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Monday, December 26

Pundita throws a party in the Elysian Fields

"Pundita, I read your post about your blogroll. I get purism but Julia Child didn't only cook French food. Now put that nice lady's blog on your blogroll. You like her blog so what's the problem?

I don't believe you're leaving the blogosphere. I think you're doing the deathbed scene in La Boheme. Merry Christmas to you and your TEAM, Diva.
Caesar in San Francisco"

"Pundita,
Odd as it may seem considering that we've never met and I don't even know your name...I find myself thinking of you as a friend. Thus, when -- as you did in [a recent] post, and have once or twice since -- you allude to a sense of impending crisis or disaster in explaining your oft-deferred decision to depart the blogosphere, I suddenly seem to be viewing your continued presence with a vague sense of worry rather than the amused relief with which I have commented on these deferrals in the past.

Make no mistake, I still consider you a blessing to the blogosphere, and am personally most grateful for your continued presence ... but while I don't know your circumstances...I feel an increasing sense of foreboding.

I am not intending to intrude on your privacy, and I am not fishing for more information. If you feel like acknowledging this e-mail at all, I hope it will just be to say that everything is under control and I'm letting unfounded fears rush in to fill this information vacuum (something I should know better than to let myself fall victim to anyhow!). But failing that, please take care of yourself. Do what you need to do. Get yourself through this, whatever "this may be."

Your insights will be just as sharp and just as appreciated (most likely more so, actually!) when you're not risking yourself to share them with us.

Keep yourself well. And I'll be praying for you.
Jim"

Dear Caesar:
Thank you for the beautiful Christmas e-card, which the team greatly appreciated. If you want to get Dymphna's Irish up, describe her as a "nice lady." She's a scrapper, like you.

Think back to the earliest seasons of the TV show. How could Julia Child have taught her audience to cook like a master chef, if she'd focused on following different recipes? Her cooking demonstrations focused on teaching basic techniques that would allow the audience to master any recipe.

The Pundita blog has focused on teaching readers to think in highly empirical fashion when taking in news about foreign affairs. First master that. Then US agendas -- the different recipes for dealing global situations -- will turn out better.

I have wanted readers to focus on what I have to teach. This does not make me a Diva. It makes me someone who always knew her time at blogging would be short.

However, I will admit to Drama Queen on occasion. Anything to keep the reader from bounding into the thickets of dogma. What great policy essays I could have written, if only I'd thought to crib from La Boheme and Madam Butterfly. How much more I could have accomplished! Where is Pundita's Kleenex box?

Dear Jim:
Thank you for your prayers. So. You show off your data analysis talents. You will get a Puffy Head Minder after you for sure, now. Yes yes, considering the little information you had to work with, you got into the ballpark.

The crisis has been looming for many months. That's why my essays can be very long. Often I write as if it's for the last time, in the manner of someone on the ship calling out last-minute thoughts to those on the pier while the plank raises. I have always known that I might shut down the blog very abruptly and be never heard from again on the blogosphere. I wanted to try to avoid that after I built up a relationship with readers. I wanted to figure a way to post on occasion.

However, there would be a crisis with or without the blog. I did not pay enough attention to my country before 9/11; I was not grateful enough for America's freedoms and protection. This, despite knowing firsthand that entire populations of women in some other world regions live as literal prisoners.

Many such women lie when confronted with the truth of their situation. Part of the lying is grounded in the Stockholm Syndrome; the other part stems tragically from a noble emotion: the determination not to betray the traditions of one's parents.

After I first saw all that, I fell on my knees when I got off the plane in the USA. I kissed the first American ground my feet touched. I can still remember the taste of grit and gasoline from where my lips touched. I did not wipe my lips. I felt I had kissed sacred ground.

Still, I did not enough appreciate the sacred ground. I used the freedom and protection of my birth land to concentrate on personal matters. On 9/11 I was overcome with guilt that I had not done enough to serve my country all those years prior. I will take the guilt and remorse with me to my death.

Now I have to return to one of those awful world regions. I have not wanted to go, in part because I will be risking my health with the arduous physical journey. Yet it's something I must do. The other part is not easy to explain.

I know that steady sustained action is what I need to muster instead of bursts of angry energy. Yet sometimes the patience required for that is hard to muster. God help me I don't fall prey to hatred during my travels. All the rest of the crisis, which I brought on by delaying the inevitable, is almost details next to this concern.

Humility is the best antidote to overdone bouts of righteous anger -- humility not an especially American trait.

No, I don't find it odd at all that you think of me as a friend. Same thing happened to me. I was never part of the Internet culture, never visited chat rooms and so on. Yet the blogging experience brought letters and also that thing, the site meter.

For the first five months of the blog I didn't have a site meter but once I got one -- I saw it showed the places of visitors. Places all around the world and in the USA, places in the US I'd never known about before. So while many regular readers of this blog have never written me and I don't know their names I came to know them by their city or town.

Then I would worry, if say, a reader in Wyoming or England didn't show up to read for several days. "Was everything all right? Hopefully just on vacation or too busy to visit." Yes, it happens. You don't start out meaning to care about people you've never met but you do simply because you actually have met on one level.

In the way the blind can 'see' someone as beautiful or ugly, we are not limited to knowing each other through physical meetings. Else how could so many have mourned the death of Sherlock Holmes and demanded the author restore him to life?

One evening almost 12 years ago I was in a terrible mood, so I wandered into an old theater in Georgetown that is no longer there, seeking to distract myself with a movie.

A documentary called The Kingdom of Zydeco was playing. The film was my first sight of Louisiana, the bayou country and its people.

It was love at first sight. I wanted to leave everything behind, get on a plane, then live out the rest of my days among the people of the bayou country.

I did not go. It was not just because of life's entanglements. I had glimpsed the Elysian Fields, but I knew it would not be like that if I visited. It would be a very human place, of course, with all the attendant troubles. I wanted to keep my idea of heaven removed from life's cares.

Over the next few years my thoughts would return to southwestern Louisiana and it would be a point of cheer.

Then one day this year I asked myself what I would do if I won a big lottery. I thought I'd put an announcement on the blog that I was inviting all the 'regular' Pundita readers to a party, all expenses paid no matter where they lived.

"Where should the party be?" I wondered. At first I thought of renting a cruise ship but that didn't sound right. Then I remembered the picnic in The Kingdom of Zydeco.

"That's it! I'll charter flights to the bayou country and throw a picnic. We'll eat crawfish stew and dance to Zydeco music, and we won't have a care in the world!"

The thought of the party gave me happiness.

Two months later Hurricane Katrina struck southwestern Louisiana, wrecking the fishing industry that had supported the region since anyone remembered. And as we all know all too well, much suffering then came to the people of the region.

I was deeply shaken by the news. I felt as if I'd lost a part of my heart. Finally I snapped at myself, "Your Elysian Fields are gone. Stop acting like a child."

On Christmas Eve I recalled the party. That's how I came across an Associated Press/Boston Globe report, A Light Endures on the Bayou:
This Christmas Eve the Mississippi River in Louisiana's bayou country lit up with miles of traditional bonfires built on the top of levees, just as had been done for over a century of Christmas Eves.

Residents of the region took weeks to build the massive 20 foot bonfires from woven sugar cane and wood materials -- the latter plentiful this year because Katrina felled so many trees.

Most bonfire piles are in the shape of a teepee, but this year one bonfire was in the shape of a helicopter, complete with propellers made of PVC pipe and silver duct tape. It was a tribute to the air rescue workers who retrieved people from roofs in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath.
When I read of the bonfires I realized that the spirit of the people I'd fallen in love with had not been extinguished by a storm.

I haven't won the lottery yet -- it might help if I remembered to buy a ticket -- but I have decided there's nothing to prevent me from throwing the party in my heart. We'll dance and eat crawfish stew and we'll laugh and not have a care in the world.
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