Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
Jump over to Bill Caraher’s blog and read about the archaeology of care. He made me dig a little deeper into my recollections.
On Thanskgiving Day 1999 I was in Turkey duing a survey of recent earthquake damage. We visited Gölcük, which had been devastated by an earthquake 3 months earlier. (You can read about our work in the essay Punk Archaeoseismology). President Clinton had just visited a few days earlier and promised aid. People who had nowhere else to go and who were not willing to risk life in damaged structures were living in canvas tents left over from WWI and makeshift shelters rigged from tarps. Some of those who were willing to risk living in damage structures had recently been killed by a major aftershock, so most people were outside. Byzantine landownership laws kept people in places they didn’t want to be. Winter was approaching. Mud. Lots of Mud.
At the time, I was studying ground deformations, tsunami runup and the like. I wasn’t studying the refugees and how they lived. These days, the temporary abodes are of more interest to me, in part because of our Man Camp project. But I remember the camps. That day, if you must know, burned in some of my strongest memories. Three boys, two with boots, one without, the oldest a little bit bent over, oversize gloves, one pair. Smiles. You’d be surprised how often these guys pop into my head. In hindsight, I wish I had stayed longer. My only good-luck charm came from a horrible spot on that day, and it reminds me just how much luck matters. Some photos below. If you want, notice the water bottles, electrical wires (and self-erected power pole), and t.v. antennae.
I am bored when people weep over the destruction of Nineveh.
Their brief public wailing has no tie to the basalt roots carved by waves of conquest and cruelty.
Would the Assyrians, the ASSYRIANS, flinch at brutality and cracking destruction?
Their beloved bull-men gates were built with the surge and flow of decapitation and evisceration.
The winged lions also crumble if you dare to rip them from their martial birth.
Perhaps they prefer the bulldozer, the jackhammer, to the sterile embrace that denies the flex of their muscle and the tear of their talon.
Or perhaps they choose to break into grain and dust when the last who care for them cannot bring themselves to stare into the empty darkness of the boots of their brother’s son, empty in Baghdad, for no particular reason.
Your Enthusiasm for Protecting Antiquities Cost Army Pfc. Edward J. Herrgott His Life
[Listen to us discuss this and similar issues on the Caraheard Podcast]
The full tale of Pfc. Herrgott, the first Minnesotan to die in the Iraq war (3 July 2003), is little known. The news reports all read “Herrgott, 20, of Shakopee, Minn., died July 3 when a sniper shot him in the neck outside the National Museum in Baghdad.” But here is a fuller account from our fellow The Ohio State University Alum, Colonel Peter Mansoor:
“Two days into my command, the Ready First Combat Team lost its third soldier since its arrival in Baghdad and the first of my tenure. Private First Class Edward J. Herrgott was guarding the Baghdad Museum when he was shot and killed by armed gunmen. I visited the location shortly after his death and was shocked by what I discovered. The museum was not the one that contained the ancient treasures of Iraq but was rather more akin to a wax museum for the enjoyment of locals and tourists. The curator had removed all of the exhibits to a safe location to prevent their theft in the aftermath of the war, but nevertheless CJTF-7 had ordered us to guard the place. The media frenzy over the looting of the National Museum of Antiquities had provoked a knee-jerk reaction to guard every place that could possibly be construed to have cultural value. The end result was that we were guarding an empty structure, one made indefensible by the cavernous buildings that engulfed it on both sides and parking garage several stories high across the street. The gunmen who killed Herrgott had sneaked up a side alley and engaged him from the flank as he manned his position in the hatch of a Bradley fighting vehicle.
I was determined to get my soldiers out of that death trap. . . . ”
Peter Mansoor, Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander’s War in Iraq. Yale University Press, 2008.
Note 1: Herrgott’s Aunt is worth quoting: “President Bush made a comment a week ago, and he said, ‘bring it on.’ They brought it on and now my nephew is dead.”
Note 2: I didn’t meet Col. Mansoor when we overlapped at the massive OSU. I met him while working on a battlefield study of New Ulm, MN, his home town. If you don’t think the world is ruled by serendipity and The Ohio State University, you are mistaken. And we are fine with that.
Alain-Fournier’s only masterpiece, Le Grand Meaulnes, recounts the twisting journey of 15 year old François Seurel, whose life is buffeted by the arrival of the older boy, Augustin Meulnes. Together and apart, they wander to a hidden, isolated manor, which weaves their lives together in tensions of honor and love. I do not want to give the story away, but rather encourage people to read it, so I give only a vague synopsis.
Edward Gorey’s illustation for a 1950 edition of the work.
The book, sometimes titled The Lost Domain in English, is full of Victorian-esque improbably twists, coincidences, and shocks, but the beauty of the work lies in its descriptive sense of place, wrapped in the melancholy romantic views of an adolescent. An iconic work in France (or so the Internet tells me), it is not all that well known in the United States.
A Young Fournier
Fournier was a master of evocative descriptions (F. Davison translation):
We had made our way down through a maze of narrows lanes full of white pebbles, or sand – lanes which springs turned into brooks as they neared the river’s edge. We caught our sleeves on thrones of wild gooseberry bushes. At one moment we plunged into the cool shade of a ravine, and a moment later, at a point where the line of hedges was broken, came out into the full clear sunlight which shed a radiance over the whole valley. Across the river a man sat on a rock patiently angling. Never was there a more beautiful day.
Why did Alain-Fournier (whose real name was Henri-Alban Fournier) only gift us with this one lyrical masterpiece, published when he was only 27 years old? Because he was one of the many young men whose lives we decided to throw away and trample in the mud during WWI.
The Mass Grave – Fournier is No. 16
Fournier died near Meuse on 22 September 1914, a month after he joined the army. He and a small squad of soldiers were sent into the woods on a mission, and were never heard from again. Members of the Association of Friends of Alain-Fournier made several trips to Meuse, to feel and understand, perhaps, what Alain-Fournier saw in his last moments. This group wandered that woods where Alain-Fournier and twenty-one soldiers disappeared.
The Mass Burial of Alain-Fournier
Research in the German military archives and a four-week archaeological excavation found the mass grave of the twenty-one, and Alain-Fournier’s body was identified by his nameplate. The research and archaeology indicates that he was shot in the chest after his group was surrounded by Germans, presumably in retaliation for an attack on a German ambulance. The archaeologists on the project were met with skepticism that real archaeology could be done on something as recent as a 1914 mass grave, and the project was the first French archaeological excavation of a WWI site. If you want, you can read Frédéric Adam’s articles on the discovery of the grave, the archaeological excavation, and the wounds of those found (you may not like what you see, and you probably should quit reading blogs and learn French).
Alain—Fournier was re-buried at Saint-Remy-la-Calonne in 1991.
The Verdun-Meuse Grave Site Monument
To be honest, I am stunned by this web. How wonderful and horrific that we have Le Grand Meaulnes, from an author who, duty-bound like his characters, was lost in the woods for almost 100 years, and found only through the faithful patience of friends. A sad final plot twist, but no doubt not a fair trade for what Alain-Fournier would have given us if we had let him live. [I’m not going to tell you how well the pieces fit. Read the book].
Post-script – I completely stumbled into this topic. I read a review piece on the Centenary Edition of Le Grand Meaulnes, and found the rest out of curious internet searching. Journeys often result from, and in, serendipity, it seems.
The Roosevelt Elementary School (now the Roosevelt Learning Center), burned down Saturday night (6/15/2014). The building was built in 1920, and featured a beautiful stairway flanked by two huge marble columns. I walked through those doors many, many times (a decade apart) with two of my children, and I do not think I once passed the columns without pressing my palm to one and murmuring an appreciative word. I loved to watch the little heads crane skyward, and I can only imagine the columns seemed as tall as the sky to them. The community has lost an anchor for many families.
St Cloud Times Photo
The intact column
The broken column
This is the calm-down tree. If you were a frustrated student, this is where you could go to get things under control.
The spouse just stacked those blue chairs a week ago
A youngster says goodbye to his first classrooms
Some nice brickwork you were never meant to see
From Jacque Tati’s Playtime. The clip is from a tradeshow scene, where everyone, even American tourists, can see the wonders of a modernist Paris.