We were spending our first Christmas in the
, a country that didn’t
seem to pay much attention to such things as “Christmas”. It was 1981, and Leonid Brezhnev was General
Secretary of the Communist Party. Union of Soviet
Lenin, and Stalin and all the Communists never were able to wipe out Christianity in the
. I always had the feeling that many of the most dedicated
communists still had buried deep in their psyche a rich religious
At Christmastime we attended Russian Orthodox religious services, which were beautiful, with priests wearing splendid robes, incense, and chanting parishioners.
Karl Marx wrote dismissively about religion*, but deep into the Communist era, we observed devout Communists using words that showed that it was still a part of them.
*“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness” Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right
Many Russians never dismissed religion, and so when the
USSR disappeared, and new emerged,
back came all the priests and churches, and the faithful, as if they had never
Our maid, whom we figured was a Major in the KGB, and was assigned to report on all of our doings, had her husband, the plumber at the East German embassy, find us a Christmas tree. It was a rather pitiful tree, but we appreciated their thoughtfulness. Ludmila may have been a KGB agent, but she was a wonderful woman, and we learned a lot about life in
from her. Russia
Our middle son, Mark, had spent the last several months living with us in
Moscow, and our daughter had been attending high school at
an American school in . She arrived by air from High Wycombe, England . London
Son Mark at the Train for
Leningradsky Vokzal (Station). Our oldest son John and his friend Ned Walsh, both seniors at
University of Rochester,
had been conducting a low-cost, backpacking trip across Europe for several
months, and the plan was for them to arrive by rail in three days before Christmas. However, we had not heard from them
for several weeks. Moscow
This was before cell phones and email. However, surrounded as we were in the
much uncertainty, we didn’t think there was much of a chance that the two
college boys would actually make it across the Soviet frontier by the overnight
train from , on time. Helsinki, Finland
It was snowing lightly as we walked through Leningradsky Station.
has 14 train stations, most of
them large termini for trains going to destinations all across the country.
This station was for trains between Moscow Helsinki, Leningrad and and other points in the far north. Across the street was another rail
station, for the Trans-Siberian Railway. Other stations around the city served Murmansk Kiev, Odessa, Poland and the rest of Europe,
and so on.
Scene from Doctor Zhivago: Julie Christy and Omar Shariff
Russian train stations were pretty much like a scene from “Doctor Zhivago”. Grim-faced travelers with huge, heavy bags. The women often wearing babushkas and the men wearing wool hats, or fur shapkas, but you’d also see a few Turkomans or Khirgiz or Uzbeks or Tadzhiks in their native dress. Then there were the drunks. Large stations had a room where they would put the very drunk men seen staggering around the station, and you could look in where they were jammed in so tight they could hardly fall over.
We reached the track for the train from
shortly the train chugged in, and the people poured off. They were mostly Soviet citizens, but
there were a few international travelers, including young people with back
packs. There were also Soviet soldiers and sailors. Helsinki
But no John or Ned! We began to wonder how in the world we would catch up with them. With everyone off, the train began to back out, to go over to another location to get cleaned up for the return trip.
Soviet Train Women Meant Business.
Then, just as the train started to move faster, our son and his friend jumped off, with all their backpacks and jackets flying after them. One of the sturdy, officious Soviet women who ruled the trains with an iron hand had found these two laggards still asleep in their compartment! The boys had thought they had another 12 hours to travel. She booted them off unceremoniously. Welcome to
We gathered the boys and their belongings and rushed them back to the Embassy, and Christmas.
Chinese General Decorates our Tree. We had a Christmas party, and one of our guests was the Chinese Defense Attaché, a large, burly man who resembled Mao Ze Dong. Chinese military did not wear insignia of rank, but we figured this guy was about a Major General.
He brought for a gift a very beautiful set of Christmas tree ornaments made with bright colored feathers, and he insisted upon putting them on our tree himself. He was as excited as a little boy doing that! We still cherish those ornaments today, 30 years later.
At that Christmas party we also had the Swedish, British, West German, Japanese, Italian, French, Turkish, Norwegian, Canadian attachés and wives, officials from
Korea, Chile, India, , our
Ambassador, and other Americans. But
no Russians, as our government was showing the Egypt USSR our displeasure at their invasion of . Afghanistan
It was a good Christmas.
[The foregoing Blog was originally published June 20, 2011. It has been modified for re-posting for Christmas, 2011.]
Here are a few books and papers from The Personal Navigator:
Ginx's Baby: His Birth and Other Misfortunes. A Satire. By anonymous (Edward Jenkins?) 1871 Boston, MA: James R. Osgood & Co. Poor Ginx and Mrs. Ginx keep having babies and the Queen sends £3 when they have triplets, and £4 when they have quadruplets. Thirteen is too much, and so Ginx offers to drown the little boy. We meet Sister Suspiciosa, and the suggestion that Mrs. Ginx should consecrecate her breast milk. She's a protestant, though. There's Adolphus Stigma and Dignam Bailey, Q.C. and the conflict of Popery and Protestantism on the Queen's Bench. This is a nice piece of satirical humor, showing the ridiculous extremes to which well-meaning (perhaps) people may go. [Note: Author anonymous, but generally considered to be Edward Jenkins.] 125 pp.+ adv. 11 x 16.6 cm. Brown cloth on board with gilt decorated title. Spine torn in two places, over 3 cm. Text block clean and tight. Good. (2735) $21.50. Humor/Educational
Humourist's Own Book, The; A cabinet of original and selected anecdotes, bons mots, sports of fancy, etc. 1835 Philadelphia, PA Desilver, Thomas & Co. Small book loaded with humorous stories: Whitfield, Union of Literary Compositions; Pun by the Ettrick Shepherd; Daft Willie Law; Scarcity of Asses; Timber to Timber; Peter Pindar, many more. 284 pp. 8 x 13 cm. (6434) $40.00. Humor
My Wife's Fool of A Husband, illustrations by True Williams by
Berkeley, August 1890 :
American Publishing Company Author has a marvelous wit-- his story of his life
is funny a century later. 471 pp. 15 x 23 cm. Cloth on board, cover soiled,
lightly frayed, inside front hinge partly torn. Fair condition. (1819) $30.00.
Humor/Biography. Hartford, CT
One of drawings from Hull's set shows melee against the "Chinee", above
Plain Language from Truthful James (The Heathen Chinee) by Francis Bret Harte (1839-1902);
, 1870 Table
Collection of nine drawings by Joseph Hull, published by the Western News Company,
1870. This collection dramatizes the
racial prejudice against Chinese brought to Chicago to work on the railroad in
the 19th century. Note the eighth
drawing in the series, showing an all-out melee against the “Chinee”. Nine
prints, matted. 20 x 25 cm. Set of nine prints, matted in blue cardboard
matting. Title card is not present. Lightly soiled. Print No. 6 has 1 x 1 cm
tear in lower left hand corner. Good.(7093) $85.00. Humor/Poetry.. America
Ponkapog Papers, First Edition by Aldrich, Thomas Bailey 1903 Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co. Former editor of Atlantic Monthly published this delightful, if scattered, collection of thoughts, comments and witticisms, written on former Indian reservation near Boston. 195 pp. 11 x 19 cm. Cloth on board, excellent. Ex-lib: Oak Grove School Library. (1242) $28.00. Humor/Literature.
Rejected Addresses: or the New Theatrum Poetarum, Tenth Edition 1813
John Miller, 25, Bow-Street. Collection
of bizarre "addresses" on the occasion of the reopening of London, England , completely
rebuilt after a fire. Funny, disrespectful, shameless humor. It is interesting to see how much of this is
still funny, nearly two centuries later!
In "'Hampshire Farmer's Address" there's reference to cheap soup: "soup
for the poor at a penny a quart, ...mixture of horse's legs, brick dust and old
shoes." ' Drury Lane
is a large earthen-ware pipkin. John
Bull is the beef thrown into it. Taxes are the hot water he boils in. Rotten
boroughs are the fuel that blazes under this same pipkin..." 127 + 5
pp. adv. 10 x 16.2 cm. Quarter leather, marbled boards, worn. On front
pastedown is bookplate (oriental motif)
of Russell Gray pasted over fine signature of Henry Wilkinson, and on
front free endpaper is name, "Russell Gray 1883--" [Russell
Gray was Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, noted for his ruling granting
citizenship to the children born in the U.S. to Chinese immigrants working on
the railroads.] Good. (5246)
$30.00. Humor England
American Mercury, The, A Monthly Review Edited by H.L. Mencken & George Jean Nathan, January 1924; Vol. I No. 1, First Issue Mencken, H.L., Editor 1924
Alfred A. Knopf. With Mencken as editor one might expect brilliance, and this
inaugural issue has it. The Editorial
announces the intent of the new magazine to devote itself pleasantly to
exposing the nonsensicality of hallucinations of utopianism and the lot. The lead article "The New York, NY Legend" by
Isaac R. Pennypacker, gives a new and more robust look at the life of President
Abraham Lincoln. His forefathers were
iron-masters, capable leaders in their communities, giving a lie to the myth of
the simple railsplitter. As a war
leader, Pennypacker compares him with Jefferson Davis, and Lincoln comes up far superior. "The
Drool Method in History" by Harry E. Barnes is a humorous attack on
purveyors of "pure history" --- the superiority of the Aryans,
the discovery of America was by well-meaning religious people; the sole cause
of our ancestors' embarking upon wintry seas to come to the New World was
religious freedom; Loyalists in the Revolution were a gang of degenerate
drunkards and perverts, etc. "The
Tragic Hiram" by John W. Owens is contemporary political commentary,
about Borah, La Follette, Lincoln
and Harding-- but skewering Johnson. 144
pp. 17 x 25 cm. Magazine, writing on advertisement, first page of magazine: "Ruth
Schliveh's shower Jan. 19, 1924"… and "Bill Paxton Brown U.
1924." Very good. (7663)
$76.00. Literature/History Hoover
Biographical and Critical Miscellanies, New Edition by
William H. 1859 Boston, MA Phillips, Sampson & Co., No. 12 Winter Street
Collection of literary essays, the last, about Spanish Literature, is new to
this edition. Also: Charles Brockden Brown, Bancroft, Sir Walter Scott, Prescott Irving's Conquest of ,
Moliere, Italian Poetry, Da Ponte. 729 pp. 15 x 24 cm. Quarter calf with
marbled boards, Very good, bright, clean copy. Minor wear to leather spine,
corners. mep. Contains portrait of author with tissue guard. (1871) $50.00.
English Traits, by Emerson, Ralph Waldo 1876
, MA: James R.
Osgood & Co., Late Ticknor & Fields
and Fields. Osgood & Co. This is Emerson's frank and tart assessment
of the Englishman. He calls on Coleridge
and gets a blast against Unitarianism. He visits Wordsworth and gets an
assessment of Boston : No class of gentlemen (a class of men of
leisure),"too much given to the making of money." Emerson discusses "Race"
vis-à-vis the British, and also Arabs, negroes, French and others. Then he discusses
"Ability", and "Solidarity".
"Character"-"-the British are reputed morose......they are sad
by comparison with the signing and dancing nations." He also discusses
Aristocracy, Literature, Universities and makes a special trip to America Stonehenge, and discusses that. His overall assessment of
the British is quite positive. . 312 pp. 12 x 18 cm. Beige cloth on board,
blindstamped design with gilt title, slight wear to heel and toe of spine;
small nameplate "Clara Hersey, 315 Walnut Ave." on front
pastedown. Very good. (1789) $22.00.
Golden Thoughts on Mother, Home and Heaven 1878 New-York, NY: E.B. Treat, 805 Broadway. Introduction by Rev. Theodore L. Cuyler calls this a collection of "golden gleanings". Excellent example of widely sold sentimental volume, collection of many well-known authors in poetry on prose in three sections: Mother, Home and Heaven. After title page is page "Presented to:” in elaborate illumination, for some lucky mother. (Not filled in). Includes the maudlin poems of death of small children that was so much a part of this era. Writings by Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Joanna Baillie, Saxe Holm, E.L. Cassanovia, Fanny Crosby, Mrs. L.H. Sigourney, Phillips Brooks, Daniel Webster, Noah Porter, D.D., Joseph Addison, many more. 414 pp. 16 x 23 cm. Decorated brick red cloth on board with elaborate gilt and black design, very slight signs of wear on cover; frontispiece engraving and title page foxed. No dj. Book is clean and tight, very good. (5379) $29.00. Literature/Poetry/Religious
Little Men: Life at Plumfield with Jo's Boys, First Edition. by Alcott, Louisa M. 1871
MA: Roberts Brothers Louisa May Alcott's classic about playful, mischievous,
energetic boys. With 4 pp. of publisher's advertisements inserted between the
front end papers. 376 pp. 11 x 17 cm. Cloth on board with gilt lettering on
spine and cover; cover faded and water stained, Heel and toe of spine frayed,
bottom of front cover frayed, corner bumped. Binding tight. Text block very
good. Overall good. (1363) $60.00. Literature/Fiction. Boston
Frontispiece and Title Page, Scelta di Favole
Scelta Di Favole; Raccolte da' più celebri Autori Francesi, e Rese in Italiano Da Maria Raffaela Caracciolo de' Duchi di Rodi Per uso de' suoi Fratelli, coll' Aggiunta 1816
Napoli, Italia: A. Garruccio
Stampatore. 110 pp. 14 x 21.5cm. Collection of Stories chosen from the work of
the most celebrated Author, Signor de la Motte Fenelon (1671-1715). François de
Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon was a French Roman Catholic Archbishop,
theologian, poet and writer. Booklet by
Raffaele Caracciolo de Duchi di Rodi is dedicated to his parents, and is for
the edification of his younger brothers.
Stories are: La Prefazione; La
Vigna ed il Vignjuolo; Il Cane colpevole; Il Zoppo, il Gobbo,il Cieco; Il
Pazzo, Socrate, ed un suo Scolare; La Pecora, ed il Cane; I Pastori; La Pernice
ed i suoi Figli; La Morte; Giove e Minosse; Il Cardellino; L'Orso giovine ed il
di lui padre; I topi giovini, ed il lor padre; and One-hundred six Massime scelte (Selected Maxims), rendered in
both French and Italian. Includes frontispiece engraving, "La Tranquillità" showing young woman seated beneath a
tree with three lambs nearby. Truly
a delightful little booklet. Fair condition, paper bound, very rough cut.
Engraved illustration as frontispiece. At top left of frontispiece page is
small pasted stamp with library information. (0184) $185.00. Literature/Morality
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