A to-be-read book, ‘Darjeeling,’ turns out to be so worth it

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An afternoon cup of tea

Too often books languish in a pile named, “I’ll get to it soon.”

That’s what happened to Jeff Koehler’s “Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World’s Greatest Tea” which has been gathering dust for roughly three years. Yet every time I thought of giving it away, I’d flip it open and fall in love with the writing all over again.

Jeff Koehler, noted food author whose writing has appeared in Food and Wine, the Washington Post, NationalGeographic.com and many others, has written a love song, to the delicately flavored India tea, Darjeeling.

It’s more than a song, it’s an opera. Spending at least a year, and a growing season in Darjeeling, India, Koehler tells the story of how the tea leaves are grown, shipped, and end up in your morning brew. That’s only a fragment of the book though. The rest is a world history of tea, how it came to India,  the influence of the British on colonial India (think Rudyard Kipling’s Plain Tales from the Hills or Paul Scott’s The Raj Quartet); and how things changed – or didn’t – in the tea industry when India’s independence came.

No one can tell a great story like a great writer. In just few words, Koehler can evoke the experience of a taste of an expensive hand-rolled tea, the 2013 Green (tea) Pearls. “He smiled and plucked a couple of rolled pearls the size of earrings from a jar. Once steeped, the liquor shines a pale gold, a shade closer to champagne than hay. In the mouth, it’s plummy in a fulsome and rounded way…”

He goes into the modern marketplace behind the small tea bags that you find in the local grocery or tea shop. By the end of the chapters on picking, rolling and tasting, you might want to know exactly when your tea was picked so you know you are getting the best of that season’s leaves.

Koehler also goes into the problems facing the modern Indian tea industry such as manpower demands, and the vagaries of Mother Nature in regards to rainfall and soil content. The  extensive bibliography at the end can be a jumping off place for more reading.


Label from the bottom of a container of Darjeeling Tea from India

Being a food writer, he includes some recipes at the end such as how to brew the perfect cup of Darjeeling, Masala and Tibetan Tea with Salt and Butter. If you’re in a Victorian or “British Raj” mood, you might try Timeless Cucumber Sandwiches or Chicken-and-Fresh-Mint Hamper Sandwiches. Or, maybe local favorites such as Momos, Thunkpa or onion Pakoras.

Koehler’s latest book published in 2017, “Where the Wild Coffee Grows: The Untold Story of Coffee from the Cloud Forests of Ethiopia to Your Cup,” which looks to do the same thorough research for the other morning staple for millions.

Tea has a history that spans millennia. Koehler’s “Darjeeling” is a good place to start reading about its past.

I recommend having a full steaming teapot and cup at your elbow, along with some scones with clotted cream, or some tea-marbled deviled eggs, as you begin your journey.


Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World’s Greatest Tea Bloomsbury Books, $26.00

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Ikats! Ubiquitous but unknown

Ikats from “To Dye For” at the Sackler Gallery in Washington D.C.

The next time you hit Crate and Barrel, or Target, take note of the ikat designs everywhere.

If you don’t know what ikats are, go down to Washington’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art for the new exhibit, “To Dye For: Ikats from Central Asia.” It displays antique robes alongside the work of a Western fashion designer who discovered and popularized the design – Oscar de la Renta.

The word ‘Ikat” is actually a Malaysian-Indonesian word that means “to tie” bundles of thread. It has become a generic term for the designs, said Chief Curator Massumeh Farad, of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. “In Central Asia the term  used is ‘Cloud Binding’.” Ikats are produced in India, Indonesian and Japan, but the Central Asian ikats are known for their “incredible color and palette and bold designs.”

The Sackler Gallery had an ikat exhibition in 1998 drawn from the collection of Dr. Guido Goldman. Later he donated 70 textiles to the museum. The museum has drawn from the donation for this exhibit.

Ikat from Central Asia at “To Dye For.”

Farad said that tiny fragments of ikats have been found as early as the 8th century from Yemen but they really flourished in Central Asia from the early 19th century. The ancient “Silk Road” cities of Bukhara and Samarqand became hubs of the textile industry. After Uzbekistan’s independence in the 1990s, there has been a revival of ikat production.

Ikat coats were expensive luxuries usually created for royalty or the rich. In nomadic cultures the vibrant lined coats were one form of wealth. Velvet ikats are “top of the line,” said Farad, since they are so complicated to make. “Ikat velvets are the absolute finest.”

Ikat robe from Central Asia, silk velvet, 1850-75

The process of making an ikat is laborious. The designs, with pomegranates, jugs and others, are created long before the actual weaving is begun. The threads are dyed from light to dark, usually starting from yellow to the red to indigo. At George Washington’s The Textile Museum, which also has a ikat exhibit, “Binding the Clouds: the Art of Central Asian Ikat,”  The Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, has constructed several examples of looms strung with dyed yarn which shows the complications of the weaving.

The Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, looms

At the Sackler, Farad explained that the dying and weaving were done by different guilds. The indigo was done by the Jewish community; the Uzbeks “would be weaving the pieces together.”  The hangings were used to separate spaces in a house or to cover things like blankets. When you look at a large hanging, it is easy to find the seams where the shorter ikats were sewn together to make a large one. When they wore out, then fragments could be used as patching materials.

In the late 1990s, Dominican-American designer Oscar de la Renta went to Uzbekistan and was “stunned by the colors and designs,” said Farad. He introduced ikat designs into his clothing in the late 1990s and up to 2013. A dress and several of de la Renta’s ikat-patterned coats are on display alongside with the antique ikats.


Fall 2013 Oscar de la Renta dress made from silk and wool jacquard using ikat designs.

On April 14, the Textile Museum is holding a “Shop Event: Ikat by the Yard” offering three new custom-designed and handmade velvet ikats from Uzbekistan.


“To Dye For” runs until July 29, 2018 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington D.C.
“Binding the Clouds: The Art of Central Asian Ikat” at The Textile Museum runs through July 9, 2018.

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A ‘March For Our Lives’ in Washington DC

2018-MarchforourLives-7They came from all around the DC area and from out-of-state – Minneapolis, New York State and more. They filled the historic Pennsylvania Ave and overflowed to some of the other streets.2018-MarchforourLives-14

The March for Our Lives was not just teens protesting. it was complete families, from grandmothers in wheelchairs to one-year-olds being fed a jelly sandwich by her mother as her father held a sign saying, “NRA Math. 1 Good Guy with (picture of AR-15) + Bad Guy with (picture of AR-15) equals 2 (picture of AR-15)’s $old.” The child’s sign said, “Gun Reform Now” and had a hand print in one corner and a crayon drawing in crayon.


It was also one of Washington’s best run protests. The tee shirt vendors were hard at work flogging various versions of the name. Probably the blue-green tie dye shirt was the most exotic. They were hawking diverse offerings including buttons with a banned symbol over a drawing of an AK-15, bumper stickers, and rainbow flags. There were Philly “Real (soft) Pretzels.”

Outside the journalism museum, the Newseum,was a table to make protest signs. On the stones below were slogans drawn in chalk.


Hail Canada! The Embassy stairs was the perfect place for a photo-op. and many took advantage of it. One woman flew a flag with the iconic drawings from the Women’s March.

2018-MarchforourLives-TopShotOn a street paralleling Pennsylvania, food trucks were linked up awaiting hungry marchers. This is the first time I’ve seen that happen. Usually the hot dog vendors are the saviors of footsore walkers. The restaurants were doing booming business.

The “March For Our Lives” had a fantastic music playlist including Miley Cyrus. I wonder about the choice of “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones, but this is a generation that doesn’t remember the Altamont concert.

The media says there was a counter protest near the Trump International Hotel. The New York Times has an article about these protests  all over the U.S.

This march reminded me of the 2002 march against the Iraq War. Again, the president was out-of-town, and no one came out of the White House to address the crowd. That march failed in preventing the war. Here the President released a statement praising the teens but then his motorcade avoided them in Florida where he was headed for the weekend.

I hope this movement succeeds in producing some welcome change.

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DC’s morning meetings – Pence, Klobuchar

IMG_7208One of the great pleasures of living in the Nation’s Capitol is the chance to seeing  legislators in the flesh and hear their words without any media filter.

This can be good or bad depending on your thinking. If nothing else, you hear tidbits that don’t make into news articles.

Yesterday, I went to a noon meeting with Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar and Republican Vice-President Mike Pence at Axios. It was televised on C-Span if anyone wants more detail. In this case they served really good healthy food – salad, salmon, chicken, salad, quinoa, and avocado.

Senator Klobuchar is from Minnesota. She has sponsored the Honest Ads Act along with Senator Warner (Virginia), and Senator John McCain (Texas). She wants online advertisings having to follow the same rules as print ads in transparency. 2018-Axios-Klobuchar.jpg

Just as interesting was her casual comment about applying anti-trust laws to the online travel industry. This would be interesting Unfortunately C-Span doesn’t have a clip on this discussion.

On a lighter note, she’s a supporter of the popular sport of curling.

My interest in seeing Vice President Pence was spurred by many comments by friends which basically demonizing him as a bad man.

That wasn’t the way he came off to me. He was bland and stolid, the perfect balance to the President. Very vanilla pudding without any additives.

He spoke on visiting the Olympics and “ignoring” the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “I didn’t avoid the dictator’s sister; I ignored her.” 2018-Axios-Pence.jpg

He went on to discuss the Russian meddling in the 2016 election, repeating twice, at the start and the end that it had “no effect on the 2016 election” and that the intelligence community was “…. confident of the election results of 2016.”  My takeaway: The vice-president doth protest too much. I think the results were indeed skewed by the meddling. Whether it made a difference in the winner, is up for debate (which I am not getting into.)

He was asked what does the media get wrong about Trump? He replied, “The man has a very big heart. (He) loves his family…. Just look at (his) devotion to his family and  his family to him.”

He also he spoke of being upset by comments on the ABC show “The View” which compared “my Christianity with mental illness.” He says he tries to start the day reading “the Good Book” (the Bible) and his “faith sustains him.” He felt that the comments demonstrated how “out-of-touch” was the show was with people.

My takeaway: People need to realize that there’s a human being at the other end of their comments, especially on something as personal to Pence as his religion.

He also said he was a booster about space travel and NASA. “We’re going back to the stars.”

Finally, at the end, in a lighter moment, he says he wanted a motorcycle for Father’s Day since both he and his wife ride them, but instead he got a puppy… which he named Harley.

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And… we’ve achieved a new TV

IMG_7148After dragging my friends out to Best Buy and having intense discussions with an employee (which degenerated into an agreeable political discussions because this is the Washington DC area), I ended up with a new television.

What kind? Well, that’s the payoff for reading, isn’t it?

Partly because this is the conclusion of a lesson on how to buy a new TV, here’s what went into the final decision.

I spent at least an hour on Amazon and Best Buy websites, discovering that they both were pushing the 50″ really hard as their Super Bowl sales. Going down to a 49″ or up to a 55″ was hundreds more.

That did make the choice easier. When the cost is exactly the same, then you know what you can buy.

The next question was weight. I admit that after seen the young athletic Best Buy salesman lug it around, I though it would be lighter than it was. Not true. He was just stronger than his lanky build showed.

For $100, I could get the Best Buy Geek Squad to deliver it and set it up. However, that would be a two weeks wait. I ended up having it put in my car trunk, after measuring said trunk to make sure it would fit, I then maneuvering the TV’s box on a cart and wheeled in. It was therefore safely delivered for no cost.

Weight was still a problem in that the old Sharp had to go to another room, then the new television put in its place. A good friend came to my rescue. We moved the old and set up the new one.

By the way, all the measuring of the room’s layout was worth it. The televisions fit exactly where they should go.

So, now what did I get? A 50″ Sony Bravia, 4K HDR.

Oh, you mean after all the angst in the former posting that I couldn’t see the Sony screen because of reflections? Well, the screen’s not shiny enough to reflect, and, besides, I decided that if I had to worry about reflections, I should just get heavier curtains. Easy fix.

Setting it up was fairly easy with the ability to plug in the old DVD player. I dug up the passwords for Netflix and CBS All Access, and they worked. The built-in antenna is helped by the current antenna so I can get stations that had dropped off the old Sharp.

I used the USB to get my cat picture.

So, my new Sony, welcome to the family. I hope to view you for years to come. I even promise to dust you.

(Oh, and the stunning kitty above? His name is Loofa. I hope he’ll get a new human soon.)

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The art of choosing a new TV

The dead television

Since it’s January, when you’re paying for last December’s frivolity and are looking forward in sick fascination at the upcoming tax season, it’s time for your electronics to break down.

I mean, would they choose to fail in anticipation of Black Friday / Thanksgiving sales? Nah. Or, in time for the under-the-tree Christmas sales boom? Nope. Luckily my television went belly-up just before the final date in sales trifecta: the Super Bowl.

That leads to today’s posting: getting a new TV. 

My elderly (9 years) 32″ Samsung decided to start squealing and give me a green screen of death. It was time to invest in a new set.

That meant facing a maze of choices, only some of them technological. If you are thinking of getting a brand you know, think again. Things have changed in the television marketplace.

First, what are your priorities? I watch over-the-air television, DVDs and Netflix through Apple. Do I need a “Smart” television where I can download apps, surf the web, use as a giant computer monitor, or attach gaming systems? No, but many others do. The manufacturers are trying to be all things to all buyers which means you may get much more than you really want. Frankly, it’s hard to find a 4K television without all sorts of apps being bundled with it, so be prepared.

My first decision? Size matters  (according to trusted sources advising me on Facebook.) Most said, get “the bigger, the better.”

I decided what to do based on, 1) how I will watch the television, and 2) the size of the pace it will go in. (I am not buying furniture to suit the set.) That led to figuring out 49″/50″/maybe 55″ is best for me. The point is to choose the right size for your planned viewing or gaming pleasure. Don’t buy something, then try to plan around it.

I wanted to make sure my current components would work. That meant taking a picture of the back connections so the new machine would also have them. I give kudos to the Sony representative who showed me the back of their set to make sure I could attach the cords.

Component connections

If you don’t have cable or are cutting your cable, you should look into whether the set takes an over-the-air antenna or has a built-in antenna. I found the easiest way of finding this answer was in the comments on Amazon.com where other buyers had asked this question, and gotten answers. Manufacturers don’t mention it.

So where are we? 49/50″ with 4K / UHD. So far, so good.

These sizes are the low end of UHD / 4K televisions according to a couple of salesmen. So, do you choose 1080p, or the upscale 4k / UHD. What is the advantage of 4K and UHD? Beautiful deep blacks and more vivid colors. If you can afford to get it, go ahead. I made that decision which means a higher price.

There are Samsung, Sony, Hisense, LG and Sharp. I currently own an elderly Sharp which I love. However doing my Internet legwork I discover there’s 2017 controversy in the Sharp world. Basically, it scared me off until they figure it out. I don’t know Hisense so I am avoiding it.

As I was perusing the array of sets at Best Buy, I fell in love with Sony. The television’s colors were unbelievable. The pictures glowed. The glass fronts were easy to clean. I was sold. But… I remembered the Sony computer monitor I used to have but (reluctantly) got rid of because of reflections. Placement is important. My living room has lots of light.

So, I walked away from Sony to find a television screen that has a matte or “anti-glare” finish (like my current tv.) I may lose the vivid colors but I will be able to see them. I then discovered that Sony does have “anti-glare” for their larger sets. It’s an additional cost. Hmm. No, it’s too big for the spot. Move on.

A pleasant surprise is that most of the new televisions are lightweight. My deceased 32″ Samsung was heavy. The new Sony 50″ was light, about 25 lbs.

Maybe not last, but important, is price. I discovered that if you’re buying in the “sale season”, the prices of different brands at my size aren’t that different from each other. Look for bargains, online and in stores.

Anyone who hasn’t been shopping with intent to buy a television might be totally overwhelmed at the choices hanging on the walls at Best Buy. I admit that it took numerous trips to understand all the nomenclature.

In November 2017 Consumer Reports did their annual survey. The top ones for my 50″ size were Samsung and LG after I weeded out Sony (sob).

So, now you’ve made some basic decisions, where do you go to buy it? Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy aren’t your only choices. If you have memberships in warehouse stores, then you might go to Costco (which won’t give you a price online unless you’re a member. Frankly, if I was given a price and I wanted it, I’ll join Costco. As it is, I walked away.) 

Then you have to get it home. The point here is make a decision on how you’re going to get your new television into your residence. If it’s easy for you to bring it home in your car, unpack it, put it on the stand and into place, then plan for that. If you need to have it delivered, you might want buy from Amazon.com or some other choice. Or, you can get Best Buy to deliver it and set it up for you. Maybe even haul away the carcass of the old television. Some cable systems might schedule set-up visits for you.

Once you have the new television home, and set up, you might want to go back to the online comments sections to find how to make the picture what you really want. Gamers want other features than the television-only viewer. If you think what to buy was a cornucopia of decisions, then decided to do with your new “smart” television is going to be worse.

At the end of the day, fulfilling the thought, “I need a new television” isn’t really easy to make any more. You have many decisions to make and many choices after that.

I’ll tell you how it works out.

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Three lives touched by one war — World War I

In 2015, I returned to my family home to investigate an unexamined chest that, it turned out, held over 2,400 hand-written and typed family letters, postcards, marriage licenses, wills, death certificates, and grocery lists dating back 140 years. The memorabilia spanned two World Wars, numerous marriages — some happy, some not — college days, foreign travel, and even included the ephemera of death — wills, obituaries and lawsuits.

Out of the mass of dimly-penciled letters, stationary inscribed with sputtering ink, yellowing telegrams and official documents came three separate stories, all touched by World War I. One was family, a brother. One was a friend, a girl friend.

The stories were tied together by a young woman named Mildred Chapman. She happened to be my grandmother.

The first story was that of her best friend from college, Sarah Webster.


Mildred and Sarah had sung in the choir at Hiram College in Ohio. After Sarah graduated, she went to work at fashionable Halle Brothers department store in Cleveland in 1913. A year later, in 1914, she helped Mildred get her first job there as a telephone orders clerk. Mildred had greater ambitions for working but it was a good start.

Sarah’s life went a different way. Her father died, and she went home.
Three years later, in 1917, Sarah wrote a letter to Mildred saying that she had made up her mind. She was in love and getting married eight days from then in Oberlin, Ohio, on July 11. She wanted Mildred there because she remembered the nights when they would sit on their beds and discuss “our futures, and it seems to always come out differently than we thought.”
Sarah’s husband-to-be was Thomas J. Quayle, a 1st Lieutenant in an Army, that was preparing to go to war in Europe. On April 6, 1917, the U. S. had declared war on Germany.

According a contemporary trade publication, the Hardwood Record, Quayle had worked for the Hudson Lumber Co. of Akron, before enlisting. Born in 1886, he was 31. Sarah was 30.

Mildred mentions not liking him, an impression garnered from Sarah’s earlier not-kept letters, but she changed her mind when she met Quayle, and when she saw how much Sarah was in love.

Quayle had a “fine heavily built figure, not fat. He’s had too much training for that,” Mildred wrote to her mother, Ella, from the wedding on July 11th. “I should say he was playing Yankee with perhaps a little Scotch (Scots) mixed in.” His mother and brother attended as well as “about 60 of Sarah’s relatives.”

“Sarah was an adorable bride,” Mildred wrote. “She wore a short dress as was her veil. The dress had soft creamy net with lace little ruffles here and there. The altar was decorated with palms and lilies, and “The Lohengrin March was played.” Sarah’s only attendant was a “little cousin who carried a basket.”

Mildred Chapman at Sarah Webster’s wedding

Mildred noted that it was a double ring ceremony. She wore her new “shimmy” white dress and carried a basket of “sweet peas and the rings.”

The Webster house had a “mammoth” dining room that held a long table dressed with tall candlesticks with “taller pink candles and a solid silver coffee urn.” It was trimmed in roses with “pink and the red ramblers…and she had just great huge bunches of them everywhere — pink in the room and red in the others.”

After the wedding, the roses were plundered of their petals by Mildred and one of Sarah’s teenage cousins to throw over the newlyweds as they left.

It would be months before Mildred again heard from Sarah, an Army wife, who was moving from base to base with her new husband.


When I first started looking into the letters, there was little to no organization. My late father had made a stab at it, sorting them by decade, but he soon gave up. I found the letters from separate decades stuffed in light-weight brown envelopes. Excavating, I discovered postcards written made on wood bark, a letter sent by a distant great-cousin who went to the Klondike during the Alaskan gold rush and came home swinging a gold nugget from his watch chain, and chronologies for family lines that didn’t directly impact my own family.

The earliest note was an invitation a Jenny Lind concert when the Swedish singer was touring the U.S. in the 1850s. Ancestry.com became a good friend along with Google and Bing in the dating.

Out of the masses of letters from the 1900s came the second story of World War I.


Mildred’s older brother, Donald Chapman, loved his mother and younger sister and wrote to them quite frequently in a scrawl, which was, at times, unreadable.

At 28, he was working in Detroit, Michigan with automobiles, and expected to be drafted at any time. The Selective Service Act had been enacted on May 18th, 1917.

By November 1917, Donald wrote to his mother, Ella, living in Ithaca, New York, “I have not been called yet.”

In the meantime, he was thinking ahead. “If I do not have to go to war,” he explained, “I can make a lot of money in the spring. Second-hand cars will sell like hotcakes, as they are cutting down on the output of new ones.”

On December 15, he’d taken advantage of an “opportunity to enlist at my trade as auto mechanic… in the Ordinance Dep.” of the Third Division. A day later, he was transferred to a barrack that was “chock-full.” Crowding being what it was, and having some dollars, Donald spent the night at the Hotel Deshler at Broad & High in Columbus, Ohio writing a letter to his mother on its letterhead. “We expect to have in a day or so for some point in the south, and after three week training we go to France to work back of the lines and will be out of danger.”

He asked his mother to send a Christmas card to his girlfriend Maybelle Rahl back in Detroit so she wouldn’t be “lonesome. She has done a lot for me.” Later he would ask his mother to send part of his pay to Maybelle to pay off his debts.

By Christmas he was in Camp Grant, in Rockford, Ill, enjoying holiday dinner, but complaining about Army red tape. “Nothing accomplished in 15 days but get our uniforms and now because some BOB had to go and (get) the measles we ‘five hundred of us’ are quarantined here for two weeks and can’t even go to the Y.M.C.A. or leave our quarters,” he groused. The camp was about “ten miles square, 35,000 men and “cold as blazes.” And, he complained, that they hadn’t been “issued any army shoes yet not lots of other equipment.”

He apologized he couldn’t send his mother a Christmas present but “will send you one from Berlin next year.” He also scolded his mother to make sure she didn’t send him a gift. “Don’t try to send me any Christmas present because I will now you can’t afford it and will be more pleased if you spend what you can on yourself.” He promised Mildred that he would “send you some souvenirs from France,” and in a separate letter to his mother said he hoped that Mildred would get “those fool love ideas out of her head and gets married soon.”

He also commented to his mother that now she could “hang out a service flag. You never expected to do that, did you? Ha ha.” The service flag with a blue star signified that the family had a man serving in the armed forces. If the man died, it would be a gold star.

A few days later in January, with an eye to mortality, Donald took out insurance from the Bureau of War Risk Insurance for $5,000 ($88,113.87 in 2017) to be paid in installments to his mother in case he died.


Reading through the letters from 1917–1920, my memory was tickled by something I had transcribed a year before, a letter from Mildred to her mother talking about a wedding. Re-reading it, I realized that I was neglecting another source.

Sarah C. Webster from Mildred Chapman scrapbook copy.jpg

Reaching into a box of scrapbooks, I searched through Mildred’s college years and found a photograph of a tall brunette standing outside a house, surrounded by bushes. Below it was a business card. “Halle Bros. Sarah Webster.”

I finally had a face for the happy bride, now an Army wife.


In January of 1918, Sarah Webster Quayle might have been blissfully married, living in Montgomery, Alabama, in a house in town with a “cozy grate fire,” but she assured Mildred in a letter, “I am not going to feel so far away from my friends either as some of married friends have taken themselves.”

Her husband Tom, now senior first lieutenant was very busy with the new troops. “He gets in just once a week from camp now. It used to be twice. I go once in a while to camp but he is so busy there that I try not to bother.” She had made some friends but was still lonely.

“Tell me more about your work,” she urged Mildred who was employed by the Rochester (NY) Parks and Planning. “What a big little ambitious girl you are. I would love to see you and talk over our days that we spent together.”

“I am just as happy as I can be and my only hope is someday you will meet as kind and as good a prince as you saw me take for my very won, amid roses and pretty things.”

Sarah concluded, “Write soon.”


Emboldened by finding Sarah, I went back to the family archives. There were two small matching wooden chests in my father’s bedroom. I knew one of them held negatives and slides, already moved to digital.

The other was filled, to the brim, with photographs. Two hours later, I realized that while I’d had 2400 letters, I had at least 1000 photographs of the family and friends. There were daguerreotypes, a single glass negative, and stiff studio photos. There were numerous women in Victorian dress, and men in the high collars of the late 1800s. There were wedding photos and babies. But men in uniform? Mostly from World War II.

Then, out of a messy heap, a photo dropped into my hands, and I realized that I had found Donald. It was of a man in his late 20s who wore the uniform of the American Expeditionary Forces and stood amid trees with a smiling woman.

WWI-1918-Donald Chapman WWI

Donald Chapman in Europe in World War I

On his right shoulder was the patch of the Third Division, blue and white stripes, rendered as grey in a black and white photo.

I knew I’d seen the patch before. I went back to the boxes of letters.


By February 1918, Donald Chapman had been sent to Camp Sheridan in Montgomery, Alabama. Compared with Camp Grant, he loved it.

“The weather is great down here just like June or July up north,” he wrote his mother. He swore that he would never go north again for the winter. Confined to camp under quarantine, he complained “we have not had any pay since we enlisted so I don’t suppose you have received any of my allotment yet.”

He explained in more detail about pay in his letters to his family, written on Army-provided notepaper illustrated with pictures of the troops. “An allotment is made for persons who are dependent on the enlisted man or who are partly dependent.”

“Now as I know you have no income and are badly in need of money that is why I sent it, so get those fool ideas out of your head, and do as I say,” he ordered his mother. “In the army here we have to do as we are told and ask no questions, and that is what I want you to do.”

He also wrote that, “We all wish we could vote for T.R. (Theodore Roosevelt) and get some action… I don’t think T.R. could get elected as dogcatcher. And the mayor of Montgomery is about as popular in camp as a skunk at a tea party.”

Then the troops were moved in preparation to go to France.

In March, on a one-day leave before shipping out, he met Mildred at a Hostess Home in New Jersey, one of the many created by the Young Women’s Christian Associations, as places where soldiers could meet with friends and relatives. The Home (supplied by ‘some wealthy man” her brother told her,) had a “low beamed ceiling, huge red brick fire place (and) hanging baskets of ferns on every cross beam.”

One entire wall of the Home was books. “Each soldier may take one and then he returns it to the Y.M.C.A. in France, and it is given to a returning soldier,” a hostess told Mildred who selected one for her brother since he was expecting to leave the next day.

She wrote her mother that he had lost weight but looked fine and, “he would have come home only didn’t have time.” Donald didn’t tell his girlfriend, Maybelle, about the leave because he didn’t want her to spend the money to visit him all the way from Detroit,” as she would have.

Donald shipped out to France as part of the 3rd’s Ordinance Detachment.


Sarah had joined her husband in Petersburg, Virginia, in May and was unhappy there partly because she caught malaria. She wrote Mildred about that time, “We hardly ever saw one another (referring to her husband), but especially in these times we learn to be thankful for very small things, do we not?”

Quayle shipped out June 15th from Hoboken, N.J. on the U. S.S. Leviathan, which was once a German-owned liner, the S.S. Vaterland.

In July, Sarah went to Chicago to see her brother, Frederick, married. The ceremony reminded her of the past. “I could see my own wedding (a year ago) so plainly and how one does remember such things,” she wrote Mildred.

She commented that “I am so glad for everything that has happened, and most of all for the months I spent with one with whom one can be themselves absolutely.”

She had finally received a letter from her husband. “How good it seemed to know he was really some place. Before I felt as if I was writing letters to heaven, and wondered if they ever reach him.”

“I am so proud to give, but it is hard, for it means, separation during the best years of our lives, and I sometimes tremble for him for I so want him, Mildred, to come back to me well and whole.”

“I long for a home, a dear cozy one, where just we two can live and learn to know one another better and you can visit us. What would we do, if it were not for dreams, and hopes.”

“I just hope your brother and Tom and our American boys will come home safe. Aren’t they just splendid?”


Donald Chapman ran into his first taste of the war in late May.

In a letter dated a year later, he says he was near the city of Chateau-Thierry, which was being fought over by the French and the Germans who had destructively ransacked it.

Donald came away with postcards the he found when “it was still under fire in July (1918),” and, from a destroyed house, a set of Japanese toys that he sent back to Mildred.


I had a face for Sarah Webster Quayle but nothing else. So I went on the Internet to see what could be discovered about her. Ancestry.com gave me a birthdate and her parents courtesy of the Cuyahoga County Archive for Cleveland, Ohio. I found an announcement of her wedding in The Oberlin Alumni Magazine. The chest of photos and several scrapbooks gave me a view of Mildred’s vibrant years at college and her friends, including Sarah. Some papers that I overlooked provided a vivid picture of the death of Sarah’s father and her return home.


In August 1918, Sarah was still suffering from the malaria she caught in Petersburg. The war was omnipresent in her thoughts. She had gotten a letter from her husband and wrote to Mildred, “Received the sweetest letter from Tom last p.m. He wanted to say so much to me and couldn’t. They were packing up to leave, finally for the firing line. I am proud that he is there, but just the same, my heart sinks at times, for there are times for all of us, are they not.”

She wrote about what she felt the Army would need after the war ended. “A department, I think would be interesting later on, to teach disabled soldiers — for before long, we will have them being brought back and many of them will have to begin life anew, take up arts and crafts or interesting works.”

Mostly, she thought of her future. “I amuse myself after retiring, picturing that lovely little scene you spoke of; the crackling, roaring fire place. You and Tom would quite agree as to the entire coziness of it for Tom loves a fire place and he always longed for one of our own. There really ought to be a Thomas Jr. Maybe if I hadn’t been so sick.”

Then reality bit hard.

On October 24th, Sarah sent a short letter to Mildred.

“This is to tell you the sad news that my husband was killed in action on September 26. Just received word yesterday.”

“It was such a shock. I cannot think it through and you, dear Mildred, were so near to me that evening, July 11, (Sarah’s wedding) and only Tom knows how I love him and how he loved me.

She ended, “Love as ever, Sarah.”

The death notice was sent to his wife at her home in Oberlin, Ohio. It took a month to arrive.

Quayle was actually killed in action on the 29th, during the Meuse-Argonne drive according to the U.S. Adjutant Generals Military Records, He was buried in a military cemetery 1055, in France.

Thomas Quayle’s death came just over six weeks before the Armistice to end the war was signed on November 11th.


Going back to the letters and scrapbooks, I found a large cardboard poster printed “with the Compliments of the Y.M.C.A” that I had overlooked before. I hadn’t recognized what the handwritten name on the top. “Sgt. Don Chapman.” The poster listed the brigades and other companies that made up the Third U. S. Division, and all the battles they’d fought in — Chateau-Thierry, and the Battle of the Marne, Montsec and the Battle of St. Mihiel, and the Battle of the Argonne-Meuse, September 26, 1918.

2016-09-03 16.03.34-2.jpg

A busty woman held a flag with the stripes like the ones on the patch on Chapman’s shoulder. It was a match.

Looking more carefully at the poster I discovered a listing for “Army of Occupation, December 1918 to January 1919.”

The Americans were there far longer according to Donald Chapman’s letters. Like most soldiers through time, all he wanted to do is go home.


The War to End All Wars ended but the Americans were still “over there.”
Donald Chapman was sent to Mayen Germany, then on to Anick where he was “billeted” with a German family.

By March 1919, Chapman was in charge of the “machine shop truck and the machine and welding for the Army same as when we were at Chateau- Thierry only it is more peaceful and has work to do.”

That Christmas he received a box of chocolate and a picture of his mother, and of his sister. “I received it all okay and was very much pleased with everything especially the photos of you and Mildred which are fine.” He also teased his sister that she must have gotten his rank mixed up with a Colonel’s “when she sent that silk handkerchief.”

WWI-Mildred Chapman chocolates

Mildred Chapman and her box of chocolates for her brother

He was lucky to have gotten the box. Some of his letters didn’t make it home for months because “we found our mail never got past the organization that our outgoing mail went through. I have written you several letters from Germany that I suppose you never received as it was during the time we were attached aforesaid organization.”

His back mail from home arrived in June, but most of his replies centered around a soldier’s major questions: “When do we go home?” and questions about his pay or “allotment” which was tangled up. It had to do with his payments to his mother of $20 a month ($292.64 a month in 2017).

He ended up ordering his mother to do nothing and cursing the “dirty yellow backed slackers in the office of Washington for the problem.”

“I suppose they will always have damned follies and red tape in the government.”

He also commented, “I think they can send home some of those fellows who are having the big times in the coast towns in France and let the fellows who ate corn willie (canned corned beef) and hard tack for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and who worked every day from 8 to 15 hours seven days a week from July until Jan. and under fire go home, don’t you?”

When his sister mentioned in a letter seeing an aero show, he wished was home to see the airplanes commenting that, “It’s a grate (sic) sight to see about 300 of them in the air as once like I did at Verdun or the Argonne.”
In May, he went to Paris on a three-day pass and spotted General John J. Pershing drive by in his “Locomobile with the four stars.” He also stood “in the spot in the hall where the Germans will sign the peace treaty… also saw several of them (the delegates).”

By late July, life was better. He visited London where there were “hundred of wonderful girls — had a hard time to get away without getting married. I am very much in love with England.”

Then, in late August 1919, Donald Chapman came home. The Salvation Army War Department sent a telegram to his mother in Ithaca saying he’d arrived back at Camp Merritt, New Jersey.


After almost two years of unpacking, I had finished cataloging the vast majority of the letters. It was time to move on, to look for work again, to leave the past behind.

However, 2017 was the 100th anniversary of the entry of the U.S. into the First World War. I put the letters and their envelopes with the 3 cent stamps (now 75 cents), the poster, and the photographs into separate notebooks, and turned my attention to finishing their stories.

So what happened next?


Sarah Webster Quayle remarried in 1920 to Kenneth Green in Cuyahoga Country, Ohio according to microfilm. She appeared under her married name, Green, in the 1930 census but not the 1940. There were no more letters. The last trace of her was a notecard about a wedding gift she sent when Mildred married.

Mildred Chapman went to work as a storyteller librarian at the New York Public Library’s Harlem branch, and as a salesgirl at the now-defunct Wanamaker’s department store. She married in 1921 in Rochester, N.Y.

Her brother, Donald Chapman, married Maybelle Rahl in July 1920 but they divorced several years later. He married again and had one son. He served in World War II and passed away in Los Angeles in 1963.

1st Lieutenant Thomas Quayle’s body was returned from France to Oberlin, Ohio in 1921. According to findagrave.com, he is buried in Westwood Cemetery.

(This story was first published on Medium.com on Veterans’ Day, 2017, and is re-posted here so it appears on Linked-In. Tish Wells) 

Update 9/7: My thanks to G. Bellamy for catching that Sarah’s age at the time of her wedding was 30, not 23 as originally written.

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‘Thor: Ragnarok’ – a triumph for comic books

Having just seen Thor: Ragnarok, I came away with a number of differing thoughts.

One was that it was like a series of graphic novels, and took just about as long to watch as it would have to read. Secondly, was how much these fantasy films owe to George Lucas. A third, building on Lucas, is that what had been imagined or sketched out on paper, can now be created on screen. Is this a good thing for sparking the imagination?

Thor: Ragnarok is a long movie with fits and starts of humor, and lots of carnage. I am not sure if anyone who hasn’t watched the other films in Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) would quite get the side jokes but the main plot is pretty straightforward. If you have a knowledge of the Norse myths – Odin All-Father, Thor, god of Thunder, Loki, god of Mischief, Hela, the goddess of Death – then you can follow along.

Like storytellers for hundreds of years, Marvel has reworked the Norse gods, first, for their comics books, and then the movies, this movie tells yet another version of the legends. Thor is noble and humorous (thank you, Chris Hemsworth), Loki is untrustworthy but always pulls through (thank you, Tom Hiddleston), and introducing Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) who pulls off an outfit sleeker than that of Cat Woman (Oops. Wrong comic universe.) Ragnarok is the foretold destruction of Asgard.

There are times in this film that you end up wishing the end of the world would come faster.

I realized roughly halfway through the film that Thor: Ragnarok had the rhythm of comic books. You could break this film up into five or six segments, all ending on cliff-hangers, and have an entire series of printed comics or television programs. I had noticed this happening in an earlier film, but now it’s far clearer.

In the early days of adapting DC and MCU comics for the screen, filmmakers didn’t have the digital means to truly recreate comic book mayhem and magic so they worked around the problem with plot and characterization.

Now they can recreate the fantasy of the comic books and they do with lots of special effects. Some times these effects seem gratuitously long to me.

Special effects bring me back to George Lucas. Known for his filmmaking, Lucas  established Industrial Light and Magic to create the digital special effects of Star Wars in 1975. ILM’s never looked back. These days, there are other special effects groups around the world (and most worked on this film from the credits), but in many ways, Lucas was the one who started it all. When you see digital cities, you’re likely reminded of Coruscant in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999). When fire is held in someone’s hand, you can go back to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince‘s sea of flame which was done by ILM. So, thank you, George Lucas, for bringing us on the silver screen what could only be created in our imagination when we read.

Is having a passive visual experience a good thing for the human imagination? I’m sure that debate will rage forever. In the past, new works sprang from reader’s imagination. Shakespeare built on an Italian story to create Romeo and Juliet. The legends of King Arthur were embellished by the monk Geoffrey of Monmouth. Hell was pretty much defined in the Middle Ages by Dante  Alighieri in his Divine Comedy, volume one, The Inferno.

Now writers’ and artists’ imaginations will be sparked by what has been created visually by others, not by what might come from within. Good or bad? Time will tell.

In the less-philosophical world, enjoy Thor: Ragnarok. Stick around for the end of the credits. It’s worth it.

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Divine Felines and #NationalCatDay

Let me turn you on to something.

On October 29, this Sunday, it’s @NationalCatDay which looks like just an excuse to indulge in feline adoration. As if the 74,059,000 owners, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, need an excuse.

I love cats. (I love dogs as well, but I have my finger on the scale for cats. I have friends who have their entire fists on the scale for dogs so we’re even.)

When I went to Istanbul in 2015, I found a city overrun with cats. Respected and loved by the Turks, stray cats fed by the locals (who enjoy mouse policing) and many tourists who enjoy the purr! So I wrote a piece about my trip, including a slide show.

The, in 2017, out came #Kedi, an independent film on what? Cats. The cats of Istanbul in all their glory. Cat lovers it will be released on November 14th on Amazon.com. Just in time for Christmas.

In my piece on the re-opening of the Freer Gallery of Art  here in Washington D.C. where they have a brand new exhibit of “Divine Felines” cats in ancient Egypt.


You will l notice that there are two pictures of dogs in this collection. The Freer|Sackler exhibit includes canine influences in Egypt as well.

So now, at the end of this fantastically busy month of October, we have #NationalCatDay, celebrating our feline buddies.


In honor of that, I’ll share my favorite cat picture of this year: Chunky who has a “taste” for Apple iWatches.

Chunky was up for adoption at the local Petsmart where I volunteer. Lively and a true purr engine, he was taken home by a good family. I only hope they were PC users.

Finally, so sorry not to be updating this blog more often. It’s not that I haven’t written. It just hasn’t been posted. I will attempt to be more timely.

Happy #NationalCatDay !!

Posted in Cats, Freer Gallery of Art, Sackler Museum, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

D.C.’s gateway to Asia finally re-opens

It’s been a long two years since the Freer Gallery of Art, the nation’s premier gallery of Asian Art was open on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

“What began as a prosaic need to upgrade mechanical systems in the Freer allowed us to reinstate this building to Freer’s pristine vision,” said Director Julian Raby, of the Freer Gallery. Freer believed in “points of contact… He believed in commonalities – of shared sense of beauty across different peoples. an inspired belief in universalism in art.”

Director Julian Raby of the Freer Gallery of Art

The Freer Gallery was the first museum built on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Detroit industrial  Charles Lang Freer donated his collection in 1906, but the museum first opened in 1923 after his death. The Freer, along with its sibling museum, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, form the National Museums of Asian Art.

Among the new exhibits at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art are “Divine Felines,” a peek at the cult of the cat in Ancient Egypt from the Brooklyn Museum, “Encountering The Buddha” is a vast expansive look at the many faces of the Buddha and “Terminal” a contemporary exhibit by Sobodh Guptais. Finally, there was “Resound: Bells of Ancient China.”

It’s possible to spend hours browsing the lush displays in “Encountering the Buddha:Art and Practice across Asia.”


Heads of the Buddha

Stone heads of the Buddha show the different ways he was conceptualized in different cultures including India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Thailand.

Along with the stunning sculptures and golden art, there is a digital film created for the exhibition of a Buddhist site in Sri Lanka.

There is also the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room with 243 objects from Chinese, Nepalese, Tibetan, and Mongolian artists.

The Tibetan Shrine room

Don’t overlook “Resound: Bells of Ancient China.” Over 60 bells, some of which date back to the Chinese Bronze age circa 1800 BC, and as recent as 9 A.D. Elaborately designed, the bells range from an inch high to almost three feet.

A reporter tests out the Chinese Bells exhibit

What is the most striking is the interactive aspect of the exhibit. Two tablets on one wall show the difference in the ring of the bells, Chinese and European, through the different pitches.

Bells were used in warfare as well as court music. A wall panel highlights the treasures found in the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng. He was buried with the instruments of his orchestra, including sixty-five bells. Oh, and a number of women who might have been his musicians.

In “Divine Felines,” obviously cats are the masters. The Egyptians revered the cats, given them status as royalty or even gods. Many know of Bastet, the cat-headed goddess or Sakhmet, the lion-headed goddess who is at the door of the exhibition but did you know that there was a feline goddess Mafdet from the 3rd century BC?

According to the exhibit, she was “believed to guard worshipers against snakes and scorpions and to fiercely protect the pharaoh and the gods.”

In the agricultural landscape of Egypt, the cat was revered for its usefulness in killing vermin such as mice and snakes but also for her devotion to her children, and protector of her owners. After death, they were often mummified and buried in coffins.

One word of warning. Above the cylindrical mummy of a cat is explicit detail about the x-rays of the broken bones of the kitten within. The explanations might be upsetting to young visitors. The mummy is from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Not to be neglected, there are several dogs in the exhibit as well. No they aren’t given equal time. The Egyptians prized their canines giving them protective powers and regarding them as guardians of the dead.

But this exhibit belongs to the cats. (Want to see dogs? Go to the National Gallery of Art across the Mall. The Europeans loved their dogs.)

The “new look” at the Freer is aimed at not just exhibiting their collections but exploring of the links between Asia and America.

The Freer Gallery of Art cleaned down to their original terrazzo floors and re-designed the ceilings to provide “diffused and reflected light.” The many changes were discussed in my earlier posting here.

The museum’s exhibits were changed to show they weren’t “just an accumulation of stuff from a certain period. It’s a mini exhibition. Each gallery has a theme and a title,” said Raby.

According to Chief Curator of Persian, Arab, and Turkish Art, Massumeh Farad, even the signage on the items has been changed. Instead of saying, Bowl, ewer or figure, “they have enticing titles that immediately introduce our visitor to the principal idea.”

For example, “A group of 14th century enamel glassware from Egypt is introduced as part of Cairo Nights since they were part of Egyptian banquets,” said Farad.


Details of the only existing work by Fanlong (12th century). A Confucian, a Buddhist Luohan, a tiger, and earth demons.

Lovers of quirky details should check out the wonderful scroll by Fanning in one of the galleries that has a Buddhist Lohan, Confucian scholar and a monkey. Oh, and earth demons. Don’t miss the happy demons.

Among other chances, the Gallery is beta testing a Freer “Highlights Tour” about their galleries. They will be in seven languages:  Chinese, Korean Hindi, Arabic, Spanish, Japanese, Persian and Spanish. They are also introducing podcasting across the exhibitions. One of them is on the Apocalypse “which considers themes of destruction in Asia and how these have served as a means for   renewal  and creation.”

For those with limited time, look for the new red labels to get “a sense of what the gallery is about.” It will be a fast tour of the collections.

Numerous sponsorsworked with the Gallerys to put on the exhibits. Mars Petcare provided for the “Divine Felines”, and the Robert H. No. Ho Family Foundation of Hong Kong for the continuing support of “Encountering the Buddha.”

The museum’s opening was celebrated by having the classical 300 foot facade become a screen for of Freer’s trips and Asian art, a night market in the Illuminations, including dancing and music.

The Freer Gallery of Art is at 12 St SW and Jefferson Drive on the National Mall, Washington DC.

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery ,1050 Independence Ave SW
Washington, DC

Posted in Asian art, Cats, Freer Gallery of Art, Japan, Sackler Museum | 1 Comment