It's the mid-19th century and the American whaling fleet, the wonder and envy of the maritime nations of the world, is struck by one hammer blow after another. Yankee whalers are contending with icebergs, storms, rogue whales, sharks, hostile natives, and disease. Now conditions are getting even worse, and the chances become ever slimmer a whaling master and his crew will return from a voyage safe and profitable. The scarcity of whales, the increasing dangers of going further into the Arctic, and the roving Confederate privateers are making this already difficult profession ever riskier. Many whalers give up the life — but some carry on the vocation.One such man is a tall captain from Wethersfield, Connecticut, Thomas William Williams. Not only does he go out on voyage after voyage, but he even takes on board with him his tiny wife, Eliza, and his infant son and daughter. The Lost Fleet
's thrilling narrative recounts Williams' remarkable career, including a daring escape from the Confederate cruiser Alabama and a daring rescue and salvage of lost ships off Alaska's coast. A family saga, a true narrative of adventure and death on the high seas and a detailed and well-researched look at the demise of Yankee whaling–Songini has crafted an historical masterpiece.
DISCLAIMER: The content of this site consists of my own personal opinions (and occasionally the opinions of others) and does not officially represent my employer's view in any way.
We can't even have a harmless international—yet very local and traditional—event without some punk wreaking havoc on innocent people. This bomb went off by the Boston Public Library in one of the most beautiful urban sites in America. This is a really bad thing–and really bad that the media are covering it 24/7, often with nothing to say, and spreading pointless speculation. Once again, this is exactly the attention a sick mind wants…
That some ran to the explosions to aid the injured is also encouraging.Yes–even in the worst of times, the best in people–sometimes only a few people–comes out. That courage and decency are also part of the human instinct farm defeats any terrorist's purpose.
I love train stations and the trains themselves. I love the gong-bell signaling their arrival. Unlike a plane, I can follow a train easily–I can see and predict infallibly where it's going on its tracks. I can even walk along the tracks to the destination…At least hypothetically.
Trains are terrestrial–they don't vanish into the sky. They take people to places without airsickness. Terrorists tend not to blow them up and they can't be hijacked to Cuba…All things fade and vanish, but when I hear the train bell in my little town at night, snow or rain, I'm reassured. From the other end of the universe, another life-form in another time dimension can look and set his watch by the train in my town at midnight, as the flakes gently fall. We all belong to a cosmos that has human trains running steadily.
Memories of the Blizzard of '78: My aunt and three cousins coming over to my family's flat in East Walpole. Father and uncles all stuck at their places of work. Play, no school; lots of fun. It was like a big game. We made tent cities in a bedroom out of blankets and sheets. All those people were my universe. We were a big family and all connected just as the snow forms a layer on all things and connects them. And two of those kids who I played with during that blizzard died early deaths, my parents and uncles and aunt are also gone. And snow doesn't comfort me like that anymore. But I do still like to play in it.
Wellfleet was cold nasty and beautiful Sunday. The tavern path through the dunes was mostly frozen solid. The swamp was arid or icy and the pine woods covered in inches of snow. That lovely crunch and crisp antiseptic air combined with a view of the cold and wrinkled ocean to make us feel we were on a new planet. The exquisite lonely feeling of winter is a rare treat on the Cape…And it was all but virgin to us. Some other explorer had caught the path, led us to the edge of the ocean–quite a drop to contemplate–and led us out again. The cold was seeping in; the wind more persistent and mindless than a campaign ad; the car safe in the empty parking lot was a welcome sight.
Went skating today at the Kennedy Plaza rink in Providence. Global warming means winter sports are…limited. But, the rink (forgive me for being metaphorical) was America. Lots of people, all colors and sizes and both sexes and many ages, all being goofy in public. Some people skating fast and elegant (that was dangerous) some going backwards at times and obstructing the general counter-clockwise flow. Others just sort of sat there and watched. Little kids were getting perhaps their first taste of the ice. There were couples, families, solo acts and young hockey-type partners in crime terrifying the slow of reflex.
I even watched a young lady figure skater go into her routine, pointlessly showing off to the masses. It was…just everyone doing their own thing–yet no fist fights. I suppose in some cultures (Germany or Japan?) there would have been a regular rhythm to the skaters. There wasn't. But that to me is America. Everyone compromising on the ice. No one quite hogging it. I didn't get all that I wanted (I like to skate fast and hard), but I got my stretches of ice, just like all the others.
Always a bit exasperating, but the way it is–and it could be worse.
"Stroszek" is a great find from the venerable Ebert. An amazing movie…Three oddballs from Germany (a mentally defective musician, a prostitute, and a tiny old man) leave the oppressive pimps of Berlin for…Wisconsin and its wilds. From moment to moment, I couldn't predict what would happen next. There is a hilarious robbery of a barber shop next to a bank (the bank was closed and the culprits believe even barbers are part of the grand financial conspiracy that is America). They then buy a…a frozen turkey. Then, the unforgettable line at the end from the police: "We've got a truck on fire, can't find the switch to turn the ski lift off, and can't stop the dancing chicken. Send an electrician." Of course, we are all that dancing chicken.
At the risk of blowing my own trumpet–or letting someone else do it for me, I'd like to share this kindly email from a reader. "The Lost Fleet" was not as much of a commercial success as I would have liked it to be. However, that some people have found it a moving and worthwhile story is MORE important to me than that. Connecting with readers is why I write. Here's the comment:
"I grew up just off Rodney French Blvd in New Bedford and just finished your book, 'The Lost Fleet'…I'm not a big reader, but I could not put this book down. You did a great job on researching the subject and my whole prospective on the whaling industry has changed. I have seen NB sadly change in my 64 years and still visit it periodically for the great seafood and the memories. My last visit was several weeks ago and they were working on a streetscape projects around the docks. I will get your other books and I'm sure they were written with the same detail and quality. Thank you !"
My thanks to this reader. To any readers who have read my work and enjoyed it, by all means let me know!
Why the Connecticut disaster? This unspeakable butchery is easily understood. A failure in our mental health system; a breakdown in family responsibility; and a breakdown in gun control. When so many people are killed, it is clear it'd far too easy for the mentally ill to get access to ammunition and bullets in abundance. This is another example of the barbarism we are collapsing into.
Hearing the statement this is the "worst shooting in an elementary school in American history" floors me. The newscasters offer this pointless statistic with a straight face. Only in America would the media categorize the massacre like this–there are so many massacres, it seems, in theaters, colleges, and the like, we have to particularize them in some way. Naturally, the next borderline psychotic deciding to shock the world may use that as a starting point for HIS massacre and his hoped-for apotheosis in the ghoul-firmament of cable news…
At times like this, I wonder if America is a darkness trying to find the bottom that isn't there.