QUIXOTE IN THE DARKNESS Distinguished diplomats and others gathered last week at the Consul General of Brazil for the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of Luiz Martins de Souza Dantas (1876-1954), who saved approximately 800 people from Nazi extermination.
The event, sponsored by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, included a presentation of a book on Souza Dantas called "Quixote nas Trevas" ("Quixote in the Darkness") by an academic from Rio de Janeiro, Fabio Koifman. The foundation's founder, Baruch Tenembaum, and its vice president and the coordinator of the commemoration, John Crisostomo, gave the Souza Dantas 2004 Award to Mr. Kaufman and to the Brazilian Consul General in New York, the Hon. Julio Cesar Gomes dos Santos.
Souza Dantas - the uncle of newspaperwoman Katharine Graham by marriage - headed the Brazilian diplomatic mission in France during World War II. Those whom he saved included noted Polish theater director Zbigneiw Ziembinski, who arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 1941.
For decades, the humanitarian achievements of Souza Dantas remained in obscurity. However, thanks to the scholarly efforts of Mr. Koifman, the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, and others, this has begun to change. Last year, Souza Dantas received the "Righteous Among the Nations" distinction from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum and memorial in Israel. In New York, the main hall of the Brazilian Consulate on Avenue of the Americas was just renamed in his honor.
The Portuguese-born Mr. Crisostomo was also instrumental in raising public awareness of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the humanitarian Portuguese consul in Bordeaux who saved thousands of innocent lives during World War II.
SWIFTY GLAMOUR She was noted for her extravagant spending habits while her husband was in office: Mila Mulroney, wife of Canada's 18th prime minister, Brian Mulroney, hosted an intimate holiday luncheon in the back room at Swifty's Friday. Guests marched in with prettily wrapped packages including Barbara Walters, U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Nancy Brinker, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Hilary Geary, Deborah Norville, Debbie Bancroft, Bob Colacello, Jane Veronis, Robert Higdon, and Aileen Mehle.
HELPING HAITI Grammy-winner Wyclef Jean assembled a crowd at Glo to launch Yele Haiti, a new charity to rebuild his native country. Mr. Jean's goals include increasing the Caribbean nation's literacy rate, funding micro-loans, and encouraging community development projects. Susan Sarandon urged the crowd to contribute, and everyone sang along to Roberta Flack's rendition of "Killing Me Softly."
EVERY ROSE HAS ITS THORN A crowd braved last week's rain for a program at the New York Society for Ethical Culture celebrating the book "The Rose & The Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad" (W.W. Norton) by Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus.
The evening resembled a cross between a Peter, Paul, and Mary concert and a history seminar at Columbia University. The audience could have been pulled from the cafes that line the quaint streets New Paltz, N.Y., and Northampton, Mass. WFUV-FM Radio recorded the evening program. The back wall behind the stage bore the phrase: "Where people meet to seek the highest is holy ground."
Hal Willner and Janine Nichols directed a program that featured literary and historical readings interspersed with musical performances by Rosanne Cash, Terre Roche, Shannon McNally, and Rodney Crowell, among others.
Messrs. Wilentz and Marcus have also selected recordings for CD to accompany their book - the album was released on Columbia/Legacy and features compositions by Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, and Randy Newman, along with specially commissioned recordings by John Mellencamp, Snakefarm, and the Handsome Family.
Mr.Wilentz read from his essay "The Sad Song of Delia Green and Cooney Houston" which recounts a murder in the west end of Savannah, Ga.'s, Yamacraw district. On Christmas eve in 1900, 14-year-old Delia Green was shot and killed by her 14-year-old boyfriend after she cursed at him. Mr. Wilentz spoke about the ambiguous phrase "one more round, Delia's gone," which could refer to a round of drinks or rounds in a gun barrel.
Sara Vowell read from her essay connecting Julia Ward Howe's "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" to its roots in the life and death of John Brown. She noted that during the 1950s a word in the song became changed: the line "let us die to make men free" became "let us live to make men free." "Less of a downer," Ms. Vowell said.
"The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings 'live' on its 1959 Grammy-winning recording of the song. Joan Baez, leading a sing-along at a black college in Birmingham in 1962, went with the tradition 'die.' In my opinion, 'die' is the way to go. When you get rid of the word 'die,' you erase the most moving idea in the song: that if Christ died for us, we should be willing to die for each other. Why give that up? This is the one clear-cut case where you can ask yourself, 'What would Jesus do?' and you know the answer. What would Jesus do? Die."
Luc Sante read from his essay "I Thought I heard Buddy Bolden Say," which begins in the Union Sons Hall in a quarter of New Orleans known as "Back o'Town" which was "among other things the unofficial black prostitution district, as distinct from the official white one, Storyville, a few blocks away."
Describing an evening at the hall, Mr. Sante mentioned "a number of persons of no account, bearing names that may right then mean plenty in the neighborhood but will be preserved only as marginalia in the police records: Grand Jury, Cinderella, Pudding Man, Hit 'Em Quick, Ratty Kate, Lead Pencil, Two Rooms and a Kitchen."
In the audience were Eric Alterman, who is at work on a history of postwar American liberalism; the author most recently of "Politics: Observations and Arguments, 1966-2004" (The Penguin Press), Hendrik Hertzberg; and poet Bill Wadsworth, a former executive director of the Academy of American Poets. A sociology professor from Columbia University, Todd Gitlin, sat in the same row as Harold Evans and Sidney Blumenthal.
Threepenny Review's founder, Wendy Lesser, whose magazine recently held a celebration at New York University, was seated with Joyce Carol Oates. Mr. Wilentz, upon greeting them before the program, chivalrously kissed their outstretched hands.
Ms. Lesser later stepped onstage and read from her essay "Dancing With Dylan." The essay began, "When my son was a baby, I would often put him to sleep by dancing around the living room with him in my arms. Various melodies provided the necessary soundtrack, but the one I remembered best, 18 years later, is 'Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts.'" She continued, "Until he was about 5 or 6, my son and I would ride around in my car listening to Dylan tapes and chewing gum (both activities that were mildly frowned upon by my husband); we called this our party on wheels."
Oren Bloedow, who rose to prominence as bassist for John Lurie's "Lounge Lizards," performed a version of "Dead Man's Curve" but added the following lyrics, referring to the presidential elections last month:
The exit polls said that we were ahead
So I went to bed and woke up dead
The provisional ballots didn't meet our needs
And at 2 o'clock he went on the news to concede
Look out! Look out!