The Strangest Stamp You’re Likely To See For a While, Maybe Ever

Because I was so busy today, I naturally took time out to watch a couple of episodes of Vintage Space, a series I happened across a few months ago. It’s always interesting. One installment I watched today, “Only Three People Have Died in Space,” was about the ill-fated Soyuz 11 mission.

The three would be the unfortunate Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev, who died in space when their capsule depressurized suddenly just before re-entry. The spacecraft’s automated system then returned the dead crew to Earth.

I remember hearing about that. I was paying close attention to space news by 1971, even though I was 10. As usual with Soviet missions, and especially ones that didn’t go well, the information was a little vague at the time. I’ve read about it since, but it was good to hear host Amy Shira Teitel offer more detail about the accident.

Interesting to realize that for someone her age, just over 30, all of the early programs are purely history, without a memory component. I’m really glad I remember Apollo.

Toward the end of the segment, she discusses a set of stamps issued soon after the mission by Equatorial Guinea — certainly printed elsewhere for that nation — honoring Soyuz 11. That’s where things got strange.

One of the stamps, as seen above, gruesomely depicts the dead crew. “It is one of the strangest depictions of fallen heroes on a stamp that I have ever seen,” Teitel says. I’ll go further: it’s one of the strangest stamps I’ve ever seen.

Ann at 1111

No store-bought birthday cake this year for Ann, at her request. Her mother made a cheesecake.

It was good cheesecake. We didn’t have a numeral 5 candle. You’d think we would, considering my age, but no. So the numeral 1 stood for a decade, the smaller candles for years. Ann was OK with that arrangement.

I thought of, but forgot to suggest, that the numbers be in base 2, which would be 1111. There’s no reason to use base 10 for birthday candles other than the dead hand of decimal tradition, after all.

This Has Never Happened in January

According to Accuweather at least, the highs in my part of the suburbs on January 26 and 27, 2018, were 51 F and 50 F respectively. Maybe so, but on Saturday the 27th from about 11 am to 2 pm, the air felt warmer. On my deck it felt warmer, maybe because of its southern exposure.

It felt so warm I decided to cook some sausages on the grill, which usually spends its winters standing idly in the back yard. That’s probably not good for the long-term condition of the grill, but it’s a nuisance to find a spot for it into the garage. Anyway, just after noon on Saturday the grill was smokin’.

It only looks like a dry grass hazard. Because of recent snow meltage — earlier in the week — the ground was damp, even soggy in spots.

Even better, we sat on the deck and ate the sausages for lunch. An al fresco lunch in northern Illinois in January. I don’t even need one hand to count the number of times I’ve done that. I’m not sure I even need more than one finger.

Of course it didn’t last. By Sunday temps were back below freezing, with a dusting of snow. But brevity made the warmth all the more pleasant.

Circular Quay to Manly, 1992

Australia Day has come and gone again — it was Friday — so what better time to post pictures of early ’90s Sydney Harbour? One of the things I did in January 1992 in Sydney was take the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly, which offered some fine views of the harbor.

Toward the center-left of the image is the 1,000-or-so-foot Sydney Tower, the narrow tower with the observation bulb on top, and one of the places I visited when I first got to town. A fine view.

The Opera House. I saw that during my first-day walkabout, as you’d expect. It was closed, so I didn’t see the inside. But it’s an impressively odd structure from the outside.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge. At one point during my visit I walked across it. The bridge is the same league as the Golden Gate Bridge or Brooklyn Bridge or the Seto Ohashi.

Finally, just a picture of people doing what I was doing, watching the harbor go by.

It was a windy summer day out there on the water.

Don’t Forget Dessert!

We still get newspapers, and newspaper circulars, delivered to our house. For how much longer, I don’t know. I’ve called to cancel a few times over the years, but every time I do the newspaper lowers the cost of the subscription a lot.

The paper still has its interests. Even in the circulars.

Found this a while ago — it was at the bottom of a circular advertising a brand of fast food I never buy. Among all of the choices, it’s third or fourth string. The addition of fried Twinkies isn’t going to change that.

I had a fried Twinkie in its native setting a few years ago, at a street festival in the Midwest. Note to my non-existent hipster readers: that is an authentic experience. It cost more than in an inauthentic, fast-food setting, but you should expect to pay more for authenticity. I should add that it’s one of that class of experiences you can do exactly once and not regret never doing again.

What Happens When I Look for a Book

Somewhere in this house I have a copy of The Religions of Man by Huston Smith. An older edition, because later it was retitled The World’s Religions. I read it in a comparative religion class once upon a time. A lot of people can say that.

I looked for it today but didn’t find it. Ann has started comparative religion in her Human Geography class, and I thought I’d at least make the book available to her. She’d get something out of it.

Curious, I looked up Huston Smith. He died only toward the end of 2016, well into his 90s. I’ll look for the book again tomorrow. It’s on one of my shelves.

I did happen across a few other books I’d forgotten I owned. One in particular caught my eye, considering my recent short bit of Bolshevik-themed tourism: Trotsky: Fate of a Revolutionary by Robert Wistrich (1979).

I bought it at a Davis-Kidd Booksellers remainder table. I know that because it still has the price tag on it, which tells me I paid $2.98. Davis-Kidd was a Nashville bookstore I visited often in the mid-80s. It’s gone. Of course it’s gone, though it limped on until 2010.

As for Robert Wistrich, he too is gone. Died 2015. Though he wrote other things, like the book about Trotsky, he’s known as a scholar of the history of antisemitism.

Finally, the publisher of Trotsky: Fate of a Revolutionary was Stein and Day. I’d like to report that it’s a going concern, but no. Closed in 1989. The company published a lot of titles in its time, and it lists a few on the back of Trotsky, which seem to have a theme.

Such as Stalin: An Appraisal of the Man and His Influence, by none other than Trotsky, Khruschev by Mark Frankland, Che Guevara, by Daniel James, The Complete Bolivian Diaries of Che Guevara, edited by Daniel James.

Also four books by Communist turned anti-Communist Bertram D. Wolfe, including The Fabulous Life of Diego Rivera and the amusingly titled Strange Communists I Have Known.

I never did get around to reading Trotsky. Maybe I should. Might be a slog. Leafing through it, the book seems heavy on the development of Trotsky’s ideas, light on the fun stuff, like his dalliance with Frida and his messy end.

Bayeux Tapestry Odds

Faux spring no mo’. Woke up this morning to a light coat of snow. Not even enough to warrant shoveling, but snow all the same.

I check the Paddy Power web site now and then, not because I’m interesting in betting, but because its predictive powers seem pretty good. Usually. The Irish bookies got the 2016 election wrong, but they get a pass for that, since everyone else did too.

Last week Amazon winnowed its second headquarters site selection to 20 cities, something I’m following as a professional matter. I was a little surprised to see that the odds favor Boston right now, at 2/1, with Atlanta, Austin and Washington DC next.

All very interesting, but what really caught my attention on the site was, “Bayeux Tapestry Location Display.” What? It’s going to be displayed somewhere outside Bayeux?

Apparently so. At some point in the next few years, at someplace in the UK. Exactly where is the betting matter.

Paddy Power puts the British Museum as the clear favorite, at 1/2, which seems reasonable, but also possible are Canterbury and Westminster Abbey at 5/1. Less serious possibilities are at Paddy Power Tower or “Any Carpet Right store.”

I assume the tower is the company headquarters in Dublin. As for Carpet Right, which is actually styled Carpetright, that’s a carpet retailer with 426 stores in the UK and 138 in the Low Countries and Ireland. Just a spot of fun from the Paddy Power bookies.

The Internet, being what it is, allows me to find out about other things related to the Bayeux Tapestry with ridiculous ease. For example, if I wanted to spend $230, I could have my own Bayeux Tapestry tablecloth, 95 percent cotton and also made in France. Nice, but no thanks.

Finding George Orwell in Burma

Heavy rain early this morning. I woke at 3 or so and cracked the window slightly so I could hear it as I fell back asleep, like I might do in the spring. Later, I was up to make sure the outside drain and inside sump pump were working, as I might do in the spring. They were.

Seems that we got an warm edge of what ought to have been a blizzard — snow that in fact hit Michigan and Wisconsin and Iowa, essentially an arc around the Chicago area. A storm that the Weather Channel, in its annual silliness on the subject of winter storms, insists on calling by a name, “Jaxson.”

The book I took to Mexico was Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin (revised edition, 2011). Nothing like reading about a different country when you’re in different country, and the more different, the better. Burma certainly qualifies as very different from Mexico and, sadly for the Burmese, mostly in bad ways. Previously I’d only had a sketchy idea of how repressive the Burmese government has been for a long time (from what I’ve read, things are somewhat better now. Maybe). Though not writing a polemic per se, Larkin describes the totalitarian aspects of Burma very clearly.

“Burma’s surveillance machine is frighteningly thorough and efficient,” she says at one point. “It consists of a number of departments that come under of the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence, known informally in Burmese as MI, for ‘Military Intelligence.’ MI’s mandate is vast: to monitor the entire Burmese population. It concentrates on obvious threats to the regime, which includes the armed forces themselves, and targets anyone who has ever criticized the government openly, NLD members, and foreigners both in the country and out. In short, everyone is being watched… in some towns the surveillance mechanism operates at the neighbourhood level, with MI minions filing daily reports to central bureaux… This method of control is highly effective: Big Brother really is everywhere.”

The mention of Big Brother is fitting, because the book is as much about Orwell and his works as Burma. Larkin structured the book as a bit of travel writing, in the sense that she visited places in Burma where Orwell lived as an imperial policeman, and writes about these places and her visits, but it’s much deeper that most travel pieces. She’s been visiting Burma for years and knows it well. She also knows Orwell and his works well, including Burmese Days, which naturally is discussed at length.

I didn’t realize, for instance, that the original publisher made Orwell change certain details, the better to hide the identities of people he’d based his Burmese Days characters on. Later, after the British had bugged out of Burma and all the colonials Orwell knew were dead, the details were changed back in more recent editions.

Sometimes, like standard travel writing, Larkin describes what she sees, and is pretty good at it: “I walked up Limouzin Street,” she writes of the town of Moulmein, where Orwell’s mother was born into the Limouzin family, who were important enough to have a street named after them. “It was a tidy street with a smooth tarmac surface and tin-roofed houses tucked away behind low white walls. Here and there unruly fronts of orange bougainvillea spiked over the fences and on to the pavement. A row of manicured bushes ran along the base of a pagoda wall. As I strolled up the slight incline I heard the faint sounds of radio music seeping out from some of the houses, but I didn’t meet a single person.”

Using the travel structure, Larkin was able to write thoughtfully about both Orwell and Burma, and how living there might have affected his thinking and writing. She also recounts meetings with various Burmese, and what they have to say about how wrong things have gone under military rule, presumably changing their names and all important details, so they don’t end up in some torture cell. In fact, I’ve read that “Larkin” itself is a pseudonym, presumably so she can not be kicked out of Burma when she goes there, or simply not allowed in.

On the whole, it was a good book to read when traveling. A good book might not be as important on the road as your passport or money, but I’d say it’s up there with clean underwear or broken-in walking shoes.

Versus 1981-82

Today was faux spring. That happens occasionally even in darkest winters. The aspects of spring we got today were non-freezing temps, drizzle and mud. The dog at least is happy. And it is better than a subzero day.

Last year, when looking up William F. Hagerty, a VU alum who eventually became the current U.S. ambassador to Japan — succeeding such notables as Caroline Kennedy, Walter Mondale, Douglas MacArthur II, Joseph Grew, Townsend Harris and arguably Commodore Perry — I also came across this photo in the 1982 Vanderbilt Commodore yearbook.

Pictured are staff members of Versus magazine, the student magazine, 1981-82. Actually only about half of the staff; the editor for that year is not even pictured. I’m third from the left, top row. Or third from the right, come to think of it. These days I’m on Facebook with four of the people pictured, including Dan, bottom row right. I correspond by postcard and email with another person in the picture who doesn’t do Facebook.

The present generation of VU student journalists will not know the joys and irritations of producing a paper magazine. At least not Versus, nor a paper version of the student newspaper, The Hustler. At some point in the current century, those were unceremoniously dumped, as was the terrestrial radio station, WRVU, though that was sold for a mess of pottage.

Mid-January Debris

Never mind what the Rossetti poem says, the bleak midwinter is about now, in mid-January, which is bleak, and which is smack in the middle of meteorological winter.

Dogs don’t mind, though. They’re already wearing coats.

One more pic from Mexico, a statue on Paseo de la Reforma.

“El Angel de la Seguridad Social,” a bronze by Jorge Marin, erected in 2013.

As gob.mx says, “Como parte de las actividades conmemorativas por el 70 Aniversario de la fundación del Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS),” the Mexican Social Security Institute. That’s the branch of the Mexican government in charge of public pensions and public health, established in 1943.

My brother Jay got me a Suprematist tea cup and saucer for Christmas.

On the bottom, something unusual: Imperial Porcelain – 1744 – St. Petersburg – Made in Russia. I’d probably have to look high and low around my house to find anything else made in Russia, and even then there might not be anything else.