Monday, January 26, 2009

The Hunt for the Blue Baron

Divers are on the trail for what some believe might well turn out to be the "richest wreck" in history - a 2.6 billion treasure just waiting some 800 feet below sea, 40 miles off Guyana. The ship, which carried ten tons of gold and seventy tons of platinum among other things, was allegedly sunk by U-Boat U-87 on way to Great Britain in June 1942. Look forward to a complicated legal battle. Read more here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On King's Road

King's Road was, at its height, a vibrant urban catwalk that showcased everything from the fashionable to the freaky, the bohemian to the punk. The Rolling Stones had their first rehearsal at No. 500, where Bill Wyman auditioned as the band's bass player; at No. 430, Johnny Lydon would join the Sex Pistols. Eric Clapton lived briefly at No. 152, often jamming at the Six Bells (No. 197). Many other artists lived here for a time from Bob Marley to Joe Strummer. It was here that Peter Sellers faked an injury to avoid playing Major T. J. "King" Kong in Dr. Strangelove, and the Rocky Horror Show, after opening in the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, moved to the Classic Cinema at No. 148.

King's Road boutiques, meanwhile, dressed the stars and their creations from Sgt Pepper to Major Tom. Another icon, no surprise, would be closely associated with the scene: James Bond, who, as Ian Fleming imagined it, lived in a trendy unnamed square just off King's Road. By the 1980s, however, this legendary thoroughfare had lost its edge, degenerating into what many critics summed up as just another bland high street and tame tourist trap. The Chelsea Drug Store at 49 King's Road had become a McDonald's.

This blog is named in honor of a street that for a time symbolized innovation, nonconformity, and youthful exuberance - with the hope that none of these forces disappear anytime soon from the world of creativity.

As for books on this mythic patch of pavement, I recommend Max Décharné's King's Road: The Rise and Fall of the Hippest Street in the World. Décharné also sings for the garage punk band The Flaming Stars.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Vera and the Ambassador

Vera and her husband Donald Blinken, Ambassador to Hungary under Bill Clinton (1994-1998), will publish a dual memoir that will offer "a behind-the-scenes look at diplomacy and international relations in post-Communist Eastern Europe." It will also tell the story of Vera Blinken's return to Budapest fifty years after her escape in 1944.

In addition meeting everyone from Madonna to The Pope, the Blinkens played an important role in Budapest politics and society of the mid-1990s. Donald, for instance, negotiated Hungary's entry into NATO, and helped establish the NATO base at Taszár, the first in a former Warsaw Pact country and a strategic location for the Balkan wars and the airlift, while Vera created mobile breast cancer screening units that saved many lives. Hopefully there will be more on the Hungarian Refugee interviews following the 1956 revolution, which were digitalized here with their support and on their work lobbying the Hungarian government on behalf of Holocaust survivors.

By the way, their son Antony, a prominent foreign policy writer under Clinton, has just been named national security advisor to Vice President Joseph Biden.

Biden will blurb the book “President Clinton made a wise choice in sending Donald and Vera Blinken to Hungary. This book serves as a reminder of the critical role that ambassadors can play in advancing the interests of our country at the pivot points of history. Their teamwork was good for Hungary, good for our country, and it also makes for a great story.”

Vera and the Ambassador: Escape and Return will be published by SUNY Press in early February 2009.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

George W. Bush Read My Book

In 2008, according to Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal, George W. Bush read "a heavy dose of history -- including David Halberstam's "The Coldest Winter," Rick Atkinson's "Day of Battle," Hugh Thomas's "Spanish Civil War," Stephen W. Sears's "Gettysburg" and David King's "Vienna 1814."