Monday, June 17, 2019

A Paean to my Dad: Samuel F. Puglise

Annamaria on Monday

I am writing this about my father on Sunday, June 16th - Father's Day in the USA.

Summing up Sam’s life is difficult, because he ranged so far and so deep for so long.  Sam was an extraordinary person masquerading as everyman.  He was modest and thought little of his gifts.  But they were huge.

He was an eyewitness to many of the historic events of his century.  And he had the wisdom and sensitivity to see them for what they were.

He was born on the 5th of March 1914 to Andrea Puglisi and Concetta Bruno in a coal mining village - Holsopple - in Western Pennsylvania.  His father was a miner.  His mother bore six children, kept a cow and chickens, raised vegetables, and was required to keep house for five other Italian-speaking coal miners in exchange for the privilege of living with her husband and children in mine-owned housing. Sam was baptized Salvatore Francesco Puglisi the following September.  The spelling of his family name had been changed on US official records by some immigration clerk's failure to dot the final i when his father came through Ellis Island.  

Sam's earliest memory was of the influenza epidemic of 1917 and 18: of standing in the doorway watching his mother who lay on the bedstead with her own infant cradled between her knees while she nursed two other babies who had lost their mothers in that plague.  When Sam—who must have been only three or four years old at the time—described the tears running down his beloved mother’s cheeks, you felt you could see them too.

When he was six or seven, he hid in that bedroom with his mother and his siblings, while his father sat guard outside the door with his hunting rifle and a shotgun across his lap.  Outside the window, on the hills, the Ku Klux Klan were burning crosses, threatening the immigrants, the Catholics who worked in the mine, and their families.

Little Salvatore became Samuel Frank when he went to school.  His teacher told him she was giving him a real American name, that the name his parents had given him was not American enough.  In his adult life, everyone, even his children, called him Sam.  

He became intrigued when early flying machines appeared in the sky, and he tried to make an airplane of his own.  His flight began at the edge of a cliff and landed in a hawthorn tree, and his first adventure in flying ended with a spanking.  He also saw planes overhead in the Pacific battles of World War II.  And he even had a connection with space flight: he was so proud to have worked on the components of the Apollo Spacecraft.

When he was nine, his beloved father died.  Coal miners don’t live long.  The mining company put Concetta and her six children, ranging in age from 2 to 14, and her meager belongings on a wagon and drove them to the edge of the “town,” which was in the middle of a woods.  They left her there.  

Concetta moved the family to Paterson, New Jersey, where there was a group of people from her village on the outskirts of Siracusa in Sicily.  Sam’s oldest brother Paul, aged 14, went to work in the silk mills and took over support of the family.  Sam never went back to school until after WWII.

Though the Great Depression and the early death of his coal miner father robbed Sam of any chance at education, it also sent him as a CCC youth to the Idaho wilderness.

Sam in Northern Idaho at a CCC Camp in 1933
with a group building infrastructure still in use
 in a United States National Park.  
At the end of that grievous decade, he fell in love with and married Annamaria Pisacane.  They both looked like movie stars. 

World War II was a central experience of Sam’s life.  He fought in the Pacific, and described the battle for Okinawa as hellish.  After fighting in many major battles, while others were on their way home, he was detailed to become a China Marine.

After V-J Day, part of the negotiations between the USA and Japan was a deal that the Japanese in China would surrender, not to the Chinese, but to the Americans.  (Japanese treatment the of Chinese had been so brutal that the Japanese feared putting their 700,000 men still in China at risk of retaliation.)  Sam was one of 3000 American Marines of the First and Sixth Divisions sent to keep the Japanese prisoners of war safe until they could be returned home.

Sam described to me his time there.  When the Marines first arrived in Tsingtao, the Japanese were being held in huge barbed wire enclosures.  With so many inmates and too few guards, understandably enraged Chinese were slipping under the wires in the night to take their revenge with knives.  The American officers in charge decided to increase the guard power by rearming the Japanese officers and having them join the guard patrols.  My dad described as otherworldly the experience of walking guard duty with officers who, two weeks before, had been trying kill him.

Sam's story: His unit in China was not being properly supplied and the mess was out of
food. The guys chipped in and bought an ox that they butchered and ate.  The meat
 was so tough that they referred to the beast as Confucius' Calf!

Sam remained in China for six months and finally returned home in March of 1946, with souvenirs of China and memories: many funny, many fascinating, but also dreadful images that he later told me he had spent his life trying to forget, but that haunted him until the end.  He had volunteered to fight to defend his country, and though he was proud to have served, after experiencing battle, he hated war.  “It’s the stupidest way man ever invented to solve a problem,” he said.  “No one who had ever been in combat would start a war.  And no one should ever have to endure one.”  Endure he did and returned from all the violence the gentle man he had always been.

He taught me too many things to enumerate.  To love and desire education.  Though his father’s untimely death put an end to his formal schooling when he was only nine years old, Sam read and studied all his life—got his GED and took some courses at Rutgers on the GI bill, even while he worked two jobs to keep his family.  He read Freud, he told me, because he wanted to understand people and Plato and Aristotle and Schopenhauer because he wanted to understand life.

He taught me and my brothers how to be part of a family—not to judge one another’s faults, but the importance of accepting each other.  Once when I was angry at my brother, he said, “No, Sweetie.  Don’t think that way.  You can look at a man and say ‘He used to be my friend or even he used to be my husband, but you can’t look at a person and say he used to be my brother.’”

He was the least judgmental person I ever met—finding the good in everyone, even people who harshly misjudged him and mistook his charity and gentleness for weakness.

He was beautiful, movie star handsome, yet never vain.  What was important to him was who and what he loved.

He loved his father and described himself dogging his footsteps and trying to emulate his father’s industriousness, sense of adventure, and loyalty.  All virtues he himself achieved, but never bragged about.

He loved music and dancing.  He loved to play cards and golf.

Sam and me at my 50th birthday celebration
He loved the out of doors, especially fishing and left me with vivid memories of following him on sunny spring days, wading in sparkling trout streams and one particularly delicious dinner of fresh-caught trout and sautéed early dandelions gathered on the banks of pristine water.

In 1986, as soon as it was possible to visit, David and I took Sam back to China for a three week tour.  He was pleased with what he saw.  The China he had experienced had been filled with starving, down-trodden, sick people.  The China we saw together was on the cusp of becoming the modern power it is now.  My favorite memory: An evening in the Rathskeller at the Peace Hotel in Shanghai, when Sam and I danced the polka to the music of six old guys in Mao uniforms playing from sheet music from 1946.

Mostly Sam loved his family and took a Sicilian man’s joy in the fact that his family was united.  He always asked, “Have you talked to your brothers?  How are Kerry Ann and Ted and the children?  Give everyone my love.”  He always in every way gave us all his love.  

Sam’s life was long, but more important his love was deep and true.

He said he only regretted one thing—smoking cigarettes.  He died of complications of emphysema at the age of 94. 

He still looked like a movie star.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Appleby Horse Fair

The annual Gypsy and Traveller Horse Fair, which takes place at Appleby-in-Westmorland in early June is reputed to be the largest of its kind in Europe. 

Around 10,000 Gypsies and Travellers attend from all over the UK—including Irish Travellers, British Romanichal, Welsh Romanies (Kale), and Scottish Gypsies and Travellers. The New Fair, as it’s also known, attracts more than 30,000 visitors.

Although at one point I spent several years living in Appleby, I never actually went. The crowds and the inevitable traffic jams getting in and out of the town were the main reason. As is always the way, it wasn’t until this year, long after I’d moved, that I decided I should go.

The origins of the Fair are somewhat hazy. It was rumoured to have originated by a royal charter granted in 1685 by King James II, but this is no longer thought to be true. Instead, the Fair derives its right to exist by having done so for many years previously.

There was certainly a fair held at Appleby in medieval times each Whitsuntide—the seventh Sunday after Easter—although this ceased in the late 1800s. A New Fair had begun by 1775 on unenclosed land at Gallows Hill (named for the public executions held there) which was just outside the Appleby borough boundary. Here, horses and other livestock were traded by dealers and drovers. By the turn of the last century this had become a major event in the Traveller calendar.

Appleby has become a meeting place, and a time of social and family get-togethers, as well as an opportunity to trade horses. It’s also turned into something of a marriage market, where teenagers dress to the nines hoping to catch someone else’s eye and agreements are often reached between families, as well as disputes settled by mediators within the community.

Arthur Rackham's famous illustrations for The Wind
In The Willows included a traditional Gypsy Vardo caravan
Although there are any number of the traditional horse-drawn bow-top caravans and Vardoes, these are way outnumbered by modern high-tech caravans or tents. Vehicles start to congregate in the towns and villages surrounding Appleby in the weeks leading up to the Fair. There is no official organisation among the Gypsies, although the Shera Rom—the Head Romani—liaises between the travelling people and the local authority MASCG (Multi-Agency Strategic Co-ordinating Group) to arrange portable toilets, rubbish skips, water supplies, grazing, clean-up, etc.

The Fair runs from the Thursday through to the following Wednesday, and participants are only allowed onto Fair Hill shortly before it starts. Hence the numbers camping along outlying roads and open areas on the run-up to the event. This year, residents of Appleby were apparently outraged to find that a number of Fairgoers had set up camp on the local private golf course…

When you combine the tradition with the influx of people who come to see the Fair rather than take part in it, you might think the local population might, if not welcome it, exactly, then at least tolerate it.

Not always the case. Many of the nearby towns, such as Kirkby Stephen, put up posts along the verges to prevent the caravans and vehicles pulling off road. I’ve known businesses close for the duration, or employ additional security guards. One police officer I spoke to this year said she’d worked sixteen days straight.

The police presence was large, with numerous vehicles and officers after last year’s event drew criticism from locals. The RSPCA turned out in force and said they gave out animal welfare advice to around 130 people. A video of a horse being mistreated led to an online petition being started, but when I was there, on the Sunday, I saw no evidence of overt cruelty.

The idea of the Flashing Lane, where horses are shown off by being driven or ridden at a flat-out trot along Long Marton Lane, has always concerned me, purely from the point of view of long-term damage to the horses’ legs. I’ve never liked the speed at which some of them take the steep hill between the Flashing Lane and The Sands, where the horses are traditionally washed in the River Eden. In 2008 a man was jailed for causing the horse in his care to drown in the river. This year, due to heavy rain, the ramp leading into the water was closed at times.

There have also been fights breaking out between rivals. A mass brawl in 2009 led to a spate of arrests. Notably, in 2011, the police had to stop a bare-knuckle prize fight set to take place at the Fair to settle a score, with a £100,000 purse up for grabs. Drugs and public order offences also account for arrests.

Appleby New Fair will always be controversial. I can understand how a small minority give everyone else a bad name. There are strong feelings on both sides. But as an experience, it was fascinating, and I’m glad I went to see it for myself.

This week’s Word of the Week is dziggetai, meaning a species of Mongolian wild ass, more horse-like than other species.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

An Amazing Aegean Surprise


For those of you who like to know the punch line right off the bat (to mix a metaphor or two) the surprise is Naxos, the largest and possibly greenest of the Cycladic islands, and neighbor to Mykonos. It’s like going back in time…starting with today and marching back through decades into centuries until ending up somewhere six or seven millennia BCE when this island launched the Cycladic period. It’s had a storied history, but this being my birthday I feel a bit sensitive about discussing the ancients today.

Instead, I’m offering a brief taste of the sorts of surprises this fabulous island has to offer, all as photographed by Photobomber (who took the photos). To be sure, they and a few other surprises will work their way in my next book. I should add, that book is still in search of an alliterative title and all suggestions are welcome. 

So, without further delay, here’s just the briefest glimpse of the enchanting island of Naxos:

Imagine yourself following this road

You find this deserted undeveloped beach

You see this structure off in the distance

Curiosity sends you off exploring
It becomes more and more interesting

What can it possibly be?

Better still, what was it?

Not Stonehenge...perhaps ConcreteHedge?

Stepping inside and looking back at the spectacular view,
You wonder what harm can befall you exploring.
Perhaps it's time to rethink that conclusion.
And who's this?
Aha, uplifting thoughts.

A bit of a different perspective

I'm beginning to think getting out there's not such a bad idea.
Definitely not a bad idea.

Though this means of escaped does cause one to pause.
Ahh, free at last!
But what's this?

And this.
At last, a friendly face.

Can't say the same thing about these birds.
What happened to friendly face?
An interesting lady
Alfred E. Neuman's sister?
An editorial?
What is this place. I better go find out.

But first a stop at the beach.
And then a bite to eat.
The path up to our hotel....the other path looked more welcoming
A killer view back toward to speak.
On a journey to the Naxos Archaeological Museum at the top of the Old Town Kastro or castle.
Self Portrait by Photobomber.
On her way to the top.
Through the streets.
More streets.
The old castle walls (Venetian)
The Catholic Cathedral and Duchy Palace
The rear of the Museum
One of its treasures, some as old as 5th Millennium BCE
Just a cool shot of the Museum
Naxos harbor at sunset.

It's still setting.
A mountain vista

A broader mountain vista

A mountain vista with sea on the side.

A valley village.
Example of the fertile land in action.
Access to the islet housing the symbol of Naxos.

Here it is, The Portara.
The Portara panorama

Hard not to miss this place.