". . . 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

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Guadeloupe 2 - Why Can't I Stay in France

We return from as close to paradise on earth as you can get, it seems, to -- learning that Vitter likes to have prostitutes order him into diapers, and that the clownfacecrimefamilysyndicate still has not been impeached.

Bad show, U.S.A.

France's Ministry of Arts and Culture really paid for everything. 11 days in a lovely hotel steps from one of the world's most perfect tropical beaches, food, transportation, everything. We paid for transport to and from JFK and a few beers and bottled water. I tend to go through a 6-pack of 1,1 liter bottles every day and a half. (Which is something to think about, since that was just private drinking water, not the other water I drank during the symposia, and elsewhere. Most people in the world don't get that much clean, potable water every day -- not to mention what we need individually for washing, laundry, cooking, to raise the food we consume.) Going by the rates listed on the web, this would have been something like well over $10,000 for the two of us.
And the Ministry of Culture paid for all this, just for this one Séminaire, held within this one arts festival, this one month, on this one very small island of their Caribbean department (department here, meaning like state in the U.S. organization -- Guadeloupe, Martinique, etc., ARE France, in the way Hawai'i is the U.S., and not the way Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, but not a state).

In other words, France supports directly more intellectural and cultural and arts activity, and those who do this work, on one tiny island than the U.S. does for the entire farkin' U.S.A.
The way these intellectuals live! They have vacation homes everywhere! They don't pay for either education or medical care. The food, the clothing, the perfume are the miracle that French joi d'vivre and French exquisite attention to detail make them. The people of the islands are beautiful, with all that French flaire and charm and taste, well-nourished, healthy -- and not fat. You could always tell when you ran into (rarely) someone from the U.S. They were fat. Grossly fat. And wore t-shirts that announced, "I'm a Texan and I Fart in Your Face," and worse. No wonder several people took we 4 USians participating in this Séminaire aside, to assure us that they thought we were splendid exceptions to the view they hold of the USians they generally run into here and in metropolitan France.

The 4e Séminaire d'éthnomusicologie caribéenne: Patrimoine Culturel Immatériel de la Caraïbe was an unparalleled opportunity. It enlarged and expanded my perspectives in just the way they needed to be, started to fill in gaps and connect dots that need filling in and connection for my historical viewpoints. I was able to do the same for them to certain degrees as well. See these are all ethnologists, ethnomusicologists, anthropologists, etc., but none of them have much, if any training in history and the wider global cultural development over history. For instance, when the Indian Guadeloupian spoke of his work for the Cultural Center in the preservation and transmission of his Tamil heritage, neither he nor anyone in the room realized that sugar cane was originally cultivated in India, which is why the Indians were chosen to be indentured and brought in to take the place of the now sugar cane labor refusnik former slaves -- ain't neveah gonna work on that plantation no mo, fo sho! So they brought in Indians throughout the Caribbean to do the work (by trickery and chicanery and lies -- and even outright abduction -- of course, just as KBR and their Kuwaiti sister corps are doing in Iraq right now).

So I explained this wasn't just a whimsical, arbitrary choice -- just as with the beginning of the New World slavery, those chosen to be slaves had a cultural heritage already of doing the kind of work they were enslaved to do in the new colonies -- cultivation of rice, indigo, etc. There was also the connection with the earliest Europeans to colonize in India, the Portuguese, and with the Spanish, both of which were already running sugar cane latifundia in the Azores, Cape Verde, the Canaries, and their Mediterranean districts before Columbus sailed, that still maintained the strong Arab influences in technology and culture. These were worked mostly with African labor they'd already brought back from their first tentative forays down the African West Coast. Additionally, slavery as an institution continued all around the Mediterranean basin and remained in effect well into the Christian era, and, indeed, was not stopped there, until the Enlightenment. The Vatican worked many of its properties with slave labor in those days.

There were a couple of men who violently stated I was flat wrong about this, demonstrating USian myopia and ignorance, that sugar cane was indigenous to the New World and brought to the old with exploration, like tomatoes. But I rattled off several book titles that document the history of sugar cane and the plantation system, as it moved, via, first the Arabs, out of India and further and further west along the Mediterranean. One of the multiply-lingual participants (languages were Spanish, French, Créole, and English, as well as Portuguese) took his laptop to le hôtel Rotobas's tiny, limited wi-fi (pronounced weefee -- oui, oui, weefee!) area, looked up the books, looked up the subject on wiki, etc., and returned, to solomnly announce that Madame was indeed correct in every respect.

This was my only unpleasant experience. I felt so embarrassed. I hadn't intended to speak to the conference participants at all. But while Raghunath Manet's presentation was in play I inadvertently mentioned this little fact, basically to myself -- connecting dots for myself -- aloud, within our little circle of English speakers and our translator, and Stephanie, the translator, waved wildly to the roving microphone and insisted I present this information to room.

And things went from there.But this little bit of information ended transforming most of the participants to some degree or another, whether a doctoral candidate at NYU, a member of the ministry of culture who lives, naturally, in Paris, to the translator, who is television documentarian of culture and art, to the organizer of the Symposium, whose ex-father-in-law was one of the most poltically significant figures of Martinique, and with whom she shared none of his views -- Aimé Césaire.

But isn't it amazing how every discipline that could so benefit from history, doesn't know it? And I was one of the few non-academics the room. Later in the week, I confounded the French Ministry of Culture guy, who is the one in charge of the Guadeloupe Department (all of the French Caribbean is under the Guadeloupe Department, even if it is named the Guadeloupe Department), and thus the guy who has control of all the money, when I casually mentioned the speculations that can be made in terms of the significance to the history of the Department of Guadeloupe -- slave revolutions and counter-revolutions and, later, their generally activist leftist political leanings -- Martinique being the place from which came Madame d'Maintenon, born protestant as Mademoiselle d'Aubigné, who ended up wife to King Louis XIV, as well as Pagerie Plantation, where the future Empress Josephine grew up.
This was in every way a transformative event, and I feel so very, very grateful and privileged to have had this opportunity.

This nation looks worse than ever from that perspective. We are a civic sewer. Our only culture is greed and consumption. Nevertheless, the citizens of the Department of Guadeloupe have many, many complaints. But they don't want to be separate from France even so. Among their considerations is the terror that if they became independent the U.S. global corps would take over. Not to mention they'd lose their pensions, free health care, free education and all the other multiple benefits they receive from being France.This is what one African national called, "A vision of African paradise, what we should be, and what our colonialism has always made sure we never can be."

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