Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The 13th Apostle by Dermot McEvoy

One thing about historical fiction: if you know anything about the history, there are no spoilers. When I picked up The 13th Apostle, I knew how it would end. Michael Collins would die by an assassin's bullet. I knew it was because of a dispute that had torn the newborn Irish nation asunder, and that the dispute was over whether to accept the terms of a deal with Britain that would allow six northern counties to remain under the Crown. What I didn't know was Collins' role in negotiating that deal, and that he died defending instead of opposing it. What little I knew of Collins made me think he'd have been on the other side: an all-or-nothing-ist  instead of a pragmatist.

In his conduct of the struggle to free Ireland, in which his efforts were essential to bring about the conditions that brought Britain to the truce table, Collins was, as the book tells, a consummate pragmatist. He knew just what needed to be done, and how, to undermine the foundation of  British power. He was also, however, not averse to taking risk, sometimes with respect to his own safety. The lot of being the confidante who sometimes must try to talk sense to Collins falls, in the novel, on a fictional character, Eoin Kavanagh.*

The 13th Apostle is a novel told from two points of view. One is that of Eoin Kavanagh who, at fourteen, was a resident, along with his parents and three younger siblings, in a dreadful Dublin building called The Piles. The misery of his family--he lost a younger brother to diphtheria and his mother shows signs of the tuberculosis that will end her life early--makes him sympathetic to the Feinian cause. On Easter Monday 1916 he gets caught up in the excitement and joins the rebels. A bullet grazes one of his buttocks. Lying with the wounded he draws the attention of Michael Collins and of a nurse, Róisín O'Mahony, four years his senior, who tends to his bleeding bottom. From this inauspicious beginning he has an improbable but not inconceivable career. He becomes Collins' assistant, adviser, and a supernumerary member of his "Squad" who do the targeted killings necessary to advance the liberation of Ireland. The Squad were called "The Twelve Apostles"; hence, the novel's title. He marries Róisín, and after Collins' death they emigrate to New York. He settles in Greenwich Village, takes American citizenship (without losing the Irish, from the viewpoint of its government), gets into politics, is elected to Congress, and becomes a confidante of FDR (as Róisín becomes one of, and a ghostwriter for, Eleanor), but after the assassination of JFK decides to leave his adopted country and return to Ireland. There he's elected to the Dail (the Irish parliament) and supports the cause of liberating the Six Counties from British rule.

The other viewpoint is that of Eoin's grandson, Eoin Kavanagh III, called "Johnny Three" because Eoin, pronounced "Owen," is the Gaelic equivalent to John. He's a writer, lives in the Village, drinks at the Lion's Head, and is married to Diane, a Presbyterian who loves him dearly but is often amazed, and sometimes dismayed, by his and his family's Irish ways. Actually, Diane, along with Róisín, should probably be added as point of view characters, because their observations are vital to the development of the story.

The story begins with old Eoin's death, in Ireland, at the age of 105. As he was the last surviving veteran of the Easter Rising, as well as a distinguished statesman in his later years, his funeral is a major occasion. Johnny Three and Diane attend, and learn that the old man's legacy to Johnny included a set of diaries, kept from his participation in the Easter Rising through his years as Collins' assistant and Squad member, Collins'
death, and its aftermath.

The novel's narrative shifts between Johnny Three and Diane in 2006, and Eoin from Easter Monday, 1916 to August of 1922, with a few snippets of his later life in America, including a meeting with FDR and Churchill on Christmas Eve, 1941, with the U.S. newly allied with Britain against the Axis. It's Eoin's second meeting with Churchill, his first having been during the 1921 treaty negotiations, when he served as Collins' bodyguard. With a little prompting, Churchill remembers this. Churchill and Collins, on whose head Churchill had once put a ten thousand pound reward, came to respect and like each other as men of action. The 13th Apostle includes a true anecdote featuring Churchill's rapier wit that I hadn't known before. I won't spoil it by repeating it here.

While the shifts in locale and time may sound disorienting, they provide a useful perspective. Johnny knew his grandfather had been a rebel, and an associate of Collins, but didn't know he had participated in the executions of British agents and their Irish collaborators. Diane found it hard to believe that the man she knew as a stand-in father-in-law (we learn little of Johnny Two, other than that he evidently abandoned his son) was a killer. When we see it from Eoin's perspective, we find how hard it was for him to square his moral convictions with his duty to Ireland and Collins, even when his first fatal shot is into the head of the man who tortured and killed his father.

I learned much history from reading The 13th Apostle, and got a sense of what it was like to have been in Dublin during the years that the Irish Republic, "a terrible beauty" in Yeats' words, was born. I also learned the words that must be said to make a perfect act of contrition. This book may yet be my ticket to heaven. 
 _________
*The character of Eoin Kavanagh seemed so realistic to me that I did a web search for the name, just to see if there was someone with that or a similar name who was prominent in the Irish rebellion. I found this article by Owen Kavanagh ("Owen" is an alternative spelling of the Gaelic "Eoin") giving the results of his research into the involvement of members of the Kavanagh clan in the Easter Rising and subsequent struggle for liberation. He mentions the brothers Michael and William Kavanagh as having participated in the Easter Rising and later in the fight for independence, a Sean Kavanagh as having been Collins' intelligence officer in Kildare, and a Seamus Kavanagh as having been among the rebels in the General Post Office on Easter, 1916. Owen Kavanagh's source of information was:
a set of six...CD’s contain[ing] Dublin Castle’s secret surveillance files, known as Personality Files which were compiled by the Special Branch of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP).
His account ends with an "Author's Note" mentioning the execution of Alan Bell, a bank examiner sent by the British government to ferret out the accounts holding Sinn Fein's funds to be used in support of the uprising. In The 13th Apostle, the fictional Eoin Kavanagh is part of the team that captures and kills Bell.  In his Note, Owen Kavanagh describes how Constable Harry Kells of the DMP, who earlier had been tracking the Kavanagh brothers, was assigned to try to find Bell's killers. This brought Kells to the attention of Collins, who had him killed. There's no indication, however, that any of the Kavanaghs were involved in Bell's execution. None of the characters in The 13th Apostle is based on any of these Kavanaghs. There is, however, extensive discussion in the novel about the intelligence operations carried out by the RIC and DMP and the files they kept on actual  and suspected rebels, as well as Collins' ultimately successful effort to gain access to those files.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Clothes in pop music, part 1, 1955-63.

My friend Moira Redmond has a blog called Clothes in Books. When she started it, I reminded her that Ayn Rand heroines favored high waisted gowns in the 'Empire' style, because she had, during her term as Fray Editor, remarked that any post mentioning Ms. Rand was likely to attract lots of comments.

Thinking about clothes in books led to my remembering the spate of pop songs about clothes, mostly "novelty" songs but a few straight-ahead rockers and sock hop squeeze 'n' shuffles, that crowded the airwaves during the late 1950s and early '60s. One of the most memorable of these was Marty Robbins' (photo above) 1957 ballad "A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation."


The clip above is of a 1981 live performance by Robbins, made just a year before the singer's death.

 In 1956, Carl Perkins recorded "Put Your Cat Clothes On," though the record was not released until 1970. Perkins refers to "Blue Suede Shoes" in the lyrics, a nod to another song he wrote in 1955 and recorded in January of '56.

1957 was a big year for songs about clothes. A New Jersey group called the Royal Teens had a hit with "Short Shorts." The piano player is Bob Gaudio, who would later join Frankie Valli in the Four Seasons and write several of their hits, including "Sherry".

1957 also gave us "Black Slacks," by Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones.

1957 was a big year in fashion as well, as couturier Cristobal Balenciega introduced his shape shrouding sack dress. In 1958, Gerry Granahan expressed his displeasure in "No Chemise, Please."
  In 1959 thirteen year old Dodie Stevens (exactly my age then) hit the charts with "Pink Shoelaces."

Bryan Hyland made the top ten and Dick Clark's American Bandstand in 1960 with "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini." The modestly dressed woman in high tops who gives the spoken interrogatories is Trudy Packer.


Another 1960 release was the Coasters' paleo-rap "Shoppin' for Clothes," written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who had earlier penned "Hound Dog" for Big Mama Thornton, later covered by Elvis. Coasters member Billy Guy was working with the songwriters, and remembered a similar piece he'd heard on the radio. They searched record stores but couldn't find it. Later they learned it was "Clothes Line," written by Kent Harris and recorded by Boogaloo and his Gallant Crew. Harris was then given co-credit for "Shoppin' for Clothes."


I'll close, as did many a school dance, with Bobby Vinton's 1963 prom belly-rubber "Blue Velvet," which later inspired a David Lynch movie.

I'll do a second installment featuring songs from the late 1960s to the present. If anyone can think of clothes-themed songs from the period covered in this post or later, please let me know.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Photos from a "Hidden Harbor" tour.

A few weeks ago my wife and I went on one of the Hidden Harbor tours presented by the Working Harbor Committee. These tours, which use chartered Circle Line boats, take one into parts of New York harbor one doesn't usually see closely unless one works in the maritime industry. Our tour departed from the Circle Line pier, near the foot of Manhattan's West 43rd Street. As the boat backed out into the Hudson River, we could see Norwegian Gem docked at the nearby cruise ship terminal. A now retired Concorde SST is on display at the end of the pier that is home to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
As we moved away from the dock, we got a good view of the World War Two veteran aircraft carrier Intrepid.
Heading downriver, we passed the retired, now privately owned fire boat John J. Harvey and the also privately owned lightship Frying Pan. Six years ago I was on a cruise on the tugboat Cornell when we were called on to pull Harvey, then stuck on a mudbank, free. I recorded the incident on video. The large structure behind Frying Pan is the Starrett-Lehigh Building, (Cory & Cory, Yasuo Matsui; 1931), a striking adaptation of some elements of art deco architecture, such as rounded corners, continuous horizontal strip windows, and varying brick colors, to an industrial and warehouse structure.
Continuing down the Hudson, we saw another former government vessel now in private hands, the lightship tender Lilac. Behind her is the Borough of Manhattan Community College and the towers of the Independence Plaza housing complex.
Passing the tip of lower Manhattan we saw a skyline dominated by the new One World Trade Center (David Childs/SOM; completion expected later this year) and the newly opened Four World Trade Center (Fumihiko Maki, 2013). The low, white building on the shoreline below One WTC is City Pier A, built in the 1880s and expanded in 1900 and 1919. It was used at different times for police and fire boats, lay derelict for many years, and is now being rehabilitated as a venue for restaurants.
Looking up the East River, we could see the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, as the sightseeing boat Robert Fulton went by.
We headed through the Buttermilk Channel, which lies between Brooklyn and Governors Island. The retired harbor tanker Mary A. Whalen, purchased and restored by PortSide New York, is docked at a pier on the Brooklyn side. In the background, above Mary's wheelhouse, is the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building (Halsey, McCormack and Helmer, 1929), for many years Brooklyn's tallest.
A double-crested cormorant was perched atop a buoy.
Heading across the harbor, we passed the ferry terminal on Staten Island and the ferry Spirit of America.
Entering the Kill Van Kull, which lies between Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey, we passed the tug Brian Nicholas pushing two barges, one loaded and one empty, lashed side-by-side.
The tanker Skopelos was docked on the Bayonne side. In the background, to the right, is a wind turbine; an effort to reduce the demand for the fossil fuel tankers carry.
King Duncan, another tanker, was berthed just beyond Skopelos.
The World War Two veteran destroyer escort U.S.S. Slater was undergoing maintenance at Caddell Dry Dock and Repair Company, Inc. on the Staten Island side. There's an article about Slater's stay at Cadell's, ending with a photo showing her after completion, sporting her bold camouflage, here. Slater is now back in Albany, where she serves as a floating museum.
A short way past Caddell's we passed under the Bayonne Bridge, which is being raised to allow the gargantuan container ships now going into service to pass under it. The project is being done in stages, so as to keep the bridge open to traffic except during late night hours. Photo by my wife.
After the bridge, we turned into Newark Bay, and passed the outbound container ship MSC Arushi R., escorted by the tug Miriam Moran.

A digression: sometime in the late 1950s, as my dad and I were tooling around the port of Tampa in our little Carter Craft runabout, I saw what struck me as a most ungainly and un-aesthetic ship, Pan Atlantic Steamship Company's Gateway City. It was a standard C-2 type freighter that had had its hull above the waterline extended in beam, so that it looked like the awkward offspring of a cargo ship and an aircraft carrier. Instead of graceful masts and booms, it had massive gantry cranes straddling its decks, and it listed noticeably landward when the cranes carried containers off the ship to deposit them on the dock. You can see a photo of Gateway City here (scroll down to 1957) and read about how she came to be here. I didn't know it at the time, but I was witnessing the beginning of a revolution in marine transportation.
After MSC Arushir came Don Jon Marine's Caitlin Ann, pushing an empty barge.
Maersk Pittsburgh was docked at Port Elizabeth.
Another Don Jon tug, Mary Alice, was headed up Newark Bay.
Ital Laguna was docked at Maher Terminals, Port Elizabeth. The First Watchung Mountain can be seen in the distance.
Elizabeth McAllister was also heading up the Bay,
Endurance, docked at Port Newark, is a rarity these days; a large civilian cargo ship flying the U.S. flag. She is a RO-RO (Roll On-Roll Off) ship, and is used to transport equipment and supplies to U.S. forces abroad.
Heading back toward the Kill Van Kull, we passed Ellen McAllister. The tug's low profile suggests she may sometimes be used on inland waterways with low clearances.
MSC Bruxelles was docked at Port Newark.
As we came alongside Maersk Pittsburgh we saw St. Andrews, the tug that had brought the barge from which Pittsburgh was taking on fuel. Note the scrape marks on the ship's hull.
Another view of the Bayonne Bridge as we headed back toward the Kill Van Kull.
The tug Houma passed us just before we reached the bridge.
We passed the Moran tug fleet's Staten Island home port. Laura K. Moran and two other tugs were docked there.
A little farther along was the Reinauer dock, where Dean Reinauer and Kristy Ann Reinauer waited for their next assignments.
Traffic was heavy on the Kill Van Kull as we headed out. Ahead of us was Northstar Marine's barge Northstar 140, towed by Reliable.
Here's a better view of Reliable as we overtook the tug and her tow.
With the New York City skyline as a background, Bouchard's B.No.280, escorted by Charles D. McAllister, headed up the Kill Van Kull.
Power behind B.No.280 was supplied by Ellen S. Bouchard.
Then came Manhasset Bay...
...which was easily overtaking Paul Andrew pushing a barge.
We encountered three tugs in succession towing barges "on the hip"; first Brooklyn, ...
...then Sassafras, ...
...then Gulf Dawn.
We almost overtook MSC Arushi R., which we had passed earlier as we entered Newark Bay, as she left the Kill Van Kull headed for the Narrows and the Atlantic.
As we left the Kill Van Kull and rounded Constable Hook, we passed the Bayonne Golf Club, with its faux lighthouse club building (2006). The Scottish style links were built atop what previously was a waste disposal landfill. 
The container ship Positano, sitting light with no visible cargo, was docked at Bayonne's Military Ocean Terminal.
Just past Positano was the U.S. Naval Ship Watkins, undergoing maintenance work at the Bayonne Dry Dock & Repair Corporation's graving dock.
The cruise ship Explorer of the Seas was moored at the Cape Liberty Cruise Port, Bayonne. The Kirby tug Lincoln Sea and a barge were docked at the end of the pier.
After passing Bayonne, we saw the majestic skyline of ... Jersey City, with Lady Liberty in the middle.
Hearing a droning noise overhead, I looked up and saw a World War Two vintage B-17 flying by. 
The Colgate Clock, on the Jersey City shoreline, is a memory from my childhood, when I passed it several times on ships leaving from or arriving at New York. The building on which it once sat has been demolished; fortunately, the clock (Seth Thomas, 1924) has been preserved.  We were right on time; our cruse started at 11:00 a.m. and was scheduled to last two hours.
As we approached our dock, I saw kayaks near Intrepid's stern.

There will be more of these tours, including one this Saturday, July 26.  You may get tickets here for it or future tours.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Mist-shrouded lower Manhattan

Last night mist surrounded the lower tip of Manhattan. This photo was taken from the roof of our building in Brooklyn Heights.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Jim Brosnan, 1929-2014

Despite my love of the game, I've done little reading about it compared to some of my more fanatic friends. Apart from routine newspaper stories, I've read several short pieces by Roger Angell and John Updike, and four great books: Jimmy Breslin's Can't Anybody Here Play This Game, about my now-beloved Mets' shambolic first season; Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer, about my first baseball love, the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, and his Good Enough to Dream, about a year spent as owner of an unaffiliated Class A minor league team, the Utica Blue Sox; and Nine Innings by Daniel Okrent, which describes, inning by inning, batter by batter, a typical regular season game, this one between the Baltimore Orioles and Milwaukee Brewers, in 1982 (my only complaint is that Okrent chose an American League game, in which the DH rule makes things less interesting). I've also read Neil Lanctot's Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella, a biography of my first baseball hero, which I reviewed here. It's an excellent book but, as I noted in the review, it's more a personal and social history than a baseball story.

I've never read Jim Brosnan's The Long Season or his Pennant Race. Based on what I read today in his New York Times obituary--Brosnan died last week at the age of 84--I want to read them. Brosnan didn't have the benefit of any college level creative writing courses; according to the obit he was drafted by the Cubs at the age of 17, and continued to play professionally, apart from two years service in the Army, until 1963, when he was 33. The obit says that as a child he was a reader, as well as a musician and baseball player. Evidently the reading paid off. The obit quotes Al Silverman, in a Saturday Evening Post article from the time Brosnan's career was still underway, as writing "Brosnan is quite possibly the most intellectual creature ever to put on a major league uniform.” This reminded me of a Yogi Berra anecdote I read about some time ago. A writer asked Yogi if any of his Yankee teammates were intellectuals. Yogi thought for a minute, then named one player. "Why do you think he's an intellectual?" the writer asked. Yogi said, "I saw him reading a book without any pictures."