Mostar before the war

A couple of months ago, I acquired a large collection of 35 mm slides from an online seller who apparently specializes in estate liquidation. The collection appears to have belonged to a family from Austria and many of the slides are from their vacations in Europe in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some of the images show interesting landmarks and landscapes, while others depict little more than the simple pleasures of an adventurous and happy family.

One particularly interesting group of photos depict the Stari Most (Old Bridge) in the Herzegovina village of Mostar during the family’s visit to the area in 1970. Croat forces destroyed the 16th century landmark in 1993 during the Bosnian War. Stari Mostar was eventually rebuilt and restoration work was completed in 2004.

There are, of course, many photos of Stari Most from before the Bosnian War and after, but the images in my “Austrian collection” have a certain charm and mystique. They capture memories of a world that has changed dramatically in a relatively short period of time, as seen and experienced by enthusiastic and appreciative visitors.

Below are the best of my Mostar slides. They reflect the photographic technology of the day and the overall quality of the images seems to have eroded a bit with age. I didn’t attempt to enhance the colors, but where necessary I have retouched some of the images slightly to remove dirt and the most apparent signs of the physical deterioration of the slides.

“Urlaub 70” (Vacation 70); Mostar
photographer unknown

“Urlaub 70” (Vacation 70); Mostar

“Urlaub 70” (Vacation 70); Mostar

“Urlaub 70” (Vacation 70); Mostar
photographer and subject unknown

“Urlaub 70” (Vacation 70); Mostar

“Urlaub 70; Fährt nach Mostar” (Vacation 70; Drive to Mostar)

The images above were produced using a Wolverine F2D-8 slide & negative scanner.

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Echoes of the pen and brush

While browsing through books at a thrift shop a few weeks ago, I happened upon a slim edition on surrealist art. The book, entitled Surrealism: With 24 Illustrations,*  was a volume from the 1956 series “Movements in Modern Art” and, at first glance, I found it to be somewhat unremarkable. As far as my own taste in art goes, I typically prefer work from the realist and futurist movements, as well as Catholic and Byzantine iconography. What piqued my curiosity with regard to this thrift store finding, though, was not necessarily the content in this volume – which included works by Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Marc Chagall and others – but the lengthy, passionate inscription written across the first several pages of the book. Laden with compelling language and imagery, the dedication tells the story of a struggling and perhaps troubled artist who was implored by those around him to use his talent to exorcise his proverbial demons.

I wish I knew more about the person who wrote the dedication as well as the man to whom it was offered. It would be particularly nice to know if the inscription ultimately inspired great works, or if the challenges this individual faced were simply too much to overcome.

Below is my transcription of the inscription, along with scans of the original handwritten version and scans of plates from the book.

When you feel a raging violence engulfing you, Matthew – an uncontrollable, maddening compulsion to pulverize anything in sight – [all] of a sudden you’ll screech – a devastating, “primal scream” – perhaps only you will hear it – but it will release your mind from its cage – The release must be sought, though – you must run your life like fire – then come back and paint – paint with the furiousness of Van Gough – you have the great ability to paint – so do it !! How do you think the men in this book vented their agonies, their violence, their mad dreams? Paint, Matthew! Run!! And above all, Think!! But you must do all three! Don’t give into piggishness – overcome it!  – MEW

The Healer, René Magritte, 1937

The Polish Cavalier, Max Ernst, 1934


* Full citation:

Schmeller, Alfred. Surrealism: with 24 illustrations. Trans. Hilde Spiel. New York: Crown Publishers, 1956. Print.

 

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The ignominious tradition of presidential truthiness: LBJ

LBJ

Lyndon Johnson reacts to word of new problems in Vietnam while at the LBJ Ranch in 1964. (image via History.com)

Although Donald Trump’s fast-and-loose relationship with the truth dominates today’s 24-hour news cycle, the ability to perpetuate brazen half-truths and outright lies seems to be something of a common thread with regard to America’s cavalcade of chief executives. From the Bay of Pigs debacle to the invasion of Grenada to conspicuous absence of WMDs in Iraq – not to mention hundreds of other reprehensible incidents and affairs both large and small – American presidents have proven themselves to be adept and overzealous at distorting reality to serve their political objectives.

Dan Rather’s 2012 autobiography Rather Outspoken: My Life In the News provides a few anecdotes of presidential misadventures, including a particularly stark example of LBJ’s drive to stuff his own words down the proverbial memory hole:

One story George [Christian ] told me from early in his time as press secretary illustrates his approach. “Mr. President, I am pleased to be here and honored to be of service to you and to the country. But I am no miracle worker, and I want to disabuse you of that. I cannot turn things on a dime here. Let’s take your problems one at a time. I am not going to try to solve everything. Give me the problem that worries you the most, and let me begin by taking on that one.”

“George,” LBJ responded, “everywhere I look those sum’ bitches— the press—are quoting me as saying, ‘I will not send American boys to do what Asian boys should be doing for themselves.’ I am supposed to have said that early in our involvement in Vietnam, and George, I never said it. Still, it keeps coming back to haunt me. Now it s become some version of g**damn urban myth. I am tired of getting hit over the head with it. Fix it.”

“Okay, Mr. President.”

George returned after a few days to give Johnson a report on what he discovered. “Mr. President, I don’t want you to get mad at me. I haven’t solved this problem, but I want to show you the dimensions of it.” At that, several interns entered the office carrying stacks and stacks of newspapers and magazines. “Mr. President, every one of these publications has you saying it—not just as an indirect quote, but in direct quotes.”

“That’s what I am telling you, George!” Johnson shouted. “They keep printing it, but it isn’t true. I never said it.”

A couple of days later, Christian returned to the Oval Office with a tape recorder. He placed it on the desk and said, “Mr. President, I don’t want you to get mad at me, but the puzzle is deepening.” With that, Christian pressed “Play” on the recorder, and there came the unmistakable voice of LBJ saying the quote.

Johnson’s temper got the better of him once again, and he demolished the tape recorder with his polar bear paws. “G**damn, George! I didn’t realize what a complete idiot you really are. You know what these guys do: They piece these things together, they take a little razor blade, cut a piece here and add there.”

“I believe you, Mr. President,” Christian answered patiently, “but I wanted you to know that these recordings are everywhere.”

About a week later, LBJ hosted a group of guests in the White House screening room for a showing of The Alamo, with John Wayne. George was in attendance. “Mr. President, I’d appreciate it if we could get together, just the two of us, after the movie. I have something I’d like you to see.”

After the guests departed, Christian gave the signal to roll his footage. Up on the full screen came the unmistakable image of LBJ, standing on the bumper of a limo on a darkened street corner in Philadelphia. Johnson was speaking through a bullhorn, saying, “I will not send American boys to do what Asian boys should be doing for themselves!”

“Damn, George,” Johnson said as the lights came back up. “You sure that’s me?”

Source: Rather Outspoken, pp. 127-129.

Excerpted quotes presented under the terms of Fair Use.

“Kenneth, what is the frequency?”

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Between Catholicism and Marxism

For much of the 20th century, the Catholic Church and the worldwide communist movement were pitted against one another, portrayed as natural enemies by the highest echelons of the Church hierarchy, including the virulently anti-communist Pope John Paul II. It was a narrative that many were all too willing to accept.

To be sure, there wasn’t much overlap between Marxist circles and the Catholic community at large, with a few exceptions, including those who were drawn to Liberation theology in places like Nicaragua and El Salvador. Dorothy Day, a Lay Catholic who is now on the path to canonization, is another noteworthy exception to the Catholic Church’s general line on Marxism during the Cold War, for although she eventually distanced herself from formal association with communist organizations, she recalled her interactions with Marxists favorably, even in the aftermath of the first Red Scare.

The following excerpts are from the 1943 essay “About Mary,”[1] which appears in the Liturgical Press publication Hold Nothing Back: Writings by Dorothy Day.

“Across the street from where I lived, I think it was on St. Peter Street, there was the side entrance to the cathedral. Every night I used to go in there for Benediction. Perhaps I was influenced by reading the novels of Huysmans that I had borrowed from Sam Putnam’s library in Chicago. My roommate was Mary Gordon (when I last heard of her, she was working for the League for Spanish Democracy in Chicago, a Communist affiliate), and that Christmas she gave me a rosary. So in this case I was led to the Church through two Communists. I did not know how to say the rosary, but I got a little prayer book at a Catholic book store which I often visited, and I learned how.

[ . . . ]

One summer right after I became a Catholic I was taking care of a number of little boys from a school “for individual development.” Together with Freda, my next-door neighbor, whose friend it was who ran the school, we took the responsibility for about a dozen boys between eight and twelve. Quite a few of them were children of Communist parents, and several of them have grown up now to be members of the Young Communist League. I used to read them the “Little Flowers of Saint Francis,” which they enjoyed immensely, and they used to command each other “in the name of holy obedience” to perform this or that act of mischief. They also used to ask me to burn candles for them before the little blue statue of the Blessed Mother. Do any of them remember her now?”

Dorothy Day also drew upon her knowledge of the formative years of Marxism as a movement in her book Thérèse: A Life of Thérèse of Lisieux. Published in 1979, Thérèse includes chapters on the early lives of Saint Louis Martin and Saint Marie-Azélie Guérin, the parents of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

“Louis Martin lived in the days of the beginnings of revolutionary thought, of Kropotkin, whose thinking was shaped by the watchmakers of the Jura mountains where Louis himself studied. He lived in those vital years of 1850-1890 when Marxism and anarchism struggled for possession of the First International. He lived at the same time as Proudhon, the unMarxian socialist, as Father de Lubac, S.J., called him, who said “Property is theft.” I have often wondered whether in his long years of apprenticeship Louis Martin ever engaged in discussion of the social problems of the day. I am sure that there must have been some talk of the revolution of 1848, of the condition of the working classes.”

Though critical of “Bolshevism” in a number of her writings, Dorothy Day also expressed support for imprisoned American communists in 1949 and publicly sympathized with Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution in 1961.

Copyrighted quotes presented under the terms of Fair Use.


[1] Originally published in Commonweal 39 (November 5, 1943): 62:63.

 

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