May 2010

My mother doesn’t want me to tell you this story. She thinks it makes me look kind of like a jerk, or at least un-ladylike. But I made a vow  and I had to keep it. So this week, Top Cat and I drove to Brooklyn, New York  (20 miles from our house on Long Island) in search of Betty Trippe’s grave in Green-wood Cemetery so I could spit on it.

I must say, if I hadn’t had to settle a score with the late Mrs. Juan Trippe, I would never had had the pleasure of discovering that Green-wood Cemetery is one of my favorite places in all of New York! So, thanks, Betty. You bitch.

Founded in 1838 as one of America’s first rural cemeteries, the Green-Wood Cemetery soon developed an international reputation for its magnificent beauty and became the fashionable place to be buried. By 1860, Green-Wood was attracting 500,000 visitors a year, rivaling Niagara Falls as the country’s greatest tourist attraction.

Today Green-Wood is 478 spectacular acres of hills, valleys, glacial ponds and paths, throughout which exists one of the largest outdoor collections of 19th- and 20th-century statuary and mausoleums. Four seasons of beauty from century-and-a-half-old trees offer a peaceful oasis to visitors, as well as its 560,000 permanent residents, including Leonard Bernstein, Boss Tweed, Charles Ebbets, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Horace Greeley, Civil War generals, baseball legends, politicians, artists, entertainers and inventors.

On September 27, 2006, Green-Wood was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior, which recognized its national significance in art, architecture, landscaping and history.

This is the hill near the site of the Battle of Long Island (1776), near the very edge of the cemetery overlooking a quiet back street in Brooklyn. You can’t see it very well in this photo, but in real life it pops out, way out there, on the horizon; let me zoon in on it for you:

Top Cat and I spent a wonderful hour moseying around the grounds, which we had all to ourselves on one of the finest Spring days we had this year (people don’t spend their leisure hours strolling around cemeteries like they used to).

At last we found the Trippe grave site, and I stood in front of Betty’s grave (center stone) and I said, “This is for all those lost dogs, all those broken-hearted servicemen!” and I spit on her grave. (When I told my mother what I’d done, she said, “Oh, Vivian, did you have to?” And when I told her that I was going to blog about it she said, “Oh, my, I don’t think anybody wants to read about that.”)

I’ll be honest, it really didn’t feel all that good; I’m not much of a spitter-in-public. But hey: you dis my boys of the ETO and their dogs and you’ll have me spewing  on you and your memory. So there.

Because there is a special bond between service men and women and their animal companions. See this picture, below, taken in Iraq:

See that little puppy in the background? Read about him here (courtesy of my friend, Melinda Penkava, and her excellent Town Dock (Oriental, NC) News website:

I feel like somebody should say: Amen.

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James Alexander Malloy, C Co., 175th Infantry, 29th Division.

This is the last photo ever taken of Pvt. Malloy; it is May 1944 and he is in Cornwall, England, finishing up his training with the 29th Division for the invasion of Europe. He will go in on Omaha Beach on D-Day + 1, in what is known as “the third wave”. He will fight in the hedgerows of Normandy towards the liberation of the German-occupied town of St. Lo (the hub where all the main roads from the deep-sea ports of Brittany and Normandy converge to form a highway straight to Paris) until June 16. On that day, when his regiment is engaged in fierce combat at a place called Hill 108, (known as Purple Heart Hill, for the capture of which the 175th will be awarded a Presidential Unit Citation), James Malloy will be killed by a German sniper with a shot to the heart. He will be interred along with 9, 387 other American servicemen in the Military Cemetery at Colleville-St. Laurent, the only Scottish soldier buried on that magnificently peaceful green bluff overlooking Omaha Beach.

I had gone to Omaha Beach to pay my respects to James Malloy at the request of his son, a Korea War vet who is in poor health (the son, Joseph Molloy, was 14 years old when his father died; he now lives on Long Island). Neither of us knew, at the time, that James Malloy was the only Scottish soldier buried in the American cemetery; in fact, Joseph knew very little about his father — not even his father’s birth date.

Once I began researching the life of James Malloy, I was able to find out rather a lot about his life and service. I tracked down the New York City orphanage where James was sent when he was five years old, I found the records of his discharge when he was sent back to his paternal grandparents in Scotland after six years at The Home, I found the old Army records that show how he waited for the Americans to enter the war before he joined the 29th Division in England, I tracked down his Army sergeant who remembered “Scottie” vividly, who also told me what he saw the day James Malloy was killed. I interviewed James’ best friend in the Division just two months before he died, a man who had never talked about the war to his own family and at whose funeral I spoke on behalf of the Molloy family to thank him for all he had done after the war to support the emigration of James Malloy’s widow and son to the US.

I wrote a brief summary of all this for the veterans’ association fo the 29th Division and it was published in their magazine last March (I have added a new “James Malloy Page” [above, see tabs] for those who are interested). I am now an associate member of The 29th Division Association and I’ve had the pleasure to meet many more WWII vets.

The 29th Division still has, to this day, strong connections to the people they liberated in Normandy. At every anniversary of D-Day, a contingent of 29ers goes to Omaha (sometimes in the company of US Presidents) and are joined by generations of French citizens who march in the streets of St. Lo, Vire, Vierville, and St. Laurent. One of those grateful French citizens comes all the way from the Breton peninsula to pay his respects, and two years ago he took his young family to Omaha to visit James Malloy’s grave:

James Malloy’s only son, Joseph Molloy, does not have children of his own. I used to worry that the memory of James Malloy, the only Scottish soldier buried on Omaha Beach, would disappear. But now that these French children have heard of him, and now that you, too, know his name, I hope that means that someone will be there for him in 2044, on the 100th anniversary of D-Day. And in 2144, 2244, 2344…

If you have a soldier you would like us to remember on Memorial Day, feel free to add his name in your Comments.

Have a happy weekend, everyone.

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The record for At First Not Succeeding And Trying, Trying Again (and Again) goes to a picture I tried to paint of an evening in Paris when Top Cat and I found ourselves in the middle of an impromptu dance party on the Pont des Arts.

Oh! It was such a wonderful memory! Of these Parisians whirling around the boards of the bridge where everyone gathers for picnics and rendez-vous in the dusk, the warmth of that early September evening like velvet at 9 o’clock when the Seine and the sky reflect the sunset and the lights of the city like shimmering bits of satin and silk…

I painted that sucker about a dozen times and could never get it right:

Sometimes it was the sky, sometimes it was the dancers, sometimes it was the sky line of Paris  that didn’t look right…

…sometimes it was the sky line and the dancers and the sky that didn’t look right.

This is how many times I started over, and over, and over, and over, trying to make those figures and that bridge and that view work before I had to throw it all away and start with a whole new idea:

I drew completely new figures and put them on a totally different plane and I slapped a moody wash of violets and blues over them and it worked just fine (Sorry, I don’t have a finished version to show you because I haven’t yet committed myself to keeping it in the book).

Somerset Maughm wrote his autobiography at the end of his career and I carry around an excerpt from it to re-read every now and then. He wrote this about how he arrived at his  understanding of his style:

I discovered my limitations and I aimed at what excellence I could within them. I knew that I had no lyrical quality [Me too! Me too!]. I had a small vocabulary. I had little gift for metaphor; the original and striking simile seldom occurred to me.

On the other hand, I had an acute power of observation, and it seemed to me that I could see a great many things that other people missed. I could put in clear terms what I saw. I had a logical sense and if no great feeling for the richness and strangeness of words, at all events I had a lively appreciation of their sound.

I knew I could never write as well as I could wish, but with pains I could arrive at writing as well as my natural deficits allowed.

In the end, Somerset Maughm summed up his style in these three words:

Lucidity.   Simplicity.   Euphony.

And then he went on to write The Moon and Sixpence, Of  Human Bondage, and one other famous book I can’t remember. (The Razor’s Edge?)

So it just goes to show that even with limitations, one can still strive for excellence; as long as one understands one’s abilities. I just have to figure out what my one or two abilities are.



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I collect old guide books because, well, I don’t read fiction so that doesn’t leave a whole lot else to read. Ha ha ha!

I happened to pick up a 2005 Frommer’s guide to Paris. I thumbed through it and became deep in thought…

I found myself really thinking, debating, hard, about whether or not I should buy this book.  FOR A DIME.

Take a look: the frontispiece photo ALONE is worth every penny of that dime:

While THIS picture (below) cost me about $4,000:

This is the Brasserie du Champ du Mars, a cafe near my old stomping grounds in the 7th arrondisement near the American University in Paris, also called The American Quarter because it’s where Rick Steves sends all his readers.

There I was, taking the exact same photo as Frommer’s!

My photo is from the 28-day road trip that Top Cat and took through France in 2005, the one I’m busy writing about and illustrating EVEN AS WE SPEAK. And when you see my painting of this cafe here (where Top Cat and I would partake of our morning tea and croissants) in That Damn France Book, I just want you to know that I’d already done my illustration before I had any idea that Frommer’s was READING MY MIND.

Next time I go to France, I’m wearing my tin foil hat.

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