Category Archives: publishing

Early Chinese Telegraph Codes

From Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern, by Jing Tsu (Riverhead Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 91-92, 106-108, 110-111, 123-124:

In Morse code, the basic symbols were dots and dashes. The system’s twenty-six combinations of dots and dashes, ranging from one to four symbols, were meant to accommodate the twenty-six letters of the alphabet, with another ten combinations of five symbols each for numbers zero to nine.

To send a message, a telegraph operator pressed an electric switch, in the form of a key: a short tap for a dot and a long one for a dash. The message was converted into an electric current that traveled along the wires and was reverse translated into letters and numbers on the receiving end. The sound of clicking patterns could become so familiar that an experienced telegrapher could tell what word was being coded from its distinct rhythm. Telegraph costs were determined by how long they took to transmit—each dot or space was a single unit, and a dash—three times as long as a dot—was three units. As Morse explained early on, his system was designed to be cost-efficient. The most frequently used letter in English, “e,” was also the least expensive: It was represented by a single dot. The high frequency of “e” holds true for most European languages, from Italian to Dutch. But Morse code clearly favored the American English alphabet. An English letter takes up somewhere between one and thirteen units. To add even a single diacritical mark to the letter “a”—as when making the French “à”—required ten more units. So there was already plenty to disagree about among Roman alphabet users.

The inequities of Morse code were on a different scale for the Chinese. International telegraphy recognized only the Roman alphabet letters and Arabic numerals used by the majority of its members, which meant that Chinese, too, had to be mediated via letters and numbers. Whereas English could be English, and Italian mostly Italian, Chinese had to be something other than itself. Every Chinese character was transmitted as a string of four to six numbers, each of which cost more than a letter. The assigned code for a Chinese character first had to be looked up in a codebook before being converted to the dots and dashes of Morse code. Coding and converting Chinese characters into an ordinary telegram of twenty-five words required at least half an hour, whereas a comparable message in English took only about two minutes. Untold opportunity costs accrued with every telegraph that was delayed when the operator had to pause to check a character against its assigned number in a codebook or had to take extra time to correct an error.

[Septime Auguste] Viguier possessed the confidence and skill set that Great Northern [Telegraph Company (大北電報公司 / 大北电报公司 Dàběi Diànbào Gōngsī)] was looking for. He had already worked on developing a code for Chinese telegraphy years earlier for the French government in support of their failed efforts to interest the Chinese Empire in their telegraph cables. He was well versed in early word-copying machines like the Caselli pantelegraph, a precursor to the modern-day fax machine. When the French project was shelved, Viguier ended up in Shanghai—ripe for the Danes’ recruitment. He was the best candidate but not well-liked. Colleagues immediately noted his preening and boastfulness—the French way, they sneered. Viguier later also had a nasty exchange with the managing director Suenson, and his relationship with the company soured over questions of compensation and credit. Nonetheless, Viguier was able to work quickly enough to build out the Danish professor’s incomplete scheme. By June 1870, he had the first version. In 1872, he delivered the final, standardized telegraphic code table for 6,899 characters in The New Book for the Telegraph (Dianbao xinshu).

Viguier came up with a tabular form of twenty rows and ten columns per page. He assigned an arbitrary four-digit code from 0001 to 9999 to each character, with empty spaces left for potentially 3,000 more codes to accommodate customized vocabulary for individual business purposes. Each page contained 200 square spaces for listing 200 characters and their numerical codes. The code only included a relatively small number of characters out of the 45,000 or so that were extant. The mass scaling of telegraphy meant that it was geared toward the common person and the common tongue, so restricting the number of characters was not only efficient but also practical.

But Viguier’s telegraphic code did not go unchallenged. Almost immediately, the Chinese tried to outdo and improve upon it. A quiet young Chinese translator who had been part of that diplomatic mission to Europe in 1868, Zhang Deyi, became the first Chinese to do so. Zhang noted the pain of having to send Chinese messages back to the Chinese office in China in “foreign letters” whenever more urgent service was required. He also saw how Western telegrams were more secure, as secret messages were sent in numbers. That inspired Zhang to construct his own Chinese telegraphic codebook by following a similar format.

While the published version of Viguier’s work was an important landmark, Zhang zeroed in on its sloppiness. Viguier’s numbering of characters did not make them terribly easy to use for the Chinese. The continuous numbers did not separate out characters into groups, which was how the Chinese were accustomed to searching for characters in a dictionary. He decided to trim down the format of Viguier’s system and do some reorganization to make its content clearer. Zhang’s own New Method of Telegraphy (Dianxin xinfa) was published two years after Viguier came up with a draft of his telegraphic code in 1873. It reordered the characters so that the numbers were less arbitrary. Zhang used the same 214 radicals, but reselected about 7,000 characters from the Kangxi Dictionary and assigned them numbers from 0001 to 8000.

Westerners like Viguier had mapped Chinese onto numbers. Then the Chinese themselves had tried to use numbers to remap the alphabet. They kept bending the stick back and forth. Wang [Jingchun] was increasingly of the mind that one could put the Western alphabet in service of Chinese Romanization more permanently. He turned to Bopomofo, the Chinese phonetic alphabet approved at the 1913 National Language Unification Conference in Beijing, and its idea of an auxiliary phonetic alphabet formed from different styles and parts of Chinese characters. Working from this basis, Wang designed a use for Roman letters that was Latin in name but readapted to signal the three linguistic properties of Chinese characters: the phonetic representation of sound, tone, and the radical.

To indicate sound in his New Phonetic System, Wang mapped the sounds of Bopomofo—represented by symbols ㄅ, ㄆ, ㄇ, ㄈ, etc.—onto alphabet letters that shared similar starting consonant sounds. So ㄅ, ㄆ, ㄇ, ㄈ would match the letters “b,” “p,” “m,” and “f.” To show tone, Wang picked five letters to represent the five tones used in traditional and medieval phonology: “B” stands for the level or even tone; “P” marks the second or rising tone; “X” represents the third tone, which falls first then rises; “C” is fourth or falling tone; and “R” denotes the fifth or neutral tone. The last property, the radical, takes up two letters—a consonant and a vowel. Wang used two letters to spell the pronunciation of the radical part of the character only; e.g., tu for 土, li for 力, ko for 口, etc., in a way that was not dissimilar to what Wang Zhao had done with the Mandarin Alphabet. With one letter for sound, another letter for tone, and two more for phoneticizing the radical’s spelling, this system yielded a four-letter code for every character. The Chinese character could then be transmitted via telegraphy without using numbers at all. Wang’s idea took after other Romanization systems of the time, which were developed not for telegraphy per se, but to address the broader question of literacy. He borrowed from that conversation, run by linguists and ethnographers, to design a solution for what he had seen in the diplomatic arena.

During the year the Far Outliers spent in China in 1987-88, we had occasion to send a telegram to fellow teachers who were spending winter holidays in their hometown of Jingdezhen, famous for its pottery. They had written most of the text of the telegram and all we had to do was add the day and time when our train would arrive. So before we boarded the train for Jingdezhen, I handed the text of the telegram to a clerk at the telegraph office who proceeded to rewrite the message in a series of 4 digits for each Chinese character. It was very short and she had probably memorized some of the most frequent codes for ‘arrive’, ‘depart’, and dates and times, but it still looked like a tedious chore.

This interesting chapter includes a very misleading table, shown below. It shows American Morse code (also called Railroad Morse) that was standardized in 1844 and used by American railroads as late as the 1970s. Also called Morse landline code, its variable spacing and variable lengths did not travel well through undersea cables. Central Europeans used a modified code, the Hamburg alphabet, that evolved into the International Morse Code standardized in 1865. Working in the 1870s, Viguier and Zhang almost certainly used the international standard, the one where ‘SOS’ is rendered by the familiar dit dit dit dah dah dah dit dit dit.

Erroneous Morse Code


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Smear Campaign vs. Vlad the Impaler

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 308-310:

The nickname Dracul (‘the Dragon’) probably derives from his father’s membership of the Hungarian chivalric Order of the Dragon, although in Romanian it takes on the meaning of a devil, and Vlad was certainly to earn the name with his draconian behaviour. A member of the ruling house of Basarab, he had, like Skanderbeg, been a hostage of the Turks, then turned against them, serving with John Hunyadi, and he was related by blood to King Matthias. Becoming Hospodar (lord) of Wallachia in 1448, he was promptly ousted by a rival, but in 1456 he regained power and this time took better care to keep it.

He built up a personal army of retainers, executed a number of hostile boiars [nobles] and took harsh measures against anyone else who opposed his will. He also tried to promote commerce, established Bucharest as the country’s capital, and in 1459 responded positively to Pius II’s call for a Crusade against the Turks. He withheld the Sultan’s tribute, killed Ottoman emissaries sent to deal with him, and then, in the winter of 1461–2, carried out a devastating assault into Ottoman territory. In a night attack, he routed an Ottoman force that had driven him back across the Danube – an occasion marked by a great slaughter of Turks.

At this point Vlad’s luck began to change. The Turks supported a bid by his half-brother Radu the Handsome to replace him and the movement gained increasing support within Wallachia, partly because of party interests, not least because it promised peace. Then, late in 1462, when the reluctant crusader King Matthias at last reached the ‘Saxon’ city of Brasov in Transylvania at the head of his troops, Vlad went to meet him, expecting, as did the Pope himself, that they would launch a joint operation against the Turks. Instead, Matthias arrested Vlad, took him back to Buda and kept him imprisoned there for thirteen years.

Vlad’s diminishing support in Wallachia no doubt prompted Matthias to have second thoughts about the crusading action he had promised the Pope, though there was another consideration: in an attempt to enrich Wallachia, Vlad had tried to regain territories that had been lost and wrest control of the profitable oriental trade away from the ‘Saxon’ cities of Transylvania (which supported pretenders to his throne) and even attacked them. A new Turkish-backed regime in Wallachia promised to restore the old pattern of trade and, for his part, Matthias was anxious to reassure them, for Transylvania, and the prosperous Saxon cities in particular, constituted an important source of income to the Hungarian treasury. However, he now had to justify his actions to the Pope. This he did so by mounting a highly effective campaign of disinformation against Vlad, incidentally drawing our attention to a facet of humanist activity that is sometimes overlooked: the manufacture of propaganda. In fact the Dracula legend was largely the creation of humanist officials at Matthias’s court.

The motive was both strong and simple: Pope Pius had to be convinced that, so far from being a doughty Crusader, Vlad was an oppressor, a murderer, a sadist – a disgrace to the Christian cause, from whom he should at all costs distance himself. To this end Janos Vitez, who was to become Primate as well as Chancellor of Hungary, Janus Pannonius, later Bishop of Pecs, and other literary talents at the court of Matthias were set to work. They used the complaints made by the Saxon merchants and stories put about by Vlad’s enemies in Wallachia in their apparently successful attempts to convince Pius; and these stories were essentially true. Vlad had undoubtedly had many people impaled (it was a commonplace form of execution in the region); he had fired many villages (as part of a scorched earth policy in the war against the Turks) and put many Ottoman subjects to death (though Matthias’s own father had once slaughtered a thousand Turkish prisoners).

However, by carefully ignoring the reasons for his actions, and by inventing new tales (for example about his allegedly favourite pastime in prison: slowly picking off the limbs of live insects) they were able to create the impression that Vlad was a traitor, a capricious despot, a sadist and a psychopath. A Latin poem by Pannonius picturing Vlad as a tyrant gained wide currency, and in 1463, as part of a wider propaganda effort, the printing, in German, of the ‘Story of Prince Dracula’ was arranged. It proved highly popular and was subsequently republished many times with embellishments and in several languages. Ultimately it was to provide Bram Stoker with the inspiration to invent a modern, fictional, Dracula. Opinion manipulators of our own times would have had little new to teach a Renaissance humanist.

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Solving a Cold Case in Kenya

From White Mischief: The Murder of Lord Erroll, by James Fox (Open Road Media, 2014), Kindle pp. 1-3:

There were many people in Kenya who had a motive for killing Erroll, and many who had the opportunity that night. Yet nobody was convicted of his murder, and the question of who killed him, who fired the gun at the junction, became a classic mystery. It was at the same time a scandal and a cause célèbre which seemed to epitomise the extravagant way of life of an aristocratic section of the white community in Kenya at the moment of greatest danger for Britain and the West.

Erroll was killed on the very day that the campaign was launched in Nairobi to remove Mussolini’s army from Abyssinia. It was Erroll, ironically, as Military Secretary, who had been responsible for gathering the European and African troops for that campaign. The Dunkirk evacuation in May and June 1940, and the bombing of Britain’s cities, weighed heavily on the conscience of the white community in Kenya, who were keenly aware of their isolation from the main war effort. The last thing they wanted was for Nairobi’s social elite to be paraded in court, making world headlines which competed on page one with news of the war itself. It was a source of acute embarrassment. One headline read: “Passionate Peer Gets His.”

The story confirmed the licentious image of the Colony in the popular imagination in Britain and America, and revived the legend of “Happy Valley,” an area in the White Highlands which had been notorious since the 1920s as a playground for aristocratic fugitives of all kinds.

Happy Valley originated with Erroll himself and with Lady Idina Gordon, who later became his wife, and who set up house there in 1924. Friends from England brought home tales of glorious entertainment in an exhilarating landscape, surrounded by titled guests and many, many servants.

In New York and London the legend grew up of a set of socialites in the Aberdares whose existence was a permanent feast of dissipation and sensuous pleasure. Happy Valley was the byword for this way of life. Rumours circulated about endless orgies, of wife swapping, drinking and stripping, often embellished in the heat of gossip. The Wanjohi River was said to run with cocktails and there was that joke, quickly worn to death by its own success: are you married or do you live in Kenya? To have gone anywhere near Happy Valley was to have lost all innocence, to have submitted to the most vicious passions.

With Erroll’s murder and the scandal that followed, the spirit of Happy Valley was broken for ever. For the whites in Kenya it signalled the end of a way of life which stretched back three decades. The spell was broken, the ruling confidence that underpinned their unique occupation was gone, and it was never to be the same again.

Yet the mystery of who killed Lord Erroll survived and flourished, and continues to exert a strange power over all who come into contact with it. In Kenya’s remaining white community, it is still talked about as if it had happened yesterday. The virus of speculation has become endemic, and even today the place is alive with experts. One is told of many different people who alone hold the key to it all, but who will never be persuaded to tell. Others, including a former Governor of Kenya, achieved local fame by promising to leave the solution in written testimony in their wills—but the executors have always been left empty-handed. Much of this oral history is encrusted with distortion and incestuous folklore, each version fiercely held to be the truth—a warning to anyone broaching the subject in the Muthaiga Country Club.

So compelling was the mystery that throughout the 1960s it dominated the thoughts of a man of letters as distinguished as Cyril Connolly. In the spring of 1969, twenty-eight years after the event, Connolly and I decided to investigate the story for the Sunday Times Magazine, where I worked as a staff writer. We discovered that everything written on the subject—including the only book—depended on the public record of the trial, adding nothing new, and came no closer to a solution than the Nairobi High Court in 1941. To our surprise, no one had returned to the original sources, or had gathered and sifted the popular wisdom, or had filled in the glaring empty spaces in the evidence collected by the Nairobi C.I.D. in the weeks after the murder.

Our article, which we called “Christmas at Karen,” turned out to be the prelude to a much longer quest. It generated an unexpected response, awakening memories and producing a mass of new evidence in its wake. The trail led us on. And Connolly, the literary critic par excellence, did not take his obsessions lightly. The volumes of notes that he left me in his will testify to that. My own fascination with the story, shared with Connolly as I played Watson to his Holmes in that year when we worked closely together, was revived when I opened the notebooks again, soon after his death in 1974. I decided to pursue the trail that we had embarked upon together.

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Lenin’s Siberian Exile

From A Journey into Russia, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2015), Kindle Loc. 2435ff:

Moscow, 23 February 1897. At the Kursk train station a young man is waiting for the Trans-Siberian railroad. Ahead of him lies a two-month journey that will end in Shushenskoye. The train compartment is cramped, but not half as cramped as cell 193 of the Petersburg detention centre, from which the young man has just been released. For the crime of disseminating revolutionary literature, Vladimir Ulyanov is to serve the remaining three years of his sentence in Siberian exile.

Compared with the subsequent nightmare of the Soviet camps, the tsarist system of exile is relatively comfortable. Members of the upper classes – Ulyanov comes from a land-owning family – can organise their lives in Siberia more or less freely. The young man takes up residence in a medium-sized country house. He receives mail by the bundle from revolutionary comrades, and he sends back equally large bundles. He buys a hunting rifle and an Irish Setter named Shenka. His neighbours regularly see the two stalking through the surrounding woods. In summer he bathes twice a day in the Shush, in winter he impresses the small town residents with the elegant momentum of his ice skating. ‘When he would skate over the ice with his hands buried in his pockets,’ recalls an admiring witness, ‘nobody could catch up with him.’

On the side, the young man finds time to complete a book that is later adopted into the canon of the holy scriptures of the Soviet Union: The Development of Capitalism in Russia, published in 1899 under the pseudonym Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

The skates hang on the wall as if Lenin had just hung them up to dry. A great man with small feet, I think involuntarily. It is a quiet day in the former home of the revolutionary. There are six of us: the tour guide, a Russian family and me. The hunting rifle hangs on the bedroom wall, above the two beds in which Lenin and his wife slept. Nadezhda Krupskaya was arrested shortly after Lenin’s departure. When they banished her to the West Siberian city of Ufa, she asked to be relocated with her betrothed. The authorities gave their consent, but, as Lenin wrote to his mother, ‘under a tragicomic condition: if we do not get married immediately, she has to return.’

The wedding ceremony took place in Shushenskoye, in a small church that was demolished after the Revolution. Apart from the church, every single stone in the city has been preserved, even if Lenin so much as walked past it. On his centennial birthday, in 1970, the entire historical town centre was freed of inhabitants and turned into a pilgrimage site. Millions of workers were then herded through their redeemer’s place of exile.

Today, with the stream of pilgrims having subsided, the museum has a discernible public relations crisis. Self-consciously they have renamed the site an ‘Open Air Museum for Siberian Village Culture at the Turn of the Century.’ It is a curious place: a pilgrimage site which hides its saint so that the absence of pilgrims is not as noticeable.

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Paddy Offends Willie, 1957

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle loc. 5015ff.

Ann [Fleming] had been invited to stay at the Villa Mauresque on Cap Ferrat by Somerset Maugham, then in his eighties and living in retirement with his partner, Alan Searle. On her arrival she found a letter from Paddy, urging her to arrange an invitation. Paddy was duly invited to lunch, and arrived (according to Ann) with ‘five cabin trunks’ (according to Paddy, all he had was one zippered holdall), ‘parcels of books and the manuscript of his unfinished work on Greece strapped in a bursting attaché case’. Paddy made himself very agreeable at lunch. He and Maugham exchanged memories of the King’s School, Canterbury, and Maugham asked him to stay on for a few days. All went well until dinner that night.

Maugham had lived with a pronounced stammer since childhood. In his novel Of Human Bondage, which deals with the misery of his schooldays, the stammer is turned into a limp. Paddy knew the book and had been hearing the stammer all day, but neither sufficed to stop him from putting his foot in it. The first jokey reference to stuttering passed without comment, but the second was more serious. Maugham had just staggered through a sentence to the effect that all the gardeners had taken the day off because it was the Feast of the Assumption. At this point, Paddy recalled being in the Louvre in front of a painting of the event, with his friend Robin Fedden (who also had trouble getting his words out): ‘and Robin turned to me and said “Th-th-that’s what I c-c-call an un-w-w-warrantable assumption.” There was a moment’s silence – the time needed for biting one’s tongue out.’

The evening was wrecked. When the other guests left, Maugham turned to Paddy and said, ‘G-goodbye, you will have left by the time I am up in the morning.’ After their host had retired, Ann described Paddy breaking the silence with a cry of anguish, as he slammed his whisky glass on the table ‘where it broke to pieces and showered a valuable carpet with blood and splinters’. Ann helped Paddy pack the following morning, and as he picked up his bag and walked to the door, Paddy heard ‘a sound like an ogre’s sneeze’. The monogrammed linen sheet had caught in the zip, leaving a great tear a yard long.

Ann Fleming and Diana Cooper, who was staying nearby, persuaded Maugham to have Paddy back to lunch to make up. ‘It was really a gasbag’s penance and I, having learnt the hard way, vouchsafed no more than a few syllables.’ Maugham was perfectly polite, but he had had enough of Paddy. He was later heard to describe him as ‘that middle-class gigolo for upper-class women’.

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Guest in a Benedictine Monastery

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle loc. 3920ff.

When Paddy turned up on the doorstep unannounced one Sunday afternoon, he had no idea whether the monks would be willing to take him in or not. But he was allowed in and shown to a cell, a high seventeenth-century room overlooking a courtyard. It contained a bed, a prie-dieu, a crucifix and a table. Meals were taken in silence, in the enormous refectory hall. Working at the coalface of salvation, the monks spent several hours a day in church, and several more in study, private prayer and meditation. All that was required of the guests was to obey the rules set out for them.

How different the Benedictines were to the raki-swigging, pistol-packing, ballad-singing monks he had known in the monasteries of wartime Crete. These pale cowled figures, who were never seen to smile or frown, seemed to him barely alive. It was impossible to work in this suffocating, tomb-like place. By nine o’clock – just when his friends in Paris were beginning to think about how to spend the evening – the whole monastery was asleep. Paddy slept badly the first few nights, falling into deep wells of hopeless misery. By day he was restless and tired. This was followed by a period of intense lethargy, when he found himself – for almost the first time in his life – spending more hours asleep than awake.

He emerged from this period of narcolepsy feeling not only refreshed, but revitalized in a way that was quite new to him. He began to understand how the monastic rule conserved energies that, in real life, were dissipated in ‘conversations at meals, small talk, catching trains, or the hundred anxious trivialities that poison everyday life. Even the major causes of guilt and anxiety had slid away into some distant limbo . . . This new dispensation left nineteen hours a day of absolute and god-like freedom.’ Paddy spent it walking in the autumnal forests around the abbey, while at night he worked in front of the pile of manuscripts, maps of the Caribbean islands, and photographs of the Central American jungle.

Almost a month was spent at Saint-Wandrille, which went from being a sepulchre to a sanctuary. He felt he could not impose on the monks much longer, but work was progressing and he did not want to break the monastic spell. It could also be that he was rather nervous of the direction Joan wanted their relationship to take. ‘I got the curse so late this month’, she wrote in one letter, ‘that I began to hope I was having a baby, and that you would have to make it into a legitimate little Fermor. All hopes ruined this morning.’

He returned to Paris filled with resolution, but soon felt the need for another monastic immersion. This time he went to the great monastery of Saint-Jean-de-Solesmes on the river Sarthe, where the tradition of plainchant had been revived under its founder, Dom Prosper Guéranger. Again the monks welcomed him, but ‘I’m not enjoying Solesmes quite as much as I did Saint-Wandrille . . . There are many more monks here, everything is much more organized and impersonal.’ The long cold passages, and the swing doors with frosted glass panes, gave him that sinking feeling of going back to school. However, ‘I am working like anything at the moment, and in spite of Benzers [benzedrine tablets, sent to him by Joan] I feel absolutely exhausted.’ In between bouts of writing he read in the vast and well-catalogued library.

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Brits in Athens, 1946

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle loc. 3465ff.

Although the Germans had blown up the docks and harbours of Piraeus before their retreat, Athens had not been too badly damaged during the war. Far more severely affected were the Athenians, who had lived in a state of semi-starvation since 1941. One of the results was that almost everyone kept chickens, even those living in apartment blocks in the city centre. The crowing of cocks, added to the cries of street vendors, blaring radios and the metallic cacophony of antique trams, was enough to convince Osbert Lancaster that Athens was one of the noisiest capitals in Europe. In 1946 the Acropolis still dominated every prospect, for most people lived in modest two-storey houses. In the poorer parts of town, below Mount Hymettus, the walls were covered with Communist slogans in red.

Paddy’s immediate superior was the unfailingly affable Rex Warner, a Greek scholar who was considered one of the most promising novelists of his generation. Maurice Cardiff remembered them both. ‘At a midnight contest in a taverna, given quite difficult rhymes, he and Paddy produced passable sonnets in minutes, but Rex’s was the more perfect and metrically correct.’ As Director of the Institute Warner was answerable to Steven Runciman, whom Paddy had met in Sofia in 1934 and who was now the British Council’s Representative. Tall, fastidious and a brilliant linguist, Runciman was then working on the History of the Crusades which made his name; but his chief recreation was collecting scandals and stories. ‘Royal gossip is very good,’ he once said, ‘and political gossip is even better; but my dear, nothing beats Vatican gossip.’

They all worked in the same building in Ermou Street, and Runciman had vivid memories of Paddy. ‘He looked very good in an office,’ said Runciman, ‘but none of us could think of anything to do with him.’ Cardiff recalled that Paddy was not at work very often and when he was he seemed to be throwing a party, sitting with his feet on the desk and entertaining a stream of Cretan visitors. The Cretan economy had been almost destroyed by the occupation, and there was very little work. Paddy found menial jobs for both Manoli Paterakis and George Psychoundakis in the Institute; they and others often spent the night on the floor of his room at the Grande Bretagne, and later, in the flat he was lent in Kolonaki. His office was always blue with cigarette smoke, and the sound of loud talk, Cretan songs and rollicking laughter echoed down the passage.

This did not make him popular. ‘There was a very insensitive side to Paddy,’ said Cardiff. ‘He was very bumptious, a bit of a know-all, and his enthusiasm and noisiness could be rather wearing.’ Steven Runciman, too, had his reservations about Paddy. Cardiff said that this was because he resented the fact that Paddy knew more Greek royals than he did; but Runciman also saw how Paddy disturbed the peace of the office. ‘All the girls were in love with him,’ he said. ‘He used to borrow money from them – and I have to tell you, they weren’t always paid back. There were occasions when I had to sort out Paddy’s little irregularities myself . . .’

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Worldly Diseases in Romanian

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle p. 206:

At this point, to cheer [Bulgarian] Gatcho up, I told him of the Rumanian name for these fell diseases which had first caught my eye on a doctor’s plate in Arad: Boale Lumetși (the first word is a dissyllable, the second, Loomeshti: literally, ‘ailments of the world’ – ‘world’ is lume in Rumanian) – rather lyrical-sounding words for a thought to send a shudder down young spines. ‘Boale lumetși . . . boale lumetși!’ We uttered the syllables in slow, elevated and almost dreamy tones, as though they were a charm or an exorcism. Weltliche Krankheiten . . . the ills of the world . . .

Volume 3 in this series of books was published posthumously, and the editors did not have Fermor’s facility with languages. The acknowledgements credit someone for checking the Romanian, but this passage contains an egregious error: every instance of lumetși should be lumești. The singular form (now archaic) is boală-lumească. The palatalization in the plural is the same thing you see in, for instance, citesc ‘I read’, citești ‘you read’, citește ‘s/he reads’, and in the name of the national capital, București.

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Varied Local Responses to the 1918 Flu

From Clara’s Journal and the Story of Two Pandemics, by Vickie Oddino (Dobson St., 2021), pp. 26-28, 123-125:

Halloween was cancelled in 1918 just as it was canceled in 2020. The celebration of Halloween differed from the Halloween we are familiar with today. “In the early 1900’s, towns began the practice of community Halloween celebrations, parades, and parties.” It wasn’t until the 1920s and 1930s that Halloween revelers caused mischief and pulled pranks, and trick-or-treating did not gain popularity until the 1940s and 1950s.

Clara expresses the same frustration and confusion that people, especially 18-year-olds, currently have as announcement follows announcement of cancellations, more often in some states and cities than in others. And in 1918, cancellations and restrictions varied across the country as well.

One example from 1918 comes from Philadelphia and St. Louis, cities that famously handled the outbreak completely differently. Wilmer Krusen, Philadephia’s public health director, assured the city that the flu was isolated to the military and that it would not spread to civilians. Despite reports that contradicted his views of the disease’s spread, Krusen insisted on continuing with plans to host the Liberty Loan parade, which he predicted would raise millions of dollars in war bonds. And indeed, although city officials anticipated 10,000 spectators, the popular parade drew over 200,000.

Three days after the 1918 Philadelphia parade, all the hospitals in Philadelphia were at capacity. And within a week of the parade, 2,600 people had died. In the meantime, St. Louis immediately closed schools and cancelled other public gatherings. As a result, over the course of the pandemic, Philadelphia had more than twice as many deaths per 100,000 people than St. Louis.

According to the South Dakota State Historical Society,

“The Home Guard (the equivalent of today’s National Guard) roamed through the streets of Rapid City, fining and arresting people who were not abiding by the cities [sic] newly created “sanitation laws.” City residents were fined or arrested for “expectorating” (spitting) on the sidewalks of Rapid City. As the local paper noted, “The Guard will be out in full force today to see there is no breaking of the quarantine regulations.” On October 27, 1918, one Rapid City man was charged with “flagrant violation of the anti-spitting ordinance.” Even a Rapid City police officer was arrested by the Home Guard for violating the anti-spitting ordinance and paid the customary fine of $6.”

In 1919, the University of Minnesota shut its doors, the University of Montana held classes outdoors, the University of North Carolina went under quarantine, and Smith College closed down completely. At Stanford University, everyone, including professors, were required to wear masks of risk being fired.

Some cities, mostly in the West, also required masks in public….

According to the Sacramento Bee,

“In San Francisco, 100 people were arrested in October [1918] – reported in the news as “mask slackers” – and nine of them were sent to jail. In Stockton, California, one policeman apparently found his own father to be a mask slacker, and he arrested him.”

Officials did their best to turn masks into fashion statements. “In October 1918, the Seattle Daily Times carried the headline ‘Influenza Veils Set New Fashion: Seattle Women Wearing Fine Mesh With Chiffon Border to Ward Off Malady.’”

Early in 1919, some people had had enough, so a woman in San Francisco “organized an Anti-Mask League whose purpose was to ‘oppose by lawful means the compulsory wearing of masks.’”

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How Aberdeen SD Became “Hub City”

From Clara’s Journal and the Story of Two Pandemics, by Vickie Oddino (Dobson St., 2021), pp. 97-98:

When the Milwaukee [RR] was surveying its line through Brown County in 1880, conventional wisdom held that the line would be routed through Columbia, which was the county seat. Columbia’s town fathers, feeling that they were in a strong negotiating position, refused to provide the Milwaukee with land for a right of way and a depot free of charge. C. H. Prior, then chief surveyor of the Milwaukee, resurveyed the main line to bypass Columbia and then platted a rival town (on a tract of land owned by his wife) some 12 miles from Columbia. This site became the City of Aberdeen, which was designated as a railroad division point, became the junction for several Milwaukee lines, and eventually became the third largest city in the state. Columbia stagnated and lost the county seat to Aberdeen several years later.

One of Aberdeen’s claims to fame is that L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, lived there from 1888-1891 with his wife and two sons (the couple would have two more sons while in South Dakota). While there, he opened a gift shop, Baum’s Bazaar, and when it closed after two years, he purchased the weekly newspaper the Dakota Pioneer and changed its name to Saturday Pioneer. Believe it or not, this paper was one of Aberdeen’s seven weekly papers and two dailies at the time.

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