Saturday, October 4, 2014

“Between You and I” - even Shakespeare used it(?)

From (

Grammar is a combination of rules and conventions. What is the difference? Well, there are the rules, like a verb must agree with its subject. By that rule, “he say” is incorrect. Then there are conventions, which are uses of language that are common enough that even though they break the “rules” they become “correct” simply through repeated usage. Additionally, there are other conventions that vary from place to place, but that’s a much bigger discussion.

In the introduction to the 2003 edition of The King’s English, Matthew Parris reminds us that, “There is no authority. English is not a managed language. Nobody is in charge.” Over time, English speakers themselves become the authority. Some accepted conventions sound very natural, like saying “I’m good” instead of “I’m well.” Through their ubiquity, they’ve become an accepted part of the language.

Now what about “between you and I”? Technically, it should be “between you and me.” However, the phrase “between you and I” has become accepted as an idiom of its own. Even Shakespeare used it! Confusing “me” and “I” is one of the most common grammar problems. Using the word “I” can sound learned and elite; however this leads to it being overused when it’s actually incorrect.  This problem is called hypercorrect incorrectness. The “you and me” problem is confusing when there are two objects, as in the sentence “Thanks for inviting my husband and I to dinner.” If you are ever unsure, here’s a simple trick. Omit the first person and see how it sounds. If you said, “Thanks for inviting I to dinner,” it sounds wrong. Without two people, it is easier to use your ear to hear if “I” or “me” is grammatically correct.

Source of this article:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Excerpt from Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway) - from Chapter 41

I've read somewhere that Hemingway revised the ending of Farewell to Arms 39(?) times. Likely it was the following scene that taxed him most (middle of the last chapter).

(Excerpt from Chapter XLI)

We had gone to the hospital about three o'clock in the morning. At noon Catherine was still in the delivery room. The pains had slackened again. She looked very tired and worn now but she was still cheerful.
     "I'm not any good, darling," she said. "I'm so sorry. I thought I would do it very easily. Now — there's one — " she reached out her hand for the mask and held  it over her face. The doctor moved the dial and watched her. In a little while it was over.
     "It wasn't much," Catherine said. She smiled. "I'm a fool about the gas. It's wonderful."
     "We'll get some for the home," I said.
     "There one comes" Catherine said quickly. The doctor turned the dial and looked at his watch.
     "What is the interval now?" I asked.
     "About a minute."
     "Don't you want lunch?"
     "I will have something pretty soon," he said.
     "You must have something to eat, doctor," Catherine said. "I'm so sorry I go on so long. Couldn't my husband give me the gas?"
     "If you wish," the doctor said. "You turn it to the numeral two."
     "I see," I said. There was a marker on a dial that turned with a handle.
     "I want it now/' Catherine said. She held the mask tight to her face. I turned the dial to number two and when Catherine put down the mask I turned it off. It was very good of the doctor to let me do something.
     "Did you do it, darling?" Catherine asked. She stroked my wrist.
     "You're so lovely." She was a little drunk from the gas.
     "I will eat from a tray in the next room," the doctor said. "You can call me any moment." While the time passed I watched him eat, then, after a while, I saw that he was lying down and smoking, a cigarette. Catherine was getting very tired.
     "Do you think I'll ever have this baby?" she asked.
     "Yes, of course you will."
     "I try as hard as I can. I push down but it goes away. There it comes. Give it to me."
     At two o'clock I went out and had lunch. There were a few men in the cafe sitting with coffee and glasses of kirsch or marc on the tables. I sat down at a table. "Can I eat?" I asked the waiter.
     "It is past time for lunch."
     "Isn't there anything for all hours?"
     "You can have choucroute!'
     "Give me choucroute and beer."
     "A demi or a bock?"
     "A light demi."
     The waiter brought a dish of sauerkraut with a slice of ham over the top and a sausage buried in the hot wine-soaked cabbage. I ate it and drank the beer. I was very hungry. I watched the people at the tables in the cafe. At one table they were playing cards. Two men at the table next me were talking and smoking. The cafe was full of smoke. The zinc bar, where I had breakfasted, had three people behind it now; the old man, a plump woman in a black dress who sat behind a counter and kept track of everything served to the tables, and a boy in an apron. I wondered how many children the woman had and what it had been like.
     When I was through with the choucroute I went back to the hospital. The street was all clean now. There were no refuse cans out. The day was cloudy but the sun was trying to come through. I rode upstairs in the elevator, stepped out and went down the hall to Catherine's room, where I had left my white gown. I put it on and pinned it in back at the neck. I looked in the glass and saw myself looking like a fake doctor with a beard. I went down the hall to the delivery room. The door was closed and I knocked. No one answered so I turned the handle and went in. The doctor sat by Catherine. The nurse was doing something at the other end of the room.
     "Here is your husband," the doctor said.
     "Oh, darling, I have the most wonderful doctor,"
     Catherine said in a very strange voice. "He's been telling me the most wonderful story and when the pain came too badly he put me all the way out. He's wonderful. You're wonderful, doctor."
     "You're drunk," I said.
     "I know it," Catherine said. "But you shouldn't say it." Then "Give it to me. Give it to me.' She
clutched hold of the mask and breathed short and deep, pantingly, making the respirator click. Then she gave a long sigh and the doctor reached with his left hand and lifted away the mask.
     "That was a very big one," Catherine said. Her voice was very strange. "I'm not going to die now, darling. I'm past where I was going to die. Aren't you glad?"
     "Don't you get in that place again."
     "I won't. I'm not afraid of it though. I won't die, darling."
     "You will not do any such foolishness," the doctor said. "You would not die and leave your husband."
     "Oh, no. I won't die. I wouldn't die. It's silly to die. There it comes. Give it to me."
     After a while the doctor said, "You will go out, Mr. Henry, for a few moments and I will make an examination."
     "He wants to see how I am doing," Catherine said.
     "You can come back afterward, darling, can't he, doctor?"
     "Yes," said the doctor. "I will send word when he can come back."
     I went out the door and down the hall to the room where Catherine was to be after the baby came. I sat in a chair there and looked at the room. I had the paper in my coat that I had bought when I went out for lunch and I read it. It was beginning to be dark outside and I turned the light on to read. After a while I stopped reading and turned off the light and watched it get dark outside. I wondered why the doctor did not send for me. Maybe it was better I was away. He probably wanted me away for a while. I looked at my watch. If he did not send for me in ten minutes I would go down anyway.
     Poor, poor dear Cat. And this was the price you paid for sleeping together. This was the end of the
trap. This was what people got for loving each other. Thank God for gas, anyway. What must it have been like before there were anaesthetics? Once it started, they were in the mill-race. Catherine had a good time in the time of pregnancy. It wasn't bad. She was hardly ever sick. She was not awfully uncomfortable until toward the last. So now they got her in the end. You never got away with anything. Get away hell! It would have been the same if we had been married fifty times. And what if she should die? She won't die. People don't die in childbirth nowadays. That was what all husbands thought. Yes, but what if she should die? She won't die. She's just having a bad time. The initial labor is usually protracted. She's only having a bad time. Afterward we'd say what a bad time and Catherine would say it wasn't really so bad. But what if she should die? She can't die. Yes, but what if she should die? She can't, I tell you. Don't be a fool. It's just a bad time. It's just nature giving her hell. It's only the first labor, which is almost always protracted. Yes, but what if she should die? She can't die. Why would she die? What reason is there for her to die? There's just a child that has to be born, the by-product of good nights in Milan. It makes trouble and is born and then you look after it and get fond of it maybe. But what if she should die? She won't die. But what if she should die? She won't. She's all right. But what if she should die? She can't die. But what if she should die? Hey, what about that? What if she should die?
     The doctor came into the room.
     "How does it go, doctor?"
     "It doesn't go," he said.
     "What do you mean?"
     "Just that. I made an examination — " He detailed the result of the examination. "Since then I've waited to see. But it doesn't go."
     "What do you advise?"
     "There are two things. Either a high forceps delivery which can tear and be quite dangerous besides being possibly bad for the child, and a Caesarean."
     "What is the danger of a Caesarean?" What if she should die!
     "It should be no greater than the danger of an ordinary delivery."
     "Would you do it yourself?"
     "Yes. I would need possibly an hour to get things ready and to get the people I would need. Perhaps a little less."
     "What do you think?"
     "I would advise a Caesarean operation. If it were my wife I would do a Caesarean."
     "What are the after effects?"
     "There are none. There is only the scar."
     "What about infection?"
     "The danger is not so great as in a high forceps delivery."
     "What if you just went on and did nothing?"
     "You would have to do something eventually. Mrs. Henry is already losing much of her strength. The sooner we operate now the safer."
     "Operate as soon as you can," I said.
     "I will go and give the instructions."
     I went into the delivery room. The nurse was with Catherine who lay on the table, big under the sheet, looking very pale and tired.
     "Did you tell him he could do it?" she asked.
     "Isn't that grand. Now it will be all over in an hour. I'm almost done, darling. I'm going all to pieces. Please give me that. It doesn't work. Oh, it doesn't work!"
     "Breathe deeply."
     "I am. Oh, it doesn't work any more. It doesn't work!"
     "Get another cylinder," I said to the nurse.
     "That is a new cylinder."
     "I'm just a fool, darling," Catherine said. "But it doesn't work any more." She began to cry. "Oh, I wanted so to have this baby and not make trouble, and now I'm all done and all gone to pieces and it doesn't work. Oh, darling, it doesn't work at all. I don't care if I die if it will only stop. Oh, please, darling, please make it stop. There it comes. Oh Oh Oh!" She breathed sobbingly in the mask. "It doesn't work. It doesn't work. It doesn't work. Don't mind me, darling. Please don't cry. Don't mind me. I'm just gone all to pieces. You poor sweet. I love you so and I'll be good again. I'll be good this time. Can't they give me something? If they could only give me something."
     "I'll make it work. I'll turn it all the way."
     "Give it to me now."
     I turned the dial all the way and as she breathed hard and deep her hand relaxed on the mask. I shut off the gas and lifted the mask. She came back from a long way away.
     "That was lovely, darling. Oh, you're so good to me.
     "You be brave, because I can't do that all the time. It might kill you."
     "I'm not brave any more, darling. I'm all broken. They've broken me. I know it now."
     "Everybody is that way."
     "But it's awful. They just keep it up till they break you."
     "In an hour it will be over."
     "Isn't that lovely? Darling, I won't die, will I?"
     "No. I promise you won't."
     "Because I don't want to die and leave you, but I get so tired of it and I feel I'm going to die."
     "Nonsense. Everybody feels that."
     "Sometimes I know I'm going to die."
     "You won't. You can't."
     "But what if I should?"
     "I won't let you."
     "Give it to me quick. Give it to me.” Then afterward, "I won't die. I won't let myself die."
     "Of course you won't."
     "You'll stay with me?"
     "Not to watch it."
     "No, just to be there."
     "Sure. I'll be there all the time."
     "You're so good to me. There, give it to me. Give me some more. It's not working 7"
     I turned the dial to three and then four. I wished the doctor would come back. I was afraid of the numbers above two.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Excerpt from Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway) - From Chapter 30

(From Chapter XXX)   

I watched it get dark outside; the darkness came very quickly. It would be a black night with the rain. When it was dark there was no use watching any more, so I went over to Piani. He was lying asleep and I did not wake him but sat down beside him for a while. He was a big man and he slept heavily. After a while I woke him and we started.
     That was a very strange night. I do not know what I had expected, death perhaps and shooting in the dark and running, but nothing happened. We waited, lying flat beyond the ditch along the main road while a German battalion passed, then when they were gone we crossed the road and went on to the north. We were very close to Germans twice in the rain but they did not see us. We got past the town to the north without seeing any Italians, then after a while came on the main channels of the retreat and walked all night toward the Tagliamento. I had not realized how gigantic the retreat was. The whole country was moving, as well as the army. We walked all night, making better time than the vehicles. My leg ached and I was tired but we made good time. It seemed so silly for Bonello to have decided to be taken prisoner. There was no danger. We had walked through two armies without incident. If Aymo had not been killed there would never have seemed to be any danger. No one had bothered us when we were in plain sight along the railway. The killing came suddenly and unreasonably. I wondered where Bonello was.
     "How do you feel, Tenente?" Piani asked. We were going along the side of a road crowded with vehicles and troops.
     "I'm tired of this walking/'
     "Well, all we have to do is walk now. We don't have to worry."
     "Bonello was a fool."
     "He was a fool all right."
     "What will you do about him, Tenente?"
     "I don't know."
     "Can't you just put him down as taken prisoner?"
     "I don't know."
     "You see if the war went on they would make bad trouble for his family."
     "The war won't go on," a soldier said. "We're going home. The war is over."
     "Everybody's going home."
     "We're all going home."
     "Come on, Tenente," Piani said. He wanted to get past them.
     "Tenente? Who's a Tenente? A basso gli ufficiali! Down with the officers!"
     Piani took me by the arm. "I better call you by your name," he said. "They might try and make trouble. They've shot some officers." We worked up past them.
     "I won't make a report that will make trouble for his family." I went on with our conversation.
     "If the war is over it makes no difference," Piani said. "But I don't believe it's over. It's too good that it should be over."
     "We'll know pretty soon," I said.
     "I don't believe it's over. They all think it's over but I don't believe it."
     "Viva la Pace!" a soldier shouted out. "We're going home!"
     "It would be fine if we all went home," Piani said. "Wouldn't you like to go home?"
    "We'll never go. I don't think it's over."
     "Andiamo a casa!" a soldier shouted.
     "They throw away their rifles," Piani said. "They take them off and drop them down while they're marching. Then they shout."
     "They ought to keep their rifles."
     "They think if they throw away their rifles they can't make them fight."
     In the dark and the rain, making our way along the side of the road I could see that many of the troops still had their rifles. They stuck up above the capes.
     "What brigade are you?" an officer called out.
     "Brigata di Pace" some one shouted. "Peace Brigade!" The officer said nothing.
     "What does he say? What does the officer say?"
     "Down with the officer. Viva la Pace!"
     "Come on," Piani said. We passed two British ambulances, abandoned in the block of vehicles.
     "They're from Gorizia," Piani said. "I know the cars."
     "They got further than we did."
     "They started earlier."
     "I wonder where the drivers are?"
     "Up ahead probably."
     "The Germans have stopped outside Udine," I said. "These people will all get across the river."
     "Yes," Piani said. "That's why I think the war will go on."
     "The Germans could come on," I said. "I wonder why they don't come on."
     "I don't know. I don't know anything about this kind of war."
     "They have to wait for their transport I suppose."
     "I don't know," Piani said. Alone he was much gentler. When he was with the others he was a very rough talker.
     "Are you married, Luigi?"
     "You know I am married."
     "Is that why you did not want to be a prisoner?"
     "That is one reason. Are you married, Tenente?"
     "Neither is Bonello."
     "You can't tell anything by a man's being married. But I should think a married man would want to get back to his wife," I said. I would be glad to talk about wives.
     "How are your feet?"
     "They're sore enough."
     Before daylight we reached the bank of the Tagliamento and followed down along the flooded river to the bridge where all the traffic was crossing.
     "They ought to be able to hold at this river," Piani said. In the dark the flood looked high. The water swirled and it was wide. The wooden bridge was nearly three-quarters of a mile across, and the river, that usually ran in narrow channels in the wide stony bed far below the bridge, was close under the wooden planking. We went along the bank and then worked our way into the crowd that were crossing the bridge. Crossing slowly in the rain a few feet above the flood, pressed tight in the crowd, the box of an artillery caisson just ahead, I looked over the side and watched the river. Now that we could not go our own pace I felt very tired. There was no exhilaration in crossing the bridge. I wondered what it would be like if a plane bombed it in the daytime.
     "Piani," I said.
     "Here I am, Tenente." He was a little ahead in the jam. No one was talking. They were all trying to get across as soon as they could: thinking only of that. We were almost across. At the far end of the bridge there were officers and carabinieri standing on both sides flashing lights. I saw them silhouetted against the sky-line. As we came close to them I saw one of the officers point to a man in the column. A carabiniere went in after him and came out holding the man by the arm. He took him away from the road. We came almost opposite them. The officers were scrutinizing every one in the column, sometimes speaking to each other, going forward to flash a light in some one's face. They took some one else out just before we came opposite. I saw the man. He was a lieutenant-colonel. I saw the stars in the box on his sleeve as they flashed a light on him. His hair was gray and he was short and fat. The carabiniere pulled him in behind the line of officers. As we came opposite I saw one or two of them look at me. Then one pointed at me and spoke to a carabiniere. I saw the carabiniere start for me, come through the edge of the column toward me, then felt him take me by the collar.
     "What's the matter with you?" I said and hit him in the face. I saw his face under the hat, upturned mustaches and blood coming down his cheek. Another one dove in toward us.
     "What's the matter with you?" I said. He did not answer. He was watching a chance to grab me. I put my arm behind me to loosen my pistol.
     "Don't you know you can't touch an officer?"
     The other one grabbed me from behind and pulled my arm up so that it twisted in the socket. I turned with him and the other one grabbed me around the neck. I kicked his shins and got my left knee into his groin.
     "Shoot him if he resists," I heard some one say.
     "What's the meaning of this?" I tried to shout but my voice was not very loud. They had me at the side of the road now.
     "Shoot him if he resists," an officer said. "Take him over back."
     "Who are you?"
     "You'll find out."
     "Who are you?"
     "Battle police," another officer said.
     "Why don't you ask me to step over instead of having one of these airplanes grab me?"
     They did not answer. They did not have to answer. They were battle police.
     "Take him back there with the others," the first officer said. "You see. He speaks Italian with an accent."
     "So do you, you ," I said.
     "Take him back with the others," the first officer said. They took me down behind the line of officers below the road toward a group of people in a field by the river bank. As we walked toward them shots were fired. I saw flashes of the rifles and heard the reports. We came up to the group. There were four officers standing together, with a man in front of them with a carabiniere on each side of him. A group of men were standing guarded by carabinieri. Four other carabinieri stood near the questioning officers, leaning on their carbines. They were wide-hatted carabinieri. The two who had me shoved me in with the group waiting to be questioned. I looked at the man the officers were questioning. He was the fat gray-haired little lieutenant-colonel they had taken out of the column. The questioners had all the efficiency, coldness and command of themselves of Italians who are firing and are not being fired on.
     "Your brigade ?"
     He told them.
     He told them.
     "Why are you not with your regiment?"
     He told them.
     "Do you not know that an officer should be with his troops?"
     He did.
     That was all. Another officer spoke.
     "It is you and such as you that have let the barbarians onto the sacred soil of the fatherland."
     "I beg your pardon," said the lieutenant-colonel.
     "It is because of treachery such as yours that we have lost the fruits of victory."
      "Have you ever been in a retreat?" the lieutenant-colonel asked.
     "Italy should never retreat."
     We stood there in the rain and listened to this. We were facing the officers and the prisoner stood in front and a little to one side of us.
     "If you are going to shoot me," the lieutenant-colonel said, "please shoot me at once without further questioning. The questioning is stupid." He made the sign of the cross. The officers spoke together. One wrote something on a pad of paper.
     "Abandoned his troops, ordered to be shot," he said.
     Two carabinieri took the lieutenant-colonel to the river bank. He walked in the rain, an old man with his hat off, a carabiniere on either side. I did not watch them shoot him but I heard the shots. They were questioning some one else. This officer too was separated from his troops. He was not allowed to make an explanation. He cried when they read the sentence from the pad of paper, and they were questioning another when they shot him. They made a point of being intent on questioning the next man while the man who had been questioned before was being shot. In this way there was obviously nothing they could do about it. I did not know whether I should wait to be questioned or make a break now. I was obviously a German in Italian uniform. I saw how their minds worked; if they had minds and if they worked. They were all young men and they were saving their country. The second army was being re-formed beyond the Tagliamento. They were executing officers of the rank of major and above who were separated from their troops. They were also dealing summarily with German agitators in Italian uniform. They wore steel helmets. Only two of us had steel helmets. Some of the carabinieri had them. The other carabinieri wore the wide hat. Airplanes we called them. We stood in the rain and were taken out one at a time to be questioned and shot. So far they had shot every one they had questioned. The questioners had that beautiful detachment and devotion to stern justice of men dealing in death without being in any danger of it. They were questioning a full colonel of a line regiment. Three more officers had just been put in with us.
     "Where was his regiment?"
     I looked at the carabinieri. They were looking at the newcomers. The others were looking at the colonel. I ducked down, pushed between two men, and ran for the river, my head down. I tripped at the edge and went in with a splash. The water was very cold and I stayed under as long as I could. I could feel the current swirl me and I stayed under until I thought I could never come up. The minute I came up I took a breath and went down again. It was easy to stay under with so much clothing and my boots. When I came up the second time I saw a piece of timber ahead of me and reached it and held on with one hand. I kept my head behind it and did not even look over it. I did not want to see the bank. There were shots when I ran and shots when I came up the first time. I heard them when I was almost above water. There were no shots now. The piece of timber swung in the current and I held it with one hand. I looked at the bank. It seemed to be going by very fast. There was much wood in the stream. The water was very cold. We passed the brush of an island above the water. I held onto the timber with both hands and let it take me along. The shore was out of sight now.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Excerpt from Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway) - From Chapter 4

(From Chapter IV) 

It was hot walking through the town but the sun was starting to go down and it was very pleasant. The British hospital was a big villa built by Germans before the war. Miss Barkley was in the garden. Another nurse was with her. We saw their white uniforms through the trees and walked toward them. Rinaldi saluted. I saluted too but more moderately. 

"How do you do?" Miss Barkley said. " You' re not an Italian, are you?" 

"Oh, no."

Rinaldi was talking with the other nurse. They were laughing. 

"What an odd thing — to be in the Italian army."

"It's not really the army. It's only the ambulance." 

"It's very odd though. Why did you do it?" 

"I don't know," I said. "There isn't always an explanation for everything." 

"Oh, isn't there? I was brought up to think there was." 

"That's awfully nice." 

"Do we have to go on and talk this way?" 

"No," I said. 

"That's a relief. Isn't it?" 

"What is the stick?" I asked. Miss Barkley was quite tall. She wore what seemed to me to be a nurse's uniform, was blonde and had a tawny skin and gray eyes. I thought she was very beautiful. She was carrying a thin rattan stick like a toy riding-crop, bound in leather. 

"It belonged to a boy who was killed last year." 

"I'm awfully sorry." 

"He was a very nice boy. He was going to marry me and he was killed in the Somme." 

"It was a ghastly show." 

"Were you there?" 


"I've heard about it," she said. "There's not really any war of that sort down here. They sent me the little stick. His mother sent it to me. They returned it with his things." 

"Had you been engaged long?" 

"Eight years. We grew up together." 

"And why didn't you marry?" 

"I don't know," she said. "I was a fool not to. I could have given him that anyway. But I thought it 
would be bad for him." 

"I see." 

"Have you ever loved anyone?" 

"No," I said 

We sat down on a bench and I looked at her. 

"You have beautiful hair," I said. 

"Do you like it?" 

"Very much." 

"I was going to cut it all off when he died." 


"I wanted to do something for him. You see I didn't care about the other thing and he could have had it all. He could have had anything he wanted if I would have known. I would have married him or anything. I know all about it now. But then he wanted to go to war and I didn't know." 

I did not say anything. 

"I didn't know about anything then. I thought it would be worse for him. I thought perhaps he couldn't stand it and then of course he was killed and that was the end of it." 

"I don't know." 

"Oh, yes," she said. "That's the end of it." 

We looked at Rinaldi talking with the other nurse. 

"What is her name?" 

"Ferguson. Helen Ferguson. Your friend is a doctor, isn't he?" 

"Yes. He's very good." 

"That's splendid. You rarely find any one any good this close to the front. This is close to the front, isn't it?" 


"It's a silly front," she said. "But it's very beautiful. Are they going to have an offensive?" 


"Then we'll have to work. There's no work now." 

"Have you done nursing long?" 

"Since the end of 'fifteen. I started when he did. I remember having a silly idea he might come to the hospital where I was. With a sabre cut, I suppose, and a bandage around his head. Or shot through the shoulder. Something picturesque." 

"This is the picturesque front," I said. 

"Yes," she said. "People can't realize what France is like. If they did, it couldn't all go on. He didn't have a sabre cut. They blew him all to bits." 

I didn't say anything. 

"Do you suppose it will always go on?" 


"What's to stop it?" 

"It will crack somewhere." 

"We'll crack. We'll crack in France. They can't go on doing things like the Somme and not crack." 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Excerpt from Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway) - Chapter 1

(Chapter I)
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. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred  by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.
The plain was rich with crops; there were many orchards of fruit trees and beyond the plain the mountains were brown and bare. There was fighting in the mountains and at night we could see the flashes from the artillery. In the dark it was like summer lightning, but the nights were cool and there was not the feeling of a storm coming. 
Sometimes in the dark we heard the troops marching under the window and guns going past pulled by motor-tractors. There was much traffic at night and many mules on the roads with boxes of ammunition on each side of their pack-saddles and gray motor-trucks that carried men, and other trucks with loads covered with canvas that moved slower in the traffic. There were big guns too that passed in the day drawn by tractors, the long barrels of the guns covered with green branches and green leafy branches and vines laid over the tractors. To the north we could look across a valley and see a forest of chestnut trees and behind it another mountain on this side of the river. There was fighting for that mountain too, but it was not successful, and in the fall when the rains came the leaves all fell from the chestnut trees and the branches were bare and the trunks black with rain. The vineyards were thin and bare-branched too and all the country wet and brown and dead with the autumn. There were mists over the river and clouds on the mountain and the trucks splashed mud on the road and the troops were muddy and wet in their capes; their rifles were wet and under their capes the two leather cartridge-boxes on the front of the belts, gray leather boxes heavy with the packs of clips of thin, long 6.5 mm. cartridges, bulged forward under the capes so that the men, passing on the road, marched as though they were six months gone with child. 
There were small gray motor-cars that passed going very fast; usually there was an officer on the seat with the driver and more officers in the back seat. They splashed more mud than the camions even and if one of the officers in the back was very small and sitting between two generals, he himself so small that you could not see his face but only the top of his cap and his narrow back, and if the car went especially fast it was probably the King. He lived in Udine and came out in this way nearly every day to see how things were going, and things went very badly. 
At the start of the winter came the permanent rain and with the rain came the cholera. But it was checked and in the end only seven thousand died of it in the army. 

Monday, August 4, 2014


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Monday, July 21, 2014

Excerpt from Tendrils of Life (Chapter 53)

(December 1950)
It was cold and crisp on Christmas morning; their breaths made small white clouds in the half-collapsed room. Jimin recalled other Christmas Eves, when he’d roamed around the streets all night with his friends to enjoy the night without curfew—the only other such night was New Year’s Eve—while his mother and Misern caroled door to door with other church members. This year, it was nothing like the previous three years.
Rats scurried away as he came out to the courtyard. Sunlight penetrated through the debris, laden with fresh snow.
Misern followed him to the gate, shivering. “When are we leaving, Oppah?”
“When everyone does.”
“People are leaving now. Can we go too?”
“They are following the president’s decree. He wants to be on the safe side this time. He doesn’t want to make the same mistake as he did in June. We still have time.”
“How long?”
“Several days. Or even longer, people say.”
“It’s too cold here.” She shuddered, her haggard face turning blue. “We are too hungry and too lonely. Mr. Min said we have to get out ahead of other people.”
“But Father still might come for us.”
“I don’t think he will. We waited all this time and he hasn’t come.”
His sister was right. He had little hope that his father would come now, after more than five weeks since he was here last. Not having proper papers wasn’t a good excuse since the refugees from the North had been flooding the streets without any valid papers. He had started to trust him after they arrived at Hadong and after Mr. Min told them he’d been here twice. But that trust had nearly dissipated and the old grudge against him had returned. Why wouldn’t he come back, especially now when he should know the situation would be bad? Maybe he cared about Misern and him a little, but something more important for his ego came up. Perhaps a woman. Perhaps some dubious honor. He had always put himself above his family. Or he went back to Hadong for his own safety, thinking that Grandma was alive and she would provide a safe haven.
Jimin’s unspoken hope was more for the chance that Sora might turn up. He would never see her again if they went away from here. If she were somewhere in Seoul, it seemed likely that she would come by in case her relatives had come and left a message or something and she would see his note on the gate.
But now as he looked at his sister’s small skeletal frame, a sudden feeling of futility came over him. Maybe he’d dragged it out too long. Perhaps she had never come to Seoul. Or she had come and left after seeing the ruin of her former home. He wasn’t sure how he would feel when he actually saw her. How did she look now? Wasn’t he merely clinging to the feelings he had before the war? The more he thought about it, the more it seemed that he was trying to clench onto the past rather than the present.
“All right,” he said. “Let’s leave today when I come back.”
“Really?” Misern’s emaciated face brightened up.
“Yes, after I earn some money to buy food.”
“You promise?”
“Yes, I promise, Misern. I’ll be back soon.”
“Are we going to go to Ockdo this time?”
He narrowed his eyes. Ockdo had been on the backburner for quite some time. Meeting up with Sora had been his top priority. And if Sora didn’t want to go, he didn’t want to go either. But his little sister had been anxious to go there since Mother had died. She really believed that she was waiting for them right there, and he didn’t want to snuff out that hope in her. He had no idea how to get there without his father, but he resolved to go back one way or another soon. Even by wheedling the police chief’s men.
“Yes,” he said at length, looking his sister in the eye.
“You promise, Oppah?”
“Yes, I promise.” 
Before closing the gate, he stared at his sister, looking so small and helpless, her teeth rattling. He wondered what would happen if they couldn’t get on a train, either because of too many people or because of no money. He regretted not leaving with the old man a week ago.
“Bolt the gate tight,” he said, “and get under the quilt and try to stay warm.”
He listened to the sound of the wooden bolt sliding and of the dwindling footsteps inside the porch.
Then he walked away.
The thoroughfare was full of refugees coming down south and of Seoul residents leaving their homes with their luggage. He stopped by the bulletin board. As usual it was filled with the war news.
The Chinese Hordes Cross 38th Parallel.
General Walker Meets His Tragic Death: The commander of Eighth Army had been thrown into a ditch from his jeep that was speeding toward the frontline on an icy road congested with retreating troops.
A picture of Hungnam port engulfed in huge fireballs, set off by the allied forces after the evacuation of soldiers and their equipment and the refugees.
A picture of motley clothed men filing off at a run; the caption below said they were heading toward the Defense Militia training camps near Busan.
Jimin walked down the street, alongside the refugee column. At the roadside was a woman standing with a distressed look, a baby on her back. Beside her were two cranky children, about two and four.  An old man and an old woman, probably her in-laws, were sitting on the curb, looking exhausted. Beside them were two bulky cloth-wrapped bundles.
“Do you need any help?” he said as he approached them in the tone he used when he was seeking work.
“Yes, it would be great if you can carry one of these bundles for us,” the woman said, lighting up. “We’ll pay you.”
“To where?” Jimin felt Christmas was special after all, to find work this easy.
“Yongdungpo train station.”
“That far?” Jimin scowled. An hour or two to the river, another hour after that, two more hours to come back. It would be too long for his sister to wait alone in that cold place, worried sick. He’d never been able to get a job lasted that long.
The woman whispered something to the old woman, who took out her jumoney dangling inside her traditional white skirt and counted some money out loud, and then gave it to the woman.
“Would this be enough?” The woman held out the money in her hand.
It was roughly three or four times more than what he could earn from the marketplace, and he was tempted. He imagined how happy Misern would be seeing the money and food. Yet her agonized face five months earlier while waiting for Mother flickered in his head.
“It’s a lot of money. But I can’t be away from my place that long.”
“What about to the river crossing then?” the woman said.
He hesitated.
“Here, you take this money.” She thrust her hand that held the money out to him. “You look like an honest boy we can trust.”
“All this for up to the Han River?”
He couldn’t believe his luck. Maybe this Christmas was extra special. Maybe his mother was looking after him and his sister. He weighed the two bundles with his arm. One of them was heavy and the other light. He lifted the heavier one onto his shoulder. The woman placed the other bundle on her head.
The trip to the Han River took a long time, more than three hours. Growing more anxious, he kept asking the woman, who was wearing a watch, what time it was. The toddler and the old couple were very slow and they had to rest often. When they reached the river, he couldn’t just leave the helpless people alone. So he helped them across the softened ice, slippery underneath, in a single column along a blazed trail of solid surface, then all the way to the train station while worrying sick about his sister. By the time he left them in front of the station packed with refugees, it was well into the afternoon.
As he ran along the street after crossing the river back, he saw an army truck with a melon-green canvas top standing by the curb. Two neatly dressed soldiers—their khaki pants freshly creased and the bold white letters of HUN BYONG (Military Police) prominent on their black helmets—were standing nearby. He’d seen such a scene at a distance, more frequently these days, and thought that they were after army deserters. But now they were blocking his way and he tried to veer off to an alley. One of them shouted, “Halt!” thrusting his carbine toward him.

Exasperated, Jimin looked at the man, who motioned him with his carbine toward the truck.
“Let me see your resident card,” the man said as Jimin approached him.
“I don’t have one. I’m sixteen.”
“You look older. At least eighteen.”
“I’m sixteen,” Jimin repeated, frowning.
“You are lying to avoid conscription. Into the truck!” With the muzzle of his carbine, he pushed him toward the back of the truck.
“I’m not lying,” Jimin protested and stepped backward, trying to get away from the truck, but instead getting cornered. “I was born in September 1934. I used to be—”
“Shut up and get in!” the MP shouted, pushing him with the barrel.
“My little sister is all alone in the cold at—”
The man stabbed his abdomen hard with the muzzle of the carbine, and Jimin doubled over with excruciating pain.
“One more word, and I’ll kill you,” the man screamed. “Get in!” Repeating his command he kept jabbing him in the haunches with his rifle as if trying to fork him over into the truck.
Jimin turned to his side and elbowed the man sharply in the ribs. The man faltered a few steps backward and Jimin darted forward. But the other MP was standing a few meters in front of him, his carbine leveled at him. Jimin turned back only to be confronted by the first man, just a step away, ready to discharge his rifle.
Jimin kicked him in the shin and tried to run past, but the man swung his weapon around, screaming in pain, and hit him hard in the small of his back. As Jimin tottered and tried to recover, the other MP rammed his rifle butt into Jimin’s belly. And the first MP swung his carbine into Jimin’s shoulder blades and screamed, “Gae saeki, I’ll kill you.” Jimin staggered and fell.
The two started to kick him with their shiny boots and thumped their rifle butts all over him. He tried to stand upright to fight back, but they kept thwacking him until he became limp. He thought they would really shoot him if he resisted further. He didn’t feel his own pain; only his sister’s. After a few minutes they lifted him up as they shouted obscenities and shoved him into the back of the truck.
The truck was nearly packed with captives kneeling under the watchful eyes of an MP standing over them, poised to discharge his carbine for any sudden move. After pushing in several more victims, the two MPs got into the front seats, and the truck sped to Yongsan Middle School, a short distance away.
The MPs corralled them into an unheated classroom, which was already crowded with other captives sitting on chairs or directly on the cold floor. Before they left, the MPs made Jimin and another man, who was as badly bruised as Jimin, stand aside, and told the soldiers in charge that the two were “vicious dogs” and must be handled accordingly.
As the door closed behind the MPs, one of the three soldiers, a corporal, told the two to go to the back corner where several others with cuts and bruises, their faces overwrought with anger and despair, had been squatting. Then the corporal said to the newcomers, “Welcome to Defense Militia. Thank you for volunteering to fight for our fatherland.” The captives all shouted their disagreements, and the other two soldiers leveled their rifles on them.
When the room became quiet, the corporal said, “You’ll start off for the training camp in the morning.” He then laid out the rules for everyone to obey: no talk, no disturbance, no infraction, and anyone who needs to go to the latrine should quietly raise his hand.
Jimin tried to appeal his case to the corporal, who said his job was to deliver them to the training camp, nothing else, and told him to shut up; otherwise, he would be punished severely. The other man who came with him tried to press his case as well, but the corporal said, “Shut up!” as soon as he opened his mouth.
One of the men squatting near Jimin, about forty years old, suddenly stood up, his face blue with anger, and shouted, “You think you can get away with this atrocity? Nobody in this room has volunteered. Each of us has come out for urgent matters. Drag your own fathers and brothers to fill your quota if you don’t want to be executed for this crime. Or shoot yourselves if you don’t want to go to hell.”
The corporal nodded at the other soldiers, who came toward the yelling man, and plunged their rifle butts into his belly.
The rifle butts were the answers to every complaint.
Trucks continued to come and go incessantly, bringing more people in. As daylight receded, Jimin became more desperate, but he could do nothing about the situation. Every bone and every muscle in his body ached, but he didn’t feel his pain. His mind was filled with anxiety about his sister—how cold, how hungry, and how confused and worried she would be. What would she do, alone in the darkness? He wanted to steal a rifle and storm out, but every time he looked up, the soldiers stared icily at him. If he had a weapon, he would kill everyone in this cruel country. He felt like his head would burst with worries about his sister. He felt like screaming his head off, but he was sure they would kill him. Calm down, he told himself. If you get killed here, what would happen to Misern?

The night was worse than any other night, a thousand times worse than the night he buried Shin Hoon.
In the morning the captives were divided into fifty-person platoons. Each man was given a ball of rice, about the size of a fist, with a touch of bean paste on one side. Then, as a unit of ten platoons together, they marched out of the school, at a run, and down the highway; soldiers, marching alongside each platoon, escorted them.
They crossed the Han River on a pontoon bridge—guarded by American soldiers at both ends—alongside the damaged railroad bridges and then marched at a run on the highway.
Around noon the officer and the soldiers who were escorting them tried to find a place to feed them. But with no success.
“The law was created without a budget,” one of the escorting soldiers said to the platoon while resting. “All we can offer to civilians are promissory notes. But who would honor the note from the government that’s running away? Who would care about the unknown future when they themselves are facing starvation right now?”
“Initially people sympathized with the poor draftees or they succumbed at gunpoint,” another soldier said. “But there’s a limit to what anybody can do, and there’s no way for the civilians along the way to feed all of the men, wave after wave, coming down the highway. As we go farther south, the conditions become worse because more and more draftees are converging from everywhere toward Busan. So you all must be prepared. Otherwise you won’t make it.”
Most of the five hundred men and boys were very weak by then, but they were ordered to march again with hungry stomachs. After nightfall, they stopped at an elementary school. When the sweat dried, everyone started to shiver, and some of the men brought out student desks and chairs to the schoolyard and set them on fire. By the time the escorting officer managed to coax the townspeople to provide a small ball of rice for each person, more than a dozen campfires were going. The soldiers left them alone. After all, they were responsible for delivering them all the way to the destination with as many people alive as possible, and a day of marching together had forged a semblance of human connection with their platoon. As the night deepened, they tried to send everyone to sleep in the unheated classroom without any blankets, but people came out to the campfires to warm themselves, bringing more desks and chairs and, when those ran out, the sidings of the school building.
In this way they marched on icy roads in the coldest weather in anyone’s memory. They were lucky if each man could get a small ball of rice a day. They slept in cold places without blankets, shivering, sometimes warming themselves with campfires. They burned whatever they could get their hands on. The escorting soldiers were humans, too, and they didn’t treat them too harshly and some of them went beyond their duties to protect their men.
On the way, many men succumbed to hunger and fatigue even though they had slowed down and rested often as everyone’s condition weakened. Of the fifty people in Jimin’s platoon, fourteen died before the sixth day. As time went on Jimin stopped counting how many days had passed and how many in his platoon had died. His physical condition had flagged badly and his body couldn’t bear the rigors of marching, but that was nothing compared to his mind and spirit, which had died before the first night on the road. He had tried various tactics to escape, to no avail. He struggled along only because of his determination to survive, thinking of his sister in the cold and dark place at night. He had to survive and go back and rescue her, no matter what.
Well before they reached Daejon, everyone in his platoon, including himself, knew that he would be the next one to die. He was so weak that he couldn’t keep up even when they slowed to a walk because of him. They stopped in front of a rundown roadside house for a short rest, and they proceeded without him, leaving him to die alone. He knew why. Digging a grave in the frozen earth made them delay more and caused more fatalities. They had to reach Busan before all of them perished.

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