Sentence of the Day: The Reason Why, p. 238

After 238 pages of the most excruciating build-up, the moment for the charge of the light brigade at Balaclava is at hand. Here it comes. The order is given by the Mutt & and Jeff of the British Army, Lord Cardigan and Lord Raglan. And the men are off!

While there’s no suspense about the events, the manner of telling is truly incredible. There were “watchers on the heights,” and what they saw was this: The lines of British horsemen in the plain below were “expanding and contracting with strange mechanical precision.”

This is how author Cecil Woodham-Smith explains it, in a sentence that is more than fitting for the honor of being the Sentence of the Day:

  • “Death was coming fast, and the Light Brigade was meeting death in perfect order; as a man or horse dropped, the riders on each side of him opened out; as soon as they had ridden clear, the ranks closed again.”

A moment of silence, please, for the fallen.

The Russians were so incredulous at what the British cavalry had just done that, instead of pressing their advantage (and finishing off some seventy-odd survivors), they began to hesitate. Which is the only reason there were any survivors at all.

Fondly Hoping that Lord Raglan

pays with his life for his incredible stupidity, but he is so stupid that he always manages to be far from the scene of battle. His troops in the meanwhile receive the most incredible bruising.

p. 197: Lord Raglan decides to make the port of Balaclava his base.

  • It was a place of incredible beauty. The harbour, all but landlocked, had the appearance of an inland lake, a sheet of silver reflecting the surrounding heights. The village, a favourite summer resort for visitors from Sebastopol, was celebrated for its picturesque charm. Gay little villas with roofs of green tiles were set in carefully cultivated gardens. Roses, clematis, honeysuckle, and vines loaded with large, pale, green Muscatel grapes festooned every house and fence, orchards stretched up the slopes, vegetable gardens were neatly set out in rows of tomatoes, pumpkins, and lettuce. Overnight the charm vanished. More than twenty-five thousand men, of whom nine out of ten were suffering from diarrhea, marched into the village. Gardens were trampled into mud, fences smashed, vines dragged down, doors and windows broken, trees destroyed. The lovely little landlocked harbour, only half a mile long and less than a quarter wide, was ridiculously inadequate to serve as the port of supply for an army. Ships crowded in, the water ceased to mirror the surrounding heights, refuse floated everywhere, and soon there was a horrible smell.

The Reason Why, pp. 183 – 184

Under terrific fire — forty guns were trained on the river, and the bullets whipped the surface of the water into a bloody foam — the first British troops began to struggle across the Alma, the men so parched with thirst that even at this moment they stopped to drink. Everything was confusion: the advance on the two-mile front was obscured by dense clouds of smoke, the Russians had fired a village on the British left after stuffing it with straw, and on the slopes before the Great Redoubt piles of brushwood were set alight. Men could not see each other, could not see their officers . . . It seemed impossible that the slender, straggling line could survive — huge columns of Russian infantry raked it with fire, heavy guns in the Great Redoubt poured round shot, grape, and canister into it at a distance of a few hundred yards. Again and again large gaps were torn in the line, the slopes became littered with bodies and sloppy with blood, but the survivors closed up and pressed on, their officers urging, swearing, yelling like demons.

Oh, good job, Cecil Woodham-Smith. The battle is so vividly described that self almost felt sure you were a man.

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

Summer 2021: Favorite Reads

Self set a 2021 reading challenge of 35 books. So far, she’s read 30. She’s back, people. Self is back. She used to average 60 books a year. That sank to just 4 in 2014. But every year since 2014, her reading rate’s been inching back up.

Her favorite summer reads have been:

  • Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West, by Lauren Redniss
  • The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943, by Keith Lowe

She’s currently reading Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, by Keith Lowe. Hope it’s as good as Inferno.

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

Poetry Saturday: Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 1988)

We real cool. We
left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
Die Soon

Realism Is Appreciated

Keith Lowe tells a great story. He is very singularly focused, and shows the step-by-step progression of the air war, from fairly restrained strategic bombings, early on, to area bombings, which were meant to cow and terrify the target population.

Self is on p. 68 of Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg: It’s the summer of 1943, and Britain and America are getting ready to bomb Hamburg.

They have to deal with German flak:

  • Using their radar screens, the German defenders could plot the height, speed, and direction of flight of any one of the British bombers. They could then predict exactly where the airplane would be in the time it took the flak shells to fly 20,000 feet up into the air, and direct the flak batteries accordingly. The only way for a British pilot to avoid this was to zigzag and corkscrew across the sky — which, when the sky was full of other airplanes, greatly increased the chances of a collision. When a crew was about to release their bombs, even this course of evasive action was denied them — if they were to hit the target they were obliged to fly straight and level for a full minute before the bombs were released and they could think about escaping once more. Only when the photoflash had gone, marking the place they had bombed on an intelligence photograph, could they turn their tail and head away from the hail of flak shells.

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

Thursday Trios, Week of 17 June 2021

Thanks to Mama Cormier for hosting the Thursday Trios Challenge.

This week, self’s post is on: Summer Reads & Fresh Cherries

Lens-Artists Challenge # 149: Cool Colors (Blue and Green)

The host of this challenge is Tina, of Travels and Trifles. Here is how she introduces the challenge:

  • This week we are returning to the color wheel and its cooler members, which include blue (primary) green (secondary) and blue-green or blue-violet aka purple (tertiary). A visit to the web on the subject will take you deep into the emotions said to result from exposure to these and other colors. For this week’s purposes, let’s simply explore the many ways the cooler colors appear in our world.`

Here is a copy of Thomas Farber’s latest book. Dive in, people. It is just so beguiling. It is Farber’s 28th. He teaches creative writing at UC Berkeley:

The next two pictures are from her recent visit to the California Academy of Sciences. She got there the minute it opened, at 9:30, and stayed till about 3. She took the pictures below in the Aquarium, on the lower level:

Hope it’s nice weather where you are. It’s awfully hot over here, in northern California.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Flower of the Day (FOTD), 15 May: Iceberg

Thank you to Cee Neuner for hosting the Flower of the Day Photo Challenge.

Self’s Iceberg roses are coming on strong in her front yard.

You will notice how the plants are more or less “layered” — the Iceberg grows in between the branches of a Japanese maple. She planted things because she didn’t know which ones would “take.” And this is the result.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

The Maze

Self is still on Chapter 1 (“Exodus”) of Sonia Shah’s book, which she started reading two days ago. It is incredible. She has read so, so many books on the U.S.-Mexico border; borders have always fascinated her, and this one more than most. She has never actually read, in any book, about the desolation. Parched sand, stagnant water, “wild hogs, black and round,” vultures, roadkill.

  • It takes days to cross the uninhabited, parched lands. Young, strong Cesar Cuevas told me he spent four days walking through the desert to make it north to the United States. He came prepared, carrying four gallons of water, dried meat, and tortillas . . . The required volume — a gallon per day per person — can quickly add up to thirty pounds or more. Those who don’t carry enough with them must make do with the grimy water tanks that the ranchers set out for their cattle, or the blue bins that human rights groups are sometimes able to fill for passing migrants, scribbling GPS coordinates on the inside of their lids. — pp. 28 – 29, The Next Great Migration

Children, toddlers, try and make it across.

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