Book review: The Seventh Well by Fred Wander

My sister is the history freak in the family. Specifically, she reads a lot about the Holocaust, and for whatever reason, I've been doing some of the same. I spent the winter with The Lost, Daniel Mendelsohn's journey to discover what happened to the one part of his family no one knew much about because they had disappeared during the Holocaust.

The Seventh Well is Michael Hofmann's 2008 translation of Fred Wander's Das gute Leben, a (probably not very) fictionalized account of Wander's own survival of the Holocaust.

Wander's title translates to "The good life;" but good as in rich, full, what (beer commercials aside) we might call "the high life."

Wander brings to life characters he met on his journey through 20 camps and several escapes: A studied and confident 16-year-old; a great storyteller; partisans; and last, a 10-year-old child who has taken on the role of father to his younger brothers.

The book ends in the delirious happiness of near-liberation and typhoid fever dreams.

Wander doesn't leave out the horrors, but he does bring out one thing we haven't seen in a lot of books and films about the Holocaust: life. In much the way that the film Life is Beautiful focuses on a man who, despite all that's happening in the camps, keeps his child alive with games and fun, Wander shows the individuality and the humanity of victims, not just in fleeting moments of despair, but in, as his own title suggests, the rich fullness of their lives.

Hey, someone interviewed me!

I always forget what it's like to be on the getting-asked-the-questions side of the interview.

For those of you who don't know, one of the things I do in my job is to run a blog about pro athletes with CNY connections. It's generally fairly dormant in the summer, since the locals playing pro baseball aren't really key players, though they have their moments.

But Orange Chuck, a former Syracuse guy in North Carolina, doesn't hold the summers against me, and interviewed me for his 12 questions series this morning.

Interviews are difficult enough for me – it's hard to be on for whatever question is coming – but also being able to answer honestly and completely, without violating any trade secrets, is doubly difficult.

Anyway, thanks, Chuck, for the opportunity, and I'm glad you're enjoying the interviewing.

Blog Day

Dear Blog Day,

I didn't forget you, I promise. I'm just a little late. So, here goes. Five blogs you should be reading.

» Rag & Bone Shop: My former co-editor at the college paper, Wayne Barr (that's the co-editor, not the paper) is now a parent and the author of a collection of essays. He doesn't blog often, but he does Twitter and Facebook in the same voice (just shorter), and much more frequently.

» Photographers Journal: We see newspaper photographers' work every day. Very rarely, though, is the work we see anything we'd call artistic. Sure, occasionally there's a nice sunset, or a shadow, or someone is posed in a way you'd never think of posing them. But such is life as a newspaper photographer: in trade for doing photography for a living, you take pictures of officials at microphones and kids playing little league. But the Photogs Journal is a place for some of The Post-Standard's photographers to show off a bit, and to take pictures they enjoy taking. And they get to write a little bit about why they took them (beyond, "it was pretty").

»Onondaga (County) Citizens League: Readers of my blog know I write a fair bit about Interstate 81, and its raised overpasses. The OCL is undertaking a study looking at the pros and cons, and some of what they're doing is in-depth analyses of other places that have done radical(ish) things with their highways. I've learned a lot on both sides of the issue, and I'll continue to learn from them, I hope.

»aSweetPeace: I mentioned this a little while ago, but I'm working with the author of aSweetPeace on a project related to (his or her) blog (the bio is semi-anonymous, and I'd like to retain that as best I can). The blog is all about recipes, including photos of the finished product. I don't bake well, but I love food (clearly) and I do other stuff in the way of cooking fairly well (if I do say so myself), and I've enjoyed reading this thus far.

» James O'Brien: In case I didn't drive the point home earlier in August when I wrote about James, he's brilliant, his writing's seductive, and he's an inspirational human. Someone you should be reading (and listening to).

“New” apartment, courtesy of music

I am in active disbelief that I had never heard of Kimya Dawson until I saw Juno.

Between her solo work, her work with The Moldy Peaches and with the children's ensemble Antsy Pants (auto audio warning), Dawson appears on about half the soundtrack.

For those of you who didn't know me in my former life, I used to (a) review a lot of acoustic singer songwriters, (b) book acoustic singer songwriters, (c) play with acoustic singer songwriters, and (d) be an acoustic singer songwriter [OK, so I"m still a little (d)].

And Dawson was starting to get her first round of small-club-touring fame right about then; the fact that I could be interviewing and booking people like Pamela Means, hanging out at shows with folks like Ember Swift and Lyndell Montgomery, and playing with women who had me covering Ani Difranco (auto audio) and others and not know about Dawson's existence is just, well, appalling to me.

Dawson's solo stuff is very simple shy-woman-with-guitar stuff, and the recordings I've heard so far appear to be done on simple recording equipment (like, say, four-track cassette recorders). I spent some of this morning looking over her LiveJournal.

She had me wanting to play again, and not just the little bit I have been. So I've spent much of the past week re-doing my apartment.

I've cordoned off the bedroom, so it's no longer a walk-through (it's where the dining room was, if you've been there recently). I got rid of the dining room, moving the table and chairs into the kitchen, which is plenty big enough.

My office is now the carpeted room that was the bedroom, and what was my office now has two guitars, two microphones, one chair and the portable PA system and four-track I dug out of the closet. It's empty and sounds brilliant, and hopefully will serve me well musically and creatively.


Warning: The audio on this video is NOT work-friendly

I have a distinct memory of Mrs., Giles, my elementary school speech therapist, asking my parents to not help me with my lessons.

My parents, you see, grew up outside of Boston, where while Rs are an issue, so are vowels. For example, the O in dog and doll makes sort of an aaahhhh sound in actual English, while it makes an aaawwww sound in the Boston area.

That might have actually been my first parents-vs.-teacher episode as well, but that's not what I've gotten out of it.

One of my — hmm, I don't know if it qualifies as a guilty pleasure so much as a curiosity — is understanding where in the mouth to make sounds. In English, T is made with the tongue very much against the back of both sets of teeth most of the time, while in Spanish, the T is made above the top teeth, though not as far up as an English D. The Spanish D on the other hand, is made somewhat in between the teeth, like an English TH.

Given enough time listening to someone and looking at their mouth, I can imitate if not their full accent, at least the way they say some words.

One of my other curiosities is words that accidentally sound the same. Listen to Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha for a while in the video above.

The line is "Some of those who run forces / are the same who burn crosses" (a reference to racist police officers). I'm not sure if it's intentional or not (I'm guessing not), but sometimes during the song, de la Rocha will match the Os, which makes "forces" sound like "farces."

Interestingly, force and farce have been with us a really long time. Both derive from Latin, and both worked their way through Middle French and Middle English to remain with us.

Is this too much of a nerd moment for 5:30 a.m.? Maybe, I dunno. How about you? Do you have any super-geeky habits I should know about?

Slideshow: Jonathan & Amanda, 23.08.2008

Jonathan and Amanda share their first dance as husband and wife in this mobile photo.

Jonathan and Amanda got married yesterday afternoon at the lovely Putney Inn. They were kind and wise enough to sit me with a lovely young couple who enjoy things like bike paths and downtown development.

Here's a short audio slideshow from the wedding.

If you're curious, I download music for these slideshows from Jamendo, where all songs are available under some Creative Commons license or other – the songs are free, so long as you credit the artists, and in some cases the licenses allow you to create derivative works or use the songs for commercial purposes.

Slideshow: Jonathan & Amanda, 23.08.2008

Jonathan and Amanda share their first dance as husband and wife in this mobile photo.

Jonathan and Amanda got married yesterday afternoon at the lovely Putney Inn. They were kind and wise enough to sit me with a lovely young couple who enjoy things like bike paths and downtown development.

Here's a short audio slideshow from the wedding.

If you're curious, I download music for these slideshows from Jamendo, where all songs are available under some Creative Commons license or other – the songs are free, so long as you credit the artists, and in some cases the licenses allow you to create derivative works or use the songs for commercial purposes.

Obama’s big text message flop

When Barack Obama announced a couple of weeks ago that he would make sure his supporters were among the first to know when he selected a running mate, my initial thought was, hey, cool, someone's using available technology well.

Eventually, curiosity caught up with me, and yesterday I signed up to get my text message.

The idea here was that anyone who signed up on Obama's list would be among the first to know his choice. To make people feel like they were on the inside of the campaign.


Obama's choice started leaking around midnight Eastern last night, and the text message came at 3:13 a.m.

Even on the west coast, you had to be up pretty late to be among the first to know, and if you were on the east coast, you actually could have found out more than an hour and a half before you got your text message.

By the time I woke up (and I get up pretty early), it didn't matter if I checked my text messages, The NY Times, CNN, WaPo, LAT or the Trib.

In short, by electing to cap the late-night leaks with a 3 a.m. message, Obama's campaign effectively skipped letting people on the inside.

Yes, we knew that his choice would show up on Web sites of major news outlets within minutes of the text message being sent out, but the fact that some people are going to learn this in the newspaper (I'm guessing the west coast papers managed to squeeze it into their print editions) around the same time people are getting their text messages, really defeats the purpose.

What should have happened is that a text message should have arrived at 11 a.m., or 2 p.m., or 5 p.m., when people are in the middle of things – going about their days. If everyone stops what they're doing to talk about the text message they just got, that's a measure of success for something like this.

Let the creekwalk grow – and connect it to the trail path!

The creekwalk crosses a small bridge next to a stage at Syracuse's Inner Harbor, then continues for another quarter mile or so, before ending at, well, nowhere.

I often find my favorite news is buried way down in the newspaper. Like the story on the back of today's B section, a page frequently reserved entirely for the weather, that lets us know the creekwalk is going to get an extension – all the way to the lake!

If you haven't been on the small path along Onondaga Creek, you're probably not alone. Not only is it not exactly the most well-publicized public walkway the city has to offer, you kind of have to look for it. For my part, I've found it by accident.

If you walk downtown on Fayette Street frp, the Warehouse toward Armory Square, you cross a little bridge over running water. That's Onondaga Creek.

If you start following that north (you have to be a little clever about it, unfortunately), eventually you wind up in Franklin Square, walking at creek level (below the street). It's quite nice, actually, despite the fact that the creek isn't the cleanest body of water on the planet.

Eventually your walk along the creek ends for a moment, and you have to cross a street, walk about 50 yards up the road, then turn north on a walkway through a park before crossing Court Street to get to the Inner Harbor.

People who have read the blog for a while know I'm a fan of the Inner Harbor, not just for the fact that there are events there, but also because I can walk down on a nice day and flop in the grass with a book.

You can follow the creekwalk along the harbor, by the stage, and then under Bear Street on a nice, quiet paved path.

And then it just stops.

You're pretty much left with the option to either stare straight ahead in confusion, or turn around and go back from whence you came.

Where it stops, you're more or less at Hiawatha Boulevard, not at all far from Onondaga Lake.

Between Hiawatha and the lake, though, are train tracks owned by CSX railroad.

CSX recently gave permission for the a covered walkway under its tracks, so now they can build the creekwalk across Hiawatha, northwest to the lake. I'm sure that will make the Pyramid Cos. happy, too, because that leaves people at Carousel Center.

Here's where I get a little more excited.

Zoom out on this a little bit, and you'll realize that you're at the southeast tip of Onondaga Lake. To your right, you would swing up around on Onondaga Lake Parkway to get to Onondaga Lake Park. To your left, you would forage around next to I-690 to where the Shore Trail Bike Path ends.

This is the key point to tying the two parts of the bike path together in a second place, making it a loop.

Right now, you can park at Onondaga Lake Park, ride 2.5 miles from the Salt Museum to the Canteen, cross the lake, then ride another three miles along the other shore. Then you turn around on a loop and go back (that loop is where the pedestrian bridge was that they took down after the accident yesterday).

Wouldn't it be great to be able to ride the whole lake – not to mention have a safe alternate method of transportation to get from the Village of Liverpool to Carousel Center?

We can only hope.


Fazeshift talks music

The audio is a little quiet on this one, but here's my interview this morning with Fazeshift, a local pop quartet who recently signed with Aux Records.

These guys met in a church youth group, and after waiting for their bassist to finish school, they're ready to release their first EP on Sept. 30.