When I got back from my power walk this morning [3.7 miles up and down hills, in fifty-five minutes], I caught a bit of Morning Joe on MSNBC. Mika Brzezinski's father, Zbigniew, was on. [I really like Mika, but I find Joe Scarborough so objectionable that I have stopped watching on a regular basis.] This triggered memories of him from half a century ago, when he was a young Assistant Professor of Government at Harvard and I was an even younger Instructor in Philosophy and General Education. There was a wonderful Canadian Government professor named Robert McCloskey at Harvard in those days who had gathered around himself a circle of young faculty, including Brzezinski. They all would hang out at the University Luncheonette, across Mass Ave from the back door of Widener Library, to drink coffee and gossip, and I managed to make myself a member of the group. Harvard, in its sadistic fashion, would sometimes hire two young Assistant Professors in the same field and make it clear that only one would get tenure. Brzezinski was paired with Adam Ulam, a big, bluff man who, like Brzezinski, was a Soviet expert. In the end, Ulam got tenure and Brzezinski moved on.
One day, the great Polish emigre scholar, Isaac Deutscher, came to Harvard to give a talk. Deutscher had been a member of the Polish communist underground until being expelled. He fled to London, where he lived the rest of his life, writing, among other things, magnificent biographies of Stalin and Trotsky. I had lunch with Deutscher, Brzezinski, and several other people in the Adams House dining room during Deutscher's visit. It was obvious from the first moment they met that there was a deep antagonism between the two Polish emigres. Brzezinski's family had been a part of the lesser Polish nobility, which may account for the palpable ill feeling. They sparred on this subject and that, until suddenly, Deutscher turned to Berzezinski and spat something at him in Polish. Whatever it was [and none of us at the table spoke a word of Polish], it must have been a mortal insult, because Brzezinski turned white as a sheet and did not say another word.
I have always wondered what Deutscher said. Mika, are you out there? Want to ask your dad?