Saturday, February 12, 2011

Valentine's Bite

Among the 11 fashion trends spotlighted in February’s Elle is jewelry by Tokyo’s Inoue Hirotaka. He is getting a lot of mention lately, and at the very least, his publicist is determined to make him the next big thing. Although Tokyo is the place for innovative clothing and fashion, I frankly can’t recall any big name, must-have Japanese jewelry designers.

Maybe Hirotaka and his darker-side-of-nature inspired gold and platinum ornaments will change this.

Elle featured a gold hear shaped pendant that opens in the middle into a pointy-toothed mouth. I wish I had a larger picture to share with you, but this is the best I can do. Is the message that love bites or the wearer has a hungry heart or someone should be careful about touching another’s heart?

Some of his pieces are skulls and snakes. They are an expensive, whimsical nod to the latest grunge/punk/goth/girl with the dragon tattoo trend (I plan to someday turn up at CSIS dressed like that, but that is for a later blog). He is better when he is serious about nature's influence instead of trying to reinvent it. He is also better when he avoids the skulls as if he were Alexander McQueen East.

Not sure I would want that toothy necklace for Valentine’s day (yet it is memorable), but something Hirotaka would be nice. Although he seems a bit trendy, and his work might get dated quickly, I am simply weary of things from Tiffany. Somehow I have been given every Tiffany item that I do not want and do not like. Hirotaka still has room for growth and experimentation.

Among Hirotaka’s more imaginative nature-shaped pieces are his thorn rings made of gold or platinum and adorned with tiny diamonds. That is my choice of a thoughtful gift. Every relationship is thorny, far from perfect, but precious in its own way.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I'm done--bowing

Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima (3rd right) and city mayors from the southern Japanese island of Okinawa bow after handing over their request to move the Futenma US Marine Corps Air Station off the island of Okinawa to Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan (2nd right) and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano (right) prior to their meeting at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo Tuesday. Photo: AFP

The slight bow and long stare of Gov. Nakaima, says it all. Then again it might just be the photo selected by China's Global Times. Either way, Futenma is far from being a done deal.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Gordon Mannix

Gordon Mannix died on the road to Montebourg. He had survived storming Utah Beach on D-Day and two weeks of fierce fighting against the Germans near the beaches of Normandy.

On June 19, 1944, he was one of 12 soldiers of Company C killed when an ammunition truck exploded as they fought their way east. Pfc Mannix was a member of the Army’s famous 87th Chemical Mortar Battalion that provided devastating fire power in support of the American infantry liberating Europe from fascism.

The 19-year old aspiring artist from Plainville, Connecticut was awarded a Purple Heart and buried at the American St. Laurent Cemetery established by the U.S. First Army on June 8, 1944. It was the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II and is now the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

No, I am not related to this soldier buried long ago in France. But our lives intersected a few weeks ago as I finally dug through the boxes of letters and papers my mother left behind when she died 30 years ago this month. Since Christmas, this is how I have been spending my free time: piecing together my mother's younger days and learning about the people she knew.

I am supposed to be reviewing and sorting the last of my parents effects. It is a job I avoided for decades. Finally, the boxes landed in the middle of the living room and the mission, I told myself, was to find ephemera to put on Ebay.

Thus, how I found a 1943 Christmas card to my mother from Pfc Mannix who was stationed at Camp Rucker, Alabama. I put it aside as a curiosity that I might, as so many other things she saved, put it on Ebay. Then in another box I found a letter from one of her friends from Plainville where she had her first teaching assignment. The letter, barely seven months after the holiday card, contained a yellowed obituary for Gordon Mannix. 

Suddenly, it made sense. I understood why she saved the Christmas card, and possibly other letters from Mannix that I likely tossed before I knew their significance. She was his high school art teacher and she had discovered an unusual talent among her first classes. He had even won an art scholarship to college, but was drafted before he could accept it. I regret very much now tossing out the Plainview High School’s yearbooks that she had so carefully saved.

The information about how he died and his battalion I found on the Internet. There is an excellent day-to-day history of the 87th and an admiring account of these unsung heroes, The Mortarmen, 2005. A small memorial to these men can be found at Aberdeen Proving Ground on the edge of the parade ground near the post chapel.

My mother never mentioned Mannix to me. But often, after watching the war news on TV, she would sigh on how war was such a waste, so many talented young men were killed. She was never specific, but I am sure that as a young art teacher during the war years, she lost many students.

If I ever visit Omaha Beach and the Memorial, I will go "see" Gordon Mannix. For now, I will keep his Christmas card.

As it is written in the Memorial Chapel in Normany, “think not only upon their passing, remember the glory of their spirit.”


Part of the charm of the late, great Richard C. Holbrooke is that you could insult him to his face and he would take it as a compliment. He was not one for much self-reflection. More amazing was that those who knew him felt no need to dispute the slur—it was likely true. He did not embarrass and he was not restrained by humility or sentimentality.

Washington always attracted and encouraged men like him, confident, glib, and self-aggrandizing—bullet-proof. They befriend the important and flirt from high-profile issue to the next.

Holbrooke went from opening China to resolving Yugoslavia’s civil war to containing Afghanistan. He attached himself to Averill Harriman and Clarke Clifford (both men who had their own detractors). Holbrooke tagged himself as a problem-solver.

He was successful and influential, but never trusted. He was well-known and always available. He was everywhere. His greatest attribute was an ability to seek out and ingratiate himself to the famous, talented, and important.

Holbrooke instinctively knew how to separate the important from the unimportant people; whom to ignore or step on. He did not associate with the worker bees nor give them much credit. Despite all these “talents,” he never attained the position he most coveted, that of secretary of state. There was just something too untoward about him. Not every diplomat is a statesman.

Although there are many contenders for the “next-Holbrooke” (send me your list), one name is most often heard: Steve Clemons  of the New American Foundation and blog, The Washington Note. He used be a Japan hand, but is currently an expert on Egypt.

A recent New York Times article “A Guy as Keeper of the National Guest List?”  seems to promote Mr. Clemons as the next Holbrooke. Indeed, the article coyly refers to Holbrooke at the end of the article.

The Times White House reporter, Helene Cooper, interviewed a clearly bemused Les Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, as to his suggestions for the next White House social secretary, a position that has never been held by a man.
“How about Steve Clemons?” Mr. Gelb suggested, referring to the Washington foreign policy wonk and social butterfly whose “salon dinners” at Restaurant Nora in Dupont Circle are popular with diplomats, journalists and government types. “I’ve never heard of a meeting where someone didn’t tell me Steve was there,” Mr. Gelb said. 
Ms. Cooper then proceeded to interview Mr. Clemons over an expensive lunch:
Mr. Clemons, the director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, said no one from the White House has called him yet, but if they did, he’d jump at the chance for the job. “When I used to live across the street from Spago in West Hollywood, I’d say, ‘that’s what I want to be one day,’ ” Mr. Clemons said over lobster tails at BLT in Washington. “I wanted to be the D.C. maître d’ at Spago.” 
There you have it; ambition in Washington is simply being the maître d at the right venue. And not being embarrassed about it.