". . . 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

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Treats for Time Traveling Historians

Do two things back-to-back:

Watch the new Wes Anderson film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, while reading for the first time the long awaited final volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor's classic travel trilogy through eastern Europe to Instanbul between the wars known as The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos.  The other books are A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and Water (1986).

The New York Times has reviews of both The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Broken Road.

Though Fermor made this journey in those years, starting when he was eighteen, as seen from the publication dates, he didn't actually write the books until many years later.  The Broken Road review includes a brief overview as to why this is the case, and an outline of the life of this man who fascinated everyone he met.

I've had this book on order for so long, and now it's finally achieved U.S. publication.  Perfect to take on our just about to be embarked upon road trip through the CSA's fire-eating heart: Louisiana, Alabama, Mississppi and Tennessee (we did South Carolina during last year's road trip).  This trip is associated, naturally, with our forthcoming publication of The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-breeding Industry, the matters of which, including the geography, have absorbed our efforts for so long.

The same as for so long most of our efforts were absorbed by the African Caribbean. That's not unconnected to Fermor, for the first book of his I ever read, was in the winter months before my first visit to Cuba, all that time ago, was The Traveller's Tree: A Journey Through the Caribbean Islands (1950).  It was Fermor's first published travel book.  The more time I spent in the Caribbean the more wary of Mr. Fermor I became; for starters, for him, the Caribbean was entirely English, with the exception of Haiti -- which he understood not at all. He taught me that traveler's tales as travel writing are deeply unreliable source material for serious place research.  Perhaps not always, but in his case, when it came to cultures such as in the Caribbean which left him feeling rather disturbed and had so many, to him, offensive aspects, it was the case.

The recently published biography (2013) of Fermor by Artemis Cooper confirmed my initial doubts about his strict veracity.  There were reasons he and Ian Fleming were good friends, influencing each other, turn and turn about.

Nevertheless, as the above photographs illustrate, Mr. Fermor was fairly irresistible, uniting perfectly as did Bruce Chatwin, beautiful face and form with romantic matter and dashing event -- a darling of glossy magazines and social columns even today.

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