Last September, we visited Arromanches-les-Bains in Normandy. This tiny town sits between what was called Omaha Beach, by the Americans, and Gold Beach, by the Brits. Farms stretch inland and the nearest city is Caen.
There were 500 people living in Arromanches on June 6, 1944, and there are 500 there today, most involved with some aspect of tourism.
We went to the beach, the museum and then up the hill to lookout points and a viewing of an incredible 360-degree film, made from news footage and new video of some of the same sites. There is no narration, just natural sounds. It was a harrowing experience just watching and listening. I can't even imagine how horrible it must have been to have been there on that day.
The story of how the Brits made Mulberry Harbor was new to both of us. First, they sank old ships off the coast the create a breakwater. Then, they brought in landing platforms and created floating roads to move men and tanks onto the beach. Oddly enough, they met little resistance from the Germans, probably because they were otherwise engaged down the road at Omaha and Utah beaches. The sunken ships are still there, and so are a few landing structures.
What amazed me in Arromanches was not only the bravery of the soldiers but that of the civilians trapped in this little town, with no way to escape the horror. A memorial stood across from where we stayed, listing civilians killed and local citizens sent to concentration camps. The streets are named for D Day heroes and civilians executed for spying on the Germans. Most were age 19 or 20.
A very moving experience.
Our plan for exploring France was to follow Vincent Van Gogh's path south from Amsterdam to the Mediterranean, with important stops along the way. It didn't turn out exactly like that. Nonetheless, we saw Holland and France through the painter's eyes. .
I hope you enjoy this jaunt through the mountains and small towns of southern France. Bask in the sun by the pool at a bed & breakfast set in the middle of a working vineyard, with mountains as backdrop.
Be sure to turn up the music -- Don McLean's Vincent (also known as Starry Starry Night), a paean to the Dutch artist, including some of his more recognizable Provence landscapes.
I had planned to write a post about the imminent loss of the huge aquifer that has been feeding parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, today, but needed to find some old photos of my family in Kansas and didn't get around to it this morning. Then, I worked on a story for another website, through most of the afternoon, while waiting to hear from a guy in Oklahoma City that I was supposed to interview. No calls. No emails. I was beside myself because I'm running out of time on this story.
Then, this happened.
There are no words big enough to begin to talk about it, at least not tonight.
Here's a pretty good explainer on the intensity of tornado that hit Oklahoma City area around 3 pm Central Time, written by folks at Smithsonian Magazine. The best description I heard today was that it had the force of a nuclear bomb, without the radiation. http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews/2013/05/how-to-understand-the-scale-of-todays-oklahoma-tornado/
May 20, 2013 7:36 pmHow to Understand the Scale of Today’s Oklahoma Tornado
In Moore, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City, an incredibly powerful tornado just came and went, a nearly hour-long ordeal that, as of the time of this writing, has trapped 75 school children in their school
, injured hundreds of people and left a city in ruins.
A meteorologist for the local news station KFOR
called the tornado “the worst tornado in the history of the world
.” That assessment is quite apt.
There are a lot of parameters by which a tornado can be deemed the worst, and by pretty much all counts today’s Moore tornado is up there. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration keeps a list of historical tornadoes
—devastating twisters known for their size, their duration and their destruction. Though the Moore tornado doesn’t trump any of them, its combination of size, strength and duration made it an incredibly dangerous storm.One factor that really set today’s Moore tornado apart was its staggering size. According to The New York Times, today’s tornado was “perhaps a mile wide.” Other reports put it closer to two miles in width. According to NOAA, the largest tornado on record hit Hallam, Nebraska in 2004. That twister was two-and-a-half miles wide. “This is probably close to the maximum size for tornadoes; but it is possible that larger, unrecorded ones have occurred,” writes NOAA of the 2004 tornado.
On top of its massive girth, today’s tornado was also incredibly strong. The Associated Press reports
that wind speeds in the twister hit upwards of 199 miles per hour (320 kilometers per hour). The record holder, says NOAA, saw winds peaking at 302 miles per hour (486 kilometers per hour.) That storm, unfortunately, hit pretty much the exact same place as this one. It swept just north of Moore on May 3, 1999.But while the wind speed of today’s twister falls below that of the May 1999 storm, the damage caused by a tornado isn’t all due to wind speed. The amount of time that the storm stays on the ground is also incredibly important.Today’s Moore tornado was on the ground for 40 minutes
. Most tornadoes last just a few minutes. But they can sit around for up to an hour. One of the most deadly tornadoes in history, the 1925 Tri-State Tornado, sat on the ground for a terrifying three-and-a-half hours.Of course, while all of these parameters are a window into the destructive potential of nature, what matters most to many is the toll on human life. Though casualties are at this point still uncertain, FOX’s KDVR reports that “more than 171,000 people were in the path of the storm.” Several casualties have already been reported, but it will take time for the full destructive power of the storm to become known.
Fortunately, at least, casualties will likely be below the record set by the the March 1925 tornado that swept through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, the one that stayed down for 3.5 hours. That storm killed 695 people. Advances in early detection and warning systems have brought the deaths caused by tornadoes down over time, and one can only hope that people were able to seek shelter from the dark side of nature.
More from Smithsonian.com:Surviving Tornado AlleyA Satellite View of Tornado ScarsThis Might Be Why People Don’t Move Away From Tornado Zones
I was gonna send roses to all you moms or children of moms. But, alas, this little video holds up better over the long haul.
Mavis never gave birth to children of her own, but it's clear she understands the strength of the bond between a parent and a child. I hope her song warms you, inspires you and thanks you for all you do and have done to raise a child, anyone's child.
My brother, Bruce Hartman, has a new book out, for all you fans of psychological thrillers with a tie in to art and music. For those who don't know him, Bruce is an accomplished musician, composer, writer, avid reader and raconteur who probably would have been just as happy as a piano bar musician, if he had not gone to Harvard Law. Now that he's retired, Bruce is back polishing up all those novels he wrote along the way.
The Rules of Dreaming, published by Swallow Tail Press, is featured today on The Next Big Thing Blog Hop (http://bit.ly/ZWeSl0).
Bruce describes the book as having "three main themes: madness, music, and murder. It takes place in and around a mental hospital where some of the characters are patients and some are physicians."
What inspired him to write this particular book? He says"
Years ago I imagined a story about a patient in a mental hospital who sits down at the piano in the patient lounge and flawlessly plays a difficult piece of classical music. Although this usually requires years of instruction and practice, the patient’s psychiatrist discovers that he has no musical training or experience. So the question I started with is: Where did this music come from? Where does any music come from? Does music come to you as a kind of inspired madness, or does it come from outside the human mind?
The Rules of Dreaming is available May 23, online at the all usual places, or on order at your local bookstore.
We all do strange things at 19. At that age, our physical reflexes and strengths have far outstripped our brains. Something about that lack of equilibrium allows us to crave risk and excitement, perhaps to prove to ourselves and everyone around us that our newly matured flesh can handle most of the bumps or poisons we subject it to.
Unfortunately, our frontal lobes are another story. They are only partially baked.
It is no wonder military organizations like to recruit young men at 19. When they're nearly ripe, guys are strong and fearless. Not quite able to make the connection between the real (adult) world and childhood fantasy, 19 year olds don’t hesitate to start fights with hulking drunken louts in bars, or take hairpin turns at 70 mph in the rain. They have just enough eye-hand coordination to throw a good punch, but not enough brains to get out of the situation that led them there in the first place. Hence, a 19-year-old male is at his peak, physically and sexually, but he also is at the age when he is at highest risk for killing or being murdered, dying in a car accident or by suicide or poison, usually from drugs or alcohol.
Of course, such a death would be simply the most obvious act of stupidity. Perhaps not lethal, less noticeable acts still wreak havoc on our lives, even though they occur in living rooms and restaurants, on phones or computers, in correspondence or as responses in conversations.
We join cults at that age. We marry people we hardly know. We have sex without precautions and produce babies, unintentionally. We insult people over superficial differences. We alienate our parents or friends, often thoughtlessly. We waste time and money on fads, and succumb to peer pressure as we set our adult lives' priorities, even though we may truly believe we are making our own, unique decisions.
At 19, appearance counts, big time.
How do I know these things? I was 19, once. In fact, like most people who of have traversed that dangerous milestone and lived to tell about it, I spent close to 30 years recovering from choices I made during that milestone year.
Luckily for me, I had the benefit of a strong foundation, in the form of an intact family and a good education. Both helped me -- directly or indirectly -- through the hard times that came later.
At 17, I was out saving the world as a Freedom Rider. I wanted to be a concert pianist but --fortunately or unfortunately -- mononucleosis got in the way. (I wasn't really good enough, anyway.) So at 18, I switched to a major in foreign language with a plan to work for the UN as an interpreter. Or maybe be a war correspondent. By 19, I was into poetry and art, certain I would someday make my mark in the literary world!
Halfway through my 20th year, I married a guy I never should have married, after knowing him for four whole months. Seemed like an eternity to me. Within weeks, I was scrambling just to stay alive, let alone produce art. A full-time job as a waitress in a French restaurant looked mighty good to me at the time!
So, why did I do such a stupid thing? I'm sure it was mostly to rebel against my parents. I had been SUCH a good kid (if only they had known!). And, at 19, I was physically and emotionally ready for sex but too tied to the social mores of the day to venture very far in that direction, especially if it took me outside acceptable or legal limits.
I also was stupid enough to think I could handle marriage, work and college at the same time, without giving much thought to who would pay for it all. I knew where babies came from, but must have thought money fell from the sky.
So, if I were 19 today, is it possible my very stupid choice might be something violent or illegal -- like setting off a bomb -- rather than something noble and non-violent, or self-destructive and poorly conceived -- like tilting at windmills or trying to save the world, one loser at a time?
Maybe. Probably not, but I would not rule out the possibility.
Could I have been enticed into joining a religious cult -- say, Hari Krishna or a radical Muslim group -- at 19? Maybe. Probably not, but I did get involved in civil rights through beliefs cultivated by faith, without understanding that most of the members of the church I belonged to never offered anything but lip service to such noble causes. I, on the other hand, took rights and wrongs very seriously and was quite willing to put my very young life on the line, as long as it was for a good cause.
What if extenuating circumstances had greased the wheels? What if someone I admired had encouraged me to do something outrageous or horrible? What if that person had enticed me with drugs or sex? What if I had fallen more and more under the spell of substance abuse or another addiction and had flunked out of school, disappointing myself as well as my family? I think I might have considered suicide. Oddly, at the time, what they thought of me was extremely important.
But, what if my parents had deserted me, moving 9,000 miles away to be part of a completely different culture? What if I had found myself alone in a world where I believed I could never fit in? I do remember that, at 19, fitting in -- somewhere! -- was everything.
I’ve been thinking about all these things in light of the Boston bombing and subsequent investigation, and have to say, I believe these guys—especially the young one – could have been any number of us at that age, or any number of our children.
I proved my worth as an adult at 19 by defying racial bigots, yet staying within the letter of the law, but the brothers Tsarnaev chose to maim and kill. The results may have been more heinous, but were we that different under the skin?
It's an understatement to say this, I know, but we live in a much more violent world today than the one I knew at their age. Violence isn’t just expected today, it’s demanded.
Look around. Action always wins over talk. Watch or read Hunger Games, for instance, which shows us that winning is all and the only way to be a hero is to be the last one standing.
I don’t know. I don’t feel so innocent about this attack against society, or feel so superior over these guys. It could have been me on either end of one of those bombs. Or, it could have been you, or one of our kids. Even kids who were well liked and smart enough to win awards.
I have no doubt the two brothers committed these horrible acts. I just don’t see them as monsters, but rather as misguided, angry, stupid kids who watched too much television, were encouraged by their parents to yearn for all the wrong things, probably found solace in drugs, then discovered they were actors in a very bad movie they had created themselves. I suspect they knew how it would all turn out, or they would have taken off long before they tried to.
I'm not saying they shouldn't pay for their crimes. One already has, big time. The other is sure to be found guilty, but I won’t be surprised if he begs for mercy and shows remorse. That’s gotta count for something. In a way, admitting guilt and asking forgiveness takes more guts than shooting one’s way out of a fight with cops, especially when you see yourself as the victim of circumstance.
The most important thing I can get out of this crazy story is that, for every Tsarnaev brother, there are about a million other young people caught in similarly lousy movie plots. Many have far less structure in their lives and more reason to go astray than the brothers Tsarnaev. If we are serious about doing something to prevent more carnage, there's a lot we must do to help young people make it through those treacherous years. But, think of the lives that could be saved!
We had a big family reunion to go to, and that was our excuse to hightail out of New England around April 1 and head south. We stopped along the way to visit family, down and back, but spent four delightful days in Pompano Beach at a huge gathering of my husband’s family. All in all, we got to visit with all of our siblings, spend a little time with our children and their children, see several nieces, nephews and cousins, as well as celebrate the long lives of one of my husband's aunts and uncles, and do all of this over a short two weeks.
Florida was perfect. The natives said it was cold, but you could have fooled us. Naturally, we sat under the palms and watched the waves. Saw the sun set behind the trees. Held babies. Kissed little cheeks. Played with dolls and coloring books. Threw balls and splashed water at each other in the pool. And, got to watch the DC kids running around the park, giggling and laughing.
While we were gone, our area had (what we hope was) its last snow. We came back last week to several nights of hard frost (and a bombing), but today the grass is greening up, the bulbs are out and spring is in the air.
While spring plays footsie with us in the Northeast, here are some amazing photos to remind us what's ahead. Keith Carver, retired UMass professor and world-class photographer, shares his favorite bird photos. Enjoy them, share them, buy copies, buy framed copies, whatever. Just be sure to credit him. A comment on his blog would be nice. Be sure to mention you heard about his work on Birds on a Wire Blog.
For the entire collection of 100 bird photos, go to http://kcarver.zenfolio.com
If you enjoy this blog, let me share my day-to-day findings in the news, on Twitter and from various blogs. I've put up a front page on Rebel Mouse, an aggregator, and would love to hear what you think of it. Drop a line, or leave a comment on this blog!
They say it's spring, but I don't believe it. We had a foot of snow fall earlier this week, before the old stuff was even cleaned up and off the ground. Still, it's been a nice winter. No terrible storms, just "decent snows," as old timers call anything short of a three-footer around here.
Here's a look at some of the beautiful and not-so-beautiful sights in and around western Massachusetts and southern Vermont over the course of this winter. Bundle up and enjoy!