As we say above, this is mainly for friends and family. Michael's blog on the Middle East can be found here. Most of our other links can be found below on the right, but be sure to keep up as well with our family website, here. We also have discussion groups for genealogy, links to genealogical information on us, and our (semi-private) Flickr and YouTube accounts for those who are invited. You can also get a quick-navigation guide here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Gettysburg Day Two: Devil's Den

It's very late and I'll be brief. The second day of the Gettysburg adventure went well. A good part of the day was spent in the rock warrens of Devil's Den, which prior to parenthood I always thought of as interesting rock formations that provided excellent cover for sharpshooters; now I learn that, for kids, it's a terrific playground. Sarah climbed in and out of tunnels and up and over rocks both before and after lunch, and had a ball.

In the afternoon after a second round at Devil's Den (and some time admiring passing dogs since dog lovin' is very important right now), we did do the Eisenhower farm. Perhaps I'll post more another time, but this will have to do for now. Pic (not showing Sarah's face, as per my blog rules) above.

A new two-part video is up at YouTube, complete with slide shows etc.

Oh yes, and we went to the Eisenhower farm as well: more on that another time.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sarah Takes Gettysburg

I haven't blogged for a couple of weeks; busy with work and the work blog, etc.

We're in Gettysburg; it's part of our effort to teach Sarah about Lincoln during the Lincoln bicentennial year, and we're using our Hampton Inn points for a free night's stay. One new attraction is the renovated David Wills house, where Lincoln spent the night before his speech at Gettysburg, putting the finishing touches on his "few appropriate remarks." It just opened to the public on Lincoln's birthday. Has the bed he slept in, etc.

We had lunch at Ernie's Texas Lunch, originally founded in 1921, "Home of the Texas Hot Weiner," and (this printed on the checks) "the most famous address in Gettysburg since Lincoln's." That kind of place.

Then I showed Sarah the Angle, and Little Round Top, and explained Pickett's Charge and Chamberlain and the 20th Maine; I have a DVD of the movie Gettysburg with us and am trying to get her to watch it (the movie made from The Killer Angels). I didn't subject her to a reading of the famous lines about Pickett's Charge from Intruder in the Dust; Faulkner's a bit heavy for the third grade, but I still think of it whenever I'm at the clump of trees, and my blog readers aren't getting off so easy:
For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it's going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago.
The editor in me says that someone should have given Faulkner some extra punctuation marks (a period here and there and a whole lot more commas would help), but it does evoke something anbout the mythology of Pickett's Charge for southerners (at least white southerners). And of course, unlike Faulkner, I never won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I use too much punctuation.

Later: Sarah actually watched the Little Round Top and Clump of Trees scenes in Gettysburg, as we explained the places we were today. Of course she stayed up till midnight and I'm now updating this post after midnight, but otherwise I got the point across.

We'll do more of the battlefield tomorrow, and perhaps the Eisenhower farm.

Yes, the statues Tam is standing by (on Gettysburg's town square) in the picture above are of Abe Lincoln apparently giving directions to a 21st century tourist. I don't completely get the modern tourist statue, but what the heck. Abe's looking good.

One reason I'm a civil war buff, I think, is the knowledge that my ancestors fought on both sides. A Missouri great-great-grandfather fought for the Confederacy; a Georgia great-grandfather fought for the Union. Yes, you read that right: he was a member of one of only two companies of formal Georgia Union infantry (there were also some irregular guerrilla units). Not only was he a Georgian who fought for the Union, he later commanded one of the only two Grand Army of the Republic (the Union veterans' organization) posts in Georgia. Punchline: it was the William T. Sherman post. Really. He was also a Northern Methodist preacher in the south, and sometimes preached, I'm told, in black churches. His mentor used to preach wearing a sidearm since the KKK was after him. You can read my profile of the Rev. John Henry Dunn here, if you want to know more about him for some reason.

If my southern ancestor fought for the Union, my border state Missourian ancestor fought for the Confederacy. That was a lot more common, but it had the downside of his dying a long way from home, and being buried in Mississippi, a long way from the Ozarks. That's another story, But when I stand at the Angle at Gettysburg, I see myself on both sides, and when I stand on Little Round Top, I fully appreciate the accomplishment of Chamberlain, but I also, looking down that hillside, appreciate the guts it took for those Texas and Alabama boys who were trying to go uphill against a fortified position. Sam Hood is not one of my favorite Confederates -- I've been to Franklin, Tennessee, and that made less sense than Grant at Cold Harbor, and killed a bigger percentage in about the same amount of time, but unlike Grant, Hood blamed his men, not himself -- but at Little Round Top they ought to get credit for the sheer daring of it, though Chamberlain naturally deserves the reputation he has gained in recent years.

As for Pickett's Charge, well, back in the 80s when I didn't have a car I sometimes got to visit Civil War sites by giving tours for friends who did. After one friend had been with me to Gettysburg, we later were doing the Seven Days around Richmond, and at Malvern Hill, looking out from McClellan's position towards Lee's, he said, "this reminds me of Gettysburg." Ah, I thought, well are you learning from me, young Jedi. Indeed Lee's tendency for frontal assaults tended to come out when he didn't have Stonewall Jackson around to come up with a better plan. At Gettysburg, he should have listened to Longstreet. I have now offended roughly half of America's Civil War buffs and cheered the other half. Good thing no one reads this blog but family.

More on Gettysburg tomorrow.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Good Weekend

Monday we had a snowstorm. Yesterday (Saturday) and Today were in the 70s. 77 today at Sarah's school, according to the local "weatherbug" reading, and last night after midnight it was still showing at 67, as it is again now at nearly 11:30. From a snow day to shorts and shirtsleeves in five days. I'll settle.

Also last night we went to daylight savings time: I like the new extended weeks, and now it's light later in the evening. I hate Decembers when I pick up Sarah in the dark.

Yesterday we sought to go to Alexandria's Saint Patrick's Day Parade but left a bit late and got there after all the parking was gone, so we headed on downriver and spent a little time along the Potomac, with Sarah climbing a tree, petting various dogs (the overture to the dog is crescendoing about now, as it's going to come sometime soon after the birthday in April), and enjoying the weather. Today we went to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian, and did the "Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life" exhibit (excellent), one of many Lincoln bicentennial exhibits around town. Plus some hands-on kid's stuff, ice cream, a simulator rider (Bermuda Triangle) and other things to please Sarah. A really good, first spring weekend family time.

I have good video but for some reason it's hanging when I load to YouTube. Will do it during the week as I think TouTube is getting clogged on weekends.

I learned a really bad thing though: the Smithsonian-Folkways record collection (Smithsonian bought out the old Folkways record librart when they closed) is now mostly available for digital download. Since this is the greatest folk-blues-roots music-ethnic music collection in the world, this could get expensive.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Bars of Cairo

There isn't going to be a lot of cross-fertilization between this blog and my work blog, but this post likely belongs here as well, so I'm not just going to link to it, but also cross-post the entire post, and perhaps tell more personal stories in this vein as we go along later:

Here's the entire post:
(From MEI Editor's Blog, Tuesday, March 3, 2009)

Huffington Post on the Bars of Cairo? Actually, Worth a Read and it Reminds Me of a Story...

Since I noted in my earlier post that today's news wasn't very inspiring, a little social commentary may be in order. Thanks to a link from The Arabist, I was led to this interesting piece over at The Huffington Post, of all places, about the decline of Cairo's non-elite downtown bars.

This is actually a good story, and what gives it away is that the authors were not just going to middle class bars but to the baladi bars in "popular" working-class neighborhoods like Bulaq. I know the Bar Massoud in Bulaq, which they mention, among others. It was a true baladi bar (that is, "of the country," "native,") working-class bar. The equivalent of a blue-collar bar in a steel-belt city, only it would be a white-galabiyya bar where the locals worked as vendors, doormen (bawabin), cab-drivers, laborers and such. If I remember Massoud correctly it was one of the biggest in Bulaq, which then had six or seven, and it may even have had Western-movie style swinging doors. One of the Bulaq bars did. I don't know many Westerners who ever went to them, and it wasn't a regular hangout, but it was a real glimpse of an Egypt even the Egyptian middle class never sees.

And it evokes a somewhat dormant area of my scholarly research product . . .

During a post-doctoral research year in Egypt in the late 1970s (1977-78 for the record, the year Sadat went to Jersualem), several fellow scholars (who have achieved some level of professional success and might not want me to identify them by name) and I actually wrote up a little underground guide to the baladi bars of Cairo. There were, as the article notes, a lot more of them then; the 1980s and 1990s were devastating to the baladi bar scene as religious pressures closed a lot of the bars lower-class Egyptians could afford, even while more five-star hotel bars were sprouting for the tourists and the nouveau riche. We explored the old, declining bars of the downtown and its outliers, described in the article I've linked to, as well as such areas as Shubra, Bulaq, Faggala -- mostly neighborhoods with minority or (Faggala) majority Christian populations,which meant they were a little less vulnerable to Islamist pressures as most of the bars were owned by Copts -- as well as such really down-market places as the makers of the ancient African fermented wheat drink known in Egypt as buza (a true speakeasy sort of place, but with families and, I'm sure, no sort of government license whatsoever). We disdained the big hotels and the upmarket areas such as Zamalek and Heliopolis. Our guidebook, typed up in the days before personal computers and circulated as a xeroxed samizdat, is pretty much gone with the wind (I may have a copy in a storage room somewhere, and a few mid-to-late-1980s updates on a 5 1/4" disc), but the memories endure, and are rather like those evoked by this story. [Readers: If you have an original complete copy post a comment and let me know.] Most of the bars we explored are gone now; some of those we patronized were known to Naguib Mahfouz and others of the literati, but most were holes-in-the-wall where foreigners were a decided oddity, and the Egyptian middle classes rarely showed up unless slumming. (And of course, one had to speak the language.) You do not want to know about the sanitary facilities.

Perhaps this article will remind other old Cairo hands of a different era in Cairo, before Islamist pressures closed the bars in the "popular quarters." I understand the bar scene today is one of wealthy young Egyptians with their cell-phones and text messages, not the baladi bars of old men in galabiyyas drinking Egyptian brandy, evoked in the article linked to.

There's a secondary class of bar worth remembering: the mid-level colonial bar. The old Bar Cecil on Midan Tawfiqiyya (Urabi) was a stupendous one: once a hangout of the British officer class, but not the ranks who hung out at Shepheard's, it was glorious for its big windows on the circle, its brass rails, and so much more, but it died, became a branch of the Bank of Commerce and Credit International (BCCI), itself of later scandalous infamy, and is forgotten. Another mid-level British officers' bar survives I think (last I heard) in the Barrel Bar of the Hotel Windsor, which was an overflow for the original Shepheards burned in 1952. But the old colonial bars have their own fan clubs, and this post is really aimed at remembering the baladi spots.

And, to try to give some additional "redeeming social value" to this post, let me add a comment that spins off the word baladi in its sense of local, down-market, working class. It's still sometimes a bit of a pejorative "a baladi neighborhood," the baladi loaf of bread is the heaviest barley round, not the nice white bread of the middle clases, etc. But it also can mean "everyman": In the era of the monarchy the standard "Egyptian public" figure in Egyptian political cartoons -- the equivalent of the old "John Q. Public" in US cartoons of a certain era -- was a dapper gent in a tarbush (fez) called Misri Effendi, roughly "Mister Egyptian" using an honorific not used for the working classes. After the 1952 Revolution (and we can talk another time about whether it deserves the name of a Revolution), the standard character in political cartoons became Ibn al-Balad, "son of the country," usually a fellow in a white galabiyya and a skullcap. Middle-class types still appeared in cartoons where appropriate, but the national personification became Ibn al-Balad. Of course, the real Ibn al-Balad types didn't read political cartoons in Roz al-Yusuf or the big dailies, but at least they replaced Misri Effendi as a stereotypical cartoon icon.