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THE LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS devotes a full page each issue to “Letters,” and a goodly number of these are as entertaining and informative as LRB articles. Here are tidbits gleaned from “Letters,” LRB, March 16, 2023. Out of courtesy, I’ve omitted the letter writers’ names.
Topping a Rock Can Cause a Border Dispute. Do you remember “RLS’s Granddad’s Lighthouses” here at SimanaitisSays? A followup letter amplifies on LRB author Rosemary Hill’s discussing “John Smeaton’s ingenious design for the reconstructed Eddystone lighthouse. She doesn’t mention that in order to anchor the lighthouse securely at the base, Smeaton sliced off a fair chunk from the top of the House Rock on which it stands.”
“This,” the writer says, “gave rise to a curious incident two centuries later, when, in the course of the UK/French arbitration on the delimitation of the continental shelf in the 1970s, France claimed that the result had been to convert what had previously been an island into a ‘low tide elevation,’ which would be covered by the sea at high tide. In consequence, the argument ran, the rock was no longer entitled to serve as a base point for the deciding of maritime limits.”
Gad/Zut alors! A French sea grab? It’s bad enough they call it La Manche instead of the proper English Channel.
Not to worry, though. The writer reports, “The Court of Arbitration, happy to say, found an elegant way to sidestep the question, and Eddystone does still serve as a base point for measurement of the median line between the UK and France.”
Luftwaffe Potshots for Naught. Another lighthouse reminiscence describes a visit to Rattray Head lighthouse in East Aberdeenshire, Scotland: The lighthouse keeper “invited us aboard. Winding our way up to the top, we discovered that the light source was no more than a wee oil lamp, surrounded by massive reflectors that produced the powerful beam required.”
“I noticed,” the writer continues, “that there were holes in some of them. The keeper told us that the Luftwaffe had taken a pot shot or two when passing by and that it would cost a fortune to replace them—and anyway, he added, it made ‘nae difference at all to the light.’ ”
Whence The Iron Curtain. From another reader: “Sheila Fitzpatrick mentions that when in a speech in 1946 Winston Churchill used the the term ‘Iron Curtain,’ he had borrowed it from Goebbels (LRB, 2nd February). That may be, but the phrase itself had appeared some time earlier.”
The writer recounts, “Mrs. Philip Snowden’s Through Bolshevik Russia (1920) describes the trip she made to Russia earlier that year as part of a joint TUC/Labour Party delegation. Describing their arrival in Petrograd, she declares, ‘We are behind the “iron curtain” at last.’ ”
My Modest Research. Back in 2013, I wrote about “Harry A. Franck: Prince of the Vagabonds” here at SimanaitisSays. His travel books, the earliest published in 1910, were entertaining and occasionally acerbic: “Italy is one of the most cruelly priest-ridden countries on the globe.” In The Fringe of the Moslem World, Harry quoted a French diplomat: “Ah, if only we could get out of Syria on our tiptoes without any of the rest of the world noticing it.”
Harry came to mind here because he also wrote A Vagabond in Sovietland, 1935, based on his travel there. Nowhere does he use the term “Iron Curtain,” though he is well exposed to Soviet bureaucracy: “The Soviet Union,” he wrote, “is fond of calling itself a ‘classless’ society. Classless society, my eye! The new aristocracy had a good government job, a high-priced American car to ride in, an apartment with several times the fifteen square meters [161 sq. ft.] per person the law allows and more luxury than they would dare show the masses of the people; a datcha or place in the country, and probably a pretty mistress. No classes?”
On the other hand, in the “Coming Home” chapter, Harry wrote, “I have seen most of the countries on this earth, some of them thoroughly, and I am inclined to say that the month I spent in the Soviet Union was the most interesting thirty-one days of all my travels, at least with the thrills of early youth subtracted.”
An “Iron Curtain”? Apparently not for Harry. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2023