Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Have a coke with.....

As a teenager there was nothing in the world with a greater boring potential than history books. Well, perhaps having to go see plays written by anyone whose name ended in –ov or ‑cles. When groaning over such studies for exams my mother would chide me and tell me that I would appreciate it later if I knew my history. However, when one is a teenager „later“ is of no consequence.

I am now in Sopot, Poland having been lucky enough to also visit Warsaw. As always when in Europe I now regret not having followed my mother‘s recommendations. „Later“ has long since arrived and I would very much prefer to know more about the places I visit. There is something to be said about having the background of an area at one‘s grasp when viewing the present.

History is everywhere. As an example the tower in Warsaw shown below. It was a present to the Polish people from Stalin. There are mixed emotions here regarding the building due to its relation to the oppressive communist era, the young seeing it through more forgiving eyes than the older generations. To me it is impressive but knowing how it came to be does bring about the feeling that this is precisely the type of building an evil empire would build for a leader to stand in and say „muhaha“.

I am not in a position to provide any detail about Polish history aside from the fact that a country with such a prime location and abundance of natural and human resources ended up getting more than its share of WWII horrors. Not to mention being sent down the river at the end of WWII, having done nothing wrong yet ending up on the wrong side of the iron curtain.

But this time is gone now. Today is a different present and Poland is thriving comparison to many of the European states that cannot seem to shake off the economic crisis that has been here way too long for anyone‘s liking. The people here are wonderful and the society seems unusually cultural. Even the McDonalds is quaint and where else would you find a well attended literary festival in a beach resort town? But guess what the talent does when on a break – nothing particularly literary:  

My daughter is now studying the history that was killing me at her age and to be fair to her I must note that she is much more organised and contentious than I was at her age. Despite this advantage she was very stressed this past spring when preparing for the history exam and I overheard her complaining to my mother about how it was too boring and dry for remembering. Much to my surprise my mother‘s opinion about history seemed to have evolved a bit over the years. Instead of giving my daughter the speech I got, she was telling my daughter not to worry about the test. To any question she was unable to answer she should write: Why are you forcing me to learn history written by men about men. Where are the women?

I have since given this some thought and come to a conclusion. My mother‘s opinions have not changed, this was always her view. She simply knew me well enough to know that unlike my daughter that would never reply to a test question in such a manner, I would have welcomed the opportunity to put the book down and put that reply down to all of them.

Finally, on my travels this summer I have noticed that the Coca Cola company has been running the same ad campaign as in Iceland where the bottles are marked: Drink Coke with…and then they put a name. It is absolutely ridiculous in my opinion and I don’t really get how this is supposed to work. Do you try to find someone named Jennifer to drink your Coke with if you get a bottle marked Jennifer? Or are you supposed to sift through the bottles in search for the names of your friends? I do not know, nor do I really care. But I did find this bottle interesting, it is from the Polish version of this campaign and I hope this is a name, not a status. Have a Coke with your....

Yrsa - Wednesday   


  1. 'History' is truly one of those things that takes 'appreciation' by an older recipient (most of the time, there's always those on the "far end of the bell curve"...) But it is also truly one of those things from which we can best learn about the future.

    Gee, seems like I may have heard something along that line before...

  2. Yrsa, no one who heard me rail against having to study history when I was in school would believe that I now delight in hours spent in the library studying old books about far away places. See if you can find a bottle that says "drink a coke with Yrsa" and bring it to Bouchercon. A drink with you is what we all look forward to.

  3. Forget history, in Greece they're all into Coke. It's the number one refresher over here, and Coca-Cola in it's wisdom--or via the sarcastic humor of one of it's copy writers--gave many in the gay community over here much to laugh about with its "Have a Coke with..." promotion.

    One of the recipients of sipping largesse suggested by Coke on its labels is "adelphi." Surely the copywriter went to a dictionary and found that adelphi is Greek for "sister." Too bad Coke didn't bother to check it's slang connotation, a widely used, mildly derogatory term for "gay."

    Hmm, I wonder how the Polar Bear feels about all this?

  4. I'm afraid I can't resist a small tirade about the way subjects in general are taught. Most people who hate maths/history/english/... do so because of what happened before and at those tests.

    In the case of history, questions will start: Name the..., On what date did the..., What important event happened on...? and so on and on. Yes, the details are important to historians, but what school history courses give the learners an understanding of the breadth and impact of events, their causes and effects?

    Please let me be drowned out by responses explaining that everything has changed now and history classes are interesting and thought provoking. I will be delighted to be corrected and recant!

  5. I became enamored with history when I was in the fourth grade, I read a book about Mary, Queen of Scots. How could anyone not be fascinated by an historical figure who became queen when she was only six days old? I never lost my fascination with the Tudors and the Stuarts.

    I became one of those history teachers about whom people say bad things, but in my defense, I have to say that I managed to keep the students reasonably interested by going beyond the text books. Good historical fiction reflects actual historical events. For the French Revolution, I used a book about the Affair of the Diamond Necklace that led to the events that changed history throughout Europe. The revolution ultimately led to Napoleon. (To set the record straight, Marie Antoinette never said "let them eat cake").

    Aside from the American Revolution, I think the most earth shaking revolution is the one that occurred in Russia after World War I. Robert Massie wrote history that reads like fiction in "Nicholas and Alexandra". Massie's son was a hemophiliac, a disease passed from mother to son. As an historian, it was natural for Massie to research the disease and he discovered the sad tale of the Empress of Russia and her son, Alexis.

    The marriage of Nicholas and Alexandra was a love match. When Alexei"s condition was discovered, Alexandra's decisions were based on her guilt for giving her son a life filled with physical pain. Someone at court introduced Alexandra to Rasputin, a monk who was supposedly a mystic. Alexandra became convinced that Rasputin could heal her son. The Russian aristocracy hated Rasputin and led the charge to bring him down which led to bringing down the Romanov dynasty. Massie wrote a book that is fascinating, so much so that tenth graders were willing to read it. It covers the period leading to World War I and the aftermath that set the stage for World War II, and it introduces the Grand Duchess Anastasia to the world. Rumors that Anastasia had survived the executions of her family began to circulate shortly after her death. The murder of Rasputin reads like the script of a made for TV movie. Anastasia's life got turned into a Disney cartoon. It was not until DNA testing of skeletons found in 2007 that it was proven that Anastasia was killed in 1918.

    With a few exceptions, I didn't require students to memorize dates but they did have to know how the major events reflected the time in which they occurred. Would the French Revolution have happened in the later years of the eighteenth century if the American Revolution hadn't? Would the American civil war have begun in the mid-nineteenth century if the cotton gin hadn't been invented at that time?

    The real key to getting students interested in history is to keep reminding them that it is a story about people reacting to events that impacted their lives. Would the Battle of Concord and Lexington have started if some guy in his house didn't get tired of waiting for something to happen?


  6. I agree with Beth, and I laud her for being the kind of teacher that young people respond to well.
    In the small town where I live, I found few good history teachers, there is one who taught the Civil War, by having students write about the life of a rifle. Very successful, and very touching. I have loved history since I was young because my mother did, and we read historical novels together. I also found that helping the teens I worked with to recognize the human experience really helped.Maybe today, teachers are getting better at doing this. I'm not allowed to drink Coke, but it still is my favorite :(

  7. All I can say, Beth, is that I wish I'd had you as a history teacher.

  8. And I wish I had students who were open to believing history is interesting. I didn't manage to win them all over. In defense of teachers today, there is no opportunity for teachers to spend extra time on the things they love. One of my daughters had a teacher who was passionate about the American civil war. He had mountains of primary and secondary source material. The kids loved his classes and gained a lot of insight Three years later, my son had the same teacher but Massachusetts had implemented statewide tests that had to be passed in order to graduate. Teachers were allotted three days for the civil war, leaving no time for passion and creativity.


  9. Learning history can be exciting, depending on who is teaching it and how, and whether the teacher has a passion for the subject.

    I always liked history, but not filled with dry dates and wars, but about people, reasons, developments, political and economic systems.

    It can be so interesting. Now when I hear someone speaking of an historical event or development or read a well-written piece, I enjoy it. It doesn't have to be boring at all.

  10. Did you get to the memorial for the Warsaw Ghetto?