mainly the change was physical. He got tired faster. His appetite was gone. His back hurt. His “teeth” were always missing. And nobody respected him.

But who was it that they didn’t respect? Who was he? Every day Carl would take a long look in the mirror, and wonder who stared back at him. There was some resemblance of feature to the young Carl: the strong jawbone, the blue eyes, even the scar on his lip. But when he looked at an old photograph of himself he had found in his wallet, he almost saw a different person.

He was a different person mentally as well as physiologically. He was lost. His life had been lost. He had catapulted through time, and time had changed him. Suddenly, people treated him like an old man. Women used a motherly tone with him. Men sounded awkward around him. Officials offered him a helping hand with a hint of kindness and a hint of condescension in it; after he thanked them he would remember how they used to attentively follow the young reporter’s every move.

And what moves did he have now? He could barely move across the room without getting tired. “Lord, how did this happen?” Was the young Carl someone else? Was this Carl just an old man in an apartment with memory loss and a TV? A lonely man without family or connections?

What was the thread that connected the two Carls, the element that made them one person? Was it the blue eyes? No, blue eyes were not a person. His blue eyes could be destroyed, and leave Carl behind. Was it the old interests, hopes, beliefs? They were all gone. Was it the memories? They were fading, and even if they hadn’t been, what is memory but a shadow of reality? A person is more than a shadow.

Why should he even try to find his family, his home, his friends? What did they have to do with this Carl? They were important to the young Carl; what difference did they make now?

But he found them. One sunny afternoon he walked up the neat front lawn of his brother's house and fell into the arms of a man nearly as old as himself.

Why Carl," exclaimed the man, "It's so good to see you!" He pulled up and grasped Carl's shoulders at an arm's length, with glistening eyes. Where have you been these past three months?

Carl started. "Only three months? Steve..." His voice broke.

"Three long months." Steve's voice was husky. "That's too long, Carl. What were you thinking? Why didn't you at least call us?"

Whadda you mean three months?" Carl blurted, choking. What happened before that? Why are you so old and wizened? Where's the rest of the family?"

It was Steve's turn to choke up. Trembling, he gripped Carl's hand in both his own. "Carl." He spoke softly, forcing down tearful agitation. "Come inside. You're safe now. We'll take care of you. Everything will be all right."

Carl crumbled to the ground, sobbing. What had happened? Had he lived a whole lifetime and forgotten it? He clutched the grass, and his eyes swam in blackness.

When Carl regained consciousness, he was lying on a couch, a woman daubing his forehead with a cold, wet towel. She was a stranger. Beside her was another woman, whose face recalled twleve-year-old Margaret, his sister. Mother and father were no where in sight. Steve was sitting nearby. He had looked up from his newspaper as soon as Carl opened his eyes. Strange people - men, women, and children - stared at him.

"Steve, I want to talk too you alone," Carl rasped. "Please."

The strangers glanced askance at each other, but silently filed out of the room.

"Steve," Carl began. "I don't know what happened. The last I remember I was twenty-three. Help me."

Steve sighed. "You're my brother, Carl. They all want to hide it from you. Even your wife. You're dying." His eyes filled with tears, and he swallowed. "I don't know what you remember, but believe me, there's a family around you that loves you, that lived a lifetime with you. Remember that, Carl."

Carl's breath came faster and faster, and his eyes widened with shock. The room grew dimmer. All was black.

Carl's opened his eyes in an instant. He couldn't hear anything, and strained to see through the darkness. It had been a dream. All a dream! What had seemed so real was now patently mere vapors of his imagination. He let out a long laugh of relief, and turned over to get out of bed.

Then he stopped. His hand and side had hit something hard above him. He tried to sit up, and bumped his head on the same surface. Evidently, he was trapped in a small, cushioned box. "Help," he shouted, and pressed on the lid with all his might. From outside came a hundred screams. The lid broke open, and he jumped up and found himself standing in a coffin at the bottom of a newly-dug grave. Terrified mourners had fainted, gone into hysterics, or set off running to the cemetery exit. He recognized not a single one of them. In the midst of the chaos, Carl jumped for joy. He was as young as he had been on the streets of California.

"Ma'am," he demanded of a distraught old woman collapsed on the lawn. Her mouth formed an O and the tears had frozen in her eyes.

"U-u-uncle Jeff?" was all she could manage to croak.

Carl only replied, "No Ma'am. Who is Uncle Jeff?" Then he smiled, and reached into his pocket. The reporter's notebook was there.

The Prince of Bohemia

During his residence in London, the accomplished Prince Florizel of Bohemia gained the affection of all classes by the seduction of his manner and by a well-considered generosity. He was a remarkable man even by what was known of him; and that was but a small part of what he actually did.
Who was this Prince of Bohemia? In Robert Louis Stevenson's New Arabian Knights, Prince Florizel is a daring, ingenious adventurer, who risks his kingdom and life merely for the whim of it. He might not be a wise man in real life, but he captures the imagination. The way he disguises himself and sets off on intrepid escapades is as thrilling as any invented account can be.
Although of a placid temper in ordinary circumstances, and accustomed to take the world with as much philosophy as any ploughman, the Prince of Bohemia was not without a taste for ways of life more adventurous and eccentric than that to which he was destined by his birth.

A Fictional Crusader

Since adventure is a dangerous thing, fictional adventurers are much more common than real ones, especially in our age of the novel and the movie. An early fictional adventurer was Don Quixote, invented by Cervantes. You can read of his famous episode with the windmills here. But more interesting, perhaps, is the story of a fictional crusader's life, related in the inn. The crusades, think, were one of the most fertile sources of adventure ever.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

D.C. Trip Travel Log 2

[Once again, my pictures were taken by Jonathan, and clicking them links to his blog.]

Monday, July 23, 2007. 10:30 PM Eastern Time.

After wending through the woods for some time along the beautiful Patomic, the city of Washington opened before us. One moment, we were in the forest, and the next, there was the massive wall of the Pentagon ahead, girdled by a sizable parking lot.

We were on the Virginia side of the river, and, looking to the left, we caught glimpses of the White House and the Washington Monument. We drove through the city about an hour looking for our hotel. It was only a couple of miles away, but the roads' erratic directions, abrupt dead ends, and confusing names (e.g. 1st Street NE, 1st Street SW, 1st Street SE, etc.) made finding our way difficult.

But that was OK. On the way, we got a flavor for the city. The road was exciting: Since the sides were already filled with parked vehicles or too narrow to admit them, cars kept stopping right in the middle of the street. Some of us began to feel distinctly underdressed as we noticed that the larger part of the people on the street wore suits or shirts. Mark and I remembered with dismay that we had packed no formal clothes.

Washington has an amazing feeling. It is a large metropolis, and yet small and well kept. There is more of granite, marble, and brick in it than concrete, steel and glass. Many of the buildings are old and dignified; others are modern, but staid and structured. The streets are busy, but not chaotic. There are foreigners everywhere, and yet no place could feel more American. The dominant color of the architecture is white. Everything one sees has a spacious, organized, feel, and the friendly people lend a hospitable atmosphere to the place.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007. 11:00 PM Eastern Time.

Today was fantastic. We started by taking the subway to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. A lot of it was good, but my favorite exhibit was the one on Wilbur and Orville Wright. It was full of authentic specimens of their life and work. There was the plane that had made the first flight at Kitty Hawk, a bicycle from their shop, and pamphlets and type from the printing house they ran.

From there we walked to the Washington Monument. Close up, its colossal-ness amazed me. The WWII monument nearby was even more overcoming. I loved how the stones were engraved with quotes, because ideas are more moving than just a physical structure. But the physical structure was good: somehow, ideas gain a sense of ponderous reality and permanency when combined with a huge stone monument. That gigantic circle, with its fountain in the middle, had me almost in tears.

The Lincoln memorial had emotional power as well. The inscription above Lincoln called the place a temple, and it felt like it. It evoked awe. Huge and high, pillars stretched up to the ceilings far above. On the left wall was engraved the Gettysburg address, and on the right one was Lincoln’s second inaugural address. …

Although the Smithsonian American History Museum is closed for renovation, we were able to see some of its highlight exhibits featured in the Air and Space Museum. They included Thomas Edison’s first light bulb, the top hat that Lincoln wore when he was assassinated, George Washington’s uniform, a stump from Spotsylvania shorn by bullet-marks, Einstein’s pipe, Mr. Roger’s sweater, and Louis Armstrong’s cornet. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Monday, July 23, 2007

D.C. Trip Travel Log

I am currently on the road to Washington D.C. It's our family vacation, but to an imaginative person it could resemble an adventure. I'm keeping a travel log in my journal (see picture) and will be posting some excerpts here. (Note: The photographer is Jonathan, my brother. Click on the pictures to see his blog.)

Sunday, July 22. 1:00 PM, Central Time.

St. Louis is a beautiful city, full of large, verdant trees and small, charmingly quaint brick structures that seem like they've been there for ages. On the side of the freeway was an empty brick parking structure that particularly struck me. Then we saw the famous arch. The way it solemnly towered over us as we passed by it was almost cinematic.

After we got lost we exited by the Anheuser-Busch brewery, and drove along its red-brick walls as we looked for a gas station. Now, as we search for the right freeway, we may see the arch again.

Sunday, July 22. 2:30 PM Central Time.

Forty-five minutes ago we crossed the Mississippi. The mighty Mississippi, that vast, soulful river that buoyed up a thousand steamboats - the highway of the South, the passage of muddy waters that flowed with the blood of Civil War brigades, that mingled with the tears of a legion of despondent slaves, that felt the fantasy of Huck Finn's bare feet.It was quite large, and spanned by a wide bridge. Foresty trees clad the banks on either side, along with buildings. The water was the same brown-green of most large rivers, but I was surprised by its shallowness: on the north side of the bridge, I saw a ridge of soil near the water's surface, about half the breadth of the river. On the south side a wave rolled in the distance toward the pillars of another bridge. Thirty seconds, perhaps, and we had moved on. The eastern shore disappeared behind us, and we were in Illinois.

It feels strange to be east of the Mississippi. My head knows I'm here, but my heart still jumps a bit at the thought of it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Carl's Adventure, Part I

So my brother and I were talking in the car, and he said, "Wouldn't it be weird if..." I already had my notebook out, and from his bare idea produced a story in two parts. However, one of the parts isn't finished yet, so you'll have to come back to this blog to see what happens. Mwahahahahahah.

Part I

Carl blinked. He was not easily perturbed, but this was a bit much. He was sitting alone in a big white Buick Le Sabre, speeding down a rural freeway at ninety miles an hour. The speed was normal, but the car was a bit strange. Even worse was the seeming transformation that had occurred to his clothes and body. His skin was wrinkled, his muscles shrunken, and his back a bit hunched. He reached up to his head, and blinked again. He was almost bald.

If Carl had been an old man, none of this would have mattered a lot. Time does its work. All the more reason to do ours energetically, he reasoned. The problem was, Carl was a spry, twenty-three year old journalist who hoped to live a few years yet before the fire and ambitions of youth had passed.

The last thing he remembered was driving his BMW through teeming Los Angeles—horns blaring, lights flashing, helicopters roaring above. Now wide fields dotted with rolls of hay reached out on either side of the pavement. The noon sun made him notice that the air conditioner was broken. Carl reached to his pocket for the reporter’s notebook he always carried. It was gone.

Two hours later he arrived at the outskirts of a city. At a gas station he had his first real shock. He glanced in the mirror to see how he looked, and he hardly recognized himself. That was not Carl, that was—well, that was Carl. But fifty years older. This time, he blinked twice.

Carl hopped out of his vehicle and stumbled onto the pavement. His feeble legs trembled as he walked around in search of the office. Then came another shock. There was no office, no attendant, no person in sight. All purchases were presumably to be made electronically. After looking in vain for a place to swipe his credit card, he wearily sat down again on the imitation-leather seats of the Buick.

Not only was he fifty years older; apparently the fill-up station was as well. But how had it happened? He had been zooming through downtown on an assignment one moment, and he found himself zooming through Iowa or somewhere the next. He hadn’t drunk a magic potion, he hadn’t opened a door to another world—he hadn’t even fallen asleep like Rip Van Winkle. And yet he had obviously aged, and technology had advanced. Funny, he thought, how people fall apart over time but things get better—or at least get replaced. Replaced! What if his family weren’t alive?

He reached into his pocket again, to see what was in there in place of the notebook. His old cell phone was gone, but he found in his hand a sleek little computer. It was ergonomically as well as aesthetically appealing. Figuring out how to use the thing wasn’t hard, but finding a way to make a phone call on it was difficult. Maybe phone numbers were obsolete.

Feeling strangely weary, Carl started the engine and drove through town, stopping finally at a hotel. He lay awake a long time that night in the $500 room, thinking.

To be continued...


Hello all. I'm Matthew. You can find out more about me at Abdiel Blog. Here is where I "let my fantasies unwind" and show my more creative, less orderly side. The theme of this site is adventure. I hope you enjoy the posts as much as I expect to.

As for the wacky name, go look at my Prince of Bohemia page. Then read the book: R. L. Stevenson's New Arabian Nights, featuring Florizel.