Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: February 2008

Okay, so I was poking around Google looking for information about Maastricht and the NATO base, AFCENT. I then happened upon something that definately grabbed my attention. There’s a documentary about expatriate Americans, and not the type that’s overseas on corporate business. This has to be a fairly long quote, because this synopsis of BRATS: Our Journey Home speaks to a lot of what I’ve thought about, in terms of growing up overseas:

BRATS: Our Journey Home is the first feature-length documentary, narrated by singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson, about a hidden American subculture – a lost tribe of at least fifteen million people from widely diverse backgrounds, raised on military bases around the world, whose shared experiences have shaped their lives so powerfully, they are forever different from their fellow Americans.

Using archival film sources, home movie footage and provocative first-person interviews, including General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, psychotherapist Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, West Point sociologist Dr. Morten Ender, and author Mary Edwards Wertsch, whose ground-breaking book, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress, was one of the seminal inspirations for this film, BRATS tells the story of children raised under a very unique set of circumstances, including:

  • living on the edge of history-in-the-making – attending the Nuremberg Trials and studying in the shadows of Dachau and Hiroshi

  • growing up in integrated schools and neighborhoods 20 years before the civil rights movement took hold in America;

  • moving around the world, rarely knowing one’s extended family, and losing one’s friends, identity, and social status every couple of years;

  • living on a series of “hometown” military bases with no permanent members, often in the middle of foreign countries;

  • living an almost socialistic existence under an authoritarian structure that espouses democracy;

  • suffering the prolonged absence of one’s father (or more recently, one’s mother or both);

  • growing up in a patriarchal society constantly preparing for war; and,

  • being exposed to art, history, and culture most American children only read about.

I really should order a copy and, perhaps, watch it with my wife. There’s this idea that when you live in somebody else’s culture, you tend to embrace your own even harder, with strange results. I’ve always thought that the American experience overseas — aka overseas and military brats — was a culture unto itself.

UPDATE:  The DVD has been ordered, and I’m watching the mail.  I have high hopes and can’t wait to watch it with my wife.

Once the American military packs up and leaves, either the remaining installation gets bulldozed or the structures are adapted for other uses.  Camp Zeist, in Soesterberg, for example, became home for the trial of terrorists, once Libya gave up the Lockerbie bombers.   Naval Air Station Bermuda, on the other hand, had to be redeveloped for real estate, because in a place that small, every square foot takes on a new significance.

Anyhow, this “post-American” use of facilities interests me, especially since I found the above photo on Flickr.  It looks a lot like Apollo Housing in Soesterberg — which is where most of the American Air Force service members were highly concentrated.  Military housing is quiet often uniform, made to order.   And a lot of the neighborhood looks like the above, with strips of these townhouses with carports.   Still, I’m a little unsure, partly because that whole area is virtually imprinted in my memory, and I don’t remember sidewalks having that sort of brickwork.  However, the Apollo Housing of my memory existed more than 10 years ago, and many parts of it have likely been subtly renovated.

Found these two good shots of Mons on Flickr. Mons always struck me as interesting in that it had the worn, old cobblestone nature that one stereotypically thinks as “old Europe” (and that’s said in a nostalgic vein, not in a Donald Rumsfled-idiotic way). Much of the architecture didn’t seem modern, as if the place had a definite sense of history. Technically, Mons is also the home of SHAPE and the NATO high command. That was more on the outskirts, but within city limits — not “downtown” like these pictures depict:

The thing I remember most about Mons was some of the streets and alleys being narrow.

This site provides a few elementary, but important details, and, more importantly, a list of passegers. The wreck of the Sea Venture is often considered the origins of a “settled” Bermuda. Still, the ship wasn’t alone on the high seas:

The “Sea Venture” (also called the Seaventure or Sea Adventure) sailed as part of a flotilla of nine ships commanded by Admiral Sir George Somers. Intended destination was Jamestown, Virginia. The On 2 June 1609, “Sea Venture”, flagship of the “Third Supply” (six ships and two pinnances); departed London. On 23 July, A hurricane at sea separated the Sea Venture from the other vessels. After four days, she began taking on water. Land was sited and she wrecked between two reefs off the shores of Bermuda on 28 July 1609. All of approximately 150 passengers safely made land.

A further more in depth bit of the original story can be found here. It’s also interesting to note that some of the sailors, after being shipwrecked, didn’t want to continue on to Virginia, to that site:

As it turned out, the Sea Venture did not break apart and the men were able to retrieve the tools, food, clothing, muskets, and everything that meant their survival. Most of the ship’s structure also remained, so using the wreckage and native cedar trees, the 150 castaways immediately set about building two new boats so that they could continue on to Jamestown.
The men were pleasantly surprised to find that the island’s climate was agreeable, food plentiful, and shelters easily constructed from cedar wood and palm leaves. The Isle of the Devils, turned out to be paradise, and some began to wonder why they should leave. Some of the sailors who had been to Jamestown with the Second Supply pointed out that “in Virginia nothing but wretchedness and labor must be expected, there being neither fish, flesh, or fowl which here at ease and pleasure might be enjoyed.”

This is a back alley off of Cookman Avenue, next to Main Street.  In otherwords, this is far from where some of the other stuff like this was found, and, eventually covered or torn down.  It’s interesting, though, many of the store fronts in Asbury Park’s Cookman Avenue (where many restuarants and little shops are located) have gotten make-overs, it’s interesting that you can still find stuff like this in the beach town’s nooks and crannies.

For an island so small and so islolated, Bermuda is a place that will grasp for culture in anyway it can get it. That may not be a bad thing, for most people would like some sort of cultural identity. One of the more interesting claims, however, is that William Shakespeare wrote “The Tempest” about Bermuda. Actually, it might be easier to assert that Shakespeare wrote The Tempest as a reaction to Christopher Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus.” However, with the publicized wreck of the Sea Venture, as well as birth of the English Colonial age, Bermuda’s claim may not be far fetched. Via bermuda-online.com:

April 23, 1564 was the birth, at Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire, England, of British playwright William Shakespeare. For Bermuda, he has a special claim to fame. His story about Bermuda in 1610 as the still vexed Bermoothes in “The Tempest” where the settlers had been alive and well after all after the sinking of the “Sea Venture” and had succeeded in their journey from Bermuda to Jamestown in Virginia, made the Town of St. George and Bermuda famous. It was because William Strachey wrote the description of the wreck of the Sea Venture in Bermuda in 1609 and the time spent there by the passengers and crew. He spent a year in America before returning to Lyme Regis. It was mostly from his accounts that Shakespeare wrote The Tempest. Except that instead of correctly showing Bermuda, Plymouth and Virginia in his story, he used an Italian island and the people as mythical.

Yet there are many sections of his play where he originally used the word for word accounts of the epic voyage of the “Sea Venture” ship that ended its days in Bermuda and gave him the inspiration for the drama. He was a friend of the Earl who knew Admiral Sir George Somers well. He was the first famous literary historian of Bermuda. He was the son of John Shakespeare, a highly respected citizen of Stratford, where he held various offices including that of bailiff, or presiding officer, and his wife Mary, the daughter of Robert Arden of the Warwickshire landed gentry, closely related to the ancient Catholic family of Arden. Alas, all versions of “The Tempest” have used the fiction of Shakespeare, instead of the facts and accounts of the “Sea Venture” he was given.

As with most Shakespearean studies, there are some disagreeing critics out there. After a quick Google search, it seems to be an Oxfordian position — that is, the people who claim “conspiracy theory” about the “true” identity of the bard. (Why that’s likely nothing more than a conspiracy theory can be saved for a later time). At anyrate, here’s the counter claim, using a variety of sources and points, via The Skakespeare Oxford Society:

This article glances briefly at the question of whether The Tempest is based on the 1609 Bermuda wreck. The method of Stratfordians, beginning with Louis Wright, who bank on The Tempest to refute the Oxford theory is to ignore all other shipwreck literature, and then to dredge through the 114 pages of William Strachey’s and Silvester Jourdain’s pamphlets (in Wright’s 1964 A Voyage to Virginia in 1609) looking for parallels. Naturally they can find some, but Stratfordians who were unconcerned with Oxford were not particularly impressed with the results.

As it may have been written earlier, half of Asbury Park’s Casino hall has met the wrecking ball.  A good bit of it was structurally unsound, and, one might venture a guess, either un-savable, or too costly to perserve in it’s already deteriorated condition.

NASA had a definite presence in Bermuda for decades, as the Naval Airstation Bermuda was also home to the Cooper Island Tracking Facility.  In a sense, housing NASA on a naval base made a lot of sense.  Although part of a different agency, NASA personnel from the states were federal employees, which entitled them to some base privileges like cheaper groceries at the commissary as well as other goods at the Navy Exchange, which could be described as a small, all purpose department store.  As for Cooper Island’s official objectives, NASAbermuda.com has more information:

… an integral part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Manned Space Flight Network (MSFN), the Bermuda station played a vital role in the United States’ Apollo lunar program and other flight missions. The Cooper’s Island station was located on the southeastern tip of Bermuda about 600 miles out in the Atlantic from the U.S. east coast. Radar dishes and helical antennae were used to track anything from spacecraft to sparrows. Because of its location in relation to Cape Kennedy Florida, the Bermuda station had a dual purpose role for the Manned Space Flight Network (MSFN). At the time of launch, the primary mission of the station was to provide trajectory data to the computing facilities at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). Computations based on data obtained during the final portion of powered flight was used to confirm the orbital “Go-No Go” decision.  Bermuda normally acquired the spacecraft at approximately T + 3 minutes.

The station was usually able to supply a minimum of 60 seconds of valid radar data prior to engine cutoff and orbital insertion. For subsequent passes of the space craft, Bermuda served as a normal tracking station with command capabilities.In addition to supporting manned missions, the Bermuda station commanded, tracked and acquired valuable data from a host of unmanned scientific and application satellites launched from Cape Kennedy and NASA’sWallops Island launch facility in Virginia.In between flight missions, the Bermuda station’s sophisticated instrumentation was employed by scientists to conduct research ranging from the migratory habits of birds to astronomy.

 

There’s other good information to be had there.  NASA, on the other hand, has put up some general information on the site.   Also there’s other interesting things to be found searching NASA’a own cluster of pages.  For example, here’s a ground-to-craft communication transcription between a Mercury mission and several tracking stations, Bermuda included.

So, it’s interesting that Asbury Park has a fundamental tension about the town. New versus old and crunbling. Take this bit of graffiti, for example. It’s near a boarded over five story building, off in the distance, however, there’s a recently complete new block of condos.

Clowns, cheese, religious weirdness … one thing I forgot to mention in earlier posts is the strange toilet graffiti that has appeared on buildings over the years. The largest one ended up on the crumbling Metropolitan Hotel: