Excerpt from a Work-in-progress

by Andrea Scrima

View from the Villa Romana in Florence

March 1, 2022

I left Florence exactly two years ago, a week after the first Corona lockdowns went into effect on February 22, 2020; I returned to the city for the first time yesterday, just as Russian attacks on Ukraine shifted into full gear. Back in Berlin, the war felt suddenly very close: we share a peculiarly intense, at times numinous northern continental winter light with our neighbors to the East; we are united by weather fronts, massive drifts of leaden, seemingly immobile nimbostratus clouds inching slowly across the North European Plain through Poland and Belarus and drifting farther east and south, eventually yielding to the frigid Siberian High and the weather patterns of the Black Sea Lowland. Moving eastward, the clement maritime climate of the western plains gradually gives way to harsher temperatures: summers are hotter, winters bitter cold. The day before yesterday, as over 100,000 people gathered in Berlin between the Victory Column and the Brandenburg Gate to protest the Russian invasion, the sky was sunny and clear, and although there was still a frigid bite in the air, the snow covering the streets of Lviv and Kharkiv and Kiev had either passed us by or was blown into Ukraine from the northeast. Martius, named after the Roman god of war, marked the beginning of the ancient calendar year and the resumption of military campaigns following a winter hiatus. Today, on the first of this ominous month, a forty-mile-long Russian convoy is approaching Kiev. It’s just above freezing there; precipitation is in the forecast for the next several days, expected to give way to subzero temperatures. People will be bombed out of their homes and forced to flee in the freezing rain; later, the slush on the rubble-strewn roads will turn to ice, making their journey on foot even more arduous. Read more »

Putin the Terrible: The Cowardice of a Shunned Tyrant

by Mark Harvey

When I am dead, then bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain
Taras Shevchenko

Vladimir Putin

If you didn’t know who Vladimir Putin was and you ran into him in, say, Dayton, Ohio, you might take him to be the owner of a small family-run mortuary. With his pallid complexion, dour bearing, and ordinary features, he has all the makings of a good mortician who could feign enough concern and show enough solemnity to upsell you on a walnut coffin for a distant aunt.

An impressive figure, the man does not cut. He is short, pale, balding, and lacking in a good Soviet chin. It’s been said that great leaders need to have enough charisma to rattle the furniture when they walk into a room. But Putin has a reptilian aura, only missing the scales and a tail that can grow back when the original is torn off while desperately escaping a raptor.

It makes you wonder what sort of knots Mother Russia has tied herself in to choose such a demonic milquetoast figure to rule such a glorious land. What we know about the Russian people is that they are gifted beyond measure in literature, music, poetry, drama, dance, sports, the hard sciences, and of course, chess. But with their otherworldly gifts they seem to have a self-destructive element manifested in a revolving door of imprisoning their heroes in their gulags, choosing despotic leaders, high rates of alcoholism, and a skepticism only immune to world class agitprop. Read more »