Friday, June 5, 2015

The Flying Dutchman

 ”Actor and Singer Carl Gunther in the Role of the Flying Hollander,“ Lithograph 1843, from the collection of The Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation, Riga Latvia

Our ancestor, Johann Karl Ludwig Maddaus, arrived in Riga in 1840 at the age of 20 and established a 38 year career of teaching art and drafting and producing various portraits and other works of art.  One of his earliest works was the lithograph of Carl Gunther in the role of The Flying Dutchman in the Wagner opera of the same name.

Wagner himself had moved to Riga (then part of the Russian Empire) in 1837 amidst serious financial and romantic difficulties.  Although reunited with his love Minna, his troubles continued in Riga and they departed for London in 1839 to avoid creditors.   As the story goes, the sea voyage to London served as inspiration for 
Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman).   Whether this is true was cast in doubt when Wagner acknowledged he had taken the story from a Heinrich Henne work.  The work is regarded as the beginning of the mature canon of the composer.

Wagner premiered the opera in Dresden,  in January 1843 and later that same year, Johann Karl Ludwig Maddaus completed the lithograph  to coincide with a Riga performance.   Maddaus and Wagner shared a connection in that they both came to Riga after some time in Magdeburg and indeed, Maddaus's move to Riga followed Wagner and many others.

Our family connection with the opera was continued with the naming of Johann's granddaughter Senta, after the herione of the opera.  

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Johann Karl Ludwig Maddaus


Self-Portrait

Johann Karl Ludwig Maddaus



Little knowledge or documentation of the life of our great, great grandfather, Johann Karl Ludwig Maddaus, made its way to America with the emigration of our great grandfather Oscar Wilhelm Maddaus and his family from Riga in the late 19th century. We can only speculate how the artist and his work became obscured from family recollection. Oscar Wilhelm lived only 13 years in Brooklyn before his accidental death in 1896. His wife Augusta, may have had limited knowledge of her husband’s family—her family was a mix of Latvian and German households—where her father-in-law was patriarch of a firmly German merchant-class family. Oscar’s children—3 boys and 3 girls—ranged in age of 19 to 6 at the time of his death and the older ones were thrust into the role of providing for their mother and younger siblings. Most had heard some stories about their grandfather, but only two had been born when he died in 1878.

Johann was born February 21, 1820 in Hamburg, an independent city recovering from the Napoleonic occupation of the previous decade. His parents were Georg and Henriette Dede Maddaus, and he had two younger siblings, Johanne and Ludwig. Johann’s father was listed as a painter in one public record, but little is known of his work. Georg died in 1823, leaving his wife with the 3 young children.

Our family oral history suggests that Johann moved to Riga to avoid conscription in the Prussian Army. This can only be true if he was not a citizen of Hamburg, his place of birth, as Hamburg was independent of Prussia in the late 1830s. It is possible he was considered a citizen of Magdeberg, where his mother moved after her second marriage to a merchant named Johann Burghausen, a few years after Johann's father's death,. Johann was likely educated in Hamburg--at least two of his children were--and followed the route to Riga that many Hamburg and Magdeburg merchants and artisans had taken since the beginning of Hanseatic League in the 13th century. He certainly may have been influenced by the presence of former Magdeberg composer Richard Wagner in Riga in the late 1830s. Both cities had connections to the German mercantile and cultural communities in Riga. In any case, he seems to have arrived in Riga in 1840 and lived there until his death in 1878.

Johann Karl Ludwig Maddaus is how he is listed in Dr. Wilhelm Neumann's "Lexikon Baltischer Kunstler," the Baltic artist directory, published in Riga in 1908. He was a portrait artist and drawing teacher at the No. 2 Riga Kreisschule (school district) from the early 1840s until July of 1877. He is known for portraits in lithograph and oil and produced a number of altar paintings for churches in 19th century Livland, territory now known as northern Latvia and southern Estonia. The altar paintings are interesting in that it is apparent that he was asked to reproduce work of the great masters; two of his most significant pieces (at St. John's Riga and Mary's Church in Paistu Estonia) are based on the work of 17th century Dutch artist Peter Paul Rubens. Altar paintings are also found in churches at Carnikavas, Garkalnes, Tirza and Turaida.

Altar Painting, St. John's Church, Riga, Latvia
By Johann Karl Ludwig Maddaus

Johann was married only once, according to my research. His marriage to Adele Dorothea Ernestine Gertrud Zirckmann was recorded in the Rigas Doma (Riga Dome Church) in 1842. Her name appears in various forms in records of her birth (Dorothea Adela Ernestine Gertrud, born Sept. 9, 1823 in Riga) and the births of her and Johann's 8 children, although she seems to have been known as Adele. The children were Alexander Albert (Dec. 1843), Oscar Wilhelm (our ancestor, born 1845), Ottilie Angelina Emilie (Oct. 1847), Johanna Adele (May 1850, died as an infant), Johanna Elvira Adele (Oct 1851), August Ludwig (Feb. 1854), Emma Gertrud (Feb. 1857) and Eugen Adolph Wilhelm (Oct. 1858). Emma and Eugen both died in 1860. Alexander, Oscar and Ottilie were baptized in the Rigas Doma, after which the family changed allegiance and had the others baptized in the St. Peter's Church. Both are iconic churches on the Riga skyline.

Adele was the daughter of Abraham Diedrich and Agathe Mariana (Schultz) Zirckmann. Abraham was born in Kurland, what is now known as Kurzeme, in western Latvia. That she was known as Adele is a guess on my part, but two of her grandchildren were so named. She died in Riga on December 8, 1908, thirty years after her husband. She apparently returned to the Rigas Doma congregation after his death and was involved in the Riga cultural community.

It was Adele’s donation of the self-portrait of Johann and portrait of Ottilie to the new art museum which landed Johann in Neumann's register, and those two portraits along with a lithograph remain in the Latvian National Art Museum collection. Without these donations and the register listing, the artist’s life might have been totally blotted out by World War II and the ensuing Soviet occupation. As it stands, his stature as an artist is limited by this ‘dark side’ of Baltic German art history, prior to the 20th century. He was more of a craftsman or artisan, than a creative artist and his work reflects this modest workmanship.

Little is known of Johann and Adele’s children. Alexander, the oldest, died in 1915 at the age of 72, apparently the last Maddaus to live in Riga. Nothing is known of Alexander’s life, excepting that he remained close to his mother.

Oscar Wilhelm immigrated to Brooklyn, NY sometime before 1870, had a first wife, Margaret Brown, and three children, who died in the influenza epidemic of the winter of 1872-3. He then wrote to our great grandmother, Augusta Dorothea Ratminders, and she agreed to travel to America from Riga and be his 2nd wife. Oscar followed his father's trade, working primarily in woodcut art for advertising and catalog businesses, and was also an accomplished musician with a well known chamber group. He died in 1896, survived by Augusta and 6 teenaged children. Augusta lived with three of them in various Brooklyn apartments until her death in 1937.

Portrait of Ottilie Maddaus
By Johann Karl Ludwig Maddaus
Ottilie, who was depicted in one of her father’s portraits, was a pianist and world traveler, popping up at a finishing school in Illinois and on passenger lists bound for England and France. She lived out her later adult life in Riga, dying there in 1913.
Little is known of Johanna Elvira Adele with the exception that she and her younger brother August Ludwig were accompanied by their mother to Hamburg in the 1860s to further their education. August rose to become director of a factory in Voroshilovo (Smolensk province) in present-day Russia. August married twice. His first wife Ida, died in childbirth with the delivery of their daughter Adela in 1880. With his second wife, Vera Schurawoff, they had two children Eugen (1882) and Arnna (1884).

Johann, Adele, Alexander Albert, August and his second wife Vera are all buried in the family plot in Lielie Kapi (The Great Cemetery) in Riga.

While Johann established himself in Riga, and his surviving progeny are located in America, it’s interesting to note that Johann’s sister’s family also traveled far from Hamburg and Magdeburg. Johanne’s daughters moved to Peru where Adolphina met and married a Scot named Robert Reid. Their progeny spread across the globe to England, New Zealand and Canada.  Meanwhile, no known members of the Maddaus family remain in Hamburg, Magdeburg or Latvia.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Jānis Rātminders














Jānis Rātminders—Teacher, Poet, Translator
(December 8, 1812—October 8, 1880)



My friends, if these songs of mine
Should meet with your approval,
Then I’ll dare to go on singing,
And tell more of Juris:
What a man he’s become
And what good he’s done.

Then I’ll write down a second chapter,
Which will be superior to this.
In my spare time I’ll happily seek
To gather more verses and sing even better.
This my mind is set on night and day,
To give my brothers what they need.

God, let me experience
From my countrymen this joy:
That, both near and far,
Their liking for book-reading should increase.
Then the people’s ignorance will end,
And whoever writes will rejoice.
                       
Stāstu dziemas  (Story Songs)
Riga, 1850

For Janis Ratminders, there was no greater joy than sharing his faith in God and love of learning with his fellow Latvians and his poetry exuded both of those qualities.   But he was the product of three worlds and his daughter Augusta—our great grandmother—would depart for yet another when she left her family for a new life in America.

Janis was brought up on the Zeikari farmstead just north of the village of Vecpiebalga, some 130 kilometers east of Riga.  The farmstead sits on the windward side of a knoll that is the height of land to the west of Alauksts Lake.  A short walk on the driveway down to the main road (P30) from Vecpiebalga to Cesis to the north, affords a panoramic view of the lake with the iconic white birch rimming its shore.   To the west, the rivelet which becomes the Gauja River—the longest entirely in Latvia—winds through the fields from its source in Kaive, then north and east and again north and finally west on its meandering route to the Baltic Sea. 

The 19th century Latvian landscape Janis was born into was not yet Latvia, but a part of the Russian Empire since the end of the Northern War which relinquished Swedish control of the eastern Baltic littoral in the 1720s.  And yet the countryside was populated by Latvians and Germans.   As the Latvian novelist Matiss Kaudzites once noted, in these days the terms Latvian and German were equivalent to peasant and landowner, as the dominance of the latter established centuries before continued through the 19th century.   At times the German presence was oppressive, but the influence of Swedish kings and Moravian brethren, along with the German Lutheran church, resulted in an increase in the literacy rate among Latvians.  Literacy and refined culture were the domains of Germans and most education was conducted in German.

Janis Ratminders (Johann Rathminder in the German-language church records) was the third of four sons of Andzs and Marie Rathminder to reach adulthood—one sister did as well—and the second so named after an older sibling who died in infancy.   The family lost  2 infant daughters, as well.   Janis and Andzs were popular names in the Vidzeme countryside—Janis’s paternal grandfather was also Janis and his oldest brother was Andzs.   Though he was influenced by all his family, it was his brother Andzs who has the most lasting and profound impact on his life.  Andzs, 7 years older than Janis, was intelligent and multi-talented and when a teaching position became available at the local parish school, Andzs was chosen at the age of 18.  He would become a legend in Latvian education as he continued in the role for 63 years, one the longest and far-reaching in history.  So it would be Andzs who would teach his younger brother Janis and mentor him in his own teaching career for years to come.

After completing his training under his brother’s tutelage, Janis sought further experience in Riga, the commercial and cultural center of the eastern Baltic region.  Before long he secured a position teaching in the manor of Sasumuižā (Zasulauks) on the Pardaugava area of Riga across the Daugava River from the city center.  By 1837, he secured a position at the St. John’s parish in the old city, and he would continue there until the year of his death—over 42 years.  Longevity was but one of his accomplishments as he took a prominent role in the literary movement in the Latvian language and what became known as the "National Awakening,” which brought Latvian language, culture and literature onto firm footing alongside German and Russian influences.  To say Janis was a member of the Latvian intelligentsia of the mid-19th century would be accurate, but fall short of describing his overall contribution to the national movement.

His literary connections most certainly were enhanced by his association with Pastor Hermans Treijs, the St. John’s parish leader, who himself was a prolific writer.  Treijs had began in 1832 to publish a weekly newspaper "Tas Latviesu Lauzu Draugs” (Friend of the Latvian People) and continued its publication to at least 1846.  Once Janis began work in the parish school, he also became a regular contributor to the publication with stories and poetry written under his own byline and with pseudonyms of JR and 49.  Examples of his work dating back to 1840 are on file in the National Library of Latvia, including “Good work, bad salary” and “Christmas message to students” in 1842, collaborations with Ansis Leitans on “Songs for Ludwig Schulz” and Pastor Hermans Treijs's “Christmas Greetings” in 1844 and “Poems for Karl Hieronymus Schirren” in 1847.   This collaboration would represent the beginning of a life-long friendship with Leitans which would further his writing career.

A collection of his pieces written for “Tas Latviesu Lauzu Draugs,”  including “Pretzels from Father” and “Grandfather’s Life,” became the basis for his publication in 1850 of “Stāstu dziesmas”(Story Songs), a book of poetic stories centered on a young Latvian lad named Juris.   The stories take the form of parables which emphasize the virtues of hard work, education and faith, leading to an honorable life. While some historians mark the date of the first Latvian-language publication of poetry by a Latvian as that of Juris Alunans’ “Dziesminas” (Poetry) in 1856 but Janis was clearly 6 years ahead of Alunans.  Between 1850 and 1870 the percentage of such publications in the region went from single digits to 50 percent as the new generation of educated Latvians followed the lead of Ratminders and Alunans.   A biography of Janis Ratminders after his death by J. R. Kalniuks suggests that “Stāstu dziesmas” was widely read and admired, though it has been largely forgotten today.

The publication of Alunans’ work and the establishment of the Latvian language newspaper “Mājas Viesis” (The House-Guest) by Janis Ratminders’ good friend and collaborator Ansis Leitans in 1856 marked the beginning of the first Latvian National Awakening which extended into the 1880s.  Janis was a significant contributor to Mājas Viesis, along with fellow teachers Juris Caunitis, Mikelis Ciritis and Janis Katkins. Mājas Viesis was authorized by the new Tsar of Russia, Alexander II and became the first Latvian newspaper founded by Latvians and edited by Latvians.  It evoked a sense of pride and excitement in the Latvian identity.

Soon after the founding of Mājas Viesis, a succeeding generation of “New Latvians” came on the scene, having all been educated at Dorpat (Tartu) University and given the opportunity to publish their writings in the new weekly paper.  Now legendary figures such as Krisjanis Valdemars, Juris Alunans, Krisjanis Barons and Atis Kronwalds met regularly to discuss political, cultural and literary issues that were of interest to ethnic Latvians.  This group was a reflection of an earlier regular gathering of intelligentsia including Janis Ratminders, Ansis Leitans and others, often at Janis’s home, in the late 1830s and into the 1840s.  While this early group met often, its progress was blunted by Tsar Nicholas I who felt threatened by a number of national movements in the Empire and directed local representatives to limit its meetings.   Over the long term these intrepid Latvians influenced the next wave of the national movement. 

The name Latvia (Latvija) became commonly used by 1862 and in the late 1860s the seeds of a new organization which became known as the Riga Latvian Association were sown.  Janis, though not as active as in his younger days, was involved in the formation of this organization and wrote lyrics for a song, "Kas mūsu spēks, / Kas mūsu pūles" (In our power, In our efforts), with music by Juliujs Purats, which was dedicated to the Association at its founding in 1868.  By 1873, with the first National Song Festival, the Association was a well established body in support of Latvian Nationalism.

In September 1846, Janis married Maria Louise Jacobsohn, daughter of Adam and Maria Magdalena Jacobsohn who were long-time members of the St. John’s parish.  Janis and Maria had 10 children over a period of 16 years.  Our great, grandmother Augusta Dorothea Rathminder was the third and was named for a descendent of Gotthard Friedrich Stender, an 18th century Latvian grammarian and lexicographer.  Although Janis was active among Latvian language intellectuals, he also shared the trait of many of those, in that he was immersed in German language and culture of the day as well.  Augusta was more influenced by the German side of the house, as evidenced by her love of German romance novels, chiefly among them “Ingo” by Gustav Freytag, the source of our grandfather’s given name as well as that of his sister Freida.  To his death my father always referred to her as his ‘German’ grandmother.

Janis kept in close contact with his brother Andzs until his death in 1880.  An interesting anecdote surrounding their relationship revolved around the hiring of the great Latvian nationalist orator Atis Kronwalds as a teacher in Vecpiebalga.  Andzs knew of Kronvalds stature in the national movement, but wanted to be assured that this great young voice of Latvia was a well-rounded individual, versed in history, philosophy, the arts and religion, so he consulted with his best resource in Riga, his brother Janis.  On Janis’s recommendation Kronvalds was hired and served in the Vecpiebalga parish school until his untimely death at the relatively young age of 37 in 1875.

Janis retired to new home on Slokas iela (Woodcock Street) in Agenkalns area, not far from Zasulauks manor where he first worked on his arrival in Riga.  He is buried in the Martina Cemetary across the street from his home.  He never returned to live in Vecpiebalga, and some speculation surrounds the possibility that his heart was broken by a childhood sweetheart.  Still he expressed his fondness for home in one of his best-known poems,  Rītu nebūšu vairs mājās  (Tomorrow, I’ll Be Home No Longer):

Tomorrow I’ll be home no longer
The moment of parting is near.
My legs already walk the path
My thoughts remain right here.

Climbing the hill over yonder
I’ll gaze back into the dale.
I’ll look down upon the place
Where my joy once set sail.

Then with my heart saddened
I’ll continue to walk the line.
My beloved, though not beside me,
I’ll hold forever in my mind.

But when the cold winter ends
A wondrous spring will be revived.
Then I can go forth again
And my legs will gladly oblige.

Then I’ll happily return
To where love sings its song.
I’ll begin a joyous new life,
And my sorrows will be gone.

And then on Midsummer’s Eve
I’ll adorn your door with birch leaves.
I’ll pick flowers for you, my beloved
Through all the hills and valleys.




Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Corn Field Loop


I’m spending a week in Orono, taking a course called Seminar in Non-Fiction Writing at the University of Maine and making sure I take the opportunity to schedule at least a couple runs on the beautiful network of trails around and about campus.  Today, I ran from Shibles Hall over to the athletic stadium, did a mile on the crazy- blue synthetic track and then headed in the direction of the Corn Field Loop.  It’s pretty much the same course we ran in my only cross country meet here as an undergraduate.   That was fall of 1971 and I remember it well.

It was our annual Bates vs UMaine dual meet, which rotated each year between Orono and Lewiston.  I’d missed it as a freshman, but made the trip as a junior.  It was early in the season, and we weren’t expected to be too strong, having lost 3 key team members through graduation, one who dropped the sport and another who flunked out of school.  Still, a new crop of 4 freshman offered promise.  Walt (our coach) had high hopes for a few of the younger guys, but didn’t seem to expect much from me.  I did not excel as a freshman and was injured most of my sophomore season.  I have to say I didn’t think he liked me, either, but it was hard to know with him. Nothing he ever said inspired any confidence in me.

The race started with a lap on the track and then headed in the general direction of the Corn Field Loop.  Much of the area was in agricultural use in those days, where a relatively new recreation center now stands, just south of the cornfield itself.  The Maine team outnumbered us and seemed intent on overwhelming us with a brisk early pace.  After about a mile I could count three of our guys—Emma, Joe and Bill—out front, and at least 12 of the opposition strung out ahead of me.  It was not looking good for the visiting team.  Walt called out from the sidelines to a couple of my teammates near me, “get goin’Norm!” and “move up, Wayne,” but no exhortation for me.   


We veered right through a wooded section where—10 or 15 meters to the right, in the undergrowth, but plainly evident—an undergrad and his girlfriend were studying the “birds and bees.”  (Does anyone use that expression anymore, besides people like my wife who ACTUALLY DO study ‘birds’ and ‘bees?’)    We kept running of course, Woodstock was two years earlier and we’d all seen the movie, if we hadn’t been there personally.  (Overheard, after the race: “Did you see those two in the woods?”)

Back in ’69, my best friend on our high school track team offered me a ticket to Woodstock, but I opted to stay and work extra shifts at my summer job in the dining room of the Gideon Putnam Hotel in Saratoga Springs, NY—it turned out to be more than I bargained for when my coworkers were stuck in the traffic jam coming home from the festival and I had to cover a couple more days of their shifts.  All turned out well, as I saw B. B. King, The Who, and Jefferson Airplane a week or so later at Tanglewood in Western Massachusetts—still the best concert I’ve ever seen, but more on that later.

So, back to the race:  as we began to circle the Corn Field and passed Walt one more time, he was now yelling at Norm and Wayne behind me to catch me and pass the UMainers in front of us.   (Thanks for the vote of confidence, Coach!)   Whether it was my reaction to his lack of support or just the summer’s weeks of conditioning finally kicking in, I was the one who began moving up through the field, picking off one Maine runner after another.   By the time we returned to the final lap on the track and the finish line, I was on the heels of Daley and Warner, the top two Maine runners, and not far behind Emma, Joe and Bill—1-2-3—at the front.  Two teammates followed close behind me and we easily outscored the host team.   My sixth place finish was, by far, the best ever in my running career and even earned a mumbled “Good job, Charlie” from Walt.

Today’s run had none of the excitement.  It was pretty idyllic actually—clear skies for the most part, except for a few puffy clouds, the humidity of the past few days gone, a couple of young white-tail deer—a doe and a buck—grazing in the field where crops used to grow.  A mile or so from the finish, I met Rich Kent, my writing instructor, heading out for his evening run.   (Good job, Rich!)

This reminiscence doesn’t exactly qualify as the glory days of my college career.  I was never a great collegiate athlete, although I competed all four years in cross country and Nordic skiing.   I even had a few better performances—a 9:56 two mile indoors on our 10 and ½ lap to a mile, 4 turns per lap, clay/cinder track stands out, we beat Maine again in dual track meet, by one point, maybe my third-place point?—and certainly some worse performances.   And I always considered myself a skier who ran cross country, anyway.   Still, this dual cross country meet was the first time that I knew I could be competitive and it made all the difference.  I’ll never forget it.

-----------------------

On the drive home, I plug a CD into the deck, and it’s just like on the lawn seating at Tanglewood in 1969, as I wake up from the second half of The Who’s set:

Sounds of airplanes buzzing overhead, crowds cheer, then ohhhhh, then ahhhhhh.  Melodramatic organ music fades in and out.   More airplanes overhead... Then we hear the final lines of the 1933 production of “King Kong” —

“Well Denham, the airplanes got him.”

“Oh, no.  It wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”

A pause, followed by the master of ceremonies:  “Ladies and Gentlemen—The Jefferson Airplane!!”

Cue Spencer Dryden on the drums—Ratta-tat.  Ratta-tat-tat-tat.  Ratta-tat.   Ratta-tat-tat-tat-tat…etc

Cue the Great Jack Casady on bass.   Dum dum… dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum.  Dum dum…. Dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum 

Enter Grace Slick and Marty Balin singing at times in unison, at times trading lines back and forth, as the rest of the instruments join in:

do away with people blowing my mind
do away with people wasting my precious time
take me to a simple place
where I can easily see my face
baby, baby I can see that you're fine
know I love you baby, yes I do
know I love you baby, yes I do

Marty:   “3/5’s of a Mile in 10 Seconds!!” *


It’s frenetic and electric and the crowd is going wild!  Then Jorma Kaukonen rips off a fantastic lead with Casady churning away on bass—Jorma is great but true rock aficionados know that Jack carries the day.  What a great opening number!   

But wait!  There’s more—Paul Kantner, Casady, Dryden and Kaukonen begin an extended intro, jazz-tinged and quiet at first, but gradually building up to Grace Slick’s riveting performance of “Somebody to Love.”*

“Don’t you want somebody to love…”


Check out “Bless Its Pointed Little Head”*—Jefferson Airplane’s best live CD—for the full experience. 

Or better yet, load it on your iPod and run the Corn Field Loop.  You’ll be flying!
   

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Katahdin



Beth and I returned to Baxter State Park last weekend with the goal of climbing Mt. Katahdin. Arriving Saturday afternoon at Daicey Pond we were greeted with an outstanding view of the mountain. Too bad we didn't climb that day!

The occasion was significant for me in that my first climb of Katahdin was in August of 1961. Our family had been to Baxter in 1956 and my father and older brothers spent a day on the mountain, but I was too young at the time. My mother, younger brother Phil and I stayed at the campsite at Katahdin Stream Campground and according to my mother a distinguished gentleman came around with a photographer in tow, and we had our photo taken with him--Governor Baxter in the flesh.

In the years that followed, I bugged my father for the opportunity to climb the mountain myself. He insisted on a number of shorter training hikes each summer before a major climb and this year was no different. We always started with Cathead Mountain in the spring and would climb a variety of lesser peaks in the southern Adirondacks that had fire towers at the top. Hadley, Spruce, Crane, Prospect, Wakley. We climbed most of them. By August, during our summer vacation to Wells Beach, Maine, we were ready for Katahdin.

I don't remember much about the climb and other than talking about the Hunt Trail and asking dad how far we had to go, I'm guessing we talked a lot about the Yankees and the incredible home run competition between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. By August 11th, the Yanks were on a 9-game win streak in which Mantle had 44 and Maris 42. Overshadowed was Whitey Ford's 20-2 record, quite amazing in itself. Mantle was my favorite. Maris had come from Kansas City the year before and would always be the outsider who didn't come up through the Yankees farm system. (It was only after his death many years later that I and many others appreciated Maris for his record-breaking 61 homers that year, breaking the Babe's long-standing record-with an asterisk). The Yanks would win 109 games that season and go on to win the World Series over the Cincinnati Reds.



The weather was great and the view to the South Basin and Chimney Pond was awe-inspiring. I'll never forget that.


After our climb, we bought a postcard to send to my mother--the view of the mountain from Katahdin Stream Campground.




The weather for my return hike on Sunday didn't quite match my first experience on the mountain but I was pretty happy to be able to make the return trip after fifty years. It's a tough climb, no matter which trail you take and how old you are.

Maybe the Yankees will make a return to the World Series, too. At least Mark Teixeira (32) and Curtis Granderson (31) are hitting homers at a high rate and CC Sabathia (16-6) is leading the league in wins, although the RedSox seem to be dominant when it counts this year. You never know with the Yankees and RedSox.






Saturday, July 9, 2011

DJ 3K



Back in 2009, when Derek Jeter was going for his club record 2,722nd hit to pass Lou Gehrig as the all-time leader for the Yankees, I came up with a couple dramatic scenarios that seemed to fit in well with the broad brush of his career. It turned out less so--just an opposite field hit over the first base bag. Leading up to today, the anticipation for hit #3,000 has built month by month, week by week, day by day (as well as the pressure, Derek admitted after the fact) with the added suspense of a 15-day injury break. Today's drama couldn't have been better if it was written for a movie script. Five hits in five at-bats, the second of the five a long homerun to right field for #3,000, and the last (#3,003) a game-winning single up the middle. Congatulations, Derek.


For sure, the #1 Yankee fan, up in heaven, is pleased.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Political Courage: Lessons from Latvia

The sub-text to the headline of Frank Rich's recent article in New York Magazine reflects the political reality for President Obama: "The president's failure to demand a reckoning from the moneyed interests who brought the economy down has cursed his first term, and could prevent a second." Confronting Wall Street over the crash of 2008 and bringing the responsible parties to justice has apparently not been on the President's agenda and many Americans wonder why.


Overseas, an interesting political situation has developed this spring in Latvia, the tiny Baltic country in Eastern Europe which has suffered through the same economic downturn. President Valdis Zatlers' (pictured above with President Obama) first four year term ends today and he was not elected for a second. Instead, he took quite a different route when it came to dealing with his country's oligarchs.

Despite putting his second term in jeopardy, he used the powers of the office of the presidency to dissolve parliament for its failure to waive the immunity of two of its members and a mayor of one of Latvia's largest cities, in an anti-corruption probe. The single-chamber Saeima responded along party lines in electing Zatlers' rival, Andris Berzins, in last month's presidential election. Tomorrow, Berzins will occupy Riga Castle and be Latvia's new President.


Zatlers' political future has been the source of a great deal of speculation, as he has remained silent on his plans until he is out of office. The future for Latvia includes a referendum vote on July 23rd to ratify Zatlers' dissolution and trigger parliamentary elections in September. Most Latvians I spoke with during our recent visit feel the referendum will pass by a large margin. They are less sure of any major change in September, but its evident that they feel at least the parliament will have heard their voice. Zatlers may take a greater role in the coming weeks.


With the current economic situation in America and consistent high unemployment, the controversy over the federal budget and deficit is coming to a head with an impending vote to raise the debt ceiling. Massive funding cuts to safety-net programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are threatened, with the continuation of tax cuts and loopholes benefitting the millionaires and billionaires and corporations who park their assets overseas rather than invest in America. These American oligarchs and their puppets in Washington must be confronted and the time is now.


I can't help but think that what is needed from the White House right now was demonstrated in Riga Castle by the President of a small Eastern European country who put his the integrity of his government above his own political needs and risked his second term with an audacious act of political courage. Hopefully, President Obama will take a cue from President Zatlers and act based on the needs of the majority of Americans.