Back in I don't know what year, my friend Eileen invited me to a Redskins playoff game at RFK. Her dad had season tickets near the 50 yard line.
Sitting directly behind me was Ted Kennedy and his wife.
Kennedy got up at some point and walked down the bleacher stairs. He had on a (beautiful) long coat and a guy sitting across the aisle reached out his hand to try to touch him. A dare, maybe?
Kennedy jerked back and spun around to see who it was. He looked disgusted.
I remember thinking what a stupid move it was for someone to grab at a famous man who had had two brothers assassinated within five years. And right in RFK, to boot.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Back in I don't know what year, my friend Eileen invited me to a Redskins playoff game at RFK. Her dad had season tickets near the 50 yard line.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
A couple of months ago I got a FB message from one of the staffers at Thanh Nien Daily--she'd just gotten word that after two years, the daily was shutting down. What she didn't know was that at the same time she was IMing me on FB, I was skyping with her ME, who was heartbroken at having to tell his staff the bad news.
This was the newspaper I helped start. It quickly found it's place at the top. I am extremely proud to have been a part of the founding team. For some reason, they decided to keep my name on the masthead. I don't think they'll ever know how much that means to me.
Here's the bad news.
But today I'll remember better days.
A few months after the paper launched, the ME wrote and asked if I'd contribute an article for their special Lunar New Year edition. He wanted me to write about my experience helping Thanh Nien Daily get off the ground.
A few months later I returned to Saigon. When I walked into the Thanh Nien Daily newsroom, I was welcomed with a warm round of applause. That wasn't because they thought I was so special - (well... :) )... After reading the article, they realized how much they meant to me.
Hats Off, Thanh Nien.
A Newspaper is Born
Copyright Patti McCracken
Inside the cupboard was a half empty box of Choco Pies, chocolate drink mix, cheese-flavored crackers, loose tea bags along with two or three tea-stained glasses, some type of freeze-dried noodles and a rolled-up sleeping mat that I didn't know was there.
Outside the cupboard was a breed of bedlam known only to newsrooms. A mass of untidy papers and wordbooks stacked like piles of poorly-laid bricks, trash cans bloated with empty takeout cartons, journalists shouting commands at each other, a pacing managing editor; and in the midst of it all was Xuan Anh, whom I would come to call my Wunderkind.
A few weeks earlier, I'd stepped off the plane in Saigon and was greeted by two grateful editors who had summoned me from Austria to help them launch a new English-language daily. Thanh Nien publishes a successful weekly magazine, daily newspaper and online journal, so its street cred was already well-established. But the launch of this English newspaper had snuck up on the staff in a hurry. So they hastily cleared a room and fitted it with computers and networks, printers were hooked up, office furniture was hauled in, and a pack of young and mostly untrained newshounds stood at the ready. By the time I arrived, we had 10 days to figure out the rest.
This is my job. I dart and skip across the continents as a journalism trainer, working with reporters who need a leg up to catch up in a world that has been less than fair. I bounce around in economy class, sleep in saggy beds, stay away from the drinking water, eat questionable food, argue with the cleaning ladies, get disgusted with taxi drivers, watch dubbed tv, get lonely for home, and let insomnia finally give way to sleep amid the creaks and strains of a foreign city that has expanded to include me. And every now and then, I'm a witness to kinship celebrating itself in the guise of a would-be stranger. This is my life.
He stood in the back of the empty newsroom on the morning I arrived, waiting for me to approach so he could introduce himself. "I'm Xuan Anh," he said, extending his hand, his syllables blunted by the Vietnamese influence on his English. "Call me Anh."
I learned that he had studied in Ireland for a year, was new to journalism, and had a habit of flexing his fingers back and rubbing his palms on his trouser legs when nervous or happy. He sat and walked and stood as straight as an arrow, his dress shoes tap-tapping on the floor as he raced around. He was eager and efficient and earnest. I would later learn that he was equal parts strong will and soft heart, but for now, it was his eagerness which moved me.
Anh and I were to work together on the design and structure of the newspaper; giving it an identity and a strong forum in which to showcase the articles.
On that first evening, managing editor (Mr.) Thinh walked me over to a calendar that hung on the back wall and circled two dates. The first one was only seven days away.
"This is when we need to have all the pages at the printing house."
"And this," he said, pointing to the second date, less than a week and a half away, "is when we go live with the first issue."
I told him it was impossible. There was no way we could design a newspaper from the ground up, train designers, organize a newsroom hierarchy, structure a copy flow and coach journalists on how to report and write for an English readership in a week's time, with an already understaffed and overstressed newsroom.
"We must," Thinh said, and walked back to his desk, leaving me standing at the calendar. He had many things to do, and little time for disbelief.
So we set to work. While Anh and I toiled at designing the logo, the icons, the column widths, the fonts, the point sizes, the frame sizes,... the rest of the novice design staff huddled in close around the two of us, soaking up information piecemeal, then scuttling back to their computers to come up with additional ideas on their own.
Our working days were stretching into the wee hours, and I was getting bone-tired. My insomnia ramped up, so sleep didn't come until well after the sun came up.
It wasn't long before I overslept, and one of the designers was sent over to the hotel on her motorbike so she could jar me awake and haul me back into the newsroom.
The days were disappearing, our energy dissolving. The editor-in-chief, who also oversaw the other news operations, had lost his voice along with his ability to focus for very long, even with a steady stream of coffee and his beloved cigarillos at hand. He hadn't slept in more than three days.
Section editors were tapped out, fried, re-reading the same sentences over and over again because exhaustion allowed them to do nothing else, except skip like a record needle. There was no life outside the newsroom; no newborns to cuddle, no miscarriages to grieve, no sick parents to comfort. Not this week, not now.
I was averaging three hours of sleep a night back at the hotel, always awakened by an overzealous cleaning crew, if not a journalist on a motorbike and a mission.
But Anh never left. He was fixed there. As were a few others, I later learned. He told me he slept there, rolling out the little mat he kept stored in the cupboard. He told me it was too far to go home, and anyway, he didn't want to wake his relatives.
Doctors will say that the pain is the worst, the most intolerable, just before the fever breaks. Marathon runners say the final two miles are horrifically unbearable.
Two nights before the launch Thinh leaned back in his chair, defeated. "We're not going to make it," he said. The doctor telling the patient's family the grim prognosis.
Launch day was as long and grueling as all of the others, and I felt guilty for slipping out and seeking sleep. Anh had also had trouble staying awake the last few days, and from time to time would place some white noise headphones over his ears (to drown out the shouting journalists), drop his forehead to the desk, and rest himself for 10 minutes or so.
But somehow the page count was dropping. Steadily, each page closed. No major glitches.
As the printing house received the final page of the first edition of Thanh Nien daily in English, those still left in the newsroom erupted in applause. And the endearing Vietnamese smiles emerged, broad and unabashed. There was backslapping and handshaking and relief masked as laughter. The fever had broken, we'd crossed the finish line. We made it.
We celebrated that night, late as it was. We planted ourselves at an outdoor restaurant and drank beer and talked about Hanoi and Thinh's new baby; we talked about boyfriends and girlfriends and who has them and who doesn't; we talked about parents and hometowns, and every now and then we stopped to congratulate ourselves. I watched Anh and the others with their newfound family. And I remember thinking I wasn't so lonely for home just then.
After leaving the restaurant, we stopped at the paper to pick up a copy of the first issue, which was already back from the printer. I was headed to my hotel, and Thinh was going home to his wife and newborn. But Anh and the others were staying on at the newspaper. They would make their way back up to the newsroom, open the cupboards that held all the teas and crackers and mats. After some chatter and exhausted, giddy laughter, sleep would come.
And we would do it all again the next day.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Five mile walk with Remi, who
1) Hunted mice
2) Hid in fields of sunflowers
3) Rolled in mud
4) Chased and wrestled farmer's dog, also a Jack Russell
Met Rudi at a cafe in Bad Deutsch Altenburg. Farmer (see above) with elderly mother showed up. Together we talked about everything from Hitler, to broken shoulders, to waltzing vs. line dancing, to the relationship between Slovaks and Hungarians (bad); and drank everything from coffee, to beer, to cherry schnapps and ice cream.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
A plug for Dr. Chris Gunn and his great video. Chris is the beloved older brother of my friend Becky (in turn, a beloved friend!).
And it's ain't all videos out there about piano-playing cats, my friend.
This one's about water.
A note on the video:
It's a must see if you:
a) have ever seen or had any interaction with a child, and
b) have ever seen or had any interaction with water.
And Becky says this about Chris: He is the Director of the Counseling Center at Northern AZ Univ; he is a Big Brother (in the Big Brother/Big Sister program), and has a very active outdoor life (running, biking, hiking, skiing). He stays pretty busy, but he is definitely a personal environmental advocate and works hard to use minimal natural resources. I am always impressed with my brother’s strong character and conscientious mind.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Please send vowels.
Some of the Slavic languages really economize when it comes to vowels. Their words look like text messages. Oh sorry: txt msgs. It's like trying to figure out a vanity tag.
There's SRPSKA, BRNO, VLTAVA...
And Trnava (in Slovakia), where I ate zmrzlina (ice cream!) yesterday.
View Trnava, Slovakia in a larger map
Anyhow, a little more about Trnava, where I went for an interview. It was about like I expected.
It had a lot of this
A little of this
and one of these.
Posted by Patti McCracken at 8:24 PM
Friday, August 14, 2009
Lockenhaus Castle. Burgenland, Austria
Took a quick trip yesterday to Lockenhaus (Remi rode shotgun) to write up a small feature for the Christian Science Monitor.
Lockenhaus is famous for:
• Town square church with a way too detailed-- and therefore gruesome-- Crucifixion mural.
• And Lockenhaus Castle. The castle was built during medieval times to fend off pesky Mongols. It was later taken over by pesky Hungarian Elizabeth Bathory, aka, Bloody Countess, who tortured and murdered more than 600 women, mainly because she found it immensely fun.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
I remember the photos that crossed my desk at USNews when the Wall was coming down.
And I remember being on I-95 near Baltimore when I heard an excited NPR reporter shouting "People are dancing on the Wall! They're dancing on the Wall!!!"
I had to pull over because I was crying so hard.
I've traveled extensively throughout Eastern Europe since then, and think a lot about the Wall coming down. But I can't remember ever thinking about it coming up.
Der Spiegel has, as usual, done an excellent job of taking us back to those early days of a confused city.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Just when I was ready to put the chicken on for dinner after a harried day, got a call for a tight turnaround story (three hours).
All of Germany is on vacation, but I managed to get ahold of one or two who hadn't yet turned out all the lights.
This piece for the Christian Science Monitor was a German react to yesterday's verdict in the trial of 90-year-old Josef Schoengraber, a Nazi convicted of ordering the murder of 10 Italians in 1944.
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
Sunday, August 02, 2009
My grandmother with her parents, and six of her eight siblings at her childhood home in Franklin, Virginia.
My great-grandfather, Luther Beaman, was part owner of the paper mill and was one of three "inventors" of the legal pad (Camp Legal Pads--he named his son "Walter Camp" after his friend). He didn't get anything for it except a little notoriety.
My great-grandmother, Ellen, was the daughter of Governor John Branch, the first (and only) man to ever be governor of two states (North Carolina and Florida, as it transitioned into statehood).
Saturday, August 01, 2009
This is Spetses, Greece, mid-90s.
The hydrofoil was out of commission (strike) from Athens to the island, so I pooled my $ with a retired Greek-American couple and we hired a cab for a two hour ride, at which point I rented a row boat and zoomed across. I remember the taxi driver blew a tire and we had to wait on the side of the road, drinking 25c Cokes from glass bottles at an Edward Hopperesque filling station.
I spent most of my time in Spetses trying to avoid a creepy guy named Artemis who wanted "to make bebbies with me."
On my last day I checked out of my room and left my bag at the little tourist spot at the main port. Then I met Pavlos the Hotelier. Spent the afternoon drinking ouzo spritzers (ish) with him. Nearly missed my hydrofoil (strike over). Made a run for it. Pulled away just after I got on. And I left my luggage back in Spetses. Sure did. Nearly my heart, too. Pavlos was gorgeous.
Nearly did leave my heart in Spetses when I went back a couple of years later. Key players: Christos and his dog Milieu. Christos begged me not to get on that hydrofoil back--I should have listened to him.