Friday, November 28, 2014
Rain: large white drops hang at the bottom of the window-awnings, shifting back and forth as the canvas blows, waiting their chance to drop free. The light concentrates in each one: they seem brighter than the gray sky, brighter than the cheerfully-lit interior of the restaurant. They dart back and forth, unable to quite fall from the bottom seam, like silver beads on a giant abacus. Finally the wind gives the awning a real shake, and all the drops leap off, a brilliant vanishing shower. At once new beads string themselves. They may keep it up all day: this is a true Oregon rain, with plenty of stamina. There's no particular reason it should ever stop.
I'm reading a biography of Ulysses S. Grant, whose middle initial was not in fact S, but H: West Point took it into its head that the initial was S, and the army obstinately continued to use it, although Grant's middle name was Hiram. Then the newspapers, during the war, took a fancy to pretending it stood for Unconditional Surrender. (Those were the only terms he would offer to the starving garrison of Vicksburg, knowing they had to take them: in fact he tended to be generous in paroling captives, and letting them keep their property, but he didn't want anyone unclear that they'd been beaten.) You might think that at some point he might insist on getting his name right, say when he was president, but it doesn't seem to have mattered to him. He was an oddly humble man, a sort of military boddhisattva, even as he directed the enormous cruelties of the first modern total war: he is terribly pleasing, if mystifying, in his simplicity. Anyway, I have got him to the end of the war, which is the part of his career I knew a fair amount about anyway. Now I strike into unknown territory with him.