Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Saying Good-bye to Norah Ephron - Part 1 What, you may ask, relates Norah Ephron to Character Education for Kids? Start with good manners and cooking!

One of the most delicious dishes in the world is hot pasta with fresh cold tomatoes, cold pressed virgin olive oil and Parmesan cheese.  It may sound strange, but it is exquisitely wonderful.  Here is Nora Ephron’s recipe:
Linguine alla cecca   (check-uh)
“It’s a hot pasta with a cold tomato basil sauce, and it’s so light and delicate that it’s almost like eating a salad.  It has to be made in the summer, when tomatoes are fresh.  Drop 5 large tomatoes into boiling water for one full minute.  Peel and seed and chop.  Put into a large bowl with ½ cup olive oil, a garlic clove sliced in two, 1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, salt and hot red pepper flakes.
Let it sit for a couple of hours, then remove the garlic.  Boil one pound of linguine, drain and toss with the cold tomato mixture.  Serve immediately.”
I hadn’t actually referred to this recipe since I first made it in 1983, and I have to admit it’s even more  simple to make the way I do it now.  Trust me, it is heaven.  Page 100 of Heartburn.
That recipe is one of the wonderful things about Nora’s book Heartburn which was made into a movie with, guess who, Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.  On page 77 of Heartburn, she writes:
“The next man I was involved with lived in Boston.  He taught me to cook mushrooms.  He taught me that if you heat the butter very hot and put just a very few mushrooms into the frying pan, they come out nice and brown and crispy, whereas if the butter is only moderately hot and you crowd the mushrooms, they get all mushy and wet.  Every time I make mushrooms I think of him.”
But I get ahead of myself.
Choosing one’s topic for one’s annual ’81 Club paper is serious business.  Over the years, we have studied the challenge of which topic to choose with almost the same zeal as we study the challenge of writing about that topic.  I’m proud of my papers, as are we all, and looking back I see that they are usually about women…usually high profile women such as Mme Marie Curie or Mme Chiang Kai-shek…and nearly always have some references to movies. 
But as I was worrying about selecting a topic worthy of presenting to ’81, I was  distracted by some reading from a long time favorite author, Nora Ephron.
 And that is how this paper today came to write itself.
Now Nora has been with us in the popular media for quite a while…about 55 years to be exact.  Each of us has her favorite “Nora” work…such as Sleepless in Seattle or You’ve Got Mail  or more recently, Julie & Julia , all of which bear watching as movies again and again.
 And most of us know that Nora died unexpectedly June 26, 2012 at age 71 in New York City.
  Unexpectedly, that is, to us, her fans.
NOT unexpectedly to Nora. (folder with clippings)
 Reading the fine print in Frank Rich’s article called “Nora’s Secret” in New York Magazine, August 27, 2012 issue, we learn that Nora had been struggling with a terminal illness for six and a half years, and had been in a hospital deathbed the last five weeks of her life.  For nearly all of that time, only a half dozen or so immediate family knew that she was ill…and those people did not know much detail.
But we can do the math.  We can figure out that some of her most telling and eloquent books were written while she was ill…such as I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, in which she wrote:
“My friend, Henry Grunwald, died a few months ago.  He was what we refer to as one of the lucky ones.  He died at eighty-two, having lived a full, rich, and successful life.  He had coped brilliantly with macular degeneration – for almost two years, most of his friends had no idea he couldn’t see – and then he wrote a book about going blind that will probably outlast all the rest of his accomplishments, which were considerable.
He died of heart failure, peacefully, in his sleep with his adoring family around him.  The day before his death, he asked to be brought a large brown accordion folder which he kept in his office.  In it were love letters he had received when he was younger.  He sent them back to the women who’d written them, wrote them all lovely notes, and destroyed the rest.  What’s more, he left complete detailed instructions for his funeral, including the music he wanted – all this was laid out explicitly in a file he had labeled  “EXIT”
I so admire Henry and the way he handled his death. It’s inspirational.” (end quote)
INSPIRATIONAL?  Inspirational indeed.   Remember Nora wrote this about Henry Grunwald in 2006 when she had already been diagnosed with her own terminal illness.
Now that part about the EXIT file is indeed interesting, but even more compelling are the pearls of wisdom at the end.

Stay tuned for "pearls of wisdom"

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


THE MONUMENTS MEN  Part 6  The Finale


Moving on to Italy and the Tuscan and Florentine treasures…


In Italy, museum officials had evacuated their holdings to various countryside locations such as the Tuscan villa of Monteguifoni, which housed some of the Florentine collections.

As Allied Forces advanced through Italy, the German army retreated north, stealing paintings and sculptures as they fled.  As German forces neared the Austrian border, they were forced to store most of their loot in various hiding places such as a castle at Sand in Taufers and a jail cell in San Leonardo.


Beginning in late March 1945, Allied forces began discovering these hidden repositories in what would become the greatest treasure hunt in history.  In Germany alone, US forces found about 1,500 repositories that contained art and cultural objects looted from institutions and individuals across Europe, as well as from German and Austrian museum collections



Some repositories of special note were:


Berchtesgaden, Germany – 1,000 paintings and sculptures stolen by Hermann Goring.  The cache had been evacuated from his country estate, Carinhall, and moved in 1945 to protect it from invading Russian troops.


Bernterode, Germany – four coffins containing the remains of Germany’s greatest leaders including Frederick the Great and  Field Marshal Paul Von Hindenburg



Merkers, Germany – General George Patton in April 1945 found

 Reichsbank gold, along with 400 paintings and other crates of treasure.  More dismal discoveries included gold and personal belongings from Nazi concentration camp victims.


Altaussee, Austria – This extensive complex of salt mines served as a huge repository for stolen art including Vermeer’s The Astronomer and The Art of Painting, and paintings from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples stolen by Hermann Goring.


San Leonardo, Italy – In the jail cell of this very northern town Allied officials discovered paintings from the Uffizi that had been hurriedly unloaded by retreating German troops…paintings by Botticelli, Filippo Lippi and Giovanni Bellini.


This is a very superficial listing, and the scope of the project truly defies imagination.


By July 1945, US forces had established three central collecting points within the US Zone in Germany, and American organizational skills started to take over.


The first director of the collecting points, Captain Walter Farmer,  and 35 others who were in charge of the Wiesbaden collection point, were compelled to draw up what has become known as the “Wiesbaden Manifesto” on 7 November 1945 declaring “We wish to state that, from our own knowledge, no historical grievance will rankle so long or be the cause of so much justified bitterness as the removal for any reason of a part of the heritage of any nation even if that heritage may be interpreted as a prize of war.”


Among the co-signers was Lt. Charles Percy Parkhurst of the US Navy.


Regarding the occupation of Japan, as the war neared its end in

Japan in 1945, George Stout and fellow Monuments Man Major Laurence Sickman recommended creating an MFAA division in Japan.  Consequently the Arts and Monuments Division …of the Allied Powers in Tokyo was established.


Langdon Warner, archaeologist and curator of Oriental art at Harvard’s Fogg Museum, and early mentor of Laurence Sickman, advised the MFAA Section in Japan until September 1946.


To sum it all up, the American museum establishment led the efforts to create the MFAA section both in Europe and Japan.  Included in this group were current museum directors, curators and art historians, as well as those who wanted to be museum directors, curators and art historians.


Upon returning home from service overseas, these men and women led the creation or improvement of some of the leading cultural institutitons in the US.  Many major museums employed one or more MFAA officers before or after the war, including the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.


Many other Monuments Men were professors at esteemed universities such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, New York University, Williams College and Columbia University, among others.  Paul J. Sachs’ famous “Museum Course” at Harvard educated dozens of future museum personnel.  S. Lane Faison’s passion for art history was passed on to hundreds of students and future museum leaders at Williams College in the 1960s and 1970s, some of whom are currently directors at major US museums.



Other MFAA personnel became founders, presidents, and members of cultural institutions such as the New York City Ballet, the American Association of Museums, the American Association of Museum Directors, the Archaeological Institute of America, the Society of Architectural  Historians, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as respected artists, architects, musicians and archivists.


Two Monuments Men officers were killed in Europe, both near the front lines of the Allied advance into Germany.


They were Captain Walter Huchthausen, an American scholar and architect attached to the US 9th Army, killed in April 1945 by small arms fire somewhere north of Essen and east of Aachen, Germany


And Major Ronald Edmund Balfour, a British scholar attached to the Canadian First Army, killed in March 1945 by an explosion in Cleves, Germany.


May they rest in peace.



Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Monuments Men Part 5 Where It Gets Serious

In 1943 the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program was established by the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Allied armies to help protect cultural property in war areas during and after World War II. 
This group of about 400 service members and civilians worked with military forces to safeguard historic and cultural monuments from war damage and, as the conflict of WW II came to a close, to find and return works of art and other items of cultural importance that had been stolen by the Nazis or hidden for safekeeping.

Many of the men and women of the MFAA went on to have prolific careers.  Largely art historians and museum personnel, they had formative roles in the growth of many of the United States’ greatest cultural institutions.

But even before the U.S. entered World War II, art professionals and organizations were working to identify and protect European art and monuments in danger of Nazi plundering.  Commonly referred to as the Roberts Commission, this early group was dissolved in June 1946 when the State Department took over with the formation of the MFAA.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower facilitated the work of the MFAA by forbidding looting, destruction, and billeting (or camping out) in structures of cultural significance.  He also repeatedly ordered his forces to assist the MFAA as much as possible.

This was the first time in history an army attempted to fight a war and at the same time reduce damage to cultural monuments and property.

“Prior to this war, no army had thought of protecting the monuments of the country in which and with which it was at war, and there were no precedents to follow…All this was changed by a general order issued by Supreme Commander-in-Chief Eisenhower just before he left Algiers, an order accompanied by a personal letter to all Commanders…the good name of the Army depended in great measure on the respect which it showed to the art heritage of the modern world.”

As Allied Forces made their way through Europe, liberating Nazi-occupied territories, Monuments Men were present in very small numbers at the front lines.  Lacking handbooks, resources, or supervision, this initial handful of officers relied on their museum training and overall resourcefulness to perform their tasks.
There was no established precedent for what they confronted.  They worked in the field and were also actively involved in battle preparations.  In preparing to take Florence, for example, which was used by the Nazis as a supply distribution center due to its central location in Italy, Allied troops relied on aerial photographs provided by the MFAA which were marked with monuments of cultural importance so that pilots could avoid damaging such sites during bombings.

When damage did occur, MFAA personnel worked to assess the damage and buy time for the eventual restoration work that would follow.  Monuments officer Deane Keller had a prominent role in saving the Campo Santo in Pisa after a mortar round started a fire that melted the lead roof, which then bled down the iconic 14th century fresco-covered walls.
Keller led a team of Italian and American troops and restorers in recovering the remaining fragments of the frescoes and in building a temporary roof to protect the structure from further damage.

Restoration of those frescoes continues even today.

Frequently entering liberated towns and cities ahead of ground troops, Monuments Men worked quickly to assess damage and make temporary repairs before moving on with Allied Armies as they conquered Nazi territory.

American and Allied Forces discovered hidden caches of priceless treasures, many of which had been looted by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, while others had been legitimately evacuated from German, French or Italian museums for safekeeping.  Monuments Men oversaw the safeguarding, cataloguing, removal and packing of all works, regardless of their origin.

In the next installment...moving on to Italy and the Tuscan and Florentine treasures.  Stay