Saturday, May 12, 2007

A sign of the times -- for me, at least

I bought a CD about a week ago. This one was the soundtrack to the movie "Pearl Harbor," which was released six years ago this month. At that time, I took Colin to see it on the big screen. We both agreed afterward that the movie wasn't all that good, and that it certainly did not deserve the hype it had been given. "Pearl Harbor" centered around the Japanese attack -- an event which has always fascinated me -- but woven into the historical drama was a three-way romance involving two Army pilots, played by Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett, and an Army nurse, played by Kate Beckinsale. The film's essential flaw was that the disaster-cum-romance formula that had been so successful in "Titanic" just didn't work for "Pearl Harbor."

But to get to the point: I buy a lot of movie soundtracks, and while "Pearl Harbor's" score, written by Hans Zimmer, was okay, I never included it among my favorites. Why, then, did I buy it now, six years after seeing the movie? Well, it was because not long ago I started taking dance lessons with my wife -- and there is some halfway decent waltz music on the "Pearl Harbor" soundtrack. Seriously, that was the one and only reason I made this purchase, although I have since discovered that Vanessa really likes the Faith Hill song on that CD.

Speaking of Vanessa, there is an unusual development in her life as well, although I'm going to wait and see if it becomes permanent. She has never displayed any interest in history until very recently, but last night I took her to Border's, where she actually spent part of the time browsing among the history titles. She told me she wants to read some history this summer, I suppose because she recognizes her almost total ignorance of the subject and, to her credit, wants to do something about it. Vanessa showed particular interest in two books; one was the diary of Anne Frank, and the other was a heavy tome about the occupation of France from 1940 to 1944, titled something like The Dark Years. That's the kind of book I might read myself, but I thought it was too heavy for Vanessa at this point in her life, and she agreed. I do think she should read Anne Frank, however, and I told her so.

With all of that as background, an interesting discussion ensued. She had seen a copy of Flags of Our Fathers, by James Bradley, and asked me about the connection between the book and the motion picture of the same title. We spent most of the next half-hour talking about the Battle of Iwo Jima, at first while we sipped Italian sodas at a table as I drew a map of the island on a piece of scratch paper, complete with Mount Suribachi at one end and the three vital airfields south of Suribachi, on the wider part of the island. I told her it was a small, barren, ugly place, nearly devoid of vegetation, that smelled like rotten eggs and was only about as long as the distance from Border's to Schlotzsky's restaurant -- a comparison she could obviously relate to, as these are two of our frequent hangouts. I described how the island was defended by some 22,000 solidly-entrenched and well-prepared Japanese, nearly all of whom were killed during the battle, along with more than 6000 U. S. Marines. I told her about the flag-raising, and the fates of the six men who participated in it and appeared in the famous photograph by Joe Rosenthal. We then went to another part of the store, where I found a recently-published coffee-table book about the battle, lavishly illustrated with hundreds of photographs, most of which I assume had never been published before. It contained several maps and aerial photos of the entire island, and Vanessa saw enough of those that, regardless of how little she might know today about geography, I think she will always be able to recognize Iwo Jima and identify its most prominent landmark.

We went home soon afterward, and Vanessa told her mother what we had discussed. And it sort of amuses me now to think that I actually spent a half-hour or so talking about the Battle of Iwo Jima with my 13-year-old daughter, who until now had probably displayed even less interest in history than I have in the weekday-afternoon TV soap-operas. I'm not sure what sparked her interest, but I am certainly not complaining, and I hope it continues and grows. I've told Vanessa that she doesn't need to become a history enthusiast like her dad if that just isn't her thing, but that I do believe one should have a basic knowledge of the subject in order merely to be a good citizen. Perhaps she has taken some of that advice to heart.

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