Frederick Law Olmsted

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Morton Arboretum, the closest photo I had to landscape architecture

I have all my life been considering distant effects and always sacrificing immediate success and applause to that of the future. In laying out Central Park we determined to think of no result to be realized in less than forty years. — Frederick Law Olmsted

So many surprises in A Clearing In the Distance. Olmsted was an autodidact. A slow starter, a dabbler in disparate enterprises, he kept afloat with his father’s loans. He himself was his father’s ‘Central Park’, the long investment whose glories would become apparent in the future. Fame first came as a journalist. He sailed to China; he bought a farm; he traveled to Europe; he started a magazine; he managed the largest gold mine in California.

It is the breadth of Olmsted’s curiosity that makes his writing compelling.

His genius was made manifest when he, along with Calvert Vaux, created New York City’s Central Park. After that, Olmsted designed other huge city parks, the suburb of Riverside, IL, university campuses, cemeteries, the U.S. Capitol grounds, the World’s Fair in Chicago, and the Biltmore Estate. I enjoyed reading about the projects he didn’t get: Golden Gate Park, the city of Tacoma, WA.

The ability to think on a large scale, to project himself into the future, and to quickly master broad issues were skills Olmsted acquired while he was directing the United States Sanitary Commission, managing the Mariposa Estate, and chairing the Yosemite Commission. All these projects depended on his ability to digest and organize large amounts of information, and to integrate diverse requirements. All involved planning in time as well as space.

The timing of my reading was delicious! In some ways this is the daylight to the darkness of Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives. Riis writes extensively about the Children’s Aid Society, started by Olmsted’s closest friend, Charles Brace. Olmsted’s work on Central Park was more civic than aesthetic, giving residents the space to soak up sunshine and fresh air.

Other reading intersections: Erik Larson’s The Devil in White City made me thirsty to know more about FLO. Michael Pollan referenced Olmsted’s ideas in Second Nature. By chance, I’ve landed in books set in the late-19th century. The wider I read, the greater my familiarity grows and the joy of recognition sparks.

Finally, I believe growing up in Lombard, IL, walking through our own Lilacia Park, designed by Jens Jensen, and nearby Morton Arboretum, a 1700-acre tree museum, predisposed me to love this book.

For myself and those interested in cultural history: 5 stars
For those who like biographies, history, and books with an index and maps: 4 stars

Dipping Into Poetry

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My beautiful niece turned 30 this week. Her thoughtful husband decided the best present would be a book with a poem for each year of her life, written by family and friends. I was honored to be asked to contribute and not a little intimidated. Emma is a journalist and her husband Glyn heads the English Department of an International School.

It was delightful to wrestle with words, hugging one than pushing it away. I was overjoyed to use a jewel of a word—Festschrift— borrowed from German in the title. A word my beloved Latin teacher taught me: it means a collection of writings to celebrate a scholar. I’ve read Festschrift a few times but have never actually used it till now.


A Festschrift for Emma: 1996

We gathered the untethered Harper family,
the only assembly ever lacking a wedding or funeral,
one summer week at Stormy Lake.

How you entered the water,
if you leapt or dove,
is a forgotten detail.

What matters is how you surfaced—
surging upwards to the air,
water coursing through your hair,
buoyant, exuberant, confident.

The woman you are today
was visible in the girl who
broke the plane, rising above
the line which divided water and sky.

Pat Nixon

Pat-NixonAfter I finished Going Home To Glory, by David and Julie Eisenhower, (see Revisiting Eisenhower) I decided to read Julie Nixon Eisenhower’s biography of her mother, Pat Nixon: The Untold Story.

I learned a lot reading this book, first of all respect for Pat Nixon. “Overcoming adversity” is such an exhausted cliché. But how does one describe the circumstances wherein a girl—13 years old—nurses and loses her mother to cancer, then in the space of five years nurses and buries her dad; works full time to help one, then another brother go to college; enters USC at age 22 and graduates cum laude three years later after working multiple jobs?

Here’s what impressed me about Pat:

♥ Her family adored her. Her brothers, her husband, her daughters, her sons-in-law, her grandchildren. That is a major accomplishment when you have lived life in the public eye and needed to be absent from family often. Yes, this is a sympathetic biography.

♥ She reached out to people. Her default mode with crowds was to shake hands, look in the eyes: connect. It’s one thing to connect with supporters, but she pursued detractors and protesters, often disarming them with a smile. She was a cool cucumber in life-threatening situations.

♥ Discipline and duty directed her steps. Campaigning is grueling: sometimes three solo appearances during the day and an evening with her husband. Entertaining dignitaries non-stop. She never shrank from what needed to be done.

♥ She sought *and found* beauty. Flowers, colors, fashion, design.

♥ She traveled to all fifty states and over fifty countries of the world.

♥ She read. In her later years, sometimes five substantial books a week.

♥ She was a creative grandma. She played “shoe store” with her granddaughter. They lined *all* of Pat’s shoes up; her granddaughter was the sales person and Pat would ‘shop’ and try on shoes. Oh, how I want to do this with my Aria when she’s older.

♥ Her signature phrase was “Onward and upward.”

I found Pat Nixon’s funeral online…and watched the whole thing. One of the earlier songs was Vaughn Williams’ For All the Saints, a song I decided at age 17 I wanted at my funeral. Billy Graham spoke about death, describing it as five things:
— a coronation
— a cessation from labor
— a departure
— a transition, and
— an exodus or “going out”

I’m glad I read this. When I finish a book that catches my imagination, there are more books I ‘need’ to read. This is my life. Even though it smacks of voyeurism, Pat and Dick: The Nixons, An Intimate Portrait of a Marriage is a book I’m interested in reading, based on recently released love letters.

Revisiting Eisenhower

"Going Home to Glory"In 2011 I read and reviewed Volume 1 of Stephen Ambrose’s magnum opus, a biography of Eisenhower. I finally took up Eisenhower Volume II: The President, which chronicles the two terms of Ike’s presidency (1953-1961) and his retirement years.

I found the book dense and too full of details that were difficult to absorb. I plodded, rewarded by many curiosities: Eisenhower’s valet, Sgt. Moaney, dressed him. Everyday. Most of his custom-made suits were gifts; he seldom wore a suit more than twice! Mamie spent most of the day in bed, watching soap operas and attending to her correspondence.

Peace and Prosperity is how Ike wanted his tenure to be remembered. He got us out of Korea and had six consecutive balanced budgets. I find it ironic that the former five-star general continually slashed defense spending to the howls of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Interstate Highway system and soil conservation—paying farmers to take land out of production—were two highlights of Ike’s domestic policies. Eisenhower, not wanting to antagonize southern politicians he relied on, failed to assist the civil rights movement.

In 1955 the world had two Germany’s, two Korea’s, two Vietnam’s, and two China’s. The greatest fear during these Cold War years was the growth of communism. I’ve always wondered when and why foreign aid began. It started with Ike’s insistence that America’s prosperity wouldn’t last if other countries didn’t also prosper.  More to the point, if Third World countries went Communist, their raw materials would not be available to the U.S.

I learned about the Dulles brothers: Foster Dulles, for whom the D.C. airport is named, was Secretary of State and his brother Allen Dulles, who was the head of the CIA. The poor author had to constantly differentiate which Dulles was referenced.

A few things surprised me. Eisenhower’s cabinet urged him several times to solve a situation by dropping a nuclear bomb. It seems they did not grasp the consequences of such an action. Ike resisted each time. I was also amazed that  Kennedy and Johnson both consulted Eisenhower several times. Think about that: can you imagine President Obama asking President Bush for help?

While my interest was still warm, I decided to read David and Julie Eisenhower’s biography, Going Home To Glory, eager to read a grandson’s personal perspective. This book is more accessible, shorter, easier to grasp, more fun to read. David blends family stories with historical analysis. It is affectionate without being obeisant.

I once asked Mamie if Granddad’s compulsive restlessness, his habit of maintaining company around the clock, revealed a weakness, perhaps a fear of being alone, or a nonexistent inner life….My question unanswered, I asked her if she felt she had really known Dwight Eisenhower. She paused. “I’m not sure anyone did.”

My friend’s father was a friend of Ike’s. We have visited about his friendship with Eisenhower, Ray sharing how excited Ike was about shooting a hole-in-one, how he reenacted the shot in the telling of it. It was delightful, then, to read about this achievement in both books. Ike called it “the thrill of a lifetime,” which, when you consider Eisenhower’s life, is saying something.

I want to close this long post with two DDE quotes I find prescient and throw in a recipe he concocted.

When the federal government begins to fund education, he argued, educational institutions will find they cannot live without the assistance they receive. Then, he added with dark emphasis, the government eventually tells the educators what to do. Whether for good purposes or evil purposes, Eisenhower continued, the ability to control education has the potential to be used to promote mind control and that should be enough to recommend against letting any such thing take root.

 

Eisenhower’s Barbeque Sauce
1/4 cup butter
1 no. 2 can tomatoes, sieved (2 cups)
1/4 cup vinegar
1 T sugar
1 T paprika
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tsp salt
2 tsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire
1/4 tsp Tabasco
1 tsp black pepper

Mix and simmer 15 minutes. Use for basting meat or chicken, and serve as sauce for it as well.

Letter from Eisenhower to grandson, David, 1966:
Too many of us are allowing too much authority and responsibility for our lives to become concentrated in Washington. I think it is just as important to develop enthusiasm for the election of a proper city council, a county board of commissioners, or statewide governor and legislature as it is to get the right man in the Presidency. Indeed, if we had better and stronger government at lower levels we would do much to reduce the risk that one day we are going to be governed by an entrenched and organized bureaucracy.

Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed

 

The Holocaust was storm, lightning, thunder;
wind, rain, yes.
And Le Chambon was the rainbow.
— Jewish mother whose children’s lives were saved at Le Chambon

 

Let me digress: One habit served me well and introduced me to the story of Le Chambon. I read books with a soft lead pencil in hand. When a word, phrase, sentence or paragraph nudges me, I mark a line in the margin, | .  When I read an unfamiliar word or one I can’t confidently define, I put a √ in the margin. And when I see a reference to a song, a painting, a book title, an event that I’d like to know more about I also use the √. I usually don’t stop reading to look further at the subject. But when I comb through the book a second time, writing down compelling quotes, etc. I will follow up on the check marks.

How did I find Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed?  I had decided to cull out Barbara Tuchman’s sparkling book of essays, Practicing History, from my library, a decision that still gnaws. Before I let it go, I transferred notes to my journal. In an essay entitled Mankind’s Better Moments Tuchman notes some astonishing accomplishments:

the enclosure of the Zuider Zee in the Netherlands adding half a million acres to the country;
the marvel of Gothic cathedrals;
Viking seamanship;
the perseverance of La Salle, who mastered eight languages before he set off exploring;
William Wilberforce’s work to abolish slave trade;
Le Chambon, a Huguenot village in Southern France devoted to rescuing Jews. √ 

Le Chambon? I had heard of Huguenots—French Protestants—but not Le Chambon.


Intrigued, I found this clip on YouTube:

 

 

And I found Philip P. Hallie’s book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed. The book is essentially a biography of the Reformed pastor, André Trocmé and his wife, Magda. Trocmé’s belief in God was at the living center of the rescue efforts of the village xxi. Le Chambon was a remote mountain village, predominantly Protestant (Reformed and Plymouth Brethren) in a predominantly Catholic country. The Trocmés were unshakably committed to obeying the Sermon on the Mount 28.

In practice this means that the village rescued between 3,000 and 5,000 Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. They kept many Jewish children at a private school; some family groups stayed until they could seek refuge in Switzerland. All the villagers took great risks, but they considered harboring others more important than their own safety.

 

“Look hard for ways to make little moves against destructiveness.”  — André Trocmé

Trocmé attended Union Theological Seminary in 1925 (five years before Dietrich Bonhoeffer was there) and found the Social Gospel too secular, too rational, lacking piety. Like Bonhoeffer, Trocmé lived intimately with those he shepherded.

For the rest of his life he sought another union [an organization he belonged to as a child during WWI], another intimate community of people praying together and finding in their love for one another and for God the passion and the will to extinguish indifference and solitude. From the union he learned that only in such an intimate community, in a home or in a village, could the Protestant idea of a “priesthood of all believers” work. Only in intimacy could people save each other. 57

A recurring motif in the book is that André Trocmé gave himself. He gave himself to his people, visiting them in their homes regularly. He gave himself to his community by his involvement in their lives. When he came home his children rushed him, enveloping him in hugs because he brought himself to them.  Hallie expatiates on this theme in one of the most profound passages in the book:

When you give somebody a thing without giving yourself, you degrade both parties by making the receiver utterly passive and by making yourself a benefactor standing there to receive thanks—and even sometimes obedience—as repayment. But when you give yourself, nobody is degraded—in fact, both parties are elevated by a shared joy. When you give yourself, the things you are giving become to use Trocmé’s word, féconde (fertile, fruitful). What you give creates new, vigorous life, instead of arrogance on the one hand and passivity on the other. 72

At one time, Trocmé is asked whether another group struggling in WWII should practice non-violent resistance. His response was that a foundation first has to be laid before such a tactic can be efficacious. Trocmé, along with Pastor Edouard Theis and schoolteacher Roger Darcissac had poured their lives into resisting evil and teaching their neighbors before such visible means of resisting became necessary.

I tend to look for perfect heroes and tidy endings. I was sad to read that a personal tragedy reduced Pastor Trocmé’s faith and that Mme Trocmé seemed to hold faith at arm’s length even as she worked indefatigably.

Writing about this book brings threads of recent events together: Today, April 9th, is the anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s death. There are striking similarities and certain differences between André Trocmé and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As I look at the photo of the Trocmés above, Magda Trocmé reminds me of Edith Shaeffer, a different kind of rescuer, who died on April 6th. And finally, the news of Rick Warren’s son’s suicide on April 5th coincides with a Trocmé family tragedy.

Ever curious, I wondered where the surviving children were. I discovered that Nelly Trocmé Hewett, 85, was giving talks last October and is scheduled to speak tomorrow at Macalester College in the Twin Cities. How immensely would I love to be in that audience.