Part 6 of the “White Poppies for Remembrance” series considers the opportunity cost of the lost human potential while at the Victory cenotaph in downtown Vancouver – along the way, troubadours sing about Providence, Joyful(ness) along with spontaneous percussion-scapes and city bus brakes.
DaveO examines the value of life with Gord Downie‘s swift deconstructions of existence from Coke Machine Glow, Henry David Thoreau‘s visionary stories of perseverance and the value of the mindfulness from Walden and a personal declaration of sovereignty and dignity from original Letters from Russia read in hospital to ole gramps.
Part 5 of the White Poppies for Remembrance series continues with Dave at Victory Park, this time reading the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted by General Assembly Dec. 10th, 1948) with riffs about tolerance, human relations, common understanding, and mutual respect – including a healthy sampling of articles on brotherhood, privacy, special treatment for mothers, plus a commentary about refugee status, and the illegal nature of torture and humiliating treatment.
Then brings it ’round home with a snippet from H.D. Thoreau’s Walden about sovereign man being the origin of the political state while accompanied by lively jazz (via bootleg cassette) featuring Joe Williamson and cohorts in Banff from way back playing about Peace to the Children of our Universe and Common Market offering up replenishing Refresh(ment) live on KEXP.
Declare your rights for: Righteous Declarations for Humans (128k mp3, 13:24, 15MB)
Finding Victory Square in post-ceremony calm, Dave settles onto a bench for lost sailors with some bagpipers to chat about John Macrae’s “Flander’s Field” poem and mull the tension between remembering noble effort and embracing jingoistic behaviour. This conundrum is evident in snippets of an essay by Stephen Osborne – The Poem and the Poppy – which relates the amazing grace of drinking gin with Gramps who was there – ‘in the void.’
Part 3 of the White Poppies for Remembrance series (recorded Nov. 2006) features reading from the Dhammapada by Siddhartha Gautama while waiting for the Seabus heading towards Victory Square. Along the way, Dave talks about conscientious objection and military service evaders in Canada, mercy and the state of the downtown eastside.
Page France sings Chariot, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club sings about Mercy, (both found on KEXP S.o.t.D. podcast) and Bill Janovitz from Here Comes a Regular score lays down some background groove – plus some Andean flute, soulful saxriffs and American Pie wisdom from Clayton the seabus busker along the way.
As for me, I choose to forge my own place in history, to determine by own ends rather than subject my precious life for the exclusive use of any man – monarch or otherwise. Without my freedom to be what, and who, I choose, I have lost all! No matter how in- significant my life’s work, at the least my life is of my own choosing and my labours, at my own volition. My action, my loves, my thoughts will determine my life’s significance, and I will not surrender to fate’s whims. I alone will live this life and this value I will not compromise.
It has been a journey of horrific proportions since I last was able to chance a letter.
The cold is equaled only by the depravity of desperate humans in its numbing pain. And yesterday, my friend Maurice joined the untold thousands of dead – scattered, abandoned aside the muddy cart path, deep-rutted in the frozen earth.
Littered with wreckage – dead horses, men frozen solid, eyes gaping, boots taken. Many stumble barefoot roasting frostbitten toes by their final fire. Pillages of war dumped – no weight or relic worthy of any carrying. Golden candle sticks, Persian rugs – objects of decadence, objects of art, holy relics – deserted now.
One must survive by wits and cunning and in that, my dear Maurice helped me along so much. He appeared one morning (though there is little difference between day & night – just walking and not-walking), with a sturdy walking cane for me! He was the one who coaxed me each dreadful day as we trudge into uncertain horizons. Oh the peace he feels now, free of this madness!
As I sit looking down from the hilltop, watching as thousands fall dead – by bullet, by Cossack sword, or pushed into the icy river with the mob pushing across. For me, there is little chance of me making my way across the bridge, not alone, not without help from my friend.
Surely when the officers have crossed, the bridge will be destroyed like so many bro- ken dreams – leaving the Russians and French separated as we began. I will not rush to death, rather for me, I will have the courage to determine my own fate to stride purposefully and resolutely, free of heart, clean of conscience, ruling only my sovereign self.
For you – for the days we missed together & the years in which we‘ll never part – I will find a way to survive. For the thousands of dead faces I have seen, and for Maurice, I renounce this war but pledge that I will not let this tragic madness defeat me.
My dear Genevieve, look for me in the spring, my return will be later than hoped.
I write with haste (tucked under a rug for a tarp) so I can send this note straight by messenger to you in Paris. We, since yesterday, have been ordered into retreat and as such are retracing (I assume) our route and trust only to hope that we survive. When it became clear we would not stay over winter in Moscow, the looting, pillaging & other monstrosities in the name of spoils erupted as these scavengers made away with every shiny trifle they could seize from anyone weaker – no matter their standing. I loathe the disgusting manner of how we humans can treat each other when exposed to the harsh certainty that death has eluded you so far and your chances may be up soon.
I will spare you details but will assure you of my preparedness I have made. I managed to cobble together the best pair of boots I could manage. I made two pairs giving one set to Maurice who obtained scraps of luxurious fur which I carefully sewed inside. The soles are double thickness and, in mine I placed some felt to prop and protect my limping leg somewhat. The outside leather is sealed with candle wax, I scuffed the leather to hide the quality lest some drunkard attempt to steal them – though it would require great force for me to surrender my boots – without which would mean certain peril in these treacherous conditions. I also have a warm coat (the heaviest I could find) and a supply of candles and dry tinder.
Now my sweet, please do not concern yourself unduly, but in seeing the savagery of death around me for so many months & knowing the inhospitable lands ahead, I must tell you two things and request one of you, in event I am unable to return.
To you, please know that no one has ever been loved more by anyone than I love you. You are fantastically adored & amazingly admired. You stir the very nature of my soul & fulfill me as a man and as a person. If I do not return to sit with you on the veranda drinking wine in the afternoon, please allow yourself to find someone else to spend glorious days with. Please do not settle! Any suitor must be worthy and aware of your refinements, intelligent and vigorous spirit.
For me, please bind these letters and store them somewhere safe in hopes that one day my discourse may help another generation avoid such madness.
Again I write to you in haste after too long a month. The situation found here in Moscow has worsened greatly and we continue to live as a captives rather than conquerors. I have scant reason to hope, but if only to hang onto my senses and precious sanity which as abandoned so many here.
The ‘Grand Armie’ looting, destroying, pillaging – decimated and surrendered to their basest, barest traits. Greed and fear rule this city of ashes, destroyed as a desperate hope for some, but fuelled by the debauchery of ours. More than shaming themselves, they risk the common ability for survival as these winds & clouds grow in strength each day.
The Russians’ Alexander continues to ignore N.’s letters of surrender, etc. How can he be blamed in mistrusting N.’s advances since the public scorn he felt after since Tilsit and now the surrender of Moscow? Meanwhile, N. issues decrees to mitigate the suffer- ing of the stragglers left here who aren’t already shot or starved. Promises of kindness & benefit to any that come out of hiding & bring their vegetables or butter to market. What! Would anyone bring their labours to benefit a usurper of their lands? To them, he is no liberator or revolutionary. To them, he is not a brilliant general & able to fair administrator – he is a tyrant to them & to others, many of which serve in his army.
Save for famine or plague, there is no greater evil than occupation by an enemy, no matter how well mannered, jovial, cordial or able the enemy is. To spread a revolution or reform must be accomplished as a friend & with openness, sincerity and not at the sacrifice of so many lives. So many thousands of lives around me, reduced to animals smashing greedily into each cellar, reducing grandeur into rubble. The discipline is gone – Napoleon does not command these hoarders. They are controlled only by their overwhelming desires for self-preservation regardless of means.
I however my love am determined to survive. I am cautiously preparing for the inevitable cold as I await a chance to simply live in peace again – but I fear there is no escape if not soon.
As you probably know, we are ensconced in Moscow, or what is left of it. The city of domes sits in a sooty wet pile of ash and destruction. I am still stunned at the results of the campaign and can only dream of seeing you again.
I pass the days avoiding disturbances and fending for my health and safety along with Maurice who continues to surprise me with his quick mind even more than his capable skills. People of all kinds are attracted to him and he seems to possess a natural ability towards leadership and decision making. He listens and makes choices that seem to please everyone without ever compromising his own judgement or ethics. He appears rough and his first comments upon meeting are usually terse and offhand – even insulting – yet somehow he draws people in. They want to know him. For me, he is a fortune. He gives me much needed grounding and a touchstone for the realities of this ordeal. He indulges my conversation – despite my lofty ideals or the idealistic chatter – and challenges my thinking with his point of view, the voice of the ‘common man.’ For one to think he can understand a social quandary in solitary state is foolish assumption. M’s conversation helps me understand a contrary viewpoint – and to better collect my own reasoning so to express myself clearly.
But the most remarkable feature about Maurice is his refusal to take advantage of his skills & erstwhile power or influence, or at least in my presence. In this campaign I have seen so many drunk on power – earned or assumed – and wallowing in self-importance. The privileges of ranks and class, while abolished by the civil code, seem to live on in this military realm like some glue holding the masses together.
The men gravitate towards the natural leaders – not the assigned ones – the brave lead, the appointed give orders and pontificate as to who distinguished himself the most, or best. But I do wonder if any are immune from the majestic influence of power to corrupt as I see even the most earnest submit to the easy treachery of opportunity. Is any man so uncommon that they can resist the temptation to manipulate? To wield their sword of power so often that at last they expose their great weakness? To go to the well one more time only to come up dry at the moment of greatest need? At what point does every man surrender himself into decadence? Succumb to injustice – turning pettiness into grounds for war? At what point does one move from liberator to tyrant?
I hesitate to say what I see happening here as such admittance will steal my last hopes.