DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — ‘Vronsky’

Dorette and I love to attend the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival every spring. On Thursday, we saw the new Russian-made movie “Vronsky,” complete with English subtitles.

The flick is set in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. It imagines the aftermath of Leo Tolstoy’s novel “Anna Karenina” from the point of view of Anna’s lover, Count Vronsky, several years after her death by suicide, including flashbacks to her failed marriage with her husband Alexi. A spunky woman, that Anna, way ahead of her time.

I liked it a lot.

Years ago, I read a lot of Tolstoy’s writing — novels such as “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace” as well as nonfiction works such as “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

I also read his diary written right up to the day of his death in 1910. In his last year at age 82, the entries always began with the words “Still Alive.”

Anyway, I think I’ll read “Anna Karenina” one last time.

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — On Reading

Reading has been important to me since I was a first-grader at Fram Township School No. 3 in Wellsburg, N.D. My teacher, Sylpha Hovland, inspired me. I still have my “report card” from that year long ago — the marks were great for reading, not so hot for “deportment.”

Here are the first lines of 10 of my favorite novels. The answers are at the end of this blog. Add your favorite book or books in a comment if you wish. (Don’t worry: this post is not like one of those Facebook “quizzes” that allowed Cambridge Analytical to influence the presidential election).

(1) “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.”

(2) “Laura was washing the dishes one morning when old Jack, lying in the sunshine on the doorstep, growled to tell her that someone was coming.”

(3) “For a long time, I went to bed early.”

(4) “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

(5) “Call me Ishmael.”

(6) “I will begin the story of my adventures with a certain morning early in the month of June, the year of grace 1751, when I took the key for the last time out of the door of my father’s house.”

(7) “On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.”

(8) “In the year 1896, my great-uncle, one of the first Catholic priests of aboriginal blood, put the call out to his parishioners that they should gather at Saint Joseph’s wearing scapulars and holding missals.”

(9) “Bright, clear sky over a plain so wide that the rim of the heavens cut down on it around the entire horizon.”

(10) “In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father give me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”

THE AUTHORS
(1) Ernest Hemingway.
(2) Laura Ingalls Wilder.
(3) Marcel Proust.
(4) J.D. Salinger.
(5) Herman Melville.
(6) Robert Louis Stevenson.
(7) Thornton Wilder.
(8) Louise Erdrich.
(9) O.E. Rolvaag.
(10) F. Scott Fitzgerald.

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — Sinking Of The Indianapolis

I can’t resist a used bookstore. On Saturday, I picked up a volume that tells the story of the cruiser U.S.S. Indiana, sunk by the Japanese in World War II after delivering the atomic bomb that would end the conflict.

The book, “In Harm’s Way,” reminded me of the description of the disaster that the character “Quint” (Robert Shaw) provided in the 1975 movie “Jaws,” still one of the most popular films ever made.

Here, slightly edited, is how Quint described what happened.

“Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, chief. Our ship was comin’ back from the island of Tinian to Leyte, just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes.

“Didn’t see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen-footer.

“You know how you know that when you’re in the water, chief? You tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn’t know was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week.

“Very first light, chief, the sharks come cruisin’. So we formed ourselves into tight groups.

“You know it’s kinda like ol’ squares in battle like you see on a calendar, like the battle of Waterloo. And the idea was, the shark comes to the nearest man and that man, he’d start poundin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’ and sometimes the shark would go away. Sometimes he wouldn’t go away.

“Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eye. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah then you hear that terrible high-pitch screamin’ and the ocean turns red and spite of all the poundin’ and the hollerin’ they all come in and rip you to pieces.

“Y’know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men! I don’t know how many sharks, maybe a thousand! I don’t know how many men, they averaged six an hour.

“On Thursday mornin’ I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player, boson’s mate. I thought he was asleep, reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up and down in the water, just like a kinda top.

“Up ended. Well, he’d been bitten in half below the waist. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper in a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low. He’s a young pilot, and anyway he saw us and come in low.

“And three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and starts to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a lifejacket again.

“So, 1,100 men went in the water, 316 men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — A War Story

Friends know I enjoy used bookstores. There are many within easy driving distance of our place in Bloomington, Minn.

I recently purchased the above book for $1.50 at a Salvation Army resale outlet near the place that sells me Starbucks Italian Bold coffee.

“What Did You Do In the War, Daddy?” was self-published by Gordon C. Krantz, who like Dorette and me is (or was) a resident of Bloomington, Minn. It is subtitled “The Reminiscences of an Ordinary Draftee in World War II.”

Krantz was a member of the 537th engineering company, involved in combat during 1944 and 1945 after shipping to Europe aboard the passenger liner “Queen Elizabeth.”

The book describes his wartime experiences (as well as a tour of the battlefields he took with his wife many years after the war).

Here’s a brief excerpt, apparently from his diary:

“I don’t expect to come back. In a war you get killed. The ways things are going in Europe, we are in for a grim time. We know how to kill the other guy and he knows how to kill us. I may be alone in this expectation of getting killed, but I don’t think so. We have a song, a parody of the WWI song “over there.” It ends with ‘We’ll be over, we’re going over, and we’re all coming back in wooden underwear.’ Wooden underwear is a pine box.”

The 16.1 million veterans of World War II are rapidly disappearing. Only about 3.4 percent of those who served are still alive.

The book has a warning notice on its title page: “This version is a private publication for family use only — Not for sale.”

If my calculation is correct, Krantz would be 93 years old. Not impossible, of course.

But given the fact his request that the book not be sold was ultimately ignored (recall that I bought it used at the resale store), Krantz may have crossed to the other side.

Dead or alive, I salute you.

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — The Last Good Year?

When Dorette and I visited New Zealand a while ago, we heard a Maori proverb.

“Walk backwards toward the future.”

I thought of it when this picture of me as a kid (above) surfaced recently from my archive (that is to say, from my boxes of clutter).

It was taken by my father decades ago on the family farm in Wells County, North Dakota. Some of the tones have shifted over the decades, but the image still captures me. I have no recollection of the occasion — perhaps I was duded up for a school or church “program.”

As we used to say about active old guys, I’m still “spry.” But lately, a darker thought has occurred to me: “Is this my last good year?”

Hopefully not.

But I now truly understand the meaning and wisdom of the Maori saying — it’s useless to dwell on the future.

I’ll learn the ending of my story soon enough.

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — My Favorite Bird

I’ve been hearing northern Cardinals but had not seen one close up until Saturday. They don’t migrate — one of the handful of species that live in Minnesota all year.

I photographed this female (above) under one of our feeders in Bloomington.

We’ll soon be hearing more of them. Both the males and females sing in earnest in March and April to establish territories and attract mates. They are the opera stars of the bird world — each individual has 10 to 12 unique song types, although some diva cardinals can sing more than 25.

It’s music to my ears.

According to my guide book, to maintain contact, males and females also give short nonmusical, metallic sounding “chip notes” singly or in a series. The frequency and volume of these calls increase with the level of agitation.

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — Monet’s Garden

Places I’d like to visit again? Monet’s Garden.

Claude Monet, one of the giants of Impressionism, is among Dorette’s and my favorite artists. We’ve seldom missed an opportunity to see his work.

We’ve also twice visited his estate near Meudon, France, a short train trip from Paris. Traveling with us last year was Avery Dusterhoft, Dorette’s granddaughter, who brought along her sketch book to draw scenes of Monet’s famous water lilies.

Naturally, the Monet estate operates a gift shop. Dorette purchased this reproduction (above) of a painting Monet created a short walk from the lilies.

It’s titled “Les Coquecots,” translated in English as “The Poppy-field.”

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — An Important Day

In retrospect, this picture captured what was one of the most important days of my life: June 6, 1965.

Gasp! That’s more than half a century ago. I’m not certain who snapped the shutter, although I think it was my sister, Susan Vorland Hanson.

It was graduation day at the University of North Dakota. I’m with my parents Kermit and Minnie Vorland who lived until 1991, when death took them within two weeks of each other.

The summer I graduated from Harvey (N.D.) High school, Dad gave me the keys to my “college car,” a 14-year-old Chevrolet he had purchased from a friend.

He and mom didn’t see the UND campus until the day I graduated four years later.

Unlike now, when parents often visit their kids on campus, back then most did not, especially those who like mine did not attend college. Dad ended his education with the eighth grade, a decision his Norwegian immigrant father Hans told him he’d later regret.

He did.

That’s Budge Hall in the background, where I lived for all but one of my years at UND. It’s among the many vintage buildings demolished by the university, much to the consternation of old fart alums like me.

I went on that autumn to graduate school at Northwestern, assuming I would work as a journalist in New York or Chicago.

Instead, I eventually ended up back at the University of North Dakota, first as an instructor, then, after a three-year teaching stint at St. Cloud State, as UND’s director of public relations. I took early retirement in 2005.

All in all I’ve had a good run. Thank you, mom and dad.

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — We’ll Always Have Paris

“We’ll always have Paris.”

Humphrey Bogart said that to Ingrid Bergman in the 1942 movie “Casablanca.”

He was right. I feel that way about my favorite place in the whole wide world, even if I never have the opportunity to return. I’ve been there several times over the years.

But actually I do have an opportunity.

In July, I’m splurging on what most likely will be my last visit to Paris, attending the International Hemingway Society Biennial Conference. I’ve been a Hemingway aficianado, as he would put it, since I read his short story “A clean well-lighted place” as a University of North Dakota freshman.

Although I need to take his advice — I’m not as young as I once was. That is, “iI faut d’bord durer” (first it is necessary to survive).

I’ll give it my best shot. I took this picture in 2005 along the River Seine. Everyone, inluding this couple, feels more creative and alive in Paris.

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — France Will Live Again

Facebook friends know I buy, read and mostly keep a lot of used books. Call it an obsession.

My most recent acquisition is titled “France Will Live Again: The Portrait of a Peaceful Interlude 1919-1939,” by Samuel Chamberlain. It was priced at $3 new in December 1940, a bit less the other day for the frail used copy.

For the modern reader, the book is an interesting leap back in time.

Like Ernest Hemingway, Chamberlain served in the Red Cross ambulance corps during World War I.

He decided to remain in France, devoting himself to photographing and drawing French villages, towns and cities, cathedrals and churches, the seashore, bridges, cottages, farms, manors and chateaux.

Eventually, he decided that much of this would be destroyed in the coming war, and therefore documented it in his book. Much of it was.

Some of the sites I’ve seen while visiting France, especially during my and Dorette’s three-month retirement sabbatical on the Riviera in 2010.

We rented an apartment a few miles east of Nice in the town of Menton and used it as home base for our travels. Thus my favorite Chamberlain drawing is the one of Menton, shown above.

At the right, is a photo I took in Menton. Notice that the church steeple is the same, although much of the town has changed during the 70 years since publication of the Chamberlain book.

Menton remains on my list of places to see again.