DEYAN RANKO BRASHICH was born in Belgrade, former Yugoslavia, and is an Op-Ed columnist for Connecticut's Litchfield County Times.  He writes the monthly Letter From America column for Romania’s Scrisul Romanesc, a literary magazine and is the Editor-at-Large for  The Country and Abroad, another literary/art magazine where he authors the Dispatch from Abroad column. He is a frequent contributor to Pecat, the Belgrade, Serbia weekly news magazine, Britić, a magazine published in the United Kingdom, Ekurd Daily, a multinational Kurdish news portal and Passport, a lifestyle quarterly. He resides in New York City and Washington, Connecticut.

 

 

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Thursday
Dec012016

CHUMLEY’S – NEW YORK’S LITERARY CAFÉ

Whenever anyone speaks of the heyday of literary Paris, Les Deux Magots and the Café de Flore, the legendary watering holes of the literati on the Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, take center stage. The conversation invariably becomes a joust to see how many famous writers you can name who, at one time or another, had a glass of wine, a cognac, an expresso, an assignation, gotten drunk or taken a piss in either or both of those cafés.

Invariably it starts with Hemingway followed by F. Scott Fitzgerald, André Gide, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Giraudoux, Gertrude Stein, T. S. Eliot. You can’t forget Albert Camus, James Joyce, Bertolt Brecht or Julia Childs. Then there is the second wave of Americans - James Baldwin, Chester Himes, Charles Sutherland and Richard Wright.

One of the stars of that literary set was Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre’s lover, philosopher, author and bohème par excellence. She knew well her literary roots and her literary cafés – the Deux Magots awarded a prize for the best novel of the year since 1933 while the Café de Flore followed suite only in 1994. No wonder she favored Les Deux Magots over the Flore, as Adam Gopnik elegantly writes in his essay “A Tale of Two Cafes” in his book Paris to the Moon.

Alexis de Tocqueville may have been the first Frenchman to study and write about America but de Beauvoir followed in his footsteps. In 1947 she “landed at La Guardia airport and began a four-month journey that took her from one coast of the United States to the other, and back again.” Her diary of that visit America Day by Day [L’Amérique au jour le jour] was published in 1954.

In her diary, she writes of stumbling into a café that is a room “… square and utterly simple, with its little tables lined against the walls, but it has something so rare in America – atmosphere … In Bedford Street is the only place in New York where you can read and work through the day, and talk through the night, without arousing curiosity or criticism: Chamby’s.”

There never was a “Chamby’s”[1] on Bedford Street but there was and is a Chumley’s on Bedford, not quite a café but a venerable bar, once a speakeasy, that serves bourbon and beer, a New York’s literary landmark.

Like Simone de Beauvoir, I stumbled onto and into Chumley’s by pure chance. I had just moved into a house that didn’t front on the street but on a cement backyard at 50½ Barrow Street around the corner from Bedford Street in New York’s Greenwich Village. The street entrance was an iron gate and a dark passage with a dangling naked light bulb that led to our courtyard. A couple of doors down the street was another, much nicer iron gate. On a Saturday night, soon after moving in, I walked by and there were people drinking beer in that courtyard with the gate wide open, having a grand time.

This was the overflow crowd at the back entrance of a bar. But this was not just any bar, this was that Chumley’s, the legendary speakeasy turned literary hangout joint, that Simone de Beauvoir had exulted about some 15 years earlier.

The door opening on Pamela Court, the courtyard on Barrow, was once the front door that the greats—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Eugene O’Neill, Edna St Vincent Millay, John Steinbeck, and Anais Nin—walked through. Some of the same bunch that had graced the tables and the terraces of Les Deux Magots and the Café de Flore.

Back then in 1962 the unmarked front door was around the corner at 86 Bedford, that is if you could find it. From its inception as a speakeasy to this day Chumley’s front door bore no sign of any kind to keep the unwanted at bay. Urban legend has it that the term “86 it” for “kill it” comes from the heads up call that the cops would give the barkeep that a raid was about to take place and to have the speakeasy patrons escape by the “86” back door.

I learned of Chumley’s literary heritage. I marveled at the framed dust jackets of famous books, some that I had read. I was told that just prior to my time the Beat Generation writers - William S Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg - were regulars. I drank a toast to a number of authors whose books' dust jackets were joining the greats gracing Chumley’s walls.   

For the next three years, Chumley’s was my go-to-place. In the summer, I drank beer outdoors. In the winter, I drank by the fireplace, reading books by the guys who had their photos and dust jackets up on the wall. The cheeseburgers were great, the girls pretty. If I had the opportunity I am sure that I would have enjoyed Les Deux Magots even more.   

 

 

 

 


[1] de Beauvoir used “Chamby’s” as a pseudonym. “Chamby’s … was not an error or mistranslation. There was an unwritten rule … to never mention the bar by name, lest it become overrun by tourists. The Harlem Renaissance writer Richard Wright … recommended Chumley’s to Beauvoir … and passed on this code of secrecy…”   

Tuesday
Nov292016

THE “BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW” TEMPTATION

For decades “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” has been the guide for American policy. It’s been proven wrong many times over. The flip side of that coin, failure to indict and convict either of those devils, “he’s a crooked son of a bitch, but our son of a bitch”, is just as wrong. Both theories are founded on the premise that rocking the boat upsets the apple cart – a mixed metaphor I know, but still nicely put. 

But it’s those two policies that have put us where we are today – a country divided and in disarray. For me an uncertain future is better than a compromised present – I’ll always bet on the devil I have yet to meet rather than the one who has already fucked me over.

The Civil War, a war of secession and armed insurrection put America’s existence to the test. The leaders of the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis were all guilty of treason, of “levying” war against the United States. After Lee’s surrender and Lincoln’s assassination President Andrew Johnson granted amnesty and pardons to the rebels, no one was arrested much less convicted of treason.

The professed rationale was there were far too many guilty to be brought to justice even though 850,000 men died in that war. Some believe that that alone was justice enough - I say not. The conscripts were the ones who died, not the generals or the political leaders who led the rebellion. Them are those that needed to be held accountable.  

Justice was denied, self-interest, pragmatism and greed carried the day. Amnesty, the pragmatic solution trumped justice and the rule of law. The failure to bring the guilty to account haunts the United States to this day – the Ku Klux Klan fielded David Duke as a candidate for Senate in 2016 and racism is still a factor in the last election. Giving the guilty a pass was all that was needed to allow for Reconstruction, a criminal enterprise to flourish – another well-known and foreseen devil

The failure to enforce accountability is a constant, endemic failure of our body politic. This failure allows for the concentration of power and wealth in a small number of individuals and institutions which become self-perpetuating and controlling. Examples are many and the failure of accountability is always the lesson to be learned.

Take the case of General Douglas MacArthur. In July, 1931 MacArthur with an questionable use of military force stopped the Bonus March of World War I veterans on Washington, DC. While this ended his military career, he was never charged or court-martialed but was fobbed off to take up the post of Military Advisor to President Quezon of the Philippines. In 1942 after the fall of Manila the Philippine President and his Cabinet including MacArthur divvied up the Philippine’s foreign exchange deposits and MacArthur took a check for $500,000 - the 2016 Income Value Equivalent of $36,000,000.

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Tuesday
Nov152016

A MIDDLE EAST PRIMER FOR DUMMIES

PUBLISHED AS “A MIDDLE EAST PRIMER FOR DUMMIES”, LEAD OPINION ARTICLE, EKURD DAILY [TURKEY IRAQ SYRIA] ON NOVEMBER 15, 2006.

For decades, the Middle East has been an unsolved enigma and a colossal pain in the ass. The reason a peaceful solution for the region's problems has never been achieved is because the place just confuses and disorients, it doesn’t make sense. To dispel the confusion let me help with this Middle East Primer for Dummies teaching you the basics of the place.

The Middle East is a geographical area roughly bordered to the west by the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, the Black Sea to the north, the Persian Gulf to the East and the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea to the south. With that in mind, totally disregard what I have just said and look at geography anew with a jaundiced eye.

You have in domino progression Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco stretching eastwards to the Atlantic Ocean. They are not in the Middle nor in the East but in reality, further west than all of Western Europe. Go and look once again at a Mercator world map. To the east Iran is cheek to jowl with Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Indian subcontinent, almost to the Indian Ocean. The Sudan, the South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia are to the south and certainly not in the middle of the East but smack dab in middle of Africa.

Egypt is the Middle East's most populous state. It is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, but it is neither on the Atlantic nor is it north. Go figure why it’s in NATO and in the Middle East.

Now that you have the geography and the lay of the land firmly in hand go on to lesson number two: History. 

In order to get a perspective on the Middle East you have to know of four historic events. The first is the founding of Israel, a de facto religious racist state. The Holocaust killed 6 million European Jews and left hundreds of thousands homeless. In 1948 so as to provide for these homeless refugees the United Nations decided to establish a new country for them to call home, the State of Israel on the territory what had been the British protectorate of Palestine with a predominantly Arab population.

In order to provide the Jewish homeless with a new home some 800,000 Palestinian Arabs had to be expelled from their homes rendered homeless and stateless. Israel, a solution for some, a bloody problem for others, is a festering sore spewing venom to this day.

The second historical event was the 1951 democratic election in Iran that elected Mohammad Mosaddegh Prime Minister. The United States didn't like that democratic process much, so in 1953, with Great Britain on board, it engineered a coup that assassinated him and installed in his place the hereditary, autocratic Shah Reza Pahlavi. The era of ''he is a son-of-a bitch, but he is our son-of-a bitch'' Arab politicians was born. 

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Wednesday
Nov092016

MY SIN AGAINST RIGHTEOUSNESS & PROBITY

For the first time in 48 years I violated my self-imposed moratorium on voting, voting in federal, state or local elections. In retrospect, “Shame on me” for violating my oath – I participated in a flawed and rigged electoral process that is fatally un-democratic - mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

The second time around - I last voted in 1968 - I registered on line using the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles website. I was notified by mail that my polling place was at 2 East 90th Street which just happens to be the address of the Church of Heavenly Rest, a noted place for Christian worship. The neighborhood is replete with public spaces, museums and private and public schools. My voting venue was not an auspicious location for a supposedly secular act in selecting a secular leader for a religiously neutral state, notwithstanding our “In God We Trust” motto. It went from bad to worse.

To minimize my sin against righteousness and probity I filled only one oval shaped space on the electronic ballot. I noted my choice for President and Vice President as Hillary Clinton/Tim Kaine and blackened the corresponding oval space next to their names. Please note that I did not vote for - I just noted my preference, a choice of the lesser of two evils. I left all the other choices empty with their oval shaped spaces blank, my sin of commission hopefully made small. I reluctantly scanned the ballot as my public auto-da-fé and left the nave of the church and its religious baggage behind.

I won’t bore you yet again by berating a system that allows two political parties to control the country’s destiny depriving other parties and candidates’ participation; that ignores the popular vote and adheres to an absurd Electoral College method of selection; that delegates voting requirements to corrupt gerrymandering state politicians and allows for votes and influence to be sold to the highest bidder. 

As I write Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States elect. He campaigned on a promise of change and, for that matter, on a lot of other promises – none of which come to pass. You will not see a big beautiful wall on our southern border, one that Mexico will pay for. You will not see 11 million undocumented aliens deported from the United States and immigration police running rampant. You will not see a cheaper “fantastic” replacement for the Affordable Care Act-Obamacare. You will not see more support for our wounded veterans or a more robust military presence. You will not see a repatriation of jobs or untaxed profits to the United States. You will not see America great again. It will be what it will be.

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Tuesday
Oct182016

“HOW THE US BECAME MORE INVOLVED IN THE WAR IN YEMEN”

Buildings in Sana, the capital of Yemen, destroyed in a Saudi airstrike Photo Mohammed Huwais/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images courtesy New York Times

PUBLISHED AS “HOW THE US BECAME MORE INVOLVED IN THE WAR IN YEMEN” AS LEAD OPINION ARTICLE EKURD DAILY [TURKEY IRAQ SYRIA] AND IN PECAT [SERBIA] OCTOBER 18, 2016

I did not write the headline you have just read. The Editors at the New York Times wrote it on October 15, 2015 to highlight a major news story. But the story, the story that the United States is waging war in Yemen, didn’t appear on the front page, it was buried on page 9. The article started with this blunt, in your face paragraph:

“More than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen’s civil war. This week, the United States became more directly involved in the conflict, which already included Saudi Arabia and insurgents with ties to its sectarian rival, Iran.”

The Times made it clear that we are involved in a war in Yemen siding with our ally Saudi Arabia against Iran and its proxy “insurgents”. Making sure that we got the message the Editors followed up the next day Sunday, the slowest news-day of the week, with a front page headline “Somali Strategy Reveals New Face of US Warfare”. The lead paragraphs of that article reads:

“The Obama administration has intensified a clandestine war in Somalia over the past year, using Special Operations troops, airstrikes, private contractors and African allies in an escalating campaign against Islamist militants in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation.”

“Hundreds of American troops now rotate through makeshift bases in Somalia, the largest military presence since the United States pulled out of the country after “Black Hawk Down” battle in 1993.”

This follows the news that on October 12 that the USS Nitze, a United States Navy destroyer, fired Tomahawk missiles on three coastal radar sites in Yemen destroying them and other “targets associated with missile attacks on US ships” last week. That sure sounds like war to me.

I must have been preoccupied with the Presidential campaign and Donald Trump’s tweets because I missed the news that the United States Congress had declared war on Yemen and Somalia. No one in the Obama Administration, the White House, the Pentagon, and the Central Intelligence Administration or for that matter Congress has stood up to deny that we are at war in Yemen and Somalia, so it must be so. 

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