You see the war movies this Memorial Day weekend. Youngsters probably don’t even realize it’s a weekend to remember the fallen. For them it’s barbecue day and heading for the first beach festivity. They should know they can because the fallen saved their lives.
For someone like me who has lived through war and escaped – miraculously – being hit by bombs or gunfire, or being taken away by cruel thugs who “followed orders” to put you away, it is difficult to understand that generations who have not experienced war do not understand what it means. Movies show explosions and people flying through the air in pieces, and we sit in front of the screen, either at home or in a theater, and just continue eating our steak or popcorn, not feeling the excruciating pain that goes with it and that those victims must suffer.
The US was hit badly at Pearl Harbor, and lost many thousands of brave men and women liberating Europe from Nazi Germany and Asia from Samurai Japan. Some seventy years later, the Twin Towers got hit by Osama bin Laden. On both occasions, thousands of dead. In between and thereafter, there were Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, and the Middle-East where many young soldiers paid the ultimate sacrifice, defending freedom and civilization.
People grow quickly complacent. Bursting bombs and flames on TV and in the movies numb your senses of what it really means: horrible pain, extreme suffering, helpless maimed bodies, deep loss for fellow humans who met this fate in defense of our freedom and ability to continue living the easy life. Did you ever as much burn your finger, to imagine what dying in a ball of flames does to your senses?
I don’t like those thugs in the streets protesting, for what? If they ask them, they don’t even know!
If I had the power, I would round them all up and make them work hard in an army camp for a while, drill them, make them climb obstacles, discipline them and give them a taste of what freedom really means and what we have to do to keep it. And, of course, some people will scream at me, “You are a bigot, racist!” or whatever. Really? So what then is so good about wild and uncontrolled protestors? Do they need extra protection and baby care under the First Amendment of “free speech?” Don’t they realize they can protest only because they live in Freedom and that violence at it is NOT a right?
I remember that -when I studied in Belgium – police rounded up protesting students, hoisted them into trucks, and let them lose one by one far in the country side to walk back home. Good riddance. But the networks love to show the wild ones throwing stones or even Molotov cocktails at the police – who are protecting them normally from thugs like themselves – because those images are “sensational” – attract viewers – and are good for the ratings and advertising fees. It’s all very topsy-turvy.
On Memorial Day Weekend, as on other memorable days, I hang out the flags, of the US and Holland.
In memory of the fallen who made it possible for me to live a good life. I think of the many with maimed bodies, still finding the willpower and strength to get by with what they have, and even do Olympics. Those are the people I respect. Those are the people those street thugs should take as an example. True, anarchist people have always existed and always will, from the old classic days of Romans and Greeks to the French Revolution and the Nazi Brownshirts. The only difference between then and now is, that they can be shown on TV and that the Networks love to show them. They give these thugs the notoriety that they do not deserve at all, in particular when they put a certain political party in a bad light. How convenient for the “objective reporting” media.
What a difference our Freedom Fighters make! In the Army, on the sea and in the air!
Oh! those beautiful swans! Ever listened to that wonderful Swan melody by Camille St. Saëns? It’s the core of the moving and heartbreaking story of Paul and Fiona, two lovebird musicians at the venerable College of William & Mary in Virginia – that beautiful State with the logo “Virginia is for Lovers!”- who form a duo in their last graduate year. Paul at the keyboard and Fiona playing cello. They fall in love when playing “The Swan.” And kiss for the first time on the famous Crim Dell Bridge in the W&M gardens.
And agree to get married after graduation. But then bad luck strikes and their future together seems doomed.
Fiona’s Belgian godparents who raised her – her parents perished while sailing off the Belgian coast when she was two – block the marriage because Paul is an American. She must marry a titled Belgian as her parents had wished, a nobleman and family friend she knew early on. When Paul lunches with Fiona at the Grand Place in Brussels, she tells him in tears she is forced to break up. Noblesse oblige…
Right: Bistrot Roi d’Espagne at the Grand Place
For Paul, it means a terrible psychological setback, for Fiona it means forsaking her love and hope of a life shared in playing classical music together.
Paul is offered a job in a bank in Geneva and takes the TGV.
but his life there is without light despite skiing and mountains. He falls for a selfish career girl. Then gets used by another in a bank fraud. His career seems doomed and he must return home. Through a sheer coincidence, he hears Fiona is back in the US and divorcing. A miraculous encounter at a house concert brings them back together, but Fiona is broken and has suffered severe abuse. Paul faces an uphill battle to win her back. As the trailer puts it, will they ever play the Swan again?
I wrote this book because I am a romantic, like Nicholas Sparks, or Barbara Bradford-Taylor; love romantic classical music, and adore W&M’s Department of Music. What this story tells is that luck is not a given and that it can be taken away from you; that you must fight to gain it back; that you must persevere; that you must learn to accept the changes that take place in your beloved and yourself. And that when you do all that, you may enjoy happiness again, but at a different level, one that is matured to accept life as it evolves.
What readers said about this story on Amazon.com:
MJM: “John writes beautifully – I found the book difficult to put down – an easy read, full of intrigue, love, passion, international travel and dubious banking business, and lots more – a must read.”
Dan: “John Schwartz has written a fine romantic thriller that doesn’t let go until the very end…”
Doris: “…I loved this book!…After only 3 chapters I was hooked…”
Neal: “…a beautiful story — full of suspense, drama, and enduring love centered around music. John Schwartz has created a whole world, and a wonderful escape. The characters jump off the page with such personality and imagery that this book could make a great movie…”
Vera: “Enjoyed the book. Well written book. First book to read by the author, but sure will read more books by him in the future…”
So, would you not want to read it, too, at the special e-book price of $2.99, or spoil yourself with a nice paperback?
Give yourself a chance!
May 4 is Audrey’s birthday. Each year we remember her. I do and so many others. This portrait stood on the grand I played on at my grandparent’s home in Holland. It is a rare picture that you won’t find very easily among the thousands of Audrey pictures floating around on the internet. It was taken by Noël Mayne in London in the early fifties when Audrey was modelling and acting in cabarets, and not yet discovered. Her mother, who I used to call Aunt Ella, had left it with my Aunt Nini (the spouse of Count John Paul van Limburg Stirum who from 1916-1921 was Governor of the Dutch Indies where Aunt Ella, her niece, married her first husband). She visited Aunt Nini from time to time, and I met her there, too. She gave it to me, and so it landed on my piano.
Not so long after that she sent me the famous picture of Audrey in Gigi on Broadway, for which she had been selected when she visited Cannes in 1952. For a long time I thought this photo was just for me, until I found out it was all over the place.
I met Audrey for the first time in 1943 when she was just thirteen and I seven. That was during World War II when she lived with her mother and two stepbrothers in her grandfather’s house in Velp, near the city of Arnhem, close to my grandparent’s place. Her mother was then divorced from her second husband Mr. Ruston, who had stayed in England. Baron van Heemstra was Mayor of Arnhem before the war. He and my grandfather were related. Audrey came to visit on a horse-driven carriage, sitting between her mother and grandfather, on an afternoon for tea. She and I ran around the estate together. Though danger of bombs and fighter planes were a constant threat, and Germans were everywhere, even on my grandparent’s estate, we were only interested in my grandmother’s great cake. Audrey was enthusiastic about becoming a ballet dancer.
Both pictures are family pictures. The first (which slipped into the internet) is Audrey at age 13. The second is Audrey dancing in Arnhem at age 16, also given to me by her mother through my Aunt Nini. I gave the portrait and the dancing originals to the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund for keeps.
For some reason, I could never forget her smile. It had a brilliance I would never see again until I met my wife. Then war reached a pinnacle and we could not see each other. I lived in Amsterdam, and when everyone thought we were going to be liberated, we heard that the battle of Arnhem had failed. There were thousands of deaths. We feared Audrey and her family were dead too. We suffered a long very cold winter without food, the hunger winter of 1944/45.
Then, finally, on May 5, 1945, we were free, after five bitter years of war and suffering.
But things changed rapidly. My father died shortly after liberation when he was run over by a British truck while bicycling to his brewery in Amsterdam. My grandfather died shortly thereafter of illness. It was a horrible time for me. Then we moved in with my grandmother in the countryside. But Audrey moved in the opposite direction to Amsterdam with her mother, to continue her dancing lessons with Sonia Gaskell. I did not see them anymore before they left for London where Audrey – being British through her father Joseph Ruston – had received a scholarship at the Rambert Ballet. Audrey kept the name Hepburn her father had acquired from his grandmother’s maiden name.
I was at boarding school, about 16 or so, when my mother called me that Audrey had become a film star! It was “Roman Holiday,” with Gregory Peck. I still see myself standing at the “middle court” of the school being admired. All of a sudden I became “famous”, too, because I knew her. I think each time she made a new movie, we went to see it immediately with my family and family friends who knew her. I remember we did not like Sabrina that much, because she married Humphrey Bogart, who was much too old for her and an obvious mismatch. Gary Cooper with Audrey in Love in the Afternoon was better, although he was also too old. Couldn’t they find younger guys? It took years before she finally teamed up with George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961 and with Cary Grant in Charade in 1964! Aunt Ella kept sending pictures, one with her first husband, Mel Ferrer, and their little son Sean, which was used for a Christmas card.
It was only years later in the mid-seventies that I saw Audrey again, at a surprise moment, when she visited friends for a birthday party in Geneva. It meant the world to me: finally. I had written to see her when she was filming Charade with Cary Grant in 1963 in Paris where I studied.
But, even though she wrote back she remembered, she was so busy she did not have time to put a stamp on an envelop. This time we could remember the war time and our first encounter in Holland.
I wrote a story about my fascination with Audrey. There are many books about her, including wonderful picture books issued by her sons, Sean, and Luca (from her second marriage to Count Andrea Dotti, her psychiatrist). My story is a personal one I cherish, because it is mine alone. It is for sale on Amazon and whatever proceeds I get from it I send to the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund.
Audrey was an icon for UNICEF and did so much good raising money for the many deprived orphans and malnourished children of the Third World. She traveled all over the world after her movie career, and then got felled by illness herself that took her away from us in 1993 in a very short time, only 63 years old.
Audrey in Ethiopia
It was a very sad moment to learn she had left us, but at the same time so enlightening, as I had had the privilege of knowing her, albeit at the outer edge of her fabulous orbit. I still benefit and draw strength from her brilliant beam of light in the difficult moments of human life. Who could have imagined that that little girl I met during a cruel war would turn into that magnificent woman for so many millions of people, as her son Sean titled her in his wonderful picture book, “An Elegant Spirit.” And Luca’s lovely photo book “Audrey in Rome” as well.
Luca Dotti’s Audrey Cook book!
I have attended many writers conferences and each one has its own atmosphere and character. What strikes me most of the annual BOOKSALIVE venue, organized by the WASHINGTON INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF BOOKS (WIRB), is its special spirit inspired by the venerable DAVID STEWARD, its President and founder. In four years, the WIRB has grown into a fully attended writers event with engaging speakers on salient author subjects and a tightly run but effective pitch program on the side.
And who would not be thrilled to sit at the same lunch-table with Bob Woodward, the key note speaker, and Kitty Kelley, that charming and cute lady-author who wrote many best-selling biographies of brand name celebrities of our time, and received a life-time award for her work at the conference, handed to her by David Steward? That was my honor!
Bob Woodward with Gene Meyer and Kitty Kelley (in blue) with David Steward
The Conference started off on Friday evening with a launching party and a packed workshop on how to pitch and write a query, and especially what not to do. Every writer knows that it takes a world to acquire an agent. If you want to get published, writing is not just writing, it is a business to get representation, because agents must make a living from your royalty when they sell your product to a publisher, who in turn must spend his money on printing and sending your book to bookstores. That’s for many writers the frustrating thing: so many want to write (like so many want to sing at American Idol) and so few make it through the grind. You must prove you have an outstanding “voice” and a book that “rings.” A writer becomes an author when he/she gets published, that’s the traditional deal. But agents are people too and know how hard it is. They won’t bite you when you pitch, but they do tell you when your book would be a tough sell (they know this from experience as they have to pitch your book to the publishers) and, if it is not marketable, you had better improve or drop it and start with something new .
Of course, traditional publishing versus self-publishing was again the talk of the day. Frustrated writers can now publish their books via Amazon-Create Space or small presses, but everyone, including traditionally published writers, still faces the uphill battle to market and sell their books. And agents won’t be interested in your self-published book unless you have sold thousands of them. In other words, publishing and getting known remains a vicious circle for many. There are millions of books in the clouds! What the BOOKSALIVE conference does is reinvigorate your spirit to keep trying, no matter what your “age.”
or in whatever psychological state you are:
Bob Woodward’s Key Note Speech was funny and deep on the political scene, his insightful interviews having thought him that whatever historical judgment will be felled on presidents and their administrations of our lifetime will occur only when we are all dead. Thanks for that. As a foreign writer from Holland I expressed my perplexity with the American voter for being so fixated on the personality and personal features of presidential candidates rather than choosing the political party that best represents your interests, as we do in a parliamentary system, regardless of the leaders. Bob Woodward then asked the audience if they were as perplexed as I, and to my surprise everybody raised their hands! Now what! Change the Constitution?
Two wisdoms of the conference stood out for me: If you do self-publish your work, do it as close to what is needed for traditional publishing (Larry De Maria: use a good editor, scrupulously research for your best interior and cover design, and do your marketing as best you can), and join and build your writers community (Jen Michalski) to talk about writing and escape your writer’s insularity. Why not start with the Washington Independent Review of Books at http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com. You will not be disappointed and find a wealth of good material and people to talk to.