". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Grant's Cottage

     . . . . The historic site where President Grant lived for the last six weeks of his life is located on McGregor's Mountain, in Wilcox, outside of Saratoga Springs.

The area in which the Cottage is located was, in that era, a very expensive resort for the Gilded Age rich, who arrived via a private bridge railway from Saratoga Springs. The resort was lit at night by that new-fangled electric light. Powered by generators, the lights went off then, at ten PM, because the generated noise kept people from sleeping.  The resort was just a short walking distance from the Cottage.

In agony from the  throat and tongue cancer that was Grant's death sentence, he completed his Personal Memoirs of the Mexican American War and the War of the Rebellion there. He was dead less than week after finishing. 

Half of the contents in the huge jar of his cocaine solution, with re-crystalized by now cocaine on the bottom, remains in the cottage.  All the furnishings, including the paintings and photos on the walls, are original to what Julia and the patron to who provided the Cottage put up there in 1885, when his doctors urged them to leave hot dirty NYC for the cooler, damper air of the Adirondacks.  All that summer Grant, with the same inexplicable, calm courage with which he defeated the CSA, battled to stay alive long enough to complete the Memoirs, which Mark Twain assured him would support his wife and family handsomely for the rest of their lives.  Recall, Grant had not only gone broke, but deeply in debt when his son's financial company, turned out to be his lying partner Ferdinand Ward's Ponzi scheme, financed entirely by President Grant's name. 

After his death, Grant's doctor said that his patient could never have lived so long if he had also imbibed the morphine prescribed for such agony. But he didn't because it would fuzz out his mind, sap his will, on his determined drive to finish the book.

This is the famous photo of Grant, finishing the Memoirs, in his chair on the corner of the veranda, outside his office, where most of the work, particularly the editing work by Mark Twain, took place.

I cannot believe I have stood there.

I knew all this but seeing the place was deeply affecting.  For years I've poured over the photographs of Grant and his family on the veranda of the Cottage.  Grant wrote a great deal on one of the corner's of the veranda.  There are photos of him in the chair there, the chair that still exists.  There are hand-written pages by him on view, and so many other items involved with the composition of the Memoirs.  Material bits and pieces of the celebrated do not hold much intrinsic interest for me, but these things, o they did!

And at the end, we viewed the bed where he died.  Above the headboard hung and still hangs his personal portrait of President Lincoln.

I choked up. Shed tears.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Yes It Has Been A Long Time Since Posting; Sun Tzh and The Art of War + Saratoga

     . . . . I have not posted since the penultimate day of July.  My goodness time does fly when busy with the present, including friends with medical emergencies, and planning the future, of which there is a lot of planning as so much travel is involved, from New Orleans and Texas, to the Caribbean, to Europe -- and lordessa save us, Abu Dahbi.

I have been reading some very interesting books, though, such as this Penguin edition of The Art of War: The Essential Translation of the Classic Book of Life (2009) by Sun=Tzu; Introduction by John Minford; Edited by John Minford; Translated by John Minford.

This edition was chosen because of the Introduction provides historical context and because the editor/translator has included extensive Commentary on the chapters by a variety of Chinese scholars and generals past and present.

These are the chapters of the bare text:

Chapter 1: Making of Plans 
Chapter 2: Waging of War 
Chapter 3: Strategic Offensive 
Chapter 4: Forms and Dispositions 
Chapter 5: Potential Energy 
Chapter 6: Empty and Full 
Chapter 7: The Fray 
Chapter 8: The Nine Changes 
Chapter 9: On the March 
Chapter 10: Forms of Terrain 
Chapter 11: The Nine Kinds of Ground 
Chapter 12: Attack by Fire 
Chapter 13: Espionage 

Last night I watched the Battle of Crecy episode from the television adaptation (2012) of the 14th century historical fiction doorstop, World Without End, by Ken Follett (no one loves rape and humiliation and degradation of women as much as he, not even GRRM).

I kept checking off the aspects of King Edward's plans for Crecy against Sun Tzh's instruction. It included everything Sun Tzu admonishes, about, including when to do or not to do a forced march. I was quite impressed. But then one sees how much all successful historical generals such Caesar, Napoleon and Grant follow his guidelines too, whether they did so consciously or not. The most important aspect evidently is speed of action, because Sun Tzu brings it up often, in more than one section of his advice.  One has noticed that most successful commanders before mechanized warfare and air warfare has rapid movement in common.

I could not help but compare and contrast Grant and Lee with Sun Tzu instructions -- and how Lee in so many ways did not adhere to the Sun Tzu exhortations, while Grant always did. 

Clausewitz had read Sun Tzu it is said. So might have Grant, though he never mentions it. Napoleon is widely thought to have carried the books with him everywhere. The first western translation of The Art of War was 1782, by a Jesuit priest, into French.

Why, since I have read Clausewitz, why had I not read The Art of War? It's so short too, quite unlike Clausewitz. But then, Clausewitz, though seemingly permeated with Sun-Tzu, is also Enlightenment in his approaches (which tends to really make him mostly out-of-date, experts say, for 19th and 20th century warfare -- what about 21st C warfare?), whereas, as mentioned, Sun-Tzh, who may well be the same sort of composite figure as Homer, is for the ages. Though warfare by plane, drone and intercontinental missiles changes everything, doesn't it? 

The Art of War, though so short, may actually be even more dense than Clausewitz, since so much is couched in metaphor that we (well, at least me) of our place and age are not able to quickly and easily penetrate and grasp. 

But I do recall how Grant is / was universally praised for the brevity and clarity of his battlefield plans and orders.

Now I'm thinking of The Art of War in terms of the battles of Saratoga, since as of tomorrow we're on a jaunt with a friend to visit a Postmambo Traveler amigo who lives there.  My two objectives for our mini vacay is to visit the ground where Benedict Arnold pulled the Continental Congress and the as yet unborn nation's chestnuts out of the British military fire, was dreadfully injured, but allowed the French to come in who really pulled the US chestnuts out of the fire -- and then that nasty piece of work, General Gates, stole all the credit for himself, when he earned none -- sulking the whole time in his tent. 

After that I'm going to take the tour of the cottage where Grant finished his Memoirs of the Mexican American War and the War of the Rebellion, one of the greatest works of military history, as great as Julius Caesar's War Commentaries on his Gallic Wars, and one of the United States great works of literature.

I'll probably look at some horses too, and who knows what else? There's no dearth of things to do and see in Saratoga.

Monday, July 30, 2018

El V -- Returned from Haiti

     . . . .  El V got home about 10:15 PM last night.  He'd been away only a short time but it felt so good to have him home again!

He decided he's going to put the Travelers in the Port-au-Prince le Plaza Hotel instead of the historic Olaffson. He moved there from The Olaffson the second night to check it out, as one does when prospecting for the best places to take Travelers.  Even though the veranda balconies of the Olaffson can't be beat, he loved it, and the balcony verandas are good at le Plaza too.  The photos in Google Images do look as though this is a very pleasant spot.

     . . . . He brought me back some beautiful face soap -- France and things done in the French way are deeply embedded in Haiti's history and culture after all.  These are made from natural, organic, local ingredients and fragrances. Also big blocks of chocolate to give to my amigas -- Haiti, like eastern Cuba, produces cocoa.  But he couldn't find any cocoa butter, still the best stuff for the skin, winter or summer.

He also brought back a toilet paper roller for the bathroom.  It's in the shape of an octopus head and arms, hand hammered out of tin. Haiti is perhaps the most intensely visual culture on the planet.  Everywhere one turns there is something.  Hand-made, all Haitians seem to have the talent to create beauty and color out of almost anything.  Their iron and metal work is particularly famous for how fine it is.

The octopus was sitting on the bathroom window sill last night. The moon these last nights has been so white, big and bright.  I got up about 4 AM -- sleep walked to the bathroom as one does -- and there was this -- shape! on the bathroom window! silhouetted by the moonlight behind it, and I suddenly woke up -- what in the world!

Listening to the music this morning that he'd recorded in P-a-P, I was struck by just how good it is.  The Travelers are going to like this trip a lot!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Historian Receives Death Threat + Decline of Civil War Reenactments

     . . . . Historian and journalist, Minisha Sineha (her specialty is African American abolitionists and their writing) wrote this piece pointing out what our current administration and POTUS share with Andrew Johnson and his disastrous period in the White House:

She then delineates what is different between then and now:
  Quote Congressional Republicans in the 1860s, tempered in the fire of the Civil War, put their country before a traitorous President. They first passed the Tenure of Office Act of 1867 to protect Republican Cabinet members and office holders from Johnson. When Johnson violated the law by firing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, congressional Republicans drew up articles of impeachment against him. 
Congressional Republicans today, in contrast, have not lifted a finger to protect Justice Department officials and special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation from the threat of interference by Trump. In fact, they have aided and abetted the Trump administration's undermining of both.
The consequence for writing this piece is that Sinha received a death threat from an individual who knew her home address and other personal information -- cops were able to track him down in about 24 hours. Guess where the guy threatening to kill her lives . . . .

Always knew being an honest historian was a dangerous thing. 

Alas, today there are no Grants and Shermans to keep the wrecked ship of state from going under prior to the next election when Johnson was thrown out. 

This is also went up yesterday - today:

"Civil War Reenactors in Decline" in the NY Times -- PAYWALL:

Focus of the story is the annual Battle of Gettysburg reenactment. Great photos! 
  Quote “Up until the last five or 10 years, the social causes of the war did not come into what we do,” he said. “We were paying tribute to the fighting man.” 
“It wasn’t ‘I’m racist and I want to glorify slavery,’” he said. “Nobody really thought a lot about the social reasons of why the South went to war. It was just these poor guys who were underfed, undermanned, underequipped, fighting valiantly to the last man, until they couldn’t stand anymore.” 
Brad Keefer, a 61-year-old corporal in the Union re-enactor ranks and a professor of history at Kent State University, said: “Re-enactors look at the war as a four-year period between 1861 and 1865 in which you can cut out all the stuff leading up to the war and very much ignore everything that happened afterward.” 
It’s a vision of history placed in narrow context. The military details are meticulously researched and recreated down to the stitching of a uniform, but the broader social and political realities of the Civil War — the profound struggle over slavery and emancipation, racism and equality, citizenship and disenfranchisement — are largely confined to the margins. 
Still, those issues can’t be ignored. After a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, where demonstrators wore swastikas and carried Confederate flags, and where an anti-racist protester named Heather Heyer was killed, at least two smaller Civil War re-enactments were canceled. That the battle flag Confederate re-enactors carry is still used as a means of intimidation makes it hard to defend as a purely historical object, independent of its racist implications. 
“You build a comfort zone for the hobby to function,” Mr. Keefer said. Pointing to the Confederate camp, he said: “And give them the benefit of the doubt that they weren’t at Charlottesville.” . . .
This is what happens when ignoring history and / or insisting on lies as history, and constantly pushing them out there as historical truth -- and there is a lot of that withing reenactment.

  Quote Some Confederate re-enactors, including Kenny Glass, 46, an emergency medical technician from Selma, Ala., said that slavery had little to do with Southern secession, an assertion that is at odds with historical scholarship. 
“I’ve been called a racist, a bigot, everything you could think of in the world when people find out I do this,” Mr. Glass said. “I tell them they need to learn their history. It wasn’t fought over slavery. It was fought over Southern rights, that’s just the way I see it.” 
Part of the problem is that the historical beliefs have modern day implications. Scrutiny of Civil War re-enacting from outside — as well as introspection and concern about its future on the inside — reached a fever pitch after the violence last year in Charlottesville, Va. But it built along with protests in many cities that demanded the removal of Confederate statues and monuments from state grounds, spurred by the murder of nine black worshipers in South Charleston, S.C., by the white supremacist Dylann Roof. 
 Last year a pipe bomb was found at a reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek (the culminating action in the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign): 
  QuoteA month later, a threat was made against participants in a parade that commemorates Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
So, along with aging out, video games etc., white supremacy terrorism is having an effect on suppressing our Civil War's reenactment participation. 

So one can see why these two pieces of journalism seem to go together, right?  The forces of white supremacy commit  and / or try to commit violence, down to murder, of those they hate and disagree with, even  where innocent children are found.

Yet -- the anti-white supremacy, anti-bigotry, anti-immigration ban, anti-corporate money in elections, anti-voter repression, pro environmental and consumer regulations, pro gun regulation people -- are called uncivil because their words hurt the feelings of white supremacists, etc.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Hello! From el V, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti + Eastern Cuba!

    . . . .  From el V, prospecting for the upcoming Haiti visit, to ‎Cap-Haïtien and Port-au-Prince.

The Citadelle, World Heritage site, which the Travelers will visit.

Legendary Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince, where the Travelers will stay.

El V writes:
[ "Hello from Port-au-Prince! I'm sitting on the balcony at the Hotel Oloffson watching the sun go down and wi-fi'ing my brains out as Konpa[al_zorra: very popular Haitian street music] plays . . . but what I wanted to tell you is that . . . 

The two-and-a-half-minute trailer for Postmambo Studies Cuban Music Seminar #9: Oriente (eastern Cuba), January 3-12, 2019, is live! Watch it here: 

Santiago de Cuba, El Cobre, Guantánamo, Cueto, Baracoa, Holguín: the culture of eastern Cuba is very different from that of Havana. 

Thanks to Lily Keber for making it real. Do subscribe to the Postmambo Studies channel if you like. 

p.s. There's a piece on the EGREM archive, where I've spent many happy hours, in today's WaPo [Washington Post paywall]: " ]

     . . . . A personal note:  The Oriente trip is so brilliant I'm going back for a second time around.  I couldn't resist the opportunity to visit Baracoa again, where Christopher Columbus established the first capital - port for Cuba, and which today, as it has been for a few centuries, a bustling center of arts and literature -- and the center of Cuba's cocoa plantations and chocolate making.  Cuba's chocolate is the very best I've ever tasted.  If I were to live in Cuba, Baracoa is where I'd be.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Edward the King (US) / Edward VII (UK). (1975). ATV. 13 episodes; 208 minutes approx.

     . . . . The" corpulent voluptuary," as Bertie - Edward VII (1841 - 1910) was called by Kipling,  reigned for only a short time. He was 59 when ascending to the throne. His mother didn't die until 1901, thus the odious toad, Queen Victoria, also dominates his biographical television series, based on the biography (1964) by Philip Magnus, just as she dominated his life.  She won't die until in the middle of the 10th episode.

Annette Crosbie, the actress ages the Queen subtly and yet visibly, in body, face, ex, egotistic monstrous royal that she was.  Prince Albert is equally so. Their terrible parenting created tragic consequences for at least a century of European history. This Vicky's not the adorable fairy princess of ITV's contemporary series, Victoria (2016 - ). For that matter, none of the figures of the endless 19th century are the gorgeous creatures they are in that series either. 

Lily Langtry in her iconic black dress; in ATV's Edward the Seventh she's blonde. Later the actress and  LL got their own tv series, Lillie, (1979).

The exception is Lily Langtry, reputedly one of the most beautiful women of her time, played by Francesca Annis, with an icy poise that doesn't really jibe with contemporary descriptions of this very successful stage performer who couldn't really act.  Though the portrait of Bertie here given is, at best, incomplete, the character is played with such flair by Timothy West that he effortlessly convinces the viewer that the prince is a very fine fellow indeed, whom history has unfairly estimated.  (It hasn't.)  He is played as as utterly charming, possessing a sweetness to his character that isn’t found in any other members of his family. 

The deep connections among the protestant 19th century’s ruling houses – Britain, the nordic and german states and reaching even into the imperial Russian family, despite their  Orthodoxy. Never allow conversion reluctance blockade entrée for familial European empire! We see war becoming inevitable, and the Russian Revolution too – the czar’s family for more than one generation have been living in a security prison made from terror of their own subjects and assassination. 

Edward VII provides a window into changing social attitudes within lifetimes. The view of Germans and Germany are deeply unattractive: rigid, cold, militaristic, poisoned by resentment and jealousy of the British royals.  In the early 1970’s hatred of Germany was still quite fresh in Britain, one thinks. Kaiser Wilhelm I is unhinged and terrifying – this is blamed on Bismark. The contemporary opulent preposterous that is the Victoria series also is much softer on the Germans (at least so far), particularly Albert the utterly loving and kind father -- utterly different from this one.

The problem with Edward VII is that Bertie is presented as a the most jovial, genial, socially skilled, nice all-around royal fellow who ever lived. There’s not a hint of his massive fecklessness with gambling debts, that he wouldn’t pay his other bills either,  frequently disappearing before the reckoning at a restaurant arrived, leaving others to pay his for his massive consumption of food and drink. There's no mention that he was as addicted to women as he was to gambling and food. No woman was safe from his sexual demands, whether an aristocrat or a kitchen maid, no matter her preference to not be humped and dumped a moment later by the royal whale.

The series also puffs up the very few things he ever did, which amount to greeting foreign heads of state, ribbon-cutting, and sitting on a couple of committees formed for matters such as a vague commitment to "improve the poor," making of this a vast enterprise that he administers with great skill, gravity and compassion. He’s also presented as a brilliant diplomat and far-seer in international affairs. This is undiluted bs, to put it honestly. Bertie couldn’t be bothered to interrupt changing his clothes seven times a day, drinking, eating, shooting, gambling and fornicating for anything like a semblance of real work. 

This Bertie, who had great talent and skill for ruling, who wasted by his nasty toad of a Queen Mother, is a false Bertie, despite the very real facts that his childhood was made a living hell by both his parents, and that Victoria was never going to share the spotlight with anyone.

However, the acting by all the cast provides a much closer sense to the periods the characters inhabit -- stiffly buttoned to a degree that one of course understands why Bertie so enjoys his select company of cronies.  It is via these aspects that this 1975 production presents a more accurate picture of the times than the two seasons so far of Victoria.  These actors, many of them very early in their careers in British television drama, do bring everyone to life.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

People Still Read Real Books -- Sir Steven Runciman

      . . .  . Working my way through Steven Runciman's three volume history of the Crusades.

[ "  His three-volume A History Of The Crusades, published between 1951 and 1954, set out to exemplify his belief that the main duty of the historian was "to attempt to record, in one sweeping sequence, the greater events and movements that have swayed the destinies of man," and show that history's aim was to give a deeper understanding of humanity. He aimed as much at a non- specialist audience as at fellow academics.
For Runciman, the crusades were the last of the barbarian invasions; their disaster was their failure to understand Byzantium. "High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed, enterprise and endurance by a blind and narrow self-righteousness," he wrote, "and the holy war itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is a sin against the holy ghost." ]

I came to 
Runciman (1903 - 2000) only two summers ago, and not for via the Crusades, but the enduring conflicts over the control of Italy via The Sicilian Vespers, among the Papacy, France, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain and the Angevins (i.e. also the English - Plantangenets, etc.).  So not even even the shocking insanity of Venice's organization of the 1203 - 04 Crusade to take out Constantinople and their great rival -- as they saw it -- for the trade via the Black Sea, in which they destroyed the bulwark between Europe (including Venice) and the great Islamic states > Ottomans, is new information by now. 

Nor, so far, am I impressed by the 'colorful' narrative style, which reads clunky to me.

HOWEVER!  These books were published 80 + years ago (1951- 1954), so -- wtf do I know?  So much has been written since, that references these books, including by Roger Crowley, who is a very fine writer as well as scholar.  Crowley does know all the languages, which is the most important aspect of this work -- Arabic, Latin, Greek, Turkish, French, etc. Runciman also references, as much as possible, only the contemporary works.  Though of course his references do roll ahead as far as the late 19th century and aughts of the 20th -- and so much was still not revealed that Crowley, et al. have had the advantages of.

I do wish I'd had access to Runciman's books back when I was decades younger. On the other hand, that I hadn't means I didn't imprint, and new work > research > information doesn't have a problem moving to the forefront of my thinking.

Whereas, when it comes to Mycenae Greece, I can never get Renault out of my thinking -- and, alas, she was wrong about so much.

 Runciman, though, he wasn't wrong in either facts or interpretation. He was ahead of his time.