". . . 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

Friday, January 20, 2017

Friends' Circle

     . . . . An amiga started an e-mail circle last night devoted to sharing carrying on, on this day of catastrophe that will forever live in history -- as long as there's a planet and human history, that is.

     . . . . However, too, none of us seemingly can resist recalling what we were doing on this day 8 years ago, which for all of us was a day of celebration and happiness, for so many reasons. I particularly cherish Chestertown amiga C's recounting of her day 8 years ago, in Annapolis, holding her newborn grandson, first grandchild, in her arms, and watching the events on her daughter's television, weeping with joy for o so many hopeful things.

C's been a private citizen and activist for civil rights for EVERYONE all her life, which, when we recollect this is that Maryland, from where Frederick Douglass escaped the slaver breaker, the state's bastion of slave owners and breeders, staunchly CSA during the war, to where assassin and traitor John Wilkes Booth fled trying to get to Virginia, and white supremacist ever after, means a very great deal.

Eight years ago today we met with some friends here to watch the events in D.C. on multiple big screens, while lunching and sharing champagne toasts, at the music club - restaurant, Sounds of Brasil. It was a standing room only crowd, jubilant, diverse, of every age, gender and skin tone. I recall informing some clueless Euros about African American women and Hats.

     . . . . Today, none of us is watching -- I am not even going thinking of turning on the radio -- everyone is doing everything as normally as possible while also participating in and / or preparing for actos, both locally and nationally. ( C, mentioned above, for instance, leaves tonight for the D.C. Women's March.)  Here, while many are going to D.C. tonight, many others are organizing the final plans for the march to the tower of doom.

     . . . . Yesterday, all over the City groups of young women were postering, picking up posters, marching and in various ways preparing for the actos politicos of today and the rest of the weekend.  It was so heartening!

     . . . . Last night was Symphony Space for a benefit concert of many many musicians, mostly Afro-latin. Everything was donated.  Ticket prices were for a legal defense fund assisting victims of improper arrest and accusation.

    . . . . Today, NYC's all about Denial of Art with artists of every sort participating -- it's heartening to see how many museums and other venues are supporting this.  Among the very first targets of the first 100 days is wiping out the National Endowments for the Arts and for the Humanities (which over the last 10 years has provided us, at least, with about 10% of our income, so yah, we got skin in this game).  Also the privatization of National Public Radio -- which might be more difficult than wiping out the Endowments, as it is financially healthy, due in no small part to inheritances and endowments provided by very wealthy people in the last few years as opposition to faux noose, etc.  Here in NYC our station is owned and licensed by us, the residents -- subscribers, who raised the money to buy the license and frequency from the city, as a not-for-profit.  We've been producing our own programming and are partnered with, among others, both the NY Times and the New Yorker.  The biggest expense is though, of course, "All Things Considered."  But WNYC -- like NPR -- has been expanding its news coverage and investigative journalism for a long time -- locally, nationally and globally -- while everyone else is cutting back.

     . . . . At the moment we're listening the Cuban musicians playing on various videos he and his  Travelers made during the Cuba trips he led last year -- thinking of putting together another video advertising a short (5-day) trip to Havana for the Rumba Festival, as his partner on the ground in Cuba, CD, was instrumental in having UNESCO include Cuban Rumba on its prestigious list of "intangible" heritage.  We're also working on the presentation a producer wants to give to PBS for the live-with-music version of The American Slave Coast.

     . . . . Later, I will listen to the last pages of James J. O'Donnell's (2008) The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History while working out.  Then I'll make dinner.  Afterwards we'll meet a couple of friends for a nightcap at the Bistro around the corner.  Then I'll read more of the newly translated into English of Alexandre Dumas's never finished novel about Cardinal Richelieu, The Red Spinx or The Comte de Moret: A Sequel to The Three Musketeers.  I adore Dumas!

     . . . . Share your day with your friends!  Our strength is each other.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Booking Wednesday: The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History

      . . . . One of the best things about an audio book the listener just can't wait to get back to is how enthusiastically one clears all the other jobs so she can work out. My latest audio book enthusiasm is James O’Donnell's The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History (2008).

O'Donnell's style may be a bit too breezy for certain gatekeepers of Roman history. The sort of contemporary tone he often employs tends not to age well over the decades, particularly his choices for metaphors or similes for certain issues, behaviors or events between now and the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th centuries -- particularly the Middle East and the Dubya regime. Nevertheless, beyond that, for me, not a scholar or specialist of Roman history, O'Donnell has provided new knowledge and understanding  regarding what both he and Mary Beard would probably now call the 'fake news' of s-called barbarian invasions of Italy and Gaul. All parts of this history are enthralling history, whether connected to the histories of the schism of the Christian Churches into east and west and the proofs that the Roman empire definitively did not fall until the 15th century. His argument provides specific context and rebuttal to the long-standing dogma provided by Gibbon that Rome fell in the 3rd or 4th or 5th century, and nothing but chaos remained, i.e. the Dark Ages. He bases his own argument in the tax and trade bases that supported both Rome and Constantinople for centuries longer, because specifically taxes and customs supported the military on the edges of the empires.

 King Theodoric the Great Called the Synodus Palmaris  to Deal With Two Rival Popes

It was particularly within the tax and military structures that the so-called barbarians became Roman, and continued with little or no change those same structures and customs. O'Donnell illustrates this effectively with the details of the reign of his central character, the Ostrogoth Theodoric the Great ( king of the Ostrogoths (475–526), ruler of Italy (493–526), regent of the Visigoths (511–526), and a patricius of the Roman Empire). Theodoric, raised and educated at the court in Byzantium,  ruled Italy longer than any Roman emperor other than Augustus.  He held it together even during the period when there were two popes simultaneously.  His period was much more prosperous and peaceful than old Rome's second century C.E. It was the last western era of religious tolerance.

After him the disasters are looming. This is when the real Christian prosecution by emperors and their representatives took place -- done to Christians by other Christians.  Backed by the uneducated and not terribly bright Justinian, his religious counselors determined that all the empire must worship and believe in the same way, and the conviction that identity was now the same as religious practice and the state came to rule.

It is no surprise that the forces of religion, driven by short-sighted and ignorant men who refuse to admit the reality of the regions' diversity that always had (and probably always will) worshipped and believed in a variety of ways.

 Shades of how the Europeans partitioned and reshaped the Middle East during and after WWI. We are dealing at this moment, past the middle of the second decades of the 21st century, with both the effects of the religious foolishnesses of the centuries subsequent to Theodoric's reign and the redistricting of the the 20th.

Empress Theodora, wife to Justinian, former entertainer and / or sex worker.

O'Donnell is particularly enlightening on Procopius.  As with so much of the content of this work, such as barbarian invasions, Roman emperors feeding Christians to the lions, etc. he warns the reader to discard everything everybody knows about Procopius.  Procopius was not a highly regarded court historian of Justinian's among other things. However, this reader at least, does wish that the author didn't push his metaphor of Justinian as Hamlet and what a terrible king Hamlet would have made if he'd survived to the throne, as it doesn't actually enlighten anyone attempting to think her way so far back in time in which these teeny religious differences and weighty discussions were of such burning interest to fairly dull intellects such as Justinian's.  He just wasn't that interesting a human being, at least after he became married to Theodosia and emperor -- unlike Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths, at least.

Side notes: 

- I'm finally learning something about the background that produces Clovis, Charles Martel and the Merovingians, climaxing with Charlemagne -- or at least I get to my workout later this afternoon.  Theodoric the Great is only recently dead.

- O'Donnell refers to Attila as a Scythian. I haven't figured out if that is because Attila really was a Scythian or because he spent so much time in the region that hosted the Scythians -- and ruled them? There's so much that is puzzling when one isn't a scholar of the period one is reading about!

- What I have enjoyed immensely about The Ruin of Rome, as with the book about Charlemagne I read last year, is how well O'Donnell describes how rulers use artists, historians, poets, writers and / or religious hierophants to consciously change history, at least the part of history for which they responsible. -- thus the barbarian invasions and Rome sending Christians to the Games and their deaths for fun and profit. The figures of our own War of Rebellion are not by any means the first to do this -- but not many perhaps, at least in these times of near universal literacy and newspapers and other media, did it so successfully, so quickly while the people who were there and in opposition, still alive and still in power.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book News - Martin Luther King Day Observation - Etceteras

     . . . . It's been busy around here, among the various projects, including the preparations for Saturday, and preparations for the March visit to eastern Cuba with 25 + Travelers.  With each Traveler coming with us that I meet, the more excited for this trip I get.

The weather here has been all over the place, down in the deep freeze back up to balmy, snow and rain, overcast and bright. To make it more interesting, this week our building's furnace quit and we're still without either heat or hot water.

But books and news about them keep on coming.

A few days ago this news was in the Washington Post book section.Sales for all forms of adult fiction declined in 2016 with the single exception of comics graphic "novels." Adult coloring books remain huge sellers, and adult non-fiction sales increased again for the third year in a row.  The demand for audio versions of books continues.

Dear friends' book shelf!
In the meantime, the 70th review of Slave Coast has gone up on amazilla.  We've got several repeat dates for radio and pod cast interviews about Slave Coast next month, Black History Month.  It also looks like the live performance of Slave Coast with Donald Harrison directing the music beds is going to happen this fall as part of the Veracruz annual Jazz festival.  Other venues are trying to find dates and financial support to bring this to their communities.  Other institutions have requested we / Slave Coast participate, be a part of various programs coming up such as workshops and so on.  Also the trade paperback edition of Slave Coast debuts in April!

We've started working on the presentation to PBS for Slave Coast. Argh. How in the world will we raise the money??????

For Martin Luther King's birthday we did a Skype conference with DR, the producer for the Slave Coast on tv project (IF this happens, which is a huge if -- all that money that needs to be raised!).

DR's in France, on his farm in the mountains above Nice, living in a 350 year old stone farm house.* This is how they stay snug and cozy all winter -- when winter begins they crank the heat as high as possible to make the stones of the walls and floor hot. Then they turn down the heat to 'warm.' And the house stays warm all winter. His broccoli and and other vegetables continue to produce all winter.  I wish I was there.  I've been working on the script and various other aspects of the Slave Coast project for DR to present to various people. He reminds me that it would be nicer, i.e. WARMER, working there than here.

Today's drizzle and drear keeps on keeping on. I wish the heat would come back before the end of the day.

Yes, I wish, but I'm not hoping.


*  I remain thrilled any time we Skype, being able to see his home and him in real time, despite all this distance between the coast of France and the east coast of the US.  At the same time I can't help but think of how this isn't possible when one of us is in Cuba and the other is here -- and Cuba is only 90 miles south of Miami.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Ripper Street -- Season 4 Finale -- No Spoilers

     . . . . I was wrong. Despite how much I'd heard, to the contrary there is a season 5 for Ripper Street. (I'd stopped paying attention having other concerns than television series throughout last summer and fall.) However, after watching the final episode of season 4 last night I'm not entirely convinced this is a good idea. But season 5 exists and that is that!

Detective Reid and his daughter, Matilda, who have been parted most of the girl's life.  She was raised mostly in captivity and on fairy tales ....
The season 4  finale opens with Reid's nineteen-year-old daughter, Matilda, reading Dracula and concludes with a Wolf Man ripping out the jugular of another human being.  Blood and meat, who is animal and who is human? What is fantasy, what is real?  As for families, what chance do they have with mothers dead, children dying, orphaned, given away, lost, and those who do not even know who their parents are?  Not to mention children who kill their parents . . . .  All four of our primaries, Reid, Drake, Jackson, Susan, crash and burn against marriage, commitment, family and parenting. All of them make the choices that mean failure and they know it.

The American, for some reason called Long Susan, love of Captain Jackson's life.  This woman is not to be trusted, even to die her own death ....
Unlike Ripper Street's previous seasons that concluded the final episode with solutions and ends tied, this one concluded with "To Be Continued . . . ." as our primaries slip into the darkness at the edge of ... town?  Well, the darkness at the edge of everything, the darkness under everything that is Ripper Street's universe. Into the sewers they flee. Our primaries fought the good fight against the darkness.  In the end, one way and another, each of them surrenders. After the events of this season it appears there is no future ahead for any of them, only their pasts, rising up to finish them off.  So, the struggle, why?

This was frustrating, as so much was packed into this season and particularly in the finale -- murders, breathtaking escapes, convoluted robberies, corruption, old, cold cases, young girls, crazy women, newspapers -- I couldn't follow all the various strands, which somehow were supposed to come together by bringing together the four primaries, Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (now just Detective), Detective Sgt. Bennett Drake (now Dectective Inspector) and the Americans, Captain Homer Jackson his lover, Miss Susan, i.e. Caitlin Swift.   Except that -- won't say more due to spoilage. The number of lies, betrayals and concealments, disguises and, yes, murders, in each of their pasts, some committed in company, and some not, racked up among all of them doesn't bode well for their common future, one would think.

However -- it has to be a good thing that this series, which has been so literate, well composed, finely acted, and cliche-free plots gets to do a real wrap-up, not just stop (as was done with Marco Polo, for instance, to be replaced the thoroughly stupid Medici, evidently).  I  did catching on to the character of Deputy Commissioner Dove almost immediately, i.e. way too soon,  because as an audience member I've been conditioned to these sorts of character reveals from many a cop series.

But mostly we must wonder -- what happens to Connor in season 5?  Yet another child left behind, again and again.

Deborah Goren, a Jewish refugee from Ukraine, who is director of an orphanage.  She is a kind, compassionate, generous, and generally a better human being than the milieu in which she's come to harbot.

Rachel Costello, an investigative journalist.
It was a pleasure to finally see Ripper Street in its season r find other ways for women to function in the storylines beyond being whores, insane, dead or dying.

Ripper Street remains a rare period series in which the grit and muck, the conflicted, complex characters, never great or noble, will show, sometimes in spite of themselves, these flames of decency and nobility that are thoroughly convincing. Nor does it flinch from showing this heart of capitalism run unregulated in which the poor are not only despised, but actively hated, blamed entirely for their situation, and in which doctors and others not only preach their extermination for 'the good of the race" do their best to carry out their creed.  That there are so many mad in this London, most of them starving and scrambling, is not a surprise. Subjects of unrelenting hatred do go mad.

These decades late in the 19th century have sometimes been called Age of Innocence -- presumably before WWI wiped out that innocence of unquestioned class systems in which those at the top lived lives of unrelenting ease. No.  No.  Rather, these decades are the Age of Horror, and Ripper Street shows us why.

In fact, the imperial luxe of London seldom ever showed itself in the series, other than the mendacious fronts of the brothels Long Susan managed, or the music hall.  The focus stays unwaveringly upon the working classes, the discarded soldiers, the activists -- women mostly -- who work to improve the lot of the poor -- or to exploit them hypocritically -- mostly men -- the newspapers, the police, the immigrants and all the others struggling to survive one more day in the center of Britain's global empire that sucks the life from all.

Seasons 1 - 5 stream on amazilla prime and will come to BBC later this year.

Seasons 1 - 3 stream on netflix.

Season 5 is definitely They All Say the final, the very last season of Ripper Street.  It's an attitude and time that won't roll well into 1900 and beyond, They Say.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Snow! The Wind! Laundry! Ripper Street! Cuban Jazz!

     . . . . The snow began snittering sometime before dawn, and by now is full snart.  

Which was fine, until the wind kicked in.  So this must be why the weather sites for all our bit of New York are red with Winter Storm!  Storm warning in effect until 11 PM.  However, alas this snow front is passing all the rest of the state by, as it hugs the coast.  New England will probably get a lot, but western and upstate New York, probably nothing.  Not good for our drought conditions which are state wide. We've also been receiving a fair amount of rain in our little bit, but other parts not.  Which doesn't help us either, as our water supplies are further north.

So, an enforced snow day here.  Whatever shall we do? Play hot music from hot climates to help feel warm.

Himself?  He's all comfy and happy, back in bed, reading a book by a friend which deals primarily with the Dominican Republic's independence process -- from both Spain and Haiti, and eventually the U.S. too.  At one point, though, during the first administration of Grant, the small power elite did beg the U.S. to take them as its own.  It also at one point declared itself a part of Spain again -- without bothering to inform Spain.  Which really didn't want it.  Nobody wanted the DR.  Except Haiti.  And thereby hang many miserable tales which are ongoing.

Me, I'm a climbing the laundry mountain, which keeps me from spending the entire day sitting down, as I must run up and down the stairs to the basement where the machines are.  Also, Himself can help.  :)

We went out before it got dark to to pick up a few things from Gourmet Garage, which was an adventure between the wind and the restaurants on the block ignoring the City's laws about shoveling and salting the sidewalks, and the ice, ice, ice under the snow. We could have managed dinner without going out, but to be honest, I wanted to go out.

It's been so long since I've experienced a real snow here, it's as though it's all brand new.

     . . . . This time last year we were in Cuba.  Which, if a hurricane and a Russian manipulated election hadn't gotten in the way, is where I was supposed to be today.  

Coffee plantation, southeast Cuba; I visited this one the first time back in -- 2001?
By the way, our March trip to eastern Cuba is filling right up. Some of the Travelers are repeats from the January trip, that's what splendid, intrepid, serious Travelers they are!  The others coming sound equally cool, and some of them we have known for a long time too.  So it's going to be a terrific experience, to which I'm already looking forward.  I'm looking forward particularly today, to being in Oriente's Caribbean climate!

     . . . . Tonight I'll probably watch the second half of the fourth and last season of Ripper Street (2016). This fourth season, after the abrupt cancelation of the show by BBC, after it got rescued by amazilla, is even darker than the previous seasons. I've really liked this series for all kinds of reasons, with the exception that the writers couldn't figure out what to do with primary female characters except to make them duplicitous whores or insane, and preferably both. This is a short season, only 7 episodes.

The time for Ripper Street to go has probably come anyway.  It's good to have it go out on a standard even higher than its previous seasons achieved. The actors are all so good, they've been having other jobs all along.

Ah, here we are in Ripper Street's comfort zone -- no women around!
Matthew Macfadyen, who plays Detective Inspector Edmund Reed, even showed up in the first episode of the first season of The Last Kingdom, while Jerome Flynn, who plays Det. Sgt. Bennet Drake, is everyone's favorite Got character, Bronn . The actors's talent is much of the pleasure of this series. I loved them as ensemble, but the characters' story lines have been diverging from  the ensemble aspect anyway, as with Detective Reid having left the force at the end of last season.  The manipulations to get him back on the force this season were not quite what anyone could call plausible, particularly as the roles are reversed with Drake now being Reid's superior.


P.S.  Love it -- a report from Havana Jazz Fest by amigo, Larry Blumenfeld:

"Cuba is the Missing Link in Jazz History."  Is it ever!  Read it here.

Perhaps it's time to begin the Saturday night ritual, which has been by-passed in the last holiday weeks -- pasta and jazz!

I have the technology for both (and the ingredients).

Friday, January 6, 2017

A New Dumas! The Red Sphinx

     . . . . I'm soon to begin a new Dumas, The Red Sphinx!  New, at least in English.

Dirda writes about the Red Sphinx in the Washington Post:
Originally called “The Comte de Moret,” “The Red Sphinx” first appeared during 1865 in Les Nouvelles, but it was never quite completed after the magazine folded. For this handsome new edition — the work’s first translator since a wretched 19th-century version — Lawrence Ellsworth appends a related novella titled “The Dove,” which brings the adventures of the Comte de Moret and his beloved Isabelle de Lautrec to a dramatic, nick-of-time close. 
Yet the Red Sphinx himself, as the historian Michelet dubbed Cardinal Richelieu, wholly dominates the book’s 800-plus pages. The action begins in December 1628, shortly after the French victory at La Rochelle chronicled in “The Three Musketeers.” A mysterious cloaked hunchback tries to hire a down-on-his luck swordsman named Latil to murder the Comte de Moret. That young man, the illegitimate son of the late Henri IV, has just arrived in Paris from Italy, bearing secret letters for Marie de Medici, Anne of Austria and Gaston, the duc d’Orleans, respectively the queen mother, the queen and King Louis XIII’s brother (and would-be successor). When Latil refuses to be an assassin, a quarrel develops, the hunchback’s three companions join the fray and the swordsman is left for dead.
 . . . . In the final third of this continually enjoyable novel, the action moves to the battlefield, as the armies of France enter Italy. Here several guerrilla operations behind the lines should thrill even fans of Bernard Cornwell. Here, too, Richelieu encounters a young papal officer named Mazarino Mazarini, who will eventually become a French citizen and ultimately Richelieu’s successor, Cardinal Mazarin. 
     . . . . I so admire Dumas as an historical novelist and his methodology for creating historical fiction. He knew his history and researched constantly. He really knew what he was doing, by which I mean he consciously constructed a set of tools by which he thought the sort of historical fiction he was writing -- which he and the father of historical fiction, Sir Walter Scott -- called Romance -- and matter-of-factly employed them day in and day out.  Despite his love for Romance fiction, he didn't regard writing as an activity of Romance, but one of a job that provided an excellent living.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Heavy Horsepower - Martin Clunes

     . . . . Heavy Horsepower (2013) is a

Martin Clunes (principal of the long-running Brit television series, Doc Martin)  one-off narrative documentary kicked off by the need for his adolescent Clydesdales (two-year olds, Bruce and Ronnie)  to begin their training to do what they're bred to do -- work.  We begin with some scenes of his own lovely farm in Devon where his "boys" live, then their transport to Hoof Camp, to begin their training.

Harvesting shrimp
From there Clunes goes traveling to Europe and the U.S. to check out the work currently performed by these various heavy breeds of horsepower.  These horse professions include providing transport and pulling power for an all-organic winery *, working in public timber lands pulling out culls and dead trees, pulling heavy trawling nets in the water to gather shellfish, providing all the power for all the work on an Amish farm in Indiana, which is done with huge, expensive, polluting machines everywhere else.  And that's part of the point, isn't it?

I learned a great deal from this seemingly casual, off-the cuff delivery and locations, things about working horses that I never knew, including foot reins, employed by mounted drummers in the Queen's Guard.

An Amish 12-hitch team pulling a bottom plow.
The best bit for me though was the Amish Schmucker family's farm in Indiana.  We stopped at one of their highway outlets back in September to have a lunch.  At their farm we get to see two teams of four mares each, pulling a plow -- 8 horses in all, followed by yet another two-teamed plow.  The skills of both horses and those who drive them are always on display throughout the program, but never more than here -- except perhaps with the logging team, and their very delicate dancing -- while in harness, seemingly all on their own -- over various endlessly long trunks of felled timber to position themselves to pull them out of the woods.

In between Clunes takes us back to his "boys" Hoof Camp to check in on their progress.  By the end of the program they are ready to begin their work to keep his own farm operating on organic principles.

This was a complete joy to watch.


*  The horse was a French breed, trained in France, thus the commands had to be given in French. This is the kind of thing I just love about horses and dogs -- they know their languages as much as humans do.  Other horses help teach the new horse who doesn't know the language too.