A Lot of Pissed-off People ………. (thoughts from Belgrade)

The city of Belgrade Serbia has been conquered 100 times since its founding in 100 BC, our guide tells us, then DSCN1001 croppedlaughs as he offers to give us a sixty second history lesson. He begins reciting. “Romans, Byzantines…….. Turks, Hungarians, Turks, Austrians, Turks, Germans, Russians …”  Turks are clearly a big part of this recitation. As he sing-songs his way through 100 invasions we are driving by the bombed out buildings still standing from the United States intervention in 1999. Clearly most of us on the bus have never seen a bombed building before, but a sense of respect prevents us from pulling out cameras.

Our tour guide is a nice man, but he is still angry about so many things from the past and his anger creeps into the words he chooses.  His perspective is at least ninety degrees away from the historian who gave us a lecture earlier today and who was less angry but not without his own bitterness as he tied WWI into WWII into the problems in the Balkans today.

As the guide walks us by the tanks preserved from both world wars, I remember Lola in my novel z2 quoting Faulkner’s famous line “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

spring croppedDinner tonight is in Belgrade’s Bohemian district. We drive through a modern downtown, past the blooming spring flowers.  Once there we are surrounded by live music. Liquor flows freely and food is ample and all of it has touches of Turkey, Austria, Russia, Hungary, and yes more Turkish influences. There is something for dessert called walnut pie that would make an average baklava weep with envy. So yes, there is joy to be shared here as well in this city of 100 conquests.

I think of home and am glad that my fellow Texans don’t harbor the kinds of deep animosity that I’ve glimpsed here. Oh wait. There are a lot of pissed-off people in Texas too. They don’t like this thing that’s happened, and they don’t like the way that went. The difference? They don’t have nearly as many good reasons for their anger.  In fact, compared to the Serbians, many of them have no good reasons at all.

If you would like to read other posts from this trip check out  “That which does not kill us …. thoughts from Budapest” on my blog for the novel x0. Also check out “One person’s tourist destination is another person’s home ….. thoughts from Bucahrest “ on my blog for the novel y1.

And that’s the way it is…..

I’m old enough to have once been a fan Walter Cronkite, whose calm and mostly objective delivery of the evening news earned him the title of “most trusted man in America.” Today, I grab my news from my email provider and supplement it with Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” which is often great fun but technically neither objective nor news. I know this but I consider it my news source anyway.

Has life gotten better since the days of Walter? Or worse? In the spirit of Cronkite, let’s take a look at today, April 9th.

In 1241 the Mongols defeated the Polish and German Armies.  Seriously. On April 9.  After that it appears that there was a whole lot of fighting by a whole lot of people, although on this date in 1454 the city-states of northern Italian signed a truce that lasted for almost 50 years. Go Italy. And on  April 9, 1865 Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant and ended the civil war.

Click to visit the National Film Preservation Foundation

Click to visit the National Film Preservation Foundation

It was 74 years ago when  the Daughters of the American Revolution decided that Marian Anderson’s ancestry made her unfit to sing at Constitution Hall. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR as a result, and on April 9, 1939, Marian Anderson sang instead on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before a live audience of seventy-five thousand and a national radio audience of millions more. Click on the image to see the video.

Today we had stabbing attack on a campus of Lone Star Community College, easily within twenty miles of my home.  Fourteen people have been injured, several very seriously, and as of last report no one has any idea of why.  I sit on my front porch blogging and waiting for more news to make it on to the internet.

And that’s the way it is, on April 9, 2013.

Latitudes and attitudes

oil spill from space

oil spill from space

Three years ago this month, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the  Gulf of Mexico. Eleven people were killed and it took experts three months to stop the flow of oil onto the sea floor. Those living along the gulf suffered significantly, and t shirts saying FUBP were selling well in New Orleans. You could see the oil slick from outer space.  We held our collective breath at the unexpected experimenter in what 5 million barrels of oil discharged rapidly at on ocean depth of 5000 feet might do to the world’s ecosystem. Those of us who write science fiction in our heads all day came up with plenty of possibilities.  None of them ended well.

fubp

Best Seller

It was a significant to me for more reasons, however, than concern and outrage. My day job is in the oil business. I consider myself a pragmatic environmentalist. Over the years I met people who worked for BP, and they were as reasonable and ethical any other group. The fatal combination of cost-cutting, bad decisions and eventually bad responses was tragic, pointing to the need for better regulation, better enforcement, and far less hubris when we pit ourselves against nature.

The novel z2 takes place during 2010 and Alex, the hero of the novel is married to a geophysicist.  When I wrote z2 I let his wife Lola express some of my own concerns on the subject.

Alex was used to listening to Lola fret about items in the news, and had long ago accepted that she took world events to heart in a way he simply didn’t. But tonight she was especially distraught. A drilling rig called the Deepwater Horizon had just exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, apparently killing eleven workers and leaving undetermined amounts of oil spewing out into the sea.

“Geez, those poor men. Their poor families. You know, I’ve stood out there on the rotary floor, feet away from these guys. Alex, those roughnecks are amazing.” She thought for a second. “I could have been out there.”

“But you weren’t there,” Alex said calmly. He knew that Lola’s fervor was only partly fueled by her concern about the injuries and deaths. Nigeria had a horrible history of largely ignored oil spills, and Lola was passionate about her industry’s need to operate without such destructive mistakes.

“These are my people,” she said sadly. “Most of them want to do things right. But they just f**ked-up big time.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself here,” Alex tried to comfort her. “They’ll probably have it plugged back up by tomorrow and everything will be fine. “

I wanted the book to also present another point of view. Each of my books includes links to nine songs that serve as a sort of “soundtrack” and reflect the different tastes of each novel’s protagonist.  Alex likes pop music and one of the songs I chose for z2 was Jimmy Buffet’s “Changes in Latitudes.” I like to link to a video, and I was able to find a great version of Jimmy Buffett performing “Changes in Latitudes” at a concert in Gulf Shores, Alabama on July 11, 2010 designed to raised money for those damaged by BP’s ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a great counterpoint to Lola’s perspective.  Please enjoy it here.