Barbarian Days

sometimes reading “the news” I am reminded of this part from Barbarian Days:

In the cemeteries in Tonga, late in the day, there always seemed to be old women tending the graves of their parents – combing the coral-sand mounds into proper coffin-top shape, sweeping away leaves, hand-washing faded wreaths of plastic flowers, rearranging the haunting patterns of tropical peppercorns, orange and green on bleached white sand.

A shiver of secondhand sorrow ran through me.  And an ache of something else.  It wasn’t exactly homesickness.  It felt like I had sailed off the edge of the known world.  That was actually fine with me.  The world was mapped in so many different ways.  For worldly Americans, the whole globe was covered by the foreign bureaus of the better newspapers – the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal – and, at that time, the big newsweeklies.  Every place on earth was part of somebody’s beat.  Bryan understood that map before I did, having gone to Yale.  But when I’d found an old copy of Newsweek on Captain Brett Hilder’s bridge, and tried to read a George Will column, I’d burst out laughing.  His Beltway airs and provincialism were impenetrable.  The truth was, we were wandering now through a world that would never be a part of any correspondent’s beat (let alone George Will’s purview).  It was full of news, but all of it was oblique, mysterious, important only if you listened and watched and felt its weight.

As the Jamaican cab driver said, the news is a Babylon thing.

 


Babylon

forgetting who it was who told me the story of his Jamaican cab driver advising him that “the news is a Babylon thing.”

Above we see The Burney Relief.  Allegedly Old-Babylonian.  Do you believe it?

 


Petraeus

What a great, tragic name.  I guessed it was Greek but in fact his father was “Sixtus Petraeus, a sea captain from Franeker, Netherlands.”

Two stories, first from Wikipedia:

Upon promotion to lieutenant colonel, Petraeus moved … to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he commanded the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)’s 3rd Battalion 187th Infantry Regiment, known as the “Iron Rakkasans”, from 1991–1993. During this period, he suffered one of the more dramatic incidents in his career; in 1991 he was accidentally shot in the chest with an M-16assault rifle during a live-fire exercise when a soldier tripped and his rifle discharged. He was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center,Nashville, Tennessee, where he was operated on by future U.S. SenatorBill Frist. The hospital released him early after he did fifty push-ups without resting, just a few days after the accident.

The other one I heard Rick Atkinson tell on NPR: Apparently Petraeus got into a joking interaction with a private on a dock in Kuwait City in 1991.  Petraeus challenged the soldier to a push-up contrast.  The private tapped out at 27.  Petraeus did 20 more, and then told the private he could write that off on his tax returns, because it was an education.