Tag Archives: National Park Service

Greek magic at Chateau Nico Lazaridi


Inspired by the allegorical 1924 Thomas Mann novel The Magic Mountain, Frederico Lazaridis takes seriously the primal interplay of mythic forces and human reality. Wine was essential to the Greek psyche and had its own god, Dionysus. In everyday life Eastern Macedonia and Thrace was its motherland.

Mount Pangeon from the theater at Philippi, nearby Chateau Lazaridi

More to the point, Chateau Nico Lazaridi sits opposite Eastern Macedonia and Thrace’s own magic mountain – Mount Pangeon. Its magic was both mythic – a favorite party mountain for Dionysus – and tangible. Its vast gold deposits funded the empires of Philip II and Alexander the Great, paid for the construction of the nearby legendary city of Philippi and, sitting on the Via Egnatia, was at the crossroads between Eastern and Western cultures for centuries.

Chateau Lazaridi

During the Roman Empire era (100s BC – 500s AD) retired legionaries were often settled in the region producing high quality agricultural products shipped as far as Rome. The Via Egnatia spanned the length of today’s northern Greece from Thessaloniki to the Dardanelles. It was the “super highway” for the distribution of goods between the Mediterranean and Asia.

Frederico takes all of this personal. Nico Lazadidis, Frederico’s father,  is from the region – the  historic city of Drama. His mother was from Florence, Italy, which added a cultural influence already common in the lands along the Via Egnatia. Nico’s profession was also ancient – stone and marble purveyor. Their roots are, literally, in the building blocks of civilizations.

Nico learned to make wine during his years in Italy. In 1974 the family and business returned to Drama but continued perfecting their wine making techniques as a “garage art.” In the early 1980s Nico explored commercial possibilities and in 1987 established Chateau Nico Lazaridi.

ultra modern facilities but the labels are still placed by hand

They were one of the only wineries at the time in the Drama region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace. It’s ironic that for seven millenniums, Thrace has been the mother terroir of wine grapes. Yet wine production virtually ended in the 15th century under Ottoman Islamic rule coupled with the phenomenal profits earned from “King Tobacco” followed then by the devastation of 20th century wars.

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes

Of course it was precisely the devastation and upheavals of 20th century wars that ended the preeminence of tobacco as an economic engine. Macedonia and Eastern Macedonia and Thrace are once again regaining the wine reputations they held since ancient days. Eleven wineries dot the Drama area while seven labels are in the nearby Kavala region.

The Kingdom of Thasos, which the region was a part in the 1st millennium BC,  established the first quality control system for grapes, wine and olive oil. Today the Drama area is within the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Agora.

Lazaridi wines

Chateau Nico Lazaridi is between three mountains, which funnel steady winds ventilating the grape vines helping to prevent mold. The vineyards lay on an ancient riverbed, which provides soil rich in minerals. The region’s flat riverbed land was made arable only as a result of 1930s drainage and land reclamation projects. The famous Battle of Philippi (1st century BC) fought nearby was on wetlands.

Chateau Lazaridi proves that bigger can be better. Its 1.1 million bottle production consists of over a dozen wines and tsipouro, the classic distillation from wine must. One hundred sixty acres in the Drama area (PGI –Agora) contain the main vineyards. Thirty-seven acres are contracted from area growers.

Their Mackedon Winery in Kavala is 25 acres and a new small  ten acre winery will soon open on Mykonos Island.

Neither bio-dynamic nor organic farming methods are used in the vineyards because Frederico feels they’re best in an enclosed growing environment such as the islands where it’s easiest to maintain proper conditions.

wine cellar, Chateau Lazaridi

The new wine cellar, for me, is the centerpiece. It has exposed earthen walls that maintain climate and temperature with 85% humidity. French and American oak barrels fill the vast room, but acacia wood is now being used especially for the whites. Acacia imparts a floral note. An impressive curved ceiling mural  looking upward at the sky through a grape arbor graces the length of the cellar.

Chateau Nico Lazaridi is a multidimensional company of several divisions today. A demo kitchen, which will feature area guest chefs, will offer cooking and wine classes. It will be the forerunner of a future restaurant on site.

A lab is on site to maintain quality control. They research developments in vinification in the quest for the next generation of Greek wine.

The Magic Mountain Art Gallery

The Magic Mountain Art Gallery is the family’s great pride. It is both the private collection of the Lazaridi family and, in many cases, the designs for wine labels. Twenty-five years ago Nico established an artist partnership to contemporize Greek wine marketing. The Magic Mountain Art Gallery works with and patronizes contemporary Greek and European artists who express interpretations of the primal link between this drink of the gods and its role in Greek life.

lunch at Chateau Lazaridi

Lunch with Frederico offered hearty northern Greek dishes and two of Chateau Lazaridi’s most popular wines both from the PGI-Agora. Cavalieri Lazaridi White (Assyrtiko 70%, Sauvignon Blanc 15%, Ugni Blanc 15%) has the dry yellow fruit notes with hints of honey emblematic of assyrtiko. It spends six months in acacia barrels adding floral accents.

F- EY, a dry red of the PGI-Agora (Merlot 85%, Grenache Rouge 15%).

Greek fashion designer Andria Thomais designed both labels for F- EY, a dry red of the PGI-Agora (Merlot 85%, Grenache Rouge 15%). The original paintings in the Magic Mountain collection are of two contented men and women. Ey (εὖ in Greek) is a descriptor for all that’s good and creative in a person’s life. It’s an apted descriptor for Chateau Nico Lazaridi and one that Dionysus sitting on his magic mountain would bestow.

 

The god would probably want his portrait on a label.

Mount Pangeon
Mount Pangeon from the vineyards of Chateau Nico Lazaridi, Drama, Greece

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Chateau Nico Lazaridi and the Municipality of Drama.  All opinions are the author’s. Arrangements were facilitated by Pass Partout Tourism Marketing, DMC, Thessaloniki

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Battle of New Orleans Bicentennial Concert

 

United States Marine Corps Band New Orleans at St. Louis Cathedral
United States Marine Corps Band New Orleans at St. Louis Cathedral

 

Marine Corps Band New Orleans
Marine Corps Band New Orleans

Both the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France (c. 1793 & 1850) and the Marines are intimately tied to that seminal day in New Orleans history, January 8, 1815. It was an apt setting 200 years to the day for the United States Marine Corps Band to perform a concert in honor of the bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans.

Fireworks lit the night sky following the concert, illuminating Jackson Square and trying to shed some light on the the little understood War of 1812.

 

Fireworks at Jackson Square, New Orleans
Fireworks at Jackson Square, New Orleans

Read about this historic concert in…

Marine Corps Band Battle of New Orleans concert

 

Clark Mills equestrian statue (1856) of General Andrew Jackson, Jackson Square, New Orleans
Clark Mills equestrian statue (1856) of General Andrew Jackson, Jackson Square, New Orleans

 

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Food & Recipes Examiner

Wildlife abounds in Cameron Parish, Louisiana

Grosse Savanne Eco-Tours, Cameron Parish, LA
Grosse Savanne Eco-Tours, Cameron Parish, LA

 

DSC00997Fed by three river systems—the Sabine, Calcasieu and Mermentau – 85 percent of Cameron Parish is coastal wetlands, open water or open range.

 

Over a million alligators populate Louisiana. Cattle graze on grasslands; rice and sugar cane fields still thrive. There are 26 miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches blissfully free of high-rise condos, hotels or even beach houses.

DSC00967

Read more on this nirvana for the outdoorsman…

Floating on Louisiana marshland in Cameron Parish

 

alligator in Cameron Parish, LA
alligator in Cameron Parish, LA

You can read all my articles at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Travel

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Food & Recipes Examiner

Pele is Home: Volcano National Park, Hawaii

We were startled awake at 5:30 AM by a loud rapping on the bedroom window with shouts of “tsunami…evacuate.” Stunned, we learned that a Pacific wide warning, following Chili’s catastrophic 27 February 2010 earthquake, had been issued. Throwing our clothes into the car, not knowing if we’d see the beautiful Japanese-style beach rental house again, we decided to drive the 40 minutes up the mountain into Volcano National Park.

Stopping first for gas, my wife, Jill, went into the store next door for bottled water while I waited in line. Hawaii’s beautiful pink dawn was breaking as I observed the locals in no particular rush, certainly no panic. Jill returned with water and a 12-pack of toilet paper. “Toilet paper?”  “Everyone was buying toilet paper so…” her voice trailed off. Was she in shock? Laughter convulsed us both as relief replaced fright. At least if we had to camp …

Kileuea Volcano, (bottom left) sulphur rocks & gas, (upper right) house “off the grid” (bottom right) a caldera, (center) stained glass window at Volcano National Park

Volcano National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii is home to one of Earth’s most active volcanoes – Kilauea – in an island chain born of volcanoes. We stood on an observation platform, in the middle of the devastating lava field caused by Kilauea’s most recent eruptions, with a sweeping view of the stunning coastline. Then it struck. No, not the waves, the realization we had fled to the safety of an active volcano to escape a possible tsunami.

looking for the tsunami, 27 February 2010

Nine hours later, as the evacuation order was lifted, there was audible disappointment among the other tourists – no photo ops. Fortunately, Hawaii was spared that time, but that hasn’t always been the case.

Later in the week we drove into Hilo for a day at its famous market. A substantial swath of land forms a buffer between the historic commercial center and the Pacific Ocean. It makes for attractive park land and athletic fields but that’s not   the reason for its existence.

gardens and park land where Japan Town used to be, tsunami warning tower

For nearly a century before 1946 that same swath of land had been Japan Town, a warren of immigrant shanties. It lives on in Hawaii’s superb Asian fusion cuisine. Yet in a brief time frame on April Fool’s Day 1946, Japan Town and many of its residents were swept into the sea by a tsunami created by another catastrophic earthquake thousands of miles distance in Chile.

The Pacific Tsunami Museum is a short walk from the Market. Staffed mostly by volunteers – many who survived the devastating 1946 tsunami – they showed no sympathy for the tourists that lost photo ops a few days before.

As long as the carbon dioxide and sulphur gas levels from Kilauea’s simmering crater do not force its closure, Volcano National Park is open 24 hours. We drove one night to the observation area that’s closest to the caldera. There in the pitch blackness of an overcast Hawaii night, we looked in awe at the vast, blood-red glowing cauldron of Halemaumau, the eternal home of  Pele, goddess of volcanoes. The fragility of paradise, Pele is indeed home, prepared to remodel the land at her pleasure.

the glowing cauldron of Halemaumau

“There are no vacant lots in nature.”

My photos of southern Nevada illustrating the musings of Edward Abbey, – the “Thoreau of the American West” – from his collection of essays, Desert Solitaire (copyright 1968).

snow-capped Mount Charleston, Nevada

 

 “There are no vacant lots in nature.”

 

 

“Alone in the silence, I understand for a moment the dread which many feel in the presence of primeval desert, the unconscious fear which compels them to tame, alter or destroy what they cannot understand…”

ruins of El Dorado mines, Nevada

 

 

 “How difficult to imagine this place without a human presence…”

Petroglyphs, Valley of Fire, Nevada, 4000+ years old
neon signs, Las Vegas, 70+ years-old

 

 

“Strolling on, it seems to me that the strangeness and wonder of existence are emphasized here, in the desert, by the comparative sparsity of the flora and fauna: life not crowded upon life as in other places but scattered abroad in spareness and simplicity, with a generous gift of space for each herb and bush and tree, each stem of grass, so that the living organism stands out bold and brave and vivid against the lifeless sand and barren rock. The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life-forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom.” 

 

 

“One more expression of human vanity. The finest quality of this stone, these plants and animals, this desert landscape is the indifference manifest to our presence, our absence, our coming, our staying or our going. Whether we live or die is a matter of absolutely no concern whatsoever to the desert.”

 

 

“Light. Space. Light and space without time, I think, for this is a country with only the slightest traces of human history…from the mortally human point of view the landscape of the Colorado is like a section of eternity—timeless.”

Colorado River, El Dorado Canyon, Nevada

 

 

 “Water, water, water…. There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount, a perfect ratio of water to rock, of water to sand, insuring that wide, free, open, generous spacing among plants and animals, homes and towns and cities, which makes the arid West so different from any other part of the nation. There is no lack of water here, unless you try to establish a city where no city should be.”

snowman on Mt. Charleston April 2011, just north of Las Vegas

 

 

“You can’t fight the desert… you have to ride with it.” ~ Louis L’Amour

Water, the Rugged West and Other American Myths

clang, cling, bling, lights, bells and the clank of coins, Las Vegas, Nevada
 
It was the pinball machines that always grabbed me first with their loud clang, high clings, lights, bells and the clank of coins at the Trevose Roller Rink. The soda fountain’s compressed gas added to the cacophony. The smell of baking pizza cut through my allergy-stuffed nose. Wrapped in plastic, this slice of frozen wonder cooked in a first generation micro wave, and only half the partially melted plastic needed to be peeled off the cheese.
 

 

The fries, burgers, dogs, cheese steaks and grease were the aromas of fun for a ten-year-old’s sensibilities. The carney music concussed ears, the vision of whirling skaters circling the rink like an undulating snake, all added to the heat of innocent sin.

I sat with my buddies, hot, sweaty, exhilarated, and drank cold water from cone shaped paper cups. Billy said, “One day will have to pay for a cup of water.” What!! Never. Dumb…why?” the rest of use were stupefied. Being a ten-year-old at the Trevose Roller Rink, with the noise of music, cling of the pinball machines, smell of the cheap food and sweaty smiles, my innocence suffered its first doubt as to the future.

Goodsprings and El Dorado Canyon, Nevada

 

Along the road to Canyonland National Park, a ribbon of a river winds for miles through the surreal sandstone, wind and water sculpted canyons in hues of red, orange, green, tan and whites. A snake of invasive Cottonwood trees define the river. Water bubbles from an underground spring fed from rain that fell a thousand years ago on top of surrounding mesas and filtered through the limestone. Isolated ranches, images of the nineteenth century, conjure romantic notions of simpler times, but in this geography of awesome beauty, quiet and dryness, the fantasy evaporates as rapidly as a drought or gets washed away as quickly as a flash flood. Ten inches of annual rainfall create precarious conditions.

4000+ year-old pictographs, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Pre-historic pictographs, wisely preserved by state and national parks, may have warned the unfortunate Mormon settlers, if anyone could have read them. To me they’re 4,000 year old graffiti – seriously humorous gripes of being an organism that’s 70% water living in a land lacking that most important element.  The park gates display large signs detailing to hikers the necessity to carry a daily minimum of one gallon of drinkable water per person. At the entrance to most park information centers are vending machines. They only sell 16 oz. plastic bottles of spring water – at $2.00 each.

 

The truth of my friend’s prediction is in Las Vegas amidst the clings, clang, clanks, smells, tired smiles, perfume and shimmering air of innocent sin. Nearly two-million Clark County residents, forty-million annual tourists, computerized undulating fountains, artificial beaches with waves, pirate galleons in Caribbean lagoons, tropical jungle rivers, Venetian canals and two-hundred acre golf courses all suck water from the desert’s less than 10″ of annual moisture and the underground aquifer that remains from a three-hundred million year old ocean. It’s not free, and it may not be forever.

a cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde, (bottom right) small water catchment

Mesa Verde, Colorado, is awesome. To generations of Native Americans it is sacred ground. Until the 13th century it was home to hundreds of people.  The First Americans choose this, and other mesas, for a variety of practical reasons. They were easily defensible, were covered with trees, had fertile soil and due to altitude and wind currents, received the lion’s share of rainfall in this otherwise parched region. The soft limestone rock both filters and traps precious water supplies rather than allowing it to simply run off the cliff. This confluence of advantages created the environment for a flourishing agrarian society over a millennium ago. Walking through the ruins of interconnecting rooms that served as both warehouses for grain and ceremonial centers for the political and religious elite several hundred feet below the mesa summit on a blisteringly hot, dry day, it felt cool within these ancient walls. It wasn’t just shade. Many places on the interior cliff walls were moist and moss-covered. Small trickles of water emerged from these glistening patches dripping down the walls into thin channels carved into the rock floor (picture above: bottom right). At the end of each channel was a small three to four-inch diameter by six-inch deep collecting well carved into the rock. No source of water was too small to be ignored.

plant life at the Valley of Fire, Nevada

Yet the ingenuity of this culture could not prevent its demise. The success of agriculture allowed the population to exceed nature’s ability to sustain human activity. The trees on the mesa’s summit created a temperature differential in the atmosphere that encouraged the formation of life-giving thunder storms, but they also provided fuel and building material for the thriving agrarian economy. By 1150, the very success of that economy had denuded the mesa resulting in a precipitous drop in rainfall. Archaeological evidence tells a disastrous story of drought, increasing civil strife and, finally, abandonment. There is even evidence of defensive fortifications being the last building projects in the cliff towns. Within a century, human habitation on the mesa top and the cliffs came to an end.

                     Lake Mead – over 130 feet below original levels

Every day in the Southwest the newspapers print articles concerning water. Legal battles are fought over resource rights among farmers, ranchers and land developers. Political battles rage among municipalities, states and the Federal government over river allocations and who’s going to pay for the projects. Environmentalist and economic growth interests ask Courts to rule on the advantages or damages caused by past and future dam projects.

Red Rock State Park, Nevada

 

The national and state park services not only take vigilant preservation seriously but make scientific research of these complex ecosystems a high priority. Practical applications from this research are evident in both water conservation technology used in Park facilities and eradication of water sucking invasive plants, such as Cottonwood trees, that were introduced to the environment in the last century by well-intentioned economic interests.

                                                               cottonwood trees

On the outskirts of Taos, New Mexico, is the elegant El Monte Sagrado Resort . It’s a modern hacienda with artistically appointed guest rooms, expensive spa and stunning dining facilities. Everything surrounds an oasis of native and tropical plants complete with a wide meandering creek crossed by bridges and punctuated with fountains and waterfalls. But appearances can deceive. Among the magnificent vegetation are odd, sculpted metal “trees” whose “flowers” are photo electric cells. The collected energy operates the pumps and the extensive decorative lighting. The hotel has its own on-site treatment facility that purifies and recycles all waste water. It’s used to irrigate the garden and create all its water features. Brochures explaining the green philosophy of management are conspicuously placed for guests to read. Yet resorts like this are the exception. Las Vegas’ Bellagio with its massive water fountain display within an artificial lake are more the norm.

      monument at Hoover Dam to workers who died on construction – 1931-35

Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico is one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in North America and sacred ground to the Puebloan culture. Only a limited number of outsiders are allowed to visit the mesa and must be accompanied by a native guide who conducts a well-disciplined tour. Because of the sacred nature of the site, visitors must adhere to strict rules governing photography and following the directions of the tour guide. Only in modern times has electricity been available and a road built allowing cars and trucks access to the top of the mesa. In previous centuries, the plains that surround the mesa were farmed providing food for the Pueblo. Now the food comes from grocery stores on the reservation. Coal fueled electricity, in this land of perpetual sun that could generate both solar and wind energy, run the air conditioners in the adobe dwellings. The Mesa is devoid of all vegetation. It’s hot, dusty and crowded. Blue plastic port-o-potties dot the village. In ancient days, farm fields were fertilized with both animal and human waste. Port-o-potties use chemicals that without proper treatment contaminate ground water. The Mesa of Acoma is sacred, photography of most sites, as well as lingering after the tour, is forbidden, but port-o-potties are a fact of modern Native American life.

                  Hoover Dam – a Great Depression make-work government project

Hoover Dam is a modern cathedral radiating energy in a most tangible form. Throngs of visitors make a pilgrimage to this art deco monument to 20th century engineering. Graceful angels are poised on the very rim of the dam in testimony to the beauty and power that silences the crowds as they stare, transfixed, at the silver glint on the blue water of Lake Mead. Like the trees of Mesa Verde, this dam is the economic engine of a culture. This tax-payer built Federal Depression-era make-work project was a resounding success for Sin City’s boom and is the artery through which Las Vegas lives today.  It’s sacred ground. Yet water levels in Lake Mead have been declining since 2000 and are nearly at historic lows. In a 2008 report on the status of Lake Mead, scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography predict there is a 50% probability that Lake Mead will be completely dry by 2021 due to climate change, population growth and unsustainable overuse of Colorado River water. The report concluded “Today, we are at or beyond the sustainable limit of the Colorado system. The alternative to reasoned solutions to this coming water crisis are a major societal and economic disruption in the desert southwest; something that will affect each of us living in the region”.

(below right) Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health Las Vegas, designed by Frank Gehry

 

 The clings, clang, clanks, smells, tired smiles, perfume and innocent sin still clung to the hot air in the Las Vegas airport as I watched both arriving and departing passengers drop seemingly endless quarters into the slot machines. It all made sense. Whether it’s two bucks for a pint of water, wave machines in a desert, Court battles over water rights, port-o-potties on sacred land, a dam to sustain a city or villages built a thousand feet into the sky, we humans like to gamble. We’ll continue to take a chance at beating the odds.

All is calm: Wartime Christmas

 “It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.”
W. T. Ellis 

March In: 19 December (2010) Valley Forge

It is well documented that over the past 12,000 years of human existence, there has never been “peace on Earth” on any day. Is there a more visceral holiday wish for anyone that’s ever been fighting in war, or even amidst a war?

Holiday season, 1970, Dublin, Ireland. I am a 20-year-old student spending my 3rd year of university at Dublin’s National University (UCD). Walking back to my flat from a party, some time after 3:00 AM, through the peaceful quiet of St. Stephen’s Green, I pause to admire my favorite statue – Theobald Wolfe Tone, leader of the 1798 Rebellion. It wasn’t the first time I’d admired the striking, 10 foot modern bronze on its 3 foot tall square polished granite base. In the early morning Dublin mist, the abstract visage made me particularly mindful of the sacrifice (his life) that this wealthy Protestant gave to Ireland’s Nationalist cause. It was sometime after 3:30 AM when I continued on. Sometime shortly after 4:00 AM the statue vaporized – plastic explosives on the back side  hidden by bushes. Fortunately, the only damage was to property.

interior of hut: Valley Forge December 2010

19 December 1777, the Continental Army marched in to its 6-month winter encampment at Valley Forge. The village of Valley Forge was in the middle of the Great Valley, the wealthiest agricultural and industrial region (water powered mills) of the 13 colonies. Yet the enlisted men suffered through that Christmas nearly starving on “fire cake” (fried flour & water). For three weeks food was absurdly scarce to feed between 8,000 – 10,000 troops all due to incompetence and lack of central planning. Neither the enlisted men’s diaries nor Washington’s letters were kind during these weeks. By mid-January, the food issue was solved, but it was a bleak Christmas.

For me, the Web’s greatest asset is its ability to tell people’s stories. The earliest tragedy of World War I was its failure to be over by Christmas 1914 – as so much propaganda had predicted. Of all the poignant moments within the catastrophe of that pointless war was the famous Christmas Truce of 1914. In the late 1980’s singer/songwriter John McCutcheon told of this event with heart-rending lyrics. The creator of this U-Tube video of John’s song has paired the lyrics with moving art and photos.

The bitterly satirical 1969 film, Oh! What a Lovely War effectively dramatizes this seminal event:

In recent years, revisionist have questioned this incident citing that it romanticized war. Recent scholarship indicates such Christmas Day truces, unofficial although many may have been, did exist – and not just in World War I.

Yet the bitter irony of juxtaposing the sacred and the profane is belted out later in Oh! What a Lovely War when a soldier sings, “It was Christmas Day in the cookhouse, the happiest time of the year, Men’s hearts were full of gladness and their bellies full of beer, When up popped Private Shorthouse, his face as bold as brass, He said, We don’t want your puddings, you can stick them up your tidings of co-omfort and joy, comfort and joy, o-oh ti-idings of co-omfort and joy. It was Christmas Day in the harem, the eunuchs were standing ’round, And hundreds of beautiful women were stretched out on the ground, Along came the wicked Sultan, surveying his marble halls. He said, Whaddya want for Christmas boys, and the eunuchs answered tidings of co-omfort and joy, comfort and joy, o-oh ti-idings of comfort and joy…”     (Oh! What a Lovely War (1969)

World War II Christmas Decorations at the Wall House

The Wall House in Elkins Park, PA, dates from 1688. It has seen a lot of war. Two rooms are devoted to its World War II era residents. Besides letters to and from the Front among family members, holiday trees reflected the realities of war. In the picture above, center, is a field hospital “tree” decorated with blue and white ribbon/paper and painted tongue depresses. To the right, is a small living room tree decorated in paper and tin ornaments. The prized German-made glass ornaments were unavailable and unpatriotic.

Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: decorated for Christmas 2009 (http://travelphotosbydave.shutterfly.com/)

“I had always thought there was no recognizable smell for impending death, but this country reeked of it…It was everywhere, no one left unscathed, no one left untouched, no one emotionally unscarred…It was the only time in my life I’ve ever felt a mutual, unconditional love for man and mankind…”       James Worthington, Silent, Holy Night: Respite in Vietnam

I traveled in Vietnam in March 2010. That same 20-year-old kid that escaped being vaporized in 1970 along with Theobald Wolfe Tone, narrowly missed being drafted earlier that year in the first military draft lottery, or at best this might have been my second trip. I know/knew Vietnam Vets, some are no longer alive having succumbed to the demons of post-war life. I was lucky. Instead of Vietnam, I was in Ireland that Christmas. In his memoir, Silent, Holy Night: Respite in Vietnam, John Worthington reminds me what Christmas 1970 may have been like.

Peace on Earth, a tenuous dream that we humans never want to give up, yet never want to try. Worldwide, we celebrate our cycles of rebirth year after year – solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah – hoping that some year the magic will work. Let’s not stop the hope.

the big blue marble: Earth (Paul Winter Consort, December 2009)

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