D-Day

The young lady in the photo is Sonya D’Artois, who, at the age of 20, parachuted into France, behind enemy lines, just prior to the D-Day invasion.

I began writing this on June 6, 2019; the 75th anniversary of D-Day. I had spent a good portion of the day watching and listening to politicians, and much more importantly, to the veterans who landed on the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. And better to focus on the true heroes, rather than politicians who say all the nice things about veterans, and who for the most part, have been at arm’s length or longer from any military service (as in bone spurs, opposition to conscription, etc).

Sonya D’Artois (nee Butt) was born in Kent. England in 1924, and as a child of divorced parents, spent much of her time with her mother in the south of France, able to speak flawless French as a result. At the age of seventeen and a half (the minimum age required) Sonya joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (the WAAF).

In 1943 Sonya was recruited by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and on May 28. 1944, was one of 50 female secret agents parachuted into France, as a courier between resistance groups and as a weapons instructor. At one point she was captured by the Germans, and after four hours was released after checking her papers (although they were false and in the name of Suzanne Bonvie). Further along, working as a courier, she was knocked from her bicycle by Germans soldiers and raped, and yet was able to continue on her mission.

By all accounts, Sonya was fortunate, if that can be said, as of the original 50 female SOE secret agents, only 13 returned to England after the War.

For her service and courage she was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire.

Lionel Guy D’Artois (above) was born in 1917 in Richmond, Quebec. In 1939 he dropped his studies at the Université de Montréal to enlist. He too joined the SOE and in April of 1944 parachuted into France to conjoin with the Free French Forces. In recognition of his service, “Guy” was awarded the Croix de Guerre from France, and the Distinguished Service Medal from Britain. I am certain his greatest award was his marriage to Sonya. In late 1944 they settled in Quebec. Guy remained in the military for the next three decades, while the couple raised 6 children. Guy passed on in 1999, while Sonya died in 2014, at the age of 90.

I discovered in my research that Sonya D’Artois and Nancy Wake had forged a relationship that began during the War years and endured until Ms Wake’s death in 2011. You may recall an earlier blog (November 2018) in which I described the heroic exploits of Ms. Wake during World War II.

Whenever I hear comments about the lack of recognition of equality for women, whether in the workplace or in different cultures, it is stories of women like Ms. D’Artois and Ms. Wake that serve as a reminder that women have no equal. And here they are … Sonya on the right.

Oregon Redux

It has been just 8 months since we last visited Oregon, and we are back for more. Living on Vancouver Island is idyllic, but once in a while you might want to leave, although departing the Island presents its challenges. When we do decide to travel south, we usually take a ferry to the B.C. Mainland (i.e. Vancouver) and cross into the U.S. at Blaine, WA. On this occasion we decided on the two hour drive down to Victoria, having made a reservation on the Black Ball ferry, MV Coho, that sails between Victoria and Port Angeles, WA. The Coho is a smallish ferry, with room for 110 vehicles, and makes the crossing of 22 miles in 90 minutes. The ferry is 60 years old and it has a friendly, small village feel to it. However, the Coho is also referred to as “The Vomit Comet” as it does not fare well in rough seas.

Motor Vessel Coho above.

Once in Port Angeles we took Highway 101 East/South, following the Hood Canal and eventually hooked up with Interstate 5 at Olympia, WA. Heading south we turned off at Longview and crossed the Columbia River into Oregon using the Lewis and Clark Bridge. Highway 30 then took us to Astoria where we re-joined Highway 101 to Gearhart OR.

An alternative to 101 East/South at Port Angeles is to head onto 101 West/South that follows the Washington coast – a very pretty drive.

But for me that means facing the spectre of crossing the Columbia on the Astoria-Megler Bridge. The bridge is 4 miles long, and at its peak and at high tide, it sits 200 feet above the river. A few years ago we were driving towards Astoria on the bridge when travel was halted for construction. We ended up sitting on the bridge at its peak. I have several frailties, my golf game among them, and then there is my fear of heights. I have not crossed the bridge since. I’d rather swim the four miles. And the Lewis and Clark bridge is just fine, thank you.

Taking a slightly longer way after leaving Port Angeles we arrived in Gearhart, which I have described for you in an October, 2018 “blogue” posting.

Gearhart, Seaside (3 miles to the south of Gearhart) and Cannon Beach (another 7 or 8 miles south) all have stunning beaches and a real emphasis on seafood, especially shellfish. The beaches at Gearhart/Seaside are spectacular, and when the tide is out, they are ripe for clam digging.

I must admit that clams, and certainly digging for clams, have never been on my bucket list. But I am one who tends to get caught up in what the locals do, and apparently the locals dig for clams, especially razor clams. Razor clams appear on any number of restaurant menus along the northern coast of Oregon into the southern coast of Washington. After some research I discovered that, with a license, a clam digger can “catch” 15 clams a day. I use the term “catch” loosely, as the clams don’t move that quickly.

A non-resident of Oregon can get a three day license for 19 bucks. So I got my license, and then bought a “clam gun” for 19 dollars, plus a net (in which to store my catch and at a cost of 6 bucks) and I was off to the beach (above) with the knowledge that razor clams are most susceptible to being “caught” during very low or negative tides (information provided by the Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife). In the following photo are razor clams – quite substantial and as it turns out, quite delicious. I caught six my first day and a total of 17, which, over three days, and considering my investment, worked out to less than three bucks a clam. A bargain, and even better when one factors in the value of an hour or two well spent in glorious surroundings.

Oh … the “clam gun.” That requires some explanation. Upon my purchase my first instinct was to join the NRA. By that I mean the “National Razorclamming Association.” But I decided to go independent.

The locals are purists and will dig for clams with shovels. Newbies like me opt for the simpler method, using the “gun,” which is a technological marvel that binds together three pieces of PVC. So when I say, “caught,” the clams are really sucked out of the sand. The “gun” is pictured below. All a clammer needs to do is find a little hole that a razor clam leaves when its neck is withdrawn, then drill down about two feet with the gun and pull up the bounty. Works like a charm. The clams are then headed to the kitchen to be cleaned, then fried or made into chowder.

Often you meet the nicest people on the golf course. I was playing as a single on the Gearhart Golf Links (again described earlier in my October “blogue”), when I was urged to play through by two gentlemen on a golf cart. They were not serious golfers and seemed to be enjoying cocktail hour a little early (it was about two o’clock). As I passed them again two holes along, they asked if I drank beer. I said, “only after the game.” They responded saying that the beer would be warm by then, and proceeded to hand me a “Buoy Beer.” They introduced themselves as Wally and Dan. It turns out that Dan is the co-founder of a local brewery (“Buoy Beer”) and Wally is the operations guy at the brewery.

A few days later we decided to visit the Buoy Beer brewery/brew pub. It overlooks the Columbia River at Astoria. Great food and ambiance.
As an aside, it should be noted that “buoy” is pronounced two ways. Americans tend towards “boo-ee,” while Brits and perhaps Canucks might opt for “boy.” I missed Dan and Wally at the brew pub, hoping to say hello and ask them if they get comments about their catch phrase, “Reach for a Buoy!” Could be a sensitive thing, I guess, depending on how you pronounce “buoy.”

 

Most cinnamon buns are probably a little bigger than the size of a coffee cup. Not so at Camp 18. Camp 18 is a restaurant in Elsie, Oregon, about 20 minutes from Seaside. Is it worth the trip? Maybe. The building is a sight to see, especially from the inside. The food? On a scale of ten, it was OK. I am a breakfast guy and I thought Camp 18 came up short. We did take the cinnamon bun home and had it for breakfast the following morning. It was enough for 4 people. And it was good.

That’s Camp 18 in the photo following. Very woody.

 

Pig ’N Pancake is a local chain. Five locations along the northern coast of Oregon. Not the first place I would try for breakfast (the name, maybe? Or the logo?). More out of curiosity (and to see where the locals eat) we hit the PNP in Seaside. It was a good move. First of all, they have booths. I love a booth. And on a scale of 10, the PNP breakfast was a 10. Perfect Denver omelette with crispy hash browns. No need for lunch.

Herb Tarlek

A favourite TV show was “WKRP in Cincinnati;” a comedy that ran from 1978 to 1982 about a radio station. Great characters – Howard Hesseman as Dr. Johnny Fever, Loni Anderson as Jennifer Marlowe, Richard Sanders as Less Nessman, and Frank Bonner as Herb Tarlek. Herb as sales manager for WKRP was known for bringing in advertising business from dubious sources, including “Red Wrigglers,” (“The Cadillac of Worms”); and especially known for his wardrobe – white shoes, white belt and plaid.
Gearhart Golf Links each year holds the “Herb Tarlek Day” golf event (“bad pants, tacky shirts … the ugliest affair on the coast …).

I was going to sign-up for “The Tarlek” but lacked the proper garb. What ever happened to those bellbottoms anyway? The gentlemen in the photo were in the moment and only too pleased to pose for me prior to teeing off.
“The Tarlek” is something we might want to consider back home.

McMenamin’s

As noted in October, McMenamin’s Gearhart Hotel overlooks the golf links. In the little town of Gearhart there are two social centers – the bowling alley and McMenamin’s. Have not tried the bowling alley, but we tend to wear out the hotel. It has a very lively bar that is perfect for a golf “de-brief” and a great place for lunch or light dinner. Our American friends do bars well. At happy hour, a pair of cheeseburger sliders with a side of tater tots and two glasses of wine set us back just 25 bucks.

Other Travel Suggestions

We had a bit of a wait prior to leaving Victoria on the Coho, so headed to “Floyd’s,” a breakfast and lunch place in James Bay. A great spot with a funky menu that is the home of “The Mahoney.” “The Mahoney” is 17 bucks and the restaurant will flip you for it. You win the toss and “The Mahoney” is yours – gratis. You lose, you pay double. You can’t really lose, as “The Mahoney” is big enough to feed an army. The only other catch: “The Mahoney” is whatever the chef chooses to serve (I have seen it, and it will not disappoint). In the accompanying photo, just outside the James Bay location, I’m not sure, but that just might be Floyd on the left.

Nonni’s

I wrote about “Nonni’s” in October and it lived up to our earlier experience. Rated the best restaurant in Seaside, OR, by Trip Advisor. No reservations, get there early, and you will not be disappointed. Great food, great value.

The Sleepy Monk

It is a fact of West Coast living that there are more coffee places than happy marriages. You can look it up. We discovered “The Sleepy Monk” in Cannon Beach. Line-ups are common, and the coffee and pastries are worth the wait. At the back of the “Sleepy Monk” is “The Irish Table,” the top-rated restaurant in Cannon Beach.

One More Thing

And it is worth your time. At McMenamin’s Hotel at lunch, we chose the West African Chicken Peanut Soup as a starter. It was the best. I asked our server if she could obtain the recipe from the chef. Absolutely sir! Not sure about the “sir” thing – but the recipe was very generously given. No need to seek out a West African Chicken as any chicken will do. Here is the McMenamin’s recipe, slightly modified. And it is good.

  • 2 T sesame oil
  • Medium onion diced
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1/2 T curry powder
  • 1 t crushed chili pepper
  • 1 t black pepper
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • 3 cups or more chicken breasts (the chicken was baked in a 350 degree oven prior to being cut into one inch pieces)
  • 1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups chicken broth (more, depending on consistency)
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 cups creamy peanut butter

Heat the oil in a stock pot, then add onions, garlic and spices
Add diced tomatoes and blend with a wand
Transfer to a slow cooker, adding chicken and chicken broth
Whisk in peanut butter and tomato paste and cook on low for 4-5 hours

Do Oregon, if you have the opportunity. With that, I leave you.

Heart of Darkness

It was Anthony Bourdain in an episode of “Parts Unknown,” who led me to the Congo. Or should I say, led me back to the Congo. As a 17 year old college freshman in English class, I tried to grasp “Heart of Darkness” – Joseph Conrad’s novella that is a difficult read at any age, and as I understood then and even more so now, it drove home the horrors of the Congo Free State. Anthony, in what he described as, “the most difficult shoot of my life, but was also maybe the greatest adventure of my life,” reminded his viewers that the past miseries of the Congo have left indelible scarring. It is worth seeing the “Parts Unknown” episode (available on Netflix) to comprehend what the Congo has become.

Stanley

Sir Henry Morton Stanley is integral to any historical review of the Congo.

“Doctor Livingstone, I presume?”

So goes the legend. In 1871, Stanley, then a writer for The New York Herald, and with an order from the newspaper’s owner to “find Livingstone,” led an expedition into the “heart”of Africa to find the missing medical missionary, Dr. David Livingstone. And find him he did. Livingstone had been searching for the source of the Nile River since 1866.

Stanley trekked 700 miles through the jungle, with a company of 200 porters and Ndugu M’Hali, a six year old slave boy who had been gifted to Stanley. Stanley renamed the boy Kalulu and made him his manservant.

Three years later, Stanley departed from Zanzibar, heading towards West Africa, and after exploring Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika, followed the Lualaba River, with the intention of proving it to be a tributary of the Congo River. I will come back to Stanley, who is pictured here with Kalulu.

Lake Tanganyika

Just a few notes on Lake Tanganyika. Tanganyika is the longest freshwater lake in the world, and the deepest lake. It covers more than 12,000 square miles, an area slightly largely than the size of Vancouver Island. Yes, it is that big. It borders on Zambia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and Tanzania. Below, Tanganyika as it appears from space.

Lake Tanganyika is a main watershed for the Congo River. By way of various tributaries, water finds its way west to the Congo River and then on to the Atlantic Ocean. The Congo River is the second longest river in Africa after the Nile; and after the Amazon the second largest river by volume in the world. The Congo River system goes on of almost 3,000 miles. Were it not for waterfalls and cataracts (white water rapids) one could literally float the system from Lake Tanganyika to the ocean.

Europeans made their first contact with the “Congo” in 1482, ten years before Columbus sailed to North America. At the forefront were the Portuguese, who began a prolific trade in African slaves – slaves who would be sent either to Portugal or to its colony in Brazil. It is estimated that in 1535, as an example, four to five thousand slaves were sent from the Congo to Portugal. I will skip a lot of history here, but suffice it to say that European presence in the Congo was not a blessing. The Congo was exploited in so many ways, by slave traders, by missionaries (who seemed to more shocked by polygamous practices than by the enslavement of the native population) and by traders of ivory and minerals. It is worth noting that the Europeans were not alone in trading or keeping slaves. Wealthy members of the native Bakula tribe kept slaves. And we shall see later that Arabs were also very active slave traders. Below: slaves in shackles. Not a pretty picture.

In 1848, the Hungarian explorer, Laszlo Magyar, who led a two month expedition up the Congo River, estimated that 20,000 slaves were “exported” annually from Boma, which is close to the mouth of the river.

Stanley Continued

Sir Henry Morton Stanley was born in Wales in 1841, the son of Betsy Parry, an unmarried nineteen year old. The likely father was a barrister, who paid John Rowlands, “a wastrel and drunkard” to give the child his name. After living with the family of Betsy Parry, six year old John Rowlands ended up in a workhouse. At the age of sixteen, after leaving the workhouse, John joined the crew of a merchant ship headed for New Orleans. There he jumped ship and gained employment with a cotton broker named Stanley. Young John took to Stanley and also took his surname. With the Civil War raging, the newly self-named Henry Stanley joined the Confederate army and fought at the battle of Shiloh, where he was captured by Union troops. He was imprisoned outside of Chicago at Camp Douglas with 3,000 Confederate soldiers.

In the photo preceding are some of Stanley’s prisoners-of-war mates at the prison camp. Stanley not among them though, as he was astute enough to switch sides and join the Union army. Not for long however, as he was afflicted with dysentery severe enough to warrant his discharge from service.

Stanley returned to Wales to seek out his mother and was quickly rebuffed with her instruction to, “Never come back … unless you come better dressed and in better circumstances …” And we are not yet finished with Stanley.

Zanzibar

You may ask, “Why has Freddie Mercury been injected into these proceedings?” First of all, this is very heavy going – and it won’t get any easier, so the image of Freddy offers a bit of a respite. Second, Freddie (then Farrockh Bulsara) was born in Zanzibar.

Here is where Zanzibar fits into this blog posting. Zanzibar is an archipelago lying off the east coast of Africa, and is a protectorate of Tanzania. It was a jumping-off point for Stanley in 1871 as he headed towards west Africa. And Zanzibar, in pre-colonial and colonial times, was the hub of the slave trade, especially for Arab slave traders. Chief among them was Tippu Tip, real name, Hamad bin Muhammad bin Juma bin Rajab el Murjebi. Tippu Tip (below), apart from trading in slaves, worked the ivory market and his own plantations. He was prolific in the slave trade, raiding villages in east Africa, taking men, women and children, many of whom ended up in middle eastern countries in perpetual servitude.

Seems harmless enough, but do not be fooled. A ruthless businessman (if you can call his business a “business”), Tippu Tip, got one thing right; his opinion of Stanley, who he referred to as “a congenital liar, a man without honour, one who could not keep his word, and a worse slave driver to his own men than any Arab slave driver.”

King Leopold II

While the rest of Europe sat on the sidelines, Belgium’s King Leopold in 1879 began to move to exert his influence in the Congo. Apparently intrigued with the explorations and writings of Stanley (Stanley’s book “Through the Dark Continent” was a great success) Leopold hired Stanley to “modernize” the Congo. The real mission, as it turned out, was to exploit the Congo for its wealth of resources. Over a five year period, Stanley would oversee the construction of roads, the creation of ports for steamboats while persuading the native population to forfeit their lands.

In short order Stanley had established the foundations for what was now the “Congo Free State” – essentially a slave state whose economy was driven primarily by the production of rubber (for export to Europe), but also trade in ivory and minerals.

That is Leopold in the foregoing, with examples of the atrocities he fomented. Workers (read “slaves”) failing to deliver on their proscribed quotas of rubber and/or ivory, were deprived of a hand; or killed by the “Force Publique,” a paramilitary organization of largely non-Congolese Africans led by European officers. Members of the Force Publique were obliged to provide officers with a severed hand for every bullet expended.

The Congo Free State, which was formally established in 1885 at a pan-European conference in Berlin, became the personal fiefdom of Leopold, and remained under his control until 1908. Although never setting foot in the Congo, Leopold extracted great riches, albeit through the suffering of millions of Congolese. It is estimated that some 10 million Africans died during Leopold’s reign over the Congo – death coming through exertion, starvation, torture, outright murder – to the extent that some have called this the “first Holocaust.” It was through the efforts of a handful of people that Leopold lost his grip on the Congo. Edward Morel, a Liverpool accountant, realized that for all the wealth coming out of the Congo Free State, that only guns and ammunition were returned to Africa. Morel teamed with Roger Casement, an Ulsterman and British consul to the Congo, to publicize the atrocities being committed under Leopold’s rule. So it was in 1908 that Belgium annexed the Congo Free State, and the Belgian Congo came into being. At that time, the population of Belgium was 7.5 million. There were 8 million Congolese living in an area 80 times the size of Belgium. Incidentally, the population of the Congo in 1880 was estimated to be 20 million.

Stanley, for his part, was knighted in 1899.

Joseph Conrad

In his synopsis of “Heart of Darkness” my English professor said that the story was one of “restraint.” I was mystified by his comment. But re-reading the novella I gained the understanding that he was talking of the lack of restraint; that the white man, when he was freed from “European” restraint, was transformed into a man characterized by greed, cruelty and no regard for human life. Francis Ford Coppola used “Heart of Darkness” as the basis for his film “Apocalypse Now,” that was set during the Vietnam War. While “Heart of Darkness” is challenging, the film is also tough to get through. But both are worth your time.

The Congo Today

There is much more to tell about the Congo, including its emergence as the Belgian Congo (where life for Congolese for a while actually got better) to its independence from colonial masters. But perhaps another time.
Briefly, the modern day Congo, known now as The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a mess. That point is driven home in Bourdain’s programme. There are almost 80 million Congolese today, most living in abject poverty. If you played a word association game using “Congo,” the responses might include, “Ebola,” “child soldiers,” “blood diamonds,” “tribal conflict” – certainly nothing positive. What was potentially the richest (culturally and economically) country on the African continent, is a country of warring factions and rotting infrastructure.