WHAT HAVE WE BEEN DOING FOR THE LAST 50,000 YEARS?

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AUTHOR TAMIM ANSARY

51JhkSaeNSL._AC_UY218_ML3_I’m going to have to read this one again to come close to absorbing it all. As you might expect from a volume that takes on the Sisiphyan task of investigating 50,000 years of us, The Invention of Yesterday is loaded with facts wrapped up in fascinating tales and concepts. However, you wouldn’t expect it all to be presented entertainingly in colloquial prose. Ansary was born and raised in Afghanistan and has lives in San Francisco, which background gives him a perspective we westerners seldom encounter. What were the “saracens” doing in the centuries when western civilization was exploring and exploding. What were westerners doing during the centuries when Islam was was producing culture and literature and adding millions to its ranks? Oh, and what about China? Or all the herders and hunters in the Mongolian steppes. And, finally, what did the great wall of China have to do with the Boston Tea Party? Every page you turn you encounter answers to questions you’ve wondered about as well as answers to questions , such as the Tea Party one, you didn’t know to ask. What a marvelously rich work this is. You may think you don’t like history. Maybe not. But everyone loves a good story, and The Invention of Yesterday is full of them as Ansary explores the rise and fall of empires and villages and cultures. It’s as if Shaherezad is trying to keep you entertained for the entire 1001 nights. And succeeding. Lay your hands upon this book and your life will be richer for it. [By the way, speaking of watching cultures come and go, Charles C Mann’s 1493 would make an excellent companion piece to The Invention of Yesterday.

THE CASE OF THE DISAPPEARING SALMON

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AUTHOR TUCKER MALARKY

51B9BujikbL._SL160_Stronghold is an important book, and Guido Rahr is the most important man you’ve probably never heard of. It’s not only about the salmon, it’s about economics, ADD, Russian-American relations, and life on the fishing rivers of the world. The salmon is an amazing fish, living its cycle from fresh-to salt-water and back again. It’s what’s called a keystone species, one that keeps an entire ecosystem going. The “stronghold” the title refers to, when it comes into being, will be a game preserve designed to harbor wild salmon so they can continue their environmental do-gooding. Most of the wild salmon are gone now. Nothing on our east coast. A thriving, if reduced presence remains on the West Coast, with a school of fish that crosses from the wild rivers of Kamchatka to Alaska and back annually. You want to know the details. You really do. Read Tucker Malarkey’s lively prose and discover all, including some simple things you can do to help. And once you’ve finished the book, go to the Wild Salmon Center web page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Salmon_Center to keep posted on the progress of current efforts.

 

HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT–A REAL-LIFE JOHN LECARRE NOVEL

71-k+xahUkL._AC_UY218_ML3_Shirley Read-Jahn’s father didn’t go out looking for a job as a spy. At the dawn of WWII, he was a charming, good-looking diplomatic functionary, fluent in both English and German, shuttling back and forth between London and Moscow. Along the way, he’d wed Molly–the start of a small family. Then came the war and the start of a most unusual career. They sent Fred to numerous European capitals, working undercover in various roles. He was a good actor, played all the roles well and to the hilt. Obviously, the work took him away from his new wife often and for long periods. She endured the London blitz alone as well as keeping a household together in the midst of rationing and pregnancy. Lots of stress for any marriage, let alone a young one which had been consummated in a fever of romance and desire. Meanwhile Fred worked his magic as a member of MI19, extracting information from prisoners and ordinary citizens to help the British war effort.

Read-Jahn presents the story novelistically, pulling us into the adventure that was her parents’ life in during and after the war. It’s a tale every bit as compelling as any of the current crop of war time thrillers,  and Read-Jahn’s skilled prose keeps us absorbed this suspenseful story from beginning to end.

TO RACHEL OF LIGHT

46485595_10217054924301781_19985973181939712_nShe was

Not only gleaming with light

But seemed composed of it

entirely

When she spoke

Or danced

Or sat in stillness

We all were privileged

To watch and listen and wrap

Ourselves in that radiance

And Rachel

If you must depart

As it seems you must

Thank you for leaving behind

A thimbleful

Or handful even

Of that light you carry

To eternity.

 

 

 

CAROLINA IN THE MORNING

Let me first explain where we are. That’s Susanne in a cotton field some years past. Visiting dear friends/relatives on their 40 acre estate–Ferncroft, it’s called– in North Carolina. Nearest town–Fairmont. Nearest town of any size–Lumberton,IMG_035821, 000 souls strong. Built around the Lumber River in the Lumber River Valley. It’s in Robeson County, demographically home to a variety of southerners, but including significantly, the Lumbee Indian tribe. The Lumbees are little known and of vague origin. The most intriguing theory I’ve heard is that they are connected somehow with the lost colony of Roanoke Island, a 16th century English settlement which just plain disappeared not long after it began. Are the Lumbees a white-native american hybrid of some sort descended from the lost colony? No one knows, so I prefer to believe it.

This area has suffered mightily from hurricanes over the last few years, the latest of which were Matthew (2016), followed closely by Florence (2018). Many people lost everything twice in two years. Good thing climate change isn’t real, or it might have been worse. ( Insert a weak “ho-ho” here.)

I’m sitting in a dark wood-and-leather chair at a fine small table in one of the most exquisite kitchens you’ll ever meet. Nila and husband Lionel are always on the hunt for the latest and greatest. Newest example, a smart refrigerator that shows you on its door what’s inside and where before you even touch it. It sits beside a cast iron stove whose operation I don’t fully understand except that its ovens are at a constant temperature and can handle more simultaneous projects than you could possibly imagine. Oh, and they just added a second dishwasher. No more dishes sitting out waiting for the last load to finish. And so on.

I look out through French doors and plate glass windows into an enclosed Lanai, perfect for all kinds of festivities, of which they host many. Beyond the lanai is a spacious veranda, also perfect for such festivities. Beyond that is a well-planted garden bordered by an elaborate pergola under which sit a rich collection of patio furniture and plants.

Above me sit a number of rooms–bedroom and non–connected by a fine staircase.

IMG_4797The journey from here to there is chock full of terrific and surprising art, much of it fashioned by Nila herself. Not that she made the peacock, of course, but she brought it home and placed it just so.

IMG_4790And looking beyond the Manor on the side opposite where I am perched is this grand reflecting pool, complete with–of course–swans–in this shot resting from their morning paddle.

IMG_4288There are are many more marvels, too numerous and widespread to show here. The home grown truffles, the exhibition gate house, the iron sculptured lions standing a roaring guard at the front gate, the fountain of Erasmus B. Dragon, who breathes fire at intruders, the miniature horses no bigger than a giant schnauzer, and so much more. It’s been just a couple of years since we were here last, but we’re told there are a number of additions ready and waiting for us to encounter on our next tour, coming up. In the meantime, we leave you with this haunting memento of Susanne and hostess Nila from a Halloween past. ha-ha-ha-etc.

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