Monday, November 19, 2018
Evanston: UNDER FIRE; BASEBALL; exception
Yesterday I finished reading an excellent book and watching an excellent television series.
The book was UNDER FIRE by Henri Barbusse, justly acclaimed as one of the finest memoirs by a WWI soldier.
Barbusse was a published writer before war broke out and in 1914 at age 41 enlisted as a private in the French Army. He served for 17 months, mostly in the trenches, until broken health caused him to be assigned to a desk job.
The French title of the novel translates literally as FIRE: The Story of a Squad and Barbusse writes superbly about the lives of common French soldiers in and out of the trenches, lives in which the almost unimaginable and unthinkable become soul destroyingly commonplace. His images are vivid: a screaming tree, the hand of a corpse that the men stepped on as they moved along a trench “fleshless and worn, a sort of withered fin.” And a description of men unable to extricate themselves from mud drowning as trench walls collapsed in a deluge.
UNDER FIRE may be the best written WWI memoir I have read.
I have started rereading STORM OF STEEL by the Ernst Junger, the best known German WWI memoir, to remind myself of what life was like on the other side of no man’s land.
There are many differences, among them that Junger was a junior officer, not an enlisted man, and believed in the military and the German cause. Barbusse was for the common soldier, but against the military, generals, war profiteers and politicians.
Surprisingly Barbusse’s book was published in 1916, during the war, in stark contrast with official war propaganda, and was an immediate success.
Junger’s book wasn’t published until 1920 and Erich Maria Remarque's novel, ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, not until 1929.
The series was Ken Burns’ eleven part BASEBALL. Originally airing in 1994 in nine parts, episodes ten and and eleven were added in 2010 to cover the intervening years
I don’t know how I missed the series until now.
One of the changes I have observed in myself is that over the past decade or so, I have come to like baseball more and American football less.
Like all Burns’ series that I have seen, BASEBALL is an informative and entertaining masterpiece worth viewing even by those who have little interest in the game.
I watched on Amazon Prime Video
Under the ‘exceptions to every rule’ Ken writes from Perth, Australia, that there are penguins there and even a Penguin Island. I have sailed to Fremantle, Perth’s harbor, and I did not remember that. I goggled and found that the current water temperature in Perth is a comfortable 22.8ºC/73ºF. Ken says that like the Bay of Islands, Perth’s penguins are small and suggests my principle be modified by adding ‘big’ before ‘penquins’. While that would be more accurate, I am going to stick to my principle and not swim with penguins of any size.