formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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July 31, 2018 The Flying Nun

The Liberty Gazette
July 31, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: I loved my first lunchbox. Sally Field as The Flying Nun was all over it. In the cafeteria, I would be absorbed by the square metal pail, dreaming of flying. It didn’t matter whether I was downing a PBJ, the best kids’ lunch ever, or the horrid pimento cheese sandwich Mom sometimes fixed in spite of our protests. How I wanted to fly.

Ms. Field’s acting did much to invite me to that different world. She encouraged my imagination and wonder at the possibilities. But she would not have had a part to play had it not been for Marie Teresa Rios Versace, an Irish-Puerto Rican-American born in Brooklyn in 1917.

“Tere,” as her friends called her, met the dashing “Mr. Right,” Humbert Roque Versace, a West Point grad who eventually made Colonel. She became an army wife and bore five children.

Tere had been a prolific writer since her youth. As an adult, she was in high demand to write for publications around the world, including the Armed Forces’ Stars & Stripes. She taught creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh, and at some point in all the moves army families make, she was crowned “Wisconsin Writer of the Year.”

During the Second World War, the strong, patriotic Catholic supported the troops, volunteering as a truck and bus driver for the army. And it didn’t stop there. She learned to fly and joined the Civil Air Patrol, serving her country as a volunteer pilot.

Tere’s eldest son, the incredibly handsome Humbert Roque (Jr.), or “Rocky,” as they called him, followed in his father’s footsteps to West Point. He went to Korea as an M-48 tank platoon leader and then volunteered for duty in Vietnam. When Captain Versace began his second tour in Vietnam, his post-service vision was to go to seminary, become a priest and return to Vietnam as a missionary. Vietnamese orphans had touched his heart and he wanted to come back to serve them.

In the fall of 1965, less than two weeks before he was to come home, Captain Versace was ambushed, taken deep into the jungle, tortured for two years, then executed. Fellow prisoners last heard his voice singing “God Bless America.” His remains have never been found.

The Colonel and Mrs. Versace didn’t know right away their son had been killed. As Tere was finishing her third book, The Fifteenth Pelican, she penned the dedication, “FOR THE ROCK and the children and sugar people of NamCan.”

The Fifteenth Pelican was Tere’s last book. It was the story that was the basis for the TV show, The Flying Nun.

Tere had been presented with a Special Forces patch and unit membership certificate. When she passed away in 1999, representatives of the Special Operations Command from Fort Bragg were present. Her ashes are buried with her husband at Arlington National Cemetery.

My lunchbox was something to be proud of. More than either Sally Field or I knew.

July 24, 2018 Vintage

The Liberty Gazette
July 24, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: A couple years ago my mom and I perused a spacious antique store in the Midwest, just for the fun of it. Oddities of bygone days can kick up laughter, spark intrigue, and sometimes leave us in awe. Old familiars can trigger memories, like old sayings from our parents: “Don’t run with a stick, you’ll poke your eye out,” or “Don’t stretch your face like that, it will stay that way.” And remember “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt”? That one can apply to perusing these yesteryear-filled malls, too. Let’s face it. These days when you enter an antique shop, you’re just as likely to find not-yet-antiques that only qualify as vintage.

I say that to try to soften the blow to my ego when I enter a musty-smelling former warehouse or cottage and find toys and games just like the ones I used to have. C’mon! I’m not that old, yet!

As Mom and I strolled I was astonished to find a metal dollhouse exactly like the one we had as kids. Maybe it was ours. It was actually half a dollhouse, open so you could play with little people and furniture inside the rooms. Today, it wouldn’t pass any safety tests. At the top of the chimney, the metal was folded inward. I know this well because when I was three I dropped a white plastic doll chair, about the size my thumb at the time, into the chimney. While fishing it out, my right thumb tangled with the sharp edges of the folded-over metal. Metal doesn’t give, so the dollhouse won, and Mom had a screaming child to console and blood all over the place. At least it was easy to wipe off.

I stood there and stared at that dollhouse with mixed feelings. My sisters and I had good times playing…but then, that vicious chimney. The scar is still visible, yet playtime memories are happy.

There was plenty more to see in the ego-killing vintage shop. Spinning tops, toy cars, and model airplanes. Yay for model airplanes!

Another hot item in vintage collections is school lunchboxes. Interestingly, this is another place we can find a satisfying assortment of aviation-themed items. Not just Space Explorer, Star Trek, and Star Wars. Did you know there was a lunchbox of airlines? Gracing the front was a photo of a National Airlines B727, its crew in the foreground. Along the sides are logos of United, American, Lufthansa, and others. There was also a lunch pail covered with characters that look like hot dogs, and an airplane above towing a banner that read, “Meat Parade.” Weird.

Rosie the Riveter and Snoopy and the Red Baron made the lunch tote cut, too. But my favorite, honoring the one who first sparked my desire to fly, was The Flying Nun. While Sally Field’s acting led me to imagine myself flying, this was made possible by the story written by an amazing woman. I can’t wait to tell you about her next week.

July 17, 2018 Naco-Naco

The Liberty Gazette
July 17, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Let’s take a trip down to the border, and back in time.

When Mexico’s civil war ended in 1920, several revolutions followed. One of the guys most celebrated for putting down some of those revolutions was Jose Gonzalo Escobar. Trouble was, he was planning his own. But don’t think the Mexican government didn’t suspect it. They never did trust that scoundrel. No matter that he’d had a significant role in defeating Pancho Villa. They knew he wanted to oust President Emilio Portes Gil. So the Mexican government asked the U.S. government to seal off the border from trade to rebels and bought materials and supplies to beef up their side, ready for Escobar’s attacks.

Among the supplies were combat aircraft and U.S. veteran pilots to fly them. The federales attacked by air first, bombing a couple of rebel locations. This prompted Escobar to holler across the border for help from like-minded souls. Actually, they didn’t have to be so like-minded as much as just want to do the job. There were, in those days, a few “revolution-hoppers,” men who made it their profession to join revolutions…at $1,000 a week.

Escobar’s army wasn’t as well equipped as the government’s, but he scraped along as best and for as long as he could. However, when one rebels with a lesser budget, one likely has troops of lesser commitment. Such was the case for Escobar.

An Irishman named Patrick Murphy offered his services. He had been working in the U.S. as a crop duster, which made his flying skills for this sort of job pretty sharp. So they thought.

His good buddy Jon Gorre also got a job. Only his employer happened to be on the other side – the Mexican government. The story goes that the two would meet at a bar each night, compare their statistics on bomb dropping for the day, and then agree to who got to go next. Because they were friends, they politely took turns. They even bought their bombs from the same guy. Turns out, Murphy could handle the flying part okay, but maybe not navigation.

Linda: In Sonora, Mexico is a town named Naco. Across the border in Arizona is an unincorporated village also named Naco. There’s less than a mile between them. Even in the lumbering Stearman, which was used by both sides, the two Nacos are only about 24 seconds’ flight time apart.

On April 2, 1929, Murphy either miscalculated his route or misjudged the wind, if there was any. He hit a mercantile, a pharmacy, and the post office in Naco, Arizona. His bombs left craters in the streets and one blew up a Dodge touring car owned by a Mexican army officer who had left it there for safekeeping.

Since he’d been hired by the Mexican rebels, this made his attacks the first aerial bombardment of the contiguous United States by a foreign power.

He certainly had no “luck o’ the Irish,” but perhaps it was Murphy’s Law.

July 10, 2018 Dubrovnik

The Liberty Gazette
July 10, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Last year we received a full refund from everyone we had paid for our Croatia vacation when Hurricane Harvey came to maul South Texas. Air France, Airbnb, even the ferry services and the Dubrovnik Symphony were sympathetic and helpful. Whenever you’re ready, we look forward to welcoming you, they all said.

I’d been so excited about the Dubrovnik Symphony that I vowed our future trip would be planned around it. And so it was.

When we decided to take the trip in May, the first place we consulted was the Dubrovnik Symphony calendar. Often, they perform in the atrium of Rector’s Palace, an intimate setting with, we’re told, amazing sound. But on Friday, May 11, the musicians would gather at the Museum of Modern Art and offer their beautiful sound in the open air patio. This would be youth night, where four outstanding high school students would perform solo pieces, with the symphony backing them up. We had second-row seats.

With a gentle, fatherly kind of smile, Maestro Noam Zur, an Israeli, stretched out his arms to welcome each of the teens in turn up to the front to play their piece. I thought of our Fine Arts Society of Liberty Texas and the scholarships we would soon be sending out. These Croatian kids, like the ones here in our area, are incredibly talented and I fell in love with the city and their symphony as I knew I would.

My sister, too, fell in love with Dubrovnik when she visited 30-some years ago, when the country was part of Yugoslavia. She told us about the old wall and the sheer beauty of the city. She was right.

Dubrovnik, the Pearl of the Adriatic, is a medieval city with a medieval infrastructure and street network. Fortresses, canons, and 13-foot-wide limestone walls have protected citizens inside since the 12th century. The walls have never been breached by an enemy and were about all that was left standing after the 1667 earthquake. We climbed the steps 80 feet to the top to join others from around the world on a leisurely 1.2 mile walk above the city

What a beautiful view! Red roofs on ancient stone architecture in varied shades of white, all built at different times after the earthquake, reflect the Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. Massive monasteries and elaborate cathedrals attract. Shops and restaurants flank the wide main street of polished stone and are tucked into romantic, narrow alleyways. The gardens here would make any master gardener jealous. And the steps—oh, the steps! Dubrovnik is built on steps in an intricate and complex system of forts, bastions, casemates, and towers. We’re not TV-watchers, but they say a show called Game of Thrones is or was filmed here.

Lovrijenac Fortress, just outside the city walls, rises from a 121-foot-high cliff. Adriatic waves rippled in the harbor. Kayaks and sailboats dotted the seascape for a postcard view at any angle. Croatia has captured my heart.

July 3, 2018 Zadar's Sea Organ

The Liberty Gazette
July 3, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: One of the Croatian cities high on my list for a visit was Zadar, and for only one reason: a musical, engineering, architectural wonder.

After the Cold War and Yugoslavia’s meltdown and break-up into seven countries, city leaders in Zadar worked to rebuild. They wanted to make their city a place that would draw travelers; something for the tourists, but not your typical tourist trap.

Nikola Bašić hit the jackpot when he proposed his idea: a sea organ. His project won the European Prize for Urban Public Space as the best among hundreds of candidate projects from across Europe.

On the western end of Zadar’s peninsula for about 230 feet of shoreline, broad marble steps rise from the Adriatic Sea. Under the surface of the lower steps are 35 pipes of varying length, diameter, and tilt. Water and air flow in and funnel into resonant chambers. From the pressure, air is pushed out through channels on the upper steps. The labiums (whistles) on the pipes play seven chords of five tones, creating organ-like sounds, random, yet harmonic. Along the vertical part of the steps are perforations, square holes about the size of your hand. The sea’s pressure pushes the air through these holes, releasing sound. From the ever-changing sea notes, the song is never the duplicated.

Nikola had help from a sea hydraulics consultant and a few other experts. The pipes were made by Goran Ježina from a famous organ art workshop called Murter. Heferer is a Croatian company which has been making organs since the mid-17th century. They made the 35 whistles for every pipe. The unique instrument was tuned by Professor Ivica Stamać. This small ensemble built a marvelous attraction that protects the shore while luring millions of locals and globetrotters alike for a peaceful experience.
From a coastline devastated by war to architectural sound art, this extraordinary instrument croons visitors; each note of the on-going symphony born of chance by wind and waves.

Sunset is the most popular time to sit on a step and listen to the music of the sea, the pink and orange sky bowing before us from across the water. Sunrise is less dramatic only because it’s not right across the water, its way back behind the city. But the organ shore is hardly populated at that hour, which is a plus.

Mike: The sun sank low, and lapping waves tickled the steps in splashes to accompany the organ. Wake from passing boats kissed the shore in crescendo.

Memories from a recent trip to another place recovering from war washed through my mind. The song of the Sea Organ fits well with video I took when we gently drifted down the Tonle Sap in Cambodia, rocked by swells and enchanted by a similar sunset.

Like a mother rocking her babe, singing softly, the waves and the Sea Organ symbolize hope for tomorrow in a land that has known so much pain.