Monday, May 30, 2011

A Heartbreaking Civil War Diary

Because it was Memorial Day weekend, I went yesterday to the Grafton Historical Society’s rooms in the former Town Hall on the Grafton Common in our little Massachusetts town to see a Civil War display that they’ve recently posted there.  It summarized the names, ages and occupations of the 65 young men  from Grafton who died in that war.

Featured on one wall were  entries from a Civil War battlefield diary of a Grafton soldier, Jonathan P.   Stowe, who volunteered with the 15th Massachusetts Infantry, was taken prisoner on Oct. 21, 1861 at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, Leesburg, VA, and kept as a prisoner at Richmond. In Feb. 1862, he was included in a group of prisoners who were returned under a flag of truce, but he continued fighting, and on 17 Sept. 1862 he was wounded at the Battle of Antietam.

Twenty three thousand soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after twelve hours of savage combat on Sept. 17, 1862 at Antietam, near Sharpsburg, Maryland. According to the Historical Society’s exhibit,  it was “a clash between North and South that changed the course of the Civil War, helped free over four million Americans, devastated Sharpsburg and still ranks as the bloodiest one-day battle in American history…The 15th Massachusetts Infantry went into the Battle of Antietam with 606 soldiers.  318 were killed or wounded, the highest number for any Union regiment in the battle. “

I read with growing suspense the entries from Jonathan Stowe’s pocket diary that he wrote when he was wounded that day, and in the days afterward :

Sept. 17th – Wednesday. Battle. Oh horrid battle.  What sights I have seen. I am wounded!  And am afraid shall be again as shells fly past me every few seconds carrying away limbs from the trees…Am in severe pain. How the shells fly. I do sincerely hope I shall not be wounded again.
Sept 18th – Thursday.  Misery. Acute, painful misery.  How I suffered last night.  It was the most painful of anything have experienced. My leg must be broken for I cannot help myself scarcely any. I remember talking and groaning all night. Many died in calling for help ..Sergt. Johnson, who lies on the other side of the log is calling for water. Carried off the field at 10 AM by the Rebs who show much kindness but devote much time to plundering dead bodies of our men…Water very short. We suffer much.
Sept. 19th –Friday. Rained only a little. I had a rubber blanket and overcoat. Rebs retreat. Another painful night. Oh good God, a whole line of our skirmishers are coming…There are lots of us lain out…By and by our boys come along.  What lots of the 15th. Captain comes down to get the names and has coffee furnished us.—Twas the best cup I ever tasted. Dr. looks at my wounds and calls it a doubtful case. Get me on ambulance at 3 PM but do not get to the hospital till nearly dark.  Plenty of water  which gives us a chance to take down inflammation. Nurses worn out by fatigue. Placed on straw near the barn.
Sept. 20th – Saturday.  Fearful it will rain. How cheerful the boys appear.  Many must lose their arms or legs but they do not murmur…Leg amputated about noon. What sensations--used chloroform. Hope to have no bad effects. There are some dozen or more stumps near me.  Placed in barn beside J. Hughes.
Sept. 21st – Sunday. Very weak and sore…Hot weather by day cool at night. Hard to get nurses. Men beg for water. People come in from all parts of the country. Stare at us but do not find time to do anything.
Sept. 22nd – Monday. Two men died last night…How painful my stump is.  I did not know was capable of enduring so much pain. How very meager are accommodations – no chamber pots & nobody to find or rig up one.  How ludicrous for 2 score amputated men to help themselves with diarrhea.
Sept. 23rd – Tuesday.  Oh what fearful long nights. What difficulties we have to contend…Relief can hardly be found. I have at length got my limb dressed by volunteer surgeon. But never was so exhausted for want of refreshment.
Sept/ 24th—Wednesday. No entry.
Sept. 25th – Thursday. Such nights!  Why they seem infinitely longer than days. The nervous pains are killing two or three every night. All sorts of groans and pleadings… Many patients are leaving daily.  Some have gone today to H. Ferry.  I watch over J. Hughes nightly. Has had fever. Very cold last night & we are very short of clothing.  Sundown just rec’d blankets.
Sept. 26th – Friday. Very cold last night. J Hughes had shakes again last night…the cold weather may all come for the best, certainly maggots do not trouble so much and air is some purer. 4 PM J. Hughes died…O there comes Mrs. Gray with refreshments. Such a treat…I got tomatoes…just what I wanted, Have since forgotten my stump first hemorrhage- it was very copious and tho I stoutly affirmed that I would not use Brandy, was now plainly told that if not should be dead in 3 days.
Sept. 27th – Saturday. Commence taking Brandy none too soon. Dr. tells me I am dangerously ill and must take his prescription in order to change condition of blood. He is earnest & too good a man. Mr. Sloan a kind hearted chaplain telegraphs for me. Suffer continuously from position in bed.  Have to elevate my stump to prevent bleeding and be very still.
Sept. 28th – Sunday. Oh what lengths to the nights. The horrid smell from the mortifying limbs is nearly as bad as the whole we have to contend. Mrs. Lee and another lady are here daily dispensing cooked broths…They seem to employ  their whole time for us.  Move outdoors in the PM. Excessively hot.
Sept. 29th – Monday.  Slept little more comfortable last night. Got nice soups and nice light biscuit and tart also nice butter from Mrs. Lee. Also she gets me milk again this morning. How the quinine keeps me parched for water and so sleepy and foolish. Am much better off here than in barn.  10 AM my comrade died from the 18th Minn. Regt. I rec’d 4 letters from friends or home but am so boozy it takes the whole AM to read them.  Mr. Dr. Kelsey dressed my stump admirably and am quite comfortable if the quinine does not choke me to death. It is far more quiet here but begins to rain.

At 7:45 that evening, Stowe sent a telegram to J.W. Stowe as follows:  “Dangerously wounded at Hoffman’s hospital near Sharpsburg. Come instantly.”

Jonathan Stowe died on October 1 from his wound and amputation.  He had lain on the battlefield for a day without food or water and was then taken to the Nicodemus farm by Confederates where he stayed another day without medical treatment.  The cumulative effects were too much. He was 30 years old.
         I was shocked by that last paragraph—somehow I had expected that Jonathan Stowe came out of the war alive and that’s how his diary got back to Grafton.  Also, I was surprised at how kind the local ladies and even the rebel soldiers were to the wounded Union soldiers.  Most of all-- in reading how Grafton’s soldiers died—I realized that many more died of infection than bullets. If they had proper medical treatment back then, they did not need to die.

In summing up the sacrifices made by Grafton’s soldiers in the Civil War, the Historical Society posted a few lines that I thought were very eloquent:
The enormity of their choice, our choice as a nation, would not be fully understood until the brutality of the war was fully revealed. A heavy price was paid. It reverberates down through the generations to this day….They all died far, far from home in places that young school boys could only imagine during that time. But they served, many of them in multiple battles. They were and are a part of our Town’s tapestry, which includes strands of patriotism, fortitude, determination and a great desire to serve. Take a moment to thank them as you pass the Civil War monument on the Common.  We are one nation today because they served. They deserve our thanks and gratitude. Always.

Monday, May 23, 2011

New York City Street Art – Kids’ Stuff or Serious Business?

I spent last weekend (May 13 – 15) visiting Manhattan, doing chores and  seeing people. I fully intended to go to the Metropolitan Museum to take in some interesting new exhibits, but I never got there.  But while running around Park, Madison and Fifth Avenues,  I got a major dose of art which was just sitting around on the street. 

All of it was delightful and  the people drawn out by the fine spring weather were enjoying it as much as I was.  But when I got home and looked it up, I learned that a lot of the whimsical street art on display is serious business to the artists and the galleries and would  cost a major fortune to buy. 

I have no desire to spend ten million dollars to acquire a 23-foot-tall, battered, stuffed teddy bear (plus desk lamp), but I’m happy to enjoy it on the street for free. This big bear looks soft but he’s made of bronze and weighs 20 tons. Christie’s auction house had to get six city permits and reinforce the courtyard of the Seagram Building in order to install him in place.

You are not allowed to touch the bear, but a pleasant young man was happy to explain that the person who created it is Swiss Artist Urs Fischer.  He has also carved nudes out of wax and put candles on their heads, so they would melt if you lit the candles.  This would be a major disappointment if you bought one of those nudes at Sotheby’s for $1 million.

The Teddy Bear work of art is called  “Untitled (Lamp/Bear)” and if the artist knows what it means, he’s not telling.  Christie’s went to all the trouble of installing it in front of the Seagram’s Building, because they hoped to sell it at auction on May 11 for ten million dollars.  To their disappointment, it only reached  $6.8 million (they did not disclose the name of the buyer) but that was a new record for the artist.  They’re leaving the bear in place until September, so you can still go see it for free.  (Just don’t try to touch it.)

 A few blocks away, on Madison and 51st,  in the courtyard of the  New York Palace,  I ran across this  colorful dog standing defiantly in his coat of many colors.  Visiting tourists were loving him and were sitting at the tables in the courtyard where you can order a specially created cocktail called “Hair of the Dog.”
There was no mystery about the artist or the name of this piece, because a plaque at the dog’s feet read:  “Doggy John XXL, Julien Marinetti, 2011.”  A fancy reception was held on May 10 to honor the French artist, who has made a lot of  “Doggy Johns.”  When asked at the opening party what his art means, he remained as vague as the creator of the teddy bear.

According to a social commentary site called “Panache Privée”, Marinetti replied to the guests at the opening who asked “Why a dog?”-- “It could be a dog, a duck, a skull – the shapes are experiments and a surface for my painting.” The writer for Panache Privée then opined,  “For the viewer, association to Marinettti’s painted expressions makes the Doggy Johns immediately intimate, they tease and what appears as a physical manifestation of our secret psyche is a springboard for universal connection.”

(Both quotes in the paragraph above are perfect examples of the kind of arty double-talk that makes me want to tear out my hair. It sounds profound but it means nothing and you encounter it everywhere.)

Thinking about Doggy John and the Teddy Bear reminded me of two other famous works of art that I have seen in Manhattan in past years—Jeff Koons’ “Balloon Dog” and “Puppy”, which was covered in flowers when I saw it  presiding over Rockefeller Center. (The one below is at Bilbao.)  All these contemporary works of art cost a gazillion dollars, they all evoke toys and pets from childhood, and they all are taken very seriously in the art world.  Are contemporary artists hung up on  their childhood?  Are they just promulgating a gigantic scam reminiscent of the “Emperor’s New Clothes?” Please discuss.

The good news about Doggy John is that you will be able to see him for free and order yourself a “Hair of the Dog” in the Palace courtyard until September.

 As I rambled around, I passed Rockefeller Center and stopped as I always do, to admire the amazing Art Deco statues and carvings that always fill me with joy.  Here is a young woman tourist who was getting up close and personal with the statue of Atlas holding the world on his shoulders.

 Here are the beautiful spring flowers in the heart of Rock Center .

Here is a fabulous relief over one of the doors. (In New York you must always look up—that’s where the good things are.)

 And here is a nice group of three women that I saw while looking up at an antique store’s facade—two women garden statues juxtaposed with a Lichtenstein (I think) woman in an ad for MOMA.

Speaking of Art Deco—here are some friezes just inside the Waldorf Astoria.  The same paintings were being featured in its windows, along with the information that the artist was Louis Rigal, so I went inside for a look. 

As I’ve said before—New York is a festival of art, even if you don’t go into the museums. You just have to remember to look up.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Pregnancy—It Ain’t What it Used to Be

 (These are "Mod Mom" paper goods from Hallmark for a Mocktail/Cocktail party tonight in NYC honoring Eleni and her friend Neela, who both managed to be pregnant at approximately the same time.)

Women have been getting pregnant and birthing babies ever since Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel, and you’d think every woman’s experience of pregnancy was fairly similar, but I’ve recently learned that there are lots of new-fangled aspects to being pregnant that I never heard of back in the 1970’s when I gave birth to three children spaced three years apart.

I’ve been hinting and nagging and moaning about my desire for grandchildren for many years now, so when daughter Eleni announced, on the day before Christmas, that she and her husband Emiliio were expecting our first grandchild next August, it was the best Christmas present ever.

Since then, I have been following her pregnancy week by week – it’s a lot more fun being the future Grandma, because you don’t have to  suffer the morning sickness and the stretch marks and all the other bad stuff.  But as someone who hasn’t even thought about  pregnancy for over thirty years, I was astonished to learn how being pregnant has changed—partly due to all the technology, which  brings us so much more information about what’s going on in the womb. (I frequently call it “Too Much Information” – as when my daughter cheerfully announced “This week the baby lost its tail”).

I’m passing on what I’ve learned for the edification and amusement of fellow crones – those of you under fifty  probably know this stuff already.

Here are some things that I never heard of during my pregnancies:

A babymoon—a romantic trip you’re supposed to take as a couple in the second trimester (when you have more energy than in the first and third)  because this is the last chance you’ll get for a romantic getaway – ever.

A push present—sort of self-explanatory – a lavish gift for producing  a baby. I figure I still have three coming even though my kids are approaching middle age.

A birth plan—something you write out and print in multiples so,  when you go into labor,   you hand it out to your doctor and other health practitioners so they know how you want to go about this.  Nowadays the majority of couples seem to prefer a home delivery with a midwife—maybe under water  in a birthing tub. Eleni says she’s the only person in her prenatal pilates class who plans to go to a hospital. (This subject can lead to very animated arguments, I’ve learned.)

in my day, it was the doctor, not the  pregnant couple, who made out the birth plan—he just did what he wanted.  I had three deliveries by Caesarean—because the first baby was still breech after 14 hours of labor. Each time I got pregnant,  I begged the doctor to let me stay awake to see the baby born.  He would mumble “We’ll see which anesthesiologist is on duty” but in the end, I have never seen a baby born—not mine or anyone else’s. (Of course I could watch a video on You Tube -- illustrating all the new-fangled ways of giving birth.  People keep sending them to me.)

A music mix –this is something the pregnant parents prepare ahead of time so they can have their favorite music playing during labor and delivery.  This is also a refinement on the birthing process that I had never heard of till now.

A doula—that is a person (usually female) who  has been trained to help the midwife or doctor , mainly, I gather, by encouraging the laboring mother-to-be and helping her.  Luckily, our second daughter, Marina, has already trained as a doula, so she will be in the delivery room to help her sister.  The baby daddy (another new term) is also expected to be in the delivery room, helping, producing ice chips and encouragement (and DJing the appropriate music mix)  for the baby mommy. He is also expected to tug on one leg, I have heard, and to cut the umbilical cord at the proper moment.

During the one delivery when I actually was in labor (for 14 hours before the doctor decided I was getting nowhere and it was time for a Caesarian), my husband stayed by my side from about 8 p.m. to midnight, when he and the doctor both decided it was time to go home and get a good sleep.  I must say that my labor pains decreased dramatically when my husband left. (He was making me nervous).  He loves to tell the story of how he got home to discover no supper waiting for him and so he whipped up a five-star meal for himself out of frozen shrimp, heavy cream, and wine that he found in the refrigerator.

A final new-age improvement to pregnancy is all the web sites (the Bump, Fit Pregnancy etc.) that, after you sign up, happily e-mail you every week news of exactly what your baby looks like (they always compare it to a fruit or vegetable – this week it’s an eggplant) , its stage of development, possible problems that you may be  experiencing, and  they put you into chat rooms with other mothers who are exactly at your stage of pregnancy. 

I realize that these web sites exist to sell you things you don’t really need – like a baby monitor system that costs hundreds of dollars, and equally expensive  breast pumps. Breast pumps?  I never saw one back in the day—but now they really are a boon because they  free the breast-feeding mom from the occasional night-time feeding, which can be a real life-saver.)

All the refinements on pregnancy and delivery mentioned above are undoubtedly  improvements on old-fashioned pregnancies, but there are a lot of disadvantages to pregnancy in the 21st century.  There all sorts of things that you MUST NEVER do—all of which we crones did  and still the babies came out okay.  Nowadays the baby daddies seem to act as the pregnancy police to make sure the baby mommies never indulge in:

Drinking  alcoholic drinks. (Well, I knew that back in the seventies—I also knew, unlike Jackie Kennedy, that smoking during pregnancy was verboten.)

Caffeine—no coffee, not even tea during the first trimester.

Smoked meats, raw fish, unpastureized cheeses

Hair dye , even  manicure chemicals during  the first trimester.  (Eleni wouldn’t even get a pedicure until the second trimester.)

No airline travel during the third trimester.

This is just the first look  from “A  Rolling Crone” at the new-fashioned , modern-day pregnancy my daughter is so conscientiously participating in these days and that I’m watching in awe.  She has all kinds of milestones ahead, as she’s only in week 26, and I clearly have lots to learn.  One thing that I know already is that I’m not permitted anywhere near the delivery room.  That will already be  crowded with the  doula/sister,  baby daddy and  various health practitioners, all working to the background music of the birth mix.

I will keep you posted on what I’ve learned as things progress, but in the  meantime, check out the essay below, which Eleni wrote for a contest asking for articles about life in southern Florida.  I think it’s funny.  It’s called, “I’m Having a Bebé – Maternity in Miami.” 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Folk Art Treasures in Nicaragua

(please click on the photos to see the whole thing)

(A wonderful painting of Granada--wish I could remember the  artist's name)

I have always been drawn to folk art, collecting it when I can and photographing it when I can’t.

To me “folk art” embraces a whole lot of categories—everything from Haitian voodoo flags to textiles woven and embroidered by Mexican women to wooden  statues and furniture carved in fanciful ways by Greek carpenters.

 (These are 2 of the sinks in our hotel - La Gran Francia)

I even count architectural elements and graffiti on public walls as folk art and photograph them wherever I travel (if I like it.)

Because, for the month of May, I’m laboring on a long writing project with an impending deadline, I’m going to turn my blog posts for the duration into “stories without words”.  (It’ s a real challenge for me to say anything briefly—but I have to learn!)

Some will be photo essays about folk art that I’ve encountered in countries  where I’ve traveled.

Much folk art is inspired by religious beliefs.  Often the icons, milagros, statues, paintings and textiles are created for semi-magical properties they are believed to have.  These objects are meant to serve as intermediaries between a petitioner and a saint or deity in hopes of obtaining a favor.

Today I’m showing examples of folk art I found in Nicaragua—especially in the beautiful colonial city of Granada.

Pre-Columbian art has a special place in my heart because it’s mystical, magical, amusing and sinister all at the same time. These fantastical vessels for example.

The crèche scenes that come out at Christmas (naciementos) also count as folk art, I think. Below is a little girl looking at the one in the main square in Granada, and a smaller creche scene in our hotel.

And here is a small collection of  santos in someone's home.
What do you consider to be folk art?  And what do you collect?