Sunday, August 06, 2006

"Dear God! What brave men I must lose this day!"

...bayamim ha-hem, bazeman ha-zeh. (In those days, in these times.)

I took a trip into Brooklyn today. It's really some borough, which I don't see enough, and, thanks to getting off the train a stop early, I got to see more of it than I had expected; to wit, the Gowanus Canal district, location of a thrilling Sherlock Holmes story (sorta).

Anyway, after a nice walk, I got to where I was going, namely, the Old Stone House:

Doesn't look like much, does it? And yet, on August 27, 1776, 230 years ago this month, in the course of the Battle of Long Island, 256 Maryland soldiers* died while attempting to take and hold this farmhouse, which the British had turned into an artillery position. (Sound familiar?) Their sacrifice was what prompted the observing George Washington to murmur the remark that is the title of this post. (If you want to get the full impact of it, watch the movie version of 1776, and see how the actor playing Thomson reads it.)

*Hence the state flag on the left; on the right is this one. Thankfully, they are now hung correctly. I'm sorry that enlarging doesn't seem to work today.

The museum is small, but gives a very full presentation. Of course, I went mostly for the actual experience of what is rightly called "hallowed ground." The actual anniversary will see a recreation of the battle, which I might well attend.

Earlier in the morning, I had had my doubts about going at all. After all, I awoke to this news, which, of course, got worse as the day progressed, and my mood was turned. However, the night before, I had read not only this piece, but this one as well. The latter ends with this trenchant observation:

The disconnect between those who serve and those of us who are beneficiaries of
their service has always felt great to me, but never greater than at that
moment...I went to my car and drove to work with no ambition for the day other
than to be worthy.

There's so little I can really do to express gratitude and to help. I hope, today, through men who died over two centuries ago, I can appreciate, if only slightly better, the sacrifices of their heirs of today, both in the US and in Israel, who continue to fight- and die- for all of us.

Here, by the way, is a picture that, as Dr. Watson would say, has "long lain in my portfolio":

Those are two Yeoman Warders ("Beefeaters") inside the Tower of London. My parents and I, in our trip to London for a family celebration last month, happened to be visiting the Tower on July 7, the one-year anniversary of the bombings in that city. The Warders are preparing to ring one of the ancient bells at noon, when the UK observed two minutes of silence.

All in all, a very good (but very brief) trip. Good to see family especially, and I also got to touch on a few sites I'd long wanted to see- the Cabinet War Rooms and its new Churchill Museum, the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, the Sherlock Holmes Museum, and more.

Getting back to today, before leaving Brooklyn, I also stopped at the Transit Museum:

Yes, that's the entrance- it's a converted subway station, which is very cute, and useful. Highly recommended. I'd gone to see their exhibit on Robert Moses and the Triborough Bridge, but at the start of the tour was a fascinating look at the building of the subway. My goodness, what work went into it. And lives, too: I was particularly struck by the account of ten workers killed while digging the tunnel at 190th and St. Nicholas Avenue- a station I've used. Two were named, the other eight were Italians, names unknown (!). In a way somewhat related to what I've written above, it makes you appreciate even more the fact that on a Sunday, I could get from Queens, through Manhattan, to two stops in Brooklyn, and back again, so quickly.

The day concluded with a wonderful first birthday party for my darling niece Aurelia. Here she is with her proud parents. I think she's just anxious to get to that cake, made to perfection by her mother. (I know I was.)

What a great party. My sister and brother-in-law came too, which was great: I don't see them nearly enough. Too many other pictures to choose from to post them here- but I must send them to my other sister! My birthday was last week, and while I got great cards and gifts from all my siblings and parents, I must post a picture of what she sent me, for its sheer originality:

Front and center are the gummi candies she knows I like so much. (It goes without saying that a Charlie Brown card was included.) As for the rest, well, my Bar Mitzvah parsha (which it doesn't look like I'll be layning this year, sniff) contains the famous pasuk about the sheva minim. So, straight from Israel, she sends me (clockwise from left) crackers flavored with, among other things, olive oil, pomegranate juice, five-grain cakes, figs and dates, and grape candies. So cool, huh? Thanks, Nechama! I hope to see you real soon!

Hmm, not much more to report. It's always sad when someone dies, even at 86 after a full and successful life, but I cracked a smile when I heard about Esther Snyder today:

Walter: "And, yes, we'll be near the..."

Donnie: "In-N-Out Burger."

Walter: "We'll have some burgers...some beers...some laughs..."

That's the best I can wish to you all. And so some email, and so to bed.

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