The eve of Martin Luther King Day seems an appropriate time to write a review of Ron Chernow’s new biography of US Grant, the commander of Union armies and two-term president. Chernow’s book shows that Grant’s life and posthumous reputation are tied up in the struggle for racial equality.
During and after his life, Grant has been subject to a great deal of criticism. He has been portrayed as leader of a corrupt and ineffective presidency. He was also characterized as a military leader who clumsily overwhelmed his more skillful adversaries with massive force, generating massive casualties in the process.
Chernow’s lengthy but very readable biography provides a different portrait. He shows that the denigration of Grant, like the deification of Robert E. Lee, (and the associated statues), were both part of a political project to rehabilitate the Confederacy and justify the Jim Crow racial caste system that emerged in the latter part of the 19th Century.
You’ve heard of the power lunch, power walk, and power nap, right? Well, Koishikawa Korakuen is a power garden. It was commissioned in the 17th Century by a member of the ruling Tokugawa clan. The name means “the garden for enjoying power later on”, at least according to the Tokyo Parks website.
Rikugien was completed around 1700, commissioned by the son of a high-ranking official. Eventually, it was purchased by the family that owns Mitsubishi, then turned over to the public. This was our second visit to this garden, since we were here last August.
Let’s return to our trip to Japan last September, shall we? Most of Tokyo has been demolished (by war, fire, and earthquake) and rebuilt multiple times. The neighborhood of Yanaka, however, was damaged less than most from the cataclysms of the 20th Century. As a result, it is one of the oldest areas of Tokyo.
Excuse me while I go on a little rant. This year’s plant catalogs are starting to arrive, which is generally a wonderful thing. However, some of those catalogs are touching a sore spot with me: namely, the never-ending supply of ugly and unnatural varieties of Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).
Did I say we were renting a cabin? In truth, this place is more like a Mcmansion. It’s so huge that I’m embarrassed to post a picture. But on a family vacation like this, too much space is generally better than too little. There’s privacy when it’s wanted. For example, Meredith (David’s long-time girlfriend) has brought her bagpipes so she could practice for an upcoming competition (really – she’s a competitive bagpiper). Amazingly, we can hear her only faintly when she plays at the other end of the house.
You may remember how for years I’ve been saying that we needed to replace our front screen door, which was perfect for giving people the impression that our house was abandoned. Actually, the whole door needed replacing, as it was designed to ensure that refreshing blasts of arctic air kept the indoors from getting too stuffy.