War and Peace

by Dallis Radamaker, Netherlands UU Fellowship

June 2, 2022 Thursday

As I begin writing, it is exactly 1:00 pm on an exceptionally beautiful spring day.  My apartment on the third floor of an apartment block in Heemstede is flooded with light. I like to sit here at my battered old oaken desk with my books forming a high wall just behind me, surveying the full length of the main room, passing the elegant, cherry-wood, circular (unless insertion of the mobile leaf has lengthened it to receive guests at the cost of a little crowding) dining table and chairs, my view finally resting on the green and gold sofa against the far wall and, above that, on the dynamic silhouette of the iron Chinese “flying horse” with all four legs eternally and magically in the air, a museum replica and affectionate gift from my then love, Meredith, for my 29th birthday, bought at the shop of the New Orleans Museum of Art and given to me after I had admired its original a few months before I heartlessly deserted her and fled Louisiana and, indeed, the whole new world for France to study law and to live all the following chapters of my life in Europe.  The flying horse is only a silhouette from where I sit because it is propped up just in front of the south window, through which the mentioned abundant light is pouring most abundantly at the moment, notwithstanding there is only one window in that wall, making a sharp contrast with the longer east wall which consists of no fewer than three windows of the same size, then a short stretch of wall against which I have stood a cabinet to hold porcelain plates, bowls, crystal wine glasses and other dining accessories needed by civilized persons.  Past that cabinet, between it and me, the rest of the east wall is glass, except for a door that opens onto a little balcony where a few flowers bloom in pots against a background which is an ocean of green leaves which the spring has drawn from the branches of the thousand trees forming the Groenendal woods, on the gentle waves of which my apartment and I seem to float.  Indeed, it is more pleasant to sit here thinking of the sap rising in all those trees recently awakened from their winter slumber than to type out this description of it all.

June 3, 2022 – Friday

It is now exactly noon of the day after yesterday, when the writing-up of my spring reveries was interrupted by the need to take a load of laundry out of the washing machine and hang it to dry in the bathroom, then to ride my bicycle across town to Diana’s place and thence with her by car to Haarlem to see “Top Gun – Maverick” at the Pathe multiplex, where they have recently replaced all the seats with American style pillowy “recliners” with electronic controls that allow you to adjust the seat back and leg rest to any angle you like while watching Tom Cruise and his younger friends destroy their enemies and save the world by performing incredible feats of supersonic, aerial derring-do on a big screen, fully visible just above the level of your toes, even when you are fully reclined. It doesn’t get any lazier. After the movie, we came home to lovely steamed salmon, sweet corn on the cob and fresh green asparagus, all consumed at leisure while watching the British celebrating their queen’s platinum jubilee on television.  The celebration consisted of hours and hours of young people in splendid uniforms marching back and forth or cantering back and forth on the backs of splendid horses, while bands played marches and the voices of off-screen commentators discussed in hushed tones the chance her aged Britannic Majesty might feel strong enough at some point to come out onto her balcony and wave to her faithful subjects. At last she did, bringing this folkloric pageant to a glorious apogee. Diana was in her heaven, and I was glad to see her there, but also glad she had fast-forwarded through some of the more excruciatingly boring parts.  And so to bed.

Before being interrupted yesterday by the washing machine, Tom Cruise, and Queen Elizabeth II, I was in full Spring-reverie mode, describing my sunshine and light-filled apartment floating at the level of the treetops in a sea of green. Let’s go back there.  The weather today is a copy of yesterday. There are a few high, wispy clouds in a sky otherwise blue.  The gentle breeze still carries a hint of winter chill if it catches you out of the sunlight.  I ought to be doing my taxes, which are late, but daydreaming in my special place is more attractive at the moment.  So here I sit in my cave surrounded by diverse artifacts of my life so far – a ceramic female torso sculpted by my ex-wife, Pauline; a tall, cylindrical, wrought-iron combination wine-rack, wine and liquor glass holder and drinks cabinet that fits nicely into the corner next to the sofa, which was a Father’s Day present from Lynn and Kilian twenty years ago; a framed watercolor of Salzburg as seen from the river Salzach, bought by my father in Salzburg in 1946 along with some other souvenirs of his Austrian adventure as a nineteen year old soldier in the U.S. army; a perfect, brilliantly polished 1891 Morgan silver dollar suspended in a little acrylic brick with the legend “For Distinguished Service to the Systems and Procedures Association” which sat on my father’s desk since 1962, when he received it to reward his work editing the textbook, “Business Systems” for them; many photographs of my children and grandson and of me and Diana; and books, books, books.

At some point yesterday. I was re-reading the chapters in Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday – Memoirs of a European, in which he reflects joyfully/mournfully, from the perspective of 1945, on the world of his youth prior to World War I and particularly May and June of 1914, which he recalls as having been warmer and more beautiful than any Spring anyone then living could remember.  Even the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo brought no immediate sense of impending doom to him or to the European public generally, nor did the escalating diplomatic crisis between Austria and Serbia.  There hadn’t been a war in Europe in forty years and many people had come to believe there could never be one again.  There had been a series of diplomatic crises between the great powers, but these were generally perceived to be games of bluff from which the hyper-civilized participants could be depended upon to withdraw their stakes before risking the ultimate consequences.

Some weeks later, the dominos had fallen and all Europe found itself in uniform, singing “Tipperary” or their national equivalent, as they marched off to four years of merciless slaughter in the cause of nothing at all.  And this was the result, notwithstanding all the heads of state and governments of the nations, caught in the trap were decent men, none of whom wanted or expected war before they were in it.  Certainly none of them was as unstable or irresponsible a character as Vladimir Putin.

So I’m worried, but it’s Spring anyway!  Spring should always be savored as though it might never come again, Ukraine or no Ukraine.