Tag Archives: History

Spirit of Spontaneity

One year ago, I was a tourist in Florence, Italy. I’d just visited an old cathedral, San Miniato al Monte, which sits at the top of the highest point in Florence. I’d sat through a long sermon, spoken entirely in Italian by an elderly monk, and I’d snuck out during Communion so I could commune with nature outside. The view of the city from that spot is breathtaking.

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As the sun began to set, I left the church grounds and began the walk downhill toward the city. It was on this hill that I happened to pass a man who was blowing huge soap bubbles. I pulled my cell phone from my purse, swung around to face him, and took a picture of the bubbles, hoping the image would be in focus and that I wasn’t too late.

It turned out better than I’d expected. My upturned camera happened to capture not only the bubbles, but the cloudy near-twilight sky, as well as the tallest gate in Florence, the Gate of San Niccolò (Saint Nicholas).

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Sometimes the best moments are totally spontaneous.

For example, I just discovered (when I did a little research for this post) that San Miniato al Monte (the cathedral on the hill) was built in 1018, making it exactly 1,000 years old. Another surprise! Happy birthday, old church.

More fun facts: The Gate of San Niccolò in my bubble photo was built in 1324. It’s 60 meters (about 200 feet) tall, and it originally served as a watchtower as well as a gate. It had wooden doors and was attached to a wall that surrounded the city until the late 1800s, when the wall was demolished. People can climb the 160 steps inside the gate to get a 360-degree view of Florence.

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Do You Like Ike?

In the midst of all the turmoil surrounding #45, I’m thinking today about a different man: #34. What would he have thought of the current state of American politics?

Dwight David Eisenhower was the U.S. President from 1953 – 1961. He defeated Adlai Stevenson in a landslide. (The electoral vote was 442 to 89.) His campaign slogan, “I Like Ike,” caught on because, by and large, it was true. Ike was a very likeable guy.

Did you know that he had six brothers, and that all seven of the boys were nicknamed “Ike”? For some reason, his was the only one that stuck. It’s a good thing his nickname wasn’t “Dwi.” “I Like DWI” may be true for some people, but it isn’t a very good campaign slogan.

On our recent road trip from Arizona to New York, we stopped in Abilene, Kansas (Dwight’s hometown) after eight hours of driving. Just before entering the town, we passed a billboard advertising the Eisenhower Presidential Library.

DDE Library

Only a week or so before, our friends Kathy and Ray had mentioned that we should check out presidential libraries if we ever came across them in our travels. We decided to take their advice before leaving Abilene the next day.

But first, we had dinner at Joe Snuffy’s Old Fashioned Grill. If you’re ever in Abilene, Kansas, you really should grab a bite there. For a family diner, they have excellent wine! And food! And most of all — service! I can’t say enough about old Joe Snuffy’s. My favorite part was our teenaged server, who, like Frank Mills in the musical Hair, “resembles George Harrison of the Beatles.” He (our server) was very sweet, standing next to me while I took the first bite of my meal to make sure it was okay.

But back to Ike. At the Eisenhower Presidential Library, I learned a lot about #34’s life as a boy, man, and world leader. I even got to tour his childhood home, complete with all the original furnishings.

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On the tour, I learned some surprising facts. The family was far from wealthy (they’d moved to Abilene with only $24 to their name). His mother was a former Mennonite who was opposed to war. His family valued education highly, but the only way Dwight could attend college was by going to a military school (West Point) where tuition was free.

The boys were assigned rotating chores, all learning to cook and to sew. Here’s the “dough box” where the Eisenhowers placed their bread dough to rise.

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Although I know his Presidency is probably not without controversy, here are some of the positive things Dwight D. Eisenhower (a self-proclaimed “progressive conservative” and a Republican) managed to accomplish while President:

  • continued and expanded New Deal social programs
  • helped end McCarthyism
  • signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (and sent Army troops to enforce school integration)
  • authorized the Interstate Highway System
  • promoted science education
  • emphatically expressed his concerns about what he called the “military-industrial complex.”

In spite of all his achievements, Eisenhower once said that “the proudest thing I can claim is being from Abilene.” You’ve got to like that, especially when humility is in such short supply at the White House these days.

More Clues

My last post (Where Am I?) included two photos and posed the question, “Where Am I?” So far, none of my readers on WordPress, Facebook, or Twitter have come up with an answer. Either you haven’t clicked the link, are too busy with Thanksgiving preparations, or you truly don’t give a crap. It’s understandable. There is just too much crap out here to read right now, and more important things to do. But in the meantime, I’m still hanging out here somewhere, wondering where in the hell I am. So if you happen to know, please tell me so I can find my way home in time for Thanksgiving!

I do have another clue for you. Remember the first clue was “coffeehouse.” The next one is “1960.” Oh, and here’s another photo.

Good luck. Hopefully, I Shall Be Released from this mysterious place soon. (That was another clue, by the way.)

The Magna What?

Two years ago, I entered my first poetry contest. I’m not much of a poet, and I know it, but I’m interested in poetry and I do have a tendency to wade into deep water and get in over my head. Well, these waters were deep indeed, and the current was strong. In fact, it carried me 800 years into the past, and, figuratively speaking, across the Atlantic Ocean. That’s because the contest was part of a London festival celebrating the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. The highlight of the event would be the reading of the winning poem (by the poet). I had never been to England. Game on.

The last time I remember anybody even mentioning the Magna Carta was maybe in my very dry high school World History class. I say maybe because I really don’t remember much about that class. I got B’s only because I knew how to study and cram for tests. I didn’t really start to appreciate history until much later. I had a lot of Googling to do if I was going to write any kind of a poem about the Magna Carta.

Well, Google I did. I didn’t win a prize, but the effort was worth it anyway. I learned something new, and I had fun doing it. If you want to learn more about the Magna Carta … well, it’s 2017. You know what to do.

And now for my poem.

At Runnymede

At Runnymede we made our stand
eight hundred years ago;
the rolling hills and River Thames
bore witness to it all.

We gathered in the meadow
with rebellion on our minds
and told King John he had no right
to act above the law.

“We’re nobles with a noble cause,
And free men, by the way!
Your taxes are exorbitant,
your punishments arcane.

The Archbishop has drafted
a more modern set of rules,
and what’s more, it’s in Latin
so it’s legal as can be!”

“I can’t accept your terms, you fools,”
said haughty old King John.
“The Pope’s in my back pocket,
so you haven’t got a prayer.”

Then he dismissed us with a wave,
but we would not be cowed
Instead, we grew more resolute
than ever, and declared,

“We’re mad as hell, you tyrant, you!
Divine rights are passé!
No longer will we acquiesce
to your outlandish schemes!

Our liberty is sacred,
but you are not, King John,
and if you dare to cross us
we will seize your lands at once!”

Reluctantly, the king accepted
our demands that day
with no intent to honor them —
but they survived his reign.

At Runnymede the River Thames
and rolling hills abide;
eight centuries have come and gone —
and Magna Carta stands!

© Lori Bonati, 2017

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