". . . 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, November 17, 2017

Dream Eagles 11/17/17

     . . . . I was in the process of walking across the

University of Wisconsin Student Center, far back in the day.
 campus of the University of New Mexico, which was really the University of Wisconsin,

North Dakota barn, pasture and slough.
but really was the vast backyard of our farm.

I was on my way to the library, which was really NYC's midtown research library, which was really the

Bobst Library and Washington Square Park.

NYU Bobst Library situated on Washington Square Park, where I was having a class meeting  in my graduate writing program.

There was a brilliant sky marquee in that only-in-New Mexico saturated blue purity, and in it were birds, birds, birds, particularly raptors, and particularly very large eagles. Dream me wondered if eagles were the the source of humanity's dream of dragons? 

As I walked, the campus, off to my left, ended in a large body of water -- a lake or a bay. It too was filled with birds, particularly Canadian geese. 

Twice I watched eagles make a successful hunt on these geese, from the initiation of their hunt, circling high above -- but they were so large I could see the feathers of their throats and wings, to the targeting of the prey, to the astonishing glide-drop to the back of the goose, both going underwater from the impact of the overhead strike’s velocity, then the eagles beating their rise from under the water, up into the sky again, their meal in their talons.

Schwarzman Library

At the same as I arrived at the columned portico of the library (which Bobst does not have, but Schwarzman in midtown has, I had brilliant conception for a novel. 

Then I was in the house that I shared with my writing major roommates. I couldn't wait to describe to them what I had seen, but simultaneously, deliberately refrained, restrained, to preserve the marvel of it -- not just once did I see that successful targeted plunge through air and water and ascension again, but twice! Nor was I going to tell them of my novel breakthrough! 

It was at that point El V woke me . 

I was able to recall in detail the eagles, but not the novel. All I can recall of it is that it involved two women and their relationship to writing, which informs entirely their relationship with each other, and with life generally, which is hardly a brilliant conception, and certainly not even original. Nor have I ever been in a writing program, whether in university or otherwise, though I have certainly been graduate schools!

Oddly, these days when I dream of being back in school, it's always graduate school, not high school or undergrad, as those dreams used to be. Still, as all my life, I still spend a generous amount of time on campuses and in libraries. 

While drinkng tea I realized the landscape of this dream included all four of the landscapes that I have imprinted upon, due to inhabiting - walking, every day for years and years, or nearly every day.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Black Sails and Treasure Island + Outlander and Voyager

     . . . . Black Sails (2017) Season Four, final season was a very good.  At this moment I'm still wondering this may be the most historically accurate action adventure period presentation dramatized on screen (and read in most historical fiction).  Cuba! Invasion of Nassau to put down the motley pre-era of Revolution crew of pirates, self-emancipated slaves, free blacks, indentures and the lower classes in general – as the greatest threat to civilization.

The Black Sails writers really read Marcus Rediker it looks like.

A deluxe 1886 edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island included a treasure map.

 This isn't to say that some liberties with historical facts have not been taken -- for instance the Peruvian shipment on the pirated Spanish vessel, Urca de Lima, was made of valuable commodities such as hides and chocolate,  but not that ever more powerful chimera of gold! gold! gold! which is the ever more enthralling, ever more unattainable source of the stories of  Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island and Starz's Black Sails.  But, over all, throughout, Black Sails tacks remarkably close to what historical facts of Nassau's early history we know.

Guess who . . .  he didn't begin like this.

So it matters more for Spain and Britain to cooperate in putting them than the current war between their rulers. Their sheer outrage that anyone not of the ruling classes should attempt to change anything is brilliantly emoted.

These outsiders' ideals of anti-slavery, equality and fairness, have been bubbling along for the previous season, though sometimes submerged either by the imperious demands of survival, which means financing survival, and rivalries and conflicts of interests of all sorts.  In the final season both the ideal, inter-personal conflict and greed are at center of every action.  In the last episodes the audience begins to glimpse through the current action, the characters as we first got to know them in Stevenson's Treasure Island.

Professor Marcus Rediker

After watching the end of the series, I re-read Treasure Island, on Gutenberg since Black Sails is the prequel to the stories of all these characters long and long before Jim Hawkins enters the picture at his mother's inn, the Admiral Benbow, the black spot and all the rest.  Needless to say, in Black Sails, everybody was much much younger and very good looking, which they generally are not in Treasure Island, except perhaps that charming, enticing storyteller we meet as one-legged Long John Silver, with a parrot named Flint (Captain Flint is the central protagonist in Black Sails) -- and many of them had ideals of freedom, liberty and equality, escape from the real evils of the poor and powerless  attempting to create an alternative to Europe's ancien régime.

But in the end, as stolen treasure does, the Urca's fictional gold destroyed them all. And now they're old, so old, if not actually you know,  like Captain Flint, dead. Yet they're still chasing after that damned treasure for which  that hundreds if not thousands have already lost their honor,  blood and lives.

It had been a long time since I'd re-read Treasure Island.  What isn't different though -- and this is brilliant of Black Sails, considering its unique social and political concerns (also so much part of the age), which are seldom if ever found in adventure entertainments --  from the first pages already, the evil miasma of the Urca treasure contagion is in play.  Hawkins, the boy, of course, like we kids who are much of Stevenson's targeted audience, can't see it.  But the boy can see danger, far more quickly than the adults do.

This particularly struck me in terms of Starz's Outlander, both because I just finished re-reading Voyager, the third novel in Diana Gabaldon's historical romance series from which this current season is adapted, and the latest episode takes place at sea, sailing to Jamaica. The ships used in this episode are among those that had been constructed for Black Sails. 
Voyager's action is located in the spread of 1745 - 1765, only a few decades after Black Sails in 1715.  The African slave trade, slavery and indenture slavery were reaching their peak during this entire arc. This is something that the pirates of the era understood thoroughly.  The more oppressed the bottom, i.e. slaves, can be, the more oppressed are every class above them.

Voyager was the book in the series after which I quit, because none of it was working any more. The arbitrary artificiality of the obstacles being put int the way of the twenty years older Claire and Jamie, to have a life without running, and lots and lots of their happy, happy sex is preposterously obvious. This is the point where the series goes off the rails in the books, and probably does on television too.  It's all more likely due to the author's embarrassing caricatures of non-white characters and her ignorance of the cultures in the Caribbean in general.

The author's determination to keep this a romance, is, in the end, makes the effort only about the personal, and by extension to family and clan's well-being, which are still personal concerns.  In Black Sails, romance was not the point.  Sex wasn't even the point., though there was a lot of it, some, unwatchably violent and abusive, detailed and prolonged. Though lesbians were not punished for being lesbian,  gay men had to keep their love a terrible secret, which such demand by society and law at large, has effects on the development of character, thinking and action.

Loyalty and companionship matter of course, but most of all for some, at least, among the Black Sails' crews, there were those who had larger loyalties to ideals of social and political justice, for women and men, for black as well as white. Not only is Black Sails a prequel to Treasure Island, but it's a prequel to revolution, located as it is on the eve of the Era of Revolutions that set the whole world on fire (with help from that anti-revolutionary, Emperor  Napoleon) -- Washington, George Danton, Toussaint L'Ouverture, Símon Bolívar.  But the Outlander books, really about Claire and Jamie's ROMANCE, and  her family and their romance,s as more and younger members of her family arrive in the past from the future, are missing this dimension.

Perhaps that makes the contrast between Starz Outlander and Black Sails all the more stark: Outlander's Voyager turned us cranky and impatient; Black Sails got ever more compelling as the seasons and episodes rolled on.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Chronicles of Prydain -- Best Fantasy Series for the Youth? What About the Animal Heroes?

     . . . . Chronicles of Prydain -- Best Fantasy Series ever?  But is it? 

Is it the very best? -- this person passionately believes it is; at Vox News he tells us that he so much believes it true that he writes to tell us this news every year or so.  Read all about it here

I had all the Prydain books, but they never grabbed me.  I can hardly remember anything about them now.  Perhaps I was already too old when I encountered them in high school? I certainly don't have them on my shelves now, though Winnie-the-Pooh and many other books of fantasy and whimsy, with a sort of non-adult flavor remain. 

Also, the guy writing this is a -- guy, who lurves it that the Hero is a another young guy. That might have kept me from truly rolling with it, perhaps? though the guy-centeredness of so many other books and series never interfered with my passionate attachment to them, from The Black Stallion, his boy, Alec, to Lad, A Dog (see - Lad, another guy!), to LotR, not to mention some of my beloved Zane Greys, and many others -- even Pooh! 

Or -- maybe -- because I was living on a farm, I just knew too much about pigs to suspend my disbelief (always have had some trouble with Charlotte's Web re that).

I loved animal books -- which no longer seem to be written.  Did the Youth lose interest in animal protagonists?  Or was it just the publishing industry?  Anyway, I read every single one that came my way, many of them over and over and over, like the Black Stallion books and the Bambi Books, and Lassie Come Home

I received at least one of that sort of book every Christmas from each set of grandparents and from Mom and Dad.  So that was three books at least every Christmas!

I sobbed every time at the deaths of the animal protagonists in the books I re-read so avidly -- Ginger the rebel / bad slave in Black Beauty, Joe in Beautiful Joe, you name a death and I cried. Albert Payson Terhune's Lad, A Dog (1919), provoked particularly copious tears. Once it happened that I was reading his death while in school (the one-room country school house). The entire room including the teacher were aghast -- what ever could be happening to me? No one could understand how I could weep over a dog, dying, in a book!

I loved all the Terhune books. It wasn't only the canine principals that had me re-reading them constantly though. It was the setting. It was an exotic world, a magical one, as much as any fantasy world I might encounter later (those books weren't around anywhere when I was growing up). The Master and the Mistress, the kingdom of Sunnybank -- which I later learned was in New Jersey, He and She could drive into unknowable NYC for dog shows -- all this was as foreign and unknowable as the moon. This dimmish, but constant background kingdom of Sunnybank that cast a spell as irresistable as any of a fantasy novel. Sunnybank was ruled by Him, to whom Lad owed all his service and loyalty, and Her, who in turn ruled Him, and whom Lad adored in all humility and to whom his devotion was entire -- and that had that inexplicable thing -- servants! who even served the dogs.  Thus dogs' lives and hierarchy reflected perfectly this perfect feudal world, with impeccable class system -- a creation of the plutocratic, bloated Gilded Age. 

I was too unsophisticated and ignorant to recognize it for the class system that the Terhune books celebrated at the time. So every aspect of this strange world so far away in both time and space fascinated and enthralled me, those times that so-called 'real world' penetrated the world of the characters -- characters that could not have existed without that upper, non-understood plane of Master and Mistress / Him and Her ruling that world.

I'm not sure I'm recollecting exactly how the owners of Sunnybank were called in Lad's mind -- but it was something like that. What I do recollect clearly was how much I liked the dogs having real names, as -- to my mind -- being the significant ones -- while the human beings were -- to my child mind -- peripheral.

Too bad the world isn't really run that way, the non-human world at the center, and we hooman beans the side-bar.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Still Feeling Xalapa: ¡Gatos!

     . . . . I introduced The Young of Xalapa to the concept of "herding cats."

El Azuzul Jaguar Statue. Museum of Anthropology, Museo de Antropologia, Xalapa.

Jaguar statue, Oaxaca.
Olmec Twins & Jaguar: the twins are divinities also. Here they are facing off to the Jaguar God, in the posture of respect, which, we note, is one of the postures common to cats of all kinds.

Due to loss of habitat, jaguars are endangered species throughout Mexico, Central America, South America and Brasil.  It is revered by the cultures in all these regions.

As all of my young friends are more than fond of cats, appropriately as they are descended from people for whom the Jaguar is a divinity, they immediately got it.

In Xalapa they term such a concept as "Xalapeñear."

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Xalapa Siete - Hangin' with los Muertos

     . . . . Our official work is concluded, so we're trying to relax and see as much of this city and state as we can before leaving.

This is the weekend before el día de los muertos (November 1), which is in full swing festivities aleady, making traffic worse, but making every blink of the eye filled with something interesting and fun. Even so, last night, after all the long day of Slave Coast events, I fell out and slept for nearly 12 hours last night.  When last did I do that when not sick?

But awesome el V, after a 45 minute nap, went to work, reviewing essays of his NYU students, and then attended Donald Harrison Jazz Symphony, with himself and his group playing with the Xalapa Symphony Orchestra.  Then, he went to the reception afterwards.  He got in about 1:30 AM.  I never heard him, even though I'd been sleeping for hours already by then.

So much has happened, and so much continues to happen, all this, running in parallel with the city's ever intensifying Day of the Dead celebrations. 

Today is cool and a little rainy. El V and I went to a Day of the Dead tamale festival, where I found cool regalos for mis amigas, including lots of items made out of chocolate (which grows here, btw) and are formed into images that roll with el dia de los muertos. Since I get back Monday, I will be able to give them out on Halloween, most appropriately.  There were many groups of dancers and bands from all over, performing, one after another, including some splendid flamanco, one of my favorite forms of dance - music.  This is going on everywhere!  Actually, it feels like the week of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Donald thinks so, and he ought to know.


El V bought local artisan cervezas.  He also ate several different tamales -- and then we went to lunch with Donald and the guys.

Tonight there's a very large Day of the Dead parade, that passes right by our Hotel Clara Luna, so I have a spectacular view of it from the second floor window overlooking the street. 

Tomorrow we are going to meet with an historian and anthropologist, whose study is the African cultures in the state of Veracruz.  She is the aunt of one of the tremendously talented volunteer organizers who has been herding all the gatos who are the talent of the festival. (Like everyone else doing the actual work, she hasn't slept in days, so I feel a real wimp-fool for my 12 hours fall out last night. El V is particularly excited as Dr. Sagrario Cruz-Carretero is very famous at the CUNY Grad Center among our anthro friends there.  He says, "How envious they will be when we tell them!"

I have uploaded yesterday's and today's photos, but I'm too tired right now to post any of them. But they are colorful!

Ooo, I am hearing the squeals, yells and screams from the people in the street already as the parade begins!  And now I hear the bands!

Xalapa Seis -- Post Slave Coast Performance

     . . . . Considering the sheer talent and the number of dedicated professionals who have been working since late last winter - early spring on the live American Slave Coast performance with Donald Harrison and musicians, it does seem surprising that last night at the State Theater "Gral. Ignacio de la Llave" was a success.

In any case, everyone involved is happy, pleased and satisfied as to how the centerpiece came off and was received.

Two of our new friends, the Ph.D. candidates who guided us through the Museo de Antropología de Xalapa, made two observations that particularly struck me:

1) "After learning all this about los negroes in the United states, I think I am even glad that it was the Spanish who conquered us and not the British";

2) "This is where all this jazz, these Blues, all this music that we are celebrating here in Xalapa has come from -- tragedy.  We had no idea of any of this."

Now, interviews.  Then the academic presentation.  

Woo -- this altitude is really kicking me.  I feel exhausted all the time, no matter how early I get to sleep and how many hours spent sleeping.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Xalapa Cinco -- Rehearsal, All Time, Slave Coast Performance

     . . . . So many rehearsals!  But none of them with the music.  But last night that happened, and it is good.  Alas, one of the actresses seems to be getting sick with a respiratory thing.  This truly, truly matters as she's the one who sings "My Old Kentucky Home." Pobricita.  She's worked so hard to get the song down right -- it hurts me on her behalf that this might go wrong for her.  Plus, she has another big performance tomorrow for another event as part of the festival.

Tech rehearsal at 2 PM.  I don't need to be there for that, as I'm audience tonight, pure and simple.  El V, however, is directing as go-between for the musicians and the actors, as the musicians don't speak Spanish, so he will be helping them know when the music windows arrive.  He is also running the slide show accompaniment to the delivered text.  He's put Spanish commentary with them, to help the audience further understand the significances of what it is hearing.  So he's got a lot to do.

Performance at 7 PM.  Yah, I admit to being excited to see the performance of Slave Coast.  I never did in New York, as I was on stage.

So far though, it's still impossible to believe that our adaptation for live performance from The American Slave Coast -- which totally dominated our lives for the five years of writing and nearly two years of touring --  is really being performed, live, on stage, with Donald Harrison and his musicians, and these wonderful actors, here! in Mexico! in Xalapa! something we've been thinking about for nearly a year now, and never able to actually conceptualize because we could have no idea of either location or the people involved until we ourselves were on the ground.  Now the time for it is nearly here, and every indication we've received is this is going to be a wonderful performance.

It's turned a lot cooler here.  We're both going to need sweaters, so while they are rehearsing, I will go shopping.

BTW, we can hear roosters in the morning.  I could live easily in Xalapa.   It has everything I need, including bookstores and libraries, food shopping is easy, cooking would be fun, the people are wonderful, my Spanish would get really good, and it is very beautiful.