Ligthing up the divide

European Space Agency’s astronaut Andre Kuipers took this photograph of Berlin from space. This image as well as Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s image and tweet brought attention to the marked difference in Berlin lights at night when he saw it from space in 2013.

Chris Hadfield took this picture from space, “Berlin at night. Amazingly, I think the light bulbs still show the East/West division from orbit.” April 17, 2013. (Twitter).

On April 13 2013, it was 23 years 5 months and 4 days since the Berlin Wall fell – so why this difference?

East Berlin’s street lights were a sodium vapor lamp which emit a soft yellow light, whereas West Berlin has fluorescent lights which emit white light. Apparently, the reunified city government had not gotten around to changing the East German lights yet!!

The brightly lit up blob in the center which looks like it’s in the East is Alexanderplatz which was heavily renovated after reunification and hence shows white light. The oval shaped darkness at the 9 0’clock spot is the Tiergarten, and the lit up line running through it is a major road, Unter den Linden, which leads to the well-lit Brandenburg gate.

The legendary Tempelhof Airport is now a park.

At around the 3 o’clock spot there’s another dark circle – that is the legendary Tempelhof Airport – the site of the Berlin airlift where American cargo planes brought in food and other supplies to the city when it was blockaded from all sides by the Soviet Union. The airport is now a park.

Belin is home to some of the most beautiful streetlights, some of which have been around the mid 1800s. It seems that the remaining 30,000 streetlights are set to be replaced with more energy and environmentally friendly street lights. Many Berlin residents are trying to get a UNESCO World heritage classification for the old streetlamps in an effort to save these beautiful lamps.

Ragged Old Flag

On this Flag Day, I wanted to honor the flag with this poem by Johnny Cash.

Ragged Old Flag

I walked through a county courthouse square
On a park bench an old man was sitting there
I said, your old courthouse is kinda run down
He said, naw, it'll do for our little town
I said, your old flagpole has leaned a little bit
And that's a ragged old flag you got hanging on it

He said, have a seat, and I sat down
Is this the first time you've been to our little town?
I said, I think it is
He said, I don't like to brag
But we're kinda proud of that ragged old flag

You see, we got a little hole in that flag there when 
Washington took it across the Delaware
And it got powder-burned the night Francis Scott Key
Sat watching it writing say can you see
And it got a bad rip in New Orleans
With Packingham and Jackson tuggin' at its seams

And it almost fell at the Alamo
Beside the texas flag, but she waved on though
She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville
And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill
There was Robert E. Lee, Beauregard, and Bragg
And the south wind blew hard on that ragged old flag

On Flanders field in World War one
She got a big hole from a Bertha gun
She turned blood red in World War Two
She hung limp and low a time or two
She was in Korea and Vietnam
She went where she was sent by Uncle Sam

She waved from our ships upon the Briny foam
And now they've about quit waving her back here at home
In her own good land here she's been abused 
She's been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused

And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land
And she's getting threadbare and wearing thin
But she's in good shape for the shape she's in
'Cause she's been through the fire before
And I believe she can take a whole lot more

So we raise her up every morning
We take her down every night
We don't let her touch the ground and we fold her up right
On second thought, I do like to brag
'Cause I'm mighty proud of that ragged old flag

(Images Courtesy Smithsonian.com, US Govt and War Archives Websites)

Happy 190th to this Badass Indian Queen

Rani (Queen) Lakshmi Bai – this brave, young queen of the Kingdom of Jhansi stood up to the British after her husband died and refused to hand them her kingdom. Her brave words, “Main Jhansi nahi dungee,” – “I will not give you Jhansi,” to the British still reverberate with the people of India who revere her as a Goddess.

She was born on November 19, 1828 and married the ruler of Jhansi in 1842. After her husband’s death she became Queen Regent to an adopted son. At the same time the British East India company was expanding its territory in India, and annexing kingdoms without natural born heirs. Rani Lakshmi Bai was having none of that, and when her attempts at negotiations failed, she took up arms against the British and led the people of Jhansi in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 which was the first battle for independence – 90 years before the country finally gained independence in 1947.  She died fighting the British in June 1858 at the young age of 29.

Her bravery has reached mythic proportions and Indian school children recite poems written about her bravery. John Latimer, a member of the British Central India Field Force, wrote a letter on 24 June 1858 to his Uncle in which he speaks of her courage and bravery:

Proud and impetuous, she required but little persuasion, she girded on her father’s sword raised the standard of her ancestors and entered the palace of Jhansi at the head of the troops. Her life has been a brief and eventful one and gives to the revolt – its only romantic tinge. Whatever opinion the world may entertain regarding her cruelty, her courage shines pre-eminent and can only be equaled, but not eclipsed by that of Joan of Arc. She played for a high game, and even when she found out she had losing cards did not despair, but looked defiant to the last.”

11:00am on 11/11 of 1918

John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925) completed his monumental war painting Gassed which shows the devastation of war in March 1919. Lt. Wilfred Owen, MC worte the first draft of Dulce et Decorum Est at the Craiglockhart War Hosital in 1917. He succumbed to his war injuries and died one week before Armistice Day.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

A-7713

He carried these tattoed numbers on his arm for a lifetime, and on this day ltwo years ago, Elie Wiesel, an Auschwitz survivor, died at the age of 87. He took the holocaust out of history books, and with his powerful words, seared it into our conscience. I wrote this poem after reading his book Night, in which he talks about the last time he saw his mother.

Sparrow

In the cold winter months
with moonless skies,
She flew down from the clouds
to sit on my shoulder
and see me through the night.
 
I felt her gently
through the tattered fabric
that covered my shoulders and
Striped its way down to my knees;
a vain barrier between skin and snow.
 
The first time She came
was when I saw Mama last.
They dragged Mama away,
her feet making long tracks
in pure winter snow.
 
Mama’s body was theirs to kill,
Her soul was God’s alone.
She came from the blackness of the smoke
to light the fire in my soul
and soften the hunger in my belly.
 
 
My little sparrow held me up
when I was too weak to stand.
While they starved my body
She nourished my soul,
and stopped me from dying.
 
I had to live
for Mama, for papa, and Elsa too.
I was the fragment that remained
from the fabric of our lives.
The thread was mine to weave.
 
Night after night
She sat on my shoulder
to see me through till dawn,
and when I wanted to fly with her
She wanted me to stay.
 
When finally the gates of hell opened
And the air was ours to breathe
And the land was ours to roam  
It was then, and only then
that Mama stopped coming to me at night.
 
 

(Image courtesy of Baltimore Jewish life website).

Patriotism

I recently found this poem by Duluth Poet Ellie Schoenfeld, and thought it was a nice poem about Patriotism for Patriots Day.

My country is this dirt
that gathers under my fingernails
when I am in the garden.
The quiet bacteria and fungi,
all the little insects and bugs
are my compatriots. They are
idealistic, always working together
for the common good.
I kneel on the earth
and pledge my allegiance
to all the dirt of the world,
to all of that soil which grows
flowers and food
for the just and unjust alike.
The soil does not care
what we think about or who we love.
It knows our true substance,
of what we are really made.
I stand my ground on this ground,
this ground which will
ultimately
recruit us all
to its side. 

Orlando, As You Like It

Like many other towns in Florida, Orlando too grew around a fort called Fort Gatlin. These forts were built to protect the settlers from the Seminole tribes. Many towns still go by the name of the fort, such as Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers.

Orlando was originally called Jernigan

Orlando was originally called Jernigan but changed its name to Orlando in 1857. Many theories abound as to the origins of the name. One theory states that Orlando was named after a soldier, Orlando Reeves, who was killed by the Seminole tribes in 1835 while he was defending Fort Gatlin. Another theory states the soldier’s name was Orlando Jennings, not Orlando Reeves, while another disputes these theories stating no soldier by the name of Orlando was killed during the Seminole Indian wars.

Another theory states that a J.G. Speer relocated to Jernigan from South Carolina and started reorganizing Orange County. During the process he came up with the name Orlando after the character in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” Interestingly one of the main streets in downtown Orlando is called Rosalind who was Orlando’s lover in the play.

Rosalind Street, Orlando

I like to believe that perhaps Mr. Speer did name Orlando because another area in downtown Orlando is called Ivanhoe Village – maybe he liked English literature and named this street after Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 book.  Another neighborhood is called Lorna Doone – could this be named after R.D. Blackmore’s 1869 book? There’s also a Lake Sherwood – perhaps named after the Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest.

I love the idea of all these names and characters from British Literature naming Orlando and its neighborhoods!!

(Images Courtesy Orlando Travel Sites & Birmingham Museum).

Geldof in Africa: The Road to Live Aid

I returned to England, my mind reeling with visions of intolerable destruction, political ineptitude and mass death.  As I landed I felt I understood the impulse which sometimes prompted people to kiss the ground. It was good to be home, but I now knew that we had not yet done enough. Bob Geldof

Band Aid was a huge success, £5 million were generated from sales just on Christmas Eve 1984.  The money was turned over to representatives from several accounting firms for distribution.  Little did Bob Geldof realize that trouble had just begun – the purchase of grain and food and its transportation was bogged down in a maze of red tape.

And so after the staggering success of Band Aid, Bob Geldof had to address the issue of distributing the funds.  He was not keen to involve any charitable organizations as they would keep a portion of the money to cover their overheads.  He had given his word that every penny donated would go to Africa for the famine victims.  After some amount of hesitation – because he had no money of his own and he did not want the trip to be perceived as a self-promotion tour – he decided to go to sub-Saharan Africa to appraise the situation himself.  His ticket was paid for by the Daily Star newspaper that wanted to get exclusive rights to his story but relented when he refused to give them exclusive rights.

Beb Geldof in Western Sudan, 1985.

He made trip after trip to Africa, never using any part of the funds for his expenses.  The conditions in Africa were heart breaking.  On one such trip he walked so much to reach the villages that his shoes fell apart and he completed the trip in carpet slippers.  In Africa he met numerous heads of states and dignitaries, but to this day the highlight of his life was meeting Mother Teresa in Africa.

Bob Geldof with Mother Teresa, 1985. Geldof considers meeting Mother Teresa the highlight of his life.

With his trips to Africa, Bob realized that the money generated by Band Aid would not be nearly enough, he knew he had to do so much more.  The answer came to him in the spring of 1985. 

Band Aid: Making, Impact & Legacy

We watched the 6 o’clock news.., the scenes were absolutely riveting and this from the get go did not look like television, it looked like Spartacus, something vast and it was gray, these grey waves moving in this grey moonscape.  And the camera was pitiless, it was like a cyclops, just there it would not let you off the hook. Bob Geldof.

Bob Geldof was among the millions that saw the BBC documentary on the evening of October 23, 1984.  He could not get the images out of his mind.  He knew he had to do something.  He woke the next morning, and had an idea of doing a song with other singers.  He wanted to record and release the song for the Christmas season. He called Midge Ure, a popular artist at that time, who agreed to work with him on the song. Within a week he wrote the lyrics to the song “Do they know its’ Christmas time?” and he and Midge Ure put the music together.

 Bob Geldof had access to a studio for one day and so the song was recorded by this group of 45 in a single day on November 25, 1984.  Every single person who worked on the song did so for free. 

With his feverish, almost manic, desire to do something and the looming Christmas deadline, Bob Geldof recruited the top British and Irish singers of the time, and created a mega-group from 45 of the biggest superstars of British music including George Michael, Sting, Phil Collins, Boy George, U2, Duran Duran, Culture Club to sing the song.  The superstars united under the name “Band-Aid’’ in a bold act of charity that was unprecedented at the time

The song was released on November 29, 1984 and was an incredible success right from the start – it sold 1 million copies in the first week and stayed number one on the charts for more than a month.  The song became the biggest-selling single in the UK and held that title for 13 years. 

The song provided immediate relief for Famine Victims. Bob Geldof had hoped to raise £72,000 – instead he raised £8 million ($11 million) to benefit famine victims of Ethiopia.  He started an organization called “Bad-Aid Trust” which was used to collect and disburse the funds.  Instead of using charitable organizations, he decided to use the Trust to disburse the money as he had pledged that every penny would help famine victims.  This took him to Africa where he realized he had just dipped his toe in the pool – he knew this would not be enough. 

The money raised from Band Aid helped buy, among other things, 150 tons of high-energy biscuits, 1335 tons of milk powder, 560 tons of cooking oil, 470 tons of sugar and 1000 tons of grain.

The song became the conscience of the rock and roll world. In the height of the 1980s, Band Aid reconnected rock stars with their consciences – forever linking celebrity to charity.  Bob Geldof had harnessed the power of celebrity singers and the consumer – and brought them together for the first time.

The enormous success of Band Aid and “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” paved the way for using the powerful force of celebrities for charitable causes. It inspired USA for Africa’s “We Are the World” for famine relief which was released on March 3, 1985, and went on to sell 20 million copies and raised $75 million.  Others records inspired by Band Aid for famine relief included Austria for Africa, Chanteurs Sans Frontieres, among others.  Additionally records such as Steven Van Zandt’s “Sun City” in protest of South African apartheid; and a Dionne Warwick remake of the Burt Bacharach ballad, “That’s What Friends Are For,” for Aids research were inspired by the siccess of Band Aid.

Band Aid forever connected celebrities with philanthropy.

The success changed Bob Geldof’s life, it made history.  In the middle of Thatcherism, Band Aid came along and made people aware.  It also made charities incredibly cool.  Young people were getting more and more involved in charitable causes. Something had changed. Midge Ure.

This is the way I feel I pay for my citizenship – by using my fame whenever I can to transmit an idea.” Sting.

Bono, the lead singer of U2 and one the world’s biggest philanthropists credits his philanthropic roots to Band Aid. 

George Michael gave the entire profits from his single “Last Christmas” to Band Aid. 

My Town

According to the Lake Mary Historical Museum, Lake Mary was settled in the 1800s by a tightrope walker and chemist known as Frank Evans. Initially it was two tiny settlements called Bent’s State and Belle Fontaine that depended on the citrus industry. When the South Florida Railroad came to the region in 1880 and had a stop at Lake Mary, it grew from a village into a town. In 1887, Lake Mary got its first Post Office. The city is named after Mary Sundell, who was the wife of the Presbyterain minister Reverend J. F. Sundell who organized his congregation here in 1894.

I have lived in the beautiful town, that I call home, since I was five years old.