Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmases in our Past



“We have a Chinese General in our Christmas Tree!”


Red Square at Christmastime

            We ought to be pretty good at celebrating Christmas.  Our first Christmas in Moscow, during the days of the Soviet Union, I was the naval attaché for the United States. It was 1981. President Reagan was in office.
            The representative of the People’s Liberation Army in Moscow was a plump, cheerful fellow, wearing a Mao suit with a pen in the left breast pocket.  The pen showed that he was a Major General; the PLA didn’t mess with stars and insigne, but they all knew he was a general, and that was what mattered.
            The General came to return the call that I had made upon him, and he brought his faithful assistant, who translated between Chinese and English and Russian.  The General spoke only Chinese.

 Builder from New Hampshire, on right, in Moscow, 1981
(Also shown are Sam, Mark and John Coulbourn)

                Builder from New Hampshire.  Our cousins from New Hampshire, Nancy and Ron Pomerleau, and their two daughters were visiting us for Christmas.          
            I introduced Cousin Ron to foreign officials as my friend, a “Builder from New Hampshire”.  In fact, Ron had built many houses, even whole developments, in New Hampshire.  He looked quite prosperous in a fine, dark suit.  This day I invited Ron to join me as the Chinese General paid his call.
            We had a very pleasant visit. At that time relations were strained between the Chinese and the Russians, which meant the Russians seemed to be suspicious of any meeting between the Chinese and the Americans.  Of course, the Russians were suspicious of most everything.
            Knowing that it was Christmastime for us, the General had brought a gift of a whole box of very elaborate feather decorations suitable for a Christmas tree.  He didn’t just give me the gift, though.  He wanted to hang them on our tree himself. He’d perhaps never even seen a Christmas tree! 
            The next thing we knew, he was deep into our tree, busily hanging these brilliant feathered birds and decorations.
            We estimate that the Soviet intelligence people assigned to listen to everything that went on in our living room were really straining to find out the “real story” of what the Chinese General was up to and who was this “Builder from New Hampshire”?

Caviar and pickled herring with the Builder from New Hampshire. In between the steady stream of Christmastime parties I remember one quiet night at our apartment.  Actually it wasn’t quiet, because our two sons and daughter had a gang of kids in the front of the apartment, sitting around exchanging thoughts. There was Ned, son John’s traveling buddy, and Anne and Sue, cousins from New Hampshire.  The boys had met other foreigners when they went to play a pickup game of basketball over at Moscow University. There was a Swedish girl, a dedicated Communist, committed to spreading the gospel, even here in the American Embassy.  There was a pretty Finnish girl, daughter of the Finnish Military Attaché-- she was son Mark’s girlfriend.  Also two Italian boys, a Yugoslav, an Australian girl, daughter of Australia’s Ambassador, and an Albanian and a Turk—both boys. 
            In the kitchen, cousin Ron and I sat at the kitchen table and drank vodka and feasted on caviar left over from the various parties we had hosted, and opened a bucket of pickled herring that we had bought in Helsinki. We also had a bowl of pickled garlic, and some Russian black bread.  It was a typical Russian evening, with just two of us Americans enjoying it!  Our wives were visiting in another part of our large apartment.
            Finally, after absorbing enough vodka, we retired for the night.  The ladies came to bed a bit later. When Marty entered our bedroom she said there was a “blue pall of garlic” in the air as she entered.

Swedish Julaften

Christmas Eve with the Swedes.  Our friends Nils and Elizabeth Hellström, (he was the Swedish Naval Attaché), invited our whole extended family of ten to a typical Swedish Christmas Eve.  The Hellströms lived in one of the few wooden frame houses in Moscow, and what a special house it was.  It was built by Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, for his residence while he worked with the Russians in Moscow, and then it became a part of the Swedish Embassy.  Nobel first came to Russia from his native Sweden in 1842, when he was nine years old. His father had a plant constructing land mines for the Russian government.
            The Swedish Christmas eve celebration, Julaften, goes back to Swedish peasant tradition.  As guests, we went first to the kitchen, and were introduced to a richly laid Smorgåsbord— pickled herring, meatballs, ham, and much more, and lots of akvavit to drink.  Akvavit has an effect like sticking an electric drill in your ear.
            The tradition called for guests to move from room to room, tasting different foods in each room, and more akvavit, and finally a table of rich desserts and coffee.
            We enjoyed that feast, and then left our six young people to join the Hellström kids for a wild swing around Moscow at midnight.  We went home to bed, and with the akvavit, that was enough.

            A Drive To Zagorsk in the Snow.  The Communists had been trying to make religion go away for decades, but in Russia, many centuries of the Russian Orthodox faith was so deeply burned in the Russian soul that it just would not go away.      When we were there, there were beautiful Russian churches, even though the parishioners were mostly old women.  For an upwardly-mobile Soviet male, it was not “cool” to show up in regularly in church. 

Cathedral of the Assumption, Zagorsk (75 km north of Moscow).

            At Christmastime we drove 75 kilometers north of Moscow to visit the holy city of Zagorsk.  It was very snowy, and the temperature was 0°F. outside and not much warmer inside as we stood in the Cathedral of the Assumption. A whole column of Russian Orthodox monks filed in.  The church was full of the faithful, and the priests, in rich robes, were chanting in that deep, throaty richness; everyone was crossing themselves, over and over. The smell of incense filled the cathedral. 
            What  a wonderful way to celebrate the birth of Christ!
 It was a good Christmas.


[Parts of the foregoing Blog were originally published June 20, 2011.  It has been modified for re-posting for Christmas, 2012.]

Here are a few books and papers from The Personal Navigator:

Dainty Dames of Society: Four small leather volumes
(Left to right: 8306,8307,8308, 8309)

Dainty Dames of Society: A Portrait Gallery of Charming Women; Fanny and Adelaide Kemble, Countess of Cork, Anne Benson Procter  by W. Willmott Dixon (Thormanby)  ca. 1903 London, England: Adam & Charles Black. 156 pp. 9.5 x 14.9 cm. One of a set of four small volumes about Charming women. This volume includes tale of the Kemble family, in particular Fanny and Adelaide, also Mary Monckton, Countess of Cork, and Anne Benson Procter. Includes engravings of Frances Kemble and The Countess of Cork and Orrery. Portraits and illustrations from rare and famous pictures by masters of British and French Schools.        Green leather on board with elaborate gilt printing on spine, circular emblem on front. Heel and toe of spine worn, inside front hinge partly cracked, good. (8306) $40.00. Biography
Dainty Dames of Society: A Portrait Gallery of Charming Women; Clarinda and Other Edinburgh Belles, Burns and Scott, Hon. Mrs. Graham, Jane, Duchess of Gordon and Countess of Suffolk by W. Willmott Dixon (Thormanby) ca. 1903 London, England: Adam & Charles Black. 155 pp.  9.5 x 14.9 cm.   One of a set of four small volumes about Charming women. This volume includes story of the loves of poets, including Robert Burns' attraction for Alison Rutherford, also Bess Burnet, Maggie Burns, and Clarinda. Clarinda was Agnes Maclehose, of whom Robert Louis Stevenson claimed she was the best woman Burns every encountered. Also Jane Maxwell, Duchess of Gordon-- tale of chasing an old sow through the streets of Edinburgh in 1759. Also Henrietta Howard Countess of Suffolk. Engravings of Duchess of Gordon and Mrs. Graham, as well as other illustrations. Portraits and illustrations from rare and famous pictures by masters of British and French Schools. Green leather on board with elaborate gilt printing on spine, circular emblem on front. Heel and toe of spine worn, Front cover blemished, inside front hinge  cracked, fair. (8307) $40.00. Biography
Dainty Dames of Society: A Portrait Gallery of Charming Women; The Hornecks, "Little Comedy" and the "Jessamy Bride"; Margaret Power, Countess of Blessington; Catherine Hyde, Duchess of Queensberry; Mary Isabella, Duchess of Rutland  by W. Willmott Dixon (Thormanby)        ca. 1903 London, England: Adam & Charles Black. 152 pp. 9.5 x 14.9 cm. One of a set of four small volumes about Charming women. This volume includes Story of Catherine and Mary Horneck, who charmed Edmund Burke, Joshua Reynolds and Oliver Goldsmith. Gossipy narrative about "The Jessamy Bride" and "Little Comedy", Oliver Goldsmith and the rest. Margaret Power, daughter of a disreputable, dissipated Irish squireen. Also Catherine Hyde, Duchess of Queensbury--skittish, eccentric, witty, warm-hearted, and beautiful. Lady Mary Isabella Somerset married Charles, Duke of Rutland, Viceroy of Ireland. Portraits and illustrations from rare and famous pictures by masters of British and French Schools. Green leather on board with elaborate gilt printing on spine, circular emblem on front. Very tight, neat and clean copy. Very good. (8308) $46.00. Biography   
Dainty Dames of Society: A Portrait Gallery of Charming Women; Two Duchesses of Devonshire, "Sacharissa", Lady Holland by W. Willmott Dixon (Thormanby)         ca. 1903 London, England: Adam & Charles Black. 156 pp. 9.5 x 14.9 cm. One of a set of four small volumes about Charming women. This volume provides a Foreword in which author declares that the Dainy Dames he describes are all endowed with Charm.  They may not be beautiful, or famous, or witty, or good, but they all possess Charm. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire captured the attention of Gainsborough, who preserved her features on canvas, and an engraving of that famous portrait is included here. Elizabeth, Duchess of Devonshire. "Sacharissa", the sweetest of the sweet, was Dorothy Sidney, born in 1617. Finally, Elizabeth Vassal Fox, Lady Holland.  Portraits and illustrations from rare and famous pictures by masters of British and French Schools.        Green leather on board with elaborate gilt printing on spine, circular emblem on front. Spine damaged, left side of cover split, fron cover barely attached. Poor. (8309) $40.00. Biography             

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 Hartford, CT: 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. 
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);Table Mountain, 1870
Collection of nine drawings by Joseph Hull, published by the Western News Company, Chicago, 1870.  This collection dramatizes the racial prejudice against Chinese brought to America 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..

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 London, England: John Miller, 25, Bow-Street.  Collection of bizarre "addresses" on the occasion of the reopening ofDrury Lane Theatre, 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." 'England 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

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 New York, NY: 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 Lincoln 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 rail splitter.  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, Hoover 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

Biographical and Critical Miscellanies, New Edition by Prescott, 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, Irving's Conquest of Granada, 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. Literature/Educational/Criticism. 
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 Boston, 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. 

 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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