From Santa Fe to Odessa: Evocations of Ukraine, past and present

Recently I reconnected with a woman I’d known long ago, during dreamy, youthful days (the early ’70s) on an island in Greece where we both lived. “Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end …”  though we didn’t “… sing and dance forever and a day…” As it’s turned out, I’m now in NYC and Mary’s in (who’s have guessed it) Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Have a look at her website:  Quite impressive. Quite surprising. What a winding and wonderful journey she’s taken.  And now, she’s published an historical novel, titled: NIGHT TRAIN TO ODESSA.
Here’s the gist: It is 1919. The Russian Civil War rages in the Ukraine. Elvira Maria Andrushko, a mother, recently widowed, flees the embattled countryside bound for the safe haven, Odessa. As the night train approaches she is violently separated from her small children and arrives in the seaport alone and traumatized. Bewildered by the city’s harshness, alienated by unhelpful authorities, and tormented above all by her loss, she searches Odessa hoping to find her children. When Elvira Maria meets Michail Lukashenko, an artisan with a puppet theatre, she is attracted by his charm and the fairy tale performances that entertain hundreds of children, who could be her own. But the innocent faces cheering in the crowds are not all happy, nor have they all come to watch the show. Elvira Maria reluctantly enters an underworld where the price of life and the cost of war dictate the terms of survival. NIGHT TRAIN TO ODESSA is a beautiful and moving novel of hope and courage, and a loving tribute to Odessa.
Have a look, the book’s just been released, is being launched by its publisher while, simultaneously, traveling on a train to the city at it’s heart in the hands of a well-meaning courier.  Here’s the ticket for that journey to Odessa:
The author explains the reason for that ticket: “The young woman, Mariya Reva, a former architecture student of mine at Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, is Ukrainian with family ties to Odessa. She knew I was writing this book and was excited when she heard it was going to be launched this September in Santa Fe. Though she lives in New Jersey, she was headed to Ukraine in a matter of days. Unknown to me, she had a train ticket – dated September 13, 2023 – for the night train that runs between Kiev and Odessa, Ukraine. I quickly sent her a box containing my book, NIGHT TRAIN TO ODESSA, to take with her and to share with readers in Ukraine – especially in Odessa. Hence, the photos of her reading the book on the train, arriving at the historic Odessa railroad station, visiting the book bazaars, and finally being photographed in front of the iconic Odessa Opera House – the same image featured on the book.”
What a sober, also touching, story. A fraught story, a fraught location as a different war ‘rages’ between Ukraine and Russian Federation … rages on and on and on … sucking the life out of all of us.
As it happens, two different neighbor on my floor are from Ukraine–the neighbor on my left from Kiev, the one to the right from Odessa. My own grandparents  left their families behind (see photos of great grandparents below) in Ukraine (then a part of Russia) to travel to America–by foot, train, ship, and subway to Brooklyn–between 1906-1908. It’s a country that UNESCO has designated with eight sites on the World Heritage List; it’s given us the writings of Lesya Ukrainka, Anna Akhmatova, Isaac Babel, as well as more than eighty-five chess grand masters, and much more.
I’ve never traveled to this consequential country, and regret it. I’ve visited its neighbors–Poland, Russia, Hungary–but somehow, with all other cross-crossings, didn’t make it–have never trod on its fertile steppes, nor glimpsed it’s rivers, even the River Bug though my heart was in my mouth during the hours long footage of that river on screen in Claude Lanzmann’s sprawling documentary “Shoah” and again, on first reading Yevtushenko’s poem “Babi Yar” (over which the ‘wild grasses rustle’) since this is where the relatives (who didn’t make it to American) probably perished and were never heard from again.
Congratulations on such a serious, very readable, imagined evocation of a time and place, Mary Grow!
“My only weapon, dear words that I cherish,
We must ensure that not both of us perish “
from a poem by Lesya Ukrainka



Opera Based on Events in the Life of Alberto Giacometti: In One Act

OPERA Based on Events in the Life of Alberto Giacometti:


Alberto Giacometti – a Swiss sculptor – Tenor

Diego Giacometti – his younger brother – Baritone

Annetta Giacometti – their mother – Mezzo-soprano

Peter van Meurs – an older Dutchman – Base

Policeman – Bass-baritone

Coachman – Alto

Giant Sheep – Contraltos

Time: Twentieth Century

Place: Switzerland and Italy

Scene I: Autumn 1904

The village of Stampa is in the Bregaglia Valley of southeast of Switzerland. Piz Duan Inn is located on one side of the street across from a rose-colored house that includes a hay barn along with a stable. Slowly the street fills with a flock of giant, milling sheep. A small boy, Diego Giacometti (age three) wanders from the rose-colored house to the road. Diego gets lost among the sheeps legs and is overcome with sobs. At a window Alberto, the brother, age four, has been watching. He’s beside his mother, Annetta Giacometti, who is laughing. Soon Alberto can’t see Diego any longer but can still hears the pitch of sobbing  so he dashes outside and enters the wall of sheep (some with thick dreadlock-like fur). When he locates Diego, he lifts him from between the legs of a sheep. Having remained at the window of the Inn, their mother’s laughter roils on

Scene II: September 1921

High in the mountains of Madonna di Campiglio, a post coach travels along a narrow, twisting road toward the face of cliffs above precipitous gorges. Inside the coach, Alberto Giacometti, age nineteen, sits beside Peter van Meurs, a sixty-one-year-old Dutchman who has pouches under his eyes and stooped shoulders. The coach drives toward the entrance to the Grand Hotel des Alpes, a rambling structure built on the ruins of an ancient monastery and stops. There is a forest in back and a field beside the hotel.

In a narrow room Alberto is asleep in a narrow bed; so is van Meurs, in his own bed. Heavy rain is fall outside the window that opens onto a wooden balcony. At some point that night when Van Meurs begins to writhe from side to side, Alberto sits up, sits beside the sick man. He opens his book | Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pecuchet | begins to read from an introductory essay by Guy de Maupassant:  Those people who are altogether happy, strong and healthy…are they adequately prepared to understand, to penetrate, and to express this life we live, so tormented, so short? Are they made, the exuberant and outgoing, for the discovery of all those afflictions and all those sufferings which beset us, for the knowledge that death strikes without surcease, every day and everywhere, ferocious, blind, fatal?”

Van Meurs’ cheeks have sunk; he is barely breathing through his gaping mouth. Alberto takes paper and pencil and begins to draw the sick man on a great sheet of paper. Alberto draws the concave cheeks, the open mouth, the fleshy nose. Alberto looks up and realizes that van Meurs’ nose is growing longer and longer.

Finally, when Van Meurs closes his eyes and dies, the nose stops extending.

Alberto lights the lamp in order to make the room brighter and brighter until white light fills all the space.


Betrayal of a betrayal

Dear Rosemary Sullivan,

I’ve been meaning to write to you since the publication of your book THE BETRAYAL OF ANNE FRANK in January 2022 to register the shock (even outrage) I experienced after reading your book. At the most basic level, this work is irresponsible, sprinkled with inaccuracies, distortions, is historically dangerous, but time passed and other things got in the way and I never wrote to you.

I’m the co-author with Miep Gies of Miep’s memoir ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED and have had my finger on the pulse of Anne Frank’s world as it relates to (among other Holocaust-related matters) Miep and Jan Gies since 1987 and will continue to have a stake in its faithful preservation until the day of my death.

I believe that your book should have been immediately withdrawn (as the Dutch publisher did) or else seriously revised to reflect accuracy and finger-pointing, especially in matters relating to Mr. van den Bergh. If Harper Collins is unwilling to do so, why haven’t you insisted?  Where is your honor?  Listen to the Spui 25 symposium **REFUTATION OF “BETRAYAL OF ANNE FRANK” from 3/22/2022 available on YouTube [see link below]and elsewhere if your conscience needs prodding.

Alison Leslie Gold

(BTW: I fear reading your book VILLA AIR-BEL wondering what you’ve done to THAT story since Mary Jayne Gold happens to have been my husband’s aunt? Oh: and my first name is Alison not Leslie, as you refer to me in your book.




















Dear Ms. Sullivan,


I’ve been meaning to write to you since the publication of your book THE BETRAYAL OF ANNE FRANK in January 2022 to register the shock (even outrage) I experienced after reading your book. At the most basic level, this work is irresponsible, sprinkled with inaccuracies, distortions, historically dangerous but time passed and other things got in the way.


I’m the co-author with Miep Gies of Miep’s memoir ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED and have had my finger on the pulse of Anne Frank’s world as it relates to (among other Holocaust-related matters) Miep and Jan Gies since 1987 and will continue to have a stake in its faithful preservation until the day of my death. 


I believe that your book should have been immediately withdrawn (as the Dutch did) or else seriously revised to reflect accuracy and finger-pointing, especially in matters relating to Mr. van den Bergh. If Harper Collins was too greedy to do so, why haven’t you insisted?  Where is your honor?  Listen to the Spui 25 symposium REFUTATION OF “BETRAYAL OF ANNE FRANK” from 3/22/2022 available on YouTube and elsewhere if your conscience needs prodding.  (BTW: I fear reading your book VILLA AIR-BEl, wondering what you’ve done to THAT story since Mary Jayne Gold happens to have been my husband’s aunt?)


Alison Leslie Gold




Purveyance reveal: An illustrated odyssey

Meet Newton Mansfield: Polish-born, naturalized American violinist in the New York Philharmonic. (1930-2018)

A natural musician, Newton Mansfield always hated having to practice. One day in childhood, rather than practice, he sat down on, and crushed, his violin.  When his father, a tailor, came home from work and saw what had happened, he didn’t utter a word,  simply turned around, left, and came back with another violin.

Newton’s family left Poland for France, then France for Spain to escape Hitler, finally managing to get to America where Newton became a professional musician. (“I knew I wanted to be a professional musician as soon as I got paid for it! In Paris when I played I got balloons. In New York, when I was 11 or 12, I got paid!) After playing in symphony orchestras in Houston, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, he joined the New York Philharmonic (then under Leonard Bernstein) in 1961 and performed with them for 55 years. He retired in 2016; died in 2018 at age 88.

Despite distaste for doing so, Newton did practice.

In the early 1950s he purchased a fine, antique violin on which, as it would turn out, he’d play for the rest of his life. This instrument was certified by Rudy Wurlitzer who oversaw the Wurlitzer rare and historic stringed instrument department’s 42nd Street headquarter in New York City.  The certification attested that the violin had been made by M.A. Bergonzi, describing: “The back is of one piece of semi-slabcut handsome figure maple. The scroll and ribs matching the back. The top is one piece of wide, slightly irregular grain spruce.”

Meet Michel Angelo Bergonzi: Cremona is a small, mercantile city in the Lombardy region on the River Po in northern Italy. Son of Carlo (1683-1747), father of Nicolo (1754-1832), Michele Angelo Bergonzi (1721-1758), was a Cremona-based violin maker. This family produced exceptional violins during what is considered as the golden period of violin-making, 1650-1750.

Although Wurlitzer certification described the violin as an M.A. Borgonzi of Cremona (with sound post crack in the back)” unease about its veracity hovered since Wurlitzer was generally thought of as a manufacturer of pianos, organs as well as a purveyor of jukeboxes, vending machines and even carnival rides. Newton, of course, realized that Rudy Wurlitzer was not very highly regarded as an authority on Cremonese violins and that his violin would need to get a certificate written by a more highly esteemed source. When he showed the violin around opinions rarely differed:  It was likely a Bergonzi … especially the bottom and sides, but … the top of the violin had …. quirks!

In 1992 he commissioned an appraisal by violin maker and restorer Boris Sverdlik in New York, then, a second appraisal in 2020 by Christophe Landon Rare Violins, Inc. also based in New York. Both were useful in establishing an approximate value should Newton ever want to sell it, but – alas – cast no light on the issue of the violin’s flimsy purveyance. So, whether or not it was truly a Bergonzi made by either father, son or grandson, and as much as Newton hoped it was, he never did get around to verifying the authenticity in his lifetime.

After Newton’s death, his violin was stored with other instruments in a humidity-controlled vault near Lincoln Center and time passed.

Meet David Mansfield: American musician and composer, Newton Mansfield’s eldest son (b. 1956).

David, a child prodigy in music like his father, always suspected that the issue of establishing the violin’s purveyance (he refers to a violin as a fiddle) would – by default – someday fall into his lap. In fact his father had warned him as such.  And so it did.

When the time came, he reached out to the world’s leading (also unrivaled) experts – Beare & Son – a family firm based in England, founded by John Beare in 1865. There were long waits for appointments and no way to hurry the process. Close to his eventual appointment date, David retrieved the fiddle from where it safely rested and flew with it from Newark to Heathrow, then traveled (by train) to a market town in Kent (Tonbridge) where a taxi took him to his AirBnB in nearby Penshurst – another beautiful Kent village of historic houses and gardens surrounded by woodlands and fields. It was springtime, there were martins and skylarks and the light in the sky lingered until late evening.

David brought  the fiddle to the Beare Atelier in the morning and handed it off to an assistant whom, he presumed, would pass it to the highly esteemed, most respected violin expert on Bergonzi violins in the world, Charles Beare (b. 1937). Hopefully, at this point, Charles or perhaps one of his sons (Peter or Freddie), would oversee an examination and provide a certificate that would officially authenticate Newton’s fiddle as a Bergonzi.

Or they wouldn’t.

That was it. David left empty handed.

A few months later the violin was ready for retrieval so he hurried back to Penshurst but no certificate awaited him. Instead, he learned that Newton’s violin was definitely not made by Carlo Bergonzi.  The reason for the certainty was that Charles owned Carlo’s molds. Additionally: Newton’s violin is slightly larger than a Bergonzi and its arch is so high, almost touching the finger board.  There was a slight possibility, though, that the violin had been made by Carlo’s son Michel, though Charles doubted it, also a slim possibility that he had been made by Nicolo but Beare didn’t have the expertise to certify as such. When Peter Beare examined the varnish, he decided that the wood probably wasn’t a composite even had uncertainty as to whether or not it was from the 1700s.

Because a dendrochronology (technique for dating artifacts by  tree rings) report hadn’t been gotten, Beare suggested he get in touch with Christopher Reuning who knew more about Nicolo’s work.

Meet Christopher Reuning: An American born maker and restorer of fine violins, Reuning is considered one of the world’s leading experts. He owns Reuning & Sons Violins in Boston’s Back Bay and provides appraisals, also certificates. Thus, shortly after returning from Kent, David transported Newton’s violin to New England and left it with Reuning.

When the violin was ready to be retrieved, he hurried north again.

The reveal: Reuning concluded that (as Beare suspected) Newton’s violin was not a composite, that it hadn’t been crafted by anyone in the Bergonzi family. The conclusion: Newton’s violin had been made by Jose Contrares (1710-1780) probably in Madrid. (Admired for building fine violins, Jose Contrares began receiving commissions from the Spanish royal court after which his fame grew.) It was possible that Contrares had been assisted by his son. Reuning based the conclusion on the fact that the scroll on Newton’s violin pointed directly to Contrares regardless of the “curve” and strange placement of the f  holes that weren’t typical of Contaras’ style. In the later part of his life, had Contraras experimented by copying Bergonzi’s violins as opposed to his earlier violins that were based on Stradivarius and Guarnerius. Perhaps the unusual placement of f holes and the curve under the fingerboard were part of this experimentation?

Christopher arranged for the dendro report to be done. Conclusion: the violin was made in 1734. Additionally, that Newton’s violin was slightly larger than those made by a Bergonzi was (finally) clarified. By ‘larger’ it was meant that it didn’t match Bergonzi’s molds. The difference was miniscule … insignificant … except for identification purposes. Reuning did concede, though, that the wood or dendro (the Greek word for tree) from which Newton’s violin came might have originated from the same source used by other Cremonian’s – Bergonzi included – as some of the same dendro verdors sold both in Italy and in Spain in the 1700s.

One side note: Reuning (who’d written a book on Contraras) took the violin with him to Madrid to a private exhibition on Contraras work (June 2023) attended by dealers and  experts. He told David that Shlomo Minz, the Israeli violin virtuoso and conductor, owned a violin quite similar to Newton’s.

So much for purveyance.

Certified or not, Newton’s violin remains an instrument that has survived intact from the 1700s until the present. If safely stored in its sturdy case in a climate-controlled vault, the wood will continue to age and, as it does so, the sound will get even better. Of course, only if the violin is played.  David: “It’s thought that the modern violin reached an apex in the 18th century … so, you see, those violins will always be the very finest ever made.”  I note this. David: “Yes, Newton’s violin is ready for another set of hands … ready for another fine violinist. Now, since provenance is established, it can  …  indeed … move from the hands of one fine professional to another over future decades and centuries. Maybe, though, if it hadn’t received certification, I might have kept it. But now … I can let it go.” Any regrets? “I only wish I’d met Charles Beare.

Subsidiary reveal: While cobbling together this post, I am struck by how abysmally ignorant I am when it comes to David’s world, his father’s world, the world of the wooden chordophones (string instrument) generally known as the violin or fiddle. Truth be told, I wouldn’t know how to bend my wrist around one, wouldn’t really have any idea if a sound it emits is superior or ordinary or if the bow I’m clutching is right side up or upside down. I do know, though, that when the sound of a violin reaches my unrefined ears, feelings of shivery sadness are released, also melancholy. Some part of my heart breaks open. Trying to explain these deep feelings leaves me inarticulate. Perhaps someone else can put their finger on what I’m trying to say better than I, a post-covid rock or clot of mineral matter whose ten fingers often caress a silicone keyboard. During his musings on woodwind instruments (piccolos, flutes, oboes etc.) in relation to  violins, Christopher Carroll wrote in “The Knight Errant and other Music Criticism” (his  biography of Virgil Thompson) the following: “While the wind plays sustained harmonic progressions … the violin caresses with almost inaudible tendrils of sound, like wiggly figures that dart like silent goldfish around a rock.


[A violin maker is also called a luthier or one who builds or repairs string instruments that have necks and a sound box. The term was originally used for maker of these luters and also for makers of other bowed and plucked stringed instruments including other members of the violin family: violas, cellos, double basses and guitars.]

[Coco Gauff almost didn’t become a tennis pro. Echoing Newton on the matter of practice she said, “When I was younger I didn’t want to practice at all ...”]

[Photo credit: Photo of David by Masie Mansfield-Greenwald, David’s daughter]

[Violin photograph in this post is generic – not, repeat, not – Newton’s actual violin.]

[Full disclosure:  David is married to my sister Maggie Greenwald, the award-winning independent film director and writer.]

Meet Four Boys


Meet four boys born in the City of L:

The boy born in February was bathed in the kitchen sink. He was slight, pale, had pimples. His father drove a green bus.

The boy born in June was called ‘a horrible piece of red meat’ by his father.

The one born in July was the son of a bakery worker. He was sickly, spent so many months in hospital, he could barely read or write. His mother was a barmaid.

The boy born in October wore thick black-framed eyeglasses and wouldn’t do his homework. He was the oldest, born during a midnight bombing blitz.

The City of L was bombed over 80 times during that war. Most born there never left, died there and were buried in Merseyside or West Darby, Yew Tree or Anfield graveyards.

The mother of the boy born in October never spread tangerine marmalade (that was rumored to taste of sunshine with or without rind and pith) on bread. Neither did she serve bitter orange – the kind Alice of Alice-in-Wonderland – clasped in her fist as she free-fell into the rabbit’s hole. Like bacon, butter, cheese, milk, soap, sugar, jam and marmalade were rationed, even after the war. They existed only in clouds in the sky.

East of the City of L flows the River Mersey. A tug (was said to have) sunk during the blitz though some bits were left visible above the water line. A sailor on the bridge of the tanker Adula, on the way to Stantow, glimpsed protruding parts belonging to two ships sunk by mines – the Tacoma City, four crew dead, the Ullapool, fifteen crew dead.

The Mersey empties into the Port of L, the starting point for convoys filled with supplies and cargo crossing to and returning from across the Atlantic. Half its docking births were bombed, but the port functioned somehow with the help of barrage balloons and decoy fires set to distract attacking aircraft. Mines that drifted into the river menaced crisscrossing ferry traffic. Nonetheless: the Oxton and Bebington crews attached cranes so as to unload airplanes delivered from America.

Recreational boats were few, but as the war and its souvenirs were blotted away with time, small boats again plied the river. Idlers in them called back and forth to each other.

When Buddy (of Buddy Holly and the Crickets) went down in an airplane, all four boys knew a diamond had fallen from the sky. And was gone.

To earn extra money the boy born in February delivered meat for the local butcher on Saturday by bicycle.

In grade school the boy born in June became an apple polisher and a Boy Scout. When he was 13 his mother died of breast cancer and he had to learn to sew, cook, wash and iron to help his father keep going.

To earn extra money the one born in July worked as a delivery boy.

The boy born in October failed every single exam at 16. His middle name was Winston. He hated the nickname “Winnie” and if anyone called him by that name, he would fight. Instead of doing homework he drew cartoons of deformed babies.

The mother of the boy born in October is buried in Allerton graveyard not far from Cillia Black, a popular singer, who had 11 Top Ten Hits.

(*This story is to be included in a compilation of short works – both fiction,

nonfiction, and everything in-between – now under construction.)

My George Washington

When the angry ferocity of hurricane Idalia began blowing through the news, concern pulled me toward the east coast of Florida (St. Augustine) where a precious childhood friend resides. His name: David Nolan. Our connection: he, his sister, mother and father were neighbors in around 1955. They lived downstairs, we lived upstairs. After decades without contact, David and I had a back-and-fourth a number of years ago (on the occasion of one or another bereavement) and reconnected. Thus, I still had an email contact and quickly wrote: Re: Checking up on you, also (in the body of the email) STAY SAFE! SENDING LOVE. Quickly a reply bounced back, reassuring (in part): So far, it’s a cinch: grey sky, a light wind, occasional rain. We are fortunately just – JUST – outside the area of alarm. It couldn’t have picked a less-populated part of Florida for the worst hit, over the Big Bend region of small fishing villages. I feel sorry for the people. (signed) George
David Nolan is an historian. We haven’t come face-to-face later in life, but here’s a photo I found of David as an adult:

Seeing the image of the appealing, friendly, tie-wearing man in the photo, I recalled the blond crew cut he’d sported as a boy, how springy it was when patted.

As the hurricane traveled in David’s direction I read the following article about him in FIRST COAST NEWS written by Keitha Nelson that was published on July 28th:

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla: Leaders sweeping Black history under the rug, choosing not to share at times a dark past. That’s what David Nolan says he faced when he moved to St. Augustine in the 1970s. He says the city known for its history, at a point in time, failed to share its Black history.

Nolan, an author, historian, and civil right activist helped to change that.

“I dropped out of school in the 1960s to work in the civil rights movement,” Nolan said.

In 1963, there was a movement taking place, one Nolan couldn’t ignore.

“That was the most meaningful year of my entire life, I’m sure,” Nolan said.

It was the year of the demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama. Four young girls were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and Medgar Evers was assassinated in his driveway. Also in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his I Have a Dream speech in Washington D.C. Then on Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

“This was what was happening in America,” Nolan said. “And I was, you know, growing up and you had to decide which side are you on. And to me, there was no question it was going to be that side.”

He’s held on to old articles and memorabilia over the years, detailing his journey, choosing at times the unpopular path. From Virginia to the South Carolina Sea Islands, Atlanta to St. Augustine, Florida living among history.

“It’s almost like heaven except there’s also hell attached to it,” Nolan said. “But, you’re right. I mean, for me, as a historian the greatest pleasure is walking down the street and walking past people who made history.”

Nolan arrived in the Ancient City in the 1970s and was among a group created to survey the city’s old buildings.

“I walked up and down every street of St. Augustine for two years, I walked through the soles of many pairs of shoes,” Nolan said.

His worn-out soles led him through the city’s historically Black neighborhood of Lincolnville.

“St. Augustine had been this incredibly important place in the civil rights movement, it was the place between Birmingham and Selma,” Nolan said. “It was the place that gave rise to one of the two great legislative accomplishments of the movement, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And yet, when I came here, it was never talked about, it had been completely swept under the rug.”Nolan picked up that rug, dusted it off and put just about everything he could find underneath on display. These included things such as a permanently marked Freedom Trail of historic sites of the Civil Rights Movement, trolley tours sharing the city’s Black history, and Florida’s first civil rights museum.

A founder of ACCORD, recognizing St. Augustine’s role in the Civil Rights Movement, Nolan still lights up while sharing the past.

“St. Augustine is really a treasure but we’ve got to guard it constantly,” Nolan said.

Nolan shared a wide range of stories while sitting in the ACCORD museum, the former dental office of Dr. Robert Hayling at 79 Bridge Street in St. Augustine. Stories in which include how he says he became the first person beaten by the Ku Klux Klan in the state of Virginia since the 1920s.

Remembrance: Jan Augustus Gies






Jan Augustus Gies, unsung hero!

He was a real Dutchman, very tall, lean, with billowing white hair. We used to joke that Miep had never seen him without a jacket and tie. He smoked small cigars, was a man of few words, who had a sharp, dry sense of humor. He collected stamps. I last saw him in Amsterdam in late January, 1993 as I was leaving for the airport to fly back to Santa Monica (where I then lived) after a week’s stay in Holland. He was 87 years old, had been ill and had spent much of the week bed in the bedroom he and Miep had shared for more than fifty years.

The last cup of coffee drunk, gifts of Edam cheese and Verkade chocolates squeezed into my suitcase, I was ready to leave and I knocked on the bedroom door to bid Jan goodbye. He invited me inside where the drapes were drawn. I sat beside him at the edge of the bed. He looked very, very worn out. The old duvet with its white linen cover was pulled up to his neck. He withdrew his large, dry, bony hands with their neat nail, from underneath it, and took my two hands in his. We were eye to eye. I told him I was off now and he squeezed my hands. We spoke quietly for a bit, then I kissed him on both cheeks, told him to please get better and said goodbye. He whispered “Farewell.”

My heart stopped. At the end of our many visits, Jan had always said  “À bientôt.” [see you soon] when we parted. This time he’d said, “Farewell!” Because Jan was so reliable in all things (though I hoped it wasn’t so), I guessed this would be the last time we would see each other, that he was at the end and knew it.

He, Miep and I  had shared a deep and rich adventure during the past eight or so years, meeting, working together on what became the book Anne Frank Remembered. We’d held onto our hats and each other when the book unexpectedly became an international best seller, coming out the other end, tried and true, trusted friends. Besides publication of various editions in various languages, promotion tours and other Holocaust-related events, we visited each other several times a year — me to Amsterdam, they to Los Angeles.

When I phoned from the airport a few hours later, he’d drawn his lasts breath an hour before. Miep asked if I would come back into Amsterdam. Of course I would. By the time I’d cancelled my flight, hurried back into town to their apartment on Woestduinstraat, his body had been removed.

Jan’s birthday is today, 18 August. He would be 118 years old, as he was born in 1905. Though less well known than Miep who has become an icon, like Miep, Jan had contributed greatly and at great risk in helping with the protection and hiding of Anne Frank, her family and the others during those twenty-five dangerous months. Because those in hiding longed for visitors, Jan would climb the steep steps behind the bookcase up to the hiding place every lunch hour, bringing news, library books, friendly conversation, cigarettes for Peter’s father when he could. Anne writes about these visits, one particularly memorable visit that included a sleep-over. Anne writes of her admiration for Jan as he (and Miep) were young, chic, sexy, newly married and she had attended their wedding.

As it happened during those dark years, Jan was also a member of the Dutch Underground. Because of his (dangerous) connections he was able to obtain illegal ration coupons for the people in hiding which meant that desperately needed food for eight extra mouths could be acquired. In our book we touch on a few incidents relating to his underground work, but – generally – when I would ply him for more details, he would light a new cigar, shake his head, and look out the window, remaining silent about details of these activities. As much as I love prying information and stories out of the fading past, I also love leaving secrets alone.

In 2009 our original publisher Simon & Schuster planned a celebratory re-issue of Anne Frank Remembered in honor of Miep’s approaching 100th birthday. Because so much had happened in the Anne Frank world in the almost twenty-five years since its original publication, Miep and I crafted a new epilogue to be printed in this edition of our book that had been originally published in 1987. Read it and understand why Jan, like his wife, and a few others risked all to shelter, feed, and bring support and friendship to friends in a time of overwhelming peril.

(Entire posting can be found on  2016-08-18 on the occasion of his 111th birthday)

(Photo left: Identity card of Jan Gies from time of German occupation of The Netherlands, Photo right:  photos taken by street photographer after wedding of Miep and Jan Gies on 16 July 1942, Amsterdam including Miep Jan, the wedding party following the bride and groom including Anne and Otto Frank, Mr and Mrs van Daan, Miep’s adoptive mother, two women who worked with Miep in Mr. Frank’s office)

Remembrance: Nurse Anna Kennedy aka Gerda

On Sunday, August 13th, after years in a nursing home on Staten Island suffering from Alzheimer’s, a treasured family Gerda (though her real name was Anna) died. My son, Thor, and I each wrote a remembrance to be read at the service/mass being arranged for August 25th at The Esplanade Assisted Living facility, the second of two Staten Island nursing home at which she’d resided.  Following: these eulogies:

Thor wrote:

Gerda became an important part of my life when I was very young. I believe I was 7 or 8 years old. She quickly became more than my friend, she became an aunt to me. We did a lot of things together, often driving around in her small, blue Toyota all over New York City. We did this while listening to the Beatles over and over. Our favorite song was Octopus’s Garden, which we would sing together as we drove around the city, then we’d argue about the song, and then we’d come to an agreement about who Ringo was singing about.
One time Gerda came to the rescue the night before Halloween. I was very stubborn and wanted to wear a Japanese Kabuki costume for Halloween. In order to do that, I needed white Kabuki make-up to complete my costume. The white Kabuki make-up is a white make-up, similar to the kind of white make-up a clown would wear. I had to have it for my Halloween costume. My mother had no idea how to find that kind of make-up. Gerda didn’t know either, but she and I hopped into her trusty little car and drove all around the city singing Octopus’s Garden as we searched for this make-up. Finally, at almost 10pm at night, Gerda and I found the make-up in Times Square (where else would it be!). She saved the day for me, allowing me to wear my Japanese Kabuki costume for Halloween. 
Gerda: I am lucky that you came into my life at a time when I needed it most! You were the best aunt a kid could want. What I learned years later, when my mom told me how instrumental you were in saving her life, I realized you were more than an aunt. You’re an angel! You looked out for my mom and me when we really, really needed it! I can never thank you enough for what you did for us!
I love you Gerda!!!

I wrote:

Over around fifty years ago I became friends with a young woman who had white skin, a choppy haircut, lively dark green. She spoke with a beguiling Irish lilt. Like me, she was in her twenties and, also, like me, full of fun, even a bit wild. We were cut from the same cloth – danced at discos until dawn, drank many Irish whiskies, smoked thousands of cigarettes, laughed ourselves silly, and never tired of partying. Her name: Anna Gerda Kennedy.

Anna was born in Dublin, Ireland, a city with cabbage-green busses and had studied at convent schools run by nuns. She went to nursing school in the London of red double-decker busses and, when she graduated, brazenly traveled to far-away New York City whose busses were Parakeet-green at the time. By then both parents were dead and she was without family except for a remote older brother who was studying law in England, an aunt in Canada, and a few distant relatives still in Ireland.

Quickly she became part of my family which consisted of myself and my small son. Later when she landed a rent-controlled  apartment on Bleecker Street, that happened to be across the street from my where my mother and father lived, they opened their arms to her too because she was funny, generous, and very good company.

Early on Anna worked nights on the kidney unit at New York hospital. A tireless worker who loved nursing, she later cared for drug addicts, and still later, the mentally ill. Through the many years of our friendship, almost anywhere we went in New York city, she would run into former patients, even on the Bowery.  These folks would greet her with a smile – “Hi Nurse Kennedy! Do you remember me?” –  and mostly she did remember.

As years, then decades passed, though our paths zigzagged in many diverse directions, our friendship continued on.

One night Anna, and another nurse friend, Andrea – from Belfast, also a nurse and life-long friend – and I were finishing a meal at my apartment. Once Anna had finished off a glass of red wine, she told us that she’d just been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer by her doctor. Later on, as she and Andrea were leaving, after Andrea had gone down the hall to ring for the elevator, Gerda and I stood face to face at the threshold; we fiercely embraced. When we drew apart, our hands remained tightly clasped. She looked into my wet eyes and said in that Irish lilt that hadn’t gone away, “Be assured … I won’t forget you!” and I replied in my ‘New Yawk’ way “Nor … will … I … forget … you!”

I have no reason to think that the promise we made to each other that night hasn’t been kept, in the deepest part of our souls.

When the time came, Gerda went to live at a small, cozy nursing home on Staten Island where she was very happy. When we could, Andrea and I would take the ferry and bus to visit. Each time we visited Gerda seemed to be a little worse. This is where we first met a beautiful woman with an alive, friendly face named Dalia. Because Dalia always treated Anna with tenderness, patience, and wisdom,  Andrea and I would leave knowing she was in very good hands, were especially grateful to her as our friend’s condition slowly worsened 

One spring day before that decline accelerated, we walked outside into the garden after lunch and sat together in the gazebo-style arbor enjoying the sunny day.  Anna had taken a bread roll and several packets of Saltine crackers from the breadbasket, and soon began pinching off bits of roll, tossing them into the air, laughing and smiling as she did so. As if out of nowhere, one small sparrow, then two, flew down to feast on the bread. These birds were brown and pale grey. Quickly, more birds joined in and scurried, gorged, hopped, and squabbled to get at the food.

When the roll was gone, crumbled Saltines were strewn about.  At one point I took a bite from one of the salty, dry Saltines and realized that it tasted exactly as those in my mother’s pantry had when I was a small child. I don’t know why I was surprised that the taste was the same, but I was!

We noticed a trail of ants had joined the feeding frenzy, were carrying away crumbs larger than themselves, Gerda scoffed, sang out, “American ants … join the Union!”

Just then, a cinnamon-colored squirrel cautiously stepped out from under a shrub, its nose and front legs trembled. Hoping the squirrel wouldn’t scare the birds away, Gerda shook her finger at it, sternly admonished, “Rub along!” and the squirrel dashed back into the shrub.

Spellbound, I watched while my precious old friend fed the happy birds: Here was the same woman whose visits to roulette or bridge tables went on around the clock, who had ridden a bicycle to work rain, snow or sunshine almost until she retired, who had driven anywhere and everywhere whenever she had the whim in her trusty blue Toyota.

This was the woman whose skill with cat-gut sutures had staunched the flow of the brightest red blood I’d ever seen late one winter night after I was stabbed in the throat with a broken bottle by a nutty drunk; this was the same friend who, when I was suffering from a dangerous illness that I didn’t recognize, did realize and figured out how to save my life.

Yes, it’s true. Had it not been for Anna Gerda Kennedy, I would have died before my 30th birthday.  Instead: I was saved, became a writer, and managed to publish many books and live to be an old, white-haired lady.

As I think about my eternal gratitude, I am reminded of Anna’s many years of nursing and realize she helped many thousands of beings, not just me. Remembering how hard she worked, how much tender kindness and compassion she freely gave away, my decades of solitary writing seem in comparison to be selfish and pale.

This goes for Andrea too, here today. Andrea was Anna’s life-long friend, also from Ireland, who was also a skilled and dedicated nurse.

It also goes for dearest Dalia, whom most of you know, who gave Anna tenderness, care, and devotion above and beyond the call of duty.  In my mind Dalia, you are a saint. I realize that the gods must have loved Anna very much because she brought and kept you, Dalia, by her side until the end.

I, and all who loved Anna, thank you Dalia from the bottom of our hearts.

Photo from Gerda’s scrapbook, labeled: Joseph, me, Daddy and Mammy. I presume it was taken in Ireland but, in fact, could have been anywhere including Shangri-La.

Second posting of blog from 5/26/2016

Today is 8 August 2023 – two days and 78 years since the United States dropped an atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima and minus one day and 78 years since a second atomic bomb fell on the city of Nagasaki.  For anyone interested in details of these events six first person accounts can be found in war correspondent Jon Hersey’s iconic book Hiroshima, written in 1946, never out of print since then. Calling Hersey’s work gruesome would be an understatement. As it happened, his original statistics were later revised as follows for Hiroshima by the U.S. Department of Energy: “… 90,000 to 166,000 died from the bomb in a four-month period following the explosion and … further estimates that 237. 000 people were killed either directly or or indirectly by the bombs effects, including burns, radiation sickness, and cancer … for acres and acres the city was like a desert except for scattered piles of bricks and roof tile.”

Because I, a precocious child who read everything, insisted on reading this slim book from my parent’s library at age ten, my inner being was altered; the details within this book were forever seared into my soul. Tomorrow: the 78th anniversary of the tragedy that befell Nagasiki’s.

In 2016 I published the following piece as a blog post. It was titled


Given the dangerous, sorrow-filled world of 2023,  it seems a good idea to publish it again.


Following, extracted from a BBC report:

Barack Obama has become the first serving US president to visit Hiroshima since the World War Two nuclear attack. Mr Obama said the memory of 6 August 1945 must never fade, but did not apologize for the US attack – the world’s first nuclear bombing. Mr Obama spoke to two survivors and in an address called on nations to pursue a world without nuclear weapons. At least 140,000 people died in Hiroshima and another 74,000 three days later in a second bombing in Nagasaki.

Mr Obama first visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum before walking to the Peace Memorial Park, accompanied by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Both men stood in front of the eternal flame. Mr Obama laid a wreath first, followed by Mr Abe. “Death fell from the sky and the world was changed,” Mr Obama said in his address, noting that the bombing had shown that “mankind possessed the means to destroy itself”. Mr Obama said the memory of Hiroshima must never fade: “It allows us to fight complacency, fuels our moral imagination and allows us to change.” Of nuclear weapons, he said: “We must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.”

Mr Obama then spoke to two survivors, hugging 79-year-old Shigeaki Mori. “The president gestured as if he was going to give me a hug, so we hugged,” Mr Mori said. Mr Obama also talked to Sunao Tsuboi, 91. The image of President Obama hugging a survivor will resonate deeply with the Japanese public. Opinion polls show that the majority of people welcome this visit and most, it seems, do not mind either about the absence of an apology.

The deep symbolism is enough; the leader of the only country ever to have used an atomic weapon laying a wreath in a city that has become a monument to the perils of our nuclear age.But others will point out that, while his speech was long on lofty idealism, he remains the commander in chief of one of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals, one that he has approved billions of dollars to modernize.

Standing just a few rows away from the president, as he always does, an officer could be seen holding the briefcase containing the nuclear launch codes. Mr Obama had earlier flown into the nearby Iwakuni Marine Corp base nearby, after leaving the G7 summit. Mr Obama told service personnel at the base: “This is an opportunity to honour the memory of all who were lost during World War Two.”

Mr Obama praised the US-Japan alliance as “one of the strongest in the world”, with his visit “a testament to how even the most painful divides can be bridged – how our two nations, former adversaries, cannot just become partners, but become the best of friends and the strongest of allies”.

Many in the US believe the use of the nuclear bomb, though devastating, was right, because it forced Japan to surrender, bringing an end to World War Two. The daughter of one survivor, who was visiting the memorial on Friday, said the suffering had “carried on over the generations”.

“That is what I want President Obama to know,” Han Jeong-soon, 58, told the Associated Press news agency. “I want him to understand our sufferings.”

Seiki Sato, whose father was orphaned by the bomb, told the New York Times: “We Japanese did terrible, terrible things all over Asia. That is true. And we Japanese should say we are sorry because we are so ashamed, and we have not apologized sincerely to all these Asian countries. But the dropping of the atomic bomb was completely evil.”

Thank you for this visit Mr. Obama; also for your eloquence and good heart. I too honor the memory of all who suffered then. As an American implicated in my country’s actions, though, I go a step further, and DO apologize for the use of this bomb. (All bombs.) In my opinion is was wrong, is wrong, will always be wrong.image-8


Excerpt: from a newly published book

What writer wouldn’t hope that a reader of a new publication would find himself deeply engrossed?  Indeed … on seeing the attached photo of one such (discerning) reader,  a warm glow was cast out in a widening, warming oval!

RANSOM NOTES #2/ RIVERS OF NO RETURN IN FIVE FLAVORS  is the second collection of experimental pieces published by TMI Publishing, Providence, RI. The company belongs to Israeli-born Hanaan Rosenthal, is a savvy fellow whose vast talents include design. The first of this pair of non-conforming books was published in 2022, titled RANSOM NOTES/ TRAVELS IN WORD BRICOLAGE.  Each ransom note springs from a single book either read or listened to during these many, many past seasons of monastic reclusion. As it happened, clusters or themes sprang up of their own volition during these years of book-binging. Entries in #1 relate in some way to travel; in #2, each has a connection to rivers though, in the newest volume, other sources were tapped. Additionally: the life saver candy one sucked on or crunched during (and after) childhood sweetly flavored (and colored) the whole.

The following excerpt is from

Part III-a:

AMUR RIVER Peoples Republic of China, Russian Federation 

ever-changing sandbanks

virgin forest

marshlands of northern Siberia

flowing through taiga forests

past frozen mountain ranges

below forty degrees Fahrenheit

“across sunlit country”

“the grasslands are yellowing into autumn”

“now I realize what Igor sees”

something like homesickness

“in sunlight still”

“the Amur mouth yawns three miles wide”

waves of silvered mud

(based on the book The Amur River: Between Russia and China by Colin Thubron, Harper Collins, 2021)


DANUBE RIVER Central and Eastern Europe

Morteratsch Glacier

frozen headwaters of Danube

from the Alps

melting snow

someone’s home

Alpine marmot

as melt waters run on

forests of Bosnia

with miniature waterfalls

over moss

golden shoals

busy trout

the Danube salmon

where there are fish

the trout

trick a trout

in Slovenia

the banks of the Sava

follow the flow

towns, farmland, cities 

outside Vienna

our turtle

the size of a thumbnail

through Germany, Austria, Slovakia

arrives in Hungary

Budapest because

a moving jigsaw

seems slow and sluggish

from the clay

young larvae

only three hours to live

several million mayflies

the Drava, the Jisa, the Saba

Belgrade in Serbia

rapids and whirlpools

enters the lowlands of Romania and Bulgaria

the sturgeon

draining into the Black Sea

through Romania and Ukraine

undisturbed wetland

covered in waterlilies

species of birds

Whistler, Turner, squatter houses

the great white pelican

in giant flotillas

at the end of the Danube

and beyond

benighted by water

(based on Rivers of Life,  BBC films, 2022)


BAGMATI RIVER Nepal, south Asia 

pristine drops fall

from the mouth of a tiger

fields of rice

Nepal’s holiest river

Hindus flock to the riverbanks

through the ages

single women

wash the feet of the dead

stacked wood for funeral pyre

Buddhists too

huts, shacks and brick homes

three decades on the stone steps

(based on “Nepal’s Holy Bagmati River from an article on holy rivers  by Caty Weaver, Associate d Press, 2022)


LIMPOPO RIVER Southern Africa

in a great arc

through Mozambique to the Indian Ocean

mangrove vegetation

then east

finally southeast

(based on: from a website edited  by Maya Rajasekaharan, 2013)


OSUN RIVER, Nigeria, Africa 

water has changed color

seen in a flowing white gown

drink or bathe

the river brought her a child

Osun “gets angry”

(based on the article “Nigeria’s Osun River” by Chineda Asado,  The Seattle Times, 2022)

(available on Amazon worldwide)