Monday, August 18, 2014

Chutzpah and Naivete

“I wanna go
Where the wild things play . . .
And the juke box plays
Apocalyptic bebop.”
    “Home of the Brave,” Marc Campbell and The Nails
The Nails, a new wave band from Boulder, Colorado, had two critically acclaimed albums, “Mood Swing” (1984) and “Dangerous Dreams” (1986).  Their biggest hit was “88 Lines about 44 Women,” like “Home of the Brave” on “Mood Swings.”  Many stations refused to play it due to such lines as “Joan thought men were second best to masturbating in the bath” and “Karen liked to tie me up and left me hanging by a strap.”  Marc Campbell, like so many “children of the 1960s,” no doubt came under the influence of Maurice Sendak’s children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Once I started Fred Chary’s new book, “Chutzpah and Naïveté: An American Graduate Student Bursts Through the Iron Curtain to Do Research in Bulgaria,” I couldn’t put it down.  In 1966 he became one of the first graduate students from the United States permitted to conduct research in what then was communist Bulgaria.  Chary continued to go there nearly every year for the next quarter-century and beyond despite numerous obstacles and much red tape.  In 1971 his family went with him, and sons David and Michael attended Ho Chi Minh kindergarten.  Chary concludes that the few dozen scholars who went to Bulgaria had more of an impact on the Cold War in that Balkan country than the half million soldiers sent to Vietnam for no good reason during the same period.  Chary turned down a sizeable monetary offer to report on his activities while in Bulgaria to the CIA.  He also became aware at times that Bulgarian authorities were keeping an eye on him, especially when with his second wife, who belonged to a small group of Marxists who sympathized with the hard-line Albanian brand of communism.  Even so, Bulgaria was not the police state that many Americans imagined, and scholars visiting America were offended when asked if they were looking to defect.

On Chary’s initial visit he attended a summer festival in Shumen whose feature attraction was American rhythm and blues great Jackie Wilson, known as “Mr. Excitement,” whose hits included “Reet Petite” and “Lonely Teardrops.”  After the announcer said Wilson would perform “traditional American folk songs,” Jackie opened with Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog.”  The crowd, Chary remembered, went wild.  Wilson was good friends with Presley and took it as a compliment when people called him “The Black Elvis.”  He once said, “A lot of people have accused Elvis of stealing the black man’s music, when in fact almost every black solo entertainer copied his stage mannerisms from Elvis.”
 Todor Zhivkov

In 1966 UNESCO hosted a conference on Southeast European studies in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.  Among the participants was Dr. James F. Clarke, Chary’s mentor, to whom “Chutzpah and Naïveté” is dedicated, along with the memory of Fred’s immigrant parents (one from the Ukraine, the other from Vilnius, then part of Poland, now the capital of Lithuania).  At the concluding banquet Communist Party First Secretary Todor Zhivkov welcomed the guests and joined a hora line as the orchestra played traditional folk music, giving Julie bragging rights that she had danced the hora with Bulgaria’s leader.

A University of Pittsburgh PhD student in 1966, Chary was researching the topic Bulgarian Jews and the Final Solution, 1940-1944, which in 1972 came out in book form.  At the time monarchists were crediting deposed King Boris III with preventing the wartime deportation of Jews while the Communist Party claimed chief credit should go to their leader Todor Zhivkov; Chary’s nuanced conclusions, now generally accepted by all serious scholars, didn’t entirely satisfy either faction. 

First hired in 1967 as a lecturer at IU’s Gary “Extension” on the recommendation of Indiana University Balkan specialist Charles Jelavicvh, Chary credits IU for facilitating his frequent travels to Eastern Europe and IU Northwest’s nine-hour teaching load for enabling him to establish his credentials as an international scholar.  Chary arranged for numerous Bulgarian counterparts to speak and folk singers to entertain in Bloomington and at IUN.  He credited IUN Chancellor Danilo Orescanin, “whose family were Serbs from Croatia, [for giving] me a blank check to take our guests to dinner.”  One of these lecturers, Vladko Filipov, was the official translator for Todor Zhivkov and became a lifelong family friend.  When Filipov spoke at IUN during the 1990s, Chary writes, “I told our chancellor Peggy Elliott that he was the only person in the world that could get all three of my wives together in the same room.”  All three – Julie, Lin, and Diane – had been guests of Vladko and Maria Filipov.

Living in Bulgaria on a Fulbright grant in 1983 when his beloved Phillies faced Baltimore in the World Series, Chary wrote: “The military attaché [at the American Embassy] had received a videotape of the final game and invited me over to watch it.  The following Saturday at an embassy party, I jokingly told him, ‘Let’s watch the game again.  Maybe the Phillies will win this time.’”

Chary attributes the fall of communism in Bulgaria to policies initiated by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and electrifying news of events elsewhere in Eastern Europe.  While Zhivkov’s waning popularity was partly due to a flagging economy, more important were environmental concerns over Bulgaria’s state-owned Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant following the Chernobyl accident and protests over coercive “Regenerative Process” policies that included forcing Bulgarian Turks to adopt Slavic names.  Upon the introduction of multiparty democracy in 1990 the two main rivals to the former Communist Party were a Green Party (UDF) and a Rights and Freedom Party formed by Bulgarians of Turkish ancestry.

Jerry Davich quoted extensively from “Gary’s First Hundred Years” in a Post-Trib article entitled “Years change, but Gary’s hope for a better city remains.” My book, Davich wrote, taught him that “Gary has always been tarnished.” Even in boom years, such as the 1920s, the city underwent racial and class tensions, exemplified by the existence of the Klan and exploitation of steelworkers.  Davich emphasized that significant numbers of African Americans lived in pioneer Gary and that black workers helped build the mill and the adjacent city.  He included quotes I used from Governor Frank Hanly (1907), Mayor Richard Hatcher (1968), and First Lady Irene Smith-King (1996), as well as this 1929 observation by observer Arthur Shumway, who borrowed liberally from Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde:
  Gary, whatever else, is a paradox.  It is busy.  It is dull.  It is modern.  It is backward.  It is clean.  It is filthy.  It is rich.  It is poor.  It has beautiful homes; it has sordid hovels.”  It has a past, but it has no traditions.  It lies in the gutter and looks at the stars.”
Reacting to Davich, Randy Guernsey argued that there are “lots of great people in Gary; a very small percentage of the population causes 95 percent of the problems.”

After a long walk my right knee was feeling a little weak.  On our front steps it gave out, and down I went.  I was OK, just embarrassed, as Toni came to see what had happened.  At least I can get right up, unlike Midge, my 98 year-old mother, when she falls down.  Fred and Diane both use canes and, in Fred’s case, sometimes a walker.  Old age is not for the weak.  At Fred’s seventy-fifth birthday party Sue Darnell told me, “You never change.”  If only that were true.

Fred Chary, however, is as intellectually active as ever.  In 2011 Greenwood Press published his “History of Bulgaria.”  That year he taught an IUN seminar on twentieth century Russia.  The new director of IUN’s Liberal Studies masters degree program would be wise to take advantage of him and other emeritus professors willing to teach specialized subjects to small groups of grad students, perhaps on a prorated basis, if money is an obstacle.

Reading in “Hoosiers” about Native American tribes in Indiana during the seventeenth century, I came upon this comment by author James Madison: “Some Miami men dressed as women and took on female roles, a cultural behavior that astonished French observers.”  I checked Madison’s earlier state history, “The Indiana Way,” and did not find that insight, the result no doubt of recent scholarship.  Elsewhere I learned that French explorer Pierre-Charles de Liette, who spent several years among the Miami, noted that oral sex was not uncommon nor regarded as sinful and that some men were bred from childhood for the purpose of giving “good head.”  Here is an excerpt from Liette’s memoirs, translated by William F. Giese and published, along with the memoirs of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac as “The Western Country in the 17th century”:
  When [boys] are seen frequently picking up the spade, the spindle, the axe, but making no use of the bow and arrow, as all the other small boys do, they are girt with a piece of leather or cloth, which envelopes them from the belt to the knees, a thing all the women wear.  Their hair is allowed to grow and is fastened behind the head.  They also wear a little skin like a shoulder strap passing under the arm and tied over the shoulder on the other.  They are tattooed on their cheeks like the women and also on the breast and the arms, and they imitate their accent, which is different from that of the men.  They omit nothing that can make them like the women.  There are men sufficiently embruted to have dealings with them on the same footing.

In the past six weeks supporters have raised a record $5.5 million for ALS research by participating in the so-called “Ice Bucket Challenge.”  Brady Wade doused his dad, and E.C. Central students are vying for a shot at Dave.  Kudos to Valparaiso University’s soccer and football teams for recently getting into the act.
A two-day seminar for new faculty is taking place in IUN’s conference center. It’s a good way to acclimate them to campus life have them bond with other newcomers.  Dave Parnell still has lunch regularly with the cohort of faculty who started the same year he did.   They’ll hear from, among others, Tim Sutherland about the library, from Chris Young of CISTL (Center for Innovation and Scholarship in Teaching and learning), Chuck Gallmeier about the Faculty Organization. 
Leah Balay on Lake Michigan shore at sunset; photo by Anne Balay

Anne Balay, who demonstrated much chutzpah and perhaps some naiveté during her 8 years at IUN, wrote: “Back to school.  My favorite holiday, as anyone who knows me knows.  The supplies, the new shoes, the excitement.  Well, this year, I don’t get to go back.  I will try to feed hope, and starve sorrow, but could use some help with that.”  Former student Lyndsey Fernandez responded: “Dr. Balay, whether you’re walking on to a campus or not you have the soul of a teacher.  And anyone privileged enough to meet you has the opportunity to learn.”  Leslie Travis added: “You don’t need to be in a classroom to teach.  It seems like you are teaching a larger audience with your writing.”  Betty Villareal advised: “I changed careers four times in my life and I’m working on number five.  Some were forced and some I created.  Morph yourself, with all your amazing skills, into another career.”
Steve Spicer posted photos of the Chanute glider statue with a dummy inside (not him) and one wearing his new Miller Garden Club t-shirt.

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