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Archive for August, 2009

The Scars of War

Friday, August 28th, 2009
MP Simon Hughes meets WWI veteran and Europe's...

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I was interested to read in The New York Times that the army is embarking on a program to help soldiers face battlefield traumas and learn to reduce the risks of depression, stress, and even suicide.



The Pentagon has finally recognized that 20% of the troops that see action in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD (post trauma stress disorder) and need help to re-enter civilian life and cope with family challenges.  It has taken nearly a hundred years for our armed forces to address this problem.  During World War I, soldiers living through the horrors of trench warfare suffered from what was then described as “shell shock.”  In 1917, the British Army set up a medical unit in Edinburgh to work on what they then considered mental disorders, caused by wartime experiences.  But little progress was made; and, amazingly in World War II, PTSD did not surface as a major problem.  Maybe it was just not recognized.


I was interested to read recently about the passing of Henry Allingham at the age of 113 – the oldest British veteran of the First World War, where he served in the fledgling Royal Air Force.  He apparently would not discuss his wartime experiences until he was being honored, in his nineties; and, even then with tears in his eyes, he would give all credit to his colleagues.


Harry Patch, another British veteran, who fought at the Battle of Passchendaele died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 110.  Similarly, he would not talk of his personal wartime experiences, but was vocal about the futility of War, the ignorance and stupidity of the World War I generals and the suffering of the troops. 


My father-in-law, who is nearly 95 and who has a remarkably outgoing and jovial personality, will often talk about landing on the Normandy beaches on D-Day plus One, but when pressed about his experiences on the ground as he fought with the British artillery all the way to Germany, tears will come to his eyes and he can’t continue.  I believe these are all examples of PTSD.


Not so long ago, I saw the award-winning documentary, “An Unlikely Weapon,” about the life of the celebrated photojournalist, Eddie Adams, who covered 13 military conflicts, including the Vietnam War which produced his most famous photographs.  He suffered from severe depression; and, since he saw the true horror of war and its effects on young and old, innocent and guilty, I believe his “depression” could well have been PTSD.


In my recent Novel, “Bear Any Burden,” the lives of the three main characters were all impacted by their Second World War experiences.  While I had neither the intention, nor knowledge of PTSD at the time of my writing, I believe I stumbled into a description of some of the symptoms that affected their behavior and character.


It will be interesting to follow the progress of the training that the army will be instituting to combat the post trauma effects of modern warfare.




Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden:



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From The Old Country

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

  Dnner Party Photo




My wife and I attended a delightful dinner party over the weekend.  We didn’t know the hostess, but were taken, with her approval, by friends of ours with whom we had a long-standing date.


The home we visited was extremely picturesque, set on a slight hill overlooking a large pond surrounded by beautiful gardens and woods.  There were fourteen people for dinner.  After drinks and hors d’oeuvres in the garden, we retreated to the house and a beautifully set table in the dining room.  Sunflowers, Victorian silver condiments, blue Bristol water and wine glasses, half a dozen candles in their holders, and dark blue and gold china adorned the formal table.


The group were elderly, hence the formality of the evening, but I suppose my wife and I fall into that category as well.  The guests included a retired State Senator, a former Mayor of a local town, an eminent retired trial lawyer, and experts on model trains!


Conversation covered a wide range of subjects, but I must confess I took advantage of the opportunity to “plug” my recent novel, “Bear Any Burden.”  Explaining that my main character’s family had left the poverty and persecution of southern Poland in he 1890’s to start a new life in Dundee Scotland, a number of guests talked about their own family histories. 


A lady of Hungarian background spoke about her father, who had been in the Hungarian Army during the First World War, but with the collapse of Austro-Hungarian Empire and the economic disaster that had followed for both Austrians and Hungarians, he’d been encouraged to move to the United States by her grandparents who were not very keen on his courting her mother, believing he had no prospects. 


Her mother also had an elder brother who was a gambler and “man about town.”  He was considered to be the “black sheep” of the family and was also encouraged to go the United States.  They sailed to New York together, with the gambler insisting that he travel in First Class, and much to the horror of this lady’s father, he announced on arrival that he would stay at the Plaza Hotel along with some of the passengers, he had met on the journey.  This was too much for her father, who immediately moved to New Jersey where he got a job as a waiter.  The “black sheep” however, had met a Baltimore businessman who had taken a liking to him, and offered him a job.  He moved to Baltimore, eventually acquiring the business of his mentor, and became very successful and wealthy, achieving the true American dream.


She admitted that her father really never had much drive and ambition and said that one of his ideals that he oft quoted, would be to own a large apple orchard.  In the winter, there would be nothing to do, so he could read and listen to music.  For most of the spring and summer, the apples would grow.  He would spend a few weeks harvesting and packing and then go back to his books.  Maybe he was right.  Satisfaction and balance in one’s life is “success.”


Against the objections of her grandparents, her mother, followed him to the U.S. and at the age of 20, married the waiter.  Despite being more ambitious and pushy, her mother never succeeded in driving her father to reach for more ambitious goals.  She described her mother as a Hungarian beauty, flirtatious and charming, but very strict and cold to her children. 


This intriguing little story was quickly matched by some others.  The grandfather who had moved from Lithuania to the U.S., bringing with him his knowledge of printing.  Realizing that all Hebrew prayer books were expensively printed in Europe and shipped to the U.S., he saw an opportunity for U.S. printing and production and created the first and most successful printing business of Jewish prayer and other books.


Or the story of the grandfather from Poland, who couldn’t speak a word of English, arrived in New York, where a ticket to Boston awaited him so as he could meet up with family cousins.  He took the train which stopped at Falls River, Massachusetts; and, for some reason, he got off at that station, found himself a job, and stayed there for the rest of his life.


There are of course a million immigrant stories – each one of hope, courage, success, and sometimes tragedy.


These stories and the people behind them are part of the great quilt of diversity of the United States.



Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden:





The Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts at the Chicago Cultural Center

Friday, August 21st, 2009




Chicago Cultural Center Concert

Chicago Cultural Center Concert

Every Wednesday at 12:15, the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts start at the Chicago Cultural Center. It features young, talented musicians from all over the world. The 45-minute lunch-hour concert is very popular and draws approximately 500 people each time.


This past Wednesday, when my friend Marietta came to town for a visit, I proudly took her to the concert. The artists featured that day were Judy Kang, a Canadian violinist who had won a number of prestigious awards for her performances and Kay Kim, a pianist who had performed in many countries in the world. From Fritz Kreisler, Fredieric Chopin to Pablo de Sarasate, they played beautifully, with emotion and passion. The last piece, Carmen Fantasy, swept the audience away and ended the concert with a standing ovation. As Marietta and I walked out of the Cultural Center, we were already talking about coming back again.

This series of concerts have started since 1977 and was named after the famed British pianist Myra Hess who offered a daily recital series in London during the World War II “to help boost the morale of the people” throughout the bombings of the city.    

Al Booth, President Emeritus of the International Music Foundation, took inspiration from her and created the music series in Chicago for young artists to perform and for everyone to enjoy high quality music free of charge.

“More than 1,200 artists have appeared on the series over the course of the past 27 years,” the concert organizer proudly announced. “Many have been prize winners from such competitions as the Tchaikovsky, Naumburg, Van Cliburn, Leeds, Chopin, and Rubenstein.”

The Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts are an important part of Chicago’s cultural life. Please check it out if you haven’t done so. No matter which concert you attend, I am sure you will walk away elated. Visit for more information.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China.

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Ma Xiaohui (马晓晖), an Erhu Musician

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009


Ma Xiaohui

Ma Xiaohui

Recently, Ma Xiuhui came to Chicago and played Erhu, a traditional Chinese two-string instrument, for two hours. I had listened to Erhui numerous times before, but had never been to a concert with a solo Erhu player.


To my pleasant surprise, I very much enjoyed the show. Ms. Ma was most gracious and her passion for music and her instrument came through via her talk, singing and playing. She introduced herself as an Ambassador for the 2010 Shanghai Exposition, saying she had traveled to many countries to promote the Expo and stating that there were no cultural barriers in music.

She played a few numbers that were familiar to me: selection from Butterfly Lovers, a Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet; Jasmine Flower; theme song from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (she played the original sound track with Yo-Yo Ma), a horse racing song, best recognized as an Erhu piece. From imitating the singing of birds, to the galloping of horses and the outpouring of emotions, Ms. Ma gave a first-rate performance. She spoke to the audience in both Chinese and English, and at one point, sang a song in Chinese. Apparently her talent is not limited only to music.

Among all the numbers she played that day, I liked a piece titled Qin Yun (秦韵), Soul of Erhu (translation in the program and her CD is The Spirit of My Erhu) the most. Ms. Ma is the composer for this number. From the deep tone to the high pitch, the emotions of sadness, excitement, and passion came through. Even a music layman like me could appreciate its impact and power.

I walked away from the concert with two of Ma Xiaohui’s CDs in hands. I would have had her autographed them if it were not for the long line.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China.

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Lake Como – Unparalleled Beauty

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009




After spending a week with our family in the seaside resort of Viareggio on the Mediterranean coast of Italy, my wife and I drove up to Lake Como to spend four days with good friends from London at the exquisitely beautiful and luxurious Hotel Ville D’Este.


This former palace was built in 1568 as a private residence, but was in succession, owned by a ballerina, a Napoleonic General, and even a Queen without a crown who renamed it the Villa D’Este.  Ownership changed to a Russian empress and subsequently various other minor

Italian and European Aristocrats. 


In 1873, it was transformed into a magnificent hotel in its own beautiful gardens and grounds right on the shore of Lake Como.  We were privileged to have an exquisite room with a balcony and a view right across the Lake.  Nothing could be more stunning than getting up in the morning and opening the shutters to see the sparkling blue waters of Lake Como under a cloudless sky.  The guest rooms of this magnificent Hotel along with the corridors, the entrance hall and public rooms are filled with antiques and works of art, which add to the hotel’s palatial atmosphere.  Beautiful marble statues abound and a wide gravel-covered terrace serves as an ideal outdoor setting for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and in the late evening music and dancing.


The gardens of the Villa D’Este are unique in themselves.  The lower part dates from the Renaissance period, but the two most outstanding landmarks are the five hundred-year-old plane tree and the 16th Century Mosaic with its Nympheum.  The gardens are full of color with azaleas, camellias, oleanders, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, and roses and jasmine bushes.  The trees range from chestnut, magnolia, wisteria, palms, cypress, pine, privet and many others.  The gardens wind themselves up a private path to a cliff overlooking the magnificent Hotel and the lake below.


Lake Como is spectacularly beautiful.  To quote Shelley, “This Lake exceeds anything I’ve ever beheld in beauty.”  But it is impossible to do it justice without visiting this magnificent location.  The lake is approximately 28 miles long, but it is never more than two miles wide.  Private boats, ferries, and water buses travel up and down the lake, offering views of the most important villas and stopping off at various points of interest.  The outstanding villas on the lakeshore are today owned by wealthy Italian businessmen, fashion designers, foreign princes, and even Hollywood film stars – George Clooney. 


We took a trip up to the pretty village of Bellagio, the most picturesque village on Lake Como, and enjoyed the winding streets, boutiques, restaurants and bars.  We also stopped off at an island in the middle of the lake, where we were served an incredible lunch and entertained by the proprietor.


Staying at the Ville D’ Este and visiting Lake Como is an “out of this world” experience.  Sophisticated, elegant, with service from another era.  And of course, “out of this world” prices to match.




 Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden:



The Field’s Feathered Treasures

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009



There they were. Plumed relics of a bygone era. They were lying horizontally like frozen soldiers, straight, stiff and at attention. The odor of naphthalene wafted up from mothballs that were strewn in the thousands along the bottoms of the cabinets. Dr. David Willard, resident ornithologist at Chicago’s world-renowned Field Museum, delicately lifted one of the specimens for us to take a closer look. The ivory-billed woodpecker. Campephilus Principalis. A dead ringer for the prehistoric pterodactyl, the bird in his hands was probably 18-inches long from tip of tail to top of head. The feathers were black, capped with a bright red crest and punctuated by a thick white stripe that was erratically etched along its back like a lightening bolt.  The distinct ivory-white bill protruded 2-inches from its head like a plastic dart. For a brief moment I imagined the bird would wake from its long slumber, flap its wings and fly off the scientist’s hands. But the marked tags, metal leg bands and cotton wool eyes promptly cut off that thought. The life of this particular bird had been extinguished in 1896 when it was discovered somewhere in the bottomland swam forests of Arkansas. The historical range of its species stretched along the band of old growth forests that once blanketed the southeastern United States and up the Mississippi River as far north as St. Louis. But the large forests are no more. They have dwindled down to collections of green islands amid seas of grey concrete and black asphalt.  The last time the species was documented alive was in 1942.  A controversy surfaced in 2004 beginning in the scientific community and then spreading to the main media. It made all the headlines. Footage of a flying ivory-bill was captured on video but the evidence was not conclusive. The footage was too grainy and skeptics claimed the video showed the ivory-bill’s closest cousin – the pileated woodpecker. The skeptics have not been proved wrong in the five years since.


Dr. Willard then picked up a passenger pigeon. Ectopistes Migratorius. A fairly ordinary looking bird, it looked not too dissimilar from the grey pigeon that populates our cities and towns in abundance. The passenger pigeon once flourished in the billions. Eyewitnesses noted that they would migrate in flocks a mile wide and 300-miles long. It must have been an eerie vision to see such a huge moving dark mass of fluttering wings. Starting in the 1800’s the pigeons’ abundance was a boon for the new settlers and frontiersmen. Their cheap meat was commercialized for the poor and slaves. Enterprises were set up to trap the birds, kill them on a massive scale and ship them to the burgeoning human populations in the east. A decline in their numbers began on a catastrophic scale in the 1870’s and the last known living passenger pigeon, ‘Martha’, died in Cincinnati in 1914. Nobody knows for sure what precipitated such a rapid extinction but it was most likely a combination of many factors – disease, habitat destruction and large-scale slaughter.


Dr. Willard’s collection, one of the largest in the world, contains birds of all shapes, sizes and colors. Some species disappeared long ago and some still flourish today. In one drawer he pulled out the magnificent roseate spoonbill (Platalea Ajaja), a most unusual heron-like bird with pinkish feathers and a beak like a wooden spatula, specially designed to wade in shallow estuaries to sift sediments for small crustaceans; the scarlet ibis (Eudocimus Ruber), another wader with a bill like a sickle. There was the western meadowlark (Sturnella Neglecta), a glorious and abundant songbird with a mottled brown rump and yellow breast with a thick black “V” painted across its throat.  There was also the exotic tropical delight – the russet-backed oropendola (Psarocolius angustifrons) whose peculiar calls most closely resemble that of a flushing toilet.


I looked up from the two or three drawers that Dr. Willard had slid open in one cabinet. I noticed that each cabinet contained fifteen or twenty drawers. And there must have been hundreds of cabinets in that hallway – a truly astounding collection and a small testament to man’s continual quest to catalogue, explore and discover. – Author of a Number of Articles and Papers on Environmental Issues










The Chinese Cultural Center in San Francisco

Saturday, August 1st, 2009

Ma Liang's Work

Ma Liang's Work

During my recent visit to San Francisco, Cecilia, my sister-in-law, took me to the Chinese Cultural Center located on the third floor of the Hilton Hotel at the edge of Chinatown. It felt like discovering a hidden jewel.


An exhibition titled “PRESENT TENSE BIENNEIAL: Chinese Character” was on display. It started on May 1 and will go on till August 23, 2009. It features 31 artists who use photography, video, painting, animation, sculpture and installation art to “reflect on and reinterpret contemporary Chinese culture.” A staff at the Center greeted us and walked with us through the show, explaining the collection and each piece. I was very impressed. The artwork that touched me most was a series of photos titled Nostalgia by Ma Liang. The vast landscape in the background was set in contrast of a few youth, seemingly searching, some in blindfold, some with despondent gestures, and some, perhaps, hope. Ma’s statement on the wall declares that this series of Nostalgia artwork is dedicated to his long lost youth and Utopia. “My eyes welled up with tears numerous times when I pressed the shutter release to take the photos. In each frame, I, like a child without hometown, finally find the nostalgia for a homeland.” Ma’s powerful image and words struck a chord of resonation in my heart. His images are loaded with metaphors and narratives.  

I had been to San Francisco many times before on business or family gatherings. I wished I had visited the Center before. It’s amazing to see the quality and quantity of work the Center have put together and learn about the programs they have and will continue to run. It’s certainly worthy of a visit if you haven’t been there. The center’s address is 750 Kearny Street, 3rd floor. Website: I’ll certainly go back next time I’m in San Francisco.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China.