Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Curious George

There's an article in the New York Times (registration required, but free) about how Curious George survived the German invasion of France in World War II. The authors were German Jews who'd left as the Nazis asserted themselves in Germany. They had moved to Brazil and become Brazilian citizens, then were back in Paris in 1940. The Germans invaded in May 1940 and quickly overran France in a remarkable display of military effectiveness. The authors of Curious George, Hans Reyersbach and Margarete Waldstein, who took the last name Rey once married, escaped the oncoming Germans by bicycle. Quoting the article (and as always, the ellipsis show where I'm skipping bits):

But in truth, "Curious George" almost didn't make it onto the page. A new book, "The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H. A. Rey" (Houghton Mifflin), tells of how George's creators, both German-born Jews, fled from Paris by bicycle in June 1940, carrying the manuscript of what would become "Curious George" as Nazis prepared to invade...

With refugees pouring into Paris from the north, Mr. Rey built two bicycles from spare parts, while Margret gathered up their artwork and manuscripts. They then joined the millions of refugees heading south, while German planes flew overhead.

The Reys found shelter in a farmhouse, then a stable, working their way by rail to Bayonne, and then to Biarritz by bicycle again. They were Jews, but because they were Brazilian citizens, it was easier to get visas. One official, perhaps thinking that because of their German accents they were spies, searched Mr. Rey's satchel. Finding "Fifi," and, seeing it was only a children's story, he released them.

They journeyed to Spain, then to Portugal, eventually finding their way back to Rio. "Have had a very narrow escape," Mr. Rey wrote in a telegram to his bank. "Baggage all lost have not sufficient money in hand."

The couple sailed to New York in October 1940, and "Curious George," as Fifi was renamed - the publisher thought "Fifi" was an odd name for a male monkey - made his first appearance the following year.

Interesting that they used bicycles to escape. A few months ago I was looking for information on LED lights and came across a website that was full of survivalist gear. The guy had suggested items for your tactical bag, your bugout bag and your combat bag. The bugout bag was for when you had to evacuate the city, and he was talking about spare socks and moleskins to treat your feet because you'd be walking 20 miles a day. I was thinking, why wouldn't you ride? Twenty miles? You can do that before breakfast on a bike. Unless you have to go up and down canyons or something, you can move five times as far with much less wear and tear on you. I didn't want to email him, particularly, not wanting to initiate a conversation with this guy, but bikes get around the shortages of gas, bypass clogged lines of cars, can be lifted over obstacles that stop a car and take paths unusable by other wheeled vehicles. I like some of the descriptions Montague uses describing its military bikes; stealthy, efficient, low thermal and acoustic signature, off-body load bearing, can traverse any terrain, refuelable with local water and food, needs no POL (Petroleum, Oil, Lubrication) support. It may not be a surprise that, for those with the Hummer personality defect, Montague makes the Hummer Tactical Mountain Bikes. Mate these with one of my t-shirt ideas ("Conceal, Carry and Ride") and you'd have a bike you could sell to the Rapture Right.

We don't maintain a bugout bag, but it's interesting to see that Curious George is here because the authors escaped impending disaster by bike.

The book title is a good juxtaposition, as well, with President Bush, our own Incurious George. Newsweek this week relates how the reality of what was happening with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans didn't really sink in until late Thursday (8/30), long after any tv-watching regular American was acutely aware of the unfolding disaster. Newsweek says...

The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.

How this could be—how the president of the United States could have even less "situational awareness," as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst natural disaster in a century—is one of the more perplexing and troubling chapters in a story that, despite moments of heroism and acts of great generosity, ranks as a national disgrace.

The next day, the Friday, President Bush went to New Orleans and congratulated the head of FEMA, Michael Brown, on the great job he was doing. Ten days later, Brown, the old college roommate of a former Bush campaign advisor, already relieved of his New Orleans duties, resigned from FEMA (of his own choice, accounts say, though I'd love to have heard the conversations he'd had the last few days), sparing the President the task of firing an incompetent. It was the same day President Bush was taken though the flooded parts of New Orleans, now safely cleared of any people who might express displeasure. This is typical; President Bush's audiences are famously screened to keep out dissenters and disagreement, and while New Orleans was in flood and full of angry Americans he observed it with imperial isolation from a window of Air Force One as he flew over. Now he makes a ground visit only after the residents are cleared out. This is unmanly. This is the man who said that catastrophes are where you get to show your mettle. We've now seen his mettle, and seen how an agency stuffed full of his political buddies has responded. God help us if a smart terrorist attacks, this crowd can't even handle a hurricane with days of warning. Maybe I should get some bugout bags together after all, panniers all around, headtube holsters and some weapons training.


Anonymous said...

Funny how almost any civic dialogue nowadays can end up as an opportunity for Bush-bashing.

Matt said...

It's hardly a modern development; just last night, Jay Leno made a Janet Reno joke and several Clinton jokes. Clinton's been gone for five years, oversaw a great economy, kept us at peace, got savaged when he bombed Afghanistan and left us with budget surpluses, yet he's still getting bashed. Remember, Bush campaigns spread news like McCain fathered a black baby out of wedlock; you use those sort of tactics and eventually it comes back at you.

Frostbike said...

I just read this morning that there's a new Curious George movie to be released in February of 2006.