Thursday, January 31, 2019

Notorious Or Not: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

It’s raining in Florida, like it did when I was a kid, a no joke torrential downpour.  But that’s not the news.  The Drump doesn’t agree with the entire national security community. Not the FBI, CIA, and all the other acronyms.  And on what does he base his objection to their reports — nothing. No information, not expert opinions, just his skewed vision of the world and his gut.  Spare me.  In addition, Mitch McConnell calls the idea of a national holiday for voting, a Democrat conspiracy to win elections.  Spare me again.   There are a great deal of spare me’s when there is any talk about Drump and his merry band of idiots. So I will move on…

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg   1993 photograph ©2019 David Burnett
This afternoon we went to see ”On the Basis of Sex”, a movie about Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  We had seen ‘Notorious RBG’ and the idea of seeing the Hollywood fictionalized version was not appealing but, as I mentioned, it was raining. The CNN documentary was terrific especially the part about how she tries to dress up her robes, but I’ll get back to that. The movie was terrific. It was much more personal than “RGB” but one was fact and the other, who knows. However the acting was great and the story of her beginnings was compelling.  At the end, (spoiler alert!) when you see the real Justice Ginsburg walking up the steps to the Supreme Court, we were all moved to tears.  What an incredible person she was.  Is.  She inspired a whole generation of women to have a voice and fight whenever the cause was just. We have the Justice to thank for Title IX and so many many battles that were won, even when people thought it was a waste of time to try to change the culture.

Her whole story was inspirational especially for those of us who won battles that never should have been fought. Having been a few “first’s”  in the area of changing the attitude about women in certain jobs, I give the Justice and my father a whole lot of credit for those firsts.  I was one of the first women to ever do Presidential Advance at a time when Political Advancepeople  were actually making political decisions, like briefing the candidate. That is no longer the case. Political decisions (and briefings) come from senior staff at the candidates campaign headquarters, or on the campaign plane. Now, logistics are the Advanceperson’s primary job. Decisions about where the candidate should go and what he or hopefully she, should do when they get there are no longer within the purview of Advance people. But tasks such as checklists of people and equipment, making sure all the toilets flush in the press hotel, and worrying about the backdrop are things they do unless there is a media maven or a marketing expert to consider backdrops.  My theory is that as soon as women became the primary personnel for Advancing the candidate, the substance of political decision making was taken away from them. 

The most complicated job on my resume was as the first woman to ever direct Security at a National Political Convention. That first has remained unfortunately in place. There was a Republican with a woman’s name who held this job, but he laughed at me when I said that we held the same position. He did invite me to the Republican convention at which there were no surprises. Same people, same credentials, same policies. This was nothing like the Democratic convention.  I guess it’s now the Democrat  convention.  Whatever you call it, there were always changes until the nominee took the podium.  But that’s another story.

Not to change the topic but to be just a bit personal I helped to create the White House Women’s Office in the Clinton Administration, as well as a project called “At the Table” which preceded Know Your Value, and Senator Sherrod Brown’s listening campaign.   We listened, specifically to women who wanted to be apart of the decision making process in every field.  As a Senior official at what is now the State Department, I was in charge of communication for the official delegation at the International Women’s Conference in China. Hillary Clinton was my responsibility when she said “women rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.”  Justice Ginsburg said the same thing except using civil rights instead of human rights.  When I left the Administration and went to USA Networks and the SciFi channel, it was as the first woman ever to hold the title of Senior VP for Communication, Press, and Public Affairs. Television does not welcome women with “open arms”, but thanks to Kay Koplovitz the CEO, the job was mine.  When my tenure at the networks was over we created the first on-line women’s small business loan fund called “Count Me In”.  Although I have never considered myself in the league of a Justice Ginsburg, Betty Friedan, Marie Wilson, and Bella Abzug, (this is not a complete list), those women were my friends as well as inspiration. It was hard not to learn a great many lessons from all of them. They laid the groundwork and a few of us followed up. 

Back to Justice Ginsburg, for whose good health we are all praying.  When we saw “Notorious RBG,” and the Justice talked about how she likes to dress up her robes, TJMaxx provided the perfect gift for her. It was a sparkly necklace with multicolored stones (which met the gift standards for Government Officials). When David saw it, he said that he had a photo to go with it. With the help of her Supreme Court staff,  we mailed both items and a copy of “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles” to her at home, while she is recovering.  Last week, we received a lovely thank you note and David’s signed picture back to us.  

What a classy woman as well as an inspiration for all of us.  We’re just sayin’….  Iris

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

An Anniversary of Events....

It is our 35th wedding anniversary.  We are not together, but that is not unusual.  In all the years we’ve been married, the actual days of holidays have become less important because with whom do you celebrate. So we celebrate when we can, and it doesn’t have to be on any special day.  It is easier that way and nobody’s heart gets broken.  That being said, right before David and I met he was in Iran and I was elevated by the White House to accompany the Vice Premiers of China on a whirlwind trip to see the US.  After the opening to China during the Nixon years, it was Jimmy Carter who really moved it forward.  Two highlights of that super special assignment was taking Deng Xiaoping  (the leader of the delegation) to a rodeo.  He loved it and finally rode around the arena wearing  an oversized cowboy hat in a stagecoach.  The other event was taking the other Vice chairman Fang Yi to Los Angeles to visit Disneyland. After many negotiations, we got into the park before it opened.  We all disembarked from the bus (another story). The Chinese Delegation, about 8 of them, were excited beyond excited. (That’s the only way to describe it.) And who was there to greet us but two enormous mice, dressed up like Mickey and Minnie —because they were Mickey and Minnie.  

Fang, (we became very good friends), was didn’t even come up to their shoulders, so when he turned around and saw these colorful characters, he totally freaked out.  My guess is that they may know about Disney Characters in China, but not 10 foot tall characters.   Once they settled their nerves the Delegation went on all the rides and ate all kinds of American crap.  Remember, it was 1979 and we had just normalized relations with the Chinese — thank you Jimmy Carter.

Anyway,  we left Disney and took the delegation back to their hotel where they could sightsee, rest, pass Communist secrets, and get ready for dinner at Mayor Bradley’s house in LA. When they were in DC they had a private dinner at Sec. Brzezinski’s where, mama Brzezinski  - who didn’t believe in caterers -  prepared the meal and clean-up was left to thee children.  Needless to say, the Chinese delegation had no idea what to expect  but they did expect to get to the Mayor’s residence — which almost didn’t happen.  

We got the delegation on the bus and I handed the driver the address.  He looked at it and said,  “I have no idea what where this is.”  Remember there were no cell phones and certainly no GPS, (how did we survive)?  I thought this was strange, and said to the guy,  “How could you not know where this is?”    He looked at me like I was nuts and said, “I’m not from LA.” 

Time was passing and finally I got off the bus and stopped several strangers just walking along the street, and asked them if they knew how to get to the Mayor’s house ( I did provide the address). A nice young man, who found the predicament more than amusing, decided to help us — if he could meet the amayor and have some dinner. We agreed to his terms and off we went.  

Here’s the take from of all of this: Drivers who work for national bus companies do not necessarily come from the city in which they are driving.  

While I was traveling with the Chinese delegation, David was in Iran welcoming the Ayatollah Khomeini home. Both adventures were memorable Carter policies.  One successful for many years and the other was the reason the President did not get reelected.  Politics and policies, neither is predictable in terms of international consequences.  But at least President Carter was smart and educatedand had a sense of history about governing and making policy.  Neither of which you can say about the big fat turkey sitting in the White House.   We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Monday, January 21, 2019

A Florida Lament

Miami Beach ©1969...  David Burnett

The weather today took me back oh so many years. First it rained, then there was sun, and it was windy. It would forever be in my mind, a Florida weather day.

When I was a kid we moved to Miami Beach. We lived in South Beach, at 1610-1612 Pennsylvania Ave,  (which is a condo now, and for sale), but it was not the South Beach of today. It was an area loaded with old Jewish folks sitting on the porches of old hotels like the Delano.  Everyone had a grandma who spent the winter on one of those porches. Sadie was a colorful grandma who did kibbutz on the porch but she was also an unpaid entertainer in dining room.  Whenever she saw a stage she jumped on it  because she knew she belonged on it, telling jokes and singing songs.  Sometimes I would go watch her.  There was no meal for me in the dining room, but after the show she would bring me dessert. Often it was cookies but one time it was jello wrapped in a paper napkin. It was the gesture that counted, that and the fact that she could tell all her friends how generous she was.

Walking to school was usually uneventful unless it rained. The streets would flood so we walked in water that covered well above our ankles. At the beginning of the year we would bring towels to class so we could dry off when this happened.  The hallways of the school were outside and uncovered. When it rained we walked through the water to get to our classes.  School  was always an adventure, and certainly a change for those of us from the north.  At that time the Florida divorce laws were easy, so there were quite a few kids from the north whose parents were getting a divorce.  In fact, there was a couple who lived next door who must have been getting a divorce because whenever the dad would stop by there was terrible screaming and fighting. Their child, who went to our school and with whom I walked every day, was always angry. She hardly ever smiled.  It was a whole new world of commonplace events that were difficult to understand. 

When the rain ended it was often cloudy and windy.  The wind was tropical, warm and strong.  The combination of the rain, clouds, and wind is what is most memorable about that one year.  It felt like it was a almost a meal: for breakfast there was rain, followed by a quick clean up.  For lunch there were clouds swiftly moving across the sky, and for dinner there was the wind wrapping around every person who dared to tangle with it. Speaking of tangling, how about these playoff games?!  Yes, the second game was deja vu from the first, but how enormously stupid is it not to play an entire quarter instead of sudden death. What it means is that whoever wins the coin toss is bound to win the game.

Back to my year in Florida. We were there because my parents felt the heat and warmth would be good for my dad. He had MS so they spent a great dal of time looking for a cure.  Sometimes it was a few days, or weeks. Most of the time they left me and my baby brother, (the golden child) with my aunts,  but because Florida was an extended stay they took us with them.  Jeffrey  was too young for school and there was no day care or nursery school. Even if there had been he would not go.  It is unclear what he did all day but he was good at entertaining himself.  Even as young children we were pretty self sufficient kids.  This was good practice for the lives we chose.  Let’s not dwell on abandonment issues.  We loved the beach and lived close enough to go there whenever possible. 

Many relatives came to visit. That was a refreshing change except when our newly married cousins stayed upstairs but in the same building.  The fighting was dreadful and you couldn’t help but wonder, even as children,why they ever got married.  Our other family visitors were good humored and delighted to be in a sunny climate. In those days you could also go to Cuba to gamble and go to the horse track. My aunts and uncles loved the horse track, the dog track and jai alai. It was always a treat to accompany one of them to the betting window to place a bet for us— especially since we didn’t have to give them any money. 

There are still things that ring true of that year — the smell of sun tan gel, Aunt Fritzie reminding us that we could get a sunburn even if there were clouds, and taking us to game night to play Bingo.  Mom always smiling—probably the last time the smile was more prominent than the anger.   And of course the rain, clouds, sun and wind. 

Friends tell me they hate Florida because it’s mostly old people who can’t drive and are rude in restaurants.  Really, I say, “have you looked in the mirror lately?”  The rude and the bad driving can be avoided but getting out of the snow —priceless.   We're just sayin'...  Iris

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Trumpeteer

There was a time, not too long ago, when I considered myself a displaced person.  What does that mean exactly?  It means that you feel like you are wandering aimlessly, even though you may have a home or two or even a direction.  Is it possible to get beyond the stress in transition? Yes, but it takes a toll.  Your memory may go, you find yourself at odds with yourself, you forget to include important/silly things (hairspray, aspirin,)  when you are packing to make this journey from knowing where you are headed, to not having an idea what you may be facing in the future.  The older you get, the harder it seems to be to get it all together.  And what happens when you are traveling the unbeaten path with someone else?  Ordinarily, if you are a woman and your companion is a male, it is doubly difficult because you become responsible for two people instead of one.

Here’s a thought:  Is it possible that D. Trump is suffering stress in transition everyday?  Think about it. Everyday he has to create some kind of chaos in some area of government or personally. So, everyday there is a transition in his life.  Since he has no idea what he’s doing, and he hates to make decisions that are questioned by anyone, every moment of his life he faces a transition of sorts. 

Let’s pause for a “Na na nee ah na” moment.  Pelosi suggested Trump not give his State of the Union address because of the government shut down.  Everyone knew he would use the speech to make yet another pitch for his ludicrous wall.  In return, the Trumpeteer refused to allow Leader Pelosi to use a military plane to visit the troops, where there are troops that would appreciate some acknowledgement of their efforts to keep the peace — OK so there is no peace, but even so everyone likes a visitor.  Maybe she’ll bring a little cake, some rugala, whatever.  Anyway, the troops will not be receiving any treats because the Trumpeteer forbid the use of a military plane and suggested she fly commercial. What a dolt! Everyone knows that commercial airlines do not fly anywhere where they may have to provide meals instead of snacks. Isn’t Trumpeter a good name for the moron pretending to be the most important person in the world.  Kind of a cross between a Mouseketeer and an off key musical instrument.
No need to explain because you are all smart enough to figure out your own meaning.  

If i were planning a Presidential campaign, which thankfully I am not, the first thing to be done is to quote Mitch McConnell who, when Obama was elected, announced that NOTHING would get done while Obama was the President.  If you wanted to blame someone for the total inability to get anything done, there is no need to look beyond the Republican leadership.  And the Trumpeter, is neither competent to run the Government or to understand the consequences of his inability to make a decision that lasts more than an hour.  He, like McConnell, just doesn’t give a good God damn about any real people who are seriously suffering, not only the from the government shutdown, but for the lack of concern about health care, education of our children and the economy in general.

To be clear, there is no proof that a wall works, not when its possible to tunnel under it.    Separating children from their parents seems not to work either, except to cause thousands of children to feel abandoned, insecure, and hostile to a government with no heart and no mind.  In order to think that separation should be a government policy, the author of the policy has to be mentally ill.  Is there anyone who thinks that caging young people, toddlers through teenagers, is a good policy? 

Maybe I digress but how can you not?  It is simply too painful to think about all the horrible things this supposed head of government has done to the people who elected him, and those who didn’t, who are probably in the majority.  But back to stress in transition which most of us suffer everytime the Trumpeteer opens his mouth. Is there anything to be done? Probably not until the next election.  All the talk about impeachment is mere frivolity. Why? A big thank you to Mitch McConnell and his merry band of the Trumpeteer’s sycophants.

We’re just sayin’…   Iris

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Politics: Then and Now - A Reflection on the 70s

I wrote this essay 30 years ago, and it still makes sense. It was written before President Carter's trip to Vienna to meet Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev ---  IRIS... (and yes, We're Just Sayin....)

Hero Worship
     To:       Harvey Buffalo 
     From:  White House Advance Team  
     Re:  Changes required to make First Lady trip more                 appealing.        
     As you know the White House Advance Team (WHAT?) has been searching for event opportunities in  and around Vienna for the last six  days.  We have only four days left before the President arrives and not all the  decisions have been made.  Here are several things which I think show potential in terms of their   visual and political appeal -- but are not without problems.   As always I need your help to resolve those problems.   I am confident that you, as my mother would say, can make it, "all better."
     1.  The  arrival site is a touch boring.  Just a plain  old airfield/tarmac without any character.   I thought some decorations would be nice.  But please, nothing standard. People get so tired of the same old arrival.  You know -- black landing field, chain link fence, airplane as backdrop, flags, and lines of soldiers  for color. Uniforms, and soldiers with weapons  are alright but it's always the same, same, same, same, same, everywhere we go.  My imagination appears to be on hold,  my brain is temporarily empty,  and my sense  of  drama has been  drained and  beaten into submission by the bureaucrats.  Please  please please please please, (if I appear to be whining your perception is correct and it's always worked in the past so don't make me search for another approach,)  see what you can come up with.     
     2.   The street in front of the Ambassador's residence is very  narrow.  As you know, everyone who has ever met the President in their whole life -- even casually, will  be staying  with him in that residence.  At one  point there will be five  motorcades arriving and departing.   Unfortunately, the motorcades include buses.   It is  going to be very difficult to manipulate those hundreds of cars and buses.  Since we know absolutely no one will be willing to forgo a vehicle , there's bound to be some dreadful accident unless the street is wider.   Please see what you can do.     
     3.   There is a little church in a little village about twenty five kilometers north of Vienna.  I think it's north,  it may  be south,   (I'll  check  before  you  make  the  trip.)  North or south it is incredibly picturesque.  I believe it's known as the Abbey in Melk.  It seems a perfect place to spend a few hours -- local  color,  villagers in costumes,  children presenting the Mrs. with flowers -- and this wonderful meaningful church with ions of historic  value.   Here's the  problem .  There are several bodies, they call them Relics, decomposing in the church.   At first I didn't know what Relics  were.   The  only Relics Jewish people have are antique cars and their parents.  The guide was, however,  kind enough to explain  that these Relics were decomposed and preserved old bodies.  To be honest it was incredibly  gross. There are alot of these moldy old bodies incased in glass and on display.   We of the Jewish persuasion bury our dead.  We do it in  the ground where they can rest in peace and so no one can bother them.  I feel sure no one wants to see even a tastefully decomposed Jewish person and I would venture to guess that no one wants to see a decomposed Christian person either. No matter how important they used to be.  
I think it is safe to say that Mrs. President is among those no ones.  It seems unnecessary for the Austrians to have left these decayed and rather unattractive  bodies laying around  a perfectly lovely church spoiling the  view  for  all  the tourists.  Anyway, I'm not sure how to explain a 55 minute drive to see "person dust". Furthermore, if she is asked what she thinks about them what does she respond. "Oh I just love to look at dead people. I can remember once Jimmy took me to a wake for our anniversary.   It was just as wonderful as it could be. Of course that body was newly dead.  I have always prefered to see bodies which were decomposing for hundreds of years."     
     Could  you  find  a way to cover or rearrange them  without causing an international incident?    
     4.    New problem, same church.  Needs to be lit for cameras and photo ops.  The people who are in charge of the church seem a little reluctant to disturb anything, to make any changes.  Even when I explained that the lights were critical to the success of the picture, the trip, the Presidency,  they were not particularly interested -- they muttered something about Philistine -- but I know you can make them understand.  
     5.   We will need to pave the vineyards outside of Durnstein.  Ordinarily they would provide us with good color and a good visual we find in this instance it is best to use the space they occupy for press platforms.   
     6.   You will need to install 400 or 500 yards of escalator in order for the First Lady to have the best possible view of the countryside.      
     7.  Along the Danube there are many beautiful sights.  There is, however, a bridge which is a terrible eyesore.  We need it removed.  We might consider using it in lieu of the escalator if we turn it on its side and put it up against the mountain.   We do not wish to appear wasteful.   If constructed correctly it could also alleviate the problem of the nude bathers.  Then we  wouldn't have to move her from one side to the other side of the boat during the trip.  
     8.  The sun will need to be moved so as not to interfere with the perfect picture in the courtyard at Durnstein.  It need not be an enormous move -- just enough to have the sun at the rear of the press platforms which have been provided.

     The first time I met Harvey I knew I was in the presence  of Advanceman greatness.  I was working in Paris on a Presedential Advance.  Harvey was sitting in the corner surrounded by paper. He was the control officer and had all paper, all the numbers, and all the answers.   None of the White House Advance Team were paying any attention to him because he was the dreaded  Foreign Service Officer (FSO).  FSO's are usually not popular with political appointments and visa-versa. (It's the same attitude National political people have about local political people).  While it is true that FSO's don't know everything it is also true that they some information  about the culture in which they  have been submerged for years -- foreign or domestic.  The fact that Harvey had all the paper and all the information and all the cars, cables, keys and money, should have sent a signal to all the very important representatives of the  President of the  United  States, that Harvey was the key to the trip.  It did not. But he immediately became my  best friend.  He knew how to get things done.  There was no request too large or too stupid  --  on these trips there is always an abundance of stupid.  Anyone who was aspiring to do great Advance would have recognized Harvey's greatness immediately.   As I said, there was no shortage of stupid -- just a drought of great Advance.    
     There are a number of qualities necessary to make  a  great  Advance  person.  The  most important of which is  achieving the impossible.  In my mind there have  been only two extraordinary advancepeople.  Count Potempkin and Harvey Buffalo.  There have, of course, been better than good Advance people, exciting Advance people, and imaginative Advancepeople,  but Harvey and the Count were in a  class all by themselves.      
     Just for a few fleeting moments let's pretend it is Russia in the late 1700's. The reign of Catherine the Great will provide us with a backdrop for the incredible talents of Count Potemkin.  Advance, was not really a career in the 1700's. One had a career as a military person, as a diplomat court jestor, or perhaps royalty.  One did what the Empress wanted them to do. Potemkin, however,  was also able to get her to do what he wanted her to do. 
     He was not always royalty.   His meteoric rise to  Countdom was preceeded by some mundane positions -- chief Procurator of the Holy Synod, (the  supreme body for dealing with  church matters), military paymaster, and an officer in charge of two detachments of Horse Guards.  Let's cut to the quick,  By 1770 he was in St. Petersburg having an affair with her highness.   Even in those days when one has an affair with one who happens to be the Empress, it did give one certain priviledges not extended to the average employee. 
     A personality sketch of the Count, while not complete is interesting. For example, we know he was not an "early to rise" kind of guy.  But we also know that once up his energy was endless. He resettled the Cossacks in areas where he could  watch them; moved peasants, prisoners, army deserters and serfs to areas which needed to be populated and developed; banded  together  new  armies; and orchestrated the trip for which he became famous -- Catherine's journey accross Russia to visit what we now know were "Potemkin's villages".     
     Let's pretend, for a brief time, it's 1790 and Larry King has decided to  interview the Count.
     Larry: So Count, you and Cate had a pretty long journey. That was quite an accomplishment for you wasn't it ?  Can you give us some highlights while its still fresh your mind.        
     Count:  Well, yes it was Larry.  You know Catherine and it took a long time to convince her that it was a good idea.  She  didn't understand why she needed to see so much of Russia.  She  did, after all, have people she paid to see it for her.   Empresses are not good at understanding why they should be the   slightest bit inconvenienced.      
     Larry:  But you did convince her, how?    
     Count:  I never really convinced her that she should see   the country.  I did convince her that it would be good press.   You know Larry,  we weren't having an easy time of it.  I  don't   need to go into detail but the news of Russia's glory was getting the short shrift. So that's what we set out to change.  You know how we did it?    A "DipDel," we took a delegation of the international diplomatic corp with us and, of course, some  writers.  But the Dips did most of the reporting back to Europe.        Anyway,  selling  her on the idea of good press was a lot  easier  than selling her on the idea of visiting peasants.   She's never had any real interest in serfs you know.  She thinks you've seen one serf, you've seen them all.  She's probably right -- they do  hardly differ in size, shape or the way they  dress.
     Larry:  Journalists are a tough lot. Do you feel you had some success with them.
     Count:  Yes Larry,  I do!  And  Catherine deserves the credit for that success.  She is her own best press chief. She spent a lot of time with the  diplomats and writers.  She made sure that before they reached a region they were properly  briefed.   They always got all the necessary information about the people and the culture the were about to encounter. She  really watched what they wrote home so she could correct any  mistakes they made.  Of course there were no mistakes but she still felt it was necessary to oversee the information that went  out.  She was very busy.  The trip cost us about 10 million rubles -- but worth every penny.     
     Larry:  Can you give me an idea about what the daily schedule was like for the Empress?      
     Count:  Wake-up 6:00am. 6-7 she took care of all her correspondence.  7:00 was breakfast.  From 8:00-9:00 she had meetings with diplomats and couriers.  And then at 9:00  the travelling party departed on sledges for the next village or Russian highlight. At 2:00 they stopped for lunch and then back on the sledges.   At 7:00 they were  RON.  (Rest  Over   Night).     
     Larry:   Sounds  mighty tiring.   What were you doing while the journey was in progress.     
     Count:   Just making sure everything was on  track.   Checking the sledges, lighting places of glory, delivering food to lunch  and  dinner stops and of course making sure that there was the building material at each designated RON so the villages could be completed.     
     Larry:  When did you actually start planning for this journey?      
     Count:   I  guess it was about 1780.   It started during some visits I made to the south.  I wanted Catherine to travel to the Port of Kherson to see a village I had built.  We had done  some incredible things down there.  The south was inhabited by pirates  and bandits.   Generally speaking I have nothing against  pirates  and  bandits but I didn't want them in Russia.   So I got rid of them.   In  all  fairness I gave them a choice.   I told them, "Remain here as pirates and bandits and die or help settle the country  and live prosperously."  Anyway, most stayed and it permitted Catherine to annex the Crimea.
     I thought she  should  see  what we annexed so while  I  was there I met  with local authorities.  It's always tactically important to meet with the local  folks.   I looked at sites, checked out places for festivities,  determined where we would do  horse changes,  and decided what palaces should be built for the  people traveling with us who needed them.      
     Larry:   How did you keep track of all that information?      
     Count:   I write things down.  By about 1784 I had a lot of terrific ideas.  So I put all my notes in order and sent a  guidebook directly to the Empress.  None of this  "from   Potemkin,  through  the Duke, to the Empress, the way the other   bureaucrats do it.   And I gotta tell you she was impressed. I  described towns and villages and districts she should visit.  I included distances to be covered each day. I gave her maps and diagrams and all kinds of interesting information. Catherine  loved it.
     Larry:  So, by 1787 you were ready to go?      
     Count:   Yes.  Fourteen great sledges were at the palace door in January.  124 smaller sledges were to follow  and  40  sledges were kept in  reserve  in case of emergency.   Each of the big sledges was drawn by 30 horses.  The large sledges were the size of a house.  Catherine's sledge had a drawing room,  study, library, and bedroom.  It took 30 horses to pull it. I had to be prepared to keep changing horses.   I guess I left about 560 horses at each station stop -- as well as the blacksmiths,  stable boys, and carpenters to service  them.   
     Larry:   Sounds  like  lots of work.   What were  the  biggest problems you encountered?      
     Count:  There were no biggest problems -- all the problems were of equal size. You know the weather in Russia is a bitch. In fact, before we boarded the galleys in  Kiev we were held up for weeks in a storm.  I'll tell you  about the galleys in a minute.       The people were a problem.  When you invite all those foreign  dignitaries and writers it takes a lot more work then  people from  your own court.  These folks had to carry on their own diplomatic duties as well as report on the progress of the trip. You  know we took the Ambassadors from France,  Austria,  and England with us...  and they are fussy!   They expect to be treated like royalty. You can't just shlep a Count or a Duke from  place to place.   They have to be waited on and catered to. I don't have to tell you Larry, you know VIP's.  To be honest Lar, the biggest problem was finding good help. You just can't find  good help anymore.  For example, we had to repair and recontruct towns and villages.  Each one had to be different.  That was part of the picture we were trying to create -- a Russia with great strength and diversity.  As I mentioned we  had to build galleys for the sea voyage.  And I mean Galley's!  Seven huge red and  gold Roman galleys headed the procession.   Then, just like with the sledges, they were followed by seventy three galleys in an array of sizes.  It took three thousand sailors to man the  ships.  And I'm talking ships. They were beautiful, luxurious, enormous!  Each one has it's own  orchestra.  The  orchestra on  Catherine's galley was conducted by the maestro Sarti.  Can you imagine the maestro conducting on a boat.  It was fabulous.  But  he's not easy I can tell you that -- without telling tales out of court.  I  mean  we're  talking  multitudes  here.  Just try and find a someone to repair a galley on a weekend.  But it worked and as a bonus we scared the hell out of the Turks.        
     Larry:   The  trip got good press but you personally took some pretty heavy hits, Count.      
     Count:   You mean the garbage that Saxon diplomat Helbig wrote.  I read it.  The part I found most entertaining was where he says everything was a sham.  The people and villages were all set-ups.  The concept of "Potemkins villages," ridiculous. It was   flattering but not accurate. Just read the chronicles of Comte  de Segur and Prince de Ligne,  people who  actually travelled on the journey.   They'll  tell you what really happened.  Truth is I make things look too easy.   It's certainly not easy to do what I did but I do make it look easy.   Helbig also accused me of taking the three million  ruble advance and keeping it for  myself.  He  clearly does not understand the cost of travel nor the importance of organization.  I don't want to waste your precious interview time discussing that envious bastard.  He was angry because we didn't invite the Prussian Ambassador to come along.   I've heard they are more then just good friends if you know what I mean.
     Larry:   What would  you  consider the highlight of the adventure.      
     Count:  The  celebration  of Catherine's 25th year as reigning monarch.  I built this fabulous house and garden on the banks of the river.  We prepared a banquet with national  dishes and wines I had  developed  - the white Sudak from the Crimea was especially good.  We had a concert and entertainment and as darkness fell 120 cannons fired salvoes to begin the fireworks display.  Launched thirty thousand rockets!   When Catherine went to bed I told her to look out her window at the mountain. And when she did she saw her initials spelled out on the mountain side, used 55,000 candle lights for it, just incredible!      
     Larry:   You're pretty incredible.  Any plans for  the   future?      
     Count:  I've been on the road for a long time.  Right now all  I want to do is go back to the palace and rest.  Then there was some talk of extending our borders, settling  more territory, moving more serfs... the usual.      
     Larry:   I  know how busy you are Count and I appreciate  your taking the time to talk to me today.      
     Count:   I enjoyed it Larry . The next time we decide to go anywhere I'll make sure you get an invitation.        
     There are no more counts or Harvey. Today everyone wants  to be the boss.   Everyone wants to be a humma humma before they learn to hum. 
     Just remember Phillipe de Segur's  description of the Count, and if he had known him, of Harvey.   "He knows in a fantastic way how to remove every obstacle in his path and to discipline nature, shorten distances, disguise misery, dissipate boredom, and impart an air of life to the most sterile deserts...."
     Oh well, as my mother says "What is -- is."