Read the Poignant Letter Sent to Anne Frank by George Whitman, Owner of Paris’ Famed Shakespeare & Co Bookshop (1960): “If I Sent This Letter to the Post Office It Would No Longer Reach You”

Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.

More than a few visitors to Paris’ fabled Shakespeare & Company bookshop assume that the quote they see painted over an archway is attributable to Yeats or Shakespeare.

In fact, its author was George Whitman, the store’s late owner, a grand "hobo adventurer" in his 20s who made such an impression that he spent the rest of his life welcoming travelers and encouraging young writers, who flocked to the shop. A great many became Tumbleweeds, the nickname given to those who traded a few hours of volunteer work and a pledge to read a book a day in return for spartan accommodation in the store itself.




In light of this generosity, Whitman’s 1960 letter to Anne Frank (1929-1945) is all the more moving.

One wonders what inspired him to write it. It's a not an uncommon impulse, but usually the authors are students close to the same age as Anne was at the time of her death.

Perhaps it was an interaction with a Tumbleweed.

Had she survived the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps that exterminated all but one inhabitant of the Secret Annex in which she penned her famous diary, she would have made a great one.

He refrained from mentioning his own service in World War II, possibly because he was posted to a remote weather station in Greenland. Unlike other American veterans, he hadn't witnessed with his own eyes the sort of hell she endured. If he had, he might not have been able to address her with such initial lightness of tone.

One can’t help but think how delighted the rambunctious young teen would have been by his sense of humor, his descriptions of his bohemian booklovers’ paradise—then called Le Mistral—and references to his dog, François Villon, and cat, Kitty, named in honor of Anne’s pet name for her diary.

His profound observations on the impermanence of life and the politics of war continue to resonate deeply with those who read the letter as its intended recipients’ proxies:

Le Mistral

37 rue de la Bûcherie

Dear Anne Frank,

If I sent this letter to the post office it would no longer reach you because you have been blotted out from the universe. So I am writing an open letter to those who have read your diary and found a little sister they have never seen who will never entirely disappear from earth as long as we who are living remember her.

You wanted to come to Paris for a year to study the history of art and if you had, perhaps you might have wandered down the quai Notre-Dame and discovered a little bookstore beside the garden of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre. You know enough French to read the notice on the door—Chien aimable, Priere d'entrer. The dog is not really a dog at all but a poet called Francois Villon who has returned to the city he loved after many years of exile. He is sitting by the fire next to a kitten with a very unusual name. You will be pleased to know she is called Kitty after the imaginary friend to whom you wrote the letters in your journal.

Here in our bookstore it is like a family where your Chinese sisters and your brothers from all lands sit in the reading rooms and meet the Parisians or have tea with the writers from abroad who are invited to live in our Guest House.

Remember how you worried about your inconsistencies, about your two selves—the gay flirtatious superficial Anne that hid the quiet serene Anne who tried to love and understand the world. We all of us have dual natures. We all wish for peace, yet in the name of self-defense we are working toward self-obliteration. We have built armaments more powerful than the total of all those used in all the wars in history. And if the militarists who dislike negotiating the minor differences that separate nations are not under the wise civilian authority they have the power to write man's testament on a dead planet where radioactive cities are surrounded by jungles of dying plants and poisonous weeds.

Since a nuclear could destroy half the world's population as well as the material basis of civilization, the Soviet General Nikolai Talensky concludes that war is no longer conceivable for the solution of political differences.

A young girl's dreams recorded in her diary from her thirteenth to her fifteenth birthday means more to us today than the labors of millions of soldiers and thousands of factories striving for a thousand-year Reich that lasted hardly more than ten years. The journal you hid so that no one would read it was left on the floor when the German police took you to the concentration camp and has now been read by millions of people in 32 languages. When most people die they disappear without a trace, their thoughts forgotten, their aspirations unknown, but you have simply left your own family and become part of the family of man.

George Whitman

via Letters of Note

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this Thursday for Necromancers  of the Public Domain, in which a long neglected book is reframed as a low budget variety show. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Ian McKellen Chokes Up While Reading a Poignant Coming-Out Letter

"In 1977, Armistead Maupin wrote a letter to his parents that he had been composing for half his life," writes the Guardian's Tim Adams. "He addressed it directly to his mother, but rather than send it to her, he published it in the San Francisco Chronicle, the paper in which he had made his name with his loosely fictionalised Tales of the City, the daily serial written from the alternative, gay world in which he lived." The late 1970s saw a final flowering of newspaper-serialized novels, the same form in which Charles Dickens had grown famous nearly a century and a half before. But of all the zeitgeisty stories then told a day at a time in urban centers across America, none has had anything like the lasting impact of San Francisco as envisioned by Maupin.

Much of Tales of the City's now-acknowledged importance comes from the manner in which Maupin populated that San Francisco with a sexually diverse cast of characters — gay, straight, and everything in between — and presented their lives without moral judgment.




He saved his condemnation for the likes of Anita Bryant, the singer and Florida Citrus Commission spokeswoman who inspired Maupin to write that veiled letter to his own parents when she headed up the anti-homosexual "Save Our Children" political campaign. When Michael Tolliver, one of the series' main gay characters, discovers that his folks back in Florida have thrown in their lot with Bryant, he responds with an eloquent and long-delayed coming-out that begins thus:

Dear Mama,

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to write. Every time I try to write you and Papa I realize I'm not saying the things that are in my heart. That would be OK, if I loved you any less than I do, but you are still my parents and I am still your child.

I have friends who think I'm foolish to write this letter. I hope they're wrong. I hope their doubts are based on parents who love and trust them less than mine do. I hope especially that you'll see this as an act of love on my part, a sign of my continuing need to share my life with you. I wouldn't have written, I guess, if you hadn't told me about your involvement in the Save Our Children campaign. That, more than anything, made it clear that my responsibility was to tell you the truth, that your own child is homosexual, and that I never needed saving from anything except the cruel and ignorant piety of people like Anita Bryant.

I'm sorry, Mama. Not for what I am, but for how you must feel at this moment. I know what that feeling is, for I felt it for most of my life. Revulsion, shame, disbelief — rejection through fear of something I knew, even as a child, was as basic to my nature as the color of my eyes.

You can hear Michael's, and Maupin's, full letter read aloud by Sir Ian McKellen in the Letters Live video above. In response to its initial publication, Adams writes, "Maupin had received hundreds of other letters, nearly all of them from readers who had cut out the column, substituted their own names for Michael’s and sent it verbatim to their own parents. Maupin’s Letter to Mama has since been set to music three times and become 'a standard for gay men’s choruses around the world.'"

Those words come from a piece on Maupin's autobiography Logical Family, published just last year, in which the Tales of the City author tells of his own coming out as well as his friendships with other non-straight cultural icons, one such icon being McKellen himself. "I have many regrets about not having come out earlier," McKellen told BOMB magazine in 1998, "but one of them might be that I didn't engage myself in the politicking." He'd come out ten years before, as a stand in opposition to Section 28 of the Local Government Bill, then under consideration in the British Parliament, which prohibited local authorities from depicting homosexuality "as a kind of pretended family relationship."

McKellen entered the realm of activism in earnest after choosing that moment to reveal his sexual orientation on the BBC, which he did on the advice of Maupin and other friends. A few years later he appeared in the television miniseries adaptation of Tales of the City as Archibald Anson-Gidde, a wealthy real-estate and cultural impresario (one, as Maupin puts it, of the city's "A-gays"). In the novels, Archibald Anson-Gidde dies closeted, of AIDS, provoking the ire of certain other characters for not having done enough for the cause in life — a charge, thanks in part to the words of Michael Tolliver, that neither Maupin nor McKellen will surely never face.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Eudora Welty’s Handwritten Eggnog Recipe, and Charles Dickens’ Recipe for Holiday Punch

’Tis the season to break out the family recipes of beloved relatives, though often their provenance is not quite what we think.

(Imagine the cognitive dissonance upon discovering that Mother swiped “her” Italian Zucchini Crescent Pie from Pillsbury Bake-Off winner, Millicent Nathan of Boca Raton, Florida…)

When it came to crediting the eggnog she dubbed “the taste of Christmas Day," above, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eudora Welty shared it out equally between her mother and author Charles Dickens:

In our house while I was growing up, I don't remember that hard liquor was served at all except on one day in the year. Early on Christmas morning, we woke up to the sound of the eggbeater: Mother in the kitchen was whipping up eggnog. All in our bathrobes, we began our Christmas before breakfast. Throughout the day Mother made batches afresh. All our callers expected her eggnog.

It was ladled from the punch bowl into punch cups and silver goblets, and had to be eaten with a spoon. It stood up in peaks. It was rich, creamy and strong. Mother gave full credit for the recipe to Charles Dickens.

Nice, but perhaps Dickens is undeserving of this honor? The contents of his punchbowl bore little resemblance to Mother Welty’s, as evidenced by an 1847 letter to his childhood friend, Amelia Filloneau, in which he shared a recipe he promised would make her “a beautiful Punchmaker in more senses than one”:

Peel into a very strong common basin (which may be broken, in case of accident, without damage to the owner’s peace or pocket) the rinds of three lemons, cut very thin, and with as little as possible of the white coating between the peel and the fruit, attached. Add a double-handfull of lump sugar (good measure), a pint of good old rum, and a large wine-glass full of brandy — if it not be a large claret-glass, say two. Set this on fire, by filling a warm silver spoon with the spirit, lighting the contents at a wax taper, and pouring them gently in. Let it burn for three or four minutes at least, stirring it from time to Time. Then extinguish it by covering the basin with a tray, which will immediately put out the flame. Then squeeze in the juice of the three lemons, and add a quart of boiling water. Stir the whole well, cover it up for five minutes, and stir again.

This sounds very like the “seething bowls of punch” the jolly Ghost of Christmas Present shows Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, dimming the chamber with their delicious steam.

It’s also vegan, in contrast to what you might have been served in the Welty ladies’ home.

Why not serve both? In the words of Tiny Tim, "Here's to us all!"

Eudora Welty’s Mother’s Eggnog (Attributed, Perhaps Erroneously, to Charles Dickens)

6 egg yolks, well beaten

Add 3 tbsp. powdered sugar

Add 1 cup whiskey, added slowly, beating all the while

Fold in 1 pint whipped cream

Whip 6 whipped egg whites and add to the mixture above.

 

Charles Dickens’ Holiday Punch (adapted from Punch by David Wondrich)

3/4 cup sugar

3 lemons

2 cups rum

1 1/4 cups cognac

5 cups black tea (or hot water)

Garnish: lemon and orange wheels, freshly grated nutmeg

In the basin of an enameled cast-iron pot or heatproof bowl, add sugar and the peels of three lemons.

Rub lemons and sugar together to release citrus oils. For more greater infusion, let sit for 30 minutes.

Add rum and cognac to the sugar and citrus.

Light a match, and, using a heatproof spoon (stainless steel is best), pick up a spoonful of the spirit mix.

Carefully bring the match to the spoon to light.

Carefully bring the lit spoon to the spirits in the bowl.

Let the spirits burn for about three minutes. The fire will melt the sugar and extract the oil from the lemon peels.

Extinguish the bowl by covering it with a heatproof pan or tray.

Skim off the lemon peels (leaving them too long in may impart a bitter flavor).

Squeeze in the juice of the three peeled lemons, and add hot tea or water.

If serving the punch hot, skip to the next step. If serving cold, cool punch in the refrigerator and, when cooled, add ice.

Garnish with citrus wheels and grated nutmeg.

Ladle into individual glasses.

Learn more about these and other festive holiday drinks in Master of Wine Elizabeth Gabay’s essay “Celebrating Christmas and New Year With Punch.”

Image above via Garden and Gun

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Read the “Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down” Letter That Albert Einstein Sent to Marie Curie During a Time of Personal Crisis (1911)

Marie Curie’s 1911 Nobel Prize win, her second, for the discovery of radium and polonium, would have been cause for public celebration in her adopted France, but for the nearly simultaneous revelation of her affair with fellow physicist Paul Langevin, the fellow standing to the right of a 32-year-old Albert Einstein in the above group photo from the 1911 Solvay Conference in Physics.

Both stories broke while Curie—unsurprisingly, the sole woman in the photo—was attending the conference in Brussels.




Equally unsurprisingly, the press preferred la scandal to la réalisation scientifique. Sex sells, then and now.

The fires of radium which beam so mysteriously...have just lit a fire in the heart of one of the scientists who studies their action so devotedly; and the wife and the children of this scientist are in tears....

—Le Journal, November 4, 1911

There's no denying that the affair was painful for Langevin’s family, particularly his wife, Jeanne, who supplied the media with incriminating letters from Curie to her husband. She must have been aware that Curie would be the one to bear the brunt of the public’s disapproval. Double standards with regard to gender are nothing new.

A furious throng gathered outside of Curie’s house and anti-Semitic papers, dissatisfied with labeling the pioneering scientist a mere home wrecker, declared—erroneously—that she was Jewish. The timeline was tweaked to suggest that Curie had taken up with Langevin prior to her husband’s death. Fellow radiochemist Bertram Boltwood seized the opportunity to declare that "she is exactly what I always thought she was, a detestable idiot.”

In the midst of this, Einstein, who had made Curie’s acquaintance at the conference, proved himself a true friend with a “don’t let the bastards get you down” letter, written on November 23. Other than a delicate allusion to Langevin as a person with whom he felt privileged to be in contact, he refrained from mentioning the cause of her misfortune.

A friendly word can go a long way in times of disgrace, and Einstein supplied his new friend with some stoutly unequivocal ones, denouncing the scandalmongers as “reptiles” feasting on sensationalistic “hogwash”:

Highly esteemed Mrs. Curie,

Do not laugh at me for writing you without having anything sensible to say. But I am so enraged by the base manner in which the public is presently daring to concern itself with you that I absolutely must give vent to this feeling. However, I am convinced that you consistently despise this rabble, whether it obsequiously lavishes respect on you or whether it attempts to satiate its lust for sensationalism! I am impelled to tell you how much I have come to admire your intellect, your drive, and your honesty, and that I consider myself lucky to have made your personal acquaintance in Brussels. Anyone who does not number among these reptiles is certainly happy, now as before, that we have such personages among us as you, and Langevin too, real people with whom one feels privileged to be in contact. If the rabble continues to occupy itself with you, then simply don’t read that hogwash, but rather leave it to the reptile for whom it has been fabricated.

With most amicable regards to you, Langevin, and Perrin, yours very truly,

A. Einstein

PS I have determined the statistical law of motion of the diatomic molecule in Planck’s radiation field by means of a comical witticism, naturally under the constraint that the structure’s motion follows the laws of standard mechanics. My hope that this law is valid in reality is very small, though.

That deliberately geeky postscript amounts to another sweet show of support. Perhaps it fortified Curie when a week later, she received a letter from Nobel Committee member Svante Arrhenius, urging her to skip the Prize ceremony in Stockholm. Curie rejected Arrhenius’ suggestion thusly:

The prize has been awarded for the discovery of radium and polonium. I believe that there is no connection between my scientific work and the facts of private life. I cannot accept ... that the appreciation of the value of scientific work should be influenced by libel and slander concerning private life.

For a more in-depth look at Marie Curie’s nightmarish November, refer to “Honor and Dishonor” the sixteenth chapter in Barbara Goldsmith’s Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

MIT Is Digitizing a Huge Archive of Noam Chomsky’s Lectures, Papers and Other Documents & Will Put Them Online

If you’re a linguist, you’ve read Noam Chomsky—no way of getting around that. There may be reasons to disagree with Chomsky’s linguistic theories but—as Newton’s theories do in physics—his breakthroughs represent a paradigmatic shift in the study of language, an implicit or explicit reference point for nearly every linguistic analysis in the past few decades.

If you’re on the political left, you’ve read Chomsky, or you should. Even if there are significant reasons to disagree with whatever controversial stance he’s taken over the years, few political theorists have approached their subject with the degree of doggedness, intellectual integrity, and erudition as he has. Chomsky began his second career as a political activist and philosopher in the late sixties, speaking out in opposition to the Vietnam war. Since then, he’s written majorly influential works on mass media propaganda, Cold War politics and interventionist war, economic imperialism, anarchism, etc.

Now an emeritus professor from MIT, where he began teaching in 1955, and a laureate professor at the University of Arizona, Chomsky has reached that stage in every public intellectual’s career when archivists and curators begin consolidating a documentary legacy. Librarians at MIT started doing so a few years ago when, in 2012, the MIT Libraries Institute Archives received over 260 boxes of Chomsky’s personal papers. You can hear the man himself discuss the archive’s importance in the short interview at the top. And at the MIT Library site unBox Chomsky Archive, you’ll find slideshow previews of its contents.

Those contents include the 1953 paper “Systems of Syntactic Analysis,” which “appears to be Chomsky’s first foray in print of what would become transformational generative grammar.” Also archived are notes from a 1984 talk on “Manufacturing Consent” given at Rutgers University, outlining the ideas Chomsky and Edward S. Herman would fully explore in the 1988 book of the same name on “the political economy of the mass media.” And in the category of “activism,” we find materials like the newsletter below, published by an anti-war organization Chomsky co-founded in the 60s called RESIST.

MIT hopes to “digitize the hundreds of thousands of pieces” in the collection, “to make it accessible to the public.” Such a massive undertaking exceeds the library’s budget, so they have asked for financial support. At unBoxing the Chomsky Archive, you can make a donation, or just peruse the slideshow previews and consider the legacy of one of the U.S.’s most formidable living scientific and political thinkers.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hamilton Mania Inspires the Library of Congress to Put 12,000 Alexander Hamilton Documents Online

Remember when bloody, bloody Andrew Jackson seemed like a shoe in for Best Sepulchral Historical Figure Brought Back to Life by an American Musical?

Alas for the 7th President, a little juggernaut called Hamilton came along, and just like that, it was the first Treasury Secretary and author of the Federalist Papers who had a fan base on the order of Beatlemania.

Teachers, historians, and librarians thrilled to reports of kids singing along with the Hamilton soundtrack. Playwright and original star Lin-Manuel Miranda’s clever rap lyrics ensured that young Hamilfans (and their parents, who reportedly were never allowed to listen to anything else in the car) would become well versed in their favorite founding father’s personal and professional history.




Out of town visitors who spend upwards of a month’s grocery budget for Broadway tickets voluntarily side trip way uptown to tour Hamilton Grange. The insatiable selfie imperative drives them to Central Park and Museum of the City of New York in search of larger than life sculptures. They take the PATH train to Weehawken to pay their respects in the spot where Hamilton was felled by Aaron Burr

Hamilton merchandise, needless to say, is selling briskly. Books, t-shirts, jewelry, bobble heads commemorative mugs…

The Library of Congress is not out to cash in on this cultural moment in the monetary sense. But "given the increased interest in Hamilton," says Julie Miller, a curator of early American manuscripts, it's no accident that the Library has taken pains to digitize 12,000 Hamilton documents and make them available on the web. The collection includes speeches, a draft of the Reynolds Pamphlet, financial accounts, school exercises and correspondence, both personal and public, encompassing such marquee names as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette, and George Washington.

One need not be a musical theater fan to appreciate the emotion of the letter he wrote to his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on the eve of his fateful duel with Aaron Burr:

I need not tell you of the pangs I feel, from the idea of quitting you and exposing you to the anguish which I know you would feel. . . . Adieu best of wives and best of Women. Embrace all my darling Children for me.

Explore the Library of Congress’ Hamilton collection here.

And enter the online lottery for $10 Hamilton tickets because, hey, somebody’s got to win.

via Theater Mania

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Bertrand Russell Writes an Artful Letter, Stating His Refusal to Debate British Fascist Leader Oswald Mosley (1962)

Image by National Portrait Gallery, via Wikimedia Commons

Changing the minds of others has never counted among humanity's easiest tasks, and it seems only to have become an ever-stiffer challenge as history has ground along. Increasingly many, as Yale professor David Bromwich recently argued in the London Review of Books"have had no practice in using words to influence people unlike themselves. That is an art that can be lost. It depends on a quantum of accidental communication that is missing in a life of organised contacts." We might find ourselves in reasonably fruitful debates with basically like-minded friends, acquaintances, and strangers on the internet, but can we ever convince, or be convinced by, someone truly different from us?

Bertrand Russell doubted it. In 1962, long before the structures of the internet allowed us to build tighter echo chambers than ever before, the Nobel-winning philosopher "received a series of letters from an unlikely correspondent — Sir Oswald Mosley, who had founded the British Union of Fascists thirty years earlier," writes Brain Pickings' Maria Popova.




"Mosley was inviting — or, rather, provoking — Russell to engage in a debate, in which he could persuade the moral philosopher of the merits of fascism." Even at the age of 89, with little time and much else to do, Russell declined with the utmost force and clarity in a piece of correspondence featured on Letters of Note:

Dear Sir Oswald,

Thank you for your letter and for your enclosures. I have given some thought to our recent correspondence. It is always difficult to decide on how to respond to people whose ethos is so alien and, in fact, repellent to one’s own. It is not that I take exception to the general points made by you but that every ounce of my energy has been devoted to an active opposition to cruel bigotry, compulsive violence, and the sadistic persecution which has characterised the philosophy and practice of fascism.

I feel obliged to say that the emotional universes we inhabit are so distinct, and in deepest ways opposed, that nothing fruitful or sincere could ever emerge from association between us.

I should like you to understand the intensity of this conviction on my part. It is not out of any attempt to be rude that I say this but because of all that I value in human experience and human achievement.

Yours sincerely,

Bertrand Russell

Russell passed on eight years later, in 1970, and Mosley a decade thereafter. "His final message to the British people appeared in a letter to the New Statesman written only a week earlier," remembers journalist Hugh Purcell in that newspaper. It concerned an article's description of the "Olympia rally," the 1934 debacle that lost the British Union of Fascists much of what public support it enjoyed. "The largest audience ever seen at that time assembled to fill the Olympia hall and hear the speech," Mosley insisted. "A small minority determined by continuous shouting to prevent my speech being heard. After due warning our stewards removed with their bare hands men among whom were some armed with such weapons as razors and knives. The audience were then able to listen to a speech which lasted for nearly two hours."

The New Statesmen, printing Mosley's letter posthumously, ran it under this introduction: "Throughout his life he was intent on persuading people that their view of history was mistaken." Despite his unceasing efforts, he ultimately persuaded few — and it would hardly have required as keen an observer as Russell to see that someone like Mosley certainly wasn't about to let himself be persuaded by anyone else.

via Letters of Note/Brain Pickings and The Bertrand Russell Archives, McMaster University Library

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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