Thursday, April 17, 2014

Evanston: the bloodiest month; the highest paid; the perfect novel

        One hundred and fifty years ago the Civil War was moving toward its bloodiest month:  May 1864.  There was no single battle equal to Gettysburg or Chickamauga; but after Grant crossed the Rapidan River on May 4, fighting was almost continuous in what has become known as the Overland Champaign.  By the time it was over, the armies had sustained more than 100,000 casualties, and Lee was besieged in Petersburg.
        In the U.S. version of HOUSE OF CARDS, Frank Underwood, a Southerner meditating on the death of an ancestor who died fighting for the South, declares that Grant was a ‘butcher’ who prevailed only because he had more men.
        That is not the opinion of historians without a regional bias, who find Lee and Grant equal.  Grant persistently outflanked and outmaneuvered Lee, sliding always east, forcing Lee to follow to protect Richmond, until finally Lee could not avoid checkmate. 
        The siege and the war dragged on for almost another year.  Photographs of the trenches around Petersburg are reminiscent of those in WWI, which started one hundred years ago.  Wonderful anniversaries:  we are quite a species.


        Something called ‘sportingintelligence’, which might be an oxymoron, recently published their annual list of teams with the highest average starting team pay.  Clicking on the list will enlarge it.
        Some of my fellow Americans will be surprised to learn that seven of the top twelve teams play what we call ‘soccer.’  That being my favorite sport, I was not.
        I do find it interesting that four of these teams are from England’s Premier League, two from Spain, and one from Germany.  Considering the money they have been spending, I wouldn’t be surprised to find Paris Saint-Germain to be included in coming years.
        At least in soccer/football you get what you pay for:  with the exception of Man. U., which is having an off year, these are the best teams in Europe.
        In other sports, not so much.
        Two are American baseball teams:  the Yankees and the Dodgers.  The Yankees always have big payrolls and the Dodgers just gave a pitcher a fortune.  He promptly was injured.
        The biggest surprises are the three American basketball teams, none of whom are top contenders.    
        I couldn’t figure out why the Chicago Bulls made the list, until I remembered that a couple of years ago they gave Derrik Rose a hundred million dollar contract.  He has been injured ever since.


        I finished reading FAR TORTUGA this morning, and I am filled with admiration.
        Peter Matthiessen died on April 5 at age 86.  
        I read several of his books a long time ago, including THE SNOW LEOPARD and AT PLAY IN THE FIELDS OF THE LORD.  I thought I had read FAR TORTUGA, but I hadn’t.
        The story is of a crew of men who go from the Cayman Islands to the cays and reefs off Guatemala and Honduras to catch sea turtles.  While I don’t recall that any exact time is given, there is a reference to the 1962 “Bay of Pigs” fiasco, and the novel was first published in 1975, so one can place it between those dates.
        I am a very tough audience for sea stories.  
        Matthiessen gets it all right:  the men; their minds; actions; speech; the sea; the land; the weather; the boats; the birds; the turtles. 
        I’m still thinking about it, but FAR TORTUGA is as good as writing gets.  It might even be perfect.

        The temperature at noon is 58°F/14.5°C.
        The snow has melted.